Lex & Livia Cosmo
Livia holds Lex’s hand tightly in hers, both of them wearing packs on their backs as they head down the tunnel toward the bright light. Livia looks at Lex, just a quick glance. I can’t believe I’m escaping from Indra with my sister. My twin! We are going to meet our mother in the Outlands. Yesterday I didn’t even know Lex existed and I thought my mother was dead. She reaches out to sense how Lex is feeling. I have always been able to know what people are feeling, but my gift is particularly strong with Lex. She is quite tense, understandable since we are running from the Population Control Forces.
“Are you all right?” Livia asks Lex.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” says Lex. “Can we not hold hands?”
“I thought we should, since we are sisters.” Livia releases Lex’s hand.
“Well, since we just met yesterday and I wanted to kill you, I don’t think I’m ready for all this sister stuff just yet.”
“Understood,” says Livia. “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. We’ve been through a lot since we found each other.”
“I’m great. I don’t need you fretting over me. No one ever has before. Just keep to yourself and walk, less talking.” Livia’s worried about me? She shouldn’t be. She can just do her weird sensing thing on me and know I am fine. She’s the one who was living her pampered and sheltered life up on Helix,
her floating island. Livia Cosmo, an airgirl, the Cosmo Airess. I made it out of the Orphanage and was a cadet at the Academy. This isn’t hard at all.
Kane walks next to Lex, his arm draped across her shoulder, leaning on her for support. His short, blond hair is dirty and matted, his hazel eyes occasionally fluttering open as he shuffles forward.
Lex tightens her arm around his waist and says, “The one we should be worried about is Kane.”
“I am worried about him,” says Livia, looking at Kane. “The boosters he got in the Rebel Base helped, but he is still so weak.”
“Weak?” groans Kane, his voice hoarse. “I was tortured for days in High Security Detainment before you rescued me. I think I’m doing pretty good.”
“Yeah,” says Lex. “You’re doing great. You ready for me to let go?”
“Maybe not just yet,” says Kane, his eyes closing.
“That’s what I thought,” says Lex.
“I can help too,” offers Livia.
“No need, Airess,” says Lex.
Livia faces forward, her pace unwavering as she strides toward the light ahead. I wish I could help with Kane, but Lex is so possessive of him. I understand they have known each other much longer than he and I have, but they are only friends. Kane and I are something more. The night I met him at my Emergence Ball, we had an immediate connection. I could sense that he had feelings for me and that I could trust him. That was the beginning, and now everything has changed. In one day, I have traveled down through every level of Indra all the way to Rock Bottom. The only thing I knew about Rock Bottom before today was from the first chapter of The Book of Indra.
Excerpted from The Book of Indra, Chapter I: “Indra: The Origin of Our Great City”
THE CREATION OF INDRA
Centuries ago, in order for what was left of humanity to survive the Great Catastrophe, innovative and ingenious men dug deep under the surface of the Earth and created a world protected from all that was destroyed above. For generation upon generation, our ancestors lived buried beneath the Earth, able to sustain themselves, but they did not thrive. Again, humanity was in jeopardy. With unflinching courage, brave and persistent men reclaimed the surface. They built the first dome and forged the City of Indra. Today, under the guidance of the Independent High Council, our great city is more spectacular than those founders could have imagined. That was the beginning of Indra as we, her proud citizens, know it today.
The birthplace of Indra, now known as Rock Bottom, has since disintegrated. Infested with mutants, Rock Bottom is a testament to what could have become of humanity if our vigilant founders had not forged a new life for us.
Livia looks ahead of the group and studies the stark silhouette of Zavier blocking part of the glaring light. I wonder if Lex, with her gift of exceptional vision, can see past Zavier. He is from Rock Bottom. In The Book of Indra, they made Rock Bottom sound like it was nothing but mutants, but that isn’t true. He is clearly not a mutant, but he is a rebel. In Rock Bottom, I saw how the people live sealed off from the Hub above. It is no wonder the rebels are from Rock Bottom. They fight for the people who live off nothing but the discards of the upper levels.
Lex adjusts Kane’s arm on her shoulder. This feels just like the patrol simulations Kane and I did at the Academy, except this time he’s injured. In those simulations we hunted rebels. But now we’re with a rebel. Lex looks up
at Zavier in the front of the group. He’s not much more than a black shape, but I can see he is carrying both his pack and Kane’s. On his large frame, it doesn’t seem to be much effort.
Zavier turns around and walks backward for a few paces. Lex is the only one who can see the blaster slung across his chest and his bright blue eyes behind his shaggy hair and scruffy beard.
Zavier yells, “Pick up the pace back there. Do I need to carry all the packs?” He turns back around.
“Just keep going,” snaps Lex. “We’ll keep up.” He is so arrogant. I don’t trust him. I can’t believe I’m following this rebel, but with the Population Control Forces hunting us, I have no choice. Now I’m a deserter from the PCF, down here with a rebel. Just being with a rebel my life would be forfeit under The Rebel Penalty.
Excerpted from The Book of Indra, Chapter VIII: “Indra: Protecting Our Great Society”
THE THREAT FROM BENEATH: THE POPULATION CONTROL FORCES ARMY PROTECTING INDRA FROM DISSIDENTS
Indra is a perfectly coordinated and finely balanced system. There are those who wish to threaten the stability of the great City of Indra. The disruption of the harmonious operation of the City of Indra cannot to be tolerated. Any group or individual who cause a disruption in the functioning of the city, either by word or action, is considered a rebel and is an enemy of Indra. The lives of those engaged in rebel activities are subject to immediate forfeit as outlined by the Independent High Council Decree VII, The Rebel Penalty.
Most rebel activity can be traced to Rock Bottom. The Special Operations Unit of the Population Control Forces are tasked with patrolling Rock Bottom to eliminate all rebel activity and prevent mutants from coming up into Indra. Citizens of Indra are prohibited from attempting to access Rock Bottom. Any citizen of Indra found in Rock Bottom will be considered a rebel and subject to The Rebel Penalty.
Any citizen who has knowledge of rebel activity must report it to the Population Control Forces. A citizen who does not report rebel activity will be considered a rebel collaborator and subject to The Rebel Penalty.
All citizens’ memories are fed directly into the Archives via the Archive access chip. These memories are Indra’s primary surveillance system and are under constant review. This is for the safety of Indra and all of its citizens.
Lex looks directly into the light, willing her eyes to see more. We’ve left Rock Bottom. This tunnel will take us to the Outlands. I hope this tunnel is as secret as the rebels think, and the Population Control Forces can’t follow us. In these black silitex jumpsuits, we look like PCF troops. Ironic, I was a PCF officer and now I’m a fugitive impersonating one. I bet the uniforms were stolen from the PCF years ago. They are a good idea, though. The jumpsuits will regulate our temperature and prevent us from getting dehydrated in the tunnel.
Livia adjusts her pack. This is heavy, but I can handle it. I’m in good shape from years of zinger training. I am surprised I was able to convince my guardians I should be allowed to practice sword fighting. It is such an indelicate pastime, not an activity for a Proper Indrithian Young Lady. But I’ve abandoned my family’s island of Helix. I’m going to meet my mother in the Outlands. She was alive all this time, and I never knew. Why did she leave me alone on Helix? Why did she leave my sister in the Orphanage? I don’t know what will come next. It should scare me, but it is actually thrilling.
Lex’s ears are alert to the sound of the distant battle. Though it must be a mile above them, Lex can hear the blaster fire as PCF troops rampage
through Rock Bottom. People must be dying to help us escape. It’s my fault the PCF are in Rock Bottom. They came down here looking for Livia, Kane, and me. They must have heard that we were here from Lieutenant Hauser. I can’t believe he was down here and found me. I should have shot him when I had the chance.
From behind the light, someone yells, “It’s them! Kill the light!”
The light cuts out and Lex’s eyes adjust quickly to the drastic change. She can see that the bright light they have been walking toward is a floodlight, a giant man standing next to it. There is another huge man just behind him. Both men are standing behind a low barricade, heavily armed with multiple blasters strapped all over their bodies and wearing mismatched pieces of silitex armor. Behind them is a wall of earth. It looks like they have reached the end of the tunnel, a dead end. Lex grabs her blaster.
‘‘What is this, Zavier? Where are we?” Lex demands.
Livia draws her zinger. Kane lifts his head, but just barely. Lex adjusts Kane so he is standing a little straighter. Zavier is the only one who doesn’t seem alarmed by what’s happening.
“Put your weapons down,” says Zavier. “This is the final weapons station. The farthest point of the Rebel Base.”
“We call it Ass End,” says the man who killed the floodlight.
Lex grips her blaster tighter. “Why didn’t you warn us? I could have killed one of them!”
“I doubt it,” says Zavier, unimpressed. “They were behind the barricade and you were a bit slow. Meet Deacon and Sid. They knew it was us coming down here, or we would be dead. Usually they blast first and ask who you are never.”
“Lex is right,” says Livia. “You should have warned us. She could have easily gotten off a shot before you explained.”
“Well, no one got shot. So that’s good,” says Deacon, the man who turned off the floodlight. Reluctantly, Lex and Livia put their weapons away.
Zavier steps up to Deacon and clasps his hand. “Good to see you, Zavier. Been a while. All that noise we hear ’cause of these two?” he asks, gesturing to Lex and Livia. “Are these two really The Twins?”
“This is them,” answers Zavier.
“Well I’ll be core-low,” says Deacon. “Didn’t think I’d ever meet a set of twins. Never seen any in Rock Bottom, and twins have always been against the law in Indra.”
“Amazing,” says Sid, studying Lex and Livia. “They don’t look exactly alike, but they’re definitely twins, right?”
Livia shifts uncomfortably as Sid stares at her face. He is right. Lex and I are not exactly identical, though we do look incredibly similar. We are both tall and slim with brown eyes and dark hair, but I am slightly taller and not as muscular. Perhaps because we have had very different lives. The one thing that is unmistakably identical about us is the tiny neon green mark we each bear in the iris of our right eye.
“Definitely twins,” says Zavier. “They’re Delphia’s girls.”
“Really?” asks Deacon astonished.
“Yep,” says Zavier.
“Done catching up?” Lex’s tone is harsh. “We need to get going!”
“A little bit of bite,” says Deacon, smiling at Lex. “I like this one.” Lex sighs and Deacon’s eyes move to Kane slumped against Lex. “Who’s this guy? He’s not lookin’ so good. You really think he can make it?”
“We don’t need a medical assessment,” snaps Lex. “We need to keep moving.” Lex can hear Kane’s ragged breathing. He is in bad shape. The boosters they gave him before we left helped, but he is still so weak. Please be all right, Kane. I need you to be all right.
“Yes, sir,” says Deacon, giving Lex a crisp nod. “No more chitchat.”
“Come on through,” says Sid. He leads the group behind the barricade and along the back wall to an opening. They enter into a vast, dimly lit room packed with racks of old weapons, boxes of energy cells, and grenades. A worktable in the center of the room is piled with pieces of disassembled weapons in various stages of repair. Deacon follows and stands in the door, where he can keep an eye on the front approach to the weapons station.
Lex looks around and asks, “Are there real weapons in another room, or is this it?”
“This is our main stockpile,” says Sid defensively. “Scavenged from all over. I spend most of my time getting these old relics working.” He
picks up a device from one of the shelves that fits in his palm and hands it to Zavier. “Here, take some of these stunners. Made ’em myself.” It is a small ball of wires with a round button at the top. “Push the trigger button hard and throw it. You’ll have five seconds before it sends out a nasty shock wave. Handy for mutants.”
“Sounds good.” Zavier takes a few off the shelf and loads them in his pack.
“No. It sounds terrible, actually,” corrects Sid. “The mutants hate it. Cover your ears after you throw it.”
Deacon adds, “Martine and her new guy were the last team through. They’re still at the Outpost.”
Zavier shrugs. “Thanks for the heads-up.”
“They said they cleaned out two mutant nests, so it shouldn’t be that bad, but still keep your eyes open.”
“Got it,” says Zavier. “Let’s go.”
Sid leads the group to the far end of the room. The back wall is lined with shelves stacked with outdated and grimy weapons. Sid reaches behind a set of shelves and pulls a catch. A portion of the wall swings forward, revealing the hidden entrance to the tunnel.
“In you go,” says Sid. “Tell Martine I miss her.”
“Tell her yourself when she comes back through,” says Zavier dismissively.
The group rushes through with Zavier in the lead, followed by Lex supporting Kane. Livia is the last to go through and reflects, I am leaving Indra, my home. But I can’t turn back. I must move forward.
Sid stands in the opening. “As soon as I close this door behind you, we’re gonna blast the tunnel section you just came through that leads into Ass End so the PCF don’t discover this entrance. With PCF scouring Rock Bottom for our base, and now you ladies too, it’s the only way to be sure the tunnel to the Outlands will stay secret. Once the PCF are out of Rock Bottom, we’ll clear the cave-in. It’ll take several days and a lot of manpower to open it up again, but it’s the safe move. All right, go. Good trip.” Sid pushes the wall back into place.
TIME OF THE TWINS by Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and Elizabeth Killmond-Roman and Katherine Killmond, Regan Arts. 2016