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I stare at the blank wall before me. I have no words for its starkness or its ruthlessness. Walls don't have personalities, though. A wall is just a wall unless you're either insane or me.

It's been at least a day since Chase... I can't even think the words of what happened to him. The image of a swirling crimson lake engulfs my mind.  Blood can be washed away from my hands, but it stains the soul. If anything, it corresponds perfectly with the shade of red the Screeners wear. Invisible bloodstain for them, but permanent, defining wound for Chase.

I pull my knees to my chin and lay my head down. Don't cry. Don't show any hint of weakness, I tell myself. Don't let them watch you fall apart. It's over for Chase, but not for you.

I sniffle and wait. No Chase cracking jokes. No hope for us getting out of here alive. We either make it out through the crimson lake or wait for who knows what.

-- -- -- -- --

"Pick one," the nasty Screener screams, her visor brushing my nose. The rage in her voice is unreal. "Choose one, or I'm going to do if for you and then shoot you in the gut so you bleed out on the floor."

I shake my head, and she lunges forwards, grabbing my hair and yanking hard. I howl as her grip forces my eyes to the ceiling. She twists the hunk of my hair and releases it.

I mutter threats under my breath, fuming. A large hologram of a couple dozen buildings maps out in front of me. The Screener wants me to pick a building, but I refuse. I will not obey anyone associated with the Screeners and the nation. Like Chase, I don't pledge my allegiance. Allegiance is ignorant obedience of those too stupid to make their own decisions.

The woman huffs and throws a punch at me. My head rolls to the right, fiery from impact. I can't help but release yells or grunts. This could kill me. I don't know how long I can hold on.

The Screener whips out her gun and points it at me. I don't even register it's there.

"Choose a building, let's go!" she says. Her gun wavers angrily at me, and I blink back into focus. Her barrel interjects through one of the shorter buildings, so I nod towards one of the other ones near it. I can afford to resist, not die. I have parents and a brother I need to think about, too.

The Screener taps on the building I chose, and then the graphics spawn a Sky-Train on its floor. The view zooms in, revealing a seating chair of symbols in the Train.

I don't know what the obsession with Sky-Trains is, but it's starting to agitate me, like an itch under my skin.

"Pick one of the seats now, and you're done for the next couple days," the Screener says. Her voice isn't nearly as brutal, yet I know it's a tactic. Manipulative and cunning.

I stare through her visor. "I want my deal. Get me back into my home city, and then I'll choose the stupid seats for you."

The Screener cackles at me, or sneers, or whatever the horrendous laugh might be. It stabs through my chest like an actual knife. "You don't command the Project or the nation to do anything for you. That's a screening right there, Number 3. Now pick!"

She raises the gun to my forehead, and I blink in response. Then my fingers shake, and I can't fool myself into thinking death would be nice. I wish I could say I'm fearless and willing to be killed for treason.

I aimlessly point my finger to an empty seat near the back. By accident my skin protrudes through the hologram, warming my pointer finger. A profile pops open in big block letters spelling a name that flashes away as soon as I make out the word HOLLAND

Holland? What the heck is a Holland? A name maybe? Or did I just mentally blend letters together to form a new word? I'll never know for sure. I choose not to think about it and hope I didn't screw up someone's life for good.

The word expands, splitting into two in front of my eyes: HOLLAND RENNER.

"It's about time you decided," the Screener mocks icily. "Once the experimentation with the tasks finishes, you'll be on your merry little way back home."

I glare at her, my thoughts shifting to that voice. Her tone stinks of lies and deception. But I can't let go of my saving grace, no matter how unlikely it is.

"How long will the tasks take?" I prod.

I swear I see the Screener's eyes glisten behind the dark visor. "Oh, they'll take years, Number 3, many years. But hey, you've got a 72-hour appointment with the Tasks in fifteen minutes. That'll help the time fly by, right?"

72 hours? I try to pounce on the Screener, but the restraints on my chair hold me back. She must have digitally tightened them so slowly I didn't notice she did.

My voice bounces off the bleached walls as she exits the room. I scream and scream with no answer from anyone. A dozen Screeners march in through a secondary opening, reeling in tons of equipment. Nothing makes sense anymore. First I'm led on to believe I have hope, with nice people and deals, but I had nothing all along.
No one cares. No one knows.

The Screeners slam a needle into my neck, cuing another protest from me. This can't be happening, but it is. I'm confused, outraged, powerless. The facts don't align or make sense in my mind. I want to surrender but find myself plotting, recording, organizing every detail around me. So many secrets and lies swept under the rug. To understand the Enhancement Project means I can't give up.

I cannot survive if I don't endure.

-- -- -- -- --

this is the last novella update! i enjoyed writing these a lot :) hopefully you've enjoyed the journey we've all taken together.

still love me even though I'm notorious for literary cruelty? visit my profile to read my other novels :) The end is never truly the end. currently, i am writing YEARS AHEAD, so check it out if you want to embark on another fun adventure of epic proportions and possibilities!

((PS: KEEP THIS NOVEL IN YOUR LIBRARY SO YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN FUTURE CONTESTS AND EVENTS!!!)) The remaining updates left in this novel are all previous contests :)

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