One quaint night found Jamie Stokes staring at the sun. He closed his eyes here and there while the blot still lingered upon his retinas, and he tried to think of it as the moon against a darkened sky. He knew not why he imagined thus. It could not have been due to a sense of longing, but for whatever reason, he would, from time to time, find himself possessed of a strange desire to escape.
Perhaps he was merely curious about the contrasts. Of night and of day. Of moon and of sunrise. Of the calm before an unregulated storm. Of the warmth of a cozy fire during the harshest of winters. Such things one could only read about these days. Yet never could one understand them, as that which is radiant is wont to lose its luster in absence of the umbral.
With a shake of his head, his senses he'd regain before pressing a button to close the metallic shutters outside his window. He yawned and turned to face his chamber. The blandest of things was that chamber--as bland as any other. Naked walls of white surrounded him. He could never escape exposure to something naked, be it a grayscale structure of some metal or other, a walkway of plastic, a human body or one of those merciless rays from that omnipresent bastard in the sky.
He checked the clock on his forearm implant. Twenty-two hours and forty-seven minutes, it read. Forty-seven minutes past his bedtime was he. He had spent too much time studying and entirely too much time imagining. Young Jamie would probably receive a scourging from his mother in the morning for being up so late. That which he received two weeks prior still stung when he sat down. Another round at this stage would certainly affect his performance on the Final Transitional Examination the following day. Perhaps, he thought, she might be generous this time in wanting to see him pass. In any event, it was best to get to sleep without pondering it any further, lest he reduce any more his chances of averting pain.
He approached his block of a nightstand and hovered his hand beneath the mouth of the narcotic delivery tube. An opalescent softgel dropped onto his hand. Jamie swallowed it without sipping water and fell backward into his stasis chamber. It felt, as it always would, like he was adrift in space. He gradually sunk into its enveloping gasses while gazing up toward the luminescent ceiling. It was as stubbornly bright as ever, never so much as dimming. Ceilings rarely needed to dim these days, since difficulty sleeping was a relic of the Pre-Interstellar ages. The fifteen-year-old Jamie had exactly a minute from the second he swallowed the pill before he'd fall into a deep, dreamless sleep. The thoughts he had before that certain moment always happened to be the most complex of the day. And this would always frustrate him to no end, since he'd often forget them come morning. Tonight, he could not help but think of his studies into Aegean plasmosis, the chemical process through which unstable aegisite is turned into fuel for levitating vehicles. Having inherited an ambitious will, he avowed years ago that he would pursue a career in its manufacture. Those ambitions, however, were for the longest time blind to his aptitude. Now, late on the eve of his moment of truth, he did not anticipate passing the exam, and failure meant his liquidation.
Come 0600 hours, his forearm implant discharged a minor shock wave throughout his body to rouse him from his suspended slumber. The gasses of the chamber played their part, as they always would, by ensuring his muscles would not tighten overnight. 'Morning' on Leto-672 was, for an impulsive sixteen-year-old Jamie, a matter of routine: get a quick shower, inject your stimulants, down your vitaloaf, whisk your teeth clean and bolt out the door to avoid a scourging from your custodians. This day was no different in that regard, until his mother managed to catch him on the way out the capsule door.
"You're lucky that my back still aches from last time, and that Jon was licked, or there would be nothing left of your ass. Maybe that pill wouldn't be necessary, either. Now go fail already, you waste of an egg."
Thankful to be out with a pale backside, he descended the capsule elevator and made his way down the street in the direction of the Transitional Academy, where elementary students were transitioned into career 'prospectives' and batched according to each student's innate aptitude and specialization. Those that did not place above the fiftieth percentile on their Final Transitional Exams were batched into the 'feeble' cohort, where they would be re-batched as either 'invalid' to be liquidated or 'serviceable' to be distributed into servitude, depending on their individual viability for servitude (to which Jamie, of course, had already placed in the fifty-second percentile, and was therefore found wanting).
Jamie preferred to walk to the academy, as the school bus was always too riddled with rank smells, clamor and fits of violence for his liking. The humming and droning about of LeviTrucks and LeviBuses overhead were a preferable annoyance. His mother had no personal vehicle, as those were long ago outlawed for the underclass. Only bureaucrats, corporate executives and public figures were permitted to own personal LeviCars, and that class chartered the uppermost sector of the city. LeviBikes, meanwhile, zipped about along their own plane just a couple meters above the heads of pedestrians. Jamie was never fond of using those, as people on the ground were sometimes fond of throwing things at them, which could mean a painful crash.
Dionys was small for a Letoan metropolis, but it was no less imposing from the ground sector than any other. Amalgams of folded aluminum, plastic and glass formed its edifices which either stacked or snaked toward the sky. Appareled were they all by columns of solar panels so as to put to good use the tireless sun. And far up high in the urban canopy were large suspended blocks of white, the purpose for which no lower sector resident seemed to know, but they cast upon the ground below them inert shadows, forming large zones so frigid that few could bear walking through them. The occasional brown octopus tree and row of purple star-thorn bushes were the only sources of vegetation to be found in the lower reaches, since the planet's coarse, poorly hydrated soil was incapable of harboring many plant species. But many a nude apparition would he pass by: beer bellies and flabby hips aplenty.
His focus, however, would be on his studies--for a moment, anyway. He held the tablet to his face and shuffled through the subject material on his outline in case he had forgot the smallest detail. If he were to fail, it would be because his outline was insufficient, and yet always had outlining been his greatest shortcoming. Even so, he again found himself imagining. What would life be like for him if he passed? Would it be like what his father, a macro-robotics engineer, once told him his own profession was like?
"Jamie, I build the machines that build the machines that build the machines. I labor each day for twelve hours, only for the ultimate product of my labors to be completely foreign to me. A man grows tired of scraping the bottom of the barrel for his purpose, and every once in a while he finds himself reaching in places he shouldn't."
What a queer thing this was for the law abiding Jon Stokes to say to his son. And yet, it was but one of many queer things he had said. It was unfortunate that he was liquidated a month ago, or he may have helped young Jamie avoid a similar fate. Was it possible that the Anti-Sedition Union deemed him a terrorist? 'Reaching in places he shouldn't.' Is this, Jamie wondered, what he himself was doing by imagining so much? And why now, of all times, would he imagine so often?
"Hey-ya, Jamie!" A familiar voice approached him from behind.
"Hey, Sabrina. Lookin' sexy as ever, I see."
"Shut the fuck up, baby dick. So, think you'll pass today?"
"Doubt it. I feel like I grasp the material well enough, but I think at least half the class gets it more than I do. We'll see, but I kinda think I'm 'bout-a get licked pretty soon."
"Pft. You're lucky, you know. At least you won't have to suck off some whale of a bureaucrat for a few years before you get licked."
"Hey, at least you weren't chosen when you were ten like Sarah and Vincent were. I still don't get that, really. I thought you of all people would be."
"Here we go again. Wait, what's going on over there?"
Sabrina tapped Jamie's shoulder and directed his attention to an apartment complex on the other side of the lower road. The apartments in Dionys were large, pill-shaped pods stacked on top of one another and which usually divided into four sections: a main bedchamber, a secondary bedchamber, a joint bathroom and a living space. All but the elites lived this way. Each pod was connected to a capsular, anti-gravity elevator shaft which levitated residents to the ground level. The complexes consisted of rows of those pods crossed by columns of those shafts. It was just outside one of those elevator shafts that Jamie beheld his classmate, Weston, being pinned against the elevator wall and beaten over the head with a blackjack.
"Leave the sink running, will ya? You little shit stain. That water's worth more than the seed that you're made from!" The whale of a man was impossible for the slender Weston to get away from, and with a pair of merciless swings, he struck him on the eye and again on the temple. "I told you last time two years ago that if you did that again, I'd kill you. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't."
Weston nearly fainted, clearly concussed. The whale hurled a left hook onto his nose. Jamie could hear it crack from across the road. Many pedestrians turned their heads to watch, but kept walking. A few stood by to cheer the man on.
"Wasting water?" said one. "That'll get ya licked! Better lick him before it comes to that!"
"There ya go! Kill that contemptible nerd!" said another while he slobbered all over himself.
"He's not even fit for servitude," said an arrogant, female-presenting hag. "I can't stand looking at him. If you don't kill him, I'll kill him, and then I'll kill you for spawning him!"
"Well? If you don't say nothin', I'll give em what they want!"
Suddenly, as Weston readied himself to talk, struck square in the mouth was he by a savage swing of the blackjack, knocking four front teeth clean out and onto the hot, processed walkway, onto which blood from his face also fell like rain. If it wasn't for his father's unnatural tumor of a stomach pinning him, he surely would have collapsed at that point. Even so, he managed to spit blood into his father's face. The man just laughed.
"Tell ya what, if you can recite the Pledge of Expiation three dozen times, I'll stop."
He then threw Weston against the silicon curbing. The blows he took to the nose and mouth left him in a state of shock, unable to speak. One by one would the naked people pass by and look for at least a moment, their expressions either indifferent or enthused. Every now and then, a cheer emerged from the crowd. A gray-uniformed Social Ordinance Officer began to slowly approach the scene from the stream of plodders. The ruthless father then began kicking his son in the rib cage again and again, each with more malice than the last.
"What's the matter?" asked a strange looking bystander. "Too good for reparation, are ya boy?"
"The hell he is," said the father. "Pledge, I said!"
A kick to the sternum caused Weston to grab at his midsection, an act which invited a kick to the face with the heel of his father's bare foot. The S.O.O., a two-hundred-centimeter tall hulk of a man, shoved onlookers aside as he barged through the crowd.
"What's the problem here?" asked the officer.
"Officer!" said the father. "This degenerate waste of a sperm was wasting water! He must'a left the kitchen faucet on for a whole ten seconds after he was done with it. You'll surely see it on the reports, too. But I had nothing to do with it! I even took it upon myself to get a pledge out of him. And I have witnesses here who will back me up on that."
The officer pressed several buttons on his forearm implant, projecting a document or a webpage of some sort. "0627 hours. Excess of 0.7 liters reported on faucet use at Pod Number 13-729. Third such violation reported at Pod Number 13-729. Mandatory liquidation of offender is warranted. Accept no pledges. So saith the Liberator."
"It was him! All three times, it was him! Officer, surely you have it on record."
"So it is." The officer faced the boy, who by now was little more than a bloody, twitching mass of carbon on the curb. "Resident. Extend a defense, and we shall investigate further. By my privilege as Their Arm, you are now under oath before the Universal Liberator of Humanity. Speak now or receive Their Mercy."
The young man, of course, could not manage to speak in his condition. It was not clear to Jamie from his vantage point whether Weston was still conscious or still alive. Several seconds passed with no coherent response.
"Very well." The officer pulled from a sheath on his belt a large and thick syringe. He knelt before the boy. "By my privilege as Their Hand, I pledge that your carbon shall be recycled and shall serve the public utility. From the Universe are we born, and to the Universe shall we return on death. So is it that all humans are Universal. Citizen of humanity, be liberated from your selfish vices."
Suddenly, the boy was roused from his state of shock. Though blood doubtless obscured his vision, the officer's speech revealed to him his fate. He squirmed and wailed, as if beset by some unseen affliction, but he was too weak at this point to flee or resist. Why, thought Jamie, would he ever react in such a way? There was no logic in it. Weston must have been a terrorist. There was no other reason for the fit he was producing. And yet, he'd heard stories of this happening to licked individuals before. Surely they mustn't all have been terrorists? Come to think of it, the man also exhibited a strange excitement once or twice during the encounter.
Then, with a face like a vacuous blanket of carbon, the officer plunged the syringe into the boy's neck. The boy's screams rapidly degenerated into whimpers as the sedative took effect within seconds. Another second or two later, and his limbs and head plopped hard onto the ground. After another few seconds passed, the officer rose with his burly legs and nodded in the direction of the bloated brute.
"Thank you for your cooperation. While your performance as a custodian leaves much to be desired, you are a model citizen of humanity regardless."
The brute conjured a serpentine smile and nodded in return as the small crowd applauded. On the curb, there formed an opaque pool of Weston's blood, which almost seemed to sizzle as the tyrannical star above cast its torrid gaze upon the scene without so much as a wince of remorse.
The officer pressed another button on his implant and raised it near his face. "Officer B-381 to Union dispatch. A decomp interceptor is required in front of pod complex 13."
"Well, looks like we won't be seeing any more of that dork Weston," said Sabrina. "Wish it had happened to Petra instead, to tell the truth. The bitch keeps getting in my business. Weston never gave me any trouble. Oh well. We need to get going, Jamie. If we're not five minutes early, we'll end up like him."
"Yeah. You're right."
The two continued along their usual, mundane route to the school. Jamie, however, could not shake the image of Weston's final moment from his brain. Would he produce such a hysterical fit should he prove wanting today? Nay, thought he. He'd never felt such a thing before, and yet, many a thing had he felt lately that he never felt before. His school had always taught him that all humans serve an equal purpose in the end: to be turned into building material, medicines or food for their food. Ever since the advent of carbon recycling had the fear of death been a viewed as a regressive and selfish thing. This great thing and many more did the Liberator give to the people of Leto and to the people of every world colonized by humanity.
"You better not fail today."
"Oh? Why's that?"
"Because, idiot, who else am I gonna be partners with when all of this is over with?"
Jamie snickered in response.
"What's so funny? Keep that up and I'll change my mind. Honestly, I was going to say that you're probably the least annoying--and least violent--male in this hellscape of a school. And don't act so surprised, either. We know each other better than we know anybody else. That might even go for our own parents." A clicking sound emanating from Sabrina's forearm unleashed a jolt of electricity throughout her body. "Gah! Custodians, I mean."
"So you've finally come around, huh? Didn't I ask you about this two years ago? What was it you said then? Oh, that's right. 'I hate children, and labor sounds like a royal pain in the ass!' What changed your mind, exactly?"
"It's difficult to say, honestly. It just seems like there's something important about it. That's not regressive, is it?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well, yeah. It almost feels like they'd be an extension of me, in some way. Does that make any sense?"
"I think so. To be honest, I've been thinking the same lately."
"Heh. I bet we'd raise them better than Weston's raised him. No kid of mine would waste something as precious as water, let alone three times! I'd do what your custodians always do and whip the shit out of him until he pledges."
"You can say that again. That shit still hurts from two weeks ago. Speaking of which, did I tell you I stayed up late again last night? It was by almost an hour this time, and the old bat didn't even whip me. She said she threw her back out when last she did it, or something. I'm not buying it, though. She's seemed fine getting around since last time. She probably just felt too tired to do it."
"Well I hope you put that extra time awake to good use by studying and not daydreaming like you've been doing lately. You can't fool me. You're way too bad at hiding it." Sabrina giggled.
Jamie briefly gasped before rolling his eyes. "Well, maybe I'll daydream the rest of the way there, in that case."
The route took them around a corner or two before they reached the school grounds with more time to spare than they anticipated. Jamie always thought the school itself had the most peculiar design. It looked like one of those caterpillars he saw when he read about the zoological history of ancient Earth on the Archival Union's website. Except it was black and white, like most other things in Dionys. What was it like, he wondered, to live in a world with so much color like Earth? It surely must have been headache-inducing.
Buses and bicycles descended into the parking area from their respective road zones. There was more open space in this area, and one could see in the distance many an industrial building: oxygen plants, aegisite plants, thorium plants and carbon conversion plants, among others. But further in the distance, to the left of the school, stood the impressive Weather Regulator Tower, whose operators had the privilege of regulating the winds and the intervals at which storms occur, among other such things. There was not much humidity on Leto, and rain was rare, but this was all the more reason to dictate its occurrences so as to prevent prolonged droughts. The tower had a thin body and a titanic, cone-like crown with three suspended rings orbiting it horizontally. Indeed, it had the appearance of a planet that had been spliced in half with an enormous laser. Its outermost ring measured several kilometers in diameter. Every kid in that school would be lying if they said the sight of that tower every morning didn't serve to fill their minds with possibilities.
One would need only set foot in the hallways of the Transitional School, however, for that inspiration to give way to disgust. Ugly, obese bodies and rank smells abounded. The floors were dampened by sweat, which worsened as the day progressed. The clanging of lockers, the bickering of belligerents, and the slapping of bare feet against the tile floor combined to produce the most agitating clamor. That's not to mention the shouting, wailing, smacking and clattering which accompanied the occasional fistfight or rape. It was what one would typically expect of a Post-Liberation school on Leto. For students like Jamie, however, it was just another aspect of life.
"Well, looks like this is where we split," said Sabrina as the two reached her designated exam room. "Good luck to you, Jamie."
"Yeah. You too, Sab."
Sabrina, that red-headed fox of a girl would then give him a smile that seemed meant for the moment, as her eyes of amber shot beams that enlivened his ego like a dozen nootropic injections to the neck--without the pain, too! And her lush, supple lips, though still, seemed to sing to him. It may have been the first time in their maturity that his attention was not eventually drawn to her breasts. As the two parted, another unusual feeling encroached upon Jamie. Why did he feel as though he needed that smile? It was a wonderful thing, of course, but it made him realize how drained he was. It was an enervation of energy from his rigorous studying and his lack of optimal sleep, of course, but there was also something else to it. Did his father's statement have something to do with this peculiar enervation?
There he was imagining again. 'Oh well,' thought he. 'Best I imagine while I can before the certainty arrives.'
Merci pour la lecture!
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