APRIL 2151 - NINE WEEKS AFTER THE TAKEOVER
I might as well be living back at home with my mother and father, because I miss them, and I’m not really at any loss going back. The Higher Division has crumbled to nothing. After the New Amendment was mailed to every doorstep, things really settled. Rations dropped, and those who didn’t support most of The Oligarchy’s propaganda got to feel the burn of disadvantage after disadvantage. Those who seemed even slightly reluctant to budge got rations cut, possessions taken away, rights stolen. And before we know it, it becomes almost everybody. Everybody except The Oligarchy.
It’s not known who is exactly a part of the group. We all know that Christopher Nestor, Charles Nestor and Joaquin Heram are leading members, but most of the others are not public knowledge. But it doesn’t really matter who is a part of the group. It doesn’t really matter who has dominion over us anymore. Aris told us that most of us would never even know the true nature of our oppression. It goes deeper. Much, much deeper.
I know that Bidas must have been executed by the opposition once they took over. I know he didn’t just die. They started from the top down – wipe away the highest power and worked their way to the bottom. They wanted to render the rich poor and the elites nothing but scroungers like the rest of us.
Now we all mill around, savouring every ration we get and holding onto it for dear life.
There are parts of the H.D. I have still never entered, and parts I know I never will. I still don’t know exactly how certain resources arrive and appear, but what I do know is that I don’t know for a reason. They never wanted us to know, nor question it, or argue it. At a time like this, there is really no point in trying to find out anything about the city. It’s broken down.
I wonder why they want us to suffer so much – is it because of the Southern’s reign? I can imagine them living full, flourishing, sweet lives; throwing parties like Tionne and John did every month or so; lounging around in lavish apartments – living the life of winners. Of course Christopher Nestor didn’t take over so he could make a paradise out of us – he just wanted to break us down into tiny parts, whilst the Southern got stronger. He wanted to be a big part of that transposition. It worked pretty damn well.
The L.D. hasn’t worsened as much as I thought – I think the plan was always to break down the H.D. first. It feels good coming back to a place that hasn’t changed as much as the other Divisions - I can just slip into the L.D. Square out of the lift and glide past everyone. They’ve gotten used to seeing my face around - I’m too familiar for them to stare anymore. To them, I’m not just a stranger who happened to bandwagon onto Osscarte’s lessons for the thrill of it - they see me around too much to know I’m not messing around here anymore.
It has been a while since I last attended lessons, and to be fair, I am thrown off guard when I enter late and I see that Vera and the others are already here, not having considered to invite me. I would constantly refuse to come down with them, choosing to keep Hugo company instead. It’s funny how the last time, I chose lessons over seeing Hugo away, before the war. Now, I’m constantly by his side, trying to get him to open up, to talk, and to trust me. I have been close to losing the motivation to learn anything new - but I need to snap out of that ideology. I’ve learnt now that if I’m ever going to survive this new life, I need to do more than just tense my shoulders around Patrolmen and wait for my next food ration with an intense patience. It’s been just over two months since everything changed and I feel like it will be a long time before things are ever restored. Maybe I won’t even be alive to see the Northern like it once was.
“It’s been a while, Perronis.” Osscarte says as I slowly edge into the room. All eyes are on me. It feels like the first day I started, when I was thrown into a hot-seat of interrogations – except this time, they know me all too well. They stare at me with the look of impatience, almost like I shouldn’t be here anymore. I wasted way too much time away. Even Vera finds it hard to welcome me.
“I’m sorry, I-”
“This class is not compulsory. Please do not waste your time apologising when the act is unnecessary.”
“It’s just that I’ve missed so many classes, and…”
“Why now?” Janna calls out. “Is Hugo boring you now? Do you miss us?”
“I’m here to learn.” I respond sternly, still standing outside the class of students. “I’m here to develop myself, and keep my knowledge strong. The HDSS just isn’t enough anymore. In fact, as we all know, it’s almost nothing much now. I could have gotten a better level of education in a Junior Seminary, here in the L.D.”
“You should have stayed here. You shouldn’t have just left. This is something that takes commitment.”
“You are really beginning to sound like more and more of a cult every damn day.” I raise my voice. I lock my jaw, stopping myself from saying anything else.
“Perronis, you are making a fool out of yourself. Take a seat right now, and listen. Listen.”
Osscarte stares intensely, pulling me to the nearest chair with just his eyes. The tension in the room leaves me feeling stiff. I wish I didn’t bite so hard at people in defence. It takes me back to the first lesson, when I fumbled on my words in the heat of interrogation. I really, really should just keep my mouth shut.
“Now, whatever this seems like to you – whether a place of wisdom, or a ‘cult’, it is yours to take or to keep. Nobody is dragging you down here, and we certainly do not need any of our fellow students making conclusions on your decisions.” He looks over to Janna. “I did not come here to teach them to assume before they got their answers. I didn’t waste my life for this – I did not leave my wife at home with my children to watch my teachings be utilised in complete error, and not be used when needed the most. Ramos, if you wanted an answer out of this girl you could have gotten one. Don’t ever speak to anybody in this room again unless you know the conversation is worthwhile. Do not waste my time.”
Janna sinks into her seat. “Yes.”
“You are just a student - an apprentice, a learner. You are no wise one. You will never be, unless you work on yourself. Don’t let everything else fool you.”
“Osscarte, are you a wise one?” I find myself asking. I just can’t help myself - the question finds itself out of my mouth before I can stop it. “Apparently nobody here is really that wise, but we’re being taught by you, who is apparently breaking his back, abandoning his family in order to enlighten us. Are you wise?”
“Define Wise, Eden.”
“I’m sick of all this damn definition. I’m not a dictionary. Just answer me. Are you wise?”
“You will never get an answer from me with that method. Utilise what I have taught you.”
“How do I know it’s all worth it? How do I know what comes out of your mouth isn’t just pure garbage? Because look where it’s brought us. Are you happy now?”
“I did not lead this city into Armageddon, but if you really want to believe that, go ahead. Believe that.”
“I don’t want to believe that. I don’t want to believe anything unless it’s I know it’s the truth.”
“What kind of truth? Real Truth or… watered-down, spoon-fed truth?
“Real truth.” I sigh.
“OK. Well… hold on to your stomach.” He demands unexpectedly.
“What?” I sit, puzzled.
“Just place your hand on your abdomen, gently. Close your eyes.”
The class sits stock still, some with their eyes to the floor in awkwardness and some entertained, watching this unfold in front of them.
“Put your hand on your abdomen. Do it.”
I finally do, because I realise there is no point in resisting him. I might as well just so it. He won’t stop demanding it otherwise. “Close your eyes.”
It’s hard to at first, with everybody watching, but my lids eventually flicker closed.
“Do you know what a gut feeling is?”
“Yes, I do. Are you going to tell me to define it?” I half joke, half scowl at the idea of it.
“How much do you trust my teachings?” He ignores my question. “Do you think they do more harm than good? And do you think that is primarily my fault? Do you feel it in your gut?”
I struggle to answer. I want to lift my eyes open. “Do you?”
“I… I’m not sure. I feel like… everything is going wrong, and I’m afraid I might be perpetuating it. I feel so wrong being here.”
“Do you feel that my teachings do more harm than good? I want you to feel it in your gut, seeming as a real definitive breakdown is not enough for you. You’ll have to look inside you, now. So, tell me.”
I sigh. “No. I don’t. I just don’t know who to believe, that’s all.”
“That’s all I needed to hear. Open your eyes, now.” I do. “And if you ever continue to question my motive and demand to know the answer before working through it my way, you really shouldn’t be here anymore.”
“I’m sorry. I’m…”
“Do not apologise.”
I keep silent for the next few minutes as the lesson continues. It just picks up from where it ended, because it takes me a while to understand everything. That’s what it’s always like – you can’t ever walk into Osscarte’s lesson halfway and expect to get anything. It doesn’t work like that.
Then, something soon starts to unnerve me – I realise after almost fifteen minutes that Aris is not present for the lesson, again. I wonder how many he’s missed, and where he’s been. I wonder if his family are OK – after all, elites are targets. But then I remember how his own family basically rule the city.
“When was the last time Aris came?” I decide to ask. Vera freezes when she looks at me, as if I asked a question that I really shouldn’t have. Everybody appears to shrink or flinch, as if I’ve just let off a time-bomb.
“Oh, Aris,” Osscarte shakes his head. “I don’t know how you don’t know yet, seeming as you were his most interesting student. I thought he would have told you out of lesson hours.”
“Told me what?”
“That he joined The Oligarchy.”