Anchor Bright

If only there were more people, you think.

There are plenty of people, actually. But they aren’t here. They’re back on the ground, back on Earth. Back where everything used to be; back in the time before. Back where everything is dead, gone—almost forgotten.

This is your new home now, you know.

*     *     *

Your father had been a general. Not only a general—he had been a government representative, an authority figure. Back when everything had been normal, he had had power and you were blessed with everything good and you knew that you should be proud of your father, because you were.

You remember the time it ended. The time it all went to hell, fires everywhere. Poison, repugnant odors, and toxins filling your nostrils. Your mother: screaming. Your own face was hot, stinging. Your father: silent.

There may have been tears on his face, but they would have evaporated within moments.

There may have been tears on his face, but they would have evaporated within moments.

Your father had been the one who protected you, who protected everyone. He had led you, at the age of eight, and all other Survivors to an underground compound. He had shown them the hovercraft that had been made in emergency of an international crisis, where enough food was supplied to last forever, and there were so many resources here that the country’s national debt suddenly made sense. He had brought you and everyone else in, shielded you from the world, made sure you were safe.

Your father had protected you. But now he is gone.

*     *     *

You’re shocked when he says your name like he cares about you, like he wants you. Why should he want you? He hates you. He said that he hates you.

Thomas, he says, like he loves you.

You try to glare and try to fight his gaze, even though you know you are breaking down on the inside. Gabriel, you say back, what do you think you’re doing?

Come on, he says. You know I’m right.

And you think he might be talking about this, talking about the way all of you are living, the way all of you go day by day, in and out. But you know that there is more to his words than he says, and he knows that you know.

*     *     *

You are God.

You may as well be. After your father had guided everyone to safety, he had been the leader, in charge of everyone and everything. But you had seen how much damage he had taken before he realized that it was hopeless to try and rescue your mother. You knew that he would not last long.

Eight years pass and he moves on. You are their new leader.

You have not been held with such responsibility before. But your father had told you, told you before he left that you would be taking his power. And you had told him, but no, Daddy,

I can’t take this from you! He had laughed and said, yes you can, son, Thomas. I know you can.

And since then, you have tried your best. You have enforced new regulations, made new protocols, because since you had come into power, some of the Survivors thought you were too young, too weak, couldn’t control them, and couldn’t control anything.

You want to prove them wrong, so everything becomes stricter, and though you are not on Earth, this is your new home for now. This is everyone’s new home.

And you rule them.

*     *     *

You’re frustrated when he grabs your hand and takes you away. You ignore the tingles on your wrist from where his skin is touching yours, and you ignore the way he seems so confident.

His frame is tall and thin but he has muscle, you see—probably from rounds at the makeshift gym—and you’re sort of struck in awe, even though you don’t want to be, even though you don’t want to be hypnotized. Not by him. He is a Rebel, you remind yourself, he is not worth your time, you are in charge here, you created all of this—this world—this place—him.

He leads you to a small dark room of guns and swords and knives and you open your mouth to ask him about it but he turns before you can speak.

Thomas, he says to you. I know what you’re doing is wrong. You know what you’re doing is wrong.

You think that he may try to be scolding you, but he’s not, because he’s right. You stick your chin out and refuse to have shame.

I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, you snarl. Stop it with this nonsense. Take me back before I’m forced to imprison you.

You won’t do that, Gabriel says to you, and this time you have to bow your head down because no, you would not. You can’t imprison Gabriel. Even if he’s a Rebel, even if he’s horribly corrupted, even if everything he says and does and thinks is wrong. He is Gabriel. You cannot limit him.

Come on,Thomas, he says, and you refuse to think.

*     *     *

The Scientists had been Survivors as well. They had been normal scientists before, doctors back on Earth, and in these twenty-five years not all of them had fared well. Many of them suffered from the chemicals that had destroyed all the living things, and everyone knew that their time was coming soon, if it had not come yet.

The women here have struggled to reproduce, because there aren’t as many women as there are men, and the only ones who can help them with childbirth are the Scientists. But most are too busy with their research and the experiments that only a few have had the time to assist the women. Many have died in child labor and the population is weaning down.

The role of the Scientists is to figure out the state of the Earth below. Since many are starting to crumble away, there are new Scientists being trained, those who had survived and those who had been born here have never known life outside of this giant metal contraption.

You feel sorry for anyone who is born here, because they may never know anything other than control, daily life, structure. They will never know freedom.

*     *     *

And so it doesn’t take you by surprise when he pulls you in and presses his lips against yours, and you pull away immediately, disgusted. You try to see him in the dark.

What the fuck was that, you spit. You wipe your mouth on your sleeve, even though you know it’s rude.

Gabriel doesn’t seem bothered at all. In fact, he’s smiling, one of those smiles that you don’t want to know what’s behind it. You know exactly what that is, he says, and then he adds, you know it was inevitable.

N-No, it fucking wasn’t! you say. How horrible, you think, if anyone were to find out.

If anyone were to discover that the Leader is having an affair with a Rebel.

You knew he had been looking at you like that for a while now, since you had associated with each other, since that day in the Dining Hall when you had wrenched him out of the fight because he had been an idiot and you scolded him and shouted at him and punished him. You knew he had been looking at you like that ever since he said he hated you, and you hated him, but you let him go because you could not bring yourself to punish him. You knew he had been looking at you like that ever since, when he tried to pick fights and get himself into more trouble because he wanted to see you.

You knew you had been looking at him like that whenever you pushed him into your office and yelled at him and threatened him and kissed him—

*     *     *

The world had disappeared because of poison.

It had been a toxic gas, residue of flames that had been entwined with nuclear waste. Even when the fires had died out, the chemicals were still roaming the Earth, burning everything in its path, lingering there like cockroaches on a territory that was never theirs. Now there’s nothing, nothing left of the past, not a single vestige of what had been.

The world had disappeared because of poison.

You can’t remember anything anymore. You can’t remember the greenness of grass, or the changing colors of the leaves. You can’t remember the warm baked bread, or the cold sweet popsicles that you’d eat by the dozen on hot summer days. You can’t remember the soft, cold snow, or the lights that had been strewn up in holiday celebrations (there are no holidays anymore.) You can’t remember the rain falling from the sky, because there is no rain anymore, there is no ceiling. There is only metal, and there is only temperature.

The Scientists are trying to find a way to live again, to coexist with the poison. But they never go outside. They stay in the weapons room (where no one goes anyways) and do their tests from here, because otherwise they will disintegrate. You would know. You have seen it happen multiple times, before your very eyes.

*     *     *

Your mouth collides with his and your teeth clack horribly together, but you don’t care. He pushes you against the cold hard wall, his fingers between your lapels and to the bottom of your shirt.

Fuck, you say. Gabriel, fuck you.

I know, he whispers. You can almost see the grin in his eyes, not on his face.

Clothes shred and he groans, you groan, and you both swear as he slides up against you. You can feel every inch of his skin, all the heat in his body, in this closed cramped up space, and you’d be distracted if he wasn’t touching you in certain places, as if he knows all your weakness, as if he knows all your strengths, as he knows all of you—

You shudder and he whispers, Thomas, Thomas, into your ear and you shudder again and cry out and he is so hot, so hot against you. You wish you weren’t enjoying this, but you are.

*     *     *

You hate yourself. You know you are ruthless, you are cruel, and sometimes you are even stupid. You know that what you’re doing is wrong, but it is right, to do what is wrong. It is what has been given over to you, like a ticking time bomb gift. You can’t take it back. You have to keep it.

You have to do what is expected of you. What your father expected of you.

You hadn’t hated it really, at first. You may have even enjoyed it. You may have been awed at the way people stared at you, watched you as if you were something divine. You may have made quite silly, cruel rules to see if they would work, and you were delighted when they did (you never took those rules back.) You may have exercised your authority on others by calling them out on things that didn’t matter, on things they never did, on things that were your fault—

You had been young and you made mistakes.

But as you became older, you realized the responsibility that your power has and you stopped. You tried to be reasonable. You tried to make everything better. You tried to make the Survivors love you. You tried to make the Born love you. But it was too late.

*     *     *

He leans in to kiss you again, and you’ve always hated that word, kiss, because it implies more than what it does. It is only the meeting of lips, you think, of mouths, or of lips on other parts, like the cheek or the forehead. And you don’t think there’s anything special about kissing, significant, because you’ve had women before and you’ve kissed them, kissed them in places that aren’t supposed to be kissed, you’ve done things with them just because you can—

But this is Gabriel and this doesn’t feel like kissing. This feels like coming together. This feels like becoming. This feels like becoming one.

He knocks you over, a little, as you continue on with your little torrid affair that not even your best General knows about. He’s over your body and his hands are on either side of your torso and you’re giving in now, like you’re always giving in, because you always protest and he always wins you over and you both go on your ways after this as Leader and Rebel, but right now you are Gabriel and Thomas.

He leans against you a little bit harder and you feel something underneath your thigh.

*     *     *

You still make mistakes, and even though you try to make up for your mistakes in the past, it is too late. Not long after seven years of your reign, the Rebellions have started and some of the Survivors and some of the Born too, despite being children, rise up and try to go against you. Try to overthrow you.

You refuse it, though, because you know all the secrets, and they know you know all the secrets, so they can’t put anything against you. But they can protest. They can shout. They can scream. They can cause riots. They can turn over tables and ruin everything in this compound hovercraft.

But when they do, you just punish them, let them go back to their measly little lives, and all the Guards and Generals watch them, waiting for them to step another toe out of line. And they will. They’ll do all they can to stop your authority, to try to make everything perfect in their own hands, even if it is at their own mortal expense, even if you know everything they say, they plan, they want, because you have more than enough ears everywhere.

So you know they cannot rebel without you, take over without you. They have to find a way to use you, to control you.

And you try to refuse it.

*     *     *

If only there were more people, you think.

You don’t need to be told the population demographics to know that everything is wearing away. That one day, you will all perish. That one day, you will all be gone. That one day, there will be nothing, nothing but gas and land and emptiness.

But there is no hope.

You have never believed in a God, but you wish you could right now. You wish that somehow this will last. You wish that somehow, everything will turn out to be okay, to be perfect.

If only there were more people, life would go on. But there is no hope. You, your Generals, and your Scientists know this.

And one day, so will everyone else.

*     *     *

You wish that somehow, you and Gabriel would—

*     *     *

Men burst in at the wrong time and they look wide-eyed at you and Gabriel and you think, Oh no, and not a proper amount of curse words can describe how you’re feeling right now. You and Gabriel look up, and it’s like you can hear his thoughts. Your heart and his are one because you’re both thinking the same thing, that you’re fucked, you’re completely and utterly fucked and they came in here just to find you, and—

The floor slides beneath you and you realize you’re falling, you’re falling and the darkness suddenly becomes lighter at the bottom. There’s a gap that’s getting bigger and bigger, like a white bright square hole at the bottom of the ocean—

There are hands beneath your armpits and they pluck you up without strain because you are their leader, you are supposed to live—but you’re not aware of it anymore because you see Gabriel still sliding, sliding down the floor like it’s a ramp and he’s struggling, struggling to get up—

Close the door! one of your Generals shouts, and you snap back into reality. Close the door, goddammit! He’s yelling to one of the other Generals, who runs to the entrance of the weapons room and is about to press a button—

No! Gabriel shouts, and you see that he’s reaching out to you—is the floor forever, is it never stopping?—and he shouts at you, Thomas, Thomas, come on!—Come—!

Your breath hitches in your throat and you want to yell back, Gabriel, Gabriel, GABRIEL! and just keep going on, keep going on like a mantra of his name will stop him from sliding, will stop him from bringing you back. And the Generals stop suddenly, because they’re looking at you, and you’re looking at Gabriel and Gabriel is looking at you, waiting in the last seconds of his life for you to make a decision. You do nothing. You say nothing.

And his body burns into nothing.

*     *     *

A General clears his throat. Well then, he says, that was dramatic. They close the floor door and it rises back up, and you see the button on it which you had accidentally sat upon.

They lead you out, help you out of the weapons room, and you pretend that your shirt isn’t clumsily buttoned, that your collar isn’t half open, and that you don’t look like a disheveled mess, from fear or shock or love. You pretend that you are not weak. You pretend that you have not lost.

*     *     *

When the Generals and the Scientists and everyone asks you about what happened, you tell them that Gabriel assaulted you, and you had purposefully stepped on the button that would open to the burning world. You tell them that he had been a Rebel, that there was no way you would have had an affair with him, loved him.

The Rebellions die down after that; you suppose they are afraid of you. You suppose that they realize that you are more ruthless and heartless than you had been before. You suppose that Gabriel, to them, like he was to you, had been a beacon, a light, a fire.

*     *     *

And for you, everything ends.

Alice Zhu attends the University of Iowa. She enjoys the smell of clean clothes, perfect games of Solitaire, and the occasional tickle fight. Too many tickle fights will make her angry.