Ink, a teenage rebel in a horrific future, fights for a tomorrow she may never see.
Chapter One: Ink
The sun is just peaking over the horizon, casting a blood red glow on the crowd in front of me. I can’t see more than a few people deep in front of the platform but I know they’re there, even in their silence I can feel the strength of everyone gathered here. It gives me hope, feeds my addiction to lead them out of this life. Lead them to freedom.
My throat burns as I scream out my speech, the same words I have been screaming since birth. It’s different today though, as the gates of the Citadel are at my back. No one has dared to be this forward. No one has ever asked those inside to gather with us, to shout their displeasure as well. I suddenly wish my mother could see me now.
Sunlight explodes into the square, blinding me. I turn to the sign posted behind me. It reads: Obedience is Peace. Security is Freedom. Yeah, right. I whip out the can of spray paint in my pocket and spray my hand red, then slap it over the lies. “Obedience is stupidity! Security is a lie! The government wants to control us, make us pawns! I say break the gates! Make freedom ours!” I scream against the rasp of my sore throat while I show the crowd my red hand.
I’m answered with a roar, along with hundreds of left hands raised in the air. It’s the underground symbol of resistance; my symbol. I look towards the gate and can barely make out others dressed in white, also showing me their hands. They want out of this hell as much as we do. Together, we can make a difference; anything seems possible in the thunder of the crowd.
Something pulls on my jacket sleeve and I look down into the dirty face of my little girl. I raise my eyebrows, asking her what’s wrong. “Uozies, comin’ ‘round the wall,” she yells into my ear.
“Go straight home. Tell Ada and Billy what happened but that I’ve got it under control. Run. Now,” I order.
She’s gone before the last words touch my lips. Seconds later her blonde head disappears from view. I scan the quieting square just as the screams of terror start.
Time to drop out.
I tumble off the platform and begin slithering through those left. Run, you morons, that’s the first rule: survive to fight again. The glow of hope is gone, the unity is gone, and no one pays attention as I yell myself hoarse to oppose them, to gather together. Funny how they listen when not in danger but none will stand and fight for what they supposedly believe in.
I slip through the thinning crowd, towards the northwest corner of the square; I’m almost out when I hear the awful thud of an Uozie’s stick against a human body. Against my better judgment I turn to look for it. There, Old Man Hauna is being beat down. “Hey, Snotface,” I hear my voice shout.
The ugly Uozie looks up and I show him my left hand, paint still running down my forearm, “Lookin’ for someone, huh ugly?”
Ugly doesn’t react very fast but I can hear him on his comm as I bolt: “I got the little monster. She took off going northwest, towards Sector 2.”
There’s no way he’s going to catch me now. The undercity is my world, no way can he keep up with me, but if he wants to jam… Well, I say let’s do it, Ugly. I jump up and slap my hand against the rusted sign that marked Sector 2. Then I feel my body respond as I weave, run, jump, and flip over the jungle gym of debris that makes up Sector 2. I slow to a prance when I can’t hear Uozie’s behind me. I glance back over my shoulder as I come around a building.
Suddenly, there’s a stunner in my face. “In the name of The Administration, you are under arrest,” a quivering voice informed me.
Think, think, THINK… nothing comes to me as the young Uozie pulls out his comm.
“I have the fugitive in custody.”
“Is she secured?” His Captain asks.
There, a split second of distraction and I gather my strength, leap in the air, and bring both my booted feet crashing into the Uozie’s stomach. His stunner goes off and grazes my side. Damn, fast trigger finger, and I can already feel my left side going numb. He’s already staggering to his feet. This is no place to stick so I leap onto a dumpster and launch myself up to a rusty fire escape. It creaks under my weight but holds as I scramble my way up. On the roof, I kick the ladder so it crashes to the ground, taking my new friend with it.
I pull up my shirt. A nasty purple bruise is spreading down my rib-cage. The stun is creeping into my shoulder and hip. It’s gonna be dark when I get home. Sighing, I drop off the other side of the building and land hard on a pile of trash. Awesome, I’ll smell super too.
Chapter Two: Ada
Dark hands wringing in front of her, Ada Undli paced back and forth in front of the Nit. “Where in Arrow’s name is that girl,” the middle-aged woman asked to the chilly air.
“Don’ worry none ‘bout Ink,” Zion said from behind her.
Ada turned toward the young boy, worry still bright in her eyes, “Ink is just as human as you or me; of course I worry about her. It’s almost dark now…”
Zion shrugged and went back to picking up pieces of scrap metal. Ada watched him for a moment, thankful for the distraction. Last week The Scabs, a gang that worked for the Uozies, had crashed their previous Nit. Ink had found another in less than a day but it needed work. It fell to Zion and Peep to clean it up. Ada felt a surge of guilt, wishing she could be more helpful to her little family. Without Lana, Ink’s mother, Ada was the only adult.
Lana would’ve been worried about Ink too. She had trained Ink to fight, to bring freedom back to the people of the undercity. What Lana hadn’t done was teach Ink how to listen. The girl constantly took unnecessary risks, no matter what Lana said to scare her off. Ink didn’t scare easy but Ada prayed that would change before something horrible happened. Teenager or not, Ink was responsible for them now. She kept them together, alive, and reasonably safe. It wasn’t Ink’s fault that a lot of her followers had left when Lana died, still supporting her cause but not their life. Ada had watched Ink’s heart break and knew that the girl was different; Ink loved them more than herself—not a common trait in the undercity.
“Ink’ll be fine, she’s probably out gettin’ food or something for the Nit,” Billy’s voice broke Ada’s reverie.
Ada shook with coughs before responding to the young man, “You know as well as I do that she would’ve checked in.”
Worry lines marred Billy’s face, only deepening when he saw the blood on Ada’s hand. She shot him a warning stare, not wanting them pointing out the fact she was sick. Death would be a welcome relief from her life. Billy ran a perfectly smooth hand through his shaggy brown hair and turned away to walk the perimeter. Ada watched him, a welcome relief from being worried over Ink.
Billy, Ink’s only confidante as far as Ada knew, kept Ink in balance. Where she was fire and lightning, he was water and earth. Their love, Ada couldn’t explain; perfect opposites that fit to make a whole being. The sickly woman could see them fighting, winning, and then settling into a life together seamlessly.
Something moved in the shadows, turning Ada’s head and dropping her hand to her gun. “Spot at the front door,” she said calmly.
Billy responded instantly. The shotgun cocked above Ada’s head, from the look-out point behind her. “Spot at the front door!” he yelled.
The figure bobbed and weaved in the darkness, probably a drunk. Zion and Peep thundered into the Nit and then Zion’s pistol cocked. Ada pulled her pistol as well. She couldn’t take chances with the children at home. “Stop! We will shoot!” Billy shouted.
It was too dark for Ada to see properly into the darkened alley. By the intensity in the air, she guessed that the figure had stopped but not turned away. Slowly, she cocked her pistol. Silence stretched for a very tense minute before Ada heard someone collapse onto the ground. The figure lay prone in the alley, unmoving.
Ada crept forward, against Billy’s urging to stay put, and approached the figure. When she was a few feet away the crumpled body sprang into action. A boot connected with Ada’s hand and her pistol flew. “Ada!” Peep’s tiny voice screeched.
“Boom,” Ink’s voice whispered into Ada’s ear, miming a finger gun next to her temple. “You’re dead.”
Ink released Ada as the other three ran towards them. “Ink! Where were you?” Peep speaks up first.
“Jus’ around lil ‘un,” Ink grinned and tossed Peep into the air.
Ada took one look at the girl and knew exactly what had happened. “Where were you hit?” she snapped.
Ink rolled her light pigmented eyes. No answer was offered. “Ink, you need to be looked at! You can’t leave a stun wound untreated!” Ada was suddenly overcome with anger at the girl’s carelessness.
She grabbed Ink’s skinny arm and yanked her around. Ink jerked back, lost her balance and ended up on the ground again. “You’re getting too big for your own good! Have you forgotten your mother’s warnings so quickly, child?” Ada growled.
Ink was in the older woman’s face before she could react. “Never, never accuse me of forgetting my mother. I think you’re the one who’s forgotten; freedom is never free.”
Chapter 3: Ink
Night is dark in the undercity. Black, actually. Whatever lights once shined here were long dead. I’m used to it though, because when the sun sets, my ears awaken. From the overgrown rats picking through the trash to the even breathing of my crew, my ears are our security system.
My eyes are closed, resting, but I won’t sleep ‘til dawn. They trust it, trust me. My crew; lil Peep, Zion, Ada…Billy… their lives are my responsibility now. As if surviving isn’t hard enough, my mother left me with a mission and a family to take care of.
Tears slip silently down my cheeks. I feel them drip from my jaw to my jacket. A deep breath stabs my lungs and helps me center myself. It’s not every night I let myself go like this.
Footsteps in the Nit draw my hand to my knife. My eyes snap open to black. I tip my hammock forward to touch the ground with my toes. “Ink, it’s Billy. You’re crying.”
Skizz, that asshole is quiet. “Jus’ the stink, kids are takin’ their sweet time cleaning this place,” I relax back into bed.
Billy sinks in next to me. Our sides are pressed together and his warmth envelopes me. This is my only safe place in all my life. I still don’t lean into him. “One day we’re gonna have a lil boy an’ girl, they’ll go to school, have a house, a dog… You know why?” He didn’t leave me any time to respond. “‘Cause you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met. If anyone can end the Admin’s rein, it’s you, Ink.”
My snort caused Ada to roll in her sleep “I’ma nobody. We lost all our force when Mom got caught. We have no back-up; we’re two teenagers, two kids, and a sick, old woman.” I remind him.
“Ha, you’re known outside every gate into Citadel,” he shot back.
“For something my mother did.”
He shakes his head; I feel it, and lean back. We stay quiet, listening to the night and our Nit. He finally pulls me to his chest. I fall into the cradle of sleep, staying there all night for the first time in years.
Chapter 4: Zion
The Citadel splays over two-hundred miles in diameter. The steel wall around is roughly circular with twelve main gates and one-hundred-eighty-two lesser gates. It’s one of two ‘civilized’ cities left after the Purge, almost three-hundred-fifty years ago. At age ten Zion was taking his first steps inside. Buildings rose into the sky, sparkling high above where he could see. His neck ached from trying to look at everything at once. “Keep up,” Ink barked from a street corner up ahead.
She tapped her foot impatiently. Zion skipped forward to meet her before the crossing symbol changed. “This place is amazing!” he gasped in awe.
Ink rolled her eyes. Zion could see the stress in her shoulders and back as she walked but none of it was displayed on her face. Her face wore a serene mask, nodding to those who acknowledged her. Strangers saw a normal teenager but Zion saw the tension. “Yeah, well, everyone in this amazing place hates you,” Ink reminded him as they walked by a pair of Uozies eating lunch.
They weaved their way through the fringes of the city. Disguised, they almost blended in. If they avoided eye contact, no one bothered them. Usually Billy came with Ink to Citadel so they could use his gene status to slip around. Zion, a natural born like Ink, was only there because Ink didn’t want to leave Ada without protection. In the month since Ink’s huge speech there had been fourteen attacks on the Nit.
The pair plodded along until Zion’s feet screamed in Billy’s too large shoes. Finally, Ink held up a hand and they stopped in the shadows. “Watch that door,” Ink pointed to a door a few suites away from the corner they were using as cover.
“You brought me all this way to watch a door?” Zion raised his eyebrows in disbelief.
Ink locked eyes with him. For the first time since Lana died, Zion saw fear in Ink’s eyes. It scared him straight and he nodded his acceptance. “You gotta do this right, Z, no risks,” Ink begged.
All Zion could do was nod again. “Alright, I’ll get in an’ out as fast as I can. Send me a beep if you see an Uozie. Don’t let them get in that door, if you have to distract them send me three beeps and I’ll come to help you.” Ink said as she pressed a beeper into Zion’s hand.
The little gadget felt fragile to be trusted with their lives but Zion knew Billy had worked on them for months. Ink gave him a tiny smile before slipping around the corner.
Zion’s eyes stayed glued to the door for the first fifteen minutes that Ink was inside, this his mind began to wander. It wasn’t long before he was slumped against the opposite wall of the little alley. He just stayed out of people’s way as he studied them. No one made eye contact, no children ran or laughed, no conversations took place between lovers, it was an eerie silence in such a beautiful place.
Occasionally, Zion would spot a spec of black in the sea of traditional white. He’d send a beep, and Ink would beep back so he knew she was still okay. The hour crawled by without Ink appearing. Boredom pulled Zion’s eyes shut in the middle of the second hour. What could be taking Ink so long? She’d be in and out of a place in mere minutes in the undercity. Was it really that much more complicated to steal in the Citadel?
An alarm jerked Zion awake. Dusk had settled on the world and the Citadel was glowing blood red in the setting sun. White lights ripped the illusion to shreds. Zion’s beeper was going mad. He vainly tried to respond. A second after true panic set in, he saw Ink explode out the door.
She was shouting something but Zion couldn’t hear her. He stepped out to meet her only to have her clothesline him back into the hidden alley. “Go, run, NOW!” Ink shouted, shoving her canvass bag into his hands.
Zion didn’t need to be told twice. He took off at top speed and didn’t slow until he was safe in the undercity.
Chapter 5: Ink
The Siren drilled into my brain, rattled my teeth, stopped my heart. I hesitated just long enough to see Zion disappear. He’s gotten so fast, he’s growing up. Of course, the little rat didn’t warn me… I knew he wasn’t ready to come with me to the Citadel.
I can’t head to our gate—I can’t risk catching up with Zion. He’s never been in a real fight… I hope he remembers the way. Gravel rolls under my feet and sends me sliding into a building corner. The air leaves my chest in a painful huff. Stars… I’m lying on my back.
Everything burns as I stand. A shout comes from just around the corner. Heart jerking, I take off. Their boots are right behind me, the Uozie’s shout excitedly. Four blocks from the gate.
Tears blur my vision, blood runs down my legs, and I can feel their boots hitting the pavement. Pain electrifies my right leg and I hit the pavement; hard. My leg is mangled but I scramble up as the fingertips of an Uozie graze my tunic. Two blocks from the gate.
A block. Then 20 meters until I lose them. I can do this. I have to do this. “Fight. Through resistance you can bring freedom!” my mother’s voice rings in my ears.
Just over her voice I hear, “Close the gate!”
A particularly loud Uozie shouts a few seconds too late. Victory gives me wings for the last few meters. I slid under the closing gate; free once more. I look over my shoulder to see the gate just beginning to open. A smirk touches my lips; then an explosion behind my eyes. Black
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Shock shackles encircle my wrists and my left ankle while I sit in the courtroom. A cast keeps my right ankle still. It’s not broken but it might as well be. Fear grips every fiber of who I am, I spent last night crying in my cell. Today I’m being sentenced.
My back is straight, they will not see weakness in my. No matter what they say, I will remain strong for my people. New casters flit about, taking to witnesses. None will voice their support for me because they’d end up in the same place. However, I can’t count the amount of people who have shown me their left hands and nodded. They have to know that we are strong, the rebellion is strong, it’s time to fight. Even if I can’t be there beside them.
The judge strides in. He’s holding himself tall; putting his own strength out for the journalists to see as well. “Inez Nalyn Kingsley, rise,” he ordered me.
I don’t move. That isn’t my name, my name is Ink. “Ms. Kingsley, you dare defy the Administration further with your insolence. Now rise,” he tries again.
My eyes meet his. We hold, he breaks the stare first. “My name is Ink.” I say loudly and clearly.
A gasp goes up and a few camera’s flash. “Ink, rise,” he gives into me.
I stand, back still straight, shoulders square. “You’ve been found guilty for the crimes of treason, terrorism, vandalisms, stealing, and harboring non-alters human. You have been sentenced to death by firing squad. You shall await your sentence in solitary. Your case will not be reviewed. Do you understand?” he says slowly.
He’s waiting for me to look scared. I gaze directly into his eyes. “Yes. I understand,” my voice is steady.
His gavel swings down. “Case closed,” the room explodes with the noise of journalists asking questions.
I whip around, earning silence, and find the one camera I know is live. Looking directly into it, I raise my hands. The left is red with blood. “Fight! Through resistance we will bring freedom!” I shout before an Uozie tackles me.
Chapter 6: Ink-10 years later
I’m standing on a platform as the sun rises. Twelve Uozies have their guns set on me. Finally, after ten years I’m ready to die.
I spent ten years in a black room, seeing the sun for minutes at a time, eating when they remembered to feed me. It was hell. I tried to hold strong but nine hundred forty two escape attempts later, I’m done. I wished for death every day after the first year. And that was before they caught Billy.
And Zion. And Peep. They tortured every one of them in the cell next to mine. I listened to them scream for hours before the Uozies took mercy and shot them. Peep lasted the longest. They did things to her I didn’t know humans were capable of. I’m glad they finally shot her, at least she didn’t have to live with it. Her screams haunt my dreams still, though soon I’ll be free of them.
Free. I use to think it meant being accepted, loved, and having a simple life where I didn’t wonder where my next meal was coming from. It doesn’t. Freedom can’t be found through resistance, only through death. And I’m finally ready to be free. Twenty-four years was too long to live in this world.
“Aim!” one of the Uozies yell.
Their gun’s flash up just as the sun explodes across my face. One last sunrise. I bask in the warmth and remember days from a different life. “Fire!”
A second pause, I’m holding my breath, BANG! I’m finally free.
Mere hours after Ink’s execution, the rebels broke the gates in protest. The Citadel was over-thrown in days. Ink was remembered as a Saint. The rebellion’s motto is still: Through resistance we gain Freedom.
Authors Note: There is an alternate ending to this story if any one would like to read it.