The windows of the train were a silent barrier
between me and the outside world. Multiple shades of green merged with browns as bushes
blended with trees and hedges. The continuous stream of colour transfixed me. I had not
slept in over twenty-four hours and sleep was slowly catching up on me. My mind was
misfiring, kicking in and sputtering to an unsatisfactory conclusion.
Every so often, my eyes felt heavy and they would close momentarily, even for a few minutes,
and I would waken with a start. Each time my eyes closed, a slightly different scenario
that had its roots in what happened earlier on that day would play in my mind. In one,
the doctor and nurse recognised I wasn’t supposed to be there and caught me. In another,
Iris got spooked by me being a strange face and called for help. Finally, in the last
one I approached Iris when I entered her room and she didn’t move. When I got beside her
I whispered her name and touched her shoulder, only for her to shatter into thousands of
pieces at my feet. With all of these odd mini-dreams that played
in my overheated, hyperactive brain, I knew I had to sleep ahead of my meeting. The others
would be expecting answers and even though I didn’t have many, what I did have I would
have to relay back to them. The distant, almost incoherent hum of the
train engine as it pulled the carriages through the winding hills of the countryside was as
calming to me as a heartbeat in the womb. Every so often, the train would lurch slightly
left or right as it turned on the tracks and this would rock me even further into sleep.
Half past twelve, I thought as I looked at my watch and yawned. The timetable at the
station said the train would arrive in Hexingham West at one-forty-five. I knew I could get
at least an hour’s sleep before waking to gather myself and fight through the bustling
crowds at the station while, at the same time, trying to remain fully calm and dodge the
looks of any Security Forces, who were always on duty at the station.
My cold, half-finished cup of coffee sat on the table in front of me, but I couldn’t
stomach it with the worry of whether the nurse had figured out that I had taken the tray
into Iris’ room or if Iris mentioned that a new nurse brought her the food and described
me to her. I half expected to be met by the Security
Forces when the train pulled up and carted off to prison. As the coffee was all I had
to drink, I got up from my cabin and went to the dining car to get some water and use
the toilet. The train was full for a Wednesday afternoon.
The cabins were all occupied with businessmen and other professionals typing and swiping
away on their tablet screens. Tens of people, like zombies, staring. Their eyes scanning
over words, pictures and documents, each with their own importance and deadlines to be read
or written. The door to the dining car hissed open smoothly
and the clatter and noise of food and drink being served ruined the near silence of my
carriage. The smell of coffee and prepacked foods from all over the world filled the air,
like perfume. If I didn’t feel ill with worry that I had been discovered at The Institute,
I would probably have made the choice much earlier to get some food. It was lunch time
after all and I knew I had a long day ahead of me.
I ordered some snacks and a bottle of purified water. I made my way back to my cabin and
locked the door, being sure to check I hadn’t been followed from the dining car.
The bottle of water was ice cold and gradually numbed my fingers and hand the longer I held
it. Years ago, people used to be able to drink water from taps and drink bottled water as
a choice. I was one of millions of people in the country who didn’t have that choice.
It was either drink the purified water or get sick.
Many years before I was born, the government allowed people to drill for fuels in the ground.
People protested that they didn’t want these companies to be doing this because, during
the process, they had to use chemicals that could be poisonous if they were to get mixed
up with drinking water as it passed through the land.
When these protests were brought to the Prime Minister at the time, he ‘considered’
them but in the end allowed the companies to drill.
Things were fine for a while but eventually people started to get sick. It wasn’t long
before the protestors heard of this and demanded the government did something to punish these
companies and the people in charge of them for not fully revealing the dangers of the
chemicals used and their impact on the environment. In the end, the drinking water was contaminated
and couldn’t be drank without using purification tablets or drinking bottled or canned drinks.
The purified water didn’t taste bad, it just tasted a little different, but my grandmother
could never drink it. “Disgusting,” she would say. “Give me water out of the tap
any day.” I took out my phone and checked the message
I received from Carl before I boarded the train.
I can’t believe it is really her! If what you said is true, this will bring it all down.
6pm @ Bethlehem. C X I just wanted to get back home and to safety.
Even though I was in my own cabin and locked the door, I felt exposed. There was no doubt
that if the nurse suspected me at The Institute, I would be on their radar and Iris would most
likely be moved to another facility – lost forever.
I listened back to the words Iris spoke in the room. Her recorded voice was haunting,
like it was a hollow shell. A girl was in there – a real girl with a personality,
hopes, dreams and fears. The more I played back the recording, the more emotional I got.
When I look back at those feelings, those emotions that started to well up inside me,
I found it odd that I felt so strongly for the welfare of a girl that I had only met
once in person. Her life was one of myth among The Resistance and I had read so much about
her and what had apparently happened in her young life. Her story was one that intrigued
me and through reading about her, I felt close to her, like I was gazing through a looking
glass and seeing her live, move and breathe. After spending two years tracking Iris down,
I had already become attached to the idea of her but, now I had found her, the attachment
became all the more real. ‘I’m happy when I’m there. I smile. I laugh. I am a person
I have never been before. I like it,’ were the words that I kept scanning back to listen
to over and over. These were not the words of a teenage girl.
These were the words of a prisoner, a captive in an environment that was not one that they
were naturally supposed to be in. Years ago, when people used to keep animals
in zoos, certain people believed that was disgusting and animals deserved to be in the
wild. In the end, that’s what led to zoos being outlawed except for seriously endangered
animals so scientists could try to find a way to increase their numbers and release
more into the wild at a later date. For years, there were protests against zoos.
People of all ages felt so strongly that the treatment of animals in these places was disgraceful
that they protested up and down the country, calling for the animals to be returned to
their native environment. Eventually, The Authorities gave in and started
to export the animals to other countries and then close down the zoos. The voice of the
people had won, and everything returned to normal.
As I listened over and over again to Iris’ voice on my phone, I asked myself what would
happen if Iris’ story got out and people knew how she was being treated inside the
walls of The Institute. Would the same animal rights activists turn their attention to Iris
and use their voices in the same vitriolic tone to free her, or would The Authorities
simply tell them that it was necessary and crack down on anyone who refused to walk away
and back down? It was impossible to tell.
Iris was a young girl who should have been out in the real world, living, growing, learning
about what it was to be a teenager, making mistakes and learning by them. Instead, she
was a lab rat, a person who had something of use to The Authorities and they wanted
to extract it – to mine it and use it for whatever ends they had planned for it.
The more I researched Iris, the more it dawned on me that there was no way she could have
been the only person who The Authorities and The Institute could have experimented on.
Even then, for all we knew, they could have had ten Irises all working to the same goal,
whatever it may be. Being from a journalistic background, I knew
there were always two sides to every story and that there would be some shady uses for
the subjects, like Iris, but I also knew there had to be some other tests that were being
carried out too. When I looked at the world through my trained eyes, I started to see
it through a series of filters that would bend and tint the light to help me get a clearer
picture. To me, all of the theories and stories I had
heard through my time with The Resistance helped add another filter to my mind’s eye.
I believed a lot of what they told me and what I had researched while with them, but
I also knew that they had their own agenda, just like The Authorities did.
I just had to see what I needed to in the full spectrum of colour that was opening up
before me. Soon enough, the voice called out over the
intercom, ‘Good afternoon, citizens, we have arrived in Hexingham West. The time is
now one-forty-three p.m. Please disembark the train carefully and ensure you have all
of your belongings. Any belongings that are left behind will be treated as suspicious
and incinerated. Thank you for travelling with us this afternoon. Have a nice day.’
I did as the announcer asked and made my way through the carriage and out of the door onto
the platform. The near deafening quiet of the carriage gave way to an equally deafening
roar of a busy train station in the middle of the afternoon.
The platforms were alive with commuters, teeming from one train to the next. Many of the commuters,
with earpieces in, talked in an indecipherable chatter while scanning miniscule information
on the lenses of their eyewear. No one paid attention to where they were or whom they
may run into. Their life and their reality was contained within one ear and one eye as
actual reality happened all around them. A truly one-dimensional view.
The sweet smell of recycled air was almost sickly as it wafted through the bodies of
commuters and stationary trains. Even though it made me feel ill at times, I would much
rather breathe in the recycled air than the air I breathed in when I was younger.
The acrid, bitter taste of exhaust fumes through a cloth facemask was much more sickening.
I remembered the taste clearly, even though fossil fuels had been banned for ten years
or more. It was a taste that was hard to forget and one that the governments all over the
world took seriously to remove when they installed the recycling units. The Authorities in Britain
made it their priority and swift action was taken. From the North of Scotland to the South
of England, the smoking chimneys of factories and power stations ceased pumping out their
fumes and the new, cleaner Equinox reactors came online, powering the nation’s towns
and cities all across the country. Huge circular structures were dotted around
the skylines of every major city to filter and recycle the air as it blew through the
space in the centre. The citizens felt angry at having to pay the extra taxes to build
them at the time but everyone started to see the benefits almost immediately – one of
the few benefits the governments around the world declared was for the ‘greater good’.
Outside the station, I found a taxi to take me to Bethlehem – the name of our sanctuary.