Chapter 1: Mechanical Awakening
"It's exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful."
- Adrienne Rich
Air circles around my neck like a long noose stretching across the entire globe. The world, it seems, still wants to see me dead.
Mallery stands next to me, her long blonde hair wrapped into a bun so tight it is bursting at the seams. She doesn't look the same as she used to. Her skin isn't pale like it was in Manhattan when the smog used to block out the sun. Her cheeks aren't hollow like when she could only eat what was given to her, meager rations of no real sustenance. Over all she looks healthier, but that isn't the biggest change I see when I look at her. When I look at her all I can see is the crisp gray uniform clothing the body that used to only wear Numbers' white. It feels unnatural and yet I donned a nearly identical uniform just this morning.
"Indie, Mallery, Judge Axis is waiting for you." The noose tightens, air seems to rush out of my lungs and add to the constricting rope around my neck.
Mallery stands up right away. I don't want to. I can't make myself want to. Yet, somehow I manage to get to my feet.
It hasn't been long since we left Manhattan behind and arrived in Denver, the center of Remus's power and the political capitol of the Dynasty or what used to be the Dynasty, yet all relief I felt at leaving the death-row island has long since faded. I have freedom. I have a cause to fight for. I have life. Still, I'm so hollow I might just float away.
As we walk the colorful halls of the State building, my hands begin to shake, a side effect of dyeing twice and just sheer nerves. Mallery and I stop in front of a pair of massive wooden doors with the Axis family crest carved into it, my family crest supposedly. Mallery pushes the doors open. My whole body starts shaking.
Remus sits at the end of a long wooden table. There is an empty chair at the end of the table closest to me, and I can only imagine that this is where my mother sat only a few weeks ago. The chair is plain wood, maybe so nothing could take away from the glory that is Avails Axis.
I sink into a chair next to Mallery and try to compose myself, try to pretend I'm not dying on the inside. I didn't think it would be so hard for me to work with people I once loathed and fight people I once loved.
"Caserento, Paige, please, make yourselves comfortable," Remus says. Strange, hearing my uncle address me by my last name, the one his sister and my mother would never share with me. Most uncles would have some incredibly embarrassing nickname for their nieces, but not my uncle, for him everything is straight politics.
Mallery looks at me with her all-seeing blue eyes. That's been happening a lot lately. Ever since we got here, Mallery can't stop looking at me; I think she senses the mixture of fear and self-loathing inside of me. I briefly wonder if she hates me as much as I hate myself.
"Judge Axis," Mallery starts, still not use to addressing anyone who a) wasn't a number or b) wanted to beat the shit out of her, "I was informed that Indie, I mean Caserento, and I were brought down here for a special reason. I'm assuming it is related to our relations to Maura's group."
So, she gets it to. We're not here just because I'm related to the Judge. We're here because we have skills, skills they need. That's probably the only reason we're here; if it was because I'm related Remus then I'd have armed guards like he does.
Maybe I'm over thinking this. Remus saved me. I should be happy, not questioning if he values my life or not.
"That's right, Paige," one half of a previous whole says, "I need you two to, well, retrieve something for me."
"You mean steal," I cut in, forgetting my place or just not caring, not even I'm sure at this point.
Remus sighs, "Yes, Indie, I mean steal." He's forgetting his place too. This is war, not a family get together.
"Should have just said so," I mutter under my breath, too quietly for him to here but loud enough to get a stomp on my foot from Mallery.
She's addressing Remus again before she even has time to see me glare. "And what is it that we're stealing? It must be important if you are addressing us personally."
"Yes," Remus says in agreement, "it is important, but that's not the reason why I'm telling you this in person. I'm actually here because this job is related to Caserento's sister and my niece."
I perk up when I hear this. A job related to Adrian, I shouldn't be this excited to see my traitorous sister.
"What about Adrian?" I ask carefully, trying not to seem too emotionally involved out of fear that they'll take me off this job.
Remus shifts in his seat uncomfortably. Whatever it is, it can't be good. "You see, you're sister has managed to worm her way into out territory and made it all the way into Phoenix. She's gotten her hands on all the medical research we have on a cure for the disease General Axis created."
Yeah, that's definitely not good.
"The disease?" Mallery asks. "I thought General Axis's plan to spread it failed."
Remus takes a nervous look at me. I can't make eye contact with him because all I can think about is how a certain fourteen year old boy looked when he died. The way he curled up on himself like he was treating his grave like a cradle. The way he promised me light even when he was walking into the dark. All I can think about is how he died so I could live.
"Yes, the original plan failed but that hasn't stopped the General from resorting to new methods. She's using biological warfare to weed the Numbers out of our troops, and now it's spreading like wildfire. We've contained it to the Midwest, but who knows how long that will last."
I'm tempted to either punch him in the face or cuss hims out but I suppose neither of those are politically correct things to do, or something like that. "Don't you think it's a bit foolish to send Numbers on a job that involves a disease that only kills Numbers?"
Remus laughs, and I almost screw being politically correct. "No, Adrian doesn't have the disease, she had the cure. Plus, if the disease is involved, then Adrian is at just as much of a risk as you guys are."
I can feel Mallery mentally willing me to shut up but I carry on anyways."So, you're okay with getting us killed?"
Remus stops laughing immediately, his jaw clenching and his fists tightening. "This is war, I have to be okay with getting anyone killed. Don't think you get special treatment because we're related. I'm sending you two because you both have the skills and knowledge to complete this mission. You know Adrian and how she thinks."
I can feel a little cord snap inside me. Getting to my feet, I grip the table for support as I stare down my uncle. "First of all, I expect no special treatment from anyone, especially you. My mom certainly didn't do any favors, so why would you? Secondly, no one knows Adrian, not even me. If I did then none of this would have happened."
So much for not being emotionally invested.
"That's enough, Indie!" Remus yells at me but I can't step down now, I've already made a fool of myself. "Why don't you two go to the dining hall or something? I'll send the information to your rooms."
Mallory walks stiffly out of the room as I slink behind her. I don't care too much about what happens to me but I hope I haven't ruined things for her.
A few minutes later, Mallery and I are slouching at a table in the dining hall, eating our steamed broccoli and grilled chicken breast. We hope others won't look at us and try not to look at each other. Even if this is a war to free the Numbers, nobodies willing to sit with us. Grey and Simoran might sit with us if they were here but they have things to do, while Mallery and I do not.
Mallory takes a bite of chicken, but it's more like ripping than biting since the meats so tough. "This war is a joke," she says after she swallows. "Nobodies ever going to care about us."
I chuckle a little at this. The way she feels is a common sentiment among the Numbers, the few of us there are left, that is. "That's quite the attitude you've picked up in the last few minutes. What happened to being all goody-goody with the Judge?"
Mallery scoffs, "I only act like that because I don't want to get stuck with janitorial duty. If were up to the rest of the soldiers, we'd be wiping they're asses for them instead of fighting for our own rights."
I choke a little bit on the steamed broccoli in my mouth and have to guzzle the rest of my water to get it down. "We'd probably have to change their diapers too," I add after I set the water glass down.
"And tuck them in at night," Mallery laughs.
"Maybe read them a bed time story while we're at it."
"Wait, wait," Mallery says, catching her breath, "Do you think Remus or Edna breast feeds them?" Edna is like the replacement Avails, she leads the troops.
"Remus for sure. Edna is probably too busy looking for their pacifiers," I say. "That's the only thing they don't want us Numbers to do for them. They'd probably complain we're too bitter."
This sends Mallery into a full on laughing fit, fists banging against the table, head bent over as she gasps for air. As Mallery finally lets out some of the stress that's been building up, one of the regular soldiers decides that now is a good time to start something. I recognize him. His name is Derek and he's a real asshole.
"What are you two laughing at?" Derek asks.
I narrow my eyes at him. "Nothing that effects you."
Derek smirks down at me. "How am I supposed to know if it effects me if you won't tell me."
"I guess you'll just have to trust me." I shrug, trying not to give this guy a reason to take this any further.
It's his turn to chuckle. "Trust a Number. How low do you think I'd go?"
"Low enough to be a limbo champ," I say offhandedly. My lips refuse to move into either a smirk or a frown. I can't let him think I care.
He leans forward until our foreheads are just about touching. Apparently he never learned about personal space. "Are you trying to insult me?"
"I have a feeling that my mere presence insults you, but it's okay because you're mere existence insults me." Okay, maybe I was trying to start something too.
His pig like face scrunches up into a look of pure rage, his round cheeks turn an astounding shade of red, and I begin to wonder if he'll start oinking in outrage. He doesn't. Instead he throws a fist.
I duck sideways to avoid the flying limb, but something stops it first. Mallory's hand is wrapped around Derek's porky wrist when I look up. In the next blink of an eye she has him flipped on the table, his back landing right on top of my chicken.
Mallery twists his arm until he's looking at her with desperation in his eyes. "You claim to stand for the Awakening," she says, twisting the limb harder and causing Derek to squeal, "but how can you stand for something that doesn't exist?"
Sorry, this took so long for me to post. I posted it on Wattled forever ago and kind of forgot to put it on here. If you want to keep updated with my writing, it's better to follow me on Wattled. My username is Indigo_Night.