The Fallen

Imagine a world where anything you do wrong – from detonating a dirty bomb in a kindergarten, to murder, to theft, all the way to running a red-light or returning a library book late – will result instant, merciless death. In the world of the Fallen, the death penalty has spiraled massively out of control, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Fallon McKenna, the adopted daughter of two rich government politicians, was raised in a sheltered life, protected from the fear and pain that surrounded her.
But all that changes when she meets Viper. He’s alluring and charismatic. And he’s dangerous. Viper knows the real truth behind the system that has the world split in half, and he’s fighting to bring it down. Now Fallon must make a choice. Will she bend before the fear that overwhelms her, or stand with Viper and fight… and fall.

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3. Tested

            They leave me alone for the rest of the day, with only Wendi and the tiny bit of light that filters into the room. After her initial exuberance is worn down, Wendi’s actually bearable. True, she’s a slut, and pregnant with a monster’s child besides, but I like her. She lets me feel her stomach when her baby kicks, and even if it makes me want to vomit again, I don’t. I smile and tell her about how special and lucky she is, and she laughs.

 

            Three days later I find myself in a long, thin room with about a dozen other girls. One wall is entirely taken up by a giant mirror, and above the door a sign saying “P ett  P i  ss Bal et S ho l” is slowly peeling away. When all of us girls are lined up, I use the mirror to study my companions.

            One is short and boyishly slim, with a shaved head and a pierced lip. Ew. Another is anorexic looking, but with clearly fake breasts and artificially swollen lips. Ew. Again. The girl a few down from me looks vaguely familiar; I think I’ve seen here around somewhere, maybe. Anyways, she doesn’t look so bad, but she doesn’t even look up. She’s staring at her feet, as if her scuffed and torn sneakers hold the keys to the universe or something.

            “Hello ladies. And welcome to your first day in purgatory.” The voice is now familiar to me as Tiger, and I even have a face to go with the name. “Here you will learn all the tricks to make yourself appealing to a variety of men of all races, standings, and tastes. Some of you came here voluntarily, some forcibly. It doesn’t matter anymore. Until you are fully trained, and your masters come for you, you are my property. Disobedience will be swiftly punished, as will ineptitude.”

            It goes on like that for a while. I think I space out at one point, because next thing I know, I’m being paired off with sneakers-girl. Before I can even think of being friendly, she beats me to it.

            “Caught you too, huh? I thought your parents kept you all under lock and key recently, huh? Didn’t matter, huh?”

            It’s the way she makes every statement a question that first makes me realize who she is. “Celine? What are you doing here?”

            My old neighbor shakes her head sadly at me. “Caught me sneaking out at night. Go figure, huh? But you were the best, so how’d you get caught?”

            “I didn’t. I volunteered, after they broke into my house. It was the only way to make them leave my sisters alone.”

            Celine gives me a look like I must be mad. I think I am.

            At that moment, the door swings open and the boy who bought me storms in. Immediately all conversation stops, but the boy doesn’t notice. He walks to Tiger’s side and crosses his arms across his chest, then surveys us all. I don’t know if it’s true, but I feel like his eyes pause on me before skimming the others.

            “Why are you here?” Tiger practically grows it. The boy, lanky and tall but without the sharply defined muscles that cover the other’s body, strangely doesn’t back down. If anything, he bristles more, which is saying something. If he looked angrier, his eyes would burn Tiger.

            “I’ve come to supervise my property. I expect it to be whole in two weeks when I collect.”

            The girl with the fake chest sashes up to the boy and attaches herself to him. “You can take me now, Master.” She gives her shoulders a little wiggle, and almost falls out of her shirt.

            The boy shoves her away with a look of disgust, and Tiger bursts out laughing. Then the boy does too, and suddenly the tension is gone. He looks at me again with a little smile, and I force myself to meet his eyes. Then I remember those eyes.

            “You bastard!” I shriek, unable to help myself as I throw myself at him. I don’t know what I want to do. I’m angry enough to kill, but I’ve never taken a life before.

            Tiger’s hand knots in my hair before I can even touch the boy, and he yanks me back hard enough to pull a clump free. Suddenly, a piercing pain wells up in my chest and I scream. “Well well, Viper, guess you do know how to pick ‘em, don’t you? She’s certainly got some lungs.”

            But a hand touches my cheek softly, and as quick as it started, the agony is gone again. I open my eyes and find myself lying curled up on the ground, with Viper crouched next to me. “I said I want her intact, Tiger.”

            “You b-bastard,” I manage to stutter through my tears. I’m embarrassed to be crying in front of everyone, to be sure, but I can’t seem to be able to help it. Every few seconds, an echo of the pain courses through me, making my body twitch in remembered pain.

            If anything, my words only make Viper smile a little more. He leans down so that his mouth brushes my ear, and whispers to me. “I knew you had fight. So prove it to them too.” Then he’s gone from me. I release a heavy breath of both sorrow and relief. “Tiger, how about this. My newb against one of yours? I win, I take her early. You win, you can taze her again.”

            Tiger makes a great show of choosing his contestant, but we all knew who he was going to pick. He ends up on a girl with a scar warping her mouth and a tattoo of a skull on her neck. Viper pulls me up and speaks quietly. “Listen, she’s strong but slow. Just keep moving and don’t let her get a hit in.”

            “Go to hell.” I say it as rudely as I can. He’s already making me fight the girl-tank. He doesn’t get to try to help me now.

            “That’s my girl.” He actually seems genuinely amused.

            Viper helps me up, then moves back to the edge of the room with everyone else. I glance around and see all eyes on me. Tiger holds up a small rod with a blue spark twisting along the tip – his tazer, apparently. The idea that something that small can cause so much pain scares me more than I care to admit.

            Finally, my eyes travel to the girl glowering at me from the other side of the clearing. The girl-tank takes one step toward me, her muscled body rippling dramatically.

            “You can still back out now, if you want Viper. I won’t hold it against you that you bet on a dud.” Tiger’s voice is infuriatingly amused. Viper doesn’t react, but a miniscule tensing of his shoulders lets me know that he is in fact irritated.

            Viper turns to where I crouch, still frozen. “Listen, girl. You win this, alright? Otherwise I can promise you that you will have some new company tomorrow. Maybe that little girl with the piercings?”

            In that instant, his eyes meet mine and I know he doesn’t really mean it. He doesn’t want to hurt Sean, but he will if he must. He’s just trying to make me angry so that I can fight. If it didn’t work quite so well, I might be thankful. But an image of Bailey twitching on the ground coalesces in my head and I can’t shake the feeling that this was how she died.

            So I do the only thing I can think of to brush away the image. I lunge.

            The other girl isn’t expecting me to go on the offense, so my spinning kick takes her in the side of the head before she can defend herself. Applause sounds behind me, but I can barely hear it. The blood racing through my veins in burning with adrenaline and I feel like I might die if I don’t move. So I do.

            She’s just climbing back to her feet when I attack again. All my self-defense classes my parents forced me to attend after Bailey was taken pound through my mind at once. This time, my knee slams into her chest and she bends over. But when I try to follow through with a jab to her face, she moves.

            I go spinning off balance, caught off guard by her dodge. As I tumble by, something hits my knee and I fall. My head hits the ground and I’m shaking it to try clearing my vision when I feel her hands on my arm. I panic, knowing what comes next.

            The sickening crack pierces my ears before I feel it. But then I do feel it, and my scream drowns out everything else. My arm flops when I gather it to my chest, sending waves of fresh torment through me. The hatred and fear that drove me are gone now. Now, as I fight off the black spots clouding my sight, I am empty. I am clean.

            And I will not lose to one of these monsters. That would be like admitting that the mob is better than us. Failure is not an option for me.

            The girl thinks she’s beaten me, that much is obvious. I play along for a few moments, doubling over and falling as expected when she punches me in the gut. The tears that splash down my face onto the cold floor aren’t all fake, either. Tiger is gloating, rubbing his tazer on the edge of his shirt and smiling in anticipation. Viper is pale as death, making his eyes even more apparent. I meet them for an instant, and let a faint smile show through the façade. His eyes go wide for a moment, then he composes himself.

            The girl-tank is just drawing back for a knockout blow when I roll over. My foot kicks out, hitting her squarely in the kneecap hard enough to buckle her leg. She falls next to me, and I shove my good arm around her throat. It’s harder to choke her with only one arm, but she’s dazed and tired and doesn’t fight as hard as I thought she would. Still, I don’t let go until someone grabs my arm and pulls her out of my death grip.

            “I will be taking her now then. Thank you so much for the game, Tiger. Maybe we should play again next time?” Viper’s voice is smug, his face clear of the fear he’d shown only seconds ago.

            Tiger glares at him, then at me, and then shrugs. As I’m climbing to my feet – carefully, so as not to jostle my arm – he “stumbles” and bumps into me. For the third time, I scream. The pain shooting down my arm is not natural. It should not exist.

            Buried under the agony is a little prick in my good shoulder. From that point, soothing coolness radiates though my burning body. I feel drowsy, and don’t bother standing up this time. I just lie down right there in the middle of the room and close my eyes as the pain numbs under the soothing drug.

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