Jade and Hugo

Literally everything about this is illegal. The language this is written in, and the fact you can read it, which means you know this language, so yes, you reading these words right now is an unlawful act. The device you are using to read this should not exist. All electronic devices that display this language were outlawed in the Toronto Treaty. I do not know how you found enough electric energy to display this due to the strict energy rations put in place after the war, but I am just going to assume that you did not obtain it legally. Seriously, why are you reading this? Do you believe that there are some grand or wise words of wisdom written in this document? Let me tell you something about the people who once used this language as their main method of communication. They had pride. Freedom of the individual was their mantra. It was the heart and soul of their civilization. They were a very special bunch of people. It is a shame, a full tragedy what happened to them, but words are expensive, and that’s not why you are reading this. You did not come here for a history lesson. You came because you know what this means, and you either don’t care about the consequences, or you have found a way to exist above the law. The details are not important right now. They most certainly are not important to me. What is important is that you have found a way to access this, to read this, and are willing to do anything to achieve what must happen next. You can find me and others like us in the neutral zone. Look for a red box. Do what it says, and we will all live. Be careful.

“Is that it?” Asked Hugo.

“Yes,” said Jade.

“That was incredibly wordy and unhelpful.”

“I know, but it does say where to go to find them. I know exactly how to get there, and I think I know enough about the red boxes to locate one.”

After a long and heavy sigh, Hugo allowed his disappointment to vanish with the moment. He smiled.  “I guess if we are going to go find the last of the native speakers, it makes sense that we have to take a road trip first,” said Hugo. He reached for Jade’s hand. She smiled. After a nice, warm moment, the make-shift computer station soaked up its last electric energy ration and turned off quietly, without much of a fuss. Then, the warmth left and the winter air became more prevalent.

“When do you want to head south?” Asked Hugo.

“Now is as good as time as any.” Said jade.

There wasn’t much to pack, getting started would be easy. Jade had just resupplied with her allotted rations, and despite using up her electric rations in one activity, it was no bother. More were not needed where they were going.  While bicycling and using public transit was praised by the government, it was not practical in the rural country, especially in the winter. Jade’s grandfather had left her his delivery van. After the war, only delivery drivers were authorized to own gasoline powered vehicles, and their routes were strictly monitored. In time, people cared less about where they went, and Jade’s grandfather would take side trips to pick up old treasures like books and maps from abandoned, war damaged buildings. Jade came to love them all, repair them all, and both understand and speak the language of the defeated well. After her grandfather retired, the van became Jade’s personal library and computer station. She spent all her free time there. It felt more like home to her than her family’s farm, and after her parents died she sold the farm. Jade just simply lived in the van. Each day, she’d drive somewhere new. Due to the rations, she often went just a few hundred yards down the road, but to Jade, it was a glorious life. Each day brought a new view of the world, and each day Jade was content and in peace.

She met Hugo on a hot humid summer day. He was riding his bicycle down the road, without a destination in mind (at least, that’s the story he’s always told Jade) when he got a flat. After walking for a few kilometers, he came upon Jade’s van. It was love at first sight. Hugo never went back for his bike, and Jade never complained about his company. That was four years and several hundred kilometers ago. Today, the van is on its last life, rust has taken its toll and Jade and Hugo are less care-free and more goal driven than ever to meet the last of the speakers of the forbidden language, or at least, the last descendants of them. It had become their dream.

Hugo and Jade started the van and headed south. For several minutes, the excitement filled them both with happiness. Then, reality set in. They were leaving the comfort and security of their beloved Canada and heading into neutral territory. No one comes back from neutral territory. At least, no one comes back and returns to society. Deserters are often forced to work for an allied country. It’s an okay life, but it is nothing as nice as the land of Canada, with its generous and fair rations and next to nothing crime rate. Its pleasant French language, a charming chorus of soothing tones. Its righteous history. Its natural beauty. Everyone is nice and polite in Canada. It’s like nowhere else in the world.

“How will we get past the gate?” Asked Hugo with obvious regret in his voice, “You know, the guarded gate to enter the neutral zone.”

“It’s easy,” said Jade, “the gate is just a tall hedge.”

“A hedge?!?”

“Yes, a hedge. It’s very effective. Why would anyone want to disturb a seemingly meaningless hedge?”

“I guess I can see your point, so…no guards?”

“No guards. That’s why I have these.” Jade held up an impressively large pair of pruning shears.

“I thought those were for large computer wires, like for government office buildings.” Said Hugo.

“You have a very strange imagination.”

“Obviously not strange enough for reality. A hedge, huh?”

“I’m not kidding, it’s really just a tall hedge.”

“If you say so,” said Hugo, “and when we get there, I nominate you to do the honors of cutting an opening.”

“Of course,” said Jade while smiling, “my pleasure.”

After a couple hours of driving, the hedge could be seen from a distance. Jade drove the van right up to it and got out with her large pruning shears and began cutting. “Hey, Hugo,” she called after several minutes, “I think I’m almost through.”  Hugo left the van to join her. After a few more snips, they both walked into the neutral zone. It was dirty. It was stinky. It was dead.

“How can this be?” Asked Hugo, “Where are plants and trees?”

“Anything alive like that was torched during the war,” responded Jade with confidence. “Let’s get going.”

“Wait,” said Hugo, “What about the van?”

“What about it? Look around you, there are no roads, no gasoline, and no way to utilize a vehicle like that. Besides, if we tried, we’d be attacked before nightfall.” Jade paused in thought, then said, “Wait here,” and quickly walked all the way back to the van and dug out a small device from under her seat. She flipped a switch and walked through the hedge.

“…so, we are going to go by foot…we’re walking there?!?” Asked Hugo.

“Yes, Hugo, we are walking. It will be fine. Just a little way into the neutral zone and will find one of the red boxes. Trust me.”

“Why did you go back to the van? Did you forget something ?”

Jade didn’t respond but began to walk faster. Hugo hesitated, but then quickly caught up to her. “I think if we hurry, we can find it before dark,” she said.

“I sure hope so,” said Hugo. After a few hours they both suddenly stopped in awe. In the distance, there was a box, just like the letter had said there would be. “Isn’t it strange it was so easy to find?”

“Maybe not,” said Jade, “My father told me that right after the war, there were thousands of them built, all easily findable from the edge of the neutral zone, so that it was easy to hide from further harassment.”

“How is politely asking a bunch of people to join a better society harassment?” Asked Hugo.

“Well, they were, and maybe still are, a prideful people. The thought of abandoning their culture, their language, and their society was unacceptable.”

“As long as there is some food and water in that box, they can believe whatever they want.”

The box was very distinctive. Clearly, it had been painted and once the red faded to pink, repainted repeatedly. There was no door, just a side that was missing. Once Jade and Hugo had saw the opening, it was obvious it was less like a box, and more like a covering for an underground shelter. The stairs were also red. Written on the first step in blue were the letters U, S, and A. “What does that mean?” asked Hugo.

“I’m not certain, but the next step has the words go down, “ said Jade.

“Well, that letter this morning told us to do as the box says…so…after you.”

Once underground, the stairs were painted white and all were made of metal and with each step, the classic echoing noise shoes make rang out. There was no way they were going to be able to enter the underground quietly, not that they necessarily desired such an entrance.

“That looks like the bottom,” said Jade, “but I don’t see or hear any people, do you?”

“No,” said Hugo. Then, without thinking he started to shout out, “Hello? Anyone down here?”

Jade and Hugo continued down the stairs. Once at the bottom, they realized they were standing in a large room with tile floors and monitors on the far wall. A single lightbulb hung down from a tall ceiling lighting just part of the space that seemed to go on forever in the darkness. They walked over to monitors. Only one small screen was on and it was showing footage of a fire. It looked like it might be live footage. They stood and watched in awe.

“Excuse me, but do you two know anything about this?”

Jade and Hugo both turned around to find an old woman standing in the middle of the room, glaring at them. “Do we know anything about what?” Asked Jade.

“The fire,” said the woman.

It took a moment, but Jade finally realized what was burning. It was the hedge. The border of the neutral zone. She reached in her pocket and pulled out her keys to her van. In the process of going down the stairs, or maybe just walking briskly, she had managed to press the red button on her key chain.

“I’m sorry,” said Jade. “I left a bomb in my van as a precaution. I didn’t mean for it to go off. At least, not yet. I most certainly didn’t mean to set the hedge on fire.”

“A bomb!?!” exclaimed Hugo, “Is that what you forgot and went back for? A bomb?” Hugo quickly quieted given the circumstances, but he clearly looked uneasy while Jade tried hard to hold her ground by standing up straighter, to show their guest she wasn’t afraid of her.

The old woman closed her eyes. It was now apparent how weathered this woman’s skin was, and how life in the neutral zone must have worn her down. Her clothes were well taken care of but old and falling apart at the seams. She was tough yet appeared calm and at peace. She lifted her left hand. Six other people walked out from the shadows. All with surprised, yet calm expressions on their faces.

“Who are you?” asked Jade, “Are you…are you going to hurt us?”

“Hurt you?” Replied the old woman, “Why would we hurt the ones that started the revolution?”

“REVOLUTION?!?” Exclaimed Jade and Hugo in dramatic unison.

“Yes,” said the woman, “We are going to walk up and take back what was once ours. We just had no way to get the attention of our neighbor up north. Destroying hundreds of miles of their beloved hedge by setting it a blaze should be sufficient.”

“Look,” said Hugo, “we had no intention of starting a revolt. We just wanted to meet you, meet the last of the Americans.”

“Yes,” said Jade, “We are not violent people. We are just curious and find the culture and language of the defeated fascinating.”

The room became quiet. After a long silence, the old woman just said with a wide smile on her face, “Defeated?” She and her commodes slowly started to laugh. Then, they laughed so hard they cried. Jade and Hugo were not amused. In the middle of the laughter, a well-dressed man walked out from the shadows. He walked right towards the monitor, completely ignoring Jade and Hugo. He was obviously important, maybe their current leader? He just stood there for a few minutes with his hands in his pockets. He waited for the room to go quiet again. Finally, he spoke, “Well, that was one way of doing it.”


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