Candles

“Do you know why they call them tea lights?”

I looked up from my book to see Sophie staring at one of the tea lights on the coffee table. You’d think she’d be tired of candlelight by now, but fire’s been amusing mankind for a hell of a long time; amusing one 13-year-old for six months seems pretty simple in comparison.
“Well,” I began, “When people would make tea before electricity, they had to keep it warm after steeping it, so they’d put a small candle underneath to keep the kettle warm. It burned just long enough for them to run out of tea, but short enough to not be a hassle. Hence, tea lights.”
Sophie cast me a look of incredulity, but nodded in understanding. She probably didn’t think her old man knew so much, but there wasn’t much else to do but read up on anything and everything.
There was a knock at the door. Sophie turned to me and looked over her glasses. “Fine,” I said, rolling my eyes, “I guess it is my turn, anyway.”
I unlocked the deadbolt, but left the chain locked, and opened the door. It was the automated police drone on patrol. 8am, on the dot.
“Hello, citizen. Are you well this fine MORNING?”
“Yes, officer, I’m doing well.”
“Are you the only inhabitant of this dwelling?”
“Yes, I’m sure you know that the census–“
“Census records indicate that there is ONE resident of this dwelling. Infrared scans indicate TWO residents. Affirm or deny.”
“No contest.”
“Unacceptable response. Affirm or deny.”
“No contest,” I repeated, more sternly.
“Unacceptable–“
I slammed the door and locked the deadbolt. The drones weren’t authorized to use force unless approved by a controller, so it floated on to the next house.
“Mormons or Girl Scouts?” Sophie questioned, resuming her staring contest with the candle.
“Mormons,” I said, sitting back down. Little inside jokes and codes were all we had left.
“Dad?”
I looked up from my book again to see Sophie staring at me again. She had a look on her face, one I knew all too well from her mother. It didn’t help that she had her mother’s big, brown eyes.
“Dad, what if a controller finally tells those things to come in here?”
I sighed. It had been a week since she asked this, but she’d been worried more and more frequently. I set my book down and looked her straight in the eye, and told her,
“That’s not going to happen.”
“But what if it does?”
“Then I’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure they don’t get you.”
“And if they do?”
I looked at her, befuddled. She was asking more questions than usual. Maybe she felt that her time was coming. Maybe she was just worried because it had been such a long time.
“Then I’ll come find you.”
“How far would you go?”
This was always the last question. There was only one answer she’d accept.
I took her face in my hands and said, “To the ends of the Earth and back.”
She smiled, placated by that answer. It was the first thing I could think of when she asked me the first time. It was the last thing I told her mother.
I sat back down and sighed again, and Sophie went back to watching the flame.
“Don’t you get tired of that?” I asked, poking fun at her hobby.
“Don’t you get tired of your book?” she shot back.
“This is a classic. I’m sorry you can’t appreciate Milton.”
“It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, it’s that you’ve read it cover-to-cover a hundred times. I can’t understand how you–“
Three loud knocks.
“What the hell?”
Three more knocks, even more forcefully than before.
“Dad?”
I stared blankly at the door. This was new.
“Dad? What’s happening?”
A small drill poked through our door, and a voice bellowed through the hole.
“Citizen. You have ONE unauthorized resident in your home.”
Without a word, I grabbed Sophie by the arm and led her to the kitchen.
“Daddy, please, tell me what’s going on.”
Tears were welling up in the corners of her eyes, but I couldn’t stop to explain. The drones weren’t advanced enough to detect two infrared signals so close together, but it could tell if there were two voices in the same place.
“Citizen. Surrender the unauthorized resident immediately. The District Controller has authorized me to use REASONABLE FORCE to remove the unauthorized resident.”
I opened the cabinets and signaled for her to hide. I pulled a tea light and a lighter off the counter, lit the candle, then set it down next to Sophie. Tears were streaming down her face, but there was nothing I could do to help her.
“When the candle burns out, the drones will be in another district. Get in the car and go as far as you can. I’ll find you, I promise.” I kissed her forehead, then stood up to light more candles. Infrared signals are crude and easily confused, and the candles helped.
The drone had begun ramming the door, with little success. If it got in, Sophie was as good as dead.
“Dad?” She whispered from her hiding spot.
I knelt down to see her one last time.
“How far will you be able to go to find me?”
I looked up at the door. The drone was going to be in any second now.
“Hey, officer! I’m the unauthorized civilian! I surrender myself into the hands of the Justiciars!”
Sophie looked up at me, dismayed at what I told the drone.
“I love you,” I said, walking to the front door.
I stood in front of the doorway, hesitating. The drone prepared itself to apprehend me.
“To the ends of the Earth and back.”
Drew Schackmann is a contributing writer for Gutai-Pravda Assembly. You can contact him on Twitter.

© 2015; David “Drew” Schackmann, Jr.

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