Authors: Ann M. Noser
A Division of
P.O. Box 2160
Reston, VA 20195
Ann M. Noser
Cover Art by Eugene Teplitsky
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ISBN 978-1-62007-970-6 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-62007-971-3 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-62007-972-0 (hardcover)
Dedicated to my father, Jerry Anderson.
I still miss your quiet laughter at my lame jokes.
Pull my strings
Watch me dance
Busy as a worker ant
Prejudice, greed, and an overemphasis on self-worth led early, unenlightened American Administrations to engage in Aggressive Warfare Tactics with other similarly misguided nations. Without the ingenuity of the Founders of the Five Great Cities, World War III would have resulted in the complete Destruction of Life here in the Northern Americas.
The New Order rescued us from certain death and saved us from ourselves. In their great wisdom, the Founders voted to provide All Citizens, by decree, the rights of Equality, Public Safety, and Provision of Basic Needs. To fill these needs, a league of Representatives was appointed to oversee the fair and equal distribution of goods.
What the New Order has banded together let no one put asunder.
y tenth birthday was the worst day of my life. Dad had to work late because his replacement didn’t show up on time. Mom and I waited for him to come home.
Eight years later, we’re still waiting.
Most kids would’ve requested a Vacation Pass for their eighteenth birthday, but not me. I’d rather forget the whole thing and help Gus prepare the chilled bodies in the hospital mortuary. Dragging myself out of bed and pulling on teal scrubs, I fumble for socks and shoes as a ray of early sunlight glints off my dad’s picture hanging on the gray wall across the tiny room. Once again, his blue eyes capture mine as if he needs to tell me something important. On the floor, beneath the photo, sits a memory trunk full of how things used to be. But I won’t open it today. I just can’t.
Dishes clink in the kitchen. Mom calls out, “Hurry up, Silvia. I’ve got a surprise for you.” She sounds happy, but I can’t tell if it’s real.
Since Dad’s death, both of us have done a lot of pretending. So far this year, we’ve been able to avoid Psychotherapy Services and Mandated Medications, but sometimes I wonder if I was sent down to Mortuary Sciences to push me over the edge. Fortunately, I find autopsies intriguing, not depressing. And since I never got to see Dad’s body after the accident, caring for other people’s dead soothes the empty ache inside.
My boss, Gus, is an excellent teacher and the closest thing I have to a best friend. He always knows what to say to me and what
Too bad Mom doesn’t have a clue.
Mom glances up from her green tea as I enter the copper-colored, modular kitchen. “I planned a big surprise for your birthday.”
I tense. “What is it?”
Mom slides over a bowl of organic oatmeal topped with raspberries, normally my favorite. “I got us Park and Art passes today.”
“I’m not hungry.” I shake my head. “And Gus is expecting me.”
“No, he’s not. He knows all about it. I told him weeks ago.”
“Really?” I cross my arms, not sure if I believe her. “He must be good at keeping secrets. Gus didn’t even mention my birthday yesterday.”
Which proves he knows me better than Mom does.
She frowns. “At least eat the raspberries, even if you’re not hungry. I had to barter for them. And if it makes you feel better, we can pretend it
your birthday. It’s just some other day instead.”
I want to protest more, but there’s a determined gleam in Mom’s brown eyes—one that hasn’t been there for a long time. And I don’t want to be the one to snuff it out.
I half-heartedly take a few bites of breakfast, swallow my eight prescribed supplements, and then return to my bedroom to change into jeans and a long-sleeved, green T-shirt. All my clothes are soft and plain, without decoration, made by hands like my father’s. Only Dad proved himself to be Gifted, so he didn’t make Basic Worker Level clothes for long. Instead, he got promoted to Government Level clothing production—a promotion which cost him his life.
“Hurry up!” Mom calls from the front door of our small apartment.
We clamber down six flights of whitewashed cement steps, the stairwell so brightly lit with safety lights that one almost needs sunglasses. Once we arrive on the main floor, we push out into the swarms of people flooding the streets. Dashing across the busy bike path then two empty car lanes, we reach the closest walkway heading toward the park.
Traffic is orderly today. No bikers stray across the wide, white painted lines separating their lanes from ours. Men and women wearing blue scrubs of various shades hurry toward the hospitals and medical facilities. Those in green coveralls rush toward the monorail station to speed off to one of the numerous Plant and Protein Production Facilities.
I glance back at a beautiful, dark-skinned woman, trying not to feel envious of her green uniform. Normally, I don’t mind my job. In fact, I feel more at home in Mortuary Sciences than anywhere else. But part of me still longs to spend all day surrounded by plants. Nothing can be done about it now. The Occupation Exam is over, and I’ve been placed where I’m most effective.
The streets are crowded this time of day. People whoosh past us on bikes as those on foot press constantly forward. Only the car lanes remain vacant. Flapping flags in the New Order colors of red, white, and blue crack overhead. I shiver a little in the cool morning breeze.
We march past rows of tall silver-gray buildings—offices on the first two floors and apartments up above. We make good time until we hit the Citizen Family Planning and Reproductive Services Building. Traffic stalls. A tall man ahead of us shifts from side to side, waiting.