The road was bumpy underneath the van’s tyres, making it impossible for someone to sleep comfortably, seen by Fox who was snoring loudly with his body scrunched up against the corner of his seat and the window. He was lucky to doze off like he had but his neck would be sore once he woke up. Even though I was exhausted and glancing at him made me feel even more so, I would not allow myself to close my eyes after last night’s terrifying nightmare.
“Is it still bugging you?” Echo asked, squeezing my knee. Nodding, I leaned into his side, watching as the wild forests blurred by in a green wave.
“It felt so real, Echo. Damian had a knife to your neck and I was shackled, powerless. He killed you... How could that not stop bothering me especially after hearing his voice earlier?” I muttered.
“It was just a dream. I’m still here, right next to you.” He tried to reassure me, wrapping his arm around my shoulders and bringing my head to his chest. Sighing, I tried to relax, but the nightmare was still fresh in my mind.
I had woken up to having metal cuffs clinking at my wrists and ankles, a collar sitting tightly around my neck. Yanking on them did nothing but cause noise, my arms only being able to go as far as my shoulders as I sat up straight.
“H-hello?” My voice quivered, the syllables barely coming out as audible. At first, there was no answer and then I heard it, groans coming from the other corner. A slumped form sat slowly up, his face coming into view. Echo was in the same chained position I was but no collar around his neck.
“I see you both have woken up.” Shivering, I glanced to the menacing figure of Damian sauntering through a metal door, instantly cancelling my powers. “How are the fake soldiers doing?”
Echo growled, yanking on his chains as he glared at him. Damian chuckled lowly, walking up to him and taking out a knife from the sheath strapped to his thigh before pressing it to Echo’s throat. Echo bared his teeth, hands gripping the chains as he pulled harder but nothing happened. Damian was cancelling his gifts as well.
“I’m not in the mood to play with you so I will get to the point.” Damian glanced over his shoulder, silver eyes glinting with malice as our gazes locked. “Why him? I have the money to get you anything you wanted. I have the body to satisfy you and looking at his, there is no competition about it. I have the mind to keep you safe from everything and a house to do so too. So, Hunter, why him?”
“You would not like the answer but it’ short and simple. He is not you.” I tried to be strong but my words came out weak, stuttered as I watched his eyes darken.
“You’re right, I don’t.” Damian’s hand moved so fast that I could have missed it if it had not been for the gasp or the blood. He strolled to me, grabbed my jaw and had forced me to watch as Echo drowned on his own blood, thrashing, trying to instinctively grab at his neck.
“Stop playing soldier, love, it does not suit you. Come home before it’s too late.”
As we walked through the hallways, soldiers moved out of our way, reading our sullen faces as we made way to our dorm. It seemed there were new faces amongst the old.
When we walked through the door, there was a large monitor mounted on the wall greeting us. On its screen was a local news channel, the presenter on mute. The remote was sitting on a shelf newly drilled into the wall. Tango had gotten the first thing off the list for us.
“Oh my gosh, there is normal clothes in my cupboard!” Rooi shouted, having been the first to get to her area. She held out a patterned vest against her top, smiling from ear to ear. “They got me Dock Martens!”
Echo and I shared a look before hurrying to our area. The military garb had been neatly folded into newly furnished shelves. The civilian clothing now hanging off the metal pole at the top while sneakers, boots and sandals were organized next to our spare pairs of combat boots. There was a note stuck to one of the stylized shirts hanging up.
“Hope this makes up for the early pack-up. P.S. there are two boxes under your bed to share out. Tango.” Echo tilted his head after reading it out, his gaze going to our bed. Taking that as a cue, I crouched down, sweeping my hand under our bed and finding two large boxes nearing the head of our bed. Pulling the one out, I saw it was packed with old CDs. When I pulled out the other, it was packed with books.
“Guys, come check this out,” Echo called, coming to sit next to me and reaching into the box of books. Rooi was the first to come rushing to us, instantly falling onto her knees and searching through the CDs.
“No way, is that a Linkin Park CD?” Victor asked, coming to sit by Rooi, taking the casing and turning it over to the song line-up. “I haven’t even seen some of these before!”
“Check if New Divide or Crawling is on there,” I stated, feeling like those two songs were most suited to our situation.
“Some of these books are really old. Check this, it’s I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore,” Rooi exclaimed, holding out the book for us all to see. The cover was the original copy from when the books first came out, not a scratch showing on its surface.
“If that’s old than Eragon is ancient,” Echo scoffed. Rooi rolled her eyes but kept rummaging.
“You think they got these for us knowing that they answer to our angsty old teen selves and what we are going through?” I asked, finding the second book in the Heroes of Olympus book series.
“Maybe they just saw it as a joke or are trying to suggest that we have it easier than them,” Fox said, shrugging his shoulders as he stacked the books into their authors and genres.
“You referring to that book mom read to us before bed? What was it called... Ah, the Darkest Minds,” Rooi said, happily picking out a book from Fox’s piles to read.
“We don’t know where the government stands with us though. Those characters knew their government wanted to find a way to control them,” Echo stated, picking up another Pittacus Lore book. “And their government wanted to capture them all in one place so they could do military training basically.”
“A-are we actually here then?” The words had left my mouth before I could stop them. Everyone’s excitement seemed to deflate, placing whatever they held onto the carpeted floor. Feeling guilty, I bowed my head. “Sorry, I crossed a line by asking.”
“Don’t apologise, you were not here from the beginning so you have not formed a connection here yet,” Victor muttered, folding his legs under him and placing his clasped hands in his lap. “We were or rather are still scared that this place is not a safe haven as we have been led to believe but it’s the only place that has shown us kindness since the Pulse showed up. Echo and I, our parents did not want us and when it happened, it gave them the perfect excuse to leave us behind. Fox and Rooi...”
“Our parents were killed while we were at school. Evolved somehow picked up that we would be a part of those who would get strong powers. Our father had spoken to an old military friend who was meant to take us away when we came back home. He called in Lima when he saw the destruction we had left when we got there,” Fox explained, leaning back on his palms.
“Maybe if Alpha team had gotten to me earlier, I would feel like you guys but everything besides you and Alpha team makes me anxious.” Sighing, I pulled my legs to my chest and rested my chin on my knees as I wrapped my arms around them.
“You saying you trust us is bigger than you think. It means you are getting used to us, opening up and allowing us in.” Echo smiled, lightly punching my arm. “Tango’s something else but you know we are here for you.”