Liv’s thoughtstream, 6/2/2147

Something is dripping in the far corner. A slow drip, kind of like a faucet some little kid’s left to drip and eventually fill the sink to their parent’s dismay. Drip. Drip. Drip. The dripping’s the only sound I can hear because the ventilation system doesn’t work well here- why would it, if this sector’s supposed to be abandoned?- and everyone else is sleeping.

I could leave right now. Sneak off as Tox, assuming her persona isn’t also paralyzed, and knock out the guards and fight my way out to the relative freedom of Amelia’s regime. Stick with the enemy you know, right?

Right?

I wonder what changes Amelia’s made in the time I’ve been gone. Nobody ever tells me anything. It’s just one day of monotony after another, always staring up at the ceiling. I’d be lucky to have Sully’s thick ponytails brush against my skin in the most aggravating ways possible right now. Anything to feel, anything to remember that this is just a temporary state, that I’m not actually paralyzed.

Couldn’t I access my own brain-machine interface? Couldn’t I override this, just for a few moments, just to be able to shed my body of stone and stretch my limbs? Couldn’t they afford me that?

It doesn’t matter. Either option would lead to someone noticing, to someone telling Eponine, to being forcibly frozen just to shut me up. I need to stay conscious.

“Liv?”

Eponine peeks his head into the door. He’s got someone else’s laptop in his arms. Is he going to let me go? Has he found a way back to Earth?

“Liv, I need to show you something.”

He sneaks into the room and plops down beside me, the laptop in his lap. The girl with the long green hair slinks in after him a few seconds later, the same pissed expression on her face as always- he looks genuinely surprised to see her here too, but he props me up so I’m sitting and invites her to take a seat on the other side of me. We’re a sandwich. A nice big traitor sandwich.

Eponine opens the laptop and enters a string of passwords. The other girl watches him, but she doesn’t say much- it’s six in the morning from the time on the computer. She must be exhausted. I know I am, and I haven’t even done anything the past two days. Some pictures pop up on the screen, and Eponine starts scrolling- a little girl with tiny pigtails toddling along on the floor, riding a tricycle, playing in the streets of Heavestone.

“I didn’t know you had a sister,” I whisper. I glance at the girl on my left. She’s all crunched up, her knees pressed up against her chest. She hasn’t said a single word. Back to the pictures. “Where’s you?”

Eponine gives me a look somewhere between wistful and pissed. I don’t know where the divide is. There are more pictures- slightly older and eating ice cream, a ninth birthday party, a homeschool science project. Going to the bookstore outside of Heavestone to get more books for an unsorted collection. The girl’s hair grows longer and longer until-

Eleventh birthday. The girl’s hair is considerably shorter, reaching only to her ears in a pixie cut. The decorations are all various shades of blue. There’s something different in her eyes. An unbridled happiness.

I look at Eponine. His face is strained. The pictures grow more and more recognizable as the subject in them grows older.

There never was a sister.

“It’s impossible for both of us to be the Providence. There’s only supposed to be one boy and one girl.” He fans out his shirt, evidently too warm for comfort- I catch a glimpse of faint scars. He turns to the green-haired girl. “Sully?”

Sully removes the cloth hiding her forehead. Something in my chest constricts.

She has a Providence dot just like mine.

That- that’s impossible. I’m the female Providence. Nobody’s died. I was the one born with the Providence dot, not her- but it looks real and just like mine-

And Eponine is a girl. Was a girl. His Providence dot was removed after he arrived on Earth, but he still had one, which means that there are two people who can’t possibly be Providences but somehow still are.

“What…”

My head feels faint. The room is spinning. I’m in a tornado. The rebels are going to kill me, aren’t they? And install Sully in my place-

Eponine puts away the pictures and closes the laptop. He avoids my gaze. “Liv, you’re not the Providence.”

I’m the Providence.

One boy and one girl become the Providence at random during conception and are the only ones in the colony to experience natural birth.

I’m the Providence.

The gene that controls whether one is a Providence or not is non-hereditary and spontaneously mutated once per gender per generation.

I’m the Providence.

Everyone else in this sector wear bandannas to cover their foreheads. They probably have Providence dots as well. There are more female and male Providences and I’m not the only one and what’s to differentiate me from any of them? Why do I get to be the ruler of Miralay and now any of these people who are just as qualified as me? More, even, because they’ve actually lived on the planet their whole lives?

“Liv,” Eponine murmurs, just loud enough for me to hear over the sounds of my chest heaving, of my hyperventilating. “I know it’s a lot to take in. But I’m not the Providence and you’re not either. These people were illegally birthed, remember?”

“So they never came into contact with the gestation chambers…”

“You know about those?” Eponine’s eyebrows shoot up.

My skin is faintly glowing. I guess I don’t have to worry about bursting out into a fit if I’m paralyzed. “My retainer took me there to see. He said that they were for Miralay’s good. That it was dangerous for Miralayans to go through natural birth because of their lifestyles.”

My parents had just the same lifestyles as anybody else here, and I was never in any danger until Father and I escaped. Was Mirt lying? Is the system lying?

If two adults have sex and conceive and go to the doctor, and the doctor determines whether or not the child is the Providence, and the embryos that aren’t go into the gestation chambers…

And none of my captors went into the gestation chambers and all of them- as far as I know- are Providences…

“Eponine,” I whisper, still afraid that somehow Amelia will hear me, “Are the Miralayan doctors deciding who becomes the Providences?”

Eponine nods.

It makes sense. A random mutation that just happens to occur when the current Providences turn twenty-seven doesn’t seem random at all. The only other explanation would be some kind of god watching over Miralay and picking out unborn babies to be the leaders… but why would a god also bestow that privilege upon all the illegitimate children?

I’m not the Providence.

I was chosen to be the Providence and everybody else just happened to get the same mutation.

I’m not the Providence.

Maybe there was a mix-up? Maybe the mutation got triggered far more than usual and-

I’m not the Providence.

I have no duty to these people. Miralay is not my responsibility. I’m just an escaped girl that was lucky enough to have the system records to fit into the job with few questions asked. I could just resign and let someone else with a Providence dot take over and disappear.

Is that really what I want to do, though? Amelia doesn’t want some random rebel. Amelia wants me. I’m the only one who could possibly change the system without any bloodshed.

I have two options. Escape and suppress Eponine and his group for factors they had no control over just to keep the public docile and happy, or let the information leak out and watch helplessly as the public get angry over the fact that someone decided at their birth that they couldn’t have the brain-machine interface of the Providences, that it was washed out of them with chemicals.

If I were one of these illegitimate and disenfranchised children, I’d want representation, too. I wouldn’t want to be crippled just so that my rulers could parade around with special powers.

The public will get mad at me, not for anything I did, but because I represent the system they’ll hate. They’ll want to make an example out of me. They’ll want me dead.

I need to disappear.

“Is she okay?” Sully asks.

“Shush.” Eponine pauses. “Liv? I don’t want to kill you anymore.”

“Thank you, Eponine.” I pause. “I think it would be best for Miralay if I stepped down.”

Eponine is just as genuinely shocked as he was when he first saw me tied up and helpless inside of this room. And then there’s a genuine smile- he tries to hide it behind his sleeves, behind his hands, but his skin betrays the glee rolling off of him.

I think I even see Sully crack a small little smile.

“Eponine? Can I be un-paralyzed now?”

Eponine drops his smile and resumes his normal somewhat-serious look. “I’ll talk with everyone during breakfast-” he opens up the laptop quickly to check the time- “in a few hours when everyone’s supposed to wake up.”

Sully shrugs. “I’ll be impressed when I see you actually step down as Providence, earth girl. This could all just be a ruse.”

I’m serious!

Sully winces. “Okay, okay! No need to yell.”

Eponine nudges my shoulder, and then he helps me down and leaves with Sully and his laptop. There’s a warmth growing inside of my chest, quickly replaced with stone-cold fear. What if there are rats for the Miralayan government here? What if they’re my guards? Am I about to be killed?

New plan. Step down as Providence. Get my autonomy back. Find a way to get back to Earth where I can disappear.

Should I take Eponine with me? What if he doesn’t want to go and leave this revolution? Am I going to have to force him again to travel through the planetary divide just because I think it’s the best choice possible?

I don’t know. I’ll have to ask him next time he visits me, plead with him to come if necessary. I hate pleading. I hate being helpless.

Who am I going to be if not the Providence?

Of course I’ve clung to the first thing that gave me an identity. And now I can’t let it go. Just like Eponine said. Maybe… Maybe Father was right. But I still want to be the Providence. Maybe there’s a way I can put pressure on Amelia to reform herself-

I’m the one that needs reforming, she said. I’m immature. I’m not fit to be Providence. Not yet, anyways.

But then what am I going to be?

Living Wasteland, photographer of the plains. Living Wasteland, nature conservationist. Living Wasteland, the ghost that steals all your coffee and lives in everyone’s basements and stays up until three in the morning making nonsense computer programs.

Living Wasteland, former Providence of Miralay.

This is going to take a while to get used to. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I can find a way to be happy as well.

i don’t mind if you’re overrated

IMG_2370_cropped
or if you’re at the edge of the world

It’s been a really long time since I did a personal update. Maybe that’s for the best, considering the current political mess that’s raging around right now. My summer vacation days have so far been filled with making perler bead art (which I’ll feature eventually), visiting colleges that I’ll have to apply for this fall, and preparing for the biggest event this summer, and you already know what it is…

Girl Scout Camp.

This will be the third year since creating MayVaneDay that I’ve covered the lalapalooza that’s Girl Scout Camp. This year, I’m going to be the newsletter maker for the camp instead of being assigned to a unit, which means more photos- and more of a mess. I won’t have any little girls to focus on, but instead, the whole camp will be my oyster- as long as I get the newsletter done in time to send it to the printers and have an adult get the printed products back to me. Given the fact that my Windows installation on my computer has recently taken to randomly refusing to load LibreOffice and Firefox and I have no idea how to use GIMP on Ubuntu, this will be… interesting. (I use paint.net for 99% of my photo editing, but sometimes I’m too lazy to reboot my computer just to use one program and then boot back. The above photo was cropped in GIMP, so that’s why it’s so poor quality.)

But hey, if it means more time in the air conditioning and more girls to meet and have fun with and less time hauling lunch supplies up and down the rocky eroded pathway down to Timbermeade’s basement, then I’m all for it. Although I won’t be able to use the go-karts until I’m 21, at which point I’ll be considered an adult volunteer instead of an older girl. And I’ll get to go swimming whenever I want!

That is, if I don’t somehow manage to mess it up. Which I’m not planning to, but considering the current administration… I’ve already got high expectations.

There are at least five new pairs of shorts in a plastic shopping bag on my bedroom floor, and a laundry basket full of freshly washed clothes in the corner, and several more chapters of Living Wasteland queued up and ready to autopost over the next few days. I’ll see you on Saturday.

Eponine’s diary, 6/1/2147, second page

I’m in a meeting right now. One, maybe two people are giving me derisive looks for writing in this notebook instead of speaking, but honestly, I’m not the tactician type. Not even with a fancy Providence costume and a nonfunctional dot. I’d rather volunteer backstage than for the front lines.

Issue number one, and the one that’s been on everybody’s minds: what to do with Liv/Serlis/the countless derisive names invented for her in the four days since she was sworn in like “wannabe chosen one” and “Earthen scum” and others involving sexual intentions I won’t repeat here. Kinda weak attempts, if you ask me. The Earthen kids in high schools I know I’ll never attend would have spat out straight fire if they wanted to roast Liv. But I digress. Most of the rebels want to stick with the original plan of keeping her whereabouts a secret until it’s time for her to resign as Providence. Some of them proposed holding her hostage and trying to bribe Amelia out of her office, but this idea got shot down because what’s to stop one of her cronies from reappointing Amelia once they’ve got Liv back? Then both they and we would be right back where we started with the additional risk of Liv leaking knowledge of this base and somehow loopholing troops in using her pendant.

Final ruling: Majority wins. She’ll stay in the prison room apart from everybody else.

Issue number two: what exactly we’re going to say to the public, and when we’re going to present it. Someone suggested June 21 since it would be the summer solstice on Earth, but that’s too far away, and we need to strike now while people are confused about Liv’s sudden disappearance and major investigations haven’t gone too far. A few days is plenty of time, we eventually conceded. But what to say? Do we prepare a massive dialogue to stir up the people’s hearts, or do we just go ahead and hack into Miralay’s speaker system and drop all the information and let them do with it what they will?

Final ruling: Sully volunteers to write out a script and says she’ll be ready by then.

That’s the Sully I know. Always dependable.

Someone in the corner woke up from their nap. Gerwis slugged them in the shoulder. Nobody’s allowed to sleep during meetings. Everyone has to participate in some way unless they’ve already got a job lined up, like the two people standing guard at Liv’s room.

Issues three and four are the result of two people- Alexa and Anastasia- bickering at the far end of the room closest to the door over what protocol they’re going to use to hijack the speaker system. Most of their chatter goes over my head and I’d have liked to listen to them ramble on if we hadn’t been in the middle of a meeting. But then they mentioned the “physical proof” of the other Providences that our recipe requires, talking up a regal picture of Sully and Gerwis riding through the sector hallways with a single regard for who they came across in a chariot pulled by two white horses. It’s a stupid daydream- Miralay doesn’t have horses or chariots or even corridors wide enough for that kind of ruckus. Sully pipes up and says that she’s not going to show her face to the public in such a pompous manner anytime soon. But it’s a nice thought. Maybe a few pictures printed and stuck on the walls of some of the main sector corridors? But how are we going to print anything? Anything printed is imported from Earth, and there’s no press we can hijack. Normal Miralayans aren’t going to have any electronic devices. That’s going to be a problem-

Liv’s gone missing. The two guards have keeled over, both unconscious. The room is empty. How- she was paralyzed-

Tox?

Is that even possible here on Miralay?

I’ll be right back, diary. We’re going into lockdown mode.

***

False alarm. Liv is back inside of her room. Apparently one of the guards thought that it would be funny to try to play a prank on us by dragging her outside of the room- because, of course, she isn’t going to resist- and leaving her in one of the more abandoned rooms down the sector corridor. I found her crumpled over, face-down and struggling to breathe because her face was pressed up against the wall. She didn’t say anything as I carried her back to the prison room, just stared at me like I was committing some ultimate transgression, like I could petrify her with just a glance.

Like I could break her whenever I pleased.

Although, I mean, I did promise to kill her in front of a whole crowd of people. If the roles were reversed, I’d be pretty terrified too.

As for the issue that we left off on when the scare happened, we’ve decided that some of those of us with biological siblings or look-alikes are going to kidnap others and switch with them to avoid suspicion at first before they reveal their Providence dots. We’ve designated a few rooms towards the badlands of the abandoned sector for keeping the real kids and adults (separated by age and gender, of course) and potentially having them interred in stasis pods if we can get our hands on even one, let alone enough to keep them docile.

I shouldn’t have threatened Liv with a stasis pod. How was I supposed to follow through with that? I’m such an idiot. I might have some autonomy, sure, but only enough to decide how exactly I want to hand over my title to someone else. I might as well be a fledgling just defected here. It feels kind of refreshing to have to work my way up the ladder, actually.

Sully is calling me over for something. I have to go.

Eponine’s diary, 6/1/2147

I woke up this morning with a creak in my back and someone murmuring in their sleep about donuts. It’s always the same person too- whoever sleeps in the far corner right next to the door. Or where the door would be if we hadn’t taken almost all of them out already. Kinda hard to rush in and out in an emergency if wood is flapping everywhere, and it’s not like we’ll ever need to use them to hide from Amelia and her goons.

Breakfast was standard. Half a bagel and a few gallons of water divided between the three communal sleeping rooms and passed around for everybody to share. Those who had managed to trade or pilfer their way to plastic cups got to fill theirs first before everyone else had to resort to trying to get the makeshift water filter to work. It wasn’t much. It’s never enough. The higher-ups in the Miralayan government have more security to guard their rations, and as much as most of us hate being here, we aren’t willing to make normal people who did nothing to us starve.

Sully gave me a double portion this morning. I looked at her confused, wondering why I, nowhere near being the leader, would get more food than everybody else- and then I remembered. Liv wouldn’t be able to get into the food line and get her own ration. I’d left her there in the prison room all by herself with nothing to do but reevaluate her life decisions and maybe struggle into sleep.

In all fairness, if the roles were reversed for some godforsaken reason, she’d probably have done the same.

I thanked Sully and hurried down to the prison room, nodding to the two people stationed outside the opening before brushing past them and sliding up the dimmer just enough to see her. Her eyes were staring up at the ceiling, not blank but certainly not anywhere near here. A clean pot sat right beside her mattress. At the very least, it didn’t smell.

“Liv?”

She groaned, just barely audible. I set the half-bagel on the edge of the mattress before sliding the whole thing against the wall and propping her up so she sat upright. Her limbs dangled like a dead doll’s. And her eyes… I can’t properly describe them. Like all the fight had gone out of her. Like she’d given up.

That wasn’t the Liv I knew. Miralay must have broken her like it almost broke me.

Oh, to be back on Earth again, enjoying summer without a single care in the world…

“Eponine…” she moaned, her eyes seeing right through me. I know I was practically invisible in Heavestone, but somehow that horrid gaze made me even more transparent, nonexistent. “How…”

“How’s Miralay?” Of course that would be the first thing on her mind. Not her own well-being, not what my plans involving her were, not even a simple ‘good morning’. “We haven’t been briefed yet. Wait a few hours. Maybe someone will be gracious enough to tell you.”

Damn. When did I get so cold? This isn’t the me I know.

Mars has a relatively weak atmosphere. Nighttime temperatures regularly reach negative temperatures that would almost instantly kill a human. And I’m a Miralayan. The frost is in my blood.

I picked up the donut and held it to her lips, expecting her to make some feeble attempt to nibble away at it, but instead she shook her head and rejected it. I set it back down on the mattress, hoping that maybe she’d want it later, and took her right hand and began massaging her fingers, opening and closing and opening her fist again and again.

The same barely-there voice as before. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to get your blood flowing.” I moved on to her right leg then. Her toes twitched a little bit from my touch as I tried to get her limbs to stop being stone, to display some signs of life. Her skin hadn’t yet turned pallid, but then again, it had only been twelve hours.

Clearly I’m not a medical professional.

“Why?” She strained her face, probably trying to move her limbs. In the five stages of grief, she was probably still on denial.

“Because…” I sighed and pulled away from her. I wiped my forehead with the sleeve of my plainclothes- whoever did laundry runs for the forgotten sector had my outfit crumpled up somewhere in their bag. Hopefully they wouldn’t wash it with the whites. And I know this is going to sound self-righteous as hell, but I said- “Because the best way to judge a man is by how he treats his inferiors.”

“Wha-” Liv coughed, her body threatening to sag to one side. She scowled at me as I straightened her out, like she was envisioning throwing my stone-cold heart into a microwave to watch it heat up and then explode. “I- I’m not your inferior! I’m not-”

“I pity you,” I blurted out. “Straight out of the sleeping pod with a life lived in an economy of souls where people constantly compete for attention and fame, and you immediately cling to the first thing that gives you an identity and purpose and power. I don’t blame you. I probably would have done the same thing.”

“Eponine-”

“Liv, you need to understand that your being the Providence doesn’t give you any special privileges here. Nobody is going to follow your command. Hell, I don’t even get to make most of the decisions here.” I glanced at the door, making sure that the guards were still there. “I’m not in control of whether you live or die. These people wouldn’t give a damn about your life if you didn’t hold value as a bargaining chip. The moment you become useless is the moment you die. If you value your life, you’ll cooperate with us. Even if it means not doing ‘what’s best for Miralay’.”

Her eyes narrowed at my air quotes. “What are you trying to say?”

“Cooperate with us or risk death.”

“I’d rather die than help you hurt Miralay.”

“I’ll forget you said that. Anybody else might not be so kind.”

I learned something valuable today. Liv is either incredibly stupid, suicidal, or intensely loyal, and I don’t know which one scares me more.

I went back to massaging her limbs, not caring about what Liv thought of me or how she pretended to be indignant or deluded herself into thinking that there was some chance of escape, of turning all of us over to Amelia to condemn us to the hellfire of the furnaces in lieu of an actual trial. Liv’s not worth my troubles, I know…

Maybe I should have gotten someone else to take care of her, diary. Someone who would have cared less, who would have forced her to eat the bagel and helped her change her clothes. But I left the room after checking if the pink was still in her extremities and forced myself to go on a walk down the lesser-used hallways of the sector to calm down.

I should probably close off the entry here. It’s almost meeting time. I’ll keep you updated, diary.

Eponine’s diary, 5/31/2147

It’s been a damn long time since I last wrote a diary entry. Are you going to be as nice to me as my old diary was, you plain old notebook? You collection of Earthen fibers that my good friend Sully pilfered from a supply ship?

If Liv forced me to be the Providence, I’d pick Sully as my retainer. She’s a former internet friend of mine and dependable and could probably kick my ass in a fight and I can trust her not to kiss up to me unlike the rest of Miralay. Of course, since I walked out at the Providence ceremony, the whole point’s moot. I’m never going to be Providence. By the time the Fourth of July rolls around, I’ll either be free or dead.

Hopefully I’ll get to take Sully with me either way.

I should probably update you so that, as a dementia-riddled senior like all those government officials believe I’ll become, I won’t be drawing blanks. The tl;dr version of things is that Liv betrayed me to Miralay and I got frozen and carted off here in a warping spaceship and I made a big ruckus at the ceremony. I ran off and stumbled across the hidden tunnel that leads to this forgotten sector of Miralay, closed after a plague rushed through in the fourth Providences’ reign and wiped out a sizable part of the population and then was basically forgotten. They almost killed me at first before they saw the rumpled cape of my uniform and decided that maybe their job would be easier if they only had one Providence to dethrone instead of two. Besides, I had a pendant, after all…

Rebels, revolutionaries, and discontented people of all shades have taken refuge in this little section for a long time. Every reign, they try to find new ways of dethroning the Providences. Every reign, they’ve failed, the defenses strengthening and what was left of the dissidents hiding out in here to bide their time. But seven is a lucky number, right? Seventh time’s a charm. And now Liv is out of the way, and I was never a problem, and now Amelia’s the head honcho that needs to go down.

Speaking of bosses, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen the rebel leader. But I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

The takeover should be simple, really. A nice little recipe that I copied off the internet and adapted. Dump in two cups of revealing to the public that the simple act of not having your children grow in the gestation chambers will make them into Providences. Add in some sort of proof of Sully and Gerwis, a buff dude I would have mistaken for a tribal warrior had it not been for the Miralayan plainclothes he wore, and pretty much ninety percent of the refugees here in this sector. Plop in the notion that maybe the government is purposely giving the privilege of birthing the Providences to people that they like and can influence. Put on heat and let simmer for a week until distrust in the Amelia-led government starts manifesting. Stir in an announcement of Liv and I formally stepping down from our places as Providence. (I’ll have to convince her to do that eventually.) Make memory shedding completely optional and introduce the idea of bringing in labor from Earth and also using the memory shedding process to only transfer the required training for jobs. Remove Amelia by force and discard into trash. Add in revolutionary candidates for the new open offices. Sprinkle in voting booths overseen by other rebels so that the populace doesn’t inadvertently create more Providences.

It’s perfect. The people will still feel like they’re in control, we’ll gain their trust, and in the end, I’ll still be able to go back home to Earth. A constitution will have to be drafted eventually to keep some shitwit from starting up the Providences all over again. And encouraging people to maybe stop using the gestation chambers… and maybe coming up with term lengths and all that fun stuff…

Damn, politics is hard. Above all, I just want to go back home to Heavestone and live like a normal human being. If a spaceship just showed up and promised to let me leave, I’d probably go. But this is the best plan I currently have, and I bet this is a better plan than Liv has, considering she’s even made one at all.

My parents must have been revolutionaries of some sort. They had pendants. They gave me a pendant. This sector is the only place you can get a special pendant that allows access to the loops of time- that’s what I’m going to call them now.

Sully is snoring beside me. Our mattresses are placed right next to each other, our bodies separated by my blanket and her sleeping bag. It was going to be mine, but she had been here longer and it was far too hot for my puberty-raged body, so I gave it to her.

I’m not in love with Sully. I’m not in love with Liv. I’ll never be in love with Liv. There’s no time for love here. We’ve got a planet to save. There will be all the time in the world for me to romance someone when I get back to Earth.

Are you still there, Boney?

Wait for me, Boney.

Liv’s thoughtstream, 5/31/2147, second log

I whip my head to my left, my heart jacking up from the calm rhythm it had lulled itself into- and there’s nothing there. Maybe it’s a ghost voice from the memories. Maybe I’m going insane.

Nonsense. I must have just had an auditory hallucination.

I continue walking down. The stone of the floors, of the hallways, sends echoes down with every footstep I take. There are cutouts for rooms, but all of them are empty, doors hanging wide open and abandoned. The corridor continues to get darker and darker the farther down I go, but it never gets to the point of not being able to see. And I wonder- what would I be doing right now if I weren’t the Providence but just a normal run-of-the-mill Miralayan whisked off to earth?

Probably just be yet another kid, at least by Heavestone’s standards, growing up in my own house with my own room and with friends that couldn’t just disappear forever on a whim. Too many friends I’ve lost that way. Too many people that could have been a huge help to me at three in the morning when all the morbid thoughts come out. Maybe I would have spent my days doing crafts and walking around my neighborhood and going out with friends and maybe even falling in love.

And what if I suddenly learned that I wasn’t the Providence? That this was all just a big misunderstanding? Would I find Eponine and escape to Earth and go back to Heavestone and forget about Miralay?

No. I can’t do that. I’m the Providence and I’m the only person who could possibly fill this role and-

And I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no actual plan apart from sucking up to Amelia and doing what the people command. Golden intentions don’t make up for lack of direction.

Maybe I do need Amelia to guide me after all.

“Hey!” a voice echoes. There’s shuffling somewhere far down the tunnel. The pendant hanging from my neck grows hot-

And then there are guns all around me.

“Hands up!” a voice says, close to my ear, too close for comfort. I back away from where I think the source is. My heart flutters. A body materializes, claiming ownership of the voice. And then there are two shadows- and then three- four-

“We know you’re the Providence. We’re taking you prisoner. Hands up or we’ll shoot to maim.”

I can’t run. My feet are cemented to the floor. I accidentally drop my plastic bag, and someone whisks it into their hands and stashes it in their backpack. I’m a stone statue as whoever these people are handcuff me and then wrench my arms behind my back and start dragging me further down these tunnels into pure darkness. My shoes make a screeching sound on the floor. I don’t say a single word. Miralay needs me to stay alive. A captured Providence is better than a dead Providence.

Although a free Providence is the best one of all.

There’s a blinding light. I squeeze my eyes shut, and then the floor changes to carpet. The hands let go of me. I open my eyes, braving the bright light. I’m in the middle of a completely empty room the size of my old bedroom back down on Earth.

Earth.

How is Father faring without me? Is he even faring at all?

My vision is blurry for a few moments, and then I can see the shadows clearly as they take off their dark overclothes. A muscular man with an old half-healed scar running across his face and a girl with long green hair- obviously dyed- tied up in two long ponytails that reach down to her waist. They’re both wearing bandannas that cover their foreheads.

More guards come in, blocking the door so that I can’t escape. The girl comes over and pats me down, checking for weapons that I don’t have, and then she stands up and backs up as the guards part to let someone in.

Eponine.

Eponine!

He looks regal. He stands with purpose, his Providence uniform still wrinkled but gleaming this time with the knowledge that he’s wearing it willingly now. His face is cold, eyes more distant than Mirt’s. He looks like a war-hardened king, slightly miffed like this is just a petty annoyance-

And then he recognizes me. His whole face softens; he becomes the Eponine I knew back on Earth again. His mouth forms a perfect O, his hands reaching up to cover it. His eyes are wide. The guards tense, waiting for something to happen, but all he does is crouch down to where I sit with my arms handcuffed behind me.

“Living Wasteland…” He brushes a strand of hair out of my face. “How- Why-”

“You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”

Eponine shakes his head. “No.” He turns around, motions for the guards to leave. I can’t escape in this state, he explains. Everyone vacates the room, even the girl with the green hair- but one guard stays outside the door, waiting just in case I go ballistic and break through the handcuffs and start assaulting Eponine.

Which I won’t do because I’m not strong enough to break anything. Not Amelia’s will, not these handcuffs.

I’ve already broken this boy once.

Eponine comes closer to me. I tense, thinking he’s going to start kissing me, start forcing himself on me- I am his prisoner, after all. But he doesn’t. He whispers, “Was it worth it, Liv?”

“What?”

“Coming here to Mars, to Miralay? Ruining my life so you could ‘improve’ things? Well? Were they improved?”

“It’s been three days, Eponine.”

“I know.” He stretches his arms out and yawns. There are dark circles underneath his eyes.

Is it hard work being a traitor?”

Eponine cocks his head. “Hmm?”

I said…” Bile rises up in my throat. I swallow it back down, not daring to wince while he’s watching. “You look tired. Do you sleep well at night knowing that you’ve shirked your duty as Providence? You had the opportunity to make it into the history books, to shape your life into something, and you threw it away just so you could go back to hiding in your timeless hellhole.”

Eponine bites his lip, but his eyes don’t show any hint of wavering. “You could force me to be God, and I’d still want to leave it all behind and go back to Heavestone if I hadn’t chosen to receive all that power. A choice is all I ever wanted, Liv. A simple goddamn choice, and you still didn’t think me worthy of even that.”

My knees ping in pain from being forced into such an uncomfortable position. “Eponine-”

His eyes harden. “If you had asked me if I wanted to go to Miralay, I might have said yes. Might have let my childhood of science fiction books and curiosity get the better of me and let you drag me hundreds of thousands of miles away from home to play pretend for the rest of my life. But you didn’t, and now I have to hurt people to get the freedom that you could have just given me.”

EPONINE-”

Why? Why is he doing this? Words shouldn’t hurt so much.

We see everything the security cameras see. You could have kept your head down and walked back to your cushy life with everything you ever wanted. But you chose to walk down this path. You chose to deny me my own autonomy, and now you’re going to suffer the consequences.”

Eponine said he was going to kill me. But he doesn’t have any weapons- he could be hiding something. Probably is. Probably going to pull out a knife or a gun and end it right here-

The carpet is red. Blood red. Darker in some spots than others. I’m trapped here alone with a crazed boy. There’s no Mirt or Amelia to save me from my own actions.

I’ll be kinder than you. I’ll give you a choice, Liv. Either we can hack into your brain-machine interface and temporarily paralyze you and keep you here in this room as a prisoner and a bargaining chip, or we can pull out a sleeping pod with stasis mode and freeze you up so you can’t escape. Which one do you prefer?” He notices my hesitation, my complete loss for words, so he adds, “Don’t worry. I have a few friends I can get to take care of you and your body. It’ll be like being a living doll for a few weeks or months or however long it’ll take until we get control of Miralay and get elections working.”

Weeks? Months? I’ll go insane before then. And how am I supposed to make sure that none of the rebels or whatever they call themselves decides to have their way with me? Surely the idea of me not being able to fight back must get some of them hot and heavy.

But then again, I didn’t defrost right when I was frozen for three days, so to be in that state for weeks or months without a single thought and then to just be thrown right back into reality…

But then again, it would only feel like a few seconds…

What if I die in there?

Paralysis,” I just manage to squeak out. “As long as you can promise that nobody will take advantage of my helplessness.”

I hate this. I hate being helpless. This is barely a choice at all. But being frozen is even less useful than being dead. You can’t martyr a popsicle.

“It’s a deal.” He stands up. I think he’s grown a few inches. I can’t tell for sure. He snaps his fingers, and the green-haired girl comes back into the room. “Sully. Paralyze her limbs. I still want her to be able to swallow and speak and… urinate and all that other fun stuff.”

“I’m on it.” Sully nods her head, and Eponine leaves the room, leaving me alone with this girl with a perpetual disdainful look like I’m a fly or some other kind of bug she’s ready to step on and exterminate. She crouches next to me and pulls out her phone, tapping away– and then my limbs go dead. My head’s been soldered to a lead body, unresponsive and

I can feel the floor. Feeling is coming back, but I’m sagging towards the ground-

Faceplant.

“Don’t make any mommy remarks or I’ll make you mute too.”

I bristle- at least, the best I can. Sully undoes my handcuffs and lays me out on the floor on my back. Someone else brings in a kid-size mattress and rolls me onto it, straightening out my limbs, not bothering to see if I’m comfortable or not. I’m not. Sully’s hair tickles my elbows. I can’t brush it away.