Chained - Everything you know is a lie..., страница 1
Books by Susanne Valenti
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Published by Susanne Valenti 2015
Copyright 2015 Susanne Valenti
All rights reserved
Susanne Valenti has asserted her right under the copyright, designs and patents act, 1998, to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Caroline, who read the story first and validates my madness
I slammed my palms against the cold glass that separated us but they didn't react.
"Mom!" I shouted. "Dad!"
They didn't look up. No matter what I did, they didn't look up from their work. The white lab was cold and unwelcoming but they seemed at home in it. They didn't know what was coming, it was just like any other day. I slammed my palms on the glass again. They couldn't hear me.
A blue light started flashing above their heads and they both turned abruptly to stare at it. My mom dropped the vial she was holding and it smashed into a thousand tiny pieces by her feet.
"Mom!" I screamed. Tears were running down my cheeks. "Dad!" My throat felt raw as sandpaper but I kept screaming and hammering on the glass.
Mom grabbed my dad's hand. Their eyes met and in that second, they knew what was coming.
"No!" I yelled. "Please, run... please," I sobbed.
Dad pulled my mom into his arms, burying his face in her hair. Their fingers dug into each other's clothes and they held on so tightly it must have been painful.
I screamed again.
The flames dove from the ceiling in a wave. They washed over my parents, kissing their skin and wrapping them in tendrils of orange flame. Then I lost sight of them. There was only fire and my screams and burning.
I woke with a jolt and gulped down a lungful of air as panic gripped me. My heart was pounding and real tears stained my cheeks. That nightmare had haunted my dreams for too long.
I twisted my fingers through my sheets and pressed my head back into the pillow as I closed my eyes again. My breathing slowed as reality closed in and I tried to get back to sleep.
I rolled over but light pressed against my eyelids as the panels on the walls slowly illuminated. They were meant to give the illusion of windows and reflected what was going on in the sky far, far above. Apparently today was a very grey day. Which was pretty much the same as it had been all month.
The idea was to give residents the feeling that we weren't enclosed by layers and layers of stone, metal and human flesh. It didn't make me feel that way. I felt like someone decided to take up most of my wall space with stupid light boxes that forced me to wake up at an unnatural hour. But maybe that was just me.
"Good morning Maya. The time is now six thirty." A mechanical female voice spoke, breaking the silence.
I groaned and threw an arm over my eyes. Six thirty still counts as the middle of the night as far as I'm concerned.
When my parents were alive, we had a huge apartment on level one sixty two. We even had one real window, though it only looked at other buildings. After they died I was relocated to a tiny apartment on level forty. The Guardians had wanted me to live with foster parents higher up. I told them where to stick that idea.
The TV flickered to life and I pulled a pillow over my head. The news caster's voice filled the room but I tried my best to block it out.
"...population is reaching such a high that more talks to extend The Wall are under way, in order to create desperately needed new housing. An area outside The Wall on the south side is being checked for air and soil quality and, if the assessment goes well, the construction could begin soon.
Anti-extension groups are calling for population controls to be enforced rather than merely recommended, with compulsory sterilisation to be given to everyone after their first child if they live below level one hundred and after their second child if they live above. This measure is already in place for people who carry any genetic deficiencies. The discussions will start officially in two days time and the term for deliberation on this topic has been set at one month.
In other news, there have been thrilling scenes in this week's SubWar battles. Andre Ferez has entered into the eighty second battle of his lifer sentence for killing his neighbour three years ago. If he successfully survives six more battles he will be the longest surviving lifer since the infamous Thomas Peters-"
I flicked the TV off as I opened my eyes and pushed the pillow away. I really didn't fancy waking up to shots of SubWar searing into my brain. Andre Ferez was slowly becoming a celebrity just because he was freakishly good at killing people. I wasn't about to join his fan club.
When The Wall went up, seventy six years ago, it quickly became clear to the City Guardians that there wasn't room to contain criminals within a conventional prison. They would have been a drain on the city resources. So, as a kind of twisted solution to the problem and a discouragement to crime, SubWar was created. Criminals were given sentences in an amount of battles rather than time spent in prison.
Murderers and rapists received lifer sentences which simply meant that they kept fighting until they were killed in battle, their motivation to continue being little more than self preservation. A burglar might get a sentence of ten battles after which, if they survived, they could rejoin the population safe inside Harbour City.
It was often shown in sickening detail on the TV which was supposed to serve as a constant reminder to everyone of what awaited criminals. In reality, it had become a perverse sport with people placing bets on the units or on the survival of individuals. Hence the pseudo-celebrity status of Andre Ferez.
I understood it. I was even in support of it. I just didn't like to watch uncensored footage of people trying their hardest to kill each other in every thinkable way whilst I was eating my breakfast.
I clambered out of bed and pulled the release catch beneath it. I pushed as the bed rotated up and over until it fitted snugly against the wall and gave me some measure of floor space.
Yawning, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and crossed my apartment in three steps which delivered me neatly into my tiny bathroom.
The phone rang as I was getting out of the shower. I glanced at the name on the display as I answered it.
"Taylor - hey." I don't know why I checked really, no one else would be calling me at seven in the morning. Thinking about it, no one else ever called.
"Hey Maya, are you up?" Taylor's irritatingly cheery voice chimed at me through the speaker.
"No," I replied.
The shower had helped but I wasn't in a good mood. The nightmare hung heavily on me like it always did.
"Well you won't want to hear the news then." I swear I could hear him grinning down the phone at me.
"No," I replied again. I ran a towel through my hair and wedged the phone between my ear and sh
"Okay, I'll just have to go outside without you then."
I paused, the towel hanging limp in my hand.
"Outside? As in outside The Wall?" He was winding me up, I knew it, but my stomach flipped over all the same. I had always wanted to go outside. To see a world that wasn't contained within concrete.
"Yeah. It was on the news earlier. The city needs environmental chemists to carry out soil and air checks for contaminants and they need a team of inferior science students like us to do the leg work. I just happen to know a pretty important environmental chemist-"
"Your dad," I interrupted.
"Yes, and this is your cue to beg."
I had to laugh at that. I was the top student in our class so if I wanted to be in the team I'd be in; no questions asked. Taylor was just lucky that his dad would be able to get him on the team too.
"When?" I asked.
"Ten minutes. I'm at your door now."
The screen next to my front door flashed up a shot of Taylor standing in the corridor outside with his phone pressed to his ear. I hung up, checked my towel was securely wrapped around me and pressed my hand to the scanner. The door slid open to reveal possibly the smuggest looking face I'd ever seen.
"I'm getting dressed, keep talking," I said, grabbing some practical clothes and heading into the square meter that I called a bathroom.
My small sofa was quickly filled by Taylor. He was so tall that his legs dangled over the end of it as he sprawled out.
"So, Dad says that the desired plot isn't far from the cable car landing zone on the south side of the city. We'll be helping scout the area which extends about five miles out from The Wall. There'll be fifteen groups, one of which will be led by him." It sounded like he was speaking around a mouthful of food.
"Sounds great." I checked the mirror, grateful that my long, dark hair looked okay since there was no time to do anything else with it.
"You haven't heard the best bit." As I reentered the room he grinned at me over a big bag of snacks that he had pilfered from my lone kitchen cupboard. "The area includes Old World housing which Dad reckons we should be able to get a look at and maybe even go inside."
"Really?" I'd always wanted to see the way people used to live before The Wall. It was so hard to get a proper idea from the films we watched in Old World classes.
My grandmother remembered the Old World but she wasn't supposed to tell the stories about how it all ended. The City Guardians said that it was too dark a time and that we shouldn't dwell on the mistakes of the past but rather strive for a brighter future for the population.
I had only managed to gain small pieces of information from her. She would talk about the lost beauty out there, of a world that's green instead of grey. No amount of pestering would get her to talk about the end of it all and the rise of the walled cities.
Taylor had switched the TV back on in my absence and, as if on cue, our daily dose of Harbour City endorsement flashed up on the screen.
"The world was once our friend," the booming voice of the narrator announced and the screen showed shots of animals running free across fields of grass. The picture changed and raced across a jungle filled with trees as far as the eye could see. Next, it panned a blue expanse of water with fish jumping above the waves.
"We lived in harmony with it," the narrator continued and the shots on screen were barely a second long, ancient buildings, mud huts, villages, towns, cities and people. As the shots continued changing, the population expanded and grew out of control until the faceless crowds stretched out into the distance without end.
"But then we took too much." Ruined land, bombs exploding, armies fighting.
"We tried to change the natural way of things." Scientists working in labs, altering plants and trying desperately to create enough food for the people who swamped the world.
"But the world had had enough." Snapshots of huge plants growing out of control and taking over cities. Terrifying creatures roaming around unchecked. People dying and screaming and running. Finally, and worst of all, were the faces of the contaminated humans. Twisted features broken in snarls of rage, filth-covered and completely lacking in humanity. The contaminated ran rampant through the world, killing without mercy and laying ruin to everything in their path.
The screen faded to black.
"Then, out of the darkness, came hope." Slowly, from a pinpoint in the centre of the screen an image grew. The Wall that surrounded our city came into focus as it towered above the vantage point of the camera. A figure, shrouded in shadow, stepped into view and stood with hands on his hips as the wind whipped dramatically at his hair and coat.
"The Guardians saved us from the devastation of the outside world and protected us from the contamination." The Guardian ushered an old woman carrying a baby towards the safety of The Wall.
"Striving forward together," the narrator finished as the screen brightened until it was blank and white. Slowly, words scrolled across it in blood red script.
"For the good of the population," Taylor and I both read out automatically. I sighed dramatically, as I flicked the TV back off.
"Are you ready then?" Taylor asked, grabbing my hand and throwing the now-empty snack bag in the general direction of the bin. He missed.
We paused for a moment at the door for me to use the retinal scanner to lock up. He towed me down the corridor towards the elevator the second we heard the lock click.
Taylor grinned at me like I was his favourite person in the whole world and I smiled back. It always amazed me that he'd stayed my friend after I was relocated to the fortieth floor. I'd been moved more than a hundred levels lower than him and his family but he never mentioned it. He didn't even seem to have a problem with visiting me. I was ashamed at first but he didn't seem to care at all and I loved him for it.
We moved through the nearly deserted hallways past rows of apartment doors and approached a figure, crouched down and concealed in a shadow beyond a broken light. Something about him sent a shiver running down my spine.
We drew level with the man and he stood up. I gasped at the sight of his dark overalls. He had a tattoo that looked like some kind of twisted knot which ran from the side of his neck and down beneath his collar.
"Didn't mean to scare you," he said with a gravelly voice and a smile that didn't reach his eyes.
"You didn't, she's fine." Taylor spoke as easily as he would to anyone. The man was still looking at me.
"There's a broken light." He pointed to further demonstrate the obvious.
"Yes," I said, managing to keep most of the distaste out of my voice.
"Have a nice day." Taylor smiled pleasantly at the man who was desperately in need of a shave. He tightened his grip on my hand, dragged me on down the corridor and headed around a corner.
I glanced back and saw him watching us through narrowed eyes as we turned. Luckily he hadn't touched me but I wiped my palm on my trouser leg for good measure anyway.
"That was rude." Taylor frowned at me.
"I know, they shouldn't be allowed up here when we're around," I began but Taylor stopped walking and jerked me to a halt beside him. "What?" I asked.
"I meant you were rude. He was just doing his job."
"But he's a Dweller," I said, lowering my voice in case he heard us.
A small fraction of the population within the city didn't want to further themselves. They lived on the bottom floors of the housing buildings without trying to advance any higher. Generally speaking, anyone who lived below level twenty was known as a Dweller.
They were given menial jobs that basically amounted to city maintenance in various forms. They were fond of tattoos and working-out too much and had a bad reputation among the rest of the city residents. SubWar was mainly populated by Dwellers who had been caught breaking the law and I didn't doubt that plenty more of them were up to undiscovered illegal activities.
"You shouldn't be so judgmental." Taylor scowled as he started m
"Everyone has the opportunity to better themselves. I'm not planning on staying on forty my whole life. And there's no reason for them to stay down there; they want to be Dwellers." I tried, and failed, to stop my lip from curling as I said the word.
"Whatever. You still don't have to be rude." We arrived at the elevators and he pushed the button to call one.
I rolled my eyes while he wasn't looking.
As we waited, I noticed that Taylor still had a firm hold on my hand. He'd been doing that more and more lately. I shook my hand loose, running it through my hair to give me a reason for wanting it back. Taylor threw an annoyed look at me from the corner of his eye, which suggested I hadn't been as subtle about it as I'd hoped.
The elevator dinged and opened smoothly. For once, it was empty of passengers and the space inside echoed dully as we stepped in.
The brightly lit, silver cube welcomed us onboard as it did every day with the promise of a quick and easy journey to our destination in a monotone female voice. Taylor hit the button and we headed up to level one fifty, my ears popping from the sudden upward acceleration.
I glanced at Taylor who had adopted a sullen expression. He must have gained a good foot on me now, the planes of his face were sharpening too. The silence stretched between us and I chewed on my bottom lip.
"You need a haircut." I grinned at him as he brushed his floppy brown hair out of his grey eyes.
"So my mother keeps saying," he replied and a smile pulled at the corner of his mouth again. I felt the knot of tension in my stomach release.
"Level one fifty. Alight here for the Walkways," the smooth, feminine voice announced as the elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open.