His skin was sizzling, I couldn’t hear it but I could feel it. Their awareness had become my awareness and I could feel their exact location, I could picture their movements with my mind, I could track their life force. The boy with the spiky white hair and green eyes tasted of petrichor, the smell of rain on earth, and he tasted of wind before a storm, of morning mist and dew, of freedom. I couldn’t taste the burning boy anymore, he was gone, and with that his essence. It didn’t matter; it was a foul taste anyway.
I had woken up this morning, after a fitful night, to hollers and cheers coming from the living room. The other members from Area 34 were all sitting around a flat screen, watching as the first battle of the season began. The boy that tasted of wind had won the battle, he was bloodied and tired and triumphant. I tried my best not to scream or run around bashing my head on the wall, anything to forget the slaughter I had witnessed, and worst of all, more was to come.
Finally, the arena was cleaned up for the next battle to take place. A hand touched my shoulder and I recoiled, casting a wary glance to the owner.
“What’s the matter Lorrie, it seems like you saw a ghost. You look petrified.” Sapphire sounded cheerful as always.
Sapphire tasted of dying fire and ash.
“How can you enjoy any of this? Those kids are our age!”
Sapphire gave me a blank stare, like she did not understand my question or my rage. “This was my favourite event as a child when I watched it from the audience.”
My eyes widened. I went to the kitchen to get some oatmeal. I sat with my back to the screen as they announced the next battle. My mind drifted to that place where I always went whenever things felt just wrong.
Behind me, the crowd started booing, making it hard to hear the name of the unlucky combatant from the second battle. I shut out the noise, concentrating instead in shifting through my memories, trying to find the taste of my parents. I remember most of the people from the slums even though I was away for five years. I wondered what happened to all those poor defenceless kids always harassed and physically abused by the richer Martian kids and their parents.
A taste flooded into my mind, it was of sunset, of the wavering light before it disappeared behind the horizon, of the first twilight star. The sensation was warm and comforting and strangely securing. Involuntarily, the image of a boy started forming in my mind, the boy had blond hair and warm honey-coloured eyes, he was twelve and I was eleven. I remembered I’d always follow him around and he wouldn’t ask me to go away. I watched him get into fights with the other kids, praying that he will win and feeling his pain when he went down. I wondered what happened to him too.
I tasted the sunset very close to me and snapped out of my trance.
“No, it must be a coincidence.” I said out loud. I was tempted to turn around to refute my suspicions, but the crowd was going wild with excitement, which usually meant that blood was being spilled.
“You should stop doing that, zoning in and out.” A teenager with black hair and gray eyes regarded me from across the kitchen island.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I can’t control my psychic navigation just yet.”
“What the hell is that anyway?” He seemed distracted, “oh holy crap, he just threw the silver hair guy against the force field. That must’ve hurt!”
I made a mental note of the force field.
“I’m Xander, by the way. Seems like the battle is over, damn, so much blood, that must have given area 50 a lot of ranking.”
Sapphire pranced over. “Not even half as much as anyone of us can get. Those kids don’t know what they’re up against. Let me explain, the audience loves a good show and that usually translate to blood and the most violent schematics. The more you please the audience and the judges with your performance, the higher our entire area is ranked. We are ranked the highest and only three out of eight have competed. All victorious and top marks, mind you. Tomorrow is your turn to battle; I checked the schedule for you. You’re battling a brute, trust me, I’ve seen him in battle before.”
“You’re such a show-off.” Xander rolled his eyes. “She can’t stop going on about how she garnered the most marks for our area.”
I was genuinely scared to ask, but I was also morbidly curious. “So, how did you do that?”
“Oh easy,” Sapphire shrugged. “I ripped off the bitch’s face from her skull.”
The inevitable happened. I threw up my breakfast on her.
Xander taught me how to use the Responsive Unit which was the computer that generated the battling schedules. Tomorrow I was to going to possibly kill Tyron S. who had Shifting, Long Jump, and Keen Eyesight powers. Sapphire’s definition of Tyron, that of a brute was appropriate. His face was uneven and scared at several places. Xander told me that he usually cut his opponents in two.
I gulped and went to the training room, not that would help since I was pretty useless in battle. But some training was better than none. At least I would die knowing that I gave my opponent a hell of a fight.
Yeah right keep dreaming.
The room was empty and white-washed, just like the one from the clinic. There was only a single monitor embedded on the wall. I touched the screen to begin, it was all voice generated.
“How about you teach me how to fight?”
The computer did not respond, instead it started giving me other options. I settled with learning more about Intangibility and practiced phasing on several objects of various forms, shapes, and composition. Afterwards, I practiced fight stances the computer generated for me to imitate after Xander’s help.
Before I turned in for bed, Xander stopped me on the hallway.
“Hey, give them a hell of a show tomorrow.”
I smiled feebly.
I could hear the audience clamour for battle, their impatience to watch slaughter. I slept badly the night before, waking up from dreams where I died differently: beheaded, snapped into two, roasted from the force field.
Tyson entered the arena, to which the crowd booed and he roared at them to shut up. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears, the world came into focus once again and I could feel every person in the arena. I had to lose focus or it would take too much energy from me. They announced my name and the doors opened. With shaky legs I walked out into the arena and the audience burst with applause and cheers. Apparently Area 34 was quite popular and prone to put a good show, no matter who it was.
Tyson just stared at me with lust for blood and carnage.
“Ready for the battle to begin in 3…”
I was definitely not ready, but I had to try. I rehearsed this plan over and over again in my head last night.
I bent my knees.
Tyson charged at me, but I was already sprinting away from him toward the edge of the arena.
“Where are you going?!” he hollered behind me.
I felt the crowd’s gasp in unison, in disbelief. Maybe I was going to make it.
I threw my whole body against the force field, imagining my body de-materialize and becoming atoms to pass through the atoms of the force field. I was going to phase out of this arena. But that never came; instead, everything cleared. Light burst in my mind, engraving information of the arena and the dome in my head. I could see every level, room, and underground network of the dome and a section of Mars perfectly. I could picture it like looking down at a maze. There was also a myriad of new tastes, all fighting to be acknowledged and its effect was dizzying. The mental map of the dome disappeared when I lost contact with the force field. I was thrown back into the arena at the waiting feet of Tyson.
I was still under the effects of the field, my body too slow to respond, until he shifted his entire right arm into a blade. He thrust his arm where my chest was but for the fact that I rolled away and was on my feet. He was circling around me.
“Come on, attack me!” he yelled, lunging.
But I couldn’t, I didn’t have any power to destroy him. I could not throw fire balls or lightning and fighting him physically was out of question, not with that blade to his advantage. If only I had a weapon. I saw my opportunity when he was swinging his blade to attack me again; I jumped as high as possible to turn and gather centrifugal force, and then kicked him on the face and ran to the other side of the arena. That seemed to work because he staggered to find his balance. He was furious, he jumped, taking him seconds to reach me, turn me roughly around, and ensnaring my neck with his iron-clad hand. He literally lifted me and pinned my body against the door where I came through earlier.
A gasp escaped from my lips as his entire forearm, in the shape of a blade, pierced the side of my abdomen. My blood was dripping too fast down his arm and he twisted the blade in my insides. With the strength I had left, I gripped his wrist, preventing him from slicing me open in any direction. He tried harder.
This was it; I was going to die. Memories flowed into my mind, the strongest one from the doctor whom I saw die the day I was taken.
Focus on someone and you’ll kill.
It was worth a try. With effort, I looked at Tyson’s eyes, silencing the world in my head, focusing on him. It seemed to have its effect because his eyes seemed to be lost. Suddenly, his full essence hit me like a brick; our heads were thrown back at the same time. I could taste his whole presence, track his whereabouts for the past years, feel the essences he had killed, then I felt myself losing entirely to his essence, to the point that I could see through his eyes. And what I saw terrified me; it was me, pale and bloody.
“Get…out…of…my…head…” he said through gritted teeth.
“I don’t know how to,” I said fearfully through his voice. It was like two souls fighting for control of one body. I saw a sliver of light and I reached for it, my finger passed through the slit and I pulled it open, like ripping cloth apart. The moment I was out of his mind, he was dead. I could see it in his eyes, they were glassy and unfocused. His body and mine sagged to the ground where I painfully extricated my body from his blade. I pressed my hand on the wound, willing my regeneration to work at a faster rate than I was losing blood.
The crowd was silent for a moment, unsure of what had happened. He was declared dead after a minute of silence and the crowd half cheered, still confused. I was taken out of the arena, now losing less blood. What had happened? I was in Tyson’s head; I concentrated on him, overwhelmed him with another presence in his head, until his brain exploded. It was a mental strain on me too.
I stumbled on the hallway back to my area where I found a furious Sapphire.
“What the hell was that?!” she screamed and I could feel my ears ringing.
“Please lower your voice, you’re killing me.” I said.
“That is exactly what I want to do. What were you thinking, trying to escape is the worst thing one can do, and it’s a disgrace, dishonour. We didn't get full marks for Tyson's death! Unlike you, people from Area 34 have been training their entire lives to receive the serums and participate in these battles. We’re here to win.”
“I don’t care, I just want to leave!” My voice rose to match hers. I pushed past her and exited the arena building completely. Sapphire was still shrieking after me, with Xander holding her back.
I found myself in a courtyard with a fountain in the centre and surrounded by trees. I hated this day, hated the fact that I had killed someone and I had my blood all over me. I hadn’t even bothered to change. Everybody I passed was eyeing me weirdly. Let them, if they think I’m a savage, then the better for me. I climbed a tree with the energy I had left and nestled between the branches. I scanned with my mind the buildings around me, focusing on the taste of wind and mist. I located it on the building to my left. I could easily track the person with that essence and meet him or her but decided against it; maybe he or she will be dead by tonight. Instead, I decided to find solace on that taste for as long as I could.