Moral Imperative

A thump woke Hayden with a start to the empty blackness of her room. In the bed next to her, her sororal twin sister, Wynn, slept soundly. Hayden walked to the window of her bedroom and pulled back the curtain, seeing the cold dark sky warmed by a large fire in the distance. She pulled the curtain closed and ran out of her bedroom. Standing at the front door, she pulled up her nightgown and carefully slid her feet into the galoshes by the door. As she slipped into the street, a dark figure quickly approached, treading carefully over snow piles scraped to the sides of the road.

“Hayden, get inside!” the figure called out.

“Daddy? What’s going on?”

“Get inside! It’s not safe out here.”

Hayden obliged. “Is something on fire? Is that your lab?” she asked, as her father closed the door behind him.

“Take off your boots, honey.” He avoided the question and knelt to help Hayden remove the galoshes over her bare feet. His parted brown hair was combed neatly. He leaned in for a kiss, his short beard scratching her cheek.

“I heard a thump and then saw the fire.”

Her father looked down at her with a hard stare, as though he was deciding what to say.

“I’m old enough to understand, Daddy,” she said suddenly. He smiled.

“You’re eight, Hayden.”

“I’m old enough.”

“Of course you are. Look sweetie, I need to talk to your mother.”

He walked past Hayden and entered the master bedroom. Hayden sat in confusion on the furniture in the parlor. Curiosity was giving way to concern. She could hear her parents talking in hushed voices behind the door of their bedroom. Hayden approached the door and tried to decipher the sounds.

“…were innocent, Helen. I swear they’d done nothing, but they were just killing them all. I had to do something,” her father’s voice seemed to shake.

“Gods, what have you done, Oscar?”

“You remember before the Dynasty. We were Azurians too. They’re no different from us.”

Dripping with contempt, her mother replied, “But they’ll kill you now. The Enclave will brand you a criminal. Were the lives of a few refugees worth the lives of your daughters?”

“That’s not fair.”

“They’re going to imprison us all! You’ve doomed this family. How could you be so selfish?”

“Helen…”

A violent slap split the relative silence of the Stokes household. Hayden could hear Wynn stirring, and tried to maintain her silence as tears crept into her eyes. The door in front of Hayden opened and her father loomed, the darkness hiding his expression. He stepped past Hayden and walked toward the parlor in silence.

“Mommy?” Wynn had finally woken and stood at the door of their bedroom, rubbing her eyes. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“Go back to bed, girls,” their mother approached, shooing them back into their bedroom. Hayden slipped past her mother, chasing after her father.

Shouts from the street penetrated the house, the sound of boots striking the ground in rapid succession echoed in the darkness. “Daddy…” Hayden said as her father turned toward her. He knelt to her level and held her cheeks in his hands. His bright green eyes shone in the darkness and searched her face. Hayden knew he could see her thoughts. All eyes were on the door as the sounds subsided. A harsh knock broke the silence. Wynn and her mother stepped into the parlor. Hayden’s father turned to her again.

“Remember Hayden, inquiring mind and discerning eyes. Don’t believe everything they tell you. There are greater goods in this world than anything the Enclave says. Follow your heart, become the strongest person you can. Even if you fail, keep trying. You can’t learn if you don’t lose.” Another harsh knock.

Her father stood and walked toward the door. Her mother grabbed his shoulder, tears in her eyes, “Oscar…”

He only nodded, continued to the door and opened it. Lantern light and cold winter air poured into the house. Soldiers stood in a rank that extended beyond where Hayden could see. Her father stepped into the street and Hayden ran after him.

“Oscar Stokes,” an officer in a dark blue uniform trimmed with braided gold addressed him, a platoon of Enclave soldiers standing at attention behind him.

“Captain Bannam,” Hayden’s father replied. Against the show of force, her father seemed small and insignificant, dressed plainly in brown breeches held up by suspenders over a pin-stripe shirt, its sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The bright lantern light cast an aura around his shape.

“You are accused of disobeying an Enclave order and aiding the escape of Azurian criminals,” the officer said, loud enough so the entire street could hear. Window shutters all around them slid open silently. Continue reading Moral Imperative