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Survival of the Elements
I live in a world where no one can be trusted. You keep your head down, speak only when spoken to, and hope that you’ll see the light of day. In this era, our cities are domed glass encasements made of anthrite metal and computer chips. All are designed to keep us in and the others out. Lucky me, I’m stuck inside one. Someday, they’ll make me into something I don’t want to become. Everybody here calls it our “destiny.” That’s just a cover up, something invented to make us feel good about what we’re doing; but I know better than that.
I slid down the wall of a corner and curled up to hug my knees to my chest. I didn’t want anybody to see me. I was sure my eyes were puffy already and my hair was probably a disheveled mess. The computers would have a hay-day if they picked me up on their scanning. Combat training had probably already started. I didn’t care though; I just let the tears fall. I had pleaded sick and then snuck out of the infirmary. An almost impossible feat, I might add, so I do it sparingly. I just needed to spend some time alone and think things out. Stress and pain were illnesses, too, right? The instructors were always cruel. If you did something wrong, you’d get punished. If you did something right, you’d get a miniscule reward…then get punished. They said this would make us immune to future experiences. I try hard at night not to imagine what they could be. What’s the point? I always end up scaring myself anyway.
I sat there and cried for a while, but soon I had exhausted my supply of tears and didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t think that anyone would hear me; I was far enough away from the normal flow of human traffic; but as it turned out, I was wrong. Gently a hand touched me on my back. I jerked away in surprise and looked up to see which instructor it was this time. Please don’t let it be Mr. Pierce; my back still hurt from the last time he got a hold of me. Thankfully, it wasn’t Mr. Pierce; it was a boy, and he looked about my age. He had short brown hair and his skin was as dark as a coconut shell. The most brilliant aspect he possessed, however, was his crystal blue eyes. It was like looking at a mirror image of the sky glistening on the surface of a lake. Not like I would know. I hadn’t ever seen a real lake, but the pictures in the library looked incredible, just like his eyes.
For a while I sat there, completely captivated, and for the first time in all my life I was self-conscious of the blue-grey uniform I wore everyday, wishing I had something better to put on. Snapping out of my daze, I hastily brushed at my eyes and attempted to stand up. Again he gently pressed his hand on my shoulder and I stopped. Believe me; my mind was saying other things. Pretty boys are just as dangerous as ugly ones, I kept reminding myself. But despite my reasoning, I obeyed and sat back down.
“It’s okay,” he assured me and he sat down next to me. His voice was so mesmerizing. It was the most comforting thing I had heard all day.
“It’s Leanne, right?” he asked.
I was surprised that he knew me. “Yes…”
He smiled. It was warm, I know that’s how everyone describes nice smiles, but it really did seem welcoming, not at all unlike a fire beckoning to you on a cold day after terrain training. “I’ve been watching you.” Almost as an afterthought he added hastily, “But not in a stalker kind of way.”
I laughed nervously. Who was this guy? I hadn’t ever seen him before. He knew my name? That was a creepy enough thought in and of its self. Not to add the fact that he had been watching me. Was he working for the dean? An instructor? As all these questions raced through my brain, one thought stopped me from darting out of the hallway: he didn’t act like he wanted to harm me.
As if he could read my thoughts he said, “I know this seems a bit odd.”
I nodded slowly.
“But you have to trust me,” he pleaded. Leaning forward he whispered in my ear, “Old artillery shed. Midnight.” He stood up, leaving me more confused than before. It was then that I realized I hadn’t even learned his name. I turned to shout at him, but I was a second too late. He had already disappeared around the corner.
The alarms had just been set. Motion sensors, heat sensors…the works. All the girls in the compound were in their cells asleep, but I was wide awake. My heart was beating faster than a SCAR-L could fire, and the slightest noise sounded like a percussion grenade exploding in my head.
I can’t believe I’m doing this………
But I was, and I was thrilled.
It’s an unwritten rule in our compound that all graduating recruits teach the younger trainees their tricks and pass down useful gadgets. My mentor had been Hya. She had been the best in her age group, everyone would agree. The records she had set were yet to be beaten. Because she was the best, I still have no idea why she chose me. Maybe it was because I reminded her of her little sister back home that she talked about all the time; or it could have been because we had the same rare eye color: indigo. It didn’t matter now though, she had hand-picked me the first day I had arrived as a frightened six-year-old, and I am proud to say so.
Hya had left two years ago, but our parting was still fresh in my mind. Right before she left I gave her my necklace. It was silver chain with a small charm in the shape of key dangling from it. As an exchange gift she had handed me a small metal box in the shape of a circle. When I opened its top, I saw that the bottom half had a glass cover, underneath of which was a tiny red-tipped arrow that swiveled in every direction.
“Remember Lee,” she had said, “remember that you always have somewhere else to go.” She curled her fingers into the claw position. Apparently the humans before us had learned to sign with their hands. Hya and I had stumbled upon that useful piece of information one night while searching in the restricted section of the library. It was then that we decided to learn it as well. It had come in handy during classes. No more risky note passing. The curled fingers she held up now was the symbol for the letter “E”. I had no idea what she meant at the time, but I had a funny feeling that I would soon find out.
I slowly made my way across the concrete floor. Looking out my barred window, I made sure that no one was within sight. Once satisfied, I used an old magnet to temporarily disarm the alarm system (one of the many useful tricks Hya had taught me). I had done this a million times before, but never had I felt so uneasy. After almost running into instructors twice, I finally arrived at the old artillery shed. This was one of the places that didn’t have updated cameras and alarm systems. For that reason it was a common meeting place for trainees. Still, it made me uneasy.
The owls hooted and the red-tailed hawks quietly screeched in greeting as I crouched behind their cages. They were used to convey messages between bases, but they were hardly used at this time of night. I petted one of them to pass the time, but it wasn’t long before I heard a set of feet crunching atop the gravel pathway. In a flash he darted by my crouched figure, halting suddenly as he saw where I was hidden.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered as he tired to catch his breath. “Mrs. Molten just about nabbed me in the hall.” He sat down next to me. He knew his way around the compound, knew my name, and apparently he knew the teachers’ names as well. If he was a trainee here, why had I never noticed him before?
“That’s okay,” I said. I’m surprised that I was even able to utter that.
He looked at me quizzically. “What?”
I had been staring at his eyes again. I hastily turned my gaze away. “Nothing. Why did you bring me here?” I desperately wanted to change the subject.
“I needed to talk to you in private. Away from all the cameras and hidden microphones. It would have been too risky.” He sat silent for a while, staring straight ahead. I didn’t want to say anything for fear I would ruin his train of thought. Finally he turned his head and looked me in the eye. “This is going to come out pretty straightforward, but you need to listen to me before you make any decisions.”
I nodded my head slowly. What could he possibly be about to tell me?
“You are special, Leanne. That is why Hya chose you.”
I was dumbfounded. How did he know about Hya? This kid was full of surprises. My question didn’t go unanswered for long.
“I know Hya,” he assured me. “She and I work together. She got away, Leanne. She wanted you to know that, and now she’s coming back for you.”
“What? I don’t understand…”
“You need to trust me.” His eyes glittered in the moonlight. I desperately wanted to trust him, I really did. But it scared me. Everything did.
“I don’t even know your name,” I protested. “How do I know you’re not lying?” It was a stupid attempt at a comeback, but I had nothing else that sounded better.
Silently he reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver necklace with a charm in the shape of a key hanging from it. The necklace I had given Hya.
“Where is she? Is she alright? Can I go see her?” The questions poured from my mouth like an overflowing river, continual and relentless.
“She’s fine.” He said smiling. “She wants you to join her. But not yet, the time isn’t right.”
“When will the time be right?” I questioned.
“Soon.” He promised. “Very soon.”
Every night after that Ian (I later found out) and I would meet by the old artillery shed behind the bird cages. We would never meet in an orderly schedule, lest the instructors figure out what we were up to. It was only when the mood struck us did we make certain gestures to let the other know what to do. Turned out Hya and I weren’t the only ones fluent in sign language
During those late night meetings, he told me how I was special, how I was needed, how I belonged in The Elements, a secret society rebelling against the Crudelis schools. He told me that my eye color determined which element I could control. My indigo eyes finally had a meaning; I could control water. Since Ian’s eyes were piercing blue, he could control the wind. He taught me a few techniques, but said I would be taught how to master water by a “superb” teacher soon. Every new thing he told me, every new detail he exposed thrilled me. It sent a charge through my body each time I would think of the challenges awaiting me. I came to love every moment I spent with him. I think he did, too, because our meetings, although still irregular, became more frequent and much longer. In my mind, I never imagined a future moment without him.
Then it happened.
It was one night when we met behind the bird cages. Everything seemed normal; the sky was clear, the moon’s brilliant white rays penetrated through the glass dome, and only a slight breeze disturbed the night air. I had been sitting there in our normal rendezvous for some time and was starting to get worried when Ian continued to not show. But, as always, he came jogging across the gravel. He was looking a bit winded and I wondered what had caused him to hurry so quickly. As he drew nearer, I could sense something wasn’t right.
Ian crouched to sit beside me, his eyes staring at me intently. Suddenly I was very scared, scared that if I looked away he would disappear.
“W…what’s the matter?” I asked searching for some kind of answer.
I don’t know why I was surprised when he didn’t look at me. “I am saying good-bye.”
He said it so plainly, no emotion attached.
“What?” I asked in consternation. The world seemed to stall and we stood frozen in time.
“They’ve found out who I am and why I’m here; I have to go.” His voice cracked a little, but it wasn’t enough to convince me that he felt the same as I did. I viewed it as just a coincidence.
“I’ll come with you,” I said trying to sound nonchalant. “No big deal.”
He clasped my hands in his and continued to look at the ground. “Leanne,” he whispered. That time his voice didn’t only crack, it broke, and when he looked up, I could see a single tear trickling down his dark cheek. It was enough to melt my heart, and I gently wiped it from his face.
“They’ll hurt you, Leanne. They’ll hurt you now that they’ve found out that I’ve been talking to you. They’ll want to know everything, and they will stop at nothing to get it out of you.” He wasn’t even trying to hide the emotion from his words now. “I thought for sure we would be out of here by now. But…they kept telling me to wait. Now it’s too late…….I’m so sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too,” I said through a few silent tears of my own. “I’m sorry that we weren’t given more time.”
Ian clutched my hands tighter. “I’ll find a way back to you,” he promised as he composed himself. “No matter what, I’ll find a way back to you.”
I closed my eyes, trying to commit this moment forever to my memory. I wanted to replay it whenever I thought of him, whenever I felt lonely, whenever it seemed like tomorrow would never come. I wanted to remember his touch so I could feel him next to me in the night, burn the image of his face onto my eyelids so when I went to sleep, I would always see his kind face in my dreams.
“Nothing that they can do to me, nothing that they say,” I assured him, “can make me regret the time I have spent with you. Remember me always, know that I will find you, and we will stop this—together.”
Ian left right after he kissed me. It began slowly at first, tender and somewhat scared. Then it transferred from that sweet caress into a desperate touch. His hands clutched mine, and I sat there, desiring this moment to last forever. Of course nothing ever does, and he reluctantly pulled away. Ian flew over the fence, pausing only once to look back at my tear-stained face.
I replay that moment every time I think of him, every time I feel lonely, every time tomorrow feels like it will never come. As the seasons pass, I sit here waiting for the moment he comes back to me, waiting for the moment we will rise together and determine both of our destinies.