Basil watched his sister stare idly at the food in front of her. Her face was pale and dark circles formed under her eyes. Since they arrived in Sector Fifteen, Sage went mute. She refused to speak to him or any of the Nyem that constantly came in and out of the small hut. Sage stayed holed up in their room. Often, Basil heard her muttering to herself. Whenever he asked, panic glazed over her eyes and he would change the subject. He could tell the stress was getting to her and perhaps that odd device was affecting her in some way also.
“Sage, at least take a few bits,” Basil said with a sigh. It was frustrating seeing his normally lively sibling quiet and reclusive. He was furious with himself for putting her in this position. If he had not joined the Nyem, she would not have followed. They would have never realized what her true talent was, nor would they have exploited the strange talent. No one knew exactly how it worked, or what it even was. All they knew was they needed the power and she was the only one who could activate the ancient devices. The Nyem said their family must have Nyem ancestors, which was unusual. Nyem very rarely had romantic relationships with humans. Even more rarely were children of the relationships. For centuries, when the City was still under Nyem control, it was forbidden to mix the races. Sage was unfortunate to get the exact right sequence of DNA to pull out the Nyem characteristics. If the sun ever escaped the smog in outer sectors, Sage’s skin would hold Nyem freckles across her entire body. Luckily, the constant grey curtain kept the spots from darkening and at first glance her skin looked normal. Basil tried many times to get her to dye her blonde hair also, but she refused every time. Basil smiled remembering she would always end the conversation saying she shouldn’t have to hide who she was.
Basil wished their parents were still alive to ask them questions about her gift. Basil constantly searched his memories for anything that would indicate that their parents knew. There were a few fuzzy memories of their parent’s hushed arguments in the late of night. There were a few times when they would disappear with Sage and she would come back with marks on her arms. Sage would be up all the next night with a fever and vomiting. Basil thought nothing of it at the time. Now he realized that their parents were selling their daughter’s body to someone for some sort of experiment. Basil tried not to think about it. He wanted to keep the memory of their parents as pure as possible, for her sake. But, the more the memories floated to the surface, the more he realized how screwed up their childhood was.
Basil came out of his musing when he noticed Sage shifting. Basil watched Sage delicately lift her plate off the floor and ambled outside. He had no doubt she was giving her food rations to the children outside. He cast a nervous glance towards Willow, the elder Nyem. She gave him a small smile that sent shivers down his spine and returned to her knitting. The old woman’s skin was abnormally tanned and held the Nyem spots brightly. Willow’s bright blue eyes pierced through him. Sometimes he swore she could read his mind.
He pushed his plate away and walked over to the doorway. Leaning against the metal frame he looked out into the smoggy street. The children squealed in delight at the food offered to them. Sage made sure they behaved and a small smile crept onto her face. Basil knew the smile did not reach into her eyes. He needed to do something before she lost all will to fight.
Casually walking over to the children, he held out a small piece of moldy bread to them. He couldn’t get himself to eat it. Basil smiled sadly down at the children as they divided the piece between them. They didn’t blink an eye at the fuzzy green substance on the side. He knew they probably had never eaten fresh bread and probably would never.
“These children will die,” Sage whispered. Basil quickly turned to her surprised to hear her voice. At first, he couldn’t get himself to reply. No use in lying to her. She knew the truth better then she let on. Sage was good at playing the innocent. It took Basil years to understand that it was an act she built around herself. Sage had no other option but to play stupid and act innocent. If she came off too smart, the experiments would have never stopped. Basil had not doubt in his mind that if they knew just exactly how intelligent she was, they would have never let her slip through their greedy fingers.
“Child, did you know that your parents came to us the night they died?” Willow said as she walked over towards them in the street. Using an old twisted piece of metal as a walking stick, her petite form stopped next to his. Basil inhaled quickly. He gazed at her silent. This was not information he wanted Sage to know. He opened his mouth to stop Willow, but she held up a wrinkled hand. Sage gave Willow a calculating glance and waiting for her to continue.
Basil never had the courage to ask her about the experiments. Perhaps he hoped she didn’t remember them. Basil knew he was being selfish, wishing that she never remembered so he would never have to bring it up. In all honestly, he did not want to know what they did to her in the dead of night.
“They asked us to take you in,” Willow said as she watched the children play happily in the streets. “You, young one, were under constant surveillance. We could not take in the risk of being caught so we turned your parents down.” Willow slowly turned her face towards Sage. Basil wasn’t sure if Willow was expressing remorse, but her face looked pained.
“We did however, later that night send someone to look after you,” she paused eyes losing focus. They siblings quietly waited for her to continue. Basil could see Sage’s hands trembling. “We were too late. By the time Elm made it to your house, the were already gone and no trace of you two could be found.”
“You let them die?” Sage whispered. Willow met her gaze without flinching.
“They were fated to pass that night. Nothing could be done to stop it,” Willow replied reaching out to touch her arm but Willow stopped herself. Basil watched his sister carefully. She was going bolt. He saw her muscles tense and knew her well enough to know that she was about to flee.
“Sage,” he said firmly. Sage blinked away from Willow and met his gaze. Basil slowly shook his head and was relieved to see her body relax.
“It was some time later that we were able to locate your brother. He kept you hidden pretty well,” Willow said with a small smirk. Basil felt sheepish and shifted his weight.
“Sage, they were the ones who kept the Enforcement at bay. Why the ex-“ Basil froze. He couldn’t let the word slip from his lips. “Why everything stopped and why no one came chasing after us. We didn’t exist anymore.” Basil saw his sister analyze his every word.
“Thank you Willow,” Sage whispered inclining her head towards the Nyem. She turned her heel and went back into the hut without another word.
“Will she be strong enough?” Willow asked with concern. Basil couldn’t respond.
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