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"No!" the boy screams. "No, this can't be happening, no!"

My own cry for help catches in my throat, and I freeze up. My heart thumps a thousand times a second, my eyes dart like lightning between the boy and the Screeners. I can't move, I can't think. My body refuses to spring into action.

It's too late. The boy is turning into Stephen. I'm back on SkyTrain 267-B, leaping from my seat. My fists bang on cold glass, screaming for the Train to stop.

The Train whizzes past Stephen as his head hits the concrete. Red gloves and red suits hold him down as his body becomes minuscule in the distance. He's limp, not moving.

My lungs burn for air as I pant. My fists continue to pound the glass. Suddenly the SkyTrain screeches to a halt. My hip jams into the seat in front of me, knocking the air out of my lungs.

Screeners run towards me out of nowhere. "Holland Renner, you're under a partial screening order for breaking the national motto!"

"Huh?" I exhale in a rush. I whip my head between the window and the Screener. His helmet is in my face, intimidating. "That boy! He needs help out there!"

The red suits are grabbing me now. Their chilly hands yank on my shoulder, pulling me. The Train is silent.

"Hey, that hurts." I grit my teeth. The unwavering visor of the Screener's helmet stares back at me. I nearly flinch.

"You're under a partial screening order," the Screener says, as if his declaration explains everything. Like he thinks I know every word of nation's legal code.

He rips me away from my seat so I'm in the Train's aisle. The hands push me forward as my sanity disappears. That boy needs help, and what are these Screeners doing? Making the problem worse?

All eyes are trained on me. Every teenage face is gaping at me. Nicolette's eyes widen as mine meet hers. She glances to the Screeners and back to me, stunned beyond--


I blink awake, and I'm back. The wind itches my skin, telling me I'm back in the dry city. My fingers are wound so tight around the fire escape's railing. I'm paler than snow.

My eyes dart to the adjacent rooftop. The ten-year-old boy pleads for his life as the Screeners hold him down. He's on his knees, ready to have his skull knocked into the ground.

A scraggle of noise echoes from my voice. It's not nearly loud enough to alert the boy that I want to help him. I can't do much more. He's so young, so harmless.

The boy glances across the roof, spotting me in a sea of buildings. His voice shoots across the empty air like a bullet. "Help me, please!"

I stumble for words. What can I possibly do for him? I'm too far away. The calls of the boy are piercing my heart, and there's nothing I can do.

The Screener's visor turns and stares into my soul. It tells me to back the hell off, to save yourself instead of the boy. Don't you dare step out of line because if you do, you're next.

So I watch him. I watch the poor, lower-class child become a victim. The Screeners shove the boy's head towards the ground, and I pull my eyes away from the scene. Brutally imagining the crunch of bone on concrete, I feel sick to my stomach.

The ten-year-old is dragged out of sight. And I did nothing about it. Yet could I have done something?

Suddenly I feel like I'm condensed and crushed into a capped jar. I no longer feel my limbs or fingers. My body turns away from the dry landscape and climbs back into the apartment completely by itself. I resist and protest from somewhere within myself. All I can do is blink, but what use is that?

The Enhancement Project doesn't care. It's back and better than ever before.

I scream and cry and tear apart my will power as my feet step slowly across the apartment's living room. Every ounce of strength I throw at myself disappears. My uncontrollable movement doesn't falter. There's no way to stop myself from doing whatever the nation wants me to do.

Task two of the Equinox isn't far from starting. I have to pass it with flying colors or else I'm left for dead. I don't want to be that ten-year-old, praying for a savior while the Screeners win. Pod 14 is counting on everyone it can to pull together and fight this torture from wherever we are.

Young Stephen and the ten-year-old blend together in my mind. It's them that I want to protect. They never asked for fear, yet they got it. It needs to end right here.

With all of the strength I can muster, my spirit pounces on the Enhancement Project. I kick, scream, rip, and claw myself at the abstract walls that hold me trapped within my body. The Project keeps controlling me as it sends me down the apartment hallway and into the elevator labeled RENNER.

But I don't care. My footsteps are just barely uneven, and forehead is visibly sweating. The elevator cab becomes hot, and I'm still screaming silently.

I don't care. It's working, and I'm fighting. That's all I need to do to win my body back and win this task. I don't know what's lying ahead for me in that induced dream or even on some SkyTrain somewhere, but I'm not going to let the Screeners win this time. I can't help every child, but I refuse to give up completely.

I'm ready for task two.

-- -- -- -- --
holland is hype! that's the kind of personality everyone should have once in a while ;)

winning choice was "watch him." y'all knew it'd be too risky to try and save him. now you're all thinking like citizens, not readers. i couldn't be more proud :)

Question: choose a word to appear in task two for the next chapter: Screener, Stephen, or Hybriad.

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