Solomon first noticed Wilden when his father interviewed her for the baby-sitting job, where one lucky girl would get to baby-sit Sol's little sister, Naori. The moment their eyes had met as he entered his father's office was the moment he knew he was in love. She was unlike any other girl he had seen, unlike anything really. Her honey blonde hair was silken and lit up the drab room. Her smile was small and unassuming, as was her slight frame. But her eyes, her beautiful grey eyes were the most precious thing about her.
He could see her soul through those
eyes; she was like paper, small and fragile, easily torn, but
those eyes were the strength in her that made him feel weak in
comparison. He had been curious to see who his father would
interview next for the others had been insufficient and not up to
his father's standards. But when he saw Wilden, she was not
exactly what he had expected. She smiled at him and he knew that
his father would choose her to watch Naori.
She showed up the next day in a light blue dress that made her grey eyes appear blue themselves. Her blonde hair was pulled into a knot in the back of her head and she wore a white cardigan over the dress; she looked as if she needed the cardigan, out of place on anyone else in the 82 degree weather. Sol answered the door anxiously. He had been waiting for her since dawn. It was 9:00, just before his father left for the office. He welcomed Wilden, who appeared confused. "Why does your father need me here if Naori has you?"
Sol blushed for the first time in his life. He had never been the one to be embarrassed, so when he felt his face growing scarlet he felt strange. "My father decided that Naori needs a woman's influence. She is a bit of a tomboy, so my father wishes to 'smooth over the edges', as he calls it." He did not know how he managed to find words. There was a lump in his throat that was growing larger and harder to swallow with each passing second he was standing with Wilden.
Wilden accepted the answer and looked inside patiently. Realizing suddenly that he was to let her in, he stepped aside and she entered, gazing around the room. "It's even prettier than it was yesterday," she said softly, eyes glistening with astonishment. There was nothing spectacular about her, but she didn't need that. She had the beauty on the inside, that inner radiance that most girls envied of her. She turned to face Sol, her movement as graceful as her countenance.
She smiled when she caught him
assessing her. "I'm Wilden. Wilden Grace." she held out her hand.
He accepted it and shook it gently, as though she would break
from any touch too rough or careless. "Your name is Solomon,
"Sol. I- I go by Sol. Nice to meet you, Wilden." Sol had never been shy, but for some reason the girl in front of him made him apprehensive. They stood in silence for a minute before Naori and President Grant entered the foyer. President Grant was leaving for work, and Naori was seeing him off.
Naori was a quaint little girl of 7 with Solomon's light brown hair and her father's green eyes. She was not shy at all, in fact she was rather plucky for one so young. She gazed at Wilden imploringly and, finding nothing terribly wrong with the girl, smiled.
"I'm Naori," she said, clutching
Perry, her stuffed poodle, to her chest. The poodle had seen
better days and was pink, a total contrast to Naori's overall
personality. Wilden smiled, obviously pleased to see the girl.
"Wilden, that's your name, right?" Naori asked the slight blonde,
who nodded in response.
President Grant cleared his throat. "Well, children, I have to get to the office. Play nice." Grant had never been a man of many words; his reticent nature had gotten more noticeable since his wife's death. He had gotten gaunt, though he had been eating the measured amounts that were doled out to the citizens.
He did not stop to kiss his children
good-bye; which was to be expected, for he had never been that
sort of man. In fact, the kids had received affection only from
their mother and her friend Cherran Rice, who had not visited
since the spring. Sol rather preferred this as a means of
communication being nearly 17 and completely independent of his
father. Once President Grant left, Naori went into the Holo-Room
to play Sim-Games. She could not get enough of the simulations,
but that was fine.
The citizens of Seleucia were all on a schedule. Fortunately, there was free time in which they could partake in whatever activity interested them, but the schedule was necessary to keep the citizens fit, well-rested, and healthy. That was the main idea surrounding the country, the well-being of its citizens, whatever the cost. Of course, Sol had never had a complaint. He was raised this way and never questioned authority. It was that way for most of Seleucia, except for a rare few who were aberrations. These people were eliminated from the population as to prevent the distasteful genes of disobedience from entering the gene pool, and were rarely heard of. Sol, as the President's son, had heard more about the Rebels than most, but had decidedly found no interest in them.
Naori was the curious one, always
playing dress up in the servant's old uniforms and pretending to
be a fighter of The Cause. Of course, her childhood games were
brought to an abrupt end after her mother's death as her father
frowned upon such silly antics and had little patience for
roughhousing. Sol had only ever played along to please his
sister; she was irresistible after all, and until he met Wilden,
he had never before met another girl who could tug on his
heartstrings the way Naori could.
With Naori gone, Wilden was left alone in the room with Sol. She cleared her throat daintily and looked around the foyer for something to focus on other than the tall boy in front of her. Sol remembered his manners and suggested she take a seat in the other room. The couches were not the most comfortable, but she sat down without a complaint. Sol shuffled into the kitchen area and poured glasses of lemonade for Wilden and himself.
She accepted the glass and took a
sip from it. "Delicious," she said, nodding. She kept nodding
until she realized what she was doing and stopped, her eyelashes
fluttering and a pinkish blush creeping up the side of her neck.
He took a seat in the couch opposite her.
There was a slight lull in the 'conversation' before Sol spoke. The words he spoke came out in a rush that Wilden could hardly hear him. Hardly. "You're beautiful!"
Wilden's eyes fluttered as she blushed an even deeper shade of pink. "I- thank you?" She said, breathy.
Sol set his glass on the coaster in front of him and leaned forward. Wilden followed his lead. "I'm sorry to be so forward with you, but never in my life have I seen someone so…remarkable." He hoped he did not frighten the poor thing. Her eyes shined.
"I have never been called beautiful in my life, so thank you," she said. The lie was obvious but her tone was so sincere that he almost wanted to believe her. He reached for her hands across the table. She jerked away in surprise, but caught herself and let him grab her hands.
"I don't want to frighten you, Wilden. I want to get to know you, and if I'm lucky, my lock and key…" He trailed off, lost for a moment in her eyes which were deep, like the ocean. They were silvery at the moment, colors shifting and the light behind them making him feel naïve in their wake. They were like a storm, rolling over him until he drowned; he could never have stood a chance.
Before he could stop himself, he was
leaning over and kissing her; across the mahogany table, clumsy
and awkward, he was kissing her beautiful lips. She did not even
try to fight it. He was the one who broke away first, ashamed of
himself. She did not appear troubled, however. In fact, her
expression was more forgiving than anything.
"I want to get to know you, Wilden Grace." He said, wiping his lips and pulling himself back onto the couch he had been sitting on.
"I would like that, Solomon Grant," she said, the storm in her eyes brimming over with enthusiasm though her tone remained placid.
They spent the rest of the day talking, and he found her to be more beautiful than he had before; in spirit, manner, and appearance. There was nothing about Wilden that he could dislike; nothing about Wilden was extreme enough for him to dislike. She was mild and pleasant to spend time with, and he knew in his heart that she was the girl he wanted to spend his life with.
He was tempted to share his lock and
key with her that day, but a part of him feared his fate. The
locks and keys were still changing anyway, adapting to the form
of the immature souls, so he figured it would be best to wait
until he was 17. It was dangerous to force a key into a lock that
was not the match anyway, and he was sure that he would do just
that under those circumstances.
Solomon called Wilden on Ichat that night, and they spoke into the next day until they met once again. Sol's father was oblivious and suspected nothing. Initially Wilden insisted on looking after Naori; later that would change, though. When she arrived after that long night, Sol made lunch for the three of them. Wilden and Naori sat and watched the HoloScreen as he tinkered about in the kitchen. He could hear Naori's giggles as she told Wilden stories, about him, no doubt.
He walked in and overheard the last bit of a tale, which he finished for Nay-O, "And I landed face-first in a Gorneybush. Which, as you know, have stingers. Let's just say I had to shave off my eyebrows, and they took months to grow in again!"
Wilden laughed and a light twinkled in her eyes when she looked at him. "Well, you seem good-humored about it," she said, reaching for her plate and looking at the meal upon it. "Oh wow, you can cook Chicken Feyamucci! My father always used to make it…" Her expression fell as she spoke about her father.
"What happened to him?" Sol asked, curious.
Wilden shrugged her tiny shoulders. "He's at the Institution. A Holding offense," she replied, looking down.
Solomon paled. It was not permissible for a relative of any important member in Parliament (or the President) to be paired with a person related to one in the Institution. Her father was serving mandatory service hours for a Holding offense, no less. He had been aiding the Rebels--allowing them to stay in his home; he would be in Re-Conditioning for years, perhaps life. Wilden was at risk; she could have inherited the faulty genes her father carried.
Solomon coughed. "And what of your mother?"
"She is fine. Not afflicted with any disorder. She's been checked, believe me, we all have, Sol," she looked up once again with an imploring gaze. He could tell she liked him, a lot. He wouldn't let any custom keep them apart, that was for sure. They belonged together, period.
Their conversations went like that, and soon he knew all of her secrets, her desires, her rights and wrongs. There was nothing that they did not share with one another. They grew close, and soon Sol found that he could not keep himself away from Wilden. She was intoxicating with her honey-sweet smell and the way she moved was like water; he found her addictive.
She found him to be likewise
addictive, and she frequently brought him up on her Ichat to
talk. They tried to be discreet about it, though. Relationships
between underage girls and boys were strictly forbidden and the
repercussions of their actions would be great should they be
On their final day together, in his mother's garden Sol proposed to her. Money had never been an object to him other than an object to play with. His mother's garden had been a safe place that his father forbade anyone from entering; he never entered it himself either, so Sol knew that they would never be caught and so he figured it was the perfect place to present to her the glowing diamond ring he had bought her. It wasn't large, but rather delicate with pear shaped gems, as it reflected how he saw Wilden. She was delicate, subtle, and yet so very vibrant, much like the ring.
Three months after their constant
rendezvous, he had proposed to her among daisies in the garden's
meadow, which she was entranced by. He knelt on one knee and
tears appeared in her eyes and her hands flew up to her throat,
almost in a theatrical way. Except that this was real, and his
love for her was also as tangible. Sol looked into her eyes and
asked her, "Wilden, will you marry me? After today, will you
officially be mine to hold, my heart? My one and only love?" She
shook her head slowly, and his heart skipped a beat.
"No, not until we test our keys-"
"To hell with the keys, Wilden!" He said, raising his voice at her for the first time. She took a step back and he adjusted his tone so that it was lighter, but the weight and urgency was still behind the words.
"Look, Wilden. Never have I
questioned the government before. I am not a heretic, nor a
sympathizer. But in knowing you, I have found my purpose, my
beliefs. Nothing should ever come between true love, Wilden. If
it makes you feel better, we'll test the keys, but I have no
doubt in my mind that they match. And if they don't, Wilden,
nothing will keep me from having you." His grey eyes darkened for
a moment, filled with a rage that she had never before seen in
his eyes, usually full of adoration.
Wilden hesitated, but pulled her key out from beneath her shirt and her lock from her wrist. Sol did the same and they saw each other for the first time.
Sol didn't know how he could have expected anything less. When he saw his key, he could see her represented perfectly. Her base was silver with swirls as embellishments, which reminded him of the ocean, which in turn reminded him of her eyes. Her two gems were made of aquamarine. Her lock was similar, but plainer with just one gem though a larger one.
Sol's gem was opposite that; his
base was gold, showing his auspicious nature; his gemstone was
sapphire, of course, as most in the higher class had that stone.
His lock was similar.
He reached for her key timidly and handed her his own. Their eyes met as they slid the key of the other into their own locks. Sol froze- her key wouldn't slide in. Frustrated, he attempted to force it through, turning it on its side. He jammed it in, angry that they weren't a match, and Wilden cried out. He didn't pay any attention to her cry; he just kept on forcing the key into her lock until the key snapped in half. Wilden let out a cry like an injured dove and she collapsed onto the grass, among the daisies.
Sol stopped and rushed to her side. "Wilden! Wilden, sweetie, talk to me. Are you okay?" He whispered, frightened. He knelt beside her still body and felt for her pulse. He could feel nothing. He watched in disbelief as her key dissipated and the ashes blew away, scattering in the wind. His love, Wilden was gone. It was his fault, too, but he could feel nothing. He was numb and felt no pain, no remorse. All he could think about was that he had broken the law and would surely suffer. He slipped the ring on her finger, where it belonged and stood slowly, tucking his shifting key into his shirt.
He headed into the house, preparing
to pack his bags. He would leave before nightfall and into the
Wilderness where the Rebels were hiding, safe. If he could make
it to the closest encampment, or even the furthest, he would be
safe from the government. That was his last thought before
leaving his love to lie on the cold, dewy ground.
Sol did not rush into his house, for fear of appearing suspicious. Instead he walked to his home at a normal pace; the walk wasn't far, after all. He decided that it would be best to leave as soon as possible, but he wanted to make sure that he had all of his affairs in order before taking off. He knew that every citizen had a tracking device implanted in their forearms; it was a tiny microchip which he could pull out, but not without much pain. He ran up the staircase and entered his room, bare of all décor save for a bureau, a sturdy desk, and a bed that held one blanket and a pillow.
He strode over to the desk and opened a drawer. Pulling out the drawer entirely, he reached behind the desk and drew out a penknife. He held out his wrist and dug under the skin with the knife, taking care to avoid the vein. Slicing his skin open in one smooth movement, which would make it easier for the wound to heal, he dug the tip of the knife into his arm. Clenching his fist but refusing to cry out in pain, he managed to slip the thing out. It was small, about the size of a cap eraser; he looked around for something to stick it in. He held it in his hand, but knew that it would send an alert once its temperature dropped below a certain point.
Fortunately for him, the cat was on
his bed, so he walked over and held the cat down. The cat was
compliant, for the most part. He knew just the right way to hold
it so that it was immobilized. He sliced a small opening in the
cat's fur and forced the microchip underneath its skin. The cat
gave a yowl and took of like a shot from a pistol once he
released it. That would give him some time; perhaps it would even
give him long enough so that he could reach an encampment. The
chip was responsive to body heat as well as movement, so he knew
it wouldn't be long before the cat managed to scratch it loose.
Sol silently cursed himself for not sealing the wound before he
had let the cat go; but there was no time for that now.
He stood and walked into his closet. There was a duffel bag sitting on the shelf above his head; he pulled it out and began throwing the necessities into it. He threw in two pairs of pants, two shirts and one coat. He would be wearing the other coat he owned to save room. He would have to scrounge in the kitchen for some canned goods that would go unnoticed. He made sure he added some rope to his bag; rope he had used not too long ago to tie down the tarp on the family's latest camping trip.
It was to his benefit that he knew
how to hunt. Though killing animals was illegal, he went on a
hunting trip with the Food Regulators, who were responsible for
the meat that was brought in to feed Seleucia. Sol was
preoccupied with packing that he did not hear the footsteps until
the door was thrown open and his sister walked in.
"Sol! What are you doing? Where is Wilden?" Naori asked, eyeing the duffel bag as though it were a slug. "Ew, are you going camping?" Solomon did not answer. Instead, he just stood and, bag slung over his shoulder, he reached for his other coat. "Sol, why won't you answer me?" Naori began to sound worried. She clutched at her locket key, which was unusual for a soul to have.
"Naori, stay here," he said about to head down the steps. He ran into the kitchen and hastily threw some canned meals; regulations only allowed a certain amount of rations per household per month. He managed to force at least half a month's rations into his bag before Naori came in behind him.
"Sol, if you don't answer me, I'm going to call Dad. He'll be home soon, you know. I think he'd want to know if you were going camping. And I haven't been telling him about your little dates with Wilden, but I can if you-"
"Okay," he said. "But let's go into my room to talk, Nay-o." Sol and Naori walked back up the steps after Sol finished gathering all he needed. He sat her down on the bed and began speaking. "There was an accident."
"Oh, is everyone okay?! Is it Wilden?"
He winced at the mention of her name. "Yes, but promise me you won't tell anyone."
"Promise." He said, firm. Reluctantly she gave a nod and he continued. "Look, Wilden and I were in love. I…tried to fit her key in and I got frustrated. It broke-"
"Sol, that's against the law!"
He pressed on, ignoring her comment. "It was an accident. And, well, when her key snapped, she did too. On the inside. She's gone, and now the government will never believe me. I have to leave, Nay-o. I love you and Father, but it would be best if I left." A silence fell between them. Naori knew that this would be the last time she would ever see her brother and she was devastated, but being a strong girl she held her head high and just stared at him, waiting for him to add to that.
"Well. Do you know where you're going?" She asked, eyes dark.
"The Outside. They won't find me there if you can keep this a secret. I'll find some way to get back to you, I will," He lied. She gave him a sad, wise smile.
"No you won't," she said, wise beyond her years. She sat on the bed, quiet, and he stood still. There needed to be no long and drawn-out goodbye, no farewell. All they needed were those few moments together, no eye contact made. And then it was over and Sol was heading for the door, about to open-- but at just that moment, he heard a crash. The front door burst open and he heard the members of the Guard enter his house.
Sol froze and motioned for Naori to
sit still. There was no need for silence, however, because
throughout the entire house was complete chaos. Windows were
being broken in and doors were being kicked. Sol could hear the
muffled voice of Vice President Serian, but could not make out
the exact words. In response to Serian, he heard his father yell,
"What is the meaning of this?!"
"You know very well what. Wilden, your babysitter. Among other things, a girl, dead in your garden. A few pardons and extra rations for the poor are bad enough, but now there is a girl that was employed by you and she's dead, in your garden!" Sol strained to hear the soft voice of the Vice.
His father gave a snarl, "Preposterous! There is--" he never finished, however, for there was a shot and a loud thump as, what Sol presumed was his father's body, hit the ground. Sol didn't even pause to think, he was running on instincts now. He opened his window and slid out onto the balcony. He hopped over the side and clung to the railing. Naori followed, eyes wide with fear. The door to his room was kicked open and Naori's eyes met Sol's at that precise moment. He could see the fear in her innocent eyes. He wanted to help, but his legs refused to work.
"Sol? What's going on?! Sol-- help!" She cried as she was pulled back inside from behind by a member of the Guard. Sol watched silently through the window as his sister was dragged in by her beautiful hair. The member of the Guard who had her looked at her and looked at his gun. Deciding it was better to save his bullets, he slammed her head on the hardwood floor beneath him, spattering blood all over the walls and the bed with its blanket and pillow.
Up until the moment she was killed, Naori was crying out for her brother, who just turned away and jumped down. His descent was safe and he landed without injury. He shut out the image of his sister's death as he ran toward the Outside, but he could not drown out the sound of her plea. Her helpless voice rang in his ears, a torturous refrain. "Sol," she had cried, hoping for her brother to protect her as any brother should, but he hadn't. Instead, Sol acted out on his survival instinct. After one murder, Sol knew that his soul could never be healed; what, to him, was another?