STARS *Catching Paper*

In the future city of Circino, there are no stars, no specks of light in the full place. Publics and Peasants are forced into work as the Privates live their lives of luxury. They say no one can escape, no one can see the stars. No one can see the stars. Aro wants to prove them wrong. Aro wants to escape. And together with a Private, Alene, and a Peasant, Jarmina, he sets out to do just that. But at what cost does the real truth come? Cover Artist: Crown of Shadownight

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11. ODDITIES


The mountains are high. Very high. They could probably reach the sun, I think. Aro doesn’t seem quite as impressed as I am, though, and neither does Jarmina.  Their loss. I think it’s amazing. “Well,” Aro says, casting a slightly irritated look at me. “Are we going or not?”

He can be extremely annoying at times, like he doesn’t even care about the fact that I saved his life. Am I the only sane person here? He’s probably just acting that way because he likes me: My friend, Atria, always says that’s what males – especially the Publics and Peasants – do. “Yeah, sure,” I say sulkily as we begin to ascend. Like I even had a choice.

My silk dress snags on a jagged boulder/rock thing, and Jarmina laughs as I pull it free. It’s ripped now, and she laughs even more at my crestfallen face. Aro looks back, and raises an eyebrow as I glare at Jarmina. “Oh, is poor Alene sad?” he cackles like a witch, a d I purse my lips, hardening my glare, even though he still doesn’t stop her immature taunting. “Or is she mad?” Jarmina laughs again, and I reach out for her in a way only men should do. Jarmina’s obviously had more practice than me, though, and she grabs my wrist a I attack, twisting it as I cry out in pain.

“Stop it,” Aro says angrily, breaking apart. “You’ll let everyone know where we are.” His anger seems purely focused on me, and I clench my fists, resisting the urge to hit him. “And we don’t want to go back there.”

Jarmina smirks as she follows him further up the mountainside, spite clear in her wicked green eyes. She’s like a cat, but not mine. No, more like one of those big bad cats we were told about, the one who sometimes killed people back when the war was going on. Or maybe she’s a dog. Yeah, they were the worst, I think: They stole food from everyone, and killed everyone else. Yes, she’s a dog. The eyes aren’t quite right, though. Maybe she’s just not house-trained.

As though Aro can read my thoughts, he calls quietly over his shoulder, “No insults. We need to survive, and we can’t do that if we’re fighting.” He rarely speaks, least of all to me, and his few words are constantly trying to make us more optimistic, even though he always sounds like he just wants to die. Boys are really hard to figure out sometimes.

Jarmina pulls me behind her, and her hand is tight around me. “I can walk without your help, you know,” I hiss angrily.

“I know,” she says in that annoying sing-song voice of hers. She may be a Peasant, but he sure knows how to manipulate people. Just not me.  “But not very fast. You need my help, Ali, and you can’t deny it. I’m just trying to be friends with you.”

She can break my wrist at any time she wants, probably, with her sweat palm so tightly grasping my wrist. That’s not a good sign, if she could hurt me so easily. I jerk my hand suddenly, breaking away, and sprint after Aro as Jarmina glares after us. I think I may have hurt her nose; I definitely hit something. I hear her curse quietly, and Aro sighs.

“What do you want?” he asks, voice firm, yet gentle at the same time.

“To leave,” I reply, turning and standing in front of him to block his path. “I can’t go back there, Aro, you know I can’t. Don’t get me wrong, I want to – we’re living off moss practically, and I highly doubt that we have anything hygienic up her – but I can’t. I’d die.”

“You’d die here, too.” Aro tries to move past me, but I reach out like Jarmina did, and he stops. Maybe she does have a brain after all, if she knows how to make him look like that.

“Not if you help me.” Aro opens his mouth to speak, but I cut him off with my own words and a stern – at least, I think it was stern – glance. “You and Jarmina seem to think I’m just a liability, and that if you had to resort to cannibalism, I‘d be the first to die, but I’m really not. I can help you, but you don’t see that, because you just see Jarmina with her strength and everything else. I’m the only one who’s been properly educated here. You’ve only been taught at home, and not that much with your work and stuff, and I honestly don’t know how Jarmina can work out one add one. Face it: You need me.”

Aro raises his eyebrow again – it’s actually not as annoying as it was at first – and laughs slightly. “We were never going to kill you, Alene,” he says, shaking his head. I don’t think you’re a liability: Jarmina just doesn’t like Privates.  None of them do.” He pauses, and his eyes flicker across my face as he seems to contemplate saying something else, before he turns away. “Come on.”

Jarmina shoves her shoulder roughly into mine, and snickers at my hurt face. I kick her lightly in the hins and run ahead to Aro, looking back at her face, which is contorted with rage. Aro looks back with me, and motions for Jarmina to join us. “Quit whining,” he says sharply, and she looks taken aback. I forced back a snicker at her shocked face, and instead settle for a look of clear superiority. Jarmina sticks her tongue out at me, and I laugh again at her show of immaturity. She will never learn.

When finally night falls, Aro is quick to set up a temporary kind of campsite, and he, along with Jarmina, then lights a fire to warm us while I sit in the relative safety of our ‘house’, but it’s not so much a house as a row of sticks. Aro appointed me ‘head of strategy’, which I interpreted as meaning that I just have to think about stuff.  It’s quite fun. 

“Why do you hate her?” I hear Aro ask Jarmina, and I lean closer, curious. Up until now, they haven’t exchanged a single word.

“It doesn’t matter.” Jarmina’s voice is guarded, and I know fairly well what that means: She doesn’t want anyone to know.  “And if it did, I’d hardly tell you now.”

I can’t see him, but I’m sure that Aro’s face is puzzled. After all, Jarmina isn’t very good at not making things confusing. “What does that mean?” Yes, Aro, I think, I’d like to know that, too.

“It just means that she can hear, and I don’t want her to know. It’s not exactly romantic when you confess your feelings to someone, and you know another person is eavesdropping.”  Silence fall again outside, but my brain is screaming at me. What did she say about romance? Are they, like, together? That’s … Weird.

After a few more minutes of my mind whirring, and the smell of smoke drifting into the air, Aro says from outside, “Dinner.”

I leave the small stick shelter, and sit beside Aro at the fire.  We eat and watch the fire as it slowly dims, before the wood turns to ashes, and the only reminder of it is the lingering smell of smoke.  Jarmina glares at me as she stands up, face ghostly pale in the moonlight. “Goodnight,” she says. Then, with a hint of malice, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

Strange. That’s an old Private saying, used to mock the Peasants secretly, behind their backs. Whee did she learn it?

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