Transpara Stars

Two years ago, everything was normal. Our biggest threat was terrorists from foreign countries. We kept the information we needed in our cell phones. People actually continued aging after their twenty-fifth birthday.
We were free-willed human beings who lived in houses made of wood and stone and glass and metal, who lived for the next iPhone, who wasted their bodies and minds in a desperate attempt to survive and thrive.
That was before the Clones showed up.

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3. Chapter 2

“Ugh! Finn, do you ever actually chew your food, or do you just swallow it whole and somehow not die?”

    “Igh smaffow it!” Finn mutters around his sandwich. He swallows and tries again. “I swallow it!”

    “Heh! No wonder you always have stomach problems at night. You eat way too fast, like it’s always your last meal.” Killian remarks.

    Silence falls over us. Killian gulps and stammers, “Um, I mean, well, urm...”

    I wave the comment away, fixing a smile on my face. “It’s fine, Killian. Besides, it’s true.”

    Finn scowls and takes another bite, chewing his chicken sandwich with a furious vigor. I take a bite of my CATT sandwich - Cheese, Avocado, and Tomato, and Turkey on wheat bread. Another perk of the Workhouse is that we can have pretty much anything we want for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s a huge kitchen with surprisingly(or maybe not-so-surprisingly) good cooks and dozens of meal possibilities.

    The dining room is full of chatter as other workers enjoy their lunch break. I notice Lila gazing towards a table in the back of the room. I turn and follow her gaze to a thirteen-year-old boy with messy brown hair and bright blue eyes that match hers. He’s laughing at something one of his teammates said, and he gives the boy next to him a playful shove. I turn to face Lila again, and her eyes meet mine. “He’s doing better than I thought he would.” she remarks. I smile at her reassuringly. This is her younger brother’s first year in the Workhouse, and at the beginning of the new work year, Lila was worried that he would struggle because he was so scrawny last time she saw him. But he emerged from the Play Zone as a tough teenage boy with a dazzling smile and a big heart. Lila was stunned by the change, but still worried.

    “Whatever they did to him in the Play Zone prepared him for this work. Callum’s always been a good worker, even when he couldn’t do much. You told me that yourself.”

    Lila nods, eyes misty with remembering. “Yeah. He used to work himself half to death in the spring cleaning up the yard with our dad. Only took a five-minute break every couple of hours for water and maybe a snack. It was rough on him, but he felt good for accomplishing it.”

    I smile. “See? There’s nothing to worry about.”

 

    Sirens start blaring immediately after that last word, as if trying to prove me wrong.

    Fire Alert! Fire Alert! This is not a drill! Evacuate the building immediately!”

    I jump to my feet, dropping my CATT sandwich onto my tray. Lila darts towards the back to meet her brother. I watch her until she reaches his side, then turn to the rest of the team. “Let’s go, guys! I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want my butt getting burnt!”

 

We follow the panicked crowd of kids to the transpara doors of the Workhouse. Just before crossing over the threshold, Killian grabs my arm. “Astrid!”

    I turn. “What?”

    “We lost Finn!! I think he went to find Ashley!”

    I curse. Of course Finn would go searching for his girlfriend. The team gathers around me, and the crowd moves around us. I have to shout to be heard. “Alright, guys, here’s the deal: Nobody gets left behind in this team. Right?”

    A chorus of agreement meets my words, but then Ruth says hesitantly, “But he should be fine...? He knows the way out. He can get out.”

    I shake my head. “Ashley spends her lunch in the library. That’s all the way on the other side of the building. He might not...” I can’t finish, and I shake my head. “Alright, listen up. Ruth and Killian, go out and find a guard. Let him know that there are people still inside, coming from the library. Alec, come with me. We’re going to get them.”

    Ruth and Killian link arms and dive into the crowd. I grab Alec’s hand, and we run the opposite direction to the library.


 

    I can smell smoke as we approach the large, double doors of the massive library. I stop in my tracks, grabbing Alec’s arm. “Alec! The fire is in the library!”

    He gazes at the doors in horror, watching as smoke curls out from underneath it. “What do we do?”

    I narrow my eyes, pulling my bandana out of my hair and wrapping it around my face to cover my mouth and nose. I tie it and look at Alec, who’s taking off his T-shirt and mimicking my actions. He finally meets my eyes, and his face is a mask of fear and determination. I turn away and march up to the doors, opening them with a shove.

    The heat hits me instantly, causing me to flinch slightly. I slowly walk forward, calling out for Finn and Ashley. Alec’s voice joins me, and we yell together, “Finn! Ashley!”

    Fire is creeping up the sides of the tall bookshelves, and devouring the tapestries that decorate the smooth blue transpara walls. Alec and I slowly make our way through the library, dodging stray flames and calling out repeatedly.

    Finally, I hear a response. “Here! We’re here! Help!”

    “That’s Finn!” I gasp, taking Alec by the arm. “Come on!”

    I run forward, charging through the smoke and sparks. I can hear Alec behind me, yelling, “Astrid, wait!”

    I finally spot Finn and Ashley, trapped in one of the reading nooks. Flames surround them on all sides, converging like predators converge on prey. Finn sees me and shouts, “Astrid, help!”

    “Finn! Ashley!” Ashley isn’t even standing, and Finn has her in his arms. I can’t tell if her eyes are open or not. Alec suddenly grabs my shoulder. “Astrid! The bookshelf!”

    I look up. The eight-foot-tall wooden bookshelf next to the reading nook is crumbling, about to collapse.

    Finn and Ashley are right in its path.

    I scream at Finn to run. He looks up, eyes widening when he sees the shelf. He turns back towards me and bends to jump. I watch, breathless, as he soars over the flames. Alec rushes forward, catching Finn so that Ashley is unharmed. “Let’s go!” I yell as the shelf begins to topple. We all turn and run to the library doors. Finn is falling behind, and I realize that he’s limping. Alec takes up the rear, ushering Finn forward. All around us, the fire roars and knocks down books and pieces of bookshelf. I think I’m screaming as we approach the doors.

    Something hard and hot suddenly knocks me down, and I scream as the object burns the back of my neck. Alec picks me up and sets me on my feet, pushing me towards the doors. I stumble towards them and push them open. I let Finn run past me with Ashley still in his arms, and turn to look for Alec.         

    I spot him, three feet away from the door, stumbling over a piece of shelf. He falls, and I cry out as one of the massive burning bookshelves leans over him and crumbles.

    “Alec!” I scream, starting to run forward. Arms wrap around my torso, dragging me away and out of harm.

    As the library doors swing closed, I see the flaming shelf crash down on top of Alec and I scream again, struggling to get away from Finn’s firm grip. “ALEC! NO! ALEC!”

    I collapse on the cold transpara floor, tears running down my face. Finn’s grip relaxes, but I’m too weak to try to pull away, to run into the library again.

    The floor swirls up towards me, and my vision is cloaked in black.

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