September 1st, 2048
It’s raining. I can see the droplets from my cell window, watch them fall from the sky. Whenever it rains, I press my hand to the window, believing that if I push hard enough, the glass will break, and I’ll be free. It never happens. But it’s at least comforting to know that someone is crying with me.
It’s been so long since I’ve felt the drip of rain on my skin. Since the chilly wisps of wind have stroked my face. Since the scent of warm cheese pizza has tickled my nostrils. The only smell here is the smell of dead rats and spoiled milk. And the smell of me.
I’ve been locked up here for a few months. Maybe more. From the whispers I hear through the crack underneath the door, the world has changed. Before I was thrown into the Prison for the Undefined, the government had told us that our world was deteriorating and that they held the power to help us. To save us. I never believed that.
When children were dying of hunger and our houses were falling apart, the government never cared. They sent mail telling us that there wasn’t enough money to start projects in the area. That’s what they said to everybody.
Two sharp knocks on the door signal that somebody needs to see me. I clutch my legs to my chest and bury my face in my knees. Nothing good ever comes out of my visits.
The door swings open and bright candles illuminate my cell. The walls throw back the echo of someone’s footsteps. I don’t dare to look. The sound stops directly in front of me and my heartbeat gets faster. They never come this close to me. None of them have ever come this close to me.
The black boots of the person are visible through my legs. The right one nudges my calf and I don’t move.
“Is she still sane?” The question comes from the individual before me, and by the voice, I can tell that they are male. The guard in front of my door answers. “Yes, sir. She gets up and walks around sometimes. And all our subjects are carefully watched, sir. No signs of insanity have been shown, sir.”
Hints of annoyance color his voice. “You told me to wait, I waited. And now I’m done waiting.”
I’m suddenly grabbed fiercely by the arm and my skin begins to turn red. “Let go of me,” I whisper, struggling to subdue the rage bubbling inside of me. Slowly, I raise my head, looking into his eyes. He’s young, with hazel eyes and chocolate brown hair, the same color as the long hair that flows over my shoulders. He reminds me of my brother.
“Please,” I beg, a forbidden energy flowing through my veins. I know what happens when this power comes alive.
He only smiles, holding on tighter. “But I don’t. I want to know. Show me.”
I gasp quietly. He’s a reader. We were told that all the readers were killed. But the government has a history of lying.
I feel my body overheat, feel my eyes flash a deep red. My reflection is clear in his eyes, and I bathe in the glory. It’s been so long since I’ve unleashed my power. My fury. I shut my eyes tight and when I open them again, all I see are targets.
My legs move faster than wind, and my arms tangle around something. It thuds beside me and the sound ignites a spark inside me. “Oh. It’s been too long.”
I flex my fingers, study the red flush that swims over my skin. There a minute. Gone the next. Looking away from my hands, I scan the area around me, hungry. There are no more humans in sight.
A voice in my head whispers seek and destroy but I don’t know what to destroy. The unsure feeling is eating me up and I ache to send it away. To fight. But there’s nothing to fight. So I punch the doorframe, throwing my fist as hard and fast as I can.
It pummels through the door frame and halfway through the wall joined to it. I pull my fist out of the wall and examine my knuckles. Not a scratch. Slowly, I walk back into the cell, turning in circles. The window catches my eye and I gaze out at the new, unknown world, at the rain that has started to fly sideways.
I hate it when rain flies sideways.
Fuming, I open my mouth to say something when the man lays a hand on my shoulder.
“Seek and Destroy.” The words from his mouth force the power in me, shoving it back down into the pit that it hides in.
“No,” I say quietly, whimpering.
I collapse against the wall, sinking to the ground. My strength is gone. I’m normal again.
I can barely breathe, my bones weak and tired.
September 2nd, 2048
I must have passed out. I find myself in a cozy room, lying on a brown, leather couch. The man from the cell sits a few feet from me in a soft-looking, black swivel chair. His fingers fly over the keyboard so fast that I’m amazed. But then I remember that he was the one who unleashed the thing inside me. I know how many times I’ve hurt people with it.
I’ll never forget their names. Every time I kill someone, I figure out everything about them. I don’t know why. It just feels like a bit of an apology, or at least all the apology I can give. Sometimes, if I can find an address, I write a letter to their family.
Suddenly, the guard at my dungeon door along with all the favors he did for me comes into my head. All the extra chicken and half pieces of gum sneaked in with my lunch. Lunch was the only meal I ever had.
A silent tear rolls down my cheek and I don’t try to brush it away. This only happens when I’ve killed someone. I must have killed him. I press my lips together to stop myself from sobbing. I can’t let this man know I’m awake. But how did I not see him in the cell? I couldn’t even sense his presence. The cell was empty. And he startled me. That’s not supposed to happen. I’m supposed to be able to sense everything when I’m like that.
“It’s difficult to explain, Lillian. I’m not sure why, exactly, but they think I’m invisible to you. I needed to be sure.”
How can he read my mind without touching me? “How do you-”
“It’s called projecting. And it’s something I’m going to teach you,” he interrupts. I stand up, shoving the light blanket off my legs. It’s only then that I realize that I’m dressed in fresh clothes, not the ones that I’ve worn for months. “You changed my clothes?” I say, suddenly angry.
He looks at me, one eyebrow raised. “Does that bother you?”
I run a hand through my hair and steel my jaw. “Gee, I don’t know.” My voice gets louder and drips with sarcasm. “Does it? Let me sleep on it.” I glare at him, waiting for a response.
He seems genuinely scared, backing towards the door. “Lillian, I didn’t change your clothes, okay? You don’t have to get upset.”
The anger in me clears and I furrow my brow. “Then who did?” I don’t believe him. Nobody can touch my skin. I kill people.
“But you don’t have to. That’s what I want you to understand.”
I step back and the back of my legs bump against the couch. “I don’t want to learn anything from you.” I’m not sure of what to say at first, but it starts to come to me and I’m immediately confident. “I don’t want to learn anything from the man who took away months of my life. I don’t know you and I don’t want to.”
A different look of fear shadows his face. “No, no, no, Lillian, don’t say that. It’s okay.”
I scoff, purely annoyed. “Right.” I search for the energy buried inside me and it seems to greet me, offering a burst of life. I didn’t know I could summon it.
“Lillian, don’t do it. I can offer you something.”
In his eyes, something seems sincere, so I stop moving away and walk toward him for a change. “Like what?”
He smiles weakly, holding out a hand. A gloved hand. “Come out, Liam.”
My eyes widen at the sound of the name. Liam is my brother’s name. A door I didn’t notice behind me slides away and a man steps out. Gasping, I cover my mouth with the back of my hand. “I-I-Liam? Is that you?”
He looks just like I remember him-tall and stocky, with broad shoulders and a smile that could make the news. His eyes light up at the sight of me and he rushes to me, scooping me up in his arms. “Lily. You’re alright.”
I wrap my arms around him, careful to keep my exposed hands away from his skin. He sets me down gently onto the couch that I was laying on earlier, and he stoops next to it as I stretch out on my side to see him. “I thought everyone in the Army was dead. How-” I don’t finish, reaching out my hand to his face in wonder before catching myself. Quickly, I pull my hand back, cradling it in the crook of my arm.
He smiles sadly and lifts his arm to where I can see it. Tattooed on his wrist is an orange rimmed hand.
“What is that?” I ask, and he looks at me as if it should have been an explanation.
“You don’t know about the markings yet?” He turns to the man who was in my holding cell. “You haven’t told her about the markings, Jaxton? We can’t keep waiting. Someone will notice.”
He scoffs, shaking his head. “She was upset that her clothes were changed. We didn’t quite get past that.”
Liam chuckles and turns to me. “There are girls in this place, you know.”
I look down, embarrassed, and blushing. “That doesn’t matter, Liam. How are you still alive? What markings are you talking about?”
Jaxton sits on the armrest farther from me and nods to Liam, giving him permission to speak.
“When the government discovered the first Undefined, they threw them in an insane asylum and forgot about the whole ordeal. Soon enough, there was a whole army worth of Undefineds living among society.”
Jaxton finishes for him. “They gathered us up and trained us to be their army. And since we were so much better than Normals, they killed the Normal army. Liam offered to become an experiment. He had heard that they were trying to figure out if they could turn Normals to Undefines.”
I turn my own arm over and find, beautifully tattooed into my right wrist, a crimson outlined phoenix bursting with flames. “Whoa,” I whisper to myself.
Liam smiles, his eyes lighting up. “You’re a Phoenix. Top of the chart. I’m next.” He holds out his arm again for me to see. “Orange. Mind control.”
I look to Jaxton, awe in my eyes. “What does the chart look like?”
He pushes himself off the armrest and pulls over an easel with a large piece of paper on it. Grabbing a Sharpie from his desk, he begins to draw.
“It works as a pyramid and goes in rainbow order, red being the most dangerous and purple being about harmless. You,” he points at me, “are a ‘code red’ to Normals, but among the Undefined, you will be referred to as a Phoenix.” He writes the information in the top triangle and moves on.
“Liam is an orange. Like he said, they are mind controllers and are called Hands. Their insignia is a hand, hence the name. Yellows have the ability to bend and create light and heat. They have golden streaks on their wrists, and they’re dubbed as a Sun.”
I nod and look at Liam. “Does everybody know this?”
He laughs and tousles my hair. “Yeah. Most of us have lived here for years, so you catch on pretty quickly.”
Most people have been imprisoned here for years. Most people haven’t seen their friends or families for years.
“But your imprisonment was severe since you’re a Phoenix. The rest of us ate together and had monitored social time. But you’re,” he pauses with caution, not sure whether or not to say it, “the only Phoenix out there, Lillian.”
“Anyway,” Liam breaks the silence, “the rest of the chart goes like this.” He snatches the marker out of Jaxton’s hand and starts to write on the chart. “Next up are Greens. They’ve got dark green trees for their crest and we call them Roots. They can do just about anything regarding natural elements except for water. Those are the Blues. They control water, have an emblem of bright aquamarine waves, and are simply called Blues.”
After writing all that down, he goes on to finish. “At the bottom of the list are Purples. They’re the mind readers and have the tattoo of a purple amoeba. We call them Readers, as you already know.”
“Yeah,” I say, surprised, turning to Jaxton. “Aren’t you a Reader?”
He scowls and crosses his arms, hiding his crest. “So?”
I smile. “What now?”
At that, Liam stands and takes a deep breath, instantly serious. “We’re going to escape.”
September 3rd, 2048
Liam, Jaxton, and I walk into the public lunchroom, me keeping my head down and my wrist covered. Things are different here. There are lines for the people to get their food and tables for them to sit at. Together. Nobody is worried that someone might turn them into a super-soldier.
The minute we step in, a group of Undefineds stand up from a table in a corner not far from us. They walk over to the door and shrug packs that Jaxton hands them over their shoulders. Speaking in hushed voices, we pretend to head towards the barracks, but instead take a turn to the left a few doors down.
“Is she the red?” One of them asks, glancing at me.
Liam nods, sliding a fake key card through a slot. “Yes. And she’s my sister. So watch it.”
At that, they shut up.
A girl in our group melts the thick lock on the door leading outside. After a short moment of silence, I push open the door. As we troop out, Liam controls the exterior guards to shoot themselves and Jaxton tells him where to focus his power.
One of the boys whose name is Thomas uproots a few trees and pushes them in the way of the door we came from, blocking anyone from following us. We reach the coast in a few minutes and stop for the group to introduce themselves to me.
“I’m Kendall,” says one of the girls. She holds up her wrist to show me her symbol. Yellow. Another calls herself Emmerson and does a water show for me. After I know everyone, Thomas and Kendall work on putting together a boat for us to leave. Bullets emerge from behind us. As soon as the shooters advance into sight, I look at them and they all fall. Dead.
The others only glance at me before going back to their work. “Done,” Thomas announces, picking up the finished product and setting it on the water. Emmerson helps to prevent splashing. “Let’s go,” Liam calls to me, and we all pile into the boat. We’re leaving. We’ve waited for so long.
We’re finally free.