Chapter Ten: Revolution
Founder’s Day was the biggest, the busiest and the shiniest of the four High Holidays. Thanks to the mandatory attendance policy enforced on all High Holidays, the entire town turned out to honor the brave souls that founded Barter. All the Founder’s statues were decorated in bright colors to elevate their importance on this special day.
Sara chose a simple white dress and brown sandals. She plaited her dark hair in a braid woven with a silver chain and walked downstairs. Her mother, dressed in a similar fashion, walked with Sara out the door towards the town center. Today, everyone walked.
The festivities had already begun to build. Cries of “Good Founder’s Day, Inhabitant,” rang throughout the square. The vendors pedaled their goods, “Hot Crost Buns, Rice and Crisp Peas, just like the Founder’s used to make,” commercials popped up on a continuous loop for vials of genuine ash gathered from The World Before and labeled with the name of the Founder who gathered it, and a group of actors performed a play on a low platform in the center of the town square. They lauded the foresight of the Founders for following the First Inhabitant’s teachings and mimed the horrible deaths of all the ignorant people who chose to foolishly ignore the Founders’ warnings of impending doom. The play used to be Sara’s favorite thing about Founder’s Day. When she was sixteen, her cherished dream was to be one of the celebrated actors who so glamorously portrayed the wise Founders, but her learning had taken another path. Now she watched them writhing around the stage in mock pain, gray puffs of glittery ash exploding across the doomed figures. She was wondering how much of the play was truth and how much was fiction when she heard the first explosion.
The town erupted into chaos. A second, closer explosion knocked some people off their feet as they began to scramble for shelter. A third explosion, closer still, sent a fine spray of dirt and chunks of rubble whirling through the air like deadly confetti. Sara stood still, stunned into inaction, clutching the platform. A grime-smeared hand grabbed her wrist and forcibly pulled. She turned to pull away before she realized the hand belonged to Eli. She tried to be heard above the din.
“What’s going on?”
Eli shook his head and again pulled her wrist to indicate she should follow him. Sara looked around for her mother but couldn’t see anything in the pandemonium.
“My mother,” she yelled, “I can’t leave her here alone!”
Eli shook his head vehemently and pulled harder. Another explosion knocked them to the ground. A thick whine buzzed in Sara’s ears, and she could see a cut over Eli’s left eye beginning to bleed. He winced as he struggled to his feet, grabbing at his left side where a small bloodstain was rapidly growing. He helped Sara get to her feet and yelled in her ear.
“We have to leave now!”
Sara followed, promising herself she would find her mother as soon as she could. They ran through side streets, past overturned carts and demolished businesses and across a corner of the park that wasn’t on fire. As they ran the last stretch towards the Supreme Inhabitant’s house, they could hear cries in the distance. Sara thought they were saying, “Long live the Revolution,” but her ears were still ringing too loud to be sure.
Locking the door behind them, Eli led the way down a narrow hallway towards a brown door and down two flights of stairs. He knocked with a bloody fist on a dull metal door at the bottom in a pattern, three-two-three, and collapsed against the wall, gasping. His face was pale,and his once white shirt was sticky with blood and grime. Sara’s white dress had fared little better.
The Supreme Inhabitant opened the metal door, first a crack, then thrown wide when he saw the condition of his son.
He threw his son’s arm around his neck to support Eli’s weight and began walking him into the room.
“There were explosions and-” Sara began to explain.
“Get in here and we can talk about it later,” the Supreme Inhabitant snapped at her. He gently laid Eli down on a low upholstered bench and began rifling through a nearby wooden cabinet. Sara hurried through the doorway behind him into the wide room, lit only by three ancient floor lamps. Three of the walls were covered in paintings and tapestries. The bottom half of the fourth wall was blank. Cabinets and metal racks filled with statues and vases were scattered throughout the room. Three black urns, hip high to Sara, were spilling over with gems and precious metals, and in the center of the room was a dark, wide wooden column supporting the ceiling. Shelves had been carved into each side and a spiral staircase wrapped around the column to the top. Each shelf was full to bursting.
Each shelf was full of books.
It was a giant bookcase. Floor to ceiling books. A tree of books. Sara gaped in awe that grew quickly to anger. She turned to see the Supreme Inhabitant pouring disinfectant from the cabinet into the now unconscious Eli’s wounds, his fingers gently probing for debris. She felt like screaming. Without looking at her, he spoke.
“The position of Supreme Inhabitant is not without its perks.” He brushed dust and bits of rubble from his son’s hair before continuing. “It is also not without pain. What use are jewels when I cannot spend them? What good are books without someone to read them to?” He turned and looked at her, smiling. His gold teeth glinted in the dim light as he stood and took a step forward. “And of what use is an exquisite work of art without someone to share it with?”
Sara took a step backward.
“None of these things are Allowed,” she said, “that’s not pain. Don’t dress this up as something noble.”
“Ah, yes. Would you prefer I was a noble rebel, storing pages upon pages of books in my head? And for what purpose?” He smiled at the shock that rippled over Sara’s face. “Oh yes, I know all about your little club, the very same club that is at present destroying the city at the cost of innocent lives for a cause they are not sure exists.”
“Sara, Sara, Sara.” He shook his head. “Our ancestors established this city to be free of strife and pain and hunger. Your friends are destroying everything this city stands for because they want to revert to the Old Way. They want to be,” he paused, studying her face intently. “Natural.”
Sara focused on a painting of a girl with a strange turban and an enormous bauble hanging from her ear directly behind his head, refusing to betray any hint of emotion. The Supreme Inhabitant flicked his wrist and a machine lowered out of the ceiling pointed toward the blank wall behind Sara.
“Shall I show you what those days were like?”
Images began playing across the blank wall. Sara turned to look, her curious nature overpowering her urge to run. Some of the videos and pictures were in color, but some were black and white and grainy. A child with big eyes stared at her, its ribs clearly visible, wearing barely a shred of clothing. The aftermath of an earthquake, bodies half buried in the wreckage. Soldiers younger than herself being mown down by machine guns. Gaunt people with haunted eyes in chains. Humans destroying humans.
Tears wet Sara’s cheeks. Eli began to stir.
“This is what we ran from, Sara,” the Supreme Inhabitant said, his voice gentle. “This is what your friends are fighting to go back to.”
Sara shook her head. He was wrong, he had to be.
“How do you know it was them?”
“Because they have been rounded up. I’ve been getting pings telling me everything. Their ringleader is a woman named Margie.”
“That’s not possible!”
“Why, because you like them? Because you think they are your friends? They destroyed half of our city and innocent lives just to prove their point, so tell me, Sara, you tell me who the real enemy is.”
Sara sank against the wall and buried her head in her hands, defeated. She had thought they were her friends, and now they had most likely killed her mother. She had chosen the wrong path. Eli sat up.
“Dad, what’s going on?”
The Supreme Inhabitant turned to his son. “I told Sara the truth.”
Eli blinked, waiting for his father to continue.
“I told her that her friends tried to overthrow myself and the Pinnacle, but they failed and were caught and will soon be sent to the Unknowns as traitors.”
“Oh,” Eli said flatly, “that.”
His father’s eyes narrowed at his response, but he was distracted by another incoming ping.
“It’s safe now. I’m going to hold council with the Pinnacle before the trials begin. Both of you will stay here until my return.” He looked at Sara and bowed slightly. “Please, make yourself at home.”
The door clanged shut behind him with a final sounding thud and a lock clicked. Sara didn’t look up. Eli propped himself up on his good side.
“I thought he was going to tell you the other truth,” he said.
“Which is,” she mumbled into her lap.
“Your father, he’s alive.”
Sara’s head snapped up.
“And I can take you to him.”