Authors: E.R. Arroyo
got questioned by some guards after lunch. They were asking about Cori.” I’m
grateful but don’t really know why he’s lying. He’s probably ashamed.
she mumbles, “That’s terrible. What happened?”
know,” Dylan assures, not wanting me to finish the sentence anymore than I
head back inside together, and I realize it’s already dark, and I’m freezing.
Alyssa’s eyes float over to Dylan several times and I can’t imagine how much
she’s going to miss him. I hurt for her, truly. Even though the outcome a
year from now would have been the same as tomorrow’s, I somehow feel like I’ve
taken their innocence in one fell swoop. Maybe in another time, in a another
place, these two could have been happy together. Somewhere they would be
allowed to touch each other, and allowed to love each other. A world where
Nathan didn’t exist, and neither did I.
everybody here is better off with me gone after all, like I’d always thought.
I just wish I wasn’t making such a mess of things before I go.
dinner, I sit at a table alone, growling at anyone who tries to join me. I
barely eat--only a few bites of bread dipped in slush. I try hard to formulate
some kind of plan but nothing comes to mind.
the way to our rooms, I catch up to Alyssa and tug her into the restroom. She
looks at my hand on her arm with her eyes bulging out and I let it go wondering
if I grabbed her too hard.
I feel lost for words. “I’m sorry.”
it’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong,” she tells me. It warms me inside
out to have her affirmation, and I pull her into a quick embrace. At first
she’s stunned, then wraps her arms around me, too.
miss you,” I whisper in her ear, then pull away.
do I feel like you’re saying good-bye?”
restless tonight--my last night in this bed. I wonder what tomorrow will
bring, and what the science division will be like for Dylan. Surely his
integration won’t be as rigorous as mine. But it’s really Alyssa I’m worried
about. I can’t think of any training that would need to go into
reproduction--from what I understand it’s instinctual. I’m worried that she’ll
wish she could change her mind, or that someone will hurt her. Will it be on
her own terms? Will her first mate be kind?
I realize it, I’m pacing the floor like a caged animal. So many questions, and
I’ll never know the answers because I’ll probably never see Alyssa again for
more than a passing glance across a common area. I can’t talk to Dylan
feel more alone now than I ever have. I thought that’s what I wanted, but the
reality of it stings. I don’t think I really expected to be alone forever,
eventually I would find another colony. They say no others exist, but we can’t
be the only ones. Maybe escape was a childish dream--simply the whim of an
adventurer. Perhaps I’ll thrive as a soldier, taking orders from Nathan Burke,
but right now the thought sickens me.
need to see Dylan.
slide my dresser over and pull the vent open. Once inside, I put the cover
back in place, ensuring the magnets have caught before I let it go. It doesn’t
take long to make my way to Dylan’s vent, though I probably made more noise
than I should have. I’ve never actually removed this vent before, so Dylan will
have to remove it from the inside.
not sure how to wake him up without making too much noise. The duct I’m in
will carry sound to other vents and rooms, and straight to the guard on this
floor. I sigh, realizing I haven’t thought this through.
squint, trying to make him out in the pitch dark.
is that you?” he whispers again, a little louder this time.
I’m frozen still.
are you doing?”
just wanted to see you--to talk to you, I mean.” I’m fumbling over my words.
do I let you in?”
you reach the vent cover?” I ask.
I see his hand suddenly right in front of the vent. He can reach it without
standing on furniture. How did I never realize how tall he is?
I say as I pass a tiny multi-tool through the vent with the screwdriver pulled
releases the screws and puts the vent cover on the floor. I slide through the
vent legs first, and Dylan catches me with one arm around my middle and the
other on my back. When I let go of the vent, Dylan shifts me with ease and
sets me on my feet, though his hand still lingers on my lower back. My skin
aches where he’s touching me and I wish I didn’t have to pull away, but I do.
take a few steps across the room and turn to face him. I wish there was enough
light to make out his expression, but I have no clue how he’s feeling or what
he’s thinking--if he’s angry, if he’s hurt or sad.
he’s wondering what I’m thinking, too, because he asks, “Are you okay?”
not sure how to answer that, honestly. I don’t know that I’ve ever been okay,
or that I ever will be. “I want you to forgive me.” I lift my hands to plead,
but I withdraw them when he steps toward me.
stops himself before getting close enough to make me uncomfortable. “Cori, you
have nothing to be sorry for.”
do. I really do. I did this to all of us. Nathan is punishing everyone
because of me,” I say so fast I don’t even realize I’ve started to cry. I’m
thankful it’s too dark for my tears to show, but I’m sure Dylan can hear them
in my voice.
tired of grade school anyway.” He dips his head, his shoulders hunched
forward. His hands are awkward at his sides, like he’s trying to keep them
still. “I’m ready for more challenging work. And I can only imagine the
technology I’ll have at my disposal. You haven’t done me a disservice.
Really.” He says these pleasant things, but there’s something in his voice
that sounds far from happy. He’s trying to make me feel better.
Alyssa,” I whimper, drawing my hand to cover my face.
takes a moment to respond and I realize I’ve hit a nerve. “Alyssa’s going to
be fine.” He sits on his bed.
it,” I say too loudly. We both pause and listen for movement, for footsteps in
our direction. Nothing comes.
pretending everything is okay. Everything is not okay,” I say as quietly as I
can. I turn toward the wall, with my forehead against the cold concrete.
doesn’t respond, and I’m not sure what he could say anyway. Regardless, my
words aren’t coming together.
pace the room to get my thoughts going. “Maybe I can sneak out. I’ll run as
fast as I can to the fence and just climb it. I’m a fast runner, a fast
climber.” My head’s racing with details. But most importantly, the fence’s
electric charge is formidable.
know you can’t do that,” he whispers, concern growing in his voice.
wear gloves, good shoes.”
to me,” he growls, and I stop cold. “You’re not going to do that; you’d get
yourself killed. No. You’re going to bide your time. You’re going to wake up
in the morning, eat breakfast, and start your training. You need to prove
try to interrupt, but he stands and moves toward me, holding his hand in the
air to stop me from talking.
You earn their trust and try to get assigned to a convoy. Once you’re outside
the safe zone, you can run. Do you understand?”
mumble something that even I don’t understand.
he whispers. I didn’t realize he’d moved closer but he’s inches away from me.
are you going to do?” he asks.
the part. Wait till it’s safe.”
nods and then stares at me for a moment. He seems sad and I can only speculate
as to why.
going to miss Alyssa.” It comes out as barely a whisper. He nods again, still
looking sad. Maybe that’s what he was thinking, too.
feel his eyes burning into me, even though I can’t really see them. His
breathing sounds heavier, faster. Have I upset him? He squeezes his fists,
then kneels with his hands on his head. Watching his body react to sadness
hurts me to the core--he’s my closest friend. I start toward him, not sure
what I’ll do when I get there. He lifts his hand and reaches for mine, but merely
grazes it instead of latching on. To my surprise, the swift gesture doesn’t
bother me at all.
finally regains his composure and slows his breathing before finally speaking.
“I’ll miss her, too.”
helps me back into the vent and replaces the cover with my screwdriver. As he
passes it back to me, he whispers, “Try to get some rest.”
I return to my room, I plop onto my bed like I weigh a thousand pounds. Every
single part of me feels exhausted and heavy, all except the very edge of my hand--the
place where Dylan touched me. That part feels light as a feather. I think of
his massive hand and gentle touch as I finally drift to sleep.
my mind, Dylan’s hands fade into another pair, the hands of my father. They
toil over loading a weapon with new ammunition while empty casings cover the
floor. I am seven again, and I’m crying in a corner while savages pound on the
building we hide in. He snaps the clip into the gun. “Let’s move.”
stands and I follow as fast as I can. He begins to climb a metal ladder to the
second floor. When he looks down to check on me, I reach for his hand, but he
doesn’t grab it.
can do it by yourself,” he assures me.
grit my teeth and grab rung after rung until we’re both securely on the second floor.
I hear glass breaking below, and a savage hoots to rally the others. The
staircase from the first floor has fallen in, but here on the second floor,
it’s intact. We run up the stairs and the bag on my back feels heavier by the
minute. The growls of the savages echo throughout the building and my tiny
an eternity of stairs, my father pushes through a door and we spill out onto
the rooftop. I trip on the threshold and scrape both knees. He grabs me just
above the elbow and swoops me to my feet and away from the door before he slams
it closed. He takes a quick survey of the buildings around us before deciding
on the rooftop closest to us.
jog to the edge and peer over. He ties a rope around my chest then gets a
running start--with no warning to me--and jumps to the adjacent building. My
heart is pounding so hard I can’t hear his instructions from the other side.
He’s pointing to my back, I think. It must be the backpack.
get a running start, like he had, and launch myself into the divide. I don’t
even come close to reaching the other building and I’m crashing toward the
brick wall. I twist my body to position the backpack between me and the wall
right before I slam into it. The pack cushions the blow, and I feel my dad
hoisting me up by the rope until my fingertips reach the roof’s edge.
my tiny voice calls out.
shakes his head. “You can do it. Climb up.”
hold tight, my hands trembling on the edge. I pull myself to where I can throw
an elbow over, but I slip and lose my grip. He catches my hand and tugs me up,
then kisses my forehead.
did great, baby. One day you won’t need me. You’ll get bigger and stronger,
and you’ll always remember what I’ve taught you. Promise you will.”
love you, too, Daddy.”
pulls one of his handguns from his belt and stuffs it in my backpack. We climb
down the fire escape on the far side of the building and disappear down a dark
street, leaving behind the sounds of savages yelling as they rampage.
wake up troubled after managing a few hours of sleep. I try to remember that
my father raised me to do things on my own, but I’ve become too dependent. I
have to figure out how to get out of here without using Dylan as a crutch. He
can’t get me custom gripping gloves, or build new wings--or whatever other
thing his mind could fabricate. I’m on my own again. It’s better this way.
Better for everyone.
I throw my legs over the edge of the bed, I notice a folded piece of paper by
the door. I pick it up and unfold it. It’s a hand-written note on stiff,
breakfast at 0800.”