Aurelia said nothing but just sat and watched. Jonathon tapped his fingers on the table, seemingly annoyed at her lack of reaction. Of course, she'd heard the word already, but she didn't want to betray from whom she had heard it. Finally, Jonathon took a deep breath and broke the silence.
“There are things that you need to know, Aurelia. Things that I'm sure you don't know.”
That’s not much of a stretch, she thought in irritation. She'd practically begged him to explain things to her, and he'd fobbed her off. She was getting seriously sick of this shit. She didn't know if she was being protected or manipulated or what, but what she did know was that she didn't like it.
“How can you be so sure I don't know?”
He stopped tapping his fingers and smiled. “Because you're from Earth,” he said, simply.
Fine, so Lunar had some Secrets. Whatever. Aurelia was far more interested in her own problems at the moment. She wanted to know what it was, exactly, that she'd been dragged into.
“Fine. So tell me, then.”
He held up his hand. “I want you to wait just a few more minutes,” he said. “I think you'll believe me more when you see something.”
What was it with guys wanting to show her things? Did she look so suspicious all the time? Aurelia thought she was a fairly trusting person, but now everyone wanted to give her examples of things. A few hours ago she'd been sitting at the Arena with Nicholas, and now here was Jonathon telling her to hold her horses. Maybe it was a result of living in Lunar, a city where no one really trusted anyone else, or so it seemed.
She shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”
“It won't be long.”
Even as he spoke there was a soft knock at the door, and a hospitality Worker entered the room pushing a small trolley. The man placed covered plates in front of both of them and then silently turned and left, closing the door behind him.
“Take the cover off,” Jonathon said.
She could smell something. Rich, deep, something that stirred a sort of primal memory inside her. Lifting the domed cover off her plate, she looked down.
“Oh, steak.” That was fine; she liked steak, but she didn't understand what the big deal was.
“Try it,” Jonathon said. He still hadn't uncovered his plate.
Feeling slightly uncomfortable and very watched, Aurelia picked up the cutlery by her plate and started to cut. The steak was harder to cut than she had thought, the knife encountering some sort of resistance before slicing through the meat. She took a small piece on her fork. It certainly smelled good. Placing the bite in her mouth, she began to chew, and taste assaulted her tongue. This, this was...she had no words. She closed her eyes to try and better understand, to let her body concentrate on the sense of taste without distraction. Saliva flowed into her mouth, and she swallowed, leaving a delicate aftertaste of the meat behind.
Opening her eyes, she saw that Jonathon was grinning at her. “This is amazing,” was all she said.
“Do you know what it is?” Jonathon asked as he uncovered his own plate and took his knife and fork.
He laughed. “Aurelia, this is steak - meat, you know?”
“Of course.” Now she was just getting confused.
“No, you don't get it,” said Jonathon patiently, cutting into his own meat. “This isn't proteins or Chemicals or synth; this is steak. Meat. Real. From an animal.”
There was a clatter as Aurelia's silverware fell to her plate. “What?”
As far as she knew, there had been no real meat during her entire lifetime, and for long before that. Few animals had survived the war, and there were even fewer places to keep them. Eating animals just didn't make sense anymore. It would be too expensive, too luxurious.
“It's true, Aurelia. And I can eat as much of this as I'd like. It's shipped up fresh from Earth every day, along with chicken, pork, whatever I want. I'm Ruling Class, Elite. This is my privilege.”
And what? Was he trying to seduce her with meat? Wait, meat was being shipped from Earth? She looked down at her plate. Was she really eating an animal? For a moment the thought disgusted her, but the smell, the taste - it was so overwhelming that she couldn't stop herself from picking up her knife and fork again.
“Perhaps we need to start back at the beginning,” said Jonathon. “This is a lot of information, but I'll do my best. You need to understand, Aurelia. Okay?”
“Alright,” he sighed. He took a mouthful, chewed, swallowed, gathered his thoughts and began.
“The year was 2085. Earth was a successful civilisation. There was infrastructure, food, resources, people, space. For centuries the people of Earth had strived to better themselves and their lives. For some that meant money; for others it meant drugs or transport or any one of a million little things that were developed over the ages to ease living. And by the twenty-first century, life was good. For some.
“Yes, there were still those with nothing. Still those who died starving or homeless or from disease. But these were the poor, and we didn't care about them. Sometimes there would be reports or events where we pledged charity to help those in need, but after the cameras were gone, the money dried up. In the end, we weren't willing to sacrifice any of our own comforts to give to others.
“We were the rich, the important, the successful. And there was something that we knew and believed that few others did.”
Aurelia noticed how every now and again he slipped in to using “we,” and she wondered what it meant. It was as if he was holding himself responsible for things that had happened almost two hundred years ago. And so far, he'd told her nothing that she didn't really know. The meat on her plate was steadily shrinking, and she thought that perhaps she'd give him until she was done to explain himself, before demanding that he stop prevaricating and get to the point. He was still speaking.
“We knew that the good times were almost over. We knew that the resources were becoming dangerously depleted, that pollution was taking over cities no matter how hard we tried to stop it, that the Earth itself was changing - something we called Global Warming. Places that were supposed to be cold weren't cold anymore, or the contrary: they grew so cold that they could no longer support life. As time went on, it became clearer and clearer that Earth's time was almost at an end. Do you know about the Lunar Project?”
His question took her by surprise, and her mouth was full. Hurriedly, she swallowed. “Sure. It was a sort of competition, right? A competition to build the best city up here on the Moon.”
Jonathon nodded. “Sort of. At least, that's what it was painted as. Let me go back a step for a Second. So, it's 2085. At some point during that year, a Secret society was forMed. We're not sure exactly when; reports disagree. What we do know is that even from the beginning it was called the Elitist Club, and that it was made up of the richest people on Earth at that time. Businessmen, entrepreneurs, oil barons. These were the people who not only held the money but also the knowledge. They were well placed to see what was happening, well aware of the fact that their mines were producing less, that oil was running out, that even money was harder and harder to come by. These are the people who launched the Lunar Project. And although the point was to build the best Lunar city, it was a front. These people wanted out - they wanted an alternative, somewhere other than Earth. Somewhere where they'd not only survive, but thrive.
“They weren't interested in exploring or pioneering; they wanted a civilisation of their own. One where they would again be the ruling class, where they would have the privilege. And so that is what they did. Once the Project had resulted in a viable design, they poured their vast wealth into making it a reality. And so here we are, in Lunar City.”
Jonathon spread his arms wide, gesturing towards the windows. Looking out, Aurelia saw the huge, twinkling, fluorescent monster that was Lunar. It was immense, almost shaking with its own heartbeat. For a few moments she was hypnotised by the creation of it, the fact that it even existed here. Then she tore her eyes away from the bright lights and towering buildings and looked at Jonathon instead.
“Okay,” she said, slowly. “But I'm not getting why you're telling me this. I'm not here for a potted history of Lunar. I'm here because I deserve some explanations.”
He nodded. “I know. I know you do. But first you needed to know the basics. We're getting to the more, well, surprising parts.”
His plate was empty, silverware carefully placed at the correct angle to indicate that he was done. He took a sip of water and then sat back in his chair to continue.
“Once Lunar City was built, those who had been chosen, the Elite Club, moved up here. And, being the kind of people they were, they were soon making a stunning success of everything. They had money, and money creates more money. And power. After a decade or so it became obvious that Lunar had overtaken Earth, at least in terms of finance and power, and that's when the problems began. The Elite Club saw themselves as better - as, well, Elite - and as their power grew they began to manipulate Earth governments from behind the scenes. If you have money and influence, that's easier to do than you might think. Over time, the manipulation turned sour, and rather than negotiating for trading privileges or other benefits, the Elitists began instead to place money, or arms, in the hands of those who would best get them what they needed.
“The result of this was both racial and civil wars. And no,” again he held up a hand, “this wasn't a new thing. For centuries men have considered themselves better than others; humans have a long history of starting wars and sacrificing lives to get what they want. The Elitists finally conspired to crash Earth's economies, which they did very successfully, as you know. And then, when things started looking bad, they'd step in with money or solutions. Slowly, slowly they began taking over governments and even countries. They might not necessarily have been seen doing it, but they were there, behind some of the most powerful leaders that the world had ever known.”
Aurelia digested this information. It made sense; she knew it did, and she thought she might even know where Jonathon was headed with this story.
“The Elitists' final coup was the War. But of course it was. They started it, though not directly. And when things were looking desperate, we showed up with our Clone army and saved the world. Placing Earth distinctly in our debt, so much so that that the Old Earth leaders practically begged us to rule over Earth as well as we did our own city.”
There it was again, the use of “we.” Aurelia found that her own mouth was dry, and she drank some water as she processed what Jonathon had said.
“But,” she said, after swallowing, “things are better, are they not? We don't have starving people, there are no homeless, and there is little crime. I might not approve of the way Earth Empire was created, but the results are there for anyone to see.”
She did not say this to argue with him but because this was what she had always been taught. It wasn't always pleasant to live a life that was controlled so strictly, but she had always been taught that it was better than the alternative.
“Let me ask you a question, Aurelia.”
“A Sec Worker called Michael. On the shuttle. You should have killed him.”
Gods, he knew about that. She wasn't going to deny it, though, so she nodded again.
“But you didn't. Why?”
She found that she had no answer, but none was necessary; Jonathon answered for her.
“Was it perhaps because you think that he had the right to live? Because he was young and had potential, even if he would be in some ways disabled?”
She nodded. She hoped that she'd find her voice soon, but currently her only way of protecting herself was to keep silent. Jonathon was beginning to scare her a little.
“You worked in the Clone wing of the hospital. Was that maybe because you thought they needed your help, no matter who or what they were?”
One more nod.
Jonathon had leant forward during this exchange, but now he sat back into his chair and steepled his fingers thoughtfully.
“There are some,” he said, “who think we are wrong. Who think we have too much power. Who think the world could be a better and fairer place. These people stand against the Elitist Club and everything they represent. These people would do anything necessary to destroy what the Ruling Class have built.”
He looked at her very closely, his eyes impenetrable and dark. Aurelia felt her stomach quivering with anxiety, though she wasn't exactly sure why. We. He was Elitist himself. And it scared her.
“These people are who we call the Resistance.”
Was he accusing her? Was that what he thought she was? She cursed her own stupidity at opening her big mouth and speaking out, even proudly, about what she'd done on the shuttle to Michael. Discussing Clone politics with Nicholas. Working in the Clone ward at the hospital. Her anxiety was dissolving into terror. Being branded a traitor would mean instant death. But as much as she looked at him, she still couldn't read what was in his eyes.
She licked her lips, wetting them slightly, willing herself to speak. “And you think...” Her voice cracked, so she cleared her throat and tried again. “You think that I'm Resistance? I'm against you?”
His eyes bored into her, as though trying to drill through her skull to read her thoughts, and her pulse pounded through her veins. Then, to her astonishment she saw a glimpse of light, a flash in his eyes, and heard him slowly, quietly begin to laugh.
His laughter escalated until he was roaring, slapping his hands on the table. Aurelia gave in to the inevitable confusion that seemed to surround her all the time these days and sat and waited. After a while, dabbing his eyes with a napkin and taking a sip of water, he managed to get himself under control.
“No, no, Aurelia,” he said, still chuckling. “I don't think you're Resistance.”
And now, contradictorily, she felt stung. Did he not think her strong enough, moral enough? “And why not?” she asked.
At this he leant forward again. “Because, Aurelia, I am the Resistance.”
And then she was angry. Angry at him for not telling her before, angry that she had been afraid of him. She pushed her chair back from the table, stood and went to stand in front of the window, turning her back on him. She needed a timeout, breathing space.
She leant her head against the glass, feeling the coolness on her skin. She didn't know what to think. What the hell was she doing here? What had she got into? She took deep breaths, trying to calm herself down, and stayed with her head bent until she felt his hand on her elbow with a rush of warmth.
“Look out there, Aurelia,” he said, gently. “Just look.”
There were people on the streets far below them; she could see flashes of colour. There were tall buildings reaching up and almost piercing the dome.
“This world, our world, is not the place that it should be. It was founded on greed, and now it runs on a combination of greed, manipulation and servitude. Is that the way you really think things should be?”
She shook her head, not trusting herself to speak yet.
“And neither do I. I know what happens behind the scenes. I know how many Workers there are down on Earth slaving to produce things that will be sent up to Lunar and consuMed by the privileged. It's true that there is less inequality than before, but it's not true that we are a perfect society. There are millions and millions of people under the control of a handful of the power-mad. Aurelia, look at me.”
Obediently, she turned and faced him. His eyes were still and blue.
“We kill people when they are no longer useful,” he said. “We control who can have children and when. We decide what your occupation will be, how you will be most useful to us. We reap any benefits that come from your work and keep them for ourselves. And as we are doing all this, we tell you that it's for your own good. That this is the only way Earth can survive. You are grateful to us, when we were the ones who got you into this mess in the first place.”
He laid a hand on her shoulder. “The Resistance will change that. I can change that. I know that I can.”
“And how do I fit into things?” she asked, finding her voice. “I'm a Worker. I came here to do my job. What do you want from me?”
He smiled. “You don't contradict me; I like that. You know that I'm speaking the truth and that what I say is right, moral. That's part of why we, I, need you. You're special, Aurelia. You're creative, analytical, smart, exactly the kind of person who can help us achieve what we want. I want you to join us.”
A small bell rang, and Jonathon checked his time reader. “Ah, just in time. Come with me; I want you to meet someone.”
She allowed herself to be led away from the window towards a door in the far wall. On the other side of the door was a small room with couches and what looked like a bar of some kind. The room was empty except for one woman, her back turned. But Aurelia knew who it was immediately; that hair was unmistakeable.
The hospital head stood up, turned and smiled at Aurelia before giving Jonathon a quick embrace.
“You've told her?” she asked him.
Elza's eyes turned to Aurelia, showing pity. “Sit down,” she said. “Remember I told you that I knew what you were going through? I was recruited in much the same way. Sometimes it seemed like I was getting so much information at one time that my head would explode, and I had so much to think about that I couldn't think at all.”
“You're Resistance too?” asked Aurelia, pointlessly, as she took her seat.
Elza nodded. “And you - are you, Aurelia?”
“I - I'm not sure,” she stuttered. “It's...”
“All so new and overwhelming, yes, I know.” Elza smiled. “Why don't you listen to what we have to say first, before you decide?”
“And what if I listen and decide not to join?”
“Then you're free to go,” said Jonathon. “We trust you, Aurelia. Completely. Even if you decide not to stand with us, I don't think that you'd stand against us.”
She felt more comfortable at that and prepared herself to listen to their sales pitch, for that's what it was, she thought. They were trying to sell her on joining the Resistance, putting herself into danger, opposing the Ruling Class.
It took over an hour for Elza and Jonathon to talk her through what the Resistance hoped to achieve, how they worked. Aurelia had to admit that she agreed with many, if not all, of the things that she was told. When they were finished, she had one lingering question.
“Why you?” she asked, turning to Jonathon. “You're Elite, yourself; you're accepting all the privileges. Why would you want to change the order of things?”
He gave her a grim smile. “Because things could be better,” he said. “Because people are being lied to, killed, manipulated, all so that the Ruling Class up here can live lives of luxury. And because that's just not right.”
She felt his sincerity, knew that he was speaking the truth.
“But, then,” she said, “how is this different from what was done before? You too are manipulating, working behind the scenes, trying to get what you want. How is that different?”
It was Elza who answered this time. “It's not,” she said simply. “It's just not. The only difference is that we believe that what we're doing is right. That all people should be equal, we should all have the chance to live out our lives the way we wish to instead of being controlled, dictated to. But our methods? No, they're not very much different from what went before. And that's something that you're going to have to accept.” She smiled at Aurelia. “Unless you have an alternative?”
Aurelia had to admit that she didn't. And that, as much as she hadn't wanted to get involved with politics, what Elza and Jonathon were telling her was right, and important. So much was kept from those on Earth; so few Earth people saw Lunar City. There was a whole world full of people being used as slaves for the Empire, so that a few could live the way they wanted to. And that was unfair.
“And your attempted assassinations?” she asked Jonathon.
He glanced at Elza. “We're not sure, to be honest. It could be that I've been compromised, that someone, somehow has found out that I represent not the Ruling Families but the Resistance. More likely it's simple infighting - the Ruling Families fighting for power the way they normally do, and I'm in their way.” He shrugged. “Either way, it doesn't make too much difference. There's still a faction out there who are begging for my blood.”
“Aurelia, are you with us?” Elza asked impatiently. “You could be very valuable to the Resistance. With your skills, with your creative thinking, your mind. We could use you.”
She hesitated, but only for a Second. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I'm with you.”
Both Elza and Jonathon let out a sigh of relief.
“What now?” asked Aurelia, glad that she'd decided, that all that was left now was to act.
“Now, I take you home,” said Jonathon. “There will be time to discuss things more, but for now I think you need to sleep on things, make sure that you're making the right decision.”
As Jonathon went to arrange for a transport pod, Elza stood to take her leave.
“You're not coming with us?” Aurelia asked.
“Not tonight; I've got a few things to take care of,” said Elza.
Aurelia noticed that Elza too was wearing a dress and that there was makeup on her face. She was a truly beautiful woman, one whom any man would be all too glad to spend time with. And Aurelia had the feeling that that was one thing Elza spent a lot of time doing for the Resistance.
“A man?” she asked curiously.
Elza laughed. “Sometimes they call me Mata Hari,” she said. Then, noting Aurelia's confusion: “Look her up, then you'll understand.”
The blonde woman came over and gave her a hug. Aurelia could smell a flowery perfume on her skin and caught a glimpse of a white stimulation patch on her neck. Elza must be exhausted, living this double life. “I'm glad you're joining us, Aurelia,” whispered Elza. “I know how you feel, but it will all be worth it in the end.”
Aurelia was waiting on the couch when Jonathon came back.
“Our chariot awaits,” he said, smiling.
“You didn't think I'd let a beautiful woman travel home all by herself, did you?” he teased.
“You let me travel here all by myself,” countered Aurelia.
“Ah, but that was before I saw you in that dress. Come on, or we'll lose the pod and have to wait for another.”
He took her by the hand and led her out of the restaurant. But it wasn't until they were strapped in and the pod was gliding out of the parking bay that he spoke to her again.
He wasn't looking at her, instead choosing to look out into the night.
Was she? “Overwhelmed is maybe a better word,” she replied. “There's a lot to take in.”
He reached over and squeezed her hand. “I know. And I know you never wanted to be involved like this, which is part of the reason that we want you in with us. You're not looking for power for yourself; you don't want money or even privileges. And that makes you perfect. Aurelia, you're doing the right thing.”
She sighed; she still wasn't so sure. Besides, she didn't know yet what exactly it was that she was supposed to be doing. She hoped that she wasn't going to have to do what Elza was clearly doing.
Jonathon turned to her. “Look out here - look at all that privilege, the bright lights, the entertainments, the food and clothes and hair. Then compare that to your own City.”
He was right. There were colours here that she'd never even seen before.
“We're mining Earth. We're taking what we need, using Earth and her people as servants for our needs. That's what needs to stop.”
His eyes burned, and he sounded so passionate, so sure about what he was doing.
“And when I'm president, it will stop. I swear to you.”
Power was dangerous, she reminded herself, but said nothing.
He went back to looking out of the window, and she could see that something was on his mind, but she didn't want to push the issue. It would come out in time, she decided. Besides, she had things of her own to think about. In everything that Jonathon and Elza had said, Clones had never been mentioned. Were Clones going to carry equal status under their new rule? She had seen both of them react in the predictable way to Nicholas, giving him orders, pulling rank. Was that a part of their cover story? Or how they really felt?
It made it difficult to know whether or not to mention Nicholas and his role in proceedings. She had a gut feeling that now probably wasn't the time, whatever Jonathon's feelings about Clones were. She also decided that she was going to take Nicholas into her confidence at the first opportunity. He had been the one to speak to her about Resistance, which meant he either knew of their existence or was somehow a part of things. And, truth be told, she wanted someone to confide in, someone who wasn't trying to push her into a role that she wasn't sure even now that she wanted. She would get hold of Nicholas as soon as she was in her quarters, she thought. Hopefully it wouldn't be too late.
Jonathon coughed a little, breaking the quiet between them.
“Aurelia, I've got to admit something.”
He looked very awkward.
“I do think that you will be very good for the Resistance, and Elza has had her eye on you for quite some time.”
That explains a few things, thought Aurelia. The transport pod was nearing the hospital now; she could tell from the surroundings that were becoming more familiar.
“But, since I actually met you, well, there's something else.”
“Mmm?” said Aurelia, having a feeling that she might have a sneaky idea what was going on and just why he was looking so uncomfortable.
The shuttle slid to a stop.
“Escort you to your quarters, ma'am?” said Jonathon with mock chivalry.
“I'd be delighted.” She smiled.
He accompanied her into the elevator and waited until the doors slid shut.
“I want you to join me in the Resistance for personal reasons as well,” he continued quietly. “I know we've only just met, and I know that you don't know me quite as well as I know you.”
He turned to look at her, grasping her arms. “I would like very much for you to be by my side, whatever happens.”
His hands were warm, his scent spicy and fresh. Instinctively she tilted her head towards him, offering him her lips, and he bent towards her, taking them. The kiss was soft, tender, but she wanted more of him. She pushed her body against his, the kiss got harder, and her breath came faster.
Then the doors opened.
They sprang apart, looked at each other and giggled guiltily. Jonathon reached for her hand and walked her to her door. He bent to kiss her again.
“Can I come inside?” he asked, huskily.
She thought for a minute. She wanted him to. But Nicholas kept interrupting her thoughts. Not that she was in any doubt about which of the two men she wanted, though both were attractive. She felt that she owed Nicholas something, a debt she hadn't discharged. And she would like his blessing, as stupid as that sounded.
He smiled at her. “Maybe tomorrow?” He was half teasing and half serious, she could tell.
“Maybe tomorrow,” she said.
She closed the door behind her and dropped onto her couch. Gods. Deep in her heart she knew she was doing the right thing. She just needed her head to accept that. She could taste Jonathon on her mouth, smell his scent lingering, though he hadn't been in the room. She hoped that falling in love wasn't clouding her judgement.