At last, we were finally alone. Perfectly positioned in front of the General, I fell to my knees and dipped my head, faking a posture of exhaustion. After the day I had had, it was relatively easy to show how mentally and physically exhausted I was. Hands still locked behind my back, the Generals words were easy to ignore.
“Get up. Coleman, get up.” He insisted but under his cruel words, I could tell that he was concerned. To him, I was like a daughter and I could see the pain in his eyes as his superiors ordered him to act against me. My life with the military may have been a lie but my relationship with the General was real. But that made me think. How much of it was an illusion? Was Evan a part of it or was Becca involved? Did it matter? No, because I had no intention of returning to a world of death and lies. I had to get out and damn the consequences because I couldn’t do it again; I couldn’t lose everything.
“Helena, come on…” He said as he squatted down in front of me. Bringing my leg round and knocking the general back to the floor, I threw a single punch at his head and along with the impact of falling, knocked him out cold. I should have felt guilty but nothing but anger radiated from my body. Anger at what had been done to me and my family and what was being done to the nation.
I knew every twist and turn of the complex but it still seemed somewhat alien to me. White hot rage fuelled my movements as I forced my legs to carry me away from the people who had broken me and had betrayed my badly placed trust. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have an idea of what I could do next and so I fell back on my primitive nature: I ran. I ran past labs and dormitories as my trail of tears lined the floor. It had been a lie; all of it had been a lie. Everything that I was, everything that I had done had been erased in a single moment of realisation. The signs were all there but I had neglected to acknowledge them in the hope of avoiding trouble. My life had just unravelled before my eyes and now, now, I just needed to get away.
Pausing in my tracks, I froze, the face of the boy I loved igniting warmth in my mind. Was that a lie too? When Evan said that he loved me, did he mean it or was it just a ploy to trick me into feeling safe in the military? I highly doubted that the spark inside of me was fake of fabricated but I knew better than to underestimate my enemies. But I had to know. Did Becca and Evan know or were they simply marionettes, tangled in strings, just like me? Before I jumped to conclusions, I had to at least try to think rationally and find out the truth. Maybe if they didn’t know then we could all flee together. I wondered how that conversation would go.
‘Hey guys! Our lives, up to this point, have been lies and the council have released a mutated version of a virus I created which will kill the rebellion. Also, I may have attacked the general and am now running for my life. Care to join me?’
Playing the words in my mind, I knew how absurd it sounded but I still had to at least try; for their sake if not my own. Moments before the alarms began to blare, I changed my trajectory and began my journey through the military to truth and freedom. I was prepared for the inevitable hurt in their eyes as I explained what was going on. Either they had failed or I had. With or without them, I was leaving but I had to make sure that they understood what was really going on and that it wasn’t my fault. I was risking my life for them, I only hoped that they would do the same.
Gazing longingly at the lift, I decided that being cornered in a metal can was not the best idea. My second option was the stairs. Shoving the doors wide open, I could hear footsteps a few flights below. With no time to lose, I began my ascent back to the surface and to my freedom. Thirty seconds later and four flights of stairs, I reached the top and slipped through the door as quietly as I could manage.
I stalked down the corridor, aiming for the exit and my freedom. Clinging to the walls and hiding in the shadows, I forced myself to control the rage which was pulsing through my body. I wanted to scream and I wanted to lash out at everyone around me but mostly, I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. My mistakes... no, my choices began this and because of me, people were going to die.
Finally, I reached the dorm. I had no doubt that they were both in there but for a moment I hesitated; if they knew, it would break me but that was a risk I had no option but to take. Stealing a final deep breath and letting the alarms wash over me, opened the door and walked in.
Sat before me, my two best friends had clear worry plastered across their faces. I couldn’t come to a judgement from their expressions but there was an underlying suspense in the air. My heart was racing in my chest but yet I was helpless to stop it. I didn’t know in which direction the conversation would turn and so I stood in silence for an eternal few moments.
“So,” I began, biting back the fear from my words, “How much do you already know?”
After a brief period of silence, Evan answered with emotionless, empty words as Becca looked down at the floor and refused to meet my gaze. His forehead creased as something between betrayal and sadness dominated his features. As soon as I saw the change in their body language, I knew. And so did they.
I never understood how much a single word could crush me and destroy me so instantly. Everything that I had believed was my reality was gone within an instant. For so long, I never really had anything to lose but when I finally found my place, it was taken from beneath me. I didn’t try to stop the tears from trickling down my cheeks; I didn’t need to hide or conceal myself anymore because now their act was transparent. From the start they knew everything but yet neglected to tell me and pretended to be my friends. Somewhere along the way I had dropped into a routine and a rhythm for my new life, heavily relying on my friends. I had admired Becca but Evan was the one who I had fallen for and had come to love and trust above all others. Yet his was the hand that betrayed me. I kissed him, I loved him and in return, he shattered me.
“So where do we go from here?” I asked, letting my voice break and my eyes meet Evan’s harsh stare. After everything that we had been through, how could I have never noticed the dwindling rage behind his glare? I told him that I loved him and yet now I could see no traces of joy within the eyes of the boy who had saved my life all of those years ago.
“We have to take you in.”
My throat felt dry and empty but yet none of us moved. The two people that I trusted were turning on me after everything that we had done together and that we had achieved in our friendship; they were backing me into a corner which I couldn’t escape from. I stood, gutted and broken as my heart lay in shreds.
“Was it all a lie!? Did you ever care?!” I shouted, my voice falling into a whisper as my sentence progressed. I was shattering, splintering and breaking into a thousand pieces.
“Helena, please. You know that this isn’t our decision. We were just following orders. We have no choice but to-” Becca began before Evan hastily cut her off.
“I’m sorry that we had to trick you but yes: it wasn’t real. Did you really think than anyone could love someone as broken as you? Did you really think that I loved you?”
Blood froze in my veins as breath hitched in my throat. Not even in my nightmares had those words escaped from his lips and yet here he was, throwing everything that I had loved into the flames. He was killing me from the inside out and was destroying the last shreds of my past life. He was my only link to the night of my parents death, no, my parents murder and yet here he was threatening me into submission. A ball of burning white-hot rage ignited inside of my heart as I clenched my fists, finally reaching my breaking point. I refused to take anymore. I could hardly breathe as I took a large step backwards towards the door. Before I even knew what was going on, Evan had sprung to his feet and was currently aiming a sleek metal gun at my head.
“Evan, please don’t do this…” I whispered, looking straight down the barrel of a gun I created. Only the sound of my own breath filled my ears as the reality of my situation refused to sink in. Evan, my love, my closest friend was holding a gun to my head. He was threatening to kill me if I didn’t comply with his wishes and follow the commands that he had been instructed to carry out.
“You know that I have to turn you in; I can’t disobey my father. Your dangerous Helena, you’re like a fire; everyone who gets close to you gets burned. You’re tangled in ashes and string. Please, don’t make us hurt you; let the war end and join us in building a new world.”
My only response was to shake my head. Not them too. Those words were not Evan’s, they were the general’s and just like everyone else, he had been brainwashed into believing the lies that were constantly spoken. I was like fire, I knew that but instead of being the one in power, I was used and then extinguished after my purpose had been served. The lights were going out but yet I had to keep the candle burning just for a little longer. Dipping my head in a gesture of defeat, I raised my hands in the air and let the tears freely fall. Sighing in relief, Evan placed the gun down and took a step towards me, ready to take me away and lock me up in the darkness. Not a chance.
“I’m sorry for this.” I muttered before slamming my knee in Evans stomach. Before he had time to react, I had already left the room and was running to my freedom and safety. I heard the shouting and footsteps behind me but I refused to turn around in fear of what I would see. I wanted to remember Evan as the boy that I loved, not the tainted soldier who was chasing me. I loved him and even after everything, I didn’t want to let him go. He saved me in so many ways and destroyed me in so many others. Love was a task and a promise that he had violated but still the image of his eyes on the night that we had kissed would stay with me forever.
‘Get out’ my head demanded but my heart wanted to stay in the memories of what used to be. What we used to be. Finally dating round a corner, out of his vision, I threw myself into a room and closed the door behind me. Slowly twisting the lock, I leaned against the door and held my breath until the footsteps had passed and were no longer audible. I sighed and wiped away my fallen tears as I glanced up at the room around me. For the first time all day, I let a smile creep across my face as I stood and began to work.
Supply room. Perfect.
Grabbing a rucksack from one of the numerous shelves, I rammed in as many food sachets as could as well as a sleeping bag and a heating kit. If I was going out into the world, I needed to be ready and prepared or else it would all be in vain. I had to stop it; I had to stop the damage that was being inflicted but now all I had to do was escape from the clutches of my puppeteers. Sealing the bag and slinging it over my shoulder, I took a final deep breath before charging through the door and towards the exit.
No hesitation. No remorse. No second chances. No regret.
I simply ran. One foot in front of the other, I forced my legs to carry me out of the void and into the light which lay just ahead. Finally reaching a door which would lead me out of hell, I used all of my weight to force it to open.
Snow. Innocent, beautiful snow lay before me. As the cold wind blew over me, for the first time in months I felt truly free. Feeling a chill in the sky, my breath mystified the air around me as I paused and soaked up the freedom that lay just ahead of me. Winter was harsh and misunderstood, just like me. I had to join it, I had to become a part of it in order to survive, and so I did.
Beginning to run again, I didn’t stop until the complex was nothing but a dot in the corner of my vision. Looking back for what I promised myself would be the last time, I felt as if ii had been torn in two. My virus was out there killing all who did not submit to the military’s tyranny and I no equipment or plan to stop it. I was outnumbered and outgunned but yet even if it took the rest of my life, I would someway, somehow find a way of repentance for my sins. Only time would guide me and tell me what had to be done and so until the time was right, I had to hide and think.
Beginning a journey of revenge and redemption, I stopped the tears which threatened to drown me. I had to be strong and I had to think my way out of an impossible situation. I would not quit, I would not stop until I payed my debts to those who lives I ruined.
I had to be strong, I had to be strong for myself.
“I’m coming back,” I whispered to no-one in particular, “and when I do, you had better be ready.”
Because this was no longer a game and I was no longer a soldier.
I was simply a flame. Burning until the end.