Sunlight poked at a red blob caught under the milky plastic flooring. It looked like a bleeding-heart floating in a random jumble of blue and green chunks. A few obvious shapes and faces are 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 the blobs look like boobs.
It was only a narrow pinprick of golden sunlight in the otherwise white room, but the ray hit close to Misses 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 look at the breach during our day-end review. He planted his gloved palm on the pristine desktop and pushed his thin frame up to get a better view of the problem.
“It’s just a crack in the foam encasement,” he muttered, knowingly.
I thought Misses Green was going to whack poor Jay across the face. The look she gave him could have melted platinum. The maintenance man gingerly removed himself from the desk, wiping away the evidence of his mistake with a rag he pulled from his back pocket. Jay promised, in hushed tones, to return later 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 adults occupied my 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 felt like only days. The last few months had been the same. Saturday is usually a welcomed day for me, but this week it won’t be. Nothing would 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 Misses Green was speaking to me.
“We have fifteen minutes left people,” she bellowed. “The quarter-end test is approaching quickly.” Misses Green clapped her hands to- gether and turned the full force of her ample frame towards me. With her sternest look firmly settled on her brow, she stared, waiting for my answer.
“2076 Misses Green,” I answered loudly. I knew this answer, we were off school last Monday to celebrate 2076 day.
“Difference, what was the name of the comet 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.
Misses Green wrinkled her forehead in disapproval. “The comet’s name was Helena. It was named for Mount Saint Helena. The large and ancient volcano in the area commonly 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 humanities 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 the act of writing down a question followed by the answer can be.” Misses 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. She was passionate, loud, and scary enough that we all feared her just enough to behave.
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 PSA cartoons fully solidified in my brain. The public service commercials about sun exposure scared the crap out of me as a child. Cover and conceal or cremate — the three C’s of sun protection. The catchy song and slogan were burned in the minds of everyone who heard it, no pun intended.
“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 leav- ing 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 resource 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 resource and think of capital or personal treasures. To me, it’s the very bodies of my family members hitting the evaporator chamber.
At 60, 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 life celebrations since, but I never fully considered how the families felt until now. I’m sure they were sad and proud. Mostly sad, but the tradition of the elders giving up their lives so the younger generations would live sounded beautiful to me. At least it did until my grandparents began planning to surrender theirs. Many people argue it’s an outdated tradition, but our older generations still believe the life ceremonies have 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 day-suits. They smell like burnt plastic and metallic fabric, copper wire, and sun charred machine parts. I’m sure we were meant to live our days hiding in a damn mechanical suit. I want lace and soft fabrics like the new plastics; they’re bright and crisp and smell like chocolate cream or cinnamon spice. I can’t wait for winter so I can get a dark brown, chocolate scented jacket.
“Can you move any slower, Karine?” Difference stomped closer to me already fully contained in his day suit with a mixed look of disap- pointment and concern on his face. He recently started letting his light blond hair grow out, leaving him with childlike curls all over his head. I could still see the 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 get them mixed 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’d 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 en- courage everyone to try harder. It just shames the average student.
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. He took that stupid green frog with him everywhere. I had Barbie’s that could ride the frog. We became fast friends. Some of the boys made fun of him back then, but none of them would dare screw with him now. I turned my back 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 the thick shoulder panels of my suit so hard that I could feel the plastic cas- ing protest all the way down to my footpads.
“Doesn’t it seem odd that we have 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 tells stories about her father having most of his ear cartilage cut off to get rid of 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, I can’t wait for nightfall. I want to go outside and breathe,” I whined.
“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.”
“Thanks, I know it’s supposed to be an honor, but I don’t feel hon- ored. I’ve been trying not to think about any of it.”
“Did I tell you that I’m slated for Protection path? I need to declare my final choice by next weekend. It’s my birthday on Friday.” Difference explained his choice with a hint of pride.
“Oh, wow, that’ right. My birthday is almost a month after yours.” “Yep. You’re choosing the domestic breeder path, right?” Diff
looked at the floor and smashed a stray pencil with his boot.
“Diff,” I squealed. “they don’t call it a breeder. I’m not signing up to become a piece of fricking farm livestock. It’s Domestic
Creator.” I explained, latching my thigh panel to my body frame.
“Yeah, yeah. That’s right. 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 that’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 can 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 all that 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 and getting ready to declare. You are my first posthumous agreement. Of course, I accept your request. I would be honored.” I pushed my thick gloved hand out towards Diff and pounded his fist twice. It was a standard commitment signal — the very first one I had ever made about something this important. “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 get a look at your stats in the bio catalogs, and you may have quite a few heirs.”
“Thanks,” Diff blushed and looked at the floor. “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.
“Hey, the trolley to the main parking lot will be here in less than a minute. Are you ready to leave 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 black on pink day suit and slammed the locker closed behind me.
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, whooo .”