The Protectors-In The Land of Light

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My Sulking Gets Disturbed

Rolia comes to wake me up at the crack of dawn. I climb out of bed slowly, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I check my wrist, not sure if the day before was not just a crazy dream that my imagination ran away with. Sure enough, the tattoo is still there, a reminder that life has been turned upside down. I should probably just run away before anything bad happens.

I smile at the thought of taking off and finding my own adventure, but push that feeling down when I realize the reality of trying to escape. I’d be hunted down, then thrown into jail for the rest of my life.

I stumble over to my dresser and pull on the long white sleeved hoodie, black shorts, and white sneakers I had set out the day before. I put my hair into a messy bun, grab my backpack and zip into the bathroom, cursing my boring clothes. Wearing the same colors over and over becomes very aggravating.

When I brush my teeth I can’t get the brush under the water because every time I go to wet the brush, the water moves away from my hand. Eventually I just brush my teeth without the water and then I can’t rinse my mouth. What is drinking from water fountains going to look like? The feeling from yesterday crawls under my skin. A sense of dread.

Life is going to be a nightmare from here on out. If I bend my hand the wrong way my water is going to do something weird in lunch. Then I’ll really be hated. I’ll be known as the Freak.

Heading into the kitchen I grab some breakfast. I order orange juice and waffles from the breakfast dispenser. Part of going to school is that the Government gives you breakfast and lunch so your family only has to take care of dinner, one more way we are forced to depend on the government.

I lean against the counter and sip my OJ, waiting for the waffles to pop out onto my plate. My mind settles slightly as I relive what I always do in the morning, preparing my mind for the day ahead. Eating breakfast, because food is always a major highlight for me.

My waffles pop out, hot and dripping in butter and syrup. My mouth waters. This is how the Government officials eat everyday, fully taken care of, fat and satisfied, while the rest of us are left with their scraps. At least I can eat like them while I am in school. Two more years after this I will have to fend for myself. The coming responsibility is daunting.

I eat my breakfast alone as Rolia busies herself with who knows what around the house. I don’t have much time to eat, since school starts at 8:00.

Rolia comes into the kitchen and begins to count the thirty seconds till the bus arrives. I shovel down the rest of my breakfast and sling on my backpack. I manage a weak wave at Rolia as I’m shoved out the door by her pronged hands. Breakfast is always this way. Rolia is very timely, so I’m never late.

I punch in the code to the gate that is in the front yard then race down to the bus that is waiting at the small silver station. Garbage lies in the streets, sending a fetid stench into the air. The cracked asphalt crumbles beneath my feet as I race toward the floating silver bus. People from the surrounding neighborhoods climb on, their black and white clothes dull against the brown grass behind them. I hop in line behind people heading for work and school. The autobus takes anyone anywhere. Mainly it runs for kids going to school.

I stand in the crowd of people, they range in heights and sizes. Most of them have their Flips out. The screens reflect on their faces and they all appear to be a world away.

Everybody from my school is throwing nervous glances at me like they always do. Ever since the one day I screamed at our principal after he’d ‘accidentally’ tripped my best friend, Ri. No one had expected it from me, the quiet girl, who never stands up for herself when she gets told off. Or bullied. So now, everyone stares, trying to be subtle, waiting for me to lose it again.

Ri told me I looked terrifying, like my hair started floating and I grew a foot. I had protested that maybe that’s just because I was yelling so I seemed bigger. I must have been intimidating or else I wouldn’t have left such a large impression. So now, I just stare at my hands, mostly used to the looks I am receiving.

I rub my wrist where the tattoo is. I have a secret. And a big one. One that is life changing.

World changing.

So why was this given to me?

I reach the front of the line and climb the silver extended steps. The bus just lets out a tiny hum to let me know that it is operating.

I breathe a sigh of relief as I climb onto the bus, glad to be away from the looks and glances for the fifteen-minute bus ride to my school. I shove down the aisle in the hovering silver bus and keep my eyes glued to the ground, hands on my backpack straps. I have to elbow my way to my usual seat past people going to work, school, or the market. Public transportation is always crowded.

I press back to my usual spot and plop down, not noticing that there is someone next to me till he clears his throat. I jump and whip my head around to find a blonde boy, lounging in his seat, his arm draped over the chair behind him. I skootch away and glare, raising one eyebrow, instantly suspicious.

“Hey,” he says, and I almost jump. No one talks here. Ever. He tugs at the sleeves of his black and white hoodie, which somehow manages to look cool with an aztechy pattern. I don’t respond.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to disturb your sulking,” he says with a hint of a grin on his face. There is a touch of a southern accent in his voice, which is also strange. People rarely move anymore, since we’re assigned houses and jobs. Only if you own a business, or you get offered a job by the Government somewhere else, are you allowed to move.

I raise both of my eyebrows. I’m intrigued by this boy who wants to talk. “I’m not sulking. I am just in very deep thought.”

He chuckles lightly. “Sorry, again, ma’am.”

“It’s fine,” I say with a shrug.

He smiles, the corners of his sea blue eyes crinkling. His whole complexion is shining, like he got dipped in sunlight. No one is this happy around here. We all look like we got dipped in a puddle of sludge.

“Alright, Ms. Moody Pants, I’m Chase.” He holds out his hand and I shake it stiffly, once. Not giving too much emotion. I don’t trust anyone. Especially not people who smile.

“Muriel. But please call me El.” I suddenly feel the urge to continue a conversation. It’s intriguing finding someone who wants to talk instead of finding a way to pick on me. I wrack my brain for a question that won’t sound trite. But that’s pretty hard, since I only talk to a robot most of the time. “Are you going to school?”

“Yeah, Senior school, in Midtown.” I shift back into my seat fully, placing my black backpack on the floor of the grimy bus carefully.

“Have you always gone and I have not noticed you?” I ask but instantly regret it when a devilish grin lights up his face.

“How could you not notice me?” he asks and I feel a blush rising in my cheeks. He was pretty noticeable.

“Um…” I say, unsure of what to do next. He just smirks, his ocean blue eyes shining, like he knew that he got to me.

“We just moved from Florida.” He sighs, glancing away and runs his hand through his wavy blonde hair. Obviously he was unhappy about this move.

My brow knots with sympathy.

Chase shrugs, crinkling his freckled nose. “But it’s okay. My dad thought Cali would be just the perfect place for his business. And what dad says, goes.” A shadow passes over his eyes. So that’s what it is. His dad owns a business.

“I-I’m sorry,” I murmur, twisting my fingers, not knowing what else to say. I glance out the window past him. The suburbs of Ractia flash by.

“What year are you in?” he asks, disregarding my statement with a smile.

“Tenth.” I continue twisting my fingers, putting all of my stress about meeting a new person into them.

“Me too.” He grins. “Maybe we’ll get classes together.”

“Oh, maybe.” I shift away from him ever so slightly, his kindness making me nervous. His grin falls a little.

“Come on El, I can’t be that bad.” He bumps my arm playfully.

“No. You aren’t.” I turn away, regrouping my emotions before turning back to him. “It’s just, once you get to know me, you might not like me as much. I’m not popular, I’m a nerd.” And now a freak, my mind adds. He laughs kindly.

“Oh, El.” I raise my eyebrow, his tone is humorous. Like what I said was crazy. “One day you will realize that none of those things are true.” I scowl. No one from here is this kind. They would probably agree with me and grab their Flip, ignoring my existence. Who wouldn’t ignore a girl who only likes books and lives with a robot for a mom?

“But I’m weird,” I protest.

“You’re weird?” he asks, like he wants to hear more, but he brushes it off. “Weird is the best way to be. It means you’re interesting. I mean, I’m weird.” He shifts in his seat and meets my eyes. “Plus I’m the kid who never takes his earbuds out and would rather play the piano than go surfing with my friends. Though I would go occasionally…” I just then notice the headphone sticking out of his right ear. I hadn’t noticed it because it had been facing the window. He twists the cord around his finger.

It’s kind of strange seeing headphones with a string. No one uses that type anymore. There are little headphones that you can wear as earrings, or just set on your ear anywhere and it would stay. Although you can only really listen to the news or Government officiated stuff, which I normally steer clear from. Honestly, wearing headphones with strings is an act of rebellion. Listening to music is another way to show defiance.

“You could get into trouble for those,” I say and point to his headphones. He shrugs, brushing off the danger.

“Paper books are an act of rebellion too,” he points out and I begin to nod in agreement.

It takes me a minute to run over his words and realize something is off. I never said anything about books. I narrow my eyes at him. And he pales. Noticeably. The pieces fall into place. He couldn’t have just noticed it? Did I have a bookish air? Yet, I decide to go with the impossible. The last twenty-four hours proved that anything can happen.

“Chase, how did you know I read books?”

“I… made a random guess?” He glances down at his hands, which are shaking.

“Don’t lie to me,” I growl. “What really just happened?”

“Muriel… I can’t just tell you.” I grab the front of his shirt. For the first time, I’m the one calling the shots.

“Oh. I think you can.” I tighten my hold, I can feel his heart beat thundering in his neck. His shoulders are rigid. His eyes wild. Then he releases a breath and the tension that was holding him captive.

“I-I found it in your head.” I release his shirt as quickly as I had grabbed it.

Shock comes over me. “You what?”

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