• "Everybody out!" The guards , always dressed in red tunics weighed down considerably with silver buttons, rush into our little clapboard house and loom over me and my sleeping siblings as if we would be threatening to them otherwise.

    I nudge my brothers awake and shuffle them outside with me quickly, allowing Tim to hook his arms around my neck and Ty's hand to fist into the hem of my shirt as one soldier's gun digs into the flesh of my back. It's never been a very pleasant experience.

    We stand in two ram-rod straight single-file lines with the rest of our clapboard house neighbors as the soldiers scream things at us; I try to ignore the grotesque way in which their bodies contrast with the neutral grays and browns of our street.

    We're forced to stand side-by-side, meaning I can't hold Tim, as much as I'd like to. But I hold his hand and sign letters into his palm with blinding speed so he knows what's going on while I use my other hand to hold Ty's head protectively to my hip.

    This happens every third day of every month. Even though they, our current government, see as worthless, even we can't have defects.

    They kill defected people.

    That's why Tim must know what the soldiers are saying and doing at all times. No one besides Ty and myself know that Tim is deaf. Of course, it isn't like the government board members get their hands dirty doing this themselves, because the board members were born to sit at desks and make the world bitter and miserable, bit by bit.

    That's also why, of course, no one stands up to the soldiers, and why they have green bodies and yellow lips. It's because their DNA is genetically altered to give them enhanced senses, speed and strength.

    "Girl! What are you doing with your hands, I wonder?" Suddenly there's a silver button in my face and I'm forcibly pulled away from Tim. The soldier leers over him, yellow lips pulling back into a sickening snarl and when he starts talking my heart sinks like a rock in water. He talks through gritted teeth and unmoving lips; Tim can’t read lips that don’t move.

    He asks Tim questions even us education-less barbarians would know and Tim almost starts crying. The soldiers smiles, cruel, warped, unforgiving, and signals to another soldier, who slings Tim over his soldier like a sack of rice.

    I lunge forward on pure impulse, but Ty beats me there. His teeth sink deep into the man’s calf, evicting a broken howl of pain and an involuntary unclenching of muscles. I preserve my momentum from lunging seconds ago by catching Tim and swooping Ty up. Then...I ran.

    Running’s not a smart thing to do when the people you’re running from have enhanced speed and plasma guns, but the thought doesn’t register well because bullets fly past me, one clipping my shoulder, and leave no room for doubt in their wake.

    Another bullet hits me in the arm; it doesn’t pierce the flesh there, but it hurts so bad I almost drop Ty. I know in the back of my mind that this street I’ve lived on all my life is a dead end, and the woods are blocked by an abandoned house, but I’m left option less and desperate, something that scared me.

    So I pour on the adrenaline and increase my speed, approaching the house and flinging the door open when I reach it. I literally throw Tim and Ty into the gaping hole of darkness, but I resolve to kiss away their bruises later. The soldiers are right behind me, but I shut the door and drape my body over it, facing them defiantly.

    It clicks that they have guns and I have air, so I rip off part of the window pane next to me, wielding it like a bat; teach them to give us rusty nails and splintering wood and expect us to build our homes with it.

    They're right behind me and I stare them down best as I can, being shorter them all. My heart is pounding in my ears and my temple pulses rhythmically, showing my anxiety. I clear my throat, and my own voice surprises me, a raspy, desperate croak of a sound.

    "I won't let you take him from me--" I'm cut off as something side-swipes me right out of the door frame and pins me into dirt, my board fleeing from my grasp. The others, the soldiers, are moving toward the door my brothers lie behind while this one chokes me with large, calloused and sinewy hands.

    Dark spots gather and cluster at the edges of my vision and panic spreads through me at the lack of oxygen, nipping at my skin like a wild fire. I use one hand to grasp the hand he has around my windpipe, my other hand grasping weakly through the dirt, searching and feeling for something, anything, I can use in my defense.

    My hand clasps something wooden, my only indication being that a sharp shard of it thrusts up through my flesh. I clutch at it until it is close enough that my entire palm covers it before my fingers curl around it and I use my remaining strength to lift it up sharply, feeling it contact with the soldier, that I'm not sure where.

    He makes a startled, gurgling noise and his eyes roll up as I feel something warm and sticky soak into my shirt. My stomach turns flips, my blood runs cold and turns to lead in my veins and my heart jack-rabbits and stops beating all at the same time. I just killed this man. I stabbed him with the nail in the board, and then he died.

    I killed him.

    I've also noticed that the violent rattling on the door has stopped, which means the others have undoubtedly noticed. The more my mind works through the syrup-like stupor of my realizations, the more aware and alert I become. I use my arms, suddenly a lot stronger, to pull myself out from under the corpse, as far I can get. I can only pray my brothers aren't watching, but I know I'm not that lucky.

    I try to talk, to explain it was self-defense, that I didn't mean to, but all that comes out of me is a surprised noise, like a wounded animal. The leader of them all glares at me with all of his rage, spitting his words like venom, like poison he wishes will kill me. "You will regret this day, peasant girl. The ramshackle abomination of a village will burn! If I have to head the mission myself!"

    I wait until I can't see their red tunics or their lime green bodies or even the glint of their silver buttons until I finally move to collect my brothers.


    I sit on top of a tree on a hill that overlooks the city, the perfect part of it, where the rich people live. If I squint and lean forward, I can see the people in the street, the women with their extravagant headdresses and breath that smells of fruity wine, with their nails, sharp and polished like talons.

    I watch the large overhead screen that stands over the crosswalk of five different streets, all illuminated by shop lights and giant moving advertisements. I believe I read once that the design for this part of the city was based off of something people used to have a long time ago; Squares Time, I think it was called.

    I hear the tree branches rustle and I throw a glance over my shoulder to see Ty standing on the branch next to mine, holding an old rag. I look down and see Tim at the base of the tree next to a large tin wash basin, smiling up at me. Before the protest even leaves my mouth, Ty us practically dragging me through the tree. As soon as my feet hit the ground they're dipping the rag into the water, rubbing over my face and hair.

    Tim wets and combs my hair (with his fingers) while Ty uses the rag to scrub at the dirt on my arms, hands and face. The two of them don't say a word, just smile at me hopefully and clean all the skin they can get at. It's me who should be bathing them. As much as I'd like to get up, to work the cloudiness out of my muscles, I sit, dumbfounded, as they start braiding my hair.

    Into two separate braids, Ty braiding one, Tim braiding the other, just the way I like my hair. I never say it, but they know. They understand. Because this way my hair is out of the way, not as vulnerable to getting caught on stuff, and, as a bonus, it doesn't look half bad braided.

    When they're done, I grab the rag and use the excess water the scrub the two of them, chasing their greasy mops of black hair with my hand. Ty smiles, a truly bright thing, and Tim does his silent laugh in which his little quakes and shivers happily, a smile on his face. I smile too, because Tim hands me a mirror from the bag we packed, and Ty points to the screen in the city behind us.

    My picture, as well as Tim's, flashes across the screen with angry red letters: WANTED. MURDER AND RESISTING CONTAINMENT.

    Tim's picture is not much different then mine: WANTED. DEAF AND RESISTING TERMINATION.

    I survey my picture as it repeats, my unruly brown hair and my piercing almost golden eyes. There is dirt and grime smeared distastefully over my face, and knots and grease are clearly visible in my hair.

    But then, I take Tim's mirror and I realize now that I'm clean, I like nothing like the girl in the picture. Tim doesn't look like his picture, either. His hair is still untamed, sticking out in all different directions, that the inescapable grime that seemed to cover even his eyelashes is gone, leaving a different person behind.

    Then Ty snuggles into my side and Tim starts signing to me, using the sign names for me that make me so proud. My name is Nikki, but rather than spelling my name in letters, he gives me a sign that describes me, usually "strength" or sometimes even "mother". Ty's sign names are "red" and "truth".

    "I know it wasn't your fault, Nikki," Ty says at my side. Tim nods and signs to me, "You were protecting us. I am sorry I caused this. I do not mean to be different. I do not mean to be deaf." That makes me pull him into my other side, kissing his hair and signing comforting words into his palm whilst my other hand strokes Ty's hair.

    We fall asleep like that, bundled together and completely vulnerable. But, as far as I'm concerned, I'm not concerned. Because with love, a little food, a little water, a hunter's knife, a tree for shelter, and a whole city full of food to steal below us, I say it's a pretty good start, considering we've entered the lives of fugitives.

    That night, I don't sleep peacefully. But when I wake and brothers are both beside me, safe, I don't the nightmares, as long as that's all they are.

    Yep. Not a bad start at all.