Today’s the day. Today’s the day that I’ll get to see my script be read live and watch all the pretty Miralayans in their blue plainclothes freak out about how they all could have had “superpowers” or whatever loony name they’ll come up with for it. Mass hysteria, the usual drill. Hell, maybe if we get a miracle, everyone will stomp right down to Amelia’s chamber and take her out and-
No, because then how are we supposed to gain rule if we’re not there to fill the power vacuum? Baby steps, remember. The turtle moving methodically as opposed to the rabbit that gets a big bang lead and then fizzles out into nothing.
The technician- and by that, I mean the person who everyone thinks is the best with hacking and all that crap- moves closer to the laptop everyone’s gathered around and adjusts the signal so we can see inside of the broadcasting room. Alexa and Anastasia are fiddling with knobs. We’re the only ones who can see the real image right now. Everyone else just sees an empty room, which is really a screenshot from when the usual personnel weren’t in the room.
Eponine and Serlis- or Liv, or whatever her name is now- are in the first row of the little crowd that’s gathered around the laptop hooked into the security system. Just sitting nicely with their knees tucked against their chests, their capes gathered to one side and overflowing into their laps so that nobody sits on them. Prim and proper and Mordern’s favorite pawns, except Eponine broke through the brainwashing and risked his life to join us of his own volition. I gotta respect dedication like that.
I don’t like Serlis. People who act like they’re the be-all end-all solution to everything or like they’re some sort of cosmic keystone who hold the very existence of the universe in their palms are just pathetic. I can’t see what Eponine sees in her. Maybe it’s an unresolved infatuation? Maybe, since she’s so much of a blank canvas, he just projects whatever he wants onto her.
Come on, Sully. Eponine’s not that stupid.
And besides, I can’t trust Serlis. Of course a prisoner is going to pretend to be on our side. I’ll probably wake up one day, and poof! she’ll be gone. Maybe, if I’m lucky, she won’t stab me and everyone else in the side first.
Anastasia turns to the camera. She knows that we’re watching. She gives us a thumbs-up. She’s ready to go, so Alexa leans closer to the microphone and draws closer the copy of the script that I’ve made for her and turns on the microphone. The speaker system all throughout Miralay is beeping now, alerting everyone to an announcement.
“People of Miralay, you have been sorely lied to by seven generations of Providences. There is nothing to separate the common people-”
And then there’s a flash of white light, and then there’s silence. The walls begin to rumble-
Mars doesn’t have earthquakes.
I drop down to the floor to steady myself, my arms covering my head, bracing for something to crumble, for something to fall on me and kill us all, but thankfully it doesn’t. What a relief. Death wasn’t on my list of things to do today.
Alexa and Anastasia are dead! Dead!
I’m going to have your head on a pike, Amelia!
An explosion. Of course there was a goddamn explosion. Amelia, the bastard, hiding explosives everywhere- How did she know we were going to have the announcement today?
“What the hell!” the technician yells. Everyone who isn’t still cringing and covering their heads flinches from the screen as the technician makes his way to the laptop. He fiddles with different keys and settings, vainly believing that maybe the two girls are alive, but nothing gets the screen off of the horrid static void of death.
I clear my throat and focus my eyes on Serlis. Maybe I’ll laser straight through her. “I think we have a mole.”
Everyone goes silent. Everyone’s eyes focus on Serlis. That bitch is the mole. I’m sure of it. Amelia’s turned her into a humanoid microphone and camera and knows every single one of our plans.
Y’know, for once, I’m kinda glad Eponine and the leader haven’t shared theirfull plans for the revolution with everyone yet.
Someone grabs Serlis, pins her down to the floor. Eponine stands up. He’s woozy. I rush over there and give him a shoulder to lean on.
“Hey!” someone else yells. “What about Eponine? He’s got a brain-machine interface too!”
“We all do!” I yell back. “But she’s the only one we know of that’s come into contact with Amelia.”
“We could all be microphones!” someone lamented. A slap from the person next to them shut them up pretty damn quick.
“Eponine could be a mole too,” Gerwis noted, standing up. He was easily a full foot taller than me, if not more. I was a twig to his compost grinder, but I still kept Eponine upright as he slowly regained his balance and pulled away from me. “Amelia ordered his brain-machine interface installed. She could have custom software inside of there that none of us have that’s specifically meant to spy on us. Hell-” he pointed a meaty finger at Eponine, who winced- “he could be controlled opposition. You don’t know if he’s really a spy or not.”
“I do! We were internet friends a few years ago-”
“People change, Sully. Don’t forget Totem’s brainwashing. The memories can do strange things to a person.”
Totem. My first friend among the rebels. Blew in one day after running away from home before his seventeenth birthday so he wouldn’t have to get memories. He was at least two years older than me. A whirlwind romance, a vow to take down Miralay together, and then an ambush during an operation. He was recaptured and forced to receive his memories. He professed loyalty to Miralay, and I never saw him again.
“I know you see a lot of Totem in Eponine, Sully, but put the rebellion above your feelings.”
I pulled Eponine closer to be. He squirmed a bit, but more on principle instead of to free himself- he met Gerwis’s cold hard stare, and he practically petrified under my arm. “What do you mean?”
The other people in the room, all forty-six of them, (since the leader was nowhere to be seen) turned to Gerwis as he said, “We need to kill the Providences. Plan be damned.”
“Kill?” I let go of Eponine. Eponine, run! I willed to him, thinking that maybe, somehow, we could talk telepathically. But nobody on Miralay’s figured that out yet. Actually, I take that back. Amelia probably has. The snake.
Gerwis reached into the pocket of his cargo pants. A mini-gun. Of course. I never would have guessed. Serlis whimpered, and then-
I pushed Eponine towards the door. “Run!”
Shots fired in the room as I careened out the door, following Eponine down the winding corridor. A scream. A horrid bloody scream.
No time to think about that right now. Just run. Just run and hope that maybe we survive the next few minutes, the next few hours, to the next sunrise on Earth time.
A colorful blue of reds and oranges right in front of me as the lights fade in and out. Muffled on the speaker system that we can hear now because we’re almost to the divide between the real world and these ruins is Amelia calling for all security people and investigators to come to the broadcasting room that doesn’t exist anymore because there’s bloody bits of Alexa and Anastasia mixed in within the ruined stone and electronics. There’s an emergency broadcasting system. I should have known it. Damn Amelia can get away with anything she wants.
More gunshots behind us, chipping away at the stone passing underneath our feet. Eponine and I cross into the divide- a moment’s hesitation here can cost us out lives. Eponine glances at me over his shoulder, and somehow we both know to turn right, to go towards the whirling staircase that can take us anywhere we want in the colony. Other sectors, the gestation chambers, the loading bay for the supply ships and the odd diplomatic mission.
The loading bay!
“Eponine!” I wheeze. “Go to the loading bay!”
“That’s where I’m-”
A bullet chips the wall that we’re straddling as we rush forward with reckless abandon. Eponine grabs the support pillar and swings around it, enough momentum to propel himself over the guard rail and fall ten feet to the spiraling staircase. I follow him, but my ankle catches on the guard rail, and I end up tumbling over and landing on my ass. Just like that old absurdist cartoon Eponine and I used to discuss in our internet friend days, along with many other things- I’ve broken my butt. Am I going to get the iron butt machine too? Be stuck with a hulking iron contraption on my rear end for the rest of my days?
I’m holding my butt in front of Eponine and rolling around on the staircase. Eponine kicks my side, yelling at me to get up.
Pain is just a message. Pain is just a message. Pain is just a message.
I stand up and start dashing up the stairs with him. We need to get all the way to the top. That’s where the loading bay is- in the space closest to the surface of Mars.
More bullets- damn, Gerwis managed to make the jump. More of his cronies follow. Friends- no, former friends. Eponine’s not controlled opposition, he’s not, he’s not. He’s not a mole. He’s not brainwashed.
He’s my friend, and I’ll defend him until the end, even if he is an idiot for harboring sentiment for Serlis for so long.
Pain is just a message. Pain is just a message. Pain is just a message.
I can ignore this message. Straight to the spam folder.
We arrive at the heavy iron doors and shove them open with our shoulders as battering rams. No bullets follow us, just heavy footsteps up the staircase doors. How many bullets do Gerwis and his crew even have? Enough to warrant reloading instead of pocketing the guns and resorting to stunners or even brute force.
There’s one ship in the loading bay.
It’s that or die, either by Amelia’s hands or by Gerwis’. Eponine for treason and betrayal, me for existing and assisting.
Eponine sees it too, because he gestures over to me. We’ve got somewhat of a lead on Gerwis, but not much- not enough, because he kicks open the iron doors just as we reach the open doors of the spacecraft. Eponine scrambles up the tiny narrow ladder protruding from the bottom as I watch Gerwis try to cross the distance, and then Eponine gives me his hand and pulls me in.
We close the hatch. We’re bathed in darkness. We’re relatively safe-
And then the lights come on. A lanky-looking man with blue overalls and a face in need of a good shaving approaches us. His eyes are glazed for a moment, and then he looks at us- really looks at us- and his eyebrows shoot straight up to the moon.
“Eponine Westal,” he gasps. “I never thought I’d see the likes of you aboard my ship.”
There’s a pounding at the hatch, and then a searing sound like a metal’s shriek upon undergoing torture. The man turns to us, pulling a stunneroff of his belt. He nods his head to the door behind him. “Go into the personnel locker room. I’ll be with you shortly.”
I take Eponine’s hand, and we dash in there as the pilot- or whoever that man was- flings open the hatch and starts zapping. Gerwis’ heavy voice filters through, yelling something I can’t comprehend through the many layers of steel the door is comprised of. The door’s latch clicks shut, and then the lights come on to a dim level, revealing ten stasis pods unoccupied and ready for use.
Eponine collapses to the floor then like a bag of bricks just fell on him. His breathing is strained. I crouch down beside him, roll him onto his side, make sure his airways are clear. His face is flushed. His two hearts are beating like an experimental techno beat at a rave.
“I- I let Liv die- we should have taken her-”
I let Eponine roll onto his back and then slap him. Slap his face hard. I don’t care if there’ll be bruises. He’ll have a while in the stasis pod to recover.
“You goddamn blasted idiot! I gave up everything I’ve ever had in my life to save your life because of a chance encounter on the internet all those years ago and a gut feeling– a pissing gut feeling- and all you can think about is that emotionless whore who ruined your life?” I slap him again. There are tears coming out of his eyes. He’s biting his lip hard, so hard that I’m amazed that there’s no blood yet. “There’s nothing you could have done. We’ll find a different way to bring down Amelia. Now stand up.”
Eponine stands up reluctantly. He unpins his cape from his shirt and lets it fall to the floor, a sweat-stained piece of fabric crumpled. His eyes droop. His shoulders sag. He’s exhausted.
The man who had greeted us comes through the door, his stunner back on his belt. He glances over us and raises his eyebrows at Eponine’s cape. “You best stash that in a locker. I’d hate for that to get soiled.”
Eponine, staring off into space, takes a moment to realize what the man’s said before he nods. “I guess you’re right.” He picks up the cape in his arms and picks an empty locker- all but the last one in the last row of four per row are empty- and shoves it inside.
“Okay, kids.” The man crosses his arms. “I’m Farrow Lin. Welcome aboard Bessie One. I work for a company called Limberstein. Ever heard of it?”
Both of us shake our heads.
“Basically, we’re working to put another colony on Mars just in case Miralay busts. No way Mordern’s hogging all the extraterrestrial fun for themselves. But anyways, I’m one of Limberstein’s pilots. Mordern hired me to make a supply run since there aren’t that many people registered as space pilots. You kids wanna join us? We kinda need young blood.”
Young blood. That’s such a weird way to put it.
But I mean, hey, something to put my life towards that might hurt Miralay in the end…
I nod my head, but Eponine’s head just sags. I don’t know why he didn’t nod. He throws a glance my way. A tired glance. An understanding glance.
He just wants to be home. I don’t have a home. Neither of us can really blame the other.
“Great to have you aboard.” He extends his right hand. We both shake it, although I think he can tell we’re wimped from the run, because he gestures to the stasis pods. “It’ll be a week-long trip. I don’t have the latest state-of-the-art hyperdrive for old Bessie yet. You’ll have to forgive me for working from relatively tight funds. Limberstein isn’t nearly as big of a company as Mordern is.”
I step over to the stasis pod and climb in. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Eponine doing the same. The man retreats from the room, presumably to pilot the ship out of Miralay and away from Mars and get the autopilot up and running before joining us in his own stasis pod.
It doesn’t immediately put me to sleep like I thought it would. I can see the stars outside Miralay, outside Mars, behind my eyes. Miralay may be vast underground, but on the surface of Mars, it’s just a relative blip decreasing in size the farther away we get.
People going to Earth from Miralay usually have to do an intensive strength training regimen to acclimate to Earth’s gravity. Maybe, hopefully, the stasis pod will go into normal sleeping mode and electrically stimulate my limbs to get there during the long week. I’m not the bodybuilder type.
Sleep… Sleep is good.
I’m gonna bring down Miralay. I’m gonna make Amelia suffer…
But first, sleep.