The Oracle told me that yes, I could trust Aris Nestor. That did reassure me - however I realised I couldn’t really find out if I could trust Osscarte, either – only one question was permitted. Finding out the truth to the latter is more beneficial, after all, Osscarte is the main perpetrator. I could just ask Aris about Osscarte; supposedly, I can trust his word. But what if his word is misguided? Can I still trust it? Did The Oracle mean that Aris always told the truth, or that he was just always genuine with his words, even if he was mistaken? Could I trust Aris or the things he said? Damn, I’ve always hated the vagueness of that wretched woman.
“I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but Aris is a good person,” I mumble to a half-asleep Hugo in his bed. Even in his limbo between consciousness and dream, he manages to laugh. “Oh, yeah. Second cousin of powerful dictator, Christopher Nestor is a good person.” I can already feel him growing cold to my words. I decide to unwrap myself from him and climb out of bed. “Just stop that talk, please.” He groans.
“I visited him the other day,” I say.
“I told you to stop.”
“No, listen. He told me to visit the Oracle, and I did. She told me I could trust him.”
“You’ll honestly believe anything that man says, won’t you? And how the hell do you know they haven’t wired that women to respond in a biased manner towards questions about members of The Oligarchy?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” I sit on the edge of the bed awkwardly, looking up at the bedroom clock. There is fifty minutes until curfew.
“Listen,” Hugo mumbles. “Nothing you say or do about Aris or Osscarte will make me change my mind about them. Nothing.”
“I’m sorry. I should go.” I stand up, making my way to the hallway of the apartment. Due to the lack of returned soldiers, the male dorms do not need more than one occupant anymore. This means that Hugo was given an apartment without needing any roommates. He lives alone, only with the company of friends, or sometimes family, to keep him sane. But since Hugo came back, I might as well be the roommate.
“Don’t leave just yet,” he calls. He hasn’t moved a muscle since I got up, still submerged beneath warm blankets. I’m already missing being under there with him. “You’ve still got some time left.”
“Minus the time it takes for me to cross campus.” I say
“Just stay a little longer.”
“In your house, or this room?” I grin.
“Right here.” He responds nonchalantly, solidly, as if asking for something so simple.
I don’t get him; it’s so obvious there are parts of me he absolutely despises. Some elements of my mind-set; some of the things I say or do can make his blood boil. He’ll always use my thoughts against me, to prove how ‘messed up’ my head is, how brainwashed I am. Sometimes I think he doesn’t let go of me because he honestly believes that I need some sort of help – that I need ‘saving’, and that if I ever do come to my senses, he’ll know he was ‘there’ for me. He’ll be the hero who saved the deluded damsel, who brought her back from her dream world. He never says this, and to be fair, he never implies it, but he can’t still be welcoming me with open arms unless there was a reason. Alternative explanations could include using me as a comfort blanket whilst he recovers from melancholia and PTSD from the war, and that idea also unnerves me to a certain degree. It’s so obvious that we’re opposites in every way, but maybe there is a part of us that links – a part we both just can’t grasp.
I lie over the blankets behind him, staring at the ceiling for a while as I assume he’s asleep. Now even water rations are being cut, meaning that dehydration is more common. I’m not sure if Hugo’s side of the HDSS got the cuts worse, but he’s been suffering from headaches and exhaustion for the past couple of days, and I can tell everything is just crushing him. If I really have to be a comfort blanket, then so be it.
“It wasn’t a war,” Hugo says all of a sudden. “It was more of a massacre, or a genocide. It was surreal – I don’t know how I survived it. Everywhere I looked, people were being shot down. Our people, not theirs. A few of the opposition did go down, but it was still an unfair disadvantage. Their weapons looked so much more efficient and convenient. I’m pretty sure I saw a soldier wipe out four of us in one blow. Their combat gear was way more protective… everything about them was almost too perfect. They killed with ease. I was lost in the midst of it, but I’m telling you, those last few days, I survived on pure luck. Nothing else. I don’t get how your father made it ten years.”
“I don’t get it either,” I whisper. “I don’t get any of this. I mean… a lot of stuff still doesn’t add up. How, after all these years, did the Southern finally find a way to obliterate us? If it was so easy, why did it take so long?”
“Probably saving and stocking up for a big fight. A fight we were never prepared for. I wasn’t even prepared for what I went through.”
“Where were you?” I ask. “What were the Caverns like? The environment?”
“It’s hard to explain,” he responds, distressed. “You couldn’t really pay attention to the setting.”
“How couldn’t you? How did you get there? Can’t you remember entering the Caverns?”
“…No. All I know is that we were there. It’s just odd… I remember some things so vividly, like being on the frontline. But I can’t even remember how I got there, or how I left. It still feels like a dream, you know? That’s why I just can’t come to terms with it. None of it makes sense, at all.”
“Maybe it will all make sense one day,” I twist a tendril of his hair around my finger, casually. “Don’t stress too much. I honestly can’t say I know what you’ve been through, but I know it must have been way more than you deserve – than anyone deserves. The Southern had something in mind when they came round to beating us, and they devised detailed and intricate plans to it. We’ll find out about these small inconsistencies in the long run. The fact that they didn’t even want anyone to talk about combat baffles me. They’re hiding something, Hu. I can tell.”
“Possibly.” I can tell he’s too tired to hand out a long-winded response. He’s said enough, and he’s poured out his darkest thoughts already. I think I’ll leave him to brood over them.
I kiss his temple before leaving the room, making my way into the living room.
There is still half an hour until curfew, and I’m feeling reluctant to flee to my dorm instantly. It’s been almost a week since Zoe was arrested, and I’m becoming afraid of entering the empty apartment. I’m not even eighteen yet, and I’m already experiencing living alone. I miss my parents too much to bear, but it’s recently become too much effort to visit them. There never seems to be enough time in my day to do anything I want to do anymore. By the end of the day after studying part-time work at a restaurant in the Square (which is getting more vacant by the day), I feel pretty close to death. But I also feel loneliness, and it’s something that doesn’t get cured by going home.
Hugo tends to walk me back to my dorm most nights, but these days I stay out closer to my curfew time meaning he wouldn’t be back home in time to stay within it. So I’m preparing myself for a long walk through campus, sliding into my coat and shoes, stretching any lazy muscles in my body.
Before I can walk towards the front door, I hear a heavy knocking. Shocked, I stand right in my tracks, turning to face it.
Within seconds, Hugo is up and standing at the doorframe of the hallway behind me, clothes roughly thrown on and hair dishevelled. His facial expression screams as much confusion as both mine.
They knock again, loud, and intimidating, echoing through the apartment.
“Open up right now, before we knock the door down.” A deep voice resonates through the door, sending a jolt through my stomach. I step back.
“Who is it?” Hugo moves forward towards the door, ready to open it warily.
“It’s the Authority.” The voice responds. “Is Eden Perronis in here? Her tracker sent us to this location. We know she is in there.”
I gasp, beginning to shake uncontrollably. Why do they want me? What have I done wrong? “Open the door now, please.”
“No, no, no.” I whisper. I move quickly to Hugo and burrow underneath his arms, protecting me as if a thousand men were approaching us.
“Don’t panic,” he murmurs. “Just stay where you are.” Not panicking is easier said than done when you know there are some Patrolmen just a wall away, ready to detain for you whatever crime you don’t know you’ve committed.
“We’re not opening until you tell us the reason you want her.”
“We’re giving you three seconds, Alden.” Another voice responds; a sharper, raspy sounding man. “Starting from now. Three…”
Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.
Just comply - just open the door right now before they get to one – just get it over with! The repercussions will be so much worse if we don’t comply-