Abbey is the one person in Battery City who sees the truth. BL/ind controls her, but her heart aches for freedom. So who will she stand with, Korse or the Killjoys?
"We don't know that John! What if they can help her? I've never heard of Better Living Industries doing anything but helping improve our lives. Some people talk trash about the company, and they'll get what's coming to them."
"It's true! And I don't want to hear such nasty gossip from my own husband. Our daughter is disturbed, and she's clearly not getting any better. We should tell someone...."
The raised voices of her parents had been keeping Abbey awake. She tapped the screen of her ipod and noted the time.
"One minute past midnight." she whispered to herself. "A new day."
She flung the covers back and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. On her bedside table sat the white bottle, glowing in the moonlight. The simplified, black face smiled up at her. Abbey always got the impression that it was laughing at her.
In a fit of desperation she wrenched the cap off the small tub and poured three tablets out onto her palm. Not bothering to find a cup she threw her head back and tipped the pills down her throat. She gulped, feeling the circular pellets lodge slightly before sinking into her stomach. The aftertaste was bland; the metaphor of her life.
"Come on." she pleaded. "Work."
A minute passed. The rage and frustration in her system flared stronger than ever.
"Please, please work. Take them away."
She could feel hot, angry tears seeping from her eyes.
Desperation flooded her body.
"Take my feelings away!" she screamed and knocked the bottle savagely from the table. White pills stamped with smiles grinned all over the floor.
There was no change in Abbey Palini's brain waves. The discontentment she felt for her life and her hatred for her parents and BL/ind wasn't wiped away like it had been for millions of American citizens. She didn't feel a sudden impulse to please anyone or ignore the fact that people were disappearing every day. The numbness that she had seen clouding over the faces of people after swallowing the drugs didn't show in Abbey. The toxins passed through her blood system without influencing or altering anything.
"I'm such a freak." her hoarse whisper bounced off the walls of her room, mingling with the agitated voice of her mother.
She shoved her headphones over her ears and grabbed her ipod. Her finger flew across the screen searching for a song, any song to drown out the voices downstairs, drown out the voice in her head. Her thumb tapped the screen and music flooded her brain.
"Now I know, that I can't make you stay
But where's your heart?
But where's your heart?
But where's your -
And I know..."
"You should hear the things her teachers say..."
Abbey turned up the volume.
"There's nothing I can say
To change that part
To change that part-"
"She's your daughter Deborah! How can you expect..."
Abbey's thumb frantically flicked the volume higher.
"But can I speak?
Well is it hard understanding-"
"You're such a freak Abbey." the voice giggled in her head. "Even your own mother thinks your a nutcase."
"Shut Up!" she screamed into her pillow, reaching the volume limit on her ipod.
"I am not afraid to keep on living.
I am not afraid to walk this world alone.
Honey if you stay you'll be forgiven.
Nothing you can stay can stop me going home."
The voices ceased abruptly and Abbey was able to stop thinking. Her mind went neutral, taken over by the screaming of her earphones. And although this was a welcome reprieve from the endless commentary, deep down she was scared. Each time the panic began to take over her ipod had to be turned up that little bit higher. It took that little bit longer to stop the fear taking over; the fear of living in a world of possessed people.
"Mmph." she cringed away from her mothers hand.
"Abbey get up. School is starting in half an hour and I can't deal with the embarrassment of visiting your principal again." Deborah's voice was frayed by fatigue.
Her daughter promptly sat up and threw her pillow at her wall. "Are you really taking me to school? Or are you just going to hand me over to some fucking BL/ind doctor!?" she screamed. On multiple occasions she had been told that she had a short temper, even before the takeover.
"No," her mother tried not to sigh. Deborah made a mental note of buying some stronger pills. Her patience was wearing thin recently. "I am taking you to school. No where else... Unless you wanted me to." Her voice brightened. "You know Abbey, I'd be happy for you to take the day off school if you'd let me take you to a doctor. I might even think about buying you that stereo-"
"You're unbelievable, trying to bribe me into talking to some quack. There's nothing wrong with me!"
"Yes there is." Her mother's voice turned cold. "You and your father wont face up to the facts. There is something seriously wrong with you Abbey and if you don't admit to it you'll end up-"
"Get out of my room. I'm getting changed and going to school." Abbey glared after her mothers retreating figure.
The trip to school in the car was silent. Abbey pulled on her precious Skullcandy headphones and muffled her mother's sighs. Deborah had been driving her daughter to school for the past year since Abbey had knocked out a kid on the bus.
"Violence is not the answer." the school councilor told Abbey, handing her a bottle of level 4 strength pills. After a short deliberation she had chucked them into a bin on the way out of school.
Abbey stared at the cityscape passing by out her window. The buildings in Battery City were square and white. White. White. White.
There was no escape from it.
Billboards pasted across walls reminded her to "keep smiling" and "take your pills" and "live a happy life, with Better Living Industries." Occasionally you'd see the flash of red from a wanted poster. The citizens of Battery City were indifferent to the menacing posters, asking for extermination of rebels. Abbey however hated them. They gave her the creeps. Every time she passed one she would look into the eyes of the person depicted and wonder if they were still alive.
Two months ago Abbey had been catching the train home when a man sat next to her. Normally she would have ignored the person, however it was hard to miss him. The unspoken dress code of the city was to wear anything white, grey or black. This man, although he was wearing black skinny jeans and a white shirt, was adorned with colourful accessories. A lime green belt, red wristbands, yellow converse, orange aviators and bold pink words on his t-shirt saying "Art is the Weapon."
Abbey had tried not to stare at the blonde man. He had a few facial piercings, something else rarely seen these days. There was something familiar about his face, but she couldn't pick it. It was like she'd seen him somewhere, but without knowing him personally.
The whole train trip Abbey had tried not to say anything to him. The other people in the carriage continued smiling blatantly like they always did, but there was the odd disapproving look.
When the train stopped and Abbey got up to leave the strange man calmly took hold of her hand and pressed a piece of paper into her palm. Abbey, not wanting to draw attention to herself, had stared straight ahead, but closed her fist over the note.
The doors opened and she stepped out onto the platform. Taking three steps away from the train she opened the crumpled piece of paper and read the three words scrawled there.
Love your headphones
Grinning she turned around, but through the window of the carriage she could see that he had gone. Disappointment flooded her. Her checkered pink, black and gold headphones were her second most prized possession, after her ipod. They provoked many dirty looks from strangers and one or two hard stares from Battery City policemen, but no voiced disapproval as of yet. She always found it a small victory that she could walk around the white streets with a splash of colour and not get pulled up. The brightly dressed man had given her the greatest compliment of her life in three short words.
And she couldn't say thankyou, or even smile at him.
Two days later she had passed a wanted poster and then had to double back. Behind the red cross was the face of the man from the train, the guy she recognized but couldn't pick a name for. The bold Exterminate printed on the poster only fuel the hatred that Abbey felt towards BL/ind. She desperately wished that she had smiled at him on the train, made some indication that she wasn't like the rest of them.
Deborah braked viciously outside Battery City Grammar for Girls, or BSGG as it was called for short. Abbey paused her ipod and rubbed her eyes before reaching into the back of the car and grabbing her bag.
"Have a good day." she murmured automatically.
"Catch the train home." her mothers tone indicated that she was still sore about their argument earlier.
Abbey shrugged, feigning indifference to Deborah's coldness. "Whatever." She stepped out of the car and walked towards the school.
Her mother deliberated before opening the window and yelling after her daughter "Don't talk to strangers!"
Abbey didn't turn around. She didn't want her mother to see her smile.
School was hell for Abbey Palini. The days were monotonous to say the least. In most schools in America before the takeover, you'd be able to find at least a handful of offbeat kids. Some were arty, others were deeply embedded in their music. Most were just off their face on drugs. But that didn't really matter because they tended to stick together, unprejudiced of age, sex or looks. They came together under a single cause; to stand apart from the crowd.
BL/ind changed all that. Abbey wasn't sure how or why, but all the misfits she once called her friends had disappeared. There wasn't a single kid in her school that could be called out of place. They swarmed through the corridors like a bunch of zombies; deaf and dumb to the world like everyone in America. However in school, it seemed worse than the streets.
Anyone out of school or uni was still under control of BL/ind, but to some extent had a personality. The children on the other hand began to think all alike. You could sit a bunch of randomly selected kids down to take the same survey, and they'd all give the same response. Abbey had a growing hunch that the school was messing with the students heads. She couldn't pick anything out of place, but every afternoon when her classmates went home, their eyes were a little bit blanker than they had been that morning.
Consequentially the teachers at BCGG had targeted Abbey as an oddity and often drilled her for questions. She dutifully went along their interrogations, responding in the same manner that every other kid there would; but the staff wouldn't be deterred.
"She might talk the same as the other kids, but there's something strange about the way she acts. It's so..."
"Defiant?" the other teachers suggested.
"Yes, she resists the education system." The first teacher stirred her BL/ind approved, non-caffinated coffee. "She seems normal enough but every now and then, something happens and she just reacts!"
"I heard she yelled at Peter Newson in class a week ago." one whispered
"No!" the other cried, scandalized.
"Mhmm. Told him that America had been run by a democratic government up until 2011."
"Ugh, democracy. So barbaric! What a strange, stupid child, I pity her parents. They're quite nice you know, very well off of course."
"If they know what's good for her, they'll get that child some help."
They all nodded in agreement.
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