Sunlight poked at a red blob caught beneath the milky plastic flooring—a bleeding-heart set afloat in a random pool of blue and green chunks. A few other obvious shapes and faces lay scattered under the hard surface. My favorite is the blue couple kissing towards the back wall, but the pareidolia effect isn’t the same for everyone. Most of the boys in my class claim all the blobs look like boobs.
Only a narrow pinprick of golden sunlight pierced the otherwise white room, but the ray hit close to Mrs. Green’s antique desk. She loved the lacquered, pecan-wood monstrosity and made a point to keep everyone from touching it.
Jay, our scraggly bearded maintenance man, quietly entered the classroom to inspect the breach during our day-end review. He planted his dirty gloved palm on the pristine desktop and pushed his thin frame toward the window.
“It’s just a crack in the foam encasement,” Jay muttered, knowingly.
I thought Mrs. Green was going to whack the poor man across the face. The hard stare in her eyes could have melted platinum. Jay gingerly removed himself from the desk, wiping away the evidence of his mistake with a rag he pulled from his back pocket. He promised, in hushed tones, to return with a ladder and replacement foam. Everyone in earshot began to snicker.
“Crack” is one of the many commonly used words most adults in our education system avoid. The unusual exchange between the two occupied my full attention, pulling me out of my deep thoughts. I found myself laughing a bit too loudly at the obvious butt humor.
It was the first moment I noticed how tightly my fists were clenched. I took a deep breath, flattened my clammy palms on the desktop, and watched as the blood returned to my white fingertips. It was the first thing to happen today that brought a genuine smile to my face.
The week flew by in what seemed like only days. The last few months were the same. Saturday is usually a welcomed day for me, but this week it won’t be. Nothing would ever be the same. After this weekend, they would both be gone forever.
“Karine, what year was the Great Law enacted?” The class responded with a low rumbling moan of disgust. Tingly, pricks of ice crawled up my neck as I realized the teacher was speaking to me. “We have fifteen minutes left people,” she bellowed. “The quarter-end test is quickly approaching.” Mrs. Green clapped her hands together and turned the full force of her ample frame towards me. With her highbrow stare firmly seated, she stared, waiting for my answer.
“2076, Mrs. Green.” I knew this. We were off school last Monday to celebrate 2076 day.
“Very good, Karine.”
“Difference, what was the comet’s name that set the moon off its normal rotation starting the Water Wars of 2076?” she asked.
“Hillary?” Difference questioned. “Harmony?” he offered shyly.
Diff is not the brightest boy in my class, but he’s a bio third like me. Every third in the room looked stupid because of his shortfalls. Arguably he is quite easy to look at, but I didn’t get the impression he puts any effort towards studying.
Mrs. Green wrinkled her forehead in disapproval. “The comet’s name was Helena. It was named for Mount Saint Helena. The ancient volcano in the area referred to as the Greater Pacific territory. Now then, Aqua, please tell me the year the religion cessation act went into effect and its purpose.”
“The RCA took effect immediately after the first space elevator was destroyed by terrorist attacks in 2101. The law’s purpose was to eliminate radical religious groups and keep extremists of every race, creed, and religion from destroying humanity’s progress towards expanded space exploration.”
“Very well spoken, Aqua. I encourage all of you to memorize the years of enactment and the general purpose of the fifteen Great Laws of Unity. Study your text and make your flashcards. I cannot stress how important writing down a question followed by the answer can be.” Mrs. Green pounded her fist of red manicured nails on the thick resin podium in front of her as she spoke each word with increasing volume.
The corner of my right eye began to twitch as the word flashcard tumbled through my brain. I would rather stand in the full sun without my day gear than write one more life-sucking flashcard. Bloody solar exposure burns are a gruesome sight. I shook the image out of my head before the sloppy gore from the Saturday morning public service announcement cartoons solidified in my brain. The catchy tune about sun exposure scared the crap out of me as a child. Cover and conceal or cremate—the three C’s of sun protection.
“Announcements. Quickly people, focus. We have several minutes left in our day still. Tomorrow night there will be a life celebration ceremony. Karine’s grandparents, Constance and Edgar Moon, will be leaving the community after their family’s celebration providing the gift of resources to us all.
Monday, the traditional white cake of peace will be served at first break. You may bring candies or small tokens to donate to our school community room as we take a moment to acknowledge the Moon family’s sacrifice.”
Resource. What an ugly, crap-crusted word. To some, resource means water and food. Others hear it and think of capital or personal treasures. To me, resource is the bodies of my family members hitting the evaporator chamber.
At sixty, my grandmother started planning her life celebration. She took me with her to several ceremonies. I was seven the first time, but I can still remember how much I liked the white frosted cakes and the frilly party dresses. Of course, I didn’t understand what the event meant to the family of the soon to be departed. I’ve attended many celebrations since, but I never considered how the families felt until now.
I’m sure the family felt sad and proud. Mostly sad, but the tradition of the older generation giving up their lives so the younger generations could live sounded beautiful to me. At least it did until my grandparents began planning to surrender their lives. Many people argue the tradition is outdated, but our older generations still believe the life ceremonies serve a purpose.
The first bell rang, dragging me out of my pity and propelling me towards the equipment lounge. Some of my classmates could jump into their day suits in thirty seconds, but it always took me much longer.
I hate the way day suits smell—burnt plastic and metallic fabric, copper wire, and sun-charred machine parts aren’t organic. We weren’t meant to live out our days hiding in a damn mechanical suit. I want lace and soft fabrics like the new plastics. They are bright and crisp and smell like chocolate cream or cinnamon spice. I can’t wait for winter so I can ask for a dark brown, chocolate scented jacket.
“Can you move any slower, Karine?” Difference stomped closer to me, already contained in his day suit with his hands on his hips—disappointment contorting his innocent face. Recently, he let his light blond hair grow out, leaving him with a mop of natural curls. I could still see the timid little boy I met in preschool hidden behind his light gray eyes.
“I’m sure I could if I tried. You have no room to poke fun, Hillary? Really?” I scoffed.
“They both start with an H. Don’t tell me you don’t mix them up too.”
“I don’t, because I study.” I countered smugly.
“You’re a ‘B’ student just like me, so don’t give me any crap about studying. Come here and let me bolt your suit girl. You would be sun fried by now if this were an emergency.” Diff took the opportunity to laugh openly at my shortcomings.
This is one of the many reasons I don’t like public grades. The policy is supposed to make student accomplishments transparent and encourage everyone to try harder. It just shames the average students like me.
Difference is taller than me by at least a foot and, of course, much stronger. I’ve known Diff since the beginning of time. His favorite cartoon was The Magical Mystery Frog. That stupid green frog went with him everywhere. I brought Barbie’s who could ride the frog, so we became fast friends. Some of the boys made fun of him back then, but none would dare screw with him now.
I turned my back to Diff and pulled my hair aside so he could secure the bolts on the back of my suit.
“You are supposed to secure the backplates before you step in the damn suit, Kar. You need a PPE refresher.” Difference knocked on my suit’s thick shoulder panels so hard I could feel the plastic casing protest all the way down to my footpads.
“Doesn’t it seem odd we need to wear all this crap outside. I’ve seen pictures of people in the sun with bare skin. Some of the images are only four decades old.” I buckled my arm guards and secured my headcover to my neckpiece.
“Those dumb asses were killing themselves. My grandmother told stories about her father having most of his ear cartilage cut off to remove his skin cancer. She said he looked like a white, wrinkly old bat by the time the doctors were through with him. I don’t think they knew the sun was radiating them to death.”
“Damn, I guess not. Seriously though, I can’t wait for nightfall. I want to go outside and breathe.”
“You and me both. Hey, my grandparents are planning their life ceremony for the first weekend in December. I’m sorry for your family’s sacrifice. The whole stupid tradition sucks fat butt.” Diff twisted my thin locker door back into a somewhat square shape. The thin hinges squealed in protest.
“Thanks, I know it’s supposed to be an honor, but I don’t feel honored. I’ve been trying not to think about any of it.”
“Did I tell you I’m slated for Protection path? I need to declare my final choice by next weekend. My birthday is Friday.” Difference shared his choice with a hint of pride.
“Oh, wow, that’s right. My birthday is a few weeks after yours.”
“Yep. You’re choosing the domestic breeder path, right?” Diff set his eyes on the floor and smashed a stray pencil with his boot.
“Diff,” I squealed. “they don’t call it breeder. I’m not signing up to become a piece of fricking farm livestock. Domestic Creator.” I explained, latching my thigh panel to my body frame.
“Yeah, well, I need a post-human breeder in case I don’t return from my mission. Someone to produce my heir and take my breeding rights. I want to choose you if it’s okay.”
“Posthumously not post-human. You have lineage status? I didn’t know you were from one of the original twenty families?”
“Shit, I never remember that stupid word, and it’s after you die right, so you’re not human anymore.” Diff fiddled with the latches on the lockers. He seemed unusually scatterbrained. “My mother’s side is a founding family, so I have extra stuff to fill out on my applications.” Diff seemed embarrassed by my correction. Still, I didn’t want him running around saying post-human like a blithering idiot.
I tried to lighten the conversation. “I haven’t formally declared my status. I’m doing my final tests. You are my first posthumous agreement. I accept your request. I would be honored.” I pushed my thick gloved hand out towards Diff and pounded his fist twice. A standard verbal commitment signal—the first one I ever made about something this important.
“Besides,” I added. “it would be a real shame for those gray eyes of yours to vanish from the planet. I hope you tag some of your DNA for open use. Breeders see your stats in the bio catalogs, and you may have quite a few heirs.”
“Thanks.” Diff blushed and stared at the high ceiling. “But I’m only a variant one. My skin isn’t thick enough for variant two. Now, if I were a two with these eyes, then I’d have something.” Diff winked and pulled hard on my last set of boot laces.
“I’m never going to get those untied now,” I whined.
“Hey, the trolley to the main parking lot will be here in less than a minute. Are you ready slowpoke? The second bell is about to ring.” Diff whacked my arm and pulled me along with the tips of his black gloves.
“Yes, yes. I’m so ready to be free of this life-sucking place. Two days off is not nearly fricking enough.” I straightened my pink on black day suit and slammed the locker closed behind me with unnecessary force.
Any progress towards Saturday makes me anxious. I want to stand in place and stop the giant conveyor belt pulling me forward. Time is not on my side. Each second pulls me to a place I don’t want to go.
Diff scooped up my backpack and followed me out into the parking lot with a hard smack to our school’s exit banner and a loud howl of appreciation for our mascot, the ancient lone wolf. “Arrg, whoo hoo.”