Title: The First To Be Unnumbered (Part 2 of 3)
Author: Mish Gajewski
Rating: PG-13 (violence)
Genre: Dystopian, sci-fi, romance
Summary: 7622018019 and Geretraud grow closer, and Iseult’s choices have consequences.
I have now been in my new field for eighteen suns, and have not been as close to two-zero-six-zero as I was my first time dayworking here. I have seen her from afar, before we enter the field at the beginning of dayworking, but one-three-zero-eight always seems to spot me first and they two run into the tall wheat together. They disappear and I can never find them. I am sad here, and alone. I have never met someone new before, beside one-three-zero-eight and two-zero-six-zero. I would like to meet new dayworkers, but they do not seem to enjoy me here. I miss my home field. Without two-zero-six-zero, this new field is full of sadness. I must speak to one-three-zero-eight and see why I am not enjoyed here. I think she will know, for she seems to look most angrily upon me.
Iseult and I have decided to examine the Kings’ sky during the nightspace. This is a forbidden thing, the Kings remind us every year at the Gathering, but Iseult and I have already settled upon it. Someone with the strong name of Geretraud would do this thing, and I am Geretraud.
I must be as strong as my name.
I still know much fear over this thing we plan to do. But I have never longed to do something, and I enjoy the feeling of it. Fear, mixed with a sort of waiting happiness. No sadness. No still thoughts sleeping in my mind. All of me is awake and feeling from top to bottom. It is a challenge to pretend to be asleep. I wonder what the Kings’ sky will look like when in the deep of nightspace.
Maybe I will learn why the Kings’ sun must fall westward. I have never understood that. If we must only do the dayworking when the Kings’ sun is in the Kings’ sky, why do the Kings send it away? The Kings know we must do our dayworking. The Kings are only happy when the dayworking is being done. I am happy the Kings’ sun leaves us for nightspace; when the dayworking is done my body feels weak and I long for my pallet. I am grateful the Kings allow us to rest. But they allow little else, nothing but our rest and our meal and the cloth we wear to warm us in the cold dead season. I would like to know why the Kings put the Kings’ sun away. The Kings say it is their sun, that that is why it must be called the Kings’ sun. But if it does belong to the Kings, why do they ever send it westward at all? Iseult told me of her feeling that she has named Doubt, and when she explained it to me, I thought of the Kings’ sun. Doubt is what I feel when I think of the Kings’ sun. I know that now because Iseult led me to it. I Doubt the Kings’ sun belongs to the Kings. I believe it may just be The Sun. It seems too big to be belonged.
If I may know this Doubt over the Kings’ sun, what else might there be to Doubt? I hope the nightspace will tell us.
I knew Geretraud would come to see the nightspace with me, but when she spoke and she agreed as we did our dayworking I felt a great happiness inside me.
Now, we are laying side-by-side as we would on a pallet were we each other’s chosen mother and father, staring at the nightspace full with little holes of white.
I have only ever heard it called the black nightspace, but I believe he who named it black did not understand names and had never truly seen the nightspace. Perhaps they had only ever seen the darkness through the window or the doorway of their home. Perhaps they only ever saw bits of the white dots, not the whole scattered picture of them.
There is darkness, a big darkness all around. I could not help but breathe that darkness in, but its taste was cold and I enjoyed it. There is more to see than black. There is the white in the beads of light, which were at once as small as dust and large as everything I have ever known. There is a silver breath heartbeating all around the moments of whiteness, growing into darkness, transforming to black before my eyes. Staring upwards I believe I can know everything but know that I know nothing. I believe that the truth, all the names of all the world, are written up in the nightspace in a speech I have never seen and never heard, because it flies past in the great Kings’ sky too quickly. Ancient words and words I will never live long enough to know wink at me, and for the first time I wonder if it is not my sky too.
I told her this.
I believe the only thing that would make me look away from the nightspace is Geretraud, so I look to her and tell her this. My words made her smile.
If you were a father, I would hope you would pick me, Iseult.
She said that to me, and I felt big inside like the size of the lights above. But there was a shrinking that came after, because I remembered I am not a father.
But I am a mother.
As am I.
So you would not be chosen by me?
And Geretraud looked at me without saying a word. She did not understand. She would have me were I a father. But I am a mother.
I cannot be chosen by you, Iseult. I am a mother. You are a mother. There is no choosing there.
I nodded, and told her I understood, for I did understand. Geretraud is a mother. I am a mother. She is right that there is no choosing there. What I do not understand is why I feel that I must choose for myself Geretraud. I long for no father, only for Geretraud. I had hoped Geretraud did long for me as well. Perhaps she knows something I do not. Perhaps she was told how to long to be chosen by a father. My one-mother could not tell me, but perhaps if my one-father’s tongue had not been eaten he could have told me why. I would like to know why I may not choose a mother. Maybe Geretraud’s one-father told her before he chose his silence. But the Kings ate my one-father’s tongue, so he never did tell me. The Kings devoured my happiness, swallowed it up with my one-father’s tongue. I believe I will be only happy in choosing Geretraud, but no one can tell me why, and I just cannot know why this is wrong. I believe my one-father has the answer trapped inside his mouth. I hope that this is so, even if it means I may never know this answer. If he has the answer trapped, that means there is an answer to be found. I would rather this be so than to feel so far from understanding. In this I am among those moments of white so high in the Kings’ sky. I am surrounded by darkness, all my silver turns to darkness, and I am too far to be touched.
Were I a father, I would pick Geretraud to be the one-mother of my children. But I am a mother.
I felt that I could not look at Geretraud any longer, so I turned my face back to the nightspace. It was full and scattered with light, but I could not see past the black of it.
I did not know it until I was deep into the last black nightspace that my new house is so nearby to the house of two-zero-six-zero. Sleep would not be found by me, for I had looked into the eyes of two-zero-six-zero again while dayworking and again the angry mother beside her pushed her fast into the wheat. I am very accustomed to one-three-zero-eight doing such things, but that time I believed two-zero-six-zero was beginning to smile in return to me. I could not see it, because one-three-zero-eight so quickly pushed her away, but I believe it was there on her mouth. So as I tried to sleep during the black nightspace, I found I could not, because I was too determined in thinking of her smile that was not finished. I sat up on my pallet, which is not as comfortable here in this new field as it was in the old field, and looked out the small window my new home had. My old home did not have a window, which was very sad in the growing season. I enjoy having a window now. I find that I look out of it very often. And I did at that time, sitting up and thinking about her smile that I did not see, and there I saw her. Two-zero-six-zero was crawling out from a window of her own, so close to my own window that I could have spoken and she would have heard. I thought that perhaps I would speak, but then I remembered no dayworkers should be out in the black nightspace. I remembered two-zero-six-zero is a dayworker. I then knew she was not doing as the Kings taught us to do, and I was scared. I was scared she would be seen by a dayworker like me, and they would not remember dayworkers are not meant to be out in the black nightspace as I did, and they would speak to her. I was scared a King would see her. They would eat her tongue and her hands, and without hands a dayworker cannot do the dayworking so she would be killed. I was scared two-zero-six-zero would be killed. I wished that she had one-three-zero-eight with her now to push her away from my eyes, to push her back into her home through the window. But I was also too scared to crawl out my window and go with her.
Now I am scared today during dayworking I will not see two-zero-six-zero, and that will be so because she is dead.
Iseult and I agreed under the last nightspace that above us is the sky, and it is not just the Kings’ sky. I now believe it is my sky too. My sky, Iseult’s sky, the sky of all dayworkers. It is said that it belongs to the Kings because they have claimed it and tamed it to fly their big metal ships, but I believe that it is not tamed. I saw too much in the sky in the last nightspace to believe it all can be tamed. I think it is mine, but it does not belong to me. It can never be belonged.
So while dayworking, I look up and I see the sky, and it seems more lovely even though it is full of big grey clouds and it growls with thunder.
Once while looking up, I felt something touch my shoulder. I believed Iseult had found me, since I had not seen her before we were called to enter the wheat, so when I turned and saw eight-zero-one-nine I was surprised.
I am happy now.
He said this to me, and he smiled. He seemed to be very happy, though I knew not why. I did want to know why, so I asked him.
Because you are alive. You have a tongue in your mouth and your hands still do the dayworking.
I have such things everyday. But I am glad this time it makes you happy.
It was strange but I noticed then that eight-zero-one-nine had little spots all over his face that were just a bit more brown than the rest of his skin. I enjoyed them, and thought that I would like to count them all sometime. He asked me if he might do his dayworking here by me, and I told him yes. We did not speak again, because mothers are not meant to speak to fathers who have not chosen them, but I thought it was nice to be beside him.
When dayworking was done, I still had not seen Iseult. It was then that I worried, because I did not know if she made it to her home and through her window after we saw the nightspace. What if the Kings had seen her? What if they ate her tongue? What if they ate all of her? I have more questions but I cannot think about one long enough to understand it. I cannot answer anything, and it worries me. I am full of this turning feeling in my stomach. It reminds me of the days when I was ill and vomiting and my one-father stayed home from the dayworking to hold me. But I am not ill. No vomit fills me. It is now worry that does so. I did not know worry could do such things to my body. What if the Kings ate Iseult’s tongue? What if she is dead?
I thought of these things while walking back home through the field. I did not know eight-zero-one-nine had been looking at me, but he was and somehow he knew my unsaid questions.
There is trouble on your face.
There is trouble in my mind.
I told him that, and I looked at him. He looked at me, and I saw that there was now trouble on his face as well.
I would have you not be troubled, two-zero-six-zero.
He said those words in a nice way. His voice had softness in it. It reminded me of the blooms of wheat in harvest, only I did not feel it with my fingertips but everywhere all at once.
As would I. Do you know of one-three-zero-eight?
Did you see her while dayworking?
Then I am afraid, and that is why.
Just before we left the tall wheat, eight-zero-one-nine put his hand around my hand, and he tightened it there. I do not know why, but his hand felt so nice and though my fear did not leave, it felt easier to bear.
But his hand left mine when we left the tall wheat, and the fear was hard again.
Where is Iseult?
I was happy while dayworking today. Happy that two-zero-six-zero spoke to me and did not get pulled away so I might work beside her. I thought she might have been happy dayworking with me as well. But when the dayworking was done and the Kings’ sun fell westward, I saw her face falling too. I wondered why. I know that fathers only speak to the mothers who will bear their children, but I had to speak to two-zero-six-zero. I could not be happy when her face held such trouble. She was worried for her companion mother. I believe that is because they were together during the nightspace. Perhaps she fears for one-three-zero-eight as I feared for two-zero-six-zero: that she has been killed by the Kings in their anger. I fear this thing also, because I know that will bring sadness to two-zero-six-zero. I do not want her to be sad. Though I do not enjoy the way one-three-zero-eight stares angrily at me and how she pushes two-zero-six-zero away from me, I do not wish her to be killed. I do not like when the Kings eat our tongues.
I deeply wish there was a way I could find one-three-zero-eight so I might take the sadness away from two-zero-six-zero. I would do that if I could, I just do not know how.
I crawled out through my window once my one-father had fallen asleep, and I did it as quiet as I could. I had to find Iseult, I could not sleep for worrying she was killed and eaten by the Kings for what we had done. I knew no one could hear me. I thought no one could see. But as soon as I entered the tall wheat, I felt a hand upon me. I almost shouted, for I felt much fear.
I have scared you and I am sorry, but, two-zero-six-zero, I feared you would do this thing you are now doing, so I came to stop you.
Eight-zero-one-nine told me of how he saw me crawl out my window in the last nightspace. He knew that was why I was so troubled by Iseult being gone today. He said he knew she had been with me. I felt surprise that all this he had known all throughout the day, but he had told no King.
Do you believe she will be out here in this nightspace?
I do not know. I must hope, for I will not live happily again if she has been killed.
I was very happy eight-zero-one-nine walked with me through the tall wheat. I was happy he was not scared. When we came to the spot where I had hoped Iseult would be and she was not there, behind my eyes I felt such heat and such moisture and soon I was crying.
I will seek her out tomorrow, two-zero-six-zero. I will seek her out among the others.
I nodded then, and I told him I would do so also. Eight-zero-one-nine brought me back to my home and watched me crawl through my window. I did not know it before tonight, but he now lives in the empty house nearby. I watched him crawl through his window. I cannot see his face through the darkness, but I believe he sits up, watching my window, as I sit up watching his.
I told eight-zero-one-nine I would seek Iseult out tomorrow, but I do not believe I will find her.
Do you know of one-three-zero-eight?
I asked that question of many dayworkers today. Many knew of her.
The loud one.
The field has been quiet. I suspect her tongue has been eaten.
None knew where she had gone. Each time I asked my question, the answers became harder to hear, because they were all the same. Two-zero-six-zero had told me she would not live happily without one-three-zero-eight. I want her to live happily. I must find one-three-zero-eight.
In the nightspace, again I could not sleep. I thought of crawling out the window to see two-zero-six-zero. I thought perhaps she was walking in the wheat again. I put my hands upon the window’s edge and pulled my face out into the outdoor air. Taking in a deep breath, I smelled metal. I knew true terror then, for a King was nearby. I shrunk quickly back into my home and did not breath for a long while, until I heard the Kings’s footfalls come and go.
Now I lay on my pallet, unable to sleep. I am too scared to look up out the window and see two-zero-six-zero, but I believe sleep might come to me if I could just glimpse her house.
They ask me who went with me into the wheat. I say no one. They call me a liar. I insist I am not. They say they will kill every dayworker in the field. I say they will not. They eat a finger, and I scream. But not her name.
I will not say her name, though it is the only word I long to say.
Her name is in my mind, scattered across my mind like the lights that blinked in the nightspace. But her name does not blink, it just stares with eyes like thunderstorms through the black nightspace in my mind. Her name is there in my mind, but I will not say it.
Soon I will have no fingers on my hands. They have eaten very many of them, and the air I breathe all day now scratches at the open redness of my once-fingers with sharp fingers of its own. Soon I will have no hands. I will soon be dead. I believe I would like to be dead, because every moment I am living is full of pain and the knowing that one name will end it, the one name I will not say. My remaining fingers whisper to me and tell me to say it, to say her name.
But I will not say her name.
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Next: Part 3 of 3.