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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6. Chapter 5

When I arrive at the pool for my nightly swim, I’m startled to find that someone else is already there, skimming the bottom. The person kicks up to the surface, breaking through with a splash and gasping for air, and I can see his face.

    James.

    He sees me lingering in the doorway and waves. “I hope this is alright...I couldn’t sleep, and I don’t know any other place to go around here.”

    “It’s fine.” I reply, tossing my towel next to his and diving in. When I surface again, he’s watching me with an odd look in his eyes. When I meet his gaze, he blushes and turns away, diving under the surface.

    Weird.

    I let myself float until he finally pops back up, then slowly sink my feet back under the water. “Hey,” I call.

    He looks at me, curious. “What?”

    “Wanna see something cool?”

    “Sure!”

    “Do you trust me?”

    He raises an eyebrow. “Um...I guess...”

    “Then follow me.” I dive under, swimming to the tunnel at the bottom. I glance back to see if James is following. He’s right on my tail, and I slip into the tunnel and slide through to the cavern.

    By the time James pops out of the hole in the cavern’s wall, I’m already on the island with my feet still in the water. He lets out a surprised shout just before he hits the water, and comes up spluttering. Once he has his bearings, he looks around in awe. “Whoah.”

    “Pretty cool, huh? It’s kind of our hangout, or it will be, I guess. I just showed it to the team yesterday, before...anyway, I thought you should see it, too. Since you’re aprt of the team now.”

    “This is...amazing.” James says, spinning around in the water. “It’s so beautiful.” He looks at me. “You know, when you first went into that tunnel, I thought for sure you were leading me on a suicide mission.” He swims up to the island and plops down next to me.

    I laugh. “It’s only suicide if you swim slow. Or just don’t swim at all.”

    He smiles, but then his mirthful expression fades. His eyes darken. “I tried it once.”

    “What?”

    “Suicide. I was going nuts in that bunker. I was alone, and terrified, and losing hope. One day I picked up a knife and held it to my throat. I almost did it, but...I pulled my hand back at the last second. I never tried it again. I figured there had to be a reason why I was still alive, why I hadn’t been captured. Like...maybe God chose me for something, you know?”

    I bite my lip and look away. “Not really. I’ve always been an atheist. Never found it in me to believe in magic when there was always a scientific explanation. I usually try to respect the beliefs of others, though.”

    He blinks. “Huh. Well...that’s your opinion. I can respect that.”

    I smile at him, and he returns the grin. We stare at each other for several seconds, and I slowly forget everything until there’s only James, gazing at me with eyes that are the color of mahogany wood.

    Suddenly, the hair prickles on the back of my neck, and all of my senses go on high alert. It’s my chip, warning me that there’s half an hour until curfew. James’ eyes widen as his chip does the same thing, and he shivers, breaking eye contact. I sigh and slide into the water. “Come on. Curfew’s in thirty minutes.”

 

    

    I quietly close the dorm room door behind me and turn to go to my bed. A soft whisper stops me in my tracks. “Astrid?”

    I look up. I can just barely make out Lila’s face, eyes wide open and shining in the dim light. I make my way to her bed and crouch beside it. “Yeah?”

    “I miss him.” Her eyes glisten with tears, and I take her cold hand in mine.

“I know you do.”

    “I...I loved him, Astrid. And I never told him. But I think he knew, and he felt it, too. We kept having these weird moments where it felt like we were the only people in the universe. I...I was actually planning on telling him either yesterday or today, if I could get him alone.” Tears slide down her cheeks. “But...now he’ll never know.”

    “Oh, Li...” I whisper.

    She turns her head and sobs into her pillow. I stay by her side, stroking her hair until she finally falls asleep.


 

._._._.

 

    “Welcome back, Team MNCHT8.” Sir Porret proclaims as I swipe my fingers across the identity and cross over the threshold into the factory room.

I turn and wait for the rest of the team to go through the line. James is last, and he mimics our actions hesitantly, unsure. The light next to the scanner blinks green, and Porret waves James through. “Welcome to the Middle North Workhouse, CH10134.”

“Um, thanks.” James stammers, coming to stand by me. I lead the way to our station. As my teammates take their places, I grab James’ arm and guide him to the touchscreen that is now his to control. “This is your spot. You chip will tell you what to do.” I tell him, releasing his arm and stepping back. James gulps, then taps the screen. As the controls pop up, his eyes suddenly clear. In no time at all, he’s maneuvering the controls with ease. Satisfied, I take my place at my own screen and tap to start. I settle into my routine with ease, and it’s not long before the world is falling away around me as I focus on my task.

My team works efficiently, even with a new member, and we meet our morning requirement a full hour before lunch break. We keep working until the bells go off for break, and we all grin at each other as we step away from our screens. James looks somewhat stunned, and very pleased.

“Hey, you did pretty good!” I tell him, raising my hand for a high five. He slaps his hand against mine, and his grin widens.

“Thanks! That chip thing is really freaky, though.”

“Yeah, but you’ll get used to it. You hungry?”

“Very.”

“Well, let’s go eat, then!”


 

“I can’t believe how much food there is!” James exclaims as he picks up a bowl of macaroni and cheese. “And it’s actually well-cooked, too!”

I grin. “Yeah, they actually treat us pretty good here. Tomorrow is Saturday, which is a no-work day. I’ll give you the grand tour of the Workhouse so you can marvel at its splendor.”

James laughs. “Sounds good.”

“Hey there, Warrior Queen!” Chef Jameson says, grinning as he hands me a plate with my usual CATT sandwich.     

“Hey, Chef.” I reply, grinning back. Despite being a Clone, a very obvious one with eerie red eyes, all the kids love Chef Jameson because he’s so friendly and entertaining.

Chef smiles at James, too. “Hey, there, Newbie. What’s your name?”

“Um, CH10134.”

“No, no, your real name, kid.”

“Oh!” James’ eyes widen with surprise. “James.”

Chef smiles. “Nice to meet ya. I’m Chef Jameson. You can just call me Chef, though.”

“Okay. Chef. Um, could I have some broccoli, please?”
    “Sure thing, James. Hey, our names our pretty similar! That’s pretty cool, huh, Newbie?”

James smiles. “Yeah, it is.”

 

Once we both have our meals, we head over to the team’s table. As I sit, I notice that Finn is missing. “Where’s Finn?”

Killian looks up and shrugs. I stand up again, scanning the room for Finn’s familiar blonde head. Unable to find him, I turn to Killian again. “Where did he go after we left the factory room?”

“Towards Medical. He probably needed painkillers for his ankle.”

I sit down again and carefully slide my bowl of cheddar-broccoli soup towards me, trying to avoid spilling some on my CATT sandwich.

 

 

“No! Stop, let go!”

A loud yell in the back of the room draws everyone’s attention to a couple of boys who are tussling over something.

One of the boys is Lila’s brother, Callum.

A guard marches towards Callum and the other boy, shouting at them. He yanks Callum away viciously, and Lila gasps, standing. I grab her arm before she can interfere. “Lila, don’t!”

“But...Callum...”

We all look on as the guard pulls a Stinger from his belt. He holds it up threateningly, and Callum’s eyes widen. Stingers are even worse than the Tasers that human police officers used. Instead of stunning a person, there’s a substance on the tip that sinks into the skin and targets the nerves. In a flash, every nerve in the body feels like it’s on fire, causing the Stung person to be in excruciating, torturous pain.

Lila’s eyes are shimmering with fear and the threat of tears. I can tell that she’s conflicted; she wants to help her brother, but she’s afraid of the consequences.

“Tsk, tsk. You know, her Highness doesn’t like it when Workers fight. Especially when they’re fighting over things that don’t belong outside of their zones.” The guard holds up the Nintendo DS that the boys were fighting over. One of them must have taken it out of a game room to play later, and grabbed it from his room on his way to lunch.

“Was it you who started this? And took the device out of the room?” The guard says to Callum. “Hm, don’t answer that. According to your chip data and my own eyes, it was. That means you disobeyed. And Workers who disobey must be punished.” The guard grins wickedly, orange eyes flashing. He suddenly jabs the Stinger against Callum’s arm.

Callum screams and falls to the floor, writhing in pain. The guard doesn’t need to keep the Stinger in contact with Callum for the elixir to do its job. The substance takes half an hour to run its course through a person’s body, which is half and hour of pure torture.

Next to me, Lila cries out, hands flying to her mouth. Her eyes tear up as she watches her brother. She pulls away from me, running blindly to his side. “Callum!” She kneels by him, ignoring the guard and the looming Stinger. The guard’s eyes narrow as he watches Lila, and I can almost see him mentally pinning down their resemblances and figuring out their relationship as siblings.

“Ah! Big sister protecting her little brother, hm? How sweet. I guess you won’t mind suffering the same way he is, then.” He swings his Stinger arm towards her.

 

I don’t even realize what I’m doing until I’m already standing between the guard and my friends with my hand wrapped around his wrist. I’m staring the beast in the eye, and I refuse to flinch. As I stare him down, it suddenly dawns on me that I’m in a horrible position. I’ve just interfered in the one of the worst ways possible. I suck in a breath and release the guard’s wrist, shoving the Stinger away from me. His eyes are wide with shock, and he gapes at me silently, all bravado gone.

After several seconds, he narrows his eyes, spins on his heel, and stalks away.

I am absolutely stunned by what just happened.

 

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