I tug on the thick chains trailing from my wrists, even though I know it will be no use. I’ve been trying for days and they never loosen. I sigh and lean against the curved wall and stare into the humming fluorescent light.
I hated the desert and all the other foul places we traveled to, but I hate it here even more. The sterile, fake looking walls, the cold glass, the frozen air, the bright lights…. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.
I look around at my cell for the billionth time. It’s the most unusual prison I have ever seen.
The entire building is a huge frosted glass dome. None of the prisoners can see out of the dome, and none of the civilians can see in, but at least the sunlight can reach most of us. The actual prison cells are large sideways cylinders that can be inserted into the wall. Each cell is just tall enough for a grown person to stand in, and almost three times as long. At the very front of the cell is a long bed and a pillow, and the entire cylinder has glass walls except for the very back, which has vinyl panelling only because it’s a small bathroom.
The door at the outside end of the cell is made of the same unbreakable glass and it has a control panel for the prison drones. Whenever a prisoner comes in or out of a cell, the drone will input a code and the cylinder will slide out of the wall and the prisoner can climb in before going back in.
It’s actually comfortable sometimes, but it’s always boring and cramped, and especially awkward when you can see your criminal neighbor through the glass walls.
I look up as the light outside my hatch dims. I crawl over and press my face against the glass, trying to catch the last rays of sun. Something catches my eye from across the dome.
It’s a new prisoner, a girl with long white hair, she looks only a few years older than me, maybe fifteen. A drone pushes her onto a platform and they rise up, circling the dome. Their platform glides closer and I can see her nurse uniform splattered with blood. They fly past me and for half a moment the girl looks at me. Her blue eyes widen and her expression… it’s… disturbed… surprised…?
The moment ends and she flies away from me across the dome and rises to a higher level until I can’t see her anymore. I slump back and watch the shadows lengthen in my cell and I wonder who that girl could be or what she did. My thoughts slowly become more sluggish and my eyelids droop….
I dip my dust-coated hand into the pond. The sunlight streams through the arches of our cave and dazzles the surface of the water, illuminating the lotus flowers growing there. The water is cool and fresh, the first clean pool I have seen since before it happened. My sister, Dune calls my name from the other cavern where she’s setting up our fire. “Hey Ember…?”
“Can you come help me with this real quick?”
I stand up and walk to the other section of the cave, where the overhanging roof shields us from the blazing sun. Dune is bent over something, her hands rummaging.
“Dune..? What do you need?”
She straightens up and turns around. Immediately she transforms into a snake with charcoal grey eyes and a boiling orange underbelly. I stumble backward onto the cave floor, and it dissolves at my touch.
The snake wriths beside me, its fangs extend.
I sit bolt upright, sweat dripping down my neck. “TAPTAP” I look around for the sound, my heart still beating wildly. I notice the inmate in the cell next to mine. He sits tapping on the glass, watching me. Suddenly I remember him.
But now I crawl over to him and I press my hand against the glass, just like I did the last time I saw him…
My mother pulls on my arm, pleading with me while my little brothers wail in her arms. I press myself against the glass barrier screaming for him. “HAWK! HAWK!”
I see him fight off a guard and he runs toward me yelling “EMBER!”
He slams onto the glass and I cry “Hawk!!”
He’s screaming and my mother and Dune are yelling and my brothers are screeching and all the sound bleeds together until everything is muted and softened.
I see my tears smear against the barrier. I see Hawk torn away from me by a faceless guard. I see my mother tear me away from the glass too. I see soldiers and guards and citizens swarming toward us. I see the door slam, and lock them out. The door locks out Hawk, too.
I feel a tear splash into my lap and I remember where I am. I whisper “Hawk?”
His smile feels so familiar. I lean into the glass, as if I was expecting it to disappear and allow me to fall into his arms. I hear a soft thump as he leans his head against his side of the wall. I sigh. Even in the dark I can see the scars on his body, the emptiness in his eyes.
My eyes grow heavy again, and I can feel Hawk’s distant warmth even though it feels like we’re separated by a vast, frozen lake.
I am awakened by the usual rattle of food being pushed through the cell door. I spring from my cramped position and grab it hungrily. The prison food is not great, by any means, but it’s better then what Dune and I scavenged in the desert.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see Hawk digging into his food, too.
I look up as the drone circles back toward our cells. Hawk stiffens and half stands. I do the same, not knowing why Hawk is so wary. The drone inputs the code for Hawk’s door and it glides open.
He retreats farther into his cell. My food slips from my hand. This is all wrong.
I ram into the glass and I scream his name. I hear his frantic calls of “Ember-!”
He runs to the glass like he did those years ago. He presses his hand up next to mine and shouts. “Ember! It’s all a lie! They caused the Disaster on purpose! They imprison us because they don’t want anyone to know that people can survive on the Outside! Everyone here is being tricked-!”
I see the drone insert it’s long grasping legs into Hawk’s cell. Tears sting my eyes as I yell “ I don’t understand!!”
The drone’s claws get closer to Hawk’s legs and he screeches “TELL THEM! EVERYONE! IT’S A TRICK! GET THEM ALL OUT!”
My voice drops to a whisper as tears clog my throat. “I-I can’t do it. Not without you. I can’t do it-”
My voice finally breaks and my knees give out as Hawk is dragged out of his cell his whisper still hanging in the air~
“I believe in you.”