Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 3: "One Thousand Words" List #23

Suggested by: Dara Klinkner

The List:
Name: Nora Farthington
Place: Stonehenge
Time: Distant future (around 2051)
Object: Talisman/Amulet 

The Result:
"Occupational Heresy"

January 12, 2052 began like any other day. In an unassuming one-story condo, Nora Farthington climbed out of bed and slipped on the deep-blue cotton dress. She carefully inserted the glowing-blue studs, wincing at the sharp "ping" they emitted when the embedded tracker engaged. Glancing at the blank mirror, she squinted and leaned forward as if inspecting her face, while her hands—invisible below the frame—searched out a gold locket, and tucked it tightly into her palm. Keeping the locket concealed, she stood and walked over to the floor-length mirror. Nora raised both hands like she was adjusting her collar, and when she lowered them, she felt the satisfying tug of the locket dropping down over her collarbone, underneath the dress. She slipped on the stockings and the shoes, smiling to herself all the while. Picking up her book bag, she paused with a hand on the doorknob, steeled herself, and marched out.
The humming always started as soon as anyone opened the door. The sound-proofed houses offered relief from it; within, one could reasonably pretend life was as it had been forty or fifty years ago, before the Occupation.
At least, Nora thought to herself as she strode down the path to the university, how the world might have been. One could not be sure any more.
One of the first things the Occupants did when they invaded was begin rewriting Earth history, from the earliest records. They would remove all references to a certain time period, and replace it with their own. They were also rewriting current events, too, so that even though many claimed to have witnessed the start of the invasion, the Occupants made it sound like they had been here far longer, that the time of freedom when Earth was the only life-bearing planet, and humans and animals the only races in existence was becoming more and more of a distant memory.
And really, was the Occupied life such a bad thing? All it required was that every citizen wear a tracker when awake and conscious. Anyone not wearing a tracker was subject to Occupation by whatever beings resided in the mothership; no one had actually seen them yet, because they only emerged to Occupy people. You could tell Occupied people because first of all they did not wear glowing tracker-stones; second, their eyes glowed blue like the stones.
Nora smiled and nodded to Mrs. Gorman, who bent over her flower garden, endlessly hoeing and weeding.
That was the other effect of the Occupation: they had already figured out how to control the weather. One just didn't hear about extreme weather causing millions of dollars in damage or causing deaths anymore. The Occupants allowed extreme weather only in vacant, open places, just enough to keep balance in the ecosystem. They adjusted the tilt of the planet so that all seasons were mild and temperate, and any inclemency happened at the least inconvenient time for everyone. The year divided between a springish sort of summer and a wintery fall the world around.
Nora glanced up at the round "sentry" anchored over the Capitol building. As wonderful as they made everything seem, she couldn't restrain a shudder as she entered the university and went straight for Lecture Hall G.

About one hundred students were already seated, all dressed in uniforms of the same deep-blue color as her dress. Nora found an empty seat and settled in, grateful that the professor's back was turned, so maybe he wouldn't notice her tardiness. By the time he did turn and look up at his audience, she had blended in with the crowd. Still, it was unsettling, the way his gaze seemed to latch onto her as he announced his title, "The History Of The Occupation, 2.1!"
The only reaction was the muted swish of two hundred shoulders promptly slumping. No one dared voice any complaints. The Occupants might hear.
Nora doodled as the professor droned on in yet another account of the revised Occupationalist history. She vaguely recalled someone mentioning how this was the way science used to be, in the Unoccupied days; people would come up with "new and improved" theories of the origins of life and the survival or extinction of one species or another, and scientific lectures on the same subject varied by century and even decade, based on what scientists discovered. Now, historical lectures  were changing, albeit once a month or even weekly. Every lecture, there was some new fact to learn that contradicted another circumstance from the lecture before it.
Abruptly, Nora's ears caught the word "henge" and her head came up. The doodle could wait. This was new information.
"Originally, the circle of stones was thought to be a sacred site, some sort of elaborate temple or altar of religious significance," the professor muttered on in the same controlled monotone in which he delivered all his lectures. "But there are records that indicate these may have also served as interstellar gateways. Occupants are investigating these claims, as the existence of such gateways could very well become useful as a means of traveling between other Occupied systems." He tidied his notes. "That will be all for this session."
The students arose as one body and immediately made for the nearest exit. Nora remained rooted to the spot. Gateways? Henges? Interstellar travel? She waited till the aisle was clear and made her way down to the platform where the professor was just picking up his files in preparation to leave.
He saw her and stopped, fixing all his attention upon her in the way that strangely compelled her to do the same.
“Yes?” he said, “what is it? Did you have a question, Miss Farthington?”
Nora considered her feelings carefully before speaking of them; questions were dangerous things when it came to dealing with Occupationalists. She kept her voice low and even, just as the professor had.
“I would like to request more information on the theory of Stonehenge and its usefulness in interstellar travel,” she stated.
He waited a moment, then nodded. “There is not much more information to be given. The idea that the henge could be a doorway of course requires the use of a key to activate it. Such a key may have deteriorated over the ages, but Occupant researchers are even now examining five different man-made fissures in the faces of the stones, with the intention of extrapolating the shape and makeup of just such a key. If one would exist, the process would undoubtedly progress much faster, and the person to discover such a useful artifact would of course be richly rewarded.”
While he spoke, Nora couldn’t help noticing that his eyes never left her and his voice never changed, but his hands snatched a random piece of paper from the table behind him and scribbled with a pen. Slipping the scribbled paper in the midst of a small stack, the professor handed it to her smoothly. “Perhaps you would like to study the notes I used to prepare the lecture. I have many sources listed that you might find very useful.”
Nora felt the tug of guilt as she accepted the papers, though she could not imagine why.
“Thank you,” she told the professor, and meekly walked out of the lecture hall.

She made it five paces before curiosity overcame her and she peeled back the first few pages to see what the professor had written.
Scrawled across the printout was a message: “Keep walking; they are watching. Meet me in the library on the other side of the quad. Give no indication that you read anything out of the ordinary.”

Nora fought to keep from quaking in her shoes as she kept her pace exactly as it had been. What did he mean? Why was he so secretive? If they were meeting in the library, it would be heavily monitored by the Occupants anyway, so why resort to passing secret messages about it?
She had almost reached the door of the library when a hand snaked out of a shady alcove and pulled her in.
“Don’t say a word, don’t make a sound,” a voice whispered. She could not see any blue glow that would indicate whether the person was Occupied or merely Tracked.
“Just listen,” the voice said at last, “do you hear anything?”
Nora held her breath and strained her ears. “No,” she answered, “I--” her stomach turned as she realized the significance: even the familiar buzz from her earrings had cut out the minute she entered the shadows. She turned toward the area from whence the voice issued. “Who are you? What do you want with me?”
Now when the voice spoke, it was much louder and familiar to her. “I am the professor you spoke to earlier. And now that they can’t hear us or see us, I need to ask you something very important, Miss Farthington. Why did you ask me about Stonehenge?”
Nora faced the man with the realization that, out of anyone else she knew, she could trust him. She reached into her collar and pulled out her locket. “Because I think I may have one of the keys the Occupants are looking for,” she said.
The professor peered at it closely. “That is indeed one of the keys,” he said. “I think it’s time you knew, then: it’s not a gate, like the Occupants are saying. It’s a shield. Whoever removed the keys allowed the Occupants to invade us in the first place. If the five keys can be replaced in the rocks where they were, the Occupants wouldn’t be able to assimilate with us, and we’d see their true forms, and they would lose control.” He grinned at her. “Nora Farthington, how would you like to help me liberate Earth?”

Previously in This Series:

#15 "Rendezvous"("Soul Mates" Part 6/"Serenity's Light" Part 2)