Authors: Daniel Solomon Kaplan
Tags: #sci-fi, #superhero, #dystopia, #YA, #adventure, #comic book
Daniel Solomon Kaplan
This work is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2014 by Daniel Solomon Kaplan
Cover art and design by Daniel Solomon Kaplan, 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any informational storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the author, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review or article.
To my wife,
who convinced me that I could write a book worth reading
It’s the morning before Elevation Day and I still haven’t told Mom I’m not getting zapped. My lungs tighten as I wait for the website to load so I can register. It takes forever. Typical government website. Fingers shaking, I type my name.
And hold for my number.
High number. Mom won’t be happy.
She wants to prove I’m a good girl who gets up at dawn to be first. It doesn’t matter, since it’s not like all the good abilities go to the early kids. Of course, she doesn’t know I’m not about to let someone zap a mutant power into me.
The warm bed sinks beneath me as I collapse into it. I can’t decide whether a nap will refresh me for the nightmare waiting at school today, or just make my hair into more of a tangled mess than usual. My eyes are heavy, but my brain refuses to cooperate.
I have a number. I’m registered.
I try to tell myself I resisted Elevation Day, but my actions already betray me. Maybe I’m not so convinced. Turning onto my back, I stare at my bedroom ceiling and the cheesy glow-in-the-dark stars I placed there with Dad.
I can almost feel his strong arms lifting me up and the sulfuric smell of his shirt. No matter how much Mom tried, she could never fully remove the residue of his less successful chemistry students. He held me near the ceiling and directed me as we positioned each star to match their constellations in the night sky. The last moment we shared before his GEMO treatment. A treatment that branded him an Unsound and sentenced him to a life in prison. The same treatment waiting for me on Elevation Day.
I will never surrender to a system that can do that. Ever.
As I run into school with only minutes to spare, I rake through the untamed red wilderness atop my head. Shouldn’t have napped. Maybe the festivities of Elevation Day will distract everyone from my hideous appearance.
“Hey, Rose,” Aaron says. “Rough night? Your hair looks like crap.”
Sometimes I wonder why I’m friends with him.
“Ready for some brainwashing?” Aaron says as he crams stuff into his school locker and slams it shut before anything escapes.
I try to think of something witty to say in response, but all I can get out is, “Yeah.”
Aaron smiles, his angular face a perfect case study of geometrical angles. Look at me. Thinking about geometry on Elevation Day. Wouldn’t Aaron be proud.Ever since we were lumped together as study partners, he has tried to help me with my math grades. He always fails. Despite his scruffiness, we formed a close friendship after years of blood, sweat, and algebra problems.
We pass by Shelly in the middle of another endless speech. She adores droning on about how she is certain she’ll receive the power of flight and how she’s dreamt about it since childhood. Drives me crazy.
“Imagine me, flying like a bird,” Shelly says.
Aaron nudges me when we get out of earshot. “She’s a bird all right, but more of the birdbrain variety.”
Our first class is history, or as Aaron calls it, “Revisionism 101.” We take our seats in the middle of the classroom, and I turn on my touchscreen. My grade from yesterday’s essay pops up and a chorus of groans fills the room as my classmates check theirs. I received an A+, which isn’t surprising. I’ve long since mastered the trick to getting a perfect score. Each essay argues that we could’ve prevented so many historical disasters “if only we had been so blessed as to have the gift of GEMO technology.” Works every time.
Aaron’s screen also shows an A+, and I puff up my chest. I’ve taught him the system. Next to me, Zach’s dark muscular arms swallow his tiny desk. I try not to see, but his screen sits wide open. He scored a C. Might have guessed. He once gave a spooky presentation where he claimed the government hunted and rounded up Naturals before they could escape. Even Aaron thought it was a little bizarre. Zach glances over at me and I turn away, blushing.
Everyone quiets as Miss Dukay greets the class with an excitement explained by one too many energy drinks. “Today will be easy. Most of you are too distracted by Elevation Day to think about schoolwork.”
Nods around the room.
She hits a clicker in her hand and the transparent screen behind her displays the words, “What Will You Be on Elevation Day?”
“All of you, I’m sure, are nervous and excited for what is coming tomorrow. So I thought it might be fun for all of us to write down what ability we hope to unlock on Elevation Day.”
Aaron leans over. “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.”
A boy in the front row raises his hand. “But how can we know? I mean, aren’t abilities random?”
She nods at him as if speaking to a young puppy. “Correct. It’s anyone’s guess. You could be a Flier.”
Gasps fill the classroom.
A girl in the second row launches out of her seat. “Ooooh! That’s me!”
I don’t need to see her face to recognize Shelly’s sharp tone. She peers around the room, probably a little self-conscious from her frantic display and plops back down in her seat.
“You very well might,” says Miss Dukay, smiling at her.
What teachers see in Shelly I can’t understand. Somehow, she charms her way through school, since she never demonstrates intelligence or knowledge in any subject. Her dad being the head of the GEMO Control Center probably doesn’t hurt either. Or that she is a striking beauty. She beams back at Miss Dukay and brushes her flawless straight blond hair out of her face. It’s like acid on my eyes.
I welcome Miss Dukay’s dull tone after Shelly’s trademark energetic response. “You could be a Seer, a Jumper, or a Climber.”
“Or,” Aaron whispers, “you could be a Glower and prance around like a psycho light-up doll.”
He has a point. Whenever they mention GEMO technology, the popular powers take the spotlight even though a small percentage of people get them.
“No one knows what’s inside them,” says Ms. Dukay. “But isn’t it great to live in a world where you can unlock your hidden potential?”
Hidden potential. That’s what scares me most. If only I could see what would happen post-treatment. Not that it matters, since I’m not getting the treatment anyway.
Aaron doodles a sketch of Shelly with wings and chicken feet on his touchscreen. “Potential. Bah. Like my cousin who learned he could secrete ink. That sure was helpful. Now he’s lumped in with other Lessers working the garbage dump.”
I’m tempted to lean over and tell him it had more to do with his cousin’s lack of discipline, but it doesn’t matter. The truth is, after ten years of Elevation Day, more and more companies look to hire Elevateds. Even if an ability won’t help with the job, not going through the GEMO process makes them worry about your personal drive. If you don’t try your hardest to achieve your full potential on Elevation Day, then you might as well be a coward.
After we type in our dream powers, Miss Dukay presses her remote and the tabulated scores project behind her. 80% of the class want to be Fliers. Zach groans, but I’m not surprised. It’s the obvious result. As often as I’ve seen Fliers, the sight of a human flying overhead doesn’t get old. Who wouldn’t want to soar above the clouds? It was my choice, although a part of me is disgusted that I share anything with Shelly.
I smile when I see what has to be Aaron’s response on the bottom.
Eaters’ only claim to fame is that they can eat anything without getting sick or gaining much weight. After hanging around Aaron for years, I wonder if he even needs genetic engineering to be considered one.
Elevation Day decorations cover the school hallways. We walk past a row of posters featuring striking teenagers with perfect hair and flawless smiles posing like action heroes. Each poster has a golden phoenix in front of the 10th Anniversary Elevation Day logo with the acronym GEMO, which stands for Genetic Engineered Manipulation Operation. Corny slogans fill the posters like, “I GEMO, Do You?” or “GEMO, Your Life Unlocked.” I almost laugh at the models’ thin bodies. They would make me self-conscious if I didn’t know they were air-brushed. Maybe they used Eaters.
Shelly stands in front of a poster with a Flier. Her star struck face examines his every inch and feature, as if she can absorb his powers through the picture.
“She’s crazy,” I say. “Shelly.”
“Thanks, Rose,” Aaron says, chomping on an energy bar, “never would have gotten there on my own.”
“No, I mean, she has no idea. She can’t be sure what’s going to happen. What if—“
“What if she ends up like your dad?”
“I don’t want to think about it.”
“No one does. That’s the problem.”
Aaron has a way of cutting right to the point of the matter. Decisions come easy for him. Probably why I like having him around.
Shivers run down my neck as I reach the last poster. It features an older woman with tears streaming down her face as she hugs a teenage girl, probably supposed to be her grandchild. At the bottom it reads, “Discover the Potential I Never Could.” This older woman who lived a simple, average, normal life, now feels inferior. Somehow the room becomes colder.
Aaron talks to me. I’m only half listening. “Emotional manipulation. That’s all it is. That’s how they want you to feel. If you aren’t zapped, I mean. Like an outdated, pathetic old hag.”
I nod, but I can’t shake the haunting expression on her face. It’s not that I’m afraid of getting zapped, considering my father is an Unsound. What bothers me is the idea that someone can tell me that being human, being simply the way I was born, isn’t good enough. I continue to stare and my stomach tightens. The chilling truth is if I don’t go through with it, I’ll never know. Never know what could be, what power could develop, what I could accomplish, what life I—
“Rose? You ok?” Aaron’s words snap me out of my trance.
“Yeah, I-I just—”
“Train wreck, isn’t it? Can’t stop staring?”
“Something like that.”
I can’t let Aaron know my doubts. It doesn’t matter anyway, because there’s no way I’m getting zapped. I’m sure of it.
Continuing the theme, Chemistry’s class discussion turns to GEMO technology. All information we learned years ago. Aaron continues to scribble on his touchscreen. Now his sketch is Shelly, building a nest.
“Mr. Quark. How safe is it really?” asks Lillia from the front row. Not sure if I’ve ever heard her talk in class before.
Mr. Quark grunts and pushes up on his thick glasses, three sizes too big for his nose. I’ve often compared him to an owl, which annoys Aaron. He’s a little sensitive when I slam nerds. “Well, Lillia, let me tell you. People are always afraid of the new. People used to claim the government was poisoning their water when they were only adding fluoride to help tooth decay, or that genetically modified vegetables would harm them when all they did was create hearty crops that survived pests. However, here’s the truth: the amount of people who have died is statistically insignificant. A spec.”
He pushes a button and, behind him, a graph appears, showing the success rate. It’s not an exaggeration to call the amount of fatalities a spec on the chart.
Aaron leans over. “Tell the parents of the kids who’ve died they’re statistically insignificant.”
I nod, staring at the graph. Another stat displayed is the number of Unsounds, so small it’s almost invisible. I knew my dad was a special case, but there’s something so cold and distant about the term ‘statistically insignificant.’ Statistics make my head hurt. How can I get behind something responsible for the death of hundreds? My mind shifts to the arguments. About how cars killed thousands before driverless technology, how medications always include negative effects, and how there is no such thing as a perfect system. What ratio is fair? Or ethical? My brain hurts again.
“The progress of humanity hangs in the balance,” Mr. Quark says, “and you don’t get much safer than this.”
Aaron jabs me in the side. “It’s so safe that they don’t do live demonstrations anymore. They’ve been scared ever since the incident at Brownwood High.”