I stare at Jake, panting, my hand now clenching the pebble in my pocket, and he slowly lowers his weapon. My mother wails along with many others, and I can smell a range of smells; blood, sweat and gun powder. I'm trembling, my heart threatening to break through my chest and run a mile, and I realize that I have bitten my cheek raw. I daren't look around me, and yet I have to.
To my left, the fourteen year old lies in a pool of blood around her head. To my right, Maxine falls and wrapped her arms around her legs, retching. Further down the line to my right, Ant and Ben lay dead, crumpled on the floor and looking oddly innocent. Tony stands tall, although his face is ashen as beads of sweat run down his temples. Cole stands motionless beside him, his eyes closed as if still waiting for a hit. To my left, three more from the child lies dead, one alive and then another five motionless on the ground.
I want to scream, or cry, or throw up. I want to run but my legs won't work. Why won't they work? Oh god, oh god! Someone is screaming but I don't know who. I can't move. I can't move!
"Connie!" I hear my name, who is shouting me? I strain to listen through the ringing of gunshots in my ears. "We love you, Connie! We love you!" It's my mother. I spot her, and she is being dragged away. Why? Why is she leaving me?
And then everything soon falls back into place. I am alive; I am going to Sector One. Parents are dragged away as soon as the shooting is over in order to keep them from trying to take their spared children home. I watch with a numbness blackening my body as soldiers drag my parents away, who thrash and scream at me. They tell me to live, and that is what I will do.
"Congratulations! The nine of you will now leave this Segment, and you will be transported to Sector One. Further instructions will be delivered upon your arrival." says Blaine, who is smiling at us. And then, with a somewhat cruel glint in his eyes, he adds, "Your assigned soldiers will take you to your cars. Safe journey." And then he leaves.
Jake tucks his weapon away, coming towards me and takes me by the elbow, pulling me away from the wall. I accidently smudge the girl's blood, and I feel sick. Maxine has to be yanked to her feet and forced away, but Jake has to use less effort. The sound of screaming soon vanquishes, and silent onlookers bow their heads in respect for the fallen.
Jake leads me away from the others, who also divide from one another. Separate cars, one for each of us. I feel that he is doing most of the effort, pulling me along while my feet work clumsily, my legs no longer firm beneath me. I think I'm crying, but I can't be sure. I still feel too numb.
But somehow, I work up the nerve to say something. "Was I a target?" I say.
Jake is quiet for a moment as we walk, and I half don't expect an answer. Then he speaks with a gruff voice. "Not a target."
"I replace the innocent with the face of an enemy." He looks at me. "The guilt weighs less that way."
I nod. There is nothing more to say to that, and quite frankly, I am now too numb to move my lips. All I can do is let this stranger guide me away, and I envision the little girl by my side; alive one moment, dead the next. Her huge eyes are so vivid, and I think that, during our brief eye contact, she had been inwardly screaming with terror.
Fifteen minutes later, having left the town centre and now towards the border of the Segment, I spot it. The car is black and sleek, glistening in the sun as we approach it. Jake knocks on the back window, and I hear a clicking sound which must signify the doors unlocking. I look up, confused.
"This is where I leave you." he says flatly.
"But I thought you were assigned to me." I say, but my voice doesn't sound like mine. Too hollow.
"I will escort you for protection whenever you leave Sector One," he pauses, looking at me, and for a moment I think I see pity in his eyes. "which won't be for a while."
"Okay." I murmur, and he opens the back door of the five door car.
"Travel carefully, miss Harper." he says, watching me climb in. He parts his mouth, as if to say something else, but then he thinks better off it. Checking that all of my limbs are safely inside, he pushes the door, and closes with a click. I flinch, but disguise it as I search for my seatbelt.
The driver is a man in a black suite, his hair cut short and his eyes staring straight ahead. He looks to be about thirty, maybe older, but I can't find myself to care. I'd thought that the Line Up would be quick and somewhat effortless, and I had hoped I would be able to handle it. But now I realize that I am trembling, my teeth grinding against one another as I try to hold back sobs. It burns intensely from the back of my eyes and down my throat, and if I wasn't crying before, I defiantly am now. Tears prick my eyes, momentarily blinding me, and I do my best to hide a sniffle.
The driver starts the engine, which hums to life, and pulls away. He follows the road that leads to the main road, which is attached to three roads on either side. I know that the gates are close, and in a few minutes I see a sign that says NORTH SEGMENT EXIT STRAIGHT AHEAD. My throat burns even more. This will be the first time I have left the Segment in six years, the last time being a year after we went to the beach for a trip in the country. Two months later, fences went up and it was declared illegal to leave the Segment unless we are one of the Selected, due to safety reasons. Apparently, the world beyond the fence is not safe anymore, but why is beyond me.
Nobody knows what we are fighting, as we are apparently not in the right to know. Our job is to birth and raise children into young, strong adults ready for training, and should said child be one of the Selected, the reward would be to have money sent to the remaining family in return for their departure. The amount of money sent depends on the applicant's performance in training and in the line of duty, and I believe that this is also payment for being kept in the dark willingly.
Two guards stand at the gates of the Segment, or rather my home, and they open them to let us pass. Ahead, I see another car, and the distance could be filled by three lorries. I slump back into the seat.
"How long until we get there?" I ask, although I hardly care.
It takes a moment for the driver to respond. "Five hours, miss Harper. Now would be a good time for some rest."
"Will you be driving me on more than one occasion?" I say, letting my eyes close while I wipe my cheeks.
"I am your personal driver, yes. Whenever Sector One requires my assistance, I shall be transporting you from one place to another." Perhaps people would think this is special treatment for the wealthy, and that it should be embraced and not taken for granted. I only fear it. This is not a luxury, I just know it.
"Sleep, miss Harper." says the driver.
"Tell me your name, first." I retorted hotly. "I have a right to know."
He sighs. "I am known as Marcus Granby. Now please sleep, miss Harper, and I say that in your best interests."
I close my eyes and wonder if I will ever hear my first name again. Maybe not. I let myself go, feeling the agony in my chest develop and reality begins to dawn on me. Today I am leaving home. Today is the day of my escape. The agony is a mix in my chest, a mix of excitement and dread, alarm bells sounding all around me. My heart tells me to be happy and excited for what is to come, but my brain is screaming in terror and distress. I'm being torn in two with my conflicted emotions, and when I try to focus on nothing, the blue eyed girl comes into focus behind my lids, who then morphs into my parents.
What will they do? What will they do tonight when it is time for dinner? I imagine that neither will eat, or sleep, or even move for that matter. They will become paralysed, suffering with a loss that no parent should bare. Somehow, I feel guilty. I will have a new life, a new home with new people, but what will they have?
I shake the thought away and beckon sleep. The vibrations of the moving car attempt to soothe me and eventually it works, as I soon drift away into nothing.
The gunshots continue firing in my head.
I sleep for the entire five hours, and I wake up on cue. Just as my lids flutter open, we are passing through some gates with two guards on either side, all armed, equally emotionless. I shift up straighter, despite the ache in my back from being in the same position for so long. I feel my eyes widen and a gasp escape my lips, for this is not what I expected.
When I envisioned the Sectors before, I saw warehouses. Tall, metal, cold warehouses. Nothing more, nothing less. I'd imagined that they would have been surrounded by fences, which is indeed what I see now. But beyond that is something beyond my imagination.
A building stands tall and wide, and I think it must be four or five stories high. It looks to be nearly the size of a football pitch and a half, but my god it's beautiful. And it is made of glass. Blue, shimmering, fragile glass. It reflects everything around it, not offering anything on the inside to come into focus, which somehow add to the beauty. Each fragment of glass is separated into large squares that most likely resemble windows, and on the bottom floor it is the same apart from the middle section, which is transparent with glass doors.
The building is surrounded by trees, green and blooming, some pink with flower petals. Grass also covers the ground on one side of the road, which bends towards the main doors, but continues around until it reattaches to itself on its way back to the entrance. This doesn't look like a place when brutal soldiers are made. This looks like a place where hope lies.
And that is what terrifies me, because I know that this is camouflage.
We pass the main doors, following another black car that we'd been following earlier, and I realize that the road also breaks off to go down back, entering what looks like a tunnel. All around me goes black, and I can suddenly hear my breathing accelerate.
We drive for a further five minutes, dipping further and further below every so often, until finally I am blinking against dull, yellowing lights. We follow the car in from around a bend, and Marcus stops just as the one in front does. Marcus has no time to say anything as my door opens, a hand snagging my arm and dragging me out.
I don't look up at the man pulling me, but I listen to Marcus pull away smoothly as another car pulls up in his place. I see two figures ahead of me, a man and boy, the boy seeming to resist the man's grasp on his elbow. I swallow, and I suddenly find it hard to breathe.
We walk through the darkness for a few minutes, and then we walk through a narrow tunnel. The light grows brighter, and finally, I see doors. Huge, intimidate grey doors, with no windows but large handles. They look to be made of metal, and I am now faced with some kind of element I had first expected of this place. The man beside me releases my arm and shoves me ahead of him, where I bump into someone. They gasp, and I realize it is Maxine. Her eyes are raw from crying, her body shaking carelessly, and she grabs my wrist with what I think is for some kind of emotional support. I bite my lip and then hold her hand that holds mine.
After a few tense moments, the soldiers that led us here vanishing, I look around. All in all there looks to be about fifty of us, more boys than girls, all of us equally terrified and coming from different Segments. Tony is among them, no longer looking so sure of himself. He stands close enough that I can see he's been crying; after all, he has lost his best friend. But I feel nothing towards him, only the same hatred I have felt for as long as I can remember. I look away.
The metal door in front of us opens with a loud groan, and I see that it is several inches thick. I swallow, chasing down my nerves as well as the lump of fear in my throat. Maxine squeezes my wrist tighter, enough to hurt, but I think that this is nothing compared to what we will soon endure.
A man comes into view. He looks young, perhaps twenty years old, and he looks menacing. His face is coated in heavy scars, one dragging from the side of his nose and over his cheek, disappearing under his jaw. It looks red and angry, as if it never truly healed, but it doesn't seem to bother him. I think he would have been handsome had his face remained smooth, what with his scruffy sandy coloured hair and lean body. He could be strong, but I think speed would be more in his favour. He wears black jeans and a white shirt, looking incredibly casual despite the occasion.
"My name is Carl. There are fifty six of your here today, which is disappointing." he says, but his voice is slow, intimidating. It makes my heart hammer. "That means that all of you will be working extra hard to fill in the gaps. You will feel pain like no other, you will see things in a new light, and everyone will become your enemy. Fear and cowardice is not an option here."
We are silent, absorbing his words. He continues. "You will embark on many tests during your stay here. You may be here for six months or six years, it doesn't matter. Each day will be as hard and painful as the last. You will have days of rest, where you can do as you please, which will take place every four days. There are schedules to follow, including meal times and curfews. If you disobey the rules here, you will be punished.
However, today is the day of your first test. It will be hard, but it will be one of the hardest out of the way. Behind me is a chamber containing solitary confinement cells, each one split into two. You will spend the next seven days in a cell, alone and without shower facilities. Meals will be brought to you on our own terms. Hard men break in these conditions, so it is your job to prove to us that you can cope. You are the Selected for a reason, prove to us that we have made a wise decision on bringing you into our world."
My heart leaps into my throat and chokes me. Solitary confinement, as if we are criminals. People go insane in these circumstances! Seven days may not be a long time, but after going through a Line Up and witnessing the death of many can't do us any favours. Maxine is trembling beside me, shaking me with her, and I find myself wanting to pull away.
"One at a time you will enter your cell and stay there. come forward when I call your name." calls Carl as he pulls out an electrical pad from his back pocket, and he begins reading out names that I take no notice of, listening for only mine. Maxine goes before me after several others are called, slowly releasing me and disappearing behind the metal door. I watch, waiting, staring at the girls and boys entering confinement, seeing the same fear I am now feeling. It is what life will now be like? Yes, yes it is.
"Connie Harper!" Carl bellows. I walk forward, hating how my name sounds on his tongue. He doesn't acknowledge me as I pass, so I simply entering through the doorway in silence. What I am met by is a long corridor lined with soldiers, all guarding a cell each. One beckons me over five cells down, and leads me to the right down a shorter, narrower path. It is colder in here, causing my teeth to chatter. I see two metal doors, one closed and one open.
"Inside." he says, and I do as I am told. I enter, and the door slams and locks behind me.
I am met by a room so small that it could be claustrophobic, but big enough to hold an object that resembles a toilet to my left and a mat that looks like a pathetic excuse for a mattress to my right. I turn to the door, which has a rectangular slot in it which is where I presume the food will be posted. There are no windows and it is incredibly cold, goosebumps rising on the skin beneath my sleeves. Sighing, tears welling in my eyes, I do the only thing I see feasible. I sit down on the mat, lie on my side, and will more sleep to come while I wait for this nightmare to end.
I fall asleep to gunshots, blood and screams, all while I am trapped in a room where the walls seem to close in around me.
A part of me wishes I had the bullet to my head while I scream for release in the dream, and possibly in reality, too.
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