[The previous section of this story can be found here. The next section can be found here. If you are a new reader, the first section of this story can be found here.]
Several pills rattled inside the mostly-empty bottle as she dumped a couple of them into her greasy, calloused and bloodied hands. The valasajral, a synthetic painkiller, was the only company the scared little girl had to reassure her in the face of her aching hands and aching heart. The toil of the scrap fields was all she'd ever known; shrapneled splinters of sidereal steel dug deep into her hands from the daily drudgery and burned with an unquenchable crawling itch, but the drugs helped. When one of the other workers had accidentally impaled himself in a work accident, the perceptive young girl had managed to nab his stash of drugs off his corpse. And she'd struck gold too-- the poor fellow must have been a dealer, because his stash was fat. She was set for a whole month, one pill a night. The Peacekeepers usually only doled out a couple pills every week along with the weekly rations; enough to keep the addictive hunger going, but not nearly enough to quench it.
If any of the others found out what she had, they'd certainly kill her for the drugs. But that's how life was out here. Everything had value. Everyone didn't. She popped a pill from her hand into her mouth and dry-swallowed it. She was parched, but her canteen was empty, it wasn't ration day until tomorrow morning, and she knew better than to drink the sludge from one of the ancient pipes unless she really needed to.
She fluttered her eyes and laid back onto the cold, hard metal floor of the decrepit abandoned building she called her home for the night. Sometimes she liked to think about who might have lived in all these old buildings that she toiled to tear down at the iron fist of the Peacekeepers. The empty towering ivory skyscrapers had a heavenly radiance to them in the brilliant white light of the Kojfo sun. It was beautiful. Her eyes rolled back into her head thinking about it. Nothing mattered anymore as the painkiller hit. A bliss washed over her and the pain was gone. She shivered a little and curled up into a ball on the floor, covering herself as best she could with the ragged blanket-cloak she wore.
The girl awakened groggily, still sluggish and inebriated from the drugs she had taken earlier, but she did her best to pull herself together. Even in this drugged-out state, she knew the unmistakable whistle of a Peacekeeper crowd control gas grenade going off outside. She struggled to her feet and looked around as she shook the dust off her cloak.
The decrepit room was completely empty, with just a dusty floor and a doorway to a long-forsaken elevator shaft. Lines on the floor indicated that the room may have been subdivided at some point, but now it was just a spacious emptiness. Nowhere to hide. She would have to find somewhere else, but first she needed to know what she was up against. The walls were lined with windows, some of the which were darkened from an electrochromic coating that must have malfunctioned aeons ago. However, others were still clear and see-through. She cautiously walked over to one of the darkened windows, so not to be visible from the outside. The cloaked girl was several storeys off the ground and likely out of sight, but one could never be too cautious about being seen. She shakily craned her head to look through the translucent diamondglass pane beside her and get eyes on the narrow street below. Just as she expected, clouds of gas made it impossible to see what was going on down there. All was dark except for the intermittent glow of the Peacekeepers' flametossers erupting within the fog. There was a culling in progress; if there was a flame squad then there must be. If she listened closely, she could hear the ominous chirp of trackers screeching in the distance, singling out the afflicted so that the death squads could find those marked for culling. With any luck, she could find a duct or vent somewhere too small for the adults to find her and hide out while the Peacekeeper force passed her building by.
The terrified girl winced, fell to the ground, and instinctively covered her ears as the earsplitting electronic shriek emitted from a tracker module implanted at the base of her neck reverberated along the forsaken walls of the ancient room she stood within.
She had the mark. There was no point in even bothering to run; she had seen the burnt and misshapen corpses of those who tried to run many a time before. They were coming for her, and she knew it.
Defeated, she curled up into a fetal position on the floor and cried, as the deafening rhythmic siren continued to ring from her neck. She pulled the little pill bottle back out from one of the little pockets in her cloak. Her hands shook as she struggled to unscrew the lid. Once she managed to get it open, she swallowed all the pills left in the bottle at once. It would be better to go out this way. She wouldn't have to feel the flames consume her.
There was a cold sensation in her arm as she gently came about. She felt calm and at ease, like the world around her was soft and warm. There was a faint aching sensation in her abdomen, but it was nothing compared to everything she'd gone through so far in her life.
She slowly opened her weary eyes to find herself lying in a clean white bed with a soft light-blue blanket over her. There was some kind of bag of clear fluid hanging next to her bed, with a clear tube running down from it and attached to her right arm where the feeling of coldness was coming from.
Part of her mind that was overwhelmed and confused, but broadly speaking the haze of calming intoxicated satisfaction that she felt at the moment was making her not really give a fuck.
It was a tiny room that she was in, filled with strange machinery around her. But the thing that stood out to her most was how clean it all was. Everything looked new and polished.... she'd never seen anything like it before. It was like she had gone back in time, to an age where those ancient ruins she regularly combed were still in use by those who had built them. Standing beside her bed and looking at some of the machinery was a man in a mask. Like everything else in the room, his clothes were immaculate and his hair was well-kempt. He looked like one of the angels that her mother used to tell her stories about. Back when her mother still lived.
The man tapped a couple items on the machine in front of him and then looked over to her. He spoke calmly and softly, "You're safe now, don't worry. Rest up and heal. That was quite the ordeal that you just went through, Tejwira."
Tejwira. The word rang in her mind.
The little girl who lie in the hospital bed was dumbfounded, "T-tejwira? I don't.... My blood is kalwira."
The doctor leaned over her with a flashlight in hand and lifted her chin up to face him. He shone a light into each eye one at a time to check each pupil. While he worked he continued to speak, "You were chosen for the great honour of refreshing the bloodline. Have no worry; we were able to harvest your donation while you were out. There may be some lingering abdominal pain for several days, but it should be nothing that a big strong girl like you can't handle. Now, do you have a name for me to put on your birth documentation, my lady?"
She stared at him for a moment, still taking everything in. "Fiir. My name is Fiir", she spattered out.
Most of the doctor's face was obscured by his medical mask, but Fiir could see his eyes smile gently. He patted her on the shoulder reassuringly. "Tejwira Fiir. That's a beautiful name. I'm sure you'll be a powerful lady who will do great things for your people when you are older."
Art sourced under free to use license. Minor edits made by me in GIMP. Source assets are listed below.
Just a quick out of character note, today is the one year anniversary of the first section of The Zeta Directive being posted. It's been a rough one, to say the least, and I never expected something so influential to happen as to so rapidly split off the timeline of my fictional universe from our real one (being that this whole public health event never happened in The Zeta Directive universe).
I want to thank everyone who has been reading my work so far, and I hope to have a lot more in store for you guys down the pipeline! :)