A hologram surrounds the room in blue light, an image of an ocean displays across the walls giving the illusion of depth. My fingers dig into the sand feeling each individual grain pass between my tips. “So this is all not real?”
“Indeed.” Cody says with a hint of enthusiasm. “You are touching fragments of light with a collection of tiny machines that simulate sand. They are nothing more than creating the imagined state.” It surely felt exactly like the beaches I remembered as a child. Faces are missing but the experience or at least the hollowed artifice is still there. “So in a way it is real, just not in the way we would consider it.”
“Amazing. There is so much to discover here.” The days went by, I have found myself at home in the colony. I spend most of my time exploring the network of tunnels and the expansive gardens, learning all about the world that encloses me. Yet still the question of what happened above hung in mind. They braced upon the answer but never explain. From what I understand “something bad” has happened. Outside of those vague terms no one answers the question, though I realized people discussed it among themselves. As much as the subject attempted to lace itself into the conversation I always felt it best to tame that idea.
Azamoth’s usual wolfish smile bares from his spread lips. “Yet still it is not enough to keep this dreaded boredom from consuming everything.”
“Azamoth, how can you be so negative? We just had the most interesting thing happen in years.” Vanity jokes with her casual and comforting style. She has proven to be a loyal friend, one that I am very much fond of. As much as I did not know about the origins of these people, a deep trust seated itself in me for Vanity. Cody too often tagged along and I suspect he is observing me for purposes unknown. Though I still find him kind. As for Azamoth; he always dressed in a suit, acts more non-callant than the others. In some ways I find him to be the only genuine person around; while by some unspoken law is bound from speaking his mind. At least that is the impression I have come to. Most people in the colony were friendly and playful. It did not take me long to realize I am the only child. Luckily, the others made it easy enough to forget.
Azamoth nods. “Sure, right? As long as I say nothing.”
“That’s right Azamoth. We all have to abide by the rules of the board. It is for our own safety.” Cody firmly states.
“Shit, with logic like that maybe we should all be kept in coffins like the blokes below.” Azamoth grunts.
Cody raises an eyebrow. “What was that?”
“You two stop it. We are here to relax, not have some petty squabble over something that can’t be changed. We should just be happy our mercy has revealed itself.” Vanity chimes. I do my best to pretend that I had not noticed that all eyes are shifting onto me. In these moments I felt as though I was a sheep among wolves. The uncomfortable suggestions from their expressions always brought a deep-seated dread. One which I could not ease from constantly rearing it’s dreaded face.
I had decided that picking at small subtle questions would allow me to gather enough bits that eventually the image of that horrible creature would become clear. “Azamoth, how old are you?” The question was subtle enough. He bursts into laughter, a reaction I had not expected. Cody sits upright diverting his gaze to the side. A mask that had become familiar to me crosses Vanity’s face, a smile, artificial as can be but none the less painted on as her impenetrable garment. “Well, I don’t think it is that funny of a question?”
“Well then, my dear? How old are you?” Azamoth asks.
My face falls as I silently mouth the question back. “How old am I?” And yet my mind gave no reply. How could I have forgotten something so personal, something so simple as my age? Stasis had scrambled most of my memories. Only fragments remain and even those were narrations in someone else’s words. The slowly spreading realization troubles me, especially when tangible details are simply gone from thin air, ones so key to my person. “I don‘t know? How old am I?” I begrudgingly reply.
Azamoth glares at Cody. “Well, why not tell her how old she is?”
“I don’t know.” Cody bluntly groans. “It, it is not important.”
“Well, how old does she look?”
Cody furrows his brow giving Azamoth a swift glare. I figure whatever Azamoth was poking at, Cody did not want me to hear. “What does it matter?”
“Come on, look at her. What is she, a teenager? Pre-teen? Huh? How old?” Cody’s face straightens out. His composure returning. “Judging by her body, I will guess maybe, twelve but you could be as old as fifteen.”
“But how old am I really?” Silence between the group returns. “You guys know but you won’t tell me. I get it, you don’t want me to know how long I have been in stasis.” I pout hoping that fawning sadness would bring out some sort of pity. “I don’t know why you don’t want me to know.”
“We don’t know how long you have been in stasis.” Vanity assures. “To be honest, no one in the colony knows exactly how long you were in stasis.”
There it is, the big secret let out. “So what else won’t you tell me?”
Cody shakes his head. “A lot. It is for your own good not to question it. Just know that we are protecting you Primina. A kid need not know the weight of the world’s problems. You should just be happy you are out of stasis and safe. Just accept things for what they are. Your curiosity is unwelcomed.” The words came sharp; my eyes turn glassy as I glare into Cody’s firm gaze. His lips soften into a pout. “It is not my choice. Just as they do not allow you to know, I may not tell you. Trust me, it is hard.”
I got their attention. I decide it is best to push it further. “Who is the board?” Vanity closes her eyes letting out a long sigh. “Helibore talks about them sometimes. Mumbles about them. They are the ones making all the rules right. I want to talk to them.” Her eyes lock onto Cody. His face chips into a small smile even as much as he tries to suppress it.
“Yeah, I bet you do. But you can’t.” Cody grunts.
Azamoth places his hand on my back. “Kiddo, we all want to talk to them. See you and me and Vanity and Cody. We are never going to even see the board. All we know is they are here somewhere. They make the rules and we follow them. If we don’t we have to leave. Simply put no one speaks to the board aside from the board itself. Helibore is a member, if you want to talk to the board; talk to Helibore.”
Cody jumps up from the ground shoving a finger in Azamoth’s face. “What the hell are you thinking Azamoth?” His gaze snaps back to me. “You never repeat that, to anyone! None of you. This conversation does not leave this room!”
“Cody, they listen from every grain of sand. You know there are no secrets.” Azamoth chuckles. “Every dot of these walls, everywhere you go, they are watching us. We are nothing more than trapped animals waiting in their cages.”
“Stop it!” Vanity shouts. “Primina, we are going to leave.”
“What so you can hide from the truth?” Azamoth says sprawling back onto the artificial sand. “They are not our gods Vanity. If they were, this would be over.” In an instant the sands sweep into the air and the hologram of the ocean disappears with a flash and a flicker.
“Announcement, All Class B Citizens are to report to the briefing room immediately.” a male voice calls over the intercom. “I repeat All Class B Citizens are to report to the briefing room immediately.”
“Shit.” Azamoth says turning pale as a ghost. “You don’t think that is…”
Cody shakes his head. “They would not call everyone for your stupid outburst. Come, lets go. Vanity take Primina to her quarters. I will fill you in.”
“Right.” Vanity says.
After I was sure Vanity had left me to my own devices, I snuck through the small opening in my room. The familiar tunnel is remarkably clean as if maintained and scrubbed regularly. Something I am sure had to do with nano machines which from my understanding coated just about everything inside the colony. The dull roar of the ventilation system rattles me right to the bone as I paw through the dark confines of the dark shaft. In the not too far distant I can hear muffled voices growing clearer as I approach the glint from a grate.
“Now, now, the implications are not as dire as it would immediately seem.” I hear the familiar old and weathered voice of Helibore state. “The process is going as planned. We have already dispatched most class D citizens. We have known for some time the cells will eventually fail. Unfortunately, I was not expecting it to happen so soon.”
“Why won’t the hanger doors open?” a woman calls out. I lay tight against the floor placing my ear close to the vents opening.
“Well, we don’t know.” There is a pause and my heart skips. I can hear the sound of Helibor’s boots clacking against the floor as he paces the floor stopping just below the air vent. I look down to watch his snowy white head bob in my direction. Did someone spot me? “None of the surface doors are responding to internal commands.” Helibor continues much to my relief. “I don’t mean to alarm anyone but I am sure Azregile has discovered our location. Not that we have ever held any ideals of concealment. I am quite certain because of our experiments it has taken notice. Most likely this is a means of keeping our new talents hidden from the rest of the world. I foresee no further interruptions.”
“How much time do we have left before the cells are completely drained?” a man shouts.
“Well, that depends. Do we conserve energy and alarm the people inside the colony, or do we attempt to repair the cells? I have a plan that is risky. Although required to ensure the success of the colony’s ambitions.” Helibore says raising a slight amount of chatter from the people. “While the surface hangers won’t operate we still maintain full control over the subterranean gates.”
“What are you mad?!” a man roars as the people go into a frenzy.
“Enough!” Helibore shouts. “We don’t have many options. I said it was risky. I understand full well what it means to open those doors! What else would you have me do? We need parts to repair the systems. Without those we will be at a full blackout within the year. We will be trapped here. If we do nothing, then this colony is a tomb in the making. However, if we have to increase pace, it has new complications. So, what I want is a group of volunteers to go through the Amala to the surface and return with a new cell. I will present those willing with the serum before leaving, in case of complications I will guarantee you the reward. I understand there is a risk of no return but think of your duty to the colony.”
There is a shuffling of feet. “I will go.” a man says.
“I will go too, as long as I get the serum.” A few more people agree stepping forward.
“That settles it. The council will open the hanger doors. in a few hours The rest of you, go about your daily lives and do not mention this to anyone. Treat it as though nothing at all out of the unusual has occurred.”
The dull chatter of mechanical servos creak inside the sterile doctor’s office, metal arms adjusting and every so often sparking as it assembles a glass tube. Helibore’s steps move behind me just out of sight. I dangle my feet just off the foot rest watching the chair adjusts itself as if to perfect its comfort. A needle is inserted into my forearm, slowly pumping a stable line of red. The beep of a heart monitor canvases the background to a steady beat.
“I already have had blood taken twice this month.” I complain laying my head onto the rest. Helibor’s steps stop. “The rules are twice a month, it is for my own good. Right, well, why again so soon?”
A titter escapes Helibore before he recomposes himself. “My, you do know the rules rather well don’t you.” Stepping into view he bears a warm smile on his face. With that look he made me uncomfortable. He is never one to smile, especially when questioned. The thing is like an article of the wrong style and color, it just appeared utterly out of place on him. My fingers grip the armrests tightly. “Well, you always are such a smart girl. There has been a complication in your treatment. Our, window of opportunity has closed some. What I mean to say is we have less time. I want to make sure you are healthy, but we need to take a little extra blood from you. Just to make sure everything works out.”
I stay quiet as I contemplate my response. The rules, iron clad laws that constantly twist into new ornaments to suit the needs of the colony. It appeared as though the rules only applied to me and rather the rules themselves were nothing more than a means of control. I don’t appreciate the constant shifting. “I never agreed to this.”
Patting my leg Helibore lets out a hearty laugh standing to his full height. “I don‘t believe you did in the first place. In fact, if I remember correctly you used to fight tooth and nail against it. I remember you hiding in those vents.” he chides turning away. “Always hiding and trying to miss your appointment, but I always knew you had to eat so I would wait until you got hungry. Primina, I cherish you. You are a treasure among treasures, a real fountain of miracles.”
I small back into Helibore’s chair suddenly reminded of that fact. “I noticed a guy I used to see by the river has not been there in a while. Also that lady who runs the commissary, she’s also missing. Where is everyone going?”
Placing his hand on the thick glass bottle Helibore inspect the crimson fluid. “More.” He clears his throat, his graying blue eyes locking onto mine. “Well, I don’t know where they went. I tell you what? How about after you rest we go look for them?”
The grass against my legs felt nice. The familiar springy sensation was just enough not to irritate the skin. The smell of roasted onions and steak smothered in a creamy red pepper cheese sauce wafts from the plate resting on my lap. Raw dark leafy greens to the side with a small pile of cherries for dessert. I dip my fork into the steak releasing a hidden spring of juice. Then I feel an unusual sensation on my back. “Vanity? How come you never have dinner with me?” Tender hands forcing themselves onto me. The contact was not, entirely unwelcome. If I must be honest, I longed for her touch. Being at arm’s distance every day becomes rather tiring. All the same, though I knew it was wrong.
“Silly, you already know that.” Vanity chuckles. “I don’t eat until later after my shift.”
“Yeah, but, I am eating now. So why don‘t you just eat with me sometime. Or maybe I could eat later.” I lift a fork full of greens looking back to Vanity. Her nurses uniform is proper as always. A suit similar to mine only mostly white accept for the hem lines of blue.
She wore a soft smile today. “You have a special eating schedule to insure you have the energy you need. After all you are having a lot of blood draws, and it seems like Helibore wants to increase that schedule. It is important you get the right nutrition or else you may get sick.”
“If it can make me sick, then why are you doing it?” A tingling yet comforting sensation crawls through my hair. I can feel the tips of Vanity’s fingers walking their way across my scalp as they untangle the loose ends of my hair. This, was too much. Too dangerous. If she pulls out my hair, who knows what could happen. “You’re touching me.“ I burst out. “Vanity, that is not allowed.” Vanity just hums as she continues running her fingers through. “Vanity?” I call again.
“O’ Prina, stop. Don’t worry about things so much.” I try to accept the unusual behavior, my eyes gazing over the open park. The mossy ground, the stone floors and wooden path. The sky a glassy reflection of the ground almost as though looking out of water.
Alas, my fears got the better of me and I could not withstand it any longer. “But we could hurt each other.” I groan with discomfort.
“Prina, does it hurt?” Admittedly it did not, I shake my head in sublte response. “So, it can’t be bad can it?” I could not help but have visions of Vanity latching onto my locks from behind and ripping them all out with one full swoop. Removing the upper most layer of skin from my skull as well. Exposing my brain to the open air leaving me screaming in agony. Such vile thoughts…
I take another fork full of greens, chewing deliberately longer than usual giving myself some time to think. It is true; it does not hurt. I never understood what is so bad about touching, anyway. These new fears of morbid crippling sort of developed like cautionary tales. I swallow. “But, we could get into trouble.”
A curtain of black hairs falls onto my face tickling my nose. I push against the strands trying to brush the nighty screen away. “Stop it Vanity.” I chirp as the sensation draws me to laughter. Vanity’s fingers tittle and wriggle, jumping my ribs. The tickling sensation runs down my spine as I fall onto the ground releasing a loud giggle. “Stop Vanity! I am going to pee!” Vanity lies on her back letting out a little huff of her own.
“That was fun.”
A pair of legs fast approaching turns my head to see Helibore’s face crinkled into a demonic mask of rage. “Vanity!” he booms. “What in the world are you doing!” With wide eyes Vanity rises to her feet. I never seen anyone move that swiftly before. He points his sharp finger towards the entrance gates to the small garden enclosure. “Out!” Vanity lowers her head and does not say a word as she quickly leaves. His venomous gaze latches onto me as I still sat on my knees. “What did I tell you Primina! You could have damaged her! You are never to touch others ever.” Helibore wags his shaking finger. “In the old days!” he roars as I cower beneath his wrathful thunder. “I would have strangled you dead for this! Watched the life crawl from your bloody tears. Times do not allow for that.” Warm tears stream down my cheeks. For all the joy I had fled the room, replaced with a tense sense of foreboding. “From now on the both of you will be separated!”
No. That, I could not survive that. She is my only friend. I need Vanity! “Helibore it was my fault.” I cried. “I should not have touched her. I am so sorry!” The words flew with little thought. “Please, I won’t do it again.” my voice cracks.
He shakes his head with a cold expression. “Fine, but for right now you eat your food. I will decide what to do later. After you are to report back to your quarters until I tell you to leave. Do I make myself clear?” It petrified me, all I could do is nod as the rest of me fell under his curse. Turning from me Helibore marches out of the room leaving me alone in the garden with my plate of food.