ELLIOT RIVERS awoke and felt a familiar pull on his senses. He smiled. A magical vision felt like a lucky start to such a big day in his life.
As the room around him faded, he no longer saw through his own eyes but those of another, seeing the memory like an out-of-focus scene from a film. He recognised the fury in the mind he was experiencing at once – it was his mother. She was speaking in the House of Lords to a roomful of MPs, most of them middle-aged and wearing suits. All of them were talking amongst themselves or fidgeting as his mother spoke and it was this lack of interest that was increasing her anger by the second.
“Neans are dangerous,” she shouted. “We’ve contained that danger by keeping them under our control but, if this proposed Freedom Act is accepted, our entire society will be in jeopardy.”
The black-haired man on the opposite side of the room stood up. He was younger than Mum and Elliot knew from her mind that he was clever: a rising star amongst those present. Benches of people rose behind him as he smiled in a way that invited others to join in with his humour. “My honourable colleague, MP Rivers, has a lively imagination, doesn’t she?”
There was laughter at his words, from both his side of the room and hers, and the knowledge that her own political party was laughing at her made Nicola Rivers seethe.
The other MP grew serious as he continued, “Neans have never caused any kind of trouble. They’re pacifists and for a modern society like ours to still force half its people to be slaves is evil.”
“Here, here,” someone behind the man shouted and there were sounds of agreement around the room.
“Neans make up half the population of the world,” Nicola shouted, “and they are more devious than you understand. They have ways of protecting themselves...”
“An invisible weapon?” the other MP scoffed, cutting across her carefully prepared speech, “like this invisible threat from them?”
There was more laughter and, before Nicola could get back her last chance to change their minds, the Leader called for the proposed Act to be voted upon. As Nicola watched helplessly, one MP after another voted to pass the Act. It was the worst day of her life.
Elliot felt her dread at what this would mean for everyone, then the magic faded away and his bedroom came back into focus like waking from a dream, but without the sleepy fuzziness. He started at the realisation that there was someone in his room with him. “Mum?”
He turned his head and a dark shadow, human shaped, vanished from sight.
Elliot sat up in bed, staring, his chest pounding. What was that? He looked around his room: clothes folded neatly over a chair, the bookcase that took up nearly an entire wall, wardrobe, desk cleared of papers for the first time, the chest of drawers by his bed on which sat a lamp and two teetering piles of books. The three suitcases by his chair, briefcase, laptop case and unplugged TV/DVD set were also just where he had put them last night. Nothing looked changed or out-of-place.
Of course it didn’t. He rubbed his eyes, letting his head fall back against the pillows. It must have been part of a dream. His magic must have occurred while he was still asleep so, when it ended, he continued to dream for a few seconds. It had never happened to him before but there was no other logical explanation for what he had thought he saw.
He lay back down, thinking about the events of the vision. His mother was the strongest person he knew, so it felt peculiar to pity her, but seeing her being humiliated made his chest ache with grief. Time had proved her wrong, though, as the Nean race had been free for ten years now in Britain and there had been no catastrophe. They had no hidden power. They were just another type of human beings, probably not all that different from the Sapiens race, not that Elliot had had any contact with them since their own slave, Garnia, had been set free so many years ago.
As a child, Elliot had believed his mother’s comments that Garnia was happy to be a slave and that all Neans were better off enslaved, but now it made him feel sick to think he had ever supported such ideas. It was one of several subjects that he and his mother would never again agree on, the other main one being her belief that Elliot was a born leader who would change the world. In bleak moments it made him wonder if she knew him at all.
He switched on his lamp and got up to take a shower, before dressing and going downstairs, looking around as he did so and committing things to memory that he had seen a thousand times. Everything he did felt meaningful as these were his last few hours living here before beginning a new life.
There was no sign of Jasper, who had come home late last night, drunk by the sound of it, but his mum and dad were already in the dining room eating. Dad was wearing a charcoal suit, ready to go and bark out orders at his company, while Mum wore an expensive but conservative navy dress. Elliot had inherited his father’s silky brown hair and his mother’s striking blue eyes but it increasingly felt as if his personality was nothing like either of theirs and the more he tried to be what they wanted, the less like himself he felt.
“No, Elliot,” his mother said, frowning, when she saw him. “You can’t wear jeans today – do you really want the first impression the university staff and other students have of you to be of a scruffy child?”
He swallowed down his irritation and didn’t point out that he had worn casual clothes deliberately because he would spend most of the day driving and carrying his belongings to his new room at the university and didn’t want to get good clothes dirty and crumpled. He disliked arguing with his mother, though, and it was the last thing he wanted to do today, when he wouldn’t see his family again for six weeks. “I’ll get changed after breakfast.”
“Good boy. I only want the best possible future for you.”
“I know,” he said. His parents had given him a lot of opportunities and made him focus on his studies so that he achieved ‘A’s in every subject in his summer exams. He ignored the selfish part of him that said they pushed him in directions where he didn’t want to go.
Tina, their cook, a thin shy woman, brought him a plate of cooked breakfast and said in a quiet voice, “The best of luck with your studies, Elliot. I hope you’ll be happy at university.”
He stood up and hugged her, a lump in his throat. She had been like family to him for most of his life, someone there to talk to even more than his own parents had been and, unlike them, always able to see his point of view. “Thanks, Tina. I’ll miss you.”
She patted his shoulder, looking at him with a fond expression and then turned and left them.
“Do you have everything packed?” Dad swallowed his piece of toast before speaking as there was nothing Mum hated more than people talking through a mouthful of food.
“I just have last-minute things to add and then I’ll be ready to go.”
“I wish I had time to travel to Harroton with you,” Mum said, frowning. “If you have any problem with the registration or there’s anything wrong with your room call me at once and I’ll sort it out.”
“I have my acceptance letter and all the paperwork the Uni sent me in my briefcase,” Elliot said, “so I know where to go and what information they’ll need.” He had checked and double-checked that he had what he needed last night, nerves and excitement mingling until it was almost impossible to sleep.
“And make friends with the right people while you’re there,” she told him, cutting up her food into small neat portions. “The contacts you make over the next three years could help your future political career immeasurably.”
He dropped his eyes and stared at his plate. “I haven’t agreed to go into politics, Mum.”
“Not yet.” She caught his sigh and leaned over the table to put her hand round his neck, thumb on his cheek. “You have to fight for your future, Elliot. I can’t make things happen for you without you playing your part.”
He moved back, freeing himself from her touch, and smiled at her. “Mum, I promise that when I know what I want, I’ll fight for it.”
She sighed. “I wish you could see the world as I see it and then you would understand.”
He thought about his earlier vision about her and knew that the last thing he wanted was to get any deeper knowledge of how she saw the world. As much as he loved her he wondered, with a twinge of unease and not for the first time, if she was completely sane.