Yingpei Wu/ the Education Centre – Ming Yu District
I am an 8.
My lessons start very early in the morning, but I do not mind. I am happy to learn for the Emperor. It makes me happy to think about him. My cleric, Donghai Wu, told me that the Emperor is happy that I am happy, and that also makes me happy.
During our lesson, we heard the story of the Grand Emperor again.
Donghai Wu touched a large machine and it made a loud noise, kind of like the way my dog, Zhu, whines when he does not get his way. The film started to play on the wall of how the Grand Emperor became Grand Emperor.
I really like that story.
Sometimes me and my friends at break play Fei Min Sheng and Mingli Huang. I never want to be Mingli Huang.
If I am playing with that 9 – the one who came from the Xiu Mei Chen district before the Education Centre – he always makes me be Mingli Huang. That is why I do not play with that 9 anymore.
I moved to the large Ming Yu district Education Centre when I became a 6. Before then, all babies go to the Care Centre. But I am not a baby.
I am an 8 now.
Next year I will be a 9 and then I can beat up, Tai Lu. He is an 8 who is bigger than me. He always teases me and says my birther was named on the Dai Liu. I punched him really hard. He punched me back but I only cried a little. I did not cry very much at all.
No, the Grand Emperor does not like 8s who cry.
None of us know our birther but he said he knew who my birther was but I do not believe him. Donghai Wu said that I should not listen to Tai Lu. He said that my birther was an honorable woman and my sire an honorable man. That makes me happy.
When I am a 9, I know that Shi Jie will allow me to grow taller and be stronger than Tai Lu because I pray to her every day like I’m supposed to. I also make sure that I read from the Deng Yu Sheng. Donghai Wu said I remembered the words very well at my last recital. He gave me a lotus flower. Only four other boys got a lotus flower.
Not Tai Lu! No, sir.
Donghai Wu said that if I practiced hard enough I could become an Imperial soldier. I really want that. I often imagine being an Imperial soldier. I would make sure all of the people of Ming Yu were happy like I am happy. It is like the Deng Yu Sheng says: Happiness Through Compliance.
If you follow everything the Deng Yu Sheng says you should, you will be happy. I am happy.
Tomorrow we get to go to the Imperial Academy to see the students. Donghai Wu says I might be able to see a 15 or even a 16 if they are not away training outside the dome. I really hope that I get to see a 15 or 16. The highest I have seen – other than the Imperial clerics of course – was an 11. She came to recite for us the Declaration of the Great Purge that Grand Emperor had received from the goddess Shi Jie. She was okay, but Donghai Wu said I did a better job in my recitation ceremony than that 11 had. That made me happy too.
I cannot wait for tomorrow.
Changpu Chou/ the Night Market – Ming Yu District
The sun had disappeared and the artificial lights were glowing brightly around the Night Market.
I swirled what was left of the Pori at the bottom of my glass while I waited for her to show up.
She was anxious and apprehensive when we had last spoken; not surprising considering the subject matter we had discussed.
Fleeing was not something you talked about openly. Anyone could be an Imperial spy, sent to smoke out those in the underground community the Empire referred to, unimaginatively, as the rebels.
In the last Thankfulness ceremony, they had listed off all the 40s who fled as captured and deceased. But that was not accurate.
Jiahui Ma rounded the corner and I know she saw me sitting at the Pori cart. She walked past, not making eye contact, went two carts down, and picked up some lychee fruit from the fruit cart. She stared at it intently for a long while. She looked up intermittently to see if anyone was looking at her.
She was good, I had to admit.
And she was smart.
But more so, she was lucky. Really lucky.
She saw me staring over at her and she found a roundabout way to sit in the chair across from me underneath the overhang of the Pori cart.
“Shi Jie whispers and the Grand Emperor takes action,” Jiahui Ma said quietly, as she leaned into me.
“But Shi Jie takes no action at the whispers of Emperors” I said just as I had rehearsed it.
She looked me over and, after accepting that I was who I said I was, called the attendant over to order a glass of Pori.
“I am impressed that you are still among the living, Jiahui Ma,” I ordered another Pori as well.
“As am I, Changpu Chou. As am I,” she relaxed back in her seat and closed her eyes. Her whole body sighed and I could see how exhausted she was, but I knew she would be. Fleeing does not allow you any time to let your guard down.
I was immediately aware of the fake insignia on her suit. Whoever fabricated the insignia missed the two lines on the left side that signified she was a fourth season 40, which is what I assumed she had wanted the insignia to say. The way it was, however, meant that she was somehow half a second season and half a third season. I was surprised that no Imperial soldier had pulled her aside yet. I assumed the creator had been working hurriedly – and of course in secret – and wanted to spend as little time with the actual insignia as was possible. I would make it out to be a good two hours of work. The reflecting sheen of the insignia was impressive but the grey color the creator had used was a little off. Although, to an untrained eye, it was a very good example of a forgery.
The attendant dropped the two glasses by the table and I handed him a few notes to cover the cost.
“Keep what is left,” I said.
“Shi Jie blesses you,” he bowed and retreated into the cart.
“So, Changpu Chou,” she looked at me over the glass that brimmed with white foam, some of which was gently sliding down the side and onto her slender fingers, “what are the codes to the dome?”
“It is not that easy, Jiahui Ma,” I took a sip and then placed the glass down in front of me, “you must help me assist your fellow runners.”
“I have not seen any others,” she said, visibly tightening up.
I had been doing this for long enough to know that she was obviously lying.
“My community can help you all, we just need to know where we can find those who need help. Shi Jie-“
“Do not speak to me of Shi Jie,” she interrupted. “Shi Jie has abandoned us all.” Immediately after she had spoken the words she retracted to the back of her seat and whipped her head around to see if anyone had heard that damning morsel from our conversation.
I was silent as she scanned the Night Market but she gradually calmed and then leaned in to me and said, in a quieter voice: “I am a good woman who has produced 10 strong offspring. I was known in all four districts of the Xie Ma Dome for singing the most beautiful songs at the Wei Bu ceremony every fall until I got married as a 21. I was not a tardy. I was a good woman. I do not want to die.”
I just nodded.
After a few moments of silence, I said: “Please, I know you are a good woman. And a good woman would want her fellow runners to reach safety as well. Do you know where any other runners are?”
I listed off three names that I knew were on the Dai Liu but had not been apprehended. Jiahui Ma said she had only heard of the whereabouts of one, a man named Long Pei, who was hiding in the floor of a couple of 33s in Xiu Mei Chen district.
I thanked her for her assistance and assured her that I would find Long Pei myself and escort him to safety.
“So may I now know the codes for dome?”
A black gloved hand came down on her shoulder. She looked up at the man standing over her and her entire body seized up. It looked like she was trying to scream but there was no sound. Her mouth was open wide in a silent grimace that I found almost pitiful.
The man’s black and red suit was fitted with a black metal chest plate that molded to his form; it was part of the standard equipment the Imperial Army provided to its soldiers. Another Imperial solder came up behind the first and gripped the hair of the hysterical Jiahui Ma. The soldier violently ripped her out of her chair and began marching her out of the Night Market into an adjacent alley behind the Pori cart.
“So where are we looking, brother Changpu Chou?” The soldier asked me.
“Some 33s in Xiu Mei Chen district are hiding Long Pei.”
There was a jolting blast of gunfire from the alley behind the Pori cart but no one in the Night Market seemed to notice.
“Why do they flee?” The Imperial soldier asked me. “If you’re an honorable 40 your name will be remembered honorably for all time.”
I shrugged, “I could not tell you.”
(some inspiration for the Night Market I viewed while writing)