It had been many months since Gaea and I found our new home. Her belly grew in that time, and she was even more illuminating than when we first spoke. I still planned on the retrieval of my friends I left behind; many of the books in our great library had stories pertaining to rescues and satisfying endings.
I had long since fashioned our home to accumulate the electricity which I had found in that tunnel. Rooms were filled with it, chasing away the nightshades and making my work into even the darkest of nights possible. I had the plans written upon my mind within the first few days of settling into my land, though I had yet to tell them all to my dearest Gaea for fear she would insist on joining myself.
It was a brilliantly lit day, with a sky such an untainted light blue that I felt an unbelievable emotion when my dearest called it out, when I came upon a creature. I knew the name of it from a book: fox. It was small, bushy, and a gingery red. Yellow eyes had stared up at me when I approached; the fox was caught in some kind of rusty-colored wire, whining high and pathetically. It bit me when I tried to touch it but that did not stop me. Careful of its bleeding leg and knife teeth, I managed to get it out. The blood that ran from the small cuts on my hand were quick to stop. At first, it whimpered and tried to sprint off then collapsed pathetically beside me so I picked it up and brought it back home, not quite forgetting about the dinner I was supposed to bring back instead.
Animals, as that was what I learned the creatures that are not man were called, were never part of life back there. The hairs on the fox's body were coarse and dusty yet, at the same time, soft against my palms. Gaea was even more taken with it than I; she even wanted to name it.
"They used to name their animals. I believe he should be ours now. We should give it one like ours."
I could not hope to deny my dearest anything.
The fox's name was Hermes.
It was only days until Hermes was not just lying on the floor but limping around, occasionally slipping on the wooded floors. He had been outside many times since I saved him but he never wondered far and always came back. This seemed unusual but I could not raise the subject without the sadly hopeful way my dearest looked at him. Who was I to take way her joy?
I decided on a rainy day to at last speak my plan.
"Gaea," I said early in the afternoon. Rain was still puttering on the window panes, momentarily distracting me; it made a sound that I couldn't help but indulge myself. When her hand pressed mine gently into the table which we were seated at, my reverie was broken.
"Prometheus?" Her voice. It seemed, like the melody of the rain, I was as selfish for it.
"I have a plan." These words sparked something in her face, a change in her dark eyes. I stared into them, knowing what she must be thinking. She wanted to go but with our child inside her, I would not risk them both. "You are not coming, Gaea." It was harsher than I originally intended, and her eyes hardened towards me, though, she did not speak. So I continued: "I will go in at night, for I will not be spotted easily. I will look for International 4-8818, Fraternity 2-5503, and Solidarity 9-6347, and all others whose spirit have not been killed within them. I will lead them away and bring them unto this land;our land."
"Can it be so simple?" she asked lowly, eyes still hard. "Do you not believe you will be caught?" Of course I believed I would not be caught. I left without much challenge in the first place. Though I would be bringing more than myself, I did not believe it to be difficult. I said as much to her and only then, she just sighed. "I do not wish to lose you. I love you."
My heart beat faster and I leaned across the table to kiss her soft lips. "And I love you. I must do this. They cannot be slaves forever."
I spent that night packing a small sack Gaea had sewed. Not much went it, some dried berries and rabbit meats for meals. I set out at morning, kissing my dearest goodbye and making it about halfway out of the clearing before I heard the scampering behind me. Turning, I saw a rusty blur duck into the tall grass, hiding.
"Hermes," I said firmly, stopping. "Go home." Whether animals understand what man says, I did not know, but I did not wish my Gaea to be left alone and, as strange as I am to admit it, I trusted the fox to protect her. Hermes popped up from under a clump of drying grass, yellow eyes glaring up at me. He seemed to frown, his little black eyebrows furrowed on his brow, if foxes have brows.
"Go back," I said again, flapping my hand in his direction, hoping to startle him back to Gaea. No luck come to me. He just flounced closer to me, making that high whine like he was protesting. I glanced at my home, at the faraway figure of my dearest then I stare down at Hermes. "All right." I headed off again through the woods, fox companion in tow.
Hermes and I made it to the edge of the forest but there was a wall, tall and formidable and not unlike the men in the Palace of Corrective Detention with only leather to cover them. A shudder of fear swept up my back where the scars laid criss-crossed, not only from my first and only encounter with them, but also of the fact I might not be able to reach the City. As I sneaked around the wall, I saw that it was merely keeping the Uncharted Forests away. It took less time than I thought it would to reached the City. It was as dull and heart-wrenching as I remembered. Moonlight lit the way to my first destination. Hermes's claws on the stones were clicking too loud so I picked him up with a command to stay quiet. Thankfully he was.
The House of the Street Sweepers laid before me. I hesitated at the front door; after all those months away and planning this night, my mouth was dry from the memories. I did not miss this place. I did not miss my work. I did miss International 4-8818, though. He was my friend and now I was here to steal him away from this. My heart jolted thunderously in my ears as I turned the doorknob, hoping to make the least noise as I could, but I had to stop. What was I to do with Hermes? I glanced at the fox and he returned the look. Gently I placed him on the ground as far from the door as I dared.
"Stay," I whispered. When he just looked at me and did not move, I continued opening the door, slipping inside swiftly. It was blacker. I stayed stationary for minutes until my surroundings were clearer. I noticed the soft light then coming from a back room and froze. The Houses were all one story, stretching out to accommodate many brothers in one. My former House was no different. Curiosity knocked on my mind, wanting to be satisfied. On the tips of my toes, I made my way down the hall, keeping one hand on the cool walls. The very familiar scent of drying leaves carried everywhere and, for a second time, I hesitated. I enjoyed that smell, and it was one of the only comforting things I had, now it seemed like a death sentence.
I nearly ran into the door frame of the candlelit room. Distraction would be the death of me. Or curiosity. I'm just not sure which at the moment. Slowly, I peaked in then signed in relief, startling the room's only occupant. International 4-8818 stumbled out of the simple chair he was sitting in, tipping it over with an echoing bang. We both winced as we waited for someone to come and drag us to the Palace of Corrective Detention. No one came but he stared at me, mouth parted in what I assumed was shock. He didn't look any different at all. His eyes were still like fireflies, shinning and bright and blue in the flickering of candlelight; his hair was the regulation length and still the color of a muddy riverbank.
"Equality 7-2521?" His voice broke, making my old name almost incoherent. Before I could reply he was dragging me deeper in with him, eyes wide and a furrow creasing his brow, but he embraced me anyway. I gladly reciprocated the gesture. I shouldn't have been surprised by it, but it was quick. "What are you doing here? You were supposed to be dead. We didn't believe them when Union 5-3992 said this. We –" he broke off and squinted at me, like he was trying to figure out a particularly bemusing puzzle.
"I came to get you and the others who have not lost yourselves here." I smiled. "Come," I said, taking hold of his wrist and pulling him with me.
He held back, still with that thoughtful and conflicted grimace. "We will be caught."
"No. You'll be safe. Now, come. We must get the others." I turned away, my hold on him not breaking. Still he would not budge. "International," I whispered, maybe too harshly for he flinched. "You're coming with me."
He bit his lip. "What you said, 'I'? What is that?"
I softened. "It is singularity, International. One. Me." Here I gestured to myself. "I as a One and not as a whole with other men." The realization on his face was quite an interesting event to witness.
"We– I- I missed you." He said at last, looking straight at me.
"And I missed you. We must hurry to retrieve Fraternity 2-5503 and Solidarity 9-6347." He nodded. Together, we silently left the House of the Street Sweepers. I was surprised to find Hermes still by the entrance, awaiting my return. Brushing my hand over his head, I led our group through the City, collecting only the other two without incident. We started towards the wall and the Forests when International gripped my arm.
"There is a woman in the Palace of Corrective Detention. They are like you, too smart for the Council. We must get them, too," he urged. How could I deny him that with such intensity behind that simple demand?
"All right." Solidarity glanced away, seeming nervous. "Is there one you wish to save as well?" I asked. He paused then nodded. I knew we should not split up but I was going to help International, and, I remembered, the women Houses are just a few streets from the Palace. Giving instructions for Solidarity to meet up with us after he retrieved his woman, we went separate ways.
Getting into the Palace of Corrective Detention was almost as easy as breaking out. Fraternity and International followed me, crouching low as International kept an eye out for the woman whose name I'd learned was Democracy 7-8234, was sentenced here for showing too much emotion for another and refused to learn from her supposed indiscretions. We finally found her. No guards were in with her but by her torn tunic and dried bloody back they had already made their round.
"Democracy 7-8234," International said curling his fingers over the bars separating us and her. "We are here." He glanced at me. I stood and kicked at the rusty, old lock. It practically disintegrated. The three of us helped the woman to her feet. She shooed us away as we began to walk out, her eyes bright like International's except hers were lit with determination and a hazy green.
Outside, Solidarity and another woman - short with dark hair - were huddled together a little ways from the Palace. Collectively we walked as fast as we could through the streets, keeping each other quiet and hopeful. My heart pounded and my breath was quick. International's matched mine and he glanced once more to me. We passed the House of the Doctors when the unthinkable happened: a guard came upon us. There had never been guards before, never once. This one was like the men in the cells, large and dangerous, taking a stalking spot in the shadows of a building.
"You," he growled, immediately rushing at us.
"Run!" I shouted. Both I and Fraternity had our arms around Democracy's waist and we could barely keep up with the others.
"Go!" Democracy suddenly said, pushing away from Fraternity and trying to get away from me. "Go! Please!"
"No," he refused, slowing down.
"Go," I said this time. "Get to the Forests!" He hesitated, looked at Democracy then ran up with Solidarity. International was, as I expected, waiting for us. "Go!" I said to him as well. His lips tightened, that frown appearing on his forehead. "International." I was close to pleading with him to go. Hanging from me, Democracy told him to leave as well. The guard was right behind us, I could hear his hurried footfalls on the stones. There was no way we could outrun them, and I was not leaving Democracy on her own. We could at least hold them off until the others were safe.
The yelling was right on us now. My sides hurt from running and Democracy was a dead weight in my arms now.
The last thing I remembered from that night before the pain in my head, was International's blue eyes staring back at me, wide and frightened, and my companion's hurt yelp.
"Why are you back?" the Judges asked again.
I smiled, for I knew that it infuriated them even if they could not show it. These withered gray old men were not so great in their white togas and assigned positions in the City; they were just men. They looked down, malice as plain on their faces as I had ever seen. The punishment came not so swiftly next. Three days I was in that cell, coughing around the blood that welled in my mouth after I bit my cheek and only ever speaking the same thing over and over.
"I am Prometheus. I am free."
I didn't know where they had taken Democracy, but I hoped she was all right. I hoped the others made it to the Forests and didn't get lost.
On the fourth day, the oldest and wisest of the World Council of Scholars came to visit. Collective 0-0009 had not changed since I last saw him, maybe less hair. He studied me then left and Unanimity 1-6786 took his place. He was the head of the Palace of Corrective Detention. His eyes were cruel and cold.
"Equality 7-2521, the brother who defied all laws and blasphemed against all his brothers, one of the Damned and a Transgressor, you are sentenced to burn tomorrow." That was all he said, spinning on his heel and leaving me to my thoughts.
Tomorrow... I remembered the brother, the Transgressor of the Sacred Word, who burned, the one with the golden hair and sky blue eyes, the one whose step did not falter upon walking to the pyre, the one with the serene face in his death. I knew him then to be a Saint of the Pyre then wondered what it would be like to feel the flames scorch my skin black. Tomorrow I would have my answer.
Another night passed. Guards walked by constantly, eying me in silence. Sleep was not an easy thing to come back in a dank cell with no bedding and a bleeding, aching back, but sometime around midnight, I lost consciousness and dreamed. The dream-sky was green, green like Democracy's eyes, and I was standing in the clearing of my home. Gaea was nowhere I could see nor was Hermes. I felt light-headed suddenly, my vision blurring and the smell of candle wax and drying leaves filled my nostrils. It was a strange sensation, but I felt like I was falling and falling, never slowing or stopping. It was like there was no hope in the void I was dropped within. A shaking erupted then startling me and waking me. I could not remember to breathe for a few seconds.
"Equality. Wake up." Peeling my eyes open, crust cracking, I blinked dumbly. Soft tan features and firefly eyes greeted me. The shaking stopped. "Get up," International insisted, trying to draw me up. "Hurry." I let him help me up. It made sense the instant I saw Fraternity and Democracy, who looked even worse than before, were outside my broken cell door, and the unconscious guard laid out on the floor.
"Oh," I managed. "A rescue."
"Come." Slipping his arm around my waist and tossing my own arm over his shoulders, International supported me out of the Palace with Fraternity and Democracy close behind. This time we stayed in the shadows of the Homes and took it sluggishly, for both the benefit of myself and Democracy and to keep out of sight. My friend was speaking lowly in my ear, though, I could not determine if it was for me or for him. For the second time I passed the Home of Doctors, flinching and drawing away from an invisible danger. None arose,and for that I thanked the many mentions of a creator in the books I had read. The wall was within sight and coming nearer.
"Just a little farther," I heard Fraternity say to his own companion. She shrugged weakly and tried to grin at him. We managed to jog the rest of the way to the wall when I noticed the gate were I had initially came through, but we were not heading that way, but to a section down farther. International's hand tightened on my shirt, guiding me to a specific spot were dirt was overturn and, with the toe of his shoe, he pushed the guise away to reveal a hole in the ground. A hole that ran under the wall. How we made it deeper into the Forests and nearly to a spring Gaea and I had stopped at once, I don't know, but we made it. We all slept like death.
I haven't written in a couple of months. We have built another house. Hyacinth (formerly International 4-8818), my dearest friend, lives with Gaea, our son Aegle, and myself. Demeter (formerly Democracy 7-8234) and Ares (formerly Fraternity 2-5503) live in the new, larger home with Persephone (formerly Harmony 4-3439) and Orpheus (formerly Solidarity 9-6347) who no longer cries out in the night for help. Our lives are good, fruitful and our own. I plan on returning again to the City and bring many others back, for this life needs to be shared, needs to be shown to those who are still stuck in "We." Hyacinth refuses to let me go by myself, insisting I take him along. I suppose I don't really have a choice. Gaea has already voiced her concerns and that she'll only let me out of her sight with him.
I near forgot about Hermes. He or, actually, she made it home before us during our first escape, and now has kittens and a he-fox to take care of. The last I had seen of her was this morning, bird in her mouth and looking very pleased with herself.
I'm sitting with my son on my lap right now, watching the sunset, the sky a beautiful mess of gold and pink. Hyacinth and Gaea are chucking beside me, a light flush on both their cheeks and warmth floods my stomach. This is what life is supposed to be like, and I want to share this. Next month I am heading back. This is the last thing I will write for a while.