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A Fresh World (Ch 5)
Casey shakes me awake. I am in no mood to be awake, so I pull the covers over my head and roll over so that I am facing away from her.
“Jen, seriously?” She scoffs, and rips the blankets from my body. My bare legs feel the blast of cold air and goosebumps prickle up my legs. I sit up and rub my head.
“Ugh. Are you sure he said nine?” I call.
“Yep.” She replies from the bathroom. I slowly get out of the bed and take my uniform to the bathroom. If I’m this tired without any alcohol, I feel bad for the people who had one too many cups of whiskey last night. Casey hurries past me.
“Can you go any slower?”
That shuts her up. She grabs her boots and slides them on. She must be tired too, because she puts her left shoe on her right foot.
“Other foot, dummy.” I say, mocking her.
“Shut up.” She opens the front door.
“Where are you going? It’s only eight twenty-five.”
“Breakfast is at eight-thirty. Dummy.” She makes a face.
“Crap.” I say slamming the bathroom door so I can get ready. I pull on my shirt backwards and almost forget to zip up my cargo pants. But I don’t forget to put my shoes on the right foot, thankfully. I pull my hair into a ponytail and am out the door in less than five minutes.
I arrive at the mess hall at exactly eight twenty nine. I could have had one more minute of sleep, not that it would have mattered. I’m last in line. Casey walks past me with her food and wiggles her fingers, smiling at my place in line. I make a face at her and she laughs. This morning is biscuits and gravy, Dad’s favorite. That makes me like it seventy percent less. Jamie spots me from his table and smiles at me; I smile back politely. I wonder if he remembers anything I said last night. I almost hope he doesn’t.
The guy in front of me is practically ten feet tall and even if I’m on my tiptoes the top of my head doesn’t reach his shoulders. I step slightly out of line to see in front of him. Thankfully, there are only a few more people left before I can dish up.
Once I’m up there, I decide against the gravy and only take a biscuit with apricot jelly and a can of fruit cocktail. If you aren’t eating the main dish, everything else comes in some kind of packaging. Military-grade rations. I walk a little faster when I see Jamie at his table even though he doesn’t even notice me. He makes me uncomfortable. I sit next to Casey, Emily, and Kellan. A few more people have joined our table. I learn their names as Charlotte, a beefier mousy-blonde that is built more like a man, Brice, a small boy from my Ordinary school with thick glasses like Chase, and Katrina, also from my school. I had always liked Katrina, but I had never expected her to join the Rebels. Katrina’s parents got divorced two years ago. Divorce was extremely rare if you are an Ordinary. Her mother was a drunk after her little sister died wandering through the Exit in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her father took the two remaining kids and moved farther away from her mother. After that, they heard nothing of their mother. Rumor spread that she had been taken into custody for the death of her daughter even though it wasn’t her fault. I like our group of misfits, all except for Charlotte. She continues to stare at me as if I don’t belong. Honestly, who really does? I’m used to the looks at school, but I thought the Rebels were equalizers. Joining the Rebels was supposed to be a new beginning to life. A new page.
After breakfast, the group of newcomers heads to the gym. A few people have hangovers still and stop along the way to throw up. Jamie takes no pity on them. He meets us at the gym a little bit later. When he arrives, he is armed with a pistol and a throwing knife. I almost hope he doesn’t explain to us why he has them even though I’m sure it’s just to repeat certain methods of using a gun and how to use the safety button. Instead, he explains to us that for this week, we will only be doing hand-to-hand combat. He pairs us up. Casey gets paired with Katrina, and I get paired with Charlotte. Naturally.
Charlotte crouches in ready position with her eyes set on me like a murderer. Rudely, I think of a sumo-wrestler and almost laugh but I have to keep my concentration. We circle each other on the mat with our hands out in front of us. I balance on the balls of my feet, ready to lunge. I let her lunge first though; she is slow so can easily duck out of the way. Next, she throws a punch but I am way faster and duck again, throwing all of my weight into her middle. I knock the wind out of her and she tumbles to the ground, clutching at my legs. I sit on her, resting my knees on the inside of her arms so that she can’t move them. She is pinned.
“Good. Again.” Jamie says, observing the fight.
I go at Charlotte again, trying to drive her back. She grabs my head with both hands and slams it toward her knee; I shift my head just in time so that it barely clips my jaw. It catches me off guard and she quickly takes advantage of that. She pushes my face into the concrete, not the mat. Blood runs down my face but I’m not done. I sweep both feet out from under her and she lands on her back with a thud. I sit on top of her like before but her hand slips from under my knee. She slaps me flat-palmed over my ear. The air pressure from the blow bursts my eardrum and an intense pain slices through my head like a knife. It is like that for several minutes. Charlotte worms her way out from under me and I am holding my ear as colors dance before my eyes, due to the pain.
“Here, sit up.” Jamie suggests. He tries to help, but it hurts so I slap him away.
“Someone take her to the medic.” He addresses the small crowd that has assembled around us. I can barely hear them through the blood rushing in my ears and the pounding that is banging like a gong behind my eyes.
“No. I’m fine.” I whisper. Jamie keeps giving instructions so I say it louder, despite the searing pain.
“I’m fine. I can still fight.” Jamie looks at me then. Concern is written in his eyes.
“Are you sure?” He asks. I nod, even though the sudden movement makes the throbbing even more powerful. By now, everyone has gathered to watch the scene unfold.
“Everyone. Back to work.” Jamie orders. He glances back at me with an unreadable emotion swimming in his slate-colored eyes.
I don’t care. I focus on Charlotte now. She made me look weak. I have blood running from my nose and my ear. I wipe it away, almost unconsciously. I watch Charlotte’s malicious eyes as she takes her place on the mat. She smirks at me. A new emotion courses through my entire body, making my fingertips twitch. I lunge at Charlotte. She puts me in a headlock and flips me onto my back, pinning me down just like I did to her. More rage flows through my veins. She tries to throw a punch, I shift my head and she punches the mat. This catches her off guard, so I slip my arm out from under her leg and catch her jaw. Her head snaps to the left and she falls on her side. Charlotte kicks her legs out in a feeble attempt to knock me over, but I’m already pinning her again. I raise my fist to punch her. A voice in my head tells me to turn her face to raw meat. Maybe it’s my red hair feeding the fire. I resist the urge. She smirks again and I notice my blood has been smeared on her face.
“What? Aren’t you going to take your anger out on me?” She heaves it out as if it takes a great effort. I let it go.
“Just like your father did.” She adds. I freeze and turn around to grab her shirt. I push her up against the wall and make sure she’s eye level.
“I am not my father. So don’t make ever make that mistake again.” I spit out the words and glare at her. Jamie blows his whistle to tell the group to wrap it up. I slam her into the wall as hard as I can and storm out of the door.
We get a half hour to shower up after training for three hours. At twelve-thirty it’s lunchtime. It couldn’t come soon enough. I jogged around the block once to forget about Charlotte and the pain in my legs is immense, even after I stepped into the shower. I think about the pain instead of my anger. I look up at the showerhead and close my eyes, allowing the warm water to wash over my face and down the length of my body. Shampoo and deodorant had been left in each room by the staff. I guess they don’t like smelly teens. It feels good to be able to feel clean, almost like when I was at home. Except this place is completely different from home and I am still adjusting. I sit in the tub, resting my chin on my knees while the warm water rinses my hair and continues down my back. There, I cry. I haven’t cried yet, but now I realize how much I miss my mother and Chase. I miss Ryan too, and everything at home that reminded me of him. At least in the shower, it doesn’t look like I’m crying. I get out of the tub and observe every one of the bruises that have collected on my body. I press all of them, seeing which ones hurt more than the others.
I stand in the lunch line and I get many stares. A lot of people look at me, whispering to each other about the girl who got her tail kicked. I ignore them as much as I can, but it’s hard not to notice. I can almost hear them comparing me to my father. Casey is the only one who sits by me at lunch. She can see the pain in my eyes, the sorrow of missing my family. She tries to make conversation, but I don’t say much.
“Hey,” She says, lightly. “Try not to beat yourself up.” She smiles and goes to sit with Emily and Kellan. I sit there, staring at my near-empty tray. In a few days, we will receive mail from our families. I wonder if I will get any.
I feel a light tap on my shoulder and look up to see Maggie’s shiny, bald head staring down at me. She leans down and whispers in my ear.
“Meet me at the old department store, upstairs.” I freeze. The image of dried blood on tan carpet flashes through my head. I simply nod, stand and scrape my tray.
Ten minutes later, I hear my boots tapping on the broken escalator again as I make my way up to meet my commanding officer. I am numb. What will she say? Will she be angry with me for slamming Charlotte into a wall? Why would she bring me up here to discuss a dispute with another soldier? I reach the top and the whole floor is empty. Maybe I’m early. Finally, I see Maggie facing the wall that has dried blood flaking off of it. The wall that so terrified me the first time I came here a couple days ago.
“Do you know what happened here?” She says, not even turning around to meet my eyes.
“No.” I say.
“During the beginning of the war, when the Rebels were claiming this as their territory, there was a family of Rebels up here, two children, a mother, a father, and their grandparents. They were found by a group of the Keepers’ hitmen. The hitmen lined them up, facing the wall, took their AK 47s and mowed them all down. In the end, the Rebels rose out of the ashes, but that was one of many massacres that took place on this block.”
I only nod. She has turned to face me.
“Come with me. I have to ask you some questions.” She smiles, a gentle side I haven’t yet seen from her. She gestures for me to follow her, so I do. She leads me down a darkened hallway, but seems to know every step for she does not stumble once. Finally, she stops and I nearly run into her back. We have come to an elevator door. She presses the up button. The light on the up-arrow button flickers red and we hear clanking within the chamber behind the metal door as the elevator climbs the chains. The doors open with a clean ding! The opposite wall on the elevator does not contain a mirror or a piece of art, but yet another hallway. We cross quickly before the doors can shut and the elevator begins to climb up. The hallway is lit on either side with LED bulbs trapped in cages. The floors are metal grates and concrete. Walls on either side gleam with burnished metal. I stare in awe as what looks like a prison unfolds before my eyes.
“What is this place?” I ask. She doesn’t answer, she only leads me down a series of hallways and twists and turns. Suddenly, we come to another door. This one is much heavier than an elevator door and is opened by a device I have never seen before. She presses her palm against the glass screen of a small electronic box next to the doors. She holds her hand there, pressing her fingertips as a green laser scans the lines on her hand, confirming her identity. A tray slides out; she moves behind me and plucks a hair from my head. Pain is there, momentarily. She presses something on the screen and the tray slides back in so the hair can be identified. Beeping and more mechanical noises escape the box as a series of pictures of my family and I flash across the screen. They’ve been watching me? I think of the ten-year-old girl in the alley pleading for my help. I think of how I turned around and Jamie was there, as if he had been there the entire time listening to the other girl and me. I don’t ask questions, despite the many that rotate through my mind. My statistics appear on the screen: my age, my date of birth, my parents, my siblings, the school I attend, and where I currently live. I gasp as it shows clips of my father across the screen. One of them in particular stays pasted in my mind. He stands with a group of normal-looking men and women standing upon a pile of dead bodies, laughing and sharing cigarettes and holding glasses of alcohol. The image is terrible and I gag, trying to forget. Those other people must be his hitmen. I picture the scared look of the faces that they stand upon, as if they were simply a pile of dirt. To the Keepers, they are. Maggie turns to look at me, sympathy in her eyes.
“Come with me,” She repeats, and lightly lays a hand on my shoulder, guiding me through the door that is now sliding open. I barely notice. What has my father become? He is more than a murderer. When we were younger, our textbooks told a story of a dictator from over a hundred years ago in a different part of the world called Germany. His name was Adolf Hitler. In the book, it showed pictures of people called Jews lined up and shot just like the Rebel family that Maggie told me about. Hitler did this because he thought that they were monsters when he, truly, was the monster. He murdered these people because of the way they wanted to live. One of the pages showed a picture of Hitler’s soldiers called Nazis, throwing live children into the fires and incinerating them. Some even smiled as they did this frightful, heinous action. One dictator murdered six million Jews. We have six dictators currently in office as our government. This sends a chill straight through me.
Maggie leads me into a room with a row of computers and humming generators. On one wall is a large screen. Various other machines that go unnamed line the walls. The wall opposite the screen is a window. Through the window, I can see the outline of a table bolted to the floor and two chairs. There is a single, metal door that opens to this room. I wonder what the room is for. I turn and face Maggie.
“Why have you brought me here?”
“We need your help.” She answers.
“We?” I ask. This is crazy. She stands in front of a computer. She taps something on the keyboard and the oversized screen lights up. A picture appears on the wall. It’s my father. He stands at a podium, speaking into the microphones, just like President Mackey. The next is a picture of him and my mother with baby Ryan. They both smile. Maggie taps another key, another picture appears. This one is of my father, sporting a long black coat, with a black, brimmed hat and black tinted sunglasses. In his hands he holds an orange manila envelope. The image is almost silly. The next picture is the same one that I saw out in the hallway, a group of men and women, including my father, standing on top of a pile of Rebel bodies.
“What does this have to do with me?” I ask, observing the look of joy spread over my father’s face as he raises a glass of alcohol in the picture.
“Do you know anything about these murders taking place?” She asks.
“Your father has been hiring his henchmen to grill innocent people for information. If they don’t confess, he kills them.”
“What information is he looking for?” I ask.
“President Mackey has ordered him to find information on nuclear weapons. They look at our soldier’s records. When the soldiers return home, the hitmen disguise themselves as other Rebels and capture the soldiers. They torture them for information on the creation of nuclear weapons, then take the soldier back in less that twenty-four hours to stage a homicide, making it look like an accident.” Maggie talks rapidly.
“Why do they want information on nuclear weaponry?” I ask.
“Because they want us gone. Because they want to murder all of us, including you. They don’t care that you are Andrew Grey’s daughter; they only know that you are a Rebel. That makes you a threat.” She lays a hand on my shoulder. I pull away.
“Why do you want me then?” I narrow my eyes at her, unsure of the situation. She hesitates.
“We need you to be a spy for us.” She stares at me, hopefully. I stare back, gawking.
“You want me to what?” I reply, stunned.
“After you finish training in a month, we need you to go back to confront your father. Do what you have to, to get inside the Legg Mason building. We need as much information as possible. Jamie will train you personally to be a spy.” She begins talking as if I will actually take the job.
“I can’t.” I choke out after a minute.
“Yes, you can. Jamie told me about your encounter with that girl, Charlotte. No one does that on the first day of training. You have the potential.”
“No.” I say, firmly this time. She turns to look at me.
“Hudson, if you don’t do this, we will all be killed. Every single one of us will be blown to bits.” She rests both of her hands on my shoulders and looks dead into my eyes.
“Hudson, please. You are the only one who has a chance with access to what they are planning against us.” Fear replaces determination in my eyes. She knows I will deny her again. Tears well in my eyes again and I shake my head. She sits in the computer chair with her head in her hands. I turn and press a button. The door slides open again and I run through the hallways for a long time. Eventually, I find the elevator doors that got me here. I press the down button and wait for what seems like an eternity for the doors to open. I speed through the dark hallway, down the escalator, and out into the fresh air. I inhale deeply, trying to forget about everything. I see Casey walking with Emily in the distance and run to catch up with her.