The Truth Behind the Flames. - *Movella of the Year 2016*

Before you judge me and tell me that it was all worth it in the end, ask yourself one question, one question only before you read on: what was it all for?

They say that we are judged by the choices we make. They are what define us and on June the 25th, 2414, I chose wrong.

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5. Into the Future.

The building was magnificent – that was the first thought that came into mind as we emerged from beneath the canopy of trees. The structure was tall and had a rounded roof but it was the sheer size of the building that forced me to stop and stare.

“How many people live here?” I found myself asking as we stood – frozen in the shadow of the complex. The rust and damage told a story that spanned over decades of both peace and war; this building had survived the light and the darkness of humanity.

“About a thousand. This place was already here when the war started and we claimed it.”

“So, what happens now?” The words tasted bitter on my tongue as my gaze shifted to the light that was beginning its ascent above the horizon. It was a new day and a new dawn. It was a new beginning but I refused to let the past be forgotten. My family was my life and now they were gone but I would carry their names and their memory with me for as long as I lived.

“They’ll take you in. They’ll do some tests and then they’ll decide.”

I turned to face him.

“Decide what?”

“What to do with you.” His words were firm but yet his gaze was fixed on the building before us.

“What are their choices?” The sinking feeling inside of my chest only seemed to increase as the ball of light rose higher and higher into the sky.

“They’ll give you a job or will lock you up.” He let that threat linger in the air before turning to face me beneath the amber glow. Evan tugged his rucksack back onto his shoulder before smiling at me and pulling me towards the front entrance of the compound.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about. I’ll explain everything to my father and he’ll sort everything out for you.”

Each step took us closer to the gates surrounding the building.

“Your father?”

“General Daniels. He practically runs this place.” I could hear the amusement in his voice but chose to ignore it as a soldier drew into our sight. Taking a deep breath, I composed myself before Evan stopped in front of me and nodded at the guard.

“Sir.”

“Evan. You brought company?” The man gestured at me although didn’t break eye contact with Evan. I wondered how I must have looked in his gaze – broken, covered in ash and with blood smeared across my clothes. The weight in my chest seemed to greaten as my eyes trailed down to the floor, bathed in a vibrant orange light. The conversation before me seemed to fade into the background as ringing filled my ears fire filled my gaze.

I wasn’t alright and I doubted that I ever would be.

But I had to hold on and I had to pull myself together. Later, I could be broken but now, I had to remain strong and fight for my future.

“Helena?”

I looked up to see the gate open before me and the two men staring at me. Shaking away my daze, I forced a smile onto my lips before following Evan through the metal doors without sparing a glace behind me. There was no time to be weak – we were at war.

As we moved towards the building, Evan slowed down his pace until we were side by side. Leaning over to me, he whispered a warning into my ear before pulling away and reaching out to open the door.

“Do exactly what they say and you’ll be fine.”

The metal panels which boarded up the doors seemed to be the newest addition to the building but yet already seemed dented and had begun to lose their shine.

Evan pulled open the door and held it open for me to step through. Grey walls and tiled floors greeted me as the hum of machinery thrummed through the foundations of the base. The murmur of voices mingles with the rhythm of footsteps to create an orchestra of noise and an atmosphere of warmth.

“Miss.”         

I turned to face the soldier.

“You need to come with me.” It wasn’t a suggestion but a command. Looking at Evan for reassurance, he nodded and gestured for me to follow the man into the depths of the base.

“I have to go and find my father. I’ll come and check on you in a few hours.”

With that, Evan turned and walked away, leaving me alone with the soldier. I tried not to feel abandoned but failed.

“Come on, miss.” The soldier prompted before beginning the walk to our first destination.

The corridors never seemed to end. They wound around corners and bends with no end in sight – each looking identical to the last but the soldier seemed to know the difference. He was tall, dressed in a military uniform and carried himself with a sense of pride. The soldier was polite but no excessively so –he seemed to realise that I didn’t want to talk and so didn’t push me.

He simply led and I followed.

My breaths rattled through my lungs as the walls gradually transitioned from murky grey to a clinical shade of white. The lights seemed to darken as we turned around a corner and drew up to a set of doors.

“This way, miss.”

As the soldier typed a code into the electronic panel, I clenched my fists and fought against the shaking of my body.  One moment, I was cold and the next – I was back in the blazing heat of the fire.

Yes, I was probably in shock but there was nothing that I could do to recover. I needed time and I needed distraction, but more importantly, I had to find a way to survive and I had to find a purpose.

I could mourn later.

The locks clicked open as the soldier took a step back and gestured for me to walk through the doors. From the look on his face, I could tell that he had no intention to follow me through.

The next thing I knew, the door closed behind me and I was alone beneath the blazing spotlight. Taking a look around the room, I recognised the set up almost immediately. The walls were coated in a dark layer of paint and there was a table with a chair placed at either side. 

The room was designed to be intimidating and it was doing a good job.

I could feel the shivers racing up and down my spine as I took a deep breath before turning to face the camera that hung from the wall. I said nothing but yet stared down the lens with question in my eyes. After a few moments, I moved over to one of the chairs and placed myself down onto the dark fabric. I gazed at the door and simply waited beneath the blanket of silence which reigned supreme.

As the seconds slipped by, I found myself beginning to fidget as the light continued to beat down above me. I was defenceless, alone and with my hopes fading away into the darkness with surrounded me.

In that moment, I wished that I had stayed in the flames.

My life would have been so much easier if I had just stayed.

“Miss Coleman.”

I looked up to see a man enter the room with a briefcase held tightly in his grasp. I moved to stand but the man shook his head and gestured for me to stay seated. My heart began to thud as he placed the case on the table and began to assemble his instruments.  He couldn’t have been much older than thirty but his eyes were tired and his face was scarred beneath the weight of fighting.

He was just another victim.

“My name is Lieutenant Parker. I’m going to ask you some questions.” His voice was firm as he met my gaze. The machine blinked to life beneath his fingertips as he moved over to loop the sensors around my finger before plugging them into the machine.

“What’s this for?”

“Detecting liars.”

“Wonderful.”

His eyes narrowed at my response but I couldn’t bring myself to care as finally, I had the upper ground.  I needed something – anything – to cling onto. I needed some level of control before my helplessness consumed me and I was lost to the realm of darkness.

The soldier pressed a button and within a few seconds, the machine lit the room with its burning green gaze.  I blinked a few times in order to allow my eyes adjust to the light before taking a breath in preparation for my interrogation; I didn’t trick myself into thinking that this was anything more.

“Tell me a lie.”

“What?”

“I need to calibrate the machine. Tell me a lie.”

I took a moment to consider before meeting his eyes and letting a wistful smile tug at the corners of my lips. I said the first thing that sprang to mind and the one thing that I wanted to be true more than anything else.

“The war is over.”

The light turned deep red.

The soldier dipped his head in silent acknowledgement before continuing with the session. As the light transitioned back to the glowing green, I found myself wondering if I was making a mistake. It was too late to change my mind; now I just had to move on with what remained of my life.

“Name?”

“Helena Coleman.” I kept my voice firm.

“Age?”

“Fourteen.”

He seemed to hesitate for a moment before pulling himself together and continuing with his list of questions. So far, the light had remained green but as Evan said, I had to tell the truth or else it would all be over for me. Imprisonment would be the least of my worries – being locked away with the darkness of my thoughts would be far worse.

“Birthday?"

“Twenty-first of August, 2399.”

The soldier nodded at me before continuing with his next line of questioning. Taking a deep breath, I tried to calm myself down but with little success  as my heart continued to race on beneath the stress of pretending that I was alright.

Because I wasn’t.

For now, I had to keep myself together and then later, I would happily fall apart when no-one was watching.  Sparing a glance at the camera, I knew that I had an audience, watching and waiting for me to answer.

“What side are you on?”

“The right side.” I let the memory race through my mind. “This side.”

“Why are you here?”

“My parents are dead. My home is nothing more than ashes.  Evan Daniels saved my life and then brought me here. Tell me, what else do I have left? Where else do I go?”

 I sat forwards, my eyes fixed on the soldier as I rested my elbows on the wooden table. The light remained vibrant green as the onslaught of question continued.

“What are your intentions?”

“I don’t want to fight. I refuse to be a soldier.”

“Then what?”

“Build. I’m an engineer.”

“What do you build?”

“Whatever I’m asked.”

“Weapons?”

“No.” If father was no longer around to fight for his morals, then I would and I would do it in his memory.  I would be the person that he always wanted me to be – I could cling onto the past in order to ground myself to the future.

“Why not?”

“Because enough damage has already been done.”

The light flickered between red and green.

“And because… Because my father wouldn’t have wanted me to. And now he’s gone.”

The light stabilised on green as silence consumed the room once more. I only noticed the tears running down my cheeks when my vision began to cloud over with moisture. They were gone; they were really gone and yet I was still left to fight.

As I placed my hand down on the table, I hissed in pain as the wood came in contact with the burn on the palm of my hand.

 “Are you injured?”

“Yes.” There was no point in lying – I was still connected to the machine and he would know that I was lying. In truth, it felt like my body was on fire and my emotions were simply numb. I felt like I wanted to scream until my voice faded away and my heart shattered into a thousand tiny pieces – never to fit together again.

The soldier seemed to notice my distress. Without a word, he turned to the camera and nodded at his superiors before beginning to disassemble his machine. A sigh of relief escaped from my lips as he pulled the sensor off my finger and switched off the burning light. For the first time since I had entered the room, I found myself breathing freely.

“I’ll send someone to escort you to your new room.”

“Thank you.”

“You’ll start work when the doctors deem you well enough.”

And then he left.

Letting out a shuddering breath, I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes. I was weary of the eyes watching me, but I couldn’t bring myself to care as I bit my lip in order to hold back the flow of tears.

For now, I had to hold on.

For now, I had to recover.

And for now, I had to survive.

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