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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26. Chapter 25

"If it were not for hopes, the heart would break."

-Thomas Fuller

Leaving Maura was harder than I thought it would be. I didn't think I could be forgiven, but she forgive. I didn't think I could forgive, but, none the less, I did. It was one of those bittersweet things in life where you're glad it happened, but almost wish it didn't because of how hard it is to let go.

Adrian walks in front of me, the box of food held tightly in her arms and her head hung low, looking like any other oppressed Number we pass on the street. 

We're taking a rather round about route to the abandoned building where Kern and Mallery are staying, just in case a Monitor recognizes us in the crowd and decides to follow us. That way we'll be caught long before we reach our two friends.

"Maura was acting kind of strange right before we left," Adrian comments off-handedly, like she's just making casual conversation, not looking for answers.

I shrug my shoulders as much as I can while carrying a heavy box of water before realizing she can't see me. "I guess so. She was probably just distraught from hearing about what happened to Casprie and Ross, especially Casprie."

"Is there something you aren't telling me?" she demands. The blue of her eyes is deeper than the water off the shore, completely filled to the brim with worry. It almost seems to spill over the edge, a bucket after a rainstorm. I almost want to tell her about Maura's strange request, but the last thing she needs is something new to worry about.

"No, there's nothing I wouldn't tell you," I tell her, shaking my head slightly for emphasis. The wind catches the long, dirty strands of my hair and they float there for a brief moment like dark silk ribbons.

"So, there's nothing you wouldn't tell me? You'll tell me anything? Absolutely anything?" she asks and I can't tell if she's being suspicious or mischievous.

I scratch the back of my head, not liking the way she phrased the question. "Umm, I guess not. What do you want to know?" I bite my lip. Maybe I shouldn't be encouraging her to ask me anything. What if she asks something I don't know the answer to? 

She taps her finger curiously against her chin, deep on thought. Then, a broad smile crosses her face, an idea popping into her head. Yep, definitely mischievous. "Tell me what you think about Grey?"

I'm taken aback. I had been expecting something.... I don't know, more serious. Those are the kind of questions she usually acts. What's your opinion on the Dynasty? To which I always simply say that I hate it, no need to go to deep into that when there are so many things to hate. Who do you think is a more fit leader, Avalis or Remus? They're both sadistic people, who can burn in hell for all I care, that sums up what I usually tell her. 

"He's nice enough," I tell her plainly with a casual shrug.

"Wow." She snorts out a laugh, her shoulders shaking despite the weight of the box. "What a detailed answer. You're so specific."

I glare at her with false menace. "I just told you what I think."

She gives me a lopsided grin, the left side of her mouth rising higher than the right. "What else do you think?"

"He's a jerk sometimes," I tell her honestly because he kind of is.

Her devilish grin stays firmly planted. "True, but he's also attractive."

I can't help but laugh out loud, causing a few Numbers milling around to stare at us. It's just that boys are something Adrian and I never talked about. I though it was stupid, family comes first in Manhattan and having a boyfriend would just be a waste of my time, and Adrian never really cared. 

Casprie would occasionally talk about this cute guy she saw at the factory or the hot one who helped her up when she tripped, but I never really listened, I just let her go on and on. 

She's dead now, so it doesn't really matter anymore. She never got to have a special someone or go on a date, and now she never will. There will never be another attractive guy for her to talk my ear off about. 

I used to think that she and Ross would somehow end up together despite their close and rather childish friendship. Of course, that will never happen now.

My laughter quickly dissipates like steam burning up in the midday sun. There's nothing to laugh about now. An icy grip wraps around my heart slowly suffocating it. The ice feels like it's crystallizing, preventing my heart from beating properly and cutting of the blood to the rest of my body.

Grief is funny like that, and by funny I mean cruel. It hits you with its cold callousness at the strangest moments. Moments you should be happy during, like having a laugh with your sister.

Not a single tear dares to crawl out of my tear ducts. I'm too numb, too cold to even want to cry, much less work up the energy to do so.

There has been so little time to grieve not just Casprie, but everything that has simply vanished. No time to mourn what we've already lost, much less time to mourn what still hangs in the balance. It feels like I should be grieving for those who haven't died yet or the city that still stands. 

If I don't stop wasting time, then they'll all be like Casprie: cold, still, and silent. I shake my head at the creepily dark route my thoughts have taken. How did I get to such a dark place so quickly?

"Hello, anybody home?" Adrian says and mimes knocking on my head. Swatting her hand away, I finally work up enough energy to move again and shift the box in my arms to get a better grip on it.

My pace is twice as fast as before, my body trying to escape the dark thoughts of my mind, but it can't. They are unavoidably and painfully connected, body and mind. One and the same.

"Who put a stick up your butt and would you like me to pull it out?" Adrian asks, addressing my grim manner. 

Normally I'd take the time to enjoy her numerous mood and go along with her lame jokes, but right now they are only adding to my dark and heavy mood. I continue to ignore as I race against my mind. It's a race that will always end in a tie.

"I just asked you what you think about Grey and all of a sudden you're all pissy. You like him, don't you?"

I stop suddenly in my race, annoyed that he would just jump o that conclusion. "No! That's not what this is about."

I take up a furious pace, more determined to out run myself, than I am to avoid Adrian's ridiculous questions and jokes. Adrian calls after me, but I keep running and soon I can make out the thump of her footsteps behind me.

The box of water is pressed painfully into my stomach, it's hard, cardboard edges biting at my skin. Ignoring it is easy; though, when something much scarier is nipping at the back of my head.

By the time I skid to a stop in front of the corpse of a building, where I hope to find Mallery and Kern, the sides of the box are caving in from my grip. It looks like the building in front of me now; deteriorated, rough edges, and its sides bowed in and crooked.

Adrian stops next to me, out of breath, as she takes deep breaths to fill her lungs. She looks up at the building with her hand above her eyes to block the noon sun. "Seriously, who put a stick up your butt?"

Easily ignoring her comment, I move into the unsound structure. It's just as dead inside as it was less than two days ago, when we first separated from Mallery and Kern. Adrian stands next to me, her face still a little red from are sprint.

The sudden and subtle clicking sound of a bullet sliding into the chamber causes a ripple of tension throughout my body. I have a feeling someone is pointing a gun at the back of my head.

"Turn around." The voice belongs to someone young and I can feel myself relax a bit. I'm pretty sure the person with the hub sit going to blow my head off. Even so, Adrian and I both place are boxes on the ground and turn around slowly with are hands in front of us.

I expected it, but I'm still pleasantly surprised. On the trigger end of the pistol unfortunately pointed at my head is Kern. His dirty, golden hair hangs in his face, partially covering his coffee brown eyes. As soon as we make eye contact he lowers the gun and offers us a grim smile.

"It's just you guys," he says, his voice filled with relief.

"Yeah, just us," Adrian mutters. "But, thanks for pointing a gun at our heads anyways."

"I wanted to make sure you weren't Monitors in disguise or something," he replies, having heard Adrian's snide comment.

"Whatever," she mutters under her breath, not understanding the importance of Kern's actions. I understand though. There is no such thing as being too sure.

"Where's Mallery?" I ask, looking around for our blonde haired friend.

Something shifts to our left and Mallery emerges from behind one of the few remaining pillars with a rusted knife in her hand. "I'm right here."

She gets to her feet and attempts to brush off some of the ash on her pants. It doesn't come off, it's permanently stoned there. After a moment she too realizes this and gives up. With an exasperated sigh she walks over to join us.

"I thought you guys were going to stay low for awhile," Mallery coments, looking at the crumpled boxes.

"We are," I say, knowing fully well that I intend to keep the promise I made to Maura.

Kern follows Mallery's gaze to the boxes. "Then what's with the boxes?"

"They're supplies," I tell them and bend down to open one of the now flimsy tops. The water jugs inside are no longer in the orderly fashion they were when we left, one of them lays on its side and the others are in a poor excuse for a line, it thankfully none of them burst open.

I pull out four of the twelve gallons of water along with two boxes of crackers and a bag of rice. It's not much, but it should last them six days. That's if they're still alive in six days.

"Did you steal these?" Mallery asks, her voice laced with a surprising amount of concern.

"No, I got them from Maura." I decide not to include the part about stealing the tablet, but add, "Do you doubt my stealing abilities?"

She completely ignores my question being typical cranky Mallery and instead says, "Where has Maura been?"

"Same place as usual." I pass some of the supplies to Kern and Adrian, then force more into Mallery's hands. With the remaining supplies, I follow Kern to the far side of the room where they keep their minimal belongings.

Mallery snorts next to me like she finds that ironic. "And she hasn't come to help us." It's not a question, but an accusation.

I grip the bag of rice in my hand before loosening my grip, afraid that it might tear. "Yeah, it's not like she gave us food and water." Everyone is just trying to piss me off today.

"She wasn't there when the Monitors were trying to kill me," she says bitterly. Why can't she be normal Mallery? I like that Mallery better, she's sullen, but at least she doesn't talk so much.

The amusing thought of throwing the bag of rice at her face enters my mind. It would be funny to see the plastic burst against her face, knocking her backwards. But, we can't waste the food.

"Maura didn't even know you were in trouble. How would she?" I demand. Adrian and Kern stand to the side. They shift their feet and give us concerned glances.

"Then, how did you?"

I glance at Adrian and bite my lip. I'd hate to throw her under the bus, but then again, I'm also getting tired of being run over. "Adrian can explain that better than I can."

Mallery crosses her arms over her chest and looks at Adrian expectantly. Adrian just gawks at me, not at all happy to be the new recipient of Mallery's "hospitality." Mallery can be a nice person when she wants to be, but most of the time she's bitter and sulky. It's not usually fun to deal with her bitter side.

"Well," Adrian says and wraps her hands around the back of her head. You know about our arrest and everything, right?"

Mallery nods her head and Adrian continues. "Indie managed to escape on the first day of our arrest, but I couldn't." My stomach still churns when she says that. "I stayed at the Court house for a few days, "helping" them prepare for the war. During that time I caught a glance of a list of Numbers. It was a list of Numbers they wanted the help of and you were on it."

We already explained most of this to her, but she didn't know that Adrian worked at the Court House before and I'm not certain she knows Kern did too. Mallery looks shocked for a brief second before quickly masking it.

"You worked at the Court House?"

Adrian shrinks back a little at the question. "Yes, I had to. I'd rather not be tossed in the furnace."

"But, you helped those roaches," Mallery accuses, her eyes seething and blonde strands of hair sticking to her face from the lack of a proper shower.

Adrian's fists curl around the edges of her dirt and blood stained white shirt. The shirt is too short as it has been for months and the sleeves rise above her wrists under the tension of her arms. Her lovely features crinkle in anger, the left side of her lip pulling up into a snarl. "I saved your freaking life, try to be grateful. I could have died in that forsaken place, but I took that opportunity to... to make a difference and save our kind. And you're accusing me of helping them!"

Mallery scoffs at Adrian's animosity. She looks at Kern and me before turning back to my little sister, a sour look on her face. "I'd rather die than even pretend to help them. Being in their graces is no better than being loved by Hitler. They are monsters and there is nothing in this world that would make me want to help them." I'm not sure who Hitler is, but they must be pretty bad if Mallery is comparing them to the Dynasty. 

Adrian looks unrestrained like she might bash our bitter friend's face in of she isn't careful. Watching two people you care about spit venom at each other is painful, but if there is one thing I have learned about anger it's this; if you shut it down and try to contain it, it will only build up like steam in a kettle until there is nothing you can do to contain. Anger can either be released slowly and safely before the build up, or it will blow up in your face and the damage will be catastrophic.

"I'd watch what you say to me. I'm capable of more than you think," Adrian spits, her exasperation reaching its peak.

Mallery opens her mouth to say something else, but she suddenly seems drained. She has released all of her resentment, none of which was ever really directed at Adrian or Maura. It was all for the Dynasty and she simply directed that a Maura and Adrian. 

Adrian still stands there, fuming. Her teeth gritted like she's imagining biting someone's head off. Her muscles strain under her shirt sleeves, prepared to fight a battle she doesn't need to fight. 

I touch her arm gently and she tenses even more under my touch, her shoulders pulling back and her knees locking, before she releases all that pressure at once and sits on the ground. Her palm cradles her head and she watches the ground with a distressed expression. There is no way a pointless argument with Mallery did this to her. Something else is bugging her, something I can't see.

"Thanks for the supplies," Kern says, trying to change the subject.

I move my hand away from my sister, trying to process what Kern says. All of my own anger and cranky behavior was depleted when Mallery and Adrian started fighting; now I'm strangely calm. "Of course. I wasn't going to let you starve since I put in all that work to save your butts," I say, registering the shift in conversation.

Kern lets out a snort of laughter. "Right, you're the one who saved my butt, not the other way around."

I punch him lightly in his arm, faking annoyance at his sarcastic comment. "Hey! I nearly got strangled and took a bullet for you jerks."

Kern touches his heart in mock sympathy, while Mallery stands with her arms crossed, back to her usual quiet self. "And we thank you for being a human punching bag."

Mallery and Adrian, surprisingly, laugh at his comment and I can feel a scowl crossing my features. "I am not a human punching bag! You're the one who nearly got me killed."

Kern continues to smile despite my glare. "Alright, you're right. You're not a human punching bag."

"Thank you," I say, my scowl slipping away.

"But, you do make an excellent target." That comment earns him a harder punch to the arm; though, he, along with Adrian and Mallery, can't stop laughing.

"You guys are horrible," I say, glaring at the three of them. It's weird to think to of them were ready to rip each other's throats out a moment ago. Kern isn't just intelligent, he's also very good at bringing people together. We could really use that right now.

"Aren't we?" Mallery laughs.

"Yes, you are."

Adrian clambers to her, apparently over her pissy mood. "I hate to break up the party, but Indie and I have to get out of here before it gets too late."

One glance outside confirms that we have been here too long. Staying could mean getting caught. It's better that we separate."Yeah, you're right. Time to go."

"Well, stay safe," Mallery says with a hint of smile.

"You too. We'll see you soon," I promise her before I give a small wave to Kern and Adrian and I leave the hollow building behind.

***

"Do you think Grey and Simoran are back yet?" Adrian asks on the way back to the apartment.

I look up at the sun since I don't have a watch to tell the time. "The morning shift should be have be over by now. I bet there at the apartment."

Adrian nods her head, but doesn't say anything else. We continue to walk down the well worn concrete streets until we reach the correct apartment building, which looks exactly the same as all of the ones around it. 

The stairs give the usual groans of protest as our tired trudge up the to the right floor of the building. I raise my fist to knock lightly because I don't have a key and Grey generally locks the door when he gets back from work. 

The subtle bang I was expecting my fist to make on the semi-solid wood doesn't come. My fist cracks against the door, but instead of staying put, the door swings open. Its hinges squeal and the door hits to wall behind it with a quiet echo.

A strange feeling fills my chest and every muscle tenses as my heart skips a beat. One look at Adrian says that she feels it too. Sweat builds up in my palms and I try to wipe it off on my pants, hoping that I'm just being paranoid.

'There is nothing wrong. There is nothing wrong,' I tell myself over and over again, but it doesn't loosen the fear building up inside of me.

"There is nothing wrong," I say out loud this time, hoping it will make it seem more real.

"Nothing wrong," Adrian repeats. She was trying to make me feel better, but it came out too shaky. It sounded like she was lying to herself, just like I'm lying to myself.

I take a shaky step inside and I begin to relax. Everything inside looks normal. We probably just forgot to shut the door all the way when we left. Grey and Simoran are on there way back from work right now.

Adrian steps into the door behind me, forcing me to move forward. Simoran and Grey's bedroom door is open and I peak inside to make sure everything is fine in there too. One look hits me like a tsunami. All of the relief I felt for just a brief moment is gone and so is the fear. Instead anger washes over me, filling me from head to toe.

I sprint into the kitchen and living room area to see if they destroyed that too. Adrian looks into the bedroom to see what I saw and jumps back at the total destruction they left in there. The window was smashed and one of the beds flipped on its side, while a huge crack ran up the door.

The living room is intact like I saw from the doorway, but the kitchen is in disarray. The little silver ware they had lays scattered on the floor and one of the cabinets hangs off its hinges. 

"Adrian, what happened?" I ask as if she would know.

"I don't know, Indie. But, I think you need to turn around," she says calmly. I'm glad she's containing her emotions, but it does little to soothe mine.

"What?" I ask, still staring at the scattered forks, knifes, and spoons.

"Just turn around." That's when I hear the unmistakable sound of a bullet sliding into a barrel.

My mind races, trying desperately to come up with a logical explanation as to why someone has a gun behind me. I temporarily force down my emotions and think. My whole body is stiff and I'm too afraid to turn around. Not because I'm afraid to get shot, but I'm afraid of what it will reveal. I'm afraid of what could be the truth. I can think of no logical explanation, so I turn around.

Adrian stands in the tiny hallway, looking like a ghost. Her skin is drained of color and she looks like she wants to disappear. But, that's not the shocking part. The shocking part had to do with a man in black with a gun aimed at my head. A Monitor.

"Adrian, what's this about?" I asks, trying to keep my cool and hide my new found fear of the man with the gun.

She can't even look at me when she says it. She just stares out the window because she is too terrified to face me. "I'm so sorry, Indie."

"What did you do?" I ask, my heart beating rapidly in my chest. Adrian won't look away from the window and won't look at me. The Monitor smirks like he finds the whole ordeal funny.

"What did you do?" I'm screaming now. I need to know what the hell my sister got us into, that need is only met with the butt of the gun against the side if my face.

I list sideways and a trickle of blood begins to flow in my mouth, but I refuse to let the pain show in my face. 

"Don't hurt her," Adrian cries out, finally looking away from the window.

A small chuckle leaves my lips long with some of the blood building in my mouth. "Don't hurt me? Adrian, you turned me into the Monitors. They're going to do more than hurt me. They're going to kill me."

She looks from the Monitor to me. "I made a deal with them. I help them and we both get to live. I won't let them touch you."

The irony of the situation makes me laugh again. Laughing is better than crying. "Oh, so you made a deal with them. Did you ever think, just maybe, they'd go back on that deal? That's they'll kill both of us when they don't need us anymore?"

"They won't," she says confidently, but her face is even paler than before.

"They will," I say with venom. "You traded my life, your life, Simoran's life, and Grey's life in for a false promise. Because you turned them in too, didn't you?"

"I-" she starts, but I cut her off.

"Who else did you turn in? Casprie? Ross? Kern and Mallery? Did you call your dirt bag friends in to arrest them the moment we left or are they on their way now? We're all going to die because of you." I don't think I've ever felt so broken and betrayed in my life.

The Monitor inches closer to me and then pins my arms behind my back, hand cuffing me, while still keeping that gun pointed at my head. "I think that's enough from you," he says as he drags me towards the door.

I don't fight him, fighting will only make things worse. I let him drag me towards the door where a half a dozen more Monitors wait and I'm sure there are even more in the alley behind the apartment and on the roof. They really don't want me to get away.

Everything I've been through, everyone who's been hurt, and and everything I've done to try and stop the war were for nothing. Adrian faked it all along to help set everything in motion. She used me to find Mallery and Maura. It was all an act.

It'a like I'm a pain of glass and she took a hammer to me. Thousands of pieces scattered every where. To broken and small to put back together. She broke me and I can't be repaired. What ever bond we had, what ever trust we had, is shattered and irreplaceable. She was planning to break me all along. And she did.

She did break me.

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