I've changed this story a lot since yesterday after I received a suggestion from writerboz. I added a new character and fleshed out the first chapter with some scenery, because it was very heavy on summary.
My changes are behind the LJ-cut.
Ok, so I've been writing this story...
I haven't added much to it since I last posted it to my personal LJ a few months ago, but I've gone through the whole thing and reworked it. A lot of the sentences were too wordy and awkward. Some of them were just unecessary. This story has come so far, yet it has so far to go.
I must warn you. The introduction is way boring, but I want it that way. The good news is... the introduction has nothing to do with what the rest of the story will be about! Honest!
The year 2077 came and passed without spectacle. All of the constants that society had come to depend upon held fast and steady. Regional wars based on religion or ethnicity – or any one of a thousand other reasons to kill one’s neighbors – continued to claim lives at an appalling rate. Despite all that, the world population continued to grow with no signs of slowing. The scientists of the international community issued warning after warning, though nobody cared to listen. They quoted facts and figures, comparing the world’s potential to support life against the estimated population growth statistics for the next fifty years. The outlook was decidedly grim. The experts all agreed that if people refused to learn from humanity’s past blunders, then the twenty-second century would be mankind’s last.
The prospect of humanity’s slow and miserable death was not pleasant. It seemed too abstract to be a valid concern in the minds of the general public. After all, these terrible warnings were nothing new. At first, people ignored them because the problems Earth faced seemed too remote to have any impact upon their personal lives. Decades later, people dismissed the warnings because they were desensitized to them. Ignoring the doomsayers had become something of a family tradition that the entire human race could share. Just as their ancestors had, the masses responded to this latest batch of bad news by pretending they had never heard it in the first place. Life had to go on day by day, because proper planning was, frankly, too depressing. None of 2077’s hastily drafted New Year’s resolutions had anything to do with ending world hunger and strife.
By all accounts, the year 2078 proved to be much more momentous than 2077 had been. In 2078, the invasion began.
It all started with the children.
Mila picked up her box of crayons and opened the tattered cardboard flap. The box was well worn, and though she was gentle with it, the top came off in her hand. She stared through the faded grey strip as if it wasn’t there; her eyes were focused on a point behind the space between her fingers. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she could feel an unfamiliar tingling. Mila put the box down and stood up. She wasn’t thinking about the crayons anymore. She wasn’t thinking about anything.
Mila sat back down on the cool tile floor and closed her eyes, just as she had done a thousand times before. The emptiness she felt within her mind was staggering. She reached out and probed in every direction, searching for a comforting whisper. What she found was endless disorder. Its clamor grew louder every day, beating her back into the confines of her own consciousness. When the chaos became too much for her, Mila would be forced to withdraw, rest, and try again later. She always tried again later. She had no choice. She needed a purpose. Each time Mila tried, she probed farther than the last time, pushing until the cacophony nauseated her and sent convulsions through her fragile body. This time, her search ended as it usually did. She vomited.
Every hour, on the hour, an orderly was scheduled to check in on Mila. When she threw one of her fits, the automated alert systems summoned a nurse to her room immediately. Her regular nurse came slowly today. As she entered the room, she knew what she would find. Mila was sprawled on the floor, facedown in a puddle composed mostly of the red Jell-O and green beans that she had eaten mechanically earlier in the day.
“Girl, I don’t know why I even bother feeding you,” the nurse sighed. Her name tag said “Kelley” in white, uppercase letters. Kelley was her last name, but the young nurse hated it, because she thought that it was hard for people to take her seriously as a professional when she had a silly name like “Nurse Kelley.” She was only twenty-four, and she took her work very seriously. It was Nurse Kelley’s firm belief that no twenty-four year old should ever have to see so much of what she saw every day – sick children. She made a point of saying so at every opportunity, to anybody who would listen. Mila made a good audience, because she never spoke, and she spent most of her time between fits sitting in whatever position her nurse left her in, staring through whatever happened to be in front of her.
“You’re such a pretty little girl,” the nurse said as she turned Mila over to clean off her face and neck. “It’s a shame you have to be stuck here like this on such a beautiful day. A little kid like you should be out playing in the sun, not cooped up in some hospital room, puking her guts out.”
Nurse Kelley was lying. It wasn’t a beautiful day. The sky was overcast, and the air was heavy with humidity. It would be raining soon. She justified her white lies by telling herself that it was her duty to make each sick child’s day brighter. Mila’s room had no window. She would never know the difference.
The nurse was finished cleaning, and she had slipped Mila’s small body into a fresh hospital gown. “You’re all set,” she said with a perfunctory half-smile. Nurse Kelley picked Mila up so that she could place the child into her bed. Though Mila was small and light, handling her limp form was sometimes a trial. “Come on… help me out, little girl,” the nurse said softly. When she had finally sorted Mila’s arms and legs out and satisfied herself that she had done everything she could to make her patient comfortable, Nurse Kelley brushed some of the stray hair away from her face and released a short sigh. “I’ll be right outside if you need me,” she said, though she new that Mila would not respond.
Mila never responded to any of the hospital staff who visited her, scheduled or unscheduled. Even Mila's own mother could never get any sort of acknowledgement out of her. She had taken Mila to the hospital when the girl was just six years old, and for the first month that Mila was hospitalized, her mother stayed with her, sleeping on a cot just inches from the girl’s white hospital bed. After the doctors made her go home, Mila's mother visited daily. It was hard on her to see her daughter's glazed eyes skipping over everything and everybody in the room, never really stopping to see any of it, always searching. Her heart broke every time Mila had one of her episodes.
Mila's mother was a single parent. She had raised her daughter alone since the girl was an infant, and she had done her best to ensure that no matter what happened, Mila would come to her first for security and comfort. Mila’s mother was the provider and the healer in her daughter's life. It was what she lived for. She needed somebody to need her. Each day when she visited, Mila's mother would sit at her daughter's bedside and say the same things over and over, pleading for her daughter to come back. In time, her words became routine, like the Lord's Prayer falling forth from the lips of a child each night, "Mila, I love you so much. I think about you every day. Please come back to me. I need you here, baby girl. Just tell me you love me, and I'll be all right..."
Some days, Mila's mother lost her patience, and she screamed at the girl who used to be her daughter. Through it all, Mila remained expressionless. A year and three months after she brought her sweet little girl to the hospital, Mila's mother stopped visiting daily. Her daughter, she had decided, was dead. She came in just three times over the next two months, and she finally stopped visiting entirely. The police found her in the living room of her modest home, four weeks after her last visit, slumped forward in the worn recliner that had been her favorite chair. She had died of starvation. It was the first suicide by fasting in the state's recorded history, so it made the front page in four major newspapers. Mila never read any of them.