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Riker dropped to his hands and knees and grunted slightly from the fall. He had to be quiet or the headmaster would be after him again. And he sure as hell didn't want that.
He didn't belong there. Not like they wanted him to. Sure, he was good with his fists, great even, but he didn't want to be there. His father had forced him there.
He ducked behind the wall and cursed as the patrol, two men, passed by, hoping to God that they wouldn't catch him out this late. There'd sure be some lashings for this escape.
“Have you checked the second floor yet? The General is worried that some kids are going to make for a daring escape tonight.” One of the men asked.
The other grunted in response, apparently not wanting to talk.
“Exactly. You know, I don't think that any of the kids are that brave or reckless. They all know the price for escaping.” The man continued.
Riker released a breath as the two men passed and scanned the area for other patrolling groups. If the General was worried about other kids escaping tonight, then he'd have to be on his toes.
He scaled around the wall once he was satisfied, and dove out of the way as the light hit the ground beside him.
“See anything?” A man hollered overhead.
“No, just must've been another squirrel.” Another man called.
Riker blew a sigh of relief and continued his path down the wall, this time keeping in mind that there were others above him.
Only a hundred more feet and he'd be free. Rid of this awful place. Rid of all the beatings and lashings he'd taken since he'd been there.
His heart surged with hope and an eagerness to get out of there. To get back home. But that hope made him careless. He made a mad dash across the field and leapt for the gate, his nimble fingers clasping onto the edges.
“Hey, who's that? Paul, is that you?”
Riker swallowed hard as the man drew closer to him.
“Paul? Wait a minute...Red alert! Red ALERT!”
The man had spotted him for what he was. A student, but he was already too late. Riker flung his legs over the wall as half a dozen men gathered at the bottom of the other side, and jumped.
He could hear the scrambling of men as they fought to get over the fence, but they would never get to him in time. Once he was off the school grounds, he was no longer under their jurisdiction.
A sly grin spread across face as he peered behind him at the man on top of the wall. And he did what he'd wanted to do for six months now. He stuck out his tongue and flipped him off.
They called out to him, firing their stun guns, and even tried convincing him that there was nothing out there, but Riker was dubious. He wouldn't take anything they said at face value. They had lied to him for so long. Promising them all that they'd see their parents soon. That they'd get to relax. But they were all liars, every last one of them. And they would do anything to keep their precious 'students'.
Riker rejoiced as he caught sight of the sign he'd been looking for. END OF SCHOOLGROUNDS.
Once he took his last step, they'd never be able to catch him again.
“Just one step. One step and you'll be free of their clutches.” He promised himself. Just one more step and his life could go back to the way it was.
But would it? Would his mother still even want him? He'd been gone for so long. Was she even still in the city?
He took a glance behind him and was surprised to find that many of the soldiers had stopped. They wouldn't risk the chances of being caught outside of their boundaries. The U.S. was only so willing to allow them to continue their work.
He took his last step and turned to face forward as he did so. Then was surprised to see a man standing in front of him, silently.
“Sir, would you mind....no, no, no! Not you!” He exclaimed. The man grabbed ahold of his wrist, pulling him close.
“Now, is that anyway to greet your uncle?” The man replied, jabbing his fist into Riker's ribs. No, Riker realized as doubled over. Not his fist. A sharp jolt of electricity.
His uncle slipped the taser back into his pocket and motioned for the soldiers to cross over the line.
Riker watched the man through clenched teeth and blurry eyes as the pain shot through him. Too much for his waking mind to handle.
“You...can't...do this.” He grunted, as they hoisted him up.
His uncle smirked, “But we can, Riker. You're behind the sign, but that wouldn't have mattered much anyways. Your father gave you to me, remember? He would've just dragged you back here again.”
Riker's eyes felt heavy, the fight disappearing from his body in a puff. No matter how much he fought the darkness threatening to take him over, he couldn't fight it.
“That was a daring escape you made, Riker. If your uncle hadn't been there, we would've lost you.”
Riker rubbed his eyes and gazed at the wrinkly old man through slits.
“No doubt that your father would've brought you back, though. I did train him to be loyal to the school. And believe it or not, he loved it here. Him and his brother both.” The old man continued.
“Yes, grandpa, you've told me before, but I don't share the same enthusiasm about Lincoln Heights as you do. Or my father.” Riker huffed.
Yup, that was right. The school that trapped its students was the family business. Passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately for Riker, that meant him as well. And his grandfather wouldn't take no for an answer. He doubted that his father would too. Whether his father liked to believe so or not, he and his grandfather were just alike.
“If you would just put those skills of yours that you used last night to use, you'd be one of the best.” His grandfather said.
Riker threw his arms up in frustration, “But I don't want to be here! I don't want anything to do with it!”
His grandfather shot a glare at him, a warning of what would come if he didn't lower his voice.
“No one here wants to be here. That's the point. All the kids that the adults don't want, come here where they're trained in hand to hand combat and strategy.” He lectured.
Riker rolled his eyes and slumped in his seat in front of the hickory desk where his grandfather sat.
If he hadn't feared breaking a leg, he would've jumped out of the small window just a few feet away. He'd imagined many a-times of jumping on a zip-line on a one way ticket out of there. Or holding his grandfather hostage long enough to get across the boundaries.
Sure, his uncle and grandfather were right when they'd said that his father would've brought him back to Lincoln Heights, but they hadn't said anything about his mother. Surely, she wouldn't have turned her own son loose onto the streets. Or over to his father. The man was heartless.
Riker vaguely remembered the day when his father dropped him off here, tears streaming down his cheeks, pleading that his father handed him over to his mother. All his father had said was that it was his duty to the school to bring him there. At the age of seven.
“Did you hear me?”
Riker snapped back to reality, his eyes fixating on his grandfather's dark eyes, “Huh?”
His grandfather huffed, “The soldiers last night are demanding punishment for your defiance. Fifty lashes.”
Riker's jaw dropped in horror, “But you can't! I wasn't that bad!”
His grandfather raised a brow, “Riker, you stuck your tongue out and flipped off Officer Garrett.”
Riker snorted as the man's face flashed through his mind again. The mixture of shock and anger.
“It's not funny, Riker. You've been taught better manners than that.” His grandfather spat.
Riker shrugged. It wasn't the worst he'd committed. He'd had his fair share of back talking and insults.
“Thirty lashes given by the offended and a week of doing whatever Officer Garrett chooses.” His grandfather said.
Riker stood up, the breath knocked out of him. That wasn't good. That wasn't good at all. He knew Officer Garrett well and the man was a pri**. He'd do anything to get back at him.
“But that's not fair! Tyler has done worse and gotten away with less!” He exclaimed.
His grandfather glowered down at him, patience dissipating quickly, “What have I said about raising your voice at me, Riker? One more time, and it'll be fifty lashes!”
Riker clenched his jaw shut, before he made things worse. Thirty lashes would be bad enough. Especially given by the officers on patrol. They were all bloodthirsty bas****s. That's why they were given the jobs of patrolling. His grandfather was worried that they'd do something to hurt the students unnecessarily.
“Will this be made public or not?” He asked, calmly.
“I think we can keep this one behind doors. It should be humiliating enough with all the officers involved.” His grandfather replied.
“Okay, let's get this over with then. I'd rather be bleeding all by my lonesome.” Riker said, his voice shaking with fright.
His grandfather forced a smile, “Atta boy.”
Riker's stomach churned as his grandfather and uncle bound his wrists above his head to the pole in front of him. The wind brushed against his bare back as the officers gathered around him in circle. Eight in all. It would sure be fun.
“I'd also like to announce that Officer Garrett, you will have full reign over Riker for a week. Doing whatever you see fit.” His grandfather hollered, before handing the whip to the nearest officer.
Riker clutched onto the pole like it was his lifeline, but the beauty of a whipping was that you'd never know when the pain would come. The officer could stand there all day, making you wait, bracing for impact, only to catch you off guard.
Riker grunted as the first blow struck his back, his shoulders cringing in pain. And then another, causing a bit of blood to drizzle down his side this time. They were passing the whip down the line, each of them getting their turns before it came back to the first.
Riker whimpered as the next harsh blow rained down on the top of his right shoulder. Then the next. And again. Again until he was screaming. The taste of metal filled his mouth. But it wasn't enough for them. Not until they could hear him cry. Not until his throat was raw and his back cut up.
He dug his nails into the dirt at about the tenth lashing, forcing himself to stay awake. If he passed out, his grandfather wouldn't stop to tell the officers that he'd had enough. He'd keep going until he felt satisfied.
That was the thing about his grandfather. He didn't mind you as long as you followed the rules and paid attention. Even if you were given a lashing. And if you didn't ...well then there was no mercy.
He wanted to throw up. He wanted to let the darkness overtake him. He wanted to struggle under the grip of the ropes, but knew that it'd just make it worse.
Fifteen more. Just fifteen more, he kept telling himself, but the officers weren't making this any better. They would take their time and make sure that he suffered. Even if it were for something as stupid as sticking his tongue out.
He shook the heaviness of unconsciousness off, trying to snap his mind back to reality, but the officers took this as him pleading for them to stop. They laughed, their lashings becoming more vigorous and slower. As if they wanted him to beg for mercy. But Riker would never do such a thing. He would never cower like that, even if his grandfather didn't despise it.
Tears welled in his eyes, as he collapsed into the dirt, the rope cutting into his wrists, and they kept going. Fierce laughter tearing through his ears.
Thirty. Thirty lashings. But they kept going, and his grandfather made no move to stop them. They just kept going. All the anger in the world slashing across his back.
And Riker couldn't hold it back any longer. He couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. All his strength had been in the thought that it would all stop at thirty. But that was gone now.
Thirty three. Thirty four. Thirty five. Riker's eyes snapped shut. Thirty seven. Thirty eight. Thirty nine. The darkness covered him, filling him with fear and relief. Forty two. Forty three. Riker let his subconscious take over. Allowing his mind and body to rest. Fifty. Fifty one. Fifty two. Fifty three. Fifty four. Fifty five.
Riker winced as the officers dropped him into his room, locking the door behind them as they left. As if he was in any condition to fight his way out of there. He couldn't walk by himself for goodness sake.
He lay there in a ball for half an hour, crying to himself, the pain from the hundred lashings flaring down his legs. To make matters worse, the officers carrying him from point A to point B were the officers that had taken their time whipping him. In other words, they weren't careful.
But the reason for his crying didn't have as much to do with his pain as it did his hopelessness. He'd really planned this escape out. He'd watched the patrols for nearly three weeks. He'd snuck into his grandfather's office three times. He'd plotted his route out of the school and way around all the spotlights. But none of it had paid off. None of it had gotten him out of there.
Would he ever get out of there? Or would he just become like his uncle and grandfather? Like his father?
His heart shattered into a million pieces just thinking about it. And in that moment, he wondered if this was part of his punishment. To be stuck inside his mind. Hopeless, fearing that he'd become like them. To show him that no matter how much he tried, he would never run away from this place. That it was hopeless to fight them any longer. And maybe it was true. Maybe he should give up.
He shook that thought away. He couldn't become one of them. He couldn't turn into his father. A monster.
He pulled himself off the floor using the bed sheets as a rope, onto his bed. Then he took off his shirt, feeling as the gentle breeze brushed into the deep cuts, almost soothing the pain. It stung like nothing he'd ever felt before, but that was okay. Because he knew that he'd at least tried. Tried to make himself better than where he'd come from.
“You look like s**t, Riker. What happened to you?”
Riker forced a smile before turning to his best friend, Brian. His dark hair laid in a heap around his neck, his brown gentle eyes scanning Riker for any bruises or burns.
“I got off campus, Brian. I got off campus only to run into my uncle. And then I awoke to find myself in my grandfather's office.” He replied, dropping his workbook onto his desk.
Brian nodded, full of understanding, “They gave you lashings. And by the looks of it, it wasn't ten.”
Riker snorted, “Try a hundred. I guess my grandfather didn't like that someone had finally managed to get away. Especially his own flesh and blood.”
Brian sat down next to him, “So what did your grandfather say, exactly? Why a hundred?”
Riker shrugged, “Honestly, I didn't listen to most of the lecture. But he swore to me that it was only going to be thirty. By the officers. And then fifty came by and I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. You know how that works.”
Brian gave him a pained expression, “I'm sorry, dude. That's terrible.”
Riker grimaced as he turned to face the front, but gave Brian a longing look, “But it won't be the last of it. Not by a long shot. My grandfather also decided that it would suffice to make me Officer Garrett's slave for a week.”
Brian frowned and was about to say something when Riker's uncle walked in. Ready to teach the class about stealth.
“Riker, you're dismissed to the barracks. Officer Garrett would like you to meet him there.”
Riker sighed before getting up from his seat shakily. The teacher watched him through worried eyes, but wouldn't send anyone else near the man. Everyone knew that the man was vicious. That's why they kept him in the barracks when he wasn't patrolling.
Brian clutched onto his arm, “Be careful out there.”
Riker nodded before leaving the room in a rush. The longer he kept the man waiting, the longer he had to stew over his actions.
“Finally you come! I was worried that you'd run off again!” Officer Garrett sneered as Riker met him in the middle of the room.
Riker swallowed hard before asking the dreaded question, “What did you want me to do? Clean? Wash? Dust?”
The man sneered his face darkening, “Who said it was ever going to be that easy? You're going to be my punching bag.”
Riker's heart stopped, “You can't do that! My grandfather would never allow it!”
Officer Garrett crossed his arms, “Oh, really? Weren't you there when he'd said that, I quote, could do 'whatever you want'.”
Riker gulped. He had said exactly that. And Officer Garrett had taken it literally. His grandfather wasn't going to stop it all from happening. He couldn't. He had promised.
“Now raise your fists, I don't like my opponents being weak.” He said.
Riker ducked as Officer Garrett threw his first punch, missing his head by about three centimeters. And he wasn't going to stop there. He threw three more punches, catching Riker off guard with the fourth and connecting with his ribs. He yelped as he felt a crunch on impact.
Officer Garrett snorted, “Is that all you got, boy? You're supposed to be one of the best!”
He landed another punch to his chest, then his jaw. Left, right,left, right, left, right. Uppercut, jab, uppercut, jab.
Riker let out a howl as Officer Garrett landed another powerful blow to his ribs. Rage filled him whole, finally taking control of his actions. The part of him that he didn't like letting out. The part of him that made him like his father.
He rolled out of the way as the adrenaline pumped through his veins, the familiar tingling of his body before he was ready to annihilate.
He kicked out at Officer Garrett's knee cap and heard as a snap blew from it, Officer Garrett's face lighting with pain. Then he struck, pushing all of his power into that one punch. It connected with his jaw, knocking him off his feet. But Riker didn't stop there. He was too angry. Too excited. He felt powerful. Like he could bring down the world.
He punched again. And again. Getting back for all those times that he'd been pushed around. That he'd been beaten. Taken away from his mother.
Officer Garrett held his arms up, blocking one of the blows before it crashed into his face, but Riker didn't stop. He kept coming at him, his fists raining down on the man's face before he realized that he had feet. He kicked with everything he had to the man's ribs. To his face.
Officer Garrett let out a plead to stop, but Riker didn't. He kept going. Kept going until blood rained down on him. And then his blood chilled. Realizing what he'd done.
Officer Garrett remained motionless on the ground, his eyes rolled back. And Riker had done that to him. He had nearly killed a man. A man that hadn't really ever done anything to him.
He dropped to his knees, horror filling him, and rushed to the man. His pulse was still there, but just barely. And it had been all because of him.
Tears streamed down his cheeks, pleading with the man to wake up. To look him in the face and beat the snot out of him. To render him unconscious instead. But there was no such thing. And if he didn't act fast, the man could die.
He stood up, wiping the tears away and took off for the infirmary. Hoping to God that the man would live. Even if he was a pri**.
“Riker? Are you okay? What happened?”
Riker spun around on his heels, his eyes landing on his uncle carrying a stack of books.
“What happened to your face? Where's Garrett?” His uncle questioned.
Tears streamed down his face again, “Officer Garrett is in the barracks! You've got to help him! He barely has a pulse!”
His uncle's eyes widened and he dropped the books instantly, “Okay, get the nurse and we'll fix him up, okay?”
Riker nodded, wiping the tears from his face. His uncle sprinted the same way Riker had just come from, Riker going in the opposite direction. He hoped that they could do something to save him. He wouldn't know what he'd do if the man died because of him.
“He's alive, but just barely. Tell me what happened.” His grandfather said, sitting down beside him.
Riker clenched his fists, trying to keep from bursting into tears again, “He was beating on me. Punching my ribs, punching my face, trying to get me angry. He kept laughing at me, shouting at me. And then...then I did. I broke his knee and then when he was down...I kept going. I kept punching, kicking. He begged me to stop, but I kept going. I—I almost killed him.”
His grandfather watched him with keenness nodding every once in a while, until he came to the end of his story. Ending with the part where he ended up in the chair he was in.
“There's nothing to feel guilty about, Riker. You stood up for yourself when the man was beating you. You just made sure that he wasn't going to hurt you anymore, okay?” He said, patting Riker on the shoulder.
Riker shook his head, “No, I wasn't defending myself, Grandpa. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the power I had over him. He was begging for me to stop, but I didn't. I wanted to make him hurt. I wanted to take out all my revenge on him.”
His grandfather sat speechless for a moment, then met his eyes.
“I think it's time we called your father. He'll know what to do about this.” He said after a while.
Riker's heart lurched, “No! You can't call him! You can't bring him here!”
His grandfather looked him in the eyes again before turning away.
“Go get yourself checked out. We can't have you bleeding out internally or anything.” He said, before disappearing down the corridors.
Riker sighed, getting up from the bench outside the infirmary, and walked in. Nothing good would come from disobeying. Even if he didn't want his father to be there.
Riker glanced up, his heart dropping into his stomach as the man glared down at him. His grey, cold eyes chilling him to the core.
The man's strong build shrank under the door as he ducked, his gun trailing behind him.
“Hello, father.” He mumbled as the man sat next to him.
His father glared over at him once more and took off the the military cap as he met his grandfather's eyes.
“What's going on, Pa? Why have you called me off duty?” His father questioned.
A lump swelled in Riker's throat, making it unbelievably hard to breathe.
“Your son has inherited the gift and he needs you, Kyle.” His grandfather blurted.
His father peered back at him, nothing but contempt in them.
“Can't you do it yourself? He is at your school.” His father spat.
Riker shrank in his seat, partially from fear, but also partially from the sad fact that his father wanted nothing to do with him. Like his grandfather had said before, he just would've abandoned him again. Left him there.
“It's done from father to son. Can't you just do it for him like I did for you? Before you decided that you wanted nothing more to do with me or your brother.” His grandfather replied.
His father looked at him with disgust, “I don't think that's possible, Pa. I've got too much going on to look after a delinquent. A war to fight.”
His grandfather sighed, “Can't you even tell him about what's going on? I mean, the boy needs a father!”
His father shook his head, “I've got to go. I'm afraid that you're going to have to take over for me.”
And with that, his father walked out, without a single word or glance at him. Riker frowned as the man passed. He'd been hoping that his father would just...accept him. But it looked like that was too much to ask for. He would have to deal with the life he'd given him. One full of regret and resentment.
“Well...that went well.” His grandfather said reluctantly.
Riker rolled his eyes, “He didn't even take a look at me. It was like I wasn't even there. You run this place and you even look at me like I'm worth something. It was like he despised me.”
His grandfather frowned, “I'm sure that's not it. It's just...your father is a strange man. Sometimes he cares and others he doesn't.”
“Would you at least tell me what that was about?” He asked.
His grandfather sighed, “In time, Riker. For now, why don't you just go back to your room and rest?”
Riker sighed before getting up from his seat. He sensed that there was something major that his grandfather wasn't saying, but he wasn't going to push it. He'd had enough drama for the night. For the week.