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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29. Chapter 28

"In the past, people were born royal. Nowadays, royalty comes from what you do."

-Gianni Versace

My body slumps against the wall as I watch Adrian. Her mouth hangs open in a hollow sigh like she somehow pities herself. It's like she sees herself as the victim in this situation. Her eyes water up ever so slightly and her lip quivers as if to say, 'Poor me. Being a traitor is such hard work.'

"Do you want answers?" she asks me delicately as if the truth could shatter me like a china doll that is so carelessly tossed around by a child.

"Depends," I say with a false air of knowing. My body is tired, but my mind is still sharp. "Their warped version of the truth or the real truth. "

The hint of moisture hanging in her eyes is gone in a flash and replaced by a confused anger. "Their version of the truth is the real truth."

I want to slide down the wall and curl up, the girl standing me is so far away from the sister I knew, but I know I have to keep my wits about me. "Then, it's not worth my time."

Her stance hardens into cold stone. Her features glaze over in an expression lacking any clear thought. There is nothing about her now that was there a few minutes ago when she was begging me to forgive her.

As her silhouette sharpens, so does my mind. Something isn't right, and probably never was, about Adrian. Everything about her from her stance to her sudden shift from desperation screams at me. 'You should've known. You should've known,' it says. 'There was always something wrong and you were to blind to see it.'

I could never see Adrian for what she truly was. No, not what she was. She is still my sister and that will never change. I made a fatal mistake in failing to see how she truly thinks. There was always a fuzzy barrier between what I saw and what was going on in her head.

Like light bouncing off of a curved mirror, I saw Adrian not for who she was, but what she appeared to be. The image real, but the object was not. It was merely a trick of the light, pulling one over on me.

In the chasm of silence Adrian's voice comes out in a rushed whisper, afraid that if she doesn't say it fast enough her words will never see the light of day. "They're alive. I swear. All of them. They're all alive. Grey, Simoran, Kern, and Mallery. Nothing has happened to them yet. I would know if it did, I really would."

Her words either add another ton to the weight on me or take it off the load I'm already carrying. I'm too numb to tell which it is. Either way, the sudden shift in weight throws me off and I find myself sitting on the cot, laying against the cold, dust swirling in the air.

"Yet?" I ask, refusing to make eye contact with her. "You're suggesting that something will happen to them."

"I thought you didn't want to hear what I have to say."

"You're avoiding the question," I point out, needing to know more but not wanting to admit it to her.

Without looking at her I can't tell how she reacted and her voice comes so robotically I almost forget she's human. "They haven't done anything to them yet. I'm not saying they won't because they probably will."

I want to scream all kinds of profanities at her, but I sit there instead, only the rigid muscles keeping me from collapsing all the way onto the bed.

Her words hang heavy in the air. She knows she said the wrong things, I can tell by the way she holds her breath and doesn't make a sound. 

I don't say anything and I don't look at her, trying to convince myself that she doesn't exist and that I've just been talking to myself this entire time. Even that would be better than the truth. Between the silence and my persuasive mind, I almost believe it. Almost, that is until she takes what sounds like a startled step backwards.

I still don't look; though, I can hear her breathing pick up. She sounds panicked and I have to wonder what's going on in her head. Her breath starts hiccuping and it's not hard to guess that she's crying. A piece of me wants to weep with my little sister and the other part smiles at her pain, that is the animal side. Despite everything I know that I can never stop loving her and I can never forgive her.

"Can you just leave?" I should sound more bitter and angry, but my voice is completely flat. It sounds like a recording of my voice, something I said a long time ago and don't really mean any more.

The door opens and then closes silently as a response. I feel nothing. I'm not even sure if I wanted her to leave.

Without anything but the humming of the electric lock to fill my ears, I drift into a restless sleep. 

***

A familiar voice fills my ears and a faint glow penetrates my eyelids. For a moment I fear that Adrian has come back and this time won't be able to hear not forgiving her, but it's not her voice breaking I to my sleeping thoughts. No, this voice is deeper, less anxious, not quite as broken.

I sit up stock straight when a hand touches my shoulder. Every inch of my body is covered in a cold sweat of fear and my eyes clouded by sleep. My body quivers in anticipation of cuffs on my wrists, a needle in my arm, or a gun to my head. 

Nothing happens and after a moment I rub the sleep out of my eyes. What greets my eyes is the most terrifying and possibly the happiest sight I have ever seen. My mind can't seem to understand what I'm seeing. 

"Hey, Indie," Ross says sheepishly like he has forgotten how to talk to me.

A feeling of elation fills me from head to toe. I've never felt such a heavy burden lifted off my chest all at once."Wh-what are you doing here?" 

He looks towards the door and bites his lip uncertainly. Someone must be listening. They know he's in here and yet he's not in handcuffs or in his own cell. They're letting him talk to me.

Right now I couldn't care less why he's actually here. It just matters that he's here. He's alive. I kept imagining him as ashes floating through the Manhattan sky, mixing with the soot from the factories and coating the city in a suffocating layer of filth, filling the lungs of Numbers who would never even know they were breathing in one of their own. That's where Casprie is, but he's not. He lived. Another piece of me lived.


"I'm here to talk," he says, attempting to look me on the eyes. His almond shaped eyes focus on me, trying to make some sort of sense of my facial expression, but they obviously can't because they flit away.

My own eyes judge his features. He's scared, I can tell that much, but not of them. He keeps looking at the door like whoever is behind it will keep him safe. He's afraid of me. How could he possibly thing I would or could hurt him? But, that's not either. It's not a physical assault he's afraid of, he knows that I can't actually hurt him in a cell in the Court House. The Monitors are the only ones who can do that. He's afraid I'll make some sort of judgement against him.

It finally clicks in my mind. "No, you're not. You're not here to talk to me," I say, my voice cracking as I jump to my feet. Everything seems to jump and shift around me. My world shifting on its axis.

"No," he says slowly, trying to make sense of his own words. "I'm not. You have to come with me."

"I don't think I will," I say equally as slowly.

"I don't think you have a choice."

He doesn't make any abrupt movements towards me, but I can't keep my muscles from tensing up. My insides feel as if they are being turned to putty from the strain of my emotions pulling me in all different directions. Fear wants to drag me downward into a fetal position. Shock makes my want to lean against the wall, again, for support. Happiness urges me to run towards Ross, hug him, and tell him how ecstatic I am to see him alive. In the end I stay right where I am as the emotions attempt to rip me apart.

"There's always a choice," I tell him, my love for my friend getting the better of me.

He grits his teeth in determination. He won't cave under anything I say, at least, he doesn't want. "Not for you. Not now right now."

"Yeah, I'm going to die," I say bitterly, the truth cutting into me like a blade made by the Dynasty but held by me. "Just like Casprie," I add as an after thought. "Dead and gone. Thrown into the furnace like a sack of garbage."

Ross reaches for his throat like he's suddenly having trouble breathing. Maybe that will keep his lying mouth closed. Unfortunately, what ever was clamping down on his throat passes quickly. "How did you know about that- about Casprie?"

"Adrian," I spit the name without meaning to, like I couldn't wait to get it out of my system. Guilt wiggles into the back of my mind, where it has no place being.

He swallows this tidbit of information faster tan he swallowed Casprie's name, but not by much. Ross's posture shifts towards the door briefly before he looks back at me, his body still tilted towards the door. "Did you ever think I was dead?"

"Yes," I reply cautiously, afraid he'll somehow use this information against me. "What was I supposed to think when you went missing without a trace and after what I heard happened to Casprie?"

"The worst, I suppose," he says stiffly, his eyes full of deep shadows, haunting me with every flicker of his eyes.

Just then, before I can ask him any of the how and, more importantly, the why, the door pops open with a cobra like hiss. Captain Craggier and Cartwright stand on the other side, a filthy pig and a block of cold marble. "What's taking so long?" Captain Craggier asks, pulling a sweaty piece of straw blonde hair off of her red face.

"Nothing," Ross says brokenly, his clutching at his t-shirt and the shadows consuming his eyes. "We were about to come out."

Craggier looks pleased with this answer, possibly believing she's the one who put the fear in Ross's eyes, Cartwright just looks bored. Craggier hands Ross a pair of thick, silver handcuffs and he turns towards me, his head ducked and his hands extended towards me. I want to say that I'm not coming with them, but really just don't have any choice unless I fancy getting my brains blown out again.

With more than enough hesitation to make Craggier look pissed off, I slowly extend my arms and let Ross clamp the handcuffs around my wrists. Their much looser than the last time someone put handcuffs on me.

They march me down the stark white halls in a poor impression of a parade. They aren't quite cheery enough to be a parade. They lack all of the zest an showmanship. So, instead, we skulk down the hallway, looking like a strange mixture of a military bootcamp and a small parade.

An astounding amount of Monitors watch us with morbid curiosity. I wonder if they know who I am, or if I'm just another Number and they're just curious whether I'll live or die.

"Am I going to die?" I ask with the same curiosity as the Monitors displayed. I know I'm going to die relatively soon, I just want to know if it's like soon, soon, not just kind of soon. That's generally a nice thing to know. Maybe, if they tell me, I'll mark it in my calendar, so I can't look at it later and be like, 'Ahh, February 23rd, that's not such a bad day to die.'

"I think that you'll find this much more interesting," Cartwright says in a monotone voice, suggesting that it's not actually interesting.

Craggier snickers. "Yeah, you're in for a royal treat." She looks at us, waiting for some sort of reaction. Was that supposed to be a joke? "Whatever," she says after a moment.

Ross says nothing.

We eventually stop in front of a door that looks exactly like every other door in the building. I have no idea how they know which door is which since each hall is identical to the last and the doors only have numbers marking them. Craggier slides her card through the panel on the side of the door, while Cartwright holds me back and Ross watches with a distant and darkened expression. He doesn't even care enough about me to watch whatever is about to happen to me. I doubt he cares at all, it certainly looks that way.

The door swings open and Cartwright guides me in, leaving Craggier and Ross in the hall. The room is even whiter than the hall outside, of that's even possible, with only a silver table and two silver chairs adorning it. It's an exact replica of the room I was first interrogated in by the rat faced man with the greasy, slicked back hair.

Cartwright doesn't exactly force me into one of the chairs, facing the chair on the other side of the table, but he also doesn't give me any other places to go. Once I'm seated, he grabs the hand cuffs and attaches them to a short chain, which is also conveniently attached to the table. I'll have to drag the whole table with me if I want to go anywhere.

He doesn't bother to stay in the room once I'm chained down. The door shuts quietly behind him, leaving me alone in the barren room with no way to move around. 

I almost immediately start blowing a piece of strand off of my face and watch it float back down onto my right cheek. I've got a feeling I'm going to be waiting for a while, might as well amuse myself.

Air comes from my parted lips, lifting the black strand of hair away from the corner of my mouth. The delicate strand twirls above my head for a brief second before falling back down and tangling itself in my eyelashes. While I'm trying to untangle the hair from my lashes, the door whistles open. 

A woman wearing a sturdy, gray suit glides past me and sits in the other chair. She watches at me with blue-green eyes and I look back, my cheeks still full of air and the strand still partially covering my eye. This is slightly awkward.

I quickly let the air out of my cheeks and duck my head, so I can get the hair of my eyes. When I look back up the woman is giving me a tender smile. That's really weird, most Monitors would scowl at a Number. Well, this woman is obviously not a Monitor. She's not wearing their black uniform. She looks much more important and vaguely familiar.

"Indaline Marie Caserento?" she asks as she reads my name from a paler in front of her. 

"Uh." I hesitate, not sure how to react to my full name. "That's me, but you can call me Indie."

"Of course," she says smoothly and without any hostility. This lady can't seriously work for the government, she's way too nice. It's just not natural. 

She pulls a small briefcase onto the table and takes something out of it, before placing the briefcase back on the ground. "Do you know how to play Take Four?" she asks, holding up a deck of cards.

"I do." I can't keep the skepticism out of my voice. At what kind of interrogation do you play cards?

She deals four cards to me: a queen, a nine, a three, and a five. When I look up from my cards she has her own cards and has put four in the middle. "Do you want to switch any cards?" I ask, shocking myself but not the woman.

Her mouth twists to the side in a quirky habit. "I think I'm good, you?"

"Same."

She promptly flips of the cards, revealing a king, a queen, an ace, and a jack. The king is on the table before I've even had time to process the cards. Without waiting for me to react, she picks up the two kings and rips them in half, tossing the remains on the floor. "I made a match," she tells me as if the confetti she made didn't make that abundantly clear.

"So did I," I say and, like her, slam my queen on the table, then pick up both cards in the match and turn them into scrap paper.

She smiles broadly as if she's proud of me for ripping my first cards in half. She leans across the table, her face getting uncomfortably lose to mine. "I never introduced myself, did I?" It's half question and half statement. She knows the answer, but want me to tell her anyways.

"Um, no, you didn't," I tell her, my back pressed against my chair as I try to scoot away from her. The handcuffs prevent me from getting far.

Suddenly realizing how close we were, the woman sits back down in her seat and gold her hands on the table. "I'm Avalis Axis."

Avalis, the deceitful woman in front of, the one who I thought was nice only a few minutes ago, is in charge of the government I hate so much. She doesn't just work for the Dynasty, she is the Dynasty, full on royalty. That's why she looked familiar- I used to see her face on posters and on TV frequently before I came to Manhattan, it's just been a while.

She looks at me like, if I wasn't in chains, I should get down on my knees and start kissing her feet. Instead I feel disgust. This is the woman who is responsible for keeping the Numbers trapped on Manhattan and killing us off fifty at a time. This woman has a lot of blood on her hands, so much that I'd bet if I shook her hand, my hand would come away sticky with blood. 

"It's nice to meet you General Axis," I say carefully, suddenly even more afraid for my life than I was before. Her title is officially General since she controls the army, while her brother, Remus, is called the Judge since he makes and controls the law. Usually the Judge and General are one and the same, called the Judge General, but the job was split when the Dynasty's last leader, Tiberius Axis, had twins.

"And it's nice to finally meet you Ms. Caserento," she says in return, sounding genuine. The word "finally" throws me off, but I choose to ignore it. Has she been waiting to see me?

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