~~This routine continues for several weeks, the guards take me to Carlos who injects me with the visions and I wake up in my cell. I feel grimy and long for a hot bath to try to relax me. I still wear the uniform I wore for the mission and all I want to do is tear it off but I don’t because I don’t want to not wear any clothes. They’ve brought me food everyday but I don’t eat much of it and any fat that was on my body is disappearing, I’m becoming a ghost of my former self.
Each time they take me to the chair I tell myself that it’s not real but it still feels real and the pain is always the same it never gets better.
Today is no different to the other days but I feel different when they strap me into the chair, last night in between the nightmares I saw a glimpse of a happy moment. I was sat in a meadow with Ethan; we lay side by side in blissful peace. Then I heard my parent’s voices and they whispered to me that they love me and I smiled. That’s something I haven’t done since the mission that landed me here. I imagine Ethan’s peaceful face as Carlos injects me with the visions, his small talk has stopped we do the procedure in complete silence.
The cold runs over me again and I start to shake again but instead of letting it take over me I imagine Ethan’s face and my parent’s words then hold onto that warmth. It helps with the pain so I try to think of things that make me happy. Me and Mirax going for a run, the conversations I had with Sina Tamara and Jaylyn in the canteen. Kissing Ethan for the first time. Facing my fear of heights. I hold onto that triumphant feeling and use it to push at the darkness, it starts to lift so I keep trying until it’s gone and my eyes burst open.
I’m still in the chair and Carlos is standing across the room staring at me with amazement and I see him lick his lips greedily. “That was interesting” He says and I stare at him. He’s about to say something else but I hear a loud explosion underneath me and the sound of guns. Carlos frowns then picks his POD up. “What’s going on?” He hisses at it. A crackling noise comes from it then a young male voice shouts into it “We’re under attack sir” I can hear gun shots in the background and a small glimmer of hope fills me. Has the day finally come that I get to leave?
Carlos growls in annoyance “Don’t let them get up here” He hisses back into it then puts the POD back in his pocket. He looks back at me “That is the last time I’ll have to do that to you” He says and I nod but I’m not really listening to him anymore. I’m listening to the shuffling noises outside the room. I hear a gunshot then another then silence. Carlos frowns and starts to pull his POD out of his pocket but the door bursts open and Ethan stands there holding a large black gun. His eyes lock with mine and the room melts away for a second. “Ash! What have they done to you?” He asks and I can feel the traitor tear of happiness falling down my face. He says. Someone else stands in the doorway, Marlec.
“Unbind her” He orders then points his gun at Carlos who’s staring with shock at Ethan who walks over to me and pulls the straps away from me and removes the bands. . “Are you real? I mean is it really you?” I squeak and he smiled sadly at me “Of course I am” He says He pulls me into his body and holds me tightly. I breathe his familiar smell in and even though it’s mixed with sweat and smoke it smells like home. I hear a shuffling noise in the corner and Carlos has taken a step towards us “Nath...” He starts to say something but Marlec steps forward waving his gun at him.
“Not a word from you” He barks at him and Ethan pulls me out of the chair. “Can you walk?” He asks and I nod. Ethan slides his hand into mine then pulls me towards the door ignoring Carlos who’s standing in the corner continuing to stare at him. “Give me your POD” Marlec shouts at Carlos who passes the device to him. He drops it on the floor then shoots it several times with the gun. Each shot makes Carlos wince but he doesn’t say anything. Marlec then shoves him onto the chair and straps him onto it. “I think you should endure what you’ve been doing to this lady, it’s only fair” Marlec spits at Carlos; he then takes one of the syringes from the desk in the corner and plunges it into Carlos’s neck.
Ethan pulls me out of the room and towards the elevator and Marlec quickly follows then presses the button for the bottom floor. As the doors close I hear Carlos’s first screams and I can’t help but let a small vengeful smile tug at my lips. It disappears quickly through and Ethan squeezes my hand as the elevator quickly glides down to the bottom floor.
When we reach it Marlec hold his gun up and Ethan gets his ready, the doors slide open but we’re greeted with silence. We run back down the corridors we walked on the tour. I skid to a stop next to the room where we left our stuff then give Ethan a pleading look. He nods so I quickly slide inside and run to my peg relieved the bag still hangs there. I unhook it then run back out of the room and grab Ethan’s hand again. We reach the scanner area and Marlec nods at Ethan “You know where to go” He says then turns and runs back to the elevator and back to whatever war is happening upstairs.
Ethan starts to tug at my arm so that I follow him out the door but I stop and look back at the elevator doors closing “Our friends are up their” I say and try to walk towards the elevator.
“Ash you’re in no fit state to be fighting, we need to get out of here” He says so this time when he pulls me out of the building I don’t resist. We run over to the train station and I ignore the looks people give us as they take in the layer of filth and dirt covering both of us. Ethan quickly buys some tickets, presumably with notes Marlec gave him, then we take a seat on the train.
I rest my head on Ethan’s shoulder “Where are we going?” I ask quietly.
“Somewhere safe” He replies and I nod. He laces his fingers through mine. “I missed you” He says and I smile “I missed you”
The train journey lasts for about half an hour and its dark outside when we finally arrive at the station Ethan’s taking me too. We walk across the crowded streets and I can’t help myself from looking around at all the glamorous people wearing expensive clothes and walking with their noses in the air. I realise now why they don’t want people from Zone 3 here, the people don’t want to socialise with vermin.
Ethan guides me into a tall building and we walk into a glass elevator. I feel a little sick as we begin to rise and I see the streets below me getting smaller. We stop on floor 5 and Ethan produces a key then slides it into the lock of the only door on this floor. As I step into the room I sigh with pleasure at the luxurious scene in front of me.
The floor is made of marble and it’s so clean I can almost see my reflection in it. There’s a white leather sofa on one side facing a huge flat screen TV and under the coffee table beside it is a white fluffy rug. The kitchen on the other side of the room is grand and all the surfaces are pristine and don’t have a scratch on them. I walk over and run my hand across the cool surface and turn to face Ethan who’s hovering in the door way. “How do you have a key to this place?” I ask and he stares at the floor. “Ash, I haven’t been completely honest with you” He admits as he slowly walks into the room. I frown at him as he walks over to the sofa and sits down. “I don’t come from Zone 3” He says quietly and I just stare at him for a moment. “I know” He looks up surprised and I feel surprised at myself for a moment but then I realise that I knew from the start he wasn’t. He didn’t know enough about how it worked, he’s too intelligent and faces like his just don’t appear in zone 3. “This is your flat isn’t it?” I ask but I already know the answer. He nods and I can see that he feels ashamed. I purse my lips as I try to consider this fact. “Where’s the rest of your family?” I ask and he looks up at me, his eyes full of shame. He gulps before answering. “My father is Carlos Jenton, my real name is Nathan. I ran from Zone 1 because I didn’t agree in anything they did, I didn’t fit in and everyone around me was trying to push me to be someone I wasn’t.”
I stare at him and the final piece of the puzzle fits into place, the magazine I read so long ago. This is Nathan Jenton the son Carlos Jenton, the man who tortured me. No wonder he looked so shocked when Ethan came into the room.
Silence falls in the room as Ethan, or should I call him Nathan, waits for my reaction. Millions of questions buzz around in my head and the most unexpected one blurts out of my mouth “So you’re dyslexic?” I ask and he raises his eyebrows in surprise.
“Yes” He says flatly and looks at me warily then we both burst into nervous laughter. So what if he comes from Zone 1? You can’t choose how start your life, but what you can choose is what you do with it and Ethan chose to leave Zone 1 and join FREAM. I don’t care that Carlos is his father; he didn’t have a choice in that either and I can forgive the lies because I’ve lied to him about my dreams and he forgave me. He gives me a small smile and I cross the room quickly as he opens his arms so I can fall into them. He holds me tightly to him and strokes the back of my head. “I thought about you every day in that cell” He whispers “They took you away from me, on the day of the mission. They pulled me from my arms and I’ve never felt as much pain as I did then.” He confesses and I look up into his soft brown eyes and smile “I’m here now, you never have to give me up again” I comfort. Ethan smiles “I don’t plan too” He says then presses his lips to mine. In that moment I feel all the coldness melt away and warmth floods over me instead. He cups one hand round my neck then uses the other to stroke my cheek. I run my hands up his back then through his hair. I don’t know how long we spent locked in the embrace but it wasn’t long enough. No measure of time will ever be long enough.
We break apart and I sigh with pleasure but Ethan lets out a snort of laughter. “You stink” He says and I lightly hit him on the shoulder “You don’t smell that good either” I say and we both laugh a little. “I’ll run you a bath, there’s food in the fridge if you’re hungry” He says then walks to one of the closed doors and slips inside the room. I hear water running and Ethan lightly whistling. I smile a little then wonder over to the shiny silver fridge in the corner. I pull the door open and smile with delight as I notice the chocolate bar on the top shelf. I grab it then close the fridge door and walk over to the sofa. I quickly unravel the bar and a feel a blissful harmony take over me as the first piece melts in my mouth. “Ahhh you’re so healthy” Ethan says from behind me and I sit up smiling. “I don’t care what you think, chocolate is good for me” I declare and he swipes for the bar but I yank it away. “No way! One thing you should know about me is that I never share my chocolate” I say and he shakes his head. “Fine but I don’t either so you be careful” He says the winks at me as he walks over to the fridge. “Your baths ready” He adds and I jump in excitement then rush over to the door yelling a quick “Thank you” over my shoulder.
I instantly feel relief as I drop the uniform from my body and slide the rucksack off my shoulders. I quickly run over to the bath, that looks more like a swimming pool, and then lower myself into the bubbly warm water. I shiver with delight as the hot water surrounds me and sooths my muscles. I stroke the grime away and rub shampoo from the side into my hair. When I’ve rubbed myself raw and feel squeaky clean I lean back and sigh at how peaceful I feel. I know the feeling won’t last but it will for now. I take a few deep breaths then step out of the bath and pull on the clothes in my rucksack. The soft and grey trackies and overly large black hoodie make me smile a little at the memories they bring me.
I reach out and hold the necklace my mother gave me, it’s the last thing I have of her now that she’s gone. I wave the thought away before it can haunt me again then walk back into the main part of the flat where Ethan’s watching the telly. He looks up at me as I walk in then smiles “Is it finally my turn?” He asks lightly then jumps up and slips into the bathroom. I laugh a little even though he can’t hear me then walk over to the sofa and sit down to watch the telly.
There’s not much on, only shows that I’ve never heard of and Interviews with people I couldn’t care less about so I switch it off and decide to look around the rest of the flat. One door leads to an office with a huge computer screen and a desk covered in paper. I walk over to it and fun my hand over Ethan’s scribbled hand writing then notice the name in the corner ‘Nathan Jenton’ This person is a stranger to me. Nathan lives here in this flat and Ethan lives in FREAM, they just happen to share the same face. I leave the office and look at the other room.
It’s his bedroom, Nathan obviously liked music because the walls are covered in posters of various bands and a guitar sits in the corner. I walk over to the bed and stroke the dark blue covers, this room smells of Ethan but all I can think is that it belongs to Nathan. I’m so confused, I know they’re the same person and I can’t help but realise how little I know about Ethan yet I care about him so much. “Never thought I’d see this place again, he obviously hoped I’d come back cause he kept everything how it was” I hear Ethan’s soft voice in the doorway and I turn to face him.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” I ask gently and his tender brown eyes lift from the floor and meet mine. “I don’t know, you just seem to hate them so much” He whispers “And I’m ashamed to be from here” He adds quietly and I nod.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of, you’re not the one taking people’s dreams” or souls I add in my head, I don’t want to burden him with that information. He gives a frustrated sigh “Ash, you don’t understand. You see me as this perfect selfless person and I’m not” He laughs bitterly. “Me and my friends used to mock your people, we’d watch videos of you in the telly and laugh” We stand in silence for a moment and I bite my lip as I process this announcement then shrug. “So what? I did the same with my friends about people from your Zone”
He shakes his head “That’s different, we deserve it” I roll my eyes at him
“Ethan, you were brought up to believe we were beneath you so of course you were going to act like that. The fact that you left this life behind to join FREAM shows that you’re a much better person then the people here, can we stop having a self loathing moment now cause this is tedious” I say raising my eyebrows at him. “And for the record, I don’t think you’re a perfect selfless person, far from it actually.” I add and he laughs and fakes a relieved sigh.
“Thank God, I was beginning to believe you didn’t know me at all”
After the arguments over me both sit on the bed and I ask him more about Nathan. He explains how his father pushed him to do well at school because he wanted a son he could be proud of. He never pleased him because even though he knew most of the answers he couldn’t transfer it from his head to the paper. Everyone around him wanted him to become a musician, which would explain the musical theme to the bedroom. “What did you want to be?” I ask and he smiles, a little embarrassed “I fancied being a writer” He admits and I cock my head to the side.
“Then why didn’t you?” I push and he frowns at me.
“Umm because I struggle to spell two syllable words and it takes me more than an hour to write a page of work. Besides the kind of stories I wanted to tell wouldn’t be approved by the government anyway” I look up at him and stop playing with his hand.
“What kind of stories do you want to tell?”
“You know, ones full of violence and danger”
“Can’t see why the government wouldn’t like those” I say sarcastically. “Anyway who needs to write an action story when you’re already living one” I point out. The corners of his lips tug into a smile and I give him a crooked smile.
I don’t know how long we sit there with Ethan’s arm draped over my shoulders tenderly stroking my arm but eventually my eyelids become heavy and he gently pulls me under the duvet then turns the light “Good night” He whispers then slips out the room.