It smells strongly of sweat and rust, the back of the truck I’m sat in that is. It looks like a converted army truck from a couple of centuries ago, with a small slit of a window in the four-bolt, seven-inch thick door and two rails going down the centre, to the partition between this section and the front, that a chain clicked to my handcuffs are attached to.
I sit with my ankles crossed on one of the benches; a guard sits across from me and stares. I sigh and lean back against the wall behind me, feeling the metal vibrate as we drive over roads long since disused.
I want to close my eyes and fall asleep to the rhythm of the engine’s roar, but every time I blink I picture the events ten minutes ago behind my eyelids. I picture the way I’d been escorted out of the room, the way my mother had waited outside with tears in her eyes because, somehow, she was aware of what was going to happen to me. I picture how I’d cried and screamed and punched and kicked the people trying to hold me back, the way I’d ran to my mother and tried to wrap my arms around her, but couldn’t because two men got a hold of my upper arms and dragged me away. I’d screamed that I got to say goodbye, but they’d dragged me around the corner and into another room.
In that room I’d been changed into a pair of black trousers and a black T-shirt, and they’d shoved a backpack into my arms. From there I’d been pulled into a second room and forced to sit in a iron chair, held down by burly men whilst a woman heated a branding iron shaped into an ‘I’: unable to scream because I had a plastic block in my mouth to bite down on so I wouldn’t bite my tongue, I’d moved spasmodically as she’d taken a hold of my right arm and pressed the iron into my inner upper am, the smell of my own singing flesh filling the air.
A single tear rolls down my cheek, and I turn my head to the side so the guard won’t see. There’s a bandage around where the iron had been pressed, and it stings. I hadn’t been giving anything to dull the pain, just handcuffed and shoved into this truck.
“Where am I being taken?” I asked, rolling my head so that I can look at the guard.
“To the Compound,” he answers dully.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s just a place, miss,” he mutters and leans forward slightly. “You’ll be assessed on levels of danger. If you are deemed not dangerous, chances are you’ll be freed and sent to another city. If you are deemed slightly dangerous you will be kept in a normal cell and later be given the chance to work for the government. But, if you are deemed too dangerous for socialisation you will be held in the closed vicinity until further notice.”
“Shouldn’t I have had a say in everything?”
He laughs. “You, little Influence, don’t have a say in your life from now on.”
I feel the anger slowly bubble up inside of me. “But until twenty minutes ago I didn’t even realise I was a damn Influence!”
He shrugs. “No one cares if you knew or not, you’re an Influence and that’s all that matters.”
I shake my head but do not answer; sometimes it’s better to not answer. Instead I turn my head to the side and stare out of the slit window in the door. It’s pure night outside now, the lights from Erudite shining out into the blackness of the sky. The stars don’t shine anymore, or if they do you can’t see them—pollution has marred the sky so much it’s impossible to see anything up there. The two towers, the Twins of Knowledge as they’re commonly known for they’re the parliament buildings of the city, right in the centre shine brighter than the rest of the buildings, tall enough that they seem to piece the sky. They are made entirely of glass that glows blue at night, and as they go higher the four walls get narrower until they reach a needle-like point.
I won’t see those towers again, I won’t see the city, so I might as well take it all in before I’m so far away I cannot make out the shapes. I’ve never been out of Erudite before, never been passed the one-hundred foot concrete wall that surrounds the city . . . until now. The outside is a foreign place to me, all disused and broken roads, ruined buildings half-covered in vines of ivy, and overgrown land. Not that I can see much of it because the roads are unlit.
“They say that when you look at the city from the sky, it looks like a question mark in a circle—the business corporations and A-grade apartments making up the mark,” I say, still glancing out of the window. “I’ve never been in the sky.”
“Hardly anyone has been in the skies nowadays,” the guard mutters. “It’s the privilege of the A’s and higher.”
“And what, pray tell, are you?”
“My personal life is not to be discussed with strangers, especially not Influences or any of your kind.”
I raise an eyebrow. “My kind?” I ask through my teeth, hands clutched tightly in my lap.
“Readers, Influences and Controls.”
“I’ve spent the whole seventeen years of my life thinking I am normal, and within the space of half-an-hour my whole life has been turned upside down and I’m labelled an Influence,” I say, closing my eyes to fight back the sting of tears. I will never see my mother again, that much is clear. This place where I’m going, this Compound . . . I know I will never see anything else apart from the electric wire fence that is bound to go around the whole facility.
“What does the Compound look like?” I ask after a few beats of silence, opening my eyes once again.
The guard looked at me, light eyes focusing on me. “I’ve never seen it,” he murmurs matter-of-factly.
I study his eyes carefully. After a second I see a building, dull grey stone with slit windows, the actual facility split into sections by long, windowless corridors. I see a watch tower, like with old prisons, and a thirty-foot wire fence runs around it just like I’d thought. “You lie,” I retort, “I know that you have seen it.”
By the set of his jaw I know he’s gritting his teeth, but he doesn’t say anything back to me. Instead he bangs a fist against the partition separating us from the cab and shouts, “Hurry up will you!”
“The road is full of potholes, unless you want me to drive off the side I suggest you shut up!” was the gruff response from the driver. I purse my lips to muffle my laugh, but when I see the guards scowl I cannot help but burst out in a fit of giggles.
I might as well make fun of this experience. I reckon it is the last fun I will have for a lifetime.
I don’t know how long we’ve been driving along the roads for, but we’re still on our way. This Compound must be a long way out from Erudite. The government must have placed it so far out deliberately so no one knew about it—until I’d been told I was going there, I hadn’t heard of it.
“What happens in the Compound?” I ask, generally curious. I’m trying to create a set of images in my mind, join the dots to what my life will be like. Is the place like a prison? It looks like one. I know that there is a chance I will be kept in the ‘closed vicinity’—Oscar said I was dangerous.
There is one thing I know, however, and that is I don’t want to go to the Compound.
I want my mother holding me tight in her arms and comforting me, cooing that everything will be alright in my ear. I want my bedroom, my bed to sleep in until the end of time. I want to be surrounded by my books.
I want to wake up and know that this is all just a dream. But in dreams you have extra fingers, and I have the right amount of fingers. And when I pinch the skin of my wrist it hurts.
I am awake, but I’m living a nightmare.
I don’t show my internal feelings, however—I don’t show that I’m scared, I don’t show that my arm is causing me pain—because it will do me no good to do so. The guard will not give me sympathy. The people at the Compound will give me no sympathy. The rest of my life will be void of sympathy, and because of that I must not look like I need pity.
We must be close to the Compound by now, it seems like we’ve been travelling for hours. It’s starting to get hot in the back now, even though it is night, because there is no air-con and the window does not open. I am hot and bothered, my T-shirt sticking to my back uncomfortably, and my throat is drying up. I haven’t had a drink in over five hours, but there’s no point asking for one.
I glance over at the guard, who isn’t looking at me. It would be so easy to make one quick motion, a blow to his stomach and then bring handcuffed hands down on the back of his head to render him unconscious, or wrap the chain around his neck and squeeze until he’s dead . . . but there’s no point, he doesn’t have the keys, and I’m not a killer.
It’s not that I’m a pacifist, far from it—I used to get into all sorts of fights in the school playground, and they weren’t pulling-hair cat-fights in the least—and if I needed to I could probably kill someone; it’s just I don’t want to and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I will never injury someone unless they have provoked me first.
I wouldn’t be able to make the move fast enough anyway, I feel too weak to even contemplate moving that much. I roll my head to the side and glance down at my bandaged arm; blood has started to seep through and is staining the white red. Maybe I’ll bleed out from this wound and become unconscious, maybe I’ll be the first to die from a wound like this and not even make it to the Compound.
I know, however, that that will not happen so I don’t know why I’m bothering to hope. So I just take to looking out of the window again to pass the time.
I’m still staring out of the window when I’m suddenly jerked forward and thrown onto my feet, my head bashing against the edge of the other bench. Something wet trickles down my forehead, I don’t have to lift my cuffed hands and swipe to know that it’s blood.
I glance up at the guard, who’s pulling himself up right, and half-shriek, “What the hell was that?!”
He lets out a hoarse grunt. “I think we hit something.”
“Like what?” I can feel the blood running down the side of my face, but I know it’s just a flesh wound.
“I don’t know—a deer or something.”
I push my hands against the floor to pick myself back up and retake my seat. “Are we just driving away?”
“What else do you expect us to do?”
“Go see if the animal’s alright!”
“Animals die every day,” he says, “I don’t really care.”
I’m about to reply but something bright flashes at the corner of my eye. I turn my head, thinking I’ve just imagined it, but then it comes again. It’s the light of a torch being waved in the blackness of the road.
“There’s somebody out there,” I murmur loudly. “I think we’ve hit someone.”
“You’re just seeing things.”
“I’m not, I’m telling you—” I start but I’m cut off by something slamming into my side of the truck. I jerk forward onto the floor again, but this time it’s my chest that collides with the bench. Pain seers through my bones and it hurts my ribs when I breathe.
I don’t have chance to recover before the same thing hits the truck with such force that it tips slightly, rising off of the right-side wheels. The truck hits the ground again hard and my back hits my bench.
“Do you suppose that’s a deer too?” I ask with a wince.
He doesn’t answer. Well, more precisely, he doesn’t have time to answer before the truck tips sideways again . . . to sideways.
The last thing I’m aware of before my whole body launches into the wall is the truck crashing to the ground. The last thing I’m aware of before darkness covers by eyes is the searing pain ricocheting through my whole body.
A/N: ooooh, cliffhanger! Well, kind of anyway.
But, hey, movement in plot. New chapter will come with an explanation of what Readers, Influences and Controls are - as in, what makes them what they are and what they can do. And there'll also be an introducing to new characters (woo!)
Oh, also, before I remember - I suggest y'all go listen to 'Who we Are' by Imagine Dragons, because I have it as the theme-song-type-thing for this story.