A call log, 6/21/2147

(The phone rings for a few seconds before the other end of the line picks up. For the first few moments, the audio stream is nothing but static, but it quickly clears up.)

1: Mom? Are you there?

2: Nino! How are you doing? Is camp going okay?

1: Mom, I need to talk to you. It’s about something important.

2: Does it have to do with camp?

1: No.

2: Miralay?

(The first line remains silent.)

2: You can tell me anything you want, dear. I promise I’ll listen.

1: Mom… (Heavy, strained breathing.) Mom, I need… I need…

2: What do you need, dear?

1: Mom, there’s this p-person named Petya here. He says he’s from Miralay and that he works for Amelia and he’s going to kill me and Amelia’s gonna attack Heavestone on Saturday and I just want to keep everyone safe and-

2: Where are you right now?

1: Main bathroom at Allonsy. No one else is upstairs right now. But-

2: Eponine. Take a few deep breaths.

1: (Labored breathing.)

2: Listen to me. This is very serious. I’m going to need to contact Sully at Limberstein, okay? I know she’s been ignoring you, and I know you haven’t been checking everywhere on the news. But I’m going to confirm that anything’s actually going to happen on Saturday. Can you wait?

1: Mom-

2: Yes, Eponine?

1: I… I just want to be human. I don’t want to have to deal with this. I don’t want Miralay to be my responsibility. I just want to be able to afford to turn a blind eye to Mordern and get a job and go to college and do all the other things that everyone else can do except for me because I’m the god damn Providence and Miralayans can’t do those things because Miralayans belong on Miralay-

2: Eponine. Take a few more deep breaths.

1: (sobbing) I can’t take this anymore, Mom!

2: Can I talk to Sully for a few minutes?

1: (still sobbing) Fine.

***

(A few moments of static, and then the call connects.)

2: Eponine, are you there?

1: (sniffing) Yeah…

2: Sully hasn’t been talking to you because she’s in the middle of a stasis chamber test.

1: She… she lied? She said she was working on top-secret things-

2: Maybe she didn’t want you to worry? But anyways, she’s just fine. I got on the phone with somebody else. There’s a small escape pod that’s supposed to impact on Earth sometime in the next six hours.

1: (Distressed.) What am I supposed to do about that?

2: Honey, it’s going to be okay… We’ll prepare to defend ourselves just like we’ve always done whenever Mordern decides to mess with us.

1: Wait-

2: It’s happened before. We haven’t survived a hundred years just by hiding alone. It looks like it’s just going to be one person, although if it’s really gonna be Amelia… I don’t know what to expect. But I’ll warn everyone right after this call.

1: What about me?

2: You’re not going to camp the rest of this week.

1: What? Why? I-

2: Because that Petya person is at camp, and I don’t want you to be anywhere near him. I’m going to report him to the police as soon as I can find a way to do so anonymously. Also, and I know you’re going to hate this, but just stay quiet until I’m done talking.

1: Okay.

2: (sigh) Okay. So I’ve been talking with Mr. Greenland. He’s agreed to keep you inside of Liv’s old sleeping pod until all this Miralay hoohah has passed. We can transfer all the books and games you need to stay occupied and offline away from where Mordern could possibly detect you, and we’ll have someone guarding the area at all times. Anything…

1: Mom?

2: Anything for my son.

1: Mom, are you-

2: I love you, Eponine. I hope you always know that. Your father and I smuggled you out of Miralay because we loved you and wanted you to be able to make choices in your life. And while we may not be able to do as much as normal Earthens since we have to stay hidden, just know that, no matter what path you choose in life, your father and I will be there to help you make it work. And if you have any problems with anything ever and need help, all you have to do is come to your parents.

1: T-thanks, Mom.

2: You don’t have to do any of this alone. Hell, you shouldn’t. We want to help you with your problems! But we can’t do anything if you don’t tell us anything. (A pause.) I’m going to send someone from Heavestone with a registered vehicle to pick you up. They’ll be there in about two hours. Think you can hold on until then?

1: I can do that. I’ll have to get someone else to do the newsletter, though.

2: I’ve already told the Director that you have a family emergency and might not make it the rest of the week. She’ll find someone. Now go get yourself packed up.

1: I love you, Mom.

2: I love you too.

Eponine’s diary, 6/21/2147

It’s been raining all day from the moment I stepped onto the bus until now, stuck inside of Allonsy with half of the camp scattered between this floor and downstairs. There’s literally nothing for me to take pictures of right now that could make for an interesting newsletter, so even though I banned myself from writing anything while at camp, I need to keep myself occupied somehow until all the units make it here to Allonsy and the adults figure out something for me to do.

 

I’m holed up inside of IV’s office right now. Bringing along a bootable flash drive was a good idea because there’s no way in hell I’m trusting the hotspot someone I don’t even know brought along, and given the fact that, for some reason, the lockscreen on my computer has been malfunctioning and not asking for a password- I’m not going to take the risk of someone passing by and opening it up and stealing all the files I haven’t bothered to encrypt yet.

 

I’ve been doing some thinking, most of it last night while watching the thunderstorm roll in over radar. I don’t think my plan of being able to hide in Heavestone forever is going to work. If Petya is to be trusted and Amelia knows where Heavestone is, then what’s to stop Mordern from knowing where everyone I love lives as well? Amelia would want all the help she could get, right?

 

No, Petya said that she was coming to Earth alone. So I have two choices.

 

The first one: I can beg Mordern to help me stop Amelia, being that she’s supposed to be their responsibility, side with Limberstein afterwards to get to Miralay, and then destroy the Singularity and let the rebels take over. But what if Mordern doesn’t listen to me? What if Mordern decides to prosecute me instead? No. They don’t seem to be actively looking for me. I think I would know if they were. Missing children signs, public campaigns…

 

And if I go back to Miralay, that Singularity might use my brain-machine interface to kill me. I don’t even know how to use it, but surely a computer with vastly more resources and knowledge would know every single exploit and weakness and shoot me down like a fly in mere seconds. That reminds me- most of the rebels had brain-machine interfaces. Does the Singularity know about them?

 

Are they all dead?

 

God damn it, Sully, why won’t you tell me anything?!

 

The second option: I can wait for the attack, hope that it’s just Amelia, and then defend myself and Heavestone. Then I can blame Mordern for the attack, which may or may not be believed by the media, which might cause Mordern to lose control of Miralay, which might allow Limberstein to gain control of them and be able to fight off the Singularity.

 

Either way will probably result in at least some innocent Miralayans losing their lives. And I can’t blame them- it’s not their fault they’re brainwashed. It’s Mordern’s and Amelia’s fault for perpetuating the system and Liv’s-

 

Liv.

 

Liv was just doing what she thought was right. She had a more coherent plan than I ever did.

 

Do I actually care about Miralayans being liberated and living long lives? Or did I only care since I was being forced into a system I couldn’t ever be happy in? Because now that I’m down here on Earth, and they’re far away again, I can’t seem to muster up enough energy to care.

 

If the people are happy, and the system works… then who am I to deny them their happiness? Who am I to force other people to live by my ideals? Who am I to tell a corporation what to do if they’re not breaking any laws?

 

I guess I’ll flip a coin then. Heads, first option. Tails. Second option.

 

You know, I… kind of miss Liv. Has it really been almost three weeks since she died? That seems kind of hard to believe. I think… I think it’s time for me to forgive her.

 

It’s Amelia I should be angry at. Not Liv; she was just doing what she thought was right, and in hindsight, maybe her presence did bring some sort of stability to the people. If only she hadn’t stumbled into the damn rebel hallway- maybe then she’d still be alive!

 

I shouldn’t be angry at Mordern. Should I? I mean, it’s their fault that I can’t live a normal life like every other human and have to stay in the shadows. But I’m always going to be considered their property, aren’t I?

 

So many unfortunate circumstances.

 

I don’t think I want to hide in the shadows anymore.

 

There’s got to be a third option.

 

But what’s it supposed to be? Take out Amelia and then… then what? There isn’t much I can do by myself, being just one teenager. The general public doesn’t know too much about Miralay, and any information available isn’t exactly where most people would bother to look. And besides, who’d believe that Heavestone was real, anyways? I might as well be a scam artist. Some kind of anti-capitalist anarchist jealous of someone else’s success.

 

I used to call everywhere outside Heavestone the “Land of Shadows”. I wish I could go back to that kind of innocence. Go back to Miralay being just a faint ping in the back of my mind, not really much of a threat as long as I stayed hidden inside Heavestone. Eventually, I’d grow up and either get a job inside of the community being paid in housing or food or some other non-money thing or manage to pass as an undocumented worker in the Land of Shadows.

 

Damn it! Why wasn’t I born a normal human? Why do I have to be cursed to such an ethereal existence? There’s nothing good about being Miralayan. All it is- is just a curse. It’s… it’s like trying to run a computer system. Either you have to piece together a Frankenstein system with hundreds of barely-maintained open source programs that don’t function well together, if at all, just for some feeling of being free, or take the beautiful top-of-the-line ecosystem that works flawlessly and sacrifice any sense of control or privacy or anything you value.

 

Is taking up the role of Providence the only chance I have at making some sort of positive change for the people I love in Heavestone?

 

Has that chance passed?

 

And what about my friend Sully, if she even still wants to be my friend? How is it going to look when, after I’ve made this big of a deal about hating Miralay and not wanting to be the Providence, we cross paths again as enemies? I’d be willing to work with her to change the government slowly over time, but I’d practically be a slave to the rebels, assuming any are still left…

 

I… I think I need a break. I need to think…

 

I need…

 

I…

 

Eponine’s diary, 6/20/2147

Well, what do you know- I still have my job as newsletter person. And I’m still alive. I guess that’s a real boon for me. Maybe I’ll get a participation award to hang up on my room beside the one soccer trophy from when I was supposed to be in first grade.

Today, at flag, the Director was prattling on about the day’s activities when three bodysuit-clad people in various pastel colors burst into the crowd and abducted the Director. Took her right by the arms and dragged her all the way to Unit 6- a stampede ensued, all the girls tripping over themselves on the eroded path with exposed stones that runs right down the hill Allonsy’s built on. I think at least two girls had to be sent to first aid upstairs. It was all a ruse, really. The Director was never in any harm; she just needed a motivation to get all the half-asleep girls into the meadow Unit 6 is on and work through the six stations that had been set up.

Slime? Out of the question. Stupid sensory disorder. I hate having anything sticky on my skin, even if for just a moment- you know, diary, when I was a little kid and Mom would make pancakes, I would always have to have a washcloth beside my plate just so I could immediately wipe off any syrup that got stuck to my fingers. But then again, I also absolutely had to cut up my pancakes into strips and dunk them in syrup poured into a little ceramic cup that would sit by my plate. Mom made me stop doing that when I was ten. I did it once when I was fifteen just to piss her off since she’d grounded me for telling someone on the internet my location. They didn’t believe me, but I still had to close the account, and pancakes were the only way to get back at her.

But I digress.

I’d already made the weird recycled-and-compressed paper, and I’d hate to have hard-to-wash-off ink on my fingers too, so thumbprint thank-you cards were out of the question. One table was just kids filling out government identity kits for a lost children database and providing some agency or another with more fingerprints. For me to do that would basically be suicide.

Quilting? I’m not that kind of crafty, and maybe it would be best if I left the simple knot-tying that comprised the whole of the activity to the little kids.

But jousting- that was where the fun was at. A two-on-two battle with girls randomly selected from each unit, each team facing each other while squatting on horses- really just an inflatable barrel-shaped thing with a horse head protruding from it. Their lances were pool noodles. Three hits below the shoulder, and the other team would win. Headshots, and the offending team would instantly be disqualified. I think I convinced Geno, the girl in charge, to allow for rematches a few times when the girls insisted that it had only been an “accident”.

Maybe it’s kind of sad that something so simplistic, so inconsequential could make me laugh so much. But I dunno.

And I took pictures the whole while for the newsletter. Anything to keep the Director happy.

Hey, Nino. We need to talk.

My spine stiffened. Petya slid his hand onto my shoulder- ice cold, even through my shirt with the muggy, humid air that had fallen over the camp.

P- Petya…”

“Ah, so you remembered my name-”

Memes whirled around, catching Petya’s eyes, and was over to us in a flash, leaving some girls from the green unit clamoring for help. She settled a hand on her hip, head cocked. “This nibba givin’ you any trouble?”

Petya’s upper lip curled. “I beg your pardon?”

Through Memes’ sunglasses, I could see her gaze shift to him. “You. They complained about you at the older girl meeting. Said you were always distracted.” Memes took a step towards Petya. “You got a crush on my friend, pretty boy? ‘Cause you gotta keep everything PG-13 here. Spare the little kids the birds and bees and save it for home.”

Petya took a step back from Memes, his face drawn. “I need to tell Nino something. It’s important.” He grabbed my wrist- I tried to yank it away, but he was a wannabe King Midas, turning everything he touched to stone instead along with his own hand.

He pulled me towards the latrines, up the hill a little. Too terrified to know what to do, I followed him- Memes shook her head and pranced back to her unit, where a little girl was letting slime flow between her fingers.

Eponine, what are you doing? He’s gonna kill you! He said-

He wouldn’t be so stupid that he’d try to pull off a murder here.

Petya crouched down, pulling me down as well until we were both hunkered down behind the latrines and out of anybody’s sight. Hopefully out of earshot as well. He closed his eyes for a few moments, pulling together his composure- the furious blushing started again- and then spoke.

“Eponine. Your parents are going to die in three days-” he grabbed my shoulder (I’d popped up to leave) and forced me back down. My twin hearts began fluttering. “Listen to what I have to say. Master Amelia is planning to commence an attack on Earth Saturday. She’s targeting Heavestone. She wants you dead, and she’ll do anything.

So she knows where Heavestone is. I bet Liv told her.

Liv is dead.

Couldn’t they have extracted her memories? Or is that only possible with someone who’s alive? No, wait, the rebels would never have let Miralayan officials have Liv’s corpse. They probably dumped it in a trash chute somewhere to be cremated. But then how-

Is there a rat in Heavestone?

No, everyone in Heavestone is reliable. And even if somebody did-

Calm down, Eponine. Deep breaths.

I’ll fight her head-on. I’ll kill her herself if I have to! Anything- anything to protect-”

Petya smirked. “I knew you’d say that.” He put a hand on my back, trying to keep me from hyperventilating.But see, Eponine, there’s an issue with that… If Amelia does any sort of damage outside of Heavestone, people are gonna know. Someone’s gonna go to the police, or the news, or whatever. I just know it. And then Mordern will be blamed because it was a Miralayan who did it.”

And then there’ll be legal issues…” I murmured.

Mordern might be forced to dissolve, and then Miralay won’t have anybody to take care of it, so it’ll shut down and everyone will be forced to move to Earth. Or that other company Limberstein might buy it and annex it to the colony they’re setting up.”

My face flushed. You say that like it’s a bad thing-”

“Miralayans and Earthens mixing. That might cause some reproductive issues, don’t you think? Honestly, I don’t trust Limberstein not to throw everyone already on Miralay into a culture shock with their ‘liberatory’ bent.” Petya shook his head. “You need to stop Amelia before anybody can get hurt or- before anything happens, really.”

I sighed. “How many troops does Amelia have?”

“Just herself.”

One person.

Heavestone can take out one person. Easy.

I looked at Petya. He was blushing again.

You said yesterday that you were going to kill me.”

“Love kills everyone in the end.”

I think, at that point, the Director was yelling for me to come back down and take more pictures of the girls. And not just the pinkies, but all the units- as much as I loved being with the younger kids, I needed to spend time with all the campers. Even the blatantly overweight ones.

I patted Petya’s shoulder. His face flushed, and he flinched at the sudden touch. “I gotta go now.”

***

The rest of the camp day went by in a blur. I eventually ended up in the office of the camp nurse, IV, where there was a desk for me to work. I think I can type faster while the laptop’s on my lap, though- but my legs were far too sweaty for me to risk getting roasted by the fans. Some fat kid in a purple shirt kept wandering in and out of the office while I was trying to work, searching for the Director for some issue that probably could have been resolved by her unit leader. But then again, that unit’s been having issues all over.

Oh, that’s right! I got to go swimming today- I didn’t have time to on Monday. The sky was gray and ashy when I stepped outside Allonsy with my non-technology backpack, and I got a good quarter of the way to the lake before one of the adults who was driving down there to pick a pinkie up offered me a ride. Bumpy roads traversed while hanging on to the rails in the back seats of a golf cart- brings back memories. If only I could remember what the memories were. The road brings back the same damn old feeling of sonder, and there’s too much shit from the Providences associated with that to bring back anything coherent.

Two adults nearing their shedding times, gazing out into the stars from the surface of Miralay. Their pressure suits make it hard for them to hold hands, but they manage anyways, fingers clunky and arms chunky.

Little kids pelted me with long foam noodles from the moment I stepped out of the changing room until I slipped into the water- but Memes wasn’t that far away, and all of them immediately stuck to her side like flies to fly tape. She sent me an apologetic glance, knowing that I could have used at least some kids to remind me that I wasn’t universally hated, and then she sauntered away (well, as best as one could saunter half-submerged anyways) to rub it into Petya’s face.

And then the sky began to weep.

There isn’t much on this old earth that can evoke the want to slip under the waves forever more than seeing the raindrops splatter on the surface of a lake you’re swimming in.

Eponine’s diary, 6/19/2147

It is Monday night and the sky is furious. Weeping for some kind of loss I can’t possibly begin to comprehend, threatening to drown this house and all the other houses around us. I can see airplanes passing overhead, their flashing lights twinkling through the clouds. Big metal birds of potential death.

 

The sky has broken.

 

The loop of time is malfunctioning.

 

I have no idea what’s caused it, but my parents are insisting that the only time I leave the house until the sky goes back to normal is when we’re leaving to drop me off at the middle school to board the bus to day camp. There’s never been rain here in my lifetime, and they’re spooked, and I’m spooked. It feels so weird to be experiencing it now- obviously I know it existed before now, but the mere feeling of being able to lie down in bed in my room and listen to the rain pattering on my window and feel the thunder raging above in my bones is so foreign that I have no idea how I’m supposed to react to it.

 

Lie in awe, I suppose. Lie awake and contemplate all the whacked-up events that occurred today.

 

All the campers assorted themselves in two neat rows facing each other on the side of the flagpole facing Allonsy immediately after getting off the bus. Actually, the rows themselves weren’t too neat- little clusters forming here and there as the leaders and UAs of each unit would introduce themselves to their younger charges, maybe sign each other’s camp-issued shirts, exchange swaps. The caddies were missing, though, and then all appeared donned in their ironed red sashes and put up the flag. Announcements and then a gathering underneath the shade trees to sing songs.

 

I hung out around the back and took pictures for the newsletter when I should have been inside listening to the mandatory older girl meeting. Thug life, I guess. The gold unit was hiding, too, and we had a nice little conversation about waifus until Memes showed up and blew our cover.

 

Oh, and the Director came out and sang and danced with the caddies who had been forced to go up and demonstrate the moves. I caught that on video.

 

There’s more thunder outside. My lights are flickering. Maybe… Maybe I should put this entry aside and wait until morning to finish it.

 

***

 

It’s three in the morning and I can’t sleep because I keep having this one damn nightmare no matter how many times I open my eyes and think about the book I finished reading on the bus home. I know it’s technically the next day and I’m not supposed to write on entries for days that have ended, but Memes taught me the hustle of the thug life, and I’m going to stay with it until my job as newsletter person comes crashing down.

 

Which will probably happen today, but that’s an entirely different story that hasn’t happened yet.

 

I was assigned to take group pictures of each individual unit- you know, for the newsletter. I wouldn’t be able to publish them all on Monday, but it would save me a hell of a lot of time throughout the week because then I’d spend the more eventful days recording all the Director’s plans unfolding out instead of trying to corral wandering campers and pleading with them to cooperate for a picture. Every unit has a color and a number- I can never remember all of the numbers and their color coordinations, and the map I was given was written with numbers and no colors. It was a headache trying to find them all, but eventually I worked my way down to the red unit, which sits at the top of the hill facing Allonsy. It was a long and steep climb, and I stopped at least twice to sip from my water bottle, my chest heaving up and down. But eventually I reached the top and immediately collapsed onto a bench.

 

“Hey! It’s Nino!” one of the red girls cheered. “I’m gonna be the first one to sign his shirt!”

 

“No, I am!” a smaller girl with pigtails chirped.

 

“No, I am!”

 

So the stampede came. Nine girls with red shirts surrounding me like a witch trial’s blaze, licking at me with heat and permanent markers insisting on doodling names and weird inside jokes and giggling all the while. Someone inducted me into their weird group, which I don’t remember the name of because it was misspelled and that shirt’s in the wash thanks to all the sweat it soaked up. Eventually the girls subsided and stepped away from me, allowing me to sign their shirts in return, and then it came time for the group picture I came there for.

 

“Hey!” one of the unit leaders yelled. “We’re missing a UA and two girls!”

 

“Well, where are they?” I asked.

 

“Oh, wait-” she pointed somewhere behind me. “From the latrines. Behind you.”

 

And then I turned around, and I came eye-to-eye with him, standing just a few feet away.

 

The nightmare inducer.

 

That damn silver hair grown long to his jawline on one side and cut short on the other and perfectly trimmed, waiting like a rattlesnake in the grass with all the warning signs in the world. Only the slightest bit of a tangle from the inevitable sweat of being outside, but his skin looked just as dry and clean as if he’d just stepped out of a bathroom after a shower. A faint X-shaped scar near the bottom of his left cheek.

 

It was ninety degrees out, but yet I still found a way to shiver.

 

There was a red bandanna tied around his neck. It waved in the slight breeze that was beginning to pick up as he approached me. He gestured for the girls to set their water jugs down, which they’d just filled from the latrine sinks, and then turned his back on me to help arrange the girls into a nice formation for the photo I came there for. His shirt was bunched up on one side and bound with a ponytail band, exposing how thin he was. His shorts zealously outlined his thighs and rear end.

 

His appearance wouldn’t matter all that much, except that, for some reason, this boy utterly stole my attention. My eyes glazed over as the girls struggled to sort themselves by height.

 

“Petya, where are you going to stand?” one of the unit leaders asked.

 

Petya. Petya. Petya.

 

“I think I’ll lay down and pose in the front.”

 

Petya threw a wink at me. I stammered, thrown for a loop, and then knelt and took a few pictures for good measure. When it clicked and I set the camera down, the girls dissipated, returning to the skit they’d been practicing and perfecting for Friday’s contest.

 

“Nino?”

 

Petya was standing in front of me. I lifted my eyes from the camera. “Yeah?”

 

“Could I talk to you for a few minutes?”

 

“I’m on a tight schedule-”

 

Petya’s jaw tightened. “I insist.”

 

Some of the girl UAs snickered as Petya led me behind the latrines. Once we were out of sight of the younger girls, Petya drew a hand across his face. The first colors I’d seen in his pallid gray skin began to bleed through in his cheeks.

 

“So, Eponine-”

 

I stiffened. Nino was the name I’d signed up with. Nino was the name everybody knew me by. I’d had the bandage covering up my Providence dot since I’d left the house. There was no way-

 

“Eponine Westal. We meet at last. Amelia sends her regards.” He closed his eyes. The slight tint of color changed to a full-blown blush. His body was slightly tilted away from me. “I hope you know I’ve come to kill you.”

 

I should have known. I should have known that Amelia wasn’t going to just let my departure from Miralay slide. I should have known that she’d send a collection agent or an assassin or whoever this Petya was.

 

Run, you idiot, run!

 

“I have to get to the next-”

 

Stay.”

 

That one word should not have been able to render my legs so useless.

 

Eponine. I’ve heard a lot about you from that mad woman. That you were irresponsible and disrespectful and a threat to both Miralay’s well-being and your own. That killing you would be the merciful thing to do so everyone could quickly mourn the loss of a male Providence and wait for another one to be born.”

 

Does Petya know the truth?

 

“Unfortunately...” Petya sighed. “I seem to have done the complete opposite of what Amelia wanted. Gone and run off to Earth ahead of schedule to go and mess everything up.”

 

Petya laid his other hand on my shoulder and then leaned in close, still shielding his face from me. I was a petrified statue. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear the adults murmuring about what in the world was going on back there and whether or not someone should go back to the latrines with a buddy to see what was the big holdup.

 

His lips brushing against my ear, he whispered, “I’ve accidentally fallen in love with you.”

 

And then I took off running. Bolted and refused to look back, my backpack jangling half-open behind me. My legs screamed from the sudden movement, but I refused to stop moving until I’d tripped my way down the hill and burst into the main room of Allonsy, startling the older girls who were splayed out on the floor and enjoying the air conditioning. I returned to the other backpack I’d had stashed in a corner and pulled out the laptop, grateful to absorb myself in the newsletter. Anything to get my mind off of that creep Petya.

 

Petrie Tanakayova, the unit book said. Unit assistant to the red unit. Slight allergy to peanuts.

 

I’m not slathering myself in peanut butter just to keep myself away from him.

 

Eponine’s diary, 6/18/2147

 

Today’s Sunday, the Sunday before camp starts. I don’t know where the time’s gone. I can’t believe I haven’t written an entry for three whole days- well, in all fairness, I did ban myself from bringing my diary to camp. Camp distracts me from writing, and writing distracts me from camp, and if I’m going to do the best job possible on the newsletter and not get immediately banned when I’m already on thin ice, I need to pay as much attention as possible and not get sidetracked.

 

Plus, the pages might get smudged. And if I lose it… I don’t really want to think about what might happen. It’s not illegal, per se, for Miralayans to be on Earth. But technically, in the eyes of this country’s laws, we’d be considered immigrants. And immigrants have to have documentation. That’s not going to change no matter who’s leading Miralay or whether or not Mordern exists.

 

But that’s an issue for later. I want to talk about camp right now.

 

My limbs were sweaty and stuck to the seat as I crammed in with Adelaide. She had one tiny pack with her that fit neatly into her lap while I had two hulking backpacks- one for my computer and other electronic things necessary for the newsletter, and one for hauling around various camp necessities.

 

Sunscreen? Check. Maybe I should have bothered to use it. My arms are looking a little red right now as I write this… Oh well. I’ll just have to remember Monday.

 

Bug lotion, because spray is banned even though people take sprays and just go behind Allonsy, the main cabin there, and spray each other off to their hearts’ content? Check. At least, I think I have some. I didn’t use it at all while I was at training day yesterday because, well, we were indoors for most of the time. Damn heat wave.

 

Swimsuit that’ll adequately cover my chest and make me look less effeminate and keep the more hormonal teenage girls from swarming me because I’m one out of only three or four boys at camp? Check.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention. It’s a Girl Scout camp. Very few of the people there remember when I was a girl, or “presented” as a girl, or whatever terminology you want to use. I’m not registered as a Scout, because that requires documentation I don’t have, and almost all of my health forms have been waved over with waivers saying that, if I die or get maimed or anything, the camp’s not responsible for it. But I mean, hey, socialization, amirite?

 

Half an hour on the bus trying to balance listening to music at a decent enough quality over the rumble of the aging bus and not bothering the people around me with leaky earbuds. The ones I had conveniently broke a few days ago. The left one won’t work anymore, and it’s no fun dealing with the headache of only using one. Nobody on the bus stood up and started leading a group camp song like they were supposed to in years past. Everyone was too tired to put that much effort in.

 

Roll call started about fifteen minutes after we’d arrived and flung all the overnighters’ bags into the back of Allonsy’s side room (that has doors to both the bathrooms and the main room) and promptly collapsed into a heap underneath one of the large, shady trees. My backpacks were wedged into an alcove near the tree’s trunk, out of the way of the stomping feet of the older girls assorting themselves into their high-school cliques. Adelaide wandered between all of them, trying to find her own place, but after being given several snide looks from a handful of volleyball players, she threw her hands into the air in frustration and plopped herself down beside me.

 

I was leaning against the tree trunk, taking advantage of the most shady spot underneath the tree. Adelaide leaned against the trunk as well, her face turned away from me, her arms crossed in frustration. But eventually she softened a bit, dropping her arms and resorting to fiddling with some of the swaps she’d brought to trade.

 

Roll call wasn’t much better. Several of the incoming rainbows picked camp names that they couldn’t have- whether someone already had them, or, as I soon learned, they were on a list of names that couldn’t be used for ten years after the person who had had them had left camp more or less for good. A sort of holding list, if you will. Snoopy was on there, as was Peanut, Rainbow, and various copyrighted candies. One of the rainbows, who was on the overweight side leaning obese, started throwing a hissy fit when she learned that she couldn’t be “Pretty Princess”. God, I still remember that girl… or, at least, I still have her swaps and a faint recollection of her demeanor. Just another athletic blonde-haired Miss America type. Give me a scrawny girl with mad leadership skills; give me a twiggy girl with springy brown hair and an indecipherable personality; give me a girl with a yo-yo almost always hanging from her fingers whose very voice can summon the ocean.

 

Or, hell, even give me Memes, or “Boneless Pizza” as the Director put down.

 

“Adelaide Audette?”

 

Adelaide waved her hands. “I’m not here!”

 

“Good.” The Director didn’t look up from her roster page, gingerly affixed to a clipboard. “What’s your camp name?”

 

“Memes!”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“It’s Memes!”

 

“What?”

 

Memes!

 

“I can’t hear you.”

 

“Goddamn it, lady,” Adelaide huffed under her breath. Then she yelled, clearly as a joke, “It’s Boneless Pizza.”

 

The Director’s eyebrows wrinked, but she wrote it down anyways, assigned Adelaide to the red unit, and moved onto the next person. Adelaide scoffed and turned to me. “I- I was joking-” She slammed a hand down onto the dirt, cringing a second later in pain as she’d accidentally slapped a rock. “She heard me just damn well. She’s messing with me, I swear to God.” Adelaide paused. “It’s because I’m black, isn’t it?”

 

“I don’t think-”

 

They fear the meme magic in my veins, don’t they? Thinking I’m some token-”

 

I glanced at her hand as she gripped her wrist to hold her arm still so she could check her palm. There was a faintly reddish drop gleaming in the sun. “I think you better see the nurse about that.”

 

Adelaide didn’t go to see the nurse. She muttered something about her “essence” leaking out as she retrieved a bandage from her backpack. I don’t think the Director noticed. The Director almost never notices what goes on in the back, a fact I’ve used to my advantage many times whenever I wanted to get out of a Monday sing-along where I would have been forced to the front to dance and sing cheesy twenty-year-old songs with the rest of my unit. No amount of UAs (unit assistants) chastising campers to stop trading swaps and signing the backs of camp-issued shirts and to shut up and participate could stop the black market swap trading.

 

The insanity continued inside Allonsy, where we all sat down in the large center room. Four rows of chairs had all already been set up facing the whiteboard, where the Director stood and waited for everybody to filter in. I stayed towards the front of the room, back pressed up against the wall underneath the whiteboard. I was too lazy to go and get a seat, and at that point, I was starting to feel a bit woozy from the heat. Adelaide went somewhere near the back. The Director spent an hour going through the unit book (really a three-ring binder) each unit leader had a copy of and explaining the protocols laid out inside to the adults and older girls, and when she got to the part about the waterfront, some of the girls piped up.

 

“But adults can’t put sunscreen on kids, can they?”

 

“No.” The Director shook her head. “For obvious reasons.”

 

“Ooh!” Another girl’s hand shot up. “My mom is going to be in the red unit, and she has this super cool hidden flask that looks like a sunscreen bottle-”

 

The Director sighed and closed her eyes. “Tana? Can you go outside and bring the big barrels of water inside so they don’t boil out there?”

 

Tana, the girl who’d blurted out, immediately deflated, but she bowed her head and slumped outside to do her job. The Director waited a few seconds to regain everybody’s attention before continuing with her talk. It wasn’t a tirade, and it wasn’t a monologue. Just a talk.

 

I don’t really remember much of what happened afterwards. I think I drifted off into sleep until the other units went outside to tour the camp, including the archery range, which hadn’t been set up yet, and the ropes course, which was… roped off because there wasn’t anybody to oversee it. Then a lady on the elderly side of life came in and struggled to explain her newsletter template to me, which turned out to be corrupted and improperly formatted. I just ended up making my own template. She insisted on explaining everything to me multiple times and talking down like I’d never seen a computer before.

 

Good old camp times.

 

I didn’t see Adelaide for the rest of the day. She was too busy getting to know the rest of the red unit and trying to find her way around camp with nothing to guide the whole sorry lot but a poorly drawn map at the back of their unit book. I’m pretty sure the lime unit got lost somewhere in the woods and came back five minutes after the busses had loaded up and were ready to leave. I sat with Adelaide again. We didn’t talk to each other, just napped until we arrived back at some middle school I’ve never stepped inside of.

 

I’m absolutely drained. I don’t know how I’m going to keep up with my diary this whole week. I guess… I’ll get it done in bits and pieces and pray it all makes sense.

 

Eponine’s diary, 6/15/2147

It’s nine at night and I’m absolutely exhausted on the long drive home. This seatbelt makes a good pillow… I should write quick. I might doze off at any moment. Which reminds me- when I was about three or four, when I couldn’t sleep, my father would load me into the backseats of the car and drive around the neighborhood until I’d conked out unconscious. There’s just something comforting in the feel of traversing all those miles of bumpy road without having to move a single muscle.

The bandage on my forehead is threatening to peel off from sweat. The wide-brimmed hat that I’d wore the entire time I’d been outside of Heavestone is on the floor. Both of these things were intended to hide- well, okay, not to hide my identity, per se, but to obscure that I was the Providence. Fake names and paying in cash as Mom signed me up for camp helped the rest of the way.

I’m gonna have to get used to being called “Nino” again.

We were outside of Heavestone for swap night, which is another way of saying “convoluted mess of young kids messing around with glue and string and various other craft supplies while all the parents clustered near the door and bonked into each other while trying to pay the day camp fees for the next week and signing their beloved children up for a bus”. It was held in a church this year, completely different from the community center that it had been held in for the past five years, which really threw me for a loop at first. But I stepped inside right at six when it opened, passing by the several religious epithets meant to evoke guilt for imagined wrongdoings, and beelined for the farthest table from the door. The little basket in the middle of the table contained a scissors and a bottle of glue. I immediately set my bag down underneath my chair, made a quick trip to the multiple bins full of craft supplies, and started picking things out.

“How do you like your pizza?”

I turned around as I was crouching, my arms full of pom-pom balls and googly eyes and felt. The brim of my hat obscured the top half of the face of the girl who’d accosted me. “Excuse me?”

I said-” she put a hand on her hip, her polished nails sparkling in the evening light– “how do you like your pizza?”

I stood up to see the rest of her face. Her skin was the polar opposite of mine, probably the darkest I’d ever seen in my life. She had on a calm crème-colored crop top and a pair of shorts- aesthetically pleasing and ready for summer, unlike me, who’d made the mistake of wearing jeans. She tilted her head, and her long frizzy hair bounced accordingly.

Uh…” I stuttered. Why the hell did I stutter? Was I trying to look like a moron? “I guess I like it well-done? Do you mean, like, toppings? Because I like pineapple-”

Do you prefer your pizza bone-in or boneless?”

“I… what?

I could really go for a boneless pizza right now. And a two-liter of pop to share with someone.” She sighed. “But I went to get dinner earlier, and the drive-through person looked me in the eye and said, ‘Two-liter machine broke!’

“…Okay?”

I went back to my table. The girl followed me, taking a seat opposite me and watching with intent eyes as I laid out some of the pom-pom balls on the table and started cutting out heart-shaped pieces of felt.

Aren’t you going to make anything?”

“Creative machine broke,” she answered, and then her eyes lit up. “Oh! I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Adelaide. New here. How ‘bout you?”

“I… I’m E- Nino. I’m Nino.” My face flushed. Adelaide’s eyebrows went up. “Been going since I was a pinkie.”

Adelaide glanced behind her at the wall of unit assignments. Elementary schoolers were assigned into different-colored units based on their age level- pinkies were the youngest, little squirts going into first grade, and in no particular order, every grade up was a new color up to the sixth graders, who were “goldies”. Then seventh grade marked the first year of being an “older kid”, at which point they were “rainbows” for a year. Contrary to their name, they’d actually get to tie-dye a plain white shirt green at older kid training Saturday. Then, for the next two years, they’d be a “caddie”, where their tie-dye shirts would be pink instead of green. Then two years as a “unit assistant” stuck in yellow-tie-dye hell and then the rest of their life as an adult volunteer if they wanted to continue. They would be welcome back at any time if they chose to quit.

Most kids quit after their last years of being an older kid. But this was one of the only reasons I ever got to leave Heavestone and actually go anywhere of consequence, and being that most of the younger kids there were at least half-entertained by my existence, I wasn’t gonna stop anytime soon.

Nino. That’s a weird camp name. I haven’t come up with mine-”

A toddler who I assumed to be Adelaide’s little sister squealed and waved her arms, getting her attention. Adelaide pardoned herself before rushing towards her sister, twirling her around in her arms and then setting her back down considerably dizzier but with a smile on her face. Adelaide then went to the craft supply stash, which was more populated at that point with several other indecisive campers I recognized, and returned with some yarn and twigs and plastic fuse beads.

Anyways…” Adelaide set her supplies down in front of her and resumed her seat. “I was told that all the older kids had to have a camp name?”

It’s not required, but-”

You think Twiggy’s taken?” Adelaide picked up a twig and studied it, setting it down a moment later. “Nah. That’s a stupid name. I ain’t a hippy.” She cut off a piece of yarn and strung a few blue fuse beads onto it. How about Memes? I like old memes from the twenty-first century. You like memes?”

I put down the pom-pom ball I’d been gluing to a heart and stared at her, at the weird new girl with a penchant for whatever the hell “boneless pizza” was. “…Meme machine broke?”

What else was I supposed to reply with?

Adelaide erupted into nasal laughter, disturbing the clique of teeny-bopper blonde girls at the table next to us. And by “nasal laughter”, I mean a battle between her nose wanting to snort and her mouth wanting to laugh, resulting in a weird wheezing sound like she was sobbing.

Adelaide wiped her eyes, trying to pull herself back together. “I’mma be Memes.She snapped a twig into two-inch-long pieces and tied them together with the string, double-knotting it and then slipping a safety pin on. Then, almost as an impulse decision, she tossed the bundle at me, hitting me on the bandage.

“Oh!” Adelaide’s carefree demeanor slipped away, her face suddenly full of concern. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

My first swap of the year. I shook my head and picked up the bundle from where it’d fallen on the floor. “Nah. I’m fine.”

Some of her careless attitude returned. “What happened to you?”

Surgery.” Technically, it wasn’t a lie… “I’ll be fine.”

That’s a weird place for an incision. Usually they make it in the back of the head where the scar’ll be less visible.”

It was cosmetic.”

“That makes sense.” Adelaide crossed her arms and averted her eyes to her supplies. “You gonna be good for swimming? Or are they gonna relegate you to beach watch duty?”

By that point, I’ll be able to use just a bandanna to keep it out of the sun.”

I ain’t ever heard of a wound that could heal despite everything but the sun.” She shrugged and made another bundle, her fingers quick and deft. “You see that interview on TV last night?”

“I don’t have cable at my house.”

Well…” Adelaide took a deep breath. “Basically, this company, Limberstein-” I perked up, and the noticed. “What, are you a starboy? Or just hoping to be one? Because Limberstein’s suddenly got all these applications for the new colony they’re planning to put up. It’s making Mordern- you know, the people who oversee Miralay?- it’s making them pretty pissed since suddenly they’ve got competition, but there’s nothing they can do about it since the government doesn’t have dominion over extraterrestrial bodies. None of them do.”

I hadn’t known any of that. Serves me right for hiding inside of books for almost three days straight.

But,” Adelaide continued, “Mordern’s got something to celebrate, at least. They say they’ve accidentally made some new technology that hooks up a Miralayan to their computer systems and put it in charge instead of those weird-ass Providences or whatever they’re called. ‘Are you kidding me? We’ve got the Singularity within our reach now!’” Adelaide bobbed her head in a mocking way and then shook it. “I don’t know how I feel, to be honest. Do I decry machine replacing man, or do I celebrate that machine’s finally gotten intelligent enough to make human decisions?”

Sully hasn’t talked to me in the past few days. She said she was working on something super top-secret and that, even though I wouldn’t tell anyone and just absorb myself harder into my books, I’d probably tell my diary, which could be compromised and leaked. Who’s going to leak my notebook? Not my hermit parents. And nobody would want to break into my house.

Kinda funny how I would trust Sully with my life, but she won’t return the favor now. Maybe it’s best we go our separate ways for now.

I shrugged.

Adelaide sighed. “Am I being too serious for you? Do I gotta go back to bein’ Memes?”

“I don’t mind it.”

“I think I like Memes better.”

And so an evening of incomprehensible nonsense ensued. Lots of swaps were made. Adelaide gave me her email address at the end, scrawled on a sheet of foam in swirling black permanent marker. I think I gave her mine. I don’t remember. I looked up the provider later when I was in the car- nice and secure and end-to-end encrypted and no collection of logs whatsoever.

I think I’ve made a new friend…

Eponine’s diary, 6/12/2147

There’s about a week until camp starts. I’m straining to write this because one of the lights in my room burnt out and my eyes are aching from all the outside time I’ve unfortunately done today and I’m only running on about three or four hours of sleep. Hiding in bed from the early evening sun with a notebook and a pen is about the only thing I have the cognitive abilities to do right now without inviting pinging pain behind my eyes. My swaps- that’s what everyone at camp calls those doodads with the safety pins in them that you’re supposed to “swap” with other people- are almost completely done. Plastic fuse beads in the shape of rainbows and triangles and little round fairies ready to be disseminated. I probably don’t have enough for everybody. That’s alright. I rarely get around to everyone anyways, and I’m always left with leftovers which end up going through several cover-ups of the written year to match the current one and then eventually rest forgotten in the bottom of my crafting supplies I save just for holding swap materials.

I wish I could sleep right now, but my dad would probably chastise me and force me to get up and “do something productive”. That’s why I was outside earlier: weeding Mom’s garden because, according to him, I’d had enough time to “mope around and act all girlish”. Never mind that, in the space of a few weeks, I’d unwittingly had a round-trip visit to the planet he’s so fond of pretending doesn’t exist and reunited with the girl that stole my affection on a pet simulator forum in middle school and escaped from people who’d have my head on a pike twice. I think I’ve earned the right to feel mopey for a few days while I try to reclaim my place in the world.

Today was Sully’s first day at Limberstein, and from the stories she told me over the phone (because there was no way I was letting someone in my room while I had a migraine), everything is a mess on Miralay. Amelia’s gone completely off the deep end, Sully said. Camera footage they managed to snag from the rat they have implanted in the rebellion crew shows Amelia pacing back and forth in her quarters, ranting incoherently to Mirt. Sometimes, she points her head to one of the corners of her confines and starts screaming obscenities at it- at a few points, it even turns into a rational conversation about something or someone that wants to take over her head. But Amelia doesn’t have a brain-machine interface, and even if she did, Amelia’s at the top of Miralay now that… well, you know. Other camera footage shows several riots in public gathering places, sometimes escalating into violence against anyone with any kind of mark resembling a Providence dot. Desperate parents have held rebels that switched with their children hostage, hoping that maybe they’ll get their children back, and eventually killing them when nothing comes to fruition.

And then, just a few hours ago, Amelia disappeared. Went into smoke. Poof.

Miralay is falling apart. Miralay is disintegrating, and the outside world’s first reaction is apparently for a few rich people to start stressing about how Miralayans won’t be rare and exotic if refugees flock en masse to Earth and for all the average laymen to finally start turning their eyes to that one particular point in the sky at night and wondering if maybe they should consider getting involved in extraterrestrial affairs.

Just my speculation, at least about the rich people. I can’t read the minds of every single person on Earth.

Sully overheard a lot of this while pushing around boxes for the first space mission, where the crew (that unfortunately doesn’t include Sully) is going to establish Limberstein’s yet-unnamed colony. There are already plans in the works for the first rudimentary underground spaces, which will probably only be inhabited by people in pressure suits for short amounts of time before retreating to their spacecrafts. Sully wasn’t quite sure. But they’ve got a corporate sponsorship in the works, which will give them the money they need to really get digging into the ground and set up a proper colony like Mordern’s Miralay.

One more thing- Sully says it’s the least important thing to her, but I know she’s lying. Everyone lies about this. She’s getting paid to do this, to shove around boxes and fulfill petty jobs while she waits for the inevitable Miralay bailout mission Mordern will pay Limberstein to do.

…You know, now I’ve got a sudden hankering to start taking some online courses. I’m gonna need some mad skills if I’m going to be working from Heavestone as an adult with no records, no contact information, no verifiable mailing address. I mean, I could run away somewhere, take up a completely new identity and start from scratch… But I want to stay in Heavestone. I want to stay close to my parents and all the people I grew up with. I like the romance of being invisible, of being a ghost that the world at large doesn’t know exists.

Although sometimes I do wish I were a human. I guess my being Miralayan would be the first giveaway if someone were looking for me. To be just another human, lost in a confusing world of advertisements and nameless, faceless apartment buildings and copy-paste lives…

Yeesh. I guess I really do need a nap, father’s chastisement be damned.