Mind Games

In a world slowly drawing to an end, a strange mutated disease manifests. Youths who suffer from heterochromia suddenly have the ability to project their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations directly into the minds of their peers. These Freaks, as they are called, as a menace to society and a danger to the populace, are sent into government controlled isolation camps, where their new powers cannot harm others. However, the government hides a horrible secret. Within these compounds, hundreds of experiments are being preformed upon the healthy, unwanted children who find themselves placed there. Because the men in power don't really want a cure. They want an army.
In the midst of their suffering, two unlucky teenagers find each other and, through their bond, stay sane in a world going mad. But can love really save a life, or is it all just a lie concocted to make them more malleable?

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3. Sacrifices

            114’s relieved laughter startled me. “Jesus, it’s been so long!” And suddenly, he was hugging me. I think we both got off on the feeling of freedom that this small disobedience granted us. And, of course, I enjoyed interacting with someone of the male gender. 114 was just so interesting!

            “Only a few days longer than last time,” I whispered back, raising my forehead so that his lips touched my scar. It was our customary greeting. I didn’t know why, but for some reason, I didn’t mind him looking at it. It was like it made me unique or something.

            I’d been meeting 114 in secret for almost a month now, always inside or behind the abandoned cabin. I’d even started to think of it as our cabin now. Dangerous thinking, that. His shoulders shaking with suppressed laughs, 114 backed us up farther into the darkness of the cabin interior.

            Talking really wasn’t our thing. 114 and I spent most of our nights together exploring the forbidden things we had never been able to experience. After all, I’d been sent to Camp before I hit puberty, and, although we never talked about it, I got the feeling he’d been here even longer. Kissing was my favorite of all the things we did. Sometimes, when we were so lost in our own personal worlds, we’d lose track of time. Sometimes, I’d almost think that 114 hadn’t touched a girl before.

            Tonight, however, I had things I wanted to know. After we finally finished our make-out-session and were lying on the dirty floor together, I turned back to him. “Hey, the first night we did this, you said you needed my help. What did you want?”

            There was almost no light in the room, but I swear I saw his eye darken. 114, however, just shrugged. “Nothing. Just needed a reason for you to come back.”

            “Fine! Don’t tell me!” I didn’t know why I was so upset. After all, I didn’t tell him everything about me either. But I believed that I deserved this truth. I was almost to the door when I saw the lights.

            “Oh God no!” 114 was beside me in an instant, our quarrel forgotten. The Camp officials were looking for at least one of us. In the new light, I could see him quiver, whether with fear or anger, I didn’t know. “We’ve got to go. Listen, 793, I’m going to go out the front, you go out back. Don’t look back, just get into your cabin. Alright?”

            I nodded, my heart sinking. They knew we were here. Why was 114 going out the front? The officials were right there! And then I knew. He was going to lead them away from me. I raised my hand to stop him, but 114 was already pushing out into the harsh electric light of the flashlights.

            He took off running, dodging between the reaching hands of the adults. At what I would have guessed was seventeen, he was fast and lean. Within seconds, he was a blur of gold, streaking down a side trail.

            I knew he did it for me, and that made it worse. If he’d been alone, he would have gotten away, but I wasn’t any good at sneaking. So, as soon as the officials were distracted, I took the cowards path and crept back into my cabin.

            The next morning on the way in to breakfast, we passed the boys from cabin1B were leaving again. 114 wasn’t there. In fact, they all looked subdued. A few boys I recognized as his friends – the ones who usually had the dyed shoelaces – were stumbling along, their heads down, their plain shoes kicking dust into the air. One met my eye, and his expression was so lost, it physically hurt me. These boys had cared about 114 as much – if not more – than I did. They were his family. And I’d let him get caught meeting me after curfew.

            That afternoon, we were all assembled in the Camp Center, where they held the Freak Shows. My heart sank, pounding erratically through my chest. I knew somehow that this wasn’t a Freak Show. This was something more. Something I was responsible for.

            They waited until we were all assembled, waiting expectantly. I wanted so badly to cry or vomit that I could taste it. The bile was slowly rising in my throat before they even began. Then they brought him out.

            He was shockingly, surprisingly, for the most part unharmed. A few extra bruises showed under the edges of his now ripped clothing, but 114 looked much better than I had thought he would. I heaved a sigh of relief, but then I saw his friends. The boys all looked tense, like they might do something drastic and stupid. 114 saw it too, obviously, because he shook his head at them. They calmed, a little, but still looked like they wanted to help him.

            114 walked into the center of the platform and waited expectantly. They didn’t keep him waiting for long. A fist thudded into his gut, causing him to double up, but 114 pulled himself back upright quickly. They seemed content to let him recover. That was when I knew this would be really bad.

            The official took a wide stance, then waited until 114 mirrored him. 114 seemed to understand what to do, even though no one spoke. He blocked the flurry of blows with his forearms, protecting his head from damage. Then the official went for a cheap shot, and brought his knee into 114’s stomach.

            This time, when the boy doubled up, no one waited. A fist slammed into the side of his head, and he fell. More officials set upon him in seconds, chaining his hands to the iron ring set in the floor to restrain the Freaks. Now, with his hands manacled to the ground, 114 couldn’t defend himself at all.

            Smiling broadly, the official scanned the crowd and was apparently satisfied by whatever he saw in us. Then he turned back to 114 and crouched beside him. “Do you regret running now? We might let you off easy if you do.”

            114’s face shocked me. True, it was tight with pain and fear, but he looked so determined, so strong, that I envied him. I knew I would never be strong. Rather than pleading for his life or muttering a repentance, like we all thought he would, 114 looked the official in the eye – forbidden! – and spit his mouthful of blood at the man’s perfectly polished shoes. Then he laughed.

            The official didn’t.

            Cursing and sputtering, the man drew his now stained foot back, and released a vicious kick into the side of 114’s ribs. The boy groaned, but didn’t cry out. Again and again, the blows fell. After a moment, the other officials moved in as well. Tears streamed silently down my face as I watched. 114’s eyes met mine once. They were glazed over, the golden shine dampened by pain, but he winked. And I knew that this was his choice. It was his freedom, even more than I was. He was tired of the shadows and the darkness and the hiding.

            114 was barely conscious when they moved back from him. He was bruised all over, curled into a fetal position, his head tucked into his arms. Blood oozed from dozens of cuts and tears in his skin.

            But they weren’t done.

            It was far more than they did even to Freaks. Apparently, a normal kid who was willing to disobey them – especially publicly – was a greater risk than a cowed Freak child. They had to set an example. Ensure that no one would follow his lead.

            The whip cracked through the air, and for an instant, I could swear it stopped just above him. Then it hit.

            For the first time since the punishment had started, 114 screamed. The official, unable to get a clean strike at the boy’s back, had clipped his side and shoulder instead. Now, deciding against following this course of action, he had the others pull 114 out and secure his feet. Lying face down, spread-eagle on the platform, 114 waited for the next strike, as did I.

            When it hit, he cried out again. The third time, he seemed to get ahold of himself, and merely groaned, but the sound was like knives shoved through my ears into my brain. It was maddening. I sobbed without thinking. I couldn’t just watch this.

            The cry tore free just as the lash descended a fourth time. But this time, it didn’t hit 114. It stopped, as if hitting an invisible wall, about an inch from the shredded skin. The officials took one moment to look at it in confusion, then realized what was happening. Freak abilities!

            We all panicked at the same moment. The stampede of rushing children was like a river, pouring toward the blocked exits, then milling about in confusion. We had to get out! Why weren’t they letting us?

            114 was left lying there, still tied down on the platform, forgotten. His eyes were open, scanning the crowd – or at least, what he could see of it, restrained as he was. As soon as he saw me, a tiny smile lit his face.

I didn’t smile back, because, unlike the boy, I could see the official watching us. He followed 114’s gaze to me, and stared intently at me. Then he strode forward and, with casual indifference, drove his heavy boot into 114’s face. I think I might have screamed, but if I did, it was lost in the uproar. When the official walked toward me, I saw 114. He was unconscious now, a deep gouge in his forehead, his nose probably broken. But he was breathing. Even from here, I could see that.

The official’s voice sounded softly in my ear. “Hey, easy. It’s better for you both this way. He’ll be out for a few hours, at the least.” I glanced up in surprised shock, and saw the ghost of a smile on the official’s face. It was a young face, only a few years older than me. And then he was gone, shoving through the crowd and calling for order.

They announced that night that 114 would stay there, in the Camp Center, for three days. He was to have no medical attention, no food, and no water. If, at the end of that time, he was still alive, he would be released back to his cabin. This, they told us, would be the new punishment for anyone caught breaking curfew. Only those with a legitimate reason, or accompanied by a Camp official, could be out at night.

            I didn’t want to leave the Camp Center. I stayed after everyone else was gone, long past when my cabin would have been eating. Still, 114 didn’t wake up. But I swore to him, and to myself, that I would be there when he did. Several times I had to hide when officials strode by, but they didn’t even look toward my hiding place. Twice, I had to choke back my cries as a passerby took the opportunity to prod or kick the unconscious boy.

It was almost sunset before I finally left. I didn’t want to go, but I knew that I had to. If I was caught there, 114’s pain would have been for nothing, and I knew it. So, forcing down tears and guilt and pain, I went back to my cabin with a smile.

The girls were insufferable. They were all talking about the Show, about the Norm – as in Normal, or human – boy being beaten. About how stupid he was to spit on the officials. About how cute he was, even beaten to a bloody pulp. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I collapsed on my bunk and tried to sleep. God knew, my body was exhausted, but my mind was too horrified to seek refuge in sleep.

“Girl 793 is to come with me.” I recongnized the voice, and immediately bounded to my feet. It was the young official from earlier. I knew that this was probably a trap, but I really didn’t care. So long as I could see 114 before they killed me, I didn’t care.

The girls watched me leave with curiosity, annoyance, jealousy. But none seemed suspicious, which was reasonable. Everyone would hurry to obey a summons after watching the price of disobedience. At least, that was what I hoped they would think my excitement was. Let them believe I was a coward.

We were safely out of earshot from the cabin, walking swiftly toward the center of camp, when I finally worked up the nerve to ask. “Why? Why do you care at all? Why help him – help us? I mean, isn’t fraternizing between genders supposed to be a big no-no or something?”

The official smiled. “We aren’t all the monsters you think, despite what you see. Children should have the freedom to learn, to grow. And besides, I wanted to see what made you tick.” The official looked at me with something akin to confusion. “I understand physical attraction. That boy – 1 something –”

“114” I supplied immediately. The man smiled again.

“114, then. He’s attractive, so I understand your perspective. But, and please, I mean no offense, but why would he choose you?”

My hand reached up to finger my scar for a second before I could think of an answer. It was something I’d asked 114 once, out of curiosity. “‘Because when you stake your life on something or someone, you have to know that they won’t betray you. Because, when you see someone who’s been destroyed and broken, even when you know you shouldn’t, you have to build them back up. Because, when you really think about it, what’s on the outside – scars, blemishes, none of it matters. It’s what’s hiding inside that really counts’ He told me that, once. I think he meant that, even though I’m not perfect, he trusts me.”

“Trust is important,” was all the man said. The oddity of it all struck me then. Here I was, breaking curfew and yet protected by a man who should have terrified me, discussing the secret things that I’d sworn not to tell. And yet, I couldn’t muster any amazement. All I had left was sorrow and shock and horror. All I had left was the pain, because that was all I’d left 114 with.

            He was still unconscious, lying just how I’d left him before. Now, with the cover of darkness, I didn’t stop in the shadows a few feet away, but ran straight to him. He moaned when I touched his shoulder, and I pulled back hastily. Then his eyelids fluttered open.

            I recoiled in horror.

            Boy 114’s left eye was completely dark, with bloody tears sliding down his cheek. He was a Freak.

            But I forced myself back closer. It didn’t matter right now. He was dying, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. I knew somehow that, if I’d left him alone, 114 would have died before the sun rose. His eye only confirmed that for me.

            The official was beside me, pressing something into my hand. I took it mechanically, still shocked. It was a little bottle of water. I pushed the thoughts from my mind and refused to look at the dark eye that stared blankly at me. Then I opened 114’s mouth and spilled a tiny trickle of the cool liquid down his throat.

            At first, he coughed and sputtered, but then he drank greedily and I was reminded how fragile human life was. Because he was human. I had to believe that.

            114’s eyes came back into focus slowly, and eventually he looked at me and actually saw me. “793. How?”

            I pointed to the official, who was crouched beside me. I knew that he could see 114’s heterochomatic eye, but I couldn’t help that now. If he had any problem helping me before, now he would be sure to stop. I couldn’t do anything about it anymore.

            114 looked at the man hatefully. He seemed totally oblivious to the blood still trickling from his eye. “Why?” he croaked, shifting to try to sit up. As soon as he moved, however, 114 groaned and lay still again.

            The official took a long time to answer. First, he reached into his pocket and removed another flask, then, after taking a swig of what I’d identified was alcohol by the smell, he pressed it to 114’s lips. “Drink it,” I whispered. 114 looked at me, then obediently opened his mouth. Because of the angle of his head – he was still lying on his back, his face turned to the side to look at us – some of the liquor spilled down his cheek. But he swallowed, then flinched as the liquid burned its way down his throat.

            “Keep him quiet.” Used to obeying orders, I nodded. 114 looked panicked for an instant, then visibly repressed it. “It’s going to be alright, I promise. I promise,” I whispered as I put a piece of wood into his mouth, and then cupped my hand over his bruised cheek.

            The official tore the rest of 114’s shirt off in one quick motion. The boy shivered, suddenly reminding me how cold the night really was. In my numb state, I hadn’t been able to feel anything. “I’m doing this because… Because someone needed to. Because we’ve gone too far and killed too many, and a stupid thing like this,” he paused with whatever he was doing and motioned toward where I was sitting. “This shouldn’t be a reason to kill.

            “Now hold still and stay quiet.” And the young official poured a trickle of the alcohol down onto 114’s back. In my imagination, it sounded almost as if it sizzled when it struck the destroyed skin. 114 thrashed, biting down hard on the wood to stifle a shriek. His back arched against the restraining cords as the alcohol worked its way into the deep lash marks.

            I helped the official rebind the wounds that covered 114 as the boy regained his breath. The entire time, my heart did little stuttering flips every time I pulled too tight or made him flinch.

            When we were done, the official pulled 114’s ragged shirt back on, then handed me a cloak to cover him with. We’d have to take it away again in the morning, but it would help keep 114 alive through the night. Then he backed up to the edge of the clearing, giving us some privacy.

            “Jesus, it’s been so long.” I smiled when he said it. It was exactly what he’d said the night before. The night they’d caught him.

            “Why? Why’d you do it? Couldn’t you have begged, or at least pretended to be cowed?” My voice was rough with emotion, with the tears that I held in the back of my throat. Some part of me was angry. If he’d pleaded, he wouldn’t have been left out here, and I wouldn’t have seen the heterochromia. But somehow, sitting with him, I couldn’t bring it up, even as I stared right into it.

            114 smiled darkly. “This is a small price for me to pay. They would have to do much worse to make me beg. I won’t bow to a playground bully.”

            “But what about me? If you won’t beg, then I will.”

            “NO! You can’t. They can’t think you have anything to do with me.” Finally, he looked panicked. It gave me a sense of cold satisfaction, seeing him as worried as I was.

            I shook my head. “I won’t just let you die!” Then I started crying again and 114, bound as he was, couldn’t do anything to comfort me. He looked almost desperate, the way he tore at his chains, but they didn’t budge.

            I honestly don’t think I’d have ever stopped crying, except that the young official grabbed my shoulder, than immediately tore the cloak away from 114 and dragged it into the shadows with us. A moment later, a patrol passed by. They saw that 114 was awake, and one of the younger ones decided to have fun.

            By the time they were done, 114 was barely conscious and bleeding heavily once again. I was glad that the official had held my arm, or I would have thrown myself at the tormentors. It was so much worse having to watch it while 114 was awake to feel the pain. From the way he hunched, I thought he might have a broken rib or two, which would be unsurprising, considering the physical beating he’d already received.

            I spent the night holding 114’s head on my lap as he drifted in and out of consciousness and fitful sleep. At one point I must have dozed off, but it wasn’t for long. I jerked awake again when 114 screamed, but he was still asleep. At another point he was fully awake, and we talked softly. I carefully avoided any sensitive topics, deciding to save those for later. We would have a very long talk about honesty and trust when he was safe again.

            It was almost sunrise when the official took me back to my cabin. Before we left, I stealthily checked 114’s left eye again. Strangely, it was totally normal, but a trail of blood down his face showed where he’d cried his bloody tears.

            “You saw it too, didn’t you.” I didn’t look at the official as we walked. “What are you going to do?”

            I peeked over just in time to see him shrug. “Nothing. What could I do even if I wanted to? You saw his eye this morning. Totally normal.” He smiled at me then, and my heart seemed to stutter. Strange. I didn’t think it’d ever done that before.

            “Thank you.”

            He left me at my cabin, and I went in to find that everyone was awake. When I walked in, my exhaustion hit me full on. I’d been repressing it all night, but now I couldn’t. These girls had seen me at my worse, when cramps had left me writhing and crying in bed for days. I didn’t need to be strong in front of them.

            I let my tears spill, and instantly they were on me. No one asked what happened, or where I’d been. They pulled me to my bed and laid me down, and then one sat on the edge while the others gave me space. Finally, 808 came and asked the question we were all awaiting. “What did he do to you?”

            I almost laughed aloud then, because it was so absurd. They probably thought that the official had raped me or something. It’d been known to happen before, usually by the younger officials and to the older girls. But I didn’t, because this was a perfect cover. If I had to throw this man under the bus, so be it. I vamped up my tears a bit more, which they seemed to take for confirmation. Luckily, they didn’t ask for particulars, because I’d be totally lost then. I didn’t know anything about sex. The closest I’d come was kissing 114.

            It was incredibly strange, being the center of such a maelstrom of sympathy and care. We were all truly sisters here in this place, despite the flashes of anger or resentment that sparked momentary feuds. But the worst part for me was that I was being comforted for a lie. True, I was a fragile wreck, but that was because of 114, not abuse. Or, I thought, reconsidering, not abuse to me.

            I spent the morning in bed, my roommates covering for my absence. They even smuggled me some food, which I disposed of as soon as they were gone. I wasn’t going to eat. I wasn’t going to drink. I wouldn’t just continue my life as if nothing were wrong. If 114 were to die, then so would I. I didn’t let myself sleep either, even though my eyelids drooped dangerously.

            By midday, I was able to force myself out of my funk. I had to continue as if my life was normal, or they would suspect my connection to 114. So, even though I didn’t eat anything, I went to lunch with my cabin, did the menial, repetitive work that kept us busy but didn’t require any actual thought. Then, at dinner, I squirreled away as much of my food as I could. The way the other girls had brought me breakfast had given me an idea.

            That night, the official – I learned that his name was Sergeant Kyle – came back for me again. He was quieter this time, but didn’t seem to mind when I ran ahead. I just couldn’t wait. I’d seen 114 earlier – from a discreet distance, of course. He’d been sunburned and sweating, his skin blistered and bruised beyond belief. I’d had to turn away, because I knew I was being watched, and if I’d started crying, there would have been questions.

            I rushed to him without stopping to look around, and practically threw myself at him. The tears that I’d held back before now poured out mercilessly, dripping onto his feverish skin.

            “793… Been so… long…” 114’s voice was rough and halting and cracked. I jerked in surprise; I’d thought he was asleep.

            I forced myself to be light, cheerful. No need for him to see my pain. “I’m sorry. I had to wait for it to get dark again. But I brought you some food, if you want it.” I felt the slightest, almost imperceptible nod that I took as a yes. Breaking small bits off the bread in my pocket, I held them to 114’s mouth one at a time. Kyle brought water, and we shared it.

            114 and I talked and ate and drank, then talked more. He was still chained down, still in obvious pain, but talking seemed to help. Finally, we were both too exhausted to do anything else, so I lay down next to him and he leaned his head against my shoulder, and we slept together. I didn’t think about anything or anyone else, just us. The Camp – and in fact, the entire world – had ceased to matter to me. I didn’t even mind the fact that Kyle was watching us.

            Just before I fell asleep, I felt a something hot and thick drip onto the back of my neck. I didn’t have to look to know what it was. Whatever had happened to 114, blood was still seeping from his eye. I shivered as I descended into the blessed oblivion of sleep.

            My dreams were dark and full of blood. 114 was there, watching me drown in a lake of the dark fluid, smiling at my peril, his left iris flat black and a streak of white in his golden hair. Then, he was pushing into my mind, tearing away all my memories of my life before the Camp. I flitted from one dream to another, each more frightening than the last, all night. When Kyle’s hand grabbed my shoulder, I was glad. I didn’t want to spend another second trapped in my own head.

            We hurried back to my cabin just before dawn. This time, I’d left quietly, and the girls weren’t up yet, so I crept back to bed unnoticed.

            That night, at sunset, they released 114. There was no ceremony, no celebration. I just ‘happened’ to be passing by there – again – and saw a group of his friends carrying him away. The tiny smile that twitched at the corner of my lips was all I allowed myself. As soon as he was safe and healthy and strong again, I’d confront him. Why hadn’t he told me that he was a Freak? How did the Camp not know? They ran Freak tests every few months!

            It was almost a week before I saw 114 again, and then it was from a distance. He looked haggard, his hair disheveled and his eyes haunted. He looked like he hadn’t slept or eaten in days. A slight limp marred his once perfect grace. Somehow I knew that it would get better, that he wouldn’t always limp.

            The next time, a day later, he saw me as well. We shared a silent moment of contact, our eyes meeting across the intervening distance. For a moment, I drowned in his amber eyes. I felt a soft pressure – a pressure I should have known, tickling softly against my mind, but didn’t – brush against me. I thought I heard words, but I couldn’t make them out. Then it hit me. Freak contact. I’d forgotten somehow that 114 was a Freak.

            I saw him twice more before we had a chance to speak again, and then it was just a word in passing. “The alley behind the Trough at midnight,” he whispered, and then he was gone. I smiled faintly at his back; he was wearing his colored laces again. His group immediately surrounded him. With 114 back, the band of boys seemed to find their nerve again. It was strange how much loyalty he could inspire in anyone.

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