The Real Story
- Victoria -
I stand, hidden by the night, and look up at the summation of all that I am, all that I was created to be.
"What do you think?" Rett asks from beneath Ever's voluptuous hood. I cannot see his face. It is too dangerous for either of us to be ourselves.
What is he asking? Is he asking me to judge his art? He already knows that he is the master of beauty, so he must want my opinion on his words, on the content of my life.
He has stolen the holographic face of the building before us, this is what he does, and has turned it into something else. Where I come from, they don't bother disguising the grey, concrete barracks. But here, in this wonderful city, a place where humanity thrives, they are obsessed with splendour. They project images of elaborate design over the top of squalor and, just like that, it becomes luxury. Luxury that can be replaced in a hundred years or so when everything they have must be rebuilt, a few kilometres deeper into the earth.
I play with the scrap of material around my neck and remember that, once upon a time, we were a species that lived beneath a burning sun. But all that is gone now and the irony is that, even though I would never have been born if this had not happened, I am the only one that cares.
"It's not like it usually is."I tell Rett - though it is night and I guess this means he should be called Ever.
"I made you beautiful things." He says. "And I made them shocking things. People know your face and they know you have been dealt a wrong. It is about time I told them why."
I nod, still pondering his work.
The danger has made me a fugitive; dull and paranoid - I am no longer any of the things that I am about to read. I am no longer the lively redhead whose image accompanies the text, peering down at the world, a hundred times larger than reality. Rett tells me this is good, he says that 'saving' me and my kind has given him life. I know he is beginning to consider himself to be more 'Ever' than 'Rett'. It upsets me that, to feel important, to feel alive, he needs to cover his face in the shadows and make his pictures in the dark.
This night we have attacked the library and I guess I can see why. The library, or so I have gathered, is one of the few structures not designed to look like his society's common conception of what a building should look like. The holographic image that defines it is of a giant book: a remnant of the days when it was libraries that housed these things and not museums. The book that is the library is an attempt to remember the golden days, the days no one remembers. The days when we had a sun and before a library became just a glorified server bank.
Rett, who usually loves drama, has done only two things this night. The first is to take down the library's 'story of the month' which had been originally displayed on the giant pages, and replace it with the real story of the month, the story on every lip. It is the story of my life.
The second is more of a testament to his natural desire, yet it too is oddly simplistic.
He has turned off the building's night settings and the projected image glows as strong as daylight.
This should worry me. It will not be long before someone notices. And as soon as somebody notices, justice will not be far behind.
But we are calm as we stand beneath the stark, black text. For a second I am struck with the desire to be caught. Death would free me in a way that Rett's art never could.
But I must live for the people that I love. I must live for the rest of my kind.
Besides, what else would Rett have to fight for? What else would he have to live for?
At my side, the hooded figure fidgets. This is highly unusual. Normally a spell falls over him when he has finished his art and it is I that must break it. But I guess the simplicity makes Rett uncomfortable. It is when he has created the things that no one else could that he is happiest.
I put a hand on his arm and, at my touch, he falls still.
"Let me read it." I whisper. "And I will tell you what I think."
I let my gaze return to the building. I am, I have to admit, more than a little terrified. There is something about being on the verge of reading all my hopes, all my dreams, my battles and my many injustices that makes me feel even less human than I already am. My ancestors were created from a biological list of requirements and there is something about seeing everything that has made me what I am forced into the boundaries of words that makes me unable to forget this.
You have already met Victoria, the words say.
But they haven't. Only Rett and his friends have met more than his interpretation of me. I am hidden from the rest, so frightened of everything. Rett's art does not change this and neither will my biography amend it.
Victoria is more than the blue of her eyes, she is more than hair the forgotten colour of sunlight.
Victoria is that pill you take every day, she is the vitamin in your blood.
She is the reason your children are born healthy, she keeps the weight on your bodies and the strength in your bones. Without her, we would all be lost.
I rub my hands against the cold of the night's dark, reading on. Rett's biography documents the creation of my subspecies, the way natural born redheads had, before they died out, a natural efficiency in producing vit D. He describes exactly why his people need it without the UV of sunlight. Rett clarifies to the whole world that I am not quite human, that I am only an animal, biologically created from people that once were. He explains the Solar Units and how we are treated in those great halls, thrice weekly, to extract and 'donate' D.
By now I am concerned, by now a little horror is creeping into my heart.
Even when he goes on to explain the events of the last few weeks, it just sounds dull, like an old textbook.
This was supposed to be my story. But his words are just facts.
Over the centuries, Victoria and her kind have saved every single one of us.
And we are repaying the success of their aid with homicide.
"Rett..." My voice trails off.
He has made my life a documentary. The injustices he sees are concepts, statistics. The telling of my tale does not include anything that makes me a person. He does not speak of Paul; I am here because of him. I, too, have someone to save. I shudder at the way a SUn, to Rett, is just a machine. Rett does not know what it is to lose his mind. And despite this, he has even forgotten Jyck. It was a man I ran from; not a SUn, not a serum.
How can I tell him? How can I tell him that he does not understand?
But Rett sees computer programs and battles to be won. I suddenly realise that, just because he has art in his soul, it does not mean he has compassion.
"I'm going to save you all, Victoria." Rett announces, feverish determination evident in his tone.
I don't want to be saved, not in the way he intends, I just want to be safe. It is a different thing entirely. I was born to a life beneath the SUns, I was born to toxic happiness. As long as I can see that Paul lives, as long as I am given a knife or Jyck's cold, dead body, I will be happy.
Rett is human, so Rett is in love with decadence and splendour. From the moment of our first meeting, we have spent every second together. He fascinates me, he intoxicates me. But still, he does not understand.
The legend at my side removes his hood. I am shocked; the hood denotes Ever - without it he is no longer an infamous fugitive - and while we are here, and with my story as bright as any beacon, to be Rett and Victoria is suicide. I must be Grace, his new flatmate. He must ever be Ever.
The irony is that he can only be Rett in the daylight and I am only brave enough to be myself at night.
As I drag my eyes from his work, his hand slips into mine.
The breath catches in my throat. Is this his concession to emotion, had I got him wrong?
Suddenly, I only want to be closer.
"Victoria." He breathes. "I could not resist making it a little more special."
This means he has done something the journalists will proclaim to have been impossible.
"What have you added?" I ask.
Rett squeezes my fingers. A shiver runs up my spine.
"Ask it yourself." He says and, without his hood, I can see the twinkle in his eye.
So he has done the impossible after all.
"It is voice activated?" I ask.
"Only for you." He says.
"Only for me?"
"Only for your voice. Ask it to tell you the real story."
I turn back to his cold, empty facts and consider the real story.
Rett nudges my thigh with our conjoined hands.
"Could I have the real story, please?" I mumble, a little awkwardly.
But Ever is an architectural genius and the program that displays the front of the library reacts flawlessly, turning a single holographic page. There are no words on this new spread, just one, giant, image.
Only for me.
It is the most beautiful piece of art I have ever seen.
And it will get him killed.
He is good at hiding everything away, really good, but everything that appears up there, even if it is only my voice that can activate it, has to be written somewhere in his code. And when they come across this, they will take their time unpicking and unravelling every line. They will find this masterpiece. They will find the image of his face.
I want to warn him, I want to tell him that he does not need to do this to gain my love. I would rather he lived. But it is so amazing that language has tumbled from my head and I am left only with silence.
I turn to Rett. What can I say? Am I supposed to approve, am I not?
Despite what he says, I hardly even consider myself human... Is this what he wants? Is this what he has always wanted?
And I am here for a reason, I have a duty to another.
But I crave his touch so badly. I am lost and alone and I need someone to hold me close.
I am drowning in my uncertainty. I want him so badly but still we are apart, still my mind tumbles. I can barely stand my own hesitance and it tears at my chest. The air between us crackles, and I cannot help but wonder if I am just a masochistic fool, if all the years when I could not allow myself to feel anything have killed my desire for love.
But then Rett has decided for me and his arm wraps around my waist, pulling me in. The danger has made him hard, his art has made him strong. I can feel the definition of his body beneath his shirt. All those years, I had never known what this could be like. But he does, he knows, and I am so willingly at his mercy.
Warmth. Comfort. Rett.
Danger. Power. Ever.
I shudder in his hold. There is nothing he cannot be.
"Victoria." He breathes my name but I cannot force myself to look up, continuing only to curse my cowardice.
His arm tenses as I ignore him, gathering the material of my clothing into his fist. The tears gather in the corners of my eyes; it will kill me to hurt him. And so it is only natural for me to relax in his hold, seeking his comfort as a weapon against the guilt, the fear, the insecurity. He will forever save me.
As my temple comes to rest on his shoulder, my lips betray me, brushing a single, delicate kiss across his bared collar.
I can almost feel the contented pleasure as it ripples through his body.
And his fingers are running through my hair, the hair that he loves in its true colour, the hair that infuriated him when we had to dye it. I squeeze my eyes against the indecision and press my lips against his skin a second time.
His fingers are at the base of my skull, tipping my head upwards. I will fight it no longer.
He knows I am terrified, I only ever see the horror in everything these days. But the arm around my waist tightens again, pulling me so close that I could almost believe he wants us to be one. I look into his eyes, searching for their familiar sparkle. His gaze is intense but I see it, below the passion; smiling, reassuring. And I see why he has removed Ever's hood. He wants me to love the good in him, not just the power.
Everything that he sees as wrong, the trauma of the past few weeks... all is forgotten, just for a second, as his lips meet mine. I had expected him to pull at me hungrily, but it is not Rett's way. He is soft, understanding; he catches me in the moment and for the first time I am not afraid.
Behind us, his art mirrors our exact position, displaying the emotion I wanted, screaming his love to the world.
But the horror is that I asked for the real story and this is what he thinks it is. He is holding me safe, showing definitively that we are the same, and I should be happy. But I can feel the damp tracks of tears on my cheeks and I know, I really know, that despite the betrayal of my ecstatic heart, this was never what I wanted.