“New” indicates a fresh start. In a sense that’s what Earth got – one third of the Earth is trashed and human history is a foggy distant memory; only glimpses cling to displays in PEMs− Previous Earth Museums. The past of humanity may nearly be forgotten, but the beating of the human heart is well alive.
People live to find purpose and to achieve the seemingly impossible. Yet, in the wake of a grim reality, distractions and illusions give the quickest escape to paradise. Death, an inkling of a thought, is never fully grasped until the final fate occurs.
No one’s sure what led humankind to the brink of extinction. War? Pestilence? Alien encounter gone wrong? A cataclysmic event experienced around the world? All we know is that something happened. The planet continues to crumble, but the sun hasn’t burnt out or transformed into a gaping black hole− for an optimist, the fate of the human race is promising. However, for a pessimist, it is bleak and hopeless.
As Fourth generation New Earth, the way we live today is all anybody can remember. All cities are united under the Suzerain Nation, which is secured inside state of the art domes. Without clearance, no one gets in or out… Well, that’s the primary routine. The weather is always like a cool summer’s eve without humanity, or so we’re told. No one has experienced “a cool summer’s eve” in over four scores. The Elites, the highest rated citizens of the Suzerain Nation, live at the center of every city. The other Listers fill out the bulk of the city, and the Groundlings live in the slum edges. The actual edge of each dome is hidden beyond the hundreds of miles of crops that enclose every city.
The List keeps all Elites, Listers, and a few Groundlings heavily preoccupied. It changes every twenty years, but for the first five of the twenty, during the Trial Period, the List changes constantly, practically weekly and occasionally daily. Every citizen in every city is ranked by family name on the List of the Suzerain National Census. Four factors determine where each family ranks on the List: genealogy, wealth, influence and morals, also known as GWIM Factors or GWIMs. Whichever family has the widest living lineage, the largest accredited net worth, nationwide recognition, and best moral code ranks number one on the List. The results every twenty years can be confounding, but people never question them. Hungry for the number one slot, families plot, scheme, cheat, bribe, and lie to win the rank of the number one in time for the next List Lock.
List results are the least of the confusion among Suzerain Citizens. We all have neck gauges. From the hook of our heads to the base of our necks, a column of pebble-size, pearl white, half-spheres are embedded within our nervous system. Neck gauges are a little like mood rings. They shift colors depending on our mood, if our emotional states are stressed. Unless someone’s high, drunk, or mentally deranged, the neck gauges will stay white. The only exceptions are Sentinels.
No one even knows if they have neck gauges. Twenty-four seven Sentinels are dressed head to toe. Their sleek, black protective gear consists of slender helmets with tinted face shield visors, torso padding, which covers them from the waist to the tips of each wrist and completely covers the neck, weightless gloves, and padded pants that rest above tough sleek boots. On their utility belts, they have bulky plasma pistols on the left, and in the pouch in the back, they have their palm size, paper-thin tablets.
Sentinels live up to their title by keeping the peace, looking out for trouble within the city. At the sight of trouble, they defuse it by any means necessary. Citations are simple enough− 99.9% of the time.
Crime occurs, but it isn’t seen as a major threat. Nothing goes unnoticed. Matieka, an AI that’s connected to every Suzerain city, hears everything and sees enough. It was designed to be a watcher, not a controller. Each city’s power and communication network is operated by smaller, individual AIs. Matieka alerts the AIs of information they don’t catch on their own.
People know about Matieka. Instead of complaining and demanding its dismantlement, they have created devices to block Matieka’s listening frequencies and line of sight. The devices can be used for an hour at best, but no one would be that foolish. Matieka would alert the city AI that something is wrong. The city AI informs the Suzerain Agency of Investigations. Computer wizards use security cameras and other frequencies in the city air to triangulate the source of the blockage in Matieka’s system. SAI agents are sent to that location and the citizen responsible is dealt with accordingly. I say accordingly because it depends why the citizen caused the block. If the citizen plotted escape, that person’s citizenship is revoked, and they earn lifetime imprisonment. If the citizen plotted a scheme to climb rank on the list, the punishment depends on standing rank. Elites don’t even get a slap on the wrist.
Hackers can out smart Matieka and city AIs, but they run far and few between. Computer geniuses usually work for SAI, after they were caught in illegal activity. They may not live like Elites, but they leave behind the life of a Groundling that they started out as. Anyone would do anything to leave the position of Groundling – life in prison beneath the city.
I don’t know much about hacking. I know a whole lot about being a Groundling. I grew up in a rundown duplex by the apple-berry field− vineyard… no fields… ugh… Apple-berries are some gnarly fruit that grow on vines. Apple-berry vineyard, I guess then. The fruit grows year round, never needs down time, and is poisonous to ingest. They are the shape of a strawberry with a blueberry hue, and the exterior texture and size of a huge, red delicious apple. The apple-berry has always been Crys’ favorite fruit. Of course, eating any part of it would be deadly. Apple-berries are used to make dyes and for scientific research. The interior texture is like a mango with a translucent, orange hue. At the center, are burgundy beady pebbles like pomegranate innards, strung together like the seeds of a pumpkin.
Crys… Chris… not Cries… He evoked my questions.
I’m a unique Suzerain Citizen. I wasn’t born in Luna, or in any city. Everyone inside the dome is told the world outside is unbearable… unliveable, but my family and I were proof that wasn’t true.
For the first five years of my life we lived as nomads, roaming the devastation of Earth in search of shelter and food. All my memories of the outside world were extracted from my brain, except three: the nightmare-inducing memory of my father’s ravenous murder by a raid of Savages, the sound of my mother’s lyrical voice, and the face of my baby sister. I locked these memories away, but I couldn’t recall them until Crys forced them to surface.
Somehow, Luna City got a hold of me. They placed me with a Groundling couple that didn’t have children. To make ends meet and survive, both Tyrell and Chevonne dabbled in illegal activities. Tyrell messed up and wound up dead over one mistake. Heartbroken and morbidly depressed, Chevonne killed herself via overdose on Swifter. I was 12.
Highly resourceful, I managed on my own. Teachers at school didn’t even know my parents were dead. I made a mistake stealing a loaf of bread from Lester, the largest Swifter distributor in Groundling Sectors 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14. He tried to drug me against my will. Who knows what his intentions were after that, but I blacked out. When I woke up, I was covered in Lester’s blood. His mangled body, torn apart limb by limb, was piled around me. Curled into a hunched ball, I sat there crying. The stench of bloody carnage harnessed in my nose, along with mildew, and garbage− since his termite-infested house’s backyard was literally Luna City’s dump.
SAI agents arrived on the scene. One agent took me in, Claudius Stigmo. When he found me, he said that I reminded him of his daughter. She died from N.E. Influenza… The flu strain killed children within hours and adults within a day. Oddly enough, only elderly people survived the N.E. Flu.
Claudius’ family used to rank the highest in Luna City when I was 13, but that was over a decade ago. The Stigmo Family now ranks 33, the second highest ranking Elite family in Luna. When I was 14, bands of teenagers were wreaking havoc across the city with one objective in mind: Escaping. SAI had a hard time finding the ring leaders. Stigmo formally trained me in combat when he found me. At 16, when SAI implemented Juvenile Covert SAI agents, I headed the task force that tracked, infiltrated, and broke up, or took down, the bands of escaping teenagers. In two years, all the JC-SAI agents who eliminated teenage renegade escape plots became regular SAI agents.
Recently, during the fourth List Trial Period, escaping trends again among Luna Suzerain Citizens. SAI built a new division to track down escapees. Seen as the best task force to do so Nationwide, we’re called from city to city to do our work, and to train future generations to carry on EDSAI’s (the Escapee Division at SAI) work.
My life was simple… as long as I did what Stigmo commanded and demanded. I didn’t ask questions when I was assigned to Crys, nor when I gave reports on what he said, did, and went. I only asked questions when he disappeared and I found him, but not as I knew him. I asked questions because of the Crys I found, the real Crys. And the first question that came to mind was: Why do people escape the city?
*Edited by Aly Fry