Control: Chapter Nine

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With a chorus of well wishes and salutary gestures behind them, Louisa, Lily-Belle and five of the camp’s best soldiers began their long walk into The Sanctuary. They chatted away easily, but it was threaded with a hint of solemnity. Anxiety threatened to take hold of Louisa, teasing and dancing around her passing thoughts, but she forced it away. Panic had no place in the plan, and would only ruin everything. Everything. She tried, with persistent strength, to ignore the fact of her own importance in the success of the revolution. To distract herself, she ran through the plan in her head for what felt like the millionth time.

She and Lily-Belle, with their team of reinforcements, were to make the journey into The Sanctuary first. Assuming she was being tracked - and Louisa did, but it wasn’t known for certain - the government would be waiting and watching, with plenty of warning to defend against the revolution they most certainly knew was coming. The only reason they’d let her into Camp Code was because Lily-Belle had apparently begged, despite the risk she posed if she was being tracked. Maybe she was naive in the assumption that she was being tracked, but even if she wasn’t... within minutes of breaking the city’s borders, they would be seen. On camera. By police patrols. In the walls of The Sanctuary, nothing was missed.

“Classic red herring,” Ava had called it when she’d first ran through the plan. They’d expend all their defences too early, upon she and Lily-Belle’s arrival. They’d be safe, she’d been assured each time anew. That was what the reinforcements were for. The government, they hoped, would assume it was a false alarm. Maybe their plan was fallible, but they’d be prepared.

Next, she and Lily-Belle would seek out her father. He’d be somewhere within the walls of government house, at the helm of the defence operation. This would be his big chance to prove himself to his superiors. The Governor of Defects, she recalled with a shudder... cold, callous, and in complete command. Lily- Belle’s appearance, they hoped, would shock and distract him long enough from the arrival of the hackers and the soldiers. Even if the first phase of the plan failed, the sheer size of the army would be incontestable.

The soldiers would storm government house and break the hackers into the mainframe room. That’s where the hackers, with every line of code rehearsed for obsessively, would shut down every code in the city. It would render the government powerless: for every child in The Sanctuary, the umbilical cord of code connecting their brain function to the mainframe computers would be switched off. There would no longer be the threat of severing and thus killing them from the mainframe, nor would they be at the mercy of Governor August, who would starve them and their families slowly, should they ever stop encoding. Individuality, off the grid, would be restored, and without technology at the heart of their cause... what would be left?

They were getting close, one of the soldiers announced, their tone muffled from beneath their helmet. The forestry was dense until The Sanctuary’s city limits: Louisa remembered that. She still had the salient memory of feeling as though she’d been running through the forest for so long, that night she ran away, that she was stuck on an endless dream loop of some kind. It was no wonder she’d gotten lost, but the soldiers seemed confident in their navigation.

Reaching the streets, Louisa’s heart began to race. The soldiers moved first. Louisa and Lily-Belle, her hand clammy in hers, followed closely. Though the usual sounds of traffic roared nearby, it felt nearly silent to Louisa, who was listening for a sound she knew would come: sirens. But there was nothing.

“I don’t think they know we’re here,” Lily- Belle whispered. The soldiers formed a crouched circle around the two of them as they walked - they’d be soon spotted, and they didn’t have long. They just had to make it to government house and find Governor August. So long as they weren’t captured or injured, it wouldn’t matter if they were seen. For two blocks, their passage was uneventful. And then came the sirens.

“Run!” came the shout from up ahead. The police car was close on their heels, and Louisa broke in to a run, helping Lily-Belle as fast as she could alongside her. A single police car skidded over the curb, stopping the soldiers in their tracks. The soldiers backed away, guns pointed, and formed a protective circle around Louisa and Lily-Belle. The walls of government house towered above them.

“Drop your weapons!” the policeman screamed as he slammed the door and moved toward them. The soldiers didn’t move.

“I’ll shoot! I will!”

Louisa had been so focused on the policeman, she hadn’t noticed Governor August emerge from government house.

“Don’t shoot,” came his order, loudly. Drily, almost. His face was impassive as he strolled toward the group. He raised his hands - he was unarmed. His gaze settled on Louisa, and seemed to bore straight through her. There was no flicker of recognition: he could just have easily been regarding his finger after a papercut. That was, until he saw Lily-Belle. The entire conflict was frozen in the split- second of Abel August’s realisation. The colour drained from his face.

“Lily-Belle.” he said slowly. His tone was heavy, as if suffused with pure, distilled dread.

“Abel.” Lily-Belle spat.

He didn’t have time to say anything more; the soldiers and the hackers had arrived. Three hundred-strong, they roared up the footpath and straight toward them. The soldiers held shields over the hackers as they ran, sheltering them from the bullets that had begun to come from the police snipers positioned on the balconies of government house - when they had gotten into their position, Louisa did not know.

Amidst the chaos of the soldiers, hackers and government fighters, Louisa craned her neck in search of Lily-Belle. She’d lost her and Lily-Belle, without sight, would lose her way in the crowd. With a pang of relief she spotted her honey-coloured head of hair, and seized her by the arm, squeezing her hand to let Lily-Belle know it was her. Now she needed to search for cover: their part in the plan was done. Seeing a sandstone alcove on the side of the street, she ducked and dove through the gaps in the crowd, pulling Lily- Belle behind her. It was quiet in the shelter: the sounds of the riots seemed to swell and hit a wall somewhere between them and the alcove. Slowly, Louisa caught her breath. At first, her breaths were large, heaving waves of panic, but they settled to a more steady pace as Lily-Belle squeezed her hand in quick, comforting successions. She didn’t notice her father’s approach. He crouched before the two.

“Louisa.” She looked up, startled, and his shrewd grey eyes pierced hers.

“F-fa...” Louisa began, right as Lily-Belle said, more loudly, “Abel. You can’t be here.”

“I was wrong. For so many years and on so many counts, it breaks me to even think about it. I’ve wished so many times, that I could have gone back and changed everything, right where it all started to go wrong. I got sick of wishing for that, Louisa. Sick of the pain it was causing me, so I became this remorseless... thing. There’s nothing important in what the government stands for. You were brave enough to face that fact before I was and I’m so, so sorry. Louisa, will you...”

Louisa narrowed her eyes. She paused, thinking deeply. “You killed mother. You made Lily-Belle blind. I don’t know whether to trust you anymore, Father. Fatherhood in itself only guarantees a certain amount of trust from a daughter, and when you waste that -”

“Let me prove myself again.” He waved a hand behind him, dismissively at government house. “All of this is ending. You’ve outnumbered us.”

“They’re shutting down every chip in the city.” Lily-Belle said. “And you’re here, after sixteen years, tail between your legs, Abel.”

“I am. I don’t know what else I can say.” He sighed, defeated. Louisa was watching him incredibly closely, and she tilted her head sidewards. Bit her lip. She was thinking. Abel raised his gaze to her face and that was when Louisa finally broke out in sobs. She nearly leapt forward, throwing herself into Abel’s arms: he nearly fell back, so surprised was he with this sudden motion. Then, he relaxed and held her tighter. He, too, began to cry into her shoulder.

“I-I... I could never bear to look at you properly, Louisa. You looked too much like your mother. And when you, when you... learnt of the rebellion, it was too painful. Too much. But I love you for it, so much. She never died, Louisa.”

They stayed there, still, clinging to one another in the middle of the chaos, for a long time.

“She’s lived on, Louisa, in the spitting image of you.”

This article appeared in The Comma’s 2018 Annual Edition. Read more here.

Tara Wesson is a second-year Journalism and Creative Writing student. She likes long walks on the beach, piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain. But no, she's really just a book-lover with a dog called Shorty, a love of travel, and a penchant for dad jokes.