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As the last remnants of daylight slid beneath the horizon, a tide of unending darkness rose forth to replace it. The night sky was a vast gaping maw bearing down on the world below, perforated by irregular splotches of glimmering starlight. The stars did little to cut through the night’s veil, instead serving a role more akin to feeble decorations hung to distract from drab aesthetics.
An isolated road marked the otherwise barren land. There was no light to be found on solid ground either. The welcome glow commonly associated with a row of streetlamps was missing. The lamps in question seemed to be in working condition, which was odd considering the lack of light. A dark curtain thus covered the stretch of land, altogether impenetrable and suffocating. The marked absence of noise certainly helped support the notion.
A pair of bright eyes turned up.
The silence was broken by the monotonous humdrum of a running engine. Wheels ran over the rugged mixture of asphalt and gravel, displacing loose bits of rock as they rolled on. The repetitive and mundane motions of a car forcing its way through an unfamiliar road were enough to break the tableau. A semblance of life seeped into the air.
Hidden behind the reflective windshield were two figures. Their faces looked grim and weary. One had his hands on the wheel, and his eyes mostly on the road. His spiky jet-black hair was unusually messy. Hours of driving had taken a toll on his mental strength and fatigue threatened to halt the journey. Plastic cups were strewn about in the back seat and the stench of cheap caffeine lingered despite the best efforts of air conditioning.
The other had a hand supporting her head as she leaned on the inside of the car door. Her brown hair hung loose and unkempt with her hairband left unused beside the handbrake. Her eyes darted around, desperately attempting to relieve herself of boredom. Despite their movements, the wavering of her eyelids made it clear that it was a struggle to keep awake. As she unconsciously slipped into a gradual slumber, an abrupt shift left jerked her awake.
“Maybe it’s time we stop for the night.”
“It’s alright; I just lost my concentration for a bit there”
“You nearly fell asleep. We could’ve died thanks to your ‘loss of concentration’”
“But we didn’t, did we?”
“Craig I am serious!”
“Jenna, I am fine.”
The car drifted off the road and straight into the sparsely grassed plains beside it. Tires tore up the dry soil, roughly rearranging the already messy ground. Prairie dogs scuttled away from the vehicle’s path as it careened haphazardly on its way. After carving a messy trail of upturned dirt and displaced animals, the car slowly braked to a stop.
Craig instinctively reached for his phone, but a firm hand stopped him. He wanted to open the phone, to check for any updates on the state of his distant comrades. The Ace of Communication had been a regular source of news for him. Unfortunately, this stream of information dried up with his murder. Thus, it didn’t take much for him to admit that hoping for an update was futile. He knew very well that they were the only ones left of their once great race.
“Did you forget, yet again, that phones can be tracked,” Jenna said sternly, her eyes forcing themselves to give her newfound companion a hard look despite her tiredness.
Craig groaned and slumped into his seat. He desperately, desperately needed a rest, a break, a few minutes of sleep at the very least. However, a nagging feeling told him to keep driving. Unfortunately, his body’s need was stronger than his (admittedly feeble) will to continue the journey. There was no point in trying to flee death if fleeing led to getting himself killed.
“Being on the run seemed far more exciting on film,” sighed the man. “Of course, I know it isn’t exactly a realistic thought, but still.”
“You’re lacking a lot of common sense for an Ace of Survival,” the girl chuckled. “Of course, you must be good at what you do. You’re alive after all.”
Craig’s face dropped at the jibe. He was normally fine with joking insults thrown his way, and he was definitely alright with it this time. However, reminding him that he was one of two survivors of a systematic genocide was bound to make his spirits fall. The girl’s words did have a point though. At least he was alive.
“Do you think things will ever get back to the way they were?”
The man paused in thought before thinking of a suitable answer. Perhaps it was the stressful situation that the two were trying their best to ignore that fried his thought processes and left his nerves frayed. It could also be the nonstop driving.
“To be honest, nothing’s really changed. The only difference now is that we’re being hunted. Have you ever been in contact with the others before?” asked Craig.
“The Ace of Swimming lived nearby. I’ve seen him around a couple times winning the local competitions. Never knew his name though,” said Jenna. “For a race that was supposed to be ‘the best of the best’, we sure got wiped out quickly.”
Craig couldn’t stifle the bitter laugh that escaped him.
“Some tribe of aces we were huh?” he said with a low voice. “We didn’t even know each other. Feel each other maybe, but we didn’t care enough.” Craig paused as he waited for a reaction from Jenna, but all he received was a blank stare which urged him to continue his rant. “We didn’t care until we felt the others start to die out. And even then we only tried to contact each other when there were a dozen left.” The middle-aged man didn’t realize his hands were trembling until his companion reached out to take his hand.
“Maybe our spirit links are malfunctioning? We don’t know for sure that everyone’s dead do we?”
“Well, neither of us can feel them anymore can we? The Ace of Communication’s fatality updates also matched with the remaining links I felt to our kind. I doubt his links to the rest of the Aces were off. We’re all that’s left.”
“Then our little Tribe of Aces is long gone Craig. It seemed like the safe thing to do. I guess our reincarnation cycles also left our people being born further apart the more it happened. Would’ve been a hassle to regroup no?” Jenna attempted a smile to assuage Craig’s worries, but his reaction (or rather, lack of it) made her stop trying. “Besides, the others wanted to try new things. The Ace of Art seemed happy in France.”
“And now he’s dead,” Craig dryly quipped. “I just don’t understand how this happened. Splitting was supposed to deflect suspicion, to keep us safe. It certainly wasn’t supposed to get us all killed off one by one by some twisted killer!” Though he hadn’t noticed it, his voice has raised to a shout by the end of his statement.
“How could we have known?” Jenna softly whispered. She let go of Craig’s still-trembling hand and got out the car. The cool air swept over her as a light breeze blew past. She plopped down to the ground in exhaustion, forgetting that it was only sparingly covered with grass and therefore, quite hard. The resulting bump and shout of pain was not unnoticed by her male companion.
It amazed Jenna that a race of people who were designed to be the paragons of their given talent could be so ruthlessly dispatched. An Ace was supposed to be unrivaled in his field. One specializing in football, for example, would play leagues better than the ordinary player. It was not impossible to match or even surpass an Ace at his talent with sufficient practice and effort. Of course, this was assuming the Ace had no training whatsoever. In layman’s terms, Aces were superior to the standard human.
“Do you think they’ll come back? Maybe they can still reincarnate,” inquired Craig, inadvertently interrupting his fellow Ace’s musings. The man slowly walked to join his tired friend, his question tainted by a faint hope. Perhaps ‘friend’ was pushing it, but they had grown close these past few days. This was probably a result of being the two last aces alive at the moment but it still counted for something.
Jenna noticeably looked a tad morose before answering, “I don’t think so.” Cynical words perhaps, but white lies weren’t going to help anyone at this point. She almost felt bad seeing Craig’s quickly saddening face. At least, she would’ve had he actually been saddened.
In fact, Craig seemed alright, relieved even. It was a very odd reaction for someone that seemed rather perturbed by the state of their race just a few moments ago.
“I guess I was lying to myself when I thought that we could’ve rebuilt,” Craig chuckled, “I know that we couldn’t feel them anymore, but it didn’t hurt to hope.”
“Reincarnation does not cut off our kind from our senses.”
“I know that,” snapped Craig halfheartedly, “It makes our foe seem far more dangerous though.”
It only took Jenna a second to register his hidden meaning. It was commonly known (by their kind) that only Ace could kill Ace. A murder by a normal human would only lead to a reincarnation, only a mild inconvenience for the Ace in question. Despite this weakness, no Ace would kill another. The fact that they had a static population size had led to the ‘tribe’ to unanimously decide that there would be no infighting and violence to ensure that their kind would survive. The mystery killer was probably another special breed of human, perhaps thinking that it was time for all rival subspecies to be exterminated. It seemed like the only logical explanation at this point.
“Say, what sort of Ace are you again?”
Jenna rolled her eyes at her companion’s decidedly forgetful nature. She had quite clearly explained the abilities she possessed to Craig at the motel they stayed at two days ago. To his credit, Craig seemed to recall the details rather quickly.
“Right, Ace of Pacifism. Not sure how that’s going to help us if someone does come and try to slit our throats as we sleep.”
“Maybe a bit of diplomacy and a gentle bit of persuasion might help us out in that case,” Jenna half-joked, “I always thought pacifism was a rather disappointing ability to have. My survival to this point could be attributed to luck, not to any special skill I wield.” Her voice trailed off as she continued her sentence, which her companion was quick to catch. Before he could even attempt to comfort her, the girl interjected with another question.
“So how do your abilities work?”
“I’m not sure myself really. I guess I have a sense for danger, and an innate ability to select courses of action that will guarantee survival. I survived high school just fine despite my horrible grades, never failed once actually,” Craig laughed, “I suppose it’s no real surprise if I survive the end of the aces.”
Jenna failed to respond to his statements. The sarcasm that normally oozed out of her was now gone. Instead she dragged herself to lean on the car’s side, pulling her knees closer to her body. She hadn’t noticed it when they were conversing, but it seemed that the sky was slowly brightening. They really had been on the road for far too long. The black curtain that had been draped over the Earth was being slowly pulled back. The twinkles of far-off stars were soon to be extinguished by the shining of a star far closer.
The approach of a new dawn was not lost on Craig, who decided to lie on the ground in anticipation of sunrise. It would be an hour or so before it would appear, but he would wait. He had always enjoyed the little things in life. He never considered himself an ambitious man, content to simply life live the way it presented itself. Being the Ace of Survival meant that he would be a master, but he had always interpreted the act of survival to be akin to getting by. He never had to prove a point by being the head of a certain field. All he had to do was survive. Amidst his string of thoughts, something suddenly clicked.
“Hey Jenna, did any of our kind ever achieve anything of note?” Her silent response told him everything. “…Nothing at all?” Craig’s voice wavered. Despite the sun’s impending arrival, he couldn’t help but feel his positivity sink deeper and deeper. A collection of highly skilled people and none of them had made a mark on the world. Nothing had been done. Nothing.
“I always thought the Ace of Leadership would be president, maybe the Ace of Science could have engineered something of note. So why didn’t they? Why must our kind be so useless, so utterly unproductive? We did nothing!” Craig continued to ramble. The weight of the sheer amount of potential the aces squandered struck Craig like an avalanche. So it wasn’t just him that lazed around. His actions were justifiable, perhaps even inevitable, but the others had no excuse. They died with nothing to their name, when they really should be pioneers or at least, renowned figures in their field. Their wasted skills had sunk deep into a quagmire, and there would be no one to dig it up now that they were permanently dead.
Jenna watched as Craig descended further into his meltdown, as he continued rambling and spouting out nigh-incoherent ideas. Anger rarely led to comprehensible speech, and she was seeing no difference here. As the man finally exhausted his emotions by letting out a rage-filled shout, crumpling into a mass that seemed to have no fight left, Jenna finally opened her mouth.
“Contrary to your belief, some of our kind did achieve things, particularly in the olden days. I would say that our survival as a species hinged on the actual tribe of aces back then. There are some now that have achieved the heights they are meant to, like Leo for example,” Jenna sighed, “But do you know our real problem?”
Craig stared blankly at Jenna, too tired to even think of an answer. He waited unresponsively for her to enlighten him with the very answers that he had only recently been seeking. A dignified and oddly educated air had suddenly emanated from his female companion, something which had been absent before. The discrepancy was welcome. Craig needed someone to explain things.
“We did nothing with those gifts. Many of us have probably festered with the knowledge and skills they wield locked up in their brains. Perhaps some were caught up in their own superiority complex, convinced that no one would ever surpass them. This led to a lack of effort. A lack of effort leads to a lack of progress, and that explains all your worries doesn’t it? I suspect some of the aces might have even been just lazy, too lazy to even attempt to share their gifts with the world. As a result, the world surpassed them. They became inconsequential,” stated Jenna.
Although she clearly wasn’t done, Craig was starting to get a little disturbed. It wasn’t her fault though. He was vaguely aware that the flaws that she pointed out were true, yet he couldn’t accept it. Not easily at the very least. What was the point of being an Ace if anyone could just surpass you? Before he could ponder the issue for much longer, Jenna cut in once more.
“Hawking was an exception to be fair. He strived to make an impact on theoretical physics and quantum mechanics despite his failing body. But eventually, he believed his knowledge was absolute, and that all he said was infallible. He grew arrogant, and mired in his ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone eventually proposed a better model. I wouldn’t know, I’m not an Ace of Science after all,” Jenna continued. Her eyes had taken on a steely glint at this point. She was completely invested in this impassioned rant condemning her very race, seemingly feeling no remorse whatsoever for her words.
“Did you know that Mr. Swimming was eventually beaten at his own game? I watched him grow confident with his array of gathered trophies and medals. He slacked off, neglected his health. He believed that he was the apex of swimming, but he was not. A man beat him in the following competition. Our Ace was dead by the next morning.”
Craig could feel the tempo of the impromptu speech slow down. It seemed that Jenna was nearing her point, but he was sure he had the gist of it. The morning was drawing ever closer, and he was ready to continue his endeavor to escape his untimely death by the Ace killer. He patiently waited for Jenna to continue her rant, but nothing came out. She had gone silent and returned to passively sitting on the ground. The man tried to rouse her but felt too tired. Instead, he felt sleep clutch at him, and he let himself be taken by it.
“So, do you understand our failings?” A feminine voice jolted Craig out of his woefully short rest. Jenna was now on her feet, facing the sunrise. She was covered by the warm glare of the rising star, an orange light bathing the ground. Craig decided to remain mute, curious as to his companion’s views.
“We were complacent, we were lazy, and we had no drive. Our race could have been great, we could have controlled this world by excelling at our respective talents. A sort of Illuminati, if you may,” Jenna couldn’t help but laugh at her outlandish reference. Craig could only blink at the unexpected interruption.
“So yes, that’s what we missed. All because no one had the brains to even attempt a breakthrough. It’s all in our blood, but unfortunately common sense and simple ambition doesn’t come with it. Instead, arrogance and the typical pitfalls of one convinced of superiority. I’m sure our Ace of Science just thought to himself that ‘Oh, I could’ve done that myself’ when the LHC was created, but he didn’t. He could’ve but he didn’t. That’s where we failed as a race Craig, we are a stuck-up group of wasted potential,” and with that, Jenna finally stopped, inhaling a large amount of oxygen to make up for all the breaths she didn’t take in her speech.
Craig was stunned, for the very least. Jenna had never given any indication that she was capable of such critical thinking in the four days that they had been on the run together. He didn’t know she had it in her. A quick glance at his friend told him that she was now shaking, and perhaps on the verge of collapse. Resisting the urge to congratulate himself on his relatively successful life (after all, he had lived whilst the others had died without achieving much), Craig went to the brunette’s side.
“I’m afraid there’s not much more we can do at this point. I don’t see us Aces of Survival and Pacifism having any impact on the world with our talents. We should keep leave now, no sense in letting the killer catch up to us,” consoled Craig. He was very much aware that it was a pitiful attempt, but it was all he had at this point. He glanced at the sky. The sun was almost completely raised, signaling another day of retreat.
Jenna was silent for a moment before firing off a sharp retort.
“You do realize that we can make a difference regardless of our Ace talents right?”
Craig shrugged and opened the car door, ready to drive away. Jenna cleared the back seat, dumping the assorted trash scattered around it onto the ground. Littering was of no concern to a pair seeking to avoid the extinction of their species.
As Jenna was occupied with her own doings, Craig waited restlessly in the front. He did not want to die. It might be true that his race had not been one to be proud of, but it didn’t mean that he was willing to roll over and let himself be murdered. Perhaps he could work together with Jenna to take down this other race. A human subspecies with no qualms with committing genocide was a breed that was too dangerous to let live. With the rustling in the back indicating his companion wasn’t done, Craig grew even more fretful, and slightly bored. A quick motion found his phone in his hand. A press of the power button, and the phone flickered to life with a new message.
Craig raised an eyebrow. It was from the Ace of Communication. A smile broke on his face. They weren’t the only ones left after all. With barely-concealed delight, he opened the message. The giddiness left his body as soon as he read the date. The message was sent 4 days ago. Dejectedly attributing the message to a stroke of horrid signal, he opened it.
“Pacifism and Communication dead”
Craig’s eyes widened, both from the shocking news and the horrific squelch of a knife forced through his chest. Adrenaline rushed through his veins, and the wounded man attempted to wrench the knife out. The assailant gladly obliged, pulling the weapon out his body. Before Craig could react, he was stabbed in the same spot several more times. All he could do was scream in agony as each stab ruptured arteries and veins, unimaginable pain coursing through him. Finally, the knife pierced straight through his heart, where it stayed.
“See, I’m not like the others”
Time seemed to slow down for Craig, as he struggled to take in what he was seeing.
“Y-You were the killer?” gasped the man weakly. He could feel his life ebbing away from him. His vision slowly darkened at the edges, and he knew that it would eventually go black. In a desperate effort to ease his passing, he looked at the sunrise, but his view was blocked.
“Yes. As you are in the process of dying, I think you deserve the truth. There was no other race. It was all me. I couldn’t stand our kind’s inactivity any longer, so I decided to act. I will change the world with my actions, and with you gone, I will be immortal. No one can stop me,” The words leaving Jenna’s mouth struck Craig with a horrid realization. She was right. She had won.
“Someone will catch on, someone will stop you! You can’t expect your trail of death to be unnoticed by everyone else! And when they find you, they will take you down!” shouted Craig, or so he thought. In reality, his voice grew feeble as the blood poured out of his gaping wound. His anger at the betrayal was a prisoner of his dying body. What use is a willing mind when the body is unable to voice its thoughts?
“Even if I die, it’ll only be a matter of time until my reincarnated self continues my work. Without another Ace to put me down for good, I’m practically unstoppable. I will do what our pathetic ’Tribe of Aces’ couldn’t. I will make use of my gifts, and I will make an impact one way or another. Our tribe may die today, but one Ace will remain. And said Ace won’t be going anywhere,” Jenna calmly said. Her demeanor had changed rapidly, and there was no hint of malice whatsoever anymore.
“So, farewell my friend. Thank you for the free ride and everything you’ve offered me. I truly am sorry, to an extent, to dispose of you this way. Guess you couldn’t survive after all. But it must be done. Tell our brethren that our legacy will remain. I shall see to that.”
Craig could do nothing as he sank into despair and nothingness. Nothing at all. Their race had been brought to near extinction at the hands of one of their own. As his senses deteriorated and his vision darkened, his killer had one last message for him to bring to the grave.
“It’s a shame that you didn’t see things my way. We could’ve changed the world together. Unfortunately, your narrow-minded views ensured that it wasn’t to be.”
As Jenna turned to leave his side, she suddenly paused as if to say something.
“Oh and I was never the Ace of Pacifism. I am the Ace of Murder.”