Chapter 5:

Chapter 5


              After receiving their ominous reminder from SNS-404, everyone began grabbing their rations and settling down onto the floor. Jun can see Sin was already scarfing his down. It seems to be some sort of unappetizing food bar, probably originally designed for soldiers or students too busy to eat meals while studying for exams. As Jun hands a box to Ren, he notices that R4-Z ahead of them is slipping a second box under her shirt and into the waistband of her skirt. The icy feeling of unease crawls through Jun. Would SNS-404 really not notice what she was doing? Jun wants to say something to stop her, but doing so seems too risky. SNS-404 might overhear. Instead, He grabs a box for himself and scoots out of the line with Ren. Hopefully nothing comes of it.

Ren tugs his shirt. “Jun, didn’t you see? Shouldn’t we-“

“Sorry what?” Jun pushes Ren’s ration into his hands. “Here’s yours. Let’s go eat.”

“Oh.” Ren drops the subject. 

As he and Ren join the others on the floor, a sudden crash draws their attention back to the line. R4-Z and C4 have been knocked back onto the ground after seemingly colliding. Three AllFood ration boxes lay scattered between them. An excited buzzing rises from SNS-404 as its screen rotates around to observe the scene.

“Watch where you’re going!” glares R4-Z, rising and dusting off her skirt. She grabs one of the boxes and hugs it to her chest. “You really shouldn’t be running.”

“I’m really sorry,” apologizes C4. She struggles back to her feet and reaches down to grab her box. To her surprise, there are two. She picks up both and holds one out to R4-Z. “You dropped your…” She freezes, seeing the package clutched tight in R4-Z’s arms. Eyes wide, she looks around but there’s no one close who might have dropped theirs.

SNS-404’s static crackles louder and it starts drifting over to the two girls.

C4 frantically searches for an explanation. “This. This isn’t mine. I mean, I didn’t take it. I wouldn’t do something like that.” Her shoulders heave up and down and tears begin to pool in her eyes. “I only took one! Only one!”

R4-Z just stares at her silently, gripping the package.

“Now, now,” crackles SNS-404. “What do we have here?”

“I didn’t take two!” sobs C4. “I don’t know where it came from! I wasn’t paying attention and I bumped into her and dropped mine.” She hiccups, “But when I got up there was an extra. I don’t know where…”

SNS-404 leans towards R4-Z, words heavy and black. “Did you bump into her?”

“Yes,” she swallows. Her eyes flicker about, settling on the ration she’s holding.

The buzzing intensifies. “Is one of those yours?”

R4-Z pushes the ration further against her chest. She shakes her head, flinging her long braids about. “No. This one is mine. I don’t know where those are from. Someone else must’ve taken them.”

“I see.” A thin rod slides silently from the space connecting the television and the body. There’s a magnetism to it as the air seems to bend and vibrate around it. Instinctively, Jun knows that thing is dangerous.

SNS-404 brandishes the rod about. “Rations don’t materialize out of thin air. Clearly, someone wasn’t listening to my instructions or didn’t care to actually follow them. An attitude like that is no good. Any individual with such an attitude is useless to me. I have the right to exterminate the culprit here and now.” The rod sways about in the air. “So, which one is it? Hm?”

R4-Z bites her lip.

“It wasn’t me,” squeaks C4. “I swear- “

Bzzt. She is cut off as SNS-404 whips the rod around to lightly tap her forehead. A wave of energy ripples through her small frame, causing her limbs to spasm as she collapses onto the floor. The ration packages crinkle as she hits them. Like a paper being wadded up into a ball, her flesh folds inward towards the spot where SNS-404 struck her. The snapping pops of bones breaking crackles like fireworks. Before she can even scream, her breath is cut off by her collapsing lungs. In the blink of an eye, all that remains is a small ball of a vaguely fleshy color.

SNS-404 unfolds a clawed arm from its body and picks up the ball. In a quick and carefree motion, it shoots the ball into a trash receptacle at the end of one of the hallways. Everyone is frozen in shock as the ball bounces in heavily. Each thunk echoes through the hushed atrium in a succession of sounds that seems to last for an eternity.

“Score,” crackles SNS-404.