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This piece of writing is a short excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Monochrome. I started it during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I hope to one day publish it.
Amber took a deep breath, brushing a few free strands of fiery red hair out of her face. This was it— it was time to change the world. Staring up at the intimidating dark oak door, she found herself drifting deep into memories of the past month despite the pressing circumstances.
The sense of finally living that descended over her when she first saw that beautiful red stop signal ages ago and joined the cause for colored sight. The moment she learned that this struggle was more than it seemed. Her power training with Jax, when she sent out her first burst of flame. Growing close to Valerie, when she learned about the chipper girl’s tough home life despite her sunny exterior. The many friends she’d made in the resistance, and how they acted as a support system for her. How had so much happened in such a short amount of time?
And then there was Dustin…the many nights she’d laid awake, thinking of the arcane circumstances surrounding his sudden disappearance. How he had helped her through her worst nights, reminding her that she could never give up no matter how tough things got. How he had said he’d always be there for her, and that he’d never stop loving her.
He was her rock. And she was prepared to lose it all for him.
“Amber,” Jax’s voice cut into her thoughts. “Are you ready?”
Shaking her head to clear her racing mind, she refocused on the long, carpeted hallway that stretched beyond their current spot in the headquarters. While many other office doors lined the prestigious corridor, this one was the most extravagant, and the one that held a person of particular interest: Damon Westcott. He was the mastermind behind the AOPH, or the American Organization of Peace for Humanity, but the name couldn't have been more misleading. It was a corporation designed to remove color from society under the disguise of keeping humanity safe from a terrible disease, while in reality, it was simply depriving people of supernatural abilities in order to ultimately achieve world domination.
This mission was crucial— its success would ensure that no person would ever again live in fear of their own government, and failure was simply not an option.
She finally turned to face the small group of five they’d assembled. Jax was looking at her with the same calm expression he usually wore, but his pale green eyes were tinged with a certain level of uncertainty. Val was smiling (as usual) and appeared to be hovering off the ground just slightly, probably excited for whatever was to come. Jason still looked tired after the use of his force field not long ago, but seemed alert enough to enter. Viola’s face was concealed by her dark hair, but Amber could tell from her posture that she was tense despite her usual quiet indifference.
Was she ready? She wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she was prepared to learn the truth— and save the world from the clutches of monochrome tyranny. Not trusting her voice, Amber only nodded, a determined expression crossing her features in an attempt to mask the fear she was feeling.
“Ah, and before we go in…” Jax hesitated before reaching into the back of his waistband, drawing a gun that Amber hadn’t even realized was there. From the shocked expressions on the rest of the group’s faces, she guessed that no one else had known, either.
“I brought this in case what we face in there demands it. I assure you, I won’t be shooting unless absolutely necessary, but I figured it would be best to tell you all beforehand.”
Amber blinked, taken aback. She hadn’t thought that Jax would be the one to hold violence as an option, but she supposed that the moment called for it. He was right— whatever happened in there could be worse than anything they’d faced before, and it was always better to be prepared.
Val, always one to try and lighten the mood, piped up from the other side of Jax. “We’re gonna be great, guys! All we gotta do is head right in there, make our requests, and save color and superhuman abilities once and for all! The hardest part is over.”
Amber wasn’t so sure that things were going to be that simple, but all they had at the moment was hope, so she clung to Valerie’s words like a lifeline. Standing up straighter to create a facade of confidence, she watched with nervous apprehension as Jax stepped up to the door and grasped the handle. He took a moment to glance between his four team members to assure that everyone was ready before jerking one of the large oak doors wide open.
Everyone burst into the room at once, Jax’s hand cautiously reaching for his gun while the rest of the team fanned out behind him. The office was enormous— but empty. The back wall was composed of windows offering a panoramic view of the busy streets below, everything illuminated by the still-rising sun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, rich oranges and pinks filling every inch of her vision and giving the city a dreamlike glow. Central Park could be seen from this angle, people far below walking their dogs and simply enjoying nature.
It was a perfect day in New York City, or so it seemed to the outsider. It was odd that millions of people were going about their day, completely unaware that their future lay in the hands of a rag-tag group of rebels. After all, if they failed to convince Damon to somehow relinquish his power over the company and end this secret war, they’d be captured, color would fall deeper into obscurity, and their special abilities would fade away as if they’d never existed.
No one would be left to fight for humanity’s rights.
An all-too pristine desk was centered near the back of the room, its surface mostly bare except for an expensive-looking PC, a stack of paperwork, and an untouched mug of coffee that was still piping hot and giving off swirling clouds of steam. Several towering bookshelves lined the walls to their left and right, each shelf practically overflowing with novels and knickknacks of all kinds— snow globes of Lady Liberty herself, office awards (Amber scoffed at the ‘World’s Best Boss’ trophy), a rainbow slinky, a lucky cat with a waving paw, and a teddy bear, among other things. A couple potted plants took up the empty space in the corners. Looking at this office out of context, one might think it belonged to an average city worker rather than a deranged psychopath. But where was the psychopath in question?
“Nice of you all to pop in.”
The group spun around to find Damon Westcott propped up against the doorway they’d just entered through, his expression unnervingly neutral. He sported a formal, dark gray suit with matching dress pants and brown Oxfords, an expensive-looking watch wrapped around his wrist. His jet black hair was slicked back with too much hair gel, and his dark, foreboding eyes scanned the group with interest.
So he’d known they were coming. Amber knew this meant he now had the upper hand— but this was no time to give up hope.
“I can’t believe I’m being visited by representatives of the great underground resistance. It’s an honor, really.” His tone was teasing as he feigned excitement.
“We don’t want trouble.” Jax spoke calmly, his hand still on his hip where the gun was concealed. Amber recalled what he had said before they entered— he wouldn’t resort to violence unless one of their lives were put in danger, and she trusted him to stay true to his word.
“You must be the famous Jax Bentley. The one who got away. The one who started all this, I presume.” Damon motioned widely to the group. “I have to say, I’m impressed. You successfully escaped and then threw it out the window by attempting something so foolish and risky. I always worried you’d amount to something in this world and evade us until you died, but it seems I was worried for nothing.”
He paused, looking over the five of them as if he were a predator sizing up its lunch. “Well, if you don’t want trouble, what is it that you want then?” He made his way over to his desk, sitting down and propping his legs up on the smooth oak surface. The smug smile that was slowly spreading across his features didn’t sit well with Amber, and she exchanged uneasy glances with Val.
“You know what we want,” Jax stated firmly, taking a few steps closer to the desk. The rest of the group followed suit.
“Oh, but do I? You resistance members are never quite clear with your desires.”
Amber couldn’t see from her angle, but Jax must have been fixing the slightly older man with a nasty glare, as he continued without an answer.
“Color is quite an intriguing topic, don’t you think? Light receptors within the eye that allow us to perceive an object's unique appearance. The human body is truly an amazing thing.” Suddenly, any semblance of a grin disappeared from his face, and he shook his head. “Quite unfortunate that it gets in the way of something as basic as health. This disease is quite awful.”
“Don’t try to toy with us. We know your angle,” Jason sneered from beside Amber. “The whole ‘color is dangerous’ cover-up doesn’t work on us. You’re just trying to get rid of our abilities to make it easier for you to take over the world.”
Damon hummed. “I suppose you’re right. You’re all intelligent. So you’ll understand that there’s no way to stop what’s coming.”
He grabbed the still steaming coffee mug from the desk and took a sip, seeming to relish the taste. “My father was idiotic. Strong-willed and advanced in his knowledge, but idiotic. He had the entire world at his fingertips, and yet he was content simply knowing he’d eliminated the outliers. I, on the other hand, will not make that same mistake. Each day, I grow closer and closer to grabbing this country by the reigns and forcing it into submission— and we’ve nearly reached that point. It’s useless for you to try and fight the inevitable.”
Amber suddenly stepped forward. “You’re sick,” she hissed, eyes narrowing dangerously. “You think this is all some game to be won. Well, I’ve got news for you: These are human lives you’re messing with. And we won’t stand for these abuses any longer. We’re going to make sure that you never get the chance to ruin another life, whatever the cost may be.”
Damon’s smug grin returned at once, and he laughed, an ugly laugh that reverberated off the thick office walls. “Oh, Amber, you really are a card. A scraggly group of frustrated teenagers is not enough to take down an empire. This war is nearly won. I’m afraid you’re too late.”
Wait a minute. How did he know her name?
She didn’t get a chance to follow this thought through, as a knock at the door got everyone’s attention, including Amber’s.
“Ah, that must be my apprentice, right on time.” Damon looked straight at Amber, and she didn’t miss the glint in his eye as he called, “Come right in, Dustin!”
The name didn’t process in her brain until Dustin Gray stood before them, clad in a suit eerily similar to Damon’s and busy surveying the small group with disinterest.
It was him.
It was him.
He was okay.
A thousand vivid emotions exploded within Amber at once as all the memories from the past came rushing back. The two of them sitting in her room together, laughing about a silly inside joke. Long walks down the brightly-lit street in the dead of night, their hands clasped together. The time he brought her to his favorite milkshake place a couple blocks away from his apartment. That fateful game of spin the bottle that earned her a kiss on the cheek. The sunset. The bracelet. Her fingers grasped the infinity charm tightly, feeling the cool metal as she stared at him. Dustin’s perfect voice broke into her thoughts.
“I’d like you to escort our little group of troublemakers to level 32. They’ve got a small issue with how we’re handling color, and I think they need to be taught why we do what we do.”
Just then, Dustin’s eyes met Amber’s, and she waited with bated breath. He was going to recognize her, and all this would be over. He’d whisk her into a tight embrace, help them take down Damon, and the two of them would finally be together again. Exactly how it was supposed to be. Exactly how it—
Without skipping a beat, his face emotionless, Dustin simply nodded and brought his attention back to Damon. “Right away, sir.”
“But first…I think these rebels need to learn a thing or two about the consequences of their actions.” Damon’s voice was distant and almost incomprehensible in Amber’s stunned state.
She barely heard the gunshot over the incessant ringing in her ears.
~ ~ ~
Devastation. One word, four syllables. Definition: Severe and overwhelming shock or grief.
This was the only emotion left in Amber’s empty void of a chest as she realized who had been the source of the gunshot, and what its implications were.
Damon Westcott was still behind his desk, but was now standing, a pistol held in his outstretched hand. A scarily calm expression had taken the place of his malicious grin, and he was slowly lowering the gun to his side. There was a body on the floor.
It was Jax.
Without hesitation, Amber dove to the floor, eyes wide and her breath catching in her throat. She could already feel her eyes stinging as she cradled Jax’s head, a pained grunt emanating from his lips. A deep patch of blood in the center of his chest was steadily spreading outward, staining his shirt crimson.
“No…no no no…” Amber shook her head rapidly, meeting Jax’s tired gaze. “You’re okay. It’s gonna be okay, don’t worry.”
The rest of the group moved in, completely ignoring the other two men in the room as Jax coughed up blood, the liquid oozing down his chin. He took in a shaky breath, then smiled. “Looks like this is it.”
“Jax, don’t say that,” Val whimpered, tears already beginning to fall.
“We did it. We fought back. And if—” Jax gave another wheezing cough, and more choked-up blood splattered the floor beneath him. “If our efforts die here, it's alright. Because our legacy never will.”
“Jax, please…” Jason croaked, straining against the heavy emotion in his heart.
Amber shifted her hold on Jax. “No. We won’t let the resistance die out. We’ll make you proud. I promise.” She could feel her own tears spilling down her cheeks and onto the fabric of Jax’s shirt as she watched the life fade from his eyes, his head falling limp in her hold. She choked back a sob and turned away. He was gone.
Viola leaned over and closed Jax’s eyes, lowering her head sadly. Although her hair still concealed her face, Amber was sure she heard her holding back her cries. “We’ll never forget him,” she said gently, her voice trembling.
A chuckle from somewhere in the room suddenly echoed in the group’s ears. Turning to discover the source of the sound, they found Damon messing with the gun in his hand. Laughing. “Ah, this job never gets old,” he sighed dreamily.
Amber felt a surge of anger bubbling up within her, and she gently lay Jax’s head down before standing. Eyes narrowing, she gritted her teeth.
“You’re going to regret doing that,” she growled, her three accomplices standing to join her.
“You mess with Jax,” Jason started.
“You mess with all of us,” Val finished, a terrifying glare appearing on her features.
Amber raised her hands, readying a powerful burst of flame to take this guy down once and for all—
When a sharp prick at her arm made her turn in head in confusion.
Standing behind them was a group of six heavily armored guards, each holding powerful weapons at the ready. The guard at the front was holding a tranquilizer gun, and it didn’t take Amber long to realize she’d been hit. The world started to blur before her eyes; the room, her friends, the guards, and Dustin all mixing into one jumbled mess as she swayed unsteadily on her feet.
Dustin. Who had simply stood there and watched her cry over her friend’s body.
He was gone.
He was here, right in front of her, but he was gone.
Just like Jax.
And with that, she slipped into unconsciousness, not even registering her side colliding with the hard wooden floor.