• I

    The all too familiar echo of children playing outside jumbled with the obnoxious ringing of a much too out-of-date alarm clock. Whimpering at the thought of disturbing her comfy position in bed, which these days wasn’t earned easily, Geo forced herself into a sitting position, grumbling under her breath as she rubbed the tiredness from her eyes. Luckily the smell of breakfast had found its way into her tiny bedroom, and against the numerous protests of her body, she followed the smell into what was lucky to be called a kitchen.

    “Finally! Your breakfast was beginning to get cold,” her mother scolded.

    Finally? Geo spared her mother a roll of her eyes before walking outside into the warm sunlight. She took in a deep breath of air in hopes of something fresh but was greeted with a staleness that left her body parched.

    With that thought in mind, she underwent the usual morning routine, making her way first to a small oasis nearby to gather some fresh water. Right as she approached, she went to scratch her face and was immediately reminded of the previous night.

    “Ouch,” she cursed, tears welling in her eyes from the pain. Knowing it was just a small flesh wound, and already starting to heal, Geo knelt down and splashed some water on her face, reveling in the coolness of the water over her scrapes. But just like every morning, her eyes would eventually clear, the water below her would settle, and she’d be staring into her own, foreign reflection.

    Geo stood out like a sore thumb in her small village. The majority of people had rich, dark chocolate-colored hair and dark eyes, but Geo’s hair was a sun-bleached, dirty blonde, which was accentuated by her dark complexion and natural azure eyes. And unlike most of the ladies in her village, Geo insisted on keeping her hair cut short just above her shoulders and dressing comfortably in shorts and a tank-top.

    It was hard to look at herself even now. With the ruggedness of her appearance, Geo looked more like her father than ever.

    She grimaced at the bruises and scratches on her face and wondered to herself how her mother had ever let her do this job. Geo joined the Pariah’s Infantry at the young age of sixteen and now, at only twenty, was in charge of her village’s fleet. They were responsible for protecting their village and providing the essentials for survival. Occasionally, they would go into battle with the Dryads, and it was never an easy win.

    The previous night, some Dryads had invaded their village, and the team had to go into immediate combat. Some blood was spilled, but fortunately, most of it was Dryad blood. There really wasn’t any reason for the attack other than the tribe just happened to be in the line of the Dryad’s random choice of travel.

    Clenching her teeth, Geo stared at the wounds on her face, resenting the lives that she and her villagers were forced to live. But her attention was wrenched away from her reflection when she heard the echo of distressed calls from nearby villagers. A million unorganized thoughts began coursing through her head.

    What could be wrong? Will I have to fight again?

    Running straight back toward her hut and into the kitchen, Geo saw that her mother was gone. In the distance she could hear the quiet humming of what sounded like a vehicle, possibly a hovercraft. She stepped outside and looked as far out into the desert as she could. As the sound came nearer, so did the object. In a matter of a few minutes, there in front of the crowd of people parked a large hovercraft with the words XAR on the side.

    “What is the Xea Air Force doing here?” she asked herself.

    Two large muscular men stepped out of the hover followed by a young man who appeared to be about Geo’s age. He proceeded by raising his hand to the villagers, an obvious gesture for them to quiet.

    From where she was, Geo could tell that the man was tall and lean. No doubt a ranking officer. His tousled, jet-black hair was cropped short, and by the looks of the way the sun reflected off of it, obviously gelled. Geo couldn’t help but snort to herself.

    Loud yelling of disapproval proceeded their grand entrance, the voices carrying enough to probably be heard from miles away. Keeping his cool, the officer began to speak.

    “Listen, please! I’m not here to hurt nor punish you people, but I would like to speak with the head of your village’s militia. Is he here?”

    Murmurs of suspicion buzzed throughout the crowd, and a couple of people even looked back at Geo to see if she’d make a move.

    The man sighed, frustrated by the crowd’s reluctance, and repeated, “I asked if he was here?”

    He? Geo scoffed at his assumption and stepped up, dignity made obvious in her expression. “She is right over here.” Every one of her villagers turned around, their eyes glued to her in anticipation. Most of them just looked concerned, especially that of her mother’s who was now tightly holding on to her younger sister.

    Geo smiled at them with reassurance and turned her attention to the officer. With a stern glare that could probably make any grown man wet his pants, she strode over to the him with a confidence that he couldn’t help but be impressed by.

    The man grinned and gave her the signal to follow him into his hover. “Come. Please.”
    She was stunned by his abruptness. Crossing her arms, she said arrogantly, “And why would I follow you? I have nothing to do with the Xea Air Force. Whatever the reason for you wanting me to come with you is none of my concern. It was a mistake for you to come here—so leave.”

    The man was completely taken by surprise. All he could do was stand there and stare at her with a dumbfounded yet amused expression. Not that he was intimidated by her, but he couldn't believe that this Pariah woman would speak up to him.

    Crossing his arms in mimic of Geo, the man replied with a laugh, “Are you sure you’re a woman?”

    Geo's face turned bright red. Partly from anger and partly from embarrassment.

    “Listen,” the man continued wistfully. “I promise you’re not being arrested for anything. However, right here and now is not the appropriate place nor time to discuss what we need to discuss. But it's up to you whether or not you want to come with me. You seem like a spur-of-the-moment kind of woman. I would hate to think that the reason you're so unwilling to come with me is because you're afraid to take the risk. So…” he said taking a slow intended step backwards. “I'm getting back onto the hover. No one is forcing you to come, but if you're interested, you're more than welcome to follow me. After all...that is why I came.” Then he flashed a set of perfect, white teeth and walked back into the hover.

    Despite his innate charm, she snarled, frustrated by the decision she now had to make. Turning around, she glanced at all of the confused and expecting faces—the faces of her fellow villagers. The people whom she’d vowed to protect no matter what the danger. The people whom she’d dreamed of saving from this pathetic way of living since she was old enough to know what a crappy way of living was.

    Then she saw her mother and younger sister, and she knew what she had to do.
    Taking in a deep breath of dry air, Geo spared a reassuring smile to her mother, whose look of concern by this point had intensified, waved good-bye to her villagers, and followed the two muscular men onto the hover.

    She decided against her better judgment to pick a seat right next to the window—purposely avoiding all contact with the personnel.

    The black-haired man smirked at her ignorance as he took the seat next to her. “You may want to buckle up.”

    She rolled her eyes. “I’ve been in a hover before, thanks,” she said sarcastically.
    He shrugged with a nonchalance that really ticked her off.
    Geo sneered at his attitude. Did he have to sit next to me?