It’s the morning of my Saving Day so I know I shouldn’t be, but I am. My dreams were brickie-brick so my sleep was pure blackwater.
Pop brickiness. That’s what they call it when your mind takes on a life of its own because of the stress of the hunt. Because your day is near and the pressure has been building so long that things get fertile strange in your head. I never thought it would happen to me because I am more ready for this than anyone ever, but maybe that’s the spin. The expectations are so high. I can’t lose. I have to get a record.
And I will.
La vie est une danse étrange, oui?
I’m making breakfast in the kitchen as the glorious sun rises. I adorate the sun. It’s a fertile-fertile fire. It’s the jack that brings the jack. Tulips turn to it and open wide and animals are reborn from their lairs every morning as it calls them forth.
I’m not much of a night person. The moon always feels like a disappointment to me. It’s so pale, so cold, so unreliable. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s there, but just a bit, hiding, spying, peaking. No toxie commitment. No toxie consistency.
I like strong things, hot things, things that show up and burn bright. The sun is like that and I am like that.
J'aime le soleil.
Daddy thinks I’ll set a new record for depop and he can’t stop talking about it. He can’t stop thinking about it and he can’t stop singing brickie songs about it when he thinks no one else is home. He has a booming baritone.
My daughter the killer is fast as a cat,
A big cat that owns all she sees.
She’ll track down her prey with her keen wit and say,
‘You’re frozen dear runner, good day!’
And he is constantly giving me advice. He’s a hard working man and a good daddy in his own way, so I nod and I smile and I say I will never forget his sage words, but seriously?
Yesterday he said this:
Never give the devil a ride, he will always want to drive.
The devil is a mythical skoon from the old religions and no one talks about him anymore, but I think that’s the point. Daddy believes obscure references make his wisdom that much more super, and the devil seems to be his latest favorite. I heard him use this one last week when he was talking to some of his business friends:
Neutral men are the devil’s allies.
They were drinking zozz and tugging on gold leaf, and hating on production tops, the rules for how much a factory can produce in one year. They were talking about taking sides, rising up, the revolution, something richie-rich men have been talking about since the bubble began.
“You’re either for the niners or you’re against them,” daddy said between drags on his gold leaf. “Neutral men are the devil’s allies and that’s true-true.”
And when daddy’s friends finally left, staggered out to their waiting carriages and carriage boys, guess what he did? He sang again, and this time he clapped and stomped his feet. He was very into it. I’ve heard him sing about ten verses of this brickie song so far:
My daughter the nixer is strong as an ox!
A beautiful beast to behold!
She’ll hunt down her runner and look like a stunner!
Her body and brains are pure gold!
All three of my sisters got depop records and everyone says I’m even better than them. At the beginning of pop school a year ago I was scoring in the top five percent on sim. Day one I was already better than ninety-five percent of the the students at Galatrall
Now I’m scoring in the top one percent and it’s toxie easy. The other day I killed a runner in less than two hours as a lone wolf, no helpers, just me. A beautiful beast to behold? I must be, because that’s never happened at Galatrall before. It’s never happened in sim at any of the depop schools before. When I first came out they thought it was a computer glitch.
Scanning is easy for me. Clues are easy for me. And plans? They come to me like they’ve always been there, just waiting for me to pluck them from the tree of my own pop brickie genius.
And runners? Please. They’re toxie pathetic. Even the sims, which are supposed to be smarter and faster than real runners, they’re a shlimie joke.
My sisters were hunters in the pop. My parents were hunters in the pop. I am a hunter and today I go into the pop. This is my day.
Twenty-one hours. That’s the maximum length of the Depopulation 17 challenge. Glory-glory.
I won’t be in there for that long, though. I’ll be back out before my Saving Day party is over. I’ll be out in time to shake hands and drink zozz and shake my follow-up. I’ll dive right into depop and swim like a toxie fish. I’ll find that poor runner and put him down before he can say, “I’m off to the New World!”
Or she. But I doubt it.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always imagined my runner will be a boy. I have fantasies about it, and it’s always a boy.
Un garçon parfait.
Sometimes I get shizzy with him first. I smother him with my pulsing lush, riding his face like a wild charger until I’m slayed. Or I order him to skin and lie down and grab hold of his hard prouder and slay himself. To tug it furious-furious until it juices.
I watch him, and I try not to slay myself, too. I try to keep my rags on and I try to keep my hands at my sides, off my flower, but I can never do it. I can never resist. I always succumb and then we slay ourselves together. We stare at each other, eyes locked, lids low, hands busy-busy with our own hot lush. We are reduced to glorious fires of pure lust. We moan and pant and wail and it’s giant-giant.
But I know it will never really happen that way. I would never do that. When you get your runner in the pop you don’t play around. You put a bullet in the right place and you come on home, that’s the spin and no blackwater. Anyone who does different is about as smart as a can on a fence.
Runner’s are for nixing and nothing else.
Still, I adorate my fantasies. I’ve waited so long to get luscious, I’m having them all the time. I’ve turned into a gitantic shiz-balloon that’s going to burst the moment I get back from my hunt. The second I win and the pop is over I’m probably going to grab the nearest hotter at my Saving Day party and pull him into the closet. Everyone can just wait to hear my depop hunting story. First I’m going to free my flower.
Nix my runner, free my flower. Nix my runner, free my flower.
That’s what’s been running through my mind for weeks, now.
Seriously? Who am I kidding?
Winning depop has become more about getting luscious than anything else. Of course I don’t want to get froze. Of course I don’t want to shame the Olion family. But getting my follow-up in and out of that depopulation challenge as fast as possible is also my ticket to all things shizzy. It’s my pass to the glorious shiz buffet, all the lushie-lush I can handle, and I’m pretty sure I can handle a lot.
Nix my runner, free my flower. Nix my runner, free my flower. Nix my runner, free my....
I’ve waited this long because I am a hunting machine. A depop machine. I will not get with boys until it is done. Every part of me is one hundred percent dedicated to winning the hunt and getting a record. If I gave my flower to a boy before depop that would mean I was focused on something else.
Never. I am pure hunter. Even my lushy flower is pure hunter. If it drips with need then it drips with need. It gets nothing until I win.
I am pure hunter.
And runners? Seriously? What’s the spin with those twirbs, anyhow? You get to choose, twirby twirbs. You know that, right? Why the goop would you choose runner?
I can’t imagine going runner as my first choice on the inside. Runners lose seventy-five percent of the time and for good reason. They’re prey, and prey are always stupid. Always weak. Always afraid. That’s why they’re toxie prey.
And helpers? They’re even more twirby, if that’s possible. They can’t even fight their own fights. They have to hitch a ride off a hunter, suck off someone else’s skills.
I know they’re all probably poor shellers and they can’t afford pop school, but still, grow a toxie spine. At least go for something big, even if you think you might get froze. Being NWS isn’t so bad. New World Survivors will have their day. When the niners find a new planet for us to live on, all the NWSers will come back. They’ll all get unfroze and get new bodies. And when they do, if they went out as hunters, or even as runners, and they fought a good fight, then at least they can look at themselves in the toxie mirror without feeling sick. Without feeling like they want to gavell on their own reflections.
Total shlime, true-true. Gavell away.
One of my sisters black-widowed. She killed her helpers right up front, all three of them. She got three times less clues that way, but she still set a record. Third fastest black-widow kill in the whole history of the bubble, just under six hours. Daddy’s friends won a lot of currents on that one. Daddy’s always shouting about how unfair it is that he can’t bet on his own girls.
“Trimba! Baby!” he blares when he’s had too many tugs on the gold leaf. “You are gonna make everyone soooo rich! But not this old man. Oh no. Got the best poppers in the whole shlimie bubble, but can I make just one little bet on my girls? No way. That would be wrong. That would make me bad. Bad? For believing in my girls?! I don’t think that rule came from The Four at all. They would never do that. I think it came from those goopy shlimers in R79. Those niner skoons are runnin’ Juun, now, baby. Everybody knows it.”
I have a cousin in R79, and he’s not a skoon. Not at all. When I knew him, he was honest and he always followed the rules, so I have my doubts about the evils of niners, but I never tell daddy that. The main thing about my cousin is this: he got to skip depop-17. He wasn’t here for his seventeenth birthday because his score on the 13-test took him straight out of this place and into another world.
Not really another world, because R79 is still here in the bubble. It’s still a part of Juun, but it may as well not be. It’s inside another bubble inside of this one that no one is allowed to enter unless they pass a special test when they are thirteen years old. Then they officially become ‘niners’.
Technology. They have technology in there.
That’s the big spin. They have it everywhere inside R79 all the time, stuff nobody even knows exists out here. Stuff you don’t get to learn about in pop school because it was invented after the New Beginning. Someday, when we get out of this bubble and go to our new planet, our new home, everyone will have it, but for right now it’s for Region 79 only.
Technology killed the planet.
That’s what The Four say, and The Four are gods, so it must be true. Very sad, but very true.
Sometimes I wish I could go in there. When I’m at Galatrall, simming the computers and the cars and the phones, watching the huge presentation screens, I think maybe it would be nice to live in R79. To be that smart. To get chosen.
I secretly studied for the 13-test. Studied harder than I’ve ever studied for anything, even the pop, but I didn’t make it. I wasn’t smart enough. Being that smart, they don’t even call it smart anymore. They call it brilliant, right? You don’t get brilliant by studying. You’re born that way.
Or you’re not.
Blackwater. Shlimie blackwater.
Me, I was born a great hunter, and in my family that’s everything. Daddy would have flipped his follow-up if he’d found out that I took that 13-test. He has no respect for my cousin Jeero; thinks he’s a failure for skipping the pop and running off to hide in R79.
Hunting in the pop and setting a record, that’s what matters. I don’t know which one yet, but I will definitely set a record. Some poor runner will get froze, sucked up into the box and stored. He’ll get out some day in the New World.
And maybe he’s the lucky one. Maybe we’ve got it all wrong and the losers are really the winners. When you win on Saving Day, everyone’s giant proud, your family has a big party, you get some prize currents, a little extra if you set a record, but then you’re stuck here in the bubble. You live and die here, probably. It’s been a hundred and fifty years and still no planet. No New World.
Hey Jeero? What’s the spin, cuz? I know you’re fertile smart. I know you’re a toxie hard worker. We built that treefort together, remember? We played goop with it and I was always the mutated, blubbering meedge out in the toxie-tox because you were so fun to scare.
So where’s our planet, brilliant niner? Guys like you working on this for a hundred and fifty years and still no planet?
Comment est-ce possible?
Dad’s coming down soon. He’s usually first up, checking on the staff, sending out messengers, making sure the coal log checks out, making sure the wood log checks out.
Le tyran du matin. That’s what my sisters used to call him: the morning tyrant.
He’ll probably chastise me for being down here so early, say that hunters who get a good night’s sleep before the pop do better, but I don’t care. He can lecture all he wants. On my Saving Day, I’m the queen. I’m the boss. Nobody tells me what to do.
I’ll sleep how I want and eat how I want and talk how I want. I’ll shout TOXIE TOXIE TOXIE out the shlimie windows all morning if I feel like it. I’ve always hated the idea of being a lady. The idea that a man can say words that a lady can’t. Can wear clothes that a lady can’t. Can go places that a lady can’t.
My Saving Day is mine, all mine, because at nine o’clock, The Angel arrives and I go under. These hours before the hunt could be my last, so no one can tell me what to do with them.
The Angel arrives and I go under.
I can’t believe it’s really happening! It’s really here!
The Angel arrives and I go under.
And then it’s hunting time.
I hope. I put hunter as my first choice, of course I did, but you never know. They have to depopulate by halfsies all the time, so sometimes you get your second pick, or even your third. They have to keep the population the same so we don’t burst the bubble like after the New Beginning. The Angel gives you what she has to give you.
Still, I better be a hunter. I trained on being a runner and a helper too, but it was complete goop. I simmed great, but I’d rather drink blackwater.
Twenty-five years. That’s what really gets me. Twenty five years it took R79 to come up with depop.
Twenty-five, Jeero? Really cuz? That fast to figure out how to take everything we are and suck it into the box? Store it in the racks? And take a gene sample so you can clone all the New World Survivor bodies later when there’s a planet to put them on?
But one hundred and twenty-five years after that, and we still don’t have a new planet?
I can still hear Jeero bragging before he left. Before he went off to Region 79, he was already saying “we” like he’d been there all along. Like he’d invented depop himself, and the accomplishments of the niners were his own. He had some books that detailed the wonders they had achieved.
“We can capture consciousness with a 99.9% success rate,” he crowed. “We can genetically recreate bodies with a 99.99% success rate. And The Angel can imitate reality perfectly. The pop is perfect.”
That’s some jack, true-true cuz, but it doesn’t really help if you can’t find a place to put all those bodies and all those cons. We need a planet, Jeero. We need a fresh, clean, sparkling, glorious New World and we need one right about now. I would help you if I could, but my it’s not my fate.
I am a hunter and I will hunt.