Posts Tagged ‘distopia’


Sophia awoke covered in water. The stream has risen over night, slowly turning into a river as the current became stronger. Silver was barking, in an attempt to wake everyone not on the edge of the water, already awoken by the sudden dampness. There was a low rumbling in the distance, as it drew closer Silver’s barks drew louder and more panicked, Sophia couldn’t make any sense of the sound but trusted Silver’s instincts enough to know that it wasn’t good. Jace had just woken up and looked around, and started to wake the others.

Sophia stood still scanning the river bank, looking for a way up and out. The bank on the far side of the river where they had jumped down was only about 6 or 7 feet tall with a gently sloping hillside after that. But the bank on this side was closer to 15 feet with a cliff over hang. Climbing, on this side, didn’t look to be an option. The water was now up to her knees, the current growing strong all the time. At its deepest it was probably up to 4 feet now, and rising. With the pull of the water and the depth they might be swept away before making it back to the other side. There has to be a way out.

Everyone was awake and some of them where starting to panic, cries and screams were surfacing everywhere, and all the time the rumble was growing stronger. The bend in the river hiding the approach of whatever it was, for now at least.   

“Silver” Sophia called. The dog stopped barking for a moment and looked at her locking eyes. “Lead” Sophia commanded. Silver barked and turned to run, Sophia followed and the others followed her.

Silver ran 100 yards downstream then seemed to disappear from sight. When Sophia came to this spot she discovered a fallen tree, it had sheltered the dirt and rock behind it, somewhat, from the water’s erosion creating a slope in the cliff face behind it. Silver was sitting half way up the slope waiting for Sophia to follow. The water was almost up to her waist, the current trying to dragger along with it. She looked back over her solder to see if the others were following and that’s when she saw it.

A wall of water spiraling down the river bed, it was as though a dame had burst somewhere up stream. Some of those who had trailed behind where starting to get swept up in it, they reached out to grab on to anything they could, often having their hands closes firmly around thin air.

Soph had started running backward before she knew what her feet where doing, unable to take her eyes off of the swirl of rushing water. She slipped and felt Silver’s body under hers the only thing which kept her from falling down. Jace ran the remaining yards between the two of them and pulled her to her feet while Sid and a few others ran past.

She turned around and ran like the others. They made it to the top just as the rushing water hit the base of the slope. It splashed up and over the side threatening to pull the few who has made it up to the top back in. As the wave passed the water settled just below the lip of the cliff and extended to the hill top on the other side. There was no sign of anyone who had not made it out. They were far down stream by now.

As the water settled and the rumble dissipated Soph looked around. Jace had made it up and was standing beside her looking out over the area in disbelief. Sid, and three others were also with them. The rest were nowhere to be seen.

“Flash… flood…” someone mumbled under their breath, not entirely sure if they had come up with the correct term. Whatever it was it was devastating. What could have caused such a thing was beyond them.

“Come on, let’s keep going” Sid stated. They were all tired, hungry, wet and still in shock but none of them could think of a good reason to stay.

“Which way?” Sophia directed her question to Jace who was still standing staring in puzzlement at the river. The water was continuing to calm and lower as the torrent moved further down stream and the water spread out across the river bed. Jace didn’t seem to hear Soph.

“Follow the river?” Sid suggested in Jace’s silence.

“Jace” Soph asked again, “What do you think?” They wouldn’t have made it this far without him and there was something about Jace that she trusted over the others in the group. She for one was not going to move on without his opinion.

Jace continued to stare at the water’s edge but spoke “Yes, follow the river, that ways we have water at least, but move up stream. I want to see if we can find what caused this.” Jace crouched by the river and stuck a finger in, watching the ripples created move away.

“Okay,” replied Soph, looking around the group for any sign of objection. Sid did not look overly happy about it but he did not voice any concerns, “Let’s go” Soph moved towards Jace and extended her hand to him. He took it and stood. Then they started up stream.
***

Within the hour their clothes had dried from the heat of the sun. Soph found herself almost wishing for the heavy discomfort of her soaking jeans again as the sweat started to bead on the back of her neck. The water levels were lowering, though the ground anywhere near the water’s edge had turned to mud, farther out the ground was so dry and brittle it cracked under foot. Soph was thirsty, as were many of the others, but the ground near the water’s edge was so saturated that you sunk almost waist deep into it when you stepped on it. It had taken an hour to pull out the first person who tried it and others had gotten stuck in the process. It wasn’t worth it.

So they walked on. Tired, thirsty, hungry, hot, no shade as far as they eye could see. After a while Soph stopped looking up to see if that had changed. After a while longer she stopped trusting her eyes when she did look up, so when the figures first appeared on the horizon she, Jace and the others all assumed they had imagined them. They didn’t stop to ask if anyone else saw it to. When the thin dark grey line started to stretch across the horizon along the top of the river bank they each dismissed it known how desperately they were hoping for shade, knowing how far their body was pushed and how easily their brain could be playing tricks on them. When long tall blobs started poking up out of the land in front of them, again, they thought they must be seeing things. It wasn’t until Silver started barking at those human shaped blobs on the skyline that they began to believe that what they were seeing might be real.

Jace was the first to stop, “do you see….” He muttered. Unwilling to commit to the words even now.

Soph just nodded. A chill went down her spine. Are those people? She thought as she realized the three blobs seemed to be coming closer even though they had all stopped. The long grey line over the river remained in its place, though now that they were closer she could see some pock marks in the outline, round holes which the light seemed to glisten though.

“Maybe we should turn back” Sid’s voice trembled with a hint of fear. Some of the others shook their heads in agreement. A few took a step or two backwards.

“No!” Jace’s voice was forceful. Soph turned and frowned at him, confused. She was inclined at agree with him, though she understood the fear of the others. They were banned for civilization, and if they had stumbled back upon they had been warned the punishment would be worse then what they were facing now, yet this didn’t look like civilization to her.

“They must be like us”

“That’s crazy” Sid chimed in “We all know we were sent out here to die, this idea we have a chance is just what they tell themselves to let them sleep at night. No way has anyone survived this.” Sid was just saying what they were all thinking but didn’t want to believe.

The blobs on the horizon continued to grow, come closer and take shape as they argued. Occasionally someone would shuffle a couple feet one way or the other as the frustrated rhetoric of Sid and Jace swayed them one way or the other. The two men were too enveloped in their own word to realized that their decision would be made for them before too long.

Soph, took a seat and called Silver over to her side. She stroked Silver’s fur, clumps of it coming off in her hands as the dog shed due to the over whelming heat. Soph wished she had thought to bring a brush with her. Combing Silver’s fur with her finger Soph watched the others come closer.

There were indeed three of them. Two appeared to be taller than the other, though as they came closer Soph realized that one of them was only made taller by the way in which they had their hair mounded into a braided spiral on top of their head, they all appeared to be carrying heavy packs on their back, their clothing was the colour of everything else around them, tan from being matted with dirt and mud. Definitely not civilization, Soph thought.

When the others came within about two hundred meters one of them raised their hand all but grunted “Oi.”

The voice of the stranger silenced Jace and Sid’s squabbling, they turned to look in the direction of the sound, both in a kind of stunned shock.

The other’s jogged the remaining space between them, stopping about fifteen feet away from the rest of the group. The same on who had gotten their attention earlier continued in a casual joking voice “Where did you come from?”

Two women and the man who was talking were in the group, and as Soph has suspected they were all carrying packs on their back – one of the women had a bow strapped across their shoulders as well. The others had what appeared to be hand carved spear heads at their belts. The man addressing them had a hand resting near the base of the spear head, ready to turn off the charm and resort to other means if necessary.  

The woman carrying the bow was the one Soph had taken for taller at first with her hair mounded in the spiral of braids on her head. The other woman had the sides of her head shaved, and the hair that remained was in dreads which fell down the back of her head and well past her waist.

The man speaking to them had opted to completely shave his head, though it wouldn’t have surprised Soph if this had been done with the spear head at his waist. The hair was cut off in uneven clumps, though one might not notice this if they were not looking too closely.

“I could ask the same of you” Sid said, the first to recover from the shock of having the decision forced on him.

Jace soon followed with a “that depends on what you are asking. We came from downstream just now if that’s what you mean.”

“And before that?” The man smirked and directed the question to Jace.

“Same place as you I suspect” Jace replied nonchalantly.

This brought a smile to the man’s lips “Your name?” he inquired.

“If you give me yours” Jace replied.

“Fair enough. You look thirsty, you all do, here.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a canteen, he walked forward, as did Jace. They met in the middle of the no man’s land between the groups. The man signaled for the women to do the same, Soph, walked up to meet one of them, Sid met the other. Once they drank they returned to their group and passed the canteen around. Once everyone else had drank Soph took back a canteen and indicated her dog to the others, when they nodded she poured out some water into a cupped hand and let silver lap it up appreciatively. They then returned the canteens.

“Where are you headed?” he asked Jace.

“I can’t speak for everyone but I was trying to find you, or others like you.”

“How…?” the man look dumbfound. Soph also had to wonder how Jace knew there were be others here. That wasn’t the type of thing you would say in a situation like this if one didn’t mean it. The statement had them back on guard. “Are you…?”

“I’m not connected,” Jace turned to reveal the fresh wound on his neck from having the link removed. “The rest I will tell you on the way if you invite us to shelter with you. If you leave us to the elements that will have to be a secret I take with me as I take my chance out here.”

There was a long pause. The others retreated a few paces and discussed the decision in hushed voices. After a moment they gave a wave for the group to follow, and Jace jogged up to the lead to uphold his half of the arrangement.

After making sure the group was following Soph and jogged up to listen in along with Sid, who looked somehow personally offended by all this. Why was beyond Soph, a chance at life was worth it to her. Even if, as it turned out, Jace was more willing to tell a stranger how he knew what he knew than he had been willing to tell her.

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            Jace was trying to hide his worry from those around him, not that they would notice anyways – they were all still in a great deal of shock. Sophia, who seemed to be the most together of them, still didn’t seem to fully realize that her dog was walking circles around her, trying to get Sophia to run and play with her. Every once in a while the dog would nuzzle its head into Sophia’s hand and she would absent mindedly pet it as she walked but she never looked at the dog, never acknowledge it was there or called its name. She just stared blankly ahead and walked.

Occasionally Sophia turned to Jace and seemed startled that he was still there. She would make brief eye contact with him and force some conversation or ask a question. But it was as though she was not fully sure that he was real, as though part of her might think this was just a bad dream from which she would wake any minute now and fine herself just waking up for the day. Every time it was made clear this was the reality she seems startled by it.

The others in the group where just as poorly off, if not worse. Most of them couldn’t bring themselves to make conversation. Without the link Jace wondered if they could even speak. This seemed a little odd to him, most people still that dependent on the link wouldn’t have been seen as rebellious enough to be sent out of the society. Most people that dependent would have been sent for reprograming. This just made Jace all the more curious as to what their thoughts had betrayed in them. Something radical must have been going on inside their heads to lead to this fate?  What it could be was more terrifying than what it wasn’t. If they still conformed to the social protocols then only extreme criminal desires would have them excommunicated like this. He hoped that the criminal desires weren’t at an extreme end of that spectrum.

Then again, they might simply still be stunned, like Sophia unable to believe that they weren’t just dreaming. Jace wasn’t in this state of denial. He knew what he was walking into. Or thought he had at least, but the drop point was not where he had anticipated it would be. They had moved it about a day’s walk east of where the survivors had been spotted, assuming Jace was remembering the terrain correctly. The ground here was much more hostile than the first drop point. Open land with little shelter. If they failed to find cover before the first acid rainfall they wouldn’t survive long enough to make it out to where the others were.

After walking for what must have been hours the group came to a ridge.  The ground in front of them dropped down a few feet into a small stream which was flowing through the rocky ground on either side. The sun was starting to set in the sky and Jace couldn’t bring himself to take another step. He tried to remember if this stream was classified as drinkable or not. He wracked his brain, trying to remember the maps he had studied, missing the instant knowledge of the link for the first time. Before he could remember the answer, another member of the group approached the ridge, saw the water and jumped down into it before Jace could try and stop them, try to explain that the water might not be safe to drink. Like the rest of them, this young man was only focusing on the thirst he had after walking all day in the sun. After taking a sip he waved the others down to join him. Slowly, one by one, they jumped down from the ridge and followed this man’s lead.

“So, should we join them?” Sophia’s voice was faint, her throat clearly torn up and dry. Jace looked down at those splashing and drinking from the stream below. There was no redness on their skin, no indication that there was still acid in the water at least. No one seemed to have any instant negative effects from the water at least.

“I don’t see why not” he replied hesitantly.

With that Sophia joined the others jumping down from the ridge and the dog followed her. For the first time since they had left the drop point Sophia seemed to become aware of the dog’s presence as it splashed along beside her. “Oh Silver, there you are. Good girl.”

Jace watched for a few more minutes. Still hesitant to go down with the others, the water might be acid free but there were plenty of other slower moving toxins and pathogens which could be present in it. Things which wouldn’t affect you for days or weeks after, things which he doubted they would be able to find the remedies for out in the middle of nowhere. After a few more moments though the thirst he was experiencing got to him. He joined the others below.

The water was cooler than he was expecting, and not overly deep. It barely came up past his ankles in this little stream. He bent down to scoop up a handful of it. It was clear, no discoloration, a good sign. Jace finally brought the water to his lips and let it pour into his mouth, tilting his head back as far as it would go. The water tasted crisp and clean. Jace re-cupped his hands and scooped up another handful of water to take another drink. It might just have been how thirsty he was but this was some of the freshest water he had ever tasted.

After a few more sips Jace joined in with the playful spashing of the others, cleaning the dirt and dust from the walk off his face and arms as they went. It felt good to get cooled down after the long hot day they had.

By the time they were done and ready to move on the sun had dipped even lower in the sky and there was little light left. Down a ways on the banks of the stream there were a few trees and the ridge above swooped over the top in a “C” shape overhang, providing some shelter. Jace saw this place and went to the ridge to start pulling down dead branches and began making a fire. Some of the others, once they had their fill of the water, came and joined in his efforts.

Sophia and Silver were the last to come join them, by this time they had managed to get a fire started which proved to be a necessity as the sun dipped out of sight and the air grew cold. Their soaking clothes deepened the chill and they all gathered around the fire to dry off before they slept.

“Tha…nk you.” A quiet unsure voice came from somewhere to Jace’s right. He looked up to see the face of the first young man to jump down into the stream. So at least one of them could speak, that was comforting. A fellow rebel was always welcome in Jace’s eyes.

“Without you I’m sure I’d still be sitting where the dropped us in shock. And without her,” the man nodded to Sophia and Silver. “Her dog had nudged me until I was willing to follow.” Silver had done this with many of the others too. Jace assumed that like any animal given the chance to come out here Silver would have just run off. The main reason those with pets were allowed to bring them was because they were unwanted in the city and were known to abandon their owners when presented with the chance of freedom at the drop point. For many this was the last heart wrenching blow needed to break them into begging their way back on to the bus. Silver was different.

 When the doors had unlocked Jace was among the first to stumble out. From many of the other compartments dogs and cats had sprung out and wandered off, their owners stumbling out after them, some realizing that their pets had gone, others too stunned by the bright sun and change of surroundings to notice. Silver on the other hand had nudged opened the door and sat inside waiting for Sophia to exit. She had sat with Sophia until Jace had approached jerking Sophia out of her train of thought. Silver had some up and sniffed at Jace as he and Sophia talk. As soon as Silver was convinced Sophia was going to follow Jace Silver had been the first to run over to the nearest person and encourage them to come along, sometimes nudging their backs licking their faces or pulling at the hem of their pants. Silver had stayed with a few of them after Sophia and Jace had given up and this young man was one of those who Silver had wrangled into following along at the last minute.

Even now Silver was at Sophia’s side, licking her drying and enjoying the heat given off by the fire. Sophia in turn was running her fingers through the dog’s long hair, doing her best to comb through it and prevent it from matting or tangling as it dried. They two of them had a strong bond, something the likes of which Jace hadn’t seen before. Sophia looked up at Jace just then and smiled. She looked truly happy and at peace for the first time. Hopefully things would stay that way.

Sophia got up and walked over to where Jace and the young man were sitting, “What are you boys talking about over here Jace?” Her voice had a teasing laugh to it, though she could all but guess the answer. There wasn’t much to be talking about at this time.

“Ummm… this fella and I..” Jace started

“Name’s Sidney, you can call me Sid everyone does, or did I guess.”

“Yeah Sid here and I were just talking about how much of a help your dog was this morning Sophia.”

“Soph, please. Only my mother calls me Sophia.” Soph replied. “Was she really?” by this time Silver had wandered over to join them and Soph patted the ground beside her telling Silver to sit. “I… I hadn’t really noticed.” She admitted, bashfully.

Sid launched into his story about the morning making Sophia smile and laugh. The three of them talked until the ambers started to burn down. Sid got up to tear off a few more branches to get things up enough to provide a little light while Sopha settled down with Silver, using the dog as a pillow. Jace stayed sitting up and watching.

Some of the others had struck up a conversation but a few still had not found their voice. With every new greeting that hit his ears Jace relaxed a little, but the longer the few stayed silent the more he worried about what desires they might have buried in their subconscious that would have been considered dangerous enough to banish them.

Eventually he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer and with the crescent moon high in the sky overhead he let down his guard and let himself drift off. The last thing he remembered seeing as his eyes closed was Sid, looking around and walking over to the water’s edge again, bending down as though to scoop more water up into his mouth, though from where Jace lay with his eyes closing it never actually seemed like Sid took a drink. 


Her neck was still throbbing with tenderness from the incision when the bus came to another stop and the latch on her compartment popped open. Every time the bus had stopped Sophia had held her breath and waited for the metallic click of the lock releasing, but until now it hadn’t.

She’d lost track of how much time had passed, the entire ride had been spent cloaked in darkness. The windows were covered over so you couldn’t see out or in. No passing of the sun to tell you how long it had been since the last stop. You could barely tell if your eyes were open or closed. She had a feeling from the stiffness in her arms and legs that they had been traveling for the better part of a day if not longer.

Soph didn’t even know if she was the only one on the bus or if at every stop they had let someone who wasn’t her off. When the light came in through the crack in the door it was all but blinding. Soph took a moment to let her eyes start to adjust; a moment to wonder and fear what would lay on the other side of the door.

Finally, she got up the courage to open the door and step outside. The sun was high in the sky and blindingly bright. The ground under her feet was rocky and uneven. There was little shade in the area, few trees, little plant life other than grass.

Just as she was beginning to realize that she was being left in the middle of now where, just as the panic started to sink in, she head the door of her compartment click closed behind her and the engine of the bus start again. Before she could react the bus was pulling away, kicking up dust behind it. Soph was in too much shock to cry or scream, still trying to process everything that had happened in the last 48 hours or so. When the dust finally settled and the bus had faded into the distance Soph took a proper look around.

For the first time she noticed that she wasn’t the only one abandoned in this… this..wherever they were. There were a few other figures scattered in a line long where the bus had stopped. A couple of them were sitting on the ground. A couple had started to wander towards the few trees in the distance. A couple, like her, were just standing there, like her, staring at the disappearing bus.

Altogether there were maybe 10 people here. She wondered where the others who had come and gone had ended up. Where they all on the bus and just let off on earlier stops? Had they been forgiven for their transgressions? Had they been sent down a different hall to a different fate? She didn’t think she would ever know the answer.

“Fancy seeing you here,” his voice was a shock to hear, both because her ears were not used to the sound and because there was no way she should have been hearing it again. No way should the man from the hall be here with her now.

She turned to face him, “How long have you been standing there?” he looked, adjusted… the only person in the whole group who wasn’t in total shock. Though there was a little worry in his eyes.

“About as long as you.” He replied. “We should get going, find somewhere less exposed before nightfall.”

Soph looked around at the others. A few still seemed to be in shock, those who weren’t still more or less where the bus had dropped them had all headed out towards the distant trees, trying to find somewhere to get out of the sun that was beating down on all of them. “Should we get the rest of them to come with us?” Soph didn’t know if she wanted his answer to be yes of now. She didn’t want to deal with the burden of caring for anyone but herself, yet she couldn’t bring herself to leave these people here in silent tears.

There was a long pause before he answered, “I suppose we should try at least.” And together they headed over to the nearest person. The first and the second didn’t seem to hear them, or realize they were there. The third looked at them dumbfounded as they talked and covered their ears. Based on their dress Soph wondered if they had ever communicated on anything other than the link. They opened and closed their mouth as though trying to talk but nothing came out. After a moment they stood and followed them.

About half of those who had not headed out already ended up joining them. The rest had just stared back blankly, unmoving, uncaring. They had done all they could, probably more than they should have. They started walking towards the nearest tree where most of the others had headed before them.

“We should head west.” There was something about the sureness with which he said it which shocked her.

“Why west?”

“Just trust me.”

“Why should I trust you? I don’t even know your name.”

He stopped walking for a second and turned to smile at her, “I’m sorry I thought I told you, or at least that you knew Sophia. I’m Jace Acher.”

Soph didn’t know what shocked her more. The fact that he knew her name or the fact that despite everything she had ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere with the last man that her parents had try to set her up with. If only they knew how perfect he had actually been for her, at least so far. Soph started to laugh, and kept laughing until she cried.

“What?” Jace asked.

“You don’t find this funny? That we end up here together after all this?” Sophia gasped out between rounds of shocked laughter.

Jace smiled slightly, “I suppose it is.”

“Well then, I guess you just have to convince the rest of them that we’re headed in the right direction.”

“I don’t think it’ll be that hard” Jace replied.

Looking around Soph thought he was probably right. Most of the people with them had followed with little or no fight; they were all in too much shock to really do anything or think past putting their feet one in front of the other. Even Soph was still shaken, part of her had followed Jace blindly too. Yet, there was something about Jace’s presence, his calmness and sureness that had put Soph at ease. To some extent Jace’s presence before things was the reason she was here at all. His words to her in the fall beforehand had been the whole reason she had stuck to her guns. Soph had no doubt that Jace could have the same effect on the others. The only question was why was he so calm?

Soph wracked her brain to try to remember everything her mother had told her about Jace and his family, everything that she had so blissfully ignored earlier. They walked as she thought and missed the link for the first time. Had she still been connected she would have been able to draw up and re-play the conversation. She would know everything that she was forgetting in a few seconds, know exactly how much faith she should put into Jace and exactly why things were so easy for him.

Without it Soph was struggling to remember much more than his name. She knew that he was from one of the upper-level families. This didn’t explain how he got here though. The higher up the rungs you were the more likely you were to continue on your family legacy, give in to your parents’ wishes. That being said when people of the upper class did turn they tended to, like her, turn harder. They had more information and resources then the lower classes. When Soph was just a girl one such youth had led a protest in the square. Few joined in; all those who did hadn’t been heard from again. Had they ended up out here like the sorry group here now?

The only other thing about Jace and his family she seemed to remember was that his father worked in the government offices, but that wasn’t abnormal for someone of the upper classes. Her own parents worked in the lower level offices. She assumed his father worked in the capital building, but that didn’t tell her anything.

Soph looked at Jace and watched him walk. She watched the sureness in his steps, the glances he made over his shoulder to see who was keeping up, the adjustments he made to his pace to be sure not to lose anyone. Jace seemed to know the area, as though he had been here before. But that couldn’t be. No one would be out here, it wouldn’t be habitable. They must be miles from the nearest city. Still, there was a sureness in Jace that made her feel as though it would be okay in the end. Without the link she would have to trust her gut on this one, and her gut was telling her to trust him.


Jace was probably the only human to ever entered the Determination room without dread and fear in his heart. He was probably the only one who stood at the front of the room and felt at home. He had been in the room before. His father was a member of the fate committee, and had brought him here on more than one occasion to show him how things worked. After all, Jace was supposed to take over his father’s position when he grew up, but that couldn’t happen now. Jace would not see his father’s face in the crowd today. Family members weren’t allowed to vote on the fate of their children for fear it would bias the vote.

Jace was also one of the few people who knew where each of the halls led and what fate lay at the end of them. Again, something his father was in charge of. Each individual who failed to meet quota was given a class and sent down a hall. That is all the average individual in the Determination room knew. The classes were based on how much of a ‘perceived risk’ the individual was to the society, mainly focusing on if they could be scared into falling back in line.

Class C was low risk, usually kids that had ended up on the street one way or another. Nobodies who could easily be re-integrated without any identity reassignment. They were trained, given jobs and given a year to find a partner before they were re-evaluated. When possible these individuals were brought in and re-integrated long before their twenty-second birthday. A good plan, except these individuals and their children were locked into the unwanted jobs for a minimum of three generations after their re-integration. They were limited to finding a partner within their own class, another type C. Between the lack of upward mobility and the fact that the salaries were barely enough for one person to live off, let alone two and a kid, the C class often failed to meet quota, or their children ended up back on the street, starting at square one all over again.

Class B were mid risk, people who came from the middle or upper classes and had just failed to find ‘the one.’ They had families and the families needed to live under the illusion that their child had been punished. As such they were “re-assigned” to another city, usually on a different continent, on the other side of a former country boarder. Some place where if their family travelled they would simply see a girl who resembled their daughter, not their daughter. So the child didn’t reach out their memories were wiped. They woke up in a ‘rehab’ center and told that they were recovering from some sort of drug abuse. They were put into a ‘halfway home’ punishment for another middle class family whose son or daughter had failed to meet quota. They took over the roll which that son or daughter left behind, and given a year to find a partner.

Class A were the threats, people like Jace. People whose will was too strong to wipe their memories, people who didn’t have a longing to conform inside of them. These people would rise up and create anarchy given the chance. They were disconnected from the link and removed from society, left in the sparse wilderness to fend for themselves. Between the extreme acid rain, lack of shelter and non-existent survival skills it was assumed they perished, but this fate was worth the risk to Jace. Having a chance at a life was better than living a life he didn’t want in a society he didn’t approve of.

There was some fight with Jace over his decision. His father was a powerful man after all, they didn’t want to lose the heir to that role, nor did they want to see someone else fill it. But in the end he was voted a Class C and sent down the hall he wanted to walk down, the only one he wanted to walk down. At the end of the hall he came to a red door. Normally his mother would be on the other side of it to disconnect the link, as was her role. However, that wouldn’t be the case today, her assistant or a doctor brought in from another city would do his.

The operation to remove the link was simple, local anesthetic and a small slit in the back of the neck to disconnect the transponder, the rest of the wiring was left in place as it was worked into the brain, full removal would risk brain damage at the best, death at the worst.

After the room with a red door there was another hallway which led out to the back of the building and a bus of sorts. Each set of seats was made into an individual compartment so you couldn’t see how many others were being shipped off like you. The bus would stop at random intervals along the route. Create the illusion that you were to be abandoned alone. No one saw anyone else get on the bus so they didn’t know how many people were on the start.

There was only one drop off point though. Few were ever classes this extremely. The whole trip was another part of the illusion. Another way for them to convince you that you were making the choice, after all they couldn’t afford to lose a man who was capable of changing. They were trying to re-build the world and to do that they needed a population. A few times the person had begged forgiveness and the bus had turned around, they became a class B risk, fear had gotten the better of them. This wouldn’t be the way Jace’s trip ended though, he was determined to make it to the final stop.

On the last time Jace was in to work with his father a discovery was made. There appeared to be a clan living out near the drop off point. A group of the unwanted had survived. Knowing that survival was possible, or might be at least, was enough to convince Jace to turn against the system. It was a broken system and it couldn’t be fixed from the inside. The best chance at reform was the expose the system for what it was. To do that he needed to be outside of it, away from their ability to manipulate his thoughts, disconnected from the link.

Jace rubbed the spot in his neck where the incision had gone it. It at taken all his effort to keep his thoughts from drifting to his plans after he was classes and sent off. If they had known, or even suspected they might have actually killed


“Enough!” Sophia shouted at the top of her lungs, not caring what her parents thought anymore, “I’m not marrying anyone. I’m not going to another party. I’m not worrying about you or the other parents and I don’t care what they do to me. I’m done!”

A deafening silence overtook the room. No one moved, no one seemed to breathe. Soph was just as shocked at her announcement as her parents. She didn’t want to go back on what she said; she thought it was the right call for her. Yet saying it made it real, and it being real made Soph scared. She waited for her father or mother to beg her to change her mind, or to just ignore her and insist on another option for marriage. They didn’t and the silence continued.

Soph stood up; if they weren’t going to speak to her then she wasn’t going to prolong the awkwardness. She was half way through the front door before there was any sound but that of her foot fall. “Wait,” Echoed through Soph’s head in her mother’s voice. She turned and saw one of the staff coming out from the back hall, a cardboard box in hand. “If this is what you want we won’t have it disrupt our lives anymore.”

“Fine” Soph replied, refusing to let the abandonment get to her. She collected the box and once again turned to leave. This time she wasn’t interrupted. She let the front door slam behind her and made it into the car before allowing the emotion to overwhelm her.

Within moments of giving the driver instructions on where to take her and requesting the divider be raised Soph had burst into tears. It was one thing to talk about defying the rules and accepting the punishments that came with failing to make quota. It was another to make the choice official and not be able to undo the decision. Her parents would have done the `right` thing and reported her decision to break quota. When she got home she would be given a few minutes to collect anything she wished to bring with her before they scrubbed her apartment. Removing any trace of her from it and any other locations where photos, images or property of hers would be found. No doubt her parents had given her the box to avoid the scrubbers having to come to their home.

A new round of sobs escaped as she thought of how her childhood bedroom would finally be re-worked into something more suited to a childless household. Quota mandated at least one childcame of every union. There was no maximum, though it was suggested that the preference was for each household to rear at least four children if they came from a privileged living. The world needed to be repopulated. We needed workers to rebuild the society and the world. Families who only had one child, such as hers, weren’t frowned upon per se. But they were expected to rear a perfect child, those who didn’t were made to regret it. Her childhood room would be used for a “purpose which furthered society’s goals.” Most likely her parents would be forced to house a recovering addict or a lesser criminal and act as assistance in their rehabilitation into community. These rehabilitation efforts often failed, forcing the family to relive their failure over and over again.

Her parent’s other choice would be to have another child, though Soph wasn’t sure this would be an option for them, not after the way she had left things. They might not be seen as suitable parents any longer. Either way, the room wouldn’t be the only thing in the house that never changed anymore.

She looked out the window as the car continued to drive. They were approaching the city’s edge, or where the edge would have been years ago when the city was thriving. These days the worn down buildings were little more than ruins. Trees grew up through the place where a roof once had covered the dwellings, ivy and other vines wrapped around the support beams appearing to tear the structures apart, bushes grew over the rubble. Mother Nature was re-claiming the land, or attempting to. For every healthy tree or bush springing up in the once urban paradise three more where starting to die and fall to ruins themselves. For some the acid rain would have finally gotten to them, others would have had their roots hit a former landfill and died from pulling the poison up out of the earth. From her view in the car it looked as though the planet was fighting a losing battle.

Much like the battle I’m waging now. The thought creeped into her head, shocked her, and refused to leave. Maybe she had made the wrong decision. What could one person refusing to live by an outdated system do? What was the point in putting up this fight? Why hadn’t she just given in to her parent’s wishes? Her thoughts continued to spiral out of control.

Now, it would be too late to change things. Now she would have to find out what came of those few like her. She closed her eyes, and laid back on the seat of the car. It would be at least another hour before they returned to her apartment and she had to face the scrubbers. She would spend that time trying to escape reality. Thankfully the emotion of the morning and lack of sleep from the night before allowed her to drift off in a few moments of blissfully dreamless sleep.


The rain had left the garden wet and muddy. There was a satisfying sucking sound every time Jace lifted is foot out of the muck, his rubber boot threatening to slip off is foot and stay lodged in the ground with every step. Even the earth under the apple trees where he was currently walking was this wonderful muddy texture.

When he had been a boy Jace had love to play in the garden after a rain storm like this. He often returned to the house looking like a swamp monster, sending his mother into a fit as he trailed the dirt in through the kitchen and living room into the bathroom to try to clean off before she noticed him. A couple of times his mother had stopped him at the door grabbed the garden hose and sprayed him down before he was allowed to enter the home. A look that was an intense mix of joy, frustration and love had always plastered his mother’s face at these times. She would lecture him about how he shouldn’t get into such trouble but burst out laughing the next instant when he playfully sprayed the water directly into Jace’s face and he returned fire by splashing the water pooling at his feet up at her. If only things were still that simple.

These days Jace still found comfort in being in the garden after the rain. But at his age he could no longer return to the home covered head to toe in mud. He had to satisfy his craving with a walk through the mud, picking apples for breakfast as he went. With every sucking sound of his foot falls the urge to run, jump and roll in the mud seared. His inner child daring him to give in, but the adult in him told the child no, and kept walking.

When he returned to the house he slipped off his boots at the back door, he knew better than to track dirt into his mother’s home these days, and entered into the kitchen. He placed the basket of apples on the counter and washed his hands in the kitchen sink. Once Jace had cleaned his hands he then started rinsing off and chopping up the apples.

Behind him he heard the click of the coffee maker, timed to start brewing a pot at this time every morning. Not long after the click of the coffee pot the rest of the house started to wake up.

The blinds on the windows started to roll up, letting in the early morning light. The shuffle of feet could be heard from upstairs as his mother and father got out of bed and headed to the shower. The sound of cars was heard in the driveway as the staff who didn’t live on site started to arrive to complete their duties for the day.

Good morning Jace” Molly’s voice floated into Jace’s head as he heard the back door through which he had entered earlier. Jace turned to face the cook who was more of a mother to him then his own mother had ever been.

Good morning Molly.” Jace walked over to embrace the now aging women in front of him. Molly was plump, with red cheeks and long curly hair. Crow’s feet and laugh lines were settling into her once smooth face. Her hair, which had once been a rich brown when Jace was a boy, was greying. Jace was always a little shocked by Molly’s appearance. In his mind’s eye she would always be the 30 something mother figure that had taught him how to tell which fruits were ready to pick and showed him how to bake a cake from scratch. Her appearance was another reminder that he was no longer that young boy.

What are we making this morning?” Molly asked gesturing at the apples Jace was slicing and reaching for a couple of coffee cups.

Mom’s favourite. Last night didn’t go as she would have liked. So I’m trying to ease the blow a little. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it through breakfast alive this way” Jace was half joking and half painfully serious in this statement. His mother had discovered that he left the party for a time. Not only that but the date he had been intended for was responsible for some outburst which his mother was confident would not have happened had Jace been talking to her when he should have been. Due to this little incident his parents were being frowned upon by their peers. This moment shouldn’t have happened. It was just as much their fault for inviting the girl as it was her fault for forgetting her manours. Or at least that’s the way society saw it.

Molly didn’t ask for details. She tended to disagree with the way in which these parties were run but would never say so blatantly. Instead of continuing the conversation she asked “What can I do to help?” and got to work on the sauce which Jace was requesting.

His mother’s favourite breakfast food, especially at this time of year, consisted of waffles, made from scratch with a hot apple cinnamon sauce drizzled over them. Molly’s sauce had always been better than the one Jace could make so he was happy to have her help, anything to appease his mother while he still could.

The two of them set into a comfortable and familiar rhythm. After all they had been sharing the kitchen since he was a young boy. This was one of the only ways which Jace had to relax, this and the garden where he escaped. Jace finished cutting up the apples and moved to pull out and heat up the waffle iron. Molly poured their coffees and chatted to him about everything from the weather to movie she had heard was worth viewing. Anything but the party last night, anything to keep her calm.

Once the iron was heating up Jace grabbed a bowl, eggs, milk, flour, salt, sugar and baking soda and started on the waffle mix. The sound of the shower stopped coming from upstairs. It would be about 30 minutes before his mom was dressed and came down. He should be right on time with breakfast. He mixed the batter letting his mind wander, half listening to Molly’s rambling while he worked.

Jace let his mind wander to thoughts about the girl who had caused the outburst the night before. His mother may be embarrassed by the whole situation, but she had found a better match for him then she knew. Part of Jace wished he had talked to her the night before. But if that had happened, his plan may have failed. If he was seen to be happy with her, even if they had not made a commitment, the dead line for the quota may have been extended, especially with their families’ standing in society. It was better that he had assumed, based on her appearance alone, that she was just another society girl looking to take her place on step higher up the ladder. He found himself hoping that her parents didn’t find a “suitable” partner for her, but stopped himself before his thoughts wandered any future. Even thinking of these things was dangerous. If he let his feelings slip to his parents he knew they would have him set up with her sooner than he could blink.

He removed the first of the waffles from the iron and tried to move his thoughts to something anything else, but there was something about Sophia’s image he couldn’t let go of. Molly’s voice came back into his thoughts “I think I hear your mother coming down. Do you want to prepare her coffee or should I?

I’ll grab it.” Jace replied. Pulling another set of waffles off the iron and starting another batch before he moved for the cup.

Good morning Mother,” Jace thought as he heard her foot steps in the hall. “I hope you slept well.” He turned to hand her the coffee and direct her towards the kitchen table, which was off to the side in a sunroom of sorts. The double French doors which allowed it to be closed off from the main kitchen area currently stood open, making it feel like one large room. “Breakfast will be ready in a moment if our want to have a seat.”

A faint smile crossed her lips for a millisecond, “Not as well as I would have liked” she replied as she took the coffee from Jace’s hand and headed over to the table. “When did you wake up this morning?

Around 6:30.” Jace lied. In reality he had jerked awake from a terrifying dream around five AM. A dream in which the world seemed to be collapsing in on itself, a dream that didn’t feel like it was his. It felt as though he was watching someone else’s fear. It was an odd sensation, one he had gone out to the garden to shake. The feeling was still haunting the back of his mind though, the same way Sophia’s image was still floating back there. He knew is mother would frown on him getting any less than 4 hours of sleep though. So he kept that fact to himself. “Would you like anything other than coffee to drink? Orange juice? Water?

The coffee is fine for now dear. What’s for breakfast?” His mother asked more out of a need to make polite conversation than a need for an answer to the question. The smell of the apple sauce and site of the waffle iron was more than enough of an answer.

Your favourite,” Jace replied as he peeled the last round of waffles off the iron. “I figured we could all use a pick me up after last night. I know you were hoping for a different result

Molly started pouring the sauce over the waffles. The smell of caramelized sugar, butter and apples was all but intoxicating.

Thank you dear.” Mother replied as Jace and Molly approached the table with the plates.

Will Mr. Archer be joining us this morning?” Molly asked before returning to the kitchen to clean up and put a third plate together if necessary.

The sounds of heavy footsteps coming down the hall towards the kitchen was answer enough for Molly, she hurried back to the counter top, put together another plate and poured another coffee. She set it on the table as Jace’s father took his seat. Without another word Molly returned to the kitchen closing the French doors behind her. Anyone with eyes could see that Jace’s father was less than pleased this morning, Molly was not one to be caught in the cross fire.

Good morning Father” Jace said. “I hope you slept well.

There was no reply as his father picked up his coffee cup and took a sip before starting on the waffles without a word. He did lock eyes with Jace for one terrifying moment. If looks could kill this one would have.

His father had piercing blue eyes, the kind of blue where every time you looked at them you felt as though you were about to fall into the ocean during an electric storm. The kind of eyes that you would swear could see through you right into your soul. Jace had been told many times that he had is father’s eyes, but he doubted that he could ever make anyone feel the way his father did when his gaze feel on them. Nor would he want to. In that moment Jace knew that regardless of the outcome with his mother he would be dead to his father. He had failed in his father’s eyes.

Isn’t the food lovely dear? Jace picked the apples himself this morning I bet. Didn’t you Jace?” Jace nodding, his father said nothing. At least not to Jace. Jace’s mother’s face told a different story. The link allowed for a whole new version of the silent treatment. If you didn’t want someone to hear you they never would. Based on the look on his mother’s face it was plan that Jace’s father was not happy with him. His father was most likely telling his mother about how they should disown him now so the day itself would be easier on them, on her.

After a silent exchange between the two of them Jace’s father stood up and stormed out. Leaving his Mother with eyes starting to water. Only then did Jace dare to say anything.

Mother?” he thought reaching over to touch her hand. She snatched it away.

Why do you insist on doing this to us?

If I could be happy and make you happy at the same time I could mother. But I can’t. This isn’t a world I want to live in.” Jace replied.

Tears were now following freely and silently down his mother’s face. She refused to make eye contact with him, or take the tissue he offered her. “If this is your choice, make it now. Go, tell them you are not going to make quota, don’t prolong this more than you have to. No one is forcing you to stay. If you aren’t even going to try to live in our world we don’t want you in it any longer.

Mother!” Jace replied, wounded. “I’m not trying to hurt you. I’m trying to do what’s best for the world.”

It’s not what’s best for my world” she replied. His mother stood up abruptly. “I want you gone by the end of the day. I love you, but I can’t have the heart ache of seeing you every day any longer.” She moved to leave.

“Mother wait!” Jace replied allowed, catching her arm. It pained him to see her like this. This wasn’t what he wanted. This reaction was never his intention.

“Go Jace” She replied. Allowing her voice and her sighs to become audible. “I know this is what you feel you need to do. It doesn’t make it any easier for me to let you go.” She pulled him in for one last embrace and kissed him softly on the cheek. “Remember, I will always love you. But I can’t watch them take you away, destroy your things. Leave now. Leave while it’s your choice. Take yourself from me so I don’t have to watch them take you.”

“I will mother,” Jace replied tears coming to his eyes now. “I’m sorry there wasn’t another way.”

I’m sorry too.” She returned to silence, regained her composure, shook his embrace off her and left.

Molly re-entered the room, took one look at Jace and took his mother’s place in his arms. She let Jace cry in her arms, comforting him. When his sobs started to slow “Come” Molly said, “Let me help you pack your things. You are making the right choice for you. That’s all you can do. I will take care of them for you. No harm will come to your mother. You have my word” When she spoke aloud her voice carried an Italian accent which wasn’t present in her thoughts. Though tones changed in the link depending on who was talking to you. Accents and language barriers were translated out of the conversation. Everyone was ‘unique’ but no one was different.

“You promise me that? You promise you’ll watch over them?” Jace replied.

Molly just nodded in reply, and together they headed to his bedroom to pack his things away and prepare him for the trip it would make later that day to make his choice official.


As she returned to the main building the room had started to empty out. Couples were making their way playfully to the pods which lined the far wall. Her return went more or less unnoticed. A few guests looked her way when they heard the door creak open, but they quickly turned their eyes away when they realized who she was. By the looks of things her outburst had branded her as she had feared.

Soph made her way as quietly and quickly as she could to the front doors. She stopped to collect her jacket and left. The night air seemed to have grown cold in the few moments she had spent indoors. The slight breeze was turning into a bracing wind with clouds building overhead. You could sense the storm coming. The wind was strong enough that for a second or two Soph thought she might be blown away from here and all of her troubles.

The staff were running about bringing anything that could come indoors inside and activating protective shields over the rest. With the preparations it looked as though there was acid rain in the forecast overnight. One of the many reasons the cities were in ruin was the lack of protection the people had from this factory-induced phenomenon. Here they had cleansing shields which would filter the chemicals out of the water, allowing the rain to come in and rejuvenate the plant life. In the cities these shields did not exist. If you were out in the rain for long you could get chemical burns on your skin. Soph had been pulled in out of the rain on one of her first days in the city by a complete stranger. Growing up on an estate much like the Archer’s she hadn’t known the damaging effects; only the cleansing feelings of cool water falling on a hot summer day.

Soph made it to the car before her mother’s voice broke into her head disrupting the memory abruptly.

“How could you? We raised you better than that!”

How rapidly word travelled always astonished Soph. A part of her had been foolishly hoping that she would be able to break the news to her mother herself. “Mom it wasn’t that bad it was…”

“You spoke, aloud in that company? Are you crazy? You’ll be lucky if we can get you joined with one of your fellow ghetto dwellers at this point! That’s what you wanted all along isn’t it? To shame your family and marry one of those rats!”

“Mom, no calm down” Soph’s head was pounding. She could feel the rage in her mother’s tone. Feel the hatred and disgust which her mother felt. “It was an accident. I was surprised. It wasn’t my fault”

“Oh, no I suppose it wasn’t your fault. It’s our fault for allowing you to live away from home among the people you do. Our fault for not reining in that spirit of yours. You do realize that your father and I will be lucky if anyone in that circle ever speaks to us again. We will be lucky if the shame you brought on yourself does not come down on the family as well.”

“Mom, honestly I think you’re over reacting. It was not that big of a deal.” Soph knew it was a lie as she thought it. She knew that her mother was probably concerned with reason. But agreeing with her wasn’t going to change things and wasn’t going to make anything any better. “It will be fine. I promise. I’ll be okay.”

There was silence for a moment and then her mother replied “Come over darling. Your father and I want to see you. Your birthday is coming and we want to see you before then.”

Soph was slightly relieved that they didn’t want to just disown her now. She agreed and re-directed the driver to her parent’s home. The drive from the Acher’s would take several hours so Soph settled in to sleep, leaving the link on so that her mother could check in on her location when she inevitably worried. She stared out the window as her eyes slipped closed, letting her eyes follow the edge of the horizon as it rose and fell in the distance, the rhythmic motion of the car rocking her to sleep.

***

The ground fell away from under Soph as she ran away from the mountain. Trees and rocks were falling all around her. She wove and dodged ducking under one obstacle then jumping over the next. The sweat beading off her was causing her hair to mat to the back of her neck. The world around her was crumbling, coming to an end. Somehow Soph knew that it was her fault this had happened. She had caused the mountain to cave in. But she did not know how.

The sweat on the balls of her bare feet was beginning to cause her to slip on the rocks as she ran. Soph fell, tearing open her leg on a broken branch. She barely got back to her feet in time. The ground gave way under her as she jumped ahead to where there was still solid ground. Soon that started to give way too.

She was running up out of the hole now, out of the chasm she had somehow created. Somewhere up ahead the world must not have been falling in on itself. Somewhere up ahead she must be able to stop running to check the wound on her now pounding leg. Her pace grew slower.

She was beginning to fall backward into the hole below her. She clawed at the ground which was falling away from her feet and fingers, desperately trying to grab a hold of anything firmly. No matter what Soph reached for it feel way, or pulled her down further into the abyss. She began to call out, to scream. She felt something grab her shoulder pulling her further down. No shaking her…

***

Soph jolted awake in a panic. The arm on her shoulder was that of her father silently shaking her awake. Time Soph thought as she worked to regain her composure, 5 O’clock, came the silent answer from the link. “Hello father” Soph thought forcing a smile to cross her face as she twisted herself upright and stepped out of the car. Normally she would have greeted him aloud but after the events of the night before she was not about to rock the boat with her usual insistence that the link was unnecessary in a situation such as this.

Sophia” was her father’s limited reply and he turned away heading towards the house, not bothering to reach out a hand to help her out of the car or invite her to walk with him. Soph stood and followed, trying to shake the feeling still lingering from the dream that the ground was falling from under her. After a few steps her confidence in the ground’s sturdiness returned and she looked up at the house rather than watching her feet closely with each step.

Despite the years it had been since she had come home, the house looked exactly as she remembered it. The home was similar to the Acher’s estate in style, though considerably smaller, more cottage than mansion. The sandstone walls were worn and faded with ivy growing up one side of the home. It was well-kept but still had a feel of age to it, as though someone had frozen the home right before it got too old to live in and right after it had started to lose its charm. The house had character, but the charm was fading. One wouldn’t call it a cozy home, sturdy and enduring where better words. It had stood there through generations of her family and would stand there for many more.

Inside was a sharp contract to the outside. From the moment you opened the door you were transported from the world of the enduring to the world of the temporary. The interior was decorated with the trends of the day, every item of furniture new, the paint colours were all but fluorescent pinks and greens the opposite of the grey tones that had covered the walls the last time Soph had been home. The floor was hardwood covered by area rugs and large sitting pillows. Curtains draped down every corner. It looked like a cross between the opium dens and 1960’s hippies houses which Soph has seen in a history of interior design book she had read at some point or another. The look was said to be “all the rage” these days and advertised constantly in the city. Her mother had always been one to follow these crazy trends, which though advertised never seemed to catch on for more than a month or two. For her mother it was nothing more than a way of proving she had the means to change her world when she wanted to and a conversation starter at the many parties she insisted on throwing to help them “move up” in the world.

Soph’s father pointed towards a chaise, one of the few pieces of actual furniture in the room “Have a seat Sophia” came forcefully into her head. “Your mother will be in shortly. I will arrange to have some tea prepared” Soph had hoped her parents would let her sleep a little longer before their interrogation started. Apparently she would not be so lucky. Soph obeyed her father’s request and he turned to ‘arrange’ for the tea, by which he meant have the help bring it.

Soph fidgeted while she waited. She was still in her dress which was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable the more awake she became. The corset was twisted and starting to pinch, the fabric becoming itchy and stiff. She hoped that she would be offered the chance to go to her room and grab whatever clothes remained here, or borrow an item of her mother’s. When fifteen minutes ticked by and neither her father nor her mother had returned, let alone the tea, Soph decided to venture off and see if she could find something more suitable for this time of morning; or, at very least, something she could wear without a corset built into it.

Soph slowly made her way out of the main room. Peeking over her shoulder as she went, half expecting her father to re-enter the room and yell at her for leaving her seat. She moved into the darkened hallway at the far end of the room. She did not turn on the lights; Soph did not want to wake her mother if her mother was still asleep. Every time the floor boards creaked her breath caught in her throat and she stopped moving for a moment. She felt as though she was about 6 years old, sneaking out of her bedroom to watch early morning cartoons, trying not to wake anyone in the process so she wouldn’t get in trouble. Only this time she was trying to make her way into her room, not out.

When she finally got to her door her mother’s voice drifted into her head “Sophia where are you darling?” So close and yet so far.

“I’m about to go into my old room mother. I’m looking for something a little more suitable for this hour of the day to wear.”

“Okay Darling, hurry back.” Soph let out a sigh of relief. Happy her mother was being reasonable this morning, “Your tea is growing cold”

As if that were possible, her parent’s tea cups were ‘ever warm’ keeping their contents all but scorching hot. The worst case scenario would have the tea be too cool to burn her tongue, yet still more than warm enough to provide the comfort of a hot beverage. Even if she took an hour the tea would still be warm.

Soph entered her bedroom closed the door and all but tore off the dress. She rummaged around her closet until she found some old sweat pants, a hoodie with her high school crest on it and a worn out t-shirt. The type of clothing which you never bring to your new home as you never plan on wearing it again, but for some reason your parents never get around to throwing out or donating.

Soph’s room, like the clothing she left behind, was the only room in the house that she assumed hadn’t changed since she had moved out. The walls were still a powder blue, the colour she had chosen and insisted on painting herself in her early teens. The walls were still covered in corkboards with photos of high school friends and posters of various underground bands and artists pinned to them. Her teddy bear was still sitting propped on her pillow. The bed was made with the blankets and sheets she had owned since childhood. This room was the only thing that she didn’t think would ever change. Unless… the thought began but Soph stopped it before it spiraled out of control. She refused to think what this room would become if she weren’t to marry before it was too late. She refused to think about how she would become nothing but a memory, if that. She refused to think that this room, the one place where she would feel at home and safe not matter how long it had been since the last time she had been there, would be torn apart if she failed her family. Every reminder of her would be purged from her parents’ lived, whither they wanted it or not. The purge was a part of the failure to make quota. The Neopuritans would send in a team to erase every physical reminder of who Sophia was. They would not erase her parents’ memory of her, nor anyone else’s, also a part of the punishment. One could not enforce quota if the punishment for failing to reach it was not remembered. But her parents would forget her nonetheless. The slow fading of memory when first they forgot the sound of her voice, then the look of her face, then her name would be their punishment for failing to raise a ‘good citizen.’

Soph shook away the thought. Maybe that was what her dream was about. She was causing the world of those around her to end due to her failure to conform. She wasn’t one to put much meaning into dreams, but maybe that was the reason for it. Soph pulled on the clothes she had pulled together, took one last look around the room and headed back down the hall to the room where her parents were waiting for her.

Soph refused to love someone who thought the demands of quota were reasonable. She refused to marry someone she didn’t love. She refused to allow sentiment and nostalgia to convince her that not marrying was the wrong thing to do. She would fail to meet quota. She would accept the punishment. She would live the best life she could where ever that punishment took her. Soph only hoped she could get her parents to understand her decision.


 Her head was pounding by the time Soph was finally able to make it into the bathroom away from the noises in her head which her ears couldn’t hear. Her mother saw exiting the link as a choice no one in their right mind would make. If Soph could, she would turn it off forever. Unfortunately that wasn’t a choice you got to make, it was a privilege taken away from you if you failed to meet quota. A privilege Soph wished she didn’t have the burden of carrying.

            Splashing some water on her face Soph waiting for the pounding to diminish, if it didn’t she was determined she would leave, even if it meant facing her mother’s wrath.

For all her efforts she hadn’t managed to speak with Jace yet, and she knew that if she left the purave without speaking to the man her parents intended her for that her mother might have her head before the Neopuritans had the chance to take it. Although, Soph supposed she couldn’t truly be blamed if Jace hadn’t bothered to introduce himself. Technically it was Jace who should approach her, never the other way around, at least not at these traditional gatherings.

The throbbing started to subside. And Soph raised her head to look at herself in the mirror. Her mascara has become smeared by the water and most of the blush had come off her cheeks. Her eyes we blood-shot, as they always became when the headaches struck her.

She reached for a tissue and began the slow process of blotting at the make-up, trying the best she could to tame it, finally she gave up and replaced her mask, hoping it would hide most of the damage.

Soph opened the door to the bathroom and hit something. No someone, the lone wolf from earlier in the evening.

Pulling back and said “I’m sorry” aloud, two loudly as in the quite room head instinctively turned, shocked expressions on their face to see who had broken the silence of the evening and why.

Soph’s face turned beet red and ran, leaving before the man in front of her could reply, she exited through the nearest door and ended up at the rear of the house, running through the garden. She stopped after a moment. No one would be out her with her, there was nothing to run from any more. She took a deep breath and tried to stop her racing heart.

Why did I speak aloud? The question raced through her head over and over again.  That just wasn’t done in “polite” society. In this company “reflex” wasn’t an excuse either. This group saw the link as the nature way people communicated. Speaking was seen as a last resource, and never something to be used in public. The sound of a voice was jarring to them.

In the slums where Soph insisted on living talking out loud was less abnormal. Though everyone in the slums still had access to the link they didn’t view the  Neopuritans and their technology as the be all and end all that these people did. The lack of silent communication was more of a rebellion against the upper class. In this company the fact that Soph had replied aloud would mark her as suck city scum. Her parents would kill her when they found out about this. Any chance she had to marry the man of their dreams would have been swashed after this incident.

You’re over reacting. Soph tried to re-assure herself. These things happen. It will be fine. She took another deep breath. The smell of flowers, herbs and freshly cut grass filled her lungs. For a moment she felt refreshed and comforted by the smells. This was quickly replaced by shame. She had left this world behind for a reason. Either everyone should have a right to live like this or no one. The people in the cities deserved better than the air they were breathing.

Still, the fresh air in her lungs and on her skin helped to relax her. Soph decided to give into the comfortable feeling. She would return to the city soon enough and should enjoy the time she had here in whatever way she could. She decided to walk around a little and explore. Maybe if I wait a little longer they will forget about me, she hoped.

For the first time since coming out Soph took a second to look around. She was standing between the edge of an apple grove and lines of tomato plants. Just behind her she could see flowers. She thought she recognized them as roses but should not be sure. It was odd to think that something which was a part of nature was so unnatural in this day and age.

Soph walked towards the roses, if that was even what they were. As she approached their aroma filled the air surrounding her. It was a… sweet smell was the other way Soph could think of describing it. But that wasn’t quite the right word. The smell seemed to play on the gentle breeze. If you were used to it you probably wouldn’t have noticed it was there. It was shockingly mild for a flower. Yet, due to the unfamiliarity of it, the smell seemed pungent to Soph.

When she got close enough she reached out and touched one of the petals. It was softer than silk. Softer than anything she had ever laid hands on before. She went to grab the stem to pick on and suddenly felt a sharp prick in her fingers. She exhaled sharply and cursed under her breath pulling her hand way from the plant. Her index finger had a small hole in the tip of the glove she was wearing which was seeping blood. She tore off the glove to look at the finger itself.

Her skin had a small tear in it.  She lifted her finger to her mouth and sucked on it to sooth the pain while searching her clutch with her free hand for a tissue to place over the cut.

Hello” echoed through her head causing her to freeze. Someone else was out her. They must have heard her. Why on earth couldn’t she learn to keep her mouth shut.

Soph didn’t move a muscle. She didn’t reply. She hoped that whoever was out there would move on. After all who else would be out here, they would thing they were imagining things and just got away.

Soph heard footsteps. Coming from her left. She slowly backed away from the roses and into the tree line of the apple grove. With any luck they wouldn’t see her. They wouldn’t look this way. They would just walk back into the house.

From the shadows of the trees Soph saw a figure pass by where she had just been standing. They looked around as they walked but didn’t appear to see her. Soph held her breath as their eyes past over her. Praying they didn’t stop. Whoever it was kept moving.

A few moments later Soph hear the door to the house open and shut. Only then did she remember to breathe again. Her finger started pounding in pain, reminding her of what she was doing a moment ago. She continued to rifle through her clutch, found what she was looking for. Pressing the tissue around her finger and replacing her glove she headed back to the house. If someone else was out here it must mean they had been looking for her. Why else would they be out here? It wasn’t her home, she should have stayed at the party. Hopefully by now they would have forgotten about her outburst. Hopefully no one would notice the tear in her glove. Hopefully she would make it through tonight without being reported as a free-thinker. 


Jace had slipped back outside into the garden. He prayed that no one had seen him come this way, especially not his mother. She would have his head if she knew that he had left the party. The talk they had at lunch was more of a lecture than a conversation. His mother, seeing his request coming, had told him that it wasn’t an option and that avoiding this would bring nothing but pain to himself and shame to the family. “Besides” his mother has stated, aloud in order to drive home her point “I’ve gone through all the trouble of inviting that Shelly girl, you will not be the end of the agreement we made with her parents. You will do your duty to his family.”

Jace has seen Sophia enter and all but ran at the sight of her. He couldn’t commit to a life he didn’t want and wouldn’t provide the girl with false hope. Who knew what conversation Sophia’s parents had with her before the party.

Among his plants he felt his breathing come easier. He could only imagine what it would have been like to live in a day where nature existed outside of this man-made context. At least, for now all he could do was imagine it.

As he walked along the garden he allowed his handed to brush against the soft leaves and rough vines of the tomato plants, rub the edge of the firm fruit, not yet ripe. He drifted further in an touched the other plants in the garden, almost slicing his finger open on the thorns of a raspberry bush, only to be greeted next by the satin soft petals of the apple blooms on the tree beside. There was something real about the natural world that was lost in the technology of today had lost. There was an unexplained warmth in the garden. An unspoken understanding that if you cared for the plants, the plants would provide for you all you truly needed.

A few of the books he had read grown up said that the wars which had brought the world to its knees were fought by technology for nature. But none of the information available in the link. In fact, the limited information that was there on the wars suggested that it was the technology of the link itself that was fought over. Suggesting that one country had been keeping this development from the rest of the world, leaving those without access to it far behind and warring amongst themselves until they decided to fight for the link and bring it to all, equalizing all the people, all the nations, bring about world peace for the first time in history. The truth probably lay somewhere in the middle, or maybe was none of the above. Histories we altered as was seen fit by the leading Neopuritans.

Other information was also in constant flux within the network. As long as the majority of the population could be persuaded to state the same thing the reference material would change to reflect the socially acceptable reality.

The perception of the masses was constantly manipulated by the reports and media updates put out by the Neopuritans, considered a reliable source to the people. They would suggest that the world was at peace and all people we equal, the masses believed and so this is what the records reflect. Somehow people were able to ignore the huge differences between the living standards in the slums and on the estates, which would be visible to the naked eye if only the people ever bothered to look around them.

The only thing in the world that didn’t lie was nature. A tomato was skill a tomato, even if the masses could be convinced it was called an apple, in the end, it would still have the look taste and feel of a tomato. They couldn’t change that, just the world’s perception of it.

A branch snapped, jerking Jace out of his thoughts and into the present moment. “Hello?” he thought, but no answer came. Jace started to make his way back to the house. If she wasn’t already his mother would be looking for him soon.


The night came more quickly than most, the day flying by in a blur of dog walks, errands and worry. Soph soon found herself back at home putting the final touches on her hair and make-up and waiting for her parent’s driver to arrive to take her to the purave. The dress looked even more alive in the night, with the light striking one area or another, lighting up a section of stars, making it look as though she was draped in a living object rather than mere silk. She started to second guess her dress decision and wished she had tried the others on.

 

Her hair was pulled back from her face and flowed down her back like a waterfall, laced together to complement the lacing on the back of the dress, courtesy of her mother’s hair dresser. The Makeup Soph has done herself, insisting on keeping it to some mascara and eye shadow, as simple as was possible given the nature of her outfit, though makeup was less than necessary considering the mask covered most of Soph’s face, only adding to the mystery which the dress created. The shoes were sitting by the door along with the gloves, both of which Soph was hoping Silver would mistake for chew toys so that she would have an excuse not to go.

 

I have arrived Miss. Shelly.” The driver’s voice drifted in.

 

I’ll be down in a moment” Soph replied as she headed to the door of her apartment, slipped on her shoes, grabbed her gloves and told a disappointed Silver to go sit so she could make it out the door.

 

Heading down the hall to the elevator she tried to think of a reason not to go. Not to suffer through another night of pointless conversations on pod sessions only to disappoint her mother once again. She didn’t want to deal with another conversation with her mom about how she would rather deal with the unknown consequences than settle for a life she didn’t want. She wanted more than to be a mother. She wanted to see what was left of the broken world they lived in.

 

Unfortunately Soph arrived at the car without a reason not to step in and was driven in utter silence to the Archer’s Property. Much like her parents property the Archer’s was a large estate, out in what used to be the countryside. These days it was just an extension of the city, the houses were father apart as the properties were larger, but each estate had several houses on it, for the extended family to live in. If her mother had her way Soph would have been living on her parent’s estate rather than in her apartment in the city. This picture-perfect life was not what Soph wanted though; she didn’t fit into this pristine untouched illusion.

 

The world was more concrete jungle than not these days. Though most of that jungle was vacant since the farms had been paved over, war and pollution had wiped out those who were already weak from starvation. The Neopuritans were now trying to re-build the world which humanity had torn apart. Part of that re-build was ensuring the populations stayed at a maintainable level, not dropping so low that the work force could no longer rebuild the broken world, not high enough that starvation war and pollution destroy us all again.

 

These estates were part of the re-build. The world was pretending that there was still nature somewhere. The air quality out here was better than in the cities, the properties were gifted to families who had done their part in the re-build as deemed by the Neopuritans. Those who hadn’t yet done their part lived in buildings like Soph’s in the cities, run down and in ruins. Unlike Soph’s the outside appearance was often better than the inside. If it wasn’t for her parents money and standing she would be much worse off.

 

Still she hadn’t earned the estate and she hated the idea that the majority of the population was forced to live in slums. Her only form of protest that wouldn’t hurt her family was to choose to live in the city to be closer to work.

 

When she had first moved in the unit was a little more than a hole in the wall with rusted out pipes, termites in the walls, faulty wiring and the only furniture was moth-eaten and at least 200 years old. Her parents had renovated the apartment without her knowledge or permission. They had also purchased her the adjoining unit so she had some space. They couldn’t understand why she would want something like this, couldn’t understand why she insisted on living like the rest when she was of privileged, not part of the Neopuritains. But if she married right she could be.

 

By the looks of the estate and the nature of the dress she was wearing she had a feeling marrying into the Neopuritains was exactly what her parents had in mind.

 

From the main gates to the main house had been close to a 15 minute drive. The house itself was more of a castle than a home or even a mansion.  As she got out of the car and approached the main doors they opened of their own accord. A female voice uttered “Welcome miss. Shelly” the Archers must have programmed the identities of their guest into the homes security system. Things out here where much more advanced than in the ruins.

 

She was thankful that the mask covered the majority of her face, hiding the disdain in her eyes as she surveyed the room. The rest of the crowd where in attire much more lavished than hers. Suddenly Soph felt dangerously under-dressed

 

She saw the other masked faces look up and scan her face before dismissing her. The point of the masquerade was to know the person not their features. But that didn’t stop the crowd from judging you based on your attire. Apparently her dress was seen as too plain or too covering. Then a spotlight flicker over Soph brought her dress to life. The illusion of the stars shot across it and a glow came off it catching a few eyes. Suddenly her welcome warmed. Damn my mother, Soph thought as the first strange voice drifted into her consciousness catching her off guard as it always did.

 

How are you this evening, Miss….?” the voice was deep and smooth.

 

Shelly, and you are?” one of Soph’s biggest pet peeves was the way everyone used the link even when they were standing right next to each other. But it was expected. In the clubs it made more sense. The link actually allowed you to hear each other over the pounding music. But here, with nothing but a quartet playing something classical in the back ground, one’s voice could just as easily be used. She wondered sometimes if anyone actually remembered how to speak aloud.

 

Daniel Chambers, charmed I’m sure” The last had a hint of sarcasm to it… or arrogance; she could never tell which in crowds like these. Half of them would have been raised with a silver spoon in their mouth and never so much as seen the ruins in pictures. Others would be of a slightly lower class attempted to partner with someone higher up, these sometimes mocked the old fashion rituals imposed by these puraves. It would be too much to hope that like her they had actually held any amount of true disdain for the way in which society had reverted.

 

It’s been a pleasure to meet you Daniel, would you excuse me for a moment?” If his tone hadn’t been sarcastic Soph’s certainly was. She scurried off into the crowd hoping that whoever this voice was drifting from would assume she had headed off to join a friend of use the powder room and give her a moment or two of peace.

 

The room was buzzing yet silent at the same time. Everyone had connected into a public link when entering the room so you could hear snippets of other people’s conversations was you drifted by. One group or another, it was meant to mimic the way in which the conversation in a party would actually sound and force intimacy, if you didn’t want your conversation overheard you needed to be out of the personal sphere of the other guests. Yet despite the buzzing in her head the only sound which came in by her ears was the shuffling of feet and fabric and the music playing softly in the back ground. It was eerie. A sensation which she had never fully gotten used to and part of why she hated events like these.

 

While in the area of the public link the only people able to connect with you were those in the room, so at least Soph could take some solace in the fact that her mother wouldn’t be able to barge in and question her until the night was at an end. But the constant clamber in a quiet room was unnerving.

 

As she approached the refreshments table she noticed one of the other guests watching her. Grabbing a cup of punch she noticed another guest watching her. He was wearing a simple mask black tux and standing apart from the rest of the crowd. She wondered for an instant why he too was standing alone. No sooner did the thought cross her mind than did he realize she was looking and disappear into the crowd.

 

And you are?” popped into Soph’s head. She turned to face the man now talking to her and forgot about the lone wolf.