Finding Atlas

Annabelle Tate doesn't remember what life was like before the Colony. All she knows is that life during it is dreadful. When a citizen turns 17 they're automatically tested on their loyalty, agility, intelligence and mental well being. If they fail they go through an elusive process known as "fixing." When Annabelle fails she's whisked into a world of espionage, archery, instinct and brutality to fight and inspire a dying nation she once sought allegiance to.

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5. Little Sparrow

 

 

LITTLE SPARROW

 

       

        There was a place where things were broken down and ruined to the point of being irreparable. Mom used to tell me about this before Ellie was born, when I was still young enough to have hope and curiosity brightening my eyes. She used to tell stories of how this city was what the Colony used to be—when the nuclear war had torn the world asunder. She said that people had taken refuge there when the bombs had ripped the world apart until the population boomed and the economy that had been created to keep the city afloat fell too. What I saw in the confines of the airship with Langston nursing his bloodied arm beside me was that city. Scraps of sheet metal and signs whose lights had long since died out whizzed past me.

 

         This world was dead to the bright pops of color seen in the Pavilion and all throughout the majority of the Provinces. I thought of the great fallen civilizations that were lost in the archives and annals of the Colony’s Great Library in Province 1. I thought of one of the few times I had went there on a class trip when I was in Class A. I’d never devoured so much knowledge in my life—the crumbling of a great Mecca always gave birth to a renewed city.

 

Such was with the Colony.

 

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

 

        I turned my head, surprised to hear the quiet rasp of a female voice beside me. The dark haired girl laughed bitterly and abruptly at my look of surprise. Her cross was ever present around her neck—a permanent fixture of defiance.

 

        “In a weird way it has its own beauty … yeah. This was what the Colony used to be,” I replied. I laid my hand against the cool glass as the vehicle soared smoothly through the expanse of quietness. The city was eerie but still there were pockets of life scattered throughout the vast landscape of abandonment. In the shell of dilapidated buildings and what used to be spiraling skyscrapers that touched the ceiling of the cave were people.

            

             This was their kingdom.

            

             When I couldn’t focus anymore I slipped into a fitful sleep and Langston’s arm cradled my cheek. I thought of Ellie aiding our mother and I in baking pomegranate buns. They were sweet and sticky with the seeds coated in semi-sweet chocolate. They weren’t decadent but filling nonetheless. I could taste the sweet tanginess of the pomegranate flesh from leftovers mom would allow us to eat our fill in. I thought of Miles’s tirelessly sparring with dad and his friends after his days at the school we’d went to. I thought of how he’d honed his body in the deepest annals of the caverns. Lastly I thought of Collin and his smile and his twinkling laughter that was throaty and deep as it was contrastingly light.

              I thought of the feelings I’d never be able to pour out like milk to him. It would be like pouring it out into a metaphorical bowl and sending him off with it to drink. He never would taste it. That sucked.

            

             When I was jostled awake I was greeted by the dark haired girl whose body was rippling with muscle. Her voice was soft and low, it betrayed her true nature entirely. It wasn’t what I was expecting of a girl her stature but it was calming anyhow. Langston slept languidly beside me.

 

             “Aidan says it’s time to go, best get a move on. He seems the type to not like waiting.”

 

             I didn’t hesitate and gently shook Langston awake. His hazel eyes were probably bleary with sleep. He squinted at me and fully awoke only when we filed out in a line. The twin boys were the first to be amazed by the tactile overload we’d experience.

 

             “Jackson!” I noted the one who screamed that had shorter curls wreathing his cherub face than his supposedly older twin. He was also a few inches shorter and had a mole marring his otherwise unblemished face.

 

             “Devin! Bloody hell,” the other one with a longer fringe near his baby blues comically exclaimed in response. I chuckled, in fact, the whole ensemble did. It was hard not to. Their energy was infectious and God knew we needed some positivity in the midst of all this somberness.

 

             “It is something,” Langston finally breathed out in amazement and I bumped shoulders with him as I joined him. I nervously stepped aside to further distance the gap. What I saw from the windows of the massive aircraft was nothing compared to the view surrounding outside of it. A spiraling monolith of a building stood regally amongst outcrops of rocks where homes were chiseled out of bare earth. Ivy and moss crept across the windows like some potent living symbiotic creatures. It was a beautiful twisted corruption of glass, metal and earth—both wild and manmade creations living harmoniously.

 

             We had landed gracefully and had lurched once or twice just a few feet from a gigantic bazaar. I’d read up on these sort of places in the Old World collection at the Great Library. Places like this was where bartering took place for various cloths, spices and other valuable goods to be traded at semi reasonable prices. Sometimes one would barter a few gold or silver coins in exchange for a fresh bag of spices. Sometimes one would trade in something of equal value besides currency for something good to bring back home to their family.

 

             We passed by an old woman stirring a steel cauldron of simmering broth. I smelled the fragrant alien spices—it was piquant and one taste would make my pallet hum and sing with approval. She added a pinch of this and that from various glass jars and vials that she poured in and she stirred away. Comparatively at home, our dishes were devastatingly simple and were rarely composed with such tenderness and keen attention to details. People in the Colony, where I was from, people like me, had no time for such things as details and spices and the “marriage of flavors” as Langston tried to explain to me when I asked about the old woman.

 

             Aidan led us through the bustling songs of people calling out various foreign names of dishes I’d never dreamt of. At home we had things like pomegranate buns and all-seeds bread made of things you could quickly scavenge—things that were composed of what their names implied. These were dishes composed of something ancient and primal—something cherished from long ago that hummed in these people’s bloodstreams.

 

             “Get your fresh boiled pig’s tails! Get your chitlins and fresh boiled pig’s tails right here!”

 

             “Apple pie, anybody want some fresh baked apple pies? Just step this way, sir.”

 

             Langston tried to explain to me that this was a preservation of culture and it was something that we could be condemned to death for in my world. It was something I was told in an entirely different sort of usage of language from when I was younger. I was told to be loyal. As I grew older and saw more and more of my classmates disappearing—saw the lights dim and flicker in their eyes—envisioned the cogs in their minds turning like clockwork but nothing processing—I changed. I changed for them. I was changing for them. This was what liberation smelled and felt like.

 

             We came to a wall made of stone and earth. It smelled of clay and old things. Aidan told us to step back and we all did as we were commanded to. He did a few ritualistic habitual taps with his fingers and rapped on the stone a few times and the wall opened. A small slot with an electrical beam of light scanned his eye.

 

             “Aidan Quinn confirmed. Welcome back Eagle-eye,” a cool computerized female voice droned from somewhere around us. Aidan smirked as the whole wall shifted to reveal a set of imposing stone doors shaped like inverted axes. They swung on a pivot and opened to expose a large room complete with an assortment of holographic computer screens with various blinking and moving dots. Men and women were seated around these holographic computers and typed feverishly on their keyboards. Occasionally letters would glow with a beautiful electric blue tinge.

 

             “Aidan!”

            

             We stared agape as a woman with an odd pink hairdo materialized seemingly out of thin air, electric blue circles dissipating from around her lithely form. Her hair flopped to one side while the rest was shorn close to reveal her equally pinkish scalp. Her skin was a milky tone and she was garbed in a black bodysuit with ocher stripes running up and down the sides. She looked deadly and her body was toned from years of training in martial arts and undoubtedly some other forms of hand to hand combat.

 

             “Holy shit,” the girl with the cross clenched her hands tight around her relic. She cursed. I was more surprised than ever as it was like watching a breathing oxymoron.

 

             We didn’t know it yet but this was to be our new home for the next five and half months. This was what martyrdom looked like.

 

             “These are the new recruits you were raving about on your way here?”

 

             “Yes madam, ladies and gents I’d like you to meet Flea. She’s my right hand lady and she’ll be showing you to your barracks where you’ll be spending your downtime. She’ll also assist you with any questions you’ll have about why I gave you the choices that I did earlier.”

 

             “You mean why you saved us,” Jackson interjected in an odd accent—I couldn’t pinpoint it but mom told me that people like him used to be from a place known as Great Britain years and years and years ago. I supposed that’s where his ancestors could be traced to and where his accent derived from. The colony didn’t differentiate between ancestries and accents. There was no time for that either.

 

             “Yes.”

 

             “Why did you—save us—I mean?” Jackson continued. I waited anxiously and held my bated breath.

 

             “For your chance at retribution, aren’t you sick of being casted into groups by society? Being told that your uniqueness is weak and petty and unneeded, disgusting even? Your uniqueness is strength and the sooner you’re all aware of that the sooner we can train you.”

 

             “Train us? Like we’re a bunch of fuckin’ guinea pigs? No thanks. I’d rather be out in the Banished Lan—“

 

             “You ARE in the Banished Lands.”

 

             This was martyrdom and hell. It tasted like metal and clogged air. 

 

 

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