The doors open and we are taken to a dark room. The next competition is about to start. I can tell everyone is somewhat nervous. I can tell everyone is afraid of what is going to happen. I am among the afraid. My heartbeat is racing. I can almost hear it through my chest.
We were getting down to the wire here. There were only a few of us left. I had a chance to win this. I had a chance to get back to where my Uncle Royce was. Naz is there. He doesn’t look at me. Not directly anyway. He is staring at me through the corner of my eye.
“Did you want to say something?”
I’m shocked, “Usually I’m the quiet one.”
He looks over at me and grunts, “Just…”
Right before he can say anything I see he is distracted. A voice calling out to him.
“Naz! Hey come here for a second,” a voice states.
It’s Canaan. Canaan doesn’t want anything. I’m sure of it. He’s doing it just to get Naz’s attention because well..that’s the kind of person Canaan is. I watch as Naz looks at me, then looks at Canaan.
He chooses Canaan.
I shouldn’t be surprised as he walks away to where Canaan is. I don’t hear what they are saying from where I am standing but I can almost see Canaan’s facial expressions as he struggles to make up some random thing to get Naz’s attention.
There is someone else getting my attention as well. It’s Star.
“Is something supposed to be happening here?” Star asks.
I look over at him, “I think we are supposed to wait.”
Star leaves my side. He’s been by my side for a while now. The whole alliance thing is definitely working. Ever since I helped him in the orgasm thing it seems as though he feels like he owes me something. It feels as though he feels like I am a friend to him. A friend was a strong word especially at a time like this though. The truth is that someone had to die. No one knew who that person was but we all knew that we were all working to make sure we weren’t that person.
I lean up against a wall and that’s when I see him approach me.
He’s just as perfect as the first time I saw him. Not perfect like in the way that Star was. No, he was flawed but in his flawed appearance, I swear he seems so perfect.
He opens his mouth ready to speak but then I see Star come back.
“Whatever happens I got your back,” Star states, “I owe you.”
I smile, “I know that Star.”
“Skystar Tigori,” he states.
“That’s my full name. I wanted you to know that for when we get out of here.”
He has a beautiful smile. Not just beautiful. Perfect. Antlien perfect. It’s one of those smiles you just look at and you think people don’t look like that really. I had heard back on 1st Earth there were people who did something called plastic surgery. They changed their faces to look perfect. That sort of thing never caught on 2nd Earth. Maybe it’s because no matter how much a human changed themselves they could never be as handsome or perfect as an Antlien. It was kind of discouraging to walk around next to these perfect beings all the damn time.
“Nice to know,” I say with a half-baked smile.
Honestly, I want him to stop talking. I see how Nazareth gets really uncomfortable. I see how he goes back to the darkness. Just at that moment, I hear the locking sound. It was the sound that we had all gotten used to. It was the dismantling of the walls. The whole space station was changing again. It was literally rearranging itself.
The walls begin to open. I look over and see Nazareth still staring at me instead of being shocked about the walls. He doesn’t even seem to notice there are separate entrances. One for each of us. Hallways that come into existence out of nowhere. Our names light up above the entrances.
“What is this?” Yoyo asks.
“It looks familiar,” I state.
“It should. It is Familiar,” Anita states, “This is a Familiar maze. In Familiar culture, a child proves themselves ready to be adult by completing a maze. At each level of the maze, they must complete a riddle. In the center of the maze, they earn the status to become an active member of society.”
“What happens if they don’t pass?” Sky asks.
“They don’t exist.”
We all look at one another. It’s kind of harsh.
“What do you mean they don’t exist?” Sky asks.
“They are shunned. People are not allowed to talk to them. People are not allowed to speak to them or to act as though they matter. They don’t exist in society. Their offspring don’t exist in society.”
“That seems…” I start off.
I stop. I don’t want to offend Anita.
“Cruel…” Sky finishes luckily for me.
Anita looks at me and shakes her head, “Familiars are known for our intellect and our superiority. You Antliens should be able to relate. Only the strong survive. This is why we have managed to thrive on 2nd Earth while other races haven’t. This is just how things are. This is the way of the universe.”
How things are…
The way of the universe…
All of these things sound familiar. Almost too familiar to me. They were lessons that I had grown up with. Tales that I had learned before. Familiars were a proud race and we had taken sole ownership of 2nd Earth.
“We should begin…this is the competition…” Anita states, before looking at me and saying the strangest thing possible, “You should do well.”
“I never had to face something like this before.”
If this was Familiar tradition then why didn’t I have to do it?
“You are far superior to others based on your bloodline. You wouldn’t have to.”
The maze is dark twisted and cold. I am walking down feeling as though it would never end. It’s almost 30 minutes before I see anything. It’s almost 30 minutes just wandering in the darkness. First I’m running. I’m excited to get this over with but then I realize how far this just goes and I start taking my time making sure that I’m not doing the same thing over and over and going in circles. It was complex.
I end up doing the only thing that makes sense.
“You too?” a voice states.
I turn and realize that there is someone standing there. I’m shocked when I see who it is. Naz. He is leaning up against the wall of the maze. He looks like he’s given up trying to navigate through this thing.
“No luck, huh?” I ask.
He shakes his head, “I feel like some sort of lab rat. What’s the point of all of this? Reparations just don’t make sense. This all has to mean something.”
He’s lost in his thoughts right now. I can tell this is all weighing on him. Why was he here? Was he chosen? What’s the meaning of life?
“My grandfather always told me when I get too lost to think with my right hand,” I state shrugging.
“Maybe he meant that you should jerk off,” he shows gesturing with his right hand in an up-down method, “Release some tension.”
He laughs. I laugh. It’s the first time we laughed since he’d found out who my grandfather was.
“You saved me,” I point out of nowhere, “When I was choking.”
“You going to ruin the moment?” he asks.
I shrug and just give him a look, “I mean your boyfriend had to be pissed that you didn’t just let me die.”
“Canaan’s not my boyfriend and even if he was, I do what I want.”
“So you wanted to save me.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t NOT say that,” I respond right back.
Nazareth shoots me over a stare. I can tell that he’s uncomfortable with this conversation. He probably would prefer to be anywhere else but here right now but here we were. Fate had brought us together and for some reason, I’m happy about it. Standing here in this hallway with him just makes me feel comfortable. It makes me feel at ease.
It calms me down.
“Your grandfather gave you a lot. Not just tips on life. I’m sure he gave you everything. He gave you the world. You know what he gave the rest of us?”
“Lies,” he explains, “So maybe I had a little soft spot but that doesn’t change how I feel. That doesn’t change what I think about your grandfather.”
“Maybe I can change how what you think about me.”
I take a step forward. I want this. I want to touch him and when I do I swear I feel static between us. It’s the purest form of static I’d ever felt before. It’s as though the Universe wasn’t just pushing us together. It was smashing us together. Did he not feel that? For a moment I think he doesn’t but the longer I touch him the more I realize him almost shivering as though someone had pinched all the nerves of his body.
I wasn’t sure if he felt what I felt but I knew that he felt something. There was something there. Something between us.
“I like you. I am attracted to you. You knew that before we came here—” He says out of nowhere.
“You admit it?”
“I never denied it. Unfortunately for us, I don’t think with my dick. Or my right hand…”
I pause. He was shutting me down. He was basically telling me that it didn’t matter. Still, when he says right hand he puts his right hand up to prove a point and then I realize something. It’s something I don’t notice before.
“Right hand…” I state, “I know how to get out of here.”
I put my right hand on the wall making sure that I follow the maze with my right hand pressed against the wall.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
He’s looking at me. His eyes glued on me as though I’m making magic as I confidently start navigating through the maze.
“Imagine walking through the maze all the time touching the wall on your right with your right hand. When you come to a junction, turn in the way that allows you to keep your hand on a wall. If you think of it that means that you’ll always go down a way that makes sense. You’ll never repeat yourself. We’ll get out!”
He is still quiet. I expect him to be excited that I figured something out but he’s not. He just keeps walking up behind me.
“You seem pretty excited for a Familiar. Thought you guys don’t have many emotions.”
“I’m only part Familiar. I’m also part human.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“I am not in the business to making you feel better,” I tell him shrugging, “You brought it up, perhaps you are trying to make yourself feel better about something…”
I look back at him. He looks uncomfortable. He answers me back with a hard quick, “Pft…”
I can tell he’s irritated but for some reason, he sticks with me. For some reason, he believes that I know what the fuck I’m doing. By the time we get to the first riddle, I can tell that
I look at the riddle.
“It’s not clever even though it’s bright.
It’s not on fire even though it burns
What is it?”
I just stare at it. I don’t get it. I look at the wall and I get more confused as each second passes. That’s when I look over at Naz. He gives a quick shrug.
“You know it?”
“It’s a star.”
All of a sudden the wall behind the plaque opens up giving us access to the next level of the maze. Naz doesn’t take the time to brag about getting the answer right. He just stands in the doorway. I expect him to leave me now that he knows my method of getting through the maze and is clearly better at these sorts of things but instead, he does something I don’t expect.
He waits for me.
“What?” I ask.
“You coming or what?”
“You want me to come, with you?” I ask.
“We’re working together already,” he says almost reluctantly, “We might as well keep going together.”
“Are you saying we make a good team?” I ask.
Naz gives me a harsh look, “Don’t push it.”
“What do you humans say? You’re my right-hand man,” I state laughing at my own pun.
I think the way a Familiar laughs comes off a little abrasive to the human ear because he squirms a little bit.
“If you keep being corny I’m going to leave you. Don’t make me regret working with you.”
I zip my lips, “Back to being quiet.”
We are making fast work of the maze. We are getting through it quicker than I could have imagined. We have a method. We make a good team whether Naz wants to admit it or not. I use my right-hand method to quickly navigate to the other riddles and he quickly solves them as though it’s nothing at all. Soon enough he stops scolding and we find ourselves making light conversation as we walk. It’s not a lot at first but at least it’s better than the situation we had before.
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have much food growing up in the stacks,” he tells me, “I remember there were these old relics. People called them newspapers. ”
“Never heard of them.”
“Human ancestors used to print out their news. They would have it delivered or you can go somewhere and pick it up.”
“You had to leave your home for news. Your ancestors sound so primitive…”
“We upgraded it just took us longer than your people. Hell, if you are half human then this is your history too. Isn’t it?”
I laugh, “You got a point.”
“Damn right I do. I say this all just to say I used to read riddles all day in these old newspapers. It made it so I wasn’t so hungry. I used to put my entire heart into it. Once your heart is into something nothing else really matters.”
I feel like shit knowing that there were people on 2nd Earth literally starving. I had more than enough food. I’d had been spoiled because of it. There were times I had 5 stars meals laid out in front of me and just thrown it all out because I didn’t like how the cooks plated it. I remember it was a never a big deal when I did something like that either. My grandfather would sigh and Uncle Royce would laugh as though it was the funniest thing in the fucking world.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Did you know any past repairers?”
He nods, “My brother. They took him a year ago. He hadn’t been chosen but he had made really good friends with the person who was chosen. When he came back he was never really himself. It had an effect on him. You know. Made him angry. He joined ER. He brought me along with him. He swore to End Reparations.”
“Where is he now?”
“Dead, of course.”
He says of course as though I should have known.
“I’m sorry to hear about that.”
“Everyone who goes up against Jonathan and the Familiars ends up dead. That’s how things work. The Demolisher let us know that?”
“It’s the nickname we have for the person who started ER. We wanted to destroy this concept that the Repairers helped build. This concept that the poor and the unworthy can be chosen to be given to a planet. The Demolisher thought it was wrong. He helped us see the light.”
I think about the word.
“Doesn’t sound positive.”
“You sound just like a goddam Familiar.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Who cares what it sounds like? Demolisher. What matters is what he stands for? Maybe it sounds better if someone called themselves the Deliverer.”
“ER is a group of terrorists,” I argue.
I don’t know why I say it. Maybe I’m sick and tired of this guy continuously coming at my grandfather. Maybe I’m sick and tired of these people always playing the victim. I understood shit wasn’t fair but they hadn’t made it any better.
“We fought violence with violence. You think Jonathan was better? You think your grandfather didn’t kill? He did it in secret. Like he did with my brother. In the middle of the night, they came for him. They made me watch and they left me there promising that one day I’d be a Repairer and I can fix his mistakes. I can repair all the things he’d done wrong.”
All of a sudden he stops walking. Tears are strolling down his eyes. I can tell this is hurting him. He’s going through it. As he stops I stop as well. I don’t like seeing him like this. We had our differences. That was clear as day but I knew deep inside this was a passionate man who wanted to do good.
“ER is wrong…” I state.
“You don’t understand…”
“Let me finish!”
He shuts up surprisingly. All I hear is his breathing. The crying has stopped. He’s looking at me angrily wanting to get his own words out but he respects me enough to shut the hell up and let me finish what the hell I’m trying to say.
“Go ahead,” he finally states.
“ER is wrong, but Jonathan is wrong as well. Violence does not help with violence. We are of different races. Different species even. But we all share one thing now. We share 2nd Earth. And we have to make certain that we make the most out of this.”
“Not everyone is as good of a person as you are.”
“You think I’m a good person.”
We are looking at each other in the eyes. Our eyes pressed up against one another and at that moment I swear I just feel like our minds are colliding. I look at his lips. He looks at mine. I think he is going to do it. I think he is going to come forward and give me a kiss, but he doesn’t.
He looks right past me.
“There it is…” he states, “I think it’s the last one.”
I turn. Sure enough, it’s the last riddle. It’s the finish line. I can tell. It’s the grandest puzzle of them all. I walk over there kind of pissed this is disrupting the moment that we were having but realizing that we have to get this done.
“I can break, I can be clogged, I can be attacked, I can be given, I can be kept, I can be crushed yet I can be whole at the same time. What am I?”
“You don’t know it.”
“I do…it’s just. Heavy is, all.”
“What’s the answer?”
What can break, what can be clogged, what can be attacked, what can be given, what can be kept, what can be crushed yet still remain whole?
“A heart,” he answers.
The door opens. He looks at me. I look at him. I don’t know which one of us grab each other hands as we walk through the dark doorway but before I realize it my hands are in his and he is in mine. It feels so…special. It feels almost like it’s meant to be.
As we get through the gate we are the first ones in the white room.
And that’s when it’s happening.
I kiss him.
I kiss him hard and he kisses me back hard. Our tongues interlock. It’s as though all this passion he’s been holding back this whole time seems to come flooding through to me in his body. I feel this rush that I’ve never felt before. I don’t care what his words say. I know that he cares about me. He’s cared about me this entire time.
“ They want me to choose you. The Demolisher instructed me to choose you, but I can’t. I don’t care what he says. Royce can go fuck himself.”
“You know him?”
Could it be? Was Uncle Royce the leader of ER?