I’m wandering around the first floor with Amelia and Alice above me and Liliana bellow when I spot the first soldier wandering around outside the door.
“Flip,” I hiss and duck behind a desk just as the soldier turns to the glass doors. “Oh flipping flip,”
My searching has brought up nothing, not even a stray strand of hair. I have no idea how I’ll defend myself if the soldier comes in. I have a gun, but we all agreed it would be best not to use them since they’re loud and will send soldiers running for our location.
Peering around the desk, I eye the other side of the room where both staircases leading upwards and downwards lie. At least if the other girls appear I’ll be able to ward them off. There’s just no way I can make my way that side without catching the soldier’s attention.
Or so I thought.
Apparently the soldier’s just on random walkabout duty because after a few minutes of peering into the windows, he saunters away to the front pillar where he leans against it and looks up at the sky.
Ugh. He looks about fifteen. He shouldn’t be fighting wars.
Sucking in a deep breath, I scamper forwards, staying low to the ground as I sprint for the staircase.
But then, because apparently I’m a big bag of clumsy, I have to catch my hip on the welcoming desk and send the fresh vase crashing to the tiled floor.
Clutching my hip, I glance upwards from the smashed glass to meet the soldier’s widened dark eyes.
“Crap,” I moan and sprint towards the stairs, going upwards first to get Amelia and Alice. I’m to scared to scream, but I can’t help but let out little panicky squeaks with each step.
I jerk backwards, doing my best not to slip when I run smack bang into Amelia who’s eyeing my carefully.
“What are you doing? I told you to wait down there for me.”
“He saw me,” I tell her quietly, trying not to cry. “He was outside and I tripped and he saw me.”
“Who saw you?” her eyes widen. “Who?”
“A soldier,” I grip my hip tighter, willing the pain to stop. “He was outside.”
“Oh flip, Eliza!”
Only she doesn’t say flip. I flinch away.
“You,” she shoves me back down the stairs. “You go get Liliana and make a break for the top floor, you’ve got it? We’re going to have to jump from roof to roof because if what you’re saying is true, there’s no way we’re leaving on foot.”
“Wait,” I grab her arm and she stops turning around to stare at me sadly. “I’m sorry, Amelia.”
“Don’t be,” she pats my arm quickly before pulling away. “Now go. I’m not sure how long we have.”
Nodding, I turn back around, flying down the twenty or so steps until I hit the first floor again.
Before disappearing downstairs, I peer around the edge, expecting to find a horde of soldiers preparing to smash down the door, but there’s no one there.
Somehow, the lack of soldiers is scarier than the possibility of having a whole army waiting for us.
“Liliana?” I sing out cautiously, stepping over a fallen broom stick. “You there?”
“I am,” I hear her call back and jog down the final steps to check out the layout.
It’s just as Alice had described it. It’s pretty much a barren room with broken equipment shoved against one side.
Liliana’s near the back wall, running a hand over the cemented bricks with a frown.
“What are you doing?” I ask curiously, the soldier forgotten for a second.
“Come see,” she beckons for me to come closer and so I do.
There’s really nothing fascinating about the wall in any way and I’m about to tell her as much when she grabs my hand and presses it to the back.
“Ugh!” I jerk backwards, staring down at my palm. “What the hell?”
“I was wondering the same thing.”
Hoping I won’t get electrocuted, I reach out to touch the wall again. At least this time, I’m prepared for it.
As soon as my hand makes contact, heat sizzles around, like the wall’s been heated by a flame or something. There’s a humming, something deep that literally makes my teeth chatter.
That is not a normal wall.
“That’s just weird,” I search over it with my eyes. “What do you think it is?”
“A hidden passage,” she declares before I even finish my sentence. “I just need to find a way to open it. Help me?”
I’m about to nod, but than I’m reminded of the soldier upstairs and start to freak out.
“No! We have to get out of here!”
I quickly give her a short explanation of what’s going on and her face pales to a scary shade of grey.
“I know,” I start to shove her towards the stairs. “I’m sorry, but come on. Amelia said to meet them on the roof. Something about jumping from one roof to the next.”
She throws one more grim look around the room before running up the stairs, me following behind.
When we hit the first floor, I peer around the side again.
Still no soldiers. This is getting worrisome. I wonder if they’re going to bomb the building.
I’m about to follow Liliana up the steps when my eyes fall on the gun I had been using that fell out of my pocket when I slammed into the desk.
“Keep going,” I order her. “I need to get the gun.”
She doesn’t look back.
Feeling suicidal, I sprint for the desk, ducking down as I do just in case a gun fires. It really sucks that the desk has to be in the centre of the room, doesn’t it? I’m not that totally surprised when I turn around, gun now nestled in my bra, to find at least fifteen soldiers outside the door, guns ready to fire.
We have a bit of a face-off, those soldiers and I. I raise my hands above my head slowly, glaring at them with as much spite and anger as I can find inside myself.
“Eliza!” someone, probably Liliana, hisses from the staircase, but I don’t turn to look.
“Run. All three of you, run for it. I’m going to let them capture me so I can get a shot at this Margaret. Please, don’t try to rescue me this time. Get out and find somewhere safe. I’ll be okay.”
It all comes out rushed and chocked, but I think she understands because I can practically here her nod.
“Kill the bitch.”
A smile prickles my face.
“Oh, I plan to.”
Turns out the soldiers didn’t see the nifty little gun I stuffed in my bra so killing Margaret just became a whole heap easier. They didn’t shoot or anything, I just followed their orders.
Hands on the head. Move forward slowly. Press the button on the wall and hold still as I’m handcuffed and then escorted somewhere uptown.
It’s a long march, but I don’t really mind. Somehow I’m at peace within myself and my body, even happy almost. I smile at the soldier who saw me the first time, not in a mean way or even threatening, but just because I want to.
I think it scares him though because suddenly he’s gone. Good. I hope he feels guilty.
Eventually our march has to come to an end and instead of being in the centre of the city; we actually stop just outside of it.
Cleaning up processes have already been conducted, it seems. Not a flipped table, broken pole, piece of paper or a dead body lies anywhere in my line of vision. Not only are these men furious fighters, but also cleaners it seems.
They’re probably prepping the city to bring in a heap of people to replace us and get the place up and running again. I doubt killing Margaret will affect their plans to much, but that’s fine by me.
It’s my own little piece of revenge.
The place I’m stopped is a coffee shop. Of course this just reminds me of Alice and Toby and so it fuels my hate fire a little more.
“Are we stopping for an afternoon snack?” I ask politely, trying to keep the anger out of my voice. If there’s one annoying thing in the world, it’s when people are overly polite and happy in bad situations.
“No,” one of them blinks at me in confusion. “What is an afternoon snack?”
I stare at him, confused. Who doesn’t know what an afternoon snack is? Afternoon tea?
Somehow, I realise as I step through the door, I don’t think the soldiers are the real enemy here. It’s the people running the show that are the spiders and the snakes.
Of course, since they practically shot all of us in the Society, there’s no one in the store so we all fit easily.
I’m forced into a seat near the back of the building where two guys sit down beside me, kicking up their shoes and looking out the windows.
I watch to see if anyone makes a grab for the food. I mean, if they did, I wouldn’t judge. This is food we’re talking about here. I’m probably twice as hungry as they are.
No one does though, each seemingly to caught up in having conversations and looking out the windows.
Finally, when the sight of a probably stale sausage roll turns into utter torture, I turn to face the soldier on my left.
“Hi. Care to tell me why I’m here? You can always kill me outside. Away from the food.”
The two soldiers exchange looks before he talks up.
“We’ve been instructed to bring any rebels found to her ladyship, Margaret.”
“Is she here?” I try not to sound as excited as I feel.
If I could just wrap my hands around her neck for one minute…
“No,” the other soldier shakes his head. “She will be soon though.”
Soon. That could mean an hour and an hour of looking at that uneaten sausage roll will kill me.
“Can I please have something to eat?” I ask, rubbing my face with my hand. “That’s what this place is for, after all.”
They look at each other, confused.
For some reason, I can’t help but explode at them after that.
“Right!” I yell and stand to my foot. There’s scuffling and shouts until again, every gun is pointed on me. “You guys are probably as hungry as I am and since queen bee Margaret could take God knows how long, I am going to eat whether it kills me or not!”
Knowing they probably won’t shoot me since Margaret wants me alive, I’m able to walk confidently over to the food display cabinet, going through and counting what lies inside. I then turn around to count the number of soldiers.
I step behind the desk and remember of all those times where I would do this, but not always in a bakery or coffee shop before.
I eagerly rip open the glass windows and start pulling out the different trays of delicacies, pausing only to scoff a caramel slice into my mouth, before giving the confused and scared looking soldiers and look.
“If you’re hungry, you can eat. Being hungry sucks so there’s no way I’m going to stop you.”
I ready napkins for when they finally get the courage and then watch them all, eyebrows raised.
The first soldier to rise is probably about my own age, red curly hair and freckles that cover his nose. He shuffles forwards, nearly tripping over a table until he’s warily standing right in front of the bench.
“Sweet or savoury?” I ask in a singsong voice because I’ve decided I don’t hate these men. Maybe if I could convince them to switch sides...
“What’s that?” he points to a slice of chocolate sponge cake.
“You’ve never had cake before?” I raise my eyebrows, scooping a slice onto a napkin before holding it out to him to take.
“No,” he frowns. “We don’t get sweets in the army.”
I watch him make his way back to his table where his buddies watch him warily, guns still pointed at me. I hold my breath as he takes his first bite, just as the whole room seems to do, and pray that the slice isn’t poisoned or something.
Then he looks up with widened eyes, looking at his buddies and then looking at me.
“This is awesome!”
There’s a flood as soon as he says that and men toss their guns aside so they can make a break for the counter where I wait for them.
They point out to me which delicacies they’d like and I hand them to them with a smile. While some go for the savoury, like the sausage rolls and pies, most go for the deserts. I’m worried we’re about to run out of them, but than the end of the line has passed and all the soldiers are seated again, laughing and joking around now as they taste their first bites of something sweet.
I eye the red headed boy, fascinated by the way he eats his chocolate cake slowly, savouring each bite. I know things here in the Society are bland, but I never saw them as that bland.
At least we got sugar.
The soldiers are just asking for seconds when her ladyship finally shows up, dressed in a black suit and her hair pulled in a ponytail.
It goes so silent you could hear a pin drop as we all have a face-off, me and the soldiers with deer in the spotlight expressions and she with her lips pursed and eyes narrowed.
“Having a snack I see,” she says coldly.
“My fault,” I raise my hand in the air, tongs swishing backwards and forwards. “I was hungry, you see. That sort of happens when you’ve been on the run and have no access to food. I wasn’t going to eat in front of them without giving them some. I’m just a nice person in that way.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see some of the soldier’s smile, red haired boy included. This gives me more confidence and, even as two soldiers make a move to resecure my hands in handcuffs, I’m able to stand up straighter with more confidence.
“How are you, Eliza?” she asks, stepping closer and wrinkling her nose at all the food. “Had a good pig out?”
I get the unmistakable urge to burp in her face. Only, I suck at being able to burp on command. Alice was the one that could do that.
“Quite. Ready for my execution?”
She snorts and rolls her eyes, gesturing for the soldiers to pull me out the door behind her. The others follow behind, all whispering to each other.
Hopefully it’s about killing her and not me.
“We’re not planning on executing you,” Margaret explains, all matter-of-factly as we head now into the centre of town. “We’re planning on using you as an example. Well, you and those friends of yours.”
“How do you know about them?” I ask suspiciously and she snorts again.
“My soldiers do have eyes. They saw three others jump from the roof. They weren’t quick enough to catch them then, but mark my words, we will get them eventually.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
Please, Amelia’s God and I suppose, mine as well, please don’t let them catch them.
The roads, which were previously clear of all people, now start to fill up with soldiers, all of which who raise their guns in salute to Margaret as we walk past. I’m thinking I’m going to puke when BAM. I find myself in the city square.
Which, you guessed it, has to be filled with hundreds of soldiers.
“So you’re planning on executing me publicly?” I question to distract myself.
“No,” she tells me, gesturing for the soldiers to lead me into a curtained off area under a steel stage.
It looks like a gallows, minus the rope.
It’s set up like an office under here. A desk, chairs, computer and even a vase of flowers. As she takes a seat behind her desk and I take a seat in front, I can’t help but feel a little impressed.
She’s a cow, but she’s smart. It’s to bad, as soon as my hands are untied, I’ll kill her. I wish we could extract her brain and plant it in someone nicer.
“Want me to explain how we’re going to use you?” she asks and of course I have to nod.
“That would be great, thank you.”
She launches into it right away and I miss her first few sentences because I only realise now that, when she talks, her eyes roll around a little.
My God. She really is crazy.
Shaking my head of the though, I force myself to focus on her words.
“So on stage, you will be filmed live and the footage sent to every city in the world as a means of power. You will be like our symbol or what happens when a whole city tries to uprise. You will be forced, and I have my ways, into giving a speech about how wrong it was of you all to do such a thing, the devastation it has caused you and the Society as well as declaring your utter allegiance to the government.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” I yawn to annoy her, “but there’s no way I’m going to submit allegiance to you.”
“No?” she primly raises her eyebrows. “I doubt that.”
She swivels her chair around, calling out towards yet another curtained off area. The soldiers at my shoulders whisper amongst themselves as she calls out.
“Collin? Bring the speaking device.”