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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7. Of Nightmares and Reality.

Fire. 

The flames were circling around me – looming closer as each second ticked past. My mind was blank but I knew that I had to get out before I was consumed. The knives of heat gnawed at my skin as I struggled against the forces that held me down without success.

My breaths became shallow and rushed as all oxygen was ripped from the air around me – burning beneath the wrath of the fire. I could hear the melody of crackling mixed with the rhythm of my heart which raced off into the night. I was pinned down to the ground as the flames taunted me – closing in around my shaking form.

I needed to run.

In my mind, the flames were chasing me.

In my mind, I was burning.                                                              

***

I shot upright – the sweat running down my forehead as I fought to take a breath. There was a hand on my shoulder but I chose to ignore it, instead focusing on slowing down the pulsing of my heart.

There was noise around me – shouting and calling out for help but I blocked it out with my eyes squeezed shut and my body refusing to recover. I could feel my nails digging into my leg but none of that seemed to matter as the ringing began to quieten and the fog which surrounded my mind began to clear.

“What-”

“I don’t know.”

The voices seemed so far away. It was as if they were being spoken beneath a blanket of wool as the conversation droned on. I felt myself being moved as my eyes blinked open to see Evan kneeling down next to me.

“Helena?”

“Evan.” My voice was horse but as the shock wore off, I felt sick.

“Are you okay?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know.” The words fell from my lips before I had the chance to control the panic which bled into my voice. Looking down, I could see that my body was shaking but I couldn’t help it.

“It felt so real.” My eyes met Evans. “I was burning. I was back in the flames and- And-”

Choking back a breath, I accepted the water that was given to me and tried to block out the memories. The foreign walls around me did nothing but make me feel homesick. I missed the creamy walls of my home but more than that, I missed my family and, my life.

“It’s okay.”

I looked at Evan and Becca before pulling myself back together with a shuddering breath of cold air. For them, I had to continue; weakness was not an option.

“It will be.”

Taking a proper look at my two companions, I could see that they were both dressed in navy blue pyjamas and looked as if they had been woken abruptly. Both had concern in their eyes as I placed down the cup of water and stood up.

“I’m sorry for waking you.”

“Helena, it’s okay.” I didn’t mistake their acceptance for understanding but I forced myself to smile for their sakes. I could still feel it, scratching at my skin and burning at my flesh but I hid my grimace behind a smile.

Glancing around the room, I listened to the hum of machines before finally shaking off my nightmares.

“What time is it?”

“Around six in the morning. The others will be up soon. Do you want to have breakfast ?”

Still standing, I took a deep breath before nodding. Slipping on my shoes, I tied the laces with shaking fingers before readying myself for the task ahead. I had to look forwards before the past consumed me once and for all.

“After, I’ll show you the labs and you can get to work.”

At least then, I would have a distraction and would have something to focus my mind and my efforts on. I’d have the chance to let my worries fade into the background and give my creativity a chance to run wild.

“I’m ready when you are.”

“Let me get changed. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Evan then left.

“When you’re ready, you can talk to me. I know we’ve just met but, well… You don’t get many friends in wartime. I’m here for you if you ever want to talk.”

“Thank you.” And I meant it.

One day, I would be ready, but not today.

Minutes passed in relative silence as Becca changed into her uniform and I stared at the dull colours of the ceiling. Shades of mottled grey blended in with dashes of black as the paint seemed to curl around – carving motions within the artwork.

“Ready?” I found myself asking.

“Yes.”

Together, we abandoned the room and stepped out into the open air of the corridor where Evan stood, leaning against the wall and waiting for us. He let a soft smile grace his lips before holding out his arm to guide us towards the cafeteria. I hesitated for a long moment, staring at the two of them and considering my options. I had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do – I had to at least try to find my place with the True Military even though I didn’t want to.

I let my feet carry me forward as I trailed behind Becca and Evan with worry racing through the darkness of my mind. The lights seemed too bright around me as I turned around the corner with my head low and my eyes examining the people that filtered past. Catching a glimpse of the outside world, talons of orange had only just begun to snake across the horizon but yet the base was already teaming with life. The concept of silence didn’t seem to exist as the constant thrum of sound refused to dissipate. As we moved closer to the hall, I felt the nerves beginning to creep up inside of me. This was my life now and I had to learn to deal with it rather than hiding in the shadows where my instincts guided me.

 As we drew up to a set of metal doors, I let a deep breath slip from my lungs before I followed Becca and Evan into the noise and into the light.  The room was barely half full but I had never seen so many people in my life. There must have been fifty of them, scattered across the large space – sat at tables in little groups that shared words and trust between them.

Sealed foil packets lined one of the counters as we edged into the room. Evan passed me a packet along with a bottle of water before taking for himself and for Becca. Together, they guided me towards an empty table and gestured for me to sit down opposite them. I swallowed back my nerves before sitting down on the flimsy plastic and letting the murmur of conversation wash over me.  For a few moments I just sat, looking around the food hall and driving away the thoughts of darkness that hounded at my mind.

“Helena?”

My attention snapped back to reality.

“Yes?”

Becca looked at me with concern in her gaze as Evan stared off into the distance.

“Are you not going to eat?”

Oh yeah, eating. I’d forgotten about that.

The gnawing in my stomach was only equalled by the sick feeling rising through my throat as I tore open the packet and examined the contents. A mixture of oats and water greeted me as the nauseating smell rose up to my nostrils. With eyes watching my every move, I ripped the plastic for from the side of the sachet and dipped the spoon into the cold porridge. As I dropped a spoonful into my mouth, the taste left a lot to be desired but I was too hungry to care as I delved in. The past few days had been hell and now I had to move forwards and live for the future before the past consumed me whole. I soon broke into the bottle of water as the moments ticked by in a flurry of noise and colour.

The rations were meagre but they were enough to keep us going and that was all that mattered. We had to continue.

Minutes later, the three of us left the food hall and made our way into the quiet air of the corridor. I felt a hand rest on my arm.  I found myself looking up at Evan with question in my eyes as for a moment, we just stood, beneath the spotlight waiting for the other to speak first. Becca took a moment to catch up before finally breaking the air of silence that threatened to consume us.

“So, what next?”

“Next, we take Helena to the Workshop.”

All I could do in response was nod as Evan’s arm dropped away and he began to walk down the corridor. Becca sent me a reassuring smile as we trailed along behind him through the maze of corridors that made up my new home.

“I don’t think I’ll ever remember the layout of this place.”

Becca smiled.

“It took me a few months to get used to it. You’ll find your way eventually.”

Finally, we turned around a bend and arrived at our destination. Evan typed in a code before the door swung open with a loud beep. He stood, holding open the door with a grin plastered across his lips and his arms held out in a gesture for us to enter.

“Welcome to your new work space.”

I stepped into the darkness.

The lights blinked to life above me as the room suddenly became full of light – bouncing off every surface and forcing my eyes to adjust. The room was small and quickly put together but the equipment was there and that was all that mattered. There were screens, a collection of soldering irons and a variety of other bits of equipment that would aid me in my tasks. The desks were varnished wood and the hum of machinery was audible across the expanse of the chamber.

I turned to face Evan.

“This will do very nicely.”

He smiled in response.

“This is your personal lab. Everywhere else is full. You will be given any equipment needed but bear in mind, we need resources and results.” If it weren’t for the smile on his lips, I would have thought that I was being threatened.

“What do you want me to build?”

“Something useful.”

I rolled my eyes at his response before moving over and placing myself down on the stool – towering over my new workspace. Thoughts and ideas raced through my mind as I took a pen off the counter and began to sketch out the design for my radio. Beneath the tip of my pen, ink began to flow, the image beginning to form – from lines to shapes and from shapes to a machine.

 For a few moments nothing could stop me from pretending that I was back home before the flames and before everything went to hell.

After almost five minutes, I lifted my pen and twisted the paper around to show Becca and Evan who stood – leaning against the wall – watching me work. A grin pulled at my lips as Evan raised an eyebrow and examined my sketch. He traced his finger along the grooves of the paper before looking up at me with glistening blue eyes.

“Is it’s some sort of radio?”

I nodded.

“Yeah. It’s an interceptor. See this dial?” I pointed to an area of the diagram. “You can turn this to change the frequency and the range.”

“But the messages are coded.” Becca added in, lifting up her hands in a gesture of confusion.

“Not all of them.”

“No?”

I took a slow breath – forcing down the memories and battling on with my words.

“Some are in Morse code. Get the right frequency and it’s just dots and dashes. Simple really. We just need to jot it down and then translate it back to English.”

When I looked up at Evan, his eyes were narrowed and his smile had faded away into the realm of nothingness –replaced with a calculated frown.  I swallowed down the fear that shot through me as I met his gaze. I watched as the colour leaked from his cheeks and the emotion leaked from his face.

“Have I said something wrong?”

Silence. Even the machines seemed to pause in a moment of hesitation.

“Ad how would you know all of that?”

I kept my breaths slow in an attempt to keep myself calm. For a moment, I felt as if I was back in the interrogation room with eyes glaring at me and light burning into my retinas. I felt my heart racing as the spotlight blazed down above my head.

“I built one back home. My Dad gave me a book on Morse code. I only had the chance to decrypt one message before… Before the flames took everything.”

I hoped that the honesty in my voice led them to believe me.

Becca nodded – taking a step forwards and placing her hand on my shoulder in silent support – but Evan looked less sure. Her smile seemed to light up the room as she nodded - meeting my gaze and conveying her sympathies through the empty air.

“It’s okay. We get it.”

I dipped my head in silent thanks as Evan cleared his throat, sharing a look with Becca before she moved over to the door. Confusion surrounded me as the threat of being alone hung above my head – the panic stirring inside of me as the darkness inched ever closer.

“We’ll leave you to your work.” Becca’s voice cut through my thoughts. “Evan?”

He took a step towards me, letting a soft smile grace his lips. His gaze seemed to pierce though me as my eyes were drawn to the crystal blue spheres which invaded my vision.

“We’ll get you later.”

And if my heart fluttered when his hand brushed against mine, it was nothing.

We were at war and nothing else mattered.

As I watched my newfound friends retreat into the corridor, I stood and listened to the sound of fading footsteps.  Focusing my attention back on my workshop, I took a deep breath before beginning to work.

We were at war and nothing else mattered.

 

 

 

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