Sela sat in the corner of the noisy pub with his face to the wall, making himself as small as possible, and using his body to protect a small piece of paper from view. The paper which must have been torn out from some larger book, had words, but since he couldn’t read, he focused on the faded image that took up most of the page. It was a picture of a flower. Sela traced along the green stem of the plant, then spread his palm out over the full orange bloom of the flower and traced down the small white teardrop extensions of the flower’s petals. A smile was spread across his face, and he couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so much happiness. He had never seen a real flower before, and this was his first-time holding paper, but he imagined that paper and flowers must feel the same. His fingers traced over the flower again, and his smile grew, as he marveled at the treasure that had come to him.
He had been walking back from scavenging in the tourist district, with a few pieces of auto-server parts and a rare working hover, which he wrapped twice in a cloth to cover its glow, because if anyone saw it, they would steal it from him before he could trade it in for coins. He was almost on the border of his village when a white object, carried by the wind, flew past his face. He instinctively snatched it from the air and was surprised by the foreign feeling of the object, then he was filled with joy when he saw the image printed on it. The wind kept blowing, and holding the paper to his chest, Sela looked up to the sky. The two suns of Deresh shined brightly, as always, suspended in eternal vigilance, but Sela felt something peculiar in the air. It seemed that fate was on his side that day. The hover he had found, would get him enough coins to sustain him for two whole months, and the piece of paper, although monetarily worthless, was priceless because it would sustain his soul.
Now, still pressed against the wall, Sela rubbed the delicate paper between his fingers, savoring its rough texture, and the sound it made, like wind blowing across rocks. As he felt the paper, he cautiously looked over his shoulders to make sure no one was watching him. Satisfied that everyone was still busy with their loud conversations and drinking, he turned back to his flower, and curled his body even tighter around it. Deresh didn’t have flowers or any vegetation, but he’d seen images of flowers on the holo-coms of tourists. The holo-com images were holographically projected and so incredibly detailed that Sela felt he could touch them. He wanted to spend hours looking at the flowers, but the tourists were always busy doing whatever tourist did, so they eventually left, taking their fancy holo-coms with them. Sela could hardly afford food, much less a holo-com, so although he loved flowers, he had accepted the fact that he would never own even the image of one. Even though his paper flower was flat and unrealistic when compared to the holo-images the tourists had, he thought it was more beautiful, because it was completely his.
He was suddenly filled with such excitement, that although he knew it wasn’t a real flower, he brought the paper up to his nose and took a deep breath. He didn’t expect to smell the rumored sweet aroma of flowers, but he was still surprised by the lung full of dust he inhaled. Holding is mouth shut, he tried to make the coughing fit that followed as quiet as possible, so as not to draw attention to himself, but a sudden presence behind him told him that his sounds had not gone unnoticed.
“what’cha got there Sela,” said a voice that sounded as sweet as the hungry whining of a rabid animal.
Sela couldn’t help his immediate reaction to Tibin’s voice. He stiffened but didn’t look back, and though his body was seemingly curled as tight as it could possibly go, he curled into an even tighter ball, with the flower held protectively close to his chest. His joints and muscles strained painfully from the tension in his body, tears were already streaming down his face, and he began to whimper. The rest pub was still loud and rumbustious, so caught up in their folly that his distress went unnoticed, and even if they noticed, Sela doubted they would intervene. Sela shuddered when he heard Tibin laughing softly as he crouched down and gently, almost tenderly, tapped Sela’s shoulder.
“I said, what’cha got there Sela? Are you ignoring my question?” Tibin asked.
Sela, already used to giving in, let his hand unconsciously loosen around the paper, then catching himself, he quickly tightened it again. “It’s nothing,” he said through tears, forcing the shaky, but defiant words out. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t let go of his treasure, he wouldn’t.
“ohh?” Tibin said, surprised. It had been years since Sela had last stood up to him, and with good reason. Tibin’s parents owned the pub and they let the younger destitute kids, like Sela, get portions of the guests’ leftover meals at a discounted price. Any child who defied Tibin would go hungry till they begged for forgiveness. Sela was especially submissive; a soft spoke child who had to fend for himself because his parents were too busy gambling to take care of him.
“Really Sela? I could’av sworn you were looking at something,” he said digging his fingers into Sela’s hair and pulling. “Are you sure you want to lie to me? Aren’t you hungry? Or do you want to get hurt today? Give it here.” He said forcefully, spit flying from his mouth in wild rage.
“No!” Sela screamed struggling “It’s mine, you can’t have it. You can’t,” he shrieked frantically throwing his fists around to fight against the heavy hand that held him down. “It’s mine,” he said weakly.
Tibin, enraged by the tantrum, pushed the boy down, kicking and punching him with untamed fury, until he no longer struggled. “This is my land Sela, you’ll do what I say and give me what I want,” he said, emphasizing each word with a kick. When he was finished, he searched Sela’s clothes taking the coins he’d gotten form scavenging out of his pocket. “looks like you’ve been working hard. I’ll accept this as your payment for pissing me off,” he said walking away. During the struggle, the fragile paper was torn apart, and the flower was in pieces on the floor, and on Sela’s body, like petals sprinkled over the dead; with some piece’s red with Sela’s blood.
Throughout the beating, no one interrupted or acknowledged the incident, and for hours while the boy lay there, no one even looked at him. They all had their own sorrows and worries and didn’t have enough empathy of pity to interrupt their drinking for anyone.
From her seat, Mila watched the entire scene unfold, from the small boy giggling to himself in the corner, to now lying motionless on the floor. She sipped her drink slowly, cringing each time at the horrid taste. After she finished the drink, she stayed, seated, waiting for hours for someone to help the boy. She perked up once when a man got close to him, and to her outrage, but not surprise, the person searched the boy for valuables and finding nothing, moved on.
Mila’s blood boiled with rage. How could they treat their own kind this way? She thought. Deresh was truly a cesspool of vileness, selfishness, hate, and suffering. She wanted to help the boy herself, but she had her mission to think of. She knew she was going to have to ignore him, like everyone else, and swallowed back her disgust at herself by trying to think rationally. She couldn’t blow her cover, and besides these sorts of things happened all the time here; but as she watched yet another would be thief moving on from the injured child, she rose to her feet, letting her chair slam down behind her. She was Marakian she thought, any rationality that would lead her to abandon this child was not needed. No one paid attention as she approached him, her marks swirly, violently beneath her long cloak.
In the back of her mind she felt the itch of someone try to communicate with her telepathically, but she pushed it back. She knew what her partner was going to say, and she was in no mood to argue or concede. She bent down near Sela and stroked his head. “On my planet, pure and brave souls like yours are revered,” she said.
At the point where her hands met his head, the marks on her body moved through the boy, closing wounds and mending broken bones. Sela’s body relaxed and he began to breath easily in deep sleep. She inspected him once more, then she lifted him up and held him close. He curled towards her warmth, with pieces of the paper still clutched tightly in his fist.
Mila smiled holding him tighter and walked out of the pub towards her rented car. “You too are like a flower. Too beautiful to leave alone, and the only light, I’ve seen, on this desolate planet,” She said. As she laid him on the back seat, she frowned slightly. The car was a dirty rusted piece of metal, but they’d chosen it since they needed to blend in. She sighed and gently stroked his head again. “This isn’t a place you can grow, so when you wake up, if you want, I’ll take you somewhere better.”
Satisfied that he was in the most comfortable position, she got in the car and drove off.