The crickets stop chirping, and that’s when I know that the Miralayan ship is ready for boarding. The room falls silent, people dropping their cards and putting on their solemn faces and switching from the lively conversers they were a moment ago back to pseudo-military personnel. They’re not actually military- Miralay wouldn’t send civic officers to Earth, and what wars would Miralay fight?- but they carry themselves as such.
The door opens. My new retainer, Mirt, pokes his head inside. My face heats up. Mirt is six feet tall and modestly built and would otherwise be cute, but he’s so… cold. If people had multiple masks for their emotions, Mirt wears one that he got from a flea market some years ago and nothing else, except for the fleeting moment this morning when Eponine was cursing out another retainer and I saw the edges of Mirt’s mouth twitch. Pure disdain rolled off of him, so thick I could feel it. He wanted to say something, to intervene, I think, but instead he shook his head and carried on with whatever he was doing. But Mirt gets the job done, even if merely turning his head my direction and letting his gaze fall on me can turn my body into some exotic lifeless metal whose name I’ve probably never heard of before.
He scares the living hell out of me. Why did Amelia think he would be a good fit?
Mirt gestures to me. My heart flutters as I take a few steps forward. He leads me out of the room and through the jungle of hallways. He is soundless as a ghost as he does so, never once glancing behind him to make sure that I’m still following him.
Maybe Mirt is a ghost.
The sky is dark, and silhouetted in the middle of the parking lot in the glare of the building’s floodlights is a hulking mass of countless tons of metal and machinery. Mirt steps forward and taps something I can’t see on his belt, and then a whooshing sound- the loading hatch opens, a staircase unfolding for us to step inside the spacecraft. A few locks of hair flop out of the bobby pins holding them back and cover his eyes. He brushes them aside without so much as even blinking.
“You first, my Providence,” he intones. His golden pin with the Miralayan crest denoting him as a retainer glimmers in the light. I take a few tentative steps forward, waiting for him to follow me, but he stays put and waits. Only after I’ve crossed the distance and climbed the staircase and stepped into the front room of the spacecraft do I hear his footsteps behind me.
It’s like something straight out of a science-fiction movie- there are five doors, all made out of thick layered steel but swung open so I can see inside. There’s the front cockpit for the pilots in case of an emergency where they wouldn’t be able to use autopilot, a storage cabin in the back full of cardboard boxes stamped with barcodes, and three rooms where I can see nothing but sleeping pods. Everything is overly clean and sterile and nothing is left to the imagination.
“Are you ready to go into stasis?” Mirt asks, his voice raspy. The dagger on his belt clinks ever so slightly against the metal sections of his belt.
My gaze flickers among the three doors. He didn’t say which. Could I pick any of them?
Mirt mutters something under his breath before laying his hands on my shoulders. I seize up under his touch, and he spins me around to face the second door, several of the sleeping pods popped open and ready. But there’s a fundamental difference between what I grew up in and those- icy mists overflow from them, pooling on the floor before wafting away into nothing.
I step inside. There’s a whooshing sound beyond the walls- probably just the ventilation system drinking in the air, preparing for space travel. More heavy footsteps somewhere else in the spacecraft. Someone laughs, a hearty guttural sound.
The room spins. There are no windows.
I will never see Earth again.
I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I chose this fate for myself. I knew full well that there would be little to no chance I would ever romp around again underneath the vast blue sky once I took up my role. But sacrifices have to be made-
“Let go of me, you whore-faced crocodile!”
He stumbles into the room, another retainer whose name I don’t know with her arms wrapped around his chest, grunting as she tries to pull him into the third stasis room. Mirt turns his way, focusing his arctic stare on Eponine, which just makes him all the more frantic.
Eponine locks eyes with me. His teeth are bared. This is not the soft boy whose room I tumbled into my first day of being alive, who welcomed me in despite knowing full well what I was. This is a feral animal loose from his cage, out of his element.
“Liv,” he snarls as he struggles to get free. I flinch. “I’m going to kill you for this.”
The other retainer jerks him into the other room with a final yelp. Shouting and scuffling ensues, but it eventually dies down as I hear a snap and then a click.
I can’t feel sorry for this Eponine. I feel nothing.
I’m frozen in place, a statue, a life-size marionette that Mirt takes in his hands, positions, assists down into the cool sleeping pod like he’s laying a baby to sleep. My hands fit perfectly around the handles they are supposed to hold, and there are only a few inches between my feet and the end of the pod. Mirt throws me a smile- I can’t tell if it’s fake or not- before closing the lid and snapping the latch shut.
And just like that, I’ve been packed away like another piece of cargo, ready to slip through space and time just to make a trip in a day.
I watch through the glass lid of the sleeping pod as other crew members filter into the room and lower themselves into their respective sleeping pods, none of them shivering like I am right now. The lights of their pods fade slowly from green to yellow and then to red.
“Are you ready to sleep now?” a computer voice asks me, coming at me from all sides of the pod. I suppose “Are you ready to be frozen like a human popsicle?” would be seen more as a threat.
“Yeah, I guess,” I whisper.
“Please lay back and close your eyes.”
I follow her instructions, letting my neck go limp, my head push into the cushion right below it. A fierce winter breeze blows over me- the goosebumps on my limbs resist at first, but then eventually the world lets itself out the door like it’s repulsed by me and doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore. I don’t blame it.
Darkness envelops me. My limbs are slowly going out of contact with me like they’re friends I’ve moved away from. And there’s no internet to distract me this time, and I don’t know how much more lucid time I have.
I want it to be over with already. To be breathing in the recycled air and meeting the people I’ll he helping and to have six people’s wisdom and lives make up for the void in my own.
I want to see the kind of person I’ll become. The kind of person Eponine will become. I want to be loved and adored and respected. Maybe they’ll respect me more because I chose to come back.
I want a lot of things. I want Eponine to be happy. I want to be happy. I want the people of Miralay to be happy.