I passed the medical with the only advice of eating more in order to heal before having a tracker chip shot into my arm. Then I was dragged to the barracks where a training collar was placed around my neck. Being the rebellious Gifted I was, the man set it to the lowest percentage that it could detect my powers being used. At that point, an electrical shock would zap me into submission. From the frying pan to the damned fire. At least Damian knew how much I hated the thing and would take it off when we slept. Here, I would have to earn it with good behaviour or burn it off. Free? I think not.
Echo showed me where I would sleep. A standardized military room setup for twelve but only had five occupants. My area comprised of an open cupboard separating me from my neighbour to the left and my neighbour’s cupboard wall hid them from my left. The bed was bigger than the usual but still had the thin blankets and white pillow. The place was for me to decorate. The bathroom was through a door at the rear of the building with assigned showering stalls and toiletries. All occupants were Gifted as no unpowered soldiers wanted to sleep with freaks in the cubicle next to them.
“The others will be coming back soon. For now, maybe you can wash up before chow? Better now than later when that lot decide to use up all the hot water, especially Rooi,” Echo explained, boredom coating his words. “I’ll have one in a bit.”
Nodding, I looked down at my lap. Maybe I could burn the inside of the collar by heating up my skin underneath it. The water would help soothe the burn and dim the scent of charred plastic.
“Oh yeah, there’s a fresh set of clothes in your stall with a towel.” Echo clicked his tongue when he was done, turning to leave.
“W-who changed me?” I finally asked, trying to stall him from leaving for just a bit. Echo pressed his lips into a straight line.
“I did since I was with them when the soldiers got you,” he answered, shrugging as a small blush crept on his cheeks. Closing my eyes, my skin crawled at the idea of him seeing my scarred body and the bones jutting out of it.
“I didn’t see all of you if you know what I mean. It was just your clothes that got changed, not your underwear,” Echo hastily said. “I’m gonna leave, see you later.”
He left hurriedly, hitting his shoulder against my cupboard, cursing under his breath. Minutes passed after I heard the wooden entry door slam shut before I got up and walked to the bathroom. A line of five sinks was connected to the wall on the left, in front of the toilet stalls. There was a large gap then the shower stalls. Each door had its own silver plaque etched with a name.
I found my stall at the very end with an extra unnamed stall next to it separating me from whoever was named Victor. It was my own little bubble of privacy away from the others even if I had not met them yet.
Like Echo had said, there was a change of clothing and underwear sitting on a shelf with a see-through bag of toiletries resting on top of it. The towel was hung up on a hook next to the shower curtain. Not wanting to waste any time, I stripped, grabbed my stuff and climbed into the shower.
I scrubbed my skin until it was raw, getting rid of the grime that everyone’s touch had left and the last remnants of Damian. The shampoo smelled of lime which at least gave me a fond memory of sitting outside with a book, watching Damian drink from his beer bottle, the scent of lime wafting my way when he talked. As soon as the memory came up, it vanished when my knuckle brushed against the collar.
Taking a deep breath, it was now or never. Gritting my teeth, I braced myself under the fountain of water as my skin began to get the familiar tingle of fire burning under it. The collar sent two, quick warning shocks before letting out its full force when I did not stop. My teeth ached; my palms throbbed as my nails dug into the skin. The current of electricity only continued to rise, becoming inhumanly strong.
When I heard the collar clatter to the tiled floor, I was on my knees, panting hard for breath. Tears streamed down my face, mixing with the water from above. My fire would never hurt me but if it meant something external, like the collar, pressing on my skin, I burned too.
Laughing breathily, I felt triumphant at my little show of power and strength even if it were only for me to see and know. For now, no one could tame me. The government wanted a soldier? Well, they would have a hard time transforming me into one!
“Hunter!” Echo called, making me freeze. “Hurry up, we’re late for chow.”
What would he do when he saw that the collar was gone? He couldn’t take me back to Amy unless he thought I would not give a fight as another collar was fixed around my neck. Wait, what were his gifts? It had to be able to combat my fire or he would never have been placed as the guy to look after me.
“I thought the others were coming here first?” I shouted back, switching off the flow of water before trying to dry off without touching my neck. Trying to change into my new pair of camo pants without tripping was difficult and the shirt was horrible, the collar scraping against my neck painfully. All of this had to be hurried so Echo would not suspect anything.
“Tango wants us all together in the mess hall so he can introduce you,” Echo replied as I opened the door and nervously stepped out barefoot. His eyes narrowed as soon as he glanced at my neck.
“What the hell have you done?” He growled, storming up to me and all I could do was stand there frozen. Before I could even lean back, his hand was on my jaw, checking the burned area of my throat. Wincing with every second that passed with him this close, all I could do was fist my hands. Cold air was radiating off him as he let go of my jaw and leaned back only an inch, his hand coming up to rub his chin.
“Amy is going to want to place another collar on you,” Echo finally sighed out, forest green eyes changing to a spiral of faded green and solid red. The change made my eyes widen.
“I’ll just burn it off.”
“And risk furthering the damage you have already inflicted?”
He rolled his eyes at my answer which made the two colours look even more like a galaxy. He then took my hand in his, gently tugging me out the bathroom. I could not pull my hand out of his grip, making my stomach clench at the idea of him taking me back to the medical wing. Instead, we came to a stop at his area. Echo motioned for me to go to his bed and I did so, warming up my hand from the cold needles his had left behind.
“You have two gifts?” I managed to ask. He nodded, not surprised. He then went to dig in a black box he had dragged out from under the bed before coming to sit next to me.
“Yeah, teleportation and cryokinesis. The ice part of me though can heal as much as it can damage, so sit still,” Echo said, winking. He held his hand up to my neck, the cold coming off him making chills run down my spine. Keeping my eyes on the wall over his shoulder, I felt the skin under his palm begin to knit together. From the mirror on his wall, I watched as the red skin healed and only the original scar from Damian’s collar was left.
“It will still be sensitive so I’m going to wrap a bandage over it,” Echo explained, standing up so he could wrap the gauze and bandages around my throat. “You know, I just teleported out of that thing the first chance I got. I did get a shock but it was quick. They tried to get another one on me but my brother ended that idea as soon as it popped up.”
“Too bad we don’t all have a big brother and teleportation.”
“Funny. Come on or we will be doing laps for being late.”