Chapter 4: Dictators and Democracy
Pointy Beard flapped his hand at us, and then Lok was there, gripping my arm tightly and pulling me toward the door. I looked back, toward Dan, and I could see the short woman that had walked in with him trying to do the same thing, but he simply shook her off, and followed me, reaching out and grabbing my other hand.
“Hold your tongue till we are outside the council room!” Lok snapped before either of us could speak.
The door was opened, and we were back in the narrow entry room with Anne staring as we piled into her narrow little room. She stood there, starring till Lok spoke up, “So, are you going to give Liv her clothing or just stand there with your mouth gaping like a camel?”
He face turned bright red and se stuttered, and then grabbed my sweats and thrust them at me. “Keep the dress.” She whispered, and then stood back to let us by. As we walked by, I realized she was staring at Dan. I gripped his hand tighter in mine even as Loki pulled us toward the door, and the small woman trailed behind Dan.
We were back in the same hallway that I had just entered from not so long ago…
“Now we can all meet each other properly and you two can have a happy reunion. The council room was not the place for that.” I was surprised by how deep that tiny woman’s voice was.
“Oh, umm, Liv, this is my… mentor, trainer, ummm….”
“Name’s Catalyst, called Cat, since this bumbling fool can’t speak directly. I am the weapons instructor and military historian in the wall. I can tell you about every recorded war in the history of mankind. I know how every weapon worked, and I keep all of our copies in perfect working condition. I’ve been training your friend here in operation and firing of our firearms. He’s proficient in use of medieval weaponry and black powder musket, not, that I would expect much more from an outlander.” She was so direct, so up front. She stared me down like I was smaller than her.
I squared my own shoulders and glared back at her. “My physical therapist behind me is Lok, a cyberman.” I still had no clue what that word meant, but I bet it impressed Lok that I remembered him calling himself that.
“And Lok, this is my friend, Dan. He taught me fighting and I taught him about our city and compass navigation.”
I continued glaring back at Cat. It felt like if I broke her gaze I would lose. This wasn’t a contest. I should look back at Lok, see if he showed any emotion at all, or if he would only continue to disapprovingly glare down at me.
Lok stepped in front of me, breaking our contact, “Now, Cat, play nice with my charge. You’ll get to beat her up later, right now I am still expected to keep her safe.”
Was he implying that this short woman could harm me? “I can perfectly well stand up for myself!” All three of them started laughing, though Cat’s laugh was more of a cackle than a laugh and Lok kind of had a strange mechanical sound.
Lok turned to me, his voice perfectly controlled even as Dan was still working on getting his own laugh under control. “Silly girl. Most people in our wall are scared to death of Cat. You would fear her if you had any sense, which sometimes I doubt you do, one of those times being now.”
“There are more important matters to discuss than what people think about me.” Her voice lashed out like a whip.
“Like the fact that we are supposed to get training on leading a rebellion…. Which, by the way, is there any sort of plan…? Or are we just supposed to go in there, and say, hey peeps, lets rebel because the King’s going to want me dead?” All three of them were staring at me.
“Of course not. Are you an idiot?” Cat responded incredulous.
“No, she just wanted to refocus us.” Dan reached out, and gripped my shoulder, offering his support.
I tried not to smile, but I couldn’t help it. I loved it when someone got what I was trying to do. And, it was nice to have him backing me. It was nice not to be looked down on as some stupid bumbling mentally disabled person all the time. “Dan’s right. I just want to know the plan, and, I figured I could try some… shock technique.”
Lok just stared at me and shook his head. Cat glared.
He nodded, “You should know the plan. You will not be my charge anymore. I will pick you up every day for one hour of physical therapy training. Marisa, a brilliant historian, will teach you about ancient rebellions, and Cat will teach you fighting.”
Dan snorted into his hand, and I elbowed him, “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I whispered.
“Is there a problem?” He asked, staring straight at me.
I shook my head, “No…”
“Have fun teaching Liv to use anything other than a bow. She’s fairly good with a bow… but abysmal at anything involving hand to hand combat.” I elbowed him again. I could at least try, even if again I couldn’t actually fight that well. Maybe this Cat could actually make me into a fighter.
“I’m willing to try. Maybe, Cat is a better teacher than Dan.” I knew it was harsh, but I couldn’t help it. After that show of confidence…
“Hey, just saying the truth here. And Cat’s just as good a fighter as I am.” I could hear the hurt in his voice. Good. Served him right.
“If you two are finished arguing, I will take my leave and let Cat show you to your new quarters. I will see you in the morning Elizabeth, for your continued physical therapy.” Lok turned and walked away, not waiting for a response.
“Guess you two love birds are stuck with me.”
“Hey we aren’t…” I responded mortified. I couldn’t let Dan think I might like him as more than a friend.
She just shrugged. “And as too who is a better teacher at fighting; I guess we will find out tomorrow. And Dan, you will continue spending all day with me, training. Now, let me show you to your rooms, like some common maid. Which we will assign you one, you won’t have time to be cleaning your apartment.”
She turned and walked away clearly expecting to be followed. Dan let go of my shoulder and grabbed my hand; his armor was cold and uncomfortable to hold, but I let him hold my hand, and guide us forward, falling into step behind Cat.
“I missed you so much Liv, when they told me you had died… there was so much I wish I’d told you. So many things to regret… I wanted to run into the city and kill anyone in my way…”
“It’s ok Da. I’m right here. I didn’t die, and one day, you can tell me all the things you realized you wanted to tell me. We will get through this, together.” I smiled up at him, and he nodded, but his eyebrows were furrowed.
“Dan, what’s wrong?”
“I have a bad feeling about this rebellion thing. I don’t know. They make it sound so… easy. And it won’t be. We don’t have to just win battles with a trained fighting force, we have to create a fighting force. We can’t win by ourselves.”
“Well, maybe they have a plan for that that they just haven’t told us yet. Maybe some of the wall people will fight with us.” They had said they wanted us to win. They had to make it at least possible for us to do that.
“I hope yar right.” I could hear the outlander slipping into his accent. He was really worried about this.
We walked in silence for a while, until we got to a mover. I looked over at Dan as the wall opened up, but he didn’t seem surprised, in fact, he was staring back at me, as if trying to read me.
“I guess ya’ve taken a mover before, haven ya?
I nodded, “Yeah…”
And then we were both laughing. I didn’t know what was so funny about this… situation, but I don’t know. Maybe it was the strangeness. Here we were, from two different worlds, and yet this third world we were in together was foreign for both of us.
“Come on. Get in!” Her voice snapped, her patience wearing thin.
I walked in, leading Dan forward this time. We sat down next to each other and strapped in. I threaded my fingers through his shiny silver coated hands, and leaned against the shoulder guards.
“Liv?” I jolted awake. I was in a mover, next to Dan, across from Cat. I took a deep breath. Cat was unbuckling.
“We’ve arrived.” And he released my buckle. I must have been tired. In fact… I just wanted to lay my head back on his shoulder and fall back asleep. He stood up, and pulled me up. Guess I wasn’t getting to fall asleep again.
“You’ll get to sleep soon Liv. Once we get to our rooms.”
I just nodded, letting him lead me forward. My legs were giant rocks being dragged by my hips, and my eyes felt like they had turtles hanging off them. I imagined baby snapping turtles hanging onto my eyelids, pulling them down, and I burst out laughing.
Dan stopped, staring at me. “Are… ya okay…? His voice trailed off.
I waved him forward with one arm, still grasping his other hand. I couldn’t stop laughing, hysteria bubbling over and out my lips.
“Take a deep breath Liv, in n’ out.”
I stood straight, gasping in a breath like a fish, God a fish! A giant gulping funny faced fish! I gasped on the air, barely able to breath past the laughter.
“Liv, control ye breathing, calm ye self. In, n’ out.” His voice soothed me some, and I felt myself breathing in time to his words, the laughter fading away.
I was tired. That’s why I was laughing, like a… no. No thinking. Reasonable. Logical. No funny images.
“So what was so funny that you just burst out laughing in the middle of walking to our new room?” His voice was so calm, so serious.
I just shook my head. “Nothing.” He wouldn’t get it.
His eyebrows raised, “Nothing? You were laughing hysterically at nothing?”
“Yup.” I gave him my sweetest smile, and then a small giggle escaped my lips. “I’m sleep drunk.”
“Yea, I can tell… Come on.” His hand pulled me forward after the retreating back of Cat. Deep breaths. Don’t laugh. Have to make it to the room.
She stopped and turned back toward us, waiting. “This is your rooms. You have a kitchen and eating area, and two separate bedrooms. It is normally a family unit housing… but recently the… residents… changed quarters. Your maid will wake you in the morning. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight!” I called after her retreating form.
Dan unlocked the door with a key… that he got from somewhere? I never even noticed him getting a key. Maybe he had it all along? Maybe she handed it to him, but I would have noticed that, wouldn’t I? Maybe, she left it in the door lock. Whichever one it was, he magically had a key to this door, and then, the key doubled! He passed a key to me. “We aren’t guaranteed to be home at the same time, so she left us two keys.”
“Ummm, she did…?”
Dan sighed, “Yes, she did, right after she said goodnight she passed me the keys. I think you might have snored a little.”
“I don’t snore!” He just smiled at me and led me. “But I don’t!”
“Have you ever been awake to hear yourself at night?”
“Well, umm…” He had a point. But I was almost certain I wouldn’t snore, especially not if I dosed off while standing up for just a second….
We stood there, awkwardly for a second, and I looked around. There was a small table with three chairs, and a bunch of cabinets made from some gray colored material. It was plain, but it was ours.
I turned back to face Dan, and found him staring at me. “I…” He started and stopped, and then his arms were around me, holding me.
“I missed ye company,” He finished gruffly, releasing me and almost running for the room closest to him. Guess he was claiming that room.
“I missed you too, you big oaf,” I whispered after his closed door, and then turned for my own room, rubbing away the moisture build up in my eye. Lack of sleep was sure making a fine mess out of me.
I turned and went into my own room, and gasped. I just walked into a fairy tale. I was surrounded by forest. The walls were painted with silver barked, dark green leafed, trees. White dots flew in swarms through the dark spaces between the trees. I ran my hands along wall, and noticed the white dots were actually pale white women with small wings and white dresses.
The bed was held up by four of the trees that were painted on the walls. I’d never seen anything like this before.
I jumped at the voice, and turned to find myself staring at black haired woman about my age with light brown skin. Another city reject?
“Sorry, Ma’am, didn’t mean to scare you. Amath lived here before you. She was an artist that felt trapped by the walls around her, so she turned her room into a sanctuary. Made it how she dreamed the outside world will look. She was a skilled artist.” Her voice sound sad, almost nostalgic. She ran her hand over silvery green grass on the wall near her.
“Was…? What happened to her? Why am I in her room.” This sounded… ominous.
“Amath… was my friend. We use to roam the halls together growing up, but she got to go to special classes for wall dwellers while I learned how to clean…” Her voice stopped, her eyes staring at the wall.
Apparently even the Wall had their social orders. I waited for her to continue.
“I digress. She died.”
“How? Of what? I thought the Wall could cure everything.” That’s at least how they made it seem.
“Everything? No. They can fix some things. They are smart, they have technology, yes, but for all the wonders of the wall, they cannot cure a broken heart.” This woman was so cryptic.
“How do you die of a broken heart? And what broke her heart in the first place. In my experience you just keep surviving.” This Amath sounded week. She wouldn’t have lasted a day Dishonored., or out in the radiation desert.
“You should ask, how do you live with one? How do you live beneath walls when all you want is to escape them? How do you live when you test smart enough for a job you hate? Amath wanted to be an artist. She hated the work of chemicals. Hated learning about combining and manipulating them, but it was the job she placed into when she was only eight. She was brilliant, and beautiful. Many of the men of the Wall courted her, but she was in love with my twin brother. I helped them meet in secret. It was wonderful and exciting, and kept the depression of this place at bay.” Her eyes stared off into another world; a tear fell unnoticed down her cheek.
“If only they left her along. Her parents dismayed of her fascination with painting, and took her paints away to force her to focus on studying. They said she was an adult, and should give up on that nonsense. I…” Her voice stuttered. She took a deep breath. “They caught them together one night. My brother, the child of a dirty city dweller, daring to kiss their precious precocious little darling. They sent him to the other side of the Wall.” Her voice became flat, her face went blank. “It’s amazing how someone can kill themselves in a place that can fix most illnesses.”
She stopped again, but this time she was staring down at the floor, a flat solid surface painted with blades of silver green grass. She was staring at a spot that looked different. The grass looked more… dark green than silver. She licked her lips, I could see her throat moving as she gulped. “I repainted it. The spot where I found her. She slit…”
And then she crumpled to the floor crying. I found myself standing there, rubbing her back. I felt… sympathy for this girl. Not the girl that killed herself. Yes, I might go stir crazy beneath these walls, but I could never imagine just giving up on life. On purposefully hurting the people I left behind. Each death leaves a hollow space. My father. Annie. Fire. This girl had her Amath.
“I know, she left you. You were her friend, and she killed herself without even thinking what it would do to you. You want to hate her for it, but you can’t can you?”
She shook her head, starring down at the floor.
After a little while I asked, “What’s your name?”
She jumped and looked up, as if she had forgotten I was standing here. “Umm, Maria, ma’am.”
“Maria, it’s a pretty name. And I’m not a miss here. I am a city dweller too. My name is Liv.” I didn’t want to be deferred to. I didn’t want her treat me as if I was some most Honored. We were the same here, City Dwellers.
Her lips quirked upwards at the corners, “Respectfully Ma’am, we of the servant class around here, see you as our hero. You are the city dweller they teach their lessons to. You are the exile who found the outside and brought it back. You are a chance of escape. You are the one willing to fight to free our city. We honor you, most Honored Elizabeth.” She stood, and swept her skits out in a curtsy.
What to say to that? “I umm, I haven’t earned…”
“Ma’am, don’t try and brush this off. When you start your rebellion, we will be ready to crawl out of the Wall to help you take back the city. Let these wall dwellers clean up their own messes, but for now, I am the servant that looks after these rooms, and the people in them. You look exhausted. Come, I shouldn’t have let my emotions get a hold of me. I just… haven’t been in this room… since… since I repainted the floor.” She pulled me toward the bed, and then was gone.
A white night dress was lay across the bed, and I quickly changed into it and slide between the sheets in this fairy tale forest.
Maria woke me up the next morning, shaking me until I woke, “Come on Ma’am. You must get up. You have a long day ahead.”
Oh great. Just what I wanted. Another long day. I glared at her as I drug my aching legs out of bed. Yup. I just wanted to go back to sleep. “Why am I getting up so early?”
“It’s not early Ma’am, you were given the full eight hours of sleep time plus one hour. In fact, one would say you were allowed to sleep in.” Her cheerful voice was way to chipper for early morning. What happened to the crying nostalgic woman of last night?
Arrrgh. “Why, why are you chipper? And there’s no light in this slogging place to tell time by!” This depressing, walled in place where I couldn’t see the beautiful blue sky.
“Well, truthfully, I’m excited. You’ll be goin’ to learn how to defeat the evil king, and that means I can go back to the city of my birth.
Oh yeah, I forgot. One of the “most Honored” now. I didn’t deserve that title. I hadn’t even done anything yet. I could hear Dan telling me in my head, “Ya do everythin’ on ya own, and it doesn’t matter none what they say or dona say.” It didn’t matter if they called me Honored or not. I would free the kingdom not for my own honor or title, but because it was the right thing to do. I was glad Dan insisted on coming with me. His insights were always useful.
Maria scampered out of the room. I guess she had finished doing what she was instructed to. An undyed pair of white drawstring pants and a blouse sat at the end of my bed. Below the bed on the floor was a pair of leather shoes carefully stitched together, much like what the villagers wore.
I changed and finished getting ready before going out into the shared room. Dan was already eating breakfast. A plate with two eggs sat at my place. “Our maid cooked breakfast before scampering off. She said that our instructors would come to get us for our separate studies. I would eat fast if I were you, I’m almost done.”
“Of course, they’ll probably come for us as soon as I take my first bite.” Who knew anything with these Wall people.
He just shrugged and laughed. “Stop talking and eat.”
My stomach took that moment to grumble, and I found myself happy to oblige it. Stomach wanted food, time to make it a happy beast.
Dan sat there, watching me eat. “Enjoying those eggs, Liv?”
He laughed as I glared at him and kept wolfing down my breakfast.
“You know Liv, if you got ready faster…”
“I’m trying to eat quickly!” I growled at him as he laughed again. He was purposefully slowing me down. I had to tune him out. He spoke again, but this time I simply tuned him out to the tune of “blah, blahblah, blahblablah, blah.” It was very effective. I just kept shoveling food in my mouth.
The second I shoved the last bite in my mouth, a nock sounded on the door. I finished that just in time.
Cat was standing there, and a predatory smile twisted the corners of her lips. “You know, we weren’t coming to get you until both of you finished eating…”
Dan started laughing, clutching at his middle.
“That’s not funny,” I choked out swallowing down the last bites.
“Oh, but it is…” He started laughing again, “priceless.”
I couldn’t help my hand as it reached out and gently smacked him on the head.
“Hey! I didn’t do anything…”
“Yes, other than play a joke on me, so I returned the joke. Your expression… was priceless.” I smiled sweetly at him as his own laughter died away.
Another woman walked up, and the wrinkles that crinkled around her eyes said she was older, maybe in her forties. It was hard to tell with these colorless people.
She reached her hand out toward me, “I am Emalda, the historian. Liv, you will learn from me in the morning, then Lok will take you, and finally Cat gets to play with you in the evening.”
Cat nodded, “I’m a cat, Em. That’s what I do. Play with my food.” She winked at me, as if she was sharing a joke with me. I didn’t particularly find it funny, but Emalda chuckled.
“Come child,” and she gave me this sweet, belittling look. And walked off. I was actually starting to get use to this expectation of following.
How dare she call me a child. Did she know what I’d been through? “I’m not a child. I’m at least twenty by now, maybe twenty-one. I’m not quite sure, but I’m not a child. I stopped being a child the day I was dishonored.”
She gave me a pitying look, “Child, in a world of brutality, you are an adult, but, in a world of knowledge you are but a child. And, compared to me, you are most definitely a child.”
She was only about 40 something. That wasn’t that much older than me. “So you could be about my mother’s age, but that doesn’t make such a big difference that ‘compared to you’ I am a child.”
She halted and held up her hand, her smile gone as she turned to face me. “Child, I am 79. I can call you whatever I want. I have also passed the knowledge test that our children must take to become adults years ago. 53 years ago to be exact. I graduated from apprentice historian to historian 39 years ago, when the current master historian’s master died. And I have an apprentice that is about you age. You are a child, and I will hear no more on this subject, unless you don’t want to learn from me. In which case, continue demanding that you are not a child. I am taking time off from my own duties to teach you. This is an honor beyond reckoning amongst our people, and you scorn it.”
I stared down at my feet. Seventy-nine? She didn’t look… Wow these people lived long lives. And I had to learn this information. I needed to know what a rebellion could potentially involve. I had to learn to be a general for my people. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, I…”
“No excuses either. You apologized, and we will move on with this incident forgotten.” She strode off again with me having to jog a step to keep up, “That is one of my rules, you do something wrong, you own up to it, and you don’t create excuses. You say ‘I was wrong, Ma’am.’ And we move on with life. Got it?” Her sweet voice was stern now. I had obviously made her slightly angry or annoyed. Hard to tell when I couldn’t see her face. All I could see was the tension in her movements.
“Yes, Ma’am.” Hopefully all this training and honor would be worth it, and not wasted on the first day I entered the city when some sniper took me out from a roof top.
She moved quickly for an old lady, her eyes straight ahead where she was going, her back ramrod straight, and her chin just slightly raised up. Her steps were long and confident. There was no slow meandering to this woman. She was all business. Between her and Cat I wasn’t sure which one I would prefer to be my instructor. I guess I would get to experience both of them.
Her step slowed and came to a stop in front of another bland gray door. How did anyone tell anything apart in this place? Everything around here was just gray monotony. Continuous unyielding gray.
It was so different from the village. Spring blooming out of the muddy land of winter. Yellows and purples dotting the meadows; green peeking out from behind the bare branches in the forest. The soft scent of grass, that mild and yet… tangy odor. How I missed grass. The sharp sickly over sweet smell of a small yellow flower that filled the meadow. Grass growing on the roof tops of the village as the rain and warmth began.
How long had I been here? How long would I continue to be in this sense depriving place? How long would I continue to last in this place?
The door creaked slightly as she opened it, and I gasped. The room was a warm maroon color, and filled with bookshelves. Near the front a couch and two arm chairs circled a fireplace with a painting of a battlefield over it. The walls of this gigantic room were covered in paintings.
Some of the painting didn’t even look like paintings. They looked so realistic, like frozen moments in time. I reached out toward a picture of a woman with a cruel smile and shining black hair.
“That is the fiftieth president of the United States of America, and the last president we know of. Her name was Elizabeth Smith.”
It was as if she was speaking in a foreign language, “The what?”
She sighed, and raised her hand reverently as if to touch the image, and then stopped, “Do you remember which country our city was located in?”
I thought about the sentence she just said, and then about what Rod had me learn the first time in the wall. It felt like forever ago. The country… “The United Sates.”
She nodded without turning to look at me. “Correct. And did you learn about the government of that country?”
“No. I don’t think government was a high priority thing to teach me when I was preparing to run into the wilderness and die.”
Now she finally turned back toward me, “You are right, we didn’t expect you to survive, but you did. Just like the English King didn’t expect The United States to succeed in seceding from England. He didn’t expect them to become their own country, to win their rebellion, but they did. The head of their government was an elected official, called the president.”
“Ummm, okay?” Did she expect me to remember and understand everything she was saying?
She sighed, “We will start at the beginning, with the four major civilizations, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and the Indus. We will move quickly through the history of the governments and wars that do not pertain to our own situation, but will help you understand the world better, but we will focus in depth on the Athenian Greek Democracy, The Roman Republic, The British Empire, and eventually on the American government and how it influenced the world, until we reach the end of known knowledge. Oh, And we will also cover the five main religions of the World: Hinduism, Judaism, Islamic, Buddhist, and Christian. ”
Again, she didn’t seem to understand the concept that I really didn’t know anything about history or what she was talking about. Maybe she was talking for her own benefit? “Sure...”
“I know, you don’t understand any of that, but you will have a working knowledge of it, more than any of those uncultured plebes living inside the ring of our great Wall civilization.”
She could talk about the people of the city being uncultured all she wanted, but without the city she wouldn’t have food.
“It’s a lot to learn in a short time frame, so we will start today with a map of the ancient world. We will cover the four main ancient civilizations, the Phoenicians, the Jews, and the Anatolian civilizations such as the Hittites and Assyrians today.” She walked over to a shelf stacked with paper and pulled out a piece that she preceded to unfold.
“This is our first map, covering the first four civilizations.”
Civilizations later, a tall and slightly pudgy white haired woman walked in carrying two plates of food. “Enjoying torturing the City Dweller?”
“As much as you enjoy cooking. Liv, this is Naomi, one of our many cooks in the Wall.” The skin at the corners of Emalda’s eyes crinkled a little, and her lips lifted just slightly upward. Almost a smile.
Naomi’s laugh with warmth and fullness, “Hah, not just one of the cooks, I am one of the best cooks in the wall. Specializing in the science of making flavors combine in just the right way. Much more fun that sitting in a boring room reading history books every day of your life.”
Emalda shook her head, “You had a choice. I was chosen for my job.”
They both seemed slightly downcast now. Naomi placed the plates on one of the couches, and left. “What was that all about?” I couldn’t help that natural curiosity.
“Naomi… she’s a good cook, but a she could have been an engineer. She’s not a dud brain like most of the other cooks. She just… says she prefers cooking, and I could never understand it,” She stared at the ground, and then shook her head again. “I just don’t get it.”
“Maybe, she feels her gift with cooking outweighs her ability with math. If it’s what she wants to do, why not let her do it?” I thought about what Emalda said, about being chosen for her position, and I wondered, what if she hadn’t wanted to be a historian? But I said nothing of this to her.
Emalda shrugged. “We do what helps our society best with our lives, not what we want. I have a mind for remembering dates and times, therefore I am historian. You have a gift for stirring up trouble, therefore you are being sent into the city to stir up trouble. We all have our jobs to do.”
“Cooking is a job, and a necessary one at that.” I had my job in the village, and maybe I could have been a better teacher, or field worker, or something, but I had enjoyed the constant movement of the loom under my hands.
Emalda nodded, “Yes, it’s just…” She stopped for a moment, “She’s not using her full potential. I mean, I guess she is a very good cook…”
“And you have other people as Engineers. I think…” I stopped. I didn’t know how to articulate what I wanted to say, “I… I don’t know. I guess, I think she might not want to have to stress her brain and think about mathematical equations and what not.”
“Maybe, but we should be focusing our time on history lessons. We don’t have much time before you are supposed to join Cat for weapons instruction.” She turned, and headed toward the couch where the food was waiting, I followed her shadow back to the couches, and picked up the plate of greens topped with a white meat, chicken maybe?
As we ate she spoke more of about the history of the human race in our world. So many cultures and ideas. So much that most people didn’t even know about, and I was going to run out of here to get myself killed. But what other choice was there. Some people, like Naomi, had a choice in life, but others of us simply seemed to be tools of fate, chosen for some odd reason to do impossible tasks.
When we finished Emalda lead me through twisting corridors until we reached a room covered in padded walls with some training dummies at one end. I guess this was Cat’s sanctuary. Emalda turned and left without a goodbye, and I didn’t bother saying anything. Instead I focused on trying to find where Cat was. She was probably planning on leaping out at me in a flying attack.
“Cat?” My voice echoed through the room without a response. Was I alone in here? Did she decide I didn’t need to learn more fighting skills?
“Dan tells me you are passible with a bow.” I turned and saw Cat behind me. “Seeing as you are still…” she paused, her eyes looking up and down me, her mouth pinched downward in distaste. “…weak from your – ordeal.” She hissed the last word as if she disagreed with it.
“You act as if the outside is some laughably easy place to live, but would you be willing to go out there and risk death from the radiation or disease?”
She made a strange coughing sound, no, that was her laugh. As much as I feared going back into the city I couldn’t wait to leave the Wall. “Silly child, I wouldn’t ever be so stupid as to want to leave the Wall.”
She could think what she wanted. She hadn’t ever lived under the sky before. She might know weapons, but she wouldn’t ever really understand what a forest was, or a field with the sun burning down on your back and the clear blue sky overhead.
“Dan tells me you know how to shoot a long bow, well I am going to teach you to shoot a compound bow, and then a pistol. I will teach you to shoot the muzzle loading single shot antiques the guards carry, and a faster breech loading pistol that was never allowed into the city. It has not yet been decided if we will allow you to take one in, but I will train you in this.”
She shoved hard against me and I stumbled backwards almost falling down, “What was that for!”
She shrugged, “When in my room you stand ready to fight, you always hold a good stance so that when someone pushes you, you push back. I will attack you anywhere you are standing, to the point where when you stand you will stand rock solid.”
Emalda looked stiff on the edge of the large puffy couch she was sitting on. I felt uncomfortable under her scrutiny.
“We’ve been covering the history for almost a month, was there anything else you wanted to ask me about?” She asked.
I thought about it for a moment. "Well, this isn’t exactly history, but what caused the radiation that surrounds the city? Why is it desert outside these walls, and then suddenly there is forest without any radiation?"
She shrugged and sank back into her seat. "We don't actually really know. We call it the catastrophe, but that is simply a generic name for a terrible event."
"So you don't know anything about what happened? You have all this history stored up about a dead world long before our own time, but you know nothing about what happened between that time and out own age?"
"We know some things. From blood testing on your friend Dan and comparing his radiation levels to your own, our conjecture is that there are still elevated levels of radiation beyond the sign announcing the radiation border. The sign probably marks an evacuation zone border, which means that there was a government for a little while after our city was bombed, even though no one contacted us.
We figure the government probably fell soon after they set up the evacuation zone. Our city was set up as a safe zone by paranoid rich people, and the people of the Wall were hired by these people to build and keep up the protections."
Her eyes were distant, imagining some other past, and leaving the answer to my question unfinished. "You still haven't completely answered my question."
She looked back at me, "The answer is I don't know. All we know is conjecture. We didn't keep records of what happened for some reason. Some of the scientists believe that is was a ground exploded nuclear bomb. Some think it was a nuclear power plant meltdown. Whatever it was it doesn't explain why contact was broken off. It doesn't explain why nothing has grown back in the radiation zone around us. Most flora and fauna adapts to the radiation and grows back. As smart as we are, we can't answer all questions about the past. All we can do is live for the future, which is why we need you."
A harsh rasping laugh escaped my lips. "You need me? You have the Wall that you happily scurry about in. How could you need me?"
She sat there silently for a moment before answering, "Because you are one of the city people. You are a descendant of the wealthy Mcintyre family. You are someone who can change the city so that people can easily move back and forward between the Wall and the city. You are a person who can change the political structure because you have to. You won't survive in the current political situation, and you can't go back out of the Wall. You..."
"Why is that? Why can't I leave the Wall again? You cured me of my disease."
She glared at me, obviously annoyed by my interruption, "Radiation isn't always a fast killer. If you hadn't come back here you might have managed to live into your fifties if some other disease hadn't killed you first. We fed you things that would give you immunities against the known diseases while you were here, but new disease might have popped up..."
"What about now. Since I've crossed the heavier radiation zone twice, how long would you give me to live?"
She stopped and stared at the floor avoiding my gaze. Was it so bad she couldn't tell me?
"I might not even survive this rebellion you want me to lead, so why can't you tell me how long my estimated life span is? I figure Dan has into his fifties life span since he's crossed the zone once now, but what about me? Is it only a year or two or something?" Why couldn't she just tell me?
She shook her head, "We don't exactly know. We give you at the most into your thirties to live."
That was why they wanted me. Hysterical laughter burst from my lips. I gasped for breath as the laugh gripped my core. I fought for control with the laugh, liquid seeping out of the corners of my eyes. Take a breath. Breathe in. breathe out. The muscles in my middle still spasmed, but no sound escaped. Finally, I whispered, "That... that's why I'm perfect to lead this rebellion... if I die..."
"No big loss," she finished, her voice low and quiet, apologetic. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to tell you. There is another choice; you could go back out there. You could go back to the village, but you would only last a year or two. Your radiation levels would be so high you would get a disease called cancer almost immediately, and you would die a slow death where your body became weaker and weaker until you died. As it is you will still get that disease, you will just have about ten years according to our computers. If you are lucky you might last longer."
"I always knew I would die young," my voice scraped roughly against my throat. I was dishonored. Most died young. A few, like Rachel and my mother lived to be older. In fact, my mother was surprisingly old for a dishonored...
"But that knowledge wasn't solid fact for you. It was something far away that you didn't want to think about. And I have forced you to face the reality that you will die young."
I nodded, words escaping me. Throw my life away fighting for a better world or throw it away by running away? The decision seemed clear now. That goal that I kept trying to turn away from. I would get my revenge. I would save the dishonored. I would destroy the system. Life had chosen to take away my decisions. "I am glad you told me. It..." It makes more sense now that I know I can either waste what little life I have left or make the most of it. Now that I have no choice? I still had a choice. I could live out my life in the Wall... and what, not even think of Dan? He chose to come to this hell with me. I wouldn't have made it without him. I would have died in the desert outside the Wall.
"Think of the people who are dishonored. Your friend Kevin's family. Your own mother, and your half siblings who were born dishonored. You could save them. You could set this city to rights. Punishment only belonging to the people who committed crimes. The gate to the Wall wide open for people to go in and out of. And people could leave the city. They could go to the world outside the radiation zone and start a new life." Her voice painted a magical image. A city where the people were happy and the dishonored didn't exist. I could see Felise, walking up to Kevin, and the two brothers reuniting. My mother, standing in the doorway of our house, her tired face actually smiling.
"You could bring the democracy of the past to the city. The council of the village could sit in the castle where a King resides. You could cast down the leash of a dictatorship. Imagine a place where execution isn't the answer to everything. A place where people aren't shot for being too weak to stand..."
My father, his brown eyes staring into my soul, his face covered in a fine growth of brown hair. Looking at me as they raised the axe...
"This... it’s about more than my revenge and my honor." I whispered.
"Yes. It’s about building a new future. About rebuilding the world.”
Again, what choice did I really have? Who was I to deny such a grand fate that these people had planned for me. I had planned to come back to the city at some point, and that time was now. I had wanted my honor back and revenge. Now fate wanted me to be the catalyst of change.
"I've never had a choice." I looked around the history room, at the painting that detailed events of the past. Photographs of long dead faces glaring at me, telling me my future was already determined.
"You've always had a choice Liv. You could’ve been content to be alive. You could've lived as a Dishonored, given yourself willingly to any guard who requested to sleep with you. You could’ve chosen execution like almost everyone before you. You could’ve stayed in the Wall, or never come back and left us thinking the whole world was like the world outside the Wall. You could decide now to stay in the Wall, or to go back and die in the village. You could've chosen to enter the City without having any knowledge about leading a revolution. There is always a choice. You have simply chosen a path toward greatness."
"There was never a choice Emalda. Not for me. Because of who I am, I wouldn't have chosen any other path." The choices were all an illusion of free will.
She nodded. "I think you are almost ready. You will now train with only Cat until the day you are released into the city."
It was almost time to ride back into the city. Last time I’d ridden in on Kingston… Kingston! I hadn't even really spared a thought for him since I came back to the city. "Will I be on Kingston?"
She stared at me as if not comprehending my question.
“When I leave, will I be riding out into the city on Kingston, my horse?”
"You horse? No, we had to put him down. You will ride one of our horses, and your friend will ride his creature."
Kingston was dead. I gripped the arms of my chair. Yet another death to add to the long list of deaths caused by me. I nodded. I couldn't speak. I hadn't even spared a thought for the horse I'd been given in the city and that I'd taken care of in the village. I guess I'd simply thought the people of the Wall were taking care of him.
She stood up, her face emotionless and uncaring. "It’s time for your lesson with Cat. Once you get your rebellion started, we will supply you with the weapons. You must win the people over to your cause."
She made it sound so easy, but I knew it wouldn't be that easy. It wasn't a simple matter to change a political system. All I had to do was look at the French revolution, or even the American Revolution.
A small voice whispered, you will be the flame who burns so brightly, the George Washington, the Napoleon Bonaparte. You will be honored by history... I shushed that voice. I didn't want to be honored by history. I simply wanted to live my life in peace. But sometimes, life took those choices away from us.