JULY 2151 – FIVE MONTHS AFTER THE TAKEOVER
They took her, a couple of hours ago. I called up the first person I could think of, which was Guy, and he couldn’t even talk over the phone; he seemed extremely distressed, jumpy, and restless. He sounded angry; dangerously angry. He told me how he found her with someone else, over in the Night Tunnels. He decided to go for a swim in solitude, to spend some time alone. He went down and he saw Zoe right there, arms wrapped around somebody else. It was a pretty bad situation to walk into, but what made it worse was that that someone else was a girl.
Which, of course, is one of the condemned acts of the New Amendment. You only have relations with people of the opposite sex. There are no ifs or butts about it.
So not only was Guy fuming and heartbroken, but he realised he had every reason to report the authorities about the breach of protocol. That was his revenge; to get her thrown into detainment.
It worked, unfortunately. I wasn’t around to watch them carry her away, kicking and screaming in the Square with still-moist hair and a voice louder than sirens. I wasn’t around to watch her lover get handcuffed and carried away, silent as night, not uttering a word. Everybody watched, including Liza, Hugo, and Guy. He told me this over the phone, and I stood in awe, feeling the uncomfortable silence of my apartment haunt me even more.
We all gather in Guy’s apartment, sitting awkwardly and gravely around chairs and sofas until he breaks the quiet air. “I don’t know what they’ll do to her. I don’t know when they’ll let her out.”
“Surely it will be an overnight thing?” I respond.
“Kid, this is the age of The Oligarchy. Not the age of charming old Bidas. She won’t get a slap on the wrist, and we all know it.” Clementine snaps. She always has a habit of trying her best to counteract or reality-slap any naïve or hopeful statements I make these days. Anything I say will normally be met with a sour welcome-to-the-real-world type response.
“I feel so bad,” Guy mutters, gnawing on his finger nails.
“Why did you report her, then?” Joseph Ramos asks. “Why didn’t you just sort it out between yourselves?”
“I was angry. I still am. I let it get to me. I did the worst thing I could imagine to make her understand what she did was wrong.”
“So it’s nothing to do with the fact that it was another girl? All to do with the fact that it was just another person? What would you have done if it was a guy?” Clementine asks.
“…I don’t know. I didn’t plan any of this out – it was impulsive. What she did was against the law, Clem. She broke the law. I didn’t want to do what I did, but I felt that it was only fair. It was only damn fair, OK?”
“If you loved her, you wouldn’t do what you did! Not in the middle of all of this; not while a lot of people are going missing and being thrown into jail, and there have been a rise in executions. You wouldn’t throw her out like that, Guy.”
“Relax, Clementine.” Eric tries to pacify her growing rage. I know that Clementine and Zoe got closer over the past few months, and it must hurt even her stone-cold heart to see her best friend get torn away from her.
“She was put in indefinite detainment. That’s what it says in the Amendment. That’s the punishment you get.”
“I know, I know.” You can see it in his eyes, how distressed he is. There is something about his soft pale face and fiery red hair that makes you marvel at him, even in his darkest hours. There’s something that I can understand Zoe going for in him. Chaos – I think that’s the word. He’s unpredictable chaos – he’s angry before he even realises it, and he regrets his impulsive decisions a little too late. He’s really screwed up this time.
“We need to be back in our dorms by eight,” Hugo says a while later. I check my watch, telling me we have around three hours left to head back home. I decide to make a head-start, despite the minor protests of friends asking me to stay longer. I think its best I just go home and rest, and maybe appreciate the lack of Zoe’s tone-deaf humming along to music or constant phone calls to her partner (half of which I know now weren’t Guy). I might just make the best out of this terrible, terrible situation.
On top of the whole Zoe-Guy situation, the betrayal of Aris’ recruitment into The Oligarchy sits bubbling in the back of my head. It hurts a lot, and there is nothing I can say to defend it. One of my own mentors has joined The Oligarchy. One of the leaders of The Oligarchy was a student of Osscarte, as well as many other members of the cruel tyranny. I need to leave the class. I need to leave, and I can’t try coming back. I need to actually listen to my mother, my friends, the general public - I need to stop trying so hard to be this different, revolutionary, unorthodox person who distances herself from real life. I’m perpetuating the oppression. I’m part of the reason we’re fighting for better rations, better rights; to be treated like human beings again. I have never been this more disgusted with myself before.
I thought it wasn’t a bad idea; this concept of the perfect guardian ruling over the city. I think back to the lesson I attended, when Zac explained those particular attributes:
“Dictatorship. Having a sense of order and control; not letting your citizens run amok. Keeping them stable.”
Now I realise what that really meant. Osscarte loved the idea of people being boxed in, controlled, and limited. He loved the idea of the world suffering, and I begin to think that maybe it’s because of how the Northern Empire treated him. He wanted everybody to suffer; to be brought down. There was never much for him to lose during it all – he already lives in the L.D. without a lot of money to his name. In reality, he just thrived at the thought of manipulating elites into thinking his philosophy would work, so that they could utilise his teachings and use them as a tool to turn an ‘ignorant’ democracy into a tight, solid oligarchy. That way, nobody would be better than him. Nobody would be able to look down on him. That way, he could really feel as superior as he thought he was. I mean, it’s definitely clever – using your intelligence to your own advantage in such a persuasive, brainwashing way. He’s clever for that, I have to hand it to him.
I thought maybe Aris could be hit by the fall of the city and see the error in Osscarte’s ways. But of course not – he’s on the other side. He’s on the side of power, of authority, of ruling. His family members, along with the help of Osscarte, made him a part of The Oligarchy, and he joined with pure enthusiasm. He couldn’t wait to sit back and watch us all rot in front of his eyes. I feel so, so betrayed. I feel like everything is over.
But not quite.
I need to speak to Aris one last time – I need to get some sort of answer out of him. I need to understand why he chose the path he chose. I was one of his best students, according to Osscarte - surely, he’d still allow me to communicate with him? I’m not sure how much his demeanour or outlook has changed, but I still can’t wrap my head around him being this cruel, heartless tyrant. I’m sure he wouldn’t turn me away, would he?
Halfway through my journey back to my own dorm, as I’m crossing the HDSS Park, I stop in my tracks, and I choose to try and visit Aris’ house before curfew. It’s something that has never crossed my mind before – going over to the Nestors’ mansion and knocking on their front door. If I’m turned down at that point, then I can always just give up. But someone might answer. Possibly.
Anthony Rilam opens the door with caution, staring down at me in confusion once he realises who I am. I’ve never seen him this close up before – he looks strikingly similar to Aris, suggesting that they share traits from their mother. But he’s also much darker; his skin is a warm golden brown, and his head full of curlier, thicker brown curls. From afar, it would be hard to think they were even related, let alone half-brothers, but you can really see where the resemblance of his father and his mother meet somewhere in the middle.
The population of this city (was) close to bursting, and there have always been specifically diverse groups and identities. Like how Vera looks nothing like Liza, but also nothing like me, or how my father looks nothing like my mother, or how John Rilam looks nothing like Tionne. You could say that’s pretty damn obvious – nobody looks like anybody, really - but the certain categories we’ve made to distinguish ourselves, whether it be by skin or facial attributes, have worked in many ways to divide us as citizens. Even then, it didn’t stop the (formerly dense) population from interweaving and mixing in with each other. There are only so many of your own ‘category’ that you can stick with before moving further out. It has created beautifully varied people, with the characteristics of different categories, melded into their own identities.
“Eden?” Anthony asks in a you’re-not-meant-to-be-here tone, scratching his chin. “You’re Eden, right?”
“Yes. Is Aris here?”
“You’re lucky. You just got him in time. He’s hardly around much, so don’t turn up every day excepting to see him.”
“I won’t,” I reassure him. “I probably won’t turn up again. I just want to clear things up with him.”
“Aww, you’re in a relationship or something?” he laughs. “That’s gross.”
“No,” I hiss. “You already know this.”
“I know; I’m just messing around.”
A voice from within the house calls Anthony’s name. “Who are you talking to?” It’s Toni Nestor. I peek in and see her standing in the hallway, arms crossed. Anthony opens the door wider to let Toni see me. “Eden? Is that you?”
“Yes. I just came to see Aris.”
She furrows her eyebrows, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“I know he’s a part of The Oligarchy. I know he’s busy with more important affairs, but I really need to speak with him. Even if just for a moment. Curfew is coming around.” I plead.
She sighs. “Let her in.”
Aris’ office is much tidier than it was when I first saw it - the books are slotted onto shelves, and all of his odd drawings are nowhere to be seen on the wall. It looks like he’s really tried organising himself better.
He even looks neater, sporting trimmed curly locks, zero facial hair and more sophisticated clothing. I feel odd, standing at the entrance of his office. He hasn’t spoken a word since I turned up, even ignoring my meek greeting. I’m used to being dismissed by him during or after class, but I’m here in his own personal space. The least I would expect is some sort of dialogue from him.
“Do you see what you have done?” I begin. “Do you see what you’ve done to this city?”
“Close the door behind you,” he signals, without looking up at me. The book he’s reading must be fascinating – perhaps a list of creative ways to execute unlawful citizens.
“Did you hear me?” I don’t want to yell, but I feel like I might.
“You’ll never understand any of this, Eden.”
“Well then explain it to me!” here comes the yelling. “You didn’t even tell me you’d stopped teaching. You just left. What has happened to you? What have they done?”
“You will never understand. No matter what I say, or how I say it. This is far beyond you.”
“You really think you’re something else, don’t you?” I hiss. “The Magnificent Aris Nestor, member of The Oligarchy, the perfect guardian of the city.”
“I have not proposed any of the new laws they’ve put in place, neither have I explicitly agreed to them.”
“You haven’t tried to stop them.”
“I don’t have the power you think I have.”
“You have more power than any of us.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You are!” He rises from his chair rapidly, shouting with a voice full of red anger. I have never, ever heard him raise his voice this loud before and I am quite taken aback by it. “Christopher Nestor and Joaquin Heram are the only people with the power here. You think all of us call the shots? Only two people do, and I’m certainly not one of them. I have no choice or say in what happens. Don’t be fooled.”
“But don’t you detest this?” I ask softly, with a wavering voice. I am afraid I could start crying in front of him. “My friend was arrested earlier today over something that would have never batted an eyelid four months ago. People are being killed for the most trivial reasons. Don’t you hate that?”
“Listen,” He walks up to me, placing his hands on my shoulders and lowering his head, in order to look me directly in the eyes. “If I turn against them now, I will be stripped of everything. I need some sort of platform; some sort of backbone to work with. I know it is ironic looking for a support system in the thing I’m trying to fight against, but once I can gain enough power without Christopher thinking much of it, I can devise different tactics that can help to overthrow these new rules put in order. I promise you.”
“I don’t know if I believe you.”
He chuckles, “You’ve always been so stubborn. Even after trying your hardest to find yourself right in the middle of my study, for an answer that you so strongly demand, you’ll already have come to your own conclusions and you’ll fail to let go of them. But that, my friend, is no way to learn.”
“I said I don’t know if I believe you; not that I don’t believe you.”
“Take a trip to the Oracle, then.” He says. “If you can’t trust my word, you can certainly trust hers. I’ll authorise you so that the Patrolmen can let you into those premises without hassle. Just take a trip down to the Oracle and tell me what she says. The Oracle never, ever lies.”