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To Declare Warfare on Humanity
“I remember when the world was still beautiful. I remember when people were still kind. It has been a long while, but yes, I remember. They were the days when the eyes of children lit up as the secrets of the world unfolded before them. They were days when the heavy summer air warmed the souls of strangers in July, days when people still fell in love. Back to the muted memories of a time when we still knew what being human meant, but that was lost so long ago, it is as real to me as God.
I am not a man of faith.”
It was the only page of the journal that was legible, the only paragraph that had made it three hundred years without withering into dust or simply disappearing. I’ve never known whose journal it was, not that it matters. He is long gone now. Long gone with his fading memories of a beautiful world I would give anything to call mine.
But that world that he lived in is long gone too. I live in a cold shell of a planet that has been reduced to a cesspool of dead dreams and ever-reaching wishes that never reach far enough. I live in a time where every evening, the same message flashes in the eyes of every living person in Nexus. It is their message. So short, so blunt, like a slap to the face that I take graciously.
We will be united. We will stand as one. They cannot break our strength. The war cannot be won.
Isn’t that just inspiring? The war cannot be won. Nothing makes our people more hopeful than hearing “the war cannot be won” every day. The funny thing, though, is that no one is certain exactly what war we are fighting. I suppose it has simply gone on too long for anyone to remember what it is we’re fighting against. It is a curious feeling, really, to know that after the broadcasts, as the sun drips lower and lower into the void, so do the dreams of every weary soul in Nexus. This is the way it has been, this is the way it will always be.
I don’t know what year it really is, the superiors stopped counting after Nix; it is only a reminder of the collapse. And they certainly wouldn’t want anyone getting any ideas. They really just don’t want anyone to remember what happened, and it’s all the same to me. Why would anyone want to address the fact that we live the way we do because men could no longer remember what it meant to be a human being? Nix was an eternity of darkness and secret, the gap between the collapse and Lux. Lux is where I live…or perhaps I should say Lux is when I live. Nexus is all that remains of our sorry race.
Long before I was born, every country on Earth was at war with another. Blood smeared the face of humanity, taking the heart of the human race with it. There were no alliances, no promises, and no survivors. The countries tore themselves apart in war, and when all forces were exhausted, no government could rebuild itself. The next two hundred years were one endless night, the sun never bright enough to shine through the ash suspended in the sky, the few who survived never brave enough to stay above ground. One endless night. Then, out of the smoke came the establishment of Nexus, the only world we will ever know.
My name is Vyla Hardwick; and I am the remnants of the glory of humanity.
It really isn’t fair that he is older than me; he won’t ever tell me what’s happening. Why can’t he see that I’m not a child anymore? He just furrows his brow together and looks at me with those sad brown eyes. I call them forever-eyes, because I always see forever inside of them. Yet just like all the other nights, forever vanishes and he only tells me that, “It’s nothing to be worried about, Vy.” And once again I stand there, always hoping that he will change his mind and tell me about the worries and the ghosts I can see in his eyes… He doesn’t though. So this time, I turn on my heel and start back towards my complex; I’m done sneaking out, done watching guard so he can listen in on Superior meetings. Who cares what they talk about? They couldn’t make life duller if they tried.
It’s getting dark, and the day is colder than usual. I hear him follow behind me, probably ten feet away. Just to make sure I get back alive, I suppose. Broadcasts will start any minute, so I begin to run down the deserted streets. My complex isn’t particularly far away, but it feels like forever as I am blatantly breaking at least 4 ordinances. I turn down another empty street, and there it stands, bright, white and awful: Complex 54A9: Females, 14- 17 years of age. I walk up to the open window near the ground and stay facing the building, refusing to look at him. After a few seconds of silence I hiss, “Well. Goodnight, Mason. I’m not doing this again, I’m sorry. You always want me to come with you on these secrecy trips to the Superior meetings, but you never tell me why. I want to know why, Mason. I want to know what is so important that I risk my freedom. When you’re ready to tell me what all of this creeping around is for… well I doubt that I’ll agree to go back even then.” Before I could climb through the basement window, he gripped my left shoulder and spun me around. I never saw a boy cry before that night or since then, so the tears flooding from his forever-eyes, racing down his cheeks shocked me more than I thought anything else could. However, it was what he said next made my shock sink slowly into a depression that would last the next three years. The ghosts escaped from his sad brown eyes as he whispered, “The meeting tonight was about the war.” I tried to brush it off, but he ignored me and kept talking, “All of the meetings are about the war, I know, but this was different. They are going to take someone and turn them into a…” He stopped for a moment and choked on the words, “a weapon. They think it might… it might win the war”
I flinched. The war cannot be won.
He continued, “The Superiors decided tonight… who they’re taking.” I couldn’t quite register what he was saying next before the broadcast bells chimed and a red-code broadcast was blinking in my vision. It read aloud in my head, “Citizens of Nexus- A new ordinance has been put into place, Number 79036. It states that as of this day, new actions will be taken to end the war. This requires the use of an individual. By mandate of the Superiors, this citizen will service his world in an attempt to end the war. By proclamation of the Superiors and Government of Nexus, Mason Leaar, citizen number 59271 will report to the Capitol building for further instruction, but please be aware that if you do not arrive in a timely manner, you will be found and taken into the custody of enforcement agents.” And with that it flashed away. I looked back at those anguished brown eyes as I realized what he said before the broadcast, “They are taking me. It’s me, Vy.”
At first, I was confused. Why would they take Mason? I never thought he was anything too spectacular, at least not spectacular enough to be made into a weapon that would end the war. But then, pieces started to fit together. Mason’s father used to be a very important, very powerful member of the Superiors. He wrote nearly all of the ordinances and was regarded highly by most everyone in Nexus, Mason was even allowed to live with him in the Estates. It is incredibly rare that a child gets to stay with their parents after they can walk, but Mason was the exception for being Asimov Leaar’s son. But about nine months ago, Asimov started acting strangely. He refused to attend superior meetings and wouldn’t let Mason leave the house under any circumstance for weeks. Mason told me that he would mutter things… forbidden things.
It was a very dark time in his life. Asimov was slowly spiraling into madness, and one dark day, he simply snapped. Asimov managed to convince a broadcast worker that he had an exceedingly important broadcast that couldn’t wait to be approved by the rest of the Superiors; he said it was a two bar. There has never in the history of Nexus been a two bar broadcast, red-code is about as urgent as it gets. The broadcast worker naturally panicked and let Asimov dial the broadcast to every citizen’s line of sight, even though it was an incredibly dangerous thing to do. I remember the day very clearly, it was during an electrical storm and I was so frightened. The broadcast bells chimed in my head followed by two red bars. The entire city was suspended for that moment, waiting to hear the worst, that we were all going to die in a matter of seconds or that a terrible monster had been released from the depths of the earth. We had no idea what to expect, there was nothing awful enough to require a two bar broadcast. And then it began, “Run. You do not know how horrifying it will be, you do not know how cruel they really are. This empire will fall; fall with more bloodshed than Nix, fall with more suffering and pain than the world has ever seen before. Run, Nexus, run until you find…” The broadcast was cut short. Mason told me that his father was executed immediately, that they shot him right there in the broadcast room. He never found out what they did with his body. And no one ever knew what we would find if we started running.
My knees gave out as soon as the broadcast flicked away. Anyone but Mason, please. Please. If it were anyone else, my simple world would keep spinning, anyone else and we would grow up exactly as I imagined. In a few years, we would agree that we were in love, a few years after, we would have a house in the residential district. Then our children… oh how I could see them with my eyes and his smile, but they fade so quickly. We would grow old together, living a simple life, asking no questions, breaking no rules. Everything would be perfect as it gets in this terrible mess of a world. Yet the terrible world I live in got infinitely more terrible after I realized that my future, all my dreams, were all dissipating into the haunted winter air. I looked to Mason and let out a small strangled sob, like an animal clinging to the last seconds of its meager life. My voice was small and shaky, as I begged him “Please no. Please no, no, no. What is going to happen? Where are you going to go? Oh Gods, please. Mason… I…I just…” My voice fluttered away to follow my lost hopes and dreams. He smiled ever so slightly, the smile of a soldier getting ready to die. We were both quiet for a second or two, and then we heard the high wail of sirens in the distance. They were going to find him, and they were going to find him soon. Mason dropped his gaze and leaned over to whisper, half out of fear for being heard, half because his voice was breaking and threatening to leave, following mine into the night. He started, “I know, Vy. I know. They only want me because of him, because of what he did. They know he told me things, things that I can’t tell you. And I believe those things, Vyla. Who are we fighting against? What is this war, really? Question them Vy, don’t just let them take your life away from you.” He started to speed up; his eyes began to dart around as he continued, “Just know that whatever this is, whatever game they are playing at, you can’t be part of it. I swear I will figure this out, because you will always be more important than any battle, any war. I promise you that whatever happens, you will make it out okay. I promise, Vy.”
The wailing was getting closer, and my world was coming to its end. Mason wrapped his arms around my shoulders as the glossy enforcement tracker rounded the complex. He let me go and walked calmly across the lawn towards the tracker. But to this day, I still can’t decide what happened just before he let me go. It might have been the wind, or my imagination, but beneath the wail of the tracker, I could have sworn that as he dropped his arms, he whispered one last single word.
As I pace in the Capitol foyer, all I can think about is that I’ve always truly hated manifestation week. A whole seven sunrises of speaking to the Superiors, telling them about our lives thus far, our ideals, hopes, dreams, fears, secrets, everything. They want to make sure that we are growing up by their standards, that we won’t threaten the simplicity of life during Lux. Everything I will ever amount to in life depends on the Superior’s judgment of who I am. Yet for the first time in months, I’m not worried about their judgment. While I really should be focusing on what I will say during manifestation, all my thoughts, writings, dreams and nightmares alike, have been about Mason.
All Mason is to me now is a fleeting memory, a fading shadow that will forever lurk in my thoughts. After they took him, I cried for days, for years. I will kid myself into thinking everything is going to be okay, that he is alive and well, but that’s when I realize that I won’t ever stop crying. On good days, I can halfway come to terms with the fact that he is gone, but the bad days are the ones where I scream through the night, and dig my fingernails so deep into my palms that just for a moment, I can cry for a different reason. He is always there, suspended in my wake and even more so in my sleep, just out of reach, but so close I can hear him whispering to me….
My wistfulness is cut short by the low voice of an ancient Superior dressed in long grey robes with a long grey face to match. He calls me into the Capitol Room with a solemn “Vyla Hardwick.” I stand and curtsey to him as he turns to lead me into the extravagant Capitol Room. It is the biggest room in Nexus; gilded trim lines the perimeter of the floor and ceiling, with pure white marble walls shooting up 50 feet to fill the space between. The Superiors—all 13 of them—sit elevated behind a 30 foot long solid mahogany desk, peering down at me as I enter. The bench, as they call it, sits in front of the windows, beautiful floor-to-ceiling panes etched with the first 100 ordinances ever established, looking out far above the orderly streets of Nexus. The windows make my situation even more intimidating due to the fact that the light flooding in prevents me from seeing the faces of the Superiors, only their hunched silhouettes. As soon as the grey Superior who led me in takes his seat, I hear the unkind voice of Aazil Lithemoore mutter my name and citizen number. Aazil is the closest thing Nexus has to a president, I suppose. His great grandfather led the survivors from the war and brought them here, they lived in underground military bunkers for nearly half a century, and slowly, Nexus was born. The Lithemoore family has never formally given up their superiority since the beginning of Lux, and no one has questioned it. Aazil is the axis of our world, and even if someone wanted true equality among the Superiors, it wouldn’t ever happen. Nexus belongs to the Lithemoores, not the citizens. It is his game, his world of politics.
Aazil speaks to me in a curious tone of voice, as if I had somehow already offended him. I hear the desk creak as he leans over it to look at me closer, muttering all the while. “Vyla. Vyla Hardwick, number 31802. 17 years of age. Hmm, yes. You’re the mental case in the girl’s complex, aren’t you? The crier. Tell me, tell me why you cry. ” My lungs took in an involuntary liter of air as I tried to keep from yelping in shock, but I kept my eyes down. The crier. I knew this would go great. The desk creaked again as Aazil sat back, and the room stayed silent, waiting for my response. I lifted my heavy eyes to the silhouettes above. “Well, Sir… It’s not exactly something that is easily explained.” The room was hushed again in thoughtful silence, but an unfamiliar and unkind voice coming from the seat next to Aazil’s spoke next. “Life is not something that is easily explained, Miss Hardwick. Do not make us ask again. Why are you so deeply disturbed?” His voice was cold and unsympathetic. I lifted my head towards the 13 faceless men that were all looking into my heart, searching for any reason to tear me down. I begin my tale with a heavy sigh and a heavier heart. “I fell in love with a boy, Sir. That is why I cry.”
I waited for someone to laugh or rip me apart, but they remained silent, so I continued. “It was all so much more than that though. He was the only thing I had in this world, he was the only person that gave a damn about who I really am, not who you want me to be.” It came out as hostile, much more than I had intended. I bristled, expecting a fit of rage from Aazil, or a slap to the face from one of the Superiors. However, no one actually did anything, no tantrum ensued, I only heard soft chuckles and a few murmurs scattered across the bench. Aazil spoke once more, his voice lighter, yet somehow darker, almost malevolent. “Please continue, Vyla.” He paused and laughed quietly, whispering something to the faceless man next to him. He turned back to me, leaning over the desk again. A ray of soft light hit his face and I could see those famous grey-blue eyes. They were alive with fire, as he hissed, “You said ‘it was’; does he no longer love you, little girl?” The words dripped off of his tongue and slid down to my feet as a puddle of venom. The way he said it… it made my nails curl into my palms until I could feel sticky syrup dripping through my fingers.
My blood began trickling to the marble floor, infecting its purity, staining its beauty. Aazil sat back again, satisfied that he had found every wound I have, intent on making me bleed my soul dry in front of him. The man with the frigid voice spoke again, but with a tone of curiosity. “Mr. Lithemoore asked you a question.” I growled back at them with wild eyes. “I cannot tell you if he loves me or not. He is dead. When I was fourteen you took him, you took him from me.” My voice that I had lost that night when Mason left had somehow found its way back into my body, sparking a fire in my soul. I began to shout up at the shadows, blood on my hands and tears in my eyes. “You killed him, you all did! He was the weapon. The weapon that no one ever saw again, heard from again, he was the boy that never lived again. You never wanted to use him to end the war, what war is there? Who are we fighting, Aazil? What is out there?! Nothing. Nothing is out there. Ash and bone, the blood of the old world, but nothing else! You can’t hide this anymore. You took him because of what his father knew. You took him away from me!”
My legs surrendered and I doubled over onto the flawless marble ground, a useless pile of violent shoulder heaves and hysterical shrieks, slapping the stone with blood on every word. “Asimov’s boy…his son. You killed him, you killed me. You are monsters, all of you. All of you! Mason, Mason, Mason… His father was right about you; right about this. You are keeping us prisoner here, keeping us trapped in hell, bound by the fear of an imaginary war. You want control, Aazil, you need it, but hear me now. Kill me if you must, but you will never have me.” I spat the last words up at the faces I couldn’t see, making sure that before they killed me, before he killed me, he would know that I died for Mason, I died for the people that lay slain underneath the ashes of greatness and mercy.
My shrieks turned to sorrow-stricken wails as I lay on the cold marble floor, and then slowly formed small heavy sobs. The room was silent. Nobody moved, nobody said a word. Eventually, my sobbing turned to whimpering as I curled my knees into my chest, waiting for someone to kill me. A chair creaked, a whisper floated in the air and two sets of footsteps approached me. One of the men stopped short while the other dragged me across the floor and propped me up against a wall adjacent to the bench. Eleven heads followed my journey across the floor, eleven pairs of eyes pierced my soul, and eleven mouths said nothing.
The first man let me go and stepped back; he then slowly crouched down and turned my head, forcing me to look him in the eye. There were those famous eyes, not quite blue, not quite grey. Aazil smiled, it was the smile of a serpent seducing its dinner. He looked at me for a few seconds, and then his smile turned into a thin line. He held my face fixed on his for another moment or two before he started whispering. “You always were one of the pretty ones; it’s a shame, really. A terrible waste of beauty on something so vile.” He threw my face to the side in disgust and stood up. As he turned to face the Superiors that were so intently watching us, his voice boomed out, filling up the entire room like smoke. “My friends, it seems that Asimov has left a legacy. Even with all of the effort I put into making sure everyone believed he was deeply disturbed. Even after all of the time I spent telling person after person that he had obvious psychotic breakdowns, and that his broadcasting stunt was nothing more than a delusion playing out in his own mind. Even after everything my family has gone through to create perfection. To create order. Gentlemen, I believe it is time to bring an end to Asimov’s legacy. End it for the sake of perfection, for the sake of order.” He turned back to face me, and I scrambled back to the corner where the bench met the wall. He let out a small chuckle as he got closer. “But before the delicate light is snuffed, because Miss Hardwick so passionately explained her circumstances, I believe we owe her an explanation of equal fervor.”
He is now striding around the room, as if speaking to a royal court that desperately needs wicked and twisted entertainment. “Our tale begins when humanity ends. Men could no longer be trusted with their own lives, my dear. This was their downfall. You were correct in your statement that the war is not out there, but where you were wrong is in your assumption that there is no war. There is a war, I can assure you that. It is the battle within human beings that we are fighting, choices made and opportunities taken. You see, after the collapse, it was decided among my great-grandfather and his colleagues that people could no longer be trusted with their lives. They concluded that men are not worthy to walk this planet in freedom. This is why Nexus rose from the ashes; this is the era of de-humanization, if you will. Slowly, over time, we have been trying to wean all of you from natural human situations. Do you even miss your parents, my dear? Do you even know their names? Of course not. You have been trained to disregard that human trait.” I gasped, staring up at Aazil as he continued to unravel the only universe I had ever known. I don’t know my parent’s names. It was never important, never a normal part of society. The only thing that made me abnormal, besides Mason, was the journal that I had found in the lockbox of the archives. Mason insisted that I should have it, that they would “never miss a dusty old thing like this.” The journal that told me of a surreal world that existed once upon a time. A world that fell apart, leaving me here, with a man that intends on de-humanizing the surviving population of people.
I heard a voice call to Aazil, and that’s when I realized the frigid-voiced man was standing a few feet away from me. He was leaning against the wall with his cloak hood shadowing his face. He must have been the second man that accompanied Aazil to the floor to tell his tale. He and Aazil made eye contact, and Aazil smiled. He slowed his pace, it was apparent that the story was almost over. “I would like to reassure you, Lyra, you seem worried. You should know that I have successfully de-humanized a significant number of citizens; in fact you have the honor of being in the same room with them.” He gestured broadly to the shadowy figures of the eleven Superiors that remained in their seats. Their silence, their indifference, their lack of movement; I did not doubt Aazil’s statement, not for a second. “It is a complicated procedure, but it has become significantly more efficient since our first trial three years ago. Oh, in fact, you may even know the patient. He was the first. The first antihuman as I like to call it. And as it turns out, Miss Hardwick, the very first antihuman is standing three feet away from you. ”
Any ounce of life I had left inside of me flaked away as I turned my head towards the frigid-voiced man and the name formed on my lips: Mason.
The man let his hood fall off his face, and he stood up straight, beginning to walk towards me. As the light hit his face, I shrieked out of terror and surprise. It was Mason, but only in the most disgusting way. This man was not the boy I knew. His features were cold and hard, the forever eyes I knew so well were replaced by sheets of brown stone. He looked older and worn, not anything like the Mason I fell in love with when I was a child. I saw a smile play on the corners of his mouth when he was standing just inches from my face. “Hello, Vy” The words escaped his mouth and pushed me farther back into a corner, making me recoil as he said my name. Somewhere in the room Aazil was screeching with joy. “How perfect! I couldn’t have trained her to give a better show, wouldn’t you agree? With the hysterical sobbing and the rolling around on the floor! Oh it was all so wonderfully awful!” Aazil was squealing with delight, as I looked up at the stranger before me, refusing to believe that this was happening. Mason brushed my cheek lightly with the tips of his fingers and began to speak under his breath as Aazil bounded about the room. “I told you to leave, Vy. You never left, you didn’t run. You know that you aren’t going to make it out of here alive, there’s nothing I can do.” The way he spoke to me almost sounded like he was fifteen again, worried, but filled with real pain and emotion. Human emotion. I squinted at him, knowing I only had seconds before Aazil decided to end my life. In the smallest voice I could muster, I squeaked “Mason, are you—are you still human? Are you still…you?” I flinched, afraid of the response I was going to get. His eyes softened for half a second before they became foreign pools of amber. “The procedure wasn’t entirely effective… he just thinks it was. It’s killing me, Vyla. It’s slowly killing me, like a disease, quickly degenerative. It is slowly fading; my soul is starting to come back to me. The first year after the procedure was the hardest, everything inside of me always screaming, always fighting to get out. It was like I was in a coma, but I never fell asleep. I was breathing, but air never found my lungs.” He looked down, dropping his hand from my face, and let out a long sigh. “I will die soon,” He gestured to the Superiors “as will they, but I will die human. Aazil is going to coax the city into becoming these mindless robots of his, I have no doubt. They are halfway there already. He is so terrified that if we are truly human, the world will only collapse again. But what he doesn’t realize is that he is singlehandedly tearing the world apart. Everyone will die, Vyla, that can’t be stopped, but he will have this whole world to be alone in, this whole Goddamn nightmare of a planet will be all his, and I’m okay with that.” Aazil’s screeching had ceased, and he was seconds away from reaching us. Mason pulled my face towards his and whispered in the same voice he used all those years ago in front of my complex. “I want you to go with me, Vyla. I will be right behind you, I promise. I want you to leave... forever. I want you to run.”
Mason’s words didn’t make sense to me, where was I going to run? Where could I possibly go? But his intentions became clearer as Aazil was walking towards us with a smile that revealed each of his fangs, all of the poisoned words dripping from his lips. “Well hello kiddos, had a nice reunion did we? I’m sorry to cut your sentiments short, but it is time for Miss Hardwick to say her goodbyes once more. It really is such a pity she couldn’t have met someone else… but then again she wouldn’t have the emotions to care about him for much longer.” Aazil closed his hand around my wrist and began to pull me away from the wall; it was time for my life to end. Mason fell into step behind us.
All I needed was a chance, one second of distraction.
It came in the form of Mason running head-first at Aazil, and shattering him to the unbreakable ground. In that second of confusion, Mason leaped to his feet and pulled me with him. He took my hand in his and we ran. We ran across the marble floor and up to the bench. Aazil was right behind us, screaming in rage. The eleven Superiors remained dormant in their seats, impassive to the world around them.
As the end grew closer, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t the end at all. This was the beginning of life; this was what I had wanted, what I had always lacked. Mason gripped my hand tighter as we ran straight for the beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows, and without a second’s hesitation, we escaped into a beautiful world.
Not only did we free ourselves from the horror that had become our humanity, we were alive. Not only did we understand what we would find if we started running, we were flying there. Perfectly suspended in a rain of broken history; we were human.