Featuring the contribution of Sam Garcia
My name is Teresa, and I am the Fourth.
I don't mean I am a quarter, nor that there are three other Teresas.
There is only one me, and six other Ordinaries. I am the Fourth
It happens almost every year in Walesmoor; all the children of a certain age gather
before the Ten Cardinals during the Dividing, and each person is given
an order. There were seven of us this year, and the age of selection was
set at seventeen. I had been seventeen for only nine days, and yet I
was enumerated as an Ordinary.
I had always had mixed feelings about being selected. Some years I would
pray that this time, the Cardinals would cull my age. Other times I
would cross all five fingers in hopes that they wouldn't.
This year they did; there were three boys and four girls. The Cardinals
issued to us this Solution: "As your number arises, come forth and
receive your deadline to arrive at the Base-10 in Londonshire. If you do
not arrive at the deadline precisely, neither a minute late nor early, you will lose your place."
All of us felt a cold hand twist our hearts. For an Ordinary, losing
one's place didn't just mean missing the prize; it was death.
"Go forth," the Cardinals ordered.
Cardinal Eight announced our numbers.
A girl named Alice marched forward and received the paper and also a necklace bearing a pendant in the shape of her number.
A tall young man—I believe his name was Donovan—arose and received his paper and pendant.
The girl standing next to me, Sophia, moved toward the Cardinal to receive her items.
Finally, it was my turn. I fought against the tremors that wracked my
whole body; fear? Excitement? I was still dead inside at the thought of
losing my place.
The Cardinal placed the paper in my hand and the pendant around my neck. I stepped off to the side to read my timing.
Winter Solstice. A fortnight from now. I could get there very well by
Abacus, and even have some time for myself before I entered the Base-10.
I made my way to the Abacus station. "Passage to Londonshire," I announced.
The station agent smiled at me. "You must be the Fourth," she guessed. "Here is your ticket."
I accepted my ticket and waited by the platform. Donovan and Sophia were still waiting. The Abacus--a chain of rounded cars on a metal rail, propelled by steam-engine--pulled up, and Donovan stood.
"There's my ride," he said. "Stay safe, girls!" He boarded and it was gone.
Sophia shivered. She glanced at me, pulling her silk purse closer to her lacy bodice.
"D'you think they're real?" she murmured to me.
"Who?" I asked, suddenly cold, myself, even in the windless station.
"The Nullifiers," Sophia breathed. "A faction of anarchists who want to destroy the Cardinals."
"But no one can touch the Cardinals," I was beginning to think that she'd been listening to wild tales.
Sophia nodded, "Oh yes, the Cardinals can be harmed--if an Ordinary is killed."
I blinked; I had always believed that an Ordinary's journey to Base-10 would be uneventful and thrilling because we were headed into a heretofore restricted area. It figured that I would only learn about the threat of death after my journey was confirmed!
"No thank you, Sophia," I tried to behave as the voice of reason in the conversation. "I really think the Nullifiers are just a myth. You shouldn't believe everything you are told."
"Teresa!" Sophia reached and grabbed my hands. "You remember the Division of 1908?"
I shook my head, "Not really; we were only small children then."
"One of the Ordinaries, the Seventh, I think, became my governess that year. She cared for me until I turned thirteen. Her name was Vonica. Before she left, she told me--" Sophia's chin quivered and she gulped, "she told me that even though she was Seventh, there were only three others there when she arrived."
Sophia's terror was beginning to grate on my nerves. We heard the chime of the approaching Abacus. "Sophia, that might be so merely because the missing three did not arrive in time!"
"How is that possible? The Abacus Tables are fixed during the Division Time so that Ordinaries can receive tickets for specific trains that will allow them to arrive in plenty of time to meet the deadline!" Sophia insisted.
The Abacus engine approached the station.
She continued, "No, the only way they could have missed it is if they had been killed or delayed on the way."
"As long as we're alive, Teresa, the others will live."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nullifiers can only kill Ordinaries in order. As long as First and Second are still alive, the Nullifiers can't touch us."
She boarded the Abacus before I could say another word.
I was so disturbed by her words that I hardly noticed the passage of time between the departure of her Abacus and the arrival of mine. I numbly climbed into the waiting car, and watched Walesmoor slip behind me. Surely all that talk of Nullifiers was myth and fairytale. I sat back and tried to enjoy the streaming countryside outside the window of my car.
I had been so lost in the daydream that I didn't even notice the Abacus had slowed until I realized we had stopped altogether.
"What is it?" I asked the engineer.
He gestured ahead; an Abacus had derailed. My heart twisted within my chest. What other explanation could there be for the unfortunate circumstance? I had never seen such a thing. Abacuses were means of getting from one place to another; they were always maintained, always ran smoothly, and never derailed. There was only one reason for it, and everything within me revolted against the idea.
"Let me see it," I told the conductor.
He opened my door and I walked over to the wreck. The closer I got, the more my body seemed paralyzed by the fear of who I might find in the wreckage. I saw a blue silk dress--all us girls wore the same dress. Was it Sophia? The wreck seemed to have been there for a while. I saw a thin, pale hand, a bloody arm--there was the head, badly mangled, but the long red hair was still visible, matted with blood as it was. Sophia had dark hair; this was Alice, then. Sophia was safe--but for how long? After all, Alice was First. If what Sophia had said about the Nullfiers was true, and they were responsible for derailing Alice's abacus, then I could be sure of one thing: Donovan would be next. Did he survive? Were they going after Sophia by now?
I climbed back into the Abacus, suddenly paranoid of every little creak it made as we began moving again. The scenery was no longer relaxing and peaceful; every shadow concealed an enemy.
It had begun......
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