It had been five days since I was punished. Five days since my eye was ruined. Five days since I last saw Hop. My days were empty, much like the room they put me in. It was small, all the walls, floor and ceiling stainless white. So was my bed. My clothes were taken too, replaced by a simple long-sleeved shirt and matching pants. Somehow it was always cold, even with the blankets tightly wrapped around my body. Though it wasn’t like the cold from outside, I couldn’t see my own breath, I was simply shivering and goosebumps were constantly present.
The only people that had come in were the doctor who attended my eye and the occasional Nox Knight who brought me a piece of bread and water. I didn’t know why I was kept in here or for how long. No one answered whenever I asked.
Today, however, I had a feeling that would change. Something in the air had shifted when the first Knight who usually brought my breakfast walked in. His hands were empty, which was my second clue to a change in the program. A second later another Knight walked in, standing right beside the first. Then lastly, the woman who I had met the day prior to my punishment.
I narrowed my eye at her, not standing from where I was sitting on the bed. “Care to explain?”
“I am not the bad guy here, Luca,” she started, taking a few steps closer. The clicks of her high heels echoing in the quiet room.
I scoffed. “At our last meeting, you made it perfectly clear you were.”
“I have a reputation to be held high, you must understand I am doing this for the people.” Maria crossed her arms, watching me closely.
I leaned back against the wall. “Doing what exactly?”
Maria took a deep breath. “The human race is dying, Luca. Nandanavana is the last place on this earth where we can live peacefully.”
“What do you mean ‘dying’?” My brow furrowed, confusion forming my face.
“A virus,” she said, reaching behind her to one of the Knights. He handed her a tablet, on which she tapped a few times before giving it to me. “About a hundred years ago a virus broke out, one we couldn’t control, one we still can’t cure. The virus is dangerous, more than deadly, and it has taken more than ninety-eight percent of the human population.”
One picture after the other, my throat when dry. They were of corpses in strange looking streets, sick people in hospital beds, children crying beside their mother’s bed. All the infected were sickly pale, bruises spread over their entire body, and their eyes… wide open, haunting, much like those of the boy who had been placed on the streets.
“So the people we collected…” I thought out loud.
“Were infected.” Maria nodded. “We bring them in with the hopes of curing them, we haven’t succeeded, yet.”
My brows drew together as I stared at the pictures. “Why tell me this?”
“It seems fair you know why what follows is done to you,” she said. “You betrayed us, we can’t trust you back into society with the chance of you joining the rebellion. We better keep you hidden away, and while we’re at it, we will run tests to see if we can find a cure.”
I started at her, blinking. “I-I can’t go back?”
Maria laughed mockingly. “Of course not, you already know too much.”
“What if I don’t want to be your guinea pig?” I clenched my jaw.
“You think you have a choice?” She took the tablet from my hands. “You should feel honored to be able to help humanity, our last uninfected tests subject… let’s just say she isn’t able to be used for tests any longer.”
My chest was tight, my stomach in a knot. This was sickening, how could it even be true? Any of it? For all I knew the photos were faked and the sob story was to keep me in line.
“Then how come I was never infected?” I asked. “How come so many aren’t infected if this virus is so dangerous?”
“The gasses,” she said as if it was obvious. “They clear the air at night, but of course can’t stop everything. Sleepiness is a side effect of inhaling it. And as for you, Nox Soldiers and Knights are chosen as they possess a certain amount of immunity. We like to keep those people close. Of course, we haven’t found the person who possesses full immunity yet, but this child will be born eventually.”
I bit my lip, finding it hard to believe a word she says. Something was off about this explanation. “Why is this kept from the public?”
Maria shrugged. “They have trust in our system and so don’t ask. The painful memories simply faded after the first ten years in peace and soon men accepted this new way of living.”
“Except for the rebellion.”
“They don’t see the full picture, believing we kill the people who are brought in for no good reason.” She sighed heavily, shaking her head. “The rebellion is led by people who aren’t aware of our history and how we survived, we simply can’t do anything to stop them as they don’t listen to reason.”
I thought everything over, biting my tongue. It would explain many things, yet also bring up more questions. One thing I was still sure of was that I didn’t trust this woman, nor was I easily fooled again by the system.
Too many thoughts were spinning through my head, each with an unanswered question attached. I wondered if Félix was going to tell me the exact same story the night I was caught, or if he told me a tale of how the government killed its own people. There was no way of knowing now, I would never see him again. Nor would I see Hop.
I frowned at the thought, unwanted sadness settling. I couldn’t be sure of anything I was told, but my freedom was something I had lost for certain. Thinking back I doubted I ever actually had any.
Looking back up, I hardened my expression. “I want proof, pictures can be manipulated.”
Maria nodded. “Of course, follow me.”
Eying the Knights carefully, I stood and walked after Maria as she left the room. We walked through the familiar halls, ones that had become nauseating. Nothing ever good came from passing through them.
It felt like hours had passed when we finally arrived at a large metal door. Maria took a card from her pocket, holding it to the scanner. It turned green and the door opened, revealing rooms with one door each and a wall made of thick glass so one could observe whoever was inside from the outside. We passed a few of them. On their doors hang a sign saying how many days they had been infected. The further down the hall we went the more days the signs counted, the sicker the people inside looked.
I stopped abruptly before one room, recognizing the girl I had collected not too long ago. I furrowed my brow as I tried to remember her name, but as soon as her eyes met mine it came back to me. Hannah. Hannah of Paradisum. My guess was right, her eyes did match her hair. Thought, my heart sank with how dim they seemed. Instead of life that was supposed to shine in the eyes of a fifteen-year-old, I found pain and sadness, sickness and despair.
She was sitting on her bed, face pale and bruises on her arms. Without thinking I reached out, my hand being stopped by the glass. She was still looking at me, and for the briefest second her mouth twisted up into a smile as she raised her hand, waving. She couldn’t know I was the one who brought her here, yet for some reason, it seemed like she was thanking me.
“What happens to them?”
Maria came to stand beside me. Hannah immediately lowed her hand, looking away. I glanced at Maria, not commenting on the girl’s reaction purposely, waiting for my answer instead.
“It takes about ten days for the virus to kill a person. If you’re lucky it may take fifteen,” she explained. “Around day nine the infected start screaming, by the beginning of day ten they lose their voice, by the end, they have died with their mouth wide open and their eyes praying for mercy.”
Pressing my palm to the glass, I couldn’t help the bitter taste that was left in my mouth. Soon Hannah would meet her end in that exact way, and nothing could be done about it. I couldn’t do anything. It was almost enough to give myself up for testing, but I knew that was why she brought me here to easily. Something about Hannah’s reaction to Maria confirmed most of my suspicion; things around weren’t done for the infected sake.
The other lie that helped me hold my ground was the screaming that the infected apparently did. I didn’t believe one bit of it, and it was Maria’s own mistake. On the pictures she showed me the corpses only had wide-open eyes, their mouths were closed each time. Their eyes were haunting, never begging for mercy. Already too many things didn’t add up. There was no reason for me to trust Maria. But I could play the part.
“What kind of tests will be performed on me?” I asked, never looking away from Hannah. It might help convince Maria I was willing to participate out of my own free will.
She seemed pleased by my question. “We’ll be analyzing what exactly makes you partly immune to the virus and see if we can replicate it. We’ll be doing this by taking blood samples for example.”
“I’ll be stuck here forever, aren’t I?” I finally stepped away from the glass, meeting Maria’s gaze. “I’ll never see my friends again, couldn’t I at least say goodbye?”
“You should have thought of that when you betrayed the government,” she said coldly, smiling mockingly right after. Now that I showed cooperation her true colors started to shine through. “Don’t concern yourself with your friends, they’ll forget you in a heartbeat.”
I wanted to chuckle, barely able to hold it in. Hop wasn’t one to forget and give up, hell would freeze over before she gave in to those who did her wrong. Her spirit was as fierce as the color of her hair. I could already imagen the fire that burned behind those piercing eyes, how much I missed seeing that already. Though, I would do the same for her. It was why I was sure I would see her again.
Nothing could stop me from returning to my best friend, my Hopper.
“If you say so.” I tried to sound saddened. I could only hope it came across. “When do we start?”
Gears already turned in my head, forming an escape plan. They couldn’t lock me up forever, I wasn’t going to end up like the previous tests subject. I would escape, one way or another. If everything was indeed of good intent why did they lie? If everything was truly perfect why would I doubt? If they were out for the best why was Liber created? It were the questions I had to hold onto, the ones that would keep my mind on the right track. If I lost sight of those I would die for sure.
After everything they had done to me, it wasn’t hard to be reminded.
Maria patted my shoulder, smiling widely. “As soon as possible.”