Vengeance Is Mine, page 1part #1 of Vengeance Cycle Series
THE VENGEANCE CYCLE
Book 1: Vengeance is Mine
Katherine Elizabeth Curtis
© 2018 Katherine Elizabeth Curtis Books
Chapter 1 – The Unlucky Number
September 22nd, 2114
Nathan's thirteenth birthday was one of the worst days of his entire life. When he was older, looking back on that one day sent chills through his spine, for it was on that day that he began to realize just what kind of world he'd been born into, and what the facility that he had always seen as home was truly like. The realization had shocked him, and he could hardly tell why at first. But they did.
The day had begun innocently enough. The boys in the north dormitory of the huge facility had been woken up by lights that slowly grew brighter and brighter, to mimic the natural light that would've streamed through the windows, had their been any. In the summer, late spring, and early fall, these lights came on quite early, but in the early spring, winter, and late fall, they weren't on at all when the boys were woken up at seven in the morning.
They all followed a strict schedule. Wake up at seven o'clock in the morning, without fail, no exceptions, except if one was severely sick, or greatly injured from yesterday's training routine. This rarely happened, but when it did, the consequences were severe for both the one who gave the injury, and the one who received it. After they woke up, the boys immediately went to the Great Hall where they were engaged in physical activity for one hour before a meagre breakfast of bread, and sometimes a few strips of meat were fed to the boys.
The facility was divided into five sections, or castes, as all other facilities around the world were. The highest caste were the people who took care of the boys. They had absolute authority and expected implicit obedience. Failure to do so would result in harsh punishments. They were always hooded, and to Nathan's knowledge, no one had ever seen their faces. At least he never had. They were dark, mysterious figures, flitting about the huge facility in dark, fluttering capes and hoods, but Nathan felt a strange sort of affection for them. After all, even though they were harsh and strict, they did feed and train him and the other boys. And training was important. They had to train so that they could fight to protect the queen if she ever needed it.
The second caste was the trainers. These were boys eighteen years old or older, who trained the younger boys. Not all boys that age became trainers. Most of them did, but the ones who didn't do well in their studies, or the ones who were the very top of their class were taken away and never heard from again. And those who reached the age of thirty without having to fight for the queen were also taken away. Nathan always puzzled over this, but with so much else to do, he had never asked the reason.
The third caste was the boys who were thirteen to eighteen. These boys were sent out on work details into the Outside. Often the trainers went with them, mostly to oversee – or at least that's what Nathan believed. He had never actually gone out to work, even though he longed to see the outside. His thirteenth birthday would make that come to pass, and he spent the night before awake all day, thinking over what he would do and see once he was on the Outside. Running away never occurred to him, though.
The fourth and fifth castes were the little boys – twelve to six – and the babies – five to infant. They were relatively unimportant, in Nathan's mind and he paid little attention to them, especially as he was never really allowed near the rooms where they were kept. The little boys were trained, of course, but in a different area from the older ones, until, of course, they became 'older ones'.
All in all, it was a neat, orderly life and one that Nathan had no problem with, even though it was a little boring. But that all changed the day of his thirteenth birthday.
The day did not begin well.
Nathan rolled over in his bed and yawned, stretching luxuriously before turning over to catch a bit more sleep if he possibly could. Then, all in a flash, he remembered what today was. His thirteenth birthday. How could he have forgotten? He supposed that the combination of a mostly sleepless night and just waking up had erased it from his mind. But it was here now and he was eager to see what the day would bring forth. Perhaps he would even be allowed to go into the Outside – his first time – tonight.
The thought was enough to send him out of bed, and into his clothes in a flash. He reached for his sneakers to slip them on quickly, but they weren't under his bed where he ordinarily kept them. He felt all around underneath his bed, but all his searching hands encountered was dust balls and some sticky stuff. He grimaced in disgust and got down on his knees to search. The shoes weren't there.
“Looking for these?” a voice said from above his head. He twisted his neck around so he could see who the speaker was. Even before looking, he knew, and the look just confirmed it. It was Dylan, the bully of the dormitory, and someone who had supposedly made a vow to himself to do everything in his power to make Nathan's life miserable, probably because Nathan was so much better at everything than Dylan, and most of the other boys.
Dylan held his sneakers high above his head, and Nathan made a grab for them. It didn't work, as he should've known. Dylan just snickered and held them further out of reach. Nathan needed those sneakers. It was against facility law to go anywhere barefoot. He had no idea why, it was just a fact of life that didn't need any explanation, just like so many other rules.
“Dylan...” Nathan's tone was warning, but his enemy took no heed. With a cry of frustration, Nathan grabbed Dylan around the legs – he was standing on a bed, looking down at Nathan, so such a thing was easier and less painful for both boys – and started yanking his sneakers off of him. “Fine then,” he said between grunts, as he struggled to get the tightly tied shoes off, while keeping Dylan's kicking feet under control, “If you won't...give me...my shoes, I'll...take...yours.”
With the last word, the sneakers ripped of Dylan's feet, sending Nathan flying backwards. In an instant Dylan was on top of him, pummelling him into the ground, and using Nathan's shoes as flailing weapons. Nathan lifted his hands and arms over his face to protect himself, but it was a poor shield.
Giving himself strength by letting out a long yell, Nathan pulled himself up off the floor, using Dylan's arms to support him just for a moment, turned right around, and now Dylan was on the floor, covering his face. Nathan felt anger well up inside him. He wanted to hurt Dylan and make him pay, not just for the sneakers, but for every other little thing he had done.
Bullying smaller, weaker boys.
Calling Nathan ugly names.
Saying he wasn't one of them.
Tripping him up in training when on one was looking.
Yes, Nathan felt the time had come for him to pay. And so, he struck at Dylan again and again, his rage making him nearly blind. He hardly saw where the blows fell, or felt them connect, but he had a vague sensation of blood staining his hands, and running down his left arm, and then a strong, stiff arm hauled him off of the other boy.
“What is the meaning of this?” a voice, angry and harsh, asked. All the other boys who had made a circle around the two fighting boys, quickly dispersed. The voice belonged to the hooded figure known as Laii. She – for it was a woman – was usually a little kinder than the others, but at this moment her voice was hard as iron and barely suppressed anger lurked just below the surface.
Now that his anger had assuaged, and his head had cleared, Nathan looked at Dylan who was just beginning to get off the floor. His face was bloody, and starting to puff up already, and the way he moved was weak and painful. Nathan felt a twinge of something – regret, maybe? - come into his heart for a moment, but then he suppressed it. There was no need for him to feel sorry for Dylan. He deserved everything he got.
“Is this true?” she asked Dylan sharply.
He nodded as if he didn't really care what happened now. No punishment would be as hard as the beating Nathan had just given him.
“I see.” The tone of her voice showed she really didn't see why Nathan had done such a thing, as the punishment seemed greater than the crime, but Laii left it at that. Except she bent closer to Nathan and told him to come with her. He felt a little shiver go through him. Surely he would get it now. He wasn't regretful of what he did, just worried what punishment he would receive now.
Once outside in the hall, all of Nathan's bravado left him. He would not cry, but he was scared. And with good reason. Visions of other punishment that the other boy's only whispered about late at night filled his head. No food for days. Locked up in dark, small rooms for weeks. Beatings. None of it was good, and most of it was very, very bad.
“Sneakers?” Laii asked, her voice filled with incredulity. “That's what this was all about?”He nodded halfheartedly, much as Dylan had done. “Why?” she asked.
“He's a bully,” Nathan said, and decided to leave it at that. He wouldn't tell her the details, especially about the time Dylan had sneered at him and said that he didn't really belong here at the facility. He was afraid that Laii would admit that Dylan was right, and that he would have to go. He had waited all his life for this day, and it would not be spoiled by a fight with Dylan. He wouldn't allow it.
She nodded slowly, at least that's what Nathan thought she did. The hood made it difficult to read head motions, and he suddenly wished that she didn't wear that everlasting hood and cloak so he could read her eyes and facial expressions and body language as he did with the other boys. It would make everything so much easier.
She gave a frustrated sigh. “You're too angry, Nathan. You let anger wipe away all your good sense far too often. Why?” Her tone of voice showed she genuinely wanted to know, but Nathan wasn't about to give her what he knew was the reason. It was because at times he felt like he didn't belong, that he was an outcast, and so he became angry and violent if anyone questioned his position here. Or even if he thought they had. He just shook his head.
She huffed again. “Go and apologize to Dylan right now.”
“What?” Nathan said, all anger and sullenness gone, replaced by amazement. That was all? No punishment, no- Then he realized exactly what she had said. Apologize to Dylan? Impossible. He would rather take a week without food than apologize to that low-down rat. Why wasn't she giving him a proper punishment?
“Right now.” Her voice was firm, and devoid of emotion once again. “Or you will not go through the ceremony today. You will have to wait another year, and then be behind all the other boys.”
That would be a punishment indeed. She knew it. Nathan knew it. He also knew the shame of having to apologize to Dylan, but he decided that his pride could take that more easily than having to be behind everyone else in his own caste. And, after all, he had promised himself that he would not let Dylan ruin his day.
He would do this as quickly as possible. Without another word to lay, he turned on his heel and reentered his dormitory. Dylan sat on the side of his bed – Dylan's, not Nathan's – his head in his hands, his shoulders slumped. Nathan walked over to him. “I'm sorry for beating you up,” he said curtly, with no feeling or thought in his words. He didn't even look at Dylan as he said it, but at the wall opposite. The only indication that he felt anything while making his apology was the fact that his bare toes curled in and out as he said the words.
Dylan looked up, and Nathan was surprised to see that his face was wet. With tears, not blood, though that was there as well. He hadn't thought Dylan was capable any emotion besides scorn and anger. For a moment it seemed that Dylan would say something, but all he did was nod. Then he handed Nathan his shoes.
With that simple gesture, Nathan felt shame filling him. Dylan was still a bully, of that he was sure, but he had showed more grace than Nathan, and that he could not bear. He clenched his fist a little and stalked out.
Laii met him in the hall, and without a word made a gesture for him to follow her. A little thrill went through him and all thought of Dylan flew from his mind. It was time.
Nathan was taken to a smallish room, with blank, off-white walls, no windows – though he didn't expect any and hardly knew what windows were, at any rate – and a solitary chair. Laii instructed him to sit down in the chair and then she left. Nathan felt a little scared. Laii was usually his main stay for support, no matter how harsh and judgemental she was, and now she had left. Leaving him alone in this small room that had absolutely no distinguishing feature in it. He felt like he was sitting in a coffin and the room seemed dark to him, even though it was white in color.
The silence pressed in on him, becoming heavier by the second. He had never considered that silence could be heavy, mostly because he had never been in the presence of such deep, overwhelming quiet. With so many boys in his dormitory alone, there was never any real peace – in fact, he stirred up his fair share of trouble – and even at night the dormitory was filled with hushed whispers and he always fell asleep before they ended. Besides last night, of course.
He stretched in the chair, trying to shake off the oppressive atmosphere, but it didn't work. He considered getting off the chair and walking out of the room since nothing was happening, definitely not the ceremony he had longed for. He had never seen the ceremony, but he had heard rumours that it was something wonderful so, naturally, he wanted to be part of one as well.
The one thing that kept him from getting up and wandering around was the thought that perhaps he was being watched through some hidden peephole that he couldn't see. Yes. That was probably it. This was some sort of test to see how patient he could be, or something like that. Well, he could be patient, just let them see. He fell to studying the featureless floor. The almost featureless floor. There was a small dark smudge near his foot, probably made by one of his sneakers. He studied the smudge for sometime, since there was nothing better to do, until he could have drawn it in photographic detail from memory.
And there was nothing else to do. He yawned, a big one that made his jaw crack, and then sat up straighter. Maybe this was a test of both patience and endurance. They wanted to see how long he could stay awake. That was infinitely harder than being patient, but he was sure he could do it. After all, it was still early in the morning.
But Nathan hadn't counted on the dreadful monotony of just sitting, doing nothing, and the long sleepless night he had spent, and soon his eyelids felt unbearably heavy, and his head would nod forward, only to be jerked back up. He gritted his teeth. “I will get through this,” he muttered between his teeth. But, once again, his head would start to nod, and his eyes would close, no matter what he did.
“Enough of this,” he finally said, standing up. He nearly fell over, his joints were so stiff from sitting in one position for so long. He must have been there for several hours to feel such a way. He noticed that there were two doors in the room. One that led out the way he had come, and another one on the far end of them. He walked as carefully and quietly as he could over to the door, but hesitated before opening it.
What would be on the other side? He weighed the possibilities of being caught, against the excitement of exploring. He had never been in this room before, so it was probably that whatever was on the other side would be unexplored territory as well. Of course, he could get caught, but it would be better and more exciting, at least, than sitting in this dull room for who knew how many more hours.
So, he decided. He turned the knob on the door and opened it. What he saw filled him with disappointment. It was merely a hallway with rows of doors on the opposite side, about three. However, those doors might have something more interesting in them, so he stepped out into the hallway and turned the knob of the first door.
There were no identifying marks on any of the buttons or knobs, and there were all a uniform grey, so that was all that interesting. He had too much good sense to push anything, although he ached to do so and see what would happen. But anything could put off an alarm, for all he knew one had gone off already, so he hastily backed away from the panel. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a thick binder on one of the chairs that was pushed away from the panel as if someone had just left.
He went over and picked it up. The binder was made of some kind of shiny grey metal with an insignia stamped on the front. It was a circle with seven stars across the equator of the circle. Nathan had no idea what it was for, but he flipped the binder open and looked through the pages of it.
There was a lot of technological gibberish that he didn't understand, but there was a group of pages in the centre of the binder that caught his eye. There were photographs of the different buttons on the control panel with their different uses. One of the buttons erased...something. Nathan didn't know what. Another filled something. He had no idea what they were used for, so he laid the binder down exactly how he had found it and left the room with its mysterious panel. He still had one more room to check.
What he saw in the third room would haunt his nightmares for years to come.
The third room was vast. It had to be. For there were beds, bunk beds, cribs, cots, all sorts of resting places with little children and babies on them. That wasn't the terrifying part. What made him shudder was that there was a protective glass or plastic bubble over each bed. Thick material that was locked so no one could reach in, or get out without a key. And attached to each of these children's and baby's heads, as far as the eye could see were wires.