[ the face of the community. ]
ON THE PIECE OF PAPER WAS A LIST. Queen Moira said that the list was a collection of names. Sodium fluoride - the chemical that the past Ritual Girl, Felicity, had educated the community about - was included, as was oestrogen, testosterone, sodium lauryl ethel sulfate, and a myriad of other chemicals that Paige didn't recognise. She had learned some chemical names during her science classes, but not all of these - never all of these. These were names probably only known by those who needed an advanced level of chemistry as part of their role trainings, people like a Pill Technical Specialist or a Weather Maintenance Technician or a Medic. Zara, for instance, seemed to know every chemical on the list.
And she seemed satisfied with it. Paige's mission had been a success.
"I'll need some time to analyse it," said Zara, who was back to her businesslike nature, very matter-of-fact and distant.
"What is it?" asked Paige.
Queen Moira seemed hesitant. "It's the list of ingredients that would have been included in the initial batch of equaliser pills."
"Yes, but some of these chemicals don't need to be here," said Zara, studying the page with confusion. "We always knew that fluoride was in the pills, but what about the sulfate? And the tryptophan? They're almost..miniscule amounts, but they're there."
Paige didn't know what either of those were, but the way Zara was talking about it made Paige uneasy.
"And you said you found this in the wax model of Paige, the sociologist?" said Queen Moira.
Paige the Ritual Girl nodded.
She had never seen the queen with this much anxiety before. She could only imagine the concerns that were going through her head: why hadn't this been found until now? Had it been there the whole time? Zara said she was going to do some sort of test on the paper to see if she could date it, but that there was no guarantee that it would be accurate.
But what of the fact that the paper was put there in the first place? Dorothy had said that the sociologist had built the museum herself. Paige thought this was very clever - in that case, the sociologist had to have put it there intentionally.
"Pardon me, Queen Moira," said Paige with slightly less shyness than with which she ordinarily might have spoken, "but couldn't she have planted it in there if she created the museum?"
The queen nodded, as if it were her worst fear and something very expected at the same time. "Yes, yes...I'm just trying to figure out why no one saw it before."
She sighed, sat on the table, buried her head in her hands. Paige was startled at the image. The queen was the most powerful of any leader in the community. Ultimately, it was she who made all the final decisions, she who determined who would be matched with which person, with what Community Role, who held a say in the content-ness of each person's life under her rule. Of course, the queen was carefully selected by the Council members, people who had known her through her entire life, who had seen her grow up, who had cleaned her waste garment as a baby and bathed her and taught her how to talk. She ruled all those people now, and here she was with her head in her hands, worried.
Paige had considered what a difficult Role it would be to be the queen. It required massive amounts of responsibility to rule an entire community, to ensure that each person was appropriately fitted for the life that he or she was meant to lead, to continue each process in the community - feeding, clothing, sheltering, and providing happiness to each person. What a massive amount of pressure. It gave Paige relief to know that her own role seemed so much easier by comparison: Paige could just die, rest for the community. The queen had to live and maintain something that was expected to always be perfect.
"Maybe no one came across it until now?"
Queen Moira laughed, looked up at Paige wearily. "Maybe, but it's not likely. It's more likely that someone planted it there recently. We won't know anything definite until the test results came back." She ran a hand through her hair while she sighed again, as if it was some sort of a coping mechanism. What a strange method, Paige thought.
"Look, Paige - maybe it would be best if you could use your talents elsewhere at the moment." The queen ran her hand over her face, stretching it out, as if that could make her feel more at ease. "Go ahead and take the afternoon off, explore the community. Visit some community members so they can see you. You're the current face of the community, remember that."
A face with freckles, invisible flaws.
Paige stole a glance at Zara, but Zara was focused on testing the paper. Queen Moira was right - Paige would be of no service here. She nodded at the worried queen, and left.
She avoided the hangar. She wasn't sure what actions she might take at the sight of Mott, who had held her for a few fleeting minutes only an hour ago. She would want to kiss him again, to explore his soft flesh again, to let her fingers caress his spine again, to indulge in his warmth again; she wasn't sure she could restrain herself. The risk was too great: the other Pilots would see them, would catch the briefest of smiles between them, and know she wasn't taking the pills. She would be exposed and then burned to ash before she had the chance to help the queen.
No, she wouldn't stop at the Hangar.
Paige walked along the sidewalk, considering her newfound liberation and the recent pleasant insanities. What a difference a matter of hours had made. Perhaps she'd been seduced by no-good morals, something that would bring the downfall of the community. Zara had been hurt by falling in love before love was designated to her; was Paige doing the same? No, that wasn't the case - she was simply enjoying the present before it was her turn to die. It was selfish, though - that much she knew - and she was morally conflicted.
She passed by all of the family apartments. Familiar faces resided in there, faces of people whom Paige would never want to harm. York, Davis, Pierce and Chang and their newborn, all of the Age-Ones that the Age-16 Ritual Child now cared for. Next year's Ritual Girl lived there, unaware of the fate that awaited her.
Provided there actually was a Ritual to be had next year.
They were all innocent. None of them had done anything to rock the system, to disagree, to destroy their little peaceful commons. The trees that lined the sidewalk breathed in the surrounding manufactured clean air. There was nothing around the area that suggested anything malevolent. The sky was clear, quiet as usual; the sun warm, out as always.
Would it be this way in a year's time?
Were all of the citizens who currently resided in the apartments quite as innocent as Paige had assumed them to be? How many of them, exactly, were Theorists? Were there any around who had been participating in the underground movement, or were they all happy? Was it a majority of the citizens or a minority?
And if it was a minority, what would happen to the majority of the community's citizens when they were left to their own devices and stopped taking the pills?
It would be chaos, Paige knew, considering this in a worried state as the continued walking down the street. The whole world around her - the sky, the sun, the trimmed hedges and large trees that lined the sidewalk, the apples that grew in the trees, the set standard of learning, the single death per year - it would all be destroyed. There would be more deaths, the dwindling of the population, perhaps even a population boom without the ovulation control in the pills. There would be laziness, procrastination, the apples wouldn't get picked on time and would rot after they fell into the grass. The playgrounds would become dirty from the lack of a scheduled time frame of use or broken from people playing on them who were too large for the equipment. There would be illness, germs, contamination of public property; there would be gluttony, people would grow fat again like the fluffy pilot in the cockpit. There would be avarice. There would be war.
The bakery was coming up on her left. Paige smelled the delicious odor of freshly-baking bread; her mouth watered. There was, of course, no need for her to eat. She'd eaten her fair share during lunch. But she wanted a piece of bread.
Of course, she would never actually eat one if it weren't distributed in a fair portion during a designated meal time.
She walked into the bakery, just to smell it.
"Oh, hello, Paige," said the Baker.
Paige knew him. He was only a few years older than her, an Age-20 who had just had his first child named at the Naming Ceremony. His match was a small woman who seemed as if she would burst during her pregnancy; their boy was named Harrison.
"Hey, Marvin," returned Paige with a small smile.
The bakery was warm, but it couldn't compare to the warmth that she'd experienced with Mott's skin. They had both loved walking into the bakery as children, enjoyed the scent of dough and the warm feeling that the oven cast throughout the room. There was something comforting about it, something homey, something that felt protected and loving and sweet.
Never, though, did Paige experience the level of home she'd felt with Mott.
"You haven't been in here in a while," said Marvin.
To be fair, he hadn't been serving there for an enormously long time. But when he'd been an Age-16, she'd been an Age-12, and he'd seen her come in and out of the bakery for at least three more years before she'd decided that she wanted the Council to place her somewhere other than the bakery. She'd been afraid of the hot oven, afraid of getting burned.
Now, it seemed to her that burning might have been less-complicated.
"I know," said Paige.
Marvin kneaded some dough in his fingers. "It's been just over a year, hasn't it?" He grinned. "Decided the bakery wasn't for you?"
Paige's smile grew to be genuine, at last. "Yeah, I suppose my place was more with the young kids," she said, but then her grin faded a little.
His did, too. "Shame about Ingrid." He pushed harder into the dough. It smelled floury.
Paige nodded her acquiescence.
For a few moments, she watched him work. He was quick and firm with the dough; he'd been doing the same motions for four years. How taxing, she thought suddenly, to have to repeat the same actions for the rest of one's life. How exhausting it must have been. Sure, citizens started in one position and slowly moved up the ranks as experience was gained, but it was the same thing, over and over - the same location, the same motions, the same people, motions memorised and habits formed. She remembered that he burned himself on the oven when he'd first started; it must have been easy for him now.
"How have you been?" she asked, hoping to detract him from a potentially unpleasant conversation.
At this question, Marvin beamed. "Oh, just great," he said sincerely, looking up at her as he absentmindedly kneaded the dough, "Kathy is very pleased with the name for the baby, but we're both rather glad that we aren't having another child for three years." He laughed and stopped kneading, instead breaking the dough into two equal pieces and placing it on an aluminium tray. "Harrison's a handful, I'll tell you that. But what a treasure. He laughs at just about everything, seems like he's going to be a pretty easygoing kid."
Paige imagined little Harrison crawling around their apartment in the years to come. She wanted to be around to see him start to stand, to talk, to play in the park.
"Sounds like a blessing," said Paige.
"He is," said Marvin, then nodded his head at her. "And of course, it's all thanks to you that we're able to have him."
It was customary for citizens to acknowledge the sacrifice of the Ritual Girl, but Paige shook her head. "It's my role," she said nonchalantly. But she smiled at him, as if that would be reassuring, in case he would think something of her reaction.
Marvin put the aluminium tray into the oven, then turned the fire on. "What an honour," he said. "Congratulations."
Paige nodded, offered a meek smile, but couldn't say 'thanks.'
She couldn't take the smell of baking bread much longer. She offered her congratulations on Harrison, gave her well-wishes to Kathy, wished them peace, and started for the door.
Just as she opened it, Marvin called out, "Oh, hey, Paige? Send Mott my congratulations, too. I always knew he was destined to be a Pilot."
Destined. Paige wondered what she would have been if she hadn't been assigned this role. Would she have excelled as an Age-One Caretaker? What sort of roles had there been in the pre-War era? Would she have excelled in something different had she been born eighty years earlier?
Paige nodded, smiled, and left the bakery.
A/N: Not a super-thrilling chapter, but still explains a lot, I think? Anyway, I was hoping that more people would enjoy the last chapter, but it appears that the US election distracted everyone and no one read it yet. Ah well. NaNo is going exceptionally well and I'm excited to see how the rest of the story pans out.
As always, make sure you check out my super-cool facebook page: pages/Ellie-LaTraille/159851857483978?ref=hl
Aaaaand it looks like I'm updating just about every day now, so hooray!
Hope you all are well and I look forward to hearing from you soon.