Chapter 3: The Ravages of Death
Behind us the gates close on the bright world outside shutting out the light and leaving us in darkness. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but I slowly came to realize that I was enclosed by a thick clear wall. Maybe it was plastic, maybe glass. It was the same area Kevin, Rod, and I had passed through on the way out.
But the second door wasn’t opening. It was shut. We were entrapped in this tiny area. Dan noticed this at about the same time as I did, and he ran up to the closed clear door and started banging on it, but the material muted his banging so that it sounded as if he was just gently tapping it.
As my eyes adjusted more I noticed the people outside it. They were pale with white hair, as if they were ghosts, and only the blue or red eyes staring at me showed that they were real living beings.
I coughed roughly from my perch on my horse. My condition had deteriorated so much from when we left the here that I wondered if they even recognized me. Did I still look like the same girl? Of course, Maybe I wasn’t much different. When they first met me I was skin and bones from the prison. Now I was consumed by this disease. And my hair had grown. Light brown hair now hung down to my shoulder blades, but it hung in ratty, uncombed, and greasy dreadlocks.
A hand was pressed against the clear wall, and the face that went with it was Rod’s little sister. What was her name? I couldn’t really remember any of their names. They were enigmas again to me.
I let go of Kingston’s neck with one hand and reached out for her almost to fall of Kingston. Suddenly, Dan was next to me. I hadn’t seen him coming, but he was there, helping me slide off of Kingston.
For a second it seemed like my legs wouldn’t hold me, but somehow I got control of them and forced myself to stand up straight. I held onto to Kingston’s neck for support. No one was opening the door or moving. They were all just staring at us.
A loud noise caused us to jump, and then a disembodied voice came from behind spooking the horses and leaving me only Dan to grab for support. “Do not be afraid, this is technology from the past that allows us to speak to you. Outsiders, you are contaminated and must be quarantined until you are clear of any bacteria or virus that could harm anyone inside this city. No one in the city has an immune system, and we must be careful.”
The voice stopped and I wondered what they planned to do with us. Were they just going to keep us in here until I died?
Then it started talking again, “For now you will be kept in the box. Once we have a double door set up we will be able to treat you. Eventually we will figure out how to transport you to the quarantine cell without releasing whatever germs you have into our air.”
And what about bodily functions? There were four of us in here, and the horses produced a lot of manure every day. But the voice didn’t speak back up. The people drifted away but Rod’s sister kept staring at me. She was frowning at me. Did she recognize me or was she simply trying to work out how we got here.
The voice came back, “Some people have been asking how you found the city. Push the small button on the back wall to talk to us.”
“Here Liv, you should sit down against the wall and I will talk to them.” Dan helped me walk over to the wall and I slid down against it till I was sitting on the ground.
He walked over to the wall and searched around on it till he found something he was looking for. “Hi, I am Dan from a village outside the radiation zone, and the woman I travel with is Liv, full name Elizabeth, exiled from this very city and now returning and in need of immediate medical attention. She needs help now if you want her to live. Look at her. She is dying!”
He said it. He admitted it. He spoke what we were both avoiding.
For a while we sat there, Dan leaning against the wall and me sitting against it. Then the voice came back, but this time it was a higher pitch, “Where is Roderick. Where is my brother who left with you? Did he die? What happened? He would never have left you! Did you…”
The voice cut off. I guess that was his sister talking to us. Dan looked over at me, “Do you want to, or should I?”
“Go ahead. You know everything, tell them… Tell them he has a family… That he’s happy.” It wasn’t quite true, but it was close enough.
He nodded, “Rod and Kevin stayed back in the village. They are both happy and have families. They didn’t come with us simply because they didn’t want to.”
He stopped and looked at me and I nodded. That was as much as we would tell them. The two guys who left with me were happy now, even if one of them wasn’t. It was his own fault that he wasn’t happy. Not mine. I had to keep telling myself that. I couldn’t let myself think it was my fault. I did nothing wrong. He cheated on me and I had had to leave him.
“Rod? How dare you cut his name short? His name is Roderick, and he would never purposefully leave you.” His sister’s voice cut off.
“We are sorry about that. We have all been worried about Roderick since he left us. It is good to hear he is happy. He was never happy stuck here inside the wall. Sometimes he would have sudden and terrible temper flares where he would destroy anything breakable he could get his hands on. The only explanation was that sometimes he simply lost his temper from being cooped up in the wall…”
“I DON’T CARE ABOUT ROD OR RODERICK OR WHATEVER YOU CALLED HIM!” Dan shouted into the speaker suddenly losing his own temper. He took a couple of deep breaths trying to calm himself. “Just help Liv. Don’t leave us siting in here with her slowly dying. Please, help her.”
I wished I could calm him, reassure him that I would be okay. I wasn’t afraid of dying anymore. My father was dead, and so were Fire and Annie and Jade’s real parents. But I would leave Dan here to end by himself in this world that was so strange to him. He wouldn’t last against the vipers of the city.
There was silence. No one was speaking through the noise thing. Even the horses were quiet. Then a strange whooshing noise came into the room. I felt my eyelids grow tired, but I didn’t want to sleep anymore, but I was so tired…
“Dan…” I whispered even as I felt like I couldn’t hold my head up.
“I’m… here…” He yawned and his voice sounded sleepy. I managed to look over at him and saw him sliding down the wall. Even the horses looked sleepy. This… couldn’t… wasn’t… all… hazy… warn… Dan… too… tired…
Black. That was all I could see. I saw the color black around me. I reached out with my hands but touched nothing. I was floating in a land without feeling. It was a place without a past and without a future. I was neither here nor there.
My sister was there whispering to me, “Liv, don’t do anything to stupid.” Then like smoke she was gone.
My father was there, “I love you Liv, no matter what happens. Always remember that. You are my dear Lively Elizabeth. The joy of my life my sweet rambunctious daughter.”
I tried to hold onto him. I wrapped my arms around him, but he dissipated like smoke.
Dan was there. “I love you Liv.” He whispered to me I grabbed his hand, but then I let go. I wanted to say that I loved him. I wanted to admit it, but I couldn’t. A fear of something constricted my chest and held the breath inside my body. Not a whisper escaped even as he walked away upset. I couldn’t admit it. Not to myself. Not to him. I was dying and I couldn’t love someone. I had been betrayed, and I wouldn’t be hurt again. I had armor now to protect me. When he was gone I broke down crying.
I was alone in the suffocating darkness. No one was there because I had chased them all away or killed them.
I could see a light in the distance. It was a giant bonfire. I could just make out a person stepping out of it. “Oh Liv, what have you done? You must learn to let people in again or you will always be in a lonely darkness of your own creating.”
And even as I tried to reach for her, she fell backwards into the bonfire. I couldn’t make my legs work. I couldn’t get to her. Her screams were offered up in the flames of the bonfire.
“You know she died for you.” I heard Rod’s voice, but instead of Rod I found myself staring at an albino snake. “You killed her Liv. She died trying to protect your sorry self. She died so you could live, and what kind of sorry life have you lived now? Don’t you care about Fire’s sacrifice? She was no fighter. She shouldn’t have been out there, but she cared about your worthless hide.”
“Shut up, Shut Up, SHUT UP!” I found myself screaming at the snake, but it was gone. Instead I found myself staring at the city. The horizon glowed orange with flames. The city sat in the middle of chaos calmly as if the world wasn’t being obliterated around it.
The flames died and still the city sat there. The world changed and the people left the city, ad still it sat there as the days darkened and the world grew back, and in a brilliant flash it was gone. I was again surrounded by the suffocating darkness.
“Liv, Liv, Liv.” Gentle shaking rocked the darkness, but then I was caught back up in it.
“How much longer will she last in this state?” It was the same male voice as the one that spoke my name.
“The machines could keep her alive for long time, but at a certain point you have to give up. She’s cured of the sickness now. She just has to want to come back.” This was a distinctly different male voice.
How did one want to come back the darkness? I wanted to get out, but it was like sticking mud that I simply couldn’t avoid. It held me tight in its dark embrace and shifted to continue holding on to me.
“I still can’t believe we’ve been here three months. It seems like such a long time for a person to be asleep.”
“It is. It’s easier for us if a patient is asleep though.”
“Isn’t it dangerous though? Even with all this… this stuff…”
“Technology. The word you are looking for is technology. And, well yes, it could be dangerous to be in a medically induced coma that long, but it is easier that having to deal with the person. People are… annoying.”
“Are you not a person?”
“Yes, but that’s beyond the point. I am the doctor here, though normally just a scientist…”
“But that is the point.” One of the voices interrupted the other quietly.
“But… I don’t see how… I mean… I think I would be a bad patient… If it makes it easier for the doctor…” The voice sounded flustered unsure.
“See. Even you aren’t quite sure about being put into a coma for that long just because its ‘easier to deal with’. Maybe you should sometimes think of yourself as a person too.” I knew that voice. I recognized it… from somewhere. Dan? The name came to my mind unbidden.
“Dan?” A managed to force a whisper out of my unresponsive mouth. The darkness wanted me back, but I was fighting with everything I had. I wanted to open my eyes, but I couldn’t. It was impressive I even got that one word out.
A hand gripped my tightly, “Liv? I’m right here. Are you… Are you feeling ok?” It was so comforting to feel his hand gripping mine, but I didn’t even have the strength to move my hand. I wanted to let him know I heard him. That I was here. The darkness had such a powerful grip on me…
“Dan” was all I manages to say again as the darkness pulled me back, but even as it tugged on me I heard the other voice that wasn’t Dan’s say “probably just talking in her sleep…”
And I fought the darkness a little more. I wanted to reassure Dan, but I couldn’t it was too strong and it yanked me under.
I was somewhere on the verge of waking, but I didn’t feel the pull of sleep trying to yank me back under. Instead I floated there, not moving, not opening my eyes, but simply listening, feeling the weight of something on my chest and the tight grip on my hand cutting of my blood circulation. I tried to move my fingers and immediately the weight on my chest was gone.
“Liv?” This time I recognized it faster, Dan’s voice.
Now I had to wake up. I had to sit up, but I couldn’t. I managed to open my eyes, and I could see him, leaning over me. I forced myself to croak out, “Dan… Where am I? I heard… was it just a dream? I was trying to wake up but I couldn’t. I heard you talking to someone… I don’t remember what it was about… I…” My voice cracked and I felt like I couldn’t speak anymore.
And then Dan was holding a glass of water to my lips. I reached for the glass with weak and trembling hands. Even as I held it, Dan continued to help me hold it, as if he was afraid I’d drop it.
“How are you feeling? They cured you. They destroyed every germ we could both carry and pass to other people…” He sounded confused, as if he was just quoting whatever had been said to him.
“Mmm, not sure. I feel… weak. Strangely tired.” And I was. I felt almost drowsy… “I remember something strange. Have… have I been out for 3 months?” That was a lot of time to simply lose.
He looked out me strangely for a second, and then hesitantly nodded, “You… you heard that? You were awake? I… I thought maybe you were, when you said my name, but…”
“I’m not really sure. It’s so vague… I remember hearing it…” I drifted off. Had I heard it? I couldn’t really remember. All the strange dreams were fading. Even as I tried to grasp them and hold onto them they were slipping through my hands like water. One moment there and the next they were gone.
“You are right. You have been out, for a little more than three months. Everyone was getting worried. They put me under for a week to “disinfect my system” as they called it.
They said it took longer to cure your and completely rid you of all the germs. They wouldn’t even let me see you till recently.” His hands had grasped my right hand and encased it. “I’m so glad you are okay Liv. I was so afraid that I had brought you to this wall to die.”
“No. I would have died anyway. You saved me. I wouldn’t have made it without your help. Thank you Dan. You’re a good friend.” I wasn’t sure why I added that last part. I did consider him a friend, but sometimes I wanted more. Sometimes I wasn’t sure, and I felt safer assuring myself that he was just a good friend. He was doing this just because he was a good friend.
He laughed but it wasn’t a laugh filled with happiness. It was bitter and mocking, “Yup, that’s me. The good friend.” He let go of my hand and turned away
I wasn’t sure what that meant. Did he not consider himself my friend? Did he not want to be my friend? Or was he upset that he was only my friend? Fear filled me at the thought of what he could want from me, and I tried to calm myself, “Are… are you ok? Did… did I say something wrong.”
“No.” His voice was still rough and bitter sounding.
“What’s wrong, why are you upset?”
“It’s nothing Liv. Just… I feel bad. Here you are thanking me and what have I done… almost nothing.”
I felt bad for my fears. I cared about him so much, but I was so afraid of those feelings that I suspect him. I reached out and grabbed his arm, “You brought me here. You saved my life. Without you I would have died.”
The back of his head nodded and he pulled away, “Get some sleep.” His voice was rough and deep.
I wanted to call after him, to stop him. To beg him to stay next to me, and to admit that I cared about him immensely, but I couldn’t. I simply let my hand fall down next to the bed uselessly and watched him walk away.
Sometimes I wish fruitlessly for things. I wish that he would walk back in, or come running back, and that he would lean down and kiss me and say, “Liv, I love you. You are the love of my life.” And I would laugh and kiss him joyously telling him that I love him too.
But that can never happen. I fear… I fear something. I fear being more than friends. I fear letting him in more, though he already knows so much about me. I think, if he actually did come running in and kiss me and proclaiming his love I would draw back in fear. He would kiss one who would not return his happiness, and it would destroy him. No, it was best for that wish not to come true.
I lay there. Too awake to sleep, too tired to move, starring at the doorway for quite some time. I wished someone would come and talk to me. I wished for this horrible monotony of siting in silence to be broken by him walking back in, but he didn’t come back.
Why couldn’t I just tell him? Why did I always have to mess everything up?
I could still remember Rod kissing me. I could remember him kissing Liz. I was so conflicted inside over what I wanted. I wanted Dan to hold me close, but I didn’t want him to touch me. I loved him, but didn’t want him to love me back. Eventually I closed my eyes and drifted off with tantalizing images of Dan, walking toward me taunting me in my dreams, but every time he reached out to touch me, he disappeared.
I woke up to Dan shaking me, “Come on Liv, we’re going for a walk.”
“A walk…” I was in the wall. I’d been asleep for months, and now he want me to just go walk around the room? “Where?”
“Around the wall of course. I don’t want you going back into the city as weak as a newborn. Come on.” He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and lifted me up into a sitting position. He removed his arm quickly, and there was a part of me that wished he hadn’t. “There’s a woman that’s going to come and help you get dressed, and I will be waiting outside.”
“And I don’t get any say in this? I am the one who’s been sleeping for three months! And do you realize how big this wall is, and how long it would take to walk around the freaking wall!” He couldn’t expect me to walk around the wall!
He shrugged. “I know how big it is. Well take breaks. It will take days, but we will do it. And we will keep walking till you become strong enough to run, and then we will run and walk. Once I judge you fit enough we will add other exercises in and practice with the bow and sword. Eventually, when I judge you ready, we will enter the city.”
Did he think he controlled my life? “As soon as I am strong enough to walk we should enter the city! We are here Dan! Why can we no enter it?” I could see Caisa, and my mother. I could free them, and I could free all the other dishonored by giving them a place to go. They could leave this city!
“And what if da king doesn’t believe ya, or we walk in on a revolution? From what I’ve learned ‘bout da current state of ye city, it’s about ready to boil over!” The city was held through fear. It would never revolt. And he was a fighter. Why would this make him so upset that he would slip back into some of his old speech habits?
I wasn’t quite sure how to reply, and before I could formulate a proper response that would calm him; he slipped out the door. Apparently I was walking whether I agreed to it or not.
A pale woman walked in holding a black article of clothing. “I brought you a dress. The boy’s a fool to think you are going to be walking anywhere, but he’s a stubborn fool. And don’t expect much from the people here. Half of them wanted to let you die for taking away one of our people.”
“So Why didn’t you?” She cocked her head sideways as if she didn’t understand my question. “Let me die that is. Why didn’t you let me die?” Such a simple thing, death. They could have let me die, and no one would have been any wiser. They could have tossed Dan and I back onto the sand to die in the radiation wasteland.
She shrugged, “You had an outsider with you. You’d survived out there and the scientists wanted to run experiments on you. And the elders convinced us that Roderick was always an odd one, prone to showing too much emotion, I believe were the exact words. But that does not matter. I brought you a dress to wear.” She grabbed a piece of the black fabric, and held it up. A sleeveless black dress unfolded. It was nothing fancy. My dress at the village was prettier. But at least it was clothing and would do the job.
She pulled the strange white gown off of me, carefully lifting my arms to pull it off. Then she lifted my arms again to pull on the black dress.
“Time to get you off the bed,” I would swear her voice sounded cheerful. Did she enjoy my torment?
“But, I can barely lift my arms.” She didn’t seriously think I could hold myself up?
The woman shrugged, “It’s not my problem. He claimed care of you. Boy!” Sid she just call for Dan with term boy? That was a derogatory term when applied to an adult!
The door opened and Dan stepped through.
“She’s all yours.” Her arm wrapped around me, and before I even realized what was happening I was pulled off the bed. I felt my feet hit the ground and then the rest of my body flopped forward as none of my muscles worked and my vision went all splotchy and I felt light headed.
Suddenly my forward flop stopped as strong arms caught me. I looked up to find Dan looking worriedly at me.
I looked over at the pale woman and saw a blank face staring at me. “Enjoy your… walk.” And then she turned and left.
“Come on, Liv, get your feet under you. I’m right here.” His arm was around me supporting me.
I slowed my panicked breathing down. Slowly I pulled one foot forward and pulled it underneath me, and as I tried to push up, he lifted me allowing me to lock my legs underneath me and stand with his support. “Is this good enough for today?” I was still feeling extremely light headed and unstable.
His eyebrows crinkled together as he frowned at me, “No. We’ll walk around the room though and leave it at that. I guess… I guess you aren’t… I just want to leave this place! These walls Liv! Please Liv, let’s try to walk.”
I hadn’t thought… I hadn’t thought about how he was handling the wall. He’d been stuck in the wall for two months while I had been asleep. “I’ll…” I swallowed past the lump in my throat. I was afraid of walking. “I’ll try, for you, Dan. Please, don’t drop me.”
He nodded. “One foot at a time. Left foot first.”
I ordered my foot forward, and slowly I managed to drag the useless limb forward. One shaky step heavily leaning on him. Then I pulled my right foot forward to meet my left foot.
“Now the right foot.”
I bit my lip. My limbs were so tired, but I had to do this. I wouldn’t complain. I put the right foot forward, and my muscles gave out with only Dan holding me up.
“Come on Liv! Stand up. Come on.”
“I’m trying!” I snapped. Why did he have to push so much? Why couldn’t I just go back and rest in the bed… only two steps away. I could almost reach out and touch it.
“Come on. Do you want to be dependent on someone else helping you for the rest of your life stuck in this dreary and depressing wall? Do you want to never see the sky again?” Was he speaking from his own fears and hate of this place? Not walking wouldn’t leave me dependent on others. I would eventually heal.
“I wouldn’t be dependent on someone else forever.” Even as I complained I struggled to push up with my legs and force the muscles to tighten.
“Yes, ya would. Your muscles have atrophied, and if ya don’t use ‘em they will eventually just go away till ya can’t use ‘em at all.” He sounded as if he was repeating something he had heard many times before.
I clenched my teeth and forced myself to take another shaky and wobbly step that was only successful because he was holding me up. “How do you know so much about this?” I had never heard this atrophy stuff before.
“If a hunter is injured we make them keep moving and doing exercises so their bodies don’t deteriorate. It’s simply knowledge that we passed down.”
Another faltering step, collapse, let him hold me up for a second, and slowly force my tired muscles to take the weight. “Did this ever happen to anyone you knew?”
“Yes.” His answer was so curt that it almost hurt.
I couldn’t help but push for more. I always wanted to know more. “Nothing more? A simple yes? You never told me about this.”
“I prefer not to talk about it. Come on. Another step. We have to keep going.” He was trying to turn the conversation from whatever had happened.
I should let him. I should let him keep his secret, but… I could see he was thinking about it. He seemed somewhat distant. “Please, I… I want to know.”
He looked down at me and shook his head. “You make it to the wall and back to the bed, and I will tell you.”
Why did he have to be so mysterious about this? Fine. I would make it to the wall. It seemed so far away though. I wasn’t even halfway there. “The wall’s so far away.”
The smallest hint of a grin showed on his face and then he became serious again. “Yup, and that’s why you have to make it there and back. One more step.”
My muscles hurt so much and were so weak. He was doing half the work of supporting me as I took another step. I could feel a tear leak from eyes. I don’t let pain affect me. I’d been tortured, but here I was letting a simple task such as walking cause me so much pain and frustration that I was crying. I’d become soft since I left the city. I couldn’t spare a hand to wipe away the tear, so I let it run down my face as I clutched onto him and took another painful step. I would make it! I wouldn’t let this beat me. I was a survivor. I’d crossed the wastes twice and survived. Take another step.
“There you go! That’s it. Get a rhythm going. One step then the other.” He seemed happier as I pushed myself forward.
I stumbled and he held me from falling. Much gentler now he spoke softly, “You don’t have to walk perfectly. You just have to walk. You just need to exercise those muscles.”
I didn’t reply. It was taking too much concentration to walk. I could feel more tears leaking out of my eyes, and I blinked to clear my vision. Everything was… blurry? My head felt heavy, and there were dark patches everywhere. I couldn’t see. “I… I can’t see”
“What? Come on Liv. Stand up. I can’t completely hold you up.”
“Can…” My mouth wasn’t working properly. I couldn’t move. My muscles wouldn’t respond. I couldn’t see. I was trapped! I couldn’t even feel Dan holding me up.
“Liv. Liv! Liv!! Come one! Please Liv, Oh hell! Please wake-up.”
I could see a shape… “Dan…?”
“Thank Goodness! You’re awake! I thought… Well that’s enough exercise for today. We’ll take it slower tomorrow.” He was slowly coming into focus as he paced, and then came to a stop again in front of me, clearly worried.
“What, what happened?” One moment I’d had semi-control of my body and the next I had no control. I’d… lost track of time somehow? I was… on… on my bed again… “How’d… I get here?”
“You passed out Liv. I’m sorry. I think I pushed you too hard. I’m so sorry. I carried you back. I should have listened. I just wanted to get out of this place, and I… I didn’t think…” His voice drifted off.
I reached out toward him, but he had already turned away and run out of the room. Why did he leave so suddenly? Why was he so upset? Was it this place? Was I wrong to allow him to come with me?
An older pale woman in a black dress with hair cut at her chin walked in. Her eyes had a reddish color and her cheek bones were sharp and angled. “Hello Liv.” Her voice was monotone expressionless the same as everyone else in this blasted place.
“Hi…?” I had no clue who this new person was or what she wanted with me.
“I am Imarna, specialist on physical movement and muscle systems. I am in charge of keeping everyone in the Wall in good physical condition, and I have agreed to take over your physical therapy. Your outsider is too impatient and does not understand the workings of a human body. He has no clue what he is doing. He has pushed you too far today. For today you will rest. Tomorrow we will move you to a room closer to the training center and begin with water therapy. Have a good day.” She spoke without pausing except to take breaths. I would even go so far as to say she sounded rushed.
Before I could gather my thoughts to ask questions or say anything, she was gone. I… What would happen to Dan? Where was he? What had happened to him? Had she apprehended him and told him all this already, or was she expecting me to tell him? And where was he? Why had he run out of the room in such a hurry?
I woke up in the dark. The light was off in the room and I was alone.
“Dan? Someone?” But there was no answer.
Then the loom was suddenly lit in unnaturally bright white light. “Hello?” I called out as my eyes slowly adjusted to the sudden brightness of the room.
“Hello, You therapist will be with you shortly. Please stay laying down till their arrival.” The disembodied voice seemed to fill the room and come from everywhere, and at the same time nowhere.
It was a small room, and all it had in it was the bed I was laying. I didn’t even see a door.
A section of the wall suddenly opened up and slid away as a person robed in white stepped in.
“Normally I am just a trainer for the scientist who want to stay physically fit. I study the body and how it deteriorates and how to make it stronger and fitter.” Their voice gave me no clue to their gender it was androgynous, and the baggy white robe and short hair also hid their gender. They could be male or female. I’d never met a person I couldn’t easily I.D. a gender for.
“Who are you?” I asked, unsure of what else to say and afraid to simply blurt out asking what gender they were.
“I am your therapist that will get you walking again. You may call me Lok. If you are asking what am I, I am a cyberman. I was once a male human, but after many experiments and technological additions that I added to myself, I lost the ability to call myself male or human. I lost the ability to age, or grow old, and I lost what little emotion I once had. You may call me Lok. I feel no pain or pity. We will begin your training today.”
He was a what? I had no clue what this cyberman thing concept word meant. “Cyberman?”
He shook his head, “That is not important. You are a not a person of the Wall and therefore you need not understand. All you need to know and understand is that I am Lok and I will be your physical trainer.”
I would find out what he meant. I would find out what a cyberman was. A wheeled chair entered the room on its own slowly rolling in. “What is this? How does it move on its own?”
“Our ancestors had many inventions. They created many fascinating devices including these wheelchairs.” And without warning he leaned forward and picked me up. I squirmed, trying to escape in weak desperate attempts. I didn’t have much time to try and escape before he set me down in the chair. I tried to push myself out of it, but ended up just collapsing back into it.
The second I was seated it took off with me. This… this stuff inside the Wall. I had never imagined what technology they still had. I gripped the chair, my breath clipped by the displaced air. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest. Please, God, let me get through this, I prayed.
And then it slowed down and came to a halt. I noticed there were unnaturally bright lights in this room, and a pool of water with many pale Wall dwellers swimming in it. And there was Lok, staring at me.
“You’ve arrived. Sometimes that thing takes the longest paths. We will start in the water because the buoyancy will support you, and the movement in the water will build up your muscles.”
The chair moved forward and down a ramp into the water. I’d never seen a body of water so clear. I was tempted to drink some of it, but it smelled… strange, sharp and repungent.
“Oh, and don’t drink the water. It has dangerous chemicals in it.”
“Chemicals…? What are chemicals?” I asked quietly feeling shy in how little I seemed to know about this world even though I studied here before.
Lok sighed. “Bad things. It has bad things in the water that will make you puke if you drink it. Is that good enough?”
For a second I felt resentful at how he was treating me, and then I realized that to him I must have seemed incredibly uneducated. I forced myself not to complain about how he was responding. I wanted to know more, but I didn’t want to increase his opinion of my stupidity. Needless to say, I didn’t plan on drinking the water from this body of water.
Another sigh from Lok, “This is a pool. We use it for swimming and exercise. Have you ever even gone swimming before?”
I shook my head, too ashamed to say anything. No, I’d never swum in water before. It was a luxury for nobles that I’d not experienced before being labeled “Dishonored”.
“Of course. Of course.” And he sighed again. I was getting really tired of this Lok guy’s sighs and air of superiority.
“Just because I haven’t swum in water, or know what chemicals are, or know about any of your other mechanical things doesn’t mean I’m stupid or that you have to look down on me! I’m learning! I simply haven’t been exposed to any of this before in my life! I would love to see you kicked out of your precious Wall, and manage to survive outside it!” I was panting when I finished my rant.
All he did was tilt his head and raise an eyebrow. “I know better than to be so stupid as to be thrown out of my comfortable life in the Wall, or to try and leave it.”
“Stupid! Stupid? Trying to destroy a tyrant was stupid? Trying to get a better life was stupid?”
“You said it, not me. Enough. Let’s get this debacle over with so I can get to more important matters today. Chair, into water.”
The chair lurched forward toward the water, and forced me forward into the water. “What! I don’t get a say in this?!”
“No. I am your therapist. The chair does as I tell it too. Don’t worry, it won’t drown you.”
He was right. The water never went above my neck. And then the chair came to a stop.In front of me I could see to metal railing sitting almost on the surface of the water.
“The railings will be safety measures for you to hold on to. The water will take away the lot of the weight of your body so it will be easier to stay upright, but it will make it harder to move forward which will help build up your muscles. Go ahead and grab the railing and push yourself out of the chair.”
I took a deep breath, sent up a small prayer that Lok didn’t plan on killing me, and grabbed the metal railing. It held fast. I pulled myself forward, and slowly moved out of the chair. I had to do this. I had to get better.
I slid my feet out of the chair, and felt a ledge where the floor plunged downward. I felt along it while holding desperately to the railing till my feet hit the ground. Slowly, I let my feet take my weight, and it wasn’t that bad, except my arms already felt exhausted. They were shaking with the effort it took me to get out of the chair.
“Now walk forward. It’s not enough to just stand there. You need to go to the end of the railing, turn around, and get back to your chair.”
I glared at Lok who was standing there; dry, on the edge of this pool thing looking down at me. Then I focused on the task at hand and forced myself to take a step, and then another. As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. It was easier to hold myself up on my legs in the water. And it was harder to pull my legs forward through the water. Slowly I made it forward, gripping the railing with a death grip.
I made it to the end of the railing and quickly moved my left hand to the other railing, and then moved my right hand to the railing my left hand had been on so that I was turned around.
Now I just had to make it back to the chair. Each step was getting harder and harder to take. I was shaking, and my arms felt all jiggly and uncoordinated.
I could see the wheeled chair. It was so close… Tantalizingly close. Each step, just a little bit closer. And then I was there, standing in front of it. But it was too high up. I tried to push myself upward with my arms, but I didn’t even budge. I could left myself up at all.
Suddenly, there was a grinding noise, and then the chair started lowering. “I will lower it till you can get into it. That was good for today.” I could hear Lok’s voice, but I focused on getting in the chair. As soon as the seat of the chair was at the level of my butt, I slid into it, and sank into the water, my head bobbing under, until the chair was lifted back up and raised my head out of the water.
I was so, tired. Everything felt heavy. I leaned my head back against the chair, and simply let myself sag into it.
Vaguely, as if in the distance I heard, “Chair, take her back to her room.” And the chair took off, but this time I didn’t try to pay attention. I let myself… drift…
And for days this continued. I went to the pool, I walked, and I fell asleep before I got back to my room. Sometimes I was awake in the room. Sometimes I was asleep. I wasn’t allowed to see Dan. Sometimes I pleaded with Lok to let me see him, but Lok just shook his head. Lok grew less talkative, and I stated talking to myself. I would argue with myself about leaving the village, or if it was right to kill the king. That was the most entertaining one.
“The king is the head of our government.”
“Well, yes, but he is a corrupt head of the city government.”
“What would you prefer to run the city?”
“Hah, the people. The people would run amok and destroy the city. The people could care less about governing the city.”
“What about the village? It was ruled by a council of the people.”
“So six people, elected by the people of each district, to run the city in a council where the people could still make statements.”
“Well, yes, that would work... That was the idea…
“Wouldn’t those people become corrupt? Couldn’t they take bribes, start the spies again? Wouldn’t only the rich be elected?”
“No! Anyone can run. Anyone can stand up and say I want to run.”
“So this makes it right to kill the king?”
“Yes! No… I don’t know, I guess. The king has to go. He is a terrible person who had my father killed.”
“So this is all for revenge? You want to destroy structure and coordination of the entire city to get your petty revenge on a king who may or may not be the king who ordered your father’s death, and probably doesn’t even remember you or him? And isn’t death a quick method of revenge? Wouldn’t you prefer to lock him up, humiliate him, and make him dishonored like he did to you?”
“This isn’t for petty reasons! This is to help the city!”
“Are you certain about that…?”
The door creaked open and I immediately shut up. They probably knew I was going crazy, but I preferred to pretend to sanity when around Lok or other pale people. That was what I thought of them as. The pale people. They were like ghosts flitting by in an uncanny and quiet world. It was a ghost world only populated by these ghosts.
And my exercise continued. Eventually I could walk well enough in the water, so I progressed to two parallel bars out of the water on land. I regained my strength faster than I thought I would. And then the routine changed again.
“Stand up, it’s time for your fist swimming lesson. I finally found someone who would agree to teach you.” I had come to hate his robotic monotone voice. Sometimes I wished I could just punch him or hit him!
“Oh, you found someone who would put up with your troublesome rebellious pet? Is that it? So you can offload me on someone else? Oh yes, please, watch my pet so I can go do whatever it is I do in my spare time.” I could almost hear his teeth grinding and I felt satisfaction in getting a reaction of him.
“You are not my pet. Pets are better behaved and do as their owners tell them. Pets can’t talk back.”
“Oh, so do you kill disobedient pets?” I wanted him to get mad at me. It was my daily entertainment to see how angry I could make him.
“No. I don’t have any pets. Now stand up. You are walking to the pool.” His voice stayed controlled. Too bad. I still hadn’t gotten him to raise his voice at me.
I pushed myself out of the bed and grabbed onto his shoulder. I hated him for making me walk. “So are you trying to torture me by making me walk there? The route I remember the chair taking was quite long and I am not sure if I am up to that yet…”
“We are taking the walking route which is much shorter. And you are up to this. In fact, we will begin stairs tomorrow.” Grrr. That voice.
Step by step we walked, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well I was doing. My legs were shaky, but not collapsing which was much better than I expected.
“See, you will be well soon. Swimming will help speed this process up.”
We walked up to a wall with a panel and a button on it. He pressed this button and it lit up orange. I heard a small, pleasant beep, and then the wall split in two revealing a small gray room lined plane wooden things sticking out of the wall with straps hanging down above them. “What is this place?”
“It is a mover. It is how we get around the Wall efficiently and quickly. I suggest strapping in to a chair.”
I guess the wooden things were chairs. Lok took me to one of the chairs and gently helped lower me toward the chair. He pulled each arm through a strap on either side of me and somehow clicked the two straps together across me. He sat down and quickly strapped himself in.
Something cackled, and the a robotic female voice came out of nowhere, “Where to?”
“To therapy pool,” Lok replied to the voice.
And then the bottom dropped out from under me and the floor fell away. Or at least that was what it felt like till we came to a screeching halt. Then the room lurched to the side and we were whizzed of in that direction. Then it came to another screeching halt and whizzed off in a different direction. I was feeling slightly sick when it came to a halt and stayed still. “A… A mover…” I whispered. I was too in shock to speak any louder. I was not sure what I had been expecting, but it was not what I had just experienced.
“Yes Elizabeth, that was a mover.” He was already unstrapped and on his way over to unstrap me. How did he get out of this thing so quickly? Why did he not look slightly green like I felt?
And then he had me unstrapped and was helping me stand up. “Can I never go on that again? I think I might be sick.”
“You will be fine. You will get used to it. You will be swimming every day.” He led me out into the swimming room where there was a woman waiting.
The woman looked me over. “For swimming you will continue to wear the clothing you are currently wearing, and change into dry clothing at your room. You will meet me here every day at 10 sharp. Lok, you brought her five minutes late. Be faster next time. You will follow all of my rules without complaint. For these thirty minutes, you belong to me.”
Oh great. She sounded terrible. I looked at the water feeling a strong dislike for it. It was the beginning of my problems in this place.
“Get in! Stop dallying! My time is precious, City Girl.” She pointed to the stairs, and I looked over at the ramp my chair had used.
“Walk down those stairs, Girl!” She barked at me.
I flinched at her harsh words, grabbed the railing of the stairs that led toward torture, and slowly walked down the stairs taking each step slowly and carefully, feeling the silky softeness of the water creep up my legs entangling them it its grip. Why was she doing this to me? Why were they forcing me to get better, and why wasn’t I allowed to see Dan?
“Hold the ledge there, and then let your legs float straight out. We will begin with learning how to kick. If you can kick you can at least sort of swim. This will also strengthen your legs. I followed with my eyes to where she was pointing, and saw she meant the edge not too far from the stairs. I slowly pushed my way through the troublesome water till I reached the ledge.
When I finished the lesson felt wobbly and unstable. I gripped the railing of the stairs with a death grip and used it to help me get up the stairs of the pool. When I released the railing, I let myself collapse.
The ground in front of me turned a shade darker, and I looked up to see Lok scowling at me. “Get up. Don’t you have more strength of will than this? Didn’t you survive being Dishonored? They kill people who can’t stand up.”
I glared at him and pushed myself up, gripping the railing for support.
“You’re a weakling. Can’t believe we are spending so much time on a weakling.” His voice was that same level, inflectionless monotone.
I ground my teeth, “Don’t. Don’t say whatever you are thinking. I will walk. All the way back. By myself.” I forced myself to stand up straight, to release the railing, my crutch. I locked my knees, and stepped, and locked my knees. I could do this. My muscles were just tired, but I was walking on my own in therapy. I didn’t need anyone’s help.
He stared at me blandly and waited as I slowly made my way to the mover. He called it, and when we got in, I waved him away and buckled myself in. I was strong. I could do this all myself. He wouldn’t touch me.
The mover jerked us around and then came to a grinding halt, opening up the doors for us. I unbuckled myself. I stood up feeling pain lance through my thighs and calves, but gritted my teeth. I had to be strong if I was going to go back into the city. I had become pathetic and soft. How had I let that happen to myself? How had I become so complacent and dependent on others?
I collapsed into my bed. And what had Lok said that brought me to my senses? He was gone, out of the room. I suddenly realized I had given up. I’d been going through the motions of being healed feeling no purpose. I hadn’t really cared. I was lazy and complacent to simply sleep. I had allowed a crazy lady to scare me. I’d become… submissive. A good little dishonored who didn’t glare at her superiors for giving orders. Just another dishonored to tired with life to try and fight.
That was it! I’d become tired. I’d become sluggish and my thoughts had become sluggish. I had a new clarity. I could do this. I could survive beating, and this was nowhere near as painful as those. This was all in my brain.
I slid out of bed, and collapsed with a moan as pain shot through my legs. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t simply will myself to get better. I was wrong. They were wrong.
I shook my head. No! I wouldn’t give in. I was a fighter!
I grabbed the bed and used it to pull me up. I would do my own extra workouts. Dan would be proud of me. I would get better. Step by step I crossed the room, and the back. I sat on the bed for a short time, a break to relieve my tired body, and then I forced myself to do it again. I could feel every tired, straining, begging muscle pleading with me to give into my desires and relieve them of the pain, but I couldn’t! I had to do this.
A week later, after I put on some soft cream colored wool sweats, Lok lead me to a long dark hallway, but the darkness didn’t seem that bad anymore. I could see easily enough in the darkness now. Strangely, I had never gotten to that state the first time I was here. Now… Now I knew nothing but the strange artificial lights that hurt my eyes, and the darkness. I preferred the darkness.
“I want you to try running. You are progressing remarkably fast now, and it is time for you to start running. Run to the end of the hall, and then come back at either a walk or a run, whichever feels best for you.”
I nodded. I would run. Pushing myself was the best way to recover. I hunched down, and then pushed off with my toe feeling myself flying along the ground barley touching it. I was free from the chains that that bound me, and then my foot caught against something just as my other leg got hit, and I sprawled forward, hitting the ground hard, my breathing ragged, hard, and fast. I looked back down the hallway, wondering what tripped me, when suddenly I realized, I caught my foot against my own leg. I could feel my cheeks burning hot.
“Go slower next time. You are not ready to be trying to push yourself yet. You don’t have the coordination nor the stamina. I nodded. I wanted to feel free again, but already I could feel my muscles were tired as I pushed myself up into a standing positon.
Again, this time much slower, I pushed myself forward. There was no suspension time in the air. It was the simple act of pushing myself forward with one foot then the other. The motions of slow jogging, and even then my breaths were raspy and uneven by the end of the hall. I turned around, and pushed forward, all the way back to Lok before letting myself collapse against the wall.
My breath dragged against my throat and burned deep in my lungs. I fought my lungs for control, but they just kept gasping.
“Deep breaths. Breathe in, breather out,” I could hear the steady deep drone of his voice, and waved him away. I had this. Breathe in… pant two breaths, breath out… pant two breaths, breathe in… pant once, breathe out. I had this! I could control my breathing!
I turned around and threw my arms around Lok, “I ran Lok! I ran today!”
“Yes. You ran. You still have much to improve on.” He pushed me away and I released him. He was such a doldrum.
“Where’s Dan? Does this mean I can go into the city soon.” Being able to run… I was so much closer to leaving this place!
“Soon… Soon is a relative term. It could mean anything from now till a month in the future…”
“So when will I be able to leave! When will I be able to see Dan again?” I bcould feel myself bouncing on the balls of my toes, but I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to leave. I wanted to see Dan again. I… I missed him.
Lok starred at me, silently evaluating and judging me. “You will see Dan soon, within an hour, and you will leave soon, within a month or two, maybe even more.”
“Really! Another freaking month here! Why!” I stomped my foot, unable to let my frustration out any other way.
He waited a second, as if waiting for me to say more, “It is the time you need to get back into shape. It is not safe for you to go into the city without being able to at least run, and maybe somewhat fight. Also the elders have a plan they would like to propose to you. They believe you to be an instrument of change. Why they would see some bratty exiled as such… It is their decision. And they will speak to you now, so you are to follow me.”
“I don’t care what you are or are not. Follow me.” He turned and started walking.
“But I’m not dressed nice enough to meet them!” He just kept walking.
I followed because I had no other choice. I opened my mouth to give a retort, but couldn’t exactly think of what to say. I chewed the words over in my head, “I am not a bratty exiled. I was exiled, but I came back because I found the outside. Therefore by the rules I am technically an honored now.”
I didn’t feel honored, but that was the cast I would be given by the city’s own definition of honor and caste laws. He didn’t respond. “Did you hear me?”
He didn’t even slow down. I guess he turned off his ability to hear or something. “Hey, Lok, my muscles are really sore, can we break for a second.”
I hopped a couple times as my left calf seized up in a cramp, but he didn’t slow down, and I hobbled forward to keep up with him. He came to a sudden halt and pressed a panel on the wall. A door opened up to a mover room.
I followed him on without comment and strapped myself in. He punched in a button, and we were off at unsettling speeds. “Magnets control these and move them, but of course, you have no clue what those are.”
I just shrugged if he was going to give me the silent treatment I would return it in response. This was the longest I’d ever been on a mover, and it was starting to feel slightly less disconcerting.
I couldn’t stand the silence any longer, “Where are we going? I’ve never been on a mover this long before.”
“You have been, but you were in a coma at the time. We are going to the other side of the wall. It’s about a thirty minute journey by high speed mover. It’s time for you to meet the elder’s council.”
“What happens if I don’t want to fulfill their request? What will they do to me?” I crossed my arms across my chest. I didn’t like being given zero options.
“You’ll prove you are a brat, and you will be released into the city to be killed by your own people.” So I didn’t have any other options in reality. The whole requesting me to do it was all for show. Well that was good to know. I leaned my head back and let myself fall asleep.
I was jolted awake by the being thrown forward as the mover slammed to a stop throwing me against the straps pulling my breath from my lungs. Leaving me gasping.
“I hate this thing. I hate this thing. Did I mention I really hate this mover thing?” I gasped out as soon as I could speak. This was a really terrible way to be woken.
Lok stared at me for a second, not moving then unbuckled. “You get used to it, though you probably never will get used to it.”
“Why would I never get used to it? Do you think I am somehow less than you?” He was always putting me down! Making me seem like some sort of weak inferior being.
He shook his head. “No, you are leaving in a month. You have no need to get used to it because you will probably never come back in the Wall once you leave it.
I looked down at my feet and shuffled a little. My feet were clothed in the soft slippers I wore all the time in this place. Fuzzy undyed wool slippers created simply to keep the feet warm on the cold floors of the Wall.
“You really must learn to think before you speak Elizabeth. You must use the discretion that both your father and the prison guards tried to teach you instead of the outspoken nature you have fallen back toward since leaving for the outside.” Of course Lok was right. He was always right. He always made me feel like such an idiot.
I nodded. I understood. I wouldn’t speak. I would keep my thoughts to myself.
“When you meet the elders in a few moments, you will watch your mouth. The elders do not like others stepping on their words.”
A door opened nearby, and a short woman with a red bun walked out. Her skin was pale, but her hair… it wasn’t white!
“Come in her Elizabeth. “
I looked at Lok and he nodded, “I will be waiting for you here. Anne will dress you for meeting the council.”
At least I didn’t have to meet them dressed in sweats. I walked over to the door Anne was holding open and walked into a small room with a door at the other end.
“This is the dressing room, incase people come to see the council not dressed appropriately.” Her voice sounded like any other person in the Wall. I took the black wad of fabric she was holding out to me, and shook out a simple black dress.
“Are you one of the people born in the Wall? I’ve never seen anyone born in the Wall with anything except that colorless white hair.” She shook her head, and I could remember Fire shaking out her mane of red hair. Anne’s hair was the same color as Fire’s…
“I’m not of the Wall, I was born to two executed criminals, and was thrown out with the trash, but I was somehow alive. The people of the Wall have raised me and cared for me as their own. The people of the Wall are much kinder than the crazy people who live in the Wall.”
I nodded in agreement. They were kinder in their strange way, but I missed the open sky. The blue of the heavens with the fluffy white clouds floating by.
Dan thunking me on the side with his sword, “Liv! Pay attention.” He shouts.
“Dan, look up at the sky, it’s so…”
“It’s the sky Liv! You have to be able to fight if you don’t want to die like Fire!”
I scrubbed a tear away. I would never see the blue sky again. The sky would be the pink of a sunset forever caused by the way the light came through the dome.
“Hurry and change please.” I started, noticing I was still holding out the black dress. I quickly stripped off my comfy sweats and pulled on the black dress that went down to my ankles and hooked over my shoulders with rope straps. The material was light weight and swayed around me as I moved.
“Thank you. The council will see you shortly.” She held the door to the hall back open and I stepped back out into the hall.
“Lok, why aren’t you on the council. Aren’t you really old?”
“I was, on the council. Once. A long time ago. When I started augmenting myself with computer and machine parts I was banned from the council for not being a human anymore since I turned myself into a cyborg.”
I just nodded understanding nothing of what he was saying. Sometimes it was like he was speaking a foreign language. Like what were computers?
He shook his head. “The council is not mean, but they do not tolerate fools or people that speak out of turn. They will spit you back out into the city if they choose to.”
A different door along the hall opened, and Anne was there holding a different door open. “The council will see you now, Elizabeth the Returned.”
The returned. It sounded like I had risen from the dead or something!
I shook my head keeping the thought to myself and walked in to find myself facing ten wrinkled faces staring down at me. Four had the softer faces of women, and six had the thick jaws and white facial hair of old men.
“Elizabeth, you claim to have returned from the outlands. Is this true?”
Was this true! Did they not see me come into the Wall after two years outside? Deep breath. I turned to look at the speaker, an old lady all the way to my left with a soft flabby face, and wrinkles from smile lines. A kind old lady just doing her job.
“We would like you to state for this assembly why you returned from the outlands after two years, and not immediately after finding life beyond the radiation zone.”
“I…” I didn’t realize this was to be an interrogation. I looked around at all their faces, but no one seemed upset. Carefully bland faces stared back at me, except for the speaker with a kind gentle smile on her face.
“Please, speak up. We just need to get this on record.” Her voice was deep and thick, sort of crackly, like leaves when you step on them in the forest…
“I stayed because I thought I would die if I crossed the radiation again. I stayed because… Well, I made friends. I thought… I don’t know. They gave me a job, a house, a six year old girl to look after. I had a responsibility to them as well as to the city, and I figured I would eventually come back… I never thought…” I never thought I would get a terrible disease that would almost kill me. All those small colds, the hacking coughs, the fevers, and it never occurred to me that one of the terrible before diseases would infect me, and quite possibly kill me.
“You never thought what?”
Why did they need to know all this information? I shrugged. “I never thought I would come back because of a disease the outside can’t kill. It’s one of the risks out there, the possibility of death.”
The old lady looked around the table, and all the heads nodded. A couple of the elders smiled down at me. “If you go back into the city, they will kill you, or at least try to. We are willing to keep you and your outlander friend here, though he seems disinclined to be held in the ever present darkness of this world. You on the other hand, have finally adjusted to our world. We see you walking, and the darkness does not blind you anymore. You have learned to embrace it.”
She stopped, as if pausing, but didn’t continue. It was as if she was offering me a choice, die in the city or stay in the wall. It was the same choice I was offered when I left the wall, stay in the wall or die outside it, but I had lived. “Is there a third option.”
She nodded, but the smile was gone. Her lips were pressed tightly together, and she looked at the other elders again, who nodded. “There is. It is… dangerous. You could die, though you might not.”
She stopped, staring at me, as if waiting. “What is this option?”
She took a deep breath, “We would support you overthrowing the government, resetting the way the city is governed, starting a revolution. We would help spread rumors, find you soldiers, and try and protect you from the king killing you. We were thinking of using him trying to execute you to make the citizens rebel. “
She licked her lips. “We would send you in, and you would proclaim how you found land. The outlander would ride in next to you. The king would likely pick you up, and order you executed to silence you. We would spread the rumors about you, about where you’ve been, about how the king is trying to silence you, and the people would rise up. And of course, we would make sure you don’t die at the execution. You would have the outlander’s protection as you lead a revolution, killed the king, and rebuilt the government. Of course, you could die at any time during the revolution….”
“I… I don’t even know the first thing about running a government, or leading a revolution… I…”
She shrugged. “I thought as much. So, which option do you want to choose?”
“I didn’t mean…” I shook my head. The third option was really my only choice. Dan couldn’t stay in here, and I still wanted to live.
I bit my lip. I needed to speak clearly, “I want the third option, but I don’t know how to run a country, or how to lead a revolution… I’m not even that great a fighter. I’m okay with a bow, or I was before… Before… this.”
She starred at me, obvious shock showing on her wrinkled face. “You… you want to…” She turned to her council members, and one of the old men, bald and wrinkled; spoke up in a deep rumbling voice, “Then we will train you. You will receive lessons on ancient governments, on revolutions, and how our strategists think this one should be run. And, you will train in fighting.”
A small thin man with tuffs of hair on the side of his head motioned toward the other door, and in a high nasally voice, “Bring him in,” he squeaked.
The door opened, and there was a man standing there in full plate armor, complete with a helmet and visor. Was I training with this person? A small woman stepped up next to him, also in plate armor, but her helmet was off, and a short white bob framed her pale face.
The man was the one who drew my eye though. I felt as if I recognized him. I just… I couldn’t tell with his helmet on.
And then a fully plated man was running at me, and I couldn’t move, riveted down by shock. Metal arms wrapped around me squeezing me.
“Oh my Liv! You’re alive! They told me… It doesn’t matter now. You’re alive!” The only thing holding me up was his arms. If he released me I might just crumple to the floor.
“Dan…” I whispered, barely able to speak.
“Liv, I’m so sorry for everything…”
“Dan… need to breathe.” His arms relaxed around me, not holding me in a death grip anymore.
“Oh. Sorry. I just thought…. I thought you were dead.”
“I’m not. Why would you think that?”
He didn’t say anything, his metal covered face just staring at me, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I reached up, and lift the helmet off his head, staring at him, his brown eyes, curly brown hair, and the stubble growing out on his chin.
Someone cleared their throats. Dan’s arms dropped away, and I turned back toward the council. Why had they brought Dan in?
“We’ve been training him in fighting, though in truth he is better than anyone except our combat master.” I turned to face the speaker, an old man with a pointed gray beard.
“Why?” I demanded. Why couldn’t they just come out and say what was going on? Why were they attempting to manipulate us with half answers and half promises?
The squeaky man squeezed his thin lips into a smile, “Why? To be your guardian of course. We tested his dedication to you by telling him you went into the City and you were executed. Then we told him we were training him to take vengeance on you. You chose the barbarian you brought home well.”
Every word he spoke grated on my words, and Dan just stood there, taking this abuse, “How dare you act as if I dragged him here, or as if he was some uncultured freak! He chose to cross the radiation and never see his people again to bring me safely back to the Wall!”
A heavy hand settled on my shoulder, and turned to see Dan shaking his head, “It doesn’t matter now Liv, you are alive. That’s all that matters to me.”
The woman who was so shocked by my decision smiled at him. “He learns quickly. But that is beyond the point my dear. If we are to help you survive and start a revolution, then we will also need to teach you about the kind of government we…”
“I am helping you overthrow a government that threatens you independent nation. Not the other way around,” I ground my teeth. These people…
She waved her hand, “That’s not an important detail, dearie, you will listen and we will direct if you want our help and support.”
I stayed silent, glaring at her, waiting for her to continue.
The pointy beard man nodded, “See Angelique, they do eventually learn. Now children, you will attend the lesson we chose for you, and learn the roles we plan for you in both the revolution and afterwards. You will be the model citizen returning to the city to save the city, and he will be your barbarian shadow. Understood?”
I nodded, though I wanted to say more. I wanted to tell him we weren’t children; that we’d seen war and death and things he would never see, but we need this place’s help. We needed it if we were to survive.