The Protectors-In The Land of Light

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Screaming, and Gasping, and Wretching. Oh my!

I scurry even further away from the pool, refusing to admit what just happened was indeed happening. I try to wipe the water off of my face but it all comes out of my clothes to form a bubble. Moving my hand to the left, the bubble drops back into the water.

Something very strange is happening, but there’s a logical explanation. There has to be a logical explanation.

Wrong. My head can not wrap around anything except the fact that that needle had been seriously rigged with something insanely powerful and dangerous.

I start to shake, trying to take deep breaths in through my nose, out through my mouth. This is by far the craziest thing that has ever happened. And the weirdest. I’m controlling water. How is this even going to work at High School?

Scenes pop up in my head and I see a disaster happening every day. Exploding toilets, chemistry eruptions that I’ll have to blame on some stupid reason as to not reading the instructions. Even though, in reality it’s my malfunctioning genes triggered by a strange needle. High school is going to be even more of a disaster.

Maybe the water is acting up? The chlorine has come alive in the water? But that doesn’t explain the injection of the needle, which is still embedded in my skin. I wince, my hand shaking as I reach for it. Stinging pains shoot up my leg. I dig it out with my fingernails and throw it away, stomach flipping. I bite my lip willing myself not to throw up at the sight of blood on my hands.

The place where the needle was begins to bleed. I press my palm to it, attempting to stop the bleeding.

I need to escape. Get away from the glinting water that seems to want to attack me. So I back away from the pool like it might attack me. And to be honest, I think it might. Water went from being my favorite thing to the most terrifying thing in my life.

Walking back to my house across our small yard, I am stuck in a daze of trying not to think about what just happened. But of course that’s not possible. It is the only thing I can think about. I should have just stayed inside. The needle could not have gotten me there.

I twist my hands around and stare at my long fingers, letting out a long sigh. What kind of power do they possess?

Wiping my clammy hands on my miraculously dry shorts, I slouch onto the front porch, which is just a square of concrete in front of our silver door, and sit down. My wrist watch lights up with the daily broadcast of water supplies, climate change, and more freak explosions.

The freak explosions have been happening all week, inching closer and closer to Ractia. Why someone would bomb the countryside, inching closer to my city, beats me.

I’m not nervous at all.

Sighing, I put my head in my hands, imagining what they are capable of. The fact that I can control something. When life has always been out of my hands.

The fact that this was happening to me of all people. The brunette that no one paid any attention to. Sure, I’d dreamed of having magical powers like the characters I love to read about. But they never explained how stressful it is. And how impossible and inconceivable. Also terrifying.

Rolia rolls onto the porch, her eyes narrow at my pale face and bloody palm, but she doesn’t say anything, which is strange. Rolia has it in her programming to not be confused about anything. And so when she doesn’t get what I’m saying, she’ll ask questions until she understands. The fact that she did not say anything scares me more, opposed to if she did.

What if she knows?

Then there’s nothing I can do.

I go into the house and wash my hands of the blood and start chopping potatoes with Rolia. Rolia drones on and on about the freak explosion, she never actually does any work. She is honestly a terrible house droid. But a wonderful mother. She somehow is nurturing with her metal pronged hands. But that means I normally get stuck with all the work.

Rolia came from a factory where they manufactured robots that served all kinds of purposes. She had been one of the best. But a deadly gas leaked when they were building one day and ruined her programming to manufacture anything ever again. At least robots. She was turned away, along with thousands of other house robots, to the streets. That’s when she found me, and took me in, after she gained permission. And now I am hers.

The knife hacks along in a melodrome way. As it always does, every night when I prepare dinner. Potatoes and dried strips of meat are the steady meal rations. And it is as boring as it sounds. My eyes suddenly catch on something black. I turn my wrist so that my palm is facing up and almost drop my knife on my toes. Rolia goes silent. There’s a tattoo on the underside of my right wrist.

Could this day get any worse?

“What is that, El?” Rolia asks, her silver body scooching closer to me.

“Nothing, Rolia.” I pause, turning my wrist away. And say, just to make sure, “And don’t tell anyone about this.”

“Yes, El.” The weird thing about having a robot for a mom is that I can give her orders. It has definitely made me follow my own honor code. I turn away from her and cover my mouth with my hand to stop myself from screaming or gasping or wretching. Or all of the above, in that order.

So instead I study the markings. A black circle with a hand calling a blue tidal wave toward it inside the circle. I cover it with my hand, glancing around. Rebellion is not allowed. And neither is color. I could be put in the stocks if someone found this. The stocks are in the town square. I cannot risk drawing more attention to myself, especially with this newfound thing that is happening to me. Besides, I have a mystery to solve.

Rolia follows me into my room, chattering about some stupid celebrity that I would care about if I was a normal teen girl, which I’m not. She was originally programmed as a young girl, so she sometimes still acts like it, when she isn’t following the Mom Routine.

I pull out my Flip, which is a small tablet type device. It is made from glass but has sensors inside it that enables you to do almost anything on it inside the technology world. I pull it from underneath my bed and finish some homework on World War III. I try to keep the images out of my mind of the twisted bodies of people who had been gassed by NTO3, a deadly gas.

Instead I focus on getting prepared for school tomorrow. I pick out my outfit, choosing a long sleeve sweatshirt to cover the tattoo.

We are ordered in our community to wear the colors white and black only. A part of keeping our society clean and uniformed, fitting their needs. Having no color also helps conserve resources, which is the only thing the government seems to want to do. The government turns a blind eye to the people who are on the streets starving. Or the heaping mountains of waste that are continuously piling higher outside our city walls.

“Are you alright Muriel? My sensors are picking up on fluctuating blood pressure,” Rolia says, rolling towards me on her white tracks, her oval eyes narrowing.

“I’m fine, Rolia,” I lie, and fiddle with the edge of my blanket. Rolia is someone who has always cared about me, and lying to her doesn’t make me happy. But this is not something I can share. I try to put thoughts of what has just happened away. But it is pretty much impossible. The fact that water just shot up and I controlled it, echoes around my head. Rolia is no doubt picking up my wacky nerves.

The chime of the dinner bells, which are set up throughout the city, echo through my room. Everything is scheduled and controlled. Hasn’t the government heard that rules without respect cause rebellion?

The bland potatoes stick to my tongue. And the strips of meat barely make it down my throat. It is hard to eat when everything tastes the same. The questions bouncing around my head and the fear squeezing my stomach makeit even harder to swallow.

“What story would you like to hear tonight?” Rolia asks, scooching back and forth on her tracks in anticipation. This is a routine we follow, and I always ask for the same one. Mainly because it’s Rolia’s favorite.

“Can you tell the story of how you found me?” I ask, setting down my spoon. She won’t take anything but my complete attention.

“You know it,” she says with a wink of her round eyes. Sometimes I think she’s really malfunctioning because she’ll do human actions. But I’ll never know. I place my head in my hands as she begins, reciting from the script she’s written in her head.

“It was a dark and cold night. Thunder clapped and rain slashed. I rolled through the streets, looking for stray bits of oil that I could take for myself. I was almost out, the factory had abandoned me a month before. Things were looking desperate.” I nod vigorously, like I have no idea what’s coming next. “Suddenly a small cry reaches my sensors. And heat waves come off from a side street.” I drop my jaw to add effect. “I roll forward, unsure of what I am to find. A small basket containing a golden blanket and…” She somehow makes her face into a visage of excitement.

“What is it, what?” I ask, scooching forward in my seat.

“A small baby, wide green eyes full of tears, pretty little lips trembling. Her face pale and soft around her freckles. Dark hair soaking wet.”

“How flattering,” I deadpan. Rolia ignores me.

“I gather the small child into my arms and take her to the government building two blocks away. Begging to be able to take care of the child in my arms. Doubting that they would say yes. But they did, they gave you to me along with a house and small funds before I could get back on ‘my tracks.’” She laughs, her robotic voice toning down the tinkle. “And then I fell in love with that baby and raised her. And now she sits before me today, beautiful and kind.” I blush and shove the last potato into my mouth. I go to the sink and wash my plate, stacking it neatly next to my cup and spoon, our only utensils in the house..

“That’s a great story, Rolia,” I drawl as I leave the kitchen.

Rolia follows me around as I go through my nightly routine, then pad into my room, the cold metal floor stinging my feet. Rolia follows me into my room, ready for our nightly routine of drinking tea and talking about books. It is one thing that keeps me sane.

“How are you feeling, El?” she asks as I slump onto my bed, grabbing my Flip.

“Good as always.” Grinning at her, I pull the pillows closer to me.

Waiting for Rolia to turn around, I examine my tattoo again. Bubbles of hope rising in my chest. It makes me feel like there is something more. Which there obviously is. I mean, the proof is on my wrist. There’s something out there besides Ractia, California, dirty streets, clogged market places, and black and white clothes.

I fall back on my pillows and sigh, tracing my tattoo. It’s a sign that there could be an escape. But I don’t know how to find it yet. Or how drastically everything could change if I did escape.

“El? You are doing that thing when you stare into space.” Rolia rolls forward and pokes my shoulder with a pronged hand. I jump and blink.

“Sorry,” I mumble. “It’s just been a long day.”

“Is there any way I can assist you?” I shake my head and take my cup of tea off the platter she’s holding.

“We are on page 545, El,” Rolia says, and the book we’re reading; Future’s Time, pops up on my Flip. Since Rolia controls all the technology in the house, it doesn’t surprise me. It also appears in the middle of her upside-down egg shaped body.

We read for at least an hour, not speaking about anything besides the book. Rolia doesn’t really read, she just sits there and I narrate what’s happening for her. It’s our deal since Rolia serves people around the neighborhood to buy the food on my plate and the clothes on my back. It’s a small contribution for everything she does for me.

The curfew chimes ring through the room, signaling we have to turn out the lights.

Just as I’m about to switch off my lights Rolia says from the doorway, “Whatever happens, El, you just have to trust.” And with that, I flick off the lights.

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