I can’t think. I need the clack-clack-clack of that keyboard back so it can sort out my thoughts again. But the old desktop computer won’t turn on and it would be too unwieldy to try to disconnect the keyboard and people would start asking questions…
Damn it, why’s the power bank gotta be shot?! The green power indicator light’s on! What could have possibly broken it? Maybe a software update gone rogue? But that wouldn’t cause the entire thing to even fail to start up…
People are coming downstairs. They’re going to be wondering why I’m not using my laptop, the one they spent $650 on as a present. It does wonders, but six months of bad habits have all but destroyed the creative drive I should have had.
I jolt awake. Mirt hovers over me, whispering my name over and over, smoothing out all the wrinkles in my uniform.
“Have you been sleeping in this corner all this time?” He pulls me to a sitting position, helps me to stand up. My limbs shake and ache from being in one position for so long. Mirt checks his watch. “It’s almost noon.”
“It’s Monday. You’ve been sleeping for almost a day.” He shakes his head. “Amelia is outside your door. She wants to talk to you. I told her you needed a few minutes to get yourself together.”
Mirt leaves. I take a look at myself in the mirror- I’m a disheveled mess, hair tangled and flattened to one side, sticking to my face like a fly on a sucker. I grab the brush, which has been cleaned of all the previous Providences’ hair, and start brushing away.
A few minutes pass. A tapping outside the door grows steadily louder. I think I’ve made myself look decent, presentable, so I stride over to the door and open it up. Amelia’s stern face greets me, but she doesn’t make a move to enter my quarters, instead opting to stay right outside the doorway with the two different guards assigned to me this shift.
“My Providence.” She bows. The guards stay stiff, silent. “Good… morning. You missed the breakfast shift. I came down here to check on you, but the door was locked, and it didn’t look like you wanted to be disturbed.”
So why is it okay now?
“How are my requests going?”
Amelia bites her lip. She retrieves from her pocket the notepad of mine that I gave Mirt to give to her. She hands it back to me, completing the circle- and I’m dismayed. Several of my entries are crossed out. Only a few of them have checkmarks.
My throat threatens to swell shut. I remind myself that I haven’t done anything wrong, that this isn’t a test like the ones that normal- scratch that, human- teens my age take in school. I’ve done exactly everything I’ve been told to do. “Amelia? Why did you block my requests?”
Amelia sighs. “Some things just need to stay the same for the good of the colony.”
And then- I’m not sure why, but I snap. There’s fire in my limbs and I want to go full Eponine and break something, break someone-
“This is what the people asked for! I didn’t make this up on a whim! Maybe people would stop running away to Earth if things were better here- if things changed-”
One of the guards grabs my shoulders, restrains me, forcing me to take a deep breath and calm down. Amelia takes a step back, apprehensive, purposely keeping her face blank. My own face flushes. I know I’m straining her. I know I’m making her job harder, that she’d be so much happier if I just stayed in my quarters all day and let her run things with the seven officials and their pretty sectors without any interference like it no doubt had been her entire professional life. My memories don’t have much of the last Providences doing anything positive.
But then what would be the point? I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to justify myself.
“Serlis.” Amelia pulls out a phone- an honest-to-god phone. It can’t get cellular service, surely, but that means that there’s some semblance of an internet here.
Does Eponine know?
Amelia unlocks her phone and fiddles with it for a few seconds before showing me the screen. She swipes through, all sorts of data points sliding underneath her fingers. Energy production and consumption. Current estimated population. Amount of embryos and fetuses in gestation in the underground chambers, which can’t be far from this room, this hallway. The people who will be shedding memories today. The people who will be receiving memories today. The babies that will be “born” and handed over to their parents to raise. Food consumption and production.
She knows everything.
I avoid her gaze. “You all said that I’d have the final word on everything.”
Amelia sighs and shakes her head. “That was… before Eponine’s meltdown. I’ve consulted with the officials, and we’ve decided that it would be best for Miralay if you didn’t have any executive powers for a few months-”
The guards’ grip on me tightens. My limbs are pulsing. I can’t- I need to- I must–
“Serlis!” Amelia winces. “It’s just so that you can get acclimated to Miralay, okay? I’m not on some antagonistic plot to rob you of power- I respect your superior position. But you’re naive and you’ve never had a single real responsibility in your life and you’re operating by Earthen ideals instead of Miralayan ones. You hear that? You’re dealing with Miralayans, and I don’t think you fully comprehend that. Thus the temporary break.”
My breath catches in my throat. I want to cry, to punch, to kick. She puts her phone away and then barges into my room. She picks up the mirror and wipes it off-
It’s a tablet?
“See here.” She powers it on. The screen glows in her hands- it’s an almost exact replica of hers, showing the same data measurements she had. “You’ll have the same information as me anytime you want it. Like… Here.” She points to a graph. “Food production is down slightly.” She turns the screen off and puts the tablet back on the shelf. “I’ve scheduled you for every-three-days therapy sessions with our resident psychologist, Zie. He’ll help you rope in your emotions and catch you up in the maturity department.”
I bite my lip.
“You can’t stop me from going on walks and asking the people about their grievances.”
“You won’t be able to do much about any problems that I haven’t approved solutions to. You’ll probably just make them feel worse.” She glances over at my bookshelf. “I recommend you check out some of the books on your shelves. Those would be a good primer about the culture and government here.” She bows. “Good luck, Serlis.”
The guards let Amelia out of my quarters, letting go of me and barring my way out so I can’t run after her. I can’t do anything else, so I yell, “What about the illegal births? What about the mismatches in the memory shedding system? What about the mass shooter in the lounge of the memory-”
Amelia whirls around, some emotion in her eyes I don’t know what to name. “You prove me right again, Serlis. People make up tall tales all the time on Earth, remember? ‘Fake news’, I think they called them. Surely your memories would contain some record of a mass shooting if it actually happened.”
I wrack my head, searching for the memories. Amelia gives me all the time I need, glaring all the while.
I can’t remember-
“People will come up with outlandish stories when they don’t have enough information. And Mordern can’t go around posting every single detail of what goes on here willy-nilly. It would be superfluous. Nothing good would come to Miralay because of it. Just more Earthens wanting to emigrate over here and disturb the balance.”
Amelia leaves, this time not looking back. I slump back into my room, fling myself onto the bed, study the elaborate quilt beneath me. Lots of little diamonds in various blues and greens and purples all rushing into a single point in breakneck speed on a white background. From where they are now, frozen in time, it kinda looks like one of those collapsing and expanding balls I would always see in a school counselor’s office on TV shows. Or maybe it’s a flower.
It looks more like a flower. The kind that someone brutally eviscerates when trying to decide if someone loves them or not instead of just bucking up the courage and asking them themselves!
I don’t love Eponine. He doesn’t love me. Even if he hadn’t disappeared and I weren’t being held hostage in my own domain, we’d never be able to work together. The old Providences either fell in love at first sight or feigned chemistry until they forgot that they were pretending. We’d go insane in each other’s presence, always stepping on each other’s capes and tripping the other over and never getting anything done.
I slide off the bed and pick up the tablet. The screen lights up. A few swipes over, and there’s a list of actions that I can initiate, almost all of them grayed out, no doubt Amelia’s doing.
I can’t call a state of emergency. I can’t initiate a lockdown or request another gathering like yesterday. But I can send messages to Mirt, so I ask him to bring down some food, something unique to Miralay that I’ve never tried before. I’m not hungry for food. I’m hungry to feel in control of something.
I still don’t have any pity for Eponine.
But sympathy’s still an option on the table.