Working title- Jen’s Story: Chapter 6

I followed the instructions on the note, and I didn’t view the contents of the SD card until I was completely alone, an event which happened several weeks later. During that time, however, I didn’t just sit around.

The rookie arrived the very next day, and I discovered that she was assigned to take Sarah’s bed in our hall. I helped her move in, though I really just wanted to protest her presence.

She was a tiny little thing, and blonder than almost anyone else that I’d seen. Privately I wondered how she had gotten into the MRA in the first place, but I didn’t ask. She might have been Sarah’s replacement, but that didn’t mean she was going to replace Sarah as my friend.

Her name was Autumn, and she was way too loud, in my opinion. And that was just the first impression. When I took her to training with the team for the first time I saw exactly how viscous she was.

Because of her, it felt like I was never alone. Autumn showed up everywhere, and there was no way I could get rid of her. She picked up on my dislike and tried to ask me about it.

“I can understand why you might not like me,” she began the conversation. I had been filling out some paperwork and I paused, startled and confused by this. We had been sitting in silence for about a half hour, and I had almost forgotten that she was there. Which was how I liked it.

“Oh?” I asked, setting down my pen but refusing to look at her. I could feel her stare, burning the back of my neck, and I fought the urge to squirm.

“I’m new,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m doing half the time. I couldn’t stand showing someone like me around, if I was you.”

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” I said sharply.

“Obviously,” she said. “You also lost one of your team-mates. Squad members. You wish that I was her.”

She said this so bluntly that I all could do was stare. She had pegged a large portion of why I didn’t like her, but not all of it. My fingers itched to pull out the SD card, to find out what was on it. And I couldn’t do that if she was there.

“That’s part of it,” I conceded. “You’re a rookie. You haven’t lost you best friend to a mutey. You live, work and train with these people. You trust them with your life.” With each word I had become far more emotional. Autumn shifted uncomfortably, and I stared at her.

“I’m sorry,” she said in a small voice.

“No, you’re not,” I said coldly. “You don’t know yet what it’s like to lose your best friend.” I turned away, not wanting to talk anymore.

A couple of minutes later she left the room. After the door closed behind her I rested my head in my hands, giving in to the weakness I felt inside.

I just wanted to cry, again, but I knew that it wouldn’t do me any good. Besides, my eyes were beginning to burn from the constant tears.

I wonder how much time I have before she comes back, I thought by way of distracting myself from my misery, sliding a hand into my pocket, my fingers curling around the micro SD card. I slid it out and looked at it.

Suddenly I felt like precious time was slipping away. I pulled my laptop into the center of my desk and turned it on while I rummaged around for my adapter for the card.

With trembling fingers I inserted the card into my laptop. The seconds stretched out, each one feeling like an eternity as my laptop slowly read the card.

Twenty-five folders met my expectant stare. Each one had a series of numbers as its name, Dates, from the look of it.

I selected the first folder, which was dated two years ago. Inside it were three documents, each titled with a name.

“Alex,” “Jack,” and “Jen.” Adrenaline and confusion rushed through my body, and I opened my document. I was terrified I’d get caught, and yet eager to know at the exact same time.

Dear Jen, the document read. If you’re reading this, it means that something happened to me. It also means that I can’t explain to you in person what’s going on here.

The MRA is more than just a tagging and registration program, like they told us when we were recruited. They’ve been working on a way to “cure” the mutants. In other words, to neutralize the powers.

I know what you’re thinking, but let me tell you, it’s not as great as it sounds. The MRA has a team of scientists that specifically work with cloning and genetics. They also have unlimited lab rats. 

Some of the muteys (take that, spell-check!) we bring in have no records of family or a permanent address. Sometimes they refuse to tell us their names, and they’re entered into the system as “John” or “Jane Doe.”

Who cares if these unknowns go missing for the sake of science? But even with the people who have families, sometimes the family gives the MRA permission to experiment on the mutey.

I don’t know exactly what happens in those labs, but I do know one thing- when the mutants come out, they’re either powerless (and test clean of the drugs, too) or dead. I saw them removing the bodies while I was on watch one evening, and I went to Iron Silk about it.

He told me that he’d look into it, but he hasn’t gotten back to me and he’s been treating me differently since then. I think I might be in trouble here, Jen, BIG TROUBLE.

Anyhow, I’m sure you’re wondering what all of this has to do with the rest of the SD card. They’re profiles organized by the date we collected the mutey on.

When you open the larger folders, that’s by month and year. I went back two years and copied every John or Jane Doe, every mutey whose family turned in a form saying they could be used in experiments, and every mutey we’ve lost, or who’s gone missing.

I don’t know exactly what they’re doing to them, but this is not what I signed up for. Look into it for me. Promise me, Jen?

Lots of love,

Sarah

I stared at the screen for a moment, tears welling. On one level, this explained so much. On another, it opened a whole new world of questions.

I knew in that moment that I had been thrown into a whole new world of problems, and I didn’t like it. If what Sarah had told me was true, then I didn’t want any part in it. If what Sarah had told me was true, that explained why she had been killed.

Even if it wasn’t true, Sarah had died believing it, and I wasn’t going to just ignore her last request. The letters on the screen blurred as I stared at it. I knew in my heart what my response was.

“I promise,” I whispered.

“Promise who what?”

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Working Title- Jen’s Story: Chapter Five

Oddly enough, I wasn’t nervous as I made my way to Iron Silk’s office. It didn’t feel like a death march or anything that dramatic.

When I tapped on the door, there was a slight pause before the door opened. During that pause, I smoothed my sweat pants and ratty old t-shirt, and ran a hand through my hair. There was no sense in looking as bad as I felt, now when I was already in enough trouble as it was.

Iron Silk opened the door himself, and ushered me in. There was a closed look on his face, and I hovered in front of his desk nervously. I could only be in his office for one reason, and that reason was punishment. I had known that I’d had it coming, from the moment I’d gotten out of the van.

“Take a seat ,” he said, motioning to the one chair on my side of the desk.

I dropped into the chair, still very nervous. He seemed to be aware of my state of being, and he shifted awkwardly in his seat.

“Miller, I know that it is never easy to lose a friend in the line of duty,” he began. “But it happens, unfortunately. It’s a tragic fact in our line of work, and while I wouldn’t say that you need to get used to it, I would advise you learn how to remain professional. Castello knew what she was getting into.”

I lowered my gaze to my hands. I couldn’t say anything, not without getting into even deeper trouble. He apparently didn’t expect a response, because he kept talking.

“Sarah Castello’s death was an unfortunate and unforeseeable accident, and we will miss her membership in the squad. She was a good woman and a good soldier,” he continued. “But she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, I’m not trying to minimize her or to make her death sound like a trivial matter, but soldiers die. A good soldier knows how to follow orders, regardless.”

I looked up at him, my anger not able to be contained any longer. Just as I opened my mouth to protest, he cut me off.

“You’re a soldier, Miller, regardless of what your relationship with Castello was. You chose to disobey orders, did you not?”

“I did, but-“

“You know the rules, Miller. Didn’t they teach you in boot camp?”

“They did, but-“

“You have no excuse for what you did,” he cut me off again. “You’re not a rookie. You knowingly disobeyed orders. You know the punishment for that. That’s not the only reason I called you here today, though.”

I looked up, startled. A thousand thoughts flitted through my mind, but I knew that not a single one would be a good response to that, so I kept my mouth shut. Apparently he wasn’t expecting any reply.

“There will be an empty spot on the squad. A new member will be chosen. You’ve been on the squad the longest of any of our current members. I want you to show the new kid the ropes. And Miller?”

“Yes, sir?” I asked, fear coursing through my body. He was looking at me oddly. I didn’t like that look. It was almost like he knew that Sarah had tipped me off.

“Stay out of trouble.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dismissed,” he said, lowering his gaze as my paranoia kicked into full gear.

What does he know? Does he know I know? What am I talking about? I don’t know anything except that I’m not supposed to trust him. And that someone’s a traitor. Damn it all, Sarah! Why couldn’t you have left better notes? Or, I don’t know, not died? Or not left me any notes. God, Sarah, what were you thinking? Why? What’s going on?

I made my way back up to the dormitories and began unpacking my overnight bag. As I put my clothes in the wardrobe that was supposed to be mine and Sarah’s I was hit once more with the empty feelings of loneliness.

Within seconds, I went from feeling fine to severely claustrophobic, and I pulled my jacket out and on. I needed to move, to get away. The room was too small, and all five people currently in the room were five too many.

I walked around the compound briskly, trying to keep from crying, again. A cool wind blew steadily, stinging my cheeks and clearing my aching head slightly.

Iron Silk can’t possibly know that I know anything. I don’t know anything. I’m being totally unreasonable. Besides, Iron Silk must trust me. He’s having me show the rookie the ropes, I thought pausing beside a trash can. I started to clean out my pockets when my fingers closed around a neatly folded piece of notebook paper.

Curiously I pulled it out and unfolded it. Something small fell out of it, and hit the concrete. I bent to pick it up, confused as to where it had come from.

Turning it over in my hand, I realized that it was a micro SD card. I didn’t remember getting one, and I stared at it dumbly for a moment, before looking at the note it had been wrapped in.

Sarah’s handwriting stared back at me again. Top secret. Seriously- don’t view this info in front of ANYONE!

I studied the message for a moment before glancing around. There were people loitering around the yard, but no one seemed to be interested in what I was doing. The SD card felt like incriminating evidence, and it felt uncomfortably warm in my hand. I slipped it back into my pocket, trying to act innocent.

You don’t know what’s on the card, I thought, feeling like I was overreacting. For all I know this is some joke Sarah was playing on me. I don’t know anything. It doesn’t have to be something suspicious. I’m not doing anything wrong.

All the same, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something much bigger than I knew had found me. Sarah’s death hadn’t been an accident. She had known something, something important. I just knew it.

Working Title- Jen’s Story: Chapter Three

We went back to my place and did exactly that. It must have been successful, because I woke up on my couch with no memories of the night before.

Alex was fast asleep on the coffee table, his shirt off, but otherwise clothed. Bottles and cans littered the floor of my tiny apartment, and I grimaced when I saw some of the clothing I was wearing yesterday mixed into the mess.

My head was throbbing with a passion, and I cradled it as I made my way to my bedroom. Quietly I shut the door and I gingerly crossed the room to my closet.

Having gathered an outfit and my towel, I let myself into the bathroom. A warm shower will definitely help, I told myself, pausing as I searched through my medicine chest for an Advil. I downed it dry, and turned on the shower.

As the water fell on me I began to panic. None of this is real. It can’t be, I thought, punching the wall of the shower as my knees gave way beneath me.

All of my disgust, my frustration, and my alcohol came rushing up, and I doubled over, vomiting hard. Coughing and spluttering I changed how I was siting, tucking my knees under my chin.

She’s really gone. You have to move on. Keep going. Sarah would be annoyed by how you’re behaving, I told myself, the water still falling on me. I hated myself and the way I felt. I hated the muteys for killing Sarah, and above all else, I hated her team. They had let her die. They hadn’t been there for her when she needed them the most.

The water was now turning cold, but I didn’t feel like turning it off. I knew that my water bill would be high, but I didn’t care.

I jumped at a knock on the bathroom door, which sounded and felt like a gunshot to my poor aching head. The shock was enough to convince me to turn off the water, and I did so.

“I’ll be out in a moment,” I called, wrapping myself in my towel, drying off vigorously as I moved.

“Okay,” Alex said. I heard the rasp of fabric against the wood of the door frame, and I sighed, throwing on my clothes.

I need to scrub down the tub, I thought, eying the floor of it. I guess I’ll do that after Alex is gone.

As soon as I was decent I pulled the door open, stepping back a half step as I came face to face with Sarah’s brother. He still hadn’t put his shirt back on, and there were dark circles under his eyes.

“What’s a guy got to do to find an empty bathroom around here?” he croaked, grinning at me.

“Try waking up earlier, dear,” I said sarcastically. “It’s first come, first serve around these parts.”

He laughed and pulled the door closed behind himself as I turned away. I made my way down the hall, pausing at the doorway of my room to swap my towel for my hairbrush. When I returned to the living room, I took a deep breath, surveying the floor.

Where do I even start? I wondered. I guess at the door, and work my way across the room.

I heard the shower turn on, and I sighed. Alex was leaving me to clean up on my own. How typical of him. At least the shower wasn’t at the top of my to do list anymore.

By the time he had reappeared, I had most of the mess cleaned up. He watched as I threw the last beer can into the recycling bin and stood up.

“Would you like to go out for breakfast?” he asked, leaning against the door frame again.

“I can’t afford it right now,” I said, turning to face him. My headache, although numbed by the Advil, was still ferocious, and it was not helping my temper any.

“I’ll treat,” he said simply.

“Is that Alex or his hormones speaking?” I asked, the sarcasm practically dripping from my words.

“I just took a cold shower,” he pointed out drily. “And I’m pretty sure my head hurts just as much as yours, so there’s no need to get snappy with me.” He eyes we with his steady brown gaze.

“Fine,” I said, reaching for my hairbrush. “Just let me do my hair first.”

“Ugh!” he scoffed. “The famous last words. I’ll be waiting for hours while you crimp and blow dry and smooth it.”

“You’ll be waiting ten minutes with I drag a brush through it,” I countered.

“That’s what they all say,” he said, grinning as I vanished into my bedroom.

The brush slid through my short hair easily, and I was done within two or three minutes. Instead of rejoining Alex, though, I studied my reflection in the mirror.

My eyes betrayed my exhaustion, bagging slightly underneath, and my skin looked pallid in the morning light.My lips, on the other hand, didn’t look as colorless as the rest of my face, nor as terrible as the rest with the exception of a relatively recent cut.

Hesitantly I probed the cut, straining my aching head to try to remember where it had come from. I knew that I hadn’t had it before the funeral yesterday.

I’ll ask Alex, I thought, turning away from the mirror and grabbing my handbag.

“Told you I’d only take a few minutes,” I said as I walked back into the living room.

“I suppose you’re right,” he responded calmly. “Now, are we going?”

“Sure,” I said, making my way to the door. “That is, if you want to go.”

“Trying to get rid of me?” he asked, grinning easily.

“Wait, what?” I asked, completely confused by this shift in tone. He laughed and led the way out of my apartment and down to the parking lot.

“You’re not the only woman who’s been anxious to see me go,” he said, sliding into the passenger seat.

“I can’t imagine why,” I responded, backing out of the lot.

Silence fell as I made my way to the local diner. It wasn’t until we were seated that Alex spoke again.

“Sometimes I disgust myself.”

“Oh?” I asked him, disinterestedly. “You finally noticed how gross your eating habits are?”

“No,” he said, pausing until he had given me a satisfactory glare. “I find it disgusting how we can play pretend, how we stuff our true thoughts and feelings deep within as we drink and party and make out. How, when something’s not comfortable to our sensitive little selves, we try to ignore it.”

“True,” I murmured, resting my chin on the palms of my hands. “That reminds me. I was wondering if you remembered what happened last night.”

His lips twitched slightly, amusement appearing in his eyes. A sudden feeling that I wouldn’t like the answer to that made its presence known in my stomach.

“We drank,” he began. I bit back the urge to make a nasty comment again. “And we danced and kissed.”

“Was that all?” I prodded, my blurry memory agreeing with what he said. An uncomfortable warmth from shame and humiliation was filling me steadily.

“Even if I remember are you sure you’d want me to tell you?” Alex asked curiously.

“I don’t know,” I said, feeling a slight blush coloring my washed out cheeks.

“Well, I see that point where you’ve had too much to drink for you to remember clearly a blessing,” Alex said, leaning back. There was a brief pause in conversation before a tired looking waitress came up to take our orders.

As she vanished into the kitchen, a smirk appeared on his face.

“If we’re going to talk about last night, can I just say that you have very nice legs?”

The blood rushed to my ears, pounding and thundering like a stampede of elephants was running through my hurting head. Half-consciously I wished that the booth would just open up and swallow me. Alex was laughing, and the way he was looking at me told me that he remembered far more than he claimed to.

“You bastard,” I hissed angrily.

“Has anyone ever told you that whatever you feel shows on your face? Your expressions are very entertaining,” he said, every ounce the younger brother. It made me feel sick to my stomach with shame and I felt disgusted with myself.

“I’m going to kill you,” I told him, taking as dignified a sip of my tea as possible while glaring over the rim of the cup.

“Now, is that how you react to a compliment?” he asked, laughing at my rage.

“You bastard,” I repeated.

Working Title – Jen’s Story: Introduction

Sarah leaned forward as our squad commander debriefed us. She was completely focused on every word that came from his mouth.

“This is not supposed to be a fight,” he said, pacing the floor. “This is merely a retrieval. However, y’all are to keep your tazers on you. Y’all know what them muteys are like.” He glared at us darkly.

The thrill of fear that visited me before each mission ran up my spine. I glanced at Sarah, who was sitting beside me, out of the corner of my eye, knowing that she would look invigorated.

To my surprise, she had a peculiar look on her face. It almost looked like she was hesitant about the mission, but how could this one be any different from the rest? We’d done this so many times, it was routine.

“Time to go,” our commanding officer said, heading to the door. We watched him go for several moments, but the instant the door latched our squad snapped into action. Everyone except Sarah, that is.

“You alright?” I asked her, concerned.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m fine. You don’t happen to have any paper, do you?”

“I think I do,” I said, leaning over and pulling my duffel bag closer. Quickly I retrieved my notepad from it and offered it to her.
“You need a pen, too?”

“Yeah, please.”

“Squadron six, please meet at the front garage in five minutes,” a dispatcher squealed through the sound system. “Squadron six, front garage in five.”

“That’s us,” I said, pulling my uniform out of my duffel. “You coming?”

“Go on ahead,” she said, forcing a smile as she glanced up from her writing. “I’ll catch up.”

“Okay,” I said, tugging it on over top of my shorts and tank top. My fingers slid over my dog tags as I left the room.

I wonder what she’s writing, I thought as I made my way to the armory to pick up my tazer.

Our five minutes were nearly up when Sarah came rushing in, buttoning her jacket quickly. Her jet black hair was slipping free from the ponytail she normally wore it in, and disheveled was the word that came to mind.

“Cutting it close, Castello,” our officer snapped at her as she jammed her hat on.

“Sorry, sir,” she said, coming to attention.

“Don’t let it happen again,” he said, turning and walking away. With a sigh she relaxed, smoothing her uniform out.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked. She never was late for anything, and she was always the neatest in her uniform.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Let’s go.”

The ride to was quiet on the way, and it wasn’t until the van was parked that the squad was broken down.

“Castello, Jenkins, you’re with me,” the officer snapped. “We’ll go in on retrieval. Miller, Johnston and Jones, you’ll just sit tight and wait as backup. We clear?”

“Yes, sir,” we chorused back. Sarah smiled weakly at me as she shoved my notebook into my hand. I blinked, certain that I’d misread her emotions.

“Thanks for letting me use it,” she said, crawling out of the van. The smile was replaced with a hardened look, and her eyes glinted with anticipation.

“No problem,” I said, watching as she got into formation. That trio made their way up the steps of the building and disappeared to within.

We had been sitting in the van for probably two minutes when a shriek came from within the building, followed by four rapid shots. My heart jumped into my chest, and I leaned forward.

“That was Sarah,” I whispered.

“Remember your orders, Miller,” Mike Johnston told me.

“That had to be Sarah,” I said. Without being aware of what I was doing I slid out of my seat and crawled out of the van.

“Miller!” Mike called, shocked that I was actually disobeying a command.

“Jones, see if you can connect with anyone from their group,” I ordered. My legs moved without conscious effort, and before I knew it, I was in the building. I could hear Mike yelling at me from the van, but I had a mission of my own. I had to find Sarah.

“Miller, I got hold of Jenkins,” Jones voice buzzed through the headset as I began looking into the rooms on the ground floor. His voice came through as I pushed open the last door, stopping dead at what I saw. “The target got away. Castello’s lost a lot of blood. They say she was shot. Reinforcements and EMTs are on their way now.”