The last thing I’d said to my mother was that I’d be fine, before I headed out for the night. She’d been dubious but had let me go anyway. Everyone knew that Number 1 had been disposed of... but we all thought that London was clean. So I thought I’d be safe to meet up with my friends that night. We thought that if we ventured out to see that new band in town, we’d be fine.
The Parallel Line: that was where it all started.
I guess I should have seen it coming really. The number was cropping up everywhere in my life. I just never saw it.
“Brooke! Which of these statements is false? Number One or Number Two?” “Number One.”
“Brooke! What’s the answer to this equation?” “Three?” “No! One.”
“Brooke! How many of these shapes are proportion with the bigger image?” “One.”
Infection had been unheard of for three months in our Block. We all passed the routine health checks. We all followed the rules. We all made sure that we were ignored. Anyone who attracted the attention of the Higher Power would endanger our community. We all knew that.
I got the call on the Saturday morning. My mother and I were eating breakfast in the dining room when we heard the telephone ring. It wouldn’t have put us on edge in a usual circumstance but as I said before, Number 1 had been disposed of. Marcy, my friend from Block 367, was calling.
“There’s a new band playing tonight in town!” She’d said, “Everyone’s going. Are you in?” It was that question that ruined me. It was always that question.
Aged 9: my mother had warned me against entering the abandoned Blocks in town. Nobody had been inside them since the Raid of 1992. My 9 year old self wanted to see them desperately. Jaden and I had once sat by the fences, staring at the abandoned waste land... but we’d never gone inside. We were too scared of breaking the rules. The kids in my Block had other ideas, however.
“C’mon! Don’t be a baby!” They’d taunt, “We’re going to the abandoned Blocks! Are you in?” Of course I was ‘in’. They would never let me live it down if I refused. Jaden and I were given three weeks community service after that. For looking in an abandoned Block.
Aged 12: mother had told me to be respectful to Mrs Daniels next door because her son had gone. Jaden and I hated her. She used to glare at us as we passed her front garden, as if just our presence there would kill her azaleas. Carla lived across from us at the time. Everyone loved her. Her pretty blue eyes and plaited hair tied with silky red ribbons ensured that. I wanted to be Carla. All of the girls in the Block did. Jaden had a crush on her, I was sure.
“I think we should teach her a lesson.” Carla had said one night as we had a sleepover in her big white bedroom, “What d’you think guys? Are you in?” I dropped the fluffy, stuffed rabbit I was clutching and jumped at the chance to please Carla. When we’d broken into the house, however, we’d found Mrs Daniels hanging limply from a rope tied to her curtain rail. I remember being surprised that the rail had held her weight. Not so much that the lady had died. Jaden and I were given a month of community service for breaking and entering. That weekend Carla became Number 2.
Aged 14: my mother had allowed me to leave our Block for the first time. She’d warned me against causing a fuss and attracting attention.
“Stay invisible.” She’d said. Jaden and I left Block 362 for the first time in our lives. We’d passed through the security that guarded us and kept us inside. Our passes were scanned and we’d endured the two hours of intense health checks. We’d ridden the Speed Train in the cramped Minor carriage, full of kids our age who were like us: seeing the world outside their Blocks for the first time. Finally we’d reached the Square and seen the night clubs we’d only ever heard about. Not that we were allowed inside. Jaden and I had ended up in a cafe, drinking bright blue milkshakes that tasted of mint creams. That was where we’d met Marcy. She was the strange girl from Block 367 with a boy’s haircut. With her was a boy named Finley. He was rebellious. His hair was dyed black and his face was pierced. Jaden and I were awed by him.
“We’re going exploring.” He’d said, “Are you guys in?” Back in Block 362, Jaden and I were given a week of community service for public disturbance. I recognised Finley on the news that weekend: he had become Number 4.
So now, when Marcy asked my 16 year old self to accompany her to the Square, I had my doubts.
“I don’t know...” I’d said.
“Oh, c’mon Brooke! It’ll be fun!” She’d assured me. So that night I found myself meeting Jaden at the gates of our Block. He stood waiting for me in his trademark leather jacket, his brown hair scruffy as ever. As I approached him, his bright green eyes peered at me from beneath his fringe. Jaden grinned at me as I reached him, making my stomach flip. I’d begun to see Jaden in a way I’d never imagined I would. We were supposed to be the best friends that stuck together in this terrible society. Hormones had ruined that for me.
“You look good.” He’d said, as soon as I was in earshot. A blush had crept to my cheeks when he’d said this: I’d dressed up for him.
When we’d reached the Square, Marcy had greeted us excitably. There was a buzz in the air tonight. Everybody was excited about entering the club. The Parallel Line. Marcy, Jaden and I queued outside for almost an hour before being allowed access to the darkened building. Inside, we passed through a dimly lit corridor – narrowly avoiding the couples pressed in a tight embrace against the walls. Jaden grabbed hold of my hand, sending shivers down my spine.
“I don’t want to lose you.” He’d said. I noticed he was wearing the earring I’d bought him for his birthday the week before. It made me smile.
From the corridor, we emerged into a large room lit by blindingly blue strobe lights. The music was deafening. Its beat pulsed through me as Marcy dragged Jaden and I to the packed dance floor. We danced for hours as the band played, the three of us in amongst the tangle of anonymous bodies. Marcy had kissed a man with a tattoo on his face. They’d then sneaked off to the Ladies’ Toilets for a while. We knew exactly what had happened even though Marcy had denied all allegations afterwards.
Jaden and I had danced. Our bodies pressed up against each other. Sweat beading on our skin from the heat. The music was almost hypnotising and the club made sure we were enjoying ourselves. They’d given us free shots of a bright green liquid that tasted like mouth wash. It was fantastic.
That was when I’d started to feel strange. My head was felt clouded and my vision was blurred.
“You’re drunk!” Jaden had told me, his lips against my ear – the only way I could hear him over all the noise. I ignored the goose bumps that rose on my skin at the contact.
“No,” I told him, shouting to be heard, “It’s different. It’s bad. I feel really bad.” Jaden scanned my face and realised I was serious.
He opened his mouth to reply when a sudden sharp pain stabbed at my wrist, making me cry out. His eyes widened as mine squeezed shut. It burnt. It felt as if somebody had taken a knife to my skin. Jaden was shouting at me:
“Brooke?! Brooke what’s going on?! Brooke are you alright?!” I couldn’t answer. He grabbed my shoulders and shook me, willing me to answer.
Taking a deep breath I opened my eyes and felt the pain suddenly stop. All that was left was a prickling sensation.
“My wrist...” I started to explain but I stopped as the music cut off. People around us were looking around and complaining about the sudden quiet. Even the band onstage looked confused. Marcy appeared beside us, drink in hand, frowning, “What’s going on?” Her makeup was smudged and her tights were torn around her thighs. Jaden shrugged and explained what had happened to me. He told her how I had just cried out. Marcy turned to me, concern written all over her face.
“Oh my God! Are you okay?” She had asked. But I didn’t answer: I was suddenly aware of how cold it was. My breath fogged up in front of my face as I stared at my friends, confused and... terrified. Others noticed the temperature change too. Their cries for an explanation arose from the crowded dance floor. I was vaguely aware of someone trying to open the doors and leave the club but, it turned out, we were locked inside.
“Number One.” A voice spoke out through the speakers, “You have been chosen.” A deadly silence suddenly filled the room. All that could be heard were the shaky breaths of terrified people. My heart began to beat faster and a feeling of dread rose inside me. Jaden stood beside me, frozen to the spot. He looked as scared as I felt. It could have been any one of us. People were holding onto each other, praying it would not be them. I reached out to Jaden and held onto his hand. He squeezed mine as a reply, reassuring me of something he could not be certain: my safety. Everybody was waiting to have the Number 1 revealed to them. We were all clueless; nobody knew who it would be.
Except Marcy. I saw the realisation dawn on her face. She slowly turned to look at me, her eyes brimming with tears. She looked down at my wrist. I felt my heart beat slow as she started to shake her head, the tears now sliding down her cheeks. Jaden noticed her distress and followed her line of sight. His face fell when he saw it. He looked like he had seen a ghost.
“No.” He murmured to himself. He shook his head, “It can’t be you. It can’t be.” People around us turned to stare at me. There were gasps from some of the older adults.
“She’s just a kid.” They whispered to each other.
I couldn’t breathe properly. My head had started to ache. I looked down at my wrist and saw it there, the thing I had been frightened of seeing. Carved carefully into my skin, was ‘#1’. I stared at it, starting to shake. It couldn’t be me. I wasn’t infected. I always made sure I was healthy. I had just passed the checks! Looking up, I caught Jaden’s eye. He looked devastated. I didn’t want to cry: crying would make me look weak... but the tears still threatened to spill.
“Number One,” the voice said again, “You shall be taken to the tower.” I shook my head. I couldn’t go there. Jaden grabbed my waist and pulled me to him. He hugged me tightly as I clutched his shirt.
“I’ll find you,” he whispered into my ear, “I can’t stop them taking you, I know that. But I’ll find you. I swear to God, I’ll find a way to get you out of there.” Every part of me wanted to believe him. He was my best friend. I wanted to trust his words. The odds were slim, however. We both knew I was going to die in there.
“Jaden.” I started to cry, my head buried in his shoulder, “I don’t want to go. I can’t go there!” Jaden held me tighter as he tried to reassure me.
“Brooke? Brooke, listen to me.” He said, this time with more urgency, “I’m going to find you and get you out of there. I will, OK? Listen to me! I will, I promise. I...”
I didn’t hear the end of what he said: the world went black.