Alix sat still, taking in the silence inside the pristine white waiting room. She could hear Amal’s slow breath near her as he filled in his form, his pen bleeding blue ink on the page.

Her choices were simple: cleanse or sacrifice. Impures did not belong in the colony. It would make life easier, the elders said, their emotionless faces loaded with a calm she envied. A life of service was a virtuous one, and in return compliant colonists received not just the food they planted and the shelter they built, but protection from the pollution and the uncertainty outside the fences, where wild beasts roamed the charred forests devouring everything on their way.

The cleanse was as simple as surrendering to the needle and let the vaccine put out the fire in her brain and the forbidden dreams that poisoned her days. He was often in those dreams, laughing like he used to when they were younger. She couldn’t remember a time before it became her company, getting her into detention rooms, therapy rooms, hypnosis rooms, electroshock rooms, isolation rooms, fueling it instead of putting it down.

“You will get us into trouble,” he whispered, hunching in his chair, when he caught her staring at him.

“We’re about to be cleansed. What’s the worst they can do to us now?”

“They could sacrifice us.”

“I doubt it. They need us! People are deserting left, right and center. Do you think they’d leave if it was as dangerous as they say?”

Amal shushed her, shaking his head. As children, he was the one who shared stories about the outside and its creatures, about a life away from the all-seeing eyes of the elders. She wondered when or why the fear infected him. Alix noticed he carried secrets under his skin and felt the urge to dig under it, carve out his heart to make it better. Without thinking, she reached out and held his hand. He flinched, but didn’t take it back. 

For a moment, she saw the white walls around her light up with the fire inside her heart, and she realised it was his voice guiding her in her dreams all along. He was too tired to fight now, but she had enough rage to fight for both.

“Let’s leave, you and me.”

“Are you insane?”

“Yes. Put that form down and just bolt.”

“To go where?”

“Outside the colony. Somewhere they will never reach us.”

Amal shook his head, mumbling “no, no, no, no” while she moved next to him. It was early in the morning and she could still smell the faint, lemony soap on his skin.

“Do you know what happens in there?”

He lifted his eyes to meet hers with a strength she hadn’t seen in him in a long time. “Yes, I know what happens there. They take away the fear. I’m useless to our colony like this, but inside I’ll become the man I’m supposed to be.”

“No, you’re not supposed to be like that. Years ago you told me you were meant to be free, to feel every inch of your soul if you want to—the sorrow just as much as the joy. Only outside can we do that.”

A woman in a white suit came in through the door at the othe side of the room. She pursed her lips when she saw them sitting too close to each other, holding hands, breaking proximity laws.

“384627, come this way.”

“Don’t!” Alix grabbed his arm to stop him. For a few seconds, he stood between the two women looking at his friend, searching in her eyes for the missing piece in the puzzle he had been trying to solve all his life. Why were they more worthy of freedom and happiness than anyone else there? The minty scent of her breath promised an oasis in her lips, but he was not above duty.

He edged away from her. “What I want is not more important than the people who work beside me to make this colony thrive,” he declared before turning around to follow the woman inside the other room.

Horrified, Alix stood in the waiting room, alone again with her guilt. She should’ve spoken sooner, share more of her dreams with him, stop him from forgetting. He’d never be the same again.

Despite the knot in her stomach, she turned around and left through the door she came in. They’d come for her soon. She had only a few minutes to pack, stop by Amal’s room to steal his pass and use it to slip through the south gate, to the train that’d take her to the border of her known world, to a place where she could create her freedom, with all her joy and her rage.

Originally published at

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