When it’s my turn to choose my Squadron, I have no hesitation picking Defense. Despite my efforts to look calm and reserved, I can’t hide my smile when the Redeemer behind the desk welcomes me into the next phase of training.
“You can report to the Defense wing next Monday morning at six thirty to begin.” He hands me a few papers with Certification of Enlistment stamped at the top, followed by text that gives me more details on the requirements and expectations.
I thank him and leave, making my way down wide halls until I reach the main lobby again. I carefully put the papers into my bag, pull out my Clikbook, and send a message on our group chat, telling Xander and Elle that I’m done and asking about our meet time. Elle responds within seconds, followed by Xander, who complains about me waking him up so early.
I glance down at my watch.
It’s almost eight.
You mean you’re still sleeping? This comes from Elle.
You mean you’re already awake?
I laugh softly and ask them for a meeting time. We agree on getting together at Elle’s house in half an hour, much to Xander’s dismay.
I slip the Clikbook back into my bag and start walking. Elle only lives a few blocks from the Redeemer Centre, so I take my time, looking at the sky and examining passing people.
Elle’s house is small and homey, with a humble garden out front, courtesy of her mother’s hard work. The woman stands on the porch now, watering the hanging flower baskets. She gives me a warm smile when she sees me.
“Hi Mrs. Dalal,” I greet her.
“Hello Nat.” She places the watering can on the porch and pushes a strand of dark black hair away from her face.
“Is Elle home?” I ask, although I already know the answer.
“Ellen is in her room. You’re welcome to go up and see her.”
“Thanks.” I let myself in. The house is familiar to me from days spent here, trying to escape my own home and the troubles that lied there. Here it was always warm and happy, safe from the shadows that lurked in my own home. When my parents weren’t there for me, Elle’s were. When the silence of my home was too heavy, the Dalals lightened it with laughter. This is like my second home, and the Dalals my second family.
I go up the stairs and head for Elle’s room. My friend sits at a desk in the corner of her room, tapping away at her network base. The screen floats at eye-level, showing strings of codes and images. Elle’s graceful fingers fly across the desk, tapping against projected keys.
She startles and glares at me over her shoulder. “There’s this thing called knocking, Nat.”
“Sorry.” I rap my knuckles against the wood of her door. “Better?”
She rolls her eyes, but a smile is forming on her lips.
Elle’s the spitting image of her mother. They share the same almond-shaped eyes and long, silky dark hair. Their skin is the only difference; Elle’s is like caramel, while her mother’s is rich and dark, like coffee.
“What’re you working on?” I lean over her shoulder to look, but am quickly lost in the waves of numbers. “Is this that thing you were telling me about last night?”
“Oh, no, this has nothing to do with that.” She stops typing and swipes across the board, changing the view. “I’m coding a new system that will alter my techwave usage. It’ll minimize them into microwaves instead. This system will use pairs of numbers lined in a certain order to modify the way the waves travel.”
I blink. “Right.”
She turns to me, her eyes lit with excitement. “You see, once I do this, I’ll have a much faster connection that will dominate the previous-“
I hold up a hand and stop her mid-rant. “Elle, you’re losing me.”
She spins in her chair to face the screen. “It all makes sense if you think about it.”
“Which I don’t,” I point out, flopping onto her bed. “What did you think of the Renewal Ceremony?”
She shrugs. “It was interesting.”
“That’s it? Interesting?”
“Well, I thought the speech was breathtaking. And the technical side to it was amazing.” She stretches, the bones in her back crackling. “Did you get your mark?”
I wave my wrist in the air. She leans over and takes it in her hands, examining the black lines across my skin. “Pretty cool. Did it hurt?”
I pause. “A bit, I guess.”
“How did the machine look?” She gasps. “Did it use a laser imprint? No, wait, a micro-needle! It was a micro-needle, wasn’t it?”
“Whoa, calm down.” I laugh. “It might have been.”
“You should pay more attention to those things.”
“Well, I’m not a tech-nerd, so...”
She swivels around in her chair while rubbing her own wrist. The seat squeaks with every turn.
“Two years,” she says softly. “I’ll join in two years, when I turn eighteen.”
“They’d accept you sooner if they knew what was good for them.” I finger the soft sheets of her bed. “The Tech Squadron needs you.”
“Oh, I think they can wait.” She tugs at the single black braid flipped over her shoulder. “I’m not a prodigy or anything.”
I’m about to respond, when a shrill squeal comes from down the hall, followed by the light pattering of feet. I grin, knowing what’s about to bound through the door.
“Davey!” I exclaim as the toddler runs into the room on chubby legs, cheering my name between bursts of giggles. I laugh and pat his head. “And how are you today?”
“Good!” He climbs up next to me and takes my wrist in his chubby hands, eyeing my marking. “What’s that?”
“It’s my mark.”
“A Redeemer mark,” Elle explains from her desk.
“Ooh.” He reaches out to touch it.
“Davy!” Elle’s mother calls from down the hall. She appears a moment later, shaking her head to herself. “Come on, honey. Let’s leave the girls alone, hmm?” She comes over and gently takes his hand.
He waves me goodbye, and then follows his mother out.
I lean back on my palms and smile. “Your brother’s so cute!”
A grin spreads across Elle’s face. “I could say the same about yours,” she mumbles, then ducks to avoid the pillow I throw at her head.
“Calm down, Nat, before you break something,” Xander says as he walks into the room, kicking off his shoes and sitting on the floor.
Elle looks at the door in confusion. “When did you get here?”
“Just now.” He clasps his hands in his lap dramatically. “Now, are we going to talk Cliks?”
“I think I have something bigger to discuss.” Elle expands the screen of her network base. “So yesterday after the ceremony ended, I was exploring the techwave regions.”
“Like any normal person does on a Sunday afternoon,” Xander says.
Elle gives him an exasperated glare and continues. “I was just flipping through them, trying to find an easier way to reduce the waves of my Clikbook. There are millions of them. It’s interesting to see exactly how many regions there are. It gives you an idea of how many device groups are in the Remainder.”
“Isn’t the techwave database secured by the Redeemers?“ I ask. “I didn’t think you could enter it.”
“Normally, no, but a bit of trial and error can get you anywhere.”
Xander’s eyes widen. “You hacked into a Redeemer network?”
“No! I wouldn’t do that. I just entered through a loophole in the system. It’s been done before.”
“Who else would do that?”
She sighs loudly. “Someone with tech knowledge. Any more comments, or can I get on with my story?”
Xander raises his hands in surrender.
“Thank you. As I was saying, each Sector has a techwave database, that’s divided into billions of sections, organized by device. It’s amazing, really.”
Techwaves are yet another Redeemer creation. After the Renewal, they replaced any pre-Bloodletting technology with techwave regions, individual networks packed away in a giant database. Every piece of tech was connected by techwaves. It was cleaner, healthier, and altogether easier than anything we had before.
“All of the regions seemed to be secured and checked,” Elle goes on. “But when I got into the Midpoint’s database...” She takes in a sharp breath. “I found something. An unchecked region, completely unaccounted for.”
Xander’s comments have stopped, and the room has fallen into dead silence. I can hear my own heartbeat drumming in my ears.
“You mean...” I can hardly get the words out. “You mean the Redeemers don’t know about it?”
“Holy....” Xander’s voice trails off. “That’s... that’s illegal. And dangerous. Who knows what’s in there?”
“It gets worse,” Elle says. “I tried to hack into it, but it was impossible. The security was unimaginable. I’ve never seen anything like it. I tried for hours, but couldn’t make a dent.”
“That means...” Xander glances over at me.
“Someone’s hiding something,” I finish.