Author: Novelist PM
In a post-apocalyptic America, everyone is born with Professions: the rich are Doctors and Councilors, the poor Runners and Killers. But what happens when you pit the two against each other? Liza is a Killer, and this is her story.Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 5 - Words: 13,244 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 02-09-13 - Published: 01-31-13 - id: 3097240
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
When she woke, it was dark. She gasped, shooting upward and letting out a squeal as her head smashed against the low ceiling of the compartment. As she rubbed her head, understanding came rushing back. She was Liza Clark, survivor extraordinaire, and she was trapped.
She threw off the blankets covering her, cursing as her feet tangled in the bottom. Where am I? She wondered, whimpering as she touched her skull- the spot was already sore. One of those government bastards must've hit me across the head. I guess that's why I passed out. Are we in the same room?
Rubbing her head, she swung her feet off the bed, feeling carefully for the floor. Above her, she heard shifting, and then a moan as someone began to speak.
"Liza?" it was Ben, her Ben, clan member and not-quite-lover.
"Ben?" she got up, reaching toward the voice, "where are we? How do we get out of here?"
"Liza, listen," his voice was tired, and not just from sleep. She heard him get up, and a soft thud as he jumped and landed beside her, "stay here a second, ok? Don't try and leave," she reached out, catching only his sleeve as he walked away from her. "Where is the damn thing?" he muttered, only a few feet away, though it could be miles in the darkness. Suddenly, the lights ahead flickered, and the room was flooded with a bright white light. For the second time that morning, she cried out, squinting and throwing her arms up to shield her eyes.
"It's ok, the pain goes away after a few seconds," he walked back toward her slowly, shuffling his feet as he yawned. She peered at him from behind her arm. This isn't the Ben I know, she thought, slowly lowering her arm to look at him. This Ben, he looks…defeated. He's stronger, yes, I can see that, but there's a sadness here that I've never seen. How much time has passed? What created those worry lines between his brows?
"Ben, where are we?" she repeated, looking up at him. Why is he so calm?
"Maybe we should sit, Liza, it's sort of a long tale and I'm too tired to do it all standing."
"No, we don't have the time, just give me a brief and we can start thinking of a way to get out of here."
"That's the point," he sounded exasperated, "we don't have to leave. We live here now."
"What? Ben, that doesn't make any sense, the last thing I remember we were, well, we were- wait- we were fighting, and someone hit you, and I guess they hit me too, and that's why my head hurts so bad and somehow we ended up here. Did they put us in a hospital or something?"
"no, they didn't," he grabbed her shoulder, his grip firm as he bent down to her level, "your head hurts because you hit it on the bunk, just like you did yesterday, just like you do every day."
"What? I don't- I don't understand,"
"We've been here for months, training, preparing for a mission that you, too, are supposed to go on."
"A mission? Don't be ridiculous, Ben, I'm pretty sure I'd remember something about a mission. Are you playing a joke on me? Where are Jimmy and Paul? Are they in on this too? Hey guys," she called, "you can come out now, it's not funny," she searched the tiny room, refusing to meet Ben's eyes as she looked around. Small bunk, covered in gray blankets, small…toilet? Gray and squatting, it looked as sterile as the rest of the room. But the door…there was no handle, just a blue keypad, looking intimidating in the gray expanse.
"Are we in a prison?" she asked, once her eyes and run out of other things to look at. She turned them back to Ben, who was staring at her with an intense expression on his face, his eyes dark and smoldering, his mouth puckered as if he had eaten something sour.
"You always ask that. No, Liza we're not in a prison. Like I said, we're training for a mission, and you were too, until a few weeks ago when they told you something you didn't like and you lost it. Just like that, memory gone, kaput, out before we could say a thing. We've done this every day, Liza, since. You hit your head and I calm you down and we go to breakfast, where you swoon over everything like a pig in a sty and we all watch, because there's nothing else we can do, and I'm tired of it, Liza. I'm tired of it."
She blinked, her mind reeling. Can what he's saying be true? I would remember, that, wouldn't I? Still, a seed of doubt niggled at her. He was looking at her earnestly, unblinking, and she could almost feel his determination to make her understand.
"Well," she said finally, "let's go eat breakfast then," she crossed her arms over her chest and did her best not to look confused. Let's see this "amazing" breakfast he was talking about. What is it, rabbit and potatoes? Though, I guess that would be delicious…her stomach growled and she flushed as Ben smiled, turning towards the door. He punched in a few numbers on the keypad and the door slid open. She raised her eyebrows, impressed.
"Fancy," she said, and followed him out the door. The trip to the dining room was long and boring. The hallway they were in offered no indication of their pace, just plastic walls and gray doors with blinking keypads. She sighed, and Ben turned to look at her.
"What?" she asked, defensively, "there's nothing to look at here. I don't know how you can stand it."
"I got used to it," he told her as he kept walking, "and so did you. We've been down here for a long time."
"What are we training for, exactly?"
"We have a mission, Above."
"That's it, that's all you're going to tell me?"
"You'll know more lately, Liza, just trust me."
They fell silent as they continued, her a step behind, until they reached the dining room. They turned into the open doorway, and Liza felt her mouth drop. She had never seen so many people eating together, happily, not trying to steal one another's food or fight over crumbs. She could see Jimmy and Paul and Jane sitting together in one corner, talking excitedly and eating. Jane laughed as Paul cracked a joke, and Liza felt a warm glow begin to fill her. I guess it's not so bad, if they're all ok. Jimmy has even gained some weight, though Paul is as scrawny as ever. I bet he eats more than all of them, though.
Ben led her to a long metal bar, handing her a plastic tray and walking down to where a woman, clad in a long gray apron and hair net, was serving food. Liza inhaled deeply, her eyes widening as she spied the food stacked behind the bar. No wonder nobody's fighting, there's enough food here to feed everyone I know forever. She slid her tray down the bar, a smile creeping its way onto her face as she eyed the offerings. Most of it was things she didn't know, weird looking breads and meats, but her stomach rumbled all the same, and she grimaced as she felt it twist. I guess I haven't eaten in a while.
The woman serving the food smiled at her, hefting a large metal ladle in her hand, "what would you like to eat?" she asked, gesturing at the bounty surrounding her.
"I'd like to try one of everything, if that's allowed, but-" she broke off, watching in fascination as the woman obeyed, plopping four different kinds of meat on her plate and ten kinds of breads, as well as some fruits, before handing it back to her. Ben was already waiting for her, his plate significantly emptier, and she grinned when she saw him eyeing her plate.
"What? I haven't eaten in a while, ok?"
"It's always the same, you know," he told her, as they walked to join the rest of their clan, "you always get one of everything."
"Do I? Well, a Killer's got to keep up her strength, doesn't she?" she frowned suddenly, "I am still a Killer, aren't I?"
Ben let out a bitter laugh, "more than you know, Liza, more than you know."
She didn't know what he meant, and chose to ignore him as they sat down at their table.
"So, did it work?" Paul asked, leaning forward eagerly, and staring at Liza.
"Yeah, did it?" echoed Jimmy as he shoved a forkful of eggs into his mouth.
"Did what work?" she was confused, looking between Jane and Ben for information. Jane shrugged helplessly, and Ben's mouth pursed much the same as it had that morning. It was a new look for him, this bitterness, and she realized that she didn't like it at all.
"I haven't said anything yet, guys, thanks." Ben said, glaring at the brothers as he began to pick at his food.
"Why not?" Jimmy asked, "There's no time like the present, and it's not like we're going to gain anything by waiting. In fact, we've just-"
"It's just not the right time," Ben snapped, interrupting Jimmy, who shot him a sullen glance before closing his mouth.
"Geez, who's got your panties in a bunch today, Ben?" said Paul
"It's nothing, I just, I'm just tired today, guys. Sorry."
"Don't worry about it, we're worried too," said Jane, looking at Liza before continuing, "We've gotten a message from the boss. No training today. Instead, we're having a meeting."
Ben paused in his eating, "a meeting?"
"Yeah, right after breakfast, we're going up high, way higher than we've ever been before. Almost to Above," her voice dropped to a whisper, "maybe they're going to tell us that we've won, that we're the clan that they've picked."
"Don't get ahead of yourself, Jane," Ben told her, "it could just be some, well, I don't know, but something else. We don't want to get our hopes up."
"Who's the boss?" Liza asked, loudly, and everyone turned to look at her, including the people at the next table.
"He's the guy who brought us down here," Jimmy said, "he controls everything in this place. He's terrifying. They say he doesn't even have a Profession, he just is. I think he's probably the guy that made all the Professions in the first place."
"Don't be stupid Jimmy," said Paul, "we all know it was the Councilors that made the Professions, right after the Accident. Some guy in an underground bunker isn't going to have jack-shit control over that."
"You shouldn't talk so loud, Paul, else the boss might hear you and drag you down to a real jail. I bet they have some pretty nasty torture devices under these floors."
Paul paled, choking a little on his eggs, "they wouldn't really take me down there, would they? Not just for saying something?"
"Jimmy you hush," Jane told him, "and stop teasing your brother. Goodness knows we can't control what happens around here, but it's no use scaring him about it."
They finished their breakfast quickly, leaving their dishes on the table as they hurried out of the room.
"Everyone remember where the elevator is?" Jane asked as they made their way down the hallway. As one, they all grimaced, but it was Ben who spoke first.
"We're going high enough to need an elevator?"
"Yup, even higher than the punishment room," quipped Jimmy, though his voice sounded forced.
"Oh," Ben's face fell, and he lapsed back into silence.
"What's an elevator?" asked Liza, eventually, as they continued walking. The gray hallway never seemed to change, and everyone's mood was making her nervous.
"It's like a big metal box," Ben explained, "and it takes you up high, like stairs only electric."
"And that works?" her voice was full of doubt. It seemed dangerous.
"Yeah, it works. It's fast too, and the best part is that when you get to the top you're not tired at all. There are so many stories here that I guess they needed one. I'm not surprised."
"Yeah that, and all the old people," said jimmy
"Yeah, they're all bloody rich here, but for some reason most of the higher ups choose not to get any genetics done. They look crazy, faces all wrinkled, hair falling out. It's like a disease."
"They choose to look like that?"
Liza didn't answer, thinking instead back to her earlier days, trying to recall if she'd ever seen anyone like that. None came to mind, and no surprise. Anyone who was rich enough got genetics and anyone who wasn't, wasn't likely to live long enough to need them. Most people died, from one thing or another, before they reached forty. It was one of the reasons the population wasn't rising after the Accident. That, and the shortage of food.
At last they reached another door, bigger than all the rest and without a keypad.
"This is it," said Jane, moving to press a button near the door. It dinged and the door opened, revealing a square metal box, big enough for about ten people.
"We're supposed to go in there?" Liza asked, swallowing heavily.
"Yeah, it's not that bad," Ben told her, grabbing her hand and leading her inside. She held on, grateful for the contact, and more than a little nervous about touching him. It's only Ben, stupid, she told herself, you've seen this guy a million times, and shared more than just a hand. Still, the butterflies in her stomach only calmed after he let go. "Don't worry, it's totally safe," he assured her, as the elevator jolted up and she let out a little shriek.
The ride was over soon, and Liza relaxed as they stepped off. Safe or not, moving so quickly was disconcerting, and she was glad to have solid ground under her feet. She'd heard that before the Accident, there had been big metal boxes, like the one she had just ridden in, only people took them places and traveled, riding faster than horses and people alike. She had even seen them, once or twice, in the northernmost reaches of the country, rusted skeletons squatting on tall grass, broken glass sitting sharp and dangerous for the unwary. She wished she knew the word for them. I guess that's probably how my mother and I got up north, when we missed the Accident. I wonder if I shrieked then too. What were they called? I think I heard something once, cat maybe, or cow, but no, those are just animals. Or maybe-
Her musings were interrupted when they stopped. Before them was another door, bigger than any others she had seen, and blue. The color was a shock to her eyes, and she stared at it for a full minute before turning to the others.
"What do we do now?" she asked, looking at each of them.
"We wait," said Jane. And so they did. They were there a full ten minutes before the door opened, pushed out by a thin, ugly man with a hooked nose. He said nothing, just gestured them inside, pulling the door closed behind them.
They were in a conference room, old-fashioned and rich. The room was dominated by a huge wooden table, dark wood and carved with intricate details. It was obviously made in a time before the Accident. In fact, most of the room looked to have been furnished prior to the country's destruction. Heavy leather chairs surrounded the table, studded and plush. There were easily twenty, though Liza kept losing track every time she tried to count them.
"Sit," the man croaked from behind them, his voice hoarse. Liza sat, pulling out a chair next to Ben and plopping down. The seat was the most comfortable she'd ever been in, and within minutes she found herself fighting to keep her eyes open. They had all sat in a line, the clan, and so were taken by surprise when another door opened behind them.
"Hey, what are these knuckle-suckers doing in this room with us?" said a voice behind her, loud and childish, and Liza swiveled around to look. Paul let out a groan, and Ben leaned toward her to say, "That's one of the other clans that were picked for the mission. They call themselves the Pirates, or something stupid like that. The others style themselves the Kings."
Liza had never thought of naming their clan, and looking at the other group she understood why. They were all boys, younger, and brutes. Though their faces were young, each and every one was bigger than the members of her clan, even Ben. There were six, too, one more than her own. She hadn't even finished looking at them before another door opened, this time in front of her, and she turned to look at the newcomers. These must be the kings, then she thought, staring at them. They, too, were all boys, but where the Pirates were huge and brutish, the Kings were small and fast. They look like Killers. And the Pirates, I bet they're all Guarders, or Soldiers. Her eyes were roaming past the boys, looking for weaknesses, when her breath caught in her throat. Jeremy. There he was, a little bigger, and a little older, but his black hair and dark green eyes were the same. What is he doing here? She thought, gaping at him. He filed in with the rest of the Kings and sat, almost across from her, laughing and joking with the rest of his clan.
It was one such laugh that brought his eyes to her, and his mouth, too, dropped open. A sudden fear flashed across them before he closed his mouth and turned away, feigning ignorance. But his laughter wasn't as strong, and his eyes kept coming back to hers. What's wrong with him? She wondered, why won't he look at me?
Jeremy had been her bunkmate at the camps. For ten years they had been inseparable, best friends, and lovers, confidants and co-conspirers all in one. They had been each other's grief counselors and therapists, family and friends, challengers and competitors. But he had been taken, before their time was up, to go train with a group of elite Killers, while she had been left to rot with the others. Seeing him brought back all the memories, and a moan escaped her lips. It was full of longing and pain both, and Jeremy's head snapped around to look at her, the fear filling his eyes again as he gazed at her.
"Liza?" Ben's voice broke the tension, and she turned to him. He was staring down at her, his hands fiddling with the leather, his eyebrows drawn together. "I've got something I have to tell you, about how you lost your memory and what happened. It's just-"
He was interrupted by yet another door opening. This was just one man, though, that stalked into the room, calm and powerful, eyes glittering cruelly.
"The boss," Jimmy breathed beside her, his voice hitching a little.
"Good morning," the boss began, when he had reached the front of the room. "I'm afraid there's been a bit of a change of plans here," he rubbed his hands together, "you see, we in the government have decided that there's no time to spare for extra training, not even an hour." There was no hint of regret in his voice as he spoke, "You are all leaving today."