Sixty minutes is a long time.
It's the exact time of each Assembly, when all of us former Orderkeepers, all of us who were drafted and forced to become soldiers for the fallen Establishment, all of us that are still alive, are let from our prisons and gathered together. When the leaders of the New Establishment drag us into the town square and brand another tally mark into our arms. Another month where we will pay for something we were forced to become, something we had no say in. The revolution was good at first, I won't lie. I believed, along with everyone else, that the suffering would end with the Establishment.
I was wrong.
The New Establishment Leader is just as harsh as the leaders she overthrew. We went from a leader who was openly cruel and feared to a ruler who's just as cruel but twice as manipulative.
I stand in my line silently, wearing the uniform of an Orderkeeper. Something that once gave me power and respect, something that made some look away in fear and others stare in awe. Now it's a mockery, a taunting memory of the past, the things I've done, and how I'm paying for it all now.
The fresh tally mark burned into my arm still sears with heat, but I clench my fists so my nails dig into my palm and my mind can focus clearer.
"Orderkeepers," the Leader is saying, "are our enemies. They have imprisoned us, bent us to the Establishment's will, and killed us without mercy."
Wrong. We killed only under orders from the Commander, who indeed dished out execution orders carelessly. But we did not choose to kill those people. We were forced, knowing that someone would pay if we didn't, and it wouldn't be us. It would be those we loved. It would be our friends. Our mothers. Our comrades.
The leader continues in a strong, authoritative voice that sounds trusting and caring. I know better than to believe it.
"So today, my friends, they will pay for their cruelty, for their lack of heart. They showed us no mercy, and so we shall show them none."
The Orderkeepers around me don't move at all, don't even give a hint they've heard. But I can sense the anxiety rising in them, the chaotic memories swarming in their heads. Memories of past Assemblies. Our rows of neat precision have noticeably fewer Orderkeepers in them, and those of us that are left are broken people held together by fear and hope.
Fear, not of dying. No, fear of living. Fear of the New Establishment Leader. And hope that their name will be called today and their suffering will end.
The New Establishment Leader holds out her palm, and a revolution soldier places a gun into it. She takes a step forward, a few feet from the first Orderkeeper, and raises the gun.
And the people cheer.
The people cheer. The Leader shows her white, white teeth in a smile full of delight and bloodlust. She sweeps her eyes over our neat lines, searching out a target. I hold my breath as her blue eyes, so pale they're almost white, pass over Daphne, but she doesn't pause or linger.
A shot pierces the silence, and the people cheer again, laughing and screaming in their delight.
To them, we deserve this. To them, we deserve worse.
I flinch. Mistake. I stand with my back straight, the way I was taught, and when the next shot comes, I don't move at all.
A young man goes down, someone who used to patrol at nights with me. Someone who had a younger brother, barely two years old, and no parents. What will happen to this young man's brother now? Is he watching from somewhere in the crowd?
I don't make a sound.
I have Daphne, I think, and I have to protect her. No one else matters. Nothing else matters. My friend turns her head to look at me and I stare coldly ahead.
We'll talk later. We'll rejoice and curse the gods for letting us live another month. We'll hope for a painless ending. I'll promise her once again, that I will not let her suffer.
The Leader turns from the body and scans us again, handing the gun off to someone.
The quick deaths are over. Now those who are chosen will suffer.
The Leader wipes the toe of her boot against the floor to wipe off a splatter of blood. She looks around the square.
"Who here is willing to hold a gun to one of these Orderkeepers heads and pulling the trigger? Who here has the courage and the heart to end their lives?" she asks. "I do. My daughter," she wavers over the mention of the girl. "My daughter was whipped to death by an Orderkeeper. Maybe even one standing here today. Your children have died at their hands. Your brothers, your mothers have suffered for their entertainment. Why should any one of them live? Why shouldn't they feel what we have felt for so long? These are Orderkeepers, for it is not merely a job. It is who they are as a person. It is everything about them."
I know what will come next. She will select five of us to be whipped to death, same as her daughter. And then the rest of us will be locked away again for another month until the next Assembly, again and again and again until there are no Orderkeepers left.
The Orderkeeper to my right startles, glancing at me, and I follow her line of sight.
No. Daphne strides angrily toward the Leader, and not one Orderkeeper dares move an inch to stop her lest they attract attention toward themselves.
"We are not monsters." Daphne screams, and the Leader notices her for the first time.
My heart stops.
I can see it happening. Her eyes widen in surprise, then focus and take in the details of my closest friend's face, her own coloring in fury. I'm frozen and I can't move and I'm not sure I want to.
"We are not just Orderkeepers." Daphne shouts. "We're people too, and you're wrong to treat us this way."
No, no, nononono. What is she doing? Several revolution soldiers move toward her, but stop at a signal from the Leader. "You say you're a person." she says, her voice calculating. "Yet you've killed children for the thrill of it. You've tortured innocent Establishment citizens to death. Tell me, is that what a person does?"
"No." Daphne shouts back. "Those are things a person is forced to do. Do you think any of us had a choice? Our family's lives were in our hands. If we made one wrong move, if we stepped out of line, they would suffer the consequences. If it were my own life, I would never have done those things. But it was the only way to keep my family safe. You have done no worse. You could have stopped that Orderkeeper from killing your daughter. You could have taken the punishment yourself, or fought against the Orderkeeper. But you stayed in the crowd, and you wept because you didn't want to save her life at the cost of your own."
I look around me, at the Orderkeepers. They are restless, not as cold and afraid as they were moments ago.
The tension in the air is almost tangible.
"And if I had taken the punishment myself, where would we be now? Would we be free from the Establishment? No. I knew I had to make sacrifices for the New Establishment, and I knew that by preserving my life I preserved thousands more." the Leader smiles, amused by Daphne. But her smile is forced. She actually cared for her daughter.
"Tell yourself that. In fact, tell your daughter that. Tell her that you watched them whip her to death and did nothing to stop it. Tell her that she was a sacrifice you made. Tell her, because she is alive, thanks to me and the Orderkeepers." Daphne says calmly, and I realize that she is not angry or desperate. "Tell her because she is here." She's insane.
"Lie." the Leader says flatly. "I watched her die."
Daphne smiles, takes a shaky step back. "And did nothing to help her. But we Orderkeepers brought her back to life. We convinced the Commander that she could be of use. That she could help us. We saved your daughter, and what do we get in return? Nothing. We are tortured and killed because you feel the need to console yourself for letting her die. For valuing your life over hers. You think by killing us you avenge her and make it right.
"Tell me, Callista, has your mother done right by you? Has she avenged you? Are you pleased with her?" Daphne sweeps her eyes over the lines of Orderkeepers, and none betray me.
So I betray myself.
Because there is only one way Daphne can have a chance at surviving this and I'm not going to block that chance.
I take a step forward and pull off the fitted hood of my uniform. I lift my silver mask and look the Leader straight in her pale eyes, so unlike the ones I remember. She's changed a lot.
But then, so have I. And it's time she learned that.
"Mother," I smile, voice thick with fake sugar sweetness. I gesture toward the fallen Orderkeepers. "I had no idea you loved me so much."
I pull off my gloves, still walking forward, and toss them to the floor. My white cape flutters to the ground. My coat, spotless and starched beyond perfection. My pale, pale shirt.
I stand before her in a white tank top and uniform pants, and she can't seem to understand it.
"Callista?" she asks. "Cal?"
The people watching this are silent. The crowd is completely still. I know they must see the scars crossing my shoulders and neck. The welted lines.
I don't let my face show anything at all. "Mother, it's been quite a while, hasn't it?"
She can't form the words right, can't properly say anything, so I ask it for her.
"How did I survive the last ten years? I was never dead, although I was close. The Orderkeepers were the ones who saved me, Daphne saved me. If you kill her, you're killing the reason why I'm alive right now."
The Leader stares at me as though she can't quite believe it, gathering herself together, stepping away from me.
She makes a gesture and the cameras stop filming, the screens go black, and the revolution soldiers draw their guns.
"Soldier!" she barks, and one steps forward to do her bidding. "Get my daughter a room in my house and keep her there. The rest of the Orderkeepers, get rid of them immediately."
"Stop, no, please!" I shout, tearing away from the soldiers holding me back and pulling Daphne behind me, away from my mother. "She saved me, mother. If you do anything for me, let it be this. If you love me at all, you'll do this for me. Give me her life, and let her live."
But she isn't listening. The soldier grabs my arms and wrenches me away. I scream and try to tear away, try to wrench myself free. Another soldier lifts his gun into the crowd of Orderkeepers.
I stop breathing stop moving because I can't.
And I snap. There is only a thin line helping me keep focus and preventing me from falling into chaos, and that line snaps at the first shot. I thrash and scream, tearing and kicking at the soldier until he drops me and steps away, and then something stabs into my side, hot and sharp.
I turn to find my mother's eyes, and when mine meet hers, they've gone blank and cold again.