Billions of pixels form from thin air, overtaking the previous live-shot of our crowd. They pull together above the stage to form the image of the Crux’s broadcast. The sound of a million clapping hands blasts from the speakers as the Crux’s crowd comes into view. The Sector 7 crowd responds in suite, applauding in unison. We don’t cheer – the Redeemers encourage serenity and calm celebration. To shout our joy could verge on chaos and disorder, both of which are forms of Flaws.
I clap along with the crowd, excitement blossoming in my chest. Standing here among thousands of smiling people fills my body with a warm, bubbling feeling I can’t describe.
The screen shows the Crux, a huge, old fashioned building with its signature glass dome roof and huge windowed walls. A stage has been built at its entrance, just like in the Sectors, but it’s unimaginably bigger and more exquisite. The Midpoint’s new initiates stand along the back in stoic union, gazes forward.
In the middle of it all, behind a glass panelled podium, stands Simon Krane, the hereditary leader of the Redeemers and governor of the Remainder. He’s a tall man, with broad shoulders, and golden hair that frames a perfect face. He stands with an aura of confidence, listening to the crowd applaud him.
The camera stills on Simon Krane’s face. When he holds up his hands, the crowd silences. He stands there for a moment, staring directly into the camera. His cutting eyes seem to pierce through mine, and although I know he can’t see me, I fidget under his gaze.
Finally, he speaks.
“Welcome, brothers and sisters.” His voice is firm and balanced, deep enough to command respect, but carrying a hint of softness. It mirrors the Redeemer personality perfectly. I hang on his every word, unable to force my eyes away from the screen suspended in the air.
He goes on. “Today, we celebrate peace; a world reborn, risen from the ashes of the cataclysm we know now as the Bloodletting.” The screen changes to footage of the war. Images of weeping children, bloodied bodies, and deadly infernos fill my vision. Victims of the war; citizens of a land that now lies in ashes. A wasteland comes up on the screen - the Blightlands, the nations that were destroyed during the Bloodletting.
Simon Krane straightens. “But we’re not here to grieve the lost. No, we’re here to rejoice. The celebrate what came after the Bloodletting; the Renewal. The birth of the Redeemers.”
At this, a new round of applause and praise erupts from the crowds. Krane holds up a hand, silencing them instantly. “Today, we don’t lament over the past, or dwindle in the present. No, my friends, today we’ve come to press into the future. To look into the years to come with confidence and see the paradise that lies ahead!”
Images of perfected people in unity dance across the hologram. They’re flawless and perfect, freed of imperfections. The screen shows us our future; bright, joyful, and flawless.
When the screen flickers back to Krane’s face, his eyes are ablaze. “The Upgrade began as a simple thought. Over the course of the Renewal’s history, it has changed from fantasy to reality. Every day, thousands of Flawed are taken to their paradise.” He points to smiling people still on the screen. “Dormant Communities. They are the ideal future, filled with those who have been Cleansed of their Flaws. There are no crimes, no Flaws, no anger or disputes. Cleansings take all those things and wash them away, leaving each individual perfectly balanced and spotless. That, my friends, is what we aim for. Perfection.”
As always, I feel myself being pulled into his words. Visions of beautiful, perfected people flicker in my mind. They still dance in my imagination when Krane continues.
“One day, when the Upgrade is complete, the Cleansed will return to us. We may not see them for a while, and they may have grown old or passed into the next life, but we can be sure that they are perfectly happy in all things.”
Xander lets out a small breath, and I can tell he’s thinking of his mother, who was taken to the Hub years ago. Mentions of her between us are rare, but the pain of her absence is clear.
“That is what the Renewal Celebration is built upon. Not only the past, but the future." He pauses to let those words sink in. ”The Upgrade is strengthening. Today, we increase our forces. The initiates of the training program are ready to join the Redeemers.”
A group of fifty or so young recruits file onto our stage. Their white Redeemer uniforms shine bright under the sunlight, their practiced steps even and balanced. They’re only beginning their journey, but they already carry themselves like Redeemers. I instinctively search the group until I find a tall figure. White-blonde hair and two ice blue eyes. Darren.
His uniform suits him, highlighting his athletic build and adding to his already-regal air. A bud of pride bursts in my chest when I see him. I know I must be smiling like an idiot, and subconsciously notice Xander’s camera zooming in on my grinning face.
The screen shows the Midpoint’s initiates as Krane continues. “Today, these young men and women will dedicate their lives to our cause.”
Darren takes his position along the back of the stage with the others. His eyes scan the crowd, hopping from face to face until they land on mine. A tiny flicker of a smile slips through the cracks of his serious demeanor. I bounce on the balls of my feet. This is the day we’ve been waiting for. The last two years have all been leading to this moment.
“They are our future. They symbolize our hope, the light that will guide us towards final peace and perfection.” Krane looks directly into the camera. “I thank all of those who have given themselves to the Redeemers. Your devotion will not be overlooked. Now, it is my greatest honor to proclaim you Redeemers; may your service guide us towards the bright years ahead.”
At this, another round of applause comes from the crowd as Martha Shore, the governor of Sector 7, glides onto the stage. She faces the crowd, examining every face with her cat-like eyes. Her face shows signs of age, but it doesn’t take away from her beauty. Her silver-streaked hair frames a cold and stern face, perfect in every way. I feel a twinge of awe and fear when her eyes fall on me. She moves on, examining the others around me, and I let out a relived breath.
“Those in the Sectors will soon receive their certificates and positions,” Krane continues. “As for those here in the Midpoint, I will personally initiate you into the Redeemers within minutes.” He smiles, showing off the pearly whites of his straight teeth. “I now commend the initiates across the Remainder into our cause.”
The ground trembles under the weight of hundreds of celebrating people. I long to shout, to cheer as loud as my voice allows. But that isn’t the proper way to act here - not in the presence of the Redeemers. So I simply clap, grinning at Xander.
The world stills when Krane lifts a hand. “Remember our Law. The Upgrade is a promise of our future and security. Trust it, and we will thrive. Deny it, and we will fall.” He pauses, staring out into the crowd. I lean in, waiting. “Welcome to the future, my friends.” His face bursts into a smile. “Let’s make sure it’s a bright one.”
The crowd claps as he walks off the podium. The screen bursts in a show of color and sound, pixels dancing over each other in a mad rush to form the Redeemer coat of arms.
Moments of applause pass before Martha Shore steps to the front of the stage. She waits for us to quiet down, once again examining the crowd like a fresh meal.
“Thank you to Simon Krane for that wonderful speech,” she says when we’ve silenced. Her voice is like a knife, smooth and cold with a sharp edge. She gestures behind her to the group of initiates. “These recruits have been training for the past two years. They have made their choice of what division they wish to enter. Each will serve a different cause, but they are all undoubtedly Redeemers.”
The faces of the men and women are still, void of emotion. I watch Darren, searching his eyes for some hint of pride or nervousness, but find none. With me, he’s a calm, fun older brother, but the instant he puts on the Redeemer uniform, he changes. It’s been like that since he joined the recruitment program. Ever since his first battle, he’s been colder and darker. He hasn’t told me, but I know that he’s not completely comfortable with some of the things he’s had to do to become an initiate. It’s essential, though - you can’t enter the Defense Squadron without knowing how to take a life.
Still, the thought of Darren, my gentle and kind-hearted brother, hurting someone is hard to imagine.
The governor shuffles through the papers on her podium. To the initiates, she says, “When I call your name, step forward to receive your initiation certificate, then enter the Hub to receive the completions of your marking.” She glances down at her papers and reads out the first name. “Oliver Anderson.”
A young man, one of the tallest in the group, steps forward and accepts the snow-white envelope from the governor.
The boy clears his throat. “I hereby pledge myself to the Redeemers and their cause. I will stay true to their Law in life or death, war or peace. May they rein forever.”
“May they rein forever,” the crowd echoes.
“Welcome to the Redeemers,” Shore says, and the man walks off the stage. I know from what Darren’s told me that he’s now heading into the Hub to receive the final touches to his Redeemer marking. All initiates have the Redeemer coat of arms etched into their skin when they complete the first stage of the training program; I’ll be receiving mine tomorrow. On their initiation day, their Squadron symbol is added as the final sign of their dedication. It’s like reaching purity, something all Redeemers strive for.
And tomorrow, I’ll be taking one step closer to that perfection. The thought makes my stomach twist, from excitement or nervousness, I can’t tell.
Shore glances down at her podium and announces the next name. They go on and on, shifting through the alphabet. The initiates come in a diversity of shape and size, some with skin as light as the sun, others dark as earth. Different as they are, they all have one thing in common; perfection. They carry themselves like true Redeemers, with perfectly balanced steps and an overall air of authority and benevolence.
I watch as my brother marches front and center. I expect him to glance down at me, but his eyes are fixed on Shore, staring at her with an even gaze. He calmly takes the certificate, then turns to the crowd.
“I, Darren Spearse, hereby pledge myself to the Redeemers and their cause.” His voice is firm, with a touch of the tenderness I recognize. The perfect Redeemer. “I promise to stay true to their Law in life or death, war or peace.” He pauses, and his eyes flicker to me before he presents his final pledge. “May they rein forever.”
When the crowd repeats the line, I say it with all my heart, a smile growing on my lips.
The governor repeats the phrase she’s been reciting for the past hour. “Welcome to the Redeemers.”
Darren gives her a curt nod and walks off the stage, heading towards the Hub to earn the finishing touches of his mark. A smattering of applause follows.
Shore begins to read out the next name when a single voice rises from the crowd, cutting off her words.
Everybody in the crowd turns to look over their shoulder. In the middle of the gathering stands a man, dark hair spilling over his eyes. A flicker of recognition flashes across my mind, but I can’t seem to catch it.
“Won’t you people think for yourselves?” the man shouts at the crowd. “You believe everything your hand-fed by these monsters!”
The governor keeps her gaze even and her face emotionless. Three figures in white and silver uniforms make their way through the crowd. “How ideal,” she says to the crowd. “As you can see, this man is unbalanced. We have the privilege of once again witnessing the blessings the Cleansing brings.” Then, to the man, “Please remain calm as our Enforcers escort you into the Hub.”
The man snarls, and in the one moment, I know where I’ve seen him; the man Xander had bumped into. My gaze shifts to his heavy jacket, and I suddenly realize its purpose. The man’s hands twitch, reaching inside his coat. Before I can open my mouth to scream a warning, a gleaming black pistol appears in his hands, aimed straight at Shore’s chest.
He pulls the trigger, and the cutting sound of two gunshots rips through the crowd.