Behind the cut, you'll find the Prologue (which picks up where Allegiance leaves off), as well as the first three chapters. To read these chapters, you'll need to have read both Program 13 and Allegiance.
To read Deprogrammed as a whole, you'll need to have read Program 12, Program 13 and Allegiance. Program 12 wasn't a must read for Program 13, but you'll understand why it is a must read for Deprogrammed come this Sunday. ;)
I focused on the sound of the light buzzing noise that came from the sides of the Pod, my only indicator that the mist was still activated.
It had been weeks – possibly even longer – since my eyes had opened.
McVeigh had succeeded in restoring Program Thirteen, but he had failed in ridding her system of me.
I had expected her to fight me off, but from what I was able to gather, Thirteen had not remembered me, the only positive to come from the deprogramming. I was nothing more than a ghost file living on her program now.
As long as I remained undetected, I stood a chance at saving both my family and Colton.
But I knew it was only so long before they located my file.
And when they did? I would be a goner.
I just had to hope that I had time and that it would be enough.
Footsteps sounded from outside the room. It had been hours since anyone had entered. The White Coats came by every few hours to perform evaluations on Thirteen’s program, forcing me awake.
My body lay motionless as they connected the wires and upped the mist in the Pod, all while I did my best to hide my memories; there were a few times I had come close to exposing myself, times when spikes in Thirteen's readings made the White Coats question if her system was operating per usual. Thankfully, I had gotten better at controlling myself.
I couldn’t risk another spike. Although we were two separate beings, we inhabited one body. She was programmed to act a certain way while I was still able to think of my own freewill. Our minds were still very much connected, although my ability to control my body had diminished significantly since the hard drive swap.
It felt as though I had been trapped inside of a coffin, able to hear, to feel, to think, but unable to reveal my identity.
I listened to the footsteps, counting them as they moved further inside of the room. Two meant it was the White Coats. Again. Three meant McVeigh had come to check on Thirteen. And four? Well, I wasn’t sure.
I could have only assumed that it meant McVeigh was up to something.
There was a part of me that feared that he knew that I had survived the deprogramming and that the only reason he hadn’t put Thirteen down was because he no longer needed just her – he needed the two of us.
I listened carefully, relying solely on my sense of hearing to alert me of any danger.
One of the visitors veered off from the others, their shoes smacking against the tile floor, growing louder and louder as they neared the Pod.
Unable to move, I lay still, hoping to avoid a spike in Thirteen’s readings.
After the initial deprogramming, I was almost wiped out.
Now I was fighting my way back in, trying to reclaim what was rightfully mine. But in order to accomplish that, I had to follow the rules of Vesta Corp. I had to remain hidden on Thirteen’s hard drive in order to avoid deactivation, because if she was deactivated, so was I.
So I held in my fear, doing my best to keep myself hidden.
There wasn’t much else that I could do. At least, not yet.
“Emile!” Hayden’s cries tore through the otherwise quiet room. His hands pounded against the Pod window. “You bastards. What have you done?”
“I corrected Nora’s mistake.” McVeigh’s voice answered simply, as though what he’d done had been entirely logical.
“Can someone please tell me who Nora is?” Hayden’s voice was full of desperation.
I wanted to hold him, to tell him that it was alright; that I was still here with him. But I couldn’t.
I felt helpless.
This wasn’t how things were supposed to be.
As a naïve teenager, I had thought my life had been pretty crappy before. Boy was I wrong. It was funny how much I took for granted, how little I appreciated those around me. Now that I had to sit by and listen to those that I loved suffer, unable to do a damn thing about it, I realized just how much they had meant to me.
Their love, their need to save me, would only end up destroying them if I couldn’t find a way to stop McVeigh.
And I couldn’t allow that to happen. I couldn’t allow myself to stand by and watch as everything that I loved was destroyed. I had fought too hard for to allow for that. Maybe it hadn’t been enough before, but I’d see to it that it would be enough this time.
A low buzzing noise sounded from inside of the Pod, just as it had at the end of every other Standby period. It would only be a matter of seconds before Thirteen opened her eyes, and while I was eager to see what was going on, I wasn’t entirely thrilled at the prospect of being forced to live beside her again, especially since McVeigh had been reprogramming her system.
He’d secured the files, restricting access only to those that had obtained the password, and, unfortunately for me, I lacked that tiny detail.
Though I lacked the ability to access her program directly to see the changes being made to her system, it wasn’t difficult to figure out that McVeigh was up to something.
He was always up to something.
My eyes began to twitch, a sign that Thirteen’s system was beginning to awake from Standby Mode.
I was both thrilled and terrified by what that had meant.
The changes to her programming would take effect upon her next system reboot – the moment I awoke from Standby Mode – and I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant for me.
There was always the chance that they had found a way to thoroughly wipe out her system, ridding her of me, something that would only occur after her system had been taken out of Standby Mode.
A low hum filed the air as the clock counted down to her awakening – to our awakening.
“Ten seconds,” a man’s voice stated - a voice that reminded me just how continuous this life really was. I knew that when I’d killed Douglas Todd there would be a good chance McVeigh would have him brought back as a Program. Just not so soon.
“She’ll be awake soon.” His voice echoed throughout the room.
Ten… The buzzing noise grew louder as the electricity traveled throughout my body, waking up Thirteen’s system after hours – possibly even days – of inactivity.
That was all about to change.
I tried my best to focus on something else – anything else, but it was hard when the room was drowning in silence.
I listened closely, clinging to the slightest of sounds, and beneath the silence, I found the sound of fear. It pulsed through the air, a signal of distress, uneasiness; a sign that something was wrong.
“It’s not nice to keep your company waiting,” McVeigh’s voice broke my concentration.
I thought back to what Hayden had asked. Nora. Who was Nora?
There was a key piece that I was missing, something that should have been obvious but wasn’t. Whoever Nora was, she played a pivotal role in whatever was taking place.
The sound of rubber slapped against the tile floor, the sound of someone’s rubber soles hitting the tile as they neared the pod housing my body. “I am,” a girl responded, one that I presumed to be Nora.
Except that I knew that voice. I knew that voice well, and it didn’t belong to a Nora.
Alexis. I tried to speak, but my mouth wouldn’t open.
A hand pressed against the glass outside of my Pod, the screeching noise nearly sending me into a panic – something that could prove fatal with McVeigh so close. “You did this?” Hayden asked.
“Yes,” Alexis responded solemnly.
But she hadn’t.
Hayden had to have known that.
I was here of my own accord, my own stupidity.
I was here because I was naïve enough to believe I could end this on my own.
I was here because I needed to right my wrongs.
The buzzing noise stopped. For a moment, the room fell to complete silence.
The corners of my eyes began to twitch as Program Thirteen started to awake. Slowly, my fingers began to bend, the joints stiff having gone unused for a long period of time.
The Pod door eased open, the sounds of the hinges pierced through the silence of the room.
I could feel the electricity traveling through me at full speed. I could feel my body begin to wake, to regain functionality.
My eyes – Thirteen’s eye – flew open at once.
She peered over at the group of visitors, the group that included Hayden, stopping once she came upon McVeigh.
There was this level of admiration for McVeigh in her thoughts; a love for this man that I was sure that I would never understand.
He was a murderer, an image of evil, but her system made him out to be some sort of savior.
I tried to scream, to tell her not to trust him, to break through her programming. But it was useless. She saw what he wanted her to see.
“Hello, Thirteen,” he beamed.
Hayden stepped forward, inching closer to me. Alexis’ hand grabbed a hold of his arm, pulling him back. “Don’t,” she pleaded.
With each passing second, I could feel myself losing control of my emotions, of my thoughts. It felt as though Thirteen was pulling me towards her, reverting us back to one.
One being. One system. One Program.
It felt like being pulled by a magnet.
I tried to fight it, to fight her, but I couldn’t.
No matter how hard I tried to stop her, to override the merger, it never worked.
He knew, I thought. This entire time, he knew that I was still here.
Thirteen stepped away from the Pod and slowly, her heavy feet dragging beneath her, made her way over to McVeigh.
When she opened her mouth to speak, I expected to hear my voice, the voice that once belonged to me before they’d given her my body. Instead, what came out was a robotic voice completely devoid of emotion, of thought. “Is it time?”
I was awake, for what felt like the first time in my life.
My sight, my senses had all been enhanced.
We – Thirteen and I – had been enhanced.
I should have been erased. The attempted rewrite on her program was evidence of that. But I hadn’t been. I was still here, still present, still alive. And now I understood what I had to do.
“Thirteen,” McVeigh stepped forward, his hand extended out for me to grab a hold of. “Are you ready?”
It was a simple question, one that couldn’t be answered easily.
The part of me that was Thirteen? She was ready. She had been programmed to be ready.
I couldn’t say the same for me.
I had been human. I was built to experience life, to grow, to know what it was to love, to leave an impact behind after my time had come to an end. That was how my life should have played out.
But that life no longer belonged to whom – or what – I had become.
There was no end to this life, only if I exposed myself, and I couldn’t afford to do that.
I needed to end this, to save those that I loved before they were sentenced to lives as mindless Programs.
Flashes of data that had been implemented on Thirteen’s hard drive during her most recent evaluation filled my mind. Every stream of information held a secret that I wasn’t meant to see but that McVeigh knew I would see.
Perhaps it was foolish of me to believe that he would have assumed that I’d been erased, after all, he was always one step ahead of me. But if he knew I was in here, why had he allowed me to remain alive? Why hadn’t Thirteen been deactivated? Because McVeigh needed me just as much as he needed her.
“I will ask you again, Thirteen. Are you ready?” McVeigh grew steadily frustrated.
“Yes.” The word left my mouth without any effort on my behalf.
She was stronger than me, just as she had been before, but this time was different.
She’d been reprogrammed. She knew how to protect herself from intruders – from me.
That was the worst part of it all.
I was an outsider inside of my own body.
“Emile?” Hayden sounded desperate, as if he needed to know that I was still here – alive underneath it all, underneath Thirteen.
But I couldn’t answer him.
Her program blocked me, preventing me from saying a word.
I’d never felt so strong, and yet so weak all at once.
Thirteen froze. She turned her attention to Hayden, her eyes studying every detail about him: his face, his voice, his name. I watched as she took it all in - as the data flooded her program. It didn’t take long for the images to follow: Photos from when we were children, long before we’d ever heard of Vesta Corp. Memories I tried to keep hold of, to remind me why I was still fighting.
But, like with everything else that McVeigh touched, the peaceful memories shortly turned into nightmares.
As her program continued to feed her information, I could hear him screaming my name as he fought for his life. Emile. Desperation clung to his cries.
There was nothing that I could do to stop the images.
Her thoughts were mine now, and McVeigh knew that. He was trying to break me, to force me to reveal myself. But I wouldn’t give him the pleasure. I couldn’t afford to collapse now. They still needed me – Hayden, Colton, my parents.
And I still needed them.
They were the only thing I had rooting to me to the person that I once was, to the life I used to have. Without them, I was nothing more than a file hidden away; forced to imprisonment within my own body.
“Hayden Reed,” the voice that escaped my lips was lifeless, robotic, uncaring, and it was now mine. “Brother of Emile Reed.”
“Why, that is correct, Thirteen.” McVeigh clapped his hands together excitedly as if anything that exited my mouth was of importance. They were facts, facts that Thirteen had been programmed to know.
Hayden’s face was the last thing I saw before it all went blank.
My memories grew fuzzy, dark. A piercing noise sounded from inside me. I wanted to scream for help, to cry, but it would have only been useless. None of them would have heard me.
I tried to fight it, to force myself to search for Hayden, to find my way back out of the dark. But no matter how hard I tried my efforts were ineffective. My connection to the outside world had been cut off. Thirteen had taken full control of that, too.
And then came the buzzing.
The dreaded buzzing.
It traveled throughout my body slowly, taking with it any control I had retained. Stop, I pleaded, but her programming held no sympathy, it was just as mechanical as she was.
I could feel myself falling away, bit by bit. Every memory. Every thought. Everything. It was all fading away from me.
I was drowning in darkness, being pulled under by an all controlling force – McVeigh. This was what he had wanted, and he was getting it, once and for all.
The buzzing noise grew louder as the electricity traveled upwards, flowing throughout every inch of my body. Don’t forget, I told myself, you can’t ever forget.
But my words were hopeless.
My body jolted forward unexpectedly, and then I fell face first against the cold tile floor.
I couldn’t help but to think of her eyes; how empty, lifeless they had appeared.
I knew that she was gone, and I was sure that he knew too, but he couldn’t admit it. Hayden still believed that Emile was in there and that, underneath Thirteen’s programming, she was fighting back.
But she wasn’t.
My uncles, Charles McVeigh and Douglas Todd, placed Thirteen back into the Pod after she collapsed, and ordered the White Coats to bring us to a nearby holding cell. I knew what was coming, and I knew what I would be expected to do, and the thought alone was enough to kill me.
I’d already cost him so much. I couldn’t take his life from him, too.
I wasn’t a monster like the rest of my family. I had a functioning heart, one that felt emotion, love, and happiness. And it was all because of Hayden.
That boy has softened you, my dear Alexis, my Uncle Charles’ words replayed in my mind.
And maybe he had, maybe I did care too much, and maybe that would be my downfall, but that didn’t matter right now. What mattered was him.
I needed to save him because this – all of it – was my fault.
“How could you do this?” His voice cracked as he struggled to find the strength to speak.
It was a question that I had often asked myself. How could I have done this – any of it? I went against everything that I believed in, and for what? Because I was terrified of my uncle? Of what he would have done to me had I said no?
It was ridiculous, and I knew that now, but it was too late.
Every decision you make comes with a consequence.
I’d made my choice, and even if I hadn’t agreed with it, I had to accept the consequences of my decision.
“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen, Hayden, you have to believe me.” I tried to reason with him, but it was futile. Every person had a breaking point, and Hayden had, finally, reached his.
Hope only took you so far before you allowed yourself to crumble under the truth.
“She’s gone,” he whispered. “My sister is gone, and it is all because of you.”
As much as it hurt to hear him say it, I knew that everything he had said – and would say, I was sure – was the truth.
“I had no other choice, Hayden, I need you to believe me.”
But everyone always had a choice.
I just made the wrong one.
“You’ve lied to me from the beginning, how am I supposed to believe a single word that you say now?” He slammed his fist against the steel wall. Tears slid out of the corners of his eyes, slowly gliding down his cheeks. “It has all been a lie. You’re no better than him.”
My entire life had been built upon a lie and now the facade was crumbling, collapsing into a pile of rubble, taking me with it. I was broken, hurt, grasping at the fringes of a life that once held so much promise. And the worst part was that I knew I deserved this. All of it.
“I lied to you because I had to, Hayden.” I slumped down against the steel wall, my head cradled in my hands. “Nora McVeigh? She doesn’t exist to me. She died out long ago as far as I’m concerned. This is me. Alexis Ward.”
He lowered his head and leaned against the wall, his hands digging into his jean pockets. He didn’t say a word, but the look on his face – almost as though he felt sympathy for me in that moment – showed me that he was willing to listen.
“All of my life, I’ve been forced to live a lie, to hurt others in order to protect myself. But that life is behind me. I never meant for any of this to happen. They promised me that no one would get hurt. I didn’t know, I swear to you, I didn’t know,” my voice was heavy with sorrow, and I hoped that he could hear it.
He moved towards the back of the holding cell and slipped off his jacket, using it as a makeshift pillow. He lay down on the ground, his arm over his eyes. I was sure the conversation was over, until he spoke, “You’re going to turn me into one of them, aren’t you?”
“That is what my uncle expects from me, but I can’t do that to you.”
“Except you will,” he said, dropping his arm to his side. “Humans are weak individuals. We will do anything and everything in order to protect ourselves – any morals we have instinctively go out the door when it comes down to life or death. And as you’ve already shown, you’re no different from the rest of us.”
“Haven’t you ever heard the saying that our pasts do not define us?” I countered, growing frustrated. “I screwed up, Hayden. I admitted that. Why can’t you let it go?”
“Let it go?” He sneered. “You are the reason my sister is a Program. Please, tell me how I’m supposed to let something like that go? Because I’d love to know.”
Footsteps sounded from outside of the holding cell, essentially ending our conversation. I still had much to say to him, but for now, I welcomed the silence.
The silence was much more comforting than the truth.
A key clicked inside of the lock on the door. As it creaked open, I found myself wondering what awaited us. I knew what my uncle expected of me, and I also knew that I wouldn’t do it. I refused to do it again, to hurt someone that meant so much to me. I wouldn’t do it.
But there was a part of me that also acknowledged that Hayden was right.
Hadn’t I already proven myself to be desperate? Selfish?
Yes, and that part was still very much inside of me. I knew that my words now meant nothing, that it would be my actions at that time that would reveal just how sorry I was.
My uncle Charles stepped inside of the cell, flanked by my uncle Douglas and two White Coats. “I take it that you’ve told him?” He cocked an eyebrow at me.
“He knows, yes,” I muttered, tilting my head up so that I wouldn’t have to look at him.
“Well, Hayden,” he took three steps forward, stopping a few inches from where Hayden lay, and squatted down across from him. “At least your family will be a whole unit again.”
Hayden lay still, his chest rising and falling rapidly, anger coursing through every inch of his body. But he didn’t say a word. Not that I could blame him. After all, what was left to be said?
My uncle was a corrupt individual, someone with no sense of morals, and he would stop at nothing in order to get what he wanted. And right now? He wanted Hayden.
“I see you’re just as stubborn as the rest of your family.” My uncle rose to his feet and looked down at Hayden, a smug smile tugged at the corners of his lips. “All you had to do was let her go, allow her to become something better. But you couldn’t let go, could you?”
As my uncle passed by me, I reached out and grabbed a hold of his arm. “We had an agreement,” I reminded him. “You were supposed to let him go. That was part of the deal.”
He grabbed a hold of my fingers, slowly, and painfully, pulling my hand off of his arm. “Well, much like you, Nora, I have the tendency to go back on my word.”
I should’ve ignored him, paid him no mind, because I knew that he was only trying to hurt me. But like a fool, I didn’t. I knew that he was right, and that was the worst part of it all.
I also knew the moment that I signed that contract that my uncle had never been an agreeable man. His world ran according to his desires and needs.
And he wanted Hayden.
He followed Todd out of the cell, ordering the White Coats to cuff us and bring us to the Memory Room. “Consider this your new slate,” one of the White Coats snickered.
“You know, I bet you’d make a fantastic Program.” I smirked as he tightened the cuffs around my wrist.
With everything that was going on, it was important to remember to laugh – to allow myself to feel alive when I was surrounded by so much death.
My heart was breaking, piece by piece, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. But I wasn’t dead. Not yet. Although I wasn’t entirely sure how long that would be the case.
I had every intention of saving Hayden, after all, it was the least that I could do for him since I’d cost him his entire family. Yet, even though I was set on helping him, I knew that my words were nothing more than that – words.
The only way to make him see how sorry I was for my actions was to show him.
Words were nothing. They couldn’t heal his pain. They couldn’t bring Emile back. But maybe I could. I owed him enough to try.
As he passed me, Hayden leaned in, his lips mere inches from my ear. “If you really want to fix this, you’ll save her.”
I wanted to fix this, to right my wrongs, but it wouldn’t be that easy – my uncle had made sure of that. Assuming Emile had survived – which seemed unlikely after the numerous rewrites they’d performed on her program – then she was buried away, deep inside of Thirteen.
The only person that would know for sure would be my uncle.
If he had kept her alive inside of Thirteen, by now, she would’ve merged with Thirteen’s programming, making it nearly impossible to separate the two hard drives, which would’ve been my uncle’s intention.
There were no guarantees, no promises that I could save her, but I had to try.
Both Emile and Hayden deserved that much of me.
With each passing second, I plunged deeper into the darkness. I pulled, and I pulled, eager to be free, but each push forward was meant with a tugging force back.
“The Program seems be resisting,” a woman’s voice came from above me.
I could feel the current starting near my spine. It moved slowly, gently easing its way throughout my body, leaving a trail of heat in its wake.
“Maybe we should call McVeigh down here,” the woman’s voice had grown worried. “Her charts are through the roof. Something isn’t right.”
“No one is calling McVeigh,” a man’s voice responded angrily. “She’s an advanced Program, of course she’s going to react differently to tests.”
Their words drifted into the background as the buzzing grew louder with each new current.
I wanted to scream out in pain, but it hurt too much to move.
Images flashed through my mind – news reports, performance charts, and data reports. Each and every one burned into my memory, as though I’d known the information all along.
Our minds, our memories, our lives had merged together.
We were now one.
And we now held a purpose.
We were to aid in the capture of Alexis Ward and Hayden Reed under the orders of Charles McVeigh.
As the darkness gave way to light, the locks on my Pod clicked open, and my hard drive slid out of place, allowing me to move freely.
“I don’t like the look of this.”
The Pod door opened up, revealing a steel room full of computers and wires that ran along the bottoms of the walls.
I glanced around, committing every inch of the room to memory.
“Her eyes, they don’t look right.” A small woman, wearing a rather large white coat, moved towards the back wall, her hands crossed over her chest.
I could register her fear. I could hear the rapid pace at which her heart had been beating. I could see each bead of sweat as it traveled down her face.
“You’re afraid.” I moved closer towards her. With each step came a loud bang as the weight of my body pressed down against the tile flooring. “Why is that?”
“There is still some human left in this one,” his voice came from behind me. The corner of his lip rose up in a slight smile as he walked across the room, his hands buried inside of his pockets. “We’ll be able to learn so much from her.”
I didn’t move as he laid his hand on my shoulder.
“But, Sir,” the woman stepped forward, her face showing signs of uncertainty as she moved in closer towards me. “Her eyes – they are not like the others. It is almost as if she’s been possessed. The other Programs, their eyes are empty, sad, but hers... they are vibrant and full of life. It isn’t right.”
McVeigh let out a soft laugh. “My dear, must I remind you that Thirteen here is different from the others? She is still human. But that part of her is buried beneath her programming now.”
I glanced down at my arms, at the skin that hid the metal that ran throughout my body, and mulled over his words. Human. Programming.
Underneath all of it, there was a faint heart beat. The only thing I had left to remind me of what I once was.
“Thirteen,” McVeigh’s voice tore through the all consuming silence and forced me out of my thoughts, “Come now. Your Social Teacher is waiting for you.”
The smile on his lips was alarming, but that didn’t stop me from following behind him as he made his way towards the heavy steel door. I’d been programmed to trust him. And I did, whether I liked it or not.
I no longer had say over my actions.
This was what I had become, and this was what I would continue to be, there was no other option, I held no choice in the matter. And I was finally beginning to see that that was okay.
Charles McVeigh had saved me. He gave me life after death, a chance at a new beginning – at a life I never knew that I could have. There would be no endings. Only beginnings.
As my excitement grew, I could feel my program beginning to go into overdrive, trying to monitor each and every thought as it came through. I knew that McVeigh was weary of me still, worried that I would give into my old desires, that I would try to separate myself from Thirteen again. But I had come to know better.
There was nothing in my past worth hanging onto.
Everything that I needed, I already had, McVeigh had made sure of it.
“Thirteen,” he called, his hand extended out for me to grab a hold of. “I do believe it is time for your social class.”
He led me towards the heavy steel door, careful to keep a loose grip on my wrist as he did so. I could feel the White Coats staring at me, their eyes burning a hole into the back of my head. The woman’s heart beat had finally begun to settle, but I could tell she still feared me. I was the unknown to her. I was different from the other Programs. I was the only one of my kind – for now, at least. And that frightened her because she wasn’t sure what I was capable of.
And honestly, neither was I.
“So it’s a complete set now?” The man called out as McVeigh reached for the door handle.
He turned and smiled, as though an inside joke had passed between them. “Almost, Nathan, almost.”
I’d spent so long closed off from the rest of the world, trapped inside of my own little hell – unable to feel, to care, to break free. And in a matter of months, he had changed all of that.
My walls had crumbled, my heart had learned to feel, to love, to want. But that was all gone now. I had surrendered every last bit of it – of myself – in order to attempt to right my wrongs.
When she walked through the door with my uncle, I could feel my heart tighten in my chest.
I couldn’t allow myself to believe Emile was still in there. Her eyes, although vibrant, were lacking the glow I had come to know. She had once had so much love inside of her, and this… this thing, didn’t. It was hollow, void of any real human emotion – of the girl I had helped destroy.
“Alexis, I believe you’ve met Thirteen,” my uncle said smugly.
She glanced over at me, trying to make sense of his words I supposed, and lowered herself into the chair directly across from me. She laid her arms out on the metal table, trying to relax. “Alexis Ward,” she uttered, her voice was softer than the last time I’d heard it. “It is delightful to meet you again.”
Her words were like a dagger to my chest.
Yeah, I highly doubt you’d think that if you knew what I did, I thought.
It was painful to see her like this, especially now that I knew there was no chance of saving her. With Hayden locked away and my uncle keeping her in seclusion, I didn’t stand a chance at rescuing Emile.
My uncle strolled over beside me and leaned against the table, his hands crossed at his waist. In a low voice, he leaned in and said, “If you even so much as think about releasing her again, so help me, I will kill her entire family – including that boy of yours.”
“You are a heartless bastard,” I said, clenching my teeth.
He smiled, as though flattered by my words. “And you are a disgrace to our family, so I suppose that we’re even, huh?”
As he stood and made his way back out the door, I imagined all of the ways I wanted to hurt him for doing this to me – to Emile, to Hayden. They didn’t deserve any of this. I was born into this world, no matter how hard I fought, Vesta Corp would always be a part of my life whether I liked it or not, but there were no reason for their inclusion into this hellhole.
My uncle was desperate to create a perfect teenage Program, and he had achieved that in Emile as far as he had been concerned, but at what cost? Was it worth destroying an entire family? Was it worth taking a young girl’s life?
To him, the heartless jackass, I supposed that it was.
But to me? None of this was worth it.
My grandfather used to always say that life was given upon death. And I knew that it was. People died, and people were born – it was a never-ending cycle. But what right did that give us to turn innocent people into lifeless machines, to decide when their lives were up?
“Will we be starting soon?” She asked, tilting her head as she gazed at me.
I tried to collect myself, to put on a tough face knowing that my uncle would be watching every second of our sessions. If he wanted a show, then fuck it, I’d give him one. “Yes,” I said, forcing a tight smile. “How about you tell me what you know about human emotions.”
She sat there quietly as she processed my words, trying to recall what had been programmed into her system.
She tapped her finger against the steel table. A loud drumming noise followed each movement. “Humans are vulnerable beings, much like yourself. They love too hard, care too much, and want more than they are willing to work for,” she started, “I know that they often experience sadness, jealousy, and love, all signals of weakness. But I also know that they have the ability to be ruthless and uncaring.”
Yeah, you could definitely tell my uncle had provided her data streams. Every word out of her mouth sounded like something he would have said. And that terrified me.
“Okay, a bit more than I expected there,” I said, careful to watch my voice. The last thing I needed was to appear weak, that was precisely what he was waiting for. “How about this – what do you know about love?”
“Love. An intense feeling of deep affection.”
“Good, Thirteen.” I leaned in closer, my hands folded atop the table. “Do you recall what it felt like to love?”
A voice boomed over the intercom, “I’ve warned you, Alexis. Consider this your last chance.”
“What does he mean that he warned you?” She asked. Thirteen leaned back in her chair and lowered her arms to her lap. “Have you done something inappropriate?”
Inappropriate. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered. When she stared at me blankly, clearly awaiting a response, I answered, “No, everything is okay.”
But she wasn’t dumb. After all, underneath Thirteen, there were still some of Emile’s memories, some of her thoughts. Between the data streams installed in her system and what little remained from Emile, Thirteen really had no use for me, and I didn’t doubt that my uncle already knew that.
He probably just wanted to see me suffer, to force me to face what I had done. Except to him, what I had done wasn’t a bad thing, but alas, I wasn’t as cold hearted as him and he was trying to use that against me. How nice of him, I thought to myself.
“You’re lying.” The words rolled off her tongue so easily that I almost forgot she was a Program.
“How about we focus on why we are here today,” I said, trying to refocus the conversation. “Now, think about when you’re released from here, how would you react to meeting someone new?”
Thirteen grasped the edge of the table and straightened her back. “When meeting someone new, it is important for Programs to follow exactly what their data streams indicate for them to do. Any motion or word outside of the data streams could result in deactivation.”
“Yes, but your actions, how should you act?”
She dropped her gaze to the table. If it weren’t for the vibrant shade of green that her eyes were – thanks to her being a Program – I would have sworn that I saw a hint of sadness in her eyes, almost as if she were recalling her past.
I thought of what it must’ve felt like for her, how confusing everything must have been. The others had been given a clean slate, a new identity that they were able to occupy without issue. But Thirteen had been forced to live as two different identities before they finally merged. I had witnessed enough evaluations and tests to know that she would have been in dire pain during the merge, after all, the tests and the evaluations were created to destroy what once was and replace it with something “better”.
And it was all because I had been selfish.
Part of me wished that she had turned out like the others. It wasn’t that I agreed with what took place at Vesta Corp, I didn’t nor would I ever, but at least then she wouldn’t have had to suffer as much.
The ordinary Programs were nothing more than machines that my uncle had complete power over. They had no connection to their past lives. They had no memories. They had nothing. They were vacant shells that he controlled. And as horrible as it may have sounded, I would’ve preferred to see her like one of them than the almost human-like creature I had sitting before me.
It would have been easier to detach myself, to stop caring, to not feel anything for her. Because right now? My heart was breaking with each passing second because I knew that if I didn’t save her, not only would I lose Emile again, but I’d lose Hayden this time. For good.
“It is important to remember to be kind,” she answered, finally lifting her head to meet my gaze. “Humans are curious people. Programs must remember to be as natural as possible when first meeting a stranger as to avoid any further questioning.”
“That is correct,” I said, nodding.
Outside of the room, I could hear footsteps approaching – slow and heavy.
Having avoided this place for most of my life, I was still uneasy being here. I knew what took place within these walls. I’d seen enough in the times I had visited. And I’d spent enough time with my uncle Charles outside of here to know that he was capable of anything.
“I’m not supposed to trust you.” Thirteen strummed her fingers along the tabletop. “You’re dangerous, a threat to my well being.”
“Where did you hear that?”
She looked at me dumbfounded. She lifted her finger to her head and pressed it ever so gently against her temple. “From here.”
Great, now he was feeding her warnings about me. Exactly what I needed.
I let out a soft sigh. “You can’t believe everything your data streams tell you, Thirteen. Sometimes the truth is buried underneath the lies, hopefully you’ll be able to see that.”
Not even a second after the words left my mouth, the door to the room swung open. My uncle, Douglas Todd, strolled in along with two White Coats. “I believe today’s session is over.” His voice was cold, and threatening, not that it had been much different before he was turned into one of them.
Personally, I wasn’t even sure why my uncle Charles had felt the need to bring him back. The family hadn’t needed him. There were more than enough living sociopaths within our family to take his place in his death.
“I’m sorry, Douglas, but I’m afraid I’m going to need to hear that from your dear brother,” I replied bitterly.
He stepped forward, taking small steps as he did so, and grabbed a hold of my wrist. The pressure from his fingers – the weight of the metal pressing down on my wrist – had nearly brought me to tears. Don’t show any weakness, I reminded myself.
“I do as I am told to do,” he snapped. “And I was given orders to end the session when I felt it was needed.”
Loosening his grip slightly, he waved the White Coats over in Thirteen’s direction. “Take care of it.”
“It? Well, that’s nice, coming from you and all.”
“I fail to comprehend why Charles bothers with you. You are of no use to this family.” He said it as though it were meant to be an insult, like I should have been hurt that my family looked down upon me.
“Are we done here? I’d like to be on my way.” I shoved past him, eager to head home – something I had thought I would never want – only to walk directly into a small gathering of White Coats.
“Alexis Ward?” One of White Coat’s stepped forward with a metal clipboard within her grasp, a pen hanging from the metal clip on top.
I backed away slowly, trying to make my way around them.
I had come to learn that when the White Coats came out in full force, it was never a good thing. It usually meant a person’s time was nearly up, that they were well on their way to becoming a Program.
And I knew that that was what was occurring now.
My uncle Charles was growing tired of my antics and my need to help Emile; he was growing frustrated with my lack of admiration in the family business. This was his way of getting rid of me, while also seeing to it that I assist with the family business.
He was a truly disturbing individual, even worse than his father.
I took off running, desperate to get away. I had nearly made it down to the other end of the hall when an arm wrapped around my waist, pulling me back towards the others. “Not so fast,” a voice whispered, warm heat cascading down my neck.
I turned my head slightly, and nearly screamed when I saw his eyes peering down at me.
I had seen photos of him, I had read files on him, but this was the first time that I had ever met him.
“Colton,” I kept my voice low, casually glancing back over my shoulder, worried the others might notice him. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Where is she? Where did Todd take her?”
“I don’t know.” I could see the other White Coats growing antsy. “You need to get out of here before they realize who you are. You’re not safe here.”
“I’m not safe anywhere,” he said matter-of-factly.
My uncle Charles had told me that Colton was weak, that he often allowed his emotions to get the best of him. And at first, I had believed him. After all, he did try to kill himself.
But desperation didn’t make for a weak person.
Every person had a breaking point. It was a matter of pushing past the pain, and finding something worth fighting for, and Colton had found that in Emile. She became his rock, his sanity, just as he had become hers.
“Security code 6745013,” I whispered. “File ER01307. Everything you’ll need can be found there.”
I knew that by giving him that information I was essentially sealing my fate, but I’d made a promise to protect Emile, no matter the cost. If it meant I had to sacrifice myself for her safety, so be it.
“Tell her I’m sorry.”
Colton released his grasp on my waist and gave me an understanding nod before he took off down the hall.