FIRST REPORT FROM EDITH LEETE
I pulled myself along on my stomach, through the mud and looked out over the edge of the hill. Smoke rose from the village below, curling and mixing with the low clouds. The village looked beautiful from here; quiet, timeless. It hid it’s secrets well. I unzipped one of the pockets in my combat trousers and pulled out my mobile. It came with a scanning app, and I saw that three of them were static below from where I lay. Should I stay here, or should I try to make it to the carpark on the hill behind me? I would be able to steal a car and get away from here as she had said…
I knew I had to stay. I would not complete my mission if I drove away, and know they knew I was here, it would be too late if I ran away. I had to get down there, and to do that, I had to eliminate these three. Looking back, perhaps I was not thinking logically.
This was a long way from what I had thought my mission would be; I was supposed to be learning. This village was reluctant to become part of the wider community. They were suspicious and did not like outsiders. As soon as I had arrived there, they had shut off from me.
Only after a few weeks of taking part in village life – talking with some of them, turning up at meetings and helping people when they seemed in need, did some of the frostiness melt. Well, as you will see, it was not quite as simple as that.
I scanned the three again. Two males and a female. They had no idea where I was. I would be able to take them out.
I had ascertained that the initial reticence for my proposals of links – a pact - with the surrounding villages was driven by the Village Council. The leaders of the council were feeding stories of terrible deeds that had been carried out by some the other villages against new comers to the PACT. Stories of looting and deaths and whole villages being repopulated by others- all nonsense, but I needed to find out why these people were restricting the rest of the villagers to a forced enclosure. The only people able to travel – and reap the benefits of the travelling and freer lifestyle were the Council. The rest of the villagers toiled in order to survive. Their survival was adequate – they all had housing and had entertainment through their “T.V’s” and they had access to drugs that took their minds out of the mundane. What they didn’t have was access to information about the wider community. How other villages lived. Other villages shared the fruits of their labours and in fact traded goods and services that meant a better lifestyle; more time to entertain or be entertained or create. Time to “be” rather than just time to struggle and survive. This is what I was offering them, but the council had complete control over information in and out and within the community. I had to find a way into the communication loop created by the Council, who used diktats, rumour, “TV” and the “free press”.
The three were spreading out, walking up the valley and obviously using their phones to locate me. They would find it difficult as I had a “muffler” app – one that made it difficult, though not impossible to locate me. I, unlike them, couldn’t switch my phone off. To do so could mean a tragedy.
I could see their plan. They were going to try to outflank me. Two were heading in the direction of the carpark in order to cut off that way out. If I got to a car, I could easily reach one of the Pact villages and perhaps raise enough people to come retaliate.
The other was heading out to my right; deeper into the wild hills. There was a narrow gap that was widening – a corridor between them through which, if I had good cover, I could have reached the village and set about commencing my broadcast.
This had been how I was discovered. I had ascertained that the only way to seize the lines of communication was through their entertainment channel. This was beyond my mission, but I was young and felt I could do more than I was being asked to do. I had found the appropriate cables and networks and had over a number of weeks, tapped into them. I had then created a short broadcast that introduced the idea of the PACT and with help from some of my PACT comrades, put together a “TV broadcast” of what life was like in the PACTlands. I had set up a number of broadcast points some in the village, in houses (without their knowledge) and on the outskirts in trees and shrubs. All would switch on simultaneously and as one was discovered and destroyed, the other would click in and keep the broadcast going. That was the plan.
I pushed my phone deep into my pocket and zipped it. I reached in to my inside jacket pocket and took out the gun. It was a crude one; one I had to learn to use because of the primitive places I had to work in. It was heavy and non-adjustable. All it did was fire a lump of fashioned metal – a bullet – into the body of the victim. I screwed on the silencer – the only adjustable part of the gun, I suppose. This was a device to stifle the noise emitted by the explosion required to propel the bullet at a high enough speed to penetrate the victim’s body and damage it enough to render it dead.
Through the grass, I could see the villager who was walking to my right, wade through a small stream that had burst its banks because of the heavy rain through the night. I know to intercept him, I would have cover from the other two seeing me; but it may be difficult to get close enough to him to take a clear shot that would kill him. A wound would not do. I had been told by my trainers that I must become as ruthless as my enemies, this was ok here, I had thought, where something could be salvaged from death; but in some of these primitive lands, the act of killing was a huge burden.
I watched the villager as he waded further into the water. This was slowing him down, and I could tell he had not expected it to get so deep. The water was murky, so he was having difficulty walk though it without stumbling, but he had decided to walk slowly in order to keep his eyes scanning the hills for me. I had to wait.
I turned my attention to the other two walking up on my left. They had decided to break up as well. One was trekking up the valley towards the pass car park and the other was, alarmingly, heading straight in my direction. I had to do something, but if I moved down to my right, I could be exposed to the man in the stream. If I didn’t move, the woman on my right may be able to make out my prone figure very soon.
When it was near the time to broadcast the Pact information to the village, I had switched on the TV in my living accommodation. I knew this was the best time to broadcast, as it was two hours after most people had stopped toiling and most of the village would have eaten their evening meal and would have settled down to have their couple of hours of passive entertainment/propaganda. Judging by the village letters section in their printed press, they took their entertainment very seriously. The entertainment they watched was carefully selected broadcasts from the PACT lands and some village made “shows” and news programmes. All of the PACTlands broadcasts had been suitably edited in order to show either that the PACTlands were evil, dour and violent places to live, or just that the village was a much better place to live. The only people who were any the wiser were the Councillors and business owners who could manipulate the rest in order to make huge profits on their cheapened labour and… sorry I digress. I will return to my report.
Just as I was settling down to watch the “entertainment” and press the app on my phone that would set off my broadcast, there was a knock on my door.
When I opened the door, I could see that it was Morven, a village woman who I had befriended.
Morven had been the first person to speak to me when I arrived. The villagers had been imbued with an unhealthy (or in their belief – a healthy) distrust of outsiders. For days I walked in the village; traded in their shops; ate in their cafes; imbibed their drugs in the spaces reserved for this and no-one spoke to me.
One evening, at one of the drug spaces, I had been sitting as usual on my own, imbibing a powerful local distillation of wild berries (I had taken the precaution of taking an antidote before I came. Some of you may think it is a strange thing for me to do. Well, I had found that if I ordered a non intoxicating brew in other villages – even in the PACTlands, I would be viewed with suspicion. So I ordered the strongest and took only a small amount of antidote, so it would have some effect on me (I found altering my physical appearance to APPEAR intoxicated to be very difficult, so I always felt that a small amount of intoxification would allay any doubts about me).
I had tried to strike up a conversation with the drug mixer, but she had just looked at me and said she didn’t like to talk to people from other villages as she felt they were here to take their jobs and things and for me not to take offence. I did not take offence, as I knew she had been poisoned by the propaganda of her rulers and that soon enough she may change. On retrospect, I think my future training needs to include more of an emphasis on my learning from the “targets” in order to counter an imperialism of thought brought about by submersion in this particular kind of culture.
When I was ordering my second beaker of the distillation, an old man came up to me. He told the mixer that he would pay for my drink and he asked me if he could join me. I said that this was more than welcome and I thanked him for his generosity and companionship.
When we sat down, he introduced himself as Renwick, an ex-councillor and now owner of the north-east section of the village. I told him that from what I had seen, the north-east was a pleasant place to live and work. He stared at me and said, “Miss Leete, it will stay that way while I live and breathe. No outsider will stride into our village and criticise our way of life, do you understand?”
I told him I did understand, and that I had no intention of criticising, or indeed engaging on a course to highlight the obvious inadequacies of this village’s system. I had meant this wholeheartedly – I did not intend to enter into a debate over something I knew to be terribly inequitable; but he took offence at my saying so and he stood up and denounced me thus;
“Miss Leete you are unquestionably here to stir trouble. I suggest you finish your distillation and leave. I also suggest you go back to your PACTland and explain to your elders that we will not be brought down to the level of servants. There are those of us who may rise out of squalor and enrich ourselves in this land of opportunity, unlike your disgusting state of servility. All in this land are born equal and have equal opportunity to rise.”
I stood, thinking this was the local tradition of discussion. I replied, “Thank you for this discourse and opportunity to set my beliefs before you, as you have set yours. The system as I see it in this village does not go any way to correct either social disadvantage, or inborn disadvantage. In fact, I would go as far to say, it emphasises and magnifies both…”
I did not get to finish my sentence, as Mr Renwick struck out, which took me by surprise, as of course this tactic of silencing a differing opinion was new and foreign to me. I will never get used to violence. I managed to block his attempts to hit me, and would have stifled his ability to so easily attack me by perhaps disabling part of his nervous system, but I think by the reaction to my blocking him, this would have drawn even more attention to me. I pretended that one of his blows had hurt me and I sat back down at the table, pretending to clutch my stomach. He leant over me and said, “Miss Leete, your “discourse” is not welcome. All PACTlanders should keep their opinions to themselves. One day, all of the villages on this continent will see fit to enjoy servility to our Council. Mark my words.” With this he poured his drink over my head and walked away.
The crowd in the drug-space, whom had until this point been listening to every word that we uttered and whom had witnessed all of the violence, started back to conversation. I was ignored.
I felt at this point it was time for a withdrawal and perhaps to rewind what had happened on my phone recording device in order to ascertain how I may have changed my time spent with Renwick.
When I left the space, and stepped out into the night, I heard a noise to my left. I made myself ready to defend myself.
The noise came again, and I recognised it as a whisper.
I turned to look and there in the shadows was a young woman of around my perceived age- around about twenty cycles.
I stepped into the shadows between the drug-space and a block of stacked living spaces. She introduced herself as Morven, and she was the daughter of Renwick. She told me we had no time to lose, and I was to follow her.
She turned and ran down an alleyway. I took up hasty pursuit. Our levels of fitness were evenly matched. The alleyway ran down the length of the drug-space and around the back of the stacked living space. As we ran, we had to avoid prone, sleeping villagers who had not been able to make good of the equality Renwick had described. The place smelt of piss and shit and all sorts of rotten foodstuffs and dead rodents. The stench was quite overwhelming.
Behind the flats, Morven stopped. I looked at her closely. She was a very fit and healthy female; someone who had definitely been given the good things in life as her body had not been ravaged by any malaise or depression that I could make out. Nor had she been enhanced by the primitive methods of enhancement some of the well to do here used.
She stared at me and said, “Miss Leete, why are you here?”
This was the first time in the days since I had arrived that someone had actually asked of me my purpose.
“I am here to study.”
Her face became even more serious looking. “Miss Leete. You are lucky to be alive. I imagine my father has rounded up enough vicious men who would want only too much to abuse and perhaps kill you.”
I thanked her for her help in taking me away from the route they would most probably imagine I would take back to my accommodation.
“Miss Leete, there can only be two reasons why someone from the PACTlands has come to study our way of life. One, in order to pre-empt some sort of diplomatic approach or two, because of a want to observe the curious. I cannot believe that someone from such an equitable and educated society would want to look upon us as curios, so I must assume it is something like the former.”
I did not reply. I did not want to betray my thoughts, nor did I want to stop her from telling me her reasons to save me in the way she did. My mission was the latter, but I had decided to change it to something resembling the former.
“Please call me Edi, Morven…”
“Edi… you must come with me and stay with some of my friends tonight. You should be able to return to your residence tomorrow, but only if you in some way or action make it clear your stay is drawing to a close.”
As she folded her arms across her chest, I noticed that her dress was not the usual dress of a young woman from this village. She was not dressed in the usual over styled manner and instead of restricting footwear and impractical dresses or skirts, or light embroidered top; she was wearing a thick, green pullover and leggings that made movement easy, with thick soled, hard wearing footwear. Her hair was not styled to emphasise her healthy facial features, but it was tied back, out of her face.
I explained to her that neither a single combatant nor a mob held any fear for me, but I appreciated her concern…
“Edi. They will kill you. They have technology they have gathered on their travels amongst the PACTlanders. Never forget, it is easier for us to travel unnoticed and unhindered amongst your people, than it is for you to do so here. I know this because I have spent a lot of my time in your world. I am, after all, from a privileged background.”
I felt I had to do as she suggested. This was perhaps the first real time during this experience that I felt I was learning. This is something I need to pursue. I need to be much more accommodating to other cultures and open to learning than perhaps I have been. My perceived age is not my real age, and living so long in an equal and highly developed society has perhaps made me more judgemental than I should allow myself. All of these experiences should make me more open to cultural and societal differences, and I should not assume anything. This is something I learned.
I followed her into the back of the stacked living spaces. We climbed many stairs and knocked on one of the hundreds of doors. An answering knock came from within, and after Morven knocked another reply, I heard bolts being slid across and latches unclipped.
We entered the living space of a couple who had decided to live as one, who were called Kelvin and Cadder.
Kelvin was a young man of around 25 cycles and Cadder a woman of perhaps five or so summers more. They were dressed in what I knew as lower caste clothing. This clothing was mass produced and worn only by the toiling classes.
Kelvin, Cadder and Morven hugged and smiled and seemed pleased to see each other. Morven told me to sit in their small living space, while she and the couple spoke in whispered tones in the food preparation area.
I looked around my present accommodation. The room was clean, though shabby. There seemed to be no pretence at decoration, though posters on the wall showed me that they had access to illegal PACTland entertainments. I recognised one of the pictures as a depiction of a long ago battle between lower caste members and the old master caste of a village that was now seen as a founding village of the PACTlands. Surely this picture was illegal in this village?
After much whispering that I can now report back (as I was able to play it back enhanced from my phone) as Morven telling Cadder and Kelvin that I was a PACTland spy sent in to help the revolutionaries, which was not untrue, but an assumption, they approached me and told me I was to declare any weapons. I told them I had none (well, my phone could have been included as a weapon, but I was not going to readily give that up). Any weaponry I had with me in the village had been hidden in places I felt I may be in danger, for example in places I had been covertly visiting in order to set up station from which the broadcast could intercept their entertainment network.
Morven and Cadder sat down, while Kelvin looked uneasy and paced the floor while talking to me.
They explained to me that I would stay here tonight. They asked me to tell them how they could help and they would pass this information on to their revolutionary organisation, who would have to ok any actions taken by me or them in the name of the over throw of the system.
They gave me a document to read (I scanned it and saved it into my phone for further perusal) which stated that they were the revolutionary vanguard and it was only through them that the overthrow of the master caste in this village could be coordinated and executed. It also named other lesser revolutionary vanguards that were not true revolutionaries and in fact were either in league with the master caste or were leading the people away from revolution by wishing only for small reform of the system. These are also things I must learn from and equate with the ancient histories of societies across the galaxy that became equitable.
I told them I was here only to study, but their companionship would be much appreciated. I did not feel they believed me, but I feel that this was because they did not want to believe me as they wanted something that was positive- something that would tell them that their hopes and needs would be somehow and someday fulfilled.
After some of their distilled drug (which had an unusually intoxicating effect because I had not taken any extra antidote with me), and after some of their songs (and I have to admit, some of ours as well which because of their less than heroic revolutionary fervour were, I feel, disappointing to them), I settled down to sleep in the space I had been sitting in since I arrived. On replay of my phone, I saw that my settling down came in mid-song. I also saw that Cadder placed a woven blanket over me and Kelvin accompanied Morven out of the building in order to ensure she arrived at the residence of her father unseen and safe.
The next day, after a crude, but nourishing early meal, Kelvin accompanied me to my residence via a network of alleyways that were every bit as dirty and unhealthy as the one I had been in the previous night. When we arrived at the end of the last alleyway, he told me he could not accompany me on to the main street, and he took my hand and held it tightly and said, “Come the glorious revolution you will be revered as a hero. Thank you for making my acquaintance, great warrior, “ and with that, he let go of my hand and ran back down the alleyway.
My residence was about thirty paces from there, along the main street, and as I walked though the bustling morning village workers, I noticed that some of the women smiled at me.
When I arrived at my residence, the front door was open. I walked in slowly and quietly, but after some inspection I could see that no-one was there. They had left a lot of evidence of their entrance and they had scattered a lot of my things (of which there were admittedly few) around the room. I ascertained that nothing had been taken and none of my hiding places in the room had been corrupted, so none of my devices that I had not yet placed had been discovered.
That is my report of my first meeting with Morven. As the days went on, I discovered that she wished the opposite of her father and she wanted this village to become part of the PACTlands. She had been affected a lot by what she had seen as she grew up and travelled though the greater world. I also discovered that my small defence of myself against a man –even with my pretence of defeat– and especially a man like Renwick with much power, was seen by many women as a huge revolutionary leap forward. Apparently the hitting and violating of women in this society was not seen as a crime and in fact this treatment of the female in this society was something that was so insidious that even amongst revolutionaries, women were not given proper voice.
I began to trust Morven with more and more of my mission. At first I asked her questions about her society that were general, but that I knew in this closed society would be seen as suspicious. After a while, Morven became happy to walk with me in public. I know this is not the usual thing to report, but I read another report by an agent in similar circumstances who reported back only in emotions. This was quite unreadable as a factual report, but beautiful to read and recite. I will say that the emotion I felt for this spirit was love. She was a happy woman, with a generous spirit whom most of the villagers had respect and even love for. She became my first friend outside my own world.
When I finally felt I could trust Morven I told her my plan to commandeer the communications network. She thought this was a fantastic idea and agreed to help me place the other transmitters. We finished our work in a matter of six days.
The villager in the stream seemed to get his boot stuck. I took this as my opportunity to roll down hill to a rock I knew would hide me. I had to dispense of these three and then get back to the village to finish my work. My concentration was being effected by events earlier. If these events had happened in my own world (they could never have happened in my own world, but let’s transpose for the sake of comparison) they would not be playing on my mind as much.
I kept my eye on the villager in the stream as I rolled, and when I reached the rock, I twisted myself around so if the other villager approaching from behind would not so easily see me. I knew this was the time to strike. The villager in the stream could not be seen by either of the others. I stood up and aimed. The villager, who was about ten paces from me now, looked up. He reached for a pocket in his jacket. I squeezed the trigger and the gun fired. He fell quickly as blood sprayed from his head and splashed the rocks and grasses around him. His body floated facedown and jammed between two rocks. He would not be seen by either of the others.
I ran up the hill again, and just as I reached my original vantage point the woman reached there as well. Both of us were shocked by seeing each other. It was Cadder. At first I thought she had dispensed of the others whohad been sent to kill me; but when I saw her hand come up with a gun, I knew Morven and I had been betrayed. I pulled my gun up and at that point I knew none of us were advantaged; I knew it would be luck that decided who fell.
Morven pushed in to my living space.
“We have been betrayed. You must go. Run on to the fells. There are cars in the car park that over look the village – take one and get to the border!” She was obviously shaken. I had no cause to doubt her story, but I did not know the details, and I foolishly wanted to.
“Morven, I need to start the broadcast. Come, sit, tell me what has happened, and we can watch this first stage of enlightenment of your people!”
She stared at me. Her face betrayed a pity for me. Or was it pity for herself? I am no longer sure. She threw her arms around me and kissed my cheek.
“Thank you for giving us hope, Edi. But it was only that. The people here will ignore your broadcast, even if it does go ahead.”
I couldn’t then understand what she meant. I suppose nowadays I do. ‘When people have no hope, all hope is dashed,’ or something. I am sure I read that on one world’s archive or another.
I asked her to sit. I still couldn’t really understand what had happened, though I suppose I knew that the information she had was reliable as she was from a household party to most information.
We sat, and stared at the screen. She explained that her father knew of my plan. She had no idea how he had found it, but he had. And that he planned a way to thwart it and the come for me and kill me.
There was only one way to find out if the plan had been stopped in some way. I activated the app on my phone that would begin transmission.
And then the power source went off.
The power to the TV, the lights and everything. The broadcast started to play, I could tell from my app; but the TV’s across the village would not show it.
The window smashed and Morven’s head exploded across my face. Her blood and bone splattered the room. Her headless, twitching torso fell on to me. For the first time I experienced fear. Shock. Loss.
The door exploded and black armoured men rushed in. This I could deal with. I pushed Morven’s body off me, gently as they approached me and I stood up. Through the window I saw Renwick standing with the smoking gun pointing through the window. It was not pointing at me, but at the space his daughter once occupied.
I experienced rage for the first time. None of those who entered that room left alive. All of them were dismembered. All of them suffered pain before they died. This village was disgusting. All of this death and suffering. These pompous, horrible, greedy men. This was a lesson to me.
When I emerged onto the street, bloodied, I looked at Renwick. He had dropped the gun, but still stared through the window. I felt he had caused torture enough without me visiting physical pain upon him. But I still wanted justice for my pain. These were learning experiences. I do not ask for forgiveness. I left him unable to walk and in great physical pain for the rest of his life – which was, I know, cut short by suicide.
Cadder fell clutching her chest. My gun had beaten hers. I kicked her head; pain before she died. For Morven.
And then his bullet hit me. On looking at the recording from my phone, I was shot in the chest. My whole chest was ripped apart.
I remember waking up in the regeneration room. The new emotions tore through me. I was sedated as I lashed out and pulled at the hoses that were building my new body. This was a learning experience. I knew of my privilege. I knew why societies such as the one Morven had died so young in, existed. I knew I had to learn of the ways of my people who volunteered to help these societies become like ours. I learned that I did not have all of the answers – the folly of youth (even though this was my third regeneration and I was well over one hundred cycles at this time). I learned that the answers would only come from those who wanted change, and my part was to try to help facilitate change. I learned that the people, especially the women, of that village rose up and tore down the council’s power. I learned that the people spoke in the village square and they formed a committee of lower castes and approached the PACTlands and eventually were incorporated in that world’s burgeoning push for freedom. I learned that eventually that world became part of the now triumvirate of free worlds. My first mission, a learning mission, was a success – though I never, ever thought of it as such. Morven lives in me. Her hope and her love and her want for a better life for all. Never forgetting her is a kind of regeneration for her I think.
END OF REPORT