Five years in the future.
“Jason!” she screamed, rushing into a flaking aluminum shed that made a poor shelter against the cold. Wavy black hair bounced behind her.
A tall Irishman tore down the curtain that divided the shack into two rooms. He was ready for action.
“What is it?” he asked, pupils widened to take in the threat to his wife, Mara.
She collapsed onto his shoulders.
“Did they hurt you?” he asked, trying to understand the situation.
She made an attempt to control her ragged breaths. Mara scarcely managed to get the horrible words out: “They took him.”
“Who?” Jason asked, fearing the answer.
“My brother. Rascal is gone.”
If you worked at the Center for Personality Control, you couldn’t have chosen a better target than Rascal Vincenzo.
He had been a curious and engaging infant. As a four year old, he had loved to make adults laugh.
You could drop Rascal into a crowd of strangers in a country where he didn’t know a single word and he would have a group of merry friends in minutes. He possessed endless charisma.
Last summer, when he was eleven years old, he led a group to the river. When his companions weren’t adventurous enough, he broke away and explored downstream.
He found a ring of older boys attacking a chocolate Labrador. Rascal started swinging and didn’t stop when they kicked him on the ground. After the boys left, Rascal crawled to the dog. The pup snuffled at something in the bushes, and Rascal found a bruised kid there. The kid, Malphie, was blind.
“Is my dog okay?” Malphie asked.
Opposite personalities are supposed to make the best friends, but not Rascal and Malphie. They boys were twin peanuts—each more of a nut than the other. In no time, they realized they liked all the same things and could make friends with anybody, given half a chance.
Six months later, when Mara found out that they had taken Rascal away, she knew Malphie was next. She tried to warn him. He was taken to the camps.
The boys were not the last to be arrested.
In the days that followed, 180 million people disappeared. That winter, the government exterminated every registered extrovert in America.
Thirty years from the present day.
A small group huddled inside the crumbling brick building. Unregistered extros, called social vampires by government propaganda, gathered together.
A thirty-ish Nobody, a thin-shouldered Intellectual with rounded glasses, gestured passionately. He directed everyone’s emotions with a combination of defiance and carefulness. His actions were odd for a introvert, but he became what he had to in order to protect these strangers. From his jacket, he pulled two weathered pieces of sheet music. The attendants leaned forward to engage with the Intellectual’s words, a sure sign that his audience members were extros. He passed around the music, and the gatherers touched the pages like forgotten treasures.
A lookout pierced the room. “They’re here!”
With no interlude, gas grenades broke the windows. Choking billows of micro-crystals, bundled fishhooks in the lungs, filled the corners of the tiny room.
Sheer panic gripped the extros. Flight won over fight, and they fled. Most ran into the arms of their captors. The rain of bullets brought many others down.
The Intellectual hit the floor. Pulling his mouth inside his shirt, he breathed the clean air against his chest.
Wind swept through the bullet holes and agitated the music dropped by a panicky extro. The Intellectual pawed at the two pages and stuffed them into his sweater. He scanned the room for a hiding place.
At the center of the room, recessed deeply into the wall, a cavernous fireplace called to him.
The Intellectual crawled towards it.
Several minutes later, the tear gas settled into a yellowish powder on the flat surfaces of the room.
The soldiers brought the last of the survivors to prison transports.
A young gunner plopped into a leather-upholstered armchair. He kicked his muddied boots onto the mismatching ivory-tinted ottoman. A newcomer, he made an effort to fit into the squad. A digital display covered the soldier’s face like all the other fighters, but his inexperience showed in his attempt to appear too-careless.
The door to the chamber crashed open. Outside, framed against the falling snow, towered a stoic, sinewy man. He’d lived more than eighty winters, and his spine bent only a very little. He stood for a moment in the wind while it whipped his coat theatrically. His beady hawkish eyes, deeply set behind scrubbed wrinkles, took in the length and breadth of the room. The black cloak enwrapped his legs so that when he finally began to walk, he almost glided over the ground.
A nearby corporal kicked the seated soldier, whose back was to the door, but the warning came too late.
“Is now the time for naps?” the old man demanded with rehearsed harshness in his voice.
“The Highest Equal!” the soldier exclaimed as he jumped up, the voice modulation on his mask hiding only the majority of his surprise. “I was just…”
Unlike all other government employees, the chief leader of the land remained barefaced.
“How many did we take?” the old man said, cutting off the sputtering private.
“And no one escaped?”
“You would stake your life on it?”
The young soldier glanced at his lieutenant for support. The officer, a shy youngster, was doing his best to look busy.
“Don’t look at him,” the Highest Equal snapped. “You’d stake your life that there were no more than seven extros here?”
The young soldier gulped out a “yes, sir.”
The sharp old man’s eyes raked the room like a wheeling falcon. The bare apartment, covered in red brick dust from the firefight, held no hiding spots.
“Looks like you’re safe today, Private.”
The statesman turned to exit, but in a swift motion, he leapt to the fireplace. The corner of a blanket hung below the flue. The old man gripped and pulled it sharply. The Intellectual fell out, covered from head to toe in soot. The Equal’s patent oxford rendered the Intellectual unconscious. The man’s hand still clutched a crumpled sheet of music. The Equal’s bony fingers pried the paper away.
With a studied, even voice, he addressed the air without lifting his eyes from the page.
“There are many Schuberts and Saint-Saënses who can thoroughly poison and inflame young hearts.”
The Equal bit his words with contempt and slid the yellow notes inside his coat. He addressed the soldiers directly.
“Take him to the truck, you two.”
They turned about, relieved to escape the Equal’s presence. They bustled from the room bearing the senseless Intellectual.
The old politician pulled their lieutenant to the side.
“Execute those two incompetents with the prisoners, understand?”