For a small town like Heavestone, there are too many buildings. Too many streets. Too many things for me to accidentally bump into as I learn how to not be a featureless ghost doing everything at the speed of light.
I am a corporeal girl. Someone with a body, an actual body, not a three-dimensional rendering of a body separated from conscious by a monitor. Someone with touch and depth in my vision and-
I cover my eyes. I hate the evening sun. It looked so pretty from the internet, a stylized sunset decorating a million desktop screens. But the red and golden hues threatening to lick my eyes to a crisp is too much and so I have to turn away.
I am outside someone’s house. 925 Lucia Lane. Their front yard has a mini windmill, blowing in an imaginary breeze. I don’t think I want to feel a breeze for a long time. Anything that makes me feel cold, metallic, robotic…
I don’t want to go back in that sleeping pod. I’ll do anything to stay out of that sleeping pod- well, I wouldn’t murder anyone. That’s where I draw the line.
The first real decision of my life. It feels… good to be in control of something.
I continue walking. I was expecting a lot more people to be going home in the evening, coming home to dinner and a family and a warm and loving house- but the streets are desolate, and I have no idea where I live, and even if I did know where I should have grown up, Father will be there, and he’ll chastise me for scaring everyone and running off so brashly.
No. I did the right thing. I felt threatened, and so I left.
Look at that squirrel- oh no, it just fell out of the tree. But it’s alright. And there’s a dog barking in a window- and a creepy gnome with a mechanical waving hand peeping out of someone’s front yard garden. Who even likes gnomes, anyways? Gnomes are disturbing, with their beady eyes and frozen grins.
Things that look like people and can shatter and break are not things I want to be around. A dismembered eye, no matter the source, is a sign of bad luck on Miralay.
And I am nothing if not a Miralayan.
Not just that- I’m the Providence. A Providence! I stop and close my eyes for a moment, imagining that I’m in the underground depths of Miralay, standing in the public gathering area. I am the public face of the colony, the first thing Earthen people think of when they think of Mars and of Miralay. The Providences there now are aging and decrepit and should have died several months ago when my seventeenth birthday rolled around.
The people are growing restless. An old Providence cannot rule as well as a young one, and every day that goes on, the more likely that eventually a tipping point will be reached and Mordern will be forced to take violent measures to find their hiding rulers.
Because that’s the magical thing about the Providences. If one dies before they can get their memories, then a new one will be born almost immediately to make up for it. Someone else will have to rule in their place. And as long as Eponine and I are missing and alive, there won’t be any new Providences born.
Never has this rule been invoked before, because none of the Providences have shirked their duty.
And I cannot escape mine.
Someone yells a name in the distance, a curling, looping name. Serlis! A potential friend, maybe? Maybe someone I could take back with me to Miralay, someone to show me the ropes of being human and only having one life to live instead of millions that I can put on and cast off like a set of virtual clothes. I can’t be Petrie Veronneau or Engles Alegria or any of the other personas I’ve donned for so long anymore.
I have to be Living Wasteland, Providence of Miralay, and I have to be it soon, or else things will start falling apart and there will be no real world for me to romp around in and discover all its joys.
I’ve wandered a few streets away. Someone has a flowerbed in their front yard. I kneel down and bury my face in the delicate blossoms, petals tickling my skin, begging for a giggle, which I gladly give them. They smell like fresh clothes and a mother’s embrace and home.
What about that Eponine boy? He considers this place home, I think. He didn’t like the thought of being the Providence. I don’t think I can blame him. Mars is a long ways away, after all… And he honestly doesn’t strike me as Providence material. Or leadership material in general.
But then again, I spent my entire life until recently in a sleeping pod, so what do I know?
This house is not a home. At least, it’s not my home. Home is an oversize living quarters at Miralay adorned with precious and rare fabrics brought from Earth in the fledgling days of the colony, and this place reeks of cheap perfume and broken promises.
At least, what I would imagine broken promises to smell like. Kind of like rotting orange peels.
Father ushers me into the home, a weary smile half-faded on his face, no doubt reveling in the fact that I just wandered onto his street for him to catch- wandered right into a trap. His voice is far away as he says, “Your room’s across from mine. It’s bare, and I’ve been using it as a guest room, but it’s yours now.”
I mutter an equally distant thanks and tiptoe to my room, convinced that if I so much as disturb the walls with their faded and peeling wallpaper, they’ll fall in in me. The door easily gives way to my touch. My room could be a cleaner’s daydream- the room is completely empty save a bed with white linen sheets stained in just a few places and a blank curtain.
This is a funny way of decorating a prison cell.