Lexus Connor woke to the agonising screams of the men in adjacent cells. Dark and evil dreams fell slowly back into the night, and it was several shaky breaths before he could calm himself enough to think. He stared at the ceiling with eyes that were grim and black, his face pale. His forehead was beaded with sweat. Sitting up and clutching his chest to feel his drumming heart, Lexus recalled with great unease what day it was.
21 August. The day of Exile.
Dread ran through his veins. He could not bear the idea of dying, nor of living to see tomorrow's sunrise, whatever tomorrow happened to be like. But as far as Lexus was concerned, here he was, at the end of a fruitless life – the future was bleak and unknown, and it seemed to mirror death entirely. Not even beyond his final teenage year, his life on earth had been short. Useless. The world had been open to him, his life only ahead of him. But no longer. His dreams were dead. His hopes lost – like sand thrown into a roaring river, they had been washed away. Lexus would never have his own children or untangle the mysteries of love. There is nothing in exile, he thought. Nothing.
A shout from outside broke his thoughts. “Connor!” called a gruff voice.
A groan. “I'm here.”
“Of course you are. No-one has ever escaped.” There was the sound of beeping and the steel door slid open, revealing a stocky man dressed in a grey uniform. A gun and electric baton hung from his belt. “It's time to leave,” he said, taking a few steps towards the prisoner. Silence. Stillness. “Now.”
Lexus sighed and reluctantly upped himself from his bed and turned so that the guard could handcuff him. Once the device was fitted, he was bustled out of the cell and into a labyrinth of corridors.
As they walked, the guard pressed his pistol into Lexus's back, urging him to move faster. They passed, in turn, several lifeless bodies with blood dripping from head wounds, and some who were writhing on the floor and screaming, being beaten with electric batons by other grey-uniformed men. The sight was nauseating.
“What happened to them?” Lexus asked, holding back sickness.
“They were uncooperative,” the guard grumbled. “That's what happens when you try to escape.”
Lexus spat. “How can you torture them like that! How can you kill them!”
The guard pressed the gun hard against Lexus's back. “You'll be next if you don't quieten down and move faster. A convict doesn't disappear when they step through the rift. You disappear when the government leaves you with us. From there you are pronounced dead, and we do with you what we will. If that involves torture, then so be it.”
Lexus grimaced. “Why do you send us to Jaroka? Why not keep us as slaves,” he sneered, “and kill us at your pleasure?”
“Because every time a soul passes through the rift, the portal flares, producing enough energy per year to power half the world. It's win-win: justice for energy.” He laughed darkly, and pushed Lexus on. “Now silence, and move! Hurry up, or perhaps will kill you for pleasure.”
A lump formed in Lexus's throat and he wished to turn on the guard and beat him until his head exploded, but he simply marched forward in the darkness, trying to ignore the cries of anguish from those around him.
A few minutes later, he came around a corner and a blazing white light stuck him, forcing him to turn his eyes away with a step backwards, into the ever prodding pistol which he had grown to hate in such a short period of time. Squinting, he turned his head slowly towards the light again, and it seemed to dim slightly. What he observed was the most glorious thing he had ever seen.
The walls of the large room were covered in glowing marks and symbols, familiar and unfamiliar, and they shone in every hue of the rainbow. At the center was an orb, burning like pure fire. It even seemed to speak, to whisper thoughts of long gone people. Most were dark and violent, hurtful and filled with resentment.
Lexus turned to look at the guard, who was adjusting an earpiece. The guard looked up. “Move. We're late – the thing's about to close.”
Spiteful eyes glared at the guard, then glanced around the room, looking for any possible means of escape. But Lexus already knew there were none. He had only one choice: Jaroka. He began to inch towards the orb.
“Oh, and Connor,” said the guard. Lexus looked back at him. “Pick a better lifestyle this time.”
Lexus ground his teeth and sneered. “I'll see you in hell.” Then he turned on his heels and approached the orb. As he got nearer, his head began to spin. Light flashed behind eyes, then darkness, then light. The sound of roaring thunder filled his ears, and he lost his balance, falling to the fall. As the noise became piercing, darkness overcame him, and he was dragged deeper than ever before into slumber.
One life ends, another is born from the ashes.