A sheet of silence falls over the room after Darren leaves. I sit on the bench and stare at the door. My mind is blank, empty and hollow. The silence is maddening.
A gas chamber. My chest tightens at the thought. I imagine the closed walls, the darkness and hissing as the air turns to poison. In a few hours I’ll be dead, no more than a lifeless body to be buried or burned.
But Xander gave his life for me. He died so I could live. So I could survive. And now…now the Redeemers want to make that all for nothing. I can’t let that happen-!
For Xander’s sake, for the Flawed, for all the people who have died – I can’t go down without a fight. I…I have to keep fighting. I must.
I rouse myself. I scan the room, looking for anything within reach that can be used as a weapon. I examine the bench I’m on and find that it’s bolted to the wall with several large, heavy screws. I can just barely reach one. Using the edge of my cuff, I untwist it from its hole. It’s long, about the length of my forefinger, with an end that curls in a cruel spike.
I’ve just stuck it in my pocket when the door unlocks, then opens. Two Redeemers walk in. One carries a pistol, and the other holds a pair of cuffs. Sleek black clubs hang from both of their belts.
“Natalie Spearse,” the first one says in an indifferent tone. “You have been found Flawed under the Law of the Upgrade. Therefore, you have been sentenced to Cleansing. You are to come with us to receive your treatment.”
I’m frozen in place, unable to move. They’ve come sooner than I expected. I haven’t had time to think of a plan yet.
The second Redeemer comes up and undoes my cuff. “Come with us.”
I don’t move. I…I can’t.
His hand hovers over the club at his side. “Come,” he says again, the word firmer this time. Threatening.
My fingers twitch, tempted to grab at the screw in my pocket. But this isn’t the right time – it’s too soon.
Relenting, I start to stand. The Redeemer impatiently grabs my arm and hauls me out the door. With me placed between the two, we begin the march down the hall.
The smell of disinfectant stings my nostrils. The knot of fear in my stomach clenches tighter with every step I take.
The hall holds a frightening familiarity. After a moment, I realize that it looks just like the Cleansing section in the Sector 7 Hub. A fresh wave of panic washes through me. This is where they kill the Flawed – where murders take place. I can’t go any further. I can’t.
But the Redeemers’ grips are like iron, clamped around my arms as they pull me along. A storm of hysteria rises in my mind.
Any courage I might have had left disappears when I see the end of the hall. A heavy steel door stands there, waiting. I freeze. My feet won’t go any farther.
They don’t need to. The two Redeemers drag me forward with surprising strength, pulling me down the hall.
We enter a large, bare room. Bound Truth members are lined against the stainless steel walls, with armed Redeemers watching them. A heavy a metal door looms across the room.
Several heads turn my way. My eyes meet Gray’s, and I see the raw fear behind his. Carper is there, too, shoulders slumped. Despair is etched in every line of his face.
The Redeemers shove me towards Gray.
I scan the room, looking for a pair of icy eyes. I find them within seconds. Darren stands next to the metal door. The sight of him incites rage and pain.
Opposite Darren, a man in a white coat steps forward. The Medical Squadron logo is stamped on his right shoulder.
“You have all been found Flawed under the Law of the Upgrade.” His words are emotionless, robotic. “Therefore, you have been sentenced to Cleansing, by way of noxious gas. You will be Cleansed individually.”
He nods to one of the guards, who opens the door. Metal walls encase a small chamber hardly big enough to fit one person. The sight it sends pure panic racking through my body.
I look at Darren, to find that he’s staring directly at me. He knew that this kind if death would be the worst possible way for me to go. And he chose it. He specifically chose it.
The Medic Redeemer looks at a the Clikbook in his hand and reads off the first name. “Adam Carper.”
Carper remains unmoving.
I press my hand against the outside of my pocket. The imprint of the screw burns into my palm. Should I use it now?
A Redeemer grabs Carper by the arm and pulls him towards the door. He doesn’t even put up a fight – he’s broken, surrendered, prepared for death.
The Medic Redeemer looks down on him with distain, then at the chamber. “A fitting death for a traitor,” he muses.
Carper stares at the ground. My gaze flickers to his wrist, thinking of the unknown details about his past.
My hand slips into my pocket and wraps around the screw.
I leap for the nearest Redeemer, a woman, and plunge the screw into her face. She screams and falls to the ground, dropping her gun and holding her cheek. I snatch her fallen gun.
Something blunt cracks down on my skull. Lights flash in front of my eyes as I fall to the ground, still gripping the gun. A Redeemer stands above me, club in hand.
I kick my legs out and connect with his knee, but by the time he falls, two more men have grabbed a hold of me. I spew curses, thrashing and kicking.
“Drop the gun,” a familiar voice says from above me.
I look up and see Darren, holding a zapper gun. A smaller needle stares at me from its barrel; not big enough to kill, but enough to cause extreme pain.
“Drop it,” he says again.
I keep my grip firm.
Without hesitation, he pulls the trigger, and an explosion of pain bursts from my leg. I scream as the electricity courses through my veins. Blue sparks flash before my eyes. My grip on the gun loosens.
I’m only half-conscious of someone taking it and pulling the dart from my leg. I groan as the electricity calms, slowly reducing to a few sparks in my bloodstream.
They’re still holding me down. I roll my head to the side and see that they’re pushing Carper into the chamber. Every fiber of my being begs to move, but my body won’t obey my mind.
They close the door.
A pair of hands force me to my feet. Pain fills every part of my body, raw and fresh.
No sound comes from the other side of the door. My eyes are glued to it. Carper is smart. Capable. He’ll get out, somehow. He has to.
The Medic Redeemer glances at his watch. A mechanical signal sounds and the door is opened.
They drag Carper’s limp body out.
My legs buckle at the sight of it. Carper...Carper is dead. Just like Xander, like Janet, like all the other people the Redeemers have taken. It feels surreal, like a nightmare. But there he is, being dragged across the floor. Murdered.
There’s a pause, a moment of horrified silence, before the Medic Redeemer looks at the Clikbook and calls out the next name.
My heart stops. The Redeemer holding me pulls me towards the door. I try to resist, but he’s stronger than me.
I thrash as another Redeemer takes my arm. I kick and fight, but it’s useless.
“Natalie Spearse,” the Medic Redeemer is saying. His voice is distant, an echo across the canyon of my fear. “You have been found Flawed under the Law of the Upgrade. You will now face your treatment.”
I’m thrown into the dim chamber. Tight metal walls surround me.
Darren looms in the doorway, staring at me. His hair shines like a cruel crown around his head. His soulless eyes bore into mine. They’re so cold. So unfeeling.
Silently, he closes the door.