Ten Years Prior
Markus thought of fire as he stared at the lightening sky. Flames of whispers, of tongues wreathed in flame. To breathe it away, to touch the clouds as they danced on by. Tinged with orange, blue and pink-bathed in the eloquence of the distant sun.
Dark objects, most likely the Citadel's warships, streaked across the sky. Their silhouetted forms gave the appearance of beetles swimming on the smooth surface of a puddle. Birds taking off into the flames of Augustus.
"You're going to leave, aren't you?" Miranda sat beside Markus, resting her head against his shoulder. "You really should." She gently grabbed his hand, weaving in his fingers with her own.
"I can't let you go." Markus frowned, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. "I'll stay here."
" Why stay in the Blind?"
"Because I love you silly." He kissed the top of her head, relishing the scent of lilies from her hair. "I couldn't let you go." No matter how the distant hills beckoned him-the free life. The Outreaching.
"You should." She let go of his hand, sitting upright. "It makes perfect sense. What do you have here? Me? We can never be like you want, Markus. This is just a fantasy of yours."
"I know that…" Markus tried to calm the frustration building inside him. Living in Blind hadn't been at all easy. With a shake of his head, he stared out past the wall again. The neat, glistening metal wall stood erect, tempting-not daring-its inhabitants to leave.
None ever did.
"Well it's eight o'clock. The time we should be in bed. Are you going to further damage your health by staying late? The Instructors don't like it." Miranda swept a strand of hair from her face, getting off the branch she'd been sitting on. "Already I'm aware of bothering the Instructors with this climbing exercise. We should obey them, it makes sense."
Disappointed in how mechanical her voice now sounded, he let out a sigh. "Of course Miranda, we wouldn't want to upset the dear Instructors." His sarcasm wasn't lost on her, she stared at him a second longer then was proper. Her blue eyes flickered. However she resumed her descent, not taking the bait.
"I will see you in the morning, Markus." Miranda said as she walked away from the tree. Calmly she graciously moved toward her house, never once turning around. Did she even know that Markus was watching her go?
Did she know that every step brought a fresh pang of pain to his heart? "Goodnight Miranda. Love you." With a dip of his head, he walked to his own house. Past the dwellings of other families and familiar buildings, he made his way through Blind. Instructors walked in pairs together, regarding Markus with indifference.
He had permission to walk these streets until whatever hour he chose. "Permission," he mumbled under his breath, "they couldn't do a damn thing if they wanted to." It was the twisted, disgusting lie that was at the heart of Blind.
He could walk up to an Instructor, shoot him point blank and walk away. The other Instructor could only-and in a calm voice at that-tell him not to kill an Instructor. For they, like the inhabitants of Blind, were bound by the same regulation. The same will that sat in the heart of the Blind.
However he obeyed their regulations, no matter how much he didn't want to. He'd been born in Blind, raised by his parents and had grown up with his friends. He'd even married Miranda. The town of Blind, as much as he despised its ways- was his home.
He could do the place no wrong, nor could he manipulate the freedom they gave him.
So instead of leaving or burning the city to the ground, he walked down the sidewalks of Blind. With his hands in his pockets, eyes downcast, he roamed the town of Blind. No one else walked the streets, besides a handful of Instructors, leaving Markus virtually alone.
Brushing his hands through his hair, he sat against the cool brick wall of a closed restaurant. Slumping down on the sidewalk, he stared at the road ahead, polished and smoothed to perfection, since only a few times a year did anyone drive on its surface.
As the night progressed, beckoning the sun to return in a few hours, he remained alone.
In the cool morning air, the doors to homes opened-business began to brighten. The Instructors grew in number as life began in day 245 of the 1987th cycle.
"You slept out on the streets. Why?" Daniel stood beside Markus, staring down at his dreary-eyed friend. With a straight face, he waited three minutes until Markus regarded him with a sigh.
Staring up at Daniel, Markus grimaced. "That I did. I have no reason to tell you why." He rested against rough brick wall, looking up at his friend. This was the eighth night he'd slept outside.
Daniel was one of the trainee Instructors-a good, bright kid. They'd gone to the Learning together, becoming good friends. Though Markus could've picked any of the 34 students to befriend, he found Daniel to be different.
It was an impossibly rare quality to be found in Blind. And since everyone else was completely the same, he chose the slightly different one: Daniel.
Of course he wasn't completely different-to the casual observer he was no different from anyone else. Emotionless. Logical. Calculated. Motiveless. All the qualities of the people of Blind, the first Town of Citadel. Well, except Motiveless.
The people of Blind had a motive-and that was the self-preservation of not just their selves, but of the entire town. To survive. Add another day to their lives. Utterly meaningless to Markus, who saw their motive as it truly was.
And yet he'd fallen in love with one of them-Miranda. The beautiful redhead had caught his attention during their years in the Learning. He'd befriended her, been there for her and watched in frustration as nothing came of it.
Miranda simply found the whole prospect of love, meaningless. In her own words, "With you? Why would I marry you? We aren't genetically fitting, our children won't be what Blind needs. Brad would be best for me, Cerise would be best for you. That is, if we choose to wed. I find the whole ordeal pointless however: children aren't needed at this time. The population is sufficient and holding."
"Then forget about children Miranda! I love you!" He'd retorted passionately, staring at her with his blue eyes. "Please… you're my best friend. I love you." A tear had slipped down his cheek.
"Love? I don't love you Markus. But, I suppose, for your needs to be properly met, I will consider your proposal." She'd curtly turned away, leaving Markus feeling like someone had socked him. Tears had burned down his face as he knew she was right-she didn't love him.
Markus slowly got to his feet, smiling at Daniel's persistent stare. Most would've taken his refusal to share information with a nod.
"Fine I'll tell you."
"Only if you want. I can tell by your tone that you do." Daniel began walking beside Markus, following the man to his worksite. "But be hasty, we have approximately 12 minutes before arrival at the Culmination."
Atta boy, Daniel. Markus nodded his head. "It's Miranda… I just can't be with her anymore. It's too hard."
"Hard? You profess a need for her, she fills that need. I don't detect a problem." He frowned, then glanced up at him. "Unless you are speaking of your… abnormalities, then I can hypothesize that this indeed is a problem. For it is… love you seek, right?"
"Yes. Love." Markus shook his head, wondering why he was even talking to Daniel about this. His friend could never understand what love was-it was beyond his comprehension.
"Then it makes sense to leave. Those in the Outreaching are like you: emotional, feeling. There is love there." Daniel couldn't know that it wasn't a simple, calculated decision for Markus. Unlike Daniel, he couldn't simply choose from a logical perspective. There were emotions, motives and feelings at stake, which played a huge roll in what he did.
Perhaps life would be simple if he was like Daniel-even more enjoyable. Without the burden of emotions, or heartache, he could be as ruthless as them. Well no, not ruthless. Just decided-straightforward. Uncomplicated.
Yet he would never of married Miranda, nor would he be the same person. He'd just be like the others in Blind-a number in a statistic.
"There is love here too, Daniel." Markus turned to his friend, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Trust me-one day, I swear, you will all know what I'm talking about. The Citadel cannot control us that well. Nor will they win that horrible war with the Outreaching."
"The Citadel is fair in its decision to make war on the Outreaching. They ridicule us, taunt us, laugh at us. And yes, with our numbers and resources, I do not think it preposterous to assume we'll win."
"Fair? You don't know the meaning of the word. Just, forget I said anything." Markus sighed, wishing that just once, he could hurt the man's feelings. Show him what it meant to bleed. To feel pain. Cry a little.
Instead Daniel shrugged, his glazed eyes as expressionless as his deadpan frown. "That's how we are in Blind-we don't understand the feelings, emotions or motives. But you do Markus, I understand this. I understand your… difficulty to accept our stations in life."
"You know, but do not understand." Markus feared he'd do something he'd regret. Turning away from Daniel, he walked away from his friend. An explanation wouldn't be needed for suddenly leaving-Daniel's feelings wouldn't be hurt.
The man didn't have feelings.
"Markus… Markus?" A girl's voice called out to him, Markus was sure it was Miranda. As he opened his eyes, lifting his head from a pillow, he saw it was Christina.
Eight year old Christina, the only person he knew loved him back. Though he'd loved both Miranda and Christina, his daughter was the only one to reciprocate love. Even if she was just like everyone else in Blind.
However some of his genes were in her, his emotions. A part of her-albeit small-loved Markus back. Just as a daughter should love her father. "Good morning sweetheart."
"Good morning Father. Are you feeling better?"
"Very much so." He kissed her forehead, hastily getting out of bed.
"The war's over, Father. The Outreaching has surrendered to the Citadel. It is a day of celebration." Though this would be good news to the people of Blind, there was no smile on her face. No hint of any 'celebration' on her expression.
"Yes. I guess it is." Markus remembered the news spreading through Blind yesterday-everyone was talking about it. The end of the Outreaching, the emotionless people of the Citadel had one. Though the armies of the Citadel couldn't harm a citizen of Blind, they ruthlessly cut down the people of the Outreaching.
Now they'd won.
Any plans of leaving Blind shattered.
"You should tell your Mother, I don't believe she knows yet. Go. She's still sleeping." Markus watched as his daughter obediently exited the room, going to his wife's room. Well Miranda's room now-they were hardly a couple.
His beautiful wife had shown just a glint of emotion when their daughter was born. Her words still brought fresh pain. "This won't do. This won't do. The Instructors forbid us from childbearing, Markus. The population is steady-satisfactory. Another child could destabilize us. I will go to the Instructors and have the child removed."
"No! Damn it, no!" Markus had grabbed his wife's shoulder, pulling her back. She'd mindlessly kill their own daughter? Just because the population was steady? It was the same madness he'd seen his whole life in Blind.
Now it was happening to him.
"Markus please. Put aside your feelings. For the sake of Blind, we must not have a child. Perhaps when the population is low-besides, the child will not be whole! Our genetics do not match." A glimmer of anger had flowed beneath her words. "This child will be disabled-useless to Blind. She will die either way."
Markus had shaken his head, tears streaming down his face. "You can't do this, Miranda. You can't! For the love of the Citadel, have a heart! She's your child." His voice had trembled, "she's my child."
"That may be so." Miranda calmly retorted, eyeing Markus with a cold stare. "But the will of the Citadel and of Blind must be done. The child cannot live."
"What about the will of your child? The will of me. Stop thinking so cruelly for one, damn second! She's your daughter… does that mean anything to you?" Markus had reached out, taking Miranda's hands in his own. "Please."
For just a second he saw that Miranda had understood. A flicker in her eye, a drooping of her smile. Truth. Lying beneath the cold veneer, he could see her emotions. Her heart. "Miranda."
"If the child means so much to you. For your benefit I suppose…" there was just a tiny spark of conflict before she nodded her head. "We will keep the child. But for your sake only. If she proves too detrimental to Blind, she will die."
It was enough. Markus broke down, wrapping his wife in his arms. The child had been saved-he would never let her die. Kissing her cheek, he'd left the embrace, knowing his joy was one-sided.
When Christina was born to them, Markus had done everything to keep her safe. Though the Instructors suggested her death would be more beneficial to Blind as a whole, he refused them. If not for his status, they would've killed her years ago.
Especially with her defect.
Markus got out of bed, dressed and forced himself to eat breakfast. However he wasn't hungry that morning-he never was. The tasteless grime they provided in Blind wasn't helping matters.
Miranda had taken Christiana to the Learning, so that left him with a full day of nothing to do. Daniel had called him the day before, suggesting they go to the Executions this afternoon, perhaps he'd take him up on his offer.
The Executions were grizzly affairs, happening once every five years. With the onslaught of prisoners from the Outreaching, there'd be many more this time. He thought back in horror when Miranda had suggested that Christina be executed.
"She's so unable to do anything-her Teachers aren't able to teach the class properly. Her disabilities are affecting the entire class. The Instructors want her executed, perhaps their judgment is fair." Miranda had suggested on Christina's sixth year of life.
"No." Had been Markus' firm, disgusted response. "She will live."
That had been the end of it, he would give up his own life for hers. His love for his daughter was stronger than the will of his wife's-much stronger. No matter what she said, or what the Instructors tried to do, Christina would live.
Markus would see to that.
After cleaning up the house, he got properly dressed and left his home. Daniel, one of the top Instructors of Blind, would be waiting for him at the Executions.
Walking past the perfect, identical homes, he crossed the street to where the Augustus was. It was the heart of Blind, a place where all the decisions were made, where the Mayor resided and Festivals were held. The Executions, considered a Festival by many, were also held here.
"Markus, how are you?" Daniel stood in his crisp uniform, waiting at the edge of the Augustus where a crowd was gathering. A gun, which was never used, was holstered to his belt.
"How many prisoners?" Markus wasn't interested in pleasantries with someone who couldn't feel.
"Twenty six. Fifteen male adults, six female adults and five children." Daniel gestured at the line of chained, distraught and beaten prisoners exiting the Holding. The building was used as a rough, cruel prison where every prisoner was held unto the next Execution. There was no trial, no mercy, no other sentences.
If a member of Blind wasn't beneficial to the people of Blind, then they were executed. The disabled, elderly, and those who made mistakes were usually the ones executed. Only now were there others, the war prisoners from the Outreaching.
"What happened Daniel?"
"With the war?"
"Yeah. There's only twenty six… what about the others? Where are the other prisoners?"
"Dead. We didn't try to take prisoners." Daniel responded calmly. "We only took these because of their seniority in the Outreaching. Leaders. We thought a public execution, broadcasted all over the world, would heighten those who stubbornly remain."
Markus nodded his head, studying the line of prisoners. None of them looked like leaders at all-just defeated, dying and wasted. The living dead. He found it hard to believe these were the men and women who challenged the ways of the Citadel. Who fought back.
"What happens to those in the Outreaching?"
"We slowly assimilate them into our culture-let them become like us. It might not be for another century or so until we control all of the Outreaching." Daniel responded, pointing at the line of prisoners. "Now I sense a problem might occur. Look."
Markus squinted at the line of prisoners, spotting a little girl at the back. Black hair, brown eyes, guided by four Instructors. She stumbled after the group, obviously blind and confused. "My God… Daniel?" He whipped around, seeing the nonchalant expression of his friend.
"Christina. The Instructors finally persuaded Miranda to have her executed. Despite how you feel, we found it was best for Blind if she was killed. She's blind, Markus. A deterrent to her classmates Learning experience." Daniel raised an eyebrow as Markus faced him, staring down at him.
"How… how could you Daniel!?" He grabbed the Instructor by the collar, seething with rage. "She's my daughter you bastard! My daughter!" He let the man go, sick to his stomach by his thin frown.
The man had no clue what he'd done.
"Markus. Do not interfere. Markus. Christina was the one who wanted to die." Daniel said, fixing his wrinkled collar. He watched his friend walk over to the prisoners.
Markus turned around. "My daughter would never do that."
"Then go to her. Ask. I'll even escort you. Your daughter sees that Blind will benefit from her passing." Daniel walked up to his friend, unafraid to be near him. Casually he stepped toward the line of prisoners, gesturing at those guiding Christina.
Christina was halted by one of the Instructors, who was under Daniel's leadership. "Sir, is there a problem?" His glazed eyes showed no sign of impatience at the interruption.
"Can Markus speak with his daughter?"
"Father?" Christina's tiny voice was firm, resolute. Not a tinge of fear.
"Alright. Regulation allows for a minute exchange." The Instructor took a step from Christina, staring at Markus.
Daniel also backed up as Markus knelt before his daughter, brushing a strand of hair from her face. "Christina… come here sweetheart. We're going home." He put his hands on her shoulder, squeezing them reassuringly.
"No Father. I must die, for the good of Blind." She shrugged her shoulders, trying to shake his hold on her. "Please, Mother approves. I must pass on. Make way for the good of Blind."
"No…" Markus knew there was no way he could change her mind. None at all. "You're worth everything to me, Christina. You're my daughter. I love you."
"Father, I love you too. But I must die." Christina frowned as the Instructor put his hand on her shoulder. "Goodbye Father."
Daniel nodded his head approvingly, watching her go. "She knows what's right. You should be proud, Markus. Such a brave daughter you have."
"You don't even know what it means to be proud, or brave." Markus muttered, facing his longtime friend. "You don't know anything!"
Daniel only turned from Markus, staring at the platform where the prisoners were lead. Walking towards the other Instructors, he unstrapped the gun from his holster. Gracefully he walked onto the wooden stage, passing by the two rows of captives.
Gun in hand, he faced an older, male prisoner. The crowd kept silent as Daniel pointed the weapon at the chained captive. "For the betterment of Blind and Citadel." He pulled the trigger, while the gore sprayed in the air.
Markus wasn't going to stand for this.
Daniel moved down the line of prisoners, slowly making his way towards Christina. The child kept perfectly still, while the others fought against their chains or shouted curses. A bearded, shapely man shouted. "Damn the Citadel! Damn you ignorant bastards!"
A single bullet silenced him.
Markus pushed past the crowd, gathered before the stage. "Excuse me," he pushed past the row of Instructors guarding the stage. None of them did a thing to stop him-he was their own-they only glanced at him curiously.
Approaching the stage, he walked up the wooden steps and onto the creaking platform. The crude, makeshift stage was only temporarily. Unlike the clear, pristine metal dwellings and businesses of Blind, the stage seemed to come straight from the Outreaching.
"Daniel! Stop!" Markus stood on the stage, pointing his finger at the Instructor.
All the prisoners stared at Markus, some gawking, others dumbfounded by the sudden outburst. For the people of Outreaching had believed all those in Blind were the same-they'd never heard of Markus before.
"Please leave the stage, Markus. What has to be done, must be done."
Markus took a step forward, stepping in front of his daughter. "Christina comes with me. We're leaving Blind."
"No Father. I must die, I must stay here." Christina said, speaking up. "For Blind."
"You're daughter is right." Daniel said.
Markus tried to keep his rage down, knowing that this situation would only worsen if he lost it. "Please Daniel… if she leaves with me, then all is well. It's like she passed away."
"You can't leave Markus." Miranda's dull, cold voice came from behind. He whipped around, facing the woman. "The population isn't sufficient, we need you. You now have a place in Blind, where you once didn't. Leaving will be detrimental to Blind."
"Like I give a damn about Blind! I just want my daughter! Our daughter!" He knelt before Christina, entering the code for her metallic shackles. Daniel had told him the codes months ago, since they were the same, generic code used for all locks. Quickly the chains snapped off, though Christina remained motionless.
"Markus." Miranda came up behind her husband, frowning. "You can't leave Blind."
"Then let me take our daughter." He faced Daniel and his wife while he pulled his daughter close to him. "Let me take her to the Outreaching, then I will return. Just spare her life."
"Alone? In the Outreaching? She will not survive, your efforts will be in vain." He paused, then shrugged. "But I do see your logic, it will not hurt Blind." Daniel folded his arms over his chest, studying Markus with a frown. "Go. I will escort you."
Markus nodded his head, hugging his daughter fiercely. Tears streamed down his face as he kissed her cheek, joyful that her life was spared. "Come on Christina. We're going."
Reluctantly her daughter followed, gawked at by the prisoners about to be killed. Some of them screamed at Daniel to take them with. The others kept silent, even Miranda, as Markus led his daughter off the stage.
Markus turned to his silent, grim wife with a half-smile. "Goodbye Miranda."
"You'll be back Markus. Blind needs you." She replied, her eyes cold and stance unmoving.
"Bye Miranda." He nodded at her-feeling oddly at peace about leaving her. For today, he knew for sure, that he didn't love Miranda. Perhaps he never had. "Take care of yourself." He wanted to say more, much more.
However he knew it wouldn't make a difference to Miranda. No amount of screaming, pleading, begging, impassioned words or heartfelt moments could change her. She was more blind then Christina had ever been.
Finally Miranda nodded, a flash of something in her eyes. "Bye Markus."
As he walked away with his daughter, gently holding her hand. The crowds making way for them, Miranda did watch her husband. With wide eyes, she stared out at her daughter, her husband and saw them board Daniel's jeep.
She never turned away, always keeping her eyes on Daniel's jeep and her family driving away.
Even as the Executions were finished and night fell, Miranda waited out on the Augustus, standing quietly. Waiting. Not even the Instructors could guide her home.
However, as one day turned into three, then three into seven-Miranda would stay in Augustus, waiting for her husband to return. Watching, ever watching the paved road leading out of Blind.
Watching, but never seeing.
But so it was in the town of Blind.