TWO MONTHS LATER - NOVEMBER 2150
“Happy seventeenth birthday, darling.” My mother embraces me once I enter the house. The escort guards walk off, out to the centre of the Fourth to wait for me during my visit. “You look so different! Older. Bolder. And no less beautiful.” She smiles that warm, sweet smile that reminds me one of the few reasons that I miss home so much.
She cooked up a decent birthday lunch for me, which was much more filling than most dinners we ever had. Unfortunately, it doesn’t match up to a H.D. breakfast, but I can’t complain – I need to remember that things have always been different between here and there.
“Do you know what your gift is?” My mother asks excitedly.
“Guess.” She urges.
“...That book I really wanted? The one I requested for New Year?”
“Nope. My gift wasn’t bought.”
“Ugh. Don’t tell me it was something like ‘your love for me.’”
“I give you that every day.” She smiles. I roll my eyes. “What I’m about to give you is something close to my heart, literally and figuratively. I thought long and hard about this, as it’s not something I’ve ever been without, let alone give it to somebody. But I think your father would be perfectly OK with me doing this. It’s better than selling it off to a stranger, isn’t it?” she laughs. And with that, she slowly begins to unclip her Adaven necklace, carefully removing it from around her neck and holding it out before me.
“You don’t have to do this, Mother.” I say, feeling too undeserving.
“It’s the right thing to do. I need you to hold onto Adaven’s blessing and cherish Her grace. She has done a lot for us, and She will continue to with the help of our faith. Just take it along with you to the H.D. I mean it.”
“Thank you so much. I appreciate this.” I take it from her hands, slowly fixing it up behind my neck. That specific action reminds me of the imprint, and the second it comes into mind I find it harder to fasten the hook. Fiddling around for a few more seconds, it finally clicks in and I fix my hair back down.
“The Third of November, 2133. That’s when you introduced yourself to the world. You were such a handful, but a good one. I didn’t mind staying up until four in the morning trying to calm you down. I didn’t mind that almost nothing cheered you up. All I knew is that I had a certain feeling about you, from the minute you were born. Call it being a proud mother all you want, but I sensed that you were going to do extraordinary things. You confirmed this with your award at the E.O.I’s, and then the invite to the H.D. But there’s more. I feel it in my gut. I’m serious when I say you’ll achieve great things in your life.”
After our lunch, I make a request to talk to my father right there instead of waiting until the evening. There could be a possibility he’s in combat but it’s not always the case. He wishes me a happy birthday, gushing over me the same way Mother did. As always, our conversation is short-lived but full of life nonetheless.
We spend the next few hours dancing to music in the living room, snacking on sugary foods and watching mediocre drama films on the TV.
Unfortunately, my birthday happens to be on the day of the war update and the news isn’t good. I know my father’s fine so we needn’t worry, but the reporter tells us how the deaths have hit a high, with this week being the worst for casualties. A few tens of soldiers tend to die by the day, totalling to around two-hundred by the end of the week, but this time a thousand men have perished. I’m satisfied enough when they decide not to go through the list of fallen soldiers and they announce to broadcast a list for people to check out on their devices.
For the first time, the threat of the Southern Empire’s defeat is televised, for the whole city to see. The reporter highlights the commander of the invasion, a man called Christopher Nestor.
“Nestor is the cousin of Tionne Rilam, a well-known politician of our State, who threw a social gathering a couple of months back for blessings over the Northern Empire in the war. He is also a former student of controversial figure, William Osscarte, a path in which his second cousins have followed, with Aris Nestor being a current associate. It is thought that along with leading politician Joaquin Heram, they plan a final attack on the city in the following months. It cannot be confirmed, but there is still a likely chance that it could take place, judging on the state of our army and its scarce resources. Charles Nestor, Christopher’s cousin and Tionne’s elder brother, is also thought to be part of the arrangement to penetrate the walls of the N.E. and overrule our democratic approach for a sterner political body built up by just a group of leading men.”
My mother’s face drops once she hears Osscarte’s name, knowing that I have been visiting him and Aris on a frequent basis. I enthusiastically told her about him and how much I’ve learned from them.
“You begin to see things differently,” I remember saying to her on the phone one day. When she turns to face me now, I can tell she believes those exact words. She thinks I’ve started looking at things in the wrong way. I’m guilty of agreeing with Osscarte’s method of a perfect city, including how it is ruled. This certainly wouldn’t put me in the good books of the Higher Authority if they ever knew.
It leaves me so much unbearable guilt to know how much I’ve associated with the opposition, without really meaning to. I was just enticed by the obscurity and wonder that Osscarte’s wisdom brought. I just never knew it was the same kind of wisdom that helped to bring dictators to power or so much distaste in general. And to be fair, Osscarte is not the only person in favour of the opposition – due to the piling evidence that we’re failing miserably, a lot more people have started leaning towards the idea of letting the S.E. take over, including Zac, the elite student. But I feel like Osscarte might be the root. He is the one who favoured the S.E. before anybody else really did. I’m torn to pieces, because I feel like there’s more for me to learn at his lessons, and I can’t just let go of everything I now know. I just don’t want to be one of the people that people point their fingers at when they need someone to blame for the upheaval of our State. I don’t want my mother’s hopes for me to be turned on its head. If I ever avoid bad decisions in this life, she is one of my motivations. I could never watch her hurt.
“Eden, please listen to me when I say this.” She demands in a hushed tone. “I don’t want you ever going back to this ‘warehouse’ place you talk of ever again. I don’t want you to connect with those sick-minded people ever again. I want you to study law, hang out with your friends, stay in communication with us, and cleanse yourself of this unorthodox tyrannical propaganda. I’m saying this out of love and the desire for your safety. Do you promise me this?” She grabs my hands and squeezes them in hers, and stares at me with pleading eyes despite her harsh low tone of speech. I’m so torn inside, and it rips up my heartstrings and makes me feel physically nauseous. As much as I know it might not be a good idea attending the lessons according to the N.E., I still don’t see much harm in using them as another source of extra-curricular knowledge.
I turn to look straight into my mother’s eyes and I tell her, “I won’t attend them.”
I’ve come to realise that if I ever decide to attend the Warehouse outside lesson times, it’s still likely one of the teachers will be there anyway; mostly Osscarte. Every now and then, there’ll be the odd student hanging around for some advice or questions anyway. Once I’m back in the H.D. in the late afternoon, I just make my way to the platforms and take the lift down to the L.D. I would have gone straight there from home, but the guards made sure I was taken back up first.
Eight weeks ago, Aris told me how he knew I had been in his study. It turns out he had lost the electronic key that he used to lock it, and he decided to activate the security device that maps out locations of people around the house to see if anybody had entered whilst it was open. He saw that there had been activity on the night of the party and upon clicking the target on the map, found out my profile. I almost had a panic attack once I realised that he knew, but he reassured me that he was oddly glad I had found it, or that I had taken any interest in my observation. Of course at the time I was extremely confused; I was expecting some sort of persecution, report or being kicked out of classes.
“I’m grateful that you found the darkest parts of me and didn’t hesitate to associate with me nonetheless. I feel like that would have been the last straw for most people, including a few of our students,” he told me after the lesson.
“The only reason I really stuck around was due to my sheer fascination, to tell you the honest truth,” I can remember saying. “I didn’t just want to leave with unanswered questions.”
“Fair enough, Perronis.” He nods. “So, do you feel like asking about what you found?” There was a tone to his voice – that of hope, mingled with a slither of minor desperation. It was as if this was something he had always wanted people to know, but just knew that it either wouldn’t come across right, or nobody would be interested. He asked me as if he had been pouring his heart out into apathetic minds, and decided to write it out onto notebooks and throw them away into a room that nobody else could find. I think he detected the tone in his voice, and followed his question with a sober “Because I’m sure it didn’t throw you that much, did it? I just tick the profile of madman of the city.”
“But... what was it all?” I finally ask.
He hesitates asking for a moment, loosening up the high neck of his sweater. “I’ll never be able to explain it adequately to you and get you to understand it well enough,” he says, “But the best thing I can say is that on that night, you found yourself glimpsing into the world of Truth.”
When I visit him on my birthday, he’s the only person in the Warehouse. Sitting on his chair, he scribbles ferociously in what looks like another addition to his many notebooks. He hardly notices my entrance, but even once he’s aware, he chooses to remain oblivious. I note how much wilder his hair has become in the recent weeks, with locks considerably longer and tousled than before. He’s even quit trimming his facial hairs, letting dark stubble grow. I can tell that there has been a slight decline in his wellbeing. The more he writes, the more he troubles he has.
His response is delayed by a few seconds as he finishes off the last sentence in his book. “What do you want, Eden?” He asks in an exasperated tone.
“I’m sorry to bother you. I just wanted to find something out.”
“I’m not the Oracle,” He snaps. The Oracle being a young woman found in a cut-off part of the H.D., strictly open to those with requested access, and mostly of authoritative power. Apparently, the She had been the starting point of Osscarte’s hubris, informing him of his wisdom.
“I’m sorry,” I apologise again, regretting my decision to come here, especially directly after lying to my mother’s face and dismissing her orders not to. “I just... I just need to clear something up. I need to know if I should really bother coming to these lessons anymore.”
This gathers more of his attention, causing him to turn and face me fully. “And why is that?”
“It’s just that-”
“No, I already know. Christopher Nestor, right?”
“Uh...” I’m taken aback by his forward thinking. Either he’s ahead of my thoughts, or this dilemma has also been replaying in his mind for long time.
“It’s not something I’m proud of. But it’s not something I’m going to dispute for the satisfaction of this State. He is blood, and nothing can change that. And I apologise if this possibly sour state of affairs has bruised your interest in finding Truth, but-”
“I don’t even understand this whole ‘Truth’ thing. I don’t get it. I’ve slowly started to understand a lot in your classes. I’ve opened up my scope of vision, I’ve started delving deeper into everything, but I can’t see this ‘Truth’ you always talk about. If it’s so perfect and enlightening, why doesn’t it just exist? Why do we have to bend over backwards and look so hard just to find it?”
“Eden,” Aris calls austerely. “This city is shrouded in lies, deceit, ignorance and pain. And if you think a group of power-hungry, ruthless men taking over is your worst nightmare, then you’ll be lucky to know that you were born into it. I was born into it. We are living this totalitarian society you are all so afraid of, but you just fail to see it.”
“That’s not true.”
“Tell me Eden, what generation citizen are you?”
“...I’m a fifth generation citizen. But what does that have to do with anything?”
“So tell me where the first generation came from.”
“We’re not sure. The history books don’t cover it.”
This is when Aris lets out a hearty laugh, as if he has heard the most hilarious sentence spoken in a long time. “Wow. You still have so much left to learn.” He rises from his chair, making gradual steps towards me until we are chest-to-chest. “The first generation came from the world of Truth. When I say that’s where we all belong, I mean it. We do not belong here at all.” The look in his eyes begins to frighten me; intimidating and alarming. “The real enemy has never been the Southern Empire, or Christopher Nestor or William Osscarte or General Bidas. The real enemy is The Overseer. I fear for the ending of this city in the war, because it could be the end of us all. I mean it. The Overseer wants us all dead.”