He was a miner in a society where the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. He was a miner in a world ruled by a corrupt and dysfunctional Senate, a nation where the occupation you were born in was your only place until you died.
He was a miner, and he would stay a miner. There was no way out.
Except he wasn’t just a miner. He was a thinker, too. A poet. Though young, he was brilliant, and always brimming with new ideas. And in this cruel world, where he was forced to work sixteen hours a day, gruelling away deep down below the surface of the earth, words tended to flow freely – words bursting full of passion and curiosity of the beautiful world above him. Ideas seized him with the grip of a vise and refused to let go until he bled them out onto paper, when he decided to heed their call and bent to the will of expression when it struck. And when paper ran out he carved them out on the walls of their cramped quarters, beautiful lyrics scrawled out on the maggot-infested wood.
Nobody cared – to the nobles, he was just another dreamer among the faceless crowd of unimportant people. If he disappeared, nobody would notice. He was just another miner, and easily replaced. His poetry went largely unnoticed by the major population, though in the mines they were chanted fervently as they chipped and struck the unyielding rock – the power ballads, the strong anthems – they became the very heart of the mines, beating away with each passionate word. But outside the mines, they were nothing.
That is, until he, as thinkers are bound to do, asked himself why he was stuck being a miner, while others were enjoying the finer things of life. He wrote a book, when simple poems and the strong iambic pentameter failed to contain his thoughts. He questioned his place in society, and questioned the society and the Senate itself. He dedicated it to a good friend, a senior miner who often helped him find a home for his words.
This system is all about control, he wrote. ‘A multi-skilled population is an empowered population.’ We are all prisoners inside of our bodies, no more able to change occupations than the Earth is able to stop orbiting the sun.
Ask yourself: Who decides on this order? Who has the power to decide how you live your life – as an underpaid manual laborer, or as a nobleman? And most importantly, why should we have an order? I’ll have you know: there shouldn’t be an order.
‘Be happy in your work’, they say. ‘It enriches you.’ But what if it doesn’t? What if we are better than our line of work? ‘Be grateful for your work,’ they say. ‘It defines you. Be mindful of your betters.’ What betters? I say we have none. We are all equals. And we all have the right to decide how we live our lives.
That’s when they started caring.
The book didn’t see much daylight. Most copies were burned upon publication, and very few survived. The guards came running in, and before he knew it he was handcuffed with his face in the dirt and a guard’s boot in his back, unable to move as he helplessly watched the guards murder his most trusted friend: his editor and his contributor, the one who he had dedicated his book to.
It was then that he realized that he was the one who had killed his friend.
He felt something snap deep within him. Something that had formerly lain dormant, and had now emerged. And on that day, history was made.
With newfound strength he rolled over with one swift movement, his strong and sturdy miner’s body throwing the much lighter guard off balance. The handcuffs snapped, its edges sharp and brittle, and this thing that had awoken inside of him propelled him forward, his strong hands gripping the guard’s neck and twisting it.
The guard dropped to the ground like a stone, dead.
It was the first time he had killed, but certainly not his last.
He was a pit fighter in a society roaring with rebellion, a nation still ruled by the corrupt and dysfunctional Senate, but a nation slowly waking up to the nightmare it had brought upon itself.
He was not a miner, not anymore. His sudden act of violence had inspired the other miners to act as well, leading to a bloody battle. They had lost three more miners, but ten of the guards had died. And though they were now banished from the mines, nobody was complaining.
Well, not really. Mining had brought in a small but steady stream of money, and now he had none. And if there was something that could dehumanize someone more than outright humiliation, it was the need for money. To have to beg killed his dignity, so he chose a different route: the underground pit fights.
The fights were reminiscent of the gladiator battles of ancient Rome, except they were illegal and fought by volunteers, all of whom were desperate for money. They would sometimes fight to death, sometimes with fists, sometimes with weapons. In the blood-stained arenas, he found he had an affinity for violence. He won most of his battles and lost very few. His name rose in the underground society, a name both feared and worshipped. He was ruthless, often leaving his opponents writhing in the dirt, begging to be killed in order to be relieved of the torture of living.
His first kill had been surprisingly easy, and it felt strange to be able to end a life so quickly and without thought. His second kill had disgusted him – the feeling of blood on his hands, the power of being able to extinguish a spark. But that feeling of disgust quickly faded away, replaced by the thrill of having that power to decide whether the person lived or died, that power to have a life in his hands. By his third kill he was entranced by the allure of murder, and then he was addicted.
He was famous – for both his act of defiance in the mines and his battle prowess in the arenas. He became an inspiration for those bound to their work in the system, a revolutionary for the poor. To the rich, he was a terrorist only spoken of in hushed whispers, in fear that he would one day uproot their beloved system.
As his jubilance grew, he began making speeches. His words were as powerful as his fists, and they delivered their meanings with such a great blow that thousands were moved. The poor saw him as their savior, their saint, their idol. He was a freedom fighter and they followed him, they worshipped him, and most importantly, they were inspired by him. Small uprisings exploded everywhere – the poor, now enlightened, realized that they no longer wished to serve the rich.
He republished his book too and nobody stopped him. Nobody could and nobody dared to try. He was invincible. There was only one change; it was no longer dedicated to anybody.
The rich were in denial; they chose to pretend that he did not exist, that he was but a mere dreamer among the ranks of miners.
But he was a dreamer no more, and when the time was right, he created his own army, annihilated the Senate and seized control.
A tyrant was born.
He was the leader of the rebel army in a nation torn by civil war, the leader of the winning side. He ruled with an iron fist and his soldiers were disciplined, strong, and fearless. They were a force to be reckoned with; they swept through the masses and left nothing behind. And the turncoats, the cowards, the weak? They were not a problem in his army; he assembled a private team – a secret police, to keep them in line.
He had the throne and he loved it. The throne was the seat of true power, the place where he ruled. He had no need for the crown; it was but a mere decoration to adorn his head with. The throne was the main prize, the place of his dreams.
The enemy, the ones who had once supressed them, were scattered and hiding in terror. Cities fell, civilians died. He was addicted to power, addicted to killing, addicted to the rush of adrenalin during a battle. He conquered his country, and feeling that it was not enough, decided to reform the entire world. Neighboring countries went down with the wave of his hand, a hand that had once held a drill, a pen, and now a gun.
By the time he realized that he had lost his way, it was already too late.
He was the leader of a defeated army, the cause of a world war that had killed millions. People hated him, wanted him dead, and wanted vengeance for the death of their loved ones.
He was put on trial. He pleaded guilty. He recanted his beliefs and renounced his army in hopes of winning the world’s forgiveness, but ironically made his most loyal subjects turn against him in disgust. It was like poetic justice. There was no path to redemption for him; the sins he had committed were beyond forgiveness. Just how many had died at his own hands?
This was never his real intention, he realized. All he had wanted was equality for his people, a better society ruled by no Senate, a world where everyone was equal and there were no betters, where everyone could choose how to live their life. He hadn’t wanted to cause a world war, hadn’t wanted to cause so many casualties. His heart had always been in the right place.
And yet here he was, on the day of his execution, grimly awaiting the bullet.
He was the cause of a war that had ravaged the world, a cruel tyrant known for his ruthlessness. Even in death, he was hated as fervently as he had been loved in his revolutionary days. People spat on his grave and cursed his existence. He was rarely spoken about and as decades passed his name faded away, just like his original intentions.
He was known as the Apostate.