Living in the Asilo was okay.
It wasn’t bad.
He wasn’t dead. That’s what he kept telling himself. And he was being cared for. He was fed and given the time if he asked. His family was alive, and Derek, under Maïmoú’s word, was alive.
And he believed her, in the way a naive child believed their parent.
What a strange girl she was. He had such a fragile heart when it came to people like her. He trusted instantly, forgave too quickly. He always saw the best in people because he could never do the same with himself. It helped, wanting to help others.
Maïmoú was a completely separate entity. The way she rewired his brain scared him as much as it intrigued him, and he didn’t think it was because of his imprisonment. She was real, breaking his entire mirror from becoming physical, and he wanted to know everything about her.
He related it to wanting to know about a catastrophe. It was horrifying, but you needed every piece of information you could grasp for your own morbid curiosity.
His first week in the Asilo passed quickly and methodically. He had neither a clock nor window to measure the time passing by, but the Marcos Unit—Marcos, his name was Marcos—kept him on a rigid schedule. Breakfast of the same oats and fruit with beans, a shower every morning in the communal bathrooms, his bathroom breaks, lunch and dinner just the same as his breakfast. His clothes—Marcos had brought ten outfits from his home—were washed every Tuesday, and he was offered to shave under Marcos’ watch every Wednesday. Routine, routine, routine. He didn’t know how Marcos dealt with it.
The robot took blood from Kevin. He calmly drew his blood, took his temperature, and swabbed his mouth, and gave him medicine. Kevin hated that the most. Whenever he complained about sleeping troubles or anxiety, boom, the next morning, his meal had sedatives in them. He hadn’t realized this until he’d woken up nine hours later unable to move his body.
“You said you had trouble sleeping,” Marcos had said, “so I gave you a sedative.”
“But I never asked for one,” Kevin had said.
“It’s in my programming that I sedate any subject with unusual levels of stress or anger. I apologize for this inconvenience.”
“Am I a subject now?”
Marcos hadn’t said. He didn’t give up any information like that. These vials of blood they were taking from him and his containment weren’t privileges he got to know about. It irked him, but he never protested. Neither of them had a choice in what they wanted to do, and it was up to him to be a conformist.
And not a boy with 1,001 secrets, one of which was about a secret, half-dead girl who spat up the night sky and could break glass with her fingertips.
Out of everything he knew, that would be the least believable to someone as logical as Marcos.
“Your new mirror has been installed with more permanent restraints,” Marcos said. He was taking a new vial of blood from him. Kevin pretended not to see the needle dig into his vein. “Are you sure you have no idea as to why the first mirror cracked?”
Kevin dragged a heavy hand across his face. Those sedatives were really kicking his butt this morning. “I don’t know why,” he lied. One talent he had over Nikki and Derek was his ability to lie straight through his teeth. He’d discovered the talent early on in school and used it to his advantage. How he wished he could’ve done so during his interrogation, but he hadn’t thought he’d be in the wrong, and he’d truly thought the Líders would’ve helped him. How foolish. “I thought I saw a blurry person, but I don’t want you to think I’m crazy and starting to see things. I believe it was my reflection, and then all of a sudden, the mirror cracked.”
Marcos, just like the first time Kevin had told him this, showed no emotion to his unbelievable answer. He said, “And this person—”
“Had blond hair,” Kevin said, “a lot of it.”
He closed his eyes, then opened them. “May I ask you a question pertaining to the vision you believe you saw?”
As if he were making it up. “Of course.”
“You said you haven’t had hallucinations before this?”
“And your files said you haven’t had any violent tendencies in your youth. Is that correct?”
“I believe so, yes.”
His eyes dilated and sharpened. “I see.” He pressed the cotton swab against Kevin’s frail skin. Whenever he drew blood, it made Kevin weak, weaker than he felt it should’ve made him. He never liked saying anything in fear of getting more medicine pumped into him, but today felt off.
“Did you put sedatives in that?” Kevin asked. “Is that something you can tell me?”
“You had your daily maximum for the day.”
That didn’t make him feel any better. “Why are you putting them in me?”
“I cannot tell you classified information.” He set aside the blood sample on his rolling medical table. “I hope you understand.”
“I do, a little. How does that work, by the way? Is that how Nadia programmed you to act?”
“…Yes,” he said with hesitation. “I apologize, I never knew that was declassified information. Nobody has ever asked me how I was programmed.”
“I think it’s interesting. Well, my aunt is very interested in you, but I think it’s rather interesting as well. Were you built like that?”
“That, I don’t know. Nadia didn’t create me.”
“Really?” he asked, feigning surprise. He’d learned about that from his aunt.
“She said it took several generations of Líder to finally get me to work. I don’t believe they had the proper technology to fully turn me—Turn on my motor functions. She had to rewrite several lines of my code to make it work, and I’ve been programmed to follow her and Zantl ever since.”
“What’s Zantl like? You never see them out in public, and I feel like I met them on a bad day to get a read on their personality. If they’re to be the next heir, I thought I’d get to know them a bit better.”
Marcos blinked three times. “They are…” He touched his throat. straightened up. “Zantl is a difficult individual to describe. They have lived through many hardships with their parents. They expect many things of Zantl, but Zantl has little interest in…people. They often keep to their room for days at a time, talking to themselves. Rarely do they leave it. These past few days are the most I’ve seen them emote in months.”
“I thought you never left their side,” Kevin said. “Wouldn’t you know more about them as their friend?”
“As a friend?”
“You know, a companion you know a lot about, who knows a lot about you?”
“I don’t believe Zantl and I have that type of relationship. If anything, it’s more akin to a coworker environment. Friendship is something I have trouble understanding. I understand tasks and assignments and I also care for people in a healthy amount. But I don’t know Zantl’s thoughts. They’ve never confided in me the way I see other people do, only when they’re upset with their parents and need a wall to talk at. I don’t know their favorite songs on the radio or their favorite season. They never tell me such things.”
“Oh my,” Kevin said, frowning. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel sad.”
“I don’t believe sadness is in my programming, but based on what I’ve observed, I could deduce that it makes me more…upset than anything, like I’ve done something to dissuade their trust.”
Kevin gave another good look at this little robot fellow. “Do you ever wonder who created you? Whoever did that must’ve wanted you as their friend, right?”
“I have,” Marcos said, “thought about it. Quite a lot. There’s sometimes when I spend upwards of two hours wondering about it. Nadia hasn’t learned that yet, so she cannot tell me to stop.”
“I wouldn’t want you to. Wondering and thinking make us beings.”
Marcos busied himself on the rolling table, then caught Kevin staring at him and looked away. “I,” he started, “do…have a person who I might consider a friend. She’s more of a…I’m not sure what our relationship could be considered.”
“Like a lover?” Kevin guessed. Maybe anything could happen with him, even love.
“Oh, no,” he said quickly. “She’s an infant. Her name’s Alexi. She’s always excited to see me and listens when I speak to her. I value that in a person, and I love giving her presents. I’m sorry,” he added. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“No, don’t be sorry.” Kevin leaned in. This was a good breakthrough. “So she’s a baby? Who does she belong to? Do you get to visit her often?”
“I can’t speak about declassified information, but I do visit her about once a day. I try to care for her as often as I can. She’s learning to take her first steps and her personality is so authentic and bold. I enjoy listening to her babble. I think I like children.”
“That’s good! So you wanna be like a caretaker or babysitter? I can see you being really good at that.”
Marcos nodded, but he looked more troubled than before. “Why are you asking me so many questions? You know I’m to analyze your psyche and report it back to the Líders.”
“I was just curious. There’ve been so many rumors about you and Zantl…that I’ve heard,” he added, because he didn’t want to say he’d heard most of them from school. Somehow, schoolyard rumors hit worse than regular rumors. “It’s nice to finally get to know more about you.”
Marcos rolled the portable working station toward the door, then stopped. “Thank you. I know most people don’t trust me straight away.”
“I trust you.”
Marcos looked up.
“I do,” he said, lying but not really. He didn’t hate him in the same way his family did, who hated the concept of an autonomous, crossbreed-like boy who could kill someone in a single breath. He simply didn’t know him that well. What was his favorite color? Did he have any hobbies? Could he taste food? There was no chance to ever ask him without making it sound forced.
“Well then.” Marcos pretended to inhale. “Well. If you see this vision again, or if it starts to speak to you, not that it will, I—” He almost dropped the vial of blood. “Thank you, firstly. For what you said. That you trust me. That means a lot to me.”
“Of course. Out of everyone here, I think I trust you the most. You’ve been the kindest to me.”
Marcos locked his hands behind his back. “I heard on your file that you were kind-hearted. I didn’t think it resounded like this.”
“I just like trying to keep the peace. The world is falling apart. Why make things more meddlesome with negativity?”
“Hypocrite,” he heard the pessimistic voice in his head say. He ignored it.
“That’s an admirable trait to keep,” Marcos said. “If you hear anyone speak to you, I ask you to tell me, so I can help you,” he added. “We have medicine downstairs for mental stability.”
Kevin smiled calmly and nodded, but he thought he’d just broken through with Marcos. He thought they were becoming friends, and he hadn’t even hesitated to bring up the medication again. He looked excited to “help.”
Marcos shifted his heavy weight from foot to foot. “Do you need anything else—”
“No, thank you,” Kevin said. “I’m quite tired from this morning’s blood thing.” He picked at the bandages. It’d left a dark bruise on his skin.
“Of course.” Marcos bowed, brows knitted. “Good evening, then. I’ll be up with your dinner shortly.”
“You can skip that, and my bathroom break. I’m not hungry.”
Marcos, who’d started opening the door, paused. “Are you sure? You lost about twenty percent of your normal blood volume in less than forty-eight hours. You need your—”
“I’m honestly just tired tonight, Marcos. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so terse.”
“Of…course. Good night.”
Kevin already turned his back to him as he was closing the door. He didn’t like that. He thought Marcos was different, that the threats Morgan said he carried weren’t true. No emotions, just following rules without remorse. Looking down on someone based on rumors wasn’t something Kevin liked because he’d had his fair share of rumors. They made fun of his makeup, his particular interest in the cute and the pink. They called him childish for enjoying things that reminded him of a happier childhood.
Not that his childhood was bad enough to talk about. It never seemed right due to Nikki’s upbringing in the streets, but his parents had fought. They’d hit, screamed. Mom had once had a dependency on alcohol that’d seeped into Derek’s adolescence, and Dad got angry easily. Many nights were spent under the covers with Derek close by. Even before Nikki, when things got tough, they’d always had each other to confide in.
Tears welled up in his eyes. He blamed it on the drugs in his system. The feeling of being unwanted dragged him down. Maïmoú hadn’t returned, Marcos was suspicious of him. No Mom. No Dad. Was Nikki taking this well? Probably not, and that was his fault. He should’ve been doing better, acting better. He was the oldest.
He curled up in bed to sleep off the sedatives. He wanted his old life back.
Shockingly, he wasn’t allowed a radio to fall asleep to. Nothing to read, no one to talk to. He was alone even when he slept.
Whatever time it was, he decided it was time for bed, and made up a dream fantasy to fall asleep to instead. Back at school, he’d find a girl his type—soft-spoken, thoughtful, kind to him in ways he couldn’t be to himself—and she’d like him despite him being so weak. He didn’t mind what breed she might’ve been. Some people valued others based on if they looked exactly like them, but Kevin didn’t mind.
They’d meet for coffee and Morgan’s place. Derek would tease him for finally finding a lover, Nikki would fend off Morgan trying to show off Kevin’s baby pictures. They’d share a plate of warm cookies and order two drinks, but Morgan would only make one, forcing them to share. Excitement would overwhelm the two of them and they’d end up leaving and going on a stroll until dusk, and then he’d walk her to her doorstep to make sure she got home safe and he’d fly back to his bedroom, gleefully smiling with the thought of seeing her again with the chance to kiss her.
That’s what he wanted, in the end. No high-risk situations with people he didn’t know, trapped in an unforgiving justice system who couldn’t care if he lived or died. He wanted love and freedom in the simplest forms, and it shocked him how much harder that was to obtain as you grew up. Because of that, he wished to be an animal bird, with no thoughts or aspirations, only for the autumn wind to carry him throughout life.
He lifted up his sleepy head. He’d woken up at a kitchen table in a stranger’s house. It was a primitive place made of clay and wood, with an iron stove darkening in the corner of the kitchen.
He wiped spit off of his chin. The Sun was warm on his back. His wings were gone. Tail, too—he was a whole new person. His hair was shorter and black. His skin was a shade different and his face felt longer. He had dirt underneath his fingernails. They, like his own, were scarred from ripping off the skin.
He got up and surveyed the kitchen. It was extremely prehistoric, without lights or plugged-in appliances. You needed firewood to light the stove. The table felt homemade and the floorboards were so creaky.
He looked behind him, out the windows into a field of golden yellow. A wheat field the size of a parking lot grew in the backyard, and in the distance, he heard and smelled farm life. It all burned gold with the hot Sun blazing in through the glass.
His fingers traced the worn wood on the table. He’d never been here before, never been on a farm before, but he was nostalgic for this place. The smell of home burned within the walls.
His foot grazed something underneath the table. It was a wooden instrument with four strings and a carving of a daisy or sunflower at the bottom. It looked pretty and easy enough to play, so, enjoying this perfect day, he got comfortable and began to play.
Songs flowed through him like the wind through wheat. Happy melodies reminding him of Derek, of the life of this carefree, nameless man he’d become in this dream. The instrument had a lower tune when he plucked at its strings, but he didn’t mind it. There is something beautiful in melancholy.
Someone opened a door from the living area. He stopped playing, hoping for a loved one. “Hello?” he called out.
The door closed. Two little feet ran into the kitchen, stopping abruptly in the archway.
She looked better since the last time he’d seen her. She wasn’t coughing or choking on that black stuff. Her white dress was clean, wrapped around her body in a different style, and her hair was done beautifully, like a mother had styled it.
Kevin breathed a sigh of relief. It was like that, seeing her. He was happy to see her.
Maïmoú backed up a step, then took one forwards, unsure of where to go. She looked around the kitchen.
He said whatever was most natural in the moment. “It’s okay,” he said, “I’m here.”
Maïmoú’s jaw clenched when he said that.
“Damn it!” she cursed at the ceiling. “What the hell is wrong with you—” She broke into a language Kevin didn’t know and pointed at herself, then at him, then at the ceiling again. She stomped her feet like an elephant as she tried making her anger clear.
“Maïmoú.” Kevin set aside his instrument. It was called a lute. He didn’t know how he knew that. “Maïmoú, are you okay?”
“Why do you look like that?” she asked, not looking at him. “You shouldn’t be—God, as if this freaked situation wasn’t bad enough.”
“I-I don’t understand. What’s going on?”
“You’re in my Void, but—” She pushed back her hair. “Are you doing this? Are you projecting your old life into my brain? Is that why I feel better?” She touched her bare arms, making sure they were there. “That’s crazy. I didn’t know you could do this.”
Kevin watched her move, acting with her whole body, throwing her arms out. This Maïmoú was a whole other person than the one he’d met. Back before, she was puking so much, she couldn’t speak, with tremors from an unknown illness. Now, she looked like an ordinary girl in need of her questions answered.
Unfortunately, he was the same way. “Is this a dream?” he asked.
She exhaled and came back to herself, actually shaking her head like a wet dog. “No. Okay, uh, I don’t know exactly what’s going on or how I’m gonna fix this, but I’m breaking you out. Right now.”
“From the Asilo. I can’t believe you haven’t broken out yourself. What’re you doing? You’re just like Hassan.”
She motioned to his body. “You. Him. From before.”
He reexamined himself. “What’re you talking about?”
“Okay, uh—” She rolled on her heels. “Keep up with this, because I don’t know how long this’ll last, so I’m gonna condense it down the best I can.
“My name’s Maïmoú. It’s a nickname I’m never changing. I’m technically a thirteen-year-old girl who’s been alive for thousands. I’m a Deity, which’s kinda like a person powered by a certain thing called a Domain. I used to be powerful. I am powerful,” she corrected. “I’ve just been weakened. My Domain was a group of people called humans that I thought had gone extinct 500 years ago. The Others hated me for being strong and tried to kill us off and failed because they’re stupid and weaker than me, and now the whole world’s screwed up because of them, and I am out here doing my best,” she said, pointing to her heart, “half-alive in this purgatory all because my humans used to be great. And Shào’s been freakin’ MIA for the past half millennia—I don’t know where he is—but his crossbreeds are here with me, which means he’s corporeal to some extent, like me, which means my humans are somewhere out there in the world. And I need to get back to them, but I need to save you first.”
Kevin crossed his legs as he listened patiently to her. But she was done explaining herself. She was giving him this blank stare that said, “That’s it. What else do you want from me?”
“Oh,” he said. “Okay.”
“Don’t,” she warned. “You always said that when you were like this. You say ‘okay’ and act like everything is fine and, ‘Oh, Maï-Maï, don’t stress. Everything will be fine in time.’ But I know you’re scared and confused by me, so I just need you to wake up right now so that I can fix all of this and save you.”
Her voice was picking up, something that didn’t sound right coming from such a young girl.
Kevin sat up. “Maïmoú.”
“Come on. I need to hurry.”
“Just wake up.”
He hugged her.
And that warmth he’d once felt from her filled him with love. This little girl, this child he wanted to protect and watch grow up, who he wanted to be happy and to clear her head of all negative feelings dampening her.
He held her tighter. She was so small, too young to feel so awful for being alive.
Maïmoú’s hands slowly reached his back free of his wings. It was an odd feeling, having someone feel the contours of your shoulder blades, like they held your whole being in their hands. Her fingers were calloused.
“I don’t understand what’s happening,” Kevin told her, “and I don’t know who you are, but I feel like you’re taking on much more than you can right now, and that’s making me upset. You shouldn’t be fighting this alone.”
She exhaled like she was laughing at him. “I can handle anything.”
“I have a feeling that you’re lying, but why do I know that? It’s like you’re a long-distance cousin who I’ve known for years, though I don’t know you at all. Who are you, really?”
She dropped her heavy head deeper into his chest. “You’re a soulmate.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’re connected to a Deity, like a forever person. When a being dies, their mind doesn’t shoot up into the sky to become a sky dot like your people believe. When you die, you get reborn into a new life. Sometimes you’re a different race, different breed, but your insides—your soul—stays the same. How you think and what you love remains part of you. Deities are invisible for the most part, unable to be seen, but you soulmates can see us. You’re like the only family we have. Each one of you is connected to one of us, and whenever you’re born, an instant connection ties us together.”
“What’s a soul?”
“Uh, like the essence of you? It’s like your brain and heart had a baby. It’s what connects me to you.”
She backed up and picked a fuzzy from off of his tunic. Her hand pulled back to reveal a long, red thread connected to his chest, inside of him. He felt the tiniest tug when she pulled back to show him. The other half materialized through Maïmoú into her very own heart.
Kevin looked down at her, at his new body that felt similar but a little different.
“You were a human being named Hassan, back before,” she said. “You were…like a dad to me, some 1,500 years ago. You and Derek.”
“1,500 years ago?” He didn’t know time went that far back. “Wait, with Derek? Is he here? I-is he alright? You said you’d never hurt us—”
“He’s alright,” she said. “His thread hasn’t been severed, so he’s alive.”
“Why did you do it?”
“Because I need to leave this prison and find my humans, but I need to get both of you out with me, too. You were, for me…”
She dug the balls of her hands into her eye sockets. The red thread tangled between her fingers. “I found you at my lowest low and you cared for me for years before everything went wrong.”
“When you almost…died?” Kevin asked, trying to keep up. “Who tried killing you?”
“The Others. It’s what I call the other Deities.”
“So there’re more people like you who’re invisible? More Deities? How many?”
“Seven, and they all hated me. I’d nearly lost hope for this world, but then you and Derek were reborn as twins, and my drive was relit. I needed to live again, and I’ve been doing everything I can to become physical and save you two.”
“Because you were invisible when I first saw you, on the Muralha,” Kevin said, grasping for more understanding. “You’re hurting yourself to become visible. Is that why you’re choking on darkness?”
“It doesn’t matter. I need to save you.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’ll only make you nervous-pick.” Seeing him reach for his nail beds, she slapped his hand down. “Right now, I need to break you out of this insane asylum. I’m getting you over the Barrier the right way and I’m bringing you to Derek.”
Hearing that swelled Kevin’s heart. To see his twin again, hold him in his arms…
“Wait, but what about the rest of my family?” he asked. “My mom and dad, and Nikki and Vanna. They all need to be saved, too.”
Maïmoú grimaced like she’d tasted something rotten. She, knowingly or not, tightened her grip on Kevin’s thread.
His heart pulled closer to her, a heartburn he needed medicine to dull.
“I’ll do what I can,” she promised. “Now, wake up. I can’t lift you out or Sphere you away, so we’re running.”
“Wait, what? But what about this place? Where are we? What happened before
Kevin almost awoke with his eyes open, body lifting without his permission. He pivoted his wings and tail feathers that were back on his body, but another force was lifting him now.
Maïmoú, holding both of his hands, got him standing. Her dress was stained black again with a fountain of it leaving her nose like a nose bleed.
Kevin blinked back the sleep from his eyes. He couldn’t tell if he had been asleep for five minutes or five hours and was lost in a dreamy haze. “A-are you alright?” he asked. “What’s going on? What do you need me to do?”
She tried to speak, then coughed and splattered her poisoned ink. Giving up, she turned to the locked door and balled her fists at it. “We’re leaving,” she grunted, and slammed her head straight into the metal, obliterating it.