Hi, I’m Lilli. And before I get into this, let me explain just how messed up my life is.
From what I remember, I was taken by this government program, along with 14 other friends. Now nine of them are dead.
Five died in the Fear Trials- a simulation test (or so we thought) testing our resistance to fear- or at least we thought they did. One survived, and gave Shal the insight on how to escape. We don’t know what happened to her. She’s probably dead now too.
I pride myself in having masterminded our eventual escape. That might sound like bragging, but I handled most of it. I hacked the security systems using a core cube that Kira stole, managed to get the pin number for the doors, and eventually I’d like to think that I led us to freedom.
The truth is, things went a lot worse than they should have. Nine of us ran. Six of us made it. Three of us- Ala, Star, and Jess- were lost forever. Or at least, Jess and Star were. Ala might have made it. She escaped with the group into the woods. But from what I’ve heard and seen, she’s not going to make it.
The last thing I remember from the escape was the spotlights hitting us. Everything after that had been a colored blur. I’d punched in a code on the core cube- the wrong code, activating the self-destruct somehow. I’d thrown it. There’d been an explosion. A rain of shrapnel.
My friends had run. I’d been about to follow. But there was fire raining around me, and that wasn’t right. The entire scene hadn’t been right. The colors were too bright, the sounds too loud, the feelings too sharp and painful. So maybe it had all been a hallucination.
Hope surged through me. A hallucination? Yes, that had to be it. It had to be. Maybe I was safe in the woods with my friends. Maybe everything I’d thought had happened- the guards, the needle, the darkness, and of course, the voices… maybe none of that was real.
I was lying on something. That increased my hope. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t about to die, or be tortured, or whatever they’d taken me back for. If they had.
I tried to move, and instantly pain shot through my body. I groaned.
A voice answered the sound.
Instantly, all hope of this being a hallucination vanished. That dark, rich voice… that was 16. Which meant that everything I’d experienced… it was all real.
I wanted to cry for my lost friends, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It didn’t seem to have any point. Tears wouldn’t bring them back. And I got the feeling that all the grief I’d had was already done, and I’d already gotten over it- as much as you can when three of your friends are dead- never to be seen again.
Suddenly, there was bright light that flooded my closed eyelids. I winced, trying to pull away from it, but yet again I couldn’t move.
“Open your eyes.”
The order was harsh, and obviously expected to be obeyed. I groaned again.
“Take away the light.”
The light moved away from my eyes. “Good. At least she’s responsive. Now open your eyes.”
I complied this time, to find a scene that was upside-down. Three faces hovered over me. A man, who was glaring at me, a woman, whose face was set in a complete mask, and a dark skinned, dark haired girl who I recognized instantly as 16. The look on her face was a mix of scorn and hatred. Of course. I’d heard the anger if her voice when I’d been captured. What was making her so furious?
“Lilliana,” the woman’s voice remarked. Was that really my full name? “I imagine you’re wondering what’s going on right now. You’re most likely confused, or afraid. Rest assured that we mean you no harm.”
“Then why…” I forced the words out. “My friends. You killed them.”
With the words came a tide of grief. I nearly curled in on myself and started sobbing right then and there. The words seemed to release the tension inside of me- my friends were dead. Kira, small, quiet, and gentle. Jess, Sim’s goofy best friend, who never could take anything seriously. Star, who never cried, ever. And Ala. Ala, who was like our mother and big sister- Ala, who had kept us alive and sane, comforting us when we were scared, and helping us as best she could. She was gone too.
In a few moments, I managed to get past the grief. A few tears had leaked from my eyes, but the feelings had faded some.
“Ah yes, that,” the woman sighed. “0016 unfortunately got a little… out of control. The deaths were never intentional.”
“Especially Ala,” the man muttered. “I told you she would have been better suited for the task…”
“No, Lilliana will be perfect for this task,” the woman said firmly. She turned back to me. “But yes, these killings were due to her own… issues. 0016 has suffered from occasional delusions, and bouts of recklessness, and can occasionally be a bit out of control.”
16’s eyes darkened with each word, but she stood still, stiffly taking the words in.
The woman sighed. “I will leave 16 to fill you in. If you have any questions, be sure to ask her.”
“She’ll kill me,” I said quietly. I’m not sure why I thought that- maybe it was 16’s obvious hatred towards me, or maybe it was that she was prone to recklessness. From what I’d seen and heard though, 16 was not pleased that I was here.
“Nonsense,” the woman replied. “16 will obey our orders, and she has been instructed not to harm you.”
She turned, followed by the man, and I heard a door close as they walked out of my sight.
16 sighed, walking over to something by the wall. There was a beep, then I felt restraints unclasp from my wrists and ankles. I sat up quickly, but was rapidly attacked by a wave of dizziness. I groaned, holding my head in my hands, waiting for it to pass.
After a couple minutes, my head stopped spinning, and my vision returned to normal. I looked up, to find 16’s ice-cold eyes watching me.
“So.” I spread my arms wide. “Fill me in.”
I was sitting on some sort of table that had obviously been designed to restrain whoever was sitting on it. All around me were machines. Some showed old video footage. Some were security cameras of the trial rooms. Some showed newsfeeds. I wondered where this room was, and why we’d never seen it before.
16 sighed. “You took everything away from me, you know that?”
I raised my eyebrows, completely confused. “How did I take anything away from you? What have I got that you don’t?”
She shook her head, the overhead lights reflecting strangely off of her eyes, giving them a fractured look. I wondered if she wore contacts. Why else would her eyes be that color?
“They needed someone to serve their purpose,” she said quietly. “When you escaped, I had hoped that it would be me. But no, they insisted on that girl Ala. And now, they insist on you.”
“Is that why you shot her?” I asked quietly.
16 cocked her head. “Truly, you are the smart one,” she said scornfully. “Of course that was why I shot her! If all of you had gotten away and she still lived, they would pursue her. That girl you call Ala was everything they hoped for. And then, once she was dead, did they choose me? No! They insisted on you instead. As if smarts are what you need to solve the problem! What they need is someone who can fight. Someone with my skills, not skills like yours.”
“And this ‘task’?” I asked. “What might that be?”
16 glared at me, every line of her face outlined by pure fury. “Let me start from the beginning then.”
She walked over to one of the screens- one of the few currently off, and flicked a few buttons. The screen shone, turning on with a hum.
16 calmly ran her fingers over the buttons, switching stations rapidly. Finally, she found what she was looking for, and stepped away so that I could view the screen.
I caught my breath. The footage showed massive destruction. A huge monster was rampaging the city.
It looked a bit like a giant ant, with long metal claws like a praying mantis. At first I thought it only had two, but then a second set of arms unfurled. It’s eyes were fractured and demented, and its legs were tipped with horrible sharp claws. A chain tail with a razor-sharp barb swung behind it as it waded through the city- nearly as tall as a small skyscraper. People scattered before it, as it laid waste to the city.
“What is that?” I whispered.
“Rather, who is that,” 16 replied quietly. “This monster was the government’s attempt at making the perfect weapon. They took in a boy named Maxwell, and began to run tests. Before the Fear Trials even existed, he was the very first project. They turned him into a great weapon, unstoppable, intelligent, powerful. But things got out of hand. He turned on them, broke out, and has been terrorizing the country since then.”
I stared in horror at the screen, watching the people scatter before the massive insect. “Why haven’t they sent anybody to stop him? A military, or something.”
“No one can get close,” 16 replied, seeming pleased by my shock. “The government really outdid themselves. That thing produces a chemical that causes the sensation of fear in human’s minds. Anyone who tries to get close ends up paralyzed by fear. They’re hopeless against the monster’s claws- and it tears them apart. Watch.” She tapped the screen and it zoomed in.
Sure enough, around the monster’s feet I saw people who had tried to fight it- some holding shotguns, some with even weaker weapons. They were paralyzed, eyes wide with horror. And then the insect’s chainsaw-like arm swung downwards, carving a horrible bloody arc-
“Stop!” I yelled suddenly. “I get it, don’t make me watch this!”
16 smiled, switching the screen off. “So now you want to help them, don’t you?”
“Of course I do!” I snapped, trying not to show how rattled I was. “They’re being slaughtered!”
“Then you know your purpose,” she replied. “The Fear Trials were training to prepare you for resisting the fear that this thing generates. The air of the Fear Trials was laced with this chemical- and you and your friends have developed a tolerance. Ala was our first choice- she responded the best- but they have decided you are the next best things- a combination of brains and fearlessness. You will stop this monster. Congratulations- you will be the one who saves the entire human race.”
For a moment, I was sure she was kidding. I blinked, eyes wide. “You’re serious? You expect me to kill that thing?”
16 nodded, her expression turning incredibly self-satisfied. “You see now? You don’t stand a chance. You’ll be dead by the end of this year.”
I stayed silent, as 16 began to laugh. It was a dark rich sound, just like her voice. She was eager for me to die. How could she be so happy? What was wrong with her?!
I stood, which made her shut up pretty quickly.
“Listen,” I snapped. “I don’t know if I believe you or not- but I’m not going to die. And what is wrong with you? You’re laughing when people out there are dying. You might think your fighting skills are super impressive, but if you had any real brains you’d understand that is what’s more important. You’d better hope we never go head-to-head, because while your head is filled with metal, I have the brains.”
16 raised her eyebrows. “You’ve got attitude and spunk. I’ll give you that. And you think you’re so smart. But you’ve never been close to that thing. You’ve never felt the fear that thin generates- the horrible, paralyzing fear, that turns you inside-out, and makes you want to run away, and no matter how brave you are, you suddenly only care about survival, and about getting away from that thing, but you can’t.”
“And neither have you.”
“Have I?” she raised her eyebrows.
I cocked my head slightly, studying her. “Have you.”
“It was a test,” 16 replied. “They set me against that monster. It came close to cutting me in half. And I felt the fear- felt the fear that you’ll soon be experiencing. You’re just another sacrifice. All of us are.”
She shook her head, and walked towards the door. She opened it, and glanced back at me. “I wouldn’t blame you if you killed yourself now. That would save you from the fear, at least.” She closed the door, and was gone, leaving me alone.