Matt King

author of The Circle War series

PRISM

This small yellow room is my prison. It is also my home. There is no opening to see the world outside, no way for me to interact with the people of Dromini. This is the way it works, biological segregation. The Normals spend their lives on the outside, probably wondering what kind of monsters lurk behind the solid walls of the Collective’s relocation housing. For a girl like me on the inside, someone who is not normal, I see them as they see me. I see them as monsters. Only monsters could treat others this way.

I hate them.

The education screen adds some color to the room as it plays my lessons on loop. They are the same lessons I’ve been learning since I first understood my place here, among the outcast. These stories, these moving images of an alien world, are meant to prepare me for my new home, off Dromini, where I won't be a drain on their precious resources. “Earth” was one of the first words I ever taught myself how to say. It was one of my proudest moments. I shared it with a wall.

Today’s lesson is my last on Dromini, but they will likely continue. If I’m lucky, the Collective will give me new lessons during my journey. They owe me that, at least. By all accounts, I may be going to a dead world. The signal source of my lessons ended, I was told. This was meant to scare me, delivered by one of the cruelest of the cruel here. It doesn’t scare me. When I get there, I think the people will welcome me. I think they will treat me as their family, because they do not know what it means to segregate life based on the ideals of a few.

I love them.

If I get to my new home and something has destroyed it, I will rebuild it. I’ve seen these lessons so many times, I may know their way of life better than they do. I will rebuild and I will lead a charge to Dromini, bringing the light and the love of the people who accepted me to tear down those that oppressed me. That is my dream.

Abruptly, my lesson stops. I say a silent goodbye to it. I look around my room and pay my respects to the seamless cylinder of yellow. I will not miss it, even though I am trading it for a different confinement. Different is exciting. I don’t know different yet.

The purposeful footsteps I feel through the skin of my bare feet are of the cruel woman, the one who makes a face when she says my name. I always thought Kyla was a happy name. She can’t let the word cross her dry lips without flaring her nostrils, like she’s telling a story about the day someone embarrassed her in front of all her friends, only I don’t think she has friends. I think she imagines friends and then blames us in the ward for not being able to see them. No real person would like her. No real person could be as cruel. I sometimes think I brought her to life from my nightmares.

She stands in front of me, rigid and tall in her blue uniform. I don’t like to look her in the eye, but I have to because she’s handing me something. It’s the clothes I’m supposed to wear for my trip. The material is stretchy, for me to grow into. It’s also yellow, like my room. It feels like it couldn’t possibly protect me from anything in space.

“Come.”

The word is a single, blunt note. I know the shape of her mouth as she says it. She motions for me to follow, and when she leaves through the open sliding door, the room’s lights go out with her. I’ve never seen it in the dark before. The walls are white without the lights on them. I ponder this as I stare at the floor, watching my feet swing across the cold metal. White, not yellow. I shake off the unsettling news. It doesn’t matter anymore.

The lone window in the facility is ahead of us. It’s the single glimpse we get to the Normals’ world, but you have to be tall enough to see over the wall beneath it. I’ve always been tall for my age, which annoyed the cruel one. I could see before the others the pristine walkways Normals used when they traveled to and from wherever they pleased, with whoever they chose. Choices are their great privilege. I bet they don’t know it. My heart beats faster as we approach the view. The cruel woman knows I want to look, so she quickens her pace. She even turns to look at me, hoping to distract me from the sights. I don’t let her. She blurts out another sharp note or two while I stare outside. The Normals move with purpose and direction. The buildings clustered around them reflect flat clouds, as though they didn’t want the Normals to have their view of the sky interrupted by structures meant to maintain their way of life. Looking out the window always seems like a treat for us. It’s a treat for me, but for different reasons. The little glimpse of Normal life is not my reward. It’s the view of the sky I treasure. That’s the doorway to my escape, but also my eventual triumphant return. I wonder if the cruel woman knows this. I wonder what rough song she’ll sing when I come back to tear down her world.

I smile at her.

Soon we are in a part of the relocation facility I haven’t seen before. There’s another like me that’s on his way to relocation. I’m hurried past his room, but I see him there, strapped to a metal table, and for a moment we lock eyes. He looks worried. Maybe they told him his destination is dead, too. I feel bad for him. I think his name is Pol. I wish he could come to Earth with me. The doctors there would fix his missing arm.

“Here.”

She directs me inside a room of my own, where a metal table is waiting for me too. There’s a man in here. He has a weapon attached to his waist in case I try to escape. Escape is my goal, but not the kind he’s here to stop. I change out of my clothes, stepping into the suit given to me for the trip, and get on the table without waiting for the cruel one to order me. The man straps down my arms and legs. It hurts. I think he’s doing it harder because I’m a female and he doesn’t like my kind. I hate him. I try to say that with my eyes when he glances at me. After he steps away, the woman walks next to my table carrying a crescent device in her hand that’s as threatening as she is. My skin prickles in anticipation of the pain it might cause. I wonder if she can see how fast my heart is beating against my new uniform, because her eyes light up.

There are small silver needles on the inside of the metal strip she places around my neck. She shows them to me before she puts it on, as if to say it’s her parting gift. A last bit of cruelty before I go. She presses it hard against my skin, making sure the needles are buried deep. She says something about its workings, but she turns away before I understand, which is fine by me. As soon as I have the use of my arms again, I’m ripping it off.

The table begins to lower through an opening in the floor and I close my eyes. I don’t want to see her face again. Not until my return, and then I will seek her out first. I keep my eyelids closed until I can sense that the lights are gone. It’s already cooler. I miss the comfort of my old uniform, but I tell myself it’s okay, because I should appreciate new things. The table passes into what I’m guessing is the staging area. I can only turn my head a little bit, but there are similar shafts to mine beside me. I count ten others being lowered into their ships. The neck ring hurts when I strain to see, so I go back to looking up. After a jolting stop, a pair of doors close around me. The dull metal is only a few inches away from my face. It makes me uncomfortable, but I can’t move. There’s nowhere to go, even if I could.

A steady breeze starts. It’s blowing from above my naked head. This is the air I’ll breathe during my trip. A screen lights in front of my eyes. My lessons. Finally, a steadying force. An education screen paints my new confines in its familiar blue light. It’s not my new lessons, though. It’s the face of the cruel woman. She’s in the departure rooms still. Her face shows full satisfaction at the thought of me seeing her one more time when I thought I’d escaped. As she starts to speak, her words crawl in harsh type across the bottom of her image.

Your journey will be seven years, say the blocky words on screen. Your destination is Earth.

I know all of this. I will be a fully-grown woman when I arrive at my new home.

Her eyes lower. She’s reading off the scripted departure document now. You are doing a service to the people of Dromini. Your life has not been in vain. Because of your sacrifice— She pauses on that word as if to say my death is assured —The Dromini will live on. Our resources are finite. We must have a new home.

Finished with her duties, she looks back at the screen again. Do you understand what is happening to you, Kyla?

I nod.

You must say the word. Otherwise, it violates Collective law.

She knows I don’t like to speak. I can see the upturn of her mouth, primed to snicker. “Yes,” I say. It’s a fleeting, uneven note. I feel the word rattle in my chest, but I can’t tell if I spoke it too loudly. I long for my lessons and for the face of this woman to disappear.

We have made arrangements for your lessons to continue. We gathered as many as we could before their signals failed. The words are still shown on the screen. You needn’t worry.

She says this because I cannot hear the words of my lessons. I cannot hear. This is my great crime against the Dromini.

May fortune deliver us new life. Goodbye, Kyla.

I don’t satisfy her with a reply. I will see her again. I will see them all again.

The screen fades, then returns with a new batch of lessons. Engines rumble to life beneath my feet. I close my eyes. Dromini was my first temporary home, I tell myself. This ship is my second, but it will take me to my forever home. It will take me to Earth, and when I’m there, I will receive the gifts I’ve always wanted.

I will become one of the many. I will be a part of the world.

I will belong.

All site content © Matt King 2017. Background image by NASA.