I tossed and turned, dreaming of things I didn’t want to dream. Everything mixed together and came out wrong. To top it off, it’s storming outside the dorms and everything I woke it was to a boom of thunder or a flash of white light. I would lift my head, confusion and fear griping me before realizing I was in my bed.
“Simon,” I murmured, falling deeper into sleep again.
I’m back in chemistry class, only it’s months ago, before everything became so wrong, when we were all just a bunch of kids in class. Volger’s standing next to me, with Nevva on my other side. We’re watching a dissection.
“Good looking guy, he is.” Lee gives us a small smile from across the table as she lowers the scalpel.
“No,” I shake my head frowning.
“What’s wrong, Little Mouse, can’t stomach the real work?” Volger elbows me, smirking down at me when I look up at him. It makes my heart flutter.
“No, I didn’t mean. What I meant was it’s not chemistry. The fundamental base of this is too far from the subject matter.”
“Ai ya, Little Mouse, so many words.” Volger shakes his head.
“It’s okay River, he’s not really dead.” Nevva smiles, look. I look down the table to the man’s head and Simon grins at me.
“Simon! What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see you,” he explains. “You never get my letters so I figured this was the best way to visit. It’s only temporary.” He waves towards his stomach; Lee is pulling out his heart. “This I mean. I am with you always, Mei Mei.”
“But the heart is an essential organ, Simon.”
“No, I feel fine.” But he slurs the last part. “Fine.” His eyes roll back, as his head drops to the table.
“Simon!” I shake him.
“Watch the table, girl!” The teacher yells at me from her desk where she is eating a Fruity Oaty bar.
“Sorry.” I back up; still watching worriedly as Simon’s head tosses from side to side.
“This is no good.” Lee shakes her head. “Too much movement, Volger!”
“Get the knife.” Volger picks up something that looks more like a sword.
“Got it.” Volger holds it over his head. “Now what?”
“Cut off his head.”
“No!” I scream.
“River, we need him to lie still,” Volger explains looking back at me. His face seems to be rotting now. I glance around the room; everyone’s faces seem to be rotting off their skulls. Simon’s missing an eye and half his jaw is exposed.
“Volger,” I murmur. He turns to me, the skin around his eye sagging, the eyelid drooped down so I only see half the eye on that side. His nose has disappeared.
“It’s for the pax,” he answers, and slams the sword through Simon’s throat.
I woke up with the scream fading from my lips and Nevva’s hand over my mouth. She put a finger to her lips and my eyes darted around the room as I calmed down. Finally I nodded and she pulled her hand away. Outside thunder rolled, followed by a flash of lightning that momentarily brightened the room. I almost screamed as a figure was illuminated at the end of my bed. Lee, put a finger to her lips and I caught myself, trying not to think about the Lee from my dream. I pushed the covers aside and sat at the edge of my bed. Lee motioned for us to follow her.
I pushed my feet into slippers, not bothering with clothes since Lee and Nevva are still in pajamas. Lee opened the door just wide enough for the three of us to slip through and we followed her through a maze of corridors. The halls were drab and cold in the daylight, but with thunder rumbling, and lighting occasionally illuminating the way they became sinister, I expected security guards to jump out at us at any moment.
We slipped out a back door, and hurried down a covered walkway to a gazebo, then dashed from there, through the rain to a boathouse at the head of the docks by the lake. Lee pushed aside a loose board and we slipped inside. Candles were lit around the small room, and two guys sat waiting, they stood quickly when we entered.
“Lee!” the bigger of them hissed. He was thick muscled with close cut nut brown hair. “Why in the go tsao de hell did you bring these two?”
“I know her.” The shorter, Chinese guy took a step back. “She killed a kid in our hand to hand today.” I felt like I was suffocating, as the muscled guy also stepped back.
“It wasn’t her fault,” Lee answered. “I brought them because they’re ready to do something about all that goes on around here.” We are? I felt the panic rising again. What had Nevva told Lee? I glanced at Nevva, but she was nodding at the guys.
“Excuse me for asking, but how is beating someone to death not her fault?” the Chinese guy asked.
“Well, Hai, if you read this, you may get the idea.” She tossed a folder at him.
“What is this about, Lee?” the bigger guy asked, glancing at the file. “And who are these too?”
Lee put a hand one Nevva’s shoulder. “This is Nevva, and the little one is River This is Hai and Gunner.” She nodded at each of them in turn. “The documents discuss the implantation of triggers.”
“Perhaps you could elaborate a bit?” Gunner took the file from Hai, flipping through it. “Unless you really want to sit here while we read it.”
“Trigger’s they have been installing in all of us since the day we got here,” Lee said, glaring at Gunner. “Triggers to unleash us in whatever way they want. Like River today.”
“Wuh de tyen, ah,” I covered my mouth. “It really wasn’t my fault.”
“Not at all.” Lee shook her head.
“So this is the resistance group?” Nevva asked.
Lee nodded. “Khia started it. She told me things weren’t right, and that we could do something if we all banded together. It was the four of us, up until today.”
“She was the one who got the files on each of us, figured out what talents they thought we could specialize in,” Hai added, rubbing his nose. “Each of us is being groomed to serve a specific purpose.”
“And the file on triggers explains that we are expected to carry out these tasks unaware and completely under their control.” Lee scowled, sitting on a crate. “I have a feeling they aren’t too pleased with their top subject killing the kid in second place.”
“Got themselves a real shiong-tsan sha sho.” Gunner nodded with a smile, crossing his arms. “Glad to have her on our side. Do we know what her trigger is?”
“No.” I backed up, knocking over a pile of crates with a deafening crash in the small room.
“Easy, River.” Lee stood and took my arm as we froze listening for guards. Seconds passed before Lee nodded and I breathed again. “We aren’t going to be like them,” Lee said with a tone of finality.
“River’s with us, if we need her to fight she will,” Nevva added. I looked from Lee to Nevva.
“No, I wont.” I shook my head. “I wont hurt anyone again.”
“Then we’ll all die.” Hai glared at me. “Is that what you want? To die from their little experiments? Or be used as an assassin? Because that’s their plan for you, little one.” He leveled rich, dark brown, eyes at me. “You might as well fight for the good guys. Fight of your own free will.”
I held back tears, looking at all of them, Nevva stared apologetically back. They were right; it was becoming more obvious daily that we had few ways to escape from this place.
I sighed, nodded, and looked away. “I’ll do it. If it will get us out, I’ll do whatever you want.”
“Wonderful.” Lee’s face brightened. “I’ve been trying to get word out to my family about this, but Khia told me this morning that they are doctoring our letters if they don’t seem happy.”
“Oh.” I put a hand to my mouth. Simon hadn’t forgotten me. It was the first bright stop in this terror driven day. “I’ve been trying to tell my brother,” I explained. “I’ve been writing. Writing all the time.”
“Did Khia say anything else?” Gunner asked hopefully.
“No.” Lee shook her head. “We only had a few minutes before classes today and she wasn’t herself.” She looked down. “I should have known.”
“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Hai poked glumly at the dirt floor with the toe of his shoe.
“We have to assume so.” Lee nodded.
“Wuh de ma.” Nevva looked as shocked as I felt. “I thought they were putting her in confinement, running extra tests.”
“I hate to say, but it’s better for us if she’s dead. Less chance of them figuring out who was working with her.” The room was silent as we all thought this over.
“I’m going to write my brother.”
“Good luck.” Hai snorted. “Aren’t you listening? They’re tampering with the letters.”
“River, he won’t get the letter you write,” Lee spoke slowly. “The academy will change it.”
“We used codes all the time when we were little.” I nodded to myself. “It will be easy to come up with one he’ll see but they won’t.” I nodded again. I could do it.
“Well I hope you’re right.” Gunner shook his head. “But I won’t hold my breath.”
“We should get back.” Lee stood. “Keep trying to find a way out of here. Nevva and I will try to get more files to explain what exactly they are planning.”
“And I’ll write Simon.”
“Yeah.” Lee gave a half nod. She was humoring me.
We all slid through the loose board, splitting up and heading for our separate dorms. Nevva and Lee whispered ahead of me. I focused on them, listening with all my senses. I was surprised to be able to hear them. Fear iced the blood in my veins as I realized I was indeed, making progress. Dr. Mathias would be so proud.
“You’re sure she hasn’t been compromised?” Lee asked.
“Yes. Well no,” Nevva admitted. “They are very interested in her. I get the feeling they have done more invasive tests with her than the rest of us. Her brain-” Nevva looked over her shoulder at me, but I pretended to be studying the building we passed. “She is a bit damaged, but she’s like a sister to me. We arrived together and I’m not leaving without her.”
“She will be useful if she will fight.” Lee sighed. “But Volger received treatments for a month longer than her and he wasn’t straddling the edge of feng le the way she is.”
Going crazy. Well at least I knew Lee’s honest thoughts. Could I blame her? I’d be a fool to say the treatments weren’t scrambling my brain some.
“She manage. She’ll do what has to be done.” Nevva spoke with a confidence I hoped I could live up to.
“And her brother? Is he as smart as she thinks?”
“I don’t’ know,” Nevva whispered.
I didn’t know how to explain to them that Simon was smarter than I could grasp. Once he received a coded letter he would get Father to understand what was going on and rescue us. We slipped into our dorm room and climbed into cold beds without disturbing our other roommates. I lay staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep, thinking over the day. If only Simon were around to help it all make sense. I slipped back out of bed, the other two already fast asleep, and pulled out a notebook and pencil. It had been years since I’d written in any sort of code, but it came back to me with ease. Soon I had a letter ready to send. I looked over it and smiled. He would know what was going on. I’d get a letter back right away. I was still smiling as I slipped back under the covers and fell into the most restful sleep I’d had in months.