Chapter 1: The Drill
DECEMBER 31, 2070
ALANA, SIX YEARS OF age, watched the empty Long Island street below from her screened tenth-floor apartment window. It seemed as if time itself had taken a hiatus that morning as her family waited for their instructions on what to do for the rest of the day.
Although Alana was born a redhead with gorgeous brown eyes, the Bureau of Family Affairs determined she would be a good candidate for an augment. All her parents needed to do was earn enough points through extended Hover Droning. Each hour was sixty points––the cost of an augment was three thousand points––Alana couldn’t do the math, but she figured it meant forever and a day she wouldn’t be able to talk to momma or papa. As if their four mandatory hours a day wasn’t enough; that was a deal breaker.
Alana didn’t like the idea of augmentation at all. She loved her brown eyes and found green eyes to be alien, monster-like even, as the lizard things on Sci-Fi films that papa watched late at night. Most of the children on her block had augmentations, although they didn’t call it that; the term was rightsizing or retrofitting to become more acceptable in the zone she’d been born.
Alana cherished her thick red hair the most. No other child in her class had hair like hers. She loved the way her hair refused to be tamed by a comb after a cold shower. She loved how it reached for the floor after momma conditioned it. Momma always used a rare conditioner she had to Drone extra hours for to purchase since Alana had uncommon––what the kids called Africanized hair––but it was more European than anything else.
Alana liked how curly it became even when momma put it through a hot iron. She enjoyed shaking her hair in front of the jealous girls in her class who’d mock her as an outcast. On the inside she saw herself as a unicorn; an extraordinary thing, a relic to be cherished –– all this at six years old.
“Are we close yet?” she asked momma, who didn’t reply. Momma was busy at the other end of the house near the kitchen waiting for her own commands to start the family’s next meal.
Alana tapped her feet nonstop against the air conditioner, kicking up bits of dust which flew up against the window pane, refusing the pull of gravity, just as she’d refused to lift her face against the window. Alana was anticipating the people who’d be ordered to go to work soon.
When they’d all walk out, at the same time, wearing the same monochromatic uniform which would look like a poorly scripted ballet to Alana who’d envision herself as a Goddess playing with strings while they were her puppets. But her thoughts veered back to the day –– Wednesday––the day of the week she detested the most and the one even grownups seemed tired with.
If this is how all Wednesdays are then why don’t people just skip them, she giggled, but that means we would have to go to school on Saturdays and that’s no fun either. Saturday’s game night.
All directives were beamed through each person’s Hover Drone, a black sphere that floated thirteen inches over their heads. Alana’s drone followed her everywhere she went unless she boarded a train. Then it would collapse into her backpack.
The next directive would be on what to wear. It would be color instructions. They knew it would be the color black, anything in black, but they dared not assume. They’d already been told what to eat for breakfast, at what exact time to start munching and when to finish. The PPO micromanaged all things in their lives to exhaustion, and it didn’t matter how small the event was––a birthday, change of apartment, a legal argument, even a wedding, birth or funeral.
Their next decree would come from their local Patriot Patrol Office, as did the first. The PPO was her city and county government until the reorganizing of the Thirty-Nine had solidified. Alana didn’t understand why they controlled both governments. She didn’t care much about the governing of her nation, or her city either, only about leaving off to school for the day and meeting up with her prearranged friends.
“Momma,” she cried out of boredom. Something didn’t quite feel right about today. It was like a sixth sense Alana felt down in her gut. Momma felt it too, but she was too dependent on the machine to give a damn, and ignored her daughter’s cries, waiting to be told what to do next.
Alana’s mother had been staring at the fridge for a while now. The refrigerator seemed to beckon her to open it just that one time in defiance of the law. Her mother’s Hover Drone blinked bright red with nothing yet to report.
“Come on baby,” she salivated expectant as a dog to a bell. Beads of sweat pooled at the side of her neck. Any second now it would tell her what to do; this was a promise. Inside her body; her gut lined into position. Her heart synced, and her pupils dilated; everything came into crystal clarity in the room as she was about to get her next dose of directives, which, over the decades, had become akin to a dose of opiates for an addict.
In all the years they’d lived in the apartment, momma had never waited impatiently for commands. She looked flustered. There was nothing unusual about that day. Another day of the week. Another school day. Wednesday was the most boring day of the week for Alana.
The directives came beamed through her Hover Drone, a black sphere from where all decent citizens received their commands. Alana’s floated thirteen inches over her head and followed her everywhere she went. When she boarded a train, it would collapse and enter her backpack. Every trivial event in her family, as well as their public lives, had to be in sync with their community. Any error, no matter how small, amounted to a social catastrophe––what papa had called civic hazards.
Even when Alana’s family synced with Olympian perfection, there had still been double, triple, quadruple checks, to make sure they were the same as everybody else in every minuscule detail. This sort of mundane backtracking went down to how they laced their shoes and how they brushed their teeth. It drove her out of her mind at times.
Once a single mistake exists, it could cause havoc of unknown proportions. Parents would drop to the ground and cry like children should a civic hazard befall them. Not adultlike at all, Alana laughed, to herself.
“It’s about to come through,” her mother called still in her white pajamas from the night before. Alana’s mother was about forty years of age, tall, green-eyed, black hair that swung nonchalant, in complete opposite to her agitated mood. As she paced back and forth from side to side in front of the fridge, her thin build was betrayed by her curvy bottom, nestled under the loose pants she wore. With morning bags under her eyes, she hunched like an old lady and pouted.
Alana felt as though she was in a herd of cattle. She wanted to free herself from the bunch, but she knew that expressing her spirit meant facing The Drowning.
You know you don’t want to go through that thing, whatever it is. They did it to grandpa, and when he came back, he was not the same grandpa ever again. I just wonder what those wicked men did to him in the woods? He never talked to us about it. Maybe they told him not to tell…was it a secret like with hide and go seek? He could have said something before he died. Nobody would have hurt him cause he was a dying old man, right?
She told herself that when she grew up, she’d break free somehow. Being free meant being an adult, like papa who voiced his concerns for the way the government handled certain things from time to time. Or like one of the R.A.T.S. who was on the run. Those folks seemed to be free-spirited enough. Well, until evil men who’re believed to work for the government in secret, the Nay Slayers they were called on the dark web, found them. As for Alana, she had watched papa suffer too much. She was determined not to live a life like her parents in the future. She had to be free of the unabated idiocy, someway, somehow, someday.
It was about to come in, all their daily instructions for the next hour and anticipation filled the air in the kitchen as momma bounced like a child about to get a piece of candy.
Then, as Alana and her family awaited their daily orders, which always came booming in at precisely 0800 hours without fail, something different happened. A Live Wire Tap.