~~“No” Julie says to us as we stand in her office, Frit had sent us in to ask for permission to leave and here Julie was crushing our plans. “You can go upstairs but Ashlyn is not to visit any relatives or friends from their she would risk exposing us” Julie says then sits down to tell us that it’s the end of the convocation. I’m not going to give in that easily though “I can trust him, he won’t sell us out to the government he hates them” My words don’t even seem to reach her. She quickly scribbles her name on the slips but pauses before signing mine. “I’m going to let you out but if you risk exposing us you will not be allowed back in. If you wish to see this friend of yours do so if you must but it’s at your own risk” she says the words flatly but they’re all I need to hear, I quickly gather our slips up and rush out the door the others a few steps behind me. “Which way so we go?” I ask.
“The tunnel way, the other one is only used for missions and ‘important’ people” Jaylyn answers and I walk over to the door I came through with Julie on the day I arrived. I feel a little light head as excitement builds up inside me. Jaylyn switches on a torch as we walk through the dark tunnel; I brush by hands against the rocky wall so I don’t walk into it. I curse when I stumble over a rock and short burst of pain shoots through my foot. “You alright?” Jaylyn mutters when he steadies me. I nod and we carry on, my face is slowly fading from tomato red back to its usual colour. We stop under the trapdoor and Jaylyn pushes it open, light floods into the tunnel causing me to blinks a few times to adjust to it. Sina pulls herself up first, making it look easy. She pulls Tamara up then offers me a hand. I let her pull me up and manage to clamber through the hole, not as elegantly as Sina though. Jaylyn pulls himself up without any difficulty the closes the door again. We cover it with leaves then look around. The ally way is empty and I see the back door of the shop I came through with Julie. I begin to turn that way but Sina pulls my arm “This way is quicker” She whispers, I notice how nervous they are “Have you ever been up here before?” I ask and my words sound louder than I meant them to me. Sina winces “Yes, only once on a school trip” Her words are quiet and I watch as Tamara nods to indicate that her answer is the same. “I’ve been up here a few other times but only with me brother” Jaylyn admits. I stare at them, a little surprised, then shake myself out of the moment. “Well, you need to act more natural and blend in. Normal people don’t whisper to each other” I can’t believe what I’m saying; I’m explaining how to act in Zone 3, the words sound weird coming from my mouth. I hardly ever lecture anyone on anything; I’m not clever enough to know anything anyone would be interested in. Sina sighs slowly “Let’s just get going this ally way is creepy” The words are still a little hushed but I decide not to correct her again. We walk down the alley and onto the crowded streets on Jonsivil. No one notices us, which is no surprise to me, but Sina and Tamara seem to relax a little as we walk in through the crowd towards the station without being stopped. “Do we have money?” I ask suddenly realising that we’ll need some.
“Of course” I hear Jaylyn say behind me and I notice he’s watching the taxis zooming past with fascination. We reach the ticket booth and the man inside leans forward so that I can smell the illegal nicotine on his breath; cigarettes were banned in zone 3 50 years ago. “4 return tickets to the West section” I say and the man nods. He types it into his computer, his fingers moving swiftly over the keyboard then he holds his hands out for the tickets when they start printing. Jaylyn drops some money on the counter and the man frowns at him “Are you kidding me?” his voice is deep and sends shivers through me. “Sorry” I say quickly then take the money from Jaylyn and count out the right amount. The man nods when I drop it onto the counter and hands me the tickets. I turn and walk to platform 3, the others close behind me. “Sorry about that” Jaylyn says and shakes his head; I can see him trying to figure out where he went wrong.
The train is a little late so we stand on the crowded platform in a nervous silence letting the crowds convocation flutter past us. We get on and I sit with Tamara and Jaylyn and Sina sit in the seats in front of us. I can hear Sina anxiously tapping the tray in front of her. The train smoothly leaves the platform and I watch the station become a dot in the distance, I look at the back seat of the train and imagine the ghost of myself sitting there as I left home to come here. “It’s beautiful” Tamara sighs as she looks out of the window. We’re in the sky now; on all the times I’ve been on an air train I’ve been too young or too nervous to appreciate the beauty outside the train. “It is” I agree and I imagine drawing it.
Jaylyn and Sina are having a quiet convocation in front of us and I can hear a toddler screaming in the back of the carriage. I feel my stomach tighten as we reach the stop marked ‘Wooduck’ the doors open and I have to restrain myself from getting up and walking through the doors. They are all that stand between me and my home; Tamara squeezes my arm in comfort as she notices the strained expression on my face. “Just a few more stops” I tell her breathing hard to stop tears as the doors close. I’m stronger than this; I will not break down in front of all these people. The lights above us move quickly and we’re soon in the West section. “Which stop is us?” Sina asks from in front of me. “Freniston” I tell her while I look up impatiently at the red dots start moving frustratingly slowly.
We finally arrive and I feel butterflies fluttering in my stomach, will Mirax even be in? We push and elbow our way through the platform. When we walk down from the station it’s a relief to be able to breathe fresh air. Jaylyn has his eyes open wide with anticipation and curiosity whilst Sina and Tamara stand closely together gripping each other’s arms. “Are you guys going to be alright going around on your own?” I ask them noticing how Sina’s eyes are darting around trying to take everything in. She gulps then nods, Jaylyn seems to have other ideas though “I’ll take care of them and meet you here at 4 in time to catch the train home, don’t worry about us go and find your friend. I nod gratefully at him “Have a good time and don’t get lost” I say. Sina’s eyes widen when I say this, I sigh “Don’t worry there’re lodes of maps around you won’t get lost” I say feeling stupid, now is not the time for humour. “Just act like you belong, no one is looking for us so don’t make them suspicious.” I say, then squeeze her arm in reassurance. She gives me a small smile then I nod “I’ll see you here at 4” After we say good bye they walk towards the lane labelled ‘town’ I walk towards the bus stop trying to remember Mirax’s flat number. At the bus stop there’s only 2 other people, a man in a suit plugged into his POD and another boy about my age wearing a faded blue top and baggy jeans with rips all over them. When I sit on the metal rail he shuffles his feet and looks up at me. I look at him and raise my eyebrows “Something you want?” I ask, falling back into my Zone 3 habits. He shakes his head but continues looking at me as if he’s trying to figure out who I am. “Do I know you?” He says after a few more seconds of doing this. I shake my head “I don’t know you” I say starting to feel a little uncomfortable. There’s no way this guy knows me, he can’t because everyone back in the east sector probably think I’m dead. He continues to stare, “You’re very pretty” He says suddenly surprising me. The actual comment didn’t surprise me, plenty of boys have called me pretty, it’s the way he said it, as if he was calculating something “Thank you” I say then look for the bus, wanting to end this convocation. A man sits on the other side of the rail with a hood up and dark sunglasses on; he sits with his back to me so I don’t get a chance to look at his face. At long last the bus arrives and I step onto it. I pull out the notes Jaylyn gave me and buy a return ticket then sit at the back. The hooded man gets on as well and so does the guy with the faded t-shirt. I bite my lip getting an uneasy feeling in my stomach. The bus lurches forward and I stare at the floor trying to turn invisible, at each stop I look up and hope that the 2 men will get off but they remain seated. My stop creeps closer and I start tapping my foot nervously. At the stop just before the university the faded t-shirt guy gets off, he looks over his shoulder at me just before he gets off then we drive away from him. I feel a little more relaxed that one of them have gone but the hooded man is still sat at the fronts, his hands stuffed in his pockets. The bus stops outside the university and I get up and walk to the front, I nod at the bus driver then step off the bus. I sense that the hooded man has got off now as well so I start to walk quickly into the building, it’s just a coincidence nothing more I’m just overreacting, that guy isn’t following me. The lady at the reception smiles at me as I walk in “Are you a student here?” She asks sweetly. I shake my head.
“I’m here to visit someone, Mirax Looten” I say to her. Whilst she types his name into the computer I look around for the hooded guy but, to my relief, he isn’t there. “He’s in flat 105 but you’ll have to wait until his class has finished before I can let you see him” The women explains.
“When will that be” I ask, hoping it won’t be too long.
She looks at her computer screen “You’re in luck his class finishes in 10 minutes, you can wait over there” She points a well manicured finger at a set of sofas in the corner; I nod and walk over to them. I look out of the window behind the sofa at the path from the bus stop to the entrance. The hooded guy has disappeared, maybe he’s a student here and doesn’t need to come the reception, but somehow I doubt that is true. He doesn’t seem to fit in here, the thought sends a shiver through me and I look away from the window and pick up an old magazine from the wonky coffee table in front on me. It’s one of the ones full of anorexic celebrities posing on the red carpet in heels that are too high and dresses that probably cost more than what my house back in zone 3 costs. I shake my head at the titles; ‘Derity Hunt gains 2 stone’ all they worry about is how much weight they gain when people in zone 3 are struggling to get tea on the table. I’m about to put the magazine back on the table when a title catches my eye. ‘Carlos Jenton’s son reported missing’ Carlos Jenton is in the government, you’re instantly thought of as important if you’re on the government and he’s one of the deputy leaders, I didn’t know he had a son though. I decide to read on out of curiosity, it’s very rare for someone in zone 3 to be reported missing.
‘Nathan Jenton has been missing for 3 days, after apparently having a huge argument with his father Carlos Jenton, one of our government deputy leaders. Their neighbour told us that they heard shouting and a door slamming at 2 in the morning, Nathan wasn’t at school the next day. Other sources have told us that the father and son weren’t very close; Nathan was always being looked after by a nanny after his mum died 10 years ago. A friend of Nathans told us that Nathan struggled at school due to dyslexia and his father refused to let anyone give him and special help. He also told us that Nathan was withdrawn and quiet on the day before his disappearance. Carlos has reportedly been very worried about his son and paying a lot of money for private detectives to help the search. So has Carlos’s poor fathering driven his son to suicide or is this just a teenager wanting attention? Watch this space for updates on the search for him’
I check the cover of the magazine for a date, its 3 years old. There aren’t any pictures with the article because the government made it illegal for the press to publish pictures without the person who’s in its permission. I don’t know how much of its true because everybody knows that storeys in magazines are over exaggerated and the writers like to bend the truth. I drop the magazine back on the table but my curiosity isn’t satisfied I start wondering more about Nathan because it really is unheard of for a Zone 1 to run away. I frown as I realise something, Marcus is a Zone 3 run away.
My thoughts are interrupted by the lady at the desk “You can go on up now” I nod at her then walk over to the big glass doors, “How do I get there?” I ask quickly realising that this is a very big building and it’s easy to get lost in. The lady raises her red lips into and overly sweet smile “Down that corridor then to your left is a door that says dormitories just follow the numbers until you reach 107” I nod a thank you then make my way down the corridor. It’s very quiet; I thought it would be busier between classes. I end up having to climb a steep flight of stairs to reach 107 and by the time I get there I have to pause before I knock to get my breath back. I don’t know why but my hand is a little shaky with nerves as I raise it to tap on the door. I hear someone turning the handle and I suddenly find myself wanting to sprint down the stairs and out of the building as quickly as I can. Instead I force my feet to remain rooted to the ground while the door begins to open. All my nerves vanish as a familiar set of blue eyes meet mine. “Ashlyn!” Mirax says and suddenly pulls me into a tight hug; I wrap my arms around him to and squeeze him already feeling safe in his arms. We both let go of each other after a few seconds and Mirax leads me into his flat. It’s small and messy with clothes drooping over his chair and littered all over the floor. Apart from growing a few inches Mirax hasn’t changes at all. He still has the familiar twinkle of mischief in his eye that he shares with me and his as blonde hair is still a shaggy mop on his head. I notice that he isn’t smiling like me. What happened to your arm?” He asks and I look down at my casted arm
“It’s a long story” I whisper quietly, there’s not enough time now to explain the failed mission
“You shouldn’t be here” He says and my smile slowly turns into a frown.
“What do you mean?” I say annoyed at his sudden change of character.
“I mean, the government are looking for you, they know you aren’t dead, they’ve already taken me in for questioning 3 times” I can tell by the way he says it that he didn’t like being ‘taken in for questioning’ I suddenly realise how foolish I’ve been, he’s right coming here has put him in danger. “Why are they looking for me, surly they’d just put me down as another zone 3 runaway and leave the case unsolved that’s what they do with everyone else that goes missing.” I say trying to figure out why they want to find me. “I don’t know but they are desperate to find you, they’ve questioned the whole school and all your neighbours, no one has said anything though.” Mirax explains and he runs his hand through his hair which is a sign that he’s nervous. “What about my parents?” I whisper scared of his answer. Mirax looks at me his blue eyes full of pain “No one has seen them since you were reported missing” I stare at him in disbelief, my mum had told me they’d be fine, I’d left thinking that the government would just report me as a runaway then leave my parents to grieve, that’s what normally happens. Mirax walks over to the window and looks down “You really need to go, they’ve probably kept tabs on me to make in case this ever happens.” I start shaking my head shocked from the news he just gave me, they can’t have killed my parents they aren’t dead. The hooded figure suddenly flashes into my head. “Oh no! I’ve been so stupid!” I say smacking my forehead “I’ve been followed up here” I say and walk over to the window, there’s no one outside but it suddenly feels as if we’re being watched. “You have to go” Mirax says and he starts pushing me towards the door. “Come with me” I say but he shakes his head, “I can’t leave my family to have the same fate as yours Ash,” He says.
“At least let me write down where I am so you can find me” I say but again he shakes his head.
“What I don’t know I can’t tell to the government” He says.
“This can’t be the last time I’ll see you” I say and tears start forming in my eyes, I try to rub them away but they start to fall anyway. “Ash, one day we will see each other just not now, not while the government....” He’s interrupted by a knocking on the door. I look at him terror flooding through me. Mirax points to the almost empty wardrobe and I climb inside closing the doors firmly behind me. It’s dark and the clothes smell of him but it doesn’t comfort me. I squeeze my eyes shut, and listen as Mirax opens the door. “I’m sorry but I can’t let you in” I hear Mirax say, his voice calm and cold. The reply is to quiet for me to hear but it’s defiantly a man’s voice. “I don’t know what you’re talking about” Mirax says and I can sense a small amount of panic creeping into his voice now. I hear shuffling as the visitor walks into the room. “I mean you no harm Ashlyn” I recognise that voice, it can’t be though surly he didn’t follow me all the way out here. “Ashlyn we have to go, I’m not waiting here forever” The voice hisses and I sigh in relief as I open the door. Ethan’s standing there dressed in all black; no government agent could sound that impatient. He raises his eyebrows at me. “Julie said no trouble but of course you wouldn’t listen to her so she sent me out to follow you, I’ve had a great day covering your tracks.” I roll my eyes at his sarcastic tone and turn to Mirax. “This is Ethan; he is insanely annoying but not a threat” I say shaking my head. Mirax nods but he’s staring at Ethan with caution and suspicion in his eyes which is strange because Mirax is naturally a trusting person. “We need to go” Ethan says then walks over to the door.
“Can’t we stay a little while?” I ask, the government weren’t tracking me it was Ethan who was following me the whole time. “No, I heard the lady on the phone downstairs, she’s reporting you” He said “You aren’t very cautious are you?” I scowl feeling stupid again; I should have known that the lady was too sweet to be true. “I guess this is good bye then” I say and feel tears prickling my eyes again but this time they’re easier to stop. Mirax strides over to me and pulls me in for the second hug of the day and whispers into my ear “Be careful, not everyone is who they seem” When we pull apart he nods at me and Ethan impatiently taps his foot. “You will come with me one day” I say “Your family too” Mirax nods again then smiles “Good luck Ash” He says to me then looks at Ethan “Make sure she gets back safely”
Ethan nods his head “Those are my orders” I give Mirax one final smile before following Ethan out of the door. I start to walk down the steps again but Ethan puts a hand on my shoulder “No this way2 He whispers then starts to climb the stairs. Moments after we walk around the corner to Mirax’s room I hear heavy boots hitting the stairs and I look at Ethan, he puts a finger to his lips and points up the stairs gesturing for me to carry on walking. I do as he says until we reach the very top. The door is locked but it’s old and it only takes Ethan a few tries to force it open. We step out onto the windy roof top and instantly step back onto the steps again shaking violently it only took a single glance at the drop below to bring the images flying back. “What are you doing?” Ethan hisses at me as he pulls a rope out of a black rucksack that I didn’t even realise he was wearing. I shake my head. “I can’t” I say squeezing my eyes shut and trying to make the sick feeling in my stomach go away. “It’s this or being captured by the government” I gulp down my fear then take a small step onto the roof. The wind instantly hits me filling my clothes and stinging my cheeks with bitter kisses. “Just get over here” Ethan says and holds out his hand, I slowly walk towards him looking at his face and not at the drop only a few feet away from me. At last I reach him and he grips my hand firmly in his and I can sense that he won’t let go until I ask him too. I turn my back on the drop and face look at the floor while Ethan fumbles with the rope with one hand. He finally squeezes my hand to signify that he’s ready. “I’m going to clip you in and lower you to the ground” He tells me then wraps a belt around me and attaches a metal clip to it. “You’re perfectly safe, the rope is firmly tied to the roof He reassures me “Just lean over the side” I take a step towards the edge and turn to face Ethan like he told me “Now lean backwards” He says still holding my hand. Tears start falling down my cheeks as fear starts squeezing me so hard that I’m finding it hard to breath “I can’t do it” I say between breaths. Ethan looks at the door “You have to” He says then I see an idea flash into his eyes “I’m really sorry about this try not to scream” He says releases my hands and gives me a tiny shove and I fumble over the edge of the building. I’m living my own nightmare and I’m falling through the air with nothing to catch or stop me at the end. but I’ve suddenly I’m not falling and a scream is on the tip of my tongue but I swallow it not allowing it to escape my lips, I’m not falling anymore. The rope stopped me, painfully jolting mybroken arm and leaving a burning sensation on my back and stomach but I’m not dead and I didn’t fall. I’m half way between the roof and the ground. I look up and see Ethan 2Lower yourself to the ground then unclip yourself” He shouts and I can see that he’s attached himself to the rope as well now. I don’t look down and start to walk down the building counting my breaths to try to calm myself. It’s not long before my feet are firmly on the floor and I’m holding the clip in my hand watching Ethan effortlessly climb down. I can feel the adrenalin pulsing through me and savour it as it calms down my butterflies that haven’t stopped fluttering. Ethan jumps to the floor and pulls the clip off. He then pulls a match out and sets fire to the rope “Why’d you do that?” I ask watching the burning rope with confusion “So they can’t use it” Ethan says then starts to walk away, “The bus stop is that way” I say and point in the right direction.
“We aren’t going there; they probably have someone waiting there for you to walk right to them” I sigh and follow Ethan as he starts to walk towards the car park for the college students. I notice that he is constantly alert like an exposed animal that is always looking for danger. He leads me to a battered old blue car and pulls a gadget out of his bag then places it onto the car door. We wait a couple of moments then it beeps and at the door opens. I watch in amazement “These things always come in handy” Ethan says smiling when he notices my face. He unlocks the driver’s door then gets in. I sit in the passenger seat and observe as he fiddles with a lode of different coloured wires and suddenly the car engine hums to life. “When do we learn how to do this?” I ask thinking of all the bland stuff we’re doing in strategy. Ethan laughs as he starts to pull the car out of the car park and onto the dusty road. We drive away from the college without seeing any sign of trouble and leave it safely behind us.
“So you’ve been following me all day?” I ask when we’re far away from the college.
“Yeah that guy you were talking to needed a punch” He said shaking his head and I remember the way that the guy from the bus stop kept looking at me. “He thought he knew me” I say which after the events of today is possible the government have probably posted photos of me in the newspapers. “You won’t be coming up here on your own again” Ethan says.
“Not at all?” I ask not liking that he’s laying down a rule.
“No, you’ve proved today that you’re incapable of looking after yourself and because of this you’re a threat to FREAM if you’re allowed upstairs on your own” Ethan explains with no sympathy of any emotion at all in his voice. I glare at him “So your locking me away, like a child” I growl.
“No, you’re still allowed up here but you’ll be accompanied by a qualified soldier, these are Julies terms” Ethan explains.
“How do you know all this?” they can’t have known I’d screw up this morning could they?
“We have ways of communicating” He answers then points to what I thought was a watch on his wrist but it’s actually a mini keyboard with a fold out screen. I sigh and lean against the window watching as we drive through the streets of the west section back to FREAM. “Wait!” I suddenly shout as we start to reach the boarders of Jonsivil “What about my friends?” I say suddenly realising they’ll be waiting to meet me. “Marcus went to find them when you split up from them they’re back at FREAM now.” They news settles my sudden panic but I still feel stupid I could have left them there alone. The rest of the drive is in silence and we finally arrive in Jonsivil. We ditch the car in an ally way far away from the base then take the train back to the ally way and enter FREAM through the tunnel. When I walk into the brightly lit reception I finally relax, I’m safe again.