Chapter Sixty-Four

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The next morning took forever to come. Throughout the night, Mace didn't move a muscle, but I kept wishing he would. My mind wouldn't stop going through the endless bad scenarios that could come as a result of our actions.

Abi, Asten, and I stayed with Mace for the entire night. Abi offered us the now vacant beds of the twins, but neither of us could really sleep. It was hard to relax when you knew that tomorrow everything could be over.

What felt like years later, the screen on one side of the room lit up as our alarm. It was time to get ready for our day.

Except when Abi nudged Mace to see if he'd moved, he didn't do anything. He was still out cold. There was no way he'd even be able to walk through the hallways.

I wasn't sure how illnesses worked at the compound. No one I knew had been sick yet. I had to hope they'd just accept that Mace was ill and not bother to check on him.

It was a huge risk, but one we'd have to take seeing his conditions.

Asten and I returned to our own rooms quickly as other people started walking down the hallways. Our clothes for the day were still in our dorm rather than Abi's. And even though being with Abi and Mace was much nicer than having to face the upcoming day, I knew we had to go and get ready. I was a bit worried we'd be late, but once I walked into the room, I saw that wouldn't be a problem.

On the screen read a message that I hadn't paid attention to when I was in Abi's room. It was a set of instructions different from what I'd become used to.

"Please head to the auditorium for 8:00 A.M.," the screen read. Everyone else in the room was getting ready and at first didn't seem to notice us or our confusion. Then Jadyn looked up and froze.

"Where the hell have you guys been?!" she asked in surprise. I wondered why she seemed so disturbed by our absence. We'd all been absent before, when we went to the party together. I didn't consider it something to be majorly worried about.

"Oh...we were just out....," I mumbled quickly before distracting myself with grabbing a pair of clothes from the closet. I didn't have time to explain everything. I also didn't want to bring up the fact that Mace wanted to leave them all behind.

"Just out?" January chimed in. I could hear anger in her voice, too, which I wasn't used to. "You were just out for the entire night?"

Before I could respond again, Asten replied. "It was just another party. Sorry for not telling you. We were invited and didn't have time to go back down. But right now we have to leave. We have ten minutes to get ready."

Neither January nor Jadyn seemed satisfied with our answer. But we didn't have time. We had to go to the auditorium for whatever was about to happen.

We were one of the last units to enter. Almost every other unit of every letter and number had arrived. At the front of the auditorium, with a microphone attached to his headset, was Agent Choles. The last time I'd seen him was on the first day we'd arrived at the complex. It was weird seeing him once again. Stubble had begun to form on his chin, and his hair seemed even longer and messier than when I first saw him.

Once everyone quieted down, he began to speak.

"Hello, everyone. You've all probably gotten used to this place. A little while more and you'll start considering it your home," he started, keeping a light tone. I considered whether they only kept him there because he was the only staff member who didn't look five seconds from killing you.

"I'm Agent Choles, as most of you know. And today we have a very important topic to discuss." A very important topic would be the shooting of the girl who'd started to say something in the cafeteria, but I doubted they'd talk about that. "There's a procedure that you will all begin. When completed, you will be allowed to enter the world of the Equator, and no longer be stuck here, as a part of our makeshift military in this dark world."

"You will begin by being lead into an alternate room momentarily. Please comply with what we ask you to do. We know what you've been through. We know the horrors you've experienced in the apocalyptic world outside our door. Our purpose here was to help you all join our society. A society of peace from the dark exterior. A society that will thrive past this emergency. A society that will continue the human race for decades to come."

A couple of the guards on the outer edges of the assembly moved towards our crowd and began to lead the front rows of people out. I began to stand up. I was getting more anxious by the minute. Routine would be the best thing at the moment. If things were already changing, that couldn't mean anything good. What if this was what the girl had been talking about? And how was I going to get them to accept that Mace was just sick, now?

Agent Choles continued his speech, which emanated a confidence I didn't know he had. He'd seemed so uncomfortable on our first meeting. But that was gone now. "You may be afraid of what is to come. But don't be. So far, the Equator has held the remnants of humankind, and it has done its job well. This is what you all really came here for. This is what we had planned when we found you all in the darkest depths of the frozen wasteland that has become our world. Once you walk in that room, the process will begin, and you will be one step closer to becoming one of us. One step closer to joining our society. It's something the millions still lost outside our walls could only ever dream of."

Half the auditorium was gone now. He was speaking to those in the back who were still here, and those who were leaving. I gripped the armrests of my chair and looked to my right at Asten. He stared ahead without emotion. Jadyn and January next to him, seemed just vaguely interested. They hadn't been with us for the past twelve hours. They didn't know what the complex was really capable of, even if they did see the girl get shot.

They'd shamelessly shot Mace. They had no idea who he was, and they shot him. To them, he could've been completely innocent. And there were no rules against leaving.

It worried me that they'd go to such extreme measures just to prevent someone from getting beyond their borders.

The row in front of us was standing up. I didn't want to go. I was afraid. I couldn't do this. I wanted to be back in the snow, back before this had all happened. Before I'd known Mace, or Asten, or January, or anyone. And even before then. I wanted to be back in my warm house with my mom where my greatest worry was getting a bad grade, or losing my wallet.

Wishing never made things come true.

Our row stood up and there was nothing I could do to stop myself from being pushed in the direction of the door with the rest of the crowd. As we walked out of the auditorium, I heard Agent Choles shout his concluding words.

"So, please, join our society. Join us. Join the Equator."



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