Beyond the Red

By: Ava Jae

To my maker, with all the love You’ve given me.





My brother just killed me. Again. I know, because I wake with a knife to my throat and the cool barrel of a phaser pressed against my forehead. Good morning to you, too.

“Blazing suns, Day,” I murmur, rubbing the grogginess from my eyes. “If a Sepharon soldier manages to find camp while I’m sleeping, I accept I’m dead, okay? Now let me rest.”

I’m ready for some kinduv snappy comment about how I’m dead twice now—when I’m too tired for Day’s drills, he sometimes mock-kills me in six or seven different ways before launching into his the aliens won’t let you rest spiel—but it doesn’t come. Maybe I should apologize for not taking him seriously, but it’s hard to be amped up all the time over such a distant threat. Most of us haven’t even seen a Sepharon, let alone come close enough to have to fight one, even if Day insists we’ll eventually have to.

Still, the quiet is unlike him.

I lower my hands and peer into the darkness of the tent. It must be earlier than I thought, because the suns haven’t risen yet. A shadowy figure cloaked in black stands over me. Silence twists through my chest. The hiss of shifting sand nearby sets my pulse racing. There are others here. And since when does Day wear a cloak?

“Sit up, boy,” the figure says, and his light voice surprises me—he’s a kid, can’t be older than fourteen—and he’s calling me boy? He nudges the phaser. “Scream for help and I’ll cook your brain.”

I sit up. Carefully. No sudden movements. My fingers are cold and my heart’s about to explode, but I force a slow exhale and swallow a bout of nausea. If this is some kinduv training exercise, Day’s gone way too far. As head of security, my brother’s obligated to be paranoid about raids from the Eljan Guard, but if they ever find us, they won’t sneak into my tent and hold me at phaserpoint—they’ll just raze the place to the ground.

A thought worms into my mind and a shot of ice hits me in the stomach. What if this isn’t a drill?

My eyes adjust, and I can make out the others—three figures cloaked in dark colors, curved black phasers in hand, standing near the entrance of my tent. They shift nervously, and one is digging the toes of his left foot into the red sand. Definitely not trained soldiers. Judging by their lack of height and use of English, they’re human, which means they’re probably from camp. So what do they think they’re doing?

If they weren’t armed, I could take them out easily, but I’m not willing to risk a lucky shot to the chest with a phaser blast. The only way for me to escape this would be to turn their weapons against them. There’s no way I’d do that to a bunch of kids.

“We should hurry,” one of the companions whispers, and the boy holding the phaser and knife outstretched nods and steps back.

“Get up.”

I slip off my bedroll and reach for my pants folded at my feet, but the hum of a charging phaser and the telltale red glow stops me in mid-reach. Red, not white. It’s actually set to kill, the little star-cursed idiots.

“What are you reaching for?” the boy’s voice is high and tight. “I’ll kill you, I swear I’ll—”

“I’m putting on pants,” I say calmly. “Unless you plan to parade me around camp naked?”

A long pause. “Just hurry up.”

I’ve barely thrown on a pair of shorts when the warm barrel of the phaser nudges my spine. “That’s enough,” he says. “Put these on.”

He passes me two smooth metal cuffs.

“Where are you taking me?” I ask.

“We don’t answer to half-blood bastards,” one of them says. It’s meant to be an insult, but the words roll harmlessly off my shoulders.

“Put them on,” the boy behind me demands, pressing closer to me. I could refuse, but the heat of the charged phaser on my skin makes me think better of it, so I slide them on. They shrink to mold to my wrists, their edges glowing blue as the magnet activates. The boy pulls my hands behind my back and the cuffs snap together.

“Move.”

I duck out of the tent. A blast of warm wind slaps my face with chalky scarlet sand. Powder coats my tongue and absorbs the moisture in my throat, turning cold and muddy in my mouth. My foot catches on one of the tent supports, and without my hands to break the fall, I slam into sand, my tent crumpling behind me. Something hard presses into my thigh—the metal handle of the switchblade in my left pocket. One of them grabs my shoulder and yanks me to my feet—or tries, anyway, but he’s barely gone through his voice drop and I’m not exactly a small guy. I shift onto my knees, then stand. They prod me forward through the maze of sleeping tents, each marked with a circular family crest of varying designs and colors. I spit cool, bland sludge.

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