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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36. Chapter 35

Chapter 35: Chemical Snake

"The snake will always bite back."

-Jake Roberts

The ringing of bullets suddenly fills the air with a symphony of chaos. It's as if some deranged conductor decided that this deadly song should be the soundtrack for all of our demises. The sound of the bullets leaving the gun is hollow tenor and they hit the ground, or their target, with a screeching soprano. Each shot bursts in my ears and sends a tremor through my entire body.

I had forgotten about the explosions and gun shots during the relative calm of the last few days, and then being injected with a deadly virus became the only thing I could think about, but now the confusion sets in. Why is there still gun fire if they plan on wiping the Numbers out with the disease? It's both a waste of supplies and time, considering those weapons could be going over seas to where the Dynasty is fighting to gain new colonies. And on top of that, this level of chaos would be making national, if not international news, other countries would know the Dynasty is in a state of war and see it as a weakness. It would be much simpler and more effective to let the Numbers die of disease, no muss, no fuss. And then there's the fact that all of the Monitors are still on the island when they were given the order to evacuate. Why haven't they left? Isn't the Dynasty endangering their lives for no reason at this point? Something isn't adding up about their plan.

Adrian's tan complexion turns a shockingly pale color and she grabs my arm with an iron grip I didn't even know she was capable of. "Hurry up. We can't keep Avalis waiting." Yes, there is definitely something wrong. The bullets clearly bother Adrian. She's very worried about what I assumed was part of Avalis's plan. Is it possible that the guns aren't being pointed at Numbers? No, that's not possible. If the guns aren't pointed at Number, then the guns would have to be pointed at the Monitors and the Dynasty would never let that happen. Maybe Adrian is just a little shaky around so much noise.

"For someone so willing to go along with genocide you sure are nervous around gunfire," I point out to Adrian, whose entire body twitches at my comment.

Adrian acts like she didn't hear anything and continues down the hall, still pale as the stark white walls constantly surrounding us. Well, that did a lot to dampen my suspicions. It doesn't look like I'm getting anything out of her, but she's given me enough by not responding. Now I know things didn't go quite as planned. Something is off and it's itching at the back of Adrian's brain like the violent rash at the back of mine.

For the first time in a long time the roles feel reverse; it's my eyes boring into the back of Adrian's head instead of hers feverantly watching me. It's not control, but it's not the lack there of either. She can't figure me out when she's still trying to keep herself together. I plan to make the most of this minor turning of the tables.

"Shouldn't you be at least a little worried about this deadly, Number-killing virus? Or are you willing to die uselessly for these people too?" I originally meant to say it casually as if I was just curios about how Adrian felt about the events happening around us and to us, but it came off as incredibly bitter after the second question.

She raises her eyebrows slightly, noticing the drastic change in my tone. Being casual and being bitter turn out to be two completely different things. "No, I've put my safety in their hands and because of that I will live."

"I don't think you understand that you've put your safety in the hands of someone holding you over a pit of cobras. There is no telling when they'll drop you in," I state as a fact, knowing it to be the truth.

Adrian gives a small laugh, finding my metaphor funny. A frown creases my face and my eyebrow twitches. "Exactly, they're holding me over the pit, out of harms way, while everyone else is already in the pit. They've chosen me over everyone else." They're two sides to the same coin: impending danger and relative safety. It all depends on how you see yourself above the snakes.

"And where am I?" I ask, pressing the subject in a manner I know Adrian will talk about. She's already pledged to keep me safe at all costs, so I can't imagine that she'd let them throw me to the snakes now.

"Holding my hand, of course. I'm keeping you out of the pit," she says blissfully and tightens her grip on my arm.

"You do realize that if I fall to the snakes." I purposefully use the word if over the word when in order to keep Adrian's attention. "I'll pull you down with me."

My facial muscles tighten and all the air leaves my lungs when Adrian turns around with a creepily large smile on her face and a scary kind of happy in her eyes. "I know, but that won't happen. Remember, I'm keeping you safe."

"I'm pretty sure they've already signed my death certificate," I say in an airy way that gives away my true fear of the venomous bite that is death.

"Why would they sign the death certificate of someone they need alive?" Adrian asks like I'm a dense child who needs even the simplest things explained to them.

"Because they don't need me." It's a simple answer and a painfully true one. I'm disposable waste by now, they've gotten all they're going to get out of me.

Adrian's frown falters momentarily before curling back up, her pink lips stretched tight. "They do need you. They need both of us."

It's my turn to falter. I know that's not true, Avalis practically told me so. One if us is the jack and the other the ace. Only one is meant to live and be their pawn, the other is merely garbage. Well, actually I'm the jack; I'm the garbage. They've already made that choice. "How could they possibly use me when I'm dead?"

Adrian's eyes flit sideways for a moment before returning back to me, her lips tightened into a flat line now. "I'm telling you, they're not going to let you die." She lets out a shaky breath and says rapidly, "There's a cure waiting for you. They... they just need you to spread the disease first."

I'm not sure if I should feel relieved or more worried. I'll live, but at what cost? To have unwillingly committed genocide against my own people? To live the rest of my life as a miserable pawn for my wicked mother? It's not worth it. Nothing is worth that fate. "I won't do it," I tell Adrian with my throat dry and voice cracking, knowing that just because I don't want to do it doesn't mean I won't.

"That's not how this works." We're standing in front of one of the many identical doors in the building now and Adrian is looking at me in a way that makes me feel so pathetic a powerless. My little sister shouldn't have this kind of power over me. "Just do what mom says."

Too much time has passed for me to press further because now Adrian is opening the door. Avalis, a witch posing as my mother, no, she is my mother and a witch unfortunatly, leans back casually in a steel chair. Because of the way she sits in that chair, I can't stop imagining her as one of those cliche villians from the movies I used to watch as a kid with the overly gelled hair and the blatantly fake british accents. I can even imagine a fluffy, white Persian cat sitting in her lap and Avalis petting it in the creepiest manner possible.

"What are you smiling at, Indie?" Her tone doesn't come out menacing like it should have, but more curious like she genuinly wants to know what makes her daughter smile.

"Nothing," I state plainly, shifting my smile into a frown. "Nothing of importance anyways."

She gives me a blank look before letting a serpent's grin slide over. "Oh, well, if that's the case, then please, sit down." So, she didn't actually care. She was pretending to be the flower but in reality she's the slithering snake under it.

I slide into the cool chair and Adrian stands behind me with her hand on the back of the chair. Twisted, warped, and bent, that's what everything seems to be under Avalis's gaze. Matter and energy bend to her will; everything is focused on her. Her every movement appears to be watched and admired even though there are no admirers here- unless you count Adrian. Is that what it is like to wield power? Or is it what it's like to think you wield power? They are different in role, but are they different personality? Well, either way Avalis wields and is fully aware that she wields power. The entire world is her puppet. Her presence is power and she wields it like a sword, sharp and forever deadly.

"I don't have much time, my dear Indaline." I cringe at the use of my first name. I can faintly remember her whispering that name to me as she held me in her once comforting arms when I was just a toddler. It's hard not wonder if any of that was real. "This is just a temporary goodbye, but you shouldn't worry, we'll be together again soon." I'm sure she meant this information to be vague, but Adrian has already to,d me too much. There are now little rat bitten holes in the fabric of her plan.

"Alright, bye," I say with a nonchalant shrug of my shoulders just to see how much I can fluster her.

"Is that all I'm going to get from you?" She raises her eyebrows in question but her eyes give away her knowledge of the game I'm trying to play. She catches on unnaturally quickly.

"Yup," I reply, emphasizing the "p" sound to try and give a feeling that this is the end if the conversation.

"I take it that there's nothing you'd like to say before I set you free," she says with a slight head tilt, daring me to do something but I don't know what.

"That sounds about right." I don't even pause when I say it. I will not fall victim to her silly mind games.

"Nothing you'd like to say to your sister, perhaps?" A deadly chill runs up my spin, it's sharp nails running across my nerves. I jolt forward in my seat, now sitting straight up. That wasn't a question, it was a threat. She's getting everything she wants and she still has the nerve to threaten me. Adrian couldn't hear it in her voice, but I could. Maybe it's because I know about the jack and the ace. This can't mean Adrian's the jack. I pray to God she's not the jack; I pray to God I'm just hearing things.

My corrupted, yet innocent sister looks at me expectantly, wanting to know what my parting wishes. I fear that they'll be her parting wishes spoken from my mouth. "Indie, do you want to tell me something?"

Avalis tenses happily, her tongue held between her teeth as if she were waiting to bite. She's waiting for me to try and warn Adrian. She just wants a reason to strike back. I'm walking in a mine field, one wrong step, one wrong word and there is no turning back when that mine goes off. The problem is that it won't be my legs blown out from under me when the mines go off, it's Adrian's. Avalis is treating Adrian like a pawn and I have to maneuver her safely across the minefield. But, where are all of the mines? How much weight do my words have to bear in order to set one off?

"I-" The word comes out harsh and unclear. I start again, "I love you, Adrian." That's all I can risk saying. If either one of us is going to die then I at least want her to know I love her.

Adrian beams giddily, oblivious to the depravity of the situation. "I love you too, Indie."

"Well, that's all we have time for," Avalis says, pressing her hands against the table and pushing herself into a stiff standing position. "Indie has lots of work to do, but we'll see her soon." She says "we" yet it feels like she means "I".

The conversation was so brief. That can't be all that Avalis wanted. She doesn't just visit people to chitchat. Everything she does has a purpose. When she visited me it was to try and get me on her side, to make me acknowledge that she's my mother. There's a second layer to this that I'm not seeing. The things we can't see are often the only truths we need to know.

I stand up slowly, trying to take in as much information from Avalis's face as I can before I'm forced to leave. There's nothing there. No happiness, sadness, or even greedy lust fill her face. She's back in politician mode, back to being the unfazed leader of the devil's country.

Avalis turns to Adrian with a commanding expression on her face. "Take her back to Craggier and Cartwright. They'll let her out on the streets."

Adrian nods and grabs my arm uncertainly as if Avalis's plan suddenly doesn't make sense to her. Because it obviously made a whole lot of sense up to this point. "Okay," Adrian mutters quietly almost to herself.

The door slides open and not too shockingly Craggier and Cartwright are already waiting there. They sometimes seem more like body guards than prison guards. 

"We'll be taking Miss Caserento from here," Craggier says with a very plain face for her, no sneering or anything. Even an overly confident grunt like her can feel the change in the atmosphere.

"I'm assuming you mean her," Adrian says softly, like she's trying to make a joke, and points to me. It also seems like she hopes they'll take her instead.

Craggier scowls a bit at Adrian's obvious statement before loosening up again. "Yes, I mean her." Good to know I have a name and it's her. That's such a classy name.

"Right," Adrian huffs and releases her grip on me both physically and mentally, but not quite emotionally. 

Cartwright, silent as usual, grabs my handcuffed arms and pulls me away from my little sister. This is starting to feel like an illegal drug trade and I'm the inanimate drug. It's not like I can say anything in protest. I might as well be inanimate.

Cartwright tugs on my left arm lightly and I slowly begin to follow him and Craggier out of the long hallway. Adrian's face is long and deeply shadowed when I look back at her. Everything about her reads of uncertainty. Does she really trust these people with the life over her beloved sister?

"Wait," she calls out and runs towards me at top speed before enveloping me in a huge hug. Wet tears fall on the back of my neck as do sharp glares from Cartwright and Craggier when I carefully wrap my arms around Adrian and give her a small squeeze.

"We don't have time for this, Miss Caserento!" Craggier says sharply. I'm not sure which one of us she's referring to, probably both of us.

"I know," Adrian says, pulling away from me and wiping the salty tears from her eyes. "It's just...." A sob wracks her body and she falls back into my arms. Something is different about the way she acts this time than when she first time she ran up to hug me. It feels a little too theatrical.

Something smooth and slightly damp, probably from the tears on Adrian's hands, presses into my hand. Adrian presses her mouth closed to my ear, leaving salty tear marks on my chin and whispers without a single tremor or sob in her voice, "Just in case."

I pull back in shock, confused by Adrian's sudden change in emotion and action, but she has already gone back to crying. Craggier gives an annoyed grunt and begins dragging me away. "Time's up," she tells me scathingly.

"Bye, Adrian," I say hoarsely, more confused than I've ever been in my life.

"Bye, Indie," she replies with a genuine smile that only confuses me further. Is this what she meant when she said she'd save me from the pit of cobras? Has she saved me from being bitten or has she only put us both in more danger?

"The virus won't become contagious for roughly 3 more hours, but we need you out there as soon as possible. We can't risk anyone in the building getting sick even if they are vaccinated." Craggier is talking to me, but I don't know what she's talking about at first. My minds still trapped between Adrian and the little paper in my hands.

"What?" I say stupidly.

Craggier glares at me before spitting out a simple answer. "You're going back to live on the streets." I want to tell her that I never lived on the streets- I lived in an apartment, thank you very much- but that information would go right over her head. She couldn't care less where I lived before this.

"Oh, okay."

They drag me to a side door I've never seems before, which isn't all that surprising considering how massive this building is. The door opens into a trash filled alley and I suddenly get the feeling that I'm being thrown out like garbage. Very deadly and highly contagious garbage.

"Be free, you little rat," Craggier says and actually kicks me out before letting the door hit my butt as it closes. Why did I think this was going to be so much more ceremonious? I shouldn't have. 

Whatever they're doing has to be illegal on international standards, so it's not like they were going to fill out some paperwork saying they injected an innocent person with a virus they meant to use for genocide and then just let me out the front door. It all probably has to be done in secret. I wonder if any other countries know what's going on here.

I stand up, rubbing my now sore butt, and look around me. It has only been a week or two since I've been outside, but it looks like several decades have passed out here. Several decades of war at that. Almost all of the bricks in the nearby walls have chipped from what I can only imagine is from a spray of gunfire based on the bent billets covering the ground. Holes have been blown in walls and streets alike, exposing the ruined insides of buildings and leaving giant dimples in the roads. Blood splatters the dumpster next to me, but the blood is old and long dried. I swear to God, if this is Avalis's doing I'm going to kill her. A virus just wasn't enough for her. She had to terrorize the Numbers first.

My fists bunches up as my body begins to tremble with unfiltered rage, crinkling they little paper in my hand. I stop shaking for just a second, the rage subsiding enough to let in a little hope and curiosity. 

Without thinking about the consequences of opening the paper right behind the Court House, I unfold it quickly and start reading, "Bare bones and ashes are all that's left." At first anger swells inside of me again, it feels like she's mocking the deaths of the Numbers, but then I remember the way she acted right before I left. She wanted to tell me something that the Monitors couldn't know. If she had wanted to mock the Numbers then she could have done it in front of them without any consequences. This note has an entirely different meaning and I think I know what it is.

I run faster than I've ever run before. Fast like Kern because I know I need to get there, I know that this could make all of the difference in the world, not just for me but for all the Numbers. Adrian may be dedicated to the Dynasty but she will always live me more. If she's really going to be there then I might be able to fix all of this or at least put a dent in the Dynasty's plan.

My feet throw up dust, dirt, and debris in all directions as I slam to a stop right before I run into a bullet ridden wall. There it is, the place I'm assuming Adrian wanted me to meet her. There it is in all of its bare bones and ashes glory. It's the building where Kern once took Adrian, Mallery, and I, where Kern and Mallery hid until Adrian ratted them out. It's too obvious of a meeting place if you ask me, but maybe that's a good thing. If the Monitors see me here it won't be suspicious.

I swing my legs over a crumbling cement wall, trying to make as little noise as possible as I shuffle further into the building, if it can still be called a building. The damage has gotten worse over the past days and I'm very surprised that it's still standing. God knows I wouldn't be standing if I had a hole like that blown in my side. I'd be very much dead. But, I guess that's the beauty of being inanimate: you can crumble and fall but never really die. The most simple things are forever and the most complex things are temporary. That's one of the ironies of life.

A moan comes from one of the few none damaged places in the building, the back corner. I can see a figure curled up into a ball there. My heart picks up its pace in excitement as do my feet. 'It has to be Adrian,' I think as I sprint towards the person. But, as I come within a few feet of the person I realize something: it's not Adrian, it's Kern and it looks like the snake has already bitten him.

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