Capitol City, Suburbs.
Utopian Sects of Ameritus.
Wake up, Logan. Wake up. Now.
It’s a voice I’ve heard a hundred times before, but I’m not sure whose. Sometimes I think it’s my alarm clock, so I groan and roll over to smack it blindly. Except it hasn’t gone off.
My parents are fighting again.
They work for the government; Mother during the day, and Dad on the night shift.. He’s tired after his shift and his voice barely lifts over the clatter of breakfast dishes in the sink.
Their voices are muffled beyond my closed door, but I hear them all the same.
“He’s only sixteen, Naressa. Let him be a kid.”
“He’s pushing seventeen. I was recruited much younger than that.”
“He’s not ready for the truth.”
When will I get to decide what I’m ready for? I roll onto my side and squint at the clock. Realizing the bus will be here any minute, I swear aloud and leap from beneath my covers.
“When I was his age,” Mother argues, “I was already being promoted through the ranks.”
There is a hard, cold silence. Then Dad growls, “You have forgotten: I made a vow.”
I trip over myself in search of a uniform I haven’t already worn twice this week. My parents’ voices crescendo to the music of my clumsiness.
“Just let him take the interview,” she shoots back.
“What if he fails?”
I fall onto my backside while putting on my trousers and grunt. The humming of the school bus draws into hearing range. Beside me, I pluck a blazer from the floor that isn’t too wrinkled and wrestle it on while I hunt for shoes.
“You have your life, your job, everything, because of me,” Mother snaps. “It’s past time he steps into his role, Kendall. He needs to earn his keep.”
Another frigid pause between them. Dad shouts, “He’s not—”
“He’s not what?” she challenges with cold steel in her voice.
Just as I pull on my shoes, Dad howls in frustration. His heavy footsteps are followed by the slamming of their bedroom door.
Sometimes it’s like walking on eggshells around here, but right now I have to crush all of them as I rush outside.
The bus passes my house without stopping like it should, if I was actually waiting for it. Even though it’s pointless, I take off after it, screaming. But the bus is driverless and on a pre-programmed route. If only I could have triggered its sensors to stop. I can’t be the only one who’s a little late now and then. I brace against my knees, trying to catch my breath, and watch as the bus fades into the distance.
My heart sinks as I realize I’m going to have to ask one of my parents for a ride, but I dread talking to either of them on mornings like this. I’m in no hurry, so I trudge.
Back home, I must tread carefully. Around here, it’s not the noise that gets to you. It’s the silence in between.
“Mother?” I call, leaning around the corner. I hope she hasn’t left for work yet.
The morning news buzzes from our living room. Mother is watching the show with a twisted smile on her face. The news hologram displays a video of rioters somewhere outside The Capitol. “The rogue faction, Anyone, made another attempt at breaching the...”
“Mother?” I stand sheepishly, adjusting the strap of my messenger bag over my shoulder. I wish I didn’t have to rely on my parents so much, especially after hearing I need to earn my keep. I hate not having the ability to drive.
She finishes her coffee in a long draught, and takes it to the sink in the kitchen without a word to me. After, she grabs her purse from the counter. Her makeup compact and nails scrape against the granite, making me grit my teeth. She knows I can’t stand that sound.
With her coat in hand, we head for the hovercar.
There is no patronizing from her. I know I’ve been irresponsible in forgetting to set my alarm. Her lack of words are enough. I keep my head down and my mouth shut.
She draws out the steering console and the car drones to life before she maneuvers it out of the garage. She likes it this way, instead of auto-piloting— like the bus. She once told me she prefers control over things. Trust is not to be given to the soulless.
We float down the driveway toward the maglev-lined street. Our neighborhood is quiet, with people hurrying to get where they need to be. I suppose one would call it idyllic with its landscaped yards and shrubbery. I wonder how many other seemingly perfect homes house discord like mine.
Mother must sense my preoccupation, because she tenses. “We’re fine.” She glances at me. “Everything’s fine.”
Her fingers curl again around the steering wheel. The muscles in her gaunt cheek flex, as if her skin is pulled too tight by the high bun she wears.
“I didn’t say anything,” I mumble.
There is a hard reserve between us.
I choose my words carefully before I ask, “What were you guys…talking about?”
Her shoulders fall as we pull up to school. I breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of other young men gathered in the commons. I’m not too late.
I assume Mother’s not going to answer me, but as I open the door, she grabs my elbow and pulls me in to peck my cheek. It feels forced. “Have a good day.”
I grunt something in return before scrambling out and shutting the door. I’m tempted to brush my cheek, but resist until the car is down the street. She acts loving, but there’s always been a dissonance between us.
“Hey Logan,” a voice calls.
I half-smile. I’ve known Jonas Basker since we were toddlers. My earliest playground memory is of being bumped down a slide by some curly-headed kid with a pacifier. That was Jonas. We’ve been almost inseparable ever since.
When he reaches me, we do our secret handshake: fist top, fist bottom, then a slide of palm to palm, finished with our thumbs pressed to our noses and twiddling our fingers as if playing a trumpet. We invented it in year two of school.
He playfully pops my cheek. “Your ears are red, Mama’s Boy.”
They probably just got redder from his comment. Why do mothers insist on embarrassing you in front of your friends?
We walk to class together. We share three of them. Secondary school is segregated. Even without the presence of girls, I sometimes feel like I don’t exist. They’d probably ignore me, too, if they were around.
“Let me guess. Your parents were quarreling. Again.”
He catches on quickly. I usually don’t have to tell him much. He gets me.
I shrug. “Yeah.”
His bright eyes roll. “What about, this time?”
I scroll my brain. “I was half asleep.” I stop in my tracks. “I think it was about… me.”
Jonas’ eyebrow cocks.
“Something about Mother wanting me to take some interview. Dad doesn’t want me to because he made a promise, but Mother insisting because—”
The school bell rings loud enough to interrupt my train of thought. We look at each other and jog to our homeroom.
The usual bustle welcomes us as the rest of our classmates slide into their seats. Our portly professor takes roll, his lips flapping beneath a stuffy orange mustache.
After everyone is accounted for, he shuts off the lights and starts the bi-weekly holofilm. The images dance in front of us, floating in the air, as tangible as the smooth lacquer of my desk.
“This day in history,” the film announces. “One hundred years ago, the people of Pre-Ameritus rose up against the government, seceding from our union.”
A flash of light illuminates the room in orange and yellow. A bomb goes off and the holo-people run and scream.
The voice in the film continues, “The rebel faction, Anyone—”
Some of the boys in the room boo at the name. I lean back in my chair, smirking.
The holofilm doesn’t wait for them. Members of Anyone fire machine guns into the air in triumph.
I roll my eyes. Filthy bandits.
Jonas blows a spitball through the head of an Anyone member. The class laughs.
Professor McKinzie scowls. “Do I need to shut this off?”
“We all know the history,” someone answers.
“Yeah. Anyone bombed the old capitol and murdered the heads of government. Then ran like cowards.”
I cut in, “Our forefathers brought forth a new nation, protected from rabble rousers like those Anyone scumbags. We formed a utopia filled with wonder, conceived in liberty, and justice for all.”
The holofilm shuts off. Not because we know everything, but because our professor’s expression says he is clearly annoyed. Our insolence has opened up an opportunity for discussion.
“We live in a perfect world now,” Jonas says. “Really, we should thank Anyone.”
“Agreed,” the kid next to me adds. “There’s none of the problems of the past. We figured out how to get rid of homelessness, and cure cancer, and how to feed everyone. Why do we need to watch these stupid films?”
Professor McKinzie leans back against his desk. He folds his arms and purses his lips while glaring at each of us in turn. “To remember.”
That voice I hear every morning echoes in my head: Wake up, Logan. Wake up. Now.
My eyes are open. I blink to be sure. What have we forgotten?