Author: Raymond Lamar Gilstrap PM
Welcome to Paradise. Emotions are illegal here. Every morning, all citizens must inhale the Purge, a gas that keeps them impassive. Liam Cato upholds the laws and Charlotte Tatum breaks them. This is their story. THE SEQUEL, EMPATHY, IS COMING SOON!Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Romance - Chapters: 43 - Words: 142,323 - Reviews: 223 - Favs: 79 - Follows: 76 - Updated: 12-19-12 - Published: 03-12-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3004503
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: Here's another lengthy chapter but at least there are only eight left . . . .
Currently Listening To: "The Resistance" by Anberlin
Once again people are risking their necks for me and I hate it. That's how Aidan ended up in his bad situation.
They're all eager to help me, which makes me feel worse. Some of them are excited even.
"I'm going back with you," I argue with the trio planning to venture outside before the Zeppelins fly over and retrieve Liam from the hillside. "I know exactly where he is. We can find him faster that way."
The trio consists of Emma, the old man, and the black-haired boy. Everyone else ogles me as though I'm the first meal after days of intense hunger. The attention annoys me, especially right now. I appreciate the Free Spirits and their admiration, but boy they should paint a picture that will last longer than their gawking.
"It's too risky, Charlotte," Emma tells me reasonably. But I don't want to hear reason at the moment, especially from Emma who's the most eager of all. She thinks of this as some grand adventure and she's blind to the potential consequences, except the ones involving me leaving the restaurant. "If you stay here, my grandmother can make sure that the Zeppelins won't pick up your vector at all."
I open my mouth to argue some more, while glancing at the old woman. She has abandoned the knife and dish towel and now holds an ornate key in her hands. She eyes me with concern. She's the only one not thrilled about this besides me. However, her reasons I'm sure are much different than mine.
I fall silent and watch as the three of them head for the exit. It's dark in the restaurant but sunlight from outside keeps the place lit enough to see. I follow them all the way to the door. Emma pauses and tells me, "Everything will be okay, Charlotte. We'll take care of it for you." She smiles warmly. "He's next to a patch of purple wildflowers right?"
I nod, trying to calm myself. I'm grateful for Emma and everyone else but I'm still on edge. The thundering grows louder and louder by the second.
"Come along, Emmalie," the old man says gruffly, opening the door. I assume he's Emma's grandfather and he seems nice but also possesses a curmudgeon demeanor. Curmudgeon is a word I once learned in a book I've read.
Emma steps past him and outside. The black-haired boy also smiles at me, his eyes lingering on mine for an extra second before he departs. His hair is similar to Liam's but that's where all similarities between the two end. This boy is good-looking, I suppose, but he doesn't make me feel uncomfortable whenever I'm around him. He doesn't make me want to stare at him all day. He doesn't make me feel something inside of me.
The three of them disappear outside. As soon as they're gone, Emma's grandmother rushes forward and seizes one of my arms. "Come, Charlotte, let's get you to your hiding place."
I allow her to guide me with a surprisingly tight grasp. I feel awkward, as well as super anxiety, so I try to ease my own tension by speaking. "So, you're Emma's grandmother?"
She nods. "That's correct," she tells me in a very kind voice. Staring at her facial features, I can tell that Emma inherited a lot from her. Both have strawberry blond hair, although my escort's hair is coated with graying strands. She also has Emma's pale green eyes. "All the kids call me Granny Rosie since my last name's Rosenthal. My husband and I own this restaurant. Our apartment is upstairs."
Granny Rosie leads me behind the counter and into a kitchen area. She releases my hand and I look around curiously. Some of the Free Spirits are following us, still gaping at me. I ignore them and focus my own gaze on the giant stoves and metal counters that surround me. The floor is green tile, or at least I think it's green. It's fairly dark in here, much darker than the restaurant.
"Are you French?" I ask her since I am standing inside of a French restaurant.
"My family originates from there," Granny Rosie tells me. "I've never visited myself, although I would like to go one day."
"I'm sure you're not missing much," I say before I can stop myself. "I'm sure France is just like Paradise—full of people with blank stares and no personality."
To this, Granny Rosie shakes her head. She leads me through the kitchen and into a tiny storeroom lined with boxes on either side. She picks up an old oil lantern from a shelf nearby and proceeds to light it in the dark. "No, it's not like here. Nowhere is like here."
I frown, taken aback. "What do you mean?" I ask her. Obviously, she knows something I don't. "Everywhere is like Paradise. That's what they teach us—"
"In school?" She cuts me off and dim yellow light suddenly fills the storeroom now that the lantern is lit. She scoffs. "I hate to break it you, but most of what you've learned in school are lies fabricated by those residing within the Core. That's what those in power do. They twist the truth as they see fit. Look at any point in history, any war or battles fought. You always hear the victor's side or the side of those who have forced rule upon others. You never hear the alternate version of the truth from the losers. Paradise follows that formula."
"Like the battle in the north?" I say quietly.
She nods. "You only heard what the Core wanted to tell you about that fateful day. You've heard that the north lay in ruins. That's mostly true. You've also heard that the place is inhabitable, with red-tipped field lilies the only source of life there. That is a ball-faced lie."
Red-tipped lilies remind me suddenly of my mother, as well as Scarlett. But I repel the thoughts that pop up in my head.
"I've never paid much attention in school anyways," I tell Granny Rosie, as she holds the lantern aloft in her hands. She's feeling along the wall by the door as if searching for something. I remain standing in the kitchen, watching her with interest. "I wonder why the government would lie about something like that though. Why won't they tell people that Paradise is one of a kind?"
"Think about it," Granny Rosie says almost absently, as she continues her search. I've never found a wall interesting but whatever floats her boat. And speaking of the walls, they suddenly shake slightly as though a minor earthquake is happening. The Zeppelins are really close now. "What do you think most of the people who are off the Purge would do if they found out that other places around the world contained citizens with the freedom to actively display emotions?"
It doesn't take me long to come up with a response and for her to make me feel stupid. "They would try to leave."
"Right you are," Granny Rosie says brightly. "And we can't have people fleeing, can we?"
I shake my head.
"Some of us SAFE members know the truth of course but we can't leave, at least not right now."
"Because we have to stay and fight," Granny Rosie tells me. "A war is coming soon and we have to stay and liberate this island. Everyone needs us. We have to figure out a way for people to find out all about the horrible truths of Paradise."
I normally don't trust people enough to reveal any of my secrets. After all, Aidan warned me about whom to trust before he escaped the monorail. But I feel so lost right now, so helpless that anyone who stands against the Core is always welcomed and a friend to me. Besides, Granny Rosie seems all right so I tell her: "I might be on to something that will hopefully reveal all of the truths about Paradise. That's why Liam, the boy I sent your husband and granddaughter after, is important. His mother was the one who discovered something the Core doesn't want anyone knowing."
Granny Rosie doesn't say anything for a long time and when she does, it's something totally unexpected. "Aha! There it is. It's much harder to find by lantern light."
Something happens then before my confusion can nestle inside my mind. I step into the storeroom after Granny Rosie moves away from the door. The stockroom floor appears to be nothing but concrete at first. But then, I watch as a rectangular panel in the center flips upside down. There's also a rumbling noise and I instinctively duck as though a Zeppelin is hovering right above my head. However, the vibrations come from below, not above.
Suddenly, the rumbling stops and I stare down a wooden trap door that was revealed when the concrete block flipped.
"I was a young girl when I came to this island with my parents," Granny Rosie tells me nostalgically. I've noticed that elderly people who aren't taking the Purge tended to reflect fondly on the past. I don't know why since most of their pasts are bleak. "My parents were into the wine business, so they brought a stash with them. The cellar below started out as just that—a cellar. But over the years, it has been expanded to something more."
She stoops low, unlocks the trapdoor with the ornate key, and opens the hatch. I peer down into nothing but darkness until she brushes the lantern light over the entrance. A twisting flight of steps appear out of the darkness, leading down to the cellar Granny Rosie spoke of.
"Swiftly now, Child," Granny Rosie ushers me through the trapdoor. "The Zeppelins will be here before long."
I drop into the hole without hesitation. Before she follows me, Granny Rosie tells the Free Spirits to alert her of anything out of the ordinary. Then, we go down and down, moving quickly down the stairs, guided by nothing but the flickering flames inside the lantern. I notice that the walls are wooden and not stone as expected. So are the stairs. And when we exit at the bottom, I find that the cellar resembles an old mineshaft. There are cases of wine bottles and wooden barrels stacked near the stairs, but beyond that I see a track far smaller than a monorail's disappearing off into the distance somewhere. We're standing in a tunnel, much like the sewers I typically navigate. I wonder how far this place stretches.
"My husband and I accidentally discovered this a decade ago when he fell through one of the cellar walls." She chuckles. "For over ten years now, we have used the tunnels to meet with fellow SAFE members and transport items. We provide food for a lot of the homeless this way. The tunnels run all the through that hillside you mentioned. They go on for miles."
"Impressive," I tell her.
"My husband and I are more than restaurant owners," she says with pride. "For a long time now, we have done our part, using clandestine tactics, to defy those liars inside the Core. Jacques is more than the name of our restaurant. We are the Jacques. We are the Jacobins. 'I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from the abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out'."
I spot her reference immediately. "A Tale of Two Cities," I state quietly, impressed that she remembered that rather lengthy quote. "A fabulous novel."
"You've read it?" It's her turn to be impressed.
I nod. "Three times actually. I have a hidden stash of books that I enjoy reading."
"How did you find these books?"
"A lot of exploring," I say with a laugh. "I've explored the northern ruins a lot." A question comes to me suddenly. "What did you mean earlier when you said the northern ruins are habitable despite what the politicians say? I've been there several times before but I've never seen any . . . houses or other buildings. I've never seen any animals or even people."
"They're in the process of reestablishing colonies in the north. But apparently, there's already a secret facility there that has been there for quite some time. Some spies for SAFE that have penetrated the police force and even the White Agency are trying to find out more about this facility. All we know so far is that there's research going on there and it involves the Catalyst, which of course powers the Grid."
I'm amazed that she's rich with information I've never known. Then again, now that she's mentioned it, I recall seeing advertisements for colonies in the north. I wonder why the government wants to suddenly settle people in the north after all these years.
Talking to Granny Rosie helps to ease my anxiety. Emma and the others have been gone for a while now. How long it has been exactly? I don't know. But why haven't they returned yet with Liam? It seems like ages ago when they left.
"You and your husband—"
"You can call him Papa Rosenthal. That's what Emma's friends call him."
"Okay then. You and Papa Rosenthal are like the Defarges." I make my own allusion to the novel written by Charles Dickens. "Only not evil."
Granny Rosie laughs heartily. "I'll take that as a compliment," she says. "Your disguise is flawless. You really do look like Olivia Cruz."
"Thanks," I tell her. "It was all my best friend, Lilly's, handiwork. She's an actress and she works wonders with makeup."
The entire tunnel shakes as though it's about to cave in. Dust and tiny splinters of wood tumble from the ceiling.
"They're here," Granny Rosie says quietly and I cringe.
I know it's the Zeppelins this time. They're finally flying over this street and still no signs of Emma, Papa Rosenthal, the black-haired boy, or Liam.
"They're too late," I say quietly, stunned to the very depths of my soul.
At the same time—
"Granny Rosie!" A voice calls from the top of the stairs. "The Zeppelins are here and a bunch of squad cars. There are officers patrolling the area, going from door to door. A few of them are headed this way."
Granny Rosie looks at me and I can barely make out her thin, partly-lined face in the glow of the lantern light. The dread I currently feel can't compare to anything I've ever experienced before. "They'll make it," she tells me soothingly. I want to believe her but unless she can provide proof that they'll make it, then I can't believe her.
She hands me the lantern. "Won't you need this?" I ask her. Once again, the place trembles as another Zeppelin flies over.
"I've walked through these tunnels and up those stairs for many years," she tells me. "I've had a lot of practice navigating in the dark. Besides, I can't leave you down here without any light. You wouldn't want one of our homeless friends to scare you in the dark, would you?"
She smiles lightly and I accept the lantern from her. Somehow her words don't bring me any comfort.
She leaves me alone to nothing but my thoughts. Unfortunately, my thoughts are like what I imagine bad houseguests would be—they just won't leave. And I want them to, for they're not good company and they're worrying me sick.
A few moments later, the trapdoor closes, completely shutting me off from the rest of the restaurant. Then, the stairs quiver as they drop away from the trapdoor. I stand there, clutching the lantern and feeling as though I have to throw up. I strain my ears to listen but I can't hear a word coming from upstairs. How is Emma and the others going to return now with cops walking around, knocking on doors like trick or treaters of the past—or somewhere else since apparently Paradise is the only place where emotions are illegal? If I've ever wanted to leave this god forsaken island before, now I really want to leave. I want to take my family and friends with me and move some place far away where we could be free to pick our noses if we wished, or smile for no darn reason at all.
I don't know how long I stand there without moving. The seconds seems long and drawn out. I catch myself holding my breath a few times and it's only then that I remember to breathe. I stare at the staircase, waiting to hear it rise again and movement coming down the steps when the cops discover that I'm hiding down here. I'm beyond paranoid. I'm also beyond worried.
A cool draft seeps into the area from cracks in the wood. I glance over my shoulder automatically. I don't see anything but darkness, so I hold the lantern aloft around eye level. I narrow my eyes and squint, my field of vision travelling a little bit farther than the light. I don't see anything but I suddenly hear something moving towards me. I expected cops to come rushing down from the storeroom above and not for someone to approach from the opposite direction. Whoever is it is moving pretty rapidly and it sounds like multiple footfalls.
My heart quickens inside my chest. I look around for a place to hide but all I have are wooden beams that hold up the ceiling. The beams won't do anything to conceal me. I glance at the wine crates and barrels. They're all pressed up against so I doubt I would have enough time to create the necessary space for me to duck behind. Besides, they're all full of wine so I don't think I'm strong enough to even push any of the stacks.
A ball of light appears straight ahead and I can make out shadows dancing against the wall where I see now that the tunnel bends to the right. I hear crunching across the gravel on the tracks. I backpedal, tensing up for a fight if I have to. Granny Rosie mentioned that homeless people visited these tunnels. If a group of them are approaching, I have to be ready in case they're hostile. I think the Rosenthals are doing something wonderful by feeding them but I have yet to meet a homeless person who wasn't a tad bit crazy. I also feel especially vulnerable here in a dark, unfamiliar underground passage. Did I mention it was dark down here?
The ball of light grows as the newcomers draw nearer to my location. I hear grunting and straining. Who makes noises like that in the dark? Only people who are off in the head.
I flatten myself up against the nearest wall and try to shield the lantern light to no avail. So, I fumble around for a way to kill the flames inside but I stop that quickly when I nearly drop the lantern. Not wanting to burn down the cellar slash tunnel, I hurry over to a stack of boxes short enough for me to place the lantern on top. Then, I dart back into the darkness, which swallows me up whole as the grunting homeless people continue their advance. I hope that they just take some wine or something and leave quickly without discovering me. The lit lantern will more than likely perk up their curiosity but maybe they'll think Granny Rosie or Papa Rosenthal left it down here.
That's when I hear the voices—
"—to be careful or you two are going to drop him."
"We're not going to drop him, Em."
"We should drop him! He's a blasted White Agent! I recognized his mug from the news reports about—"
"I'm sure Charlotte has her reasons for working with him. At any rate, we couldn't leave him out there. Charlotte wanted us to—"
"I don't really care what she wants. I don't mind harboring her but helping the enemy is another story."
I recognize those voices at once. It's Emma, Papa Rosenthal, and the Free Spirit boy! They've returned at last and they used the tunnels to do so. I should have known but I was so wrapped up in my anxiety that I didn't even consider this possibility. I'm so thrilled to see them that it takes me a while to realize that Papa Rosenthal knows that Liam is a White Agent.
I scoop up the lantern that Granny Rosie left me and watch as they step within visual range. Emma leads the way, clutching a flashlight in one of her hands, while the other two trail her closely. Both of Emma's male companions bear the weight of Liam's limp form together.
"Charlotte!" Emma cries ecstatically, when she sees me. Her voice echoes throughout the passageway. "We got him and made it back in time like I know we would."
I can't help but to smile, despite the looming danger that could still be present upstairs. "Good job. All of you."
"This lad isn't light either," Papa Rosenthal grunts, hence the grunting sounds I heard earlier.
"He's all muscles," I say without thinking and if any of them could see me right now, they would find that I'm blushing.
Emma chuckles and comes to a halt in front of me. I hug her, throwing my arms around her neck. "Thank you," I whisper.
"Don't thank me. Thank them. They're the ones who carried your boyfriend."
I blush even harder. "He's not my boyfriend," I breathe.
"Why else would you trust a White Agent?" Emma asks me.
"Because he's the only person on the other side of the law willing to help me."
"Are you sure about that?" Papa Rosenthal asks me at once. I glance at him. His face is blotchy and caked with sweat. "When he wakes up, he can rain all sorts of problems down on all of us when he finds out everything that goes on around here. I can't believe I'm bringing him back to my home. If I had known right off the bat who he was then—"
"When he wakes up, we won't tell him anything," Emma beats me to the punch. "Who says he ever has to know who we really are and what we do here? You and Grammy are restaurant owners who happen to host a study group of kids from the local school. Besides, judging by the size of that lump on his head, I say he'll be out for at least the rest of the day. By then, the Free Spirits should all be gone by then."
My eyes dart naturally to Liam's hair. I can't find a lump there but I'm sure he has one. That piece of metal struck him pretty hard.
Papa Rosenthal stares at Emma for a long time and then he says gruffly, "I hope you're right. Come on, Owen. Let's get him upstairs. I think that the Zeppelins have moved on."
"Wait!" I stop them, louder than I intended. But if I can't hear what's going on upstairs, then certainly they can't hear me up there. "You can't go up yet."
"Why not?" Papa Rosenthal demands, sweat dripping from his brow.
My first thought is "how are you going to get the stairs to work from down here?" However, I don't go with my first thought. I choose my second one instead. "There are cops upstairs," I warn them. "Not only are Zeppelins flying around outside but patrolmen are calling at every place around here. They're looking for a . . . a friend of mine."
Papa Rosenthal nearly drops Liam. "This guy?" He asks, nostrils flaring.
I shake my head. "No, another friend." And I explain the entire monorail incident. I failed to mention all of this when I told them briefly why Liam was lying out in the middle of a hillside flower bed.
Emma breathes a sigh of relief. "So, they're not looking for you then?"
"Even better," Emma says grinning.
"Granny Rosie will get them to leave soon," The boy called Owen attempts to reassure me . . . or perhaps assure me since I'm still standing on pins and needles. They've managed to recover Liam without anything bad happening but I wished I knew what was going on upstairs.
And then, as if my prayers are answered, just like that the trapdoor opens with a resounding creak. The stairs then rise up to meet whoever tugged open the hatch. "It's okay, Charlotte!" Granny Rosie yells down to me. Then, I hear her coming down the stairs. "They're gone!"
I move closer to the bottom of the stairs and hold up the lantern, using it as a beacon to guide her the rest of the way down, despite what she said earlier about navigating in the gloom beneath the restaurant. "The others should be back by now. I only hope—"
Granny Rosie stops talking when she spots Emma, Owen, and Papa Rosenthal. Emma waves at her, grinning broadly. "We did it, Grammy!" She says proudly. "We've got him!"
"Good," Granny Rosie says. "The lights are back on upstairs and I think the law enforcers have moved on. Let's get poor Liam into a bed."