Authors: Greg Dragon
By GREG DRAGON
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2015
Thirsty Bird Productions
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recorded or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
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The boy scanned the room for something to play with. His hope was for a small rock, a leftover trinket from someone prior, or maybe even a dead bug. The six-by-nine room was completely dark save for the slatted windows that sat near the ceiling, but his eyes had gotten used to the darkness. Strange—that escape or feeling sorry for himself were not the thoughts that flowed through his mind as he sat there. He understood that he was out of options, and for now, he tried to make himself comfortable in his new home.
New home…it sank in with a bittersweet twinge due to the fact that he had not called any place home in about a year. When the Cel-tocs had made their rounds the night before, he made the mistake of falling within the radius of their scanners and got caught. They had discovered him hiding behind a large Dumpster; it was there that he and his friend Colin slept when Lendi’s father wasn’t on duty at the stadium and able to sneak them in. He shifted despite himself, noticing for the first time that it was cold. What was to become of him in this cell?
Young Rafian was still thinking about his friends when the main door opened and the light shone through, forcing him to cover his eyes. When the pain subsided, he could see his surroundings, and the truth of his situation frightened him.
The cell that housed him was one of many, and none of the others were empty. He could see children, all of the lower caste like him, and many of them were not moving.
A Cel-toc waltzed gracefully into the room, scanning the cells. When it would pass one with a dead inhabitant, it would touch a panel, and the cell box would descend into the ground. Rafian watched it go through its rounds, feeding the living and processing the dead. He thought about how he would escape, and when the thought seemed impossible, he thought of how bad it would be to die there.
His mind found its way to Lendi Juns, the midcaste girl he called friend. He had always liked her but assumed that she did not feel the same way about him. He was always in trouble, and she was always there to help him. It was funny that he thought of her now, her Afroed hair that was never quite done right and her large doe eyes that always appeared excited. He was about a year older than she was, though his tenth birthday had come and gone without celebration. Who would have celebrated it anyway, outside of Colin and Lendi? Colin had died of food poisoning, and Lendi—he didn’t know whether she was dead or in one of the other cells.
His thoughts were broken up by the approaching cyborg, and he made sure to fidget so that it would know that life still flowed within his body. The Cel-toc made its way over to feed him, and for the first time, Rafian realized how beautiful it was. It was a female, and she spoke, asking him his name and his background, and whether or not he had been immunized.
She looked every bit like a human, but her arms were metallic with a gold tint to their slender surface. Her face was sculpted from a plasteel substance, and her eyes had a real intelligence.
On close observation, the Cel-toc did not seem the soulless machine that they were rumored to be. She fed him a mushy white substance and then sped away, onto the next survivor. The pasty “food” tasted like a delicious blend of several dishes, but he could not decide whether it was hunger or fascination that made him think that it was tasty. The Cel-toc was almost through with her rounds, and he knew that once she was finished, he would be in the darkness again. The light coming from the open doorway was very faint, but to Rafian, it may as well had been high noon with the sun beaming down in all its glory.
It was just then that he saw her. A little waif of a girl was standing off to his right, staring intently at him through the dark. The cell that separated them was one of the ones that had descended, so now they could see each other for the first time. His heart skipped a bit because he really believed that he was the only one who was alive or fully aware of the situation. Yet here was this young girl alive and staring at him. He could see that she was tall, but that was all he could make out as the Cel-toc closed the door and exited.
“H-hey,” she replied, her small but nasally voice piercing the thick, musky air.
“What’s your name?”
Her name could have been anything and it would have seemed just as sweet. All that mattered was that she was real, and for a boy who thought he would never see another human being again, she was a ray of hope.
Anne Marie turned out to be a street scavenger like Rafian. She had been born and lived in the midcaste areas of Basce City, but when the riots occurred, she lost her parents and became homeless as a result. The pair chatted unguardedly for hours into the night. Not knowing how many days they had ahead of them, they held nothing back in their conversation.
Anne Marie had a way of making hunger disappear for Rafian. In the still of the darkness, the anxiety-filled situation seemed to melt with the sound of her voice. He wished that he could be closer to her. He really wanted to hold her hand.
Days turned into weeks, and before long, a month had passed for the prisoners of the Cel-toc maiden. Rafian, after realizing that he and Anne Marie were the last survivors of their unit, came to the conclusion that they were the only children immunized prior to capture. It was an eerie feeling in a cold, dark place that stank of death, and the Cel-toc’s food was obviously not enough to keep their bodies properly nourished.
One day, Rafian asked his captor if it was possible to get meat, sugar, or anything other than the muck that they were being made to eat. His request was met with silence.
The days began to go by slowly for the pair, and Rafian began to find it hard to focus. He began to ask Anne Marie a lot of the same questions over and over. It wasn’t much different for the girl, and they found that their conversation and connection was all that made their situation bearable.
When Rafian would wake up, the first question he would ask was, “Hey, Anne, are you awake?” And if she had beaten him to rise, then she would be the one asking the question, looking to start another day of games and trivia to pass the time. The questions would be subjects that they both knew and were interested in. These subjects ranged from street names to schools, locations of buildings, and at times, school stories that every child should have known. In between the questions, there was pain—caused by their bodies looking for vitamin resources that were not being provided. The Cel-toc was slowly starving them, and the children knew it. The only thing they had was each other, and it was a small respite.
“Anne Marie…will you be my girlfriend?” Rafian asked her one day as he curled up in the corner of the cell trying to wish away his abdominal pains. It was becoming more frequent, and he could feel his ribs even more than he could in the past. He had always been skinny, but the thought of bones poking out frightened him, and the pain made him feel as if his body was eating itself. Anne Marie was not much better off, and he began giving her part of his food in hopes that she would be OK. His thoughts were that he could be strong enough to fight the pain, so Anne Marie needed it more than he did.
“Yes,” she replied, her voice so low that any noise would have masked it. Her answer was a simple, tiny word that made him happy enough to fight harder, but she was beginning to talk less as the days wore on, and he felt as if he was going to lose her.
In the sixth week or so, when the Cel-toc had finished her ritual, Rafian made an attempt to squeeze through the bars. A few weeks back, he would not have been able to do it, but pain was no issue now as his stomach tightened, burnt, and irritated him.
He slipped through the bars and crawled over to her cell.
“Can you squeeze out too, Anne?”
The weak girl nodded as if she had known for quite some time. She made her way out towards Rafian, and the pair hugged each other tightly. The hug became an extended embrace, more for warmth than the union that they had so eagerly wanted in all those past days. They needed to find a way out, or the Cel-toc would not be pleased with their current position. So they broke away from each other and looked around for a chance at escape.
After a lot of searching, Rafian and Anne Marie found a hole connected to a sewage line, squeezed into it, and scurried through the vile fecal matter towards the outside of their cellblock. They could hear explosions in the sky, flying vessels, dogs barking, and people fighting. As they crawled, the most distinct sounds that came to their ears were the sounds of gunfire, screams, and most of all, death.
The sewer opened to the exterior of the cells, which was bordered by a chain link fence. It physically took everything for them to make it there, and they sat breathing heavily through their mouths.
It was late evening, and the sky appeared to be on fire. Some sort of war was going on around the prison, and the city seemed to be under siege.
Rafian knew that they had to get as far away from the Cel-toc as possible, but the fence seemed to go on forever. The only way through to the other side was to find a gate or cut through it. Exhausted and sleep deprived, Rafian did not get very far before he passed out, hitting his head on the asphalt and sending his mind into a vortex of blackness and dreams. When he awoke, it was due to a sudden sensation of burning. There was fire everywhere, and Anne Marie was gone.
“Anne!” he cried out, not caring anymore about discovery.
He didn’t want to hide anymore or play it safe from the Cel-tocs. The only thing he wanted to do was to find his girlfriend. The smoke was thick as the facilities burnt all around him. He fell on all fours to crawl forward, and the bits of glass and stone on the asphalt cut into his knees.
* * *
Throughout his life, Rafian often wondered whether or not he was meant to be in this world. He had always known pain, loneliness, and disappointment, but it was as if for him, there was nothing else.
His mother was a
, one of the gifted mutants of Vestalia—their home world. She would dream things that existed beyond the limits of their world. She could predict things, and when she was drunk or high on
, she could transmit thoughts into another person’s brain. This skill was not uncommon among Vestalian women. In fact, it was the main reason the Geralos had invaded the planet and captured its inhabitants.
The reptilian race of Geralos would eat the brains of Vestalian women, a disgusting practice that allowed them to steal their power for at most a few months. When the invasions happened, Rafian’s father gave his life in order to get his wife and child safely onboard a produce ship. Rafian’s mother, heartbroken by the loss of her husband, would neither eat nor drink, and after a time, she became critically ill.
When the ship had finally landed in Basce City, capital of Voan, on the planet Genese, Rafian was a seven-year-old orphan who was forced to make his own way in the streets. The Basce City streets were a cruel teacher for the child, and he suffered things that no child should suffer. Still it did not make him bitter, only stronger, and he learned to survive as a scavenger.
In his early days, he would sneak into the local primary school and talk to the children there. They thought he was cool because he had no parents and could come and go as he pleased. He would listen in on classes and mimic the assignments given to the children in attendance. He wanted to be a regular child, but with no parents, he was forced to steal his education along with everything else.
The friends he made would bring him food from the cafeteria, and when the schoolmaster would discover him lurking about, Rafian would stay away from the school for a few weeks in order to stay off of the radar of the local authorities. It was at school that he met Lendi. She was a caramel-colored girl with big brown eyes, a seemingly permanent grin, and very curly hair. She came from a good home with parents who loved her. To him, she was perfect even though she would always correct his speech. Lendi tried to get her parents to take Rafian in, but their kindness had limits that would not allow for it.
Lendi was his guardian angel. She was always there to give him her lunch when he was starving. She would sneak him blankets from her home and talk with him even though his smell turned all the other children away. He always wanted Lendi to be OK, and he was willing to do whatever it took to make sure of this. She was the only person in Basce City who truly cared—before Anne Marie. To everyone else, he was vermin. Yet now, even her perfect world had turned to hell—decimated by the attacking horde that was setting everything on fire.
* * *
Rafian was deep in his weeping when a powerful arm scooped him up and vaulted him aboard a vessel. He saw the details in blotches but couldn’t tell much of what was going on. The man who had grabbed him pushed him inside what seemed to be a hold for cargo, and as his savior tried to board, he was cut in half by a tracing laser beam. It was horror after horror for Rafian, and although he never cried, the thought of Anne Marie dead or worse forced the tears from his eyes. The fluid was painful and hot as it trickled down his cheek, and he convulsed violently with regret.
He thought about hopping off of the ship, finding Anne Marie, and letting her know that it would be OK, that he would protect her as best he could, but the thought only led to more tears. He began bawling loudly despite himself, and the vessel began to lift.