"You know how good always wins? I think it's the other way round. Whoever wins is good. They are the only ones left to tell the story."
The two men sat across from each other at the table, neither looking the other in the eye. One was calm and collected, while the other was agitated, his fingers drumming against his leg. The air was thick with tension, neither of them wishing to be the first to speak.
"It's wrong," the second blurted out, his eyes fixed on the table, avoiding even glancing at the screen. The other tilted his head slightly, encouraging him to continue. When he didn't, he smoothed down his trousers and began to speak.
"It is necessary, unless you want more of us to die. Helpless citizens, millions of them, and you could stop it. Do you really want it on your conscience?" he replied.
"Do I really want that on my conscience? The-" the man stood up and rubbed his temples, clearly unable to go on.
"It's the only way," he said, his tone more gentle than before.
"Won't she have something to say about it?" he replied. "She may be enthusiastic, but she isn't-"
The other man cut him off. "She won't know."
The nervous man walked out of the room, his face twisted with guilt. Both men had made their choice, but neither of them had made the right one.
C h a p t e r O n e
The truth was that everything about this was planned. Information had been mysteriously leaked as to how to get in to the Institution. Incompetent guards had been littered around the hospital. Just as conveniently, every doctor was mysteriously absent from my ward. The key to my chains was placed in plain sight. If the rebels could not get past these pathetic defences, then they were not enough of a threat to care about.
I already detested the duck egg hospital gown with a passion. Every fibre of the cloth itched me - I wondered whether this was another technique, or whether it was purely coincidental. I pulled my left wrist, which was attached to the wall by plain white chains, trying to figure out how far away from the wall i could reach. It wasn't far. I almost pitied the volunteers who lived here for real.
A crash alerted me to what was happening in the corridor. My heart started pumping as I drew back into the wall, letting my face relax into the sullen expression that I had been taught to imitate. My other arm lay limply at my side as the door burst open. I refused to look up.
"Listen to me," a voice commanded, "this is your one chance to escape this hell. I need you to stand up and follow me. Can you do that?"
I nodded. As he spoke, my chains were unlocked. Although I had only been locked in here for a few hours, as soon as the metal pulling me up was released, I collapsed to the ground. I felt a sharp stab in my side. I turned to see a needle being pressed into me, but I didn't question what it was. I had been warned they might drug me. A strong hand gripped my arm and tugged me along. The door swung behind us as we left the room, the others marching down the corridor in perfect unison, my feet making a different rhythm, rather like light rain amongst thunder.
I was scared. I had known this day would happen for a long time, but I was scared. For the first time, I allowed myself to glance up at the people taking me away. A mix of men and women dressed in black and armed like soldiers pulled me along with them to the location hidden from the Government. My heart was pounding louder than the footsteps, my blood bubbling with fear, apprehension and overpowering excitement. I was doing something that would save millions of people. I would be a saviour.
Unbeknownst to them, I wasn't one of the experiments. I was planted here. I was something that could bring their entire organisation down to its knees simply by being among them. Underneath layers of skin lay microphones and tracking devices that would record everything they ever said. I was only to stay in their base for exactly three hundred days, then I could return. The Government had decided this period of time would be long enough to gather any information that they needed. I reminded myself of this, trying to calm the fear that pulsated through my body as I tried to keep one shaking leg in front of the other through the endless corridors and down the towering blocks of stairs.
It seemed to be hours before we reached a guard, although in reality it was probably only minutes. Even to the dim-witted rebels it must have seemed unlikely that no guards had confronted us. It wasn't as if we were not making any noise. The group seemed confident that there was no way that they could be beaten. The idea was incomprehensible to me.
The Government was stronger than any other organisation in the world. Ever since the Great War, the Government was the group that created order in our world. In the few hundred years since the War, the Government had discovered new ways of saving the Earth. The environment was crumbling before the Government's energy saving creations. They had discovered ways to create food without the need to wait months before it was ready. Most important of all, the had discovered cures to almost every disease in the medical books, saving thousands of lives everyday. It was for this reason that I could not understand why the rebels had anything to say against the Government.
The guard that we came across was relatively easy to beat. One of the women at the front of the formation pulled out their gun and shot him. I cringed inwardly at the lack of compassion on her face as she turned round to us and nodded. The others took this as signal to continue, and once again, we marched forwards.
The identical white walls were starting to confuse me as to how many floors we had gone down so it was a surprise when I saw the exit. Once again, the hall was devoid of any guards. The man in front of me looked around in confusion.
"It can't be this easy," he muttered.
He was right.
A man lunged from no where, grabbing onto my hair and tugging me to the side. I yelled as I was pulled, confused and terrified. This wasn't part of the plan. He took out a knife and held it to my neck. I couldn't understand why he didn't use his gun, but the thought escaped my mind as the knife began to cut into my skin.
"You killed my brother in cold blood," he yelled, making me jump, "now I am going to stop you getting the very thing you came to get."
"Listen," one man began from the group of rebels, but he was cut off.
"No, you listen," he shouted, making me flinch. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I hadn't expected this.
The hand gripping my hair let go. The knife clattered to the floor the same time I did, the shock of being let go sending me to the floor for the second time that day. I turned round to see a man holding a lump of metal behind me.
"Sorry it took so long," he said mildly, "if I had shot him, you would have been dead too. I had to catch him by surprise."
I blinked at him, dumbfounded.
"Right," he turned to everyone else, "we need to split up again. If we go in groups of twos and threes then we will seem less suspicious. I'll take the girl."
Instantly, everyone followed his command, separating and relaxing their determined expressions as he handed me trousers and a coat. I pulled them on, leaving my gown as a kind of shirt. A scarf was also donated from one of the soldiers as she left to cover up the cut. Thinking about their disguises, I almost laughed. There was no way, if this wasn't planned, that they would have gotten away with this. They did not blend in.
After everyone had left, the man took my hand, swinging it a little back and forth. I realised what he was doing as he walked me out of the building. I took one furtive glance up at the hidden cameras as I left the building. The enormity of what I was doing hit me as my feet hit the concrete outside. I was going to find out the location of the rebel base, something the Government had attempted to do for decades.
We walked along the streets hand in hand. I glanced up to the man a few times. He seemed expressionless. I stumbled along the streets, trying to keep up. Since I needed to play the part of a volunteer, I needed to look weak and hurt. I went through multiple operations to remove all fat from my body so I looked thin and manipulated my skin so bruises covered my torso. I was starting to feel the effect of losing the weight. It took everything in me not to ask how much longer it would be before we arrived. I needed to play the part of the scared volunteer.
My breath hitched as I was spun around into a hug with the man. I didn't question what was happening as I saw a group of men walking towards us. I hoped the man knew what he was doing as the group of people walked towards us. I closed my eyes, ready for the plan to fall apart as they advanced closer. Luckily, it only took a few seconds before they passed. Once he was sure that they were gone, the man let go.
Sorry," he said quietly, beginning to walk again, "I couldn't risk letting them see me. I'm Owen, by the way."
"Mara," I replied. That wasn't my name, of course. I had been told that I couldn't risk telling them my real name.
We fell back into silence. As we walked, I let my gaze fall upon the people we were walking past. No one seemed to notice us. In the city, everyone had a set job and everyone seemed focused on what they were doing all the time, except the rebels. As everyone wore their uniforms, you could easily tell what they did. Luckily, people under eighteen didn't have to wear a specific uniform. I was young enough to fall into this category and Owen could also pass.
"It's not much further," he murmured. I nodded, trying to keep quiet.
The way to get to the base, it seemed, was through a house. It was easy enough to enter, the woman letting us through the house without any bother. She seemed used to it.
"This is Naomi," Owen introduced, "she has taken residence in this house to allow us to travel to the city."
A ladder was hidden under a rug, leading down into a cellar that seemed to expand miles in every direction. A train was directly in front of us, on a track I could not see the end of. I held in a gasp. The Government certainly did not know about this place.
"It's from the time before the Great War. It was called the Underground, I think," Owen said softly.
I looked around at the station. The colour was astounding. Deep burgundies, vibrant purples, stunning yellows and sapphire blues gave the area life. It was astounding to see the brightness after being brought up in a world of whites and greens. Was this really what the world looked like before the Great War? It was astounding that the world would have been this bright before the War. The old society had always been painted as a place of constant terror and manipulation. This description and the beauty I saw now did not match.
I wasn't given long to admire my surroundings. Most have the group had already arrived. Although we had been granted the quickest route, as it was thought we were the most likely to get recognised, we had walked at a slower rate because of my weakness. As soon as everyone had arrived, I was taken to sit in the train. Although it was over a hundred years old, it was clear this train had been taken care of. It was clean and the seats comfortable. The carriage lacked the space and the uniform white seats of the trains that were currently in circulation, but this seemed homely in comparison to the efficient trains we had now.
For the first time since arriving at the Underground, as Owen called it, I remembered my purpose. I wasn't here to admire colours. I was here to find out information on the rebels, and without sticking to my character, there was no way I could. I drew my legs up to my chest. A low hum of chatter began as everyone sat down. One of the soldiers, a girl with dark hair but bright eyes, sat next to me.
"Hi," she began, her tone excited and jumpy, "I'm Faith. Silly, I know. I didn't get a say, on account of the fact I was a new-born. What's your name?"
"Mara," I replied. I was a little taken aback at how cheerful she sounded. I recognised her as the woman who had shot the guard but showed no compassion. Still, Owen had knocked out another, and he seemed gentle enough.
"You are the only one we managed to rescue, you know," she continued. She didn't seem to sense my discomfort. "I mean, you were the point of this mission. Apparently, you are special. I don't know why. No one tells me anything. Still, we wanted to save anyone we could. We tried on the way up, but all the doors were looked. Your door wasn't though. Do you know why?"
I let my eyes wander towards hers. This answer had been drilled into my head. "They said that it was to break my spirit. They wanted me to feel hopeless. So they placed the key just out of my reach and left the door open so I could see outside and know that I would never reach it."
Faith recoiled. "That's horrible."
"Who the hell decided to place Faith next to the girl?" A loud voice interrupted our conversation, making me jump. Faith only rolled her eyes, seemingly used to it.
"Better than you. She'd rather be at the Institute than sit with you for any length of time," she replied cheekily. The man just laughed at her. As I turned around cautiously, I had to stop myself gasping. He had a scar stretching from beneath his shirt to just under his eye. No one had scars in the city. They were all removed cosmetically.
"Besides, she has a name. Mara," Faith continued, seemingly proud to have gathered this information. A chorus of everyone greeting me met me half a second later. Confused as to what to say, I just muttered a shy "hello."
In the years of preparation leading up to this moment, I had never expected them to be so friendly. I was expecting ruthless soldiers, killing innocent civilians on sight. These people, however, were friendly and teasing, almost as if they were family. I shook my head, ridding myself of these thoughts. These people were the reason that the Government could not entirely rule. They were all evil.
The train lurched forward, the sound of the machine shocking me. It was clear that this train was old. Nothing currently in use made this amount of noise. It was also much slower than any modern technology. Still, it was taking us where we wanted to go, and that was all we needed. With the constant noise of the train, Faith fell silent, leaving me to think.
A sudden rush of excitement made me shiver. This was real. I was going to discover the rebel base which the Government had been searching for for years.
I could do this.
C h a p t e r T w o
My eyes flew open. It took a few seconds before I realised where I was, my heart pounding as I figured it out. I was still on the train, I'd clearly fallen asleep, and the girl next to me had disappeared. I relaxed and closed my eyes again, trying to remember what I was supposed to do now.
I stood up and backed into the wall, letting the panic take over once again. The man with the scar frowned and stood up too, but Faith was quicker, walking over to me and putting her hand on my shoulder. I flinched and tried to push back my hatred. I needed to look scared. My eyes flickered to the exit, refusing to look at the girl.
"You are safe here," she said calmly. I shook my head again. A sudden thought distracted me; she must have only been seventeen. Why was she trusted to do this?
"You're safe," she repeated, her voice becoming more frantic. I closed my eyes, trying to let myself fall back into autopilot. I knew what to do. I'd seen enough to know what to do.
I ducked beneath her outstretched arms, almost tripping over my feet as I ran. My breath came in ragged gasps. I ran through the train, furious at myself for not being rational but supposing there was no reason to seem rational.
I almost flew past the others sitting on the train, my training kicking in as I let my emotions overcome me. The thudding of my feet was somehow louder than my heartbeat. The girl was chasing after me but was far behind, even though I was not going at a particularly fast speed; I was, after all, meant to be traumatised and weak.
One foot tripped the other and I slammed into the ground. The noise echoed across the corridor and all of a sudden Faith was there, checking my head for injuries and trying to lift me up. Dazed, I just sobbed and passively allowed her to guide me to my feet and pull me back along the train. I stumbled, but she caught me. I had been forced to practice this so many times I felt as though I was still in training, easily maintaining the role.
"Handcuff her to the seat," the man with the scar said. Whatever the doctors had done to me to make me react to certain words kicked in and I tensed, pulling away from the girl.
"Are you entirely thick?" Owen surprised me by saying, "she was kept in handcuffs for long enough."
"What did you just say to me?" he asked, furiously turning to Owen, who almost cowered.
"See reason, Ellis," another woman piped up, "do you really think this is the best thing to do?"
He bristled before answering. "I'm not going to keep track of her if she runs again," he finally said, and the entire carriage seemed to relax. For my part, I was just glad that enough people seemed to truly believe me. I knew these people would kill without hesitation, and finding out there was a spy in their midst probably wouldn't have impressed them.
I was lead back down to my seat, and this time Faith did not move from next to me. Owen got up from his seat next to a woman who looked just like him and sat down in the seat opposite Faith.
"Sorry about him," he said quietly, glaring at the man with the scar, "he's extremely insensitive."
I shook my head, deciding not to reply. Faith and Owen seemed kind enough but I had been told they would do this to trick me. They would pretend to care and would pretend to be civilised. However, their group had killed thousands of civilians. They couldn't be trusted.
Faith and Owen talked as I pulled my legs up to my chest and stared out the window. I was in so much danger but there was no chance of backing out of this situation. Even if I could find a way to escape, I needed to be here. I had trained my whole life and this would allow me to help The Government. I idly wondered what the people listening to the transmitters inside of me thought of this conversation.
The train slowed to a stop and everyone began to get up. My heart pounded as I realised that this was it. This was all it took to get into a rebel base. I almost laughed. The Government would not be so easily fooled.
Faith took my arm and guided me to stand up. I was lead off the train and into a wheelchair. The woman who Owen sat next to pushed me along endless sloping corridors as Faith walked beside me. I didn't say anything, just stared blankly ahead.
The first thing that struck me as I was led into the base was that everything was grey. The walls, ceilings and floors all were painted the same. It made the place seem dreary and dark, sending a shiver through me. I had imagined this place since I was young, but a scene as boring as this had never crossed my mind.
"Where are we going?" I asked, once again drowsy. My eyelids seemed heavy but I was determined to keep consciousness. The woman behind me seemed to pause before replying.
"Don't worry. We are going to take you to our hospital."
Her words were said in a comforting tone but I immediately recoiled at the word hospital. That had been part of the training. To be convincing as a traumatised volunteer, I had to act like one. Luckily, I had had lessons on this since I was tiny.
"Don't worry," she said almost frantically, "it isn't like the Institute. In this hospital, your injuries will be fixed and you will be fed up so you are more healthy."
I nodded, unable to do more than that. I wondered whether the injection from earlier or the weakened state of my body was making me so tired. A few corridors later and I was falling asleep.
I woke with a jolt. My heart was beating too fast as I opened my eyes. All I could see was the grey above me. I was reminded very quickly of where I was. Some kind of hospital. I looked to my side to see what I presumed was a nurse. She took the needle I hadn't even noticed out of my arm.
"Sorry we had to do that," she said briskly, "you wouldn't have woken up without the adrenaline. The drugs you were on were strong."
"Drugs?" I asked croakily. She handed me a glass of water, which I gratefully took and sipped.
"We had to make sure that you were calm on the way into here, and you slept. If you would have kicked up a fuss then they would have had a problem. You needed to sleep until you arrived here."
"Oh," I replied softly. It made sense. I had briefly 'kicked up a fuss' but I supposed I was used to different sedatives from my training. Even if I seemed to, I didn't react to them as strongly as I should anymore.
I looked up at her. The only way to describe her was harsh. She was bony - not thin, but defined. Her cheekbones stuck out dramatically, her hair was scraped back and her thin arms ended in long fingers covered in rough skin. What surprised me the most was her scarlet jumper and black trousers. In the city, nurses and doctors wore a distinct green uniform of trousers and a t-shirt. I guessed that uniforms didn't really matter here.
"I'm Charlotte, and I am in charge of this wing. I fixed the gash wound on your neck," she said, "and I put salve on your bruises. There is nothing I can do for the mental impact of the Institute. You were lucky to get out of that place when you did. You don't seem irreparably damaged. I can, if you like, erase your memories of being in the Institute-"
"No," I cut her off. "No. I need to remember."
In truth, if they messed around in my memories, I would forget my purpose for coming here. But she did not need to know that. She frowned at me for a second, but shook her head, disregarding the thought.
"Okay, well if you change your mind, you can contact me easily. I would like you to have a say in what happens next. You can either stay in the hospital for a few months, recovering, or I can help you adapt back into normal society. How long were you in the Institute?"
"Only a few years," I parroted. I felt a wave of anger bubble up as I looked at her. There was no way she could be stupid enough to believe my lies. She nodded, much to my bitter amusement.
"And do you have any idea why you would be considered special?" she inquired curiously. I shook my head.
"So, which would you like to do?" she asked. I bit my lip. As great as staying here and being fed up sounded, I was here for a reason.
"I would like to live with everyone else, please," I replied nervously. Even with all my training, I still felt as if I wasn't ready.
She nodded, and walked away, checking on someone with a broken leg. I took the opportunity to look around. Just like the corridors on the way here, everything was a dull grey. Here, there were no windows, which indicated that we were underground. I frowned, trying to remember whether there were windows in the corridors. I couldn't remember. I looked down at myself to see that I was wearing the hospital gown again from the Institute, but the coat, trousers and scarf were no where to be seen.
The nurse soon returned, Faith in tow. Faith was no longer wearing the black clothes from before, but rather brighter clothes that even the nurse. She wore a bright blue top that seemed to brighten up the room and dark purple trousers. I guessed that wearing these colours was a rebellion in it's own sense. They looked nothing like the clothes I had seen before, which were chosen for practicality, not the aesthetic value. Choosing clothes like this made no sense.
"Hello again! I am Faith, if you don't remember. I haven't seen you in a while," she began, a torrent of words falling from her mouth in quick succession.
"Oh, I didn't tell you," the nurse put in, "you have been asleep for about a week. You were extremely malnourished, we thought it best."
Faith began to talk again. "So, I'm here because you will be sharing a room with me and a couple of other girls, if that's okay."
"Okay," I replied, trying stop her talking.
"Don't crowd the poor girl," Charlotte scolded. Faith rolled her eyes.
"Anyway," the nurse said, "Faith is going to take you to the communal room to meet a few people, just to see how you go. You can leave the room at any time if you need to."
I nodded as the nurse helped me up from the bed. I discovered my legs could not hold me for more than a few seconds as my knees collapsed and I ended up sitting on the bed.
"Not to worry, not to worry," the nurse soothed, "I will get you a wheelchair to help you for now. It's only to be expected."
She hurried off and returned with a wheelchair. I managed to get into the chair without too much difficulty. Faith took the handles and began to push me without having to ask. I had never seen a wheelchair that wasn't automatic before I had come here.
I was surprised to be allowed already to leave the hospital, even if it was only for a short time. Even when I had briefly been ill when I was young I had been quarantined for weeks at a time. I supposed The Government were more cautious and more protective than this community, if you could call it that.
I was lead out of the hospital after saying goodbye to Charlotte. As we travelled through the corridor, I began to wonder whether I was making the right decisions. I was not sure whether I was convincing. I shivered as I thought of the possibility of being discovered. These people were vicious. They killed in cold blood. If they discovered my secret, I wouldn't make it out of here alive. I had been preparing for this since I was four, but I didn't feel ready.
I almost gasped as I we entered what I presumed was the communal room. Although it was the same grey as every other room in this place, everything else was full of colour. Pictures and paintings, presumably made by children lined the walls. I couldn't even see the grey of the walls beneath the colourful collage. The people in the room seemed just as bright. Adults were deep into conversation while children ran around, their raucous giggling infectious. Women and men played games that I had never seen before while elderly people sat in wheelchairs similar to mine. This wasn't the picture that had been painted to me by the Government officials. I shook my head, ridding myself of the thoughts. I had seen these people ruthlessly kill. This was a pretence, and I wasn't going to fall for it.
The noise was almost unbearable as I was pushed through the room. Only a few children turned to look at me, but apart from that, I remained unnoticed. Faith steered me away from a group of children on the floor and towards a group of girls who were talking urgently. As we approached, they fell silent but took on more relaxed expressions. I was parked next to the sofa the group of girls sat at. Faith threw herself down onto the sofa.
"This is Mara," she introduced, "she is the girl we rescued from the Institute in the city."
"Hi!" one of her friends with curly blonde hair and sparkling eyes spoke first, "I am Imogen, this is Amanda and this is Violet,". She pointed to the girl sitting next to her with dark hair pushed back in a vibrant purple bandana and a girl with an afro. I smiled at them nervously.
"How - how long have you been here?" I stuttered. Although this was something that I had been trained to ask, I was genuinely curious. They seemed happy.
"All my life," the girl with the bandana, Amanda, replied, "my parents lived here since they were little."
"Only a few years. I was rescued, same as Faith," Violet countered. I turned to Faith with a new found interest. Rescued? From what?
"Technically since my birth, but I transfer from here to the city," Imogen told me.
"You will be sharing a room with all of us," Faith told me, "there isn't much space any more. This place is overpopulated now."
"Luckily, travelling to the city means Immy is pumped full of chemicals, so she loves to tidy," Amanda laughed.
"It's the only way that our room stays clean," Violet put in.
"You guys take advantage of me," Imogen complained.
"Chemicals?" I asked, confused.
A yell cut our conversation short. I turned round to see Owen standing up in a corner of the huge room. His shout reverberated around the room. He only looked at the man he was talking to, ignoring everyone else's stares. He turned away from his conversation and stormed out of the room.
Faith clenched her hands as a low hum of conversation returned to the room, her eyes flitting from one person to another. I realised how anxious she looked. It seemed to spread to me as a wedge of fear lodged itself into my heart. I had no idea what had just happened, but it seemed dangerous.
"Okay," Faith elongated the word, "I think it's time for you to get back to the hospital."
I flinched as taught, but it was hurried. "What about Owen? Is he okay?"
"Sure he is," she replied quickly, standing up and pushing me out of the room. I turned back to see the man talking solemnly to a woman, who seemed near to tears. I tried not to think about whatever was happening as I was pushed back through the corridors towards the hospital.
Whatever it was, it wasn't good.