Posted on: 2011-06-02
People say that we're the lucky ones. We're the survivors. We have made it in the Final Age of Mankind, as our Emperor keeps reminding us. We survived the Fourth World War and we are the conquerors. We have conquered all of the enemies of humanity-disease, famine, etc-and now we get to decide what to do with this new world.
But this new world comes at a cost and, while I would never say it out loud, I don't like the cost. We can fly by jetpack to anywhere we want to go, but all of our food is mass-produced in factories. The agricultural world was lost during the Third World War. Now, after the Fourth World War, which was largely caused by squabbling over food resources, we have perfected mass production of food in factories. The food has no taste, but we eat it because "it is good for us" as the roadside posters and holograms of the Emperor's face tell us. We have no more problems with weight because no one wants to eat the food. We eat for survival rather than enjoyment.
We have pre-cogs who can tell us the future, the whole future, of a person on the day of their birth. But we have closed every art museum. The contents of the Louvre, the Prado, the Vatican Museums, the Guggenheim museums, your local corner art gallery, every private collection and everything else-all of that art is locked away in a secure facility in what used to be Montevideo, Uruguay, a city that was decimated during the war because of the "strong rebel presence there." This is all supposed to be for our protection.
We live in a world without color, taste, or smell. We should not focus on our senses, as Minister Moncreiff, the Emperor's chief advisor, tells us in her weekly Public Addresses. She comes over the Live Feed that has been wired into each citizen of Earth 3.0 and speaks to each one of us individually, telling us how things will work out for each one of us. We will become the best possible versions of ourselves. I am told every week that if I work hard enough, I will become Elinor 3.0 and I will be the best possible Elinor Dashwood on Earth 3.0. All I must do is conquer myself and dedicate my life to the Greater Good. This is what the Live Feed tells me every Thursday at 4pm.
But I'm not sure about all of this propaganda. My father died in the war; he was the Right Side, but he was still killed in action. My half-brother, who is connected to Minister Moncreiff by marriage, received my father' house and my mother had to find a new home for herself and her three daughters. And my sister Maggie is one of those pre-cogs who can tell the future. Maggie isn't even thirteen but we can already see that this is going to be a lifelong burden for her. She has nights when she won't sleep because she's too busy worrying about something she saw in a dream the night before or a vision she had while washing the dishes. Stuff like that is going to be hard to move beyond.
However, I am a teacher, which is a dangerous place in our world. I would prefer to live quietly and peacefully in anonymity, and prior to the War, my profession would have permitted that. But now, it doesn't. I'm a biology teacher. I have to teach about purity of blood and superiority of beings. There is no biological basis for this crap and I thought it all went out of style back in the early 1900s. Clearly, I was wrong.
Nevertheless, I don't want to stand out in this world. Standing out, contrary to what my sister Mari might think, can be dangerous. Mari believes in being true to yourself; I believe in staying alive.
My sister and I disagree about many, many things. Mari believes that the heart should lead the mind and I believe the converse. To be honest, Maggie probably sides more with me than with Mari, but I doubt that anyone has ever really asked my youngest sister for her opinion of something. I'd love to be able to explain that one to you, but I can't.
I think that people fear pre-cogs. I suppose that at some level it's logical to fear them . They know things about the future. And it can be dismal. Mari is always prattling about sunshine and joy and then Maggie will inform us that it is going to rain. Mari wants her to be wrong, but just because you disagree with a pre-cog doesn't mean that they're wrong. But arguing with Mari is about as useful as arguing with Maggie about one of her premonitions.
For example, she has often told me that I will marry a man with dark brown eyes despite my insistence that I've never met a man with dark brown eyes. To be honest, I can't even see the color of people's eyes anymore, so I don't know if what I'm saying is true or not. Nevertheless, I have no reason to believe that she is wrong. I have been wrong many times; she has never been wrong. And she can see the future. Therefore, I will, in all likelihood, at some point in my life meet and subsequently marry a man with dark brown eyes. It was, however, slightly doubtful that I would know that he had brown eyes when this happened.
The summer after my father's death found me living in an apartment near my mother's new house. Mari and Maggie were living with my mother. I had my own apartment before my father's death and I still had six months left on my lease. There was no good reason for me to move. I saw my family almost every day as it was.
My half-brother and his family were now living near us. This was not ideal, but it was happening because they had inherited my father's properties after the war. Life in Earth 3.0 was all about who you knew. My half-brother, Jonathan, was related to the right people. I was not. True, my half-brother was married to a woman who had many family connections within Minister Moncreiff's government, my sister-in-law had no interest in a "lowly teacher" and so I would never advance as far as John and his family could or would.
In this new world of ours, one needs connections to succeed. I do not have connections. I am not really the sort of person who makes and builds connections. Truth be told, I'm rather boring. And I don't like pretending to be something that I'm not. This does not serve me well in this supposed new world of ours.
Unfortunately, many things in Earth 3.0 rely upon prestige and connections. There might as well be a sign on the Imperial Palace, which had been built on the former location of Buckingham Palace in London, that says "It's not what you know; it's who you know."
Heck, maybe there is such a sign. I've never been to London, so I wouldn't know. You don't go to The Capital unless you need to. And I'm not important enough to be invited and I'm not a troublemaker. I'm just plain old Elinor Dashwood of New Devonshire, formerly of New Norland. And I think that I'm happy with that, but then you never know what life will throw your way.
Posted on: 2011-06-15
The first time I met Edward Moncrieff-Ferrars, I liked him instinctively. And Maggie told me that while his mother might be the Emperor's chief advisor, he seemed to be a good egg, which is a high compliment coming from my suspicious younger sister. "Something about him speaks truth," she said softly. "And that is a rare trait in these dark days."
It was a rare trait, and for my sister to detect it, that meant that it was a true trait. He really was a man of honor. "He has a difficult life," Maggie told me. "His family does not want him to fulfill his destiny."
Generally speaking, most pre-cogs, except those who are controlled by the government, believe that every single individual has a destiny and they must work to fulfill it. Pre-cogs can sense these destinies and at times can assist people as they pursue their destinies. However, the destiny of a person may be something that the government does not want because it may not serve the purposes of the Emperor. According to the Global Constitution that was passed in 2321 at the end of the Fourth World War, all citizens of the Empire must serve the Emperor and the Global Community before they serve themselves.
Edward, or Ward as he prefers, is the younger brother of my sister-in-law, Felicia. Felicia is the undersecretary to the Minister of Culture, also known as their mother. Ward graduated from the Global University for Commerce and Industry, formerly known as the Sorbonne, in Paris at the age of twenty-two with a degree in finance. His mother had wanted him to study politics and global policy at the State Institute for Policy and Theory, formerly known as Oxford. But at least Felicia and Robert went to SIPT. That made Minister Moncrieff happy.
I had met Ward at my brother's wedding and probably at my father's funeral. But I didn't really get to know him until after the war ended and my mother was relocated to New Devonshire. I had moved to New Devonshire at the end of the war because that is where the Ministry of Education assigned me. I had a teaching post as at a girls' secondary school teaching biology. It was not necessarily the job I would have chosen for myself, but this is Earth 3.0. Our lives are not our own. My mother had not moved until after my father's property was appropriately distributed. The Ministry of Property and Commerce handles "postmortem property distribution" instead of leaving it to families or lawyers.
I arrived in New Norland, which is not located where the former region of Norland was but rather in the county of Suffolk. Global reorganization, a program led by the Minister of Agriculture, had pretty much screwed certain things up. For one thing, New Germany was not where Old Germany had been. Instead, Germany had been "reorganized" to the former mid-western United States where the states of Minnesota and Nebraska, as well as pieces of Iowa, had once been located. It was all rather odd.
But be that as it may; I arrived in New Norland in June after the end of the school year. The school year lasts ten months and doing the two months of "vacation" students receive special tutoring in their strongest subject areas, the areas in which they will be assigned their future careers. As a teacher, I receive two weeks of vacation every three months for "energy rejuvenation." Unfortunately, I was not going to spend my two weeks rejuvenating but rather being stressed.
My family is stressful. I'm a quiet person by nature. Mari and my mom aren't; they're emotional and Dad's death only made it worse. Trust me; it made things much worse. Mari is quiet, I'm reserved, but the other two want to talk through everything. That's just not my style, and with everything in our government stripping us of our individuality, I need to cling to the few things that make me the Elinor Dashwood I want to be.
Jonathan and his family had already moved into the house when I arrived. Felicia and my mom had each claimed their own territory and Felicia was clearly trying to edge Mom out. And Mari had locked herself in her attic bedroom, which was just making everyone more stressed. All of the emotions and stresses flooding the house were only making Mari more emotional.
"I just want to be free," she told me when we were alone in her room. "I wish we could keep this house and not have to tell with Jon's stupid family being around here."
I smiled. "I know, but now you, Mom, and Maggie will be closer to me."
"Yeah, but the whole property redistribution case has taken over four years. We've lived here for almost five years since Dad died. I somehow thought we were going to keep the house."
"I know. I mean, I know that Jon and Felicia have more connections than we do, but I hoped that the house at least would stay with the part of the family that actually cared about Dad."
"Jon cared about Dad," my sister said. "Well, at least, he always acted like he loved him. With him, I sometimes wonder how much is real. He is a politician and he is married to Minister Moncrieff's precious daughter."
"How quickly can we get you out of here?" I asked. "Felicia must be making you crazy."
"Mom has been working on packing but things are a bit confusing with what we can take with us and what we cannot."
"They probably don't want any of the books."
Mari sniffled. "I actually think I heard Felicia talking about burning some of Dad's stuff because it's supposedly regressive and dangerous."
"Tell her that she's repressive and dangerous."
"Even I'm not that dumb. If I said that I'd end up in jail."
I smiled; there are not many permitted ways to express emotion since the war. Raising your voice is frowned upon. "Be strong, Mari. If all goes according to plan, we shall be gone from New Norland and Felicia in less than a week."
"Did she tell you that she has invited her brother to come stay here this week?"
"Which brother?" I asked. I had met both Ward and his younger brother, Robert, at my brother's wedding and then at my father's funeral.
"Edward," she replied. "He sounds awful. He is supposedly destined for a position in the Emperor's cabinet."
"Maggie doubts that will come to fruition," I said softly. "She sees something else when she looks at him."
Mari raised her eyebrows but said nothing in response as we heard footsteps in the hall.
Ward Ferrars was tall. He dressed in the typical garb of an imperial subject-trousers and a plain crewneck shirt. Since we could not see colors anymore, why should we trouble ourselves over details in our clothes? Plain and simple was more logical. His sister simpered over him. She called him Eddie and teased him about his prospects in the Capital. Ward, I noticed quickly, merely looked agitated.
"Where is your youngest sister?" he asked me.
"Maggie has taken to hiding in the attic all of them," Felicia answered for me. "She is being terribly antisocial and disrespectful."
"She is thirteen, Felicia, and she's being forced to move away from the only home she has ever known."
"It was decided for her. She has no choice. It is for the greater good of the citizens of the world."
Before I could retort, Ward shook his head. "I am sure that sounds delightful to you, but I doubt that Maggie feels so excited about it. She probably feels a touch of resentment at being forced to move even if it is for the greater good."
"We are all obligated to do our duty," Felicia said smoothly. "We must work together to improve the world. And that will require sacrifices from all of us. However, we must never neglect our duty."
"You sound like Mom," Ward sighed.
"Our mother is a good and faithful servant of the citizenry."
"I agree about that, but I also believe that our mother has, by the grace of the Emperor, a much easier life than many of her the general citizenry. It is not by her fault but merely part of life."
Felicia sputtered meaninglessly for a bit before changing the topic of conversation to the weather. Unfortunately for her, the weather used to be a mild, safe topic. But now, the Ministry of Weather makes controversial attempts to control the weather and people do not want to discuss it in polite conversation.
My mom determined to leave New Norland quickly. She wanted to get away from Felicia. However, she also wanted me to marry, and she saw Ward as suitable husband material for me. "I don't want you to lose your chance," she told me.
"Mom, I won't lose my chance. Maggie has told me that she has had dreams about my future husband and she hasn't identified Ward as The One. So I'm guessing that he isn't."
"Give love a chance, Eli. Your father and I did and see how that worked for us?"
I smiled. "You two were very happy together. And I want to be that happy."
"Maybe Ward could make you that happy. Give him a chance."
"Mom, I have to get back to New Devonshire. I have a job there and only two weeks of vacation. If Ward wants a relationship with me, he'll have to chase me."
My mom ran a hand over my cheek. "Eli, my love, would you run from true love?"
"Not in so many words, but I will run from legal danger and confrontation."
"You let fear rule your life."
I shrugged. "Look around us, Mom. This world is made for fear and only fear. If we are not afraid, then we will be in danger. And I don't want to be in danger."
Mom sighed. "Then go back to New Devonshire and your job, but I won't guarantee you that boy will follow you. You two barely know each other."
"I know that, but I have to leave in five days. We need to be ready to go by Friday, Ward or no Ward."
The next time I saw Ward, I was packing all of my father's books. Jon and Felicia had decided they didn't want any of them. He had hundreds of books and I didn't know where we would put all of them. My apartment was very small and my mother wouldn't have much room in her three-bedroom house.
"Want some help?" A voice offered from the doorway as I attempted to fit more of my father's legal texts into a box.
I looked up and saw Ward's soft smile. "Yeah, that'd be great. I could really use a hand. I don't know where to put all of these."
He knelt down next to me. "How did your father come to own so many books?"
"Before the war, he was a lawyer with a very successful practice."
Ward smiled. "Don't ever tell Felicia, but I want to be a lawyer."
I grinned. "That is not very acceptable these days, especially for Minister Moncrieff's son."
"My father was a lawyer before he died."
I flipped my braid over my shoulder and looked up at him. "I never knew that. Somehow, that makes me like him. And it makes me like you more because our dads were both lawyers who died during the war."
"Does that make you like Felicia more?" he teased.
I shook my head. "That would be impossible. She has devoted far too much attention to making my family's lives miserable. You've never done anything to upset me."
"You know, Eli, I think I like you more than my sister might think is acceptable."
"Let me know how that works out for you. You seem like we could be good friends."
He smiled and then went back to packing books.
Posted on: 2011-06-24
The day before my departure, Felicia had spent twenty minutes detailing her family's aspirations for Ward. Every aspiration was loaded with the idea that he would not marry someone like me. Funnily enough, I had picked the message up immediately. I knew that I was not an acceptable life partner for a member of his family. He seemed to be wonderful but he was unattainable. Girls like me do not get to marry men like him.
Instead, I will enter the Global Marriage Lottery on my twenty-seventh birthday and marry whomever the government tells me to marry. That is what girls from unimportant families do. You fill out a form, click send on your computer, and hope for the best. I know I won't get someone like Ward, but I could at least get someone like Chris Brandon, one of my coworkers.
Chris, a former Colonel in the army and currently a high school math teacher, has never married. Rumors have abounded with regard to reasons ranging from a lost love to a hidden injury that could make married life difficult. I once heard a student suggest that he was merely too old to be interested in women, but from personal experience, I know that is not the issue. I won't go into details here beyond mentioning vodka, mistletoe, and the annual faculty Winter Holiday Celebration. Chris Brandon still has it. He just needs to find the right girl.
He told me that if I was still single at twenty-seven, he would marry me. He didn't say "I'll marry you to save you from a fate worse than death" but that was the implied meaning. I appreciate the thought but I'm not sure that I'm willing to force him to spend the rest of his life with a woman he didn't love just to save my sorry hide from the Marriage Lottery.
But I told Felicia none of this. I didn't even mention it to my mother or sisters. They didn't need to know that I was contemplating self-sacrifice for their sakes. A profitable marriage would aid them considerably. But I didn't tell anyone other than Chris.
Felicia would lord it over me that I had to lower myself to such a pathetic step, as she'd call it. My mother would insist that it wasn't necessary. Mari would just be dramatic about the whole thing. Maggie would remind me of her dreams of my brown-eyed man. Jon would just tell me that he supposed it was the best step for someone in my position.
And Ward, well, I didn't know him well for starters, so I wasn't about to confide some great secret in him. Also, he seemed a bit like Chris in some ways and I could see him protesting and trying to help me out of pity. I didn't want his pity. I wanted to be respected.
"You must understand that Edward has prospects and no one must be allowed to derail him," Felicia prattled. "He is of the silly, sentimental sort and needs someone to guide him and keep him from going astray."
"Naturally," I replied. "You would not want to leave him as prey to penniless women who would do far better to seek their life partners in the Marriage Lottery."
Felicia attempted a smile. "You take my meaning well, dear Elinor. I think there may be a touch of greatness about you yet."
"I doubt that. I just want to teach."
She sniffed delicately. "But you seem to a logical young woman and that is a rare characteristic I am not suggesting that you ought to aim so high as to hope to capture someone like Eddie, of course. But surely you could do better than the Marriage Lottery."
I smiled and nodded. Chris Brandon did have secret musical talents-even if they were not exactly legal.
Ward managed to get me alone the morning of my departure. I didn't want to be alone with someone whose older sister had told me I could not marry him, but I decided to be polite. My latest Live Feed broadcast had been on that very subject.
"I need to speak with you. I want to tell you something," he said as he led me away from the house.
I followed him reluctantly. "What is it? You barely know me."
He looked at me. "But your sister told me that I ought to tell you the truth in all things."
"You've been talking to Maggie."
"She is very enlightening even if she is a bit incomprehensible at times."
I smiled. "Did she try to talk to you about colors?"
"She keeps saying things about young woman with green eyes," he replied.
"I hear constantly about a man with dark brown eyes."
"What a pity then that our ability to see colors was taken from us after the war," he said softly. After the war, every citizen of Earth 3.0 underwent a "surgical procedure of minimal invasive qualities" to eliminate our ability to see colors. It failed on every pre-cog but the rest of us "passed with flying colors," as one government lackey had commented. The irony of the statement was probably unintentional; government lackeys are not usually smart enough for irony.
I looked up at him. "You shouldn't say things like that."
He shrugged. "I find it very painful to lie."
"You're a Truth Speaker, aren't you?" Truth Speakers were usually men with dark brown eyes although at times the trait had appeared in other people. If they lied, it caused them great physical pain. Serious lies could cause death. Truth Speakers had arisen a few generations before the war. No one knew why, but it was impossible to eliminate them from the gene pool. The Empire's only recourse was to kill them out of fear.
Ward bit his lip and nodded. "Never tell anyone, especially not my sister."
"She doesn't know?" I asked.
"No one in my family knows. Before the war, no one knew such things and now, well, I hide it. I don't know what my mother would do to me if she knew."
"You could never be a politician."
He smiled. "But I could be a great lawyer."
"You would be wonderful at anything where you were helping others."
"Thank you. However, there is something more I want to tell you. In fact, I did not intend to tell you about being a Truth Speaker at all."
"But I am glad that you did."
Ward nodded. "I find I am also glad about that. But there is something I wish to tell you about my education prior to the war."
I looked up. "Your education, what could you have to tell me about that?"
"I was educated in a private school in Plymouth, or Ironwood as it is now called."
Before he could say anything more, Felicia was practically on top of us carrying a backpack and a jetpack in her hands. "Ward, you must go. Mother has messaged that she needs you in the capital immediately."
"I'm already leaving later today. A few hours won't make much difference."
She shook her head. "You must leave now. It's urgent."
He sighed as he put on the backpack and then the jetpack. "Well, Eli, it was nice to meet you. I hope I see you around some time."
Then he was gone and his sister stood, sneering at me.
I shrugged. "Well, I've got to get going myself. See you around."
By the end of the day, we were back in New Devonshire. I decided to spend the first night at my mother's new house. I decided she needed some sort of comfort and stability in her first night in a new place. This meant that I had to share a room with Mari. We had shared a bedroom for much of our childhood during the war's early years.
"Are your feet still colder than the freezer?" Mari asked as we started getting ready for bed.
I laughed. "I haven't had a bedmate since you back in the day, so I have no clue. As far as I know, they're still freezing cold."
She smiled and shook her head. "I don't get how someone can wear socks all day and still come to bed with frozen fee."
"It's poor circulation," I replied. "It means that I need to move my feet more or something."
My sister smiled and climbed into bed. "So, what did you and Ward talk about today?"
I shrugged as I sat down on the bed. "Felicia interrupted us before he could really say anything."
I nodded. "I think he wanted to say something important but he didn't get to."
Mari squeezed my arm. "He likes you. I really think he likes you."
"He might like me, but I'm totally the wrong girl for him. Our family and his family, it will never work."
"Oh come on, Eli. I think he likes you. He's not my ideal guy but I can really see things working for you two."
I shook my head. "Leave it, Mari. It won't work."
"Then turn off the light and get your freezing feet in bed."
I did as she asked and then huddled down under the covers of my sister's bed. It wasn't really big enough for two people, but we could make it work-as long as I didn't put my feet on my sister's, which I only did three times.
After that, I went back to my own home, leaving my family to the attentions of my mom's cousin, John Middleton and his family. John is my landlord and a good friend of Chris Brandon's. He is extremely outgoing and a little eccentric, but he's a nice enough guy. He and his mother-in-law came over at nine in the morning to help my mom and sisters unpack and settle in.
I, on the other hand, had to go to a meeting at work. It was time for last-minute prep before summer courses began. But it
was also a chance to see Chris and I had missed him during the two weeks I'd been away.
But first I had to get past The Guillotine, as Chris calls Laurel Allen. Headmistress Allen is the headmistress of the girls' academy where Chris and I teach. She is firm and more than slightly vicious. She rules the school by fear and intimidation. The students do not respect her, and she does not care. She has spies all over the school-in the student body and in the faculty lounge. It's disgusting, but it is how the Empire functions. And the headmistress works for the government. We all do; she just has a much higher rank and position than the rest of us do.
The meeting took four hours. I never understand why we spend four hours listening to our headmistress prattle about stupid things. I will never complain about it to anyone, but it annoys me. But I do everything in my power to appear interested. I take notes. I volunteer for committees. I don't want to stand out or be thought of as rebellious. I fear danger.
And Headmistress Allen believes it. She asks me for my opinion on things. And she gives me a much freer rein in my classroom than most teachers have. "I would like to have Citizen-Instructor Dashwood review all of the science lesson plans for this summer term," she said at one point. "Some of you may feel that this is an imposition, but Citizen-Instructor Dashwood knows her subject area well. She also has made an effort to understand and enact the Emperor's official policy in her daily teaching. I would like to see more of this obedience in other instructors' lessons."
I saw wincing on a few other teachers' faces, and I hated it. I hated being held up as an example of perfection. I didn't like attention and I really didn't like attention that was drawn by my own fears. I behaved perfectly because I didn't want people to notice me. Unfortunately, these efforts seemed to be backfiring.
"So, how does it feel to be perfect?" Chris asked me when we were alone in his classroom.
I glared at him. Then I snatched a scrap of paper off his desk and wrote, "Don't be subversive even in jest. I had a bad encounter with my sister-in-law and must be careful now."
He nodded and put a soothing hand on my shoulders. "How are you doing, kiddo?"
"I love my family."
"But families are families?" Chris began to burn the scrap of paper I'd used.
I nodded. Chris came from a complicated family, far more complicated than my own family, although before meeting him, I'd never believed such a thing was possible. But Chris proved me wrong; he was good at that.
That evening, I went over to my mom's new house. Naturally, John was there, but I was surprised to see Chris there. "I went over to see John about something and he dragged me over here," Chris explained upon seeing my puzzled face. "He thought that your family could use the company and a pair of manly shoulders. Apparently he lacks such a set."
I laughed. "Well, I'm sure we'll be glad to have your company."
John clapped Chris on the shoulder and laughed. "Don't take my friend here so seriously. He likes to play somber and serious, but at heart, he is as playful as a boy of ten."
Chris glared at John. "I am not as playful as a boy of ten. I can be less serious, but I am not a child."
Maggie sighed from the doorway. "Can you two please help me arrange my room and stop arguing like a pair of ten-year-olds?"
"Naturally, my dear Maggie," Chris replied.
John smirked. "I told you so, Christopher."
As they followed my sister out of the room, I could swear I saw Chris stick his tongue out at John.
Posted on: 2011-07-05
Two days before the start of the summer semester, Jack Willoughby was hired to teach chemistry at the Girls' Preparatory Academy where I taught. He was replacing one of the struggling members of the faculty who had been terminated only days earlier. From the minute I met him, I knew he'd be trouble. He seemed to know his material but he also seemed like the sort of man who would have girls falling at his feet.
Chris didn't like him. He said he smelled weird, which made no sense since we can't smell anymore.
To make matters more complex, we quickly learned that Jack was being groomed to become headmaster of a nearby prep academy for boys. He was somehow related to Citizen-Headmistress Allen and influential ties in the government. This put him on the fast track to success.
Jack decided to attempt to ingratiate himself with his coworkers. When he overheard me telling Chris about a problem with my sink, he immediately offered to help me. "I'm handy with a tool," he told me.
Chris raised his eyebrows. "I'm sure you are, given the right environment."
"I could call a plumber," I said.
"No, that's fine. I can do it for free."
I looked at Chris who just shrugged. "Don't look at me. I can't do anything with plumbing."
I shrugged and looked back at Jack. "Fine, come over tomorrow evening."
His smile could only be described as gleeful.
Mari came over to my house the following evening because she was bored. "There is nothing to do at home. Entertain me."
"Someone from work is coming over to fix my sink," I replied.
"I'll watch him. That could be interesting."
I rolled my eyes. "I doubt it."
"Is he cute?"
I shrugged. "I could see my students thinking he is, but I don't."
My sister sighed. "You need to find some more interesting men."
"I like being boring."
"You will never get married."
"There's always the lottery," I replied.
Mari's eyes went wide but before she could say anything, the doorbell rang. I walked away from my sister before she could say anything more, but I knew she was going to lecture me about my statement. Mari believes that one should only marry for love. Anything else is not worth having.
Based upon her facial expression when he came in, I could tell that she thought Jack was worth having. My sister has always been easily distracted by an attractive man. Sure, it was harder to distinguish attractiveness these days, but my sister still had the talent for picking out a looker at a hundred paces.
"This is my sister, Mari," I told Jack. "She's visiting me for the evening."
He smiled and reached out to shake Mari's hand. "Jack Willoughby, it's a pleasure to meet Elinor's lovely sister."
Mari grinned as she shook his hand. "I'm always glad to confirm for myself that my sister really does have a social life."
"Ouch," I said. "I'm so glad that my sister loves me enough to compliment me in front of people she barely knows."
"Sarcasm is the weapon of the weak," my sister teased.
"Horse hockey," I replied.
"I don't get it," Jack said.
"What don't you get?" I asked.
"What does horse hockey even mean?"
"Bull, bogus, crap, utter nonsense," I replied.
He gave me a funny look. "Why not just use one of those words?"
"Because she's lame and pathetic," my sister replied. "She's stuck in the old days. It's an idiom from the twentieth century."
"Ah, the past," Jack sighed. "I always wonder what it was like to live in the twenty-first century. It must have been so strange when there were all those different countries. I can't imagine anything other than our current world of one nation."
"There were many nations before the war," I remarked. "That was during our lives."
He shrugged casually. "But it was all so tumultuous. It just seems like things must have been calmer or less dangerous a
few hundred years ago."
"The First and Second World Wars were during the twentieth century," I remarked.
"But there were no major world wars again until our time," my sister said. "Things must have been relatively peaceful for the intervening hundreds of years."
I shrugged. "We only know what history books and things like that tell us. Now let's focus on the sink."
Mari gave me a look and I rolled my eyes. She could flirt later; I needed my sink fixed more immediately than she needed a boyfriend.
But Jack smiled his cocky grin and followed me into the kitchen. In twenty minutes, he had my sink all straightened out.
Then, he asked us if we wanted to get drinks with him. Drinking isn't as much fun as it used to be. When I was younger, you could taste the different flavors but now all you get is the effect of the booze. It isn't as much fun anymore. "Count me out," I said.
"But count me in," my sister almost purred. "I love going out."
"I'd love to take you to this place by my pad. It's called Bliss."
I'd heard of Bliss. It was supposed to be trashy but "good fun" if you were in the market. Or at least, that's what Lottie Palmer told me back when she was Lottie Jenkins and teaching history at the academy. She would go to the club to relax after a long day when I first met her. But then she married Tom Palmer. They met through the marriage lottery. Nothing else would have ever induced a taciturn man like Tom to marry a social butterfly like Lottie.
But if Lottie liked Bliss, Mari would probably like it too. They were of a similar disposition-always inclined to be delighted by simple pleasures and ignoring deeper troubles. So I said nothing about my reservations and let my sister go.
"I miss tea," Chris told me. "I never thought I'd live in a world without a nice, comforting mug of tea."
From my understanding, previous generations had devoted a great deal of time and energy to thinking about "post-apocalyptic" societies. They made movies and wrote books on the subject. But for all their musings and dreams, I suspect that they would have been surprised to walk into our world.
We don't have real food anymore, just mash and protein shakes. I miss tea and coffee and strawberries. "I miss chocolate," I replied as I spun a top on the table. We were sitting in my kitchen after our evening mush and protein drink the evening before the first day of the term. "I can't imagine how this world could ever be the Promised Land since we live without chocolate."
Chris smiled blandly. "The Empire does not need sweetness."
"I disagree. Everything needs sweetness."
"You'll have to take that up with Minister Moncrieff."
"She probably hates me. Felicia was pretty convinced that I was out to corrupt Ward's heart and destroy his life."
"You're attracted to him."
I shrugged. "A bit; I don't really know him well enough to be attracted to him. But I am intrigued by him."
"And yet you're going to enlist in that awful lottery."
"Why did I tell you that?"
He laughed. "You trust me."
"You're my best friend. I think I trust you more than I trust my own sister."
"But you won't marry me."
"You don't love me. I won't condemn you to a loveless marriage."
"But you'll condemn yourself to one. That's a little hypocritical, if you ask me."
I sighed; we'd had this conversation before. "Chris, you deserve someone amazing."
"And you're not amazing?" he asked.
"I'm not amazing enough for you."
"Horse hockey," was his response. "Eli, you're fantastic, and you deserve more than the blasted lottery."
I smiled. "Thanks, but I want you to be happy."
"I'm forty-three and unmarried. All I've got in this world is my job, a few friends, and Zelly. If I married you and had a kid or two with you, it would be a good thing for me."
"But I don't want you unhappy."
Chris sighed. "Eli, I'm not going to live forever. I want to experience some happiness in my life while I'm young enough to enjoy it."
"You'd be better off with someone like Mari. She's far more joyful than I am. You and I, we're too much alike."
He snorted. "Your sister would never notice me. I'm too quiet for her tastes. She's far more interested in going out with someone like Willoughby."
"Sad," I replied. "I think you two could complement each other beautifully."
"I'm used to being second choice."
Posted on: 2011-07-13
My sister started dating Jack, which surprised no one. Mom loved him. "He's smart and charming and enchanting. He reminds me of your father when we were young. Of course, he is not saddled with a child from another relationship, which makes things easier. But he is so like your dear father."
I smiled. "He is friendly. And he is so attentive to Mari."
"He's exactly what she deserves."
"I don't like him," Maggie remarked from her seat by the window.
"Maggie, you're a child," Mom cautioned. "You don't know everything."
"I know that if Mari dates him things will not end happily for them."
My mother waved a hand and shrugged. "Things always end well for Mari."
"Believe what you want to believe," Maggie replied as she picked up a book. "I know what I know and I can't help it."
"Don't say anything about your concerns about Jack to Mari," I told Maggie when we were alone later that day.
She looked at me. "Why shouldn't I?"
"If you try to convince Mari that she shouldn't do something, it will only make her want to do it more."
I smiled at my sister. "I know, but Mari is what she is and I can't change her."
"Why are you so different from Mari?"
I shook my head. "I think it's a personality thing. I'm more scientific and practical while she lives in a world of dreams and hopes."
"She's lucky she wasn't cursed to be able to see the future like me," Maggie said bitterly.
I smiled and squeezed her hand. "Mags, you're one of the bravest people I know and I look up to you. You handle your gift so well."
"But Mom doesn't always believe me."
"Mom doesn't like negative ideas. She doesn't want to think about bad things happening."
Maggie sighed. It sounded far too mature for her thirteen years of age. "Bad things happen. That's how the world works. You shouldn't fight it."
"You sound so cynical, dear."
"You'd be cynical too if your dreams were like mine."
"I'm sure I would."
"Ward told me that he understands. I think that he does not have an easy life."
I nodded. "He doesn't."
"I feel bad for him. I suggested that he and I run away to the Caspian Sea and become pirates."
I laughed. "I wouldn't recommend the Caspian Sea. It's landlocked. You'd be better off in the Pacific Ocean."
My sister looked up at me with a strange expression. "That's what Ward said too. But he was open to swabbing decks for me, if we could figure out what swabbing was."
"It's like mopping," I told her. "At least, I think it is."
Maggie smiled. "I wish could be a pirate."
"If you were one, I'd want to be part of your crew."
"That's what Ward told me when I told him that I wanted to be a pirate in the seventeenth century instead of living in the supposedly sacred Empire."
I smiled. "You speak your mind rather openly for someone so young."
My sister shrugged. "I'm opinionated, which may or may not be a good thing. But Mom and Mari are opinionated too. And I think you have opinions too; you just never voice them."
"Dignity," the ominously androgynous voice of Minister Moncrieff said firmly over the Live Feed. "The center of our lives must always remain dignity and human decency. We must respect the lives and properties of those around us. We must preserve the order of our society. As unfortunate as it may sound to some of the citizenry, we are not all equals. Some of us are more intelligent than others. We have inherited more gifts and talents from our ancestors. All of us have gifts and talents, but those are not all equal. Nevertheless, we must use those gifts and talents with dignity. We must maintain our dignity no matter what our station. And we must help others to preserve their dignity even if they are not quite so determined themselves."
I felt like those words were telling me that I could never have Ward. It was a matter of dignity, his dignity and his family's dignity. He needed to maintain both his and their place in the world. I wasn't from the right sort of family for him. I wasn't ambitious enough for him. He wouldn't think that, but everyone else would.
"Some people are na´ve and think that they can escape their duty for idealism, but such ideas are misplaced in our current world. The last war showed us what becomes of idealists and their pithy clouds of dreams. Dreams are useless. We must face the reality of our world with courage, gravity, and logic. This is not a time for emotion."
The address went on, but I knew what she would say. Common good, do your duty, serve others, sacrifice for the higher good, and always keep your faith in the Empire. And don't sleep with, bear the child of, or marry the elder son of Minister Moncrieff.
"I miss Ward," Maggie announced one evening when she was visiting me.
"Ward?" I repeated. "We barely knew him."
"But he was nice to me. Most people aren't nice to me."
I frowned. "I don't like that."
"It is what it is," she replied stoically. "I'm a pre-cog and that freaks most people out. It didn't freak Ward out though."
"I think he might be less sensitive to things like that than most people are."
"It freaks Jack out. He's always giving me funny looks like he thinks I know what color underwear he's wearing or something."
I laughed. "Why would you even care about that?"
"I might be able to predict what color his boxers will be on Saturday but I'm not even remotely interested in the topic."
"That's perfectly understandable."
Maggie twirled a strand of hair around her finger; she was the only member of our family who still had long hair. "I still don't like Jack."
I nodded. "He seems to be a little too good to be true."
"He has ties to the government."
"Our brother and his wife have government connections too. And their connections are more powerful than Willoughby's."
My sister shrugged. "Something about him is more intimidating than John and Felicia. If nothing else, he's probably smarter than them."
"And that's not necessarily a good thing."
I shook my head. "Intelligence can be used for good or for ill. It is an entirely neutral commodity."
A week later, I came home from work to find Ward Ferrars standing on my doorstep with a box in his arms. "It's for Maggie," he said. "But I don't know where your mom and the girls are living. But your address is in the public entries, so I thought I would come by and see you."
"What's in the box?" I asked as I let us into my apartment.
He smiled. "The atlas and encyclopedias from your father's library; they're for Maggie."
I smiled. "She's been talking about how much she misses them. You can't get the same information from school books or the internet."
"I know. Mom and her cronies have everything so restricted these days. I have to keep my dad's volumes of Shakespeare locked in the basement so she doesn't know I still read them."
I sat down on my couch and he sat down on the chair opposite. "You're kind of a political bad boy," I said.
He smiled. "Well, I'm not much for tattoos or motorbikes, but I can appreciate the analogy."
"I think that Shakespeare in the basement has replaced tattoos and motorbikes now that we all have our own jetpacks and personal ID tattoos on our necks."
Ward chuckled. "Oh brave new world indeed; I doubt that Huxley ever imagined some of the things that go on in our world."
"Don't tell your mother that. She views Huxley as some sort of a prophet."
"Don't I know it? She wishes we could find a way to make the sort of human reproduction that he envisioned into a reality."
I shook my head. "I somehow doubt that was his intention."
"My mother has read all sorts of post apocalyptic literature and seen all kinds of movies. She's always looking for new inspirations and ways to improve the world."
"I feel like that's dangerous."
Ward nodded. "She doesn't care. She's Minister Moncrieff."
"Was she more normal when you were younger?"
He shrugged. "I guess she was around more. But when things started heading towards war, she got really political. I mean, she'd always been political, but she got a hundred times worse. We weren't a priority anymore. If we attached ourselves her ambitions, she noticed us, but other than that, we were suddenly left to Dad."
"When did he die?" I asked before I realized that this question was probably insensitive.
"During my second year of university," he replied. This was back when Oxford was Oxford and the Sorbonne was the Sorbonne. The war had begun, but we were still able to more or less go about our normal lives. "He was home alone one weekend. Felicia was in Ibiza or Cadiz with John; this was before they got married. Robert was in Paris. Mom was in London. I was at school. And the house was bombed. Rebel intelligence said that Mom was supposed to be at home, but she wasn't. So Dad died and she didn't. And we lost most of the family house-except for all of my dad's books that were in the basement."
I pressed my lips together. "I'm so sorry."
"It got worse. Later on, I learned that Mom had received information that the rebels wanted to bomb the house and she'd been moved to London under what was called secure protection."
"And no one ever told your dad?"
"Bingo," he replied, taking a slug of water. "Man, I miss him. He got me. I'm a lot more like him than any of the other kids in the family. My mom doesn't get me."
Before I could say anything he gave me a funny look. "I miss blue jeans. You remember blue jeans?"
I laughed. "I wore them until I was twenty-one. My dad died and two weeks later, I lost my ability to see colors. And then a couple days after that, the universal wardrobe began."
Ward smiled. "Can I tell you something in complete confidence?"
"I hate the universal wardrobe. And I miss color more than you could ever imagine. Now, I want to be a lawyer so I can help people who have been marginalized and oppressed by the war. But back in the day, I wanted to be an artist."
"But they are forbidden now."
He nodded, and then he sighed. "Well, that's life. Now, do you mind if I crash here tonight and go see your family tomorrow?"
Sure thing," I said robotically. "You'll have to sleep on the couch, but as long as you don't mind putting your feet on an end-table, it should be fine."
Ward grinned. "It won't be the most comfortable night of my life, but I'm sure it won't kill me."
The next morning, Ward and I made our way to my mother's house where we found Chris and Jack attempting to entertain my family. Chris was devoting his efforts to a game of chess with Maggie while Jack and Mari were giggling over something. Mom was apparently visiting Mrs. Jennings.
Maggie immediately abandoned Chris for Ward while Mari and Jack seemed not to have noticed his entrance at all. They were thumb-wrestling, apparently.
While Maggie clambered over Ward, I slipped to the corner and Chris. "How's the game going?"
He laughed. "She's killing me. I should have known better than to play chess with a pre-cog."
"She's a smart kid."
"I'm not looking forward to having her as a student any time soon."
"Next year," I replied, looking at Maggie. She was sitting next to Ward and blissfully chattering away to him. He was listening but also looking at me. When he saw me looking at him, he winked. I blushed and looked away.
Posted on: 2011-07-28
Ward stayed with me for two more nights after that. He spent most of that time trying to organize my life for me and talking to Chris. It was during those conversations with Chris that I realized that the government's position was not as secure as the average person might think. A small but determined resistance existed-right under the government's nose but without their knowledge. And Chris and Ward were both involved. In fact, they knew each other from this resistance. And more surprisingly, they were friends.
"We met about a year ago," Chris admitted the second evening of Ward's visit. "We'd been communicating using code names prior to that, but we met face-to-face last July so that he could give me information safely."
"I thought you two were both opposed to the cause of the rebels during the War."
"We were," Ward told me. "But the current goal of the current resistance is not what they wanted. Yes, we do want to destroy the Empire. And we do want to return humanity to its previous physical state. But we do not want a stratified society or any of the other social reforms the previous resistance wanted. When it came down to it, both sides wanted the same thing then; they just wanted different leadership. We want a new and better world."
"But in some ways, we want things to be the way they were a century ago or so," Chris added. "Germany should be in Europe, not in the middle of an American prairie."
"And people should have rights. They should be allowed to think and feel and taste and see colors and dream. They should be allowed to choose their own career paths. Pre-cogs and Truth Speakers should have rights and not be afraid of anything."
"And they should be allowed to marry whomever they want-because they love them." As Chris said that last one, he gave me a very pointed look that I sincerely hope Ward didn't notice.
Nevertheless, I was hooked. I was sick of the way things were. "How can I join?"
"No," Chris replied.
"Absolutely not," Ward said before adding, "It's dangerous."
I sighed. "I survived the war."
Chris shrugged. "I don't like that idea. I don't want you to be in danger."
"We all live in danger."
Both of them sighed. Then Ward spoke. "I've seen the cost of all of this firsthand. We all have. And while I understand your desire to join the resistance, I don't like the idea of putting you in danger. You're the primary breadwinner for your family. You're responsible for three other people. I'm only responsible for me. I don't want you to put your life in danger."
"I'm with Ward," Chris said. "If you were to get caught, your family would suffer for your actions. If I get caught, no one cares."
"No one cares?" I repeated. "I'd care. And Zella depends on you."
"It's not the same. Your family needs you financially. I'm only moral support for Zella."
I sighed. "I want to do something."
"I understand," Ward told me, putting a soothing hand on my shoulder. "And there are things that we will let you do. But we won't let you join the resistance officially."
"You two are like the overprotective big brothers I never had."
Chris smiled. "I always wanted a sister. Instead, I only had a brother."
"I always wanted a sister I could actually like," Ward said.
And then we laughed. Laughter was a rare balm for the persistent bruises to our souls.
Ward left on a Saturday. And I missed him. I felt safer in my apartment knowing that he was sleeping on the couch with an illegal knife in his sock. With him gone, I had to rely on my own illegal knife on my bedside table-and the apartment building's sometimes-functional (and slightly outdated) security system.
And then a few days later, Maggie dropped a bombshell in my living room. "Ward's a Truth Speaker."
"Yeah, I know," I said without looking up from the exams I was grading. That statement was not a the bombshell; that was yet to come.
"And all Truth Speakers have dark brown eyes."
I looked up at her. "They do? I thought I'd heard it was green eyes."
She shook her head. "It's dark brown. And Ward has them."
"That's interesting," I said as I turned my attention back to the exams.
"And you're going to marry a man with dark brown eyes."
"But Ward said you told him he would marry a woman with green eyes."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her nod. "And don't you remember what color your own eyes are?"
"I have green eyes?" I was still a little confused.
"You're going to marry Ward someday."
"I doubt that his mother would ever let that happen."
Maggie shrugged. "Things could change in the future."
"Maggie, I appreciate your gift, but I just don't see how it's possible. And I don't want to get my hopes up. I don't want to start obsessing over some guy I can't have."
"But you belong together."
"Maggie, unfortunately things don't always work out the way that they should."
My sister pressed her lips together and sighed. "I want you to be happy, Eli. No one ever focuses on making you happy. Instead, you just work to take care of the rest of us."
I shrugged. "I'll survive."
But Maggie persisted. "Eli, you should do more than survive. You should live."
"You sound like Chris. Have you been talking to him lately?"
She shook her head. "No, but he's probably right."
I sighed. "Maggie, I do want to be happy. I promise. But someone has to take care of this family. And it won't be Mari."
"And Mom is still lost in grief."
I looked at my sister. "You know too much."
"It's a gift and a curse," she replied with a casual shrug. "But sometimes, I wish I was normal."
I smiled. "I love you, kiddo. You're amazing."
"I love you too, Eli. Just do something to make yourself happy once in a while."
"And marry Ward, please. I like him."
I threw a pillow at her. It was the only option an older sister had in a moment like that.
The third week of school, I found myself in my classroom with Jack and Chris. It was about as comfortable as being in a room filled with protein shakes. The tension in the room was unbelievable. It was thick and gloopy and awkward. But Jack had come in while Chris and I had been chatting. And he wanted to talk serious business. "I think that we need to make a demonstration of solidarity with the Empire," he said. "We need to show the students and the other faculty that the Empire's power should not be challenged."
"Have you seen challenges recently?" Chris asked. Knowing what I knew about Chris, I wondered if he was afraid.
"I have seen grave laxities on the part of my coworkers. They act like this is just a job. But we have a duty to promote the greatness of the Empire. We all know this. And we do it in our instruction. We need to motivate and encourage other citizen-instructors to do the same."
I nodded as Chris spoke. "I fully understand. Citizen-Headmistress Allen has frequently spoken on our duty to uphold and support the Empire. As instructors, we have the opportunity to fertilize and cultivate the importance of the Empire in fertile young minds."
He was brilliant. I had to give him that. Well, I wanted to give him that. He and Ward, I didn't know how they survived in this world. They were so close to power and authority. They lived their lives in danger. They lived in the dragon's lair-but they wanted to slay the dragon. They could be caught at any moment, but they were willing to take that risk. And they strove to protect the things that mattered to them-like me. I wasn't sure I was strong enough to handle that.
"What do you think, Dashwood?" Jack asked me. He had this odd habit of never calling me by my first name but always using my last name only as if we were on a sports team or something.
"I agree with Chris," was my swift reply. "I think that it is important to remind our students of the reality of the world around us. And as instructors, we have a vital opportunity that we cannot let slip through our fingers. We must support and encourage our students so that they will work for the greater good."
Chris nodded while Jack grinned like a maniac; maybe he was one. "You understand clearly, Dashwood. But how can we promote and further such understanding?"
"Honest conversation," I said. "We need to tell our fellow instructors what we think and why. We need to show them the correctness of our thinking."
I stole that last line from a recent Live Feed talk. But to Jack, that is a good thing. It shows the correctness of my thinking. I have, in his eyes, internalized the message of the Empire. Really, I'm just good at remembering things and using them to my benefit at the appropriate moment.
He beamed and nodded. "I agree. We need to live our lives as proof that we are correct. We should not argue with them, but our lives should demonstrate our correctness."
"Of course," Chris replied simply. "We need to give indisputable evidence. What better evidence can we offer than our lives?"
"This is why I want your help, Dashwood and Brandon. I want others to see your devotion to the Empire and follow your examples. You two inspire people. People trust you and will follow you."
"And naturally we only want to help the Empire," I said crisply.
"I knew you'd want to help."
"Anything for the Empire," Chris replied promptly. Knowing his true feelings made me want to giggle; thankfully, I kept my emotions to myself.
Posted on: 2011-08-20
In mid-October, the Palmers came to visit their relatives. Naturally, Mari dragged Jack along as her date at every available opportunity, which was somewhat comedic because Jack could not get alone with Mrs. Jennings or her daughter. And to make matters more uncomfortable, the Palmers had brought two friends of theirs, Nan and Lucy Steele with them. The Steele sisters were the sort of people who made me uncomfortable purely because surely no one could be as dumb as they appeared to be. Surely this had to be an act to cover some deeper sort of deviousness.
Nan blew her nose a lot. It was an odd habit and I did not understand it. The blowing never seemed to be very productive, unless its sole purpose was to make too much noise.
Lucy's physical appearance was what we once would have called avant-garde. Now we called it "serving the Empire." I'm not sure how bony features and shaved heads went from "punk chic" to "The Style of the Empire," but that was exactly what had happened.
The Steele sisters were from Plymouth and were, apparently, acquainted with Ward. They, however, called him Edward or Eddie. And Mari and I were very cautious to avoid ever calling him Ward in front of them. That nickname seemed to be unacceptable to The People in the Know. They insisted upon calling him "Edward Moncrieff." It was as though Ward Ferrars, the man I knew and potentially loved, didn't even exist.
And then I realized that in insistently hyphenating her children's last names so long ago, long before the War or the Empire, Minister Moncrieff had unwittingly given her elder son the perfect way to hide his identity when he joined the resistance. The average citizen would not easily connect mild-mannered Ward Ferrars from Hampshire with Edward Moncrieff, resident of London (theoretically speaking) and devoted (theoretically, again) son of Minister Melinda Moncrieff. His brother, Robert, and Felicia had both legally removed "Ferrars" from their names after the war ended. Ward's father had been virtually eradicated from the pages of history.
Jack mysteriously eradicated himself from our lives on October 10. The day before, Chris had received some news regarding Zella, his sixteen-year-old niece, who lived in London and left to take care of Zella.
On the tenth, Citizen-Headmistress Allen summoned Jack to her office and was heard to be "speaking harshly" to him. Then, he left. The rumor among the students was that he had been summoned to the capital on imperial business. However, John Middleton had heard some vague gossip that he had been sent away to appease the local authorities and some prominent local citizens. Apparently, if he had not left, he would have faced charges of "emotional impropriety," "sensual misbehavior," and a potential "sexual misbehavior."
My students probably never would have believed any such claims had Madeleine Cross not be withdrawn from the academy four days after Willoughby's departure. Madeleine, an intelligent fifteen-year-old with a bright future ahead of her, was pregnant. In all likelihood, the child was Jack's. Maggie told me that this was an undeniable fact. "He ran away to avoid facing the proverbial music," she told me. "Fortunately for him, there is no literal music to punish his sins. His family can protect him from that."
Mari did not believe the rumors. According to her, Jack told her he had to "fulfill important imperial contracts and implement important policies in a troubled school." He was being transferred to a new school six weeks into the fall term. He had spent a total of three months at our school. I knew the truth that Mari could not believe. Jack talked a good game and said all the good and right things. He motivated other people to do what was expected of us. But he himself was indulging in forbidden pleasures. Most likely, he had been sent to New Devonshire as a punishment or an escape rather than a reward.
Worst of all, he lied to my sister and other people I loved. I believe in honesty and while the Empire claims to do the same, I have seen more lies from them than truths. Jack was a fraud, the worst sort of fraud.
He had made my sister cry. We weren't supposed to be able to cry anymore, but under extreme duress and pain, we could. My beloved Mari was under extreme duress and it was all Jack's fault. I wanted him to know and understand extreme duress too some day.
The Palmers' visit came three weeks before the Global Celebration of Imperial Joy. This festival, which celebrated the end of the war, began on October 31, the date previously known as Halloween and ended on November 11. During the festival, all learning centers were closed and businesses were only allowed to remain open if they were deemed to be "government approved priorities."
All citizens were required to celebrate the GCIJ. The government recommended that we celebrate it in our respective provincial capitals if we could not make it to London, which was the most recommended. I had never made it to London, but I always attended the local celebrations. Admittedly, I was a bit terrified of the 250 Imperial Mark fine.
Lucy and Nan were determined that they would go to London for the GCIJ. "It's very important to us," Lucy told me on the fourth day of their visit while we were all having dinner at the Middletons' house. "We have some old friends who will be in the capital for the holidays and we can't wait to see them."
Nan sniffled. "Lucy has a boyfriend in the capital. He's connected to some very powerful people."
"Nan, hush, he isn't that powerful or important. He's just my boyfriend. It's no big deal."
I raised my eyebrows but said nothing. People tended to be attracted to power and would claim connections to people with power in the government. I've had people try to use me to get to Felicia to get to her mother. It doesn't work since Felicia doesn't really like me so she'd never want to help me. But that didn't stop Lucy and Nan from trying.
"You have powerful connections too, Eli," Nan said. "Isn't your brother married to Minister Moncrieff's daughter?"
"My half-brother," I replied lightly. "We're not really that close though."
"That's too bad. If you were, you could get him to get his wife to help you advance. I mean you don't want to be a teacher in Devonshire forever, do you?"
"Nan, careful now. Remember our uncle was a teacher in Plymouth."
"Yeah, and he taught Edward Moncrieff there. Don't you remember?"
I smiled. "See, that's a closer connection to the minister than what I have. You actually know Edward. Felicia just hates me."
"I doubt that the lovely Citizen Moncrieff is capable of hatred," Lucy simpered.
I pressed my lips together and raised my eyebrows. "You don't know her."
"Perhaps but thanks to the Glorious Emperor we are now immune to such strong emotions as hatred."
"Of course you are correct. I merely intended to say that I do not think that Citizen Moncrieff thinks positively of me and that we prefer to avoid each other when it is possible."
"But her mother is the second in command in the government. How can you not adore her?" Lucy said.
"Yes," Nan added. "Dear Edward was always most kind and gracious to us as a boy."
"I have met Edward briefly a few times and he appears to be quite different from his sister."
Lucy shrugged. "He always was the dearest and sweetest of boys. I hope he hasn't changed too terribly much since his poor father passed."
"I totally forget about Mr. Ferrars!" Nan said. "No on never talks about him. But I think we met him once or twice. He seemed nice. Did we ever meet Minister Moncrieff, Lucy?"
Lucy shrugged. "We barely knew Edward. I doubt that we ever met his mother."
"But didn't we meet his father once or twice?"
I saw a flash of annoyance cross Lucy's face. "Yes, we met Mr. Ferrars. But it doesn't matter. No one cares about him anymore. We met him, yes. But that was a long time ago and the world has changed dramatically since then. We don't care about people who died in bombings."
Lucy seemed heartless. It was an odd thing to think considering that we lived in a world that did not care for emotion anymore. Our world had become heartless. And yet, Lucy seemed more heartless than most. It was almost as if it were a practiced act. She reminded me of Felicia, of Jack, of other people who have literally surrendered their entire self, being, and personality for the sake of the Empire. They really were the ideal citizens. They put the Greater Good above everything else-including familial bonds. Friendship, family-these things meant nothing to people such as Jack and Felicia. And I believe that Lucy wanted to be one of those heartless, carefree citizens of the Empire. However, I could see her trying to be this person. It was not merely that she cared nothing for others; it was that she wanted to care about nothing.
Later that evening, however, I found out that she did care about something-or rather, someone. She drew me away from everyone else and told me about her real connection to Edward. "We're engaged," she told me. "It's not formal or official or anything like that. But its in our hearts and that's a good beginning."
"How long?" I asked numbly.
"Since before the war," she replied. "He studied at my uncle's school. Nan and me, we've lived with my uncle since we were really little. Nan's dumb; she's never understood how the world works. And she talks too much."
"What does that have to do with your relationship with Edward?"
"Nan might be older than me but she acts like she's younger. She acts like she's simple minded or something. Maybe she is. Anyway, when we were kids and Edward was at my uncle's school, he helped me help her. He was really nice to her when most of the other students just mocked her because she talked too much and repeated secrets. No one trusts her, you know?"
I shook my head. "I can't imagine. Mari and I have always been best friends. We've trusted each other with everything."
"You're lucky. Nan talks too much, like I said."
"And Edward was nice to her, so you fell in love with him?" I prodded. We were only in the corner of a room. It wasn't the most secretive place in the world-or even in the house.
"I developed a crush on him. He had the most beautiful eyes, Eli. I wish you could have seen them."
"It doesn't matter now," I said coldly. I looked around the room, seeking an escape. I didn't need to hear the story of how my Ward had become engaged to this creature.
"Yeah, I know. But years ago, it did matter. We've been engaged for seven years now, since just after the war began. He asked me to marry him after the bombing of Plymouth. It was so sweet. And it's been a secret ever since. At first it was just because of the general chaos of the war. But now it's because he has to get his mother to get used to the idea of me. She wants him to marry someone from a politically advantageous family. And I'm nothing special. I'm just the daughter of two nobodies who died in a car accident."
"I'm sorry," I said, hoping that I sounded genuine. "Seven years, that must be a long time to be engaged and still not know when you'll be able to get married."
Lucy smiled. "Oh, Eli, you're so sweet. But my darling Edward is the best of men. I have never had a reason to worry that he didn't love me. I would know if his affections ever drifted in the slightest; I am very perceptive, you see. But no, I know that he has always been entirely faithful to me."
I bit my lip before proceeding. "You are very lucky."
She grinned gleefully and squeezed my hand. "Oh, Eli, I know. I just hope that you can be as lucky as me some day."
Before I could say anything, Mrs. Jennings inserted herself into our conversation to ask what we were talking about.
"Eli and I were just agreeing that we would do anything to go to the GCIJ," Lucy said quickly. "We hear there will be eligible bachelors galore in the capital for the occasion."
"Oh yes, my dears," Charlotte said, bobbing in her seat next to her mother. "Everyone who is anyone comes to the capital and there are always men with an open eye for a spouse. That is where my dear Thomas and I met after all."
Thomas Palmer winced at the sound of his wife's shrill voice. Then he went back to reading his book. Thomas appeared to largely ignore Charlotte, as if to pretend that she wasn't being well, what she was. They had married as a result of the lottery and had met for the first time at the GCIJ two years earlier. It had not been love at first sight, no matter what Charlotte tried to pretend. She liked him; he found her annoying. It was actually tragic. And it was my greatest fear.
But while I had been lost in my thoughts, Mrs. Jennings had volunteered to take Mari, the Steele sisters, and me to London. I merely went along with the plan because I knew that Mari wanted to go but she wouldn't go without me.
"Jack is in London," Mari said eagerly when we spoke in her bedroom the next evening. "We can see him and celebrate the GCIJ with him."
I nodded. "We might. We don't know where he'll be during the celebrations. He might be in different places and we might totally miss him."
She shook her head vigorously. This was the first positive sign I'd seen from her in days. "We will see him. I will see him. And he and I will be together again."
Nodding seemed the only appropriate response to her.
Posted on: 2011-08-24
We left for London on the evening of the thirtieth of October. Before we left, I received a message from Maggie that simply said, "Something wicked this way comes."
She knew then how true those words would be, but I had no clue of the violence that would begin during the GCIJ.
On the morning of the thirty-first, we awoke to the news that the Imperial Offices in Sydney, Australia had been bombed at midnight. Casualties were in the hundreds by dawn. An hour after the Sydney bombing, a man walked into the Imperial Offices in Tokyo and handed this message to a security official. "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke."
This man was immediately executed by direct order of Minister Moncrieff. His final words, we would learn later, had been "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."
Precisely twenty-four hours after the Sydney bombing, the Imperial Headquarters in both American York and English York were bombed. A message was anonymously delivered to Minister Moncrieff's office that read "Now is your summer of glory made the winter of your discontent by us, the Sons of York."
The resistance had openly declared itself and named itself. Few knew the reasoning behind the name "Sons of York" but regardless, the name had an affect on the people. For the first time since the war ended, the possibility of a world without the Empire seemed possible. And all because three buildings had been bombed and two statements had been issued.
GCIJ festivities in the capital continued as though nothing was happening. But when I saw Thomas Palmer and Chris Brandon conversing in a corner at the Opening Night Ceremonies that were held where Westminster Abbey once stood, then I knew that the hounds of war were growling outside the gates. And I knew that Thomas's behavior was an act to hide his true identity. Like Chris and Ward, he was a member of the Sons of York. In the days and weeks to come, I would learn how deeply involved he truly was.
But for now, I knew that Ward was not in London. The only clue I had to his location was the word "Bombay" that Chris had whispered in my ear at the opening ceremonies. According to his mother, he was in Rome helping them celebrate the GCIJ. However, when she said this, Chris added in my ear, "He is both Prince Caspian and Lord Aragorn."
"Look at you," I replied. "You've been reading the banned books again."
"That's not the only banned thing I've been up to lately, kiddo."
I sighed. "Just don't get yourself killed or anything."
"I'm a Son of York. We put the common good above ourselves."
Another sigh slipped past my lips and put a hand on his shoulder, forcing him to look me in the eye. "Chris, speaking as your friend, I'd like to have you around for the long haul." I paused before continuing. "However, I too want to see a better world. And if it costs me a friend, then I will know that he went to a good and valiant end."
He kissed my cheek then, a moment that was lost in the cheers as Minister Moncrieff announced that her younger son would be presiding over the GCIJ Closing Festivities in Rome. Ward and Felicia would be with her in the capital.
Aside from Chris, my life was largely filled with fussing women. Mari was worried about Jack, to whom she had sent (quite literally) dozens of messages within the first forty-eight hours of our arrival in London. It seemed that all she did was titter about where he might be and what he might be doing.
Lucy was full of condemnations for the rebels, calling them villains, heathens, and traitors, while praising the "noble and righteous" Minister Moncrieff. Nan, meanwhile, eagerly and cheerfully parroted her younger sister's words.
My heart, however, was filled with concern. What did "Bombay" actually mean? And why was Chris comparing Ward to Prince Caspian and Aragorn? Where was Ward and what was he doing? And why did I suspect that he had been personally involved in at least one of the bombings?
On the third night of the GCIJ, we went to a Celebration of Exhilaration and Jubilation hosted by my brother and sister-in-law. I was not looking forward to the event one jot; Mari was only eager for the possibility of seeing Jack. That possibility was only vague but my sister was ever the optimist. "He'll be there, Eli. I know it. I feel it in my soul?"
"When did you become a pre-cog?" I teased. And when had we started having souls? I thought such mentions had been forbidden after the war. In fact, was not the very GCIJ itself a celebration of our soullessness?
Mari waved my comment off casually and smoothed the skirt she was wearing. "Don't worry, Eli. He'll be there and everything will be perfect."
"Mari, don't you ever worry that the rumors are true?"
"Eli, I never worry about anything. I always know that you'll be worrying enough for the both of us."
I sighed. "Aren't you ever serious?"
"Again, that's your job. I'm the sweet, light-hearted girl."
I didn't respond to that comment; I didn't know what to say.
Simply put, we saw Jack that night and he crushed my sister's optimism. He had married another woman. To be precise, he had married Sasha Gray, the daughter of Armand Gray, the Minister of Protocol and Discipline. Minister Gray ran what used to be called the police; now it was more a branch of the army.
Minister Gray was conducting the Celebration of Exhilaration and Jubilation. Halfway through the evening, he interrupted the fireworks and videos of recent imperial glories. "It causes me great pride and pleasure to announce the engagement of my dear daughter, Sasha, to Jack Willoughby. Jack is a rising star in the academic field and has demonstrated great progress both in his own field and in furthering imperial goals throughout his personal sphere of influence."
I almost gagged, but Mari was shaking next to me. "No," she whispered softly. "No, Eli, it can't be. He can't be engaged to her."
"Do you have an understanding with him?" I whispered.
She shook her head. "I love him. He loves me. But he never made me any promises. We talked about it. But we didn't. We didn't, Eli. But he loves me. And he can't be engaged to her."
I felt a hand on the small of my back and turned to see Chris. "We need to get her out of here."
"Lucy and Nan will want to stay," I said, glancing at the sisters who were eagerly gazing at Sasha and Jack who were now standing on the platform. Jack had an arm around
Sasha and they were both waving to the grounds.
"Then ask them if they know someone who can take them home. We need to get your sister home before she becomes hysterical."
I nodded and stepped away from him. I put a hand on Lucy's shoulder and whispered in her ear. "Lucy, I need to take Mari home. She has become unwell."
"But Nan and I want to stay."
"I know. Is there anyone who could take you home?"
She shrugged. "Maybe, I'll ask Bertie here if he would mind taking us home."
Seconds later, she was conferring with the familiar leering face of Robert Ferrars; shockingly, she clearly had no clue who her new companion was. And a second after that, he was promising to take Nan and Lucy home with him. I gave no indication that I knew who he was and went back to Chris and my sister.
"I love him," Mari was whimpering. "I love him and he's marrying her. But he can't."
"Are we good to go?" Chris asked.
I nodded. "They're with Bertie, but they don't know it."
He smiled. "It's the perfect place for two such devoted patriots."
Then we put our arms around my sister. "Come on, Mari," I told her. "It's time to go home."
"I want my blue dress," she said stubbornly and loudly. "I want my blue dress and I want to marry Jack."
I pulled on her arm, but she had set her feet firmly and couldn't be moved. I shot Chris a look, but he couldn't move my sister either. Her insistent repetition of a color word was bound to attract attention, something we could ill afford.
"I want my blue dress," she protested louder. "And I want to marry Jack. He loves me."
People were starting to stare as we still tried to move my sister. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a security official moving towards us."
"He loves me," she said loudly. "I love Jack and he loves me."
The guard grabbed Mari suddenly and pulled her away. Another guard came up next to the first and before I could do anything, my sister had been dragged away from Chris and me.
"What is happening?" I asked.
Chris shook his head as a third guard came up to us. "We are detaining the young citizen for being a public nuisance. We will contact you tomorrow with more details."
"But she's my sister," I protested. "She needs me."
The guard shook her head. "You will be able to see her in the morning. For now, just go home."
Chris gently pulled on my arm and led me away before I could say anything else.
The next morning, we awoke to the news that Athens had been taken peacefully by the Sons of York. They had released this message: "We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are."
As I drank my breakfast protein shake, I received a message from Maggie. "Don John of Austria is coming to the war."
Posted on: 2011-08-29
When Mari was seven, she had a blue dress that she wore almost every day. It was light blue with white flowers. And she wore it to school and while playing. It was her most prized possession. She cried when my mother washed it. And when she outgrew it, she wanted a new blue dress. From that day forward until the day she lost her ability to see colors, she always owned at least one blue dress. Blue was her favorite color, the color of her eyes.
She had inherited those blue eyes from our father. Maggie and I had our mother's eyes. Maggie's eyes had probably changed color what with the whole pre-cog thing going on, but back seven years ago, she had brown eyes like me. Of course, she was also six back then. Now, she's thirteen, she sees the future, and she sends me cryptic messages that quote books, poems, and plays that have been forbidden by the imperial government. Somehow, I know that Ward and Chris have influenced her education.
At nine o'clock, Chris and I went to the local security office to find out what we could about Mari. However, upon our arrival, we found two tall men already at the counter, one of whom was demanding to see Marianna Dashwood. I would have known that firm, steady voice and knowing that Tom Palmer was on my side filled me with peace.
Ward was merely standing there, quiet and steady. Tom was the warrior. When the official behind the desk said, "But sir, we're not allowed to release information about prisoners to anyone," Tom growled in response.
The official shuddered. "Sir, you have my sincere apologies, but we are forbidden to discuss any prisoners with anyone."
Tom sighed. "You are a lackey and a dupe. Heck, you're probably a cog in some machine too. And I feel sorry for you because you don't know that. You think you've chosen your life, but you haven't. You're just doing what was assigned to you. You're just living the life that was created for you."
"Sir, I don't understand you."
"Of course you don't," Tom replied crisply. "But you will someday."
Another official stepped forward. "Citizen, I don't mean to give offense, but you seem to be bordering on treason."
"I suppose you were told to say that by some voice speaking to you through the Live Feed?"
Ward put a hand on Tom's back. "Not now, this isn't the time or the place. Besides, Eli is here. Perhaps they will listen to a sister over a volatile friend."
Tom sighed. "Eli, come here. This man says that he cannot tell us anything about Mari. This is Mari's sister. Surely you can give her information about her own sister."
"She has been deemed a general nuisance and we cannot release any more information about her," the man replied. "I am sorry, Citizen, but it forbidden to share this sort of information about a prisoner."
"My sister was emotionally distraught. She is not trying to tear down the government." I saw the irony of that statement in light of the three men standing with me.
"My captain believes that she is intending a personal assault against Citizen Willoughby."
Chris sighed. "She is merely acting as any woman who was led on by a man would act."
The official stiffened. "I understand that, sir, but her behavior was inappropriate for a public occasion."
"She was distraught," I protested. "He had broken her heart. She thought that he loved her and then she found out that he had only been toying with her and actually loved someone else."
"And that is sad, but we cannot run around breaking rules for heartbreak."
Tom nodded. "Excuse me. I need to step outside and contact my lawyer."
"You have a lawyer?" The official's voice squeaked.
"I am a lawyer."
"Oh, will you be acting on Citizen Dashwood's behalf?"
"No, one of my partners has agreed to take the case on due to his personal experience in this sort of situation."
"Let me call my superior. Maybe he can help us."
Tom smiled. "Wonderful, we appreciate your help."
When the officials left the room, Tom began fiddling with his cellular phone. As I watched his fingers move, I knew that something was about to happen in the world.
A few minutes later, the official returned with another official. His name was Bradley and he addressed his entire conversation to me. "Citizen Dashwood, I am very sorry about the chaos we have caused in your life. Unfortunately, your sister's behavior yester was entirely improper and we cannot allow it to simply slip past without warning. The current global celebrations have not been as peaceful as they ought to have been."
"Forgive me, but does that mean that my sister's emotional outburst must be punished by a prison sentence?" I asked meekly.
"That had been our intention," he said. "However, since your family is allied to Minister Moncrieff and you have brought a lawyer with you, we will let this offense slip by. Your sister will only remain in prison for a week. She will be released to you at the end of the week."
"That is your definition of leniency?" I asked.
"That is the mildest sentence that can be arranged at the moment. Your connections to Minister Moncrieff are not enough to protect you. And perhaps your sister ought to learn some decorum."
"Perhaps," I replied simply. "Might I see her before we leave?"
"No," was his flat reply.
"He's going to pay for that," Tom said when we were outside.
Ward glared at him. "We have to be careful."
"I know that, but I hate that we live in a world where the government is allowed to treat people like that."
"We all hate that," Chris replied.
"Well, I'm going to change it," Tom said firmly.
"Don't talk like this in public," Chris cautioned. "Keep it inside until we get back to the house. Then we'll talk about it."
I tripped just then and felt myself falling. Suddenly, two firm arms were encircling me and I wasn't falling anywhere. I looked up and saw Ward. "I've got you," he said softly as he steadied me.
I nodded and wiped my face with my hand. "I'm shaken. It's been a rough day and it isn't even noon yet."
He smiled and put an arm around my back. "Lean on me. You've got me, Eli. And someday soon, we'll live in a world where we can think and feel what we want, where we can be the people we're supposed to be."
I leaned against him. "I can't wait for that world."
We went back to Mrs. Jennings's residence in search of peace and quiet. Instead, we found Lucy and Nan bustling around the house. They had met Felicia and been invited to her house for a visit of undetermined length-to get them away from the disgrace of Mari's arrest, of course.
This made things awkward. Ward had come to the house to discuss the rebellion and then he found himself almost inexplicably being dragged to his own mother's house to "avoid the undesirables."
I later learned that as he escorted Lucy and Nan to his mother's house he had sent Chris a message saying, "Now they use me as their protector and a way to escape the undesirables. Soon they will learn how undesirable I truly am."
After Ward left, Chris told Tom to wait for him in the kitchen. Then, he took me up to my bedroom. He wrapped a blanket around me and pressed his lips against my forehead. "I know you're having a really rough week, kiddo. But you're going to be all right. You're going to be safe. I promise you that. Ward and I, we won't let you join the Sons of York because we need to you to be safe. You're like the baby sister I never had. And Ward, well, he can't tell you this or show you this yet, but he loves you."
I sighed. "You know that this would all be so much easier if you would just let me join the marriage lottery."
"That will never happen, young lady. Tom did that and look where it got him. His wife is a lovely woman but they simply are not compatible with one another. You aren't joining the blasted lottery. And you aren't joining the Sons of York. You're staying safe so that someday soon you can marry Ward and build a family in the new world with him."
"But what will I do if the rebellion is not as successful as you expect it to be?"
Chris smiled. "Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand.1"
"And what is that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"Have both. Neither of us can see the future, but I dare to promise you one filled with joy. Now sleep, dear Eli."
When I awoke that evening, I found a message from Maggie by my bed. It said, "Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand. I can see the future and I promise you that your faith and hope will be rewarded."
The next morning, Chris came to the house while Mrs. Jennings was out visiting friends. "You need to get out of the house."
"I'm tired," I replied promptly.
He shook his head. "You need to get out of the house. It is a matter of personal safety."
I looked at him. "Christopher Brandon, what have you done?"
He smiled faintly. "Do you remember when I told you that Ward was in Bombay?"
I nodded. "And I don't know what that means. Bombay was the name of a city in India many centuries ago, but that city has a different name now."
"Bombay is about to be brought to London," he said. There was a faint twinkle in his eye.
"What do you mean?"
He took a piece of paper and wrote two words on it: Bomb bay.
My eyes went wide. "Ward is the one bombing all of those cities?"
"Ward is in charge of the bombings. He placed the Sydney bomb and the York bomb. The other bombs have been placed by confederates of ours."
"Does he want his mother to kill him?"
"He wants to create a free world even if it costs him his life."
I shook my head. "Chris, I want him to be safe."
"The night is always darkest before the dawn. Now let's get out of this house. It may not be here in an hour."
An hour later, I was in Tom and Charlotte's house when an explosion shook the house. I looked at Chris who pressed his lips together. "Love all, trust a few,2" he said cryptically.
Charlotte merely smiled at me. "Everything will be fine. Tom will see to that."
Ten minutes later, Ward came into the house carrying my sister. "Tom is behind me. He'll be here shortly."
"How is she?" I asked as he sat on the floor with Mari in his arms.
"Bad," he replied. "They tortured her badly in prison. Those fools, she knew nothing about the revolution. She's just a broken-hearted lass."
"Will she live?" I asked.
He nodded. "We need to get her out of the city now, but she will live."
"We can take her to Cleveland Park," Charlotte said.
That elicited another nod from Ward. "That was what Tom and I were thinking. Chris, I can't leave the city with the way things are. Can you go with Eli, Mari, and Charlotte?"
"Of course," Chris replied. "I'll take care of them. But you need to take care of yourself."
"Yes, Mommy," Ward replied. "Oh, and take Zella with you. This city is about to burn."
Tom came in just then. "We need to be gone by nightfall. The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will be live."
The look in his eyes was terrible and I looked at Ward. "Will you survive this?"
"I will do everything in my power," he replied. "I can make you no promises at the present moment especially given certain undesirable circumstances stemming from my past. But I hope that we shall see each other again in a free world."
As we left London that evening, we received word that the building where Minister Moncrieff's were housed had been bombed. No one had been harmed. However, due to the bombing, the Sons of York had been able to hack the Live Feed. At exactly nine o'clock on November 4, 2326, a very familiar firm and masculine voice came over the Live Feed. "This is Ward Ferrars, formerly known as Citizen Edward Moncrieff-Ferrars. On behalf of the Sons of York, I have a message for Minister Moncrieff and for all citizens of the Empire. Behold, I make all things new.3"
There was a brief and terrible crackling of static, something we had never heard before. And then, Ward's calm but powerful voice continued. "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. 4And so citizens of the Empire, I promise you this. What you have seen in these past five days is only the beginning. What happened in Athens will soon happen throughout the world. Tyranny will be destroyed. And we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, we shall see this fight through to the finish.5"
Then there was a terrible explosion of static and the feed went dead. Tom later told me that it had been arranged for Ward to explode everything that controlled the Live Feed as soon as he finished his speech.
I had never been so happy and so afraid at the same time.
1. Thomas Aquinas
2. All's Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare
3. Revelation 21: 5
4. Common Sense by Thomas Paine
5. Henry V by William Shakespeare
Posted on: 2011-09-05
Cleveland Park will show up on no map of England. It has never officially existed and it doesn't exist even in theory at all anymore. It was once a great house, but now it is gone, wiped from all existence.
But that November, it was still a house. Ostensibly, it was the home of Susan Jenkins-Palmer, a supposedly retired doctor and Tom's mother. Realistically, Susan lived in part of the house and still practiced medicine illegally while her son had the run of the rest of the house.
And the rest of the house was phenomenal. It had four floors above ground and seven below ground. That was the amazing part. The house had been built in the eighteenth century with three floors and one basement. Then, during the twenty-second and twenty-third centuries, two more floors had been added above ground. The six additional floors below ground were more recent additions. They had been begun a few years before the Fourth World War and had grown over the succeeding years. One of them was a storage cellar. One was a root cellar. The other five were the headquarters of the Sons of York.
Mari was taken upstairs to be kept under Susan's care while I was taken to the basement. "Safekeeping," was Chris's explanation. "You're too dear to too many of us for your location to become public knowledge."
"What he means is that Ward knows where you are," Tom said. "And Ward is a Truth-Speaker, which means that if he's tortured for information it'll be really hard for him to lie. He could potentially give away our location."
"Wouldn't he do that regardless of whether or not I was in the basement?"
"Obviously," Chris replied. "But potentially, the government could kidnap you or arrest you to torture you in front of Ward as a way of torturing him."
A chill ran down my spine. "I don't want that to happen. That would be worse than anything."
Chris put an arm around my shoulders. "Hopefully that will never happen. Hopefully, Ward will stay safe and we'll keep you and the Park safe."
Mari remained unconscious for days after our arrival. At the end of the GCIJ a week after our arrival at Cleveland Park, my sister was still not awake.
Lucy Steele and Robert Moncrieff announced their engagement to be married on the ninth night of the GCIJ. ("And they've only known each other a week," Susan Palmer remarked to me. "She's a gold-digger and a fame-seeker, mark my words, Eli. And no good can come of that marriage. He'll regret it before long and she'll follow him down that path quickly.)
The war raged. The imperial offices were bombed in dozens of cities around the globe and city after city fell into the hands of the Sons of York. Argentina was the first nation to declare its independence. "Our oath is to serve freedom," their statement read. "We believe, as the founders of another nation once did, that all men are created equal endowed with certain inalienable rights. The Empire has stripped the globe of these inalienable rights. We do not have liberty. We live, but our lives are nothing without liberty. Without liberty, we cannot truly and justly live our lives. And so, with God as our witness, we declare Argentina to be a free and sovereign nation."
Chris wrote that declaration on the eighth night of the GCIJ while he and I sat vigil by my sister's bed. He read it to me and consulted me while he wrote. I came up with the bit about how we cannot truly live. I knew that far too well by then. People need to be able to make choices. The freedom to self-determine is what makes us human. Without it, we aren't much more than high-functioning apes.
On the tenth night of the GCIJ, Chris told me something I hadn't expected to hear. "I don't know where Ward is anymore," he said.
We were sitting in an underground bunker eating beef hash. I couldn't taste it, but Susan was planning on performing soon a procedure on me that would restore the senses of which I had been previously deprived. Chris had undergone the procedure and had teased me about his ability to see colors and smell and taste. But now the teasing was gone.
"What do you mean?" I asked, shoveling another spoonful of hash to my mouth.
"He's completely off the grid," was the grim reply. "Only Tom knows where he is anymore. It's for his safety, Eli. If one of us is captured, we can't reveal Ward's location to anyone."
"But is he safe?"
Chris shrugged. "Until I hear that he isn't, I always assume that he's alive and well."
"The eternal optimist," I said sadly.
Chris squeezed my hand. "You worry too much, kiddo. I know that's an odd thing to say during such dark times, but you do. Ward's a big boy and he can and will take care of himself. Just wait and see. You'll see him again someday."
That statement would one day develop great irony, but we did not know that. Instead, we kept worrying about my sister. And Tom and Chris kept coordinating a rebellion. Charlotte was busy making sure that it always appeared that the house was just a house, just the home of three ordinary people. I couldn't imagine doing that. I was glad that I got to hide in the basement. I didn't have to help with the rebellion. I just had to spend time with my sister and keep Chris company when it was mutually agreeable.
In fourth lower level, we found boxes of old clothes from before the war and Chris and I took to wearing some of them. I was especially found of an over-large sweater coat that was purple, according to Chris and Tom. I didn't particularly care what color it was; I only knew that it was warm and comfortable. And the lower levels of the house were not.
"So, how long have you been able to see colors?" I asked Chris on the eleventh day of the GCIJ while he was running some sort of analysis on an imperial computer database that Ward had hacked a few days earlier.
"Since late spring," he replied as he ran a hand over his head. "Holy mercy, Eli, look at this crap. Just look at it."
I looked over his shoulder to see hundreds of names with dates and locations next to them. "What am I looking at?"
"Lists of people who have been eliminated," he replied. "These people have all been declared undesirable for the Empire's survival and have all been eliminated."
"You mean they've been killed?" I asked.
He nodded. "And there's another list of people who are in line to be eliminated."
"Let me guess," I said softly. "Ward is now undesirable number one?"
That elicited another nod as well as a strangled look from Chris. "Ward went from being the golden boy to the Empire's Most Wanted overnight."
"Has Tom heard from him recently?"
Then Chris smiled. "Did I tell you that Canada declared its independence at midnight and then the Imperial Offices in Seattle, Detroit, and Buffalo were all bombed?"
"Heaven save me, Chris," I replied, resting my head against his shoulder. "I know he's perpetuating incredible violence, but I love that boy."
My friend put his arm around my shoulders. "I know you do. And hopefully you'll get to marry him someday."
I smiled. "I'd like that very much."
"That's wonderful. Now, would you please help me write Denmark's declaration of independence?"
"Only if you promise to quote Hamlet in it," I teased.
"You've got it, kiddo."
"To be, or not to be, that is the question for us in this fateful hour. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? 1We know not what course others may follow, but as for us, we have made our choice and set our course. We, Denmark, have chosen to be. We are Denmark and nothing shall ever keep us from that again.
Ours is no longer to merely do and die. Ours is to reason why.2 It is our right as humans. So while we are willing to die for this cause, we will first reason why.
Join with us and fight. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; we have chosen to stand and fight. Join with us."
That was Denmark's declaration of statehood, which they issued on November 10, 2326. Within mere hours of its release, Spain declared its independence, saying merely "We once believed that there was plus ultra, more there. Now, we will once again give our all to defend that believe that there is more there."3
"The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. 4The world has fallen into darkness. Nevertheless, some men yet live who believe in hope. And these men have seen great horrors perpetuated upon the human race in the name of 'the common good, the greater good.' But the death of innocents does not perpetuate the common good. It merely perpetuates fear. We have become a race ruled by fear. We, the human race, live in constant terror of the Empire. Since the end of the war, I have watched my brothers and sisters being eliminated for the sake of the greater good. The government has determined the desirability of a person's life. This is wrong. It is an outrage upon humanity. And it must end. We must rise up and defend our most basic of human rights, our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West! The hour has come for war. The hour has come to destroy the Empire. 5
In the past twelve days, we have seen what can happen when individuals unite together to defend their rights. Sydney was the beginning. Tokyo followed. And now we see Argentina, Canada, and Spain claiming their independence. Germany and the United States of America are working together to reform their former selves. And now Denmark has joined the swelling cry of nations seeking liberty. All of this has happened in twelve short days.
These twelve days were intended to be the Global Celebration of Imperial Joy. We have not seen much Imperial Joy in these twelve days. Instead, we have seen what happens when people determine their own destinies.
And so, my fellow Englishmen, for English you truly are, join with me, with us. Determine your own destinies. Rise up and fight the Empire. Declare your independence."
That was the speech that Chris and I wrote for the invasion of the Twelfth Night of the GCIJ. That night was supposed to have been a night of great imperial joy and celebration, a night when the people of the Empire could forget about the brewing rebellion and the cracks growing in the Empire's power.
Instead, when Minister Moncrieff went to speak, another voice boomed over hers. It was her son's voice. Chris had accessed the master grid of the sound system for Trafalgar Square and played a recording of Ward's voice over Minister Moncrieff's attempts to speak of the glories of the Empire.
Unfortunately, Minister Moncrieff managed to get the final word in. "Be warned, rebel scum. Our retribution will be terrible and you will feel our wrath."
The next morning, my sister woke up with the dawn, utterly bewildered and terrified. She would not speak, merely squeak and cry. It was as though she had lost all powers of speech.
"We need to take her to your mother's house," Susan told me. "She needs to be somewhere familiar and comfortable."
"I'll take her," Chris said.
"You'll have to travel by car," she said. "She is too fragile to travel by jetpack yet."
"Take two guards with you," Tom said. "I can give you Leo and Draco for as long as you need them."
Leo and Draco, the Murphy twins, lived up to their names. They might as well have been a lion and a dragon. And they would be good protection for Chris and Mari.
"I want you to stay here," Tom told me.
"But my sister needs me."
"Your country needs you more," he replied.
"What country?" I queried.
He smiled, a rare thing but a handsome thing when a smile crossed his rugged features. "England needs you. I know that you wrote Denmark's declaration of statehood. And it was beautiful. It was exactly what the world needed."
"But my sister needs me."
Tom sighed. "Fine, go with her. But I want you back as soon as she is safely home."
I nodded. "You have my word."
He hugged me. "Be safe, dear one."
We took my sister home. Our trip to my mother's home was quick and uneventful. We could see warplanes in the sky, but we were unharmed and largely unnoticed. No one took much note of us for some reason.
Upon seeing Mari, my mother's entire attention was fixed on her and she barely seemed to notice Chris, Leo, Draco, or me. She hugged me and kissed my cheek. "Take care of yourself."
"Take care of Mari. And let me know how she is."
"Of course," she replied quickly. Then, Mari began coughing and my mother ran back to my sister's side.
"You are in danger," Maggie told me.
"Aren't we all?"
She shook her head. "You are in grave danger, far more serious than the rest of us. You may never see me again."
I glanced at Chris, Leo, and Draco who were whispering in the corner. "Aren't they in danger too?"
"The four of you are in danger. There is no escaping it."
I hugged her tightly. "I love you, darling."
"I love you too, big sister. And I'll see you again someday."
"I thought you said I would never see me again."
She smiled. "It's complicated. Just know that I love you."
I kissed her forehead and I could feel tears on her cheeks. "I will not go gentle into that good night, Maggie. I promise you that."
Chris came over to us and hugged my sister. "Maggie, we'll see you again soon."
"Do not go gentle into that good. Rage against the dying of the light." She was looking at him with an intensity I had never seen before. 6
"I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul," he replied firmly. 7
And then we left.
Four kilometers from Cleveland Park, the car exploded. I would later learn that there had been a bomb awaiting our return. But I did not know that then. Then, all I knew was pain, fire, and darkness. My world had gone black around me.
1. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
2. A paraphrasing of Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade"
3. The Spanish motto is "Plus ultra," which means "further beyond" or "more there"
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King]
6. "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas
7. "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley
Posted on: 2011-09-10
I woke up in a pillowed cloud of softness. When I say that I woke up, I mean that I regained consciousness. I could hear voices and feel things. But I could not see. The world was dark.
Dr. Palmer told me that I had suffered injuries such that I would need corneal transplants to ever see again. My own corneas had been burned in the explosion. "You're lucky to be alive," she told me in what was meant to be a sympathetic tone. "Leo wasn't so lucky."
"And what about Draco and Chris?" I asked her.
"They're both alive. Draco has a broken arm and Chris has a broken leg. But overall they're both doing well. The side of the car that you and Leo were on, that side got the worst of the explosion."
"My sister told me that I'd never see her again."
"You probably won't," the doctor replied flatly.
I sighed. "Why didn't she tell us there was going to be an explosion?"
"She didn't know," Susan said as she ran a cool hand over my warm cheeks. "Your sister and Tom have spoken. She had a vision of you blind and heard the words 'she shall become like Homer.' She didn't know what that meant or how it would happen."
"But she quoted that Dylan Thomas poem to Chris," I protested. I could hear my voice rising. I knew she would scold me for overstressing myself, but I couldn't help it. I was angry. I was blind.
"Chris has lived in danger for months. They'd been playfully quoting the poem for a while. It wasn't anything special."
"She didn't know that the bomb was going to explode?" I asked.
"No," was her firm reply. "Maggie had no idea that was how you'd lose your sight. You could have lost it due to some medical error on my part when you underwent the sense-restoration operation. There could have been an attack on Cleveland Park. We live in a war. There are dozens of ways you could have lost your sight."
"But instead there was a bomb."
"A bomb that wasn't even intended for you," she told me. "It was supposed to kill or injure Ward."
"I'd rather be blind than have Ward be dead," I confessed.
Susan kissed my forehead. "I'd rather that none of this had ever come to this point."
"Well, it's too late for that. All we can do is press forward."
Chris came to see me later that day. I could hear the labored movements of his crutches as he made his way to my bed and his soft, steady breathing. It was odd being blind. I could hear everything around me but I couldn't see a thing.
"How are you?" Chris asked me. I could hear him doing what I assumed was sitting in a chair.
"I'm alive," I said. "And I suppose that's enough."
"Eli, how are you feeling about being blind?"
I tried to shrug, but doing that only made my neck and back hurt. So I just simply said, "I'm sad."
"You want your eyes back."
"Yeah," the one word seemed a sufficient response.
He sat down on the bed and hugged me. "I can't imagine what you're going through, kiddo. But I'm here for you. If you need someone to hit, someone to yell at, I'm here."
"Can you just sit there and keep me company?" I asked.
"Of course," he replied. "Do you want me to read to you or something?"
"How did Leo die?" I blurted.
He sighed. "It was instantaneous. The impact of the bomb killed him."
"He didn't suffer?"
Chris squeezed my hand. "No, I don't think so."
"It's rough," he began slowly. I could hear him swallowing and I knew he was struggling for words. "He's in pretty decent shape physically, but he's a mess. He feels like it should have been him who died or who was blinded."
"Why would he think that?"
"Survivor's guilt, I guess."
I put my hands on my bandaged face. "I can understand that. I don't get why Leo died when I lived. I don't get why my sister didn't actually have a vision this time. I don't get why I'm blind. I don't understand why we're in the middle of this horrible war or why the Empire ever won the last war. I don't get why my life is what it is. Why can't things be simpler?"
"Nothing's ever simple, kiddo."
I threw a pillow in the direction of his voice. "Shut up. I don't want to hear that. I want answers."
"I don't have any for you. "
"Then buzz off. I don't need your crap."
"Eli, I'm going to leave you for a while now. Holler if you need me."
I must have fallen asleep again. Between the pain meds I was taking and my new blindness, it was hard to tell the difference between wakefulness and sleeping. When I awoke the second time, I knew that someone was in the room with me. "Who's there?" I asked. "Chris, Susan, are you there?"
"It's Tom," a gruff voice replied. "I'm here."
"Why are you here?"
"I'm worried about you. You're getting angry and bitter."
"I'm disenchanted," I replied.
He laughed. "Are you disenchanted with the rebellion?"
"No, I'm disenchanted with life. Why am I alive when Leo's dead?"
"Fate," he replied. "You still have to marry Prince Edward."
I sighed. "I'd roll my eyes if I could."
I heard a chuckle. "I'm glad to see you haven't lost your sense of humor."
"I'm not dead. I'm just frustrated."
"Eli, if I die, you can have my eyeballs."
"What color are your eyes?"
"Blue," Tom replied. "Why do you ask?"
"I only want green or brown."
"You're odd, Eli. Most people would be glad just to have eyes."
"I'm not most people. I'm Eli Dashwood."
That just elicited another chuckle. "Eli, I talked to Ward while you were sleeping."
"How is he?"
He paused as if he was searching for words. "He seems to be doing well, I suppose. He's worried about you."
"How's the revolution?"
"Sweden, Norway, and Finland were all liberated today with great ease."
"So now Prince Edward is also Fortinbras?"
Tom chuckled. "I like you, Eli. I really like you."
"Yeah, well, you're married, and I'm blind."
"You've been blind for three days and you've only been conscious for a few hours of that time."
"Is that supposed to mean I can't make blind jokes or use my blindness to get sympathy?"
"Can't you at least wait a week?"
I snorted. "Don't you know me, Tom?"
"You're a gem, Eli. Don't forget it."
"Did Chris send you in here just to cheer me up?"
"Actually it was Charlotte's idea," Tom replied.
I sighed. "She's a dear."
"She is. She's so devoted to all of this, which I never expected when I married her. I just married her to avoid drawing attention to myself. And I don't think I'll ever love her the way I ought to."
"Be good to her," I told him. "She's my friend."
"I will," he responded. "I respect her even if she isn't the woman for me. I'm not about to get rid of her just because I can't love her the way she deserves. Heck, if she wants children, I'll give them to her."
"You'd do that for her?"
"Eli, you now Charlie. She was meant to be a mother. Now, I'm content to just run this rebellion and then do whatever comes next. But if my wife wants to have kids, sure, we can have one or two."
I shook my head. "You're falling for her, Palmer."
"Nonsense," he replied. "I just think that since we're stuck together for the long haul, I ought to try to make her happy."
"You could divorce her."
"Eli, that is never going to happen. I'm a man of my word and I'm not leaving my wife for any reason."
"Like I said, you love her."
Tom sighed, and I suspected that he was rolling his eyes. "I like her. She isn't the sort of woman I would have chosen for myself, but she has a certain charm to all of her energy and enthusiasm. And I know that her motives for marrying me are better than Lucy's motives for marrying Bertie."
I smiled. "Lucy just wants to be important. She doesn't care how she gets there."
"So you don't think she loved Ward?"
"Maybe she did," I replied. "It's not for me to judge."
"Ward said almost the same thing when I asked him that."
"Are you using this as a sign that he and I are destined for one another?"
Tom took a deep breath. "Your sister thinks you're destined for him, so it must be true. Also, I've never heard so much concern in that lad's voice as when I told him what had happened to you. It took me a good twenty-five minutes to convince him that now was not the time to come rushing to Cleveland just to see you."
"He wanted to come see me?"
"Eli, that boy wanted to pack up his things and come rushing here as soon as I said you'd been in that accident. He yelled at me for even letting you out of the house."
"Tom, why was that bomb there?"
"To catch Ward," he replied. "The Empire doesn't know about the purpose of the house, but they do know that Ward has been seen traveling on the Park Avenue before. So they booby-trapped it with bombs along the road in hopes of capturing him."
"And instead they killed Leo and blinded me?"
"Obviously," he said in a thick voice. "It's an horrifically unfortunate situation."
"But Ward is still alive and still safe."
"He is," Tom answered. "I talked to him just before I came in here."
"Then I can live with being blind. I'd rather be blind in a world that has Ward than have my sight in world without him."
I felt Tom's hand run over my head. His mother had shaved my head after the accident so she could better treat my injuries. Then he spoke in a gruff voice. "I hate that we live in a world where that's a trade-off we have to make."
"So do I," I replied. "But for now, I want you to keep fighting to end the reign of the Empire. I want to live in a free world where no one has to make those sorts of choices again."
"I'll tell Ward you miss him and love him."
I laughed. "I do miss him."
"You'll see him again someday. I promise."
Posted on: 2011-10-01
I couldn't sit still. I just couldn't. I've never been the sort of person to just sit and think. I need to move.
So Chris and I started going for long walks around the lower floors o the house together. We'd talk sometimes. Other times we just kept each other company. He held my arm and led me. "Tom's making you a cane," he told me. "But he wants it to be beautiful."
"Remind him that I'm blind. I don't care what it looks like."
"Eli, carving the wood gives him an escape from everything around him."
I smiled. "How did we get here?"
"Well, if by here you mean the third floor, we walked here. Otherwise, it's a long serious of complicated events." Chris's voice was level but wry. And I loved it; he was being
normal, acting like nothing unusual had happened.
"Chris, I'll never be a teacher again."
"Hey now, you could still get a corneal transplant."
"I doubt it."
Chris sighed; I could guess what his face looked like "Have hope, Eli."
"But I feel weird about having someone else's eyes. I like my eyes."
"But they don't work anymore."
Now I sighed. "Don't worry about it, Chris. I'll figure it out."
"Eli, just give it a chance. After this war ends, I want you to get new eyes. I'll even pay for it."
I pulled my sweater closer around my body and nodded. "If it's that important to you, I'll do it."
He kissed my cheek and laughed. "Thanks, kiddo. I appreciate your sacrifice."
The days dwindled by. Ward was alive, but only Tom knew where he was. It was too dangerous for him to broadcast his location to anyone. The Empire and the Sons of York were engaged in a full-blown war and no one was safe. Tom often disappeared for days at a time and no one, not even Chris, knew where he'd gone.
After the Battle of Marseille, things changed substantially. The Empire's hold on Europe had been broken. Being blind, I didn't know all of the details of the battle, but I knew that it had been an intense battle of four days and five nights with numerous causalities.
"But don't worry, bug," Tom had told me on his return from France. "Ward is safe and whole."
I felt my cheeks grow warm and knew I must be blushing. I said nothing in the hopes that silence would protect me from any further speculation.
It didn't. Tom sat down next to me and hugged me. "Ward wrote you a letter. I'll give it to you, but you should probably have Mama read it to you. I think it's a bit personal."
I smiled as he put the paper in my hand. "I'll talk to your mother later."
"Ward misses you, munchkin. You're all he talks about."
Tom laughed. "Okay, so you're not his only topic of conversation, but you are by far his favorite."
"Let me guess," I teased. "In between exchanging volleys of gunfire and sabotaging Imperial defenses, you and Ward painted each other's toenails and talked about your dearest loves?"
"Actually, I'll have you know that we plaited each other's hair," he replied firmly. His voice sounded serious, but I could detect the faintest glimmer of a smile in his voice.
"My dear Eli," Susan read. "I have no right to call you as such, but I must. When I met you, I knew you were the green-eyed girl of my dreams. I know that you were born with brown eyes, but I have a feeling that you will, before long, have green eyes. Trust me on this, please."
I laughed. "I used to have hazel eyes that were both brown and green."
"You're getting green eyes, lass," Susan replied. "I already know what eyes you're getting."
"I don't want your son's eyes."
"They're blue. You don't want them anyway."
I laughed. "I know I sound petty."
"It's all right, love. Leo had green eyes and Draco thinks that his brother would have wanted you to have his eyes."
I grinned. "It's oddly fitting. But please keep reading."
She cleared her throat. "Things are going well. I can't tell you more than that and I hate that. I want to tell you about all the things I've seen, the people I've met, and the places I've been. You wouldn't believe it, Eli. The human sprit is indomitable. It cannot be conquered. People are so determined to be free. They will do anything for it. I once met a man who told me that he would gladly die if it meant that his friends' children could live in a free world.
"Eli, I would gladly die if it meant that you would live in a free world. I would gladly give my life for this cause, and I know you know that. I don't want to do it, but I am ready and willing. I want the human race to be free, but more especially, I want you to be free. I love you. I shouldn't say it, but I don't want to go to my grave without you know that you are my reason for living. I fight for a world where we can marry and raise a family together, a world where no one will tell us how to live or what to become.
"Nevertheless, I know that I might not survive this war. If I don't, I want you to marry someone else. Marry Chris. And be happy. Live a long life. Raise beautiful children. And know that somewhere I'll be watching you.
"Regardless, Eli, I love you. And I want what is best for you. You are in my thoughts constantly," Susan concluded. "And he signed it, 'with all that I am, Ward.'"
I smiled. "I love him. I'm still not sure that I should, but I do."
My companion laughed. "He's a good one, lass. If I were in your shoes, I'd jump in headfirst."
"I want to see him again someday."
"And I hope that you will," Susan replied.
On January 6, 2327, the world changed. The Sons of York had begun an intensive siege of London on December 25, 2327, and after twelve days of blood and nights of violence, the Empire fell. It was over. Earth 3.0 was once more a planet of nations and peoples who did not agree about everything.
Tom, Ward, and Chris had spent those twelve days in London. And we knew that we wouldn't see them again soon. There was far too much that they would need to do before they could comfortably return to their lives.
So, to keep Lottie, Susan, and myself out of trouble, I proposed that I should finally undergo the corneal transplant. "I want to see the free world, not just hear it," I told Susan.
She hesitated. "But would you rather not wait until all of the celebrations have ended? Would you rather not hear the speeches and know how things are going to be?"
"No," I told her. "I can see and hear them later. Now, I want to see."
"Then you will. I promised you that you would see again and I kept Leo's eyes safe for you. Now, you'll be able to see the new world through new eyes."
Susan performed the corneal transplant on January 8. I spent much of the next few days tired and groggy from the anesthesia. And then I still had to wait a week to have the bandages removed before I would be able to see. My mother and sisters came to Cleveland Park during those days. Chris had arranged it all, or so I presumed.
Whatever the cause or reason, I was grateful to have them there. Mari, who had recovered beautifully from her time in prison, was more serious and always ready to sit and read to me or talk to me. Maggie, on the other hand, was more likely to just sit next to me and hold my hand.
"You miss Ward," she said one day while we were sitting by a window so I could feel the sunshine that I could not yet see.
I laughed. "How did you guess?"
"You can't see and you're still carrying that letter he wrote you around."
"It reminds me of him. It's the closest I've come to contact with him in ages. He and Tom had planned for me to get to talk to him on the phone a few weeks ago, but then the Sons of York found themselves unexpectedly battling Imperial Forces in Spain and France. "
"So you just keep the letter."
"He loves me, Maggie."
"And he has brown eyes," she replied.
I sighed. "And now I have green eyes."
"I told you so."
"He still has to make it back here safely before I can marry him."
Posted on: 2011-10-13
On January 10, we learned that Tom Palmer had been appointed Guardian of England until the nation was considered to be stable enough that general elections could be held. Tom wrote to Lottie telling her that he hoped the nation was there by June because he was ready to come home to his family. "I want a free world, and I am glad to have it. But I do not want to run it. I hate being in charge of anything. You, my dear Lottie, must understand all of this."
"She's blushing," Maggie whispered in my ear as Lottie read that bit to us. Sometimes, my sister was still very thirteen.
I smiled. I had never heard Tom use any endearing appellation towards his wife, but I took this new "dear Lottie" comment as a step in the right direction. "Love is a many-splendored thing, Maggie. And someday you will understand it."
She squeezed my hand. "Is that why you always turn your head whenever you hear anyone mention Ward's name?"
"I have spent more time apart from him than I have time with him, and yet I know that I love him."
"He'll be back here soon," Maggie told me. "He'll be the first one back here."
"Why would he be the first one back?"
"He has nothing to keep him in London any longer."
"But the revolution," I began.
"It is over," she replied. "The world is free. Now he is free to take care of himself and marry you."
Sure enough, the following day saw the public resignation of Ward Ferrars as a member of the military arm of the Sons of York.
"I have fought for a free world. I have watched many of my fellow men die valiantly for the cause of freedom, but I have been fortunate enough to survive. Now, I hand this Earth back to its citizens, to all its nations. I ask that my fellow humans respect one another. Do not go to war often. However, this is merely my request, not an order. This world belongs to you, to all of us. Treat it well.
For my own part, I will return to the private sphere and pursue my dreams of a quiet career in the law with a loving family at home. For the world, I have many dreams, many hopes. But I lay these in the hands of all citizens of all nations. And so, I say to you in the immortal words of William Butler Yeats,
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
You, my fellow citizens of the free world, you tread upon my dreams. Treat them well. And so, for the final time, I bid you a fond farewell and ask that the Almighty bless all of us in our endeavors to rebuild this world."
I wept when I heard that speech. He had poured the past two and a half months of his life, which was really only a pittance of his life, into liberating the world. And now he was mine. Now my dreams could come true.
That same day, we learned the Minister Moncrieff had been arrested and was imprisoned awaiting trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. My brother and Fanny had committed suicide in order to avoid arrest. And Robert and Lucy were attempting to pledge their allegiance to the Sons of York with little success. Tom's emails to Lottie were full of colorful commentary on these topics. "They're pathetic. They think they can play their game and they'll get away with whatever it is that they've done. But there's no way I'd ever buy them as spies. After all, Lottie, if they were spies, why is it that none of the Sons know about it?"
The tone of my friend's voice as she read that email made me wish that I could see her face. Whether or not they knew it, Tom and Lottie were falling in love with each other.
Two days later, on January 14, a visitor arrived at Cleveland Park. I was in a bedroom upstairs with my sisters when this person arrived, and Lottie told us spent much of the day below ground with Susan. "He'll be at dinner, of course," she explained. "But he apparently has some very important business with my mother-in-law. The Sons of York want to begin the process of restoring people's senses."
"Will I be able to see colors after the bandages are removed?" I asked.
"You will," my friend replied. "Leo was one of the first people to have his color vision restored. So you'll have gorgeous green eyes and you'll be able to see colors."
"Finally," I replied, picking at the sleeve of the sweater I couldn't see. "I can't wait to see the purple of this sweater."
"Of all the things in the world that she could see and the only one she cares about is the sweater," Maggie commented.
"I'd roll my eyes at you if I could."
Mari snorted. "Nearly getting blown up didn't change you one bit, Eli."
"I just lost my perspective a bit," I told her. "But here's my real question. Will I have all of my other senses back soon?"
"As soon as you're fully recovered from your eye surgery, Susan is going to take care of everything else," Mari said. "She didn't want to interfere with your recovery process from the transplant. But sense restoration is a fairly simple operation; it just requires a local anesthetic and you should be recovered by dinnertime."
"I don't want to see Ward until I'm normal again," I told my sisters. "I don't want him to see me like this."
I heard a strange footstep in the room and then a familiar voice spoke. "What if Ward wants to see you, what will you do then?"
I gulped air. "I don't know."
He was there. I couldn't have explained how or why but I could sense his warm, familiar presence in the room. And then, I knew that he was in front of me. His hands were on my hands. And I was afraid.
I gulped air again. He must have been able to hear my heart beating, but he was still there, holding my hands. "Eli," he whispered. "I came back. I came back for you."
"Why?" I asked. "I'm blind, Ward. I'm blind."
"But not for much longer," he replied. "Susan says you'll have your eyes back in no time."
I inhaled slowly. "You came back to me."
"I promised I would."
"And you made me promise to marry Chris if you didn't."
He laughed and put a hand on my face. "Well, now I'm going to beg you to never marry him. He is my dearest friend in the world, and I love him. But if you marry him, I'll kill him."
I laughed. And then I fell into his arms. "I love you, Ward Ferrars. I love you, you crazy fool."
"Then marry me," he replied.
"Gladly," I said. "But let's put that off until I can see again."
And then he kissed me.
Posted on: 2011-11-23
The next day, Ward was with me when Susan took the bandages off my eyes. The first things I saw clearly after my three months of darkness were Ward's eyes, his beautiful brown eyes. And then I saw his smile. I saw his perfect lips in front of me and I did what any logical young woman in my place would do. I kissed him, timidly at first, but then I kissed him, as newly engaged young woman ought to kiss her fiancÚ whom she hadn't seen in months.
And everything was right with the world.
It was odd to return to being able to taste and smell things and see colors after so long without such things. The sweater was purple, deep dark purple like an eggplant. And Ward's eyes were deep brown like chocolate. I was even more in love with him than I had already been.
"Blue," I said. "Your shirt is blue and your eyes are brown and your hair is brown."
Ward laughed. "You're back."
I nodded. "And I can see."
He pressed his lips against my forehead. "I've missed you, Eli."
"And I you," I replied. "Promise me you'll never leave me again."
"Not if I can help it," was his quick reply.
"Okay, enough of the mushiness," Maggie said from her seat next to Ward. "This is boring."
I ran a hand over my sister's dark curls and smiled. "I'm sorry, Maggie. This is just an unfortunate symptom of being in love."
"Well, get over it. I want you two to get married and all, but this is all a bit much."
"We'll try to tone it down, bug," Ward told my sister. "And in the mean time, you can be the little sister I never had."
"I like that idea," Maggie replied. "I always wanted a big brother."
"And I always wanted a sibling I wouldn't have to send to jail."
We all laughed. Laughter was a delight in those days. We hadn't laughed enough in earlier days and now, now, we could really rejoice in the little things.
Everything didn't sort itself out easily. It wasn't like the war ended and life went back to normal. There was a mess to be cleaned up, the devastation of two wars. But we marched on.
In February, my family left Cleveland Park and went back to Barton with Ward. Ward and I took up residence in my old apartment while my family went back to the house. But Maggie spent far more time with Ward and I than she did at home.
Ward and I found ourselves in charge of the school where I had previously been a science teacher. Now, we were in charge of sorting out the mess that the school had become.
"Why did we agree to this?" he asked me as we spent yet another night pouring over computer files filled with confusing and misleading information about the education system and student records.
"Because Chris asked us," I replied as I leaned against his shoulder. "And he said that he wouldn't agree to be your best man in our wedding unless you used your legal knowledge to help sort this mess out."
"Maybe it's time to reconsider and ask Tom to fill the post."
I laughed. "He'd have some other job he wanted you to do for him."
Ward kissed the top of my head. "Then we'll just have to elope to avoid our friends."
"We're not eloping," I told him. "My mother would kill us."
"My family couldn't care less."
I leaned against his chest and sighed. "I'm sorry about that, love. But since my family does care, we are not eloping."
He laughed. "Then we won't elope. But we both know that Chris will use that to his advantage and make us work for him in exchange for being my best man. It used to be that people were in each other's weddings purely to be supportive friends."
"The world has changed," I said softly.
Ward laughed. "You can say that again."
"The world has changed very much."
"Oh dear," he sighed. "You didn't have to say it again."
"You could just quiet me in your own way."
And so he did.
In April, Tom ordered Cleveland Park destroyed as a symbol of the end of a world in which places like the Park were necessary. "There is no more need for rebellion. We can and will live at peace. Cleveland Park stands as a symbol of rebellion and disunity, of a desire to harm others. It must be and will be destroyed."
In June, Tom stepped down as the head of the interim government and was replaced by William Darcy who had been democratically elected as Prime Minister of England. Tom and Charlotte came to Barton where he would work as a lawyer, as Ward's partner in fact.
Chris could not escape his position as Minister of Education. Prime Minister Darcy asked Minister Brandon to stay on for the duration of his four-year term. And Chris's good nature and desire to help others forced him to agree. So he stayed on. One of the benefits of this was that he was near Zellie and could spend as much time as he wanted with his foster-daughter.
It also meant that he appointed me as headmistress of the school where I had once been a mere teacher. As a lawyer, Ward was helping me, but the school was largely in my hands. And it was more than a bit terrifying.
But with time we would master it, and the school grew to be incredibly successful. It drew students from around the nation because of the emphasis on educating the whole person rather than just the mind.
Ward and I married quietly in October. Our first child, a girl we named Olivia, was born the following September. Olivia had three younger siblings-Felicity, Christopher, and Leo.
Tom and Lottie had three children together-Michael, George, and Elinor.
And my sisters? Well, Mari married Christopher eventually, but that is a whole other story that I don't really time for. They were, however, happier than I ever could have hoped. And they had two sons, Edward and Thomas.
Maggie eventually found happiness and peace although she never married. She didn't want to pass her precognition to her children.
And while the world wasn't perfect, things were better than we ever could have imagined.