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  • The Girl Without a Name

June 01, 2024

THE GIRL WITHOUT A NAME

BY KAELYNN PUGH

 

I do not have a name. I think I did, once, before the white room took it away. It takes everything away. Sometimes, I feel these sharp little pieces in my mind, like shattered glass piercing my thoughts, and I think I used to be something else. Something more. But then I go back to the white room, and they take the glass away—they replace it with nothingness. Remind me that I am nothing.   

I sit in my box. On my cot. My knees pressed to my chest. My short red dress pulled tight across my knees. Tsarra lies in her back. Over her blanket. She's awake, but she's staring at the ceiling, and I wonder what she is thinking. She's dressed in blue, the fabric large on her petite frame. The color accentuates her cropped copper waves. I run my fingers across my shorn black tresses, still only long enough to graze my jawline. They always cut our hair. Maybe keeping it short is easier. Maybe.  

They always dress me in red. And only in dresses that hang like sheets from my frame, barely grazing my knees. I am taller than Tsarra, and I have more curves though we eat the same, so my dress is less than hers even if it is the same. I do not think they think I need more. I think I am lucky to have this dress. No shoes. No underwear. Just this dress. I remember wearing more, once. I know I should be wearing more. We both know we should be wearing more. But Tsarra does not seem to mind, so I try not to mind, so they do not think to send me to the white room again.     

Above us, along the walls near the ceiling, are thin strips of light that hum with electricity. One of them, nearest to the Mirhali wall, furthest from me in my cot, sizzles every now and then—loose in its case, ready to pop. I glare at it like it is somehow, its fault that it will die and bring with it the Invil. 

The Invil are like guards, but they do not guard. They do not protect. They leer and sneer and spit. They have switches that trigger our Mivith—electric fetters around our necks. There is worse pain than a Mivith's bite, but the Mivith burns as it bites, and that pain lives on you for a while. The Invil do not even wait to see if we will fight or cower, they see us and instantly go for their switches, and it is all we can do not to scream as the burning bite steals what little we have left of our dignity. So, I will glare as much as I want at that light, because its death only means more pain.  

The lights flick blue.  

The flickering one pops as if could not handle the shift. I shove off the threadbare blanket and tip myself from my cot. Tsarra's already on her feet, her cot folding into the wall. She gives me a knowing look. I glance at Kethani's absent station. My head spins, but I will myself still as a phalanx of six Invil march through the cellblock, watching us carefully through the dense wall of Mirhali metal bars.   

Between them, they carry a girl.  

Six days ago, Kethani died in her cot. They only just removed her body. The ichor of her death still lingers in the air—yet the Invil stop before our bars. They shout the word nir, which translates to "go" and we both turn, standing to face our folded-up cots, hands pressed to the stone wall. They speak old Antriphian, but I know they understand Common just as well as the rest of us. They think if they speak old Antriphian it makes them more human. Maybe it does.      

I hear the whisper of the bars parting, and movement, the tug of air at my thin shift as two enter the cell and deposit the girl on the floor before Kethani’s folded-up cot. One of them comes up behind me and I bristle, stiffening on reflex. I daren't breathe. Move. His hands trail down to caress the swell of my chest, the dip of my waist—a voice whispers in my ear Ustel, then he's gone. The Invil chuckle as their two brethren join them in the hall.  

I do not move. I do not think. I do not breathe. Not until the sounds of the footsteps fade. Not until the girl groans pitifully and breaks me from my frozen stupor. I shudder, lifting my hand to the Mivith at my throat.    

"Ani," Tsarra's voice calls, the name she gave me, because she kept hers when mine was lost. "Quick, she is waking."

I nod, rushing to the girl, putting my hand over her mouth just as her sapphire eyes open and she rears back against Tsarra, who is bracketed behind her, holding her arms. "Quiet!" I tell her, and yet she groans into my hand like a dying animal. "Please!" I look back at the Mirhali bars, fear spiking at the thought of the Invil returning. Whipping my head back, I look directly into her sapphire eyes. "If you make too much noise, they will hear you!" I whisper harshly, daring another glance behind. When I look back, she has stilled. Her eyes are wide and panicked, but she does not make another sound. Glancing at Tsarra, she nods and I let my hand fall. 

"W-why can I not feel my power?" She squeaks, voice ebbed with terror. I sink further back, hoping she does not expect me to answer. I knew why once—why the air feels heavy, and the walls breathe—but Tsarra has had to tell me so many times that I stopped asking. It did not feel fair, asking her, knowing anything I learned would be taken from me later.    

"The walls are Magtris," Tsarra answers softly, pulling her knees up to her chest with a bitter grin, "They nullify our abilities a bit, but the Vonsel is the reason they don't work at all. She's an Ultra, her shields cover all of Limnes Vu'alin."

"Limnes Vu'alin?"

Tsarra nods, "Aye, they call it that. Ancient Antriphian for Salvation. I call it antriph's armpit. The pits." 

"What?" The girl's sapphire eyes get big, as if to see everything, as if seeing more will make things make sense. I want to tell her it doesn't help, but she wrenches herself up and back, slamming against the Mirhali bars. She screams at the contact, pulling away just as fast, but continues to scream words. Words like there's been a mistake! And I don't belong here and let me out of here.  

I bite my cheek, watching, spine itching to move deeper into the stone.  Tsarra gives me a look.  The one that says not to do anything. To let her learn. Tsarra calls it tough love, I think it's cruel. Like letting someone burn while you're holding a glass of water. But Tsarra knows more than me—they let her keep her pieces, so I blink twice in awareness, my voice stuck, and glance back at the girl, setting herself on fire, refusing the water we hold.  

It doesn't take long before The Invil march through our block, to our cell. They shout their ancient Antriphian words, but the girl isn't listening anymore. I don't think she knows how to. Then, they reach for their switches. The girl's Mivith lights up, her body goes stiff, and she makes no sound at all. I don't have to wonder to know what she's thinking now. I know. She's not thinking of anything at all.