as the end draws nearer, only they can save the world.
The Paradise We Dream Of
“It’s so beautiful here,” she whispers. “Listen to the musical tinkling sound of the stream. Feel the soft, cool grass beneath our feet, and our connection to the Earth. Listen as the trees’ leaves rustle in the playful spring breeze that we also feel blowing our hair. Look up at the sky... isn’t it the bluest, clearest sky you’ve ever seen in your life?”
I listen to the stream and the wind in the trees. I feel the grass and the earth beneath my bare feet. I look up at the sky above me.
And then I turn to her.
I hear the musical tinkling of her laughter as the breeze blows her long, honey-blonde hair around her face. I look at her beautiful face: her flawless, alabaster skin; her rose-pink lips curved into a peaceful smile... her deep, sparkling blue eyes, even bluer, clearer and more beautiful than the sky above us. I feel the love and admiration that fills my heart every time she is near.
“It is beautiful here,” I reply softly. “But not as beautiful as you.”
She smiles, and her face lights up like the radiant sun. I feel so honoured to be here, in her presence, this day.
5:00 AM. My alarm rings, loud and intrusive, startling me out of my peaceful sleep. My eyes blink open, and I find myself staring at the ceiling above my bed, light brown bare wood with a single dark brown beam running across it. The profound joy and love I felt in my wonderful dream are gone. Now I have to face my harsh and dismal reality.
I’m exhausted and just want to go back to sleep. I have no reason whatsoever to want to get up, but I force myself to push back my warm blankets and ease myself out of bed, leaving the warm and comforting world of sleep behind to face the crisp, dark morning. I fumble with the buttons of my pajamas and throw them onto my bed, pulling on a crisply ironed and uncomfortable grey suit, one item at a time. I know that I will be in huge trouble if I don’t go now. My father can’t handle to see me late even by a minute. When I’m late, he begins to yell so loudly that the room shakes.
Once I’m dressed, I step out of my room and into the empty, cream-coloured corridor beyond, softly closing the door behind me. I turn right and start down the corridor, the heels of my polished black shoes echoing on the hard wooden floor. I’m still half asleep, but I’ve walked these halls so often that I know where I’m going anyway.
Down four flights of stairs and along several more corridors I walk, and soon I’m standing outside the door to the Training Room. I grip the polished wooden doorknob and slowly turn it, letting myself into the room. My watch reads 5:15. I’m early, which is a relief. My father expects me to be early every time.
The door swings open soundlessly into the shadows of the room beyond. I now stand on the threshold of the huge, rectangular Training Room. The lights are off in the windowless room, so the light in the room is very dim.
“Welcome, son,” a voice speaks from the shadows, startling me so bad that I almost jump out of my shoes. “Are you ready for another day of intensive training and preparation?”
I groan under my breath. No, I am not ready, and I never will be. “Yes, father,” I reply. “I am ready.”
“Then come in,” my father replies. “Turn on the lights, take a seat and we will begin.”
The light switch is just inside the door. I do this every morning, and I know its position so well that I barely need to fumble to find it. I flick the switch and bright neon lights flicker to life above my head. In their harsh yellow-white glow, I see the room I know so well. It is huge and windowless, with a high ceiling, unpolished wooden floors and lots of empty space. Large screens occupy one side of the room, while various weapons and armour line the other. At the far end, my father sits comfortably in his usual red velvet armchair, sipping from a steaming mug of tea. He motions for me to sit in the armchair opposite him.
I cross the room in large strides and sink into the red velvet armchair. It takes every ounce of my willpower not to fall asleep right then and there, but instead to sit up and face my father.
“Son, you have had almost a year of training,” he says, his snow white hair glowing in the light, which illuminates his twisted face and accentuates every wrinkle, and also shrouds his sunken eyes in shadow. “And now the weapon which we have discussed for the majority of that time is ready. And I have it here to show it to you.”
He takes a dark blue rectangular object out of his pocket and hands it to me. I turn it over and over in my hands. It resembles a cigarette lighter, only smaller and flat, and I know it can produce an explosion so large that it will destroy the whole universe. I am filled with awe and confidence at the thought that so much power lies in my hands.
“Give it back here now,” barks my father. I hand the object back to him, and he puts it back in his pocket. “You will not be allowed this until the day the war begins, which is, as you know, in two days time. I will give it to you tomorrow afternoon, when you will be leaving for the Battleground Planet. You must keep it safe and secret until the right moment, whenever it seems like the troops of Ensygna are beginning to dominate. Then you will produce if from your pocket, strike a match and carefully light it. In that instant, a colossal explosion will occur, and it will bring the outcome we long for. Ensygna will be finished... and we will be triumphant.”
A shiver runs down my spine at these words, accompanied by an overwhelming sense of dread. We both know that the explosion will by no means favour Ensygna. Our own planet, Lucandra, will also be destroyed by it, as will the rest of the universe... but my father refuses to acknowledge it.
“What’s the time?” he says sharply, interrupting my thoughts. I show him my watch, which reads 5:23.
“Okay, son, enough of chitchat,” he barks. “The troops will be here in seven minutes. You need to start preparing now, and remember, hold your head high; they don’t need an unsure leader.”
My father is the captain of the Lucandran Army, but he’s too old to go into battle, so he’s training me to take his place.
I dash into one of the small changing rooms off from the main room, and begin to change out of my suit and into a camouflage army uniform. This always takes a while, and by the time I’m finished, my watch reads 5:28. I take a minute to gain my composure for the task ahead, and then emerge into the main room, which is now full of soldiers in camouflage uniforms.
“Okay, troops,” I shout at the top of my voice. “Let’s start with some warm-ups. Drop down for pushups now- we’ll do two hundred today!”
As the troops drop down on their hands and knees as one and begin pushups, I see my father smiling at me out of the corner of my eye. He looks proud of me. Encouraged by this, I drop down myself to join them.
When we finish the pushups, we rise to our feet and I clap my hands for attention.
“Okay, now we’ll do two hundred situps.”
We begin the situps, my father silently observing all the while with that proud smile on his face. We continue to do various warm-up exercises until eight o’ clock, when I declare a break.
“Everyone can go and grab breakfast now,” I tell the troops. “You have an hour from now to eat it and get back here.”
Everyone rushes out of the room in a sudden surge. I follow them out once the way is clear. Once I’m back in my bedroom, my stomach is rumbling since I haven’t eaten a single thing today. I pour myself a bowl of cornflakes and shovel it quickly into my mouth. After I finish I wash up (my room has a kitchen), and then I spend the rest of the hour sitting at the table and thinking about my wonderful dream. At 8:49, I decide I’d better make my way back down to the training room.
When the troops arrive, I announce: “Now we’re going to practice shooting at the target.”
I hand guns to everyone, and we all aim them at the target on the wall. The guns are armed with plastic bullets, so they won’t do any harm. Everyone gets a turn shooting each of their twenty bullets at the target. Since we’ve been training for over a year, hardly anyone misses even once.
After the target practice, we fight each other with guns armed with large pompoms, which cause even less damage than the plastic bullets do. At 12:00 I declare a lunch break. This time I stay behind while everyone else leaves. I get the lunch I made and packed the night before out of my dark green canvass bag. Potato salad, which I eat standing up out of a bright orange container. The rest of the hour I spend pacing the room, trying to avoid my father’s eyes.
I actually feel relieved when the troops return. “Welcome back!” I smile at them. I hear my father chuckle in the background. “We’ve finished practice-fighting now. We’ll be going over strategies until dinnertime. After that we will all pack for tomorrow.”
There are no chairs, so the troops just stand and watch as I open my bag and pull out a black folder. Inside, it is full of lined paper covered in my father’s neat, careful handwriting and diagrams detailing our plan of action. I’ve read this so many times in the last six months that I know if almost entirely by heart, but I quickly skim through it anyway before I give the troops my briefing:
“So, tomorrow we must all be ready to leave here by 11:00. The space shuttle departs at noon, and we’ll have an hour’s drive ahead of us. There will be beds provided for you. All you’ll have to bring is your sleeping clothes and toothbrush, and you’ll have more than enough time to do that tonight. Now, let’s go over the strategies again.”
Strategies are by far the most time-consuming part of training. We have so many, and are constantly discussing and improving them. By 6:00 we were all hungry for dinner, and we hadn’t even gone through half our strategies. I felt completely stupid as I told the troops wearily that they’d have to come back after dinner after all.
In fact, that was only the beginning. We worked late into the night, and by the time I returned to my bedroom, it was already the early hours of the morning. Exhausted, I fell into bed with my clothes still on, and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I am back in the beautiful place of my dream... a peaceful garden, surrounded by graceful trees swaying in the breeze, listening to the cries of birds and the bubbling of the stream, here alone with nature... and her.
She smiles that beautiful smile of hers... it causes her face to glow with sheer happiness. “It’s so wonderful to be back here...” she whispers.
I am overwhelmed with the happiness of being back in this beautiful realm, in nature, with her. But then an underlying and ominous dread begins to creep into my consciousness.
I realise what’s wrong. The war.
I blurt it out without thinking: “Are you from Ensygna?”
The expression on her perfect face changes to one of shock and doubt. “Yes,” she replies. Then she asks me a question that I don’t want to answer: “Are you from Lucandra?”
I am silent for a while. I listen to the birds and the stream and consider whether it would be wise to answer, try to figure out how she’d react. Finally I answer: “Yes.”
“Oh,” she says softly. Her expression is sad and thoughtful. “And how do you feel about this war?”
I wasn’t expecting that question. This is something I’ve tried my hardest not to think about, especially lately. Finally, I begin to speak.
“I don’t feel it’s right,” I hear myself say. “There wasn’t really any reason for a war, and we’re both so powerful it could destroy the whole universe. I think we should make peace.”
I surprised myself with this. But even so, I know it’s true.
“You know what I think?” she says sweetly, a smile on her face. “I think that if we stand together, we can make a difference.”
I wake up with these words in my mind.
My alarm has just gone off, and it’s 9:00 AM. I got to sleep in today, for which I’m extremely grateful. Now I have two hours to get ready before we leave for the space station. I pull back the blankets and rise from my bed with a new-found courage from my dream.
I pour myself a bowl of cornflakes and begin to eat. Once I’ve finished and washed up, I take a shower and change into a clean suit. Then I brushed my teeth in front of the bathroom mirror, until they were clean and shiny. After that, I begin to pack my bag: pajamas, toothbrush, a spare change of clothes. All the while I think about the beautiful lady from my dream. She is the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen in my life, and also the sweetest, kindest, and gentlest. I begin to wonder whether she’s real, or simply a figment of my imagination. I repeat over and over again in my head the words she spoke right before I woke up:
“If we stand together, we can make a difference.”
Now over an hour has past since I woke up, and my watch, which I just strapped onto my wrist, reads 10: 17. I still have a few minutes, so I take that time to read over our strategies one last time, just so they’re clear in my head. I think about the dangerous blue object my father will give me very soon, and feel a flutter of nervousness in my stomach at the thought. I think of her, and the feeling subsides. Suddenly I’m certain everything will turn out all right.
At 10:35, I know it’s about time I leave my room. I step out into the corridor, close the door softly behind me, and walk the much-trod path down to the training room. Today, however, I am greeted by my father standing outside.
“Greetings, son,” he says warmly, the wrinkles of his ancient face accentuated by his smile. “Come inside. We have a few last-minute things to discuss before I see you off.”
I follow him into the training room to the far end where the red armchairs stand. He sits down in his usual chair, and motions for me to sit down in mine.
“Have you gone over our strategies this morning?” he asks me. “Are you completely clear with everything?”
“Yes, father.”
“Well, I just need to tell you one last thing,” my father sighs. “And this is it: son, I’m very proud of you, and I hope you do well in battle. Remember, be a strong and confident leader, and hold your head high. Try not to be discouraged by any members of our troops dying; that is simply something that happens in battle. Just keep on fighting regardless of what happens, for our victory is more important than a few days. Just remember that, be brave and keep on fighting until your death, for only then will we succeed.”
I’m only half-listening the whole time. My father may be trying to encourage me, but I don’t believe in war like him. But when he reaches into his pocket and pulls out the dangerous blue weapon, I’m suddenly completely alert.
“Here,” he says. “It’s time for you to take this. Keep it very safe, and follow my instructions on how to use it.”
He glances at my watch, which now reads 10:50. “Now it’s time for you to go,” he adds. “I’ll escort you out.”
My father never takes the trouble to cater to me. So why is he acting like this now? I suspect it’s because he knows he might never see me again.
An hour later, I stand with my troops in the space station, about to board the shuttle that will take us to the Battleground Planet. The room is large, bright and echoey, and one wall is made entirely of glass. The ceiling is white and very high, and bright neon lights shine down from it.
The large dark brown door which is the entrance to the shuttle begins to slide open. This means the shuttle is finally ready for us to board. I step through the door first, and into what appears to be some sort of storeroom. Everything is shrouded in shadows, and I hear the hum of the shuttle coming from all around me. The troops are already beginning to follow me in by the time a trapdoor opens above us, and a long ladder is lowered from it to the ground. I seize it first and begin to climb, my troops soon following me up one by one. I emerge through the trapdoor into a world of light.
Bright neon lights line both the ceiling and the walls of the room in which I now stand. A pleasant-faced young woman is welcoming us aboard. I don’t even need to look behind me to know that my troops have all gathered there.
“I’ll show you all to your sleeping quarters,” the woman was saying. “And then we’ll all go to the dining room for lunch.”
She then turns and walks away, the sound of her high heels resonating on the hard floor. We follow her out of the room, up a flight of stairs and down a corridor lined with neon lights and brown wooden doors.
“These are your sleeping quarters,” the woman gestured around her. “Your personal bedroom will have your number on it. Leave your things in there and then come back out to meet me.”
Each member of our army has their own unique number to be identified by, and each person’s number is printed in large black font on a piece of paper stuck above the handle on each door. I find mine, turn the wooden doorknob and enter. The room is small with white walls, and a neatly-made bed in the corner. A small table stands beside the bed with a lamp on it, and a small porthole, like you might find on a ship, looks out to the space station, where the shuttle is still preparing to leave. I dump my bag there and then reemerge into the corridor where the young woman is waiting. Once everyone has gathered again, we start downstairs again, but this time turn left rather than right back to where we came.
The dining room is huge, high-ceilinged and full of round, dark wooden tables with four chairs at each. I sit down at one, and notice our meals have already been laid out. Some men look to me for approval to begin eating. I nod and, realising how hungry I am, pick up my fork and begin to eat myself.
The meal is small, and rather mediocre. It consists of three small cooked carrots, a small portion of rice in a cheese sauce, and a very small green salad. I eat it quickly, and when I’m finished I retreat back to my sleeping quarters.
I sit down on my bed and look out the porthole. Out it I can still see the space station building from where we came, the midday sun glinting on the glass wall. Then, I feel the shuttle beginning to move away from it, out onto the runway. The scenery shifts around me, and now the shuttle is on the runway and gaining speed, until my surroundings become a mere blur, and then, all of a sudden, we’re in the air.
It’s an unsettling sensation, taking off from the ground. Now when I look out the porthole, I see the space station below me. As we rise higher and higher, it gets smaller and smaller, until I see the whole city sprawled out beneath me, as well as the countryside surrounding it. We rise higher still, and soon my vision of the ground is blocked by the clouds which now surround us. Through these clouds we continue to rise, finally emerging into clear blue skies again, and I can see the clouds spread out beneath me, like a landscape made of cotton wool. But still we continue to rise, and the sky begins to darken. All of a sudden, the shuttle puts on an extra burst of speed, and then we’ve left the blue behind and are out in the blackness of space. Looking out the window, I see Lucandra, my home, now reduced to a small blue ball, and growing smaller still as we speed away from it. My stomach begins to churn, and I feel an overwhelming prickling behind my eyes. I have to turn away.
A knock on the door comes at just the right time. I go to answer it.
“Dinnertime!” the woman sings cheerfully.
My stomach rumbles as I follow her back down to the dining room, trying not to think about what I’ve just seen. Dinner is no better than lunch was, but I eat hungrily, and once I’ve finished, I stand in the middle of the room.
“Okay, troops,” I shout. “Once you’ve all finished eating, we’ll go through our strategies one last time.”
This will be a welcome distraction.
That night I lie in my bed, listening to the hum of the engine as the shuttle speeds through the night. My mind is so full that I don’t know if I’ll ever get to sleep. I try to tell myself that everything will be fine, and repeat the sentence over and over in my mind:
“If we stand together, we can make a difference.”
I am back with her, the one who inspired me with her wonderful words. I am so honoured to be in her presence once again.
“Thank you,” I tell her. “The words you spoke last night were the only thing that got me through yesterday.”
“It’s true,” she whispers. “We can make a difference- me and you together. We were meant for each other... can’t you see that?”
My heart soars with joy. “I saw it all along,” I tell her, and kiss her on the lips. She sighs with pleasure and snuggles into my arms.
“I love you, you know,” she whispers blissfully into my chest. “But I’m not afraid. My home may be at war with yours, but it will all work out. I know it will.”
“How do you know that?” I whisper back.
“I know because our love is great,” she replies. “And love is the greatest power there is. Love can outlast everything, and even in dark times of war, love always wins in the end.”
A gentle breeze blows around us, causing her golden hair to blow in her face. I brush it gently away and hold her closer, feeling happier than I ever have in my life.
“I also know that only we can save the universe,” she adds. “It’s our destiny. I just feel it.”
The pleasure I feel now is almost too great to bear. “I love you,” I whisper to her, then I kiss her again.
The loud, high whine of the enemy craft pierces my ears and jolts me awake. We have arrived at the Battleground Planet, and the troops of Ensygna are arriving also. I remember: the war begins today. At this thought, I leap out of bed and throw on my army uniform as quickly as I can. I don’t take time for breakfast, I just throw open the door and rush out of the room, along the corridor and down the stairs, skipping them three at a time.
Downstairs is frantic as the troops rush to get everything ready. They all look relieved to see me. Someone hands me a gun- I don’t even look to see who- and then it’s time to go. One by one we descend by ladder to the storage room, which now has lights turned on, and I approach the huge wooden sliding door. Now I see a button next to it, which I press, and the huge panel slides silently aside to let us out.
The ground beneath my feet is rough stones, and the sky is pitch black. The troops of Ensygna are already assembled, standing solemnly in there grey uniform, their guns over their shoulders, silent, waiting, ready.
I feel in my pocket for the secret weapon. It’s there.
It is they who fire the first shot, and we quickly respond with another one. It isn’t long before the air is filled with bullets that are almost impossible to avoid, and dead bodies litter the ground.
After almost an hour of this mindless shooting, I look around at my troops. I realise that there’s only a handful of us left, while Ensygna’s troops are almost completely intact.
It’s time. I reach into my pocket and pull out the small blue object with an ominous feeling of dread and regret. I also produce a matchbox, and I struck a match, which caught fire... then, hesitantly, I hold the match to the blue object.
The explosion that follows is so loud that it bursts my mind. I can feel the world being undone, sense the universe being blown apart. In that instant, there is suddenly nothing.
In this darkness, someone appears at my side and leans into my arms. Then she kisses me on the lips.
“You,” I breathe in disbelief.
“Yes,” she replies. It’s the same woman I dream of every night.
“I guess you were right about love being the greatest power there is,” I say.
“I guess I was,” she whispers. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” I tell her.
Then we kiss again.
Our surroundings are not beautiful like the place we dream of, but I don’t care. We have each other, and our love, forever... and that is all that matters.
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