“Alice, we have to go!”
“No,” I shake my head, “we don’t.”
“Did you not just hear what I said?” Eliza stares at me, eyes wide. “They’ll capture and torture us if we don’t get out.”
“What you heard was only a theory between two men. Theories aren’t facts.”
“Don’t you think it at least holds a piece of truth? We can’t have been the reason they looked down here. We’re not special; we’re no different to anyone else.”
I bite my lip because yes, it does ring truth. I just hope it isn’t true because I really don’t want to go.
“Well, say they are right and we do leave,” I cross my arms. I’m meant to be bringing a patient his food, but Eliza intercepted me. “What then? We can’t go home. As soon as they find out we’re back, we’ll be captured and tortured anyway. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather stay here and take my chances.”
When Eliza came running in, I thought something deadly had happened. Her eyes were bright and wide, filled to the brim with tears. I had to sit her down on a free hospital bed before she spat the whole thing out. Now, she shoves off of the cot and glares at me, still panicky.
“Do you think they’ve tortured our families?”
“No,” I say immediately. “Whoever saw us would have seen Toby dragging us in, we didn’t go willingly. If we did, than yes. Maybe so.”
That seems to sooth her a little and the muscles that were just pulled tight now relax.
“Better?” I ask and pick up the tray of food again.
“Yeah. I don’t really care what happens to me, although I don’t want to be tortured.”
“Me neither,” I wrap my free arm around her neck and lean my head on her shoulder. “Thanks for telling me.”
“Of course,” she hugs me back. “I better get back to work.”
With one last parting wave, she disappears.
Eliza’s words go through my head the whole day, distracting me from the work I’m meant to be doing. Multiple times, Miss Florence has to snap her fingers in front of my eyes to get me to focus.
“Alice, what’s wrong? I think it’s time you came back from Wonderland, don’t you think?”
“What’s Wonderland?” I frown.
“Never mind. Just, try to finish for me, would you?”
I nod quickly and go back to packing the new first aid kits the men take with them when they work on the tunnel. I’m that focused on the task and Eliza’s accusations that I don’t realise someone’s talking to me until they tap me on the shoulder.
“Wha... Oh. Hi, Collin.”
“Did you just miss everything I said?” he frowns at me. “I said a lot of things.”
“Sorry,” I shove the boxes out of the way and pat the cot next to me so he can sit. “Start again?”
“Well firstly, you look different from the last time I saw you.”
“Huh?” I squint at him.
“You’re skin, dude!”
I glance down at my arms with a frown.
“No, it looks the same.”
“No, it doesn’t,” he mimics my tone. “Here. Hold out your arm.”
I do as his says and he holds his out next to mine. I still don’t see anything wrong. Sighing, Collin runs his fingers from my wrist to my elbow.
“You’re skin’s the same colour as mine. Don’t you see? I haven’t had vaccinations for two years. This is my natural skin colour.”
Excitement brewing inside of me, I raise my arm to my eyes, letting my gaze wander over the flesh. I really can’t see the difference, but I still look intently.
“Hang on,” Collin grins and raises his hand in the air. “Miss Florence?”
“Dude, are you trying to get me in trouble?”
Florence marches over to us, frown on her face.
“Collin, you better have a good excuse to be here.”
“I do,” he smiles politely, “but first, I need you to do something.”
He explains to her about my skin change and I’m surprised when Miss Florence nods her head.
“Yes, of course I’ve noticed.”
She reaches out and takes my hand in her own.
“Look. Your skin is lighter than my own.”
I follow her gaze to my hand in her own and feel my mouth drop open.
It is lighter, not a lot, but it’s getting their. It’s still a dark colour, but my syrupy than chocolate looking.
I shove out of the cot and practically sprint for the mirror Florence has set up in the corner. She comes up beside me so I can see the differences.
Besides my skin, the only other real difference is my eye colour. It’s still that brilliant but creepy blue, only now it’s softer somehow. I check my hair, but I can’t see any change with it.
“Florence,” I turn to her. “Why haven’t you stopped your needles?”
“Outside work, love,” she smiles and pats my shoulder. “I love the sun so I’ll take every chance I can to get out of here.”
I open my mouth to reply when someone comes up behind me and wraps their arms around my waist.
“Hello,” Toby whispers in my ear and I quickly shove him away.
“Look!” I hold my arm up in front of his eyes and he has to step back to inspect.
“What am I meant to be looking at?”
“My skin! My colours fading!”
I turn back to the mirror, letting my fingers wander over the skin my clothes don’t cover. I close my eyes and try to imagine what I’ll look like in a few years and when I open them, Collin and Miss Florence have disappeared.
“Where’d they go?” I turn to Toby who sits on the edge of the closest bed, watching me. He’s not meant to since there’s a patient snoring softly, but I let him be.
“Collin had some medical break through and he’s discussing it with her now,” he uses his thumb to point behind him and I peer around him to see them talking at the main desk, excitedly.
“What colour do you think I really am?” I sit down next to him, taking his hand into my own.
“White,” he grins. “Maybe a really really pale white, too.”
“Do you think it’ll look pretty?” I think of Rose, the girl who injected Eliza and me with our snitches.
“You look pretty to me now,” he kisses my hand softly and it sends tingles down my side.
“You have to say that,” I tease.
“Alice,” he says carefully. “You do know if you want to keep going above ground, you’ll have to get you needles.”
“I know,” I give a small smile. For a while, I just sit their inspecting our different skin tones before I remember what Eliza told me.
I blurt the whole thing out to him, the theories of the two men in the tent. I hope he can understand me since I’m talking one hundred miles per hour and I think he does because when I finally finish, he’s frowning.
“I told her it’s not likely,” I say lightly. “Well, it is, but there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Ssh,” he presses a finger to my lips, trying to think. “Repeat.”
I tell him again, slower this time.
“Eliza was giving out the supply boxes to the men at the west tunnel and she overheard a conversation between two men. Their theory is those officials were looking for our camp, not Eliza and I. They got their information from Shane, who was tortured for it. When the witness who saw us being dragged by you into the tunnels, they told the officials and they put two and two together. They think we’re being watched now, when we come and leave the tunnel. When they have enough information, they think they’ll cut off our supplies until we’re forced to leave the camp.”
When I finish, I finally take a deep breath and let it out.
“Not good,” Toby shakes his head.
“It can’t be true, can it?”
“No, not that,” he stands up, shaking his hands anxiously. “People weren't meant to start suspecting... we need everyone to stay calm...”
“What are you talking about?” I ask, blood going cold.
“People aren’t meant to know... This’ll ruin everything.”
“Toby,” I feel sick now. “Explain.”
He looks at me, panic etched on his face.
“Alice, stay calm for me.”
“No,” I stand up and move away so the cot separates us. “First explain.”
“Mum suspects the same thing,” he rests his hands on the bed and leans towards me. “Most of the soldier’s do too. Others aren’t meant to know because all hell will break loose.”
“So you were going to let everyone think they were safe?” me voice sounds detached.
“It’s not like that.”
“It sure sounds like it,” I glare, feeling upset. “People should be able to know so they can decide if they want to leave.”
“Leave for where? There’s no where we can go!”
“They at least would have the chance to survive,” I can’t keep the spite out of my voice.
“It’s only a theory, Alice.”
“Maybe that’s so,” I mimic his tone, “but there’s also the chance it’s true.”
With that, happiness over my skin change forgotten, I turn around and walk away.