By Claire Riley
‘Red sky at night, sailors delight’ went the old saying, but it was wrong.
So very wrong.
If you look up now, and the sky is red, you better run.
Because they are coming…
It’s the year 4086, and the sky is a perfect, cerulean blue. The mega-city of Clepsydra towers over everyone, its massive glittering skyscrapers giving a feeling of insignificance to everyone who walks on its streets. I stroll down the sidewalk, eyes locked on my holo-watch as I am doing the daily Wordle. It’s crazy to think how long this game has been around for, each day with a new word. Of course it’s been around so long that they’ve had to recycle the words a bit, but that’s fine with me if I can still play it.
Suddenly a message from my best friend Nyx Apate pops up at the top of my screen. “Meet me later at Code 8.” A huge smile illuminates my face. I haven’t seen Nyx in an entire year, and the thought of actually speaking to her in person again makes my heart quicken with pure joy. I speed up my walk to a slow jog out of anticipation, glancing up from my holo-watch just in time to avoid colliding with another man walking down the side of the road. He spins to face me, a scowl darkening his expression. “OI!” I apologize continuously to him, but he doesn’t say anything; just glared down at me for a second before spinning back around to continue on his way. But something makes me call back after him.
“Hey, Mister?” He lets out a huff and turns back around, looking at me expectantly
I freeze now that he is actually listening to me. “Um- actually, never mind. Sorry again! Have a good day!” He turns around for the second time and starts walking away again. And I do the same.
Something itches at the back of my mind but I ignore it, instead focusing my thoughts on meeting with Nyx later. I continue down the street, flipping open my Holo-watch again. I type a message back, “Sounds Great! See you there!” Five minutes later, and still no reply. I suddenly realize I don’t know what time she wants to meet with me. I decide to go check the rendezvous point and see if she meant right now. I break into a jog again, making sure to keep my head up this time to avoid running right into somebody.
I arrive at the rendezvous point and take a look around, double-checking my holo-watch to be sure I was in the right place. And then realize I could just text Nyx to ask for the time she meant. I face-palm myself mentally before looking around. We’ve only ever used Code 8 twice, and each time this place looked different. Different, but still recognizable. Right now all I saw was an empty room filled with absolutely nothing, but the walls were painted a light shade of lavender. I could tell I was in the correct place by the ceiling, which never changed. A sprawling sky filled with stars joined to make constellations loomed overhead, the background an inky indigo pool. I sit down and wait for Nyx to come.
Ten minutes passed and I drummed my fingers against the cold concrete floor. I had been using the time to arrange my thoughts, an activity that usually calmed me, but that was becoming boring and I was only becoming more jittery with nerves. So I began to swipe through my holo-watch. After checking to see whether Nyx had replied to me yet, I open Tick-Tock, which is another app that has been around since what felt like the beginning of time.
I get bored of scrolling after maybe another 15 minutes, so I lay down on the floor and stare at the starry ceiling. It gives me some more time to think, and so I do. I think of random things, like what the world would be like if dogs had opposable thumbs. But during that time, I realized what had been bothering me about the man I ran into on the street.
A tattoo had been sprawled up his neck; a dragon-like creature with a gaping maw. It seems familiar, and almost immediately an image pops into my head. A long, tan neck not unlike my own fills my mind, and an identical tattoo to the man on the streets is climbing up it, ending just before the owners jaw-line. I ponder over the strange matter for a few minutes more, searching for anymore clues that might be buried somewhere in the murky depths of my mind. My eyebrows arch into a frown, but it doesn’t remain on my face for long. As my mum always says, I have the attention span of a flea.
The thought exits my brain after I decide I have nothing else to discover from it, and I instead get the urge to throw something. My hands dig into my pockets, where the throwing-stars my older brother got me for Christmas lay wrapped in cloth. I take them out and lay the material on the floor, slowly unraveling the string that tied it together. It fell open, revealing the intricate designs carved into the eight blades of the stars. I lay them on the ground and do a sort of patting motion above them once before reaching into my other pocket for a pencil.
I walk over to the wall, check to see if it’s a soft wood (lucky me, it is), and draw 3 three lopsided circles, each smaller than the one before and inside of it. When I step back, a wonky target fills my vision. Perfect. I return to my throwing stars, and pick up the first with my right hand, holding it just like I was taught. With my thumb and index finger clamped on either side of the middle hole in the star, I bring it up so it sits in the palm of my hand, right beside my ear. Then whip my arm forward, releasing the weapon just above the target. Bullseye. I smile to myself, and bend down to repeat the process.
On my 5th star, I hear a crackle behind me in the entrance to our meeting spot. One of my throwing stars is already in my hand, so I whip around to face the maker of the sound, form perfect and body taut as a rope.
“I know how to use these, so don’t come any closer!” I’m sure to move aside so the intruder can see my near-impeccable aim displayed on the target behind me. That’s when I hear a low chuckle from the doorway, which confuses me greatly. Who laughs when they know someone has the power to severely harm them?
“I know you do, love,” my favourite British accent says from the shadows.
“Nyx!” I almost dropped my precious steel star, but remember at the last moment to pack it away carefully. It takes everything in me to not rush to Nyx and throw myself into her arms. Finally, my weapons are packed away, and I straighten up to face my friend. She’s leaning up against the doorway, still half concealed by shadows. Even then, I could still see the peculiar multicolored irises of her eyes gleaming. She speaks again when I just stare at her for a second without moving, stretching out her arms “Well? No ‘Welcome Back’ hug?” She says, her voice crisp as the autumn air. With that, I fling myself into her arms, and her green-apple scent welcomes me home..
I’m sitting opposite Nyx on the cold floor, legs crossed as we chomp on warm cinnamon buns she had picked up from the best bakers in town, ‘Maggie’s Sweet Treats’.
“So, how’s it been traveling the world?” I ask. Last year, Nyx’s family had decided that it was time to learn more of what planet earth had to offer than just Britain and New America, and had insisted that their two children, Nyx and her older brother Archer (two years our senior at 18 years old), came with them on an ‘Around the World in 365 Days’ trip. Of course there had been some resistance from both children, who insisted that ‘the rest of their lives were firmly grounded in Clepsydra’, that ‘all their friends were here so of course they wouldn’t want to leave them behind’, and ‘they weren’t done school yet, at least let them do that!’.
But apparently Archer had found a new home in Japan, a nation that had decided to leave behind modern technology in favor of the old ways. Apparently they only drove electric cars there, (the government refused to bring in any Telepads for instant transportation), and that almost every street was lined with something called ‘Trees’, Cherry Blossoms to be specific. I remember hearing the word somewhere, but I couldn’t remember exactly what they were . When asked the purpose of these ‘trees’, she responded that they provided oxygen for the people of Japan, and they didn’t have oxidizers built into their infrastructure. At this point I gawped at Nyx.
“How did you survive!” I asked, aghast.
“Well, it was pretty easy actually,” she said, flicking long, ivory hair from out of her sparkling gemstone eyes, one half of each iris coloured a perfect sapphire blue, the other an emerald green. Her lips were pulled up into an easy smile, and she was leaning up against one of the walls. “All I had to do was take one breath in and then let it out again, like this,” She took an exaggerated breath, stomach rising and falling, “and repeat!” I laughed lightly at this. “In all seriousness, though, the air was a little tangy. Not in a bad way, I guess, it was just a little earthy. You know, like those National Parks are?”
“Oh ya!” I reply, thinking back a couple of years when our class was learning about nature. I knew I’d heard about trees somewhere! They’d brought in untreated soil, not that fake stuff that we use in our gardens that’s been treated so it has optimal growing conditions for any other plants. We each got to touch it, and a strange almost bitter smell had filled my nostrils as soon as I got within arms reach of it. Before that, I hadn’t even realized that dirt had a smell. And lucky Nyx had surely gotten to visit a real park on her trip around the world.
“Anyway, enough about me!” She said, eyes gleaming as she stared mischievously at me. “Anything new? C’mon, I need all the gossip!”
I laugh at this. Nyx has always been infatuated with any little bit of drama that happened to occur, so not being in the loop all this time must have been torture for her. “Welllllll…” I drew out the word, grinning, and proceeded to tell her everything I could remember. I tell her about the big things, like how Keres was taken to juvie and sentenced to jail once she reached the age of 18 for attempting to murder her boyfriend after she grew tired of him (met with a gasp and chorus of “I knew something was wrong about that girl!” from Nyx), to the little things, like how it turns out that Letif (the quiet boy from school ) was actually really nice and hung out with me sometimes. It took longer than I expected to fill Nyx in, but I could tell she was grateful.
“Thanks, Sparks!” That’s her nickname for me. Ever since the first day of school when we met, she had been trying to find the right thing to call me. Nicknames mean a lot to Nyx, and she always says that the right nickname doesn’t only speak to the person’s name, but also to their personality. When I suggested ‘Em’ (my real name is Ember), as that was what my mother had always called me, she responded that it was way too bland, that it didn’t suit me at all. I was a little confused by this (after all, I was a six year old at the time), but I just shrugged and went with her flow. After a whole year of trial and error, she landed on Sparks. She refused to tell me why, and I didn’t ask more than once. When Nyx doesn’t want to tell you something, she ain’t telling, no matter how much you beg.
“No problemo!” I reply. We sit in comfortable silence for a second, but after a while Nyx decides she wants to show me her photo album. She opens her holo-watch and logs in, beckoning for me to come and sit beside her. I obey, and when I look over at her screen, I am bombarded by pictures of her in so many different places. Pictures of her everywhere from the far reaches of Asia to our neighboring city of Vicinus. I am struck dumb by how majestic it all is. So many different colours and cultures I can barely comprehend it. But I’m yanked out of my stupor by a single glance towards the top of the screen. “HOLY SMOKES,” I yell, surprising Nyx so much she yelps. I leap up, rushing towards the door. “I’ll-see-you-soon-hopefully-if-you’re-back-in-school-tomorrow!” I blurt out, already half way out the door. I told my mum I’d be back home by 10:00 at the latest, and the time at the top of Nyx’s holo-watch read 1:14.
I am so dead.
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