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I could not feel my body. The sedative they gave me was strong, but my mind was still sharp and calculating. I narrowed my eyes at the man in front of me. He paced back and forth without even sparing me a glance. The heels of his boots clicked ominously on the metal sheets of the floor. He abruptly stopped in front of me. I stared up, refusing to blink, and he stared back doing the same. He stepped closer. I wrinkled my nose as he did so. The smell of rust and leather hit me and it was unpleasant. I was used to the smog of my home planet, Kildark. The stench of the ship was not at all like the comforting smell of my home. Though it was still dense air, I found it stifling. He took note of my expression.
“I'm sorry, farm wench,” he said. “Do I not smell nice to you? I think my scent is the least of your problems at the moment.”
I opened my mouth to retort, but he put his dirty, glove-covered finger to my lips. They stilled at his touch.
“No, no, sweetheart. It's time for you to listen. What happened to your family is sad to say the least. A tragic accident like that would be hard to survive, yet you have. How you managed to do that is a mystery to me,” he said.
I jerked my head back and shouted, “It was no accident what happened! You caused the rig to collapse because my father couldn't pay your fees!”
In a sudden movement, his fist drew backwards, then connected with my face. I could not feel it, but I could taste the blood and the leather of his glove. He looked at me wildly and breathing deeply. I glared defiantly at him. He chuckled darkly and shook his head.
“I told you to listen. What happened back on Kildark was unfortunate, but you're on the Avion now,” he said gesturing to the musty room around us. “I am going to make you an offer that I'm sure you won't refuse. On this ship we have an élite team of scavengers and engineers. They would be willing to, well, not exactly fix your body, but create a new one for you using the broken one you have now and their technological knowledge. It will be stronger and better than the one you have ever was or could have been. They will do this on my command if, and only if, you agree to work with us. Well,work for us. You won't be paid because we gave you a body.”
I sat there stunned as he spoke. I would work for him, for the rest of my life probably, if he built me a new body. I did want a new body. I wanted to survive. I couldn't do so in this state. But could I trade a life of servitude for a body that works? I thought through the possibilities.
I could end up working here forever. What would they have me do? Would they teach me how to be one of them? Would they teach me to fight, scavenge, and kill? I've never wanted to kill anyone before. At least, I've never wanted to until now.
“You've been quiet for a little too long, sweetheart,” he said. “I need an answer.”
“I… I accept your offer,” I said slowly.
He nodded and called for some of his men. They shuffled into the room and the Captain filled them in. They took sidelong glances at me as he did spoke. Some shook their heads at his words and others stayed still. One of them argued about having me on board indefinitely and the others stayed respectfully silent. They all looked different apart from their general scruffiness and the matching black tattoos that curled from the back of their necks up to their throats. When the men were done talking, one of them picked me up bridal style and carried me away. We made our way through the ship attracting curious looks from the other scavengers. The corridors of the ship had minimal illumination. Only blinking, old lights along the walls. We went into a large room at the end of one of the halls. Then, the man holding me laid my limp body on the metal table in the center of the room. There were many dull, yellowing lights on the ceiling. My head lulled to the side and I saw the wall. The feeling of horror hit me like a hurricane as I looked at what was hanging there. There was a mirror against the wall, but there were also saws and knives that looked lethal. They glinted menacingly in the hazy light of the room. I shut my eyes tight and tried to pretend that nothing was going to happen.
“Hey, don't worry about this. You won't feel a thing. What's your name?” said one of the men.
I opened my eyes and saw the man who carried me here leaning over me. His eyebrows furrowed and his uneven lips were creased into a frown. There were deep cuts in his round face long since healed. His hair was a dark and rusty-red. He was young, practically a kid. He had to be only a few years younger than me.
“Ember,” was all I managed to say.
“I’m Maddox. Look, I know you're scared, but you don’t need to be. I'm sorry for what happened to you. How old are you, Ember?” he asked conversationally as he moved away from me.
“I'm twenty one,” I said shortly.
“I see, I'm nineteen,” he said.
“Stop making conversation with the farm wench, you idiot. Just shut up and work,” said an aged voice.
I shifted my head to see the man who had spoken. It was the tall, dark man who had argued with the captain. He held a shining meat cleaver in his hand. Bile rose in my throat at the sight of him looming over my body with it. I swallowed hard and closed my eyes again.
“Sorry,” Maddox muttered in my ear.
I took a deep breath and scrunched my eyes tighter. The sound of clinking and cutting filled the room. The men talked while they worked. They talked about what they were doing and different design ideas for my body. I tried to drown out their voices and the sounds of what they were doing to my body. I thought about telling them I had changed my mind, but I couldn’t say it. I wanted to survive, I needed to. I made my mind as blank as possible and I drifted off to sleep as they created my new body.
I woke up alone in the room. The only thing I could hear was a faint ticking noise. It sounded like a clock. What a peculiar thing to have in a place where time does not exist. I rubbed my bleary eyes to clear them of sleep. I froze with my hand to my face. I slowly moved it back and looked down in surprise. It was my hand. I was able to move. Not only was I able to move, but it looked like my hand. Thin and long like my hands used to be. It had my skin. I don’t know what I had expected, but it wasn’t this. I looked down at the rest of my body. I was covered in a white sheet from the shoulders down. I got up reluctantly. I wasn’t sure what’d I’d find. I couldn’t bend my back so I sat straight up. The sheet fell away from my body and slipped to the floor. The first thing I saw were my pale legs looking just as they had before. They were also long and pale. I flexed my toes back and forth. I looked up my legs to my torso. Except it no longer looked like my torso. It didn’t even look human. The shape was correct, but it did not look like flesh.
The source of the mysterious ticking noise was revealed to be coming from my chest. I stared at my body in shock. What used to be my chest now looked like a cage. It held clicking gears and coiling springs. They moved in tandem. Every bronze piece in me was shifting. I clambered off the table and looked around wildly for the mirror. It was still against the wall where it had been before. I ran over to it, nearly falling over in my haste. I stood before it gazing at myself. The new metal parts of me started just below my collar bones and ended above my belly button. Everything else seemed absolutely normal and how it had been before the accident. Everything but the tattoo on my neck. I got closer to the mirror to examine the new addition to my neck. It matched with the ones I had seen on the men. I guessed it was a symbol of the scavengers. I cocked my head as I took it all in. I lifted my hand and ran my fingers gently over the hard boning of the cage that is now my body. I twisted to each side and considered myself. I sighed and turned away from the old and distressed mirror.
I inspected the room around me. The knives and saws were back on the walls, newly cleaned. There were counters and cabinets along the other wall. One of the lights on the ceiling was flickering. I watched as the life petered out of it. I blinked rapidly and looked at the table and the space around it. I realized that I was lacking clothes, however mine were not to be seen in the room. I walked around the table awkwardly. I was not yet used to the feel of the metal ribbing on me. My legs and arms did actually feel different too. They seemed heavier and stiffer. Now that I calmed down a bit, I thought about how I moved. It was mechanical almost. I stretched out my arms in front of me and then out to the side. I rolled my neck and continued moving. I searched around the table and under it for my clothing. I went through the draws. I found only bolts and nails mostly. There were also tools I did not recognize and spare bits of metal.
I let out a long breath as I thought about my options. I could either stay in here and wait for someone to come get me or I could go out and look for clothes. I made my decision quickly. I swept up the white sheet and wrapped it around myself and headed towards the door. I opened it and stepped into the dim corridor. I ran straight into someone and stumbled back into the room. The man I bumped into swiftly stepped into the room as a well and closed the door behind him. I was about to object when I saw his face. Maddox eyed me disapprovingly. He took his gun off his shoulder along with his leather jacket. He lifted his baggy, gray shirt over his head and tossed it to me. I marveled at his bare chest. It too, like his face, had deep set scars. They were long and white. They did not look like they belonged to an animal’s claws. He turned around and put his jacket back on. There were tracks along his back too. He was silent the entire time. The only thing to hear was the ticking coming from my body. I stood up and let the sheet that was covering me slide to the floor. I put on the shirt. It hung to about my mid-thigh. It covered enough of me to be suitable, but I still felt naked. I cleared my throat and Maddox turned back to me with an eyebrow raised. I gave him a sheepish simper. He shook his head and smiled at the ground.
“Ember,” he said towards his shoes, “were you about to leave this room naked?”
“What else was I supposed to do? I wasn’t going to just sit here,” I responded.
“You clearly don’t know that much about the men on this ship,” he said, his smile dropping into a grimace.
“I may be a poor farm wench, but I would never associate with such dirty scoundrels as those scavenging dogs,” I said sarcastically.
He looked up at me with narrowed eyes. I crossed my arms over the metal. I felt the hum of the cogs at work and I dropped my arms immediately. I shuddered and tried to play it off. It didn't work, he saw what I had done. Maddox shook his head again and sighed. He opened his mouth as if to say something but closed it. He pressed his lips into a hard line. It made the cuts around his mouth somehow deeper and stand out more. After a few seconds of an uncomfortable silence, he spoke.
“If we're scavenging dogs, I guess that makes you a scavenging b****,” he said with a smirk. “Come on, let's get you a place to sleep. I need to also introduce you to the rest of the men.”
“So you don't have any other women on board?” I asked as we went out through the door.
“Nope, Captain doesn't like women much. He says that they can't survive our lifestyle. He says they're weak,” Maddox said.
“Then why'd he keep me? I have nothing to offer. I have no skills or knowledge of scavenging,” I said.
“I can't completely answer,” he said, “but I think it might be because you were designed for it. The body we made is stronger than your old one. We kept a lot of the old parts. As much as we could really. However we gave you metal supports in your body and we changed everything in your chest. We had to in order to keep you alive. Moving might be a little weird for a while, but I think it should be okay. Since we reinforced all your bones with aliniumn, you're a lot stronger than you used to be. It will get some getting used to so you'll have to be careful. You could probably squish a grown man's skull between two fingers. I guess that's cool and all, but I'm sorry. I know I said it before, but really, I understand how you feel.”
“How could you possibly know how I feel?” I asked coldly.
“My family is dead too,” he replied softly.
I stopped walking mid-step. He stopped a second later and turned back to me. I gawked at him, at the scars on his face and up his neck. At the ones on his chest that I could see under the open leather jacket. I thought about the ones on his back. He was young like me. He was too young to be doing these kinds of things. How had he started this life? Had he been taken like me? Realizing what I was assuming he stepped back to me.
“It's not what it seems. They had nothing to do with what happened to me. Captain found me when I was young. He took me in and taught me everything I know. I owe him a lot. Without him, I'd probably be dead. I wouldn't have made it on my own,” he said.
“How come he took you on when you were a kid?” I asked.
He shrugged and kept walking. I hopped to keep up and then matched his stride. He had a wide gait. I watched him out of the corner of his eye. I waited to see if he'd answer of not. He didn't. I didn't push the topic further. We rounded a corner and went through a few more corridors. He opened a door and held it open for me.
“This is where you'll be staying. There are clothes on the bed. Come out when you're all dressed and we'll head down the Ballroom,” said Maddox.
I stepped into the small compartment. There was a bed and a shelf. A small stack of items, a corset, leather pants, a pair of boots and a comb, sat on the bed. I put them on slowly and unsure. There wasn't much of a selection. I chose the black leather pants and the corset that matched. They clung to my body and moved with me easily. I found them not at all constricting as I had been expecting them to be. I put on the black combat boots and tied the laces. I combed my hair until it was the silky, raven color it usually was. I went back to the patiently waiting boy. His jaw dropped when he saw me. It was my turn to raise a disapproving eyebrow. He promptly closed his mouth and nodded wordlessly for me to follow.
As we walked, the sound of roaring laughter and loud talking started to fill the air. It grew louder as we walked. Maddox stepped onto a ladder and then went down through the hole in the ground. I followed hesitantly. As I descended, I was bathed in a warm, golden light. The room we entered was huge, though I could not understand why Maddox had referred to it as the “Ballroom.” It was full of chatting men. They were at tables and up at a bar. Most of them held drinks in their hands and were slopping them on each other as they interacted. Two men were at a rickety, wooden table arm wrestling. A ring of other men stood around chanting the names of the opponents. The bigger of the two men slammed the other’s hand down. The table collapsed beneath the force. He stood up, tipping his chair to the floor. He threw his fists into the air and looked around pleased. The crowd continued to chant the champion’s name, Ajax. The man saw me and raised his palms to the assembly.
“Quiet!” He shouted out the word and silence fell immediately.
He lumbered over to me, his gaze fixed the entire time. Maddox stepped closer to me. He stood slightly in front of me. It seemed odd and protective. I studied his profile. His face was hard and emotionless. My eyes flicked back to the man walking over to us. He stood before us with a wide stance. The man was massive. He was shirtless and dirty. His matted red hair was full of filth. I could smell his stench. He smelled of blood lust and sweat.
“Well, well, well, who do we have here? It's pretty boy and his new pet,” said Ajax.
There was a chorus of malicious laughter from the watchers. They all shuffled closer to get a better look at me. Ajax had a thick accent that I did not recognize. He wore a tartan garment on his lower half along with black boots like mine. He too had a gun slung around his chest. I noticed most of the men in the room did. Others had theirs next to them or laid across laps and tables. It made me uneasy.
“She's not my pet,” said Maddox coolly.
“Maybe not, but she is something, isn't she, laddies?” he asked the men around us.
They laughed again at us. Some howled in approval. Ajax let out a long whistle while looking my body up and down. Maddox still hadn't moved. He became somehow more rigid.
“You know, I think I'll have a little fun with this one. She's quite a beauty,” he said.
In front of me, Maddox started to shake. His breathing quickened and a low snarl ripping through his teeth. I put my hand on his shoulder. His face jerked a fraction to the side. I leaned forward and whispered in his ear to calm down. His breathing slowed a little but it was still pretty fast. I stepped around his protective position and up to Ajax. He leered down at me. He had several missing teeth. My head only came up to the middle of his chest. I felt daunted by this, but stood my ground all the same. I held my chin high as I carefully chose my words.
“You can have all the fun you want with me,” I said.
Ajax’s bushy eyebrows rose in surprise. He then let out a bellowing laugh. The room was full of it and the wolf whistles of the other men. Some of them shouted out requests to be next. I ignored them. I felt Maddox’s hand close around my wrist. His grip was tight and urgent. I ignored that too.
“You can have all the fun you want with me,” I continued, “if you beat me at an arm wrestling match.”
Ajax’s booming laugh filled my ears. He grabbed his gut in one hand and the chair next to him for support with the other. He doubled over in hysterics. The men around the room were doing to same. The grip on my wrist became strained as Maddox pulled me back to face him. His face was blotchy and red. He looked scared and angry at the same time.
“What do you think you're doing?” he asked me.
“Come on, I can take this guy. If what you said is true that is,” I said to him. “I could crush a man's skull between two fingers.”
He stared, mouth hung open, for a moment. His face then dropped with realization. All color drained from it. He opened his mouth wordlessly and closed it. His face hardened again. His grey eyes searched mine for any doubt. There was none. He gave me a curt nod and spun me around to face Ajax again. He was still bent over. He straightened, still wheezing. His face was bright red with glee. He raised his hand and the room once again fell silent.
“Alright, Princess,” he said in a snide voice. “We'll arm wrestle. If I win, I get a whole night to do whatever I want with you. If you win, you get what?”
“Then you just owe me one,” I said flatly.
He nodded and stuck out his hand to shake on it. It was covered in dirt and grease. I put my hand in his. It was tiny in comparison to his paws. I put all my focus into not exerting too much force. He let out a chuckle. He motioned me over to a table in the center of the room. I walked over, closely flanked by Maddox. My steps were in time with my ticking. The room was so quiet that if I had my eyes closed, I’d swear it was empty. Ajax and I leaned over the table. We clasped hands. He sneered at me. I folded my other arm behind me. I bounced on the balls of my feet. I was suddenly anxious. I was so confident before, but now I was full of doubts. I shook my head slightly to clear it. Another man stood by the table. He stuck his arm in between Ajax and I. When he withdrew it, we started to wrestle. Within a second, his face fell. Then it became red and then purple in concentration. I wasn't even trying. The men in the room started to shout out insults. Some of them laughed. I never took my eyes off of Ajax and he did the same. I smirked at him and flexed my arm slightly. His arm crashed into the table, breaking it in two. He fell to the floor with a cry of pain. The yelling grew louder. This time in support of me. Maddox's arms flew around me. I laughed in relief. Ajax rolled over on the floor gripping his wrist. It hung limply at an odd angle. A slew of bad words gushed from his mouth. I turned from him and marched away.
A gunshot rang throughout the room. There was a clang of metal on metal. Then it was mute. I whipped around and saw Ajax with his gun drawn. Apparently the sound of metal was a bullet hitting my aliniumn cage. Everyone watched as I made my way back to him. They were apprehensive but excited. I pulled the gun from his hand easily. I pinned his broken wrist to the floor with my foot. His screech of pain was cut short by my sudden grasp around his throat. He choked and writhed beneath my hand. I stared blankly at him.
Can I do this? I thought to myself. My body answered before my mind could fully process the situation. My hand tensed around his throat. It snapped cleanly in my fingers. His body laid on the floor as I stood back up. I looked at him for a moment before picking up his gun. I examined it. It was not the one he had slung around his chest. This one was an Enfield revolver. My father used have one. I rolled it over in my hand and saw a name carved neatly into the handle. “Saphyrian” it read. It was my father's gun. He had taken it from my father's dead body. Hatred for the man on the ground coursed through me. I pointed the gun at him and emptied the round into his skull. As the final bullet left the chamber, a tear rolled down my cheek. The first one I shed in mourning. I then pivoted on my heel and walked out. Maddox didn't even try to stop me. I got to the ladder when I froze. The room, previously noiseless, was filled only by a slow clap. The crowd of watchers parted to reveal the Captain. He was clapping and nodding approvingly.
“Looks like you're more ruthless than I thought,” he said.
I climbed up the ladder quickly then I ran to my room. I shut and locked the door behind me. I leaned against it and slowly sank to the ground. I sat there for hours. With my head in my hands and my shoulder slumped. My father's gun laid between my ankles. I waited for the guilt and the fear but they never came. Neither did the disgust or self loathing I had expected. The only thing there was a dark numbness. That horrible man had been there. He had caused my father's death. I was sure it wasn't him alone, but he paid for what he had done. I wanted the rest of them to pay too. Every single scavenger who had been on Kildark. I wanted them all dead and I wanted them all to suffer. I was going to do it, but first I had to learn what exactly happened. It was a long time before anyone disrupted my silence. I heard a knock on my door.
“Ember, it's Maddox. Are you okay in there?” he asked.
I pulled myself up and opened the door. I grabbed him by the collar and threw him into the bed. He looked shocked. I got onto the bed next to him. I put my hand on his chest gently when he tried to get up. He stopped and just laid down on his back. He tucked his arms under his head and tilted it so he could see me. His grey eyes assessed me carefully.
“Are you okay?” he asked me again.
“Yes, but I want to talk to you. I have to know. What happened on Kildark? Who was there?” I was eager for the answers and it showed in my voice.
He propped himself up on his elbows. He was taken aback by my questions. He contemplated his answer before he spoke. His face was fixed with a hard expression of concentration and concern. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before sitting up straight. He sat cross-legged across from me on the firm bed. Between the two of us, there was only the ticking of my gears. He furrowed his eyebrows. He moved his hands up to me and cupped my face. He rocked his head back and forth.
“I don't think that it's a good idea, but I understand that you need to know. Tell me what you know first so I can get a grasp on your grip of the situation,” he said sadly.
“Well,” I began, “I know that we were paying Captain’s fees. My we were going bankrupt. We had no more money. My family was starving. Between getting our crops stolen and giving the Captain our money, we had nothing left. When my father said he couldn't pay anymore, the Captain said that he would regret it. Then he came back with a team and bombed the rig. It collapsed and my family died. I was crushed and they dragged me from the debris. I guess Ajax was there because he stole my father's gun. My father, Saphyrian, and my mother, Moira, were all I had. My little brother, Jones, starved to death months ago.”
“I'm sorry. I don't think we should talk about this,” he said, moving to get up.
“Please,” I said putting my hand on his shoulder, lowering him back onto the bed.
“The team that was there,” he said after a long pause, “consisted of eight men. There was the Captain, Ajax, Jasper, Phoenix, Caspian, Axel, Zander, and… and me.”
I stared blankly at him, uncomprehending. He sucked in a breath and held it. His face started to go slightly pink. My lips quivered as I attempted to speak. They moved wordlessly as my mind raced. Maddox breathed out harshly before saying anything again.
“I'm sorry. I don't want to upset you further. I know you don't know me very well, Ember, but I do care about you. You're a unique girl. I feel protective of you because you have no family. You have no family because they took it from you,” he said, putting his hand on my leg.
“I have no family because you took it from me,” I corrected.
He was visibly wounded by my words. I pushed his hands from me and got off the bed. He continued to sit still, he was statuesque. I felt like I was going to cry, but no tears came. I didn't know why, but I felt betrayed. I didn't know Maddox well, but I trusted him. I had only met him yesterday, yet the entire time he's been like a friend to me. He's the only one that showed any remorse for me. He tried to protect me. He fixed me. I trusted him so quickly. I should have known better. I paced in the small room.
“I'm so sorry,” he said again.
“Why do you keep saying that? Just stop,” I said.
“I'm apologizing because I have never had the chance to. I've never gotten to say it. I say that I'm sorry because I am. I know how it feels to lose your entire family. I know how it feels to be the only survivor of the terrible accident that killed them. I know, trust that I know how you feel. And I promise, Ember, I will do anything to make it up to you. No matter what it is or how long it takes, I will do it,” he said desperately.
“Will you help me kill the men that killed my family?” I asked, not looking at him.
There was a stunned silence that followed. Once again, my clicking and ticking gears were the only noise.
“If that's what it takes,” he said finally. “I promise that we will avenge your family.”
“Good,” I replied. “Show me who I have to kill.”
We went back to the Ballroom. It was still full of men. This time as I entered, I was given a wide berth. The men moved out of my way instantly. All eyes were on Maddox and I. We went over to the bar. We grabbed two glasses of some amber liquid. I didn't ask what it was, but I drained it in one. My throat seared and I winced as it went down. I felt it trickle down one of the pipes in my center and into my stomach. It made me feel warm. Maddox watched me.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said immediately. “Are they all in here?”
“Everyone but the Captain,” he said searching the room from his stool.
“Which men are they?” I inquired.
He pointed out five men. Jasper was a lanky, blond guy across the room. He was sour faced and working on some small gadget. Phoenix was a man with a grizzly looking beard. We was pudgy and red in the face, clearly intoxicated. Caspian and Axel were seated together with a tower of empty glasses beside them. They were both large like Ajax had been. And Zander was with another man laughing loudly. I recognized Zander as the man that argued with the Captain about keeping me. He was talking about me beating and killing Ajax. I nodded has Maddox said each one.
“Who's going first?” he asked quietly.
“I think I'll play by circumstance. If I get the chance to kill one, I will. But if I target them, I want to kill Zander first,” I decided.
“You'll need something to do it with. Unless you're planning on snapping all their necks,” Maddox remarked.
“I have something to kill them with, my father's gun. But I need more ammunition for it,” I said. “Do you guys have any on board?”
“We might,” he said thoughtfully.
He got up, walked over to and climbed up the ladder. I followed closely. We wound through the walkways of the dimly lit ship. We made our way into a large room. It was bigger than the Ballroom by several meters. It had guns along the walls. At the very end of the room there seemed to be nothing. I could see the stars. I wandered over. Maddox was speaking but I wasn't listening. I put my hand to the glass. It was cool beneath my fingers. I could faintly see my reflection. I tilted my head. I looked like myself, but I did not seem like myself anymore. I guess I was not myself anymore. I wasn't even human anymore. I was a killer. His hand closed over my shoulder.
“There it is,” he said touching a finger to the glass.
“What?” I looked at where he pointed.
“It's your home, Kildark, that small one,” he pointed out.
“It's so far away,” I said vacantly.
“And that one is my home,” he said stepping over and pointing at another bright spot on our horizon.
“It's beautiful up here,” I said. “In the stars, I mean.”
“Yes,” he replied.
He took my hand and led me over to a cupboard. Maddox opened it wide. It was full of small boxes. He grabbed a black one and shoved it into my hand. I flipped the lid up and revealed eight bullets. I shook them out and into my palm. He handed me my father's gun. I loaded each bullet into place with a click. I put the two extra ones in my pocket. I took a last look at the stars and walked out. He grabbed two guns for himself. We went out into the halls. Maddox and I moved around the ship stealthily, avoiding being seen. I heard people stomping around and shouting up the corridor. We came upon two men, Caspian and Axel. I stayed in the shadows, hidden.
“Don’t miss,” Maddox whispered into my ear.
“I never do,” I retorted.
I fired two shots in quick succession. The bullets met their marks in the backs of the men’s heads. The bodies fell to the floor. I stepped in one of the pools of crimson as I continued down the hall. I let Maddox go ahead of me and lead the way. He told me that we were heading up to the Captain’s quarters. I was worried that we would be able to kill everyone else before we got there. I wanted the Captain to be last. I was lucky though. We met Jasper and Phoenix along the way. They died just as the last two did, without dignity or a chance for survival. We climbed several ladders and explored many walk-ways. It seemed to me that we were going to the top of the ship. Finally, Maddox nudged me and pointed to a door at the end of the hall. As we approached it, two voices could be heard from inside. I recognized both of them as the Captain and Zander. They were arguing.
“She shouldn't be here. She's dangerous. We designed her to be unkillable. If that farm wench gets vindictive, she could destroy us all,” said Zander.
“That's you're doing, isn't it?” Captain said curtly.
“It was on your orders, Sir. I would never have created such a monster,” he said defensively.
I put in the two extra bullets. I only had four shots left. I reached for the door handle, twisted the latch and the door swung open. Both men spun around and pulled their guns. I shot Zander immediately, I hit him in the chest. He went down and let out a string of insults and swears.
“Psychotic b****,” were the last words he uttered.
The Captain had not shot at me nor at Maddox. I turned my gun around on him and he froze. I flicked my gun at the ground. He shook his head. I narrowed my eyes. No one said anything. I stepped closer, he didn't move. I wet my lips and shifted my weight from one foot to the other. His hands shook slightly.
“What is this, Ember?” he asked steadily.
“I'm going to kill every man who was on Kildark when you slaughtered my family,” I replied.
“Then what is Maddox doing? Why is he not dead? He was there too, or did he not tell you?” Captain said smoothly.
“He told me,” I said with a smirk. “He also told me that he would help me. I've killed every man who was there other than you two.”
The Captains face fell. Sweat began to collect and shine on his dark forehead. He was scared. I could tell that what Zander had said about me was in his mind in that moment. I was unkillable. He could not win, but he would try. He fired a shot into my shoulder. I felt the bullet bury itself into my flesh, but it did not hurt. No blood dripped from the wound. I didn't even stumble back with the impact. I looked at it, bewildered by the gaping hole. I dug my fingers in there and pulled out the small bit of metal. I let it clank to the floor. I ran my finger over the bullet hole in my shoulder. To my astonishment, I could see the chasm of open flesh begin to close and heal. The Captain’s eyes were wide with dread. I raised my gun. I breathed in, pulled the trigger, watched him fall, and breathed out. Maddox cheered. I rounded on him, gun still raised. He dropped his weapons. His mouth hung open as I took a step closer. He closed it quietly.
I lamented his loss before he'd even gone. The barrel of my father's gun pressed against Maddox's forehead, right between his eyes. His eyes were full of melancholy. His eyes, grey and glinting with unshed tears, stared back at me. They were doing the pleading that his lips would not. I respected his silence. I reached out with my other hand and traced the scars along his pale lips. As I followed them up his cheek, my fingertips met a tear that had escaped his lashes. My breathing faltered. My eyes began to blur with moisture. I blinked furiously to clear them. I dropped my hand hesitantly. I swallowed the lump in my throat. I squeezed the gun, unsure if I could do this. I felt the carving of the name in my palm. I knew what I had to do.
“Ember, I'm-” he uttered.
“I know,” I murmured. “I am too.”
His back curved with the strike of the bullet. His body collapsed like a marionette whose strings had been cut by Death himself. I watched the light peter out of his eyes as he departed from this life. The scent of blood filled my lungs. I staggered back and my breath hitched.
My throat felt tight. I turned on my heel and stumbled over to the control panel. I looked out over it and into the abyss that was the universe. I was reeling, but my mind was clear of everything. Clear of everything but one word.
I peered down at the gun still clasped in my sticky palm. It slowly ascended up to my chin. My father's gun beared down on my skin. Tears cascaded down my cheeks, making them wet. I let out a sob and scrunched my eyes closed. My whole body shook and my finger clenched the trigger. I keeled over backwards and lay on the ground. The gun toppled out of my hand and skidded across the floor. I rolled over and spit the bullet out of my mouth. I curled into a ball with the recoil of everything I'd done. I sat like that for hours before I came to my senses. I knew now that I could not die. I doubted before, but I no longer did. I had, however, died in a way. Pieces of me were gone, literally and figuratively. I wasn’t human and I wasn’t Ember. The light inside me had perished with my innocence, with my family, and with my friend, Maddox. It felt like it had been forever since I boarded the Avion, though it had only been days. And I had decided that if I could not die, I would make the most of living. So, I braced my hands against the floor, my fingers mingling with Maddox's blood, and I pushed myself up. I walked back to the dashboard of controls. My eyes scanned the buttons and the label before I found what I was looking for, the intercom. I clicked the on button and spoke.
“Attention gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking.”