Authors: Jamie Canosa
Tags: #Children's Books, #Action & Adventure, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Children's eBooks, #Science Fiction; Fantasy & Scary Stories, #Dystopian
back a groan as
I’m hauled to my feet, I refuse
to give them the satisfaction of my discomfort. There may not be much left in my life that I can control, but at least there’s that. The unforgiving steel of the cuffs rubs my wrists raw, but I barely even notice. It’s a struggle to focus on much of anything. My thoughts, my surroundings, everything is one big blur. Refusing to process my new reality, my brain seems to have decided to ignore it entirely.
Stones shift unsteadily under my feet as I’m escorted by two uniformed guards
, dressed head to toe in black,
toward the tallest chain link fence I’ve ever seen in my life. If that weren’t menacing enough, the tight coils of barbed wire running the entire length
certainly do the trick.
A brisk wind picks up through the trees, bringing with it the scent of pine
g my unruly hair into my face. With m
y vision temporarily impaired, th
e toe of the flimsy sneaker I’ve been given to wea
r catches on a loose rock. W
ithout my hands to protect me, I go down hard on my knees. A sharp, stinging
and the sweet scent of copper tells me I’ve broken the skin. Before I get the chance to look, however, I’m dragged back to my feet and shoved toward the enormous gate
in front of us.
When we finally come to a stop there, I take
a moment to inspect the damage
while the guards exchange paperwork. That’s what my life has come down to, paperwork. I’m not a person anymore, just some name on a piece of paper to be sorted and assigned, but hasn’t
it always been that way, really.
Through a small tear in the fabric of my pants I can see that I was right. Bright red blood stands out against the dull gray of my uniform
. Before I’m ready – not that I ever would h
ave been – the guards
hand me off to another pair inside the fence, and I’m ushered along toward a row of wooden buildings.
Ten in all, they look poorly maintained at best. The word ramshackle has never seemed more appropriate.
“It’s too late to start today.” One of the
ulls my hands away from my back
and unlocks the cuffs. “The other prisoners will be back soon, so you may as well make yourself comfortable. Work starts tomorrow.”
With those wonderful words of wisdom, I’m unceremoniously shoved inside one of the buildings and left on my own. I know I should be more scared, any sane person would be, but c
uriosity trumps my fright. M
y sanity has begun to feel more and more questionable recently. A quick scan of the space reveals twenty sets of bunk beds . . . and nothing else.
Just one large open space, with wood walls and flooring, one door, no windows, forty beds, and nothing else.
Attempting to hold on
to what little privacy I can, I claim a bed against the far wall and hunker down. How the hell did I end up here? My h
ands come up to cover my face—e
vidently I’ve reverted to the childlike train of thought that ‘if I c
an’t see it, it can’t hurt me’—a
nd try to rewind time. Too bad that doesn’t hold true in the real world. Too bad many things are not what they appear to be in the real world. All of this started with a betrayal I never saw coming. No, that’s not true. It really started with my big mouth, and a serious lack of filter between said
mouth and my too-opinionated-for-my-own-good brain. With nothing but time to kill, I’ve relived my own stupidity seven ways to Sunday, and I’m still having trouble believing what a fool I was.
My list of offenses goes back further than I can remember anymore, I’m sure. Subtlety never was my specialty, but the
real trouble—the serious stuff—
just got rolling a couple weeks ago with an epic moment of idiocy on my part. I blame the heat.
hot. Not normal summer day hot. M
ore like hell-was-rising-up-through-the-earth’s-crust-trying-to-make-its-new-home-on-the-surface hot. The metal of the fire escape outside the shop seared thr
ough the rear of my black pants
as I sat there waiting
for my shift to begin.
ho in their right mind decided black was a suitable color for a uniform when working in a
of the fine establishment, my boss Marcus, the sadist himself, that’s who.
At exactly six-fifteen on the dot, Sal opened the front door and waved me in. “Good morning.”
Sal was the head baker. I was just his apprentice. His job was to train me
so that I could fill the role in another colony ev
ntually. Somebody was having a serious off-day when they assigned me to that position. Apparently they were not made aware of my propensity for clumsiness. It didn’t take Marcus long to notice it though. Over the past three years, he’d kept me out of the kitchen more than he’d allowed me in it, but I’m pretty sure that had more to do with protecting his business than me. I was currently serving a two week sentence on register for grabbing a hot pan out of the oven without a mitt. The evidence of that particular bout of stupidity was still visible on my palm.
“Fantastic, Sal. Another action packed day of pressing buttons like any reasonably well trained baboon could.
“Don’t tempt me to hire one of them instead of you,
.” Marcus made his presence known in his normal
manner. I ignored him as usual. We both knew the Employment Department controlled work assignments, and there wasn’t a chance in hell either of us would be lucky enough for me to score a reassignment.
The shop was already stifling. One would think that Marcus would have invested in some air conditioning for the place, but apparently that was a ridiculous notio
n. Every time I brought it up—
which was usually
at least once or twice a day—
he would launch into
a well-rehearsed rant
about turnover rates and profit
. I can’t say I ever actually paid any attention to it. All I knew was that Marcus was determined to bake more than just pastries in that place. It crossed my mind a time or two that he was intentionally trying to give me heat stroke in order to score himself a new apprentice. Too bad for him, and possibly myself, I was hardier than I looked.
A steady stream of customers persisted throughout the day, irritating me without reprieve for hours. The only ones I really took any notice of at all were a mother and son, and only then because they ordered a cake, which allowed me a momentary break while I scrawled some generic birthday greetings on it.
The idea of celebrating birthday
s has always seemed odd to me. C
you’re one year closer to dying? Or maybe it’s congratulations on actually being smart enough to survive a whole other year? Looking at that kid, spinning in circles until he toppled over, taking a display case with him, I started thinking that maybe it was the mom who deserved the cake.
I was sitting on the floor, still trying to piece the window display back together like a life-sized jigsaw puzzle, when two girls came in. By that point I was hot, tired, and hanging on by
my last nerve. My shirt, black of course, was sticking to my back and my hair ha
d escaped the low pony tail I’
d tied it back in that morning. We weren’
t talking a few strands either. O
h no, I was flaunting whole clumps of tangled hair plastered to my moist cheeks.
More than anything I wanted to peel off that freaking uniform and jump into a nice co
ld shower, but no. The girls—
one blonde and one brunette who I vaguely recognized from school, but couldn’t have told you their names if you
offered me a million dollars—
were standing at the register and shooting daggers
at me. It appeared that I wasn’
t moving quickly enough for their highnesses. I dusted the seat of my pants off on my way back over to the register and took my sweet time pulling on a pair of gloves. By the time I was ready to take their order, they seemed to have forgotten all about me.
“What am I going to do? My life is over.” The blo
nde looked close to tears, and
so help me, all I could think was that if they still made soap operas, she would have been a shoe-in. “Five foot
, can you imagine? They paired me wi
th a freaking
he works in maintenance!
It’s so unfair.
If she even had half an idea of what unfair really looked like, then I may not have wanted to smack her so badly. They took a break from their pity party long enough to order a couple of plain bagels, toasted, with light cream cheese. As I prepared the most boring food selection known to man, I was forced to listen as the drama queen continued, and that last nerve I was hanging by? It was starting to fray.
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad once you meet him. I bet he’ll turn out to be a really nice guy.” The brunette’s attempt to comfort her friend sounded rehearsed, and I wondered how long they had been at this already.
“I just don’t know what to do,” Blondie moaned. “I can’t marry him, I just can’t. Maybe I should just jump from the tallest building I can find and put myself out of my misery.”
. . . there went that last nerve. I tried to keep m
y mouth shut, I really did, but
for crying out loud, every girl’s got her limits. “Then don’t do it.”
The synchronized disbelief was almost comical, as
both girls stopped mid-sentence
and turned to look at me
wide eyed and open mouthed. For a few increasingly disconcerting moments they just stared at me until the brunette blinked, and that seemed to break the spell because she snapped her jaw shut.
That would have been an ideal time for my brain-to-mouth filter to make a rare appearance, but regrettably it seemed to be in
or cowering in a corner somewhere from the last time it tried to make a stand and my mouth just chewed it up and spat it out.
“Just say no.” I waved the answer at them as though it should have been obvious, and I wasn’t really sure why it wasn’t to anyone but me.
“If he’s as bad as all that, then don’t marry him.
It’s not like the world is going to come to a screeching halt if you and the
don’t tie the knot.”
They both stared at me like I’d grown a third arm, o
r a second head, or something.
was the crazy one there.
was not the one who was contemplating pitching herself off of a building two seconds ago.
“We’ll take those to go,” the blonde squeaked out. Her friend was busy shooting a series of nervous glances over her shoulder in such quick succession that I was beginning to wonder if she could give herself whiplash that way.
More than happy to oblige, I dropped both bagels into a brown paper bag and slid it across the counter. They practically threw their money at me before hightailing it back out the door.
Well, if they didn’t want my opinion then they shouldn’t have broadcasted their business in front of me.
g the money into the register—
no tip, f
I scanned the shop. It was empty except for the corner booth. The early evening shadows made it difficult to see, but there was de
finitely someone there.
I hadn’t noticed anyone else come in. I peered closer, thinking I was staring at someone’s back, until he shifted into the light and I suddenly found myself face to face with the Head of Security for colony D.
, crap, crap, crap.
Despite all of my bravado, my heart skipped a beat. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I couldn’t drag my eyes away from him. He stared right back at me for several long nerve-wracking moments with a scowl etched firmly on his face, before extracting himself from the booth and leaving without a word.
A breath I hadn’t realized I’
d been holding whooshed out of me as the door slammed shut behind him.
It was one thing to have opinions, but spewing them in front of the Head of Security was probably not the best idea I’d ever had. His whole life was based on enforcing those ordinances I had such an obs
cene problem with, and he wasn’
t exactly the kind of person you wanted to get on the bad side of. In fact, I didn’t want to be on
of his sides. When my heart stopped tripping over itself, I had to physically pry my fingers from the counter top. I was in serious need of a chill pill. It wasn’t like he actually cared what I had to say. What could the opinions of a fifteen-year-old baker’s assistant possibly have mattered to him . . . right?