The banging grew louder and Andera awoke with a start. She rubbed her eyes and squinted into the darkness, and glowing digits on the miniscreen on her bedside table swam into focus. 02:40. It was the middle of the sleep cycle. It was as though a cold fist clenched her heart as her brain started working again and she began to imagine why someone would be banging on her door at this hour. She got out of bed quickly and grabbed her dressing gown from the chair next to her bed. Pulling it on, she sped down the stairs and into the dark hallway.
She opened the door, and orange sunlight hit her face, temporarily blinding her. She closed her eyes for a moment and put her hand to her forehead to shield them before opening them again.
A pale woman with mousy hair stood on her doorstep. It was Laina from down the hill. Laina, from her parents’ organisation. ‘Hello, Andera,’ she said. ‘May I come in?’
Andera stepped aside without a word and let her pass into the hallway. It was as though she already knew.
Her parents had left three dayns ago, promising to be back soon. They had said they would not be able to contact her directly because it might blow their cover. They had said they would be back before she knew it. They had promised to bring her back a souvenir.
Andera showed Laina into the kitchen and pulled the blinds away from the window. The sky was cloudless in the east. She went through the motions, asked Laina to sit down, offered her something to eat or drink. Laina declined. Andera sat down opposite her.
‘Something happened,’ Laina began. The rest got lost, cancelled out by a loud, high-pitched noise filling Andera’s brain as she stared straight ahead, not daring to take in what was being said. Something about a bomb at the safe house. Someone had known. There was a mole, a traitor… And then Laina was crying, and Andera had got to her feet and was comforting the older woman, unable to shed a single tear.
They were gone. Victor and Lidya Merrers. Her parents. They were dead. They were never coming back.
Andera kept the blinds closed. Kept mostly to her room. The darkness was comforting, yet terrifying. They had been in the dark, alone. Had the stars shone? Had it been cold? Had there been a flash of light before they died?
Floyd had come by, and Laina, and many other people too, to check up on her, offer their condolences. None of it mattered. Nothing they could possibly say could ever make her feel better. Floyd came by every dayn. She kept the door unlocked so he could walk right in. He left her food in the fridge. Sometimes he stood outside the door to her bedroom, talking to her, the way he always did when she came to see him. She made a sound occasionally just so he’d know she was there.
‘I brought you some eggs today,’ said Floyd conversationally. ‘They’re big ones, too. Only need one of them to make yourself a fine omelette. And I’ve started the harvest. Soon you’ll have a full supply of fresh pink plum juice of your own.’ He paused, as though hoping for a reply. Then he went on, ‘Remember when you were a kid? You used to come running down to the farm every dayn during the harvest, just so you could get that first glass of my mother’s freshly pressed juice when it was finished. It’s been many years since she passed away now, but I wouldn’t stop making that juice for anything. Especially since I know how much you’ve always loved it…’
Andera could hear him shifting slightly, and then his voice came again, quieter and more serious, sounding closer, as though he was now leaning up against the door. ‘I do know… what you’re going through, I mean. I know how you feel, I –‘ he stopped, as if to gather his thoughts. ‘I’ve been where you are now, but Andera, life goes on. It has to.’ He fell silent again, for several moments. Then, ‘Won’t you come out?’
She didn’t answer. There was more silence, and then she heard him sigh. ‘I’ll be on the flowband if you need me,’ he said, and then he walked back downstairs. Andera sobbed into her pillow until she fell asleep.
When she woke up the miniscreen on her bedside table showed 16:34. Nearly time for a meeting, if she remembered correctly. Half an hour to go. Her cheeks felt crusty with salty tears. She stood up and staggered to the bathroom, and looked at her own reflection in the mirror. The eyes staring back at her were red and puffy. She splashed some cold water in her face, and Floyd’s words came rushing into her head, from far away:
‘I’ve been where you are now, but Andera, life goes on. It has to.’
She dried her face with a towel and stared at her reflection again. Life had to go on… But what would happen now? Where would she go from here?
The meeting room was quieter than usual, more subdued. There was nothing strange about that, really. Only a few dayns had passed since the Merrers’ had died. Floyd sat in silence, listening to the points on the agenda being read out. Before Lidya and Victor had left for Ferrerton these meetings had been full of chattering and open debate, and had often been followed by a drink or a game of cards. Since the news of their deaths fewer people had started turning up. Everyone had been at the memorial, of course, except for Andera who had refused to come out, but it was as though people had lost faith in the organisation.
Floyd was sure they had all been happy to go about their lives without worrying about the rest of the planet before the Merrers had arrived, fifteen years hence. He had been too young to care at the time, of course, just about sixteen years old. But something had changed in their little town, and soon it had spread all over Cendar – this idea that they, a small, self-sufficient nation, were the key to resolving the problems between all their neighbours. They could make a difference. Many had hardly been aware of what happened on the continents, and that had made it easy not to care, but Victor and Lidya’s story spread like wildfire. What they had seen, and what they had learned while trying to uncover the political corruption of the night side had sent chills throughout the population.
Their deaths had been a great blow to the entire movement. People were in mourning now, but none so much as Andera. Floyd had tried to talk to her, had tried to help, but she wouldn’t say a word to him and she wouldn’t come out of the house. He felt useless.
‘…Finally,’ said Laina, who was reading out the agenda, ‘our sources tell us that there’s something going on in Cal City, in Kelfer. An extraordinary meeting of the Sun Alliance is to take place there on the third of the tenth. This is a meeting by special invitation only and will include only the highest officials. They’re being very secretive about it, which leads us to believe that there’s something going on, possibly concerning the conflicts with the night side.’ Laina looked up from the hand-held microbook and scanned the group before her. ‘Cendar is, as we all know, not a member of the Sun Alliance. We’d really like to get someone in to attend the meeting, but given the apparent nature of the thing this seems unlikely, not to mention…’ She trailed off. No one needed to hear the rest. Even if they had someone, who would be willing to arrange it under the present circumstances?
An elderly gentleman, Mr. Earheart, stood up.
‘The chair recognises Earheart,’ said Laina, looking relieved to let someone else take the floor for a while.
Mr. Earheart gave her a nod and looked around at his companions. ‘I think we’re all thinking the same thing,’ he said. ‘We would all of us like to go hide in our homes, stay out of trouble, mourn in peace. But we don’t have time for that!’ He banged his fist on the table, causing several people to jump in their seats. His voice was forceful as he continued. ‘It is when facing hardship that we need to be our best, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and force ourselves to do what’s right! Victor and Lidya didn’t die so we could sit around and feel sorry for ourselves! Now the Sun Alliance may be planning something sinister, or this might just be a highly secretive tea party, but that’s exactly why we need to find out what’s going on.’
The door to the meeting room creaked, and several people turned around to look. In the doorway stood Andera Merrers. She looked pale, but determined. Floyd got to his feet, meaning to go to her side, but the stern look on her face made him stop.
‘I agree,’ she said, stepping properly into the room. ‘We’ve been sitting on the sidelines for too long. It’s time we act. We need to find out what the Sun Alliance are planning, before things get out of hand. If there’s one thing my parents taught me, it’s that lust for power knows no bounds. In the world we live in, this many state officials in one room can never mean anything good.’ She looked at Laina. ‘I need a full list of our people on the day side, with contact information. We haven’t much time. Floyd,’ she said, turning her eyes towards him, and he blinked. ‘Thank you.’ She smiled.