The room that surrounded them was large and elliptical. Mostly empty but for a few flickering torches and a heavy, unlit wooden chandelier that appeared to be suspended from nowhere. It was cool and damp, the ground sodden and fresh. There was no furniture except a single rocking chair towards the far end of the space. Victoria often sat in the room alone, to remind herself of the sacrifices that kept Erewon alive. She would sit in the rocking chair, the one item in the Council that held any true emotional value to her, and contemplate the ultimate sacrifice of the population. Their current surroundings were a stark contrast to the rest of the planet that she had created – the air was cleaner, truer, the atmosphere felt more honest. It was peaceful, yet unsettling. They stood together, in silence, in the eye of the storm.
James had only set foot in this room once before, when he first began working for the Council and had to pledge his allegiance to Victoria’s Congress. He’d never wished to return and Victoria had never asked him to. You never really entered this room if you had plans to leave it.
Victoria strode confidently into the open space and came to a stop along one side of the room. James followed with trepidation, his eyes straining to scan the peat covered walls, his heart rate slowly climbing.
The air was cold and felt sharp against his skin. Despite the drop in temperature, Victoria shrugged off her jacket and slung it swiftly onto the rocking chair.
“Tell me about your family, James. About your life”.
James turned to look at Victoria. His brow furrowed and he made no effort to hide his confusion, not that the poor lighting allowed Victoria to see it. She already knew of his family, of his wife and child. Almost his entire adult life had been spent working underneath her – what more could he tell her?
“What do you mean? You know of my family, of Helena and Eloise. I’m confused, Victoria – are you alright?”. James formed his words slowly and carefully. The situation he had walked himself into, this room, this space, all felt staged. He didn’t know what she wanted to hear from him.
Victoria didn’t seem to notice his concern or confusion. She continued.
“The average age of the sacrifices to Erewon currently stands at 82 years. What do you think of that, James?”
His brow furrowed further to form a deep ‘v’ in his forehead. A cold sweat had begun to form over his skin and his mind began to race to try to calculate an answer that Victoria wanted to hear. He gave her no answer.
“How old are you, James?”
Again, no answer. He couldn’t bring himself to form any words for fear of them being the wrong ones. What did she want him to say? He began to edge for the door. His eyes were darting across the dank walls, in search of the red timber door, but the candles were flickering so dimly that he couldn’t trace it. No matter how hard he squinted, he couldn’t see it. It was as if it was never there, as if the earthen walls had swallowed every last trace of it.
Victoria repeated her question, quietly, calmly. “How old are you, James?”
He couldn’t answer. He couldn’t lie. He knew how Victoria’s brain worked – cold, functional. To her, emotions were weakness. As panic began to settle over him, James considered running for the door, in the general direction that they had entered in, but the more he searched for the entrance the more disoriented and confused he became. They had only walked about 40 feet from the entrance, yet he could swear the door was no longer there. The fresh cool air was becoming suffocating, the temperature of the room slowly rising.
Victoria turned to face him. She was different, her face had somehow become animalistic, an unearthly glow framing her eyes.
“I forgot to say thank you for your years of service, James”. Her voice was coated with a velvety quality, dripping with threat.
“All those years you’ve given to me – to this planet. I always found it funny how you so readily dismissed your own political passions and instincts in order to come and work for me. I never really trusted that you’d dropped them altogether, but thank you, nonetheless. To show you how grateful I am for your years of service, I wanted to show you the Heart of Erewon”.
With her last words, each candle nestled in the colossal wooden chandelier hanging above them sprang to life. The earthy, muddy walls were slick with moisture and littered with deep, long scratch marks. The marks were human, he was sure of it – stretching from the walls onto the floor. James’ eyes frantically followed the trenches, until they disappeared, falling over the edge of the crevice in the centre of the room. With the lighting of the last few candles, it became all too obvious to James why he had been brought here.
At the very centre of the room, or cave as it now appeared, was a seemingly bottomless pit. Each and every one of the gauge marks ended at this huge orifice. James could just about make out a faint orange glow from within the crevice – the glow of the Heart of Erewon. And Victoria was right – it seemed weak, desperately flickering in an attempt to sustain an exponentially growing population with an exponentially growing appetite. James was fixated on the warm, orange light. It was only as he approached the drop that he realised he had been walking towards it in a kind of hypnotic trance. James racked his brain, his mind brimming with the same question asked over and over. Why the gauge marks, why the trenches, when we sacrifice ourselves so willingly as a population?
Victoria’s calm, haunting whisper interrupted the silence. She was standing immediately behind him, just inches away from his body, her warm breath stroking the back of his neck.
“I’ll ask you one last time, James. How old are you?”
He’d lost the ability to speak. He knew he had walked himself into Victoria’s trap, teetering on the edge of the sheer drop, staring into the core of Erewon. His pulse raced and he choked on his efforts to respond to her question. He felt her edge forward, pushing his toes over the precipice. His entire body was uncontrollably shaking, his brain wildly searching for an escape that he knew didn’t exist.
“Do you think I could really afford to risk keeping you alive? With what you know? With your past and how you think? I can imagine it now, you desperately trying to rally the troops against the Council when we start sacrificing people as young as twenty-something with not so much as a glint of adulthood in their eyes. I know your kind, James, and I know they’ve all but died out. But you, you could have been dangerous. And I can’t risk that I’m afraid”.
He was millimetres away from tumbling away to his death without so much as an inch to move to safety, when it came to him.
“Our world is a perfect world. His voice was anxious and shaky, but there was an eerie confidence in his words. The mantra of Erewon being spoken by someone who once would have so publicly protested against them.
Victoria began to respond, confusion and anger threatening to burst out of her throat, corrupting her judgement. He was still a threat to the Council even if he had put his political voice to sleep. Victoria truly believed that his passion was a danger to the stability of the society she had created, and she was not alone.
“Our world knows what to do to survive”, James spoke again, more confident this time. He could see that he had shaken Victoria’s confidence and hoped that it would be enough for him to catch her off-guard.
“Why are you not angry? Why are you not terrified of me? Why are you not crying for mercy, screaming out for your wife and child? How old are you, James?!” The questions flooded desperately from Victoria’s throat in exasperated screams.
“How old are you?!” – She bellowed at him one final time, gripping his shoulders and thrusting her arms straight out in front of her. As James began to tumble, he spun his torso and grabbed at Victoria’s throat. He seized the collar of her shirt and, with the momentum of his falling body, pulled Victoria into the glowing pit with him.
Our world is the perfect world.
Our world knows what to do to survive.