Amberlie "Pariah" Hurst
I guess it's just you and me now.
14 years agoI watched the doors open, the green gas billowing out onto the landing pad. The dockworkers backed away. The crew laughed when we stepped out under those blue skies, the workers reaching for their fatigues and covering their faces to avoid breathing the chemicals. Someone was standing off to the side, the only one who cared to welcome us to Safeharbor. His body was not of flesh, but of metal, with tattered robes hanging on his jagged frame. He didn't have a face, only a red lens for sight and shifting metal slides that danced about the frame of his head. Victoria pointed to him as she removed my helmet. "That's him." I was shocked. I've seen the pictures. I heard his voice on the videos my mom so eagerly shared. This man looked nothing like him, but the voice was unmistakable. The father I never knew seemed to know me just fine. He called to me, shying away to hide what he believed to be a deformity. "Amber?"
Hi... My name is Amber. I may not be the one you're used to, or who you prefer but I'll do my best. I am my father's daughter, after all. Before we begin, we should get to know one another. I doubt I turned out the way you expected. I left safeharbor with a mission and found so much more. I found something I didn't expect. I guess I'm more like mom than I thought. In my own way, I got to break into heaven too. I hope you're ready and that I've found you well. I'm not sure why anyone would care to listen, to be honest. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I can finally be worth something, after all. I came to Safeharbor fourteen years ago and it wasn't as promised. 'Humans are finally thriving again,' they told me. No. Humanity is hanging by a thread, one that is slowly breaking under the strain. We cling to hope. Earth is gone, and no one can say why. Our new planet is falling apart, a city of rust at the mercy of entropy. Hell, I arrived only a few days after a revolution, a civil war that could barely live up to the name. The Wayfarers spoke of change and progress. In the end, they kept much of the same rules and systems. "The government wasn't broken," they said, "it was the people in it." The outcasts were allowed to settle in The Three Colonies, and religion is now a universal right, so there's that. On a more personal level, each day proved worse than the one before. I never felt welcome. My mother's crimes followed me everywhere I went. I'd rather not talk about it. It's so strange. Most of them don't even know what she did. I don't even understand what she did. I can't imagine what would justify such hate, or why she didn't bother warning me.
Rhey "Mouse" Thakur took a special interest in me early on. We had similar interests and drives. She always struck me as someone dedicated to the future, and I like that. Her reforms led to better checks and balances in our government, a guarantee that the military could never be used against those they protect again. She, and a select few others, are the only thing I appreciate about this planet. They're the only reason I can say humans aren't ALL bad. With mom in cryo and The Sea of Names back among the stars, I lacked direction; ambition. Mouse reignited a passion for science I thought lost. I dedicated myself to medicine and chemistry. I even planned to join Caduceus when finishing my education. I expected appreciation. Not only would I be out of everyone's hair, but I'd be giving up so much to help countless others. How naive I was. Even Caduceus rejected me. Every time I achieved something, my mother's shadow lingered. It felt like a failure. I was drowning out here, screaming into a void. How long should one scream before they just stop? When the time came to jump, it was Mouse who heard the screaming. She would, I mean, she was screaming too.
Just outside of Juliet, there's a massive structure that scrapes the sky. The Spire is widely considered the best place to go Stargazing. I wouldn't know. Every time I tried I was denied entry to the roof. I was 16 by Safeharbor's standards. I can't explain how it feels to plot your own death. It's terrifying, but there's a strange comfort when you consider the end is near. I stood before a hole in the building, a mere three floors from my peers on the roof. They were so focused on the stars, they wouldn't notice if I fell. It wasn't like I'd scream. My diagnosis came soon after that; Bipolar Type II. Mental health on Safeharbor needs work, to say the least. There were treatments but most were buried in the archives under mountains of scholarly articles. Even then, finding the right cocktail of medications takes trial and error, and that doesn't even factor in the side effects. Screw that. Why make a hellish way to live even worse?
"Can't say goodbye?" Mouse said. I turned from the window, backing away as if I could hide my intentions. "Sorry." "No," She said, stepping forward and shaking her head. "I wasn't trying to make you feel guilty." She sat down at the opening in the wall, her legs dangling over the side. "How long?" "A few months," I replied. "I understand." Mouse said, her voice nearing a whisper. "I know what it's like." I narrowed my eyes. "How? No one kno-" She cut me off. "I'm dead serious. Everyone here lives in constant fear. We're inches away from extinction." She raised her voice, her face twisting as if in pain. "I mean, we can't even handle touching each other. They'd never admit it, but most people have thought about it." She paused and gestured to her prosthetic arm. "I lost my arm, I was grounded, stripped of rank, and even lost my ship. I worked so hard only to have it ripped away." She shook her head, "That happened right after losing a friend, and another died soon after that. I still blame myself for both. I'm sorry if relating to it offended you, but it's the only kind of help we can get." I stuttered, suddenly feeling guilty, "I'm sorry. I didn't realize. I shouldn't be so-" "Trauma is trauma. Don't apologize for something outside of your control. I just want you to know that I stood where you just stood, looked down at the same sight with the same goal. A Lot of us have. We won't be the first or the last to consider that jump." "Why didn't you?" I asked. Mouse opened her mouth to speak, but it took her a moment to form the words. "I'm scared." She lowered her head, turning away from the thousand-meter drop. She brought her legs up and rested her chin on her knees. "I can't even die right."
I wish I could say her words forced me to step away from the edge. If I made up some lie about a rousing speech that drove me to action, I'm sure most would believe it with no questions asked. Truth is, I never stepped away. I just wasn't done yet. I looked at someone I respected, someone I admired and even idolized, and saw my pain reflected back. I saw my pain everywhere, even in those who tormented me. Our species is stuck in limbo; unwilling to live, yet too scared to die. My father discovered something in the archive, a potential solution right under our noses. While only experimental at the time of earth's end, Psilocybin, a compound found in many forms of mushroom, proved promising in a wide variety of mental disorders. With the right tools and a quick trip to the Apiary, I created the first manufactured pharmaceutical product in decades. It was my first real accomplishment. It was an application of my skills and one they couldn't deny or take away. Safeharbor lacks stable infrastructure. Most of our medicine comes from The Matriarchal Eden. These drugs aren't always the best fit or even available. The apothecaries of safeharbor are trying to meet the demand. There are maybe ten Apothecaries in all of the three colonies, ten people making medicine for over thirteen thousand residents, and doing so by hand. My work didn't change their minds, but at least I managed to change lives.
Mouse pulled some strings, and I was accepted to train as a wayfarer. I met nothing but resistance every step of the way, but this time, I was prepared. I had my skills. In time, I had my training. I excelled in every aspect. When the day came to choose my name, no one could deny me. I decided to soil the tradition. The naming ceremony is serious business, and I took the opportunity to tell my tormentors off. I thought my father would lecture me on the importance of the ritual, but he didn't. Instead, he cackled with glee. I daresay he was proud. As much as I hate the planet, leaving Safeharbor was bittersweet. Much needed to be done. Dad took it surprisingly well. He knew I couldn't stay long, having witnessed the abuse and being unable to really help… short of killing my abusers. I had to prevent that a time or two and I'm still not sure if it was a good call.
I haven't spoken to mom in 14 years. She's still in cryo, our sciences unable to cure what ails her. My mother made a deal and the cost was her life. To undo it, we need to find the one responsible. Gibraltar is still alive. I aim to change that fact. That brings me to the here and now. I left Safeharbor. Now I live as a scavenger. I try to find work at the Lodge, but I'm not mom. I can barely hold a rifle straight. She was the fighter, not me. It's slow-moving, but I feel like I'm closer than ever. I hear it calling to me, Gibraltar. It calls to me as it did to mom. It shows me visions in my sleep. I see fields of green dotted with patches of deep red. Somewhere beyond is a prismatic orchard, a vast expanse of color surrounded by dead stars. It wants me to follow, and follow I shall.
I stand before a crowd, one filled with those who were meant to be my peers. I speak, my voice amplified so all can hear the words. The edges glisten, for my words are sharp and all will feel the sting. "When I came to this planet, I expected to find people like me. I did not." I can already see them laughing, a select few faces among the crowd. They mock my achievements, yet they still came to hear my name. I hold my anger in. "It's funny, actually. So many among you have contributed to what I'd call a life not worth living. Here you stand, though, ready to receive me as an equal only because I bested you at your own game. Despite your best efforts, I get to be a wayfarer too." My thoughts venture back to that night, my eyes fixed on the thousand-foot fall from the tallest building on Safeharbor, and the one woman capable of talking me down. "I stand here at the top of my field. I didn't gloat when I surpassed you. I didn't point and laugh when you came up short." I straighten my posture, my chest filled with pride. "You treated me like I was less than garbage. I felt every thrown stone. I've been berated, spit on, and chastised for something I didn't even do. The sins of my mother followed me everywhere I went. 'The apple doesn't fall far from the tree,' they said. I heard it from your parents, your elders. How right they were. You don't have a shred of decency either." I notice them getting uncomfortable, some frowning as they come to regret their actions, others crossing their arms with a look of disgust. "I lived as a castaway for far too long, an outcast among outcasts." My voice rises more than I intended, breaking with every word, "I liked staring at the stars too, though you never stopped to ask me. I was turned away, night after night. I was forced to find my own stories in the sky. I didn't have anyone to share them with, like you." I fight the tears in my eyes. I won't give them the satisfaction. "My father was the only thing I had for the longest time. He once told me the naming ceremony was sacred. I hope I've tarnished this tradition for you. I hope I've defiled it in every way possible. You want to know my name?" I pause for effect. What came next was meant to cut the deepest. I spit the word out, a name I chose with both shame and pride; such an odd combination, "Pariah." I smiled, the anger finally breaking through in a fevered stream of callous words, "Where will I go? The one place that leaves you shaking in your boots." I pointed to the sky, to the only constellation I really cared about. "You can have the rest. I'm obviously not welcome there anyway. I'll seek my fortune elsewhere. I'll trace the horizon, my ship forever fixed on The Old Dawn. Perhaps The Others will be more welcoming. Goodbye, and good riddance."