Chapter 1 (Carter)
I used to have a brother. Well, a step brother, but he was a brother nonetheless. Someone I considered my best friend, the one who would stay up at all hours of the night if I had a bad dream, the one who would help me with my homework when I was having trouble, the one who would watch the silly kid’s movies with me despite how he wanted a horror movie, and if we decided on a horror movie he would let me hide against him because it was too scary for my little mind.
Yes, I used to have a brother, but these days I could hardly remember him. The warm smiles and the hand that ruffled my hair, the annoying kisses against my cheek in public just to embarrass me, and the insistence that he hold my hand so I didn’t get lost in the crowds. He was my whole world, but now he was a memory in a photo album, sealed away as a picture in the locket around my neck.
My brother didn’t exist anymore. The man sitting at the table was nothing but a monster, and I was horrified in myself that it had taken me this long to realize it. After everything he had done to the world, and to the people closest to him, I always told myself he was just sick, it would get better, I just had to stay with him and support him and he’d go back to what he used to be, but I was wrong. Oh, how I was wrong.
Bay Donovan Blu was sitting in his “throne” as usual, just to my left, and across from me were the other two pawns, Vinet Ivanov and Rupert de Vois. There were a few foot soldiers and scientists sitting at the table as well, but I couldn’t care less about them. Just a bunch of extras Bay would shoot without a second thought the moment it struck him to do so.
There was a fifteen-year-old boy kneeling on the ground between Bay and myself, and I couldn’t stop my eyes from wandering to him occasionally. He’d been there for around two years if memory served, still defiant as ever, with hair black as night and eyes the color of dark gold. His skin was pale and scarred, a sleek metal collar secured around his neck with a panel on one side, the only way to remove it.
His name was Demitri Inou, kidnapped by us when he was thirteen as a political gamble, revenge against his father, who refused to work with us. His head was bowed, hands in fists on his lap, and seemed to be containing himself from screaming while Bay talked. I couldn’t blame him, sometimes that man’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard. Lifting my eyes up I looked over at Bay, his dark hair slicked back as usual to show his dark lifeless eyes and the mad grin on his lips, happily going over the latest plans he had set up.
“Vienna,” he was saying, tapping the table with one finger, “A warehouse near the size of a shopping mall filled with weapons is what our contact has revealed. Smack in the middle of Vienna, sitting pretty for us next to a lovely mansion.”
“Do we know who lives there?” Vinet asked, and Bay shook his head with an exaggerated sigh.
“Unfortunately not. All we could deduce was that it is protected by a small military. Of course, why else would they have a warehouse of weapons at their disposal?” he tapped the table again and leaned back in his seat, snapping his fingers at the boy on his knees, prompting him to lethargically move up and crawl closer to the chair, his eyes empty of emotion, “So, Carter,” Bay addressed me as he tangled his fingers into Demi’s hair, “I have a mission for you.”
Great, a mission to Vienna is exactly what I needed right now. The sarcastic comment was on the tip of my tongue, but I swallowed it down before it could slip out and gave Bay a short nod to show I understood and was waiting for further instruction.
“You will be flown to the very outskirts of Vienna, left with the bare minimum of supplies, whatever you need to survive until you call us back. What I want from you is infiltration. Find the warehouse, get inside, get me a head count of both soldiers and weapons, maybe a few samples of what they may offer. I would like to know who lives in the mansion, who runs everything, names, status, weaknesses, anything that could get us into Vienna so we can take them out and take the weapons. Understood?”
“Ydw,” I replied, wincing and correcting myself quickly, “Yes.”
Bay was glaring at me now, a slight twitch under his left eye that I noticed easily as he dragged Demi to kneel in front of him before letting him go and sitting back, smiling down at the boy, “I heard Rupert has been teaching you a little, is that right my puppet?” Demi didn’t answer, just kept his eyes cast down, and Bay’s smile turned as he reached out to grab his jaw, forcing him to look up, “I asked a question.”
Demi was gritting his teeth, eyes burning in resentment, but he didn’t speak, and that was his mistake. Bay yanked him closer and pointed at his jeans, causing the color in Demi’s face to bleed out as the defiance turned to horror.
“Suck it,” Bay commanded, and Demi choked on his breath as he shook his head, but Bay forced him closer, shoving Demi’s face into his crotch before smiling around the table, his eyes stopping on me, “You will be leaving tomorrow,” he said, his words accented by whimpers and the horrific sound of lips around something that should never be near a human mouth.
I felt physically ill, nodding my head and swallowing the sour bile rising in my throat as I struggled to find my words, reminding myself of what language I needed to speak in before opening my mouth, “Understood. Is there any preparation I should take?”
“Well if you would like, I could have the puppet stay with you tonight,” Bay suggested nonchalantly, yanking on Demi’s hair to force his head to bob faster, making him choke.
His hands were at his sides, fingers splaying as Bay forced himself deeper into the boy’s throat, and again my stomach churned as I stood up from my seat.
“No thank you,” I bit out the words, then turned away so I wouldn’t have to continue to watch, “Have a good night.”
“Awe, you are always such a, how you say, stick in the mud!” Rupert whined, and I sent him a steady glare before fast walking from the conference room.
My room was a few hallways down, the only one far away from Bay and the others, a kind of rejected suite that I took as my own because it was isolated from the soldiers. The first thing I did when the door was closed and the three locks put in place was rush to my bathroom and retch. I always did when I saw Bay with Demi like that. The bile kept rising, all the undigested food expelling through my mouth as I hugged the toilet, forcing the tears away as my forehead pressed to the cool of the porcelain.
I had been sitting on the sidelines for two years and I never said a word before. Hell, I’d been there when we kidnapped him, I was the one who put a rag soaked with chloroform over his mouth and nose to make his struggling stop, and it was okay for me to feel guilty? I was part of the reason he was here, I had no right to cry because I couldn’t help him.
I pushed myself away from the toilet and grabbed a hand towel from the sink as I stood up, flushing away the contents of my self-loathing and turning the faucet on so I could wash my face and brush my teeth to get the taste out of my mouth, staring at my reflection in the mirror with such hatred I nearly punched it into shards.
At one point, I honestly loved what I looked like, so obviously from the Isles with my red hair and gray eyes, and the dust of freckles across my nose and cheeks, barely visible unless you were up close to my face. I had my father’s hair and my mother’s eyes, a perfect blend of both pureblooded Welsh lineage. I was raised in a traditional household, so in tune with our heritage that I grew up speaking Welsh, and only learned English when I turned ten.
It was painful for me on a whole new level when I considered my childhood and my roots to my heritage. Welsh was nearly a dead language, especially now that the world was basically over, I was probably one of the last ones on the earth who still could speak it fluently, yet if I tried to talk in that language I loved so much, Bay would have a fit. He didn’t like it when he couldn’t understand what his subordinates were saying, and slipping up, much like I had done earlier, usually got me in trouble.
I suppose I had Demi to thank for distracting Bay the way he did, but the thought had another wave of nausea nearly bringing me back to my knees. Instead I turned away from the mirror, rinsing my mouth out before leaving the bathroom.
The suite that was dubbed as mine had been in mid construction when I moved in, and I liked it so much I decided to keep it that way. The bathroom was fully furnished and operational, with toilet, sink, vanity mirror and shower, but the bedroom was only half complete. There was one section of the room carpeted neatly, where my queen-sized bed was located, but there were sections that were still just hardwood, and parts of the wall that were built up with stained wood instead of the annoying flowery wallpaper that took up the wall where the bedroom and bathroom doors were.
The window went floor to ceiling on the far end of the room, facing away from the settlement, giving me a beautiful view of trees and the ocean located several miles away from our base. There were book shelves in random places against the wall, filled with books, newspapers, and magazines. My clothes were stored in a dresser against the same wall my bed was pushed up against, not that the clothes went anywhere besides the ground.
My exhaustion took me straight to my bed, falling on my face and kicking off my shoes before settling against my pillows and staring at the large window that took up one entire wall, watching the sky as the sun set, casting a rainbow of purple, orange, and red through the sky that made it seem like just another bad day.
Tomorrow my step mother would wake me up for school, my brother would help me get ready because I was too tired to do it on my own, he’d lead me by the hand to the school in our town, eat with me at lunch, and after school my father would pick us both up so we could purchase ingredients at the market for that night’s dinner. It would be a good day instead of a bad, ending with my father and I talking in Welsh, my brother and I watching a movie before he carried me half asleep back to the room we shared so he could lay me in my bed.
A good day where the world was still spinning, with all its good and bad. Russia’s government said something suspicious again, the royal family reveals they’re having another baby, Japan keeps grinding out strange animation that white girls are obsessed with, America is a train wreck as usual, and still no one knows what Wales is, but it is a good day, a good life.
I’ll keep going to school, memorizing every fact of my countries history so I could go on to be a professor, maybe relocate to America teaching Welsh language and tradition. I would have a good life, that is what I want to happen; but that is not what will happen.
Instead, tomorrow I will be getting up early, putting on black clothes and checking in with Bay before heading to the helicopter or airplane, whatever he decides I need to take, heading over the ocean towards Austria where I will be dropped into enemy territory, because Bay wants to rule the world, and I’m nothing but a foot soldier.
What the king says goes. No matter how crazy or inhumane.
I wanted change. I couldn’t do this much longer, watch innocent kids like Demi get manipulated into joining the wrong side, but I had no energy or motivation to try and stop it or make a difference. The world has ended, the governments have shut down, crime runs rampant, and we are at the top of the downfall, bathing in the glory of destruction as it happens.
There was no purpose to try and change anything when it was already too late, so why should I bother? There is no meaning to my life at all unless it’s to gather information for Bay. This isn’t a life, this is hell, and now I was fully prepared to end that hell with any means necessary.
Unless something changed, I would not be around anymore.
I missed my parents anyway.
Seeing them again would be very nice.
A sudden knock on my door yanked me unmercifully from the clutches of sleep, and I sighed in exasperation as I threw myself from my bed and walked towards the door, undoing the locks before opening it up to see Rupert leaning against the doorframe, smiling when he saw me.
“Sorry to bother, but the boss wants you to take the puppet back to his room.”
Of course he did, I was one of Demi’s handlers after all, basically nothing more than a babysitter, always the one chosen to bring him to the arena or Vinet’s “playroom” whenever he was called. I was so useless they even dared waking me up to take him back to his room. What a joke.
“Why can’t someone else do it?” I muttered in irritation as Rupert pushed off the wall and turned, “I was trying to sleep, I have a mission tomorrow, in case you forgot.”
“I didn’t forget,” Rupert scoffed, “You’re just the only one the boss trusts. It’s a load of rotten snails to me, but I’m smart enough not to question him. Get to it already before you make him mad,” I heard him breath under his breath, “Worthless piece of trash.”
The insult almost made me laugh, because yes, I was a worthless piece of trash. What good human would feel sorry for a boy being raped yet run away and hide when it came down to me possibly helping him? I was pathetic.
My movements were tired and sluggish as I stepped into my shoes and tied them back up, running a hand across my face as I left my room and headed back towards the conference room where Demi was likely waiting for me to take him back to his room. Or in my interpretation, prison cell. Honestly there was next to nothing in there besides cinderblock walls, a bare mattress, a pad of paper, and a pen. There were no windows, no vents for air conditioning or heating, it was a jail cell, but worse.
At least in jail they gave you edible food and a blanket.
Demi was sitting in the corner when I entered the room, his knees to his chest and his arms wrapped around his legs to keep them against his stomach, his face hidden and his hair veiled around his head to block his face. I could see him shaking, and he was probably crying, but I didn’t interrupt or yell at him like Rupert or Vinet would do, and I didn’t mock him like Bay does. I just stepped closer and stopped, watching him awkwardly and scratching at my neck.
I didn’t want to pull him up when he was like this, but I needed to bring him back to the bunker before Bay caught us. He would just punish Demi for still being here, so I sighed and came closer, not surprised when he flinched away from my approach.
“Come on,” I tried to sound soothing, but my words came out cold and indifferent, “If Bay catches you crying he’ll get mad.”
That seemed to wake him up, enough to make a noise of fear before scrambling to his feet, leaning against the wall and scrubbing at his eyes to wipe the tears away, then pushed himself towards me, his feet scuffing the carpet. His face was splotchy and red from his crying, his eyes were shiny from the tears still threatening to fall, and he was shaking, refusing to look at me.
The kid looked broken, but the defiance in his gaze was comforting. The only problem is it wasn’t as strong as it used to be, and it was terrible to realize he was giving up. After so long as a captive here I suppose I wasn’t surprised, it’s not like I could’ve expected him to be perfectly fine with what Bay did to him, but deep down it was like he was my life line. If he could stay strong and continue to fight back, maybe it could give me the same strength, but that was just a silly dream.
Everyone broke at some point; I was foolish to think a fifteen-year-old child would be able to fix me while keeping himself together at the same time. A sigh fell from my lips, regretful and disappointed, and I turned, waving for him to follow me out of the conference room through another door, down a long empty hallway with no other doors besides the one behind and the one just ahead.
It was a silver elevator door with a code panel in the wall. Demi sniffled now and then from behind me as I punched in the code before pushing my thumb to the scanner, then punching a red button to open the doors, herding Demi in before me and hitting one of the two buttons inside. Up and down were the only options, conference room or bunker, simple and easy to remember, a repeat of movements that have become so habitual it felt wrong; fake.
“I’ll be gone for a few days,” I told him, “Rupert or Vinet will oversee your movements until I get back.”
He was always so quiet nowadays I was surprised when he spoke, “Please don’t,” he whispered, and I turned to look at him, meeting his gold eyes, “I don’t want them to. They h-hurt me. Please don’t leave me with them.”
I watched him for a long time before frowning more, folding my arms, “You think I’m the better option?” I asked, and he nodded.
“Better than them.”
I couldn’t understand it. He was afraid of almost everything, but he was willing to trust me of all people? I was somehow better than everyone else? He was out of his mind if he thought someone like me could help him at all.
“You’re a stupid child if you think that.”
“But-!” he stopped himself, the desperation heavy in his voice and on his face, “You’re the only one who hasn’t hurt me…”
Because it’s disgusting to harm a child.
“Maybe I’m just waiting for the right time,” I said darkly, and fear replaced the desperate expression he’d been wearing.
He skittered across the elevator to get away from me, pressing himself into the corner and trembling, ducking his head and whimpering. With the way he was bowing his head I could see the roots of his hair, and my frown twisted even more when I saw the discoloration starting at the roots and fanning outwards in uneven random strands. His hair was changing.
It was white.
What was happening to him?