Ash and Cinder | chapter 1
Posted March 20th, 2018 by Zelda
in a perpetual predicament
A/N: Big shout-out to Snow for encouraging me to post this, and Ena for doing the same and betaing so that the story is actually readable. You guys are amazing, thank you!
Also here's an exhaustive list of the things in this book that may be sensitive or inappropriate for some audiences:
- mild swearing
- violence/ themes of war
- mental illness including ptsd, panic attacks, and suicidal ideation.
I probably won't post warnings at the top of each chapter, so consider this your only warning.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoy it! The song for this chapter is: Ghost by Ella Henderson. Okay, I'll shut up now, on to the chapter!
My world ended when I was twelve. Elle’s ended when she was six. It was around the time that New York crashed and brought the rest of the east coast down with it. Our parents were desperate, they couldn’t feed us, they couldn’t clothe us, so they sold us. We’ve spent years in the compound now, and all I can remember is the rain and the lullabies we used to sing.
"Hey, Trick, pass the salt."
My head snaps up, and I correct my posture automatically. There are no salt shakers in the compound, ‘pass the salt' is a code warning. I scan the cafeteria and, sure enough, a reedy guard decked out in a ketchup uniform has his pale eyes trained on me. I meet his stare for less than a second and even that isn't on purpose. Dropping my gaze to the tabletop so he doesn't think I'm up to any trouble, I fiddle with my plastic spoon. Redcoats don't like it when experiments get broody. It means disorder is brewing.
Experiments are packed into the cafeteria, everyone eats at the same time and it gets crowded, the slightest nudge in the wrong direction could set off a disaster. A few people sit on the tables instead of the benches, stabbing their plastic spoons into their food. Those who either can’t or won’t eat occupy themselves with leaning against the wall and poking at the peeling paint. The scent of body odor is pervasive, and the fluorescent lights have washed everything and everyone a lifeless, grey shade. Despite the obvious, there still manages to be riots every once in a blue moon.
"Welcome back to the present, Trick," Maverick elbows me in the ribs in jest. "Now say hello to the new guy." He juts his sharp chin at a lump across the table from me.
I shove my glasses back onto my face. "New kid?" I ask, glancing up again. A pasty, pudgy guy stares at me from the other side of the table. His hands are folded on the over his bowl of porridge, the handcuffs clamped around each of his wrists are a sure sign that he's a newbie. Only two types of people in here wear cuffs; instigators on probation, and newbies on their first week in with the rest of us.
Mostly the handcuffs are for show, since the new kids don’t have any powers yet they don’t pose much of a threat. But sometimes whitecoats slice first and dump the unstable result on us. Those ones need the cuffs.
"Name's Hendrix," I say simply, reaching across the table with an open hand. Pasty takes it as best as he can with both hands chained together.
"Dieter," he replies, giving my hand a sweaty shake. I retract my arm and not-so-subtly wipe it on my loose shirt. Pasty gives me a sheepish grin.
"Sorry, warm in here," he apologizes.
"No big deal." I brush his apology off. I'm used to Elle or the white coats touching me, and none of them have particularly warm skin, let alone sweaty palms.
"So, Trick, while you were up and away in wheresville, the rest of us were filling Dieter in on the compound. He was wondering what your power was." Maverick, as usual, drags me back into the conversation before I have the chance to slip out of it. I scoop up a spoonful of tasteless porridge and shovel it into my mouth.
"Enhanced strength," I say around my mouthful of porridge.
Pasty cracks a grin and shakes his head like he doesn't believe me. I can't say I'm surprised. I'm not exactly the poster child for Bruno's Big and Buff, if you know what I mean. I’m shorter than most guys, and all lean muscle where other strength enhanceds have bulk. The glasses don’t help either, thick and heavy as they are.
To my right, Maverick snorts. "My man, I would not judge this particular book by its cover."
Pasty gives him an uncertain look, and so do I.
"Even if its cover is a scrawny nerd."
Ah, there's the dig. I 'playfully' shove Maverick off the end of the bench, his mouth drops in surprise as he pitches off and meets nothing but empty air to slow his fall. He lands hard on the stained concrete, his elbow catching the brunt of the fall with a thud. Despite the probable bruise, he cackles while he picks himself up. He’s an ass.
“For real though, what do you do?” Pasty leans in, body language perfectly relaxed. It’s as if to him this is nothing but a normal conversation between friends. In which case, he would be the most well-adjusted newbie in this place. It took me months to accept what had happened and assimilate properly, and back then I was a hell of a lot more talkative. My bet is, this calmness is his way of coping, he’s lying to himself as hard and as much as a person can lie because the truth is too much.
"You still have shackles on,” I say casually. In response, he looks down at the cuffs on his wrists and back at me. The chain holding him are thin and shiny new against his soft flesh. I reach across the table for them, but Pasty jerks his arms back. I roll my eyes. "Relax. I'm not gonna rip your hands off." I lean forward again and grab the chain. A simple pinch, a twist of the fingers, and voila, the handcuff chain is snapped clean in half.
Pasty's eyes grow wide, his mouth wider.
"You weren't kidding!" he gasps, waving his hands around. Moron. Does he want to get in trouble?
"Put those down!" I hiss, moving to pin his hands. Good grief, he's going to attract the attention of every redcoat in the cafeteria.
"I can move again," Pasty gushes, “you have no idea how long I’ve been stuck in those things.” He looks happy and I want to smack him. I lunge, trying to catch his waving arms, but someone beats me to it.
Dieter freezes up as a pair of meaty hands clamp down on his shoulders. The redcoat drags him out of his seat and spins him around. The experiments sitting at surrounding tables have all twisted around to watch.
"Mr. Paxton, it would seem that your shackles are a tad loose," the redcoat snarls, his voice rumbling deep in his chest. Pasty's gone from hyper-excited to downright terrified in less time than it takes Maverick to tick people off—which is to say, not very long.
"I-I-I can e-explain, sir." His face flushes almost the exact shade of the redcoat's uniform.
He better not rat me out.
"Can you now?" the redcoat leers. "Well then, explain away, Mr. Paxton, I'm all ears."
A hush falls over the surrounding tables. Beside me, a short, dark-skinned guy shifts over subtly, moving out of the potential line of fire. I spare a glance at the redcoat's nametag, and almost feel bad for Pasty. This particular redcoat has a reputation among the experiments for being ruthless. I, personally, have never seen someone with quite the same level of permanent Monday morning blues. The dude seriously hates his job, and us.
Pasty swallows hard and wrings his fleshy wrists. He cuts a look at me. I shake my head microscopically, and duck to examine the scraped tabletop. I cannot afford to get in trouble.
"It was Hendrix!" Pasty jabs a sausage finger at me. "He snapped the chain, sir."
I bow my head, silently cursing out Pasty. I can feel the redcoat's eyes boring holes in my skull.
"Mr. Sanchez." He draws out my name like it's a weapon. I lift my head just enough to peer at him, feigning meekness.
"Yes, sir?" I keep my voice low and respectful. I have to tread carefully or the white coats will take it out on Elle.
"Did you break this lovely pair of handcuffs?"
"No, sir," I answer immediately. I have worked too hard for the amount of freedom I have now, and I am not about to lose it because some newbie couldn't keep his trap shut. I cannot, and I will not.
As a general rule, most redcoats only get to know the powers of troublemakers, and I've never been one of those. It's a safe bet that this redcoat doesn’t know I could have easily broken those chains.
By now, the cafeteria is silent. Maverick is on the floor still. He has one hand on the bench, and his eyes are darting from the redcoat to me. He's tense. I'm more tense.
"Hmph," the redcoat huffs. He pulls a new pair of handcuffs from the utility belt at his waist, and my heartrate kicks up a notch. I don't dare move.
Then the redcoat turns back to Pasty. "Mr. Paxton, put your hands above your head," he grumbles.
"Wha—but he—I—" Pasty stammers.
"Paxton!" the redcoat barks. Pasty's hands shoot into the air. The redcoat slaps the handcuffs on his wrists and steers him towards the nearest exit. Every eye is fixed on the pair as Pasty is frog-marched out of the cafeteria to receive his punishment for being shackleless. The steel door slams shut with a boom, and the usual clamour makes a slow return to the cafeteria.
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