“Hey Mer, can you promise me something?” Joy asks me as we're sat on the swings. The park was murky that day, going with the mood we'd just learned about my sister. About her illness. Only me and her knew about it, and Joy was planning on keeping it this way. I didn't blame her: my parents would be destroyed if they learned that their perfect daughter would be dead way before she'd have had a proper life.
“Anything,” I nod, eager to please her any way possible.
“Help people. Be kind. It'll never be to your disadvantage to be nice with the people around you,” she says.
“Are you saying that so I can make you breakfast in bed?” I joke.
“And massage my feet and do my homework,” she nods, grinning. I give her a playful shove and she returns the action. We keep on teasing each other for a bit before her gaze drops to her feet dangling off the swing. She kicks the dirt a little. “But I was completely serious Mer...It's a vicious world and you'll need all the allies you can get to survive it. “Being friendly and helpful is the first step.”
“But the people are just so... self-centred. All they think about is their needs, their things, and their life. Why should I care about them if they won't care about me?” I shrug my shoulders. “That's exactly why I read books: the characters are not all egoistical. They actually have motives in life.”
“People can surprise you...In all the books you read, the protagonists always have friends, don't they? People who support you no matter what?”
“Family can play that role. I don't need more than my family,” I shake my head. Her hand lands on my shoulder, squeezing lightly.
“Meridelle...Things won't be the same when I’m gone, you know that right?”
I don't reply.
“I have a feeling our family is going to be much more different Mer―”
“I have some time. It's all I need to fix things,” I decide.
I blink a couple of times. Alice in Wonderland falls to the floor with a dull thud as I sit up from my short nap. Small snowflakes are drifting aimlessly around me. As one of them touches the floor, the heating fan starts and makes the rest melt in a matter of seconds.
I roll my eyes. “Snowflakes aren't even dangerous, I don't see why they have to go,” I tell the robot intercom. It doesn't answer.
Huffing, I bend down and pick up my book where I left off.
“The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”
“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar, sternly. “Explain yourself!”
“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”
“I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar.
“I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,” Alice replied, very politely, “for I can’t understand it myself, to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.”
“It isn’t,” said the Caterpillar.
“Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet,” said Alice; “but when you have to turn into a chrysalis—you will someday, you know—and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?”
“Not a bit,” said the Caterpillar.
“Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,” said Alice: “all I know is, it would feel very queer to me.”
“You!” said the Caterpillar contemptuously. “Who are you?”
Which brought them back again to the beginning of the conversation.”
“This is going in circles,” I sigh, shutting the book and placing it on the bedside table. I rake my fingers through my hair once, then twice, before exhaling loudly.
The conversation I had with Joy in my dream, the actually memory, replays a few times in my head. I look at the clock sitting right above the door. Almost 5 o’clock. Surely Strife is done with his ‘discipline’; it’s been more than three hours! Standing up, I decide I need to see Liam. He helped me earlier, seems only fair I return the favor so we’re even.
I pause as I step through the door, realizing I don’t even know where his room is. I bite my lip, stepping back into my room.
“It’s not like I didn’t try...” I say out loud, trying to convince myself.
“You didn’t try anything,” the robot voice denies. I roll my eyes.
“Oh so now you’re talking? Thank you for sharing your opinion, but it was not needed,” I state.
“I believe it was. You did nothing but step to the door, and back into your room,” the robotic woman’s voice continues. “You didn’t try.”
“Shall I call you Conscience?” I scoff.
“Actually, my name is C-IRGAH013, which stands for Computerized Intelligent Robot Guide And Helper for Subject 013, but Conscience sounds fine,” the voice replies.
“Great,” I grumble, rubbing my temples. “I’m talking to a robot.”
“Call me Conscience.”
“I’m not calling you that, it was a joke,” I state dryly.
“Ha. Ha.” The laugh is monotone, free of feeling. “I still wish to be called Conscience.”
“Fine. Whatever,” I say in exasperation. The room stays silent. Then it hits me. “Would you happen to know where Liam Payne’s room is situated?” I enquire to the computer, looking at the ceiling. I’m replied with silence. “Hello?” I ask. “Conscience?” I mumble in annoyance, face-slapping myself inwardly. Still, there’s no answer. “Great. Fucking great.”
“Maybe another Subject could help you. Most of them are currently waiting for supper,” the computer proposes.
“I’m not going to talk to them,” I shake my head.
“Then like I mentioned earlier, you haven’t tried anything.”
I flip my middle finger in the air, irritated. But I end up walking out of my room and to the cafeteria anyways, knowing I had to see Liam and maybe help him a little. Do anything that will erase my debt. And then get back to my room and sulk.
As I step in the cafeteria, I notice Derek’s absence first. His gang is there, huddled around a table, but he’s not there. Not paying much more attention to his absence then I would on a cockroach, my gaze lands on Zayn in the farthest, most isolated corner of the cafeteria. There’s a curly haired-boy beside him. As if he knows he’s being observed, the lanky boy turns around to look at me, shakes his head and speaks to Zayn. The darker boy’s gaze falls on me and he smiles, motioning me forwards.
For a split second, I think about heading back to my room and forgetting about Liam altogether. But I clench my fists, taking a deep breath before advancing towards them. I can feel many gazes on me as I walk through the handful of boys, but I’m focused on Zayn. Zayn and his answer.
“You have a question to ask me.” Zayn declares before I can even utter a single word. “Didn’t know you were that eager to get to know me.”
“I’m not here for you―”
“I know that sweetheart. You want to know where Payne’s room is.,” he responds, looking at me under his long eye lashes.
“How do you know that? Do you read minds? Like Samson?”
“Nope. Harry here told me about your... intentions. He just knows that kind of stuff.”
I look at Harry, but he avoids my gaze, focusing on twiddling his thumbs. “And how would you know that kind of stuff?”
“Just like you control ice and snow, he just knows.”
I gaze at Harry, waiting for him to confirm but he doesn’t shift or make any effort to speak to me.
“He’s not talkative,” Zayn explains.
“I gathered that much.”
“You’re not talkative either,” Harry points out, his voice drawling in heavy British. His green eyes meet mine briefly before he resumes his twiddling his thumbs without adding anything else.
“Whatever,” I shake my head. “Liam’s room. Where is it?” I question Zayn.
The dark boy licks his lips.
“That information will cost you sweetheart,” he smiles.
“Cost me what? I don’t have any money.”
“I have no care for money; it’s useless in this hellhole. No, I want to make a little experiment on you,” he trails on, his eyes going down on me slowly.
“No way,” I scoff, guessing his thoughts pretty easily.
“I give you my word it doesn’t involve touching you,” he proposes. “I’m just curious.”
“And what is your word worth exactly?”
“I don’t break my word.”
“If only you knew the number of times I heard and read that phrase,” I sneer. “Classic reply.”
“He’s being truthful,” Harry sighs, surprising me. “He’s glowing; he’s speaking the truth.”
I look at Zayn again. He’s definitely not glowing. But he doesn’t look like he’s lying either.
“Fine,” I give up, throwing my hands in the air. “What experiment?”
“Don’t move,” he instructs.
I sigh, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Yeah,” I huff in annoyance.
Next thing I know, every single cell of my body is demanding Zayn. I simply need him. I crave a sexual interaction with him. Fuck. It physically hurts to be so far away from him. Before I know it, I’m standing between his open legs as he’s sat on the chair.
“So?” Zayn enquires, releasing me of the mental clutch he clearly had on my mind.
“Disgusting. That’s what you are!” I spew angrily, shuddering as I take ten steps away from him.
“Really? Your body’s telling a different story. I could feel it pulsing madly for me a second ago,” he smirks.
“Liam’s room. Now,” I snap, wanting to get as far away from Zayn as possible.
“Room 2. It’s in the South wing of this building. Want me to guide you?” he suggest, that cocky smile still stuck to his lips.
“No. I’ll manage,” I retort dryly, not even considering saying goodbye before I march right outside the cafeteria and into the common room.
I look around me, searching for anything that could tell me where the South wing is. Then I see it, the four letters in front of the four corridors leading out of the common room. A small N is pinned above the corridor leading to my own room. North. I turn around to the corridor across from it: there’s an S. South.
Nodding once, I step into the South corridor and walk for about five minutes, before I reach the glass door with an engraved two. I knock once, looking through the glass at his inanimate form on the bed.
“Liam?” I call out. There’s no answer. I knock again. “Liam?!”
This time he stirs, sitting up with a grimace. He falls back down on his bed, clearly too exhausted to hold himself up. I decide to let myself in.
The first thing I notice when I enter his room is the scorching heat. My hand grazes the wall, and I look up at the ceiling fan, frowning. Why is it so hot if his room is cooling down? As I walk towards Liam, I realise he’s the one sweating madly. The heat is emanating from him.
“Liam,” I gasp. Beads of sweat are gathering on his forehead, his bed is drenched.
“’m so hot,” he gasps, face pulled into a tortured grimace. “So, sooo hot,” he whines.
“I don’t understand,” I frown. “Your room is cool. It’s actually chilly in here,” I state.
“Hot. Human. Body. Not. Used,” he says between contorted scowls.
I place the back of my hand to his forehead. It’s scorching hot, as if he has a terrible fever.
His hands grab mine.
“Make. Cold,” he please, fingers intertwining with mine.
He shakes his head.
“Can. Fo. Cus,” he presses, getting his words out with difficulty.
Taking a deep breath, I place my hands on his heart, which clearly is the source of all the heat. But then something unusual happens as soon as my hands touch the steaming flesh over his heart. There’s a flash of white light, followed by the feeling of being swallowed. I pull my hands away rapidly.
“What. Was. That!?” I pant, looking at my hands in shock and bewilderment. I lift my head up, my fingers still tingling, as if charged with electricity.
“I have absolutely no idea,” Liam shakes his head. The heat doesn’t seem to be suffocating him anymore. There is no trace of pain left in features. In fact, he looks pumped with adrenalin. He’s on his feet in a matter of seconds. “But whatever it was,” he trails on, snapping his fingers and making a small flame dance over them, “whatever that was, it gave me my essence back quicker than it was supposed to regenerate back into my body,” he states, astounded. “Do you know what that means?” he enquires.
“That I don’t owe you anymore,” I state, still looking at my hands. I move my fingers, feeling a foreign energy flowing through them.
“No, it means we have an advantage on Strife,” he responds excitedly.
“Whoa whoa. Calm down. There is no we. I came here to help you, and by the looks of it, I did,” I say, looking at him. “My debt is paid. So ciao,” I end.
I turn to head back to my room but his hand grabs my arm.
I grimace as his hot skin burns mine.
“Careful!” I snap, gazing at the red marks his fingers are leaving on my skin.
“I’m sorry.” He doesn’t seem sorry at all, only overjoyed. “But hear me out: Strife can’t know about this. Whatever it was,” he urges.
“I’m not going to tell him.”
“But you can’t think about it either,” he reasons.
“So what do you suggest I do?!” I throw my hands in the air in exasperation. “And what if this was only a onetime thing? Maybe it won’t happen ever again,” I huff.
“Then we’ll have to experiment. We’ll have to see if what we can do together. ”
“No. There is no we. I rather keep to myself,” I say, pulling my arm out of his grasp. “Bye Liam.”
“I’m not done!” Liam states. A wall of fire ignites of me.
I take ten steps away from the flames in fear.
“What the fuck?!” I yell, turning around to face him angrily. My fists clench. “Bring that barrier down!”
“No, you’re not leaving until I’m finished with you,” he shakes his head.
“Beginning heavy air conditioning―”
“Not right now Psyche,” the brunette tells the computerized voice, keeping his gaze on me. Oh so I’m not the only who named my robot companion?
“You have five minutes,” Psyche responds robotically.
“I’m giving you three,” I snarl. “What do you want from me?”
“I’m only trying to help you Meri. Strife wants to make us believe living here is our only way of survival, but it isn’t. We’re treated like lab rats, used for his own purposes. All I want if for you to keep what happened between us a secret, so we can use it as an advantage against Strife when the moment is right,” he explains.
“How do you expect me to keep him out of my mind?” I give up. “This,” I motion around, “is sure to pop up somewhere in my head.”
“Harry. We’ll ask Harry to hide this part of your mind. And mine too,” Liam decides.
“Harry?” I shut my eyes. “Liam, it’s hopeless alright?”
“I’ll do my research, and if it ends up useless, well I’m just going to have to find something else. You want to get out of here, right?”
“I don’t know honestly: I don’t have much to look forward to if I get out anyways,” I retort. He sighs.
“You’ll see Meridelle, that a week here won’t be a vacation. It’ll be hell. Now come on, let’s go ask Harry for the little favor,” he finishes, walking to his door. The wall of fire drops just as he’s about to cross it. “Are you coming?” he asks.
“I’m not going to see Harry if he’s with Zayn,” I state, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Well I’m sorry but these two are always together so―”
“I’m just going to head back to my room alright? I’m not seeing Zayn ever again,” I declare again.
“Because his ability is freaky and disgusting and vile,” I spew, goose bumps rising on my skin at the thought of it.
“Malik has a gift?” Liam frowns. “Wow. Thought he just sat around all day being broody and cocky. What is it?”
“I don’t know what it’s called but it made every single cell of my body crave him. Sexually,” I tell Liam, shuddering once more. The brunette’s eyebrow cocks up.
“Did it really?”
I nod curtly.
“Well that’d explain why nobody knew about it. Clearly, he’s not gay because he hasn’t used it on anybody but you so far,” he concludes. “Come on. It’s going to be time for supper anyways,” he invites, holding his hand out.
I walk to the doorframe, hesitating to cross the place where the fire licked the tiles barely a few seconds ago.
“I’m not going to light it again,” he reassures. I step over it carefully, looking at the spot with disdain. “You have something with fire, don’t you?” Liam remarks, shutting the door of his room once I’m out.
“Yeah you do,” he nods. “You practically stop breathing when you see a small flame,” he continues as we walk down the corridor.
“I do not.”
“Believe me Meridelle; I can recognize the fear in someone’s eyes. And you definitely have it.”
“And? You’ve got a problem with that?” I give up in annoyance.
“Nope. I’m just hoping you’ll get rid of it because if I can promise you something Meridelle, it’s that I won’t let fire harm you. Ever.”
“What about these burn marks?” I scoff, motioning my arms. We pause in the corridor.
“They are frostbites. Your body had a weird and very strong reaction to mine,” he chuckles, examining them.
My eyes drop to my arms to notice that indeed, what I would’ve sworn to be burn marks a few seconds ago are now frostbites.
“You should maybe get them checked out,” he points out, touching one of them lightly with his fingers. As soon as his skin comes in contact with mine, a soft yellow glow lights the wounded area. He removes his finger.
I inspect my skin. My eyes grow big. There’s no trace of frostbite anymore.
“This is mental,” he whispers.
“You don’t say,” I whisper back.
A bell rings.
“Suppertime. Come on,” he says, still looking at me in awe.