Adelaide’s eyes snapped open at the sound of breaking glass. She lay there, awake, her ears alert and her heart beating quickly. It was too dark for her to see anything but shadows, and she wondered if the noise had been from a dream. She rolled over and closed her eyes, willing herself to go back to sleep, when the door to her bedroom burst open. She sat up quickly and saw the silhouette of a man rush into her room, closing the door behind him. She held her blankets close to her chest, breathing hard. The figure stood at the door for a moment, listening, before turning to Adelaide and approaching her bed.
“Adie,” the man whispered urgently. “Put this on,”
She breathed a sigh of relief. It was her father. “What are you doing?” She asked as he hastily swept a chain around her neck.
“Wear it under your shirt so nobody sees it.”
“Dad, what is going on?” Adelaide whispered, stuffing the cool chain under her nightshirt.
“Somebody broke into the shop,” he said, looking back to the door. “Take your mother and go. I’ll catch up.”
“Go? Go where?” Adelaide asked, growing frantic.
“Do you remember the shack outside the orchards?”
Adelaide nodded, feeling numb.
“Go there. Wait for me. If I’m not there by sunrise, move on without me.”
“You have to go now!” Langston walked back to the door and stood there, listening with his hand on the knob. Adelaide franticly pulled on her shoes and a jacket. Suddenly, Langston threw the door open and leapt out silently. Adelaide heard a loud thump and rushed to the door. Langston was straddling a strange man that Adelaide had never seen before. He was punching the man in the face over and over again. Adelaide shuddered when she saw a spray of red fly across the floor. Shiny wet droplets settled and spread through the cracks of the wood.
Emmeline ran out from the door to the largest bedroom that she shared with Langston.
“Langston!” She shouted, “That’s enough!” She glanced up and saw Adelaide standing at her door, staring at the blood on the floor.
“Adie! We have to go.” Emmeline ran around Langston, who still sat over man on the floor, breathing hard. She grabbed Adelaide’s arm and pulled her toward the stairs. Langston stood up and followed with a dark look in his eyes. His fists were covered in blood, and Adelaide wasn’t sure if it belonged to her father or to the intruder.
Before she knew what was happening, they were down the stairs. Adelaide ran her fingers along the spines of the three books on the shelves as she passed before crouching by the front door of the shop next to her parents. The window by the back door was broken, and Adelaide could see the shards of glass glinting on the floor underneath it. They could hear shouts coming from the street outside, and Adelaide shivered when she heard a woman’s scream.
“What’s going on?” She whispered to Langston urgently.
“Shh,” Emmeline said, behind her.
Adelaide felt annoyance bubble up in her chest in spite of her terror.
“Just tell me!” Adelaide said louder than she should have, but she already knew the answer.
Langston turned away from the door and said, “It’s a raid.”
Adelaide’s heart stopped in her chest. Her brother had died in a raid twelve years earlier. She knew that raids still plagued the poorer sections of the village, but she never thought the raiders would dare venture this deep into the wealthier center of the town. Not again.
Langston turned and crept across the room to the back door. He crouched under the window for a moment, and Adelaide could hear the glass from the broken window crunching under his shoes. He stood up slowly and peeked out the window before crouching down again.
“Okay, here’s the plan,” Langston whispered, “There are a couple of men just outside. I can hear them talking. I’ll go out the front door and distract them, while you two run out the back. Wait for me in the garden.”
Emmeline nodded and pulled Adelaide across the room to the back door.
Langston tore off a piece of torn fabric from his shirt and wrapped it around one end of a shard of glass. “Careful,” he said, handing Adelaide the long glass shard. She stared down at it blankly. “Just in case,” Langston whispered. He hugged her, stroking her hair. “I’ll see you in a minute,” he said, kissing her forehead.
“Be careful,” Emmeline whispered, a tear falling gently down her cheek.
Langston didn’t reply. He rushed across the room and waved at them to go. Emmeline pushed the door open and ran out, pulling Adelaide behind her. Adelaide turned to see Langston throw the front door open and shove another shard of glass into the neck of a man standing just outside. Another man came up behind him and thrust a long bladed knife at Langston’s back, but before the knife could make contact Langston turned to the side and the blade sunk into the chest of the first man. Langston buried his knee into the second man’s groin, pulled the knife from the first man’s chest, and thrust it into the second man’s back. The second man immediately fell on top of the body of the first man.
Adelaide screamed, and Langston rushed over to her, pulling her into the small shack that protected their gardening tools from the elements. Emmeline followed.
“Where did you learn how to do that?” Adelaide cried, frantically once they were safely in the shack.
“Shh,” he said, stroking her hair back with bloody hands. “Do you have the box?” Langston asked Emmeline quickly.
Emmeline shook her head, and Langston moved to the doorless opening of the shack. “Wait here.” He said firmly.
“Wait, you’re going back in there?” Adelaide asked, horrified.
“I have to.” Langston replied, and he disappeared.
Through the small, dirty window of the shack, Adelaide and Emmeline watched him run through the garden and into the dark shop. Time seemed to slow to an unbearable pace. They waited in silence, pretending to ignore the sounds of shouting coming from the rest of the village. Adelaide could smell smoke, and the sky above was an eerie orange and black haze.
Adelaide heard the crunch of gravel outside and ducked away from the window. Since there was no door to the shack, Emmeline and Adelaide could only hide in the shadows and hope that they couldn’t be seen. Adelaide held her breath, but nearly gasped when she saw three men pass the shack. Two of the men were wearing boiled leather armor. The taller of the armored men carried a long, heavy knife, and Adelaide knew it was a sword. The smaller armored man carried a large bow and wore a quiver of arrows on his back. The third man wasn’t carrying a sword or a bow. Instead he cautiously held a small dagger out in front of him. He hung back behind the first two men, and Adelaide noticed that he wasn’t wearing any armor. Instead, he was wearing dark clothing and narrow glasses. She tightened her grip on the shard of glass, ignoring the painful pressure in her fingers.
She didn’t understand. Why would Josiah Remington, proud auditor from the Senator Sector, join the raiders who’ve been plaguing the Six Provinces for years?
“I want you two to stand guard at the doors of the shop while I go inside. Don’t let anyone out alive.” Remington ordered, and the two men obeyed. The man with the bow went into the shop to guard the front door, while the man with the sword stopped at the back door facing the garden.
“Give me your sword.” Remington demanded.
The tall man hesitated and said, “Sir, it is the only weapon I carry.”
Remington sighed loudly and gave the tall man his dagger. “Now give me your sword,” he said again. The tall man handed it over. In the flickering glow from the nearby fire, Adelaide saw Remington smile before he disappeared into the house.
Adelaide looked at her mother frantically and saw that she wasn’t watching the tall guard. Instead, she was looking up toward the house. Following her gaze, Adelaide saw that Langston stood at the open window to her parents’ bedroom on the second floor. He was holding a rusty sliver box that glinted in the strange light outside, and Emmeline was silently motioning to the armed guard at the door, who had not yet noticed Langston in the window.
Langston nodded, seeming to understand. He moved away from the window for a moment, and when he returned he threw a rope through the open window and leaned out to make sure it was long enough to reach the ground safely. Tugging on the rope to make sure it would hold, Langston started to climb out the window, the silver box resting on the window sill.
But before he could make it out the window, he turned quickly to look at something inside the bedroom. Before he could react, the silver blade of a sword pierced his chest and emerged from his back.
Adelaide collapsed to the ground, and Emmeline clasped her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming.
Remington pulled the sword away, and Langston stumbled backward, knocking the silver box off the window sill and into the dark soil below. Remington followed and grabbed Langston by the neck. He leaned down as if whispering something in his ear, and then he pushed Langston out the window. His body seemed to fall in slow motion, and Emmeline had to hold Adelaide tightly to keep her from running to him as he hit the ground with a sickening thud.
In the room above, Remington inspected the bloody blade of the sword before using the curtains to clean it off. A moment later, he called the guards from inside the house, and the tall guard disappeared from the doorway.
Emmeline finally let go of Adelaide and they both ran over to Langston. He wasn’t moving. Adelaide dropped the glass shard, tore his shirt open, and inspected the wound in the middle of his chest. She refused to believe that Remington had punctured his heart. She frantically searched his neck for a pulse and started performing the lifesaving pumping and breathing movements Borvo had taught her early in her apprenticeship. Emmeline was saying her name, but she was too busy counting and pumping and breathing into Langston’s mouth to listen. She didn’t notice Langston’s head rolling around or his eyes staring vacantly into nothing.
“Come on, Dad,” Adelaide whispered, breathing hard from the strenuous job of reviving life. Tears streamed down her face, and she pumped and breathed and pumped and breathed, stopping only to check for a pulse.
Suddenly, she was knocked into the dirt and a sharp pain blossomed in her ribcage. Every breath she took felt like agony. She looked up and saw the tall, armored man with the dagger standing over her.
He chuckled, “Well, what have we here?”
Adelaide scrambled backwards in the garden soil as the man took slow, confident steps toward her.
“You’re a pretty little thing, aren’t you? Remington only spoke of the wife’s beauty, but he never mentioned the daughter’s.” He licked his lips as he bent down to grab Adelaide, but before he could reach her, he was hit over the head with a large garden shovel. He fell on top of Adelaide and his body went limp.
She looked up to see Emmeline standing over him with the shovel. Adelaide struggled to get out from under his weight, and Emmeline helped to roll the tall man off of her. When Adelaide was safely back on her feet, Emmeline lifted the shovel above the man and thrust the blade into his exposed throat with all of her strength. Adelaide looked away but she still heard the sickening crunch of bone and cartilage as the shovel made contact. She felt queasy, unable to accept the fact that her mother had just killed a man.
“We have to go, now!” Emmeline whispered, looking around the garden.
Adelaide took one last look at her father. She noticed the silver box jutting out from under his leg and the shard of glass he had given her only moments before. She grabbed both quickly before following Emmeline.
Just as they were about to reach the road, Adelaide heard a yell.
“There they are!”
She turned quickly to see two more men chasing after them through the garden. One of them was the man with the bow, and the other she didn’t recognize.
“Run!” Adelaide cried breathlessly.
Despite her injured ribs, she ran harder and farther than she had ever run before. Her heart felt as if it had moved up to her throat and her already damaged lungs where desperate for air. Her sandaled feet slapped the hard ground beneath her. Her legs were moving so fast, she felt as if she might lose control and stumble to the ground at any moment. She could feel the cold, hard box slipping out from under her arm as arrows whizzed all around her.
She looked back and instantly regretted it. One of the men was right behind her. Turning around had slowed her down and gave the man a chance to reach up to grab her long hair. Adelaide was still clutching the glass shard in one hand, and without thinking she swiped it back, catching the man on the face. He screamed and slowed down, his hands covering his eye and his cheek where the glass had made contact, blood seeping between his fingers. Adelaide continued to run, refusing to let go of the glass shard even though it was cutting into her fingers and the palm of her hand, making her bleed.
Another man had caught up to Emmeline, who was a few paces ahead. He tackled her to the ground and threw himself on top of her. Emmeline screamed, and slashed at the man frantically with a knife Adelaide didn’t know she had. But before Emmeline could make contact, the attacker caught her wrist in his and wrestled the knife away from her, holding it to her neck.
Adelaide ran up behind him and swung the metal box into the back of his head. It wasn’t heavy enough to knock him out, but it did knock him off of Emmeline. He dropped the knife and it went sliding across the dirt road. Adelaide helped Emmeline up, and Emmeline scooped up the knife. The man groaned on the ground and started to stand but Adelaide jammed the glass shard into his neck using the same move she saw her father use against the man in front of the shop. Hot, red liquid streamed out of wound with a sickening pulse, and she knew the glass had hit the man’s carotid artery. She turned to Emmeline with trembling hands, now coated in sticky blood. Emmeline nodded and continued running. Adelaide picked up the metal box and followed.
They slowed down when they finally made it to the orchard. It was quiet and dark, and that made Adelaide nervous. One of the raiders could be hiding in the shadows, and Adelaide was afraid they would pop out at any moment to attack. She no longer had the glass shard and she felt defenseless.
They approached the shack. Emmeline walked slowly toward it, knife held out in front of her. Adelaide followed closely behind. They reached the door and stood on either side of it, listening for sounds of movement inside. After several minutes, Emmeline eased the door open slowly and waited. When nothing happened, she stepped in and looked around, the knife held high.
“It’s empty,” She said from inside the shack. Adelaide quickly followed her inside, closing the door behind her.
The shack was larger than the one in their garden. It was damp and smelled like earth. Shovels, rakes, hoes, and other tools were hanging from the walls, and a half-full water bucket sat in a corner alongside an old wheelbarrow. Adelaide dropped the box into the wheelbarrow and began scrubbing her hands furiously in the water. She felt like it would never come off again, her hands permanently stained with what she had done. With what she had had to do. She suppressed a sob. Emmeline pulled her into a hug, but Adelaide cried out from the pain in her ribs. Emmeline loosened her grip and helped her to the floor. Together they cried. After a few minutes Adelaide noticed that the knife had cut into Emmeline’s neck.
“Mom, you’re hurt,” Adelaide said, using the moonlight outside to get a better look at the wound.
“It’s just a scratch.” Emmeline said, brushing her hand away. “And you’re hurt too.”
“It’s just a scratch.” Adelaide responded, but Emmeline ignored her and caught Adelaide’s cut up hand in her own and studied it for a moment before ripping a strip of material from her skirt to wrap the hand. When she finished, Adelaide said, “Now your turn.” She inspected the wound in Emmeline’s neck. It was shallow, and Adelaide held another strip of material from the skirt to Emmeline’s neck with her good hand until the bleeding stopped.
Emmeline looked around the shack and found a lantern and a panel of wood large enough to cover the window. She leaned the wood against the wall.
“Look around for some nails.”
Adelaide found nails and a hammer in a leather pouch hanging by the door. She handed them to Emmeline.
“Aren’t you worried that someone will hear the banging?” Adelaide asked as Emmeline positioned the panel over the window.
“Not out here. Hold this.” Emmeline replied.
“I don’t want anyone looking in while we’re sleeping.” Emmeline explained.
Adelaide obediently leaned her weight against the wooden panel so it wouldn’t move. She tried not to wince from the pain in her ribs. Emmeline lit the lantern, and the shack filled with a dim, flickering light. She then used quick, powerful blows to quickly hammer the nails in to the wall.
Feeling safer with the window covered, Adelaide settled down onto the floor again, leaning against a burlap bag filled with something that smelled suspiciously like manure. But she was too tired and the bag was too comfortable for her to care about its contents. She gingerly lifted her shirt and gently prodded her ribcage. They didn’t feel broken, but they were probably bruised.
As she lay there, she remembered the necklace her father had given her only an hour before. Pulling it out from under her shirt, she found a strange silver pendant. It was about the size of her thumb, and heavier than it looked. One end was flat and the other curved. A strange symbol that Adelaide didn’t recognize was engraved into the flat side of the pendant. It looked like a series of horizontal lines, all different lengths, connected by one vertical line. The flickering light from the lantern reflected off of the silver box and caught her eye. She struggled to get up and picked up the box.
Her father had died for this box. Had he not gone back into the house for it, he would still be alive. She studied it but couldn’t see why it was important. It looked seamless, like a metal cube. She could barely make out a faded symbol on one side: an ominous combination of sharp, circular shapes. She carried the box back to her resting place, and settled down, ignoring the pain once again. She looked at Emmeline, who was watching her.
“Open it.” Emmeline said softly.
“How?” Adelaide responded, turning the box over in her hands.
“Use the necklace,” Emmeline responded, sliding over to Adelaide. She pointed to the center of the symbol. She then gestured to the pendant around Adelaide’s neck.
Adelaide took off the necklace and gently placed the flat side of the pendant against the circular center of the symbol. Suddenly, a steady band of light glowed out of the pendant, and it grew warm under her fingers. She quickly dropped it, startled.
“It’s okay,” Emmeline said, gently. “I was surprised the first time, too.”
“What? You’ve done this before?”
“Of course. Now, try it again.”
Adelaide stared at her mother for a moment, baffled, before turning back to the box. She picked up the pendant again and pressed it into the indentation. This time she was prepared for the light and the unexpected warmth. A strange hissing sound escaped from the box, and Adelaide was shocked to find a seam where the box was once smooth.
“How…” Adelaide trailed off and looked at Emmeline, wide eyed.
“You can slide the top off now,” Emmeline said gently.
Adelaide picked up the box and was surprised to find that one side now slid easily away. Inside the box she found two books. One was the book of poetry Langston had given her only three days earlier. The other she didn’t recognize. It was leather bound and it didn’t have a title. The leather was faded in some places, and there was a curious dark ring in the top right corner of the book. Adelaide knew it must be very old, but she was surprised to see that the pages were still in very good condition, and it wasn’t as delicate as most other books.
“Open it.” Emmeline said. She looked away, seemingly uninterested. Adelaide gently coaxed the cover open and read the neat, handwritten words centered on the first page:
Dr. Adam Hughes
Adelaide gasped. Books were already a rare find, and hand-written journals were even rarer. But this was a hand-written journal hidden in a magical box. Her father believed that the box and this book were important enough to die for. Heart pounding, Adelaide turned the page.
10 Jan 3014
I know this is a bad idea. I have no choice. Cyber security is too tight, they monitor all our activity. This journal is the only way to keep a record of my results that they don’t have access to. They’ll catch me eventually. They always do. I just hope I can finish my work in time. Damn them! We were so close! We had finally started to get positive results! I’ll do it anyway. This is too important. I know the team is on my side, but will they have the courage to see this through?
Of all things to cut my research funding for…the Z project will only make things worse, why can’t they see that? In the last century we’ve already lost half of our habitable landmass to the oceans, not to mention the sun fried wastelands at the poles. It’s hardly safe to walk outside anymore without a nano-rebreather and solar cloak. A new set of irradiated craters will only create more uninhabitable areas for another century. We have too high a population density in too small an area, conflict is inevitable. The only real solution is to adapt the human body, open up these areas for colonization, free us from the prisons that we have made for ourselves.
It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve used manual input since grade school. Setting everything in writing makes the whole thing feel…real. There’s no going back now.
Adelaide stared down at the book in her hands, trembling. It was a four-hundred-year-old journal. She looked up at Emmeline.
“Daddy died for this?”
Emmeline nodded without saying a word.
Continue reading Chapter 4: Josiah Remington