Jessica stared blankly at Ariel’s request. Ashken tried to look reassuring, but he did know what they would do once they left the enclave. He was not even sure that leaving the enclave would be the best thing for Jessica, regardless of what Ariel had said. Ashken knew that the enclave would not be in good hands with Ariel. It did not matter what he thought or how he looked because Jessica did not look over to Ashken. She was lost in a world of pain, and Ashken could understand where that pain was coming from. He had been living there as well.
Ariel was not a tall or big man. He was slight of stature and reserved. When he spoke, it was not loud, and Ashken sometimes found himself leaning in to hear what he was saying. Ariel was dressed sharply, like the militiamen but where the militiamen’s uniform was poorly cut, his was expensively cut; where the militiamen’s uniforms were sloppy or in need of mending, his was well fitting and looked as good as it did, Ashken imagined, on the day it was sewn together. Even his boots were shined and polished. His movements were also crisp and exact. He did not seem to waste any motion or energy. He looked the epitome of what the militiamen could be if they applied themselves. At least on first look.
With all of his outward perfection, there was something slightly off about him. There was a delay about him with everything he did. When you spoke with him, he seemed to take a moment to register what you said. It was not the silence of consideration or thoughtfulness. It was the silence of nothingness, as if he was not bothering to analyze what someone said until something went off inside of him, some indication that he had been told something and perhaps he should think about it or respond. It was a strange experience talking with Ariel. He was there and not there at the same time. When he spoke, he spoke with an air of command that could not be questioned. But the command always seemed a moment late in coming.
His skin was of lighter tone than most of the people in the enclave, similar to Moses’s skin. But unlike Moses’s skin, it was covered in blemishes across his face and his hands. The blemishes were red volcano-likes splotches, and many of them looked ready to burst. He did not try to hide the blemishes as Ashken had seen other people do. He seemed to flaunt them, his face daring the people around him to say something about the blemishes. He wore them as a badge of honor. Ashken could not image anyone asking him about them. The off-ness of his body seemed to convey a sense of danger. Although, looking at him, the last think you would think of was danger. He did not carry a weapon besides a ceremonial baton that did not look like it had ever seen combat. It was obvious that the militiamen followed him. But he looked like he would still have the ability to command people even if he were miles away from his troops.
“Well, girl?” Ariel asked. “Stay or leave, it matters not to me. But we want your friends safely outside the gate before we move from here.”
There was a commotion from behind Ariel, and four militiamen dragged a figure up through the ranks. Ashken could not see who it was they were dragging. His head was down, but even so, it was not difficult to see the blood caked on the top of the man’s head, and the blood running down his arms. Whoever it was, the militiamen had not treated him kindly when they had captured him.
“Father,” Jessica exclaimed and rushed toward the bloodied figure. Now that he looked closer, Ashken could see that it was Jeremiah. He was not sure how Jessica had known immediately who it was.
“How nice,” Ariel said. “A quaint family reunion.”
The militiamen stepped away from Jeremiah. His body fell to the floor between them. Jeremiah was still moving and breathing, but his breath sounded haggard. Ashken had hated this man and wished him death. He had wanted to do more than punch him in the head on the roof. He had wished he had something sharp to kill him with. But now that he saw him on the ground, trying to breathe and not finding breath, one of his hands lying at an angle that must indicate that it was broken—now he could not bring himself to fulfill his wish to see Jeremiah dead. He did not feel guilty that his wish had somehow been granted. All he could think of was what Jessica must be going through, and how he wished she had left with them before they saw Jeremiah in this state. Although, on second thought, it was probably better that she saw her father, even if he was dying. Ashken did see how much it meant to be with his father as he lay dying on the ground. It gives people if nothing else a sense of closure.
Jessica was on the ground next to her father. She held his head in her hands and she rocked it gently. She was saying something to him and he something to her, but Ashken could not hear the words from where he stood. Jeremiah tried vainly to lift his arm to touch his daughter, but his arm looked broken, and each time he tried to move Ashken watched the pain shoot up through his arm, up his body, and through his face. The pain should have seemed fitting and deserving, but Ashken didn’t have eyes for Jeremiah, but for the daughter of the dying man.
As Jessica combed his hair with her hands, Jeremiah continued to talk. Nobody in the crowd said anything as daughter and father spent their last few minutes together. At the end, Jeremiah shook and made a loud gurgling sound. Blood spurted out of his mouth and his body fell to the side, relaxing where before it had been rigid. Jessica continued to hold his head. She remained that way for a few minutes before reaching over and closing his eyes. She stood up, picked up her bag and swung it over her shoulder.
She walked passed Ariel, but did not look or say anything to him. The sword-wielding militiamen took a step forward as she approached, but Ariel raised his hand to let them know that their protection was not needed. The militiamen did not need to bother. Jessica walked by without a sound, her head held high, and she ignored Ariel. She walked over to where Ashken and Moses waited.
“I’m ready,” was all that Jessica said. Both of her parents dead over the course of an hour, and if anything, she looked resolute. Sadness, which had threatened to overwhelm her only moments before, had cleared away as the tide washed away the night’s refuse. Of course, as Ashken knew better than most, that the refuse returned on the next day’s tide. He did not need to tell her that now, however.
Ashken was not sure if Jessica was going through denial or if there was something else bolstering her forward. He wished whatever it was she would lend him. His father’s death still smarted and he could not imagine leaving the enclave, leaving the only place he ever knew.
His choice was made for him. Ariel made a gesture and said something to the militiamen. Three of the militiamen ran over the gate. There was a mechanism to the side of the gate that Ashken had never noticed before. It was a large black box with a wheel inside of it. Two militiamen began turning the wheel, and when they did, the large bar that ran across the gate slowly lifted. Ashken tried to follow where the rope that lifted the bar was, but he did not see any. If anything, it looked as if the bar lifted under its own power, not connected to anything. It was almost like the lifting boxes he had heard stories about in the Moderns’ tall buildings. There were no Moderns’ buildings taller than three stories in the enclave, but people claimed that the trader’s told them stories about buildings ten and more stories tall. In those buildings were boxes that lifted the people between the floors. The bar across the gate seemed similar in the way it lifted away from the gate.
When the bar had lifted and moved away from the gate, two militiamen stood in front of each gate and pulled at it. At first, the gate did not budge. When it did move, it was a sudden move, and a loud creak accompanied the outward swing. The gates swung open slowly, gathering speed as the militiamen continued to pull. They stopped when there was enough room for one person to slip out between the opening between the gates. When they let go of the gates, both of the gates stopped moving immediately. Somehow, momentum had no meaning for the gates, a strange thought when Ashken saw how large, tall, and heavy the gates really were.
Moses did not wait for permission or to be asked. He sheathed his sword and walked up and through the gates. Joseph was a step behind him. While the opening between the gates was large enough for a normal-sized person, Joseph would not have fit through the gates. He placed one large hand on each of the gates and pulled them apart. What took four men to move, he did effortlessly, pulling open a gate with one hand. When he let go of the gates, similar to when the militiamen did, the gates stopped moving immediately. Joseph followed Moses out through the gates and did not look back.
Ashken took Jessica’s hand in his own hand and walked toward the gate.
“Ashken, I want you to know that your father failed,” Ariel said before Ashken could pass through the gates. “His dreams and your family’s dreams, all of them failed. I know it’s painful to hear, but you should know the truth before Moses or Joseph try to convince you otherwise. Not only did your family fail, the secret—and its irony still never fails to strike me—is that your family’s dreams were not really their dreams. They were their protector’s dreams. They were Moses and Joseph and, for that matter, my dreams as well. We were wrong to think that people such as you could make this world a better place. It was never about governing councils and it was always about the enclave. It did not become the beacon of hope we had dreamed of. It seems your kind can never create anything like that. All you can create is chaos and destruction.”
Anger seethed through Ashken. “My father did not fail,” Ashken said. “My father was killed and he did not see his dreams realized. But do not think he failed. He did not failed because he left me with those same dreams. You do understand that’s how people always succeed in anything: it’s not just them that are doing it, but everyone else they put to it. My ancestors may have failed in doing it themselves, but they succeeded in putting first my father and now me on the right path toward completing their goal of creating a new type of humanity. I cannot wish the same for you. Your goal is only chaos and destruction. You think that will help the enclave, the people of the enclave, but it will not. The governing council and the great families will be replaced by other leaders who will do the same thing. It was never about the leaders. Leaders are always the same, regardless of what they believe or preach.
“What my father succeeded in is passing on his dreams for humanity. I don’t know if I’ll be the person who sees those dreams to their fruition, or if it will be Jessica or perhaps the next generation. But eventually, we will succeed. And for all of your rhetoric, and all of your posturing, you do not have the best interests of the enclave or humanity in mind. You have only the interests of Ariel, a weak and pathetic figure.”
Ashken did not wait for Ariel to respond. He was not sure how much of what he said was true. From the looks of their tired band, he did not think they could ever influence the world around them. He had not even managed to retrieve the gray cube his father had bequeathed to him along with the Moderns’ coat. Regardless of his speech, he saw much truth in what Ariel had said. His father’s dreams and the great family’s dreams of turning the enclave into a paradise have failed. Washen’s Enclave may succeed without the great families, but it would not be because of them, at least not because of them now.
For now, the most Ashken could give the enclave was freedom from him and the governing council. His father’s final wish still echoed in his head. Ashken would take Moses and Jessica, and Joseph, if he chose to join them, to find the wanderers. He was not sure what he would do once he found them, but there was much his father had not told him. He hoped he would be smart enough to figure out what his father had wanted from him.
Ashken looked back at Jessica, whose face was stone. He wondered if she too was given some grand task to do by her dying father. He wished he had time to provide Jeremiah with a proper burial. Even if he had helped murder his father, he was Jessica’s father, and for that alone, he deserved the burial. But they did not have time for that. Ashken allowed Jessica to walk through the gate first. He followed her afterwards, a step behind. He did not look back but turned off to the right to catch up to Moses and Joseph. A motley crew indeed.
Word count: 2,371
Words remaining: 6,454 (words so far: 43,546)
Thoughts: Three more days. Woo hoo!