© Navya Marwah
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No,no, you’re not dreaming. Not yet, anyway. This may be my last chance to leave, to escape. I might die but it’s worth the risk. The smallest chance that I might be able to go home is motivation enough for me. It is good enough. As I look left and right all I see are the blank bright walls which have been frustratingly plainly decorated with an absolute bare surface. I become increasingly aware of the wires stuck to my skin as a cold sweat builds up as an extra layer on my body. I don’t know what they’re going to do to me. All I know is that it isn’t good. As soon as I blacked out and woke up in this makeshift operation theatre I haven’t seen another breathing organism except from some low murmuring which seemed as if it was coming through the wall. I’d only seen things like these on movies and they made me feel sick.
She laying there on the operation theatre and the confused look on her face breaks my heart. I see her look towards me through the window but it was only one way so that wouldn’t be possible. As a sister to two little girls myself, I can only imagine what horror would be inflicted on them. 16 was the magic number. The age they were taken. If they were deemed useful to society’s expansion and improvement then they were safe. If they’re not then… we’ll get to that later. My mind turns to the clock in the room and it reads 5:39. Good heavens! How is it already so late.
I turn my face away from the operation theatre because I know what’s coming. Heartbeats pass by and nothing happens. Maybe this girl was it! Maybe she was worthy! As hope began swelling up my heart for the girl it was quickly smashed with a blood-curdling scream blowing through the gaps in the edges of the mirror. This booth is supposed to be soundproof so if any sound gets through it then it has to be pretty loud. As the scream comes to an abrupt stop I turn back around to see the girl lying limp on the operation chair.
Another one - dead. These people are sick. My mind screams internally as I keep a neutral face. I’m not going to break - at least not for them. My job here was done and I left the room to go about my usual routine like a robot. As I exit the building I pass the familiar doors and walls and people. This whole place is robotic. I see the same people at the same time every single day on the dot. If I am not wrong then I will see Dr Frenmin round that corner in 3..2..1.
“Hi Natasha,” a familiar friendly voice chirps. I smile smugly to myself .
“Good afternoon ,Dr Frenmin,” I answer with an attempt to match the chirpiness in his voice.
My mind remains miserable. It’s because CREED made me this way. CREED is the very definition of a dictatorship. I exit the building feeling the crisp air hit me like a ton of bricks compared to the artificial ventilated air inside. The air makes me feel more alive. The streets of Dinarius are decrepit. We have been blessed to be given a house by CREED for which I’m very grateful but I will never accept them. As I pass the streets in the late afternoon, I see little children running round is rags and tired looking mothers looking as if they have no hope left. Our part of the city is the less run down but is still in terrible conditions. There are houses here but they are awful compared to the lives of the rich. CREED had given us a house as I had started working for them early because we had no parents. Rather than agreeing to enter the child adoption system, I had decided to become more independent and make a living for my family by myself. There was no certainty that we would even stay together and I couldn’t even bear to think of my life without my two sisters- Destiny and Adeline. I was nearly 16 which meant it was nearly time for my test . If I failed the test then I would end up like the girl in the chair but if I passed it then I would be sent away somewhere. Both of those options were losses and my sisters would be left alone either way. When I first turned 15 that I began preparing Destiny for her time as a guardian. My time with them is nearly over.. I was so deep in my thoughts that I hadn’t realised that my house had already gone past so I backtracked and stood in front of the bland white bungalow that stood in front of me. There was 1 bedroom, 1 living room, 1 mandatory television and a bathroom. It wasn’t much but it was home.
The time was about 5 o’clock so I had to wait for it to get dark before I could take Destiny out. Thank god that it was winter so that I wouldn’t have to wait that long for the sun to set. The door creaked open and I thought that nobody was home for a second but then I was attacked with an onslaught of hugs which caused me the fall forwards onto the floor with laughter. “Ade!” I smiled.
“You came back late today!” she said suddenly becoming serious,”I thought something had happened.”
“You should know Ade that I will never go anywhere without telling you.”
“Where’s Tiny?” I asked. Looking around I could see no trace of her. “She’s not back from the Crown yet.” The Crown was the name of this array of solar panels not too far away from here which were built by the government to prove they were in an effort to defeat climate change. The place has been abandoned for years apart from a few people who have jobs up there to maintain them. My face beams with pride when I think about how the workers had personally came here and recruited her.
The day was like any other until we suddenly heard some sort of knocking on the door only to open it and see the two women standing behind the door. The one in front had a very stern face but the one behind couldn’t have been more than a year older than me with a warm smile on her face. They introduced themselves as the people who maintain the solar panels and had said that Destiny’s mathematical knowledge would assist them in helping the community to use them in more ways. I obviously didn’t hand Tiny over blindly because I had checked their credentials in my place of work and had even followed them home at one point. This brings me onto my next topic that I would like to introduce to you - my ‘hobby’.
Have you ever heard of Robin Hood? Well I’ve heard of him. My mum used to tell us stories of this amazing person who would steal from the rich in this magical kingdom far away and give to the poor. I had been waiting for my Robin Hood for so long but when my parents died then I realised he was never coming. Maybe I was too poor for him. Maybe even the heroes had standards. After I found out about my parents, I began my own little journey as Robin Hood. However, I had stopped believing in him so I renamed him to Raven Oak. Ridiculous - isn’t it? The name just stuck and most of the people in the poorer parts of Dinarius only know my eyes voice and name. If I went up to them and told them my name was Natasha Stuart then I am sure that they either wouldn’t take me seriously due to my gender or they may report me. The one encounter I had with the police were enough to last me a lifetime. However, one thing that has been bugging me since that day is that the two women never actually mentioned that they were the police but I had just assumed it. This worrying thought was interrupted by my shock of a crash which echoed down the hallway. I ran to see what had happened only to find Tiny on the floor - choking. I run forward but she turned her face towards me. She’s laughing! I give into her contagious laughter as we continue screaming in laughter which leads to Ade joining. It’s moments like this which makes me realise how much I love them. Younger siblings have always been thought of as annoying but I don’t know what I would’ve done without both of mine. My body would’ve been found in some nearby river and never given a second thought again but these two girls make me want to live. They give me purpose. The worn out clock on the wall tells me that it is time to tell her.
“Ade can you go to the living room please?” She gives me a nod and doesn’t question it as if she could sense the change in my mood.
“Why did you send Ade out?” Tiny said, still recovering from the high of her laughter. Her laughter slowly fades away as she too notices my solemn demeanour. Dammit why were these girls so good at reading me. I should be better at hiding my feelings.
“It’s time that I tell you something,” now that I listen to the seriousness in my voice I realise just how obvious I sound.
“Well what is it?” she replies sounding concerned now.
“ I have been going out a few times a week since the day with a group of friends which I have built up trust with over the years.We become our very own Robin Hoods” The whole speech had left Tiny shocked and a myriad of emotions fluttered over her face until she finally stopped on one which I could clearly identify - determination.
“I want to do this with you.”
“This is why I am telling you this. I want you to come join us today on a mission to rob Dr Frenmin’s house.”
“He’s a well-known doctor who looks over the deaths of the inks” The inks is what we call the incapable people who are killed like the girl I had seen earlier that day. Tiny surprises me as always with a firm nod because I expected her to maybe need some time to process the news. The clock hits 6 and because of the shorter days the sun has begun to set.
“It’s time to go.” I say as I lead her out of the house and tell her to wait outside.
“Is that it? Is that all I’m getting?” she says clearly looking confused. I ignore her and go back inside to the living room.
“We’ll be back late Ade. Get something from the kitchen if you’re hungry and don’t open the door.” I’m satisfied with the chirpy “ok!” that I get from behind the table. I don’t really know what she is doing behind it but if there’s one thing I have learnt in my time raising this girl it is that I should never question her. Even though, Ade is only 9 she has a sense of wisdom beyond her years and I think that all of us were forced to grow up really quickly.
I return outside to be greeted with a really confused face and said, “All will be revealed.” The expression is wiped off her face with my vague remark but it clearly hasn’t satisfied her. We begin walking on the familiar route and it is almost as if the muscle memory was guiding me. We passed down the road in front of our house and walked in comfortable silence as the orange sun softly set after a long day. We carry on walking until we reach the road at the edge of the woods but unlike every other time where we cross to the other side of the road - we turned right into the woods.
The thick huddle of trees grouped together until even the smallest rays of light were exterminated. They stood tall and towered above me so that when I looked up it was as if the sky was painted green. Darkness consumed me but didn’t faze me as I still followed the memory of my steps through the darkness into the clearing. I pictured it in my head with all the memories that were created in that tiny secluded clearing.
“Well what now?” Tiny nervously asks, “Will you explain everything to me now?”
“I think I would be better suited for that job now little lady,” a rich, theatrical voice booms behind me. Tiny’s head whips round. Out comes the stars of my movie.
There was me, Abel, Jess and Jonas. We had been building up this relationship between up from accomplices to close friends and I couldn’t have been more thankful for it. They have stuck with me through thick and thin and have helped me with some problems that I couldn’t share with my siblings because I didn’t want to burden them with my problems and unnecessarily worry them. Jess had a petite figure and was absolutely gorgeous (in the least weird way possible); she had brown skin and pretty brown eyes with a face sculpted as if she was a goddess. We were always hyping each other up about our looks and it really contributed and helped to rebuild both of our shattered self confidence. She had a great sense of fashion and always let me borrow her stuff due to the fact that her parents had acquired a small fortune some time back and they were dealing with it very sensibly so it seemed that they were much richer than the rest of Dinarius. Abel wasn’t what I would call short but he wasn’t as tall as most boys were going for, to put it nicely. Even Jess would be taller than him if she put on heels - not that she ever did because it was so rare that any of us would wear fancy clothing such as high heels. He would be about 5 foot maybe 5 foot 1 if you really want to push it. Apart from his height, Abel is almost the perfect man. He is ripped and works out a lot even without a fancy state of the art gym. Abel runs every morning and if he was maybe a few inches taller every person would be afraid of him with one glance but just because he isn’t it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be frightened. He can almost fight anyone no matter what their height is and he has given me a whole new outlook on the quality not quantity phrase. He too with everyone else thinks that this system is wrong and this is because he lost his older brother to it. His loss of his brother really hit him hard and due to society’s stereotypes that a man shouldn’t show weakness he didn’t break. As much as I knew that he was broken inside, he remained strong in front of us. This brings me onto the most interesting backstory of them all - Jonas. He and I… well...we have a history. Not a history that I am completely proud of. When I had first joined the group, I wasn’t the most subtle burglar and got him caught when I accidentally knocked something over and ran for it without bothering to help him. He actually helped me leave so that I would get out of there without a scar but he didn’t. It still makes me sorry to this day. When he helped me get out of that house on that terrible day, he was too slow and nearly got caught. We didn’t know that the person we were robbing would have that type of weaponry. Guns were very rare in this country and usually only owned by either government officials or criminals who have bought them off the black market. It was completely uncalled for and Jonas broke his arm. We kept him on house arrest for the next 6 months which caused him to slowly transform from my lively Jonas to a sulking person who I had never met before. My Jonas was sorely missed by me because he was my first kiss and it was when he was saving me in that house. I still remember the day.
Heart pounding a loud shattering noise echoed from the other side of the door. Jonas looked at me with all hope lost in his eyes.
“You need to get out of here.” he spoke disheartenedly.
“No, I’ve told you before that I’m never going to leave you.” I argued. Something changed in his eyes as a fire overtook it that I’d only seen in glimpses before.He stepped towards before I could say anything his lips met mine as I sank into the kiss. My body moulded with his but he pulled away which left me wanting more. The sweetness of it tugged at my heartstrings.
“I’ll see you soon so we can finish our argument,” he said with a flirty wink. Thank goodness that it was dark in here so he can’t see the colour of my cheeks transform to a dark red. He lifts me up to the window and I climb out but something is nagging at me. I look back only to see the door burst open to reveal a dark figure but I am pulled out the window by Abel. My vision is a blur of tears as I sob into Jess’ shoulder and I see Abel climb into the window after him.
Abel didn’t have any long-term injuries. Obviously we all felt bad, but I felt the absolute worst. Our little excursions were all that he had to go on because he had no life outside this. Jonas had a tiny one bedroom apartment which was really cramped and staying there with nobody else but himself and his thoughts was truly a dangerous combination. He almost ended up killing himself one time when we came back one day to see him standing in front of us with a knife to the wrist. The fear I felt that day was immeasurable.
Abel walks out from behind me towards Tiny and kisses her hand which causes her to blush and me to roll my eyes. Jess and Jonas follow him with Jess sporting a sporty tracksuit set and Jonas wearing the same clothes he has owned for ages. It had started to get tight for him and I could see every muscle firmly outlined. Even though we had offered (by that I mean Jess) to buy him new clothes, I can’t lie that it was a good look on him.
“Who are you guys?” she looks in wonder at all of us who are now lined up in front of her.
“I’m Abel.” he says with a wink that makes me roll my eyes back again so much that I may have caught a glimpse of my brain.
“I’m Jess, Abel’s girlfriend.” Jess says sweetly but clearly annoyed. I see a hint of disappointment in Tiny’s eyes but she is quick to hide it which makes me chuckle inside. Jess was always a possessive one because she was insecure about her relationship with Abel. I don’t understand why she would feel the need to be insecure because Jess is literally perfect in every way shape or form. Abel only has eyes for her and it is obvious because the love in his eyes for her is the only thing that keeps me going and praying that someday I will find someone like that for myself. I will never ever let that person go.
“Jonas.” a gruff but familiar voice pulls me out of my thoughts and back into reality. Jonas just states his name as if somebody is taking the bloody register and fades back into the background. One day I know that the old Jonas will come back and that will be the day that I believe anything can be, will be and is possible. I think that the gravity of the situation suddenly hits Destiny and her whole demeanour changed in a flash.
“What! What? Who are you? Why am I here? Tell me everything!” we remain stoic and wait for her outburst to be completed.
“Calm down.” Jess says in her sweet voice which seems to calm Tiny down. I look at them expectantly.
“Not yet.” I hear the gruff voice say. My thoughts are clouded by confusion.
“Why?” I ask.
“No, he’s right” Abel replies instead.”We should explain it with the others here as well.”
“Others?” Tiny pipes up.
“Yes others.” Jess says,”We all volunteer one person who is younger than us to take over our place before we get taken. Nat here has given us the inside scoop because she works in the Ward.” The ward is the building I work in and it is actually called the Maxim Warden building but we know it as the ward because a ward is usually a room for sick people and because we call the people who run the system sick - it kind of just stuck. It’s called the Maxim Warden building because he is this area’s founder and all over the other area’s have the same type of building but with a different name. We just presume this because we can’t actually afford to go there but Jess said she heard it from her dad. He is one of the people who introduced the terrible system in the first place. Imagine being born with a genetic deficiency that you cannot control and then being killed for it. No matter how painless or brutal a killing in, murder is murder. Taking a soul of the Earth that could have remained untouched or could have remained untouched. They make that choice nearly every year to make that decision for the people as if free will never existed and take away about 60% of 16 year olds lives from what I’ve heard. At this rate our population is only going to go down to the point we go extinct. Maybe that’s their plan. Who knows what these kind of sick people could do to the innocent.
“We know where in the Ward they do the killings but what we really want to know is where the bodies go afterwards.” Jess continued.
“Wait you’re spoiling it. The others should be here any second.” says Abel, clearly looking annoyed. As if on cue, we see 3 people pop up of the bushes leaving a trail of leaves behind them. There are two girls and a boy. The girls are identical. Even the clothes are completely the same and it genuinely seems like there’s a mirror mind trick going on. The boy walks up behind them and he looks really shy and looks like he feels really out of place.
“Took long enough”Jonas grumbles. If I wasn’t so affected by his presence then I would’ve forgotten he was there.
“Guys this is Destiny and Destiny this is Ace and the twins are Heaven and Nevaeh.” states Jess.
“Is her name spelt backwards.”
“And her name.”
“Is my name spelt backwards.” The echo of voices startles me and I know that Abel said Jess was bringing twins but I didn’t realise that they would be this… twinny? The girls look really carefree and have no idea what they’ve signed up for.
“Hey I’m Ace,” he says meekly as if he’s trying to sound louder but fails. I wanted to study these three children that we had let blindly into our circle of trust but I was cut off.
“Ok guys now mission mode .” says Abel loud and clear. Mission mode is when we forget about everything else and focus on our goal entirely - if it wasn’t obvious enough by the name.
“Our target is Dr Rupert Frenmin . The doctor who looks over the deaths of the inks. He lives in a cottage in the woods behind the Ward. It’s an easy hit because our sensors have not picked up any security measures except from a lock at the front which Jonas can easily pick.” Everyone turns to look at Jonas but he just sinks further into the background. We snap our heads back round when Abel’s cough signals us to start paying attention.
“We’re going to mix up the teams a bit because of the new additions to our group.” My breathing hitches as I look up only to be greeted by Jess’ apologetic face. Mixing means Jonas. That means that all the old feelings which I worked so hard to get rid of will come back by being in close proximity to him. I do not think me and my teenage hormones are capable.
“I’m going in with Jess and Destiny. Nat is going with Jonas and Ace. We are going to split the twins up so Nevaeh goes with Nat and Heaven can come with us.” It will be interesting to get to know them more because I was curious to know how they ended up here with us.
“Ok for the newbies, just follow what we do and listen to our orders. If any of you are confused on anything by the time we come back then you can ask us but you won’t need to.”
While everyone is speaking, Tiny pulls me away and whispers, “Don’t you need a plan for this. You can’t just barge right in.”
With a smirk, I reply,”We’ve been planning this for weeks now but you 4 have only just arrived.” With a little more confidence she nods and we rejoin the group.
“Okay guys it’s time,” Jess firmly states,”see you on the other side.” Without bothering to say goodbye we part ways with enough confidence to know we will see each other again.
The walk to the house was mostly a silent one which disappointed me because I wanted to get to know the newbies but I was never a social person so I kept quiet. Nevaeh and Ace were behind me and I could hear Nevaeh try to make conversation but Ace answered it and shut down the conversation. While I was listening to the newbie’s conversation behind, I didn’t realise I was walking side by side with Jonas. Suddenly, I became very aware of him and could almost hear his breathing mirror mine. As we walked our shoulders brushed past each other and synchronised their movements. Up. Down. Up. Down. My focus was dragged off him when I realise that we have reached our destination and it’s time for us to get into position.
“Ok guys. We’re here so just follow me down the street and we’ll enter the back through a secret passage,” I whisper to the two newbies. Nevaeh and Ace don’t object and just nod back to me. We all walk to the end of the street trying not to give away that we are about to rob one of the most highly ranked individuals in Dinarius. As soon as we reach the end we turn right instead of following the road left. The street is completely deserted and there are no cameras in the area being picked up by Jonas’ sensor. There’s a pathway in front of us with a high brick wall to the right of it. The passage should appear any moment now. We walk ahead and there is no sign of one. The wall looked untouched except for a few bricks here and there with worn out bricks.When we reached the end of the path I had counted a total of 4 worn out bricks.
“Where is the secret passage?” Nevaeh asks in a voice mixed with concern and frustration.
“Dammit,” Jonas says in his husky voice. I backtrack to the last brick that I counted and touched my fingers to it to feel the gritty surface. While I was examining it, I thought it was a good idea to press down onto it. The brick slipped beneath my fingertips and sank further back into the wall but then popped right back out. I turn back and interrupt Ace and Nevaeh arguing furiously and a smouldering Jonas, “Guys! I’ve got something!” The pair look up and almost run towards but Jonas watched from a distance.
“There are 4 of these bricks have worn out paint where it is clear they have been touched and they move into the wall.” I demonstrate to satisfy their curiosity.
“Smart observation.” said Nevaeh. I praise myself inwardly.
“Let’s find the other 3 bricks with finger marks and we’ll push them down together,” says Ace. I was impressed with Ace because I hadn’t thought of this myself and was glad they were getting involved. We leave Jonas there and head back down the pathway and point out the bricks. Finally, it’s just me and I see the final brick. As I put my fingers to it I hear a shout from the pathway, “Nat! Are you ready?”
“Yes!” I shout back.
“3..2..1..GO!” I push the brick into the wall but everything remains still. What!? Nothing happened. All my excitement dissipates as I trudge back to the group with my head down until I hear a shriek.
“Oh my god!” I sprinted back to where we were before and see all three of them (even Jonas) huddled around something.
“Natasha, come look at this,” my heart skips a beat. He used my full name. Something really serious must have happened if he used my full name.