My morning oats taste particularly bland this morning. I look outside the clouded windows and see the city across every inch of my vision. Buildings of all shapes and sizes are formed from copper, brass, and iron. At all times of the day, the city's Gears are churning.
The Gears are the machines that run the city, the country, possibly even the entire world. Metals are formed together to form them, robotic men designed to replace our government. Their voices boom over the industrial noises of the factories and drown seem to drown out all individual conversations. We're free, I suppose, but they all say that there was once a time when freedom was all we had.
Across the street, I see Thayoden. He's a boy who works in the aircraft factory, constructing engines and attaching steering wheels and dials to bi-planes. I met him in Industry class when we were both eleven years old. Ever since then, we've grown apart, but I still see him and think of how much I miss being with him. But we're different people than we were as children. Seven years can totally transform a person.
His charcoal gray tunic flutters in the breeze, constricted only by an iron belt. I suspect his pantaloons were once his father's that he was given after his father's death. Most of all, I search for his eyes. The deepest green forests are shaded by his shaggy blond curls and a face bearing the dust and sweat of the industries.
In some recess of my mind, I wonder if I could be with him. The Gears frown upon young love, proclaiming it leads to sadness, anger, and the destruction of an entire generation, yet those of us young enough to feel it always act on their wishes anyways.
I walk over to the mirror and ponder at my reflection. I need not work today, for the Gears have deemed my industry, lumber, should only have to work five days of the week. My nightgown flutters around my wrists and ankles, even as the morning approaches noon. It was a silky peach, but after three years of wear the color has faded into a dusty rose. My mother says it compliments my fair skin and shocking dark hair. Brown eyes gaze back at me amidst a few light freckles that tell of hours spent under the sun. My fingers have been mangled and torn from years of handling wood and branches. Torn lace stockings adorn my legs, and to any outsider would make me seem tough and quarrelsome, but my soft and rounded lips tell another story.
My name is Raelin. I'm an industry worker in the city of Bellamorr. I'm going to tell you my story. But I can't promise that every word is true. By the time you read this, the Gears may have already taken me away.
It began to rain on a dark and dreary Thursday. Or perhaps it was Friday...well, the date doesn't really matter. I was lacing up my worn leather boots in preparation for a day of work at the lumber mill. Grabbing my tattered raincoat, I bolted out the door, nearly forgetting to lock it behind me. I was going to be late, and the rain was sure to further my delay.
The streets were slick with dew, water running into the gutters, children splashing it around on the sidewalks. Even carriages glided right over the wet asphalt. No plants were around to reap the rewards of the spring storm - no, the Gears didn't like us having plants. Yet something grew with every morning rain that came to Bellamorr - perhaps the spirit of hope in the people, the liveliness of their hearts that seemed so often forgotten.
As I pondered what exactly the rain really meant, I failed to notice a dip in the sidewalk. The toe of my boot caught it, and for a second I was falling, searching with my other foot for another hold on the sidewalk when a coarse hand caught my waist.
And another grabbed my shoulder.
Looking up, I saw the familiar face of a boy who I had once known very well. I recalled his name almost instantly. Thayoden. His name was as unforgettable as his eyes, the deep green of the grassy earth I once danced on.
"Are you alright?" he asked of me.
There was a particular tinge to the way he spoke that brought me to another time and place. Another era. Another life.
"I'm fine...thank you. For helping me," I replied.
He helped me get back on my feet and for a moment I wondered if he remembered me from all those years past.
"Raelin...is that you?"
It seemed he did.
I nodded in response.
"It's nice to see you again. How've you been since industry school?"
Six years had gone since the last time we spoke. Yet he was just as enchanting, perhaps even more so, then he had been in our younger days.
"I'm doing great. Fabulous, really. I got put into lumber. And you?" A stutter threatened to break apart my speech. He was just so magnificent.
"Aircraft. I adore it,"
Thayoden then seemed to realize that he was still holding me. He released his grasp on me, and a sudden chill came over me where his hands had been just a moment before.
I looked around us at the eyes of our neighbors, all of which seemed to drift toward us amidst the crowded square.
"Well it was lovely to cross paths, Thayoden. I hope to see you again sometime,"
He started to wander away from me, backwards. As if he couldn't stop looking at me.
I turned and began my trek towards the mill, smiling all the way there.
That evening, when I had returned home, Thayoden was on my mind still. In my eyes, he was perfect. Even a well-learned man with spektacles would see him no differently than I did. Yet I also knew about the inner scars he kept hidden. The truth as to why his father had died.
His father was one of what I know to be called "The Tappers". Arrogant men and women who believe they have some sort of right to control us, rather than Gears, who dig and create in underground safe houses some master plan to reclaim the government. They Tap the system. Thayoden's father was one of their leaders, and he was caught trying to Tap one of the resting Gears. He may have been tortured, brutally sacrificed, or simply murdered with a bullet to the head. It remains a mystery, and most of Bellamorr, myself included, would prefer to keep it that way.
I saw in his eyes that his father's past made him question his own fate. As I slowly spooned my porridge into my mouth, I pieced together a certain truth inside me. His doubts were what I adored the most about him. His fatal flaw.
Finding myself unable to finish eating, I put my almost full bowl into the chipped and rusted sink, not even bothering to rinse it. Instead, I sat down at the table with a piece of parchment, some ink, and a quill. The night was drawing in quickly: birds' songs quieting to a whisper, the warm pink of the sunset dimming to violet, even my mother's hushed breathing across the hall seemed to disappear entirely.
My hands were shaking as I dipped the quill into the dark ink. What could I say to him? How could I say it? Did feelings like these even exist anymore?
At the very worst, should the letter turn out horribly, I could just throw it away without sending it in the first place.
I pressed my palm to the parchment, closed my eyes, and began to write without seeing.
His name. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was going to tell him. His name, written by my own hand, all of it was real.
I know not how to tell you this in any eloquent or mature manner. Today, when you caught me in the street before I fell, something stirred inside me. An emotion, a certain string of raw feeling, I suppose. There seems to be no better way to explain it than to just tell you.
There was a pregnant pause in the air before I continued.
I remember you from Industry class.
I remember your beautiful, bold green eyes.
I love your eyes.
I hardly dared to write the final line.
I love you.
Before I had the chance to regret my rash decision, I signed my name at the bottom of the letter, sealed it with rusty red wax, and pushed it down the Syllinder.
Syllinders were, of course, the gold and glass tubes right next to the garbage chute that delivered notes between families of the neighborhood. Typically, they were business reports or ranting monologues about the cuts in wages, rather than notes between the youth declaring their love.
Of course, I failed to remember how the Gears inspected the letters before passing them on to the desired address. There was not even a fraction of a chance that my note would get passed on to him. Young love was frowned upon. Young love led to adultery, violence, deceit, perhaps even war, if the cause were great enough. It didn't matter if he didn't return my affection; the fact that I alone had such stirrings was cause enough for the Gears to involve themselves.
I tossed beneath my sheets for days after sending the letter. Fears of the Gears coming for me overrode my dreams and kept me awake until it was nearly done. Finally, after two weeks, my stomach began to settle, and I could drift off to sleep for an hour or two.
We were out of bread rations. Frustrated, I stormed out the door and headed for the marketplace. People across the square waved and said hello, but I was in no state to speak to anyone.
A distinct voice called behind me. I'd have known it anywhere. My feet stopped in their tracks. Slowly, I turned.
The corners of his mouth curved into a smile.
At that moment, I didn't care who was watching. The Gears, the industrial workers, my mother, anyone could've been there and it wouldn't have mattered.
I broke into a run towards him. He opened his arms and locked me inside them, clutching me so tightly I could hardly breathe and yet I didn't want for him to let go.
His arms loosened just slightly, and our eyes locked together.
"I love you, too," he whispered.
And then our lips touched.
We hid from the Gears for weeks. Every night we had picnics together in secret, or took walks beneath the streetlights at midnight, or kissed inside completed airplanes after all the other workers had gone home.
He was in love. I was, too. We were going to get married to each other. Everything was planned by midwinter: how we would ask for permission to marry, where we would live, even the names of all our children.
Then the midwinter storm came, hitting harder with ice and snow than it had in many years. Thayoden was captured by the Gears, and a frozen air settled in to take his place.
Now its springtime again. Thayoden has been released from his capture for little over a month, but we don't speak anymore. I watch him cross the street in his father's pantaloons and remember the warmth of his being that kept me from freezing only a few months before.
The entire city gathered together to witness his release. No one else has left the Gears' torture alive, and Thayoden was lucky. I was brought forth as well, forced to endure humiliation in front of all of Bellamorr.
The Gears' voices boomed above all of ours, commanding us to listen and follow their rule. Thayoden and I had disobeyed. But rather than be sentenced to death, we remained alive, according to the Gears, to show the rest of the city just a segment of the consequences they would face if they broke the law.
Tears still sting my eyes as I recall every second of that day. How they made me remove his tunic and display his back to the entire city: bloodied and gashed from whips. How the Gears corrected my thoughts and stated that a wild airplane propeller had torn up his back instead. How Thayoden was forced to douse my hands in oil and light them ablaze until all my clothes burned away and my skin started to crisp. How they finally put out the fire, and we both cried. Most of all, I remember embracing him and holding him close for the last time. I was burned, he was blistered, and both of us were broken. It hurt, but it needed to be done.
Nearly a season has gone by since then, and we are both beginning to recover. We are both out of work, still glared upon whenever we walk the crowded streets, and forbidden to be with one another.
I love him still.
The fire that danced over my skin was doused long ago. But the fire inside me still sparks in the silence.
The fire that burns for Thayoden.