I stare out into the emptiness of the city. From up here on the balcony, I could see everything. Crumbling buildings, graffiti on every wall, androids patrolling the streets, hovering over anything suspicious and catching it on tape. The streets are empty. No cars, buses or trucks in sight. The only noise is the faint buzzing sound from the flickering street lights. I’ve grown to consider this place as my home, despite the eerie silences at night, the constant feeling that you’re being watched, even when there’s no one there.
I spot a Unit patrol group heading west. They hold their guns out in front of them, their black armored uniforms seeming to shine under the streetlights. I’ve always admired them, their courage, their sacrifice for their neighbors. I dreamed of becoming one, but under no circumstances will I ever be allowed to fight for the military, let alone our neighborhood watch group. It’s a stupid rule that I have to follow.
I perk up as I hear my name being called. Snapping out of my daze, I turn around to find Kael, my twin brother walking up behind me. We share the same features: lightly tanned skin, dark hair, dark brown eyes. He’s taller than me with a stronger build, intense Unit training definitely awarded him sharp tones in his body. But the biggest difference between us is the fact that I still look fourteen, Kael gave the appearance to be in his twenties. But we’re both eighteen.
“I thought you were on patrol.”
Kael leans forward to rest a hand on my shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. Sometimes it seems unbelievable that he’s grown up the way that he has. I feel like I dwarf next to him, being a head taller than me. I crane my neck up to look at him.
“They let me off early,” he says with a sideways glance. “It’s late. You should be in bed.”
“I know,” I reply. “Couldn’t sleep. I thought some fresh air would help.”
I didn’t realize his hand was still wrapped around my shoulder until he slides it across my back to envelope me in a hug. I wrap my arms around his waist and breathe in the scent of his vest. It calms me, it keeps my legs from folding over.
He stares out into the same emptiness I did before, his eyes focused on the flickering streetlight, which then goes out like a candle.
“We ran into some mutants today,” Kael mumbles. “Somehow they found a way past our electric fences.”
My eyes wander to the large metal electric fence in the distance. Small yellow lights flicker on the top of the fence. The fence is what keeps us safe from the mutants that roam around the outskirts of Seattle (meaning beyond our personal borders). People say they were the results of a Government experiment that went awry. Once in a while, a mutant could find its way through the electric fence, but that’s uncommon. Our patrols would probably shoot them down before they even come close. I have a hard time believing that there actually are any mutants. I’ve never seen one up close, and I don’t plan to anytime soon.
As I turn my attention to the empty city, a Unit patrol truck races down the street, yellow and white lights flashing, the sides saying UNIT PATROL. Two others follow close behind. It looks like something serious. Another mutant attack?
“Did you see that?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Kael replies, normally. “What about it?”
There was a bad feeling in my gut. There was something wrong. Unit trucks don’t just fly down the streets like that. I try to turn around, but Kael holds me back, keeping me within his grasp.
“Don’t,” he warns.
I cross my arms, letting out a disappointed sigh. “Why not?” I ask.
“Because I said so,” he replies, firmly. “It could be dangerous. And you can’t leave the Chain. It’s against the rules.”
I sit against the concrete wall of our shelter behind me. The old balcony creaks with my every movement. Leaving the Chain would be considered suicidal. Kids, even adults, every year try to sneak out of the Chain, but we end up seeing their deaths broadcasted on the Graphs that are placed in the Square.
9 YRS OF AGE
CAUSE OF DEATH- LEAVING DESIGNATED AREA
It’s always the same thing; kids being naive and wandering out of their designated areas. Some little girl last year decided to be curious and she followed Units out of her part of the Chain. The next day, the Units took her deformed, mutated body away and she was never seen again. It happens all the time, but mostly in my part of the Chain. Ours is called the Orphanage, because of all the parentless children living on the streets. One teenage boy last week was attacked by mutants after crossing the borders. It’s the only thing being broadcasted on the Graphs. It never changes.
I shudder at the thought of those mutants chasing down another kid. And the funny thing is; the Government doesn’t know the mutants out here are killing random kids.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a little head poke out from behind the wall of our shelter. When I look closer, I know it’s Rei. Her curly auburn hair flows down to her shoulders. She’s holding her stuffed teddy bear in front of her; it’s missing one button eye, one arm is ripped off, revealing all the white stuffing, and the stitching is unraveling near its sides.
“What’s wrong Rei?” Kael asks.
“I had a bad dream,” she whines.
Kael and I exchange glances, and then we both descend from the balcony.
“You okay?” I ask her. Her blue eyes bore through mine. She nods. I place a hand on her shoulder and lead her back inside, with Kael following behind me.
Once we walk inside, the temperature immediately drops. I could see my breath as it came out in a swirling mist. The concrete walls don’t give us much insulation. If it’s a bit nippy outside, it’s even colder inside.
Inside, our beds are all lined up against the wall. I look down at Rei. “Go to bed, I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Okay,” Rei says. She leans in to give me a hug, barely reaching my waist. She’s short for her age. Small and frail. I return the hug. I pull away first and point to her bed. She nods and turns away from me.
I approach Maire, my best friend. My only friend. She’s at the other end of the room, folding newly washed clothes. She acts like a housemaid. She feeds us, cleans up after us, washes our wounds. Kael and I are lucky to have her around.
I kneel beside her as she folds one of my sweaters. She glances up at me and gives me a warm smile. I return the smile. “Need a hand?”
She shakes her head. “Thanks, but I’m almost done.” She places my sweater in a pile of my neatly folded clothes. “Give me your sweater.”
I remove my sweater and hand it to her. Underneath my sweater is a gray tank top. The hairs on my arms stand straight as the cold air hits my skin.
“Anything new? Besides Kael’s triumph at the electric fence?” she asks as she begins washing my sweater.
“Not so far,” I reply. I glance over at little Rei, who’s sitting on her bed, playing with her teddy bear. I smile.
“I feel bad for her,” Maire whispers to me. She must have noticed that I was watching Rei. “Too young to be an orphan.”
“We all are,” I mumble.
Maire folds the last piece of clothing. She stands and removes my soaked sweater from the bucket. She wrings it out and walks to the back of the room, where wet clothes have been hung on a wire. She faces me and presses her hands together, making a clapping sound. “Done. You should clean up before bed. You look like you could use it.”
I examine my entire body. My hands are pretty scummy, and my hair hasn’t been brushed thoroughly in a while. I’m disgusted with myself.
Maire bends down and grabs the washing bucket. She picks it up, but it seems too heavy for her to carry. I stand and wrap my fingers around the handles. I’ve always been physically stronger than most girls my age, including Maire.
“Don’t sweat it,” I say. “I got it.”
Maire releases her grip in the bucket and gives me a nod. “Thanks. Take a different sweater with you.” She helps me set the bucket down, and grabs a different sweater from the folded clothes pile. She hands the sweater to me, and I put it on. Immediately, I feel the warmth. She gives me a smile, and I return the smile.
I carry the bucket out through the front entrance. On the side of the shelter stands a large metal basin and a tap, where we get our water from. I place the bucket on the rim of the basin to rest it on and tip the bucket over. I watch as the water flows to the bottom of the basin, and down the drain. I turn the handle of the tap and place the bucket under the head. It takes a few seconds, but fresh water pours out of the tap and into the bucket. I wait until it is filled, and I carry the bucket inside.
Once I step inside, I feel the cold air again. I shiver, and my teeth begin to chatter. I set the bucket on the ground near the pile of folded clothes, and kneel in front of it. I cup my hands and scoop up some water. I splash it on my face. I wipe away the stray water droplets with the sleeve of my sweater. I feel less disgusted with myself now. At least I’ll look clean.
I peer over my shoulder at Rei. Maire is moving the teddy bear’s arms around for Rei’s amusement, while Kael sits back and supervises. Rei’s laughing and applauding for more. Maire taps Rei’s forehead with the bear’s shiny black nose. “Goodnight, Rei,” Maire says, pretending to be the bear.
“Goodnight, Katya,” Rei says, grabbing her bear and placing it under the covers. Maire then leans forward and kisses Rei goodnight. Kael tucks Rei in and then leads Maire outside so Rei can fall asleep. I envy Rei for a good reason. She’s so kind, so gentle. She’s too innocent to see the world as it is. I wish I was that oblivious. If I was, I wouldn’t have anything to worry about.
I turn back to the water bucket and stare into the water. I see my reflection on the surface. It’s barely visible because of the lack of light in the room. A small shimmering glare catches my attention. My necklace. I place my hand over it, and the light fades. I lean against the wall and examine my necklace for a moment, the same one my father had given to me on my seventh birthday, the day before his disappearance. It’s a gold, vertical rectangle shape, with a seal imprinted on it. The seal is of a circle of stars around a sword and an olive branch. The symbol has always intrigued me, and I never understood why.
“Scout,” I hear a tiny voice squeak behind me. I turn my head quickly in surprise. I see Rei watching me with her head cocked to one side. “I can’t sleep.”
I walk to her bed, her small body almost nonexistent under the thin covers, and sit down next to her. I lift my hand to caress her cheek, rubbing her forehead with my thumb.
I hum the tune of a child’s nursery rhyme, a song my own father sang when I had trouble sleeping. I can feel my voice reverberating in my throat, taunting it to come out. Rei wavered in and out, like a baby resisting sleep. Watching her instantly makes me tired. Soon enough my eyelids become heavy and I felt myself falling next to her, suddenly losing all my energy.
Rei inched up to meet me as I cradled her small body in my arms, her light snores calming me the same way Kael did whenever he pulled me into his brotherly embrace. The only sound that could be heard was the constant whirring of machines above and the buzzing of flies.
Sleep approached us swiftly, and I welcomed it with open arms.