Cold. Dark. Deadly.
These words were often used to describe space, and the young woman peering out one of the many windows of the space station thought them all fitting.
The stars looked down upon her pale, freckled face, and smiled.
Nova sighed wistfully as she imagined pocketing a star to bring back to earth. She remembered asking her mother as a child if stars could live in the sea. It only made sense, since both space and sea were such unconquered, amiable foes, and if one ventured down its depths, they looked similar enough.
She turned away and walked down the white hall of the station. The overhead lights shone against the reflective tile before her as she walked in her silence.
It was times like these that she would most miss her ethereal home—times when she felt as if she was another star floating in the galaxy, bright and shining and poetic. But are stars poetic, or are they just the inspiration of many poetic souls? she'd asked her mother once. She didn't have an answer.
She passed the automatic sliding door and entered the gardens, breathing in the damp, moist air. Light powered the vegetation, ensuring the vegetables, flowers, and fruits stayed healthy and vibrant. She enjoyed Earth food more than their own, but that was the only thing she liked more than her little station in the stars. She hated the bugs on Earth, not to mention the hot sun. Space was much better.
She knelt beside a rose and inhaled deeply, gently rubbing the waxy petals between her fingers.
"Nova, what are you doing in here?" asked an alarmed voice above her. The voice had entered silently through the open doors on the other side of the room.
Nova stood and smiled softly before brushing down her pants and removing the dirt. "Just saying goodbye, Jacey. College will be so long and dull."
"Well you should hurry! We'll be late and then we'll both miss our flight."
Nova swatted a hand at her. "Fine, fine. I'm coming." She swiftly turned and left the gardens. Her bags were already on the shuttle, she just had to get there in time. She glanced down at the watch on her wrist that flashed the time onto her skin and gave a start. Where had the time gone?
She sprinted down the halls, her footsteps echoing in her ears. The door of the shuttle's waiting room entered her vision.
—But the light above it was red.
It was locked.
She gasped and scanned the waiting room. It was crowded, and every person there seemed to be as surprised as she was. The door behind her clicked and locked.
Suddenly a voice flooded the speakers above them.
"Please be seated. The Trials are about to begin."
Trials? What Trials? The question was scattered around the room. What was happening?
The doors slid open and a group of men marched through the doors, each bearing a black sort of armband with a symbol on it. Two hexagons were linked together with what looked like a goat's head in their center. The head had nothing on its face to identify it as being a goat, but its face was made from a thin, slightly dome-edged triangle with two protruding horns out of the top sides.
"Welcome to the New Order."
People stood from their seats and were shot. She sat.
A seated boy about Nova's own age—Kent—was grabbed from his seat and taken out. "Where are you taking me?! Release me at once!"
She trembled and sat on her hands to keep them from shaking.
The men took a girl as well, but shot an older couple, likely in their late seventies.
The crowd of people was left dazed, confused, and terrified.
"Where are they going?"
"Will we sit here like helpless children?"
"We're going to die!"
They waited in that room for three hours before anything changed. The doors opened and the men came back inside, this time unannounced. They took another boy and another girl.
Slowly, rumors started to circulate. The other boy and girl had yet to reappear. Where were they? What happened to them? Were these people rebels?
Nova didn't know—and perhaps she didn't want to.
The next day they came for her.
They were quick and sudden. One moment, she was telling a story to a child, and the next, the doors opened, and a young boy, most likely no older than seven, and herself were taken.
They wrapped their arms around her own and drug her out screaming.
"Let go of me! Let go!" She tried to kick the guard that held her the most, but he blocked the kick with his own leg.
She watched the windows—saw the glittering diamonds of starlight pass by her, and this time, they did not smile, they wept. Perhaps that's all a star was—just a shed tear from some unfortunate soul, whether they were on Mars, Earth, or some other space station. For all she knew, a star of her own was beginning to form from the tears burning just behind her lids.
Was today the day she was going to die?
She sat in a dark cell.
The cell wasn't dirty, nor did it smell bad, it was just dark. And cold. So cold. . .
On the other side of the cell, his face partially crossed over by diamond-shaped lines of metal, was the little boy they took along with her.
She exhaled into the chilly silence and paused for a span, letting the steam of her breath settle around her. Turning to the boy, she asked, "What's your name?"
"Timon," he whispered, rubbing his hands up and down his arms. "W-what's yours?"
He nodded and cupped his hands over his face. She heard him breathe into them, a feeble attempt to warm his face.
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Nineteen. And yourself?"
"Six. I'll be seven next week." A small glow of excitement lit within his gaze. "My Momma said she'll bake me a horse cake."
She smiled, but there wasn't much energy to it. "Do you like horses?"
He nodded excitedly. "Oh, yes. My Great, Great Grandpa was a rancher. We still have selfies he took on some of them, all the way back from Earth!" His expression drooped then, and his eyes returned to his arms as he rubbed at them. "It's so cold here. I didn't know it was possible to be so cold."
Nova agreed. It was freezing, and all she had was a thin jacket. She glanced back at the boy who had no jacket at all and slid hers off. "Do you want this?" she asked.
His eyes went wide. "Oh, no, ma'am. I couldn't. Momma wouldn't think highly of me for taking a woman's jacket when she needed it most."
Her lips quirked and she fanned herself. "I'm actually a bit hot." That was the biggest lie of the century.
"Oh." He hesitated for only a moment before scooting closer to her. She did her best to poke it through the space just above the floor, where the diamond-patterned wires began, but the fabric had a hard time slipping through.
The door at the end of the hallway opened and a man, now dressed in a reflective white uniform, stormed inside, a gun aimed at Nova. He opened her door. A second guard dressed in the same outfit marched to Timon's cell.
She didn't put up a fight out of fear of being shot.
They took the boy and girl into a room and strapped them to separate tables. A metal band was placed around their heads. She recognized it as being like the one they used on people who were insane, to get inside their heads and fix whatever was causing the insanity.
—But she wasn't crazy, which meant one thing.
They were going to brainwash her into doing what they wanted her to.
"Hold still and it won't hurt. Move, and you'll likely fry your brain," a woman warned just before throwing the switch located on the wall.
Everything went dark.
She awoke with a headache unlike any she'd ever had before, inside her cell. The little boy was crying and holding his head, and she didn't blame him.
Even her own groan sounded loud to her ears as she rubbed the back and sides of her head.
He glanced up at her slowly and sniffed. "They're going to kill us, Miss. I heard them talking earlier."
She froze, a hand on her head. "What can we do about it? We're stuck here." She glanced around in the silence and her eyes found the vent behind the little boy. "Wait a second. . ." She looked to the boy and saw the plastic horse in his hand. "Timon, can that fit in the screws of that vent behind you? The tail, I mean."
"Um. . ." He fit the tail inside and started to twist. The screw popped out, so he grinned and repeated the action three more times before removing the grate. His eyes grew wide and he looked at her.
She forced a smile. "Can you escape?" she asked weakly.
He nodded rapidly and climbed in feet-first before closing the grate again.
These cells were made for adults and teens, not little kids. Normally, what he just accomplished would have been impossible.
A sigh escaped her and she sagged against the back of the cell, content to know that the boy at least had a shot of survival.
A while later she heard a quiet scuffle in the pipe, and suddenly a little hand was sticking out of the vent, holding three grenades.
She panicked and flew to the edge of her cage before they dropped, where she was able to cram her jacket through the wire and under the vent to cushion the grenades fall, as well as allow her to pull them back to her through the small space under the wire diamond shapes, just above the ground.
"Drop them gently," she whispered, then watched as the hand grew more exposed. Timon poked his head out and sat them on the jacket. "Thanks."
Once the grenades were in her hands, Timon crawled back inside, closing the grate and disappearing.
She hid them in the deep pockets of her pants.
Later that day, she found herself facing the barrel of a pistol, and a firing squad met her gaze.
"Nova Demitrius Nickleback, you have been charged with an unwillingness to comply. What say you?"
She winced at the volume of his tone. Her head still ached. "I remember none of this," she rasped.
"Your brain was tried and tested. You will not join the New Order, so you will die."
Her brain reached for ideas. Escape, escape—how could she escape? She was in a line beside at least two other people, and before them were five. . . rebels? Was that what they were?
It didn't matter now. In fact, nothing mattered if she was about to meet her end. With this thought in mind, she reached into her pockets and clutched the pins of the grenades.
"One." The man's voice rang in her ears.
"Two." She pulled two pins in her pocket at once, and then the third. She steeled her nerves.
She was about to kill not only those before her, but those on both sides of her as well.
"Three." She tossed them at her murderers feet and closed her eyes. She would be saving those on the opposite side of the ship with her death. That was worth it, wasn't it?
A shot rang in her ears, followed by three simultaneous explosions.
Fire burned her chest.
A sudden calm overwhelmed her as her vision turned dim.
Cold. Dark. Deadly.