July 3rd, Epsilon
The world looks awfully small from here, I think to myself, squinting through the slits of my eyes to read the time off the clock on the wall. I squint a bit more, convinced that if I try hard enough, I can make it out.
“Lean back, Miss Callisto.”
Someone lays a hand on my shoulder and pushes me gently back into the heavenly pile of pillows behind me. “Detroit.” I barely recognize my voice, the light bounce to it buried under the new raspy tone.
A pastel pink mug is nudged into my cupped left hand, and I tilt my head down to survey its contents. The drink has a sunshine, honey-colored glow to it with a squeezed lemon floating on the top.
“Miss Callisto,” Detroit huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “Please. Stop looking at it and drink. It’s good for your throat.” He stares at me, a brief look of disgust on his face before he turns to leave.
“Detroit…” I trail off softly, expecting him to swivel around and comfort me the way he always does.
“Yes?” he snaps impatiently.
“Detroit?” Something’s happened. He isn’t like this.
He doesn’t even look at me. Just stares at the door, still as stone.
My mouth opens, but no words come out. I don’t even know where to start from, what to say. “Is everything okay?”
“You.” He spins on his heels and crosses the room in two quick strides, sinking both his fists into the bed on either side of me as he brings his face inches away from mine. “You let Lilium — Lilium of all people — convince you to kill Dasha Halax?” His eyebrows furrow and the corners of his lips turn down. “I thought better of you,” he spits out, shaking his head. “I thought better of all of you.”
I look down at the steaming mug in my hands, the silence in the room killing me. He watched my memories. “So you’d rather I die and she live?” I don’t know why I’m asking him — I should know what he’ll say, but at this point, I’m not so sure.
“I’d rather the Lucia that would sacrifice the lives of others to save herself die. So if this is the one that’s come to stay, then, yes, I’d rather you die and she live. That’s not a new concept to you, Miss Callisto.”
I watch his piercing green eyes as they recede, watch his firm back as it moves away from me. “It’s good to know where you stand, Troy.” The nickname I used to call him when we were children and every last thing about the world we knew was too good to be true rolls off my tongue like the solace it is.
“I bet it is, Miss Callisto.” His voice is cold, too cold, and the fact that his name on my lips no longer warms his heart the way it does mine shoots pain through the human part of my chest. “I bet it is.”
“I’m sorry, Troy,” I mutter under my breath too quietly for him to hear as the door opens and shuts, and as quickly as he came in, he’s gone.
I sit at my tool shop worktable, biting my lip as my shaky left hand drops the screwdriver into my right arm for the thirteenth time. “Damn it!” I scream, grabbing my toolbox by the handle and hurling it against the wall. “I can’t do anything right!” I shake my arm around violently to get the screwdriver out, and upon grabbing hold of it, drive it into the wood of my table.
My chest heaves in and out, and I take a step back. I’m broken forever. I’m never going to be able to fix this. The heel of my foot catches on one of the many hydraulic cables that snake across the floor and my back slams into the glass wall behind me, hundreds of shards of glass raining down and lodging themselves in my back.
“Ungh,” I grunt halfheartedly. I try to twist around to get a better view, but the grinding sound that it produces makes me freeze, so I sink to the floor facefirst, indifferent to the fragmented glass that I lie in. “I’m so worthless,” I whisper to myself, tears flowing freely from the corners of my eyes. “I can’t do anything.”
“That’s not true,” Detroit’s steady voice retorts.
My head snaps up at the sound. “I don’t need you.” The venom in my voice surprises even me. Am I even capable of this?
“You can’t push everyone away, you know,” he says in that soft tone that I love as he steps over broken glass and slides his arms under my stomach, picking me up and setting me on the table face down.
He chuckles softly. “Not forever.”
I can’t say anything to that. He’s the only one I’m grounded in. The only one that I need. He’s a piece of me that I can never let go of, and someday that’s going to come back to haunt me, but for now, I’ll accept it.
He chuckles again in victory, running a hand through my messy hair. “You’ll be fine, kitten.”
I fake frown and giggle a bit, flicking him with my good hand. “You said you’d stop calling me that.”
“Mhmm, and you said you’d stop calling me Troy.”
There’s the sound of drawers opening and things clattering on the table beside my head. “What are you doing?”
I feel the slight tug of something pulling out of my back, but I don’t know what it is or how much it would hurt had it been in the human part of me. Perks of being a cyborg. “What are you doing?” I repeat, more forcefully this time.
“There’s glass in your back.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I’m taking it out. Happy?”
“I want my arm fixed.” I point to my limp right arm hanging off the table.
“I’ll do that too.”
“Hmph.” I flare my nostrils a little, just for fun. “I can take care of myself, you know. Just fine.”
He bursts out laughing, the full sound filling the room. “Like you’ve done? You froze to near-death, came home delusional, broke your arm, ruined your workshop, and got glass lodged in your back. Yes, I’m sure you can take wonderful care of yourself.”
“I should have fired you years ago.”
“Your father would have wanted me to stay.”
Tension floods into the room before he even finishes his sentence and Detroit slowly sets down his pain of tweezers, resting his forearms on the edge of the table. “I know it hurts that you never met him, but he’s gone, kitten. All you’ve got left is your mom and—”
“I don’t have a mom. She’s dead.”
“No, she’s not. She’s very much alive, and had you put in the effort to find her—”
“She’s dead to me!” I’ve raised my voice so high that it’s raspy like it was earlier, and I shut my mouth. I’m yelling at Detroit. Again.
“Let’s not talk about this anymore, ‘kay? Let’s just…let it be.”
“Sure,” I whisper. “Sure.”
He finishes removing the glass in perfect silence, placing the tweezers back in their drawer and shutting everything once he’s done. “Your arm.” He motions to me to sit up and I do.
“Thanks,” I mumble, finding the seams of my jeans suddenly more interesting than they’ve ever been. Silence settles over us again, and Detroit frees the screwdriver from my table, placing a screw at the end of it and putting it straight into the hole of the hinge. First try.
“And…” After a few turns, he gives the screwdriver one last, firm twist before drawing it out carefully. “Done. Try her out.”
Raising my arm towards the ceiling, I bend it at the elbow and wiggle my fingers. “Perfect.” I look back at him, a nostalgic smile creeping onto my face that I can’t seem to control.
He returns it and lifts me up off the table, setting me lightly on my feet. Delicately, he pushes my hair behind my ear, stepping behind me and wrapping his arms around my waist. “Listen, I… didn’t mean what I said earlier. I’d want you to live, no matter what. You come first.”
I swivel my head around to look into his eyes. They remind me of when I was four and still scared of the dark, scared that the monsters that killed my father would come back for me in my sleep. He’d stay up all night and “‘chase my monsters away”, then fall asleep in class and come back with bruises from his teachers. “I don’t want you to think that you have to.”
“I don’t.” He shrugs, his eyebrows moving with his shoulders. “I support your decisions. I’ll back you up. But believe me when I say this: something is off with the whole Cure thing. It feels… wrong.”
“I don’t know. I just know.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
Sighing deeply, I step out of his arms, rubbing at the now cold spot where his breath had warmed the back of my neck. “We have things to do. Places to be.” I find myself pulling at my fingers again, and I stuff my hands into my pockets to force myself to stop.
“Yeah.” Detroit hangs his head and nods curtly, taking the steps out of my workshop two at a time and pausing for me to follow before shutting the door quietly behind us both. I barely wait to watch him break out into a jog down the hall before I take another flight of stairs up to the ground level, grabbing my coat off the rack and throwing it over my shoulders. There are people I need to see.
Thud. The bag lands on the table, the sound echoing around the room. “This is it,” I say, my voice booming to be heard above the bass of the hip-hop song playing from the multicolored speaker in the corner.
A man with too many diamond-encrusted gold chains around his neck plops down in the chair across from me, unzipping the bag without dropping his gaze from my eyes. “It’s complete?”
“No sir,” I purr, throwing a little sass into my voice. Let’s get this over with.
He nods, rummaging through the bag to get an idea of how much he’ll be getting. “The Halax girl?”
“Mmm. And I want it clean. Don’t give me a reason to cross you again.” I shift my weight to one side, tossing my hair over my shoulder impulsively.
“Consider it done.”
“I will.” Spinning on my heels, I throw the door open and take a deep breath of fresh air, pulling my hood further over my head. “This had better be worth it,” I tell myself as I disappear into a corner alley, looking over my shoulder ever so often to be sure that no one’s following me, that the sounds of footsteps behind me are only in my head.
It’s seconds that feel like hours before I step out of the alley, the TaxTram whooshing past me and twirling my hair around in a lopsided circle motion.
“Tab, please.” The monotone droning of the conductor’s voice snaps me back to reality, and I root through my pockets for my rail tab, holding it out feebly to him.
He squints at the faded lettering on my rail pass, scratching his head for a moment before his eyes widen. “Lucia Callisto! Oh-I’ve-you know, my daughters have wanted to meet you since they knew who you were!” He lets out an unnecessarily exaggerated laugh and snatches a piece of cloth and a taped-together Sharpie off his thin desk. “If it’s not too much trouble, could you sign this for me? It’d mean a lot to my girls.”
Pressing my lips together, I give a tight nod and force a smile. “Sure,” I say through gritted teeth, scribbling my name on the fabric and handing it back to him. “There you go!” I try my best to force some enthusiasm into my voice, but it falls flat.
He grins at the scrap, tracing his finger dreamily over the ink.
“Um.” I wring my hands and balance on the balls of my feet. “My tab, please?”
“Oh, yes, of course. Here.” He gives it back to me hurriedly and returns his attention to the signed piece of clothing.
Humans never cease to amaze me. I stuff my tab back into the pocket of my pastel orange coat and run for the closing doors of the TaxTram, barely squeezing myself through the crack. I look around to find that the Tram is near empty with just a few scatterings of people in random cars, and I settle on car number 13, making my way back to my favorite, torn-up seat and stretching my legs out in front of me. It’ll be hours before the Tram reaches the city, so I close my eyes and tilt my head back, slowing my breathing and allowing myself to drift off into a land beyond my wildest imagination.
“It’s the last stop, lady. Ya wanna get off?”
I sit up quickly, banging my head on the metal handhold above me. “Yeah, I…” Rubbing the angry bump forming on my forehead, I shake off whatever sleep I was still swimming in and blink inhumanely fast, taking in the tram driver standing before me. His cheeks are pudgy, and his shirt, though probably XL, is a bit too small to fit around his stomach. “Where are we?”
“Lexsas. Do ya live around here or something? I can take you back if you missed your stop.”
I stand up and make my way to the sliding doors that lead off the railway and onto the well-kept sidewalk a block or two from my house, shaking my head slowly. “No, this is it. Thanks.”
“Yep.” He waddles back to the conductor’s cabin, slamming the door to car 13 on his way out.
As I exit the crisp air greets me once again, soothing the lump on my head. One step after the other, I make it to the outer gate of my mansion, remembering faintly how I had stumbled in here just hours ago. Sighing through my nose, I scan both my fingerprint and my retina, and the gate swings open, servants of all kinds rushing and taking things from me. My coat is whisked off my back as two houseboys I recognize but don’t know by name lift me into a wheelchair.
A wheelchair? “What sort of nonsense is this?” I try to stand to my feet, but a firm grip on my shoulders keeps me from rising.
“Per Detroit’s orders, Miss Callisto.”
“Does Detroit sign your paychecks?” A hush falls upon the crowd of maids clustered around me. “No? Well, then.” I stand and push the wheelchair away from me, my face hot and my head spinning. Storming up the stairs to the boy’s quarters, I don’t need to scan the tags on the doors. Room 31 houses the faded memories of the trouble that Detroit and I got into all those years back when there was nothing between us. No social class to divide us. No expectations of what we should be. I scan my fingerprint and my retina again and let myself in, shoving the door open and looking around as the faint smell of strawberry waffles crashes over me like a wave.
It’s no different than it was all those years ago, the old crayon drawings of us holding hands in front of lopsided sunsets only stepped up to detailed, hyper-realistic drawings of raindrops on my cheeks. Colored sketches of me running through fields of lilies. Me. Me. Me. It’s always been about me.
He’s lying on the top bunk and staring at the ceiling, not even looking my way as I charge in. My chest heaves in and out as I stand in the middle of his room, and slowly he sits up, swings his legs over the edge of the bed, and jumps to the ground. Standing face to face with me, I realize how much he’s grown, and all my anger melts away when his dark, beachy scent hits me. I bury my face in his chest and feel one of his arms go around my waist while the other snakes its way into my hair.
“I’ve missed this,” he mumbles into the top of my head.
I don’t respond, just hold him closer. “Troy…”
We aren’t kids anymore. “I—” You’re human. I’m a cyborg. Hues and Cys don’t mix. They can’t mix. “We—” Why is it so hard to let you go?
“What?” He pushes me back a little so he can look into my eyes.
“A wheelchair isn’t necessary. I’m not lame.” Damn it.
He shakes his head and pulls me towards him again, a sly smile crawling onto his face. “Don’t tell me how to do my job.”
“I hate you.”
I let out a very unprofessional snort and Detroit chuckles, letting his hand fall away from my waist and holding me by the shoulders. “Lucia…” He gazes at me, his eyes slightly squinted as if I should know what he’s saying.
“I-I don’t understand.”
Sighing, he lets go of me and walks to the door, his back to me the way it was this morning.
We have a bad habit of talking like this.
“It’s been years since I’ve told you how I feel. I just need an answer, something concrete that I can—” The room is silent as he turns back to me, a tear rolling down his cheek and his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. “Am I making sense to you? At all?”
“I only have 2 weeks. We only have two weeks. It’d be-I don’t want to die wondering what we could have been.”
“I just need time, Troy—”
“How much time? Are you hearing anything I’m saying? By the end of today, we only have 14 days left to live. 14 days. So tell me again, how much time do you need?”
“Do you want me to say what I think, or what I know you want to hear?”
“Don’t lie to me, kitten.”
I suck in a breath and shut my eyes tight. He was going to hear it one way or another. “I-I love you, Detroit. I have, and I want us to be… something, but we—” My voice cracks, yet I continue. “—we can’t. There’s too much between us, people—”
“You’re concerned about what people think?” His voice is barely a whisper.
“No, no, I-We’re not even the same class, Troy.”
“What kind of class?”
I draw a giant circle with my arms in the air before dropping them back to my sides. “All of them! I’m the richest person on the whole damn planet. Even Dasha comes second to me. If you didn’t stay here with me, if we didn’t grow up here together… you’d be living on the streets, or not at all. And-and then I’m Cy, you’re Hue—”
“None of that’s ever bothered me.”
“You should just find someone you can settle down with, someone you can start a family with, and have a life. Have kids that’ll carry your name.”
“With what? Two weeks?”
I look down at my polished, custom-ordered Air Jordans. “Maybe if-what if I could get the Cure for you? Then—” My mind races at warp speed. “Then you’d live, and you could—”
“I don’t want to live without you.”
“But—” I furrow my brow to keep myself from breaking down. Stay strong, Lucia. Stay strong. “—I don’t want to live without you. And you’ve always said that I come first. This,” I motion towards him, “is what I want.” Crossing my shaky arms over my chest, I try to radiate my usual confidence, try to cock my head in that way that makes people listen to me.
His jaw trembles and the tears flow freely now. Taking a step back, he sits abruptly on the bottom bunk, examining a painting of me on the wall opposite him with a vacant, pale look to his face. He mutters something under his breath that I can’t hear, then responds, his voice monotone and blank. “Okay.”
His head snaps up to see me, this hopeful look in his eyes that shatters my heart into a million little pieces.
“But-I mean—” In. Out. Big breaths. “—none of that really matters, right? We can be whatever we want-whatever we want to be.”
The glow comes back to him and he springs to his feet, stretching his arms out to pick me up before slowing down and stopping. “I want you to be happy, kitten. Are you sure?”
“Surer than I’ve ever been.”
He chuckles and wraps me in his arms, lifting me off my feet and out of his room. “Alright, then.” He mumbles the same thing to himself over and over, a crazy grin spreading out on his face. We go up another flight of stairs to my bedroom, and he lays me gently in bed, pulling the covers over my body and crouching next to me. “Good night, kitten.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He stands and walks to the door, opening it and turning when he gets there. “And Luci?”
Sitting up a little, I raise an eyebrow. “Hmm?”
“Surer is bad English.” The door shuts as he walks out, and I lie back, allowing myself to smile just a little bit at the ceiling.
Surer is bad English.