After the Tilt: Book 2

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Chapter 23: Fiori

“Did you love my sister?” I bluntly asked him.

“No. No I didn’t.”

He chugged down half a bottle of whiskey.

“It never was about love,” he added. “It was about trust and admiration.”

Our first few days at the orphanage had been busy; meeting new people, getting accustomed to the place, and taking part in communal activities such a preparing the meals. Dinner had long passed, but unable to sleep, I found myself in the main hall where Fiori sat, alone. I had never seen him drink alcohol before. During my time at the hotel, coffee was what he had enjoyed. That night was the first time and the last time, that I’d ever see him devastated to the point where his sorrow needed to be drowned.

I assumed right away; my sister’s death was to blame. I too grieved her loss. She had scared me, but in the end, the person who died in my arms was the tormented piano girl whom I had cherished. I had never gotten to know Hana, but her music still resonated in my head; Lianna’s music. And deep down, I knew this music was everything my sister ever had. She had willingly shared these memories with me, and with every note Lianna struck on her piano, a piece of her soul had been etched in my heart. She had been damaged, destroyed, shattered into a million pieces, but she died whole. I wanted to tell Fiori that. I wanted him to have seen the smile on her face as she faded away.

But tonight, Fiori was drinking.

So, I sat across from him.

It seemed, even drunk, he liked to talk.

So, I listened.

“I didn’t love her. It was her company that I loved. It was our open and honest conversation that I enjoyed. It was the time spent with her that I’ll remember. She wasn’t like anyone else I’ve ever met. She had fire in her eyes. A desire burning deep within, pushing her to always charge straight a head. She had already lost everything, so nothing scared her anymore.

In many ways, she reminded me of my wife. And in the end, just as I failed to protect my wife, I couldn’t live up to the promise I made to Hana. I couldn’t save her either.”

He rested his head sideways on the table. Staring blankly off into the distance. For a second, I pitied him…but then I remembered…

“You built the bomb that was set to kill her! How can you sit here, telling me you wanted to save her?” I shamelessly accused him.

My question must have triggered something deep within him because he suddenly rose and vehemently defended himself.

“Only death could save your sister. There was no escaping her nightmares. The lacerations on her arms were nothing compared to the scars left on her soul. She was damaged to the core of her being. The suffering she had to endure, over and over again, just to make it through another day.

I admired her.

I admired her resilience.

But she was out of time.

Her body slowly dying. You saw her Fenn! You saw her empty eyes, her blank stare. You saw her body shaking and her sudden state of confusion. It wasn’t going to get better. It was the beginning of the end. Her body was dying. She wasn’t ready to go yet, but she knew her time had come. She would have liked to be there for you. She had no greater desire than seeing you safe. She wanted to see you enjoy life. But she couldn’t. And she knew it.

I offered her the bombs. I gave her the plans. I promised her your safety. But in the end, I couldn’t uphold my vows. I couldn’t uphold anything. My bomb failed to kill her; instead she laid there in agony. And your safety? I don’t know what to make of it! I don’t know if we can trust Evian. I don’t know what my next move will be. I don’t know ANYTHING! All I have are questions, with no answers.”

He sat back. Hunched. Defeated. He grabbed the bottle and drank some more.

“I shouldn’t be drinking,” he said.

I couldn’t help but notice the sarcasm in his tone.

“Alcohol destroyed my people, for generations. Alcohol destroyed my family too. My village was small. But there, we had access to all we needed. We lived off the land mostly and had very little contact with the newly established settlements. We were better off that way. Colonialism didn’t play in our favor seven hundred years ago; it didn’t play in our favor after the tilt either. Lucky for us, we were used to living in harsh conditions.

We are resilient people.”

“Were,” he corrected himself.

“As the axial tilt of the earth occurred, we found ourselves going from one extreme climate to another. But Mother Earth is good and will take care of the people who respect her gifts. So, for us, life went on, and we adapted.

Willow and I grew up together. She lived next door with her mother. Every morning, she’d come get me, and we’d disappear for the day hunting for small rodents in the scorched grass. Everything I could do she did better, but I never minded it. I was proud of her skills. I was honored to be her friend.

Our parents decided early on that we would get married. I can’t say that I loved her, or that I felt anything romantic towards her. But I did want to be close to her. I wanted to be important in her eyes. I wanted to be by her side, always, forever. I wanted us, to protect each other and to care for each other. So, at 18 years of age, we married.

But it didn’t last long. We knew resources were running low in the nearest settlement. We knew access to clean water was an issue. We knew the people who had moved here, from the big cities that used to be south of us, lacked the knowledge to survive in the wild and had very little respect for the earth.

My elders had warned them about the threats of climate change, but their words fell on deaf ears. My ancestors had tried repeatedly to get them to realize the importance of a symbiotic relationship with our environment, but there was no place for it amidst corporate greed.

In all of this though, they weren’t the only ones making mistakes, I was making them too. Big ones.

I’ll remember that night for the rest of my days. It had been another scorching day in the grasslands. Word had gotten around that our village housed a well. They came from the settlement just south-east of us. I should have been defending the village. Instead, I had been drinking all afternoon and had passed out in our hunting camp.

A good husband should have been home.

I was not a good husband.

Willow was dear to my heart, but we were young, we were still learning about ourselves. I knew, I would never love her. So, like many before me, I took to drinking, to forget, to numb, to live on.

They came, they took our water and they took the life of everyone who tried to stop them. And that included my mother, my father and… Willow. I found her, face down on the dried-up ground. Her blood mixed in with the dirt. She was long gone. It sobered me up. It sobered me right up.

Fourteen people from our village were killed. The news that we had water spread quickly. Within a week, the government had displaced us and stripped us of any rights we had had over our own land. Again, we had nowhere to go. Some joined the nearby settlements. Some started the long walk toward the nearest village with whom we shared a common ancestry.

I had been a bad husband. I didn’t want to be a bad person as well, but I had no purpose. I had no goals. I had no reason to live on. For centuries, my people had been exploited, hunted, pushed around. Children had been taken away and placed in horrible schools where they were beaten, sexually assaulted and in some cases murdered. Looking around me, I could tell, this was yet another cycle. The same vicious events. Humans never learn.

Humanity had been given a chance to make it right…

Instead, we all just repeated the same mistakes…

Growing up, I had been told all about the tilt. All about the marvelous scientific achievements the scientists of Ortus University had accomplished. It was, in a way, the new folklore. It had replaced the stories of the Creator. Antarticum was the new El Dorado and for everyone living outside of its confines, it stood as the Land of the Gods.

Having nowhere to go, I set up for a long improbable journey. I had no real destination in mind, as long as I could get as far away from home as possible. However, subconsciously, I found myself drawn always closer to the Land of the Gods. Like the siren calling the sailor, Antarticum was calling me.

I travelled through horrific landscapes. There was desolation everywhere; burned out cities, dying people, starvation, famishment, malnourishment, disease. Call it a nightmare, or Hell, or what ever you want but this is what had become of humanity. I saw things, that years later, I still haven’t been able to process.

I remember, this young boy, holding on to a pair of worn-out shoes, chewing on the leather. Huddled to his mother’s body. His dead mother. This was in the ruins of a city that had been a cultural and economic center, housing wealth and art. That little boy had neither. I crouched in front of him. I gave him the little food I had with me. I made small talk.

‘Do you have anywhere to go?’ I asked him.

He didn’t answer. His eyes were empty.

‘Do you have family here?’ I asked him.

He pointed to the dead woman.

‘Is that your mother?’ I asked him.

He nodded.

‘What’s your name?’ I asked him.

He took another bite of leather.

‘Jefferson,’ he squeaked.

‘Hi Jefferson,’ I replied.

I watched him chew on the shoe. He was like a small dog. Dirty. Licking his wound. Haggard.

‘How old are you?’ I asked Jefferson.

‘4,’ he squeaked.

‘4,’ I repeated as I pulled my gun and aimed it straight at his heart. I didn’t give him the time to be scared. I didn’t give him the time to notice. I killed him because I couldn’t leave a 4 years old boy to the hyenas. I couldn’t leave that child behind, knowing the only future for him was one of suffering and pain. It was mercy I gave him. I killed him to save him.

It didn’t make me feel good. I took no pleasure in killing him. I took no credit either. His life shouldn’t have been mine to take but I did. With great effort, I buried him and his mother. That’s the least I could do. I stayed in that city for a few weeks. I found pockets of people living in small groups. Scavenging to stay alive. Praying on other groups. Cannibalism too.

What I saw there was not an isolated case. As I travelled south east, the same scenery repeated itself. The same burned down cities. The same ruins, the same apathy. The same desperation and complete break down of social structure. Yet, everywhere, people managed to survive. People had a purpose. There was a certain beauty in seeing humanity so desperately clinging to life. Continually clawing and scratching out a place for itself. Beating the odds, beating the weather, enduring the wrath of the gods.

Maybe, I thought, maybe humanity does deserve that second chance.

After eleven months of wandering, I washed up, uninvited on the shores of West Antarticum. It didn’t take long for me to be found. Antarticum’s defenses proved themselves to be as strong as rumors had them. One did not simply walk into Antarticum. I had been foolish enough to think that I could. I was seized right on the beach, almost immediately. It was a cold, dreary, wet day. I was famished, barely able to stand. My boat, in pieces, crushed on the rocks naturally protecting the island. Yet, I was alive.

A gun was put to my temple. I felt the cold steel on my skin, and deep within I believed I deserved it. I looked the soldier in the eye and said: ‘I’m ready.’”

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