This is Part One of Book 2 in the novella series, ‘She Who Wrote the World.’ If you enjoy it, kindly like and share!
Part One: Filth in the Apple Tree
“Belief is what makes everything OK.” Filth’s older sister had always said that. When he was a boy, she used to sing to him every night before he went to sleep:
Close your eyes and end your grief
All you need is sweet belief
In your dreams you’ll be relieved
And find all along that you believed.”
Despite having grown into adulthood, Filth would still catch himself humming the lullaby to offset the helplessness he often felt.
Filth’s parents had died from the viral outbreak. His mother had been a direct casualty of nanotech deactivation since she had been born with a defective heart that had only continued to beat by the grace of nanos. His father had died within a week from what the Easterners dubbed, Connection Withdrawal Syndrome or CWS. It was a psychological breakdown from being ripped from the intermind connection. CWS had been the leading cause of death in the first year after the virus. The Easterners (or what most people just called, Es) washed over the west without having to raise a single weapon. The virus had been enough. The Westerners acquiesced to their new controllers without a single skirmish. The Es were ingenious and they liked to remind the NWs (native Westerners) of this more frequently than was necessary or tasteful. It was hard to believe that just thirty years ago, NWs had been a free people living in a lush land.
He had been three when the virus spread and could barely remember the interconnection or his parents. Clem, his sister, had been eight. In a moment, she had become his parent, teacher, best friend and saviour. Clem had the mental fortitude their father had not. Somehow, she had managed to keep them alive as street riffraff while they played dodge the Es backhand while stealing scraps of food.
Clem was his world. He was not going to let her down.
The curfew alarms sounded that informed the NWs it was time to scamper back inside the confines of their area. They were allowed out to work their menial jobs, of course, but it was punishable to loiter. Filth’s job was weather dependent. Either he would be clearing snow, laying down sod or picking fruit. His reward was a backache, perpetual blisters and just enough food stamps to keep a thin layer of skin across his and Clem’s frames. He had no conventional way of affording the medical treatment Clem needed.
Luckily, there was an unconventional way. Green, one of the usual NW crew he worked with, had told him about an after hours job he could do at the Tower. The Tower had once represented the values of the West. Now, it was a seedy nightclub.
“What kind of job?” Filth had whispered to Green while both men tottered on rickety ladders that led to the apples.
“I don’t know exactly.” Green whispered back. “I overheard some other guys talking about it. Said another guy went over there after curfew and came back with enough stamps to repair his roof. He didn’t have any trouble at all.”
“Sounds shady.” Filth said, but he hadn’t been able to suppress a grin. Something shady was exactly what he needed. Clem would have panicked if he had not come home at curfew. For Clem, panicking meant she might stay up an hour later than usual. Clem would fight panic with her unrelenting optimism, but he would still get an earful. Now that she was sick, Clem had only short bouts of consciousness and seldom was she cognizant. She wouldn’t even notice if he did not come home.
There was something wildly therapeutic about walking into danger and he couldn’t help feel a bit better.
“How did this guy get to the tower without getting caught?” He had asked Green.
Green shrugged. “Maybe he just looked more like an E.”
Even the poorest of the Es was wealthier than the richest NW and that lent itself to a generally plumper frame among the Es. They wore better clothes and had access to dentistry, health services and had generally better hygienic practices. Their skin tone was the same since both had descended from common ancestors, but the Es had a cooler, almost blueish, undertone. While nanos had been used in the west to clean drinking water, in the East, they had purified their water with colloidal silver, which resulted in the slight variation in hues.
Filth seemed to have a permanent blush, which only seemed to deepen when anyone drew attention to it. His bones poked out of the rags that passed for his clothes. He was every inch an NW.
Since blending in seemed impossible for Filth, he had kicked the ladder away and sat on a thick branch, hiding in the tree leaves. The alarm sounded its final warning causing his heart to jump and his breath to become fast and irregular. Squeezing his eyes tight, he thought of Clem and her calming presence. He could hear her beautiful voice sing the lullaby in his mind. He rehearsed it over and over for fear he might one day forget the sound of her voice. His breathing slowed.
Now, Filth just had to wait for nightfall.