Awakening: The ALPHA Generation

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Chapter 2 - Nat

I realize that I’ve forgotten my camera ten minutes too late.

I notice its absence the minute I step onto the Nex, surrounded by people. I need it to record today’s ceremony. Anything I post will be useless without footage.

I glance over my shoulder, wondering if it would be possible to make it back to the apartment before the last Nex leaves for the Hub. Before I can manage to piece together a plan, the crowd surges forward, nearly knocking me off my feet and sweeping me deeper into the long, tube-like transport.

I nab a nearby seat, throwing my backpack on the one next to me to reserve it for Xander. Groups of people flood by like a stampede of animals. They quickly fill up the seats around me as an automated voice announces our departure over the intercom. I lean forward, searching the crowd for Xander.

Throwing my backpack into my lap, my best friend finally collapses into the seat next to me.

“Man, those people are savage,” he says, chest rising and falling with exertion. “I barely got here alive. Where’d you go, anyway? I thought I had lost you for a second.”

“Nearly drowned in a wave of passengers,” I explain, nestling my backpack at my feet. I rummage through it in a futile search for my forgotten camera. I was in such a rush this morning that I must have forgotten to grab it. I curse under my breath.

Xander blows a runaway strand of dusty brown hair out of his eyes and watches me rummage through the bag. “You forgot your camera, didn’t you, Nat?”

“No,” I huff, checking the back flap. “Well, maybe.”

Xander clicks his tongue and waves his own camera in the air. The tiny camera – made small for portability - gleams under the bright fluorescent bulbs of the Nex, teasing me. “Thank goodness one of us takes their job seriously.”

I scoff. “I would hardly call Cliking a job. More like a hobby.”

“Now you’re just quoting Darren.”

My older brother doesn’t support the idea of Cliks. He says that it’s the type of thing that leads to trouble, and doesn’t want anything to do with them. I don’t understand why; they’re just a way of communicating and sharing opinions and information.

The Nex hums as it comes to life, beginning its journey by sliding forward and away from the station. It crawls a safe distance away from the busy platform, then comes to a stop. The floor beneath my feet vibrates with the buzz of the engine. I’ve been on Nexes before, but they never fail to take my breath away. My heart jumps in my chest when the entire capsule trembles with energy, preparing to launch.

The force of its acceleration throws me to the side, knocking me into Xander, who just laughs. The Nex picks up speed, then shoots into the air. I can feel its steel tracks grind beneath the capsule’s weight as they release and hear the slick motions of the top railings slipping into their places, waiting to meet the upper cables that will continue our journey and take us speeding through the sky.

The capsule shudders as the upper cables meet, and then continues its path. Scenery flashes across the glass walls, sending images and light scattering across my vision.

Eventually the vehicle takes on a balanced pace, and the passengers begin to relax. Conversations warm the room. I look out the window at the sky that rushes by, in awe at the beauty of it.

Xander stretches his long legs out in front of him and grins. “Well, off to the Hub.”

“I wonder if it looks any different than it did last time I went.”

“And when was that?”

“About five years ago. My mom took me and Darren.” The memories of that day are cloudy, but I remember the pure awe of it all. Darren says it was the day he decided he wanted to be a Redeemer. Seeing the initiation of the trainees was the first spark to his interest.

“I haven’t gone in a good five years,” Xander is saying. “I would have last year, but we were working on that Clik story about our supposedly ‘convict neighbour’.”

I laugh at the memory. “Oh man. I’d forgotten about that. How many hits did that one get? Fifty thousand?”

“Just about. Earned us our spot on the top ten thousand.” He straightens, eyes widening. “We’re still on there, right?”

I pull my Clikbook from my backpack and lay it across my lap. The long, flat panel nestles into its usual spot. At the press of a button, millions of holographic pixels come together to form a screen. My fingers swipe through the options until I come to Clik Status. “Number eight thousand and fifteen. Not bad for a couple of teenagers.”

“Hmm,” He hums. “Today would have been the perfect opportunity for a new post. If you had remembered your camera, that is. Thank goodness I remembered mine. You should be thanking me.”

“Not gonna happen.”

I flip through the trending Clik posts. Most are just about the Renewal Ceremony. There are a few sob stories about how they were part of the recruit initiation and failed, and some who are Cliking the ceremony live from the Crux. The people at the Crux are the ones with the most hits – everyone wants a look at the pride and joy of the Remainder. Anyone living in the Midpoint will be flocking to the Redeemer home base this afternoon, desperate for a peek at what lies behind the carefully crafted walls and glass dome roof.

I turn the Clikbook off, and the screen dissipates. Pixels scatter, fading into the sunlight as they crumble into air. I gaze up through the rounded glass top of the Nex, trying to catch glimpses of the clouds that speed by. As fast as we’re going, I can hardly feel anything. The only sign of our speed is the sight of the world zipping by.

The tops of buildings and windows of skyscrapers that fly by tell me that we’ve made it to our destination; Therma, Sector 7’s capital city and hometown of the Hub. The city is big, bustling, and wide - so different from Cativy, the quiet town I live in. The buildings here are tall and lean, reaching for the sky, while the ones in Cativty are smaller, more quaint.

The Nex dips suddenly, speeding towards the ground. I grip my Clikbook to keep it from clattering across the white floor. The sky around us disappears under a layer of concrete as we dive underground. I press my face to the window and watch as we speed into the Nex station. Rippling waves of people stand on the platform, coming from their own Nexes. Families stay close together in the large crowd, children smiling widely as they follow their parents. The children’s faces glow with excitement, while the parents’ eyes are stressed and tired. They’ve come from all over Sector 7, flocking to the Sector’s Hub like sheep to a shepherd.

Unlike its launch, the Nex’s arrival is slow and soft. Passengers surge forward as soon as the doors slide open, carrying both Xander and I out of the vehicle. Xander stays with me this time, even going so far as to grab my hand to keep from getting separated again.

The chilly, salt-encrusted air slaps me the instant I step out. The sharp sting of the sea air makes my eyes burn, but I embrace it, taking in one deep, relaxing breath. Despite my Sector, I rarely see the ocean. The salty air is welcomed by my lungs.

The landing site for the Nex sits in the middle of the city. The air buzzes with excitement. An ocean of people swarms the station, most arriving from other parts of the Sector. Another Nex comes to a stop next to ours, releasing a new batch of spectators, all chattering within their groups. Excitement fills their eyes and coats their words.

Outside the buzzing station lies a bustling city. Cars dart down busy streets. Their thin wheels are subtle, almost invisible creases and features meld into one another, merging into one huge mass of color and shape. They blur into one another as they tear through lanes. From the outside, the cars are completely opaque. But the view from the inside is clear and glass-like. Just like a Nex.

I turn on my Clikbook while we walk and type a quick update to Darren. He responds within seconds, telling me that he’s at the Hub waiting with the rest of the initiates.

Are you nervous? I respond.

A bit. How many people came out to see the ceremony?

Looks like the whole Sector showed up.

Next to me, Xander holds up his camera, swinging it at arm’s length to get a good video.

“You’re going to get tired of carrying that thing,” I say. He just shakes his head, rambling about how he intends to capture every moment. I playfully roll my eyes and maneuver through the crowds while tapping out my next message to my brother.

The Nex stations are going to be flooded with people tonight. You’re driving us home, right?

Yup. I have to go now - the ceremony’s starting soon. You guys better get yourselves over here if you want good spots.

Got it.

Sector 7′s Hub is only a few blocks away, so we decide to walk there instead of taking a taxi. I stare up at the flashing lights and signs of the city streets, awed by the sheer enormity of it all. Flags hang from every building and street sign, all carrying the Redeemer symbol. I haven’t been to a Renewal Ceremony since my dad was alive. I’ve forgotten how breathtaking it is.

People of all ages and sizes swarm the streets, all perfect and spotless, the beautiful results of the Cleansings. I see one woman carrying a child with a twisted leg; too young for Cleansing, but he’ll be ready within a year or two. Then he’ll be freed of his Flaw, perfect and pure like the others. My chest warms at the thought of the suffering crippled child finally being healed. A perfect reminder of why we celebrate the Renewal.

I brush my fingers against a huge Redeemer flag hanging from a light post and once again feel a surge of gratitude towards the ones who saved humanity from extinction. I hadn’t been born when it happened, of course, but I know the story. I couldn’t be more grateful to the Redeemers.

As we near the Sector’s Hub, the scent of food thickens. The Redeemers don’t allow kiosks at the Hub, but they don’t mind the tents and stands that line the streets leading to it. Flashy souvenirs catch my eye as I walk by. The money in my pocket feels heavy, begging me to waste it before the ceremony begins. I bite my lip and press on, trying to keep my eyes averted from the endless supply of worthless trinkets.

Finally, the Hub comes into view. Light weaves its way through the layers of styled glass that make up the roof, and scatters across the sky. I can see the etchings from where I stand, swirls and shapes skillfully cut to create the Redeemer’s coat of arms. I’ve heard that you can clearly see the image from the inside. I wouldn’t know, of course; only Redeemers and the Flawed are allowed indoors. The Redeemers aren’t allowed to share footage of the inside of the Hub. Even Darren, a recruit, has taken an oath to keep the contents of the Hub a secret. The Flawed don’t get the chance to share what they see, either. They only enter to be Cleansed, and then are immediately whisked away to Dormant Communities.

A large crowd has already swarmed around the huge stage set up at the Hub’s entrance. The sleek metal of the stage easily reaches both ends of the Hub. In one year’s time, I’ll be standing up there myself. Once I graduate from the Redeemers’ training program, I’ll be more than just a spectator in the Initiation.

Thousands of voices bump into each other in the air, pouring into my ears with overwhelming noise. I drag Xander through the crowd, pushing my way through groups of people. I want to be at the front so I can see Darren.

I mumble apologies to the people I bump. Xander does the same, although his are a bit more sincere. He knocks into a dark-haired man wearing a heavy jacket, apologizing loudly and trying to steady the guy to keep him from falling. In response, the man shakes him off and scowls.

“Watch where you’re going,” he snarls.

“Sorry,” Xander repeats.

In response, the guy spits at Xander’s feet then turns a shoulder and stalks away. I pull a sputtering Xander to the front of the crowd, right below the stage.

“You’re too polite for your own good,” I tell him.

“I said I was sorry.”

“Just forget about him.” I glance over my shoulder to search for the man, but it’s impossible to see through the thick of the crowd. “Besides, who wears a winter jacket in June? Seriously.”

That, at least, earns me a smile.

A pixelated screen looms overhead. Footage of the crowd fills the screen, curtesy of the countless cameras mounted above us. I spot Xander and me on the screen and wave, watching the image of myself wave back. My red hair stands out boldly amidst the crowd, looking bright next to the calm brown of Xander’s sandy locks.

My Clikbook buzzes, drawing my attention away from the screens.

“It’s Elle,” I tell Xander after checking. “She wants to know if the ceremony’s starting soon. Also wants a picture.”

“You should have brought your camera,” Xander says in a sing-song voice. He takes a quick picture and pulls out his own Clikbook, sending the image to Elle. “There. At least she knows she can count on one of us.”

“You’re taking enough pictures for the both of us.” I stand on my toes and crane my neck to see above those in front of us. “What time is it?”

“Did you forget your watch, too?” he teases, then glances down at his Clikbook. “Ceremony should start any minute now.” A five-minute warning is announced seconds after the words leave his mouth.

The crowd has grown twice as large in the few minutes we’ve been here. Bodies rub against one another as open air dwindles. I bring my eyes to the sky, focussing on the free and open air above me. I’m not suffocating. I’m okay. I remind myself of the air in my lungs, and wind on my face. The sunlight bouncing off the shiny glass roof of the Hub. All open, all free.

Xander is too busy taking pictures and chatting with strangers to notice my unease. Probably for the better. It’s passing now, anyway. These things tend to come in little bursts, leaving just as quickly as they came. I just need to get my mind on other things.

A distraction comes moments later when the clock strikes the hour. For one moment, the world is still. The multitude of people wait in silence, eyes pinned to the stage. At first, nothing happens, but then, suddenly, the stage comes to life, and the ceremony begins.

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