Echoes of the Past
I was running, always running.
Lilith and I were never allowed to rest, starved and being yelled at while the weak were shot in sight for being too slow. I couldn't slow down, no matter how much my lungs and pounding heart told me otherwise.
Lilith and I had to survive, had to live to see tomorrow. So we ran, bullets were mixed into the pellet guns that were trained at our legs, legs that had barely a year or two since we learned how to walk.
After being sold off at the age of four to five, we were sent here. To this place that might as well have been Hell. Surrounded by mean looking men and weapons in every one of their hands. They would sooner shoot us then help us, waiting for the strong to show themselves as the weak were cast aside into ditches. Most of those that ended up there had already been given the gift of death, of being freed from this Hell.
We ran and ran until we couldn't breathe, only to have the ground at our feet get pounded with pellets to force us on when we thought about stopping. The ones that were behind us fell one after the other, tripping because of a root or rock or because their brains had been blown away by a bored guard as they yelled at us some more.
I wanted to scream, to stop and tell them that this wasn't right and that I wanted to rest. But there was no way that I was going to give into that temptation. I'd seen others do just that, only to end up with the weak ones in the body piles.
They only let us rest once we completed the Course. There was about five locations that had Courses, and every time we revisited one of them, they had completely changed it and added new dangers and traps to trick us.
I couldn't take it anymore, my lungs were dying for fresh air and my heart felt as though it would give up on me from the strain.
"C'mon, you idiot!" Lilith hissed under her breath as she pulled me along, the extra effort killing what little energy she was able to save, "They'll--"
The shot that blasted away my beloved sister's head, leaving her with a shocked expression as she fell forwards in slow motion, nearly deafened my small ears.
"Lilith...?" I whispered, blinking, "No...No....Lilith, please be okay...LILITH!"
Then the world went black.
"Lilith!! Don't leave me all alone!" I shouted, tears in my eyes, eliciting a groan from the others.
"It's okay, Blair," Lilith said, having placed my head in her lap like she knew I liked, "I'm right here, and I'm not goin' anywhere, okay?"
"I...Sorry," I mumbled, burying my tear-streaked face into her lap.
I merely nodded, the memories that the nightmare stemmed from resurfacing and making me want to cry even more. This was the price that Lilith and I paid for killing anyone. Remembering the torture that we went through as five year-olds, remembering what Hell was like. I was just as strong as Lilith, and I do the same thing for her when she gets the same exact dream, but is was my turn to let my desire to be safe show in the welcome embrace of the night's darkness. The rest of the group was asleep, even the new girl that looked as though she was eighteen.
We let her have our sleeping area, while we slept on the same bed as Aiden. We wanted to be as close to him as we could, in case anything happened, or if we needed to get him. That is, we would have if Aiden hadn't asked to sleep on the floor with a flushed face at the idea of the three of us sharing a bed.
I tried to slow my breathing, making sure that I was going to keep myself from going crazy like the last time this happened. I couldn't even hope to think straight. "Are you feeling better, Blair?" Aiden's drowsy tone came from his place on the concrete floor.
"I looked over with a strained smile on my face, "I'll be fine, Aiden...I just...need a moment."
"Alright then, g'night," Aiden nearly mumbled as he fell fast asleep.
I looked up at my sister, sighing as my head began to pound from the rush of emotions that came with that nightmare. Lilith was the only one in the world that could understand me, and the same could be said about me to her. We went through the worst place in the world, underwent experiments that no human being should go through when we were six, and ran tests until we couldn't move anymore. Then we would have to get up and pushed to the edge of our lives in the training exercises that the military put us through. At least I think it was the military. The details were always foggy when I thought about it too much.
Lilith laid my head down onto my pillow, and then laid down next to me. Her hand moved to mine, and I could feel the warmth from her gesture, the reassurance that she gave me was like no one else in the world. She gave me a small smile, and waited silently for me to fall back to sleep.
Despite my wish not to, I soon did just that and fell into the void of slumber.
"Come now, Alexander, you're better than this!" The swordsmanship trainer said as he thrust his blade forewords.
"Cut the fake motivation, sir," I retorted, parrying the blow easily and countering with a slash at the armor of my instructor.
The blades we were using were real, made from the metal used to construct the Reapers that kept the Numbers in check. The armor that the instructor and I wore was invisible unless it was struck by this specific metal. Then it would flash red before recharging and cloaking itself again. The rule was that I had to make that shield turn red five times in a row while keeping my own shield unscathed, all while facing the most prestigious swordsman in the world. Or at least in the Capital.
I was the son of the Governor's closest brother, whom was given charge of the Light District as a reward for his service to the Governor. I, because of my relations to the man, was forced to be the best child there ever could be. I was the best in my school, the smartest, and the bravest in the entire Aegis Academy. All of my instructors and teachers were continually astonished by the amount of potential I had as a sixteen year old student in his senior year of college level classes and training courses. My father, in his ever-loving grace, had forced me to skip elementary and middle school altogether.
I had to go through cram classes for four or five months straight to be ready for my freshman year of High School as an eight year old. But all that was besides the point, just a list of accolades from the brilliant prodigy of the Union States of America.
"Get you head out of the clouds, Alexander!" The instructor said, going for a low jab with his sword.
I jumped back, out of the way as I batted down his blade with my own, "Please, sir, we live in the clouds. How do you expect me to get my head out of something we both are enveloped in?"
"Stop with your wit, Alexander, this not the place for it," The instructor snapped, his face twitching from composed to annoyed for a brief instant.
I sighed, twirling around on one foot while the other snapped out to kick at the swordsman's exposed sword hand. The blade escaped his grip while he stumbled back from the surprise attack. I took advantage of his weakness, and struck four consecutive attacks into his shield. Having won the sparring the shield remaining a static red, the sparring session was effectively over.
"That was cheating!" The instructor said, his face red with embarrassment as an entourage of important men and women appeared from the viewing room that they watched from.
"What is the first General Order of our military, sir?" I asked, inclining my head.
"...'No matter the means, victory comes first.'" The instructor said after a glare.
"Then that was not cheating, simple as that," I said with finality and confidence, "You may report to my father your assessment of my skills, and whether or not you feel I need any more training. Go."
"Y-Yes, Mr. Stone," The instructor said, then he left the arena. I turned towards the group of nobles and bureaucrats that were in the audience for the day.
I hated these people, who pretended to care about me only to get it in good with the Governor's brother. No one cared how I felt or how I was doing, so long as I was better than everyone else. Even my father was constantly disappointed of my efforts despite the fact that I was the best in the city, and probably the nation.
I achieved a near perfect score on the Gene Exam, despite the fact that I was severely underage for the process. In fact, it was because of my score that the regulations for the Exam were to be lowered by tomorrow. It was impossible to get a perfect score on the Exam, since perfection was fundamentally impossible. That didn't stop me from being about two or three points behind that mark.
"Excellent match, good sir!" An old man that had a monopoly on the energy districts applauded.
"Yes, a fine display indeed!" A woman whom my father had made a mistress.
"How can someone of your age be so incredible, the world will never know," A man said, his plumb face telling the tale of an over-indulged life of sweets and the finest drink in the Capital.
Flattery, lies, and two-faced nobles that only cared for themselves. That's what these people were, all having ulterior motives behind their compliments and smiles. They were good at acting, I'd give them that.
"Alexander!" A booming voice that resounded through the air conditioned space of the training area silenced all conversation.
There stood a man, over six feet tall, with a gun at one hip and a regal sword at the other. The crisp uniform of the Supreme Commander of the Union States Armed Services adorned a perfectly conditioned solider's body. The hard-edged chin, the muscles that were tense under that uniform, and the steely gaze that seemed to pierce the soul from under crisp brows were all things that went with the name "Stone."
My father, the leader of all forces under the nations military, was staring right at me, "Why are you not studying for your battle-tactics classes this afternoon?"
The frustration in his tone was most-likely from his disappointment that there wasn't an instructor that could put me in my place.
"I already have finished my studies for the exam, Father," I said bowing with the utmost respect towards the man of the house I lived in.
"Then revisit them," The powerful man said, dismissing me as though I were a servant, "I have business to talk with these fine ladies and gentlemen."
"As you wish, Father," I bowed again, sheathing my sword quietly as I exited through the side door.
I stowed away my own frustration, knowing that there was no purpose in opposing my father. His strength would overwhelm my technique and speed would be countered by his own. He was the best warrior in the Armed Services, all had fallen before him in every military conquest he'd commanded. So for me to defy him, if that was possible, would be signing my own death certificate.
"What's wrong, master?" A service robot said as I shut the door slightly harder then usual.
"Nothing, Omega," I said, sitting in my bed and looking up at the female-humanoid robot.
"Alright then, shall I make you some tea to calm your nerves? Your adrenaline levels are two point five percent higher than optimal."
"That would be helpful," I said, laying down fully onto my bed, "And dim the lights while I study, please."
"Of course, master," The robot said, her servos quietly moving her frame towards the door.
I sighed, looking up to the ceiling that was decorated with hand carved stone embellishments.
I ran through the throngs of Numbers, a Reaper scanning the crowd with its sensors. The new law made moving through the streets even more difficult then before. Lilith was next to me, as she always was, with the group waiting in the shadows for us to return.
We weaved through the ruins of some great city, upon which the ashes of Cyanide was built. The bits of shattered glass and re-bar that was jutting out of the concrete slabs strewn about the sides of the street were at the least of my worries, since I was scouting ahead for the soldiers' positions.
The recent shift in the schedule had lead to my twin and I scrambling to catalog the new arrivals. We had to study their habits, their tendencies towards looking in a certain area, and the times that those constraints would be applied so that we could move through the Districts without having to think about what was following us.
Aiden had a plan. He was plotting something that was big, and this was the calm before the storm. Lilith and I weren't blind, and we knew Aiden better than everyone. He was a cunning fox, he merely hid it behind the facade of a happy-go-lucky street kid that happened to be charismatic.
He was gathering people. Lilith and I were noticing the type of people that he had around him. A strong kid that had plenty of potential, another that had an unnatural talent with wires and tech, a hacker that couldn't be more adept at slipping in and out of the Government's mainframe and servers, as well as Lilith and I with our...talents, were all things that he was going to need.
Aiden had established himself with plenty of people throughout the city that were useful to him, and he had no relatives to hold him down. The only ones that could be considered close were Lilith and I, since we had stuck with him the longest.
"Blair," Lilith was saying, "Blair! What the heck are you thinking about?"
I blinked, "Why does Aiden want Z around anyway? She makes us more visible to the Reapers, and she just slows us down..."
Lilith smirked, looking down the street at a Reaper that just crossed an intersection, "He's going to need a Hacker for whatever he's thinking about pulling. You know him, always having an ulterior motive and all."
I nodded, scanning the area around us while writing down the things that seemed worth noting onto a small stolen memo pad, "Let's just hope the Government doesn't catch on too soon."
"Yeah, that would stink, huh?"
We both shared a knowing smirk before returning to the work that we had ahead of us. Z, Aiden, and the boys were waiting for us back at the hideout, knowing that they would all only slow us down. Lilith and I promised we would come back with some food at least, but they all knew that the primary mission was to gather intelligence on the troop movements as soon as possible.
I took a deep breath, calming my thoughts as Lilith and I weaved through the crowds and blended with the shadows of the alleyways leading to the high-rises of the Districts. From those uninhabited and ignored floors of the ruins, we would be able to see the big picture of the patrols.
Since we had already figured out the habits of the soldiers on the new schedule, since they were the same squad from the last patrol, all we really needed was where they would be placed in relation to each other so that we could find loop holes and chinks in their armor.
We weaved through the deserted building, silently slipping past those that were passed out in their makeshift homes in the lower floors of the building. We avoided anything that would make noise if we stepped on it, and moved under the cover of the shadows so that no one would see us. The Reapers' sensors were video-oriented, but they had a thermal capability, so we had to make sure that there was some sort of visual barrier between us and them and not just darkness.
I grabbed the stolen bird-watching binoculars we owned and scanned the area, holding one hand over where the sun was so that the reflection wouldn't draw attention to my sister and I. The streets crawled with Numbers, their patched up and ragged clothing blending perfectly with the backdrop of the ruins of the city Cyanide was built upon. Reapers walked and drove through the throngs of men and women some of them too weak to get out of the way only to be subsequently crushed.
In the distance, two or three Districts away, I could see the smoke rising from the stacks of the Industrial Sector. The sounds of wailing, of fighting and depression filled the air around the Districts. Lilith and I had lived here for a long time, all memories of before we were thrown out into the Districts foggy and too painful to recall. We were used to this place, to the smells and the sights that drove some to madness. Something to be said about staring into an Abyss, I guess.
"You see that, Sis?" I said, my eyes locking on, pointing, "Down there in front of the Market."
Below us, a few blocks away in the Market, was a large amount of troops beginning to round up kids as they saw fit. Reapers stood at the exits of the Market, not letting anyone out under the age of sixteen or so. They were starting to crack down hard on the Districts for the new Gene Test "applicants". The barrel of a plasma rifle far exceeded the words needed to force compliance. One pull of that trigger and you find yourself without an entire limb and part of your chest cavity.