The first of us died right after we entered the atmosphere.
It was his own fault though. Our pod was fired away from the ship that had carried us across the cosmos. As soon as we were away from the mothership, the gravity disappeared entirely. Made sense, they wouldn't bother installing gravity plating if we were only going to be here for a few minutes.
The boy to my left had long blonde hair that floated up around his head. He laughed as soon as he saw it. "Hey, check that out," he chuckled, batting his hair around. Continuing to laugh like a hyena, he unbuckled his seatbelt and floated into the aisle.
Our pod was just two rows of seats facing each other, arranged in a circle. There were exactly fifty seats, every one of them holding a juvenile prisoner. Every one of us was wearing an itchy black jumpsuit that the prison guards had given us two months earlier. Most of us seemed either angry or apathetic about our circumstances. The boy sitting next to me was crying quietly. The only one who seemed to be enjoying himself was the floating hippie boy.
Hippie boy floated in front of a group of black guys. "Come on, don't look so glum, guys," Hippie boy mused. "Don't think of it as a prison sentence, think of it as an adventure! We don't know where we're going, it could be fun!"
One of the skinniest black kids didn't even open his eyes. "Fuck off."
"Aw don't be like that. They could have just shot us right after we were arrested. What are you in for?"
"I said fuck off."
Hippie boy seemed hurt by his words. Smartly though, he floated away from the others. Everyone there had nothing left to lose, if one of them got pissed off, they might have just beaten his head in with a pipe.
The screens mounted over the seats lit up. The acne-ridden face of our prison warden showed up. "By now, some of you should have figured out where you're going," he slurred around a slimy tongue. His fat greasy lips smacked together as he spoke, reminding me of sausages that my uncle used to make.
"Many of you however, are morons," the warden said. "So I'll inform you of your fate. Right now, you are on a two-hundred year old escape pod, hurtling towards the former colony of Pollux. Pollux used to be home to over three billion humans. Now, it's nothing but a barren wasteland."
The boy next to me started crying harder. Hippie boy looked taken aback by the news. Many of the other prisoners voiced their surprise, which quickly turned to anger. Idiots couldn't figure out on their own that we were going somewhere unpleasant. We were all herded onto a ship and taken on a two month cruise in solitary confinement. Obviously, they were taking us somewhere far away. And obviously it wasn't going to be pleasant.
But even if I was expecting a shithole, I wasn't expecting somewhere like Pollux.
The warden continued. "Under each of your seats is a box containing a few essential survival supplies and the small personal items that you were permitted to bring. Once you land, you'll be on your own. This colony is months from any other settlement. No ships ever land on the surface or fly nearby. We've already dropped off over 10,000 other prisoners here. Good luck with your new lives." The way he said 'good luck' made it pretty obvious that he wouldn't have lost a wink of sleep if we all died.
When the screens shut off, the other prisoners went ballistic. They began screaming and crying about this being unfair, about how they can't do this to us, about how this is illegal. One of them threw a shoe at one of the screens, cracking it in the middle.
The whole time, I was just trying to figure out what to do when we landed. Being sentenced to life on a barren rock didn't surprise me all that much really. I was a murderer, I was just lucky not to be executed. By being sent to Pollux, I had a chance.
After a minute, the noise died down. Other than the sobs of the weaker kids and the angry mutterings of the tougher kids, no one was saying anything. Even Hippie boy had gotten back into his seat and was just staring at his feet.
Finally, one of the older kids was fed up. "This is bullshit!" He yelled, ripping off his seatbelt. "Where are the controls for this thing? We'll fly it back to the ship!" Dumbass. This pod didn't have controls, it was meant to be fired and left alone.
"Sit down," the skinny black kid said, eyes still closed. "When we hit the planet's atmosphere, this ride is going to get bumpy."
The other kid glared at him. "You just gonna take this, Kane? These fu-" He was cut off as our pod hit the atmosphere. The pod violently shook, throwing the boy against Kane and the others. The pod continued to rock back and forth as though we had been tossed into a blender. I held onto my seatbelt until it felt like my cuticles were going to bleed.
"These old pods suck, huh?" Hippie boy asked me, trying too hard to be joking.
Normally, I would have just ignored him. However, I had just spent several months locked in a cell, talking to anyone was welcome. "Just wait until the parachute opens," I said, "that's gonna be a kick in the balls."
Hippie boy chuckled. "Yeah, be grateful for these seatbelts. I'm Mikey by the way."
Somehow, Mikey's jovial attitude had survived his stint in solitary. "I'm Clayton, but people call me Junior," I said.
"Junior? That's a bit rude, you're not that small."
It would have been funnier if it was true. Mikey wasn't tall, but he was half a head over me. If I filled my pockets with rocks, he would still outweigh me.
The pod's parachute finally deployed. The entire vehicle jerked upwards, pressing my shoulders against the seatbelt so hard my skin chafed. The kid who had gotten up flew into the ceiling, then back to the floor. His neck was twisted at an awkward angle, obviously broken. One out of fifty dead before we even reached the surface. Like I said, it was his own fault.
A few prisoners screamed at the dead body. I felt bile rise in my throat, but I managed to keep it down. Compared to my parents with their skulls bashed open, this one didn't seem so bad. It must have been like the chicken pox. If you've had it once, it can't hurt you anymore.
Kane just nudged the body with his toe apathetically. "His stuff is mine," he said. Apparently, they hadn't been friends. No one challenged him.
It only took a few minutes to reach the ground. The whole time, Mikey tried to talk up our new home, saying it would be an adventure. I ignored him. I knew what Pollux was. It wasn't actually a planet, just a very large moon orbitting a gas giant. The people there had wiped themselves out in a nuclear holocaust almost three hundred years earlier. Wherever we landed, it probably wouldn't have deadly levels of radiation, I would just have to get away from the landing zone and find shelter.
Then I would just have to get as far away from the other prisoners as I could. I had barely spoken to any of them, but I knew that they were untrustworthy. They were in here for stealing, assault, rape, murder, they were insane. If someone became a murderer when he was an adult, that would mean he was unstable. If he became a murderer when he was still a minor, who knew what kind of things he was capable of? But then, who was I to talk?
There was a thump as the pod hit the ground. A door popped open, flooding the pod with blinding sunlight. I didn't waste any time. Undoing my seatbelt, I unhooked the box from under my seat and stood up. I ran out the door and instantly tripped. My elbows and knees clanged painfully against the ramp leading to the ground. Sand blew into my mouth, which tasted only slightly worse than the laughter that came from the pod.
I stood up, ignoring the urge to smash in someone's teeth. Starting a fight would solve nothing. To my left was a big rock, a little bit taller than I was. Quickly, I hoisted myself on top of it and looked out at the moon that was my new home.
Pollux was about as bad as I was expecting. The pod had landed in the middle of an ocean of red sand and rocks. All the way out to the horizon, there were only a handful of landmarks breaking up the monotany. On the horizon was a long black road, other than that, nothing manmade.
Dammit. Nowhere close by.
I slid off the rock just as other prisoners were beginning to exit our pod. Many of them were shading their eyes from the sun, not used to the bright light. Most of them were carrying their boxes, hoping not to get them stolen.
"Where the fuck are we?" Some boy asked.
"Ask small-fry over there," Kane quipped, pointing at me.
"My name's not small-fry," I snapped back, just a little too loudly. "It's Junior. And I don't see anything." I had to lie. If there was a road, it had to lead somewhere. A city, a town- there could be supplies and shelter out there. And if there was, I had to get to it first.
Kane seemed slightly disappointed. "Nothing?"
"I said no, dipshit. There's nothing out there."
That proved to be a mistake. The moment Kane heard me, he sneered and chucked one of his boxes at my head. I tried to duck, but the corner caught me on the forehead. Stars exploded in my eyes, my knees turned to water.
Kane kicked me in the stomach. I coughed, tasting copper and salt. This kid was skin and bones, but there was surprising strength in his limbs.
I turned over, groaning in pain. Kane knelt over me and stuck a spindly finger in my face. "You wanna die?" He punched me under the jaw without waiting for a response. "I asked you a question, small-fry. Do you wanna die or not?" He hit me again, splitting my lip open.
One of Kane's buddies spoke up. "This shrimp ain't saying nothin'," he slurred, obviously poorly educated.
"Well then, make him squeal." Kane stood up and kicked me again. I tried to roll over, but Kane's friends yanked me to my feet. The bigger one pulled me into a headlock, trapping my arms behind my back. Kane and his smaller friend started pummeling me. Kane punched me in the stomach, his friend made my ribs creak.
It hurt to breathe. The prisoners were starting to circle around us, cheering, gawking. This was a fucking circus to them. Well, it was time to spoil their fun.
With a bellow of combined pain and rage, I pulled my head forward, then snapped it back as hard as I could. There was a nasty crack as the back of my head collided with the big guy's nose. His grip loosened, and I dropped out of his arms. I jumped forward, tackling Kane's other friend. My ribs ached like they'd been beaten with a hammer when they hit him.
He lost his balance and fell on his back. I jumped on top of his chest and threw my elbow into his face. His front teeth broke with a small satisfying ting. I hit him again, harder this time. His cheek caved in under the blow and he shrieked.
Someone grabbed me from behind, but I wasn't done yet. I pulled away from him and hit the boy on the ground again. He brought his hands up to try and smack away my blows, all the while pleading for me to stop. Typical thug. He was just so tough with his friends helping him, but once the going got tough, he started crying for his mommy. Smashing his face in felt good, like ripping off a band-aid.
Kane tried to pull me off again. I bit his hand, and he backed off with a swear. I hit his friend a few more times before I finally stopped. Panting and sweating, I looked down at him.
The boy was no longer moving. His face was covered with blood and purple bruises. Actually, calling it a face wasn't accurate. It was bashed in and uneven all over, almost like he'd been hit with a shotgun. The only thing that even suggested he was alive were the ragged breaths that he took every few seconds.
I finally stood up. Everyone was staring at me. They probably thought I'd killed the other guy. Their expressions were shocked, horrified. I'd seen that look before. The kind of look that said: 'That kid, look at that kid, he's nuts. Stay away from him.'
I fucking hated that look. What would they have done in my position? Would they have just let those psychos have their way with them? Lay back and accept their beatings like a good little-
Just let it happen, son. It won't hurt so much this time, I promise.
Kane was the only one I saw who didn't have that look. He was angry, obviously, but he was standing well clear of me. If he wasn't so scared of me in that moment, he could have cut me into pieces without another thought. I thought back to the first boy who died, the way Kane had acted like he was just a sack of garbage. He was even crazier than me.
The bigger guy was standing even farther away, clutching his ruined nose. Their shock wouldn't last, I had to leave fast.
I picked up my box out of the red dirt. After hesitating for just a second, I grabbed the one next to the beaten boy. "His stuff's mine now," I hissed, trying to sound scary. For more effect, I spat out a wad of blood.
I ran to the edge of the circle. They parted, letting me past them and into the wasteland.
Great, I had been on Pollux for less than five minutes and there were already people here who wanted me dead.
"Yeah, keep running!" Kane yelled in a futile effort to sound like he hadn't just watched his friend get beaten half to death. "Don't come back!"
I wasn't planning on it. Let Kane threaten all he wanted, he would be dead soon, and I would be safe. At that moment, nothing was standing between me and my new home.
I ran as fast as I could, a plume of red dust marking my exodus.