~~The next day I’m woken by a guard roughly shaking me, grunting that I’m leaving in 2 minutes. I sit up and stretch my stiff muscles from leaning against the wall all night then stand up, shaking myself a little I walk over to the doorway and wait for it to open. As I step out I think, I’ve left the old Lila behind in that room, from this day forward I’ll be a reject. I don’t feel anything as I think about this, my whole body is numb with shock as I follow the guards over to the private vehicle that will take me to rehab. Normally the small bus I get onto would be full of other rejects but it’s unusual to leave half way through the year and I’m the only one today. I slump onto one of the seats and the driver looks over his shoulder at me for a moment then nods and starts the engine.
We roll out of the education sector and onto the road that circulates around the dome. The driver puts some music on to fill the silence and sips some of the coffee he’s placed in a cup holder. As he drives he glances in his wing mirror at me. “Don’t worry chick, it isn’t as bad as people say,” he comforts and I frown.
“How would you know?” I ask and he shrugs.
“It’s where I’m from,” he says and I frown then he laughs. “What? You didn’t realise rejects could have normal jobs?” he asks and I just stare at him in surprise.
“…didn’t think we can look like normal human beings?” he finishes and I shut my mouth because he’s right. “You should forget everything the dome has told you about us, people don’t like it. You’re going to stand out bad enough without adding that,” he says and I frown at him.
“Stand out?” I watch him raise his eyebrow in the mirror.
“Let’s just say most rejects don’t have golden locks like you for starters, you definitely stand out as pedigree.”
“What?” I stare at the back of his greasy head of hair while his shoulders move up and down in a shrug. “Word of advice, keep your head down.”
I frown at him as the streets wiz past us in a blur of grey and black. I look out the window instead of the driver now, trying to work out what he meant.
The journey eventually ends and the bus reaches the gates to rehab. I’ve been driven passed them once and it gave me shivers at the thought of what’s on the other side. Now I look up it and I all I can feel is dread as the reality of what’s happening hits me. The gates open after a moment and the bus slides through then the gates close again, I doubt I’ll see the other side of them for a while.
I look outside the window as the driver parks the bus a few meters away from the gate. We’re in a small courtyard and I can see two guards waiting outside a metal door, watching the bus.
“You can get out now,” the driver says, hitting a button that makes the doors open with a hissing sound. I stand up then walk out of the bus and over to the guards that are waiting for me. One of them has the normal blank expression guards have while the other one watches me with curiosity and recognition. “This way miss,” the blank guard says and I follow them into the huge brick building behind them. I glance over my shoulder at the driver as he jumps out of the bus and pulls something out of his pocket. He puts it into his mouth then brings something up to. I blink in surprise as I realise it’s a lighter, he clicks it and lights the thing in his mouth. I stop for a moment to stare at him as he closes his eyes then pulls the thing out of his mouth. I watch the cloud of smoke that floats out of his mouth in confusion, what is he doing?
“Miss, please keep moving,” the guard says and I shake myself out of it and keep walking. I walk into the building which has a similar metal structure to the Education sector. They lead me to a room where the blank guard hovers in the doorway. “I’ll get your details, Kian you do the introduction,” the curious guard, Kian, nods and the other one leaves.
“Well, Lila I er… I knew your brother…we were friends,” he starts and stops for a moment as I look up at him. “He was a good guard and a fine man, we were all shocked when we heard the news.” I nod at him, looking away for a moment. “I know he spoke fondly of you,” he continues and my eyes land back on him, this is different. “Said you were a genius or something,” he laughs a little at the irony of the fact I’m in here. “He’d never have predicted I’d end up in here,” I mutter and Kian bites his lip for a moment but doesn’t say anything. “I should probably warn you that the people in there aren’t going to like you,” he says and I frown.
“That’s not fair…” I start and he shakes his head.
“Unfortunately, Jason’s death was big news in here for a long time. They showed you on the T.V a few times, they wanted to drill it into people here that they can’t get away with.. um.. killing a guard.”
I flinch a little and I suddenly feel a burst of anger at my mother for forcing me to the interviews with the press. I had to sit and talk about him for ages in front of strangers but I kept it cold and impersonal. ‘yeah he was brave’ ‘he always cared for me’ ‘he supported me’ ‘he wanted me to do well’
“Lila are you ok?” Kian asks and I look up at him then give a stiff nod. He pauses for a moment then starts what must be the rehearsed part of the introduction. “In a moment you’ll be assigned a room in a house where you’ll live with other… rejects and a house parent. When you’re 18 you get moved to an adult living quarters. We’ve enrolled you into the school and in a moment you’ll receive your timetable. The only advice I can offer is try as hard as you can to get your score up to 50. I know it’s hard in here but it’s the only chance you have.” I frown at his words, chance? For what? I don’t see what going back to the education sector can offer me. I doubt I have any chance at all any way, not after I got a personal visit from Stefan Eichmann himself, I don’t think many people get that special opportunity.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I mutter as the door swings open and the blank guard walks in.
They eventually finish telling me about the ins and outs of the rehab system. “You’ll basically learn as you go along,” Kian says as we walk out of the room and into a lift. The blank guard presses the ground floor button and the lift begins a steady descent towards rehab. I look at the two guards and wonder how many times they’ve done this routine and what kind of people they’ve had to deal with. By the Iook of relief and patience on their faces I can tell they’ve dealt with a lot worse than me, I can imagine they’ll be plenty of people who aren’t as co-operative as I’ve been so far.
The elevator doors slide open and we reach a corridor that ends in a sleek set of metal doors operated by a guard sitting in a glass booth to the left of it. He sits up when we approach it then nods at Kian and presses a button. The doors click open and I step out into a scene that’s the complete opposite to the metal doors and grey walls of where I’ve just been. It’s like I’ve stepped into another world. Out here the floor isn’t metal its real earth. It looks like the sand from the desert outside the dome except more compact and stable. The houses aren’t like the modern buildings I’m used to seeing in the dome. They look like they were made in a rush and the bricks are worn out and crumbly. I look up and see that rehab is one giant circle surrounded by a balcony about 200 feet above my head where I can see guards wondering around, occasionally looking down at us. Above the building is a giant curved ceiling making rehab like a miniature dome.
“Want us to show you where your house is?” Kian asks and I look over at him, feeling the colour leaving my face for a moment. As my eyes get used to the dull light in here I notice people walking around, shooting intrigued looks my way. “Yes,” I say firmly and Kian nods. I follow them away from the doors that have now shut behind me and towards the buildings in front of us.
“These streets are all under 18 houses, the adult houses are on the other side and you need a card to get into that sector because there’s also bars and… other things you need to be over 18 to enter,” Kian starts as we wonder down one street of houses. I glance over at the people who pass us, all of them are my age or below. I haven’t seen anyone under the age of 11 though because you’re safe from rehab until then.
“In the centre of rehab is the market where you buy supplies and other things, if you’re under 18 you’re provided with a small allowance and the house parent is in charge of providing meals. After that you have to find a job. Someone from your house will show you around I’m sure and where the school is…” Kian is interrupted by a group of boys appearing around the corner on skateboards yelling at each other as they race each other. I notice the boards are going faster than any skateboards I’ve seen. “Wait here,” the blank guard says and he walks across the road lifting a whistle to his lips. He blows it then touches the gun in his belt. All the boys stop and moan as the guard crosses his arms. “You’re going faster than permitted in theses streets lads,” he says and they all scowl at him. He picks something out of his jacket pocket. “Consider this a warning,” he continues and the all grumpily get their ID cards out, handing them to him. He runs them through the scanner. I look up at Kian and I frown, he sees my expression and nods at the scene.
“Each warning lowers your score and if you hit 0…” I nod. 0 means death.
“Shit, I’m on 9 now,” one of the boys says and I look over at them.
“I blame Mason for this,” another mutters as they pick their boards up and march away. Some of them look my way but they don’t acknowledge me. The blank guard walks back over, rolling his eyes. “Every time,” he mutters and Kian laughs.
“Think we should find Mason?”
“Nah, there’s no point, he doesn’t listen, that kid is lucky he hasn’t hit 0 yet.” I follow the guards into another street and all of a sudden I hear someone call my name.
“Lila!?” I hear and I turn around in surprise to see Luke running towards me. He looks confused but pleased at the same time. He smiles as he reaches me. I small wave of relief runs over me at the fact I’m not completely alone here.
“You know this guy?” Kian asks and I nod. “Think you can show her to Mags?” Kian asks and Luke nods. “Lucky you,” he says as Kian and the blank guard walk away without even a good bye.
“Why?” I ask as he starts to step forward. “Mags is one of the nicer house parents,” he says then smiles at me. “So… you were the last person I’d expect to see here,” he says and I shrug.
“I got accused of cheating,” I reply and he looks.
“Is it true?”
“Of course not! They wanted to kick me out because I spoke out against the system.”
“Oh right… well welcome to hell,” he says with a laugh and I frown at him.
“Is it really that bad?”
He shakes his head. “Na, it’s not really. Once you get used to it this place is alright.”
“What’s it like?” I ask and he shrugs as we amble down the streets.
“Different to what you’re used to, there’s no structure here, the place runs itself,” he explains and I frown, confused. “What does that mean?” I ask him and he pauses, thinking of the right way to explain it. “The guards mostly keep to themselves, just step in when they have to. The people here are left to do what we want.” I try to process the words, isn’t this what I wanted? I wanted to wake up and not know what was going to happen. Sometimes the reality of something isn’t as great as you imagined it I think as I follow Luke, the unknown scares me.
Luke leads me to a house where a tired looking woman answers the door. She steps aside for us and as I walk passed her I can see the grey streaks in her dark hair and the wrinkles under her eyes. She looks worn out, like a limp elastic band. She walks into the kitchen and wipes her hands on her apron then nods her head at Luke. “I hope this one hasn’t told you too many bad stories about me,” she says smiling. The wrinkles on her face loosen and for a moment she looks 10 years younger. I take her in for a moment and a thought passes over me. Am I looking into my future? Will I be stretched here until I snap and turn out like her? Is this all I have to look forward to? She must be passed the age of retirement yet here she is looking after a house full of youths. Obviously retirement doesn’t exist in rehab.
“I’m Lila, and don’t worry, he hasn’t,” I say with a small smile, to break the silence in the kitchen. She nods then continues preparing the food on the counter in front of her. “I’m Mags,” she answers as she cuts some carrots with speech and elegance. “Lila… that’s a pretty name,” she continues, turning to look at me for a moment. “A pretty name for a pretty girl,” she says giving a firm nod as I blush, a little embarrassed. She then turns to Luke and raises an eyebrow. “I don’t have many rules but boys are not allowed to…. Sleep over,” she says the last part after a deliberate pause. Luke gives her a sincere nod. “Don’t worry I was just showing Lila the way,” he says and I nod as well.
“We’re just friends,” I add to make it clear. Luke gives me an amused look while Mags gives us a satisfied smile. “Your in room 6,” she pulls a key out of her apron and gives Luke one last warning look as we walk out of the kitchen and up the stairs. As I walk over to the door with the number 6 on it I can hear muffled voices from the other rooms. I push the door open and walk inside.
I can only take a few steps because it’s a small room, much smaller than I’m used to. The length of the bed runs from wall to another and it sits under a small wooden framed window that overlooks the street outside. By the door is a chest of draws with a misty mirror above it and loose fitting handles on the draws. As I run a hand over it I can see names and dates carved on the top, of the previous owners I presume. Each one has a story behind it, one I’ll never know.
In the other corner sits a small desk and wooden chair, empty of possessions. The room is naked, stripped bare of the previous owner. I pull the draws open and find some clothes, as I hold them up I realise most of them will be too big, they’re faded and worn out, different to the sleek new clothes I’m used to wearing. Most of the clothes I owned I only wore a few times because my mother made sure I had enough to fill an entire walk in wardrobe, looking back at it now I feel vain and selfish.
I turn when I hear Luke shuffle behind me. He’s standing in the doorway, biting his lip. “You can come in,” I tell him, laughing a little. He looks down at the floor his feet stand on for a moment, as if he’s making note of the invisible line there. He steps into the room though, looking up at me and smiling. “This place is nicer than mine,” he points out after he clears his throat and I frown at him.
“Yeah, living in a guy’s house means pretty much all the furniture is beaten up, my desk is wobbly and the window is cracked,” he laughs, shaking his head. How can he find that funny? I look over at him for a moment, at his head of dark curls and kind brown eyes realising for the first time how handsome he is. It also dawns on me that the matching system doesn’t apply here, I’m free to go out with who I choose. The possibility of dating someone has never crossed my mind before now. As I look over at Luke I think about it and I wonder if I could see him as more than a friend?
“What are the people here like then?” I ask and he shrugs.
“Most people are alright, there are some people you don’t want to get on the wrong side of though,” he says and I can tell this stirs something inside him but I don’t ask him about it. He then catches my eyes and smiles. “Some people are pretty wild,” he adds.
“What does that mean?” I ask and he flashes a daring smile.