Now superceded; this full early edition can be read on Wattpad as BTE Beta1
Updated preview of Chapter 1 for Blind the Eyes, the first novel in YA/Teen supernatural fantasy thriller series Gold & Silver…and yes, that is the second batch cover, but it just turned out so much better than the one for the first batch, so whatever… Read on below the jump.
Chapter 1: Trouble
Cadence speaks. Only I hear.
It’s ok though. I know she’s not a Dream. That would be dangerous. But a girl who speaks only to me? That’s perfectly within regulation.
Well, mostly within regulation. Or rather, barely within regulation, depending on the interpretation, but it’s not like I can do anything about it anyways.
Trust me; I’ve tried.
Following Holy Tower Regulation is the way to a long and safe life. Regulation Two: Segregation is safety. In other words, as they drilled us on the Training Floor, we are not to engage any other Tower Citizen, whether Trainee, Supervisor or Worker, unless required in the course of our duties. The distraction could kill us.
Regulation Three: Distraction is Destruction. It’s why our uniforms - the exact shade of bland grey that everything else is around here - cover us completely, apart from openings around the eyes for obvious reasons. It’s also why our daily nutrition - administered in a gluey-bland almost-fluid generally called Noosh - is monitored to keep us all roughly the same size…though they still haven’t solved getting the handful of us females to match. When it comes right down to it, an obsessive pursuit of unremarkable sameness is the reason for pretty much everything here. No distractions, whether environmental or relational, means we can stay focused on our painstakingly proscribed routines, leaving no space for undesirable thoughts or inner experiences.
No dreams. No hopes. No fears. No desires of any kind. Because the moment we slip up, it’s over. Regulation One: Dream is Death.
And of course, Regulation Six: Obedience is Life.
But Cadence breaks all the rules. She’s bursting full of dreams and hopes and wishes and desires. She’s loud and questions everything and pays a completely inappropriate amount of attention to her surroundings. She knows about colours, and all sorts of things that she shouldn’t - or maybe she’s making them all up, which is even worse. And she never, ever gets in trouble for it.
I don’t know where Cadence came from. I think she’s always been with me. She might be my friend (but she’s kind of a pest). She speaks when I don’t. Or won’t. Or can’t.
Like right now.
Digital Monitoring Technology Division Supervisor Kistr is taking a piece out of me.
“Dispassionately.” Supplies Cadence, flitting just outside of my sight.
I resist the temptation to turn my head. The most I ever catch of her is a faint, pale flash in the corner of my vision as she ducks behind me. A private game of hers, no doubt. She’s always up to something, and somehow, always gets away with it.
“As evidenced by the droning voice and glazed expression.” Cadence continues her vocabulary lesson, wrapping it up by making a rude noise in my ear, and dissolving into peals of laughter.
It makes it hard to hear Supervisor Kistr as he warms to his task.
Cadence is wrong. Dispassionate is the opposite of the small man at the front of the room. Deliberate words filter past Kistr’s mask with exacting focus. Only the slightest tremble in his precise tones betrays him. That, and the dampness of his bulging eyes, his gaze elevated to another plane. They shine wetly with unseemly pleasure as he expounds on my sins.
Which is fine. Formal reprimands are to be expected - at least it’s not Retraining. That place was unpleasant. It’s simply Regulation. It’s for my own good.
Apparently I lack focus. I show signs of ambition - and worse - imagination. My youth is no excuse. Regulation Three: Distraction is Destruction. I am a disease that poisons the group.
Of course, he’d never go so far as to publicly blame it on my gender, but it’s implied: girl, don’t be a distraction.
It’s nothing I haven’t heard before - accusations like it have followed me since that day on the Training Floor.
Such a small thing, a moment’s lapse in concentration, a hissed “Shut UP!” as we recited the Holy Tower Regulation.
I wasn’t resisting, when I told them that it was Cadence’s fault for distracting me. She had been singing - again - something silly, nonsensical. I’d just been trying to end the distraction. I was doing the right thing. It was all her fault.
When I said as much, everything went wrong. I was yanked from the trainee cohort and reassigned to Retraining.
I’m not ever going back there.
“Yup. That place was no fun at all,” Cadence says, with typical lack of acknowledgement of any responsibility on her part whatsoever. “Sooo boring! And all those grownups? …hang on, isn’t it just. like. here? Despaiiiiir~”
My shoulders twitch as I suppress the futile, but tempting, urge to swat her away.
Supervisor Kistr narrows his eyes at me and raises his tone as he continues. I hunch my shoulders and lower my chin, concentrating - a little visible contrition might trim the length and severity of the lecture.
“Betcha he’s bald under his fancy-schmancy hood, ol’ Mr. Grumpypants” Cadence breaks in, snickering. “Despaiiiir~ no haiiiir~ despaiiiirrrr~”
Cadence singsongs with great dynamic range directly into my ear, making me burn to give her a good kick. My legs are starting to ache from standing, knees locked, but I don’t quite dare to shift my weight under the force of the supervisor’s damp gaze. To make things worse, the bottoms on this latest uniform are too loose. They’re edging past my hipbones, one anxiety-spurring fraction of an inch at a time.
I squirm, ever so slightly, and get a warning glare from Kistr, who is edging toward the end of his rant, if past experience has anything to say about it.
I sigh, but carefully, so that my mask doesn’t flutter and betray my frustration. The hard-edged, familiar sweetness of blood helps me focus, as I gnaw my tongue to keep it still. Meanwhile, Cadence is losing interest in her little song. She now seems to be occupied with sucking the words in and out in a sort of humming sigh:”~aaaAAAEEEiiirrrrhhhhaaaAAAEEEiiirrr~”
No one ever blames - or even notices - Cadence, exasperating pest that she is. Instead, I’m always the one that gets blamed. Every time.
So I do my best to ignore that little troublemaker too. But she’s relentless, whispering and teasing and laughing, always dashing just out of sight when I try to catch her out. And maybe it’s my fault after all; everyone else seems to be able to ignore her just fine. Not that she ever seems to go off and bother them.
It’s unfair, the way I catch all the blame. Like right now.
“…complete an additional two segments Health and Recreation. Daily.” Supervisor Kistr is finishing up.
I frown under my mask, careful to keep the upper half of my face blank so he won’t notice and increase my sentence for insolence. Whenever I resist, it’s ‘insolence’. Because of my ‘youth’. It’s definitely not because he’s a nitpicky old bully who pleasures in singling me out. One day the Dream Death will get him for that.
The fleeting thought is… soothing.
I’m sure Kistr’s well aware that I’m not a fan of the health and rec programming; he’ll have scoured my stats for the best punishment. Sorry, ‘remediation plan.’
Well, whatever. It’s not like there’s really any better way to spend time. There are only so many options, each day fading into the next, the empty nothingness of sleep interrupted by the tedium of work, interspersed with the draining effort of a health cycle or attention-seeking frenzy of a recreation unit. Mind and body relentlessly occupied, focused, but never really engaged. So pushing back the void of sleep with extra H&R was a well-considered punishment - unpleasant, but fully compliant with Holy Tower Regulation.
I struggle to hold back another eye roll. My effort is in vain; Kistr raises an eyebrow, seeming to see past my mask to the dissatisfied twist beneath. His eyes crinkle at the edges. Uh oh.
“Also, a nutrition increase of 15%.” He finishes, trails of indecent moisture seeping from his eyes as his cheeks threaten to engulf them in a grin so wide it escapes the upper edge of his mask. The effect is unpleasant, but not nearly so much as his punishment.
“Hah! You’re just a kid, of course you should get more Noosh!” Cadence snorts, clueless as usual.
I stifle a shudder and ignore her. She’s not the one who’ll have to choke down an extra slurp of that dense, flavourless muck every morning and night. Noosh is not only nasty, but ineffective, at least when it comes to regulating my appearance the way it’s meant to. Although, on the bright side, every time they increase my nutrition allotment, it seems to dull her voice, at least temporarily.
I stiffen my back and let my eyelids drift lower, making a conscious effort to look old, or at least older, and world-weary, as Supervisor Kistr eyes me. I make no response to his sentence. I am not expected to - although, I’m sure he’d have appreciated a little bow, or a few tears.
Cadence’s word irritates me, a not-unwelcome distraction from Kistr’s beady-eyed inspection.
Kid. The term is offensive - even more so than the supervisor’s frequent references to my youth, always with that emphasis. It’s singling out yet another failing of mine. I am the youngest in the room, by far; a shameful, inescapable uniqueness.
The youngest to leave training (or rather, retraining), the youngest to join the workers, or so Cadence claims.
She guesses I’m about seventeen. I don’t know how she’d have any idea; as far as I know, the Tower doesn’t record ages. Just roles. Trainee. Worker. Supervisor. Senior.
In any case, it’s obvious I’m the youngest; I keep growing and changing. My ankles and wrists jut scandalously past the wide sleeves and loose pants of my uniform. Exposed flesh is also against regulation, not that that gets me new uniforms any more often. I have to work at wearing mine out fast, so they can be replaced. Though I’m clumsy enough that I don’t have to work hard at it.
I’m on my fourth set of uniforms since leaving training. The protective gold band threaded into my hood and the printed ID code on my back and chest haven’t even had a chance to fray on this one. On many of my coworker’s uniforms, the band is worn so thin and dull that it scarcely stands out against the general drabness, and the ID codes are wrinkled and flaking, not like my shiny black print.
No one else grows and changes here but me.
I’ve been a Digital Monitoring Technology Technician, a full Worker, for fourteen months. I spent only four months in training, and another two years in retraining, absorbing Holy Tower Regulation and learning my Skill with machines and patterns.
Before that, my memory fades to grey fog, interspersed with the unlikely glittering falsities of Cadence’s stories of The Time Before. But I do know that Workers are regularly in training for up to six years, and have even been sent back to the Training Floor for longer, if their Skill or ability to follow Regulation is weak.
I don’t want to go back.
I was already taller than most of the others when I came to consciousness and was transferred to Floor 12: Worker Training. The difference was - and still is - plainest in my arms and legs - stretched too long, aching and bony and endlessly clumsy. Though all of me is clearly thinner than the others, visible even under the careful draping of my uniform. You can see through the dusty tan of my stretched skin - another mark of shame - to even deeper colours underneath, all shadows and movement, the surge of veins and fading bloom of bruises. My hair grows faster too, passing Regulation length between trims, prickling around my ears and poking out from my hood. Of course, it’s too dark as well, making the length even more noticeable, inky against my bland uniform hood.
It all started to go wrong with kids. Trainees don’t know not to talk at the beginning; when we’re new to consciousness, it takes a while to absorb Holy Tower Regulation. The others said I must have been forgotten by the Growers and left too long. Overbaked, singed, burnt around the edges, my skin and hair too full of colour, not even close to Tower-approved ashy paleness. Well, it wasn’t like I was the only one who wasn’t perfectly pale, then. There were trainees with all sorts of tints before Noosh sapped all the yellows and browns and reds and pinks to uniform grey.
The real trouble was my size. Where the others were half my height, or less, when they came to consciousness, they were also faster and more coordinated. In their high whispers, they said I’d been grown wrong, dark and stretched and oversized.
Cadence said no, I was just meant to be this way. She said tall is better anyways, for climbing trees and stuff. Whatever that means.
She said other things too, but by then I knew better than to repeat them. She tells so many strange stories and uses so many funny words and pretends to know so many things, and I never know when she’s making something up, words or ideas. Like trees. And climbing. And kids.
But although I know it’s wrong - Regulation Six: Obedience is life - sometimes I can’t help listening to Cadence’s stories. The one she tempts me best with is weather. I can almost feel it sometimes, when Cadence tells of it: rain like a shower that covers the whole ceiling, sun brighter than the brightest lamp. Wind is mystifying, though, and snow, that strangest of phenomenon… a shower so cold the drops turn hard? But it doesn’t hurt?
But this part of me is wrong too, the part that wonders, the weak, unfocused part that is tempted to listen to Cadence’s ridiculous fantasies. Yet another failing, the way I can be fooled into almost seeing things that aren’t there, flashes of a place that is not the Tower. Because Regulation Four: Tower is All.
So maybe there’s a Grower somewhere on the Training Floor that got sent back to Retraining for negligence. As they should have been, for such a monumental failure.
It is not good to stand out. Distraction is destruction, but there’s an unspoken bit before Regulation Four that everyone knows, even if we don’t recite it. It’s at the heart of everything the Tower exists for and works to maintain: Difference is distraction.
Cadence says she loves not being the same as everyone else, which is ridiculous.
If it weren’t for the Growers’ mistake, I would have been perfect. As it is, everything about me is too much, no matter how careful I am. Too tall. Too bony. Too dark. Too long. Too clumsy.
I would not be different from the others if I had the choice.
Being different is dangerous. Being different causes reprimands, and other nasty things.
Being different brings death.
“Liiiiieess,” Cadence whispers with a spooky, hissing impression of gravity, then chuckles, distracted by a new rhyme, which she proceeds to sing repeatedly: “No skyyyys just liiiies mad eyyyyes hates surpriiiiise~ess~~”
In the background, Supervisor Kistr is topping off his reprimand with a group chorus of Holy Tower Regulation, watching me the whole time. After, I am allowed to sit.
I move too fast, eager to rest my quivering muscles, and bump my thigh against the arm of my chair with a clatter. The skin burns, and I know it will bruise bright, invisible patterns under my uniform. Great. Even darker, more colourful skin.
The reprimand this time had been longer than usual. My screen has gone blank, and I tap the terminal to wake it. This prompts a sharp look from Supervisor Kistr.
Oops. Mustn’t look too eager to get back to work…
I shift, all sharp angles at odds with the smooth, ergonomic curves of my seat, another reminder that I’m never right, even for something as simple as a chair. A wheel squeaks, high and thin, and I freeze guiltily.
It’s not that I don’t get it. Any slip up, anything gone sideways, anything not perfectly aligned with the careful forms of Tower rule and regulation, even my dull work, can disrupt the fragile balance that the Tower so carefully preserves. My own mind, or someone else’s, could be compromised. The briefest hint of ambition to compete, an unguarded moment, the merest spark of imagination, could prove the opening needed for a Dream to take control. And then it all ends for yet another one of us.
I do know obedience to regulation is the only way. Regulation Five: Control is Holy. Work, or any activity, really, takes second precedence to maintaining stability.
It’s just, if the screen goes blank, it takes on the same drab hues as the rest of the console. And the chair. And the walls. Floor. Ceiling. Uniforms. Even, for most of us, skin tone. The protective gold net embedded in the overhead lights casts a smudge of pale, muddy yellow over the grey uniformity. It all swims together, sickeningly.
Hate is dangerous. Hate is not stable. Hate is a wish for change. A wish can draw down death.
So I don’t hate the blank screen. I simply avoid it as much as possible. I don’t harbour a sinful desire to work more, or faster, or harder than anyone else. I just do not let the screen go blank.
“Stupid screen,” Cadence says. “Stupid grey. Stupid gold. Stupid uniform. Stupid pasty people. Stupid work. Stupid stupid stupid.”
I flinch. I can sense Cadence’s eyes rolling. She openly hates the drabness of our world, and loves tempting me to go along with her. I don’t know how she gets away with it.
Cadence is grumbling in my ear: “Garbage-for-brains picking on you again. Not like he ever gets anything done, hiding out in his lame office. What gives him the right?! We should just walk out of here. What would he do then, huh? I bet even a Dream wouldn’t bother with him. No imagination at all!”
Cadence fumes for a few minutes, while I enjoy the silence. I can almost feel the air shift as she changes tack.
“We could take off right now. He wouldn’t even notice, not that rule-bound twit.” She wheedles, bored and looking for a reaction.
Cadence keeps grumbling in the background as I focus on the screen, only half listening to her.
I could leave. Kistr has gone back to his shielded office, and unless a reprimand is triggered, he won’t bother with me again today. If he even noticed, he’d probably be pleased to think he’d unsettled me to the point that I fled work. And no one else would care; it’s not like work is compulsory or anything. But I find no appeal in the health or recreation cycles, which are nearly as mind-numbing as the work we are assigned to. Even the temporary freedom from the dullness that sleep provides doesn’t motivate me. I can’t be bothered to leave my desk, much less abandon work and go.
“Play hooky.” Cadence chants, delighted with her latest nonsense word.
I rub hard between my eyes, sighing. Cadence is relentlessly loud and talkative and smug. I don’t know anyone else like her.
Although, I don’t actually know anyone else. That would be against Regulation Two: Segregation is Safety.
The only contact I have with others, besides Cadence’s intrusive, inescapable presence, and the supervisor’s periodic attacks, is through this screen. Each one of these codes represents a Tower citizen - Trainee, Worker, Supervisor, Senior - and it’s my job to find and flag the patterns. Of course, I don’t really know these people, but I can’t help but find some of them familiar. There’s 3-8MR2, who pops up at the beginning of every shift, and then reliably drops off my screen after the first hour - probably a nightshift Worker. There’s 3-3HY5, the most mobile, tracking across the screen throughout my shift. I keep an eye out for 3-3HY5; he’s the most interesting part of my day, although I haven’t been able to work out his pattern. Much like 3-3SR-, who also bounces around, and then disappears for hours or days at a time.
I’m not supposed to pay attention to the individuals, of course; it’s my job to flag trends for investigation. The computers monitor the day-to-day stuff, sending alerts to supervisors for over- or under-productivity reprimands, or adjusting H&R or Noosh dosages. And they could probably do the trend analysis too, if the Tower didn’t have to find a way to keep all us Worker’s occupied for hours on end.
So I sit here, every single day, and stare at the codes, watching for anything out of the ordinary, because, really, what else am I going to do? But the trouble with looking for patterns all day, every day, for me at least, is that I can’t stop. Take the Citizen codes; of course, it didn’t take me long to work out what they were. Locations - the remaining towers 1 through 4, split by floor and room - along one side of the screen, activities along the other, with codes streaming across the field between them. Well, when codes starting with 3- spend all their time in Tower 3, and the 3-8’s spend most of their time on Floor 28 of Tower 3, which houses the Senior Care Ward, it really doesn’t take much of a leap to work out the pattern - home tower is the first digit, followed by work division code. But then there are the ones, like 3-3MR2 and 3-3SR- who go all over the place, so maybe I’ve got the pattern wrong. For instance, both of them are up on Floor 28 at the moment.
I wonder what they’re doing up there…
“Go see!” Cadence says, making me jump. My elbow slips and crashes against the edge of the console, a stabbing, sharp burst. I swallow back a hiss of pain. More noise. More clumsiness. More bruises.
I clutch my elbow, pressing against the hurt, and peek past my hood to either side. Of course, none of the workers look up from their screens. Distraction is Destruction. I’m the only one here getting off course.
“C’mon~” Cadence says, putting some whine into it, and I can almost feel her tugging at my shoulder. “Just have a look; then you’ll know. What could it hurt?”
It’s a stupid idea. Not impossible, of course, but stupid. It wouldn’t be hard to get up, go to the elevator, press the button. And then what? Stand and gape in the smooth, sterile corridor? It’s not like I could ask 3-3HY5 what he’s doing up there. Just looking at him would be cause for alarm. No, it’s a ridiculous idea.
But it would be nice to know what that second ‘3’ stood for. A maintenance division, maybe? I stare at the screen, mouth dry, as Cadence prods: “Go on, just for a bit…”
As I watch, code 3-3HY5 drifts away, dropping down the screen floor by floor, leaving the other two behind, and I let out a shuddering breath, relieved. Too late. Too slow. The moment had passed. Well, it’s not like I would really have gone, after all. Just a momentary distraction. All Cadence’s fault…
An alert takes over my screen, making me jump: time for a hydration break.
I sigh again, consider dismissing the alert and continuing. 3-3HY5 is still slipping down the screen behind the translucent grey of the alert, and I trace his path, guessing at his destination. Floor 7 - Maintenance and Cleaning? Floor 5 - Growers? He’s still descending… I hear Cadence draw in a breath, and suddenly I can’t take it any more. I don’t want to hear it, whatever it is she’s up to now. I push away from my desk in a rush to shut her up, and stand, looking towards the hydration console at the far corner of the room. The sight wipes all thought of Cadence and her pestering right out of my head, and I blink repeatedly, squinting to confirm it.
There are people standing there.
At this distance, I can’t hear voices, but their heads are bent together. I shiver, repulsed.
Close contact with others violates Regulation and risks weakening the mind. Interpersonal relationships are to be avoided. (Cadence doesn’t count; she’s impossible to avoid. I’ve tried.)
I look around, swallowing hard. No one else seems to be aware of this violation of Regulation. Shouldn’t there be some sort of alert? Why isn’t the system flagging it? Even Cadence is silent, for once.
Taking a deep breath, I slip my hand into my hood and through my hair, scrubbing through the too-long mat of it, then adjusting the drape of my uniform to cover the strands better. The motion is calming; it helps clear my mind.
It’s OK. I don’t have to interact. I’ll just go around them, get my drink as quickly as possible, and get back to my console.
I eye the group as I approach, holding my breath in a bid to sneak by without attracting notice. Cadence is muttering in the background - still stuck on the idea that we should go check out Floor 28. She doesn’t seem aware of how wrong all this is.
Four of them. Three men and - could it be? - one woman.
There are so few other women in the Tower, and such close contact with them is most definitely against Regulation.
Two of the men and the woman are standard Tower stock, small, pale and colourless, fading against the bland walls as though I’ll see right through them if I look hard enough. Even their eyes are pale.
And then there’s the other one.
He’s tall, maybe taller than me, even. It’s rare, but not unheard of.
That’s not what stills my steps and makes me stare.
“No. Way.” Cadence breathes.
I agree. I’ve never seen anything like him.