Before then, was before then. History starts with 1.
Nobody really know what happened before the first day of the first month of the first year, but according to history, on that day Greenfields Eugenia came into existence, with Elder Panelle announcing our society to be the start of the perfect society. He wasn’t far off. Over the years that followed, he and the other three Elders did exactly as they promised.
It’s not 1.1.1 anymore. Years passed. Now we are in the year 92, the first day of the first month. And I have never heard anyone complain about Greenfields. Elder Panelle had done the impossible. And today was the Remembrance Ceremony – all the citizens would be gathering in the Central Grounds. As a child, I always looked forward to this day. There would be the usual speeches which as a child were incredibly boring, and it was only in recent years that I came to appreciate the Four Elders introducing the Four Quarters for several hours. But it was the ending that I always loved and still do; fireworks. The opaque dome would peel back and allow the night sky with all its glittering stars to come into view, and then colourful explosions would make everyone stare in awe. It’s the perfect ending to any event.
‘Gris, you ready?’ my friend and classmate Alvor asked, constantly knocking on my door as though the annoying rhythm would speed me up. To an extent, I admit, his tactic works brilliantly. And usually this all happened the other way around; he was always late and I was always the one knocking away like a madman on his door. Such is life. He must be very excited indeed, I thought to myself as I buttoned up my red coat and checked that my gold pin is attached properly to the stiff collar. This is my pride and joy – today, finally, I leave the educational suburb and move to the residential, and tomorrow after the party is over, I begin working. Actually, I’m not quite sure what my employment will be yet. Alvor doesn’t know either, but he always did well in class with music, so I assume naturally that he’ll be assigned to something in that area. I was the jack-of-all-trades, rather good at everything but not really mastering it. I’ll probably end up as someone’s assistant instead. I don’t groan about this, though, I really shouldn’t, because it makes sense. I’m not a master at anything, so why should I waste my efforts? I’ll find a role that will help someone else. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? A society that works together flawlessly, everyone has their place.
‘Gris! I’ll ditch you in the NeverZone! Hurry it up!’
I opened the door and stared at him. We’re wearing identical red tunics that reach all the way to the ground, and he has his gold pin as well. We’re both from the Artisan Quarter, so of course whenever we go in public we wear red. The Essentials wear yellow, the Science Quarter favours green and the Sociology Quarter uses blue. At least that way everyone knows who is who and what talents and education they have had.
And the NeverZone was where nobody went. That was the last border between our civilized society and the Wilds outside. Rumour has it they didn’t own anything to neaten their hair and that it grows so long they would get strangled by it at night as they slept. And sometimes they don’t have enough food so they eat each other instead. They’re uneducated, so they never learnt to speak, and thus they have no known social hierarchy. It’s every Wild for themselves.
I thought about my intended for a moment, Pechi. She’s rather small and delicate… I can’t fathom what would happen to her if she were trapped out there. Wilds would tear her apart, or worse. Though, come to think about it, if I were trapped out there, they’d probably do a quick job of me, too. I’m really not that strong.
If I were strong, I would probably have been moved to the Essentials Quarter years ago. The Essentials help with all the things that need to be done; mainly food production, as well as building and renovations, quarrying, manual labour, and sports. They had the leisure of not having to strive to be the best mental mind out there like in the Science or Sociological Quarters, or about being the most creative and well-trained like those in the Artisan Quarter. Sure, they had to work hard, but at the end of the day it was easier for them.
I do not envy, however, as I have my skills. My father was from the Sociological Quarter and my mother from the Artisan, and I inherited her preference for drawing over reading. So I was placed in the Artisan Quarter, and went to the Artisan School to study anything arty and creative. Of course, maths, science and history were compulsory, but the focus was on what our quarter specialized in. The same could be said of the other three quarters.
Aren’t we lucky? Imagine being a Wild, with no school. I wonder how those children even survive long enough to procreate. In fact, come to think of it… there might not even be any Wilds left out there.
‘Gris, you won’t believe it, Pechi will be in the same dormitory as Kalie, that’s great news, huh?’
I nodded promptly. ‘Yes, it is!’ Of course, it isn’t that amazing. Pechi and Kalie were friends since they were five years old. And as Pechi became my intended and Kalie Alvor’s, it was only logical that the two young women would be in the same dorm as each other, just as Alvor and I would be sharing until we finally move into the family residential. That would be another year away, yet.
Another year until Pechi and I begin our very own lives together.
My thoughts seemed to be almost in sync with Alvor’s, for he suddenly announced a startled, ‘wow, one more year and I’ll have to be in charge of my own family. It’s a bit… overwhelming.’
‘Generations have survived, Alvor, so will we. Come on.’
Greenfields was set up almost like a collection of circles cut into four quarters – easy enough to get where our specialist “Quarters” got their name. Anyway, on the farthest most edge of the circle lay the employment facilities, factories, and studios, as well as the power generators and a giant storage cache behind the Artisan Quarter and the Essential’s mine and quarry. As you head down towards the sunken centre of the circles, you would pass through the residential zone. There were nicer buildings and not so nice buildings, and to receive a better home depended on several factors; your innate talents, your learnt abilities, and your effort and dedication to your work.
Or to put it simply, if you work harder, you got a better life. If you insisted on being a sloth, then you got stuck with the tackiest, most run-down building imaginable. It made sense, after all. Why give a nice home to somebody who won’t be bothered to look after it? It’s a waste if there’s someone else out there willing to actually earn such accommodations.
‘My house will be bigger than yours,’ Alvor told me teasingly as we finished walking out of the residential zone and past the educational centres, and finally the Inner Ring came into view. It was a giant park, with grass, trees and beautiful flowers, and at the very centre was the Elder’s Tower. They lived up the very top, with a view of the entire city. It you worked hard enough, you might earn the privilege to venture there. It would be amazing to see Greenfields from up high.
For now, the Inner Ring was already crowded, every other person living in the city was here, trying to find the suitable spot for themselves or their families. And with our gold pins on our collars, the Guides quickly picked us out of the crowd and motioned us to find a spot within the student’s stand. Now, in front of the place I had studied at for the past 17 years of my life, I was finally going to be announced as an adult. As employed. As a fully-fledged citizen of Greenfields.
‘Gris, have you seen Pechi yet?’ someone asked, tugging on my sleeve.
That was Kalie. Actually, I should probably mention. Kalie is my baby sister. Well, she’s only a year younger than me. Girls graduate in the year they turn 17, whereas boys graduate in the year they turn 18. It just so worked out that our parents had us only a year apart, that many of our life events would be at the same time as each other. And I’m happy that my best friend and my little sister are intended for each other, I don’t have to get to know a complete stranger for my future-brother-in-law. I already know him well enough, probably better than he knows himself.
‘I haven’t seen her yet, no…’ I admitted, frowning at her. Actually, I had hoped that she knew where Pechi was. It was rare for her to be running late, and she was always meticulous about letting someone know where she was.
All of the glittering lights around us reflected in Kalie’s bright amber eyes, and she hugged me quickly. ‘You get worried too quickly. Nothing bad could possibly happen, she’s probably… forgotten something and gone back to her room. She’ll be here soon, you’ll see…!’
We stood in our respective places, listening to the long announcements. I could appreciate it better now, as an adult. People struggled for this peace that we now enjoyed. There used to be such wars, such devastation. And now, we were successful. Everyone was happy, everyone was satisfied. There no longer even existed a person whose memory held the violent and vicious past; the time before Greenfields.
No more poverty.
No more hunger.
No more violence.
I smiled more and more, my ears tickled pink by the words which I knew to be truth. The Elder giving the speech was Elder Whyn, and he was a masterful spokes’ person. He was born in the Essentials Quarter – what an amazing achievement to become one of those living in the Inner Ring!
Glancing at my friend, I saw Alvor’s eyes gleam as the Elder spoke of the masters of the Artisan Quarter. That was Alvor’s future. I knew that. I always did. Who knows, maybe I’d even become his assistant. But then I glanced back at Elder Whyn, and something hit me in my stomach, though I could not pinpoint what it was; a feeling? A desire? A whim?
I want to be in the Inner Ring.
Suddenly, in that moment, just as the fireworks began to explode into the night sky, I decided upon my own future – of course, while working in harmony with what shall be required of me as a citizen of Greenfields.
I will one day stand upon that balcony, and gaze everything surrounding it. My position will be up there, of that I have no doubt.
I have to admit, I do not recall the events of the rest of that night all too well. Everyone who was graduating to adulthood received their Calling – a file containing the details that would shape the rest of their lives, and then it was the party until midnight. There was plenty to drink, and some of those drinks were of the sort that the Educational Institute had never introduced to us before.
Alcohol. We were not supposed to drink more than two glasses, that was the warning. But I was thirsty and drank several more than that. I woke up, embarrassingly enough, in the nurse’s office.
‘What happened…?’ I asked as a splitting headache decided to thunder about my head.
‘It used to be called a “hang-over”, though we tend to call it a “point-breaker”,’ the gentle nurse replied, passing me a white pill and a glass of water. ‘You drank too much alcohol.’
‘That’s… not a crime, is it? I was thirsty…’
‘This is the only day when it is not considered a crime,’ she replied with a light smile. ‘Now, take that pill. The headache will subside soon. Where is your Calling?’
I raised my eyebrows. In all that festivities of yesterday, I lost track of that file. It wasn’t that big, an electronic device the size of my hand with a glass screen lid that opens up. Red, of course. Artisan. ‘My… pockets… maybe…?’ I asked sheepishly, shoving my hands into my robes, before glancing around in alarm. ‘Oh dear… I remember it though, I am to assist… Master Cavali, he is… a writer. Um… at the Ontero Building, Level 2, room 5.’
The nurse signed a slip of paper and handed it to me. ‘You’d better go. You’ll be late on your first day.’
Biso Cavali was a curious man, with a primly experimental moustache and impeccable tastes in hand gestures. Every movement he made seemed exceedingly precise, sometimes even forced. And I recognized all this within the first five seconds of meeting him.
‘Ah! The moment arrives, I meet my new assistant! Gris Emberon… though I believe Gris is a short form of something, no? Any who,’ he raised his hand, saluted my presence with two fingers, then dropped his hand again, tapping the table with his index finger. ‘This is your workplace, this table here. Obviously this is my room, my office, so technically the table is mine. But you work at this spot…’ he pointed to the table with his littlest finger. ‘And that is mine.’
With that, all his interest in my presence instantly dissipated. He went to his table, pulled out a pile of books and sat there, reading.
So I sat at my desk, unsure of what to do. I could write, I was taught to write; stories, poems, reviews, essays. But usually we were told what to write about.
And I said so.
Cavali stared at me as though he had just realized for the first time that I was in the room with him. ‘Ah. I’m researching something at the moment, so… go… find me some coffee…’
I stared at him. Really? I spent 17 years in the intense education system specially designed for Artisans, to fetch this man a coffee?
Shaken and betrayed, I turned slowly, ready to try and go on this stupid journey, to find some elusive cup of coffee… hopefully the trip would be adventurous, like Jason’s or Ulysses’ or… something…
I’ll never get to the tower looking for coffee for this fool… I thought to myself, and I stopped at the heretical thoughts in my mind. What… No. Gris, you were asked to do something. Don’t be an idiot on your first day.
As for the fool, Cavali sat in his chair for the entire day. He didn’t even drink the coffee that I had brought him. And he spoke not another word for the rest of the day.
My only thoughts were how much longer this ridiculousness would continue. It was just past the 18th hour when he finally told me to return to my dwelling. I don’t think I ever retreated from a place as quickly as I did that day.
Suddenly, everything I had felt so good about for so long was starting to fall apart.
Usually, work takes place from around the 9th hour in the morning, to the 18th in the evening, and whatever time was left after was for each to do as they so choose. I choose to look for Pechi, Kalie and Alvor. I had not seen any of them since yesterday, and I wanted desperately to know if their first day had been as surprisingly useless as mine.
I found Pechi at our favourite cafeteria, and immediately realized that something was wrong. Her eyes were glazed over and there was a bruise on her arm and left cheek.
‘P-Pechi, what happened to you-!?’ I asked, kneeling by her chair and stroking the golden hair from her face.
‘Nothing happened, Gris, I just… fell… on my way to the ceremony last night, so…’
‘On the stairs.’
My heart told me that she was lying. But nobody ever lies in Greenfields, there is no need to do that. So I ignored my heart and merely accepted her account. She fell down some stairs. Bit of an odd thing to do. But that explains why we had not seen her there; she must have been at the nurse’s office.
I embraced her small figure, aware that she was trying to push me away but hadn’t the strength, and without thinking I asked her yet again what had happened.
‘I told you, nothing-’ her eyes suddenly changed, and a smile appeared on her face. ‘Alvor! Kalie! You made it! How was your first day?’
Alvor grinned from ear-to-ear as he recounted his day – he was going to be working as a conductor and a composer of music. Currently, he was assistant to the famous composer, Lokhart, and one day he would become the main composer for the Greenfields Symphony Orchestra.
Naturally, we oh-ed and ah-ed at all this. His excitement was contagious. And soon, my little sister, Kalie, spoke of her own Calling.
Even though she was of the Artisan’s, her grades in human biology had been curiously good, so she was working in a nurse’s office while being offered further educational in the medical field. I saw Alvor’s cheeks turn white and realized that he had been so excited over his own occupation to hide from the reality that Kalie might end up moving away – at least for the rest of the year until they became an official family.
‘That’s not decided, Alvor…’ Kalie assured him quickly. ‘Even if I do have to travel to the other quarter for education, they want me to remain as a nurse in the Artisan Quarter. Unless of course it turns out that I am amazingly brilliant at some other type of medicine-’
‘But if we work in the same quarter, I could see you at afternoon meal as well…’
Kalie giggled and moved as though to kiss his cheek, but stopped herself. Rules were rules. Kissing was looked down upon in public, and certain kissing was only for partners. She blushed instead and started laughing. ‘We’ll be fine, you will see!’
Through the entire conversation, I secretly stole glances at Pechi. Something was wrong. Her eyes were glued on the table, her mind a million miles away. How could someone be so upset? I started thinking about her family. I saw her parents in the crowd yesterday. Her grandparents died several years ago so it couldn’t be that. And she looked healthy as ever.
Nothing had happened for her to be so sullen.
‘Verber…Vembergree… Ember…person. Boy, you, yes, hello,’ Cavali seemed flustered, flinging a pile of papers into my hands before fumbling about for his coat. ‘If anyone asks where I’ve gone, I’ve dropped some paperwork somewhere, the hunt is on, heavens, the hunt is on. You stay here, sit, good boy!’ and like that he disappeared down the hallway, leaving me standing by his office door with my chin dragging on the floor. What. Was. That.
I’ve never seen Cavali so… emotional. Was that it? He looked flustered, annoyed, excited… everything at the same time. Really, over a piece of paper? What could he have possibly lost to render such a… such a… I must have stood there for another five minutes, trying to work out what word would best suit his behaviour. None had come to mind, however, so I gave up and went back inside.
I wish I hadn’t.
There were papers strewn everywhere, books that looked more like they had exploded lay scattered across the floor, and there was a burgundy folder laying open on Cavali’s desk.
Exasperated at such a scene, I started tidying things up. The books returned to their rightful spots on the wall, I sorted out the papers by theme – I have no idea what Cavali has been writing. The books on the floor ranged from the Old History of the Forgotten World, original blueprints for Greenfields and some papers from the Security Squad about odd occurrences.
That made me pause. Odd? What sort of “odd”, like Pechi’s oddness recently? I stole a glance through it. Five people had disappeared last year without a trace. Greenfields isn’t that big, so I suppose that’s a bit odd. But then the Security Squad’s later reports stated that there were various accidents. Apparently one had fallen off the outer perimeter into the Wild’s territory. They must have been suicidal to go so far anyway.
Suicidal…? I froze, frowning at the why. Why would somebody kill themselves? Everything here works… I suppose some people are just prone to it, that’s true. Oh no, Pechi… what if she suffers from some sort of mental condition- no. That would have been picked up on by now and she would have been in therapy. So that’s not it.
I calmed my thumping heart and placed the papers back on Cavali’s desk, nice and neatly sorted out.
And my eyes caught the words in the burgundy folder: “Greenfields One: failed.”
‘Ah. You’re still here,’ Cavali muttered when he returned. He looked almost disappointed. ‘Well, anyway.’
‘Did you find what you were looking for?’
‘Hm? Oh, the papers… right…’ he looked confused for a moment, then smiled. I’ve never seen him smile. ‘I found something much better. Coffee.’
‘You found coffee?’ my comment was sarcastic, but I was already turning to leave.
‘Funny. No. Get me coffee.’
I wasn’t privy to whatever it was he had found. So I brought him his stupid coffee.
And again, he didn’t drink it.
The next day, he was back to his sullen, man-of-barely-any-words self, and when he mentioned his coffee, I ignored him.
‘I said, Coffee, boy.’
‘I heard. What about it?’
Cavali paused, and took his glasses off. His piercing red eyes stared straight through me. ‘Ah. Attitude. I like this.’
‘Muchly… very muchly indeed…’ and as quickly as his interest had been piqued, he ignored me again.
But he didn’t ask for another coffee for the rest of the week.
‘Calm down, I’m sure she’s somewhere, I mean, it’s strange for her to just disappear! There’s nowhere for her to go!’ Alvor shook Kalie’s shoulders in a desperate attempt to convince himself more than my sister. But I kept staring at both of them in shock.
Pechi was gone. She’d disappeared.
But how? Where? I was suddenly pulled away from my friends and the Security Squad bombarded me with questions. As her intended, they expected me to know something. So I played stupid. Totally honestly stupid.
‘I realized she seemed upset about something, but she wouldn’t tell me…’ I seemed to have developed a stutter whenever speaking to these guys. They kept asking me the same things over and over. Had she said anything? Had she any plans? Had she done anything odd? So I mentioned that I couldn’t find her on the day of our graduation, and that she had claimed to have tripped down some stairs and spent the night in the nurse’s station.
The Security Squad suddenly left me – locked – inside their questioning room. It wasn’t an interesting place – white walls, white table, and a giant two-way mirror thing covering one of the walls. I pondered over if anyone was sitting on the other side watching me, so to entertain them, I used the reflective surface to check if any bits of breakfast were still stuck between my teeth. I was there for three hours before they finally released me. My teeth were sparkling clean by then.
‘What happened to her? Is she okay? Have you found her!?’ I asked, an odd numbness overwhelming me. I couldn’t work out why – was it the atmosphere? Yes. They weren’t gassing me, obviously, but something in the air was wrong.
The three squad members stared at me, before one finally spoke. ‘We found her body. It was a suicide. Thank you for your cooperation in helping us solve this little problem. Good day, Emberon.’
‘Hmph, yet another…’ Cavali muttered when I returned to work two weeks later. Two weeks of therapy was a horrid experience. It was ages of having somebody tell you that your feelings cannot rule your life and that these situations do happen… a lot of it was about how much better life was in Greenfields and how these things happened a lot more in the old days.
I didn’t care.
Who cares about the old days anyway? I was here, in the now, without her. Pechi might have been selected as my intended when I was only five, based on aptitude, genetics and school interests, but I truly did love her with all my heart.
Finally, they let me back into the real world, into real life. But something felt wrong. Fake. Missing.
And I realized, that something was me.
Cavali’s comment scathed, burned, and then slid off my back as though it had never been said. He seemed disappointed.
‘Come on, where’s that burning attitude that sparked up not so long ago?’ he goaded, then sighed when I didn’t react again.
I busied myself in sorting out papers and files and folders, and about two hours later, the silence was broken.
‘Get stuffed. There’s no purpose in that.’
And Cavali grinned at me, as though I had just said the smartest thing in the entire world. ‘There we go. And that’s what’s wrong with our entire life.’
‘The lack of purpose?’
Cavali paused and nodded. ‘Yes. That’s why I like being a writer. Even if I die, I leave something behind… but… the problem is… what I write won’t be retained by this society. I think I need a new audience.’
‘Sir. Can I ask you something that’s been bothering me for a while…?’
He stared at me. Then raised an eyebrow. ‘That’s… not a question. I’m a writer, I know how language works, so…’
‘Isn’t this Greenfields? Why is it “failed” if it’s still here?’
Cavali, I knew, was affected by a genetic mutation called albinism. I worked out when I saw the true colour of his eyes. But usually, he either dyed his hair or wore a wig, and he somehow disguised his eyes to be a darker colour in a brown shade. Either way, in disguise or out, his skin was pale.
Except now, it went even paler.
‘And why are you hiding your albinism?’
‘Why are you questioning Greenfields? Isn’t it the perfect solution, boy? Isn’t everyone happy in it?’ Cavali was leaning over my desk now, glaring at me. Huh. Contact lenses. So that’s how he hid his eyes. ‘Aren’t you happy with your sorry, miserable life, boy?’
‘My intended killed herself, right now I’m feeling pretty horrible, why are you trying to make me feel worse!?’
‘Because I want your mask to shatter.’
I grew up in Greenfields.
As everyone did.
We studied history in school, and learnt how horrible the world had been before. Wars, genocide, famines, in addition to smaller crimes, smaller murders and robberies. We don’t have that anymore, aren’t we ever so lucky?
But I wasn’t intrigued by any such luck. What always struck me was how huge the world had been. Massive countries, massive populations. The world reached over seven billion people. Only a half a million now lived in Greenfields. And I always had one question. As a child, I was foolishly brave. I put my hand up and asked in front of the entire class. ‘What happened to everyone else? Is there another home like Greenfields somewhere else?’
Over time, I’d forgotten that incident, but it came flooding back to me now. As did what happened after – I had been beaten severely for questioning a teacher, and then I was for two months sent to a special re-education school. That’s why therapy had annoyed me so much – it was similar.
And somehow, I felt as though Cavali had known of this all along. So I asked him about it. He merely stared at me in surprise. ‘What, didn’t you realize that I had asked for you myself?’
‘Why? Why me?’
Cavali glanced out the window, then started to laugh. ‘I thought it would provide interesting fodder for my writing!’
My cheeks burned red. Is that what I was to him? Something to entertain him? To help in his writing…? I felt like a mere object in his eyes.
‘I hate you,’ I announced, picking up my bag and heading to the door. Cavali let me go that far, and once I made it to the corridor, I wondered if he would even care that I had left.
I was wrong. I made it outside of the building and halfway home when I heard someone wheezing behind me, muttering my name in an ever weakening voice. I turned, and to my surprise, Cavali collapsed, exhausted, cheeks flaming red.
‘The hell is wrong with you!?’
Cavali stared up at me, the lenses missing from his eyes. ‘My office was bugged yesterday… I can’t say anything… God, you run fast…’ he clapped his hand over his mouth as a violent coughing fit shook his body. ‘Damn… too fast…’
‘Do you need help? A doctor-?’ I looked around at other people who were slowing their pace to watch, but nobody really stopped to help. Also, somehow along the way, he’d lost his contacts. They saw his red eyes. And they veered away.
‘N-no, I don’t…’ he sat himself up, forcing slow breathes and closing his eyes. ‘Right… Okay… better… phew… No, I didn’t pick you for fodder. Sorry about that…’ he pulled me closer, staring straight at me. ‘You said something else, when you were a kid. And during the graduation ceremony, I was there, too. I saw your eyes. I saw what you want. Thing is, I think there’s a whole lot of people who want to help you.’
‘What… I want…?’ I asked, confused. What do I want? I want Pechi back. That’s the only thing I-
Cavali had followed my gaze and grinned in his usual foppish manner. ‘Staring up at the top balcony of the tower… what greed nestles in your heart, Verdigris?’
‘It’s not… greed…’ I admitted, realizing where I was staring. ‘I… just want to see… further… at the rest of the world…’
At that, Cavali staggered to his feet and pulled me back up as well. ‘There are people who’ve seen through the mask. They want this to end. One of our agents was recently found out. I’m sure you already knew her. We called her Petite- ’
‘Pechi?!’ I yelped out, and immediately shut my mouth. And my eyes. I’m not sure why. ‘What happened on the first day of this year? Is she really dead?’
‘I… don’t know. Maybe they arrested her. Perhaps they executed her-’
Cavali blinked at me with flaming red eyes frame by his black hair. ‘Isn’t it intriguing, watching the mask shatter and break?’
They called themselves the Red Hills, apparently as a reversal of “green - fields” – cheesy, if you ask me – and they were the secret side of my home that I had never even met. That said, most of them never met, either. Their support for their cause was only made known by hand signals. Now I know why Cavali was always over-gesturing. He was trying to call other Red Hills to himself. And he had thought I might already be one, through Pechi.
That hurt, the more I thought about it. She never told me. Though it still makes sense – how could she talk about it? If I mentioned it to anyone else, we both would have disappeared.
As Cavali’s office was bugged, we didn’t mention Red Hills at all. Additionally, due to the rocky start to our relationship, he insisted that we continue our bickering. Strangest thing was, after a while, I started to enjoy this.
‘Hey, boy, person… Emperson…’
‘It’s Emberon. Or just Gris, if that’s easier for your memory…’ I replied as I sat at my desk and froze. ‘What are these?’
‘They’re called papers, or is your memory that terrible…’
I groaned inwardly. The problem was, all of Cavali’s insults had lost their heavy handed bluntness, and I worried that I would soon be seen as incredibly rude. Or perhaps that was his plan all along. One thing I learnt quickly; Cavali was a master of plans. After all, he had already waited five years just to have me as his assistant. That’s serious long term planning.
So I sat in silence, staring at my papers. Some of them had a red or green pen mark in the top corner – those ones I immediately put aside in two piles. Red meant there was something interesting there, green meant sort of interesting. The rest I read and double-checked where they had come from before filing away. Cavali’s way of “researching” things was absolutely ridiculous. There was no logic in his madness, other than a mad flurry of papers everywhere. How the hell could this guy plan things??
As though following my thoughts, Cavali smiled, and tapped my shoulder. ‘Method in madness. Order in chaos. Whiteness beneath the shades. These are truths, my friend. Truths, and lies, the sun and moon… opposites are the difference, what lies in between the two… that’s what I’m seeking.’
‘Opposition to each other…’
‘Like you and I,’ Cavali muttered, laughing. ‘It’s called a paradox. And when the two work together, well… that’s called “getting on Biso Cavali’s nerves”…’
‘You want me to keep arguing with you?’
‘No. I want you to shut up. I’m getting tired of all this bickering. Where are those papers with the red-?’
‘Here,’ I passed the papers to him, and watched as he pointed out letters, spelling out a message to me.
“R.H. meet soon. Artis Q.”
‘Um…’ I glanced at him. ‘How soon… for the papers... How soon you want them?’
‘Tonight…’ he replied. ‘Come to my place. Yes? After evening meal. Good day.’
I watched him leave, and felt suddenly scared. Was this a good idea? What if I am followed? What if I say the wrong thing, or… my eyes fell upon the tower visible from the window, that top balcony… I can’t keep second-guessing myself, not with a goal like that. And I’m curious as to how the Red Hills think they can get me up there.
No, this isn’t the time to worry, or get concerned. I will be brave, strong and-
Without thinking I quickly pushed all the papers on my desk into one pile, and glanced at the door. ‘Kalie. Hello.’
‘Hi… Um, I was talking to Alvor… and we thought… that… it’s about time you went to the Administrations Office…’
‘Well, with… Pechi gone… you’ll be by yourself, and-’
I stood so quickly, I startled myself. ‘No!’
I don’t think she’s dead anymore. I’m sure of it. I think. Actually, my thoughts were more or less, I don’t know what happened to Pechi, and I refuse to take any action that would solidify any one theory over the other. But I couldn’t say that. Not to Kalie.
‘Kalie, I can’t, not at the moment. I feel like that would be… betraying Pechi’s memory. After all, I made the promise to always care for her so, it’s hard… for me to… just move on like that. Give me time. Do you understand?’
She let her head lower in a slight nod, mumbling something about my decisions being my own. ‘Well, in the meantime, Alvor’s coming over tonight for dinner if you’d join us?’
‘Yeh, sure, I’ll be there, Kalie…’ I promised, and watched her leave as my mind toyed with the words she’d spoken. My decision? Really? I wonder what I would really have decided. I’d have married Pechi three years ago. Or if not married, at least… kissed her. Who decided that hugs are allowed but kisses aren’t? Seems a funny thing to think up as a law. Especially to write it down. You have to be 18 years old to be intimate with someone, though hugs are allowed even though they are also frowned upon. Kissing family members on the cheek is okay, as long as it's not really in public.
Perhaps I had betrayed my life so badly I’d become numb to it. In my mind, the Red Hills are definitely- meeting tonight.
Cavali frowned at me. ‘Why you looking at your watch all the time, boy?’
‘Um, I forgot. Dinner with my sister and her intended. I have to be there, I’m supposed to be chaperone seeing as Pechi…’
I paused, looking around at the other four people in the room. They all knew Pechi. Though they knew her as Petite. Having said enough, I instead looked at the other four to memorize their names and faces.
First; Long-faced older man with the blue hair, dark skin and black eyes, and wearing a green Science Quarter tunic was introduced to me as Suliban – but he revealed a card at the sound of his name with his code name on it: Sultan.
Second; a young woman about three years older than me, with pale blonde hair and a delicate-yet-shapely frame. Her name was Miika and she was from the Science Quarter, but again, she revealed a card: Tulip.
Third; an old, withered lady, wearing the red Artisan Quarter tunic, whose name was Genewa, codename: Aunty.
Fourth; a guy about five years older than me, with pale skin, black hair, violet eyes and a strangely serene and beautifully dangerous poise to the way he held himself. From the Science Quarter. Name; Dexxin Zan, codename: Black Knight.
I pointed to the cards, then at Cavali in confusion. And he grinned, holding out his own card and taking the black wig off his head. White Knight.
‘I should point out, Dexxin is my younger brother.’
I stared for a moment, not understanding. ‘Brother…?’
To have two children in one family had but a single requirement; that they be of opposite gender. Something to do with keeping the genders balanced in number. Which meant that pregnant women the second time around had to have a scan done – if the child was of the wrong gender, it would be aborted. My parents were lucky to get it right the first time round, but I know for a fact that Pechi ended up a single child as her mother fell pregnant with two girls after Pechi had already been born before being emotionally unable to fall pregnant again.
‘Our mothers are different,’ Dexxin replied clearing up the confusion in an instant. ‘That’s also why he is so much older than me.’
‘Ah…’ I nodded as though I understood, but then I realized that what they had told me had simply raised more questions.
‘Our father was one who disappeared… not healthy influence for society and what-not,’ Cavali chirped, as though it was the funniest thing ever. He saw my horror and laughed. ‘Trust me, Old man Cavali wasn’t that nice. He was also not supposed to reproduce due to having inherited a faulty gene, but then he had me anyway, and no one knew at the time my mother had that same gene… thus the white hair and red eyes… and horrid eye-sight and stuff… Anyway. Enough of this family chatter. Families are boring. What’s interesting is friends. Right, my friends? So, you’ve all met my new little assistant, Emberon…’
Dexxin stared at me, violet eyes seemingly searching for every little secret hidden in my soul. Actually, he managed a particularly icy glare. Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of these people, I forced a smile on my face. Dexxin’s glare became colder.
And I started laughing.
The glare disappeared as Dexxin stared and Miika blinked in joint surprise, while Biso raised his eyebrows. Suliban and Genewa frowned, having missed the moment and not sure if it was worth asking about.
‘Um, my boy, uh…’ Cavali interrupted, frowning. ‘You said your sister is waiting for you?’
I leapt to my feet, almost knocking the little table over. ‘I forgot! Yes, oh, good grief, she’ll be angry-’
‘Go, go, I’ll see you tomorrow.’
‘See you, bye, everyone else… uh, Dexxin…’ I stared at the other three, trying to remember their names. ‘Sulivan, Meerkat and Geneva? Good night!’
I had just left the house when I heard a hearty laugh from the one I had accidentally named Sulivan.
‘There, Dexxin, as always, everyone always remembers your name first. Why is that, Mister Charmer?’
I shook my head, aware that my heart was racing. What was I getting involved with? These were the people Pechi was involved with, and now she’d gone. I’d be next. I’ll be missing and poor Kalie will… I looked up at the tower balcony.
If I could be the ruler, I would get rid of that one gender each rule. And several other rules. I’d change a lot of things. Head held high, I knew I had to keep going. I knew all along that Cavali was using me, making me a chess piece in his game. But I was determined to play along. If he makes me the king, then I’ll happily submit to each of his moves. The outcome; that’s all that matters.
‘King…?’ Cavali echoed the word back at me. We were standing outside the Central Tower, and without thinking I had blurted out my thoughts.
Thankfully nobody else was close enough to hear me, and Cavali started laughing instead.
‘King… so you don’t only want to get up there for the view; you want to be the ruler of the whole place as well…’
‘Yes. There are some things I need to change…’
Cavali nodded slowly, and prodded me in the back to head towards our own Quarter. ‘I admire you, boy… I can hear that determination… and it makes me want to see it fulfilled…’
‘How nice of you… isn’t it about time you explained to me how you plan to overthrow the four elders?’
Night was falling and the lightly blurred moon beyond our opaque heaven shone brighter than usual. Soon it would be dark indeed. How relaxing.
The older man sighed, glancing at me. ‘Gris. It’s four old men. It’s really… not that much of a challenge. I mean, Black Knight could probably take all four on at once. If they can even move without their frail old joints snapping.’
‘Black Knight, that was Dexxin, right? And Miika… they’re from the Science Quarter, right?’
I baulked. ‘What?’
Amused by my surprise, Cavali nodded. ‘Yes… they do not act like it at all… apparently it seems my brother is repulsed by his partner. Never even kissed her let alone anything else…’
‘That’s… strange…’ I wanted to say something else, but this was Cavali’s half-brother we were discussing and I didn’t want to upset the man over odd family members.
‘Very polite of you, Gris. He’s a lunatic. Careless, clueless, irresponsible, and a messed-up lunatic on top of everything else…’ he paused, and shrugged. ‘But, he is one of the lead members of Redhills. And one of our best fighters. You should see him in action, and… ah… come to think of it…’
Whenever a warmly musing look crept over Cavali’s face, I would always feel odd. Uncomfortable. Apprehensive. It meant he had an idea; these weren’t always good.
‘What?’ I asked, hesitant of the answer.
‘You should go on a mission with Dexxin. See for yourself. And it’ll let him trust you a little. I told him I want to make you king and he seemed very alarmed. Maybe it’ll be good for him to know you better-’
‘I see… fine. You let me know when, and I’ll… I’ll go,’ I replied. I honestly meant it, too. Redhills is my route to being the King of Greenfields. And if Dexxin is one of the higher ups, then obviously I should make a good impression. Which brought me to a thought that I had been trying to work out for a while now. ‘Um. Master Cavali, I have a question… who is the leader of Redhills?’
Cavali’s eyes gleamed. I don’t know if this question was a rare one or if he just got some hellish kick out of annoying people. ‘Ah. The leader of Redhills is a person known only as Vermillion. Cunning, intelligent, and always just out of reach…’
‘Vermillion…?’ something told me this was a colour. A red colour, come to think of it. ‘So they’re from the Artisan Quarter as well?’
Cavali slapped the back of my head. ‘Idiot. Are you from the Sociological Quarter? No. Vermillion is only a code-name, something that we know about whom we are referring, but reveals absolutely no information about that man. I mean, person.’
‘So it’s a man?’
Alarmed at how much information he had thoughtlessly and carelessly spilled, Cavali pointed at the sky. ‘It’s late. We have to get back before shut down-’
‘But, sir! How do you know so much about this… Vermillion? Are you also one of the higher ups in Redhills?’
‘The same ranking as my brother,’ he replied, and shook his head. ‘Go home, boy. I need to organize things. Many things. Now go, shoo.’
Shooed away, I smiled and left. What an intriguing man. If he started to talk, he would keep talking until he said far too much. But usually he seems to be in such control of his thoughts – though I have cleaned up after him enough times to know that no organizational system in the world would ever be able to process his chaos.
Mmm what a strange man indeed. I stared up at the opaque sky, and wondered what it would be like to see the stars every single night with my own eyes.
The name bugged me somewhat. It was familiar, I admit. And I know why it was so familiar. My name was Gris, but that was only a short cut for my full name; Verdigris. Apparently it’s a green-ish colour. Vermillion is a red colour. How odd that my name would be somewhat related to the leader of Redhills… unless that had been planned… Oh, Pechi, I wish you were here… you’d bring sanity to my crazy world…
Dexxin Zan, the Greenfields Science Quarter’s Energy-Source Regulator suited his tunic of blue and white, and as we walked to his lab, I did my best to work out what on earth his job entitled. It was hard. He also barely spoke so I had to guess most of everything. In the end, I was leaning towards the idea that he either “makes things work better on less energy” or else “makes more ways to get more energy to power everything in Greenfields”.
He seemed opposed to neither thought, so I figure he did a bit of both. But when we got to his building, Science Quarter Omicron, I started to feel a little nervous. I’d never been in any of the Science Quarter buildings. At second glance, they seemed no different to the work buildings back in the Artisan Quarter. They were named the same way as well; Alpha, Beta, all the way to Omega. 24 buildings. Capital symbols such as Δ,Θ, and Ψ were used to signify the ground floor and upwards of a buildings, whereas lower case such as δ, π, and ω were reserved for the sub-levels. And now I realized we were heading down the stairs in Science-Omicron. Back in the Artisan Quarter, there would only be storage and libraries in the old sublevels, but here I didn’t know what to expect.
Two left turns and a strange turn around which I’m still pretty sure led us in a giant circle back to the first left turn later, and we were at Dexxin’s lab door.
‘Just picking up things…’ he told me as he unlocked the door and entered. I nervously followed, and stood awkwardly as he disappeared into a small room at the back of the lab, and shortly reappeared.
He looked amazing. No helmet though, Dexxin - as I later learned - was never one for helmets. He had two pieces of metal crisscrossing his body and bolted together in the middle, and his torso was covered in small squares of silver metal that had been hole-punched along the top edge and tied together. Pieces were bolted together over his shoulders and arms, while a separate piece started near his wrist and covered most of his hand. I soon realized there was a small blade in both of those wristbands.
I was still staring in awe when he pulled a black cloak over the top of his strange armour, and placed a yellow visor over his face. His eyes were still visible through it, and I didn't understand if he was wearing that as a disguise or a fashion statement. The rest of him looked cobbled together haphazardly, so it probably wasn't the latter, but as a disguise, it failed just the same. Well, he certainly didn’t look like any Greenfielder now. But then he took an object from under one of the desks, and I almost choked in shock. It was a weapon. And it was huge.
A meter in length, partly wrapped in what looked like mere bandages, it was like a giant sword had partnered a vicious-looking scythe and this creature was their love-child. In addition, I could see slight engraving along the smooth metal edge, which when turned slightly would catch the light and glow green.
‘Electric…’ I mumbled, pointing at the engraved pattern.
Dexxin stared at me as though I had just pointed to nothing and said “look, nothing”.
‘The design…?’ I tried to salvage my idiocy. ‘The engravings, I mean, they make that sword… it has… electrical…’
That was all. Yes. I’m not sure what he meant by that. Nevertheless, I nodded eagerly, and feeling my cheeks go red, I forced myself to mutter an educated, ‘I see’.
‘Well, you haven’t… seen it yet, I mean. You will soon, maybe. Come on… uh…’ he paused, glancing back at me. ‘You need a codename.’
I thought about the name Vermillion and my own Verdigris, and smiled inwardly. Officially, my parents still had written only Gris as my name. As far as anyone in Greenfields was concerned, my name was Gris. It was almost like an inside joke for my family - something that Greenfields and the Admin didn’t know about; my name was longer than that. And only my parents and I knew that.
‘What about… Verdigris?’ I suggested.
The Black Knight gave me the strangest look, and I merely shrugged, determined not to let this man scare me.
‘It means, like a greenish colour. Like my eyes. But it’s kinda similar to Vermillion.’
Dexxin’s eyes went wide. ‘You heard about Ver… hm. Fine. Well, then. Verdigris. Move your a-’
We snuck into the Essentials Quarter and made our way to the very edge of Greenfields, and I took the chance to peep around the corner into the guards’ tower, but Dexxin yanked me back, almost pulling my arm out of its socket.
‘You idiot,’ he snarled, ‘do you want us to be caught?’
I shook my head and obediently followed him down the stairwell next to the tower, stealing a glance behind me. This part of the city was almost completely deserted, and I had never seen anything like this. Natural curiosity led me to take a step towards another empty corridor, and this time Dexxin wasn’t even trying to be relatively gentle.
He smashed his fist straight into my gut and yanked me down a dark stairwell, hand clamped over my mouth so that I couldn’t even groan against the agony he had just caused.
‘Can’t believe this…’ I heard him grumble, as he finally released me. Released, perhaps, isn’t the word. He shoved me into the wall.
‘I’m sorry, I’ll pay attention… where are we going?’
It was dark, so I could only assume that Dexxin Zan was shooting me a killer glare. Just in case his night vision was better than mine, I smiled. Maybe he did see that; I heard his cloak ruffle slightly as though he had shrugged.
‘The plan is simple. Follow me closely; stay absolutely silent. Don’t think, don’t act…’
‘Okay. What are you doing?’
‘I need to get some files off a computer that’s near the guard tower further up from here. Again, shut up, don’t move, don’t even… breathe.’
He pushed past me and I could hear him moving away down the stairs, but apart from a blurred shadow, I couldn’t work out where the steps were. Luck guided my foot the first time, but I tripped on the second and flew past Dexxin – finally a flash of light through a slit in the wall let me see his face. Horrified. And I slammed into the wall all by myself.
‘Are you a Greenfields spy?!’ he hissed at me, grabbing my hair and pulling me up onto my feet.
‘N-no! I can’t see anything in here!’
The grip loosened. ‘Ah… I forgot.’
He didn’t answer. I don’t know why not, I mean, it was simple; that visor he had on helped his night vision. What I thought was just coloured plastic turned out to be some high-tech gizmo of his which... I have no idea how it works. Basically, you look around while wearing them, and you can see the greenish shadows and outlines of things around you. I tried them on when he wasn't looking once.
‘Well, anyway,’ I muttered, smiling sheepishly, ‘I can’t promise I won’t fall again, are you sure you don’t have a glow rod or a torch?’
‘Didn’t bring one… Never give the opponent something they could benefit from…’ he told me. That was his life philosophy, I suppose. You might have to work harder and suffer for it, but never give even an inch of help to your enemy. I really hoped at that moment that he was referring to the Greenfields guards and not to me.
‘Then… what do I do, Dexxin? I can’t-’
‘Gimme your hand.’
I didn’t have to move. Dexxin grabbed my wrist and charged off down the stairs. I was practically flying so there wasn’t any need to worry about seeing the steps now.
And eventually he let go, though the bruising would take a week to settle.
‘We’re here…’ he whispered, pulling a door open just a fraction and peering through the gap with one eye. After a moment, he yanked my tunic and pulled my face to the gap as well. ‘Have a look. What do you see?’
‘Uh… a control room… I suppose? I’m not sure… oh, look a window. Oh my-!’ Dexxin clamped his hand over my mouth and pulled me away from the door.
I pried his fingers off my face. ‘I said, “sorry”.’
‘Ah. Did you see any guards?’
‘Good, it’s still their break,’ Dexxin opened the door and went inside, but when I tried to follow, he shoved me back into the dark stairwell. ‘Stay here. Sit there, and don’t move.’
Obediently, I sat down on the ground. But then my mind began to wonder. The floor was dusty, and a little gravelly. I wonder if that was actual dirt, like potting mix. How on earth my thoughts ended up on my which of the two available types of toilet paper I prefer, I have no idea. What a choice. Choice… I glanced at the door again. That window. I had glimpsed the impossible; the outside world.
I saw a bit of sky.
It seemed ridiculously pointless. To be so close to a window and glimpse only the sky? We occasionally saw that, when the opaque roof turns clear for a couple of hours each day. Ugh, how frustrating. And how long would this take? My bottom was starting to ache and I tried to shift into a more comfortable position, but that window…
One peek wouldn’t hurt, right?
I stood, dusted off my tunic, and grabbed the door handle. Dexxin wouldn’t yell at me, would he? Maybe he needs my help? I thought to myself, justifying what I was about to do. He’s taking an awful long time, after all. Right, of course. I’ll go in to help him. I pushed the door open and looked around the guard tower. It was packed with computer screens and maps of the area, and the window I had glimpsed had only been a side window. To my left was an even bigger one, which framed the entirety of the world. Stunned, I ran to the window, and stared outside. The dusty land stretched out for what seemed to be several hundred metres, perhaps even more, until it mixed into trees – but so many trees! And they were wild and unkempt, some of them even looked like they had fallen over and nobody had cleared the dead ones away or fixed the broken branches. Our trees certainly look far prettier than those dishevelled monsters, I figured, but on the other hand… we never have had that many in one area. How amazing…
‘Eh-’ I heard the sound behind me and turned to grin at Dexxin. ‘Look! That’s the world, out there!’
Dexxin’s eyes went wild as we heard the voices through the main door, next to the one we had used to get into the guard tower.
That’s when I learnt how quickly his mind works. Superhuman speed.
He was standing on the side of the main door, I was already by the window, and someone was talking about having heard a noise and that they should go check. The door started to creak open-
And when they opened it, there was nobody inside the guard tower, other than those two guards who had just entered it.
Dexxin was slumped against the outer concrete wall of Greenfields, eyes closed and hand poised over his face – for a moment he reminded me of Biso and those odd hand movements I had thought were to check for Redhills agents. Maybe it was actually in their blood.
I sat on the edge of the roof, staring at him in complete admiration. How many seconds did he take to do that? He had run forwards, grabbed me, and jumped out the window! I don’t even know at which moment he had turned and grabbed the edge of the roof, pulling us out onto the top of the guard tower, but somehow, he did just that. And now, he sat there, ever so cool in his appearance.
No wonder… I had heard rumours the last few days about Dexxin Zan. Apparently girls used to fight for his attention all through school. Most of the boys did, too. Everybody wanted to be friends with this guy, but at the same time, he also bore the nickname; Nightmare. Well, at least I understood the first part now. I’m nothing like that, I never draw anyone in. All through school I was the invisible child, even the teacher sometimes forgot that I was in the class. But I had always been a bit of a clown. Or, maybe, that was why I always tried to clown around? To remind people, wait, I’m still here? Burdened with memories, I didn’t realize that I had started to lean forward, a little too close to the edge of the roof.
By the time I realized, I was already falling – an arm around my chest and a hand locked onto my wrist, Dexxin pulled me back up to safety, but this time he didn’t leave me on the edge and pulled me all the way to the top of the sloped roof.
‘Are you stupid?’ he hissed at me, slapping my head and giving that cold, icy glare to which he seemed so attached. He was furious.
But the more I looked at him, the more I wanted to laugh. ‘That face is funny-’ I blurted out without thinking, and this time I clapped my own hands over my mouth. Goodness, the things coming out of there recently!
He looked just about ready to kill me. Quickly, I looked around trying to think of a distraction, when I, ironically, distracted myself. There was something happening out in the distance, the horizon which I was viewing for the first time in my life, and it looked amazing.
I had seen the sun before, through the roof when it turned clear during the middle of the day, but now the sun was almost at the edge of the land, and the sky began to burn.
‘Everything’s on fire…?’ I whispered, captivated by the flames of orange and red that leaked out over the land and sky. The two were joined together by a burning sun. ‘Wh-what if that fire reaches here?’
‘It’s called a sunset,’ Dexxin muttered. Sure enough, I had heard of sunsets before, and I knew the theory of planetary movement, the earth circling the sun, and so on, but to actually see it for the first time in my life…? I couldn’t look away.
‘It’s beautiful… most amazing thing I’ve ever seen…’ I murmured, my attention solely focused on etching every little detail of this scene into my memory.
For a moment, Dexxin had been staring at the device in his hands which he had managed to achieve, but now he looked up at the sunset, and I saw his face soften. Intriguing, I thought to myself. He seemed so cold and standoffish, but… when he is honest, his thoughts are easily read on his face.
So he’s not the evil monster everyone makes him out to be, I decided then and there. Whether I actually am right or wrong is completely irrelevant. As far as I could see, he had saved my life. Twice. In the space of two minutes. Ah, maybe that’s more a commentary on how useless I really am…
‘Cherish that thought…’
I blinked in surprise and glanced back at him. ‘Huh?’
Piercing eyes stared into my brain, read all my thoughts and nodded with self-assurance. ‘You’re not cut out for this. Clumsy, thoughtless, slow…’
‘No. Don’t apologize to me. Just sit here a moment, and think about that feeling. If you ever want to do another mission, you first meditate on your uselessness.’
Maybe I stared at him for another five minutes. Or ten. I didn’t feel good at all. Instinctively, my mouth started to open as the word “sorry” began to form on my tongue- no, wait. He said not to do that. Obediently, I tried to focus on what Dexxin had said; my weaknesses. It seemed that the longer I thought about them, the more they multiplied. Eventually, I was annoyed at myself for not getting the toilet paper I preferred the last time I had gone to the store…
I sat up dead straight. ‘Ah-’
‘I… really need the toilet.’
The guards were still there ten minutes later, and I was getting really fidgety. At one point, I was ready to give up and go on the roof, but that seemed like the perfect motivation to get Dexxin’s quick brain thinking.
‘They’ll go away if they think something is wrong somewhere else, right?’ he asked, and stood up with his sword in hand. It was getting darker now, and the sword began to glow an amazing shade of green. Captivated, I reached out to touch it – and Dexxin slapped my hand. ‘Idiot. Stand back.’
I did as told. And Dexxin lifted the sword up, staring at the next guard tower over to our right. We could just see it, the same sloped roof jutting out of the concrete walls of Greenfields.
‘What are you doing…?’
‘Hm… not good, they’ll check their own systems and stay here… I’m looking for something that will make these guards leave… don't want these ones here to pinpoint this, either...’
What was this man’s plan? To throw the sword at them? Could a sword really be thrown that far? If it could, I would be ready to call this man a god. And then, embarrassingly, I realized that I had spoken that bit out loud.
Dexxin stared at me, eyebrows raised.
‘… why would I throw… never mind, shut up…’ he turned back to the matter at hand, and soon found an answer. ‘Now, um… kid. Sit here and don’t move, I’ll be right back-’ he started to slide himself off the roof, and after stealing a quick glance inside, he used the thin window I had first glimpsed in the tower for a foot hold. Even leaning far over the edge, I couldn’t see exactly what he was doing, as he seemed to be leaning into the tower. Was he going to fight the two men from the window? An alarm would go off, wouldn’t it?
I slumped back against the wall and stared out at the wide world before me. In sight, and yet… out of reach. There was a sixty metre drop below me to the ground and nothing else near this guard tower. If anything, I could probably climb up the concrete wall by stabbing Dexxin’s sword into it, but I would still require two swords. The more I thought, the less choices I saw. And then I came down to only one plan of action; there was a power off switch inside the guard tower. I saw that. If we could lean in far enough to hit that switch, the guards would think there was a power outage, and they would run to the closest Admin for further instructions, or else to the power generators. This much I admit, power outages seemed to happen every occasionally…
Ah. Wait. So that’s what Dexxin’s doing. He already had thought of that. Ah, of course, the sword. So it would be long enough to… to reach? I frowned, thinking about the length of the sword, and how far Dexxin could lean into the tower without being noticed. He’s a little bit tall and a little bit scary, so the guards must be at the computers that were right by the main window, their backs to him… he couldn’t climb inside, he would be too big to hide behind the edge of the desk. From memory, there were a couple of backpacks lying near the door, but he’d be too big to hide behind those, too.
This was taking far too long. I leaned over the edge again, just as Dexxin climbed back up.
‘Dammit, I can’t reach, and I don't want to use the power pack… looks like I have to… risk…’ his face was pure turmoil. He didn’t like this. We could be exposed at any moment. Even sitting on the roof, I’m sure, has its risks. Like sliding off, but I had already done that. The current risk was that I would pee myself and the guards would notice the smell of urine above their heads. Or suddenly notice a little waterfall off the roof.
Just as he was about to slide off the roof again to get to the small window, I grabbed his arm and stopped him. ‘Wait. I have an idea.’
‘About what? A new type of toothpaste?’
This time, it was my turn to frown at him. He was quick to try and insult, but to be honest, his insults were incredibly hollow. His insults when he wasn’t trying at all – in fact, when he was trying to be honest – those were the cruel ones.
‘No. A way out. You’re trying to reach that power switch? The one on that panel?’
He blinked in surprise, and nodded.
‘But there’s no way you can reach that far without having to go inside – and there’s nowhere for you to hide because you’re too big and… noticeable. And that sword isn’t helping there, either.’
Again, he nodded. But this time he regained his tongue. ‘How did you know-?’
‘So let me down in there, I can hide behind the desk, then behind the backpacks. From there I should be able to hit the power switch and duck down behind the backpacks again. They’ll never notice me.’
‘You were only in that room for a moment, you remember where everything was?’
I nodded. ‘Yep.’
For the first time since I had met him, Dexxin’s face showed a pure, honest emotion, something akin to admiration. Though I think the term is “slack-jawed” and he did look suddenly a lot dumber. Then he nodded, and moved away from the edge of the roof to let me past.
‘Can you reach the window?’ he asked as I started to manoeuvre myself out, my body hanging above nothing and only my hands grasping the edge of the roof. A quick peek let me know that the guards were actually playing a game on the computer, versing each other. This could actually be easier than I thought… I pointed my foot down, and swung it a little to the left. Nothing. Right? Again, nothing. Forwards? My face went bleached white.
But Dexxin had been watching the entire time, and immediately grabbed my wrists and yanked my hands away from the roof.
If any time was an inadequate time to suddenly get a panic attack, this would have been it. I was hanging above nothing, someone who seemed to rather hate me being my only connection to any stable safety. This was bad. This was really, really bad, this was… my foot touched the window sill, and my heart exploded into a happy array of colours. I’m not dead!
And my foot slipped.
Above, I heard Dexxin swear softly. Good grief, what language… where did he pick that up? One of the words, I had never even heard of before. Then there was a whispered; ‘one more try…?’
I nodded, and gritted my teeth. Here goes.
My foot touched the window sill, and I silently told my heart to control itself this time. This wasn’t success. Not yet. Then my other foot. Great. Now what? Dexxin was still holding my wrists.
‘You have to be fast…’ Dexxin warned me, his voice barely audible to me. Obviously, we didn’t want the guards to hear us. He was still holding my wrists, my poor bruised and battered wrists, but I felt the shove as he basically tried to throw my hands towards the window. Now I was without his help, my free hands reaching for the window – I grabbed the metal edges of the window and breathed a sigh of relief. I’m not dead again. This is good.
Silently, I crouched down and landed gently behind the desk. The two guards continued to play their video game. It was only now that I realized they both had a single headphone each plugged into their ears so that they could hear whatever sounds were coming from the video game. Oh. It wasn’t a video game. I blushed at my own stupidity. It was a training video, something about how to catch people who are running away through the employment area. I couldn’t help but stare, intrigued. There was mention of underground passages. Really? There was more to Greenfields?
I kept watching, intrigued, and completely forgot about Dexxin and about the toilet, when one of the guards yawned and muttered something about going to take a leak. I ducked further into the shadows of the desk and closed my eyes, horrified that I was about to be found.
It was clearly my day, however, and the guard walked out of the guard tower without even one glance in my direction. Maybe the other guy would also go to the toilet? I looked at him, but he seemed content with what he was doing. Damn.
Keeping a careful eye on him, I darted over to the backpacks. Nothing. Good. My hand reached up, and hit the power switch.
The guard quickly was no longer content – his training thing on the computer had vanished, and for a moment he just stared at the screen. Then he hit it with the palm of his hand.
‘Ah, what?’ It was only then that he realized that the lights in the tower had also switched off.
‘Guard Tower Gamma, your power input is not longer registering, over.’
The guard fumbled for his radio, and muttered a quick, ‘yes, I know, I just noticed. Should I go to the generators and ask them what’s wrong? Maybe they need help-’
‘Very well. Check the lines as you go for anything out of the ordinary. Over and out.’
‘Phh, out of the ordinary, everyday is completely ordinary…’ the guard muttered as he went outside and closed the door behind him.
Seconds later, Dexxin was standing beside me. ‘Ah, you took your time there…’
‘I… didn’t want to risk it…?’ what was I supposed to say? I got distracted by the computer screen.
‘Come on, let’s go, uh…’ he paused a moment, then poked my shoulder. ‘To the stairwell, before they come back.’
That’s when I realized.
He’d already forgotten my name.
As we left and I pondered his short memory, he hit the power switch back on. The guards would never know. I mused at that, why didn't they check the switch first? Easy. Power shortages were common place. Extra people in the guard tower were not.
I grinned. This was almost fun.