Aleatory – Chapter One

a/n: Uh, new story! Yay! Other possible titles are The Standstill and Entombed. Which of the three current titles do you guys like best?

it’s basically about the main character, Ashlinn, getting stuck in this giant place, where she has to find “doors” to the next area or she is crippled with pain. All she can do is hope that one day one of the doors will get her out of this place.

a·le·a·to·ry [ey-lee-uh-tawr-ee]

adjective

1. of or pertaining to accidental causes; of luck or chance; unpredictable

CHAPTER ONE

It was Tuesday, at lunch. The sun was high and the atmosphere was cheerful, yet all was not well at one certain table.

“They took them,” he gasped suddenly, as though he had come to an epiphany. “They… they’re using them!”

Everybody at the table stared, exchanging looks of confusion and amusement. Dan Chudsman stared back piercingly, his dark brown eyes narrowed in concentration. His fingers gripped the table so tightly that his knuckles turned white, and he seemed to be muttering incoherently under his breath. Ashlinn Downs watched him concernedly. For the past few days, Dan had been acting strange.

Marie, Dan’s younger sister, turned away in shame. She didn’t know what was happening to her brother, and she didn’t like it. Was he going mad? Derek seemed to be of the same mindset.

Hunter, Ashlinn’s brother, clapped Dan’s back. “Come on, man,” he said encouragingly. “Help us understand. Please.”

Luma Reeves made no move, afraid of making a scene and embarrassing Dan.

Dan sighed, shook his head and looked up at the ceiling. Marie, Ashlinn, Hunter, Derek and Luma followed suit. Nothing but unpleasantly bright lights and food stains…

“I can’t,” Dan whispered. “Now they’re going to take me. It’s already too late. I’ve said too much.”

Ashlinn looked down, frowning. “Who’s going to take you, Dan? We all care about you – we can help you, protect you…”

Dan glared at her furiously. “Stop talking to me like I’ve gone mad!” he snapped. “I’m not crazy! Those… those people, they can entomb mountains! They buried the stars! I saw it!

Too late now. Luma covered her face with her hands as everyone else in the cafeteria turned to face their table. One hundred pairs of eyes focused on them. Giggles started up.

“Let’s go, Dan,” Marie whispered, holding her brother’s hand. Numbly, Dan stood up with her.

I’ll see you guys later, she mouthed at the remaining four. Ashlinn nodded, watching them retreat.

The next day, Wednesday, the silence was tense. There were five at the table. Ashlinn, Hunter, Derek, Luma and Marie.

Dan was not there.

“Where’s Dan, Marie?” Ashlinn asked sharply, startling Marie. The poor girl’s blue eyes were wide with surprise and her hands trembled without her noticing.

“He’s sick today,” Marie said shakily, not managing to look Ashlinn in the eye.

“No,” Ashlinn whispered. “I know that you’re lying. We want to help.”

The table lapsed back into silence as Marie stared at her lap, fiddling with the hem of her skirt. Ashlinn could see that her back was shaking ever so slightly – not just her hands.

“Did they take him, Marie?” Derek asked worriedly. “Was he onto something yesterday, when he was taking about the… the people who can bury stars?”

“No. He’s sick.”

“We don’t believe you, Marie! We want to help!” Luma urged. “Please, just tell us the truth. If he’s been taken… we’ll get him back.”

“No,” Marie snapped, still looking down at her sweaty palms. She raised her head, watery eyes meeting Luma’s concerned ones. “Don’t… because they’ll take you, too.”

Her expression then morphed into one of horror as she realised what she had just said.

“He’s on holidays,” she said firmly, her voice no longer shaking.

“But he went on holidays a month ago,” Derek pointed out. Hunter nodded.

Marie pushed out her chair and walked out of the cafeteria. As the four left at the table watched Marie go, they all saw the tremble in her shoulders, and the slight movement in her arms that suggested she was going to wipe away tears, before her arm fell back resolutely.

Then it was Thursday.

Marie wasn’t with them. There were four.

“Do you think she was taken, too?” Luma asked, her voice breaking with worry.

Realising that it might have been their interrogation of her that had caused her to be taken, Ashlinn wiped away a tear.

“No… I don’t think she was,” Derek assured them. “And I’m not just saying that to make you feel better. It would be too suspicious if two siblings were kidnapped within a day of each other… Marie must just be at home.”

“Excuse me,” Hunter said suddenly, startling all of them. His back was to them, though, and he was talking to the boy at the table next to theirs. “Do you mind if I borrow that newspaper? I’ll give it straight back.”

The guy shrugged, passing a rolled-up newspaper to him and muttering, “Sure.”

Hunter turned back to face his friend, unrolling the paper and slamming it down on their table. “There!” he said triumphantly, pushing his finger into one of the articles on the second page. Excited, the four put their heads together to read it.

The Association of Civil Defence Preparations-

“That’s where I want to work! And that’s where Dan works!” Ashlinn exclaimed. The others shushed her angrily.

The Association of Civil Defence Preparations is excited to announce new developments within their headquarters. With an all-new atrium to greet visitors…

Ashlinn skipped ahead, not even remotely interested in the new plants lining the “spectacular” hallways of the Association. Her eyes flitted across the words until she found what was relevant.

With Dan Chudsman, previous Supervisor of Management for the Association, going on holidays to the Caribbean, his place has been taking by the aspiring young Louis Markham. He promises to care for the staff and the headquarters with equal amounts of care and diligence.

“I’m thrilled to be promoted to Supervisor,” said Markham over a morning cup of coffee on Wednesday. “I began decorating the office yesterday, and I think I can make it look quite stunning. Mr Chudsman will be in for quite a surprise when he comes back.”

It took Ashlinn a while to get it, and when she did, she gasped. “Do you know what this means?”

The others hushed her in annoyance, muttering that they hadn’t finished reading. Impatiently, Ashlinn waited, folding her arms. One by one, they gasped in realisation.

A cup of coffee on Wednesday-”

Began decorating the office yesterday-”

“That’s Tuesday, so Markham knew he was getting-”

“The promotion, but-”

“Dan was taken on Wednesday, and that means-”

“It was planned,” Ashlinn finished quietly. “It’s this Association place that took him. God, he was only eighteen.”

Was?” Derek echoed incredulously. “Surely you don’t think he’s-”

“Dead?” Ashlinn murmured. “I don’t know, But, I think that if I get into the Association, I might be able to find some stuff out…”

“And how in the world do you plan on getting into a place like that?” Hunter asked.

Ashlinn grinned, pointing at an advertisement just below the article.

ASSOCIATION OF CIVIL DEFENCE PREPARATIONS OPEN DAY, FRIDAY 9 AM TO 12 AM.

“Who’s in?” she asked. Luma and Hunter volunteered straight away.

Ashlinn had a bad feeling about this.

~

There weren’t very many at the Open Day, but Ashlinn was sure that had the advertisement been bigger in the newspaper, more would have come.

The Association of Civil Defence Preparations was a long, single-storey yet tall building, painted stark white and lined with tinted blue windows. Old oak trees surrounded the area, swaying softly in the morning breeze. Cars now filled the small car park, only half of which was occupied by actual workers at the Association. The building also showed off its love of plants by putting many potted bonsai trees and cheerful flowers against the boring paint.

Ashlinn quite liked it there. It was pretty, and it wasn’t oppressive. In fact, the whole place was rather welcoming. She itched to go inside. If she didn’t find anything out about Dan’s disappearance, it wouldn’t be a waste. After all, for a few months now she’d been wanting to work there as a scientist.

She stood in the refreshingly cold morning with Luma, Hunter and about fifteen others she didn’t know. The youngest looked to be ten, while the oldest was so aged that he carried a cane. The small group was waiting for their “tour guide”.

He came soon, wearing a suit and a smile. The man was dressed very professionally, but his mischievous eyes seemed to show the opposite.

“Welcome to the Association of Civil Defence Preparations, or the ACDP!” he said to them all. “We are a government-run and approved organisation, and we’re very pleased to have you all visiting today. My name is Harrison, and I will be your guide for today.”

Ashlinn put her hands in the pockets of her jacket, eager to go inside. Harrison wasted no more time with chit-chat and ushered the group through the front doors, still with the amiable smile on his face.

The atrium of the building was magnificent, as the newspaper had rightly described it to be. With a floor of marble, walls of polished dark wood and a ceiling made entirely of glass – allowing the morning sun to shine through – the grandeur immediately impressed all. An expansive counter running from one end of the atrium to the other separated the tour group from the smart-looking women talking on phones and jotting down notes.

“Hello, Rhonda!” Harrison chirped friendlily. “Just showing everyone around.”

“Great. Welcome!” Rhonda said to the tour group.

Harrison led the group through the atrium and into a large hallway that branched off into smaller hallways and corridors. Doors with labels above lined these hallways.

“Wow, it’s really nice here,” Luma commented.

“I wouldn’t at all mind working here,” Ashlinn agreed.

Hunter frowned at them. “Don’t get too carried away with your praise. Remember, we’re here with a goal.”

Ashlinn nodded, smoothing her jacket down, and for two minutes the tour group followed Harrison, with Harrison keeping them attentive by telling his group interesting facts about the history of the Association.

Soon they came to a large, open space where busy workers bustled around laboratory tables and boards holding intricately drawn blueprints. Most had smiles on their faces, looking happy and friendly. This greatly confused Ashlinn, who couldn’t fathom how such a welcoming organisation could kidnap people. Unless it wasn’t the Association, and the writer of the article had simply reported the facts slightly inaccurately.

Oh. They hadn’t really entertained that possibility…

Ashlinn’s train of thought was interrupted by Harrison, who was addressing them again.

“This is a very important part of the Association and I’m honoured to share it with outsiders today. Here, we develop defence machines, which might be used in the event of an air strike, or a surprise missile attack… The people who work here may one day save your life,” Harrison explained, gesturing around the room widely.

The tour group murmured excitedly, pointing at tables with metal prototypes and glass windows written on with liquid chalk. The whole place was a beehive of activity, and not a single worker looked like they would rather be anywhere else.

Harrison moved them on after a few minutes of observation. They passed through a few wide corridors, still with more doors (the majority of which had to be offices for important people at the Association). Harrison introduced them to the next section of the tour.

“Intelligence gatherers. All those who work here have challenging yet exciting and unique jobs. Half are in other parts of Britain and even overseas, gathering intelligence and sending it to our headquarters. The workers stationed here file through all of this intelligence and try to deduce if there are any problems with our security or potential, upcoming attacks on this nation.”

Ashlinn looked around, raising her eyebrows in surprise. If she didn’t become a scientist, it would be amazing to go off in other countries and collect foreign intelligence. The Association was looking better and better.

“Of course,” Harrison continued, “the main secret services do most of the intelligence collection, but we like to have our own sources, as well. I’ll let you all go walk around for… say, ten minutes?”

The tour group nodded in agreement, eager to begin their exploration.

“Great. We’ll meet back here.”

The group then dispersed. Hunter, Ashlinn and Luma walked around together, marvelling at how tight-knit a family all the workers seemed. There were lounges where they chatted over coffee, discussing things with code words that Ashlinn could not understand. There were focused men and women sitting at computers, typing away furiously. And there was a large screen, all filled with words and pictures of people and places and numbers that no one in the group of temporary visitors could comprehend.

After ten minutes, Ashlinn, Hunter and Luma all met back with the tour group, and once again they moved forward.

Another thirty seconds of corridors.

And another section, just as interesting as the last two.

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Experimental Division. I must warn you, though, that it is the most secretive part of the Association, and the staff have asked that we stay here for a short time only. So, we’ll just pass through.”

“What exactly do they do here, sir?” Ashlinn asked, startling the group. No one had asked any questions yet.

Harrison’s smile seemed to slip off his face, for the briefest of seconds, before he grinned once again. But his eyes did not match up with the rest of his face. His eyes were hostile – almost cold.

No one else seemed to notice.

“As I said, this is a very secretive place. The operations of this section are not so easily divulged, Miss.”

Ashlinn nodded slowly, showing Harrison that she would not press the matter any further.

The Experimental Division was around the size of the entrance to the Association, the atrium. There were only about fifteen workers that Ashlinn could see. Harrison led them at a leisurely pace straight through the middle of the division.

But Ashlinn had other plans. She tugged on Luma and Hunter’s shirts, stopping them while the rest of the tour group went forward.

“Guys,” she told them quietly, glancing around to make sure no one was staring, or listening. “I… I’ve got a feeling about this place. I think we should look around.”

Hunter nodded. “Okay, but we’ll have to try and look as inconspicuous as possible.”

“Maybe we should pretend that we lost the group and have no idea where we are,” Luma suggested. She put a puzzled expression on her face as an example. Ashlinn nodded her agreement, and the two walked around together, with identical perplexed and curious expressions. To their surprise, no one really stopped them.

The three made a complete circle around the division and found nothing of interest, so they decided to try and catch up their group. However, the corridors formed a labyrinth, and they quickly lost their way.

“Dammit,” Hunter said after five more minutes of walking. “This is getting us nowhere.”

Ashlinn looked around. They were in a short, plain corridor, two doors on each side.

One door – Janitor’s Storeroom, it was labelled – was ajar, and she squinted. In the gap she could have sworn she saw a pale, bare foot…

“Hello,” said a voice pointedly. Ashlinn looked up to where Luma and Hunter were already staring; Harrison and the group had found them. Quickly, Ashlinn glanced back at the door, but it was firmly shut and looked as though it had never been open in the first place. How strange.

“Sorry,” Hunter said. “We got lost.”

Harrison nodded, smiling broadly, but his eyes were still cold. Hunter, Luma and Ashlinn re-joined the tour through the Association’s several departments and divisions.

Ashlinn’s thoughts never once strayed from that pale foot.

When the tour ended at noon, the three of them knew they would have to go back to school, so they travelled back to their respective houses in order to change into their uniforms, and then biked to school. It was halfway through lunchtime when they arrived.

After signing in at the admin office, the three of them joined a sad-looking Marie and Derek at their table. At once, both of their faces lightened up.

“Luma! Ashlinn! Derek! You’re safe!” Marie exclaimed, jumping up to hug all three of them.

“Of course we are,” Ashlinn said with a frown, hugging Marie back tightly. “Why would you think we wouldn’t be?”

Marie smiled sheepishly. “I thought that – that you were… wherever Dan was. That you had all been taken.”

Ashlinn shook her head. “We haven’t been taken just yet. But – I do have something to tell you all.”

They took their seats, and Ashlinn began to explain about the open door, the pale foot and the way it had shut when she’d looked back. All of them found it very suspicious, but they didn’t have any ideas.

The rest of the day passed by slowly. They had come up with basically nothing, greatly disappointing Ashlinn, but she knew that the Association did have secrets, what with Harrison’s odd behaviour and the supposed “storeroom”. If only there was a way Ashlinn could find out more…

At five o’clock, while sitting in her bedroom and pretending to do homework, she whipped out her phone and clicked on Luma’s number. She sent a quick text and then flopped down on her bed, setting her alarm for twelve o’clock.

to be continued… actually, the next chapter is already written, but I’ll save posting it until I’ve completed the third chapter…

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