Part One: Invidia
Now having changed into my clothes, I sat in the kitchen alone with the lights turned off, nursing a cup of coffee and contemplating what few things I could possibly do this early in the morning. In fact, I had just been thinking about all the bugs I could probably go kill outside when my ears brought my attention to a sudden noise. Something was moving my way in the dark. I was almost ready to get up and see who it was, when there was a small click, and the kitchen light began searing my retinas.
I let out a low whine, covered my face with my right arm, and used the left to fling the first thing I grabbed (in this case, a napkin holder) at the intruder.
"Well, someone must be PMSing," a voice chuckled somewhere in front of me.
I lowered my arm enough to peek over the top and survey the scene. Paper napkins were strewn everywhere, and the light was still blindingly bright. I almost ducked behind my arm again before my eyes locked onto the person who had interrupted me so rudely.
"Shut up," I said to my brother Harlan. I tried to glare at him from over the top of my arm, but I felt that the effect wasn't quite as great as I had hoped, due to the fact that I was squinting the entire time.
My prediction must have been correct, because he didn't pay any attention to what I had said. Instead, he slid into the seat opposite me, placing the napkin holder back on the table.
"Yep," he confirmed, "definitely PMSing."
My eyes, which had now more or less adjusted themselves, narrowed into slits at his comment. I suppressed the urge to bite his head off his shoulders by taking a long drink of my coffee.
Harlan noticed, and he leered at my coffee mug. "When you die from overdosing on that stuff, I'll be laughing my ass off at your funeral."
We had a unique relationship, Harlan and I. I suppose, now that I think about it, that it wasn't really anything special when it comes to siblings. Still, I find it strange even now the way we used to get a kick out of insulting one another.
Another special aspect of our relationship was the fact that the two of us would often "bond" over swearing. I use the term "bond" very, very loosely. I only call it that because it was closer to real bonding than any of our other family members would get. Since Harlan and I were usually the first two awake, we'd often throw swears at one another over breakfast, because Harlan knew I was the only person he could cuss in front of without being reprimanded. He had a really bad record of swearing in front of authority figures, see, and he used to get in trouble for it a lot. That was a bad problem he had. He hadn't really grasped the hang of how to act around people in power. He never did, come to think of it. It was something we had in common, although I like to think I was better at it than he was.
Anyway, Harlan usually began these little exchanges by trying to use as many curse words as possible in one insult. He came up with some pretty creative ones; too, ones that I sorely wish I were mean enough to take credit for. I usually responded to these by simply flipping him off. Me, I'm more the "less is more" type when it comes to swearing, myself.
That particular morning, however, both of us were too tired to engage in verbal combat. On a normal morning, we'd be up around 5:30, and it wasn't even 4:45 yet. No, on this exciting, action-packed morning, I ended up starting off our conversation with a daring, "So, what are you doing up?"
Harlan looked back at me with amusement in his eyes. "Ah... what are you?"
"I asked first." I looked down into my mug while waiting for his answer. Darn, only a little bit left.
"I thought I heard someone moving around out here. I actually woke up when I heard the microwave timer go off. You should really be more considerate of the people who are trying to sleep," he added, in a mock-scolding voice. "So, what's your excuse for cutting my sleep hours short?"
"Hey, you could've gone back to bed; I'm not making you stay up," I shot back, giving him another glare before I gulped down the last of my cold coffee. I was feeling more awake by the minute. "And I woke up at 4:27, I'll have you know, so you have nothing to complain about."
Harlan rolled his eyes.
"Besides, I figured I might as well get my caffeine in since I was up. Give myself something to do."
He snorted. "'Might as well get my caffeine' my ass. You just wanted an excuse to drink that crap."
"You know me too well," I responded, since I wasn't up to picking a fight this early.
"So what are you planning on doing now that you've made yourself all perky and cheerful?"
"I don't know," I said in an irritated voice. As fun as it was to curse each other out, I was kind of wishing he'd leave me alone.
"Do you have to sound like that?"
Taryn started, and the pen that had previously been in her hand fell to the floor. "I'm trying to listen to the tape," she said to the person behind her, clearly annoyed. "You try finding a way to transcribe a recording of random crap into something that actually makes sense." Out of her peripheral vision, she caught a glimpse of red hair, which gave her a pretty good idea of to whom she was talking. She shut the note book forcefully and said, without looking, "Anya."
"You sound so pleased to see me," the redhead responded from her position behind Taryn's chair. She had previously been gazing down at the notebook Taryn had in her lap, reading its contents with an air of amusement. Now, though, she apparently had a problem with it. Without warning, she reached over, grabbed the outdated, handheld tape recorder from the coffee table in front of them, and switched it off. The grainy resemblance of Taryn's voice ceased its monologue, giving Anya the quiet she required to needle her friend about whatever her issue was. Taryn, however, did not approve of this development.
"Give that back!" she ordered, attempting to grab the mechanism from Anya's hand. Anya was too fast for her, though, and snatched it away at the last second.
"Not until you hear me out," she sang. The tape recorder was now poised delicately between her thumb and forefinger, and she had started to dangle it in front of Taryn's face, grinning impishly all the while.
Taryn knew better than to waste her energy fighting, so she pursed her lips, folded her arms, and sank back into the chair.
"Answer my question first," Anya said, still in her singsong voice. "Why do you have to sound like that?"
"No, you said, 'Do you have to sound like that?' There's a difference."
"Whatever." Anya was now tossing the recorder up and down with her hand, watching Taryn's blue eyes follow it closely. "Just pick one of them to answer. And quit being so damn analytical."
"Then you quit being so damn vague and tell me what the hell sounding 'like that' is supposed to mean." Her voice was becoming increasingly more impatient.
Not that it affected Anya. She blinked a few times and then tilted her head from side to side, eyes pointed upward as if there was something particularly interesting on the ceiling that she was pondering.
"I dunno," she said, shrugging and continuing to move her head. Taryn was beginning to wonder if she had a nervous tic or something.
"It's just... you sound kind of... I wan't to say 'bitter,' but I'm not sure that would be the right word to use."
"Bitter," Taryn repeated, raising her eyebrows.
"Well, I guess, yeah. People reading this will write you off as antisocial without ever knowing about your winning optimism." Anya winked as she said the last part.
"Look, Morgan just said to write this from my point of view, and I am. And no one else is reading this, anyway, so you don't need to worry your pretty little head." Taryn bent over to pick up her pen, and was going to make another grab for the tape recorder when Anya cut her off.
"But I do need to worry my pretty little head," she argued, throwing her arm in front of Taryn's hand to block it. Before Taryn quite knew what was happening, she had plucked the green notebook away as well and began leafing through it. As she did so, she said, "Now tell me, Taryn, since when has anything Morgan has ever done not had a catch to it? Since when has she ever given us any straightforward instructions? I will tell you when," she said, interrupting Taryn when she saw her open her mouth, "Never, that's when."
Taryn fought to keep her voice calm. "It's for us. I want to write these things down, too. You know, so that we don't forget why we're even in this situation."
"We have your perfect little memory for that. And how do you know Morgan hasn't got something planned for these little musings of yours? Hm? The ones she's told you to write?" Anya prodded Taryn hard in the shoulder as she said the word "told."
"And why-" here she held the notebook open to the last page Taryn had written on, "haven't you even mentioned Ivan and me yet? We demand to be represented! Right, Ivan?" she called down the hallway over her shoulder.
A faint voice could be heard saying, "Leave me out of this."
"See?" Anya held out an arm triumphantly.
"You don't see," she sighed, dropping it dramatically to her side.
"What I see is the reason Morgan didn't ask you to write this. You kind of need to have this thing called exposition. 'See?'"
"Yeah, expo-whatever. You probably haven't even talked about us on this thing." Anya waved the tape recorder around, giving Taryn a pointed look. Then, suddenly, she pressed the rewind button.
"You'll make me lose my place!" Taryn shouted, leaping up and lunging for the device.
Anya saw her coming, grabbed her arm, and pulled, using the momentum to send Taryn flying into the wall.
"What the hell?"
"Sorry," she apologized, sounding genuinely remorseful. "Force of habit. And I just want to see what's on here; I promise I'll give it back." The tiny machine clicked, announcing that it had finished rewinding.
"I'd rather you didn't-"
But Anya's thumb had already pressed the play button.
"Um... hi," came the grainy voice again. "Um... this is Taryn. And... I'm kind of supposed to be doing this for a project or something. Morgan's idea. Well, I should probably explain who Morgan is first. But, wait, then I'd have to..." There was a long pause in the narration as Taryn mumbled to herself for a while.
"Should probably start from the beginning. So, the whole thing started when I woke up this one morning. It was, like, really early. Hang on - let me think... it was... 4:27. Yeah. And I remember thinking, Well, crap, another day of trying not to pass out. So I got up - it took me a while - and -" Click. Anya had switched it off again.
"Woooooww," she commented, smirking up at Taryn, who was looking very miffed right now. "And you have to change this into stuff people can actually read? Sucks." She flipped back to the first page of the notebook and skimmed over it again. "Did a pretty nice job, I'll give you that."
"Mm," Taryn grunted.
"Aw, don't be like that. You'll always be my bestest friend ever."
"Mm. Can I please have those back now before I kill you?"
"Fine, fine." Anya tossed the items back, rolling her eyes.
"You will talk about us in your... whatever it is, right?"
"I kind of have to, since you guys are pretty important."
There was a pregnant pause before either of them said anything. Both stayed frozen where they stood, scrutinizing each other in place. Finally, Anya broke the silence.
"I guess I'll leave you alone now."
"That would be fantastic."
"All rightie then."
With that being said, Anya snapped a salute, whipped around the corner, and left Taryn alone with her materials to continue her writing.
"So what are you planning on doing now that you've made yourself all perky and cheerful?"
"I don't know," I said in an irritated voice. As fun as it was to curse each other out, I was kind of wishing he'd leave me alone. "Count tiles in the bathroom, clean the kitchen, wander around outside, squish some bugs. Yeah. Squishing bugs sounds good." Standing up, I opened the front door, stepped out of the house, and kicked it shut behind me. Now, what to do outside at five in the morning?
The air was cool, but nothing I couldn't handle. I had only made up the whole "squishing bugs" thing because Harlan had been annoying me so badly. It was about as boring outside as it was inside. Nothing to do now except start walking.
Eventually I came to the park, where there was a single swing set. I don't even know why we had one, to be honest. It's not like we used it. Why, it was made just for you, I imagined the sarcastic little voice in my head saying. The people who built it knew that years after they finished, there would be some insomnia-ridden genetically engineered girl just full of teenage angst, walking the community at five in the morning, all hyped up on coffee with nothing to do. You could at least take advantage of their generosity.
Frowning, I plopped myself down on the swing set. I sat there thinking again for a few minutes, then I heard another person walking around. Why? Why, forces of the universe, why? Why can't I just get up early in the morning and do things without somebody walking over and bugging me every two seconds? That's it; from now on I'm staying locked in my room every morning, with the door and windows closed and the lights off. And I am going to just sit. I swear, if that's Harlan again I'm going to kick... his... My eyes flickered upward for a moment, and then I noticed that it wasn't Harlan at all.
The other person walking toward me this time was Michael Crane, an officer. This must be his turn to do early morning patrol today. Greeeeaat. Crane and I had not had very positive interactions in the past, to say the least.
I pursed my lips and pretended to be picking a piece of dirt out from under my fingernail. It was actually my ring finger, but I was tempted to switch it to the middle one as he drew closer.
"What are you doing?" he asked in this really haughty voice. As I continued to stare at my hand, I knew one thing was for sure: There would be absolutely no happy place for Taryn this morning. Uh-uh.
Flicking the imaginary dirt away, I shrugged and looked him straight in the eye, trying to keep my face as impassive as I could.
"Nothing," I said evenly.
He leered. "Really?"
"Really." I nodded in response.
"So, why are you even here?"
"Well, isn't that the question? Where did we come from, what is our purpose in life..."
"You know what I meant." Clearly he wasn't impressed with my amateur dabbling in philosophy.
"I was bored and thought I'd go outside. I'm allowed to walk outside, aren't I?"
"How do I know you weren't running around wrecking something?"
That was just an invitation for me to talk back, and I'm pretty sure it was intentional, too - Crane would've loved an excuse to tell me off anytime. So instead, I kept my snide comments for my own private enjoyment and attempted to answer calmly.
That's a good question. For starters, do you see any flames going up around here? Let's answer that together... No. On the outside I said, "I guess you don't. But if I was, you'd probably have heard about it by now."
"Hm," was all he had to say to that. You're a really loquacious one, all right. I bet you took tons of speech classes to get that kind of delivery down.
"What are you smirking at?" Apparently I was smirking. I tried to detect any sign of emotion on my face so that I could immediately wipe it off before replying.
"Nothing." Don't smile. Don't smile.
The corner of my mouth twitched.
"What's so funny?" he demanded, leaning against one of the metal posts that made up the swing set's structure.
"Nothing." It's a nervous twitch, really. You're veeery scary.
"Really, tell me, because I'm curious." He had taken out a flashlight from his coat pocket and was now throwing it back and forth between his hands. If he shines that thing in my face, I will kill him.
"I told you: Nothing."
"Nothing's funny," he said coolly, as if to confirm the point.
Well, I thought, this is usually the part where I say, "Nothing except your face," but I'll leave that bit to my brother.
Instead I just said, "Yep."
He sighed. "You brats are all the same." You brown-nosing officers aren't that much different from one another, either, but I'll let that pass for today.
I wasn't exactly sure what the polite way to reply to that was, so I just stayed silent. After a few seconds he stopped throwing the flashlight and gave me a look like he expected me to say something. When I didn't take his bait he sighed again, making sure it was layered in drama this time, and pocketed the flashlight. When his hand emerged from his pocket it was holding a cigarette.
The thing about Crane was that he had power, and he knew he had power. And even though he was only a few years older than I was, he took an enormous amount of satisfaction from doing things I couldn't, like smoking. Thought it made him seem more mature. He also enjoyed the fact that even if I didn't like it, I couldn't do anything about it without me getting in trouble with him or the other officers. His egomania was almost endearing - almost.
Today, however, it wasn't even close to endearing. It was actually annoying as hell.
"If you're going to smoke that thing, at least have the decency to go pollute the air somewhere else," I snapped as I watched him light it. Crap. I just talked back to an officer. Way to go, Taryn. All that mild-mannered restraint for nothing. You are just a breathing icon of self-control, aren't you?
Crane's expression was far from angry. In fact, he had this smug smile on his disgusting face, and we both knew at that moment that he had caught me. It was a perfect image of triumph, him leaning back on the metal post, victory practically dripping from his grin as he blew cigarette smoke in my face.
To be honest, I really don't know why such a trivial thing as smoking irritated me so much. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that people like him had already wrecked the air, and then they had to go do it again anyway so they could make themselves seem more mature. It's like, if you're practically still a kid and you want to screw your body over, that's your problem, but don't make it everybody else's. But like I said, I don't really know.
Anyway, I was busted and we both knew it.
"Please," he snorted. "It won't do anything to you, so why does it matter?"
That infuriated me to no end. He didn't want to treat me like a human? Fine. I wouldn't act like one. I immediately stood up from my swing, and we were nearly even in height, so it was easy to get right in his face. I put on my best sneer, and said in a low voice, "Because I can snap your puny human spine in an instant."
"You wanna watch that attitude of yours," he said, nearly cackling - cackling, I tell you. I didn't think anybody really cackled, but that's what he was doing.
"What?" I'm doing a community service by making a public health announcement." The problem with me is, once I start mouthing off to someone, I can't stop. The smart comments just start pouring out. That was my little glitch. Harlan may not have known how to act around authority, but I had to take the inch and go a mile.
"There's no one here to appreciate the service, I'm afraid," Crane countered smoothly. "Nice try, though. I'm sure it was the best you could do."
He blew another cloud of smoke into the air, and I wrinkled my nose, not bothering to hide my disgust. He turned back to me, tutting. "Making wise remarks to an officer, Taryn, what will they do with you?" His demeanor was getting increasingly nastier as I gave him more reasons to turn me in. I should have noticed this, but I was getting so worked up I didn't even think about it.
"Well, they'll put me to a better use than giving children lung cancer," I snarled.
He laughed, but it sounded more like a bark. "Yeah, your dead body will be on display in the center of the community and they'll say, 'See that, girls? That's what happens when you don't stay in the kitchen.'"
"You son of a bitch!" I screamed, and slapped him so hard I heard something crack. I had originally planned on punching him, but I probably would've killed him, and then the higher authorities would kill me. Besides, he was already spitting out blood, and, from what I could tell, had a chipped tooth if not a missing one. The cigarette lay smoldering on the ground beside him. That'll have to do, said a nasty voice in my mind. If voices could shake their heads, this one was shaking its in disappointment.
But then I noticed something: Even as Crane was lying there, bleeding from the mouth, he still had his stupid Cheshire smile on. He looked at me with glittering eyes and said, "You're a dead bitch, Taryn. You hear me? Dead."
I stood my ground, pride preventing me from running away.
He got slowly to his feet, and I was pleased to see something was hurting him as he did so. "You'd better run home, Taryn," he threatened. "You'll have another fifteen minutes to live if you do."
"Oh no, not a threat," he laughed. He threw his right hand - the one not keeping his blood from getting all over - to his chest in mock fear. "You couldn't shut me up before. So, what are you gonna do now, Taryn? Hit me again? Come on, I dare you. Or are you too scared? Girls are always too scared. That's why they never get anything done, 'cause they're too full of chicken shit."
I wanted to throw myself forward and snap his neck right there, but I somehow managed to restrain myself.
Come on, I heard a voice in my head say. You're already in trouble, just kill the little ba-
Dammit, Taryn, you know he's baiting you, said another. If you hit him again it'll only inflate his head more.
I raised my hand to strike again, but with a fist this time. He recoiled, but I didn't actually hit him. Instead I let my hand fall to my side as I scoffed, "Ha. You flinched." I turned to walk away.
"Told you you were too scared!" he called after me, and I whirled around just to see if he would flinch again. He did, and I let myself let out the same bark of laughter he had minutes before.
"If I'm so full of chicken shit, then why are you so afraid of being hit by a girl?"
"Because you're not a real girl. You're full of chicken shit like a real girl, but when you actually hit you don't hit like a real girl. That's cheating." Idiot knew just how to turn the tables on me, and I fell for it, too.
I lunged at him, but he ducked at just the right time and I ended up hitting the metal swing set.
"Hm. It fights like a girl, too."
My lip curled, and the hand on the swing set that I was using to steady myself clenched. When I took it off, there was a dent in the metal, which I had done to remind him what I was capable of.
It worked; I could tell he was getting scared. But then he had to go and turn that around on me also.
By the time I managed to get myself up again, he was holding a long, gleaming, silver needle in his hand. He must have taken it out of its container while I was down.
Every officer carried a needle full of the stuff they used for lethal injection (I think it was potassium chloride, but whatever... it's not like I cared about that crap). The officers had them in case a transhuman was out of control. They carried guns as well, but if one of us had to be terminated it was better to use the needle - it wasn't as messy and that way the scientists could at least work with our dead bodies. Not to mention, needles as well as guns made very effective devices for blackmail.
"Come any closer and I'll stab this into your neck," Crane said, waving the needle around wildly. "Who knows, it probably won't kill you. I heard this stuff doesn't work on trannies, but I've never been able to try. You wanna test it?"
The tranny joke just about sent me over the edge again, but my fear of the needle kept my anger at bay. I hated those things. Absolutely hated them. I hated the way they looked, I hated the way doctors used them to take my blood, I hated the way it stung when they gave me injections, I hated how easy it was for them to put crap in my body with those things.
I kept my eyes on that needle for what seemed like a long time while Crane waved it in front of my face. Neither of us moved. I think it was because secretly, we were both afraid of it. Well, I was afraid of it for obvious reasons, but I think he was afraid of the trouble he'd be in for killing an expensive government project. So we stayed there, saying nothing.
I stood, keeping my eyes fixed on that thing in case he tried to attack me, flexing my fingers while I imagined wringing his neck. Then, I turned around and sprinted in the opposite direction.
To everybody who's still with me, thank you so much and a HUGE thank you to Alexandra Burton, who motivated me to keep this story going. I honestly didn't think anybody liked it that much, I thought all the reviews were only return reviews...
Virtual cookies to everybody who put me on their story alert/ favorite author/ favorite story list. It means so much to me that people really like this, and hopefully this chapter didn't disappoint.
Special thanks also to Xaphrin for bearing with my rough drafts and poking me in the ribs to continue this chapter... This is for you and Alexandra, you hoopy froods, you.
Hopefully now that it's almost NaNoWriMo I might be a little more motivated this month to get some more of the story done. It probably won't, but oh well...
Anyways, bye until the next chapter, dahlings. Delphina loves you all!