"Wake up. Wake up. Wake up."
Veine's fingers were closed around her friend's wrist, shaking her, banging her head once or twice against the pillow, letting her long, blond, wild hair bounce into her friend's eyes.
"Wake up. Wake up. Wake- " The bright voice continued.
The girl sat up violently, startling the blonde, and smacked her friend across the face with her thin pillow. "You were saying?" Ashely asked innocently, eyebrows raised.
Veine glared at her, then broke into an elegant, slightly forced smile. "Get dressed, Ashley," she snapped back, throwing a bundle of clothes at the latter's face, which she caught by the tips of her fingers. The door slammed.
Ashley's fingers pried apart the clothes. Grey sweatshirt. Black pants. Black socks. White tank. She sighed and then smiled. This was going to be the last time she'll have to dress like a Gathering. She closed her eyes. She just knew it would happen. It had to happen. The smile faded from Ashley's lips and her dark eyes snapped open. It HAD to. She'd been learning about the history of the forgetful long enough. She'd been crawling for too long. For the first time in eight years, she wanted to get up on hr feet with those powerful eighteen-year-olds, and walk. Walk through the folds of time, rip through the layers and rescue those who were like her once. Helpless.
Ashley slid the tank over her head. It's been made to fit her long, thin frame, but somehow it still felt unusual, as though her body was used to sheep-wool based fabric and not cotton linen. Sometimes she wondered exactly how much a person retains from their Origin. It's not like anyone can ever forget it, either. She traced her palm over the black lettering on the back of her sweater. Ashley U. Pompei, Greece. 79 B.C. She must've read those words a thousand times. She remembered asking what the U stood for, a few years back, and then immediately wishing she'd never asked. U meant nothing. U for Unknown.
Her toes scrambled around in the socks, trying to feel her shoes, then slipped in. Ashley pulled hard on the straps wrapping themselves around her feet, then her ankles, and secured them halfway up her lower leg. She found herself silently laughing at Veine. Only she would run into 3F, yell frantically to get Ashley to wake up and then struggle to remain calm, elegant and chin high, above everything, during the day. She shook her head. It's somewhat odd, she thought, reflecting on the fact that she had a medieval French princess for a friend, doubling as a personal alarm clock.
As Veine pushed open the door Ashley caught sight of her, standing impatiently in a corner, her golden, perfect locks spilling into an elaborate hairdo. "Come on," She groaned. "Honestly, Ash. It's like you don't even want to be a Tracer. It's been your dream, and mine, and if it shatters because of your pathetic lateness-" At this point even she couldn't contain the laugh. "Just hurry up," She said and took her friend's elbow forcefully, which Ashley shook free by instinct.
The dark-haired girl walked quickly down the leaning, clear plastic hallways that she could navigate with her black eyes closed. For a full year, the Tracers monitored each person's abilities at the Gathering lectures. She's heard them a million times. We've destroyed everything. We were stupid. We act this way and dress this way to show our shame. And you're our only hope.
Ashley closed her eyes and repeated it again in her mind.
About twelve centuries ago, the world wasn't like this. There wasn't a single, tangled mess of plastic tubes criss-crossing the planet, but cities. Towns. Villages. People would use boats or cars to go from one place to another, using gas. It seemed ridiculous to Ashley, burning fuel. Back then, people knew what came before them. They had buildings, called libraries. With books in them. Thousands upon thousands of dusty shelves, where anyone could stroll in, flip open a page and examine others' thoughts and doings at their own leasure. Then humanity changed – at a slow, lent, deadly pace.
No war ever happened during those twelve centuries. No one died from anything besides old age and sickness, but not the illnesses they had now. They had all the knowledge in the world at their fingertips but they threw it away. They got caught up in relaxation, in forgetting life, in simple, cheap, plastic amusement…
Twelve centuries later, they still had all that. Everything except the illnesses, the cars, the gas.. and the books. The information.
All the words on the planet were destroyed as easily as rotten cabbage.
And that is how people found themselves in an empty world of ringing laughter, roaring screens and fluorescent lights, with no one left to tell the stories. And where lay the records of history, was a blank page.
They grasped at all they had left in their failed minds – technology. Communication and entertainement have provided an enourmous growth in the field of gadgetry. We brought to life what has been for so long the work of fiction – or so I've heard. Time travel.
The new nation weren't stupid. They understood that one single step on a gravel road from a million years ago, one conversation, could change the course of history. So they seeked out people from every era. Machines beeped and holographs shook the air as person after person was found. Survivors of natural incidents. Lonely deaths. Those who could be taken without changing anything. Those who would give us the knowledge our ancestors have so carelessly thrown into the abyss of flame.
And that is why Ashley was part of the Gathering. No one leaved the Gathering unless they were deemed intelligent, brave, and resourceful enough to become Tracers – the only people allowed to travel back and become part of a past crowd for an instant. Only four every year are chosen out of the Gathering.
She closed her eyes again as she spun on her heels, making it into a tight, sharp curve.
"My name is Ashley, - resonated through her head. - I am fifteen years old. And today, I will finally step onto that metal staircase and rise above my nation. And people will scream my name until the sun sets."
She would become a Tracer.
Veine grasped her friend's hand with hers under the squeaky plastic bench. It's a clear bench and Ashley couldn't see why she bothered. Perhaps it's a habit. Unlike her, Veine only became part of the Gathering at twelve, being the only survivor of a forest fire as she drove the carriage to the valleys of Louare. If Ashley craned her neck, she could see the red dot between the blonde's shoulders that the needle left for eternity. She had the same mark, which stung painfully at times. Every Gathering had it, unless they were born in an English-speaking country. Diversity was too complex.
She felt the familiar vibration of the Gathering wing that means the assembly is about to begin. Her insides hardened. She was sure enough out loud, but deep inside,the dark-haired girl doubted she would be chosen. She wasn't the fastest. Or the smartest. Or fearless. Ashley felt like her body was screaming, LOOK AT ME! CHOOSE ME! Then another voice replying, 'Choose you? But youre too lazy to even brush your hair in the morning."
SHe attempedt to untangle it with my fingers, trying to look more or less presentable as the Tracer representative, Allari Sawson, climbed up the ladder, the steel heels of her shoes echoing through the room with every step. We never have long introductions, or speeches, or inspiration. It's all too fancy and fake.
Ashley glanced around at the other Gathering. Therewerent that many to account for, thirty at most. Wearing the same colors, with our eras stamped across their backs, they still looked like part of a diverse, multicolored crowd. Here and there were girls with feathers in their hair, or fans in their hands, or boys with odd haircuts, or speaking too rapidly and precisely, or with white, soft fingers practicing piano chords on an armrest. The ones who were meant to save the world, and provided all the information the nation have to this point.
The Gathering that were either rescued as adults or have become adults, who are nineteen, they worked either as Tracers or, if they were never chosen, in the data analysis laboratories. Those rows upon rows of holographic screens, buttons, and steel chairs made Ashley shudder. Too organised. She wanted to be free. To see things no one has seen.
She spotted some of my friends across the room. Lyriana's faint blue eyes were wide, alert and hopeful. Next to her, her older brother, Kan, seemed bored, leaning against a plastic pillar. He'd given up on being chosen, probably. He was sixteen and hadn't been chosen yet. Better not to get your hopes up when the opportunity is already lost.
Ellie was balancing herself on the tip of her bench, swinging back and forth, laughing when she crashes into her neighbours and apologizing loudly. She was the fearless one out of all of everyone. Ashley had seen her jump from three stories without even flinching. On the other side of the room, Alan was sitting perfectly rigid and upright, his dark eyes fixed straight on Allari. It's been his dream since he was ten to be a Tracer, since hes gotten here he could think of nothing else. He was eighteen, strong, muscular, and intelligent. He had good chances to be chosen. If he wasn't, the door was closed to him forever and he steps into the laboratory. No wonder he seemed tense.
All eyes were fixed on Allari as she approached the railing. Even Ellie stopped playing around. Ashley focused on Allari's fingers, unrolling the paper that may become my destiny or my downfall. No one usually used paper, but everyone knew that they used to, centuries ago. It's a symbol of respect for the past. Just like walking instead of lifts, wooden beds with actual pillows instead of injected sleep, and wide windows instead of clear plastic in the dorm.
She cleared her throat, then read out, without a voice amplifier, but every note, every tone carved itself into Ashley's memory forever.
The first thing that flashed through Ashley's mind is deep annoyance. Did she honestly have to read out 'Unknown' like it's an actual last name? It's not. It just meant Ashley was too stupid, or too young, or her parents cared to little, for her to have one.
The next thing she felt was shock, then happiness to the point where she wanted to scream. She heard a shriek beside her and she turned her head. Veine was jumping up and down with her hands in the air. Ashley rolled her eyes. So much for dignity.
She looked around the room as the chosen stood up, and Veine pulled her friend to her feet. Kan was grinning and attempting to brush his orange hair from his eyes. Ellie seemed downcast for a moment, but started a conversation with her neighbour, unfazed. This is one of the things Ashley admired most about Ellie. She coul bring joy to any situation, good or bad. Nothing could ever go wrong with her. Ashley catch sight of Alan in her side view. She didn't want to stare at him while he breaks down. His head in his hands, his dark hair falling over his interwined fingers. He wasn't crying, but he would probably cry tonight, eighteen or not. She could barely imagine the hell in his mind.
Lyriana was smiling a forced smile. She was happy for Kan, but its so hard to be happy when your own destiny was snatched away before your eyes. Ashley should have been happy to have been rescued from Pompei, from the eruption. She'd been told she got lost in cave and when she emerged, six years old, the city was covered in ashes and the girlwas the last one left before the dark sky. She should have been grateful. But every time she had that dream, she tried to remember her parents. She never knew how they died.
Daren. Ashley had never heard that name before. Her black eyes searched the crowd, then she saw him standing at the far left. Stocky. Dark, greasy hair. Black eyes like Ashley's. Tanned skin. His expression wasn't happy, or eluded, or even terrified – she'd seen all three. His face was perfectly blank and unreadable – he was not particularly handsome. For some reason, Ashley couldn't take my eyes off of him. It wasn't attraction. She knew he was fifteen. It was stamped on his right hand. Ashley shifted backwards slightly so she could see the writing on his back. Daren Field, Dresden, Germany, 1945. The number '1945' sent a slight chill through her spine. The second World War. The last war of humanity for twelve centuries. This is where he came from. His silent, sharp, dark features suddenly made complete sense to her.
Veine stopped jumping and followed Ashley's gaze. "Its rude to stare, you know," she remarked. At her words Daren looked behind his shoulder, as though having felt Ashley's eyes on him. He glanced at Veine for a second and then locked eyes with Ashley's, and she couldn't see anything in his eyes. Black emptiness.
Ashley. Daren. Veine. Kan.
The new missionners of history.