by: Rayya Deeb ((Photograph for header image was taken by Chris Prosser.))
Welcome to Seneca. But be prepared; you may never leave….
Join the adventure. Catch up with Chapters 1 – 3!
NOW I, TOO, was wearing blue. Although borderline conservative, there was a sexiness in this getup. I imagined that an air of slick sophistication blew through me. I pinched the sharp collar, ran my fingers down six smooth pyrite buttons to my waistline, which, after loose-fitting cotton t-shirts, had never felt so exposed as it did right now. I decided to own it. I could be a new person here. I could absolutely flex this outfit. And before I looked up, I glanced down at my beloved sneakers with a grin. This blue uniform thing wasn’t so bad after all. I didn’t feel like a sheep or member of some Floridian mega-cult, I felt like an astronaut, exploring the unknown. Except these unknowns were not in outer space, they were right here below the surface of the Earth. I wondered how far down we were.
This kid Reba was on fire, I’d never met someone with so much energy. He’d get along well with Killer, I thought, as he lead me down the hall with a pep in his step. He was so excited when he spoke that his words all blended together and he barely took a breath. “I remember my first day here– all tingly with excitement and wide-eyed as I took it all in. Amendment. I’m still wide-eyed and taking it all in and it’s been two years.”
Now I wanted to hear everything, see everything and do everything I could at Seneca. It was the future. I was in the future. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Welcome to the future.” He smiled.
What the heck? Was this kid reading my mind? He winked, then turned back to watch where he was going, almost knocking over a kid who had built-on robotic arms.
“My mistake, Yoshi.”
Yoshi’s left arm slammed into the glistening golden wall, sending a smooth ripple all the way down. The wall morphed right back to normal, not unlike the materials our flexers were made of– a sort of programmable metallic polymer. I wondered if these walls could be commanded into functions other than just dividing spaces, like I could command my flexer to form a cup, harvest rain and purify it to drink, or illuminate an entire room with any color.
Yoshi grunted at Reba, who stepped aside in awe. This Yoshi kid was so small he’d pass for a child ineligible for rides at the amusement park, but he clearly had larger-than-life capabilities that Reba was majorly impressed by. Yoshi continued on, glaring back at Reba, who just offered up a smile.
“Yoshi Higashi. What I’d do to be him for a day.”
My interest was piqued. I mean seriously– kids with robotic arms?
“Come on, first session starts in three minutes, and they’ve got you booked in mathematic applications. Sick session. Wish I could qualify, but they got me searching out mock cadavers in the Aboves.”
I had no clue what that meant, and judging by Reba’s reaction, he could tell.
I didn’t. I just followed, ready to devour this landscape. The halls were completely golden, some brick and some smooth, but all golden. I noticed several of the walls morphing into objects. First I saw a guy approach a wall and it morphed into a water fountain. The water moved with him to meet his mouth. At the water fountain back in my school in LA, we had to press a button and bend to the water. The thing had been around since the 1980’s. I wanted to see more and more. What else could these walls do, and what was behind them?
And then, my world about stood still, for the first time in my life, in the most unlikely of places and times for stillness to occur. A doorway appeared on one of the walls, and from it, emerged a guy about six foot tall, my age, buzz cut, pale skin tone just like me and rocking dark blue combat boots. Our eyes met like magnets– he had one blue and one hazel. I swear to god, if love at first sight existed, this was it. I was rendered a believer in one single instant. In that moment I felt like I knew him. Or at least I wanted to know him. Those lines were happily blurred.
“Campbella? You coming?” Reba was ten steps ahead of me, looking back. He saw who I was scoping out and I could tell it made him a little bummed, but he tried to hide it.
“Yes, sorry, this is all just so…”
“I know. It’s new, exciting, different, etcetera, etcetera… but don’t lose focus. It’s easy to lose focus here.”
No kidding. “No way. I’m totally focused.”
As I followed Reba down the hall, I looked back over my shoulder. Blue combat boots was gone. The farther away I got from him, the closer I wanted to be. I had to find out who he was, where he was from, why he was here.
QUANTUM PHYSICS APPLICATIONS, mathematics in epidemiology, quantum computing freestyle, Seneca civics and ethics, and last, but not least, mathematics in religion. Yes indeed, my schedule was a mind rush. I learned that there was no such thing as paper in Seneca. They only used a stone paper that was made from a calcium carbonate quarried in Virginia and other places in the world too. Absolutely everything is either sustainable, compostable or can be safely reduced to components that create energy. Human waste for example. When we use the toilet it flushes into a “poo-renew” system, as the S.E.R.C. Scholars joke, that breaks it down in skyscraper-sized drums alongside each Seneca City center. The ecosystem within this subterranean city is a dream come true to every hippie in the history of the world.
How could I ever go back to Los Angeles Public School? I couldn’t. My dad would have been all over this situation. Man, did I wish I could share this with him. This was exactly where I needed to be. One second I think I’m headed to reform school to pay for my crimes, the next I’m in Disneyland for tech junkies. I mean, let’s get real for a second, though. It had definitely entered that “too good to be true” zone. Something was up. I just didn’t know what. Yet. Yeah, I wanted to know, but part of me didn’t. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I couldn’t resist the sugar, wasn’t so concerned about what came next. This place didn’t even have grades. It was all performance and incentive based: do well and you were rewarded with awesome mini-adventures. Do bad, repeat the session via tablet until you get it right. If you don’t get it right, you don’t leave the session. Everyone got everything right, eventually. I quickly learned that that’s just the pedigree of the Seneca population. I was flattered that I was considered to be on that level.
Reba picked me up after my last session. “And how would you rate your visit to the future thus far, Lady Campbella?”
He didn’t just have pep in his step; it was in his vocab too. And his shaggy hair had an air of happiness too, as it sashayed back and forth. Reba was growing on me, and I had a feeling that we were going to be good friends. Then I started to think about Julie. I’d be so far away from her. We wouldn’t get to hang out every single day like we had for so many years. Maybe I would get the hook up so she could come visit via BoomJet on the weekends. Could dogs stay in the ambassadors’ house or would I have to leave Killer behind with my mom? There were a lot of unanswered questions, but no matter what, I knew that nothing would ever be the same. It couldn’t be.
“This place is insane.”
“Chica, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
“Well then, show me more, Rrreba.” I rolled my “R” just like he did.
“Easy, tiger– all in due time. Your last stop of the day is at a location in the Aboves. Ellen Malone is taking you.”
“Okay.” The way he said it sounded so mysterious. Like it wasn’t a part of my day that he was excited to share. But I wasn’t worried, because so far everything Ellen Malone had shown me was ridiculously slick. And most of all, I was ready to get past today to start tomorrow and see Blue Combat Boots.
BACK IN A blacked-out flighter with Ellen Malone, I was riding high at twilight in Great Falls. The cabin was soundproofed against the dwindling traffic outside. Taillights and headlights flowed towards infinity in both directions. I knew those lights were like the ones that passed by my mom, and we were somehow connected this way.
“You seem happy here. Different than when I first met you just a couple days ago.”
She was right. When I’d first met Ellen, I’d been ready to go down swinging.
I’d just had that unfortunate hallway conversation with Mr. Malin and had headed home to the small two-bedroom apartment I share with my mom in Culver City. I figured she’d already heard from Mr. Malin about that pointless calculus test and I was ready for round two of, “What are we going to do with you?” I pulled my flexer from my ear and held it to the sensor to unlock the front door.
My dog, Killer, a sweet black Pomeranian, greeted me every day with hops and licks. That day was no different. Despite everyone else’s disapproval of my academic fall, Killer showered me with unconditional praise. Apartment 14W was Killer’s kingdom, and I was his queen. This pup of mine was an expert in extracting the warm fuzzy side of me that, believe it or not, does exist. I scooped him up to my face where he unleashed a barrage of ticklish licks.
“Killer, I missed you so much, my sweet, sweet baby boy.” I remember suddenly feeling that something was off. Drenched in dog breath, I looked down the hallway and noticed that my bedroom door was wide-fricken-open.
“What in the…?”
I always left it locked. Always.
I quickly, but gently, put Killer down and tiptoed down the hall while he jumped at my heels, squealing for attention. As I inched along, I heard the murmur of voices. My heartbeat flat-lined and jump-started into a race.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, then turned and looked through the doorway– there was my mom, sitting with her head in her hands. I was floored.
“What are you doing in my room!?”
“This is so messed up–”
My eyes darted to the ground where I saw the three heavy-duty flexer entry locks from my bedroom door that had been removed and scattered. My mom had let me secure my room after my dad went missing. She knew I needed a sense of security as well as the privacy to deal with grief in my own way, on my own time. And she much preferred that I was in our home behind locked doors than out getting into trouble.
“You broke my locks?!”
Storming in, with Killer yapping away at my side, I instantly realized that my mom and I were not alone–
There were four men all in black, and a striking woman in a power suit. Ellen Malone. She wore a double-breasted metallic blazer and pants perfectly contoured to her body, an electric-blue blouse and three-inch shiny black heels with a silver stone at the base of each heel. Culver City fed Los Angeles with its blue-collared heartbeat. White tees and jeans were more common here than floral dresses at a Southern Baptist church service. Women in high-end power suits were never local.
So the people in my room clearly were not from around our neighborhood. One of the men took a step towards me. Just as fast, I took a step back, scooping Killer up from the ground in the same move.
The approaching man in black pulled out a badge. “Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Damn. I felt my mom’s eyes burn a hole in me. Not just a little hole. This was a full-on fire blown in by the Santa Ana winds.
“Take a seat.”
I sat on the edge of my bed, literally and figuratively. With all these people in my room there was barely room to breathe.
“Expensive equipment for a teenage girl.”
“It was my dad’s.”
“That’s nice,” the agent sneered.
I’d claimed my dad’s gear after it sat dormant in his office for almost a year. Floor to ceiling flat flex glass monitors leaving not an inch of wall visible to the naked eye. Thick, midnight purple velvet drapes pulled closed, their fibers shimmering in a blue hue that emanated from the monitors. The blue hue I lived for. The purr of electronics being cranked full of energy from a stand-alone generator drowned out the sounds of traffic from one of the country’s most congested freeway systems, below us. The 405 delivered a polluted yet calming sound that could be heard in every other nook and cranny of our apartment.
“Your mother is going to prison.”
“What?!” No way. They had to have been there for me, not her. I looked away from the FBI agents to my mom, who sat distraught and broken down. Mascara streaked down her cheeks like charcoal art. Killer panted maniacally, feeding off my anxious energy. I could smell his hot beefy breath. Gross. The whole scene was stamping itself into the impression center of my brain for many a replay at later dates.
“Fifty thousand dollars shows up in her bank account, and she knows it doesn’t belong to her, but she doesn’t tell anyone about it.”
“I told you, I don’t even have a bank account at InfiniCal Bank!” My mom snapped.
Oh my god. The whole situation was absolutely my fault. When all the money had started coming in I had set up a false identity at a bank in the Caribbean, created an account in my mom’s name and transferred that money in to it. Obviously that false identity wasn’t as foolproof as I had hoped it would be.
“You don’t know anything about that do you?”
I remember searching my mom’s face. And she searched mine. I could tell she instantly knew that I must have had something to do with this mystery account the FBI found that was in her name. She always had the answers, but at that moment she was completely incapable of counseling her misfit teenage daughter. I could tell by the way she looked at me that she was thinking of my dad, and that I was indeed my father’s daughter. She always said that. I know I reminded her of him, and it both broke her heart and kept it beating all at once.
“Let me try that again…” The presence of the men in black in my bedroom shook me to my core and they knew it. It wasn’t their first dance, that was clear from the mix of nonchalance and confidence in the agent’s voice. “We’re investigating your mom for wire fraud. If you know something about this and you don’t tell the truth about it, you don’t want to know how both your lives will change. And not in a good way.” I figured that they must have had legit evidence, but all I knew to do was deny, deny, deny. I had to get my mom out of that situation. It wasn’t her fault. My mind raced to find solutions. What should I do? What should I say?
An 8×10 black and white photo of my family tacked up above my motherboard caught my eye. It was the last photo of us all together. I looked at it every morning and every night and wished every single time that our life was still like that. My mom was a geriatric nurse at the hospital and my dad had a “job with security,” as he always liked to say. For an instant, as her happiness in the photo conjured a barrage of memories of our happy past I nearly forgot her current despair. Normally I could get lost in that photo, but not then, in that salty, lingering moment that was all my fault.
“Doro, don’t say anything. We’re getting a lawyer. We’ll fix this.” My mom’s body language didn’t exactly match her words. I kept quiet, but on the inside I was bursting with worry.
Up to that time, Ellen Malone had simply been the woman in the metallic power suit who sat calmly in my peripheral vision. But when we locked eyes, she interjected, “If you all would give us a moment, I’d like to have a word with Dorothy alone.”
The men in black obliged and they took my mom with them. “Thank god,” I thought. That menacing pack of human wolves had my mom in tears and something had to give. Before she left she stared at me with a firm, ‘Don’t say a thing,’ look. I wasn’t going to.
Ellen offered a kind smile, obviously making an effort to quell my panic. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for a long time.”
That was weird. I tried to calculate her motive. I wouldn’t let her smooth talk me, no matter what. I’d thought I was invisible but what an idiot I’d turned out to be. I’d made one bad move because I’d wanted to help my mom out. We were drowning in debt. She did the best she could for us both, but now that my dad was gone our cost of living far surpassed her income, and we were in a deep, deep hole that was only becoming blacker by the second. I knew she was having panic attacks and trying to hide them from me. She’d say she had allergies and would go to the bathroom and cry. We couldn’t even afford two flexers anymore. She gave hers up so I could keep mine. I’d felt guilty and helpless for so long. I had always wanted to help and finally I could. I knew creating that account for her was the only way to get her the cash. I believed that would allow the transfer to fly under the radar, but it didn’t.
Ellen stood up. “I know what you’re thinking–”
“You people always do.”
“And I understand why you’d be guarded with me. But I’m not part of the FBI. I’m here to offer you help.”
I don’t know what it was with adults always thinking I needed help… but this wasn’t about me anymore. I had reeled my mom in to this mess as a result of my criminal activity. I had no choice but to listen.
“Let’s be honest. You and I both know where that money came from…”
I put on my best poker face. Wasn’t talking, no matter what.
“But I don’t care about that, Dorothy. What’s done is done. Let me tell you what I do care about. Your mom is going to prison, unless we do something about it.”
I crossed my arms and tilted my chin up to offer her my skeptical ears.
“The mandatory sentence for wire fraud is six years. I know you don’t want your mom to rot away in prison. I don’t want that either. Wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I can make all of this go away, Dorothy. Are you interested in hearing me out?”
Although everything inside me said, “trust no one,” I slowly started to feel in my gut that maybe she had come for good reasons. Maybe. I might listen, but by no means was I ready to offer compliance. “Not really.”
Ellen turned in towards my system of monitors, looking intently at it. There was no way she knew what it all meant. I noticed that the view through her glasses was blurry until she turned a tiny knob on the side of the frame and her lenses adjusted to the focal point: A numerical reading that was multiplying at what might as well have been the speed of light.
She took her glasses off. Puffy, dark skin framed her kind blue eyes. A loose bun held up with no kinks in her hair. I could not get my hair up like that to save my life. My ponytail always had kinks. “She must be pushing forty,” I thought, and wondered why in the world she thought my monitors were, as she put it, “impressive.” She couldn’t possibly have known what she was looking at. Not a chance.
“Did you know that you’re the only person to have broken the algorithm for every major gambling site in the world?”
I was stunned. Who was Ellen Malone? Until I knew that, and what she was doing in my room, I was going to play dumb. “I don’t know what you mean.”
She gave me a smile as if to say, “How cute.” No matter which way I played it, Ellen Malone was reading me like a book.
“Dorothy, I appreciate your sense of humor. We’re both smart women here. Well, you might be smarter, and that’s fine.”
It was weird. I didn’t know her. She was enigmatic. Yet against my better judgment, she was someone I wanted to trust. Wanted to, but wouldn’t. She’d called me a woman, when everyone else considered me a kid. She already knew so much about me, and now I wanted to know about her.
“My name’s Ellen. Ellen Malone. When I heard about what was going on here, I knew I had to step in. It would be a shame to let your genius go to waste. Those guys out there, they don’t understand that. All they care about is the law, and that you’ve broken it. I can look past that because I see your potential.”
“Thanks.” It was a compliment after all, and so far I liked the direction of this conversation, considering where it was headed just a few minutes back.
“I took a BoomJet in from Virginia this afternoon to personally invite you to be a part of something. Something very special.”
“Great. A cult. I should have known.”
“Not even close.”
She took a controlled breath and stared me down. As a matter of fact, she gave me the stare-off of all stare-offs. “Do I really look like I’m in a cult?”
I looked away.
“Cults don’t recruit geniuses, they recruit the weak-minded.”
She was right. Being facetious wasn’t working for me. I needed to get my mom out of trouble, find out who Ellen Malone really was, and what she really wanted from me.
“I can go. I’ll just let the men waiting in your living room know that I’m done here.”
Ellen stood to go and didn’t hesitate. She walked towards my door and didn’t look back. My immediate future flashed before me. My mom being torn out of our apartment, hauled off to prison. Me on my own. I’d probably end up in juvie or even worse, some orphanage.
Ellen stopped in my doorway when she heard my voice, but she didn’t turn to look at me.
“I want to know what you came here for. What do you want from me?”
“Honestly, Doro, what I have to offer you is a privilege. It’s something I wanted to do, not something I needed to do.”
“Alright. I’m sorry. Please understand, coming home to… this… completely shocked me.”
“Listen, I can’t say I sympathize with you on this current situation. The law was broken and this is the consequence. I’m here with a solution, because I don’t want you to flush your talents down the drain. I want you to bring them to a place where they can be refined and used for good.”
First Mr. Malin and then Ellen Malone with the flush metaphor. Was something out there in the universe trying to tell me to get my head out of the toilet or what? As weird as it felt, the probability was super slim that a higher power was speaking to me through toilet metaphors. But still…
“Oh, you’ll see for yourself. I’m not asking you to simply accept anything as the ultimate truth. Just open your eyes, Doro.”
“Okay. Eyes open. Mind open, too.”
I felt our dueling presences arrive at some sort of odd alignment. Despite the friction, something clicked.
“Most of the people in this world don’t get second chances, Doro. This is yours. It has everything to do with the future. With your future.”
Over the next several hours, Ellen gave me one seriously strong sales pitch. Probably the most convincing part of it was that she made it perfectly clear that she knew everything. She knew I had my hand in every major online gambling site in the world. Everything from poker and beyond, if there was algorithm-based security on their sites, I had pretty much had their number. Processes that entire departments in the government had been researching for decades had taken me just a couple of weeks to crack. If quantum cryptography couldn’t stop the Chinese, it couldn’t stop me. I’d written the algorithms to break the quantum repeaters that the sites had in place. This wasn’t a learned skill. According to my dad, it was a gift. Ellen Malone saw it as that, too. Most people that were on the same wavelength as one another finished each other’s sentences. But my dad and I, we finished each other’s equations.
The systems in my room were set to work around the clock. My method was to create new identities, setting them to win and lose at a 75/25 ratio, and then shutting them down once they’d won more than about $500,000. I had been funneling millions of dollars from all of these wins into an offshore bank account in the Cayman Islands, where they don’t ask a lot of questions when they see big sums of money come and go. In less than one month I’d racked up nearly a billion dollars. Getting to that point had been a walk in the park for me. I felt confident in the invisibility my secret identities provided, and thought I’d been careful not to raise any red flags. Unfortunately one red flag had been flapping in the wind. Some secret division of the United States Government had its all-knowing eye on me.
During that conversation with Ellen I’d responded with equal parts resistance and curiosity, but no matter what I conjured up as Ellen’s possible motives, I knew that going with Ellen to some reform school in Virginia was the only way for me to protect my mom. So the next thing I knew, I was here. Seneca City. Totally not reform school and nothing like LA. Ellen was right, I did feel completely different here.
“I can’t believe this is all happening, I mean, I’ve dreamt that places like this existed ever since I was a little kid. My dad talked about this sort of existence all the time. Instead of bedtime stories, he would light up my room with flexer moonlight and tell me all about Earth’s great potentials and how I would be a part of it all one day. Now it’s starting to come true. I just wish he could see it.”
“I bet he can.” She was so optimistic. Definitely not the typical authority figure I’d dealt with in my life so far, always trying to suppress my spirit. She was trying to align with me and that was pretty darn cool. I wanted to feel her optimism, but I was still worried that all this goodness just couldn’t be real. I wanted to be careful not to be blinded by the allure of a secret city which fulfilled all of my technological fantasies.
“So, what’s the catch?”
“Yeah, why me? Why this? Why now?”
Ellen looked out the window. The amber light filled her face with a glow and illuminated her pride for Seneca. She didn’t have to search for an answer to my question. It came naturally to her.
“That’s something you need to answer for yourself.”
Wow, she was good. I pondered her statement for the remainder of the ride.
We suddenly emerged from the greenery into the city. The sky behind us was fading from the moody gray-blue I was so taken by, into a gradient of plum and orange. I could see that we were descending on the nation’s capital.
The flighter crossed over a much more serene part of the Potomac than the raging river I had glimpsed that morning. White buildings reflected like glassy replicas in the stillness of the water. The Kennedy Center, the White House, the Washington Monument… one after the other. In a matter of three minutes I took them all in. We landed on the roof of a building. I could see the top of the Capitol. I was literally inside my last U.S. history class. Experience was replacing being lectured about stuff and it was fine with me.
A man in a mustard-colored tweed suit with a chocolate shirt and plaid tie greeted us with open arms as we emerged from the flighter. He gave Ellen Malone a huge hug and then turned to me, like I was his long-lost favorite niece. “There she is!”
He gave me a firm handshake.
“Gregory, sorry we’re late, I wanted to bring Doro via the scenic route. It’s her first time in D.C.”
“And hopefully not her last!”
Ellen Malone and Gregory had similar smiles.
I flashed one right back, “Definitely not.”
“Well, come on in, there are some people who’ve been looking forward to meeting you.” And, with that, Gregory ushered us in through the door, past a security guard that looked like he might be Secret Service.
Gregory Zaffron had a great gait. I’ve always been super into people’s walking styles. A walk says a lot about a person. My walk has always been smooth like butter. I try to blend into my environment, not bring too much attention to myself when I move. Gregory was the opposite. His steps were long and wide. His mustard jacket moved like a cape.
“Great day, ain’t it?”
Ellen Malone and I looked at one another and smiled. Gregory hadn’t said anything funny– he just was funny by being himself. There were an awful lot of characters here in this world of Seneca. I liked everyone I had met so far except for Jennifer Wallingsford’s friend, McKayla. To top it all off, I already had heart palpitations over some guy I’d seen from a distance, and that’s not even my style.
We approached a gargantuan, medieval-looking door. Gregory gave the guards in front of it a nod and they stepped aside as we walked in.
“Dorothy Campbell. You’re finally here.”
Holy crap. It was Congressman Wallingsford. And Jennifer was here, too.
“Congressman Wallingsford, sir, it’s an honor to meet you.”
“The honor is all mine.”
Congressman Wallingsford, Jennifer and a power-packed, exquisitely groomed group of six men and one woman sat around a grand mahogany table in a windowless room. I tried to take in the tufted leather seats, intricate Persian rug, elaborate crown molding and the lemony scent of wood polish that I love. All eyes were on me. Me.
“Please, have a seat.” Congressman Wallingsford pulled out a giant black leather chair for me right next to his daughter. Ellen Malone took a seat next to me.
“We hope you’ve enjoyed yourself so far.”
“This is all so incredible, and everyone is so nice. I don’t even know how to thank you for having me here.”
Congressman Wallingsford had a certain look of determination– the aura of a man who knows what he wants and will stop at nothing to get it, a man whose path you wouldn’t want to be stupid enough to cross. He took a casual seat at the end of the mahogany tabletop across from everyone else.
“Oh, you don’t have to thank us. We should be thanking you for coming out to visit us here at Seneca.” The people in the room all nodded in agreement. “So, thank you, Dorothy.”
“You’re welcome?” I didn’t feel like I should be the one saying that.
Ellen put her hand on my shoulder. “I’ve got feedback that Doro here is perfect for the program. She fit in so well today. All of the session leaders had nothing but good things to say about her.”
“So I hear.”
I smiled. Congressman Wallingsford hadn’t stopped smiling since I’d entered the room. His teeth were whiter than freshly cut coconut, with one solid gold cap peeking out from a bottom tooth. Seneca must be Land of the Smiles, I thought. Not a large man physically, at just about five foot eight and maybe a buck sixty in weight, Congressman Wallingsford still had a presence so vast it filled the whole room. You couldn’t avoid his powerful gaze. A five o’clock shadow of peppery hair was just beginning to show through his once clean shave.
As cool as this was, things felt bizarre. Why were they all being so extraordinarily nice to me?
Congressman Wallingsford got up from his perch at the end of the table. “We’d love for you to stay.”
I knew everyone kept saying things like that, but coming from one of the most powerful men in our government, I was awestruck. “Really? That would be… I mean, that’s beyond amazing.”
The vibe in the room was not normal, just like the rest of this abnormal Seneca situation. It was so many things all at once– exciting, scary, fun, confusing, exhilarating… addictive… I was swirling in a whirlwind.
Ellen turned and looked at me in earnest. “There is one caveat, Doro. In order for you to stay with us, you will never be able to turn back.”
That took a moment to register. What did never mean? “Turn back,” like I’d be out of the school system for good, or “turn back” meaning to LA? I didn’t want to go back to my old school. I most definitely wanted to stay here and have this experience, but did she mean that I could never go home?
Jennifer spoke up. “Dorothy, this place is incredible. We all know it. This is an opportunity for you to be a part something huge that pretty much every other person our age will never even know exists.”
“I hear you.”
Congressman Wallingsford motioned for everyone to leave the room except for Ellen, Jennifer and me. I didn’t even know who they were and now they were all gone. The focus on me was getting even tighter. I started to feel like I was being cornered and had to let them know where I stood before things got stickier.
“I have to be able to go home and see my mom, my friends, my dog, my apartment.”
Congressman Wallingsford lost his smile. Uh oh. Things were going to get intense. I wished that we could just rewind to the cool stuff, like being in the golden hallway with Blue Combat Boots. I closed my eyes tight, and hoped this part would be over when I opened them, but it wasn’t.
“The truth is, Dorothy, this is the one and only opportunity you will ever truly have in your life to change things. To make the world a better place for your mom, and everyone else.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Billions of people– over half of the world’s population– live in poverty. They don’t have access to education, medicine, food, you name it. The things most of us take for granted. The climate has been undergoing a drastic change since before our time, and in the Aboves we no longer have the means to stop that momentum. You don’t want to imagine the planet your children and their children will see if things continue in this direction.”
“I get that.”
“I hope you do. You see, things haven’t changed because people haven’t taken responsibility for altering this path. Until now. You’ve had a chance to experience the Senecan lifestyle. You’re beginning to understand how forward-thinking it is. Trust me, you’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg. Imagine the possibilities if what we are capable of here in Seneca were to extend to everyone in the world.”
I couldn’t imagine it. It seemed too good to be true. But it also seemed that if anyone had the power to make that happen it would be someone like Congressman Wallingsford and his powerful government pals.
“That’s the goal, Dorothy. But there is a plan and there is a price.”
It was just too much to comprehend that the only way I could participate in this revolutionary plan for humanity was by walking away from everything I’ve ever known and loved. I had a feeling that what he was saying was one hundred percent authentic, but I still didn’t understand why he was discussing this with me.
“So you’re telling me I just have to accept the end of my life?”
“No, just the the end of life as you know it.” Congressman Wallingsford finally sat down in the biggest chair in the room. “But for us, it’s the beginning of a new life. A better life for all of humanity. But great change requires hard work, compromise and tremendous dedication. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Ellen put her hand on my shoulder again. “Congressman Wallingsford is right, Doro. You have to think of it as a new beginning. You’re someone whom we want and need to have as a part of the Seneca Society.”
“Ellen was sent to bring you here because your unique talents would contribute greatly to the creation of this international society we’re building. That’s what Seneca is, Dorothy. A better tomorrow— for everyone on earth, not just Senecans.”
This whole pitch was beginning to sound like a corny commercial, but at the same time I couldn’t help being compelled by his argument.
“I don’t get it. How is it possible to change the whole world?”
“Over the past ten years, we have developed a circuit of metropolitan hubs beneath the surface of the Earth in which human life can thrive. Each hub is equipped with its own contingency of the world’s most gifted, intelligent, and healthy, citizens on the planet. The recruiting process started three years ago. We‘re dedicated to forming a society capable of overcoming the damage of the past before it’s too late.”
I looked away. How could I change things? I couldn’t face the picture of urgency he was painting.
“Because of your qualifications, you, Dorothy, are one of the chosen to help do that.”
I felt I had to respond in some way but I still couldn’t commit to something that seemed like an insanely irrevocable decision.
“Of course I don’t want to just sit back and ride the decline of civilization, but I can’t just leave my mom.”
“We understand the weight of the decision you need to make. It’s never easy.”
My senses warped. The room got smaller. All I could hear was the sound of my own breath. “But I just don’t understand. What about my mom, why can’t she come with me?”
Congressman Wallingsford turned to Ellen Malone. She was looking at me with compassion, as though she wanted to protect me, but still had to give me a crucial piece of information. “Unfortunately, there is extremely limited space in Seneca, and only the chosen can join us on this journey.”
“So you’re telling me you want me to leave my mom behind? Like we can’t be a part of each others’ lives anymore, at all?” Panic was setting in. I couldn’t leave my mom. As much as I alienated her, and she me, she was all I had. I loved her to death. She was my mom.
“Doro, you will be a part of her life in a different way. In shaping the life she can live in the future. Just think about it. This is going to take some time to accept. It did for all of us. But in our mission to ensure the preservation and quality of life on this planet, we are dealing with infinitely valuable information. You must understand that Seneca is beyond top secret in nature and must be protected as such.”
I sat forward and dropped my head into my hands. I rarely ever broke down, but this was it for me. My breaking point. Leave, and be with my mom in a place where I’d never truly be able to make a difference, or stay, leaving behind the only person who loves me, who has done everything for me, but putting my gifts to good use for the betterment my mom’s life and the world.
Jennifer looked to her dad for approval to speak. This was clearly something the three of them had been through before. “I lost my mom when I was twelve. At first it was horrible. I couldn’t get through one second of the day without missing her. I cried more often than not. And this is no different. It’s not easy to imagine life without your mom in it, Dorothy, but it is the only way to make a better life for you and her… I will be there for you, to support you in any way I can.”
I felt trapped. “No way. I’m not leaving her.”
“If you turn back, you will never be given this opportunity again,” Ellen said.
“Oh well.” Even though I said that, I felt deep inside that I couldn’t walk away from this. I couldn’t. But I couldn’t leave my mom either! This had been in the cards all along and Ellen had built me up to give me this information and let me crash.
Congressman Wallingsford fingered his flexer sitting on the table in front of him. “We’re ready for you, Gregory.”
Gregory came in with another dude, probably about seventy years old, Indian, kind old eyes. He smiled. Go figure.
Congressman Wallingsford leaned over the table towards me. “It’s time for you to choose, Dorothy Campbell. Will you join the society of the future? Now that you know what can be, can you really go back to the life you were living? Of indefinitely riding that stale status quo?”
“I– I have to talk to my mom,” I stuttered.
“I’m sorry, you can’t.”
“This can’t be okay, I’m a minor, I…”
Ellen took my shoulder again, this time more firmly. “Doro, I know this is extremely difficult, but it’s the way things have to…”
“Difficult?! It’s beyond messed up. I want to talk to my mom. You have to let me call her.”
Gregory chimed in. “Once you make your decision, you’ll have the chance to speak with her, but it will be monitored and you will be given a specific set of guidelines for what you can and cannot say.”
“Don’t you have freedom of speech in Seneca?”
“Of course we do!” Ellen said, “But you understand that we must be extraordinarily careful about how and when we bring this information to the Aboves.”
Ellen was trying to comfort me with reason, but this time it wasn’t going to work. Pleasantries and charisma couldn’t calm me now. “And what if I say no?”
Gregory stepped forward and put his arm around the Indian man. “Dorothy, this is Dr. Ashvind Kulkarni. He’s one of Seneca’s top M.D.s. If you choose to leave this room without committing to join Seneca, he will administer a Cogniz-X dosage that will erase all memory of what you’ve seen and heard here in the past forty-eight hours. The drug will take effect in less than an hour, in which time we will transport you via PFV to Washington Dulles Airport, and from there you’ll fly back to Los Angeles. You’ll be back home with your mother by sunrise tomorrow, completely unaffected by what’s happened here. You’ll go on with your normal life, without knowing anything at all about the Seneca Society.”
Read more Seneca Rebel. Chapters 7 – 12 available now!