Breakfast went by in silence.
I made lunch for Nadia and then for myself.
Gage stared at his plate of eggs the entire time.
He was still there when Nadia and I slung our bags over our shoulders. Finally, he looked up, startled by the sound of the door creaking open.
"Stop at the zoo," he said. "Check if they have metis."
I reluctantly nodded and walked outside, Nadia at my heels. Even through the closed door, I could hear him call goodbye.
Nadia and I journeyed through the maze without saying a word. When we were finally free from any security measures brought forth by Gage's force field, we exchanged glances and began to discuss what we heard last night.
"What did you hear through the wall last night?" I asked Nadia.
"The coffee maker," she snorted, chuckling.
But this was no laughing matter and after seeing my face, she stopped.
"I meant I couldn't hear anything else except I could kind of hear their voices," she replied, this time seriously.
I nodded. "Same thing with me," I remarked.
"Also," I continued. "Gage did see our hammocks still swinging, right?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Then why didn't he say anything?"
She shrugged. A long silence loomed like some sort of scent that could last forever, always tickling at your nose.
"Nadia," I finally decided to mention what had been on my mind. "Did you notice that when Gage walked away from the kitchen, (well at least I think so), he was alone?"
"I think he was alone. The question has been bugging me all night, though."
"Me too," I added.
We entered the school building, and my mouth, open, ready to say something else, transitioned into a deadly silence.
I couldn't concentrate on a thing in the one, high-ceilinged classroom. My mind wandered through a jungle of thoughts. Thinking about last night, it crashed into a tree; I got a bad headache. I tried not to think about it anymore, but it was a goal I couldn't meet. The horn rang out over the speakers. Chairs scratched against the hard wood floor as students hurried to stand. In one motion, everyone's hands took grasp of their necks.
The second horn rang and we chanted in one voice, "I give my word to Him, because He made me who I am, that I am grateful we are different. I am grateful we are not the same. He made us get along by leaving us only facts to hold up the floor beneath our feet today."
That was what I said, but I was thinking about something I shouldn't have been thinking about. I thought about the meti. I thought about how it was mocking us. I thought about how it could change forms. I thought about how it could make everyone think it looked different than it really was; as if our sight wasn't different enough. I thought about the cold hand closing tighter and tighter. Fortunately, I was able to release my throat.
I was frustrated beyond belief, fed up with this metavenmorph situation. I was terrified, but I didn't know why. I tightened my fists until my knuckles showed white. I almost clenched my teeth, but decided to simply swallow and sit down.
The rest of the school-day crawled by like a snail. I deemed none of Ms. Bildoe's words worth listening to except the last ones:
I practically ran out of the room, body overflowing with energy after sitting in one spot for so long. But I forced myself to wait for Nadia by the door.
Although I was energized, I wasn't one bit happy. How could I be; all the stress was getting to me. The walk from school was a depressing one. And a silent one too until Nadia stated, "Desirae, we missed the entrance of the zoo."
"Oh," I stated plainly. The one word said all that need to be said. I sighed, turned around, and quietly entered through the iron gates of the zoo.
The zoo should be a fun place, filled with giggles and bundles of joy. At the moment, it felt like a prison. I didn't want to be here at all. But Gage's word, or his command, had taken a hold of me and wasn't showing any signs of weakness.
I put my hands behind my back, so no one would notice my jittery fingers. But my expression didn't hide my impatience to leave, anyway.
I led Nadia up to two ranger, talking to each other and chuckling. This mad them look even goofier than their outfits were supposed to; khaki shorts, a dark green vest that came up right below their ribs, a bright orange, tucked-in shirt, a dark green belt, and knee-high orange socks to finish it off. Not to mention the white bandanas tied around their necks.
"Excuse me," I said in the best tone of voice I could manage. They didn't hear me. "Excuse me," I called louder, quickly getting irritated.
They suddenly jerked their head in my direction. They realized it was a "little girl" addressing them and smiled.
"Hello little ranger," one of them greeted me.
"How can we help you today," said the other one.
"Do you have metavenmorphs in the zoo?" I asked.
"Metaven-whats?" he questioned his fellow ranger. "I don't think..."
"Okay, bye," I said, grabbing Nadia's arm and pivoting to face the exit gate.
But I didn't even take two steps before...
"Oh! You mean metis!" one of them realized!
"Yes, that's what I meant," I resigned to them.
"We have those," he assured me. And then to his friend he said, "I'll take these two, it won't take too long."
He gestured us to follow him as he started to walk down one of the sandy paths leading from the main landing of the zoo.
I couldn't believe that I forced my feet to start moving after him, but sure enough, I was walking.
When Nadia and I caught up to him, that's when his mouth started running.
"Did you know that metis can change forms when they need to?"
"Did you know that metis can't be drawn in by any illusions?"
"Did you know that there are barely any metis left in the world, and they are all here, in East District?"
Eventually, I built a barrier in my mind, muffling his voice to a drone. It's good thing Nadia poked me when we got to the meti exhibit because I couldn't hear the ranger when he announced it. I blinked a few times. It was an awkward transition to come out of your realm of thoughts and into reality.
"If you don't need my help, I'll be going now," he said. "You know the way out?"
I nodded to get him to finally leave, but really I had no clue where we were or how to get back to the main landing. I hoped Nadia knew how to escape this prison. but I didn't bother asking, I'm sure she did.
I leaned on the wall of glass. My palms pressed against it and I looked in. THere were about fifty or so of them. None of them were in a different form, or in a different form I could see. No wonder, they didn't need to switch their being because they were being pampered in this glass cage. Most of them were sitting or sleeping, some were waddling around on their flippers. All of them looked bored. Every once in a while, a breeze blew inside the cage from slits in the other side of the enclosure and their scales lifted up, spiking them and doubling their size.
"This zoo must hold most of their population," I thought, eyes wide at seeing so many in one area.
I couldn't take my eyes from the exhibit until a ranger passed by.
"Excuse me," I exclaimed, addressing her just as she was leaving my sight.
"Did any metis, by any chance, escape recently?" I asked.
Now, Nadia was staring expectantly at the lady, too.
"Well, there are so many that we don't really count them. They are the one species that we don't keep track of," she explained. "But something strange did happen the other day. A teenager climbed into the enclosure and we had to let him out."
I looked from her to the glass-enclosed exhibit and back to her, raising one eyebrow in suspicion.
"How did someone get into there?" I questioned.
"We don't know," she shrugged. "He ran away calling for his mother before we could ask him."
"Thank you," I hesitated. Finally, I turned back to watch the metis.
"You're welcome," she replied with a smile, leaving me and my sister alone once more.
"Should I have told her that we found one on the loose?" I asked myself. "No, I have a feeling Gage wouldn't want that."
As this thought crossed my mind, I realized I was starting to shiver, as I had only brought a light jacket. The sun was almost down, and the dim light made it feel eerie to stand under the zoo's canopy of trees.
"Nadia, let's go," I suggested.
Without a word, Nadia led the way back to the landing, through the gate, and onto the sidewalk.
Suddenly, a bright white spread across the sky, leaving the almost transparent seeming green to spell out two words: DRILLING WARNING.
Almost immediately, we picked up our walking pace until it turned into almost a run.
"Why did they pick this day of all days?" I complained to myself. "On a normal day, we would've been home by now!"
The white disappeared from the sky, but we kept running, our schoolbags bumping against us at every step. I turned right before the dirt path, tripping over my own feet. I fell, used the ground to push myself forward, and kept going. My heart was thumping and I swear I heard Nadia's going beside me. We had always been safe at home during the drilling, even when they shone the drilling warning. we were far from home now. There was a maze in front of us.
Finally, we reached the manhole. An over-sized rat sat upon it, and in desperation, I kicked it aside, swinging the heavy lid open.
"Get in, get in," I gasped.
Nadia lowered herself down and I followed, careful not to step on her fingers. I closed the lid hurriedly. After a few seconds, there was a green light on the ground. But I didn't see Nadia's shoe anywhere.
"Did you reach the floor, yet?" I asked.
"No," she replied in wonder, her voice just below me.
Four paws came into view, a little furry. They belonged to a cat. Or more likely a meti.
"How'd he get in here?" I whispered.
Nadia didn't reply, she didn't want to startle it. We stared in silent wonder. For too long.
Thunder shook us from our grasps on the rungs and we were thrown to the ground. Just before I landed, I made out four tiny paws jumping a foot in the air. I hit the ground hard, mainly on my left shoulder. It throbbed in pain, but I forced myself onto my feet and helped Nadia. We headed down the passage as fast as we dared, turning down the left path. And I was starting to smell sewage when another rumble shook us off our feet. However, this thunder wasn't coming from above, it was coming from below, from the drilling site.
The rumble didn't stop. I couldn't stand up. It felt like a magnetic force was holding me on the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nadia, lying on the ground like a rag-doll, not able to move a muscle. Her eyes were wide open, forming two perfect circles.
I was sure I looked the same way. The only thing I could do was cross my fingers and pray. And pray and pray and pray.
We were caught in one of the longest, most powerful drillings, yet. Crumbs of concrete from the ceiling of the tunnel started falling beside me. My breath became even sharper and I started to panic, I started to cry. Through my tears, I saw the meti, arms and legs spread out until he looked like a fur rug.
"Why doesn't he do anything?! Why doesn't he do anything!" I questioned myself.
"Because this isn't an illusion," another voice in my head replied. "This is reality."
Larger chucks of concrete were falling all around me. Something hit my head.