Authors: Echo Freer
Tags: #Young adult, #dystopian, #thriller, #children and fathers, #gender roles, #rearing, #breeding, #society, #tragic
Toxic Treacle published in 2015 by
an imprint of
Andrews UK Limited
Copyright Â© 2012, 2015 Echo Freer
The right of Echo Freer to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Lyra, Reuben, Zach, Jonas and Otto
Who never cease to bring joy into my life.
Boys Out on the Town
Mickey Gibbon, better known as Monkey on the streets, slipped the hood of his jacket over his head and pulled up a blue and white chequered scarf to cover his nose and mouth.
âWho is it?' his friend Trevor, aka Tragic, whispered. They had reached The Plaza in the centre of town: the meeting point of several brotherhood turfs and always an area to be treated with caution.
âDunno. Can't catch the vocals,' Monkey replied, stuffing the football he'd been carrying, up the front of his hoodie. Their dark clothing could easily go unnoticed in the shadows but the white of the football would attract attention - if not from rival brotherhoods, then from Security.
Monkey craned his neck to try to catch a glimpse of something that could identify the group occupying the town centre. He dodged back against the wall quickly as the sound of a gunshot resonated round The Plaza.
âShiltz!' Tragic muttered. âWere they aiming at us?' The use of profane language by pre-breeders had been outlawed by The Assembly on the grounds that:
foul mouth was the sign of a foul mind.
But most of the adolescent males had developed their own expletives for use in times of extreme stress and Tragic was no exception.
Monkey shrugged. âCan't tell.' He wrapped his fingers round the knife in his pocket. He carried it for protection not that it would be much use against a gun. âWait there,' he whispered, moving slowly out of the shadows.
An electric billboard above their heads was buzzing erratically. It showed two smiling females with their babies and bore the slogan:
TURERS KNOW BEST
. Next to it, a recently posted flyer supporting The Unity Party in the forthcoming General Election had been pasted over the top of several missing persons' posters. It was torn and flapped annoyingly in the icy breeze. Monkey ripped off the bottom of the poster and tossed it aside impatiently, before peering round the corner to spy on the action in the square.
A gang of about a dozen pre-breeders was gathered on the steps of the town clock, their faces concealed beneath dark scarves. It was crucial that Monkey identified the colour of the scarves. In the unlikely event that they were wearing blue and white chequered like he and Tragic, the brotherhood in the square would be Mooners: pre-breeders from Moonstone Park, the Professional Nurturing Zone to the north-east of town, and the boys would be safe to cross. If not, they would have to go home by a circuitous but equally dangerous route, crossing several other brotherhood territories.
Monkey screwed up his eyes to focus on the figures silhouetted against the large illuminated plasma-boards that flashed constant images across The Plaza. Images of mothers and children; their slogans preaching the post-war ideals that Monkey and Tragic had grown up with:
SEEDS OF LOVE TODAY - AND REAP THE HAR
VEST OF COMPASSION TOMORROW;
RESPECT BREEDS RESPECT;
CAN HEAL THE WORLD;
A HAPPY CHILD MAKES A HAPPY SOCIETY
A loud jeer went up from the square as another shot rang out and sparks flew from the largest screen before it flickered and died. Monkey indicated for Tragic to back away. He thought he'd caught a glimpse of a red scarf, although he couldn't be sure. In the dim light, it could've been brown. Either way, it wasn't a chequered one that would have signalled safety.
âWhat we gonna do?' Tragic asked.
Monkey's state-of-the-art ring-cam flashed up. It was Vivian, his nurturer. âOff!' he whispered quickly and the light dimmed on Vivian's image. The last thing he wanted was her applying anguish. âWe'll cut through the Muni and across the bridge.'
Tragic glanced at his own ring-cam, dark and silent. âI'll just let Jane know that I'll be late,' he said, almost apologetically. He flicked the side of the ring and spoke his nurturer's name gently. Her face flashed up on the screen and, drawing the back of his hand closer to his mouth, he began to whisper,
âSorry, but I'm going to be a bit late.'
âWhere are you? Why have you turned down the visual?' Monkey heard her say.
âI haven't,' Tragic lied. âIt's just very dark.'
âDon't try to fool me, Trevor.'
Monkey shook his head: no way would he let
nurturer talk to him like that. Who did Jane think she was? Tradge had practically graduated and she was still treating him like a bub.
Both boys were approaching sixteen, the age when they would graduate from the care of their nurturers, the females who had bred and nurtured them, to the Breeders' Zone: the specially segregated area where males between the ages of sixteen and twenty lived while they fathered children.
âI'm telling the truth,' Tragic lied again. âIt's just that Monkey and I went out to see a vid...'
âA vid? At this time of night?' There was a pause, then, âIs Mickey with you?'
âI need you back as soon as you can.' Jane was clearly fretting about her son. âDo you understand?'
âI know, I know,' Tragic spluttered. âWe just got talking and forgot about the time. I'll be back soon, OK?'
âAnd be careful,' his nurturer warned.
Monkey shook his head and smiled. He worried for Tragic. It was only six days until he graduated. What would he do then? How was he going to cope when his only contact with Jane would be by ring-cam or meeting in public? It wasn't that Monkey hated his own nurturer, Vivian, but she was a presidential pain in the butt and he would have to wait another two months before his own graduation. After that, the weekly cam-talks with her would suit him just fine. But Tragic seemed to be terminally attached to Jane - and Monkey didn't need to be a psych to know that that was a recipe for severe severance trauma.
Monkey punched him on the arm and smiled. âThey don't call you Tragic for nothing, do they, Tradge?'
The heavy sigh of hydraulic brakes startled them.
âStealth!' Monkey whispered urgently, pushing his friend along the delivery duct behind the mall. âKeep outta sight.'
Tragic pulled at Monkey's sleeve. âCome on, Monk. Let's get outta here. We don't want any trouble - not at this stage.' He was aware that, not only were they out of their zone, but they'd also been playing football which was against Health and Safety Laws. It was illegal to kick a ball anywhere except on a State pitch and only then for the purposes of exhibitions or skill practice.
They ducked into a doorway as the armoured stealth bus cruised silently past the end of the alley, its overhead searchlights and infrared scanners sweeping the road in its path. It was crucial that they kept out of its range. To be caught by Security meant a stint on The Farm and none of the pre-breeders Monkey knew who'd been sentenced to cultivation therapy had ever returned to their zone. There'd been Pinto, who'd been found brewing illegal keg and selling it to pre-breeders. He went to The Farm nearly a year ago and he was younger than Monkey so, by rights, he wasn't old enough to graduate yet, but he'd never been heard of again. Then there was Daz, the one time leader of the Mooners, caught in Eastway while he was tasking after curfew, and Jumpy, the hyperactive pre-breeder who was caught with that pretty pre-nurturer from Uplands; Edge and Raffe and Riddler - all gone; erased from the cam-database; untraceable the minute they were transported to The Farm. The rumour was that they'd gone straight from The Farm to the Breeders' Zone and Monkey was sure that, once he graduated, all of his old mates would be there to welcome him. Life was going to be all right once he got to the Breeders' Zone.
âHave they gone?' Tragic whispered.
Monkey leant forward and looked along the length of the passage. The flashes of the receding lights could be seen reflected in the metal shutters across the way. The vehicle had passed.
âIt's safe.' Monkey gave Tragic a friendly punch on the arm as they made their way along the delivery duct behind the town centre. âLook at you, you wuzzle!'
âAm not a wuzzle!' Tragic protested. Monkey grabbed him in a headlock as a playful gesture, but Tragic shrugged him away. âLeave it out!'
âWhat is your problem, Tradge?' Monkey couldn't wait to graduate. Tragic, however, seemed less keen and Monkey was at a loss to understand why. âGraduation's gonna be fridge - I'm telling you - I can't wait. Get my own place; finally doing the business.' He nudged Tragic. âI mean, can you imagine it? We gonna have the freedom to do what we want, when we want; drink decent keg - legally! I'm gonna be a pro-footballer and, you and me, we can get places next to each other and we can...'
âI keep telling you - it's not like that.' Tragic thrust his hands in his pockets and kicked at a stone. âYou don't get to choose. And you've still got to go to college and work and everything.'
âYou don't always get to do what you want to do either. It depends what The Assembly thinks you're good at for a start. â
âYeah, right! And how do you know?'
Tragic hesitated. âI just heard - that's all.'
âWell, that's not what they told us at T.R.E.A.C.L.E.,' Monkey countered.
T.R.E.A.C.L.E. or âTraining and Resources for the Education of Adolescent Children in a Loving Environment' was compulsory for all pre-nurturers and pre-breeders from the age of twelve until they graduated at sixteen. The weekly meetings were in addition to formal schooling and focused on basic citizenship, civil duties and parenting, through games, activities and rewards. Few of the pre-breeders of Monkey and Tragic's age still attended as they approached graduation - although it was a brave leader who reported truants: most were content to welcome the peace that their absence afforded. Tonight, however, despite believing that he had outgrown T.R.E.A.C.L.E., Monkey was happy to cite their teachings to support his own argument.
âTrust me, Tradge, when we graduate, we are going to paradise, my old chum. And there's centres where pre-nurturers come and you can... you know.'
âI know. And I know what they told us too, but...'
Monkey gave him another nudge. âHey, lighten up, mate. You do want to do it, right?'
âYeah, of course I want to do it. Only...'
âOnly what? I've been dreaming of this for years.'
âI keep telling you - it's not like that. For a start, what if Angel doesn't choose you for breeding?'
Angel Ellison was a pre-nurturer in their division at school. Monkey really liked her and was hoping, once she'd also turned sixteen, she would select him as her breeder. Then, once he'd bred a couple of bubs for her, he'd progress to the Providers' Zone where he'd spend his days playing footie, watching vids and drinking decent keg until it was time to retire to The Pastures. What more could any full-blooded male want? He really couldn't understand Tragic's problem.
âYou know as well as I do, she'd be mad not to,' he laughed trying to conceal the niggling doubt that Angel might not choose him to breed with. âBut, even so, there are others. I mean, Jeanie's OK, or Becca.'
âYeah, but what if Moni Morrison gets in there first and chooses you?'
Monkey grimaced. âThat T.R.E.A.C.L.E. tart? No way!'
âThat's my point,' Tragic said. âIt's not your shout.'
Monkey hesitated, then shrugged. âNeh! You're just getting cold feet!' he rationalised. Then, adopting a lighter tone, he put a comforting arm round his friend. âPoor little Tradge - snatched away from his mov and the warmth of the Nurturing Zone. How will he cope?'
They walked on laughing and teasing as they made their way through the Municipal Leisure Zone. At that time of night, it was almost deserted and they walked quickly, skirting the shopping mall and eateries of the town, most of which were closed for the evening. A male-only snug near the western side of town was just closing up, its shutters only partially down. Monkey peered through the door to try and catch a glimpse of the interior. He'd been past during the day many times and been intrigued by its eating alcoves and alcohol areas; all dimly lit and mysterious and, even better, all to be accessible to him in just eight weeks. Tonight though, a couple of lone providers were sitting over their pints of keg. Although the curfew only applied to pres - pre-breeders and pre-nurturers under sixteen - most adults rarely ventured out after dark. The risk of meeting the brotherhoods was too great. The two in the snug were staring at the info-screen above the bar and Monkey could just make out a female newsreader relating the story of an artisan nurturer who had just given birth to quads.
One of the providers shook his head and slurred, âI hope it was your last breeding, mate! Otherwise, the poor bloke's out for a duck!' The other man concurred and they both took a sip of their beer before sinking down on their stools again.
The newsreader moved on to an item about some young pro-footballer giving an exhibition over the border in Cymru - all news was good news under The Assembly, with the sole exception of the missing persons' roll call at the end of each bulletin.
âLook at it, Tradge,' Monkey started up the conversation again. âHow stupe is that?'
âIf you like that sort of thing,' Tragic agreed, half-heartedly.
âThat could be you and me in a few months; just dawdlin', watching the game, having a few kegs.' Monkey seemed enraptured with the image of male independence before him.
The provider behind the bar looked up and eyed them suspiciously. He said nothing: it was never a good idea to tackle a pre single-handed; you never knew where the rest of their hood might be and no one wanted to invite trouble. As the info-screen flicked on to a Party Election Broadcast, they noticed him raise his ring-cam to his lips. It didn't take a genius to work out that he was calling Security.