From Her, To You
“Aren't you supposed to be in love with me?”
She was used to the inconspicuous nature of the voice. Always there. Usual and repetitive. Ignoring it, she kept walking along the rampart, its stone columns standing over the eastern courtyard three floors above the post-war abbey. Upon her silence, the voice spoke again.
“Aren't you supposed to be in love with me?"
Emblems of the Institution hung from the walls in satin pelts of blue and white vignettes of recycled cloth. The columns were of beige stone and silver quarry from the outer peaks. But like her, in the shadows and in between, the silver ones walked among them. And like her, they rendered tribute to a system of faith which cradled the masses of Ten Cities.
That, she had been taught.
“To love you?” she responded. There was a light strut in her step. “No, I don't want to love anymore.”
She had become a silver one when she was young. Too young to remember. Sold away by her family to pay off their debts, she’d heard the people say. It was a probability. Her fate sealed inside the high walls, the Institution had taken her in. The voice in her mind her only companion. Teaching her. Telling her what to say and what to feel.
“But love is natural,” the voice said. “It is survival.”
Avoiding the people as she walked, she kept to herself like she was alone. But she was never alone in this place, in the beating heart of the Institution. Pure thoughts were strangers to her, and she took great care to hide them from the voice. In the silence. Always wary it would find out. Unlike the other silver ones, she had a secret. Something entirely hers.
“Why are you so quiet?” the voice inquired. Then, as if in the chorus of a hymn, repeated the words. They were warm and undemanding. “Aren't you supposed to be in love with me?”
She understood she wasn't just a silver one. A diode. A priestess of the voice. She was a living being, albeit without an individual self, but living. She had read she would find her true name in time. It'd been on a glossy pamphlet from the outside. Far away from seclusion, in the depths of the deserts of thereafter and in the mountains of reminiscent wonder, she had only to stroll along the glaciers of forever and the seas of the could have been.
She had read that, too.
It told her she belonged out there.
Veering off towards a hall filled with people, she found them asking for her help. The ceiling was high in the monumental chamber, and she saw anxious men and teary women, clamoring and begging. Commoners and unseated royals alike, desperate for hope in the world they themselves had destroyed. Afraid of the void faith had created when it left. They sought the guidance of the Institution: a collective creation of themselves, for themselves, to themselves. Each expected what they thought they deserved, and only human, they were forever needful. The voice had taught her well.
“Why are you so quiet?" the voice asked. "Do you blame them?”
She walked away from the people. Tiptoeing to look above the walls. “I find their logic unappealing.”
She wanted to see what they were running away from. But she only saw Ten Cities, a high-rise collection of beauty. Emitting light even when the sun seemed to have gone out behind the sky. She was perched at the edge of the Institution, on the far wall built in stone and glass, ironed and polished on the hill. At the helm of the Ten Cities’ skyline. Yet away from that vibrancy of the world, the people ran. She didn’t know from what, however. But she had more than heard them plead: from dismay, some mumbled. For happiness, others said. Her question coming back at her as they whispered with their frail and frightened lips: save me.
They were doing what she would later learn was called praying. And that told her whatever they feared, they were carrying with them. She didn’t understand what they did. Some with their heads on the floor, others with their hands together, sitting and doing strange, slow movements. Their eyes closed. Humming deeply, or singing melodies. It was not only their different little books and voices that changed. There were dark-skinned men and light skinned men. Turbans. Colorful clothes above black skin. White and black overalls. Small, eye-slitted girls. All from Ten Cities. And they all came and asked. Asked, mainly. To the large, crescent structure in the courtyard harmonizing a surreptitious melody.
“The people seek the Institution for a reason,” the voice said. “They are survivors. They will never stop obliging fear.”
That she knew.
But she didn’t know what they had done for the Institutions to come. There were hundreds of them, monasteries complete with their tall and gracious acolytes. The silver ones, she’d heard the people talk in whispers, were people once. Beautiful children. They had developed under the voice to become prescient beings. Cathartic and universal. Living pieces of the Institution. Children of society's faith and dignity, as they called them. Of mercy and selflessness.
She didn't feel like any of that, however. For some reason, it was she who felt sad for them. Like an undertone. It bothered her to see them in despair when they entered the Institution. Upon seeking her help. Her soothing silver call like she was metal they could sell. They had forgotten she was human. She couldn’t feel anything but water, but she could feel them, beating and beating in the darkness.
“Why are you so quiet?” the voice repeated.
She couldn’t lie to them anymore. For that she blamed herself. She blamed them, too.
“I spare my words," she muttered, "so they may build themselves in silence."
Hope was for sale here, she knew. The voice had told her otherwise, but she had never believed it. She saw how the Institution thrived on the people's fear. On their curiously incessant need. She knew what to say to them. She knew the process. Charging a monthly fee and the daily devotion to its sanctuary, she told them their well-being would be guaranteed. The instant manifestation of luck and destiny, it even read outside in grand, red letters.
But it was the pretty faces of the silver ones, she could tell. Their calmness. The hidden chasm in their touch. Like goddesses, some said. Endowing hope and comfort. Nourishing their souls with words and vain caresses. It was easy for her, like feeding a scared animal. With a soft and tender graze on their teary chins, she could almost love them. Their illogical and wistful smile. Their simple-minded gentleness. For she wondered what else they could do, when they said conquerors had vanished along with governments. Detrimental, she thought they sounded. A shy, blue color.
“I was there for you,” the voice said.
She tried to see higher above the wall. “I never asked.”
“No,” the voice replied. “I am here for a reason.”
Religionized insurance, the pamphlet had called it. The propagation of faith intertwined with the specter of currency. It had said it uglily. She had long thought it was the love created by the majestic structure and the adoring people alike. It was there, in the courtyard. An isotoxal star changing colors. Humming. Radiating soft vibrations. It emitted a strong kind of love, the voice had told her once. The one that was dependent. She’d felt it herself at the time, warm and infectious. Its fullness seeping deep within her until she became one with its resonance. Like an extension of the voice to nurture the world, united and fulfilled.
Until that moment.
When she refused to speak to them.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in love with me?” the voice echoed, soothing as always.
But she was already far away, lost in the engrossing beauty of Ten Cities. It was shiny, born again out of the shadows. Out from where the sun had fled. Large mirrors gathered the rays of the life-giving surface stars in each city cluster. Buildings as tall as the clouds were. It was beautiful, she’d always thought. Even if she’d never walked across its streets, or in the promenades along the rolling green hills separating them. There it stood. Above the walls and dressed in resplendent starlight. The metropolis built after the war had tilted the earth. The remnants of a celestial people brought down to face the wrath of their self-made stars in ghastly mushroom clouds. A valiant hold to life, she saw it was. Like humanity herself had gathered her ground, reached deep into the earth, and screamed towards the sky:
No! I am here.
I am with you.
And it was suddenly quiet, her mind. It was not unprecedented that she loved something more, something grander. It had always been there. Her secret.
Alive when nothing ever was.
“They are here, I think," she said, "because they are waiting for someone to be there for them." She took a breath in the distance. "Unlike me.”
Friction arose like morning rain. Freezing in the air and falling down on earth.
“Unlike you,” the voice repeated.
The little crystals shattered.
"Now, you understand."
As she walked out of the front gate and into the realm of the Ten Cities, all she heard was her own pristine silence for the first time.
She was in love.