Zoe sat very still on the hard, unforgiving cot. The chill of the tiny prison cell gave her goose bumps underneath the drab, gray garb she was forced to wear. Her heart raced fast and furious beneath her ribcage; and she was terribly afraid. Soon – she knew – her life would be at an end; and then there would be nothing left of Indian Springs.
There would be nothing left of her mother’s hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow – of a better life for her. She bowed her head and begged her mother’s forgiveness. A single tear escaped the corner of her eye and furrowed down her left cheek. Zoe touched her face; felt the wetness there and stared down at her fingertips with some amazement.
She had not cried since the day her mother died – since the day she and Jasper were left alone to enter the gate of this promised city a decade ago.
Zoe scrubbed the tear angrily from her face to remove all traces of any sorrow from her countenance. When she met death, she would not be weeping. Weeping was for children and she was no longer that; had forfeited that distinction on her own terms the moment her mother died in her arms.
She studied her surroundings with mixed emotions – part shame, and part relief. On the one hand - ashamed her life would end here, behind bars in a small, dirty cell – a prisoner; a failure at her one true purpose – to bring equality to everyone trapped inside this gilded cage calling itself Vega.
Vega had promised much – had herded her family here on rumors of opportunity across the eight ball infested highways – to yield nothing – but servitude under a V system that took advantage of the weak.
On the other hand, she felt extreme relief – relief that soon she would be at peace; free from strife and discontent.
This however, was not how she thought her journey would end – hung for treason. She had wanted to end with victory; Jasper by her side – the V1s rising up from under the boot heels of oppression. It was bad enough to try and survive outside the city – to fight the heat; thirst – and imminent death at the hands of the eight balls. People shouldn’t have to battle politics; and greed just to live inside these walls. It was a travesty. Surely darkness plagued this city and would bring humanity crashing down like Sodom and Gomorrah.
When she had entered Vega as a frightened thirteen year old girl – dragging Jasper behind her – she had thought to make something of her life; give her mother’s sacrifice meaning and raise Jasper in such a way that he would live long and happy.
And she had tired. Found work when she could – protected Jasper as best she knew how, right up until she couldn’t. Had even been a part of the Angel Corp – proud to serve the Archangel Michael – the very Archangel who had stoically welcomed her into this city.
But as time progressed; and she witnessed with her own eyes the outlandish disparity between the haves and the have nots – she could no longer stomach protecting a city that would not even feed the least of them.
She thought of Jasper and balled her hands into fists. It had all been for nothing. Jasper was gone – they were all gone. It was only her left now and soon there would be no one. It would be as if they never existed at all – the remnants of Indian Springs, lost forever.
She clasped her hands together in her lap and pressed her lips tight – the memory of granddad pointing to the stars finding her now – even in this dark hour. His promise to her that Vega held all the answers echoed off the stone walls. His fantastic accounts of slot machines and bright lights – turned out to be fairy tales after all.
Once inside these walls, the only answers were ones of hardship and hunger – Jasper her only saving grace. The two of them trapped in a system that did not offer security; or education – only cramped housing with hundreds of other orphaned children - forced to roam the tunnels; ferreting out whatever food they could find.
This life had hardened her; the adversity of their dire circumstances forever etched in her being. So much so that it drove her to rebellion; gathering about her an army to make things right; not just for her and Jasper – but for all the V1s starving; eking out depressed lives among the opulence.
Yes – her heart was hard, now even in the face of death and the fear it evoked in her. She shivered in the damp coolness of the cell; and considered her bare feet and laughed softly. Not only was she the last of her people – but she would die with nothing – no legacy; no victory and no shoes.
The satchel of treasure with all of Indian Spring’s documents, pictures; records of birth and marriages entrusted to her had been lost years ago, along with her mother’s wedding band - lost to theft; barter and trade.
She would hate Vega to her final breath and curse this place.
Zoe stared up at the cracked ceiling and wondered where was God – where was the Chosen One when she needed him. If not now – then when would He appear? Where was He when mom died; when she and Jasper were cast adrift, alone in this rotten city? Where was He when Jasper left her and now in her final hours?
She was interrupted from her musing as the cell door creaked open and Claire Riesen limped in – her face a mirror of her own – disappointment; betrayal and unbelievable grief. She understood this woman who stood before her completely. They were one in the same.
This despicable, horrible extermination war and this God forsaken city had stolen her family; her future; and her life.
Then suddenly, Claire lifted her arm and pointed a gun point blank at her head – spouting on about her loss; the woes of Vega – words she didn’t care to hear. What did it matter? Wasn’t it Claire’s intent to execute her?
A harsh crack and blinding light stopped any argument she had to give. She felt a tug at her forehead and a pain that lasted only moments penetrate her skull. Claire had done it, pulled the trigger. Her life was over.
But Zoe opened her eyes; and there stood Claire, still as stone, staring over something on the ground – her gun hand shaking; tears streaming down her face – her shoulders trembling with force.
What happened? Had she misinterpreted Claire’s intentions? Had she spared her for some reason?
Over by the cell door, Jasper waved to her – smiling – urging her to come and follow. “Everyone’s waiting!” he called; and walked away to lead the way down the dark prison corridor.
Zoe looked down at her hands; touched her face; hugged herself fiercely and laughed with a joy she hadn’t felt since she was thirteen years old. So God was here after all, she thought and ran to follow Jasper home.
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