I’m under the bed. Canaan and Star are talking to the nurses. Out of nowhere, I can hear the voice of someone walking into the room.
The voice sounds familiar. It’s one of my grandfather’s henchman, Poppy. I could tell Poppy’s voice anywhere. From the bed, I could smell him. His thick scent. My grandfather gave Poppy anything he wanted and the Antlien servant would give his life for my grandfather. Knowing that it was someone who worked for my grandfather makes my stomach turn. I don’t get it. I don’t understand. I press my hands up against my mouth so they don’t hear me breathing. I’m nervous as hell.
“Where is he?” one of the nurses demands.
They are in a full-blown panic. I had left my room and come looking for Canaan and Star as soon as I overheard that they had taken Naz. It was clear that the Familiars were cleaning house at this point. It was clear that they were going out of their way to make sure that everyone was taken care of. That included Naz and for some reason, I was beginning to feel like that included me as well.
“We don’t know…” Star states, “Right Canaan…”
Why isn’t he responding? Was he bitter about being chosen?
“What about you?” the nurse asks.
I hold my breath. Holy shit. My heart wonders if Canaan would give me up. Just seconds ago we had found out that Anita had chosen him as the sacrifice.
“I haven’t seen him…” Canaan responds as well.
He isn’t giving me up. He hasn’t sold me out. I watch at that moment as the nurses all of a sudden get into a full-blown panic and leave the room. A few seconds later an alarm sounds. Full alarm. I come out from under the bed and I can just tell that everyone is looking.
“What the fuck is going on?” I ask.
I’m referring to the alarm. I look over at Star and Canaan wondering why they aren’t answering. I’m an idiot. I need to be more sympathetic to the fact that Canaan is in shock with being chosen for the sacrifice. He’s upset.
“Canaan—“ Star states.
He seems lost for words.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Canaan offers.
“We can find a way out of this,” I suggest.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he responds relatively quickly again. He’s more aggressive with me when he was with Star. It’s clear that he’s hiding how he feels about this situation. It’s clear that this is getting to him more than he’s willing to acknowledge. To be honest I don’t blame him. This is the kind of shit that would turn someone crazy.
Star looks over at me instead of Canaan, “Why not Naz? Naz deserves this…”
He had a point. Anita knew Naz was the Upsetter. We had all assumed it would have been an easy choice for her to choose Naz instead of Canaan.
“I don’t know,” I respond, “It may have something to do with what I was telling you guys earlier. Upsetters are nothing but Familiars bred to terrorize. This planet…this 2nd Earth is the Familiar home planet. Jonathan was charged with delivering sacrifices for 2nd Earth.”
It hits them like a ton of bricks. Maybe they didn’t understand what I meant the first time I tried to explain it but they definitely understood what the hell I meant now. Canaan’s eyes get wide and he makes this huge gasping sound. Then there is Star’s reaction. He sits on the bed. He looks like he would faint over if he didn’t. Among the three of us, there is nothing but silence.
It’s the silence that confirms everything we’ve known and everything our parents known has been based on a lie. Our entire planet was a lie.
“Are you sure?” Star asks.
I look back at him. That’s the only thing I need to do. I was sure. I was very sure. Naz wouldn’t lie to me. He was an Upsetter but he wouldn’t lie to me. I felt it of him.
It’s Canaan who shivers in response, “This changes everything. Everything…”
“What do we do?”
“We have to get Naz back.”
“The Upsetter?” Star asks raising his eyebrows, “Why the fuck would we save him of all people?”
“He knows things. Things that could help us,” I argue.
“Do you want to save him because he knows something or do you want to save him because you want to fuck him?” Canaan asks.
It was more than that and he knew it. Maybe that was why he and Star forced themselves into some makeshift adoration for one another based off nothing more than the fact that they despised my relationship with Nazareth. They knew it was real. They could feel it and they had given up together, as a unit only to find comfort——whatever comfort there was to find, in one another. I don’t want to argue with Canaan, not now. Right now he might be one of my only friends.
“We have to save Nazareth.”
“No one’s getting saved.”
The door opens. My mouth drops. I make a dash to the window as though there is anywhere to go. Even if I got out the window it would be at least a 30-floor drop to the ground. And I wouldn’t be making it past the window. The person who breaks down the door is none other than Poppy.
I look around realizing this must have been some sort of elaborate rouse.
They were spying on us this whole time. That’s why they sent Poppy. They knew I was in this room. They were bugging us. They were listening to us. That’s something my grandfather himself would do. This had his fingerprints all over it.
“You don’t think the truth is going to come out?” Star asks Poppy, “You’re an Antlien. How can you do this to our people?”
Poppy seems to know exactly what Star is referring to.
“It’s only one sacrifice a year,” Poppy responds, “Not so bad. A small price to pay for this beautiful world. A small price…”
He says it almost as though he’s rehearsed it in his mind to make him feel better. He believes what he’s saying. It’s fucking crazy. One death a year from this bullshit is one death too many. It means nothing to him. He shrugs. I guess he assumes it would never be him. Truth is it probably wouldn’t be. The lotto was nothing more than a lie.
Everything was a lie.
“We’ll tell everyone,” Canaan states.
Poppy raises his eyebrows as though he knows something the rest of us don’t, “Who’s going to believe a poor Stack rat and an Antlien prostitute?”
“Prostitute?” Canaan asks.
Canaan isn’t the only one shocked at that moment. I have to admit that I am too. We both look over at Star. He always came off as someone with all this dignity. Them saying that he was a prostitute completely blew our mind. I knew that lately a lot of Antliens had gone into body work because of how they looked…but Star? He was so well spoken and put together. I’d met the prostitutes of 2nd Earth and he definitely didn’t fit the category.
I guess that was just a clear indication that the cover doesn’t always match the pages.
Luckily for Star, Poppy doesn’t seem to have any time for this, “He’s in here!”
I watch as the men come. The officers. Way more officers flood into the room than needed. For some reason they want me. For some reason, they want me out of this room with these people. I should have been used to it by now. They were trying to segregate me from other people. But why? Why was my grandfather so protective?
Hours turn into days when I’m taken back to the place I once thought was home. Poppy has been instructed to watch me at all times. I can’t leave. Matter of fact they won’t even let me out of there. I don’t know where my grandfather is but I do know one thing. There is security all around the home. Something is happening in this home. Something important. It almost seems like they are centered around everything.
“Your grandfather will be joining us for dinner today,” Poppy tells me.
He’s ironing my clothes. It’s not a coincidence that he does it with no shirt on and nothing more than some sort of futuristic thong. He’s trying to distract me from everything that I had to worry about. He’s trying to distract me from Naz.
“Is he here?”
“He’s on his way.”
“Not my grandfather. I mean Nazareth. Is he here?”
Where else would they take him but to see Jonathan? The officers weren’t for me. I knew that much. My grandfather knew I wasn’t some goddam dangerous soul. I wasn’t the type to run away. The officers that had taken me from the hospital had probably done it for my protection.
No, they weren’t trying to keep me in.
They were trying to keep someone else in…
“Don’t worry about it,” Poppy tells me, “You should be worried about your studies. Your grandfather is so happy to see you. Get dressed. Look nice for him. You’re very important, you know that?”
“You always say that—-“
“And I mean it.”
But what exactly was the meaning? I didn’t get it. Poppy might as well have been programmed like the Upsetters. He might as well have been triggered on like they were. That’s the only thing that made sense.
I do what he says though because I don’t have a choice and because I’m hoping if I do what they say and do it with a smile there is a chance they might let me see Nazareth even for a second. They had this place lit up like a goddam fortress and I knew that the reason had to be Nazareth. I missed him. I missed talking to him. I just wanted to see him. Just for a moment.
Two hours later, I’m dressed and Poppy is at the door.
The dish we are eating is a Prior delicacy. I guess they didn’t just steal people’s lives but they also wanted to steal culture as well. I’m sitting at the table. Normally Prior food was the best food. All green and fresh. Today was different though.
“Eat,” My grandfather says.
“I’m not hungry.”
To say it’s awkward is an understatement. It’s fucking eerie at that table. My grandfather hasn’t looked at me. I can tell he knows that something has changed. I found out the truth. Someone told him that I knew everything. I wouldn’t have been surprised if that person was Anita herself.
“I’m glad you are back,” He states, “You should have never been exposed to any of that. Your Uncle Royce is a fugitive. He is being sought after for his involvement in illegally entering you in the Reparations as well as his involvement with ER.”
“I guess the system isn’t so perfect if you allowed it to happen.”
“Your Uncle had access,” he states, “I apologize. You shouldn’t have seen many of the things that you saw. Or heard many of the things you’ve heard.”
“The reparations were very revealing,” I admit.
I take a sip of the glass. My hand is shaking. I’m so angry but I’m trying to keep it cool. Familiars didn’t understand emotion. It didn’t mean anything to them. To see the fact that I was feeling so much emotion right now felt like my human side was coming out more and more every day. I see him watching my hand. He watches how I clutch the glass and slam it down on the table.
I steady my breathing quickly. I’m not going to let him see me sweat. Not for a minute.
“News reporters want to interview you,” he tells me out of nowhere.
“I’m open to speaking.”
“What exactly are you open to saying?” he asks.
I give him a look. Interesting question. Was he concerned about me? His beloved grandson? Is that why he was keeping me in the house for this long.
He laughs. It’s one of the rare times I’ve seen my grandfather laugh. Laughing really wasn’t a common thing that Familiars did. You rarely heard it in a Familiar home. Right now though when he does it, it isn’t because something is funny. He does it in a mocking way. The way that you would laugh at a baby who keeps falling down while they are trying to walk. Walking for this baby means everything. Its entire future depends on the idea of learning to use its legs to get from one area to another. But it falls and it’s funny, regardless.
“You went through a maze during the Reparations, correct?”
“Ever wonder what that maze means?” he asks, “Like the true meaning. See the maze isn’t some physical place that Familiars go to. During maturity…specifically during sexual intercourse…the maze opens up. You wouldn’t know this. In us. The maze is us. Do you understand? The walls are all connected. All the paths interlock but there is only one path leading to the center. And once you get to that center. Your destiny opens up. You learn the truth about you. You become who you are really meant to be.”
“You can call it that, we call it finding your meaning. Some of us learn, after sex, that we are supposed to be philosophers, doctors, and others of us learn that we are supposed to be what you call Upsetters. You are still so young. You haven’t found your calling. You haven’t found your maze.”
“I didn’t realize that I wanted to destroy countless civilizations to feed a planet when I could have easily left at any point?” I ask.
“There is no leaving 2nd Earth. This is our home. The Center is all that counts. You know why Reparations take place in the core. It’s because you are closer to the Center.”
“What’s at the center?”
He gives me a look.
“Everything. And we must protect it. We must feed it. Even if that means sacrificing.”
It’s cruel. It’s a massive scheme done to feed this center that my grandfather keeps talking about. I get confused but sit back in my chair realizing that he’s probably complicating this on purpose to confuse me even more. He’s speaking in poems. He’s speaking in riddles. He’s speaking as though I was that little boy who keeps falling down while I’m trying to walk.
I lean back over.
“Anita won the Reparations. She’s chosen, Canaan. Release Naz.”
“I’m sorry but Naz is meant for something else.”
Tears are in my eyes just knowing the type of person Jonathan was. He has a cold exterior. He looks back at me. For so long I’d seen him treat other people with that cold dark stare. I’d seen him make his orders when I was just a kid running into his office hearing him put down the darkest orders and doing it with no emotion whatsoever. I didn’t care then. It didn’t calculate to me. Now, however, things were different.
He looks over at me and says with no concern at all for my feelings, “He was given his order. He found his center. He knew what he had to do but he didn’t follow those orders.”
“His feelings for me got in the way,” I say bluntly.
His face sours.
“No. It’s something else. Every Familiar has their intention in their center. Literally. We are connected to this planet. It gives us our orders. For some reason, Nazareth has lost that connection to the center…”
“I’m telling you what it is.”
“We’re going to open his center. Examine it. Make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
“Excuse me?” I ask, “Please tell me you don’t mean literally?”
“JONATHAN! Please don’t me you don’t literally mean to open up his center.”
“His dissection is scheduled in two hours.”
At that moment I realize that he’s a monster. Or maybe I’ve always known that my grandfather was this monster. Maybe I’m just remembering something that was always with me. Something that’s always been a part of me. Something that I’d hidden so deep inside.
Maybe Familiars did have this ‘Center’ that is connected to the planet as my grandfather is saying it. Maybe that’s why they would do everything to feed this planet. All I knew was that I didn’t want Naz to die.
Silently after a few seconds he grabs his wine and leaves the table, “You’ll be granted 10 minutes with him to say your goodbyes.”
They have Nazareth locked up in a room. It’s a cage really in the basement. I’d never come down here. It wasn’t that I was blocked off from the area but the house was so big and I was never the exploring type. I was the type to cover my eyes and muffle my ears. I was the type to ignore everything that was right in front of my face because it made me so fucking uncomfortable.
Why would my grandfather need cages in his basement?
He turns. His lip is bleeding. His chest is bleeding. He’s been tortured for some reason. His eyes have all of this hope though. As I look into his eyes I swear I see something that is amazing. Our eyes connect and I make my way over to him. I slowly gravitate to him feeling this heaviness as I do it. For the first time, I feel as though maybe this was where I belonged this entire time.
“You’re here…” he states.
We meet at the bars. I almost clash on top of the bars. He kisses me through the bars. His tongue entering my mouth in a way that makes me explode inside. For some reason, I feel like this is where I want to be. For some reason, it feels right with him.
“You OK?” I ask him.
“I’m fine,” he explains, “You must have heard what they are going to do…”
“I don’t get it.”
“They are looking for my Center. It’s the receiver that connects me to the Syntellect. The Syntellect is the center of the planet. The thing that we feel…”
“I haven’t felt anything…” I respond.
“You haven’t connected to it yet,” he explains, “But once you connect, it tells you what to do. You become a slave to the Syntellect. One mind. One cause. One nation.”
“They are going to kill you…”
I break down. He looks at me and I can tell he’s shocked. I don’t think there has ever been a Familiar in history to show this sort of emotion. I’m tearing up and he grabs me pulling me close and resting his forehead against mine.
“Are those tears for me?” he asks.
“I don’t want to lose you.”
I look at him, eyes full of tears and he can tell that I mean every single word of it. Our eyes linger on one another and for that moment I know that even though I’m not connected to the Syntellect, I’m connected to him.
“I’m an Upsetter. I had a job. I had a goal. They think something’s wrong with me. Maybe there is. I’ve never felt this sort of confusion. My sole purpose should be to serve the Syntellect and feed it,” he explains, “But instead the only thing that I want to do is serve you. What’s wrong with me?”
He asks me as though I have the answer.
I shake my head.
It’s something the Familiars don’t quite understand. Some foreign concept that really just makes us all feel strange inside. He doesn’t deny it when I say it. Instead, he just rests his forehead up against mine. He presses his lips up against mine. I feel so close to him.
I feel as though nothing can touch us.
But this is my goodbye. This is the last time I’m going to see him.
“Times up…” a voice states.
I turn and see Poppy standing there…
“Five more minutes, please…”
“Times up,” Poppy repeats.
Just when I am about to turn around something happens. An explosion. It comes out of nowhere. The explosion is loud as fuck!
“What’s happening?” I ask.
Poppy runs out of the basement and I back up onto the bars. My heart is racing. Fear creeps in as more and more sounds are coming down from the upstairs. I look over at Naz. He looks just as concerned as I am. There are gunshots upstairs. Major gunshots. An entire fight is happening upstairs. One that I don’t quite understand.
“What is it?” I ask.
“The resistance,” he responds.
I swallow hard. The resistance? The guys who hired Canaan to kill me? The ones who wanted nothing more than to get rid of Reparations and kill Upsetters.
“Is this a good thing?” I ask him.
He looks over at me, “I’m not sure.”
I think we are going to find out especially after a few minutes when we hear footsteps coming down. My heart nearly stops when I see who it is.
“You—-” I can almost spit at his feet.
Royce looks over at me and turns to the men with, “Take them. Take both of them. We’ll have to make a spectacle of their deaths if we want to make our point.”