Hey guys, story finale! I hoped you enjoyed it, even with all the delays… Anyways, I hope you like it and I made it extra long for y’all.
I find Jethen that night. Shuffling cards and sorting them in certain groups, besides him and I, no one else is in the room.
“Ok man, what you’re going to do, is cheat.” I keep myself alert, after curfew is not the best time to be out of your room. “It’s pretty simple. You’re going to just give me a discreet sign if the cards are good or bad and then I’ll use it to my advantage. A ton of others guys are going to come line up and play with me so you can look like part of the crowd. Got it?”
“Yeah, sure. One question, why does everyone want to play with you?”
“Because no one ever sees me cheat.” Jethen smirks and fans out the cards with expertise. I nod. “Therefore I’m the reigning champion.”
“I’ll be right back.” He starts to protest but shrugs and lets me go. I jog towards the higher-ranking bunks. There I find children sitting in their bunks, even in the evening, they look stiff and dangerous. Most of them are still up, sharpening weapons, reading books with horrid titles (How to Impale People Correctly, In the Trench, etc.) or brawling with each other. (Practicing complicated maneuvers that I’m not even close to learning.) I know I don’t belong here but I keep walking. There are kids of all ages, all glaring at me as I pass. When I get to the end of the long room, I find Solstice. She’s sharpening a long ugly knife. She glances up and scowls. Her small lips twisted in annoyance, blue eyes flashing.
“Can I help you 202?” That hurts, when she doesn’t use my real name, when she uses a number instead. She blows on the knife and tests it on a wall; a scratch joins the hundreds of others. To her, I’m just another one of those scratches. I don’t matter. She looks so strong, so smart, and so cold. Like a monster. But she’s my sister, she’s not a monster, I know inside her somewhere, she cares what happens to me. She’ll care if I live or die. Then I’m reminded of my mother, how I always thought she’d care. How I was so wrong.
“Just wanted to see how you’re doing.” She sits on a top bunk and I have to look up to her, it feels appropriate.
“Why would you care? Why do I have to tell you?” She continues to slice the knife on the sharpener, over and over again.
“Solstice,” I moan, sadness overwhelming me.
“That’s not my name.” She snaps, pain filling her face. “That’s never going to be my name. My name’s now 203.”
“Do you really want me to call you that?” I shake my head. “I can’t call you that.”
“What. Do. You. Want?” She grits her teeth and slides the knife quicker. Back and forth, back and forth.
“I have something for you.” I hand her the blue pencil. It’s dull now, I used it once. To write her name on the wall, it was washed away the next day. By the unknown cleaning unit that takes care of the place. I set it on her bed and turn away, I feel like I’m walking away from her. I feel like I’m giving up on her. But maybe that’s what she needs to realize she’s alone, then she’ll realize I’m family. She’ll realize I love her. I walk back to the dining hall where the poker games have already started. Jethen’s already doing well. He gives me an annoyed look and I mouth an apology. For the next couple of hours I send Jethen the signals that he needs. For the next couple hours I feel the pain as if I lost a family member.
If training was hard when I first helped Jethen cheat, it’s gruesome now. And now that I’m up late every night, I can barely stay awake in class. Everything speeds up; we fly through books and most training exercises we spend five minutes on. I know why, they’re preparing for war, for us to go fight. They tell us that it’s an honor, to go out and be killed. That it’s better to die than to be a coward. Most of the others agree, I do not. I do not agree with their methods, some things I would die for. Not this.
They will send us off in a week, even if we’re not ready. The ones who are in the lower classes will have more dangerous jobs since we are expendable. It feels weird to not matter to anyone, I don’t matter to this war, to my sister, there’s only one person that cares if I live or die. Jethen. And that’s only because he wouldn’t win as much money without me. He gives me a lot of information about Solstice. She seems to be struggling a little now; she acts like she’s starting to care. At first,I’m happy about this, my sister isn’t a monster. But Jethen explains that she’ll die if she cares. If she goes into battle and starts to care about people, she won’t be able to fend for herself. It troubles me, that you either have to listen to the government or die; there is no other option.
In two days, they start to send out half of the group. The lower half. Me. They give us three things, a new uniform, a gun, and a canteen. This is all. We load onto pickup trucks, cramming in best we can. I sit with my feet dangling off the end. People say their farewells, not many goodbyes happen. We are trained to be cold and uncaring, the full effect is in play now. I don’t expect anyone to say goodbye but someone does.
“Hey man. I’ll watch her.” Jethen says holding out his hand. “I’ll make sure she doesn’t die, ok?”
“Thanks. Maybe I’ll see you later, maybe not.” I shrug and shake his hand.
“You’re so depressing. You should use me as a role model sometime, it would do you some good.” He smirks that smirks of his. The car starts to move and he waves goodbye.
“Wait!” A voice screams out. I recognize it, Solstice. She sprints after the driving car, we’re going slowly and she catches up quickly. “I’m sorry Koda. I really am, I didn’t realize how much I cared. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
“I do, Solstice. I always will.” I feel tears well up in my eyes. Solstice is already sobbing, tears sticking to her long lashes. “You’re family, I’ll always forgive you.”
“I have something for you. Here,” She hands me the pencil, that blue pencil that connects her to home. That connects me to her. “Keep it. And don’t die ok?”
“I won’t. You don’t die either and we’ll figure out how to make it out, promise?” The cars speeds up.
“Yes, I promise,” She screams after the car. The last I see of her is Jethen hugging her as she sobs into his shirt. I grip the pencil so tightly that it starts to snap. Why does war ruin everything? Why can’t we just be a family, why do we have to keep getting ripped apart? I loosen my grip. I need to get out of this alive; I need to get back to her.
I run away. Away from the war, away from the government. The voices of my tutors tell me I’m a coward, how I should die. I run away form the blood and the terror; I’m done with it all. I find a runaway group. A group against the war. I join it and realize that I can be a leader, that I am a leader. They put me in charge at age 14. They all respect me; it’s so different from what I’m used to.
“Koda.” Solstice says my name with such joy that I break into a smile. A big dopey smile. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too.” This is all I can come up with. I finally get my sister back and the only thing I can say is ‘I missed you.’ I wrap her in a hug, squeezing her tight. It’s been five years since I’ve seen her. Five years since I was able to see her blue eyes. She steps back, eyes shining and lips smiling.
“You remember Jethen right?” Jethen steps forward, his smirk ever present. He looks older, so does Solstice. But something’s off with her face, I can’t place it.
“Yes. How could I forget?” I shake Jethen’s hand and hug him too. Solstice, Jethen and I start to walk away when I jerk awake.
It was all a dream, Solstice is still gone and I’m still alone. The war is still going on. But I’m on the right side now; I’m fighting for freedom, for justice. I’m fighting for something I wouldn’t mind dying for.