It was as I watched my husband stand, staring at my daughter and telling her that he loved her, I realised my words would never come. I could feel them, burning on my wrist as I held back my sobs. I had to appear uncaring, unbroken – angry at the council. Angry at myself.
I had spoken and I didn’t feel like speaking again. There was nothing more I could say or do. I could just watch as the guards pulled him back, encircling his arms with theirs. They let go of him, just past the threshold of the air lock door, and stepped out of the way as it shut.
The sound of the doors would never leave my ears after.
I loved him, yes. I loved Jake with everything I was. And I remembered tracing his words, tattooed on his arm with my fingers. I remembered sitting on his lap and repeating them in my head, knowing that one day I would say them out loud and they would be the last words he would hear me say.
I never meant to say them, though. I never meant to give him a death sentence.
I was always careful if I did, but I didn’t want to say them. They slipped out. You don’t want to see this. It was all I could do to save Clarke from watching her father die. They were the only words I could think of, and they were the last ones he heard – like he knew he would.
I spun around as I said them, and the look on his face haunted me. He knew his death was coming if he hadn’t been sure beforehand.
And I knew that I caused it.
Jake was going to tell the ARK that it was dying. Yes, he was the head engineer – and yes, they would believe him. But it wasn’t his place to say so. He didn’t have the right to make the ARK afraid and aware of their deaths. I had thought that telling Thelonious wouldn’t kill him. I thought it would protect him, that the Chancellor would talk him out of it.
I hadn’t realised that Thelonious’ version of ‘talking’ meant ‘floating’. But what was done, was done. And I watched my daughter cry and wear his watch. And I watched as I sent her down to Earth. And I watched as my actions ruined lives.
I had known Marcus Kane my entire life. He was in all of my classes; the biggest kid, having had his growth spurt early. He was popular, but only because he demanded it. Respect came through fear.
His mother was a nice woman who would invite me round for dinner, and when I sat at the dinner table, he would be polite and kind. Marcus would say so many nice things and act as if he were my best friend.
The next day at school, it would be as if it never happened.
I can’t say this particularly stopped at any point. As he went into politics and the council, and I chose medicine. I was pulled onto the council at his recommendation, actually. But I hadn’t realised why. It was Marcus who put forward the idea that the chief of medicine should have some say in how the ARK was run, as more often than not – I would receive the consequences of the changes that were made; in forms of asphyxiation and illnesses and broken limbs.
I still didn’t like Marcus very much.
I first found out about the words on my skin when I was ten. I had always been interested in anatomy and medicine; my father having been a doctor as I grew up. Even so, I never questioned the words of my skin; we all have sins to answer for, Abby.
I assumed they were natural; that everyone was born with them. I was right. But I didn’t know they had a reason. I assumed that my words were a reminder – we all have sins to answer for. I thought it was a lesson for me. I thought it would teach me.
I walked into the sick bay one morning, watching the lights flicker above me and the bodies move around. It wasn’t a particularly busy day, so I had chosen the right time to ask questions.
Lucas stopped me before I walked too far in. He was a doctor in training at the time, and he was my role model. “Hey, Abs,” he said, stepping in front of me. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I need to see Dad,” I told him.
“I think he’s treating something contagious right now,” Lucas replied. He knelt down to my height and smiled. “But is there anything I can help you with?” When I was that age – ten – I had a crush on Lucas. He was cute, funny and he was always happy to see me. Really, that was all I ever asked for.
I rubbed my arm self-consciously, looking past Lucas and through a window, where I saw my Dad in a hazmat suit, treating people over a table. I turned back to Lucas, and smiled shyly before nodding. I held my right arm out, twisting it into the light. Lucas glanced down at the words before studying my face.
“You want to know about the words?” He asked a nervous look on his face. I nodded. I watched him swallow, before looking down at my arm again. We all have sins to answer for, Abby. Then, as I studied his face, his nerves turned into a smile. He held out his own arm – his left, instead of right – tilting it away from the darkness.
“Promise,” I said aloud. “What does it mean?” Lucas coughed, lowering his arm.
“The words are important,” he promised me, taking my hand as he stood and leading me over to a chair by the wall. He sat me on it before kneeling down again. “There are soulmates out there-“
“What’s a soulmate?”
“Your perfect person. It could be a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a best friend, a broth-“he cut himself off, looking away. After he cleared his throat, he continued. “They’re the person who matches you so perfectly, that you can’t help but love them. Some people decide to marry them, and some are happy staying friends. Either way, they’re destined to know each other.”
“What does this have to do with the words?” I asked, rubbing my arm again.
“Well, the words are the last ones you’ll ever hear your soulmate say.”
“Before they die?” I squeaked. Lucas swallowed again before nodding.
“That’s how you know they’re your soulmate.”
“When they’re gone?” Lucas just sighed, a sad smile on his face.
“Sorry Abs, that’s how it works.” We sat in silence for a few seconds as I mulled over his words.
“Who’s your soulmate?” I asked, reaching for his arm. He let me take it and I held it across my lap, as my finger ran over the words. Part of me, in my ten year old mind, hoped he’d say it was me. But I also knew that he wouldn’t know that – because I hadn’t said those words and died.
“I had a brother,” he told me sadly, not holding it back. I knew siblings weren’t allowed on the ARK. It was against the law.
“You did?” Lucas nodded. “What was his name?”
“Harry,” he told me. “We were twins – even though the ARK does everything they can to stop more than one child being born. I was older by seven minutes.”
“Why do you talk about him in past tense?” I asked.
“Because Harry isn’t around anymore. When we were born, my parents were told to keep me – because I was older – but my brother had to go to the care centre to grow up. We could visit, but he couldn’t come home with us.” Lucas sighed, looking down at his words. “Harry got ill when he was thirteen-“
“How old would he be now?” I interrupted.
“Twenty two. I always thought it was odd having my soulmate as my brother, but we were so alike and so happy together, it made sense. But he had to take a drug called morphine to make him feel better, and he changed. He liked being on morphine so he kept getting more of it, even when he didn’t need it anymore. Which was against the law.”
“They locked him up?” Lucas nodded sadly.
“And when he turned eighteen, he went for his retrial and didn’t pass – because he broke the law with the morphine, and he broke the law by being born.” My eyes widened and I knew that this wasn’t just a lesson about the words, but about the ARK. About the cruelty and the injustice behind the system. Years later, when I was invited onto the council, I went with the memory of Lucas. Who was floated for his next words, overheard by the wrong person.
“The last word he said was ‘promise’?” I asked. Lucas nodded, not even thinking about his next words.
“Yes, those were his last words before the rulers of this floating hellhole – Chancellor Hayne and his council – decided to float him for the stupidest of crimes. Ones he hadn’t committed in five years. That’s why we need to be careful, Abs,” he explained, looking me dead in the eye. “The ARK is corrupt, and the people in charge need to be taken down and replaced.”
“Can that happen?” I asked, wide eyed.
“Within a matter of days.”
After Jake’s death, keeping Clarke monitored and alive on Earth was my only priority. I rarely looked back to Lucas after that. He taught me a lot before he was floated for conspiracy and mutiny. He was my best friend. But that last conversation stayed with me for two reasons – one was to rule the ARK well, as a member of the council. And I honestly thought I was doing the right thing by turning Jake in. But the other reason – well, it’s another idea to why I told Jaha about my husband’s plans.
I wanted to know if he was my soulmate.
Jake and I got along so easily and I loved him without a second thought. But the arguments often became unbearable and his humour bored me to no end. I loved him all the same, and loved our daughter more than I thought possible.
But as I walked into the chamber, my mind was split. Part of me thought about the man I was about to lose – the love of my life. The other part of me was wondering if he would say the words. Would he tell me that our sins are to be answered? Would his last word be ‘Abby’?
I was hollow, watching the airlock close, watching his body disappear, watching the outer doors slam shut. I was hollow, because I lost my true love. And I spent twenty years of my life with a man who wasn’t my soulmate.
And then I was hollow for another reason – because I could even think such horrible thoughts.
The bomb had hit TonDC and Clarke was alive. She knew about the bomb and she had brought me away. I should have been grateful but my mind turned red. She let people die. My daughter let a village die. I didn’t raise her to be that way, not at all. Lexa must have changed her. Or was she following in my footsteps? I had carved out a brutal path in the metal of the ARK - I had let her father die.
The moments after that were a blur, but I had to find Kane. Marcus may have been misguided before, but he was close now. He was good now. He was kind now. I couldn’t live without him and I needed him.
I climbed down rocks and squinted through dusty darkness. I heard the clanging of metal.
My words were jumbled and my movements thoughtless.
Marcus was lying on the ground, barely alive.
I couldn’t lift the girder from his leg.
He was going to die.
I sat next to him, afraid to live.
He spoke a few words and I replied.
“How could she do something like this?” I asked, as if Clarke had aimed the missile herself.
“She grew up on the ARK,” came Marcus’ strangled response. “She’s just doing what she learned from us.”
I had considered kissing Marcus before that day. I had considered falling in love with him.
But we weren’t meant to be and I knew it.
“You’re defending her? You’re here because of what she did. She let this happen, Marcus. She could have stopped it.”
I was angry. Angry at Clarke. Angry at Mount Weather. Angry at Lexa.
“She made a choice. Like executing people for stealing food… medicine.”
Angry at Marcus for making me think of Lucas.
Angry at myself for not thinking of him sooner.
Angry at the ARK for killing him and his brother.
Angry that Lucas and Harry couldn’t be on the ground with me.
“Like sucking the air from the lungs of three hundred parents to save it for their children.”
Marcus was angry too, at himself. I watched as tears formed in his eyes.
“Like floating the man you love to save your people,” I added.
I loved Jake. I loved him so much. I let Thelonious kill him. I let the ARK kill him.
“Yes,” Marcus agreed.
Silence echoed. He kept speaking to fill it.
“We all have sins to answer for, Abby.”
Realisation dawned on me of what Clarke had to deal with; what my baby girl was going through. Then it disappeared in a blink. My arm burnt and I stared at Marcus, wide eyed. I told him not to go but his eyes were shut. I grabbed at his clothes, screaming.
I called for help.
I clutched his hand.
I started CPR.
“I thought I died,” Marcus said a few days later, at Camp Jaha. He’d woken up about an hour beforehand.
“You did,” I replied, rubbing my hand over the words of my arm. I had left my jacket on the chair due to the sweltering heat, and I watched as Marcus looked at my arm.
“What are your words?” He asked. I paused for a few seconds, my mind still reeling. Lucas had said that they were the last words you would ever hear your soulmate say. Maybe death counted. Marcus died in the rubble of the missile. And he came back to life. Did that restart the clock? Rewrite the words? Did it cheat the game that the universe made us play?
“We all have sins to answer for, Abby,” I told him, holding out my arm. He didn’t look surprised. In fact, he smiled a little. Then he rolled up the sleeve of his left arm.
“Like floating the man you love to save your people.”