The cherry blossoms were in full bloom, and as Gabriel stepped into the garden their fragrance enveloped his body like silken sheets, stopping him dead in his tracks. He inhaled deeply, eyes closed in euphoria. The courtyard’s walls kept most of the scent from dispersing out amongst the rest of the village, and the result was a concentrated atmosphere of tranquility.
The teen walked along the path admiring the flora, the ground at his feet littered with little pink flowers that had already begun to fall from the trees. He came to a bench and sat down before a particularly picturesque scene, taking the opportunity to gather his thoughts.
Gabriel was a prisoner. He’d been sent to the Government Village two months ago as a mechanic/technician, to serve at their beck and call. Word of his aptitude for all things technological had reached the walled-off village after one of the Government Leaders his father served under mentioned the need for such a person. His father had been all too happy to offer up his son as tribute, effectively taking him off his hands. As a matter of fact, Gabriel thought begrudgingly, the only hard part about sending me away was having to admit that I might actually be good for something.
His father had come to him in the middle of the night, shaking him awake.
“Come.” Knowing better than to question him Gabriel quickly hopped out of bed, hands shaking as he dressed himself under his father’s gaze, penetrating even in the dark. He remembered thinking the time had finally come; the moment he’d always known was looming just beyond the horizon. His father would take him out to street level, maybe walk him a few blocks away from the Cleanser housing units, and then he would put a bullet in his brain. But it hadn’t come.
Instead they’d been met by a transporter just outside the building’s front door, engine rumbling idly in the night.
“Get in,” he’d said, and once again Gabriel had obeyed without a word. He’d stepped into the passenger seat, closing the door behind him, and then they had pulled off. He remembered watching his father’s silhouette slowly disappear in the rear-view mirror, and for a brief and ridiculous moment Gabriel considered telling the driver to stop, that they’d forgotten his father and couldn’t leave without him. He’d never so much as left their apartment without his father; though it had never been explicitly stated the threat of what would come after was more than enough to dissuade him from exploring.
And now he was living on his own, was free to roam the Government Village at his leisure, and only had to answer to his mentor on the job. At first the newfound liberty had been more than overwhelming, and he’d spent all his free time holed up in the little shed they’d given him, in constant fear that so much as a step outside without their permission would result in severe penalties. On the fourth day his mentor had come by with a grim look on his face.
“See this?” he’d asked him, grabbing the door’s handle and making a dramatic show of opening and closing it. “It opens from the inside too, believe it or not. You’re free to come and go as you please.” Gabriel had stared back at him, unsure of how to respond. His mentor sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Look- you’re Cassius’ kid, right? I get it; we all know what that man is capable of, and I can’t even imagine what it must have been like living with him. I mean shit, look at what happened to the first two. But that’s over now. You got out, kid! You’re free. Now start acting like it.”
And he had. Slowly, ever so slowly, but he had. Jules, his mentor, had taken him around the Village on a tour of sorts, and for the first week or so after that he’d made sure Gabriel got out of the shed at least once a day. He’d still felt uncomfortable going out on his own, far less actually doing things when he was out, but as the days turned into weeks his mind settled into it. It wasn’t long before he found himself admiring his new surroundings. Even the work was engaging, not to mention he’d taken a liking to Jules almost immediately.
“Things work around here,” he’d told him on one of their walks through the village. “It’s like clockwork. Everyone has a job, everything has a purpose. And no one steps out of line because they don’t have a need to.” Jules had an uncanny ability to guess what you were thinking and answer questions before you asked them, something that came as an immense relief to Gabriel, whose conversational skills were shaky at best.
“What they’ve accomplished here is nothing short of revolutionary, Gabe – do you mind if I call you Gabe?” Before he could so much as open his mouth to respond Jules was off again, describing in detail all the Village’s accomplishments. “You want food? We have more than enough. Or we would, if production wasn’t regulated to ensure minimum wastage. You want something to do? Jobs and tasks are delegated based on what you want to do, provided you’re good at it, of course. The remaining jobs are divided up amongst everyone, the system ensuring everyone does their share. You want security? What could be more secure than a fifty foot wall surrounding the entire northwest corner, and the Cube itself covering the southeast?” As he spoke he gestured up towards the wall, and Gabriel’s eyes followed his finger up towards the top. The wall was indeed impressive, and dauntingly so. The Village had been built up in the Cube’s utmost southeast corner, taking advantage of the pre-existing security it offered. All that had been left was to build a wall around the vulnerable side, and they had done just that.
The result had protected the Village from countless assaults from the outside, from both Rebels and gangs and even the occasional desperate and solitary Scavenger. Many had tried to scale or blow through the wall and many had failed, their bodies littering the base before being picked off by wild animals. Cleanser guards and Hell Robots constantly patrolled the top, watching for signs of an impending attack.
“It’s a utopia, Gabe. A perfect society.” Jules spread his arms wide, gesturing to all that surrounded them. “It’s perfect.” Gabriel watched him with a mix of reverence and confusion. His loyalty and sheer faith in the Village was admirable, but how could he say it was perfect when just outside those walls people were killing one another daily? When Cleansers were carrying out mass genocides – and on the Government’s orders no less? It was then that Gabriel had realized two things: first; like most if not all of the Village’s occupants, Jules truly and wholly believed in the cause, and second; as nice as his new home may have been, at the end of the day Gabriel was a prisoner.
His mental sorting was abruptly interrupted when someone walked over and sat down beside him on the bench. Out of the corner of his eye Gabriel determined it was a woman, somewhere in her late forties. She wore a suit, crisp and elegant, and practically radiated an aura of importance.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” she said, in a way that suggested she really meant it, and wasn’t simply using it as a pleasantry. “I always try and make it down for the blooming at least once a season. The courtyard is probably my favourite place in all the Village, to tell you the truth.” She paused, and in the silence they watched the flowers drift down from the branches, landing ever so delicately amongst their kin on the ground. “You’re Cassius’ son, aren’t you?” she said eventually, and once again it wasn’t a question. “A pity, if you don’t mind me saying. It’s a travesty that men like him even exist, to be quite frank. Worse still is the fact that we require his – and so many others’ – services, yet the ends always justifies the means.” And what end could possibly justify something like this? he thought, and she seemed to guess his thoughts just as Jules did, because she continued: “What we’re doing here is ugly, there’s no denying that. It’s an awful, dirty business, but it has to be done. It has to be done,” she repeated firmly, in a tone that sent a shudder down his spine.
“The village is incredible and wonderful, to be sure, but it’s not enough.” She balled her hands into fists, a motion Gabriel was not entirely sure was done consciously. “We need to expand. We need the rest of the city, and that can never happen so long as the broken remains of that old society remain. Those remnants cannot be allowed to endure, to continue spreading their violence and corruption from one generation to the next. Like a disease,” she said, the word laced with venom and contempt. “A disease that must be cured. Cleansed, if you will.” She gave a thin smile, but Gabriel found nothing amusing about the word.
“And of course we cannot do it ourselves, and not just because we don’t have the numbers. To taint our citizens with that disease, with that taste for violence and evil, would be to doom our civilization just as so many others before ours were. No, it cannot be us. It has to be them.” She took a deep breath, and for the first time since sitting beside him she turned to face Gabriel. “So you understand now why we tolerate men like your father, why his kind are an unfortunate necessity.” For a moment Gabriel was lost, but then it clicked: she was apologizing to him! Or at least as close to an apology as she could manage, which happened to be more of an explanation, and a shoddy one at that. He considered telling her this but held back, and not just because he wasn’t good at confrontation. He knew better than to jeopardize his already precarious position. He had to tread carefully, and if that meant silence then at least it was familiar territory.
She was still staring at him, apparently expecting a response of some kind, but before long she gave up, once again turning her attention to the trees. “Did you know the courtyard was designed specifically to contain the cherry blossoms’ fragrance? The walls keep it from dispersing amongst the rest of the village, so visitors are gifted the full effect of the beauty they have to offer. Inside these walls you feel relaxed, feel safe. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?” She inhaled deeply, just as Gabriel himself had done upon first walking in. “Beautiful.”
She stood, looking down on Gabriel with that thin smile again. “I hope to see more of you as we move forward, Gabriel. I expect great things from you.” And then she’d left, leaving Gabriel to the trees. He looked up at the courtyard’s walls, thinking about what she’d said. Inside these walls you feel relaxed, feel safe. And yet…
And yet it was all an illusion, because just outside those walls the rest of the village was scentless, deprived of the beauty the blossoms had to offer. The entire village was an illusion. A good one, mind you, but an illusion nonetheless. They could sit around pretending the whole world smelt like cherry blossoms all they wanted, but just beyond those walls the city was in chaos. They tried to hide from it, to keep their hands from getting dirty, but dirt had a funny way of getting where you least expected it.
And Gabriel was not looking forward to being on the wrong side of the wall when it did.