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Mortal - Chapter 37

by Liv 5 months ago in Series
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What is life without death?

Mortal - Chapter 37
Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

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.

This is the thirty-seventh chapter of the novel, Mortal. Click here for the beginning of the story. Or, click here to view all chapters.

Sweat slicks the gun in my hand, making my grip all the more precarious. I tighten my grasp. The Secretary walks in front of me, back tense and with his head titled towards his shoulder as if to keep a slight eye on me. I don’t blame him. I keep thinking how easy it would be, to lift the gun, pull the trigger, send the man’s world into oblivion. My chest strains, my head throbs with the undeniable need. But I can’t. In the end, it would solve nothing. And we have a common enemy.

The blueish tint of the rod fixtures light our way, sending oblong shadows scattered along the concrete. No one else is here. All that remains of a presence are a few doors dented and wrenched open, and the unmistakable trickle of blood.

My stomach lurches at the sight. I swallow back thick saliva, reaching for the wall to support my trembling frame. I close my eyes against the pain in my gut, the effects of the poison still hammering out its toll.

The Secretary stops when he notices me hunched over. He turns back to stand before me, stern impatience glittering in his dark eyes. “If I had known you’d only hold me back, I would have—“

I raise the gun at his chest, panting heavily through gritted teeth.

The side of his lip pulls upward in a mischievous smile. After a moment, I lower the gun, and he sighs, shaking his head.

“You should focus more on the matter at hand, Garrett,” he chides, helping me off the wall with a firm pull of his hand, “And less on your vengeful fantasies.”

“I am,” I growl out, regaining my balance and footing. When he’s satisfied with my physical stability, we move forward; this time, side-by-side.

“Why did you save me?” I ask when we’re nearly at a fold in the corridor. At the time, I didn’t think about it—too busy cradling the fear, the shock and relief. “You want me dead. So why didn’t you let the Corpse shoot me?”

Paracot looks straight ahead, “You know why. If that man had killed you, Project Eden would not have been able to repeat it. Very few of the variables were being monitored, it would be an impossible feat. With all that work we’ve put into, I was not willing to have it thrown away.”

I smile mirthlessly, “And here I thought you cared about me.”

“On the contrary, it’s because I care, that I want you to die first,” he replies with a smirk. I watch him as we turn the corner. His words are edged in a genuine humor that surprises me. For while it’s clear he believes in his cause wholeheartedly, the jest makes me think he can at least understand. But understanding has never meant accepting.

“Oh, a body.” His dull demeanor forces me to look away from him, down the dark hall. Someone sits crouched, pressed against the wall. Their arms are wrapped around them protectively. Above the person, a rod of blue light pools over, coloring flesh purple.

My breath hitches in my throat, and I jump forward, heart hammering in my chest. As I move closer, details of the figure emerge, bony arms and legs, short hair, blistered skin.

“Therese!” I yell before I can stop myself. Who knows how many Corpses are lurking around, but my priority is making sure she’s okay.

She turns towards my voice. Relief hisses out of my lips and into the stale air. I dive to the floor in front of her, and my eyes wander over every part of her, panic instilled in my veins. A flicker of a thought burrows to the surface questioning why. Before I can even think about what that means, I’m hit with the answer so hard it sends me reeling. Why else would the Corpses come here to risk everything? Why, unless they knew that they could kill me, and that means, maybe they can kill others too.

I’m so out of breath, my thoughts in such a disarray, that all I can do is gasp out, “Therese?”

She’s staring down at me with hard, pained eyes. Her arms are still crossed tightly over her chest, so that the opposite hand squeezes into a shoulder. Congealed blood coats it, covering her shirt in a shiny, sanguine glaze.

“They’re looking for you,” she says quietly.

“We know,” The Secretary agrees from somewhere behind me.

Therese looks up at the man and glowers.

“Where is everyone?” I ask gently, trying to get focus back on me, “What happened?”

Her taut jaw tilts towards me, but her eyes remain on the Secretary. “Corpses got in somehow. They held us at gunpoint and told us to follow them, follow them to the bunker, I think. They said no one would get hurt, unless we resisted. But after what you told me,” She finally turns to meet my gaze, “Resisting seemed like the smarter choice.”

I grimace, falling back on my heels and feeling a pang of guilt. “Therese,” I hesitate, “Let me see your shoulder…”

She makes no move to allow me, instead she shifts and takes a heavy breath. Groaning in pain, she sinks farther against the wall, glancing towards the ceiling. “Garrett,” she starts through gritted teeth, “You should know,” she looks at me again, tears pricking at the corner of her eyes. “She was with me when they took her.”

“Lucy,” her name falls from my lips in a mourning whisper.

“I’m sorry.”

I bite the inside of my lip, hard. What are the Corpses planning to do with her, with all of them? Everything else quickly dissolves from my mind. “You said, they’re in the bunker?”

She stares at me with a prying gaze before jerking her chin in affirmation. I look towards the hall we just passed through, leading to the elevator that would take me down. To Lucy. I can feel my heart pound against my ribcage, a trickle of sweat slides down my temple. The Corpses are using the prisoners of Project Eden as hostages to get to me. I wipe a hand down my face. Dread pierces my stomach, twisting it with a searing hot poker. They already shot Therese…what would they do to Lucy?

“Garrett, we need to move,” The Secretary states sharply.

I nod, swallowing,“Right.” I shift forward, reaching for Therese’s uninjured arm. “Just help me get her up.”

“No.”

I look at him over my shoulder, my eyes narrowing, “I’m not leaving her.”

“She’ll only hold us back.”

“I don’t care!” I yell out at him before I’m hit with a wave of dizziness. I scrunch my eyes shut, knuckles pressing into the side of my forehead in a futile attempt to force the overwhelming fatigue away. “I don’t care,” I repeat, my voice a raw whisper.

The Secretary doesn’t buy it. “Yes, you do,” he says, “Because helping her may just prevent you from helping our dear friend Lucy.”

I taste blood and acid in my mouth again, and I open my eyes just in time to see the hurt in Therese’s eyes before it dulls into shadowed resignation.

“It’s okay,” she musters, blinking away phantom tears. “Go. I’ll be fine.”

I can only stare at her, my throat too clogged to speak. She thinks I care more about Lucy than her, that I would leave her wounded, no questions asked, to possibly prevent injury to Lucy. Truth always seems to be able to hurt all involved.

“See? She says she’ll be—“

I spit out the bile in my mouth, and carefully rise to my feet. Therese’s eyes focus on my gun as I tuck it into my pocket before flickering up to meet my gaze, dark eyes unreadable.

I hold out a hand. She blinks, gaze shifting pass me to the Secretary before pack at my hand. “I’m not going without you,” I say, trying to remove the look of doubt on her face. Therese has told me that meeting Lucy had given me a sense of purpose, but also my humanity. Even though worry clenched at my already cramping gut, it didn’t make sense to lose that.

I hear the Secretary hiss behind me, and her eyes meet my own. I nod reassuringly, and she reaches with the hand not pressed into her wounded shoulder, and I lift Therese to her feet.

She staggers, shoulder bumping into my chest. I squeeze her bloodied hand. “You all right?” I ask quietly, and she nods, swallowing, looking a little faint.

I glance back at the Secretary, challenging him to fight this. He doesn’t. Instead, he starts moving again, towards the end of the hall. We follow after him.

I keep my hand wrapped around hers, it’s all the strength I can lend her without collapsing myself. Each step she takes is hesitant, and she squeezes my hand tighter with every step as if she’s afraid the next one she takes, she’ll fall.

“They’re here for you, aren’t they?” she pants, her breath heavy.

I bite my lip, feeling a pang of guilt. All the pain she’s feeling now is because of me, and she knows it, “Yeah. I think so.”

A jolt of exhaustion finds my leg, and I stumble forward. Her arm squeezes around my waist catching me, and trembles as it twists to pull me back up, turning me to face her. Our eyes meet, her face barely inches from mine. A choked breath escapes my lip as I feel my heart thrumming in my chest from the expectancy of hitting the floor.

“Do you know why?” she grits out before I finally regain my footing, stepping away from her hold. She returns her bloodied hand to her shoulder.

“They want to kill me,” I reply, shifting my gaze to the Secretary, “I’m not sure why.”

“Is that why you’re with him?” Her voice is brittle, cracked from resentment. I don’t need to look at her to know there’s a sheen of hurt in her eyes.

But her words do bring me pause, and I do look back at her. Good, bad. Right, wrong. Therese thinks too simply, I don’t think she would understand the result of shifting priorities, that I’m trying to protect her by helping someone who has hurt her. So all I say, “Yes. For now.”

Her eyes squint at me, but she nods. And that’s enough.

By the time we arrive at the Secretary’s office, sweat trickles down the sides of both our faces. Paracot holds open the door as we limp into the room, giving us a mildly scolding look before locking the door.

Therese collapses in the chair in front of the desk, her eyes dazed as her face pales from a spell of fatigue, no doubt. I place the my gun on the desk’s surface, gripping onto its corners for support, my fingernails digging into the dark wood.

I try to regain my breath as I watch the Secretary open one of his drawers and pulls out a walkie-talkie. His brow furrows as he turns it on, the machine crackling with life.

“Benjamin,” he begins, condescension coating his smooth voice, “Are you aware of what’s happening?”

After a pause of static, the man responds gruffly, “We are. We’re working on it, Mr. Secretary.”

Paracot’s dark eyes flash with barely contained rage, “Then do you mind telling me why Project Eden is still in the control of Corpses?”

A self-composing sigh. “Our hands are tied, Mr. Secretary. A few minutes after the attack, the Corpses announced to the police that this is a hostage situation. They will start shooting if anyone tries to enter.”

“You must be joking,” He grits out, his hand clenching around the communicator, his knuckles blanching white.

“The Media and First Responders are surrounding the building. We can’t act without fear of government intervention,” Benjamin responds.

“Listen to me, Benjamin. I don’t give a damn about you and your team’s cowardice. What I do care about is you getting us out,” Paracot spits, nearly clutching the communicator to his lips. “Why should they care about these hostages anyway? I thought we’ve long outgrown such sentimentalities.”

I exchange a look with Therese, bristling with anger. But the Secretary is right— I’m just as surprised as he is that the people outside are worried about causing us harm. Very few had seem to care before when loss of life is no longer a problem. Could the Corpses have said they could kill? But people would still want to know for sure.

The whir of a helicopter can be heard through the communicator. Benjamin clears his throat, “I can’t say for sure. But besides harm coming to the officers that would break in, I think it might be something you caused.”

The Secretary laughs mirthlessly, “And what exactly did I cause?”

“You humanized Garrett,” Arthur Paracot’s head jerks up to look at me. “With the help of Edward Gild, people care about what happens to him.”

My stomach lurches at the thought of my lies to save myself from future pain playing upon people’s sympathies. Their care may be misguided, but the Secretary’s backfired plan is enough to have my lip twitch in an unbecoming smile. Now my friends are in danger because of this man’s mistakes. My mistakes. The seed of that smile grows into a grimace.

The Secretary seems to realize his error just as soon as I do. His eyes, void of anything, widen with a quiver, “I see.” His words are measured, but I know he’s panicking.

“Sit tight, Arthur. It’ll be over soon,” Benjamin reassures before the link goes dead.

The communicator slips from Paracot’s fingers, slamming into the carpet with a muted thud. My eyes follow its trail and I regret it, the small machine leading me to the spot I held Lucy in my arms. I scrunch my eyes shut.

“Now what?” Therese shifts in her seat, wincing as she squeezes her injured shoulder tighter.

The Secretary looks at her moment, hand sliding down his face before he clutches the gun in his pocket. “Now, we escape.”

He pulls away the curtains on the window, blinding us with afternoon sun. I blink away black spots to peer out the window. Parked on the street are police cars, an ambulance and firetrucks. A news reporter stands at the edge of my vision, being broadcasted by a cameraman in front. I can see very few officers, most of them must be posted at the entrance.

“Garrett, I’ll need your help,” The Secretary says, aiming his gun at the window, and only then do I realize what he’s planning.

“I can’t,” I barely muster, struggling against the blunt of contradicting emotions.

“Can’t?” he repeats as if he’s confused, but I can tell he knows exactly what I’m thinking. “You’ve broken this very window before.”

This very window. I stare at it with a strange appreciation. If I leave with this man, I’m sure I could lose him amongst the chaos and people. I could escape. With Edward’s magazine about to be published, I could have the chance to try to start over again. I could live. But…I shake my head, hair falling into my eyes. It wouldn’t be real, not without Lucy. And I’m not going to leave these people to suffering, not again.

“No,” I say, shaking my head. I clench my teeth, trying to fuel any fight I still have left. “I’m not leaving my friends to the Corpses.”

“Friends?” Paracot sneers, turning to face me. “You think they care about you at all? Most of them still resent you for lying to Mr. Gild about what happens here. And the rest? You’re nothing to them.”

My resolve nearly crumbles against the accuracy of his words. My fingers curl into fists. “I’m trying to make things right,” I say, my gaze flickering to Therese silently, reiterating remorse.

The Secretary chuckles at me, running a hand through his hair, “It’s a little late for that.”

“What’s the matter?” I snap, “What’s the worse that could happen if we stay, try to help your doctors, save your program—what are you afraid of? Are you afraid to die?”

His face contorts in anger, his jaw clenched tight as he speaks, “Quite the opposite.” He takes a step toward me, his hand with the gun falling to his side. “As I’ve said before, if they kill you—“

“I don’t care what you’ve said before!” I yell, blood thrumming in my ears, “You’re a coward!”

Strong hands latch onto my shoulders and slam me into the adjacent wall. My head jerks back against the force, sharp pain cracking through my skull. I bite back a hiss as my blurry vision clears, to see Paracot staring down at me, eyes glinting with rage.

Behind him, Therese shakily rises to her feet, “Get off him!”

The Secretary ignores her, instead pushes more weight into my collar bone. To my chagrin, I release a grunt of pain.

“Your spunk has always been amusing to me, Garrett,” he bites out, his hot breath hitting my face, “But now you’re just being stupid. Don’t you see? I’m trying to save lives, and you’re the key to it all.”

One of his hands moves to my face, cupping my jaw, while the other pins my shoulder in place. I shiver at the intimate contact, trying to pull away, but there’s nowhere to go.

“You want to save our dear Lucy?” he asks, his thumb stroking a scrape on my cheek. He smiles when I flinch. “Then you will help me, Garrett. We’ll figure out how to kill people so we can free her from that broken body. She’s not coming back, Garrett. The least we can do is show her some mercy. But we can’t do that if the Corpses get their hands on you.”

My fingers latch onto his arms, and I try to pull him off me, but instead his fingers scratch into the flesh of my jaw. Tears prick at my eyes as I struggle to shake away. “You’re poisoned, you’re weak,” he says, “And if you think you have a choice in this matter, you’re more naive than I thought.”

He shoves me to the side, and I fall to the floor, landing hard on my stomach. I wheeze in a breath as I push myself back up, my arms trembling. I glance up at Therese, drool pooling from my mouth, and she looks at me with something resembling doubt.

She crouches before me and helps me to my feet when the first bullet hits glass, muted cracking stemming across the surface. I look over my shoulder to see the window, the bullet barely making an impact. Project Eden must have strengthened it after I escaped through it before.

The Secretary fires again. Countless hairlines fractures in the glass clouds our view of the outside. The Secretary mutters something under his breath and takes aim again.

When the third bullet strikes, there’s an urgent knock, and all of our attention turns to the door.

“Hello?” A very familiar voice calls out. It’s frail and frightened, barely audible even in the silence of the room. “Is someone there?”

My heart squeezes in my chest as my mind recalls the face the voice belongs to.

“Someone please help me…” the voice begs.

And then it clicks, and I’m moving towards the door, willing to do anything to save him. “Abel,” I breath out as I unlatch the lock, my whole head reeling.

“Garrett, don’t!” Paracot suddenly shouts, voice strained with panic.

But before I can process the Secretary’s fear, I’m opening the door to see the man I never thought I would see again.

Abel stands in front of the door, a small smile on his lips. Instead of the Project Eden uniform, he wears a dress shirt and slacks. He looks unscathed, as if he’s avoided any pain since we escaped together.

I blink in confusion, “Abel?”

“Hi, Garrett,” his smile widens, “It’s good to see you.”

My mouth opens, trying to figure out what to say, what to ask, but instead of any words, a sharp gasp leaves my mouth as Abel pounces at me, twisting me to face the inside of the room as an arm curls around my throat.

Paracot and Therese stare at us in paralyzing horror as the cold barrel of a gun presses against my temple.

“And it’s good to be back,” Abel sighs with gruff satisfaction.

Series

About the author

Liv

Massive Nerd. Pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting!

IG and Twitter: livjoanarc

https://www.twitch.tv/livjoanarc

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