Status: Very, very rough draft. Dropped project from 2013 NaNoWriMo
Genre: Sci-fi/ dystopian
Your mother smiled weakly at you, her face streaked with tears. She drew in a long, slow breath and sighed. Her voice was soft and tired as she whispered “Good luck. I know you can do this.” You shiver. It’s a chilly October evening, but it’s not the cold that makes you tremble. Other kids your age file through the gates. Parents watch, their eyes sad, as their children pass, one by one, into the gates, into the world from which they will never return. Your mother gives you a quick peck on the cheek, and you cling to her. You don’t want to leave. But you both know what will happen if you stay, and she gently shoves you away. She’s crying again now. The tears leave streaks on her dirt covered face. You step away, and the tide of other people pushes and pulls you away.
You step into the city. You look up, and see the sky- inside, it’s a beautiful deep blue. You watch as the sun sets on the horizon, and the sky turns pink and yellow and orange, in a last spectacular show of brilliant colors. You’ve never seen anything like this before. You strain to get one final glimpse out of the gates before they close forever- one last look at your mother- but then the gates close and it’s all gone. The smog filled sky. The water, dyed ugly greys and browns with chemicals. The dying earth. You look up at the beautiful sky again, but you know it’s not real, that it’s just the plexiglass domes that protect you and the others from the dangerous realities of the real world- the violent solar flares, the poisoned air… the sickness that killed almost everyone. You look at the other children around you. Now that you’re inside, you realize that there aren’t nearly as many as it had seemed.
The realization is crushing. Everyone you knew, everyone you cared about, was dead. Everything you loved was gone. Not yet, but soon. You and the other children are immune to the sickness. Nobody knows why, but it hits the infants and the old the hardest. The adults, even those in their prime, last longer, but everyone knows. Everyone knows that once the sickness finds you, it’s all over. Some last months, even years. Some last only hours. But eventually, it catches up to you. You can’t hide from the sickness. The Plague. So you and the others were sent here, to safety. You were the only ones who hadn’t contacted the sickness yet.
The chatter stops. There is silence. And then you hear it. A feeble pounding on the door. Hoarse, quiet pleas for help. You feel sick. You know that you can’t open the door, and the others do too. It would be suicide. These people, the ones out on the doorstep to the city, crying for help… you can’t help them. Can’t even comfort them. For they have the sickness, and opening the doors would be madness.
It started with the water. Chemicals were dumped in it left and right, without a second thought. Eventually, all the fresh water was contaminated, except for one lake. One tiny waterhole. Humanity’s salvation. The government tried to ration it out, make it last, but people were driven by their greed. Some tried to claim it for themselves. Others tried to take it from them. And in one final act of desperation, someone decided that if they couldn’t have the water, nobody could. And so they poisoned it. It became deadlier than even the rivers and streams that had carried the chemicals to the ocean.
With the water poisoned, scientists worldwide set to find a way to make it drinkable. But meanwhile, the plants were dying. Without water, they couldn’t survive. By the time people found a way to save the plants, it was too late. All that was left was the corn, which had been genetically modified to survive severe droughts, and a few desert plants here and there. Animals died left and right. But then, it all changed. Through a complex process, scientists found that they could take the chemicals from the water. So they did. But nobody ever thought of where they went, until it was too late, and the air was filled with a deadly smog. So the water was safe, but now, the air was the danger. People wore masks that let the air in and kept the chemicals out. Animals were kept in buildings with filtered air. And people continued to purify the water, so the air got even worse.
The masks made people feel secure. They felt that with them, and with the purified water, they were safe. But they weren’t. The animals were fed on the corn, the corn that had been modified to survive without water. But what people didn’t realize was that something else happened when it was changed. Something snapped in the corn’s DNA. And that was how the sickness started.
Once it took it’s hold on the animals, it spread to the people. It spread through the air, through the water, through the animal’s meat. And one by one, people succumbed to the sickness, until humanity’s last and only hope was clear; The children, who were somehow immune to the disease, had to be quarantined, kept safe, to emerge from their safety years later, when the sickness had passed.
Kestrel sighed, glancing down at the paper in front of her. She hated these tests and the people that gave them, trying to assess her and find a suitable job for her. Why couldn’t she just choose for herself? It didn’t make sense.
The teacher glared at her. “Kestrel, please concentrate on your work. We have much to do today.” The other students snickered. It was a small class, as Kestrel’s birthday was in the spring, so most of the other students were gone by now. It wasn’t fair. While her friends explored the city, happy and free, she was tethered to the classroom, trying to find an appropriate job. It was quite ironic, now that she thought about it. She, the one who had always loved trying new things, was one of the last to turn fourteen and discover her job assignment.
Sighing, she looked back down at her test paper. What do you enjoy to do? She grimaced. Why couldn’t they just look into all their fancy little cameras and find out themselves? She scribbled in exploring and working in the greenhouse, although she knew that the exploring wouldn’t get her anywhere other than detention. They thought she was too curious for her own good, but she couldn’t agree more.
Finally finishing her test, she passed it to her teacher. He scanned the page, raising his eyebrows at the sight of the various absentminded doodles of leaves from the garden, but didn’t say anything other than “The principal would like to speak with you.” She sighed. The principal’s talks tended to be long winded and dull, which meant it would be ages before she could leave. She shoved open the door and continued into the hallway, her teacher watching her with an amused smile.
Kestrel approached the principal’s door and pressed the small button on the wall marked Students with Appointments. She heard the principal push his chair back as he stood to open the door. He looked down at her, his small eyes examining the angry expression on her face. “Well, young Miss Green, please, do come in.” She sighed and entered the room.
“Well? What did you have to say to me?”
He smiled at her, but it was a fake smile, not genuine. “Miss Green, we are somewhat concerned about your results on the tests. They are no help to us at all. You say you like exploring, but tell me, what space does our lifestyle leave for exploring and gallivanting about the city?”
Kestrel sighed. “I don’t know, sir. I just love exploring.” He sighed, the puff of air ruffling his mustache.
“Miss Green, tell me, what job do you think you would like to do?” Kestrel shrugged.
“Maybe a greenhouse worker, sir?” He frowned.
“Miss Green, you are an intelligent young lady. Your talents would be completely wasted in the greenhouses. Tell you what, I’ll give you a list of jobs available for you to look over for tonight, and you can bring it back tomorrow, and we can look it over and make a decision that will be a bit more appropriate. How does that sound to you?”
She sighed and nodded. “Good choice Miss Green. I’ll see you tomorrow, and then we can choose a job for you. Your ceremony is in two days, you know.” She nodded unhappily. “Alright, sir.”
He nodded. “Good girl.” He passed her a sheet of paper. “Here is the list of available jobs. Just circle whatever takes your fancy.” Kestrel nodded.
“Alright, sir.” He smiled.
“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow, Miss Green.” Kestrel stepped out the door and watch ced it close behind her, then started off towards home. Glancing at the sheet of paper as she walked, she sighed. Greenhouse worker. But that had already been denied to her. Secretary. Ugh. Who wanted to sit at a desk all day? Not her. Sighing she folded up the paper and started off at a run, veering onto a different road at the last second.
She didn’t remember going down this one before; exploring a new road would be a fun way to get her mind off of the upcoming ceremony. She slowed in front of a small shop. An herb shop? These were a rare sight in the city as herbs were not a necessity and so it made rather bad business. The fruit stands and vegetable shops were always busy, even though there were many more of those. Fresh produce was a rarity, as the packages of ingredients that arrived each night only contained canned goods.
She entered the shop, the small bell on the door ringing. She had a pocketful of allowance and her mother would appreciate the rarity of some flavorful herbs for their dinner tonight.
The shopkeeper looked up at her then went back to counting her wares. “Can I help you, miss?” Kestrel nodded.
“Do you have any basil or rosemary?” Those where her mother’s favorites. “And maybe some mint?” She herself loved the sharp taste of mint leaves, and she had enough to buy a few. The shopkeeper nodded, setting a tray of each on the counter.
“Take your pick. Only one credit for a sprig.”
Kestrel chose a sprig of rosemary and sage, than a handful of mint leaves. The shopkeeper nodded.
“Good choice. You know a bit about plants. You look to be almost fourteen years. Do you work in the greenhouses?” Kestrel shook her head.
“My ceremony is in two days.” The woman clucked sympathetically.
“You know, with the overpopulation, I’m having the hardest time getting any new wares. The greenhouses are growing less and less herbs and more and more vegetables to feed the population. What a pity. Who knows, maybe I’ll be thrown out of my shop too.” Kestrel looked at her, confused.
“What do you mean, thrown out of your shop?” The woman shrugged.
“With so many people, the town is running out of space. Not enough houses, and there’s no way to to build more. We’ve used up all the space we could, and it’s still not enough.” Kestrel frowned.
“That’s treason, saying things like that when they aren’t even true.” The shopkeeper sighed.
“I am sorry, miss. I should not have said things like that. Good luck with your ceremony.” She tied together the sprigs of rosemary and basil and passed them over the counter. Kestrel nodded.
“Thank you.” She pushed open the door to find herself back on the street. She headed back home, reading the paper the principal had given her.
At home, she sat on her bed. Reporter? That doesn’t sound all that bad. It would include lots of writing, but it also meant going all over the city to research news. She circled it with her pencil. The doorbell rang and she glanced up. Pushing open the door, she smiled widely.
“Izzy!” Her best friends smiled.
“Kess! How’s it going at school?”
Kestrel shrugged. “I’m having a hard time picking a job.”
Isabelle crossed her arms. “Hey, you said we would work in the greenhouse together!”
Kestrel put the same fake pout on her face. “The principal said that wasn’t the right job for me.”
Isabelle smiled, but less enthusiastically this time. “It’s okay. How ‘bout I help you pick?” Sitting on her bed, they looked over the list. “What about a shopkeeper?”
Kestrel chewed her lip thoughtfully. “Maybe. It would be a lot of deskwork.”
Isabelle nodded. “You’re right. That sounds awfully dull. What about a tailor?”
Kestrel glared at her and Isabelle burst out laughing. “Alright. Alright. Sounds like a fine job to me, but I’ll get serious now.” She looked over the paper. “Reporter is a good choice. Or you could be a SkyWorker.”
Kestrel looked at her. “I’ve never even heard of them. What do they do?”
Isabelle shrugged. “They design what the sky will look like each day, maintain it, that sort of thing. It’s a very good job, even better than reporter.”
Kestrel shrugged. “I don’t know. Reporter sounds much more interesting to me.”
Isabelle nodded. “I can definitely see you as a reporter.” She checked her watch. “I’d better be going, though. See you tomorrow?”
Kestrel nodded. “Alright. See you tomorrow.” As soon as Isabelle left, Kestrel leaned back in bed and sighed. Her ceremony was in two days, and she had only a vague idea of what her job was likely to be. Oh well. She could figure it out with the principal tomorrow.