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Dominion of the Prefectures
I closed the book, resting my sweating hands on my knees, trying to rub away the anxiety.
The teacher glanced down at me quizzically. His square rimmed glasses slid down his nose, revealing light green eyes.
“What’s the matter, Peter?” he questioned, his gruff voice raising.
“It’s just...I’ve been thinking about what point the author is trying to make. Do you think we are corrupted? Do you think we are brainwashed to believe what the government wants us to?” I mumbled, gazing up into his eyes.
He scanned the room, searching for any intruders then turned to me again.
“Where is all this coming from?” he asked and pulled his chair closer.
“The author is trying to point out that these people are so brainwashed by their government that they don’t notice something is wrong with it. They just step in line and take the next days’ schedule with ease, right?” I asked.
I nervously peered at the camera pointed directly at me. It was studying me, trying to figure out what I was saying. Trying to unfoil my secrets. The government knows everything.
“Well, yes, but that isn’t the point of the book. The author is trying to prevent that from happening.” He replied, resting his scaly hand on my shoulder.
“But what if we’re so ignorant to the fact that we’re living in hell, that we don’t understand it. Don’t realize it.” I continued.
He seemed perplexed. A finger rested against his chin.
“The government would never hurt us, Peter. They’re here to protect us.” He said after a while.
I sighed, exasperated. No one ever understood me. It was like I was the only one that ever thought about these things.
“Right, I guess that anything the government says is right.” I said, sarcastically.
I knew that he wouldn’t understand. No one did. Not with what I was thinking about. Especially the adults. It was as if someone flicked a switch on the back of their necks once they turned eighteen, as if they were set in a different mode than we were.
I almost decided to peek at his neck to see if there was, indeed, a switch.
“The government protects us every day, you just don’t see it because you’re inside here.” He responded, gesturing to the walls surrounding his students.
I shook my head, “never mind.”
“What about your questions? I don’t want you to leave with the impression that the government is bad. They are good. They are everything.” He replied.
“I understand, Mr. Cooke. It’s as the book says, ‘In the minds of the brainwashed, everything is okay. They don’t understand what it is to be free. To become an individual.’ I know that the government won’t hurt us. They need us.” I said.
Mr. Cooke’s expression changed from cautionary to fear, “Don’t say that, Peter! Don’t let them hear you say that!”
I huffed, dropping my shoulders. He wasn’t any different from any of the other adults. They were all the same. They all believed that our government was our savior. They believed that we were happy.
A shriek of screeching metal pierced my ears. I clutched at my ears, trying to pound out the voices. They invaded my mind, punishing me for my outburst.
I dropped down to my knees, a yelp escaping my mouth. Thousands of pings of needles shattered my eardrums. The veins in my head burst. The angry voices made my brain burst with pain.
It wasn’t the first time I had made them angry. I was a regular. Not like the others here.
Everyone was so scared to speak their minds, so they didn’t. It wasn’t that I tried making them angry. It was just that I was curious. I didn’t want to rebel. I just wanted answers. This was really the first time I had outright questioned them.
I was in such much pain that when I opened my eyes I hadn’t noticed that Mr. Cooke was rubbing my back, trying to comfort me as I shrieked in pain.
I had never felt the pain this bad. Not even close. It was as if they were trying to blow my brains apart.
I grabbed onto Mr. Cooke’s shirt, begging for it to stop. I clawed at the floor, bringing my legs up to my chest and crawled into a ball.
“Please, please, I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Prefects! I won’t do it again!” I whimpered.
And then a weird thing happened. The pain stopped.
That had never worked before. I didn’t know how many times I had begged them to stop and it had gotten worse.
I felt my body loosen in relief and opened my eyes. Mr. Cooke was holding me, his eyes gazing down at me with sympathy.
I wondered if he had ever received punishment from the Prefects before. After all, Mr. Cooke had grown up in the time of rebellion. But that was before the Prefects had gotten inside our heads. Before they had put the chip inside every baby’s head.
“Don’t challenge them again, Peter. Please don’t. I’ve never seen it last so long or be so painful.” Mr. Cooke begged.
“I won’t. I know what I did was wrong. I know that they only try to protect us.” I said.
There. I had said it. It was the same old. I would behave like a good little boy like they had trained us. I would believe in them. Anything to stay away from that pain again.
“It was for the best. They love us. They want to protect us.” Mr. Cooke agreed.
I rolled over onto my stomach and pushed myself into a sitting position.
The room was silent as the other kids gawked at me in contempt. Who would be so ungrateful to the Prefects? They had given us life. They had let us live.
“Number 3908 is being punished again. What do you want to do?” the man asked, turning to the Prefect. Its pale skin sent shivers up and down his back.
A thick glob of black tongue scraped against its chin.
“Let’s watch and see what the subject does.”
The Prefect watched in delight as the boy’s slender figure twisted in agony, writhing from pain. It enjoyed watching the pure terror radiating from his body as he wrenched for air.
The man watched the boy in pity. His scrawny body caved in fear. And the pain that illuminated from his snow ice eyes was almost unbearable. But there was also some hatred there for the boy. His eyes were very unusual for a human’s, identical to those of a Prefect’s. The makers were making the children too similar to the Prefects nowadays.
But the man still felt sympathy for him. He reminded the man of his own son. Before the Prefects took him away to that putrid academy.
It was foolish to think that his son would be the exception to the rule; every kid above four being taken to the academy.
“Please, please, I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Prefects! I won’t do it again!”
The man turned to the Prefect.
“what would you like to do?” he repeated.
The Prefect twisted its head in interest, intrigued.
“Stop the punishment. I want you to watch the boy. Keep him in your sights. There’s something about him.” it said, a deep sulfurous stench forming in the man’s nostrils.
The man held back the need for gagging. The last Controller had been decapitated for such disrespect.
He tapped the red button twice and watched as the boy’s body loosened through the small screen.
“I won’t. I know what I did was wrong. I know that they only try to protect us.”
“Why does this boy interest you, Prefect?” the man asked. The Prefect’s eyes lit up.
“How about we experiment for a little bit? Follow him for a few days. Let’s see if he can live up to his potential.” It commanded.
The man nodded. It would’ve been suicide to deny that. For the boy’s sake, he hoped he did live up to his potential.
“You’re lucky that they didn’t kill you, Peter. I’ve seen people decapitated instantly for what you just did.”
I yawned, “The Prefects were being generous. I am blessed.”
The boy stared back at me with shock, “They really got to you this time, didn’t they?”
“I deserved it. I was acting foolish.” I replied.
The boy sat down on his bunk, across from mine, “Snap out of it, Peter! We hate the Prefects! Don’t let them brainwash you!”
My eyes widened, “Don’t let them hear you say that, Kingston!”
The man glanced at the Prefect, “punish?’
The Prefect stood there for a moment, resting its claws on its hips.
“Let’s have a bit of fun with this. Turn the dial all the way up.”
Kingston dropped to his knees, shaking. His screams filled the room. I rushed to his side.
“Close your eyes and think of your parents, Kingston. There’s no pain. Only laughter.” I told him.
He closed his eyes, still writhing in pain. I rested my hand on his head, grasping for the pain. Kingston deserved none of this. I was supposed to receive punishment, not him. I would’ve rather taken the pain than left it with him to suffer.
I glared straight into the camera hanging above our beds, “Do it to me! Leave him alone! I deserve punishment!”
The man watched in horror. Who would wish that pain upon themselves? Who was ridiculous enough to do that?
“The boy makes an interesting proposal.” The Prefect said, almost contemplating.
3911 still squirmed on the floor, unfortunately, having peed himself. He had never seen anything like it. He had never heard of anything like it. Never had the dial been turned up all the way. The Prefects preferred a slow, agonizing death. At the highest point, you could literally liquefy someone’s brains.
“Do it, but don’t kill him. I want to keep watching.” The Prefect said finally.
I sucked in deep breaths as the jarring pain started to invade my mind. I collapsed to the floor, landing next to Kingston.
The pain intensified as soon as I opened my eyes, as though the very sight of light disintegrated my brain. It was 300 times worse than a migraine. I could almost feel my blood actually boiling.
“Stand up. Ignore the pain. It’s all in your head.”
My heart stopped. Who would help me? Who would be in my head?
I slowly gained the ability to roll over onto my back. From then on, I hoisted myself up by grasping onto the sheets of my bed.
I didn’t know how I had gained that power over the pain. It was as if as soon as I listened to the voice, the pain disappeared.
Sadly, as I gazed around, I realized that Kingston had passed out from the pain, laying in his own urine.
Why had they turned the pain up that far? He had barely insulted the Prefects. I had done worse many times and gotten away with it.
“Very good. Now brace yourself. The Prefects are coming for you.”
The man’s jaw dropped. 3908 stood up, completely ignoring the pain. He hadn’t switched the dial at all.
“He’s not ready yet! Turn the dial back!” The Prefect shouted. The man shook his head.
“I didn’t turn the dial! Look for yourself!” The man exclaimed.
The Prefect’s nostrils flared. It bent over the control pad, its lanky arms sliding over the man’s shoulder like a snake.
“What the hell is that? He’s supposed to be dying! He’s supposed to be there for my amusement!” It snapped, throwing the headset.
The man stood up from the c***pit.
“Bring the defect to the base! Take three of the other Prefect-209’s with you.” It commanded.
“Why are you helping me? Who are you?” I whispered aloud.
“We do not have time for you to stand around and question me. Walk out of your room in five minutes. There will be a vaporizer sitting outside your door. Take it. You will have to fight your way out or they are going to gut and dissect you.”
My heart leapt. Why were they coming after me? I had done nothing! I was behaving like a good boy! I was listening to them!
“But I didn’t do anything! I was just listening to you!” I snapped.
I stumbled back. Images flashed through my mind. Images of a tall cement building.
“Pay attention, that’s where you’re going to meet me.”
The images continued. A swing set, the sunrise, an abandoned city.
“You will be traveling to the Old Sector.”
Fear coursed through me. We weren’t allowed to leave the Academy! We weren’t even allowed to hold anything but our tablets and books!
“If you’re going to survive, you’re going to have to forget your training, Peter.”
“But I don’t want to! I want to stay here! I want to continue on with my studies! I don’t want to disobey the Prefects!” I snipped.
“Then stay there and be dissected. The Prefects don’t care if you didn’t do anything. They just want to hurt you.”
My heart sank. I looked over at Kingston whom was stirring on the floor.
“Five minutes are up. If you want to live, leave now.”
I gulped. If I went what would happen to Kingston? Would he die?
“If I leave, will Kingston get hurt?” I asked.
“I cannot promise that he’ll be safe, but it isn’t him they want. It is you.”
I bit down on my lip and opened the door, surprising myself. Just like the voice had said, the purple gauntlet laid on the floor in front of my room. I picked it up and slid it through my watch. It fit perfectly, though, cold as it pushed up against my pale skin.
“Good, now turn left. Three Prefects are closing in on you. Keep your eyes open.”
I immediately snapped to the left, trying to act as casual as I could. Maybe if I looked like I wasn’t doing something wrong, then they’d leave me alone.
“Prefects have a very high sense of smell. That would never work. They’d find you right away.”
“And how do you know all of this? How are you showing me all these things? Or how about how you’re talking in my head!” I questioned.
“You have to get to safety first. I promise you that I’ll explain everything to you then.”
I groaned. Why couldn’t it just tell me right now?
“If I did that then you’d be too distracted. Turn right. Prefect up ahead!”
I swerved into the corner, bumping into someone.
“Peter, what are you doing out of your room after class? You’re supposed to be under curfew.” Mr. Cooke questioned.
I gulped. Mr. Cooke was good at reading people. If I lied to him, he would surely pick up on it.
He was the worst person I could’ve run into at a time like this! Out of anyone in the Academy, it had to be him!
I scratched the back of my neck, casually hiding the vaporizer from sight.
“Um…I’m going for a walk. Kingston was hurt pretty bad and I couldn’t stand it.” I said.
Mr. Cooke eyed me, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”
I gulped. Would he make me go back to the room?
“If it comes to it, you’re going to have to shoot him. He will hold you back. You already are on a time crunch.”
“Nope, but could you go check on Kingston? I’m worried about him.” I replied.
“Okay, I want you back to the room in five minutes. Understood?” he said after a minute.
I nodded, releasing a deep breath. That was a close one.
“It’s not over yet. You still have to get out of the Academy, then the city.”
I turned around, gulping. Mr. Cooke still stood there with his hands resting on his hips.
“When you get back, I expect the full truth. Not…”
Screeching of metal tore through my ears, but not inside my head. It was all around. Bright red flashes illuminated everywhere and words appeared on signs posted all over. Signs I had never noticed before.
“Subject loose! 3908 is to be apprehended immediately and turned over to the Prefects!”
My blood chilled. Mr. Cooke stopped dead in his tracks. His face said it all. He was ashamed, angry. Most of all, he was afraid.
“What did you do, Peter? Why are they hunting you?” he questioned.
“Shoot him. Shoot him now!”
I twisted my head, ignoring the voice. Mr. Cooke was my friend. My mentor.
“I didn’t do anything, I swear, Mr. Cooke!” I exclaimed.
“The Prefects are hunting you, Peter. I can’t just let you go. You won’t be safe out there.” He said.
Tears formed in his eyes and in mine as well. We both knew what each of us had to do.
I pointed the gauntlet at him, a wave of sadness washing over me, tossing and turning my heart.
He raised his hands in surrender and took a step back.
“Just…just stand down, Peter. Maybe we can work this out. Maybe the Prefects will allow you to live for whatever you did.” He beckoned.
“SHOOT HIM NOW!”
I wiped a passing tear and fired the gauntlet, jerking my hand at the last second. The laser shot at the ceiling above him, reducing it to rubble that fell on top of him. I just hoped that it kept him away. I didn’t want to hurt him.
“There he is! Subject 3908, stand down!” a reptilian voice shouted from in the shadows.
A Prefect. I knew for a fact I couldn’t take them on by myself. I shot down the corner of the hall, sprinting for my life. The Prefects wouldn’t care if I was dead or alive. They just wanted their lapdog back.
“Take a left. Now right! Run through those doors!”
I pushed through the doors. I’d never been this close to the exit before. Not that I could remember.
A long hallway stretched down about 200 yards away from one set of doors to the other. Above the doorway said, Exit in giant red letters.
The only problem with the hall was that at least eight rooms crossed paths with the hall on the way there.
“Teachers on either side of you! Shoot!”
As if on cue, three teachers leapt for me. Quickly, I bent my pointer finger and a laser ball plowed into the teachers like bowling pins.
Teachers: 0, Me: 3
Two more teachers poked their heads out, grabbing for me. I dropped to my stomach, sliding in between their legs and shooting up. Shouts of pain were heard above me, so I know I had stuck it.
I was now halfway down the hall. All I had to do was walk through those doors.
“Prefect up ahead on your left! Watch out! It’s an ambush!”
I stopped dead in my tracks, slamming into a wall of teachers. Simultaneously, each of the teachers grabbed for me, but only managed to knock me onto my butt.
“You’re trapped. You’re going to have to fight them.”
Pain shot through my head, beating the breath out of me as it slammed into my eyes.
I screamed, gasping in fear. I felt strong arms pull me up and was pushed up against the wall.
“Close your eyes, Peter. Focus on my voice or you’ll never make it out of there alive.”
I pushed all my weight up against the wall, trying with all my might to focus on the metallic voice.
Soon, the pain resided, leaving me exhausted. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes.
Mr. Cooke restrained me, his strong hands constricting my wrists.
“Stop this, Peter. The Prefects have decided to let you live, but you have to cooperate.” He said.
I had my finger at the ready.
“They lie, Mr. Cooke. They’ll kill me as soon as they get me alone.” I argued.
Mr. Cooke frowned and backed away. What was he doing? He was going to get himself killed!
“I’ve known you since you were six, Peter. I know that you won’t hurt me. I know that you’ll be a good boy.” He said.
“He underestimates you. Shoot him. Shoot all of them. They’ll only get in the way.”
No. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.
“Subject 3908, stand down now! You’ll never make it out of here!” the Prefect shouted. It started walking towards me. Its pale skin was nothing compared to its forked tongue and beady white eyes.
Fear engulfed my body; chewing me and spitting me back out in disgust.
“Shoot them before they shoot you!”
I held my arm out, pointing at Mr. Cooke.
“Back up! I will not let them take me! I will shoot you if I have to!” I snapped.
Mr. Cooke held his hands up for me and backed up, “you’re a good boy, Peter. Come to me. Put the gauntlet down.”
“You’re not natural, 3908. There’s something about you. How did you deflect punishment?” the Prefect spoke up.
I turned my attention to it. Its long, pointed fingernails grew longer by the second.
“I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know why…”
Mr. Cooke tackled me, struggling for control over the gauntlet. I clenched my fists and the laser shot from my hand, firing everywhere.
I kicked Mr. Cooke and immediately shot down at his leg. He collapsed to the ground and clutched at his leg, writhing in pain.
“Peter, how could you?” he snapped.
A tear slipped down my cheek and I fired the gauntlet. The teachers went down, crumbling to tiny specs of dust. There was a reason it was called ‘the vaporizer’.
Mr. Cooke’s leg was now gone, cut off at the knee.
I scanned the hall. Only The Prefect remained standing. There was no worry in its eyes. No fear seeped through its skin. It knew it had me beat.
“Ruthless, aren’t you? So curious for a human.” It mumbled.
I kept my arm ready for the shot.
“Do you remember your parents? No, I don’t suppose you would.” It continued.
“Why are you questioning me? I haven’t done anything.” I questioned.
The Prefect seemed to snap out of its thoughts and resumed its route to me.
“Don’t let it get near you! Prefects are fast and clever.”
“Pale skin, white eyes…hmm…”
“Get out of there, NOW!”
I fired the gauntlet. The Prefect stumbled into the wall. A hole emerged from its shoulder.
It smirked at me and stood up straight.
“You’re one of us, 3908, but not entirely.” It said.
I shot it again, but it didn’t even faze it.
“I’ll make you a deal, 3908. Take away this valiant human’s pain and I’ll let you go.” It said, holding out a scaly hand.
“Try it. It may be worth the ordeal.”
What? This voice was so antisocial and kept telling me to leave, but now it wanted me to try to do some miracle!
“This Prefect could take you even with the gauntlet. It’s worth a try.”
I nodded and bent down to Mr. Cooke. His eyes looked glazed over, probably from the pain he was in. I was sure he’d never felt something so painful before. Betrayal and physical pain all in one night. He was having a rough day.
“What’s going on with you, Peter?” he mumbled.
I rested my hand on his forehead and gulped. How did the Prefect expect me to take away pain?
“Focus on breathing, Mr. Cooke. I’m sorry about the leg.” I whispered.
He patted my back and forced a smile, “you’re still a good boy. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure the Prefects will understand the misunderstanding.”
“Close your eyes and focus on his breathing. Try to take in his breathing. Let the pain escape from his shallow breaths and glide into your body.”
I closed my eyes and pushed my hands onto his leg. Mr. Cooke gasped at the pain.
It was quiet. Dead silent and I was nervous. If somehow I didn’t manage to take away his pain, which I probably would, the Prefect would be on top of me right away.
“Focus. Don’t let your thoughts wander.”
Pain shot through my leg, spreading like a wildfire up my body. I bit down on my tongue until it got to be too much. The pain seemed to intensify with every breath I took.
I fell onto my back and opened my eyes. The Prefect was smiling creepily at me.
I quickly stood up, chewing the pain. The Prefect clapped its hands.
“Very well done, 3908. I wasn’t sure if you could do it. This data will be very useful. The door is open.” It said.
I raised a brow. It was going to keep its promise? I’d never met one that did. I peered cautiously at the door. The Prefect made no move to grab me.
“A deal is a deal, 3908. I won’t hold you back. Leave.” It assured me.
“You can do it.”
The voice seemed to mumble this, as if it was disbelieving. Why did I get the feeling it knew something I didn’t.
“You’re just going to let him go? What will happen to him out there? What if they kill him?” Mr. Cooke hollered.
I glanced back at him, catching his eye.
“Peter, I don’t want you to get hurt. Stay here. The world is no place for a boy.” He begged.
I hesitated for a moment. Mr. Cooke had been truthful with me thus far. There must’ve been a good reason that he didn’t want me out there. Or he was truly brainwashed.
“Don’t listen to him. Leave before the Prefect changes its mind.”
I broke my gaze, throwing the door open.