Her: Chapter 20
Popping noise fill the air, first one, followed by another and then another until the world is exploding. My vision is white and I can't see where the bullets are coming from, and I shield my face as I run. Even though I can't see anything, I can feel the ground beneath me. It turns from a hard metallic to gravel as the gunshots rain around, endless. I try to reach for someone, but I know I'm alone.
Alone. Alone. Alone.
It's the clearest feeling I've had, like it's something I can touch. Something I can wear. I don't like it, but I'm almost glad of it; because if I'm alone, no one can get hurt.
My breathing labors, ragged and excruciating. I can't breathe, I can't see. I can't do anything but run and pray I'm not spotted.
But then something knocks me off my feet. Well, it actually slams into my back, so hard that the pure force of it shoves me to my knees. Pain follows it; as brilliant and sudden as the gunshots still ricocheting off the walls around me. My shoulder is on fire.
I think I cry out, but my voice sounds muddled. I grip my arm tightly to my chest, trying to see past the haze that turns the white in my vision foggy.
I blink rapidly, yelling at myself to get up, but the haze doesn't leave. It fills my vision, staining the white until everything is a startling red.
Until I can't see anything else but that color.
Until I'm drowning in it.
I'm supposed to kill the leaders of Candor and Abnegation in less than a day. At 9:30 tomorrow morning, I'll be leaving here for the first time to attend a Faction meeting in the heart of the city, posing as a representative of Glas since she will be "contributing to other matters."
But before that goes down, there's something else I have to do first, and it lies not in the heart of the city, but beneath it.
I was told after the meeting that took place over two days ago the vague points to the plan.
Some of Glas's men are already infiltrating the sewer system of Chicago, where two emitters will be placed under the center of the city. The last emitter will be located in one of the abandoned subway tracks. I am to arm the first in the sewer system which will also work as the trigger to the rest. Each is supposed to omit a kind of chemical that only I'm unaffected by. I guess that's what Glas meant when she said that I was their greatest advantage.
Since the chemical is only temporary, I'm then to attend the meeting directly afterward, where the signs of the fumes will be in effect approximately five minutes after I arm it.
Which would have left no person other than myself (apparently) capable of actually completing the intended mission.
"Why didn't you arm it automatically?" I asked her at the time.
She'd only responded with a slight sigh. "I couldn't risk complications with automated emitters. They can be rather complex compared to a modern detonator, which is constructed in a highly different way and this isn't a mission I plan to play insouciant decisions with."
"How about masks?"
"The chemical can be absorbed either through respiration or by contact with skin. It can penetrate practically any material. It took over a year and a dozen of the best chemists to perfect its structure." She smiled. "Plus, men done up in suits isn't exactly being covert."
I didn't really ask anything more after that.
But I did spend more time with video feeds. Mostly because if I am willing to commit acts against someone, I want it to be justified and though Glas doesn't exactly seem deigned to be completely trustworthy, the continuous reports of burning buildings and herded families offer a fairly compelling case.
I'm also pretending that I don't really care about getting my memories back; about learning the truth about myself, but that's an ugly lie. It's like half of me is fighting with the other; at war with each other. I want to know the good things about who I was; the people I helped, if any. The pure intentions of my past. But you can only meet the good of something if you're also willing to see the bad of it as well, and I just don't know if I want to see the wrong parts of me.
Because what if that's all I was? What if I hope to find some shred of light in the dark of my choices and it's not there? What if there's nothing good about me?
I think that's what I fear the most. That like my dream I wake gasping from, my past is not grey, or black, but red. Red with the people I hurt. Red with the pain I caused. Red with the blood I spilt.
Red with the blood I have yet to spill.
But if I hurt someone, shouldn't I suffer the consequences of it? Can't memories serve as penitence? Shouldn't that boy I shot, my friend that I gunned down...don't I owe it to him to remember and live with knowledge of what I did?
I sigh and roll over on the side of my cot, pressing my face into the pillow, as if I can drown out the voice inside my head, telling me over and over again that I owe it.
That I owe it to remember my ghosts.
The numbers on the first clock I've ever had in my room burn against their small screen, stinging my eyes. I'm sitting on my cot, still, after a pretty sleepless night, clothed from head-to-toe in black.
Black shoes. Black army jeans. Black tank top and sweater. Even black gloves. But underneath, I wear a hearty blue suit buttoned over a white undershirt, complete with matching flats in my black pack slung over my shoulder.
Heels were originally suggested due to my short height, but I attested to them until the flats were optioned.
I bet I'll be the shortest non-representative there.
When 9:15 turns to 9:16, the door to my room opens and a single man steps inside. He's also clothed in similar gear, but unlike me, strapped across his chest rests a gun.
Shooting will not be required.
"Come with me," he says, abruptly turning back on his heels and walking out. I stand on and when my legs wobble, I stiffen my shoulders and follow him. He leads me down the sterile hallway before boarding an elevator. I watch his fingers dance over the tabloid of numbers before we get in and descend to the next floor. Or maybe it's the bottom floor, I don't know. Sweat trickles down my neck and legs and the two layers of clothing is suddenly hot and heavy. I try to not let my discomfort show as I trail the guard off the elevator and down another hallway.
White walls. White floors. White lights.
The lack of color now reminds me of my dream.
The guard stops in front me then and I almost run into him. He turns to me and in almost a robotically leveled voice says, "put these on." He hands me a pair of black lenses.
Before I can thoroughly inspect the thin, pliable piece in my palm, he starts walking again, turns another corner and hits in another code. A barred door lifts and then he's pushing open the one past it.
Bright rays suddenly flood the room, until I can't see anything. My eyes burn and I squint, instantly lifting the piece to my eyes. It sticks instantly, like some kind of suction around the rim of my cheekbones, blocking out the painful glare.
"Clear," the man says to something on his wrist I can't make out. Then he grabs onto my arm and pushes me forward, towards a military grade truck. I think I half expected this morning to be buzzing with activity with the impending plan, but to my surprise, only a few other guards litter the front, two flanking the front of the door I walked out of, another sitting inside the truck.
We waste no time walking towards it and he motions for me to get in the back. It's not exactly a short truck and I'm somewhat embarrassed when I try to heave myself up and realize that I can't. The guard hefts me inside in one fluid motion before getting in himself.
The back of the vehicle is loaded with only a few wooden boxes and I'm again struck by the lack of weapons and materials.
But then again, they won't be coming with me. I'll be going in alone.
The truck revs beneath me, breathing to life and I settle against the back of it, trying to swallow my surging fear.
What if this is wrong? What if I can't do it? What if something doesn't go according to plan?
In my peripheral vision, I see the guard in his stoic stance turn his eyes to me and he holds something out. I lift my hand to his, feeling something small drop in my palm. "Put this in your ear," he says.
"What is it?"
"Communication device. Puts you in direct contact with Glas."
I wrinkle my nose at that, but shove it in. It feels foreign and weird and I abruptly don't like the thought of something metal or inhuman in my head. "Okay," I reply.
"Beatrice," a voice pipes up, sounding as if right by my ear. But it's not. It's coming from in my ear.
Glas is inside my head.
" I will be walking you through the arming process and will direct you to the location of the emitters," she says, "and I will know your precise location with this as well, as it is simultaneously a tracking device."
"Okay," I say again, feeling my tongue go dry. I'm hot and thirsty and my hands won't stop shaking, but the most invasive thing is hearing someone's voice this close. It makes me want to pull it out, but I don't.
"Are you ready?" she asks.
I swallow and close my eyes, knowing that this is my last chance to say no. Such a simple word, yet still capable of tearing apart people and plans and practically everything in between.
But I can't. I've seen the feeds. I've watched lives bleed out, turning the white of their innocence to red like my dream.
I need to know all that I've done; I need to know who I have hurt. Because I know that I've hurt people.
And the feeling settling over me now; the fear of doing the wrong thing, is like going against some inner instinct; doing the exact opposite of what the person before me would have done.
And that's somehow comforting. Because maybe what this girl thought was wrong, is actually right.