Having posted this entry to the Speakeasy last week, I went back and tinkered with the text. Below is a longer, more developed version of what was a sequel to the first in the Melis series, My Eyes Have Seen You.
If you enjoy the first two parts, I have also posted part 3, In the Days to Come.
“I need to understand what I’m fighting for,” I said as I looked, wide-eyed, from the crowd back to Melis that morning in the ruins.
“Fighting? You’re not a fighter. I will protect you but there may come a time that you will have to get far away from me. For your own safety.”
“Melis, you may see me as a naïve little girl, but you have taught me much. And I’m tougher than you think.”
We left it at that for the time being. The people were waiting and he couldn’t let them stand there in the grey lull while we worked out what he was going to do with me. I knew, though, that his silence did not mean he agreed.
He may have taught me basic survival, and to be wary, but he never involved me in any of the training. “There is more to a rebellion than fighting,” he often said. To him, I was still the girl he found that first day, the girl who had trusted her parents as they blinded her to the truth about the world.
Maybe he wanted to keep me that way, a piece of a lost world, but I was eager to grow, to leave the past behind.
Over time, Melis had explained all about the war that had been averted, the war I hadn’t known anything about. There had, indeed, been more than a few battles in Europe. Before the Great Disaster, the world had become a web of hate, held fast by many battles; North vs. South, East vs. West, old rivalries and new. No allies were true allies, nothing was as it seemed and every leader had a backroom deal going on with the most unexpected of partners.
On the eve of what surely would have been a full-fledged armageddon, the Earth had saved herself. It was as though every natural disaster hit at once.
No war. But the world was still shattered.
Before the dust had settled, The Absolute was there, seizing power when no one was organized enough to stop it, putting what had been national surveillance systems to use, monitoring the survivors who roamed the globe. Countries, governments, were in disarray, unable to fend off this power. Those who understood what was happening realized it was wiser, for the time being, to lay low and stay out of sight.
Melis had explained all this to me as we, too, lay low.
I could see the planning and plotting in his eyes. I had a vague notion that they were spying on The Absolute, trying to find weak spots they could exploit without loosing anyone. Beyond that, I knew little and though I asked, Melis wouldn’t share anything. “It’s safer if you don’t know,” he’d say.
Instead, he put me in charge of the compound. I had at least proven myself by managing the transformation of the ruins into a headquarters. I was glad to have a chance to lead in my own way.
From what was left of the surrounding apartment buildings, rooms were cleared and organized into living and working sections. Beds and clothes were scavenged and organized, along with pots and pans and cleaning supplies. I elected hunters and gatherers based on who was the best-nourished. Cooks and teachers and nurses stepped forward and I organized them, gave them the space they needed, and left them to make it their own. Melis and I kept the central rooms on the first floor of the main building, looking out over the courtyard where his followers had gathered that morning. These were the rooms in which we had sought shelter that last night it had been just the two of us, that last night we had been alone. We were so busy, so central to the life of the compound, it made sense that we took the largest, most central space.
And still our numbers swelled, the cries of “Melisizwe!” growing louder as time passed.
We spent several weeks like this and I knew the training and minor expeditions wouldn’t last forever. I knew something more had to happen. But I was lulled into a false sense of security by the sense of community and routine that had developed. So, despite the fire I saw in his eyes one morning, I barely looked up to watch as the familiar sway of Melis’ back disappeared across the drab, grassy plain at the edge of the abandoned town.
When I first saw the glint of silver in the sky, I thought it was a bird. But there was no birdsong to go with it. I looked again and noticed the shining circle of rotating blades; still it made no sound. As it got close enough to land, it whipped up a frenzied wind but the machine itself remained eerily silent.
Remembering everything Melis had taught me, I stepped back into the shadows, unseen. I knew they would find those who tried to hide, and there were many. Human instinct takes over in a panic. It’s hard to hold still and appear insignificant when you’re out in the open. It’s more natural to run and hide.
Melis was forever reminding us all that The Absolute had technology at its disposal, that it could – and would – search out the hiding spots. I’m not sure what he said to the groups he took on missions but I’m sure he counseled them like he counseled me: “You must stop, stay calm and fade into the shadows. Only then will it pass you by. Never try to hide; it will find you.”
Somehow, I managed to follow his instructions. I kept my eyes down, too, afraid that I might make eye contact with one of them accidentally. I was sure that would get their attention; if I could see them, I reasoned, they would see me.
That sounds so wise, so well thought out. But it wasn’t like that at the time. I think more than anything I was scared of seeing them. Who knew what they actually were? Animal? Robot? My imagination ran away with me. Their footfalls sounded like those of any other humans; they didn’t make the scrabbling sound of animals or the metallic sound of robots. But they didn’t seem to have any smell, which was strange.
I didn’t notice it at the time but they also weren’t speaking, weren’t calling out to each other. It seemed natural in the moment that the only sounds they made were of running, walking, slamming doors open. I heard our people as they screamed and tried to fight back and were dragged across the compound floor. But not once did those soldiers, or whatever they were, not once did they utter a word.
Only after did that occur to me, and when it did, it alarmed me more than anything else about the attack.
As I stood there in the moment, shaking, my eyes mostly closed, I thought of them as regular foot soldiers doing the bidding of a higher power. And I started to wonder, was that all we were, too? Foot soldiers doing Melis’ bidding?
No! I kicked myself for ever doubting him. Of course not, I thought, we are equals. Everyone here came to Melis, were drawn to him, surrounded him, followed him. They practically asked him to lead them. I ignored the small voice that reminded me he had obviously been spreading a message, an invitation to gather. How else would everyone have turned up at our shelter, together, on the same day? We are all in this rebellion together, I assured myself, before I forced my thoughts elsewhere.
So many ran for cover that day, so many tried to hide. For them – the taken – the sweet air of freedom was locked away forever.
The shock of emptiness and silence that rushed into the compound once they were gone overwhelmed me. I stood in the shadows long after the machine, with its silent silver blades, had disappeared. When my legs could hold me no more, I let them give way and I crumpled to the bare concrete floor.
I don’t know how long I sat there, my legs splayed awkwardly. Prayer was not in my vocabulary, but I was feverishly hoping that Melis was free, that he remained safe. I wouldn’t know if he was ok until he returned – if he returned.
Among the captives they had taken was a young girl, Sam. She was younger than me. They chose her as the one to release, to send back to us as a message. Her return showed that they knew who and where we were. She brought with her a list of those who had been killed and those imprisoned for future use.
It might have been better if they had killed her; she may have lived, but Sam was never the same again.