Chemical Numbers

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  • Published: 29 Oct 2013
  • Updated: 29 Sep 2014
  • Status: Complete
What if death didn't apply to you?

What if you could have infinite second chances at life?

That's what the Numbers seem to have, endless chances at life. They are mutants who come back to life every time they die. But, with the Numbers System in place, their chances of survival are zero. The Number System requires them to be tagged with numbers on their necks that drop as fifty more Numbers are executed each week using the chemical Agent-10, a chemical that strips Numbers of they're regenerative abilities.

Indie Caserento is a seventeen year old Number living with her sister, Adrian, in Manhattan. Working for a band of thieves has made them wealthier than most Numbers, but still on a count down to their deaths. They think they have a few more years left until their numbers are up, but when Adrian steals from the Monitors both of their numbers are dropped to zero. Their deaths seem imminent until the government makes them an offer that could change everything.

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12. Chapter 11

By the time I get back to the apartment Grey has returned from the Ring. Being hauled around by a bunch of thugs and then head butting one of them kind of messed up my sense of direction making the trip a lot longer than I expected.

The back of my head throbs under the touch of fingers where it made contact with the bull of a kid's head. Gripping the railing of the fire escape with the hand not cradling my injured skull, I pull myself over the doge of the roof and slowly make my way down the fire escape. After hearing that Kern saw Grey and I enter the apartment from the front I'm reluctant to use that entrance. People are less likely to walk down the alley behind the apartment than the street in front of it.

 Grey's face appears in the now open air between the fire escape and the window with only a few pieces of jagged glass left in the frame to distort his image. I expected him to be angry, blame me for the the broken window, and even kick me out of his apartment. That's what I expected because even in the short time I've known him I've figured out that he angers quickly. Yet, his face shows no signs of anger, just worry.

His feet shift through the shards on the floor like he expects them to give some sort of explanation as to what happened, but the only answer they give him is the crunching sound of his shoes breaking them into smaller pieces. 

It's not until he looks up that I realize I had snuck up on him, resorting to my old thieving ways and moving silently down the fire escape. A mixture of surprise and relief wash over I his face at the same time. No matter how hard I look for the anger in his features, there is none. His muscles aren't tense, his hands aren't clinched, and his brow as bent into a scowl, all of the signs of anger I expected to see.

I can see the question forming on his tongue and just go ahead and answer it. "Simoran wasn't here, if that's what you're wondering. She left for work not long after you went to the Ring. She's safe."

"I know," he says and shifts his glance to the broken glass at his feet. 

Things are already tense between the two of us, we really don't get along too well. If it weren't for Simoran I doubt he'd let me stay here, but I don't want him to hate me any more than he already does so I decide to suck it up and apologize, though; it kills me to do it. "Look, I'm sorry about the window."

He looks back at me, surprised to hear me apologize. "I'm not angry about the window. I just want to know what happened."

I can't help but narrow my eyes suspiciously. 'He's going to yell at me any second now. He's like a ticking time bomb of anger,' I think to myself.

Suspicion lingers between us as I eye him carefully, trying to decide if I should tell him or just run, and his jaw twitches like he's fighting some sort if battle with himself. Probably deciding whether to knock me out now or later. I bet he'd kill me if he could, yet he still doesn't look angry. Maybe he's just gotten better at hiding it.

"You should come in before anyone sees you," he finally says.

My mind screams at me to run, but I only hesitate for a moment before climbing through the window. This time I carefully avoid the sharp edges and land on the floor softly, the glass barely crunching beneath my light feet.

Bits of light from the street lamps find their way through the window and turn Grey's dark brown hair to a more coppery color like Simoran's. He looks at me from where he now sits on the couch and says plainly, "You look confused."

I answer a bit too honestly, "I'm confused as to why you haven't kicked my ass yet."

The comment wasn't meant to be funny, but I see hints of laughter in his hazel eyes before the expression is wiped away. "I thought I'd hear what you have to say first."

"Umm..." I say stupidly my eyes darting towards the open window. Kern broke the window, but he followed me here, he and his thug friends were after me. I put Simoran and Grey in danger, though; I feel much worse about putting Simoran in danger than Grey.

"Umm, what?" He asks with the faintest hint of laughter back in his eyes.

"It's kind of a long story," I say.

This time he actually laughed just a little bit, which should make me feel better, but only makes me feel more guilty. "Come on, Indie, that's both the oldest and worst excuse in the book."

My lips press into a thin line as agitation creeps up on me, I feel like he's laughing at me. "Why should I tell you?" I snap. "I don't need you." I really didn't mean it like that, but it's to late to shove the words back down my mouth.

Grey's eyes narrow. I knew his good mood wouldn't last, like I said 'ticking time bomb of anger.' "You can leave if you want, but we both know how well that worked for you last time."

The anger flares inside of me fiery and hot. I can't let it slip out again because the truth is that I do need his help. Casprie and Ross are being watched by the Monitors, so I can't go to either of them. Accepting Grey's help is all I can do. I suppose I can tolerate him as long as Simoran is around, I actually like her.

My thieving mind quickly comes up with a tactical way to ease the conversation without letting Grey win. "What?" I ask without any of my previous anger. "Do you think I'm weak?"

Grey's scowl deepens, though; the anger is visibly leaving. "That's not what I said."

"But, it was implied, wasn't it?" My words are not an accusation, but a question meant to force Grey let me win or risk me leaving after his sister begged so hard for him to help me. He may not care what I think, but he cares about Simoran in the same way I cared about Adrian. It's not hard to see what makes him tick.

His jaw twitches again like it did earlier at the window, a sign he's deep in thought or possibly arguing with himself. "I didn't mean it like that," he says after a long pause.

"Then how did you mean it?" I continue calmly.

He stands up flustered. I struggle to keep a smile off my face, you don't know how many times the skill to turn the tables can get a thief out of a tricky situation. "Indie, I didn't mean to offend you. I, just trying to figure out what happened and you haven't exactly been willing to tell me."

The anger that had been lingering quickly drains out of me. I don't have any right to be mad at him, if anything, I owe him at least an explanation. "Sit down," I sat quietly trying to relax him. "I'll tell you."

Grey sits down on the couch and I sit next to him making sure to keep a little distance between us. His eyes look at me in a calculating way, as a thief I may be able to make up plans on the fly, but as a fighter Grey is used to picking out people's weaknesses. I can't help but wonder what he thinks my weaknesses are.

"Well?" He says and I realize I was lost in a moment of thought.

"Right," I say clearing the cluttered thoughts from my head. "You wanted to know about the broken glass."

He lets a brief smile pass over his face. "You did say you'd tell me."

It's strange how quickly the tension dissipated between us, but I have a feeling it won't stay like that for long unless I give him an explanation. I start out slowly trying to explain how Kern jumped through the window and snatched up the necklace. As I get to the part about the monstrous boy and rat girl I get more comfortable telling Grey about what happened. It's probably the first he's heard about my past with Maura. 

He listens until I finish with how I escaped from the Kern by climbing the building. Telling it like this makes what happened feel less real and more like something in a book, it makes it easier to say out loud.

"What about the necklace?" Grey asks when I finish.

"The necklace," I echo. I press my forehead into the palm of my hand. "I forgot to steal it back from that stupid kid"

Grey touches my shoulder gently. "It's fine."

"No, it's not. I'm the reason that kid took it and I'm going to get it back," I promise him.

"Thank you. That actually means a lot to us, Simoran and me both," he tells me.

"How did you get a necklace like that on this God forsaken island?" I ask curiously since Grey isn't angry.

"My mom brought with her when she came to Manhattan with Simoran, our dad, and me. She gave it to Simoran the day she hit zero," he tells me.

"Oh," I say unsure if how to respond. "How long ago was that?"

"When we came to Manhattan or when my mom died?" He asks in return.

I shrug my shoulders feeling callous for asking these questions. "Both, I guess."

"We first came to Manhattan about five years ago and my mom and dad died last year," his eyes have a distant look to them as he tells me this.

This takes me by surprise. No one hits zero in just four years. "How is that possible?"

"My parents?" He asks and I nod. "They got into a bit of a fight with a Monitor after Simoran bumped into them. He dropped both of their numbers to zero when they tried to protect her."

This time I'm at a real lost for words. I know a "Sorry" can't possibly comfort him, so I simply put my hand on his arm to let him know I'm here. We sit like this for a moment to let the sadness pass.

"How long have you been here?" He asks finally.

"Since I was six, so about eleven years," I tell him.

Out of the corner of my eyes I can see him raise his eyebrows. "Eleven years. Were you with your family for most of it?"

Every muscle in my body tenses with just the thought of my family; my dead dad, mystery mom, and missing or more likely dead sister. "No, my sister Adrian was the only one who came here with me."

I thought he'd pick up on my tense posture and stop asking questions, but he doesn't. "You're parents aren't Numbers?"

I grit my teeth wanting to demand he stop, but I can't, things are just starting to ease between us. "They were, or at least my dad was. I don't remember much of anything about my mom."

The next question comes quietly like Grey is afraid to ask it. "Are they dead?"

I squeeze my eyes shut trying to keep the tears and hurt inside. "The police killed my dad before we came to the island and I don't know what happened to my mom. Can we please stop talking about it?"

"Yeah," he says his voice hollow and he quickly changes the subject. "I didn't know you worked for Maura."

"I didn't know you knew who Maura was," I counter with a slight smile, but my voice is just as hollow as his.

"Everyone knows who Maura is," he laughs. "She's the most famous thief in the city."

"Apparently I'm the only one who didn't know that. I mean I knew she was good, well, better than good, but I didn't know she was famous," I say and let some of his laughter catch on.

"Yeah, everyone wants to work with her because of how much she brings in, but she only chooses the best thieves. You must be pretty good." I'm surprised to hear anything resembling a compliment to pass through Grey's lips, especially if it's directed at me, but he actually said it.

I laugh a little thinking about when I first started working with Maura. "Trust me, I was not a very good thief to begin with," I say and then start telling about one of my first break ins when I tripped over a shelf and brought the whole think toppling down on me. I barely escaped then, but looking back on it is hilarious.

Grey and I are actually, genuinely laughing together. Something I never thought would happen. I let myself start thinking that staying here won't be so bad.

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