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Kuebiko; Ad Terra Quod Astra (repost because glitchy glitch glitch)

Kuebiko; Ad Terra Quod Astra (repost because glitchy glitch glitch)

Posted June 8th, 2017 by Zelda

by Kyro
in a perpetual predicament

 Ad Terra Quod Astra

Secrets are deadly.

     At least, that's what I was told roughly seven seconds before I got shot. The pain is incredible. Which is pretty karmic, I guess. If secrets are deadly, and my whole life has been an abundance of secrets, then it makes sense that i'm dying now in slow and horrible way.

     The bullet went right through me. It missed my spine, and it was too low to hit my lungs or heart or diaphragm, in fact, I think the real danger here is the blood. There's a lot of blood. I'm in a growing puddle of it, it's warm, and i'm cold, like all my body heat is pouring out of my body with the blood.

     My ears are still ringing from the gunshots, which means I can't hear anybody shouting. I can see their lips moving, though if the black static ringing my vision has anything to say about it, pretty soon I won't be able to see anything. I should just close my eyes now, do that black static a favor by speeding up the process of blinding me. I'm tempted to. Then, at least, I wouldn't have to stare at the face of the person who shot me as she struggles to get free.

     There are tears streaming down her cheeks and tangling in her hair. I've never seen her cry, not once in all the time i've known her. But she's crying now, crying and screaming and staring at my body. Seeing her like that, seeing them all like that, rushing around trying to figure out what's happening and what to do about it, hurts almost as much as the bullet did. I can't watch any longer, so I give in to the black static and the weights on my eyelids, and I plummet into an infinite unending sea.


     "Zyair, hurry up!" Mina groans from behind the brown sheet that separates the postage-stamp sized bathroom from the rest of the Devkota apartment. I ignore her whines and take my time groggily dragging the little plastic-handled brush through my bedhead. 

      If she were younger she would have flipped back the sheet and barged on in, but once she did that while I was undressed, which lead to the traumatization of her young mind, and also a long talk with mom that may have traumatized her even more. Now Mina just paces and grumbles while she waits for her turn in the bathroom.

       I tug the starched black school shirt over my head and clip the laminated paper crest thingie into place over the left shoulder of my uniform shirt.

     As an after-thought, I pluck a little cube of tooth cleaner from the box and pop it in my mouth. It tastes like utter crap and does this weird foaming thing as you chew it.


     "Ok, ok!" I mumble around a mouthful of tooth cleaner foam. I lift the corner of the sheet and duck out of the bathroom. Mina tries to push past me, but I catch her by the arm and pull her back.

      "Hey!" She twists to get out of my grasp. I spin her around to face me and bend so i'm closer to her height.

      "I'm not Zyair," I stage-whisper, my words are garbled by the foam "I'm a rabid mongrel!" With the tooth cleaner foam spilling out of the corners of my mouth, I certainly look the part. Mina shrieks as I pretend to try to bite her.

      "Mom, Z's making a mess with the tooth cleaner!" She shouts, squirming free and vanishing behind the bathroom sheet. Chuckling quietly to myself, I wipe the foam from my face on the back of my hand and turn to grab breakfast from the kitchen. I free a disk of flat, thin naan from the package on the counter and smear on a glob of honey.

      The kitchen is small, and spotless despite the tendency Mina and I have of tracking dirt everywhere. The floor is made of a sturdy layer of plywood, worn smooth from years of steady traffic. The walls are made of cheap drywall with a thin layer of greying primer, and the ceiling is a network of exposed rafters and nail points.

      Most of New Southern East lives in slapdash apartments like this. Well, actually, most of New Southern East is homeless, but the 10.5 percent of the population who are lucky enough to have an income usually live in their own replica of this bare-essentials-type building.

     "Zyair Luis Devkota, what have I told you about wasting resources?" A dumpy, middle-aged woman stands in the entrance to the apartment, her arms are crossed over her chest, creating a barricade between me and the outside.

     "Fohreh mah." I say, my mouth is now too full of foam for me to speak properly. Mama gives me a pointed look, and reluctantly I gulp the foam down. If it tastes gross resting on my tongue, it's absolutely revolting hitting the back of my throat.  It burns the whole way down. I'm still not sure I believe the FDA when they say tooth cleaner isn't poisonous. There's no way there isn't at least one toxic chemical in that stuff. I chase the foam with a huge bite of honey and naan.

     "And don't talk with your mouth full." Mama scolds.

     "Mmhmm." I mumble, earning another of her infamous pointed looks. Mina has taken to calling them needle stares, which is an accurate description. I swallow and grin at her. She just shakes her head and moves out of the entrance. I finish off the naan just as Mina makes a reappearance from the bathroom.Her glossy hair is now in a tight braid down her back, and she's dressed in the same black and gold school uniform as me, except she's wearing a knee-length matte gold skirt.

      Calixa Majoris, this district's all-ages school, isn't too strict about who wears what parts of the uniform, just so long as everyone wears the whole uniform. Mercer and I tested this once, and I have to say, skirts are very prone to being uncomfortably drafty.

      "Ready to go, kid?" I tap the top of her head. She swats at my hand, but doesn't answer. I bet her mouth is full of tooth cleaner foam. "Come on then, let's go." I snatch up my backpack and sling it over my shoulder. The bag is small and mostly empty, since we're required to leave our supplies at the school. There's too much risk that we'll lose something if we're allowed to take our things home at the end of the day, and that would be a waste of resources. I stop to give Mama a peck on her soft brown cheek before heading out the door. She calls after me and Mina to have a nice day.

      Safely out of the apartment, Mina and I race down the flights of stairs, stomping like a herd of elephants and probably waking whoever wasn't already awake. We burst onto the street below our apartment and, as usual, Mercer is already standing outside the apartment block across the street.

     He leans over and spits a gob of grey tooth cleaner foam onto the dusty road. He straightens, runs a hand through his constantly messy hair, and waves at Mina and I.

     The bathing water in New Southern East, which stains everybody's skin a shade darker, does strange things to Mercer's blond hair, turning it a sort of ash-y color that contrasts his dark, slanted eyes.

     "How's it going, Merc?" I call. He shrugs. Mercer isn't what you would call talkative. We all converge in the middle of the street and head north, towards Calixa Majoris. "Get much sleep last night?" I ask.

     "Nah." That's bad news for him. Mercer hasn't had a full night of sleep since we were eleven. Some nights are better than others though, and since I'm the only other person who knows about his insomnia, it's my job to check up on him.

     "Ah well, nothing a cup of Hiller's won't fix." I joke because Mina is with us, but privately I'm worried, this is the eighth night in a row that Mercer has had crap for sleep. It's beginning t show. He fell asleep in class twice yesterday. Hell, he looks like he's about to fall asleep as we walk. Mina is casting sidelong glances at Mercer. His feet are dragging and his shoulders are slumped, so I think fast and throw my arm around his shoulders and gave him a quick shake.

     "Come on man, I know you're not a morning person, but sheesh, cheer up!" I say, successfully alerting him to the fact that he's acting like a member of the undead in public. He shoots me a glare and smothers a yawn that interupts him muttering something under his breath, which, knowing him, is probably a string of swear words.

The walk to Calixa is more peaceful in the morning than any other time. Most of the homeless are sleeping in the shelters, and the Merchants are all bustling around inside of the apartments, preparing for another day of selling commodities from inside their wooden booths. Mama is a Merchant, she sells honey and spools of thick sewing thread. Since honey is one of the cheapest commodities, selling it doesn't bring much money, but it keeps us in a home.

     We make it to Calixa before the first bell rings. Mina splits off to head to her grade for classroom, and Mercer and I stroll down to the Vendor across the street to grab a cup of Hiller's before class. Calixa Majoris is not an impressive school.

     It's distinguishable from the surrounding buildings by only two features. One is the fenced-in swath of dying grass encircling the entire building, the second is that Calixa itself is made of stone, as all of the newer government buildings are. Mercer hops from foot to foot in an attempt to keep himself alert, while I order a cup of Hiller's.

      The Merchant, a mouse-like man who looks as though he's drained a couple dozen cups of Hiller's himself, sweeps my clay payment beads up in a swift motion, and whisks off to prepare the Hiller's. While we wait, I busy myself by staring up at Calixa.

     "Just think," I muse, taking in the familiar cracked beige stone and grimy windows, "By the time the warm season rolls around next year, we'll be out of there."

     "Hard to believe." Mercer agrees. I'm about to bring up his decline in sleeping, when the blue blip that represents the Merchant begins making its way towards the front of the vendor. A moment later the mousey man appears, thrusts the paper cup of Hiller's into my waiting hands, and wishes us a good day.

     I hand the steaming cup off to Mercer, who immediately takes a long swig. He pulls a face as we make our way over to Calixa Majoris's entrance.

     "Hot." He grimaces.

     "Yes, I am." I reply, smirking. He scowls at me over the rim of the cup. "You make it too easy, Merc."

      We set foot inside of Calixa, and I pause as my ever-present internal map shifts to focus on Calixa's layout. Calixa is so full of people that I see on a regular basis, that it's always slightly jarring to switch to it's map.

     "So about this non-sleeping," I begin, then leave the sentence hanging for Mercer to finish.

     "I don't know man, I've been having rank nightmares." He takes another sip of Hiller's, his long fingers clutch the paper cup like it's his lifeline.

      "Rank as in the usual doom and gloom?" I ask. Mercer shakes his head.

     "They're worse than normal."

      We march up the stone steps and I shoulder open one of the big steel double doors.

     "Worse how?" Inside Calixa Majoris is always cool, evening during the peak temperatures. At least, on the lower floors it is.

      "Just...worse." Mercer chews his top lip, a crease appears over his nose, he's working to remember something.

     "Thank you, Merc, that's not at all cryptic." I don't employ the use of sarcasm often. In fact, unless there's something bothering me, sarcasm stays out of my vocabulary. Which is why Mercer cuts me a confused look.

       "You've slept, what, five hours total this week? That's not even a full hour per night. You need sleep." I say in response to his silent 'what the hell?'. Mercer flattens the now empty paper cup and deposits it in the recycling station.

     "I don't know how to explain the nightmares, ok?" He states, he sounds a bit ticked, but I know him well enough to know that his irritation is just a symptom of his sleep deprivation. I'm about to say that we'll come up with a plan of attack after school when the bell rings and all of the five-to-eighteen-year-olds who were waiting outside or in the servery flood the halls.

      I lapse into silence. This part of the day takes way too much concentration for conversation. All of the people, with their blips flaring up on my mental map the moment I lay eyes on them, are extremely distracting. If this map were a physical object, it would blind anyone within a twenty foot radius.

     To make it easier for my fried brain, I stare at the point at the end of the hall where the wall meets the roof. I still catch glimpses of the tops of people's heads, so a steady flow of blips that appear, and then slowly fade out.

     We reach the T-intersection at the end of the hall, Mercer gives my shoulder a brief squeeze before heading left, to his biomechanics class. I turn right and follow the flow of people to my literature class. First and last blocks are the only classes Mercer and I don't have together.

     I watch Mercer's blip move on my internal map. I noticed a while back that the more I saw someone, the more defined their blip becomes, and the longer their blip stayed up on my mental map. Mercer's blip is a tiny blue version of him, and he and Mina are constant blips by now. I'm caught off guard by a violent jostling.

     Whoops, I ran into someone again. That happens a lot. I mutter an apology and sidestep, not really paying attention, until a hand pressed to my chest and all but slams me into a nearby wall.

     "What the--" Another hand cuts me off by grabbing my chin and forcing it down from it's previous ceiling-staring position. I find myself staring into a pair of burning embers.

       It takes me a full minute to realize that I'm actually staring at a pair of eyes which, luckily, are not on fire. They do look unsettlingly close to bursting into flame though. After that realization hits, I become aware of several other things as well: The eyes belong to a girl, the girl is pinning me to the wall and didn't seem to have the intention of letting me go, and the girl was incredibly close to me. She may as well have been pressing against me. Our noses were millimeters away from touching, I could feel her breath on my lips.

      I try my best to steady my racing heart, I'm almost certain she can feel it pounding away under her palm, which is still pressed to my chest, crushing me to the wall. We stay like this, silently staring each other down, while the flow of students gradually wans. For once in my life, I'm completely dumbstruck. It's the girl who finally breaks the silence between us.

     "My name is Isaiah Hazelmire," She speaks in a low, urgent whisper, "If you want to help save New Southern East then come and find me after school." She steps back, breaking her contact with me. Then she slaps me, hard. Hard enough that stars explode across my vision. At the same time, the tardy bell rings shrill and clear.

     I blink hard to clear away the stars, and gingerly rub my stinging cheek. The hallway is devoid, except for some random ninth grader who's staring at me with both eyebrows sky-high. The girl—Isaiah—is gone.

      What the hell just happened?

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