The sight of the emperor's face yesterday plagued me with nightmares. When I finally woke up, I wondered why, with all the money he had, he won't buy synthflesh or something to cover it up.
I don't think I care anyway. Just waking up was a relief, I thought as the guards led us out into the night to yesterday's place.
Today was just like yesterday, except I trained my eyes to look at the floor instead of the emperor or the dying people. The second day of the fete week has less people, but it was still a lot.
They took prisoners in front of the crowd. Ask them for last words. Offer them blindfold. Hung them up. Shot them. It was like this all morning. Déjà vu- which I mentioned I hated for a thousand times. My ears were unmerciful; I was hoping I would go deaf and spare myself from the sound of families sobbing when their relatives and friends were killed. A small imprisoned girl next to me screamed out for her mom who was accepting a blindfold. I instinctively looked up and saw her mom turning her head and giving her a sad smile and a shake of the head. The girl got a slam which she hardly noticed, and sobbed for her mom. The crowd almost can't take it. Almost. I can't, though. It was Kalifa's hand around my mouth and body that got me to stay in place. I angrily blinked tears away.
In the end of the morning executions, the emperor announced that he will be going offworld to attend some other public executions, and that his officers are going to take over. I was half wondering if he'll blow a kiss to the silent crowd to get them clapping at least politely. What I saw was relieved glances that the emperor wasn't going to be here. I was glad too, even though Kalifa already told me that he won't be staying.
We were marched back to the prison, where we hung around until dinner. I noticed that the surviving prisoners who haven't yet given up hung at the door, hoping to be the first for food. Kalifa didn't seem to take any notice of that. But when dinner came, she was still the first to get most of it, and wrestled the others to give to her. Like yesterday, she shared them equally.
A girl came up and sat with us. "I'm Numi. I'm nine years old," she whispered. "Why are you doing this?"
Kalifa's eyes were kind. "Because every one deserves food, Numi. Everyone deserves fairness and freedom. The Empire just doesn't know this."
Numi's stomach rumbled. Barriss leaned over and gave her some remaining bread. Reluctantly, she accepted with a nod of thanks. Although it was clear she tried to contain it, her eyes brimmed with tears.
"No one has ever been nice to me before... except my..." The last word, "mother" stuck in her throat. She's got my emotional, too. Oh great. It was the last thing I needed.
Barriss put an arm around her. "Don't worry. You'll be safe. Courage, dear one. You have nothing to lose."
She sniffed and looked around, as if expecting her mom. "I thought I heard my mom say that..." She broke into sobs.
"Courage, dear one." I heard that before, too. In my mom's voice. I looked at Barriss and Kalifa, but they just shrugged. Whatever they did comforted me. I hope it was the same for Numi. I hope they don't ask me to help though. I'm not the comforting type, and it always got awkward when I tried to.
Numi looked up and met Barriss's eyes. "You promise me?"
Barriss nodded. She had never yet broken her promise before, so I guess she's coming along with us. Kalifa reached the same conclusion. I can see in her eyes that she agreed, but reluctantly. I can hear them whispering while Numi went to Eroda and Eva, while Ward and I was just sitting there looking dumb.
"We can't afford to pick up other strays," Kalifa said, "Maybe this would do, but that's it."
Barriss nodded and turned back to Numi, who wanted to ask something. "My mother is in my heart, isn't she? The voice came from my heart."
"Those who love us never truly leave us, Numi. She'll always be there, just not in a physical way."
That comforted her. That's when I realize that all pairs of eyes in the prison was on us.
Kalifa saw this too. She stood up. Her voice, so soft and low, rang throughout the chamber. "This is what happened yesterday. This is what happened today. And this is what will happen tomorrow, if we are not there to stop it."
A stirring went through the crowd.
"When the war ended, is this what you want? No freedom, no justice? To see our loved ones slaughtered just like that? I don't know who you are or what you do, but I have a feeling that if we don't act now, we will all be killed just like they did."
Barriss joined her. "The empire is ruthless. You all know this. If we start now, what happened to you... or worse... could happen to your loved ones. We ask you again, is this what you want? If we stand up now, endure the pain and suffering, it will be guaranteed that your children won't."
A rodian stood up. "I have no loved ones left. But my children are my people. I trust you will guide us through."
Eva nodded. "It would be much better if the emperor is just thrown in the garbage chute," she commented.
Everyone laughed, or at least smiled. It was the first time I saw many people doing this. I can't help smiling, too.
We all stood up. Kalifa took two fingers, touching each other, and placed it over her heart. I don't know what it is, but everyone did it and I have no reason to stand out.
"Life is short," she whispered softly, "It is up to you to make it sweet. Welcome to the Eleven."