In the middle of a raging war in Europe is orphaned Siani, adopted by a family who was once her enemy. Years pass, and she quickly finds her place in her new countryside community, but the time inevitably comes for her to leave home and start a life of her own. When she ventures outside her little village, however, she finds that the rest of the nation isn't as accepting of her as her adoptive family was. If she can't be seen as an equal, as one of them, maybe it's time to start acting like the enemy she was born to be...
After flashing my badge at the attendant by the front entrance—he’s hardly looking anyways—I head to the elevator and press the button marked B3. The hospital is much quieter at two in the morning, the only sound coming from the elevator and some sort of generator in the background. I couldn’t sleep at all last night, so I headed over to the hospital early in the hope that no one will be here. Normally, I’d take the unmonitored back entrance, which is closer to the lab, but I didn’t want to raise any questions if anyone ever checked the key log and saw that I entered the building after being taken off the program.
The door opens and I step out into the dark hallway. The lights haven’t been turned on yet, leaving a lone emergency tube light as the only source of illumination for the whole floor. I take careful steps down the hallway, pressing through the darkness, until I’m in front of the door to the University’s research center, but when I try to open the door, the handle won’t budge. It’s locked.
I feel the blood rush to my cheeks. If I can’t open this now, I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance again. I’m sure they’ll deactivate my badge today, and after that, getting in will be near impossible. If I use my badge to get in now, though, it presents the same issues as before with the key log, but what other choice do I have?
“Excuse me, can I help you?”
I spin around. A janitor is standing at the end of the hallway, staring at me with a cleaning drone by his side.
“Uh,” I stammer, my mind moving quickly to improvise, “I left some of my things at my station yesterday, and I was just hoping to grab them before having to get to class. I think I left my keycard in there, too.”
I furtively slip the keycard I’m holding up my sleeve, tucking it away and hoping the janitor didn’t notice. My excuse seems to have worked, because he walks towards me and pulls out his own badge, the drone slipping along silently behind him.
“Here,” he says, moving past me. He places his badge on the reader, then opens the door to allow me in.
I thank the janitor and head inside, moving quickly to René’s desk. I take one last look behind me to make sure he’s gone, then take out the tablet and place it, along with my badge, next to René’s computer. The green “Run” button pops up as soon as I turn the tablet on, and I pause, staring at it for a moment.
How did I even get here? I’ve never been one to break laws, or even rules for that matter. It’s not too late. I can still turn away and head right back to my dorm, go to my bed and wake up tomorrow morning, pretending like none of this ever happened.
I shake my head. But it did happen, it all did. Running away now won’t fix anything. I don’t know what Owain and her people will use this information for, but if it helps the world move closer to healing, away from the Coalition’s destructive love affair, then it can’t be the wrong thing to do. I have to do this. I’m the only person that can.
I press the button, then watch as the Database section of the application begins filling with additional documents and charts. My heart beats faster, and I can feel my forehead begin to sweat. The darkness of the lab only adds to my anxiety, despite knowing that I’m alone. Finally, the tablet chirps and indicates that the macro has finished running. I grab it and shove it back into my backpack, then quickly turn to leave the room, feeling like my insides have been filled with balloons.
I’ve only taken a few steps towards the exit, though, when I hear the door click and someone enters the room. I collapse to the cold linoleum floor and shove myself under the nearest lab station in a panic. Who the hell could possibly be here right now? The janitor again? I look back at René’s station and notice something new that nearly makes me pass out.
There’s another backpack leaning against the table’s leg.
How did I not see that before? I must have missed it because of the dark. I try to calm myself, tell myself that maybe René left it here for the next day and that the person who just entered probably isn’t her, but the steady click of shoes drawing nearer chips away at my confidence.
Sure enough, René comes into sight moments later, and she stands in front of her computer, tapping the screen to turn it on. The light from the monitor floods the area around her, and I shrink deeper against the panel in the middle of the space under the counter. She swipes across a few windows, pausing to take a bite from a sandwich that she’s clearly just bought from a vending machine, then she grabs a chair and pulls it over.
I grumble silently to myself. She could be here forever, and I don’t want to risk her seeing me if she turns around. Maybe I can sneak out now if I’m super quiet, though that would mean getting closer to her to get out from under the lab table, then somehow make my way to the door without being seen. Oh yeah, and opening the door too. Don’t know how I’m going to do that yet.
René stops chewing all of a sudden and looks down at the counter next to her computer, right where I had my tablet a few moments earlier. I panic for a hot second and reach my hand behind me to touch my bag quietly, searching around for it. Then, I touch the thin device resting along the bottom and breathe again. It’s definitely there. What could she…?
I nearly gasp out loud and have to put my hand to my mouth to cover the sound of my inhale.
I left my badge on the counter. As I hold my breath, frozen stiff from fear, René lifts the card up and holds it to the light of the monitor. When she reads the name and sees the picture, though, she just scoffs and tosses it to the side.
It takes me a few minutes before I can even think about breathing again. I can’t believe she didn’t do anything. I thought for sure I was smoked, but I guess she just assumed I left it for her to turn back in or something like that. There’s really no reason for me to have it anymore, I suppose.
“Ah, merde!” René curses softly, looking down at a splotch of mustard that she’s spilled on her shirt. She puts the sandwich down, then gets up from the desk, holding the bottom of her shirt out in front of her. Spilling curses the whole way, she moves to a sink on the other side of the room, and I can hear her turn the water on.
This is the best chance I’ll get.
Without another thought, I get up from my spot under the lab table and hurry across the room, making sure to stay as low as is reasonable. Then, as silently as I can, I creek the door open and rush outside. The door clicks loudly as it shuts, but I don’t care. Let it startle the piss out of her.
Smoke is a funny thing. You can't just have smoke. Something has to burn for it to exist. Sometimes you don’t really want the fire, you just wish you could just have the smoke. But sooner or later you come to realize that fire is the only way you’re going to get it. Some things just have to burn. The Coalition knew it when they burned my house down, when they burned my family. And I’m starting to realize the truth of it myself.
Professor Corvin submitted my name for a transfer to another program, giving some stupid excuse about tension between me and another program member, but I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing she got the better of me. I wish she could know what I did to her precious program. I wish she could know that I’ll still be working on it, just under different management. Turns out, I’ve been offered a spot at a different university…
“Yeah,” I say, giving one last somber look over at the dorm building where my brother lives. He won’t know where I’ve gone until I can message him again when I touch down. But I think he’ll be okay, eventually. That’s just how he is. I get into the car next to Owain, and she signals for the driver to head for the airport.
Eloise and Ren will always be my family. They took me in when no one else would, or rather when no one else could. But, the fact of the matter is that I wouldn’t have needed either one of them if the Coalition hadn’t taken away the family I already had. They’ve turned this whole continent to ash, and if someone doesn’t stand up to them, they’ll do the same to the rest of the world. They’ll make more orphans, like me, orphans who never really fit in no matter what world they’re in.
So, maybe it’s time for things to change. Maybe it’s time for me to light some fires of my own.