I am in love
Maria Nemes was no ordinary girl. On her public birth certificate her place of birth was listed as City 84, colloquially knows as New Damburg, at a date just 17 years ago. The Nemes family had adopted her, as mandated by the provincial government at the time, at the age of 4 and she had brought a ray of sunshine with her. All of the other seven Nemes kids looked up to their big sister and had perhaps grown up in her shadow, but had also all followed in her footsteps. Sometimes, the older generation in the village would even credit young Maria with the explosive growth of the Nemes farm. She assumed they were joking and took the compliment. There was not a single person in her life who harbored ill will towards her. That was, until she reached the age for secondary education and had to go to the big city to receive her education and become a full-fledged citizen of the Republic.
City 78, also known as Lindon, wasn’t a big city compared to others, but to a country girl like Maria it was larger than her entire world had been. She adapted quickly, and every weekend a train would carry her back to her childhood comforts. Her academic abilities were thoroughly average, but she was consistently pointed out as the most motivated and eager student. Leadership came easy as people were drawn in by a warm smile and genuine empathy. As she advanced through the years, people started to look up to her as her adopted siblings once had, and the difference between her old home and the new one started to fade. That’s when she saw him first.
He was tall, silver-haired and muscular. The parts of him that weren’t covered in black clothing showed intensely pale skin that looked cold to the touch. He moved slowly and carefully, like a predator on the hunt, and with a grace that showed absolute control. His eyes were hidden behind darkened goggles. As he came around the corner and crossed the school corridor, he sniffed the air loudly. In one fluid movement, he opened a door and seemed to flow inside. Two other boys followed him. They wore the same black clothing over their gray school overalls and goggles also covered their eyes. She had never seen the style before. Her curiosity was piqued. She said a quick goodbye to the group of girls she had been talking to and went after them.
The door led to a maintenance corridor, bare and cold but that did not make any less functional in asthetic than the other corridors in the school. Somewhere in the darkness the boys laughed. Maria joined in, and it stopped. Red eyes glared at her from the darkness. The two other boys turned to her with a start.
“Who are you?” A voice demanded from the darkness followed by sniffing. “You smell nice.”
“Why thank you,” she replied. “I was just wondering about your unorthodox clothing choice. It’s very interesting, but I don’t believe that’s approved uniform.”
“It isn’t, but we don’t care,” said the boy to her left. She remained focused on the red-eyed one.
“Who are you,” he repeated.
“Maria Nemes, I am a fourth-year,” she held out her hand. The two boys looked stunned as the red-eyed one stared at her hand. He stepped forward, towering over the others.
“Leave us,” he growled. The two other boys shuffled past her, murmuring a greeting. The tall boy grabbed her hand and drew her closer as he shook it.
“Frederick Rojo, Friedrich to friends,” he said. “I am in second year.”
“You’re very tall.” She eyed him up. “I like your eyes. How did you get it like that?”
“Birth defect. It’s called albinism.” He cocked his head and sniffed again. “Biology not your thing? They cover it in first year.”
She laughed. “In one ear, out the other. Is that what you were doing here; studying up on your biology?”
He glanced at the door behind her. “So you want in or do you want to siren on me?”
“I think it’s too late to tell on you already,” she smiled and he mirrored the expression with practiced ease. “Your two associates have already hid the contraband, haven’t they?”
A true smile appeared on his face, exposing prominent canines. The gaze in his eyes remained hard. “It’s just music. What do you care?”
“I think it’s more than that.” She drew closer to him and sniffed. His smiled widened and he leaned closer until their noses almost touched. His face was almost directly above her own.
“I like you,” he said and gently pushed her aside. She let him push her as she returned his gaze. He laughed loudly as he threw the door open, put on his goggles, and swaggered through.
“He really said that?” Lelise squealed. They were sitting in the back of classroom and weren’t expected in the next class for another ten minutes.
“He didn’t mean it like that.” Maria rolled her eyes. “I think he just likes playing games. That’s how boys show their strength.”
“You stared down that brute while threatening to siren,” Lelise said and gasped theatrically. “Now there’s no doubt who is the strongest around here!”
“I’m not like that,” Maria said quietly.
“I heard that those three beat up the entire football team for making fun of their goggles. I bet it was mostly the tall one that did the work.”
“Abigail says that even the monitors are scared of them,” Maria said. “They haven’t found anything on them though that means they could call in Enforcement.”
“They’re only in second year. How bad could they be?”
“I don’t know.”
“You know how rumors are,” she said, smiling. “I’m sure they just decent boys with some uncommon interests and clothing choices.”
The teacher mechanically recited the dry series of facts about global politics that were approved for public knowledge. Behind her, a small replica of Federation’s black, star spangled flag was draped over the board. Next to it hung a larger red flag with the symbol of Unity that represented the Republic. The class did its best to appear like they were paying attention. When the bell finally rang, a soundless sigh of relief went through them as most of them got up. Maria and Lelise stayed behind, talking about the things teenage girls talk about, until suddenly Lelise went silent. She stared at the door. When Maria followed her gaze, she saw Frederick standing in the door. He walked inside with a strut, staring at the board.
“What a dumb fucking flag they chose,” he said, just loud enough for the two girls to hear. The only other boy left in the room quickly left the room.
“Which on do you mean?” Maria asked. Lelise gave her a look.
“Yes,” he said, smiling at her. “, which one indeed.”
He walked closer. Lelise turned around and shifted slightly so she was between him and Maria.
“What are you looking at, bug-eyes?” he said.
Lelise reached up to her face, mouth open.
“Out of my way, fat-ass, I want to talk to the beauty behind you,” he sneered.
Maria slapped the table in front of her and pointed at Frederick with her other hand. Her face was devoid of emotion, her voice steady. It was how she scolded her younger brothers and sisters. “You will show her respect.”
He froze. “I apologize.”
Lelise looked at Maria and muttered: “Apology accepted.” Maria owed her.
Frederick seemed confused for a moment before regaining his bluster. He looked at Lelise like she was dirt, before turning his attention to Maria. Lelise found the courage to huff at his behavior.
“I wanted to talk to you,” he said.
“What about?” Maria asked. He looked at Lelise, who refused to move a muscle.
“You know. Stuff,” he finally said.
“I have Lelise to talk about stuff.”
“Not stupid shit like that,” he said, eyes widening at what he had just said. It took a moment for him to gather his thought. “There’s this concert coming up. It is not...‘approved’ per sé, but I can get us in and out without an issue. I have contacts.”
Maria considered it for a moment. “I want to hear records of this band before I agree to anything.”
“Deal,” he said, immediately. “Meet me at the back of the yard after last period.”
He put his hands in his pockets and trotted off.
“I can’t believe you agreed to see him,” Lelise said, and moaned. They were walking to their next class. “The guy’s a prick. Did you know that his lineage is a mystery even to Evelyn? Her mother is a doctor! It’s said that he got assigned to the Rojo’s because Mister Rojo is ex-military and Mrs Rojo used to be a member of the General Assembly, and even they couldn’t teach him manners.”
“He apologized to you, didn’t he?”
“After you made him!” She rolled her eyes.
“There is kindness in him,” Maria said. “Even some of the great philosophers hated the people around them, while trying to make the world better. Normal people were disappointing to them.”
“He’s not a philosopher. He’s an albino.” She drew closer as they entered the class room. “Evelyn told me that albino’s burn in the sun, just like the demons of old. It’s because they have no melatonin. Maybe that’s what gives you empathy too, you know?”
“The simpleton meant melanin,” Frederick said when he’d stopped laughing. “It is what makes your skin the color that it is and protects from UV-light. Melatonin just makes you sleepy.”
“Which is what you’re making me with your lectures,” Maria said, smiling teasingly. His laughing had made her giddy, even if it was at the expense of her friend. “Don’t call her that, by the way.”
“Nobody tells me what to do,” he drew close and bared his teeth. “For you, however, I will acquiesce. Now do you want to hear my records, or what?”
“Do you have a player?”
“Sure,” he said and glanced from side to side theatrically, before moving towards some nearby bushes and taking out a large device with a horn attached.
“Where did you get that?” Maria asked, wide-eyed.
“Stole it,” he said, grinning. There was a record already in the device, from which he brushed away some leaves. He held the entire apparatus up with one hand like it weighed nothing.
“What if they catch you?” she hissed and walked closer. Carefully, she traced the modulated groove in the black surface of the phonograph record. They didn’t have anything like this back home.
“They won’t. It’s cool, right?” he said, and held it closer to her. She brushed away another leaf.
“How does it work?” she asked.
“The needle traces a groove that was formed from the original sounds, producing the same frequency of sound and amplifying it through the horn.” For the first time since she’d crossed the schoolyard, he looked away from her and at the machine. His red eyes sparkled with fascination. He looked so innocent for a moment. “It is not a perfect recreation, but it plays anything you put in it. The records stay good for quite a while, if you take care of them. Maybe I should have hidden it somewhere else.”
He put the device on the ground and started to turn a wheel on the side. It made scratching sound/
“It’s called Metal and Stone. Nothing else compares,” Fredrick whispered as the sounds started to ramp up and rise above the scratching. Maria sat down next to him and listened closely as something primal and true came forth from the horn. At first, the sounds appeared loud and distorted, but she quickly began to feel the pattern in them. Emphatic rhythms resonated with something deep inside her, and when the vocals started she was hooked. The vigorous, raw singing captured an experience she didn’t know she’d had. She put her head closer to the horn to draw it all in. Frederick nodded approvingly. She smiled at him, and watched the hardness in his eyes melt away.