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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27. Chapter 26

"I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes, so live not in your yesterdays, no just for tomorrow, but in the here and now. Keep moving and forget the post mortems; and remember, no one can get the jump on the future."

-Carl Sandburg

The cuffs bite deeply into my wrists, vicious animals eager to cause pain and draw blood like the Monitors. Red wraps around each wrist from the numerous times I've shifted my hands, trying to make the too tight metal bands ease up a bit. No matter how many times I turn my wrists or whether I move them left or right, up or down, there is no escaping them.

A group of at least ten Monitors surround me on all sides like vultures around a rotting corpse.

The buildings seem to rise up around me, growing ever taller. The old stone building climb towards the sky like a young child who believes that if they reach high enough, then they will be able to touch the stars. Of course, these stone walls are not as innocent as a child, they bare the scars of many horrors and tragedies, and they are my barricade. 

I imagine the structures sprouting up like trees, yearning for the sun. They quickly become too tall the climb, too tall to see the top. Their massive size, encasing me in dark shadows. 

The streets that could lead to safety seem to shrink and shrivel up until they are no more. Between the ever shrinking streets and endlessly tall edifices, I am trapped. Barricaded in a stone prison. A rotting corpse left to dissipate into nothing, while vicious vultures watch without batting an eye. Or perhaps I am only meant to be food for them. A rotting corpse to feed scavengers in a stone prison.

"What are looking at?" one of the Monitors shouts, a petite woman with a voice to deep for her size. She's the one I fought with Mallery the day before I first got arrested. I wonder if she remembers me. I'm sure she does and probably hates me too.

My gaze falls away from the rooftops, which are no longer reaching for the sky just like how the streets are no longer shrinking. They are just ordinary buildings and streets, not a prison, but I'll be going to a real prison soon and the Monitors are still vultures.

One of the Monitors grabs me by the back of my shirt, his strong grip pulling the fabric against my throat. A scratchy breath runs through my throat before he lets go and pushes me forward. I'm certain he wanted to see me fall, but I don't give him the satisfaction of getting the best of me. The rough stone of a wall digs into my palm as I use it to balance myself.

The Monitor snorts behind me and smirks at me like he just won some sort of bet between the other Monitors and him. Temptation clings to me. I want to beat that smirk off of his face. 

'Do it,' my mind tells me. My hands ball into fists as if acting on their own accord. The rash flickers to life, as ferocious and powerful as ever.

'Don't you dare,' I warn myself. 'It will make it worse. Do you want to wind up with every bone in your body broken?'

'Who cares? You're going to die anyways,' the feral part argues, it's lust for blood leeching into every vein, bone, and muscle in my body. It wants to take control and hurt them man in front of me. I can't say it wouldn't be just. It would be, the Monitor deserves it. He stares at me like he anticipated this, like he knew there was an animal in me fighting to get out. I'll prove him wrong.

"Want to do something about it?" he asks, smugly, the side of his mouth turning up in what he probably thinks is a clever grin, but his more of a cruel grimace. 

The fingers balled into fists go slack behind my back. The rash gives one last wail of need before I extinguish it for now. Without saying a word, I turn around and let the Monitors move into formation around me.

Silence is the best response sometimes. It's insulting without being aggravating. It says so many things without saying anything at all. It provides questions, but no answers. It basically says, "You're too stupid to talk to," without any evidence of your opinion. It always pisses people off, but doesn't give them reason to confront you. So, that's why I do. Stay silent.

Even when the Monitors climb down from the roof and scamper out of the alley, where I had expected them to be, I stay silent. Hide my emotions and put a clamp on my tongue. 

The Monitors that surround me like bodyguards; though, they are quite the opposite, press forward and I follow, trying to avoid another confrontation. The sneering glares and vicious looks have no effect on me. No emotion shows on my face. I am as blank a a white wall. 

The only reaction, if it can be called that, comes when I see a flash of white clothes and black hair ducking between the Monitors, trying to keep up. My shoulders tighten and a lump forms in my throat. That's it. I keep a passive face and keep walking.

They take an alternative route than what I had imagined. They don't lead me down winding, narrow streets away from the public eye. They take me right through Main Street. Right where every available eye can see.

It's obvious why they're doing this. It's a warning, telling people that they should tread carefully. Don't cross the Dynasty and you won't end up like this sap, on her way to the chopping block.

Numbers stare cautiously, unsure if they should watch, or turn a blind eye and pretend they saw nothing. I can see sympathy on their faces, they feel bad for me, but they're still happy they have time left. If only they knew that they're time will be up much sooner than they think. Six days to be exact.

Everything on Main Street is dingier today. The buildings, store fronts, road, and people are all coated in a thin layer of ash and soot. The Monitors normally shining black outfits, dull as they are peppered with the waste from the factories. If I take too deep of a breath I can feel the chalky substance dry out my esophagus. It's like the world is taunting me. I don't get rain to accompany my death. No, I get coated in ashes from the factories I used to work in.

A kid, no older than ten, watches the death parade from a side streets. Ash has dulled his blonde curls so that they seem stark gray, but they don't lessen the intensity of his eyes. The blue shines through the gray of the ash and locks onto me. His eyes follow me and I can't stop watching him. 

I doubt that he knows why I'm being arrested, but he knows my fate. And I know his. He has six days left to live and I probably have less than an hour. In six days he'll be dead and I'll be the decomposing corpse who failed to save him and everyone else.

My heart stops for a moment in my chest before picking up a frantic pace. I failed to do anything to save this poor kid. The only thing I managed to do is save Mallery and give information to Maura, who were certainly ratted out by Adrian along with anyone else who knows anything. 

There is no one left to save these people and here I am, walking silently to my death and not even putting up a fight. 

A speck of ash lands on my eyelashes, blurring my vision every time I blink. The subtle shades of decay mix with everything I'm seeing. It's not hard to imagine what the city will be like when the Dynasty is done with it through this lens. Everything chard and broken, reduced to ashes. 

Ashes are what is left when there is nothing left. They are all of the minerals remaining after carbon burns away. When life burns away and there is nothing left to burn. That's what this place will be soon. So destroyed that no more damage can be done. That's what the Numbers will be. Ashes.

And now, here I am, not lifting a finger. I'm looking at a child that will be dead soon and all I do is stare. I don't call out to him and tell him he should run, not that there is anywhere to run. The point is, I'm doing nothing. I have accomplished nothing.

I tried, I really did, to stop this war. I let Adrian talk me into things that were shady from the beginning. Saving Mallery, getting that tablet, working with Kern, all amounted to zero. If anything I made it worse. I led Adrian right to Mallery's front door.

The Axis Dynasty will get the war they wanted. They'll succeed in the genocide of the Numbers. It's not like there is anyone to stop them. All of the people who knew anything about the war, and wanted to stop it, are certainly gone. The Monitors probably arrested them after Adrian snitched on them. Maura, Mallery, and Kern are all in a cell by now, maybe even dead.

As these thoughts hang over me like a rain storm about to break and unleash a fury of lightening and icy rain, I catch one last glimpse of the little boy. I was almost out of sight of this kid I don't even know, a wall was about to block my view, but I see him for one more brief second. He still watches me, not in a judging way or even in a sympathetic way, but in a curios way like he wonders what I will do. 

A gear in my mind clicks into place and the machine that is a human brain, starts churning. It's not too late. Just maybe there is something I can do. Because it's not just about me anymore. It's about that kid, and the woman watching from the window, and the old man muttering to himself. It's about all of them. How can they even stand a chance if they don't even know there is a fight to win?

I stop abruptly on the road. The Monitor formation keeps moving, not realizing that their prisoner has stopped walking. Their bored expressions don't shift as they march the few paces it takes for the Monitor behind me to run into me. 

The slightly shorter woman looks disoriented as her nose smack into the back of my head. "Hey!" she shouts. "Get moving?"

I give her a look of mock confusion and shift in the handcuffs that keep my arms pinned behind my back as if I am a bird with clipped wings. I don't have one of my most necessary and basic tools, my hands.

"These cuffs are kind of tight," I say to her cluelessly, like I think she actually cares. Really I'm just keeping her occupied, while I work out a hasty plan.

The other Monitors look at us with a slightly annoyed expression written on each one of their faces and their hands on their weapons, prepared to shoot if anything were to happen. Or to shoot out of "necessity." I have to watch those trigger happy Monitors.

"Keep walking and maybe I'll let you live long enough to take them off!" she barks at me.

"But-" I start before she cuts me off.

"Move!" Her hands fly out to shove me forward, but I was expecting something like this from her. 

I dodge out of the way and let her weight send her toppling to the ground. A card on a lanyard around her neck comes out from beneath her jacket. I immediately recognize it. It's an access card. I'll need it to get out of these cuffs. 

Voting my hands as far I the side as I can mange without ripping one of my arms out of its socket, I wrap my fingers around the lanyard and rip it from her neck. Her outstretched hands save her from a painful face plant, but it doesn't matter. I have the card and I'm ready to move. 

The end of the confrontation only lasted about three seconds, not enough time for anyone to react. 

Confused by the sudden movement, the other Monitors don't have time to pull out their weapons before I duck behind a nearby wall. Now they'll have to chase me. They can't rely solely on their guns.

I move as fast I can, but it's not easy with my arms pinned behind my back. Running like this makes me feel like a chicken for some reason. My elbows bend to give the idea of little, stubby chicken wings and I'm even doing that weird head back and chest forward run that you see chickens do.

Shouts fill the street behind me and people fill the streets in front of me. "Run! Get out of here!" I yell at them, not wanting to them to get caught in the crossfire if the Monitors were decide to open fire. 

The people watch me for a moment, clearly not getting the message, before they part like the Red Sea when they see the onslaught of Monitors headed their way. The swarm of black clothed and armed police is enough to scare anyone, especially someone who knows how cruel they can be.

The street drains so quickly I barely have time to process it. There is a clear shot for the Monitors and a bullseye on the back of my head. They realize this too and almost all of them reach for their guns.

Without thinking about where I'm going, just trying to avoid getting shot and do point my best to stay ahead of the vicious pack, I turn a corner sharply. My shoulder collides with the corner, ripping the thin fabric of my shirt and grazing my shoulder, but that's not what I'm concerned about. I'm concerned about how much time that cost me. A mere millisecond could be the difference between living and dying.

The lanyard whips back and forth behind me, periodically slapping into my back. The next thing I really need to do is find a place where I can take these cuffs off using the card. As long as I'm wearing them and have the card, not only will I not be able to run, but they'll be able to track me. Both the card and the handcuffs have trackers inside them, I know from experience with access cards.

I turn as many corners as possible to try and loose the Monitors. On each street that I walk through, people move out of the way. It doesn't take long for me to feel like Moses.

I run through an alley behind the Ring, where a few fighters are relaxing on wooden boxes. They don't even try to move as I barrel my way down the street, still doing my chicken run. Stupid fighters think they're better than the rest of us.

One of the cocky fighters goes as far as to stick is foot out to trip me. I notice it just in time and hop over it. I don't look back as the Monitors stampede down the same narrow alley and shove the shocked fighters out of the way.

Whipping around the next corner, I pick up the pace. The distance between me and the Monitors is getting larger, not smaller like I need it to be. The only reason they haven't caught me yet is from years of stealing and running, as well as the Monitor's stiff uniforms.

Despite my break neck pace it becomes painfully clear that I'll never be able to get enough space between us in order to have time to take off the cuffs. I'll have to do something more dramatic. If they can't catch me soon they'll call in reinforcements and them I'll really have no chance.

Thinking of the riskiest thing I can do without running straight at them, I decide to circle backwards in an attempt to get behind them. The path will have to be long enough and random enough that they can't see the circular pattern until it's too late. But, if they catch on or the path goes for too long, capturing me will be easy. Running randomly through the city isn't working, so I have to do this.

With a burst of energy I take off around a corner and start the most jagged path I can take. Sharp corners, changing direction constantly, and most importantly, planning out the exact point where I will turn in a circle to get behind them.

It will need to be a place where I can go down a short street and turn the corner before they see me. There can't be any people around or it will give away which direction I went. They'll probably split up or call for reinforcement at that point, but it should be okay because they won't expect me to be right behind them.

The perfect double back point comes to mine. It's near the rim of the city on the side that faces New York. They don't put factories on that coast of the island because it would ruin the view for people in the free world. There are a few apartment buildings and a warehouse or two, but no one should be in those streets this time of day. Everyone is at work or using their free time to run errands.

The particular streets I'm thinking of are short and narrow. It's a small intersection between three extremely close apartment buildings and a warehouse. The street is barely wide enough for one person to fit through, so that should make the Monitors funnel out, and the street it intersect goes along for over two blocks without a turn due to the extensively long apartment building and warehouse on each side of it, that way they can't try and block me off on the other side.

I'll be able to turn the corner before they see me and go down the street opposite to the long one. It won't give me much time, but it's better than nothing, I'll have to make it work.

In the most sporadic route I can take, I sprint through the streets in the direction of the streets. When I get closer I'll have to take a more direct route so I don't miss the street, which means I have to through them off as much as possible now.

The street comes up faster than I thought it would and I barely catch the turn in time. Going faster than I've ever gone before, despite my fatigue, I sprint down the street with long strides. The narrow, five foot long street quickly turns into another intersection. 

I move into the shorter of the two streets on the left so that I can turn around sooner and end up behind the Monitors. My muscles burn painfully, but I don't let it slow me down. Instead I let it push me. It reminds me that I'm not dead yet. The ache tells me that stopping will be the end.

I can hear the Monitors thumping down the short, narrow street. They're going one by one because there isn't enough space for all of them in the street. It will prevent them from coming up on me all at once, but if even one of them sees me then the plan is ruined.

I take the next corner before my time runs out. This one is the same length as the one on the opposite side of the building, but wider. I keep going straight even after the alley ends and dart into the next alley before I turn one more corner and duck behind a dumpster. I don't have much time. I've lost them for now, but it would take long for them to get a ping off of either the handcuffs or the card.

Using my fingertips, I feel for where the card slide is on the hand cuffs and do the best to get the card in the slot. It takes a few tries because I can't see what I'm doing and am relying solely on touch, but eventually I manage to slide the card and hear a click. The cuffs fall off my wrists and clatter to the ground.

My wrists around and chaffed, but I don't stop to rub them, there is no time. The card and handcuffs ring off of the bottom of the metal dumpster when I toss them in there. That should throw them off. 

I take off towards the other side of the island. Adrian knows all of my hiding places in the city. I need to hide in one of the sheds by the ocean.

'Almost there. You're going to make it. Just keep going strong and keep quiet,' I tell myself with a smile of relief. I haven't failed just yet. I can still fix this.

Home free. That's what keep running through my mind. I'll save Simoran and Grey, Mallery and Kern, and even Maura. I can do it. The Monitors can't keep me pinned.

A flash of black pops up in front of me, blocking the intersection. No, not just one flash of black. Many of them. In front of me. Behind me. Everywhere.

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