Chemical Numbers

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  • Published: 29 Oct 2013
  • Updated: 29 Sep 2014
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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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28. Chapter 27

"Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on."

-Henry Rollins

How can this be happening? I just got out of those cuffs. I left them and the card in the dumpster. How could they have tracked me so quickly? I never even had a chance. It was an illusion. A clever one that I tricked myself into.

How easy it is to fool yourself. Easier than someone else fooling you. People expect others to trick them and they know that they will be deceived from time to time, but never by themselves. We often trust ourselves more than we trust anyone else. So, who better to trick than yourself. We often fall victim to our own traps so often it's rather ridiculous.

If you can't trust your own mind, thoughts, and feelings, than what is there to trust? Not others. We are human. It's in our nature to suspect others. To profile them and make judgements about them before we even know them. But, we believe we can trust ourselves because we know ourselves. 

There is no profiling or snap judgements when it comes to yourself because you know of every deep, dark crevice in your mind. Every wicked thought and happy memory is all yours to know. So, how can you not trust yourself when you know so much about yourself? I guess you should be able to, but the only problem is that you use your own desperations and dreams to fool yourself. You talk yourself into things that you know aren't true and that you would never believe coming from a stranger.

That's what I did. I tricked myself into doing something that I knew would never work. I made a fool out of myself, I didn't need anyone else to do it for me.

"You pathetic little rat," the woman I attacked earlier spits. "Did you think it would be so simple? Did you really think you were smarter than us? Of course you did. You filthy Numbers think you are better than the rest of us, you don't realize that you are the weak link of society." She pulls out a gun suddenly and presses the cold barrel against my temple. I don't dare move or say a word. I'm surrounded on all sides. "Maybe I should jus blow your primitive brains out right now and when you come back I'll just do it again. Again and again until you become the animal you truly are."

She's pretty intimidating for such a small woman. I think her voice must have something to do with it. Or maybe it's the cold gun pressed against my head to match her cold heart. Either way I'd rather die than lose more of my humanity.

"Captain Craggier, that's enough," someone says from behind the circle if Monitors. The man steps forward out of the daunting shadows dressed in black. They scurry out of his way like a dog would for its master. I recognize him too. He's the Monitor who offered me my life if I helped commit genocide against my own people. I still don't regret saying no, I wonder if Adrian regrets saying yes.

The woman growls angrily, but pulls the gun away from my head. I feel no relief though. If he hadn't wanted her to shoot me, then he must have something much worse planned.

"Miss Caserento," he addresses me with mock formality, further rubbing in the tragic circumstances. His hair is still slicked back accept for one strand that falls across his forehead, ruining his perfect image. "I think it's time you come with us willingly, don't you think so?"

I look at the other Monitors, thinking, calculating, screaming internally. "I don't think I have much of a choice," I finally say, drawing out my words.

He gives me a bright grin like I said something he found charming. "No, you don't. I was only trying to be polite."

A Monitor steps forward from the swarm with a new pair of handcuffs in her hands. My body goes rigid. Escape is impossible, it always was, but now I feel the need to stall my fate and preserve my life for a little longer. "How did you find me so quickly?" My eyes flicker back to the man for a brief moment before returning warily to the handcuffs.

His expression screams, 'I know something you don't know.' He turns ever so slightly to one of the streets. My eyes follow him and standing in the alley is Adrian. "It appears someone was following you more carefully than you thought."

Adrian won't even look at me as I wait for a reaction. I half expect her to get down on her knees and beg for forgiveness based on the guilty expression on her face. It looks like she could drown in her own guilt. I almost hope she does. Almost.

She never looks at me, never even moves.

If I could feel any more betrayed than I already did, I do now. She couldn't even give me a chance. She made sure I had no possibility of escape. It was her that sealed my fate, not once, but twice.

"It appears so," I agree, my voice echoing off the nearby walls like broken glass on a stone floor.

Before I can stall any further, the Monitor clamps the metal cuffs on my wrists even tighter than before. The man looks at me with his rat face, his thin eyes filled with glee, and brushes the greasy strand out of his face.

We march towards the Court House, the number of Monitors has doubled, so we fill the streets from one end to the other. All of the Numbers skitter out of the way when they see the platoon coming towards them. This is one swarm you really don't want to get caught in.

A strand of my hair falls in front of my eyes. I can't move it out of the way with my hands pinioned behind my back, so I'm forced to stare cross-eyed at the black strand. It's still covered in ash from earlier. I can just see the blonde boy staring at me through the falling ash. I wish I could apologize to him. I know it's not really my fault, there was never anything I could do, any hopes of saving anyone was a mere illusion, but I still wish I could have at least warned him and everyone else.

The Monitors give me a few distasteful glances as we walk, but besides that they stare forward with grim intent. 

The Court House in all of its well polished marble glory, comes up faster than I would like. This will probably the last time I will see the outside. Everything is stark and depressing. The buildings seem to sag more than usual and the ocean appears to be acidic. Soot gray clouds blot out the sun as if mirroring my own gloom. I'll never see sun light again. This is the last thing I'll probably see: weak strands of sunlight forcing their way through the atmosphere, a polluted ocean, collapsing buildings, and poverty, not exactly the ideal image to take to my death bed.

With out a chance to say goodbye to my crappy city, I'm forced inside the building.

The white gleam of the tiles is almost blinding. It's too clean for a place so tainted with violence and injustice.
The floor is practically reflective. I can make out a smudged and blurry version of myself, it contains my black hair and tan skin, but lacks all definite shape. The shapes of the Monitors are just as blurry, yet it's easy to tell exactly who they are in their reflections. Their stiff coats and holstered weapons give them away, while I just look like a faceless being.

The only things marring the pristine halls are a series of would look like burn marks and puncture wounds if they were on the skin of a person. The bullet holes from when I escaped. At least that's what I think they are. Who knows what else goes on in here. 

The dark streaks and holes that let you see the dry wall beneath the glowing white paint seem almost mockery. Not to me, but to the Monitors and maybe even the Dynasty itself. They are the remnants of a small defeat. Burns and wounds that last long after the battle. They are scar tissue, something that signifies that the Dynasty can be hurt.

I can just imagine scorch marks and bullet holes across the entire country. Would the people in the free world be so unwilling to give us our freedom that they would go to war over it? The price of such a war would be astronomically high, especially for the Numbers. We would have no one to back us. It would be us against the most powerful country in the war. 

Would it be better for us, the Numbers, to just let the Dynasty wipe us out? There would be a much smaller amount of lost civilian life. And I mostly hate the people in the free world, but I'm not so dense that I think everyone in the free world is a criminal. There are innocent people out there. Is our freedom worth their lives? Could it be a good thing that I'm here and about to die? 

I stumble over my own feet, forcing me out of my unrealistic train of thought. A war like that was a stupid thing to think about. It will never happen. Even if the Numbers somehow managed to avoid the genocide and get off the island, we wouldn't last five minutes against the government's malicious weapons. 

They have those Agent-10 gas bombs and a giant stockpile of all sorts of weapons, and that's just in Manhattan. Who knows what kind of lethal arms they have in the free world.

As we make our way further into Court House the Monitors surrounding me begin to peel away like the skin of some sort of black and rotten fruit. They go into various unmarked rooms, some which I get a small peek inside. Nothing that I didn't expect. There are tons of expensive and high tech looking computer systems and even what looked like a hospital or maybe a laboratory. It doesn't take too long for most if them to disappear, leaving me with just two Monitors, the petite, deep voiced woman, Caprtain Craggier I believe, and a middle aged man with a head full of shaggy, gray curls.

The man waves to a three Monitors ahead of us and Captain Craggier gives what I can only describe as a friendly grunt. I think I know what she reminds me of. A pig. Take her deep voice that doesn't match her size and then add her grunt, the squeal she made when I attacked her, and her over aggressiveness, and you get a pig. She even has a rosy tint to her skin and messy, dry blonde hair that reminds me of mud and straw.

As they walk towards us it dawns on me that there aren't three Monitors at all. There are only two Monitors, the person is another Number. A man probably in his thirties with shredded white clothing. He looks at me with a bitter smile. I give a small nod, telling him that I understand what he's going through. 

The Monitors form an unintentional wall between us like they are afraid we might conspire. There isn't anything we could do even if we could talk. The Monitors talk and laugh for a while, their eyes flicking to us, their captives. I don't really listen to what they talk about, possibly something the coffee in the break room. I watch the other Number and think about how he's going to die and how I'm going to die and how eventually all of us will die. 

We all die. It's inevitable. But, I don't think dying is the tragic part. It's how we die and what we die for. The saddest deaths are those with out a cause. People who die before they ever get to dedicate their life to something: friends, family, a job, anything really. It's strange, but I have to feel that I'm lucky that I'm going to die for something. I went down with a fight and in my brief life I did have something o dedicate myself to, multiple things really. I had my sister, even if she betrayed me, my job, and now for all of the Numbers. I'll die knowing I tried to save them. That's all I can hold onto from now on. Don't die in vain. Die with a cause. Die for a cause.

Even with this thought I still feel the fear of death hanging over me like a storm cloud, prepared to burst at any moment. I'd rather not die at all, but I'm not exactly being given that choice. I can see the same fear clouding over the man's eyes. He also knows he will die. Hopefully he has a cause too.

'Don't die in vain. Die with a cause. Die for a cause,' I tell myself for strength.

Captain Craigger gives one more snort of laughter before she grabs me by the elbow and the gray haired man gives me a light shove on the back, motioning for me to get moving. The other pair of Monitors grab their captive and begin pushing him down a hall. I expect that my Monitors will take me and that direction as well, both of us are going to be executed after all, but they drag me down the opposite hallway.

I get a sick feeling in my stomach. They're not taking us in the same direction, which could only mean one thing: we have different fates. One of us will live and the other one will die. 

The man must realize this too because he looks up at me with alarm. I can't tell what he's feeling, but I'm sure it's similar to what I'm feeling: fear, uncertainty, pity for the other if they are going to die and more than anything hope. He probably hopes that I die and be lives, but I don't know what I hope for. 

With my luck I'll probably be the one and be tortured for information about other Numbers. If that's the case I'd rather die. But, at the same time, I yearn for life and weep internally at the idea of dying again. I can't go through the nothingness again. I don't want to be swallowed while by the darkness and fall into an oblivion.

The man is too far for me to make out his facial expression. He is probably wondering what will happen to him if he lives. Does he hope he is the one to die? Or does he want to live no matter the consequences?

The man is yanked around a corner with a cry of fear and desperation. He thinks he's going to die. No one cries out like that if they think they'll live. If he does die, I hope it's quick, and if he lives, I hope that it's not for the worst. 

They push me around the corner, but I don't cry out like the man, I can't possibly get a scream around the giant lump in my throat.

In the hall they pushed me into there is a line of cells. Cold metal doors, dirty concrete floors, small windows, and a possessive red glow from the lock pads. That's when I hear a faint popping sound. It's so quiet I'm not even sure I even heard it at all. Though, even if it wasn't real, it's pretty obvious who met what fate. The man's dead and I'm alive. For better or worse.

The lock pad makes a series of beeping noises and for a brief moment it flashes brightly green before decaying to the morbid red color. The door clicks, releasing the locks that keep it closed. 

With a huff of effort the man hauls the dense door open. Captain Craggier holds me in place until the door is completely open, revealing a small, black pit.

I can't make myself move. I hadn't planned for this. No part of me was prepared for isolation. 

The little cell looks so dark, so cold, and so lonely. Who knows how long I'll be in there. Days, maybe weeks of isolation. I look at Captain Craggier, her pink cheeks are crinkled in a cruel grin and her straw like hair sticks to the side of her face. No sympathy even so much as slips on her face. She doesn't care what happens to me, she may even want me to suffer.

I feel a pat on my back, suggesting this is the end. The man looks at me with thin lips. It's impossible to tell if he feels guilty, but her certainly isn't enjoying this the way Captain Craggier most likely is.

"What are you waiting for, rat? An invitation?" Craggier spits nastily. 

The man looks at her in disinterest, not finding her cruelty amusing, but doing nothing to stop it. One glance into the cell curdles my stomach. I would rather stay out hear with Craggier.

"I don't think I would accept any invitation from you," I say, studying the cell as if it were infinitely more interesting than her. 

She bristles at my bland reply. Her mouth flails opened and closed giving her the appearance of a stupefied fish. "Good, because I'm not giving you one," she growls, her baritone voice trembling and her pinkish face turning red.

She moves to shove me, but her much taller companion grabs the small woman by her shoulder and holds her back. He doesn't say anything, but gives her a look that says, 'Watch yourself for both of our sakes.' 

"Cartwright, stop giving me that look," she snaps at the other Monitor, yet she still relents to him, seeming to know that he is right about something I am oblivious to.

Cartwright, as she called him, doesn't say anything. I get the feeling that if he did it would be out of tank. She is clearly of a higher rank and who knows what kind of punishments the Dynasty has for people who speak out of turn.

Craggier's tongue darts out of her mouth and she licks her lips slowly as if she cam taste her "superiority" over this man who puts up with her. Not that I feel bad for him, he's still a Monitor and he deserves to put up with someone like Craggier.

Her lips look chapped and cracked as she rubs the edge of her black jacket sleeve over it to wipe away her saliva. As soon as she does this her tongue peaks out of her mouth and she licks her lips again. It's a habit, a disgusting one. Every time she licks her lips they get dryer and then she licks them again to keep them moist. It's a endless cycle.

Cartwright watches the nasty habit with a crinkled nose. The more time I spend with these two, the more I can tell they dislike each other. Craggier gets impatient with Cartwright and Cartwright is disgusted by Craggier. I wonder who he thinks is more disgusting, her or me.

Cartwright turns away from Craggier and looks at me with sunken eyes the color of concrete through a veil of curly hair. "It's time for you to go into your cell. We can't wait any longer." His voice sounds like a hushed whisper; though, I can hear him perfectly fine. 

I stiffen at the word "your." I'm not going into just any cell. I'm going into my cell. It just adds to the hopelessness of the situation. The very fact that this cell was deemed mine suggests that I'm going to be here for a while and that I will be the sole occupant of it. The loneliness trickles in despite the unfortunate present company.

Without any force or haste I step into the cell. Caution overtakes me as I peer around the corner of the door like someone will jump out and yell surprise. I wish, at least I wouldn't be alone.

I turn around just in time to catch the expressions on the Monitors faces as they slam the door in mine. Completely blank and emotionless, the only thing they've shared since I met them.

I'm swallowed and cocooned by the darkness. It almost feels like death, except their was no fear in death. No emotion at all really. That was more like sleeping or daydreaming, while this is like being blind in a deep cave.

I feel around the room and eventually find the edge of a cot. With more shuffling I manage to lie down on it and stare into the blackness. 

There is so much to think about like dying or the coming genocide, yet I can't think about anything. My mind has completely shut down, so I just stare at a spot on the ceiling I can't see with my mouth hanging open, taking in deep breaths. No thoughts, just breathing.

Time flickers in and out of existence. Sometimes I wonder how long I've been in her, while other times I simply don't care. Either way, telling time is impossible with out a view of the outside, a watch, or even light.

***

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I know fluorescent lights are buzzing over me and I have to shield my eyes from the sudden light. It's such a sudden contrast that I jolt up in surprise, my palms jammed into my eyes to try and block our the burning sensation in my eye sockets.

The beeping sound of the lock pad come faintly through the metal door. My heart stops for a second. They're coming to kill me know. 

Unsure of what to do I slowly back against the wall and press myself flat against it. There isn't anything in the room to use as a weapon, not that it would do any good if I had one, so I just hold my breath and pray they haven't come to finish me off.

The dense metal door lurches open and someone steps into the room with a huff. The light temporarily disorients me, but it doesn't take long for me to identify the person. It's Adrian.

Despite everything she's done, I find myself relaxing. I know her or at least I thought I did. 

Her blue eyes glisten like deep wells in the fluorescent lights as she takes a step further into the room. "Come to finish me off, little sister?" I say the last part, "little sister," with as much mockery as I can put in my voice. I use it like it's an insult.

Her eyes widen with horror at either my mockery or possibly the idea of finishing me off. I can't imagine it would be very hard for her to do so. She certainly has the means to and, based on what I've seen, she has the guts to do it too.

"No," she says like she couldn't hear the mockery in my voice. "I came to explain."

"About what?" I sneer. "Why you sent me to the chopping block?"

Her eyes bore into me with determination. "I'm telling why I did what I did. As soon as I explain you'll see that I saved you."

I can't help but scoff at this. "Save me? You condemned both of us and everyone else on this island!"

"They have to die for us to live. They promised that they'd let us live!" She believes everything she's saying. There is no doubt in her voice or in her facial expression. Her hand touches my shoulder, but I brush it off carefully, the way a person would brush off a pesky insect. 

"You're a fool." It sums up exactly how I feel about her right now. She is nothing more than a fool or a jester, performing little tricks for the Dynasty. "They're lying to you."

She grabs my shoulder again, this time much tighter. "They're not lying. I know because... well, I can't explain it right now, but you just have to know that they aren't going to kill us."

"What can't you explain to me?" I demand, ignoring her stupid insistence and her hand on my shoulder.

"I can't tell you because someone else wants to tell you," she continues feverishly. "It will explain everything and then you'll understand that it's all true. All of it."

I snort like Captain Craggier. "You're just saying that because you have no real proof. You're hanging onto false promises. They'll kill us no matter what."

She shakes her hear anxiously and tightens her grip. "No, you don't understand. This changes everything. I mean everything about our lives. Once you learn the truth you'll understand."

"I'll never understand my you traded all of the Numbers on this island for a false promise," I tell her and attempt to step further into the wall, but my back just presses harder against it.

Some twists in her face. "I did this for you!" she screams, convincing herself that if she's louder then I'll agree with her. "I traded all of their lives for yours and I would do it again and again. Hell, I would trade my life for yours and it would still be worth it."

It hits me in the head like a hammer. How had I never seen it before? The obsessiveness, how had I missed it?

Something strikes against my heart, clawing at it and tearing into it. I hadn't lost my sister, I have always had her just not in the way I thought. The wound she's created in me grows even larger, ripping apart my being. 

I know that it will heal eventually after it fester and stings, but it will always be there. Adrian's mark will always be there. I can't leave it behind just like how I can't leave her behind. There will always be scar tissue.

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