Brown eyes stared lazily ahead of the classroom. Oval in shape, they were as rich and moist as melting caramel. Burgundy red hair curled around thin eyebrows, framing the females’ face elegantly, the curls spilling over her shoulders. Dates and names of events were written on the whiteboard ahead in black ink, and a short and cubby Professor droned on about the history of the world. A world crumbling and struggling to survive. The history of the world nearly lost after the Armageddon.
Now the Human population struggled to survive on an unknown planet.
The continent the Human population occupied was once part of Americans, the video footage obtained from the satellites before they lost the connection showed them at least that much. Part of it, anyway. The continent was shattered and broken into many pieces. This civilization was the last settlement of their kind; that they were aware of. Over time, a form of interference developed, and now their technology couldn’t see what was out there any longer.
Central City was where most of the Humans congregated. The city was massive, stretching high into the sky and seemingly encaged by an enormous wall with high security. Drones and flying cars filled the skies, polluting the air with the exhaust they emitted. For their advanced technology, the Humans had yet to find a cleaner solution. To the credit of the Government – fueled, no doubt, by the loudest of protesting scientists and civilians, the problem had at least been mitigated; some of the tallest buildings weren’t buildings at all, but rather large air filters.
The farmlands outside the wall were mostly occupied by drones and machinery, with a few Human engineers to maintain them, and the city was divided up into several factions. Each supported the area of expertise that they excelled in, to help the town grow all the while staying cooped up in their safe little cage. A civilization cased within mountains shrouded by forests.
The Professor held his hand to his ear, his thick fingers curling around the earlobe. His bald head glistened in the fading light as his eyes unfocused. Several sets of eyes from the class surveyed him while he listened to whoever was speaking to him. He nodded his head and muttered something before putting his tablet on the desk and observing the class. A few of the kids leaned forward. One knocked a pencil onto the floor. A floor covered in a dull grey carpet as plain as their uniforms.
“I know it’s rare these days to see a new face, but I wanted to let you all know we will be having a new student join our class tomorrow. I ask that you all, please be nice to him and go out of your way to help him around the city.” He lifted his pad once more as if to carry on with the lesson at hand. Several students shot their hands into the air, forcing the Professor to hesitate with his lecture. A blonde girl sitting across from the redhead spoke up without waiting to be called.
“Professor, where is this guy coming from? I mean, people don’t just drop out of the sky.” She laughed at her joke, some others smiling along with her while others agreed aloud. It wasn’t as if other schools existed. Only well-distinguished families could afford to have their children privately tutored. Such families were famous among the general population. If one were to be transferring in, it brought up the question of who and why.
The Professor fixed his glasses; his eyes reflected the fact he couldn’t care less to answer the question before they rested on the girl with burgundy hair. “Tia, let’s discuss the possibilities of Human encampments in the Dark Continent then, shall we?” Tia, the red-haired female, leaned back in her chair with a curious expression. She wondered why the Professor brought up that subject suddenly.
The blonde’s cold gaze glanced in her direction before speaking out of turn once more. “Why waste our time with that subject? You can’t change the subject that easily. There aren’t any Human villages left out there. Like, that’s not possible. Our troops go out to explore, and they never come back.” She sat back with an air of pride and arrogance before glancing once more toward Tia and adding, “Anyone who wants to study the Dark Continent has a death wish,”
Ignoring her classmate, Tia leaned forward, her arms folded on her desk. She had to ask, “Professor, what is it that you are implying? This transfer student is coming from the Dark Continent?” The question weighed heavily in the air, and the class fell silent as they waited for an answer.
He leaned back, trying to find a proper response to the question. Giving in to honesty, he signed and fixed his glasses again. “That’s how it sounds. I’ll be receiving his file by the end of the day, but tomorrow I’m sure we can learn a great deal from him. The Government has its hands full on the matter. He is the first survivor to come back in a long time; there’s much we can learn from him. It gives our nation hope for any other survivors. I’m sure the search parties may end up starting again,”
“It would be nice if we could see what’s out there,” Tia agreed, a glimmer of hope in those bronze irises.
“Yea, but like, it’s the Dark Continent. We’re not even sure if it’s a continent. Our technology can’t see what’s out there,” the blonde was dissatisfied.
“Chloe, do you feel smart by stating the obvious?” Tia challenged, giving the girl a sharp look. The blonde, Chloe, opened her mouth to snap back, a look of anger in her eyes.
A soft voice, almost shaky, spoke up from the back. It belonged to a boy with large glasses and curly brown hair, the color of nearly rustic. “His picture was just released,” Instantly everyone in the class pulled out their tablets to look up the most recent news.
Amid all the chatter and exited gossip, Tia leaned back and gazed out the window. She was studying to travel out there one day, a small program with rapidly diminishing funding. This news would surely bring the program the spotlight it needed, and in a few short trimesters, she could leave this city. A swell of anticipation grew inside her, and the corner of her lip curved upward. Her father wouldn’t be able to control her now.
It was at the start of summer vacation. Life was peaceful enough, being the daughter of the man. Quite literally. The man.
He was a big man with broad shoulders, a thick beard, and hard eyes. At first glance, you would think he was the head bodyguard, but no, he was the President himself. Together with a strong Second Lady, they dictated the world.
Tia’s mother had died when she was young, and her stepmother never once looked at her more than twice. She was a tall woman with a lot of plastic surgery done behind closed doors. She had the curves of a sex icon and long, straight brown hair.
Tia remembered it like it was yesterday, one of the only times the woman looked at her, let alone spoken to her. They were eating dinner late one night, her father sitting on the far end of the table with her kid brother talking about what it meant to rule when a butler approached them. He gave the Second Lady several envelopes, which she opened in silence and scanned. Tia watched her briefly as she chewed her salad.
“Darling, stop talking now.” Her stepmother instructed before turning towards Tia. Tia’s breathing faltered, and she glanced at her father, who now regarded his wife curiously. Her brother focused on his food; his big eyes aware of the sudden tension. “Tia,” she spoke, fixating her eyes on the younger female.
“Ma’am,” Tia responded, lowering her fork.
“You’ll be eighteen within the year. It’s time we start taking steps to secure your future. We will be holding a tournament for your hand in marriage by the end of summer. I trust you will accept this and do your due diligence in producing an heir,”
Tia swallowed. She lowered her gaze, hesitated, and met the dark gaze of her father. She turned back to her stepmother and nodded. “Of course, Milady.”
The older woman nodded once and returned to the letters, turning the conversation to her husband. Tia felt the room grow cold. She drifted away from their conversation, wanting to run away.
The end of the day came without delay. Tia listened to the buzz of her classmates as she strolled to her locker. News had already spread like wildfire. The rumors circulating her brought her curiosity to the max. She leaned against the cold metal and pulled out her tablet.
The young man that showed up on the headline announcement was tall with dark hair. He was smiling at something off-camera while he climbed out of a limo. The video played silently while flashes brightened the screen every few seconds as no doubt, hundreds of cameras struggled to capture his image. Wherever it was that he was at seemed to be windy - the thin black strands on his head danced around. There was a curious brightness to his eyes like he was seeing the world for the first time. His smile was honest and peaceful; the air about him seemed to glow with anticipation. Tia chewed on her bottom lip; something about him was too proper for being lost in the woods his whole life. Shaking her head, she dismissed the thought altogether and went on her way home.
Out in the streets, people scurried about. Hundreds of people, some walking, some driving. The city life was loud and humming. The vehicles drove in the air overhead, the pulses of air beaming down onto the streets below.
Walking on the ground was a trick; you always had to fight the draft. It had become a fad to keep your hair tucked away in a skin-tight cap. The caps came in all sorts of colors. Some even reflected the world around them, much like a mirage. Tia put hers on just enough to keep her hair from flying around her face, with her curls still hanging around her shoulders. Several of her classmates laughed at her initially, but it didn’t take long for a few to follow suit. Not everyone could afford the comb that fixed your hair instantly.
Outside, Tia found herself walking towards a familiar destination. With no real home to go back to, she spent a lot of her time reading in one of the only parks left in the city. As no Human ever explored the small patch of trees anymore, it was only a matter of time before they were to be demolished. Trash usually found its way to the grass where small robots would silently come along and pick them up. As far as she knew, she was the only one who appreciated the little piece of nature, surrounded by the metal and concrete of the city.
Walking past a lone metallic bench, she put her bag down next to a tree and sat back against the trunk. She breathed in deeply and closed her eyes, imaging what the world must have been like a thousand years ago. She’d only been there a few moments when an amused voice broke her moment of silence.
“I’ve been here a total of four days, and you’re the first human I’ve come across who’s different.”
Her eyes snapped open, and she looked around. “Who said that?” A hand entered her line of vision, and she jerked away from it with a start. Looking up, she met the face of the man the whole city was currently roaring about.
The young male grinned ear to ear, forcing his eyes to become slits. He sat back into the tree elegantly, his posture very proper. “My name is Vlad, short for Vladimir. Who might you be?” She couldn’t help but recall what she had thought earlier; he was too prim for being lost in the woods.
Tia put a hand on her chest and inhaled deeply, her brief moment of surprise diminishing. Sounding out of breath, she responded, “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be confined by the Government or something? Being escorted around by a security guard...?”
His smile didn’t seem to falter in the slightest. “Oh, yeah. They were finished questioning me; I don’t remember much you see. I was attacked, and that’s the last thing I remember. I did have a few guys walking around with me, but I found it overbearing and had to escape. Luckily for me, I happened across this little paradise. No one has come looking for me here,”
Eyeing him suspiciously, Tia sat upright, her fingers tapping against the black strap on her wrist. The device for communication was off; during school hours they were deactivated automatically, and she had yet to turn it back on. There wasn’t really anyone the girl would call anyway. She shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair, pulling off the cap.
“You shouldn’t scare people like that,”
“I am sorry,” he said earnestly before sliding down out of the tree to sit next to her. She eyed him, her hair spilling over her shoulder. He seemed to be caught off guard, his eyes watching the sun reflecting through the strands.
“What is that? If you don’t mind? Everyone seems to wear one; I like yours. It’s just black; it compliments your hair.”
“You can lay off the compliments,” she said curtly. “It’s just a cap. You put it over your head to keep your hair from being sucked into the sky. The last thing you want is to get scalped. Your hair isn’t long enough to need one, but it’s kinda become a thing where everyone wears one anyway.” Something about what he said suddenly clicked. “What do you mean ‘Humans’ anyway? Aren’t you one?”