SHADE (for writelongandprosper)

Yellow for mild swearing and some scenes of a sensitive nature.

To the north, there lies the old lake. South, the mountains. The west of the city is bordered by desert. To the east, there stands a wall.

Myles Lakeman is 18. He is a man, and it is time for him to receive his mission. His mission? Survive the night.
Myles must capture the rebels, conquer the landscape and most importantly, escape the elusive Shades... but along this journey he meets a girl, a girl with a mission of her own: she must find her brother.
Together, they discover that their world is hiding so much more than they once thought: what are the Shades and where do they come from? What are the rebels doing? What is on the other side of the wall?

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13. Chapter 12: Lydia

The new cell is small. It has a white tiled floor and three white tiled walls, and bright lights set into the ceiling which never seem to turn off. There’s a foul-smelling hole in the floor in one of the corners, edged by stainless steel. Against the opposite wall is a low bed, half the width of a normal mattress and just slightly too short. The legs are screwed into the floor so that it can’t be moved, the thin rubber mattress locked into place by long straps and heavy padlocks dangling underneath.

                Lydia sits on the floor with her back pressing uncomfortably against the bedframe. Her legs are stretched out in front of her, her hands lying limply on the floor at her side. Her eyes are closed, her mouth slightly open as her head lolls back against the thin mattress.

                She jerks awake, her whole body twitching as she pulls herself from unconsciousness. She’s disappointed to find that this whole thing hadn’t in fact been a dream. The walls of the cell almost close in on her, creeping closer across the tiled floor until they’re pressing against her ribs, squeezing all the air from her lungs.

                The door slams open, the metal edge slamming against the wall and taking a powdery chunk out of the tiles. Lydia jumps but stays seated, her bare skin sticky against the cold floor. “Pederson, Lydia. On your feet. Follow us.” This time, the voice belongs to a young soldier, perhaps a year older than Myles but with the same shaved head and metallic eyes. He faces the inside of the cell, but his eyes are blank and unseeing, his expression unfeeling.

                “I only have one foot. I can’t stand up.” She objects, running her fingernail along the line of off-white grout edging the floor tiles.

                “You have five seconds to move, Miss Pederson.”

                “I can’t!” Her voice lifts in pitch, her hand slapping hopelessly against the floor in a weak demonstration of angst. She pushes herself onto her knees and tries to use the bedframe to stand up, but falls back against the tiles. Her knees smash against the hard floor and a gasp of pain escapes her lips as she struggles again, the tiredness of the past few sleepless nights catching up with her.

                It’s impossible here, the bright lights constantly beating down on her like endless sunshine, an infinite day. Without the sun moving towards the horizon, the wind blowing through her hair and the slow movement of colour across the sky, she has no idea whether it is night or day. She has no sense of whether she is coming or going, no knowledge of time passing or days moving by. It feels as though she has been here for a week, even though common sense tells her it has only been a day at most. The lack of sleep from her last night in the city and the energy she used running across that stupid field is catching up with her, the burst of energy from the stale bread that morning quickly wearing off.

                Had it really been that morning? Somehow in that time she has already been questioned and moved from cell to cell, so that she has no idea if this is where she will stay or if she will be forced to move again before she gets comfortable. So now with the band of soldiers waiting outside her door, she assumes she is being moved to another cell. Why?

                “Five.” The soldier says, swinging the huge metal gun from over his shoulders and resting it in his hands. “Four.”

                “What happens if I don’t comply?” Lydia asks desperately, her sweaty hands slipping as she feebly crawls her way across the cell. How humiliating.

                “Three.”

                “I’m here! I’m coming!”

                “Two.” He shifts his gun again, moving it so that the barrel is aimed at her thigh. A tranquiliser- she recognises them in an instant by now.

                “One.”

She takes a deep breath. The dart hits her thigh, and the dizziness is suddenly overwhelming. She falls onto her front, her fingers curling against the tiles and her body relaxing even though she fights it. Through the eyelash-striped slit of light just visible through her half-open eyes, she sees the stiff, white boots of the soldiers gathering around her. Their strong hands grip her arms and pull her along the cold floor, her legs dragging behind her on the tiles. Each set of double doors they pass through slams closed on her ankle, the pain the only thing she feels through the encroaching fog. She doesn’t know how long it takes or how far down the labyrinth of corridors they move, but at some point along the way she falls away into the void.

*

When she comes round, she is, as suspected, in yet another cell. Her lungs are full with the smell of something foul, her mouth dry and her throat burning with acid. There is yellow vomit splattered down the front of her white tunic, the wet fabric sticking uncomfortably to her chest. A high-pitched noise bounces off the concrete cell walls; loud, continuous, invasive. It seems to touch every inch of her body, pressing against her skin and crashing in waves against her eardrums.

The sedative is still in her system, her head too heavy for her to hold up and the very tips of her fingers oddly numb. Almost the second she moves, the door swings open and two soldiers march in. They haul her into a vertical position then slam her down onto a metal table, securing her thighs, wrists and head with thick leather straps. Their smudged faces swim above her blurry eyes, their features merging into Owen and then Myles, her father and then back to the blank, unfeeling faces of strangers.

“Good morning,” one of the soldiers smiles, his metallic front teeth gleaming above her. “We’ve got a couple of questions we need to ask, and it would be a lot easier for everyone involved if you could give us a straight answer.” He holds a pair of scissors above her, opening and closing the glinting blades as if to demonstrate to her how they work. There is something about him that’s different from the other soldiers, as though the others have had to be brainwashed into doing their job but this man truly enjoys it. The scissors are cold against her cheek as he brushes the blades softly over her skin, moving it away only so that he can lean over her, his face close to hers. “Are we ready to begin?”

He grabs a handful of hair and yanks it upwards. Pain rips through her scalp and she whimpers, fearing that he might rip each single hair from its pore. Her eyes water, her hands clenching into fists at her sides and her teeth digging into her lip.

“We’ll start this off easy,” he grins again, pressing the cold metal of the scissors against her head and pulling the hair so that it is hooked between the blades. “Is your name Lydia Pederson?”

“Yes,” she squeaks, blinking away a tear and pressing her fingernails deeper into the flesh of her palm.

“Good, good. Always good to make sure we have the right prisoner, isn’t it Wills?” The other soldier nods somewhere in her peripheral vision. His back is turned to her, the back of his head catching the light from above. Metallic sounds echo across the chamber from where he is stood, fiddling with something on a metal tray. “Are you the sister of one Owen Pederson?” She nods, and a few strands of hair fall away as they press against the blades. “Was he, Owen Pederson, a rebel?”

“No.”

“Was Owen involved in any rebel plots within the city?”

“No.”

“About what time in the morning would he leave your home?” The soldier asks, his face edging closer to hers.

“Just after sunrise.”

“And when would he return?”

“Just before sunset.”

“What could he possibly be doing in that huge chunk of time?”

“He- he went out to get food for us.”

Snip.

“See that? That’s what happens when you lie.” He holds a handful of matted and greasy hair above her face, waving it back and to before throwing it over his shoulder. Her scalp burns as he grabs another handful, the pressure of the cold metal returning to the top of her head. “Perhaps if I rephrase it for you… Could Owen, in those hours you were left alone, have been working with the rebels?”

“Not that I know of,” she winces, waiting for the snip of the blades against her hair. “He always went out to find food… he used to work in the fields and then when the lake dried up he would find what he could-”

“What kind of food did he bring back?”

“Rats, mainly. Sometimes vegetables… why?”

“Where do you suppose he would get the vegetables from? Rats live off waste- that’s easy enough. Human flesh, perhaps? But the vegetables, now that’s a different story. Vegetables need a lot of water, and light… where might they be coming from?”

“I don’t know,” Snip. “He just came home with them, I never went with him. I don’t know!” Snip.

“You might want to start telling the truth, Lydia. When you run out of hair, we’ll start cutting other things,” He hints, nodding slightly towards where Wills stands. As if on cue, Wills turns around with a long silver knife in one hand, a sharpener in the other. “I think you do know,” his face is too close to hers again, and she can smell the sharp metallic tones of his teeth through his hot breath. “Where was he getting the food from? Where did he get your water from?”

“He never said.” Snip.

“Why don’t I believe you, Lydia? I’ll ask you one more time. Where was he getting the food from?”

Just lie, a voice in her head tells her. Say what he wants you to say, let him hear what he wants to hear. “Maybe there’s somewhere in the city that they’re growing food?” She suggests, although the look on his face says he already suspects this. “I mean, um, I don’t know where they’re getting the water from or anything but well, they must be growing it, right? And if they need light then it must be somewhere above ground…”

“Well well well, maybe she does know something, eh Wills?” The soldier says over his shoulder, lifting the blades of the scissors from her scalp and tapping them against his knuckles. “She’s looking pretty enough though, don’t you think? Perhaps if we get the big guns out, we might be able to move things along a little more quickly?”

He drops the scissors onto the tray with a clatter and Lydia takes a deep breath, trying to keep herself calm. “Look, I don’t know what you want me to tell you. He brought back food, I never questioned it because we were so hungry and even a mangy rat with its head stamped flat looked good half the time. He wasn’t a rebel, he couldn’t have been…” But even Lydia now doubts the words spilling from her mouth. How did he get the food?

“It’s amazing how quickly they talk once we start spilling blood, isn’t it?” The soldier muses to himself, pressing the knife against the top of her arm. Lydia has already been through this once before, but she isn’t prepared for the searing, burning pain of the blade moving across her skin. He lifts the bloodied knife to eye level and then lets the sticky red liquid drip onto his outstretched tongue, his eyes closing in apparent pleasure. Opening them again, he grins his menacing grin and rubs at the stripe of blood on her arm with an outstretched finger, wiping it off on her tunic. “Now, I think we could be really close to getting the answers we need,” he moves closer to her again, his hand hovering an inch above her body. “What about you, Lydia?” His lips curl slowly around her name, his tongue slapping around inside his mouth with warm, moist sounds that make her stomach turn. “Have you been a naughty girl?”

His hand falls the extra inch to land on her body, and she can feel the warm weight of it pressing against her stomach. “I don’t know anything,” She says quickly, feeling his hand slowly creep further south and being completely unable to stop it. “I… There’s...” Tears leak from her eyes, her lungs aching as she tries desperately to draw a breath. “In one of the old warehouses… I don’t know where they’re getting the water from. Owen… he always came back from the same direction-”

“And what direction may that be?” The soldier snarls, his hand resting at the top of her legs. Wills’ face swims into view, his cheeks pink with embarrassment as he notices where the other soldier’s hand lies. He must be new to this.

“West.” She says quickly, hoping that there is in fact some warehouses somewhere in that direction. “I’m sure of it.”

The pressure lifts from her stomach and the soldier shoves the sharp knife roughly into Wills’ waiting hands. “If you’re lying to us, your punishment will be a lot worse than what you’ve experienced so far.” He declares, turning on his heel and walking from the room. The door slams shut with a metallic clang, leaving her pinned to the metal table. Strands of hair lie limp around her head, her cheeks streaked with tears and her tunic stained with vomit and blood. All she can do now is wait.

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