Usually I dress straight into my nightdress before I head downstairs to prepare my mother her evening supper—she takes a meal at a C-grade restaurant in the city centre—but when I hear voices from downstairs, among them my mother’s lilt voice, I change back into my dress and sink down to sit on the top step of the stairs, peering down into the living room through the gaps in the two wooden banisters.
The room is empty, but from the closeness of the voices I can tell they are only in the kitchen. The living room, just like every other room in the house, is more for practicality than for comfort, there’s a sofa underneath the stairs, a radiator underneath the wall with the bay window, two long bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, a mirror above the mantelpiece, and spotlights set into the ceiling at each corner. We do not own a TV.
In the centre of the mantelpiece is a framed photo of my father, and two candles on old candelabras at either side of the frame. They are there in remembrance of my father, who died when I was only a small child—or so my mother says, but sometimes I think she is lying; I don’t know why I think that.
“The monitors don’t lie,” a gruff, male voice mutters from the kitchen. I faintly recognise it.
“Why have you been monitoring my daughter, Charles?” my mother’s voice counteracts. My daughter. What?
I carefully take steps down the stairs, keeping to the wall so that I won’t be seen if someone is to look this way, and also because the parts of the floorboards nearest to the wall don’t creak—something I’ve learnt from years of sneaking out and back in during the night.
“The thing is,” another voice, a female one, mutters, “your daughter has been purchasing many things over the last few months—items she shouldn’t be able to purchase, because of her knowledge.”
“She’s a smart girl.”
“She shouldn’t be,” the man snaps. “She should be just above average, not smart. She shouldn’t be able to answer questions designed for those against the boundaries of your family, of your name and grade.”
“Maybe she just took time to create a mind palace?”
I hear the woman bark out a laugh. “Quit making excuses for your daughter, Helen, she isn’t Sherlock Holmes.”
We may not have a TV, we may not watch shows, but I understand the linked reference between a ‘mind palace’ and someone called ‘Sherlock Holmes’ to be that of a 21st Century programme, because I’ve heard the B’s talking about it for reasons unbeknownst to myself.
I don’t understand this conversation. What have I done? What could I have possibly done?
I have to find out.
Pushing off the step and standing up, I take the stairs two at a time and jumped from the third step up, landing on the raised platform at the bottom. Unfortunately jumping down onto it makes a rather loud sound, and since I’m not the most agile person ever I lean forward too far and smack my forehead against the wall.
“Sophia,” my mother calls.
I turn and lean over the simple newel post, a hand slapped to my forehead as I rubbed the skin there. I was going to get a bruise. “Yes?”
All three people in the kitchen turn and face me. The two I don’t recognise are dressed fully in black, from a black coat down to black combat boots. The woman has cropped black hair that flicks underneath her chin, whilst the man’s blonde hair is spiked in several directions.
“Come here,” she says. There must be something wrong; normally she unnecessarily adds words such as ‘dear’ or ‘love’ to the end of her sentences when addressing me.
I feel a lump rise in my throat. I feel a warning trigger go off in my mind, something telling me that what I should do is see if I’m able to smash my way out of the bay window and set off running. But I don’t run. Instead I swallow back the lump, telling myself mentally that I’m just being silly, and walk over to the archway into the kitchen.
“Are you the police?” I ask, looking over at the two people. No, they can’t be, the police now wear blue.
The man barks a laugh. I realise that he has a lip piercing. Definitely not police, the police have no piercings. “No, we’re not. But we are officers.”
“We work for the government,” the woman says ignorantly and impatiently. “And we’d like you to come with us.”
“And if I refuse?” I raise my chin stubbornly like I was brought up to do, just in different circumstances. My mother taught me to raise my chin not in order to appear snooty, but as a way of ignoring those who thought they were better than me and so made snide comments. Now I do it to stand my place.
“You will come with us, either willingly or unwillingly,” she mutters harshly. “And for your own benefit it would be better for you to choose the first rather than the latter.”
The lump rises back up in my throat, but this time I do not attempt to swallow it down. There is something about this woman’s voice, her imposing appearance and intimating demeanour, the coldness of her stare as her blue eyes bore into mine, that makes me scared.
“We just want to ask you a few questions, that is all,” the man says calmly, reaching out a hand towards me. I flinch away.
“Why can’t you ask me whatever you want to ask here?” I don’t want to go with them; I don’t know where they’ll take me.
“We don’t want anything to . . . influence you.”
“We’ll let your mother come with you, but she’ll just be in another room.”
The room has black tiles covering all four walls, and built into one wall is a large pane of one-way black glass like they have in interrogation rooms. This place looks like an interrogation room, just minus the table and chairs. There is a chair, but it’s a lone one in the centre of the room, and looks like a modified dentists chair, all black leather and chrome panelling, with a great big light attached to it and has two wrist and ankle straps.
My mother and I had been escorted out of the house and into a van, from which we’d be driven to a large building of black glass and escorted down into the basement, a place which was sectioned into six rooms. My mother had gone into one of those rooms, presumable one behind that black glass, and I’d been taken into the one I’m standing in now.
There are four other people in the room, one standing in each corner, and among them are the two from my house.
“Miss Carter, sit in the chair,” the man I know, who I know now is called Charles, orders. When I do not budge from my place in front of the locked door, he steps forward and literally drags me to the chair and forces me to sit on it by pushing my shoulders. He keeps his hands on my shoulders to keep me down whilst the other three people tighten the wrist and ankle straps so that I cannot move off of the chair.
“We would like to ask you a set of questions, Miss Carter,” the other man in the room murmurs. He has a soft, low voice. It gives me the chills. He wears a black t-shirt that hardly fits the mass of his biceps, and tight black trousers. He should go shopping for better fitting clothes.
“Does there have to be a reason?”
“Everything has a reason behind it, even the smallest of things,” I say. “You wouldn’t bring me here for questioning without a reason.”
“Charles was right; you are a smart girl,” he says, “way too smart for your own good.”
“I don’t see any problem in being smart. Just because you label me as one thing doesn’t mean I have to be that one thing, I am many things—do not label me by one.”
“One who demonstrates behaviour outside of the social norm can threaten the system.”
I narrow my eyes at him but do not answer straight away. Instead I tip my head back and stare up at the ceiling. “Are you just going to debate vague politics to me or are you actually going to put me through a questionnaire?”
The man doesn’t answer me but nods to his colleagues and one of them connects wires to a machine that has been wheeled it and places an electrode pad on either of my temples.
“Testing my brain waves?” I ask.
“It is necessary,” the woman flicking the switches of the machine on says.
“What is your name?” the man asks as he paces back and forth.
“Sophia Carter,” I murmur, “though I don’t understand why my name is of any import—”
“What is my name?”
I feel my brow furrow in question, my shoulders hunching as I draw myself as far back as I can. “How should I know?—I’ve never met you before.”
“What is my name?”
I stare at him and tip my head to the side, focusing my gaze on his dark eyes. I squint, trying to see something in his eyes or his face but he’s simply impassive. I open my mouth to protest, but suddenly a name pops into my mind and I murmur, “Oscar” before I even realise.”
The man stops pacing and smiles slowly. But it isn’t a nice smile, it’s quite menacing. “Correct.”
How? “How do I know your name?”
Oscar ignores my question and instead asks another of his own. “How old do you think I am?”
I study his face, the start of the wrinkles around the edges of his eyes. He doesn’t look too old. My mind through possibilities, eliminating numbers that are too vague or incorrect. When I look into his eyes again a number emerges in the front recesses of my mind, two digits, and I can almost see then in front of me. “Thirty-one.”
I’m starting to panic inside. I don’t understand. How can I know things I’ve never known before?
“Next question: am I married?”
I see there is no wedding band on the ring finger of his left hand, so I initially want to say that he isn’t, but then I remember that not all married men used to wear wedding bands. But now it’s a tradition and a law for those married to wear bands because it intertwines with the law on adultery. Plus this man is thirty-one, and citizens are married by the time they are twenty—always.
“You’re divorced,” I say.
“That was more of an observation question, really, but you are right.”
I look in his eyes and see two little faces, two almost identical faces. “You also have two children who are twins, a boy and a girl. You see them every other weekend.”
“That is true.”
“Your wife divorced you three years ago.”
I hold his gaze. There is so much behind his eyes. I cannot stop myself from speaking. “She divorced you on the grounds that you had a brief affair with her sister, and she found out through the e-mails on your computer. That’s a serious offence, Oscar, usually ending in imprisonment for wrongdoing or, in drastic and long cases, death of the man—this society has taken laws from ancient Greek times and in turn made them their own. But you were only given a fine, because it was a short affair—a fine that meant forty pieces of your knowledge was taken from you, and you were stripped of your title of Minister of Edu—”
My mouth snaps shut and I feel the corners of my lips turn upwards in a mischievous smile. But then my eyes widen in shock and panic as I replay all I have just said in my mind. “How?—how did I know that?” I lash forward but the restraints on my wrists and ankles hold me back. They all look at me. “Answer me!”
They all just continue to stare at me until someone, Charles, speaks up. But he isn’t speaking to me; he turns away and mutters words to the woman behind him, words that I almost don’t pick up on. “Inform them that they’ll be having a Code Black escorted to their gates soon.”
Code Black. The two words niggle on the backs of my memories. I’ve heard the words before, somewhere at some point in my life . . . words I’d heard a woman say before when I was little, when I’d been only a child.
“What is a Code Black?” I ask before I can stop myself. I need to know what it means.
The woman Charles had been conversing with gives me a pitiful look before she walks over to the other side the room and waits for the door to slide open before leaving. It isn’t until the door closes again that I receive my answer, and it comes from Oscar.
“Why, it’s what you are,” he says and leans forward, looking deep into my eyes.
“But I’m just me, I’m just normal.”
“Oh, you’re so much more than that,” he whispers. “You’re completely abnormal—all our knowledge and you’re only a C, how did you think you had it?”
“I read a lot.”
“You take in knowledge and take it away from other people.”
“I . . .”
He straightens back up and turns around. “Let’s have a demonstration, shall we? Hmm . . . Charles, what is your favourite colour?”
I see Charles smirk. “Easy, yellow.”
Oscars nods and turns back to me. “Take away his knowledge.”
“I . . . what?”
“Take. His. Knowledge.”
Oscar huffs and crosses his arms across his chest, looking down at me with a condescending look. “Fine. But do you still not see what you are?”
I feel like crying, I feel like breaking down in tears, but I’ve never cried in front of strangers before so I’m not about to start now. Instead I sigh and stare at the floor while I say, “I’m just me. Just Sophia Carter.”
“No, you’re not.” Suddenly his hand is under my chin and he’s forcing me to look him in the eyes. “You’re much more than that. You’re a danger, and given enough time you could destroy Erudite.”
“I’m not dangerous!”
“You are a Code Black; you are a dangerous Code Black.”
I’m about to scream at the top of my lungs that I have no idea what he is talking about, that I’m not dangerous and I don’t know what a Code Black is, but something at the back of my mind pulls viciously on my memory. In my head I see the posters that are in every classroom and on every street and somewhere in every home in the city of Erudite, a white poster with a lot of bold and capital writing on it, Code Blue, Code Black and Code Red. Code Blue for Reader, Code Red for Control and Code Black for . . .
My blood runs cold in my veins, feeling like ice as terror rises in my heart. Oscar is right, I am dangerous, I am a person parent’s tell their children about to scare them; I am the type of person parent’s have to give up in their child is one. I’m a city menace.
“I’m an Influence.”
A/N: so it's finally up, I'm not sure if I'm completely happy with it but I just wanted to get it online.
For those of you who don't know, the reference I make to ancient Greek laws comes from Solon's law on adultery, in which the man had the right to kill any other man he found with his wife, a man he found with his mother who wasn't his father, and stuff like that. I learnt that law in classical civilisation! YAY classics!