Dystopian

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Dome, The
Excerpt

Chapter 1: DeeHeart pounding, feet pounding."Pick up the pace, Dee!""Just dump them, Rogan--it's not worth the risk!""No!" he gasped. "We can eat for a week on this. Keep running!"My lungs had started to burn as soon as we'd hit the third set of stairs in the abandoned apartment building, but with a Lobot on our tails, I couldn't afford to slow down. Rogan showed no signs of giving up the search for a hiding spot, despite the fact that so far, the doors to every floor were locked. Fourth floor--no luck. Fifth floor--the same. Sixth floor--the whirring noise was getting closer. Seventh floor--finally! The door lock was broken, and we pushed through, looking wildly behind us as we raced down the hallway. The apartments were mostly empty as we passed them but the second last place, despite half the exterior wall being blown out, had some furniture in it--better yet it had an old stovetop with an oven. We could stash the baubles in there, hide in the closet and wait for the Lobot to give up. I slammed the apartment door shut behind us as Rogan threw the baubles into the oven, then we dove into a closet with louvered doors and pulled them closed--I pushed back up against the wall, while Rogan knelt down to look through the slats. "Shhh!" he whispered sharply to me. "Listen." I tried to control my breathing so that I could hear what was happening. There was a faint hiss--the Lobot was using one of its lasers to cut a hole through the apartment door. Then there was a thud, as part of the door fell onto the floor, and a low whirring sound. I inhaled and held my breath as the Lobot flew slowly by the closet, tracking the microchip signal coming from the baubles. Suddenly it stopped moving and hovered in mid-air, rotating its antennae toward the old appliance. Then I could hear banging, and Rogan smothered a giggle. He moved back and motioned at me to look for myself. I knelt down and I slapped my hand over my mouth so I wouldn't laugh out loud. The Lobot was slamming itself into the glass door of the oven; it was able to sense the microchip signal and see the baubles, but it couldn't figure out how to get to them. I turned to Rogan, and in the dim light, I noticed an old blanket on the shelf above us. I pointed to it and Rogan nodded. This would be tricky and dangerous, but we didn't have a lot of choice at this point--we needed to act before it started using a laser. Rogan took the blanket down and quietly opened the closet door. I just hoped that the Lobot was so preoccupied with the baubles that it wouldn't notice much else. Rogan began creeping towards it--it was still unaware of him. Finally, at about three feet away, he took a deep breath and threw the blanket over the Lobot, knocking it to the ground. Before it had a chance to squirm or struggle, he jumped on the blanket with all his strength, over and over, until the Lobot was still and silent. He smiled triumphantly at me.I hesitated. "We should make sure," I whispered. I tiptoed over to where Rogan was waiting and gingerly lifted up a corner of the blanket. Sure enough, the Lobot was dead--its lights were out and it looked pretty crushed. We both stared at it in distaste--the tranquilizer darts and locator cuffs it carried were spilling out of it like guts. Suddenly I was filled with fury, and I turned on Rogan."That was really stupid, Rogan! Do you realize how close we came to being caught?! Which body part are you willing to lose for a couple of coins?!"He looked taken aback and his brow furrowed defensively. "Neither of us is losing anything, and that stash is worth more than a 'couple' of coins. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been chased by the Lobot for so long, you know that. I had everything under control--it's all good, Dee. Now come on." He opened the oven door and took out the baubles--a necklace and two rings--which glittered in the light. "That stupid Fancy won't miss them--she probably has plenty more where these came from, anyway. Serves her right for wandering too close to Divinity without any Blues nearby to protect her."I sighed in frustration. "Well, it was still awfully close, and I happen to like my hands and feet just as they are, thank you very much."Rogan leered at me. "I like your hands and feet too, my lovely!""EWW! You sound like a Fancy!" I slapped him on the shoulder in mock-anger.He slapped back at me then peered around the corner of the apartment door. "All clear. Anyway," he continued cavalierly, "you could always choose an eye, although I hear it's pretty painful. Come on. We need to get out of here before some ambitious Blue tracks that Lobot and shows up."My stomach flipped at the thought of having an eye removed, and then I was overcome by a wave of emotion--a sense of questioning and worry. It was my twin brother, Cee. I focused inward and sent feelings of calm and reassurance back to him. Not only did we look exactly the same--green eyes, and hair that was called strawberry blond when strawberries used to grow, but we were on the same wavelength, so to speak. We couldn't read each other's minds exactly, but we could project feelings to each other. Right now, he was sensing that I was scared and mad, and I was telling him that everything was okay. He hated it when I went out thieving, especially with Rogan, who was a real risk-taker. It was one thing running a scam or getting a Fancy to cough up a little spare change, but outright robbery in broad daylight wasn't for the faint of heart. Not that I had much of a choice. Cee and I used to be workhouse kids, and like all "provincial wards", once you hit 15, you were sent to the agri-complexes up north as farm labour. The alternative was to run away and fend for yourselves as "Freeworlders". And after spending most of our lives as workhouse kids, neither of us wanted to finish out our days as agri-slaves in the Upper Belt, so we made our way to Divinity, a tent city in Metro.Cee and I had been left at Happy Valley, one of the workhouses up North, when we were about three months old. After the Frag riots in 2087 and the Water Wars that followed, babies were being abandoned on a regular basis by parents who couldn't afford to take care of them, sometimes as many as twenty a day, so The Consortium, a supergroup of countries across the water, set up the workhouse system. All the kids were given letters of the alphabet instead of names, and he and I were the third and fourth babies dumped there that day, so "C" and "D". Our actual "designations'" are a lot longer and include the date as well. By the time most ward kids were 4 or 5, they'd been given nicknames or picked out new names for themselves, but we were fine with Cee and Dee. The workhouses weren't great, but if you kept your nose clean and did what you were told by the Protectors, the adults who ran the place, you could survive. And you were told a lot. By the time you were a One, you were expected to stay with an older kid, a Guardian, who either worked in the dorms or the kitchen--like an apprentice. Depending on who your Guardian was, you either got slapped regularly or ignored most of the time. When you got to be a Five, you were responsible for making beds or washing dishes, or garden work. At Ten, you worked in the nursery with the babies, in the kitchen doing meal prep, or in the schoolhouse, teaching other kids about soil and plants from a textbook. At Twelve, you started working the fields full-time, in preparation for a life-time of servitude in the Breadbasket, which was the area of the Upper Belt where farms could still exist. All the fruits and vegetables from up North were planted and harvested by agri-slaves, mostly the workhouse kids who had chosen farm labour and three meals a day over freedom and starvation. But it was a hard life too--from what I heard, most agri-slaves didn't make it into their thirties--too much exposure to chemicals. I was pretty sure that Cee and I stood a better chance on our own--if we didn't end up in The Dome, that is. Cee and I ran away from Happy Valley right before our 15th Drop-Off Day. That wasn't a "birthday" exactly--none of us really knew when we were born, but the workhouse had a record of the dates that all of us had been left there, and if you'd been a good little "agri-slave in the making", you got a piece of candy on your Drop-off Day each year. Kind of a twisted thing to celebrate, but we didn't have much else. Anyway, Cee and I had no intention of going to the Breadbasket so we took off and headed for Divinity, the biggest tent city in Trillium Province, where we've been for over a year now. Scraping together a living hasn't been easy. Cee brings in a little money at the Hidden Market, where he sells his handmade "pretties" to the Fancies, the rich people who come into Divinity on Sundays with their Blue bodyguards, looking for unique objects to impress their friends with. He's an amazing woodcarver--he can take an old scrap of anything and turn it into an elephant or a parrot, things that sell really well because they're extinct now. I don't know how he knows what they all look like, but they're beautiful, and the Fancies will pay a lot for them. The problem is that we can't both be out at the same time. It's a cutthroat world, and your tent and everything inside it is fair game for squatters if you leave it empty. Someone has to be there at all times to protect it, so Cee can't come thieving with me, and I can't go to the Market with him. Not that either of us minds. His hands are his most important asset--if he got caught by a Lobot, he'd get sent to The Dome, and more than likely the crowd would choose hand over foot--they usually do for thieves, unless, like Rogan said, you want to give them a real thrill and choose your own eye. As for me, I hate the Hidden Market. Well, I don't hate the Market, I just hate the Fancies. They come in their finery and jewels, with their servants and bodyguards, sometimes with Lobots hovering around them for extra protection, and then they want to barter for lower prices. It's sickening really, when I think how long Cee works on his pieces and how little he has to sell them for sometimes.I felt his wave of worry start to subside, and I sent a projection of the idea of home to him, so that he'd know we were on our way. Rogan once asked me what the "idea" of home was, since I couldn't actually send a picture of the tent to Cee--the only way I could describe it was to say it was like the emotion you felt when someone you loved squeezed your hand. I know it sounds stupid, but home to me was always just Cee, never a place. Whenever I was scared or sad, I could always count on him to take my hand and hold it tight, to let me know that, no matter what, we were together and that nothing could separate us. That was home. Then, just for fun, I sent him the feeling of being well-fed--we were going to eat well as soon as we pawned our hard-won treasures.

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An Ocean of Minutes
Excerpt

People wishing to time travel go to Houston Interconti­nental Airport. At the orientation, the staff tell them that time travel is just like air travel, you even go to the same facility. People used to be apprehensive about airline travel too. But when you arrive at the airport, it is not the same at all. Before you can get within a mile of the terminals, you reach a bus stop moored at the edge of a vast concrete flat, where you must leave your vehicle and ascend a snaking trolley, like the ones they have at the zoo.
A quarantine taxi makes its way to that lone bus stop, the airport appearing through a million chain-link diamonds. The driver is encased in an oval of hermetically sealed Plexiglas. In the back seat, Frank is wearing a yellow hazmat suit. The colour marks him as infected.
Now is the time for last words, but Polly’s got nothing. Frank keeps nodding off and then snapping awake, stiff-spined with terror, until he can locate her beside him. “We can still go back!” He has been saying this for days. Even in his sleep he carries on this argument, and when he opens his eyes, he moves seamlessly from a dream fight to a waking one. Already his voice is far off, sealed away inside his suit.
She pulls his forehead to her cheek, but his mask stops her short. They can only get within three inches of each other. The suit rubs against the vinyl car seat and makes a funny, crude noise, but they don’t laugh. Polly would like to breathe in the smell of Frank’s skin one last time, a smell like salt cut with something sweet, like when it rains in the city. But all she gets is the dry smell of plastic.
The news outlets went down weeks ago, but that didn’t stop the blitz of ads for the Rebuild America Time Travel Initiative: billboards painted on buildings, posters wheat-pasted over empty storefronts, unused mailboxes stuffed with mailers. there is no flu in 2002 and travel to the future and rebuild america and no skills necessary! training provided!
At first the ads were like a joke, gallows humour for people who were stranded once the credit companies went down and the state borders were closed to stop the flu’s spread, people like Polly and Frank, who got trapped in Texas by accident. Later, the ads made Frank angry. He would tear the pamphlets from the mailboxes and throw them on the ground, muttering about opportunism. “You know they don’t market this to the rich,” he’d say, and then an hour later, he’d say it again.
They stayed indoors except for the one day a week when they travelled to the grocery store, which had been commandeered by five army reservists who doled out freeze-dried goods to ragged shoppers. The reservists had taken it upon themselves to impose equal access to the food supply, partly out of good­ness and partly out of the universal desperation for something to do. One day, the glass doors were locked. A handwritten sign said to go around the back. The soldiers were having a party. With their rifles still strapped on, they were handing out canned cocktail wieners, one per person, on candy-striped paper dessert plates that looked forlorn in their huge hands. Ted, the youngest, a boy from Kansas who had already lost his hair, was leaving for a job in the future. He was going to be an independent energy contractor. There was another sign, bigger and in the same writing, on the back wall: 2000 here we come! It was a rare, happy thing, the soldiers and the shoppers in misfit clothes, standing around and smiling at each other and nibbling on withered cocktail sausages. But just that morning, the phone had worked for five minutes and they got a call through to Frank’s brothers, only to be told it had been weeks since the landlord changed the locks to Frank’s apartment, back in Buffalo. The landlord was sympathetic to Frank’s pre­dicament, but he could no longer endure the absence of rent. “But what about my stereo?” Frank had said. “What about my records? What about Grandpa’s butcher knife?” His voice was small, then smaller, as he listed off everything that was now gone.
Frank was usually the life of the party, but that afternoon behind the grocery store, he picked on a pinch-faced woman, muttering at her, “Why don’t they stop the pandemic, then? If they can time travel, why don’t they travel back in time to Patient Zero and stop him from coughing on Patient One?”
“They tried.” The woman spoke with her mouth full. “The earliest attainable destination date is June of ’81. Seven months too late.”
“What? Why? How can that be?” This clumsy show of anger was new. Frank was normally charming. He was the one who did the talking. Later, his sudden social frailty would seem like a warning of the sickness that arrived next. It unsettled Polly, and she was slow to react.
But the woman didn’t need someone to intervene. “That’s the limit of the technology. It took until the end of ’93 to per­fect the machine, and twelve years is the farthest it can jump. Or to be precise, four thousand one hundred and ninety-eight days is the farthest it can jump. Do you live under a rock?”
The tips of Frank’s ears pinked and Polly should have made a joke, offered comfort. But she was distracted. In that second, it stopped being a fiction. Time travel existed, and the plates of her reality were shifting. She felt a greasy dread in the centre of her chest. She wanted to drop her food and take Frank’s hand and anchor him in the crook of her arm, as if he were in danger of being blown away.
Now they are pulling up to the lone bus stop, and they can see the new time-travel facility across the lot bisected by trol­leys. The facility is a monolith, the widest, tallest building either of them has ever seen, and something primal in Polly quails. The only thing remaining of familiar airport protocol is the logistical thoughtlessness of the curb: once you reach it, the line of unfeeling motorists waiting behind you means only seconds to say goodbye.
“You don’t have to go,” Frank says.
“Say something else. Say something different.” Polly is smiling and shaking her head, an echo of some long-ago courting coy­ness that once existed between them. It has landed here, in the wrong place entirely, but she can’t get control of her face.
“You don’t have to go,” he says again in his faraway voice, unable to stop.
Polly can only muster short words. “It’s okay. We’ll be together soon. Don’t worry.”
The sole way Polly was able to convince Frank to let her go was through Ted, the reservist from Kansas. He and his buddies had a plan to meet in 2000. They had chosen a place and every­thing. “We can do the same,” she said to Frank. “I’ll ask for the shortest visa, I’ll ask for a five-year visa.” It was a setback when she got to the TimeRaiser office and they offered minimum twelve-year visas. But still he would meet her, on September 4th, 1993, at Houston Intercontinental Airport. “What if you’re rerouted?” he asked. He had heard about this from another patient, who heard about it from a cousin, who knew someone who worked at the facility, who said they could change your year of destination, while you were in mid-flight. Polly said reroutements were a rumour, a myth. Why would they send you to a time totally other than the one you signed for? That would be like buying a ticket to Hawaii and winding up in Alaska. But to calm him, she came up with a back-up plan. If something went wrong and either of them couldn’t make it, then the first Saturday in September, they’d go to the Flagship Hotel in Galveston, until they find one another. “Not just the first,” he said. “Every Saturday, every September.” This was over­kill, a lack of good faith, but he was distraught, so she gave in. And if the Flagship Hotel is gone, they’ll meet on the beach by its footprint. Even if between now and ’93, aliens invade and the cities are crumbled and remade, the land will still end where the sea begins at the bottom of Twenty-Fifth Street.
Still he is not satisfied. He puts his head back. His skin is so grey and drawn that it looks about to flake off, and it’s as if the brown is fading from his hair. When Polly speaks again, it sounds like when she is drunk and trying to conceal it, enunci­ating each of her words, a single phrase requiring maximal con­centration: “If I don’t go, you will die.”

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This Little Light
Excerpt

T H I S  L I T T L E  L I G H T

BLOGLOG: Rory Anne Miller 11/27/2024—9:51 pm

We’re trending. Rory Miller. Feliza Lopez. In this moment, on this night, we’re the most famous girls in America.

Those pics you’ve seen in your feeds and on TV over the past few hours? Two fresh-faced teens in bridal couture on the arms of their daddies at tonight’s American Virtue Ball? That’s me and Fee, my best friend. The grainy footage from the school surveillance cameras of two figures in white gowns climbing up into the smoky hills after the bomb exploded at Sacred Heart High? Also us. It’s true that guilty people run. Scared people run too. They’re calling us the Villains in Versace.

What they’re saying about us? First—who wears Versace to a purity ball? I wore Mishka. Fee wore Prada. The details matter. The truth—which is not somewhere in the middle as guilty people like to say—is vital. Like oxygen. The truth is that Fee and I did not try to blow up the chastity ball at Sacred Heart High tonight. We had nothing to do with that thing they found in my car, either. And we have no involvement whatsoever with the Red Market. We’re not the spawn of Satan you’re loading your Walmart rifles to hunt.

If I’m being honest? Totally honest? I’ve spent a stupid amount of time daydreaming about being famous, and how amazing it’d be to have millions of followers. That’s normal, right? A shallow distraction from reality? I live in California, after all, where fame pollutes the atmosphere then penetrates your skin with the UV rays. But this isn’t fame. It’s infamy. And I feel like I do in my recurring naked-at-school nightmare—gross and exposed.

Careful what you wish for? Fee and I don’t have followers so much as we have trolls and trackers. We’re being flayed in the media. Convicted by social. And now we’re freaking fugitives, hiding out in this scrap metal shed behind a little cabin in the mountains overlooking Malibu.

I’m so thankful for this old pink laptop—courtesy of Javier, who’s letting us hide in his shed, which I’ll explain later. I’ve caught up on the fake news and read all the hate tweets. Bombers? Religious terrorists? Red Market runners, trafficking stolen babies? It feels like a joke, but it’s not. And to make it even more real, the rock evangelist Reverend Jagger Jonze just put up a million-dollar reward for our capture. There’s a freaking bounty on our heads. So here we sit in this shed. No way to defend ourselves. Nowhere to run.

My throat hurts from swallowing screams. And the worst thing—I mean, worst is relative under these circumstances—but Fee is really sick. She’s curled up beside me under a tattered blanket, not really awake but groaning. Whatever’s wrong with her, it started at the ball, and once we got here, she basically collapsed. Her forehead’s hot. She’s pale. Something she ate? She barely ate today. Flu? I don’t know.

In order to remain calm-ish, I’m going to write our side of the story. I’m afraid we’ll be tracked to the shed if I post entries in real time, so I won’t submit until I know we’re safe. This old laptop has had a long-life battery upgrade, thank God. I could write all night. Maybe I will. Wouldn’t be the first time. Won’t be the last. Writing? It’s the only way I’ve ever been able to make sense of my life.

Just this afternoon, Fee and I were with our other best friends—Brooklyn Leon, Zara Rohanian and Delaney Sharpe, all of us students at Sacred Heart High School—getting ready for the ball at Jinny Hutsall’s house. Hutsalls are beyond rich, so they hired a StyleMeNow crew to come over and do our hair, paint our nails, curl our lashes and plump our lips, which I did not hate. We sipped the champagne Jinny’d cadged from the fridge—a very unJinny move, now I think about it—and snapped a hundred pics of our virgin-bride splendor, while our tuxedoed daddies tossed back Manhattans on Warren Hutsall’s lanai. The others got giggly, but slipping into my gorgeous Mishka, I felt nothing but dread.

It wasn’t about the virginity pledge we were about to take. My friends and I weren’t serious about that. Not really, or not all of us. The Virtue Ball was a swag grab, a couture gown, a brush with celebrity, a photo op. Or at least that’s what we said. For me? As an atheist who definitely won’t be saving it until marriage, it was also an opportunity to do some reporting for my blog. That’s what I told myself, over and above the dread, which I’ll explain later.

Driving there tonight, I still hadn’t decided if I’d dig into the hellaciousness of vowing chastity to our fathers or if I’d go with a softer piece acknowledging the father/daughter bonding but include some solid stats to show that teaching abstinence doesn’t work. I hadn’t decided which angle would get me more likes. That’s the truth. I hadn’t quite got to the point where I actually was considering exposing the whole corrupt deal. Too scared, maybe?

Well, I know which way I’ll go now. Though I couldn’t have imagined I’d be writing about how Fee and I became outlaws hiding in a seven-by-eight-foot shed, crowded by a greasy lawn mower, a couple of leaf blowers, a tangle of fishing rods, three old suitcases and some fat white trash bags leaking lawn clippings.

When I look up, I can see the full moon and stars blinking through gaps in the aluminum roof, and the distant lights from passing planes. There are no doubt already bounty hunters out there looking for us in their MiniCops and GarBirds—those homemade flying jobbies people get shipped from China to build in their garages even though they’re totally illegal. They’re crowdsourcing our capture. It’s all over the news.

There’s a window at the front of the shed that looks out over the rocky cliffs, and from there I can see the neighbor’s trailer a hundred or so yards away—an ancient silver Airstream, the front tow-hitch propped off-kilter on three big cinder blocks, a big blue tarp that was strung up to make an awning over the porch billowing in the breeze. Light from a television was flickering in the front window when I looked out before. No vehicle in the driveway, though.

I’ve seen a couple of drones whir by. Definitely looking for us. The new cam-drones are so quiet and acrobatic you don’t see them until they’re on you taking surveillance. I noticed an UberCopter pass a few minutes ago. Saw the police helicopters flying back in the direction of Sacred Heart High, where the bomb exploded. With the bounty, and the media firestorm, there will be a lot more of them tomorrow in the daylight. Unless the Santa Anas start blowing. The news is saying we should expect strong winds later tonight, and off and on tomorrow. Crossing freaking fingers. The winds will keep the air traffic down.

The cable stations are covering us round the clock like we’re a weather event—a hurricane or severe snowstorm or a California wildfire so big and bad they gotta give it a name. Fox News is calling our story “The Hunt”—so ugly rhyming memes. My head’s spinning. It’s been torture to go online. But worse not to know. People say you shouldn’t read the comments section. People are right. I seriously want to respond to each one. Like, I want to tell Twitter user @H8UevlGASHES—who suggested the insertion of a broken bottle into our life-giving lady parts—that he does not understand irony. And I want to tell that congresswoman from Texas who just tweeted that Fee and I should have our “eyes sewn open and be forced to watch a late-term abortion” that she should definitely kill the person who does her hair. The guy who started #rape’em1st? He just makes me wanna cry. And? The president tweeted out a White House dinner invitation to Jinny Hutsall and Reverend Jagger Jonze. It would be funny if it weren’t too true.

Our “friend” Jinny is trending too. They’re saying that what happened at the Virtue Ball tonight has ignited an “American Holy War.” Jinny fucking Hutsall. Until that blond-hair, yoga-arm, apple-ass thigh-gap-in-a-tartan-skirt moved in next door a few months ago and joined our class at Sacred Heart High, we were just us. The Hive. Friends since we were toddlers. Now, two of us are the New Targets of Holy War. And the host of tonight’s ball, Reverend Jagger Jonze—the one that put up the million-dollar bounty after everything went down in the parking lot at the AVB? He’s rocketed to superstardom. Just like that. Jagger Jonze is the devil. But more on that later.

First—the bomb. We didn’t set the bomb. And if someone wanted to bomb the ball, why did they blow up the bathroom clear on the other side of the school’s fifteen-acre campus? Nothing makes sense. It’s all just crazy. We’ve been accused of being “runners” doing dastardly deeds for the Red Market. My mother’s always said there’s no such thing as the Red Market. She says it’s a construct—evil alt-right propaganda. I don’t know what to believe. I mean, people have been talking about the Pink Market since long before abortion was banned again. Everyone knows there’s a Pink Market out there helping minors access birth control, and morning-after pills, and getting them to underground clinics and all.

But the Red Market? Supposedly it’s a baby-stealing mafia that supplies product to illegal stem cell research labs. Even the media say “alleged” or “rumored” when they talk about it. Law enforcement officers and politicians are rumored to be involved in the Red Market too. Even if my mother’s wrong, and people are actually that depraved, Fee and I are not, and never have been, and never would be, involved in such foul shit.

I’m scared. No, terrified.

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