Few

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Centuries after the collapse of the modern world, in a future where reading is a religion reserved for a select caste, a new and charismaticleader has emerged to lead the burgeoning Cult of Ignorance and war is on the horizon. In the wilds between the cities where weaponized weatherstalks the land, tribes have developed their own peculiar ways of living and something new and deadly is evolving that could threaten everything and everyone.

For Charlie, growing up safely behind the walls of the Librabbey, the world beyond is little more than a story in abook. When she decides to set off across the Between to find her parents she must rely on friends made along the way and the protection of a mysterious clockwork man.
Can Charlie and her family avoid the dangers, both human and other, and when threats are so numerous will the few survive?


Chapter One

The AUTHOR
spoke unto the Narrator saying,

Though they be Few they will be mighty.

For the Knowledge shall be
with them alone.

NARRATIVES
14:1-2

At this
time will the Harvest take place.

And amongst
the grain, the roots and the fruit

Shall also
be the Few.

And they shall be the most pleasing of all.

SCRIBES 42:
20-22

 

 

“It’s not your fault my love, you are simply not equipped to make that kind of
decision; your judgement is clouded by the physical and you possess neither the
education nor intellectual capacity to properly assimilate the information
required.” The tall figure seated by the fire hadn’t even looked up from their
book to deliver this dismissive statement.

“Are
you saying that I don’t have my child’s best interests at heart?” This voice
floated into the main room of the small town house from the kitchen,
accompanied by the clatter of pots and pans.

“Of
course not dear heart” continued the seated figure “I merely meant that there
is more to consider here than your feelings. A child needs a proper education
suited to their type, some in the fields, some in the workshops and others in
more … cerebral pursuits.”

The
voice from the kitchen became more indignant.

“Well,
I believe there’s more to develop a person ‘cerebrally’ in a workshop than
there is in a book!”

Lotti’s
parents were arguing again. She sat on a colourful rag rug on a polished wooden
floor in front of an open fire, contentedly playing with wooden animals and
happily impervious to the noise above her head. This was how her parents seemed
to communicate, there was always a difference of opinion and very little ground
given, but there was never any malice.

Her
father, William, came into the room from the kitchen. He was slightly red in
the face and wiped flour from his hands onto his apron as he watched his
daughter play. Emily, Lotti’s mother, looked up from her book, stood and
approached William, she put her arm around him and said quietly,

“Listen
Will, I know you’re worried about her, but can’t you see that she’ll be safer
in the Librabbey than she ever will be out here?”

William
turned his head towards Emily and sought out her eyes with his own.

“I
do see that Em’, I do. But you need to see what’s happening outside your little
world. The people don’t respect the Few the way they did. No, I know you don’t
want to see that, but they don’t. Even the Train Guards have lost their power.
They’ve become lazy and complacent in these years of peace. Then there’s this
new Cult of Ignorance thing that I’ve seen in some of the villages out in the
Between, all they lack is a galvanising force and they …”

“A
cult?” Emily laughed, “that’s what’s got you worried? They are just another
club for bored men to join and if, as you say, they revel in ignorance then
what possible threat could they be? No, you worry too much Will and I love you
for it, but in a town like Choose-To-Be and in a stronghold like the Librabbey?
Surely Lotti will be better off than tramping around ruined cities with you,
digging up broken toys, or off cavorting in the Free Lands?”

William
sighed and turned to gaze through the window. After a few moments he bowed his
head.

“Perhaps
you’re right.” He said, “At least she’ll get a decent education.”

“And
more than that!” Emily smiled down at her daughter, “She’ll have the advantage
of position. She can grow up to be a powerful woman, a leader.”

“Power
and position aren’t everything my dear, what about family?” said William.

Emily
looked up, her face hardening.

“Is
this about us? What? Would you rather I lived in a, a hovel?” she gestured
around the neat little room, “Maybe I should cook and sew like some sort of
throwback? I have more ambition than that, for myself and for my daughter!”

William’s
eyes were downcast as he said quietly,

“That
isn’t what I meant. You know I only want what’s best for her, and for you.”

“So
do I! That’s what I’ve been working towards all these years! In fact, I’ve been
meaning to tell you – and now seems to have become the pertinent moment. I’ve
been offered a new position, an … advancement and it means I’ll have to move
away. Oh, no need to look so shocked, you knew there was nowhere left for me to
go in Choose-To-Be.”

“So
where then? Where?”

“I’ll
be taking over a position in Oup, probably within the next few months. I
realise it’s sudden, but it’s a good thing, it will help us all in the long
run. We’ll be safer, if the pages turn in my favour and the Author writes it
so.”

“I
know that being Few is best for her and for you. It is the law after all,” he
added bitterly, “so there’s nothing more I can do here. I will move away too. I
had been thinking about it anyway. I’ll travel down to the Free Lands as soon
as Lotti becomes a Novistudent.”

 “You don’t have to do that,” said Emily, her
face softening again.

“No,
I do,” said William, “I couldn’t bear to be so close and not see her. And now
it seems I won’t see you either. Better I make a clean break and pursue my
exploration alone.”

Emily
held him by both shoulders and looked him in the eyes.

“I
think that would be best. And you have my word that she will be safe.”

“On
that matter I still have my doubts,” said William, “but I’ve made other plans
to watch over her.” With that he glanced in the direction of the back room
where a tall figure stood quiet and still in the shadows.

It was the last of the summer and forgiving sunlight
bathed the red rooftops of Choose-To-Be where they rose above the towering Wall
or skirted its long shadow. It shone on the steep, cobbled streets, the smartly
dressed stone of the Librabbey towers and on the mellow ruins of the old
Castle, crumbling like fudge and watching wearily over the sheds and tracks of
the Station below.

“Where do you want to go?” Lotti asked.

She was sitting on the flower-strewn hillside amongst
the tumbled stones of the Castle, her bare, grass-stained toes pointing up at
the blue sky then down the hill at the Station.

She often came up here with her friend Crass, a boy
who’d moved into town from the farmlands outside the Wall.

“Dunno.”

Crass’s ever-sullen voice managed to find its way out
from under the dark wedge of fringe that all but obscured his tanned face.

They were watching the trains as they pootled around the
Station or were swallowed by the dark mouth of the tunnel where it cut through
the Wall and led into the unknown of the Between.

Nippy little Tugs and Shunters, unadorned and
unencumbered by carriages, scuttled about amongst the tangle of lines whilst
larger, tatty-looking Freighters staggered and wheeshed their way onto sidings,
their heavy wooden flanks and patchwork plating painted with suppliers marks
from the Between or the Free lands. All of them were dwarfed by the brooding,
malevolent presence of the ponderous Southern Train, shouldering its way at
little more than walking pace along the main line. The dull black of its armour
sucked in the sunlight as if it were made of shadows, its carriages shuttered
against both human and natural threats and studded here and there with towers
housing the scarce but deadly rotating guns.

Lotti stared down at it all, apparently deep in thought.

“Da says I’m gonna go and live in the Libabbey where
I’ll learn to read books and be in charge of all the boys,” she said.

Crass wrinkled his nose. “You ain’t gonna be in charge
of me!”

“I prolly will you know,” said Lotti, eyebrows raised
and lips pursed in self-satisfaction, “and you’ll have to do what I say coz
it’s the law.”

“You can’t make me,” said Crass sulkily, “specially if
you’re inside that big old building and I’m out here.”

“I can just get the Guards to make you,” said Lotti with
a smirk, “and they can throw you out into the Between if you don’t do what I
say.”

Crass glowered down at the trains.

“I ain’t gonna be here anyway,” he said.

Lotti looked round at him, surprised.

“Why? Where’re you goin’?”

“Dunno, but I’m not stayin’ here. When you go I’ll have
no one to talk to. My Da don’t want me, he’s always sayin’ he’s got too many
mouths to feed.”

Lotti looked at Crass intently for a long moment, then
turned back to stare at the trains below.

“I am going to miss you Crass,” she said, “when I come
out of the Libabbey, when I’m all growed up, I’ll come and find you. And I
promise not to boss you around.”

Lotti put her small hand out and rested it on the boy’s
knee. He looked down at it, then put his own hand on top of it. The two of them
watched the trains pull away from the Station and into the unknown.

The
big day had come all too soon. Lotti stood with her father in front of the
warm, red stone building in the late summer sunshine. Her hair was well brushed
and pulled back into the regulation pony-tail of the Novistudent, her face
shining and pink from scrubbing. Her new uniform, a hooded, pale grey cloak
over a parchment coloured tunic, was too hot and uncomfortably prickly, but she
suppressed her desire to squirm as she stood up straight and proud in front of
her father. William crouched down, took hold of his daughter’s hand and looked
into her eyes.

“Don’t
cry Da, I’m going to be fine,” said Lotti.

“I’m
not crying Lots, it’s the sunshine – it makes my eyes water, that’s all. I’m
more used to cellars and tunnels like an old mole,” said William holding his
hands either side of his face like mole paws and trying his best to smile.

“I
will miss you though. You are my old mole,” said Lotti, suddenly lunging
forward and hugging him.

William
hugged her back and said through tears that now coursed down his face,

“And
you’re my sunshine, and that’s why I’m crying.”

 “Oh Da, that’s so embarrassing,” Lotti mumbled
into his shoulder as she squeezed him more tightly.

The
two of them held each other quietly for a while, lost in their own thoughts,
teetering on the edge of the next step in their lives. Over his daughter’s
shoulder and through watery eyes William saw the blurred figure of a Sisteacher
approach them from the Librabbey. She too was wearing the rather severe grey
cloak of the Few, although hers was edged with a narrow red trim denoting her
status. William stood up immediately and turned Lotti to face the woman whilst
keeping hold of her shoulders. Bowing his head slightly he said;

“Author
be with you Sisteacher.”

“May
your story be long Master Cogs,” the Sisteacher replied, her eyes flicking from
Lotti to briefly take in William, no hint of a smile on her thin lips.

“So,
this is Charlotte is it?”

“Well,
we call her Lotti,” stumbled William, “but, yes.”

The
woman held out a bony hand.

“You
have said your goodbyes Charlotte?”

Lotti
nodded up at her.

“Very
well then child, come with me.”

Taking
the proffered hand Lotti glanced back at her father before being propelled
swiftly away to where a gate in the Librabbey wall stood open. William called
after her,

“I
hope to see you again when you’re all grown up my Lots. I know you’ll make me
proud and I’ll get remembrances from your Mother I’m sure. They’ll be able to
find me down in Rainbow City.”

Lotti
smiled back at him over her shoulder, “I will make you proud. I will do my best
and I will be the cleverest person ever when I come out.”

As
the Sisteacher led her into the building William said;

“You
already make me proud my little girl. I love you, Lots.”

But
Lotti didn’t hear him, she was already chatting eagerly to the Sisteacher about
the details of her new life.

William
stood for a while after the gate had shut harbouring a small, selfish hope that
it would open again and disgorge his little girl – rejected as somehow unfit
for purpose or unwilling to leave him. He stood there, steeling himself to walk
away into an unknowable and more lonely future. After a minute his shoulders
rose and fell with a resigned sigh, he turned his back on the Librabbey and
trudged slowly up the cobbled street towards his empty house.

On the other side of the Librabbey a smaller gate stood
unassumingly in the permanent shadow of the towering Wall, partially hidden by
an overgrowth of opportunistic weeds. Beyond it an old and bent Sisteacher in a
worn and shabby cloak, devoid of any coloured trim, approached with a large,
iron key held out before her like a divining rod seeking the rusted lock. Her
gnarled hands struggled to turn the key as it graunched and scraped in protest
after a long retirement. Her back and arm protested as she reached for a stiff
bolt at the top of the gate, then bent to pull another free at its base. Finally,
sweating with the exertion, she pulled and persuaded the warped and
weed-clogged wood to swing inwards. She took a moment to catch her breath
before beckoning to the silent figure that had been waiting patiently on the
other side. As the tall man stepped across the threshold and into the Librabbey
grounds the old Sisteacher poked her head through the gap and peered rheumily
first one way and then the other up the quiet alley outside, before ducking
back inside, tortoise-like and carefully shutting the gate again. The rusty
rattle of bolts and lock faded away and the quiet darkness settled on the
street once more.

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Author

Matt Wilks

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