~ Remarr Orphanage, 167th street, district 34, Eden City - AD 2645 ~
Chase yawned and stretched his little arms above his head to get the cramps out of them. He had been scrubbing the floors and polishing the pews at the chapel the whole day, and now he would have loved to curl up somewhere and just fall asleep. But it was still a few hours until evening, and he had to help setting the tables, listen to evening mass and then gather the smaller children and usher them into the dormitory.
At the age of seven years, Chase was still one of the younger children at the orphanage that sheltered girls and boys until the age of thirteen, but the adults knew that they could rely on him. Chase was a very obedient, well-behaved child, and although his good behavior was rewarded most of the time, it also meant having more duties.
The boy was just about to make his way over to the closet to put away the broom and the cleaning rags when he heard the bell at the front door. He knew that sound very well: it meant that someone had just put a baby into the thermal box.
Chase looked around the hallway, but it seemed that no one but him had noticed the bell's ringing. Father Reighley, the director, was already profoundly deaf - a fact he didn't want to admit, and the other adults and older children were working at the kitchen. Quickly, Chase put away the cleaning tools into the closet and went to the front door the thermal box was standing next to.
"I hope it's not a girl," he grumbled.
He didn't have anything against girls in general, but they tended to look at him with big, helpless eyes all the time to get all kinds of favors. And Chase, helpful and chivalrous as he was, had to take on a quest to search for lost dolls or to fight gigantic spiders in the dormitory.
The baby that looked at him from out of the thermal box already seemed to know the trick of making big eyes. It was very small and wrapped in tattered cloth, but otherwise very lively since it waved its tiny arms around.
Chase took it up with practiced ease and supported the little head with one hand. He had been carrying around at least one smaller child each day since he had been living in the orphanage, so he knew what he was doing.
"Let's go look for Father Reighley," he said. "Since Jake and Ellen have been adopted last week, we have enough room for you."
The baby gave a gurgling sound, never taking its eyes off Chase's face. The boy couldn't help but smile. With a firm grip around the little bundle he marched down the hallway toward Father Reighley's office. After a knock so loud even the old man couldn't overhear, he was admitted.
"Lo and behold, a newcomer!" The gray-haired priest stooped down and took the baby from Chase. "Was there a note, maybe with a name on it?"
The boy shook his head. "No. But can I chose a name, Father?" he asked hopefully. Since he had been the one to find the infant, it seemed only fair.
"Why not, my son? Come, let's bring the little one to the infirmary for a check-up," Father Reighley replied, smiling. "You can assist Nurse Eliza."
An hour later, the baby, cleaned up and freshly dressed, was lying once again in Chase's arms. The infant had turned out to be a boy, healthy and about two weeks old. Nurse Eliza, the orphanage's medic, knew of Chase's care for the little children and had let him tend to the baby while she was talking to Father Reighley.
Meanwhile, the infant was one again fixating Chase. He had milky-blue eyes like all newborn, and Chase couldn't help but wonder which color they would take later on. Grey, like Nurse Eliza's, or brown like most of the childrens' here? Or would they stay blue? Chase's own eyes were mostly regarded as black as his hair, but in the right light, they revealed to be dark blue. He faintly remembered his own father having such eyes as well.
The boy had accepted the fact a long time ago that his father would never come back to get him. The man had brought him to the orphanage almost three years ago after Chase's mother had died. The boy had only vague memories of his time together with his parents, but they had lived outside of Eden City where the air was poisonous and made people sick. Chase remembered his mother's pale face and her constant coughing. One day, she had closed her eyes and had never awakened again. And his father... He had smiled at Chase when he had said goodbye, reminding the boy to be good. Chase had waited a long time, but his father never came back.
Maybe he was already dead as well. Or maybe he had forgotten him.
The boy bit his lip, trying to banish the bitter thoughts. Softly, he talked to the baby. "I'll take care of you. You're gonna find new parents really quick. And if not, I'll be your big brother. I promise."
Father Reighley and Nurse Eliza went over to him.
"Now, my son. Have you thought of a name?" the priest asked with a gentle smile.
Chase nodded enthusiastically. "You remember telling us at mass how the three saints founded the Church of Light? And one of them even brought a dead man back to life. I like his name very much."
Father Reighley nodded and petted Chase's dark mop of hair. "You have been listening very well. It's a good idea to name the child after one of our most revered founders. This will pave the way for a life full of devotion and piety."
The baby once again gave a sound and curled his mouth in a way that could become a smile one day.
Chase smiled back at him. "Hello there, Tyrean."
At the beginning of the 27th century, the conflicts between various religious groups existing in the United States of America escalated. For years, they had been fighting for dominance and hadn't shied away from street fights and attacks. When the Disciples of the Eighth Era detonated a D34-bomb in Los Angeles, the stronghold of their archenemies, the Silver Templars, an open war was declared in which there were no rules anymore. The government of the United Nations tried to intervene, but gave up eventually and declared the complete area of the American continent that had once been the United states (save for Alaska and the surrounding islands) to no man's land. They shielded the rest of the world from misrouted bombs and waited.
The war that historiography would call the First Apocalypse raged for several years until all the fighting sects had annihilated each other. The continent was devastated, poisoned and contaminated with radiation. There was not a single city left standing, and the number of victims had long since reached a billion. But those who had survived the horror found a new hope: the last remaining religious sect that called themselves the Church of Light. This group had never resorted to violence, but had preached peacefully and protected their followers. The leaders of the Church promised the people peace, morality and order – their set of beliefs.
And they kept their promise. In only a few years, on the ruins of the former Island Manhattan and the territory of Long Island a huge metropolis called Eden City was built. The Church invited every survivor to live there as long as they would follow the rules. Poisoned and radiated zones in the vicinity where cleaned, and industry and agriculture once again flourished. Each loyal follower of the Church was granted a decent home and good work.
The United Nations resumed political contact with the leaders of the Church although they weren't comfortable with the theocracy even if it was lead by seemingly sensible people. Trade relations were reestablished and embassies installed, but the newly erected Empire of Light didn't rejoin the United Nations. It continued to remain autonomous.
But like every system, the Church had its dark sides. Those who wouldn't convert to the Church would be banished to the still barely uninhabitable western regions or could try to get a visa to emigrate to the countries of the United Nations – which almost never succeeded. The strict order and absolute obedience towards the authorities, a morally faultless life and above all, no doubts on the righteousness and godliness of the rules lead to the development of an underworld full of drugs and brothels where the good citizens could let themselves go. The Church of course fought this decadence; to do so, they established the Inquisition Department, a mixture of intelligence, police and military to enforce their rules. The punishments were severe and deterrent, and out of ten arrested people, at least five were innocent. Big detention camps were built in the western regions, but no one ever returned from there.
Nevertheless, the people of Eden City gladly accepted this since nobody wanted the anarchy back. Freedom of information existed although the Church saw to it that subversive or system-criticizing media were silenced quickly. They also made life in the territory of the United Nations look not overly attractive. Freedom of traveling existed as well, but those who didn't want to emigrate, stayed in Eden City. There was everything one could want anyway.
"A glorious future has begun" – this was the maxim of the Empire of Light. But nobody wanted to think about the price paid for this future – or if it was truly worth it.
~ Remarr Orphanage – AD 2651 – 6 years later ~
"Do you really have to go?"
With huge, disappointed green eyes Tyrean looked up at Chase. The older boy, clad in an old, but warm jacket, was standing at the front door of the orphanage, right next to the thermal box where he had found Tyrean years ago. Outside, an impatient young official of the Church of Light's educational center was waiting.
Chase had already said his goodbye to Nurse Eliza, old Pater Reighley, and all the children, but it was different with Tyrean. They needed this last moment for them alone.
"You know I have to. Children older than thirteen years can't stay at the orphanage. And my grades are good, so I can start my education as a candidate for the Church officials. I can learn a lot and become a priest myself, like Father Reighley," Chase reminded Tyrean for what seemed like the hundredth time. He didn't know what else to say.
"But why can't I come with you?" Tyrean insisted. His pleading look became stubborn as he grid his teeth. Chase knew that he had to be the sensible one, as always, but it was getting harder by the minute. He already missed his "little brother", and he wasn't allowed to take a souvenir or even a picture to remember him. The young candidates weren't allowed to have any contact with the outside world, not even with their families, during their first years of training. It was believed that such things would just distract them from their rigid studies.
Chase sighed. "You know that you can't. Come on, don't make this any harder for the both of us. We'll see each other again, you hear me? I'll contact you as soon as I'm allowed to. And in the meantime, try to behave and do what you are told at last – for my sake, will you? If you continue like this, Father Reighley will get a heart attack out of worry over your behavior."
The smaller boy's facial expression became even more stubborn. In contrast to Chase, he had never been an obedient child and had, as soon as he was able to talk, questioned everything. He had also started to fight with everyone in the orphanage. Of course Chase had stood up for him since he loved the little boy with all his heart and refused to give up hope that one day, it might get better. But this permanent defiance and aggressiveness only resulted in daily working and cleaning tasks as punishment – which in return ignited even more rebellion in Tyrean.
Chase had tried and tried again to persuade his "little brother" that obedience and friendliness toward others were a much better way to get by, but it had been useless. The only time Tyrean had been the sweet and good child everyone wished him to be was when Chase was present. But that little angel immediately turned back into a demon as soon as another person tried to make him do something he didn't want. Tyrean was bearing the name of one of the Church's saints, but he wasn't one for sure. Although he had been brought up with the Church's beliefs, he refused with live by them. Even if Chase would have been able to take Tyrean with him, the Church would never accept such a little heretic as a candidate.
Tyrean stayed silent, then he just flung his arms around Chase. He was so small that the top of his head was barely at level with Chase's chest, but a lifetime of scrubbing floors had made the six-year-old rather strong – a fact which the other children frequently were reminded of rather painfully.
Chase gently stroked the hopelessly tousled mop of hair which seemed to have another color every day, depending on the light and the amount of dirt in it.
"I'll always love you," he promised softly. "And I won't forget you, Tyrean. Ever."
It took a while until the smaller boy let go of him. The big eyes were free of tears, but the fight that was going on behind them was clear as day.
"Don't you dare forget me," he murmured and bit his lower lip.
Chase tried to smile at him encouragingly although he felt more like bursting into tears himself. "Did you ever see me break my word? Goodby, Tyrean."
Then he turned to the door and left the orphanage. He forced himself not to look back, or else he would never be able to leave at all.
I'll keep my word, he promised himself silently. We'll see each other again, Tyrean.