~~The night sky seems to hate me, it’s refusing to let any stars shine and the moon is a small bent line in the distance, leaving me alone in the dark shivering and afraid. I hear footsteps and let out a quiet whimper as they get closer, I try shuffling back into the bush more but it won’t let me the branches poke me in the back and scratch my face. The footsteps are right in front of me “Ashlyn?” A voice whispers a few steps away from me “It’s me” The voice continues and there’s suddenly light in the clearing as the voice turns on a torch. I breathe a sigh of relief, it’s only Cam they haven’t left me. I crawl out from my hiding place and watch Cam relax as I show myself. Something’s not quite right though “Where’s Liam?” I ask as I shakily get up and try to stop my hands trembling. Cam looks around ignoring my question then grabs my bag from the floor and rips it open. “Where is it?” He growls at himself and I stand staring at him and in my head I’m telling myself to run. I start backing away from him “Where’s Liam?” I ask again but with more confidence in my voice this time and I lift my head in the air and look into Cams eyes when he looks at me. “Dead” He says with no emotion, he just digs around in my bag. I stare at him, shocked “What? ....What do you mean?” I stutter my head is spinning, Liam can’t be dead I’d seen him 10 minutes ago and he’d been kind to me. Cam looks up at me and the kind eyes he’d worn earlier are gone to be replace with a cold deadly stare “I mean you stupid girl that Liam is dead I killed him. Don’t bother running” He says flatly and I feel hate rush over me, how can he say those things and feel no guilt. He suddenly lets out a frustrated scream and throws the bag at a tree “What did you do?” He demands storming over to me and shoves me against a tree. I squirm under his tight grip on my shoulders; some bark is digging painfully into my back. “Answer me” He shouts at me and see the anger flickering in his eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about” I say trying to break free of his iron grip. He pushes at me harder, I realise my gun was in my bag that he chucked away so I have no way of escaping. “Yes you do, that bitch Julie trusted you with it, none of us just some brat that’s not even a fully trained soldier” He spits at me. I forget to feel scared and, instead, I feel hot rage flood through me and I smack him in the most sensitive place with my knee, his grip loosens and I shove him off then run towards my bag that’s lying next to the bush I was hiding in. I almost reach it before he pulls at the hood on my coat and I fly to the floor, white lights cloud my vision as pain shoots through my left arm and I try to move it but more white light flashes in my eyes. I grunt in pain as I turn over onto my back. Cam stands above my with his gun pointed at me but I don’t flinch at the menacing look on his face. I suddenly realise that the uncomfortable feeling poking my back wasn’t the tree but my gun, the one I’d put there before I left. The one Cam doesn’t know about. He wipes his forehead with the hand holding the gun; I watch the trigger carefully and slowly slide my right hand under my t-shirt. I feel my fingers wrap around my string of hope but don’t pull it out yet. “Why?” I say quietly to him. “Why what? Kill Liam? I had to he’d figured it out when I tried to join you whilst you were doing that crazy thing with the computer, I had to see what you were doing but he wouldn’t let me. It was a relief to see him fall to the floor, I thought he’d blow my cover I don’t know why he left you on your own though to confront me, bad move.” Cam says then laughs darkly. “I was sent here to retrieve the transmitter, where is it?” He asks. I realise he’s talking about the bullet box in my pocket, I don’t know why though. I have an idea, not a very good one but it’s the best I can come up with in the few seconds I’m given to answer. “In the bush” I say and nod towards the bush I hid in, I hold the gun tightly as he turns towards the bush. He glances at me over his shoulder then falls onto his knees and starts rummaging around, I only have one shot, please work I say to myself. I raise the gun quickly then, without hesitation, pull the trigger. Cam falls forward into the bush and I quickly stand up, not wanting to think about what I’d just done. He was a cold killer, it was him or you, I say to myself trying to justify what I just did. I timidly look at Cams body, it’s not moving and I notice the red bullet wound in his chest, the target lessons have payed off. I lean over him and quickly grab the torch then shuffle away from him trying not to scream. I look around me then decide to run in the same direction we’d been running in earlier. Without looking back I run though the forest, alone the sky has given up its fight with the stars and they’re out watching as I dodge trees and stumble my way through the forest. After about an hour my body can’t take anymore and I trip on yet another rock but can’t keep my balance. I land on the ground my left arm burning in pain that I’d forgotten about. Now that I’ve noticed it though and it’s all I can think about. The tears start coming and I’m a sobbing mess, I cry in pain and for Liam who, if it wasn’t for me wouldn’t be dead. I put my fun in my belt again then curl up into a ball and my heavy lids close making me fall into a hazy sleep.
I’m woken when I roll over onto my left arm and I sit up clutching it in pain. My face feels grimy and stiff, I run a hand through my hair and it’s covered in mud and dust. I slowly stand up feeling a little disorientated and dizzy. It’s light and I hear the sound of water to my left. With my left arm hanging limply at my side I walk towards to noise and see a stream. I rush over to it and wade into it until it covers my thighs, I lean over and take huge gulps over it hand with my right hand rub my face with it. I sit down and lower my left arm into it, the icy water surrounds me like a blanket and I’ve never felt so relieved to feel water over me as I do now. I sit there blissfully for a few minutes and dunk my head in as well so that I can cool down, I hadn’t realised how hit it is out here. I stand up, dripping wet and a little cold but I smile to myself somehow forgetting what had happened last night for a few seconds, that is, until I hear a warm musical voice calling my name. “Ashlyn?” it’s Ethan, I know it is. I run out of the water, hope pushing me to run faster towards his voice. I leave the torch on the ground where I dropped it last night but make sure I have my gun ready for if I’m attacked. “Ashlyn” I hear him shout again and somehow I run faster. I run around a tree and right into him, I stumble back feeling a little winded. “Ashlyn!” Ethan exclaims and pulls me into him hugging me so tightly I can’t breathe, I pat him on the back but my arm is screaming in protest. He releases me then looks me up and down “Why are you wet?” He asks, I laugh hysterical from all the adrenaline and pain. “I needed a bath” I say. Ethan shakes his head, he looks like and angel to me at this moment, finding me when I thought I’d be lost forever. “How’d you know where to look for me?” I ask as I hear voices coming from behind him, must be his group. “Marcus found us and told us you’d run with Liam and Cam, we found their bodies” Ethan explains and I feel all of last night come back to haunt me “Cam ...he was a traitor, Ethan he killed Liam, I had to shoot him” I say and I angrily wipe the tears that dare to fall down my cheeks away. Ethan strokes the side of my face “We know, Julie found the beacon he’d been sending out to the government.” I nod but my tears keep falling. “Julie, she’s over here” Ethan shouts. “Marcus, Kiron and Jon killed the soldiers tracking you on foot” Ethan explains as the group appears behind him. “There you are!” Marcus says “See told you she was a fighter” he says admiringly. “Sorry for sending you out with Cam” He says giving me a small smile. I wipe the tears from my face “S’ not your fault, none of us knew” I say and return his smile.
Julie walks over “Well done, we did it” she says, I frown, what does she mean, I failed I couldn’t keep the defences down long enough. “But...” Julie shakes her head and I realise she doesn’t want the others to know what we did. I nod “Your hurt!” Ethan says looking at my left arm that’s currently not doing much. “I think I’ve sprained it” I say, he picks it up carefully but it doesn’t stop a small hiss of pain escaping from my lips “Sorry” He mumbles then looks at it carefully “You’ve broken it” He sighs. “We have transport coming” Julie says “We don’t have enough supplies to last us all the way home, another group will come out and finish the scout.” Julie says, interrupting the moment. We all wait, every ones too tiered and shocked to talk so it’s silent but I feel Ethan watching me the whole time from next to me. A helicopter appears in the sky that looks like the one shooting at us yesterday, I start to panic and get up but Ethan tugs my sleeve before I can run into the trees. “It’s ours; we can’t fly unless we use one of their helicopters.” He mumbles as everyone else gets up. I huff in embarrassment but follow Julie as she walks over to the ladder that’s being lowered for us. Julie climbs first then it’s my go it takes me twice as long as her because I can only pull myself up with one hand but when I’m near the top the men inside the helicopter help pull me up.
I’m exhausted when we arrive back at the base, I stand feeling floppy and dopy while Julie starts lecturing us on something that I don’t hear. “We have to get you do the hospital” Ethan mumbles before I can slip away “Can’t it wait?” I moan thinking of my nice warm bed. Ethan laughs quietly “Sorry, no” I sigh and follow him to the hospital. I’m told to sit in a wait bed while they scan my arm and shine stuff in my eyes “Your arm is broken but other than being over tiered and a little shocked you’re perfectly fine” The doctor explains, I nod and Ethan does as well but I can tell that he’s thinking hard about something. “What were you and Julie doing?” He asks, I shake my head
“Ask her, I have no idea” I mumble then lie back in the hospital bed and, at last, I can close my eyes and fall into a peaceful sleep.
The first think I notice as I wake up is how stiff my arm is and when I open my eyes I see it’s in a blue cast, but the pain has mostly receded and I feel fresh and awake for once. “Morning sleepy head” I look up and see Sina’s huge black eyes staring at me, behind her I can see Tamara, Jaylyn and Keena. “Hi guys”, I sit up smiling and feel the white sheets moving off me.
“I can’t believe you got to go out on a mission! Was it scary? What did you do?” Sina starts bombarding me with questions but doesn’t give me time to answer them; I happily listen as she tells me what I’ve missed in class, not much. “Seems I’m not the only one who gets to visit the hospital this week” Jaylyn says relieving me of another Sina story. “Maybe we could start a club” I say attempting humour. “Are you alright though?” Tamara asks quietly. I nod and feel warm and happy as I realise these people care about me, I don’t know whether it’s the pain killers or just me but a huge grin creeps onto my lips for the first time in a long time. Sina stares at me frowning, her pale forehead wrinkled as she thinks hard about something. “You shot someone” She says shattering the happy moment and letting the memory of the last few days floor through the cracks in my mind, I lean back into the pillow behind me feeling the guilt fall on me and the smile slip away. “Sina! You didn’t have to remind her!” Tamara says “Ashlyn we don’t think any less of you, Julie told us what happened we all would have done the same in your shoes” Her voice is soothing and I suddenly feel glad that Tamara has decided to befriend me; for once I’m friends with someone nice. Sina’s eyes widen as she suddenly realises what she said and she quickly changes the subject. “You’re so lucky though, you won’t have to take part in the combat classes for ages” she says pouting a little.
“Yeah, but Teel will probably have me doing other stuff though, like one armed press ups” I say, and I have a sudden feeling of dread as I imagine what Teel has planned for me. “That’s true” Sina agrees “I have to warn you though, Clora is furious that you got to go on a mission, I’d stay well away from her if I were you” Sina advises fiddling with the creases in the sheets on my bed. I shake my head, if Clora knew how a mission felt like she wouldn’t be making such a fuss to go on one.
It’s Saturday so we don’t have a class to go to so we chill in the hospital for a while until the doctor who looked at my arm earlier comes over and tells me I’m allowed to go. He hands me a pot of small pills for the pain but tells me to take them only when I ‘m in pain. I walk out of the hospital without looking back, the air in there smelt like pain and death and it is a relief to leave it. We amble over to the canteen; Jaylyn decides to coddle me and tells me to sit down while he gets my food. Sina giggles when he leaves and I roll my eyes, I have a feeling that he won’t stop until the cast comes off. “Ashlyn!” I hear a deep voice behind me say and I turn to see Marcus and Jon standing behind me. “Hi guys” I say and they sit down with us, I notice Sina close her mouth and swallow her words. “So you’re alright then?” Marcus asks and I see real concern in his eyes.
“Yeah apart from this” I say and lift my blue arm up.
“Don’t worry, someone always hurts themselves on missions, you’d be surprised by how quickly you recover though” He says and nudges me to make me smile. I suddenly remember Sina and Tamara “This is Marcus and Jon, they were on the mission with me, guys this is Sina and Tamara” I introduce them to each other but for some reason the two girls shake the boys hands quickly, their expressions cold and untrusting. Marcus looks up, “We gotta go, good to see your alright” He pate my on the shoulder “See you around” I say and watch them as they leave the canteen. Sina lets out breath that she must have been holding in. “What was that about?” I ask the two of them, I’ve never seen either of them be so rude to someone. “Don’t you know who Marcus is?” She asks. I shake my head, frowning. “Not really but he was kind to me on the mission, I don’t see anything wrong with him.” Sina shakes her head “He’s a transfer” She says. I frown feeling a little hurt.
“So am I, that doesn’t make me a bad person”
“No it doesn’t, but he isn’t from zone 3 he’s from zone 1” She hisses at; as she says it she winces, even saying the words disgust her. I sit back in my seat and raise my eyebrows, seeing him in a different light. “How long ago did he come here?” I ask.
“4 years ago, Julie didn’t want him here but for some reason Marlec let him come, him and his father.”
“His father died last year in a mission though” Tamara adds, her face isn’t covered in revulsion like Sina’s though; I think the sadness in her eyes is sympathy. “Why’d he come here? It’s not like he needed a place to say of anything” I say starting to feel angry, why someone with everything would dump it all to come and live here. “No one knows, whenever someone asks him about it he always says that you don’t have to have a reason to come here. Which isn’t true, Marlec and Julie always demand transfers for a reason.” Sina says shaking her head unconvinced. Jaylyn wonders over and see’s the frowns on everyone’s faces “What have I missed?”
“Marcus” Sina says frostily.
“What as in the Marcus who transferred here?” He asks sitting down and handing me my plate, I pick up my fork and start pushing the food around my plate, suddenly not very hungry anymore. Sina nods at him.”You know, if you went on a scout with Marcus then you was probably with the elite squad” Tamara says quietly breaking the awkward silence. I give her a questioning look “What’s that?” I ask.
“It’s where they put all the best soldiers, Ethans’ in it too” She explains
“Why does he help the classes out then?” I ask.
Tamara shrugs “Don’t know but I don’t think he’ll be helping out much longer, he’s been coming to class less and less recently” She says causing Sina to let out a pout
“No more Ethan? How will I live” She says shaking her head at the thought.
“Well in my opinion they all think they’re better than us and act like we’re all beneath them” The conversation dies out on the table for a few minutes until Sina finally says “Do you want to go up to the top with us tomorrow?” I look up and see she’s looking at me and I shake myself out of thinking about what we’d just been talking about.
“What? You can go upstairs when you want?” I say, hope switching on inside me.
“Only in small groups and you have to be careful when enter and exit FREAM, it’s not a prison” Sina says giving me a small encouraging smile. “Of course I want to come” I say feeling the weight of the past convocation lift from us. “Where can we go?” I ask, thinking of all the possibilities. Sina shrugs “Where ever we want in Zone 3, we can’t go to zone 2 or 1 in case we arouse suspicion. The second grin of the day appears on my face. “Where’re you going?”
“We haven’t decided yet, Tamara wants to go shopping and there’s some sports event Jaylyn wants to see but we thought we’d see where you want to go” I think hard, going back to see my parent and friends is so tempting but going back means I might not want to leave. I realise something then and pain jolts through me, I can never see them again, my friends think I’m dead and if I go back the government will almost certainly have laid a trap for me. I don’t even know if my parents will still be there, they might have been arrested and taken away when I went missing. Suddenly the idea of going upstairs doesn’t sound so appealing. The seconds drag on in silence until I let out a small gasp as I realise something “I’d like to visit my friend Mirax” I say and watch their faces closely. Jaylyn frowns, Sina smiles and Tamara shakes her head “What if the government have laid a trap for you at home” She says.
“Mirax lives in the west section, far away from my parents the government won’t suspect him they don’t have us written down as friends”
“How do you know he won’t tell the government if we visit him?” Jaylyn asks sharply staring at me with suspicion written all over his face. “He’s my best friend, if I can’t trust him I can’t trust anyone” I declare putting a stop to their complaints. “You wouldn’t have to come in with me, the west section has some great shops and I bet any of the bars will have football on the T.Vs” I add. They finally agree to this plan, they’ll come with me to the west sector and we’ll go and do separate things then meet up at the station. The plan sends a buzz of excitement through me, tomorrow I will see Mirax and he’ll help make sense of the world again. I smile to myself as I switch my bedside light off and slide under the covers, tomorrow will be a good day, I can feel it.