Authors: E.R. Arroyo
a body moves toward me, I aim for the crotch, but he dodges. Billy I think.
both grab my shoulders and slam me into the wall. I struggle against them, but
they’re strong together. Sean wraps his hand around my throat and his eyes are
insane with animosity. “You think you can humiliate me in front of my
superiors and then play some sympathy game?”
I choke out, though I can barely breathe.
do just fine on my own, 1206. I don’t need your help. Don’t even speak to
lets me go and looks around to make sure we’re still alone. “Funny. Five
years ago you had more fight in you than you do now. Finally wising up, eh?”
beat you then, I could beat you again if I wanted to,” I remind him.
then his fist strikes my face, and the back of my head crashes into the
concrete wall. I feel a trail of warmth move down my scalp and onto my neck.
I grit my teeth and keep both hands against the wall as the two of them retreat
to their room on the same hall. Their doors are wide open, not locked like
mine. I’m assuming the reason is gender. I wonder if 587 demanded the lock
because she felt threatened or if it was someone else’s idea.
later, the hall is full of men filing into their dormitories for the night.
Some prematurely undress for their showers, either oblivious to me or just not
caring that I’m there. I avert my gaze to the floor, trying to ignore the
intense pain around my eye and cheek.
the men share a shower room down the hall, so they all walk past me. Not one
is concerned with the bruised and bloodied girl in the floor with her arms
wrapped around her knees. I would rock back and forth for self-comfort if I
didn’t fear it would look too feeble. I hate that I’m wounded at all.
the hell is Marsiana?
soldier trips over me, and catches his balance by placing his hand on my head
where I’m wounded, I wince in pain and he wipes my blood on his pants.
you okay?” he asks softly as he kneels beside me. It’s the blond-headed
soldier from Cornelius’s room, Titus. His familiar blue eyes fill with what
looks like genuine concern.
fine,” I hiss. The way worry dances on every corner of his face reminds me of
Dylan. I already miss Dylan. I’m used to seeing him three times a day, but I
haven’t seen him since last night. I think I can finally admit to myself that
last night was strange. Something felt awkward, but I think it’s just because
we’re both starting new lives. It’s normal to be nervous, and for things to
change. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. Suddenly my tightened chest
hurts more than my wounds.
Titus has been speaking but I’ve completely missed it. I meet his dark eyes,
hoping he’ll repeat what I missed.
I help you get cleaned up?” He seems sincere. I bring myself to my feet.
glance down the hall and see Marsiana making her way through. “No, thank
you.” He sees her coming, too, and nods. He waits until she reaches me before
dipping his chin and walking away.
lets out a heavy sigh when she lays her eyes on me, and part of me feels ashamed.
She is what a soldier should be. She’s tough, she’s an officer. She’s not
like me, wounded inside and out.
I want to be like her
, I allow myself
to think before stopping in my tracks. What am I thinking? I don’t want to be
a pet soldier. I want out of here. I want to live on my own terms. Or die on
ushers me into our room and as soon as the door shuts, she launches into her
lecture. “So, don’t leave meals without me until you have your chip and
clearance. I was really hoping you weren’t going to be any trouble. You can’t
give Nathan a reason to doubt you if you want to keep on the straight and
narrow.” She looks me over. “Is that what you want?”
did this?” She places a soft hand on my shoulder, forcing me to look her in
you start it?” I’m genuinely offended, but I do have a reputation. I guess I
You can check the security cameras if you’d like.” I scuff my foot across the
floor, biting down on my lip. I guess that’s enough to convince her to move
pulls out a first-aid kit, grabs a pouch, and gives it to me. “Shake it,” she
says. When I do, it turns ice-cold and I hold it to my face, assuming that’s
what it’s for. She wipes the blood off my scalp and I feel a sting when she
puts some chemical on the wound. “Do you want me to stitch it myself, or take
you to the Medical wing?”
please.” No need to display my weakness around the whole building.
needle stings going in, and while she stitches she tells me there’s probably no
deeper injury, and hopefully no concussion. “I’m fine,” I assure her.
Tomorrow’s lab day.”
a couple of hours of sitting upright and her checking on me every so often, she
finally lets me lie down for bed. I’m still exhausted. I’m wounded. But I
can’t fall right to sleep. There’s too much information vying for my
attention. The tiring first day, the new home, the new housemates. Marsiana.
Titus, the soldier in the hall. The resurrection of childhood rivalries. My
lack of a best friend.
never realized how much Dylan stabilized me every day. Even if we didn’t
speak, a sidelong glance from him could do the trick. Something about the way
he looks at me always reminds me who I am, always makes me feel like I’m okay
here for one more day.
finally, what I’m really worried about. Lab day tomorrow. When I arrived at
Antius I spent weeks in the labs. They took so many blood samples I was surprised
I didn’t run out.
, they said. Over the years, I spent
many nights down there. Something new they wanted to test me for. Or test on
. Unpredictable DNA
, they said
. She’s healthy, but mentally,
Some of them wanted to “put me down,” so
they could continue to study my parts, but Cornelius forbade it.
you disregard such an intriguing specimen? Give her a chance to thrive
don’t know what they think they’ll find tomorrow. They ought to know
everything about me by now.
a tissue sample
said. I reach under the covers and trace the scar they left on my thigh with
my fingertips. When we arrived at the colony, I was still in Cornelius’s
arms. He delivered me to the scientists, and that’s the last time I was held.
The last time I was comforted. But if I’m being honest, I hadn’t had much
comfort since my mother died three years earlier. I barely remember her; I was
only four. My father wanted to make me tough. The world had gone to crap
before I was born, and there was no such thing as the all-American family
anymore. There was no place for traditional parenting roles. He wasn’t
raising a child with dreams for her future. He was raising a survivor. That’s
all that mattered.
night Cornelius left me in the labs, I was poked and prodded, touched and
examined all night. I don’t know which was worse, the long needles or the
feeling of their hands on my skin. From that night on, nearly every human
touch has repulsed me. Cold, clinical. Dead. Fortunately, the laws of Antius
have ensured that everyone keep their disgusting hands off me. Everyone except
Nathan, that is.
try not to think about hugging Alyssa, and letting Dylan help me down from that
vent last night. I could have jumped down on my own. I didn’t need his help.
And I refuse to dwell on his hand touching mine briefly. I refuse, and refuse
again. And one last time refuse until it’s etched in my mind, and once again
I’m falling asleep to the memory of his hands on me.
the morning, I dress myself in new clothes. My blue cotton pants have been
traded in for standard military pants. They’re a brown, heavier fabric. After
breakfast, and many glances at my bruised face (which I haven’t even looked
at), the captain takes us topside for a morning run. My body is tired from
yesterday, and it aches from injury. But the cold air feels great inside my
lungs. It feels like freedom, and every step I take feels one step closer to
don’t even have time to change or shower before we’re back underground headed
for the labs. We all fit into the same elevator, and I feel everyone’s eyes on
me. Everyone except Sean. If I could get him alone in a room with no cameras
and no way of being caught or punished, I think I would pay him back a few
times over. He was already an easy person to hate.
elevator stops on the eleventh floor. I have no idea what’s on all the other
floors, but I know all of medical, government, and the science divisions are in
this facility, too. I exit last into the familiar hallway of the lab floor.
I’m already shivering from the cold that I don’t even feel yet. But I know
it’s coming. Metal tables, long needles. Beeping machines.
group of white-coated lab techs greet us and each one takes a pledge with
them. My tech is a small woman with “335” on her name tag. She’s one of the
older ones. She deposits me into a sterile room with the metal table I
expected. She hands me a plastic robe and tells me to put it on with the
opening to the back.
she returns, I’m shivering uncontrollably from cold and apprehension. She’s
holding a tray of empty tubes that my blood is about to fill. She sets it down
and opens my chart to the first page.
slips a gadget out of her pocket and holds it out for me. “Confirm,” she
orders. I press my index finger on the smooth glass surface, and it reads my
print. A green light tells her I am who I said then she returns it to her
woman wraps a pouch around my arm and presses a sensor on the veins inside my
elbow. She scribbles down what the machine tells her.
that?” I ask.
vitals. Everything is normal so far.”
of her to explain, I’m sure she didn’t have to. Her face is quite close to
emotionless, though. I don’t understand how the adults here, no matter their
age, are like robots. It’s like they turn eighteen and suddenly mature to the
age of sixty.
your back,” she says, and I comply. She presses her hands into my abdomen, and
I wince at the pain. She’s checking my organs, I guess, but she doesn’t
realize there’s a giant bruise there from someone’s fist. I don’t bother
asking her to be careful.
she checks my reflexes. Then she puts me on a treadmill like the ones in the
Underage workout room. She has me hooked to sensors and monitors while she
cranks up the speed gradually until I’m flat out sprinting.
you go any faster?”
think so,” I exhale.
turns it up a little more and I keep up. She cranks it up again without
asking, and I have to let go of the bars to keep my balance, swinging my arms
at my sides. But I’m still on. She cranks it up one more time and it’s all I
can do to stay on. I get the impression she’s going to keep turning it up
until I fall off. Sure enough she pushes the button again, and my legs
falter. I move toward the end of the pad and feel my feet slipping out from
under me. Right as I’m falling and catching myself on the ground, she cuts the
I’m lifting weights, and I’m sure she wants to find my breaking point here, as
well. We go through a similar routine as we did with the running. She piles
on more and more weight until I can’t lift anymore. I’m not sure what a good number
is or what the numbers even mean.
we get to the needles. First she takes a stick with cotton on the end and rubs
it all around the inside of my mouth and seals it in a tube. Then she places a
device in my arm to which she proceeds to attach vial after vial, filling them
with my blood. At the end, I feel a little woozy. Another exhausting day
makes me wonder if I’ll ever feel rested again.
follow her down the hall where she takes x-ray pictures of my bones. Next she
puts me inside a machine that makes a loud, humming noise all the way around
me. After that, I’m on a table with sensors on my temples and forehead. They
pump something into my arm where the blood-drawing device is still attached.
The fluid is clear and stings a little.
everything around me seems dull. The lights are dimmer, and the sound of her
voice counting off grows more and more faint. My vision gets darker and darker
and stops at a shade of gray that matches the clouds. I hear noise, but it’s
muffled and I can’t understand it. I feel pulses enter my body through the
sensors. I think they’ve attached even more of them, because I feel stinging
sensations on my arms, legs and chest, as well as my head. I feel like I want
to scream, like I’m losing control. No, I’m already out of control. I feel
lost and out of place, and so very tired. I fight hard to open my eyes, and to
make out voices but I can’t do it. Then finally, clear as a bell, I hear, “Why
is it taking so long?” and “She’s almost out.” Then nothing. Nothing at all.