eleventeen Chapter One
It had always been there, rooted deep within my mentality, slowly piecing together until it spun out of control.
The society I lived in, led by a man called the Puppeteer and a woman named the Queen, was certainly a torturous one.
But it wasn't always like that. Once upon a time there was a man called T., who cared deeply for his citizens. He'd always be out in the streets, helping the poor and the hopeless, spinning tales of wonder for the children. The Puppeteer was his second in command, keeping parts of the rule in order, until the day T. died. It was tragic, but well expected. T. had been on the throne for fifteen years, and started at an older age as well. He was the catalyst for bringing our land from chaos and into order, as had been with our ancestors.
Our land went into great mourning.
After the respective four months of mourning, the Puppeteer took the throne, and the Queen who had shown herself once upon a spring two years prior, took over as the second in command.
That was three years ago.
My name is Charlotte Pepper.
This is the story of the Lindonian Rebellion.
Allow me to start by saying that I was completely content with my society as it was. I had lived to see the reign of T., and I was one of the many black shrouds at his funeral, however, the Puppeteer seemed to know what he was doing. He portrayed the image of a man who cared deeply about the people he led, while he was really destroying Lindonia from the inside. Why he hated so deeply the people he was given the responsibility to care for, nobody knew. The first people to recognize his shortcomings were put down. By his second year, a few more joined them, but many still ignored the possibility that the Puppeteer could be trying to plunge our world into chaos.
By the time Lindonia finally noticed the Puppeteer had turned them into his own little game of bowling, he had done plenty of damage as it was. He had completely compromised the legal system, dragging people in for the sheer purpose of execution by his blood-thirsty second-in-command, the Queen. Her eyes shone the brightest when she was shooting a gun, some say. Democracy was a joke; the Puppeteer manipulated the votes to survive in his favor. Nothing was sacred anymore - phones were tapped, while letters, emails, and texts were monitored. After a while, rumors started to surface that there were hidden cameras in homes to drop in on conversations.
On the day the law passed that no longer allowed the citizens to leave Lindonia, I was running errands. I can remember it clearly - my appointed roommate, Eva, and I had gotten into our worst fight yet. I had decided to go out so she would calm herself down.
Little did I know how wrong I'd be.
By the time I had arrived home, it had started to rain. I put the groceries down on the table.
"I'm back," I shouted cheerily, "Do you want me to make -"
She came from around the corner, my suitcase in hand. "Get out."
"What?" I asked, taken aback.
"I've done so much for you, Charlotte. And how do you repay me? You run away."
"Eva, I told you I was going out to get -"
"That's a lie and you know it!" She picked up a pen lying nearby and threw it at the window.
"You're acting like a child!" I yelled, grabbing her arm. "Do you know how much trouble we would've gotten in if you broke that?"
"I wasn't aiming for the window."
"You must be a pretty sorry shot then."
"It was a warning shot. Now get out." She tossed me my bag and pointed towards the door.
I slammed the door behind me, the rain now going from a spastic drizzle to a steady downpour. Eva was easily upset, and always wanted me to obey her. She had found me a few years ago, and we had become fast friends. She was close to T., and closer to the Puppeteer. I think they had known each other for a long time, perhaps right about the time Lindonia was starting to reform.
I was lost in thought as I walked down the street when I ran smack into two men, one slightly taller than the other. We collided with such force that we both fell backwards and into the large puddle we were so carefully making our way across.
"I'm sorry," The taller one said, his dark hair a shaggy, matted mess. "We should've been watching where we were going."
The shorter one reached over to help me up, with a slight smile. "Are you alright?"
I nodded, our pale faces glinting in the dim streetlamp light. I couldn't help but observe how shorter's pale blue eyes seemed to fight against whatever darkness it came to find, and how taller's brown eyes appeared to stay in the background, flirting with, and fading into, the darkness.
"What're you doing out so late, anyway? It's almost curfew."
I looked up at them. They seemed friendly, but then again, so did every person who wanted to take you in and then break you. Shouldn't I be more cautious?
"How hypocritical; I couldn't help but notice you two are out late as well."
"We're working with the government."
"Liar. Where's your badges?"
They looked at each other, at me, and then back again, a silent conversation badgering on in their contrasting eyes. They reached a conclusion and turned back to me.
"If you tell us why you're out so late, we'll tell you our reason. Deal?" Shorter one offered rather diplomatically.
I sighed. "Deal." Looking behind me, and to either side, I took a breath. "My roommate kicked me out. I have no place to stay, so I'm just wandering around until...until...I don't know. Something happens." I winced, realizing how much I had just given away. "What I meant was -"
"It's okay." The taller one said. "What's your name?"
"You're not going to turn me in, are you?"
They chuckled. "So long as you promise not to turn us in, no." The taller one winked.
It was funny, I was starting to feel at ease with them. But wasn't that one of the signs of being a psychopath? Or perhaps it was a sociopath...but either way, it was bad news. And I had enough bother with bad news...
"Charlotte Pepper," I quickly said, banishing the pessimism nibbling at the back of my mind. "And you?"
"I'm Evander Heckley, and this is my twin brother Iuean." The taller one said, shaking my hand. His brother quickly followed suit.
"We have a spare room at our house, if you need a place to stay," Iuean said, "I'd hate to see you turned in."
I laughed shakily. "Sure. Thanks so much..."
Their house was small, much smaller than mine. But it was sufficient enough, and, as promised, there was a "spare" room.
"It's actually mine, but hey, the couch looks comfy tonight!" Evander said, snatching a duvet and curling up on the couch.
"Look, if I'm interrupting anything...I can leave, if you like..."
"No, no, it's fine. I wasn't being sarcastic or anything, really!" He smiled warmly, and patted my back. "There's a bathroom down the hall; you can shower and get changed. And get some rest...you look like you need it!"
I snatched my bag, and hurried down into the bathroom, not really sure what to think. Why were they being so kind? Was it for a reason?
Suddenly, a horrible thought tore into my mind.
What if they were with the rebellion? What if they had found me and were planning to brainwash me? But they didn't seem like rebels. They seemed too kind. They weren't murderous...not like the rebels I had seen anyway. Not at all like the rebels I had been trying to forget since that night.
--Eight Months Prior---
It was almost October. There was a familiar chill in the air, one that had manifested sometime between the beginning of the month and the last week, but it seemed almost sharper. Like a sense of foreshadowing, the weather had let on that today wouldn't be like the other days. It seemed to shout that something horrible would happen, but, much like Ceasar's foolish ignorance of the fortuneteller's prediction, I payed it no mind. Today I would go out with my friends, enjoy that last bit of warmth left over from summer before the real cold set in. I would enjoy myself, I decided.
I met up with my best friends Imogen, Daniel, and Chris in the center of the park. We were going to have a picnic, maybe explore some of the parts of town that we hadn't got to see before (funny, you can live somewhere your whole life and not really know all if it...).
We had been out for maybe forty five minutes before they came.
I hadn't seen them at first. They were hidden among the maze of statues in the park, noting famous people, from T. to the Puppeteer himself. Their monochrome uniforms had blended in with the concrete, the fences, the trees - perhaps nobody noticed them because they looked sickeningly like officials in the way they walked and talked.
Chris and I were facing their direction, while Imogen and Daniel had their backs turned. I did what I could. I was able to save Chris, but Imogen wouldn't leave her wounded fiancé. We theorized that Imogen and Daniel didn't make it out because they were more vulnerable. Or perhaps they were just in the way.
I hurried out of the bathroom and down the hall. I settled into bed and turned off the light. The nagging thought that Iuean and Evander were up to no good wouldn't leave my mind. The clock went from eight, to ten, to twelve-thirty, to two, but I still couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned until the sun came up, and I got ready for the day. I walked into the kitchen and there sat Iuean and Evander, crouched over some papers.
"Um..." I stuttered awkwardly.
"Oh!" Evander looked up and pushed the documents under the table. "Good morning, Charlotte. How're you?"
"For the most part."
"Are you hungry?"
"Not really...I actually should be getting off to work. I was wondering...do you know where the nearest train station is?"
Iuean grabbed my hand and sat me down at the table. "Do you have to go to work?" He asked, his voice pleading with me to stay. "I mean, we hardly know you and you've slept in our house..."
"Look, I'd love to, but if I don't go..." I trailed off, sighing.
"It's fine." Iuean said. "Nearest train station is a few blocks west. Can we expect you home for dinner?"
"Sure." I said, smiling. "Thanks..."
The walk was short, and fortunately the train station was the same one I used to get to work every day. I guess Iuean and Evander didn’t live as far as I had thought. At least that was a comfort.
But unfortunately for me, there wasn’t much comfort when I got to work.
“Hello, Miss Pepper.” The Puppeteer said, waiting for me as soon as I entered my small office room.
“Hello. Er, not to be rude, but why –”
“Why am I in your office?”
“That’s simple. You’ve not been doing your job properly.”
“What?” I was shocked.
“Yes, you see…Chris was almost killed last night.”
“I’m sorry, sir…I really…”
“Where were you at eleven o’ clock last night?”
Crap. “Um, I was at home, sleeping, sir.”
“Sources say you weren’t.”
Crap. “What sources?”
That little – “We had a bit of a falling out last night, so I went over to a hotel to stay.”
“We’ve checked all the records in the area, and there was no hotel room under your name taken out.”
What was the point of this? “It was under another name. Safety reasons.”
He nodded. “Fine. Just, let’s avoid having this happen again, shall we, Miss Pepper?”
“Yes, sir.” Part of me was relieved that he wasn’t asking any more questions. I’d have to put another name in a hotel, under a fake name or something. I’d need a better alibi…but now I had to work.
I watched him exit the room, his haughty ego lingering even after the door had closed behind him.
He scared me, sometimes. Perhaps it was because, ever since he stepped into the public eye, he wore a mask. It was a bizarre purple and red diamond pattern, and the last few weeks I had noticed a hairline crack appearing down the center.
I sank back into my chair, slowly letting my grip loosen on the arms. I bent over to grab my bag, and, in one swift movement, I had swung it up on the table. I opened it, rummaging around through loose papers, old theories, cracked codes, and an endless amount of torn-out book pages. I latched onto my laptop and quickly pulled it out, careful not to have the mess within the bag spill out. Over a few years of practice had taught me this much…
I turned on the laptop and grabbed my research notebook. Like my bag, it was a mess – photographs and sticky notes peeked out from behind its many pages. I flipped over pages until I found a problem I felt like solving – a complex equation that perhaps would lead to an answer that would prove useful in the medicine area. At least, that was my hope. But it appeared to be unsolvable.
Albert Einstein once said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again. If such a bold statement was true, then I was surely the looniest of the bunch. I’d hit my head against a wall for ages, if it meant I could solve a problem.
But what problems am I solving?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure. To protect the public…to protect Chris…to make my own pathetic existence worth something – any number of reasons. Certainly not money, I’ll tell you that…
“Eh, Charlotte?” A voice said from behind the door.
“Yes? Who’s there?” I looked up from the scribbles I had been hastily marking on the paper.
“It’s Maloney. You weren’t at lunch today…so I brought you this.” A familiar face peeked around the doorframe, holding a small tray with a dish of soup and a roll.
“You didn’t have to do that…” I said, gently reprimanding him. Maloney had just started working here not too long ago. He was a very kind person; I think he was working in public outreach or something like that. It was some area that would accent his amiable personality, which could clearly be noted by the aura that emanated from the way he could easily hold a conversation with you once you got to know him. “But thank you. You can sit down, if you like…”
“So…do you forget to eat often, or something?”
“Sort of. It depends what I have to do.”
“I’m not sure if that’s healthy.” He teased, laughing quietly.
“I do what I can.” I brushed my bangs away from my face, turning back to the computer. Sometimes I really wished I had a sense of humor, but at this point work comes first.
“She’s been a horror lately. Did she come in?”
“No, I think she took the day off.” He stayed quiet for a second, turning to face the window, and then he turned back around. “Um, I had a question…”
Suddenly, a realization dawned on me. My eyes widened in horror, and I slowly faced towards Maloney. “Do you know what time it is?” I asked, hand half on my laptop, ready to close it.
“Oh, it’s around four…why?”
“I’ve got to go…” I slammed the laptop shut. Maloney nodded, looking a bit off-put, but I paid it no mind. I hurriedly stuffed my books in my bag and dashed out the door. “Goodbye, Maloney!”
I reached the bus stop completely out of breath. The hotels stopped taking entries after four thirty, and the closest bus left at five. As I sank down in my seat, I remembered something.
Evander and Iuean never told me what they were doing out so late last night.