As one, every teenager from 6 lined up at the edge of the abandoned supermarket roof. Bows, guns and swords clutched in hands, all of them nervously shuffled forwards until the tips of their feet were off the roof.
I couldn’t breathe.
The rubber tips of my ancient Chucks peeked over the edge of the roof. Below me, skeletons of cars were haphazardly placed over barely-there yellow lines. Stray dogs barked at each other, slinking between the rusted frames, chewing at dead birds and rats. We were at one side of a shopping complex; 6 always stood on this particular building. I think this one was called Asda. There’s no way of telling; three of the sign letters had fallen off so all that was left now was an s.
We were looking at a square. Huge stores lined the complex, with a car park in the centre. Directly opposite us, One stood, a uniformed line, on top of some kind of old furniture store. To the left of me, 2 and 4 stood in two separate lines. Opposite, 3 and 5 mirrored them. All of us formed an odd kind of zigzag.
My palms slick, I fumbled with the gun tucked away in the halter attached to my rubber suit. All my life, I’d been training for this moment. Since that day when I was ten, where I’d went through the Selection—the challenge that set my fate in either 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6—all I’d done was prepare myself for today.
Streit Day. Fight Day, in German. Here in Audacious, we kept it classy.
The sky was a deadly, curling grey, the clouds outlined with black. A shaky breath escaped through my cracked lips. Earlier this morning, when I’d been lying sleeping in my hammock, I thought I had a chance. But now, as I glanced around at the lines of teenagers, I knew I had no hope.
Everyone looked just like everyone else. Strong, supple, muscular bodies; the result of a meaty diet since we were five. All of the girls had tan, curved frames— we had the same shiny hair held up in the same high ponytail and the same almond shaped eyes. The boys could be described in one word. Huge.
Their arms were just huge bands of muscle; their legs were like tree trunks.
We were the pedigree race.
In the complex, there were six hundred of us; one hundred in each sect. By the end of this, there would be just fifty. Five hundred and fifty kids dead. Fifty alive.
Unfair but needed. Audacious needed strong citizens; they needed future leaders. We were the youth and to get to the top, you had to kick some people off the ladder.
I felt a nudge on my hand.
Elsa, my twin, was peering at me with wide blue eyes. I shook my head but it was obvious to the both of us that I was lying. This would probably be the last time we would ever see each other but the goodbye just wasn’t coming out of my lips. It was stuck somewhere in my throat. All I could do was grab Elsa’s hand and hold on tight.
In the middle of the car park, the bricks had caved into the ground, and workers had built a platform in its place. Up until now, it had been empty. But as I looked away from my sister down into the car park, I could see the figure of Darwin, our leader, standing on it. Blue hair shining, he stretched his arm out in front of him.
The Audacious salute.
Automatically, everyone copied him. The perfect mirror image.
He stepped forwards. Even from here, I could see the ring in his lip glittering. The young ones from Audacious were bland, normal kids—it wasn’t until after the Selection that you were allowed to go wild. Elsa had said that she wanted to dye her hair baby pink and pierce her eyebrow.
I hadn’t even bothered to think about. There was no way I was going to survive.
“I welcome you, Generation Ninety-Six,” he called, gesturing widely at the gathering of sects. We were the ninety sixth generation to go through this process. It used to amaze me, how a collapsed system had picked itself back up and become something so successful. It amazed me when I wasn’t part of it, when I still lived at home with my parents. Something tugged in my chest. I hadn’t thought of my parents in a very long time.
I focused hard on Darwin, my face scowling. I had to be hard, keep my face a pure mask; otherwise I would crack. I hadn’t cried in eight years, and I didn’t plan to now.
Darwin grinned, mouth stretching wide. He was too far away for me to see but I knew that his silver canines would be gleaming. During his own Streit, one of the Challengers had torn his bottom jaw off.
A Challenger—a huge, shape-shifting, metal contraption that were always a certain part of the Streit—had the strength of thirty grown men. You could probably imagine how painful it would’ve been for one of them to remove half of your face.
He made it to the end, blood smeared all over his face and his jaw hanging on by just some muscle. The Authorities saw his braveness, his pain threshold, and crowned him the next leader of the Streit Days. As a prize, he got his jaw reattached, and his top and bottom canines replaced with long, metal fangs.
“Today, your life will be decided,” he said, dark eyes flashing. “Most of you will die. You will cease to be nothing but a pile of ash particles. I hope you have realised that. If you haven’t, now would be a great time to think it over.”
Another flash of teeth.
“However, fifty of you will live. Don’t try to be the hero; don’t try to help your friends. If you are truly the future of Audacious, you need to be selfish and you need to be strong. You might lose family, you might lose friends. Both are better lost than you losing yourself.”
I swallowed and glanced around. Everyone either looked close to tears or ready to saw someone’s head off. How could they be seriously okay with this? Everyone for themselves. Slaughter your family and friends just so you could tattoo and pierce your body and live your life under the law of Audacious?
Maybe I was better off dying.
Darwin lost the grin. He pointed behind him, at the long line of blue and white crystals. Hungrily, we all leaned closer. I closed my eyes.
My fingers would never close around one of those fifty crystals.
“You will be transported as soon as you grab one of these crystals,” Darwin announced. “You will have won a place in our community and you will have won your life.” He swallowed, eyes flickering. “I haven’t seen a Generation as strong as this before, so try your best and do yourselves proud. If you die, you will be remembered as a valid young person who cooperated with the Streit Authorities. I believe in each and every one of you. Don’t fail me.”
He hopped off the platform and crossed the line of crystals.
I held my breath. In less than two minutes, I would be down in the car park, fighting for my life. My mind was a blur—it couldn’t comprehend the fact I was away to chuck myself into something that would undoubtedly kill me.
“Good luck,” Darwin called, raising a white flag. “And I hope, for your sake, that you come out of this alive.”
Sweat rolled down my temples. My lungs tight, I leaned forwards until I was almost off the roof.
Here we go.
He waved the flag, whistling loudly through his fangs.
Every body in the entire programme, in that one moment, leapt off the buildings. I screamed on the way down—I couldn’t concentrate, the wind was too loud, it was too much, I couldn’t--
With a thump, I hit the ground and rolled. Immediately, I shoved myself up—it was too dangerous to be on the ground for long. Around me, people were screaming, shrieking at the top of their lungs. My eyes stung with the sound.
I raced past bodies, pushing my way through the car park massacre. An axe whistled over my head but I ducked just in time. My foot slammed into metal and I looked up, heart thumping. A car frame. I clambered over it, my hands slipping as I fought to grip onto the mossy metal.
A hand slammed down on my back and tore me from the car. I screamed, twisting and arching, trying to free myself from the grip. My back slammed against the ground as a foot was shoved down on my chest. I spat blood—crap. I’d bitten my tongue.
The girl above me already had a bloody matt of missing hair on one side of her head. She smashed her foot down on my chest again. Something in my chest snapped and suddenly, I was screaming.
I shrieked, grabbing her ankle and roughly yanking it towards me. She fell back, her head smashing off the car frame. Blood spattered the machine as she slid down onto the ground. I yanked my gun from my halter and shot her straight in the chest.
Her body jerked and I was off, clutching at my chest. I wasn’t waiting to see the life drain from her body.
All around me, a good percent of people were already dead or dying. I raced past people locked in fight, darting underneath arms and flying mallets. My breath was lost somewhere between my throat and lungs.
A boy appeared in front of me. I braced my muscles, locking my fingers around the gun. But the kid’s eyes were glazed, his face spattered with blood. He mouthed something, his lips moving too little for me to be able to make out what he was saying.
A blade appeared from somewhere within the middle of his torso and twisted, before wrenching back and out of the boy. His body crumpled and dropped down at my feet. A furious looking girl was standing behind him, the blood-drenched blade clenched in her hands. She bared her teeth at me.
It only took one bullet through her head to kill her.
I ran over the bodies, my feet catching on broken limbs and bruised heads.
From nowhere, something silver and metallic erupted through the crowd. It rolled to a stop about ten feet in front of me and I ducked to the side as a dart shot from its arm.
A Challenger. Great. I didn’t think I’d get this far.
The machine was about half the size of a house and it was made up of sleek, black metal. It had no designated shape, although this one was in the shape of a large ball. Its main purpose was to challenge the fighting teenagers, by trying to kill them. The ones who reached the Challengers were obviously too smart to be killed by a human, so they needed a superhuman opponent.
I gritted my teeth. I’d gotten this far, with only my rib broken, so I was damn sure going to finish.
I ran forwards, flipping sideways over someone’s back, and landing close to the Challenger. Swiftly, I yanked my gun out and shot at the red light at the centre of the beast. I missed and the thing groaned, rolling closer. Another dart burst from its arm. It landed deep in my thigh and I shrieked through clenched teeth. Blood soaked wetly through my tight rubber suit.
I swore loudly, shooting another bullet. It smashed the Challenger’s light. The beast stumbled back, groaning even louder. A smile that replicated a grimace spread on my face.
I ran closer, the butt of the gun slick in my palm. At some point, something heavy had been smashed over the back of my head—blood trickled, hot and wet, down the arch of my neck.
The Challenger swung an arm which I narrowly ducked. After countless lessons defining how to kill one, I knew that I had to slice the arms off. But I had stupidly chosen a gun instead of a sword or axe as my weapon. Guns are good for killing people but not as good at killing Challengers.
A glint caught my eye. A girl lay at my feet—well, a girl’s body lay at my feet.
Her dismembered head lay elsewhere.
Her hand was wrapped around the long handle of a scythe. I eagerly ducked down and grabbed it, just as the Challenger shot another dart.
It glanced off the tip of my ear. I growled.
My legs felt stiff but I forced them to run. Swinging the scythe high above my head, I ran up the Challenger’s leg and leapt, shrieking, towards its arm. The blade slid through wires and metal as easily as if they were arteries and muscle.
The Challenger buckled beneath me. The arm thumped to the ground, a cloud of dust billowing up around it. I dropped off the falling machine, landing heavily on my feet.
The beast collapsed. I panted dryly, wiping my forehead with the back of my arm. I didn’t have time to stop but all of the sounds around me had been dulled.
Apart from one.
I turned, heart thumping loudly.
Elsa lay, bloodied, on the concrete. A boy was pinning her down, an axe high above his head.
This wasn’t how it was meant to go.
Despite the warning bells ringing in my head, I raced towards my sister. The scythe felt slippery in my hand. The boy was moments away from slicing her head off. I wasn’t going to make it. I wasn’t going to get their in time to save my sister.
I could already feel the defeat in my chest. I couldn’t make it. With nothing but a scythe, I couldn’t--
I threw the blade aside and pulled out my gun. As soon as I was close enough, my finger squeezed the trigger and the bullet blew a hole through the boy’s skull. Blood exploded from his lips, spattering Elsa’s face. She screamed but I just hooked my hands under her armpits and pulled her out of the way as he toppled over.
“C’mon,” I yelled, shoving her in front of me. “We have to move. The crystals are just over there!”
Both of us tripped our way over fallen corpses towards the crystals. The bleak skylight gleamed off of them, allowing us to see where we were headed.
I couldn’t breathe. Again.
We were actually going to survive. We were going to make it.
I got there first. My fist clenched around a crystal, my body toppling down onto the floor. Power surged up my arm and into my chest. It burned, like acid was being poured into my veins. I fought back the shrieks.
Suddenly, a cold hand clamped around mine. Before I had a chance to be surprised, explosions sounded all around me. Screaming and crying echoed through the air.
This wasn’t how it was meant to be.
And then all the noise stopped. There were no more cries of the dead and dying.
I was alone.
At least I was until I opened my eyes.
Elsa stood in front of me, shaking hard. Her eyes were huge, the whites visible.
I could feel my lips moving but no sound was coming out, so maybe they were trembling.
I glanced down. We were on some sort of circular platform, with steps leading down onto a floor.
Both of us glanced up. Darwin stood, arms crossed, hip cocked, in front of a crowd of Authority members. Every single one of them looked astounded. Darwin just looked annoyed.
“You two have done something no one has ever, ever done before,” he snapped. “You somehow grabbed the same god damn crystal and managed to transport yourself to the finish line. Using the same crystal.” He threw his hands up in the air and made a noise that represented a snort. “I don’t get it!”
“Sir,” One man said, raising his hand slightly. “Elsa and Kayleigh are twin sisters. M-maybe it had something to do with the genetic bonding between the two of them.”
Darwin whirled, grabbing the guy by the collar and throwing him back. Snarling, he yelled, “I know that, you dumb twit!”
“But...” I couldn’t find the words. “What’s the big deal? So what if we got transferred back by the same crystal?”
The blue headed man froze, the muscles in his bare, tattooed arms twitching. Elsa fisted her hand around my wrist and squeezed warningly.
“The big deal?” He turned, jaw gritted. “The big deal? I’ll tell you what the big deal is, Kayleigh. It’s not just the fact that you both got here by the same crystal. It’s the fact that, when you both grabbed the crystal, every other crystal exploded. You two were the only ones who made it back alive.”
My veins ran cold. “What?”
Darwin shakily fisted his hands in his hair and yelled, “You two singlehandedly killed the entirety of Generation Ninety Six! The explosions killed the remaining survivors!”
How had we—two, average sized, sixteen year old, normal sisters—killed nearly six hundred people?!
Darwin marched towards us and grabbed our arms. “You need to see,” he said, sourly. “What you’ve done.”
Someone opened the curtains in front of us.
Bodies lay singed and incinerared on the concrete. Endless bodies.
“Well done, twins,” he whispered. “You’ve earned the title of the Treason Twins. You’ve earned yourself banishment.”
We were the future.
We are now the past.