Excerpt for The Separation by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Separation

Hannah Kay

Dream Big Publishing

West Columbia, SC




This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used factiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Dream Big Publishing

A publication of Dream Big Publishing

West Columbia, SC

Copyright 2017 by Hannah Kay

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in

whole or in part in any form.

Dream Big Publishing is a registered trademark of

Dream Big Publishing.

Manufactured in the United States of America

All rights reserved.

Summary: Olivia, Noah and, and Aria have been friends for most of their lives, but now the inevitable has happened. Thanks to the restrictive structure built by the government of Quatam, the three have been separated. They are sent to three separate Compounds to learn about their government assigned careers and meet their government assigned partners.

Unfortunately, all is not as it seemed in the Compounds. The Compounds appear to be breeding grounds for the next generation of brainwashed adults, and while Olivia and Aria manage to make friends and find normalcy, Noah undergoes a series of personality alerting drugs in a mortifying transition to what the government has planned for his life.

The three are forced to navigate this new life without one another, and their lives spiral out of control. Can Aria, Noah, and Olivia find their way back to save each other, or will they tumble further into the government’s lies alone?

[1. Young Adult – Fiction 2. Dystopia ]

9781370774180

Hannah Kay

Copyright 2017 by Hannah Kay

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved.







Dedication:

To my Granny – for never letting this story die.


September 1, 2498


Chapter 1: Olivia


On the day I was born I was given a number, 072149. The number is my name to the government but my friends simply call me Olivia. My number represents the state, city, compound, room, and the very bed in which I sleep. It’s the government’s ridiculous idea of keeping track of us.

I am a member of the Union of Quatam which rose from the ashes of World War IV eighty-three years ago. The union itself stretches across the northern border of what used to be the United States of America and consists of twenty towns surrounding the city – a shimmering example of the way life “used to be” in the old society.

At the creation of Quatam, our founders created strict rules to sanction the new union and prevent rebellion. This structure wracked my life, and split it in half. Because of these rules, my life will always be marked with memories which are wrinkled with love, anger, happiness and pain.

My first transition happened yesterday. I was forcibly moved from my family’s home to my new home – although I use that term very lightly, because Compound Three would never be my home. It would merely be my holding cell between time and place.


***


I’d grown up in a beautiful home with a loving family and a savvy best friend that lived across the street. We’d lived in cookie cutter houses painted yellow, blue or green all with white trim. The houses were surrounded by green fields and flower boxes, filtered by sunlight and children’s laughter.

The neighborhood was located on the outskirts of town, tapering into a menagerie of red brick. The epicenter of our humble hamlet consisted of a splattering of businesses and two sprawling schools. There were restaurants, coffee shops and shopping centers. None of those businesses compared to our place. Our favorite place in the entire town was the bookshop.

For as long as I could remember it was the three of us in that bookshop – my best friend, Aria; my twin brother, Noah; and myself. We would stand among the shelves, stroking the smooth spines and curling up in huge plushy, pillowy chairs stationed in corners of the cozy shop. We’d spend hours a day holed up in that room. My brother and I’s noses were always in books, and Aria was always sketching away in her little brown notebook… that was until the Government shut down the town.

It happened systematically. I remember the day the signs went up like yesterday, because it was the day we realized everything was changing. It also happened to be Noah and I’s tenth birthday. Mom and dad dressed us up like “big kids,” and the four of us went out to dinner not far from the bookshop. We’d been walking when I saw the first of the signs. It was white with thick black lettering and read “this establishment will be closing soon.” I pointed to the sign, and my mother peered at my father who merely peered back. They didn’t know, and we didn’t know either, but as we walked we spotted a sign of the same origin in almost every window.

Two years flew by with no fulfillment of the empty threats, but they carpeted every business in the entire town. The main shopping center closed first. I woke to find Noah standing beside the kitchen window. His dark hair was mussed from sleep as he pulled back the curtain to stare. I hurried to join him, carefully shrugging past his shoulder to see what he saw. In the distance there were men wearing caution orange, boarding up the windows of the shopping center.

After another crippling two years, though, I woke up to Aria shaking my shoulder. “Olivia! Get up! It’s the bookshop,” I remember her saying. Her voice rasped with the sound of interrupted sleep, and her gaze bled panic. I shot out of bed, and I pulled on the nearest clothes. Then we were out the door with Noah on our tails. We ran, the three of us. We ran like we could somehow stop it. We ran toward the outskirts of the business section and sure enough – there before our eyes our tiny two story brick building was being boarded up. Outside stood Oliver.

“Mr. Oliver! What’s going on?” Noah inquired, shifting on his feet and pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He was still wearing his striped pajamas. He’d been sitting at the dining room table, pushing cereal around with his spoon when we’d bolted through the door, and he’d merely hurried after us without a question. In a way, we’d been waiting for this day for over a year now but knowing it was coming didn’t make it any less painful.

Mr. James Oliver was a short old man with gray hair and sparkling blue eyes. Today, though, his usually bright eyes were dark with sadness. He wore a black button down shirt and black trousers – a symbol, I guessed, of mourning. “They’re closing it, kiddos. They’re shutting it down.” His voice came out gruff even as his hand slid into his pocket to pull out a long silver key. The ornate silver glistened, catching the light from overhead, and Mr. Oliver slid it between his fingers. He didn’t meet their eyes, and silence blossomed between them like an old friend.

“Mr. Oliver, what’s that?” Aria piped up, nodding to the sliver of silver in his hand. Her blonde hair had worked its way out of its braid and sagged against her shoulder, curling in the humidity.

“A key, Miss Aria. A key.” The old man was peering away from us, toward the building. I could only imagine the thoughts running through his head – after all, he’d built the business as a safe haven for knowledge. To watch it be taken away must feel like a betrayal of the highest order.

I blinked, meeting the man’s eyes with a lifted eyebrow. “A key to what, Mr. Oliver?”

He took a long breath, reaching down to brush my brown hair from my eyes affectionately. We’d always been his favorites. “Miss Olivia, this is the key to the basement.”

The three of us blinked collectively with confused curiosity. The basement? What basement? “What do you mean, Mr. Oliver?” It was Aria, blue eyes twinkling in the early morning sun. The two could have been related, but if they were it would be nearly unfeasible to know. The way the Government handled family made family trees almost impossible to trace.

“Let me walk you home, kids,” he answered, gingerly steering us toward the neighborhood. “I can’t watch anymore.”

I exchanged a look with Noah, but I was silent as we made our way down the sidewalk with Mr. Oliver. The key still waited in his hand, being worried between his pale fingers. We were almost to Noah and I’s house when Mr. Oliver stopped, turning to meet our gazes individually. He extended his arm to me, the key in hand. “Mr. Oliver, why are you giving me this?” I questioned softly, eyes shining with confusion as I took the key from his now trembling fingers. I turned the cool metal over in my hand, biting my lip as I peered downward. At the center of the antique head resided a scripted Q, a beacon and symbol of our nation. I dragged my finger along the indention. What was he doing? Why was he giving them this – this dangerous gift?

“You three deserve those books – “ His words were cut off by a cough, but he quickly regained his ability to speak and continued. “You’ll have to go at night if you go at all. Around the back of the building is a door in the ground. It’s hidden behind a bush so they don’t know it’s here.” He paused, looking at each of us in turn once again. “If you want it, it’s yours.”

Instinctively, I pocketed the key, slipping it into the pouch on my sweatshirt before anyone could see it. We knew his plan was illegal. The Government restricted activity with an extremely strict curfew. No one was to be out of their assigned bed after eight o’clock at night or before six thirty the next morning. No one was supposed to be so much as outside their home from seven at night to seven the next morning. Breaking the curfew was absolutely impossible. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and Noah must have felt the same way, because his face was white as a sheet when he responded.

“That’s – that’s illegal!” Noah whispered under his breath, adjusting his glasses once more. He blinked nervously, eyes glued to the door to our house. Any moment our mother could come out and realize something was amiss.

Mr. Oliver nodded somberly. “Aye, son.” He patted Noah’s mop of mud-brown hair with a sad smile. “I know.” He paused, another coughing fit overtaking him. “One day, though,” He glanced over his shoulder toward the old building, already fading of its usual color. “you may need it.”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “What do you mean?”

He chuckled, a rattle in his chest, and patted my back. “You’d be surprised by the secrets an old man keeps, Miss Olivia.”


***


It was now the September after our seventeenth birthdays. Forced to say goodbye to our families, we were herded into the auditorium to be sorted into our one of the seven Compounds. The Compounds are “secure locations where [we] live, eat, congregate and court.” The system is supposed to create a boundary between childhood and adulthood which cannot be breached due to the strict rules in place. Rules that, until now, had been a fairly alien concept to me.

The auditorium buzzed around us. Our peers, other students, were jittery in their seats. Their hands fidgeted with their hair, nervous chatter danced among the rows, hands clasped together in one final wish to whoever might be listening… the very air shimmered with testemonied anxiety, displayed plainly on each student’s face – after all, the decision announced by the government today would cement everything from what our careers would be to who our partners would be, but I wasn’t entirely sure why they were nervous. It wasn’t as if the sheer power of our collective anxiety could change facts. In the next hour, everything would change.

The names for Compounds One and Two had already been called, and I sat with my hand firmly gripped in Noah’s. He sat to my right, sandwiched between myself and Aria. A woman stood in the front of the room wearing a pale blue pant suit. Her black hair was pulled into a tight bun at the base of her neck, and she held a single sheet of paper from which she was calling the names for Compound Three. She’d introduced herself as Corona Torchwic, and as I watched my name slipped from her cold lips.

“Olivia Abbott,” Torchwic bellowed, and I managed a glance toward Noah. He turned with a pained grasp of my hand and squeezed with all his might. My brother said goodbye without saying a single word, and then I met Aria’s gaze. Tiny Tears gathered in the corner of her eyes, but she managed a smile. She released my brother’s other hand, crossing his lap to rest her hand atop ours and squeezing once. Kindness and love seeped through our grasp, but then I was moving to the front of the room. Torchwic had by then finished her list and was corralling the ten of us through the back door.

“Forward!” Corona Torchwic shrieked. As she barked her orders, I could see the entire landscape behind me in my mind. It was imprinted there, and I couldn’t fathom it ever getting it out.

I walked forward silently, refusing to look back as we were ushered through the colorful halls of our school. Now the once whimsical and fun fuchsia and lime green walls only mocked our journey. The lower school, along with the bookshop, was where we’d grown up – together – but more than that it was where we were to be pulled apart. Today is the day of the Separation.

Torchwic stopped suddenly when the hallway bottomed out at the back door of the school. “Welcome to Compound Three, and the rest of your lives.”

I had to bite back a laugh. The rest of our lives? From now on it was strict curfews and bland hallways – hardly a life. There was no point in arguing with it, though. It was happening whether or not we wanted it to happen.

“Follow me,” she announced, extending her arms and the doors automatically – and somewhat dramatically – opened. Behind her, the gray expanse of pavement stretched in front of us. It was a sunny September morning, but inside I was cold as I filed out of the school and across the pavement toward the Compounds with my fellow students.

Half of our town is comprised of the Neighborhood, and the other half is comprised of the Compounds. The neighborhood is where we were raised. Our parents, matched together in the Compounds long before us, raised us in cozy houses with colors and warmth. The next five years wouldn’t be quite as kind or at least that seemed to be the consensus among those who had lived life in the Compounds. No one seemed particularly cheery about their time there.

“Compound Three holds fifty Students, twenty-five male, twenty-five female.” Torchwic introduced as we approached the large square, gray brick building marked with the number three. “In the next five years, you will be educated at the Upper School for your career and you will Court to find your partner.” She paused at the front doors of the Compound then pressed a button before penning in a passcode. The door opened.

“At the end of this tour, you will receive your number and the pass code to this Compound.” Did I mention that other than stripping us of our family and friends, they also take what tiny scrap of dignity we have left? Upon moving into the Compound, we are assigned a number that replaces our name. I guess it’s symbolic. From that moment on we are no longer ourselves. Instead we’re the Government’s personal puppets. The number in theory represents not only our location but also our futures. In reality, though, it doesn’t provide any sort of relief by way of promises for what is to come. In contrast to their purpose, the numbers only remind us of what we have lost. “Memorize it. Without the code, you won’t be able to enter any lessons, meals, recreation or even your bunk. Once you receive your number, you will be assigned your bunk.”

“Your bunkmates will be your lifeline here. They are your new best friends. They are your new family.” I had to bite my bottom lip again. Looking around the room, I saw the faces of other seventeen year olds, but they weren’t my friends, nor were they my family. They were faces I’d seen in the hallways, faces who had turned away to talk to their friends, who’d laughed, but now stood scared. We all had our circles, our close knit groups, but we all knew they would be broken. On rare occasions, siblings or friends are sorted into the same Compound, but the chances are such that most circles morn their friendship before the decision was even made. My friends and I weren’t so sappy. In fact we vowed that nothing would change, a fact that would later be tested time and time again, but more on that later – Torchwic’s still going at it.

“Inside your bunk, there will be a new stack of clothes, a toothbrush and a copy of your new schedule. Follow that schedule and you will succeed here.” She paused, her cold green eyes cutting a line across us as if she really didn’t care whether or not we succeeded before continuing. It occurred to me that her voice was too even, almost robotic in its indifference and lack of real human emotion. “It would be in your best interest to succeed here.”

That was the end of her speech, but she continued speaking as we walked down the drab hallways, announcing each of the rooms as we passed its closed door. When we reached the back of the Compound, the dining hall, we were told to make two lines. The two lines based at two tables and we waited.

It was a painstakingly long wait to have your identity taken away. While I waited, I alternated between tapping my toe against the hard linoleum, biting my lower lip and twirling my dark hair around my finger. When I reached the front of the line, a lady with flat, dull brown hair and sad eyes took my arm. “Name?” She asked, but the look in her eyes mirrored the feeling in my heart.

It was procedure. For record’s sake, I looked into the sad woman’s eyes and uttered my name for the last time with any finality. “Olivia Abbott.”

She nodded, scribbling my name onto her piece of paper, beside my number. Her fingers returned to my hand, holding a square box up to my wrist. “This will hurt,” she admitted, squeezing my hand a tiny bit, and then pressing the button on her machine.

I flinched. It wasn’t particularly painful. After all, the machine was designed to burn the numbers into our wrist with minimal amount of pain. It was effective in that way, but most everything in the Compounds is just that – effective. Once it was done, she squeezed my hand once more for measure, slipped me the paper with my security code on it, and then whispered softly, “Goodbye, Olivia.”

Even as she said it, I knew it wasn’t a cruel statement. It was her, a Government official, acknowledging what they were taking away from us. I appreciated that, but it didn’t change anything.

As I walked away, I whispered her words to myself aloud. “Goodbye Olivia.”


September 1, 2498


Chapter 2: Noah


I watched my twin sister, Olivia, walk away and forced a smile toward Aria. Inconspicuously, I squeezed her hand in reassurance. This wasn’t goodbye. We promised each other that much.


***


As long as I could remember, it’d been the three of us: Olivia, Aria and I. As kids, we rotated between our houses and the bookshop more times than I could count. Even once the bookshop closed we remained fast friends. We spent our time holed up in one house or the other. It didn’t matter that the key to the basement burned in Olivia’s pocket. We didn’t need it, and I think we all knew that much. We weren’t ready yet.

The night before the Separation, though, we met there in confidence. We gathered wearing all black to veil us within the darkness during our journey, and it felt like a funeral march. Aria was beside me, hand in mine, and Olivia crept through the shadows in front of us. The walk was short but deadly, and soon Olivia was nervously climbing behind the overgrown bushes behind the now boarded up building. She knelt over the basement door and drew her hand across the wood, searching for the cool metal of the lock. Once she found it, there was a small sound of metal against metal, and the door opened. My sister then disappeared down the staircase.

“I don’t want to say goodbye.” Aria whispered, voice quivering as she met my eyes in the glow of the moonlight.

I leaned forward, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “This isn’t goodbye.”

By the time the two of us made it inside Olivia had found and lit a series of candles. Olivia exhaled a breath and I looked up myself, eyebrows lifting in curiosity. The basement was large and finely furnished. All four walls were adorned by heavy wooden bookshelves, stocked with old, weathered books and around the room were several plushy arm chairs, but the most overwhelming quality of the room was the sheer quantity of books. In addition to the books atop the shelves, there were stack after stack on the floor, littering the place with an untold promise of knowledge.

“Do they know this is down here?” Aria questioned vaguely, but we knew what she meant. She wondered if the government – or rather a collective unit of crazy masterminds that control pretty much our every move – knew this place existed. It was a treasure cove for people like us who crave knowledge like joy.

“They’re oblivious.” I answered flatly, regarding the shelves with interest, but Olivia’s gaze was stone.

“More like proud!” Olivia spat, dragging her fingers along the leather bound spines with peaked infatuation. “No one could possibly outsmart them, right? Much less the crazy old man who owns the bookshop!”

I chuckled at my sister’s spite and walked mindlessly to the stairs. I could hear Olivia and Aria talking, but I was focused on what could possibly be below us. I descended the stairs, blinking as my eyes adjusted to the dim light from Olivia’s candles upstairs. The air smelled of old paper and stale peppermint and across the room from the staircase was a large wooden desk. On top of the desk were probably a thousand papers, but on the floor were more books.

“Hey, Olive! Bring one of those candles down here, will you?” I called to her, trailing through the stacks of books to the desk.

Seconds later, though, it was Aria who appeared at the foot of the staircase, holding a candle. Her face was bright with curiosity, and I couldn’t help the warmth that spread through my chest at first glance. She was beautiful. That fact couldn’t be contested, and for that moment she was mine. Every time I saw her, my heart surged with the power of that fact. “What is that?”

“Must’ve been Mr. Oliver’s study…” I answered, blinking inwardly as I forced my gaze from the radiance that is Aria toward the papers on Mr. Oliver’s desk.

Aria nodded, carefully rounding around the desk to place the candle against the wood. She sat in Mr. Oliver’s chair and peered down at its contents. Even now, I couldn’t help but note how her blue eyes sparkled and danced in the candlelight. “There’s a note.” She glanced at me before picking up the worn piece of paper. “My favorite readers,” She read with a tiny, fragile smile of fondness. “I hope this place gives you solace in times of trouble. More than that, I hope you learn the secrets it is prepared to teach you. Your loving Bookman, Mr. Oliver.” She went quiet and I could see her eyes misting over with memories.

Mr. Oliver died about two years after the bookshop closed. The three of us went to the funeral and met his kooky redhead wife with the wire glasses and sad gaze. She’d thanked us for coming. We’d meant a lot to him. It’d been nerve wracking and painful to be there, but it would have been harder if we hadn’t gone.

Instinctively, I slipped behind the desk and put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay.” The reassurance felt a bit forced, but I couldn’t help but try. I hated seeing her cry.

She looked up and nodded. “Yeah, I know.” She stood, turning slowly so she could curve her arms around my waist in a hug. Her face nuzzled against my neck and for a long moment it was just the two of us standing in the dim candlelight. We held each other, and then she lifted her head and kissed me softly. It felt final even though we promised it wouldn’t be.

So I said, “This isn’t goodbye.”

She smiled softly, touching my cheek again. “Maybe I just wanted to kiss you.” She teased, laughing weakly to herself before releasing me. “I wonder what secrets Mr. Oliver was talking about.”

“Secrets?” Olivia’s voice sounded from across the room and Aria turned to look at her.

“Mr. Oliver left us a note.” Aria told her, grasping the old paper between her fingertips and offering it to Olivia who instantly gobbled up the words.

“Remember what he said when he gave us the key?” She grinned at us, assuming her very best Mr. Oliver voice. “One day, you may need it.” She paused, innocently assuming her Olivia voice again. “There must be something down here. He must know something. There must be more to the story.”

I nodded, running my fingers through my dusty brown hair. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but maybe he did. Maybe he knew something more than the government is telling us… and he knew what it is… whatever it is…”

Olivia rolled her eyes, but grinned at me. “It’s Mr. Oliver. Of course he knew something more.”

That proclamation on our tongues, normalcy seeped back into our demeanors. The three of us spent the next three hours reading and just being together. “This isn’t goodbye,” we’d whisper, a quiet mantra in the darkness. Life without one another didn’t seem like a life. I couldn’t remember a time that my sister and Aria weren’t by my side. We’d never lived a life apart, and now the time had come. We were being forced into it. I could feel it in the air – we were each terrified in our own right even though we’d known. As long as we’d been friends, been family, we’d known it would end in flames. No, we’d known it would end in tears. We’d known we wouldn’t end up together, but even knowing that we didn’t stop. There was no stopping it. “We’ll come back,” we argued to each other, but it was a broken promise in the night. I think we knew that too.

I guess I really didn’t understand it, though, until I watched my sister walk away.


***


Seven was the last compound to be called, and there were only three of us. The other two were a set of twins, Amber and Matthew. They were both tall - Amber being maybe two inches shorter than her six foot brother. They had dark hair and even darker eyes and without them even speaking I knew I didn’t like them. I mean they were twins, and I didn’t get to keep mine. End of story. They didn’t get to plea their case - not that they minded much. They seemed to be sticking to themselves.

Compound Seven was nothing like the standard issue compound I’d read about in textbooks. The entire Compound was veiled in black - black walls, black ceilings and black floors - but with long, expansive windows. The Compound was an awkward paradox of light and dark not to mention a complete opposite from the normal gray brick building with no windows depicted in my books.

We walked down the endless hallway with our guide, passing several locked doors with hazard symbols marking danger. Mindlessly, I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose.

“Mr. Abbott, that involuntary twitch reminds me,” The leader quipped, breaking his mandatory speech for a moment to address me. “Once you receive your number, you and I have an appointment in the observatory alone.” The other two lifted their gazes to meet mine for a fraction of a second, but they didn’t say a word.

I blinked, glancing from the guide to Amber and Matthew, but no one offered any explanation. “Ok...ay.” I managed, suddenly sick to my stomach. What could they want from me?

The tour through the compound felt too long after his invitation to the observatory. I kept going over the possibilities in my head, trying to understand, but I just didn’t. The man’s words didn’t add up. I hadn’t done anything wrong or out of the ordinary. I’d simply pushed my glasses up my nose. The other two had visual quirks. Matt was nervously fidgeting with his shirt, and Amber was anxiously twirling her dark tresses around one of her fingers. It didn’t make any sense to me. Why didn’t Matthew and Amber, the lucky twins, have to have a private meeting with Mr. No Name Tour Guide?

I worried my way through the hallways, past the cafeteria, into the bunker that would serve as the dormitory and back into the cafeteria where a woman with short black hair took my arm. “Name?” She asked, dropping my arm as if she’d forgotten this part of the ritual and grabbing her pencil. Her eyes were heavy as she pressed the pencil to her paperwork intently, not making eye contact.

I hesitated, and the woman tutted impatiently. “Noah Abbott.” I replied softly.

She nodded, scrawling my name in script across the dotted line. I took in a silent gust of air. The next part was supposed to be awful. Or at least that’s what I’d read.

She then dropped her pencil to the table and took my arm once more to brand my number into the tender skin of my wrist. It did sting, but then so did the woman’s dry response. “Welcome to Compound Seven.”

Seconds later, the tour guide grabbed my sensitive arm and pulled me from the room. I expected an explanation, but no. He simply led me up the stairs at the back of the compound. There, with him on the step above me, I noticed an abnormality. From the front, he’d appeared to have hair dark brown hair to match his cold eyes, but from here I could see red at the fringes. His hair had once been red – red like the change of leaves in fall, like a kind woman in tears. Blinking, I flashed back to the weeping image of Mrs. Oliver - of her red hair and kind eyes. Could it be? No - there was no way.

“Come on, 010199.” He chuckled, pushing me away from the landing. “Sorry, Noah.” He spat the name in a fit of laughter. “You were always Daddy Dearest’s favorite…well, and that sister of yours.” He paused, a slow smirk crawling across his twisted expression. “Oh, and that pretty little blonde… I bet she grew up well.” His voice was acid as he regarded me in the vast room that must have been ‘the observatory’.

My heart flopped in my chest. “You’re Jeffery - Mr. Oliver’s son.” He was talking about us with such disdain. He was talking about Aria like she was a piece of meat. What could have caused such a good man’s son to become this? The last time I’d seen Jeffery was when I was seven and he was seventeen. He was young, smiling - just like his father. What happened to him?

“It’s Jeff now.” Jeffery - Jeff amended, reaching out and pulling my glasses from my face. “My father has nothing to do with this.”

I blinked violently, unable to focus on him anymore. I was unsteady without my vision, but I forced myself to pretend to be otherwise. “He’s dead, you know.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah, I got the postcard.” He answered with a sinister chuckle.

“You weren’t at the funeral.” My voice was as steady as it could be when I couldn’t meet his eyes. This man, fresh out of his Compound at twenty one, didn’t care about his dead father.

“Course I wasn’t.” His voice was farther away when he answered, and I heard a machine hum to life as he flipped several switches.

I could feel myself losing control, but I didn’t care. “Your mother needed you!” My voice was sharp with anger. What kind of man was he not to care about his mom? I could see him as a teenager helping his mother fix their garden, working slowly around the property line to prune her roses. What happened to him?

He laughed, a sick, cruel sound. “Careful,” The humming grew steadily louder, “No matter how important you are, you don’t want to make me mad, Noah.” Confusion colored my expression instantly. I exhaled sharply. I couldn’t be important. I was just me. What was he talking about? Suddenly, though, the room splintered into a blinding white light and I gasped, covering my eyes, forcing them shut with a groan, but in a matter of seconds the light subsided. I blinked rapidly, eyes attempting to adjust to the sudden change, but once they adjusted my entire body tensed.

Suddenly, for some unknown reason, I could see perfectly. In fact, I could see better than I could see minutes before with my glasses. My eyes focused instantly on Jeffery standing beside a large machine with a thousand buttons. Even from across the room I could count that Jeffery had exactly seven freckles across the bridge of his nose - a telltale sign of his red headed genes. His eyes were wickedly round, appraising me with an evil grin.

I took a step away from him, but I bumped into something. I wheeled around to find I’d bumped into the window. The entire room was floor-to-ceiling windows, and outside the windows were the other compounds. On top of each of the gray brick compounds were numbers – one to seven – and ours was at the center. Beside the numbers was an intricately painted Q just like the one on Mr. Oliver’s key, and my eyebrows knit together. It must have been a common symbol once, half discarded, half imprinted on history by these keys and old buildings.


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