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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21. Chapter 20

"Experience demands that man is the only animal, that devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term for the general prey of the rich on the poor."

-Thomas Jefferson

There is something at the back of mind. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Something feral that I cannot repress. It's not a new feeling. It's a feeling that I have been vaguely familiar with since the first time I died, and by now, I don't know what it's like to live with out the itch of a feral instinct in the back of my mind. It never affected me before, it was always so easy to control and to completely ignore that I hadn't even thought about it in years. But now the tickle of animal behavior feels more like a rash spreading through my thoughts.

I scratch at the back of my scalp as I squat next to Kern in an abandoned warehouse. We've been here for a few hours, while the Monitors looks for us. Kern assure that they won't look for us here because the place is condemned do to a fire that ravaged the place a while back. The Monitors won't go anywhere that they think might get them killed, an unstable warehouse with potentially toxic fumes still lingering included.

I'm not really worried about the Monitors though, I'm worried about whatever rags is taking over my mind. It brings bad thoughts into my head, savage ones. I was to focused on finding the others earlier to notice it, but now it's all I can think about. These diseases thoughts that enter my head. They make me feel less human and more animal.

This is the affect of dying on a Number. You lose a tiny piece of your humanity each time. I've been told that it's caused by the lack of oxygen to your brain when you die and since the body is already regenerating, it is too late to fix the damage done to the brain. I, of course, don't know if it's true, but it makes sense. You lose brain cells, you begin to lose part of your mind.

The last time I died I was so young that I hardly remember how I used to think. I do remember feeling different when I woke up. Feeling like I lost a piece of myself, but I learned to live without the missing piece. It just became part of who I was, it was and still is part of my nature.

My fingers rub the spot where I imagine the metaphorical rash is inside my head and will it to go away. The rash feels permanent and unmoving, like its impossible to get rid of it or to even learn to live with it.

Kern looks over at me his coffee brown eyes not as cold as they had once seemed, but just as calculating. "What's it like?" he asks bluntly, his voice an echoing whisper in the skeletal structure of a building.

"To die?" I say a bit too harshly reasonably still bitter about getting shot. "It's consuming. It's like being pulled into a deep pit that you don't have the care or energy to pull yourself out of."

His eyes light up with a smile to match the one on his lips. "What are you smiling about?" I demand.

"I was actually asking what it's like to come back to life," he tells me with a nonchalant shrug.

My fingers make slow circles on the back of my scalp. I know he notices, but he doesn't say anything. He probably knows just as well as I do the effects of dying, even if he hadn't died. "That's a lot harder to explain," I say and then pause to gather my thoughts. "It's not as happy as it sounds, but relieving at the same time. All of your burdens come rushing back onto you at once and you begin to panic, but then you remember that you have more time. Time to fix everything."

Kern looks briefly to the spot where Adrian and Mallery are sleeping. We've been here for a while, afraid that if we left then we'd be doomed. "Sometimes life feels painfully long, yet tragically short."

He said it more to himself than anything, but I still understand what he's saying. There are times in our lives that are so painful that we just want them to end and others when we realize our own mortality and how little we can accomplish in a single lifetime.

"Yeah," I agree. "I think I'm going to go to sleep. Maybe you should to, eh? I can wake Mallery and Adrian up."

He shakes his head. "I'm fine. You get some sleep and I'll keep watch."

I nod and crawl over to the darkest corner of the warehouse to get some sleep.

***

The shaking of my shoulder wakes me up. My eyes open slowly, still heavy from sleep, to find Kern kneeling in front of me with one finger pressed to his lips and the other pointing to the window. As soon as I nod my understanding, stay quiet someone's here, he moves to wake Mallery and I wake Adrian.

I usher my sleepy sister into the corner where I had previously been asleep and the four of us crouch in the corner like a couple of sardines. Somehow Mallery makes hiding in a corner look intimidating, she looks like she'll rip anyone who comes in apart, while Adrian's eyes dart wildly around her. I find myself in front of the others, prepared to be the first to take action should I have to.

I always pegged Kern as the smartest person I've ever known, despite the brief time I've known him, yet I've never seen anyone as alert as Mallery. She never misses a single detail and it seems like ever moment she's calculating some sort of clever plan. Where Kern is intelligent, Mallery is calculating and watchful. Mallery watches closely now never peeling her eyes away from the one grimy window. She'll be the first to know if whoever Kern saw is coming.

As the seconds, or maybe they're minutes, or hours. Well, whatever time is passing ticks by nothing moves. No breeze comes through the holes in the walls to stir the remnants of whatever used to be in this building. I can only hear four sets of breath, three fast and anxious and the fourth slow and steady.

To my left Kern has drifted off. It's been hours since he's slept. By instinct I move to my body more in front of the youngest member of our group. Let him rest now, I decide, wake him before we leave.

A shadow flickers across the window and Mallery tenses next to me. My hand hovers next to Kern, prepared to wake him if I need to. Adrian grips my free hand like a life line as her breathing picks up rapidly.

"It going to be okay, Adrian," I say as loudly as I dare in order to comfort my sister. "We're going to be okay."

Even as I tell Adrian it going to be okay, part of me wishes it wouldn't be. The most animal part of me hopes that someone, anyone, will crawl in through one of the holes and into the destroyed warehouse. The rash at the back of my mind burns as I imagine the pieces of burnt of wood scattering the ground, the chunks of cement, the dirt and garbage that has blown in here over the years, and me with my hands wrapped around the neck of a Monitor. It's a feral wish, but I can't get it out of my head.

If a Monitor were to come in right now I would kill them. It disturbs me to think that I would, but the animal part of my mind is too strong right now to even think about doing otherwise.

The shadow passes and I let myself relax. The rash in the back of my mind fades as does the wish to choke the life out of a Monitor. I can't tell which I'm more glad is gone, the wish or the person outside.

I breath a sigh of relief and shake Kern's shoulder. He looks at me with glazed eyes and I say, "We need to leave."

Kern nods his head in vague understanding. "We can't all hide in the same place," he mumbles.

"I know," I tell him. "Adrian and I have a place to hide, but neither of you can come." I don't tell them it's because I don't want to burden Grey and Simoran anymore.

"We can hide here," Mallery says.

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking," Kern agrees.

It's strange to think this is goodbye for now, but I just stand up with Adrian right behind me. "Stay safe," Adrian tells them.

Right before we climb out of the building Kern speaks up. "Hey, Indie." I turn around just in time to catch something out of the air. It's the necklace he had stolen from Simoran.

"Thank you," I tell him and hold the antique jewelry to my chest.

"You hold onto that, eh?" he says.

"I will." I step out into the streets of Manhattan, both scared of leaving Mallery and Kern alone and thrilled to know that I've made some difference. It wasn't much, but I've put some dent in the Dynasty's plan by saving Mallery.

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