Hector and his friends approach a large glass canopy protruding outward from the atomic decomposition barrier—below it a circular tunnel made of the same material cuts through the atomic decomposition field that separates the Academy grounds from the city’s one hundred and twenty meter tall wall. A large banner is displayed via the glass surface of the atomic decomposition barrier on top of the tunnel’s opening—‘SUMMER SURVIVAL CAMP ENTRANCE’, the banner reads. Below the banner a large crowd of students are assembled in front of a podium that is setup in the center of the tunnel’s entrance.
Atop the podium a middle aged man stands proudly. He can be heard from fifty feet away, where Hector and his friends stand, still far away from the main body of students waiting in front of him. “You here…” the bald middle aged man yells, “You students gathered here should be proud of yourselves, for you have been waiting here for more than twenty five minutes for your fellow… tardy… students!” He draws out the word tardy. Hector looks to each of his sides with raised eyebrows. He sees his friends’ matching faces, and they all start giggling before finishing their trip.
“Well we finally made it,” Hector says with a sigh of relief. “Hey Wei! Next time you decide to get yourself brainwashed by the Academy, and make a scene at the Hub, try doing it on day we aren’t supposed to be somewhere important the next day!”
Hector’s four friends simultaneously palm their faces and shake their heads.
Wei looks up and tells Hector, “That was really lame, next time you make a lame joke, just don’t!”
Hector grins and then waves a dismissive hand at Wei. “Shut it,” Hector says, “we’re here.”
The five students join their fellow schoolmates, behind the massive mob. They look forward to the podium, as the middle aged man continues talking, his voice louder now, than from where they were initially. “…those same students that probably failed the previous year.” The man on the podium continues his speech. He looks around at the eager young people in the crowd, then at a similarly middle aged woman on the ground beside the podium. The woman shifts her left forearm in front of her in a levelled position, her inner wrist facing her. A metallic armband on her left wrist is attached to a protruding thin glass sheet that covers the entirety of her forearm. She presses a series of buttons on the glass surface, and a completed progress bar reads '%100'. She promptly nods at the man on the podium, and the man slightly nods back.
“Now then,” the man says, “can you all please gather in your specified groups for the week, and line up at the side of the podium.” The man points open handed toward the woman he nodded at. After several minutes of students shuffling around, and occasionally some shouting, a line of groups of five students are formed in front of the woman. Hector’s group of five, which includes his four friends—Nani, Lennon, Wei, and Paige—are third in line. The woman scans the armbands of the two sets of five students in front of Hector’s group, and motions Hector and his friends to approach her after the group in front of them had wandered into the glass tunnel behind the podium.
The woman sternly says, “Get in a single file, and hold out your arm bands please.”
Hector’s group quickly comply, and the woman holds out her own armband, the glass surface still stretched out over her forearm.
“As you walk pass me, hold out your left wrist under the glass surface of my Personal External Communicator, and then head to the end of the tunnel behind the podium.” The woman points into the tunnel and the motions for them to initiate her instructions.
Hector at the front quickly swipes his left wrist under the glass surface of her armband or her PEC–her Personal External Communicator. Three of his friends quickly do the same; Nani, Wei, and Paige in that order, while Lennon amblingly follows along, slowly swiping his PEC under the woman’s PEC’s glass surface without thinking, keeping his entranced gaze toward Paige.
Hector’s group meander along the tunnel. Hector touches the glass walls that separate them from the atomic decomposition field on the other side. Nani lags behind Hector, similarly touching the glass walls, tracing her fingers along the same path he does. Lennon locks arms with Paige, courting his new obsession down the path of the tunnel, meanwhile Paige humbly accepts the abundant attention afforded her, but shyly keeps her gaze toward the ground, unaccustomed to this state of being. In one of her attempts to move her mind away from Lennon’s pleas of attention, she notices the ground, which she is keeping a heavy gaze on, is coated with a synthetic material not unlike the material the Academy’s Main Street is made of, and nothing like the dirt on the other side of the tunnel’s glass walls. Wei keeps quiet, following along the center of the path, keeping both his hands tucked at the back of his head that is tilted upwards toward the ceiling—maintaining an eyesight connected to the top of the one hundred and twenty meter tall wall in front of them. They approach the end of the tunnel where the two other groups ahead of them have been waiting.
“Wei…” A soft female voice says, originating from inside one of the groups.
Hector and the others group members look to Wei, and he shrugs. “Maybe a fan?” He asks, the question lingering in the air.
A female with a petite body emerges from the group closer to them.
“Wei!” the petite female says again. “Why didn’t you tell me about your race yesterday? I would have been there right along you and—and…” her voice trails off, inviting Wei to enlighten her.
“Oh, hi… uh….” Wei’s voice matches the small female’s previous uninformed statement.
“Wait… Wei! You remember me right? I’m Étaín! How can you forget me!? We practically grew up in the same martial arts school together! Your dad taught me for Stars’ sake!” The female’s face reddens, and her group mates need to physically hold her back from getting at Wei.
Meanwhile Wei stands there unmindful to this female’s actions, instead he tilts his head and touches his chin with his index finger. He ponders the small female’s statements. He knew the female in question, but he has no idea from where. The female interrupts his train of thought, “Hey! Wei! Don’t ignore me, not again!”
The small muscular man takes his shirt off, and puts it on his shoulder, and then he resumes his thinking posture. The small female’s furiously furls her eyebrows and angrily scrunches her nose—she jerks one arm away from her group mates, and they have to reinforce their hold on her. She screams, “Wei! You know who I am, don’t act so dumbfounded!” She relaxes in defeat and regains her composure. “You always know how to push my buttons…” the small female says in defeat and sighs.
Wei turns to her with a wry smirk and says, “Come on Étty, you’re so angry all the time. Come here and give your bro a hug.”
Étaín grimaces, and replies, “You’re not my bro.” She lingers on the last word. “We’re just classmates in your dad’s martial arts center.”
Wei frowns sarcastically, and says, “Oh Étty… I’m hurt, will you please just come here and give me a hug already? I’m getting cold.”
“Then put your shirt back on you damn pervert!” Étaín says with contempt.
Wei grins, but complies.
“Like I was saying from the start, I would have been there yesterday when you and—hey what’s your name?” Étaín points at Hector.
“My name is Hector, Hector Steadfast,” Hector replies.
“When you and Hector had your race! Why didn’t you let me in on it?”
“Hey lady,” Hector interrupts, “that race was between me and Wei.”
Wei astonishingly looks over at Hector.
“That race was to determine if I am going to fight Wei in a martial arts match. That was my race. If you’d have shown up, and participated—which quite frankly you probably would have, judging by your display you’ve just shown us—and you’d have won, we would have had to redo the race!”
Étaín ponders over his words, until she says, “Well, if I participated, that would not have mattered much in determining whether you beat Wei in the race or not, would it? I mean, did the rules include being able to restrict the other contestant? I would think not. So, if I’d have participated, then you could still have your cutesy little martial arts match with Wei, and I would have been able to beat Wei in yet another contest! Hahaha…” She trails off in a storm of laughter.
Hector looks her over, and ponders her own words in return, ‘Ah, she’s right. We still would have known who was better…’
After some thought, Hector says, “Oh well! You weren’t there, so no need to worry over spilled milk… That’s how the saying goes right?” Hector flippantly responds, as he walks over to the one hundred and twenty meter wall.
Wei grins. “Well, that’s Hector,” he says, “Are you glad you’ve met him, Étaín?”
“I have no words for that man.”
Wei continues grinning as he says, “Well that’s nice. Now what were you saying about beating me in another contest…” Their voices trail off into incoherent arguing.
Meanwhile Lennon and Paige are backed away from the other groups, going back and forth between Lennon’s advances and Paige’s awkward responses. Nani seems amused at Wei’s heated conversation with Étaín, but she sees Hector off to the side by the wall. She joins him, approaching him from the side, so as not to startle him.
“Hi Hector. What are you doing off to the side alone?” Nani asks in a concerned tone.
Hector turns to her and smiles. “Hi Nani,” Hector greets her and blushes. He quickly turns away and says, “I was just checking the wall. It’s massive.” He looks up, and views the length of the wall from inside the glass tunnel.
Nani mimics him and takes in the view.
“Isn’t it magnificent?” Hector asks.
Nani turns back to her side to face him. She feels a strong admiration emanating from his aura. She breathes in and then looks back up the wall. “It is. It has to be one of the greatest accomplishments in human civilization.” Nani states.
“Greatest accomplishments? Why do you say so?” Hector curiously asks.
“Well, if these walls never went up, then the Free Citizens would have free reign on the technology of our Eco-Cities…”
Hector turns to her, and she mimics him. Their eyes meet, and Hector blushes against his will. He withstands his desire to pull away, and continues staring into her green eyes. He beams, and she curiously looks upon him.
“You okay Hector?” Nani asks.
“I’m alright, I just couldn’t help smiling for some reason. I just looked into your green eyes, and… I don’t know… Something in me just wanted to smile…” A long pause fills the air, their stare at a standstill. “Anyway,” Hector continues saying, “why do you say ‘the Free Citizens’? Why do you say our Eco-Cities?” His face regains a normal complexion, his eyebrows twitch but for a moment.
“I don’t understand your question Hector. The people of the Free Cities of Terra are… well Free Citizens… That’s what you call them.” Nani replies, confusion starting to set in. Hector notices her eye lids widen for an instant.
“I know that’s what you call them,” Hector starts his reply, “but it just feels wrong to me.”
“Stars Hector, it’s just a name. I mean it’s an insult, but it’s just a name.”
“No, no, no. I didn’t mean it felt wrong because it’s an insult. Well, I guess it does feel wrong that we use it as an insult…” Silence fills the air between them.
For a moment, yelling could be heard from Wei’s and Étaín’s arguing, but Hector’s and Nani’s stare—and the silence between Hector’s words—quickly drown it out.
“But what I meant was that it felt wrong that we…” Hector continues, “That we separate us and them. That we are divided.” Hector puts a hand to the wall, “That we put up this wall to further divide us… We live in this Eco-City carefree. We have anything we could possibly need and more. We treat food and water like an abundant resource. Those farms out there,” Hector says pointing at the wall of the glass tunnel, toward the farmlands dubbed No Man’s Land, “you think they can produce enough food for the millions of people in our Eco-City? I don’t. Where do we get the food to eat?”
“—Hector!” Nani interrupts, “We get the food from mass producing it in large factories entrenched underground below those farmlands. The vegetables grown on those farmlands are nothing more than emergency stock—or at least that’s my opinion of the natural farmlands. If you were going to imply that we are somehow enslaving the Free Cities to produce food for us, you are sorely wrong.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve researched those farmlands, and asked that same question years ago… I think I was ten at the time...”
Hector grits his teeth, “Alright, alright.” Hector concedes. “But that only strengthens my original point. If we have the tech to mass produce food like that, why can’t we share it with the Free Citizens? I know it’s a moot question, given their nature, but I have been wondering about why they are the way they are. Why they insist on furthering the divide. Why the UTG can’t help raise their standards of living. Why the HIPER can’t let them go into space. If the children of the Free Cities had the same opportunities as we do, then I’m sure that the Free Cities would stop fighting one another.”
“Hector, it is unfortunate for those children that are born a Free Citizen. I truly feel bad for their situation, but we can’t dwell on what’s wrong with the UTG’s relationship with the Free Cities, nor can we dwell on the HIPER’s relationship with the Free Cities either. We have to focus on our own futures, before we start worrying about others’.”
Hector blankly stares at her and thinks, ‘she doesn’t get it. She won’t get it. I can’t explain it. She’s seeing one side of this. She can’t see what I’m seeing. But what am I seeing? I mean, I was raised in this same city. So what is it I’m seeing that she isn’t? Why am I feeling this way anyway?’
“I guess your right Nani,” Hector replies, blatantly disregarding her last statement, “I guess the Free Citizens are who they are, and we are who we are.”
“Hector… don’t you understand? We must—“
“I get it alright. We have to do what we must. We can’t worry on the Free Cities. They’re irrelevant in our future, right?”
Nani winces, “No Hector, I was just saying—“
“It’s alright, I get it. You don’t have to explain any further,” Hector interrupts once more.
“Hector Steadfast! Will you listen to me!?” Nani raises her voice.
“NO! No I won’t, because I’m done listening to you!”
“What!? What?” Nani pauses as Hector is the first to break away from their stare. “What did I say?” Why are you angry at me?”
“I’m not angry… I get what you’re saying. Now can we please just forget I even said anything?”
Nani winces once more and concedes to Hector’s request.
Hector looks up to the top of the wall once more, then quietly walks away, leaving Nani alone.