Beyond the Far Away Gates
An uncomfortable warmth fell upon Frederick’s face and radiated through his closed eyelids. Normally the early summer sun interrupting his sleep would hasten his desire for the languorous winter one. However, this summer was different, or rather, this month was different. Time had suddenly become a fleeting commodity. It had become an unwelcome and imposing caller.
A gentle touch of flesh provoked his attention. His awakening eyes shifted to the quiet body next to him. A slender arm wrapped itself around his chest, and an enchantingly pure face nuzzled against his shoulder. Karin had forgotten her own bed again.
Frederick contemplated the merits of stirring the young girl awake, ultimately settling on the selfishness of maintaining a sleeping indolence. A hand found serenity in the rhythmic caress of Karin’s face. His eyes grew teary at the ardent affection evoked from this subtle touch. This pleasant moment had only begun, yet it was already coming to an end.
“Good morning,” Karin said.
Her pretty eyes found their welcoming comfort locked with his.
“Morning,” Frederick said roughly.
His voice choked on the dryness of his throat.
“Is something wrong?” Karin asked. “You look so sad, did you have a nightmare?”
Her genuine concern seduced a rivulet of water from his eye. Karin stretched a hand to his cheek, wiping away the evidence of this unusual emotional outburst.
“No, it’s not that,” he said.
There was no pain so intense as the kind he felt in this moment, attempting to hold back a flood of bawling tears and emotion.
“It’s hard to explain,” he continued. “Every second right now is being lost to the next and I want to savor every bit of it that I can...but eventually it has to end...and then….I don’t know…”
He felt abrupt regret at the answer he had given as Karin found an easy sympathy with his words and responded in kind. She buried her crying face into his body as she embraced him wholly.
Why couldn’t he contain his thoughts for just nine more days, he thought.
The question wasn’t necessary, he knew the answer. He had become unreasonably honest with Karin, and even the slightest prompting was enough to elicit the most critical of responses.
Frederick wrapped his arms around the lithe girl clinging passionately to him and sat her up in tandem with himself. Karin limply peeled her body away from his, eyes red and puffy with fresh tears.
“I really started the day off well, didn’t I,” he tried to joke.
His hands gently cradled Karin’s face in apology. He made quick attempts with his thumb at brushing away the streams on her face. Even in such a sad state Karin’s face still claimed a captivating beauty. Karin didn’t say anything in response. Instead, she gave her brother a loving peck on the cheek and got out of the bed.
“I’ll shower first and then I’m going to make us the best breakfast,” she said.
She attempted a sultry look from just behind the bathroom door but realized the awkwardness of her action. She gave a slight whimper as she closed the door in blushing embarrassment. Frederick couldn’t help but smile at the cute display from his sister.
As he heard the water begin to run, he thought of starting breakfast for her, but decided against taking away from her newfound fun. The last two days, Karin had insisted on making breakfast for the both of them, trying her hardest to make recipes with her amateur culinary skills. She cooked with a sense of urgency and despair, often making Frederick wonder if he shouldn’t just do it for her. It was hard to watch the frantic girl trying with all her might to make something edible. It was even harder to watch her sulk after she had taste-tested her own food.
This behavioral change from Karin came as no surprise, though. After Frederick had explained to her his upcoming departure from the City, she was beside herself. An eruption of emotion he hadn’t thought possible, flung her into a frenzy all the way to their father. He had chased after her, of course, but whatever she had discussed privately with their father was unknown to him. Karin had come out with a surprisingly dry face, and a smile. Frederick could only wonder what his father had said to calm her down so completely.
The sound of water stopped and a few minutes later, Karin stepped out of the bathroom wrapped tightly in a towel, with her hair still in wet strands. The girl cleared her way to the closet and began looking for the dress she wanted for the day. Before the girl found herself changing in her brother’s periphery, Frederick took his chance to save her from naked embarrassment, entering the bathroom himself. He showered quickly, dressed and met his sister downstairs for breakfast.
Karin awaited him anxiously with her eyes aglow with hope that she had cooked the food properly. As had been the case the last two days, Frederick ate without hesitation and praised his sister for her efforts.
“You really like it?” she reaffirmed.
“Yeah, it’s perfectly fine,” Frederick stated yet again.
He watched a wide grin spread across Karin’s face. There truly was nothing wrong with the food she had prepared, but a sorrow hit him with the thought of never having another of her meals again.
“Come on, eat up so we can get out in the City,” Frederick said.
Karin nodded in compliance and joined him in clearing their plates of food. They cleaned up and headed out the front door. Frederick eyed the Magnetic rifle in the foyer and resolved to bring it, as he always did when there was a threat of a crowd. And there was always a crowd, he thought.
He slung the strap over his shoulder and hoisted the rifle comfortably to his back. Only the privileged Elites and specially authorized Citizens were allowed to carry weapons openly around the City. Frederick didn’t consider reflecting upon this fact. Karin clung selfishly to his weapon-free side as they made their way down the hill to the City below.
The energetic sounds of a carefree Citizenry echoed around the streets as the siblings made their way to the Central Court Promenade. Many Citizens took the extra effort to arise early on weekends, and this warm Saturday morning was no exception. The food stalls bustled with lines of Citizens buying sweet smelling pastries, and the cafés seated cheerful couples and families enjoying a small respite from the sun. The air was thick with distracting conversation and zealous greetings.
“Did you have somewhere in mind you wanted to go to first?” Frederick asked the arm-clinging girl.
“Can we get something sweet?” she asked.
Although they were both used to the trek down the hill, it did still work up an appetite.
“Sure,” he responded.
The two of them browsed around the pastry stalls, searching for something that would satisfy them. The eyes of more than a few Citizens gave lingering gazes toward the pair, some watching for inappropriate amounts of time. The sight of Karin in her sundress was certainly a head-turner, and the wholesome joy she exuded was a bewitching fascination. But that wasn’t the sole reason the Citizens were watching.
Frederick knew that the sight of his rifle was the cause for concern, or rather, envy. His rifle sported top-of-the-line features that only the Elites could afford, let alone, obtain. Those surrounding Citizens with focused and enchanted eyes, knew they were in the presence of Royalty.
“Here you go!” Karin said, handing a buttery looking pastry to him.
She hadn’t noticed or cared that an obvious amount of eyes were finding their way toward them.
Frederick gladly accepted the pastry, paying the man at the front with a handful of coins. The man thanked them for their patronage gratefully, as they continued walking the Promenade.
Karin hummed a low tune that Frederick recognized as one of the Alliance’s anthems. He thought to join along, but maturity rejected the idea. Karin made quick work of her doughy delight and began mischievously stealing glances at her brother’s remaining half.
“Here,” Frederick said, offering the rest of his treat.
He had fully intended on sharing the food anyway, knowing well that his sister always outpaced his eating of sweets. Karin grabbed his offering hand and took a bite from the flaky delicacy.
“Take the whole thing,” he pressed.
Karin hesitated for a moment but then let her hunger take control, finishing the food from Frederick’s outstretched hand.
“Do you want to stop at any of these cafés?” Frederick asked.
A number of seated Citizens were looking at the two of them in awe.
“Not yet, I had something else in mind,” Karin said with gleaming green eyes and guiding hands.
Down the Promenade she led him, until the streets turned narrow and empty. He questioned the place she had in mind, bringing them to such a distant area of the Promenade, but he soon realized his bearings and found the answer. They were only an alley away from the gun metallurgist that had crafted the rifle he was carrying. And just as he expected, they were standing before the gunsmithing shop he had anticipated.
“I wanted to make sure you’ll have everything you need for your trip,” Karin said.
Frederick noticed the desperation in her voice. He hardly thought of his upcoming sixteen month exodus as a trip, but his sister likely needed this delusion.
“What is it you want me to have?” he asked, thinking nothing could be added to the already state-of-the-art weaponry slung over his shoulder.
“It’s not what you expect,” Karin declared with a pride only the Elites could truly emit.
She took a balled-up fist and rapped it against the metallurgist’s door.
“I want you to be safe,” Karin said, “but just as importantly, I want to know you’re safe.”
Her face turned serious as she captured him with her eyes. Her voice had a motherly concern to it and Frederick was certain he had heard their mother say those exact words to him before.
“I don’t think there is much more that can be improved with-” Frederick began, but was interrupted by an old set of eyes peering out from the opening metal door.
“Well, if it isn’t the young Schraeder prince and princess,” an old voice rasped. “Yes, I was told to expect you, wasn’t I?”
The old man opened the door wider and looked upon the siblings intensely. Frederick had never met the man who had made his rifle, but he hadn’t expected it to be someone with so many years to their record. The old man spotted the weapon slung over Frederick’s shoulder, the weapon he himself had smithed for the young man, and squinted perplexedly at it.
“I don’t think I was told to look at your rifle today, boy,” the old man said, “Or have I finally reached that age?”
Frederick didn’t know how to respond. He hadn’t set up this meeting and he certainly didn’t have a clue as to what more Karin wanted him to do with his Mag-rifle.
“No, you’re right,” Karin said, “we’re here about the personal terminals.”
The old man nodded in agreement to her statement, happy that he hadn’t succumbed to senility.
“Good, good,” the old smith said. “I’m afraid there’s not much more to do with that rifle of yours, but quite a lot I can do for your personal terminals if the details I received are correct.”
The old man beckoned the two inside and closed the door behind them once they entered. The room was cluttered with workbenches and presses meant for shaping and cutting hardened alloys and metals. However, the old smith led them down some stairs and into what reminded Frederick of an old 21st century bunker. There was little around, save for a couple of chairs, a desk and a bed. The walls were cramped with shelves that had a sparse amount of cans and boxed items.
“I didn’t know you were an expert on personal terminals,” Frederick said, cutting the silence in the underground room.
He was still guessing as to what Karin had brought him here for exactly.
“Hmm, well, I'm certainly no expert,” the old man said humbly, “but I am probably one of the few still alive that remembers how to alter the frequency of those devices.”
“Alter the frequency?” Frederick asked, wondering if that was even a possibility on such a tightly secured system.
“So you can do it?” Karin questioned as well.
Her face overflowed with excitement at the prospective answer.
“Of course, I can,” the old man said resoundingly, “I wouldn’t have accepted the job otherwise...even with that audacious father of yours practically begging me.”
That was quite the statement to make in front of Elites, Frederick thought.
The brash and emphatic nature of the old smith piqued Frederick’s curiosity.
“Not many would so gladly make that statement,” Frederick said, “You must feel pretty confi-”
“Ach!” the old man interrupted, “Confidence has nothing to do with it, nor does arrogance. I’ve known Siegfried longer than the both of you combined. I’m older than your father after all...hell, I’m older than this City.”
“You fought in the War, then?” Frederick asked, thoroughly intrigued and a bit greedily.
His sixteen month excursion would likely have him see live combat, something he had only trained for in mock battles at the range. Any imparted wisdom on the matter could only serve to prepare him.
“No, never fought,” the old man said, noticing the immediate disappointment on Frederick’s face. “I did help in the project that ended the War, though.”
The old smith gave the beaming young man in front of him a cheeky smile, daring him to ask what it was he had been involved in. Frederick hungrily took the bait.
“You helped create the Molecular Barrier?” Frederick asked.
The old smith guffawed loudly with a semi-raspy voice.
“I had nothing to do with the creation of it, but I did supervise several of the construction crews for this City’s Barrier. I think there are only a handful in this City that know of the underground generator farm beneath the Central Court,” the old man said.
He leaned in closer to Frederick who’s eyes had gone wide in amazement and curiosity at something he had not yet heard before.
“I helped with a few other generator farms throughout the Principality, too,” the old man added, “and I can tell you with confidence, that this City’s Barrier, far outclasses the rest.”
Frederick was glad to hear that for many reasons and had many questions he wanted to ask, but he could see that Karin was looking neglected and was anxious to get what she came here for.
“I’m sorry,” Frederick said to his sister, “we should probably focus on what we came here for.”
Karin only smiled back in response, too torn between interrupting her brother’s enthusiasm for the conversation and her desire to provide him with a gift.
“The little princess is getting anxious, huh?” the old man said. “Siegfried did mention this was quite important to you...it’s been awhile since I sensed such devotion from him.”
The old smith finally sat down at the table where a small mechanical kit was awaiting him. He indicated for the two siblings to sit and began rummaging through his tools.
“Give me the two of your personal terminals and I can get started,” he said.
Frederick and Karin pulled out small rectangular devices, thin and hardened with black crystal.
Frederick hardly ever used his device, and he doubted Karin did either, but they never went without them. The devices were linked to the emergency network of the City and had the range of their entire Principality. Every Citizen was issued one and used them as both personal data compilers and short range communicators.
The personal terminals of the Elites, however, were monitored by his father, that much, Frederick was certain. It wasn’t far-fetched to assume the normal Citizen was being watched, too. This invasion of privacy made him skeptical of the device in its entirety.
“So,” the old man began, “how far am I increasing the range of these?”
“To Illica,” Karin replied.
She spoke with a defiance to her own words, still not wanting to accept the fact that her brother was being sent so far away.
“Illica, huh?” the old man said. “That’s about as far as you can go with that…”
“Karin, what did you ask him to do,” Frederick asked, still unclear as to the point of all this.
“I asked Father to find me someone who could create a private channel for the two of us to use while you’re away,” she said.
Frederick had doubts that Karin had asked rather than demanded.
“And that’s possible?” Frederick asked the old smith who was already cracking open the device cases in front of him.
“It used to be possible,” the old man replied, “and it still is. There just aren’t too many people around that know how to find an unused frequency these days. It used to be that devices like this were all connected to a central network and could easily distribute information to anyone who looked for it.”
“Horrible,” the old man interrupted. “The problem that your father recognized, and many of the other leaders before him, was that there was no lock on where the information was sourced. Information becomes misinformation when verifiability can no longer be obtained.”
“Shouldn’t it have been easy to filter out the obviously false information?” Karin asked.
"Well, little princess, that is easier said than done,” he replied. “If you never had the information presented to you in the first place, you couldn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. The problem was rooted deeper than you’re probably thinking. Some people simply grew up with the wrong information, others purposefully misinformed and others were determined to dismiss it all together. In the end, true information comes down to who can get the most support for their take on reality. And in the wake of this, real information becomes fake."
Karin and Frederick both reflected upon these words, pondering just what real information could have been lost underneath it all.
“But don’t worry about all that now,” the old man said, “there’s no central network like that anywhere in the Principalities anymore. The information we get today is almost entirely based on observational reality, the way it was always intended.”
Frederick frowned in doubt at that, as he was all too quickly reminded of the concept of Citizen School that he and Karin were forced to attend. There were obvious hints of misinformation being seeded in the classes, although he was unsure as to whether that should be treated as wholly evil.
The old man continued working skillfully with his small tools, removing pieces from the devices and placing in new ones. The components next to him piled up and shrank back down as he rearranged many parts in their devices.
“The trick to these devices,” he continued, now changing the topic, “is to hijack a frequency from outside the Principalities. Those immoral deviants outside the Alliance are constantly trying to intercept waves from inside, but nothing they’ve got can get through. But that’s just because they don’t have the know-how, and likely never will. They’re not intelligent creatures, you see. And the bombs that were dropped on them that ended the War only served to retrograde their thinking and abilities as Humans.”
“Did you know any outsiders before the War?” Frederick asked.
He had only seen and read books that talked about the outsiders before the War, but had never come across someone who might have actually interacted with one.
“I knew a couple, yes,” the old man said, still focused on his mechanical surgery in front of him. “They weren’t the brightest bunch, and they certainly did no service to the academic communities, but they weren’t the abominable things that are out there now.”
“What was so different about them?” Frederick pressed.
“Aside from the low intelligence?” the old man asked sarcastically. “Unfortunately, low intelligence was and is very much responsible for their differences. They simply could not understand the world was broken and needed to be fixed. There was no conscious effort in those brains of theirs to even consider that things could be different, could be better. Life was what it was, and how it would be, for them anyway…”
“I bet they regretted that attitude when the bombs fell,” Frederick stated.
“No,” the old smith said as a matter of fact, “there is no doubt in my mind that they didn’t even consider where everything had gone wrong when they saw the bombs land. Not even for a split-second.”
Frederick thought deeply on this preposterousness. It hadn’t occurred to him until just now that there might be such a lack of conscience and being within a Human mind.
But then again, they weren’t Human, were they, he thought.
The two siblings watched in silent fascination as the old smith tinkered and toiled away at the personal terminals. His hands delicately removed wires and chips that Frederick hadn’t thought was possible, without breaking something in the process.
“Is it done?” Karin asked as the old man resealed both devices.
“Yup,” he replied, “should be all good now…good as it can be, anyway.”
There was an unspoken consensus between the three that there was no way of knowing if the devices would really work until they tested them out.
“You should know that there’s no way for the connection on your private channel to stay reliably stable...I would limit communication to messages only,” the old man said.
“That’s more than enough!” Karin exclaimed.
There was a clear satisfaction generating through Karin’s body at this wonderful news. She had been fretting about the idea of indirect and limited communication between her and her brother once he left, and now she had finally found the solution.
“How much do I owe you for this,” Frederick asked politely.
“Haha! You don’t owe me anything,” the old man laughed. “I’ll be getting more than enough payment from your father.”
Frederick and Karin could only wonder at what their father had promised the old man, but concluded that they could not appropriately match it. The two of them gave their sincerest thanks before returning to their day out in the City.
“Now we can write to each other whenever we want,” Karin said, brimming with happiness.
She had once again looped an arm around his and declared it hers.
The morning was coming to an end with an oppressive heat scorching the City. The two siblings found themselves borrowing any shade they could find and quenching their thirst with sugary drinks. The day was still long ahead of them, and they were determined to make the most of it.