Idiosyncratic, p.1

Idiosyncratic, page 1

 

Idiosyncratic
 


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Idiosyncratic


  Idiosyncratic

  Britt Nunes

  Copyright © 2017 Britt Nunes

  All rights reserved.

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Idiosyncratic

  |One|

  |Two|

  |Three|

  |Four|

  |Five|

  |Six|

  |Seven|

  |Eight|

  |Nine|

  |Ten|

  |Eleven|

  |Twelve|

  |Thirteen|

  |Fourteen|

  |Fifteen|

  |Sixteen|

  |Seventeen|

  |Eighteen|

  |Nineteen|

  |Twenty|

  |Twenty one|

  |Twenty Two|

  |Twenty Three|

  |Twenty Four|

  |Twenty Five|

  |Twenty six|

  |Twenty Seven|

  |Twenty Eight|

  |Twenty nine|

  |Thirty|

  |Thirty One|

  |Thirty Two|

  |Thirty Three|

  |Thirty Four|

  |Thirty Five|

  |Acknowledgments|

  |About the Author|

  Because of Tabitha

  |One|

  THE TRAIN WHISTLED another high-pitched shriek as we sank further into the toxic forest. The thumping of magnetic boots boomed overhead as the Watchmen marched along the roof. There weren’t many of them, nowhere near enough if Astronauts should come upon us, although no one really cared whether the cargo on this locomotive made it to its destination or not. What were orphans but burdens to the Federation, especially a rare defect like me?

  I gazed down at the bruises across my knuckles. Thwack! A jolt shot through my body with the memory of Door’is smacking the stick across them. I laced my fingers together, pressing them into the pleats of my gray skirt. I knew Door’is didn’t want to do it; the slight corkscrew of her ruby lips told me so. We were due at Nickleby in a few days, and having such a display of my “uniqueness” would instantly put off the rich bidders. I mean prospective parents. But I had spoken out one too many times during the last adoption auction, and she couldn’t have one of her charges causing mayhem without immediate, proper reprimand. The chairman had held out the stick to her before she’d even pulled away from the podium.

  If we did anything untoward, Door’is was the one who paid the price. After all, she was the Federation employee bound by the firm hand that had imprisoned me since I was five. So she took hold of the stick, and in front of all the citizens, I was given ten strikes.

  “You don’t want to get adopted, do you, Sister?” The tiny voice filled the quiet space of the train carriage, startling me so much that I knocked my head against the glass window. Rubbing my forehead, I tossed an easy glare at Hattie. Her miniature stature brought her eye level with my slouched, ill-mannered posture.

  “That question is irrelevant, Hattie,” I replied.

  Her real name was Bern’e’dette, but ever since her parents had entrusted her care to the Federation to pay their debts, she’d been inseparable from that brown felt fedora of hers. It was the last token her parents had given her, so I guess I understood why she dolefully clung to it. By the way, we were not sisters.

  My right eyebrow lifted toward the pin on Hattie’s Federation-allotted hat, the type government office workers received as a uniform. A thick, black ribbon wrapped around the base of the hat, adorned with a perfect bow, and embedded inside it was that pin flaunting the Federation emblem. The ornament mocked me. Black gridded lines formed the shape of the Earth, and green scales seeped through, breaking past them, as if being freed from a prison. The pin matched the emerald scales along Hattie’s jawline. I gripped the fabric of my Federation-issued skirt, squeezing my frustration out.

  “I should put a bell on you,” I told her.

  “Now you know how we all feel, Les’ette,” she squeaked, climbing onto the red velvet chair of the first-class carriage. The one privilege of traveling by rail through the toxic forest was that minimal occupancy allowed you to sit anywhere. Hattie curled up next to me, her knotted butterscotch locks brushing against my arm.

  She gazed up at me, blinking her hazel eyes sweetly. The light made the pale green parts of her skin shimmer along with the sheen of her emerald scales. She fiddled with the tag that was pinned to her white blouse. The tag labeled her, like mine did me, as an Orphan of The Federation Collection Four. As she moved the thin paper up and down, her name and information twinkled.

  She sat quietly like that, radiating innocence, for three whole seconds longer. Then, her tiny fingers gripped a small chunk of my bicep and squeezed...hard.

  “Ouch!” I jerked back, vigorously rubbing the spot she'd pinched. My skin reddened with the promise of a new bruise.

  “Just trying to help,” she said, coming at me with two pincers.

  I gripped her wrists and pressed them into the cushions. The daft child started snapping at me with her teeth. She managed to catch a few strands of my dark brown hair, which had frizzed out from trying to maintain curls. She jerked back, yanking them with her. A small patch on my scalp burned from her efforts.

  “Argh,” I grunted from the sting, fighting the urge to let her loose to rub the pain away. “Just hang it up. It won’t help.”

  “True. You couldn’t hide it even if you wanted to.”

  Her determination fizzled, so I relaxed my grip. The child was a pest, but at least she didn’t try to deny that I was different. I had no mind-print. My brain wasn’t involved in the intricate sea of thoughts like everyone else’s.

  I was told it was a constant clamor inside your head, hearing everyone’s thoughts all the time. The Idiosyncratic frequency citizens heard and transmitted was a mixture of alpha and beta brainwaves, per the articles I had gotten my hands on. Everyone’s brainwaves formed a distinctive mental identity—a mind-print. Everything was defined by this world of thought from which I was walled off. I was a silent void. I picked up on no one’s brainwaves, and more dangerously, no one picked up on mine. I was constantly being accused of sneaking up on people or plotting something devious. How could you trust someone when you couldn’t hear the surface of their mind? Only the exceptionally skilled could hide their true intentions. I’d read that lies could be detected, and malevolent purposes could be perceived. Something about low- and/or high-frequency changes.

  The fact that I was soundless made people instantly distrust me. If I ever did get adopted, it wouldn’t be by a family with noble intentions. Those types of people were not foolish. They knew to keep ones like me at a distance.

  “Door’is will cut back on my rations if I try to dissuade bidders with injuries again,” I grunted.

  I gazed down at the blossom of red on my arm. In a crowd I was mentally invisible, so I was mostly overlooked, even despite my appearance. Injuries, however, were the surest way to put people on alert. My condition caused my body to repair at a much slower rate. My bruises would take at least a week to heal, whereas everyone normal would only need a few hours. There was no way I’d ever be allowed into Watchmen’s Academy; that was for sure. Not that I wanted to be. It was just that my pool of employment was made drastically smaller because of my genetics.

  “Besides,” I said as I gazed out the window, trying to act casual and unconcerned, “I’m aging out soon anyway.”

  My twentieth loomed before me like the toxic forest around this diesel-powered train, beautiful but dangerous. If I turned twenty without being sold—excuse me, adopted—then I’d be given my certificate of emancipation and thrust from the Federation Orphanage into the harsh society, free to do what I wanted. I was just biding my time until then. I didn’t
know what I was going to do, and that terrified me, but at least I wouldn’t have the threat of slavery hanging over my head and the harsh clutch of the Orphanage around my throat. When that day came, I would run as far as I could. I would run so no one could hurt me anymore.

  “Take me with you,” Hattie whispered.

  “No,” I shot back, turning my attention to the trees. The canopy was so dense the streaks of sun were like white beacons in the gloom. There were ancient rumors about these patches of toxic forest. Dark fairytales about creatures that looked like us but were feral, ruthless beings. They were called humans.

  Humans were legends, lies. They were whispered about in fanciful fables. Some said they hid in the toxic forest, warring with the Astronauts for territory. They were more feared than the Astronauts, probably because they’d never been seen. Humans were said to lurk among the poisonous gases of the forest because they were the essence of venom.

  “Then I won’t be your little sister anymore,” Hattie barked, crossing her arms over her chest and thumping her back into the cushions.

  “We are not related.” I grabbed her arm and pressed it against mine, conveying the obvious difference. Even though she was ten years younger than me, her arm was plentiful in the way of scales. Dark green hues streaked out from under them beautifully. I had a few freckles and emerald scales to match, but most of my arm, most of me, had the skin of an infant. Peachy hues that refused to darken green as I aged.

  “I never stood a chance, did I?” she breathed. Her lips were pressed into a pout. She yanked her arm away, causing a few scales to rip off. Hattie pushed herself away from me. She tugged on the edge of her hat, hooding her eyes under it.

  “You made me think I had a chance,” she mumbled. “You made me think you could lo—” She hiccuped in a sob. “Love me like a sister.”

  The truth was, she’d had a chance once. That was the saddest part about our relationship: the fact that there wasn’t one, and there could have been.

  Hattie sprang to her feet, her eyes meeting mine. I gave a nonchalant shrug. “If you could have read my mind, you would have figured it out sooner,” I told her.

  “I hate you,” she spat.

  I gave another shrug. She was better off away from me. She knew it but didn’t want to believe it.

  “I hate you!” she screamed.

  She ran out of the carriage, sliding back the polished mahogany door with a harsh whack! The pounding of her shoes as she dashed down the corridor was the victory music to this drawn-out battle.

  I pressed my forehead against the window, staring out but not really seeing. It seemed I was finally rid of her, the little pest that she was. Her constant prodding and cuddling. All the soft and difficult things that came from having a non-sister would be gone. My eyes grew strangely hot the longer I thought of Hattie. I pushed my face harder into the window, so close it fogged up. A white screen separated me from the world, just like the one that was around my heart.

  My victory was hollow, but as for her... She’d reap the rewards soon enough. She was young and adorable. A good family would want her, but not if her mind drifted with thoughts of her defective sister.

  A rattling of boots thundered overhead. I gazed up, trying to see the roof but restricted by the glass.

  “Sound the alarm!” a Watchman shouted from above.

  More galloping boots echoed out. My blood chilled at the strange roar that made my whole carriage tremble. The Astronauts had arrived.

  |Two|

  I GAPED HELPLESSLY as a Watchman’s body plummeted from the roof. His gas mask dangled from his face, and his boots smoked at the soles. The younger Orphanage children all screamed in unison, the man’s final thought filtering in through them. My insides shuddered. Screams and cries filled the air with terror.

  “To the front of the locomotive, children.” Door’is’ order rose above the chaos. For the first time, I was actually relieved to hear her stern voice, the one accented always with demand. I moved so hastily that I fell out of my carriage.

  A child zipped in front of me, and we collided. If I could have read minds, I was sure I would have remembered names better, but most of the orphans were unidentifiable, faceless children. This boy was not deterred from his mission to escape. He pushed me away, dropping me to the ground. I was at the mercy of a herd of scared and crying children. The flat soles of the boys’ derbys and small heels of the girls’ Mary Janes, the uniform shoes we all wore, turned violently against me. I was trampled over, but it was the stomp to my gut that kept me on the floor. It took everything in me just to make sure my skirt didn’t expose anything that would make this more unbearable than it already was.

  “I knew you’d fall head over heels for me one day, dollface.”

  Hands wrapped around my arms and heaved me up. No’ll gave me a wink as his lips withheld a laugh. A second later, we were shoved into the wall as the panicked crowd pushed forward. “So, what brings you out of your grotto?” he teased, as if he wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about the Astronauts.

  No’ll was a fellow orphan who’d annoyed me almost from the moment I'd first met him. He seemed to have taken notice that I tended to hide myself away whenever possible.

  “I don’t have time for your gobbledygook, palm greaser,” I barked.

  I pulled back the strap of his black uniform suspenders, letting it slip through my fingers. It snapped against his white button-up, making him give me another wink for some reason. Why was he so happy?

  “Because you hurt the people you care about, dollface,” No’ll said as if he heard my thoughts. We’d been in the same Federation Orphanage Collection for eight years, and he seemed to get more intrusive with each passing one.

  “Did you...could you...” I stammered, stunned.

  His carob-colored irises flashed bright with amusement. He leaned closer, hovering over me with much too little space separating us. It was a challenge? A triumph? His eyes held mine, and my scowl loosened the slightest bit from my features. When I noticed my slip I quickly frosted my expression again.

  “I was right,” he crooned.

  Because the Federation kept all the boys’ hair cropped short, his thick black strands always added to the appearance of the privileged character I knew him to be. After all, he constantly hobnobbed with Door’is. For as mysterious as his past was, he made himself the perfect orphan boy.

  “I am none of those vile things you’re thinking of up there,” he said, giving my forehead a soft tap with his fingertip.

  My eyes narrowed as I pushed away from him, letting myself get swept up in the crowd.

  “I was right again, wasn’t I?” His voice was laced with triumph. There were very few children left, giving No’ll little resistance.

  “I don’t know how you’re doing it, but stop,” I barked over my shoulder.

  “I have these two things imbedded in my face that let me take in my surroundings, you know. They’re called eyes. And, well, I use these peepers to take in knowledge about what I observe with them.”

  “People read people with their minds, not their eyes,” I shot back.

  “What fun is that? I fancy mysteries, dollface.”

  He was right on my heels, so when I spun around he was in easy reaching distance. I gripped two fistfuls of his shirt and tried to give him a shake. His sturdy frame didn’t even budge. His growth spurt a few years back not only gave him the advantage in height but muscle as well.

  “Look, No’ll,” I said, keeping him at arm’s length. “I don’t know you and you don’t know me, okay? Now, this train is being attacked by Astronauts, so I suggest you get some sense of self-preservation.”

  He gazed down at my fingers, still twisted in his shirt, and then up into my eyes. A teasing smile stretched across his lips, making the emerald scales on his cheeks twinkle. I quickly released him and stepped back. My face burned with embarrassment.

  “You’re just confirming everything I already know. You hurt the people you love, like me.


  “What?” I shrieked.

  My heart twisted in an odd and unusual way inside my chest.

  “It’s a secret I’ve come to learn about you. You know, by watching you with my eyes.” His voice was teasing, but his eyes shifted to a more intense stare. His hand drifted closer to my cheek, deep green fingers searching for something only I held.

  “N-no’ll,” I stammered, pushing his hand down and away, scolding myself for hesitating.

  “Yes, dollface?”

  “You need to stop this. Not for me, but for yourself.”

  “Really?”

  He took a step toward me, his smile growing more intense the longer he held it. If I could receive his Idiosyncratic frequency, would it help me decipher his expression? Would his thoughts penetrate my mind at high frequency like the delicate note of a recorder?

  His dark eyes became fierce like one of the mighty trunks of the trees we were speeding past. Would that have come across as a deep drumbeat?

  I felt heat prick the tips of my ears when the urge to sway closer crept into me. As the warmth spread back to my cheeks, I crossed my arms and squared my shoulders. “I don’t want you shielding me from people when they discover what I am. I don’t want you to hand me abandoned periodicals because you know I like reading them. I don’t want you looking at me with that”—I waved an angry hand over his face—“that look on your face.”

  “Hmm, seems you’ve been watching me too.” He chuckled.

  “No, that. Stop that.” I took a harsh breath. “Okay, I’ll only admit this once, but I get it. You’re considerate and genuinely concerned about other people.”

  “I’m flattered, dollface.”

  “But those qualities are going to get you hurt with me. You need to stop helping me.”

  “I can’t really do that. I’m a warrior, or have you not noticed?”

  Before I could counter, two loud thuds echoed from inside our cart. My gaze snapped toward the sound. A creature that wore an orange Astronaut’s suit was sliding open the door to each carriage, scouting. Straps and braided steel hoses hung off the Astronaut’s suit. A thick nylon harness crisscrossed its torso, shoulder to waist, holding a brass mechanism.

 
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