‹ Prequel: Hurricane Heart
Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

Into the Slaughterhouse


For the final ten minutes of rec time, Kempton’s death was the only thing that the lucid, or even semi-lucid, Dreamers could talk about. It was like a ripple that made its way across the room, and even the guards couldn’t stop it.

For me, it was like stepping out of a deep sleep. I had woken up for the first time in two days. Yesterday, when Tim had pestered me to remember my friends and my job was only a murky memory, and even the rest of today up until this point felt as if I had been watching the world through a veil.

Because of the irrepressible talk making its way around the room faster and with more energy than wildfire, the guards commanded us all back to our cells. Even then, though, people tried to talk as we exited the room, Tim included.

We were soon quietened down again.

Thrown into my cell again that night, I protested more than ever before. I was threatened with Isolation for the first time in several weeks, but that didn’t deter me. I wasn’t put in there though. Chances were, I wasn’t the only Dreamer they were going to be having trouble with tonight.

The problem was, however, that we weren’t energised through excitement. Happiness most certainly was not why the Institution was more crammed with life tonight than ever before. No. We were energised through fear.

Because Kempton may have gone, but Lomax was coming.

Kempton was an old man. He was iron, but he was beginning to rust at the edges. Lomax, however, was young, at least for a dictator’s standards—barely even forty—and she was ruthless, and she had a heart of pure granite.

And she was female.

I had seen one too many 21st Century action movies, and I knew that the evil woman was never ever good news.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Hopefully, Kempton’s death would buy a couple of days of unrest—if nothing else, no one in the country besides him was trained as a leader, and that included Lomax. It would take her a few days at least to get used to the position of power. No one was taught leadership anymore. It was strongly discouraged. After all, there was only one leader.

Eventually, I did get to sleep, and when I woke up, almost forty-eight hours after my last injection, I was nearly back to myself again. Tomorrow, I was going to get another one, but I could enjoy today while it lasted, right?

At the same time as every other day, my doors slid open and guards began patrolling the corridor as we all ventured out into the dim corridor and headed like zombies towards the bathroom.

Stepping out, however, it was like I had been hit by a bucket of cold water.

I had changed. But no one else had.

They were all still following suit. Last night, I’d had hope that things might be changing, but this morning, things were the same as they’d always been. They followed the all too familiar route down the corridor like zombies; like animals to the slaughterhouse, and all of a sudden reality slapped me hard in the face. I was still in the Institution. I was still being punished for nothing more than dreaming and using my imagination. I was still living in a twisted, cruel and completely unjust world, same as I had been yesterday, and the day before, and every day of my life.

It almost made me crumple in despair.

I had been in here for a month and a half. Already, I was losing myself. The routine and the imprisonment and everything was becoming easier to bear, but the countless drugs and electrocutions and the simple task of holding onto my imagination was becoming so much harder.

And I was only a quarter of the way in.

I was still in shallow water as far as my punishment was concerned.

Glancing around as we entered the bathroom, I realised that I was near the front of the crowd, so by the time I had spotted Tim’s artificially white-blonde hair in the masses of men I was already being herded into a shower cubicle. The others were silent and I didn’t break the trend. It was like Tim was the only other spark of life in this place. There had to have been other new people come in, but I hadn’t even noticed them. Were so many Dreamers broken so easily?

The not exactly warm shower stopped after precisely five minutes, and I dried myself in a hurry, pulling on my grey clothes and sliding open the cubicle door, following the herd into the other bathroom, another large room, the walls and floor tiled entirely in grey. I stood at a little sink brushing my teeth and shaving as I stared into the slightly grimy mirror opposite me. A tired, drawn face with lank hair and pale eyes stared back at me.

This was not who I was.

And then I remembered Tim trying to explain the concept of imagination to me.

And I realised how confused I was. Right now, imagination was incomprehensible to me. The mere thought of something that didn’t exist was...well, it was impossible, right?


Oh God, I hoped I was wrong.

‘Hurry up!’ a voice barked. When I lingered a little longer, splashing cold water on my face, I felt a harsh shove. Looking up, I saw a security guard shove me gruffly towards the exit. Allowing myself a moment of living how the others did; surviving under the radar, I followed suit, stepping groggily into the steel coloured corridor outside. I made to turn left, as I did every single morning after leaving the bathroom, but rough hands shoved me back in the other direction.

‘Hey, what was—‘ I began, before getting shoved again.

‘That way today, Stryder,’ the guard said with a twisted smirk. Glancing up, I saw it was my ‘normal’ guard. I was pretty sure most people didn’t have ‘normal’ guards, but what did I know? It seemed that the guards in here had been right on my tail since day one.

The change of routine sent fear stabbing through me. Following the masses of silent prisoners exiting the bathrooms, we walked down a corridor that I was pretty sure I had never used before, until we came out to the main corridor leading out the back entrance.

Suddenly, my legs were lead. What the hell was going on? I glanced around the bobbing heads for familiar faces, but all I could see were empty eyes.

I nearly collapsed when we reached the great automatic doors at the back of the building. A particularly tall guard strode forward, tapping an eight digit code into the pad beside it, and then placing his index finger on the little sensor to release the lock. When these doors opened, I would see outside. For the first time in a month and a half, I would see the sky, the sun, the fresh air.

People were looking from side to side: no one had any idea where we were going. But as the doors slid open, everyone lucid enough to remember where they were stared at them, enthralled, bound by the promise of the outdoors. Some, particularly those on their second time in here, might not have seen it for years.

As the doors slid open, followed by another hefty set on the other side, I caught my first glimpse of the rest of the world.

It was raining.

Even though it was still only spring, I could feel the pleasantly warm air drifting in from outside. Nevertheless, heavy, imposing clouds concealed the sun, and harsh raindrops were being spat down from the heavens above.

But it was still rain. And the sky. And fresh air. And outside.

Like possessed people, the prisoners all moved forwards with more urgency than I had ever seen in them. Some of them were too drugged up and delirious to know what they were running to; some, like me, knew the significance of this moment, but all the same, they all pushed forward frantically. The guards watched, some shouting at us to calm down, some readying their guns, and some just smirking.

I stumbled out into the rain. Despite it being warmer out here than it had been inside, the air was still refreshing and I drew in deep breaths, not able to get enough of it. I knew this moment was only temporary. I didn’t know where we were being led—cattle to the slaughterhouse again, perhaps—but I knew I didn’t have long. I turned my face to the bright grey sky, letting fresh rain water cascade down my cheeks for the first time in far too long.

‘Get a move on!’ an angry guard roared. ‘Hurry up you lot!’

I heard the familiar click of guns. They were ready for this; they had been all along.

Glancing around, I saw that the three blocks that made up the San Diego Institution were all placed in a rough triangle. In the centre was a large, concrete space, with not a lot in it other than a couple of small buildings and a circular lawn in the middle. This area was surrounded by brick walls eight feet high, topped with coils of barbed wire. A door in this wall had been opened when the guard had tapped in the code to open the doors to come out here.

We were led across the concrete and grass space, the lucid Dreamers laughing and chatting.

‘Quiet!’ the main guard roared at us, glancing round, his piggy eyes leering at anyone who dared to disobey.

We were being taken to block one; the biggest block by the looks of it. I followed the crowds forward to the large gates in the wall, and once we stepped through, we were standing right outside the automatic doors leading into block one.

I didn’t want to go inside.

The guards expected this. At least twelve of them had their guns out ready. People protested, but they were shoved through the doors violently if they didn’t go of their own accord.

One woman protested too much. A sharp cracking sound rang out and she staggered sideways, screaming.

The Dreamers may have been semi-zombies, but even they were angry at this. Several of them helped her up—it was only a tranquiliser dart—but she was fading fast.

‘You fucking—‘ began one Dreamer to the guard.

That was followed by another shot.

Two muscular guards stepped forward and pretty much grabbed the two Dreamers that had been shot, shoving them up against the wall and watching as they slipped out of consciousness.

‘Anyone else want to join them?’ the main guard sneered. No one volunteered, and we all moved silently through the doors. I had no idea what happened to those two people; that man and woman, but I never saw them again.

We were taken through more corridors, and eventually shoved through two large doors into the biggest room I had seen so far in the Institution. It was like a great hall, reminding me of old days back in school, but the walls and floor were a pale grey, and there was no other decoration whatsoever. There was a raised platform on the far side, where a man in a suit was standing along with two police officers. The rest of the Dreamers all in the room—the contents of all three blocks, by the looks of it—were standing. Of course, we didn’t get rows of chairs.

‘Get in!’ a guard said, shoving me hard in the back. I was scared, naturally. Of course I was. In here was every Dreamer in the Institution. I had no idea what they were planning on doing, but the way we were all being herded in, crowded into the centre of the room, reminded me horrifically of gas chambers. What if, whilst half of us were too drugged up to know what was going on, they all just left, locked the doors, and started up some great incinerators.

We could all be dead men walking.

‘Silence, you dogs!’ the man on the stage barked into a microphone. The room fell to a quiet hush, but a couple more shots rang out somewhere to the left as, evidently, some poor souls didn’t finish their conversations quickly enough.

‘That’s better,’ he said unpleasantly. He wasn’t so different from a headmaster, only at least headmasters pretended to be half decent people. I could already see that this guy had a heart of stone.

‘Now,’ he announced, ‘we’re not going to keep you bastards for long, because I know some of you are seeing this morning as a privilege, and terrorists don’t get privileges. And anyone who is missing their appointments with their doctors because of this meeting can be assured that the appointments will be rescheduled for later this afternoon. Right, down to business:

‘You should have all heard that our glorious President John Kempton passed away in the early hours of yesterday afternoon. It is a sad day for the country, and a meeting will be held later for you all to pay your respects to him. Anyone not complying with the utmost sincerity will be sentenced to a session in the Surgery...or, of course, the Maze. The one hope in these dark times, however, is that Ms Tamara Lomax, Minister of Media and close associate of the late ruler, has taken over as President of the United States of America.’

Has taken? So, she was already in position? Shit, that was quick.

‘Now,’ the man continued, ‘I, as governor of the Institution of San Diego, have been entrusted to tell all you ungrateful dogs a message from President Lomax herself. She has sent out the same message to all the Institutions nationwide. With coming into her Presidential role, Ms Lomax has decided to take a new and pleasantly harsh approach to the infestation of terrorism that is destroying this great country.’

My heart squeezed in fear and my blood was pounding too fast through my body. I couldn’t quite breathe.

It was almost as if I knew what he was going to say before he actually said it.

‘From this moment onwards, all American terrorists, regardless of the number of times they have been caught or the severity of their original sentence, will be immediately sentenced to the Demobilising Operation.’
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I'm so excited about this bit - this is one of the few parts of the series where, even after writing it, I still find my heart pounding like mad when I read it! I wasn't really sure where to cut the chapter - it's a really long one, so I just went for the cliffhanger approach.