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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3. Chapter 2: Myles

The door swings open easily as Myles pushes gently against it, stepping into his father’s office and wiping his sweaty palms on the backs of his jeans. He hasn't seen the man for weeks, despite the fact they both live in the same small but lavish apartment on the twelfth floor of City Hall.

The elder Lakeman is dressed in a fitted black suit, tailored perfectly to his square shoulders and just brushing the tops of his polished shoes. The darkness is a sharp contrast to the stark white walls of the office, their painted surfaces bright and clinical. He rests his hands lightly on the top of his desk, a large brown envelope sitting between them.

Myles takes a seat, folding his damp hands in his lap and looking up into his father's unforgiving eyes. Suddenly, his t-shirt feels too informal, and he wishes he had taken the time to dress properly for this encounter, or to even think about it. If he hadn't lain in bed for most of the night, staring blankly at the stars through the small, square window in his wall, he might have got up on time. As it was, a guard had shaken him roughly from sleep and dragged him down the hall, into the lift and up to his father's office before he even had time to register the fact that, that morning, he had turned 18.

"Myles, my son. As of today, you are a man. As you know, this means that you are expected to adhere to certain laws and rules in this society, to release your childish freedom and reckless abandon, and most importantly to complete the mission that I will bestow upon you today.”

The speech feels long, slow and rehearsed. His father’s words are robotic, emotionless and bland. Sheer routine, nothing more.

“Should you succeed in your mission, you will be invited to join our ranks and will be welcomed with respect, honour and trust. Should you fail, you will be subjected to a fate that, at this moment in time, can only be referred to as ‘worse than death’. If you refuse to accept your mission, there are a number of alternative options available to you, but whichever one you choose, you will not be allowed to remain within the protection of City Hall.”

He pauses, pushing the brown paper envelope across the desk until it lies level with Myles' chest. The paper rustles as Myles slips his finger under the adhesive flap, peeling it back and pulling the pink, printed sheet detailing his mission from within. The slip of paper, bigger than his face and thin enough to see through, contains just a few words printed in grey ink across its middle.

Survive the night.

“Further details will be released to you in due course. Report to mission control at noon. For now, I suggest heading back to your room and grabbing a shower. Perhaps consider getting dressed.”

His cheeks pink with embarrassment, Myles stands and pushes his chair back beneath the desk. He walks the few paces to the door, distantly registering the absence of his escort. As though he has the ability to read minds, his father speaks from behind him. “You’re an adult now, Myles. You don’t need to be babysat anymore.”

The door closes with a soft click, the soft tap of his shoes clicking on white linoleum echoing down the deserted corridor as he walks back towards the lift. He stands within, zooms up four floors and then wanders back to his apartment, pushing open the door to his room and stepping inside.

                It feels empty, the walls too plain even though the only thing missing is the sheet of yellow A4 detailing his daily schedule. The bed is pushed up against one of the walls, and somebody has stripped away his sheets for cleaning. He collapses onto the bed anyway, letting the soft warmth of his duvet wrap around his tired, aching body. It’s not exactly a day off, but he can’t exactly argue with the idea of a few hours to himself.

                 After what feels like just a few minutes, Myles drags himself from the brink of sleep and stumbles into the shower. A digital clock set into the wall flashes 11:45, and he turns his back to it as a gentle stream of hot water begins to run down his body.

He closes his eyes against the heat, inhaling the steam and letting the warmth soothe his fatigued muscles. It feels like a thousand hands running over his bare skin, rubbing away the tiredness that seems to have settled into his bones. His hair sticks to his forehead, beads of sweat glistening on his upper lip.

Exactly four minutes later, the water shuts off. The last suds of soap circle the drain and Myles grabs a towel from a hook on his bathroom wall, using it to rub his hair dry before wrapping it around his waist and stepping back into his room.

He takes a moment to look around; absorbing all the memories of this place, knowing that the next time he walks through the door may very well be his last. Fortunately, this doesn’t take long. His mind distantly notes the absence of the clothes he had been wearing before his shower, and he’s disappointed to find that the small assortment of clothes that he once had folded in a small chest of drawers has too vanished. Instead he is left with a simple outfit consisting of a white tunic that drops to just below his hips, and a pair of loose white trousers.

The fabric is stark and bright against his tan skin, and he stands before the mirror with his hands limp and idle at his sides as he appraises his appearance. This is how he will look, once he has donned the uniform of the soldiers and joined their ranks. He mimics holding a gun, one of the huge ones that need two hands to carry. He wonders what it would be like to shoot one.

With three minutes until midday, Myles casts a quick look around his bedroom for his shoes, but they’ve been taken along with his clothes. He takes one last glance at the room, steps out into the corridor, and heads towards mission control. Several guards pass him on his way down the winding white hallways, and each one issues him with a curt nod. After what feels like an age of walking, anxiety and nerves twisting his gut into balloon animals that wouldn’t be out of place at a children’s party, he finally reaches the door marked ‘Mission Control’. Before he even has chance to knock, a soft female voice echoes from inside. “Come in, Myles. We’ve been waiting for you.”

*

The second he steps through the door, he is overcome by the glow of what seems like a hundred screens lighting up the long wall to his right. The middle of the room is dominated by a wooden table stretching almost as far as the opposite wall, surrounded by stiff-backed wooden chairs and topped with yet more screens the size of his forearm. A woman leans against the narrow end of the table, her hands gripping the edge of the varnished wood.

“Good afternoon, Myles,” She smiles, tapping her short fingernails against the underside of the table. Black hair curls close to her scalp, her dark skin glowing in the harsh blue-white glow of the screens, which seem to be the only light-source in the room.

“Good afternoon, Ma’am. Sorry I’m late, I…” The sound gets caught in the back of his throat, anxiety and uncertainty wrapping their hands around his neck and squeezing until all the air leaves his lungs.

“You fell asleep? You lost track of time? It’s easily done, but from this moment onwards tardiness will not be accepted. If you’ll follow me,” She stands, and Myles faintly registers the fact that only one of her arms is made of flesh. The other is a shining silver metal, cast with gears, wires and pulleys that move to allow the cleverly crafted fingers to curl into a fist around the handle of the door he entered through. As she turns her head, he notices a swirl of jet black ink winding its way in curls over her brow and down the side of her face.

They walk down the corridor he entered through, until they reach a set of double doors marked Authorised Personnel Only. The commander, as that is who Myles assumes she is, swipes her wrist over a small panel on the wall and leads him down the adjoining hallway. “You will have your access codes altered when you return from your mission, if you are successful.”

“Yeah, about that. What exactly do I have to do?”

“I shall tell you in due course. For now, this is where you will be sleeping for the duration of your training,” She motions with her metal hand through an open door into a dark, starkly room containing half a dozen low metal beds, each made up with white sheets with an earthy-green woollen blanket folded at its foot. “Through here is the gym, which you’ll notice is more extensive than the one you have been using up until this point. Here you will refine and perfect your skills until you are at the peak of your physical capabilities. Then we have a recruits room for recreational activities, which you will be able to explore and enjoy at your leisure. We have a small library, and a series of recreational rooms dedicated to catering for the higher ranking officers. We also have the shooting range, and this door,” she points to the next door on her left, “will lead you back to the meeting room.”

They come to a stop at another set of double doors, having passed several more dorms, a technology suite, cleaning cupboards and a room marked Weaponry. “Through here is the clinic. You will report here weekly for a physical check-up, and any time you feel injured or ill our specialist medics will be able to help you.” Myles nods, his eyes focussed on the fingers of the commander’s metal arm. What is the likelihood of an injury like that? He can’t tell where the metal ends and her flesh begins, because the sleeve of her uniform falls down past her elbow and ends in a scrunch of dark fabric midway up her forearm.

“What’s my mission?”

“You’ll find out this evening, shortly before sundown. First, you must report for your initial physical check-up to ensure that you are eligible for the mission assigned to you so that we can make alternative arrangements if necessary. Then we’ll install a temporary tracker so that we can keep an eye on you in the field, along with a few essential physical adjustments. Do you have any other questions?”

“Yes,” Myles responds, lifting his gaze from the slowly curling fingers of her metal hand and looking her in the eye. “You never introduced yourself.”

“Bandit: lieutenant and orientation officer. By day I work with incoming soldiers, managing new recruits and showing people like you around the base. The rest of the time, I’m in charge of running low-level and standard missions like the one you will be running tonight. All soldiers are addressed by their surname or title, so from this moment on you will be known as ‘Lakeman’ or ‘recruit’.  Is that all?”

He nods, turning his head to watch her go as she marches back down the corridor and pushes open a door halfway down. Now alone, Myles hesitates, wondering whether a life in the army is what he wants. His hand resting lightly on the white-painted wood on the door, he considers taking off into the city and spending the rest of his life in hiding, but he knows he’d never stand a chance. The words ‘injury’, ‘tracking device’ and ‘physical adjustments’ aren’t particularly appealing to him, but he knows he doesn’t have much of a choice. A resigned sigh escaping his lips, he pushes open the doors and steps inside.

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