Part 3 of The Hope Saga
Copyright © 2012 by Chrissy Peebles
Edited by: Autumn J. Conley
Cover Art: Cora Graphics
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Chrissy’s blog: http://chrissypeebles.blogspot.com/
My brilliant editor, Autumn J. Conley
It seemed like it only took seconds for me to shoot up to the top of the tube. The door lifted, and I walked onto the dock. Staring down at the ocean, I breathed slowly and deeply, inhaling the fresh scent of the salty air; the aroma brought back, all the memories of when Rachel and I had sneaked up before. The water was beautiful, glistening blue, and the ocean waves relaxed my tension.
“Are you ready, Sky?” Tanya said, smiling.
I grinned back. “Let’s do this.”
My friends and I walked over to the boat, and a man in a brown uniform reached his gloved hand out to help me aboard. The man then motioned me to sit next to him. I smiled, enjoying the familiar warmth of the sunshine as it hit my face. I couldn’t stop staring at the blue sky and the majestic seagulls cruising effortlessly overhead.
Once the boat was fully loaded, we took off, without anyone offering us one word of explanation or instructions. I was dying to know more about the place, but they obviously weren’t ready to play tour guide. The wind whipped across my face, blowing my hair all around. Whether I liked it or not, I was about to start a new life. I didn’t want to do it without Brett, but I had no say; our government determined our fate, and Dante made all the rules. I swore I’d change that somehow, but for the time being, I had to play along like a clueless sheep, just like the rest of them.
A friend of mine named Lawrence broke out into a fit of coughing.
“Do you have a cold?” I asked.
“I’ve been coughing for a couple of weeks now and I’m running a fever. I think it’s Pneumonia.”
“Well, I’m sure they’ll give you something, like an antibiotic.”
“I hope so.”
I tapped his hand. “You’ll be better in no time.”
I listened to some of the girls talking.
“Did you hear the new rules?” one asked.
“They’re going to let women start being diamonds too.”
I looked at her. “Starting when?”
“I would’ve stayed to be a diamond, because my husband is one.”
“It doesn’t start until next month. So now, they’ll call both women and men for diamond status.”
“Who’d want to stay down there five more years?” another girl said. “Surely not me!”
“At least it’s fair now. Women have the same chance of staying as men.”
“This isn’t fair,” I retorted.
Collin pointed to the city. “There it is,” he said.
“Is that Vita?” I asked excitedly.
“I’m not sure,” she said, playing with the red and blue friendship bracelet on her arm.
We asked the men who were running the boat, but they were rude and impatient and had no interest in answering any of our questions. “You’ll know enough when you get there,” one of them grumbled.
The boat finally stopped, and we were escorted off. I glanced around as I walked down the long dock.
A woman with a kind smile and long, black hair greeted us. “Welcome, everyone.”
I smiled and nodded.
“How are you all doing? Do you seem to be adjusting to the air up here?” she asked.
“We’re good,” I said, looking at my friends.
“That’s fantastic,” she said. “You’ll be split up for a couple of days. There will be some tests and a medical exam.”
“A medical exam?” I asked, surprised.
“Yes. We must ensure that you are healthy enough to live in Vita, as we can’t risk bringing in any infections, bacteria, or viruses.”
As I stood waiting for somebody to tell us where to go, I heard a guard not too far away.
“Just smile,” he said to a guy that looked to be no older than twenty years old. “It’s the best way to keep them calm.”
It looked like the guy was in training and getting some lessons from a more experienced guard. I wondered what he meant by that. Just because we had to wait for a few minutes didn’t mean we would panic. Sure I was anxious to get started with my new life but I wasn’t going to run anybody over. I don’t think any of us would.
A few people came out and led us into a huge room with tables and chairs in one of the buildings. I sat down in one of the seats and waited as they took back one person at a time. I wondered why nobody came out to explain exactly what was going on. After a few hours, I was getting antsy. There wasn’t that many of us and it couldn’t possibly take that long. I knew they were getting exams but still…how long could that take?
I observed the guards and noticed how stern the look was on their faces. And they didn’t seem very welcoming either. I decided to go talk to one of the guards and see if I could fish for information. I decided my best bet was to ask the guy who was just a few years older than me. When I walked over him, he didn’t even smile, in fact, he wasn’t very friendly in the slightest. I smiled and politely asked him what was going on.
“Please sit back down,” he said. “They’ll tell you everything.”
“What’s Vita like?” I asked.
His lip twitched as he struggled for an answer. Maybe he was nervous being around a girl. I could’ve sat back down but I pressed on forward anyway.
I held out my hand. “I’m Sky.”
He shook my hand firmly. “I’m Tim.”
I smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
“Where’s your favorite place to hang out?” I asked.
“We have a few places,” he said.
“Well, which one is your favorite?”
He swallowed hard. Was I really that hard to talk to? I actually thought I was a very friendly person.
“I like to read in the garden,” he finally said.
“I love to read.”
Ah, I found common ground. I’d focus on that. We chitchatted about a few different books and I felt like I was breaking the ice. The more he talked about his favorite books, the more we connected. He was a nice guy and told me he’d just started today as a guard. He didn’t really like the position but was forced to do so because a few of the guys got ill. So this was a temporary gig for him. When I casually asked him about the city, he seemed to clam up.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“You seem like such a nice girl,” he said. “Maybe we can talk for a few minutes in one of the back rooms.”
I gazed down at my wedding band and he bit his lip hard.
“Um, I didn’t mean anything bad. What I mean is, I’m not trying to pick you up. I see you’re a happily married woman. I just wanted to talk to you in private.” He glanced around, then gazed at me. “There’s things I can’t say here.”
“Is there something I should know?” I asked.
“Most definitely. And I think fate brought you over to me for a reason.”
I hoped I hadn’t given him the wrong impression and he didn’t think we were fated to be together. But then again, he said he knew I was married. I think he was going to give me important information. It must’ve been important though for him to think fate brought me over to him to get it. I wondered what it was because he had totally piqued my curiosity.
He glanced around again, then motioned me to a door that led into a corridor. I felt confident that if this guy was up to anything sinister, I could easily take him out in a few quick strikes. I didn’t feel threatened in the slightest. He was thin and skinny and taking him out wouldn’t be a problem. When a man with dark hair looked up at him, he got really nervous.
“What’s going on here?” he asked, crossing his arms. “Nobody is allowed back here.”
Tim stood there frozen in his tracks. He opened his mouth but no words came out so I jumped in.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said. “I can’t hold it. Can you please point me in the direction of the restrooms?”
He pointed to the left. “Second door to your right.”
I hurried off and used the restroom hoping he’d be gone when I came out. No such luck. When I came out, Tim was gone and towering man lead me back to the others. I looked around for Tim but he was nowhere in sight. I hope he didn’t get in trouble. Tanya called me over and I sat next to her.
“I’m so excited. I wish they’d just hurry up this process. Hey, where have you been?”
“I went to see if I could get some answers.”
“Well? Any info?”
“Something seems off. I started talking to Tim and it was like he wanted to tell me something in private. At first I thought he was hitting on me or something, but then I felt like there was something he wanted to share. But we got cut off by some older guy who seemed like he was in charge.”
“I’m so thirsty. I just wish they’d give us something to drink.”
“That’s just it,” I said. “Why aren’t they welcoming us with a little food and beverages?”
“I don’t feel very welcomed.”
“I don’t either. I’m getting bad vibes about all of this. I sure wish I could’ve heard what Tim wanted to tell me.”
“He probably wanted to take you in the back to ravage your body in a huge make out session.”
“He knew I was married.”
“Since when does that matter to some of these horny twenty year olds?”
I glanced at the door where others had already gone. “Why aren’t the others coming back after their exams? Where’s Collin?”
“You sure do ask a lot of questions,” she said. “They’re probably processed and moved on to the bus taking us to Vita.”
“Sky,” a man called.
When I turned around, I was shocked to see Dante Marcellus himself. His long, black hair was tied neatly in a ponytail and he wore a brown faded shirt with a pair of jeans.
“Dante,” I said.
“So you’ve finally made it to the surface now.”
“Yes, I have.”
“I guess this means your trouble making days are over.”
“Yes, sir, they sure are. I won’t be causing any trouble in Vita, I assure you that.”
He smiled. “No you won’t.”
“I know you’ve been through a lot, but you’ll be at peace soon.”
“I hope so because I’ve had enough drama to last me a lifetime.”
He glanced over to the left when one of the women called him.
“If you’ll excuse me…”
Dante shot me one last cold look. “Goodbye, Sky.”
He walked off and I sat back down. Tanya was ecstatic that her name was being called.
“Good luck,” she told me. “I’ll see you soon.”
I shot him a nervous smile as she was led away to another room.
Twenty minutes later, a lady finally called my name.
She walked in, wearing a huge smile. “Hello, uh…Sky,” she said, looking down at a clipboard.
“If you’ll please follow me…”
“And I’m so sorry about the long wait.”
“I have to admit I was getting a little stir-crazy.”
I followed her into a small room that resembled a doctor’s office. She placed a stethoscope on my chest. “I’m Dr. Shanders. I’m just listening to your heart, and then I’ll check you out to make sure everything is in working order.” After she gave me a complete physical examination, asked me a million questions, and drew blood, she asked, “Are you excited to be here?”
“I guess,” I said. “I just wish I knew more about the place. I feel like a lost tourist.”
She laughed. “Well, once you’re deemed disease-free, you’ll go to an assembly, and you’ll learn a lot about the city there.”
“Am I already in Vita now? Is this place part of it?”
“No. This is just the check-in area. Vita is not far from here, and you won’t believe how beautiful it is.” She flipped through the pages of my medical chart. “According to your file, you’ve got a two-story on 1560 Oak Street.”
“Two stories? That’s nice,” I said. “My husband and I plan to have a huge family one day.”
“That’s what we like to hear. We want to repopulate Earth and create a wonderful new civilization. The more, the merrier, I say!” She cocked a brow, obviously a bit miffed about my lack of enthusiasm. “You don’t seem too thrilled to be here though.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just…well, I don’t know if you saw it in my chart, but I very recently suffered a miscarriage. It only happened a week ago. I really need my husband to get me through this, but he was declared a diamond, so we’ll be apart for at least five years. I just don’t understand why they separated us like this, why they couldn’t give us some leeway after I just lost my child.”
“So they sent you up here because you are eighteen and are not a mother?” she said grimly.
“Yes,” I said, then glanced up at her. “If they had given us more time, we could’ve tried again, after I healed.”
“The rules are the rules. If we bend them for one person, we’ll have to bend them for everyone.”
“I can’t stand being ripped away from the man I love, especially right now, when we’re both hurting.”
She tapped my hand. “It won’t be long. Five years will fly by up here before you know it.”
“It feels like a lifetime.”
“I’m sorry, Sky.” She glanced down at the chart, getting back to business. “Now, we’ll have to keep you isolated for two days in a holding cell, until your blood tests come back.”
“But don’t worry. You look very healthy to me, and I’m sure you’ll be living your dream life soon. That husband of yours will be here sooner than you think, and then you can make all the babies you want.”
I let out a long sigh. “I sure hope so.”
She led me down a corridor to a holding cell with bars. “Here you go,” she said, ushering me inside.
I looked around at the place and was reminded of lockup in Asha. It was furnished only with an uncomfortable-looking bunk bed, a toilet, and a small table. “It looks like jail,” I joked.
“I know it isn’t exactly luxury accommodations, but you’ll only be here for two days. If your tests come back clean, you’ll be put on the bus to Vita. There, you’ll be provided with a home, clothes, food, and whatever you need. You’re going to discover a life outside of that glass pod.”
“That sounds great. I just wish I could have my husband at my side.”
“You will…soon enough.” She smiled, then walked off.
The day ticked by slowly, and no one brought me a meal of any sort. By the time night fell, I was starving, but all I had to quench my hunger was the gallon of water that was sitting on the small table. I banged on the door, but no one seemed to care that I was locked up in there, practically starving to death. “Can’t I at least get some bread to go with my water?” I raged, but no one seemed to hear me.
“Did they forget about us?” Collin said.
I hurried over to the bars. “It’s so good to hear your voice.”
“They ran some more tests,” he said. “We just got back. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m so hungry. Why aren’t they feeding us?”
“It’s like they just dumped us off and forgot about us.”
“Maybe they’re scarce on food,” I said.
Tanya let out a long sob.
“Tanya,” Collin said. “What’s wrong?”
“They took me to another room and that’s when they shot Lawrence,” she whispered between more sobs.
“What?” I asked, shocked.
“The guard took me into the wrong room by accident just as it happened. When I asked him why they killed him like that, he just told me that Lawrence didn’t pass the blood test. I think she said he had tuberculosis.”
Her words floored me. “So if we don’t pass their exam and tests, they just shoot us?”
“He didn’t even see it coming. One of the men just shot him in the back of the head. He said he was contaminated and wouldn’t do anyone any good.”
My heart sank and a tear dripped down my face for my friend. We’d grown up together and he was the sweetest guy in the world. I knew things were taking a more sinister turn for the worse. They only took the strong and healthy, but that didn’t give them permission to kill the weak.
“Why would they do that?” she asked. “It makes absolutely no sense at all.”
“I’m not sure Vita is a place I want to live in,” Collin said. “They’re making their own rules and doing what they want. You can’t just take innocent life because somebody isn’t perfect.”
“Why would they let Tanya leave when she witnessed a murder?” I asked. “She could tell everyone in Vita what they did.”
“There’s even us,” Collin said. “We can tell everyone the story because she told us.”
“I don’t think they care. This is how our new world operates now.”
That troubled me. Tanya just witnessed a murder, and then came back and told all of us about it. She told us every detail about the men that performed the crime. Would they really want us yapping about this to the citizens of Vita? It wasn’t like Dante to let us leave with this vital information, especially when we were nothing more than loose ends.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Something smells fishy.”
“It is odd,” Collin agreed.
“I talked to one of the guards and he was about to tell me something big. But then his boss called him away and I haven’t seen the guy since.”
“What do you think he wanted to try and tell you?” Tanya asked.
“He was scared to tell me. He looked around like he was really nervous. I think he wanted to help me.”
“Do you think he’ll come back and help us?”
“I sure hope so.”
“What’s the point of bringing us up here to starve us to death?” Tanya asked.
“Just drink water,” Collin said. “It helps with the hunger pains.”
“I am. I just want to go to my house in Vita. The nurse told me I had a two-story on Oak Street.”
“Wait. She told me the same thing.”
“Me too,” I said.
“Think we’re all next to each other?” Collin asked.
“Well, she told me I’d be on 1560 Oak Street.”
Tanya gasped. “Me too.”
“Me too,” Collin said.
“Are they putting us all in the same house?” Tanya asked.
My jaw dropped. “Unless it’s a load of crap from a script she memorized. Looks like she’s telling everyone the exact same lie.”
Some of the others came back and we all chatted amongst ourselves trying to figure out what was going on. All the others had been given the exact same spiel and that worried me. What the heck was going on?
Tanya finally came to the conclusion that we were all being paranoid. She started to talk herself into how wonderful Vita was going to be. She’d witnessed a man’s murder but insisted everything was going to be okay. I think she was traumatized and not thinking straight. I don’t think she could accept Lawrence’s death or come to terms with it. And this was the only way she knew to deal with it, by pretending it never happened and that everything was fine.
Before I knew it, two days had passed, but still, no one came to see any of us. It was as if we’d been placed in lockup and forgotten, and they couldn’t have cared less that my stomach growled in a fury of starvation.
When they came for Tanya, she yelled my name.
“Yes,” I answered.
“I’ll see you soon, so don’t worry about me,” she said in a cheery voice. “Everything’s gonna be okay.”
“If we’re all sharing a house, don’t pick the biggest room,” Collin said.
She laughed. “Of course not.”
“Take care,” I said. “We’ll see each other soon.”
“Bye, guys. I love you.”
I listened to her footsteps as she walked down the corridor.
The others were taken one by one until there was nobody left but me. And that scared me more than anything. I tried to tell myself that maybe I was being paranoid but deep down I knew I wasn’t. I couldn’t believe I was being treated that way—deprived of food, information, and human contact—and it was making me angrier by the minute.
Finally, the door opened, and a security guard walked in.
“What’s going on?” I demanded. “I’ve been stuck in here without food for three whole days, and—”
“That’s the way it’s done around here,” he blurted out, cutting me off rudely.
“It’s the only way to flush any toxins from your system. We can’t risk any contamination in the community,” he recited robotically.
I glanced up at his towering frame and took a deep breath. “And what does that mean?”
He shot me a sinister smile and said nothing.
I didn’t like the way he was looking at me, and his remarks about contamination reminded me of something that psychotic Mr. Tams would have said. Something was off, not right, and I didn’t like it one bit. I swallowed hard, the sudden mistrust nagging at me.
The next thing I knew, stars were dancing in my vision, and pain exploded across my head. I hadn’t even seen the blow coming. My body crashed to the floor in a trembling heap, and then darkness swallowed me again.
My eyes suddenly fluttered open. A blurry image of a man with bright green eyes and bushy hair hovered over top of me. Squinting, I forced myself to look closer. When I made out the shape of a knife, I shuddered, and goosebumps pimpled my skin. I blinked, hoping it was all a nightmare that would go away, but the knife was very real, and I could smell the salty, metallic stench of blood. Oh my gosh! He’s gonna stab me. Did he already start? Why can’t I feel it?
“Sky,” he whispered, in a voice that I recognized but was too hazy to figure out. Then he placed a pot of begonias in my shaky hands. “A gift,” he said.
My trembling hands pushed the flowers away, and my heart fluttered as they crashed to the floor.
“That’s okay. I have more where those came from,” he said.
I tried to focus and reorient myself to my surroundings. “Wh-what’s going on? Where the hell am I?”
“Haven’t you figured it out? It’s me, Walter.”
I squinted at him, trying to work my way through the fog of confusion. “Walter?”
“The one and only.”
Everything seemed fuzzy, as if I was caught in a dream. Walter stood there holding a bloody butcher knife over me, like the devil himself. I fought the terror that gripped my heart, recalling when I’d been attacked in the boiler room down in Asha. I’d never been so terrified and confused. The menacing blade inched closer, and a chill shot up my spine. “Walter?” I said, my voice trembling.
This is it. I’m gonna die.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, but I could clearly see the vivid red drops of blood rolling down the knife. I wondered whose blood it was, if it was mine or if he had killed someone.
Is that blood mine? I pondered, confused.
What kind of vile and horrific assault had taken place? The depth of terror I experienced was unexplainable. I fought to breathe.
Chad stepped in. “Hi, Sky.”
My gaze met his, and I hoped he was one of the good guys. “
Help me, I begged.”
“I thought we were friends. What’s going on?”
“We just saved your life,” he replied.
“You what?” I said in disbelief, wondering how carving me like a Thanksgiving turkey could possibly constitute saving me.
“I’ve been waiting for her for so long,” Walter said.
“I couldn’t wait to see the look on your face when I delivered her to you on your birthday.”
“Did anyone suspect anything?” he asked.
“Nope. She was unconscious, so they just assumed I shot her like the rest of them.”
“Shot them!? The others were…killed?” I whispered.
Confused, I was rendered speechless. I had no idea what was really going on, and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to know. I’d lost my baby, I’d lost Brett, and I now had to wonder if I’d lost the friends who’d come with me to the surface.
“You need anything else?” Chad asked.
“Nah, I can handle it from here,” Walter said. “Thanks, bro.”
“Well, she’s all yours,” another voice said. “Have a little fun before you get rid of her. That’s what I always do with the pretty ones.”
My gut twisted at the stranger’s cold, terrifying words. What kind of operation are they running here anyway? What the hell is going on?
“I’m not gonna get rid of this one,” Walter said. “She’s gonna be my wife. Unlike you, I don’t get off on murdering beautiful women.”
“I know, I know. You do the chopping, but you leave the killing to me. Aren’t you just a freaking saint?”
“I’m taking Sky home.”
The stranger chuckled. “Like Mike? He’s taken a few home now.”
“Don’t even compare me to him! I’m not just taking home some random girl. I’ve loved this woman for years.”
Well, do whatever you want with the broad. You know I won’t tell, one way or the other. Hell, I might make a wifey out of one myself someday. I heard there’s a real hottie comin’ up next month.”
“Yeah, I guess we oughtta give Walter some time to play with his new toy.”
“She’s far more than that,” Walter snapped.
“Yeah, yeah, she’s the love of your life.”
“I know the drill. You’ve told me this how many times?”
“I’m just lookin’ out for your best interests, little brother.”
Listening to their insane conversation, I began to think that maybe the air had fried my brain—or theirs. Maybe this is all just a hallucination, or maybe they drugged me. Maybe it’s just a side effect of starvation. Maybe I’m becoming delusional. Maybe I’ll wake up any minute and discover this is all just some crazy nightmare. For all I know, I’m still in my underwater city, snuggled up in my bed. Gosh, I hope so.
“Are you guys coming or what? I need help with the other stiffs.”
I recognized that voice. It was Melvin. He’s in on this too? My gosh! All three brothers were in on this conspiracy. And other guys too. How many of these depraved men preyed on innocent women?
The door clicked shut and I think they left.
It was freezing, and as I felt around me, I realized I was lying on a flat, cold, steel table, like a table for surgery or an autopsy. I cautiously sat up and looked at Walter, terrified.
“I won’t hurt you,” he whispered gently, as if he was trying not to spook me.
My vision was still blurred, but I tried to focus on him. “Why are you doing this?” I asked, my voice quivering.
“I have to live up to my reputation as the butcher of Vita,” he blurted out.
I shuddered as his cruel words echoed in the confined room.
“Do you know what the most important tool in a slaughterhouse is?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“It’s not a meat saw or a cleaver. It’s a very sharp knife that cuts precisely every time.”
My breath caught in my throat. Walter was deranged and sick, and I had no idea how I’d ended up in a killer’s lair. I couldn’t believe Chad, Melvin, and another man were in on it, that Chad or Melvin hadn’t even tried to stop him; I never would have expected that the brothers I knew could hurt a fly. A metallic smell assaulted my nostrils, so strong that it made me want to puke. My hands felt slimy, and when I looked down at them, I realized they were coated with crimson liquid. Blood! I thought, entirely freaked out and shocked. Unable to grasp what was happening, I asked, “Am I dreaming? Is this a nightmare?”
“I assure you this is no dream,” he said in a monotone voice.
“Why am I lying in blood?” I shouted. “Is it mine?” I tried to absorb and understand the scene around me, but nothing about it made sense. I had no idea how I’d even ended up in that hellhole with Lucifer himself.
“It’s not yours,” Walter said. “It’s from the last guy.”
My jaw dropped at the stunning revelation. At the top of the table, in a puddle of blood, was the friendship bracelet I’d made for Collin. No! This can’t be happening.
“I’m sorry. I know the slaughterhouse isn’t very pretty,” Walter said, “but it’s very necessary if we’re to survive.”
I glanced around and saw a large barrel filled with blood and chunks of what looked like raw meat. A tub of clean water sat next to it. “What’s that?” I asked hesitantly, pointing down at it.
I gawked at him. “Whose?”
Walter hesitated, then turned his eyes away from me for a moment. When he locked his gaze back on mine, he coldly announced, “I just butchered Collin.”
My heart thundered in my chest.
What kind of nightmare have I jumped into?
The terror was overwhelming and unbearable, and my heart ached for my lost friend. I could hardly breathe. “Collin?” I barely managed to get out. “The one I came up here with?”
Walter patted my shaking hands. “I’m afraid so, and you were gonna be next.”
My screams turned into desperate gasps of air. On a table lay several knives, with blades of various lengths, along with a cleaver, a hatchet, and a hacksaw, all covered in red crimson blood. When I looked up at the meat hooks hanging from the ceiling, I clutched my heart. Then something caught my eye, a flash of red and blue. In the corner was another friendship bracelet, lying in a puddle of splattered blood. My heart sank when I realized who it belonged too. Tanya? I gasped. No! Coming up here was a death sentence. If my beloved hadn’t been chosen as a diamond on that fateful day, he would have been sent there, to that crazy man’s lair. I took a tiny bit of solace in the fact that at least Brett hadn’t yet fallen under the knife.
Tanya’s last words and sweet voice rang in my head.
“I’ll see you soon, so don’t worry about me,” Tanya said. “Everything is going to be okay.”
“If we’re all sharing a house, don’t pick the biggest room,” Collin said.
She laughed. “Of course not.”
“Take care,” I said. “We’ll see each other soon.”
“Bye, guys. I love you.”
I snapped back into reality as a tear rolled down my face. I watched as blood gushed down the floor drains, into huge vats below us. For a moment, I just looked at my captor, aghast that he could be so calm and composed while he was covered in my friends’ blood.
“Why, Walter?” I said, my voice wavering.
His forehead wrinkled as he pondered how to answer the question. “Where do I even begin?”
I let out a trembling breath.
“Do you want me to sugarcoat it?” he asked.
I gazed down at his black, blood-soaked boots. “No. Just give me the truth,” I said.
“Okay. I’m Vita’s largest beef supplier.”
I pursed my lips slightly as my thoughts started to race. “And what does that mean?”
“You were brought here to die, to be eviscerated, decapitated, and skinned.”
A startled gasp escaped my lips, and my heart hammered against my ribcage.
“But we aren’t without mercy. You would have been rendered unconscious before any of that kind of stuff happens.” He wiped his hands on his blood-splattered, plastic, yellow apron. “You grew up living a lie, brainwashed by our government to believe that Vita would be a brave new world. You’re utopia has turned into a dystopia.”
Confusion and shock overwhelmed me. “I don’t understand any of this,” I whispered.
“Well, allow me to explain. You thought we were building this perfect little world, that you’d come to the surface and lead a cozy little life with your husband.” His eyes widened like a mad man’s. “But it’s all a lie. You were right not to trust Dante. You’ve been manipulated, lied to.”
My jaw dropped. “What do you mean?”
“Asha is nothing but a human cattle farm, our food source. The livestock are brought up here at eighteen so the meat is still…tender. Who wants tough, stringy meat, right?”
“So why wait till we’re eighteen?” I snapped, sickened by the whole idea.
“Marbling adds flavor, and adults have a higher fat content.”
I shook my head vehemently as an emotional storm brewed inside me. “You’re lying!” I shouted, refusing to believe the heinous things he told me.
“You are all bred and raised as livestock. That is why the pregnant women or those who look after the children are allowed to live and stay in Asha. What do you think diamonds are? They are studs, for breeding. The longer we leave them in Asha, the more they will breed with the females.”
My tearful gaze met his. “Can I talk to the people I came here with?” I begged.
“Didn’t you hear a word I said? They’re dead, and you would have been dead, too, if I hadn’t stopped it.”
“Take a minute to calm yourself,” Walter said. “I am not sure how to deal with a bawling female.”
But you have no problems dealing with dead ones, I thought. I looked back up at him. “So…that other man who was here, he’s the one who killed them?” I dared to ask, my voice wavering.
“I’m afraid so. I’m the butcher, not the executioner. We keep it organized so that we don’t use up all our meat supply too quickly. The meat is spread out over the course of a year, and there is a new shipment of eighteen-year-olds every month along with others who are chosen to come up.”
I blinked the tears out of my eyes. “Is this Vita?”
“Vita means life. It is a slaughterhouse, yes, but it is also life. The people of Asha are our food, and without food, we cannot live.”
I swallowed hard and turned away. My world has just crashed down around me, and I couldn’t ponder how uncaring and unremorseful they were, killing human beings for their own nourishment. “I refuse to believe this,” I said. “It’s like something out of a science fiction movie.”
“There is nothing fictitious about it.” Walter wrung his hands, as if my ranting and all of my questions and emotional outbursts made him nervous. His gaze darted around and his cheeks grew red. “I-I’m sorry you’re going through this,” he said.
I met his gaze straight on. “You’re sorry? You people killed my friends!”
“Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve said? They were merely livestock.”
“No! They were human beings, real people with hopes and dreams. Did you know that Tanya wanted to create beautiful gardens? Collin couldn’t wait to get up here to beautify your world with murals. He was a wonderful artist and a beautiful person.”
“Perhaps that was what they were to you, but to us, they were only meat.”
“I can’t believe this,” I whispered.
I’d been taught since I was old enough to understand that Vita was a wonderful place, somewhere we looked forward to going when we left Asha. I thought it was our one and only chance to make a mark on the world. In Vita, we were supposed to be able to study literature and other languages and engage in art and music. We were told that Vita would expand as more and more people went to the surface, that we’d all work together to build a civilization. I’d always thought it would just take a little dedication and hard work to return Earth to its former glory, but now I knew all of that was just a childhood fantasy, a dream that would never come true.
End of Sample
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Apocalypse: Underwater City