Don't get me wrong; we do great together. But I wish we would get someone new assigned to our team. Things would be easier with three.

Not likely. There hasn't been a new recruit in months.

I know. Why is that? I suppose the security around the Dorms is getting tighter.

It's more than that. Kids are losing hope. The older ones are gone now. All that's left are the ones who were raised in the Dorms, who don't know anything else. They don't have the will to escape.

Are you saying it's hopeless?


No, you'll see. There's some kid in the Dorms planning an escape right now. I'm sure of it.

"There's more to me than they know."

Of this Ninde was sure. The Watchwards and Myrmidons who patrolled the halls of the Dormitory didn't give her a second glance. She blended right in with all the other downcast, hopeless faces streaming past. Her eyes easily relaxed into the shell-shocked stare of a child raised without love or human contact, who knew that death and pain were always nearby.

But she was not that child.

Behind her vacant eyes, her mind was constantly at work. Counting maniples, taking note of new machinery, going over the math lesson, remembering the way to the main gate, keeping an eye out for pieces of garbage that might be useful, and imagining, imagining.

She imagined standing up on the lunch tables and inciting the other children to rebellion with a rousing speech. If they all rose up at once, they would be sure to overwhelm the guards, who wouldn't be expecting such an attack. But the other kids were too docile for that. They cringed like kicked puppies at the mere thought of defying the Creatures and the Overlords they served.

She also imagined an outside force storming the Dorms and rescuing them. She could be useful if that happened. She had long ago learned where the weapons lockers were, and in the confusion she could steal a web gun and…

"Ninde!" hissed a voice next to her ear. Ninde missed a step and almost stumbled as she was surprised out of her daydream. The voice had come from her friend Sola, who was tugging on the sleeve of Ninde's uniform urgently. Their group was turning through the doorway to a classroom, and Ninde had almost wandered off in the wrong direction.

"Sorry," Ninde said. The Myrmidon at the door had looked like it was about to step forward and manhandle her into place, but it relaxed as she fell back into the line on her own.

"Pay attention!" begged Sola, a terrified grimace permanently stamped on her face, "You know what happens if…"

Ninde cut her off. "I said I was sorry," she said as they lined up in front of their work stations.

The classroom was a rectangle of bricks and concrete painted stark white, like most places in the Dorm. One wall was emblazoned with the Silver Sun emblem. The opposite wall was sectioned off into booths, each with its own instrument panel and screen. At the sound of a whistle, each girl stepped forward into her booth and the screens all flickered to life.

Out of the corner of her eye, Ninde saw Sola flinch as a probe emerged from the control panel and unfolded itself into a collar. As Sola's collar wrapped itself around her neck with a click, Ninde felt the cold metal of her own fastening behind her nape. Ninde didn't flinch. The collars only shocked you if you got things wrong, and Ninde hardly ever made mistakes.

The screens began showing word puzzles one by one, demanding an answer within a set amount of time. There was a flurry of clicks as the girls frantically began inputting answers. Ninde completed each problem so quickly that she was almost bored. Seeing that the only guard was the Myrmidon by the door on the far side of the room, she leaned over and began whispering to Sola.

"So we're twelve now, right?" she began.

"Ninde!" Sola groaned, "I'm trying to concentrate."

"You don't have to say anything. Just listen," she went on, "We just turned twelve. That gives us less than two years to plan our escape."

"Are you still going on about that?" whispered Sola, "Ninde, we've been over this. Even if we found a way to get rid of our tracers and get past the guards, we don't have any idea what's out there. Why do you want to start trouble when we still have two years of free food and safe beds here in the Dorms?"

"More like one and a half for you, since you're older than me," Ninde mused. She continued typing answers effortlessly as she spoke.

Sola was fumbling with her keyboard, trying to focus on the lesson and on Ninde at the same time. "That's still a lot of time," she mumbled.

"You'll be saying that right up until they wing you away on your Sad Birthday if you're not careful," said Ninde, "I'm not saying we have to go tonight. Just think about it. Keep an ear out for news. Keep an eye out for something sharp."

"You know they sweep the halls like five times a day," said Sola, her voice getting more desperate as her screen began flashing warning lights, "You'll never find anything sharp enough to cut out a tracer. Not that you'd have the guts to do it anyway. Now hush, I need to get this right…"

Ninde had to concede that point. She hated pain. There was no way she'd be able to slice open her own wrist. "Okay, okay," she said, "But what about if there's a way to turn off the tracers without removing them?"

Sola alternated typing and speaking. "Even if… there is, how are you ever… gonna find… dammit! How are you gonna find out how to…" But just then Sola's screen beeped angrily and Sola gave a yelp as her collar zapped her throat. She clawed reflexively at the tight band of metal and trembled until the pain subsided.

"Ouch," said Ninde sympathetically, "So like I was saying…"

"Shut up!" Sola said through gritted teeth, "Just shut up. It's not going to happen! You're just talking nonsense and getting me in trouble so shut! Up!" With that, she hunched over her screen and worked, ignoring Ninde intently.

Ninde sighed. Maybe this hadn't been the best place to talk about it. But they had to start making plans sooner or later. The Sad Birthday hung over all their heads like a blade ready to fall, and Sola was getting complacent. It was easy to ignore the danger, to pretend that this things could go on as they were forever. Everyone did it. It was why the other kids were such sheep, wishing and hoping that if they were obedient enough maybe everything would turn out okay.

But sooner or later, they would all have to face the unknown outside the walls of the Dorms. And Ninde knew that she would rather it be the streets than the Meat Factory.

Author's Note: This is not a sequel to my other Shade's Children fic. It is a different continuity, as will become apparent later. Either continuity can fit into canon.

If you don't like original characters, don't worry. I came up with Sola because I needed a foil for Ninde - someone for her to talk to so the fic didn't end up being nothing but inner monologue. But this is still Ninde's story, not Sola's.

Thank you for reading, and please review!