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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9. Chapter 8: Myles

“Lakeman,” Bandit smiles, her hands clasped in front of her as she stands, straight backed, in front of the elevator bank. The tables are being stocked with food, tired-looking soldiers swimming around the room with large plastic baskets laden with drooping vegetables and stale bread held in their arms. “I see you have brought back a prize.”

He recoils inside, but keeps his back straight. “Yes ma’am.” She isn’t a prize, he thinks, his muscles tensing beneath his uniform. She’s just a girl: a desperate girl, who hopes with all her heart that her brother is still alive somewhere, and that here is where she will find him; a girl who is so alone that she will put her trust in an absolute stranger to get her into the building and then help her to escape again.

“Follow me,” She says, stepping into one of the waiting lifts and pausing for him to catch up. The second he steps inside, the doors close and the lift begins to move. In his arms, Lydia twitches, and he wonders if she is dreaming, if it is possible for her to dream.

In the few short hours they spent together, talking and wondering aloud about their lives and the differences in them, he sensed that something in her is broken. Her hair is limp and matted with dirt, her shoulders permanently hunched. She’s too skinny and too light in his grip, with chapped lips and dark circles adorning her tired, sunken eyes.

The lift stops in the basement, so deep that Myles has lost track of how many floors down they are. When they emerge into a white corridor identical to all the rest, the first thing he notices is how warm it is. Almost immediately, beads of sweat break out on his forehead and his upper lip, his uniform sticking to his body as he marches onwards with Lydia lolling in his arms.

Bandit leads him into a small, square room. The floor is cushioned underfoot, three of the walls lined with padded panels while the other is formed of a large silver mirror. He lowers Lydia to the floor, carefully brushing her hair to one side, and takes a step back. When he moves back into the corridor, Bandit slams the door shut and slides a lock into place. “Head to the clinic and get your face fixed, Lakeman. Wait there for me to retrieve you for the second part of your mission.”

He opens his mouth to object, but something in the way she looks at him halts the words in his throat. Instead, he turns his back on the cell, hurries back up the length of the corridor and presses the call button on the lift. Nothing happens.

“Apologies, Lakeman. This area is special access only.” Bandit appears behind him, swiping her wrist over the silver panel and pressing the button again. This time the machinery whirs into life, the doors opening to allow Myles to step inside. By the time the doors close, Bandit is already on her way back to the cell.

*

An hour later, she collects Myles from the clinic and walks him back to Lydia’s cell. She hands him an earpiece and waits for him to slip it into his ear before unlocking the cell door and shoving him inside. Behind him, the lock slides shut with a deafening ‘clang’.

Lydia is awake, curled in the corner of the room with her head pressed against the wall. “Hey,” Myles starts, sitting close to her with his legs crossed. She smiles tiredly at him, but her eyes are pink with tears and her arms are striped with red marks where she has run her nails over her skin. They’ve taken away her clothes, leaving her in a shapeless white tunic that hangs loosely off her light frame.

“So that’s what you look like without a broken nose?” She whispers, her eyes watering again. Her hair is even more matted than it was before, her skin lined with more cuts than he remembers. Her face is still caked with dirt, her puffy eyes surrounded by dark circles. He is too aware of how he looks: dark bruises encircling his eyes, his nose decorated with a strip of sticking plaster keeping his newly set nose in place.

He chuckles, but the tension in the air is thick. They are both aware that they are being watched. He looks at her again, and she appears even smaller than she was when they first met. How could one person have changed so much in the space of an hour?

“What happened to your leg?” He asks, pointing to the stump curling across the floor. The old wound really is ugly, the skin and muscle puckered and jagged as though the amputation was performed in a hurry. Aside from the blisters, the skin is crusted with blood and sores, lines of dirt marking the skin where the straps used to be.

“They took it.” She answers, her chest heaving as she takes a shaky breath. He knows she is trying not to cry, and he reaches out to take her hand. “They said it’s a weapon.”

Lose the human touch, Lakeman. You’re there to interrogate the girl, not date her.

Myles bristles, letting go of Lydia’s hand and moving backwards, out of arm’s reach. He lets his shoulders sag and looks over at the mirrored wall. How could this girl, so thin and young and broken, be the enemy?

Ask her what she was doing outside after dark.

“What were you doing outside after dark?”

“You know-” She starts, but then her lips clamp shut. “I got lost.”

But he knows the truth. She had been out in the old fields, letting the sun beat down on her body and running through the dust with her arms outstretched. She had been revelling in the freedom that was taken from her before she was born, living the childhood she had never been able to have.

“You’ve lived in the city all your life: how did you manage to get lost?” Myles mutters, directly echoing the words whispered into his ear. He widens his eyes to try and silently tell Lydia that these questions aren’t coming from him, pointing at the mirror and placing his hand over the pulsing pain in his nose to disguise his movement.

“I’ve never been out to the old fields, so I didn’t know what street to head down to get home.” Her eyes are focussed on some far distant memory, and Myles gets the feeling this statement is true.

Bandit bombards him with questions and Myles repeats them, only half listening to Lydia’s tired answers as he struggles to fit them all together into a story that makes sense.

When were you tagged?

“This morning.”

What did you take?

“A carrot, a plum, a bread roll, a bottle of water and a shirt.”

How did you lose your leg?

“The monsters took it.”

What happened to your family?

“The monsters took them.”

Where did you get your prosthetic?

“My father made it.”

Have you seen your brother since he went missing?

“No. As far as I know, he’s dead.”

What do you know about the wall?

“I’ve never been to the wall.”

The creatures?

“Monsters.”

What do you think of the government?

“They protect us.”

Are you a member of any rebel groups in the city?

“No.”

Do you know anything about the rebels’ plans?

“No.”

The questions seem to take hours, and Lydia can only answer half of them. Mostly she just shakes her head, her eyes drifting closed as the effects of the sedative linger in her body. Myles doesn’t see the point in half of the questions, doesn’t understand what they could have to do with any rebel plot or how they could possibly know whether Lydia was telling the truth. She eventually drifts off, and Myles sits with his legs crossed and his back to the mirror, refusing to turn around to face Bandit even though the interview is finished. The questions and answers spin around in his head, something not quite adding up. Lydia is innocent- of that he has no doubt- so what about the others? How many of the hundreds of people captured and interrogated by the government were innocent? Where did they go?

Myles has plenty of questions of his own, but he knows he will never be able to ask them. Thinking these things, let alone asking them, would mark him as the very enemy Bandit and her men are aching to identify. Instead he pushes them from his mind, watching Lydia’s chest softly rise and fall until Bandit gives him the instruction to leave.

He steps back into the grey corridor, his eyes stinging from the bright light of the cell. “Thank you for that, Lakeman. If you report to tech they will have your codes adjusted to give you a wider level of clearance around base. I advise you then head back to your dorm and catch some sleep- you will meet me in my office tonight to discuss where we go from here and where you belong within our ranks. I will page you, and you will be expected to report immediately.”

Myles nods and heads back to the lift, Bandit close on his heels. She swipes her wrist over the panel and climbs into the lift beside him, holding her shoulders back and her hands behind her back. They travel as high as they can go while still technically being underground, and before Myles has chance to ask where exactly ‘tech’ is and what he is supposed to do until she contacts him, Bandit steps out of the lift, walks impossibly fast down the length of the corridor and steps into the separate hallway containing her office, the door slamming shut behind her.

As it turns out, the door labelled ‘TECH’ was one of the few they walked past on his way in the day before, moving so fast the first time around that Myles didn’t have time to read the sign. Was it really less than twenty-four hours ago that he had first set foot in these halls? It felt as though so much more had happened in that time than physically possible.

He knocks briskly on the door, keeping his back straight and moving his hands dutifully to his sides while he waits to be allowed access.

“State your name and business.”

A female voice speaks from the other side of the door, the sound muffled by the wood between them.

“Myles Lakeman. I uh, need my codes altered.”

The door swings open, and a young girl with curls of bouncy red hair steps aside to let him pass. “Hey, I’m Nelly.”

Cute, Myles thinks, looking around the room. It is little more than a big cupboard; desks littered with tangled wires and computer monitors lining the walls. A few chairs sit around a low table in the middle, which is in turn is piled with clutter in the form of circuit boards, mugs, biscuit wrappers and playing cards.

“Sorry about the mess,” Nelly shrugs, jumping onto the closest chair and tucking her legs up beneath her as the seat spins in circles. “Take a seat. The guys are all in the back, working on trackers and tricorders and screenpads, etcetera. What can I do for you?”

“Uh,” Myles stammers, gripping the arms of the chair and lowering himself into the seat. The fabric of the thin cushion is worn through, stuffing spilling out of rips and holes in billows of white fluff. “Weren’t we in class together or something?”

“Oh shit! Myles! Yes!” Nelly grins, her pink lips parting to reveal rows of perfectly straight white teeth. “We were like, fifteen, right?”

He nods, his hands awkwardly gripping the edge of the seat as he gently spins himself from side to side, his booted feet knocking against the dented table leg in front of him. “I thought you were taken into the reproductive program?”

“Yeah, I was.” She smiles sadly then, letting her eyes drop to the mess strewn across the coffee table. “I’m barren, whatever that means. All I know is that it means I’m broken, useless for repopulating the planet or whatever it is they’re trying to get us to do from in here. Anyway, after they figured that out, they looked back at my class scores and put me in here. I’m still on my internship so I get to hang out in here fiddling with circuit boards while they’re in there playing with the big guns,” she shrugs. “What about you?”

“They never found me a match,” Myles shrugs, looking up from the clutter. “Apparently there wasn’t anybody compatible for me to raise kids with, or something. I didn’t really question it, it’s their own fault if they’re going to be so picky about who can and can’t have kids.”

While he’s talking, Nelly gets to her feet and begins rummaging around in the drawers set into the cabinets lining the walls. She comes back with a device the length of her forearm, thick and metallic with a curl of wire springing from a hole in the top. From the same drawer, she retrieves a foam circle with a small metallic bump sat nipple-like on top and a small, tattered notebook.

“Here,” She says, peeling a plastic backing off the foam and sticking the white circle to the inside of his wrist. The back of the foam feels sticky and uncomfortable against his skin, but he keeps his arm extended while Nelly fiddles with the wire, clipping the end to the silver bump on top of the foam disk and sitting back down in her chair. “This disk is an electrode. It’ll form a mild electrical current through your skin to transmit the information from this,” she taps her hand lightly on the contraption in her lap, which is half dominated by a screen and half taken up with a keyboard, “to the access chip.”

Myles rests his arm on the top of his leg to keep it still while she works, his eyes trained on the top of her head as she taps away on the keyboard. “I don’t suppose you know why they’re so picky?”

She shrugs, her eyes never moving from her screen. “There could be any number of reasons, really. Restricted resources, trying to pick the strongest genes to carry forwards, space issues. Did you even pay attention in history class?”

He chuckles, pinching the still-aching bridge of his nose and watching her tuck a strand of hair behind her ear as she works. “I don’t think I paid attention at all for those last few years.”

“Maybe that’s why you didn’t get matched,” she smiles, breaking her gaze with her screen to look up into his face. “They don’t want the genes of someone so stupid passed on to the next generation.”

He kicks out at her, forgetting the existence of a table between them, and curses under his breath as a sharp pain stabs through his toe. “I just can’t catch a break today.”

The notebook flops down onto the mess of circuit boards and Nelly pushes aside enough clutter to sit the keyboard on the watermarked wooden table-top. She reaches forwards to unhook the electrode from his skin, unclips the wire and tosses the used foam pad into a small bin at her feet. “Okay, you’re now access-all-areas. Mostly.” She smiles, folding her arms across her chest and resting one of her feet on the edge of the table. “You’ll be able to access this corridor without accompaniment, as well as the clinic, armoury, shooting range, dorms, gym and recreation rooms.”

Myles smiles and gets to his feet, tucking his hands awkwardly into his trouser pockets and turning towards the door. “Thanks Nelly. I’ll see you around, I guess.”

She grins, spinning around on the chair again and leaning her head over the back of the seat to stare up at the ceiling. She comes to a halt facing Myles, her features upside down in the dully-lit room. “Catch you later.”

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