Wydawca: Maya Shepherd Kategoria: Dla dzieci i młodzieży Język: angielski Rok wydania: 2016

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Opis ebooka Radioactive: The Forgotten Ones - Maya Shepherd

After Cleo leaves her first love, Finn, she awakens in the sickbay of the Legion. Although she does not lose her memory, nothing goes the way she and the rebels had planned it.The Legion commanders see no threat in her and return her to her old life. However, the Legion commander, A350 has taken an interest in the young Cleo. But when Finn suddenly emerges as a prisoner of the Legion, Cleo is forced to decide his fate. Should the Legion erase his memory or execute him?

Opinie o ebooku Radioactive: The Forgotten Ones - Maya Shepherd

Fragment ebooka Radioactive: The Forgotten Ones - Maya Shepherd

Maya Shepherd

RADIOACTIVE

––––––––

“The Forgotten Ones”

Table of Contents

Title Page

01. BACK TO NORMALITY

02. HELP FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE

03. FAKE FRIEND

04. LOYALTY REWARDED

05. NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

06. COMPROMISE

07. IT’S ABOUT LIFE AND DEATH

08. DANGEROUS TRUST

09. FRIENDS IN NEED

10. FALSE CLAIMS

11. SAD NEWS

12. A NAME FULL OF HOPE

13. Z318

14. REPRODUCTION WITHOUT LOVE

15. WITH FRIENDS

16. UNDERSTANDING

17. MATING FIGHTS

18. THE FLIGHT

19. LOST

Dear Reader,

My thanks go to...

01. BACK TO NORMALITY

The light is so bright that it’s burning my eyes. I cannot see anything and pinch my eyelids together. I’d prefer to shield my eyes with my hand, but I cannot move my arms. Everything feels so numb and lifeless. I have the feeling that I am trapped in my own body. Although I cannot move, I feel that I am naked. It is cold.

A head appears in my field of vision, giving me a reprieve from the bright lights. It is a woman. Her eyes shine light blue, 5012 on the RAL color chart. Her head is bald, while her white suit reflects the burning light of the lamps. I am back in the Legion.

Before I can respond in any way, they put some kind of black rubber mask over my mouth and nose. I want to fight back. I want to scream. I will not forget.

Although I know that Finn and the rebels should be the last thing on my mind at this moment, I am powerless. The belief that I will see Finn again someday is the only thing that gives me hope while I slip back into the bottomless nothing from which I have only just awakened.

It is quiet. No voices. No birds singing. No wind blowing through the trees. Nothing.

I open my eyes and stare at the white ceiling. It would have been comforting to see the uneven, red sandstone caves where I lived with the rebels. But even though I knew I would not see that I still open my eyes. I am back in the safety zone of the Legion. I can smell it. The caves smell of Earth, pine needles, moss, sand, and freshly baked bread. They smell of life and liberty. The safety zone on the other hand just smells sterile. The sharp smell of cleaning agents bites my nose.

Before now it never occurred to me, but now that smell is so strong I feel I can hardly breathe.

I let my eyes glide through the cell. There is no table and chair, no steam shower, or the little food bank box. There are no windows, but of course I did not expect windows. The safety zone is located deep underground, where night never falls and people never know whether it’s really day or night. The sun and moon do not decide these things down here. The day and night cycle is decided by the Legion commander.

The bed on which I lie is the only piece of furniture in the small room. It is different from the beds that I was used to in the past. This bed has latches that could be used to tie me down; however, maybe I should be grateful that I am not tied to this bed. I feel empty inside. It is difficult for me to reflect and think clearly.

The walls are made of cold steel, whose surface is matted. I can see a small pink spot on the wall. I brush my hands carefully over the rough fabric of brown nightgown. Slowly I let my fingers wander up and touch my head. It is as bare and as cold as the ceiling and walls of the cell. The short brown hair that grew during my time with the rebels is gone. I am now a member of the Legion again. A person without their own opinions, dreams, or feelings. More of a robot than a human.

I see that my body trembles before I feel it. My hands tremble and I press my lips together so tightly that they start to bleed and I can taste the metallic taste of blood on my tongue. I feel wet drops on my skin and wipe them away. I am crying. Incredulous, I look at the shiny wetness on my fingertip and discover something completely different. In my palm a narrow white scar can be seen. I distinctly remember the day it happened. It was one of my first days with the rebels after they captured me. They said I should help work in the field. Clumsily I cut myself with a knife. Finn was beside himself with rage. He insulted me so much that I fainted in the heat of the sun. Actually, it is not one of the happy memories from my time with the rebels, but I will treasure this memory all the same. The Legion cannot own my memories. They are a part of me. Even though I am now once again D518 in the eyes of the Legion, in my heart I am Cleo. I will wait for the day I can be reunited with Finn.

I let myself slide back on the pillow and close my eyes.

Already it is difficult for me to remember how my face looked on my last evening with the rebels, but it is easier for me to remember Finn. His face is burned into my retina. I can see the dimples in his cheeks when I imagine his sparingly-used smile and the mischievous gleam in his eyes, which are as blue as the sky on a sunny day. The waves of his blond hair appear so close to me, as if I could just reach out my fingers and touch them.

I am thinking of our last moment together. It was our farewell for an uncertain amount of time. Maybe forever. But it was the moment that changed my life forever. It was the moment I love the most. I ran my fingertips over his lips and then his lips biting mine. Our kiss was full of fear and despair, but there was also so much more. It was an unspoken promise. We’ll meet again. Some day.

It’s hard to say how much time passes when there is no sun at which one can orient their self. Previously I had a thoroughly planned daily schedule in the safety zone. I woke up when the Legion woke me up, worked and went to bed when the Legion told me it was time for it. I was able to count minutes and seconds in my head. I forgot all of that during my time with the rebels. There I woke up when the sun through the small window in the room woke Iris and myself. No day was like the one before it. Every day was new and nice at the same time.

Worst of all, is the uncertainty. I do not know what the Legion commanders intend to do with me. Do they see me as an enemy? Or do they expect me to help destroy the rebels?

I’m assuming that I currently find myself in the sickbay, but how long will they keep me here? Will they hold me here for the rest of my life? Trapped in my own feelings and memories?

I pause and listen. I hear a slight rattle. A mechanical buzzing sounds and the steel door of the cell slides in. In its opening is a Legion commander. She holds a small tray in her hand. Behind her I can recognize the sterile corridor of the hospital wing. She wears green stripes to match the green suits of doctors and laboratory staff. When I visited the training class, I dreamed of one day joining them. I wanted to achieve something in the safety zone. To be something special. But it turned out quite differently. Instead of becoming B518, safety zone doctor, I became D518, an employee of the food allocation team.

The door closes behind the Legion commander and she walks calmly toward me. This immediately arouses my suspicions. No one in the Legion goes slowly; everyone has tasks they must perform in a given time. There is no reason to waste time.

But the strange woman does something strange, by setting down on the bed beside me. Her attitude expresses something like compassion. I must be imagining it. In the safety zone there are no feelings. While they are not prohibited directly, they simply do not exist. They are no more a part of life than a sunset.

Curious, I look into the woman’s eyes and freeze. I know her. Although her eyes are as light blue as everyone else’s, there is a spark of feeling that I recognize them. She is the Legion commander, whom I had only met as an infant. That time I damaged my own nightgown. Instead of punishing me, she told me I had a great future ahead of me. She said I would have to be very intelligent. Obviously she was wrong. She probably does not even remember me. To her I’m just one of many.

“My name is A350. I have brought you your food ration.”

She holds out the tray on which next to a glass of water are some colorful pills, tablets, and capsules. What I would not give at this moment for a piece of bread.

I reach first for the cereal cubes. There are four. This is less than normal for a full-grown woman. I should know, after all, I worked in food allocation.

“You’ve put on weight,” A350 commented on my hesitation. So I’m probably too thick now, even though I was just starting to look healthy. I saw myself in the mirror with the rebels. I saw how my ribs are pressed through my thin suit. My cheekbones stood out on my face. I was horrified at the sight of me, that I dared only after weeks to look at myself in the mirror again. But I realize that I’m not useful for the Legion as I do not meet their ideal size. Without answering, I swallow the cereal cubes.

After that, the protein capsule follows. Obviously they can tell that I have been doing heavy work. I am sure that I have built up more muscle in the past few months than in my whole life in the safety zone.

At the end are the pink vitamin tablets. There are more than normal. The Legion commanders will have examined me thoroughly for diseases, but vitamins will additionally strengthen my immune system.

When Iris was still F701, she was pleased every time she received many of the pink tablets at the food counter. I therefore allocated her more on purpose, just before the rebels abducted me. At the time, that was my kind of rebellion. When I think about it today, it seems rather ridiculous. Allotting someone too many vitamin pills is not a rebellion. It’s not even a riot. It is nothing. Completely insignificant. It is only an attempt to convince yourself that you can at least control a portion of a person’s life.

While I have swallowed the protein capsules and cereal cubes at once, I’m considering the four vitamins individually on my tongue.

One for Iris.

One for Finn.

One for the rebels.

One for Cleo.

The Legion commander observed without saying anything. She just sat there stiff and looked at me while her mouth formed a thin line. Maybe I just imagined her feelings.

“How are you?”

There it is again, that peculiar twinkle in her eyes and the gentle sound in the usually mechanical voice. Never before had anyone in the safety zone asked how I felt.

“Do you feel any pain? Is your body functioning properly? Do you have any adverse effects?”

She does not care about my inner life, she only asks about my physical condition.

“My body is functioning.”

A350 hesitates for a moment, but then she gets up and heads for the door. That was it? What will happen next? What will become of me?

“What happens to me now?”

The Legion commander turns to me again. “You will stay here in the sickbay for a few days. After that you may return to your work unit.”

I’ll be back in food allocation? What about my time with the rebels? Is that insignificant?

“In food allocation?” I ask almost stupidly.

“Of course. You are D518. That’s your life.”

The door opens and A350 steps out. She leaves me with so many unanswered questions that seem to dissolve into thin air. I was afraid they would kill or torture me. I thought they would rob me of my memory. I was afraid they would try to get me to turn on the rebels. But I never thought they would act as though nothing happened. No one cares about my time with the rebels. No one speaks to me about it. No one asks questions. Nobody is interested in it.

How could the rebels believe the Legion would just appoint me as a commander? They put all their hopes in me, even though I’m completely useless. As a small female worker in the food allocation division, I am not helpful to anyone. There is no way I can change the lives of the rebels or the people of the safety zone. I had a chance to start anew. I had a life with the rebels. I had a life with Finn. But I gave it up for a silly dream. Completely free.

02. HELP FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE

I wear the brown suit which distinguishes me as belonging to D-Class. The fabric clings to my body and looks almost like a second skin, but I feel exposed for the first time in my life. I yearn for the loose clothing of the rebels. With the rebels, the clothes were an extension of the people. Here, we are all the same, well, only externally. In my mind rages a storm that cannot be seen from the outside. Even though my situation seems hopeless, I will not give up. I will fight. For the rebels. And for me.

The door of the cell slides open and a peppy young man in a blue suit is waiting for me. I have to look closely to realize it is not C515. It would have been nice to see a familiar face. Although we were never friends in the sense that I am friends with the rebels, there always seemed to be a connection between us. Maybe it was just that I could distinguish him from all the others, and he could tell me apart, obviously. We always recognized each other though we never spoke to each other. Our looks to each other could say more than words ever could.

“I am C590. Follow me. I will take you to your unit.”

As he speaks, his eyes are completely motionless, as if frozen. His face betrays no emotion. Even his movements are mechanical as I follow him out of the sickbay.

Apart from the green stripes on the wall, the sickbay does not look any different from any other passageway in the safety zone. It’s cold and empty. . A steel door joins this passageway with another. The lights in the ceiling are so unnatural that I am almost sick of it. The only reason I am looking forward to working in food allocation is because Zoe will be there. She will be pleased to hear from Finn and the others. And I am delighted to be able to speak to another human being. We will be allies. We will not have to carry our secrets any longer. We can share the load and share plans. I’m ready for it.

But as we enter the control room of the food allocation area, I can see it immediately. There are more than twenty tables with PCs and workers, but two chairs are empty. The ones Zoe and I sat in. She is no longer there.

C590 poked his index finger into my back. “Sign up for the service.” He seems upset that he had to ask me to. He feels that I am not functioning as I should, and for that he has no understanding. Does he know at all what happened to me, or does he think I’m just crazy?

“D518 reporting for duty.”

The department head nods to me indifferently. “D375 receives D518.”

That’s the cue for C590 to look into the distance. He has delivered me to my unit and thus his job is done. Even the head of the department is no longer interested in me. Am I expected to remember my responsibilities? Confused I take my place at my former station and let myself sink into my chair. Before me, the screen flickers and shows various crew members. I am responsible for making sure their food rations are correct. But the empty chair next to me remains in my mind. Lost in thought, my hand reaches over to the empty seat. What happened to her? Did she go crazy after her rescue failed? Is she still alive?

I look around the room. Everyone is sitting as though chained to their chair and stares apathetically at the screen in front of them. Did anyone notice that I was gone? Nobody seems the least bit interested in where I was. Not even a curious glance. How can they all be so ignorant? They all cannot be so indifferent. They are people just like me. People feel. That cannot be any different here. I want to shout loudly. I shake, but I control myself. With clenched fists I get up. “I have a question.”

Irritated, D375 raises his eyes. He is not used to being asked questions. “Need some advice?” It sounds as if he doesn’t know what that even is.

“Where is D523?”

Puzzled, he scratches his brow. I can see him trying to analyze my question. He seems to not grasp the concept. “Why are you interested in that?”

I notice now that several others have turned from their screens and are now looking at me shyly. I have their attention. Maybe they think I am insane, but I will not get a better chance than this. This is my chance to reach people.

“D523 is a member of our unit. She is one of us. I worry about here when she is no longer here.”

The department head shakes his head uncomprehendingly. “We are all the same. Everyone is replaceable. D523 is no exception.”

To be equal is not automatically synonymous with replaceable. It is hard to keep myself under control.

“Nobody has asked you what happened to her?” I cry aloud to the room and harvest only blank stares. Will they not understand?

“Has anyone of you noticed that she is gone?”

Despair is now in my voice and I feel that I am close to tears again. My hands are shaking while trying to wipe the tears away.

“D518, it is not your job to question the decisions of the Legion commander. Sit in your place and continue your work or I will inform the guards.”

The threat is over. I am getting frustrated as I sink back into my chair. What shall I do without Zoe? How am I supposed to survive in the safety zone if there is not even another person with whom I could exchange a normal word?

The screen in front of me starts to flash. On eight small windows I see people who are waiting for their food ration. The computer asked me to confirm the predetermined quantities of tablets. But I look at the residents of the safety zone in detail. One of them is from the second generation and is thus one of the elders of the safety zone. In three years, at the exact age of sixty, his life will end. It is a method to control the population density of the safety zone. Earlier, this was normal to me, but now I know that people can be much older. Gustav and Marie were both over sixty and very happy. There is no reason why they should have died at sixty.

The man stands petrified at the food counter. He wonders why his allocation is taking so long. Similarly, the other seven seem to be having the same thoughts. None of them makes a move to press the sensor to request food again or impatiently look into the opening. None of them tap their feet or drum their fingers against the wall. They all stand lifelessly. Their eyes are rigid and their bodies motionless. None of them are like Iris, who was so often pleased to receive pink vitamin tablets. None of them seem capable of feeling pleasure or pain. Although their bodies work, their insides must have died long ago. They are only lifeless shells without a soul. Have they always been so? Most people never saw what I saw, something special in every detail. I paid attention to the little things that hardly anyone else perceived. Perhaps I wanted simply to see more in them than what was there? Or did my time with the rebels dull my ability to look behind the facades of people? Have I become blind to the details?

Without looking, I confirm the computer’s selections. The system does not make mistakes so it is useless to even try looking for one.

After my shift in the food allocation division, I walk through the atrium with its colorful images. Today they show a forest with birds in the branches of trees and deer that peep out here and there behind a tree. Previously, these images impressed me and I would have stopped to admire them. But I have seen a real forest with my own eyes. The pictures in the atrium are just images. No image can evoke the emotions of that overwhelming reality. They are just images. The smell of moss or dirt does not exist in images. Nor does the wind that blows through the leaves or the crunch every step makes. That’s why I do not stop. I am not impressed. So today I sit alone in my cell. The whole safety zone is nothing more than a prison. There are no windows or doors that could be opened without an order from the Legion commander.

While others scurry past me, I look for a familiar face. If I cannot find Zoe, then perhaps I can at least find C515. It would be comforting to see something like recognition in his eyes. I cannot recognize him among the few fighters I have seen. When will the spy the rebels told me about contact me? I had always assumed that he must belong to the C Class. But even if I do find that person, what do I tell him? How will the rebels react when they hear I was not made a Legion commander and that Zoe has disappeared? How will Finn react? Will he try to do something stupid and storm the building alone?

Or perhaps that is the reason I have not been contacted? Did he consider my mission a failure already and decided not to make himself known? Do the rebels think I have become useless to their cause?

Back in my room, I lay down on the bed. I know I will have to put my suit in the laundry and put on my nightgown, but I lack the strength. I have not worked hard, as I had with the rebels. I feel as though I have done nothing all day, yet still feel tired. I just do not know what to do now. I had firmly resolved to adapt myself back to Legion life because there was a goal worth fighting for. The Legion commanders should thank that the rebels mean nothing. The Legion should believe that I am one of them. But I am just as useless to the Legion as I am to the rebels. No one needs me. Why should I be here any longer? Should I continue to maintain this façade?

I can feel the hot tears trickle down my cheeks. My gaze slides to the camera in the right corner of my cell. Tears are prohibited. But what do I want to happen? How can they punish me more? Even if they torture me, I would at least feel as though I am suffering for something worth fighting for. I could do something honorable, but to put me back into my old life and act as though nothing ever happened, that is the worst thing they could do to me. Therefore, I do not care who sees my tears.

The days pass me by without anything changing. Whether I want to or not, I begin adapting to this life. I am doing exactly what the Legion expects of me more than ever. I fulfill my duties without thinking about its meaning. I urge back every emergence of feelings. They only make me weak. Emotions have no place in this world. Emotions are something for those who can afford to have hopes and dreams. A prospect for change, but I know there will be none for me. Cleo is as good as dead. Her life light flickers faintly like the flame of a dying candle. She lives by memories that become weaker by the day. Thanks to the sensors in my bed even my nights are dreamless. The only moment when I admit to myself some weakness is before going to sleep. In the dark of night the desire comes on so strongly that I cannot defend myself against the tears. They glide silently down my face. Often I do not know why I am crying. For Iris? For Finn? For the rebels? Or maybe for the whole world? I loathe my tears because they are useless. Even if I could cry a real ocean, they would not change anything.

On this day I am scheduled for the night shift. Without stopping to waste a look at the false images, I rush to the food allocation department. But once I enter the hall, a person from behind grabs me and cups his hand over my mouth. I freeze and hold my breath. Only now I think back to the rebel’s contact. Has he not given up on me?

The stranger pulls me into a dark corner of the hallway where the cameras cannot see us. The hand breaks away from my mouth and I turn around expectantly. The sight of the man irritates me. I would not have expected him. It is C515. His mouth twists into a smile.

I can no longer hold back and I fall upon his chest. Loud sobs penetrate from my mouth. To see a smile in the safety zone overwhelmed me. I had no hope of seeing him or Zoe ever again. I had given up and then what? He stands before me and smiles. Where did he learn how to smile? I always knew he was different, but I had no idea how much.

He pushes me off his chest determinedly and looks into my eyes. “Meet me at three o’clock in front of the sickbay.”

I do not understand his words. Why? But before I could ask, C515 leaves. What happened to him? Why is he smiling? Is he the rebel’s contact? Was he ever one of them? Was he a rebel long before I ever knew about them? I grew up with C515, how can it be that he knows so much more than I?

03. FAKE FRIEND

While working in the food allocation division, not a minute passes without a glance to the clock. I cannot wait to see C515. Why does he want to meet in front of the sickbay? Does he want to show me something?

Just the thought of him makes my mind race. Why did he make me wait so long? Perhaps he could not have picked a better time to come into my life. He seems like a bright spot in the darkness. Finally, I am no longer alone. Maybe he can tell me about Iris and the others.

At 2:55 I get out of my chair and march toward D375. Impatiently he raises his eyes at me and suspects something bad.

“What do you want?” He asks me harshly.

“I need to go to the toilet.”

“It’s not the right time for it.”

He has furrowed his brow so that his eyebrows are almost touching one another.

“I have to go anyway, I can feel it.”

“I’ll have to report you to the Legion commanders. Your behavior is striking and alarming.”

“Then report me. This does not change the fact that I now have to use the toilet.” I reply impatiently.

He seems unsure of what to do next. My unexpected behavior challenges his authority. The other workers in the room are already giving us looks. They’re afraid of me.

“Then go to the toilet. If you’re not back in five minutes, I’ll call the guards.”

Without considering him further, I press the scanner at the door, it says, “Unplanned leaving the workplace. Confirmation requested.”

I bite my lip, annoyed with D375. He walks next to me. “I am the head of this department. You are under my supervision,” he says and puts his finger on the scanner.

At that moment I realize I was wrong. People do still have feelings. The department manager clearly perceived triumph. He is proud of his position.

“Confirmation granted,” the computer voice says as the steel doors slide aside. I step out into the hall in a hurry and hear D375 call after me, “Five minutes.”

I quickly run to the sickbay. I hope I’m not too late. When I arrive at the green door, C515 is nowhere to be seen. Is something wrong? Panicked, I look around. What if he does not come? If I stay longer than five minutes, the head of the department will call the guards and they will lock me away. Then I will have no way to talk to C515. I need to know what he wanted to tell me. Suddenly I hear a noise behind me from inside the sickbay. Frightened, I stand at the door and think about what to do now. If someone other than C515 steps out and seems me standing there in my brown suit, they will want to know what I am doing there. What shall I say? The excuse of needing to use the toilet will only cause a stir. We follow a schedule. Everything in our lives is planned, even going to the toilet. I quickly run and hide down the corridor. I hear the sickbay door slide open. I listen to the silence. I see no one.

My heart skips a beat when I hear a small voice, “D518?”

I leave my hiding place and rush at C515. It was he who just exited the sickbay.

“I was scared you wouldn’t come.”

“We do not have much time,” he urges. He reopens the sickbay door with his fingerprint on the scanner. He is in a hurry.

“For what?”

“Zoe wants to see you.”

“She’s here?” I exclaim delightedly. C515 looks back at me, panic in his face.

“Not so loud,” he hisses, looking around anxiously.

I am so happy that I cannot stop smiling. Of course we are all still prisoners of the Legion. But with Zoe and C515 there is hope. However the days of uncertainty are still heavy on my heart.

“Why did you wait so long to contact me? I thought you had abandoned me,” I confess while I follow him through the narrow and winding passages of the sickbay. Abruptly, he stops and turns around to face me.

“I’m not a rebel.” His words are clear, but there is also something apologetic in them. “I keep an eye on things for Zoe.”

While this explains how he knows of Zoe and myself, but not his behavior. When did he decide to help Zoe? He was probably not supposed to speak to her, but I can well imagine that he could not obey this rule for long. I know I couldn’t. For people like us who have never experienced a kind word or a simple smile, when we come across a being like Zoe, bursting with life, we find them fascinating. I suppose he found her charm as intoxicating as I did.

We stop in front of one of the many steel doors and C515 raps his knuckles against it. Two short strokes and one long. That must be the agreed upon signal.

“Clyde?” Zoe’s voice questions from inside. I catch an irritated look on C515.

“It’s a name she gave me,” he says with a shrug. “I’m here,” he hisses.

“Is she there?” Zoe wants to know from the inside. He voice sounds shy. In the weeks and months with the rebels, I felt so close to her. Through the stories of others and especially Finn, she was always part of the group, even if she were not there. I looked at her as a friend, although we spent so little time together in the safety zone.

I clear my throat, embarrassed. “Finn is doing well.”

It remains quiet behind the door and I feel the urge to take her into my arms. She must be missing human contact in this cold place. I grew up without feelings, yet my heart aches with longing.

“He missed you,” I add. I think I hear a sob from her cell.

“Can you open the door?” I urge C515, who is now called Clyde.

He shakes his head apologetically. “Only doctors and Legion commanders can open this door.”

“Why are you here again?” I hear quietly from inside the cell.

“I have a mission to fulfill, I—“

She interrupts me harshly. “You gave up your freedom to serve a mission? You are stupid!”

Her voice is agitated and angry. I can imagine how she blankly stares at the door from her side. I did not expect this reaction. I thought she would stand behind me. Instead she condemns me. Did she think it was an easy decision to leave the rebels? To leave Iris alone? To separate from Finn? But she knows nothing of these things. I would like to tell her everything, but in this moment a Legion commander appears in the hallway. The commander walks straight toward Clyde and me. Their footsteps make so little noise they are barely noticeable. Therefore, we heard them too late. Panicked, I look to Clyde, but he seems just as clueless as I am.

When the Legion commander stops in front of us, I recognize her. It is A350. Rather than arrest us or ask what we are doing, she gives Clyde a benevolent gaze.

“Good work, C515. You have successfully detained D518; I will take over from here.”

Both Clyde and I stare at her in disbelief. Are you serious?

“Follow me,” she tells me and I march down the hall after her in a hurry. I have no choice as she is a Legion commander. Does she really think that Clyde has caught me? How did she know to find me in the sickbay? She was unusually emotional at our last meeting. Is she hiding something? Is she perhaps more than she pretends to be?

She stops in front of one of the many doors. It is one of the few that cannot be opened with a scanner, but rather with an old-fashioned key. It is one of a few such doors in the Legion.

She opens the door and we walk through. When the door slams shut behind us, I look around the small room. It is a kind of treatment room with a desk, two chairs, and a couch. From the ceiling hangs a light bulb, probably the last light bulb in the entire safety zone. But something else strikes me. There are no cameras. I look at A350. He mouth is pinched to an angry line.

“Do not think I don’t know what’s going on.”

My throat suddenly feels dry. But the angry look in A350s eyes is somewhat milder. "But maybe you should know something about the people for whom you are willing to put your life at risk."

I am not exactly sure who she is speaking about. Zoe? The rebels? How much do they really know?

A350 comes around the desk and pulls a mobile monitor out of the drawer. When she touches the screen, a bluish light illuminates the small room. Before her, many small cubes appear in 3D. They seem so real, almost like you could reach out and touch them.

“You may not remember it, but you were not the only one who was kidnapped by the outcasts.

I remember very well. Not only Iris and myself, but also D276, D456, and D389. I never learned what became of them. But I never asked either. I constantly pushed the thought away. Maybe I did not want to know.

The Legion commander looks at me hesitantly for a moment, the taps a blue cube floating in the room. The boxes dissolve slowly and a new image takes their place.

My breath escapes in pants. I recognize and can feel tears rise to my eyes. In a panic I shake my head. No, this cannot be true.

In front of me are the corpses of the other three prisoners. Their brown suits are dirty and torn, they are still covered in the red sand of the caves. They have all been killed with a single shot to the head. Their eyes are open and staring lifelessly up to the sky. I want to see fear in their eyes, but there is none. For too long I’ve turned a blind eye to this. For too long have I repressed the thought of it.

“This is what the outcasts do to the people they do not deem as being fit,” A350 explains. Her voice is soft and almost considerate. She looks at me seriously. But I cannot believe her words. Automatically I shake my head again. No, the rebels would not do this.

“You do not believe me? What did you think happened to them? Did you ever once see them again during your captivity?”

I am silent.

“If the outcasts released them, they would be here now.”

I start to think about her words. There was always the danger that the Legion would kill me as soon as they saw me in front of the gates. But nothing happened. They took me back in as though nothing had happened. They even left my memories intact. Why should they make an exception for me? I am nothing special for them. They proved that to me when they put me back in the food allocation division. To them, I’m just one of many. But to the rebels, I was something special. To them, Iris and I were different. We were the only ones to feel able, as the rebels pressed it. However, would they really kill the other abductees? When Finn met me at the beginning, there was hatred in his eyes. But now he loves me with all his heart. In the beginning, he could only see the Legion in me. The Legion who had killed his parents and abducted his sister. When we were trapped together in the pit, I knew that if I had fallen into it alone that he would have left me there. He would not come back to save me, as I did for him. There is nothing in Finn’s life that he hates more than the Legion. The sad truth is he would sacrifice every single inhabitant of the safety zone for the freedom of his family. To him, the people here are just soulless robots.

“Do you really want to help those people? Those who would kidnap innocent people and hold them against their will and kill them? People who provoke a war without worrying about the losses? People who do not care how many innocent people die as long as they themselves live?”

I know it’s not true what she is saying about the rebels. Not all of them are like that. But nevertheless, there is a spark of truth in her words. To the rebels, the people in the safety zone did matter.

Suddenly, A350 lays her hand on my arm. In her eyes I read compassion. “I will take you back to your service now, but think about my words. Another mistake on your part will be unacceptable.”

When I fall out of bed early the next morning, the feeling of emptiness returns to my heart. C515 filled me with hope at being able to see Zoe again, but then the Legion commander destroyed this in one fell swoop. It was not even with her words, but the image of the murdered residents of the safety zone. Maybe I suspected the rebels murdered those three and never asked. Would I have been able to fall in love with Finn had I known? I was one of them. Maybe today I would be just as dead if I had remained steadfast. The rebels took advantage of my weakness.

Suddenly the door of my room opens and a woman in a blue suit, the suit of the C-Class, the fighters, walks in.

“Do you have a message for me?” She asks in flat voice.

This is it. The rebel contact. But she comes too late.

“No.”

My answer visibly irritates her. “No? Do you not remember?”

“However, I see more clearly now than ever before.”

Questioningly she looks at me.

“I was wrong. This is my home. I belong here.”

She understands my words but does not want to accept them. “Are you sure this is the message that should be sent?”

“Tell them I am sorry.”

I really am sorry, from the bottom of my heart. But I cannot work for people who have goals that are different than mine. I know they would like the people of the safety zone to join their fight against the Legion, but I cannot let that happen. Maybe these people are not capable of feeling emotions like the rebels do, but the fact remains that they are people as well. Nobody has the right to take their lives away from them.

04. LOYALTY REWARDED

It is easier to survive the day with one goal in mind. If you know what you’re going to do from the time you get up in the morning, the day has meaning. Earlier, my goal was to achieve a good ranking. While I was kidnapped, my goal was survival. Then when I went back to the Legion, my goal was to help out the rebels as much as I could. But now, I have no more goals. I have turned my backs to the rebels. My job and my life is now to work in the food allocation division. There is no way out of this. No matter how well I do my job, the highest achievement I can receive is to become a supervisor of the department. The only purpose in my life is to distribute food rations, though even this task is unnecessary as the system does not make mistakes. There is nothing that makes my life worth living. I feel trapped inside my own shell.

These thoughts creep in like a fog in my head while sitting in front of the monitor mechanically confirming various residents’ pills and tablets. My vision becomes blurry. That always happens when you stare at a screen too long. My ears begin to itch. How long will it take before I become one of the soulless masses? Days? Weeks? Months? I cannot wait; I hurt with every feeling and every thought.

Even when the signal sounds for the end of my shift, I feel no relief. In the safety zone, the people have no free time. There are no hobbies. No one talks to each other. Of course not, communication is unnecessary.

Although I wanted to adapt to Legion life again, I do not manage to leave the food allotment center in the same deleterious fashion as the other workers. I have to force myself to put one foot in front of the other. I would love to throw myself on the floor and scream, cry, and sob. They would lock me up in the sickbay. It doesn’t matter where they take me, I’m already a prisoner.

I walk with the others through the atrium. The moving images no longer interest me. They are only an illusion. Suddenly someone steps into my path. I raise my head and see Clyde.

“Are you all right?” He asks, worried. People rush around past us on all sides.

“I am functional,” I answer with an emotionless voice. But Clyde seems to be able to look behind the walls I built. He sees the pain and despair I carry in my heart.

“I did not ask about that.” He is silent and we look each other in the eyes. It is an intimate moment. We barely know each other and yet we connect so much.

“I saw you,” he says suddenly and I do not understand what he means.

“Outside.”

Incredulous, tears form in my eyes and I stare at him in horror. How is that possible?

“I was there during the operation, when the rebels discovered the electric wall. You took refuge in the caves. I followed you.”

He was there. He was the C-Class who dropped his gun in front of me. The fighter Finn fought off.

“I recognized you immediately, even though you looked different.”

But the memory of Cleo, the person I was then, brings a tear to my eyes. “What did I look like?”

“Happy.”

The word hovers between us like a cloud. This is what every human being longs for. I am unable to say anything.

“After that I started to talk to Zoe. I wanted to understand you, because you were one of them. I needed to know why you joined the outcasts.”

“They kidnapped me,” I reply sheepishly.

“You stayed with them voluntarily. You fought at their side,” replied Clyde. He’s right. I was a rebel, if only briefly.

I do not say anything and he continues: “Zoe told me about her life. Her parents, her brother, the food, the animals, the plants, and her favorite place, the garden. I never heard someone speak before with such a passion. Her words were like a melody. I cannot get it out of my head. I long to see all of the things she described with my own eyes. I want to taste cakes and feel the wind in my hair. Is it really as beautiful as Zoe says?”

I can feel my hands start to shake. He has already seen the world outside the safety zone as a fighter, yet after meeting Zoe he longs for a different kind of life. Her words awakened a yearning for freedom. A longing that will always remain a dream.

I reach for his hand; it’s as cold as mine. I do not think about the cameras I know that are watching us. I ignore the people around us. To them, we are invisible. They do not care about us. It does not matter what we do.