Authors: Lara Fanning
A blue eye with dark brown, almost black lashes is looking back at me from the other side. It is a kind looking eye. The sort of eye that belongs to a gentle, old-fashioned man who holds doors open for ladies and speaks in a dignified, respectful manner. Yet, I see no crows-feet around his eye, and I sense that he is quite young. I feel a surge of heat course through my body as we study one another intensely.
“You have blood on your face,” Whil says, the concern in his voice is obvious. His eye doesn’t leave mine.
“I hit my head on the concrete at home.”
“Is it sore?”
“Yes, but I’m okay. Where do you think they are taking us?”
“They were talking about
earlier. It sounds like it’s just a big area they throw us in. From what I gathered, it’s fenced and guarded in some places. I gather it’s some sort of testing arena for anyone who made it into B.”
I see a brow pull low over Whil’s eye. I know I’m frowning too. What is this group we are in? Why do we have to get tested again?
“I am getting sick of tests,” I say, leaning my forehead against the wood. The memories are causing a turmoil within me, and I can no longer supress them. As a theatre production of horrible images flitters past my eyes, and I feel a painful lump rise in my throat as my eyes begin to sting.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry!
I tell myself, but the image of Clara buckled on the ground like a discarded doll whirls through my mind. I couldn’t save her. The girl I grew up with. I allowed her to die while I survived.
Me. The vicious, feral girl who attacked the lieutenant survived instead of the innocent, kind-hearted girl who had willingly got on that stage, knowing she would be killed. I see the same images of my family, herded out of the town centre and lined up against a wall with the other people in the D group. I see a firing squad gunning them down mercilessly. A sob finally works its way up my throat. Tears begin streaming down my dirty, bloody face, and I sniff loudly.
“Hey,” Whil’s voice comes on the other side. “Don’t cry. We’ll be okay.”
His concern doesn’t help. I remember the feeling of those multiple terrified people pressed against me in the town centre. The sweet, acrid stink that was in the air and could only be described as the smell of pure terror: the children screaming on the stage and the crowd bellowing with utter fury and dread. I crunch my eyes closed and the tears flow hot and thick.
“Freya,” Whil’s voice comes quietly. “I promise we will be okay.” I open my eyes.
Suddenly, Whil pokes his pinkie finger through the hole and I stare at it for a long time, wondering what to do. Would people in this situation hold hands to comfort one another? To show each other that the other is there? I know if Clara were here, she would be holding my hand. And so would my mother, or father, or brother. I force back my tears, put my back to the wall and awkwardly lift my bound hands to link my pinkie finger through Whil’s in a silent promise that we will survive. Although it is difficult to hold my hand to the wall this way, calmness spreads through my body at his touch. I lean my head against the wooden panels again and sigh, concentrating on the warmth of his finger instead of the horrific images in my mind.
I don’t know how long we stay like that, with our backs to the wall and our pinkie fingers hooked together. I know my finger begins aching at some point, but I refuse to let go. This finger is my only link to another sensible human being. We travel for another hour before the caravan suddenly comes to an abrupt stop, and I’m caught unaware and roll sideways with a yelp. My body hits the solid floor. In that one moment, every inch of me feels bruised and battered and I consider staying there in that defeated position.
“Whil, are you awake?” I ask, rebalancing myself with a groan. I stretch my arms out, wincing, and give another hopeful tug against the bindings. They hold fast. My wrists are stinging and the rope feels as though it has rubbed my skin raw.
“Yes. Don’t worry. We stop sometimes to water the horses and let the guards eat.”
“Oh, okay. What group would you have been in if you weren’t in B?”
I don’t know why I ask the question. It seems important somehow. Was he meant to be in D and dead, or A and alive?
“I think I would have been in A,” he says. “My family are dairy farmers. We’re useful to this new world. How about you?”
“I would have been in A too. My family farm sheep. But I lied on my test. I said I believed in God when I don’t. I thought it would help me but obviously that plan went wrong. If I hadn’t attacked Seiger, I think he would have put me in D because of what I wrote on the exam.”
“Well, well. I see you two have met,” a gruff voice comes.
I lunge to my feet in an instant. My fists are clenched in their bounds and my teeth bared. The door to my compartment opens an inch and Seiger’s square-shaped face appears in the gap, along with the pistol, which he points at me lazily. I would jump out but he will shoot me, so I just stare longingly at the outside world as he opens the door further. Still keeping his gun trained on me, saddle-sore Seiger stretches his limbs, and I hear several of his joints click as he stretches them out. He cracks his neck, and I silently wish it had snapped completely. As I sneer at him, he steps into my compartment and closes the door firmly behind him.
With him here, every nerve ending in my body tingles with life. If I thought I could take him on and win, I would happily fight him. But locked in a box, weak from hunger, pain, and exhaustion, and with my hands bound, the odds aren’t in my favour. I hang against the wall but am ready to fight. Seiger looks weary as he moves to stand on the opposite side of the caravan box so we are facing one another. He never lowers the gun and we face each other, me glaring with poisonous hatred and he disconcertingly calm.
“You’re a disgusting man!” I spit, seething with rage. I’ve never felt such a powerful hatred before.
He holds up one hand defensively. “Just following orders, girl. I heard what you just told Whil. If you hadn’t lied on the test, you would probably be in one of our new settlements with your family. They were all placed in A.”
My heart gives a skip of joy. So my family is alive! If I had just been honest in my test and stayed in line at the sorting, I could have been with them right now instead of locked in a box with Seiger. I shake my head firmly. My own comfort doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. Seiger still killed Clara and probably ordered the execution of the people in D.
“That wouldn’t have stopped you from killing Clara,” I snap. My nose wrinkles and my lips peel back like they did at the rally. I feel wolf-like, snarling like this. Even my hair stands on end similar to how a cat fizzes up when in danger.
Seiger’s face shocks me. It doesn’t show some sick sort of pleasure for killing my best friend. Seiger looks at me with an expression I wouldn’t think could live on his angular, harsh face:
“I didn’t want to kill that girl. Especially not in front of her family and those children.”
“You say that but you killed all of the people in D!”
“I didn’t personally, but I gave the order, yes.”
“Well, then you’re a despicable person. Don’t try to reassure yourself otherwise.”
He shrugs. “In this new world it will come down to eat or be eaten. I want to eat. I want to live. The new government wants a world without people who follow a religion. Religion has destroyed this world. The majority of wars are caused by religious debate, and people are divided by it. Those who are religious will preach that they are favoured while stating that those who do not believe in their God are sinful and doomed to Hell. The earth is the only thing we need to worry about, not pleasing a deity that doesn’t exist.”
“Why couldn’t you have just told them that instead of killing them? Clara wasn’t highly religious. She only followed Christianity because of her family.”
“Do you think they would listen?” Seiger asks with genuine incredulity. “You cannot talk sense into those people. It only takes one to spread the rumour. Once we destroy The Bible and eradicate its followers, we will be free of one of the biggest lies of all time. Religious people have destroyed this planet by saying there is a God and by saying God made us the stewards of the planet, placing humans above the rest of the natural world. The Bible justified their doings. Humankind must return to a more natural way of living and that means taking away their power over everything else that lives on this planet. Destroying the concept of God will make us natural again and put us back on equal terms with all other life. As for the other people who were in D, they were unfit or too tainted by their past to live in the world the Biocentrics wish to create.”
I shake my head. I don’t understand this logic. Humans don’t try to rule because of God. Humans rule because we are humans. It is our drive to advance. To move forward. To learn. Seiger can make whatever excuse he likes but murdering hundreds, or thousands, of people to change the world is an evil act. Just like the dozens of corrupt political leaders who have, in the past, murdered people for having different skin colours, different sexual orientations, or even simple disabilities.
I wonder if this is what the Holocaust victims felt like when placed in concentration camps. Rallied and sorted out like animals. Murdered, tortured, and threatened at gunpoint. Is our situation as terrible as that? I already know D groups are all dead now, just for being religious or useless to the new world. The whole scenario reeks of a government having personal issues with these people.
“What about us? What are Whil and I here for? What is the B group for?” I ask.
“You will find that out if you pass the next test,” Seiger says.
“No more tests!” I say angrily. I’m finding it hard to hate Seiger when he remains so calm.
“We are almost to the test site now,” Seiger says, ignoring my comment, which sets my teeth on edge. “I will explain to you both. Whil, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” comes Whil’s voice.
“We are going to drop the both of you off in the bush. Don’t think about running away because there is a fence surrounding your area that you will die trying to get over. You will be left in the bush for a fortnight and you are expected to fend for yourself. Your only objective is to stay alive. You can travel as a pair or go your separate ways. In a fortnight’s time, we will come and find you. If you survive, we go to the B compound. If you don’t survive, well, that’s self-explanatory.”
The stupid government chose a terrible test site for me! I almost laugh at the irony of them dragging me all the way out here, thinking I wouldn’t know the area, thinking I would be lost and confused when I can navigate the Alps without fault. The mountains have always been a sanctuary for me, somewhere to come camping and escape the human world. A place where nature envelops me and I could happily stay forever, roaming the alpine bushland, listening to the cries of black cockatoos and cawing currawongs. Yes, they’ve carted me all the way here just so I could be content and confident.
“Why was Whil taken away from the Bs in his city? Shouldn’t they have stayed together?” I ask, realising my silence must seem suspicious.
“I’ve already explained this to him. We don’t want Bs who know one another doing the test together. It can change the results. They will always stick together when they’re put in the arena because they have something in common. Two strangers tend to think for themselves and that is what we want.”
“I didn’t know any of them,” Whil says through the hole.
“That’s irrelevant. We can’t take the chance. Now, if you are done questioning me, we have arrived at the test site.” Seiger goes back to the window, raps on the wall and says, “Let us out, boys.”
My muscles coil for the spring as someone on the other side begins unlocking the door. I hear it click, and the door begins to creak open, revealing a slit of glorious light. Seiger pushes the door and without hesitation, I dive towards the opening, knocking him face-first into the snow-laden earth outside. Gasping in the fresh cold air, I take one moment to survey my surroundings and then I dash for freedom. I sprint away from the caravan, stumbling awkwardly without my hands for balance, not even risking a glance behind. Whil gives an encouraging shout. A few of the guards cry out for me to stop, but they don’t shoot. I know why. They aren’t allowed to kill me, or I would already be dead for attacking Seiger. Whatever reason I am a B, is the same reason they can’t kill me. Instead the guards take chase trying to drag their dismounted horses after them, but even with my hands tied, I’m too nimble and in my element for them to stand a chance of catching me. Even without the stubborn equines holding them back I doubt they would have stood a chance. I leap over a snow-frosted log in my path. Eucalypt leaves slap at my face as I search the bushland for some cover. There are trees everywhere but no trunks big enough to hide behind, and the undergrowth isn’t tall enough to take cover in. I just have to run. Luckily, I am fast.
I’m just not as fast as Seiger. It only takes him a few seconds to catch me. His hand clamps on my wrist like a steel vice, and he pulls me to a halt that almost rips my arms from their sockets. With a scream, I fall backwards into the snow with a thud that leaves me winded.
I gaze up, dazed, and Seiger’s shadow falls over me. Reaching down, he hauls me to my feet by the front of my jacket like I weigh no more than a feather. I glare at him and feel tears of pain working their way into my eyes, but he just smiles that same nonchalant smile that he gave when I attacked him; like my trying to escape was a great show to watch. One of his huge, hairy-backed hands snatches the rope between my wrists. While I writhe violently against his grip, he begins towing me back towards the caravan, making the rope bindings cut into my skin. I can’t attack him with my hands tied, and I know there isn’t a point trying to escape. They will either catch me or perhaps kill me if I truly threaten the lieutenant. There is no point having the will to live if you’re dead. Regardless, I hate this man touching me and forcing me to do his will. At the same time, I’m somewhat grateful that Seiger doesn’t seem to enjoy physical violence. I could have a womanising, violent man who would strike me for trying to escape towing me along, but Seiger never moves to hurt me aggressively. He just drags me along, ignoring my thrashing and snarling. I hate Seiger, but I don’t fear him.
“I said you would be released,” Seiger mutters as we go. “You didn’t have to take off.”
It occurs to me that he is right but my every instinct tells me to flee. I am not thinking logically at all. Something about being here in the mountains with these people has turned me into an animal that uses its instincts to survive—not its brain.
The closer we get to the caravan, the more I take in. There are two doors in the caravan, both now hanging open. The cell Whil was in is the mirror image of mine: small, rectangular, and dank. The guards have all mounted their impressive horses again, realising they shouldn’t have dismounted in the first place. Did they expect me to exit the holding cell quietly and calmly and not make a run for it? I suppose they are all just stupid army drones with no brains.
As we draw closer to the caravan and my strength slowly seeps away, I get my first real look at Whil. I was right about him. He could be out of a black and white movie from the ‘50s; though he must only be a year or two older than me. He looks like he should be wearing smart black pants and a crisp white shirt with suspenders. Of course, he isn’t wearing that. He wears faded blue jeans, dirty work boots, a black tee, and an olive green jacket pushed up at the sleeves. He is tall, probably a full head higher than me, and lean. He doesn’t have that naturally bulky build like my father or brother, but I can see ripples of muscles in his forearms. His hair is near black but with the sun striking him it has a dark auburn sheen. His eyebrows are low over his eyes, and there are a few freckles scattered on his nose.
I find myself staring at him, and he stares back. I’m probably not what he imagined. He was probably picturing a beautiful, wild amazon-style girl sitting in the compartment next to him. Eventually he smiles, revealing straight white teeth and a grin that completely knocks the breath out of me.
I tear my gaze away from my only comrade and focus on our situation. Hands bound, in the middle of the wilderness with six armed guards. We’re about to be dumped here, apparently without any tools or weapons, and are expected to survive. Whil could be the most handsome man on earth, but that won’t help us live through the next two weeks. Maybe if he were someone a bit more rugged—like a brawny, man-of-the-land native hunter—then I’d be truly grateful for his presence.