Something is dripping in the far corner. A slow drip, kind of like a faucet some little kid’s left to drip and eventually fill the sink to their parent’s dismay. Drip. Drip. Drip. The dripping’s the only sound I can hear because the ventilation system doesn’t work well here- why would it, if this sector’s supposed to be abandoned?- and everyone else is sleeping.
I could leave right now. Sneak off as Tox, assuming her persona isn’t also paralyzed, and knock out the guards and fight my way out to the relative freedom of Amelia’s regime. Stick with the enemy you know, right?
I wonder what changes Amelia’s made in the time I’ve been gone. Nobody ever tells me anything. It’s just one day of monotony after another, always staring up at the ceiling. I’d be lucky to have Sully’s thick ponytails brush against my skin in the most aggravating ways possible right now. Anything to feel, anything to remember that this is just a temporary state, that I’m not actually paralyzed.
Couldn’t I access my own brain-machine interface? Couldn’t I override this, just for a few moments, just to be able to shed my body of stone and stretch my limbs? Couldn’t they afford me that?
It doesn’t matter. Either option would lead to someone noticing, to someone telling Eponine, to being forcibly frozen just to shut me up. I need to stay conscious.
Eponine peeks his head into the door. He’s got someone else’s laptop in his arms. Is he going to let me go? Has he found a way back to Earth?
“Liv, I need to show you something.”
He sneaks into the room and plops down beside me, the laptop in his lap. The girl with the long green hair slinks in after him a few seconds later, the same pissed expression on her face as always- he looks genuinely surprised to see her here too, but he props me up so I’m sitting and invites her to take a seat on the other side of me. We’re a sandwich. A nice big traitor sandwich.
Eponine opens the laptop and enters a string of passwords. The other girl watches him, but she doesn’t say much- it’s six in the morning from the time on the computer. She must be exhausted. I know I am, and I haven’t even done anything the past two days. Some pictures pop up on the screen, and Eponine starts scrolling- a little girl with tiny pigtails toddling along on the floor, riding a tricycle, playing in the streets of Heavestone.
“I didn’t know you had a sister,” I whisper. I glance at the girl on my left. She’s all crunched up, her knees pressed up against her chest. She hasn’t said a single word. Back to the pictures. “Where’s you?”
Eponine gives me a look somewhere between wistful and pissed. I don’t know where the divide is. There are more pictures- slightly older and eating ice cream, a ninth birthday party, a homeschool science project. Going to the bookstore outside of Heavestone to get more books for an unsorted collection. The girl’s hair grows longer and longer until-
Eleventh birthday. The girl’s hair is considerably shorter, reaching only to her ears in a pixie cut. The decorations are all various shades of blue. There’s something different in her eyes. An unbridled happiness.
I look at Eponine. His face is strained. The pictures grow more and more recognizable as the subject in them grows older.
There never was a sister.
“It’s impossible for both of us to be the Providence. There’s only supposed to be one boy and one girl.” He fans out his shirt, evidently too warm for comfort- I catch a glimpse of faint scars. He turns to the green-haired girl. “Sully?”
Sully removes the cloth hiding her forehead. Something in my chest constricts.
She has a Providence dot just like mine.
That- that’s impossible. I’m the female Providence. Nobody’s died. I was the one born with the Providence dot, not her- but it looks real and just like mine-
And Eponine is a girl. Was a girl. His Providence dot was removed after he arrived on Earth, but he still had one, which means that there are two people who can’t possibly be Providences but somehow still are.
My head feels faint. The room is spinning. I’m in a tornado. The rebels are going to kill me, aren’t they? And install Sully in my place-
Eponine puts away the pictures and closes the laptop. He avoids my gaze. “Liv, you’re not the Providence.”
I’m the Providence.
One boy and one girl become the Providence at random during conception and are the only ones in the colony to experience natural birth.
I’m the Providence.
The gene that controls whether one is a Providence or not is non-hereditary and spontaneously mutated once per gender per generation.
I’m the Providence.
Everyone else in this sector wear bandannas to cover their foreheads. They probably have Providence dots as well. There are more female and male Providences and I’m not the only one and what’s to differentiate me from any of them? Why do I get to be the ruler of Miralay and now any of these people who are just as qualified as me? More, even, because they’ve actually lived on the planet their whole lives?
“Liv,” Eponine murmurs, just loud enough for me to hear over the sounds of my chest heaving, of my hyperventilating. “I know it’s a lot to take in. But I’m not the Providence and you’re not either. These people were illegally birthed, remember?”
“So they never came into contact with the gestation chambers…”
“You know about those?” Eponine’s eyebrows shoot up.
My skin is faintly glowing. I guess I don’t have to worry about bursting out into a fit if I’m paralyzed. “My retainer took me there to see. He said that they were for Miralay’s good. That it was dangerous for Miralayans to go through natural birth because of their lifestyles.”
My parents had just the same lifestyles as anybody else here, and I was never in any danger until Father and I escaped. Was Mirt lying? Is the system lying?
If two adults have sex and conceive and go to the doctor, and the doctor determines whether or not the child is the Providence, and the embryos that aren’t go into the gestation chambers…
And none of my captors went into the gestation chambers and all of them- as far as I know- are Providences…
“Eponine,” I whisper, still afraid that somehow Amelia will hear me, “Are the Miralayan doctors deciding who becomes the Providences?”
It makes sense. A random mutation that just happens to occur when the current Providences turn twenty-seven doesn’t seem random at all. The only other explanation would be some kind of god watching over Miralay and picking out unborn babies to be the leaders… but why would a god also bestow that privilege upon all the illegitimate children?
I’m not the Providence.
I was chosen to be the Providence and everybody else just happened to get the same mutation.
I’m not the Providence.
Maybe there was a mix-up? Maybe the mutation got triggered far more than usual and-
I’m not the Providence.
I have no duty to these people. Miralay is not my responsibility. I’m just an escaped girl that was lucky enough to have the system records to fit into the job with few questions asked. I could just resign and let someone else with a Providence dot take over and disappear.
Is that really what I want to do, though? Amelia doesn’t want some random rebel. Amelia wants me. I’m the only one who could possibly change the system without any bloodshed.
I have two options. Escape and suppress Eponine and his group for factors they had no control over just to keep the public docile and happy, or let the information leak out and watch helplessly as the public get angry over the fact that someone decided at their birth that they couldn’t have the brain-machine interface of the Providences, that it was washed out of them with chemicals.
If I were one of these illegitimate and disenfranchised children, I’d want representation, too. I wouldn’t want to be crippled just so that my rulers could parade around with special powers.
The public will get mad at me, not for anything I did, but because I represent the system they’ll hate. They’ll want to make an example out of me. They’ll want me dead.
I need to disappear.
“Is she okay?” Sully asks.
“Shush.” Eponine pauses. “Liv? I don’t want to kill you anymore.”
“Thank you, Eponine.” I pause. “I think it would be best for Miralay if I stepped down.”
Eponine is just as genuinely shocked as he was when he first saw me tied up and helpless inside of this room. And then there’s a genuine smile- he tries to hide it behind his sleeves, behind his hands, but his skin betrays the glee rolling off of him.
I think I even see Sully crack a small little smile.
“Eponine? Can I be un-paralyzed now?”
Eponine drops his smile and resumes his normal somewhat-serious look. “I’ll talk with everyone during breakfast-” he opens up the laptop quickly to check the time- “in a few hours when everyone’s supposed to wake up.”
Sully shrugs. “I’ll be impressed when I see you actually step down as Providence, earth girl. This could all just be a ruse.”
Sully winces. “Okay, okay! No need to yell.”
Eponine nudges my shoulder, and then he helps me down and leaves with Sully and his laptop. There’s a warmth growing inside of my chest, quickly replaced with stone-cold fear. What if there are rats for the Miralayan government here? What if they’re my guards? Am I about to be killed?
New plan. Step down as Providence. Get my autonomy back. Find a way to get back to Earth where I can disappear.
Should I take Eponine with me? What if he doesn’t want to go and leave this revolution? Am I going to have to force him again to travel through the planetary divide just because I think it’s the best choice possible?
I don’t know. I’ll have to ask him next time he visits me, plead with him to come if necessary. I hate pleading. I hate being helpless.
Who am I going to be if not the Providence?
Of course I’ve clung to the first thing that gave me an identity. And now I can’t let it go. Just like Eponine said. Maybe… Maybe Father was right. But I still want to be the Providence. Maybe there’s a way I can put pressure on Amelia to reform herself-
I’m the one that needs reforming, she said. I’m immature. I’m not fit to be Providence. Not yet, anyways.
But then what am I going to be?
Living Wasteland, photographer of the plains. Living Wasteland, nature conservationist. Living Wasteland, the ghost that steals all your coffee and lives in everyone’s basements and stays up until three in the morning making nonsense computer programs.
Living Wasteland, former Providence of Miralay.
This is going to take a while to get used to. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I can find a way to be happy as well.