A Curse of Despair
‘Is it safe?’ Nati looked up at the tall building.
Ephrun grinned. ‘Very safe. Can you see that?’ He pointed to the corner of the building.
Nati looked in the direction of his finger. She had to blink a few times to make sure that what she saw was real. The whole building seemed to vibrate in the light of the lanterns. ‘What is that?’
‘An energy field to support the building, only visible in the right light.’ Ephrun looked at Nati. ‘For us at least. And apparently also for you.’ He put a hand on her shoulder. ‘Come.’
Nati followed him inside. She glared at the entrance hall. The way the ceiling lights were reflected in the giant windows gave her was almost magical. This was a very different structure then the cement blocks she was used to.
‘It’ll be a lot busier in the morning,’ Ephrun told her. ‘When everyone’s awake.’
‘Wait… People actually live here?’ She had expected that something this beautiful wouldn’t function as something as simple as living spaces. It looked more like a government building.
In the magical light she saw Ephrun smile. ‘A few. It’s mostly dochleas, or aliens as you call us.’
‘Dochleas,’ Nati repeated. She hoped she could remember that. After all, she was part dochlea. ‘I thought contact between our species was forbidden?’
‘A human rule. I know what they told you, but it was never our intent to invade Earth. After generations in space we had hoped to live together peacefully.’ He fell quiet.
Nati wondered if he could remember something about the war. Aliens lived up to three times as long as humans, so it wasn’t unthinkable that he was alive during the first war. A war that had cost the lives of so many, human and alien alike. Nati scoffed. She only knew the human side of course, but in her opinion mistakes were made on both ends. Mistakes she had had to pay for her entire life.
Ephrun shook his head softly. ‘That’s not important right now.’ He took a key from his pocket and handed it to her. ‘Welcome home.’
Nati stared at the key in her hand. Slowly the meaning of his words dawned on her. ‘Home? I can live here?’ She looked at her surroundings once more. This place couldn’t even be compared to the orphanage she grew up in.
‘Did you think we would let you live on the streets?’ He winked. ‘Come, I’ll show you your place.’
Nati put the key away and followed Ephrun through the entrance hall. Their steps on the stone floor echoed throughout the open space. Ephrun pressed a button on the wall. A door opened with a soft chime and revealed a square room.
‘Is this all for me?’ Nati stepped inside, her mouth opening in awe. It might not be large, but she didn’t care. It was better than the life she ran from. She turned back to thank Ephrun, but saw him look at her confusedly. ‘I’m sorry,’ she sputtered. ‘I didn’t mean to asume…’
‘This is an elevator.’ He interrupted her. ‘Have you never seen an elevator?’
Nati felt how her face flushed with warmth. She covered her cheeks with her hands to hide the blue color. ‘S-sorry…’ Of course she knew what an elevator was. She just never saw one before.
He gave her a reassuring look. ‘It’s not your fault.’ He entered the room next to her and pressed another button. The doors closed and the elevator started moving.
Now Nati saw the number above the door, something she hadn’t seen before. She stared at it as it changed. 0… 1… 2… ‘How far are we going?’
She swallowed. That’s higher then I expected. 3… 4… Another soft chime when the number changed into a five. The elevator doors opened up to a hallway with more tall windows, through which the city was visible. Nati almost dropped to her knees. She quickly took a step back and pressed herself to the back end of the elevator. She shook her head. Too high. Way too high.
Ephrun held out his hand. ‘It’s safe, trust me.’
An almost silent ‘ha’ escaped from her lips. Trust, that was easier said then done. As long as she could remember, people had wanted her to disappear. Or worse, wanted her to die. She could still hear the condescending tone of the headmistress: ‘Your mother is dead and the world is better of without a traitor like her. Just like it would be better without a mutt like you.’
A mutt… A monster… Hideous… Nati had heard those accusations too often in her life. As if it was her fault that her father wasn’t human. Or if she could change something about all the humans who died in the war.
She looked up startled. Ephrun was still holding out his hand. He nodded encouragingly. Nati took a deep breath, before grabbing his hand. He escorted her into the hallway, where he kept in-between her and the windows. ‘Keep your eyes on the floor,’ he whispered, ‘That’ll make it easier.’
They stopped at a green door. On the wall next to it was a sign with the number ‘56’. Nati took out her key and unlocked the door. With one hand she pushed it open.
She didn’t know what she was expecting, but this wasn’t it. Amazement flooded her as she entered. The apartment was already furnished. She saw a kitchen with a dinner table and a living room with a couch and comfortable chair. On the other end of the apartment more windows filled the walls. Luckily these could be covered by curtains. There were even two more doors, leading to other rooms.
‘The bedroom and the bathroom,’ Ephrun told her when he saw her look.
Nati was lost for words. Why did mum ever leave here? She ran to Ephrun and hugged him. ‘Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome, sweetie.’ He took a step back. ‘You should get some sleep. I can’t even imagine how tired you must be. I’ll come get you in the morning, then I’ll show you the city.’
They said goodbye and Ephrun left the apartment. Nati locked the door behind him. She looked at the windows and saw the same vibration that she had seen earlier. The energy field protects me. At least that was comforting. Still she closed the curtains, before heading towards the bedroom.
This room was furnished with a bed and a closet. No way! Nati opened the closed and shook her head in disbelief. If mrs. Johnson knew about this… Stop thinking about that! She looked through the clothes until she found an oversized shirt that she could use as pajamas. She dropped her dirty clothes on the floor and walked to the bathroom that shared another door with the bedroom.
The warmth of the shower flushed the last of her worries, and the last of the mud, away. After floating on the ocean for weeks it felt unbelievably great to be clean again.
Clean and dressed in new clothes, she finally crawled into the bed. This was so much more than what she had hoped for.
Not until the bell rang did Nati wake up. She groaned softly while getting up. If it was up to her, she could have stayed in the bed a lot longer, but she didn’t want to let Ephrun wait. She walked to the door and opened it. A stream of light rushed in and she had to close her eyes to protect them.
‘Were you still asleep?’
Nati could hear the tone of surprise in Ephruns voice. ‘I told you I was tired.’
‘Let me guess, that means you haven’t anything yet either?’ He didn’t wait for her to answer and continued: ‘Go freshen up, I’ll make you something to eat.’
She nodded and walked back to the bedroom. She chose a comfortable looking pair of pants and shirt that she put on after another quick shower. She admired her reflection in the mirror. She was certain that she had never enjoyed the way she looked before.
She had expected Ephrun to be in the kitchen when she returned, but instead he hadn’t moved. He was staring at a screen in his hands. Nati immediately knew something was wrong. There was a coldness in the air that hadn’t been there before.
‘What is it?’
Ephrun turned towards her. His face was streaked. He had cried. He didn’t say anything. He only held out the screen to her.
Nati crossed the distance between them and took it. There was a text on it in a language she couldn’t read, but the accompanying video was enough. She saw an imploded building. Smoke rising from the fires that covered the surroundings. Crying, screaming dochleas. Despair. Her breath caught in her throat. Her heart broke looking at this much pain and sorrow. ‘How? What happened?’
Ephrun clenched his fists. ‘Humans,’ he answered curtly. Finally he looked at her. ‘Your species blew up the energy field of a medical centre.’
His accusation stung her like a knife in her stomach. ‘I didn’t have anything to do with this,’ she stuttered.
‘Children, medics, patients. They’re saying no one survived.’
Nati looked back at the video. She knew exactly who had done this. A group of people who still couldn’t accept that this was the new world. Terrorists that just wouldn’t give up. ‘Is there anything I can do?’
Ephrun grapped the screen. ‘No, but I have to go.’ He collapsed the screen and put it away. Without looking at her again he walked towards the door. With his hand on the handle he sighed. ‘I know you didn’t have anything to do with this, but I wouldn’t go out if I was you. You look to much like a human. Dochleas won’t accept you right now.’
Nati felt her underlip tremble. This can’t be real.
‘I’ll see when I can come by again.’
As soon as he had left, Nati rushed to the door. She closed it. She locked it. This isn’t real. With tears in her eyes she ran to the bathroom. She looked at her reflection again, at her own yellow eyes. At her face, that was neither human nor alien.
With a loud crash her fist broke the mirror.