by T.A. Brooks
A small excerpt into the life of a girl living on futuristic mars as a slave
If you guys wanna see more of this just drop a review telling me so and I may give Sin some more adventures.
Break The Chains
“They are beautiful beasts that will run as hard as you push them. They will run. And run. And run. Until they don't. Until their hearts explode.”- Mickey the Carver
A new day. A fake sun shining through worn and tattered curtains to wake the siblings sleeping in creaky beds under musky blankets and on old pillows. Another day waking in the dusty little shack to eat a small breakfast and don hand-washed clothes to finally stretch out once they’ve stepped into the sunshine. Another day of work. Another day.
I blink against the early, artificial light, doing my best to shield myself from it underneath threadbare blankets. My brother, Othello, groans in the small bed beside me, just as happy with being woken as I am. But his sense of duty is stronger than mine and he sits up and stretches as much as he can in the confined space. Grunting, he struggles to crawl over me and get up from the bed, kicking me repeatedly in the process. Soon, I follow with a sigh, dragging behind him and plopping down into a rickety chair beside the stove.
“What’s for breakfast?” I ask sarcastically, rubbing the sleep from my ruby red eyes.
“Well, my darling sister,” Othello jokes with a slight smile and an Old Earth English accent, “today we have fried prime stock eggs, lean bacon, straight from the slaughterhouse, and a warm stack of pancakes. To drink we have fresh milk and orange juice. And if m’lady would like, we have cream-filled pastries for the way.” I give a genuine laugh, rolling my eyes. No low-red from this side of the dome would ever have any of those things.
“Stop that. You’re making me hungry.” In reality, breakfast would be nothing more than nutrient-packed grain bars in boiled water. Enough to live on, but never enough to fill our bellies. Occasionally, we do in fact have milk. And if we could sneak one or two from the orchards, we’d even have some sort of fruit or vegetable. But those opportunities are few and far between. So each morning we rise and eat a breakfast of grains boiled in water before getting dressed and heading off to work.
“Crops aren’t doing well,” I state for no obvious reason. Othello turns from the old stove to give me an odd look. A topic such as this is forbidden.
“No, but they’re managing. How did you sleep, Sin?” And like that the topic is shut, a silent lock to seal it. I play with my red carved sigils, discontent with his dismissal.
“Fine. Odd dreams,” I murmur, head hung low.
“Like what.” He cocks his head as he stirs the boiling pot.
“Nothing important,” I sigh, shoving away any attempt at real conversation. “Just jumbled thoughts.” And that’s that. Othello gives me a fake smile, pouring the soggy grains into both bowls on the table. I thank him with a nod before taking a bite, wishing I’d blown on it when the tasteless gruel burns the roof of my mouth. Othello joins me, scooting under the wooden table, careful not to break the rickety chair. He’s just raised his spoon to his lips when a loud horn sounds and echoes through the air. It’s time to work. We both sigh, downing our bowls as quickly as possible and rushing to dress.
Finally, we step outside into the cool air. It would be another scorching hot day. Nothing new in the biodome. The mornings are cool, the afternoons scorching, and the evenings humid, almost to the point of choking. None of this is coincidental of course; everything here has a purpose. The goal is to make us happy to get up in the mornings and too worn and tired to want to do anything but sleep in the night.
Makes good us workers. Efficient is the word I think they use.
We begin our walk in idle chatter, other workers chiming in here and there as they join the procession to the groves. For as hellish as this life is, lack of community is not and never was an issue. By the time we reach the day's assigned orchard the sun is high and the heat sweltering, battering us and the other workers.
Each day is the same. Pick a certain amount of fruit by the end of sundown or be punished. Easy enough. Of course, the Coppers always change the quota. They randomly pick a worker and move their goal at the end of the day so they can meet their quota; a certain amount of reds in each clan has to fail. Both Othello and I have been picked one time or another. We are not given justice. After all, the ones responsible for us would dispose of us like broken tools at the first sign of weakness.
Despite the optimistic chatter of the walk, we go about our work silently, focusing on our tasks and nothing else. If a Gray found anyone idling it’d be a whipping. If we work hard enough there’s a chance of reward. Tonight is the Laureltide after all. One night a month where the total harvest is tallied up and the clan with the largest haul wins a laurel. Food and fabrics and medicine. Things I’d never had unless I’d bought it off of a high-red on the other side of the dome. Our clan hasn’t won in years. Not for lack of meeting the quota, but because we are not the favored; not like the high-reds past the delta. Even the cruelest master will have favorite slaves.
But, that’s their angle. Make us jealous and angry at our own instead of the society that keeps us chained. We’ll never win. But the hope that we might have some fresh fruit without the threat of a beating is enough to make me work without pause. After all, that’s what I was designed to do. That’s what all reds were designed to do; work and work and work until we die.
“I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”- Eo of Lykos
Laureltide is the only night each month that the evening air doesn’t try to choke you. The air is fresh and warm and carries the smell of baked bread and homemade ale. We all gather in the Burgin, a huge cobblestone square ringed by two taverns and a gallows. As solemn as it is on any given day, tonight there is laughter and dancing hemmed by music. On one side sits my clan and on the other sits Gamma, the high-reds of the dome. They eat fresh bread instead of stale and their tables are lined with wines and fruits and other delicacies we could only dream of.
Despite the rift between us, both sides celebrate and commune just the same. The old eat grainy bread and watch as the young drink themselves stupid and show off with dances taught to them by uncles and fathers; age-old shows of joy and community. We are not Golds who dance in pairs. We’re not even Silvers, who dance in threes. Here we dance alone, flipping and moving to music unique to our clans and families while we sing songs of our misty veil.
Othello and I make our way into the Burgin in laughter, jostling each other and enjoying the warm air. Finding a table, we quickly become submerged in a conversation with a very drunk groveMaster. He rattles on about a fresh tinpot- a derogatory word for our grays -who wore full gear into the fields on his first watch and passed out from heat exhaustion in the mud. He can’t even finish his story because his cackles make him incoherent. We just laugh along as we join him in his drinking. However, tonight we drink lightly for fear of missing the Laurel announcement. We know we won this month. There’s no doubt about it. Now we see if we actually get it.
I drink and idly chatter with Iona, our village medic. Well, medic is a very liberal way of describing her. She pours water on wounds and wraps them. There’s not much else she is able to do.
“So where did this come from, Sin?” she asks, eyeing a long cut that arches up my entire arm.
“Tinpot. He ‘slipped’ as he passed out last week's scythes. When we harvested the wheat fields. Near the delta,” I explain, tracing the path it cut down, barely missing vital muscle and arteries.
“Why were you even harvesting there? That’s high-red fields.” Othello and I nod in agreement and shrug before turning our heads to the Burgin square as a Copper blows a horn. All music stops, halting all festivities but the small children who dance to imaginary tunes. Their parents still them quickly.
“Welcome!” the small man says, a voice amplifier expanding his words to fill the large space. “What a beautiful community! So filled with joy and laughter. How I envy the love I see here.” A collective eye-roll prompts him to clear his throat. “Tonight is, in fact, a night of joy! Tonight we celebrate your work and toil. Tonight we reward the best of the brood.” The penny smiles as he looks around the Burgin at us. He hides his disgust well.
I lean over to whisper in Othello’s ear. “Do you think we’ll win tonight?” I feel him shake his head and I agree with a nod. It is then that a large ornate box descends from above. It is wrapped and decorated in fake gold, shining brightly in our drab sky. The copper attempts to spur applause by clapping but fails miserably, ending up awkwardly dropping his hands to his sides. Finally, the box comes to a stop and hovers above the crowd. In a moment it will burst open, spilling millions of pieces of paper atop us. Each and every one of them will have the name of the winning clan on it. No matter the winners, the children will play in it, enjoying the only snow they’ve ever known. And no matter what, some adults will wither inside, wondering if they will starve this next month. Or if their children must beg. If their wives and daughters must go and sell themselves for medicine and food. They will wonder. I will wonder.
“On Mars, there’s not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.”- Darrow of Lykos
Finally, the box explodes, a winter rain spilling on my people. I silently pray to whatever awaits in the vale. Today I will have fruit. Tomorrow I will have sugar, I whisper quietly inside. And then I open my eyes.
Gamma. That is the name on the paper. It is all I see and it is all I have ever found etched onto these shreds. Gamma. The high-reds from across the dome. Gamma. The men and women I have gone to and begged for food while their ribless children play. The favorites.
There is an angry uproar. We know we’ve won. Even the smug-looking Gammas who sit at a table across the Burgin know we’ve won. Disappointment floats through the crowd but is soon forgotten by most as the music starts back up. This is what life is in the dome. We toil. We get cheated. And we dance it off. Because that is all we have. All they allow us to have. Song and dance.
I join my people after a minute of self-pity, opting instead to enjoy a night of fresh air. I get lost in the steps, finding them as smoothly as I can move a scythe. I lose track of time quickly while I let myself be taken by the joy of our home. It is well past midnight when suddenly the holoCam above the Burgin clicks on, wailing static. Every head turns towards the noise including the lingering copper. Something is wrong.
And then there's a girl. Her hair is long and red as the fake sun that burns in our sky; it almost shields her eyes of fire. She’s a Ruster. One of the reds that live in mars’ subterranean mines. Even lower in rank than I. She lays across a stone, cold and unmoving while ropes hold her frail body in place so she is exposed and helpless. But she radiates hope while they whip her bloody.
All is silent for a long moment. And then she sings. She sings the only song they withhold from us. The Reaping Song. Her voice is soft and serene yet her eyes are anything but. It’s like she is screaming for someone to hear her. And we do. We listen to her words of death as they drift from her lips and when she is done there is silence. And then a booming voice in the background.
“Hang the rusty bitch.” Nero au Augustus; ArchGoverner of Mars and head of one of the most powerful fleets to surround our planet. She is untied and pushed away from the whipping stone. We see the blood, red as her fiery hair, drip down her back as they push her up the stairs to a gallows that are silently singing death. This is the punishment for the Reaping Song. The punishment for freedom.
They let only one family member come up and hear her last words. A woman almost identical walks up and leans in close as she whispers. She nods quickly and walks off of the gallows whimpering. In the background, we hear a man sob and cry horribly. Her husband no doubt. Yet the girl is stoic as they loop the rope around her neck. She’s so small she has to bring herself up to her toes as not to choke then and there.
It is now, in the moments before her fate, that I notice something is off. This isn’t like regular society broadcasts. This is raw footage. Someone else is transmitting her message.
But she is ready nonetheless. The gray at the gallows pulls a lever. And then she drops. The audio lags terribly and moments later we hear her final screaming words. Break the chains. We watch in sadness as a boy, no older than even I, stumbles forward. He caresses her legs gently while tears and sobs ruin his body. He kisses her ankle and with a defeated look, and yanks her legs sharply. We hear her neck snap swiftly and painlessly. This is who they make us. Break the chains.
“On Mars, there’s not much gravity. So they had to pull her feet to break her neck. They let her husband do it.”