Tervis raised his arms slowly. He turned his gaze downwards as much as he could without actually moving his eyes.
"Tervis Hopkins, you are under arrest." Something was tugging at the side of his pants.
"Stay still." he whispered.
"Hold still!" a shot rang through the air, along with two piercing yells. Tervis said nothing but scoped up his two children and jumped off the bridge.
Inspector Wolf was entering the dwelling of Tervis, which had been totally upended by his two assistants. He was staring intently at a drawing of a rabbit playing along some green fields and a bunch of blue flowers, or at least Inspector Wolf thought it was some flowers. Perhaps a lake?
"The subject has two children, hasn´t he?" the Inspector said. It wasn´t a question as much as a statement of fact, so the two assistants kept quiet. It was the most sensible thing to do in this country.
"I can´t believe he has managed to survive in this part of the town for so long" the Inspector continued. There was the merest twitch of one of the assistant's mouth.
His brother had lived in this part of town, actually one of the better parts of town. His mind wandered back to the Wild Opera Massacre, where almost two thousand rebels of the state had fought til their deaths. Not that the massacre had ever happened. Not that anyone was ever unhappy in this country. He had no brother. Not anymore. He mustn´t think about him. He did not and had never existed. The assistant told himself that every day.
"You have not found what we came for, I take it?" The Inspector continued. This was such a direct question that one of the assistants had to speak up.
"No, I am afraid not"
Inspector Wolf did not move a single muscle in response to this.
"Then I hope our beloved third collegue have had more luck than us" he simply stated.
"...pleasewakeuppleasewakeuppleasewakeup..." Tervis was lying down in the middle of the riverside city dump, somehow finding the strenght to shake the small bundle lying on the ground. The same ear-piercing scream that had penetrated the air earlier this evening was still sounding. His other child was crying loudly.
"What in the world is happening here?!"
Tervis slipped into unconsiousness just as a pair of dark green boots slipped into his view and a pair of grubby-looking hands reached down to take his two children away.
On the other side of the town from the harbour there was a great gate. It was one of the only four gates that people were allowed to pass through when going from and to the Island of Principality. The Island of Principality was the main island of the Craven Empire. It controlled most of the world, the only land not under its sway was a collection of small islands where nothing grew and barely nobody lived on. They were called the free islands, the largest one being the Island of Grey.
Around the four gates was a great wall, capable of killing everyone that tried to cross them. No need for guards as nothing was allowed to move around the wall, not even the water. Around each gate were two statues of the everlasting leader of the empire, Walt Craven, or grandpa Walter as all were to refer to him by.
Tervis woke up on the sofa of a small hut which seemed to consist mainly of fishing equipment and trash. Looking up towards she ceiling Tervis saw a large round woman dressed in a red raincoat and red boots. His eyes immediately darted around his room trying to find his two children. They were sleeping closer to the radiator.
"Hang on, stay down" the woman said. "I found you near the waters? What happened?"
"We fell of the bridge." Tervis responded.
He knew that this was a lie, and a bad one at that, but hesitation was always the number one killer of rebels in the Empire. The old woman's faced went through several rounds of comprehension and thoughts such as "but the bridge has rather large handrails" and "what were you doing walking there in the middle of the night?". Eventually her features evened out a bit as she settled upon her decision.
"My two sons are out of town for the moment." she said. "You can stay here until the get back tomorrow, okay? Right?" Tervis nodded weakly and went back to sleep.
The next morning the old lady, apparently living with her two sons near the city riverside dump, shared her conserves with them. Tervis watched his kids eat and gave them half of his share. He was very hungry but so were they. There was a loud knocking on the door, but they ignored it.
The woman turned on the radio. There was a reading of the Emperor's crimes. It listed all the crimes of Emperor Craven up to the day of his ascension, when he had proclaimed himself Emperor and God of the World. He had then pardoned himself of all of his crimes and were now incapable of comitting anymore, but it was heartening to know that even Emperor Craven had been a human once. At least that was why the lady of the dumps were listening to it.
There was another knock on the door. Someone unknown knocking on the door in a day meant nothing, probably just someone without a home trying to beg for scraps before being deported to one of the surrounding work-islands. There were usually not more than that about. Two knocks probably meant that someone from the government was looking for you and it was best to answer. What little friends and family you had usually walked right in. Knocking was for those that actually wanted you found, whether you wanted to or not. It was a sign of intrusion.
Tervis and the lady looked at each other. The children had finally recovered enough to play. Inside, at Tervis's insistence although she had offered to show them the tract compactor just outside the house. There was a third knock. There was only one thing that could mean.
"Are you a refuge? A rebel?" the woman wondered.
"Is my family in danger?"
"I do not know what you are talking about" Tervis lied and opened the door, only to be greeted by Inspector Wolf. He smiled. Everything happened so quickly. One of Tervis' children headed for the window. The other was snatched up by one of the policemen. The old lady was gunned down. Her two sons would inherit the building and take care of the trash compactor by the river from now on. The other would move up the ranks quickly for being a good assistant to the Inspector. The old lady in red was no longer his mother. Never had been.
Emperor Craven's ship was leaving for the island of Victoria. It was the first island he had taken over after his ascension. That was the only time the gates were opened and unguarded, as the Emperor was not allowed to be seen or filmed by a commoner. Only his picture was allowed to be seen. The gate would not be open for long. Insects of all kinds had more or less been made extinct on the entire planet, all the forces of nature recreated by man under the Emperor, but a particular fly was buzzing around the perimeter of the wall. One of the wall's mechanics swallowed and choked on it. And that was the end of that.
In his office in the Catedral of Prisoners Inspector Wolf was cradling the sleeping child of Tervis. What was he going to grow up to be? A brave soldier of the emperor? A dutiful scientist working for the betterment of all that was Craven? An explorer taking over the last islands that had not yet fallen before the empire? A astronaut working to take the empire into its undeniable end-goal, the cosmos itself?
Above the station one of the glories of the empire was shining as brightly as ever, illuminating the thick layers of smog over the city. It was a display that had been made by the artist Brian-O a long time ago to give the people hope. Hope, unreachable high into the sky. Naturally the artist was not immortal like the emperor was, and so his bones had crumbled into dust a long time ago. But his art was still alive, one of the very few installations that were still allowed to shine and glister in a multitude of colors.
Inside the building the installation was housed in sat the Minister of Smiths and Libraries. He knew Tervis. Hiding your only remaining child in a dark alley and climbing up the side of a block of flats should not be a parent's choice unless there were no other choice. Well, there weren´t. Tervis took to climbing with his iron arms, one of his inventions that the empire did not want.
The child of Tervis waddled out of the alley, just as a another group of dark and shabbily dressed figures went near. She had only been spoken to or threatened by a few, but she was not going to risk it. She rang the bell to the police station. A officer appeared. He looked to the young girl much like the figures she had seen in the alley, but slightly better dressed as well as shaven. He scoped her up.
Inside of the station it was cozy and warm. The officers took turns talking talking to her and offering her candy, but she just sat silently and played with a few shattered puzzle pieces. She looked out of the window and saw her father jump from the top of the blocks of flats towards the top of the Catedral of Prisoners. It was incredible that nobody saw. The minister saw, but he knew Tervis.
Tervis broke into the window with some difficulty. He looked around, trying to find the way down. There were pictures all over the walls, showing pictographs of times long ago. It was the minister that collected them. According to him they showed of a terrible time when people lived in uncertainty instead of under the glorious rule of Grandfather Walter, Emperor Craven. But Tervis knew the minister.
Tervis walked out of the door and saw that the corridor had been made into a elevator made out of flesh and steel. On the floor was the minister, a dagger in his back. That meant that they had closed in. Thay meant that the only thing they still needed was Tervis' invention. But he had deleted everything, and his mind was the only thing that remained. To be one hundred percent honest, even that was now slipping. His children could have gone to an orphanage. Even the inspector would not really hurt them if they were handed over peacefully. And the void was a place not even the Emperor could go.
Twenty minutes later the daughter and her father's eyes passed in the basement of the Catedral of Prisoners. Thinking it was now all over anyway he let out a scream.
Tervis were taken out on the sea by Inspector Wolf. In a small row-boat they made it very near the outer wall of the great Island of Principality.
"Your invention will become a great asset to the empire, so work and die well my friend" the inspector said, some sort of emotion in his voice (although it was hard to say which one). Tervis stopped and looked at the small island that acted as a drilling platform for the empire. The trees were made of metal, pumping oil. He grabbed a hammer and set out to work. As his time-twisting invention, now in the hands of the empire, work its magic. Harder and harder and faster and faster he worked, until the sky turned a deep and bright blue. He was punching the ground and at the sky forever.
The oldest child of Tervis was floating on a piece of scrap across the ocean. She alone had made it out of the Catedral in the confusion. She alone had made it past the doors of the wall as the Emperor's ship passed though. She had stretched her neck in order to see him, but he was hidden inside the ship. On the raft was a collection of food for two days, a map from her father as well as the last scrap of the machine he had been working on in the basement day and night. There was also a doll there. The child paddled with her hands and as luck would have it good windfall and strong tides pushed her towards one of the Free Islands.
Inspector Wolf made it back to the Catedral of Prisoners. It was unusually dark this day. It was the time for the installation above to once again bathe the city in light, but nothing was happening. Must be some sort of malfunction. He sighed. There was a rumble just under his feet and ever since he had been a child he knew that it meant that something was up. One of the Emperor's attentands stepped through the door and saluted him.
"For your service, would you like to be the next minister of Smiths and Libraries?" It was not a request. The Inspector knew Tervis and wished he had made the same choice as him. But he was not Tervis. He was a wolf. He sighed again. Time to go to work!
The baby child of Tervis was taken down into the cellar of the Catedral of Prisoners and passed along corridors made of stone. It was here that the Corrective Stations of the city were contained. The baby was evaluated by four different teachers but eventually decided that it was unfit for the teachings of the empire. Inspector Wolf even brought in four additional teachers and paid for their evaluation out of his own pocket, but they said the exact same thing.
With a great expense from the state's coffers the baby was placed in a small sealed ark with air holes and thrown over the wall around the Island of Principality. Repairs were made on the wall. If the baby survived for two days, nobody would be responsible for the murder of it.
Tervis had worked day and night on the island, digging for oil. It was now time for the empire missile test, which took place every time Emperor Craven came back from one of his trips. It was a way to show the rebels how powerful the empire was. Not that rebels existed in this wonderful place of peace. In, short the Free Islands were obliterated, although nobody even lived there and the islands were nothing but ashes and dust.
This year the display were better and brighter than ever. As the waters shook the island split and Tervis found himself wandering into a large cave. There strange hands took his into the darkness and when he finally found himself in the light again he saw something unimaginable.
People lived in peace, with technology working in tandem with nature. There was a city in the distance, but it was not dark and covered in desolation. Tervis was lead into a house. In the bed was his child, sleeping soundly. This must be a dream. It was not the after-life, since as a God Emperor Craven controlled even that. Somebody laughed.
"I see that some people still are still able to make it through the old commute systems" the laughing person said.
"How are you, dad?"
Tervis looked up. It was Alex, his third and oldest child. How could it be? He was holding a baby.
"You died in the Opera Massacre..." he began, knowing despite everything that he must be in the afterlife. Perhaps Grandfather Walter was being merciful?
"Mom did" Alex nodded sadly.
"But I was taken by some rebels and we managed to stowe away on the emperor's ship when it left harbour many years ago. I was offered refugee status on Grey Island, but I have been working on getting as many people as possible from the Island of Principality"
"The Grey islands were blown up by the emperor..." Tervis said, beginning to see the truth.
"The empire never grew larger than that." Alex explained.
"The so called desolate Free Islands fought back long ago and now the so-called ""empire" just consists of the the Island of Principality and the surrounding waters."
"A...A-Aand the emperor? Grandfather Craven?" Tervis asked.
"Dead, probably" Alex answered.
"I mean, we can´t actually know for certain, but he hasn´t been seen for decades, and the ship that leaves once a year does not actually go anywhere, so..."
It is the system, not a person, that rules over the Island of Principality. And although the Empire do not control the entire world it is still capable of hurting the life and warping the mind of its inhabitants. The surrounding area has been fighting for their freedom, but the world at large stands by doing nothing. Some countries actually benefit from the oil that the workers of the Empire exports. Tervis slowly lowered his head and slept.