Author: Iskeirka PM
Something is terribly wrong with the city, yet Bea is drawn to it. Trapped in a tower her whole life, she is about to uncover a dark and terrible secret...Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror/Romance - Words: 12,412 - Reviews: 2 - Published: 11-25-09 - Status: Complete - id: 2744863
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
B46N087 lay in the dark, staring out the window at the midnight sky. The moonlight crept through the gateway to the outside world, softly falling on her uncovered limbs. The stars winked from their lofty heights, adding to the beauty of the night. Clouds rolled gently across the sky, dimming the silver light briefly before it burned through the thin layer once more.
Far below, the city was full of life, even at this ungodly hour. Parties were in full swing; adrenaline-pumped teens sought to assert their masculinity by racing on the streets; people were out clubbing and drinking.
B46N087 had never been down to the city. The Tower was all she knew. She had never experienced the joys and sorrows, the pain and the wonder of city life. Her whole existence had been spent in the building only known to her as the Tower, mostly in the very room she was in now. The her and the other children received whatever it was they asked for, so long as no outside contact was involved. They all slept in large dormitories, sharing shower and toilet facilities. Breakfast was served promptly at seven, and if you missed it you had to wait for lunch.
The children all lived comfortable lives, but B46N087 sometimes wondered whether living safely and healthily was worth the price of freedom.
Bea, as she was called, sighed, lying back on the soft covers of her bed, shutting her eyes and letting the darkness encroach upon her once more. When the dark came creeping over her, shutting off her senses and blackening her mind, she felt peaceful at last. Other times, there was a sort of tenseness in the air, a sense of anxiety, even if nobody had a reason to feel that way. There was just something about the shining glass panes and silver walls that inspired a feeling of being caged, and what Bea wanted most of all was to find the key that unlocked those gilded bars.
A strand of light shone through the glass panes of the windows, alighting gently on Bea's sleeping form, turning her normally dirty blonde hair into shining strands of gold splayed across the pillow. Her green eyes were screwed shut, as if in worry or fear, but all of a sudden her stiff limbs relaxed, and her breath whooshed out of her lungs in a soft sigh.
Rubbing the sleep from her bleary eyes, Bea sat up, the covers rustling softly around her. A few of the other girls stirred, some sitting up as well, or immediately jumping out of bed and into their dressing gowns and slippers. Bea certainly couldn't understand the enthusiasm; it was just another ordinary day, with ordinary school and ordinary chores. She got up, sighing, slipping her feet into fuzzy pink slippers and her arms into a matching dressing gown, wandering off to see what was for breakfast today.
"Bea? Is something the matter? You seem a little distant," Bea's friend Lilly asked, waving her forkful of pancake around to emphasize her words. Lilly had been named after the flowers she loved so much, and Ember for her love of fire. All the girls had nicknames – they had decided that for themselves years ago – that served as something to address one of them as. Numbers were too difficult to remember, and too much of a hassle to say.
Bea was named after the B in her number, as she seemed to have no distinguishing characteristics, and just went along with whatever people said. If she ever regretted how she acted, or a decision made, she would never show it. Bea didn't speak much, choosing instead to think and ponder over matters she considered important.
"Hey, listen to me, will you?" The white-haired girl exclaimed, thumping one fist down on the table and standing slightly. Lilly's features were twisted in a frown – slightly angry, but still concerned. Bea scowled, not at her friend's worry, but at the fact that she had made her worry in the first place.
"I'm fine, Lilly, just a little tired is all," she said, lying through her teeth. "I didn't get much sleep last night, so don't expect me to be the most responsive person in the world today."
"Well, if you're sure..." Lilly trailed off, waiting for a response.
Bea ignored the teacher, choosing instead to stare out the window at the shining, bustling city down below. Besides, the literature teacher was hardly the most interesting thing to look at. Instead, she gazed upon the one place she had never been.
Far below, the people moved like ants, scurrying around looking for work and food and a good time. The whole affair seemed so very random, but Bea knew it was organised chaos. Watching the people far below scrambling around like flies on a carcass seemed so very calming, separated from it as she was. Perhaps, if it were her down there, Bea would be hurrying around too, rushing and shoving people out of her way in an effort not to be late to some terribly important event.
Still, sometimes she considered the possibility of not wanting to go down to the shining silver world, with the ant-people and the wonderful gadgets and opportunities. The many teachers came in from the Outside, and every single one of them seemed to gaze upon their pupils with something not dissimilar to contempt, as if they were lesser beings. Sometimes Bea would catch a disgusted glance directed at her or one of her comrades, and shivered at the intensity of the glare. What had they done that was so terrible? Bea had spent her whole life in The Tower, going about her life and disturbing nobody, but obviously she had done something to offend these people.
Personally, she considered them to be the strange ones. Sometimes, she noticed something off about them. If one looked closely, the Outsider's skin sometimes seemed to be a different shade from another part of their body, but she simply wrote it off as a trick of the light.
Still, there was something about the city-dwellers that made Bea nervous. Perhaps it was the way they gazed at her with such disgust; maybe that in itself had subconsciously caused her to become wary of them, even if nothing was wrong. She could just be pointlessly paranoid, with no reason for it, but Bea didn't think so. There was just something wrong with those people, something she couldn't quite place. Perhaps it was that they were adults. Bea had never seen anyone from The Tower grow to adulthood. They were all young, like her, or from the Outside.
Then again, perhaps it was people like Bea who were the strange ones in this world. The oddities. The minority.
"Do you ever wonder why we can't go down into the city?" Bea asked, carefully placing a bookmark in between the pages of her novel. Lilly looked up from her sewing, a confused look on her face.
"No, why?" she asked, setting aside her needle and thread, spreading the midnight fabric on her lap. The girl turned to face Bea, frowning. The other squirmed slightly under Lilly's questioning gaze, leaning back in her seat.
"I just see no reason for the restrictions on us is all. I mean, why keep us cooped up here unless there was something wrong with us? Unless there was something about us that shouldn't be seen..." Bea trailed off, her grey eyes widening a fraction.
"What are you trying to say? That we're sick or something?" Lilly laughed, picking up her sewing once more and turning away from Bea in a gesture of finality. Bea sighed, knowing that once her friend had made up her mind, she would not listen to anything that went against her decision. Lilly was the type of person to stick her head in the sand when anyone mentioned something off. It was just how she was, and people are hard to change.
Bea stood at the window, watching life bustling past down below, like ants in an anthill. Hurrying around, not even realising how silly it all was. How futile. People are born to procreate, and then die. What's in between doesn't matter. Born to die; it was as simple as that.
Life seemed like a meaningless jumble of events all mixed together into a ball of confusion and anger, love and hate, joy and misery. And among it all, a sense of non-existent purpose; a desire to get involved, to do something, to leave your mark among a world moving ever onward.
But, like all things, time would wash the slate clean, and it would be forgotten.
"I want to go down there."
"You have to be kidding me!"
"I'm not, Lilly, I'm really not. The teachers and staff come and go, so there has to be a way out."
"But Bea, you can't! You just can't! We're not allowed, you know that."
"I know, but there's got to be something wonderful if we're not allowed down there."
"What if its something dangerous, and we're being kept safe up here?"
"Then we should know, shouldn't we?"
"Bea, what's changed? Why are you being like this all of a sudden? Things are just like they always were! Nothing's out of the ordinary, so why the curiosity?"
"I don't know, but something tells me there's a secret down there to be found. And I want to know what it is."
Bea once again found herself at the window, staring down at the silver slopes and smooth surfaces of the city, gleaming under the afternoon sun. The light refracted off a million planes of glass and metal, travelling from roof to roof and shining archway, making the entire city glow with the light of a shattered sunbeam.
The sun was reflected in the perfect surface, lighting the buildings on fire. From above, they were blinding to look at – a furnace among a dusty plane. And above it all, the tower rose, a structure of gleaming black metal dotted with clear, shining planes of glass. It sat in the centre of the city, watching over the inhabitants with a stern gaze as they went about their business.
Confined in those walls was a city in itself; nameless creatures created simply for the people of the city, to be used and then cast away, with no idea at all of what fate awaited them.
Rael bustled through the crowd, dodging people left and right in a futile endeavor to move faster. His mismatched eyes darted around, trying not to see the milling populace. To unsee what they had done to themselves. Monsters, the whole lot of them. Could they not see what they were doing? Cannibalizing themselves in an effort to become 'beautiful'. It was horrifying, disgusting, and monstrous.
And yet he was one of them. Of the many terrible things in this world, he was one of the worst, for though Rael saw the wrong-doings and torture inflicted upon Outsiders, he did not even lift a finger to try and stop it. Even though it went against every fibre of his being, Rael didn't seem to care.
"Hey Ember." Bea waved to the girl in the corner, her red hair shining almost gold in the bright sunshine pouring through the window above her. Ember looked up, her blue eyes flashing in recognition at the sight of her friend.
"Hey Bea, what's up?" she asked, patting the seat next to her in an invitation to sit. The scar on her hand shone white against her pale flesh, the raised ridge of flesh a line of snow on her pink-tinged hand.
"Nothing much, really," Bea replied, sighing distastefully before flopping down in the chair previously indicated. Ember raised one crimson eyebrow disbelievingly, scrutinizing Bea with a curious expression.
"Oh, I highly doubt its 'nothing much'," the fire-lover stated, leaning back in her seat and lacing long, pale fingers behind her head. "You're never like this unless something's on your mind. So spill, or I'll drag the secret out of you kicking and screaming." At this proclamation she grinned wickedly, white teeth glinting in the sunlight. Ember certainly had her own way of persuading people, that was for sure. The girl was stubborn, brash, and tended to rub people the wrong way, but she was loyal to anyone who took the time to befriend her.
"Ember, really, it's nothing," Bea began, raising her hands defensively against the impending onslaught. "You don't have to worry." Ember's icy eyes glinted, barely suppressed rage and annoyance swirling around in the sky blue, giving her a menacing aura.
"You come in here, with a look on your face that says something's on your mind, sighing like you want the air to escape your lungs completely, and such a hopeless feeling about you and you expect me to believe it's nothing?" Ember growled, leaning close, knuckles tightening on the arms of her chair until it looked like she was going to leave a hole in the fabric. Or several. Bea winced, backing away, her hands serving as a barrier between her and the rampaging monster she knew she would soon face.
"I-I mean...you..." Bea trailed off, silenced by the furious look in her friend's eyes.
"You forget that you're like an open book to me, Bea. Now tell me what is wrong."
Ember had always been protective of her friends, as they were the closest things to family she had, even to the point of being violently so. If there was something bothering them, or someone picking on them, Ember would go charging in there like a rampaging bull and pound that problem into submission. Needless to say, Bea and Lilly had lived a very sheltered life, with Ember taking care of all that threatened them.
Still, when not taking anyone out, or threatening certain individuals, she tended to appear quiet and withdrawn, only showing her true self to her friends.
"Are you going to tell me or not?" Ember asked once more, and if it wasn't she who was at the receiving end, Bea would almost think it funny to see such a fearsome glower on such a little person. Bea sighed, resigning herself to a long talk, with several jabs at her sanity involved.
"You know that you're crazy, don't you?" Ember asked, through it was more a statement of fact. The sun still flooded their little niche, though lower than before, and not as scorching hot. The light was dimmer, more diluted, the wispy clouds overhead capturing some of the sunbeams in their woolen substance.
Bea pressed a hand to her forehead, trying to ignore the throbbing headache that was building. Sighing, she opened her eyes, meeting Ember's gaze unflinchingly.
"I thought we had established that little fact a long time ago," she joked, trying to lighten the mood. "It's not exactly the most surprising thing to discover about me, is it?"
"True," Ember agreed jokingly, thankfully leaving things at that.
There's got to be a way out somewhere, Bea mused, surreptitiously peering around the corner into the corridor. This area was forbidden, and if Bea were found skulking around, there would be terrible consequences.
This is where the Outsiders come and go, so there has to be something.
All the girl could see was a long, dark corridor, stretching beyond here field of vision, glittering silver and dark wood shining in the torchlight. The hall was dotted with doorways, all of them shut and locked, barring her way. Blocking any passage to the outside world that may be hidden beyond those polished frames.
If only I knew how to pick locks, Bea mused, staring at the doors. Not that it would help much.
Sighing in frustration, the girl made her way through the shining maze once more.
"Where were you last night?" Lilly demanded, hands on hips and a scowl plastered over her features. The other girl had cornered Bea in the late afternoon while she was sitting in the common room, reading a favourite book.
Bea looked up, forcing a frown onto her face. "What are you talking about?"
Lilly sighed, sinking into a chair opposite her friend. "Don't do this now, Bea, please. You know perfectly well what I'm asking; don't you deny it."
The other girl scowled, sighing in frustration. "Lilly, just leave it. I don't have to tell you everything," she replied, before taking her book in her hands, and then getting up and walking away.
Lilly watcher her friend leave, sighing, her fists clenched in agitation.
What's gotten into you, Bea? It's like I don't even know who you are anymore.
Bea was back in the corridor, darting from light-stand to furniture to shadows, watching carefully and alertly for anyone that might pass by. Last night she had almost been caught, rolling under a table just in time to avoid being seen by a cleaner that had been roaming the halls. Her heart had been in her throat, and for a moment Bea thought she was going to be caught.
But then the woman had moved on, whistling tunelessly as she dragged her mop and bucket behind her, and Bea had sprawled out under the table, relieved beyond words.
She lay there for a minute or two, recovering from her minor fright, before getting to her feet once more. Heading down the shining corridor, she set out to explore the other, unseen, hallways.
Bea had started putting a map together from her midnight expeditions; just some lines scribbled quickly onto a scrap piece of paper, but it served its purpose.
The map was now in her hand, guiding her way through the endless maze, a pencil in her pocket to start marking in new lines and boxes when she left the area she knew and set out into unknown territory. Slowly but surely, Bea was learning the way the corridors twisted and turned, sometimes folding back in on themselves, sometimes coming to a dead end; all in no logical order or pattern. There were no grids, no shapes or any repetition she could discern from what knowledge she had.
Bea sighed, leaning her forehead against a cold metal wall, letting the chilly sensation seep into her head, hoping it would help her think. She would follow one of the instructors, but they all left at the same time, and they would easily see her. The kitchen staff and cleaners – though they were Outsiders – had their own quarters on a different floor of the building to make getting their jobs done easier. And as far as Bea knew, there was no one else in the building apart from the other children.
So she had resorted to forgoing sleep and exploring the labyrinthine corridors by the darkness of night, perpetually searching for a way out of her prison. Every morning she was ready to drop dead from exhaustion, and Bea slept through her classes – not that the teachers cared.
Her friends were getting sick of the way she was acting, but she couldn't bring herself to care. Bea had become so absorbed in the idea of freedom that she didn't feel they mattered anymore, or that they came a mere second to what she was so focused on now. It was an unpleasant feeling, to be sure, but Bea was so absorbed in her search that she pushed all her other thoughts to the back of her mind, to sit and fester until they became too much to bear.
Her head jerked up at the sound of footsteps marching down the corridor, and she ducked into the shadows of a table, praying to whatever gods were out there that she would not be noticed. Her heart was pounding like a war drum, and she could barely hear over the rapid beating of the vital organ. Her body was tense, ready to flee if she should somehow be seen.
Bea peeked around the corner and, seeing nothing, quickly pulled the hood of her jumper up, low over her face in case she should have to make a run for it. She flattened herself against the wall, pulling her legs against her body until it was almost painful, her arms wrapped around the other limbs in a death grip. Ducking her head, Bea craned her neck until only the black of her hood showed, masking her presence – or so she hoped.
She held her breath as a person rounded the corner, a trolley trundling along behind them. A middle-aged woman pulled it, her hair wrapped in a white scarf, and an apron covering her ill-fitting clothes. Bea realized she was a cleaner, obviously come to erase all traces of dirt and dust from the corridor. The girl relaxed slightly, before realising exactly what kind of predicament she was now in. The woman would pay attention to her surroundings, noticing every detail. And she would clean the table under which Bea was hidden. She was sure to be noticed. There was nowhere to hide, and not enough time to run without drawing the janitor's attention.
But the woman stopped, only a metre of so away from Bea, and turned to look at a blank stretch of wall. Then she reached up, standing on a folding stool acquired from her trolley, and gripped a section of ornate edging in her hands, pulling it from the wall in a small, clean section. She then glanced around and, making sure no one was watching, put her hand through the gap before pulling it back out again. She then kneeled and did the same thing to a section of wall just above the floor.
Bea watched, absorbing every detail with burning intensity, certain that the woman was unknowingly showing her the way out. Another section of wall – from the middle this time – popped out, revealing a glowing panel with numbers inscribed on it. Bea crept closer and closer, until she could see the buttons the woman keyed in, committing the information to memory. She would need it.
And then the wall slid silently away on oiled tracks, leaving a rectangular, human-sized gap. The janitor turned, retrieved her trolley, and wheeled the cleaning equipment through the hole. The wall slid shut behind her, no mark or crease betraying the presence of the secret entrance.
Bea grinned happily, fishing a pen out of her pocket and writing the combination on her hand before sneaking back to the dorm to sleep. She had a lot of planning to do.
Clothes flew everywhere as Bea rummaged through her wardrobe in a frenzied search, garments falling to land on her bed, table, and even her head. The girl huffed irritably as she pushed a scarf away from her eyes, letting it fall to the ground as she continued turning her wardrobe inside out in an attempt to find appropriate clothing to wear.
It would be her first trip into the shining city, and she certainly didn't think it would be her last. Bea knew there would be adventure down there; new, wonderful things that she had never seen. The open air, the blue sky, the crowded places. Bea had never been outside, and she only knew about a hundred people her age, all of them girls.
Now that I think about it, there don't seem to be as many of us nowadays, she mused, pausing in her abuse of her clothes. Shirt in hand, she looked around the dormitory, noticing just how many beds were stripped of sheets, and bedside tables void of personal belongings. Bea had heard rumours that select groups of people were being taken away, perhaps to the city, to be integrated into the everyday life of the outside world.
Bea's eyes narrowed as she contemplated this. Why couldn't she be one of the few chosen to be taken away from her every day, mundane life and thrust into a shining new world? It would have been a way to solve her frustration at being cooped up without sneaking around in the middle of the night like some kind of criminal. Some people were just lucky.
But she could hardly help matters now, and thus Bea was stuck skulking around in the dark of the night, scared to death of being found and locked away. She'd heard of what happened to those who disobeyed the strict regulations of their towering home, and it certainly wasn't pretty.
Sighing, she turned back to her wardrobe, sifting through what felt like mountains of clothes in an effort to find something suitable. It would have to be nondescript, and easily able to blend in. Bea collapsed face-first onto her bed, making an effort to keep from screaming into her pillow in frustration. Who knew choosing clothes could be so difficult?
She was under the table again, cowering in the shadows as she waited for the man to pass. He seemed to take forever, pausing when he reached the corner and looking back, causing Bea to shrink back further, terrified he had spotted her.
But he didn't, and after waiting for a moment or two to make sure he wasn't coming back, she leapt from her hiding spot, scurrying over to the section of wall she knew concealed the way out. Even standing on the tips of her toes, Bea found she could not reach the loose section of wall she had seen the woman reach into the previous night. Scowling, she cursed her genes for making her so short and, with much shoving and swearing, she finally got the table to the other side of the corridor, directly below where she was trying to reach.
Nodding approvingly to herself, Bea climbed up onto the table, running her fingertips over the wall in search of the hairline indent she knew would be there. If she found that, then she would have found the moveable section of wall.
"Ah, there it is!" Bea quietly exclaimed, a grin stretching across her features. Resting one hand lightly against the wall, the other moving to hang limply by her side, she pushed. The wall gave way soundlessly, leaving a gap a hand span tall and two wide. Bea, standing on her tip-toes, could see a button inside the gap and, her heart thumping with anticipation, pressed it.
There was a slight whirring noise, followed by the faintest gust of air blown onto her face, but other than that, nothing. Bea scowled, disappointed, before setting about moving the table back to the other side of the corridor.
That task dealt with, the girl then returned to the section of wall she had been looking at before. Kneeling down this time, she conducted the same search as before, this time at the bottom of the wall. Then, finding the section that folded in, she pressed the button hidden inside.
There was quite a different reaction this time around.
A large section of plaster slid away on oiled tracks, revealing a gaping hole of human height. No light emanated from inside, and nothing could be seen for the darkness. Bea frowned, squinting into the hidden hallway and, finding that she could indeed see nothing, fumbled around in the pockets of her hooded jumper for the small flashlight she had packed. Then, turning that on, she walked through the gap, the wall closing soundlessly behind her.
The city was more beautiful than she had imagined, and more terrifying. It was late at night, and lights were everywhere, the reflective buildings bathing in their radiance, and sending the rays onwards. This leant an eerily beautiful glow to the buildings and streets, made even more unearthly by the sheer variety of people Bea saw. They were generally young, and dressed so outrageously the girl felt like there was a giant sign stuck to her head saying 'Look at me, I'm normal!'
In a way all this was terrifying. The scale of it all – it had looked so much smaller from her lofty vantage point – and the volume of people pressing against her, hurrying here and there, talking, shouting, sullenly pushing through the crowds. She wanted to scream; to kick and flail and claw at the crush of people until they gave her room to finally breathe.
But she didn't, and they didn't. Instead, Bea was left alone in a sea of people, feeling far removed and so very small even as the crowds pressed against her, and her lungs strained for air.
And yet she could not bring herself to go back to the darkened dormitory and whispering voices; to her friends admonishing her over her distance. If she returned, Bea knew that would be the end. If she could just ride out this one night, she could return to this wonderful, shining place once more.
Taking a deep breath, her hands clenched into fists so tight her nails broke the skin, and her heart racing wildly, Bea set out to explore the radiant city she had so longed to see.
An hour and a half later, Bea was exhausted, her head pounding and her throat parched. She had wandered around, ducking her head into various buildings and establishments, taking a stroll through the green expanse of parklands she saw every day from her classroom window, and all the while wondering why on earth she hadn't thought of escaping before. This sprawling civilisation was crawling with life, love and laughter. There were beautiful buildings – some entirely made of glass, and others of shining metal engraved with beautiful patterns and pictures. Nobody seemed to suffer from poverty, and everywhere people seemed to be out and enjoying themselves.
It made no sense to keep a whole generation of people locked up in a tower, looking down on this wonderful place. Bea now seriously doubted all the reasons she had heard – 'The people down there are dangerous', 'There's some horrible disease', 'We're needed for something'. They all seemed like stupid speculation, more gossip than serious thought.
And yet, and bloody yet, Bea couldn't stop herself feeling that there was something terribly wrong with the city. It wasn't a conscious thought, but some deep instinct that told of great danger, making her want to run away from it all, to flee in sheer terror from that shining city, that lofty tower. To run as far and as fast as her legs could take her, carrying her to a safe place at last.
But all this was locked in the back of her mind, unnoticed and ignored, fighting against the thoughts of splendour and beauty that trapped it there.
And, of course, she should have listened.
"You weren't in last night," Lilly stated blandly, sourly jabbing a fork into an innocent piece of toast. Bea sighed, abandoning her breakfast as she tried to think of the best way to avoid her friend's wrath.
"So you noticed," she replied, squirming in her plastic chair. Lilly looked up from her mangled toast, anger sparking in her eyes, her teeth grinding and her fist clenched to tight the knuckles were as white as parchment.
"Of course I noticed," she bellowed, slamming her fist onto the table, the plates, glasses and cutlery doing an odd, airborne jig. Bea flinched, shrinking into her seat in a last ditch effort to escape Lilly's anger. Perhaps if she looked small enough, pathetic enough...
But it didn't work, and Bea found herself staring into the eyes of an angry, hurt and worried friend, who was currently very close to tearing her poor piece of toast apart and pelting it at the girl next to her. Bea watched fearfully as Lilly made an effort to calm down, her clenched fists loosening, the tension draining out of her frame. Suddenly she looked incredibly weary, and Bea wanted to scoop her up in a hug and tell her everything was going to be alright.
"You're my friend, Bea, of course I worry," Lilly whispered. "We've known each other since we were born, and I've always trusted you. With everything." She sighed, letting her head lie on the table. "So why can't you trust me with this?"
Bea winced, pressing cold fingertips to her forehead in agitation. "It's not that I can't trust you, Lilly," she began, searching fruitlessly for the right words.
"There's a difference between 'can't' and 'don't', Bea," Lilly muttered bitterly. Bea sighed, hating to see this side of her friend, and loathing herself for being the cause of it.
"I do trust you, but this is something I can't share. Believe me, I would tell you if I could, but I just..." Bea trailed off, wincing as she realised just how very selfish she sounded. And in a way she was, hiding her discovery from her closest friend, when she knew that Lilly would love to join her on a night time jaunt into that shining silver place. In that instant, Bea finally admitted to herself that she wanted to keep it all to herself, not letting another soul know about her adventures.
"I understand," Lilly said coldly, interrupting Bea's musing. Picking up her glass of orange juice and mangled toast, she stood, eyes devoid of emotion as she gazed down at her friend. "I won't bother you anymore, then."
And with that, she walked away.
"What did you do, Bea?" Ember asked, looming over the girl, who winced and writhed uncomfortably. The slightly older girl scowled, before grasping Bea's chin and turning her head to face hers. Bea, giving into her superior strength, sighed.
"I didn't do anything," she stated. Ember glared at her, before hissing a reply.
"Oh yes you did! Or is there another reason Lilly is moping around, not saying a word to anyone; not even me! And you know who she was last seen with? You," she replied, practically spitting the last word, as if it left a vile taste in her mouth. Bea winced, cowering before the anger and contempt of her friend, and hating herself more for every minute of it she had to endure. She had seen Ember's anger before, when someone else had hurt Lilly or her, but it had never been directed at her.
Quite honestly, Bea was terrified. She feared losing her friends, hated herself for this stupid desire to keep her discovery secret, but she didn't want to risk telling them now because she was scared that the reason for her distance would only fuel their anger.
There was another reason, gnawing at the back of her mind. One she didn't want to admit, for to do so would confine her to the tower for the rest of her life.
The city terrified her.
Walking through the crowded streets, the hood of her jumper pulled as low over her face as it could go, Bea felt agitated and wound up, full of energy but with no way to expend it. The girl felt like simultaneously laughing, crying and screaming until her lungs were empty and her throat raw and ragged. She felt scared, angry, exhilarated and over the moon with joy, the conflicting emotions driving her up the wall. It was enough to make her want to flee the tower and its stifling watchfulness, and live in the city for good. But she had no money, and no skills, and the only way she could think of that she could make a living was through begging, and odd jobs. For that matter, she still didn't know how things worked in this place; it was all so new and confusing.
Why don't I just tell them? Bring them out of that tower and let them see this place. They'd love it, I know they would, she thought, before shaking her head in frustration. But would they listen to me now? I doubt it. They've been hell bent on ignoring me for the past week; I don't know why they would stop, even if they believed me.
No, there was nothing she could do but wait it out. Perhaps her friends would forgive her eventually, but they were certainly not ones to take betrayal lightly, however much it was keeping them safe.
Bea was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't even notice the people around her, seeing them merely as splotches of colour and light against the dreary backdrop of a rain-washed night. The illumination of the streetlights danced in the air as golden sparkles, shining off of the girl's hair and highlighting her sullen features as she pushed through the crowds.
Because of the thoughts dancing through her head, Bea didn't noticed the slight rise of the pavement ahead of her, nor the slight indenture right where her foot was about to land. One shoe-clad foot landed in the small depression, which was on the same level as the path she had just strode along, and her leg buckled as it came down, not expecting the sudden rise.
Caught off-balance, the girl flinched, expecting to land face-down in the middle of the street, helpless against the crushing crowds. Time seemed to slow as the cold, hard pavement drew nearer, somehow managing to look decidedly malicious as she descended. Her hands found their way in front of her, waiting to take the damage of the fall.
The fall that never came.
Bea blinked, trying to make sense of the situation. There were...arms...around her, holding her up. Someone was speaking, asking if she was alright. She didn't answer, instead looking up at the one who had caught her. As she did so her hood slid back, revealing her rain-soaked face, cheeks pink from the wind, and mouth slightly agape.
The one who had caught her – a young man, probably about her age – looked at her, his dark eyes widening in a mixture of shock, recognition and fear.
In an instant, Bea found herself being dragged through the streets by this young man, and she finally realised what everyone had been trying to tell her all along; the city was a dangerous place.
"You shouldn't be here."
That was the first thing he said to her as they perched awkwardly atop a pile of wooden crates in an abandoned alleyway. Bea stared, cogs turning in her head and worry flooding the girl's body, making her heart race. Did he know she was from the tower? How did he know? And most importantly, what was he going to do to her?
"Are you mute as well as a half-wit? Did you hear what I said?"
"Yes." The word slipped from her mouth, falling like a stone. "And I'm hardly an idiot. Now what on earth are you rambling about? Of course I can be down here!" Bea exclaimed vehemently, her mind a churning pool of theories and woes, anxieties and contemplations.
The young man opposite her stared, wide-eyed at both the indignity and ignorance he saw in the young woman he had dragged off the streets.
"No, you can't. I don't think you quite understand. You are being kept in that tower for a reason – to keep you safe." He paused for a moment, watching her face carefully for a reaction before continuing. "I don't think you quite understand; this city is dangerous, more so than you can possibly imagine."
The Tower loomed over the city, glittering oppressively, the black metal gleaming in the rain as if with malice, coldly observing the world below.
In the upper reaches of the citadel, a young woman shrieked, clawing at her captor, whose face was shrouded behind a black mask, his body swathed in dull material of the same colour. The man's companion drew a syringe out of her bag, the needle glinting dangerously in the harsh light of an uncovered light bulb. Silently, she strolled over to the other woman, quietly shushing her before placing the needle gently against her neck, stroking her hair as the metal broke the skin, injection sedatives into her bloodstream. Limbs went slack, and the man grunted as her full weight almost collapsed on top of him.
"Take her to be processed," the woman commanded, impassively recapping the needle and placing it in her bag. She would get rid of it later, once this whole business was over and done with.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Anyone'd think I was a newbie at this whole gig, the way you treat me," the man grumbled, before tossing the limp body over his shoulder and leaving the room, the door slamming shut with cold finality behind him.
"You have no idea what goes on in this place, do you?" Rael asked, leaning forwards, his elbows resting on his knees as he examined the girl before him. She looked to be about his age, with dirty blonde hair plastered to her face from the rain, and grey eyes that watched him suspiciously. She could hardly be called beautiful, he decided. Interesting would be a better term to describe her looks, he decided, giving a mental nod as approval to this summarising of her features.
She stared at him, before slowly shaking her head, obviously uncomfortable about this lack of knowledge. Rael stared at her, shocked, before mentally berating himself for his idiocy.
Of course they don't tell them! Rael's mental voice exclaimed. That would practically be suicide. But can I tell her? Is she strong enough to handle the knowledge of what's going to happen to her? Two different opinions warred for a moment, before Rael groaned, his face falling into his hands.
A moment of silence, and then he spoke once again.
"I won't tell you. You wouldn't believe me, and even if you did you'd only be hurt by the knowledge." Rael sighed heavily before peeking through his fingers at the impassive young woman before him.
"I don't care. Tell me." The reply was so quiet it was almost a whisper, and he wondered if he'd actually heard it, or if it was his mind playing tricks on him. Then he lowered his head again, looking away from her piercing, inquisitive gaze.
"I'm sorry, but I just can't."
Rael escorted Bea back to the small, unassuming door that lead into the secret tunnel. There was very little conversation, most of it consisting of attempts on Rael's behalf to get Bea to stay put in the tower and not visit the city again. All suggestions were rejected immediately by a grim-faced Bea, and Rael slowly became more and more irritable.
In the end, he snapped.
"You don't understand what you're talking about!" he exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air in a gesture of frustration and annoyance. Bea glared at him, crossing her arms across her chest.
"Then help me!" she hissed back, venom dripping from her words.
"I can't," Rael sighed, wondering when it would get through this girl's thick skull that he wouldn't – and couldn't – tell her what was going on.
"Why not?" Bea scowled, huffing irritably.
"You don't want to know." A note of bitterness had crept into Rael's words, and Bea vaguely wondered if something bad had happened to him, perhaps related to the terrible things in the city. It would make sense.
"Oh, but I do." Bea was determined to find out exactly what was going on here, even if it horrified her, or caused her to flee in terror. Knowledge had to be better than ignorance, and after living that way for so many years, she was thoroughly sick of her lack of information.
"It's horrible." There was a deep sadness in his words, and Bea felt a stab of pity. Perhaps she shouldn't try and force an explanation; it was obviously bringing up bad memories. Painful memories. She didn't want to hurt him.
"I can't understand if you don't explain." This time her voice held a gentle undertone, gently nudging the words from his mouth instead of attempting to force them.
"It's not my place to say," Rael proclaimed calmly, his face void of emotion.
"Then who's is it?" Bea almost shouted, having to restrain the sudden urge to punch him, hammer her fists into him until he finally said a single useful word.
"I'm not at liberty to say."
Bea walked through the silent corridors feeling frustrated, angry, and annoyed. Oh, how that boy had driven her mad with his vague hints and suggestions, refusing to disclose any information that would actually help her understand just what was going on.
Now he had only succeeded in piquing her interest, and Bea was one of the most stubborn people she knew when it came to things she wanted.
Something was terribly wrong with this city, and she would not rest until she found out exactly what it was.
She was down in the city again. It drew her like a magnet, or a moth to a flame.
That last analogy is probably more accurate, Bea mused, sighing. Especially considering how 'dangerous' the place is.
Bea almost wanted to punch the wall next to her in frustration, but that would be a fruitless waste of energy, not to mention needless damage to her fist. So she pressed on through the crowded streets, wondering, as she did every night, that no one had caught her yet.
Surely her tower home had some form of security – that was guaranteed – but perhaps whatever guards there were had gotten lax in their duties over the years, placated by the lack of action; any action. That inattention had paved the way for Bea's escape, and she was immensely thankful for it.
And yet around every corner she feared there was someone lurking, waiting to jump out and drag her back to the dorms – or worse. Even down in the city, she did not feel quite safe, however impossible it would be to catch her in this crowd. The instant you caught sight of someone, you lost them again in the swell of the crowd.
But Bea did not let this calm her, and she was not inattentive as she wandered the streets. Her fear did not ebb, and her eyes flickered constantly, trying to spot any possible pursuers. She was permanently on edge these days, only calming when sleep wrapped its gentle shroud around her mind, granting her rest at last.
And when she felt a light tap on her shoulder as she walked past the gaping black mouth of an alleyway, she jumped, biting back a shrill scream of fear. Instead, she kicked the shadowy figure as hard as she could, right on the shin, before attempting to flee into the crowd once more.
A strong hand snaked around her wrist, the grip so tight it was painful, and jerked her back into the dark alley, where she was pinned against the wall, her captor's other hand pressed over her mouth to stop her scream. Overcome with fear and rage, Bea bit his hand, struggling and kicking viciously at where she estimated he would be.
"Stop!" At the command, which was accompanied by an agonisingly familiar voice, Bea stopped her flailing, instead choosing to suddenly let her body go limp, letting her weight fall on the young man behind her. Not expecting this, he fell, while Bea remained upright.
This time the tables were turned, and she pinned him down, her knee planted firmly and painfully on his chest.
"What are you doing here!" Bea hissed, her hands tightening painfully around Rael's wrists, one sharp nail breaking the skin, causing a trickle of crimson blood to run down his wrist.
"Get-" he spluttered, coughing violently, "off of me, you crazy woman!"
Bea relaxed her grip slightly, and shifted her weight a little to make it less uncomfortable, but otherwise did not move.
"What. Are. You. Doing. Here." She repeated the question, clearly and precisely enunciating every word, while at the same time managing to sound furious, though at what, the other had no idea.
"I live here!" Rael exclaimed, indignant.
"Were you following me?" Bea demanded, pressing her knee down harder, making Rael wince in discomfort.
"Why would I be following you?" He asked, giving her a disbelieving look. Is the girl insane? He wondered.
"Just tell me!" Bea's grip tightened again, firmer than before, and Rael could feel every one of the bleeding punctures her nails left on his poor, abused wrists.
"I wasn't stalking you!" he exclaimed, attempting to shove the girl off of him. It only half worked, and instead of moving her away, Bea ended up sprawled on top of him. She looked up, her grey eyes meeting his brown ones, half obscured by dark brown hair. He wasn't bad-looking, she decided, but not good-looking either. Just average.
"How can I know what you say is true?" Bea demanded, dragging her mind back to the current situation. Rael smirked, his teeth shining white in the dim illumination of a single street light.
"You can't. You'll just have to trust me."
Bea left after that strange encounter, wondering idly why she kept on bumping into him. She didn't really believe that there was some unknown force up there, shaping events with an invisible hand, but at times like these she really did wonder.
Bea walked back to her room in a daze, not quite seeing the cold, sparkling corridors, nor the sleeping forms of the other girls as she climbed into bed. The only thing she thought as she fell to sleep was this:
There seem to be less of us every day.
"You came," Rael stated, one eyebrow disappearing into his fringe. Bea glared at him, silently reminding herself that she was simply doing this in hope that he would let slip some form of information.
"Hello to you too," she grumbled irritably, shifting her line of sight to the wall next to him. Rael grinned, moving to stand next to her.
"Shall we head off?"
Bea grinned and waved her hand ahead of them. "I don't see why not."
Before leaving him the previous night, Rael had painstakingly extracted a promise from Bea to meet him the next time she came. He had not wanted her wandering around by herself in such a dangerous area, or so he professed. Bea did not quite believe him, but agreed anyway in hopes she might learn something, or at least get shown around properly. It would be nice to have something akin to a guide, even if he was infuriatingly tight-lipped when it came to anything interesting.
"Where do you usually go?" Rael asked, interrupting her internal monologue.
"Around," she answered cryptically, not wanting to reveal her usual haunts.
"That's very descriptive," he grumbled, frowning. "Have you been to any parklands?"
Bea thought a moment, before answering, "Once, and only briefly. It wasn't very interesting."
Grinning brightly, Rael turned to her. "You have no idea what you're missing out on, do you?"
There was a soft plain of grass, stretching out as far as the eye could see, dotted with trees, shrubbery and beautiful flowers artistically arranged in carefully planned beds. Pathways of cream-coloured bricks wove in and around the flora, old-style lamps lighting the way.
There was a lake also, hidden among a circle of trees that draped their branches softly across the surface almost protectively. Another path was laid down between the trees, this one older and more worn than the others Bea had seen, grass and weeds stubbornly pushing their way through cracks in the stone.
Moonlight reflected from the surface of the lake, dancing across the pale trunks of the trees in a way Bea found utterly entrancing. She drifted over to the edge, sitting on the sandy bank and staring at the water.
Rael grinned, hanging back behind the tree line, watching her as she stood up again, pulling her shoes off and wandering into the water.
"Are you glad you came now?" he asked.
Bea looked at him absently, a soft smile flitting across her serene features. "Yes, I am."
They headed into the crowded metropolis after that, wandering the streets aimlessly, talking all the while. Bea found Rael surprisingly easy to converse with, when he wasn't trying to infuriate her, and she almost enjoyed his company.
It got late, and they went their separate ways after agreeing to meet the next day. It went on like that for a month or so, Rael meeting her a block away from the entrance to the Tower, him taking her to all manner of places, all of them wonderful and intriguing to her.
As time passed, Bea began to grow attached to Rael, thinking of him as a friend, even missing his company when she was sitting in class, or eating her lonely meals.
When he wasn't there, life didn't seem quite as interesting, like a fine grey cloth had been pulled over her vision, obscuring the true colours of the world. Bea began to count down the time to their meetings, throwing herself into chores and other monotonous tasks with vigour in hope that time would somehow pass more quickly. She barely noticed the people around her, choosing instead to live daily life in her mind, largely ignoring the outside world.
Coming back from her nightly jaunts into the city was slowly becoming more and more difficult, though she could not place the reason. She lingered for as long as possible, even forgoing sleep on a regular basis in an effort not to leave. She began to sleep through classes, waking up to the teachers yelling at her and sending her outside, where she quickly slipped into unconsciousness propped up against a wall.
Bea stumbled through the day in a daze, only half awake as she made an effort to show a pretence of normality. She was practically nocturnal now, only getting up in time to hurriedly shower, dress and sprint for breakfast, getting to the dining hall just in time to grab a piece of toast and run to her first lesson.
After classes were over for the day she slept, setting her alarm to wake her up in time to get changed and hurry to her meeting with Rael and wandering the city. Getting back in the early morning, she merely collapsed on her bed, exhausted, as she waited for the cycle to repeat itself.
"Are you alright, Bea?" Rael asked, peering at her uncertainly. Bea jumped, startled at being asked such a question, especially when she had been falling asleep on the spot, albeit unwillingly. She smiled, waving her hand dismissively.
"Fine, fine," she answered, feeling awkward under his scrutiny.
Rael sighed. "You've been a bit...distant, lately, and I've caught you falling asleep a number of times now. You're tired, aren't you?"
"I'm fine, Rael, really," she said firmly, slightly irritated at the question. If I went back I wouldn't be with you. Bea paused, wide-eyed. Where had that thought come from?
"No, you're not," Rael proclaimed flatly, frowning. "If you need some time to sleep, say so. One night won't make a difference to me, but I'd like you conscious when I see you."
Bea scowled, not wanting to admit that his words hurt a little. Didn't he want to see her as much as she did him? Maybe he was subtly signalling that he wanted to get rid of her. At this thought Bea felt a sharp pain in her chest, and tears sprung to her eyes, though she kept them from spilling onto her cheeks. She looked away from her companion, instead turning her gaze to the brick wall on her other side.
"If you want me gone, you can just say so," she whispered, still not looking at him. Rael stared at her, his jaw dropping, trying to understand what he had just heard.
"What on earth are you talking about!" He exclaimed, nearly shouting. Obviously there had been some kind of misunderstanding on Bea's part, though he could hardly see how she could mistake his concern for an effort to get rid of her.
"I didn't mean that at all!" Rael exclaimed, almost wanting to grab the girl and shake her until she saw sense. "You've just looked so tired lately; I thought you might want a night to yourself, maybe catch up on some sleep."
Bea grinned weakly, relieved at his explosive response. Rael smiled back, glad that she now knew that he only worried for her health. Besides, he would only send her away if something really terrible happened – something that would injure her, in either body or spirit.
And in that moment, a thought struck him like a tonne of bricks:
I've fallen for her, haven't I?
Bea practically floated back to her bed, a grin stretching across her face the entire way.
He wants me around. He really, truly wants me with him. Me, not anyone else. The thought filled her with happiness, and she dived under the covers, suddenly feeling very warm and content.
Then her eyes widened, and she gasped.
Oh God, don't tell me I've fallen for him.
When Bea met with Rael the next night, things were awkward, though neither of them knew why the other was acting differently. Rael wouldn't look at her, even when she was talking to him, and Bea was worried. And yet she couldn't help but act differently, stuttering occasionally when he did turn his attention on her.
Rael couldn't help but avert his eyes when she looked at him, her gaze almost unnerving him with its intensity. And yet when she looked away, he would steal glimpses of her, sincerely hoping she wouldn't noticed his strange behaviour. Still, considering the way she was acting, he doubted she would. Whenever their eyes met, her cheeks turned ever so slightly pink, Rael catching just a brief glimpse before she quickly turned away.
Then a horrible thought struck him, and suddenly he had to know.
"Do you have a boyfriend?" Rael blurted, the words tumbling bluntly out of his mouth. Bea stared at him, shocked at the sudden and unexpected question.
"You're the first guy I've met," she slowly admitted, her cheeks turning a brilliant scarlet. It felt like her face was on fire, and she looked down, letting her hair fall obscure her features.
Rael sighed happily, a stupid grin slowly stretching his mouth. He was overcome with relief at her response, and all of a sudden felt a sudden surge of confidence.
Oh, what the hell, he thought, and kissed her.
Once again, Bea was walking on air as she traversed the familiar passages and doorways on her way to bed.
I don't believe he asked me out, she thought, grinning until her face hurt, and then some. After the kiss, Rael and nervously explained how he felt about her, stuttering all the while, hanging his head in an ashamed fashion. Bea had not responded for a moment, and he admitted that he had been terrified of rejection, or even worse, driving her away. But then she had grabbed his face in her hands and kissed him, just a quick peck on the lips, but answer enough for the both of them.
Another month passed in a similar fashion, both of them hesitantly exploring the implications of their newfound relationship. Bea went out earlier than before, testing the boundaries of what was safe and what meant certain capture. It was now barely dark when she left, and the sky already lightening when she returned.
She spent most of her time in class sleeping, the teachers giving up on any effort to make her stay awake and do work. Bea was entirely nocturnal, and more alive at night than she had ever been during the day.
When she was with Rael, and the city surrounded her, she almost forgot about her fear of it, and the warnings he had made. She felt safe for the first time in ages, looking forward to every minute, and living for every second.
But then that fateful night came, and everything changed.
Bea was terrified, her breath coming quick and short, catching in her throat on its way out. Her heart beat a million miles an hour, and her eyes were wide and fearful.
Why isn't he here? Has something happened? Oh God, something terrible has happened!
Thoughts flitted across her mind like lightning, and she could hardly make sense of them. However, one stuck long enough for her to be truly worried:
It's his seventeenth birthday today. He wanted to spend it with me. Why isn't he here?
She waited until the sun had started rising before fleeing as fast as she could back to her prison, but Rael didn't come.
Something terrible had happened.
It had been a week now, and still there was no sign of him. Bea wandered down to their meeting place with a heavy heart. She hated coming down here, and yet couldn't quite stop her feet from moving, her legs propelling her towards the streetlight that marked their spot.
With her eyes to the ground, Bea almost missed the figure standing underneath the lamp, and hope filled her like a flash flood. Rooted to the spot, she could only watch as Rael noticed her too, waving slightly in acknowledgement.
And yet something was wrong. She couldn't see his face, obscured as it was by the hood of his jumper, and Bea had the horrible feeling that something was terribly wrong. She stayed where she was, merely four steps away from him, not wanting to go any closer.
"Where were you?" Bea called nervously to the dark figure.
He moved towards her, stretching one hand out hesitantly, as if to touch her cheek, before recoiling. Even this close, Bea could only see a vague impression of a face wreathed in shadows under the black hood.
"You know I love you, don't you?" Bea was simultaneously relieved and terrified, her body taking a step back of its own accord. Dread filled her heart at the question, and yet the voice was definitely Rael's.
"Yes," she answered, her voice cracking from nerves.
"Bea, I am so, so sorry."
Rael lowered his hood, and Bea screamed, horrified at what stood before her. Wide-eyed with terror, she fled.
Days passed, and she did not return to the city. Bea went back to her old life, sleeping at night and paying attention to school, doing her chores and reading in her spare time. But she was not quite herself, moving through the day mechanically, only half paying attention to anything. The other part of her was still in shock at what she had seen that night.
Whatever it had sounded like, whatever it had said, that thing was not Rael. It was just a monster with his voice – that was what she told herself.
And yet Bea couldn't quite believe it.
However much it hurt, and however much it scared her, she had to find out.
They stood there for a while, neither of them speaking. Bea's heart was racing painfully in her chest, her body screaming at her to run away. But she didn't, and instead was rooted in place, her eyes trained on the back of the Rael-thing's head.
He hadn't turned around as she approached, merely lifting his hand in greeting.
"You're not him."
"You can't be!"
The Rael-thing sighed. "But I am."
And then he turned around.
The face was not Rael's – it was too perfect, in a terrifying way. If you looked closely, there were fine lines where the skin changed colour, and though they were closely matched, it was all different. The only things that remained were his eyes, gazing out at her both fearfully and apologetically.
"I told you this city was a horrible place," Rael said. "I didn't have a choice; they did this to me."
"Why?" Bea asked, her voice pained. Rael winced, struggling to find the right words to explain the monstrosity that stood before her.
"Because I was old enough – it's what happens when you turn seventeen – and because it's 'beautiful'," he spat the last word out like it was poison. "People here are insane; you have to understand that. They would do anything – anything – in the name of beauty."
Bea only stared, wanting both to hug him and run as far as she could.
"So they do this." Rael gestured at himself. "When they turn seventeen, they take the best parts of other people and replace the poor victim's own body. It's been going on for years, but people don't care. And that is what's so monstrous about this place – that they don't care."
A fragment of memory slipped into Bea's head, and she gasped.
"What about the people in the Tower? So many of us have vanished on their seventeenth birthday. Is this what happens to them?" Her voice cracked on the last sentence, and she found her mind spewing forth horrible pictures of the girls she had known all her life transformed in such a terrifying way.
"No." The single utterance relieved her beyond words, and she sagged against the wall, her nervous energy vanishing. "What happens to them is much worse."
Bea stared at him, aghast. "What can be worse?"
Rael gazed back, not wanting to burden her with such knowledge, but realising that she had to know – had every right to know.
"Where do you think the body parts come from?" He raised his hand, angling it under the streetlight to show a small scar. "You said your friend had a scar like this?"
Bea stared, tears welling up in her eyes. "Ember..."
"When is your birthday?" Rael asked.
"How could they do that to her? How?" The tears were flowing freely now, pouring down her cheeks. "That's her hand," Bea whispered, hiccupping slightly before breaking down into a sobbing mess.
"Please, Bea, answer," Rael implored, gathering the girl up in his arms.
"Tomorrow," she sobbed. "It's tomorrow."
Rael's heart clenched with fear, and he held her tighter. "I think it would be best if you came with me."
"Where are we?"
Rael had taken her to the place where people like him – people who were horrified and angry at what the city did to them – met. It had been dangerous bringing her here, but he had to. She wouldn't have been safe otherwise, and she was still in shock, barely able to move on her own.
Rael crouched next to the girl, taking her face in his hands and making her look at him.
"Bea, I swear I'll never let them have you."
Things were quiet for a few days, Bea slowly breaking out of her trance and becoming her old self again, albeit a pained and scared version. Rael only left to go get food and drinks, coming right back once he was done.
Nothing happened, and that was what made her most nervous. Surely they knew she was gone by now; it was obvious. Surely they were hunting her down. They had to be, especially since she knew everything now.
But they had no way of knowing that. Perhaps they were just leaving her to die of her own accord, friendless and broke in the middle of a massive city, unable to go back to the only place she really knew.
It was midnight, and Bea couldn't get to sleep. She felt restless, a state shared by Rael, for he was still up, periodically gazing out of the curtains and into the night.
He assured her there was nothing out there, but she didn't quite believe him. Bea knew he saw nothing, but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was out there, watching them, contemplating its next move.
The door burst into splinters, sharp pieces of wood raining down on Bea's uncovered arms, one piece driving into the skin. She whimpered in pain, tears clouding her eyes as she peered through her fingers at what was going on.
Three people stood in the doorway, two men and one woman, dressed all in black, guns pointing straight at her.
They had come late at night, gathering outside and surveying the long-abandoned office eagerly, obviously planning how they would break in and capture the area. Rael told Bea not to worry, that they might go away if they thought no one was there, so they sat in the dark, huddled together in fear.
But it hadn't worked.
"Bea! Are you alright?" Rael exclaimed, rushing over to look at her arm. The splinter had gone in deep, but not too deep as to be difficult to remove. It wouldn't be painless, but it would be quick. Rael gripped the offending piece of wood in one hand, quickly ripping it from Bea's arm. The girl's eyes widened, tears welling up, but she did not cry.
"Get away from her," one man ordered, stepping over the remains of the door. Rael glared at him, scrambling to a standing position.
He took Bea's hand in his, helping her to rise.
"Kid, stand away from the girl." The gun was trained on his chest now, a little red spot dancing across the design on his shirt.
The woman moved now, gliding across the splintered remains in the doorway over to where Bea stood. Taking a needle from her bag, she quickly injected something into the girl's neck before either of them could respond, Bea going limp and falling into the woman's arms.
"Bea!" Rael shouted, stepping forwards and attempting to grab her back from the black clad woman. She darted out of the way, grinning maliciously.
"Shoot him," she ordered.
A gunshot sounded. Rael reeled back, the bullet shooting a path through his head, flecks of blood and other things flying onto the wall behind him. He swayed for a second before collapsing to the ground, the light bleeding out of his dark eyes.
In a split second, Rael had gone from a perfectly healthy, living human being to a corpse lying on the ground, one splinter through its hand.
"What now?" One man asked as they strode towards a waiting car. Tossing Bea's body into the boot of the vehicle, the woman smiled grimly.
"I think we should give the poor dear a scare before we cut her up, don't you?"
Bea woke in stages, slipping back into unconsciousness many times before waking fully. Her vision was blurry, her throat parched, and her stomach rumbling. She vaguely registered that she must have been out for a few days.
Her arms were tied behind her back, and her legs to the rungs of the stool she was perched on. Across from her was the same woman she had seen that night, the one who had drugged her and taken her to this place.
"Ah, you're awake," she simpered, "good."
"Where...am I?" Bea asked, narrowing her eyes against the bright light that shone in front of her.
"Back in Processing Unit 6," the woman answered, "otherwise known to you as home."
Bea was quiet for a moment, absorbing the information. Her wits felt clumsy, her mind clouded with fatigue.
"How did you find me?"
The woman laughed, a malicious sound that Bea instinctively tried to shrink away from.
"Did you really think we didn't know about your nightly excursions?" She asked, tutting condescendingly. "Did you never think that the corridors were oddly empty? Did you think it merely a stroke of luck that a cleaning woman showed you the way out? We've known from the start, child, and we would have stopped you were it not for an idea." She smiled at the memory, crossing her legs as she leaned over and placed one hand gently on Bea's arm.
"You were to be useful, dear, and you were. We've used you to destroy the headquarters of a rebel organisation that your little friend was part of. Your clothes are all sprayed with a tracking device, you know."
"Rael?" Bea asked, her last memories slowly filtering back. "What did you do to him?"
"He's dead, dearie. Shot through the head," the woman answered. Looking to the mirror on the wall, she ignored Bea's anguished cry, a smile creeping across her face.
"Take her to be processed."
In a way, Bea got what she had wanted for so long; to become a part of the city she both loved and feared so much. As her limbs were cut off, she did not scream. As her eyes were gouged out with metal prongs, she reflected on all that had happened and realised that, apart from all the terrible things that had happened, she was the happiest she had been her whole life. She had found a true friend, seen beautiful places, and most of all, found love.
So Bea became integrated into the city, not as a human, but as spare parts.
And she was content.