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And at the same time...

...trawling for feedback, and actual opinions...



"Do you remember your parents, Reecie Mac?"
"I remember bright light," said the girl, uneasily. "And then… nothing."

In Jaro Hesh's time, the Guardians are a myth, recounted by elders remembering better days. For in his world, a disaster from above severed the link between the Guardians and the Earth, more than a decade ago. World governments have long-since collapsed under the weight of the World Order, and brutality and chaos are the only rulers. Hope is a tale, and nothing more.

But when Jaro, a slave all his life, has a vision of the past, brought to him by a mysterious woman in white who seems so very out of place in his ravaged world, he finds himself on a very unlikely quest.

For rumour tells of Reecie and Bastion Mac, children with special powers. Children who manage, somehow, to escape the slaving raids of the countryside and the gangs of the ruined cities; who manage, somehow, to remain free. And rumour tells that they may be the children of the fabled Areahannah, the Light of the World, the woman who nearly drove back the chaos when it began, and might have succeeded, had she lived.

It is up to Jaro Hesh to find them, to tell them who they are. Because his quest has been put to him, in no uncertain terms; to go back and stop the disaster before it happens, to restore the Guardians to what they once were, and to set things right.

=====================================================
The Light of the World
=====================================================

One
Morning always came too early for Jaro Hesh. Perhaps, he reflected on occasion, because he hated day. Perhaps, he sometimes carried the thought further, because he hated life. His life, especially. He would much rather have remained in the peaceful, fanciful world of his dreams than wake up and live.

Because life… was hell. Jaro hated his life. Or at least, he would have, if he'd allowed himself such a luxury as hate. He'd been raised (insofar as he had actually been "raised", in the traditional sense) to remember that such strength of emotion only caused trouble later. Or disappointment. If one hated, one became disappointed when one could not do something to end the hatred - because hatred was a negative emotion, an emotion of action… the kind of emotion that had once stirred armies into battle.

There were no armies anymore. At least, none that really battled. It was more like maintaining than fighting, these days. There was nobody else near them left strong enough to fight.

Yes, Jaro decided, hating only caused trouble. So did most emotions, really. After all, if he'd entertained strong emotions, he might have been inspired to revenge or retaliation when the Order had killed his parents in front of him. He'd been only nine. Or when he'd been sold as a slave into the Flat Markets. But he didn't, so he hadn't. At least, that was the fact of which he continuously reminded himself. It was easier this way, really. But he still hated his life. It was a special, isolated, peaceful kind of hate.

The Markets were, quite simply, a huge market place, the largest in the zone. Frequented mostly by slave-traders, it was also composed of many permanent factories, which sold food products, textiles, tools, and other merchandise every day from their storefronts. The slave-pens, a permanent structure that took up half the market, were huge and elaborate on the outside - and on the inside. No slave had ever escaped the Flat Markets pens.

They were called the Flat Markets because of the geography of the surrounding area. The zone was still called Alberta (though to most, such names had lost meaning), and was mostly prairie, stretching off, it seemed, into flat, rocky infinity in every direction but West. That way, mountains loomed huge and imposing in the hazy distance. But Jaro could remember very little beyond those mountains, even though he knew he'd been born there. He remembered the ocean. He remembered it being warmer. But that was all.

Jaro had lived all his remembered life in the city near the Flat Markets. He belonged to a tools trader named Jones, though Jaro had only seen the man a handful of times - just enough to know that he disliked him. Jones seemed to take little interest in his slaves' social lives, not that he should, really. The slaves were relatively well taken-care-of, and few had cause to complain, at least within the bounds of their current circumstances.

Sometimes Jaro heard people talking about the old days - elders, mostly. All that had been left after the Chaos was children and elders… and no one remembered the Time Before like yesterday. Men and women between the ages of eighteen and sixty had all been killed, presumably to keep anyone from remembering that anything had ever been better. Elders had been left to die on their own, and most had. And the younger ones either forgot or were killed when they tried to make others remember. It had been a brilliant plan, really. Kill everyone who might stop you, and leave only those who would never have known clearly that it was different.

Jaro didn't know how it had been outside the zone, or further, but he knew it was bad. Inside the zone, those who found themselves suddenly in power had acted quickly and ruthlessly to make certain that they'd stay there. Killing everyone who might stop them was only the first step. Destroying the lives of those that remained was the last. It was hard to believe that it had started only a little over twelve years ago.

He remembered some things. His parents, a little. He remembered television. He remembered, with a distant kind of wistfulness, superheroes, comic books. He remembered that he'd been seven when he'd begun being afraid of what might happen, to him, to his parents, to his next-door-neighbour Lucy. It must have started then. When he was seven. He thought for a moment, staring at the bottom of the bunk above him. Two-thousand… eleven?

Yes… that sounded right. And he was nineteen now. Today, in fact.

::Yup. Today. Happy Birthday to me.::

That thought rolled around his head for a few seconds, and then he started; today was his birthday? He was nineteen today?

He blinked up at the panelling of the bunk for a moment longer. ::Oh, hell…::

If it was his birthday, then that meant he was now roughly double his former value. Younger slaves were cheaper, because they were untrained, undisciplined. But slaves that had been slaves for as long as he had were much more valuable. And he had a fairly clean record… not that slavers kept actual records, but Jones would bespeak him as being well-behaved, obedient, strong, and to the right buyer, handsome and… versatile.

The first three of which, he was. He'd always found it easier to do what he was told. But as for the last two… Jaro shuddered. No slave heard good tales of those sold into that… line of work.

::Fortunately,:: Jaro comforted himself, trying to calm his momentarily-racing heart, ::Jones doesn't know how old I am.::

Jaro looked, in fact, at least a few years younger than he actually was. He'd been "sixteen" for three years, and no one but the others who shared his bunk-room knew better - and none of them were going to give him away. It was a common trick. But today would be a delicate thing to manage, to say the least. He couldn't be sixteen for much longer.

============

That's as far as I've gotten. I'm going to sleep, now. Why the *hell* am I still awake, anyway?

Ack. Jerry Springer is on. At 6 AM. I *am* going to bed. I'm going to bed and I'm going to hide under the blankets.

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Chandri MacLeod
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