I am ten years old, and have somehow managed to survive the years of abuse and develop into a rather skilled young warrior. My brother continues to be the only one with a speck of interest in my well-being, and with our varied missions, we don't see each other as often as I'd like. Now, I am beginning to worry.
I returned from a long mission three days ago and expected Concadars to be at home when I got here. He wasn't here. He still isn't here. Communications with the mission have been few and far between. My brother has not been heard from in a week.
"Don't you have work you should be doing?" my father asks.
I sit by the radio, my thoughts consumed by images of my only friend. "Not until we hear from Concadars," I say. "I'm staying here until I know he's safe. Or I'm going to the planet of his mission myself."
My father chuckles lightly. "What in God's name do you figure gives you the authority to make that decision?"
"Nothing," I say with a touch of bitterness. "But I made it myself and you'll kill me before you get me to change my mind."
His voice is stern. "Is that a challenge, brat?"
"It's a fact," I say coolly. I still have not turned towards him.
"Little bitch…" he whispers, and in a second, I feel his fingers coiled tightly into my long hair. He pulls on it hard. I gasp. "If you have a mission to do, you had better do it. And if I find out you've been skipping missions…" He trails off.
"I have," I say. "This is more important to me right now."
"Damn it!" He pulls me to my feet, slapping me across the face. "How do you think we keep this house? These nice things?"
"Slave labor?" I respond in a calm voice. My composure is much harder to break now than it ever was. It gets easier every year not to cry.
He knees me in the stomach and throws me to the floor. "You're losing this family money! So help me God if you keep disrespecting me like this…"
I quickly stand, my breath struggling from his kick. "You'll what?" I choke.
"You know what I'll do…" he says ominously. He turns and starts to walk out.
"Mother doesn't want me dead," I say.
"What?" he inquires without turning around.
"Mother doesn't want me dead. If she did, I'd be dead by now. You want me dead. She wants me punished."
"What the hell is your point?" he asks.
"That you won't kill me. If you could, you would have by now."
I see his body tense. "I can do whatever you want."
"So can anyone else, if they're willing to face the consequences."
When he turns to face me and sees my smirk, he loses it. He lunges himself at me, grabbing my hair in both of his hands and slamming the back of my skull into the wall. "What will it take to shut you up? What will it take to make you learn!" He sounds frustrated, close to insane.
"A better teacher," I say simply.
He could kill me right now, I know. I moment later, I realize that he might have if the radio hadn't sparked to life. "Concadars has been found," the voice on the other end says. "He's been badly injured."
Father releases me and walks to the radio, the news of his only son's return of obvious interest to him. He connects himself to the line. "Give me details," he says.
"The wounds are extensive. It doesn't look good…I'd advise any family to come to his bedside right away."
My father closes the connection. My heart sinks.
He goes into the yard and starts the vehicle. He calls to Mother. It is only minutes before we are all inside. Father doesn't want me here.
The trip to the infirmary is a silent one. We have nothing to discuss.
When we reach the bedside of my beloved brother, my cold-hearted mother actually begins to cry, and I'm not far from it. I kneel by his bed and take his unmoving hand. It is limp, fairly cool. I feel Father grab my shoulder harshly and try to pull me away. I stay where I am, my eyes closed, and I kiss his hand.
"Tia?" he says. I open my eyes. He is smiling at me. It seems he tries to sit up. His face is contorted with a look of pain, and sweat breaks out on his forehead. The machine next to the bed begins to beep wildly. The hand I am holding trembles.
"Concadars!" I try to yell. All that escapes my throat is a choked whisper. I am crying fully now.
"It hurts!" Concadars says in close to the same tone.
"What did they do to you?" I ask.
He stammers breathlessly, his eyes squeezed shut. "In battle, I—they shot me. Then they…they…" He screams. The machine beeps louder.
"Clear the room!" a nurse says.
I refuse to let go. "What did they do to you!" I repeat in a wretched yell.
"They-beat-me," he says in a rushed tone. "They…they-broke-my-bones." He coughs and then convulses, the pain beginning to be too much for him.
"Get out!" the nurse says. Father pulls me away. The sound from the machine becomes one long, monotone beep. The line has gone flat.
"Concadars!" I cry hysterically as father pulls me from the room. His nails are digging into my clothed arm hard enough to draw blood, but that is happening in a different place, in a place where my brother is alive, a place where I can accept my father's beating and then run into Concadars' loving arms. I am no longer in that place. I am in a place where Father does not matter, where there is nothing but Concadars, lying in that bed, the defibrillators trying and trying to bring him back, a place where Father's punishment can never touch my heart, because if it did, I would die—my brother's arms would not be waiting for my tearful return.
We leave the room. In the lobby, Father begins to beat me, hitting my face, my stomach, and anything else within his reach; there is no doubt that he blames me for what has happened. I don't feel a thing.
My heart flees and my soul ices over.
Concadars is gone.
I sit in the waiting room, blood pouring down the side of my skull. The only sound I hear is the sound of my shivering sobs. When I glance down, I can see my hands shake, and I can see the blood dripping onto them. Father was unusually rough with me. He nearly ended my life. But none of that matters.
Concadars, come back, please…
A nurse enters the room. "The condition of Concadars is stabilizing. I think he'll be alright."
An unexpected ray of hope enters my mind. My soul begins to revive. "I have to see him!" I yell, jumping up.
The nurse seems startled by the sight of my fresh wounds. My mother and father don't say a word. They don't have to. In this place, they have every right to do what they did to me, for what reason I will never know. "Not now," the nurse says finally. "He needs to rest."
"He's my brother," I plead, preparing to push by her.
I feel Father grip my shoulders. "Don't even think about it. You've done enough already." His nails dig in.
"Please…" I say.
"Absolutely not," Father responds, pushing me towards my mother. "Take your daughter home," he says.
"But—" Mother begins.
"Now!" he demands.
Mother glares at him and then leads me from the building. As she pulls me back towards the vehicle, I once again think of how easily I could take her life, how wonderful it would feel. I contemplate this potential joy, and then dismiss the idea once again.
I look up at mother. I can tell by the expression in her eyes that she is angry with Father. She turns to me. "Look what you've done now, Tia!" she hisses, once again laying the blame on the family's perpetual scapegoat.
"I didn't do anything," I say.
"You nearly killed your brother and you made your father angry."
"He's always angry at me, whether or not he's my 'father.'" I say bitterly.
"You shut your mouth, you brat!" She slaps me. I feel it just enough to become enraged.
"I'll kill you," I say quietly, my eyes turned towards the ground.
"What did you say!" Mother gasps, grabbing me by the shoulders and looking into my eyes.
"I said that I'm going to kill you. 'Father' will try to kill me then, and by that time, I'll be able to kill him." I break away from her and walk to the back seat of the vehicle. I open it. "Coming?" I ask with the ghost of a smirk.
My mother stands dumbfounded for a few moments and then blinks her eyes, clearing her throat. "Watch your tongue, you little witch." She enters the vehicle and we drive off. We don't speak again that day.
Weeks ago, I killed a young man. Such an act is far from unusual for me; it's only business. A girl who could have been his sister or a lover cried out, holding his limp form in her arms. For a moment, I began to smirk, but then I thought of Concadars, quite unintentionally, and my rush was more than taken away. I frowned and began to feel sick. No one should have to feel what I felt in those few horrible minutes when I thought he was gone. No one deserves that sort of pain.
I couldn't finish the mission. I felt faint. I thought I might vomit. "I'm sorry," I said to the girl, beginning to crumble into sobs. "I'm sorry!"
"Burn in Hell!" the girl yelled at me. "You deserve it; you deserve so much worse!"
I tried to think of a sarcastic retort, but nothing came to me. In that moment, I almost believed her. I most certainly agreed with her. Someone who had done the things I had done deserved the worst treatment the universe could provide. I understood that now, and knew also that the realization would haunt me for the rest of my existence.
I have refused to leave on missions since that day. I have taken Father's constant beatings in their stead.
Now I lay in bed, having just woken from several horrible dreams. They would sometimes start in a good place, a place of peace and happiness which would be torn away, but they all included the monster, the one with the glowing eyes saying, "It's all a frail illusion, Tia. I'm coming to get you. I'm coming to take it all away."
In the dream that I am having now, that voice changes as I hover in the lonely darkness. It becomes my voice. "I'm coming to destroy."
I awake again with a gasp, feeling a warm hand touch my forehead. I open my eyes in the darkness of the bedroom and see the faint outline of Concadars staring down at me. "You're…" I say, "You're back!" It has been weeks since I've seen him. I haven't been allowed back to the hospital.
"You were having a nightmare. I saw and heard you from the hall."
I don't respond. I sit up and embrace him. He tenses, letting out a small gasp of pain. His ribs haven't been mended yet, of course. "I'm sorry…" I say, looking away.
"That's alright, Tia. I'm so glad to see you." He kisses my forehead. "What were you dreaming about, darling?"
"The same old things," I say.
"…I know there was something different about this dream. Tell me."
I hesitate, feeling a stab of guilt in the pit of my stomach. "I think I've found out who the monster is…"
"Oh?" he says.
"It's me," I say. "All the people I've killed, the unspeakable things I've done—they've finally caught up with me, I guess. The little girl was right."
"Never mind," I say. "I can't do this anymore, Concadars. It's wrong. I'm dying from the inside out." I have begun to cry.
Weakly, he puts his arms around me. "Did you wonder how I was injured?"
I nod. "You're so strong."
"I hesitated, Tia. In the heat of battle, I hesitated out of guilt. It happens to me often, but this time, my victim happened to get the best of me because of it. I got what I deserved to a degree." His voice has grown quiet and sad. He clears his throat. "It's always been a dirty business, Tia. I've been burdened with this fact for years. But to confide it to you, a child who could very well lose her life if she happened to agree with me, was not something I had the heart to do."
"You've felt this way for years?" I ask with awe. "How do you keep doing it?"
He sounds more broken then than ever before. "I'm a coward. I kill because I will be killed if I don't. You've shown courage these past weeks. I've never been able to stop listening to Father."
"I hate him," I say, crying softly. "He made me this…this monster."
"I know, Darling. He will kill us if we refuse to go on his missions."
"…So, what do we do?"
"Do you want to leave?" I ask.
"Yes," he says. "The sooner, the better."
"Then let's go."
He nods. "I'm injured, Tia, but I think I can manage to get us out of here." He pauses, continuing with caution. "You realize we'll have to kill them, don't you?" he says.
I begin to tremble. "I can't," I say. "Even if it's them—those people who ruined my whole life—I can't kill again."
He puts his fingers under my chin and brings my gaze up to meet his. "Just one more mission, my darling sister, and then we will be free forever."
I nod. "But you're so weak, Concadars. I mean—you look as like you can barely move."
"I may need some time to recover, but I think you also need some time to prepare yourself for your final battle. You have a chance, Tia. You have a chance to get away. You have a chance to live your life, to save your innocence. Don't pass it up, Tia. I know you can be happy."
"I want to believe you…" I say doubtfully.
"Believe me, sister, it's possible. Everybody deserves a chance."
"I know…" I say. "I'll do it."
He smiles. "Good girl. It won't be long now." He kisses my lips.