City of Lies


Allison Jenks '25, Writer

The chandelier rattled slightly over the dining table, tiny crystals making musical notes, adding on to the already classical music playing. 

Astrid looked at her father, his jaw tightly clenched and his dark eyes staring out the window at the city below.

“I’m sorry,” he broke the silence, voice cutting through her like a knife.

“Why?” Astrid questioned.

“I haven’t spent time with you,” he responded. There’s a plate full of food in front of him, but his fork doesn’t go near it. Something inside Astrid boils at the sight. She directs her attention to the window then, expecting somehow the world will go back to normal just through her gaze. 

Normal. It was almost laughable. Nothing was normal anymore.

“You’re very busy, father, that isn’t your fault,” she swallowed the lump in her throat. 

“I wish you could have the life you deserve, the one your mother wanted for you,” He smiled sadly.

Astrid clenched her hand closed around the fork, wanting to scream. Her mind drifted to the night before.

She had heard a noise outside her window. It was loud and clearly not made by what little animals were left in the world, nor was it a guard. The guards were as silent as snakes.

The doors to her balcony creaked open, and she winced at how loud the noise was. In the bushes below the balcony, there was movement. She strained her eyes to see what it was.

“Astrid,” a sleek voice called. 

At first, she didn’t know if she should move at all, or if she was really admitting it, she was too scared to move.

“Astrid, come down,” the voice called again. 

A moment of silence passed before she heard someone let out a breath of annoyance. “Always were stubborn, weren’t you?” The voice laughed a little.

She moved to the edge of the balcony and looked over, yet she couldn’t see anything below.

“Who’s there?” She whispered to the air.

“Kace,” The voice responded.

She was stunned into silence. Kace had been missing for months, she thought he was dead.

Everyone thought he was dead.

Kace had been Astrid’s favorite guard for the past few years. He had arrived at the mansion when she was 15, he was only a little older than her.

When Astrid had finally been allowed down to the Lower Sector, a lower level of the city, her father had assigned several guards to accompany her and Kace had been one. Throughout her other visits to what many referred to as “the scum of the city” Kace had always been with her. Later on in life when Astrid had just turned 17 he had disappeared and her father had named him a traitor to The Next World Federation; the government of the city. At the time she was confused and hurt. She didn’t understand why Kace left, his life was good with Next World. No one even searched for him, they all thought that he must have died as there weren’t many places to run. The Next World Federation monitored everything and everyone. Shortly after Kace left, her mother was killed in an explosion in the Lower Sector. She had volunteered frequently there in homeless shelters and soup kitchens, but most of the Lower Sector was filled with drug dealers and illegal arms trafficking. During the sight’s investigation there were traces of a very flammable substance that had been popular in the market at the time. It burned for long periods of time and was very hot, providing the perfect product for many in the Lower Sector to stay warm during freezing city nights. Something had gone wrong with a batch in a nearby storage facility and blew up almost an entire block with no survivors. It seemed that everything after Kace left had gone downhill, and now he was back.

She couldn’t help the surge of anger that she felt, she wanted so desperately to blame him for everything and for leaving, but her curiosity took over her initial resolve to hate him, and so she climbed off of her balcony and on to the dangling vines she had used to sneak out to the gardens on many occasions.

When her feet hit the ground, hands immediately wrapped around her waist and yanked her into the bushes so they were hidden from view. A hand covered her mouth and right before she tried to scream she heard Kace’s voice in her ear.

“Whatever you do, do not scream,” he released her, inching away slightly to look Astrid in the eye, and then to the three other people in the large bush with them.

“I told you she would show up,” Kace said to one of them. She could not make out the faces of the people in front of her due to the bushes and the dark, although she could see that one had cropped short blonde hair and the other had neon pink pigtails. The one closest to her had brown military cut hair, although it clearly had been growing out for a few weeks, similar to Kace’s dark hair.

“This is Fisher and Serena,” Kace said, gesturing to the two girls across from Astrid. They nodded back at her. “Oh, and this is Theo,” he looked at the boy next to Astrid. 

“Pleasure to meet you, princess,” he made some sort of dramatic bow at her and caused a rusting of the underbrush they were hiding in.

A chorus of “SHHHHHH!” Came from the rest of the group before there was a moment of silence, waiting to hear footsteps heading towards the bush. Luckily there was no noise, so Astrid turned to Theo.

“I’m not a princess,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“This is why we should not have brought him,” Kace slapped a palm on his face.

Fisher shook her head, sighing. “We don’t have much time, Astrid, but we need to inform you about some things.”

Immediately, Astrid’s anger came back full force at the reminder of the ex guard next to her. “I thought you were dead Kace, everyone did,” she said to him, accidentally ignoring Fisher through her rage.

“Yes I know and I’m sorry, but we couldn’t tell you the plan until later, it wasn’t safe,” Kace responded, his eyes looking solemn.

“The plan?” Astrid asked.

Fisher cleared her throat, cutting in. “As I was saying, we couldn’t tell you until now. Your mother didn’t think you were ready.”

At the mention of her mother she tensed. Nobody really spoke about her.

“What about my mother?” her voice sounded wrong coming out.

Fisher took a breath. “She’s alive.”

Astrid’s eyes widened and her heart exploded into a million pieces. Shock would be a severe understatement. “What?” She whispered. It felt utterly impossible. No, it was impossible. 

“The explosion was a distraction to make everyone think she was dead. Then she was taken to a prison outside the barrier, at your fathers command,” Fisher said, anger dripping from her tone.

“Prison? There are prisons outside the wall?” It felt like everything Astrid had previously known about her life was just thrown out the window.

“Yes. Your father found out about her plans to take over and expose the true nature of the government, so he decided to fake her death and send her to the place he sends the rest of the rebels,” Fisher responded confidently. It was as if she had practiced this speech.

Astrid could barely breathe, nevermind speak. Her father had sent her mother away and convinced Astrid that she had died in an explosion. She knew that rebellion against the government had been a recent issue, but nothing like this.

“You’re lying!” Astrid accused, looking at the ground. “You have to be,” her voice cracked.

“She’s not lying Astrid, that’s what happened. I’ve been part of the rebellion from the start with your mother. I had to get out of there to save her from the prison as soon as the plan went south,” Kace told her. “Please Astrid, we don’t have much time, and we need your help. Your mother has a new plan, and she wants you in on it this time.”

Adrenaline was coursing through her veins, although still in utter shock, if her mother were truly alive, she would do everything she could to help.

“What can I do?” To the question she received three knowing grins.

“Well,” said the girl with neon pink pigtails, Serena, “That’s where I come in,” she pulled out a large map out of seemingly nowhere.

Astrid was pulled out of her thoughts by her fathers voice. “What are you thinking about, my dear?” He asked.

“Nothing,” she mumbled, picking at the food on her plate before glancing at the clock.

Her father followed her gaze. “Have plans?” He chuckled. 

She smiled politely at him. Something like that. She thought to herself.

The clock struck nine, and she had enough small talk to last a lifetime. “I’m going to head to bed now father,” she said, getting up and approaching his side of the table. 

“Okay, dear,” he looked up from his wine glass, placed it down on the table and hugged his daughter. 

When Astrid pulled away she sighed, taking a step back. “I’m sorry that it has to be this way, father,” She said “But you started it.”

She clicked the button on the small remote that she had just taken from his pocket and suddenly every guard surrounding the walls dropped to the ground with a single jolt of electricity. The tags on their uniforms with their military ranking were the cause. Kace had explained to Astrid that her father kept the remote with him at all times, it was connected to every soldier’s tag, although only worked on the ones within close proximity of him. He kept it in case the guards “stepped out of line”.

Her father’s eyes widened with shock, head spinning around the room. Before he could even get a word out, the windows next to the dining table shattered, graffeling hooks coming flying inside and hooking onto different objects surrounding the room. They were on the third floor, which meant that in order to get inside Serena and Kace would have to scale the building. No guards were around to hear the crash, they had eaten were in her father’s private wing. He clearly didn’t expect a rebel attack within his own home, especially with his daughter assisting. 

It was the perfect crime.

Serena and Kace entered the room shortly after, wearing all black military outfits, suited with too many weapons for Astrid to count.

Both of the guns in their hands were pointed directly at her father.

“Evening, Captain,” Kace greeted Astrid’s father. She had almost forgotten that he used to be one of his guards.

He scowled at Kace, choosing to look at Astrid instead.

“Astrid, what the hell are you doing?” He looked appalled.

“When were you going to tell me that my mother was alive? That you put her in a prison TO ROT?” She yelled at him.

He swallowed hard, eyes going to the floor in shame. “It was for the best. For you, for me, for the city.”
“No. What’s best for the city is being able to actually have individuality without having to watch your back all the time for a threat from your own government!​​ That is what is best for the city. Not whatever this is,” She gestured around the room, disgusted.

Her father was angry now, his hands slammed on the table furiously. He had no fear of the guns pointed at his head. “You have no clue how hard I’ve worked to build this! All of it! For you. Look at yourself Astrid, do you think you are going to save the city? With two other teenagers? This is idiotic and frankly, embarrassing. I thought that you were smarter than your mother. I thought that you could realize that all people want in this world is power, and the only way to be happy is to be the one with the most,” His head dropped down, gray hair falling into his face and becoming mused. He ran a hand through it and it became more messy.

His words stung, but she needed to prove that she was no longer a little girl. She could make her own choices.

“That’s not true, father. There are other ways to be happy. You don’t need this controlling government to have a good life!” She yelled back.

Astrid was on the brink of tears, but she refused to let him see her cry, not now.

Suddenly, his demeanor changed. He was smirking now. “This proves how naive you are. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, dear,” he glanced at his left hand, it left the bottom  of the table with a click.

 Kace put the pieces together a moment before she had. “He was stalling. There are at least fifty guards on their way to this wing right now. We have to go!”

Kace looked at Serena. “Get the vent open.”

“Sorry, but you’ll be too much of an inconvenience to deal with,” he said to Astrid’s father. Kace holstered his gun and chose another one from the array of weapons on his belt. He aimed and fired without a second thought and Astrid almost screamed before she saw the taser wire attached to his chest, and he too dropped to the floor with a thud like the guards.

“He’ll wake up a little while after the guards, but he’ll be fine. We’re under strict orders not to kill him, now let’s go,” Kace said to Astrid, nodding towards the vent that Serena was now climbing into. She didn’t have time to question the orders they were under as she was yanked inside.

Just as she slammed the vent closed, she heard the door burst open and guards flooded the dining room.

The next part of the plan included making their way down to the technology center in the basement of the mansion. Astrid had never been down there before, so she didn’t know how to get to it. It seemed that Serena, however, knew exactly.

It was crazy how much she didn’t know about her own life. She had been so sheltered, so forced to be the perfect mold of a daughter that her father always wanted her to be that she felt as brainwashed into submission as the rest of the city. She had seen the posters everywhere whenever she traveled to the Lower Sector. They were always the same; threats and warnings about how everything beyond the wall was dangerous and looking for a way to disrupt their paradise. But now that she knew that what was truly going on was her power hungry father manipulating everyone into believing he was doing what was best for the city. Anyone that didn’t comply would be sent outside the fence and forced to live a life of slavery. People had been in those prisons for most of their lives, working to keep the city running through everyday jobs they were forced to do.

  It was almost ironic. Put all the rebels into prisons outside the fence and force them to keep the city running. Her father always did love to have a good laugh.

Eventually, they reached the vent that the map told them would lead straight to the technology center, and they wasted no time dropping from the ceiling and crashing into the center of an extremely large room. It had low ceilings, and felt like it stretched on for eternity. Thousands of computers and machines made neat rows, but it appeared to be completely vacant of humans. 

Serena placed something into her ear and handed Kace and Astrid the same object. They copied the motion.

Suddenly, there was a loud “HELLO!” Yelling in her ear, and they all flinched.

“Turn the volume down, Theo,” Kace said and a laugh responded in the ear piece, it sounded like Fisher.

“Let’s get this going, we don’t have much time,” Serena commented, already getting to work.

Kace and Astrid were instructed to watch the door. They stood by the opening in silence save for Serena’s typing and wire cutting.

Now and then there was a noise of frustration, but sure enough the typing would start again. 

Now that Astrid had finally gotten a moment to think, the reality came crashing in. Her mother’s death made her stronger, surely, but finding out that her mother was alive and her father was much worse of a dictator than she previously thought was a lot to handle. All she knew was that soon she would see her mother, and her father’s tyrannical reign would hopefully come to an end.

It felt like a weight lifting off her shoulders when she heard Serena say in shock “I did it,” she stepped back, amazed.

In her ear, Theo whooped. “Ya you did! You really did it!” his voice dipped slightly in happiness and surprise. 

The plan actually worked. 

The wall had fallen.