He caught her effortlessly, his arms wrapping around her thin waist. The girl’s skin looked more ill by the second, virtually appearing dead, but Ian was given no time to consider his options when a high, feminine voice sounded from the bent door.
“Oh, my heavens, Kyndra!” A young girl, no more than fifteen shoved the door to the side.
The sound of metal scrapping against concrete bounced off the walls down the alley, but she looked unconcerned. Her attention was focused on the girl in Ian’s arms—Kyndra she called her. In a way, he thought the name fit her.
The girl’s thin hands cupped around Kyndra’s cheeks and assessed her condition. Feeling her heart scarcely beating, hearing her inaudible breaths, and sensing no thoughts dancing in her mind. She almost feared her to truly be dead this time. All while mentally cursing Kyndra’s recklessness, the girl pressed her palms into her friend’s cheeks and poured life into her body. Her fingers glowed orange with warmth; but, in the moment, Ian assumed it was the sky that colored her hands.
Kyndra took a satisfying deep breath, as new energy pulsed through her veins
“There, now hopefully she won’t die on us,” the youthful girl said with pride. “Let’s get her inside.”
Ian remained where he was, watching the peculiar girl move to pick up Kyndra’s feet.
“Quickly, we don’t want Patrol to find us.”
He rolled his eyes, not understanding the dangers of the Patrol in the Wasteland. On Terra, the Patrol was merely an apathetic police force that stands around idly, never interfering with the daily extravagance of life. In the Wasteland however, the Patrol was a force that ruled with an iron fist.
Together, they moved Kyndra through the crooked doorway, coming into a large room, one which must have been the lobby of an apartment complex centuries into the past. Before the Ternary Division.
To their left an immense staircase grew to the next floor. The girl motioned in that direction with her head, taking each step with a graceful speed. They ascended six flights of stairs, Ian’s muscles burning once they reached the top floor. Kyndra was not necessarily a heavy young woman, rather light in fact, but after carrying her up six stories, she felt more like carrying a ton of bricks.
At the top of the stairs, the younger girl lead Ian to a long corridor with five doors on either side. They passed the first three rooms, before stepping up to the fourth door on the right. She kicked it open with the heel of her boot and guided him to a shockingly comfortable-looking couch. It was made up to be a makeshift bed, with a fraying quilt tossed on the back and a couple thin pillows on the side.
When her head hit the beige pillow, she woke. A tired haze covered her eyes as she examined her surroundings, taking in the rotting walls and her young friend at her feet. The old room’s familiar scent released a wave of relief through her body.
Still consumed by fatigue, Kyndra struggled to sit up on the couch.
The younger girl’s eyes grew twice their size at the sight of her friend pushing through the exhaustion. She frantically shook her head, pushing Kyndra back with a gentle hand.
“Ky, you need to rest,” she said with strange authority.
“No, Callen, I’m fine, I’m fine,” she said, although none in the room could tell whom she was trying to convince. Her eyes closed again, blocking out the irritating headache that refused to disappear
“No,” the girl—Callen—said again, “You need to rest.”
“Seriously, Cal—” Kyndra started stubbornly.
Callen silenced her by swiftly wrapping her fingers around her thin wrist. She whispered something Ian couldn’t make out, but next thing he noticed, Kyndra’s head slumped onto the pillow once more. Her breathing came shallow and even, the creases in her forehead smoothing away as she drifted into a peaceful sleep.
Ian took a tentative step back, feeling awkward and out of place in the tiny living area. With his only acquaintance clearly asleep like she was dead, he was left in an uncomfortable silence with her friend. He considered saying something, but, thankfully, Callen broke through the quiet.
“Is it true the ocean is made of crystals were you’re from?” she asked with childlike innocence.
His eyes snapped to her face. She looked genuinely curious, like hearing about crystal oceans was her lifelong dream.
“Um.” Ian stumbled on his words, not sure if he should tell her the truth or play along with her fantasy. “They are beautiful, but the water isn’t made of real crystals—”
“Well, duh,” she interjected, her eyes rolling to the ceiling. “I might be young but I’m not a dumbass.”
Ian smirked at her wit.
“They are magnificent, if that’s what you were meaning.”
He leaned his shoulder on the wall, envisioning the tropical beaches of the Caribbean. The sun would hit the water in just the right way that made it glitter like diamonds. He would bury his toes in the sand’s warmth, admiring fluffy, pure white clouds that dotted the baby blue sky. With ocean spray floating through the air, enveloping his senses in a tranquility one could only attain while on vacation.
The nostalgia flooded his mind, warning him of the painful gap in his memory.
“So,” Callen started stiffly, “who are you, exactly?”
Ian was caught off guard by the question. It brought him back to reality, reminding him of his whereabouts and the orange sky outside. He was in The Wasteland, where no one knew his name, or his father, or his father’s influence, or his father’s money.
“Ian,” he responded after a moment, holding his hand out politely.
Callen stared at it quizzically, pondering whether to take it.
She decided not.
“And what are you doing here?” Her arms crossed across her chest before adding, “With Kyndra?”
Ian pulled his hand, hiding it in his pocket. “Well, honestly, I don’t know.”
The girl’s eyebrows furrowed together, obviously not regarding his words as the truth.
“Seriously,” he added, reading her expression, “I woke up in that prison cell half an hour ago with no memory of the past three days and this.” He held up his right wrist for Callen to view, and she sprung to her feet.
She seized his arm, holding it in the orange light pooling in from the window. Her heart raced twice its normal speed as she examined the fresh ink on his arm.
Could it be true? Had Kyndra finally found one? A rebel?
Suddenly she stepped back, remembering his words from before.
“And, you don’t remember anything?”
“No. Nothing since Friday morning.”
“Well…,” Callen paused, contemplating if she should ask the question, “Did Ky try to…um…”
“Make me feel high for a few seconds before looking like she was going to pass out?” Ian finished for her. “Yeah. She did. And it was one hell of a trip, think you can explain that to me?”
“I…” her thoughts ran off, trying to piece together what little information she was being given. “Hold up, a few seconds. You said, ‘a few seconds.’ What do you mean a few seconds?”
“Exactly what it sounds like,” Ian said, trying to remain polite at the young girl’s unnerving composure. “It lasted for a few seconds.”
She rolled her eyes again, annoyed at his naivety to what was happening in that cell.
“Wasn’t too hard to fight it off either,” Ian added, seeming impressed with himself.
Callen’s head shot up, her intense gaze not leaving his face. His last words were on repeat in her head. She didn’t want to believe what she heard.
Fight it off…fight it off…fight it off…
“No,” she backed away from Ian, a look of terrified confusion taking over her face. “No, that’s impossible. You—you fought…you fought back? That’s impossible.”
She backed away from Ian, continuing to mutter to herself under her breath. In the many years she’s known Kyndra, she’s gotten to know how her abilities work. While she couldn’t easily name off everything she could do, there is one thing Callen knew for certain: no one could resist her power.
And yet, here stood someone who could do just that.
Or so he says.
“You fought back?” Callen repeated in a passive tone.
“I don’t believe you.”
Without a chance to process her words, he found himself alone in the room with Kyndra sleeping soundly. Even with her presence still noticeable, Ian couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness that came over him. He removed his hands from his pockets and rubbed them down his worn face. Everything seemed to be happening rapidly, not giving a chance to think through all the information being thrown his way.
He’s in The Wasteland, as a prisoner. As a rebel, nonetheless.
His nose scrunched up in disgust at the very thought of the word. Rebels are a meaningless legend, scum that belong in this toxic dump if they ever lived past imprisonment.
This can’t be real.
This is just a dream.
Ian caught sight of the thick tattoo on his wrist. He willed his mind to wake up, telling him it’s all a terrible nightmare. There is no mark on his skin, only the ID he’s known his whole life. He’s home, asleep, probably sweating feverishly in his silk sheets. It’s noon, and his fiancé snuck away hours ago. Jaxon is on the couch, just as hungover as Ian, and the pair will laugh it off as they do every Sunday morning.
No. This is real.
That’s the dream.
He ran his thumb over the damned line, a sinking feeling forming in his stomach. Then he repeated the action, then again, and again, and again, and again until his skin burned red. A frustrated scream erupted from the back of his throat threatening to steal Kyndra from her sleep. It came out in anger, a frustration building in gut from losing his memory, from the tattoo on his wrist, from just being so confused. His fingers tore at his hair, every fiber of his being pleading him to wake up.
But he can’t.
This is real.
An exasperated sigh left his lips as Ian linked his arms behind his head. He pulled against the rigid muscles in his neck, willing his heart to calm.
Other than the excitement of adrenaline-fueled fear, Ian hasn’t known what being truly terrified is like. Until now. All alone in a rusty Wasteland building, with no memory of the past three days and his entire identity stolen from him. His entire being was consumed by fear.
He needed a distraction.
No. He needed to get out and get home.
He took a look around the room, scrutinizing the peeling wallpaper around him. The room was unusually large compared to the stories he’d heard of the original Earth. A living area with a decaying couch opened into a small kitchen, with cracked counters and broken cupboards. Above a sink, missing its faucet, sat a boarded-up window. He took a cautious step toward it, weary of Kyndra asleep on the bed.
His eyes fixated on the doorway Callen escaped through a moment ago. Barely a minute passed, but the curiosity was biting at the back of Ian’s mind. He could leave. Slip out through the door, down the stairs, to the alleyway where he would find a solider and get this whole mess cleared up. His father would fix all of it and take him home
Same as he always does.
Determined to find his way out of this wretched world, Ian stepped into the hallway. The second his foot crossed the doorway, the air in the hall felt impenetrably thick. He struggled to inhale He stumbled backward into the room again, his airways instantly clearing when he passed the threshold. Confused, Ian took a stubborn step into the hall again, only to find the sudden change in air not a trick of his imagination.
Didn’t matter how it was possible, but somehow the air outside the apartment was toxic.
For a moment his hope dissipated, a hollow, helpless feeling taking over.
Until a voice floated down the hall. It sounded masculine, almost authoritative, and Ian found himself smiling at the prospect of being saved. Someone else had to live in this building, or maybe a Patrol guard checking the rooms. Whoever it was, the had to have an oxygen mask or a gas mask or something to breathe outside the apartment. They would help him. He could go home.
As the voice got closer, his hope grew. It covered up the fear penetrating his heart, hiding it with real joy.
Then the man stepped into view, and his heart dropped. He’s seen that face before. On arrest announcements broadcasted across Terra. One of the first Terrans to be imprisoned in over a decade. Sentenced to life in the Wasteland for the murder of his sister, and never heard of again.
Fynn McCoy. And he was breathing just fine on his own.