It was a short walk back to the transit stop from the doctor’s office. I didn’t mind. I had a lot to think about—detoxification—coffee with the young doctor—and Silas Drummond. I was afraid Silas would pop up again, and I looked around anxiously. I didn’t see him anywhere and felt some relief. As I sat on the transit waiting bench, I pulled Drummond’s note from my bag.
“Dear Miss Applewait,
I must talk to you immediately. Be very careful.
We have been linked together since I tried to contact
you at the library. I’m sorry. Now, we are both in
grave danger. You may be the only person who can
help expose this evil. The entire endless-sleep program
is a sham!”
What is he talking about? I jammed the paper back in my tote. I’ll read the rest of it later. Fear crept in again, like a mountain lion that stalks the shadows, waiting for a weakened prey. I had to think. My mind raced in circles, from my grandparents, the doctor, the note, the mountain people from the old video Marge and I had viewed—to the beautiful day.
I looked out over the city below the transit platform and drank in the beauty around me. We were well into December and snow was beginning to cover the distant mountain peaks. The frost that had covered the ground earlier in the morning lingered in the lower spots. I had missed many seasons while buried away with research for my thesis. Now, I only wanted to enjoy the holiday Gifting lights, and the colors that dance off the glittering frost.
My thoughts went to the video we’d seen, because it had taken place around this time of year. That family had celebrated Thanksgiving and gave thanks to their favorite Deity. Yet, they had so little to be thankful for . . . except love. In November 2112, we too had celebrated what Society has provided for us. So you see, in some ways, we are the same . . . and yet.
I was surprised by the glorious December day. The bright morning sun was warm. I took off my tunic and laid it over the back of the bench. It was not possible that cold weather was upon us . . . but it was.
Lost in my own daydreams, I thought of Dr. Jason O’Reilly and smiled. Don’t be silly, I admonished myself. I just met him. We’re not even friends, not yet. When the cross-town transit car arrived, I jumped to my feet and boarded quickly.
“Ma’am,” the driver commanded softly, “you didn’t pay.”
“Pay?” I was confused. I had never been asked to pay for a bus ride. Then I remembered my cloak. “Oh, wait, I left something on the bench.” I jumped off the bus and grabbed up my tunic, then skipped back on.
“Oh, I’m sorry Ma’am,” the driver corrected himself. “I thought. . . . Please, just have a seat.”
I moved past the currency exchange as an older woman quickly got out of her seat. “Here, take my place,” she offered. “I’ll be getting off soon.” Her face was drawn and her color seemed pasty white.
“Thank you.” Surprisingly, a feeling of gratitude stirred within me. “Are you all right?” The woman seemed frail. Perhaps she wasn’t well. Maybe she was the one who should be sitting.
“Yes, dear,” she smiled briefly and then her face fell again as if she remembered something sad.
I started to sit down, then asked again, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I am sure, thank you,” she added, but this time her face was flat, expressionless.
“Maybe you’d better go home and rest. What are your plans today?”
“Plans? I haven’t had any plans since my Harold died.” The little woman’s eyes were empty and distant. I studied the old woman as she moved toward the exit and waited.
At the next station, the woman got off and a young man bounced up the steps. He moved quickly with a spring in his steps. I thought him odd. He had more energy than most people my age. Everyone else lacks zip, why not this fellow? The man’s eyes met mine, and he didn’t look away. Why? People always averted my gaze. It was protocol. Why was he different? He looked familiar but his stares made me feel uncomfortable. I turned to the passing scene beyond the window. The calcium reinforced stone on the passing buildings glistened like jewels as the sun bounced off the surfaces. Regardless of what was out there to see, Silas’s words whispered in my ear, “Danger . . . danger!”
I tried to focus on my destination, not the people inside or outside the tram. The trip to the stately old homes on the other side of the city wound past sleeping gardens tucked behind white fences. The orange and yellow mums of the last season had been replaced by red and green Gifting lights that peeked out from brightly decorated windows.
Many of the homes had two stories, a tradition that had been banned in newer construction. Recent structures were designed to occupy a minimal footprint and stood tall against the city’s skyline. The multi-family buildings lacked the beauty of the rambling homes that lay on both sides of this street. The old houses reminded me of the home I had seen in the teleplay, large and roomy with space for everyone.
My parents had a single family home that was more modest than these. Mother and Daddy had one large gathering room, a kitchen and eating center, three sleeping cubicles, and two bathing areas. It was quite adequate for them. They both worked long hours. Mother was the Chief of Staff to the Center Chair of the Council of Elders and Daddy was the Director of the Schools. While most people spent their spare time after work at the Social Centers around town, where they played games and listened to lectures, Mother and Daddy spent quiet evenings with friends and family.
When Legacy Citizens turn twenty-one, after we graduate from University, we move out of our parents’ home and into our own apartment where we can begin to live independently and solve our own problems. We are supported by our trusts, but we must work or go to graduate school before taking up a career. It never occurred to me to be thankful for all I had. I was simply entitled.
As the transit passed through the Victorian subdivision of Oakwood, the lines dropped down to ground rails, like a trolley of old. People on wraparound porches smiled and waved at us. Surprisingly, the driver waved back. I guess he felt free to be friendly there. These were my people, Legacy and Council of Elders members. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the renewed sensations of warmth and neighborhood.
“My Lady,” the driver prompted, “I think this is your stop.”
It was the end of the line. The stop had to be mine. As I walked along, I had the eerie sensation of being watched. I had led such a sheltered life, I was not prepared for this intrigue, and I was frightened.
In my grandparents’ block, no one was in adjoining yards that cuddled up to the sidewalk, but the street out front was busier than usual. In the time it took me to walk from the bus stop to my grandparents’ front door, two Blue Guard strata-cars drove past slowly. They seemed to be searching for someone as they scanned right and left. I thought of Silas Drummond’s letter that was stuffed in my pocket and his desperate warning. We had been seen together earlier and that had frightened him and me. The officers looked right past me and then looked back again. Were they looking for Silas? Or, were they looking for me?
Grand-mère and Grand-père
When I arrived at my grandparents’ sidewalk, I just wanted to be inside, away from whatever was happening outside. The neighbor’s yard had a pair of stuffed dogs that barked and wagged their tails when I passed. Except for the prowling Blue Guard cars, the stuffy dogs were the only movement in the neighborhood. Even with the warm winter day, no one sat on their porch at the houses around my grandparents’ home.
As I walked up the sidewalk, the old house I loved so much seemed to be wrapped in goose down, all soft, comfortable, and warm. The heavy wooden door, with its beveled glass panes down both sides, let light flood the entry beyond. I tapped on the door then opened it with a shove of my hip.
“Christiana!” Grand-mère sang out and threw her arms open to welcome me. She was just crossing the entry hall from the kitchen when I walked in. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“I took the chance that the Council of Elders wasn’t meeting today Grand-mère. I wanted to visit the two of you. Where is Grand-père?” I looked around the familiar room where the family had gathered each December for Gift-giving. It was a joyous holiday when we thought of ways to please other people rather than cater to ourselves. Gifting Day was full of promise and joy.
“Come, Baby, sit here with me.” Grand-mère patted the sofa beside her as she sat down. “Grand-père is puttering in his garden out back, clearing away the dead plants that gave up blooming several weeks ago.”
I snuggled close to her. She always smelled like flower petals or cinnamon and other spices, a sign that her cookie jar was full. For me, that cookie canister was a symbol of Grand-mère’s love for her family and neighbors.
“Now you stay right here and I’ll bring us some lemonade and a plate of cookies. I just made some this morning.” Grand-mère patted my hand and hurried toward the kitchen.
Sometimes, I felt a little guilty for being closer to my grandparents than to my own mother and father. But, Grand-mère was able to demonstrate so much more love than Mother did. I guess Grand-mère had memories from the old ways that Mother never experienced, just like the story I had seen on the small screen that morning. Grand-mère’s love oozed from every love pat and hug.
I am sure Mother felt that she was loved as she grew up. Grand-mère was always Grand-mère. But, Society was severe in their edicts on demonstrations of affections. During those years, when Mother was a child, people were told to drink plenty of water. I thought about that as I waited for the cookie tray. But, Dr. O’Reilly said the detoxification tablets were only started four years ago. So Mother had been exposed to the water everyone drank all of her life, into middle-age. If the pills dilute the additives, I wondered what the chemicals did to people’s bodies, including hers. When I was small, my mother and father would have been fully medicated. Now, there was evidently a reversal of thought, at least for Legacy Citizens. According to Dr. O’Reilly’s timetable, my parents would have probably undergone that transformation in the last few years. They would have begun detoxification after I was already out of their home and on my own. As I think about it now, I guess I had noticed a change in my parents. They were warmer, more loving, more interested and attentive.
As a child, I had my grandparents, the generation that was not medicated. I know how fortunate I was. None of my friends still had their grandparents. Most of the older generation had already gone into the never-ending-sleep, which made me think of Silas Drummond again. What was his note trying to tell me?
“What brings you way over here?” my grandmother asked as she came back with the treats, eager to entertain. Those in her neighborhood rarely had drop-in visitors.
The Oakwood area wasn’t banned, but casual sightseeing in the neighborhood was discouraged. All of the Council of Twelve lived in that section of town. Their privacy was strongly protected. Among my grandparents’ neighbors were high-ranking government people, bankers, all those, whose Length of Days extended beyond that of the common person.
“I’ve been thinking Grand-mère. At the end of the month, right after Gift-giving Day, you and Grand-père turn seventy-five.”
“Yes, dear . . . seventy-five.”
“How old were your great-grandparents when they died?” I was cautious. I wasn’t sure how she felt about the inevitable which was to come.
“Christiana, you’re worried about the never-ending-sleep aren’t you?” Grand-mère moved closer and took my hand. “It is a natural occurrence. It’s not something to worry about.”
“It is not natural. I’ve read enough books to know there is nothing natural about it. Today, someone called it a sham.”
“A sham? What on earth are you talking about?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Somebody just . . .” I hadn’t finished reading Silas’s message, so there was little more that I could say. “Grand-mère, it’s important to me. Truthfully, do you know how old your great-grandparents were when they entered the sleep?”
“The truth? Honey . . . well, some day you will be a member of the Twelve. I guess there are things you need to know. Let me see. Both of my great-grandparents were still living when I was small. Great-Grandma died when she was, ah, eighty-seven and Great-Grandpa was ninety-one.”
“Died? I’ve read about dying. That’s when they just . . . pass on, isn’t it. My friend Rachel fell from a top terrace and ceased to live. She must have died too because she didn’t enter the permanent sleep chamber.” I knew Rachel’s passing was different from most. People my age were so sheltered and protected, they rarely died an accidental death and most diseases had been eradicated.
“Yes, Honey, but back then, when they just . . . died, sometimes people suffered with physical maladies and serious illnesses. They may have been in pain and . . . no one would want that.”
“Grand-mère, would you rather have no pain or live more years with Grand-père?”
“Sweetheart, I would rather be unable to walk or be in constant pain, than to lose one precious moment with your dear grandfather.” My grandmother’s eyes glowed as they often did when she spoke of Grand-père.
“I’m going to research the never-ending-sleep. It’s new to society. I have . . . well . . . I’ve read many books. Across eons of time, there was never something like the never-ending-sleep. It wasn’t imposed until the last one hundred years. It is not natural. It is calculated murder.”
“Christiana!” Grand-mère gasped. “Don’t let anyone hear you say such a thing.”
I could see the fear in her eyes. “I cannot just wait for you two to be . . . terminated, Grand-mère. I have to do something.”
“It won’t be in time, Honey. We will be seventy-five in two weeks, after Gift-giving time.”
“It has to be in time! You have a right to live as long as you can. I saw an old document in the library Grand-mère. It read in part, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have a right to life, Grand-mère, an inalienable right, a right that cannot be repudiated. Our creator gave us that right. Now, Grand-mère, please tell me, who is the creator? I will contact him.” I picked up her hand, pressed it to my lips and silently pleaded for the answer.
“Christiana, it is forbidden, dear. I . . .”
“But, I’m Legacy, Grand-mère. I’m supposed to grow in wisdom and wisdom requires as much knowledge as can be learned in a lifetime.”
“Christiana, I . . . it’s been so long since Great-Grandpa told me about God.” She seemed to search for words again. “He said . . . if you seek God, he will come in and make his home within you.
“He said that the creator is . . . God, the Holy One, he who created everything, even you and me. God is other, not anything within our understanding. He is the all-in-all and his most precious gift to all of us, is a reverence for life, for he is Life.”
“Where can I find him Grand-mère? Maybe he will tell me how to reverse this terrible edict of Society.” I had to know where he lived. God may have been the only one who would have known how to accomplish what seemed impossible.
Grand-mère smiled sweetly. “He lives in the other place, Honey, just as he is other.”
“Other what?” I couldn’t fit it all into my unstretched, unpracticed, untouched mind.
I was overwhelmed with all the new information, but maybe I already knew. Something or someone had been tugging at my heart for months as I read the old books. It was a force that was strong enough to call to me from the pages of man’s writing and move within my being, like a fog that overtakes a meadow of wild flowers and blankets it, while doing no harm, then leaves a light nourishing mist on the surface of all that lives there.
“What more did Great-grandfather tell you,” I pressed.
“Great-grandfather taught me about the ways of the Lord. He told me . . . ,” Grand-mère hesitated but she seemed to want to tell me all she knew. Finally, she went on, “There is a special book about him—God—but all those books were destroyed, their contents long forgotten. Great-grandfather had much of it memorized and quoted from it often.” Grand-mère looked away from me. “No,” she began again quietly, “that’s wrong. They weren’t all destroyed. Society had entrusted a copy of the book with Great-grandfather since he was the great philosopher, the Wisest One.”
“Grand-mère, if he was so wise why did he vote to institute the Length of Days policy?”
“He did not vote for it, Honey. He cast a black ball, not a white. But, the yeas won out. There is nothing that can be done now.” Again, Grand-mère seemed to accept the inevitable.
“Maybe there is, Grand-mère. What about the book you talked about and the old Bill of Rights? I just know there is something.” I could not accept the required sleep. Exposed to life through the old volumes and the harmless teleplay I had watched earlier in the day, hope had begun to take root in my heart. I felt an awakening of my spirit that somehow felt familiar, but I couldn’t remember having experienced it before. It was like being surrounded by a sweet life-force that I neither understood nor could describe.
“Let’s go into the study, my dear,” my grandmother offered as she rose and steadied herself. Large wooden pocket doors, which vanished into the wall and reappeared with a pull on the recessed ring of a brass plate, were parted for the two of us to enter. “Over here,” she directed.
I followed her into the wonderful old office with its elegant oak desk. Shelves of books that reached from floor to ceiling stretched around the entire room. “You haven’t let me come in here very often,” I whispered in awe.
“Now that will have to change, won’t it Christiana.”
“Why now, Grand-mère? I have been Legacy since I was born.”
“Yes, dear, but now you are twenty-four years old. You’ve started your detoxification process, haven’t you?” She asked as though she already knew.
“Yes, in fact, I came here from Dr. O’Reilly’s office. I had this thing on my shoulder.”
“What thing on your shoulder?” My grandmother seemed concerned. My health and well-being were important to all.
“There was something in my vaccination site. It turned out to be no big deal. More curious than anything. Dr. O’Reilly removed it.” I reached in my pocket and pulled out the tissue containing the small piece he had returned to me.
“Christiana, that looks like your chip. That was not to be removed.” Grandma Constance picked up the piece from my hand and turned it over. “Jason O’Reilly should have known better than to remove the chip. He’s Legacy too. This little chip contains the proof of your linage.”
I was surprised and amused. The doctor almost bowed in my presence and all along, he was Legacy too? “Dr. O’Reilly is a Privileged Citizen? Why didn’t he tell me?”
“With you, Legacy identifies your position. With Jason, his occupational title hides his privileged status. Rather than Lord O’Reilly, he is by education and examination, Dr. O’Reilly. As a physician, he should have known not to remove the chip.”
“Have all physicians been trained to know about the device?” I folded the little piece over in the tissue and replaced it in the pocket of my cloak.
“Well, perhaps I’m wrong. I may have been too harsh on Dr. O’Reilly. I imagine only the pediatricians would need to know, since the chip is implanted in an infant immediately after birth.” She paused for a moment in her conversation while she searched the upper book shelves. “I only know that everyone is supposed to have one. It’s like a permanent census card.” She stopped and held the back of her neck as she craned to see the books on the top shelf near the ceiling. “There it is. Christiana, would you climb up there and fetch it down? It’s a little beyond my reach these days, my dear.”
“Sure,” I offered and pulled the library ladder over that was attached to a track that ran along the ceiling and in front of the shelves of books. From the higher elevation as I climbed the rungs, another thought struck me. “Grand-mère, how does it happen that you and Grand-père were both of Legacy Linage?”
“Well, I don’t really know,” she responded slowly. “Over a little to your left, dear. It’s that black leather book between the two red volumes.” I fingered the book spines and then she exclaimed excitedly, “That’s it.” She watched for a moment then added. “Your grandfather was the only man I was ever attracted to. Just Oliver Richly. He made my socks droop.”
“Grand-mère!” I gasped and laughed until I nearly dropped the book.
“Christiana, have you never met a man who absolutely turned your heart into a field full of butterflies?”
“Not yet, Grand-mère.” Then, the face of Jason O’Reilly flashed before my eyes and I began to giggle. “Why are we talking about this?” I laughed out loud. As I descended the ladder and handed the book to my grandmother, I felt the warmth of a blush.
“We’re discussing this topic, because you asked . . . sort of.” Grand-mère took the book to the brown leather sofa that sat in front of the window. I smiled as I thought of my cozy spot in the library.
“Yes, this is it. I’ve never read it but Great-grandfather told me it had been a very popular book at one time.” She took a handkerchief from her pocket and dusted off the cover. After patting it for a moment, she handed it to me. “Now you must protect it. Great-grandfather said it is sacred. This is the one book that Alister Bedlam has not only banned but has also attached the punishment of imprisonment on anyone who possesses it.”
“Bedlam? Grand-mère, he’s not in the government. What does he have to do with decisions that impact all the rest of us?”
“Oh, Christiana, he has never been elected but he pulls the strings. He’s like the supreme head of a shadow government that influences all aspects of life without ever holding office.”
“You said, prison, Grand-mère. One could go to prison for just possessing this book. I don’t like the sound of that. Besides, I thought the prisons had been emptied a long time ago.”
Grand-mère leaned toward me and lowered her voice. “There is one prison, outside of our zone, that houses . . . political detainees.”
“Political prisoners? You mean, owning this book could threaten the very fabric of our government?” My mind raced. “As docile as people are in this Age of Silence, how could anyone be a threat? Besides, you’ve had the book a long time. You and Grand-père have been safe.”
“That’s what I am hoping, for you,” she whispered. “It is absolutely necessary that this book lives on. I am so sorry, my dear, that I have to pass it on to you. But you’re the only one I can trust. Besides, no one else in your world will know of its importance.”
“Thank you Grand-mère, for your confidence in me. I’ll protect it.” I thought for a moment. “I’ll need to find a safe place for it.”
“It may be safe out in the open but above or below eye level, as we have stored it.”
“Did Grand-père read the book?” I wondered out loud.
“No, I ―”
A familiar voice joined the conversation from the door. “Yes, I have read the book, several times, and replaced it in the same spot after each reading.” Oliver Richly removed his wide-brimmed gardening hat and slapped it across his leg.
“Oliver, dear, the dust,” Constance scolded softly.
“I’m sorry, Honey. Dust to dust, some people say. If people were really passing through on dust beams, I guess we would all have to stop using the vacuum cleaner.” He smiled and winked his eye. Then his voice softened and his eyes shone with a spirit of light.
“Christiana, dear,” he began as he took my hand that cradled the precious book, “promise that you will read it word for word, chapter by chapter, cover to cover. And, when you’ve finished, read it a second time, for a clearer meaning and greater understanding.”
“I will, Grand-père. I promise.” His words charged me with the power of purpose.
“Oliver? Why didn’t you tell me you read the book? Would I have liked it?” She sounded surprised, hurt, as if her love had betrayed her heart.
“Oh Connie, you would have loved it. But, you saw me reading it many times. Since you didn’t say anything, I didn’t push it on you.” Grand-père was taken aback. “I never intended to leave you out.”
“Perhaps, I should leave the book with you Grand-mère, until you’ve had a chance to read it.” I was embarrassed. It felt like I was taking something of great value from my own grandmother who had only weeks to live.
“No, no, Christiana,” Grand-père corrected, “you must take it. And, you cannot reveal anything about what I’m about to say.”
“Of course,” I said as layers of intrigue piled up like cordwood around me.
“My dears,” Grand-père’s voice lowered to a whisper, “I made a copy of the book a few years ago when we still had access to personal copy machines.”
“You mean you actually had a copier here in the house? I don’t think I remember that. Why are those things no longer available to everyone?” I asked.
“When the country converted the energy source from electricity, they said it wasn’t fair that everyone should have to buy a new computing machine and printer. And, since everyone’s personal space is much smaller than it used to be, they decided to have computing centers for communication and use the home models exclusively for gaming. It seemed reasonable at the time.”
“And now?” I couldn’t imagine why decreased reading and communication would be considered something to be praised.
“I don’t know any more. It seems like people have lost interest in life, in each other, in everything,” my grandfather admitted, but had no explanation for the phenomenon.
“They said? Grand-père, who are they?”
“The government, honey. The Council of Elders only advises the government. The decisions belong to the governmental officials unless it is a constitutional issue.”
Then his eyes brightened again and he added, “You take this one.” He patted the leather bound book in my hand with reverence. “And, I have something for you, dear.” He pulled a manuscript from a high shelf and handed it to Grand-mère. “You may have this one Connie.”
I cradled the book in my arms and drew it to my chest. It seemed precious to me, at least that’s the impression I got from my grandfather and I believed him. “I’ll have a safe installed in my apartment.”
“No!” both of my grandparents admonished me at once. “They will suspect you’re hiding something.”
“They?” Their sudden outburst startled me.
“Society . . . the government. It would be best if you put it in a grocery sack and simply carried it into your building along with vegetables and fruits. You can remove it from the sack and put it somewhere in your apartment. When you move over to this end of town, they won’t be curious. They wouldn’t dare. The homes of the Council of Elders are off limits.”
Grand-père gave me a hug and kissed my forehead. It felt like he was anointing me as I ascended into the Lower Council where future members are exposed to the vast wealth of knowledge available to the few.
“Gotta run, Sweeties. I have an appointment,” I chuckled and started toward the door.
“A meeting?” Grand-mère questioned.
I thought for a moment and wondered if I should reveal my afternoon coffee time with an interesting man. “I’m meeting Dr. O’Reilly in a while for a cup of coffee, and I want to take this book home first.”
“Here’s a little shopping bag, Honey.” Grand-mère offered one from the corner of the desk. “I brought a new pillow home in it. Put the book in here,” she offered. “We’ll get some celery and apples to put on top of it.” Then she smiled mischievously, “You’re meeting Jason O’Reilly for coffee?”
“I’ll get the food camouflage while you two have some girl-talk,” Grand-père winked.
I studied the impish look on my grandmother’s face. “Now, don’t make something out of this,” I laughed softly. “It’s just coffee.”
“Yes, dear,” she agreed but it sounded like she was only humoring me. “I’ll try not to ask any questions.”
“There isn’t anything to say, Grand-mère. I just met the man this morning,” I protested.
“But, you’re having coffee with him already, my dear. It seems to me like there is something to say. If nothing else, you could say, ‘He seems like a very nice man.’”
“Okay Grand-mère—Dr. O’Reilly seems like a very nice man.” As we laughed together, the giggles warmed my heart. I knew how much I will miss our time together once Grand-mère enters the sleep.
“Here you are.” Grand-père returned with the food and placed it in my sack. Then he did something he had never done before. He placed his right hand on the top of my head. “Now, may the peace and safety of the Lord go with you, my child.”
I felt blessed and overcome with awe. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay in the glow I was feeling. But, time was moving on. I breezed back through the house with the musical laughter of my grandparents tickling my ears from the warmly paneled office. Those two Rascals, they are probably in their hugging and laughing with the sheer joy of life. I have so much to learn.
As I stepped out onto the porch and started down the walk, another strata-car pulled to a stop and then the driver-side window opened. “Excuse me Ma’am. We’re looking for a man in a red car that has darkly tinted windows. Have you seen the vehicle or the man?” The Blue Guardsman asked.
“No,” I answered but that one word caught in my throat like a seed and I could scarcely breathe. They are talking about Silas Drummond. They’re looking for him. He’s in danger. I may not be safe either.
There was something to fear and I didn’t know what it was. As the squad car moved on, I turned for one last look at Grand-mère and Grand-père’s stately old home and wondered where my family would gather next year on Gift-giving Day. I had to find a way to save them. I want them around forever, and if not forever, then when their bodies wear out, not when they wear out their time.
Out on the streets, other forces bustled about the city. It was the season that brought most people out of their little apartment cubicles and into the world of shops with holiday trappings. Extra police were on patrol. The masses had to be supervised.
An official Blue Guard, four-wheeler strata-car, with a unique black stripe down the side, passed by one of the many transit entrances. The strata-car windows were tinted black and the whole thing had a dark, menacing look, like a rolling crypt. But the strata-car was no burial place. The vehicle had multilayers of assault and defense technology that made it nearly impenetrable and unstoppable.
Busy, busy, busy little people, the strata driver mocked. Inspector Tombstone was what his men called him, never to his face, but he knew it. Inspector Stoner would never have permitted it. He stared blankly at the holiday shoppers as they passed. A bunch of rusty robots, every one of them, he mumbled to himself. How can they drag about like lazy mice in a maze?
He had been driving around all morning. With Gifting Day not far off, security had been increased in town. And now there was this business of Silas Drummond going AWOL at work. Drummond had to be found. Everyone, from boot officers to Ward Stoner, the Chief Inspector of the Blue Guard, was on the streets.
Most people were afraid of the Blue Guard and crossed to the other side of the street when they encountered one. The officers’ behavior was just too unpredictable. One day they might help a child up the steps to the transit platform, another day they might not be helpful at all and could even be abusive. If the walk-paths were congested, a member of the elite division thought nothing of jabbing someone in the ribs with a prodding stick to move them aside. If accused of a crime, a handcuffed person could arrive at Guard Headquarters bloody and broken. Now, during the holidays, even the Guard had joined with the regular police patrol and Inspector Tombstone didn’t like it one bit. He was above having to deal with babysitting women in shopping cart brawls.
He gripped the steering wheel tightly and stirred restlessly on the seat. He saw a young family begin to cross the street and turned on the siren, as much to scare them, as to hurry them along. That’s right—take your time, he groaned sarcastically. There’s always somebody dragging their sorry carcass across the street, getting in everybody’s way. Why don’t they stay at home in their tired little apartment if they can’t move about the streets with more power than that? The chief inspector of the Blue Guard sneered at the world around him.
“Inspector?” His communication device interrupted his thoughts.
“Of course,” he snapped back.
“I’m sorry to break into your patrol, but there’s no one else to send. There has been some sort of situation on a Public Transit car this morning.”
Stoner sighed and pulled away from the curb. As he listened to the details, he headed toward Capitol Square.
When he arrived up town at the City Transit office, Ward Stoner—skilled detective and Chief of the Blue Guard’s entire investigative division—burst through the door with the might of one who had no problem seizing authority. He had no time to waste and was in no mood for nonsense. He was a man ruled by his own power. Power was his master and he controlled others by the strength of that small Kingdom of Stoner, his own world, his own power, his own rules. No one got in his way.
Stoner burst through the door of the transit system office. He would make the frivolous stop but he didn’t have to like it. “What is all of this about?” His question was crisp. His tone was bored.
“Yes, Sir.” The woman in the outer office jumped to her feet. “Follow me, please,” she said as she led the way through a swinging gate that separated the inner rooms from the public space, then down a hall to the manager’s office. The woman entered the room first and attempted to introduce the Chief to the transit line manager. “Mr. Munson, the Inspect―”
“Stoner,” the Inspector interrupted. “We are nearly upon Gift-giving Day and you have me running around chasing a—a what—a ghost?” Stoner laughed rudely as though his time could be better spent somewhere else, doing almost anything besides talking to Munson.
“I don’t know what it was, Sir,” Munson whispered as he shooed the woman out of his office. He checked the hall for eavesdroppers and motioned to a chair for his guest.
Stoner waved him off and remained standing. “I have no time to get comfortable.” He squared his shoulders and tried to remain calm in a situation that was making him more irritated by the moment. He blinked his eyes three times, tilted his head to the side and worked his jaw with gritting anger. “Again, speak up Mister. What is this all about? Invisible intruders? Maybe it’s the jolly Gift Giver.” Once more, his jaw tensed and he ground away at apparently nothing, except Munson’s tired explanation.
“Sir,” Munson stood up, leaned his knuckles on the desk and stared the inspector in the eyes. “I do not know what was there. I am reporting a . . . situation.”
“Well now,” Stoner drew out his words in mocking disbelief. “Why don’t you tell me about the . . . situation?”
“My driver on the midtown line called in a strange . . . situation. I’m sorry, Sir. I don’t know what else to call it.”
“Go on . . .” the inspector’s boredom was evident in his voice. He wanted information, not irrelevant details and he wanted it faster than it was being delivered.
“The driver reported that a woman boarded a bus this morning and didn’t set off the buzzer, just a . . . swish . . . you know . . . a . . . swish . . . like when a cat passes in front of a sensor.”
“A cat . . .” Stoner could feel his pulse beating behind his eyes and knew his blood pressure was rising. He was wasting time. He still had a few Gift Day presents left to buy and time was running out.
“Sir . . . you are making me feel a little foolish. I was ordered to report any irregularities.” The manager stood as tall as he could. What power he didn’t have in authority, he seemed to be trying to make up for in height.
“Go on,” Stoner moaned. His jaw flexed as his eyes darted from the window to Munson and back again.
“A cat . . . or a dog . . . anything other than a person makes when it passes.” Munson cleared his throat. “The driver said that a woman got on the bus and didn’t set off a buzz, just a swish, and then got off to get something she forgot. When she got back on, the buzzer sounded like it was supposed to. He didn’t think anything more about it, but he thought he’d better report it when he got to the end of the line.” Munson said his piece and waited.
Stoner’s eyes snapped back at Munson. “Did he check the mechanism? Was it defective? There has to be a more logical answer than a swish.”
“He pulled the bus into the garage so we could check it out. There was nothing. The tone trigger worked just fine.” Munson crossed his arms. “We have done our job here, Sir.”
“Did he say who the passenger was?” Stoner didn’t acknowledge Munson’s unspoken message. Now you do your job seemed buried beneath the surface. The Inspector didn’t take orders from anyone.
“The driver said he was busy this morning and couldn’t say for sure who it was.”
Inspector Stoner gripped his hat in his hands several times, then, controlling himself again, he smoothed it with his fingers. “It happened only one time and yet, he was too unobservant to notice who the patron was.”
“He noticed that it happened but not who it was, Sir. That’s why he reported it.” Munson’s teeth sounded clenched.
Stoner ignored the man’s mounting anger and walked toward the door. “You did the right thing, Munson. I’ll look into it.” He started to leave without looking back, then turned and shook the man’s hand. Stoner respected a man who could hold his own in a good argument.
He shook his head and tried to clear his thinking. No guilt here. Toughness is what’s needed, what’s always needed, he thought. He had to remain hard and rigid on the job. He was sure, if he didn’t use fear to intimidate others, he would lose the power that came with his office. He battled with himself daily. One side of his head was at war with the other, as if good whispered in one ear and evil writhed in the other. Chatter on—I will win this battle.
The Horror in the Note
After leaving my grandparents’ home, I rode the transit back to my apartment, but I couldn’t focus on the city as it passed. There is that same man again. I was very uneasy with his constant presence. He was on the bus earlier today. His stares make me feel uncomfortable. He didn’t even look away when I caught him looking at me. Does he know I’m carrying the secret book? A chill over took me, and I shuddered. I could not appear anxious or secretive. No one could have known that I was carrying a banned volume. I had to make sure my behavior and attitude didn’t create suspicion. I tried to ignore the man and maintained an empty gaze out the window.
Rather than being concerned with the scenes as they passed, or the penetrating gaze of the other riders, I was caught up in the words and images I had just experienced at my grandparents’ home. I was determined to do whatever I had to do, to find a solution for overturning the Length of Days policy that would seal their inevitable fate.
As I thought of the Length of Days policy, I pulled Silas’s note from my bag and picked up reading where I left off.
“The entire endless sleep program is a sham!
Lady Applewait, people either reach their allotted days,
are ill or injured, and then are told they will enter into
an endless sleep. Some people actually believe they will
be awakened at some time in the future. Some have even
left a wake-up-call for a specific date and time. They
thought they were staying in a fine hotel. The saddest
people, My Lady, are the ones who would have healed
on their own but are told they will heal more quickly if
they take a long nap. All of those people, the timed-out,
the sick and the tricked, have the same fate. Ma’am, they
are taken alive to the mountain where they are placed in
the furnaces and their ashes are disposed of.”
I gagged on the words and fear rose in my throat like vomit. I wanted to scream, but I knew people would be watching me. I had to hold myself together. The man on the front seat stared at me intently as I tried to control the waves of sickening nausea. I trembled at the thought of the danger the information had put me in and the fate awaiting Grand-mère and Grand-père. I had to finish reading the note, but I also had to control myself. I breathed in and out slowly several times. I wasn’t finished with the letter. What more could Silas have written?
“Their bones,” Drummond continued, “are ground into
calcium powder that is used in the mortar of our
buildings and epoxied into large chunks for carving
statues and other works of art. Please, My Lady, I
didn’t know anyone else I could tell. You are the only
one who can stop this abomination. I will contact you at
the apartment building soon.
No, I whispered bitterly. It is all a lie! I had to regain composure. Control, calm, peace—I repeated it over and over. Suddenly I felt a light touch on my shoulder. The little boy who sat with his mother on the opposite seat patted my shoulder.
“Don’t cry, Miss,” he soothed. “It’ll be all right.”
I buried the note in my tote again and wiped my eyes. “Yes, honey, I think it will be.” I jumped up, eager to get away where I would not be observed. I patted the boy on the head with a sincere, “Thank you.” Then it was my stop, and I bounded quickly from the transit.
I know it’s not true. It can’t be true. I will get to the bottom of it. I’ll track Silas down. He’ll pay for this. If I find it is true, if this evil exists, I’ll absolutely do something. What? I don’t know . . . but something.
A New Way of Being
I ran from the transit and down the platform staircase with Silas’s note in my bag and Grand-père’s precious book held tightly in the sack with the vegetables. Near the entrance to my residential building, I heard a faint whimper coming from the shadows under a low bush near the door.
“Well, what’s this?” The little puddle of fur was not much larger than my hand. “A real kitten,” I marveled as I stroked the fur. For a brief moment, I was transported from the danger I was in. “I never noticed any of you little mouse patrollers before. Where did you come from?” As I picked her up, I looked around, but no one was nearby.
I walked to the corner and looked down the side street for a possible cat owner in search of a kitten. No one.
“Amazing,” I purred to the little creature in my arms. “I never knew your kind would be so soft and cuddly.” I had never held a kitten before. Her fur was as smooth as the silkweed from the grassy meadow behind Grand-mère’s house. As I petted the kitten’s head and belly, a quiet calmness came over me.
I knew the kitten’s ancestors had been feral for decades, but I wanted to keep it. “I don’t think you’ll eat much. Would you like to come home with me?” I whispered. The little creature nestled in the crook of my arm, balanced on top of the grocery sack with the precious book inside. Carefully, I carried her into my building.
My mind raced, one thought canceled out the other. The kitten was soft and cuddly, a stark contrast to the rage that coursed through my body. A new purpose flooded my mind. Emotions I had never known before collided and demanded my full attention. I felt terrified and energized at the same time. Despite the vileness of the information Silas had passed on to me, a feeling of joy mingled with fear and disgust. Courage had ridden in on the back of all that anger. I was determined. I would do something to help my grandparents.
As I walked through the apartment lobby, I felt exposed. Maybe I had been reckless, drawing attention to myself with the kitten. I felt sure the people around me could see the entire contents of my bag with x-ray vision. I knew that made no sense, but my insides knotted like a Gifting bow. I was relieved when everything in the lobby seemed cheery. Colored lights and a festive wreath hung from the walls. Everything looked brighter, more vivid. The biggest change must have been within me.
How can so many opposing feelings survive in one mind? Tender feelings, fear, anger, hope, courage. And just as amazing, I have a new energy. It felt as if I could actually fly or I’d fly apart from the tornado of emotions within me.
“Hi, Mrs. LaGassi,” I sang out as I passed a longtime resident of the modest building.
“Good afternoon Ma’am,” the woman responded. She appeared startled that I had noticed her along the way.
“How is your son, Tony? He was sick, wasn’t he?” I stopped for a moment with my foot in the elevator door and continued to enjoy my contact with the middle-aged woman.
“Yes, he was, but, I wasn’t aware that you knew. He is much better now. Thank you for asking,” Mrs. LaGassi added with an air of surprise.
“You tell him, I like the hat he had on the other day. They used to call those, ball caps.” I stepped onto the lift and continued to hold the door with my foot. “Baseball was a game they used to play, on teams, with other players . . . outside . . . in the field.”
“Oh,” was all the woman could say as the elevator door closed.
All the way up to the tenth floor my mood was erratic. It was a strange experience. My insides rattled. I understood the fear and anger, but they were mixed with good feelings as well. Pounding waves of emotions rolled within me. I’ll research these symptoms when I get back to the library. My books will tell me what I need to know. I looked at my timepiece. It was already a little after 2:00 p.m.
I pushed the door to my apartment open and entered my sanctuary, my sweet solitude from the world. The kitten scampered playfully around the kitchen when I put her down. The white furry ball of fuzz wrapped her body around, in and out and through my legs.
“I think I’ll call you Shakespeare,” I said. “No one now knows who Shakespeare was, so you’ll be my own private bit of culture in a dull and drab world.” I poured her a little saucer of milk as my mind darted to what the events of that day could mean. First, this book must be hidden. But the other . . . I don’t know what to do with Silas’s note.
Gripping fear clouded the outer edges of my mind, as I went to my desk and research area. Where should I put this strange Bible? My friends have never understood about me and my love of books. They thought I was nuts for having any of them. Now, I’m even crazier for bringing a banned book into my home. A banned book, a banned cat, and a note that could inflame a revolution. Citizens’ lack of interest may be the very thing that will protect me from the danger I could be facing.
My collection of books was innocent enough. Many of them were a group of uninteresting volumes about rules and policies of the Populous. Yesterday, I felt privileged to have four rows of unimportant books. Now, they had become the very camouflage to conceal the book that held such mystery and danger.
My communication instrument flashed its blinking light. “Hello?”
“Christiana, dear ―”
“Grand-mère! Twice in one day, how wonderful!”
“My dear, I have been so worried about you since you left.”
“The . . . the box of candy we gave you today, dear. Possessing chocolate is very dangerous for you—it could draw in neighbors you don’t even know.” She spoke in code and faked a little chuckle. “Have you hidden the box as we said?”
My mind raced to catch up. Grand-mère was talking about the Bible. The communications line—it may not be secure. We would not know who could be listening. “I was just about to.”
“Well,” my stomach started to tighten and my heart pounded. Where was I going to hide the Bible and how could I tell Grand-mère, to ease her mind, without revealing much? “I was just going to shelve it in the pantry. Maybe I’ll wrap the box in brown paper and put it behind Great-grandpa’s favorite cereal. No one would see it or know it’s there.”
“Yes, yes . . . no, wait ―”
“Grand-mère, you’re frightening me.”
“I’m sorry.” Her voice became low and full of regret. “Maybe we shouldn’t have given the candy to you.”
“No, it’ll be all right. It will be well hidden behind my other foods.”
“But, what if someone finds the box wrapped in paper? If it’s discovered, then they’ll wonder why it’s so important that it needed to be camouflaged and concealed.”
“Oh, Grand-mère.” Fear gripped my chest like a vice. “What’s in that candy?” I couldn’t believe my grandparents would have had anything vile or sinister.
“Christiana, it is a box of chocolates full of love and promises.”
“Love? What’s so subversive about love?” Fear and joy clanged inside me, both at the same time. All of my new emotions were bombarding my mind with contradictory messages.
“Love, my dear, can change the world, even more surely than the arms of war. You must be careful. Chocolate is the stuff that inspires revolution.” Grand-mère tried to sound light and bubbly but there was an intensity in her manner that let me know her concern.
“Mutiny? Grand-mère . . . anarchy? In that box of chocolate?” I laughed nervously.
“A revolution of the heart, sweetheart. Just hide it well. Perhaps out in the open is still the best place to put it. Just another box of food among many. Besides, most people have no interest in sweets anymore. Anyone who visits won’t even see it.”
I wanted to ask her more about the never-ending-sleep. But, it wasn’t safe to talk about such things over the communication lines. I decided not to question her but imagined what Grand-mère would say.
“Sleep dear. Just a very long sleep,” is all that she would say. I dared not ask her more.
“Well okay, Grand-mère. It was nice talking to you. I’m fine. Everything will be all right. Bye-bye.”
Grand-mère didn’t know the horror that Silas wrote about. It must be a lie, I told myself.
I sat down in front of the large window and watched the day. Some of the Gifting lights were on even though it was the middle of the day. Still, they were beautiful. I sat there and allowed my mind to empty of all of the evil images Silas’s note had imprinted on my mind.
• • • • •
I have no idea how long I had napped. But, I felt a little better when I awakened. Still, I had to hide the book.
I looked over my shelves of books for a good spot to place the leather edition. On the top shelf, to the left, was a series of leather bound philosophy books my great-grandfather had written. I had been so proud of the volumes. I had always thought of them as objects of beauty or artful room decorations. Now, something had changed within me.
“I’ll devour every page right after Gifting Season, Shakespeare,” I mumbled to the scampering toenail tapper in the otherwise silent room. “I want to know the legacy he left to me, and not just to me. He had willed it to all of us.”
I pushed the book that was shelved beside the set of six, farther down the shelf, and placed the precious one I had just brought home on the shelf beside them. At a quick glance, it looked like a cluster of seven, rather than six, and would go unnoticed, certainly by the uninterested eyes of my friends who usually passed unaware. It had to go unseen.
Possessing revolutionary materials would have meant an indictment for treason. Although no one is allowed to violate the privacy of a Legacy Citizen or enter their living space without the written consent of a zone judge, they often did. My hands trembled as I thought about the gravity of the situation I was in. I had to know what threat waited within its pages. Why was it banned? What made it precious? I’ll begin reading it later, I promised myself.
Even while Grand-mère’s frightening words still hung in my mind, I felt I had to avoid facing them as I always had. I’ll quickly splash some water over my face and apply a small dab of lip rouge. At least I’ll feel refreshed. I started toward the sink and then I thought of Dr. O’Reilly and decided to apply a little color to my cheeks as well.
I fumbled with the compact that refused to open. “Oh, stop it, Christiana,” I snapped at myself out loud, but my hands would not stop shaking. Their trembling only made me more anxious—I was anxious over being anxious. In my usual form, I tried to ignore my fear.
“You are being melodramatic,” I admonished myself. Life simply isn’t that deep or complicated. “Who do you think you are—some international spy?” I grumbled into the mirror. “Don’t make yourself that important at a time like this. Fear won’t be your credentials, but it may be your undoing. Snap out of it. Get some courage.” Trepidation continued to fight a battle for my mind, so I chose to focus on happier thoughts. As I applied the lip rouge and brushed some color over my cheeks, I remembered blushing in the doctor’s presence without the help of cosmetics, and for a moment, I smiled to myself. Then, I remembered the seriousness of my task.
I’ll hurry over to the library and begin researching the subject of death. I also want to review the change that was made to our laws regarding the Length of Days policy. There will still be enough time to meet Dr. O’Reilly at 6:00 at the Demitasse Coffee Shop. I grabbed my tunic and darted out the door, relying on my name and position alone to protect the Bible book. No one is allowed to violate the privacy of a Legacy Citizen—yet rules have been broken.
Seeable but Unheard
On board the Public Transit, again, I moved to the first seat, sat down and resumed my gaze out the window. The scenery that passed outside was very different in that part of town from the picturesque, old section where Legacy Members and the Council of Elders lived. A tired looking woman of nondescript age sat down beside me.
“It’s not as colorful in this part of town is it?” I said but didn’t expect her to answer. The woman glanced in my direction then back to nothingness.
“The buildings are all the same, one apartment building after another.”
She said nothing, but I noticed her breathing had changed.
I tried again. “It seems we have high taxes for infrastructure, community centers and parks, but nothing to brighten up people’s homes.”
She leaned slightly in my direction and whispered, “People have no money left to personalize their own homes—just sameness everywhere. That’s why I love the lights at Gifting time.” She then faded back into the vacant space from where she had just come. Like the surroundings, she had merged her self with the masses.
When we got to the woman’s bus stop, she started to get up, then turned back to me and whispered. “Funny how those in the government and other professionals can maintain a measure of uniqueness for themselves, isn’t it My Lady?” Then she was gone. I rode on in amazement. The woman had learned to move in and out of mob dullness at will.
The transit bus stopped again at the corner near the library. As I disembarked, I stepped into a day that seemed brighter and more glorious than any December afternoon I could remember. It was as if I were seeing the world through new eyes. How could anyone be in danger in that bright world? The colors were more vivid and sparkling than I had ever seen them. Why? Why was the sky so high? Why did it have such a vast expanse? Why did the whole world suddenly come alive? All of that beauty had the power to lift my spirits higher than I had ever known.
On a mission, I hurried into the building. “Good afternoon, Frank,” I sang out as I breezed past the guard who was stationed at the portal, near the archive room.
“Afternoon, Ma’am,” he smiled back without looking up from his row of monitors. “Funny, I didn’t see you come in,” he remarked dryly.
”I am invisible today, Frank,” I teased.
“Most likely,” he yawned. “Or in-hearable,” he added.
I didn’t know what he meant, but I didn’t linger around to ask questions. I floated through the swinging gate and stopped at the Reference Desk.
“May I leave my bag and stuff here, Mary?” If I had to leave the back recesses of the library in a hurry, I didn’t want to leave anything behind. Mary, the Research Librarian, was always helpful.
“Sure, Christiana, just stash them under there.” Mary pointed to a low shelf in the checkout desk, out of vision and out of touch.
“Thanks,” I added and moved on through the outer reading room and into the back stacks. My shoes clicked and echoed on the concrete floors. I had left my purse behind and had taken only a small pencil, some paper to take notes, and my keys. Unlocking the side door, I slipped into the archival room. It was a tense adventure into my beloved books, since I knew I would only have a few minutes before someone would come to check on me. After all, I had already checked out of the library for the day when I left for the doctor’s office in the morning. I had been thinking of an excuse that I could use for being in the room if someone came back. The only thing that came to mind was an explanation about having left something in the room when I was researching other materials. The misplaced item could not be my tunic I decided. No, I had left it with my purse. I’ll have to think about it as I look through the papers and texts. Maybe it won’t matter. It could be anything. No one else knows what’s in the room anyway.
I couldn’t help thinking how I had amazed myself. Where had I gotten the nerve to be on this dangerous quest in the first place? Silas’s note, if true, was motivation enough to speak out, but it was also reason for fear. Now, suddenly, I felt new strength to follow through, to find the truth, to do something about the terrible policy of termination, even though I didn’t know yet what to do. Did I really grasp the seriousness of the cause and the danger I was in? Would I succeed . . . and at what cost?
The Precious Document
The long rays of afternoon light were still streaming through the western window of the library when I walked into the back sections. The light was so beautiful that lamps were not needed. Besides, I preferred natural light to the dreary blue haze cast by energy efficient lamps. I moved directly to the document case I had noticed when I had been in the archives before and stopped in front of a large glass-covered display box. I paused and listened for the guard to come to see who had gotten too close to the case and had activated the sensors. No one came. I was still alone.
The document was clearly visible through the glass, in spite of its faded condition. It was considered to be one of the few copies made of an original document. School children no longer filed past to view the archive. The top of the case had only gathered dirt. No one studied its contents. Few people were even aware of its existence anymore, but still it remained, sealed up in an environmentally controlled case, safe in its own cocoon.
I pressed as closely as I could, wiped the dust of the ages from the surface, and read the words that I had only glanced at before. An odd sensation overtook me as I began to read. Excitement and awe bathed me like anointing oil.
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
So, when the people decided to make their own country, under the authority of their God, they believed they should list the causes for their decision to separate.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. — That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.
Wow! Everyone is equal—there are no elite—no Legacy Citizens, and everyone has a right to live, to be free, and to pursue their own happiness. These people are to govern themselves, and when the government interferes with the right of the people to self-govern, that government should be abolished. It is their responsibility to do so. It is all here—every bit of it—especially my grandparents’ right to life.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. —
It says when a government, even a long-standing one, becomes tyrannical and their abuses are evident and numerable, it is the duty of the people to abolish that government and create a new one. The colonists had reached the limit of their patience. They would act. And we have reached the limit of ours.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
My heart leaped within my body. I grabbed my chest and felt the beat of it. Self-evident truths. Our Creator . . . our Creator . . . God. God is the Creator! I couldn’t stop rolling the thought around in my head. A sweet cloud of Presence filled the room, and I knew . . . I knew. I read it over and over, until I had satisfied my soul that the words were buried in my heart.
The truths, that we are all created equal, that we have inherited from God—the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—took my breath away. We are guaranteed the right to life, the right to live. Why had it been changed? With mood altering additives in our water there were fewer disturbed individuals and fewer still who disturbed others. People rarely got angry. But then, they rarely felt anything at all.
The people were to be self-ruled. If they were not and those who governed, repeatedly abused their authority, that government should be taken down and replaced by one that will govern by the will of the people. The colonists listed their grievances for all the world to see.
I had to move on. The other materials I wanted to see were further back in the room. No one went into the old manuscript room, not even the cleaning staff. The books within that space were now forgotten.
I walked freely through the room. Books and papers were shelved haphazardly everywhere. It looked as if someone had shoved the last bit of knowledge away from sight, slammed the door and locked it. Nearly a hundred years later, I had unlocked the rooms full of old novels, and the history, philosophy, and religious texts that had been banned years ago. Newer versions of those books had been cannibalized beyond recognition. The new editions, re-written texts, no longer spoke truth but were rendered utterly impotent with their lies. Marge had alluded to a time when information flowed like honey from the hive, then its comb was cut down and thrown behind locked doors where it buzzed in silence, still living but unheard.
I checked my time piece. There was still time to do more research before going to meet Jason at the coffee shop. Against the back wall was a long series of history and legal volumes. Let me see—I fingered my way through the books until I found historic references that were previous to the last one-hundred years. I leafed through the index. The New Bill of Rights. It was right there. On page 384 I began comparing the old with the new first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. The first and fourth amendments tugged at me more strongly than the others. I wasn’t able to let go of those two.
1. Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion and Petition.
4. Right of search and seizure regulated.
What I read seemed unbelievable compared to the policed restrictions of the new society. Citizens used to have the right to speak their mind in public, get accurate information from newspapers and news outlets, and were free to worship their God. There he was again, the Creator, God. What on earth had happened?
Then, the New Bill of Rights glared at me from the pages. During the upheaval of one-hundred years ago it was determined, in order to control the people, there had to be fewer citizens and a smaller territory. So, the country was separated into four political zones/states, each with their own government and president, which was all controlled by a central government and Prime Minister. A new government was established with a new set of rights. Let me see, Preamble to the New Bill of Rights. I read on:
“The Constitution of the United States made certain introductory statements that can no longer stand in a modern thinking society. In particular, individuals have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. An enlightened society recognizes that life is a privilege and should be available to those viable souls who participate the most, for the greatest good of all. In light of the cost of living, education of the masses, health care, incarceration of those in opposition to society, and financial entitlements and support for those who will not be productive, it is evident that each individual’s Length of Days should be planned and terminated before the cost of care begins to be a burden on society. No one has a right to expect society to care for an individual for an undetermined and lengthy period of time. Therefore, an individual’s Length of Days will be calculated as follows:
twenty-two (22) years to graduate from college
two (2) years beyond education to form a family unit
two (2) years from the beginning of the family unit to the
arrival of the first child
two (2) years until the second child is born and thus replace
the two parental units
twenty-two (22) more years to rear the youngest child and
support them through four years of college
six (6) years to give ample time for the youngest child to be
reared, educated, construct a family unit and have their first and second children
four (4) years until the youngest grandchild is established in
a society supported preschool
A total of sixty (60) years equals an individual’s Length of Days, with the exception of certain professions that require additional education and length of service, such as medicine, space, and politics. Those professionals will live until age sixty-five (65), in order to serve society with their knowledge. The members of the Council of Elders will live until age seventy-five (75) to take advantage of their wisdom.
In addition to these citizens, families who initiate fetuses over the allotted two per family will terminate the gestation of the third and any that may follow.
In the event a couple may want to swap out an existing child for another, the first child will enter the sleep chamber by eighteen months of age, thus keeping the family unit to three or four in total.
I was stunned. It was all there, a planned termination of each individual citizen into the endless sleep. With a few strokes of a pen a century ago, people had moved from a right to life, to a right to a speedy termination, with no suffering, just a simple sleep. Some people called it putting a citizen down. Silas Drummond’s message didn’t confirm the long sleep however. He called it extermination.
According to the older documents, life was not all we had a right to. People had a right, given to them by God, to liberty or freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. Now, it was becoming clear to me that society had translated the last right, to a guarantee that all people would be happy. In order to guarantee happiness, our ancestors who were in control of society had started putting additives into the water supply. The antidepressants and chemicals that restrained people’s behavior through mind control were loaded daily into the water supply. It had a less than desirable effect on everyone however. While people would not say they were sad, they couldn’t say they were happy either. Their emotions and energy were flat. They were neither unhappy, nor happy, just maintained.
Of course this explained why their need for intimacy and sexual contact was without desire. It was just strong enough in the early years of the formation of their family unit, that they were able to consummate and create a pregnancy to insure the next generation. The chemicals were modified for each couple through the conception of a second child. By eliminating the sex drive, society thought they could control the root cause of violence and successfully eradicate competition and aggression.
But, why was a free press so important? It was listed early in the document, right up there in the first Amendment. Then, it came to me. When people are informed, they’ll not allow their freedoms to be stripped from their grasp. But, their televisions dispensed news all day long. Had the news casters lied to the people? It hardly seemed possible.
My mind whirled around my new understandings. I had studied the New Bill of Rights in school and had always had an innate sense of there being something more, something beautiful, energetic. The novels had also taught me about romance, love, a fuller life.
I was aware of my time in the back stacks and felt panic overtake me as I tried to read all I could. The Original First Amendment stated:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
So, under the original Constitution, the government could not set up a National religion or keep the people from exercising the religion of their choice. I would need another book to pursue my second question.
I got out the dictionary. “Abridge: to reduce or lessen in authority; to deprive, cut off.” That’s easy. An abridged dictionary is shorter without changing the definitions and meanings. So, the government could not shorten or change the free speech of people or the press. Then I continued on to the fourth amendment:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
That means, the Blue Shirts simply cannot come into my home and take out books and papers without good reason. That includes the Bible book and Drummond’s paper. I looked at my time piece again. I had to be careful in the library. I wouldn’t go undetected for very long. Someone would remember seeing me come back to the Library later than usual. I quickly turned to the page that contained those two amendments in the New Bill of Rights.
“When in the lives of a free people, it becomes evident that the speech of a gentile society has slipped into an inflammatory, prejudicial, and threatening treatise, it becomes necessary to limit the ability of that society to express itself openly. Under penalty of punishment by incarceration and fine, there will be no speech that is prejudicial with respect to age, social class or occupation, nationality, race, sex, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or religion. Within the press and media, there can be no inflammatory words written or spoken in respect to the above classifications. All written and verbally expressed media will first seek governmental approval of their proposed texts, and then file for position equivalence time, so that all represented opinions can be presented at the same time and in the same venue, whether that be private or public, on television or radio programming, in religious locations or public institutions.”
I knew I must speak up and speak out, but how was I going to stop them? I wasn’t a public speaker or a particularly brave person. It would be easier to look the other way. But, I couldn’t. My grandparents’ lives were too dear to me.
I finally knew the truth. There was a glorious time in a blessed place, when Freedom had stepped onto the stage of life, inspired the world with her words and gifts and actions, then, like a bored, tired, careless actor, forgot her lines and silently, willingly, drew the curtain closed, turned off the lights, and went home to sleep.
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