Chapter Two: Stasia

“CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!” Everyone screamed as they banged the bottom of their glasses against the counter. Roddik was standing on top of the counter, waving both arms in the air as he enticed the crowd.

Only when he was satisfied with the noise, the window panes already rattling in their frames, did he bring his beer up to his mouth. With the expertise of a man that was used to drinking far too much, he downed his pint glass in no more than two seconds.

The bar exploded with applause and congratulatory whistles, and the bartender went as far as handing Roddik a congratulatory free pitcher of beer. That wasn’t a good idea, the way I saw it, but what I could do? I was more than tired of playing the responsible-older-sister part, and it wasn’t like Roddik listened to anything I said anyway.

Ventil was one of those hole-in-the-wall bars that seemed to be impermeable to whatever happened in the real world, and even a giant alien invasion hadn’t been enough for the owner to close its doors. No more than a watering hole, it still was my brother’s favorite place in the whole city.

“C’mon, Stasia.” He laughed, climbing down from the counter and draping one arm over my shoulder. “Cheer up, will ya? The vines are gone, the sun is finally shining again…have a drink and put a smile on your face.”

“I’m having a drink.” I held up my own beer. “And I am smiling.” At that, I forced my lips to curl up and showed Roddik what must’ve looked like a snarl.

With a dismissive laugh, he pulled me closer to him.

“You should really lighten up, sis.”

“Yeah, well, it’s hard to lighten up after working double-shifts all week long,” I said, but Roddik was no longer paying attention.

He, along with all the other men in the bar, had turned toward the various screens that lined the far wall of the room. The screens had been turned off just moments ago but, all of a sudden, they lit up with the city’s emblem and the word STANDBY glowing under it.

“Attention, attention,” a raspy deep voice boomed through the speakers mounted next to the screens. As for the image, it remained the same, the word STANDBY replaced with PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT. “Ladies and gentlemen of Nyhiem. We’ve just been told that effective immediately, we are instituting a mandatory rationing system. I repeat, effective immediately, we are instituting a mandatory rationing system.”

When the announcement ended, there was no more raucous laughter inside Ventil. Instead, there was just a deep silence, one that was fraught with tension. What were the city officials thinking?

The whole city was still reeling from the vine incident, and now they mandated a rationing system out of the blue?

“This is fucking bullshit,” Roddik spat, slamming his glass down on the counter. The foam tumbled over the rim, splattering on the greasy metal counter and making a few of the men pulls their elbows back. Roddik grit his teeth hard, a furious expression on his face, and pointed toward the dark screens. “Who the hell do these people think they are? Food rationing? We were going hungry just a week ago!”

While most of the men nodded their agreement, I merely sighed. Roddik had never really cared about pretty much anything, let alone politics or government. That changed after the Xathi invasion, and his political rants were a constant reminder of how much life had changed in Nyhiem.

“Damn right, Roddik!” A burly man shouted from the other end of the bar, wiping the beer foam from his beard with the back of his hand. “We’re not their alien soldiers. We’re not their subjects!”

“Damn right we’re not!” Another voice said.

“They didn’t even care to tell us why,” another protested, and it didn’t take long before the bar was housing a chorus of protests and complaints against the sudden rationing system.

The dome had cut all of Nyhiem supply lines for long enough for most people in this bar had gotten to know hunger intimately. Now that the vines had been driven back, most people were looking forward to resuming their normal lives. This so-called public announcement really threw a wrench into those plans.

“Tell you what,” Roddik started, climbing up on the counter. This time, though, no one was chanting. The mood was somber, and I could already see that it’d become even more so in the days to come. “I’ve had it with these fucking assholes!” Roddik cried out at the top of his lungs, a vein throbbing on his forehead. The crowd shouted out its agreement, and I simply sunk deeper into my seat.

Why the hell was I wasting away my day off like this?

I should just get up and go home but, somehow, I found myself glued to my seat as I observed Roddik. Even though people were eating up what he was saying, I could tell he had already had one drink too many. I couldn’t drag him home, but if I left I was pretty sure he’d get into trouble.

“These aliens come here, bringing war and death, and we’re supposed to accept their rule?” Roddik continued, his voice reaching a feverish pitch. “Seriously, does anyone really believe our lives are better because of them? Just look at this city. Nyhiem used to prosper before these creatures came here. Now half the houses lie in ruins, and the people we love are going hungry! How much more of this are we supposed to take?”

I leaned back in my seat, slowly drinking my beer as I took in the scene. Most people were nodding furiously as Roddik spoke, and some of them were looking at him with more than just admiration. It was an unbelievable scene: Roddik had never been a leader of men, and I seriously doubted this was the right time for him to turn into one.

“But what the hell are we supposed to do?” Someone a few tables behind me grumbled. “You want to fight these things, boy?”

Roddik seemed stumped for a few seconds, and I could almost see the gears turning inside his head as he thought of an answer.  “We don’t need to fight,” he finally said, his eyes burning with a kind of determination I wasn’t used to seeing there. “I know that Nyhiem’s no longer our home. The aliens have become our rulers, I’ve accepted that. Thing is, we don’t have to stay here. They might want to rule the city, but they’ll never rule us!”

“DAMN RIGHT!” A few people cried out. These drunken dumbasses looked more than ready to march down the city’s main avenue and protest against their imaginary alien invasion.

They had a point.

There was no denying that life had become exponentially harder after these aliens arrived here, but who was to say they were the direct cause of all our grief?

I’d be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but too bad they were doing a poor job of explaining their point of view to the masses.

As unbelievable as it was, most people still had no idea where the Xathi had come from, or why the hell Nyhiem ended up encased in a vine dome.

I had no idea, and neither did anyone else.

Communication from high above had always been similar to the food rationing warning we just received: it was always a summary listing of what they wanted us to do, no real explanation given.

Sure, the government was entirely human. People like Vidia still held to their titles, but how much of their power did they really have with the aliens in town?

The way I saw it, the one in charge was now that alien general.

Not that any of it mattered.

Humans or aliens…they all kept the populace in the dark.

“Who’s with me?” Roddik asked. “We can leave Nyhiem behind and start our own colony. No aliens, no war, no food rationing. Just us and the product of our own work.”

That did it.

The moment Roddik was done, everyone in the room jumped to their feet and started clapping, some of them already chanting Roddik’s name as if he was some goddamn war hero. I knew that when the morning came, and with it some brutal hangovers, a lot of these idiots would have already forgotten about this stupid rebellion.

I worried all the same: Roddik was planting some dangerous seeds in his buddies’ heads.

“What do you say, Stasia?” Roddik finally turned to me, the only person in the room that hadn’t gotten up from her seat. “Are you with us or what?”

I sighed.

Part of me just wanted to punch Roddik for putting me on the spotlight. The other half wondered about the possibilities. I wasn’t that attached to Nyhiem, anyway, and moving out of this place could be the fresh start a lot of us needed…

Pushing my chair back, I rose to my feet.

“I’m with you, Roddik,” I said, tipping my beer toward him. He smiled at me, beaming with pride, and that almost made it all worth it.


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