Authors: Logan Byrne
Grid Seekers: Book One
2015 by Logan Byrne
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblances of characters to actual persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. The author, Logan Byrne, holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
No part of this book can be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without the permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer who may quote short excerpts in a review.
To sign up for my mailing list and know when the next Grid Seekers title will come out, please sign up for my mailing list!
Table of Contents
used to tell me about a time when we were free.
I had a photograph of her as a child. It was the only one we had of her back then. She looked so happy, her red hair pulled to the side in pigtails, a scant peppering of freckles trickled across the bridge of her nose. That was before WorldNet took over and changed the way everyone lived, no matter their place in society. Seeing her so happy was a stark contrast to the way she looked in pictures later in her life. I could tell by her childish smile in this picture that she was completely unaware of the horrible events that were to come.
I never knew any other life than this one, a world where going digital was the only way to escape the bleak landscape outside your cold, confining walls. Going digital comes with a price, though, one you might not be ready to pay if the time should ever come.
Every year there’s a competition, a scavenger hunt of sorts, that tests your mental fortitude and will to survive. Twenty-four entrants are chosen randomly from the population, four from each of the six megacities, and if you’re a citizen aged anywhere from sixteen to sixty, your name is cast into the drawing. The biggest catch, though, is that you have to have accessed WorldNet within the year in order to be eligible for the drawing. It might sound easy enough to get out of that; you’d think the quickest way to stay safe would be to forgo access to WorldNet altogether and sit back with your feet up while your poor friends and neighbors bite their teeth with nervous anticipation, but it isn’t that easy. It’s never that easy.
Living without WorldNet just isn’t an option, and that’s the real catch. Everything you do in life, from banking, to travel, to education, to social interaction, is conducted through the confines of the ones and zeros that make up WorldNet and its digital infrastructure. I didn’t get to use it much, though, as I didn’t have my own bank account and wasn’t old enough to get my own credits. Citizens aged eighteen and older are given an hour every month for free to take care of their affairs, but seeing as I’m seventeen, I’m not quite there yet. For now, it will have to just be that every-so-often luxury.
Having your name and face come up during the drawing, and then being thrust into competition, isn’t even the worst part. The punishment for not finding the talismans or getting eliminated during the competition, if you’re that unlucky, isn’t a fate I’d wish on even my worst enemy. Because you’re in the digital realm during the competition you can’t be killed, even though your nervous system and senses are tapped into the network, but you can face steep real-world consequences that come in the form of three years’ hard labor in a prison camp just outside the city, the capital city, my megacity.
I have both the privilege and the displeasure of living in the New York megacity; the biggest and most crowded of them all. There are six in all, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, Denver, and Seattle, each of them of varying sizes. Everywhere else in the country, all of the land in between, isn’t accessible to normal citizens—at least not legally. High-speed rail travel connects the cities, but it’s rare that you ever leave the confines of your walled megacity. They say the walls are only there to keep intruders out so that we’re safe, but I think they’re truly there to keep us in. Travel between megacities, as well as all social interaction, is done through WorldNet, the only option for escaping the gray skies and polluted streets we bear witness to on a daily basis.
I walked to my bedroom. The rooms in our home were modest, according to my mother, but I preferred the word “small” to more accurately describe them. We had two bedrooms, and both of them felt like a luxury compared to what other people had. These days, huge, cramped skyscraper buildings that housed two hundred families each were going up. But this apartment had been in our family for almost fifty years, back in a time when it was much easier to get a place for your family to stay. There was an actual inventory of homes back then, the prices weren’t horrible, and even though the family sizes were bigger, they were happy with it.
My sister Saraia and I shared the bigger of the two rooms, though it wasn’t exactly a large room by any means. My mother, Kate, had the other room, getting the privacy and solace of her own space. I was pretty jealous of that. My father wasn’t around anymore. He died during an industrial accident when I was ten.
My mother came through the front door carrying a somewhat soggy brown paper bag in her arms, tapped the door closed with her foot, and saw me standing in front of my bedroom door.
“Did you pick your sister up from school today?” she asked, as she kicked off her shoes.
“Yes, mom, I picked her up,” I said with a sigh.
“Because you forgot to pick her up once last week, and I had to take off early from work to go get her,” she said.
“I know, mom. I said I was sorry a hundred times. It won’t happen again,” I said.
“You’re right it won’t, Alexia, or else we’re going to have a
problem,” she said, with a stern look.
Rolling my eyes, I walked over to the window, sat on the sill, and watched the scores of people walking home after a long day of work, their faces stony and tired.
“Mama!” Saraia yelled as she ran out of our room right into our mother’s arms, catching both of our attention.
“Well, hello there, my sweet girl. How was your day today? Did you learn a lot?” my mother asked.
“I learned some, but my teacher is making us write a one-page paper on the lottery drawing coming up. A page! I don’t think I even know that many words!” Saraia said.
The lottery drawing would be tomorrow night, and it would be broadcast to every single home, store, and government building in the nation. It was the most annoying night of the year, when the entire city would be cast into an uproar as everyone prayed they wouldn’t be chosen. After, everyone would talk about it for days, even weeks. Since I’m seventeen, this would be my second year in the lottery.
“I can’t believe this time of year is here again already. I remember when I first became eligible. I was so nervous and scared I would be drawn, but it’s been just over thirty years, and I haven’t been chosen yet. Nobody in our family has ever been drawn. Now I get to worry that you’ll be chosen, Alexia. Not only that, but Saraia will be in the drawing in eight years, and then I’ll be a complete and utter mess,” my mother said.
“It’ll be okay, mom. I know it can be scary thinking about one of us, especially you, being drawn, but the chances of any of us being drawn are so slim. They only choose four people from here, and there are millions of people living in this city. We’d probably have a better chance of WorldNet being disbanded,” I said.
“Alexia Meyers, you watch your mouth in this household! You know they can hear you when you say things like that,” she said, ending with a whisper.
Everything is tapped into WorldNet, even if you aren’t accessing it or even if you don’t have access to it in your house. Most people can’t afford it and have to go to cafes and schools to access the network, though richer families and individuals usually do have the setup in their homes for their own personal use. My mother always thought that they listened in on us, hearing and decoding what we said in the background no matter where we went, not allowing anyone to ever have a private conversation. She claimed once that it was for our own good, so that nobody would start a revolution and try to break down the walls and disband WorldNet, but I think she just said that so they wouldn’t come after us, and what she really meant was we needed to be careful with what we said. The last thing we needed was the government thinking we were trying to start a revolution.
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, as she took out the few groceries from her soggy paper bag.
“So, how was your day?” my mother asked.
“It went well. I had work for a few hours after taking Saraia to school. I have to go back in tomorrow for a long day, so I probably won’t be home until after you’re here,” I said.
I had a job, not a very amazing one, at a small restaurant nowhere near our house. I did almost everything there, a job title I didn’t even think existed. It wasn’t much, but it was all that I could get at the time. I tried to help my mother out whenever I could with money, but it wasn’t easy because everybody wanted a job and not every place could give them out. That, mixed with the fact that the jobs never paid enough.
“You know I don’t like you working there late. It makes me uneasy thinking of you having to travel the city alone. There are a lot of strange people out there, Alexia. I don’t want you to run into any of them,” my mother said.
“I’m fine, mom. I know how to handle myself. Besides, everyone will be a little busy tomorrow night, with the lottery drawing and all. Most people care more about seeing if they get chosen than trying to rob somebody,” I said.
“Yeah, but still. The last thing I need is for you to become a victim just because your boss doesn’t understand that you’re a seventeen-year-old girl and shouldn’t be walking in the city streets past dark. It just isn’t safe,” she said.
“I’m just happy to have a job, no matter what the hours are. I know a lot of people who’d kill to have my job, and it isn’t even a good one,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, as she turned on the gas stove.
As she started dinner, I hopped off of the sill and walked into our living room. The worn, weathered wood floors were showing their age. The grain had been worn smooth by decades of feet parading around, each step wearing them down more and more.
I sat down on our worn out couch, an old red slipcover surrounding it in a cocoon of fabric, since the cushions were a little frayed from our bottoms sitting in them so many times that you couldn’t count them with a thousand hands. We kept a photo album on our coffee table whose spine had been repaired many times throughout the years. The album itself went back to my grandmother’s time; she bought it sometime in her teens. It was filled with pictures of everyone in our family. There were some personally special moments in it, too, like the day of my birth and one of Saraia’s birth, a picture of me holding her, with pigtails and a missing tooth, a smile on my face from ear to ear. It was one of the few times in my life I’d experienced pure happiness and bliss. It seemed so long ago, but at the same time it felt like it had happened just yesterday.
I carefully picked up the album in order to not cause any more damage. Before I opened it, Saraia sat down next to me to see what I was doing. She’d been my shadow ever since she was old enough to walk.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Just looking through the photo album,” I said, slowly flipping through the pages.
“How come?” she asked.
“I like to look through it sometimes, looking at our memories, our past. I really love the old pictures of Grandma, too. She was so glamorous back then,” I said.
“She doesn’t look too happy there, though,” Saraia said, pointing to a picture of our grandma when she was around my age.
“That was the year her best friend, Georgina, got drafted by the lottery and had to go into WorldNet for the competition,” my mother said, standing in front of the table.
“I didn’t know WorldNet was around then,” I said, confusion in my voice.
“It was new, just evolving from what they used to have, the Internet, I think it was called. I think it was the first or second year of the competition. The entire thing itself was much different than what they have today. It wasn’t a search back then. Well, I guess it was, but people, the participants, treated it as more of a bloodbath than anything else. They’d take out everyone inside and then search almost in vain for the talismans. Back then only one person got to win, compared to the two people who win now. They also let everyone get eliminated before, as opposed to now, where four can stay in until it’s finished. They really changed things around,” my mother said.
“What happened with her friend?” I asked.
“Well, from what your grandma once told me, she was eliminated in the first day. That’s all she knew, I guess.”
“Well, didn’t she come back after her labor sentence?” I asked.
“No, it wasn’t like that back then. It wasn’t televised, at least not to everybody, so Grandma never saw her in there. Not only that, but the sentence was a little more steep. The losers faced five years of hard labor, and then they were sent to a new megacity after their sentence, essentially cutting them off from their friends and families. Their entire lives were changed. That was the biggest penalty of all. The labor was the easy part,” my mother said.
“Why did they change things? Wouldn’t the government have a lot more to gain by keeping those rules?” I asked.
“Uproar. At least that’s the reason Grandma told me. After the first few competitions, the public went nuts. They burned things in the streets, had riots and destroyed stores and streets, so the government decided those rules weren’t worth it. They shortened the sentence and changed the rules for the competition itself. They made it less desirable to take people out, changed the labor sentence, and took away the mandatory move. They gave people teams inside, and the prizes for winning were a lot greater. She told me that they also televised it almost everywhere so that the outcry wouldn’t happen again,” my mother said.
“Why wouldn’t it happen again? Why would that stop it?” I asked.
“If everyone can see that they’re keeping their end of the bargain and sticking to those new rules, then they won’t go into the streets again and almost take down the nation as we know it,” my mother said.