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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24. Chapter 23

"To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence."

-Mark Twain

The cards flutter as I timidly shuffle them. It's a point less task, shuffling the cards, the person who plays will certainly shuffle them again, but it keeps my mind occupied. The constant flicker of the edges under my thumb and the sound of each card slapping against the one below it, occupies my brain for a few moments as I focus on cutting and folding the deck.

"You about done?" Adrian asks, slumping against the couch. Simoran and Grey have long since gone to bed, but Adrian and I stayed up playing a few more rounds of "Take Four."

"Hmm?" I look up; though, the cards continue to run past my fingers.

She gives me half smile at my daze. "Are you done? With the cards?"

My gaze returns to the worn cards in my hands, the edges worn smooth through years of play. "Yeah, I guess I am," I say, my brief sense of emptiness gone. A scowl crosses my face, the exact opposite of my previous expression. So much needs to be done, so little hope to do it.

There is a brief moment of sleepy silence, where I just stare at the cards in my hands. Broken mentally after just recovering physically. That seems to be the cycle. I'm broken down mentally, heal, get broken down physically, heal, rinse and repeat. First there was the whole "my number is zero, I'm going to die," thing and then getting shot, dragged around the city, and shot again. Of course, after that, I pulled a Jesus on everyone and came back, but now I'm back to the whole doom and death idea.

"We haven't eaten yet," Adrian reminds me lamely, snapping me out of daze yet again. My stomach growls as if it is responding to her.

I chew on the corner of my lip, irritating the dry skin there. It's true that we really haven't eaten anything today, a small breakfast, but that's it. Supplies are already dangerously low. Trying to feed four people with not even enough food for the two people it's designated for, is difficult, even with Grey and Simoran's extra money. It simply doesn't last. No one eats enough. I was too skinny before I was arrested, now it's even worse. My ribs resemble a xylophone slightly.

"There's not enough food," I decide despite my growling stomach.

Something flickers in Adrian's eyes, panic maybe. I don't blame her, we have enough to be panicked about without worrying about food. The look is quickly covered as Adrian does what Adrian does and tries to look strong for her big sister. I always thought I had to be strong for her and not the other way around. 

She sucks in on her cheeks, making her already hollow face even slimmer, clearly deep in thought. "We could always steal some," she says timidly like we've never stolen anything before.

"Yeah, we could," I agree absently, my mind cluttered with things that I need to worry about. If I wrote them all down, the list would stretch from here to New York City.

"Why don't we?" Adrian asks still biting the insides of her cheeks. 

"Because I'd rather starve to death than let them kill me. If we get caught, they'll kill us. You know that, right?" I look at her inquisitively, daring her to suggest other wise.

"No, they will," she says. "Starving to death just seems like a sucky way to go."

"I bet."

Adrian turns her head to the side and looks at me with her deep, blue eyes. "Indie, we need the food. We could even...." Her words stop suddenly, realizing something suddenly. The side of her mouth turns up in a mischievous smile. "We could even, you know," she continues eagerly, her eyes darting around the room like she's afraid someone will hear her, but I am the only ears listening. Hopefully. "Get some information on the war."

I raise a suspicious eyebrow at her. "Where would we find information in a warehouse or supply store?"

"They have to prepare the Monitors for the coming war. Just think about it, they have to be able to access that information anywhere, for when ever this thing goes into action."

"Their tablets?" I ask referring to the paper thin devices the Monitors use to communicate and store data.

"Exactly! You could hack into on-"

"No," I say with a shake of my head. "I can't. I need equipment to that. And how exactly would we get ahold of a tablet even if I could hack into one?"

Adrian's lips curl into a frown. "Maura has your equipment. We can steal the food and tablet, and then go see her."

I inwardly flinch when she says Maura's name. "She hates me," I mutter under my breathe.

"What?" Adrian says, confusion scrunching her brow.

"I said, 'Maura hates me,'" I repeat, this time so she can hear me. "Last time I saw her, she kicked me out."

Her lips tighten into a thin line as her face seems to drain of color. "Maura wouldn't do that."

"Well, she did," I say, anger leaking into my voice as I think about the woman I relied on and who stabbed me in the back.

"Why?" 

Pain springs into my chest thinking about that night, what happened was my fault, I was the one to blame, but Maura abandoned me when I needed her most. "When I told her...." I stop and take a breath. "When I told her what happened and how I left-left you behind, she didn't want to see me anymore. She won't want to see me now."

"But, I'm okay now. She has to know you did what you had to do." Adrian tries to comfort me, her voice mellow and smooth. Though, I don't need comforting, I need solutions.

"Just because you're okay now, Adrian, doesn't change what I did. What if you weren't fine? What if they had killed you?" I can't bring myself to look at Adrian. The guilt is already painful enough as it is without looking at her bright, young face. A face that is meant to grow old and whither, not rot away before it gets the chance to. "I wouldn't, no, I couldn't live with myself. Maura's right, what I did is just not okay. I'm so sorry Adrian."

"Indie, it's okay. I forgive you," she says as salty tears build up in my eyes. " I always forgive you. That's what we do as family, we forget each other's flaws and forgive our mistakes."

I look up to see hot tears dripping down Adrian's cheeks. She doesn't try to wipe them away, she just sits there, smiling at me. "It will never happen again. I'll do whatever it takes to protect you," I promise her and stand up. Kneeling in front of her, I pull her into my arms and let her cry, my own tears forgotten.

"What about the food?" she says through silent tears.

"We don't need it. It's not worth the risk." My palms run down her silky, slightly dirty hair.

"And the war?"

"We'll figure something out."

***

A loud bang wakes me up in the morning. I instinctively jump to my feet, thinking someone is breaking down the door. Everything is exactly as I left it last night and the door is still very much in tact.

"What the?" I start when the bang comes again. I spin around on my feet towards the direction of the noise to see a very angry looking Simoran slamming the pantry door shut.

"Simoran," I say quietly so I don't startle her, she certainly didn't take same precaution with me. Adrian is groggily pulling herself off the couch and watching Simoran curiously.

Simoran ignores me. Her calloused hands, tough from years of fighting, wrap around the door handle and yank the door open without mercy. With as much force as she can muster, she throws the door back towards the frame with another loud bang. 

I reach out to grab her hand, already on it's way to the handle, but she jumps out of reach. Her jaw clenches as she looks up at me with her hands curled up into fists. I've seen her kick some serious ars in the Ring, but she's usually so light hearted. Not angry like this. That's her brother's job.

"There's no food left. We're all out," she tells me, not even waiting for me to ask, 'What the hell is going on?' 

I swallow hard, thinking about how it is only Thursday. There are still two more days until the weekly pickup. That doesn't seem like a lot until you realize it's two days without food.

"Simoran, is there anything I can do? Or that Adrian can do?" I say timidly, completely thrown off by her aggressiveness.

She scowls at me like I personally insulted her. "No, I'm going to work. I'll figure it out later," she says, her voice strangely monotone compared to the ferocity she displayed on the door. But, it did sound like she emphasized the word 'work,' like she's accusing Adrian and me of not doing anything.

She storms out the door without another word, leaving Adrian and me alone. "Get on you jacket," I say to Adrian as soon as I hear her foot steps going down the stairs. 

"Why?" she asks; though, I'm certain she already knows the answer.

"We're doing what we do best," I state, a small smile replacing the guilt that was crawling up my throat.

"Stealing," Adrian states as fact, not a question.

"Exactly."

***

Adrian crouches next to me in the alley, her breath hot on my neck. I don't really notice, though, I'm to focused on the target. One of the supply stores scattered across the island. They're only open on Saturdays, which should just make it that much easier. There will be no crowds of Numbers swarming the merchandise or an excess of Monitors to hold them at bay. Just a few guards. 

Adrian's idea of stealing one of the Monitors' tablets resurfaces in my mind. If I don't steal it, then I won't know what to do next. We'll have no next step in stopping the war. But, if I do take it, they could track us down and arrest us before I can shut down the GPS in it.

Adrian gives me a quizzical look. "Are you thinking about stealing a tablet?"

I chew on my lip still debating with myself. "Yeah."

"Do it," she murmurs in my ear. "We can end this countdown . No more working in factories or counting the days until you die. All of it, over."

It sounds so perfect. We'd be free and be able to live our full lives like the Eden I've been talking about. My teeth grind together like gears as my mind churns over this idea. I could do it, it wouldn't me hard, but am I willing to take that kind of risk. After all, it didn't turn out so well last time one of us stole something with a tracker in it.

"I'll do it," I finally say, licking my chapped lips in anticipation.

I can't see her, but I assume Adrian nods her head because she doesn't say anything. 'Okay, stay calm, Indie. This is just like any other heist. Same rules apply,' I remind myself, trying to calm down. Without anymore hesitation, I tap Adrian on the knee, signaling her to follow me.

The layout of the supply stores is pretty much universal throughout the island. A storage area takes up the entire basement, while a security office and the store itself split the upper level. The layout is imprinted my brain from years of breaking and entering.

We'll need to get into the security office first. That's the hard part, that's where the Monitor will be, watching surveillance. Thankfully, they usually only assign one or two Monitors per supply store. Most of them are guarding the much more valuable factories and warehouses.

I close my eyes and try to imagine where the cameras are in most supply stores. One in front of the store, one behind the register, one in the security office, and two in the basement. The best thing to do is go through the back and enter directly into the security office. 

I sprint to the side of the back door and Adrian quickly follows behind me. I don't even try to open the door, I already know it's locked and trying to open it will only alert the Monitor inside.

Adrian quietly shifts towards the door and pulls out a screw driver and knife she found at the apartment. She was always a genius when it came to picking locks, she could use almost any small object to pick a lock. 

It's not long before I hear the tell tale click. She looks at me for confirmation. I do a quick sweep of the passing streets before I nod my consent. The door lets out a sound of protest and alarm as she gently pushes it open as if it it is trying to alert the Monitor to our presence.

Everything is dark inside accept for the glow of computer screens. The whitish light casts peculiar shadows across the floor, a strange shadow puppet show of irregular shapes and mysterious figures. A chair sits isolated in the middle of the room like someone pushed it backwards when they stood up. There is no Monitor in the room.

It's way too much to hope that they didn't assign a Monitor to this particular store, but I don't have anytime to waste. With a wave of my hand I indicate to Adrian to hide behind a bulky filing cabinet and I pull the lone chair to the wall of computers.

There isn't much I can do without my hacking equipment, but there is a good chance that whatever Monitor is supposed to be surveying these screens didn't log out before taking his break.

I wiggle the mouse and a little arrow icon moves on the screen as a video surveillance pops up. That stupid Monitor didn't log out. Monitors are arrogant and this isn't the first time they've practically let me into their systems. At top speed I set the cameras in the basement to loop and delete the brief second of footage Adrian and I were caught in. I'm in the process of searching through a long list of supplies when I hear a shout.

"Hey! What are you doing?" I whirl around to find a red faced Monitor screaming at me. His hand is reaching for something, either his gun or his tablet. Both are bad. I don't want to get shot and he can use the tablet to send an alert to other Monitors.

Something flickers in the corner of my vision. A flash if coal black hair comes into view and Adrian is on the man. Her arms wrap tightly around the Monitor's thick neck as he tries to throw her off. I know Adrian can handle him, so I turn back to the computer and quickly erase any signs that we were there. They'll know that we were here because of the Monitor, but they don't need to know why.

The man slumps to the ground, unconscious, and Adrian steps to the side, trying to catch her breath. I rip the paper thin tablet from his belt and grab Adrian by the arm.

"Let's get out of here," I say, pulling her out of the cameras line of sight.

"What about the supplies?" she asks, looking back into the dark room, the man laying over the disfigured shadow puppet show.

"We'll get them at Maura's, she has plenty to spare, and we have the tablet now. We have to hurry before they realize it's gone," I tell her as I slam the door behind us.

We break into a run. I clutch the tablet protectively to my chest, who knows what kind of vital information this could contain. This could change everything.

~~~~~~~~~~

What will they find on the tablet? 

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