Finally! The first chapter of my novella has arrived. I would like to include a sketch for each chapter (this one is of the scarlet-lipped woman–I wasn’t brave enough to try one of Aster yet). I’m afraid this first one is rather out of proportion (that tends to happen when I don’t have something to look at and copy). One other thing, the scarlet-lipped woman purposely does not have any name because her identity is with the state as a whole and not the individual. Therefore, she as an individual, I didn’t name. Anyway, enjoy and try not to laugh too hard at my drawing.
I start awake, all senses alert. Darkness encloses me like the comforting arms of a parent but the dark itself repels security. Stretching comfortably in spite of a niggling shadow of fear, I blow the tousled strands of red hair from my face and flop around to my back, the sheets entangling my legs in the process. As sleeps reclaims my ever active mind, a thought swirls around my head with disturbing fogginess, ‘What awakened me? A sigh? The wind? A footstep?’ Something here is important—even with my thoughts slipping into dreams, I know something doesn’t add up. But sleep has reclaimed her victim, and I sink deeper into her arms unaware that my life totters before a precipice.
As Aster slipped back into sleep, the tall curtains at her balcony shifted as if moved by a breeze, and a shadow darted from their shady recesses. With a swift studied motion, the shadow lifted its hands under a pool of moonlight to study a winking, silver needle wielded in its long, black-gloved fingers. A pair of scarlet lips curled evilly in the darkness as the needle glided into place and the black-gloved fingers slid it into Aster’s creamy forearm.
“Sleep well, Aster dear. Your life is about to begin in earnest—you have been chosen,” admonished the scarlet lips as Aster jerked upward, eyes wide with the shock of pain, her already numbing body falling unconscious in the twisted sheets and her eyes rolling back into blackness.
Humming ran through Aster’s consciousness and pounding drummed relentlessly at her temples. She moaned as the scraping of a chair sent the drumming into new unexplored rhythms.
“Quick, Martha, go summon her now. The girl is awakening, and you know the temper she’ll be in if we wait. Enough time is already wasted,” commanded an echoing voice from the perimeters of Aster’s consciousness. Bright lights burned the back of Aster’s eyelids and the brush of soft sheets against her cheek added to her hazy state. In her mind’s eye, hung a silver four-pointed star and pair of scarlet lips beneath steady grey eyes.
“You know as well as I the girl isn’t strong enough to be moved yet,” responded a clearer voice near Aster.
“I’ll be the judge of that, Doctor. She is stronger than you think,” interrupted another voice this, one cool and at a distance.
Aster squinted her closed lids. The last voice was vaguely familiar. It carried with it images of her room in the still of night and a curious breeze from the balcony followed by shock and despair, numbness and black.
Come on, Aster. Think. Remember. What happened? Where am I? Why can’t I remember? She thought in consternation. Then, like a deluge of water, her memory returned bringing with it confusion. Aster’s eyes flew open as a pair of confident footsteps neared her bed. She blinked rapidly for a moment, then her mouth went dry as her gaze met that of a scarlet-lipped woman—dark hair drawn back in a loose knot, clad in a fitted black uniform emblazoned with a silver star on the left shoulder.
“You may leave us now,” commanded the woman to the nurse and Doctor without removing her eyes from Aster’s face. She laid a gentle hand on Aster’s bandaged forearm and, pulling up a straight-backed hospital chair, donned a look of genuine concern. “Tell me,” she said, her tone laced with an edge of disconcerting care, “How are you feeling? Stronger than that simple old doctor believes, I hope?”
Aster only stared at her in consternation. The drumming had ceased, but the humming white lights overhead and a strong smell of disinfectant distracted her overwrought senses while fog and confusion still clouded her usually keen mind.
“I see you’re still recovering,” excused the woman for Aster’s lack of response, “But you’ll pull through. I know you—have known you for years. You’re special, Aster. That’s why we chose you.” Running her hand gently over Aster’s forearm, she continued in a tone of penance, “I’m sorry—so very sorry—for the mess this has evolved into. That fool pharmacist guaranteed the safety of the injection. But no lasting worries there, you and the other youth whom the injection affected negatively, have recovered in good time. Now, tell me Aster, are you feeling strong enough undertake a short journey?”
“I’m getting there,” whispered Aster, her tongue feeling overgrown and thick. “That is,” she tried again in a louder voice that still sounded disconcertingly weak, “I think I can.”
“Excellent,” stated the woman staring intensely at Aster. Silence elapsed for a moment interrupted only by the humming lights and an alarm ringing steadily in the hall. “But you’re not quite ready yet. I can tell, Aster. We’ve been watching you for years so I ought to know. Let me explain first and then we’ll depart.” The woman stared into the distance as if focusing very hard and continued in a solemn tone. “It started six years ago. After numerous ineffectual attempts at reform, we made a decision. You see Aster, humanity has such potential! Our minds—so advanced! Our dexterity, our enlightenment, our sense of self-awareness. Aster, we could create a utopia. We could be perfect.” She paused, her breath coming fast and her eyes glistening. Staring abruptly at Aster she continued in a steely tone. “But look at us. What have we become instead? Our old people who have gained such wisdom and experience live in neglected silence. Our children, with such youth and vitality, accomplish so little of what they could. We are a sinking world.” Again the humming white lights reigned in silence. “Aster, we tried, but it is too late for reform. It’s not time to change it’s time to press delete and restart.”
At this ominous statement, Aster withdrew her arm from the scarlet-lipped woman’s stroking. “You mean,” she gasped as the woman’s startling words spun through her rapidly clearing head, “that you would ‘delete’ all of humanity and ‘restart’ our existence?”
“Precisely, dear! See, this is why we have chosen you—”
“Chosen me for what?” Demanded Aster, panting. The woman’s words sounded so clear and sure to her sluggish mind.
“Well, naturally, when humanity is ‘deleted’ some must remain to fulfill the restarting.”
Aster battled to retain a strand of truth in the face of the woman’s surety. “Not me,” she weakly asserted. The woman’s words slowly unraveled and cleared in her mind, sending the blood pounding through her temples in shock and fear. ”You have no authourity to decide who should live and who should die. You are mad,” she stammered.
“Come, Aster. Calm yourself. That is hardly the spirit. Think rationally. Consider the good of mankind as a whole,” charged the woman, her tone turning stonily benevolent at Aster’s stubbornness.
“I won’t. I refuse.” The thin sheets weighed heavy and cumbersome on Aster as she struggled to refute the woman’s steady exhortations to calm herself and think rationally.
“Refusing would be effective if you had a choice. However, you do not. We, The Council that is, have engaged the past six years in tracking the lives and talents of seven hundred near perfect youths, one of whom is you. You will both accept this honour for the good of mankind and live with the other youths as an asset to the community with the future of mankind’s existence in mind or we will be forced to terminate you with the rest of the useless world.” She studied Aster for a moment. “Come now, no more time for fruitless arguing. The termination will begin soon and we must convey you to the fortress so you can meet your new companions.”
Aster shook her head as if to clear it but only managed to send new waves of fogginess lapping through her thoughts. ‘This is wrong. This is bad. This is really bad,’ ran through her mind without any logical backing. She tried to register and reject the woman’s sleek words, searching for a fallacy. “What about you? Do you hide away somewhere till the ‘termination’ is over?”
“Me?” Laughed the woman sarcastically. “I am hardly fit to carry on the human race. The Greeks worshiped youth for a reason. You are young, clever, and talented. Though enlightened, the members of The Council are not worthy of existence. You, on the other hand, are.”
“But that’s suicide,” Aster’s brain choked over this leaving her clammy and confused.
“Precisely,” the woman’s tone was stone cold. “All for the betterment of human existence. After all, what is a large population worth should it spiral into ashes? Better a small community of perfection. The individual, Aster is but a piece of the community. Without the community to further, what is the individual?”
Two hours later, Aster put a hand to her throbbing head. It had mostly cleared and her strength was returning slowly, but the helicopter’s dipping and swerving still left her dizzy. She stared out across the water floundering beneath her in an effort quell the dizziness. Entranced by the waves stretching into the dawn, white with foam and golden with the sunrise, she forgot her confusion for a moment. Glancing at the red-lipped woman sitting calmly to her right brought all the uncertainty hailing back. Again, she felt the need to think clearly, to judge for herself and again she failed, unable to refute her own wavering tentativeness. The past hour’s events and last effects of the injection still clinging to her mind coupled with her unfamiliar surroundings and unwillingness to believe her own predicament dampened her usually keen and active mind.
Far below, an irregularity in the wave patterns caused by a recreational submarine caught her attention. The great black bird dipped rapidly down carrying Aster and the scarlet-lipped woman with it. Hovering over the water, the woman tossed a swinging rope ladder from the helicopter and she and the youth descend perilously into the underwater vessel.
“We have divided the seven hundred youths into groups of thirty each–two of which contain thirty-five–and placed them in sixty fortresses spread around the globe. The other are twenty-nine youths of your Community are already secure in your fortress,” explained the woman as they started into the depths of the ocean. “We are running terribly late so I’m afraid I’ll just have to drop you off without any introduction or ceremony.” Reaching into an inner compartment, she produced a clunky silver watch-like bracelet. “Here, clasp this onto your left wrist,” she instructed handing the bracelet to Aster while keeping her eyes ahead. “
Aster rebelliously adorned her right arm with the encirclement.
“You’ll regret that,” warned the woman. “It won’t come off now that it’s on. The bracelet holds your ID and a GPS so you won’t get lost and we won’t lose you–er… rather so the computer won’t lose you.” She smiled bitterly. “It also monitors your emotions and judges whether or not you are worthy of survival. I suggest you quench that spark of rebellion now before you reach the fortress and it starts rating you.”
Aster did not respond but instead stared out a porthole at the rapidly darkening water. For several minutes they rode in silence, calmed by the darkness and surrounding ocean life illuminated by the front light. Farther down a winking in the depths of the water caught Aster’s attention. She peered at it curiously as they neared and the light slowly took the shape of a silver star.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Stated the woman with pride as they neared the large fortress built in the shape of a four pointed star with glass walls and roof. “Took years to perfect. They may look thin from this angle, but the walls are meters thick to withstand the pressure. There’s a perfect ecosystem inside, a regular paradise for you and the other youths to weather the storm.”
Aster only stared with wide green eyes. As she looked at the glass fortress which was her future, the fullness of all she had gone through and was about to encounter finally struck her. She finally realized and grasped her predicament but wished the fogginess back. With her future home shimmering in the water before her, she felt her throat tighten and eyes well with bitter tears.