scrap of bread fell onto the red pavement where Enodin sat hugging his knees, beneath the steel shadows of the towering high rises. The passerby who had dropped the crumbs wore an ankle-length black coat and his face was shrouded beneath a broad-rimmed hat.
Gold flashed in the hazy morning sun. “The ring!” Enodin gasped. “He’s got my ring.”
Tired beyond words, hungry beyond notice, the youth pushed himself to his feet and followed. Hover cars rushed past the surging crowd. Enodin reached into his pocket as he maneuvered through the throng.”
Good. I still have the seed bulb,” he muttered. He had been searching for the ring and his family for two days since three men had broken into his 178th story apartment, taken his parents and his sister, and left him for dead. When he had awoken and felt the death-needle wound on his neck, he had been thankful for the attacker’s poor aim.
“What use has he of my ring?” Enodin puffed, keeping his eyes fixed on the black figure, still devouring his bread in the swelling crowd. The ring and the bulb had belonged to the boy’s family for generations, his mother told him, and now they were his.
“Soon you will find the forbidden way to the River where you will fulfill your purpose,” she explained on his sixteenth birthday, the night of the attack. “Then you will see the Change.” She gazed out their window at the leaden sky.
“But why me?” Enodin asked her, as he studied the ring’s intricate artistry.
“You said the ring had been passed from grandmother to granddaughter for six generations. My sister–” the boy’s eyes questioned.
“Your sister is older and has already lost a rare quality you still possess; curiosity. We cannot wait any longer,” his mother insisted, as she glanced toward the door through which his father entered. Enodin recalled his mother’s whispered warning; to keep the knowledge hidden from all else, to trust no one and that she would tell him where the seed bulb was concealed. She then issued an even stranger warning that still rang in his swimming head.
“If something happens to us, Enodin — to me. Trust no one. Do not go to the Defense Council; do not even trust a defense officer. Follow only the advice of your instinct.”
The ritual birthday commemoration continued that night though Enodin was acutely aware of a rift between his mother and father. He detected fearful glances as if both were aware of some impending peril about which the boy dared not inquire. His father had told him his insatiable curiosity would someday lead him into danger, and now his mother had claimed it was the quality needed to bring about the Change.
However, before she could explain the meaning of the Change, violence had destroyed the festive evening. Enodin had withdrawn the seed bulb from its hiding place, secured it in his zippered thigh pocket, discovered his mother’s ring was missing from his finger and set out on his quest to find the ring and his family.
The man glanced back, but before Enodin saw the face, a striding defense officer, armored in robotic uniform, barred his path. The officer’s red-domed helmet began to hum, indicating the proximity of danger.
“Trouble, boy?” the officer droned.
“No, I’m OK, officer; just trying to find my mother. She-she’s shopping and I lost her,” Enodin explained hastily.
“I’ll escort you home, then,” the officer announced, as he pressed a series of buttons on his wristband.
Enodin sidestepped into the crowd and lost his would-be helper, as he frantically searched the surging mass. A hover-bus swallowed the black-coated man and Enodin’s quick pace enabled him to catch the end-rail of the retracting ramp before it rushed eastward, toward the riverfront. Enodin had lived in the city all his life, yet he had never seen the River. Only workers lived and roamed the docks, smelling of fish and dark lives, unlike his father whose City Monitor status imbued him with the scent of leather and printouts.
In the flickering red sunlight that entered through the narrow bus windows, Enodin found a seat close to the ring thief. What had he done with his family, the boy wondered, as the man slowly turned his face toward his pursuer.
“Father!” Enodin exclaimed aloud, his eyes wide with confusion. His father pulled the bus cord and leapt into the street that paralleled the brown heavy water. Enodin followed hastily as the man disappeared into the stair-tube butted against a mirror glass tower.
“Father!” Enodin shouted. “Wait!” His voice fell empty on the wood and steel of the sprawling docks, as a passing group of workers stared at the boy, in his ragged silk shirt and tattered linen trousers.
“You won’t be able to get in there, boy,” a dark-skinned man offered.
“Why? What’s up there?” Enodin asked, shaken.
The dark man sighed and glanced at his companions. “Well, you could say it’s the place they take care of the river-decide what factories are using up too much water, whose turn it is to be shut off-that sort of thing.” He smiled but Enodin’s weakened state did not allow him to share the stranger’s levity. “But to tell you the truth, nobody really knows what goes on there.” Enodin looked into the man’s dark eyes, wondering if he could trust him.
“What’s the matter, boy?” The man put his hand on Enodin’s shoulder and his touch made the youth tremble.
“C’mon, I’m maintenance monitor. I can get you in.” He nodded to the other men. “I’ll catch up.”
“Don’t get into trouble again, Aurin,” one portly man warned as they turned and strode away toward a waiting hover-bus.
“Now, then, what’s up, son?” Aurin asked as his hand guided Enodin toward the stair-tube entrance.
“I-I’m looking for something — my mother” but he could not, in his fatigue and desperation, describe his plight.
“Never mind, for now. Your father’s avoiding you. Is he a City Monitor?” Enodin nodded. “And he has access to the River Tower. Do you know why?” Enodin shook his head. “I was afraid you didn’t. Well, I think you’re about to learn.”
Aurin slipped his key-card into the lock’s slot and the doorway slid open. They stepped in and the door closed behind them.
“By your father’s outfit, I’d guess he’s gone all the way to the top–the River Monitor’s suite.” Enodin remembered he had been taught by his father to avoid dark men like Aurin. “I’ve only seen a few people dressed like him who use the mirror tower. Do you know what your father does?”
“I thought I did, till a few minutes ago.”
They stepped onto the silver stair and it activated the spiraling staircase, carrying them smoothly past brightly-lit offices, busy with men and women in dark clothing and heavy expressions.
“What do these people do here?” Enodin queried.
“No one’s ever told me, son, and no one else has ever asked. In fact, no one seems to ask anything these days.”
The man smiled again. “I like your curiosity.”
The youth nodded. “My name’s Enodin.”
“And mine is Aurin.” They shook hands.
There were no people on the highest floor and the single doorway was recognizable only by a thin line next to the key slot.
“I don’t have access to this one, Enodin,” Aurin explained. “I’m not allowed up this far. I guess they clean their own floors.”
Enodin smiled tentatively as he reached into his pocket and withdrew the seed bulb.
“I have a feeling this will get me in,” the youth explained as he held the fibrous bulb in his open palm.
“You’re the Planter?” Aurin grasped Enodin’s hands, enclosing the bulb.
“I have hoped I could see this day. Above all else, Enodin, remember, your hands are the tools for the Change.”
“Do you know the meaning of the Change, Aurin?”
Before Aurin could answer, a rush of hot, red light enveloped them, when the door flew open, and the River Monitor, Enodin’s father, stood in the steaming glow, his fire-weapon leveled at Aurin.
“No, Father!” Enodin screamed as he leapt against his older friend forcing him into the stair-tube. The weapon’s death-stream cracked against the closing door missing Aurin, as he vanished behind the shining steel.
The Monitor coldly aimed his weapon at his son.
“Now give me the seed bulb. You have no need of it.”
“Why did you run from me, Father?” Enodin gasped, afraid to hear the answer.
“I did not know you had the bulb in your possession. There are too many things you will never know. Give me the seed bulb.” His father’s voice rang in Enodin’s ears like a rumbling approach of thunder. He had been raised to fear the voice and even now, although certain his father was responsible for the violent attack on his home, he could not resist him.
Trembling, fighting the welling sob that lodged in his chest, and certain he would not see his mother or sister again, Enodin held out his hand, regretting the Change would never come. The force of his father’s gaze controlled the little strength he had left.
“The Change,” he heard his mother’s voice murmur.
“Your hands-the Change,” Aurin’s voice echoed. His father extended his large hand to take the bulb.
The gold, embossed ring glinted in the mirrored sunlight. Spurred by a hidden energy, Enodin deftly grabbed the ring and stripped it from his father’s lean finger. He fell and rolled past the Monitor’s fire weapon into the suite, swiftly slipping the ring onto his middle finger. Standing, he faced the River Monitor looming in the open doorway, his weapon hanging at his side. The ring shields me, Enodin surmised.
“Listen, Enodin. You have no need of that ring, or the seed. You cannot possibly imagine any use for them. Your memory does not serve you in this. Give them to me, son.” His father’s voice was like molten steel.
Enodin clenched the seed bulb in his fist and stepped back as his father approached at a pace. He glanced around the room taking in the seemingly endless line of computer monitors, each displaying images of rivers, forests, canyons and grasslands. The screens pulsed like individual heartbeats alternating with images of his father’s face.
“I know you are surprised by all of this, Enodin. I know you have had a different idea of what your father did,” the River Monitor said, as he slowly stepped closer to the boy.
Enodin, his back against the screen, leaned his ringed hand against the computer’s smooth key panel.
“Where’s my mother — and sister?” he stammered.
“They are safe,” his father intoned, noticing Enodin’s hands on the key panel. “Do not touch the panels,” he warned.
“Why, Father? What do you do in this tower?” His ringed finger felt a warm twinge from the key it touched.
“We monitor resources, son. The general populace cannot be entrusted with such responsibilities.
Now, step away from the panel and I will explain. You are old enough to understand now,” the Monitor droned, forcing a smile that nearly fooled Enodin into believing his father’s sincerity. He gasped for air in the room’s sealed atmosphere.
“You must not touch anything before I explain, Enodin,” the River Monitor insisted, his voice darkening. “I tell you the truth; your mother and sister are safe.”
“I don’t think you know the truth. I don’t think you can call me your son,” Enodin asserted as he leaned back harder against the system control, spreading his hand over the whole panel until he felt the sharp warmth focus on his ringed finger.
The oscillating screens suddenly flashed to the single image of a wild river. Its raw beauty mesmerized Enodin and, for a moment, both he and his father gazed at the blue image, as a rising hum emanated from the monitors.
“Take your hand from that panel, Enodin! You do not understand the purpose of these control systems,” his father demanded in a menacing whisper.
“But I think I do, Father,” Enodin replied.
The pressure on the prohibited panel launched an abrupt transformation. The room filled with conflicting fragrances and bird songs and alternating colors; blues, greens and a flashing, blinding sunlight that grew in its intensity so that Enodin squeezed his eyes shut just as his father lunged toward him.
When he opened his eyes, he was alone: no buildings, no screens, and no River Monitor, only an open meadow bordered with a forest. Nearby a river flowed, the river whose image had appeared on the computer screens, but this was no image, running clear as glass, and reflecting the smokeless, azure sky. Breathing deeply, Enodin knelt on the moist earth, clawed up a piece of sod and dirt and planted the bulb, respectfully tapping the soil in place.
When he finished, he stood up and saw the Change – the prism-like grasses, the scented air, the cold river’s sinuous course; a hawk’s soaring song, and the play of the hushed breeze in the shimmering aspen. Enodin had found the forbidden way to the River and himself.
He was the Planter; the first for too many generations, but now, not the last!
The Planter by James Lazarus
The author can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org