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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15. Chapter 14

I sit up suddenly my entire body shivering like I just jumped in a snow bank. Adrian still sleeps soundly on the couch next to me, she clearly doesn't feel the piercing cold cocooning me with it's chilly fingers. My breath steams in the air and I can feel my hands and feet going numb.

Pushing myself to my feet, I try to find a way to escape the chill. I head towards the room Grey and Simoran share to see if they can feel the cold as well. Each step that I take sends the cold deep into my body until it feels like it's touching my bones. When I reach to grab their door knob it's so cold it actually burns my hand making me yank my hand away.

I hold my hand to my face, my finger tips are turning blue and a red mark in the shape of the knob is imprinted there. A shudder runs through me and I hug myself tightly.

The frost I only felt before starts taking on a physical form, crystalizing on the window and turning into an icy fog that floats through the apartment. Adrian's sleeping form disappears behind the ice cloud.

The air freezes my lungs making it hard to breath as I try to make my way towards Adrian, tripping over objects I can't see every once and a while. I wrap my hands around her shoulders and try to shake her awake, but she stays sleeping. The ice doesn''t seem to have effected her at all. Her fingertips don't turn blue and her slow breaths don't turn to frost in the air.

"Adrian," I whisper. "Adrian." She doesn't even shift.

'What the hell is happening?" I think to myself.

In the midst of the white ice something catches my eye. Outside where the ice sweeps through the streets clinging to the streetlights and dumpster, but that's not what caught my eyes. In the apartment complex across the alley a pair of very alert coffee brown eyes stair at me. The person raises their hand, with finger tips just as blue as mine, and gestures towards the alley.

I've got as feeling that this person may be the only other person who notices the ice. Adrian certainly doesn't notice it and neither Grey nor Simoran came bursting out of their room.

I try to go through the front door, but the cold is completely unbearable in that direction, so I climb down the face of the building. The whole time my body feels like it's going to freeze and then crumble to pieces. The cold burns my skin even through the jacket I wear, though; it's not as bad as in the apartment.

The person with the coffee brown eyes lurks behind a dumpster and comes out only when my feet hit the ground. How did they get down here so quickly?

"Hello," the person says as they step out of the shadows. I jump backwards when I see them. It's the kid, Kern.

"What do you want?"I spit out as my fists clench at my sides.

"I have something to show you," he says like we are old friends and this is just going to be a casual outing.

My nails bite into my palms making little crescents in the flesh that has been hardened from years of climbing buildings and working in factories. "Is it the necklace you stole? Because I'd really like it back."

He grins at me like I said something funny. "No, I don't have that. But, this is much more important."

"Where is it?" I demand, completely ignoring how "important" what ever he wants to show me is.

He shrugs and says, "I don't know. Venaree took it after you escaped."

"Venaree?" I say, beginning to lose my patients.

"You know, squeaky voice, red hair, rat face girl," he says jokingly, immune to my anger.

"Well then," I growl. "Tell her I would like it back."

"Oh, I will." He smiles at me like he's doing me a huge favor. "I'll tell Venaree that the girl who beat the crap out of her is looking for her. She'll run right back into the hole she came from."

"Thanks," I say sarcastically.

"No problem," he says either ignoring my sarcasm or not hearing it. "Now, we have more important things to do. So, follow me."

He doesn't wait for me, he just turns around and walks down the alley. "I'm not going anywhere with you," I shout.

"Suit yourself. But, it's much warmer where I'm going," he calls back.

I look down at my blue and trembling fingers for a moment before making my decision. I don't like this bastard, but if it's warmer where he's going I better go. Besides, I can beat the crap out of him too if I have to.

I move swiftly to catch up to him and when I do he gives me a smug smile that makes me want to punch him in the face. As we walk through the streets the icy fog slowly begins to dissipate and the temperature rises with each step that we take. Within a mile or two the temperature is back to normal, but it still rises slowly as we walk.

Heat slowly begins to creep up on me. Ahead I see plumes of smoke, while behind I see clouds of ice rolling though the streets and on the roofs. This must be the fastest weather change in the world. What happened while I was sleeping?

"So, where are we going?" I ask Kern as sweat begins to trickle down my face.

"You'll see," he says without even looking at me. I don't know why I decided it was a good idea to follow him.

Beads of sweat continue to trickle down my neck and dampen my shirt until it's soaking wet from the heat. I must be well over 100 degrees by now. Kern's face is red from the heat, but he does a good job ignoring it, even though his clothes are just as soaking as mine. Over the last few blocks he has slowly started to lead us towards the left, where the pillars of smoke are.

"We're not going to the smoke, are we?" I say.

"We are," he replies like walking towards a fire is no big deal.

"We'll be burned alive," I protest.

"Maybe," he says with a shrug.

I want to turn back around and find one of the streets where the temperature was just right, not so cold you might freeze and so hot you might melt, but I just can't make myself. I don't know if this is curiosity getting the better or me or a gut instinct, I just keep walking.

The smoke begins to fill the streets, curling it's long fingers around my legs. Each breath burns my lungs and fills my mouth with an acidic taste. The fire is only a few blocks away. It feels like I walked out of a sauna and into an oven.

Kern and I pass two Monitors loitering around an old warehouse. The pair doesn't seem to notice the smoke filling their lungs or the fire burning in the distance. It's like they exist in a separate dimension.

One of the Monitors grabs his own throat like he's suffocating and his partner grabs the clasping man. The Monitor not suffocating pulls out his walkie talkie and for help his voice rushed and panicky, while his eyes flit through the streets.

"Just because they can't see the smoke or feel the heat doesn't mean it doesn't effect them," Kern says intruding on my thoughts.

"My sister," I say suddenly worried.

Kern chuckles and my face burns with rage. "Don't worry. It's not cold enough over there for her or your friends to get hurt."

"Are you kidding me?" I say my voice squeaking a bit on the end. "It was like Antarctica in there."

The freaking kid only laughs harder. "Trust me. They're fine."

Something inside me snaps, something that was building up inside me ever since I saw that stupid kid. I shove him against the wall. "I trust you about as far as I can throw you."

"That's not far, sweetie," he says with a cunning smile.

"Don't call me sweetie, kid," I spit in his face.

Behind us a few Monitors had arrived with a gurney to carry the suffocating Monitor away. They still didn't notice the penetrating smoke, scorching fire eating up a factory a few blocks away, or us. I guess we exist in two realities. The one we want to see and the one that's happening around us. Just because you don't want to see what's happening around you doesn't mean it doesn't affect you.

"You're going to have to trust me," he says his humorous facade falling.

"Why would I trust you? You're a lying thief," I say my teeth gritted and my fingers digging into his shoulders. Kern can't be more than 13, but he's more cunning and deceiving than most people I have ever met. He made me trust him just enough to follow him out here and leave my sister and friends behind.

"And you're not?" he asks his face shifting into a mask of anger that matches my own.

I hesitate. Am I a lying thief? No, I'm not. I may steal, but I don't lie. "I'm not like you."

"You're exactly like me," he hisses. "I'm just trying to survive in this sucky world just like you. You can't blame me for that."

"No, I can't," I say. He's right I can't blame him for surviving. This world sucks and he's just trying to survive, like me. That doesn't mean I trust him.

I let go of his shoulders and run my fingers through my hair. The smoke is starting to suffocate me just like the Monitor. I need to get out of here. My feet moving stumble beneath me as I head away from the smoke filled alleys.

"Indie, wait," Kern call our behind me before going into a coughing fit. 

I turn around to see what he wants and he's standing right behind me. "We don't have a lot of time."

"Yeah, I realized that. We'll suffocate if we stay here any longer." 

"We can't leave yet, actually you can't leave yet. You need to go to that factory," he says pointing to the burning building. "And I need to take you."

"What? Are you crazy," I scream at him.

"Only partially," he says with a half smile. "But, it's urgent that we get into that building."

"I'm not going in there," I say shaking my head.

"You have to. Someone's in there. You need to get them out," he insists.

"Who? And why do I need to get them out?" I demand.

"I don't know who's in there and I don't know why you have to get them out, I just know that you do. I'm coming too, so you know it's not a trap," he says.

"No, I can't," I say.

"Why? It's not like either of us can die. We'll be fine, I promise." Hearing this kid promise that I'd be safe is a strange thing. I don't trust, I have no reason to, and I already knew I couldn't die, I just needed someone to remind me that I can do more than I think I can.

"Let's go," I say and can already feel the regret building in my chest.

Kern just nods and starts running towards the burning building like he knows I will follow him and I do. Running with smoke eating at your lungs is like running with no lungs at all. It's impossible to breath and it feels like you're just going to die from an exhaustion at any given moment. Kern is a lot slower than he was the day he chased me through the streets not far from here. His face is covered in the ash that rains down around us now that we've gotten closer to the building. He looks mad, but determined. 

It's a God given miracle that the building hasn't collapsed yet, the beams that support the building can be through the patches of wall that have completely burned a way. It's like a skeleton whose skin is slowly melting away. There is no way anyway someone is alive in there. I consider telling Kern this when the scream splits the air. The sound is even more disturbing then the smoke choking me or the ash covering me from head to toe. Someone is alive in there.

I pick up the pace despite the fact that my lungs might actually burst. Kern matches my speed and before I know it we are pushing through the burning wreckage and into the factory. Fire dances around me and licks at my skin, but I have to much adrenaline pumping through my veins to care. 

"Hello!" Kern scream his voice hoarse from the smoke.

"Hello!" I join in.

"Help!" someone cries from above us.

Kern turns to me his eyes wide with alarm. "You take the second floor, I'll take the third. Call for me if you find anything" I instruct him.

He snaps out of his alarm and nods his head before taking off towards the stairs. I follow him taking the steps two at a time. I feel like I'm about to pass out when I reach the third floor, but I can't stop. I've been breathing in smoke for far too long and I know I don't have much time. The person in here may not be a Number, which means they don't get any more lifes. It could be one of the Monitor's kids, I hate the Monitors, but I wouldn't want an innocent person to die because of that.

I shift through the wreckage burning my arms as I go. I feel the sting, but it doesn't matter. Someone could die if I don't hurry.

"Indie, down here," Kern screams from below.

Sprinting down the stairs, I arrive on the second floor where Kern crouches next to a blonde girl  who looks half dead. The girl looks up at me and I can't hide the shock from my face.

"Mallery?" I say.

"Indie," she croaks with a small smile.

"What are you doing here?" I ask stupidly. We should be getting out of here not chatting.

"I need to talk to you," she says like the flames and smoke are irrelevant.

"Let's get out of here first," I say.

"Yeah, let's definetly get out of here," Kern agrees.

"No," Mallery says with a shake of her head. "We need to talk now."

"Don't be-" I start, but suddenly the factory shifts. The damaged walls, flames, and wreckage slowly fades away, as does Kern. His form telling us to hurry turns transparent and is gone. We're left sitting in a factory like any other in the city.

"What the..." I mutter.

"I can't explain it either," Mallery says.

"How? What?" I continue gawking at the perfectly sound walls.

"Listen, Indie, we need to talk," she says.

I turn back towards her still confused. "About what?"

"About the war," she says.

I'm surprised. "You know about that?"

"Maura told me," she explains. "You need to do something."

"I'm going to. I have some friends who are helping me and Adrian. We'll figure something out," I tell her, when the choking sensation I felt in the smoke returns. I understand what's happening. Like the guards, we are only seeing what we want to see, what we choose to ignore, in this case the burning building, can still kill us. "Mallery, we need to leave. We're not safe," I tell her as the scene flickers from sound building to burning.

Mallery sits on the ground like nothing is happening. "You need to tell me what you are going to do."

"I really don't want to die again. Coming back to life is really not on my to do list," I say through a coughing fir as I stumble to my feet.

Mallery gets to her feet as well and shoves me against the wall. "Indie, this is important. I need to know."

We're back in the burning building for a moment and the flames on the wall dance across my back. A scream comes out of my raw throat. All of adrenaline is gone and I feel the pain full force. 

My throat tightens and the edges of my vision start turning black. No matter how hard I try I can't get any air into my lungs, it's like they're gone. Mallery is saying something, but I can't hear her. Kern is trying to pull her off of me, but it looks like he's moving through malasis. The blacks crawls over my vision and then nothing.

This time when I wake up I'm covered in sweat, not ice. What the hell was that? I've never had a more realistic dream. I can still feel the fire on my back and hear the urgency in Mallery's voice. For some reason I get the feeling that dream Mallery wasn't trying to kill me, maybe she actually needed me to tell her.

Adrian still sleeps soundly next to me and I'm amazed I didn't scream at all during that terrifingly vivid dream. I lay my head back down on my thin pillow and stare at the ceiling. I doubt I'll ever sleep again.

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