Encoded

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Lizbeth O’Connor sat atop her horse, Star, overlooking the destruction of the city before her in fear and anger. The last city of the Western hemisphere had fallen. The Traditionals were winning. She took a deep breath to push down the anger and hopelessness before tugging on Star’s reins and riding away.

The world wasn’t always like this. Five years ago, cities and industry and technology were thriving. Unfortunately, everyone was too preoccupied with petty differences and a slight downfall in the economy to notice a time-old cult rise up all at once and literally take over the entire world.

The Traditionals rose with a vengeance, armed with technology and weapons the far surpassed anything the world had ever seen before. By the end of that first day, there were no more petty differences between countries and there were no more economic problems. By the end of that first day, all of the original world leaders were dead, more than two-thirds of the global population had been murdered and more than half the world’s nations had fallen to the Traditionals’ power.

The Traditionals were a secret organization that was centuries old and exceptionally patient. They weren’t religious, they renounced all religion. They did away with all governments and economies and in place put one totalitarian government headed by a ghostly leader and is enforced by a brainwashed army. They banned all technology and separated the world, bringing it back to the dark ages and making rebellion nearly impossible.

Their ruthless uprising had killed Lizbeth’s entire family. That made her part in the revolution a personal matter. Anger flowed through her as she remembered her father’s crooked, goofy smile and her mother’s warm seat by the fireplace where they would talk. She struggled to repress them but all her memories were determined to slow her down.

“This paper is the very key to our victory,” Maurice had stated confidently. His balding head beamed.

“This is a take-out menu, Maurice,” Lizbeth had commented cynically, looking up from the Hong Kong Kitchen menu. Maurice laughed.

“It’s encoded, my dear. If this falls into a Traditional’s hands and they find out we have this, they will find and kill us all.”

“What does it say?”

“I can’t tell you. I’ve probably told you too much already. God forbid you get caught making the delivery, they could just as easily torture you for the information as they could simply scan your mind.” Lizbeth flinched at the thought.

“What if I’m caught with the menu? There is no reading allowed anymore. Or cheap take out.”

“Don’t get caught.” Maurice smirked as Lizbeth mounted Star and took off into the sunset. Now the Chinese menu was tucked into her corset as she galloped down what used to be the Jersey Turnpike. The paved road was long gone and saplings had begun to sprout all around.

“Hault!” cried a voice from the side of the road. What, was I speeding? Thought Lizbeth as anxiety and pure terror washed through her as Star slowed to a stop. She saw two Traditional soldiers ride towards her as she dismounted and put her head down, as was custom for women under the Traditionals’ rule.

“What is your name and your business?” the shorter of the two asked officially.

“My name is AnnaMarie Jones,” Lizbeth used the name of a registered Traditional civilian, “I am riding to Maryland to visit my Grandfather.”

“What is his name?” the Traditional asked gruffly.

“Frank Jones.”

“When is he expecting you?” the bigger Traditional asked. His voice was deep and strong and sent a chill of fear down Lizbeth’s spine.

“By- well I was going to surprise him,” Lizbeth’s voice cracked as she suspected these soldiers could easily check her story by contacting the Traditionals she named. Her heart thudded as he ran a rough finger over Lizbeth’s bare arm.

“So then he won’t even realize if you run a little late?” Lizbeth’s head shot up to meet the Traditional’s suggestive smirk and piercing green eyes.

“Don’t touch me,” she hissed, pulling her arm back. The Traditional ignored her and grabbed her jaw between his thumb and index finger roughly.

“You can’t tell me no anymore, Miss. This is not America anymore. I could kill you right now for lying and impersonating a Traditional citizen.” Panic flooded through Lizbeth as she grabbed the Traditional’s arm and pushed him away from her. The shorter one grabbed her from behind as the bigger one approached again. She kicked him hard in the chest and threw an elbow into the gut of her rear attacker before remounting Star and riding as fast as she could. Within an hour she found herself banging on the door of the cabin frantically until a young, tall man with long, dark hair let her inside and stared her directly in the eyes.

“And you might be?” the long haired man asked.

“Lizbeth Montgomery O’Connor,” she responded officially bringing up her height to be as close to eye level with him as she could. She handed him the crumpled take-out menu from her corset and handed it to him. Silently she watched as he squirted something all over it from a modern spray bottle then held it up to the candle.

“Lucas Grant.” The man said without being asked and Lizbeth’s head shot up at the sound of his voice slicing the silence. “My name is Lucas. And you, my dear, just brought me the key to winning this entire war.”





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