The Elites

Silver is an elite, a guard of Neo-Babel. But when her parents go missing, she is forced Outside - to a new world of rebels and secrets - while she searches within herself for the strength to fight against all she has ever known...

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1. Prologue

There is a rumour that the Elites don’t bleed. 

As the boy stands in the corner of the small, shadowy room, his whole body trembling, he thinks, If only I could be an Elite. Clenching and unclenching his hands, he tries to stop the shaking. An Elite wouldn’t feel anything, he thinks. Then: But I will feel it all.   

    His mother is talking to the doctor by the operating table. They have their backs to him and are almost whispering, but he can still hear the insistence in their voices, the tension. Their murmurs rise over the room’s electronic ticks, the muffled throbbing of a generator nearby. The boy tries to focus on the shapes of their bodies, bent over like trees in the wind, but his eyes keep getting pulled away to the rest of the room. 

The room and its contents scare him. Twists and coils of wires hang from the low ceiling, their ends feeding into strange machinery the boy does not recognise. Here and there he spies a familiar piece of technology; the round face of an air-tram light hanging above the operating table, casting a pool of liquid yellow in the darkness. And there, built into the wall, is a mosaic of screens that look as though they have been ripped from tablets. Though their screens are blank, every movement his mother or the doctor make sends a slice of light across their dark surfaces. It makes the boy feel as though the room is alive, watching him. 

Then he spots a case of sharp metal instruments on a tray beside the operating table; the blade of a scalpel gleams in the low light. A shiver runs down the boy’s neck. Breathing slowly, he focuses on the conversation between his mother and the doctor, trying to block out the horrible room and its ominous metal instruments and its rotting smell of death. 

‘What about two forty, sensei?’ his mother asks. 

    ‘No,’ the doctor snaps. ‘Three hundred. Lowest.’ 

The doctor’s voice has a curl of an accent in it, but the boy isn’t able to trace it. Afronese? New Indian? Things are so muddled in the Limpets, he thinks. Even blood

The boy’s mother shakes her head. ‘Two sixty –’

‘Two eighty.’

‘Two sixty-five.’

‘Two seventy. Last offer.’ 

The boy’s mother hesitates for a second, then nods. 

‘Good.’ The doctor holds his hand out. ‘Pay now.’ 

‘N-now?’ she asks. ‘Can’t it wait until after Sauro’s operation?’ 

He shakes his head. ‘No guarantee. Must be now. What if it not work, then afterwards you don’t want to pay?’ He waves his open hand. ‘Must be before.’ 

Sauro’s mother glances back at him. He has a sudden urge to shout out to her, to ask her not to make him do this, to grab her hand and run out of the room. But then his mother pulls out her purse and turns back to the doctor, and all too soon, Sauro is strapped down on the operating table, his face pushed through a hole and his head clamped tight in the jaws of the metal. 

The doctor prepares for the operation. Sauro hears the pings and clangs of sharp metal – the noises make his teeth ache – but all he can see is the warped linoleum sheet lining the floor of the room. It is covered in dark smudges. That must be . . . he thinks, then pushes the thought away. I am an Elite, he tells himself firmly. I am Elite, and I don’t bleed. I can’t bleed.

His mother has been sent to wait outside. Sauro wishes she could stay with him for the operation. He feels stupid for wanting it – a twelve-year-old boy shouldn’t need his mummy – but suddenly he can’t help it, and suddenly it’s all too much, and he’s struggling and trying to get his head out of the clamp and the doctor is holding him down, hissing at him with sour, stinking breath, ‘Stay still! Stay still! Do you want me to cut your head off?’, and he feels a hot, sharp bite in the side of his neck and he screams. 

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