This is a revision of A Mind's War. It's considerably weirder now.
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The wind was piercingly cold on the wide, desolate snow covered plain. Snow had not fallen in at least a week but certainly it had sleeted, and winter seemed in no hurry to relinquish its stronghold. The air was rather stale and the only wind to pass through smelled of decay and ash. This area was an eerie sight to behold at this time, not unlike a quiet, desolate ocean with expectant sharks swimming beneath. Dusk was approaching, and the lonely white stretch was silent save for the footsteps of a solitary human being.
This small creature had been traveling since midmorning and was rather relieved that The Supply Shop was less than two miles away. By the looks of it, one would probably not be perplexed by the conjecture that sharks had indeed emerged from the plain and attacked. Her shirt, a cotton button down that had once been white was ripped at the cuffs, and half of a leg of her gray pants was ripped off. The exposed flesh grew redder with each minute, and were she not used to pain, she might have curled up to die hours ago. It's not that Charlene didn't notice the cutting effects of the cold; it's just that she'd accepted the pain and allowed herself to become one with it. She smiled, feeling worthy and admirable. Let the sharks rip her apart; they could take away a lot but they couldn't take away everything.
Before long, Charlene was encompassed in a blanket of darkness. The wide plain was behind her and now there were many trees around. There were only two lights visible. One was the steady red glow of a light; a part on the metal cuff she had around her ankle. The other was more promising: The light of The Supply Shop. Charlene grinned with relief and continued along the path.
She knocked expectantly and was greeted by an old man. Rue, he was called. Rue had been living in this house since he could remember. An enthusiastic patriot for his people, he converted his house into a supply shack when the war started two years ago. It was the least he could do since he was too decrepit to fight himself. The ranks were closer then, and he had been more useful. But now and again he did receive orders for supplies and he was expecting someone from the Regiment 552. But certainly not someone like Charlene. The determination in her eyes was kind of depressing for some reason, and he looked away. She couldn't have been older than 17, but she was so worn and beaten that she took on that ageless look of someone who learns secrets meant for the elderly far too early. He silently cursed the war for doing that to young people. You'd think that by this day and age war would be an antiquated means of solving problems. Hadn't the humans learned when it unwittingly destroyed much of its own technology? Had the wise creatures in the center of the Earth taught them anything? Maybe they'd given up. One hadn't been seen in twenty years. When he looked back again, he noticed that one of the girl's eyes was blackened, she had scars and bruises where the tatters of her clothes would allow him to see, and she looked like she hadn't had a decent meal in months. He noticed he was staring, and finally asked,
"Can I help you?"
"Yes sir," she replied. Rue shuddered at the sound. It seemed so odd coming out of her. It was sad, determined, and triumphant at the same time, " I'm here to pick up the supplies for 552." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a few bills. Rue took the money, told her to come in, and went to fetch the box. Its contents included 32 coats, some new weapons, and oils to ignite healing fires for the wounded. It was rather heavy, and Rue wondered to himself how the girl would ever make it back to her regiment alive with such a cumbersome load. When he returned, the girl was attempting to defrost herself. When she noticed Rue, she said, "Thank you, sir," and then made a move as if ready to exit. Now Rue was used to serving people taking long journeys from their regiments for his inexpensive supplies, and he was always ready with food and rest. He was not about to allow the girl to start back to 552 still half freezing. He wished he still had his Mud Jet so that he could drive her back, but that had been destroyed during a battle when the regiments were closer to The Supply Shop. Didn't 552 have a Mud Jet or even a Cotton Eater to send this girl in?
"Surely you will spend the night?" he inquired quizzically.
"I must return by tomorrow night. Otherwise I might be in trouble."
"Well sit down for a few hours and have some dinner."
"I don't have anymore money, sir," replied Charlene sadly. She wished she did; traveling all day tends to make one hungry. Regiment 552 wasn't too generous with its food either.
"That's quite alright. I can spare free food now and again for an avid patriot such as yourself," Rue insisted.
"I really don't deserve such hospitality; I really can't expect it," Charlene pointed to the chain on her ankle, indicating to Rue that she was not exactly the avid patriot that he imagined.
The old man recognized the chain immediately as a tracker, an item he actually stocked himself. He was not frightened, just shocked. Charlene thought he looked disgusted and a little afraid, and quickly rambled, "Don't be scared, sir, please...I'm not a murderer or anything and even if I was I wouldn't be able to do anything because the moderator would know exactly where I am. If I do anything fishy then he'll release the poisonous spike," She pointed to a screw in the metal tracker. Rue knew how it worked. This anklet was used for prisoners. A moderator would carry around remote control that would tell him exactly what the prisoner was up to, and if necessary, there was a button to kill off the prisoner.
"Ah so you're a prisoner of 552? 34 burly men and women and they sent you? Without a Mud Jet?"
Charlene was looking at her feet, "Yes...well they sort of made me...it's really cold...and no one else wanted to. Especially since their coats are in that box...The Delanians burned most of our clothes during the last battle. And I'm not allowed to drive the Mud Jet."
"And you're not a murderer, eh?" Rue thought the idea of that was rather ridiculous, but not impossible, because the Delanian prince had, after all, killed his father at the age of nine back during the The Platinum Age of the Delanian Empire.
"No. Of course not." The girl tried to appear indignant but it's kind of hard to do so when it's very clear that you're bearing the stigma of imprisonment.
"Well I just wouldn't feel right letting you go without dinner. It is very important for 552 to get their supplies, and they won't have them if you die on the way home, will they?" Rue was feeling quite compassionate tonight indeed.
"I suppose," replied Charlene uneasily, but happy to get a meal. She sat by the fire again, and Rue gave her some hot tea. He went to the kitchen again, and when he returned, he had a plate full of food. Isabel thanked him thoroughly before beginning to eat.
Rue pondered in the silence, wondering if it would be rude to question the girl, but finally asked, "How did all this come about?"
Charlene wondered what he meant. "The war?" she asked tentatively.
That wasn't exactly what he meant; no one except The Few was sure how the war had started. The Few had told the patriots that it was the fault of the Delanians that the people in the center of the earth left. The Delanians apparently blamed the people in the center of the earth for the destruction of Earth's technological advances. The people in the center of the earth had warned humans for years of the dangers of technological advances, but these were wise people and Rue did not get the vibe that they would interfere so egregiously. No, Rue definitely did not understand everything that was happening. "No...no one knows that...I was actually curious as to why 552 has imprisoned you."
Charlene was hesitant to talk of it, but the old man was so hospitable to her, the enemy, that she felt obligated. "Well...I...um...joined 552 when I was 14...sort of...not really...actually my uncle commands a department of your opposition...and drafted me to do it. I'm a," she anticipated the next word was so utterly unclean that she'd been slapped in the past for saying it, "Delanian."
Rue felt himself gasp inaudibly. He'd always imagined how a meeting with a Delanian would be. Somehow he'd thought it would be more frightening than this. The Delanians were arrogant monsters; at least that's how they seemed on the news. Always ready to force an opinion down your throat, or kill you if you found that opinion indigestible. Seventy years he'd lived on this planet, and never imagined that a Delanian might actually be a fellow human being. That a nation portrayed to him as hulking, enormous barbarians could materialize before his eyes in the form of a scrawny girl. Finally, Rue spoke, “I suppose you were a spy then?”
The girl looked down, "Well, yes.”
Rue raised an eyebrow, "I see."
"My uncle thought I was a good candidate because they’d never suspect me. I was rather successful for about six months. I made one of the stairs into a secret compartment to hide my notes, and sent them to my uncle as often as possible by the use of a compact cotton eater. But as I grew closer to the enemy, I started feeling torn. It’s hard at 14, when you don’t really understand the full implications of what you’re doing. Do you betray these people for an uncle that would put you in such a predicament in the first place, or do you betray your family and country for people supporting a cause that they don’t know and probably wouldn’t believe in if they did know? Do you know what it’s like to live with people and lie to them everyday? They were all getting through the ravaging, death, and starvation because in the midst of it all they could still bond with each other. Well I bonded too; well, the false persona did anyway. I felt like I would do anything for them...but at the same time I was stabbing them in the back! I almost wanted to turn myself in. But I didn’t have to because I got caught.” She looked at her empty plate, as if she didn't wish to continue, but she did anyway, “Someone shot through the secret step.”
"How did you manage to escape execution? You do realize that over the two years our side has caught 23 spies and most of them were killed summarily?"
"I was supposed to be executed. I was beaten, chained and left outside. I would’ve been shot within the hour if Regiment 345, which was only located 10 miles away, had been not attacked.
Rue could sense there was terror in reliving these serious events, and offered a comforting look. He never thought he'd feel bad for an enemy.
Charlene looked around the room nervously and looked at the floor before continuing. She couldn't believe she was sharing this with a stranger, but it felt so good to talk about it after all that time, "Of course, the Leader left 552 with some of his best soldiers to go help in the fighting, but some were left behind. I can’t talk about that. It was the worst three hours of my life.”
By this time Rue was wishing that he did know the reason for the war, and why it was that The Few wouldn’t disclose the real information.
“I am only thankful that I did form some friendships with a few of the soldiers. I was surprised those three still cared though. Still, I don’t know how they managed to save me; when you have three people on your side and over thirty against you the odds are not in your favor. I’ll never know how he did it, but I think it was my friend Soterios who ultimately convinced the Leader to spare my life. Soterios is such a strange individual; he almost seems superhuman. I always had this feeling that the entire time I was spying he could just rip off the mask of lies I was wearing and speak to me as I am. You can never really be sure though, when you play those games. You can never really be sure if people know you or only your tricks.
" Soterios…” Rue pondered the name. It was not common.
“Do you know him? He’s absolutely astounding. In fact I can’t ever remember him ever picking up a weapon. He says the most outrageous things, like, how though I have suffered that he’s going to take me to an amazing place after the war. A place where he and his friends had hoped the human race could travel back and forth to, but to which violence has closed the entryway. I don’t really understand him, but then I don’t really understand much.”
Rue considered this and wondered if Soterios was not one of those from the center of the earth. But then, those people were awfully conspicuous. One tends to notice when there are non-humans among her.
“But I really ought to get going. The Leader has really gotten used to having a slave and he’ll be angry if his silver isn’t shined for battle,” said the girl, with a hint of sarcasm.
“I have keys to those anklets…I sell them…I really don’t think there’s any harm in letting you free,” Rue, in the last few minutes, had come to the conclusion that the war was utterly ridiculous.
“Do you really think I would be more free if you let me go? I don’t have many friends but the ones I do have can see the bruises and scars on my face and accept it, raw as it is. If I run off, it will be straight back to the costume shop.”
Charlene picked up the box and slowly made her way to the door, and looked down the long path, thinking of the wretched plain that lie ahead, “Besides,” she turned to Rue, “ Soterios always tells me that you have to swim through the sharks before you can reach the paradise island.”
Rue watched the girl walk off and considered this. “Apparently the rest of us opt to take a mud jet to the island…”