~~Marcus leads us through the forest to a waterfall “Man I hate this way in” Finn says then he turns to me and Ethan “You may get a little wet” He adds then steps through it. I start at where he was standing a little surprised. “Just step through it” Marcus encourages and I nod the shuffle over to it. I take a deep breath then walk through it. The water that falls on me feels heavy and cold but it only lasts for a second of two because I appear on the other side. I laugh with shock “That is so cool!” I say as Ethan and Marcus both appear through it, soaking wet. Finn stands a few steps away shaking his soggy main of hair. “We have to exit and enter different ways so it’s harder for people to follow us in and out” Marcus explains as he hands us each a towel. I nod and wrap it round me.
I look around me and realise we’re in a system of tunnels inside the cliffs. Lamps hand from the ceiling and on the wall lighting them up but it isn’t like the natural sunlight I’ve grown used too so it takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust. Marcus and Finn lead us through the new maze of tunnels and I try to remember the way back to the waterfall but after the 22nd left turn I feel lost. “We thought you might want rooms next to each other” Finn says when we reach a corridor with curtains over all the doorways. I look up at Ethan and he has an amused look in his eyes. “Ashlyn you’re here and Ethan you’re here” Marcus shows us the two rooms at the end of the corridor and we both nod and a buzz of naughty excitement rushed through me as I look over at Ethan again. He smiles at me the same feeling mirrored in his eyes. “We managed to get all of us near to each other” Marcus continues snapping me and Ethan out of our moment. “Me, Finn and Harry are also on this corridor. The others are in the corridors next to this one.” Marcus says and I realise there’s 7 rooms in this corridor but Marcus has only said 5 of them. “Who’re in the other two?” I ask slowly. Marcus and Finn look at each other for a second. Marcus points at the other one next to mine “This one belongs to.”
“Me” a familiar voice says and I turn and see the familiar face it belongs to. “Mirax!” I cry out then run at him. I stumble on a rock but he catches me and pulls me into his arms. I hold him tightly breathing hard “You’re here” I say finally as I pull away from the hug.
“You’re friends found me in the prison I was in” I notice that his left arm is in a cast and I loft it up.
“Did they do this to you?” I ask softly and he nods and pulls it out of my hands.
“Don’t worry though, it’ll heal.”
I let out a light laugh, “Last time I was in a cast, now it’s your turn” I tease. He smiles but he’s looking over his shoulders at the others. I turn and see Ethan staring at the floor then I realise Marcus hasn’t told us who the last room is for. “Who’s room is that?” I ask slowly gesturing at the seventh room. Finn isn’t looking at me he’s staring blankly at the floor. Marcus clears his throat. “It’s reserved for Cody” His words are quiet and I can barely make out what he says. “Where is he now?” I ask, not wanting an answer.
“In the hospital.... he was tortured pretty badly and fell into a coma.” The words hit me hard, Cody... in a coma. I swallow back tears and take a deep breath. “Will he wake up?” Marcus opens his mouth to answer but Finn interrupts him. “Of course he will, that’s why we’ve reserved him a room, the stubborn git is just taking his time that’s all.” I nod, not wanting to question Finn’s optimism; the two friends are just like brothers. Now I think about it I rarely saw one without the other, why didn’t I realise something was up when Cody wasn’t with Finn when they found us. Mirax puts a comforting hand on my shoulder and squeezes it gently. We all stand in a shocked silent as me and Ethan try to process the news.
After I don’t know how long Finn claps his hands together and rubs them determinedly “Who’s hungry?” He asks but doesn’t wait for an answer because he slides past me and Mirax then turns left towards, presumable, the new canteen. After the news about Cody I don’t feel like eating but my stomach has other ideas so I follow Mirax as he turns in the direction Finn went.
The new canteen is much bigger than the last one and noisier as well, heads turn towards me as we walk through the crowded hall towards the line for food. “Oh my God! Ashlyn!” I hear an excited voice squeal and all of a sudden Sina appears in front of me and I’m being hugged again. I smile at her when she lets go.
“Hi” I say and she punches me lightly on the shoulder.
“You took your time” She tries to say sternly but her face cracks into a beaming smile but I can’t but notice the pain in her eyes, I look away not wanting to know where it’s come from. “Jaylyn and Tamara are in class right now but they’ll be so excited when they find out your here” She starts to say.
“Why aren’t you in class?” I ask and she goes silent for a moment.
“Umm they told me I can have time off...my sister didn’t make it out of the explosion in time” Her words hang heavily inside and I feel another wait pull me down. “Sina I’m so...”
“Don’t say it” She snaps suddenly then continues less viscously “So many people have said it and I’m sick of hearing it” I nod understanding.
I look over at the group I came in with and their already getting food “Do you want to have lunch with us?” I ask but she just shakes her head “I’ve already eaten, I’ll see you later” With that she slowly walks out of the canteen. I look around and catch people looking away not wanting to be caught watching. I walk over to Ethan “Everyone’s watching us” I hiss at him. He looks around then shrugs.
“Just ignore them, they’re only curious” I nod but I still keep looking nervously around the room at the many eyes that fall way from my gaze as I get my food.
As I sit shovelling mash potato in my mouth Marcus explains that Marlec had suspected there was a traitor amongst us and that they’d have told the Government about the location of the base so he was having this built in secret.”
I frown at him “Surely Julie would have told them about this place too” I point out but Marcus just shakes his head “That’s the beauty of it, he didn’t tell her about it, he didn’t trust her and he was right.”
The mention of Julies name reminds me of the failed mission “Guys I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have let us go”
“Stop” Finn says “We knew what we were getting into, it is not your fault” I nod but I don’t agree with him, we shouldn’t have gone, they all believed in me too much.
“So, are we still training?” Ethan asks after a few seconds of heavy silence.
“Yeah, they’ve changed the teams slightly, we lost members in the attack so we have new recruits” We nod grimly then I turn to Mirax “Are you a soldier” He raises his eyebrows
“Of course” He says then smiles “I’m stuck training in the grade 2 class though” He moans and I smile
“So was I but they moved me up, so just make sure you’re noticed” I advice and he’s about reply but I’m distracted by Harry who walks over and slaps Ethan on the shoulder “Hey man, long time no see” He says and beams at me. “Hey Harry” I say and smile at him. He sinks down into the seat next to Finn
“I’m in your team now, no more being beaten in capture the flag for me” He says laughing a little. I look around the table of my new friends and even though being in FREAM has lead to so much pain it has also lead to me finding a new family, a place I belong. “So who thinks they can beat me in a game of football?” Harry challenges.
The football game lasted about an hour before the boys started arguing that a goal was off side. “Dude this hall isn’t even square its round” Harry protests as Marcus determinedly wipes away the point Harry scored. “No, that was way out and you know it.” Marcus says bluntly and Harry kicks the ball at the cave wall. “Whatever” He grumbles. I shake my head, “It feels weird to be doing something so normal” I say to Ethan as we start to leave the large room we were using as a football pitch. He smiles “Sometimes you need a little normal in your life to stop you going crazy”
I nod “Am I going to have to start calling you Wiseman because of your very helpful advice?” I say sarcastically and he gives me a small shove but we’re both laughing. “Hey love birds, we’re going to be late” Finn shouts over to us and we hurry to catch up with the rest of the group.
When we reach the new training hall we’re greeted with slaps on the backs from our team and shy smiles from the new faces. Harry and Gareth our on our team now along with a new girl called Sisca who greets me with a smile and a large burly guy call Wayne who nods at me. Kestra Jilly and Tyler are there as well so we almost have a full team the only people that I know who are missing is James from the other team and Cody from ours. “He would have been happy to go out with a bang” Harry says over my shoulder as he guesses what I’m thinking about and I slowly nod my head.
Orave and Felix stand in front of our two groups, Orave nods and me and Ethan “We finally have the last two members of group 2 here so we can begin proper training, it will be much tougher than what you are used to. You weren’t prepared enough for the last mission and for that we lost soldiers, I can promise you now we won’t push you until we believe you are ready.” Felix starts to say and people around the room look tense and ready, any laughter and humour has gone. Everyone realises how serious this is. “After finding out from various sources about the previous mission we know who the stronger soldiers are and all of you are in group 2 so you will be what we call the ‘a team’ and are the ones who will be pushed harder and given the harder mission. Group 1, you are the B team and it is still an honour to be in it so I don’t want any of you thinking you aren’t good enough because you didn’t make it into the A team. You will be the back up team which is just as important, you will always be ready to help the A team if they get into trouble.” Felix continues to explain the new training rotors and classes and I stare on with anticipation, it sounds like hard work but of it means the destruction of the government at the end of it then bring it on.
After his lecture ends Felix lets us go but he asks me to stay behind “Marlec is waiting to speak with you” He explains “I’ll take you too him now” I follow Felix out of a different door to the one I came in and the others left from then he leads me through the maze of corridors until we reach a room with a real door blocking it. Felix raps on the door and a sharp voice says enter and Felix gestures for me to go in so I push down on the handle and walk inside.
The room looks like a slightly messier darker version of Julie’s office back at the other base. Marlec sits on a wooden chair leaning on his wrinkly hand which is resting on an old desk. “Sit” He says quietly so I walk over to the empty wooded chair on the other side of his desk. “It’s nice to see that you’re well” He says as I sit down and I nod at him not knowing what to say.
“I’m just going to skip to the point Ashlyn, this is no time to be sensitive” I nod again feeling like an idiot. “What did Igneous Bane want with you?” He asks and his bushy eye brows form a serious frown. I gulp as memories of the day I met Igneous Bane creep into my head.
“He wanted to run tests on my brain” I say slowly and then look at the floor.
Marlec’s chair creaks as he leans over the desk “Yes, but what was he testing for” He pushes and I look up at him slowly.
“I’m not really sure but he told me that they did something to my brain when I was a kid and it activates in order to protect me or warn me of danger” I explain quickly but Marlec nods and I watch his crinkly face as he processes each word then leans back in his chair.
“These warnings, do they come to you in dreams?” He asks after a few minutes of silence and I nod, knowing there’s no point in keeping it a secret any more. “Anyone who meets you will know you’re a clever girl Ashlyn, you’ve proved that in training. What I don’t see is why that is so important to Igneous unless you’re even more intelligent than you’re letting on. What exactly did you do for Julie when she took you on that mission?”
There it is; the question he shouldn’t have asked. I take a deep breath then bite my lip
“Ashlyn, I need you to tell me everything you know so I have as much as possible to use when planning the next attack against the government” He says when I don’t answer him.
I nod slowly “Please don’t judge me and don’t tell anyone” I say and my voice is barley a whisper. He raises his eyebrows but nods so I take a deep breath then explain how I cracked all those codes on the laptops screen then later Igneous told me I’d solved there ‘problem’. Marlec nods along with my story but I can see his smile become tighter and tighter.
“Thank you for this information, you may leave now” He says sharply when I’m done and I quickly stand up and leave the room.
Outside feels cooler and I a few steady breaths and lean against the wall for a few moments then proceed to walk through the confusing maze of tunnels. I get lost several times but I finally find someone who points me in the right direction towards the canteen.
I sit with my team on the same table we were on this morning but I just play with my food, not feeling very hungry. Ethan is looking worriedly at me but when he asks me what’s wrong I just shake my head and give him a small smile. After about 10 minutes I’ve had enough of the happy chatter and usual banter so I excuse myself and walk over to the room that Marcus had showed me earlier.
Once the curtain is shut I finally let go and grab a pillow and scream as loud as I can into it, letting out all the anger and hurt and frustration and hate that has been building up inside me. I’m past feeling guilty, what happened can never be unwritten so I just have to let go. I wipe away my angry tears then rip a page out of the note book I was given for the mission then scribble everyone’s names down who’ve died because of me.
My hand shakes as I write the last two names on the page, my parents. I know there should be many more names on there, the ones of all the people whose souls got put into the machine. I scrunch the paper into a tight ball then march out of the room towards the kitchens. People give me funny looks as I walk over to the stoves but nobody tries to stop me.
I push the pot off the hob then light it with a match and drop the ball of paper onto it. As I watch it shrivel up in the flames I feel a small weight lift from my chest and I can breathe a little more. It somehow feels that my guilt is burning away with it.Finally the paper is gone and there’s no trace of them left, not anywhere.