Nothing sucks more than having an Avalen tell you how grateful and proud you should be that his people invaded your planet. And that’s all orientation was really, just listening to some offworlder bastard with dry brown hair and sharp blue eyes spouting a load of shit about the glory of the Avalen Union and our part in maintaining it. Thank Kebechet that was over with now. I was sure there would be more of it tomorrow, but at least the rest of today was mine.
Or so I thought. Carrying my duffel of personal items and my newly issued Avalen cadet uniform, I only just now noticed that the door to my room was slightly ajar. That could only mean one thing: A roommate.
Realistically, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Most Academy cadets were assigned roommates, (probably to “tighten cohesion”, or something like that), but I had heard of a few that occasionally got rooms to themselves for one reason or another. I had hoped that being Anubite might mean they’d try to segregate me in a corner by myself, but apparently I wasn’t that lucky.
Taking a deep breath, I girded myself to meet this asshole, and pushed open the door.
The amount of blonde curls in the room was almost blinding. Like a living field of wheat, each stalk bouncing independently of one another, apparently in blatant defiance of the laws of physics, they swung around wildly as the face attached to them snapped in my direction. Chestnut brown eyes set into a pale, freckly, and outright innocent face sparkled as they took in the details of my own appearance.
“Hey, roomie!” A delicate looking hand swept up and presented its fingers in an enthusiastic gesture of greeting.
“Hi.” I replied, with about ten percent of the enthusiasm, declining the offer to shake.
The room was pretty simple. Two wardrobes, each set at the foot of twin-sized beds, one in either corner of the room, and a pair of wooden desks in between, both of them sharing real estate of the one window in the room that looked out over the courtyard below. The view from our second story room gives us a perfect angle on the Avalen Union banner flying on the flagpole in the center of the yard, lit up by spotlights on the ground so it was visible even to the weak eyes of the Avalens. Coincidence, I’m sure.
The message of the flag was clear as the Northern sky. The centerpiece was a giant white star set against a field of black, representing the Aster system, home of the capital planet of the Union, Avalon. Flanking that star on each side were two smaller stars. On the right, an orange, for Pelaria, Aster’s twin; on the left, a red, for Set, the star of my system. As if that wasn’t enough, below these stars were four golden globes, representing the planets of the Avalen Union: Avalon, Lucae, Veridia, and the most recently acquired, Anubis.
The whole display just pissed me off, so I turned away and began to unpack.
The blonde had her shit piled all over the bed on the right, so I threw my duffel on the one on the left.
“Soo…it’s nice to meet y-”
“Don’t care.” I cut her off before formalities could begin. I zipped open my bag and started stuffing my clothes into the wardrobe.
Barely a moment of silence had passed before she started again. “Well that’s a pretty sour first impression. Don’t you think you should at least know my name before you decide I’m not worth your attention?” Looking back at her, she had her hands on her hips and a pretty powerful frown cutting through her brow.
I shook my head. “Doesn’t matter what your name is. You’re still you either way. And therein lies the problem.”
That time I shut her up. She just sat down on the edge of her bed, her small Avalen eyes pouting, like a hurt puppy.
After putting my clothes away and hanging up my uniform, I pulled out my prayer box, the cherrywood lid inscribed with the silver outline of a half-moon.
“What’s that?” Her again. Would the annoyances never cease?
I sighed. Maybe she’d shut up for good if I give her something to think about. “It’s a prayer box. I pray to Kebechet at moonrise and moonset.”
“”I didn’t know your people were religious.”
“I bet there’s a lot you don’t fucking know about us, ‘zak.” I let slip a particularly nasty slur, though from the look on her face, it seemed like its meaning passed her by. Figures.
And cue the return of frowny-brow. “Where is all of this coming from? We’ve just met, I haven’t done anything to you!”
Moondamnit, this bitch really doesn’t know does she? I sat down on the edge of my bed and stared straight at her. “How long have you been here?”
“Well, I got off the bus-”
“Not the Academy, the planet, dumbass.”
“Oh, sorry. That would be three years then, since I was fifteen. Me and my parents moved from Lucae when my dad got posted here.”
“Three years. All that time, and you don’t know anything? The post-war executions? The Red River Massacre? None of it?” My left eye began to itch as I mentioned the latter.
“Well, I…no.” She stammered. “They never taught us about that in school. None of my neighbors or my parents mentioned those things. Are you sure those actually happened?” The look on her face was pure naïveté.
I would like to say that I took that question in stride, calmly corrected her, and moved on to the next conversational topic. But that would be a lie.
“Am I fucking sure?!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “I. Was. There.” Brushing a handful of black tresses behind my left ear, I get in close so she can see the scar as I point to it, a fine, dark brown line streaking out from the corner of my eye, all the way to my hairline. “Din’Ahmar-Nadee, the Red River Massacre? This is my souvenir. The only thing the doc couldn’t fix.”
Her eyes widened, almost looking as large as my own were naturally. “What happ-”
I switched the setting on my eye, so that the iris turned from my natural gray, into the default turquoise of all cybernetic implants. Her eyes widened further.
“I was in the front of the crowd when they opened fire, your people. Your military. We weren’t doing anything wrong, just protesting peacefully; holding our signs and chanting. I guess they got tired of listening to us.
“The bullet that took out my eye wasn’t the only one that hit me, but it was the worst. Even then, I wouldn’t have been in danger, if not for the stampede of people rushing in whatever direction they could to escape the gunfire. It was the kicking of panicked feet that nearly killed me. Luckily, I lost enough blood after the first few minutes to lose consciousness too, so I didn’t feel the rest of it.
“I still don’t know how I made it out. Some good samaritan didn’t want to leave a bleeding fifteen-year-old lying in the street, I suppose.”
What I didn’t tell her was that I wasn’t alone that day. I had been there protesting hand-in-hand with my girlfriend, Hayth. I can still picture her standing there, cheering in her cornflower blue dress, the smile peeking out beneath her alhilal because of how proud she was to be representing our people. I myself was wearing the same bright red cargo pants and dark v-neck that I always did. That was always the difference between us; she always went around flaunting the girly stuff, unafraid to look delicate, because she knew, and I knew, that she was tough as nails when she needed to be.
That’s how I’ll always remember her, from that day, wearing that dress, on the last day I saw her. When the soldiers opened fire, they flooded the street with light first, the better to see us, and the better to blind our more sensitive eyes so we couldn’t fight back. When the first bullets ripped through me, I didn’t hear the chatter of gunfire. All I could hear was Hayth, screaming in terror as I fell to the ground. That scream is the last memory that I have of her. I never saw what happened to her in the moments after that, and I was unconscious and unfit to move for days afterwards. All I had left of her now was one of the paired Kebechet necklaces we had bought for one another. My half of the moon was amethyst, and hers had been pure silver. We had sworn to wear them forever, as a symbol of our endless love for each other.
I had been told that her Nahr’jinda was minimalist, since the family hadn’t had a body to cremate; the Avalens had taken and buried the bodies of all the protestors they had killed. They had just left all those people to rot in the ground like outcasts. And Hayth with them, probably still wearing her half of the necklace, if it hadn’t been looted by a greedy soldier.
“Are you alright?”
Coming back to myself, I realized that the blonde girl had been staring at me while I was lost in thought.
I shook my head. “No, of course I’m not alright. Not only am I being forced to room with a ‘zak, one of the people who nearly killed me, but an idiot ‘zak, who doesn’t even know the history of the planet she’s living on!” Several frustrated grunts escaped my lips, and I began pacing back and forth.
I stopped my pacing to stare at her. “What did you say?”
She stood up from the edge of her bed, and looked me straight in the eye. Or at least as straight as she could, considering she had a good eight inches of height on me.
“I’m sorry, for what my people did to you and yours. It wasn’t right, and it never should have happened. I can’t offer any excuses, or say that you hating me isn’t justified, because I don’t know you or what you’ve gone through.” And here she smiled. “But I’d like to. I can’t undo the crimes that my people have committed, but hopefully I can begin to make up for some of it, even if it’s just a small amount. And who knows, maybe we can even become friends in the process.”
What was she doing? I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. It didn’t make any sense. I had just spent the last several minutes articulating why I hated everything about her existence, and now she was offering me friendship? By the moon, I just don’t get how she could do that.
My amazement and confusion translated themselves into an open-mouthed gape, until I recollected myself and spoke, “You didn’t even believe me less than five minutes ago.”
She shrugged. “That was before I knew about your scars. I don’t think someone would lie about injuries as severe as yours. It’s too personal.”
“Are you always this optimistic, kebshae?”
Her smile grew even wider. “My parents used to ask me the same thing. I don’t really know how to explain it, I just have a lot of faith in people, I guess. And you can call me Harriet, by the way.” She held out her hand to me.
I stared at it for a moment, before reaching out and shaking it. “Ammit. I think I’ll stick with kebshae for the time being.” Kebechet, what was I doing?
“Kebshae. Ok. Is that… a good thing?” she asked, hesitantly.
I chuckled. “Well, it’s better than ‘zak, that’s for sure.”
And she laughed.