~~I once had a dream that I’d been thrown into one of those arenas they taught us about in history, the one where they let lions lose and you’d have to kill them to survive. It feels like I’m there now as I walk out of my apartment door towards the exit Frit told me about. My heart is pounding violently as I slowly descend the stairs that lead to the gathering hall then push it open.
There’s a lot of people rushing around me and it sort of looks like a market. Various shops and cafes are dotted around the edge, my eyes widen for a moment when they spot the pub but I keep looking until I spot a huge banner above a big building saying ‘Canteen’. I quickly march over to it and enter through a set of double doors. The smell of bacon, toast and sausages hit me and I pause for a moment just to enjoy the smell, we hardly ever had the luxury of bacon or sausages so the smell makes my mouth begin to water.
I quickly grab a tray and start piling it high with far more food that I normally eat, muffins, eggs, beans, there’s so much to choose from. I suddenly realise I’m behaving like a child in a candy shop and stop, carefully putting some of the food back and fill it with a more moderately sized portion.
The seating area is busy and full of people chattering, none of them are in a rush to get to work, or plugged into PODs so the scene looks alien to me. I pick up a knife and fork then hesitantly sit down on a table, by myself. It feels like the school canteen, except there I had lodes of friends so there was always someone to sit next to, here I don’t know anyone. I start nibbling my food nervously, feeling the weight of people’s eyes watching me as I do. I don’t need to be able to read their minds to know what they’re thinking, who’s she? Where’s she from? Why is she here?
Whilst I’m busy glaring at people who I catch watching me a small girl with short spiky black hair sits down opposite me. “You’re the newbie?” She asks. I look her up and down before replying and notice she is wearing similar clothes to me, black t-shirt and black shorts. “I suppose” I mumble then continue to nibble at my food. The girl offers me a slim white hand “I’m Sina”. I shake it.
“Ashlyn” Sina nods at me and pauses before she continues.
“I’m in the 1st year of the recruits is that what you’ve signed up for?” she asks. I nod and watch as she takes a piece of toast off my plate. She takes a bite then continues “You’ll probably be in the grade 1 group, seeing as though you’re a transfer and you have joined half way through the first term .I’m grade 2 but I have lived here all my life.” She points out. Hearing that she’s lived here all her life suddenly sparks a bit of curiosity in me “Does that mean you still have dreams then?” I ask her. She nods “Yes but we can’t really remember them though, but it’s better than no dreams” she says.
I finish what’s left on my plate and look at the big clock on the canteen wall. We have 5 minutes to get to training and I’m suddenly very grateful Sina came over otherwise I’m sure I’d get lost trying to find the training hall. “You coming?” she asks before getting up and starting to stroll out of the canteen. I quickly get out of my seat and jog to catch up with her, not willing to lose the only person who is willing to show me where the training hall is. I notice that Sina walks with a skip in her step, as if she doesn’t have a care in the world and I suddenly feel jealous, how would it feel to have been brought up in a small world but living free? My guess it is a lot better to be brought up here than in zone 3, all you have to do is look around and see all the choices people are free to make and you can see which place you’d rather be.
I follow Sina round a corner and spot a huge archway opening up into a huge hall full of targets and punching bags, the floor is covered in soft yellow and red mats and the walls look like they haven’t been painted in a long time. I wrinkle my nose as the smell of sweat wafts over to me, when Sina notices me do this she smiles “You’ll get used to it” She whispers as a tall muscular man with broad shoulders, bushy eyebrows and a chin covered in stubble marches over. “Are you Ashlyn?” He barks at me, his voice bouncing off the walls and making a few people at the other end look our way. Instead of wincing like my instincts are telling me too I look him in the eye and say clearly “Yes” I’m relieved when my voice doesn’t wobble. “You’ve missed the basics and I will need to do a quick assessment of so I can decide whether to put you in grade 1 or 2. Training is from 8 till 5 with an hour break for lunch at 12. Depending on which grade you are your classes will be in a different order. If you are late more than once or disrupt a lesson a punishment will be given, I do not tolerate any defiant pupils is that understood?” He asks. I give him a firm nod and he looks satisfied. “I’m Teel, the combat instructor, go into that room over there and I will join you in a few minutes to assess you” He tells me. I obediently walk over to the room he pointed at and open the door to reveal a small room with different pieces of equipment that I’ve never seen before, apart from the treadmill in the corner.
After a few minutes Teel walks in “Let’s get started then” he declares. He starts fiddling with some wires “I will be doing a few exercises to test you both physically and mentally” he explains while he powers up an old laptop. I spend the next half hour pulling, lifting, running and completing various puzzles both on the computer and on paper.
When I finish the last puzzle Teel takes the results and plugs them into a table with all the other ones. He then spends a moment pondering over the results and I can imagine is brain moving like clockwork while he thinks. He suddenly raises his eyes from the screen, indicating that he has finally decided what to do with me. “You’re about average physically” he explains as he points to my results that mean nothing to me but I nod anyway. “Yet mentally you’re outstanding, from the looks of things you’re going to sail through strategy” he exclaims and I hear surprise in his voice “This means that I have to put you in grade 2” He informs me.
I smile, surprised at myself and curious to how I’m apparently so good mentally. I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with my dreams; I don’t want to start making them suspicious. “Do you have a particular fear?” Teel asks. I’m about to be say no when Teel shakes his head, “be honest I need a fear for one of the upcoming evaluation, any way the machine over there can be used to tell me whether you’re telling the truth, so one way or another I’ll find out” He warns me whilst gesturing to a machine at the back of the room.
I hesitate before mumbling “Heights are my biggest fear” A rush of images flash through my head, and I have to force my breathing to stay steady and stop myself from remembering that night, Teel looks at me strangely “Any others?” he asks tapping the keyboard impatiently. I shake my head “Not that I know of” He nods and saves the document on the laptop then stands up. “You can join your new class now, they might be a bit wary of you at first, they ain’t used to transfers being put in their class. There is one other transfer though so you’re not the only one”. I nod as Teel explains but my attention is on the hall, a few people are watching but I ignore them, I’m used to it.
I feel relief when Sina notices me and skips over followed by a tall boy and a dark skinned girl. “You made it into grade 2!” she exclaims when she reaches us. Teel marches over to another room so the room erupts into chatter and gives Sina a chance to introduce me to her other friends “Hi newbie” Says the boy “I’m Jaylyn and this is Tamara” he has short black hair and grey eyes that seem to have a glint of humour in them, the kind that never leaves. “This is Tamara” Sina says and pints to the dark skinned girl, who is very pretty with huge brown eyes hand black hair that’s tightly braided down her back. I smile at them both trying to be friendly, that trait doesn’t really come naturally to me though “I’m Ashlyn”
“Jon over there is the only transfer here, he’s a bit mental though, Teel told us he had anger problems or something so take my advice and don’t talk to him unless you have to...” Sina looks like she’s about to continue warning me about him but we’re interrupted by a tall girl with blonde hair, that is obviously not natural, and wearing the shortest pair of shorts I’ve ever seen, and believe me Tia had a thing for short shorts. “Are you from zone 3?” The girl asks in a sneering tone. I look up at her face which is covered in way to much makeup and lock eyes with hers, which are the kind of blue boys would die for. Next to her I feel like an ugly dwarf. “Yeah is that a problem?” I say flatly, I’ve dealt with girls like this before; she’s surrounded by a group of wannabes who probably bitch about her but wish they could be her. She smirks “I don’t like to be associated with trash, so don’t ever come anywhere near me, you got it?” she warns me in what I think is supposed to be a menacing tone “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want to, see trash like me don’t like socialising with stuck up bitches like you” I say in the sweetest voice I can manage then decide to lay it on even thicker by smiling at her. Her face screws up into a scowl and she lets out a girly huff and marches off, followed by her group of shallow followers. Jaylyn whistles and Sina giggles with glee “You showed her!” she says
“Who is she?” I ask.
“Clora, she’s part of the small crowd here who thinks that transfers shouldn’t be allowed to come here” Sina explains
“It’s a very small crowd though, so don’t worry about them” Jaylyn adds.
“Don’t worry, I won’t” I say, already forgetting about her. Teel walks back in, a box of guns in his arms “Simple enough lesson today fokes shoot a gun at a target and hit it. When he puts the box down and I pick one of the guns up a buzz of excitement fizzes through me. It’s heavier than the one mum gave me but I hold it in my arms without difficulty. I watch as Teel demonstrates how to hold and shoot it, it feels weird, yesterday I was worrying about my injection and all I had to look forward too was a grey life living under the governments rules, but now I’m here 24 hours later, learning how to shoot a gun.
For the first few hours my shots are wonky and, at best, hit the white square around the edge of the target, but I grit my teeth and persevere. My hands and arms start to ache from holding the weight of the gun, but somehow everyone else is still shooting so I carry on. The gun shots are loud so I don’t hear Teel when he wonders over so I jump slightly when he starts moving my arms and correcting my posture “Don’t see it as a target see it as something you want to hit” He advices then continues down the line barking orders and corrections at other people. I take a deep breath, finding the gun easier to hold in this new position, then imagine the governments’ symbol in the middle of the target on the yellow circle and shoot. A hole appears in the blue section and a smile spreads across my face, it’s not much of an improvement to white but it’s still enough to encourage me to carry on.
By the end of the lesson my arms feel like lead but I’d managed to hit the middle yellow circle on the edge once so to me that was a satisfying lesson. I’m sat with Sina, Jaylyn and Tamara at lunch happily shovelling down my food, which is some kind of curry, when a small girl who looks like a younger version of Sina sits down next to me. “Hi” she says, casually grabbing some bread from Sinas’ plate. Sina sighs “This is Ashlyn, Ashlyn this is my lovely younger sister Keena” Keena smiles at me “Sina thinks very highly of me, as you can see” She says giggling which results in Sina flicking some peas at her. Ignoring this Keena turns to me “What’s it like on the outside?” She asks. I shrug
“Not very different to here, accept it has way more rules” I say, not wanting to talk about it. Keena senses this so she changes the subject “I can’t wait to be 16 and start training, I hope I’m in grade 22 Sina laughs at this “Yeah, but not for the right reasons” I look at them confused.
“What do you mean, how can she want to be there for the wrong reasons?” I ask, frowning at them. Jaylyn sighs “You’ve set them off now” he moans. Sina smiles and Keena rests her head on her hands and seems to go into a daze. “Ethan will be there, he is so darn hot, when he’s there I actually listen in Strategy” She then pouts. “He doesn’t date though, at least, no one’s seen him with anyone” I nod, finally understanding, I’d kissed plenty of boys but they all seem the same to me, I wonder why this one’s so special. I’m thankful to Jaylyn when he stops the two girls form going on about him anymore by distracting them with a trick he can do with his spoon. I go off into my own daze, everyone’s’ voices fade away. I start thinking about my parents and whether they’re ok, the government will have realised I’m gone by now, will they punish them? I snap out of the day dream when Keena gets up “See you later guys, mum has me on babysitting duty” she waves goodbye and walks out of the canteen, with the same skip Sina has. “We should go now too, that way we can get some good seats” Sina says pulling me out of the one I’m sat in now. I follow her as she leads me to the training halls but instead of staying there, she continues across the hall until we come to a room full of tables and chairs “Great, a classroom” I mutter, sarcastically. “Don’t worry, we don’t spend all our time here, we do a lot of practical work as well.” Jaylyn comforts when he sees my frown. I sit on a desk at the front of the room next to Sina and Jaylyn sits with Tamara on the one behind us. I never sat at the front by choice at school; I was often moved there though. All my teachers hated me, I was the class trouble maker, every time we had parents evening they’d say that I had so much potential and I was wasting it. It wasn’t my fault that cookery, hair dressing and learning to take notes quickly didn’t interest me. We sit waiting for about 5 minutes then other students start trickling in, Clora and her entourage come in last followed by him. He must be who Sina was talking about because she sighs quietly when he does and I can defiantly see why her and Keena like him so much. He’s tall with bronze skin and is wearing a soldier’s uniform that’s navy with what must be FREAMS symbol on it. He walks confidently into the middle of the room and I look at his face closely trying to remember each detail, shaggy brown hair with shades of blonde in it too, long eyelashes that so many girls complain are wasted on boys, not on him though and his eyes are a warm chocolaty brown. “Told you” Sina whispers too me. I just nod and gulp when I realise I have that weird tingly feeling I get when I see someone I recognise. That’s impossible though I’ve never met Ethan. He doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to anyone in the room though; he just folds his arms and stares at the floor. “Is he always like that?” I ask Sina quietly. She looks up at him then back at me “What sexy and mysterious? Yeah, he doesn’t talk much in class, only when he needs to” She replies. The class grows silent when a fierce looking man with muscular arms, a shaved head and covered in tattoos walks in and stands at the front of the class. “Lunch is over, now get your thinking heads on, we’re doing codes this afternoon.” He says in a gruff voice whilst rubbing his hands together in anticipation. “Ethan will hand out slips of paper with a code on it; first table to get the code will gain 5 points each on their overall point cards. I stare at him blankly “Point cards?” I ask Sina quietly as Ethan hands out the codes. “Everyone has a point card, you get given points in class and for completing assessments, at the end of training your points will help decide what rank you’ll start on” she explains . “Not interrupting you am I girls” The man says right in front of us, then when he sees me he frowns “You new?” I nod
“Just joined this morning” I reply.
“Teel never tell me anything” He grumbles “I’m Brent and I don’t tolerate talking in my lessons when I’m explaining things, you better learn that rule quickly what’s your name?” I nod
“Ashlyn” He nods then turns and walks back to the front of the room
Me and Sina turn around to work with Jayden and Tamara, Ethan must have given us our code when I was busy being told off by Brent. I notice him by Clora’s group and she’s talking to him, twiddling her blonde hair and looking at him sweetly with her big blue eyes. Should have known he’d go for someone like her, what guy wouldn’t. “Codes are a big part of communication...” Brent starts lecturing us so I switch off and staring at him, but not seeing him, I’ve never been able to listen to lectures, I lose interest easily. I start thinking about home again, my friends will know I’m gone, we were supposed to meet up afterwards and go out for a pizza or something. The government will probably want to cover it up, say I moved away suddenly, or jumped off a cliff. I’m vaguely aware that Sina, Tamara and Jaylyn are working on the code discussing the possibilities. I spot Ethan across the room, he’s looking right at me, instead of looking away embarrassed I hold his eyes, his expression is unreadable and he has a glint of something in his eyes, what it is I don’t know. When he realises that I’m watching him he motions for me to turn around and work on the code with the others. I sigh and do as he says, on the paper Jaylyns holding is a string of letters and numbers, I frown.
There must be a reason they’re in capitals, and it can’t be a coincidence that the letters sound like words, but why 2 y’s? I mumble it under my breath, but it doesn’t help. Then the realisation hits me, two y’s is said two wise or too wise. I laugh as the rest of the code slips into place. Sina, Tamara and Jaylyn all give me confused looks “What’s so funny?” Sina hisses at me.
“The code, what it says, it’s quite clever” I say a bit too loudly and the whole class, including Brent and Ethan, turn to look at me. “Please enlighten us” Brent says, crossing his arms. I pick the paper up “Too wise you are, too wise you be, I see you are to wise for me” I say and several members of the class give me surprised looks, others look at their codes and I watch the revelation hit them, Clara scowls at me and my group pat me on the back and smile. I notice Ethan is watching me with curiosity and Brent with annoyance, obviously no one was supposed to get it this early on in the lesson.
The afternoon drags on this, I realise what Teel told me is true, I’m finding strategy a little too easy, so about half way through I keep my answers to myself, I don’t want to annoy every one with being a know it all. Instead I just guide them towards the answer then congratulate them when they get it. Throughout the lesson I feel Ethan’s eyes on me, I don’t know why though I’m not doing anything interesting. When the lesson is finally almost finished Brent stops us to make an announcement “On Friday we have organised a hunt that will test your thinking, teamwork and physical skills. It will include needing to know the base well so I suggest you do” He looks at me when he says this. He then dismisses us and I follow the others to the canteen. “What’s a hunt?” I ask
“Brent gives us a lode of riddles that we have to put together to give us a message about where to find something or do something. It’s really hard and hardly anyone completes them”
“My brother was on doing it when a team completed it” Jaylyn says. Sina raises her eyebrows at him “That didn’t count; it was only luck that it happened to be in the chest that they went to find a coat in” She says shaking her head.”After figuring out the clues” Jaylyn protests. Sina lets out a snort
Most of their answers were wrong”. I look at Tamara and she rolls her eyes at me then smile. I nod, already used to their casual banter.
When we’re leaving the canteen I notice a small group of people in navy uniforms with long guns slung on their backs, Ethan’s amongst them. “Where’re they going” I ask as they march quietly towards the doors that leads to the corridor of doors leading to everyone’s apartments. “On some sort of mission, Ethan’s always really tiered in class when he gets back.” Tamara says, I’m surprised to hear her speak but it makes me smile to see that’s she’s not so weary of me anymore. Maybe she’s accepting me as a friend and I’ve earned her trust. I hang out with everyone for a while but leave early, shattered from the early morning and long day, to think it was only this morning mom woke me up to send me away. When I get to my apartment I quickly wash myself and change into my P-Jammers then collapse onto my bed, relief flooding through me and within seconds I’m asleep.