The Science Of Soulmates

Eva lives in a world defined by time, a world where there is only one countdown - the time until she meets her soulmate. Everybody has one, a small, thin strip on their wrists, designed to calculate the exact time it will take for them to find the person they are destined to be with. It is a system that has worked for hundreds of years, but times are slowly changing, and with the recent arrival of a very prominent threat, discovering the one she is destined to be with could ruin Eva's chances at a normal life forever.

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1. Grounded By The Elements

Chapter One

Grounded By The Elements

 

She steadied her breath. In. Out. In. Out. Whilst taking in her surroundings, she made a mental note never to agree to something so ridiculous ever again. Her clammy hand absent-mindedly brushed over the smooth plastic permenantly binded onto her wrist again and again. It was almost like a ritual for her. She enjoyed the way the clock vibrated against her fingers slightly every second, calming her nerves. She glanced down at it. Twenty days, nineteen hours, twenty minutes, fifty seconds. Forty nine. Forty eight. Her nail beds were bitten raw. She thought about her mother, unaware that her daughter had betrayed her. Oh my Gods, why did I say yes? Why? she thought frantically.

"Look who decided to come after all! Who would've thought? Eva Cortez, illegally getting a tattoo," a voice called. "What would mummy say?" Eva laughed, turning in the direction of the taunting. "Mummy doesn't get a say in it. It's my body, and I get to decide what I do with it," she answered with a note of finality. Erid shrugged, smiling. "If you say so. You're totally not regretting this secretly." Eva smacked her friend playfully. "Shut up. Now come on, show me the operating room." Sighing, Erid pointed towards the first door on her right. "You know that's not what it's called. You're not getting cut open in there." "I might as well be. It's definitely going to be just as -"

She stopped abruptly as Erid opened the door, grabbed her arm and pulled her over to an aqua loveseat in the corner. The walls were a textured brick painted black. Purple lights danced across the room, reflecting onto Eva's rough olive skin, smothering her in bizarre shapes and patterns. The back wall was entirely mirrored, and as she stared into it, Eva noticed that the peculiar light darkened her chestnut brown eye, rounding her features grotesquely. The small, ugly scar above her eyebrows seemed more noticeable than ever. "It's purple in here," she managed to utter. "I told you it wasn't an operating room," Erid grinned. The odd lighting had the opposite effect on her; she shone more brightly than ever. Every part of her face, from her soft, big lips to her petite nose, radiated beauty. Her dark skin looked luminous and rich with colour, and the shadows cast onto her face enhanced her cheekbones and jawline, maturing her. Suddenly her heart-shaped face and full cheeks were no longer youthful, but striking. She had been to the Tattoo Centre many times before, although it was considered to be an old-fashioned practise. The Centre was one of the only tattoo parlours left in the city, as it was much more common and fashionable to have skin modifications done in a modification clinic, which was what most people decided to do once they came of age. Erid, however, preferred the vintage method. She was infatuated with the parlour's history. Eva understood her obsession. Tattoos were a reminder of their city's past, of a different time when people lived very different lives.

Eva took in her bright surroundings with hunger in her eyes. For her, getting a tattoo was a reminder that she could be free, that she did not have to be confined in a bubble of her own comfort zone. It was a beginning, a small act of bravery she hoped would trigger a chain reaction of more, larger acts of bravery. Another wall featured photographs of the many vibrant designs people could choose to have branded onto their bodies. She glanced at the single chair in the room, positioned to face her, where the needles would pierce her skin, drawing on an image that would never fade. Eva had planned on getting a tattoo for months, but as she continued to stare, she wasn't so sure that she wanted to do it anymore. She bit her bottom lip nervously. "Erid. I can't. I can't do it," she whispered. Erid looked at her with a hard expression. "Are you really going to let a silly little fear get in the way of something wicked cool?" Eva smiled meekly. "You know it's not that easy." Eva thought about the first time she had her fear examination, determining which of her fears was the one the doctors called "fatal." She was young - she did not understand what a fatal fear was, and just how much it would really affect her. She recalled how the nurse came forward with a needle, injecting a smooth green liquid into her veins. "Fatal fears often appear some time after a child's fifth birthday. That's why we have to test you now, and prepare you for this change in your life." A week later Eva found out she was petrified of needles.

Erid looked at her for a while, as if she was trying to figure out what to say. Finally, she replied "I know. But if we don't face our fears, how are we ever going to overcome them? They teach us in school that your fatal fear is always there, that you can't get rid of it or fight it, but I don't believe that. I think all fears can be overcome, even the fatal ones. They're just a heck lot harder to control." Eva stared at her. It was not forbidden to share questionable opinions about the government and their school system, but it certainly wasn't encouraged. Erid shivered, and Eva thought she must have been remembering the last time she had to control her fear. Eva considered how fortunate she was - she only had to be poked with needles occasionally in her life - whereas Erid was faced with her fear, heights, constantly. Their school had a little over fifty different floors, every classroom windowed from floor to ceiling. Her fatal fear was rare. In a city swamped with skyscrapers, there was no place for a society terrified of heights. Erid spent most of her time during recess in the first floor library, sitting in the smallest corner of the room she could find.

"I'm going to do it," Eva said. "And I won't be a coward about it." She wasn't sure whether she was speaking to Erid or herself. Her friend nodded. "You go, girl. Show 'em what you're made of." Just then, a generic, programmed voice spoke, resonating from within the walls themselves. "Eva Cortez, please make yourself comfortable on the chair in front of you. Your artist will be with you shortly." She looked over at Erid, who smiled encouragingly. Stretching out her legs, she tried to focus on the drawing she had chosen. It was risque, four naked women intertwined across her right arm, but they were so much more than just girls without clothes. Each one represented one of the elements - earth, wind, water and fire. They all had little details that could be linked to their corresponmding element, such as the colour of their skin and hair. Eva's favourite was fire, whose hair was a glowing, ember flame. She wanted to feel in control of her life, and whenever her nerves got the better of her, she always focussed on the elements to ground her, to remind her that she was in charge of the decisions she made. She knew a tattoo like that would turn many heads, but tried not to think about it.

She walked over to the chair hurriedly and sat down, hoping the hours would pass quickly. A projected screen materialised around her. This system is advanced, she thought. She had always imagined parlours to be old and dirty, lacking in technology, but everything she had seen so far proved her assumptions to be entirely wrong. The screen presented a questionnaire, asking her the standard health and safety questions. When it came to question twenty three, the one about fatal fears, she held her breath for a moment, before typing in 'Heights.' Erid, who could see everything, frowned, but didn't say anything. The reason for her choice was simple - Eva didn't want to be told she was unfit to undergo a procedure where she would be continously stabbed by her worst nightmare. The choice of heights was because of their close friendship; Erid and Eva always joked that they were more like sisters than friends, and siblings generally had similar, if not the same, fatal fears.

She swiped down to indicate she was finished, and the screen disappeared. The purple beams faded into a harsh white, displaying her tight-fitting clothes. It made her feel strangely vulnerable. "You sure this isn't an operating room?" she joked. Erid stuck her tongue out playfully. "Relax, hon."

The door opened swiftly, and a heavily tattooed man, around the age of twenty, stepped in with his arms crossed casually. Apart from the many stunning colours on his body, he was quite normal. His clothes were very plain, and he had no piercings. Maybe they would distract him while he's working, Eva thought. He looked over at her, and she saw that he had a short beard. "Hey," he called. "Ava, right? Nice eyes." "Eva. More of an 'ey' sound. You're not the first to get it wrong though, it is, after all, unique," she corrected, her voice as smooth as honey. He smirked. "Sounds exotic. It's not often you come across a girl with a pretty name to match her pretty eyes." She raised her eyebrows in return. People often mistook Eva's playful manner for flirting, and she hoped he wouldn't make that assumption.

"I'm Lotus, by the way," he said. So he must be twenty-one then. Erid seemed to have the same thought. "Born in the flower year?" she asked bluntly. Eva rolled her eyes at her friend, who was known for speaking her mind whether or not the situation was appropriate. It was unnerving at times - she had no restraints. "Yeah," he replied. "I still don't get why they pick a theme for baby names every year. Like, can't people just choose names they like? Then at least I wouldn't be stuck with something like Lotus."

"Our mothers had to choose something starting with 'E'," Eva explained, and immediately regretted it. She had just revealed that she was underage. "So you're sixteen," Lotus deduced, smirking. "Don't worry, I won't tell." Eva smiled, and reached into her bag, pulling out the image she had prepared. "I've been told you were an amazing artist, so I trust you'll be able to recreate this on my arm." He took the drawing, studying it with his head cocked to one side. "Seems a bit dangerous for a girl like you," he said. "Well," she replied. "Looks can be deceiving."

"Alright, so we're going to do this in pieces. Woman by woman." He prepared the first stencil and positioned it on her arm, pressing down. The earth girl materialised above her elbow. Eva looked at her fondly. She wasn't even aware of the fact that Lotus was choosing ink right next to her; the thought of the finished tattoo mesmerised her. "Eva," Erid warned. "Maybe you should let Lotus know what kind of a girl he's dealing with." Eva looked up. She wished she hadn't. The needle in Lotus's hand was worse than anything she had previously imagined. She couldn't breathe, her head was spinning. Oh my gods, she thought. "Stop," she said. "Stop, I can't do this."

"What do you mean?" Lotus frowned. "It's ok, the pain isn't that bad." "No, it's just ... I'm just," she faltered. She couldn't say it. "Her fatal fear ... It's needles," Erid finished. "What? But you put down heights," Lotus frowned. "I lied, I didn't want to be kicked out and told I can't do it." She lowered her gaze.

"Oh my gods, Eva, you can't just do that. Do you know how dangerous it is to mess with a fatal fear?" Eva stared at her knees. She was ashamed and scared, but she wouldn't admit it. "It's fine, I can get over it. I'll just look the other way. Do it." She remembered getting tracker injections the previous year, and how nauseated she felt after one pinch. She was hesitating. "Are you sure?" Lotus was hesitating. She sighed under her breath, and looked up at him with certainty.

"Do it."

Five hours later, Eva left, her arm covered in plastic. Lotus had helped as much as he could, explaining exactly what he was going to do in simple steps. Sadly, this strategy wasn't very effective. Erid promised to walk her home and make her a cup of tea, even though Eva could tell she wasn't especially keen on doing so. But she offered, and it was something Eva couldn't afford to refuse. Her whole body was sweating and she could hardly feel her legs, but she ignored the sensation and kept walking until they crossed over into the next street, by which time she felt the buildings around her begin to spin. She stopped for a second to take a deep breath. Then, she collapsed.

"She's going to be fine," a soothing voice stated. "Not when I'm through with her, she won't!" Eva groaned. Not mother. Anyone but mother. She opened her eyes and found that the room was not spinning, which was reassuring. The space was unfamiliar to her, consisting mostly of beds connected to machines. "Good morning, Eva Cortez. My name is Lei, and I will be your electronic nurse today. You have been admitted to Sendatu, the primary healing institution in Edina. I have detected that you are suffering from nausea, a slight migrane and ... A small graze on your lower back," a woman's voice called. She looked over to her right, where Lei was smiling at her from a screen. She had only ever been in a private room before, which was a lot more secluded and peaceful, compared to the open ward, where everything seemed to be buzzing. The equipment made noises, visitors talked to patients and nurses walked back and forth between beds.

"Look who's finally awake!" the second woman hissed. "Hello, mother," Eva sighed. "Don't you sigh at me, Evangeline Cortez! Look what kind of a situation you've gotten yourself into! To think you didn't even ask me for permission!" Eva's mother looked as though she was about to explode like an animated villain, blasting fire in every direction. Her once pretty facial features were arranged into a grotesque, artificial scowl, and she was shaking almost as badly as Eva had been during her tattoo session. Her pale orange skin only added to her cartoon visage. Daring to glance down at her arm , Eva smirked. She knew her mother couldn't do anything about the drawings sunk deep into her arm, and it satisfied her. "I didn't ask for your permission because I knew you wouldn't give it to me. Besides, it's not that different to what you did to your body. It's just nicer," she explained. Her mother's eyes glowed with fire. "That's it. You are not allowed to leave the house without me again." "I don't even live with you."

"I don't care! I will bring you back home and force you to stay with me. You have no right to disobey me!" She was shouting, but Eva could tell her rage was already subsiding. And even though she was still unpleasant when she was not furious, at least she wasn't as irritating. A few nurses glanced over nervously. "You can't keep trying to control me, mother! You've never given me any freedom! You've always treated me like I was your property," she retorted. "I've had enough. I'm sixteen - I don't have to be bound to you anymore. I am my own person now." If this comment hurt Eva's mother, she didn't show it. Eva turned away. "I'd appreciate it if you left now." And when she looked back, her mother was gone.

The ward went quiet, and Eva found herself wishing the noise would return. It wasn't pleasant for her to have so many eyes on her, judging her. After a few minutes of deadly silence, a nurse walked over quickly. She was young, fresh out of training. Eva was sure she had just witnessed the entire scene, but found she wasn't bothered. "Miss Eva Cortez? I'm here to let you know that you've been discharged. You're free to gather your stuff and leave whenever you're ready," she informed her with a hint of guilt in her tone. Don't feel bad, it wasn't your fault you had to witness that, Eva thought. "Goodbye, Eva Cortez," Lei called. "Please rate your service at the visitor desk before you leave. Thank you!" The young nurse took a shaky breath and added "If, however, you would be willing to stay longer, your mother requested that we remove the tattoo for you, which we would be able to-" Eva swung her legs over the bed, grabbed her bag and walked away.

"You look awful," Erid observed as Eva barged into the waiting room, slamming the door behind her and making a few visitors jump. "Thanks," Eva replied coldly. She studied their surroundings, and raised her eyebrows at her friend. Everywhere she looked, the tall windows were the most eye-catching aspect of the walls. "I try not to look over there," Erid pointed. "Or there. Or everywhere, really." She managed a meek smile. Eva felt a rush of pity for her, and thought, she must really like me if she sat here for so long just to make sure I was okay. It wasn't every day you met a friend like that. Not that Eva had many - she despised most people at her school. She knew many nice girls, but they weren't anything beyond that; if word got out that someone was being harrassed, or threatened or terrorized, they would rather sit and watch than do anything about it, fearing for their own reputation.

"So," Erid stood up from her chair. "I'd love to stick around and chat about why you almost made half the hospital jump out of their skins, but I feel like I might be sick, and I'd rather not do it all over this pretty carpet." Eva gasped. "Oh gods, come on then, there's a toilet round the corner. No windows!" They both giggled, though Erid was a little less enthusiastic than usual. She gagged, put her hands to her mouth and started running in the direction of the toilets, her long, forest green hair bouncing behind her. "That's the men's room!" Eva bellowed. A few elderly couples turned to frown in her direction, muttering about disrespectful behaviour, but she ignored them. Her smile was the widest it had been in weeks, and although it may have been a little crazy, she felt good.

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