Dear people who know a bit about Shakespeare, please help me out. I'm working on another Smolder book (Christian fiction, set in the future, during a time when a generations-long totalitarian empire is crumbling), and I'm casting about for a character name for an old lady, and I'm thinking that I might want it to be one that the regime that named her stole from Shakespeare, during a fad in which they stole a lot of names from Shakespeare while simultaneously keeping everybody... but certain elites in the dark about Shakespeare. (If you don't think authoritarian regimes ever do this sort of thing, you should read more history. They are prone to fads, for one thing. And for another, they sometimes gloat over appropriating cultural forms or words while demolishing the original meaning. But I digress.) I would like this character name to be one that, when the non-elites stumble across Shakespeare, they find the character introducing them to virtue, or at least to a depth of humanity and a breadth of life, that their cramped and narrow upbringing had managed to hide from them. However, I'm rusty, to say the least, on Shakespeare. So, putting aside, at least for now, the wicked and cruel characters in Shakespeare, what would you suggest for my consideration? (Please don't participate if you're going to want anything in return other than my thanks. l'm looking for volunteer help, here. Thank you.)
After some dull trudging during which Tomas let his staggered mind go dull again, Bramson hid the others and went ahead alone. Tomas didn't like being hidden again, mostly because it scared him that someone thought it was necessary this close to what had been advertised as a safe place to hide.
The children made a game of putting a stick on the ground at the edge of a shadow, to see how far the shadow moved before Bramson came back. They were disappointed when he came back before the shadow moved enough to matter.
He had another older man along with him, who turned out to be the farm manager, as far as Tomas could make out. No formal introductions were made. The man took a quick, knowing glance at Rick's face where it had been bitten, and another knowing glance at Chessa, so apparently he'd been briefed about their wild woman. He led the whole group off to a shelter that was partially underground, featuring a sod roof with growing grass and bushes. Likely it would blend in well with the surroundings from the air, but it was all too readily visible from ground level, at least when you got close. It seemed to be a mess hall, or meeting hall. There were grills at one end, and sinks, but they didn't seem sufficient for feeding as many people as could be seated at the tables. Everything looked old and worn. Leaves and pine needles dusted parts of the floor; undoubtedly, they'd come in through the windows up at ground level, which were open air, without even any mesh over them. Small animals, brown with black and white stripes along their backs, scampered for cover, tails flicking. Tomas was put in mind of a zoo; one gone to seed, and one, sadly, where he might be becoming part of one of the exhibits.
The farm manager opened the doors of a pantry, then opened the shelves like they were another door, bowed, and waved his guests through. The other men shepherded the little flock so women and children could go first. Tomas remembered the 'ladies first' remark made shortly after his arrival, though by now he was confused about when it was to be put into effect. On the trail, and in the tunnel, the women and children had generally been shepherded into the middle of the group, with men ahead and behind. But here they were, back, apparently, to 'ladies first.' And apparently children were honorary ladies.
There wasn't much time to think about it, because he was maneuvered in behind them, and had to make his way through another tunnel – to keep from going mad he dubbed it a corridor, and excused himself for the new categorization by noting that this one had paneled walls instead of rock or dirt ones, and it had lights, too. Dim, strangely yellow lights, but adequate. And then, to his surprise, they walked into a nicely kept bunkhouse, where a cheerful old woman, wrinkled and grey, skipped away from stirring a pot of something on the stove – something that smelled awfully good – and hugged anyone who would put up with it. Wanting to blend in, Tomas accepted her hug, and even tried to return it, like he'd seen the other men do. He wasn't prepared to be emotionally challenged by the experience. But he was. It made him want to cry. Of course, he didn't cry though.
"Oh, do make yourselves at home, everyone. I'm so glad to have company. We don't get much," the old woman said. "The soup is ready, and the bread is nearly done. If you're done in, you can start in on the soup. I don't hold to making people wait for the bread, if they're hungry."
"I'm so stiff and sore it isn't even funny," Walker said, lowering himself awkwardly into a chair.
"Just wait until we put you to work. You'll likely discover yet more muscles that you don't know you have," the farm manager said, but with a wink.
"I'm not sure that's possible, but I'm game," Walker said, grinning.
"That's the spirit," the farm manager said.
"That's it. I've dropped into a pool of freedom, and am totally drunk on it," Yans said, leaning on a table to steady himself. "Either that, or I've gone irredeemably mad, and just can't see or understand what's really in front of me anymore."
"Ah, you must be a Returner, freshly returned. We're used to that," the farm manager said.
"Feel free to sit on the floor, if you're afraid you might fall over. We don't mind. Not at all. We're used to Returners, and Foundlings, and Refugees, and all that. Floors are handy, when you're dizzy," the old woman said. "I've sat on them many a time myself. Yes, floors are handy for sitting on, when you're dizzy."
Tomas, feeling dizzy, and weak in the knees, took her suggestion at face value, and sat on the floor, leaning back against a wall.
"If any of the ladies would like to help me dish up, or get the bread out of the oven, come on over," the old lady said.
"Chessa likes to help," Tomas said, meaning to sound sarcastic in a way that his colleagues back in the One Hundred Room would find appropriate, given her present state of shame. He was too tired and too worn out from shock upon shock to get the inflection right for sarcasm, though, and it came out more like an overtired man straining to speak coherently. Chagrined, he closed his eyes like he was settling into a scholarly period of rest, befitting a MUS of his rank.
"And who is Chessa?" the old lady asked. "Oh, her. Oh, I meant to tell you before now that this place is more soundproof than it might look, so you can take her gag off now."
"I wish it was only because we were afraid she might yell and give us away, although that was part of it. But we mainly did it because she has taken to biting," Bramson said.
"Oh, is that what happened to your face, young man?" the old lady asked, speaking to Rick. Tomas opened an eye in time to see Rick nod, and blush. "Oh, well, now Chessa, we won't put up with that here," the old lady continued. "We have a jail we can use to lock you up if we have to, but we'd rather you just settled in and lived with us as part of our family. Now then, why don't you gentlemen get her untied, and let her come help me get everything finished. Let me see. Did I cook rolls or a loaf? Let me peek. Oh, rolls. Good. We don't need a sharp knife for those. I can have you get those ready. If you know how to take things out of an oven? If you haven't done it, I'll teach you, just not right now, when the children are looking so hungry and everyone looks so much in need of fuel. But you can help set the table. Hamlet, would you supervise that, while this young woman – what's your name, dear? – Veneece – oh, you'll likely have to remind me of your name later, I'm horrible with unfamiliar names – while Veneece helps me dish up and such. There, that will work."
There was a general bustling about for a few minutes, while Veneece and the old lady finished preparing food to put on the table, and the farm manager and Chessa set the table, with help from Tanya and Yans – both of whom were likely trying to keep in a good position to pounce on Chessa if she got wild again – and while everyone took turns making a quick side trip to a washroom to wash up.
The farm manager assigned seats to people, which Tomas would have appreciated – he'd already made more decisions since being kidnapped than he was prepared for – except that he got seated directly across from Chessa.
To his surprise, she didn't look as wild as when they'd arrived.
To his even bigger surprise, when she managed to catch his eye she said 'thank you.'
He didn't say anything, but it must have been clear that he couldn't imagine why she would feel any cause to thank him, except that in their breed rankings she was an inferior, and inferiors were expected to thank their superiors as a sign of respect. It didn't really matter for what. It could be just to show respect. Or perhaps she was finally tired of acting shamefully, and was finally showing some long-overdue contrition.
"For suggesting me to help. I appreciate you sticking up for me like that," she said.
He wondered if he should correct her, since he'd done nothing of the kind, but no one seemed offended that he was being accused of sticking up for her, and he wanted to blend in, so he said nothing.
Everyone bowed his head, and Hamlet called on Father God to bless both the food and the people gathered at his table. Any hopes that Tomas had held onto that he might have landed among educated people and not supernaturalists evaporated. But it was probably dangerous to declare loyalty to Greenley the Third just now and just here, for all sorts of reasons; and the non-traitorous trainers of his experience did appreciate a prudent man, he remembered.
Non-traitorous trainers were feeling increasingly unreal to him, but he was sure he remembered such people, and there was no reason to think they'd all been wiped out, no matter how bad this current purge was. And when all this was sorted out, they'd be the ones in power, undoubtedly.
Tomas almost laughed. He was used to purges. This 'war,' as much as he might tell himself that it might be different, was just another variety of purge. From an early age, he'd learned to swing with new requirements whenever new requirements came along, whatever they were; and he was old enough now to have a lot of experience at it. He doubled down on blending in.
There was a house rule to not discuss certain sorts of upsetting matters at the dinner table, if at all possible. It wasn't clear yet which subjects were off limits, but Tomas was confident it wouldn't take long to figure it out. These were, after all, supernaturalists, and couldn't be expected to be horribly complex, all in all. Or very bright, either.
He looked across the table at Chessa, who wasn't a supernaturalist, and therefore was automatically more in his class than the others. Plus, she was a MUS. A not-very-impressive MUS, but it was a young breed yet, and Science was still grafting in various outside influences, one way and another. You had to take the outside influences in a package, at this stage of development. Science said so.
He felt increasingly attracted to her, and also remembered that she was his assigned mate. And therefore he probably ought to mate with her, whether the others liked it or not. They had a duty, after all, to help get the breed properly populated.
"You might want to slow down on that wine, Tomas," Walker said, from down the table.
"Sorry. Didn't notice he was overdoing," Bramson said, from beside Tomas, while wearily reaching over and taking his cup away.
"What's wine?" Chessa asked, in a voice that wasn't quite her usual voice.
Veneece took her cup away, too. "It's a beverage you get when you let fruit ferment. It's lovely stuff, but after a certain dosage it can change people's moods, and their thoughts, and seriously impair their judgment. And if you're not used to it at all, it will likely affect you worse than anybody, with just a little. We drink it when we can get it, and especially for celebrations, and we're celebrating that we're back together with the children, and that we're out on a farm instead of where bombs are falling, and that we all made it out here in one piece. Also, it's good for helping muscles relax, and so it's good to drink when you're stiff and sore. But it was wrong of us to not warn you to not drink but just a little bit. It can also mess up your stomach, if you drink too much. And it might give you all sorts of aches later, when it's wearing off, including a headache you'll not forget for a long time. If you drink too much, that is. Which you might have just done, accidentally."
Tomas felt an odd urge to grab the cup back from Bramson and keep drinking, in defiance of both Walker and Bramson. But his arm seemed too slow and heavy to manage it, even if he decided that it wasn't suicide to try it. It was curiously hard to figure out if it might be suicide to try it.
"We might as well tuck them in for the day," Bramson said.
"Just what I was going to suggest," Hamlet said. "And I apologize that I didn't remember about foundlings not having a clue about alcohol, unless they've been liberated from the ruling class, and in that case the problem usually goes in the other direction; having to watch to make sure they don't try to get drunk on purpose. It really has been a long time since we've had a foundling, but that's no excuse."
'They 'liberate' people from the ruling class? What does that mean?' Tomas wondered, in shock and confusion, as he drifted off toward a wine-thick sleep, and was carried away and put to bed, in a lower single bunk, like back at the old warehouse, but without a curtain for protection from prying eyes. He cumbrously turned his back to the others, and fell asleep.
Morning was as unwelcome a morning as Tomas had ever experienced. His head hurt. His feet hurt. Almost everything in between hurt, and most of it was stiff, too. And he felt sick. Really sick. He reached for his Informer, to dutifully report his shameful condition, trusting, as he had been trained to do, that Science, in the person of breeders and trainers, would handle the situation in the manner most suitable for ensuring a glorious Future. If that meant getting euthanized, that was only a noble contribution to the greater good. A little, tiny bit of his inner self balked at the idea, but not enough to override his conviction that death might be preferable to his present condition.
He fumbled around, but couldn't find an Informer. However, his trusty trainer showed up almost immediately. Or, at least, someone bearing a strong resemblance to his trusty trainer showed up, and set about trying to get him more comfortable. This seemed fitting, since he, Tomas, was not only in the One Hundred, but in the Top Quarter of the Top One Hundred, of all the MUS men who had obtained maturity.
"Tomas, you have a fever, probably from a bug you've picked up in the last couple of days, and you're recovering from an overtaxing long hike, and you likely have a hangover into the bargain. But you're safe, among friends, and I'm sure you'll be all right in a few days," the man said. "This is normal. Almost all Topsiders who get rescued get sick a few days after arrival. You've been kept awfully isolated, and just haven't been exposed to much. Disease-wise, I mean, although it applies more broadly, too. But let's get you up enough to drink some water or tea."
"Or Cordelia's broth. It's great for addled stomachs," another man said. He leaned over to look at the invalid. The man looked familiar, in a criminal sort of way, Tomas thought.
"I'm Hamlet, if you've forgotten," the criminal said. "And you are now living on my farm and orchard, where we're going to prove that nobody needs to lay down and die just because the government tells him to, and that there's no such thing as an 'experson' either."
"He's probably not coherent enough to follow that, and most likely is going to misunderstand you," the trainer said, patiently.
"Ah, well, we'll just sort it out later, again and again, until we come to an understanding, then," Hamlet said. "Are you sure you're all right here?"
"I'm sure. Sorry I'm not going to be much use to you today, though," the trainer said.
"Oh, here now. Christ has more praise for tending the sick than He does for pulling weeds, and even if He didn't, I'd hate for him to go untended, or be left just to the women. But I'm off now. Take care of yourself, Tomas. We are glad to have you, all my joking aside."
The criminal left. The trainer shrugged.
"I'm sure the manners seem odd to you around here. I spent much of my life around people like this, and even I'm finding their manners odd and sometimes almost alarming. But you'll get used to it. There's more life in these people than you're used to, but the good news is that it's contagious. And you'll like it, if you catch it. But, here, Cordelia is getting perilously close to tapping her foot at me, making her stand there with a bowl of broth she's made for you. Veneece and I will help you sit up, and get to the table."
"I vote for the floor instead of the table. Walls make grand backrests," Cordelia said. "And it will sort of keep his feet elevated, too."
"Later I might argue with you, because I don't want him getting spoiled, but right now I think I'll bow to your wishes, m'lady, in large part because I can imagine him falling out of a chair," the trainer said.
The trainer and a surprisingly attractive young woman helped him move from the bunk to a nearby spot on the floor, where they propped him against the wall. The young woman started spooning broth into his mouth. He wanted to ask if he knew her from somewhere, but was terrified to put the question into words. A woman like that, it was inexcusable not to know if you knew her from somewhere. It was possibly also inexcusable to stare at her, but it was hard not to.
"Maybe I should take over on that, Veneece," the trainer said.
She shook her head. "I've got him. Take a load off your feet, or check on Chessa again. Really. I've done this dozens of times. Like you said, they all get flattened with shock and germs when they first get out."
The trainer looked across the room, and back at Tomas. "I think I'll put them both on this wall, so we don't have to divide our attention so much, or walk so much," the trainer wearily said. He soon came back with Chessa leaning on his arm. He eased her down, seating her on the floor about four feet from Tomas, and bundled her up with a blanket. An old lady got down on her knees beside her, and offered her some broth. Chessa hesitated, but finally gave in to the old lady's ministrations.
Tomas decided he was in a nightmare, where Science and Society were both banished, and so people got wrinkled and grey, and where a man had multiple fussy females around him at once, including an assigned mate, but also a woman he'd rather have as a mate. It wasn't fair, and a competent trainer wouldn't have put him in such a terrible spot. It was hard enough, sometimes, to just mate with whomever you were handed, without someone simultaneously confronting you with someone who was naturally more attractive.
"You can help with Chessa if you want, but I'm definitely taking over with Tomas," the trainer said, with authority.
The attractive woman got up and disappeared, and the trainer got a blanket over Tomas's legs, and started feeding him soup. It smelled good, and soothed his throat, but it tasted off. And the trainer was a poor replacement for the young woman, although of course a sane Citizen would never say so.
Tomas got his face into a proper mask to convey respect for the trainer, and dutifully swallowed what got spooned into his mouth.
Over the next several days, nearly everyone got sick, in ripples and changing combinations. Hamlet and the other men, and the attractive young woman – now finally remembered as Veneece, an acquaintance since the warehouse days – still went out from time to time, mostly during the day, to 'check on things,' but otherwise the group mostly stayed put, taking naps and eating food deemed fit for invalids, and, except for Tomas and Chessa, finding the situation almost humorous, or at least a good excuse to try to make mild and friendly jokes about weakness or germs or how bad everyone looked. Tanya and the children slipped off down the corridor fairly frequently, for play sessions inside the mess hall, which allowed for fresh air, a bit of sunshine, and room to scamper and bounce without annoying someone who craved a nap or who found scampering to be too much movement to appreciate.
Tomas went in and out of a fever for nearly a week, so missed much of what was going on, even in the same room. But slowly, surprisingly to him, he clearly began to mend – and without medical care, unless you counted broth and blankets and naps and sponge baths and such as medical care. Getting well – and from something this serious, too – without medical care was supposed to be impossible, he thought. And somehow all this had happened without him having been deemed an experson for being defective. It was odd, but intriguing. Also it was somewhat welcome, because life was more interesting than usual these days, even from a sickbed.
It wasn't entirely welcome, in part because as his reason and awareness returned, so did the worry about a war having broken out, with him somehow landed on what ought to be considered the enemy side.
He'd been promised a life free of major cares and confusion, and he thought he deserved it, and so he was angry as well as disappointed. Anger didn't seem to be allowed around here, though, and so to blend in he hid it as well as he could.
Through it all, little grey and wrinkled Cordelia flitted around, tending everyone. Tomas hadn't quite learned yet how to not find her aged appearance nightmarish. He was getting used to everyone's smiles, though, and especially hers. Sometimes he dreamed of smiles lifting people up through the roof, which he knew was madness, but wrote off to being feverish.
During his fever, his mind, annoyed by how they seemed to take over the room, multiplied the children, until his imaginary versions of Rick and Tanya had nine or ten children unleashed, instead of just three. The creatures, the real ones, liked to explain things to him, and the older two liked to make sure he knew their names and the names of their younger brother. And ages. They were keen on knowing ages. Tomas hadn't tracked his age in a while, and couldn't return the favor (without being able to get help from his long gone Informer), which they found odd. Or, at least, the older two found it odd that Tomas didn't know his age outside a general range.
The oldest, having apparently been warned off by a grown-up, wasn't able to stay warned off, and asked, with real concern and shock, if people 'topside' really got killed when they turned 50.
"Usually," Tomas said.
"No wonder you don't know your age!" the boy said. "If knowing your age could get you killed when you turn 50."
Tomas explained that it didn't matter whether he knew his age. Government knew his age, and would take appropriate action when it was time.
"Appropriate action!" the boy said. "What a way to think of murder!"
Tanya swept the boy away, and Tomas did his best to forget the conversation.
Sometimes it felt more like a dream than a conversation, but he was pretty sure he'd never blaspheme Government by accusing it of murder, so it had to have been a real conversation, with a real renegade child, strangely not off at a KinderFormer, where children were supposed to be, and always had been, as far as he knew.
Around him, other conversations swirled, some of which made for great eavesdropping, and some of which seemed deadly dull, but most of which seemed to be embedding not only in his mind, but in his character. No wonder, he thought, that Government was so concerned about thought contamination. It certainly was having an effect, and increasingly he couldn't write it off to the fever.
Finally, not really as long after the ordeal started than it felt like, they were all able to eat dinner together, sitting at the same table. This time, no one assigned him a seat, and it fell out that he was sitting across from Bramson instead of Chessa. He'd aimed to sit across from Veneece, but Walker had eased into that chair...