I'm being watched. Not by the security cameras – I know where they are – and not by the Peace Keepers (the Camp is shrouded in darkness, what with tonight's storm bringing the power lines down). No one is awake either; they're all snug in their hard bunks and thin sheets. Yet all the same, I have this unnerving feeling that someone or something is watching me. I feel exposed and violated under this invisible eye. Maybe I'm nervous? I stand not two hundred metres away from the fifteenth century fortress turned Leader Headquarters. It is rigged with the highest quality of security. Hundreds of cameras and Peace Keepers are on the lookout every second of every day and night for rogue Mutants. Watching me. Seems daunting to the untrained eye but this is just that much easier for me – I've lived here for my entire life and I know every single inch of this camp.
In many ways, the fortress is more intimidating during a storm in the twilight hours, but it doesn't put me off my task. The only thing that is making me feel a little at unease is the fact that there is a golden glow behind one of the windows. It doesn't necessarily mean that he is awake though. I let that thought soothe me, but I'm still on edge. Another thought comes to me: you could back out now, there's still time. No. I've been waiting my entire life to do this. Sixteen years of conjuring up many ways – in my mind – to kill my guardian.
Slowly, slowly I close the door to bunkhouse seven as to not wake up my bunk mates. I turn to face the Leader Headquarters. I take a deep breath, crouch down and cover the two hundred metre distance in a fraction of a second. I stop when I get to the electric fence. I pick up a rock and then throw it at the fence. Nothing. The storm must have affected the fence too. I take off into a run again and slip into the Leader Headquarters.
I know exactly where his apartment is. I slip into a rather extravagant room on the second floor, where the only light source is a coal fire blazing in a stone grate; warm naphtha light glowing on carpets, leather chairs, polished wood. The wide windows overlook the camp that is blanketed in darkness and attacked by the storm. A man, a murderer, lying insentient on a black leather chaise lounge, has a bottle of scotch dangling from his fingers; its amber coloured contents drained and engulfed by the white rug.
This man, this sorry man who desperately seeks the company of alcohol, happens to be the same man who had not showed any mercy to my best friend only two weeks earlier. I close my eyes and shake my head to rid those too vivid images that are fresh in my mind.
I scrunch up my face in disgust before kicking a bottle out of the way, the glass clanging against the polished rosewood leg of the oval table in which I have sat at in the past, promising to change my disobedient ways whilst crossing my fingers behind my back.
I bite my lip and hold my breath, hoping that the man will not wake and find me here. If he does, then I will be in serious trouble - possibly flogged for the suspicion of being an undercover spy or assassin. He stirs. He groans and rubs his head against the arm of the chaise lounge.
A sound. Very slight. Just a scrape of foot on carpet.
Someone is here, someone other than me and the drunk.
Blood pumping hard in my ears, alarm bells ringing inside my head, I drop to my knees beside the murderer. I dig deep into my combat trouser pocket and retrieve a golden ring engraved with the words 'The Final Solution'. I have to be fast.
I kiss the ring's smooth, shiny surface. “Activate,” I whisper, and the small gold ring turns bright red and then turns orange, orange to yellow, yellow to green.
I balance the ring on the arm of the chair and stand up.
“Goodbye, sir,” I say.
And then his eyes open. His washed out blue eyes bore into mine with an expression that I cannot comprehend. I take a step back and hit my waist against the oval table.
I back into the large, ostentatious window and bang my head.
I step onto the windowsill.
I place one foot out of the window and balance it on the outside ledge.
The other foot joins it and I make sure that I have a good grip on the drainpipe.
My knees hug the drainpipe and once I am sure that I won't fall, I begin to descend.
Adrenaline pumps around my body.
My feet make contact with the ground for only a quarter of a second before I am running, my surroundings becoming a blur – I am just the strong wind that is gone as fast as it appears.
I am the Bullet. Nothing but light can surpass me. I lean against the brick wall of a bunk house, waiting.
The Leadership Headquarters explodes; it’s roar so powerful that the tremors penetrate through my body. Bright orange flames attack the building, hiding the cries of the murderer trapped inside. Something stirs within me – relief, satisfaction?
I start to tremble slightly; reality sinking in. I walk away from the scene but something or rather someone is waiting for me. Levelled with my nose is the barrel of a gun.
I look up from the gun to its owner who is wearing a black jumpsuit and a round helmet that disorientates my reflection – a Peace Keeper. I step backwards, only to find that another gun is pressed against my spine. I take a glance to my left and then to my right just so that I can confirm my fears – I am surrounded by armed Peace Keepers, not that any Peace Keeper confronts a Mutant without a gun. I face the original Peace Keeper and tilt up the corner of my lips before running into it, sending it flying.
I am running as fast as I can to get to my bunk house but then I notice the Peace Keepers standing there. Instead, I run to the Peace Keeper Quarters because they will expect me to hide in a bunk house. I scale the dirty stone wall and then sit on the ledge of the sloping slate roof, watching the smoke rising from the Leadership Headquarters.
A sound. Very slight. Just a scrape of foot on tiles.
I clamber to my feet and slowly turn three hundred and sixty degrees. Keep calm; keep cautious. I've been training for an enemy encounter all my life. My skin prickles. My heart races. I pull my gun from the holster and urge my hands to stop shaking. An invisible enemy.
But then I realise that there could only be one person.
“I didn’t know you could make yourself invisible, Ryley.”
On cue, Ryley materialises in the darkness. He is strong and stocky; a seventeen year old with a mind and body programmed to compete in combat.
“Yeah, I’ve just worked out that I can use my force field to make me invisible,” Ryley replies as he sits down, his long legs dangling over the edge of the roof.
“Have you been practising tonight then?” I ask.
Ryley looks into the distance, watching the Leader Headquarters being consumed by fire. “You’re a complete idiot, you know that right?”
I see his jaw lock before he stands up. I seize his wrist, but he breaks away from me. He bends his knees, prepared to jump.
“You followed me,” I say, my voice flat.
Ryley straightens his legs. “That was really reckless, Zaida, even by your standards,” he grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me. “What did you actually think you could get out of this? You’re going to be publicly executed in the morning! Why didn’t you just listen to me for a change?”
“Ryley, I’m so sorry – ”
“What’s the use of that? I don’t care if you’re sorry or not. You did it.”
“I just wanted justice, Ryley,” I begin calm but anger overwhelms me. “How many people has he been ordered to kill? How many people have suffered torture for punishments they were innocent of? How many people, Ryley? And I’m expected just to stand here and accept all of it!”
“But you don’t.”
“Unlike you. I never thought you to be a coward before now but –”
I stop mid-sentence for Ryley’s impressive green eyes widen and panic crosses his face.
“Get down!” Ryley yells before pushing me down and covering me with his body.
He raises his right hand and makes a swift movement, just in time to block the oncoming bullet. I move away from Ryley and dive behind the raised part of the roof and take careful aim.
I fire. The Peace Keepers’ uniforms enable them to be camouflaged against the night, but I hit one of them. A Peace Keeper falls back and dies.
And then the fight begins. The crack of rifles, the whine of ricocheting bullets, the smell of cordite.
“Zaida, we’ve got to move!” Even though Ryley is yelling, I can barely catch the words before they drown in the sea of bullets.
I ignore him and instead pull the trigger, taking down two more unsuspecting Peace Keepers.
I am pulled to my feet and dragged to the edge of the roof.
“Keep hold of me!” Ryley orders and I wind my arms around him. “Now jump!”
Just as we are about to jump, I hear the distinctive sound of a girl screaming. It is loud, yet distant, and it echoes in my head. The once deafening wave of bullets is now on mute, the deadly metal pieces now dance to a soft symphony, a ballet. Then, slowly, slowly, my senses return to me and I become aware of the commotion around me. And Ryley shaking me like a rag doll.
I blink once. I feel so, so cold. My hands are numb and my head is spinning and I cannot feel the hard metal of the gun in my hands. My grip loosens and the gun falls loose, the barrel aimed at my feet and the safety catch off.
My ears pop and I shake myself mentally and stare into those weary bright green eyes.
“Ryley go; I’ll join you in a second!” I slip out of Ryley’s grasp and push him off the roof.
Without Ryley trying to persuade me to get to safety I run at the Peace Keepers, dodging the bullets. I can see myself in about twenty directions, the Peace Keepers stealing my face for their own. My fear, my determination, my bewilderment: they are all thrown back at me, taunting me at my recklessness for throwing myself into the unknown. The deep, dark unknown.
And then it is there. A glistening silver light stands in contrast to the dark sky with no moon or stars for company that night. It is a sort of veil, a small waterfall and I stop running, without consciously doing so. Squinting, I try to peer through the silver light, but I am not successful.
Everything comes crashing into me. I spend a brief moment to get my eyes to focus again. Before I can take cover, I take a bullet.
It feels like an explosion in my leg. For a second I am dazed, and then I come to my senses, with a torn ligament in my leg. Trying hard to block out the pain, I run off the edge of the building, but instead of falling several feet, I am momentarily suspended in the air before being gently placed on the ground below. I am greeted by Howard, a skinny, pale boy who is blessed with the gift of telekinesis.
Howard stares at me behind his thick lenses.
“What were you doing?” Ryley shakes me once.
“I thought… I did I…” The scream. I did hear it; I'm sure of it. But there is no time to explain anything, not with the Peace Keepers climbing down from the roof and coming after us. Ryley takes a step towards me but I step away, wincing because of the sharp pain.
“Zaida, you’re hurt, now let me carry you.”
“No, I can walk perfectly well,” I say, but when I take another step, I gasp.
Ryley catches me before I can hit the ground.
“Yeah, so I can see.” Ryley rolls his eyes again before throwing me over his shoulder. “Your pride is worse than a guy’s.”
We blend into the night and skulk off, taking care not to let on to the Peace Keepers of our whereabouts. Ryley and Howard take off into a run. Ryley jostles me as he sprints and I bash my chin against his broad shoulder. Howard opens the door of a bunk house, most probably his and Ryley's, and Ryley rests me on his bed. He kneels down beside me and pulls up my trouser leg.
“Right, I'm going to take the bullet out now.”
I bite down on my lip. Hard. I claw at the bedding. Eyes closed and chin resting on my left shoulder. Ryley's deft fingers take out the bullet. A whimper escapes me.
“Hey, you’ll be okay,” Ryley says, gently.
I shake my head. “I’m a coward.”
Ryley laughs and takes off his t-shirt, ripping it into make-shift bandages. “You’re anything but.”
I sink my teeth into my shoulder, trying to block out the searing pain that travels from my leg and throughout my body, seeping into every crevice.
“Zaida,” Ryley says softly but when I don't look at him, aggravation laces his tone. “Zaida, look at me. Look at me!”
My eyes snap open and I scowl.
“Although the pain from a gunshot wound may seem unbearable, it could have been worse,” he says his voice soft again.
I immediately feel stupid. “I’m sorry, you’ve been through worse than me and I’m moaning about this,” I shake my head and roll my eyes at how stupid I am. “You’ve been whipped for god’s sake.”
Ryley does not respond.
“I am so selfish.”
Ryley’s face starts to distort and then the rest of my surroundings do the same. I blink rapidly and hold one hand to my head.
Sleep. Sleep. Sleep...
A voice. A girl's voice.
“Ryley? What's happening, Ryley?”
My surroundings blur.
And then everything goes black.