My Name is Jessica
We did not destroy ourselves as so many had thought we would. Our end came in the form of giant ships in the sky filled with monsters. To survive the end of our world we buried ourselves in the earth, in large concrete tombs. We gave up fresh air, sunlight, grown food and pure water. To win the war, we harnessed the Weapon. The Weapon was going to save us all. But it needed hands, bodies and minds to wield it and once picked up it could not be put down. It lives inside those who dare to lift it, as a part of them.
The soldiers tried first, but the Weapon ate them alive. Then, the men who were not soldiers tried, but they too fell. The scientists sought to figure out why and watched as men and women were devoured in experiment after experiment. It was a dark time when all hope seemed lost.
In the end, they found the answer by accident. An orphan from the Shelter found her way into the laboratory. She was five years old, and she did the impossible. She lifted the Weapon and held it without harm. It became a part of her, and she survived the joining.
No one remembered her real name, so they called her Hope.
My name is Jessica.
I was eight years old when the word ended, I was ten years old when I was identified as a viable host for the Weapon, and I was thirteen years old when I learned I could save the world.
On my thirteenth birthday, I woke to the buzz of the morning alarm.
“Eight, nine, and ten,” the bell fell silent, and the overhead light flickered on. I rubbed the yuck out of my eyes. “Come on Jess,” I said, and bracing myself against the cold, I threw back my blanket, and rolled out of bed.
I stripped out of my nightshirt and pulled on my day uniform in record time. I put my thumb through the familiar hole in the left sleeve of my sweatshirt. The whole ensemble was various shades of grey and at least one size too big. I felt like an extra in a cheap zombie movie, but at least I was warm now. The engineers had turned the heating off for maintenance last month, it still hadn’t come back on. Pulling my hair into some semblance of order and ignoring the fact that I couldn’t do anything else to make myself look less thin, pale and tired, I pulled on my shoes and hit the release button by the door. I slipped out into the hallway before the door had finished opening.
The hallway was a jumble of movement and sound. Researchers swarmed back and forth between the Labs and the Mess. Armed guards stood at intervals. They watched me as I squeezed through the crowd, their fingers moving to their triggers as I passed by. I ignored them and focused instead on the smell of baking that floated up from the Mess. My stomach tightened as the smell got stronger and the resultant growl could be heard over the chatter of the researchers. Despite the crowd, I took the stairs two at a time and landed with a thump at the bottom. The guard stationed at the mess entrance jumped and turned his gun to me. I flinched and thanked my luck that he had not been quite so trigger happy as the one last month. The perfectly round scar on my left shoulder throbbed at the memory. Shaking it off I squeezed into the Mess.
The Mess was one of the biggest rooms in Shelter. A long counter ran along one of the walls. A pile of trays sat at one end and a large black sphere at the other. I lifted a tray and joined the que of researchers. I kept my head down as I helped myself to a water bottle and signed my name on the register next to the bottle number. The que shuffled forwards closer to the Sphere, and the smell of baking got stronger. The Sphere clanked and rumbled as each person slid an empty plate into it, typed in their ID number and removed a plate filled with butter soaked crumpets. I reached the Sphere, pushed my plate inside, and typed in my number. The sphere jolted, and I crossed my fingers. My plate was full when I pulled it out, but not with crumpets. Instead, my plate was covered with dry cereal. I stared at it, the researcher behind me shoved me in the back. I moved away, tipped my cereal into a bowl and signed for a small allotment of milk substitute.
I turned, dragging my feet, and spotted Hope. She waved me over.
“Happy birthday, Jessica,” she said as I walked over. I smiled back. I had almost forgotten that it was my birthday, something I would never have done before the attack. Every birthday my mum had made a big breakfast, then there would be presents and usually a new outfit to wear to school. At school, all my friends would give me cards, and they’d sing at the lunch table. I missed those birthdays. “What’s it like to be a teenager?” Hope said, snapping me from my nostalgia.
“The same as yesterday, Hope,” I said.
“I can’t wait to be a teenager,” Hope said. “It’s not fair, you and David and Gloria are all teenagers, just me that’s not.”
“There’s David,” Hope stood up a waved. David stood at the Sphere, with his back to us. He turned around with his own cereal and spotted us, I glanced away feeling my face heat.
“Hi Hope, Jessica,” David sat opposite me. “Um…happy birthday.” He reached into his pocket and pulled a small trinket out. He dropped it on the table in front of me, not meeting my eyes. I lifted it, and it was warm in my palm. A small metal pendant carved to look like a rabbit caught in a moment of movement. Forever running.
“It’s beautiful,” I turned it over in my fingers. It was perfectly smooth like it had been rubbed for hours.
“It’s nothing really,” David mumbled. The little rabbit sat heavy and solid in my hand.
“Did you make this?” I asked. David blushed.
“I remembered you said you used to keep rabbits,” David said. “It’s for your chain.”
I reached under my t-shirt and pulled out the only thing they had let me keep. A silver chain that had belonged to my mother. I slid the little rabbit onto the chain and dropped it beneath my t-shirt where they couldn’t see it. It sat comfortably against my collarbone. I looked back at David and tried to think of something to say.
“Are they letting you out of class because it’s your birthday?” Hope asked tugging on my sleeve. I smiled at her and shook my head. David had gone an amusing beetroot colour.
“No, Hope, they are not letting me out of class.”
“Have you seen Gloria?” David asked, the pink in his cheeks fading. I shook my head. “Last I saw she was still in with, Preston.” My spoon stopped halfway to my mouth, Then I dropped it.
“Preston?” David nodded. “What did she do?” I said, trying not to think of the last time I had earned a session with Preston.
“She’s still afraid,” David said. “She needs to get over this fear. It’s stupid, you cannot be afraid of your Weapon.”
“A session with Preston isn’t going to help,” I said. “It’s going to make her worse.”
“She needs to pretend she’s not afraid,” Hope said. “That’s what I do. Preston will leave her alone if he can’t make her cry.”
“Hope,” I said, putting my hand on her shoulder.
A sudden shrill laugh had us all looking over to the next table, it was crowded with members of the Research and Development Team. They looked happy, eating crumpets with little cups of coffee. None of them had scars, and none of them had ever spent time at Preston’s tender mercy. My nose scrunched as I pulled an unkind face. I put my hand flat on our table and with a little concentration the air around my hand started to shimmer and waver as the heat rose from my skin. I let out a slow breath and with an effort of will pushed the heat towards the paper cup of the researcher nearest us. Hope laughed when she saw what I was doing.
“Jessica,” David hissed. I ignored him. The heat was flowing smoothly, and I needed to concentrate on not letting it get too intense. An open flame would be a dead giveaway. I held it for a few minutes before David tugged my hair breaking my concentration. My heat faded abruptly.
“Jessica do you want to go to Preston as well?” David said.
“Of course not, I just get so sick of…” I was cut short by a cry of surprised pain from the table next to us. Hope laughed as the researcher spat his, now scalding, coffee over the table. I looked at Hope and tried not to smile.
“Uh, Hope,” I said. “What I just did, don’t ever do that. Playing jokes on researchers is not smart.”
“Exactly,” David said. “They are only doing their jobs, just like we have to.” I glared at him.
“If they are just doing their jobs, why are they so…” A loud crackle and whistle sounded from the overhead PA and stopped me from finishing.
“Announcement: All Candidates For Mission To Shelter 275 Report to Docking Bay 2 in 30 Minutes. This Trip Has Been Immediately Advance Due To Imminent Poor Weather.”
“Oh great,” I muttered looking at the, now soggy, cereal in my bowl. “That’s my que.”
“Que?” Hope frowned at me.
“I’ve got to go pack,” I said.
“You’re not packed?” Hope said, her eyebrows rising. “I’ve been packed for days.”
“Nope, the trip wasn’t supposed to be until Thursday,” I said. Then because of the looks they were giving me. “It’s not like I’ve got a lot to pack anyway.” David gave me another stern look, and I stuck my tongue out at him.
The little rabbit bounced on my chain as I stood and took my tray to the return shoot. I tipped my leftovers into the recycling and lifted two of the energy bars out of a basket. I signed for and pocketed them, then walked out of the Mess Hall, Hope bouncing along behind me.
“Jessica,” Hope said following me up the stairs. David stomped along behind her.
“Yes?” I said
“Well, I’ve, I mean I have, um, I’ve heard stories about what’s outside the Shelters,” Hope said. For the first time in weeks, she didn’t sound excited at the prospect of the ‘field trip’.
“Hope, you shouldn’t listen to the Guards. They’ve just trying to scare you,” I said hoping that I sounded more confident than I felt. I had heard the stories as well. Not all of the human race had made it to the Shelters.
“But…” Hope started.
“Hope stop it,” David snapped. I glared at him, David caught my glare. “Don’t look at me like that.”
“I will look at you like that. Don’t shout at her, she’s only little,” I said.
“Girls,” he snorted as we reached the top of the stairs and stormed off down the hall.
“Jerks,” I mimicked his tone and took Hopes hand, pulling her along towards our rooms. “Hope you have nothing to be afraid of. You know I would roast anything bad before I would let them near you.” I stopped at my door and crouched in front of her. “Tell me again what we agreed if any wrong people get close.”
“I run as fast as I can,” Hope said robotically.
“As soon as you can,” I repeated firmly, “and you hide.” I stood back up.
“And you’ll roast em,” Hope said, still robotically.
“Go get your bag.” Hope smiled and turning around zipped down the corridor. I watched her go, moving so fast I could barely keep track of her. That was her Weapon. Nothing could catch Hope if she wanted to get away. Just as I could set a fire by intent and David could bench press the entire shelter complex if he wanted to.
I hit the button to open my door and stepped into my room. There wasn’t much to pack, so I moved slowly, hoping to avoid thinking too hard about what we were doing and what we could face.
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