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Unshackled

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Grantaire was a dancer. Once, that would have meant something. It would have meant someone strong but not overly muscular, someone graceful and flexible with expressive movements, someone who could use their own body and inner music to create something beautiful. Grantaire was not that kind of dancer. Now, in the year 2081, being a dancer meant weighted limbs and ugly masks to cover any beauty that was more than average (not that Grantaire needed those). It meant awkward, clumsy motions twitching to out of tune, off beat music. After all, in a country where it was against the constitution to be better than anybody else at anything, all forms of creativity and expression were incredibly limited, and all activities that required skill or expertise were done poorly.

Sometimes Grantaire wanted to tear off the weight-filled bags he was forced to wear that served to counter his above average strength. He wanted to leap and twirl with a confidence and elegance that he knew laid buried within him somewhere. He wanted to let his artistic side burst free. He wanted to let loose everything that could only come out alone in his room, scribbled on scraps of paper that were then quickly destroyed. But he tried to repress those desires and as time went by, they came to him less and less. Those urges were dangerous, and he prefered to be able to survive to an old age, free from jail. Maybe he would have been willing to give his life for that freedom if there had been any chance of ever gaining it. But it was pointless to throw his life away for empty hope. So instead, he followed the rules and kept his head down, earning a living by dancing no better than the average person to music that was no better than what the average person could play.

The door to the studio where Grantaire had been dancing on live television swung open urgently. It turned out to be a reporter with some news that was important enough to interrupt all television broadcasts.

“L-l-lad-di-dies. La-d-dies a-and g-gen,” the news reporter stuttered into the camera. “L-l-lad-d,” he tried again, the nervous excitement added to his speech impediment (after all, he couldn’t be any better at public speaking than the average person) making his words completely obscured. “Lad-dies a-and gen-t-tle-” He abruptly stopped with a wince. Two of the other dancers winced at the exact same moment. That meant it had to be the mental handicap. All the people with above average intelligence had to wear one of those devices. Every twenty seconds, they would emit a loud noise, designed to derail a person off their train of thought so that intelligent people wouldn’t have an unfair advantage over the rest of the people. Grantaire didn’t have one of those; he was terrible at math, didn’t care about most other school subjects and knew better than to show his full knowledge on the things he was actually good at when he took the intelligence tests.

After a few more attempts, the announcer gave up and handed the bulletin with a helpless, pleading look to the nearest dancer, which happened to be Grantaire.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he read off the paper. He added a croak to his voice. Grantaire had a mostly average voice, but it held a lyrical quality to it that sometimes made people think his voice was a little better than theirs, and he didn’t want anyone to get jealous. Also, he didn’t want to be arrested for not going through the effort to be the same as everybody else. “Jean Enjolras, age twenty two, has just escaped jail, where he was held for intentionally hiding the full extent of his abilities on the tests, and therefore receiving inadequate handicaps, and on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous. If you see this man, do not - I repeat, do not - try to reason with him.”

Suddenly, there door to the studio was shoved open. A tall, imposing person who could only be the fugitive Enjolras stepped in. He was covered in metal weights, had a huge mental handicaps, and wore a very ugly mask, giving the dancers, musicians and other TV people in the room a good idea as to his natural strength, intelligence and beauty. The stronger a handicap for any area was, the better they naturally were at it. Everybody jumped away from him and cowered at the far end of the room. Grantaire joined the others there because he didn’t like to stand out, especially in situations like these, but he didn’t feel as scared as everyone else seemed to be. There was a little terror, of course, but also excitement and a calm certainty that something big was going to happen and that he was going to want to be there to see it.

Enjolras ignored them all and faced the cameras. “Listen to me! It is important for all of you watching to know that I am not the villain. I am not an evil criminal. Those are words that describe our government far better than they describe me. The government is a thief who steals your opportunities; they are an assaulter that attacks your rights. They brainwash and manipulate every single one of you to keep the population under control. Can you try to look beyond the lies they have told all of us and truly see the world that we live in?” he demanded in a voice that was as lovely as it was fierce. Grantaire listened, entranced. “This world where all beauty,” here he gestured at the dancers and musicians, “is suppressed and shackled in the name of equality, where anyone who is trying to liberate the people, to build a world where everybody can be themselves without any restrictions, is called a criminal and locked up. I will show you a better way to live.”

Enjolras smashed the padlock attached to the chains that kept his physical handicaps on. It burst and as he shook the metal weights off, he looked more majestic than before. He tore off the mental handicap and revealed an intense inner strength through his posture and body expression. Finally, he removed his mask and Grantaire saw a dazzling boy who looked as if he could not possibly have reached his twentieth year, wearing an expression that was every bit as passionate and angry as he had imagined it to be.

“Like this. Free. This is how things should be. It’s dangerous now to directly fight back for that basic human right to be unrestrainedly you, but this is something you need to think about. Is your own individuality worth so little? Is that relatively recent addition to our constitution truly giving you, giving us all, equality? Question everything, and when the time comes, join me. Fight to create an unhampered society and for everything you have the potential to be.

“You.” With his speech finished, Enjolras suddenly turned to the other people in the room who were still all crouched at the other end of the room, acknowledging their presence for the first time. “Will you stand and come with me now? To ignite the sunrise of a revolution?” He spoke as though he was not talking to the group as a whole, but to each person individually. His eyes briefly met Grantaire’s, lighting a spark of something that felt a lot like hope, and a little like angry defiance.

“And be burned when that fire grows beyond our control? Or be doused by the government’s storm with nothing to show for our efforts but a few people dead sooner than they should be?” Grantaire asked, unable to stop himself.

There was something cold in Enjolras’s expression when he turned back to Grantaire. “You have the freedom to make your own decision. I won’t force you to join me or fight for a cause you don’t believe in. But I know that I would rather die as myself than live as a mindless drone.”

Grantaire had no argument to that, so he stood up. “Okay.”

“What?”

“I’m coming with you. Unless you changed your mind about allowing that.”

Enjolras looked at him suspiciously. “I thought you didn’t think I could succeed.”

“I don’t. But I don’t I exactly enjoy living like this either. I promise I’m not a government spy, and I won’t sabotage your plans.” Because yes, Grantaire didn’t want to die pointlessly, but this revolutionary had seduced him with the possibility of maybe and convinced the side of his brain that lacked a survival instinct that dying by this other man’s side while trying for something good was better than turning away for a long, empty life.

Enjolras carefully looked at Grantaire, as if searching through his mind for any hint of deception or trickery. Then he stepped forward, and with a gentleness that contradicted his ferocious nature, he detached the weights that were chained to Grantaire’s various body parts. Grantaire waved his newly liberated limbs and bounced up and down, marveling at the sudden lightness.

“Anyone else?”

Nobody moved. Their eyes were all focused vaguely downwards as if a little bit embarrassed for not volunteering but also very scared. Enjolras sighed but took the handicaps off the others, though with maybe less care than he had with Grantaire, as if he looked down on the others’ cowardliness yet couldn’t bear to leave them fettered.

“We need to leave before someone comes,” he said, once he was finished.

“Yes.”

Enjolras turned to Grantaire and offered his hand. A final question, Are you sure about this?  was left unspoken.

Grantaire took it. Yes.

They walked out the door to freedom, or maybe their death. It didn’t truly matter either way; there are some who think that they are one and the same.