A bullet spaceship.
A dying planet.
And a death.
The earth was crumbling. Mankind had destroyed the balance of the planet ever since the industrial revolution began, leaving the greens to decay. Their selfishness propelled it further and segregated themselves from each other for the difference of their skin colour. Climate change had not been addressed by countries that heavily relied on capitalism, accumulating power little by little by exploiting on the labour of common men. It was already 2020, yet the progress of humankind was little to none.
Twenty-three-year-old Dr Antra Nguyen had enough. She could not stand and look at the atrocities done to the masses, the horrifying mass killings, the racism, the homophobia, the xenophobia, and the persecution of people who lived a different truth. After multiple trial-and-errors, she perfectly built a bullet spaceship, obtained samples of the earth’s physical attributes, and sent the spaceship to a coordinate where a star could sustain the same energy as the sun.
The documents of cloning planets were ancient, written way back in the 1950s. The second world war had subsided between the Axis Powers and Allies, the documents almost perished during the war. Antra’s grandmother was able to save the documents, and was then passed down to her when she was still a high school student.
She did not understand what the documents meant, but she felt they were of great importance in the future. And the future was now, when China was waging war against the United States, with an enormous possibility that would spark World War III.
Thirty years later, Antra’s experiment became successful—possible—ignoring the disobedience to the second law of thermodynamics. The planet which was two million light years away was added to a small solar system, and it was named Vector-001, upon her insistence. Her experiment went international, ignoring the fact she could be arrested for illegally sending a ship outside the planet. But which would they choose? A dying unsustainable planet or the newly created planet that could give hope for a new life, and a new beginning?
The government and international organisations did not arrest Antra, instead they gathered volunteers to live in the planet Vector-001. But the volunteers all died. That was when Antra was arrested, and all her researches were taken away from her. She was sentenced to life imprisonment in the worst prison cells of her homeland Vietnam, while her research was snatched by her ex-partner’s hands.
Antra died at the age of seventy-nine, a day after her birthday. But cloning planets went on, to find the perfect formula identical to that of the planet earth. Her ex-partner, Victor, became more powerful.
It was only the beginning.
Aniya had no idea today would be the day that would change her life forever.
It was peaceful in the streets of Kellow Town, named after the famous Whitney Kellow who heavily influenced the people of Vector-098 with her music, but death took her too early than intended. Aniya had never seen Whitney on screen, but her mother did, and she was obsessed with Whitney. From her blonde chignon hairdo, to the way Whitney nimbly moved and dressed, and even to her singing style, her mother had perfected them all. Aniya was a bit frightened her mother was not her mother anymore, but Whitney Kellow.
Today was Whitney Kellow day, and everyone from Kellow Town had a silent pilgrimage made for her. It was like a newfound religion, like that of Christianity and Islam, which were both abolished by the highest governing body. The highest governing body resided in Vector-211, the most identical planet of what Earth was. Aniya had no inkling of what Earth was like, but in her history books Earth was deemed beautiful. Mountains, hills, valleys, plains and the bluest oceans are what consisted Earth. It boasted a cool temperature compared to Vector-098.
Aniya could feel her orange shirt clinging to her body as the temperature rose, red patches marking her pale yellow skin. Her mother had joined the silent pilgrimage which meant she had the house all to herself, and that she could blast the air conditioning longer and colder than her mother would permit her to. Electricity prices started rising, and although solar-powered energy was cheaper and proved that it could power the entire town, the highest governing body did not allow to do so. Which was preposterous.
Electricity from coal was seen harmful which was one of the reasons why Earth was not sustainable to live in, in the first place. However, the highest governing body couldn’t care less, thus Vector-098 had suffered from the negative effects of coal-powered electricity. Air conditioners were always sold out even if the prices had spiked a few months ago, and the people in Kellow Town had drained their savings for the sake of convenient living.
Aniya, with a bored look encompassing her features, scrolled mindlessly through the channels. News channels had been banned before Aniya was born and only government announcements were shown if there were important matters that needed to be addressed. However, she had discovered the meaning of news when she saw newspaper clippings tucked inside her mother’s drawer. It was the first time she read about the news that dated more than a hundred years ago, a picture of an infamous doctor hugely printed on the front page. The paper looked like it was about to crumble, but the words were readable. Aniya wondered why her mother kept such clippings when it did not hold any significance to the both of them at all.
She debated against the idea to ask her mother, since she would rather not be reprimanded for snooping around her things. The television froze momentarily and Aniya groaned. A government announcement flashed through the screen, the bright yellow letters making her cringe. Someone should hire a better graphic artist or designer perhaps but maybe it was an effective way to catch anyone’s attention. Victor Galloway’s voice fill the entire living room, his sunken eyes looking like it could pierce anyone else’s soul. His skin was taut and smooth, as if he was not a day over twenty-five but his grey-green eyes said otherwise. No one knew how old he was, and no one dared question him.
“Good morning citizens of Vector-098,” he said monotonously, his mouth moving like he memorised his speech beforehand. His voice was smooth, almost sultry, which could weaken any woman’s knees. “I have an important announcement to make.” The small pauses he made sent a small ruckus to her spine. His slow yet calculated speeches left Vector-098 breathless, and his speeches always ended up bad. Well, only to the planet. They had no idea if it was worse than the previous one.
“I have good news to all of you.” His eyes did not seem too happy as he made the announcement. His eyes looked hollow as he stared into the camera, his gaze could bare anyone else’s soul to shreds. “The rebels North Star are being tracked, and they are currently in Vector-098. Worry not, these rebels will not have a slight chance to harm you, because I have sent the best of my team to your planet. These soldiers are not just mere soldiers and you already know who these are. They are the top thirty Velocity soldiers.” His eyes lit up a bit. Sardonically.
The North Star started waging war against Victor’s regime and had killed hundreds of people residing in Vector-211. Most people who lived there were rich, lived lavishly, and had longer lifespans than all the other Vector planets combined. The rebel group created the movement to honour the passing and the injustice given to the brainchild of cloning planets, Dr Antra Nguyen. She was not mentioned in history books much, her identity simply erased.
“We will do our best to make the Vector system safer for all of our residents, and that includes you, the people of Vector-098,” Victor said with a smirk on his lips. His eyes gleaned of mischief, the first time he showed any emotion from his announcements.
Aniya wondered if the people from Vector-098 were cheering after seeing his announcement, or the people who joined the silent pilgrimage for Whitney Kellow knew about the announcement at all. Aniya was impartial with regards to the appearance of thirty Velocity soldiers—all were women. She wondered if they would bring safety and peace, or if they would bring chaos instead.
She heard heavy thudding marching at the front door. Her heart pounded loudly, audible enough for it to echo in the living room, as she treaded silently towards the main door. Her hand was slightly shaking as she reached for the knob, but a knock almost raised her hackles, almost tripping from her loose stance.
“Is anybody home?” a Velocity soldier, in her deep masculine voice, asked. Aniya peeked through the eyehole of the door to see four soldiers guarding outside her house—more like spectating, their eyes alert for any slight movement. Aniya’s house was surrounded by trees, almost situated in the middle of the forest that she and her mother had to walk a few miles away to reach the highway. The highway was dusty and was always convoluted in traffic, cars arranged in a labyrinthine path.
Aniya was deciding whether it was wise enough to open the door for them. Her mother had always warned her to never open the door for anyone, which included her friends and their family members who were thinly spread throughout of the planet. She stood at the door, lifting her heels to look at the eyehole once more. They were still there, their movements stoic as their boots heavily padded the tiled threshold.
She ran to her room, her heart pounding unreasonably. Although they were Velocity soldiers and were one of the most trusted institutions assigned by the highest governing body, there was unsettling feeling at the pit of her stomach. If she opened the door it would be like opening a Pandora’s box. However, she had no inkling of what destructive thing would occur.
She sent a text to her mother, hoping her mother brought her phone with her. Silent pilgrimages required cellular phones to remain silent, or their power off. Sometimes, these pilgrimages could be strict. They would have to surrender their phones to an authorised personnel.
She begged a silent prayer, hoping her mother would have read her text. She had no idea what her mother would do with the situation, but she knew her mother’s mind always churned with ideas. She would stay up late in her study, her eyes lidded with spectacles that slid off her nose that she had to adjust them occasionally, studying some blueprints of a complex structure. Aniya concluded her mother was probably an architect, building and overseeing a new project. Her mother was particularly vague about of the details of her job to Aniya.
She heard another bout of knock at the front door. It was louder than before. She looked through her window and the Velocity soldiers were already huddled, their brows drawn together in impatience but their eyes looked dead, as if their emotions were erased from their DNA. “Open the door!” one of the soldiers ordered, their voice raising a notch yet was still lifeless. The pounding on the door had become incessant yet Aniya hid beside her bed, covering her ears with her palms. She curled herself to a ball, the pounding of the door the only sound, the whooshing of the wind merely a whisper.
The door was opened in coercion. The four soldiers did not need any equipment that would be necessary to unhinge the door. They were trained in the harshest environmental conditions such as places where temperatures drastically changed. These soldiers could withstand any brute force applied to them, even a steel’s impact could not faze them easily. Aniya had heard stories about how the soldiers were trained from her mother’s friends whenever they joined them for dinner. Velocity soldiers were injected with some sort of serum that increased their infallibility, but at the same time these soldiers were grown more emotionally detached before they enlisted to serve the highest governing body.
Aniya covered her ears and wilfully closed her eyes, wishing there were some sort of miracle that would happen. She could not comprehend why they frightened her, when they were supposed to protect her from the rebels of the North Star.
One thing the Velocity soldiers did not train for was to walk in a cat-like manner for their footfalls thudded loudly against the tiled floors. Aniya sensed they were in the living room, possibly looking for any signs if someone was inside, or for any recent activity they could pick up to follow a trail. She hoped they would not come to the conclusion that she went to her room. Her mother’s voice echoed against her mind, in her heavy accent reprimanding her to never leave any trace even if it was in their own household. She did not understand what her mother meant, but now it all made sense to her.
She heard their footsteps going upstairs and her heart pounded loudly, hoping they would not open the knob leading to her room. It was a futile wish.
But her silent prayers went unanswered when she heard her bedroom doorknob twisting, the hinges slowly creaking as if the soldier knew she was there, knew that if they made an abrupt move she would be startled. The slow creaking hastened the pace of her heartbeat, her body temperature increasingly hotter. The leaded footsteps of the soldier made her heart skip a beat, wishing the moment she had been dreading would be all over.
Every footstep sounded like her heartbeat. She wondered if they could hear the pounding of her chest. The soldier walked agonisingly slow, calculating each step as every object in the room mildly jumped from the vibration. She slowly slid her body underneath her bed, the linoleum wood coldly pressed against her skin.
One more step and she would be found.
“No one’s here,” the soldier announced. It always made Aniya wonder if these soldiers already had a deep masculine voice, or if the serums made their voices that way.
“Check for the other rooms,” one of the soldiers commanded, who had an even deeper voice than the one who went in her room. Once the soldier exited and closed the door with a loud shut, Aniya exhaled a breath she did not realise she had been holding.
But the relief was for nought. Her cellular phone loudly rang, specifically a Whitney Kellow song her mother put on her contact, which meant her mother was calling.
“Shit!” she whisper-cursed, fumbling the phone tucked in her pocket. Her hands trembled as she reached for her phone, almost dropping it on the floor but her quivering hands did not allow them. The footsteps of the Velocity soldiers became louder which meant they were heading towards her room. The doorknob twisted again, and she felt the entire weight of her bed lifted up. The soldier smirked with lifeless eyes, a dimple marring her cheek.
“There you are,” she said. “Why have you been in hiding little kitty?”
Aniya did not answer, only stared at her in fright. Her breath was stuck in her throat, her gut forming multiple knots. Her elbows were planted on the wooden floor, the pain slowly searing in her bones but it was not akin to the fear she felt towards the soldier. They were supposed to make her feel safe.
In a panicky situation, there were two kinds of reaction: fight or flight. Yet, all Aniya did was freeze. Her legs had turned to lead; her heartbeat was all she could hear amongst the footsteps that reverberated around her room. The three other soldiers surrounded her. She gasped for air but their towering presence suffocated her, constricting her breathing. Her vision went blurry and blackness started filling in.
When she woke up, the light glared at her making her eyes sting. She yelped in pain, almost falling on her seat but her body was strapped all over.
“Good, you’re awake,” one of the soldiers said, her silver eyes sizing Aniya up. Her legs were practically trembling at the sheer size of the soldier who stood around six feet tall, almost a foot taller than Aniya. The muscles in her arms and in her legs and thighs made her look more intimidating. She could probably crush Aniya’s skull with her bare hands.
“What do you want?” she asked weakly. Her throat was parched. She had not even screamed.
The soldier did not answer. Instead, she grabbed an empty cup and filled it with water. Aniya’s thirst increased exponentially at the sight of it. Before the cup could enter her lips, the soldier teasingly retracted the cup from her mouth, her silver eyes filled with mischief and lust—a lust for control.
Aniya did not groan, nor did she yell at the soldier. She knew she was being taunted, and any reactions she would give meant she was affected. Her mother’s voice filled her head, telling her during tricky situations like this, she should calm herself. Breathe through the nose. Exhale through the mouth.
“Do you want this water?” the soldier asked menacingly. The cup sweat and Aniya swallowed, her thirst unbearable. She did not respond, however. She remained still, her dark brown eyes sizing up the soldier’s every move. She sat on the steel chair, planting her arms at the back of the chair after she placed the cup on the table. Her thirst only grew at an unusual rate which made her head spin a little.
The soldier’s smirk was wider than before, her pearl white teeth glistening against the fluorescent. “You’re getting thirstier, I bet?” Her humour sounded sadistic because of her deep voice. If only they were in a different circumstance, Aniya.
“Not really,” Aniya retorted drily.
“If you must know, we have injected a serum into your body that overstimulates the brain to make you thirstier each passing minute. This glass of water is not the antidote, but it will help you quench your thirst, if you answer some of the questions.”
She laughed weakly, her mouth drier, and stared into the soldier’s silver eyes, searching if there was a bit of compassion left in her. Was she still capable of making her own decisions? Or did the highest governing body have it all planned out for her?
“Tell me,” Aniya said, “why did you tie me up?”
“Uh-uh. You don’t get to question me. I do the questioning,” the soldier stood up. She paced back and forth, her heavy steps splashing the water on the cemented ground. Aniya studied her surroundings. Nothing was remarkable to be worth remembering. The place was barely empty except for the chair she was tied to, the chair the soldier sat on earlier, and the table with a cup of water and a pitcher of iced water. She gulped. She felt weaker every passing minute, and her gaze fixating on the cup of water did not help to alleviate her thirst. It worsened. And the soldier ominously knew it.
She was dragging time. For what, Aniya did not know. All she knew was she was being tied without being given a valid reason, and her instincts told her these soldiers could not be trusted. “Aniya, so tell me, where is your mother?” The dull footsteps of the soldier made Aniya’s head pound.
“I don’t know,” she replied, which was half true. She knew her mother went to the silent pilgrimage. She did not know if she had left the pilgrimage, but her calling was made obvious that she did.
“You’re making a terrible mistake, girl,” she said, grabbing the cup and pouring all of its contents to the ground. The water coming out looked so beautiful in Aniya’s eyes, her heart breaking to pieces when it fell to the ground.
“I honestly don’t know,” she insisted weakly. She tried her best to sound firm, but her shaky voice said otherwise.
“I would be telling the truth if I were you.” The monotony in her voice made Aniya’s spine shudder. How could someone say such humanly things in the most inhumane way possible?
“I am,” she replied, exhausted. Her vision blurred when it hit the light, her head spinning in circles but her sense of hearing heightened when another soldier approached, and that made her vision clear in an instant. The soldier who entered was a few inches shorter than the other, but with her chin held high and her jaw stiffened it showed she was the alpha in the group.
“We are not tasked to bully someone’s daughter,” the soldier who entered said, her voice ringing deeper, and more intimidating. At least they had some principles left.
“It’s fun to make fun of her, just to pass time,” the other soldier replied, trying to humour the shorter soldier. “Besides, we might extract valuable information from her knowing she’s the only direct relative of Ariadna.”
Ariadna. Aniya’s mother’s name. Her heart skipped a beat at the mention of her name. Her stomach coiled and she prayed, in silence, that her mother was nowhere near these soldiers. “She may be Ariadna’s daughter, but she is no Ariadna,” the shorter soldier said, her silver eyes studying Aniya. She felt naked under her gaze, and dizzy.
“We are here to take her as hostage,” she continued in a firm tone which made the taller soldier slowly back away.
“I’ll get the antidote.” And she skipped running away as if the shorter soldier would beat her up to pieces. Aniya’s head spun faster, and before she could comprehend what was happening around her, her world fell black once more, leaving her unconscious.