The very word is a death sentence.
Ian’s eyes couldn’t—no, wouldn’t move from the thick, black tattoo that covered his identification barcode. At birth, the doctors inked the ID on the inside of his wrist. It is completely unique to him. It grew with him. It is a part of him.
Until now, when his very identity was destroyed under deadly, black ink.
The very word sparked joy to a Wastelander.
It is a light in the darkness. Help to the helpless. A salvation to a toxic wasteland home to the faithless. It is joy, peace, hope, and a revolution.
But also: a legend.
She’s only known two in her lifetime. One was a prisoner who gave birth to her. The other raised her for ten years, teaching her everything she knows.
Until now, when one is sitting right before her eyes.
He didn’t even know it. And she didn’t believe it.
“No,” Ian muttered, “no, no, no, this isn’t right.”
She rolled her eyes. Typical.
“Yeah, you don’t remember do you?” She stepped back, tugging at the ends of her hair.
“Yes,” he scoffed, a real laugh in his voice, “I don’t remember the past three days, and in that time, I became a rebel?” She cocked an eyebrow. “You’re mad, lady.”
“And why is that so unbelievable?” Ian froze, his eyes narrowing as he went through every memory he could call up. “Please, tell me about the rich boy from Terra and his sudden rebelliousness. I’m just dying to hear this unbelievable story.”
Then he heard it, the sarcasm. Dripping off every word like an accent. He huffed a frustrate sigh, staring silently at the darkness around her.
“Look, I think you’re a rebel as much as you do.” She leaned against the wall, closing her eyes against the tiredness fighting her mind. “And your memory—or lack of memory, isn’t helping anything.”
“Well what you expect me to do about it? I’m a little tied up at the moment.” He waved his hands in the air, making a dramatic clanking with the cuffs around his wrists.
The pestilent sound reverberated against the stone, ringing wildly in the girl’s ears. She gently shoved her hands to her temples, massaging the headache away. Forcing herself past the exhaustion, she focused on the noise resounding in the room. The sharp shill of metal against metal that penetrated the peaceful silence. Echoes that stung her ears and fed the headache she begged to go away. Sluggishly, she released the last of her energy and pushed the sound away.
The noise ceased, replaced by the thud of a body and a painful groan.
Ian hit the ground and the cold encased his body. But he barely felt a thing.
The handcuffs were gone.
As was the chair.
The girl slid to the ground, all energy in her body disappearing. Ian was too confused to speak, though more reasonably it was shock. But, he knew…he knew she was behind it. His mind reeling with explanations for the incomprehensible events that happened minutes before. Instead, he watched her for several, painfully silent moments, before he finally spoke.
“How did you do that?” he implored.
“The chair. It’s gone.”
“Well aren’t you observant.”
Ian sighed, turning to a different topic. “Look, I don’t know what is going on. Why you’re here, why I’m here, what you did with the chair…” he trailed off, hoping to get a more informative response.
“But?” she continued for him. She loathed the tired strain behind her voice. She would need five minutes to replenish enough energy to get out of here. At the least
“But,” Ian leaned in and whispered, “perhaps, we can help each other.”
“I don’t need your help.”
“Yes, you do—”
“Or your money.”
Ian leaned back on his hands. How could she not see that she was just as trapped as he was. There was no door, and the bars on the high window looked impenetrably thick. Her best hope was his influence.
Well, his father’s influence.
Unless…the disappearing act she did on the chair was her means of escape.
Ian cocked his head to the side, memorizing her face. She looked pretty, he would admit. Although he’d seen better, for a Wastelander she was almost beautiful. She possessed some alluring quality that trapped his gaze, and an aura of mystery that coaxed his mind.
A tiny nose sat above chapped lips that appeared permanently pressed into a frown. But, laughter line carved into the corners of her mouth. Deep set eyes that have never seen enough sleep. But gorgeous long lashes that outlined her blue eyes perfectly. Faint scars that painted an entire history across her pale skin. But delicate freckles dancing across her nose.
One profound scar that stretched the length of her face and disappeared farther beneath her knitted sweater.
But a stunning face that capture his attention.
Her hair was tightly twisted into two sloppy braids that fell across either shoulder. It looked inconceivably dark. Like staring into the black void of a night sky knew at home. He had to squint to make out the hairs escaping from the braids. Each coiling around another and disappearing into the blackness around her head. There was not a strand in its place, yet the style had a delicacy to it.
On Terra—back home—Ian never found a shortage of exotic beauty. Everything was designed to be devastatingly picturesque. Elegance was Ian’s entire identity. And now, in a world plagued by virulent discord, here sat an exquisite creature.
For the first time in his life, Ian sat astounded by something beautifully flawed in this world.
The girl’s eyes flew open, her silver-blue irises peering past Ian’s head.
“Shut up,” she interrupted.
“Excuse me?” She shot him a glare and soundlessly rose to her feet. She stepped on her toes so light there wasn’t even an echo. Behind Ian, she placed her ear on a polished, grey metal. His eyes narrowed in curiosity, studying the area. Starting at the floor the sleek surface rose to the height of the ceiling. The shine made the metal look alien compared to the flawed stone around them.
Maybe there is a door, Ian pondered.
The girl overheard two soldiers make their way up the stairs to the cell. Nothing serious, she figured. Still, it posed a problem. She pushed away from the wall, her mind reeling with possible solutions.
Her eyes fluttered shut as she searched deep for even a sliver of energy.
Yes. A smile of relief spread across her face.
Enough to leave.
“What’s going on?” Ian asked behind her. She spun around, her smile vanishing as quickly as it’d came.
Part of her begged to leave him. The guards could have their way with him. They could go through their routine interrogation, question him till he passed out. Then, learn that he’s useless, shut up that annoying mouth of his, and she would be done with it.
But, she can’t.
He knows too much; he’s seen her face. Not to mention, there’s the chair.
She couldn’t risk it.
Yet, something more than the risk that drove her to take him with her.
He is an inordinately rich man with no memory, and now, fresh, black ink on his wrist. A dead man. She wanted to figure him out. To discover what the Government wanted to erase from his mind, and why it scared them enough to condemn his life. But also, he could lead her to answers on the rebel rumors swimming around New Earth.
“Give me your hand,” she said, wishing, hoping it would work.
“Pardon?” Ian took a tentative step back, mentally scolding himself for the formality of his words.
“I’m getting us out of here, and you’re really just gonna have to trust me.” She held out her hand, and her gut twisted into a thousand knots. If he could resist her earlier...who’s to say he couldn’t resist her jumping?
What other choice do I have, Ian thought, better to take the chance than stay...
“Okay,” he said plainly.
Goosebumps covered his skin at the feeling of her icy skin. Her unnaturally smooth fingers gripped his hand like a lifeline. She figured, the harder she held on the more likely it would work. And it needed to work.
Afterall, her identity was vulnerable.
Ian’s eyebrows furrowed as her eyes closed and she took a step closer to him. Behind her, the stone door pushed inward and slid to the left. Two suntanned guards stood at attention, guns poised uniformly at their shoulders.
Ian opened his mouth to speak, to yell; but before a sound could form at the back of his throat, the room crumbled. Everything vanished into smoke, the guards’ faces blurring together into a black abyss. His heart stopped when the floor folded into itself. It rolled away like an old carpet before fading away like the rest of the room.
Examining their surroundings, Ian found nothing but shadowy silence. His heart dropped at the sight of the darkness reaching the infinite corners of the space of them. It covered the nonexistent ground and. They seemed to be floating above the emptiness, creating a curious sensation of flight.
He snuck a glance at the strange girl clutching his hand. Her eyes were shut tight in deep concentration, crystal beads of sweat dripping down her sickly pale skin. Before he could say anything, her grip loosened dangerously.
Then the whole world dropped.
Once, when he was fifteen, Ian jumped off a three-story building. In an attempt to escape his then-girlfriend’s parents, he escaped out her window. It lasted less than a second, giving him no time to feel the gut-wrenching drop.
This moment put that jump to shame. Although they remained standing in the void, his plummeting heart played tricks on his mind. Time froze, every muscle in his body screaming to find the ground again. A gust of wind blew the girl’s stray hairs around her face and wrinkled Ian’s pristine shirt against his body.
It was the most exotic feeling of falling that ever pulsed through his veins.
But, quickly as it came, it vanished. Only leaving a memory behind.
Around them the darkness melted to unveil a rotting back alley. Moldy brick buildings touched a forever orange sky, acting as a stage for storm clouds to dance above the repugnant structures. Ian’s nose was attacked by wafts of sewage and burning flesh, and he knew this could not be a nightmare.
This is reality.
This is The Wasteland.
The girl took a sharp breath and staggered to a bent steel door directly behind Ian. Each movement felt like fire crawling through her bones. Not as if she were hurt but born from an exhaustion brought on by years of no sleep. She dragged her arm up to the door and knocked weakly twice. Her other arm shot out to the adjacent wall to steady herself, but all she felt were her fingertips brushing the old brick.
One wobbly step backward and she fell limp into Ian’s arms, a tiny red line dripping from the corner of her mouth.