Science Fiction

Sentience: A Science Fiction Exploration of AI Through An Epic Turing Test - Book 1

By

This book will launch on Oct 30, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

Running from a violent past, Leo Knox desperately decides to participate in a Turing Test being conducted by the infamous and greedy tech-giant, AlgorithmOS. Soon, she learns that the test is meant to determine the ability of artificial intelligence to blend in among humanity, but what she doesn’t know is that it's unlike any other of its kind.

Leo enters Eden, the contained preserve where the test will occur, with twenty-three others. While everyone appears to be human, four of the individuals are an indistinguishably advanced form of humanoid AI. The task is simple: identify the AI while trying to survive. The twist? The four AI are completely unaware of their nature, causing every participant to question what they know as reality.

The group embarks on a journey within the preserve, rigged with obstacles devised by the controllers of the experiment to elicit human response and emotion. Quickly, madness ensues and divides form, partnering Leo up with Avery Ford, a Marine who wears his demons on his sleeve. Romance falls together for the two as the world around them falls apart, revealing the lengths people will go to protect those they love, to achieve monetary gain, or simply to survive.

We Begin

Leo picked her head up at the sound of the knob twisting. The chaos of the last twenty-four hours tired her out more than she had realized. The room was quiet, the metal underneath her was cold, and soon, a man wearing a white lab coat appeared at the table where she rested. He sat and set three thick piles of paper in front of her. Sliding them across one at a time, he asked, “Have you taken the time to review these documents carefully?”

“Yes,” replied Leo, thinking back to that night in her apartment. She devoured the documents the day they crossed her screen, exactly six minutes after a familiar voice called to tell her that she was selected.

“In that case, to reiterate, this is the scope and explanation of the test, this is your compensation package, and this is your non-disclosure agreement,” he said as he pointed to each pile. She pulled them closer, flipping to the final page of each with conviction.

“Please sign the designated line on the last page of each document,” he continued, even though Leo had already started to do so.

“That it?” she looked up at him.

“You’re all set, Leo,” he smiled. “Follow me.”

Leo stood from the chair and followed the man to the door. It was time.

She tailed the lab coat out of the room and down a sterile hallway to another door. He twisted it for her and smiled again. This time the toothy grin looked like it belonged to a kid on Christmas.

“Best of luck, Leo.”

“Thank you.”

Leo walked through the door into the room. She quickly counted twenty-four chairs and knew that she was meant to take a seat. From the information she was provided, Leo knew that she would be entering the experiment with twenty-three others. With only a few chairs still empty, she took the closest one, next to a man with dark brown hair pulled back at the nape of his neck. He looked up at her and smiled with one side of his mouth as she sat.

“Hey,” she said, settling into her seat.

There was a pause of silence between them.

“I’m Leo.”

“Luca.”

Leo looked around the room and took in the faces around her. Everyone seems real.

The door opened again, and in walked the three doctors that interviewed her to be a part of the experiment: Dr. Asha Keida, Dr. Jake Oldoney, and Dr. Elodie Teter. From some half-assed midnight research the night before her obligatory interview, Leo knew that Asha Keida and Elodie Teter founded the company, which, with the help of an angel investor, was now AlgorithmOS, the organization conducting the experiment. Together, the three doctors created the four AI that sat among the group. They were conducting a Turing Test.

“Welcome to the AlgorithmOS field office,” started Keida. From the moment Leo met her, she liked her. If she wasn’t there out of necessity, Keida could have convinced her to participate. Her voice was soothing, and her words always seemed carefully chosen. Something about her made Leo feel like she could trust her.

“It’s nice to see you all again,” interjected the second woman. “In case you have forgotten, I am Dr. Elodie Teter, Co-Founder of AlgorithmOS and Co-Director of Programming. Dr. Asha Keida is my Co-Founder and Co-Director. Together, we have written the code that operates the AI you are about to encounter. Dr. Jake Oldoney is the Head of Robotics. He is the great mind behind their humanoid vessels.”

“Today, we make history,” Keida resumed. She paused to scan her audience, making eye contact with each of them. “Four of you are not human. Four of you are manmade. With our deficiencies in mind, you were crafted to do what humanity is incapable of doing. You were designed to be the things that we are not. At the same time, you were intentionally forged to be indistinguishable from humanity, in a way, making you almost superhuman. We printed your flesh and programmed you with an identity and an entire moral framework, both of which will influence how you make decisions inside of the experiment. We bestowed upon you the capacity to think, to feel, to dream—”

“Now it is time to see if the four of you are truly indistinguishable,” Dr. Teter interrupted her abruptly, stepping forward. There was now a palpable tension between them. Dr. Keida stepped back and let Teter continue.

“We are conducting a Turing Test to see if you can think, decide, and act in a convincingly human way,” she paused. “Should you prove inadequate for this challenge and reveal your true nature, you will remain in the experiment until its conclusion. We hope that’s not the case. Unlike Turing, we’re targeting a 100% pass rate.”

Teter flashed a cocky smile as she moved across the stage.

Leo thought back to when she first read the words Turing Test in the project scope document that she received after being selected for the experiment. She had never heard them before. She remembered staying up almost until morning, a tumbler of something strong and brown in hand, clicking from one link to the next to learn more. The original Turing Test was a test in which a human and a computer were interrogated by another human. The nature of those being interrogated was concealed during the process, and at its conclusion, the interrogator was responsible for determining the nature of the participants on the other end. If more than 30% of the interrogators were incapable of making a distinction between man or machine, the computer was said to have passed the test. While Turing’s Test had the same objective as Keida, Teter, and Oldoney’s, this was on an entirely different level.

“Dr. Oldoney?” Teter gestured for the man behind her to step forward.

Oldoney began with the logistics of the experiment, reiterating what Leo had read over and over in the experiment information they provided. The group would enter a contained environment, referred to as Eden, where they would be tasked with reaching a designated destination as a group. There would be tasks and checkpoints along the way. They would encounter obstacles, deterrents, and situations that would provoke human emotion and require strategic decision-making throughout their journey. The experiment would last a maximum of two weeks, concluding when the group reached the extraction point, or when the two-week limit expired. The entire experiment would be monitored remotely through stationary surveillance and drone cameras, but under no circumstances would there be any intervention from the outside world.

Leo started to recite the list of possible obstacles and deterrents provided in the information to herself. Starvation. Dehydration. Encounters with explosives. Death. Halfway through, she lost her place in the list when her eyes fixed on a man diagonal to her. He sat next to a small girl with a wild head of black hair, tuned into Oldoney’s every word. Her head cocked slightly as her eyes scanned him to find hard brown eyes, a clenched jaw, and crossed arms. Something about the set of his shoulders told her that the tension in his body was unrelated to the imminent experiment.

“You gonna fuck him when we get in there?”

A voice cooed in her ear, making her jump. Leo whipped her head around to respond and found a moon-faced girl with a head of untamed, blonde curls stifling a laugh.

“What is wrong with you?” she asked, feeling silly for getting caught.

“Nothing,” the girl said with a breathy giggle, “I just figured that might be your strategy for survival, since he looks like he can handle himself and you’re paying more attention to those shoulders of his than the mission instructions.” She paused and appraised his shoulders for herself. “They are nice.”

Leo heard Luca snicker at the interaction, causing her cheeks to flush.

“I’m sorry. I’m just fucking with you,” she said. “I’m Ripley.”

“Leo,” said Leo, shaking her head as her shocked expression melted into a smile. Friends were better than enemies.

Leo looked to Luca. The smile on his face had broadened significantly since their introduction. She turned forward and focused her attention back to Oldoney just in time to catch their next instructions.



The group made their way through a door on the other side of the room. Leo crossed the threshold behind Luca, and as his frame cleared the way, she noticed identical lockers lined the room. The top of each locker had a small whiteboard with a name written across it. She scanned the room, reading names—Atlas Dao, Virgo van Baas, Kai Matthews, and Imogen Slade—until she found her own situated next to Ripley Wolfe.

Ripley was already rifling through her locker. Leo watched as she pulled out a neoprene jumpsuit, boots, and a large pack.

“Wasting no time, huh?” asked Leo.

“I need to know what I’m working with,” Ripley replied, unzipping the pack.

“Attention, please,” Oldoney’s voice boomed, causing the room to fall quiet.

“We have provided mission attire for you. In each of your lockers, you’ll find this attire along with a pack of basic survival essentials. Everyone has the same attire and supplies.” He paused and the rest of the group began opening their lockers to study what lay within.

Leo set her pack on the bench in front of her locker and opened it to find a tin bottle full of water, a compass, a medical kit, and a thermal blanket on top. She dug her hand deeper into the packed bag and felt the familiar cold feeling of metal on her hand. A folded knife.

A knot formed in her stomach, and she looked around the room to see the reactions of the others as they felt the cold metal themselves. She wondered who would be the first to misuse the tool. Her eyes fixed on the man she noticed earlier in the morning standing under a locker labeled Avery Ford. She watched him discover his knife. He pulled it from the pack, unfolding it to admire its size, and then quickly flipped it shut to tuck it away.

“Please do not be alarmed by the lack of provisions in your pack. I assure you that there will be additional supplies, food, water, and shelter at the checkpoints along your journey,” Oldoney’s voice pulled Leo’s eyes from Avery Ford. He continued, “We now request that you please change into your mission attire. Please be sure to remove all clothing and items that came in from outside of this facility. You are only permitted to enter Eden with what is provided in your locker.”

“Here?” questioned a girl with eyes the color of the ink that covered her arms. Her sign read Virgo van Baas.

“Yes, here.”

Leo faced her locker to begin changing, only to find that Ripley was already completely undressed next to her.

“No wires or power switches to hide here,” said Ripley, winking as she pulled the provided black bra over her head and down around her chest.

Leo shook her head to disguise her admiration of Ripley’s perfect form, and then she peeled off her shirt. As the fabric made its way over her head, her dirty blonde hair cascaded out to land at her shoulders. She looked over them to make sure that nobody was watching as she went to trade bras. It seemed like Luca had caught the first half of the show, but he turned away once he saw her checking for onlookers. Her eyes caught the rose-crowned skull inked into her shoulder on their journey back to the depths of her locker. For the first time in a long time, she could forget about what it meant.

Leo zipped up her neoprene suit and stepped into her boots. As she stood up from tying them, a wave of energy trickled down through her body. She turned and noticed Ripley admiring herself in the mirror of her locker.

“That’ll do just fine,” Ripley said to herself as she appreciated how the neoprene hugged the lower half of her body. She wasn’t wrong.

Leo pulled on the black bomber jacket they provided next. She tucked her hands under her hair to free it from the collar of the jacket. She was ready.

Keida and Teter entered the room to join Oldoney as the rest of the group finished fiddling with zippers and laces. The trio cut the crowd to make their way to a gunmetal door opposite the one that the group entered through.

“Are you ready?” asked Keida, eyes hopeful as her hand found the large metal latch holding it shut.

“On the other side of this door, you’ll find a dossier regarding how to reach your first checkpoint. We’ve prepared a small welcome celebration for your arrival. We encourage you to use this as an opportunity to get to know your peers. At this checkpoint, you will also find one task to be completed and one map that provides the location of your second checkpoint,” explained Oldoney.

“Please form a line,” said Teter.

The group swung on their packs and moved toward the center of the room. Leo got into line behind Ripley, and Luca filed in behind her. She noticed that Avery Ford was first in line, followed by a man who stood under a sign that read Kai Matthews.

“As I said, today, we make history,” smiled a proud Keida. Her hand pulled back on the latch, and as she stepped aside, sunlight flooded the room.

“We begin,” she said, and with that, the group quickly passed the threshold.



Green. Sunlight bled through the sea of trees above her. The air was fresh with a slight chill that was fitting for the coast of Maine. The general location was as much as she knew about Eden. 

Leo took a deep breath. She heard the door lock behind her as she expelled the air from her lungs. Adrenaline pulsed through her body. She walked to where the group was assembling. There was a large tree stump at the center of the crowd. She imagined it was where the dossier must have been, although now, Avery held it in his hand.

“What now?” asked Ripley.

Avery looked up from the black folder. “We introduce ourselves.”

His voice was different than she expected. It was gravelly and tired like it belonged to the victim of a perpetual hangover.

“Bullshit,” Ripley grabbed the folder, shouldering him a little as she did. She read aloud from the single page inside. “Familiarize yourselves with each other. Share your name, age, and occupation prior to entering the experiment. Hike seven miles due north and you will arrive at your first checkpoint.” She slammed the folder shut and looked up. “Seven miles? Fuck me.”

“Circle up,” instructed Avery.

The group formed a circle. Avery started.

“I’m Avery Ford. Twenty-nine. Marine,” he said. He turned to his right and raised his eyebrow to a small-framed girl with wild, black hair and wide, brown eyes.

“Hi. I’m, uh, Evie McKenzie. I’m eighteen, and I’m a psychology student.” Evie looked up at the man next to her. When he smiled back, her eyes were quick to appreciate the dirt beneath her feet.

“I’m Dakota Farr. I’m thirty years old, and I am a priest.”

“I’m Argo. Argo Shaw. I’m twenty-seven, and I teach high school history,” said the man that followed. He had a timid face, the kind Leo imagined not many high school students would listen to.

“I’m Annamila Tress. I’m twenty-four and a professional ballet dancer,” she flipped her long, brown hair over a collarbone that looked carved from pale marble.

“I’m Atlas Dao. I’m thirty, and I’m an architect,” said the following man.

“Riley Henderson, twenty-six. I’m a financial advisor,” said the next participant. The words came from an expensive smile that sat under a head of carefully slicked hair that made their owner look the part.

“I’m Virgo van Baas. I’m twenty-three, and I’m a social worker,” said the tattooed brunette.

“I’m Kai Matthews,” smiled a tall, blond man with ice eyes. He took a minute to eye the group before he finished. Leo didn’t like him for it. “I’m twenty-eight, and I am a corrections officer.”

“Hi. I’m Ryen Eppley. I’m twenty-six. I’m a biomedical engineer,” Ryen’s brown cheeks pulled up into a friendly smile. Despite the warmth in her grin, her eyes still held down-to-business intensity.

“I’m Luca Elias. I’m twenty-five, and I... I’m a bartender.”

“Hi, guys. I’m Caleb Stone. I’m twenty, and I’m in nursing school,” Luca’s neighbor added eagerly. He had a boyish smile and was so riled up he nearly stood on his toes.

Leo counted two more before her.

“I’m Benson Lacey, thirty-one, and I’m a lawyer,” said the woman to her right. She was severe and cool in an almost comforting way.

“I’m Imogen Slade. I’m twenty-eight, and I’m a medical examiner,” the woman immediately to Leo’s left contributed. Her voice was clinical, matching her profession almost perfectly.

“I’m Leo Knox. I’m twenty-three, and I’m a motorcycle mechanic,” she said, making eye contact with Ripley across from her. It wasn’t entirely untrue.

Leo thought it best to leave out that the shop she barely worked at was a front for her father’s motorcycle club and that when she wasn’t repairing motorcycles, she was running their books and stitching up members who weren’t wounded seriously enough to warrant a hospital visit. The next voice pulled her mind back to reality.

“I’m Lex Petery. I’m twenty-seven, and I’m a teacher and a mom. I have two kids,” smiled the woman next to her.

“Hi, I’m Skylar Schiller. I’m a pharmacist. Oh, and I’m twenty-nine,” said the man to Lex’s right.

“I’m Aiva Fuller. I’m twenty-two, and I... I’m a dancer too.”

“Really?” Annamila interrupted the circle. “What principle?”

“A principle I’m confident you’re not familiar with,” her tone was sarcastic as her cheeks flushed. Leo knew what she meant, and she liked her honesty.

“I’m Cobalt Leholt. Call me Coby. I’m thirty, and I’m a truck driver,” a stocky man filled the silence.

“I’m Lita Peralta. I’m twenty-five, and I’m a firefighter.”

“Blaire O’Day. Twenty-eight. Forensic artist for the FBI.” He looked to Avery. “I’m military too.”

“Marines?” Avery raised an eyebrow.

“Rangers,” said Blaire.

“I’m Ela Okilo. Thirty. Artist by choice. College Librarian by necessity,” said Ela, crossing her arms.

Unamused, she cut the men off before Avery could respond.

The introductions continued.

“I’m Hunter Hassim. I’m twenty-four, and I’m a programmer,” said a clean-cut man. He looked as if he’d be much more comfortable in the safety of an office than in this clearing of Eden.

Finally, it was Ripley’s turn.

“Hello,” she smiled. “I’m Ripley Wolfe. You can call me Rip. I’m twenty-six, and I’m a physician’s assistant. I work mainly with trauma cases.”

There was a minute of silence.

“I wonder who’s lying,” smiled Kai as he broke the circle, heading for the woods.

“Hey, buddy!” called Ryen to Kai with her compass in hand. “That isn’t north.”

The rest of the group began to pull their compasses from their packs. It was evident quickly who had used one before and who hadn’t. Leo didn’t bother taking hers out and instead observed those around her attempting to use theirs. Avery walked to Ryen and compared his with hers and pointed to the distance.

“We’re this way,” he said, looking back at the group.

He and Ryen started towards the woods, and the rest fell behind. Leo linked up with Ripley in the middle of the group. Luca took his place behind them next to Evie.

“Trauma, huh?” Leo asked Ripley.

“Yup,” she replied with a wink, “and since you took it well when I asked about the jarhead earlier, I’ll put you on the short list of lives I’m willing to save in here.”

“Thanks,” laughed Leo.

“And this one...” started Ripley, looking back at Evie, “this one is into the priest.”

Evie went red.

“See, I know these things. I watched your face fall when he said he was a man of the cloth,” said Ripley, smirking over her bony shoulder.

Evie looked mortified.

“What’s wrong with a little challenge?” Ripley winked back.

“Take it easy, Rip,” said Luca through a side smile, shaking his head.

Leo tuned out their small talk and looked at the new world around her. The excitement was still present, but more than that, there was relief. She was relieved that she was finally away from home. Her eyes traveled to Ripley next, where they stayed for a long look. Ripley was focused on the trail ahead and already starting to silently complain with intentional labored breaths. Leo liked her. She was authentic, slightly obnoxious, but real nonetheless. At the same time, she was beautiful, and the kink of mischief that hung in her right eyebrow was captivating.

Making friends with her fellow subjects hadn’t crossed her mind until now, and the process of starting to do so made Eden that much more alluring. Making friends was never her strong suit, especially friends outside of the club. Leo promised herself to ignore the mischief. Friends.

They reached a clearing in the trees that looked out over a tall cliff atop a deep valley. Leo looked and stepped close to the edge to absorb the view. Eden was vast and if nothing else, it wasn’t Chicago. She looked back to Ripley, whose expression had softened. Leo followed her eyes until their path ended at Avery.

“You have some nerve,” Leo said with her best attempt to sound playful. She couldn’t help but slightly envying Avery and simultaneously wanting Ripley to look somewhere else.

Ripley laughed, “You caught me.”

Suddenly, the ground began to rattle beneath their feet, interrupting Ripley from saying more. The growl of crumbling earth filled the air, and then, a blood-curdling scream overpowered it. Leo and Ripley scanned the group with fear-wide eyes to determine the source.

“Evie!” Luca yelled as he ran to look over the cliff. The edge had slipped, sending Evie over its new precipice.

Leo met Luca at the edge. “Evie, are you okay?”

Evie had fallen to a small rock ledge. She shrieked, and from the sound of it, Leo could tell she was injured. She looked closer and could see that the lower part of her left leg was contorted unnaturally. It was broken.

“Ripley,” Leo called over her shoulder, trying to diminish the panic in her voice, so as not to startle Evie, “can you take a look?”

“Everyone back!” Leo’s eyes pulled back again at the sound of Avery’s voice. He gestured his arms to the rest of the group for them to move towards the trees. Ripley came forward, ignoring his instructions.

“Compound fracture. That’s not good,” she whispered to Leo.

“You should step back from the ledge,” Avery’s voice called from behind them. “We have no idea if it’s going to hold.”

“You’re right,” Ripley stood up and nodded at him. “I’ll start prepping to take care of that leg. You figure out how to get her up to me.”

Avery nodded, his face turning to a wince as Evie screamed again in the distance.

“Evie, we’re going to get you back up here, just hang on,” he called over the edge, finally looking over it for himself to figure out a plan. Avery stepped back and swung his pack to the ground to assess his options.

“No rope.” He looked up to the group for suggestions. Leo shrugged back at him, her heart picking up in her chest.

“No fucking rope, but we do have morphine,” Ripley flashed a silver-lining smirk as she lifted a small vial from the canvas pouch. Leo assessed the other supplies that Ripley had managed to unpack: bandages, gauze, a suture kit, two syringes, small scissors, tape, a bottle of alcohol, and an antibiotic pack. Behind her, a glimmer of sunlight reflected off of something in the torn apart pack. Thermal blankets.

“Thermal blankets!” Leo swung her pack to the ground, practically yelling. She rustled through it, finding Avery’s eyes as she pulled out the Mylar square. She unfolded the blanket and sized it up. It looked roughly between five and six feet in length. “We can use them to make a rope.”

“She won’t be able to use her legs to climb, and that climb without legs to assist is going to require serious upper body strength,” Ripley added from the spot she had cleared to receive Evie.

“Ripley’s right. I can go down for her. I just need to figure out a harness to tie myself onto the rope,” said Avery.

“I can help you with that,” Atlas stepped to Avery’s side. Atlas’ eyes scanned for materials, “We can probably rig something out of backpack straps.”

“The blankets aren’t going to be strong enough,” said the woman who introduced herself as Lita.

“Braid ‘em?” suggested Leo.

“It’s risky,” responded Lita.

“Braiding them would leave us with roughly forty feet of rope if you factor in around a foot of shrinkage from the braiding and knotting,” said Ryen, walking to the edge of the cliff. She looked over and estimated how far down Evie was from the edge. “It should be just enough.”

“You have a better idea?” said Leo, looking up at Lita from her pack.

“Blankets out,” Lita shrugged and let the edges of her mouth pull into a defeated smirk.

Leo made her way around the group to collect their blankets. Some members of the group wore fear and concern on their faces as they handed the blankets to her. Some wore confusion. Some wore skepticism.

“Your blanket?” Leo eyed Riley, a member of the latter group. His blanket was the last to collect and he was the only one from the group who hadn’t dropped his pack to the ground to take it out.

“You’re kidding, right?” he scoffed back at her. “There’s no way that she is real. They wouldn’t harm a human like that.”

The thought hadn’t even crossed Leo’s mind, but it quickly explained the looks of skepticism. Leo looked back for the faces that also wore that look. If she remembered correctly, their names were Kai, Hunter, and Annamila. They must have agreed with Riley’s stance on Evie’s nature. Dismissively, Riley started to step around her in the direction of Avery.

“How do you know they’re responsible for the ledge collapsing?” Leo put her palm in the center of his chest to stop him.

“Come on.” He attempted to shoulder past her, but Leo held her ground. Her defense put his lips inches from her ear. “Don’t be naive.”

Riley shouldered harder this time, knocking her back to get closer to Avery.

“So, Avery, you’re going to rappel down a cliff using a couple of plastic blankets and backpack straps for a half-decent looking computer? You realize you could die, right?”

“You think they would send their test subject over a cliff hours into a two-week experiment?” Avery tried his best to neutralize the situation, barely lifting his eyes from his work, as he used his knife to cut away the straps from his pack. “Just give her the blanket, man.”

“Come on,” Leo cut in front of Riley and held out her hand.

“I say we leave her. Even if you do manage to save her, do you realize how big of a bitch it’s going to be to lug her around this place? I’m telling you, there’s no fucking way she’s real.” Riley swung his pack to the floor and began to dig for the blanket with reluctance.

“He’s got a point,” said Kai, coming forward from the trees to take Riley’s side. “If this is day one, I can’t imagine it’s going to get easier in here. With all the trouble this is going to cause, it’s hardly worth the risk.”

“I think that’s for me to decide since I’m the one taking it,” Avery stood from the harness he and Atlas had started to prepare. An agitated strut carried him in the direction of Riley and Kai.

“And what if she’s human? You’re suggesting we leave her for dead?” asked Leo.

“If she’s human, then she signed the same waiver I did. She knew the risks,” said Kai, stepping to her until he was so close that he was looking down on her. “But she’s not and Avery’s going to give them exactly what they want. It’s the perfect situation for him to prove that they’ve made her human enough to risk his own life.”

“I can hear that she’s hurt and she’s scared,” said Avery, sending his hands to his hips.

“Isn’t that the point?” Kai pulled his eyes from Leo to send an antagonizing glare in Avery’s direction. She could practically hear his smirk.

 “Human or not, I don’t give a shit. Either way, if she dies, she’s going to feel it and know it. We can prevent that from happening.” Avery grunted at the end of his thought as he yanked the blanket from Riley’s hands.

“Here you go,” said Avery, reaching between her and Kai to tuck the blanket into her arms.

Semper Fidelis,” said Riley with a mock salute. He masked his words under a heavy breath, but they were still loud enough to hear. Leo watched Avery’s jaws lock with rage. His eyes shut in an attempt to maintain composure, and she couldn’t help but notice the freckles that sat beneath his thick eyelashes.

“You’d better watch it,” Blaire peacocked in the distance, cutting Leo’s distraction.

Like clockwork, Evie howled once again and Avery opened his eyes back up to reality. He made his way back to Atlas, who had ignored the altercation and managed to construct the first half of the harness.

Leo dropped the now complete stack of blankets. Dakota, Ryen, and Lita assembled around her to work on braiding them. Dakota knotted three blankets together and pulled against the force of Leo as she weaved. Ryen and Lita did the same next to her.

“We need more straps,” Atlas called out to the group, after having used both his and Avery’s.

“Take mine,” said Luca, tossing his pack to Avery.

“Mine too,” said Leo.

They finished his harness as the others knotted their final braids. Leo tossed the rope to Avery and he tugged on each connecting knot to ensure they were tied properly. Avery looped the makeshift rope through the harness that wrapped around the top of his thighs and waist.

Luca walked to Avery to collect the opposite end of the rope. With that, two men who had introduced themselves as Coby and Skylar during the circle came forward to help.

“Think you can manage?” Avery asked them with a nervous smile.

“We’ll do our best,” replied Coby.

He walked to the edge and called down, “Hang in there, Evie. I’m coming down.”

Avery swung a leg over the cliff to begin his descent. Anxiety built amongst the group as tension grew on the rope. Luca, Skylar, and Coby pulled hard to counterbalance Avery’s weight while the others watched nervously. Without Avery to tell her otherwise, Leo crawled to the edge and peered over to watch the rescue unfold.

“Eyes on me, Evie,” Avery said as he carefully rappelled down the side.

“Ripley, I would like to help you.” Leo looked back to identify the distant voice. It came from Caleb. Before she could respond, he was already kneeling at her side.

“Nursing student, right? Let’s see what you got,” said Ripley. Leo watched her flash him a welcoming smile. “Take out your kit; we might need your supplies too. Make sure you sterilize everything.”

“While we wait for her, I’ll see if I can find something to make a splint,” said Ryen.

“That would be great,” Ripley smiled up at her.

“I can help, Ryen.” Atlas stood up from his seat where he had constructed the harness. Ryen nodded and the two disappeared into the trees.

Leo turned back, feeling better knowing that everyone didn’t think like Riley and Kai. Looking over the edge, she could see that Avery had made it down to Evie. His hands were screaming red from how tight they held onto the rope. Carefully, he released one and used it to swing her onto his back.

“Coming up,” he called to the men with the rope.

Leo watched as they made their ascent. They neared the top of the precipice, and she looked to Ripley to warn her that they were almost up. Her stomach dropped what felt like three feet when she heard the rope slip.

“Fuck,” grunted Luca.

Leo sprang up from her stomach and ran to take the end in her hands.

“Someone help,” Leo yelled back to the rest of the group.

Dakota and Blaire came forward for the rest of the slack. The group pulled hard and Avery’s black hair arose from the other side of the cliff. They pulled once more, thinking it would be their last, but instead the makeshift rope snapped.

About the author

Courtney P. Hunter is a serial creator with experience in the fashion industry and with live performance. New to fiction writing, her sci-fi novel, Sentience, is a written extension of a contemporary dance piece that was produced for the '17 Philly Fringe Festival based on artificial intelligence. view profile

Published on October 30, 2020

100000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Science Fiction

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