The next morning, I’d half-expected him to have been brought here after maybe being stuck in an extended procedure; yet I wake up and he’s not in his cot at all, his shoes haven’t been thrown by the door the way they’d land there when he’d drop them from the foot of his bed, and it’s weird for a kid who takes so much space in our shared room to just… not be there.
It’s as if something is missing, and I walk to the cafeteria alone and don’t even take a tray. Too anxious to do anything else, I simply let my eyes scour down the four first lists in an attempt to find his (mine’s under field work, and I don’t know what to make of that at all), but coming up blank even when I triple-check. A few people who pass by me as I stand in the middle of the large room shoot me sympathetic looks, different from those they give me when they see how Abel’s turned me into a punching bag.
Feeling my body slowly go numb, I look at the Terminated list.
There, in red, the numbers 10634695 stare at me; the third down the list. My eyes scour the large numbers about eight times, maybe more, and with each time my lungs fail me a little more and my heart pounds like a jackhammer, deafening me. Despite everyone around me, I can’t hear anything.
That’s impossible. I’d recognise Day’s code anywhere, but I can’t accept it. Not this one.
I turn around and run back the way I’ve come, my stomach falling to my sneakers, and when someone unfortunately familiar gets in my way I push right past him, sprinting faster than I’ve run in a long time. I hear a spiteful laugh almost a moment after I’m out of the cafeteria; I already know who it is, and hearing it makes my blood boil.
My anger, however, has finally met its match: a soul-tearing fear for someone else, someone who’s become kind of like a brother to me in some ways, a friend – if not a best friend – in many others. I push past everyone, getting a great deal of complaints, and when I reach my room it’s still as empty as always.
When it sinks in, I fall to my knees just inside and stare blankly at the wall. The tally marks stare at me, mocking me, and seem to be screaming at me that this is the only fate that waits for me.
Vaguely, I hear a few people whispering idly as they peer in and come to their conclusions, and they’re probably accurate. My chest burns hotly, a familiar pain to me now since my first run in Testing, but it comes so suddenly that I grip the front of my shirt and bow forwards a little bit.
I didn’t know I could still do it, but in that moment I realise that my body still remembers how to grieve. Soundless sobs make my shoulders shake, tears blurring my eyes as they pour over and roll down my cheeks; the whispers becomes nothing more than background noise to me.
Unfortunately, I know I still have a job to do today. It gives me a reason to get up and shut the door, looking into my room and half-expecting Day to be sitting on his cot and looking at me as if he’s asking me what took me so long.
Instead, there’s a painful emptiness.
When I pull the top drawer open and pull out the only uniform I haven’t had the ‘pleasure’ of wearing yet, a piece of paper slips out of between the shirt and pants and falls to the ground by my left foot. I stare at it as if it’s foreign, and I probably would’ve stared at it a long while if I didn’t realise that my name was written on the top in a surprisingly elegant script.
So, slowly, I put my clothes down on the dresser and pick up the paper, walking over to my cot and sitting on it before I actually read it.
Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t.
Hey Cas; I bet you weren’t quite expecting this, were you?
So I’ve been thinking lately, and you know what? I think some of the things I told you the first day you showed up are due for amendments. With that in mind, I’m going to try my best to do just that.
First of all, I was lying when I said that it’s not so bad here. It’s bad, but even that’s putting it mildly; the gates that keep us in are doorways into hell, and we’re already dead but we just don’t know it.
Second, you don’t get used to seeing people disappear – you kind of just force yourself to become desensitised to it. I’ve seen people go insane if they didn’t.
Third, while I didn’t lie when I said it’s hard making friends here, I’m happy to say that I found one in you. A brother, even, not by blood but by bond – and to me, that’s worth a whole lot more.
Fourth, you’ve survived a lot longer than five minutes against Abel. That counts for something.
Fifth, trust is only hard to come by if you’re not part of the equation.
Sixth, you’re an exception. You’re innocent.
I have to tell you that I’m sorry, because while you kept your promise I certainly didn’t. I’m writing this letter under the consequence that I’m going to die – I know that the day’s coming up; there are signs you might learn to recognise, although I hope it never happens to you. If anyone deserves to live forever, it would be you.
Did I ever tell you what my real name was? I remembered it the other day, a little after you’d asked me about my birthday. I’ve forgotten a lot of details about my life before here, but some things have come back to me during the time I’ve spent around you. You’re so lost in your past, clinging to your fading memories, and it makes me both wishful for mine and glad that I’ve left my memories and dreams behind.
My name was David Spektor and my dream was to one day explore the stars and map the universe. I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be an astronomer; I wanted to make a mark. My mother didn’t approve of my desire to be a writer, and especially hated how I loved to learn about space and how the Big Bang happened. I wish we could’ve sat and had a conversation about space, at least once.
I feel like screaming “I want to live”, knowing that I’m going to die anyways. Is that a strange thing to say? To these heartless monsters I say long live the kids in us all; fate may cheat us, but God we will die trying. No matter what, they can’t tell us no.
If there’s one thing I want you to remember, Cas, it’s that you’re more than you think you’re worth. You don’t think much of yourself and you’ve had to change in regards to your experience, but I’m glad I met you before I died. You make me think that this is what it feels like to have someone who actually cares for me. That, for a while, I could feel loved.
Thank you for that. I’d forgotten what that was like a long, long time ago; so my wish is for you to keep your truth alive. As long as you know the truth, you’re innocent – so hang on and be strong.
Memories are powerful, but time is a fickle thing and takes them away from us the moment we close our eyes. Only in your memories do your dreams stay alive.
So do me a favour, Cas:
Please don’t forget me.
For a long time I sit there, hugging the letter to my chest and gritting my teeth; my tears fall anyways, my hatred of all that’s happened growing stronger. Out of everyone here, Day deserved this fate so much less – he didn’t deserve this at all. We’re all treated like an animal, stripped of our identity until we forget it ourselves, but for fuck’s sake he was only thirteen. I choke his name quietly – the one he called himself, not his real name.
I don’t think he recognised it as his own anymore, the same way I’ve stopped thinking of myself as Casper Al-Jamil; I’m just Cas.
Angrily, I place the paper back on my cot and get up to grab the scalpel still here on the dresser and walk right up to the wall. With as much force as I can muster I drag it down, gouging out not another tally mark. I’m not going to let Day go down as another number.
He’s more than that.
His name. I dig in the three letters deeply, the metal chips raining in front of me, and then, after a thought, do the same for my own.
God knows there might not be anyone here to do it for me.
Tossing the scalpel down on the floor and hearing it clatter away, I dress in the light clothes and slam the door on my way out, remembering Day’s instructions when I’d asked where those going for field work were actually going.
Those around me seem to sense my terrible mood, because not once am I jostled. I don’t hear anyone call me some stupid name or bump into me, and when I turn into the hallway I can’t help but slam my fist loudly on the metal wall and keep walking to the left. A few around me jump at the sound, and some literally change directions when they see me coming.
I don’t know what they see, but considering how terrible my anger and hatred has been getting I can imagine that I probably look very much like a murderer. I wouldn’t even be surprised.
There’s a door past the elevator and rec room to the left that leads out to where Day told me the field workers are supposed to go, so I follow the similarly-clad convicts all varying in age into the stifling heat once the scanner reads my code.
Shielding my eyes from the sun with my arm, I blink furiously to try and get used to the new light and, moreover, the heat. The loose cotton shirt and shorts are suddenly much appreciated when I realise I’m going to break into a sweat soon enough. There’s a weird and kind of disgusting smell hanging in the air here, and I’m not the only one to gag as we walk towards what I quickly realise is a horrifying nightmare brought to life.
Then again, this place is essentially made on the foundation of someone’s sick and twisted form of a nightmare, inflicting it on a bunch of kids.
There’s a giant trench dug out near the rear fence, the metal rising unforgivingly on the other side, and when I peer in I get a bit light-headed even though I’m not afraid of heights. The bottom of the currently empty trench is blackened, the dirt kind of looking as if it deals with a great amount of heat constantly.
Lined unceremoniously along the side of the building are the bodies of those that keep gracing the list of the Terminated. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out: the only people that die here are those of us who don’t survive the testing.
I’m happy to announce that I’m not the only one who throws up. Even those who are used to the sight grimace, looking pale, and I’m reminded of what Day wrote about forcing yourself to grow desensitised to it.
I have a feeling that this is where it starts.
Not too sure what we’re supposed to do, I find out soon enough when the others working in the field today pair up and begin picking up the bodies, helping each other bring them to the trench and throwing them in like a sack of potatoes. The guy beside me, maybe two years younger, hurls again; I feel my heart stop, my stomach too empty to really throw anything else up other than acid.
When he composes himself, the guy beside me – Leah, he calls himself – reluctantly helps me lend a hand to the others. The turrets mounted on the fence are making me nervous enough, so I don’t want to give them a reason to shoot.
Together, Leah and I are completely silent as we toss the bodies in, hearing the sickening crack every time they land as their bones break at the impact. Carrying them is hard even with someone to help me, since rigor mortis has had time to set in, and the smell is God-awful. I don’t even doubt that it’s going to permanently etch itself into my mind.
The smell of the dead isn’t one you forget.
The sun rolls across the sky, which is my only indication that time passes – it feels like an eternity, a tense silence between all of us. It’s broken when someone behind me says oh my God, and as Leah and I toss another body in I hear someone call me.
“Cas, is it? Uh… I don’t exactly know how to put this…” I turn to look at the one speaking – a teenager in the smack middle of his transition into puberty with longish blond hair and blue eyes – and he makes a face that’s entirely pained and sympathetic. I look at Leah and tell him I’ll be back soon, walking over to the guy who has an accent that’s vaguely European – German, I think. “I think you might want to at least know…”
The teen gestures to the ground, and I look curiously to the body lying at his feet. His partner has his eyes closed, as if offering his respects to all the dead here.
My breath stills in my lungs when I see who it is.
There are deep wounds on his wrists similar to those I had and he’s bled from his head, yet unlike me there’s blood that spilled from his lips as if he was drowning in his own blood. His eyes are closed, thankfully, but I recognise him without even looking at his right hand.
Day looks as if he died in pain, and it makes my chest tighten painfully as my eyes burn.
“You two were… close. It was refreshing to see,” the guy says quietly, sighing shakily, and numbly I reach down and pick the kid up. He’s a bit heavy, but compared to some of the others I’ve helped Leah carry he’s frightfully light.
I wonder if he died thinking of a better time. A happier time – and that, whatever it was, it made him feel as if the world hadn’t given up on him the way society already has. He’s told me his real name, but to me the kid I shared that room with for a time that suddenly feels far too short will always be Day.
To me, he’s always going to be that kid brother I never had.
The others have stopped working, watching me as I quietly walk over to the trench and, after holding his rigid body tightly in the first, and only, hug I have ever given him, I let him fall down and don’t avert my eyes. I watch him hit the pile and roll to a stop, my hands fisting at my sides as I grit my teeth.
“You did it, Day,” I force out, my throat constricting. No one’s moving, watching the fallen the same way I am. “You’re free.”
Someone steps up next to me, offering me a small square object that’s about the size of my palm. It’s light, and has little to distinguish it; I look at him curiously, realising it’s the same guy who showed me Day’s body.
“They spread gasoline and burst into flames on impact,” he tells me quietly, pressing it into my palm firmly. With a tight-lipped smile, the teen looks away from me and back to the bodies. “Send him off, Cas, in a blaze of glory.”
I nod firmly, and after saluting the body of the one person I’ve truly ever called my friend and meant it, I drop the object down.
“Here’s to the already dead, and for the next to die.”
When it hits, the fire ignites; we stand at the precipice of the trench and I feel the wave of heat blast through us, fighting the wind for dominance in this moment. The others drop similar squares, helping the fire catch, and the stench of burning bodies is only challenged by those behind us decomposing in the hot sun.
There is no grave. The nameless of society, those of us who have been replaced, don’t get that privilege; we are the forgotten. Yet there are two things in life I want to remember, always:
The first is that my truth is alive so long as I am, and no matter what they do to me they can’t take that right away from me. The second is that out of the hundreds of thousands of Anonymous in the world, the little kid who called himself Day won’t become one of those forgotten. I won’t let him.
The teenager’s name is Ishmael, and before we leave he offers to shake my hand and tells me that he thinks I’m both brave and insane for taking Abel on as often and as violently as I do. It makes me smile thinly, but I laugh nonetheless and tell him I’m more insane than he gives me credit for.
It’s strange, but we’re about twelve convicts on field duty and they all make it a point to invite me over to a patch of shade before we head inside, gladly including me in the conversation they’re having. The topic is another that surprises me: they talk about those they’ve witnessed appear on the board, who they were and what they were like. Everything about their tone is respectful.
When they ask me what Day was like, I lean against the wall and think about it a moment, thinking back to the letter.
“He loved to read,” I say gently, crossing my arms over my chest and closing my eyes. The shade is nice, and definitely appreciated. “He beat me at poker more than once and loved to tell stories; he once told me that our memories are what keep our dreams alive, and that no matter who we are our truths remain alive as long as we still believe in them.”
I open my eyes, catching their looks and smiling warmly.
“To put it in his words: long live the kids in us all.”
That makes them smile, and I can’t blame them. For us who’ve been thrown away, it certainly feels like the kids we used to be were lost in our actions, fearful of what we’ve become. It’s easy to think that who we were when we were younger would be terrified of us now.
The thought that maybe, just maybe, the kids are still alive in us is a comforting thought.
That, despite it all, the kids are all right.
I find out that these guys all seem to hold me in some sort of respectful awe and tell me that I’m the only one who has survived being on Abel’s bad side for so long. They tell me their names and I make it a point to remember them well; to know that there are others just as fed up about people bullying others around is comforting and makes me think I’m not as alone as I thought I was.
“You’re a good guy, Cas,” Oliver tells me just as we’re about to go back inside; I look at him curiously, shrugging off the wall, and the others look at him in the same manner. “How the hell is a guy like you here?”
I laugh bitterly, waving my hand dismissively and sighing.
“We all have demons; I just couldn’t contain mine,” I say simply, turning back to the door and making my way back to my room. They fall in step behind me, and we keep up a rather good-natured conversation before we disperse at the hub; a few kids already there look at us strangely, apparently surprised to see us getting along like that.
When I get to my room, I close the door long enough to get changed into a loose white t-shirt and beige cardigan along with a comfortable pair of jeans before I open the door again, seeing no harm in it. As an afterthought I put the scalpel on the dresser again. The room is yawningly empty, but it almost feels as if getting to ‘bury’ Day’s body gave my mind some sort of peace. It still feels horribly devoid of life, but it’s not as overwhelming as it was before; I can tell myself that he’s free of this hell, and no matter where he’s going in death, he’s free. I take his favourite book from the shelf – Mercy Among the Children – and I’m about to lie back in my cot and try and find out why he loved the book so much when I hear a familiar voice at the door.
“So I hear your master didn’t come home yesterday.” The sound of Abel’s voice makes me tense, all the anger and fury I felt when I realised Day was dead flooding through me so quickly I swear I see red. Really slowly, I put the book on my cot. “Abandoned you just like everyone else does.”
Before I can stop myself, I take the five strides I need to take to get to the door before I swing my right fist and punch him beneath his jaw so hard I feel my knuckle crack painfully. Abel himself literally falls on his ass, and I stand in the doorway and fist my hands at my sides as he presses a hand to his jaw and spits blood onto the ground, glaring at me.
I don’t have to tell you that this gathers a crowd; I’ve never punched him enough to actually draw blood like that.
“You get one fucking thing clear,” I spit venomously, my left hand rising to grip the doorframe. “I just finished burning the body of my friend, so believe me when I say I am not in the mood to deal with your sorry ass. If you say anything about Day like you fucking know him, I’m going to string you up with your own fucking intestines and throw you in the trench where you fucking belong: in hell!”
Chuckling darkly, he narrows his eyes at me and grins wickedly. The sight makes my skin crawl, but more than anything it makes me angry to see him so cocky.
Christ, who the fuck raised this guy?
“I’d watch my threats, little ghost,” he muses, and my lips press into a tight line at the sound of that fucking nickname. The crowd is watching him, wide-eyed, and waiting to see how he’ll react; I can make out a few of the people I met outside today. “I know what you did to get your ass in here, and we wouldn’t want everyone finding out your dirty little secret now, would we?”
“Then you should know what happened to the last guy who drove me into a corner,” I tell him sharply, cracking my knuckles as I narrow my eyes at him. “Ten times, you jackass, and the first was already unnecessary; trust me when I say I’m not afraid to do it again. Not anymore.”
I just grin. You don’t kill a man and remain unchanged – how he knows is beyond me, but I’m not going to call his bluff and let him prove that it’s not a bluff. I know I’m guilty, I don’t deny that and I certainly don’t regret what I did. Not anymore.
The only thing I’m not guilty of is being the one to attack him first.
Abel gets up and comes towards me, and despite myself I back up into my room; the man closes the door, and as soon as we’re alone he grabs a fistful of my shirt and pulls me close, glaring right at me.
“You’re going to tell me something, you fucker,” he hisses, and I laugh dryly; like hell I’m going to tell him anything. “They injected you with SC36 the same day they did it to me, right?”
The question is so out of the blue that I stare owlishly at him, my irritation evaporating a second before I scowl at him and pull my shirt out of his grip.
“Like I fucking know!” I snap, stepping away from him. “All I know is that whatever they did to me killed Day, that’s it! Why the fuck do you care, anyways?”
“Because you’re still on your feet,” he spits back, narrowing his eyes. My frown deepens, and he sighs as if I’m someone who’s really, really slow. “The serum was made to react to the synapses of the mind, to trigger with thoughts and sort of bring the will to life in a certain shape. Depending on the specific desire that’s paramount in the mind, it reacts to that will. Your little friend Day there died because his body rejected the serum entirely, his immune system too strong to let it enter his bloodstream. His system literally killed him by protecting him from it.”
I stare at him, shaking my head and giving him a look that screams my confusion. He yells an expletive, throwing his hands into the air.
“Fuck, it’s like I’m talking to my ‘father’!” he shouts, grabbing my shoulder roughly. I try to pull it out of his grip, but he grips it tighter and holds up his left hand. “Look, among many things these people at this facility are trying to figure out if they can manifest the will of someone’s mind in physical reality.”
His hand bursts into flame, and I yell before pulling my shoulder out of his grip and stepping back. I always thought he was a pyromaniac, but seriously?
“Serum SC36 is the result of this research, and they’re testing it on us. Those of us with weaker immune systems adapt to it, whereas those like that kid kick it.” I stare openly at his hand, unsure of what to make of all of this. “You’re still on your fucking feet, as unfortunate as that is; that means the serum was accepted, and you have some sort of power. I don’t know what it is, but you’re going to use it exactly as I tell you to unless you want everyone here to know that you’re a fucking cold-blooded killer.”
“Like hell I was the one who attacked first!” I snap instinctively, shoving him away roughly. The flames die out, for which I’m grateful; they were making me nervous. “I stabbed that mother fucker ten times after beating his head against the wall, and trust me when I tell you that I’m ready to do it again. Just try to test me, Abel, and you’ll see just how fucking creative I can be.”
“As if that even stood in court. Bet they didn’t even have a trial – just got a proxy, right?”
I clock him another one on the cheek, making him stagger. He spits blood on the floor and gives me a murderous glare, and some time ago this would’ve had me scared shitless. Now?
Now, it thrills me to know I’ve pissed him off.
“What the fuck do you even know about me?” I shout, my hands shaking violently with the anger coursing through my veins. First this guy has the balls to talk about Day as if he knew the kid, and now he comes in and talks nonsense! “Get the hell out of my room, you son of a-!”
A loud klaxon blares, interrupting me, and it’s loud enough to make my eardrums send jolts of pain to my skull; I stagger, shouting soundlessly and bringing my hands to my ears. Vaguely I notice Abel turn to look towards the general direction of the cafeteria before a loud clunk makes the man run up to the door of my room and try the handle before he realises it’s locked.
The klaxon blares every second, and I shout at him in a demand to know what’s going on but I don’t think he can hear me – not that I blame him. That thing is loud. Abel keeps trying the door, curses falling off his lips soundlessly as the curses get swallowed by the blaring siren, and I’m vaguely reminded of something Day told me something like forever ago.
Then, twenty blares later, the camp is dead quiet; not even a hushed whisper, and Abel simply presses his hands to the steel and glares in the direction of the cafeteria again a second before a siren sounds in warning, and a door rattles open – an unfamiliar sound. I run up to the window set into the door, pushing him aside and ignoring him entirely as I look.
It’s about the same with every other room: faces peering out into the hub as guards keeping rather vindictive-looking dogs on leashes; the sight of the beasts makes me shudder, and when Abel laughs at that I elbow him in the gut and hiss at him to shut the fuck up.
The dogs are mean-looking Rottweilers snapping at everything around them, barking furiously, and their skins ripple with the thick muscle and sinew just beneath the surface. Their teeth are wickedly sharp and they look wild, trying to break free of their leashes, but the guards seem to be able to hold them there without too much trouble.
Abel mutters something about a riot starting without him and the incompetence of some people, so I tune him out in favour of watching. In all my time here, I haven’t experienced a lockdown yet but I know that, from what I’ve heard, you do not want to get caught outside.
The guards are pointing automatic rifles at each cell door, making sure it’s closed and giving us the stink eye; I duck when the one nearest me looks into the room, peering back out when they’re gone.
They stop about two doors down, where a kid seems to have been knocked over in the rush and has his arm bent at a painful-looking angle. The dogs snap at his feet about two inches away, spittle flying, and the kid scrambles to his feet and cradles his arm to his chest, looking around himself frantically. There’s blood trickling down the side of his head, and he looks unsteady on his feet.
I recognise the kid: Ishmael. My hands grip the bars on the window as I realise who it is, wanting nothing more to reach a hand to help him the same way he inadvertently helped me when we were in the field; Abel laughs again and I’m vaguely aware of him leaning against the wall and crossing his arms, but my attention is on Ishmael. He looks terrified.
After a blunt exchange (I hear gunfire in the distance to my right, and try not to think about the turrets always standing vigil in the hallways and cafeteria) the guards gesture for Ishmael to start walking towards the hallway, and the kid looks around for some sort of saving grace, some help. Our eyes lock as he passes me and his face lights up momentarily before the dogs at his heels forces him forward; they remind me of the hounds of hell chasing the ghosts of the dead, or maybe even that dog Cerberus who guarded the Underworld.
Ishmael still turns around and salutes me, nodding crisply, and I can do nothing else but watch him go until they’re out of sight. When they’re gone, I slam both of my fists on the door and shout a curse over the graves of those guards, shaking in anger.
When Abel laughs heartily, I’ve had enough; I knee him in his gut and grab a fistful of his hair, pulling his head up and slamming it back once on the metal wall.
“Compassion will get you nowhere here, little ghost,” Abel spits with a laugh, and I drop my grip on his head in disgust. My skin crawls at the thought that this bastard is in the same room as me, alone, and I know the rules of lockdown well enough to know that I’m stuck with him until they lift it.
Depending on how big the riot was, it could last until tomorrow.
“You know what? I’ve never wanted to kill someone before, but I’m making an exception for you; my hands are already stained,” I snap, turning around and grabbing my book again. “Just leave me the fuck alone already; you’re insane, and I want nothing to do with a psychopath like you.”
I pull myself up on Day’s bunk, wanting to put as much distance between him and me as I can.
“I told you, you’re going to be my little bitch,” he spits back, and I’m done indulging him. He’s like this annoying fly that won’t fucking die – no, a cockroach. Those things are immortal, I swear, and right now he’s just being a royal pain in the ass that feels everlasting.
“Like hell I am.”
I flip open the pages, settling back and placing my ankle on my propped-up knee with about all the patience I can muster spent for the day. Abel loudly throws himself on the bottom bunk, and I grit my teeth but ignore him.
It should be impossible to be insufferable like that.
For a while it’s quiet, and I get the impression that I might actually get a bit of peace before I feel a foot kick the mattress, and that makes me lose my balance. I spit a loud swear, lowering my hand enough to flick him off American style.
“If you’re comfortable with everyone knowing their hometown hero is a murderer, just tell me; I’ll go shout it out right now,” Abel goads, and I grit my teeth.
“I’m going to skin you alive, Abel, if you don’t shut the fuck up.”
Out of the corner of my eye I notice him poke his head up so he can flash me that cocky grin, and I just want to hit it right off his face. I’ve never gotten angry at the sight of someone before, but there’s always a first time for everything.
“I don’t know how fucking long you’ve been here, but people out in the real world don’t have superpowers. Now leave me alone!”
The man grabs my wrist, and I pull it away with a protest, feeling a smug satisfaction when my movement makes my elbow smack right into his left eye. I’m not going to get away with these freebies for long, but in the meantime they’re pretty damn satisfying.
“God, what is your problem?” I shout, shooting him a glare as I carefully set my book down. It was Day’s favourite, and I’m not going to let it get damaged more than it already is.
“You prototypes are all the fucking same,” he laughs – it’s a laugh meant to mock me, and I grit my teeth and contemplate the pros and cons of kicking him in the face. I took off my shoes earlier, so it won’t be as satisfying. “Always looking for someone else to blame.”
Us prototypes? I’ve only ever heard of proxies using that term, to refer to those of us who spat on the fact that we weren’t abandoned at birth and committed the crimes we did. It’s meant as an insult, thus the use of the word prototype. But then…
“Wait a second; you’re a fucking proxy!”
It’s not unusual for a proxy to get sent to a facility, although it’s less common, but I’ve never actually met one before. I vaguely remember seeing kids at school get replaced with unfamiliar faces almost regularly, but I never had a group of friends that let me experience that myself; as a matter of fact, I spent my time in the art room or the library just to avoid getting pushed around some more. When I had the chance to see who my proxy was going to be, I didn’t even give him the satisfaction of a glance.
As if the reminder plucks at a nerve, the man grabs me by my shirt and pulls me forwards again so fast I almost lose my balance; my hands fly out and press against the mattress, and I glare at him.
“Don’t you fucking call me that if you know what’s good for you,” he spits, tightening his hold on my shirt. “You have no idea what it’s like to be a replacement, and you definitely don’t deserve to use that word!”
“Well I don’t know much about that, but I do know that I hope you’ve kept that a secret.” Since a good deal of people here hold about as much resentment for proxies as I do. People who come in and take over your life for you, as if you didn’t deserve it, and treat you like the scum of the earth. “You may have somehow found out what got me here, but I know a lot of people who won’t be pleased to know they’re being manipulated by a proxy.”
His other hand grabs my throat and digs its nails into my skin.
“Like they’d even do anything about it! Those pigs practically piss their pants when I walk in the room!” he shouts back, and I arch an eyebrow. I’ve really hit a nerve, and it’s extremely satisfying to hold this power over him. The power balance between us two has shifted back in my favour, at least a little.
If he plans to make the entire camp despise me… well, I can now return the favour. Day told me once that proxies are about on par with murderers here, and depending on the person one can be treated more cruelly than the other.
“Keep telling yourself that and see how long it lasts.” I pull my shirt out of his grip and then get his hand off my throat, scowling at him as I pull away. “If you’re going to dig my grave, you’d better make it deep enough for two. Now fuck off and leave me alone, unless you want me to come down there.”
I’m definitely not stronger than him, but my time spent fighting him and doing the various labour we have to do around here has helped me a little; I feel confident enough to give him a bloody nose, at the very least, but I know from experience that I can do a lot more if I get backed up into a corner. This room has nothing but corners.
“You’re going to do what I want, whether you like it or not, eventually,” he spits, but the man seems to realise that I’m so close to being done I’m almost overcooked and ducks back onto the bottom bunk. “Like the fucking little bitch you are.”
“Whatever you say, proxy.”
He kicks the mattress, but I still chalk it as a win as I settle back to read the book in my hands, a smug grin in place.I know Abel’s weakness now, at least a bit of it, and by God is it ever satisfying to have that leverage on him.