~~I’m standing at the bottom of a mountain, staring at the steep hill that doesn’t seem to end. The wind stings my bear arms and blows my hair around my face. The snow beneath me crunches as I turn away from the mountain, I’ve had this dream many times before and I never reach the top. The gale screams in protest as walk away but I keep going, until a deep clear voice shouts “Ashlyn” I turn around, this has never happened before, and see a boy standing a few steps away surrounded by light so bright I can’t see his face properly, only his soft brown eyes. I open my mouth to reply but no words come out. The boy reaches out a hand “It’s time” he says and I shakily lift my hand up and take it.
“Ashlyn... Ashlyn!” I wake up and hear my mother hissing my name into my ear and shaking me awake. I sit up groggily and open my eyes; my mum is kneeling beside by bed a small brown parcel in one of her hands.
The time on my POD reads 5:00, in the morning. I’m about to protest about her waking me up at this time but my mum holds a finger to my lips to silence my. “You have to trust me” she whispers. I nod, confused. She hands me the brown parcel “It was your great-grandfathers, he fought with it during the Great War” she explains as I nervously unfold the brown paper to reveal a sleek black gun. I widen my eyes in surprise balancing the weapon in my hands and feeling the trigger which must have ended the lives of many of the government’s men. A smile creeps onto my lips, this must be one of the only weapons left in zone 3; they supposedly took them all away when we lost the war.
“You have always been born to do something greater than living here Ashlyn. Your special and I’m not risking having that taken away from you today with the stupid injection. You now have the chance of freedom” Mum says in a hushed tone. I frown, what is she talking about? She stands up and grabs my school bag then empties the books onto the floor “Mum! What are you doing?” I exclaim. She ignores me and starts shoving clothes into the bag then goes into the bathroom across the hall. “Get dressed” she tells me. I obediently grab some clothes from my almost empty wardrobe and put them on while my mum puts my pyjamas in to the bag as well. She hands me a belt to put the gun in which I wrap around my waste then slide the gun onto it then covering it with my jumper.”I’ve saved up enough money for you to travel by air train and go to Jonsivil. When you get there you need to find a women with a green scarf and a red bag. These are the only instructions I’ve been given to tell you”
“Who told you all this?”I ask
“Doesn’t matter you need to go now” She replies pulling me off the bed that I’m sitting on. I pull my boots and my coat on in silence. I go to pick up my POD “You won’t be needing that, it has a tracking device on it” Mum tells me “How I am supposed to talk to you and my friends?” I say frowning.
“You won’t” she says flatly. It hits me now, I’m going to vanish from the government and from my family and friends too “But Mirax...” I whisper
“Will know you are safe and happy, maybe one day I’ll send him to find you” Mum finishes for me. I nod, this is my chance, I can’t lose it because I will miss people, if Mirax found out I’d stayed so I didn’t leave him behind he’d be angry.
We walk down the stairs in silence. Mum pulls me into her arms and hugs me tightly, “I will tell your father good bye from you, the less he knows the less he can tell the government if they interrogate him” My eyes widen but she shakes her head, her way of saying don’t worry about us. “Why won’t you come?” I ask.
“My time is nearly over but yours is just beginning” She pulls something else out her pocket, an envelope “Open this later” She says and tucks it into my pocket. “Happy birthday Ashlyn” she says as I open the door “Thank you mum, for everything, I love you.” I say before closing the door and wiping away the tear rolling down my cheek.
I start jogging for the last time through my neighbourhood, past the school, the park and the dentist, far away from the hospital and my injection.
I finally reach the station and climb the steps that lead to platform 1 where the train that goes to all the important stations in Zone 3 will be waiting. The only way to get to zone 2 or 1 from here is in a privately booked taxi. It stops us mixing with them and spreading our disease, at least that’s what my zone 2 basic school teacher said. She’d hated teaching in zone 3; we all knew that she wanted to teach in zone 1 or 2.
At the top of the steps I spot the ticket booth and walk over to it, there’s no one else around so I don’t have to wait in a queue. The man on duty sits up straighter as I walk over, his eyes are droopy with huge black bags under them; must have been here all night. “Morning” he says with respect only people from zone 3 have for each other. “One ticket to Jonsivil please” I say as brightly as I can. He nods and I hand him the bank notes mum gave me, he gives me a small amount of change. “Going somewhere special?” he asks as we wait for the ticket to come out the machine. “Visiting my grandma” I lie, my grandmas are both dead. He accepts my answer and gives me the ticket “have a nice trip” he calls after me as I start to walk away. I wave good bye and make my over to the air train that’s just arrived on platform 1.
I climb on and walk over to the back and dump my bag on the seat next to me then sit down on the leather seat and look around the carriage. There aren’t many people here, only a few men in suits and a couple who are sat at the front both staring into space.
Only now that I’m relaxed do I notice my head is pounding with a headache from all the drinks I had last night. I curse myself for having those beers like I do every time I have a hangover. I look up at the screen that shows where the train is and how many stops there’re until your stop. I’m going to be on here for about 2 hours. I decide that it’s not a good idea to go to sleep because I might miss my stop so when the train pulls away from the station I pull the envelope mum gave me out of my pocket, I run my fingers along the smooth edges then open it.
Inside is a handmade card and on the cover is the photo taken of me and my parents in the summer. I smile as I see their arms around me and remember the day it was taken, I was annoyed they’d dragged me out for a family picnic because I was supposed to be going out with Mirax but the day had turned out to be fun, dad had asked a random stranger to take the photo of us.
I open the card and see it’s a birthday card and my smile gets bigger. There is something else in the envelope, a packet of pain killers and a note on it saying ‘stop drinking’ I sigh in relief then pop them in my mouth, grateful mum thought ahead for me. When the pounding throb has turned into a dull ache I open the card:
I hope you only leave with the good memories of us, I know we have already forgotten all the arguments. You’re going on a journey that we sadly can’t be a part of. All we can do is hope that you won’t forget us and remember not to change for anyone. We love you and always will, whatever happens to us.
You’ll always remain in our hearts
Mum and Dad xxx
My throat goes tight and I fight back tears as I read the words. ‘I love you too’ I think, I didn’t even get to say good bye to my dad. I take shaky breaths and fight back the tears then put the card back in my rucksack. I lean back in my seat and stare blankly out of the window feeling completely alone for the first time in my life.
My stop gets closer and closer and as it does I get a strange sense of de jar vu. I’ve been on the air train before, on school trips and on visits to see my grandparents but it’s something else. When I’m about two minutes away from my stop I realise why it feels familial, it’s my dream. Except this time I won’t wake up in by bed at home, I will walk into the light and find out what’s on the other side. The train stops silently and I get up and walk to the doors, they slide open and I walk out.
Jonsivil is busy, very busy, this doesn’t surprise me though. Jonsivil is the biggest city in Zone 3, it’s where all the important stuff happens for us, everyone in zone 3 wants a job here which is why I think it’s odd that I’ve been sent here. As I get swept up in the river of black and white suits I keep my eyes open, looking for a lady wearing a green scarf and carrying a red bag. I feel the gun press against me as I bump into one person after another and am very thankful for the governments’ ignorance. They are so confident that they have complete control over us no one is checked for weapons.
When I get to the main part of the station it’s even busier than on the platform, I’m pushed and shoved in a wave of heavy trench coats and brief cases. None of these people are wearing a green scarf or carrying a red bag. I make my over to the edge and pull my hood up so that no one can see my face easily then stand on a bench to get a better look. I scan the crowd but still can’t find her but I do spot a sign that says Redding. I frown and get down from the bench then decide to follow it. I walk up the steps leading to Redding and arrive on a pavement full of small shops and people running around their arms full of shopping bags. I look at the names of all the shops and see a small boutique called Hemscarf. I walk over to it and open the door.
Inside it smells strongly of perfume and it’s got rails and rails of fancy clothes. Around the corner there’re shelves covered in bags. There’s only one customer here and she’s looking at a red bag and she’s wearing a green scarf.
I walk over to her and she looks up at me, she has a long face and a pointy nose, her thin lips are covered in what must be a tube of lipstick and seeing the colour of her roots her blonde hair is obviously cheaply dyed.”I’m Ashlyn” I mumble to her. She nods, “Your mother was right you are clever aren’t you?” I let out a sigh of relief that I found the right person. “This way, child” Her patronising tone makes me instantly dislike her. She walks over to the counter and the young girl at the till stands aside as the lady walks behind the desk into a room. I follow her and watch as she opens what must be the back door. I continue to trail her as she walks through the door. This leads to an ally way. The only sound is the click of the women’s heels as she leads me to a trap door that’s covered in leaves. She lifts it up to reveal a rusty metal ladder “After you” she says. I swallow hard then start to climb down. It’s dark so I have to go slowly but it doesn’t take long to reach the bottom. I hear the women shut the door and shortly after she is right behind me. I hear her fumble around with something then suddenly its light again, she’s switched on a torch. “This is one of the hidden entrances, the main one is in an elevator from in a building on Lind Street, we prefer it if you try avoiding that one because the more people who use it the more likely people will get suspicious” The women explains and I nod showing her I understand.
We walk down a narrow corridor, which reminds me of the tunnels me and Mirax used to run around in when we were kids, then she opens a wooden door and suddenly we’re in a hallway full of light. The lady switches her torch off and walks over to a desk where an old man covered in wrinkles, but smiling at us sits. “This is the new recruit, she needs her card” The man flutters through a stack of paper until he finds an little square card with a photo my mother must have given them of me on it. “On this you can scan it to pay for items in shops, you only have a limited amount on it each month though so don’t spend it all at once. It’s also got your ID so if for some reason you leave the premises you can get back in” The lady explains. I nod taking it from the man, who still has a wide smile on his face.
After this the lady continues to lead me through a set of double glass doors. I follow her as her heels click down a few small corridors into a little office with a sign on the door saying ‘Private’ She gestures for me to sit on the cushioned chair in front of her desk.
When we are both seated she breaks the heavy silence “I’m Julie Liston, joint founder of FREAM, a rebellion against the government.” She announces in a clear sharp voice, watching my reaction with her cold grey eyes. After years of detentions and exclusions at school I’m used to adults giving me a look like this so I don’t look away from her. When I don’t say anything she continues “You have been sent here by your mother, but can you tell us why you came?” Telling her I didn’t know would be a lie, I knew from the second I left the house this morning I was going somewhere there is no turning away from. “I came because I don’t agree in the life laid out for me by the government, I want to do more with my life than just live by the rules” I tell her, it’s mostly the truth I’ve just left out the part about me having dreams.
Julie gives me a calculating look before turning in her seat to a set of shelves behind her. As she does I notice the almost invisible pink gash behind her ear showing she has had the injection then she turns to face me with a sheet of paper. “I need you to sign this so we have you noted down as one of us” She explains. Without hesitation I pick up the pen and sign my alliance from the government to FREAM with the elegant line I’ve spent so long perfecting. Julie takes the paper and slips it into a blue folder. “Joining FREAM means becoming either part of the home crew or training to become a soldier, I believe you are a 16?” I nod needing no further explanation to decide my choice “soldier” I say in a flat voice.
“You can join the class that started earlier this year, it shouldn’t take you to long to catch up” She tells me as she drops a key on the desk in front of me. “This is the key for your apartment, 1576 you can join your first training class this morning. Inside your wardrobe we have put some training clothes and some other stuff in your size” She picks up a black plastic thing, that I think I learnt in history is a phone, then she presses the numbered buttons and puts the phone to her ear. A few silent moments tick by then I hear a muffled voice humming through the phone “Can you show the new recruit to her room” There’s a reply then she puts the phone down. “My assistant Frit will show you to your apartment” She explains then forces her lips into a tight smile, which I don’t return.
I stand and sling my rucksack onto my shoulder then pick the shiny key up; it’s cold and the jagged edges are still sharp after being cut. I mumble a thank you and walk out the door to be greeted with a small man wearing a dirty shirt and no shoes. He smiles “Good morning Miss I’m Frit, Mrs Liston’s assistant”. I nod at him then follow him through a set of wooden doors and down a maze of corridors. I try to make a mental note of everything but it all looks the same; grey walls and dusty wooden floors. I decide I don’t like the awkward silence so I break it “My names’ Ashlyn” My voice fills the corridors and it bounces off the walls making it sound like I shouted. Frit nods “How do you feel about this place?” he asks gesturing to the walls as he opens yet another door. “Not much to say, it’s clever the way the whole place is hidden though” I reply.
“Julie and Marlec spent years planning it, they found this place left over from the war, it was a hideout from bombs and stuff.” He explains his voice full of awe.
“Julie seems like a right barrel of laughs” I joke and am rewarded with a small smile flickering onto Frits face “She’s a good leader, when she speaks every one listens. Marlec is the preferred one to talk to about things, he’s much easier going, he’s out most of the time though, but when he comes back we always have a party.” I nod as Frit rambles on about his great leaders but what I’m really interested in is the paintings on the walls that have suddenly started appearing now that we have come to the area where there’s a lot more doors with shiny silver numbers on them. I glimpse each one of them as we walk past; there are flowers, food, people without clothes on and many other beautiful paintings. I’m looking at a painting of a woman with a very long neck when Frit stops “This is you” he says. I snap out of my trance and look at the yellow door 1576 is the silver number nailed onto it. “Thanks” I say as then lift the silver key to the lock.
“You need to be at the gym by 8:00 if you walk down to the end of this corridor then go down the stairs at the end you’ll be in the gathering hall, you’ll find it from there” Frit explains before I unlock it. He then starts walking away but suddenly turns around as he remembers something “The canteen is where you eat your meals that’s in the gathering hall too, no food in your room.” I nod impatiently then watch as he walks down the corridor, presumably back to Julie.
I turn the key and as the lock clicks undone I push at the door open. It’s very dark inside so I fumble around the side of the wall until I find a light switch and flick it on to reveal a simple room.
A small single bed sits in the corner and a little table stands next to it, there’s a wardrobe in the opposite corner and a desk against the wall I found the light switch on. I see no window; it must be because I’m underground. Next to the wardrobe is a door which I open to reveal a petit bathroom containing a wonky shower, grotty sink and a small toilet.
I walk back into the other room and dump my rucksack on the bed then stare at a speck of dirt on it for a few moments wondering what to do. I decide to unzip my bag and look at what mum had managed to stuff inside. I pull out the P-Jammers she’d grabbed form me this morning and put them under the pillow. Next I find my small wash bag and place it in the bathroom. I worriedly pull out the pile of wrinkled up clothes and sigh in relief, she’d packed most of my half decent ones, none of that junk that she’d been given to by her friend. I shake my head remembering all the frills and flowery laces.
I open the wardrobe to put my clothes in and notice the clothes that Julie had told me about, the ones provided for me. They’re mostly black and simple; there’re a few shorts and t-shirts both with the word FREAM in the corner of them and a soft black hoodie and I’m guessing they count as a sort of uniform for training. I put my clothes in the wardrobe then walk back to my rucksack and pull out a brown paper bag and feel like jumping for joy, she’d packed my sketch book! The book consists of two pieces of card strung together with paper stuffed between them. I run my fingers over the cover before gently lifting the mattress on the bed and putting in underneath. I check the time on the clock hanging on the wall; I have an hour to get ready before I have to go to training.
When I hop into the shower I instantly relax as the hot water runs over me feeling the stress from the past few days wash away.
When I finally get out I pull on the training shorts and t-shirt then pull the black hoodie over my head. I watch my cloudy reflection stare back at me in the mirror and I frown as I watch my hair drip water on the floor.
My wild blonde hair falls to my shoulder in straggly waves which never want to disappear however hard I tried with Rina’s straighteners. I have relatively fair skin and a few freckles splattered on my face. My eyes are green but they have a strange habit of turning blue round the edges sometimes; Mirax always said they turned blue when I’m happy so whenever they did he’d say “You’re feeling bluish!” I watch myself smile at the memory, but it quickly leaves when I realise I probably won’t see him again, or my parents and other friends. Realising this makes a huge lump form in my throat and I have to push back tears, I will not start crying I tell myself. Crying is for weak people and I am not weak.
I wake up from my momentary trance and grab the key from the bedside table. Before I go though, I pull the draw out from the bedside table to check my gun is still safely hidden under a small pile of paper, then take a shaky breath, this is it, I’m on my way to becoming a true rebel.