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SWC16 - Void of a Soul

Arisia16 Student Writing Contest - 2nd Place Winner

Void of a Soul

By Alexis Felicia Romero

How can I describe that feeling? Excited? Anxious? Nervous? Somewhere in between, or maybe all of the above? I looked out my window for what must've been the hundredth time. The geography of the land below our aircraft seemed to make no sense whatsoever, but it was a whole different continent; a whole new world with things we'd never seen before. I looked down at the blank page in my notebook, then back out the window to take in every detail about the landscapes we passed. Not knowing what to write down, I drew the three different landscapes I saw in separate areas of the paper.

I drew a mountain range and shaded it in lightly, but left the rest of it white with ice spires hanging from the base of the mountains. It wasn't exactly what the land looked like, but I did see icy mountains emerging from icy ground, and some tiny specks on the ice that could only be one thing:

People! Civilization!

I knew they would be there. Our continent's scientists had sent an unmanned probe with a live message establishing when and how the explorers would arrive; I just couldn't wait to learn how they lived and how different they were from the other regions.

The next area was all black, except for some rivers and lakes of lava. It seemed impossible that these lands bordered each other. I drew in the final region, looking out the window to make sure I caught every change in the landscape.

The whole area was full of different trees. The northern region had tall, thick, jungle trees, while the southern region consisted of conifers that seemed less dense, but still prevented me from seeing anything beyond the layer of leaves. In the middle of the two was a deciduous forest. Immediately, I started to think about how the climate stayed stable in these places, and then about how the peoples living in the ice and the lava regions were able to survive. I scribbled these questions into the notebook. There was one smaller region of plains in the center of everything.

"You still want to use that notebook, Makaela?"

I looked up. I'd forgotten my father was sitting next to me, even though I was only there because my dad was of one of the scientists chosen to go on this expedition. That kind of thing, along with being a very intellectually driven seventeen­year­old, gets you places.

 "I like to draw what I see with a pencil and paper," I responded.

"I still don't understand your problem with the TABos drawings," he said, gesturing to the device. It was a screen between two thin strips of metal. He brought up a drawing program, and drew some vague mountains on the screen with his finger. After a few seconds of swiping through options, he showed me a realistic ice­topped mountain range.

"I understand what I draw more than what a computer makes for me."

My father smiled, shook his head, and deleted the so­called "drawing." I sighed. "Don't worry," I reassured him. "I brought my TABos, too." I pulled it out of my backpack, and brought up one of the satellite images of the continent. "I actually want to know what's on that archipelago to the north." I stated, mostly to myself.

 I pointed to the chain of islands a bit north of the mainland, then looked up as someone spoke; we were going to land within ten minutes. We had traveled far enough to reach the middle region of the continent. The aircraft lowered itself onto a clearing surrounded by small buildings. In the distance, there were some green hills in all directions. I quickly filled in the center of my page with little markings for grass and short, curving lines around the grass for hills. The page was full of my questions and observations.

We set foot on the land for the first time to see a crowd of people surrounding the landing site. At first, I thought I was seeing things, but I realized that my vision was perfectly fine. We were approached by three people from the surrounding crowd. I frantically opened my notebook to a new page. Knowing I didn't have time to draw three different people, I scribbled descriptions of all of them. I looked up and down, out of everyone's sight, listening to the three people speak. "Welcome to the Center," one woman said proudly, dressed in violet and black. The one next to her, in blue, white and black, said, "This is the Center of the Continent. It ---­­"

"Are those capitalized?" someone else taking notes asked.

 "...Yes," said another woman, this time in green and black.

I could hardly wrap my head around it: they were three of the same woman. They were dark­skinned, dark­haired women of the same height with light brown eyes. They were practically identical. The only difference I could see was their build and their clothes. The one dressed in blue, white, and black wasn't as visibly strong as the other two.

The page in my notebook was already two­thirds full when my father nudged my side. "Well?" He seemed expectant of an answer. I felt ashamed when I realized I wasn't listening ­­ I could've missed some valuable information. Seeing my embarrassment, he said, "Maybe you can try to learn from the people. I'm not sure you'd be able to come with us anyway." I looked up. The scientists and expeditioners were walking away in their separate teams, following the women. I was confused, but fascinated nonetheless. Gradually, I made my way out of the group that was going somewhere to discuss diplomacy. I was more interested in the people, anyway.


I was finally beginning to understand. "So this happens every year?"

"Yes," said the thirteen­year­old clad in green and blue I was following. "Everyone who's old enough and doesn't have other responsibilities­­"

"Like taking care of little kids?" I dodged around some people.

 "Exactly." He looked at one of his counterparts, the one wearing red and dark blue, who started talking excitedly. "We can come to the Center to meet our Others! This is our first year meeting each other ­­ I'm really excited!"

His third "Other" looked at the second in amusement. "We were excited, but not nearly as excited as him, since he gets the strongest emotions. I, naturally, get the most active mind."

"Is that why you're so quiet?" the second asked. "Because you're thinking too much?"

"Well, someone has to do the thinking!" the third snapped back. The one in green and blue winced at the argument, as if it pained him to see them fight. Instead of speaking up, he nervously straightened his dark green sleeves. After they left, I had five notebook pages filled.

I stayed for a little over a week with the other expeditioners, and I saw that most people had the same situation as the thirteen­-year­-old boy. They were more or less comfortable with their "Others," save for a few squabbles. But I saw some people that ran for each other, thrilled to finally meet themselves and learn about the experiences they never had, only to find that one of them was missing. Some were alone. No one was surprised. Although they were different people, they were connected, the same person with different parts of their personality. They would suddenly understand why they couldn't think straight, or why they lacked the sympathy they once had, even why they felt like they had lost themselves entirely.

Those people wouldn't get to go on another exciting journey to one of the counterparts' home regions. It was during this short period of time that the whole expeditioning group was finally ready to leave the Center and explore the different regions. First was the region to the south. At the border, we boarded what looked like a monorail car on a track of ice.

The women from before were called Veri; the one in black, blue, and white told us about the region the whole way.

"I hope you brought equipment to protect you from the weather," she warned. I glanced at the rattling door next to me. "Only people from the region can survive here without it." We nodded, and I checked to make sure I had my survival pack next to me.

Veri kept talking while the door next to me rattled again, more loudly, and the others started to glance at it, too. Worried that it may open, I grabbed my pack. Before I put it over my shoulder, I wanted to get my notebook out. I put the pack on the floor.

That was the first mistake.

No, the first mistake was not having any safety precautions to make sure no one could fall out of the monorail car.

At first, it wasn't that big of a deal. The sliding door opened, so I reached over to close it. Then I gasped when my notebook fell out of my pack, about to be swept out of the monorail car. It was farther out of my reach than the door handle, and it was sliding closer to disappearing for good. My pack's strap was still in my hand. Wind blew my hair in my face, and I was pretty sure I heard yelling; I could hardly hear over the wind. I fell out of my seat, just as my notebook fell out the door. Without thinking, I dove after it.

There was a lot of white. That was all I could see for a few seconds as I rolled through thick snow. I stopped, facing up towards the sky, and checked to make sure I had my notebook. Phew! It was tightly gripped in my hands.

The relief only lasted mere seconds until Veri's words snuck their way back into my mind: only people from the region can survive here without it...

The snow around me was thrown into a mess as I sat up and searched everywhere. Thankfully, my waterproof pack was to my left. I reached into my pack and looked for the EnviArmor. It was at the bottom of the pack, even though it was the one thing that would protect me from extreme climates. In my panic, I started pulling things out and dropping them and picking them up from the snow. When I was finally about to pull out the Armor from the pack, I realized something that made me stop entirely: I wasn't cold.

It wasn't that I was numb or anything; it was more like I wasn't affected by the cold at all. I could tell it was there, but it didn't hurt me at all. The wind still blew my hair, but it didn't make me feel any more cold. In fact, it felt like I was in a totally normal climate. I put everything back in the pack, but the EnviArmor was on top this time, just in case. The enhanced fabric was tucked into the thin pieces of weather­proof metal, which had tech programmed to respond to any climate, and everything was put away. I was ready to go...somewhere.

Did they lie? What did they think happened to me? They probably think I'm dead, I kept thinking. It was questions like these and some writing about what happened that was about to fill two more pages in my notebook, making seven pages full. I had no idea how long I had been traveling, writing everything I saw and did while I ate the emergency food supply everyone was required to bring. Maybe they're at the next region by now, or farther. How much have I missed?

Looking around, I noticed something on the horizon: something dark, but I swear I saw some glowing streams. The mountains, in the northwest region. Must be volcanoes. I have no idea why I started running. Because I had somewhere to go? Because I was afraid of running out of supplies? Because I hoped I would find someone? Whatever the reason, I was kicking up snow so quickly and so carelessly that I tripped three times until I reached the border.

The first thing I noticed was the steam. In some places, there was a cloud of steam that was thin enough for me to see the glowing lava rivers far away, but in others, the steam was so thick I could only make out some huge black mountains in the distance. None of the lava rivers reached the snow, so the rock ground must have been so hot that it immediately turned some of the snow into steam. Somehow, the snow stayed where it was, like something replaced every bit of snow that was evaporated.

A sound snapped me out of my thoughts. Footsteps. Running. At first, I couldn't make out the face, but slowly everything came into full view. First it was the red clothes, then dark hair, light skin, and gray eyes. She was right in front of me soon.

"It's you!" she shouted, above the sound of steam hissing.

I was too stunned to say anything. Her face was as familiar as it possibly could be. It was mine. She looked back at me with my own eyes. The only difference was that her face had so many different expressions at once ­­ shock, anger, sadness, happiness ­­ that I was terrified.

I turned and ran in the opposite direction.

"Wait!" she shouted from behind me. Snow crunched from where she was, which meant she was running after me.

 How is it possible? I'm not from here! She can't be me! I'm not like that! My thoughts went faster and faster as the steps in the snow grew closer and closer. How much of my life was a lie? Who's Dad? How can she be--- ­­

The blue sky overhead turned white as I was shoved down into the snow. I pushed myself up and sat on my knees, reaching into my pack to get my EnviArmor. She was in the snow, somehow falling deeper in the snow than I did. I know she was talking. I wasn't paying attention. Knowing that I wouldn't survive in the fiery lava region, I was too busy frantically putting on the Armor, from the pieces that wrapped around my shins to the jacket that zipped and buckled, to the pointed helmet.

I must have kicked up enough snow to slow her down when I turned and ran back towards the border, because I managed to get farther away from her. Looking over my shoulder once, I skidded to a stop once I made it across. There was a vague figure in view, staggering for what seemed like an eternity, and then collapsing.

Something was missing. Something was wrong. I considered running back over to her… to me… but I didn't feel inclined to do it. I tried to know what that feeling was, that void that was opening and getting bigger and bigger.

Guilt. Guilt was missing. Not just guilt. Everything was missing.

I looked at my notebook, seven pages filled with scribbled handwriting and detailed drawings. For the first time, I looked at it with some disdain.


I still used my notebook as I made my way through the lava region, and into the wooded region. My handwriting, although I still wrote quickly, was a lot straighter, and the few drawings I made were less detailed and less shaded. They were more like outlines.

My supplies were pretty low when I reached the border between the lava region and the wooded region. I hadn't found the expedition group before, so it was my last chance to find them. As soon as I took off my helmet, since the climate seemed perfectly fine, I heard a voice coming from the trees in front of me.

"It's you," she said menacingly. Seeing her face, I didn't feel like I should run away anymore. I didn't feel anything. She continued, "You've noticed that you haven't felt anything in the past few weeks, haven't you?" Was that how long it was? "No guilt, just a void. I wish you could feel guilty. I might've let you go to live out your life in guilt." She snapped the last word.

"I didn't kill her! I didn't…" My voice trailed off. How else would you define leaving someone out in frozen tundra who couldn't survive there on their own?

The thought dawned on me ­­ I was my mind. I was afraid of my emotions. I had killed my heart. Now I wanted revenge.

"You killed us!" she said, yelling now. "You don't know what the Archipelago is, do you?" I shook my head. She stepped closer towards me. "It's where we send the lost." After a pause: "You still don't get it? It's where we send the ones who destroyed their minds, themselves, and their emotions. It's where YOU'RE going!"

She lunged at me in pure anger, but I have the most active mind. She ended up rolling across the border, where neither of us could survive without the EnviArmor I wore. The void closed; only a shell remained.


I reached for the top shelf. Almost… there! Yes! I nearly fell off the stool, but I finally got it ­­ I got the notebook. It was really old, and covered in dust, but I couldn't wait to open it. On the inside cover, it said Mom's name: Makaela.

On the first page were some really good pictures: mountains with lava, mountains with ice, what looked like a bunch of different trees, some hills, and grassy ground in the center. All around them were scribbled questions that I could barely read and words I didn't know. But when I flipped through the pages, the drawings looked worse, and the handwriting looked less excited.

"Is that my old notebook?" I spun around to see Mom looking at me.


She just laughed. "You can have it ­­ it doesn't make sense to me anyway!"