Eponine’s diary, 6/11/2147

When I was a small child, I would have a recurring dream where a large lizard from an old commercial I once saw on an old tape would hide out in the laundry room next to my room and try to kill me if I attempted to run upstairs to relative safety. Back then, there wasn’t a bathroom in the laundry room- although I’m not sure if one toilet and a sink in the corner counts- and I wasn’t allowed to go into the room with the furnace, which has a garage access door. I was trapped, and with every boom that coincided with my heartbeat, the gaping inky void of the open laundry room doorway would widen and widen until the lizard would peer its slimy head out and see me cowering in fear and pounce. It didn’t matter how fast I tried to run away or how much I attempted to phase through a wall or fight back. The dream always ended in me being killed. A few years later, when I’d grown a bit, I eventually learned how to befriend the lizard and escape upstairs without being mauled, but by then, the dreams had morphed into other people chasing me as I tried to fly away.

Run, Eponine, run! A bound over the apple tree that used to grow in my backyard until it grew diseased and a whole slew of the neighbors came to take it down. Don’t let your father capture and dismember and murder you!

I could never get the hang of flying. Just like a flying fish. Just bounds and leaps far beyond what a normal human could ever achieve, sometimes lengthened by a flutter of the wings.

But then again, I’m a Miralayan, not an angel.

The dream came back last night, except this time, I was trapped inside of the sleeping quarters on Miralay that I never stepped in but saw over the security cameras the rebels liked to peek into and watch, sometimes for intel gathering, sometimes for kicks. And- and I was in love with Liv- every time I would look at her, I would get a fuzzy feeling deep in my chest, like I wanted nothing more than to curl up beside her and sleep safe in her arms until the end of eternity. She was utterly infatuated with me and I with her and she would stroke my cheek and invite me to lay beside her on the large bed and didn’t hate me at all.

I wanted to be her lover. I wanted to build a family with her.

It was if I’d never rejected Providence-hood that day in front of that blasted crowd.

But then the heartbeat rhythm that always precluded my assailant started booming, and I remembered- it was a dream. It was always a dream. I ran to the door and discovered that there was no doorknob and started punching, desperate to make one- and then Amelia phased through the door, and Liv turned to stone, and I was helpless as Amelia morphed into some Medusa-wannabe.Her mouth was an encroaching abyss, utterly empty, not really a mouth at all. She reached her long spindly black fingers towards me with the wildest look in her eyes-

And then I woke up. Simple as that, but at the time, I was sitting shock-straight in bed with sweat rolling down my face, ready to crumple up into a paper ball and start bawling to my parents. I didn’t, though. I pulled out a flashlight and a romance book from my nightstand and started to read.

All the characters were either faceless or facsimiles of me and Liv. I made sure to carefully close the book before tossing it onto the floor, banishing it from my sight, before grabbing a high fantasy one instead. Nothing that could even remotely relate to me and Liv in there, right?

The queen had red hair. Long red wavy hair. Lots of self-centered protagonistic morality and not a single inch of elbow room for flaws of any kind. That book was also banished to the floor. A nice little sci-fi book soon found a home in my hands, the flexible flashlight uncomfortably wedged into the crack between the headboard of my bed and the wall. Bashing aliens left and right and preserving humanity from an invasion of their planet. The classics. The aliens ended up inadvertently killing themselves in the end.

Maybe I was wrong about that book being safe.

What if Liv’s murder was what it took to bog down Gerwis and friends long enough to ensure we got at least somewhat of a lead?

What if Liv died for me?

I’m actually somewhat glad Sully wasn’t in the house. She found a place in the home of one of my mom’s friends, just a few blocks over and closer to another one of the gateways into Heavestone, one that’ll be better for her if she’s trying to catch the lightrail. I might’ve woken her up otherwise, might have ruined her own sleep. I wouldn’t want to do that.

It’s about noon now. Lunch will probably be ready in a few minutes, and then maybe I’ll go and see Sully and what she’s been up to. Or Mom will keep me in the house under her watchful eye, scared that if she loses sight of me for even as much as a second that I’ll be whisked away to Miralay again.

Eponine’s diary, 6/10/2147, second page

It’s been a long time, diary. Sorry for the information overload. It took twelve whole sheets just to write everything down, I know, but I’d forgotten how small the pages were in my hands. My head aches just like my wrists do. All I want to do is curl up into a ball on my bed and take a nap for the next few years until the dizziness passes.

I’ve gotten so out of sync with this planet.

Mom’s shirt is in the wash. When we touched down in Limberstein headquarters, someone must have phoned ahead to tell my parents, because Mom and even absent Dad were there to greet me at the front doors of the hangar. And I know I shouldn’t have done this, especially since Sully was watching and unsteady on her feet and ready to cut the first person who poked fun at her- but I saw Mom’s face and her eyes lit up with recognition and I collapsed crying onto her shoulder. I was a little kid again, only six or seven with a scraped knee from rollerskating and tripping on the driveway. I was nine and had fallen on my bike and half-landed in the local marsh and gotten my favorite shirt full of moss. I was twelve and forced to delete a prized blog because it was making some of the local adults upset. And yet all the little tears I cried on all those occasions combined couldn’t dare to compare to the flood that emptied itself onto Mom’s shoulder in the entryway of Limberstein’s hangar.

“Liv’s dead,” I choked in between sobs. “Liv’s dead and it’s all my fault-”

“Shh.” Mom patted my back, aware that there were people watching the both of us, watching Sully regain her balance, watching Dad shuffle uneasily towards the double glass doors. “It’s gonna be okay, Eponine. Everything’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”

“I could’ve saved her!” I wailed.

“It’s okay. There’ll be all the time in the world later to reflect on whatever it is. For now, I’m so glad you’re back, Eponine. I’m so glad I can hold my baby son in my arms again.”

My cheeks burned with embarrassment. I pulled away from Mom and slunk through the double glass doors, Sully following us out.

And then I immediately doubled over and puked onto the pavement.

Absolutely graceful.

I grimaced as my face flushed. The sun was too bright out, overbearing like a soccer mom trying to rush pizza rolls in the oven for her kids who needed to leave in fifteen minutes when the rolls needed twenty. My chest heaved, breath laborious. Sully helped me up, I think. Everything was too blurry to see. I think someone who worked there said they were going to clean it up. It took everything I had to blubber out an apology.

I gingerly opened the car door and slid in and unpinned the cape from my Providence uniform, which was starting to show sweat stains, and threw it into the third row seats behind me. I’d put it on so carefully after the effortless landing, wanting to make a good impression for whoever’d be waiting for us on the other side. But there wasn’t a rich CEO or a squad of men offering to take us under their wings.

My parents came instead.

My parents still came. They didn’t forget me. They didn’t pretend I was dead in a freak accident just to make themselves feel better.

I leaned back in my seat, stifling a moan as Sully slammed the door shut and slid into the seat beside me. She kept her distance. I don’t blame her.

“So who’s the lovely girl in the back?” my mom crooned as Dad started up the car and began to drive away.

“I’m Sully,” she answered. “Eponine’s friend. I helped him escape.”

I tipped my head to look out the window. My tired and weary eyes followed the clouds as they passed by, skipped along the trees flashing by on both sides of the road once we got onto the highway. Heavestone was about an hour away, and Sully’s help was a massive understatement.

“Do you have a family-”

Sully sucked in a breath. “No. I don’t. I was under the assumption that I could stay with you guys? You know, since Eponine- I mean-” She crossed her arms. “I suppose whoever runs Limberstein could probably find a place in their facility for me to stay, since I’ll be traveling back and forth from Heavestone almost daily…”

The car went quiet then. I think, eventually, Mom said she could find a family in Heavestone that would be willing to shelter her for the time being. She couldn’t promise anything permanent. Dad didn’t seem too happy about that, though. I think he wanted a daughter, even if she was a Miralayan.

I guess I failed him in that regard.

I don’t know why I expected there to be police tape in my room. Heavestone has something like a police force, but since we’re all from Miralay and we’re all trying to hide, there’s a general consensus that we’re not going to hurt each other- I wish other communities had that. Heavestone’s police don’t have the same kind of tools that other cities have. No forensics team was ever going to come into my room and quarantine everything off and take evidence to examine. Everything was just the way I’d left it the night Liv barged in and-

Liv.

A few strands of her hair were left on my bed. Long and red with a slight wave to them. Nobody’s hair is naturally that shade of red. And there was still the faintest impression of her body on my carpet.

That’s all there was left of Living Wasteland.

And Mr. Greenland. Torn apart emotionally under the impression that his daughter would die before he would. None of us had the heart to tell him that his fears had already come true.

Actually, there’s one thing that’s different in my room. Dad must have put up white shelves on the far wall. I did some rearranging of things once I’d taken a ten-minute shower to wash off as many traces of Miralay’s sterile environment as possible- I almost slipped in the shower from vertigo- and dressed myself in something considerably more Earthen. An old but soft T-shirt from camp several years ago and a faded pair of jeans. The shelves now hold some drying doodads I made for camp to swap with other people and a few small plastic baskets of miscellaneous toys I haven’t the heart to ask Mom to put into storage.

It’s alright. I have at least sixty more years to live. The oldest any Miralayan ever got in Heavestone was about a hundred and twelve, and he only died because of a carbon monoxide leak while he was sleeping. Usually people here drop off at ninety. The average life span in the USA is somewhere around eighty.

That doesn’t make much sense. Nothing makes much sense anymore. But it’s reality.

Eponine’s diary, 6/10/2147

Earth is a planet that houses four billion people on its seven continents and the islands interspersed among them in wide oceans. The population was much larger a hundred years ago but was almost halved by a series of catastrophic natural disasters that decimated the icebergs. The ocean levels rose, forcing people to move inland in order to escape the rising tide.

 

Maybe Mordern foresaw that this would happen. Maybe the Providences gladly traded in half of their estimated lifespan and their freedom to be secure in the knowledge that, no matter how many icebergs melted and islands went underwater forever, they’d live through it all. The founders envisioned a self-sustaining Miralay, one that would continue to grow and prosper even if Mordern ceased to exist, even if humanity on Earth ceased to exist.

 

Why didn’t that ever come to fruition? Would that not be profitable for Mordern? They’d certainly be rolling in the big bucks from survivalists fretting about the seemingly impending apocalypse.

 

Liv is dead. Liv was murdered. Once we touchdown on Earth, everything should go back to normal, shouldn’t it? I’ll combine the notebook I’ve kept hidden in my clothes with the diary still tucked away somewhere in my room and I’ll go back to dreaming in the city that doesn’t exist. Amelia still doesn’t know about it, I think. The brain-machine interface can’t access thoughts, can it?

 

The whole point’s moot. You’d need a pendant to get into the loop of time, and with the revolution on Miralay about to begin, Amelia wouldn’t dare relinquish any troops to Earth. She’d gain nothing- at least, I don’t think she would.

 

I never want to go back to Miralay or have anything to do with Miralay or Mars ever again.

 

I don’t want to be the “Providence” or “former Providence” or even a “Miralayan”.

 

I just want to be Eponine Westal.

 

Is that too much to ask?

 

But Sully’s here. Sully’s with me. I can’t abandon her here alone on Earth. Sure, there’s Limberstein, and it’s not too far from Heavestone- a half-hour’s lightrail ride there and back. But sending a girl who’s lived only in one particular stretch of the Miralayan confines through the mass transit system on Earth? Does Sully even know what a lightrail is?

 

There are going to be a lot of things here on Earth that I’ll have to explain. Not just to Sully as she adapts to Earth, but to my parents- my overbearing mother and mostly-absent father. I’ve been gone for almost three weeks. Just like a summer camp, eh? That’s the worst summer camp I’ve ever been to.

 

That reminds me- summer day camp is this month! How am I going to explain to the staff and all of the other campers there that I’ve got a Providence dot now? I’ve managed to pass off as Earthen so far- just remember not to get into any dark places with someone else or a camera watching. Remember to slather on sunscreen before stepping out into the harsh sun so you don’t burn into a crisp, and ignore anybody who makes fun of your pale skin. Don’t do anything that might result in falling from high places. Don’t do anything that might get you into the first aid office where a professionally certified but overweight nurse might discover that you have two hearts and accidentally diagnose you with a heart attack and end up causing a hullabaloo with ambulances and an AED because then you’ll never be able to go back because now your health forms are absolutely screwed and the government will wonder where your permission from Mordern to reside on Earth is.

 

Not that any of those things have ever happened to me. Camp’s probably the only place where the only things that could remind me about Miralay are the campers wondering about what’s going on there. What am I going to say this year when the inevitable conversations start up anew? That their fantasies of a benevolent king and queen in medieval dress guiding people or aliens far evolved from humans with fantastic technology are false? That there’s no way they’d be romanticizing the Providences if they knew the truth?

 

Who am I kidding? Everyone loves a good dysfunctional government to point their fingers at and laugh and daydream about.

 

Maybe I can pass my Providence dot off as myself having converted to some lesser-known religion. Maybe I’ve joined an eclectic cult that operates in a different country and shrouds itself in several layers of secrecy and just so happens to mimic Miralayans due to some twisted reverence for them.

 

Yeah, I think I’ll go with the cult option.

 

Good times.

 

Sully’s still in her sleeping pod, dreaming away while her muscles tingle with controlled shocks and strengthen. I’m in the pilot compartment of- what was this ship called again?- Bessie One, watching Earth loom ever so closer as I float along inside here. Autopilot is doing everything. Farrow is catching a quick nap before he’ll have to oversee the landing. I couldn’t sleep in there any longer. Not after Farrow accidentally thawed me early instead of after landing on Earth like he was supposed to and then shrugged his shoulders and said that I could watch as we fell from the sky.

 

I never knew there were so many stars in the universe. Maybe they’ve all got their own planets. Maybe all those planets have their own Miralays, their own outcasts, their own aliens-

 

I’m being melodramatic. Liv’s cursed me posthumously. I’m alive, and I’m going home, and the person who caused all of this is dead, and that’s all I need to worry about right now.

 

a desolate sunday spent with nothing to do

IMG_4415
I am at Girl Scout Camp right now as I type this, enjoying the air conditioning and abundant watermelon while the air outside grows more and more humid and the sky is colorless and drained as a loop of time at the edge of the world should be.
IMG_4416
Every day I come home completely exhausted, drained both physically. It takes everything I have to continue writing Living Wasteland after a shower and recount everything that’s happened to me in a fictional form. There is no energy left to spin the tale twice.
IMG_4417
Sometimes I find myself in the minds of other characters, of fragments of other people’s imaginations. Longing to slip on their skin for at least a little while and experience life through their eyes. It’s not healthy, I know, but escapism is so attractive…
IMG_4418
And I should never have made that Facebook account. Getting a few accolades for work on hacking Fire Emblem Fates and fulfilling a fantasy of running a meme page was never worth the angst and pain that came from conflicts with other meme pages and self-proclaimed morally superior people. Nothing that could have possibly come out of that hellsite was worth the breach in privacy that came as its price.
IMG_4419
I want to start using alternative services and messengers, but my family members are too imept with technology to bother, and the damn network effect keeps biting me in the ass over and over and over.
IMG_4420
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force him to comprehend that the water is poisoned and he should drink from somewhere else.
IMG_4421
Living Wasteland did nothing wrong. Liv followed her heart, and it ended up in her becoming corrupted by sheer power she could never hope of being able to comprehend, much less wield.
IMG_4422
And Eponine Westal did nothing wrong. He tried to fight to keep the hidden life he was comfortable with while making sure that his friends didn’t suffer, but his enemies still found a way to make him destroy himself.
IMG_4423
And Boney just wanted to help his friend, but he ended up being killed in the end.
IMG_4424
But life’s going to get better, I think. Just one more year and then I’ll have all the space in the sky to fill.
IMG_4425
At least, I sure hope so.

THE MEMERY: THE DAY BEFORE

Girl Scout Camp training happened today, and contrary to what I was expecting from previous years, there wasn’t a whole lot of “training” going on. Mostly, I stayed in Timbermeade (the main cabin) while the main director explained exactly how I was supposed to format the newsletter that I’m going to be in charge of, how I’m supposed to email the printing office to ensure that it gets formatted correctly, et cetera. Not much else happened.

Of course, I almost immediately lost track of the walkie-talkie I’d been assigned. It didn’t leave Timbermeade, I’m certain. But it seems to have disappeared into thin air. Hopefully somebody finds it before Monday, when I’ll really be needing it.

IMG_4413
Everyone kept erasing the “nothing” part for some reason. Somehow I think “Zorphs did wrong” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Everyone else who was assigned to a unit like a normal person had to walk all the way to their unit and visit the archery range and ropes course and the local lake for a few minutes each so that they could get a general feel for the camp’s layout. It’s a bit disturbing when you’re whacking away at your laptop, desperately trying to switch the layout of the template you made to be landscape instead of portrait and an elderly lady seems intent on explaining the incredibly simple concept of the orientation having been wrong to you several hundred times, and then suddenly fifty sweaty bodies burst in from out of nowhere and start lumbering towards your general direction. Kind of like from some sort of cheesy zombie movie.

In addition to that, the picture quality on my camera seems to have inexplicably dropped dramatically. I’m not sure whether it’s the camera in need of a good reset or the fact that the 8 GB card I usually save for this kind of heavy-duty work is currently serving duty as a transfer bus for hacking the family Wii U back at home. No, I’m not going to be pirating Splatoon or anything else to make my brothers happy. I mean, I could, but being grounded isn’t on my list of things to get done.

But you know what is on my list of things to get done? More chapters for Living Wasteland. They’re coming, I promise, although they might be delayed the next few days because I’m sorting out issues with the possible endings I have planned. Massive indecision right now coupled with an unfortunate obligation to keep a Facebook account open to contribute to the camp’s group and page (which I still don’t have access rights to for some reason) does not make for an optimal writing environment. Plus I’ll be exhausted every day after camp, so don’t expect any more chapters for about a week or however long it takes to recover and return to a semi-tranquil state.

Sully’s thoughtstream, 6/3/2147

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.

Serlis?

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 understand.”

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.

Eponine’s diary, 6/2/2147

Breakfast progressed as usual today- we had those mini plastic bottles of water you find littered everywhere at campsites and local children’s soccer games and packets of dry cereal. Mordern sure knows how to keep their people nourished. Everything went fine until I mentioned Liv’s defection to our side, at which point the idiocy started.

Although everything here on Miralay is idiocy, so I should have expected as much.

“Huh? Defecation?” some scrawny snot who would have been a cringey seventh-grader back on Earth snorted. “Should’ve changed her diaper.” A few other rebels laughed in response, but he mostly earned snide glances from the others. One of the people who had guarded Liv’s room yesterday actually went back and checked to make sure she hadn’t shat herself.

“No, you incoherent, she’s not incontinent.”

“That’s what you said, though-”

Someone else piped in. Alexa, I think. “How much are we talking? Willing to cooperate, or full-blown radical anarchist?”

“She doesn’t want to be the Providence anymore. That’s all I got from her.”

The room was silent for a few whole moments, all eyes either on me or Alexa or the snot. And then- I had to cover my ears- there was an incoherent mess of whoops, people slapping each other on the back, high-fiving, general glee all around. No more Providences to worry about.

“So does this mean I can un-paralyze her now?”

The glee stopped, everyone returning to their usual state. Chewing. More chewing. A few conversations restarting.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

I turned to Sully, who was beside me, scribbling away in another purloined notebook and ignoring her breakfast. Sully never eats much at breakfast for some reason. Maybe she just survives on less? I wish I had that skill.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Sully shook her head. “I’ll get on it once I’m done with this script. I’ve got to put the finishing touches on it first.”

I leaned over her shoulder, watching her penning the last few words on a two-page long script, skimming over what she’d written. I’d expected something brief with the amount of time she’d been given- maybe a paragraph or two. I didn’t know whether to be worried that she’d been too verbose or proud that she’d gone above-and-beyond.

I sound like a contrived school principal.

Dear people of Miralay, you have been sorely lied to by seven generations of Providences. There is nothing to separate the common people from those who sit in the upper echelons of government or even the Providences themselves. It is not some sort of celestial benevolent goddess watching over this colony or a mutation that causes one to be assigned to such a revolting role but Mordern’s rules set in stone one hundred and thirty five years ago.

Your doctors are all colluding with each other- as they should, seeing that we have limited medical resources here and the closest sentient civilization that isn’t openly hostile towards Miralayans is too far away to simply ship help to us in times of dire need. But what if I told you that, whenever you go to the doctor in a Providence’s twenty-seventh year anxious to see if you will be carrying our next leader, everything is already set in stone, the parents already selected?

Your doctors are colluding with our government as well. They pick the couples that are both the healthiest and the least likely to rebel. Of course, sometimes they make mistakes… Which is why your current Providences grew up on Earth away from you and are now currently missing.

Why do you think that those lucky two mothers and only they are allowed to experience natural birth while every other child is locked up in the gestation chambers? Could it be that the chemical wash designed to give every child a leg up in life is actually making them less intelligent and more subservient? Could it be that the chemical wash prevents Miralayan children from developing brain-machine interfaces like your beloved Providences?

If you don’t believe me, then I challenge you to resist the hegemony. Naturally give birth to your children that you dutifully sought permits for and see if their Providence dot develops. I assure you it will. This is the default and unmarred state of Miralayans. There are fifty of us pulsing in the underworld of Miralay, struggling for subsistence while you’re delivered three meals a day and have your life planned out for you before you’re even born. We’re illegitimate children, hidden away because there was no place in Miralay for us. All of us have Providence dots.

Some of your children may disappear in the coming weeks. Do not be alarmed. We have temporarily replaced them to prove our existence. They will be returned to you once you take steps to allow us to peacefully coexist within your society and loosen the tyrannical absolute control that Amelia Rouge, the Providences’ current second-in-command, has over you.

In all fairness, they were pretty widely-spaced pages.

Sully pushed me away suddenly, disgust written all over her face. “At least tell me first before you make a move on me.”

“What-” I stammered, flustered. “That’s not-”

Sully playfully punched me in the shoulder. “I’m joking, dumbass.” Her characteristic sneering smile flashed on her face, and then she turned back to the notebook. “So what do you think? Moving enough for even Serlis to take action?” She laughed. “Serlis wouldn’t do anything anyways. Which reminds me- why do you keep telling her to live?”

“What?”

“This morning. You kept saying ‘live’ over and over. It doesn’t make any sense.”

I sighed. “It’s a name she gave herself. It’s supposed to be short for ‘Living Wasteland’.”

Sully burst into laughter, her face alight, closing her notebook before crumpling into a heap of giggles. Some of the other rebels turned her way, puzzled. “Of course- of course she would give herself such a Mary Sue name! I mean…” Sully pulled herself back together and wiped the excess moisture from her eyes. “A living wasteland. An emotionless robot. Amelia might as well have shucked her and replaced her with an android.” I shuddered. Sully raised an eyebrow. “What? Did I say something wrong?”

“Please… please don’t say the S word again.”

“What? Shucked?” I winced and sucked in a sharp breath. “Whoa, whoa, okay.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry. I won’t say it again.”

Pretty pathetic of me to have such a negative response to a simple word. Shucked. Something about it… It upsets my stomach, diary. Makes me woozy.

“So what do you think of the script?”

“Shouldn’t you be tracking down the leader for an opinion?”

Sully waved her hand. “Nah. I thought you might be a better person to ask.”

“It’ll do the job.”

Sully shoved me. “You suck. I worked hard on this. I can’t wait for it to air tomorrow.”