I walked around the spacious room that Landon had brought me to. It was the biggest 'bedroom' I had ever been in and it was very luxurious. It made me wonder why the Authorities were being so gracious towards me. How is it that they're normal people? How can someone like Landon who is so genuinely sweet be associated and work for the head of the Authorities, or as they call him, the Führer? I was also surprised to find out that their ranking system is like an army…or at least back in the day when armies existed. How was it possible that I lived in ignorance my whole life about these people?
Landon told me that Tim was the name of the man who had sedated me, and he would fetch me for dinner in three hours. He said until then I could do whatever I wanted in the confinement of this room. The first thing I did was shower, after being on the floor of a van for a large portion of the day. My dress was filthy so I checked all the little doors in the room for a closet.
"Holy…" I said as I opened it. It was overflowing with beautiful gowns and dresses. I picked out a dress made of material that had the same emerald green colour as mine and put it on. I brushed my wet hair out and decided three hours was definitely enough time for it to dry…but what was I to do while I waited for the remaining time? I suddenly longed for Menedhil or my daggers…something to keep me occupied and fit.
I walked over to the huge bed and lied down. Maybe sleep was a good idea considering how sleep deprived I was. I closed my eyes and feel asleep without a problem.
I dreamed I was in a room filled with light and only light. It was completely white, I couldn't tell the difference between the ground, other than the fact that I was walking on it, and the sky.
"Anika…" a calm female voice said. I looked around to try to find the woman, but was unsuccessful.
"Who's there?" I asked, but silence followed. "Hello?" I called. "Hello?"
"…danger…" the voice said. Suddenly the white room vanished and a scream came from somewhere close.
"Ahh!" I yelled as I woke up with a jolt coming into a sitting position. There was a knock on the door and I jumped off the bed and ran into the bathroom. My hair had major bedhead so I gathered it into my hands and tied it into a ponytail.
"Miss Cardin?" Tim's voice said, "is everything alright?" I quickly made my way out of the bathroom and opened the door.
"Are you ready for dinner?" Tim asked surveying my body. I cringed under his gaze.
"I am, let's go."
"How are you enjoying your room so far?"
"It is really nice…I've never had a room like that before," I said. I wonder what Calelon's room was like. When we were in Aelmere in his parents' chambers, their greeting room was ten times fancier than mine. I wonder what the actual sleeping quarters would be like.
"Well then you will be happy to know that you will only be there for a week. The Führer wanted to prepare one of the nicest rooms we have in Head Quarters for you, but found himself too busy. It is being prepared now."
"Well why not? As he says, you are an honored guest," Tim said.
"But why am I an honored guest, Tim?" I said.
"I do not know, alright? And it is Colonel Laino to you!"
"Sorry Colonel. I'll just talk to Landon about it," I mumbled.
"And he is Lieutenant Colonel Malis."
"Okay, I'm sorry!"
"It is fine but you need to be calling us by our titles. There are others in HQ who take their titles very seriously. Only higher-ups are allowed to live here permanently," he warned.
"Oh okay, sorry. I would have from the beginning but I wasn't told your ranks."
"Who's the Führer?"
"Führer Mauro. He is a great, respectable man…completely turned the Authorities around."
"So there was a time when the Authorities were worse than they are today?"
"We do not try to be bad. You should have seen it ten years ago."
"Why? What was so different about you guys ten years ago? And you seem very young, how were you even with the Authorities back then?"
"My father was part of the army when the Authorities were first beginning. He was one of the elite soldiers chosen at the age of twenty-eight. Naturally, he wanted his only son to join the ranks when he reached eighteen."
"What's your opinion about what you guys do?" I asked suddenly.
"What do you mean?"
"What do you mean 'what do I mean?' You guys destroy the Earth, people's families…" I said getting flustered. "The kind of things you guys do cannot be excused."
"Although the group does do that, it does not mean that every member does…I never have. After the promotion of the new Führer, we haven't done anything of the sort."
"So then the Earth is fine?"
"I wouldn't say fine. The Authorities are trying to clean up the mess left by Führer Lyon. He left a lot of those."
"Then why lie to everybody?"
"To stay in power."
"And have people fear you?"
"They do not fear us. They look up to us."
"No, they don't. Clearly you have never seen people flee from the streets when a siren from one of your vehicles sounds, or how people lower their eyes when they pass guards like you on the street. People are terrified. Why do you think you've never had a revolt? You always let them know who's in charge, and you won't let them forget it."
"Okay, I think we got off topic. Ten years ago, before Führer Mauro climbed the ranks to the top, the previous Führer, Führer Lyon, did sick, despicable things. He was an evil bastard. Not too long after I joined, I became a Sergeant Major. My father was impressed; he was a Major at the time, just beginning to get under the Führer's radar. He learned that he had a son who was flying through the early ranks. He met with me and my father to discuss our futures as Authorities. He told us it was the first time he ever had a father-son duo. He carried a claymore everywhere he went and that day told us only one of you could succeed as an Authority. My father offered himself up to save me and the Führer killed him right in front of my eyes without a second thought. He didn't even look at me as he told me to leave. The next day I was promoted again to a Warrant Officer. Shortly after, Lieutenant Colonel Landon Malis joined. Of course back then he was just Private Malis."
"Why are you telling me this?" I asked.
"Because I want you to know the difference: just because Führer Lyon killed my father does not mean all the ranks of Authorities on every land mass plotted his downfall. The organization isn't evil. People are evil. Human beings are what shape this Earth; it lies within our destiny, our grasp. We decide what is going to happen to it, and do you know what we do when something doesn't go according to plan? We blame others. It is one big, never-ending cycle. We failed because it's that persons fault, not mine. Do you see what I'm trying to say?"
"I think so."
"Führer Mauro is left to clean up Führer Lyon's mess. Mauro would have never done what Lyon did to the Earth. He cares too much."
"But when did Führer Mauro become Führer? The way you talk makes it seem like you were here before him…"
"Ever since my father was killed I knew I would never want to be Führer, so I slowed myself down. It was strange actually…this man who looks like a homeless, jobless, sore loser came into the station we lived in before we were living in HQ. He said he wanted to join – says his name is Eric Mauro. None of us took him seriously but gave him a suit and made him a Private just because. Within his first year, he went from a measly Private to a Second Lieutenant, out-ranking me. He was determined, that's for sure. You could see it in his eyes – like a spark."
"And this is the current Führer?"
"Yes. We all look up to him. But then you get your guards or officers, like the ones who tried to kill you, who are so stuck on making everything like they were in the Führer Lyon days. They are the evil in this organization and that is why they are dropped from the ranks. But somehow they still manage to call themselves Authorities."
"What year did Mauro become Führer?"
"Hmmm…I believe it was 2077. Been Führer for six years and none of us want to get rid of him."
"Well who does?"
"The type of people who want to kill you," Tim said as we rounded a corner. "Alright now, Anika. This is the dining hall," he said as we came to a stop in front of two large double doors. I took in a deep breath. Everywhere I would look is going to be filled with them. But from what he said, these are the good Authorities. To think they have rebellion in their own ranks. "Are you nervous?" Tim asked me as he grabbed the handle.
"Just a tad, Colonel Laino. Nothing I can't handle."
"Good," he said as he opened the door and a huge, royal looking room lay before me. Everything was exquisite. There was a long banquet table that was filled with Authorities. They didn't glance at me when Tim and I entered. Phew.
"How do you manage to live like this?" I mumbled into his ear.
"The Führer likes to live the best he can," he said as he directed me to a chair, and then sat beside me.
"Well looky here!" A man to my left said.
"Oh, Lieutenant Colonel Malis!" I exclaimed.
"Jus' call me Landon!" He said with wink.
"I was told to call you by your ranks…"
"By Timothy? Don' be worryin' 'bout what he tells yer tah say. I like e'erybody ter call me Landon. An' besides, ol' Tim here's jus' a Colonel. He don' gotta tell yeh ter do anythin' yous don' wanna."
"Haha, okay. So what is the point of this dinner…?"
"We have 'em leas' once a month. You jus' happen to come ternight."
"Well, what a lovely coincidence."
"So who's this purty lass?" Someone whose words were thick and slurred by alcohol called from the other end of the table.
"She was the mission," Tim said.
"Oh…" the man said as his eyes boggled. "It was that easy? You got her on the first try?"
"Yes, she's just a girl Second Lieutenant Thomason. We are confident in our abilities."
"Good on yeah Colonel!" Thomason yelled. I leaned closer to Landon.
"How much has he had to drink Lieutenant Colonel?"
"Too much. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant this month – it's his firs' dinner at HQ. Second Lieutenant is the rank when ya'll get invited ter live 'ere. No one in there righ' minds would decline."
"Oh I see. So he's having a little too much of the 'good life' right now?" I asked. Landon smiled at me.
"O' course. We's all did tha' at our firs' dinner."
"Lieutenant Colonel Malis," Tim interrupted, "it's time to quiet down."
"Sorry sir," he said with a smile in his voice. As if an inner alarm went off, the entire table went quiet. They all turned towards the huge double doors as they opened. Four men walked in and the two bulkier men sat on the right hand side of the empty head-chair. The other two took the left. Landon leaned close to me and whispered, "On the righ' is General Loch and beside 'im is Lieutenant General Kan. To the left is Major General Jacobs and beside him is Brigadier General Newmin." I nodded.
"My fellows," the General began. "Führer Mauro is not well enough to attend tonight's dinner. He has ordered for all of you to not concern or worry yourself over him, but to enjoy the banquet nonetheless! Now feast!" Several of the Authorities 'whooped' and cheered, while others said things such as 'great man!' or 'how noble!' I rolled my eyes and looked at the food being lain out on the table. My stomach shifted. It was all real food. How many of these men know what civilians get fed while they get to feast on all this real food every night? Was I a hypocrite? No, we do not pig out, we have to ration our food wisely and Darren does have Authority food in case we ever run out. I looked at the food and my mouth began to water. I couldn't just starve myself, and maybe they didn't know what the citizens eat. I took small helpings of only the food in front of me.
I looked at the four men who came in last. I'm sure they know. There's no way they don't know. All at once the four of them looked at me. They looked away right away when they noticed I was watching them, but the one who Landon had referred to as Major General Jacobs continued to look at me. He was the youngest of the four, maybe even younger than Tim. But that seems so unlikely. How could he be a Major General but so young?
"So, Anika," Landon said from beside me. I tore my eyes away from the young Major General and forced myself to look at Landon. I could still feel his eyes on the side of my face.
"Tell me about yerself."
"Well what's there to know? We basically covered all of it in the van ride."
"Well, surely tha' wasn' yer whole life now?"
"Look, I'll start. My name's Landon Malis. Firs' joined the Authorities when I was eighteen. Quite young. I'm forty-three, born in 2040."
"So you were eleven when the Authorities tore the Earth apart?"
"And you still joined the ranks?"
"My reasons are my own. E'eryone has secrets, ma'am."
"Yeah, they do," I said as I dared a glance at the Major General to see he had finally looked away. I pushed my plate away from me, no longer hungry.
"Come, eat up!" Tim said with his mouth full of food.
"I lost my appetite."
"Shame…do you want an escort back to your room, or do you remember the way?"
"I don't remember the way…"
"Okay, gimme a sec," he said as he swallowed his food and surveyed the table. He noticed the Major General look over here so he stood up and made his way over to him. Tim saluted Jacobs and Jacobs returned the salute. They spoke for a bit, had some laughs, then both made their way over to me.
"Anika, this is Major General Jacobs. He has kindly agreed to escort you to your room."
"Thank you Colonel Laino, have a good evening," I said hoping I didn't sound too formal. He nodded to me then sat down. Major General Jacobs took my arm and led me out of the huge dining hall. After the doors were closed he spoke to me.
"You can call me Ethan," he said. I was shocked to hear his voice – it sounded young – fresh, compared to Landon or Tim. I removed my arm from his.
"How old are you?!" I asked.
"Sorry, it's just that you look so young. And you're a Major General…it's just hard to believe."
"I am. I am the youngest – even out of the Privates. We haven't accepted anyone new after me."
"But how old are you?"
"I'd rather not say."
"Well when I joined I wasn't eighteen. I was younger and I didn't tell anyone. They just thought I was blessed with a baby-face."
"But you're under thirty?"
"Who else is under thirty?"
"Well, the last batch of people they accepted included me. I was sixteen at the time, there were a couple of eighteen year olds and others that ranged from twenty to forty. No matter what your age is, you start as a Private. I was always the smallest, but the smartest and fastest. I didn't stop because of my size, just fought through the hard times. Like I said, they just thought I was a tiny eighteen year old.
I climbed the ranks faster than those Privates and eventually made it to Headquarters. Not before long I was passing people like Malis and Laino, but they weren't as driven as me. Soon I found myself being promoted to Major General, and then the current Brigadier General followed not long after. I had made it to the Führer's inner circle and I knew the General or the Lieutenant General wouldn't be giving up their spots any time soon, so I finally let myself rest."
"Wow, inspiration," I said with a hint of sarcasm that he didn't catch on to it. "So then you must be around twenty-two?" He shook his head. "You could help me out a little bit…older or younger?" He motioned with his thumb and pointed it towards the ground.
"I am twenty."
"Four years? Not bad Major General. Can I ask you something?"
"Why were you looking at me in the hall?"
"No reason, I just caught your stare and couldn't look away," he said as he side-glanced at me and smiled. I returned the smile but found myself thinking about Calelon. Surely it would take more than a bullet to kill him, but still…how long was he left on the street? "Are you alright?"
"Yes, sorry…just a bad memory."
"It is a shame that a beautiful young woman such as yourself has lived the life you have."
"What do you know about my life?" I asked viciously.
"I apologize. I did not mean to impose."
"Well don't speak to me like we're friends, like you know me. You don't. Why am I even here?" I asked turning towards him.
"You will find out within the next couple of days."
"No, there are things I need to do back home. I don't want to be here. Just tell me now."
"It is not my place, Anika. Now please, let me take you to your room."
"Fine," I said as a wave of nausea and fatigue came over me. I slumped then fell towards the ground before Ethan even noticed. My face made contact with the hard concrete, pain exploded in my head and I heard Ethan shout.
I woke up and it was dark. Thank goodness. My head was pounding and even blinking caused more pain.
"She is awake," someone said.
"Sheesh ma'am, ya'll scared the hell out of us!" Landon said.
"Please sir, keep it down."
"What happened to her again, Major General?" Tim asked.
"I was doing exactly as you instructed, taking her to her room and all of a sudden she is on the ground…"
"For a Major General yous sure has no experience," Landon said. "She coulda bled e'erywhere had you been longer getting help."
"I know, I'm sorry."
"How old are yehs?"
"That is not important, Lieutenant Colonel," Ethan hissed.
"Men, that is enough!" Tim said. In the dark I saw him make his way over to my bed. "How do you feel?" He asked me in a soft, caring voice.
"Like shit," I said. That got a laugh out of them and lightened the atmosphere in the room a bit.
"I apologize I wasn't as focused as I should have been, Miss Cardin," Ethan said.
"It's fine. Things like that tend to happen when I think about things that I shouldn't," I mumbled. "Could you guys leave now? I want to sleep."
"No can do, ma'am. Yous got yerself a concussion. Yer actually not supposed ter fall asleep. Whys do yeh think we were so relieved to see yous awake?"
"Oh…so…I'm not allowed to sleep…?"
"No, yous was just knocked out cold before."
"Lovely," I said. Surely they wouldn't be able to see if my eyes were opened or closed though… "but do you all have to be here?"
"Well no," Landon said.
"I'll watch her," Ethan offered. "It is my fault she was hurt, I take full blame."
"Good to know, we'll pass that information onto the Führer ourselves."
"Go ahead. Why would I care? That man knows more about me than you ever will. He knows who is serving him," Ethan said.
"Like any good Führer should," Tim said as he ushered Landon out and then followed, leaving Ethan alone with me.
"I just want to sleep," I whined.
"I know. I am sorry I allowed you to fall…please forgive me."
"I forgive you and all it's just that I'm tired! What time is it?"
"Nearly two in the morning."
"Why don't you get someone of lesser status to watch me then?"
"I want to watch you. Like I said, it is my fault. Those two only came because they feel friendship towards you."
"So then why are you here? So you don't fall down a rank since that appears to be what matters most to you?"
"I AM HERE BECAUSE I FEEL GUILTY!" Ethan yelled. I shrank back into the soft mattress, covered my ears, squeezed my eyes, but was too late. My head pounded harder.
"Please don't yell!"
"I am sorry, Miss Cardin. My rage got the better of me, I am sorry."
"Sorry..." he mumbled. I couldn't help but laugh.
"So tell me something Major General –"
"– Ethan. When do I get to sleep?"
"Is sleep all that matters to you?"
"Come on, I'm a growing teenage girl! I need my sleep."
"Forgive me, of course."
"How much sleep do you get on average?"
"And that is how much…"
"Maybe four or five hours a night."
"That's it?! Wow…"
"Well, you know, you're only two years my senior. I think for a twenty year old you need more sleep. It doesn't matter if you're a Major General, everybody needs their sleep."
"That explains your bad moods," I mumble.
"What was that?" He asked slowly making his way over to me.
"I don't believe you," he said as he sat on the edge of the bed. "But you're only eighteen?"
"And the leader of the Renegades."
"Do you really want to know?"
"I do, if you would be so kind."
"Well I'm tired so you'll just have to wait a couple of days. When I find out why I'm here, you can ask whatever you want about me. Sound fair?"
"Sure. It is a deal Miss Cardin."
"Call me Anika."
"We have a deal Anika," he said as we shook hands.
I don't remember falling asleep…but I'm in that same white room. Why? Who was calling to me? Will she return?
"Hello?" I called out. "Is anyone here?"
"Anika!" the familiar female voice said.
"Stay safe, we are coming for you!"
"Who is coming for me?"
"We are going to save you from them!"
"But who is this!"
"I haven't found a way to take physical form yet, but hang in there. We are coming!"
"…but why can't you tell me who you are…?" I sobbed as I was shaken. "What?"
"Anika! You cannot sleep for too long, wake up!" I opened my eyes and saw that it was light out now. I looked at the person who shook me awake. It was Ethan, who I might admit, was quite handsome with his close-cropped blonde hair and brown eyes. It looked like he too had fallen asleep and awoke to me sleeping, possibly dead. Calelon's face came into my head and I looked away.
"Thank you, I'm fine."
"I think it is safe to leave you on your own, if you don't mind. I need to go get ready for the day, I have a mission," he said as he walked towards the door. He turned to face me, "I don't think I'll be seeing you soon. Goodbye, Anika."
"Goodbye Major General –"
"Ethan," he said with a smile.
"Of course…goodbye Ethan," I said as he left, closing the door behind him.