The darkness pressed upon my eyes and cold rain leaked like tears down my face as we scrambled quickly, silently, up the muddy slope towards Bilbridge Road. We were accompanied by no sounds of tires or engines roaring by. This was good news, yet expected news, and expected news no longer seemed particularly good, but simply obvious. As we drew within sight of this road, we automatically paused, for just a fraction of a second, to admire – or rather, survey – it before trudging on as fast as we could whilst making as little noise as possible. My head bent against the rain, my hood flapping over my eyes made it difficult for me to see clearly what I desired to. The road, an ordinary road, was glistening with the rain. Everything around looked as though a tide had just washed away. The lampposts, I saw from their yellow glare, were dripping continuously with the rain that had befallen us so unfortunately and had slowed us considerably.
The lampposts were emitting a faint buzzing sound that seemed to fill the silence around. The only accompanying noise was of the dripping rain, which had slowed and thinned. Hopefully those menacing storm clouds were draining and not just pausing for breath up above us. We stayed well out of sight from the road, though we could glance it from our distance. It was partly only because of the lampposts that stood at regular intervals, enlightening the sparkling road, that we could see the road and it could not see us. Us, who were hidden in the darkness of the night and our hoods, and within the silence of our carefully trained steps.
I did not dare look up into the faces of any of my comrades, whom I could not differentiate between without doing so. Their boots were identical to the very crease, and upon them I trained my eyes because I did not think that I could bear to glance their expressions. This would be necessary soon, but not yet, and I was glad. The fear of death itself was lesser by a great amount than the fear of what their expressions would display. Each of them strides persistently in my boots, their heads shielded by my hood. They are entrapped in the same boundaries of my plan and they are each threatened by what threatens me. Their situation is my own, and for this reason, I fear to acknowledge their expressions, whether they are to show fear, anger, sadness, excitement or indifference. Whether they are to wear those masks of duty I have noticed about them before, or genuine emotion, I was scared. If I see in their faces what I feel, I will shudder to my very core and my devotion to this plan may falter. I cannot allow myself to stray into negative thoughts now, not when so much hangs by so little a thread. To my own life, as well as the others’.
There are nineteen of us, together now. We have been told that the chances of the survival of us all is very slim – near impossible. They had given us the figures, the digits of logic, the numbers that displayed the probability of our fates. I shall repeat them in this way, and not in the way in which we read them from our sheets: the chance of zero percent survival is greater than that of one hundred percent, and the chances of our survival decrease with each death, more or less. That’s generally the idea of the twisted game we’re playing. I say this to help you understand, not to impress you with our outstanding courage, because of that we have no choice. I fear the expressions on their faces because I know what I will see. Whatever expression that may be, whatever glance they give me, whatever they think, whatever they show, it will be me. I will see me. We are the same person, divided by space. We are the same people forced into the same fate, and only chance will save us. Whether it is I, whether it is they that die, it will still be a part of the same person that perishes. That is why I am afraid. I am afraid for them because they will show me myself.
We edged nearer to Bilbridge Road through the stubborn mud under our soles as the rain lessened into a fine mist of water rather than the shower that had been our first attack. I smiled grimly as I looked down just as my boot fell into the identical print of one of my comrades’; we had victory over the heavens, at least.
I could see the light ahead clearer now. It was a louder, brighter orange glare this time, up ahead. The road just almost beside us curved slightly towards us as it went on and shot through the tunnel for which we were headed. For weeks we have learnt of this Bilbridge Road and of its tunnel. For us, it was almost legendary. We knew the area like the backs of our hands, and to be there for the very first time was an odd experience. As though it was somewhere we had spent years as children, or that we had visited regularly at some time, yet having forgotten the details like the direction of the long grass at the roads banks or the sparkling gem-like cat’s-eyes, ornate at its centre.
Finally, the walls of the tunnel shielded the cold wind pressing upon our faces from us. Bilbridge Road did not have a sidewalk on either side, so when we slipped stealthily into the tunnel, we found ourselves edging along the very road. The bright lights made our unaccustomed eyes blink and sting as we could suddenly discern the folds of our wet clothing, the color of our numbed fingertips and the position of everybody else in the group. The unnatural light made everything unpleasantly shadowed in orange and the buzzing surrounded us like angry bees from all directions. It made it all seem somehow like a computer game, surreal, unemotional. I swallowed back my uncertainty ands looked on at the rescue mission.
We did not speak. Of course we didn’t. We crept briskly forwards, one boot behind the other, moving continuously forwards. No backing out now. None of us lowered our hoods. I didn’t have to turn around to check – we were following instructions, and that was all. Our lives were built upon instructions and orders. I do not resent it because it is those instructions that keep us alive.
Suddenly, but after what seemed like an age, we stopped at the opposite opening of the tunnel, water from my loose hair dripping into my eyes. For the first time, I looked forwards at the leader. He held no higher rank than the rest of us - we were all together on this one - but he alone had the responsibility of being first forwards. Chance had made this his burden to bear. We all knew his chances of survival were smaller than that of the rest of us. He knew it, but we still trudged on. That’s what you do when your life is scarred by the Power.
We all halted in a jagged line in the road, our breath kept, our eyes alert, our hearts thumping madly inside our chests. I only heard one, but I swear each heart beat the same. I blinked and then I blinked again. My eyes were directed at the hand of the leader, which was at present curled into a fist under his sleeve. Three seconds went by before he indicated with three dark fingers for us to go on.
We did not rise forwards immediately. Instead, we raised our guns. I drew my smooth silver pistol from my hip and ran a trembling finger down the barrel, reflecting cold, silver light from the dreary heavens. After hearing the noise of eighteen rifles being readied for action, I rolled down the safety lever of my own gun, which complied with a click, and looked on through the entrance of the tunnel.
Our guns will not have been heard. We were still just under a miles distance away from the first set of gates. On we hurried, heads no longer bent against the wind or the rain. Our eyes pierced the darkness in front of us, following on the side of the road, keeping out of sight of the lampposts until …
‘Ready.’ The first word we’d heart uttered since we had set out on Bilbridge Road. We all stalled and raised our guns, well, they raised their guns. I continued to hold mine by my side.
My comrades spread out around me, their eyes at the barrels of their guns. Like this we stood for several minutes until a twitch of the leaders head told us it was time.
Three bullets fired had sealed the deal. Two guards had fallen, dead. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves at the gates that I hadn’t been able to see before, in the distance. Large, square, menacing-looking iron gates with barbed wire stretched out over its top stood before us, daring us to try.
The leader nodded to me. I felt as though I were back at high school, on the stage during the end of term play, with a line coming up. I had my part to play, and my heart shuddered with the thought. I had a whole part to play, and this was merely a line, and my stomach jumped up into my throat.
I stepped forwards. The box was on the tall grey wall on the left of the gates, as I’d known it would be. I heard shuffling about me, and just as I placed myself before its square perfection, a pale, womanly hand passed me a ring of keys. I squinted up at the key lock in the box and back down at the keys as I heard branches sway behind me.
Seconds later, the small metal door was open. A red light blinked up at me from inside beside a keypad of numbers. I took a long, jagged breath, before reaching out with a surprisingly steady hand and slowly and consistently began pressing numbers.
Eleven numbers and three words later, the red light paused, turned green, the gates clicked and swung open to receive us.