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Authors: Lara Fanning

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BOOK: Red Fox
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I’m proud that I immediately search for an escape route, but then I notice that several guards are stationed around the courtyard, all armed with rifles. I look at each of them for long seconds, certain they are Seiger’s men, the ones who accompanied me in the horse drawn caravan, but I can’t be sure. They all look the same wearing those helmets and jumpsuits. With them watching my every move, I stop surveying my escape options and look around innocently.

To think that such a beautiful place exists for such a wicked purpose. The sun feels warm on my skin, and the air is fragrant with the scent of the flowers, but my body is rigged and tense.

People swarm out from behind Isobelle and me, pushing us out of the doorway so they can pass and access the courtyard. One couple sits down at a bench and begin playing chess. Others sit down under the willow trees and read books. There is even a small swimming pool at the other end of the courtyard, which a group sits in, splashing in the shallows and chattering casually. I feel my brow furrow with astonishment. They’re treating this prison like a holiday resort!

Paradise in hell.

“That’s Facility Two,” Isobelle says, pointing ahead.

Twenty metres away is a tall, chainmesh fence separating Facility One from Facility Two. I can see through this fence, unlike the ones that blocks my view of the world beyond the compound. On the other side of the fence is a courtyard identical to the one we are in. There are guards posted in Facility Two as well, and normal people, I assume they are Bs, also wander around the courtyard, enjoying the warmth of the day. And standing in a mob of talking people is…

“Whil!” I cry, my voice shrill. It feels as though the entire world stops spinning for a moment.

He spins around. The group of people he is talking with look towards me, eyebrows raised enquiringly. My legs surge forward. My mind becomes a fuzzy blur of ecstasy when I see his familiar face. As he sees me hurtling towards the fence, a horrified expression wipes over Whil’s features. He starts towards the fence at a run, yelling something, but I’m too thrilled to see him alive to hear what he says. I’m ten metres away, then ten steps away, one metre away from the fence when my hand reaches towards it.

A splinter of electrifying pain shoots up my arm. My head gives a thump like someone has clapped their hands hard over my ears. In one jarring motion, my legs give way and I hit the ground, feeling the electricity pulse through me with each shuddering pump of my heart. Groaning, I lean over and grasp my belly, which is suddenly alive with pain.

“Don’t touch it again!” Whil shouts.

I look up at him, my limbs twitching from the shock. He is pacing the fence in front of me, taking two strides and then whirling back the other way, watching me with intense eyes like a hawk. I’ve seen animals do this before. Animals in zoos pacing the fence, looking for a weakness: waiting for a weakness. Or pacing for their companion on the other side.

Whil’s bandage is gone, making his sooty hair fall over his forehead like it did when I first met him. His head wound isn’t bleeding. In fact, it looks like it has already been stitched closed and washed clean. The people here must have tended to it properly when he was being branded. As the shockwave of electricity slowly pulses out of my system, I struggle to my feet, knowing if anyone touched the fence for too long they would be fried alive. I can’t climb it. I can’t get to him, and it feels like such a long time ago we were sitting on the top of the airstrip in the moonlight.

“You’re crazy, Freya!” Whil shouts. I know his anger is only caused by fear for my life. “Didn’t they tell you the fence was electric?”

I nod. “They did, I just…” I can’t finish the sentence. How pathetic would it sound to admit that I forgot the fence was electric because I saw Whil on the other side of it?

Pretty pathetic.

Whil’s face softens. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Your head looks better.”

“Some doctors fixed it this morning. Are you really okay? Did you get branded as well? Did they fix your back and your face after Warden whipped you? Did Warden give you all a talk this morning? About… about what we are supposed to do here now that you and I have arrived?”

Suddenly the realisation of where I am hits me hard and fast. I want to grab the fence again and again until the electric current stops my heart from beating anymore. I would rather be dead than locked up in this place. It doesn’t matter if we are fed, cleaned, and treated well when they expect us to…

“Whil,” I whisper, my voice hoarse and shaky with sudden panic. “We can’t stay here.”

I have a flooding memory of Jack and I standing in the town centre at home as the rally was progressing. When I gripped my brother’s arm and expected him to work out a way to save my life after answering the test wrong. When I expected him to have a plan to save Clara. I can’t keep relying on other people.

“We won’t. We’ll get out,” Whil says softly. He glances over his shoulder quickly, making sure that no one is watching or listening to us.

“How? How do we get out of here? There are guards everywhere. This fence isn’t like the other one and we have no idea what’s outside. We could be in a desert for all we know and we will just die of starvation or dehydration even if we escape,” I whisper.

“I know. We’ll work it out, just calm down.”

“I don’t want to be here,” I say, my voice cracking. I’ve forced myself to be strong until now, but looking at him through the chainmesh fence breaks me. “There are people in here who are dangerous.”

“Have they done anything to you?” Whil asks, his voice suddenly like ice. I look up into his eyes and they are cold and unforgiving. Never have I seen him look so fearsome.

“T-the branding man, but I’m not worried about him now. There’s a guy called Felix in here who people have warned me about.”

“If any of them touch you, I’ll kill them. Consider the branding man dead,” Whil spits.

“No, no. That’s what they want us to do. We can’t be aggressive, how they want us to be.”

“I won’t let them touch you. I’ll figure a way out. Maybe Seiger…” his voice trails off.

“Seiger!” I gape. “He isn’t going to help us! Maybe he’s not as sick as the nutters in here but his moral compass isn’t exactly straight either!”

“He’s the only chance we have, Frey. Just make friends and stick with them. They’ll protect you until I can get us out.”

“Whil, you’re not going to do
it
, are you?”

He looks mortified. “No. I wouldn’t ever do that. Not even if a girl wanted me to do it. I’ve got you right here, and we are going to be together.”

I swallow back the lump rising in my throat and my heart gives a painful throb. He stares at me, eyes boring into mine, and I feel fortified as I look at him, a small amount of courage seeps back into my body, and I nod firmly.

Suddenly, he thrusts his pinky finger through the chain link on the fence, being careful not to touch the metal. I smile, forcing back the tears and lock my finger with his. I wish we were still in that wooden caravan, locked away from the outside world and safe. I wish we were still in the arena in the Alps where we had the room to run and the trees and shrubbery to shelter us. Who would have thought those two horrible situations could be one-upped?

One of the guards from Whil’s courtyard begins heading towards us, his gun held across his chest. Whil makes eye contact with him and nods in silent understanding.

“Time to go, Freya,” he says. “Just be careful, okay?”

“Okay,” I say shakily. “You too.”

He nods, moves away from the fence, and drops my finger. My hand falls limp by my side and I move away, only to find Madison, Jacob and Isobelle standing a few metres behind me, all of them wearing amused expressions. Madison raises her eyebrows at me and there is a ghost of a smirk on her face.

“What?” I ask, placing my hands on my hips.

“A shame he isn’t in Facility One, isn’t it, Freya?” she says, knowingly.

I purse my lips. Even if Whil were in here, it wouldn’t be happening. I find it repulsive that the people here can turn something that is sincere and honest into something that seems vile and wrong. Irritated, I push passed them and go to sit under one of the shady trees. I settle into the grass, fold my arms and close my eyes. I can just rest here in the sun for the remainder of my life. I grow drowsy in the warmth and then hear a few thuds in the grass around me. I open one eye and see my three persistent followers are sitting around me, bright-eyed.
   “Come on, Freya,” Madison says. “We know what it’s like. Jacob and I don’t exactly want to… share but for our own survival we are going to have to.”

“How can you just accept it so easily?” I snap. “It’s so wrong.”

“What choice do we have?” Jacob says and I look at him. He has hardly said a word since we were introduced. He takes Madison’s hand and rests their entwined hands in his lap. “If we want to escape, we have to survive first.”

“Would you be saying the same thing if you were over in Facility Two and Madison was in Facility One being seduced by another man?”

Neither of them look at each other, and I see Jacob’s hand tighten on Madison’s. His jaw clenches, but he says nothing.

Madison answers, her voice tight now, “We have to survive, anyway we can, so we can be together.”

“Well, I am not going to do it!” I say angrily, standing up and leering over them. “I am not their pawn!”

I storm away from them, go inside, and coop myself up in room three. Here, I spend the rest of the day simply lying on my bed, exhausted. It is excruciating to lie on my back but I do it anyway, determined to stare at the square window above me where I can see the blue sky and the few green leaves hanging. It’s the only glimpse I have of a world that isn’t enclosed by a fence. I close my eyes and think of how I can escape before Warden’s patience with my unwillingness to perform wears out. The only viable way is through the door I was brought in. But from what I’ve seen, guards stand by there at every moment. Then there are those white, identical hallways on the other side. How would I ever find an exit in that maze?

When the loudspeaker announces dinner is ready, my stomach grumbles hungrily. I try to ignore my stomach’s complaints but smelling the meal outside eventually entices me out of the bedroom. The seat between Isobelle and Madison is free. This time when I cross the room, no one bothers to look at me.

“Over your issues?” Madison asks as I sit beside her.

I grumble in response, helping myself to the chicken curry and rice on the counter. It is dark outside the window, but unlike that first night in the Alps, the dimness makes me feel secure and hidden. The people around the table chatter noisily, laughing at jokes told by a redheaded man and telling their own stories. They are comfortable with one another, and it almost feels like I’m sitting around a table with my family at teatime. I wonder if my actual family are sitting together around a table somewhere. Without me.

“It’ll be alright,” Isobelle says, watching my face fall with sadness. She touches my hand gently and smiles. “T’will.”

I force a smile back. If this child can be strong so can I. But after eating, my body feels tired and my mind clouds with confusion. Confusion about everything. The reason I was brought here, how things changed so rapidly, how I will escape? My mind lurches on an emotional roller coaster and all I want is to sleep, for months, for years. I go to bed feeling more stressed and anxious than ever.

The bed is soft and comfortable, but it doesn’t satiate my fears and worries. I toss and turn but sleep doesn’t come. At some point in the evening, Isobelle comes back in, and I hear her lock the bedroom door. I almost expect her to crawl in the bed with me for protection, but she doesn’t. It’s obvious that she is not the sort of child who gives in to her fears. She is strong and independent. Just like everyone else here. Except me. I don’t feel strong. I feel insignificant, broken, and weak.

When sleep does come upon me, my nightmares are terrible. Children with wicked hooked teeth run rabid in a town like vampires. Fire surges inside houses and when people run to escape, the children pounce on them and sink their fangs into their throats, frothing at the lips like rabid dogs.

I wake up, screaming and my clothes sticky with sweat. Isobelle sits straight up in her bed, gasping in fright and then looks at me with a terrified expression. There is agonising pain splintering through my back and face because I have been twisting in the doona covers so much. I’m certain that any healing that has taken place during the day has just been undone. I murmur to Isobelle that I was just having a nightmare and then lie back down, trying to reassure myself that the nightmare won’t become my reality.

18.

              I adjust to life in Facility One, and hate myself for it. The facility isn’t interesting, adventurous, or even stimulating, but it’s tolerable. I read more books than I’ve ever read in my entire life over the next week. Most of the books on the shelf have been picked to taint our minds. There are lots of titles about natural selection and plenty of books about animals, forests, and ocean life picked by the Biocentrics in order to teach us more about the natural world. I can’t find any fantasy or romance novels.

Most days, we have some sort of schedule to follow. Usually, we are expected to eat three healthy meals a day and forced to participate in an exercise activity daily, to keep our bodies fit and physically well. Apart from eating and physical activity, we are left to our own devices—and everyone just ambles around aimlessly. With nothing to test our wits or strength, we settle into a rhythm that seems uncannily similar to a typically human work day: wake up, shower, eat breakfast, do exercise routine, eat lunch, lie around all day, eat dinner, and go to bed—day in and day out. The nights and mornings seem to blur together, so eventually I am unsure what day it is or how long has passed since my arrival. Life is entirely meaningless, and it drives me to the point of insanity.

I spend most of my days outside under the willow tree, writing on the few blank flyleaf pages I find in books. At least ten book fronts are now covered in graffiti and my untidy script. Someday, a person will find these books, read them, and realise the terrible things this government has done to its people. Maybe in ten years, maybe in a thousand years, a new civilisation will dig up the ruins of this facility and find my many diary entries scribbled in various book covers. They’ll put them in museums—the doodles of an eighteen-year-old, soon-to-be concubine.

The only thing that keeps me sane is the rare glimpses I catch of Whil on the other side of the courtyard fence. Warden must have told the guards to keep us apart, because if Whil ever tries to come to me, a guard hurries him away. I feel a ping in my heart every time he is steered away from me to talk to another girl. There are attractive girls on his side of the fence; girls just as beautiful as Madison, and much more beautiful than I am.

After the first week of imprisonment, I find myself becoming bitter towards Whil.
Let him flirt with his attractive cellmates!
He seems to put a good amount of effort into talking and laughing with them rather than battling the guards to see me. I try to understand his intentions, he can’t fight with these guards as they have proven themselves to be cruel and won’t hesitate to beat people who don’t obey their orders. Yet, Seiger’s guards, who are often on duty, are much more lenient and would have allowed Whil a minute or two to talk to me—and yet after that first week, he doesn’t even bother.

I think about him kissing me that night and whether it meant anything to him. We thought we were the last free people in the country. He didn’t have a choice but to like me; he didn’t think he would ever find another girl to live with. Perhaps
I
was being stupid. Perhaps I only liked him because I thought the same thing. I should have known better.

Whil isn’t the gentleman I thought he was. After a week and a half passes, he doesn’t even glance my way through the fence. Even if I wave to him or call his name, he ignores it. I feel a constant pulsing anger and an acrid feeling in my throat and in the pit of my stomach that can only be jealousy. I try to push it away and tell myself that it was my fault for getting too attached, but the feelings don’t subside. I’m so angry with him for fooling me, and so furious with myself for falling for him. He’s rude, disrespectful, and selfish. Exactly like the boys from my old school who were only after one thing. It doesn’t take long before I start ignoring him as well and turn my back on Facility Two intentionally.

My multiple wounds have scabbed over and are on the road to recovery. However, they are not pleasant to look at. My back is just a long, rough, off-coloured strip of dry skin. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore because the scabbing protects it, but the rough skin catches on the fabric of my shirt and itches terribly.

My face heals a lot faster and by the time two weeks have passed since my flogging, the gashes on my face have faded to baby pink scars of puckered flesh. The B brand, which everyone in both Facility One and Two was marked with, is livid pink and the many layers of skin tissue that the freezing brand destroyed flake away a bit more each day. All in all, I look atrocious, much more scarred and world-weary than all of my other inmates. Isobelle often comments on how different I look compared to flawless Madison, and I thank her for being so very observant.

While day-to-day activities bore the stuffing out of me, and Whil manages to irritate me without even talking, there is one thing that constantly keeps me on edge: Felix.

I often catch him looking at me during breakfast, his eyes dark and hungry. When I’m by myself beneath the willow, he is always staring at me from the other side of the courtyard, his two bimbos by his side and stroking his arms. I don’t smile or sneer in his direction, I just ignore him. I can feel his curiosity growing stronger, and it frightens me in the same way the branding man did. Madison and Jacob are always around me. I suppose I would call them friends now, but what could they do if Felix came after me? They could try to stop him and then be punished by Warden for slowing down the
natural process
. What if Warden separated Madison and Jacob like she did Whil and me? I know neither of them would cope.

All in all, I feel miserable and constantly alert like a fox being hounded. There is such a stark, miserable difference between this facility and the Alps. I miss being enveloped by nature. The facility is always clean, tidy, and bustling with movement and noise, but I yearn for the quiet evenings and the relaxed, carefree days at Hidden Valley Farm. I yearn for the freedom of the Alps again. I miss the smell of the trees, the feeling of the cool wind on my skin, and the freedom to stretch my legs far and fast. My entire being aches for freedom.

~

It’s a sunny afternoon when my group of three and I finish our daily exercise with the instructor, who had us play a rather gruelling game of soccer. I’m sweating and panting from exhaustion, but I can feel Felix’s eyes on me as I stand on the lawn and begin to stretch my limbs as the instructor asks. I feel like Felix is looking straight through my clothes. I hide my shudder by pretending to sneeze, and the instructor tells us to bend and try to touch our toes. I do as I’m told, groaning as heat erupts in the back of my knees. I’ve never been very athletic.

When the instructor is satisfied we have done enough, he says goodbye and leaves the facility. Madison, Jacob, Isobelle, and I all go over to our willow tree and sit cross-legged in the shade. Isobelle is red in the face from the physical work and there is the funniest, breathless expression on her speckled face, like a fish trying to breathe out of water.

“Worn out, Is’?” Madison asks. The little girl nods and we laugh good-naturedly.

Then, I see a familiar shape on the other side of the dividing fence. The name escapes my lips before I can stop it.

“Whil!” I say loudly. It’s almost a shout, and although I try to sound casual, the desperate, harsh edge to my voice is easily noticed. I hadn’t even intended to call for him.

When Whil looks up briefly, sees me and looks away without interest, I sink against the willow tree and my chest suddenly feels crushed, either with heartbreak or anger. I see Felix smirk, and I have half a mind to go and give him a good punch in the face. See if he’s smiling then! Madison pats my knee sympathetically.

“Ah, the fickleness of the heart,” she says dramatically.

I can’t help but laugh. “He’s a jerk.”

A sudden ear-piercing screech breaks the peace and all of us wince and look at the loudspeakers, awaiting the announcement.

“Blood tests for all women tomorrow morning. That is all.”

All is quiet again.

“Blood tests?” I ask, frowning. “What for?”

“What do you think?” Madison asks sardonically. “Diabetes? They want to know whether we are pregnant or not.”

“Already?” I gape.

“Of course. We aren’t here to have a holiday. Warden means business. She wants us to be pregnant.”

“A-are you?” I ask, wide-mouthed. Isobelle looks just as shocked by the announcement as I am.

Naturally, neither Isobelle nor I have fraternised at all with members of the opposite gender, except for Jacob. But Jacob is the mellowest and the most sex-reluctant man I have ever met. He certainly doesn’t seem pleased that he is expected to impregnate multiple women. Before the rally, Jacob and Madison had been an engaged couple and every mention of him having to sleep with another woman makes Jacob’s face go green.

“Could be,” Madison shrugs. “The difference is, I’ve been trying to so I won’t be punished. All of the other girls seem to be doing their jobs too. You, Freya, haven’t been pulling your weight.”

I can’t believe she’s taking their side! The thought makes me see red. It’s as if Madison is happy to bow down to the government’s will at the drop of a hat. Like she expects me to be fine and dandy about getting into bed with men I hardly know.

Anger bubbles inside of me. “Well, what am I supposed to do? Go and offer myself up to Felix? No, thank you.”

There are three men in Facility One: Jacob, Felix, and Lance. Most of the girls seem to fawn over Lance and it isn’t hard to see why—he is the teller of jokes and inspiring stories, the one who makes us all laugh in such a dark time, and he is not terrifying and intimidating like Felix, nor sullen and quiet like Jacob. Lance is a naturally charming character. He is of average height, quite brawny, probably in his mid-twenties, with copper-brown hair and brown eyes. But Lance already has his hands full with all of the other unclaimed compound women. We have our own cliques, each headed by a male; Jacob owns Madison and, on a lesser scale, Isobelle and me; Felix owns his couple of floozies: Candice and Hannah. Lance owns the other seven women, but never is he pushy or forceful with those who have chosen him.

I often see Lance or Felix suddenly slink away into their bedrooms in the later hours of the evenings, with a girl who has finally given in to the pressure. Though I’ve never seen Lance treat the ladies unkindly or make an uninvited move on them, he definitely isn’t my type. He’s handsome and sweet-hearted, but he also craves constant attention and is a bit of a clown. Lance calls us Bs the ‘red foxes’, the opposite of the story Seiger told us about the scientist creating domestic silver foxes. Being labelled a red fox means someone wild and cunning, always craving freedom.

I watch Lance on the other side of the courtyard. He’s telling the women around him a story, and they are all giggling stupidly. He hangs his arms around his two youngest women’s shoulders, sees me watching, and winks cheekily.

Rolling my eyes, I look back at my own group and notice Madison has suddenly gone very red-faced. Jacob looks stiff as a board, but that’s hardly irregular.

“What is it?” I ask suspiciously.

“Well, Frey. And Isobelle, too… I suppose. Jacob and I were talking last night. We don’t want you two to get into any trouble or get hurt by Felix. If your blood tests came back positive, you’d be protected from further… harassment, if you know what I mean. Warden wouldn’t let other men jeopardise an already pregnant woman.”

“You mean if we are pregnant the men won’t try to do anything forcefully? There’s just one problem, neither Isobelle or I will be pregnant in these blood tests and hopefully in no others, if I have my way.”

“Well, yes,” she clears her throat and tucks a strand of auburn hair behind her ear nervously. “Obviously tomorrow’s blood test wouldn’t show anything but I think they will be a regular thing, so maybe for the next one, it would be best if…”

“Spit it out, Madison,” I say, not at all liking where the conversation is headed.

“We just thought maybe Jacob could… get it out of the way for you.”

A laugh bursts through my lips but it isn’t echoed by anyone else’s, and I’m instantly reminded of the scene in the van when Seiger had told us about silver foxes. My little group of friends are silent. Then I see how serious Madison and Jacob look. They appear carved from marble. Shocked and repulsed, I look at Jacob and he turns beetroot red under my scowl. As usual, he has no words. He just stays still and receives the brunt of my hostile glare. My voice is lost. The mere thought of making love to Jacob sends a ripple of discomfort, discomfort being a light way to put it, through me. It isn’t as if I don’t like Jacob. He’s respectful and kind, but I have never thought about him in a romantic way! I certainly don’t want to get in bed with him. My voice returns, loud and fierce.

“Isobelle’s twelve years old, Madison!” I say disbelievingly. “She’s a
child
.”

“It’s better than Felix getting to either of you,” Madison argues hotly. “You have to think about it. I know it isn’t ideal. I’d prefer it didn’t happen either, but I don’t want either of you being hurt. Jacob wouldn’t hurt you.”

Obviously, the whole conversation makes Jacob extremely uncomfortable. He stands up, wipes his palms on his jeans and walks away, arms crossed firmly over his chest and head ducked like someone might try to clobber him. It wasn’t his idea, I know it. He’s faithful to Madison and has eyes only for her.

BOOK: Red Fox
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