Work here is slow. I guess people just don’t care for food any more…they’ve been delivering the government’s “Health Packets.” Who could eat that kind of stuff? All I know is that we were wondering when you would get the week off? Your bird misses you! Oh, and by the way, Mom said hello. (Smiles)
I stuck the letter into the mail shoot and entered my public name into the computer. “Mary 10230.43.” I stepped onto the platform and entered the code.
“Welcome to your perfect government’s mail system. Please say your public name and your address.”
“Mary 1023.43. Address. Apartment 3042. Street. 223.”
“Welcome, MARY 10230.43. Would you like to send your letter to your father, BOB 10230.267?”
“Thank you for choosing your perfect government’s mail system. Remember, all you need to know is that your government is perfect. Thank you.”
“She says that like I have a choice,” I grumbled. Life here is simple and useless, anyone could tell you. It’s like the year 6043 is meant to be that way, though everybody knows that something is happening outside the border.
I walk to the apartments, the only ones on the planet, and the ones that I am “privileged” to live in. I step into the elevator and enter my room number. Room 3042, second floor, left. I enter it just like that. The wires hum as I am lifted off the ground. I walk into my house and sit down at the table. Dinner has arrived. I open the package and look at the contents. A banana for flavor, milk for protein, and the small bowl of mush for the rest.
“I own a restaurant and I still have to eat the same thing that the pigs get.”
“At least you don’t try to eat the banana peel,” my mother says. We are not allowed to greet one another, so I’m not surprised that she didn’t say hello. I give my mother a hug and ask her if I have to do anything today.
“Well, there’s just one thing, and it’s quick. The “perfect government” wants you to perform at the Lobster Basket at noon. Sorry I can’t come with you, but I just got a call from work, and they want me to come work on some ‘Top Secret Project.’ Oh, and some words of wisdom, don’t become an astrophysicist when you get a real job.” She smiled. I slumped to my room and got out my best dress, the same one I wore when I went to watch a ballet a few months ago. It’s black with some red designs on the skirt. I hate it, but it is the only dress that still fits me. I was about to tie my hair up when I got a call on the P.I.P, or Personal Information Processor. It was the owner of the Lobster Basket.
“Livia, I mean, Mary 10230.43, there has been a slight change in plans…
“Livia, I mean, Mary 10230.43, there has been a slight change in plans. I see that you already have your dress on, but is it possible for you to not wear a dress? Due to…um…problems with government, you will be performing for my son, Landon, and he loves rock music. I think you know where I’m headed, so I will see you at the party.” (Click!)
“I wonder what’s wrong with the government? It’s not supposed to make mistakes,” I thought aloud.
Now I had to download how to play electric guitar into my brain, and that only takes ten minutes, so I’ll still have time to practice. I sat down at the music teacher and tapped on electric guitar, then the song he wanted, then the band it’s by. I stuck the stickers on my head and one on each finger. I selected “download” and waited for the information to start flowing.
“Welcome to the Lobster Basket, Brandon! What? Oh! I mean Landon! We have the best rock player in the world here tonight, so sit back, relax, and listen to the music!” The curtains rise, and I start to play. The song is loud and low, but I like it. It goes on for about three minutes before it’s over. The curtains drop and the crowd cheers.
As I walk out of the restaurant I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn to see a man in a suit with shiny teeth and hair that looked like it was made of plastic.
“Good afternoon, Miss. I heard your guitar and I love it! Have you ever thought about being in a band? Well, if you are interested, here is my card.” He smiled at me and started to turn away. I never thought about being in a band, but it sounds fun.
“Wait! I would love to be in your band, sir. When can I get started?”
“I knew you would agree! Meet me at the recording studios tomorrow at lunch so we can get started.” He smiled so wide I thought that I would go blind. Maybe life isn’t so useless after all. Or so I thought….
As I walk away from the restaurant I hear two voices calling my name. “Livia! Wait up Liv!” I turn in the direction of the voices and see my two best friends, Mia and Norri. Mia is girly and sweet, while Norri is punked out and has a sharp temper. “Who was that guy? He wasn’t talking to you about the government, was he?” Mia asked.
Norri looked a little concerned, so I gave them both a big smile. “It’s OK, guys, he was actually really nice. Don’t worry, nothing he said was about the government. Why were you so worried? Even if it was about the government, it wouldn’t have been anything bad. You know that the government doesn’t make mistakes.” Now I was the concerned one.
“Oh, it was nothing important. OK, so if it wasn’t about the government, what was it about?” Norri said, clearly trying to change the subject.
“Wait a sec. Is that a card from him?” Mia asked. I explained what the guy had said to me and they both gasped.
“So, you’re in a band? That’s so cool! Do you know any of your band mates yet?” Mia gushed. Then her eyes widened when she saw the camera crew that had been interviewing people earlier had moved nearby.
“I mean, do you know any of the people who will be working with you?” she said in a clearly forced, but calm voice.
Norri, who couldn’t care less about the cameras, gasped, “Please tell me you’re playing some good music, right? You’re not going to play any of that new, trance music that makes you think the government is, like, a metaphorical god or something.”
“I promise to talk about it some more later, but I was supposed to get a letter today, and I don’t want to mess up the government’s schedule. Bye!” I managed to give Mia an air kiss and Norri a hug while the cameras were focused on a rich person who had come to hear me play.
When I check the mail, there’s a note from Dad. I go to my room and put the note into the opener. You see, we’re not allowed to hold anything sharp, because we could cut ourselves. This would be really bad since we all have to take pills to keep blood clots from forming, just in case they form in a place they shouldn’t.
“Please enter your, please, please enter yourrrr……… system malfunction found. Please open package manually.” The machine buzzes and pops out a small knife. I take it and rip open the envelope. Inside is a well-written note from my dad. He fights in the war, so getting replies from him is rarely allowed. His pet bird, Jewel, flies over and lands on my shoulder to read it.
You are aware that I don’t get to send letters very often, but I was so homesick that they let me send one. Also, I’m so happy you were wondering about me. It turns out that this war is nearly over, and since I just had my birthday last week, I will be sent home tomorrow. Sadly, I will arrive two weeks after that, so I will have to miss your big performance next week.
I love my dad, but sometimes I wonder if he should have gone to fight in that war in the first place. I told him the performance was today, but he confused the dates. Wait a minute, if the war is nearly over, then why did The Lobster Basket’s owner say that there was a problem with the government? Mia and Norri seemed to know something too. Something’s not right here, and I’m determined to find out what.
The building was old with a big sign on the front that read “Willy’s Records.” The paper I had noted that this was the right place. I took a deep breath and gripped my guitar as I knocked on the big wooden door. A boy about my age opened it and asked me why I was there.
“The man who owns this place wanted to speak with me about joining a band.”
“Oh, yeah. You must be Livia. Come on in.” The floor squeaked as I walked across the room. The boy, who told me his name was Archer, showed me around. Archer and I were talking about our favorite movie when there was a loud knocking on the door. We opened it to see two people who told us they were also members.
“Hi, I’m Cora, and this is Verna. We were told to come here and play in a band.”
The two girls looked so much alike that I almost couldn’t tell who was talking. They both had straight black hair and brown eyes. The taller one, Cora, only came up to my shoulders. They both squeezed in between us, wanting to see what was inside. Verna dropped a little black box as she walked past, so I picked it up, thinking to return it later.
After a while, we decided that Willy wasn’t coming today, so we sat around for a while and talked. I saw Archer drawing in a notebook , and I couldn’t help peeking. He had drawn a falcon frozen in mid-air. After a while I noticed that on every page, the falcon wings were in a different position. When he finished, he flipped all of the pages, making it look like the bird was flying.
“That’s really cool,” I whispered. He smiled and nodded shyly.
Verna’s phone rang, and she mumbled that it was from her dad. She was talking about the war, so I had to listen.
“Yes, I know that. Of course I want to serve the government. I will do my best to terminate the suspects. Goodbye.”
I backed away and looked at the ceiling, expecting to see small cameras all around the room. I wanted to see the small round ones with the blue, blinking light on the top. Instead, these were big with a red light that never flashed. That could only mean one thing. We were being watched because we had shown some sort of rebel activity. In a short while, the police would come and “terminate the rebellious activity.” In other words, come and kill us. I figured now would be a good time to open that box, and when I did, I knew what it was instantly. It was a dart. A poisonous dart. As in, if anyone was to be hit by it, they would die. Maybe the police were already here….
My heart thumped as I ran for the door. “I’d rather give up the band than die!” I thought. Archer asked me where I was going and why I was running, but I was too focused on surviving. I burst through the doors and toward home when I noticed Verna and Cora running behind me. Verna pulled out two boxes and chose the one that read:
Do not use on mice, rats rabbits, etc.
She aimed at me and blew through the hole. A very little needle flew out and pricked me in the shoulder. I just had time to pull it out before the world started to slow, fuzz, and, finally, stop.
* * *
“What! This is all you got! I wanted the entire family, not just the girl!”
“We did what we had to do. Her father is still traveling and her mother is at the school teaching. We couldn’t just barge in there and blow our cover!”
I tried to pull my arms up when I felt straps holding me to the hard table. I groaned.
“Where am I? Why am I strapped to a table? And WHERE IS MY GUITAR!!!” A fuzzy image of a man appeared in front of me.
“Well, well, our little rebel has awoken. Don’t worry, your guitar is as safe as you are. You see, you are at the center of the capital city, where only the richest and …”
“Most powerful souls are allowed. Yes, I learned that in logic school, just like every other person did,” I said, rolling my eyes.
The man’s face hardened as he heard me.
“You are going to work in the mines with the other rebels until we find the rest of your family. I’m sure you’ll find someone you like, living around other rebels. Take her away!”
Verna and Cora pulled me off the table. I was really numb, so they had to drag me to the train. After about three hours we reached the mines. I was thrown to the ground as the train sped along behind me. Two young girls pulled me into a dark, smelly room. They laid me on a bed and talked about me. After a while my vision returned and I was strong enough to sit up. I got up and looked around the room. Ten or more girls stared at me. I knew that the people were treated poorly in the mines, but I never thought it was this bad. They all wore their hair in braids and had sacks for dresses. They had more dirt on their faces than on the floor. Two girls ran up to me and called my name in astonishment. I knew who they were the minute I spotted them.
“Norri! Mia! What are you doing here?”
“Norri, Mia, what are you doing here? You two aren’t rebels!” I cried.
Norri hugged me while Mia was still in a daze.
“We thought the head mistress would kill you!” Norri said.
Mia slowly walked toward me. “I must be dreaming, but I don’t recall going to bed. Norri, can you wake me up?” she said.
Norri smile faintly. “No Mia, it’s really her,” she said. I looked around the room, astonished at what I was seeing. In school, the teachers always said that the miners are rebels that have gone to work off their “debt to society.” They said that they live in a clean, healthy environment and work for fair wages, but those are straight up lies.
“You see, we knew that the man called Willy was really working for the government, so when we heard you talking to him, we got worried. Then you went to that band, so, just to be safe, we followed you. We saw Verna shoot you and we attacked her. She managed to shoot both of us with one of the death darts, but there wasn’t enough poison injected to kill us. So, they threw us in here.” Mia said, realizing that I was really there.
“Wait, how did you two know that Willy was working for the government?” I asked, confused.
They both exchanged glances, like they used to when they didn’t want to tell me something.
“Well, here’s the thing. We sort of, you know, used to work for the government.” Norri said.
We talked about what had happened one more time, and then, I was introduced to the rest of the miners. Mia told me the boys were in the mines across camp, so we never heard from them. The girls were really nice to me, and they said that they all loved the fact that I was here. After some time, I got to work.
* * *
“Okay, so we have the maps. Merrill, you get the water supply. Cassie and Mara, you two get the food. The rest of you, distract the guards.” I said. I had lived in the mines for a few years now, so the plan was permanently etched in my mind. We had the supplies, so all we had to do was go through with the plan. We were going to escape.
Everyone except the three of us ran off in every which way. Mia, Norri, and I glanced back at the little hut we used to live in.
“Are you sure we should leave the boys here?” Mia asked. Norri nodded.
“They’re big boys, they can handle themselves,” she whispered.
We crawled over to where we hid the darts and tip-toed to where some of the girls were distracting the guards.
“But please, she’s dying! We think its gangrene, but we’re not sure. All you have to do is get the rest of the guard and go to her room,” Operetta said. Her unnaturally red hair was falling out of her braid, and she looked as if she had seen a ghost. Frankie, Cleo, Stevie, and Kittly looked almost as frightened. As soon as the guards walked away we hurried over to them.
“Where did you learn to act like that?” Norri asked.
Operetta shrugged. “I have four brothers who I love to get in trouble, and my mother is a good lie detector. I have to know this stuff,” she said. “Let’s go.”
I used three darts on some guards and snuck past some guard dogs, but there was no way I was jumping over that pool of acid. I tried to work my way around it when I noticed a small opening between the pool and a big gray building, and I ran toward it.
Just as I approached, I noticed three big dogs running out of the alley right in front of me. I didn’t think about stopping. I just ran in the opposite direction. The dogs barked and ran after me. My feet thumped on the ground almost as hard as my heart in my chest. I could hear them getting closer and closer. I heard a wasp fly by my ear and the biggest dog went down. Another wasp and another dog. I finally realized what the “wasps” really were. They were darts. I stopped and saw Merrill run towards me.
“Are you alright?” she said in a shaky voice. I nodded and walked quickly ahead of her. I was still traumatized.
* * *
We were running for our lives. Bullets and lasers flew by. We had mud and dirt in our eyes, but we knew where we were going. We ducked under bars and jumped over barrels, but we made it. We were home free.
I gasped for air. I had been running for hours, so you could guess that I was out of breath. Operetta was on the ground, her leg twisted in a way it shouldn’t. Her face was hard, though I could tell she was in pain. Frankie had stayed behind with her brothers, so we only had ten people.
“Livia,” Operetta gasped. “Take the…girls to a…safe place…. Leave me if…you have…to,” she whispered.
I shook my head. “I told you I would drag you out of here, and I meant it.”
I wrapped her arm around my shoulder and helped her limp toward the hovercraft. I laid Operetta across the seat and climbed in beside her. Cleo, Stevie, Mia, Merrill, and Mara took the back seats and Norri drove.
“Wait,” Mia said. “Were are we going?”
“We’re going to the only place we can,” I said. “Home.”
“But we can’t,” she argued. “Our parents are, well, gone.”
She was referring to the fact that our parents have been taken to work in the processing plant just like we were taken to the mines.
“We could live with my mother and father. The government didn’t get a chance to find them before they took me,” Stevie whispered. She was a lot younger than us, but she was just as brave.
“No, little sis’, they can’t,” Cleo said. “We don’t have enough room.”
“But mother used to own an orphanage, couldn’t we live there?” Stevie said, just loud enough to sound strong. Cleo sighed, but nodded. Stevie smiled.
* * *
“Cleo! Merrill! Mara! We’re back from picking up Stevie from school!” Operetta yelled. She laid her crutches on the floor and slid into the nearest chair. Stevie scurried over to the kitchen for an after-school snack. Norri and Mia sat on the couch and turned on the T.V. We’ve all been living in the old orphanage for about a month now, and we’ve managed to turn it into a full-on house. We still have to hide, but that doesn’t bother us. The only bad thing is we can’t get good jobs. We lost the war, but that means we get to live in a place where the government doesn’t rule. Before he left, Papa said we’d better get ready for a world of change, but I think I can live with it. ;’)