I arrived in District at approximately 11:33 PM. The electric gates were already up. I stood on the other side, awaiting the arrival of someone by the name of Julian. It didn’t matter whether that was his real name or not. I leaned against a tree, my eyes threatening to close. It was devastating how tired I was. I checked my watch once again as if it would make Julian appear faster. My vision began to blur. Unsure of whether it was my fatigue or my eyes deceiving me, I watched as a figure approached, his feet scorching the ground beneath him with each step. Flames leapt up from the ground where they touched down. He held his head high, watching me carefully with weary amber eyes shaded by a veil of brown hair.
“Kai,” he stated. It wasn’t a question. He already seemed to know me. “Follow me.”
“I can’t just walk through the gate,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Sure you can,” Julian replied, a smile playing at his lips. Either he was delusional or on drugs. He stared at me through our electrified barrier. “Imagine yourself on the other side of the fence and you’ll be there.”
I laughed briefly then slapped a hand over my mouth to stop the onslaught of giggles. “I didn’t know lithium was legal in District.”
“Trust me,” he said, ignoring my insult. His eyes willed me to believe him.
My heart raced. Was he trying to kill me or something? There was no way I was going to walk into an electric fence because some whack job insisted I should trust him. I snorted and took a few steps back. Although I tried not to show it, I was scared. Julian’s intense gaze accompanied with the sickening scorching sounds coming from his boots made my skin crawl. What was he?
“Who are you?” I heard myself ask.
“Julian,” he replied simply.
“Let me rephrase that. What are you?”
“I am the Force of District. I am fire. I am flames. I am warmth. I am…destruction.” A devilish grin played at his lips. “And what are you?”
“Kai. Just Kai.”
“No,” he sang. “You are one of the Forces as well.”
“Forces are just legends.” Julian was taking this Force thing too far. It had to be a joke to see if I was fit for this job. Well I wasn’t going to let him scare me off. “Now quit playing around.”
“Who said I was playing? This is not a game. I do not play games.”
I eyed him carefully. He was dressed in all black, almost blending into the night. His jeans were ripped at the knees and around his neck was a dog tag. I studied it for a moment and it flashed an angry orange, outlining the bird etched into the metal. Did that just happen?
“Are you afraid?” Julian inquired with a tilt of his head; the scorching sounds still crackling from underneath his feet.
“Do you trust me?”
“Not in the least.”
“Good.” He took a few steps back. I looked down to find the ground blackened to a crisp where he was once standing. “Now come to me,” he said.
The gold trim of his jacket gleamed in the milky light of the moon. His face was emotionless as he waited for me to move. I did as he said before. I imagined myself on the other side of the gate. There was a searing pain and a rush of wind. When I opened my eyes, I was standing directly in front of Julian. Wincing, I lifted my shirt and gaped at the crisscross pattern the electric fence left on my skin.
“With more practice you should come through more cleanly. At least you didn’t die this time.”
“This time?” I echoed. “What just happened?”
“I believe it’s called teleportation,” Julian said, turning and stalking off into the blackness. I hurried after him still unaware of what I had just gotten myself into. “You, my dear friend, are the Force of Austral.”
“Forces don’t exist anymore! Not since the other seven colonies were destroyed.”
The Forces were protectors of the colonies back when all ten were still intact. Each colony had one Force specifically assigned to them. No one knew how Forces were chosen but their powers usually were noticed around the age of seven. They would train mercilessly and meet with the other Forces to determine their skill levels.
Back when the passage from one colony to the next was allowed, people passed freely without fear of guards or electric fences. There was no need for a government; the Forces were the government. In the year 2019, Province (colony five) waged war against Orient (colony seven). History books no longer say what the war was started over. Something about money I suppose. Long story short, people began picking sides. After ten long years of killing our own kind, the Forces—the ones that were still alive—convened in secrecy to determine a course of action. They decided we were all unfit to govern ourselves and that simply keeping the peace was no longer enough. People were dying. Our world would soon come to an end if something was not done. So, the Forces took it upon themselves to establish laws. Those who disagreed to a government were shut out and closed off from the world. Those too afraid to disagree were kept safe and sound with Forces constantly watching over them. Eventually the last remaining Forces died off without having left family on this planet. The upper class began taking government positions and soon it turned into a monarchy. We were on the verge of a dictatorship until His Highness Jasper Collins won elections.
His Highness has been more lenient than any of our previous “rulers”. He attempted to help those in Austral but it seemed they were far beyond the point of helping. They stuck to their ancestral ways and refused to cooperate. I didn’t blame President Collins when he stopped trying. The remaining three colonies would not be reuniting any time soon. People in Central were too selfish for a reunion anyway.
“Have you ever been to Central?” Julian inquired.
“What makes you decide to go now?”
“Partially but not exactly.”
I blushed. “No. Definitely not.”
“You’ve got a girl back home I’m guessing?”
“How’d you know?”
“No man blushes at the word sex unless he’s associating it with someone in particular.”
I mimed zipping my lips. This was something I’d rather keep to myself. Julian respected my silence and continued into the heart of District. We paused to gaze upon the hill where the Tree of Life once stood. Julian bowed respectfully as if our ancestors could see us prowling the streets. I mimicked him.
The Tree of Life was mostly a decoration. It didn’t make anyone live longer or make you younger. It was actually for the opposite purpose. When a Force passed on, their accessory depicting their power was hung from a branch of the tree. The Tree of Life had 10 roots; one for each colony. Whenever a colony was destroyed in the war, a root withered away into nothing. When the other seven colonies died, the Tree of Life died along with it. Three roots weren’t enough to keep it standing. The accessories were buried where the tree previously stood. It was sacred ground. Once every eight years, there was a ceremony held on those grounds that we called Menghormati meaning honor or respect. This year it’d be held during a solar eclipse. No one was going to miss it.
“Here we are,” Julian said, gesturing to a residence with no windows. “You’ll be safe here.”
Taking one last look around, we ducked inside and shut the door behind us. There was work to be done soon and we had no time to waste.