~~When I’m shaken awake by a firm pair of hands my eyes slowly flutter open and I see small streams of light have started to flood into the house through the cracked window on what must be the kitchen. I let out a small moan as I sit up and feel the aches from carrying the heavy brief case yesterday. I see Liam sitting next to me and he gives me a small smile acting as if he isn’t suspecting me to betray them at any point. I smile back silently telling him I have nothing to hide “Morning” He says and gets up “I’ll need that sleeping bag back” He continues and I nod. I climb out of the sleeping bag, roll it up then hand it to Liam who stuffs it in his rucksack. I pick the brief case and stupid handbag then stand patiently waiting for the other. They’re all groggy and slow managing to make packing a sleeping bag up look hard work. I’m used to feeling tiered though and I feel as awake as I normally do so I help them stuff everything away to hurry them along. We quickly finish packing and gather round in an unorganised semi-circle around Marcus. “I’ve decide that we’ll take a different route today, the longer one that goes around the forest instead of through it, I’m not telling you this so you can object I’m telling you this because that is what’s happening” The Marcus who had playfully teased me yesterday has gone and in his place stands this stern very tiered looking man who seems to be trying hard to scowl. Liam hasn’t changed though, he still smiles if I catch his eye, and neither have the others. We walk out of the house into the open air of what must be the country side. Last night it had been too dark to see the outline of trees on the horizon, that must be where we are going. All the men are quiet and alert, being in a wide open space seems to make them more nervous than when we were in the city yesterday. I watch the ground as we walk, kicking the occasional stone that’s in my path just to watch it sail away. I don’t know how long it takes but by the time we reach the first few trees the sun is high up in the sky and I’m peeling off my jumper to tie it round my waist. Everyone is showing signs of feeling the heat and I’m grateful when I’m passed a water bottle every time we stop. “Don’t worry once we get into the forest its more shaded and not so open so everyone feels more relaxed” Liam reassures me about half way there when I sit down for a breather. My ankles hurt from walking and my arms feel hot when I touch them. It’s a relief when we finally do reach the forest and I can sense the men around me begin to feel more relaxed “That’s always the worst part” Cam murmurs pouring some water over himself and I hear him let out a small sigh of relief.
The ground on the forest floor is harder to walk on, there are branches and rocks to climb over but somehow Marcus quickens the pace and I’m struggling to keep up. Liam stays at the back with me to keep me company “Why is Marcus so grumpy all of a sudden?” I ask, trying to forget the convocation I heard last night “He’s not he’s just worried, even more worried than usual. He feels responsible for all of us and this is his way of dealing with it.” Liam explains, and I nod understanding his point. We keep walking all through the day, the sun starts to set and I can feel my stomach rumbling loudly- the cereal bars I’ve been munching on through the day haven’t done a very good job of filling me up- we finally stop and Marcus tells us that we can stop here for the night. I slump onto the dry ground and breathe a sigh of relief Cam laughs gently “Not used to this are you?” He says and I shake my head “Is there anything to eat?” I ask after finishing a bottle of water Liam gave to me. Liam waves a cereal bar at me and I groan “Really?” He laughs and throws me a bread roll. “Thanks” I mumble before quickly consuming it. None of us are able to sleep yet so everyone turns their torches on as the forest gets darker and we start talking. “So you’re a transfer?” Kiron asks me. “Yeah came a few weeks ago” I respond
“Marcus was a transfer as well” Cam says and we all look at Marcus who stares at the floor and doesn’t say anything. We sit in silence for a few heavy moments then Liam breaks it. “Does that mean you’ve had the injections?” He asks and I look up at him. “I only had the first one, I ran before they could do the second” I let this fact slip through my lips before I can stop it but no one looks surprised or even curious “I don’t understand why you need two, surly once they’ve taken them there gone so why do they do another?”
“They do it at the two stages your brain is developing the most, 4 and 16” I repeat the words that were drummed into my head as soon as I could understand English.
“That doesn’t answer my question, why two injections when the first supposedly takes the dreams away?” Liam asks again and I can sense him becoming a little frustrated. Everyone is silent for a few seconds and all you can hear is the wind rustling the branches of the nearby trees. I think about the answer but can’ come up with one which is strange because we spent a lot of basic school learning about why we have the injection and how we only have our ancestors to blame for it. I mostly blocked out the teachers flat patronising tone as he yet again insulted our zone. “Control” Marcus declares clearly breaking the awkward silence.
“Why would you say that?” I ask, curious.
“I think, that some of us can still dream if we don’t have the second one.” He says resulting in my head filling with questions. “What do you mean?” Liam asks and I can see what I’m feeling plastered onto his face. “If you put out a fire but leave one twig burning, that small flame can turn lethal if left alone” Marcus spreads new light onto the subject I thought I’d known everything about with this simple explanation. “So you’re saying that people who don’t have the second injection, in time, can still have dreams?” I say feeling a small buzz of excitement wash over me, I don’t know why though, it doesn’t make any difference I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had the second injection. I realise what question is coming next and I wince when it does “Do you have dreams?” The words are innocent enough but to me they feel like sharp knives hitting me. I know that they won’t think of me any different if I tell them, it’s perfectly normal for them but somehow it feels wrong. “No, I don’t, guess the first one was all they needed to do on me” I say and suddenly feel like I did in the police station year’s age, lying. The convocation moves on from that topic but I don’t really join in, I’m too busy thinking about what I’ve just found out. Other people from zone 3 still have dreams, I’m not alone.
Like yesterday Liam shakes me awake but unlike yesterday I want to wake up, I’d spent last night worrying that I’d dream and give it away just after I’d lied about it. I was lucky it had been dreamless again last night; it must be because I’m so tired. Liam offers me a hand and pulls me up; unlike yesterday everyone is already awake and waiting to get moving. It’s so early that it’s still dark so I have to look out for the branches and rocks closely and find myself stumbling every few steps so when I see the sun start to appear it fill me with relief. “Why so early?” I ask Cam who’s walking with me, Liam’s at the front with Marcus and they’re deep in convocation. “There’s always some kind of search team in the forests so we have to get moving as soon as possible” Cam explains. I nod and look around, it suddenly feels like all the trees have eyes and they’re watching us so I look at the ground.
At about mid day I can feel everyone around me become tenser, all convocation sizzles out and, other than the wind and the branches cracking under our feet, it’s silent. “We’re almost there” Cam whispers to me after I give him a questioning look. Marcus stops on the edge of a clearing, we’re stood behind some trees and I can see that we’re facing a small open space. In the middle of it is a small post that looks like a tree trunk at first glance but when the sun shines over it I can see it’s plastic. “That’s where you need to plug the laptop in” Marcus hisses at me
“Why me?” I hiss back, I won’t know what to do where as all of them do. Marcus shakes his head and points to the stump “Julie said you had to do it, we’ll hide in the bushes around you so that if you’re ambushed we can surprise them” Marcus says then gives me a small shove. I take a deep breath then walk forward towards the stump holding both the hand bag and brief case tightly. I instantly feel vulnerable, alone and without the trees for cover, an easy target. I look around but not at the others just in case I’m being watched. I kneel down by the stump and un-zip the brief case. The laptop is heavy when I lift it out and place it on the stump. A wire pokes out from the right side and I feel the stump for something to plug it into. I find a hole in the side and the wire fits into comfortably and turns on. There’s two links to click one says ‘Start scout’ and the other says ‘Message for Ashlyn’ I frown and click it. I document appears onto the screen and I look around to make sure no one else can see it.
You’re probably confused to why you’re here and what you’re doing. I have watched your classes and know that you’re capable of doing what I’m about to ask you. The group you’re with don’t know about this so make sure no one is watching. Inside the bag I gave you there’s a box that looks like it holds extra bullets, without showing anybody open it and press the button. This will signify to me that you’re ready. When I receive it and have set up the laptop on our post I will send a signal back to you, keep the box in your pocket because it will vibrate when I send you the signal. When we’re both ready open the scout the area link and follow the instructions I have attached. We’re about to hack into the governments database, I can’t tell you why in this document in case someone else reads it but all will be explained later. Your mental ability has shown me that you’re capable of doing this. Don’t look suspicious; your group know that the scout can take a while so keep watching this screen as you wait for me to reply. Once we start to hack the government they will know your location immediately so be prepared for an attack.
I stare at the words in bewilderment; Julie is asking me to somehow help her hack the government’s files. Will she even be at the post yet, I can’t sit here staring at the screen for hours waiting the boys will get suspicious that something is going on. It’s obvious that Julie doesn’t want them to find out about this, her plan sounds impossible but I do what she says anyway. I cautiously look around then open my handbag, inside is the gun and the box the letter mentions. I take the gun out and look around making myself seem scared. I hold the gun in my hand and take the box out then out it in the pocket of my jeans that’s not facing the boys. I close the bag and stare at the computer screen holding the gun tightly then slowly out my hand in my pocket and open the box inside. I feel inside and find a small bump; I press it then quickly close the box and take my hand out if my pocket. I stare at the screen and the words on it become blurry as I try and concentrate on every noise around me, the soldiers are all hidden in the bushes and I’m too far way for them to be able to see what I’m doing but still every second that goes by is agonising. I start tapping impatiently and my ears are ringing as I nervously wait for the vibration in my pocket to come. It finally does come and I have to stop myself jumping in surprise, so her plan worked. I close the document on my screen and hover over the scout link. After a moment’s hesitation I click it and a note pops up onto the screen
A series of codes are about to appear, it’s their defence system keep solving them and I’ll send you a signal for when you have to stop. We only have one chance to do this because we only have one device that can start the process so don’t stop.
After reading the words on the screen I feel as if a 10 ton weigh has suddenly fallen on me, how can she expect me to solve codes made by professionals? I don’t have much time to think about this though because my screen goes white and all sorts of numbers and letters appear on the screen. Somehow something in my brain reacts faster than I do and my hands start rapidly typing on the keyboard. I don’t stop them because they seem to be making some of the letters and numbers disappear. I don’t know how but I’m solving whatever complex sequences are on the screen. I keep typing but after about 5 minutes it’s slowing down because the letters and numbers are appearing faster and I can’t keep up. I keep going though, knowing that there’s only one chance to do this. After about 10 minutes though the screen is almost completely full of letters and numbers and my head is burning. I feel my palms are sweaty and notice that I’ve dropped the gun on the floor. I watch in horror as the last letter appears on the screen right at the bottom then the computer shuts down. I start shaking, knowing I’ve screwed up and that I’ve blown FREAMs one chance of doing this. I desperately try turning the computer on, it’s no use though the screen stays blank. I look around, wide eyed and panicky knowing that I’ve let everyone down and I’ve ruined FREAM’s only chance. There’s no time to think though because I hear gun shots in the distance, I hear a shuffling noise coming from the hedge, I sweep my gun off the floor and hold it tightly in my sweaty hands aiming it at the noise. It’s only Marcus though; he has his hands up showing me he’s no threat. Hundreds of thoughts are whizzing through my brain right now and it’s making my head hurt. “Ashlyn we have to go” Marcus says calmly, I nod and slam the laptop shut then put it into the brief case, I pick up the handbag feeling frustrated that there’s no easier way of carrying it. “You don’t need to take that” Marcus says, he then pulls the brief case from my hands before I can stop him. He then finds a match from his pocket and sets it on fire. I watch the flames in shock “The scout program only works once, it shuts down and won’t turn on again after that, it’s to stop the Government using it” Marcus explains then starts pulling me by the wrist back to the others. They’ve all taken their bags off “Nothing that can’t be replaced, the extra weight will slow us down, they won’t be able to do much with a bunch of sleeping bags and a few bottles of water” Cam says.
“The gun shots I heard, is that them?” I ask, finally finding my voice. Liam nods and this whole situation has become very real. “Liam and Cam you stay at the front with Ashlyn, me Jon and Kiron will take the back. I grip my gun tightly and stay close to Liam and Cam as we start ducking behind trees and pausing to listen out for anything. Marcus, Jon and Kiron follow a few steps behind, but they have their backs to us. In the distance I hear the sound of wings, which is odd because I haven’t seen any birds around. “They’ve brought a bloody helicopter!” Liam shouts and I look up and see a huge green helicopter in the distance with two figures poking guns out the window, aimed at us. “Move, move, move!” Marcus shouts, we abandon our plan to move cautiously and run towards a pile of rocks with my heart hammering loudly in my chest. We reach the rocks and crouch behind them; Marcus stands and holds his gun ready to fire. We’re hidden from the helicopter but trapped; we wait in a tense silence whilst the helicopter travels noisily over our heads. I hold my breath and squeeze my eyes shut; adrenaline is running through me as I feel death brushing past me. The helicopters sound becomes more distant, now we only have the soldiers on the ground to worry about, “Liam, take Ashlyn and Cam go and meet the others, we’ll catch up with you” Marcus hisses. Liam nods then tugs at my coat sleeve. “Come on” He whispers and I feel a little comfort in his soft voice. I follow Liam as he slowly shuffles around the rocks, I can hear Cam close behind me. We walk away from the rocks and into the bushiest area. Liam starts looking around but we hear a gunshot close by, it doesn’t sound like the shots I heard class, it sounds like deaths hand reaching out for its next victim. “Run” Liam says then starts sprinting away from the sound off bullets, I try to tune them out as I run behind him but every shot sends a cold shudder through me. Like the helicopter, the noises become distant after a few agonising minutes and the silence is almost peaceful but it’s not over yet, we have to find the others. I think of the men we left behind and pray they all make it and we’ll see them soon. Somehow I keep running, in silence, through the forest with Liam and Cam until the sun starts to leave us and the moon starts to rise up into the ghostly black sky. I’m panting and sweaty when we stop and my heart feels like it’s going to hammer a hole in my chest and fall out. The sun has almost gone when we finally stop. “We can rest here for an hour or two but we’ll have to move soon” Liam says already looking around for any signs of a threat. I collapse on the floor chocking as my lungs force me to breathe as fast as I can. Cam hands me a water bottle but Liam drops his on my lap before I can take Cams. “Me and Cam will check the area quickly, then we can rest. Stay here and stay quiet” Liam instructs me. I try to nod but my head hurts so I take huge gulps of the water Liam gave me and feel a little better. I shuffle backwards into a bush and scrunch up into a tight ball making myself as small as possible. Liam and Cam walk out into the trees around us and I hear them mumbling with each other, I try to hear what they’re saying but they’re too far away. Their voices come further and further way until I can’t hear them at all. The seconds go by painfully slow and I watch my breath as it leaves white clouds in the air then disappears. I can’t hear them anymore and I start to tremble wondering if they’ve left me, maybe they thought I was dead weight, ruining their chance of survival. The forest is quiet until I hear one ear-splitting noise of a bullet being shot and I know at that moment, that death has claimed its first victim.