Short sci-fi story: The Cell With No Door

October 12, 2022

Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay

Ella Forrest escapes from those who destroyed her planet

I can feel the colours. The cool, skin-tight steel stabs into my wrist like a thousand needles. Every breath hurts, but I can breathe now. I can breathe. My skin is drenched in sweat which stings the angry, open bleeding gashes along my arms. My entire body is being stretched in two. Every inch of me is screaming in pain. The ghosts of words bounce off the walls as they tried to break me. Then I hear it. The gentle tapping of footsteps walking down the corridor, just loud enough to let me know they’re coming – painfully slow and it scares me. No, it terrifies me.

The room I’m in – my cell – is spacious but bare. It is white. Pure white. Spotless walls, shiny enough for me to see the glimmer of my reflection staring back at me. I look weaker than I remember. Lost. My arms and legs are bound to the wall behind me. The cell has no door.

Then I see her come in. She’s different. She’s not here to try to tear information out of me like the others. She has long dark hair and a scar runs along her cheekbone. She scowls when she sees me and mutters something under her breath. She pulls out a gun and every muscle in my body freezes. The thing in her hand is silver and, judging by the way it sparkles, probably some new technology I don’t know. This would not be a cool way to die.

As she lifts the gun again, I’m no longer drowning in a sea of dread

“Just do it already,” I snap, finding my voice is rougher than usual.

The girl is silent. She tilts her head to one side and looks at me like I’m some kind of strange experiment that went wrong. I get that one a lot. Used to. Thinking about home makes me feel like there’s a hole in my chest. It hurts every time I remember that it’s gone. All of it is gone. Everything comes flooding back. The flames. Her screaming.

My eyes open. I’m here. I’m here. She lifts the gun and I shut my eyes, expecting pain that doesn’t come immediately. The shot hits the piece of metal binding my right arm to the wall perfectly. The shards of metal pierce my skin. But my arm is free. As she lifts the gun again, I’m no longer drowning in a sea of dread.

BANG. The metal buries itself in my arm and I wince, holding my breath. BANG. The crash of the chains holding my legs to the wall echoes around the chamber, and I collapse to the ground. The floor below me feels alien. It occurs to me that I haven’t stood up in weeks. Not since Chromachora burnt. All I remember was the pounding of blood in my ears and the desperate cries as the sky turned red.

She hoists me onto my feet and my muscles feel like they may have exploded

I try to push myself up, but the damage to my arms seems to be worse than I realised. The girl is just staring down at me. Who is she and why is she freeing me? Why is she just looking at me with that stupid blank stare?

She seems to see me watching her and smiles weakly before offering me her hand. I hesitate for a second, glancing at the tattoo of a flower curling down her ring finger before I take it. I can walk. I will walk, I decide.

She hoists me onto my feet and my muscles feel like they may have exploded then been sellotaped back together by a five-year-old. I take a deep breath and, to my surprise (and relief), I do not fall flat on my face, but instead manage to take a step forward, and then another.

“Welcome to the club,” she says.

Then she’s walking out of the room. I’m struggling to keep up with her. I’m grateful for the lack of doors but the corridors seem endless – they’re hexagonal and the walls are jet black and reflective. It reminds me of one of those halls of mirrors my sister took me to when I was little. My sister who is probably dead.

The echo of our footsteps makes my skin crawl in the silent corridors. I’m totally lost, relying only on the girl in front of me for navigation. That’s when I hear it – screaming. The sound of a million fires burning. It hits me. I flinch. The girl looks at me strangely. Recognition darts across her face. She looks pointedly at a door opposite me.

Then I see it. The red. The flames. The light that looks like a child’s drawing, not a real explosion.

I walk towards it, and it feels like every moment has led up to this. I open the door. It’s old-fashioned and swings open easily. I don’t know what I was expecting but this isn’t it. The room is empty, basically. There’s one stool in the corner of the room. On it is a crown. A strange feeling hits me. I know this thing. I’ve known it since the day I was born, but also, I don’t. I’ve never seen it before.

It’s pretty. A single band of gold with a blue stone in the centre. Simple. I reach out for it, and for one precious second, I’m not me. I’m not the lost princess, the last survivor of the planet Chromachora. I’m just one girl, reaching out for the crown before her.

And I touch it. And everything is light. And I’m falling. Then I see it. The red. The flames. The light that looks like a child’s drawing, not a real explosion. I’m fighting for every breath and screwing up my eyes, but the vision won’t go. I know this dream. I’m alive. I’m dead. I’m flying. I’m glowing, bathed in unnatural light.

I feel the room I’m in seep into view, and I’m back. I’m standing. I turn around. She stares at me, her eyes scared. I’m scared too. I feel the weight of the crown on my head, and I take a deep breath and follow her out the room.

Time slows down. I hear the footsteps of one of the guards, their feet crashing against the floor.

After about 15 minutes of walking, she turns to look at me. I look at her.

“Can you shoot?” she asks, shattering the silence.

I shrug. She rolls her eyes.

“You’re going to need to,” she tells me bluntly as we turn a corner and I see it. It’s beautiful. It’s horrible.

The void of space stares back at me.

There are 50 or so ships and about ten escape pods. There are lots of guards, but they seem to be walking around randomly. The girl glances at me, but I’m already running. She darts after me as I duck behind a nearby ship. It’s one of the medium-sized ones. Gun-metal grey and very sleek. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. Time slows down. I hear the footsteps of one of the guards, their feet crashing against the floor.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Bound to a wall, awaiting the next jailer coming to break me. Tap. Tap. Tap.

She hits my arm and I’m back in the real world. Every breath is shaking my body. BANG. I look at her, shocked as she casually adjusts her gun. On the ground is one of the guards who clearly made the fatal mistake of looking in our direction. I’ve never seen a dead person before. I feel sick, watching the life drain out of their body. The girl next to me doesn’t seem particularly concerned and climbs into the ship we were hiding behind.

She hits the pedal. Everything freezes. A guard yells at someone to shut the airlock.

“What are you doing?” I whisper.

She shrugs at me.

“Getting out of here,” she mutters.

“How?” I snap back, hiding my excitement at the idea of getting out of here.

“Shut up and get on the ship,” she snaps, grabbing my hand and pulling me in.
It is so much smaller on the inside. The entire thing looks like it’s straight out of some ship design mag. I sit down on a chair and the girl looks at me suspiciously.

“Seatbelt,” she points out helpfully.

I strap myself in. Some more guards have noticed us, I realise, but none of them have worked out that we can’t hear them from in here. They’re shouting uselessly at the ship, but I can’t hear a word they’re saying.

She hits the pedal. Everything freezes. A guard yells at someone to shut the airlock. I screw my eyes so tightly it almost hurts. We’re flying. I can hear the roar of the engines and I’m hit by an unexpected feeling of being home. It’s hard to explain. It feels like everything is reminding me of home. We’re soaring now. I’m torn between screaming and singing as I hear the tapping of gunfire weak against the hum of our ship. The airlock is closing.

It feels like I’m submerged in a blanket of stars – a black canvas with holes opening to a world above

The girl next to me, however, is not freaking out or screaming, but is totally calm and is giving the glass viewing screen of our ship a death glare. The airlock is nearly shut.

Everything freezes. I’m trapped. I’m free. I’m fighting and I’m dancing. The ship soars out. Every muscle in my body relaxes. We’re free. I breathe a sigh of relief and turn to the girl next to me.

“I don’t even know your name, but you saved my life,” I whisper.

She shrugs.

“Let’s not make a habit of it.”

We’re silent for a long time. It’s so beautiful. It feels like I’ve never seen space properly before. It feels like I’m submerged in a blanket of stars – a black canvas with holes opening to a world above. I’ve never felt more free, but as I instinctively look for Chromachora and see nothing but the ghost of the lost planet, I know I’ll never be able to forget what these people did to me. And I know I’ll make them pay.

In partnership with Write by You, a social enterprise supporting young female writers to develop their creativity, confidence and writing skills.

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