Unit 12R Barracks

2230

The grate was yanked from its place, and a furious 599 pulled her out roughly, his eyes burning into her like coals.

"You're not allowed out of bed after lights out," he said in eerie monotone.

"I know," she mumbled, biting her lip and not meeting his eyes. He let out a long sigh before speaking,

"Are you trying to get us terminated?"

"No, sir!" she replied automatically.

"Then how could you risk endangering your entire unit, your family?" he yelled as he pushed her to the ground.

She fell but rolled backward, and using her momentum, she stood at ease in one fluid motion. Her stance sent mix messages. She was showing a little respect by standing in formation, but she had not stand at attention. He decided to ignore her posture and continued.

"Don't ever sneak out again," he said in a dangerously quite voice. "What if a superior officer had come in for a surprise after-hours inspection or we had been taken on a night mission? What would have happened? The entire unit would have been punished for you disobedience! Did you even think about that, about us?"

Her hazel eyes were glued to the floor; she was expecting another blow from her oldest brother. The same one who, six years ago, had gotten himself sent to solitary when he broke TAC leader Kallins' arm for making 210 cry when he punished her for shining her shoes incorrectly. 210 was brought back to the present as her CO continued addressing her, "I should report you to the colonel." He paused, "But I won't."

She looked up from the floor in shock; he wasn't going to turn her in! She hoped he'd explain why he was blatantly disregarding procedure, but instead, his smoldering eyes snapped to meet hers; they softened for a nanosecond before icing over as he ordered her back to her pallet. The look had been so swift that she wasn't even sure it had really happened.

She lay down on the hard surface, rolled over on her side, so she was facing the door and tucked her hand under her chin. Closing her eyes, she tried the breathing exercise they had been taught to compartmentalize pain, but she soon realized that it didn't work for this type of injury. Granted her brother had not reported her but the fact he had pushed her made her insides feel funny, similar to what the medical staff had explained internal bleeding would feel like. She rolled to her left and looked at the empty bed next to her. Recalling the last time a cot had gone empty, filled her with cold nausea. That empty bed had been reason they had tried to escape. She slapped herself mentally; there was no reason to escape now – the seizures had been fixed, and she understood why they were 'expendable'. It was their purpose in life, to be good soldiers. And all soldiers, even Col. Lydecker, were expendable to some degree. Good soldiers were expected to be obedient and accept losses as they came, and then move on. If a fellow officer was K.I.A by the enemy, they were expected to channel that grief into productivity! A rasping noise from the bed directly across from her interrupted her thoughts. 803 seemed to be waking up. Except for herself, 452 and 766, he needed the least sleep out of any of the X series. A small smile danced on her lips as she recalled the stories X5-493 used to tell at night (when they were supposed to be asleep) about the outside. She shook her head as if trying to clear it, 599 was right (again) – she was going to get them all killed if she wasn't careful.

Colonel Lydecker's Office

0530

Colonel Lydecker sat back in his black leather chair, sipping coffee from his favorite silver colored mug as he watched a security feed he had been given from the previous night.

He had mixed feelings about the events that had taken place. On one hand, X5-210 snuck out, but conversely X5-599 had reprimanded her. Although he had not reported her infraction to a superior officer like protocol demanded…that could be a sign of subversive inclinations or loyalty to his unit mate, or even simply a matter of not wanting to be punished. He tapped his pen on the desk in thought – was there a way to make the air vent un-navigable? Obviously air had to be circulated through the room, and redoing the entire ventilation system was out of the question. Lydecker frowned as a thought came to him; perhaps he could just install more security, that way he would know where the kids went and what they were up to. As long as they didn't begin to show signs of their previous independence, it could prove to be a very interesting experiment. He laughed to himself – he was beginning to sound like that experiment obsessed bitch. That thought sobered him. If he didn't find the rest of unit twelve soon, the committee would consider her for a promotion.

Mess Hall

0600

A 70-year-old woman, whose thin, grey hair was trapped in a hairnet, piled a lump of grey mush onto 210's plate. Walking down the line, she was given a large cup of water with assorted pills. Still shaken up from the earlier events, she slid into the seat furthest away from 599. Waiting until 803 and 661 sat down, she picked up her spoon and began forcing her way through the gruel. She noted that today, it didn't taste as bad as it looked; there was a hint of molasses. Although it was filled with at least 60 kids, ranging in age from 5 to 20 years old, the room was silent. So, everyone turned when the large metal door slammed open, revealing four guards escorting two small soldiers. 210's eyes bugged out as she realized the children who could have passed for a combination of concentration camp survivors and zombies were her sisters! Their eyes were rimmed in dark purple, and their checks were sallow. 452 and… 766? How was that possible? She remembered her sister dead on the floor, shot by the gun in the Colonel's hand. Rage threatened to boil up inside of her as she remembered the gun flying out of her 2IC's hand and sliding in front of her bare feet.

The two girls walked over to unit twelve's small table and sat down. They looked ahead, not speaking or moving. TAC leader Kallins stood at the end of their table glaring at the new arrivals. "Welcome back," he sneered. Their heads whipped around so they were staring past him blankly. "I see you have finally passed psych eval. Was it fun?"

They continued staring but didn't answer him.

"Well?"

"Sir, I..." 766 flicked her eyes towards 452 before continuing in monotone, "We, don't understand your question."

He raised his eyebrows, feigning surprise. "Oh? What don't you understand?"

766 furrowed her brow, and then fought to smooth her pale features before attempting to comprehend the TAC officer.

"Sir, we passed Psychological Evaluation three months ago. We both sustained injuries as a result of our… treason and had to report to the Rehabilitation wing of the Infirmary. Colonel Lydecker released us today with orders to report to the Mess Hall."

"But did you have fun?"

210 looked at the TAC leader oddly. What did he mean? And why was he asking her such a question? As far as she could tell, it was irrelevant.

"Sir?"

"Fun, 766…"

"Sir, what is fun?"

The TAC leader smiled triumphantly and was about continue toying with the simplified X5s when his watch alarm sounded announcing the end of breakfast. He wiped the smile off his face and yelled, "Ok soldiers, put your trays away and fall in, NOW!"

All eight blurred into pairs awaiting his order to march; when it came they left the noiseless room for the empty hallways. Marching with their fist's balled and arms bent at the elbows in 90˚ angles, they reached the gym.

From there, TAC specialist O'Neil took over. After running through some new combinations, he divided them into sparring pairs.

"803 and 661."

The two boys moved to mats and faced each other.

"798 pair off with 599, 724 you're with 766, and 452 with 210."

When everyone was facing their respective partner in a fighting stance, O'Neil blew his whistle and sounds of yells and flesh on flesh filled the gym. Other TACs walked around observing their martial arts skills. Making sure that along with the new combinations they used a variety of punches, throws and kicks from many different styles instead of just the four or five they were most comfortable with. 452 hooked 210's chin, driving it upwards with a pop. 210 stumbled backwards and retaliated with a roundhouse kick to her partner's neck. But 452 grabbed her leg and twisted and 210 fell. 452 landed on top of her and forced 210 on her stomach. She pushed her knee into 210's calf. She tapped her hand on the blue mat but 452 didn't move. O'Neil blew his whistle, and everyone stood facing their partner again. 210 accidentally caught her sisters' eyes and winced. 452 smiled back; she misinterpreted the wince as pain from the fight. But 210 recoiled at the dead look in the other girls' chocolate brown eyes.

They switched partners, and 210 ended up with 661. The spark of mischief in his blue-green eyes reminded her of the light that used to be in 452's. Thinking about it infuriated her. She decided to make that light go out. As soon as the annoying high pitched whistle sounded, she erupted in a flurry of punches and kicks. A well aimed knee to his groin took him down. Once on the ground, she continued striking his face until O'Neil came over,

"210!" She looked up, and then looked down at 661; bruises were already forming on his face. She got off of him and helped him up. "Escort him to the infirmary."

The two young soldiers clad in grey shorts and T-shirts rounded the corner to the Infirmary. Amy looked up and noticed 210 helping a male X5 down the hall.

"210 and..."

"X5-661, ma'am," 661 mumbled through a swollen lip.

"So, what happened?"

"We were sparring ma'am," 210 answered innocently. They went into room 15 and Amy began applying ointment to his cuts.

Why had she lost control? She wasn't angry with 661. In fact, she really wasn't angry at 452; just… upset? Sad?

She could have put him put him out of commission for a week at the rate she had been going. She used to talk to 452 or 766 about all kinds of problems, and she would ask 493 or 599 any questions the other two couldn't answer, but 493 was AWOL and the other three weren't exactly approachable right now. Perhaps she could talk to Amy? The women seemed nice enough. She wasn't like Dr. Vertes or some of the techs who were all too happy to hold you down during experiments when you got out of the restraints. But then again, she had seen that look in her eyes yesterday. It was the same look 417 had when 493 talked about the nomalies – fear. Maybe she had been afraid of the target; yes, that was it! She had been afraid of the target!

"Ok, all done."

210 looked up as Amy finished putting away her ointments and gauze. He looked like a nomalie. Had she hurt him so badly that all the medicine was necessary, even with their enhanced healing abilities?

"You may go."

661 walked out, and Amy began walking away, but 210 tapped her arm,

"Permission to speak."

Amy looked down at her. Before yesterday, she hadn't really seen how much damage the X5s were capable of inflicting. In a way, it scared her to be alone in the room with an uninjured one. Nonetheless, the look in this X5's eyes prevented her from sending her away.

"Of course."

"What is fun?"

Amy looked at her strangely before talking. "It is hard to explain. Is there anything you enjoy doing?"

210 considered the question. "Well, before… 493 would tell us stories after lights out about the Blue Lady, Nomalies and..." she stopped.

"And?" Amy prodded.

"The outside," she whispered. Then she moved to leave. Today just wasn't her day; this conversation was turning dangerous. Amy understood what was happening. 210 felt threatened talking about 'forbidden' things, but she could identify; any unnecessary conversation between them could have disastrous consequences for her too.

"It's ok," she said gently. "I won't tell anyone."

"I have to go catch up with 661 before he gets back to the gym without me." Again she made an effort to go.

"Wait! I could write you a note saying I needed to look at your leg."

210 glanced at her leg. She had been limping, and that could affect her work in the field. Anything deterring from her performance had to be avoided. They still seemed to be on an unspoken probation. Making up her mind, she nodded and sat down on the nearest chair; it was a plausible story.

"So, you liked listening to 493 tell stories?"

"Yes, well not always. Sometimes he would tell scary stories about the outside or the Bad Place."

"The Bad Place?"

"It's where bad soldiers go. They put you in the basement with the nomalies. And the nomalies keep you as a prisoner of war. They drink your blood and eat you up little by little forever."

Amy just stared at the eleven year old, but 210 was oblivious to her discomfort, "You never got around to answering me; what is fun?"

"Well, anything you enjoy doing is fun."

"So, stories are fun?"

"Yes. But it can be anything you like, not just stories. Anything you enjoy doing is fun. It is relative. What else do you like?"

"My favorite training missions are Escape and Evade. 452 and I were always the best." Her face fell as she remembered her first hour with her sisters. Amy moved towards her and tried to touch her arm reassuringly, but 210 instinctively pulled away. She hated when people touched her; it was usually followed by pain.

"What's wrong, sweetie?" There it was again: 'sweetie'.

"452 and 766 were released from solitary today, and they're different… just, I don't know… good I guess…."

Amy nodded in understanding she'd heard the stories of what they did to simplify and re-condition the renegade soldiers. She attempted a smile as she whispered, "I'm sure she'll pull through – you did after all."

210 nodded, but was that a good thing? Was being a 'sweetie' what got you taken to the basement? "What is a 'sweetie'?"

"It is a word used to describe someone who is nice."

"One more thing before I go; can you explain emotions to me?"

Amy paused for a moment. "I can't explain emotions. They just happen."

"Last night I..." her voice lowered to a whisper, "tried sneaking out. 599 caught me and yelled at me. My insides got all twisted up, and I felt sick, especially after he pushed me."

"You were probably sad because someone you lo-like hurt you."

Sad- that was what you were supposed to channel into anger. Sad was something soldiers didn't feel. She understood that word, but she still didn't understand the feelings inside her because they couldn't be 'sad'. Again, she reminded herself it didn't matter; feelings were dangerous. If you let emotions cloud your judgment, you'd make mistakes in critical situations. Not only did emotions get you thrown in the basement, they also got you K.I.A. She chewed on her lip as she contemplated them. Finally she stood up, rolled her neck, cracked it, and asked for Amy to write her a note. After getting the note, she ran from the Infirmary and back to the Gym where the rest of the X5s had joined unit twelve.

She surveyed her unit and thought of the 'fun' they used to have together. Walking over to join her unit and standing in between 452 and 766 she wondered: if 'sweetie' meant a nice person, why did Amy keep calling her one? Nice people were weak and got their unit killed. She couldn't get the idea out of her head; she was going to be the ruin of them. Why was she so, so human?

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