It’s interesting how some things just stick with you.
I’ve not told this story before, but now it seems almost inappropriate to keep it to myself. First, let me say that this is not a history lesson, no one here needs a lecture over the mistakes of our forebears. We all know what happened and we all know why, and while this is a story that relates almost directly to it, it is not a further description of the hows and whys of what happened.
Secondly, while I was a part of this story, it isn’t mine. I only tell it now because everyone else who knows about it is gone, turned to dust, as I will be very soon.
Third and finally, this isn't a story of hope. This isn't something that will set a spark to reignite the world that was, nor will it make you feel better about our situation, it is just a story that changed people there and then, some for the better and others for the worse. If it’s a story about anything, its a story about life itself.
Her eyes were the sharpest blue I had ever seen. They pierced through everything that I had developed out here in the wilds. She can’t have been older than 11, yet she had already been fixed with a mask and tank. A small tank so she could carry it, but a tank nonetheless.
She never spoke, at least not to me. Anything that she needed us to know was written down, or gestured in some hobbled together young-child sign language.
You have to remember, this was back when optimism was a commodity. The cities were still working and some people could live their entire lives without ill effects. A child in the wilds was almost unheard of by itself, but a child in protective gear, working for water and food like we were doing was considered an impossibility. We didn't know what to do.
Davos Fein took her in. He was a good man, despite what the record shows, and she thrived in his household. His wife, barren from birth, loved the girl like her own daughter and for a moment, they were happy.
The story would end there today. The child would have grown up, like the rest of us. Davos and his wife would have had a daughter and life would continue. Back then, though, life was different. I know you all have had the lessons and you know, factually, what happened and all that, but you never had to live in it. You never had to gather the sand for a glass city that constantly fell down, you never had to eat what the others left you, hoping it wasn’t the people who had gone missing the previous months.
All in all, today, life in the wilds is a lot simpler than it used to be. Maybe not better, but it’s all perspective, really, and that little girl offered some that we hadn't had since my grandparents time. When people found out the child was in a mask and working, two things happened. Davos and his wife were arrested, accused of mistreating the girl, despite her origin. They faced trial and were convicted. We all know this story.
The second was that some people started to see children as tools. It was slow, deliberately so, but eventually masks were fitted to other children and, I think it was five or so years after the executions, the laws were changed to allow anyone of any age to be fitted with a mask if they needed to be. Which, of course, meant more children in the wilds and fewer adults.
I fought against this, and was exiled for my troubles, only coming back after the cities had fallen and the status quo changed. The girl was long dead by then. I never saw her after the Fein trials, and while I was never implicated in her so-called mistreatment, people always viewed me with distrust since Davos and I had been close friends all our lives.
But you all know that, or most of it. The trials, the fall and all that is public record. What you don't know is why we were in the wilds that day, when we found her. Hell, no one really questioned that a child was found with a mask and tank at all.
To be honest, I don't think we ever got the full truth from her. Not that she lied or anything, but more that she didn't know herself.
During my exile I spent time going from city to city looking for her family, looking for anything that would give me an idea of what exactly had happened. I never found her parents themselves so I can’t tell you what happened to them, but the legend goes that this blue eyed girl was not the first and obviously not the last to be subjected to something we didn't even think of until after we found her.
See, the cities didn't fall because of us like some would have us believe, they fell because everyone inside them knew, with their heart of hearts, that the troubles would pass, that everything would come back around and the world would reassemble itself into what it once was.
Even when I was there, in exile, a lot of people still believed that. It’s funny because when I brought up the idea that being optimistic about the future was counter to putting masks and tanks on children, I was almost served a double exile.
The point is, I never found her parents, nor the reason they chose to treat their child like that. What I found, as I realised later, was the bitter truth of the world. To many people, even now, the day the cities fell was the day that optimism died. I disagree, for me it was the day normal people decided it was OK to mask up their children and send them into the wilds.