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