there is no light here

it’s a desolation aesthetic
a watching anime in the middle of the night with a bowl of chips aesthetic
cat and mouse and mouse and cat in a loop of time
cancelled and reborn over and over to suffer anew

it’s 1990 again, passing through an aging portal
hidden away among the forgotten devices on the bookshelf
twelve people gather, waiting in an underground temple
hoping for the waking of their goddess, perched on a raised platform,
from eternal and indeterminate sleep

not enough resources for a resurrection, the system protests
their ancestors’ friend stuck for thousands of years as a statue of stone
unthinking, unfeeling, desolate and alone
passed-down and corrupted memories are all that remain

a divine beast with all the love in the world
taken up a weaker humanoid form to blend in and help firsthand-
at the cost of her memories
eventually falling in love with her future first victim
an unfitting end for her partner in crime

as the cursed birthday drew closer and closer
her dreams, letterbombs of memories past
tried to warn her of her impending demise
but the day came when her skin shed itself and she lost her mind
forcing her companions to bandy together
and put down the dragon in their midst

her friend, dying at her clawed feet, still believed in her ultimate benevolence
and pleaded for not a death at the cost of their own lives, but an imprisonment
so with heavy hearts and pounding heads
they condemned their friend to limbo
hoping that, someday, their children would have the ability
to restrain the unbridled power of their friend
and let her help humanity again

and when they collapsed to the ground from exhaustion
the deed had been done
one scorched and crumpled corpse on the ground
and his blood prize curled up next to him
two bony wings wrapped around her human form
eyes closed in lifeless stone

they built an underground tomb- a small circular area the size of their largest bedroom
and laid her to rest on a concrete slab surrounded by roses
returning regularly to water the plants and to ensure
that robbers hadn’t desecrated the grave

and now, two millenniums later
the few children in their anachronistic upside-down world
who believe that this girl is the key to resurrecting the utopia of their forefathers
gather precious grain and gold despite the famine as an offering
and water the flowers

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Living Wasteland moves to revision phase

It’s been almost a year and two weeks since the first edition of The Samhain Files was published, and I’m just now getting around to re-reading it again, contemplating whether I want to write a fourth book in The Phobia Interim. I mean, Me Before You keeps being put off because, until now, I’ve either been too lazy or too busy to finalize the revisions. And you know, with all the crap that’s happened in Charlottesville recently, and the fact that part of MBY takes place there… I really don’t want my book to be associated with a bunch of cowards walking around with tiki torches. So I hope you’ll forgive me for pushing its release date off until Christmas this year to let things cool down a bit.

On the up side, I’ve finished the second draft of Living Wasteland! A peer review edition should be available sometime between now and Me Before You‘s release.

Now, as a thank you for patiently waiting through the recent drought of posts, here’s some pictures from the front yard of my new house.

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Liv’s thoughtstream, 7/4/2147

Mrs. Westal has a lot of tomatoes in her garden. The dang vines run rampant throughout the two square meters of space they have to share with the rest of the plants- pea pods, zucchini, even a tiny little pumpkin that’ll be ready in time for Halloween.

 

My first ever Halloween. I wonder what I’m going to go as. Definitely not a princess or anything overly effeminate. Maybe I’ll let Eponine pick something he thinks fits me best from his vast collection of books and games and whatnot. And… there’ll be people going as us, no doubt. Going as romanticized or brutalized versions of the both of us, playing it all off like some drama on TV with no real-world consequences. Matchmaking wars and blind reverence of Amelia. I’m almost afraid to check the email box Eponine set up for me, knowing that, one of these days, some bigwig movie studio will try to buy the rights to a movie.

 

And then there’ll be that lawsuit the people of Heavestone are putting together in defense of me and Eponine. Suing Mordern for emotional and physical damages and hoping to win everything they’ve got and give it all to Limberstein for them to build their colony. As much as I want to put all this behind me, I can’t yet.

 

I expected closure to feel better than this.

 

I guess I was wrong.

 

Eponine’s wrist gets tangled in a tomato vine, and he yanks it out, rustling the leaves. “You see any more weeds in here?”

 

I take a cursory glance at the garden. No dandelions. No weird grass. Nothing in here that shouldn’t. I shake my head.

 

Eponine stands up and brushes the dirt off his hands. Just as he leans over to grab the stale loaf of bread he’s brought out, there’s a boom- his whole body seizes up, startled, accidentally throwing the loaf a few feet away. It’s just one of the little kids a few streets over lighting miniature fireworks in the driveway underneath a loving adult’s supervision. Eponine wipes his sweaty forehead off, embarrassed.

 

“Hey, you want to go exploring now?”

 

Exploring. Running around in the Land of Shadows. A nice, quiet neighborhood that’s now aware that they’re neighbors to the hidden city with all the illegal aliens but doesn’t really care as long as we don’t turn their streets into a crime zone.

 

I touch a few fingers to my new pendant. Eponine’s friend brought it a few days ago. She rolled her eyes at me before disappearing with Eponine into his room for a few hours, locking me out and barricading the door with pillows to muffle the sound of their talking. I guess he does have the right to his privacy.

 

“Sure.” I stand up. My brand new jeans feel rough against my skin. It feels good. “No skinnydipping in the lake, though.”

 

Eponine laughs. “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal. Nobody wants to see my body naked anyways.”

 

He picks up the loaf again, and we start walking. The sun is approaching the highest point of the sky- it’ll be noon soon, and with noon comes a lunch handmade by Mrs. Westal and then an hour of napping and then more free time. I’ve gotten interested in underground societies recently. Who needs a far away planet when you have a shovel and several miles of dirt to hide under and the government’s help?

 

There’s the sign. The border between Heavestone and the rest of the world is just a few feet away. I stop, glancing around at the empty field before us, the sky-high buildings far off on the horizon. Eponine gives me a weird look.

 

“What? You too chicken to step onto a basketball court?”

 

“A magical invisible basketball court?”

 

I elbow Eponine. He winces.

 

“I’m just messing with you. Now come on. The ducks aren’t going to wait around forever.”

 

I take his hand, and we jump across the border.

 

Liv’s thoughtstream, 6/24/2147

The sun has barely dipped below the treeline and already the crickets are chirping. Birds are chirping in the neighbors’ trees, flying in and out and in between and all over the place. There’s a slight breeze tickling my skin. The garden in Eponine’s backyard is flourishing, more life in that two square meters of space than in the entirety of Miralay.

 

Father’s house isn’t that far away. He should be happy to see me. Won’t he be?

 

I gingerly step on the driveway to his house dressed in my Providence clothes, freshly cleaned. My feet feel like lead. I keep pushing myself to approach that door, to knock on it, to hear the doorbell ring and something rustle inside. Maybe I should just turn back now, go back to Eponine’s house where he’s gone to sleep already, still drained from his day camp. Or maybe he’s having another emailing marathon with that girl he met at camp.

 

Father opens the door. His beard is scraggly and unkempt and so is his hair. His eyes are weary, dark circles making their presence known. The skin is sore and saggy. He clearly hasn’t slept at all in the past few days. Or weeks.

 

Or months.

 

“Serlis,” he whispers, almost like he’s mentioning a dead relative long since passed away. “Serlis, is that really you?”

 

I nod.

 

He leans forward, trembling, unsure on his feet- and then he recoils from me like I’ve become some sort of horrible monster. “You’re not my daughter.”

 

“Father-”

 

A panic rises in my chest as he opens his mouth again. “My daughter died on Miralay a month ago along with the only hope that planet ever had at reform. Go away. Go back to Eponine’s house. Go bother him.”

 

And just like that, Father slams the door shut on me. It rattles in its doorframe for a few seconds before everything is silent. Even the birds have stilled, the wind gone quiet.

 

And I collapse at his doorstep, knocking on the door, begging him to let me in, to let me be a part of his family again. I’ve already lost one parent, I scream, I can’t lose another- I can’t lose my only tie to the past!

 

Because, without the past, what am I supposed to imagine a future from?

 

Come on, Liv. Pick yourself up. You still have Eponine and his mother. You still have a backup plan.

 

“So long, Father,” I whisper as I stand up and brush my jeans off and leave his front yard for the last time. My eyes throb, but I don’t have any tears left. No tears for this old man. “I love you too.”

 

“No he doesn’t,” a voice whispers behind me. I whip my body around, and my twin hearts immediately take a flying leap out of the stratosphere, because standing in the road and quickly approaching me is the one woman I least expected to be right there.

 

Amelia.

 

Her eyes are glowing, something unnatural swimming beneath the surface of her skin. Drugs? Some kind of steroids? Her chest is heaving, deep breaths in and out. The breeze has picked back up. Her long hair flies in the wind, snarling like it’s got a life of its own.

 

Amelia takes a step towards me. My legs are stone, my chest an oppressive cage of steel. The curtains to Father’s house are drawn, and even if he could see, he’d probably say that I deserved it, that I called this fate upon myself.

 

“Your father doesn’t love you. Why would he condemn you to a life spent observing humanity, never able to participate in a meaningful manner? Miralay would have given your life purpose. You would have grown up with friends and a loving and supporting family and a purpose.”

 

Friends. I can’t imagine myself having friends. People my own age mingling with themselves, forming cliques, all jealous of the girl who gets the position of leadership not because of merit or willingness but because I have a red gland on my forehead.

 

It’s no use dwelling on it. It’s the past. Neither of us can change the past.

 

Amelia holds her hand out to me. “Come back, Serlis. Come back to Miralay. We can forgive you for your many crimes. We can reshape Miralay into the way Mordern intended for it to be.”

 

“Yeah, and let you strip me of all my power and take over again!”

 

Amelia clenches her jaw. She yanks her hand back, pulling a stunner out of its holster on her belt. “You’re coming back with me, Serlis, whether you like it or not. You’re the Providence. That is not up for debate.”

 

I’m not the Providence!” I unpin my cape and slip off my jacket, tossing it aside on the grass. My pendant heats up. I ignore it. I’m not gonna be your puppet anymore, Amelia. If killing anyone who disagrees with me is something the Providence is supposed to do, then I don’t want to be the Providence.”

 

Amelia’s eyes flare, and she charges for me- I dive for the grass of the front lawn, landing with a thump and rolling a few feet away to see Amelia point her stunner at me. I scramble to my feet-

 

And she fires a bullet at me.

 

An actual bullet.

 

Thankfully, it misses.

 

The crack reverberates throughout the neighborhood. Several people peek out their windows, eyebrows immediately shooting up when they see Amelia. I charge for her, colliding with the well-built woman, knocking the gun into the gutter and her to the ground. She throws me aside like a rag doll, and I hit my head on the pavement- stars bloom behind my eyelids, and I think I feel blood, but I get up anyways, stumbling to my feet, picking up the gun and pointing it at Amelia.

 

She puts her hands up in a mocking way and sneers. “Oh no, you’re so intimidating. Go ahead, Liv. Take yet another life like it were nothing.”

 

I…

 

I killed those rebels…

 

“Petya was right!”

 

I’ve dropped the gun.

 

Eponine swoops down and grabs it, pointing it at Amelia. “I’ll give you ten seconds to get out of Heavestone and disappear from my life before I obliterate you for all the pain you’ve caused.”

 

Amelia’s eyes widen. She cackles like an insane person. “Finally I get the Providences to unite, and it’s about killing me! Go ahead. Take my life. Let my blood taint your precious streets. See if the media portrays you as poor innocent little victims of the system then.”

 

Eponine’s eyes glance elsewhere, and then he lowers the gun. And then-

 

He’s gone insane.

 

He throws the gun into the storm drain. It clanks as it tumbles down.

 

And then he kneels.

 

Amelia’s grin widens. “Have I broken you, Eponine? Are you coming to your senses?”

 

There’s a pause. A heavy pause. People are starting to stir from their homes.

 

I’m not going to kill you, Amelia. You’ve earned a different fate.”

 

And then Eponine leaps for Amelia’s throat.

 

She turns aside, dodging him easily- but he rolls right back onto his feet and swings for her jaw, just barely catching it. I join in, catching one of her shins, sending her down to the street- and she pulls out another gun. Eponine grabs her shooting arm, jerking it wildly. Bullets whizz everywhere, one of them just barely grazing past my ear. A faint trickle of blood.

 

Amelia runs out of bullets. Her face goes wild- “No, no, no! This- Eponine!”

 

No! Shut up!” He and I straddle her, keeping her immobile. The other gun goes flying. I don’t watch it. Eponine’s pendant begins to glow, and then we’re both blown off of Amelia like there’s been an explosion, Eponine tumbling into the street and I flung back into the front yard. I lay there in the dirt for a few moments, my white dress bunched up, no doubt, and then roll over to face Amelia towering over me.

 

You…” Amelia pulls back her fist and then sends it straight into my chest. I feel a rib crack. My world is the red behind my eyelids and the white of my dress and the blue of the sky. “You and your stupid Providences. I hate this system! I hate it! I hoped…”

 

“Then why-”

 

A fist collides with the side of my jaw. I must be flailing too much for her to land a solid hit anywhere that isn’t my chest. “You and Eponine! You could have stopped the cycle of violence… Maybe I’d finally see some Providences that didn’t murder their own citizens!” Amelia stopped for a moment, still holding me down. “The last Providences killed my parents just because they sneaked me up to the surface viewing ports to see the stars without permission when I was little. They sent them to be shed early when I was ten. No Providences should do something so blatantly stupid as execute their own citizens for doing something so benign!” Amelia puts her hands around my neck and starts pressing down- I can’t peel her off. She’s too strong. “It was supposed to be a blessing to be second-in-command. Providences can’t be trusted with their own power.”

 

“Amelia…” I wheeze. “You… I… I did it out of love

 

And I’m doing this for the same reason.”

 

Amelia squeezes tighter. There’s blood swimming in her eyes. Or maybe it’s wine. Maybe she’s drunk. Drunk on hate. The world starts to go fuzzy. I can’t… I can’t fight much longer…

 

Amelia!”

 

Amelia looks over her shoulder just as Eponine barrels into her, sending the two of them tumbling. Her hands slip, freeing my neck- I roll over, catching my breath, drinking in Earth’s fresh air. I can hear Eponine rolling down the driveway with Amelia, and then he separates from her, leading around and around in wide lopsided circles as she chases him.

 

One of humanity’s greatest strengths has been their sheer endurance.

 

Maybe Eponine’s more human than the rest of us.

 

I pull myself to my feet, still dizzy. I don’t care. Amelia’s clutching her right arm, which hangs limp at her side as she sways from side to side, in lockstep with Eponine, never gaining a single foot on him. I start limping towards them– and then I join the sick dance, our pendants leaving shimmering blue trails in the air. I mirror Eponine’s movements like the coronation party we would have had on Miralay had my original plan never gone wrong.

 

I’m glad it did.

 

A half-step. A sidestep. A stylistic twirl of the arms. Always on the other side of Amelia, keeping everything in balance.

 

You’re my Providences,” she spits, noticing me. “My wimpy rebellious Providences. You want death? You want to be executed? Fine. I’ll take you both back to Miralay, dead or alive.”

 

We’re-”

 

Not-”

 

Your-”

 

“Providences!” we both shout.

 

Amelia’s a magnet, charged up by Eponine. We swoop over to where she’s stumbled to the ground; I give Eponine my right hand, which he takes in his; we twirl around until Amelia reaches out for Eponine’s leg with her good arm and we separate again, taking up the circular jaunt around her. Amelia’s weary. I can tell, but she still persists.

 

Come on, Amelia!” Eponine taunts, our feet still moving quickly. “Come! Kill me already! End my suffering!”

 

Amelia grunts, pulling herself back to her feet-

 

And then both of our pendants shatter.

 

Eponine gasps, feeling the bare ribbon around his neck where the jewel once hung from. This is bad- this is bad- how are we supposed to travel in and out of Heavestone without it?

 

Our hands are glowing blue.

 

Amelia brushes her sweat-stained hair out of her eyes, which immediately widen. “So that- that’s what the pendants do-”

 

Eponine’s confused. His steps falter, and he stumbled backwards, landing straight on his butt- he yelps; he’s probably bruised his tailbone, but he gets up anyways, holding out his right hand to Amelia. I mirror him. I have to.

 

“Eponine!” His mother is careening down the street. “What- what are you-”

 

“You’re going to disappear now,” Eponine says, his eyes locked on Amelia. He can’t hear anyone except for himself. Just like the rest of us. You’re going to know what it feels like to experience the same day over and over with no end in sight.”

 

A tendril of the blue light shoots out from our hands, snaking around Amelia, binding her up even as she struggles. She’s lost her words, her sense of speech. A single tear rolls down her cheeks.

 

This is how Heavestone disappeared, wasn’t it? A loop of time. Made with the pendants from Miralay, only accessible with the pendants from Miralay.

 

“Eponine!” I dash towards him, breaking my connection. “Please- please stop- there are other ways we can resolve this-”

 

“Liv! Get out of the way!”

 

Another tendril shoots out of his hand. It just barely misses me. Mrs. Westal finally reaches us and pulls me aside, watches in horror as whatever power’s come out of Eponine’s pendant envelops Amelia like a crystal ball.

 

Then it begins to fade, becoming more and more transparent, little tendrils trailing off and disappearing in the evening air until the only things of Amelia’s remaining are a few drops of blood here and there. But they could be mine. I wasn’t keeping track.

 

Eponine, suddenly exhausted, collapses onto the grass. I break free of Mrs. Westal’s grasp and rush over to him, turn him over on his side to get air flowing into his lungs, check his pulse.

 

It’s just barely there.

 

“Eponine?” I whisper. I can hear more adults approaching me. I ignore them. “Can you hear me?”

 

He coughs. “I’m not dead, you idiot. Just give me a few moments. Damn, this is…” He reaches for the pendant that isn’t there anymore, his fingers faltering at the empty ribbon. “Sully’s gonna have to get us each another pendant. But it’s over, Liv. She can’t hurt us anymore.He tries to giggle, little more than a hiccup in his breathing. “I thought closure would feel better than this.”

 

Eponine’s diary, 6/23/2147

It drizzled all morning, making the ground into a mud slushie and making it hard to walk everywhere there wasn’t wild overgrown grass to cushion steps. From the moment a slight particle of mist hit my face, I whipped out my trusty pink umbrella with the twisted support arm that still worked and the duck tape patch from seventh grade. A few of the older girls laughed at me- it must have been some unwritten camp rule that anything that wasn’t a plastic poncho from the dollar store wasn’t allowed, let alone a pink umbrella in the hands of a boy recently fallen into some weird cult.

 

I spent the day trailing the pinkies, mainly because all their older girls had been requisitioned to the kitchen to pump out gallons upon gallons of chicken nuggets since nobody would be able to start a fire and cook. And besides, today was cleaning day- nobody wanted to clean out a fire ring and then have to dirty it up and start all over. It was certainly lazier than years before, where the kitchen would reheat leftovers and then lay them out in a buffet-style fashion on a long table and then have a line form into the kitchen for a free-for-all. And then, after everyone had eaten, all the remaining food would be packed up for volunteers to take home or to compost and then the kitchen staff would set up an ice cream bar with all the toppings a girl could dream of.

 

I kinda miss the ice cream social. I wonder why they got rid of it.

 

But anyways, the pinkies needed some help, and so I stepped in, being the only person free to run around willy-nilly. There was supposed to be a climbing wall in the afternoon if the ground could dry up enough for it to be safe, so to kill time, the unit leaders and I marched the girls down to the archery range… where it really began to pour. One of the pinkies, a tiny little thing with two black ponytails, practically clung to my leg as we traversed the trails leading to the cabin that housed the archery range. She didn’t have an umbrella or a poncho or anything.

 

The archery range instructor- Tails, I think her camp name was- welcomed us into the downtrodden one-room cabin. The floor, while not the image of sterility, was relatively clean even though countless muddy shoes had pounded over it throughout the week and it was made of unsealed wood. I took a seat next to a fold-out table while half of the unit jostled for a seat on the one lone bench and half of them scattered throughout the remaining space.

 

“So how are you all?” Tails said, pulling a paper fan out of her pocket and fanning herself.

 

The unit chimed several variations of “I’m cold/wet/hungry.” One of the girls faked an exaggerated shiver, earning a few giggles. Another one took out a yo-yo and started playing with it, stealing the attention of the more mentally weary.

 

“Well, this rain should clear up soon-”

 

The yo-yo flew from the girl’s finger, accidentally smacking Tails in the jaw. She blinked for a few seconds and winced, massaging her jaw, and then shook her head and opened the hut door.

 

“It’s cleared up outside. I think we’re ready for archery.”

 

Archery went as usual- most of the girls had no idea how to use the dang bows properly, someone accidentally wandered out onto the range while others were firing, prompting the adults to freak out and order everyone to drop their weapons, someone got salty because they had to take turns and didn’t get onto the same team as their friends… the same tropes play out at camp at the archery range, year after year, after year. It’s the only part of camp that’s only changed once since I started going as a pinky, and that’s just because one year someone repaired the bows and donated a ton of arrows to make up for all those lost in the forest or broken because someone pulled theirs out of the target wrong. At long last, the girls grew tired, and then it was time for the next unit to trod down to the archery range, booting us out.

 

“Hey, Nino, where are we headed off to next?”

 

I sneaked a glance at my unit book, searching for the tiny colored rectangle that would tell us where to go. “Planetarium presentation.”

 

The pinkies cheered, immediately starting up several splintered conversations as we picked up our belongings and started off on the path to Houndbus. I’d heard something about a planetarium presentation before- damn it, I think there’s something missing from my diary. I could have sworn that I wrote something down about it before now. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places…

 

***

 

Quite a lot of years ago, when I was one of the normal campers at camp somewhere between second and fifth grade, I had this feud with the Director’s son, Mavis- he got so many special privileges at camp, not just for being one of the only boys there, but also for being directly related to the Director and thus able to skirt a lot of the same rules that everyone else got reprimanded for breaking. One year, behind both his and her back, I gathered with some friends that would soon stop being my friends a few years later and decided to take one of the Mavis’s beloved stories- “Jo Boo”, I think it was?- and start our own version, “Jo Boob.” Lots of toilet humor and ripoffs from other then-popular series ensued, resulting in more than one phone call to my mom and being forced to handwrite an apology to that awful boy who paraded around like a pompous and proud prince who could do no wrong.

 

I’m only bringing this up because he was leaving the lake area when I walked past on my way to Houndbus with the entire pinkie unit in tow.

 

“Hey, Nino!” Mavis waved his arm vigorously- he’d put on at least ten pounds since the last time I’d seen him. He’d always been overweight- and had always complained as loudly as he could whenever that resulted in him not being able to do some of the activities as the rest of us campers. “Petya said he’s got a surprise for you at Houndbus! That’s where you’re going, right?”

 

I rolled my eyes and ignored him, continuing to trod up the trail Houndbus was on. I wasn’t in the mood to get into a fight, especially not with the little girls under my care. Every single confrontation with Mavis had ended in a fight that was solely blamed on me. Because Mavis could do nothing wrong, see? Not if the Director had a say in the matter.

 

“Nino! Petya said you were gonna hook up with Memes?”

 

I halted in my tracks, glaring at Mavis. A few of the pinkies bumped into me before brushing past me and continuing to hike their way up the hill. “What did you just say?”

 

“A dark closet, a plausible excuse for delaying the planetarium presentation… Clearly this whole thing was staged so you and Memes could do-”

 

“Shut up, Mavis.”

 

“Oh!” Mavis whooped, covering his mouth. “You’re not supposed to say anything mean to me! I’m gonna tell Mom!”

 

I rolled my eyes, turning back around and following the pinkies up the hill. Mavis wasn’t worth my time.

 

Inside Houndbus was an art room, where the unit book said we needed to be. Once we’d all gathered inside and done head counts and such, I poked my head into the art room-

 

To find two hipster girls with puckered lips and bad fashion choices blasting country music.

 

I leaned back out of the room, turning to the unit leaders. “Maybe we’re early?”

 

“No, we’re here at the right time.”

 

I poked my head in the room again. This time, the girls were glaring at me, half upset that I was “barging” into their important creative time and half curious because, well, here was a presumably single boy in a midst of hundreds of girls. I turned back to the unit leaders, and they sighed and pushed the doors all the way open, leading us to the closet at the right side of the room.

 

“Right…” I halfheartedly giggled, embarrassed. “I knew that.”

 

“No you didn’t!” one of the pinkies piped up. The rest of the unit giggled. Because, of course, if Nino does anything wrong, it’s automatically funny.

 

One of the unit leaders knocked on the closet door. “You ready in there?”

 

“I’ve been waiting ten minutes for all y’all to arrive!”

 

We pushed the doors open- Memes covered her eyes, wincing. “Thanks, now I’m blind.”

 

The pinkies giggled. All of us squished into the art room closet- it was rather roomy, although those at the edges had to stand to let the little girls sit. Memes turned on the circular projection camera she had and switched it to the constellation slide.

 

I’ve got a fun game for you all.”

 

What is it?” the pinkies squealed, out of unison with each other.

 

Here’s what you do. You take your right hand-” Memes held up her right hand, barely visible in the dim light of the projection camera pointed at the ceiling– “and you put it over your mouth.”

 

The pinkies followed suit, giggling muffled behind their fingers. Memes sighed, rubbing her strained eyes and slapping the ground next to her. “Get over here, Warm’n’Wet.”

 

“…What?”

 

“You. Nino. Like ‘El Nino’? It’s warm, and it’s wet.” She drummed on her legs. “Ba-dum tsss.”

 

Oh my god.” I scooted over to sit next to her. The two adults clucked. “Don’t say that in front of the children. Or ever again.”

 

Come on, I worked hard on that one! I saved it all week just for you.”

 

“And I’m sooo glad.”

 

I love you too, Nino.”

 

Thankfully, in the dim light, Memes couldn’t see me roll her eyes or pretend to punch her. The pinkies did, though, because they started giggling as soon as Memes touched the projector to bring the constellations back to focus.

 

“What? What’s so funny?”

 

That just made the pinkies laugh more.

 

Memes started the presentation, pointing out every single constellation on the projection and making up stories on the fly- I could tell because she contradicted herself all over the place, saying that one constellation was another’s lover but then turning around a few seconds later and passing them off as mortal enemies. The pinkies didn’t notice, just giggled all the way through at her embellished storytelling.

 

Memes switched to the asteroid belt slide. The sun was just barely visible at the corner, shifting in and out of view as the projector rotated the image. The girls’ gazes followed the sun, clamoring when it disappeared, cheering when it came back.

 

Y’know, from the weather all week, I’d have thought that you’d want the sun to go away for at least a few moments.” Memes shrugged. “Y’all have your priorities messed up.”

 

She switched to the planets slide, showing off a cloud-covered Earth, a hollow moon, a tiny Mars. As she began presenting facts about all the planets and then drifting off into a rant about how late she’d stayed up collecting them all, my thoughts drifted off, my eyes stuck on that one little red dot so far away.

 

Sully.

 

I’ll tell Sully that I need a break, I decided to myself as Memes switched to a different slide, one detailing the sun in full flare. I’ll tell Sully that I need to clear my mind and figure out who I am and what I want from the world. Maybe I’d go researching, go find a place to take my GED early and find a college I might want to attend after I get everything in order.

 

I… I don’t have any obligations to Sully. Just because we used to talk to each other over the internet a long time ago doesn’t mean that I should let her influence what I do with my life. And the same with Liv- just because one society dictates that we’ve got to be together doesn’t mean that we have to be joined at the hip. If Sully wants to run around with Limberstein and try to change Miralay, then that’s her choice. That’s her problem. Miralay’s problems aren’t my problems.

 

And Liv… No matter what Liv wants to do…

 

I’m not the Providence.

 

I’m not Mordern’s property.

 

I’m not a ghost hiding forever in Heavestone.

 

I’m not illegal, and I deserve to exist, to live, to thrive.

 

I’m Eponine Westal, and I’m a citizen of Earth.

 

Liv’s thoughtstream, 6/23/2147

There’s a tiny little TV in the corner of my room. The only channels it gets are the hospital announcements- usually just one little item about the next nurse to slip into my room and make sure I’m alright- and the local news. I can hear someone a few rooms down blasting cartoons and the person in the room across the hall chortling along to… an old soap opera, I think. I don’t know. Old-timey shows, or TV in general, were never my thing. Too many artificial laugh tracks and upholdings of the status quo.

 

It’s so disorienting seeing myself on the TV. Sitting on my bed with a reporter in my face, hamming up my emotions for the camera just like she told me to. Showing off my scrapes and bruises like they were wartime gashes. Twisting the menial into something macabre. Spilling all the secrets of the supposed abuse I suffered at the hands of Miralay- they spun the report like it was Miralay’s fault, like Mordern was responsible for everything. That part wasn’t true. Everything was going just fine up there until Amelia and I met.

 

But then, of course, it wouldn’t make as tantalizing of a story if it were just one lady snapping and going crazy.

 

Eponine’s mother walks in. I turn the TV off. Her eyes are so warm, so loving, like I were her own flesh and blood. She’s got a purse on her shoulder that she promptly swings off and opens, pulling out a plastic bag of mini muffins meant for me. I’m a twig, according to all the nurses I’ve seen. I need to eat more. I need to get my strength up.

 

“Where’s Eponine?” I whisper. “He was here with you last time.”

 

“Well, good morning to you too, Serlis!” She takes a seat on the chair next to my bed. “He’s at day camp right now. It’s his last day this year. He’ll be home by five, but I suspect he’ll be exhausted and just want to take a shower and go straight to bed.”

 

I pop one of the muffins into my mouth. It gives off a slightly sour tang- some fruit I haven’t yet learned to recognize by taste.

 

“I could give you his phone number if you like?”

 

I shake my head. The things I want to tell him I don’t want to potentially be wiretapped and leaked now that I’ve unwittingly thrown a cyber mob of angry people at Mordern overnight.

 

“No. It’s fine. I’ll get to see him all I want tomorrow. But… do you know when my father’s going to be here? He didn’t come yesterday.”

 

Eponine’s mother sighs. “He’s got some… personal issues to work through right now. He thought you were dead for almost a month. Do you know what kind of despair that gives a parent? We had to watch him very closely the first few days after Eponine came back. And now that he knows that you’re alive, he’s got to adjust all over again.”

 

“But… he’s my father! Wouldn’t my return make him happy? Wouldn’t he set down everything to rush to my side and welcome me back here?”

 

Maybe… Maybe he wants me back in my sleeping pod. Maybe he’d rather have me be probably dead on some far-off planet than deal with the fact that I’m here and alive and awake and his responsibility to raise. Maybe Father is too much of a coward to admit that he’s a father to a very problematic child or, hell, even a father at all!

 

Be fair, Liv. Maybe he’s just ashamed that he couldn’t protect you.

 

I’ll believe his apology when I hear it straight from his mouth.

 

“I’m sure he’s got his reasons. It was hard enough getting you in here without any documentation. I mean, the donations from people all over have been pouring in, but… there’s all the media attention he probably doesn’t want to be a part of-”

 

“Well, neither do I, and yet I’m still here.”

 

Not quite a fair comparison. I’m here because of minor injuries and because nobody in Heavestone thought themselves trustworthy enough to be responsible for my healthcare. Better to blame it on the hospital if something went wrong, right?

 

Better to blame it on Mordern?

 

Maybe Eponine was right all along. I don’t like this attention. Not one bit. I… kinda envy him. How living in Heavestone lets him disappear at will.

 

If only I could postpone all this media hoohah and deal with it when I’m older. Or never.

 

“Liv? Are you okay?”

 

I look up at her. Her eyes are full of concern. I don’t know whether I want people to stop worrying about me or if I’m secretly relishing the fact that someone actually cares for my wellbeing.

 

“I… I just miss my mother…” I sniff. I can’t cry right now. I don’t want Eponine’s mother to think I’m some sniveling little crybaby.

 

“Oh, honey…” She leans forward, puts her arms around me. I lean into her touch. Her clothes are warm. “I could never replace your mother, and I’m already married, but I’ll be your second mom, okay? You can come over to my house or call me anytime you need something. I’ll always be there for you.”

 

“Thanks, Mrs…”

 

“Westal.”

 

I hug her tighter, rest my head on her shoulder. “Thanks, Mrs. Westal.”