(AUTHOR'S NOTE) So here we are, at the start of a brand new story. Note that I don't own any of the characters from the movie, but I can take them in brand new directions. Hopefully, this story will do that. All reviews appreciated. (NOTE ENDS)
The Paladin grunted as he stabbed the syringe into his arm, forcing the plunger down, slipping the white substance into his bloodstream. He flung the syringe away from him the moment he had finished and sunk to his knees. He held his head in his hands, nausea rising in his gut. Not at the thing in his system, but at what he was doing. If the others found out what was happening, they would be horrified. They would be even more horrified if they read Dr Conley's latest conclusions. Of course they would be. Religion and truth had never gone together. They wouldn't understand that this was the only way to achieve their ultimate desire – the only way to end a crusade began in a moment of deceit.
"Sir," a technician knelt next to him, "Sir, are you alright?"
"I'm fine," he grunted back. He straightened up, taking deep breaths. "Time to end this war," he muttered.
Griffin O'Conner swore loudly. The old lady at the desk looked up sharply, glaring at him in a way that would melt lead. Her eyes flicked to a sign that read 'SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY'. Griffin winced, returning his gaze to the paper on the table in front of him. A Physics essay on the diffraction properties of light. It was just the sort of essay Dr Smith would set – complicated, requiring the use of more equations than Griffin could remember and a discussion on De Broglie wavelengths.
He spent the next half hour tapping his calculator whilst trying to remember Planck's constant and trying to describe how photons could behave as both particles and waves. He was just making sense of lambda=h/p when the college bell went off, jerking him out of wave-particle duality. Griffin's head shot up, and his hand snapped to his planner. His timetable listed his next session as Religious Studies. Inwardly he groaned. An hour of listening to the local Paladin drone about religious purity, the Archangel guarding them and reading passages from the third bible? He'd rather be in detention with Dr Smith. Unfortunately it was a compulsory session, and the college was obsessed with punctuality. Reluctantly, Griffin shoved his physics textbook into his bag and stood up.
He dragged himself into the lecture theatre a few minutes later with the last few people, to the Paladin's irritable cajoling. Griffin found himself a seat behind Matt Cooper. Matt glanced round, and nodded to Griffin. Griffin had always been a loner, but Matt was perhaps the only person he would describe as a 'friend'. Tall, thin, ginger and Welsh, Matt was quite a loner himself.
"Alright, alright," the Paladin called from the stage at the front of the theatre, "Calm down." Silence descended quite quickly, due to recently passed Acts which allowed schools and colleges to be much more heavy-handed in punishments. Griffin still had a nasty scar from screwing up the class several years ago, and he wasn't looking to repeat the experience in a hurry. "The book of Origin," the paladin said from the front, "Chapter six, verse seven." Dutifully, Griffin opened a weighty book laid out prior to the lesson, the Third Bible, and flicked through until he found the relevant page in the book of Origin, just after the book of the Still. He glanced up at the image present in every one of the college rooms, a portrait of the Supreme Pope, Adam Everett. Sometimes, Griffin wondered how a religious man came to rule the world, even though questioning faith was a sin, and against the law.
"Lord God," the Paladin intoned, "Guide us on the path that we may triumph over the enemy of our salvation and be with you in the end of ends on the planes of the enlightened."
Yep, it was gonna be a long hour.
After the bell clanged to signify the end of an hour of tedium, Griffin retreated to the canteen accompanied by Matt. After sixty minutes of being preached to about God, life, the twelve commandments and Satan's minions being able to transport themselves anywhere in the whole of creation at will, Griffin was in dire need of caffeine.
"God," Griffin muttered as he set his tray down on the table, "How the hell did a fucking religious lunatic get to be in charge?"
"Careful," Matt warned, eyes darting round the room, checking for listeners, "It's opinions like that which got Eliza Stoker arrested."
Internally, Griffin winced, but his face betrayed nothing. Eliza Stoker had originally formed a Protestant worship group, which annoyed the Catholic authorities, but her group had become a place for people who had problems with the world regime, religious or not. Griffin's sister, aged fifteen and younger than him by four years, had been a member. She had been at the meeting when they were all rounded up. She'd been in "protective custody" for nearly a year now, and Griffin's parents had heard nothing from/about her. Griffin set his mouth in a thin line and bit into his Cornish pastie. Matt didn't know about his sister.
"I don't have a problem with Everett ruling the world," Griffin said, the swallowed, "It's just the way the bastard forces everyone else to follow his bloody faith."
Matt openly winced. "You know my parents don't want me to have anything more to do with you?"
"An SU creep turned up on the doorstep last night," Matt admitted. "Said you'd been heard making an anti-religious remark."
"Fuck," Griffin muttered. The Student's Union was a bunch of fanatical nutjobs whose role was to 'root out potential threats to God's Earth and nip them in the bud.' This included anyone with slightly different views, religious or otherwise. They were like the Gestapo on acid. The local chapter had originally viewed him as a slightly dysfunctional, attention-seeking youth, but this news might change everything. Griffin had heard stories of mysterious 'disappearances' and he knew them to be true, despite what the SU claimed. They must start to be taking him seriously if they were warning people away from him…
"Shit…" he said again.
"Matthew Cooper to office S3, that's Matthew Cooper to office S3," the loudspeakers crackled. Matt sighed and left the table, glancing back at Griffin. S3 was a Student Union office.
The afternoon dragged by. Griffin bunked off Physics and slouched into the centre of town. He didn't do anything, just walked round, his mind on other things. Drab buildings squatted on the sides of the streets, the shop names written above their doors in blocky writing – none individual, just the same monotonous design. The shops themselves were as interesting as the font that wrote their names – i.e. not very. Fiction was little more than religion obsessed pro-Paladin propaganda, clothes could not be too extravagant or revealing, lipstick was the only legal cosmetic. Propaganda covered the walls – 'Strength through Purity, Purity through Faith', 'Hallowed is the Lord', 'Enemies of the Lord show no mercy in their attempts to draw believers away from the Path.'
A vendor offered Griffin a newspaper, but Griffin grunted in refusal. He plodded on, past the church - a red brick edifice that dominated the skyline with its tower, casting other buildings around it into shadow. Griffin turned his head to avoid looking at it. He moved into an alley, crossing a main road before turning into an arcade. He stopped at a boarded up shop front, where one of his dad's friends used to work. He remembered listening to James Michalowski describing, in private, what life had been like before Everett took over the EU and invaded America. That wasn't part of the official history Griffin was taught from an early age in school, rather a secret legacy suppressed by the authorities. It was one of those old history books – 'Satanist propaganda and not the true history' as it was described, dspite it being published before Everett came to power - that had got him arrested. Michalowski had described times of 'individual freedom', a concept which had appealed to Griffin. The thought of being able to choose how he wanted to live his own life, rather than having it dictated by five thick books, was a nice dream to have, but sadly impossible.
Griffin grunted to himself, and turned away. If the SU was classing him as a potential threat, it was likely he'd just ended his chances of a comfortable life. People with opinions generally didn't do very well in the sense that they were often/usually taken into 'protective custody' and never seen again.
It wasn't until six that he finally got home to a small, semi-detached house in Enfield with a large rosebush in the front garden. He let himself in and found his parents cooking dinner. Robert and Hannah O'Conner were an average middle-aged couple with relatively secure finances, a comfortable enough house and little stress. They were also a little over-protective of their son, not wanting Griffin to be taken away like their daughter.
"Where have you been?" was Hannah's first question the moment Griffin had locked the door.
"About," Griffin replied brusquely, kicking his trainers off and slouching up the stairs.
"It's teatime in a few minutes," his mum called after him. "Shepherd's pie."
"Not hungry," Griffin's voice floated down the stairs.
Hannah sighed and shifted her son's plate onto the sideboard.
"You alright?" Robert asked.
"It's just Griffin," she replied. "He seems… on edge.'
"You can tell all that from three words? I'd say that was unusually talkative of him."
"Do you think there's something wrong at college?"
Robert shrugged, spooning carrots onto his and Hannah's plates. "He'll be all right. It's just… that time of the year." He glanced towards the photograph of Louise, their daughter, on top of the microwave. She had been taken in early February, almost a year before.
"Yes," Hannah said quietly. "I suppose that's it." There was a short, sad silence, then Robert finished serving, and put what was left of the meal in the fridge for Griffin.
Griffin pushed his bedroom door shut and leant against it, closing his eyes and thinking. That was what got people into trouble, thinking. You thought too much, and you started to realize just what was wrong with the world. It was Everett. Then, once you had realized that, you also discovered there was nothing you could do about it.
Griffin sighed. Suddenly he felt very tired. He pulled his shirt over his head, dropped it on the floor, and fell forward onto his bed.
It wasn't until midnight that he woke up in a sweat, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. He groaned and climbed out of bed, moving over to the window. He opened it, letting the cold air wash over his skin. He stood there for a few minutes, listening to the silence. Then he heard it. The faint clatter he recognized as gunfire. He pulled the window shut and returned to bed, pausing only to remove his jeans. It was another person who'd thought and was now not so quietly 'disappearing' like all the others.
In this conclusion, he was utterly and irrefutably wrong.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE) So there you have it. Chapter one. There aren't any prizes for guessing what's happened, but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless. I can also promise the answers to many questions in later chapters, although I have to rotate between working on this and a Dr Who story, The Land that Time Forgot. Thanks for reading! (END NOTE)