Antithetical

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Chapter 17 - Isaac

There are five days of nervousness before I finally receive the reply of my application. I tear open the white envelope, my fingers seeking the paper inside. I unfold the paper, nearly ripping it as I do. My eyes scan the writing. They have invited me to a meeting with one of the executives of the AH at the weekend.

I grin, and place the letter on the shelf.

*

“Are you going to the Centre?” Mum asks me.

The Centre is in the middle of the Circle. It’s where all the Radii meet to discuss important matters, and where eager new novices to the AH talk to the high-ranked Hunters. Even more important than Brackleby’s Arc, which only deals with Brackleby’s matters.

“Yep,” I tell her.

She smiles at me. “Haircut time.”

My eyes widen in horror. “No.”

“And a suit . . .” she teases.

“Mum.”

“Baby pictures –”

I cringe against the sofa, squeezing my eyes shut. She laughs lightly.

Then I remember Gideon, and how his humour got us laughing many times, and my good mood disappears like it never existed.

*

Dad has barely been home lately. I see him in the mornings, disappearing into the bathroom. I sometimes see him in the night, walking into his and Mum’s room. He doesn’t talk to us much anymore. I can’t decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Dad usually likes to fill silences with his loud voice, so it’s unusual. Not that I like him interfering with everything, but it feels like he’s bottling up his explosiveness and one day he’ll just blow up.

He’s here now, though, sipping at hot milk in the kitchen. Hatred flares up in me. I avert my eyes, my lips tightening. Gideon didn’t buy his suddenly happy moods any more than I did. He fought with him even more than I did. Gideon wasn’t a callous boy, but he had a sharp tongue and knew how to use it.

Thinking in the past tense of my brother hurts. He should be here and now, not talked of like he doesn’t exist . . . though, I guess, he doesn’t really. Not any more.

I look at Dad again, filled with venom. I don’t think he has cried once. I don’t think he cares. I feel a sudden urge to go and pick a fight with him, but I abstain from the desire.

He doesn’t deserve me even talking to him.

*

By eight a.m., Saturday morning, I am dressed up, ready and rearing to go. I don’t like what I’m wearing – too formal, if you ask me – but Mum insisted on the expensive, ostentatious suit. The kind you can’t buy any more, but was used generations ago. Maybe even so long back that Circles didn’t exist.

Mum wears a simple, elegant black and white dress. Most of her light blonde hair is pulled back into a ponytail, but some tendrils remain at the side of her head, framing her teardrop face. Dad is with us too, in scruffy trousers and a creased white shirt.

We go to the edge of the Sector, to the border of both Brackleby and Applewood (another sector). Luckily, we live quite close to the Circumference, so it doesn’t take long. From the border, we take a train that goes straight to the Centre.

I haven’t been on a train before, but it doesn’t really excite me. The speed lurches through my stomach as I stare out the window, watching the world blur past me. Trees and grass blending together to form an assortment of greens. The bright, white pavements a long strip at the bottom of my vision, stopping and starting as forests and trees divide them. These things register in my brain, but I don’t really care about them. My knee jiggles up and down as I think about what I’ve so suddenly chosen.

We finally arrive at the Centre. It’s a small place, comprised of incredibly clean streets and tall glass buildings. The only people who live here are the Radii, so it’s all very business-like. Not homey like Brackleby. What I don’t like is the white pavements and streets. They have them in the whole Circle, as a sign of purity, but I find them too blinding. Too perfect. Like they hide secrets. There are dirt tracks and concrete and gravel in Brackleby, though not as many as I’d like. Here, it’s completely glossy and unflawed.

The trains doors slide open with no noise. I stand up and walk to the nearest exit, looking down at the ramp that bridges the gap between the train and the platform. I keep visualising it disappearing, but I just clamp my mouth tightly shut and jump onto the white platform, glancing behind me as Mum and Dad get off. Most of the people on the train are obviously used to the transportation, judging from the way the casually walk off, eyes on watches instead of their feet.

Mum leads us from the train station to the place where I’ll be meeting an officer. I keep quiet for most of the short journey, speaking only to point out some of the stunning, bright buildings, so different from the white wood ones in Brackleby. My house is a rarity; it has brown wood.

Small trees line the streets on either side, which are perfectly straight with not a paving stone out of place. I walk slowly. On the train, I was immersed in my thoughts, but I can’t deny how my surroundings intrigue me. In the old days, the difference would have been tiny, but in our world of uniformity, it’s something that’s impossible to be unacknowledged.

We soon reach the designated building, a fifteen-story affair with see-through windows. As I walk round one of the sides, to the entrance, I see some people looking fixedly at computers on the ground floor. What surprises me is that none wear a Sector emblem, which we are required to wear when exiting our homeland. The sector emblem is pretty simple: it shows the Circle, split evenly in to the six sectors, or seven, if you count the NS. Applewood, Brackleby, the NS, Cilvermoor, Dominia, Edgwaria and Farcross. The Sector one is from is in white, with the others in black.

There are only six Radii, and workers these aren’t them. The Radii’s pictures have been displayed more than enough times to be permanently etched into my memory.

I jerk myself out of my thoughts as I approach the main entrance, and extend a hand to press the silver button above it. A voice crackles in the intercom, asking me to state my name and purpose.

“Isaac Venator, I’m here concerning an application for joining the AH,” I reply.

“Ah, yes.” There is a slight buzzing noise and the translucent glass door becomes slightly ajar. “Top floor, Mister Venator.”

“Thank you,” I say, and open the door, walking into the lobby.

The foyer is large and imposing; I can hear my footsteps echo in the vast, marble-coated area as I walk over to the lift. More white – the floors, the walls, the ceiling. It’s overpowering.

Brackleby’s average building is only two stories; there isn’t much need for elevators over there. I’ve often climbed trees with Isolde, though I’m not daredevil as her, so the height doesn’t perturb me.

I feel smug when I see that Dad goes white when we enter the lift, and clutches the bar that runs across the back and side walls. We shoot upwards in the transparent contraption, and my palms grow clammy with apprehension, doubtful thoughts sneaking into my mind – lots of ’what if’s.

I banish them. I won’t let anything stand in my way of becoming an Antithetical Hunter.

The lift opens up onto the fifteenth floor. The ground is now layered with spotless carpet, so clean and fluffy that I’m scared to put my shoes on them. Due to the glass, I can see the hundred and fifty feet down to the ground. The feeling in my stomach is both nauseated and exhilarated.

Mum studies the letter I was given, and murmurs the room number: “1550.”

I peer down the long hallway that seems to stretch a good hundred metres away. I start at ‘1500’ and slowly walk down. Dad strides ahead, Mum matches her pace to mine.

“Do you know why he’s like this?” I say in a low voice. Dad is never so quiet and introverted.

“No,” she breathes in my ear.

“I don’t want to leave you with him but –”

Mum squeezes my arm and smiles at me. “It’s OK. I understand.”

I nod and smile back.

We finally reach room 1550. The door, too, is white, and has a simple silver handle. I knock. “Isaac Venator,” I say.

A voice, low and rich, tells me to come in.

I push down on the handle and step inside the room. It is almost the size of our whole house, very airy and furnished simply with a desk, computer, a few chairs, and large wooden cabinet. A man stands up from the chair behind the desk. He is about Dad’s age, of average size with black hair, dark eyes, and rich brown skin.

“I am Executive Hawkings,” he says, looking at each of us in turn. His voice is deep and full of authority. He does not look cruel, nor physically threatening, but there is a don’t-mess-with-me edge to his eyes.

“I take that you are Isaac Venator,” Executive Hawkings continues, his words directed at me.

“Yes,” I reply. I am pleased to find that my voice is steady, and that I actually don’t feel that uneasy.

“Please seat yourselves,” he says, gesturing to the three chairs before us.

I take the middle one, Dad on my left, Mum on my right. Executive Hawkings sits on his own chair, and briefly glances at his computer before looking at me.

“From your application, you seem like a good candidate . . .” He trails off, his attention occupied by his screen. “You mentioned a bereavement.”

“I did,” I reply. I feel Mum’s body tense then sag beside me.

“You see, joining the AH is a very serious matter. Once you’re in, you are in. They won’t bodily force you back into that life if you leave, but things stick up here.” He taps the side of his head. “I just don’t want you to join the group out of anger. It runs out eventually.”

This exactly what I feared the reviewer would say, but I prepared what I hope is a convincing reply.

“I think of it more as a strong incentive,” I inform him as grief furiously pounds me. “There are people that could die without my help. People like my brother, whose families and friends will utterly collapse if they go. I am determined to help anyone that can be helped.”

He scrutinises me. “Fair,” he comments, his eyes dropping to his PC then back up again. “Almost everything’s sound . . .” He directs his next words to my father. “I just need identity verification.”

Dad silently removes his glove and turns his hand, palm up. We all get chips in our wrists with basic information about ourselves – name, date of birth, offspring of – stuff like that.

Executive Hawkings rummages around underneath his desk, and comes up with the chip scanner, an oddly-shaped object that transfers the details from a person’s chip to a chosen device. He hovers it over Dad’s wrist, and it casts a blue light on his skin. There’s a muted beep, and Executive Hawkings begins to read something on his screen, murmuring to himself.

“Both parents are required to be authenticated,” Mum is told.

She extends her arm, and Executive Hawkings does the same with her as he did with Dad.

“That’s all good,” he tells us after a few minutes. “Well, you’re accepted into training,” he announces, with a dramatic click of a button. “Though I have to warn you – a place in Brackleby’s AH division is not certain.”

I beam at him, not happy exactly, but very satisfied and pleased. “Thank you.”

I am handed a thick wad of paper. “You have to read through that, and sign your consent – or not. You need to follow the instructions given to get you to the Arc, where you will begin your training regimen.” Executive Hawkings smiles at me. “Have a nice day,” he says.

“And you,” I reply. I clutch the daunting-looking white sheets in my left hand and shake his hand with my other.

Dad, Mum and I file out of the room, murmuring farewells.

“Well, that’s it. You’re in,” I say to myself. There’s no way I will fail training. This has to work out.

*

It takes hours to read through all the papers I was given. Most of it is written in pretentious, posh language, so it takes me extra time to decipher the difficult writing. I post the signed documents when it has all been comprehended.

Dad doesn’t comment.

Mum congratulates me.

I am due to move out in a fortnight.

It’s all set in stone now. My future.

“If he tries anything,” I say to Mum, “I can get a report whipped up and sent to the Brackleby KoPs office in minutes.”

“Don’t worry so,” she tells me.

I still worry.

*

Isolde comes to visit me the day after my trip to the Centre. I fill her in on all that happened, and see her face go tight, her fingers interlink. I don’t need to ask how she feels about it.

“You know, you could be a little more enthusiastic,” I say exasperatedly.

She closes her eyes. “I don’t like it, OK? You can’t just come back after six months with ten dead bodies in your name and an injury that kills you or something –” She shuts up, pressing her lips together and looking away.

“I don’t get why you’re sympathising so much with them,” I snap. “They killed my brother. Do you not get that?”

“Of course I get that!” she retorts. “It doesn’t mean that the idea of my friend killing living beings will sit well with me.”

“Well, you’ll have to accept it,” I say impatiently, annoyed at her. I find something that makes me happy, and she comes and moans.

“No,” she says quietly. Her eyes pierce mine, deadly serious. “I won’t have to.” She gets off the sofa and retrieves her coat from the peg behind the door.

“What?”

“My best friend doesn’t kill people,” she states, and leaves.

*

I stare at my packed suitcases, trying extremely hard not to just give up and stay.

Isolde wouldn’t come round, and she forbid Amanda to let me into their house.

I set my jaw and pick up my luggage. I will not let her stop me doing what I want to do.

“Bye, Isaac,” Mum says as I stand in the doorway. I release the bags in my hands and hug her tightly. “I’ll come visit,” I promise.

“I’ll be waiting.”

I give her a smile, and walk off, my suitcases making a low, rattling sound on the uneven concrete. When I reach the end of our street, I look back to see Mum still standing at the doorway, her arms tight around her body – it’s cold today, nearly freezing.

I wave, and she waves back.

I never knew that I would feel so trapped, wanting to go, but not wanting to at the same time. My teeth chew my lower lip as I walk off. I’m like a six-year-old on his first day off without his mummy.

I want my Mum already, I really do. But I’ve chosen my life now.

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