Title: The First To Be Unnumbered (Part 1 of 3)
Author: Mish Gajewski
Rating: PG-13 (violence)
Genre: Dystopian, sci-fi, romance
Summary: The Kings decreed that dayworkers be known only by their numbers- but in her heart, Iseult knows she has a name.
My mother calls me Iseult. She said when I was within her, she heard the name and thought it lovely.
I am not to tell anyone that I am Iseult.
Mother has told me I am Iseult even if no one but she knows it. This is not what we are told by the Kings, for they have told us we are numbers. They told me I am this number: 7619531308. The land that once had a name, the land on which I work, is now and forever the number 76. My mother’s number is 7119, and my father’s is 5301, so they are put together and part of me becomes 1953. The last four pieces of my number is 1308. One-three-zero-eight is me, and I am one-three-zero-eight. Truthfully, I am 7619521308, but when dayworking, other dayworkers call me one-three-zero-eight. Some of the Kings even know my number, for I am a friendly Dayworker. I smile at the Kings when they pass by carrying their guns. They do not speak to me, but when a Dayworker says one-three-zero-eight they turn their faces toward me.
I would like to tell them that I am Iseult.
Maybe I would not tell the Kings. I do not think they would like me being anyone but one-three-zero-eight. But I do believe Iseult is a lovely name, as my mother thought when I was within her. I believe Iseult is more lovely than one-three-zero-eight. When I think of myself, I believe that Iseult is who I am, not one-three-zero-eight. My mother believes this too. I sometimes wonder if my father would know I am Iseult and call me by my name, but long ago he had his tongue torn away and eaten by the teeth of a King, so he does not speak. I would like to know what word he had said to make the Kings so angry, but there is little one can say without a tongue. I did not know that until my father’s was eaten.
It is now in the hours of the black nightspace, and I am late to fall asleep. It is just that I enjoy being awake at these times; it is only when the Kings’ sky is black that you can see where they came from. There is one small light in the nightspace that I know by name, which is that land from whence the Kings came. Once, before we did the dayworking, this small light was called Mars. It was a place many of the Kings left long long ago, before all the fathers and mothers we alive have known were doing the dayworking, and when the Kings returned there was only death and redness to be found at Mars. So the Kings came to us and we became the dayworkers. We dayworkers may not speak of Mars, for we are not to know that is where the Kings are from, but somehow all we dayworkers do know this thing. My mother told me this, near the time when Father’s tongue was devoured. I did not question it then. It just seemed a thing I could know. Now, as I have grown and I still know this thing, I question it. Should it be known? I do not believe so. But within me, as I was once within my mother being named, there is something hugging me and telling me I want to know this thing. It is the same feeling that tells me it should not be known. It is a confusing thing to feel, for before now I did not know thoughts could be felt.
I would like to name it. Were I not Iseult, perhaps I would name this feeling Iseult, for still I believe Iseult is a beautiful name.
For now, I will name my feeling after one word we dayworkers do not often use, but I have heard once before.
I will name my feeling Doubt.
I do not know where one-three-zero-eight hears these words, but she has given me one to know myself by.
She insists I am not two-zero-six-zero. She says I am Geretraud. She says that this word is a name. She says the name is strong. I do not know how a name can be a thing, for strong is a thing. Strong is the Kings, who are things. I know how the Kings can be strong. The Kings use this strength and they eat tongues and kill those who disobey. That is strong. How can a name, a word, be strong like a King?
I asked one-three-zero-eight these questions, but only she said:
Do not call me one-three-zero-eight, Geretraud. I am Iseult.
When she gave me my word, my name, she also said to me hers. Iseult. She told me her mother gave her that name when she was still within her. She said I am the only dayworker who knows she is Iseult. She asked me if it feels nice to be called by something not a number, and I told her I did not know.
But I did know. In the moment she asked me that question, my mind told me my answer was yes. I will not tell this to one-three-zero-eight. To Iseult. I enjoy my name. I enjoy being Geretraud. But also I enjoy the nightspace, and dayworkers must fear the nightspace. So I believe I must also fear my name.
I will ask Iseult not to tell any others that I am now Geretraud.
Iseult said she wanted all the dayworkers we know of to know her as she is, for she is Iseult. There is another thing to fear, that Iseult will be known to all dayworkers, and if all dayworkers know her, then so must the Kings. I do not think that would be wise. Once, Iseult’s father had a tongue. It was eaten. Iseult says this is because he spoke wrong words.
I believe our names are wrong words. They are wrong. Iseult is wrong. Geretraud is wrong. But still, under the black nightspace sky of the Kings, I have now seven times whispered to no one the word, the name, Geretraud.
And as I whisper, I am wondering.
I do not know how a name, a word, can be strong, but I believe that it is now. For when I call myself Geretraud, I feel the thing, the strong.
I have one dayworker who I may call my friend. Friends are mothers, if you are a mother, and they are fathers if you are a father. Mothers and fathers may only make children together. They are not friends. This I find to be odd, because I do enjoy the time I spend around a number of dayworkers who are fathers.
To my one friend, I gave a name. Geretraud. Her number once was two-zero-six-zero, but I do not wish to use those numbers any longer. She is now Geretraud. I found that name when my mother spoke it once. I have remembered it for a long while, and am I happy I may now use it.
Geretraud has told me I may not call her who she is when we are among the dayworkers. She must still be two-zero-six-zero at those times. I agreed. I know she is scared of her name, just so as I am scared of mine. I have had my name since my mother and my father once created me, and still it scares me. So I believe Geretraud is very strong, because she allowed me to call her Geretraud.
I believe she truly is Geretraud.
When Geretraud and I, Iseult, are alone, we use our names and call each other who we are. I find that I am happiest then.
I am a dayworker and I work the field. I will plant the wheat, grow the wheat, and harvest the wheat. I will share this wheat with my fellows. If I am a good dayworker, the Kings will let me pick a mother and I will be her special father and together we will make children. The other fathers tell me this is to be desired. They say you may know happiness if you pick a good mother and she is fertile. The Kings will enjoy it if I make many children with this mother to work the field. Of the dayworkers of 76, many of them work the field. Some of them near the water’s edge will work the boats and collect the fish. Some will work the wagons and bring the fish to the field and the wheat to the water’s edge. I had hoped as a young dayworker to work a wagon someday, for I have never been to the water’s edge. You must be a special favorite of the Kings to work a wagon. That is what the other dayworkers have told me. Perhaps I will pick a good mother and she will grow within her off the wheat I have grown around her a dayworker who will someday work a wagon. I would enjoy that. I would like to know I made a child who has seen the water’s edge, where 76 ends.
I have been thinking very much of words and names and I have forgotten that today is the day I was born. It happened fifteen years ago. Also on this day, though only one year ago, I began my blood. This means I may now be picked to be someone’s mother.
On the day I was born, I was already a mother, because that is what body I was born into. I could have been a father, but I was not given that body. So I am a mother. At times, I wish to be a father. Fathers can pick a mother and mothers are picked. Also, mothers are lovely, like my name. No father could be Iseult, as I am. I would like to be chosen by a mother. I would be happy if Geretraud chose me. But that is something that cannot be.
I believe I am in the wrong body.
Today is the day Iseult was born fifteen years ago. I had that day one moon and three suns ago, and that was the day Iseult told me I am Geretraud.
In one moon and three suns, I believe more has changed than had in the fifteen years before.
Only when I am with Iseult may I be Geretraud. That is when I am happy. I hope I may see her today during dayworking. The wheat is growing well and the Kings are happy. Dayworkers may be happy when the Kings are happy. We all smile, but I still am not sure we are happy. One moon and three suns ago, I knew I was. I knew I was happy when the Kings were. But ever since I became Geretraud, those times seem to be less. Perhaps this is because I now know there is more.
With Iseult I have learned. We have both learned. We have done this learning by talking to one another. Sometimes it is angry. Sometimes we laugh. I have never laughed so much, even when I am angry. I feel more.
Iseult will ask me a question, and I will answer. Sometimes she agrees. Sometimes she does not. That is when we get angry, and then we will laugh. I now enjoy dayworking. The other dayworkers say we speak too much, that we will have our tongues eaten. They say Iseult should know this best of all. But Iseult just then lets her tongue dance about outside her mouth, and I laugh. We know better than to be angry and laugh when the Kings are about. I do not think even Iseult would dance her tongue at them, and Iseult fears very little. I used to not fear my tongue being eaten, but then I became Geretraud. I did not use it for anything in my first fifteen years. My one-mother died when she passed my brother from within her into life. My one-father chose not to speak anymore. I believe he is sad now that my one-mother is gone. He never picked a new mother, though he could have.
My brother grew for seven years then was chosen to work a wagon, and the dayworkers who work the wagon took him to learn. My one-father spoke very much then, very loudly, and cried. I remember him believing my brother would be dead when he left. One of the Kings struck him in the back with his weapon and my one-father fell, and was then silent again. I do not believe my brother is dead, but seeing the water’s edge. I am happy for my brother, but I have had no brother since, which has made me sad. My one-father is still silent. I have no one-mother. Because of these things, I did not use my tongue, so why would I fear it to be eaten?
Two-zero-six-zero, who I was, did not fear an eaten tongue. Geretraud, who I am, does. I use it to speak to Iseult, and I enjoy that very much. Even when Iseult was still just a number to me, we spoke. And it was nice. Now that I know her name, and she has given me mine, it is everything. I do not want my tongue to be eaten. That is why Iseult and I are careful not to speak so angrily or laugh so much when the Kings are about. The Kings smell strongly of metal, so we know when the Kings approach. We are always very careful, always smelling.
I hope to see Iseult later tonight. I hope she is not chosen to be a father’s mother for a long while.
I know who I will pick to be the one-mother of my children. I saw her for the first time on this day, for I have been forced to move my home from one field to another. The Kings landed a great metal ship upon the wheat I grew. The wheat which was still green turned brown after the fires burnt through them. The fires from the great metal ship made dead my field. At first, I felt sadness. I had lived all my years upon that field and there I had grown much wheat. Now, I know the Kings are kind and chose my field to land upon so I might meet this mother. I asked a dayworker from my new field her number and he told me she is two-zero-six-zero. I asked how many years had she and she told me fifteen and a moon. In the field, I watched her work alongside another young mother. I could not stop thinking of her loveliness. She kept her hair cut close to her ears, and its color was red. When I passed closely by, I saw her eyes were blue and steely, and I thought they were as lovely a sight as is rain in a drought, and I am the wheat. I thought it was nice to be thinking such things, for I never have before. When the Kings’ sun began to fall westward, I walked quickly to be near two-zero-six-zero and the mother she was speaking to. I heard her say a word I’d never heard, and I asked her what it was. I don’t think she knew I was near because she jumped forward and looked at me as if I were a danger. I smiled then, though I did not choose to. I smiled at the steely color of her eyes. When I had imagined the water’s edge, it had been that color.
Who are you?
The other mother asked me this question. I thought it a very strange thing to ask. I supposed she just wanted my number, so I answered with my number.
My number is eight-zero-one-nine.
Why are you here?
The Kings landed on my home field. I have been moved here to where there is wheat.
The other mother who was not two-zero-six-zero eyed me as though I was a danger, but her glare was more angry than scared. I found this mother with a great treetop of curled brown hair on her head to be strange. I wished two-zero-six-zero were speaking to me rather than she.
Well, what is it that you need of us?
I would like to know her number.
I nodded toward two-zero-six-zero. I wanted to hear her tell me her number on her own, so I pretended not to know it.
She is two-zero-six-zero. I am one-three-zero-eight. Nightspace comes and we must be to bed before the Kings know us in anger.
One-three-zero-eight took two-zero-six-zero by the arm and pulled her quickly away. She had spoken to me in anger. I do not know why, but one-three-zero-eight did not enjoy me being near. I went to my new home sadly for the night, thinking perhaps I would not rather be in my old field. But I again thought of two-zero-six-zero and the red hair atop her head and I smiled and took to bed.
I do not like eight-zero-one-nine. I do not like how he smiled at Geretraud. He does not know who she is. He does not know she has a name. He does not know she is not a number. I do not want him here. I am angry with the Kings for landing on his field and sending him to mine. I do not want him here.
Geretraud does not often think of eight-zero-one-nine. She thinks it will be nice to meet new dayworkers, but that is all. I think very much of eight-zero-one-nine. His smile for Geretraud made me feel jealously. It reminded me I may not choose her as my mother, but he may. As I try to sleep in this nightspace, I again feel the sadness that I am not a father and cannot choose Geretraud to be the one-mother of my children. I told this to my own one-mother, and she said that mothers do not want to choose other mothers. When I insisted that I do, she told me that may not be allowed. She said the Kings want our children to work the fields and the wagons and the water’s edge, and mothers with mothers cannot make children. She said she is sad for me, but that this may not be allowed. Then she smiled, but I did not smile with her. I went to my pallet and I pretended to sleep.
I fear eight-zero-one-nine will choose Geretraud before I can figure out a way to do so myself.
All I have is my name. I am Iseult, and that is what I have. Perhaps I have my sadness too. Those are two things I will always have, unless I could have Geretraud. Then I would not have the sadness, and that would not be bad. I believe I would give my name to the Kings if I could just have Geretraud, though I would rather have both.
Perhaps I should tell Geretraud that I would have her be the one-mother of my children, if I could. Maybe she would like that as well. Perhaps together we could find a way to make children so the Kings would let us be together. Or find a way so neither of us would be picked, and we could live separate and together all our lives in this field without the Kings becoming angry with us. I would like that very much.
I will not let eight-zero-one-nine pick Geretraud. I named her, and though she did not name me, without her my name is nothing. Why be called anything at all when no one is there to call you?
I must not let eight-zero-one-nine pick Geretraud.
Next: Part 2 of 3.