Davey stared into the long mirror, adjusting her pink dress with its black lace trim and scalloped collar. From a drawer, she pulled accessories to match and scanned the boots lining her closet. She didn’t know why she was so concerned about looking good. She knew nothing about this guy she was meeting. Nothing except that he had a beard.
She grabbed the pile of blankets sitting on the bed, distractedly, snapping the blue one and folding it. She’d helped Carly home about an hour ago but still wasn’t really sure what had happened. She couldn’t get the image of Morrison hanging in that tube out of her head. She had no idea what it meant, but she was starting to have her suspicions. Carly had insisted she was okay when Davey left her at the front door to her home, but she hadn’t sounded that convincing.
Davey had little choice but to leave her there and return to the hotel. What had started as mild curiosity was turning into a quest for information. The Masters’ directive that she ignore the Fenton was only making things worse, but she was trying not to raise any flags. She’d never considered the specifics of her placement before. Could the Master Veils access her mission at any time and see what she was doing? Was everything fed back to them? Were they already on to her suspicions? She didn’t know much, but she knew enough to be careful.
It was easy for her to pretend she was keeping them satisfied. They had told her to make sure that Carly didn’t kill herself. She couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do more. Of course, she didn’t want her friend to kill herself. Carly didn’t deserve to die. Of that, Davey was completely sure.
Twenty minutes later, Davey walked into the swank dining room on the main floor of the hotel. Large copper chandeliers hung from the ceiling, with flickering lights giving off the illusion of candlelight. She scanned the tables, but didn’t see anyone with a beard.
“Hello, Ms. Nesbitt.” The hostess greeted her. Davey was still a little surprised when people she’d never seen before knew her by name. “Can I get you a table?”
“Yes, please. Table for two.”
“Excellent. Can I have the name of your other party and we’ll seat them when they arrive.”
Davey tried to come up with a plausible reason why she wouldn’t know her guest’s name. And why she wouldn’t even know what he looked like. Her mind was drawing a complete blank.
“Sorry I’m late.” A voice sounded from behind her. She turned to see a tall man jogging towards her. His dark blonde hair perfectly matching the hair of his beard, contrasting pleasantly with his light brown skin. .
“Not late.” Davey smiled at him, grateful that she hadn’t made herself look foolish. “I just arrived myself.”
The hostess led them to a table cast in the comfortable glow of candlelight. Davey settled into her chair and reached forward to touch the deep red blooms of the flowers set in the low vase. The pedals were velvety smooth against the tips of her fingers. The Parks residents of Faulery Valley were treated to the most luxurious of amenities. The disparity was becoming more obvious the longer she stayed in town.
“You look lovely, Damhnait.” The man smiled from behind his water glass.
“Thank you.” Davey smiled at the use of her full name “I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know your name.”
“It’s Ajay.” He reached across the table to shake her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Ajay.”
“Have you eaten here before?” Ajay glanced around the room.
“Not here specifically, but I had room service this morning. It was delicious.” Davey opened her menu and perused the list of delicacies. “Everything looks delicious.”
“You should try the pork belly. I hear it’s the local specialty.” They scanned their menus for a few more minutes before Davey waved over their server.
“What brings you to Faulery Valley, Damhnait?” Ajay sipped from the glass of chilled white wine after the waitress had taken their order.
“School.” Davey brushed her hair back and watched people rushing up and down the street outside the tinted windows. She delved into the background story that had been created for her on this planet. “My parents were disasters. Constantly fighting. Eventually, I decided I’d had it. I still had a year of school left, so it made sense to come back to the last place I had any good memories.”
“And Faulery Valley was your good memory place?” Ajay raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“I lived here when I was eleven. My parents didn’t fight then. We were happy. I had a best friend. The only one I’ve ever had. It was a different town then.” Davey shrugged, not sure how much she was willing to say about Carly to a man who worked for the people responsible for her current condition. “What brought you here? You said you grew up in the Flatlands right?”
“I did.” He nodded, his hair glinting in the light, “It was a pretty generic childhood if I’m perfectly honest. Happy home. Happy school. Good grades. Blah, blah, blah.”
“All that happiness and you end up a soldier in this place?” She leaned forward, elbows on the table. This was the part of the night she’d been looking forward to.
“We all have to pay the bills, right?” He grinned as Davey raised an eyebrow. “Well, maybe not you. How does someone your age afford a place like this without the assistance of your parents?”
“I made sure that wouldn’t be an issue before I decided to come back here.” Davey danced around the issue. “Does your gig pay well?
“Enough that I can take a pretty girl out for supper.” He smiled evasively.
“Aren’t you a little old for me, soldier boy?” Davey leaned forward, smiling a genuine smile. Whatever else Ajay was, he was very charming.
“I’m only twenty.” He smiled. The waitress appeared with their food and set the plates down in front of them. Davey inhaled the smell of crispy pork, honey, and garlic. The dark brown sauce layered over the meat smelled sweet and spicy.
“Wow, that’s a lot younger than I thought. How does someone your age have your job?” Davey placed a piece of meat on her tongue and let the tender, succulent juices flow down her throat. “Just when I think the food in this place can’t get any better, this happens.”
Ajay smiled and sliced off a piece of his own steak. “How about we save the work talk until later?”
For the next hour, they made small talk. Telling stories about their misadventures of youth. A thick, warm laugh bubbled passed Ajay’s lips as he listened to Davey describe how at the age of seven, she’d been so certain that if she tried hard enough she could find the end of the rainbow and obtain heaps of gold that she’d grabbed a bunch of empty suitcases and set off on an adventure.
“You sure are set on finding your own way through the world aren’t you?”
“I think that you should become the best version of the person you’re supposed to be. Whoever that is.” Davey pushed away her empty plate. “Should we order dessert? I love dessert.”
“I love a girl who likes her food.” He grinned. “How about we go up to your room and have dessert delivered?” He leaned towards her, lowering his voice. His fingers touching her gently.
“Ajay, we just met. What kind of girl do you think I am?” She leaned back, but he held her hand just firmly enough that she couldn’t pull away.
“A girl who wants answers that I can’t give in a public place.” He kept the look on his face casual and light. Anyone looking on would think the conversation was taking a turn for the romantic.
“So you are as smart as you look,” Davey leaned forward, playing into the image. “But what will people think?”
“That we’re two people on a date and we’ve decided we’re not ready for it to be over.” He reached forward to brush her hair behind her ear, the long red strands trailing through his fingertips. Romantic engagements were something D rarely participated in. Her specialties were life and death, but she had to admit that his fingers against her skin were inviting.
“As long as we can have the lemon soufflé, we can go where ever you want.” Davey smiled. She placed the order with the Hostess as they were leaving. Ajay slipped an arm around her waist as they made their way across the lobby. Davey leaned into his warmth, feeling the defined muscles under his black ribbed sweater. The shirt was a little too much like his uniform for her liking. Davey was unlocking her room when the service elevator dinged and a woman walked out pushing a cart covered in silver domed trays. Ajay wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and buried his nose into her neck. She giggled as his breath tickled her skin. His teeth brushed against her ear lobe.
“Perfect timing. Stop it, Ajay. It’s time for dessert.” Davey pulled his arms apart and handing him one of the trays. Inside the room, she pulled off her boots, crawled onto the bed, tucked her legs under her, and removed the lid from the soufflé. She jutted her chin at a spot on the bed. “Have a seat, and bring that raspberry torte with you.”
Ajay climbed up onto the bed and crossed his legs. He forked a bite of the rich dessert into his mouth, and turned to her. “Ask your questions, Damhnait.”
“Are there other soldiers like you? Like just wandering around town at night, pretending like they don’t enforce punishments on people?” Davey asked around a mouthful of soufflé.
“There are a couple different ranks of soldiers. Level ones are not allowed to leave the training facility, except for specific events – like today’s parade. They eat, sleep, live, serve, breath everything Fenton. The level one program lasts a minimum of five years but the majority of the L1s never move above that rank. Secondary levels, like me, do our jobs but are allowed to have our own lives. There are fewer of us, only about fifty or so. Most of L2s choose to remain in the facilities, but about a dozen of us regularly spend time in the community. The Waves are completely different. They are plain-clothed at all times, except for two one hour periods each day when they are suited up in the case of an emergency. Those times rotate on a daily basis. Waves fit in with the community easily. You would never know you were talking to one. Ever. Even if you later encountered them in their uniform. Like the woman that brought up our desserts. She’s a Wave.”
“No way. She looked so normal.” Davey leaned forward and snagged a bite of the torte. “But, that’s explains why you were suddenly all handsy.”
“That was part of it,” He smiled. “I’d be lying if I said that was the only reason.”
“How does someone become a soldier? I can’t exactly see them having a recruitment booth on career day.”
“What I’m about to tell you is very, very important.” Ajay moved the plate from his lap to the side table. He leaned forward and took the near empty plate from Davey. “I want your full attention.”
“If you’re taking away my food, this better be the most important thing I’ve heard all day.” Davey grinned and leaned forward, elbows on her knees.
“Remember how I told you that my childhood was all sunshine and roses?” Davey nodded, “I may have exaggerated a little. My childhood was good, like really good, until I was fourteen years old. That’s when the Fenton moved in. Ceilidh Flatlands was a very different town from Faulery. We celebrated music, art, dancing. Basically, anything creative. Sure, we played sports and did a lot of active stuff, but I mostly kept to myself. I was a creative kid more than I was anything else. I was more interested in being a sculptor than making lots of friends, and I had my family. I didn’t need anyone else. A lot of the families in the flatlands were like that. But everything changed when the Fenton came in. Art was looked down on. Celebration and music were shunned unless they were sanctioned. What used to be a town of harmony and merriment turned into a town of depression and sadness.”
“But most of the people here are happy and powerful. The negative effects of the Fenton seem to be confined to a very small section of town. What you’re saying sounds like the majority of town was Dry.”
“There are more people in Faulery Valley that long for power. That thrive in a society that rewards the greedy. Those people created a different type of city for the Fenton. The perfect city. The Fenton feed on avarice. They find it and enhance it in people. The people from home didn’t respond the same way. We just didn’t have that seed of greed they dig out, so there were more people that suffered.” Ajay brushed his fingers through his hair, “When I refused to participate in the town directives, when I kept making my sculptures, I was placed in the detention area for a period. That just pissed me off even more. I started sneaking my artwork into public areas. My family did it with me. My sister, my beautiful, charming sister, would paint flash murals at night. Pictures of all the things we’d loved before the Fenton arrived. People dancing. Birds. Animals. Lovers. Everything that made Ceilidh the town it had been.”
“We’d been acting out for about six months when it happened. Out on a regular mission. We were going to flash town hall that night. I had created this bird. A great shining bird out of pressed aluminum and coloured glass. Katie was going to paint a rainbow of fire around the entrance and I was going to set the bird in front of it. She was about half done the painting when I finished positioning the statue, securing it in quick drying cement so it couldn’t be moved, when we heard the boots.” His voice caught in his throat before he forced himself to continue.
“We ran. Ran as fast as we could. It was The Waves. We’d pissed off the Fenton too many times. They weren’t playing around anymore. We didn’t make it far. They’d surrounded us. I didn’t see them until it was too late. I ran around a corner too quickly and rammed right into the tip of a Shockwave.” Ajay stopped and pushed himself off the end of the bed. He walked towards the sink silently, his shoulders tight. Davey watched as he poured a glass of water and swallowed half of it before returning to sit on the end of the bed. His confident expression was gone. His eyes were full of the pain she’d seen in Carly’s. “I was out for four days. And when I came to, I was in the Cage. I’d been there before, but never for this long. Do you know what the Cage is?”
“Not really. Carly explained that it’s worse than the detention rooms.”
“It is literally a cage. A small metal box about six and a half feet high and two feet wide. They strap you in almost naked and close the door. The straps ensure that you can’t move. Your arms are pinned to your sides. Your head is strapped to the back of the box. Then they leave you there. Every half hour, they shift the position of the box, so it’s upside down then right side up. And back and forth and back and forth until you think you’re going to die. It feels like forever between shifts. At first, it’s a relief, but after a while, you begin to dread it. They jam tubes in your veins to ensure that you can’t pass out from hunger or thirst. And then there’s the heat. The heat is unbearable. You’re sweating so badly. It builds up under the straps and shifts every time they turn you. Eventually, it starts to chafe and rubs against the straps. You can’t scratch, or move, or adjust. There was this one time, they put me in the Cage while I was passed out. I have no idea how long I’d been in there before I woke up but I was there for about twelve hours afterwards. When they finally released me, I couldn’t walk. They left me in that hallway until I could get myself to the door.
“I thought… I thought that it was like every other time I’d been in the Cage. I’d served my sentence and I was free to go. This was by far the worst experience I’d had in there, but that wasn’t the end of it.” Ajay stopped, took a deep breath and pressed his fingers against his eyes. “When I opened the door, it didn’t lead to the hallway like I expected, instead I went into another room. This one contained a large glass case, like the one you saw in the parade today. Except this time, there was no mist in the tube. There was just Katie, hanging there. Broken. They’d done something to her while I was away. They’d broken her spirit. She just hung there, Damhnait. Hung there like a piece of meat at the butchers. Then they turned on that damned machine. It was like watching someone coming apart at the seams. Little by little they were sucking her dry. I begged them to stop. Begged them. And they offered me a deal. Me for her. If I stayed and became a dutiful soldier, they would release her. Let her go home and never touch her again. That’s all I had to do. Give my life for hers. Service to the Fenton is forever.”
“Of course you said yes.” Davey nodded. She’d covered enough engagements to know that family would do anything.
“I said yes, as long as they agreed to leave my entire family alone. I knew I’d never see them again, but if it saved their lives, there was no question. I made them release Katie and let me say goodbye. I needed her to know that I was making a choice. That she should not try to come save me. The Fenton moved me here to Faulery Valley the next day. I’ve been working for them ever since. And I guess, that gets us into this room at this time.”
Davey tilted her head in thought, munching away at a piece of taffy she’d pulled from the side table. “Are all the soldiers so… cavalier with information? I figured you would be all service the greater good, honour thy leader, and whatnot.”
“Most of us are. The recruitment of other soldiers is different. They’re so broken by the time they’re put in the Prim that they accept their position willingly. They credit the Fenton with saving their lives. For putting a stop to their pain. If they’re ever released from the training facility and level one classification, the brainwashing has set in and they are single minded followers of the Fenton. Specifically the Hoejiim. I pretend to be exactly the same. As far as anyone else is concerned, we’re in here getting it on.” He scooted up the bed until he was leaning against the headboard beside Davey.
“Remember the person you saw sitting on the back of the Prim today, in the throne?”
“That’s the Hoejiim . It’s like the King of the Fenton. The current Hoejiim is Ivar. We’re not supposed to know the exact identify, but if you know the right people, you can find out information. The Hoejiim is responsible for taking the power that the Fenton extract during their punishments and spreading it across the community. It makes the weak weaker and the greedy frenzied. That feeds back to into the power and they feed it back to the community. It’s a vicious circle.” Ajay leaned back against the bed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Because of the way I was brought in… it’s just not the same for me. I’ve been looking for a way to destroy them since I started. And then you showed up, and it suddenly all seems so clear.”
“This is a lot of information to digest. So, could we just turn on the television and be mindless for a little while?” Davey had no idea what to think. She grabbed the remote and flicked on the screen across the room. The sound of canned laughter floated from the speakers, interrupting their heavy thoughts. Davey snuggled up against Ajay and felt her eyes flutter shut.