[This is an excerpt]
“Now is the time to ask ourselves - how long are we going to allow this?”
Annabel leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms. Her eyes remained on the TV screen where Gordon Bradbery, the United States’s most loved and supported senator, gesticulated passionately. His ardent words and determined expression gave the illusion of a smart, trustworthy man, but Annabel could see him for what he really was underneath - a scared, jealous fool.
“You see for yourself what they can do! Would you trust them with so much power? There must be order and equality, and they represent the opposite of everything our great nation stands for!” he continued with a firm, reverberating voice.
The camera switched to the crowd that had gathered on the square: hundreds of people chanting his name or shouting in agreement. An elderly woman standing in the front rows by the platform screamed so loudly that her voice reverberated over the speakers like an ominous echo from another world.
Kill them. Kill them all.
Her snarl was so vicious and full of loathing that Annabel shuddered.
The camera returned to the senator.
“How can we feel safe if we know they could crush us with just one finger?” he continued. “That they can rob a bank or blow up a building and we can’t stop them? What about attacking the White House like in the past and harming the president this time? If we allow them to do whatever they please, take whatever they want and play gods with their powers, aren’t we letting them rob us of our identity, our rights, our future? We cannot entrust such power to just anybody.”
The crowd roared in agreement.
Annabel grunted, her eyes gliding over the table in search of the remote. The other recruits were so focused on the TV that they stood completely frozen, glaring at the screen.
“All those people must be detained and overseen at all times before we can determine if we can cure them. That’s why I voted for the Law for Registration and Retention of Enhanced Individuals, and I am happy to announce it was just passed with an almost unanimous vote,” Senator Bradbury continued with a victorious smile. “Today, the United States of America celebrates a victory. We took the first step in resolving this conflict, in taking the right action for our country. I sincerely hope that the rest of the world would follow our example to ensure that those… Ascendants, as they call themselves, will not have the chance to tear apart the natural balance of things. We are strong together, without the use of any extraordinary abilities. We are going to prevail. I can pr...”
A loud crack came from the TV and the screen turned black, interrupting the senator mid-sentence. Smoke rose from its box, filling the room with the pungent smell of melted plastic. For a moment nobody moved, an awkward silence filling the space between them. Few heads turned to look at the others, then somebody cleared their throat.
“Maybe it just broke?” Robert, one of the newest recruits, shrugged from the neighboring table and a few people murmured in agreement. Annabel didn’t care that they would probably get in trouble for that. She was glad she didn’t have to listen any more about how the humans were merely a victim of vicious monsters. Driven by fear, jealousy, hate, or all of the above, the humans had begun the war between their two kinds and now they blamed the Ascendants for it. How was it the Ascendants’ fault for having been born with powers beyond their little minds? And why was that a bad thing?
It was true that not all Ascendants were your average quiet, law-abiding citizens, but neither were all humans. And every Ascendant deserved the benefit of the doubt; there were other ways to manage those who crossed the line or broke the law - not by prodding them senseless or locking them in a lab. The humans simply didn’t want to give it a chance while they were still ahead.
The door of the dining room opened and Annabel instinctively turned to look, her eyes locking on the figure that walked in with a smug expression plastered all over his face. Jordan moved with his usual confidence, his smile so pleased that he looked like he just won the lottery. His black T-shirt made his arms and chest muscles bulge, and Annabel was ready to bet her head that he was flexing for their benefit.
Most of the recruits turned to greet him, glad for the chance to shake off the frustration that had built up after the TV emission. He shook hands with two of the boys, Eddie and Carlos, the only other recruits big and strong enough to give him a run for his money in the fighting department. Their ‘friendship’ made perfect sense - he basically eliminated his biggest competition by putting them in his corner. And since Jordan had been a recruit longer - and probably had more brains than the two of them combined - they followed him around like two extra limbs that could punch through a wall.
As usual, Jordan ignored the new guys that looked at him as if he could turn water into wine. He had been a recruit longer than most, if not all, current recruits, and knew everybody and anything worth knowing in the Compound. He pretended not to care when somebody teased him about staying a recruit forever, but she had seen those unfortunate souls leaving the infirmary soon after and the sight wasn’t pretty.
Annabel was unlucky enough to catch his attention when they brought her in, but it quickly became clear that the only thing that can happen between them was maiming or murder. That’s why she tried to avoid him whenever possible.
Despite his dashing smile and factitious friendliness, he was nothing short of dangerous. There was something off about him, a bitter-sweet harshness that shone through his cold dark eyes. And he was so determined to become a member sooner rather than later that she was afraid of how far he was willing to go to make it happen.
Annabel avoided his eyes as he laughed at something Carlos said, then he headed for the kitchen. She was not in a mood to deal with him. Instead, she looked around the buzzing canteen, studying the other recruits as they chatted amongst themselves.
She had joined them six months ago in her pursuit to become a member of the Ascendant Order - an organization made of and led by Ascendants who currently fought against the new measures of the government and secretly smuggled targeted Ascendants out of the country. She had wanted to be part of that ever since her sister told her stories about it - even after the news started blaming the Order for every horrible thing that went wrong around the world.
She didn’t expect to spend her days carrying meals to senior members and running errands for them, though. The only useful thing that had happened since she came here was the combat training she was being put through with the others, and even that didn’t justify losing six months to doing nothing but punch, get punched, or make things blow.
It’s for building character, they said. Learning to fall in line before learning to be equal.
“I’ve got Priscilla tomorrow! I bet she would make me clean after her cat again,” Claire, the only other girl in the current company, complained, banging her head on the table. Her blonde curls spread on the surface, one of them landing in her unfinished potato salad. She remained like that for a few seconds, as if expecting a reaction, then lifted her head and let out an exasperated sigh. “I want to do something meaningful, something out there! Not cleaning after her stupid cat!” She tried to sound angry, gritting her teeth and balling her fist but ruined the theatrics by throwing a cautious glance behind Annabel.
One of the Order members sat there with his legs propped on the chair across from him. He didn’t seem at all interested in what they were talking about, even less so in the news rerun going earlier, but his presence was distinctly felt. He looked too focused on the game he was playing on his phone to listen to them, but Anna couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being closely observed.
“I thought that by now they would give us a chance to prove ourselves. At least, to some of us.” Jordan joined in after returning from the kitchen with a plate full of cold chicken and mashed potatoes. The others mumbled their agreement, quickly changing the subject.
Annabel ignored their blabbering and took her assignment sheet out, glancing at the names for tomorrow. Four people in total was a sweet deal, and she didn’t get Erika Princeton, which was a relief. That woman was as crazy as they come, but she was important, being one of the first ones to join the Order and all. She was an easy way in – if only Anna could make that woman like her. But Erika Princeton didn’t like anybody; she didn’t even speak to any of them apart from giving orders or insulting them.
“I got Erika tomorrow.” Jordan’s voice cut through the conversations, drawing everybody’s attention. Silently, they all stared at him in disbelief as he was grinning victoriously. That was the third time in a row she was on his list, which was quite the big deal. He must have thought the same, because he didn’t even try to hide his smug expression.
“Lucky bastard.” One of the new boys patted him on the back. Jordan shot him a glance, and the guy yanked his hand away as if bitten by a snake.
“It seems your membership is just around the corner,” Eddie chuckled. Jordan’s smirk returned, and he straightened up, his shirt stretching over his broad shoulders. Anna rolled her eyes. His ego was too big for his body without the others feeding it any further.
“I’m out,” Annabel announced, pushing her chair back. “Good night.”
“Don’t forget to warm the bed before I come, sweetheart.” Jordan laughed, winking at her. Annabel stopped in her tracks for a moment, fighting the urge to punch him in the face or set his ass on fire. She decided against it.
As she continued walking away, she motioned with her fingers, focusing on the cup in front of Jordan. As if pushed by an invisible gust of wind, the cup rolled over, spilling its content all over his pants. By the time he was on his feet, cursing, Anna was already leaving the dining room with a smile on her lips.