In many of the books I’ve read, I’ve seen it said that growing old is mandatory, and growing up is optional. I think I somehow missed that memo.
If I were to look as old as I am chronologically, I’d be nothing but a bag of bones in a sack of flesh. Instead, thanks to a bit of old magic passed on to me very generously when I was but a mere slip of a girl at sixteen years old, I look no older than twenty-five years old on any given day.
“Majaristo, the people are ready for you.”
I smiled softly at my advisor. “Thank you. I’ll be right out.” I kind of hated these things, but at the same time, I was really good at them, so I didn’t mind doing them.
I tucked a bookmark into the book I was reading and put it away, but not before running my hand along the edges of the pages, feeling the paper. Despite having brought books back from near-extinction several decades earlier, I was still enthralled by the feel of paper on my hands.
I stood up, slipping my feet into a pair of soft shoes, and padded across the room to the balcony. I could hear the people chanting my name.
“Lydia! Lydia! Lydia! Lydia!”
As I reached the edge of the balcony, the chants turned into screams and swelled with joy. I didn’t think I’d ever get used to that, but it had been happening for decades. I raised my arms and then brought them slowly down, signalling the crowd to quiet down. A hush fell over them almost immediately.
“Thank you, everybody. It means so much to me to know that you care. On this day, celebrating the eighty-third anniversary of the new Union of Springland, it warms my heart to see so many of you here, enjoying the beautiful sunshine, taking advantage of all of the good things our country has to offer.”
A loud, boisterous cheer erupted from the crowd below.
When I was done addressing the crowd, I returned to my book, only to be interrupted by my advisor again. “Ma’am? You need to eat.”
This one was new. He had only been on the job since the end of December, and in the preceding five months, he had not worked up the courage yet to call me by my first name. More was the pity, for I was growing tired of not hearing my given name in my home. “Thank you, Andrew. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” He gave a curt nod and walked away.
I sighed. I didn’t want to give up my book just yet. I was just getting to a good part. However, Andrew was right – I needed to eat. The older I got, the less I felt the need to eat, so part of my personal advisors’ jobs were to ensure that I ate on a set schedule to keep me healthy. Although my Gift would not allow me to perish without passing it on to someone else first, I had learned a few years earlier that improper nutrition made it significantly more difficult to maintain my youthful appearance and keep my true age from showing through.
I put my book down and headed into the dining room. The table was set neatly with four places for dinner. “Are we expecting company tonight?” I called out to Andrew.
He poked his head around the corner from the kitchen. “Oh, that. Um, yes Ma’am. You’re meeting with the Prime Chancellor over dinner tonight. Did I forget to mention that?”
“I think perhaps you did.”
“Many apologies, Ma’am.”
“I suppose I should change into something more suited to the Chancellor,” I said.
“I’m sure what you’re wearing is fine, Ma’am.”
I surveyed myself. The maroon pantsuit I was wearing was rumpled at best from sitting curled up in a chair all afternoon. I stalked off to my room and rifled through my closet. My hands slipped past a soft, silky fabric in a dark corner, and I frowned. I pulled the garment out and held it at arm’s length. It was my uniform from the pre-Union days, from my pre-Majaristo time, when I first came to live in Clinton and was in a Unit based on my IQ. The navy blue had faded slightly in the ensuing years, but otherwise, it was in great condition. I half-smiled and put it back. It, or rather, the reason I wore it, was responsible for me being in the position I was in now. I would continue saving it just for the sentimental value.
I picked out a dark green simple dress and changed quickly, dumping the pantsuit into the dirty laundry basket in the bathroom attached to my bedroom. I smoothed down the wrinkles that formed from putting on the dress and assessed myself in the mirror. The dress enhanced green flecks that appeared in my otherwise brown eyes. Satisfied with my appearance, I left the bedroom, closing the door behind me, and made my way back to the dining room.
Andrew and my other personal advisor, Erin, were standing behind the two seats at the sides of the table, waiting for my arrival. Erin’s face lit up with she saw me. “Good evening, Lydia!” she chirped.
I smiled. I could count on Erin to use my name, at least. “Good evening, Erin.” I walked around to the head of the table and stood behind the seat. “How are you tonight?”
“When is the Chancellor expected, Andrew?”
I surveyed the table. At the foot was the fourth table setting. In the middle were two tall taper candles in simple glass holders. The table itself had been crafted nearly 500 years earlier, and was made of a dark reddish wood. The chairs had been built to match in the last century.
“Introducing the Right Honourable Margaret King, the Prime Chancellor of Springland.”
I smiled broadly as she was led into the dining room. Margaret had become a friend in the time since she was elected three years earlier, but I knew that, even though I had not been informed of this dinner date, she was here on official business. “Margaret, how good to see you. Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you, Lydia. It’s a pleasure to see you, as always.” She nodded at my advisors. “Erin, Andrew.” They nodded in return.
We all took a seat just as the chef’s assistant brought out a jug of ice water and filled our glasses. He stood back from the table and waited for us to turn our attention to him. “Tonight, we are serving the chef’s salad to start off the night with your choice of dressing. The main course is roast duck and seasonal vegetables with mashed potatoes and caramelized onions. To finish up your meal, we will be serving a light lemon pudding with ladyfingers for dessert. I do hope you will enjoy.” And with that, he disappeared back into the kitchen.
“What brings you up this evening, Margaret?” I asked, getting right to the point.
“I’ve been hearing murmurs of an uprising against the government in the northern territories, in Washington Division, specifically.” she said, looking most displeased.
“What kind of an uprising?”
“Well, the details are sketchy. Something about an overthrow of the Conventions in a few territories. If this happens, it could be the downfall of the Assembly.”
“Are they talking of a vote of non-confidence?”
“In the First Chancellors, or…?”
“That’s the part that’s sketchy. It’s unclear if it’s them or me.”
I sat back in my seat as the chef’s assistant brought out our salads and a variety of dressings. We each chose our dressings and he left for the kitchen again. “So where did these murmurs start?”
“As far as I can tell, they started as rumblings in Ormere.”
“And do you know who started them?”
“Let’s eat, and talk more after dinner.”
We maintained a pleasant conversation while the chef’s assistant and the chef herself brought out plates and bowls of food. We retired to the sitting room with mugs of coffee when dessert was finished. Erin and Andrew headed back to their rooms, ready to come back if I needed them.
“So, where did you hear about this?”
“The First Chancellor from Byhurst contacted me yesterday. He’s been threatened.”
She sighed and lowered her head. “It’s… well, he’s been told that if he doesn’t call an election in the next week, he’s going to find himself in a very unpleasant spot.”
“That’s all?” I asked, somewhat incredulous at the vague threat.
She shook her head. “No, that’s not all.”
“What else, then? Please, give me all the information, Margaret.”
“I’m sorry, Lydia. I’m just flustered. The First Chancellor of Clearfield has received some less than gracious messages, as well.”
“Define ‘less than gracious’, please.”
She sighed. “People have been unhappy with some of the bills they’ve been putting through in Clearfield. There’s been a lot of dissent between the elected officials and the people they’re supposed to represent.”
“Do we need to force a series of elections in Washington?”
“That’s the thing – I don’t know if we can. Is that something we can do?”
I took a sip of my coffee, and looked at Margaret thoughtfully. “I do believe that as Majaristo, I can do whatever I need to do to keep this country running smoothly. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again.”
She just stared at me, not blinking. “How?”
“By whatever means necessary.” My voice was cold and calculating, and it felt foreign to me, but it was the truth. I would do whatever needed doing in order to maintain peace in Springland, even if it meant removing people from office who had been elected by the citizens. Threats were something I could not take lightly.
“But what does that mean?”
“At this moment, I don’t know. It depends on the veracity of these claims. If they’re found to be true, if the threats are found to be imminent, then I will take swift action to neutralize the problem. If that means removing people from office to appease the people, I can do that. If it means finding out who the individual or several individuals are who are doing the threatening, I can do that. No task is too small. No goal is too big. The result is what matters, isn’t it?”
“I guess so.”
“You don’t seem convinced. What can I do to make you feel better?”
“It’s not that I’m not convinced. I am. I know you can and will do what you say you will. The whole situation just makes me uneasy.”
“Margaret, we’ve known each other a few years, right?”
“Have I, in that time, ever done anything to the detriment of the country?”
“Can you trust me?”
“I think I can.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “You think?”
She smiled. “I know I can. I’m sorry, Lydia. I didn’t mean to offend you or anything.”
“No offense taken, but I want you to trust in me. It’s important, especially at a time like this, Margaret.”
“I will.” Quiet fell between us, and we each finished up our coffee. “I suppose I should head home. It’s getting late.”
“What time is it, anyway?” I checked my Terv. It was nearly 9:00. “Oh, yeah, it is. Alright, I’ll see you out.”
“Thanks.” Leaving our mugs on the coffee table, we walked to the doors. She turned before I could open the door. “By the way, Lydia…”
“Happy birthday! I meant to say it earlier, but it completely slipped my mind with the discussion we were having.”
I smiled. “Thank you for remembering. I don’t feel a day over forty,” I joked.
She looked confused. “Well,” she said, “you don’t look a day over twenty, so if you’re over forty, you’re doing really well.”
I laughed. “You’re too generous.”
She chuckled. “Well, I’ll let you know if I hear anything more.”
“Thanks, Margaret. Have a good night.” I opened the door and she headed out.
I closed the door behind her and picked up the mugs from the coffee table. I carried them into the kitchen and deposited them in the sink. “Domestic terrorism will not be tolerated on my watch,” I muttered to myself. Despite the late hour, I headed to my office rather than my bedroom. With the right preparation, extraordinary things can happen, and I was preparing, it seemed, for a civil war.
Keep your eyes on indigowren.ca for release details!