- Unravel Me
A door clicks shut and we all turn at once. Castle beams. Looks around at the group of us.
Me. Winston. Kenji. Brendan. The girl named Lily. 10 other people I still don’t really know. We’re 16 altogether, including Castle. A perfectly even number.
“All right, everyone,” Castle says, clapping his hands together. I notice he’s wearing gloves, too. Everyone is. Today, I’m just a girl in a group wearing normal clothes and normal gloves. Today, I’m just a number. No one of significance. Just an ordinary person. Just for today.
It’s so absurd I feel like smiling.
And then I remember how I nearly killed Adam yesterday and suddenly I’m not sure how to move my lips.
“Are we ready?” Castle looks around. “Don’t forget what we discussed,” he says. A pause. A careful glance. Eye contact with each one of us. Eyes on me for a moment too long. “Okay then. Follow me.”
No one really speaks as we follow Castle down these corridors, and I’m left to wonder how easy it would be to just disappear in this inconspicuous outfit. I could run away, blend into the background and never be found again.
Like a coward.
I search for something to say to shake the silence. “So how are we getting there?” I ask anyone.
“We walk,” Winston says.
Our feet pound the floors in response.
“Most civilians don’t have cars,” Kenji explains. “And we sure as hell can’t be caught in a tank. If we want to blend in, we have to do as the people do. And walk.”
I lose track of which tunnels break off in which directions as Castle leads us toward the exit. I’m increasingly aware of how little I understand about this place, how little I’ve seen of it. Although if I’m perfectly honest, I’ll admit I haven’t made much of an effort to explore anything.
I need to do something about that.
It’s only when the terrain under my feet changes that I realize how close we are to getting outside. We’re walking uphill, up a series of stone stairs stacked into the ground. I can see what looks like a small square of a metal door from here. It has a latch.
I realize I’m a little nervous.
Eager and afraid.
Today I will see the world as a civilian, really see things up close for the very first time. I will see what the people of this new society must endure now.
See what my parents must be experiencing wherever they are.
Castle pauses at the door, which looks small enough to be a window. Turns to face us. “Who are you?” he demands.
No one answers.
Castle draws himself up to his full height. Crosses his arms. “Lily,” he says. “Name. ID. Age. Sector and occupation. Now.”
Lily tugs the scarf away from her mouth. She sounds slightly robotic when she says, “My name is Erica Fontaine, 1117-52QZ. I’m twenty-six years old. I live in Sector 45.”
“Occupation,” Castle says again, a hint of impatience creeping into his voice.
“Textile. Factory 19A-XC2.”
“Winston,” Castle orders.
“My name is Keith Hunter, 4556-65DS,” Winston says. “Thirty-four years old. Sector 45. I work in Metal. Factory 15B-XC2.”
Kenji doesn’t wait for a prompt when he says, “Hiro Yamasaki, 8891-11DX. Age twenty. Sector 45. Artillery. 13A-XC2.”
Castle nods as everyone takes turns regurgitating the information etched into their fake RR cards. He smiles, satisfied. Then he focuses his eyes on me until everyone is staring, watching, waiting to see if I screw it up.
“Delia Dupont,” I say, the words slipping from my lips more easily than I expected.
We’re not planning on being stopped, but this is an extra precaution in the event that we’re asked to identify ourselves; we have to know the information on our RR cards as if it were our own. Kenji also said that even though the soldiers overseeing the compounds are from Sector 45, they’re always different from the guards back on base. He doesn’t think we’ll run into anyone who will recognize us.
Just in case.
I clear my throat. “ID number 1223-99SX. Seventeen years old. Sector 45. I work in Metal. Factory 15A-XC2.”
Castle stares at me for just a second too long.
Finally, he nods. Looks around at all of us. “And what,” he says, his voice deep and clear and booming, “are the three things you will ask yourself before you speak?”
Again, no one answers. Though it’s not because we don’t know the answer.
Castle counts off on his fingers. “First! Does this need to be said? Second! Does this need to be said by me? And third! Does this need to be said by me right now?”
Still, no one says a word.
“We do not speak unless absolutely necessary,” Castle says. “We do not laugh, we do not smile. We do not make eye contact with one another if we can help it. We will not act as if we know each other. We are to do nothing at all to encourage extra glances in our direction. We do not draw attention to ourselves.” A pause. “You understand this, yes? This is clear?”
“And if something goes wrong?”
“We scatter.” Kenji clears his throat. “We run. We hide. We think of only ourselves. And we never, ever betray the location of Omega Point.”
Everyone takes a deep breath at the same time.
Castle pushes the small door open. Peeks outside before motioning for us to follow him, and we do. We scramble through, one by one, silent as the words we don’t speak.
I haven’t been aboveground in almost 3 weeks. It feels like it’s been 3 months.
The moment my face hits the air, I feel the wind snap against my skin in a way that’s familiar, admonishing. It’s as if the wind is scolding me for being away for so long.
We’re in the middle of a frozen wasteland. The air is icy and sharp, dead leaves dancing around us. The few trees still standing are waving in the wind, their broken, lonely branches begging for companionship. I look left. I look right. I look straight ahead.
There is nothing.
Castle told us this area used to be covered in lush, dense vegetation. He said when he first sought out a hiding place for Omega Point, this particular stretch of ground was ideal. But that was so long ago—decades ago—that now everything has changed. Nature itself has changed. And it’s too late to move this hideout.
So we do what we can.
This part, he said, is the hardest. Out here, we’re vulnerable. Easy to spot even as civilians because we’re out of place. Civilians have no business being anywhere outside of the compounds; they do not leave the regulated grounds deemed safe by The Reestablishment. Being caught anywhere on unregulated turf is considered a breach of the laws set in place by our new pseudogovernment, and the consequences are severe.
So we have to get ourselves to the compounds as quickly as possible.
The plan is for Kenji—whose gift enables him to blend into any background—to travel ahead of the pack, making himself invisible as he checks to make sure our paths are clear. The rest of us hang back, careful, completely silent. We keep a few feet of distance between ourselves, ready to run, to save ourselves if necessary. It’s strange, considering the tight-knit nature of the community at Omega Point, that Castle wouldn’t encourage us to stay together. But this, he explained, is for the good of the majority. It’s a sacrifice. One of us has to be willing to get caught in order for the others to escape.
Take one for the team.
Our path is clear.
We’ve been walking for at least half an hour and no one seems to be guarding this deserted piece of land. Soon, the compounds come into view. Blocks and blocks and blocks of metal boxes, cubes clustered in heaps across the ancient, wheezing ground. I clutch my coat closer to my body as the wind flips on its side just to fillet our human flesh.
It’s too cold to be alive today.
I’m wearing my suit—which regulates my body heat—under this outfit and I’m still freezing. I can’t imagine what everyone else must be going through right now. I glance at Brendan only to find him already doing the same. Our eyes meet for less than a second but I could swear he smiled at me, his cheeks slapped into pinks and reds by a wind jealous of his wandering eyes.
Blue. So blue.
Such a different, lighter, almost transparent shade of blue but still, so very, very blue. Blue eyes will always remind me of Adam, I think. And it hits me again. Hits me so hard, right in the core of my very being.
“Hurry!” Kenji’s voice reaches us through the wind, but his body is nowhere in sight. We’re not 5 feet from setting foot in the first cluster of compounds, but I’m somehow frozen in place, blood and ice and broken forks running down my back.
“MOVE!” Kenji’s voice booms again. “Get close to the compounds and keep your faces covered! Soldiers at three o’clock!”
We all jump up at once, rushing forward while trying to remain inconspicuous and soon we’ve ducked behind the side of a metal housing unit; we get low, each pretending to be one of the many people picking scraps of steel and iron out from the heaps of trash stacked in piles all over the ground.
The compounds are set in one big field of waste. Garbage and plastic and mangled bits of metal sprinkled like craft confetti all over a child’s floor. There’s a fine layer of snow powdered over everything, as if the Earth was making a weak attempt to cover up its ugly bits just before we arrived.
I look up.
Look over my shoulder.
Look around in ways I’m not supposed to but I can’t help it. I’m supposed to keep my eyes on the ground like I live here, like there’s nothing new to see, like I can’t stand to lift my face only to have it stung by the cold. I should be huddled into myself like all the other strangers trying to stay warm. But there’s so much to see. So much to observe. So much I’ve never been exposed to before.
So I dare to lift my head.
And the wind grabs me by the throat.
Warner is standing not 20 feet away from me.
His suit is tailor-made and closely fitted to his form in a shade of black so rich it’s almost blinding. His shoulders are draped in an open peacoat the color of mossy trunks 5 shades darker than his green, green eyes; the bright gold buttons are the perfect complement to his golden hair. He’s wearing a black tie. Black leather gloves. Shiny black boots.
He looks immaculate.
Flawless, especially as he stands here among the dirt and destruction, surrounded by the bleakest colors this landscape has to offer. He’s a vision of emerald and onyx, silhouetted in the sunlight in the most deceiving way. He could be glowing. That could be a halo around his head. This could be the world’s way of making an example out of irony. Because Warner is beautiful in ways even Adam isn’t.
Because Warner is not human.
Nothing about him is normal.
He’s looking around, eyes squinting against the morning light, and the wind blows open his unbuttoned coat long enough for me to catch a glimpse of his arm underneath. Bandaged. Bound in a sling.
I was so close.
The soldiers hovering around him are waiting for orders, waiting for something, and I can’t tear my eyes away. I can’t help but experience a strange thrill in being so close to him, and yet so far away. It feels almost like an advantage—being able to study him without his knowledge.