The Story Of Who
Thirty minutes later, we reached the last checkpoint. My feet ached just as much as my back and shoulders now. I smiled at the two officers guarding the exit at the edge of the Society's dome-shield.
I knew them both.
Mother had also cooked for them. They had eaten at our table. They were meant to be friends. If we wanted to survive, I had to see them as enemies. They were our enemies.
"Dr Wend," they hollered after spotting us, dropping the Sol rifles they held so the weapons floated idly by their sides.
"Matthew, Matthias," Father greeted the twins like he always did. We could almost pretend that today was like any other day. If we turned back now, it still would.
But we couldn't do that. This was the end of the line for us and behind us was certain death.
"Where are you heading to, Doctor?" Matthias was always the curious one. He liked collecting idols and trinkets from the nearby temples but hardly got any time off to feed him habit. It was a good thing too—Mother liked to say when she forgot I was in the room—or the hobby would have run his family to the ground.
He wore one now and I watched it sway from his neck, using it as an anchor to prepare myself for what I had to do. I had given it to him in exchange for Jethro's rattle. I had given him a lot of things because I was always the one passing the gifts and messages to the people we needed—the ones who traded in information everyone wanted to know.
I was inconspicuous. They wouldn't tense like they did now, if I was the one, instead of Father, reaching into the bag behind my back.
Their hands crept slowly to the guns they had foolishly put aside. If something really was going to happen, they would have been too slow to stop it.
They had let down their guard the moment they realized who we were. They had underestimated me.
I readied myself.
"The missus wanted me to drop these off." Father handed over the lunch boxes we had made yesterday.
I watched excitement flash through their eyes. They loved Mother's cooking—everyone in our Society did—but free food wouldn't be enough to make them let us out without a permit.
Father squeezed my hand as they eagerly unboxed the meals.
That was the signal.
I took a deep breath and plunged into their psyches. Their emotions washed over me like interlocking waves of ice and steam. I wasn't used to the change in temperature or the way their thoughts rubbed my skin raw and made my eyes water but I pushed past it and dug even deeper until the world around me melted away and a sea of rainbow colors surrounded me and them. When we locked gazes, there was only white.
They didn't see it coming—most people didn't.
Through their eyes, I watched fear fill them when they tried to reach their guns and couldn't. I sensed their confusion; their anger at being fooled, at trusting us; their thoughts about the food being poisoned. I shut it all down until their minds were blank and involuntary, susceptible to little nudges and persuasion.
There was no poison, just me.
"Let us through," I told them with a toothy smile. Some hesitation popped up from Matthew at my command. He didn't want to disobey orders and become a traitor.
I didn't force him. We didn't have the time for that.
"Matthias, we have clearance," I told his brother. His malleable mind was the reason Father had chosen this exit point. All the food and favors were only incentives for him to open up to us enough that he willingly told Mother about his little sister who had been killed in a rebel attack. She would have been around my age if she had survived, so when he asked I told him I was eight—even though my birthday was more than half a year away.
She liked to wears pigtails and pastel shades, so for months I wore the same and imitated her manner of speaking until two days ago he slipped and called me 'sister'.
Matthias nodded and walked into the small kiosk behind them, his fist tight around his keycard. In a matter of moments, a man-size hole formed in the glittering barricade.
Father ducked his head and walked to the other side, motioning for me to follow.
I returned my attention to Matthew, not willing to let either of them live with the guilt of what they had done. If they were questioned, they would remain clueless. If they were tortured… We would be long gone before the suggestion snapped. "No one was here. Enjoy the meal."
I repeated the same to Matthias when he set up the barricade again. "Delete the entry you just made and have a good day."
The moment I stepped out of the shield, our connection broke. Before I could fall to the ground, Father grabbed my hand again and pulled my shivering from into his arms. It took all the energy out of me not to scream. Everything in me was spinning and cramping, urging my breakfast to crawl up my throat. I clamped down on my jaw, screwed my eyes shut and waited, in tears, for the pain to fade.
I fell asleep on Father's shoulder, wrapping my arms round Jethro to secure him to my body. It was three hours to the boat by Geo-Cart and by then I had to have enough strength to walk on my own.
I couldn't wait to see Mother again.