The Story Of Who
Two guards walked out of the ship to lead me into it, just the sight of them made me want to run away. How were soldiers on this ship any different from slavers at the docks? They both stole children away.
The soldiers had sunburnt faces, callused hands and Sol pistols holstered at their waists. They were not from Milday. They were from a cooler planet that had lesser suns—maybe no suns at all.
Centaur had only one sun—a great star that burnt brighter than anything around it. After living there for a while, I knew I would look sunburnt as well. Its days would be much hotter and darker than I was used to.
I looked down at the pale skin wrapped around my fingers. Would Father recognize me if I was darker? Would he still know me when I was older and my face had aged? What if I grew up to be ugly? Would he still want me?
When I tried to look back and take one last glance at Father, one of the guards shoved me forward.
I glared at him but said nothing. I didn't want to waste any time. The sooner I was on the ship, the sooner it would take off. The Resistance soldiers would be here with snaps of us in some hours, we needed to be off planet long before then.
That was what Father had told me.
I dropped my hands to my sides and one of the guards fell in step behind me. They didn't want me to run away; I could taste their uneasiness in the air. Other children had attempted it and their salaries had been deducted as punishment. They had learnt to be more careful now.
I shut my mind off from their straying thoughts. I didn't want to know what they did with their wives at night or how they were going to cheat at the gambling tables during their break. I just wanted to know when I could see my family again.
Their minds provided no answers to that question though, and when I asked if I would see them after the ship left the docks they said that I was lodged in a different part of the Mariposa. They said I wouldn't leave my room until the ship landed in Centaur. They said I should stop thinking about family if I knew what was good for me.
I could have made the guards lead me to them but I was already using all the energy I had just to walk in a straight line, and if Thomas saw me all this would be for nothing. I had to stay out of sight until the ship landed.
On Centaur, we would no longer be fugitives. If there was a chance to escape, I had to take it then and only then.
Father said that it would take half a year to reach the planet. He had also told me the distance in light years and the different sort of gravity it had, but right now I was too tired to remember any of that.
Because I barely had the strength to walk, sometimes the guards needed to drag me along. I was not able to hear their surface thoughts anymore but I could still hear their mumblings.
I was annoying them. The way the ship's passengers stared at them as they shoved me around frustrated them too. They had better things to do so they were annoyed because I was taking up their free time.
I wanted to apologize for being such a bother—my teacher said that apologies made people feel better—but I couldn't talk anymore. My energy was running low.
They might have been separating me from my family but I knew it was their job. I could tell that they didn't like it and it was something they just had to do—just like Father and the weapons he made.
It was very possible that they had been taken from their families too and now had no choice but to help with the process.
That was how life worked, in circles.
My teacher taught me that.
When we got to a hallway with no people present, the guards stopped pulling on me. They let me stand on my own.
I appreciated that but I couldn't even thank them.
The ceiling lights in this hallway were far and in between, permitting shadows to fill the spaces around me. I could barely see what was in front of me so I wasn't able to react when I was shoved hard against the wall I was leaning on.
Panic flared through me and instinctively I slipped into my attacker's psyche. I didn't even get to make sense of what I had done before pain erupted behind my eyes and my legs buckled beneath me.
I stopped panicking, aware of the guard catching me before I fell to the ground despite never feeling his hands on me. I knew immediately that I was unconscious.
This always happened when I managed to deplete all my energy. My psyche left my shell of a body to latch onto the nearest host until I was strong enough to be myself again. It had happened to me when I was three and had not happened again. . .until now.
I watched myself through the guard's eyes, examining how small I looked from this height. One of my pigtails had come undone but I hadn't noticed. It was a wonder how Thomas had succumbed to my manipulation when I hadn't looked nice at all.
Father always told me to look nice when I wanted something from someone; that people liked well-behaved daughters.
I thought I had looked nice but now I wasn't so sure.
"First one to pass out before the tests even begin," the other guard said with a chuckle. "Wouldn't want to have to throw this one out of the airlock."
I turned my head to face the grinning man, aware that I wasn't really the one controlling any of this body's actions.
It was a strange sensation.
"Just open the doors," I felt myself say but my body—my real one—didn't move. "Unlike you, I have other things to do today."
"Don't rush me."
I watched the other man place his hand on the wall until his fingers began to glow red. A faint blue light emerged from the tip of his index finger and whipped across the wall in the shape of a door. When the light met with the floor of the hallway it disappeared, leaving an opening just large enough for the guard whose body I was borrowing to pass through. He just barely crossed the threshold then set me on the floor.
Through his eyes, I watched the door-sized hole in the wall close up, trapping me in darkness.
It didn't take long for me to realize that somehow I was still in his mind.
As he and the other guard started walking away, I got to work inputting the images of Mother, Father and Jethro into his mind and commanding him to protect them. It would have been impossible to do if his mind wasn't as pliable as Matthias'.
I had gotten lucky.
You will not let anything happen to my parents, I whispered at the back of his mind as I felt our connection slack. You will not let anything happen to my brother. You will give your life for them. You will watch over them for as long as possible. You will not draw suspicion to yourself. You will tell them that I—
My mind snapped painfully into my own body, the guard now too far away to be tied to me. The moment I woke up, I sucked in a sharp breath and thrashed against the hands trying to pin me to the ground.
I still didn't understand where exactly I was despite having seen it for myself.
I opened my eyes but had to shut them again when bright lights pierced into them and worsened my headache.
I waited a few moments before trying again. Slowly this time.
Now, I was able to see that I was surrounded by dozens of other children—they were the owners of the hands that had held me down.
It only took three seconds for me to realize who they were: Future child soldiers. Just like me.