Someone died for me once.
I try to forget that. It's not an easy thing to live with, knowing that the only reason you're alive is that someone else is dead. And it's even worse to know that you're doing all kinds of things your savior would have hated. So I try to forget. I try to forget the way he covered my body with his and the way his eyes glazed over even as he told me to run. I try to forget because it's too hard to remember.
Luckily, the Academy made it pretty easy to forget. They gave me all the dreamers I wanted, enough to keep me in a semi-conscious state all the time, a state where everything was dreamy and good. When I was like that, I didn't have to think of Zack or Carrie or Alys, or anyone else. I could just lay in bed and stare at the ceiling and pretend everything was fine.
And then the dreamers stopped.
I came out of that semi-conscious state into the blazing world of reality—except it still didn't feel too real. I was staring up at a plain white ceiling, and in my peripheral vision there was nothing of the room I had once inhabited. Instead, there was just gray, and white. White sheets. Gray walls. I shifted experimentally; they hadn't tied me up while I was unconscious. That was something, at least. One promise that had been kept.
"You won't be held prisoner here," they'd said. "You won't be bound and thrown into a cell."
And I hadn't been. I was in a room with an IV hooked up to my arm, an IV which was now pumping saline into my veins instead of drugs, but I wasn't restrained. I suspected that, if I cared to get up and check, the door to the room would be unlocked. I wasn't a prisoner, at least not in the jumpsuit-and-chains sort of way. Instead, I was just a slave to my own desires—because all I wanted was more dreamers.
I glared at the IV, but I knew it was no use. It couldn't produce drugs on demand. Someone would have to come and hook up a new bag, and I would, in all likelihood, have to interact with that person. I wondered what they'd say. I rehearsed answers.
What's your name? Anna Torres.
How old are you? That depends on how long I've been here. I was eighteen when I came. How long has it been, anyway?
I didn't have an answer to my own question, so I skipped to the next imagined one. Do you know why you're here?
And then I stopped. I wouldn't answer it. I wouldn't, not even in my own head, because doing so would mean thinking about him. He was why I was here. No. That wasn't right. Zack had tried to keep me from being captured. It wasn't his fault I was now a prisoner—because, despite there not being handcuffs, despite the door probably being unlocked, I knew that I wouldn't be allowed to just leave. It didn't work that way.
"The Academy." I tried saying it out loud. The words were heavy on my tongue, which was clumsy from so long without use. "The Academy." Did it have a longer name? I didn't know. All I knew was that the Academy was where people went when they vanished. When they came back—if they came back at all—they were different. And not in a good way. I didn't want to become one of those soulless automatons, one of those people who roamed the halls of the Met with a blank stare on their faces, serving no purpose other than watching for possible dissenters. People from the Academy had always terrified me—just locking eyes with them for a moment was enough to send icy horror shooting through my veins. And now, in all likelihood, I was going to become one.
I squeezed my eyes shut, blocking out the white sheets and the gray walls and the sting of the IV in my arm, and I tried to build up the picture in my mind again. I built the tunnel, one slab of concrete at a time, and the trapdoor with its heavy wheel, rusted practically shut. And then, in my head, I swung it open, and I stared up through tinted goggles at a sun I hadn't seen in twelve years.
In reality, the sight had lasted just an instant—just long enough for me to get a taste of what I could never have. It had lasted just long enough for Quade to shove the Cleaner out into the world and bang the door shut again, letting its lead-lined bulk protect us from the radiation that still bathed the surface. And then the alarms had started. The wailing and the flashing red lights had filled the tunnel so that we couldn't think, and we had all scrambled to run away. But we had been trapped; there weren't any alternate routes. Only a few people had managed to break free before the Peacekeepers had been on us. A few more had managed to fight their way out; Zack and I had certainly tried. And when he'd taken the shot that had been aimed at me—well, I'd thought I had a chance.
It turned out that I just couldn't run fast enough.
But now, laying flat on my back, I ignored everything that had actually come after that brief sight of sun, tinted green because of the blue of my goggles, and I just focused on Above. I tried to dredge up my six-year-old memories to merge with scenes from the vids, tried to remember what it was like to bask in the glow of the sun and feel grass, real grass, not the synthetic stuff on the Quads, tickle my toes. What it was like to get a mouthful of ocean water or how a sea breeze could bring goosebumps to damp flesh. I knew what all these sensations were supposed to feel like; I'd read about them, here and there. They'd mostly been watered-down descriptions, since most vivid depictions of life Above had been destroyed shortly after the move into the Met, but I knew what I had once felt.
I just couldn't feel it anymore. I couldn't feel a breeze or the grass or the warmth of the sun. That was disappointing—but just disappointing. It was only to be expected, after all. It had been more than twelve years since I'd felt those things. What was disturbing, shocking, heart-breaking, was the more recent sensations that were already vanishing from my memory. Zack's fingers running down my spine or stroking my hair, the brush of his lips against mine, the way his arms had fit perfectly around me as I leaned back against his chest. I knew these things were real, warm, good. But I was detached from them; I could picture the movements, but I couldn't feel them anymore. It was like they belonged to some other Anna, one I had watched from a distance.
For a brief moment, I wondered if I was a robot, and barely managed to stave off panic by assuring myself that no, my brain had not been downloaded into some mechanical body, because mechanical bodies didn't need IV drips to keep them going. I was still blessedly human.
But, I thought, mind flashing back to the blank stares of the people who had once been at the Academy, the ones who still walked and talked and breathed and bled but didn't really live, I might not be for long.