Control: Chapter Seven
She awoke to the smell of disinfectant. Strangely, it reminded Louisa of childhood, of a memory so far off that she couldn’t seem to place. It comforted her, and she took a deep breath in before she opened her eyes. The room was small, and the walls were a gauzy cream fabric — she realised suddenly that she was in a tent. Little windows revealed snippets of blue sky up above, and forest floor below. She was covered in thick, woollen blankets. As she moved to get up, a burning pain seared down the bone in her wrist. A young girl walked in.
“Don’t get up. You’ve fractured your wrist.”
She must have been only eleven or twelve. She had long, silvery hair, and an elvish looking face… all angles and bone. She had large green eyes, and reminded Louisa of Gracie. She couldn’t have been much older.
“Don’t stare like that. It’s weird,” the girl said shortly, but smiled.
“S-sor—” Louisa began, but the girl waved a hand and said, “Don’t be silly. I’m kidding.”
The girl offered Louisa a plastic cup of water, which she took, sipping gratefully.
“Ada after… who?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m Louisa. After Louisa-May Alcott. You’re Ada… who?”
“Just Ada. That naming thing, naming your kid after a famous writer, artist, musician, whatever… that’s something you do in The Sanctuary, we don’t do that here. Besides, what’s the point of naming me after one of them when hacking is my schtick?”
Louisa shook her head, confused. Ada stopped pacing and sat on the edge of Louisa’s bed.
“Where am I? What happened to my arm?”
“Camp Code. You’re pretty far out from the Sanctuary, you must have walked pretty far. You fell at the rivulet and fractured your wrist. We found you at dusk two days ago. You’re safe here. We’re hackers, mathematicians, scientists… all the people who’re useless to that chip.”
Louisa said nothing.
“So… the chip. Is it still…” Ada murmured, tilting her head sidewards.
“It’s still in there.”
“Can I?” Ada asked, raising a hand toward Louisa’s neck, slightly behind her ear, where the chip was implanted. Louisa nodded. It was a messy job; as the government had not fully assumed total power when she’d gotten her procedure, the surgeons had still been perfecting each incision, each stitch. Slightly round, it protruded from her neck with a slight bulge, held in by wide stitches with threads still visible when Ada looked closely. Ada’s eyes, cat-like and inquisitive, met hers.
“Is it tracking you?”
“I don’t know.”
Ada’s eyes flickered for a second longer before the curiosity lighting them was extinguished. She took a step back, making slowly for the tent flap, where she lingered.
“I’ll let you rest. Call out if you need anything.”
There was a revolution, Louisa realised with wonder. Or at least, the makings of something, otherwise there’d be no gathering of those rejected by the Sanctuary. The government wanted only the creative arts and abstract thought, so where did these outcasts come into play? A thrill ran through her as she wondered what they’d look like - savages? Ada seemed relatively normal, if not a little direct and vaguely intimidating, despite her tiny stature. Louisa was scared, without a doubt. This was quite obviously much bigger than she’d anticipated. Governor August had made it sound as though dissenters languished and died in the streets, cut off from the one hand that fed them. She wondered how long they’d been camped here, and if any of them had known her mother. Surely they wouldn’t, she thought, or her mother wouldn’t have succumbed to starvation.
Her next thought was a fearful, sudden one of panic: what if they thought she was a spy, that she was dangerous to them? If they knew who she was, she’d be completely at their mercy. She surmised they had strength in numbers, if the size of the tent and the way Ada talked was anything to go by.
She was suddenly paralysed with the indecision of whether to run, and keep running. Run back to the city and apologise for everything. Stay, and find out how much Camp Code could help her. It felt as though the fate of her family, and even the Sanctuary, rested on her shoulders, and for Louisa, it was too much pressure to bear. For what seemed like hours she lay, staring at the small piece of sky through the tent’s window. She was falling asleep, finally, when an older woman appeared.
“Louisa,” the woman gasped. She stumbled for the bed in slow, calculated shuffles, her hands carefully extended in front of her. She was blind. Her eyes, brown chestnuts flickered with dark black gashes, stared straight ahead. Long, honey-coloured hair cascaded down the woman’s back, and her skin was smooth and porcelain-like. The woman kneeled at her bedside and Louisa’s heart began to hammer.
“She always said you were so beautiful,” the woman said.
“Wh… who did?” she whispered.
“Your mother. My sister. Bless her soul.”
Louisa’s insides seemed to flip and bottom out, exploding inside her then, in pure shock. Her heart had picked up and was racing at the speed of a smooth, solid thrum, and her eyes had filled with tears. The woman raised her hands to Louisa’s face.
“May I? Please?”
The woman’s hands, soft and sweet smelling, ran along every plane of Louisa’s face. They gently caressed her closed eyelids, brushed her lashes and traced the outline of her lips. It was only once they stopped, that Louisa opened her eyes to see that the woman, too, was crying silent tears. It was then that Louisa realised she needed to trust these people - this woman - and she was safe.
“What’s your name?” Louisa asked.
“Lily-Belle. Did you run? Is Gracie alive?”
“Yes. I left her at home with Father.”
Lily-Belle spat into the ground and snarled, “That man.”
A shudder ran through Louisa, but she took Lily-Belle’s hand and squeezed it. Peace settled over the woman’s face.
“We’ll go back. We’ll get Gracie, don’t worry, my dear. A revolution is coming. They’ve underestimated everyone here, all these coders and hackers… they’re geniuses. And they’re going to hack The Sanctuary’s mainframe computer. Shut down every single one of those chips.”
She paused. She seemed to look Louisa in the eyes, even though she was blind. The stare was so piercing, Louisa felt it in her soul.
“Lily-Belle,” Louisa said slowly, “How do I know I can trust you? That you’re not going to trick me?”
“When your mother was passing, when she was fighting against you getting your chip, I found out I had late stage glaucoma. Your eyesight slowly degenerates, and often in the early stages there are no symptoms. I desperately needed money, to pay for the treatment, and Rose was too sick to help me. Your father saw she was dying, and I got the sense that as soon as she passed, he’d be ready to run away with the two of you. He’d mentally gotten over the fact of Rose dying, or so he’d thought, and he said he needed to start making arrangements. He was making his contacts in the government - important people - one, particularly, Governess Cora”. Louisa’s heart stuttered at the mention of her step-mother’s name.
“Abel could have gotten me the medicines I needed, for my eyes, and the medicine that would save Rose. But he knew it would hurt his case, and ruin his chances of repairing his precious image”. She spat the last two words with such venom that Louisa felt like she was about to cry.
“So he didn’t do anything. My eyesight held out long enough to see Rose take her last breath, in the gutter, and it gave out completely soon after.”
Lily-Belle took a deep breath.
“They’re going to pay for killing your mother; my sister.”
Tara Wesson is a second-year Journalism and Creative Writing student. She likes long walks on the beach, piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain. But no, she's really just a book-lover with a dog called Shorty, a love of travel, and a penchant for dad jokes.