part III

They walked in silence for what felt like a long time until they arrived at the farm’s front gate bathed in the neon green glow of the ponds.

As the hauler slowed to a stop, W0RM reared up and stretched his metal legs before gliding down onto Ari’s shoulders. She let out yet another delighted giggle causing Roe to roll her eyes, as she walked past them to the gate’s control panel. But her annoyed expression quickly faded, giving way to trepidation. She stopped as she reached the control panel and sighed.

“Look, Ari...” she began, eyes on the ground, facing away from her. “I--I really appreciate... what you did tonight. I’d be dead if...”

Petting W0RM, Ari simpered sheepishly and shook her head, “Anyone would’ve done the same. It’s nothing.”

Roe turned to face her, a repressed intensity in her eyes, “It’s not, okay? Just--it’s not.”

Seeing her serious expression, Ari gave her a small nod but didn’t know what to say.

“But... I still can’t come with you,” Roe said, a strained quality beneath her voice. “My grandmother, she--still needs my help. I can’t just leave her, and...” She cleared her throat. “Things are complicated--with my grandfather.”

“Zero, I--“ Ari started.

But Roe cut her off and turned away, activating the gate, “Just stay the night and get some rest, okay? And in the morning you can wipe my mind or whatever you need to do...”

The gate slowly swung open, as Ari, shocked at Roe’s words, struggled to find her own.

“I’m sorry, I really am but,” Roe continued, “This sage, whoever... you have the wrong person. It isn’t me.” The hauler automatically rumbled back to life and began crawling forward through the open gate, and, with a pained expression, Roe walked in ahead of it.

Ari stared dumbstruck for a moment before running in after her.