There was something nostalgic about the light red powder that lay smeared on the marbled floor along with its container cracked in two. It reminded me of the sandstorms in the colony with every sand particle pelting on the transparent dome.
“Don’t worry, I got it,” the woman beside me knelt on the floor and picked up the glass pieces. As if she didn’t mind my attitude towards her. As if I was going to care that she didn’t feel angry with me.
“Why don’t you hate me?” I blurted out. I was tired of this prison of kindness where the two strangers who had bought me and made me their daughter resided. Over the years, ever since I was forced to live with them, I had tried countless of times to be unfair to them, to defy them, to embarrass them. However they were resilient to everything.
“What do you mean, my dear?” She asked incredulously, as if it wasn’t the first time I tried to push her kind and nurturing hands away from my face. “It was just an accident, I’m sure you didn’t mean to knock the face powder from my hand”.
“That’s exactly what I did! And I will do it again and again if you ever get close to me again. Send me away, back to Mars where I belong. Hate me please!”
I saw the pain in her face and I immediately regretted my words. I mumbled an apology because I couldn’t bear to see the hurt in her eyes. Why, why did I end up with people who cared about me? Everybody who I encountered on Earth either insulted me to my face or behind my back. I couldn’t tell which one was more honest and viler. However, the couple that adopted me was very kind. Never had they laid a finger on me, or yelled at me, or punished me. It was everything that an adopted child would want but I was dissatisfied. It didn’t feel right in any way and I wanted to go home to my real mother and father and Apex.
“How can we hate you if you’re the perfect daughter we always wanted,” she said simply. “We would never want to send you away. We love you.”
Maybe it was this kindness that prevented me from escaping all those years. I felt I owed it to them to stay and play the part.
Sunset rolled in my tongue like a candy I hadn’t taste in so long. My fingers felt so well entwined with Apex’s. I wrapped his taste around me like an invisible blanket and I thought to myself that I could never get enough of it. The kiss replayed in my head again and again: the surprise in his lips, the warmth of his mouth, and the energy with which he returned my kiss.
I blushed at the thought. Even though there was a planetary war coming to our doorsteps, everything felt in place. We were together and safe, for the time being. And most importantly, I could open my mind. Thanks to Apex I had the courage to open my mind and let it take in all the colors and tastes of the entire colony. It made me happy to toy with tastes in my mouth, however foul they might be.
“No, Shard,” I replied and turned to look at him and he didn’t look good. He had scars all over his body but at least he looked well fed.
“How is he?”
“The nurse says he’ll be better soon.”
“He better be because people around here are getting impatient, they really mean business. They want to know if we’re going to help them or not. If not, we’re no use to them anymore and they will see us to the streets immediately.” He inhaled deep, “what are they going to do with me? I mean, they must despise me, I was one of SI’s original experiments.”
“Whatever it is, we stick together this time,” I said. “We’re not playing who’s going to be the hero and splitting apart like we did last time. I will talk to Randall and tell him that Apex is recovering and as soon as he does we’ll meet to discuss about Randall’s offer.” I chanced a glance at Shard and he seemed relieved. I never thought he would want to hang around with us. I thought that he’d leave us as soon as his wounds healed.
I stood, reluctant to leave Apex’s side.
“I’ll look after him,” offered Shard.
“You’re not allowed to kill him, if you do I will rip you apart.”
Shard put up his arms in innocence and grinned. “It is not fun to kill a warrior who is unconscious."
Randall’s taste was like revenge, it was like a mixture of lemon with cinnamon. We didn’t know enough about Randall to really make a connection between him and SI. He seemed like a random guy the Rebellion chose to lead, however in times like these nothing could ever be random. I phased through walls into empty hall after empty hall. Their headquarters was massive given that this organization was supposed to be secret. As far as I knew, their first public appearance was when they rescued us. The Martian government and police must be looking for them like crazy. My mind reminisced to the night of the billboard.
I phased to a hall unlike the rest. This one had an eerie feeling to it, like something did not feel right.
“I forgot one of you could phase through the walls.”
I whipped around at the sound of Randall’s steely voice.
“Where did you come from? Why didn’t I feel your presence?”
Randall knocked on the steel wall. “Remember the minions and their ability to inhibit your power? These walls have the same chemical substance. Our spies brought some back from SI’s lab. This is our fortress, if SI wants to unleash those demon kids upon us we can protect ourselves.”
“Yet you are recruiting those demon kids.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Lorrie Lockhart,” said Randall, ignoring my remark. “You really pissed off some people at SI and your parents have offered a huge sum to get you returned to them.”
“My parents are dead.” My voice was filled with dread. I was surprised at my own shaky voice. Could it be that the people I left in Earth were looking for me? Would they come to Mars? Would they come to take me away, to safety perhaps? Could I take my friends with me?
Idiot, idiot, idiot, I scolded myself. You belong to Mars, you will always do.
“Stop, don’t struggle,” the stench of the butcher’s breathe was on my neck. He had me gagged and my small body pinned down to the ground as he tied me up. “I promise these people are your real parents. They came to get you.”
The next thing I knew was that I was in an airship on my way to Earth along with a dozen other kids who looked as confused and scared as I was. And we were all bounded in chains. An image was projected before us; it was a well-groomed man in his late sixties.
“Greetings my children. You are on your way to your loving parents who lost you years ago. They have been searching for you day and night, begging for your return. They would give up anything to have you back. And we finally got you away from those vile savages who claimed to be your parents. Those filthy Martians who couldn’t provide for you, who made your life in the slums miserable.” Images of green open spaces, of beautiful houses and pavilions were showed. “This is the life that was entitled to you. This was the life that those Martians stripped away from you. Welcome home, welcome back to Earth.” Several images of smiling couples were flashed and they all said, “Welcome back, we’ve been waiting for your return, my dear child”.
“Welcome back, we’ve been waiting for your return, my dear child,” a pleasant couple greeted me. Before landing we were unchained and groomed. I felt too tired and scared to answer back. They guided me to their black car. I had never been in a car, which was exclusive only for the wealthy back in Mars. There were buildings everywhere, dotted with windows. Everything felt gray and saturated: the shape of everything, the color, even the sky. There were signs everywhere too, with messages; it was like a corrupted landscape. Many of the messages were rules, laws, and punishments. Many of them had the word “ideal” in them. There was one particular billboard that shook me from my numbness. It was the image of a child, just like me, with a burning Mars at the background and it read, “your child is in Mars, claim him or her”.
I started crying and the couple comforted me like my parents would, only it didn’t feel right.
“What do they do to the people back in Earth?” Randall asked casually. “Has the government gone to such length as to brainwash their citizens and make them believe that they shouldn’t have children because their child was robbed from them and taken to Mars? Maybe Earth is trying to find a way to legitimately force themselves into Mars to look for these children? After all, these people are paying enormous sums of money and they are influential."
“We need more time to think about the allegiance.” I tried desperately to change the topic. The conversation seemed to be going in a direction that was uncomfortable.
“They weren’t expecting the SI insurgency though. It was to Earth’s advantage at any rate. Who cares about the grieving parents looking for their children when they can enter Mars armed and kill the insurgents.”
“I don’t understand where you’re going with this."
“We don’t want Mars to be taken by Earth and we also don’t want Mars to be run by corporate powers like SI,” said Randall. “SI’s been training people like you, disposable and plentiful, to fight against Earth because they want to colonize Earth without spending their best soldiers. We just want to live in peace and free.”
I waited for Randall to continue.
“I can give Earth soldiers just like the ones SI have.”
“You want to trade us,” I blurted. “Trust me when I tell you that you stand to win nothing. You offer us to Earth; they experiment with us, recreate us, and then they have no use for you. You will perish the moment they take over Mars.”
“Nothing ever comes free. Do you think we nursed you and your friends back to health because we cared about you or that you might help us win this planetary war?” Randall laugh echoed through the hall, it seemed to stretch to infinity. “If Earth can eliminate SI or vice versa, then let them. By the end, one will be obliterated while the other tired and it will be so easy to kill the tired one.”
“You are crazy, you don’t understand the scale of their forces.”
“Perhaps you don’t understand the scale of my forces.” Randall was curt and mysterious and frightening. “You have until the end of the day to decide to join me or be killed.” He walked away and disappeared.
I ran as fast as my legs could carry me, blurs of gray flashed through my vision and it reminded me of the car ride. We had until the end of the day to join Randall’s mad plan or be killed. That was two hours away. I saw a door and pushed through it. Explosions of tastes filled my mouth; it felt like I could breathe again. I searched for Apex’s taste and ran to it. I burst into the room where Shard, Visp, and Newt looked up, startled.
“Is Apex awake yet? We have a big problem.”
My eyes looked straight to the upper right corner of the room.
We were being monitored.