Subject: Raeth Arteres
Date: March 8, 2185
Tick-tock…tick-tock…I clutch the sides of the steel bed in my cell and push up on my elbows. The clock, with its bronze rim, hangs high on the wall, taunting me. The long black arm of the second hand struggles up the side of the enormous disc, ticking away the last few moments of my life.
Tap…tap. Footsteps, two by two, march to the cell door. Sucking in a long breath, I embrace the rhythmic sounds of the airship, with the occasional interruption of an engine sputtering.
The Queen’s unmistakable gait interrupts my dream-like state. It matches the sounds of the ship, as if she is an extension of the heap of metal propelling us across the desert wasteland.
“Open the door.” Her voice echoes down the narrow hall.
The hand struggles to reach the twelve. If it doesn’t make it, maybe the door won’t open. It teeters and shakes, then slides straight up in unison with the door.
“Be quick, before the parasite uses her curse on us.” Her raspy, artificial voice sends a quiver to my core.
A guard races in with a handheld device and points it at my neck. I’ve been collared like a dog. I clutch the slick metal ring around my neck, pulling it from my skin, but current zaps through my shoulders and my arm juts out to my side, shaking. Searing pain runs along my veins.
After all these years of my brother hiding me, it was inevitable I’d get caught.
Darkness swirls deep inside, brewing a storm. I can’t remember what it will do if I release it. Is it a gift, as my brother told me, or a curse, as the Queen believes? All I know is that if I unleash it, the Queen will have what she wants, so I push it down deep, keeping it hidden from her.
A man in a grey coat approaches with a syringe in his shaking hand. His left eye has been replaced by a bronze implant that clicks as it grows wide. I concentrate on remaining calm. “I-I see you s-still need me.” It is a struggle to speak against the rising will of the gift trapped inside me.
“Need you? I only need your wretched, cursed body. We must ensure your kind never threatens the world again. When I’m finished, you will serve me, and only me.”
Acid boils up in my throat but I force it down. The beast caged inside me longs for release.
“Make her cease that ridiculous tapping,” the Queen orders.
The guard grabs my hand and pulls me down on the bed. I hadn’t noticed my fingers rapping against the metal. My body sometimes has a mind of its own. A way of keeping me focused when my brain no longer can.
Princess Semara edges into the room. “Mother, must we—”
“Silence!” The queen whirls on her. “Do you question me, Semara?”
“No, Mother. I only wish to discover the truth about the Neumarians. It will help us in our fight to—”
“The truth? The truth is they are parasites that suck the life out of people, and no one on Earth is safe as long as they live.”
The long needle penetrates my arm and icy liquid shoots up my veins. The room spins. Focus. I must concentrate if I am to keep my secret.
“Take her to the Alteration Room.” The Queen smirks, her flaming-red hair dancing above her head and her mechanical eye widening to a pool of pleasure.
“N-no. I w-won’t—”
The Queen’s skirt billows with her movements. A cold metal hand brushes my cheek, sending a tremor down my arms to my fingers. “Tell us what we want to know, and you will be returned to your people unharmed.”
Princess Semara dances from foot to foot. Yards of red and black material sway with each step. Her eyes plead with me to tell what I should know, but can’t remember.
Or maybe I do, but am not allowing myself to.
“I know n-nothing.”
The edge of the Queen’s knuckles catches my cheek. A trickle runs down my face, the odor of my blood matching the smell of the ship.
“Take her.” The Queen stalks to her daughter. “And no lasers. Do it the old-fashioned way. No anesthetic.”
Tears well up in Princess Semara’s eyes, but she blinks them back.
“Take my daughter with you as a witness,” the Queen says to the man with the needle. “You’ll serve your Queen Mother, won’t you, darling?”
“Yes, Mother,” Princess Semara whispers. Her pale arms wrap around her black corset as if to hug her fear inside.
My stomach flops and the dark swirl inside me means to escape. I rock back and forth, trying to subdue it. “N-no, p-please. You must not—”
The Queen’s metal leg beats against the floor with every other step. Soon, I will be the same.
“Please, don’t l-let her,” I plead.
The Princess remains still, the corners of her lips arched down, marking her smooth face.
“Bring the gurney,” the grey coat yells out the door.
The screech of the wheels makes the hair on my arms stand at attention. Will my robotic leg mimic the high-pitched noise each time I take a step? Does it matter? Even if I escape the ship, my people will see me as a Slag now. Never again will they look at me as one of them.
Arms snake beneath me. My body lifts and lands on a coarse, white-sheeted surface. The gurney under me bounces.
“Raeth, please, you must tell my mother what your people are plotting.”
“They plan n-nothing.”
The grey coat pushes me down the hall. “Lies, that is all they do, tell lies and torment our people. They should all be exterminated.” His face hangs over mine with a derisive smile. Glaring lights fly past overhead until we turn into a room.
Doors swish, sealing shut behind us. Massive silver devices hang from the ceiling and walls. This is the Alteration Room, with all the tools of torture pointing in every direction. Why do they alter themselves, shove techno-implants into their bodies? Terror ripples through every muscle and my hand taps in a soothing rhythm.
They lift me from the gurney and strap me down to a cold, solid surface. Silver bands snap around my wrists, ankles, and head. Salty tears flow down my face and over my lips. Princess Semara wipes them away.
“Why do you fuss over her? You are a princess. If your mother saw you—”
“I only clean off what could interfere with the lasers.”
“You heard your mother. There will be no lasers.” The grey coat spins on his heels and stalks behind a wall. “Besides, I’m taking her leg, not her eyes.” A deep chuckle echoes in the room. “Not this time, anyway.”
My heart races so fast I wonder if one of the machines is pulling it from my body. I try to lift my wrists to clutch my chest, but my hands remain bound by my sides.
“There isn’t much time.” Princess Semara holds up another syringe. “This will keep you from suffering while he—he—”
“Removes my l-leg?”
“Yes.” Semara wipes a tear from her own face. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to see you suffer. Why won’t your people let us live in peace? Why do you want to harm us?” Her voice shakes and her lower lip trembles. Does she not believe her own words?
The deep revving of an engine brings the blackness close to the surface. I clutch my fists and scrunch my eyes shut, trying to free my mind from the squealing sound I know to be a saw.
My body shakes and rattles the metal binds.
The pinch of a needle causes my eyes to shoot open.
Princess Semara stumbles back from the table.
My insides feel gushy and my head floats despite the restraint.
I taste something sour and click my tongue. The saw quiets for a moment and the grey coat stands over me.
He grins, revealing crooked teeth. “Last chance to tell us of the plans to overthrow the Queen.”
My eyelids grow heavy. He slams his fist down on a large orange button, and the blades rotate at a rapid speed.
He lowers the saw and I hear screams. My screams.