(Before the Fall)
She dragged her fingers through her knotted bed hair, blinking blearily at her reflection. The honey-brown locks and darker eyes. Puffy from sleep, her lips and cheeks made her look sixteen again, barely crowning the world. Impossibly naiive. Happy. Sucking in a slow breath, she closed her eyes and rolled her lips together, trying to get the taste of sand out of her mouth. The miniature bathroom made her feel compact, enclosed. Claustophobic. Outside, the TV was on to a news station rolling footage of military campaigns. Prisoners of war lined up on stages of places that had once homed concerts and plays. Good things.
Heidi turned the tap on, her hands trembling as she splashed water over her face and tried to pull herself from the apathetic stupor that had closed its fist over her head since the last hiking expedition. It flashed, vivid, the image of a group of men and women making camp. The gleam of sunlight on guns.
They hadn't gone into that part of the national park again.
But Heidi couldn't seem to get her head out of it. She was still there, watching them make plans and pace, and toss weapons back and forth like they were nothing. She'd only ever seen that kind of thing in movies as they rolled across a screen, herself a safe distance away. Far enough away to romanticize it.
She wanted to be sick now.
It was strong and constant, like her entire body was a coiled spring, rusted and fragile. Alec was feeling the effects of reality, too. His dark hair, always kept so meticulously short, was growing out to the point where it was in an incessant state of dishevelment, and the brown eyes she knew so well were even darker, encircled by the bruise-colored papery skin. He wasn't sleeping, and she didn't think he was eating. At least, not when she wasn't there to make him.
They still had classes to attend, but she didn't think anyone was actually doing the work. Only the people determined to ignore the truth, and carry on with their lives. She saw them scattered throughout the campus, noses in text books, pens flying.
Her time, while not occupied by the mandatory classes (as declared by the education board a week prior), was filled with preparation. She'd lost count of the times she'd made runs out of town to buy more bandages, medicine, and long-lasting food. Alec wanted to make sure that they wouldn't draw attention to themselves by visiting the same places every time for the same things. She'd scoffed at him at first, but now she found herself keeping a log of every store she went to and what she bought there, so she wouldn't make the mistake of going back for the same things.
The strain was beginning to wear down at her. She just wanted a good night's sleep, unpunctuated by nightmares. To wake up in the morning and feel only the stress of an overdue assignment. Of how long it had been since she last called her parents.
Abandoning the attempt to make her skin look less sallow, she turned the tap off and meandered back to her bed, curling around her blankets, eyes trained on the TV. It was barely four-thirty in the morning, but she didn't think she'd be able to get back to sleep anyway. Her roommate had moved in with one of her friends, so she had the room to herself.
The news reporter, a man with blonde hair who barely looked twenty, tapped his microphone clipped to his lapel, and waved at the cameraman, who shifted the camera as though he had it balanced on his shoulder, and hadn't done it before. The image zigzagged violently before focusing, the reporter on the right hand side of the screen, the horrific scene in the back.
"At 12:21AM, March 16th, the militia extended their efforts to solidify their authority for what they hope to be the final time. The violence seen behind me is nothing but a fraction of the preventative actions taken to ensure their plans for total control are successful."
The figures looked like sleepy students, not unlike herself. Small units of militia crawled around them, fiery ants taunting the smaller ones milling about. Except they weren't milling.
Heidi's fingers twitched over the blankets, and she felt her world slow down until every second was unbearably long, each breath measured in a lifetime. She felt light-headed.
"Despite promises of mercy, these people have shown their true colors. This isn't the first time, and it won't be the last-" The reporter looked away from the lens, distracted, and the color drained from his face. The sound crackled, and a louder voice said, "Hans, hurry up. They've seen us." The camera swung wildly to the left, as though the camera man were getting ready to turn it off and run, but the reporter's voice sliced through the confusion.
"No. We need to do this. Turn the fucking camera around, Mike."
It took a moment, but his face flashed back into focus. This time, the students lined up in the distance were not the focus. She felt like she should be holding her breath, but she couldn't move. Couldn't speak. Entranced by the actions, she merely watched.
"At 12:21 this morning, a unit of the militia was dispatched to the Westley Bay Campus, and given the orders to round up all university students and shoot any who tried to flee."
The camera shook. In the background, they were getting closer, guns held steady at their side. Hans looked over his shoulder for a split half of a second, but turned back nevertheless, a grim expression on his face.
"Mike, you can go. Take the van and go. I'm gonna... I'm gonna finish."
It made her want to scream. This couldn't possibly real. This was a movie. Not real. It didn't happen. This didn't happen.
"Nah, man. We've got news to report."
They were picking up their pace. The tiny figures in the background were dropping to their knees, ground down into the dirt one-by-one. Hans and his friend faced off, pretending they weren't about to join the students.
"Behind me, we witness the slaughter of innocents. We witness the beginning of a genocide that will haunt the world forever." As if planned, the shots finished off his sentence. Silence hung, gaunt and grinning. A gruesome apparation. "We are not safe. They do not come with good intentions. I don't think the army is coming to save us. I don't think the government is negotiating peace terms. These parasites are wiping out the future, and we don't stand a chance."