Short Story Time- The Tattered Olive Branch

My name is Liza Toller, and I’m going to be straight with you, I fucked up big time. The article I just wrote will probably get me in some hot water, and by hot water I mean— boiled alive. But I don’t have time to worry about what the Gunmen are going to come down on me with; I’ve got to get the word out. Seeing as how, this word (as far as I know) is the only unaltered information getting to the people of this city.

I am a columnist. I know what you’re thinking; what the hell is a columnist? I work for the last print newspaper in the city- hell, in the country I’m guessing. It’s called the Weary Herald, a knock off publication of a popular newspaper back from when the city of Calgary was still called the city of Calgary. That was before Mass Fabrication. Before Broadview monitoring. Before Screwbots, “THE ONLY CLEAN WAY TO GET YOUR ROCKS OFF.” As the enormous billboard outside my apartment quotes. It was before the reality that free-speech had authoritatively been flushed away, along with autonomy, wanderlust, and the freethinking selection. Well, except for a few of us of course.

The rebels. The ones who pushed back against a despotic government. The ones who weren’t enticed by the high tech toys placed in front of their steaming noses. They hide among the bots and monitoring screens of the new world and sometimes, with enough ingenuity are able to find each other.

A red blinking light flashes on the monitoring screen in my shower. Someone’s at the door. Curt is at work and not due home for hours and Persaious is at school. A flash of Darious powers through my brain. Couldn’t be. He’s long dead. Or being tortured in that place that everyone talks about but no one is really sure exists. Yeah, with his luck, he’s probably there. No one tries to bail over city limits and gets away with it. At least not in my experience.

I flick the VIEW button on the screen. An image of the stoop of my apartment pops up; I push shampoo and water out of my eyes. There must be some mistake. I’m not seeing what I think I am seeing on this fucking screen. There’s just no way.

It’s Gloria Steiner, one of the most notorious and wealthy individuals of the rebellion. Well known by the Gov and well protected by her peoples. Just several weeks ago, while on a march through the city, an overzealous Gunman tried to take her down. They aren’t supposed to by order of the Hauncho’s up top, but this guy looked ready rumble. Three followers of Gloria’s saw the gun and jumped in front of her, they were all blown to pieces on impact. It started quite the riot; the streets weren’t survivable for three days afterwards. If you were smart, you hunkered down until the Gunmen cleaned up the protesters. That’s exactly what Per and I did. I may not agree with this shit, but I’m certainly no dumb-dumb. Curt on the other hand threw on his HazmaCare suit, fired up the blaster. The old saying, “A kid in a candy store” comes to mind. The things I do for a little security. Literally.

I jump out of the shower and throw my robe on. The Screwbot that sits dutifully beside my bed springs to life, “may I be of assistance to you dear Liza?” it says in its painfully robotic voice.

“No thank you Charli, you know I do not require assistance when Curt isn’t home.” It’s what I say every time the thing comes on to me when I’m alone in the house. I try not to get so annoyed with it; it’s only following programming after all. But shit, there is just something I can’t get on board with when it comes to intimacy with a soulless bot-monster. Call me crazy.  Almost as though it’s fucking disappointed, the thing moves back to its corner and powers down.

I don’t take time to put clothes on. If Gloria Steiner’s at the door I can’t risk having her stand there for any longer than necessary. Although something tells me, at this point, I’m screwed any way I look at it.  I check the monitor once I get to the front door. Yep, there staring back at me is Gloria goddamn Steiner. What the hell is she doing here and what kind of bullshit is this visit going to drum up for me and Per?

I push another button on the monitor and a window appears in the middle of the door. It opens so now me and Gloria are face to face. I don’t say anything; I want Gloria to speak first.

“Aren’t you going to let me in Liza?” Her voice is husky and exactly how I remember it.

“Why are you here? You ‘re going to blow me out of the stratosphere.”

“You’ve already done that to yourself. Now let me in.” There is something pressing about the way she speaks.

“Can’t. I’ve got to think about Persaious. You know what it would look like to the Gunmen if I let you in.”

“Too late Kiddo, they’ve already got her.” My heart suddenly feels like smashed soft tissue and I want to collapse to the ground. I press the IN button on the monitor.

I knew what would be coming next. I’ve heard it from people through whispers. I am being recruited to the Cause now that the Gov and their brutal squad of Gunmen have my kid. I’ve got nothing else to live for. May as well upgrade to full blown rebel now. What would Dar say if he knew had I lost her?

How could I have been so ignorant? I try not to imagine the brain-jacking procedures they are performing on my ten year old at this very minute. They won’t know what kind of information I have divulged to her so they will try just about anything to get even an ounce of information out. Afterwards they’ll stick her in a GovRUn building with the other orphans and rebel kids. They will pump her so full of anti-depressants and misinformation that she will end up as a stain on the pavement before the age of twenty.

“Look before you get teary eyed, it’s not the Gov who have Persaious.” Gloria is standing in my kitchen. She is much older looking than last time. Her back is beginning to hunch and a slight wheezing begins to make itself known at the end of her sentences.

“What do you mean?” A flutter of hopefulness emerges somewhere in my gut, somewhere beneath the resentment that this place and time has brought.

“It’s Darious, he’s back.” She says it in such a way that it sounds comical and roughly untrue. Instinct tells me to look around the room and locate where the floating Surva Cams are hovering at the moment. They aren’t present.

“We have high powered magnets that direct the cams out of specific areas of the house. Undetectable for minutes at a time. So we’ve got to talk fast.” Gloria says, reading my mind.

Figures, the rebels are now fighting with the very technology they originally pushed against.

“What do you mean he’s back? He got out?” Nothing could ever be the same.

She looked at me with suspecting eyes. “Of course he got out, why would you think differently?” Did her gaze just zero in on my throat? No, Mother-In-Law wouldn’t kill me over a technicality. Better safe than sorry though.

“It’s just; nobody has gotten out in over two decades, nobody from our side at least.” It was true, what I leave out is the evening that Curt came home from work telling tales about the infamous ruffian name Darious being shot through the eye socket by a sniper 3 miles past the city limit lines. This was two years after he had left me and three year old Per. He was off to find a better way of life for our daughter. At the time I gave Curt a shoulder shrug and perhaps a “serves the idiot right” statement but retreated to the bathroom a few minutes later. There I carefully cried into the toilet bowl while feigning sickness while the Surva Cam circled above me. I knew Curt would be watching for my reaction. Everything I do is watched, serves me right for being a reformed associate of the rebel cause.

For weeks after I watched the news religiously to hear tell of the rumour, nothing ever came. This probably meant it was true, I figured. The things that mattered didn’t make it to the news channels these days. The slaughter of Darious would have been a very risky item to make known to this specific metropolis.

I can’t tell this story to Gloria; if I had wanted to I would have long ago. The opportunities had been ample over the years. An underground meeting here, a 40 second unrecorded voice message there. I could have managed it I’m sure.  I didn’t trust Dar’s mother back then and still don’t to this day.

“First thing, what do you think you are doing writing such garbage in the Weary Herald?” Gloria stares hard at me. “You think it means no harm, but Gunmen read it weekly- they use it to gain Intel on our faction.”  Of course I know this. Nobody could be that stupid to think that the Gov won’t read it. And that is exactly the point; we use it to distract the idiots.  Lately it had worked out to be a useful tool, and the Gunmen wouldn’t take it away for the same reason they collectively wouldn’t take out Gloria Steiner; the rebellion was growing dangerously larger. To take away an adored could mean unrest.

“You know W.H. has done more good than bad Gloria don’t start with me now. Where the hell is my kid?”

“She’s safe with cohorts of mine, and soon she will be reunited with her father.” She added, “Away from the rule of this totalitarian household.”

“Look I get it, Gloria, we’ve never liked each other but cut the megalomania bullshit.” I notice something in her hand, “I want to see my family, now.” A budding anxiety creeps up my spine. The sound of the Surva Cam starts to drone closer to where we sit. One of Gloria’s lackeys moves the large round disk to a different corner of the house and then signs FIVE with his right hand.

“Look you need to come with us, if you want to see them again.” She has a fixed gaze on the Cam. “I’m leaving tonight 7:00pm; you can meet me at Depot 32, by the Southside center.”

“Why would you take me with you?” The woman looks surprised-an emotion I rarely get to see on her. It is a book she is holding, I realize.

“Because if I didn’t, Darious would never let it go. As many issues as I have with your being in his life, he loves you. If I were to leave you here without offering you an olive branch, he would find out and then it would be the end of mine and my son’s relationship.” The words sound stilted coming from this woman’s mouth. I try to make out the title of the book she is holding.

“I need to know what will be in store for my daughter and me once we arrive at this supposedly safe area.”

“Does it matter? I have Persaious, Liza. I will not give her up. If you don’t come with me tonight you will never see her or Dar again.” She winked, “And if that’s not enough, there will be information leaked that you are the founder to your beloved newspaper publication. The Gunmen will be busting down your door within hours of our departure. And have no delusions that what they will do to you will be unspeakable– you are a peon, a person of no consequence.”

The hum of the Surva Cam is close now, only having to turn towards the the women’s voices to begin recording their conversation.

Gloria spoke almost inaudibly, “Depot 32, there will be a large tanker in the loading dock. There will be five unlocked crates there. Get in one and wait it out. We will meet on the other side.” She placed the book, torn and tattered on Lisa leg under the kitchen table where they sat.

Lord of the Flies.

I’ve read it, years ago. This ancient author of this ancient time knew a truth that people today have yet to understand. The savagery displayed in this book about a group of seemingly well-to-do young boys may not be the same kind of savagery we know in this day and age, but the message is the same. In a time when Gloria and I were closer, we stayed up many nights talking about this book.

“Why?” A shiver runs from hair line to heel.  She smiles at me.

“An olive branch Liza. To demonstrate your welcoming to this new chapter of our lives. You know as well as I that print books are rare to come by these days.” She moves close to hug me and whispers, “Also a token to remind you of the grimness that has always been key to the survival of the human race.”

Gloria and the lackeys slip out just as the Surva cam faces the kitchenette. I glide the paperback under my ass cheek. I sit there for a long time, thinking about the book. What it means. Taking in the entirety of this threat that has just been dumped on me. I thought I would be happy, excited to see my long lost husband. Him, Per and I all together again. But what kind of a future are we running towards?

I am hungry for humanity. But humanity is quickly becoming a beautiful memory isn’t it? Will it be easier if I have a front row seat beside my daughter for the declamation of mankind? Maybe. What I do know is that I need her by my side.

I make my way to the bedroom. I will pack my things into a small handbag. I will walk out of this apartment and into the nakedness of the avenue. Perhaps they will zone me, find it curious I am out alone during the day and simply shoot. Will they ask about my life as they remove my body from a pool of its own demise? Who knows.

Perhaps Gloria will ship the container I am to stow away in to some distant place, leaving me unaided and vulnerable. To Darious she will say that it was a mix up and she will have her people  work day and night to find me and bring me home. Or maybe she will follow through and I will find myself in the arms of the man I’ve always loved watching as our daughter matures into a world void of the human condition. One day I will find myself weary—bushed from revolutionary warfare.

For now though, time is threatening and hope’s still prevalent so I will walk out the door without hesitation. But before I do, I shove an old and tattered olive branch behind one of the loose floorboards in the bathroom. And trust that one day someone will uncover the messages that are held within.

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