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Unconquerable Soul (Previously known as Duty: To Heart)

Author's note: Wow. This book has really been a journey for me. I've been working on it for years, and it has...  Show full author's note »
Author's note: Wow. This book has really been a journey for me. I've been working on it for years, and it has continued to grow and evolve as I've gotten older and (hopefully) wiser. I'd love to get feedback, and would gladly return the favor.  « Hide author's note
Chapters:   « Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 ... 24 Next »

"Change" - Taylor Swift

“We gather here today to honor the years of service and devotion of a great man.” Broad smiles sparkle in the light of the chandelier as champagne glasses clink together. A large man stands on the stage next to the speaker, looking bashful as he receives the crowd’s admiration. The speaker – an average-height fellow with carefully tamed black hair and a large silver watch - turns to him, grasping his hand with the grip of an old friend. “Ethan, you have served your Sector for fifteen years.” Sadness flits through the speaker’s blue eyes. Ethan has been his fellow Representative for as long as he’s been on the Counsel, the two of them making up the Sector 1 segment of the world’s government. “As your colleague and your friend, I’ll miss you. And as your fellow Sector Member, I thank you.” Mild applause erupts in the crowd and Bella beams at her father as he concludes his speech, her green silk dress shimmering in the half-light.
She finds it hard to believe that, a short 83 years ago, this estate was nothing, the peace treaty of The Chaos being hammered out just ‘across the pond’, in what used to be Poland but is now Sector 4. The world population was now up to a billion, after being cut to half that during The Chaos, the four conflicting armies narrowed down to one unified Protectorate only controlled by an unanimous motion on the part of the 14 Representatives, two from each Sector. The civilian population has long since calmed down too, old factions mixed and relocated to each of the seven Sectors, anything other than primitive weapons taken from everyone but Protectorate members, society rebuilt from the ashes. Even for her, a Representative’s daughter, the past seems like a bad dream, conjured from the minds of babbling grey-haired veterans.
She catches Ethan as he fades into the crowd, giving him a bright smile.
“Hey Lady.” He grins at her, his expression familiar from countless dinners between their two families.
“Hey Mr. Aldernon.”
He holds out his hand but she wraps him in a hug instead, giving him a tight squeeze before letting him go.
“Congrats on retiring – dad’ll miss you on the Counsel.” She laughs. “He said you always helped him with those Sector 2 blokes.” He sighs and shakes his head.
“Poor guy – he’s going to have fun dealing with that alone.” Bella nods, eyes wide for effect. Sector 2 has a reputation for being a bit stuck in the corrupt and materialistic ways of the Old World. Even their Rytual – the rite of passage tradition shared by all Sectors but different in each – is a giant “Festivas” where the initiate plans and hosts a huge party. Much different than the Sector 1 “Homesteading” Bella completed last year, where she and seven other sixteen-year-olds were expected to build and maintain a working farm and household for six months. She says goodbye to Ethan, feeling pity for the Sector 2 kids. She learned a lot of important things Homesteading, and they’ll never get to.
Pushing the realization away, Bella sighs and lets herself drift to the edge of the swarm, feeling tired. A slinky black curl slips from her updo as she worms through the masses, dodging well-meaning acquaintances who will surely want to talk about politics or school, slipping past chattering government workers. Her tall, slender build aids her retreat from the flow of people as she scans the crowd, bright turquoise eyes searching for her parents.
She spots them near the door, chatting with Representatives and staff members as they pass. Noel is significantly shorter than her husband, but holds herself proudly in her simple black dress, accented with angular green folds in the bold fashion of Sector 1, her blonde hair cascading around her shoulders and her fair face lighting up as she beams. Her husband Goffert’s thick build contrasts her slim figure almost as much as his reserved blue eyes stand out against her cheery ones. The smile on his face is more restrained, as if his mouth has forgotten how it feels to be without burden. He stands there like he owns the world but is not above it, speaking in hushed tones to a giant of a man, whose height and girth are nearly a foot more than that of the Representative himself.
Bella recognizes the giant man as Citrus – the Chief of the Guard, which is supplied with military training and heavy clubs, charged with protecting those involved in government and other high orders. She slows, ears pricking to hear their conversation. Her mother likes to lecture that eavesdropping is a vice, but never seems to complain when Bella turns up with advice on situations she’s not supposed to know about. Bella smirks at the thought, snippets of conversation floating through the babble of the crowd.
“Going to….. worried…. steak dinner….. need a new guard.”
“Several candidates…. arrange an inspection….”
Goffert – nods, chiseled features drawn in thought. “What about tomorrow? I have an opening between two and three.”
Citrus pulls out his communicator. “Yes sir, I’ll arrange it right away.” He turns away and Goffert catches sight of Bella.
“Bella!” He calls, and she smiles at him from across the path of carpet that splits the cobblestone floor.
“I’m going to take my leave – I love you.” She says, the formality of the party wearing her down. The king grimaces along with her then gives her a wink. She grins, then turns away, nearly colliding with a tall boy about her age, his hair perfectly styled to look messily casual. She smiles, fog of boredom lifted.
“Hey Chand!” She chirps. His heart flutters a bit at the sight of her old friend, Ethan’s son.
“Hey. How are you? I haven’t seen you in forever!” Since he got back from his own Homesteading, Chand has been busy trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, only seeing Bella once or twice in the last 10 months.
“Yeah, I know. I heard you’re looking for a new guard?”
“Yup – last one’s term ran out and he decided to go civvie. Wanted a family, I guess.” Chand shivers a bit, no stranger to bodyguards himself.
“It’s horrible isn’t? That there are people who are there just to die for us if we need them to?”
Bella ponders it, then finally answers, each word hanging on her lips for longer than it has to. “I think…. that preparing to die for us is what every soldier does – Enforcer, Protector, or Guard. It’s sad, but I can’t think of any other way to do it.”
“People could stop being so cruel – this is the New World after all. We were supposed to be done with conflict! If we just-“ He takes a deep breath, signaling a visit from his unwavering idealism.
Bella gives his wrist a squeeze. “Chand.” She cuts him short. “Everyone in here is boring. Let’s take a walk.”
He catches the hint and nods, reaching for her hand. She lets him take it as they weave their way into the silence of the hall. The air is cooler outside the stuffy meeting room, and Bella steps a little bit closer. “So what have you been up to lately?” She asks as they pass the two men guarding the door to the outside of the large home, barely noticing their presence. One of the soldiers allows his gaze to follow the pair as they walk out, his dark eyes drifting below the tall hat.
“The usual. Diplomacy lessons, tennis, and putting a lot of time into my art and music. I have a concert in a month or so. You should come.”
“I’d love to – what are you playing?”
“Violin in that one.”
“Bloody talented….”
He chuckles. “You’re sweet, but should really watch your mouth. What have you been doing?”
“Riding as usual. Brogan and I are working towards Training events this fall. I’m also thinking about writing a book, and I work out with Dudley once in a while, when I don’t have lessons.”
“That’s great! What are you going to write about?”
“I think I’ll write about the soldiers, New World and Old. The honor, the glory, the brotherhood…. Dudley said he’d help me get some guys to interview.”
“Very cool. Hey, did you hear about Sector 2?”
“No – what about it?”
“Apparently they found an old Shadow Force hideout. Some New World militants in there, somehow had improvised firearms. Three enforcers were killed before somebody took ‘em out with a crossbow. I swear, it’s Old World all over again down there in the jungle...”
“That’s horrible.” She cuts him short again. “When-“
“Chand!” An authoritative voice calls, and Chand sighs.
“Coming, dad.” He turns to Bella, letting go of her hand, fingers brushing her palms as he slowly pulls away. “I’ll see you later. Good luck with everything.”
“Thanks – I’ll try to come to your concert.” He grins at her before jogging on down the path after Ethan, pea gravel crunching under his feet.
She ducks back through the door then down a side passage that leads to a simple staircase, spiraling her way into the living area of the sprawling Left Executive House, where the left seat Representative is expected to live. Two left turns and a hallway later, she arrives at the cream door to her room. She sighs as she enters, the soft golden walls with their waving wheat murals and gleaming wood trim wrapping her in their familiar arms. Her bed nests in its wood frame on the other side of the room, embroidered wheat-gold chiffon spilling over the sides. Her dresser, nightstand, bookshelf, vanity and desk are all the same rich color as the trim and bedframe, delicately carved with the waving crops her Sector is so proud of. A simple oak door opens onto a wrought-iron balcony, from which she can look over the sweeping grounds. It has been such as long as she can remember, since her family moved into this house when she was two, and an instant peace settles over her.
She turns on the light and walks to her desk, sitting down and turning on her projector screen, instantly surrounded in floating images to manipulate as she pleases. Out of habit she touches the news icon, scanning for anything interesting. A name jumps out at her – Sector 1 Guard. She pauses her scrolling.
Sector 1 Guard-bound Soldier Refuses To Press Charges
Cocking her head slightly, Bella touches the link. A short article pops up next to a picture of a harsh-looking tan boy standing at attention, just like he was earlier in the doorway, his umber eyes devoid of emotion but a slight smile on his square jaw. A long white scar stands out on his left cheek, running the length of it. Bella eyes bulge and she swears before reading on.

Dudley McGrahm, 17, of London refuses to press charges in a Courts Martial of fellow recruit. McGrahm is training for a position in the Royal Guard, and is a witness of a crime believed to be committed by his comrade Alan Roys. “Roys is my brother in arms. I will tell the courts what I saw and what I know, but I won’t search for information to bring Roys down. I am not a Lawman. Proving guilt or innocence is not my job, and I do not pretend it is.” McGrahm commented to an interviewer last Tuesday night. Roys has been accused of stealing currency from McGrahm and another soldier, who has asked that his name not be disclosed.

Bella’s thin eyebrows slide up her face as her eyes widen. She has known Dudley for a year, since she interviewed him for a project on those returning from their time in Sector 6 – where all sixteen-year-olds intending to become professionals rather than normal Sector members go to receive their training - as soldiers, finished with their basic training for the guard. At 6’5” and 300 pounds, Dudley would be intimidating even if he didn’t have a square face, buzz cut, cold brown eyes, and a massive pitbull. But despite his appearance, they are extremely close - the idea of him not telling her about the scandal shocks her more than the crime itself. She fumbles for her communicator and says “Call McGrahm.”
“McGrahm.” He answers in a soldierly grunt, though he knows it’s her.
She rolls her eyes. If she weren’t angry at him for not telling her, she would have laughed. “What’s this about a trial? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t think you needed to know.” His voice is deep and slightly gravely – rougher than husky and only a few pitches smoother than unpleasant. Like he’s always at that point right after a cold where your voice is clear but not fluid.
“You don’t need to know any of what I tell you.” She reasons.
He smiles knowingly on the other line, and his dog Bazooka whines deep and low from where he is tied to a weight set, hoping for a walk. Dudley ignores him, lifting barbells with his free hand, sweat rolling down his face. “Not today, Baz.” He tells the dog, then turns his attention to Bella. “The whole affair is undeserving of attention. He lost, I won, end of story.”
“He stole from you!”
“He got a black eye for it.”
Bella laughs, satisfied, and the bell-like sound lights up his world. “You slugged him?”
“Of course I did – he stole from me.” He chuckles, liking to turn things around like that. She always seems so surprised.
On the other end of the phone she smiles. He always manages to make things seem obvious without ever making her feel stupid or inferior. Like each time she misses his logic is just a minor setback on the path to whatever deeper understanding he seems to have. “Touché.” She finally replies, losing the mind game again.
“Still looking for a bodyguard?” He asks.
“Yup.” She replies distractedly as an idea comes to her. “Hey, I’ve got to go. I’ll talk you tomorrow.” she hurries through her words.
He frowns at the phone but says goodbye anyway, letting the weight drop back into its rack. He allows himself to enjoy the exhaustion for a moment before jumping into a cold shower – water, no additives - and traipsing back to the barracks, Baz’s leash tight around his wrist. A timeless game of poker is being played in the middle of the barrack floor, with men laying about, tossing impromptu offerings of dirty posters and chocolate bars into the pot. They cheer as Dudley enters, and Jenkins flips Baz a scrap of bacon filched from chow hall. Turner pulls himself up, patting Dudley on the back.
“McGrahm my man, do a brother a favor and make an investment.”
There’s booing from the men but Dudley just laughs, patting the pocket of his cargo pants dramatically before pulling out a small handful of Knicks – the small superfood that is useful as currency in any Sector, like 2’s gold or 7’s communicators. “I dunno Turner… Maybe I wanna play a hand.” Turner swears and the men laugh as they clear a space for Dudley’s mass.
Chapters:   « Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 ... 24 Next »


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This book has 21 comments. Post your own now!

DifferentTeen said...
Sept. 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm
Sounds an awful lot like The Hunger Games, I think I'll read it though. (:
 
AsIAm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm
Thanks! :)
 

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