The next day I receive a call from Rose’s principal as I’m typing up an article on Telcorp’s product range.
“Hello, this is Telcorp Jonathan speaking.”
“Hi, John it’s Margaret, Rose’s principial.”
Immediately, I sit up straighter in my chair.
“What’s happened?” I ask immediately. “Is Rose okay?”
“She’s in the infirmary. I’m not totally sure what happened but her and a bunch of people tried to organise a school walkout in protest over the new government laws. Things went wild and she got hurt.”
I don’t wait to her anymore and instead slam the phone down and run towards the door.
Just as I go to open it, Riles bursts into the room with eyes wild and nostrils flaring.
I don’t have time to say anything before he grabs me by the collar of the shirt and slams me up against the wall.
“What the hell did you do to Thomas?”
I struggle against his hands.
“I’ll explain later. My daughter is hurt.”
Riles only grips me tighter. I glare into his eyes.
“Let me go.”
“Not until you tell me why you thought it was a good idea to slam your first into one of the most important people behind this who project! What were you thinking?”
“Please, sir, I need to get to my daughter.”
After a deep breath, he releases me and shoves me towards the door.
“I have my eye on you, Johnathan Charles. Something doesn’t feel right about you and it hasn’t for a while. One wrong move and I blow your head off.”
I don’t wait to hear anymore death threats and instead barge from the room.
It reminds me of the horrible day weeks ago now when I found out about the accident that killed Danielle. I refuse to believe though that Rose is in any fatal position similar to her mother’s.
I make it to the school in record time and practically fly from my car. A whole bunch of cars are in the parking lot so I suspect that most parents were called to pick up their kids.
I don’t bother to lock my car as I rush towards the school building. Inside, the hallways are packed and the noise is phenomenal. I feel by breath start to increase as I feel claustrophobia trying to take hold of me, but I ignore it. I have to find Rose.
Eventually I make it to the infirmary and burst inside. There’s three beds lined up. Only two are full. A small girl younger than Rose is lying down while a nurse bandages her leg. The other is Rose.
She’s sitting up with a towel pressed over her nose. On her head she’s balancing a bag of frozen pears. When she sees me, she smiles a little.
“Rose,” I wrap my arms around her tightly. “What on earth did you do?”
“I assisted in a school walk out,” she shrugs. “It went find until two guys started fighting. Then everyone else started to join in so I ran to get the principal. I tripped over and hit for head on the ground.”
“What about your nose?” I ask her as I pull the towel away to inspect it. Although puffy with dry blood around it, it doesn’t look to bad. “What happened to it?”
Rose pauses before answering.
“A boy punched me. Then my friend punched him and that’s how the fight started.”
I kisses her forehead over and over, torn between strangling her and hugging her even tighter.
“You could have been seriously hurt. Why would you organize a walkout like that? They’re dangerous!”
She squirms under my gaze.
“I want to help change the governments minds, dad. It’s not fair. I don’t care if I die trying, I want them to change it back.”
I squeeze her tighter before letting go and helping her to her feet. I hope she can’t see the guilt in my eyes.
“Let’s get you home to rest.”
I try to help her walk, but she pushes me aside and grins.
“I am a strong and independent woman. I don’t need you to help me walk.”
“Just like your mother,” I poke her side and she giggles. “Come on then Super-girl. It’s time to go home.”
At home Rosemary help me settle Rose into the couch with a new bag of frozen peas on her forehead. I drape a blanket over her as Rosemary tends to her nose, cleaning away the blood and applying some healing cream.
“You guys are babying me,” Rose complains with a smile on her face. “I can look after myself.”
“You can,” I kiss her forehead. “But that’s not going to stop me from looking after my baby girl.”
She pokes her tongue at me and Rosemary scolds her.
“Manners, young lady.”
I laugh at Rose as she scowls and take my leave. I won’t go back to work today, but I’ll keep working on my project so as to keep up. I’m starting to fall behind work and lose clients. Not that it matters anymore with the Changed Society, but I still want to work hard.
I’m typing away on my keyboard when my communicator buzzes inside my work pants. I quickly fish it out and press answer.
“It’s Riles. We need to talk.”
Sighing, I close my laptop and stand to my feet.
“Now isn’t a good time. My daughter’s been hurt.”
“Oh I’m aware. I know she’s a rebel going against the government and I know what she did at the school.”
“Kids will be kids,” I say slowly. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
“I disagree. At fifteen she has her own mind. I just can’t help but think about how scandalous is would be if you were announced the mind behind the Changed Society and people discovered your daughter was revolting against it.”
“What do you want Riles?” I ask angrily. “Leave my daughter alone.”
He chuckles darkly.
“I’m just messing with you, Charles. However, we do need to talk. We’re holding another meeting tonight but I expect you to be here in an hour.”
I glance at the clock. It’s just about six o’clock.
“I can’t.” I don’t want to leave Rose earlier then she needs to be.
“Yes you can,” he corrects me. “And you will. Goodbye, Jonathan.”
The phone goes quiet and I sigh with frustration.
Even though he says he’s joking, I can’t help but believe his words were still a threat towards Rose. I also realise grudgingly that I have to do whatever he says and dance however he instructs for her safety. One wrong move, no matter how small, could have her killed.
I go have a long and hot shower and do my best to keep my thoughts quiet and calm. I don’t want to overthink anything. I pull on a pair of track pants with a basic t-shirt before grabbing one of my warmer jackets. It’s not the most official or comfortable thing I’ve worn to a meeting before but this doesn’t feel like the average meeting. Part of my feels like this might be the last one I go to for a while. I just hope I leave the meeting alive and breathing.
After combing back my hair, I make my way back down the stairs and turn into the kitchen where Rosemary is putting together dinner.
“I have been called out,” I tell her. “I have to head off now.”
“At this time? It’s certainly late!”
“You and I both know this isn’t the latest I’ve been out,” I chuckle without humour. “Make sure Rose eats, please?”
“Of course, Mister Charles.”
“Call me Jonathan.”
I move into the lounge room where Rose is watching television. She looks a bit better now with a slight colour to her cheeks. I make my way over to the couch.
“Hey Rose,” I sit down in front of her. “I have to go out.”
“It’s too early. You usually leave just before midnight.”
“I know, sweetheart but I got called in early and I can’t say no.”
I kiss her forehead and stand to my feet, stretching slightly. I’m not looking forward to what awaits me, but that’s something I’ll have to deal with on my own.
“Alright,” Rose sighs in defeat. “See you.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Sleep well.”
Tonight it is eerily quiet in the facility. Rather than the usual bustling crowd in the hall, it’s empty. As I walk towards the conference room, I glance into any open doors that I can see. Inside there’s nothing but machines beeping and a few people scribbling in notebooks.
Only one man awaits me in the conference room, for now anyway.
“Just on time,” Riles comments without looking up from his coffee. “I was wondering if you’d even show up.”
“I have nothing to hide. We’re on the same team.”
He looks up with a cold smile.
“I really hope so, Charles. I don’t want to lose you from the team, especially after all that you’ve done for this project and the government.”
“I punched Thomas,” I state the obvious.
“I know and I want to hear your story as to why.”
“I’m not sure if I’m allowed to tell you.”
“Please, I’m the one running this whole thing. I need to know everything and I probably already do.”
“They were assaulting an inmate after she stabbed one of the staff.”
“I heard about that death,” Riles frowns. “Very tragic. Very unsuspecting.”
“What about the inmate? She it was wrong, but to be punished like that is just as inhumane.”
“I’m aware of the treatment that goes on in these walls, Jonathan,” Riles tells me grimly. “I don’t like it, but it has to be done.”
“Thomas said the same thing.”
Riles smiles wryly.
“Are you going to punch me too?”
“He was pissing me off.”
“I’m aware. He doesn’t look it, but sometimes that man can be a smartass. He probably deserved, but I ask you not to so much as threaten him again. He’s the master mind. We lose him, we lose everything.” Pdhay8jhd
“There’s smarter people then Thomas.”
“There is, but none are willing to do what he’s doing.” Riles stands to his feet and begins to pace. “It’s a very hard situation we’re in. Already the people are reacting negatively.”
He points to some papers on the table.
“I was given these reports from insiders of the government. It’s all underground, but they’re starting to buy multiple buildings from their owners ready for demolishing. They’re going public with the news of new housing after things settle down with the religion thing. Which reminds me, how is your daughter?”
I feel my back stiffen and I answer tightly.
“Only slightly hurt. She should be fine.”
“I’d give her a good talking to if I were you,” he points his finger at me. “She needs to understand the importance of all of this.”
“I have tried, sir.”
“It’s not going to be easy, given the history.”
I blink at him blankly.
Riles sighs and leans against the table.
“The reason I called you in here wasn’t about your daughter or the fact you punched a smart ass.”
“I don’t understand,” I stammer. “Sir, I swear I have told one about any of this.”
“Just be quiet and let me explain. I will admit when I heard the news I was quite horrified.”
“Cut to the chase,” I say, anxiety clearly written in my voice. “What’s happening?”
Riles sighs again.
“We know who’s responsible for the attack that killed your wife.”
I sit up in my seat further and lean forward.
“Can I know?”
“Once I got the name,” Riles continues. “I did some research on their names and realised just who they were.”
“Please,” I beg. “Please.”
He reaches to his papers and pulls a folder free. He tosses it towards me and I quickly open it.
“Kirsty Rivers,” he reads along with me. “Co-owner of your wife’s gallery.”
An ice cold bucket of water has been thrown over my head as I stare at the mugshot of Kirsty. Her eyes are rimmed black with her lips in a tight smile. Her hair is much similar to what I saw in the shopping centre, ratty and knotted. Before I showed compassion towards such a poor thing, but now I couldn’t care any less.
“Are we making her a test subject?” I ask calmly. Riles nods.
“We’re going to get her transferred. If she wants to change, we’ll give her change like no other.”
He takes a sip of his coffee and offers me a sad frown.
“I know you don’t like cruelty, Charles, but I can promise you this: the Change isn’t painless. In fact, it’s quite painful. To get your entire genetics rewritten is not any easy task.”
Although this makes me feel sick, I can’t help but smile to myself.
“She deserves it.”
“I’m aware she was close friends to your wife and therefore you must have known her too. I am very sorry for this news, Charles. I attacked you this morning having not let my emotions run their course. I do admit when I heard that I then had to wonder if your wife was involved and therefore you yourself. These people are the reason my previous plan had failed and I don’t take failure to easily. I apologise for reacting without thought.”
“I would have done the same thing,” I promise. My mind is reeling over this new information and I don’t know what to think. Part of me wants to cry and the other wants to scream. Without thinking, I add, “I don’t understand why someone would do this.”
“I think it was an accident that your wife died,” he tells me. “If she wanted her dead, the attack would have been on the gallery itself, not the building across from that. May I ask, where did Kirsty say she was when the attack occurred.”
“Shopping for supplies downtown.”
“How convenient, but believable,” Riles sighs. “This is why something like the Chocolate Society needs to exist.”
I look at him in confusion.
“I thought it was the Changed Society.”
“It was, but I thought we should change it. The Chocolate Society sounds way more appealing and fitting considering we’re all going to come out negro, well, most of us.”
“What do you mean?” I ask. I’m lightly bothered by his racist word usage, but I don’t let it faze me. “I thought all those except authority figures would be changed.”
“If or when this campaign is complete, the entire group will be moved into politics. None of us will have to make the change.”
“That hardly seems fair. Political parties shouldn’t be free from the chocolate syrumm.”
“That’s why we’re being given a choice. A few of us aren’t particularly fond of turning ourselves black.”
“So that’s why we now have a choice?” I demand. “Because we’re a group of racists?”
“Calm down,” he shakes his head. “There was always a chance we could escape the needles.”
“They will know we’re responsible,” I start to panic. “They could kill us.”
“I’ve thought long and hard about this,” he assures me. “Safety measures will be put in place and like I said, if you’re to scared you are welcome to the change.”
“This just doesn’t feel right.”
Riles nods in agreement.
“You’re right and it’s not, but to make things right we have to do quite a few wrongs. We might not see the benefits in our lifetime, but the next generations will be thanking us for it.”
The door swings open and a purple nosed Thomas enters the room. He scowls in my direction before handing Riles some papers.
“This is our idea to identify others.”
Pushing aside thoughts of Kirsty and racism, I stand up to get a look, peering over Riles shoulder.
“A bar code?” I ask.
“At birth we will have bar codes in stitched onto infants along with a microchip to easily identify criminals.”
“Impressive,” Riles tells him. “You might be an arse, but you’re a useful one.”
Even though I hate to admit it, I have to agree.
“Sorry to hear about your wife,” Thomas appraises me. “It really is a sad ordeal.”
“Why do you know about it?” I glare from him to Riles.
“If we’re going to be transforming people, I need to know first to oversee the experiment.”
I nod without saying anything. I don’t know what to think anymore. Betrayal, anger, fear, pain and sorrow. They all swirl around my mind and chest making me wonder what to believe and what not to. All I know is Kirsty killed my wife.
“Would I be able to see her?” I ask Riles. “I won’t hurt her, I don’t think anyway.”
Riles pats my arm.
“That’s another reason why I called you in so early. Thomas will take you to see her.”
I don’t want to be left alone with him, but I oblige and follow behind him, trying not to feel like a lost and broken puppy. Eventually, the sound of our footsteps on the cement floor gets too much for me and I finally confess.
“I’m sorry for punching you.”
“It’s alright,” Thomas says tightly. “I deserved it I guess. I hope this doesn’t affect our friendship.”
I frown at him and chuckles darkly.
“I’m kidding. I do hope that you will continue to tolerate my presence until this is at least over. I know you think I’m a bad person for letting this go on, but I’m only doing what I have to do. Just like you are.”
I just nod, to busy focusing on the task ahead to care much for his petty apologies. Plus, he’s apologising to the wrong person.
Eventually we come to a stop outside a door. Thomas swipes his keycard and keys in a number for the door to swing open. I don’t bother looking away from his pin.
The room is much similar to the others, white pristine walls with bright synthetic lights. Instead of whiteboards, hospital beds are against the walls. It reminds me of an eerie doctor surgery, only replace the doctors with scientists.
Only one of the beds is occupied and it lies against the back wall. Two geniuses have blocked my view, but as my heart race starts to quicken, I know without a doubt who it is.
Thomas marches forward and taps them on the shoulders.
“I ask now that you would leave the room. Mister Jonathan Charles would like to speak the.. in-mate.”
After they scribble down a few more things, the scientists back away, revealing Kirsty to my sight.
I don’t know how it’s possible, but Kirsty looks even worse than I thought possible. Besides the black eyes and swollen lip that I’m sure she earned by protesting are only a few differences to the girl I was friends with. Now she’s so much skinnier, like a skeleton and her ratty hair has since been shaved clean off.
Her eyes stare at mine pleadingly, but I ignore her and turn to Thomas.
“What happened to her? How did she get so skinny so quickly?”
“They found her like this. It seems she was giving her food to a bunch of city outsiders.” He looks down at a clipboard and scowls. “On a police raid of the house they discovered the children and husband in a similar state.”
My mouth fills with bile and I look back at Kirsty. Her eyes well up in tears at the hatred in my eyes. She can’t talk because of tape over her mouth. Serves her right too. I’m not sure I want to hear what this pathetic woman has to say.
“Do you mind if I talk to her privately?” I ask Thomas. “I’ll let you know if any information is relayed.”
“That was the plan,” Thomas smiles at her cruelly. “Just no permanent damage please. She has to be in the fittest position for our testing.”
With that, he takes up his clipboard and walks out, leaving me alone with my wife’s killer.