At midnight I seemed to wake up naturally. Kenny was standing in my room in a pool of silver light that didn’t correspond to the brightness or the angle of the moon.
“Hi,” he murmured, sitting on my bed.
I sat up.
“Hi,” I whispered, feeling strangely shy.
“You okay about doing this?” he asked.
“Mm-hm. I mean, I kind of feel like I’d help you out more if I could... but I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
Kenny’s brow furrowed in confusion.
“What d’you mean?”
I looked down at my duvet, biting my lip, half feeling terrible about what I was going to say, but half knowing that it was true and so I might as well say it anyway.
“I don’t think it should go on. I don’t want the earthquake to turn into a tsunami, don’t want people to suffer by a hurricane or a volcanic eruption... Joel said you didn’t have proof, but shouldn’t they at least call it off for a little while just to prove it wasn’t them? I know I don’t know what I’m talking about, I know I’ve never known love but ...” I looked back up at Kenny almost imploringly. “The Apocalypse? Surely it’s better to be alive and apart than for everyone to be dead?”
Kenny was smiling slightly.
“I’m so glad you’ve said this, Jen. I really am.”
I blushed and looked down at my duvet again, feeling embarrassed.
There was a small rustling noise and I looked up to see Kenny had brought out the feather.
Confused, I asked “What are you doing?”
Kenny was smiling mysteriously. He moved closer to me and showed me the feather. It was illuminated by that odd silver glow.
“Close your eyes, feel up the stem and count the ridges.”
He handed me the feather.
Frowning, I took it, asking “Why?”
“Just humour me, Jen.”
Closing my eyes, I held the bottom of the stem carefully between the thumb and index finger of my left hand. With the index finger of my right hand, I started from the bottom and moved my finger slowly upwards. It wasn’t long before I reached a ridge. From then I began counting, aloud, just so Kenny knew I was doing it.
“1, 2, 3....” As I reached the end of the feather, I finished counting: “17, 18.” I opened my eyes in surprise. “18! Isn’t that the number of Chaos levels?”
“Why are you telling me this? Shouldn’t you be getting on with your mind-wipe?”
“Well... the order was given on the basis of my assumption you would hate yourself for what you’d done while wearing the Ring. On the basis of the idea that you had done enough.”
“If you want to do more, you can.”
I looked into Kenny’s dark blue eyes. He looked so proud of me.
“I don’t have to have my mind wiped?” I checked.
I was starting to find there was a big difference between supporting Kenny with my opinions and actually making an active decision to join him in breaking my sister and her boyfriend up.
I looked back down at my covers. I sighed deeply.
“What would Susanna say?” I murmured to myself
Kenny suddenly stood up.
“Oh my goodness, I hadn’t realized how terrible I’ve become. No, Jennifer, forget it - forget I ever said anything.” He quickly picked up my hand.
I looked up.
“Wait! What are you talking about?”
Kenny looked anguished.
“I’m offering you the choice that only a Guardian should have to make. The choice between people’s happiness and Duty. You shouldn’t have to choose between those, Jen. I can’t believe I forgot how awful it was to make my own decision. But it’s worse for you because your sister’s involved. Jen, you do realize, we would be trying to break Joel and Susanna up? Actively trying to break their hearts?”
I swallowed, considering it more deeply now that Kenny had said this. Saving the world aside, could I ever face Susanna again after causing her so much pain? She thought she loved Joel. I now understood more clearly why Kenny had kept calling himself the bad guy. I was her sister. She trusted me.
A familiar warmth began in my hand.
“Wait,” I insisted, just wanting more time. I pictured Susanna’s tears but then I pictured the Earth on fire.
“No, Jen, don’t worry, I can do it myself. It’s fine.” I was starting to lose focus. I fought it, looking at Kenny, biting my lip and thinking ‘Don’t forget. Susanna. Joel. Chaos. Susanna. Joel. Chaos.’
Kenny met my gaze and his resolute expression told me he was going to fight back with every ounce of his strength. The warmth intensified, becoming ever so slightly uncomfortable. I found myself wanting to sleep: I was so tired. Tired physically, but tired of thinking as well. Chaos? What chaos? The world was fine...
I found myself relaxing back against my pillow. ‘Kenny’, the receding part of my mind thought.
The sensation stopped: I found myself feeling awake again. Kenny looked startled.
“What d’you mean ‘what’?” I asked. “Did I win?” I tried to pull my hand out of his grip but he wouldn’t let go of it.
“No, but what did you want to say to me?” Kenny looked slightly ruffled. It confused me. All I had done was thought his name.
“I ... Nothing. I was trying to focus.”
“But you thought my name,” he insisted, like something should be made of it. “Quick - just say what you want to say and I’ll get on with it. I don’t want to keep you up.”
I had to smile slightly.
“Even if I had something to say, I wouldn’t, just so you didn’t wipe my mind.”
“Why did you use my name to fight me?” Kenny pressed.
“Um... I don’t know.”
“You were thinking ‘Susanna, Joel, Chaos, Susanna, Joel, Chaos’ and then suddenly it was ‘Kenny’. Why?”
“I ... I guess I felt sorry for you?” I suggested. “Having to do this all on your own, having to feel like you’re the bad guy when all you did was make a tough decision that not many people are brave enough to...”
Kenny sat down heavily. He almost missed the bed.
“Jen, that’s all right,” he said faintly, so faintly that I thought it really wasn’t all right - at all.
“Kenny?” I asked uncertainly.
Kenny looked down, his expression sad.
“Jen... what if in the future... you find your soulmate? And then ... next thing you know, he’s involved in a plane crash or he dies by a natural disaster? What if ... what if your child dies like that?” He looked up at me. “And what if it’s me who causes it?”
I averted my gaze, refusing to think about it too hard.
Kenny had more to say.
“Jen, breaking Susanna and Joel up... that’s a small thing. Both in terms of what I’ve done and what I’ll come to do. For my Initiation exam, to take up the Black Wings, I had to cause a snowstorm. You know where I had to do that? In my hometown. It’s one of the things that the Guardians of Optimism hate about the Initiation exam. They think it’s unfair to cause a catastrophe in a place close to your heart. But the Order has to ensure objectivity, has to ensure steadfast resolution in its members, otherwise nothing would get done. Jen... in that snowstorm, someone died. Someone I’d gone to school with: one of my friends. She died and it was my fault. That’s why I’m sorry I ever gave you the idea that there’s a choice. There’s no choice. Not for humans. Because you don’t deserve that pain. It’s not your destiny. So I’m going to wipe your mind and you’re going to let me and I’m going to break Susanna and Joel up on my own. Okay?”
“No,” I said quietly.
“It doesn’t matter what you say. Humans don’t get the same choices as us - this is no different.”
“Kenny, don’t,” I whispered. I didn’t even have an argument to counter all the terrible things he had said. And still... no one should be alone like he was.
Kenny ignored me, pocketing the feather with the hand that wasn’t holding mine. The warmth began again and this time when I tried to resist by thinking, Kenny started singing in my mind, so that I couldn’t concentrate on my own thoughts. The lyrics were cold and disheartening, but the melody was soft like a lullaby:
D for the deaths for the higher Cause,
U for the universe saved,
T for the tears to kill the fires,
Y for the yawning chasm braved.
The song changed: it was another short cold lullaby. As this one went on, I found myself becoming sleepier and sleepier. My eyes had closed, I was lying down and I had forgotten who was singing. I started to wonder where such a depressing song had come from.
O for orchestration,
R for the rescue we undertake,
D for the Duty - the choice we make.
What a sad and lonely dream this was: no colour, no pictures: just words - words of pain but determination.
E for Earth and the love it sings:
R for the rainbow Order brings...
The dream dissolved - at least it was on a happier note - and the rest of my sleep was dreamless.