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.


31. Chapter 30

Nothing sounds quite like silence does. I'm not talking about the times when everything is merely a hushed whisper. This is not one of the silences when you can still hear the faint whistling of the wind or the almost silent tapping of shoes on the ground; this is complete and total stillness.

The explosions and gun shots come and go, right now they are gone, leaving me in a stark white room sealed off from the rest of life. This is the kind of silence when you are so aware of your own existence that it is almost painful. You also realize that silence does have a sound and a feeling. It sounds like blood pulsing in your ears, your thoughts echoing off your skull, and the frantic beating of your heart. It feels like your chest tightening as you hold your breath and the anxiety that settles in the pit of your stomach. That's what silence is.

It all begs the question: is there true silence? If I hold my breath and there is no one around me, I can still hear my heart beating and my thoughts rambling. So, is the moment when you fall into the black oblivion, like I have twice before, when you finally reach utter quiet? Is death just a synonym for silence?

There is nothing quite like the quiet to remember exactly how human are and how fake everything else seems. For me, just sitting here with no company but my shadow, who only mocks me, no one else seems real. Before, when the explosions were still going off, I made myself stop caring that the world outside this building existed, and now I'm not sure how real it ever was. Are places and people only real if you can see them?

I'm pretty sure Cartwright is real. He's opened the door to give me food about six times, so I've at least seen him. At six meals I've figured that I've been here for about three days, they've only ever given me two small meals a day both here and at the old cell, so six meals must be equivalent to three day. Three days of nothing to an uproar and back again.

I think the hardest part isn't just knowing that terrible things are happening to good people when the bullets start ringing, but forgetting that those people are people when the silence sets in.

With the familiar pop and hiss, the door opens, but I don't look up; Cartwright will leave the food either way. Feet glide across the floor with barely a sound, their lack of sound somehow surprising me after all this time. Cartwright's gate is heavy like marble. When the feet stop in front of me no tray is placed on the ground nor does the person turn to leave. So, it's not Cartwright.

"Hello, Avalis," I say, jumping to the most logical conclusion. She seems to have taken a peculiar interest in me and I really wouldn't be surprised if she came back to talk to me again.

"What did you just call me?" a voice that certainly doesn't belong to a middle aged woman asks me.

Involuntarily my head lifts up from where it rested on my arms and is greeted by a sight only slightly less repulsive than Avalis herself. "Oh, I thought you were General Axis," I tell Ross before I lay my head back on the spot where my wrists cross.

"You sound disappointed," he says, taking a step forward. I want to scoot backwards so that I won't be forced to look up at him, but I'm already against the wall.

"I am," I laugh weakly. "I was hoping that you were Cartwright here to bring me food." I don't have to be looking at him to tell that he flinched; I know what gets to Ross and what doesn't and that's why I said. It would hurt him for me to say I value food more than him. All of me wants him to know what he's done wrong and part of me wants him to feel pain for it. That's the feral part whispering at the back of my skull.

"I guess it's a good thing that I brought you food then," he says, making me want to look up, but I force myself to stay still and let a cruel smile slip onto my lips.

"How very generous of you," I say, lifting up my head to show him my "sincerity" with my wicked smile. I'm kind of being an ass and I kind of don't care.

His teeth grit and his free hand bunches at his side, but he still holds the food he brought me as if it were an apology. It probably is to him. The food he brought is a little cupcake, it's circumference about a quarter of the size of his palm. "Take it."

"A cupcake?" I raise an eyebrow but don't let my smile falter. "Where did you find that?"

Something sticks in his throat and I only understand what it is when he starts speaking. "In the kitchen here. Th-they have more, you know, food than the rest of Manhattan." Why wouldn't he feel guilty? Here he has a cupcake, a luxury no Number could ever dream of, for me and the rest of the island is getting by on mush and rice. Actually, they aren't even getting by.

"I don't want it," I say, only thinking of the starving people filling the streets of Manhattan.

"Adrian helped me make it," he says and my body tenses up like I've just been electrocuted.

My smile slips my face and begin staring at my hands, watching my fingers curl and uncurl. "I don't see how that affects whether or not I want a cupcake."

A creaking sound signals Ross bending down to kneel next to me. I can only imagine how tight his knees were locked to make that kind of noise. He must have been nervous to see the friend he betrayed, I mean the one that's still alive. "Adrian wants what's best for you. She's only doing any of this to protect you. That's the same for me. I'm trying to look out for you."

"So, you brought me a cupcake? If that's supposed to be some sort of apology then it's no accepted."

My eyes peer away from my tense fingers to watch Ross's reaction carefully. He doesn't flinch or seem flustered like before. He looks at me with sincerity, I think that it scares me more than if I had seen anger instead. "No, it's not an apology. We no there's no way to apologize for what's happened." At least he admits it. "We just wanted to celebrate with you."

This takes me by surprise. I'm not sure what I have to celebrate; the fact that I haven't been killed yet is one possible option. Really, I have nothing in life to celebrate any more accept death. That kind of like the last hurray. Go out with a bang. At least I will, that is, the bang of a gun.

He must pick up on my mystified expression because he adds, "Don't you know what today is?"

The spark of rebellious sarcasm and anger comes back to life. "A day closer to my death or do I die today? No, wait, I know this, it's another day in hell."

"It's your birthday."

"My bad," I snap, trying to hide my shock. I actually made it to eighteen. "You kind of lose a sense of time and reason when you're trapped in a little white box."

Today is my birthday, February eighteenth. It would be a special day if I lived in the free world; I'd be able to vote in the free elections, have to pay taxes to a corrupt government, and be able to move into my own living space if I could afford it and wanted to. If I lived in the free world and my dad was still alive, I don't think I'd move out. He and Adrian were my home, not the overpriced house we lived in.

"You know, you're a real ass sometimes," he tells me, his fist almost smashing the fragile cupcake.

"And you're a traitor. I guess we'll just have to deal with the facts," I reply with a nonchalant shrug; though, my chest is boiling with rage.

It's pretty clear he's had enough of me. He stands up from his hunched over position and turns on stiff legs towards the door. "Whatever, take your cupcake," he growls and tosses the crumbling pastry towards me.

I reach my hand up to catch up the deteriorating luxury and my fingers wrap around the crinkly paper meant to hold the cupcake together, but Ross made its purpose insignificant. The dollop of white frosting on top of frosting droops onto my pointer finger, leaving a small, white smear when I move my finger away.

The animal part of me wants to laugh at his weakness and say, 'Someone's a little touchy today," but the part of me that was his friend, which is most of me, finally has control. "Ross, wait."

His limbs stiffen even further. His shoulders arc, covering the back of his neck like he's afraid I'll attack him. Everything about his posture screams defense, not offense. His fingers are stick straight and his arms remain taught and slightly bent, the kind of position you'd take in order to block, not punch.

His voice is weak when he responds, all of his tension lost in his muscles. "What?"

"Come sit down next to me. We can talk." I'm not sure what caused this change in heart, but I like it. If only Ross would only talk to me and if only I could let go of my resentment, then I could pretend that everything is just as it was.

Now it's his turn to laugh. "I got the feeling you wanted me to leave," he scoffs.

"Just sit down, would you?" I demand, letting myself put on my old smile that I used to wear when Casprie, Ross, and I were still friends.

His rigid posture makes me believe that he'll say no, but, after a moment, his body loosens as if a puppeteer has let go of his strings. "Sure, we can talk, but only if you split the cupcake."

"What!" I gasp, desperately trying to act like my old self. "But, it's my birthday."

"I made the cupcake. You can take it or leave it," he says with wry smile that seems as forced as my own.

I laugh dryly as I carefully pull the cupcake into two rather lumpy pieces. "You, sir, drive a hard bargain. Just take your half of this poor excuse for a cupcake."

"Poor excuse for a cupcake! I can't comprehend how my work of art could ever be considered a 'poor excuse for a cupcake,'" he says, faking surprise as his hand covers his heart and his jaw drops.

"It's falling apart!" I exclaim and he takes his half of the cupcake to more closely examine it.

"I might have squished it in my hand a little bit, but, still, just look at this masterful frosting. That's the kind of talent that takes years to develop." he puts his golden brown eyes right next to the little pastry, a artist examining his work.

A genuine chuckle escapes my lips this time. "You've never frosted a cupcake before in your life."

"I guess it's in my genes then. I was born to frost cupcakes," he says with a shrug and a witty grin that gives away his lie.

"Adrian frosted the cupcake, didn't she?" My fake smile can't even hold up when I say her name.

He stands still for a moment. Not the kind of stiff tension that locked up his limbs before, but more of a willowy emptiness to reflect what I feel. Does he see the difference in Adrian? Has he strange obsession with her older sister shown through to him? I can't be the only one who saw Adrian's need to protect me at all costs, when I should be protecting her.

His lip falter into an empty breath that provides no life to his body. He rubs the edge of the frosting to keep it from falling onto the paper that once supported it. My breath desperately enters my lungs, trying to provide my body with the strength that Ross's body also lacks.

We both cling to our positions, not looking at each other but trying to stare truth in the eyes without blinking or flinching. It's hard to accept that someone in you love so dearly, and both Ross and I love Adrian that much, is not who you thought they were. Adrian is the image of an object, created by a reflection. It's really there, but it's distorted. She's a shadow at sunset, bent and twisted by the angle of light. That's what we had always seen, the image and the shadow, never the object itself.

"I didn't want bring Adrian up again. I know how her change bothers you because it bothers me too," Ross says, looking into my eyes. So, he also saw the new Adrian.

I nod slowly, studying the frosting one more time before looking back at Ross. "It was obvious to me. You might not know this, but Adrian was actually kind of artistic as a kid. At least, she enjoyed art. She wasn't very good at it. Even when we came to Manhattan she found ways to draw; she's go outside and draw swirls in the mud with a stick. You were never the artistic type, so I figured you didn't frost the cupcake."

"Yeah, you caught me red handed," he chuckles, but it's even more fake than any of our previous reactions.

"Sit down and start eating your cupcake already, so I don't have to feel guilty about eating my piece," I tell him and scoot over to make a little more room for him to sit against the small wall.

"Alright," he responds and plops down next to me. We're both going to let the Adrian thing slide, thank God, any more talk of my sister would tear me apart.

The silence creeps back in; though, not as painful as before. Something about having another human with me makes the living version of silence bearable. It reminds me of how the darkness of the death felt like a warm blanket. That blanket can't replace the warmth of human interaction, even if it's just sitting next to someone.

I nibble on the bottom of my cupcake, eating the less tasty part before I get to the delicious frosting part. The last time I had a cupcake was at Adrian's fourth birthday party and I'm pretty sure this is how I ate that cupcake too. The cupcakes had been blue and purple, much tastier and more beautiful than the one I'm eating. They were the kind of cupcakes that wealth families, like my family had been, ordered from expensive bakers just for their children's birthday. I always had gold and blue cupcakes at my birthday parties because that's the colors of the Dynasty's flag. It seemed fitting since the Dynasty and I shared the same birthday.

Thinking about my almost twin, I look up from the cupcake in my hand and address Ross. "It's kind of ironic that today's my birthday."

"Why's that?" he asks, licking the frosting off the top of his half.

"Today's the two-hundred and twelfth? Yeah, two-hundred and twelfth birthday of the Axis Dynasty," I say, still ignoring the cupcake in order to think about what a horrible coincidence this is.

"It is, isn't it?" He's also put his cupcake down.

"We're almost like unrelated twins and yet we hate each other. We both want to see the other fall," I say with a pleasant picture of the Dynasty falling off of a cliff in my head.

He bits his thumb nail, also thinking about how strange this is. "I'd call it more like related almost twins."

"What?" Related? How can I be related to something that doesn't even have DNA.

"Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you're a child of the Dynasty like everyone else unfortunate enough to live in this country."

His words both take me back and disgust me for multiple reasons, but I don't get the chance to ask what he means. At that moment the sirens begin to wail again and Ross stands up abruptly. It's happening again, whatever it is. The siren is joined in by the stampeding of feet in the hallway and the faint rhythem of gun fire. More death is without a doubt also a part of this sick melody. It makes me ill to think of all of the streets filled with the blood of the dead and the injured, no matter who they are, Number or Monitors. No one else needs to die.

"Crap," he murmurs under his breath. " I have to go." He darts out the door with the cupcake in his hand and a question on my tongue.

'A child of the Dynasty,' I think to myself. 'What a disgusting idea.'

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