My dreams were of us, of the freedom to be and live unhidden that we both craved. They felt fluid, almost like we were drifting through water. Her hair was floating around her like a dark cloud. Sunlight filtered in from above us in shafts that highlighted everything in bursts. But dreams are weird like that. Small things from the real-world infiltrate them, twining with the fears and desires of the dreamer. And in a moment, the brightness was replaced with the murkiness of trepidation. I was looking at her face, watching it contort from serene happiness into fear as the waters dragged her from my arms while we screamed for each other.
The urgency of her scream drug me from my dreams into the hell that is my reality. It hadn’t been entirely a dream. My door had been smashed in, and there were guards dragging us both naked from my bed. Her cries of fear and pain piercing me to my soul. There were hands on my arms dragging me across the room, forcing me to my knees, Elia on hers next to me. I tried to reach for her, but those hands tightened on my arms, pushing me further forward. The chaos was over in seconds. And in the silence that followed, heels clipped sharply across my floor. Elia started sobbing next to me. A slate gray dress swished in front of me. I followed it up to find my mother glaring down at Elia in disgust. The hatred that was there was something that I’d never witnessed before. She had a temper, with little to no leash on it. She wore her disappointment of me casually on her sleeve for as long as I could remember. She made zero effort to hide her disdain for those she considered lower than her. But the pure hatred that was on her face now was something that I had never seen before.
Faster than I could track, she pulled back and kicked Elia in the ribs. Elia cried out in pain, gasping for air. I lunged for my mother, but didn’t get far before the guards pulled me back into place.
“Don’t you fucking touch her!” I roared at her, pulling against the hands that held me.
“This is why you wouldn’t accept a match? Consorting with trash!” she kicked her again.
“Stop it! You’re angry with me! Leave her alone!” I’d do anything to save Elia from her ire.
“You’ve risked not only your life, our family’s reputation, but also ending our genetic line with your selfish stupidity! Ours is one of the oldest families in the Pure States. We’ve been Clean since the beginning. Not once since the Righteous Amendment has a member of our line been found to be genetically inferior. And you risk it all for this! She sneered at Elia. For a moment I thought she was going to kick her again. I pulled against the hands that held me like a vice, ready to take block her from the blow. But I couldn’t budge. Instead, she looked back to me. “If you had been caught by anyone else, you could be tried as a heretic.”
“Then maybe you, and everyone else, should learn to mind their own damned business.” Rage shook my whole body.
“You are my business. You’d never get an emancipation. But the fact that you’d ask would raise questions. Questions that you can’t answer.” Her voice quivered, cracking.
“You bugged my room? You egotistical, controlling bitch.”
“How else am I supposed to know when you’re going to do something stupid? I tolerated this dalliance,” she said the word with disgust. “We all have them from time to time, in varying degrees. But the moment it became more than that, you risked too much. You are my greatest accomplishment. I was not going to let you throw yourself away with the rest of the trash!”
“How benevolent of you.” I snarled at her.
“So, here is my proposition,” she started pacing in front of us. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that we were both naked still, shivering on the marble. Elia occasionally whimpering. “You willingly take the Hawthorne boy, breed, and I won’t report your whore for heresy. And you know what happens to those convicted. I won’t even tell Hawthorne about her, so you can keep her.”
“You know as well as I do, he’d never overlook it. He’s just as controlling and cruel as you are. How did your arrangement work out for daddy? Is that what you want for me too? To be so miserable I take my own life.”
She stopped abruptly, staring at the far wall. For a brief moment, I thought maybe she felt my words. Perhaps she cared more about my father than she let on. It was always hard to tell with her. Being a scientist, she relied more on logic and facts than she did on emotions and compassion, which resulted in her being a cold, distant parent at best. My father on the other hand, was the complete opposite despite working in the same field. Generally, women didn’t partake in the workforce on the same scale as men did. There wasn’t any law barring them from doing so. Our society acknowledged that barring one half of our population from contributing did nothing but hurt us in the long run. But once they started having children, being a Mother was all they aspired too. Which wasn’t the case with my parents. My mother was gone more than home, and my father was the one that was home more than work. I hoped that my words resonated with her, needed them to. That was how our animosity started. I needed her to feel something, anything. Anger was better than nothing. So, I pushed her and pushed her, hoping to break her open and
find someone inside that loved me like my father did. Either she couldn’t or she wouldn’t, either way I hated her for it.
This time was no different. She stared off for a moment before turning back to us, cold as ever.
“Your father has nothing to do with this.” She paced back to stand in front of me, sneering down her nose at me. “So, what is it going to be? The Hawthorne boy, or your lover?”
I looked over at Elia. She was bent over her knees, trying to cover her nakedness, sobbing. She turned her face towards me, reigning in her sobs, and whispered one word. “Don’t.”
“How could I not?” I pulled at the hands holding me. My mother nodded at the guards, who released me reluctantly. I draped over her, kissing her face. “There is nothing stopping a tribunal from convicting you.”
“And that’s why you shouldn’t,” she leaned into my touch, still whispering. “I am not worth it. Find your freedom.”
“You are my freedom. We are worth more than our genes. If there is even a chance of keeping you and keeping you safe, I am going to take it.” I didn’t need to look at her to see the self-satisfied smirk that stretched across my mother’s face.
“I would never be able to forgive myself, knowing you sold yourself to save me. It would be worse than dying.” Pleading filled her dark eyes. How little she thought of herself. I hated everything about the pillars of our faith for that more than anything else. That we were reduced to only what we could pass on to the next generation in a perpetual pursuit of perfection that they’d never be able to achieve. And if you weren’t good enough to breed like a brood mare, then you weren’t worth anything.
“I’d rather you be alive and hate me, than burned alive for heresy.” I turned to my hateful mother, who was smiling cruelly. She had the contract in hand already, seemingly produced from thin air. I stood and stormed to her, no shame in my nudity on display for them all to see. I snatched the contract from her hands, causing it to rip in one corner.
“Astra, please don’t sell yourself for me.” Elia sobbed. I looked at her one last time, knowing that after this moment, things were never going to be the same again. And I was going to miss all the moments with her so very much.
“I’m sorry.” I leaned over the low-lying table and signed the contract.
“Very good.” Marianne snatched the paper back as I dropped the pen, inspecting it to make sure it met her standards. She looked to the guards standing behind Elia and nodded once. “Proceed.”
“What?” The shot rang out, echoing through me. It was a razor blade that hollowed me out as it ran through my body. I turned in time to see Elia’s brains splatter across the floor. Watched in slow motion as she fell lifeless to the side. Vaguely aware of the world tilting beneath me as I screamed for her. I scrambled across the floor, her blood staining my hands and knees. But it was too late. She was gone. Sobs rocked through me while I clutched to her lifeless body, as I screamed until I was hoarse. It was only moments ago that we were asleep in each other’s arms, dreaming of a future together. How quickly everything can change.
Hands pulled me back again, shaking me from the haze I’d fallen in. My eyes shot to my mother, standing across from me, with her arms crossed impatiently across her chest. I let the guards pull me standing, shuffling me towards her. The pen I’d used to sign the contract was still on the low-lying table. I knew it was my body, as I could still feel their hands on me, the cold marble beneath my feet. I felt my knee bang against the table, I felt myself grip the pen. I felt the floor slip beneath my feet as I twirled back to my mother, who was directing the guards to drag Elia’s body from the room. I was already forgotten. I felt the pop of flesh as I drove the pen in my hand into her neck. But inside, I was empty and numb. She whirled towards me, shock making her eyes wide.
“You two faced, lying bitch! No wonder daddy couldn’t stand living with you!” I must have hit an artery, because despite her hand clasped over the hole I’d left, blood was spurting between her fingers. The spreading red stain that was ruining her dress was satisfying.
I watched, detached, as one of the guards cocked his hand back, and slapped his knuckles across my face. My head jerked to the side, and the taste of blood was on my tongue. They were rushing her from the room. I tried to follow, not quite done with her yet. But my door slammed in my face, locking from the outside, a feature I’ve long hated. My own room was to be my prison cell until they could hand me off to my new warden. I banged on the door, screaming at them at the top of my lungs. I slid to the floor, finally feeling deflated. I sat there, staring at where Elia had died. In life, her worth had been reduced to an arbitrary, impossible standard. In death, she had been reduced to the stain she’d left behind.