Premise: In this young-adult dystopian novel, people can no longer die. But they still feel pain, and suffer--and it's maddening. Because of the chaos that ensued, the US Government created a program to figure out how to kill people. When Garrett, a teenager, falls into a coma for weeks as a result of an experiment, the Program sets its malicious sights on him.
Before I know it, I’m diving towards the floor, shoving the potted plant aside as I scuttle behind the desk. A wave a nausea smothers me, and it takes all my strength not to wretch beside her, but a single, sharp pin-prick still manages to escape my eye, leaving a trail of moisture in its wake.
She lays on her side, her body crumpled and lifeless. Dark, red blood pools around her head, soaking into the carpet. I heave in a shaky breath, before gently grabbing her, lifting her against my chest. Her eyes are opened, but glazed. A tremor runs through my hand as I press down on her chest. Seconds later, the feel of a heartbeat. A soft cry of relief parts from my lips, and I hold her frail body tighter. Carefully, I rip at the cheap fabric of my shirt and pull off a good portion of it. I wrap it around her head, and gently stroke bloody fingers down her face. She’s alive. She will live. But…
“Ever heard of psychological warfare, Garrett?” Arthur Paracot asks me, and only then do I look up at him. He has moved to the corner of the room, watching on at us indifferently. “It’s a strategic use of weaponry on not the body, but the psyche.”
“Why…her,” I ask quietly, pulling Lucy closer.
“We all had a part to play,” he answers.
My brow furrows in confusion. I feel the fear bubbling up against the insides of my eyes and fight to hide it. “What—“
“You didn’t really think you could escape so easily, did you?” He demands, incredulous. “Don’t tell me you actually thought you were free. I’m afraid I might begin to feel bad.”
I clamp my jaw down tight, and look to Lucy. Her makeshift bandage is nearly drenched through with a sticky red. My heart thuds against my ribcage anxiously. I’m torn between attacking this man, and…but I know it won’t help Lucy. “Please. She needs medical attention. She—“
“Relax, Garrett. She’s not going to die. There’s nothing medicine can do to help her,” he snaps at me, annoyed.
I squeeze onto Lucy’s still body, knowing that she is the only thing keeping me from exploding. My anchor. “So what are you saying,” I growl.
“You were a part of a new test, Garrett. The first candidate. The most elaborate test we’ve ever had…and it’s still going on. Dr. Long had proposed it to me a while back, and I have to admit, I was doubtful. But once you had not only a physical but a psychological reaction to the fire arms test, it became a much brighter possibility. We planned it out while you were in the coma.”
“I don’t…” My mind is buzzing with what the man is suggesting, and it only makes me more confused, more wary, “Planned what?”
“Don’t you see?” he says excitedly, “All we needed was a seed. Someone or something to motivate you to leave, to try to an escape. That was the main objective of Dr. Long’s plan: to create hope. Although it is fragile and meek and can potentially backfire, it is a very powerful weapon. It was a necessity for you to leave Project Eden.”
“But…your guards shot Abel! They tried to shoot me!” I protest.
“They were never trying to shoot you. Just Abel. It was all a part of the test. Forced to leave Abel behind, being shot, seeing your parents, being betrayed…all elicited an emotional response.
“Don’t you think it was coincidental that three days before you were shot and headed to Edward Gild, the magazine had just hired a doctor? We planted Bernard. He was the perfect candidate to lure Gild in: a grumpy ex-doctor with a dark past. Gild could never resist not hiring him, whether he needed him or not. The man loves conflict.”
Arthur Paracot starts pacing the room with his hands behind his back. I glance down at Lucy; her eyelids are beginning to flutter until they finally close. My chest grows tight as I force my gaze to return to the Secretary.
“Of course, there were a few variables we had no control of. We did not know if Edward Gild would fall for the—ah, exchange. And we certainly didn’t know that you would develop an attachment to Lucy Wright…I suppose in the end, you did have a point. Maybe a little spontaneity is all it takes.”
And when he smiles, not even Lucy can hold me back. I gently lower her to the floor, and rise to my feet, to stare the devil in the eyes. My face flares hot. My arms begin to tremble with barely controlled rage. And for the first time in my life, I wish we can die. So I can kill him. Because it’s the only way I can think of to make sure he can’t hurt anyone else. And to make sure he never comes back.
But what can I do?
“Is there anything you would like to add, Garrett?” he asks me, and my helplessness solidifies when the two guards enter the room followed by an assistant.
I bite the inside of my cheek, until I draw blood. The muscles in my face tighten, and I jerk my head before pushing past the guards, leaving through the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Addison standing to the side, pale-faced. Sweet Addison, with her disgustingly feigned innocence.
I lunge at her, wrapping my bloody fingers around her throat, pushing her hard up against the wall.
“You killed her!” I scream at her, fingers tightening. Even though I know she is alive, she will never be the same. My mother’s words from the Live Smart! Campaign video come to mind: ‘If you cut your finger off, it will not grow back. If you inhale a lifetime of toxins, you will lose cognitive ability.’ Is it possible to come back from a shot to the head? I don’t know. Hot tears well up in the corners of my eyes.
“I didn’t know!” Addison rasps, face tinted purple.
Strong arms pull me off of her, and she falls to her knees, wheezing, and clutching at her throat, eyes moist.
I fight against the guard’s arms but to no avail.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, as they pull me away, away from Lucy.
The guards drag me back, towards the facilities. My arms and legs are limp, heavy with worry, loss…and unbearable guilt. Convoluted emotions whisk me into a daze, and I only jolt awake with the creak of a door opening and the slight push against my body, sending my hands and knees onto tiled floor. The door shuts behind me, the locking mechanism sealing me in with a soft click.
I grimace, nibbling against the inside of my bottom lip. Slowly, I push myself to my feet and scan over my new surroundings. Picturesque landscapes hang from the warm colored walls. A hospital bed coupled with a heart monitor and other medical technologies rests in the center of the room. Across from it, a flat screen television is mounted on the wall. I swallow, eyeing everything in the room warily. This is the same room where I woke up from my coma.
A subtle reminder that I will never escape this life. Not even a coma or death can save me.
I crumple to the floor, feeling all energy leave me. All of this…everything that happened in the past few weeks was constructed by the Secretary, in an attempt to kill me? I grasp at my head, it swimming with this new knowledge. What I thought was freedom was just an elaborate experiment.
Everything that happened, it was just a way to get me to break. And the Corpses were involved too? It would seem so.
And Lucy…my heart skips a beat at just the thought of her. She was shot right before my eyes, to hurt me. When had I become such a weapon? That just by existing I could decide one’s fate? A wave nausea rolls through me, and I close my eyes against it. I mutter a silent prayer—to anyone that would listen—that she remain intact, that the bullet did not hurt her as much as it hurt me.
We certainly didn’t know that you would develop an attachment to Lucy Wright…
No. Not even Arthur Paracot could control everything. Lucy was my small piece of freedom. My variable that no one could control, a sad smirk dances across my lips, not even me.
So maybe it’s ironic, that without her, I lack the control to mask my pain, and to hold back my tears.