CHAPTER 9: In my first week without my mother I spent a few nights with a particularly sane Traveller clan. There was one Traveller with whom I couldn't seem to warm up to and I didn't know why, but I just never felt comfortable around him. He looked different than every other Traveller I'd ever come across. Most Travellers appear a little sloppy looking, some look simple minded like my father, most are very good looking although you usually can't tell because of all the grime they're covered in. This one was too clean, too brainwashed like the rest of the world.
I told their leader about my fears, which ended up being investigated to an extent, and it turned out that the strange man wasn't a Traveller at all, but a spy set on the innocent people by the Superiors.
The Superiors have a fairly dense fear of the Travellers, but occasionally they infiltrate even those they fear most. The clan I'd been with killed the spy, but two other spies were still in existence in other clans. Neither was found according to the clan I'd been with, and since then I haven't felt able to completely trust anyone.
In the Underground, it was a different story. Except for Pandora, I trusted everyone, even those I hadn't met yet. I felt safe with everyone. In an odd way, you could probably say that I loved everyone.
Pip kept talking right through my thoughts and I had no idea what he'd been saying. I hoped my facial expressions hadn't given me away like they usually do. It seemed that he hadn't noticed at all, and I tried my best to not be carried away with my thoughts again. As I was trying to concentrate on Pip I couldn't help but notice Hinge off to the side just watching me with a gleam in his eye. It was almost like he enjoyed watching me struggle with my poor concentration skills.
Throughout that whole ordeal, Pip's moth kept working horder than one of the Superiors' brand new Soldiers. He suddenly said something about having to get to back to work and then added with a wink as he skipped away, "And you might want to eat something, Deary... If you don't, you might just 'disappear' to the untrained eye!"
I immediately began inspecting the plates in front of me. Everything looked fantastic, I must say I didn't have to try Pip's cooking to already know it was good! I can't afford to be a picky eater, so what was on the plate wasn't really all that big of a deal. As long as it was edible, I'd eat it.
On the plate nearest to me there was a lot of fruit: Cherries, sliced apples, oranges, pears, peaches, all kinds of fruit (some of which I'd never even seen before) arranged beautifully. On the plate to my left there were different meats. Given what I know of meat, it appeared to be squirrel and several different birds in particular. On the last plate there was a small array of vegetables from string beans to carrots and squash. I don't know where these foods came from, but I didn't care one bit. It was all delicious and I wanted to go to the kitchen to thank Pip for the wonderful meal, but Hinge hurried me along.
"We have too much to do, Juilliard. There is no time for stalling, you may thank Pip at a later time. For now you will learn the path to your room."
We took the door nearest to the kitchen and walked out just before a huge group of people and dogs arrived, ready for their meal. Hinge told me that starting the next day I would receive no special treatmentI would be eating with everyone else. He again reminded me that training also started at seven the next morning. "Do not be late, Juilliard."
We managed to find our way through crowd and I was led straight through the hallway we'd reached until we got to the fifth doorway. I guess I'm lying a little by calling it a doorway. It was basically just an arched opening into the next room.
We traversed that room as well and went through another archway and another yet until we'd passed maybe four separate rooms. Each room looked the same as all the other I'd seen on my tour, yet there was something slightly different about each. The first room resembled a library, or at least my idea of a library since I'd never seen one before, but there were stacks of books scattered throughout the room with tables and chairs in between. I wanted to pause and just look at all of it, but Hinge swept me along into the next room. This one was filled with odd contraptions that looked a bit old and worn. I saw no point in any of it, but Hinge explained that we needed a "storage" room.
"These things may not be useful to us now, Juilliard, but in the future, when the Superiors are gone and our world is back to its old ways, we need to have things like they used to be. These things here are mainly called 'games'. Before the Superiors, people used to have free time and would often use these 'games' for fun. The Superiors banned anything and everything that allowed, or required, freedom so these 'games' were lost to the world."
Again, I wanted to stop and try some of these so called 'games' but Hinge ushered me into the third room where we encountered a group of people ranging in age all sitting on mats on the ground, some on chairs behind the others, and one single person standing in the front speaking. The woman speaking finished her sentence and then looked at us, bringing everyone's attention to us. Being the person who's lived in the shadows, trying nothing more than to be unseen, I could feel myself shrinking under the attention. She looked from me to Hinge and back to me, then said, "You must be Juilliard."
I nodded, unable to speak. I've encountered many things in my life, but a room of people just staring at me was possibly the most frightening experience. Hinge once again came to my rescue and introduced me. I discovered that we had walked in on a class. The woman was a teacher and the people sitting in front of her were her students. Her name was Marja and she was one of the sole surviving Flaws.
She had a brilliant mind and, because of her age, also had had some real education. She was an old woman, I would estimate around eighty, but hardships had more than likely aged her appearances even more than age itself did. She had been born in a happier time, and had already gone through a few years of schooling when the Superiors began their takeover. They started by simply lowering education standards, but by her twelfth year they had made it illegal for schools to exist. She hid for years until, like me, she had been found and brought to the Underground. She was even older than Hinge. I guess my impression of Hinge was correct, but I was a slight bit off. Of course, humans naturally live longer than animals but I somehow assumed that the Superiors had some experimental operation to change that, too. Apparently not.
Marja had seen two previous clan leaders pass before Hinge. The first had been nearly on his deathbed when she'd arrived in the Underground and passed soon after, but the second had been taken. No one had seen him since. Hinge was the longest clan leader, but he'd also been a pup when he'd escaped from the Superiors. He knew the most at the time so he became the new clan leader. Since then there have been plenty of new escaped prisoners, but no one wanted to change the clan leader. Everyone has trust issues these days. And that's not always a bad thing either.