Welcome back to Part 2 and 3 of Chapter 3 in which we meet new people–inside the village and out!
If you’re new to my SF Adventure Worlds Rising, you may want to start with Chapter 1 🙂
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 3, Part 2 and 3
Ashok followed Ole to the meeting hall. The elder apparitor never looked back, and Ashok wondered if the man even knew what this was all about. Considering the strict taboos concerning everything to do with the ‘return’, Ashok doubted it. He had never thought too highly of the council to start with, suspecting only those were ever privy to details who couldn’t be kept in the dark at all. Which was to say, they were already in on the secret, or the council needed them to solve specific problems. Ole surely didn’t belong to one group or the other.
Ashok on the other hand knew exactly what was in store for him. After the so-called ‘return’ he’d been summoned by the council on three different occasions. The first time, they’d questioned him alongside the other ‘returnees’. He had tried to convince the council members to be wary of the invaders’ countermeasures. To take precautions. Surely they couldn’t be so naive to believe the enemy would just set them free and be done with it… They must have suspected there was more to this ‘return’–they must have known!
A sense of guilt, that he’d known for a while now, was gnawing at him again, eating him from the inside. This was all his fault. He had led the men home, knowing full well the predicament he put the village into. It was just that… they’d all wanted to go home! They had missed their families. They wanted to be surrounded by friends, they longed to feel safe again… What a terrible mistake.
Deep inside they all knew they would never be safe again. And they had probably doomed their loved ones, too.
They had discussed this many, many times. Joram had been trying to warn Ashok all along, but he had closed his eyes to reality, wanting to get away from there. He’d needed the familiar sight of home; the sounds, the smells, the laughter, the hugs of his mother, to be surrounded by his brothers again.
But, it had been a selfish notion.
He never should have put them all in this kind of danger. He should have listened to Joram. Between the two of them his younger brother had been the more mature. Ashok regretted nothing more than not having listened. A mistake, they might have to pay for with their lives.
Oh, he had tried to make good by persuading the council to take precautions. He had told them the whole truth about Farid’s failed attempt on escape, about his execution… Dear Heavens, he hadn’t even gotten up the courage to tell their mother, yet! So, the council knew the story of being set free was a lie. They knew they’d escaped on the second try. Surely, they also must know the invaders would have their revenge! Still, they chose to keep the villagers in the dark as usual, pretending their lives would simply go back to normal after the ‘return’. How could they be so still? Why didn’t anybody do something? Anything?!
They’d almost reached the meeting hall now and the closer he got, the more he felt anger building up inside. At the first hearing he’d tried to be patient with old Mandras and the rest of the council members. Convinced himself, they needed time to process what was happening. To him and the other guys, the abduction, the abuse, the suffering had all been very real. A living nightmare they had barely survived. Not all of them had. But to these old people it was all… sort of vague. Of course, most of them had been missing family members and now they could hardly believe they’d ‘returned’.
But that was exactly the point: How could they believe their own lies?
Could they really be so clueless not to sense the extent of the enemy’s contempt? Could they not fathom how rigorously these people enforced their purposes? How relentlessly they broke any opposition they encountered?
At his first hearing he had tried to be patient, biting his tongue while answering silly questions and listening to absurd speculations with which the council members sought to deny any responsibility. In a way, of course, they were right. In a way, it should be his responsibility to make up for his mistakes. But now that the damage was done he needed the council’s endorsement to raise people’s awareness. Instead, they kept crippling all of his attempts with their cursed taboos. People needed to realize, all of this was only the beginning. He had to tell them about the ‘ground station’!
The true significance of the term had only hit him at the close of his captivity, and he might never have learned about the disturbing truth if not for the aid from a completely unexpected ally. A cold shiver ran down Ashok’s back. If not for the Dikang, a resistance group from deep within the own ranks of the enemy, their second attempt at escape would have been crushed just as bloodily as the first.
Despite himself, the pictures rose again before his mind’s eye. At sunrise they were mustered on the plane by the station to witness the revolt leaders being herded out like cattle for the slaughter. Among them… his brother Farid.
Ashok still couldn’t believe Farid hadn’t let his brothers in on his secrets. Instead, he had contrived this first attempt on escape without them. Not on his own, but at the time Ashok didn’t know that. It wasn’t until much later, when the Dikang approached him, too, that he realized what he should have known all along: Without any help from the outside any thought of escape was hopeless. In the end, it didn’t save his brother either.
The firing squad was deployed, and Ashok would never forget Farid’s resolute expression when led past the prisoners to his execution. His last glance was not for his brothers, but for their cell mate Kyle. The man from another village. Kyle was so rattled, he tried to throw himself in the line, too. Ashok and Joram had to keep him restrained by sheer force. Farid let himself be dragged away without resistance, his gaze firmly set on Kyle, almost as if asking his forgiveness. Then somebody pulled a sack over his head.
Hardly suppressed tension seized the prisoners, and Ashok would never forget the moment: standing there, paralyzed. Overwhelmed by his desperate wish to hold onto his brother, struck down by the certainty that in the blink of an eye he would be gone forever. That nothing saved him.
Colonel Guo yelled: ‘Ready–Fire! Ready–Fire! Ready–Fire!”
With each volley, surges of energy buzzed through the air. Definite, precise, deadly. It didn’t even cause any blood shed. Farid and his two confidants simply collapsed and an unnatural silence descended over prisoners and soldiers alike. Petrified, his mind completely blank, Ashok watched as Farid and the other two bodies where taken away. After this, Kyle fell silent.
Ashok, too, spoke to no one for a long time, until one day Major Huang Lian stepped in front of him, holding up Farid’s enamel ring. After some wary assessment on both parts, she revealed herself as member of the Dikang. The resistance was offering their help–if Ashok was ready to play his part in a very risky endeavor. Well, they’d come to the right person. He was going to honor Farid’s legacy if it cost his life.
And now was the time. Now he had to convince the council.
Ole stopped outside the meeting hall, wordlessly holding the door open. Ashok rubbed his burning eyes and took a deep breath before entering. Straightening his back, he stepped inside and planted himself before the council members. Seven pairs of eyes were facing him, some guardedly, some mostly curious, some appraising him. As of yet, these people were the only ones who knew about the escape. He needed to convince them today or it might be too late.
But Mandras was stubborn. “You can’t go around spreading panic among our neighbors.”
Ashok managed to keep calm, if only with difficulty. “You don’t get it. We need to prepare ourselves. They will seek revenge no matter what!”
“Then you shouldn’t have come here in the first place!”
Speechless, Ashok stared at the old man. He’d found the one sore point that pained Ashok almost physically. If not for his decision to lead the men home, the villagers wouldn’t be in this predicament.
“Nonsense!” an elderly woman cut in sharply, “I am glad to have my son back and the sons of my sister. If you have nothing better to contribute–”
“We can’t fight the strangers, Eleni!” Mandras boomed, scowling at her. Intimidated, she ducked her head, still muttering under her breath.
Frustrated, Ashok clenched his fists. Stay calm, you have to stay calm or you’ll never get anywhere with this bonehead. “I’m not talking about fighting,” he said, trying to appease everybody. “But we do need to at least evacuate the village. To hide, until help arrives.”
“What help?” somebody asked. Murmuring to one another, the council members shook their heads. Nobody wanted to abandon the village.
“There is nowhere to go. The’d find us, no matter where we’d try to hide,” Mandras claimed and everyone nodded in agreement, even Eleni.
None of them thought much of the plan Ashok had devised with the Dikang. Secretly, he couldn’t blame them. Parts of the plan, especially its basic assumptions appeared downright ludicrous and there were numerous sources of trouble. Yet, they had to try it. Without help from the outside, they were bound to be destroyed.
“Is there really no other way but to recover this… device?” Eleni asked hesitantly. “By the riverside of all places?!”
Twice already he’d tried to explain that Major Huang had left no doubt about the importance of this ‘communication device’, and twice council members had interrupted, “Yes, but…!” to cue more general hubbub of questions, accusations and playing down the issue.
In the middle of all this cacophony council apparitor Rona got up to stand, unexpectedly, “I’m prepared to help Ashok with his search.”
Her emphatic alto voice brought everyone to silence. After a measured pause, in which she scrutinized each and every attendant intensely, she added, “Ashok is right, we can’t sit around, hoping for the invaders to forget about us. They won’t, and we all know that.”
An awkward silence proved her right.
Sitting back down, her gaze met his and she nodded almost imperceptibly. For the very first time that he could recall, Ashok seriously contemplated Rona as a possible ally. She was younger than the elected council members and mother of a little daughter. Maybe she was the only one present who truly understood what was at stake. Slowly, Ashok exhaled.
Together they would leave the village elders with no other option, but to follow along with Major Huang Lian’s plan. That was the only chance left to them.
If it wasn’t too late already.
~ ~ ~
Li Xiao was standing in the door to the patriarch’s Li Xiao was standing in the door to the patriarch’s dressing room, making every effort not to stare at all those age marks and wrinkles on his eldest brother’s leathery skin. Usually, the body of the Haodang Long was covered head to toe by tailored uniforms or robes, and his face was always meticulously made up, so one had to stand directly in front of him to tell his age. Usually, Li Xiao didn’t come that close to his brother.
Of course, everyone knew the patriarch’s real age. It was no secret. Shi Wei’s date of birth was engraved in the pedestal of his jade statue in the throne room for everyone to see. Well, everyone with access to the throne room. Which admittedly only applied to members of the Five Grand Families nowadays, at rare, big events. Like wedding ceremonies, cremations or births. In that exact order.
At the latest birth celebration Li Xiao had been present–being the main person and cause of the event. Thus, extremely heavy weight was given to the event of twenty-two years ago, which, ultimately, led to his predicament today.
“Don’t just stand there! Come in, get undressed, so the tailors can take your measurements,” the Haodang Long ordered. With the raise of an eyebrow he told his servants to assist Li Xiao.
Inwardly, Li Xiao groaned, though he kept his expression under control. One of the advantages of serving with the armed forces was that he usually got to dress and undress himself. Even relatives of the patriarch were only allowed standard officers’ privileges. They didn’t include body servants.
Keeping his silence, he let himself be peeled out of his jacket and body suit and be scanned head to toe. He certainly hadn’t missed all this fussing over his personal affairs. What he wouldn’t give to escape this appointment right now!
“I had hoped to wear my dress uniform to the ceremony,” he said in a last gasp of rebellion against fate.
The Haodang Long, who was now being fitted with a richly embroidered silk undergarment, looked up, a calculating glistening in his gaze. “Ah, I was wondering how long it would take you to address this, little brother. Let’s get this sorted out first, then. Naturally, you will resign your commission before the wedding. At the closing of the ceremony, I will officially acknowledge you as my successor. From then on out, your prevailing duty will be to protect the Second House and, ultimately, to preserve all of the Grand Families.”
Li Xiao’s ears were ringing. This was worse than anticipated!
He had never doubted his purpose. Ignoring it had never been an option. To the contrary, his teachers never tired of rubbing in the citizens’ hopes and expectations for a bright new future under his leadership. Still, he had kind of hoped for some respite, while his brother was still administering government affairs himself. Something like a life, if only for a few more years.
Before he degenerated into a drone, by the side of his queen bee.
“As if that will do us any good!” he blurted. “Maybe state secretaries need to believe their own fairy tales to lend credibility to their proclamations. But you, eldest brother, know very well, we’re done for. We are the last. There will be no more heirs!”
“Oh yes, there will! And you, yourself, helped lay the ground for that!”
Thank you for reading!
Please check back for chapter 4 next Tuesday here in Joey’s Café.
Also, if you don’t want to miss any chapters being loaded up, please be sure to push the follow-button for my blog Joeys Café!
Looking sharp! <3