As strange as it may sound, the quarry had begun to feel like home. At least, more like a home than Arvid’s compound, where I was still expected to spend most of my days working his precious Earth Garden. Luckily, he had cooled in his advances toward me, and rarely expected me to offer him any affection. He seemed quieter, more distant during his infrequent visits. The growing bags beneath his eyes made me wonder if he was having trouble sleeping. Was Jia keeping the family awake at night?
Whenever I could, I escaped to the quarry, to Meiying’s precious face, and to Aksel’s warm, loving arms. We could almost pretend that we were a normal, happy family, that we weren’t prisoners on a planet far from our own, and that our other daughter wasn’t doomed to a childhood beneath the iron fist of Arvid and his family. Almost. We caught fish, scavenged for food and supplies, and explored the mountainside. We found a large telescope on the roof of one of the quarry structures and began to study the skies, trying to gain understanding of where we were. One day, Meiying and I came across an ominous, boarded-up cave. The thick darkness within sent chills down my spine, but I made a note of its location, should our little family ever need to hide.
While out exploring one day, Aksel made a very important discovery. There was another tiny room at the base of the quarry, which contained a workbench and various tools. But that wasn’t all he found.
“A gun?” My mouth went dry as I stared at the weapon in Aksel’s hand.
His voice was grim. “A few rounds of ammunition, too. And Xifeng—” He paused, waiting to see how I would react to him using my Chinese name. I blinked, then gave him an approving nod. Somehow, it felt right. I was the Phoenix. And I was Xifeng. I was both, all along. I was all of the me’s I had ever been, rolled into one. And right now, I was Xifeng who was trembling at the sight of a gun. “You have to learn how to shoot it. We both do. To protect our daughter. To protect both our daughters. And to help us get home.” He placed the gun in my hand. “Come on. I’ll walk you through it.”
The metal was cool and hard in my unsteady hands as Aksel showed me the basics. Then he scooped Meiying into his arms and covered her ears as I aimed toward a rocky field and pulled the trigger. Bang! The force of the gun firing knocked me off balance. I steadied myself, then fired again. Bang! Bang! Bang! I, Xifeng, was a weapons-yielding anti-alien gangsta.
At last, when I had come down from my power trip, Aksel took a turn firing into the distance. His expression was so dark and intense, I wondered if he was imagining shooting at Arvid. I’m not sure what made me feel so uneasy – a surge of sympathy for Arvid, or the part where I didn’t want to see Aksel turn to the dark side and become a murderer. Even if that’s what it took to get our family home.