JB Lacaden’s Picture Choice: 1
She got down on her knees and held Saber's head in her hands. The wolf looked at her with its knowing eyes and raised its head to give her cheek a lick. Tears welled up in her eyes. 39 gave Saber an embrace.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I just can't take you with me."
She let go, got on her feet, and pulled her hood up. The wolf followed her with its gaze--not once did Saber made a sound. 39 brought two fingers to her lips and then touched them to the wolf's forehead. "I promise this will not be the last we'll see each other."
39 slipped out of her room and melded with the darkness of the hallway.
Alarms blared behind her. 39 did not once stopped and looked back. She continued running deeper into the forest, guided by what little light that was able to penetrate through the thick cluster of branches and leaves. She knew the Company would come looking for her. She knew it wouldn’t be long before the wolves along with the other Numbers would be on her trail. 39 fought against the pain in her sides, against the darkness of the night, against the protest of her muscles. 39 kept on running. She didn't know where she was headed, she didn't know how long she'd have to go, but one thing she did know was behind her was a prison and she had no plans of going back.
39 woke up lying on the sunlight carpeted forest floor. Her robe had tears and holes and her bare feet were filled with scratches. She couldn't recall whether she had fallen asleep or had collapsed from exhaustion. But she didn't care. The only thing that mattered to her was she didn't wake up surrounded by the four white walls of her room inside the Company.
Her body ached all over but the most prominent pain was the one she felt in her stomach. The small window she had to escape wasn't enough for her to get anything aside from the tattered robe she was wearing and her bow and two arrows.
39 accessed the hunter/gatherer skillset in her database of skills implanted in her mind. She felt her muscles and her bones adapting the change. Her hearing and her eyesight sharpened. 39 smiled. She hated what The Company did to her but she'd have to admit - they did have their upsides too.
The bow felt like an extension of her arm. She made it when she first acquired her bowyer/fletcher skillsets. The bow was made of elm and had elaborate carvings running up and down its body. 39 never went anywhere without it.
The animal in front of her was feeding on the plants. She searched her database and found a match. The beast was called a deer. Herbivores of the family cervidae. It was completely unaware of 39's presence.
She nocked the arrow in place and pulled it all the way to her lips. All sound was hushed as if the entire forest waited with bated breath as to what will happen next. The only movement came from the deer. 39 released the arrow. It pierced the air and eventually the deer's neck. The animal fell to the ground.
39 walked over to it to find it still alive. She got down on her knees and finished the job. Cleaning the animal would be next. She pulled out the arrow from the deer's neck when she heard a sound somewhere behind her. 39's hunter reflexes kicked in. In less than three seconds she had her bow loaded with the bloody arrow and had it directed towards the sound - a girl with a very familiar face.
"Hello, 39," the girl said. Her torso was covered with white armor with The Company's insignia printed on the armor's chest. A gun was holstered in her belt and a baton was in her right hand. 39 knew the armor to be bulletproof, the gun to be loaded with tranquilizers, and the baton to be electrified. Standard gear for a manhunt. But the most prominent feature of the girl was her face. She looked exactly like 39.
"So, which one of you found me?" 39 asked.
The girl raised her left hand and the number 23 was tattooed on her palm. "Many have tried to escape but you're the only to ever get out of the compound. The Makers are impressed," 23 said.
39 eyed her clone. If one of them was here then at least one other Number wasn't too far. It was standard procedure to always go in pairs. 23 guessed what she was thinking.
"I'm paired up with 15. She's not far." 23 raised her other hand to show a small device with. "I press this button and she'll come running here. I suggest you lower down the weapon and come with us."
"I won't return back to that...prison," 39 answered back.
"It's your home. The Company takes care of us. They made us! That's where we belong."
"No! No. That...that place, the people there, they don't care what happens to us. We are just objects to them. We're weapons."
"And where will you go?" 23 countered. "You've heard the stories, you've seen the images. There's nothing out there. The world outside the compound is just filled with wildlands, mutants, and chaos. The Company made us and yes, you can say we're made to be weapons, but we're weapons that will be used to protect the remaining survivors of this dying planet. We're the future. We can make things right again."
39 smiled bitterly. "You think we're the future? You have no idea what we really are to them. I've seen their plans. It's why I ran away. They're planning to--"
"Good job, 23. You've found her."
39 took one quick glance and she saw another Number. 15 she assumed. Every Numbers were all created equally in terms of intelligence and skills. 39 knew if she fought hard enough she could beat 23 but fighting two Numbers at the same time would be impossible. She knew she was in trouble.
But she'd already made up her mind. If they do bring her back to The Company, it would be as a corpse.
"Lower your weapon, sister," 15 commanded.
39 heard the cocking of a gun behind her. She caught 23 steal a glance at 15. 39 knew she had to act fast. She raised her bow and made a quick release and then she dove to the side without bothering to check whether her arrow struck the target or not. The tranquilizer dart barely got her; it zipped past her leg and into the forest.
39 rolled on her knees but was quickly met with 15’s electric baton. It caught her right on the chest, which sent her on her back. Her body convulsed as the electricity coursed through within her and for a moment 39 felt nothing but pain.
Then she felt nothing at all.
She tried moving but her body refused to listen. Above her, thin strands of white clouds slowly rolled by. She felt her eyes water up.
No. This can’t be the end. I don’t want to go back. I want to live...
Her view of the sky was blocked with the faces of her clones looking down at her. She saw an arrow sprouting from 23’s right shoulder. The clone’s face though was free of pain.
“You really didn’t think you’d be able to win against two Numbers?” 15 said.
39 did not know where she got the strength to break out of the paralysis or to do what she did next but she was thankful for it. Her hand moved like a viper. She grabbed 15 by the wrist, the one that held the baton, and she pulled the clone down. 39 then raised her legs and held 15’s neck between them. Using her other hand, 39 snatched 15’s baton, turned the power on with a press of a button, and struck 23’s knees with it. 23 screamed in pain from the electrocution and her body folded to the ground.
39 could feel 15 struggling with the hold she had on her.
“You’ve no chance of escaping The Company, sister,” 15 said with a maniacal smile on her face.
“Watch me,” 39 answered as she tightened and twisted her legs until she felt 15’s neck broke. The clone’s body went limp.
39 got on her feet and surveyed the scene. Two Numbers lay dead in front of her. A stroke of luck? There was no way a single Number could out duel two. 39 went over to 23 and she pulled out the arrow sticking out from her fellow clone’s arm.
39 ran away without looking back.
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JB Lacaden dreams of someday being a published writer. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines. He's a lover of comic books, science fiction, and high fantasy. Check out some of his works at http://www.jblearnstowrite.com/ and follow him at @jblearnstowrite.