Stephen chuckles. "I guess you're right."
An announcement bursts across the atrium, echoing everywhere. "This is a code one emergency! Report to your rehabilitation stations immediately!"
It takes me a second to process the declaration. "Let's move, let's move!" Tanner yells in a rocky panic. Peyton grabs my arm, ripping me towards the hospital wing. I race after her with Stephen nearby, cold adrenaline rushing through me.
"What's happening?" I call after Peyton.
"The Screeners are here!" she says. "We've got to get to our stations. That means the hospital for you and the cells for me!"
We mount the platform's steps. "Cell?" I say, asking her an obvious question, "You were screened?"
"I was," she pants, running to the middle of the platform. She pries open a section of the floor, revealing the ladder we climbed not too long ago. "I got into a fight with a Screener. Took his paralyzer gun and shot him for being a jerk to some 12 year-olds."
She climbs onto the ladder, descending the tunnel hastily. With Stephen on my heels, I follow her. "It must have been really satisfying," I say, "you know, for standing up to him."
"Not really," she replies, "but I was so tired of it, you know? I can't stand how rude the Screeners are, and I didn't want to be like that myself."
Leaping off the last few rungs of the ladder, we sprint towards the hospital wing. Peyton's words shake through my mind until I understand what she means. "You were an upper-class Screener?"
She confirms my guess. "Yes. But my co-workers screened me and sent me here," she laughs, "and I'm glad for it. I love these operations way more than I love the Screeners."
Peyton skids into the hospital lobby, grabbing two stacks of clothes off the counter and tossing them at Stephen and I. She corrals us into separate hospital rooms, commanding us to change. I toss off my clothing and throw on the hospital gown.
"Now lay down," Peyton says. I prop my head onto the pillow as a sheet falls over me. Peyton plugs a couple tubes into my arm, explaining the devices are fake.
"Thank you, Peyton," I tell her, "and I'll see you soon?"
"Of course," she says. "Good luck, and stay in character."
I nod as she rushes out the room to help Stephen. I close my eyes, forming my plan. I'll pretend I'm drugged until the doctors give me directions to wake up. Then I plan to panic accordingly.
I lay still for a few moments, listening as Peyton's footsteps thump out of the hospital wing. She rushes towards her own walled-in cell, an alternate form of my own Enhancement Project prison. Irony overcomes me. Pod 14 holds a rebel force while its replica holds a torture project.
I begin to focus my breathing pattern, my nerves unsettled. As the pit of my stomach fills with fear once more, I can't help but be nervous. I can't afford to mess up. One attempt at success.
My body can't relax. My limbs threaten to twitch awkwardly, and the room suddenly feels cold. I force myself to lie still as I try to think of a way to distract myself from shaking. After a moment, I imagine I'm trapped within my mind again, unable to move.
The trick works. Soon I half-convince myself I'm back in the Enhancement Project as my body's nervous tremors subside. I am still, not frozen rigidly, but close enough.
"Here she is," a stark voice announces out of nowhere. It's Commander Liad. "This is Holland Renner."
My nerves dance into fear mode, but I don't move. With my blood pulsing and heart racing, I'm just about ready to die of dreadful anticipation.
"We need to confirm her identification first," another voice says. Boots thump across the floor, growing in volume. A click sounds near my ear, and a beam of heat travels slowly across my face. The beam disappears, and a device beeps three times.
"Yes, that is her," the Screener says, his voice chilling my spine. "Once again, President Hybriad sends his personal approval to you for finding these two citizen."
"It was my pleasure and honor to do so," Liad says, "These two citizens were caught up in the disastrous fun of rebellion. Now that their memories are cleaned up, they won't be a problem anymore."
"Of course. Now wake them up," the Screener says. His tone is unnerving and deadly. My stomach jumps.
Liad calls for a nurse, and more footsteps enter the vicinity. I feel the tubes on my arms disconnect from my skin, and a nurse taps on my arm.
"Give her a few seconds to ease out of the medication," a male nurse says.
I take her cue, flickering my eyelids. I shift my head to the right and pretend to wake up. Liad and the Screener enter my vision.
I mumble under my breath, and the Screener yanks me off the bed. I hit the ground hard on my stomach, groaning. My arms are bent behind my back and locked with EletriWrist cuffs. Eyes wide in shock, my blood pulses with hyperactivity.
"What's happening?" I ask, not even needing to act. The fear is genuine. "What are you doing to me?"
"Silence," the Screener demands, expecting me to resist when I don't. The old Holland wouldn't argue with a Screener, so I shouldn't either.
The Screener drags me out of the room, escorting me across the lobby. Another Screener walks mechanically in front of us, Stephen within his grip. Stephen fights the Screener, only quieting when he's punched in the face. The sound is earsplitting.
"Oh, my God!" I scream. "You just--"
"Silence!" my Screener yells. We continue the walk down the hall, reaching the ladder. Instead of climbing like I thought we would, the Screeners open a secret elevator with their beeping device.
We all step into the white elevator as the doors slide shut. The Screeners whip Stephen and I towards each other.
"Who is that?" the Screener yells into my ear. "Name this boy or you will not return home."
"W-What?" I yell back as the Screener shakes me, "I don't know his name! I don't know him at all!"
The Screener hits me across the face, and Stephen protests. "Leave the girl alone!"
"Shut up, you disgusting subjects!" the Screener commands. I understand the slur immediately. They know we're Enhancement Project prisoners, but do they know I remember it when I shouldn't? Are they believing our lies?
Stephen and I silence, doing our best to look either scared or confused. The Screeners don't say anything else as the elevator continues to fly upward. The doors swing open, and we're dragged into the dark inner shell of Pod 14. The lighting is dim enough for our acting skills to take a subtle break.
The Screeners force us through Pod 14 until another set of guards reel open the exit doors. They nod at each other in greeting, adjusting to the new lighting. Stephen and I are blinded as the Screeners lead us through a small stretch of woods.
My eyes soon adjust, and I spot a vehicle a moment before we enter it. The official national emblem glints on its rear door, proud and mighty. My heart drops in response. This is not a good omen.
The doors of the vehicle thrust open, and Stephen is tossed into the cab. I follow after him shortly, hitting the seat with a thump. I shift my weight in the blackness of the car, terror building in my stomach.
I refrain from talking to Stephen, praying he figures it out. The emblems on the outside of the vehicle aren't there for patriotism. It's the presidential seal. We're sitting in President Hybriad's personal car.
-- -- -- -- --
"rocky panic" was the winner! i decided to add some intense action in this chapter, but the fun isn't over yet. The Subjects are now across enemy lines, and the stakes have been raised. (slightly unedited chapter so excuse the basic mistakes.)
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YOU ARE READING
Welcome to the nation. Welcome to the place where everything is monitored... everything is portioned... everything is perfectly under control... Everything except the SkyTrain Holland Renner was aboard. In a matter of seconds, Holland finds herself...