by: Rayya Deeb1
Follow your heart and take the road less traveled, Citizen.
Join the adventure. Catch up with Chapters 4 – 6!
MY EYES WERE closed to help me think. When they were open, the sensory extravaganza around me swallowed my thoughts. How was I going to tell her? I thought of my dad. Would he understand why I made this choice? That this was ultimately the best choice for everyone in my life? I thought of my mom, alone and wondering why I’d never come home after my stint at a government-backed reform school. I thought of Killer, Julie, my visits to Café Firenze before I went to school. Joining my mom on house-calls to her patients that had become like family to me.
My mom, Layla Campbell, is a no-nonsense, hardworking woman. Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Lebanon to Glendale, California. My grandfather hadn’t gone to college. He’d gotten into the food import business just like his father before him, and had become fairly successful off of selling yogurt drinks. He had married a Greek-American woman from the Greek Orthodox Church and my mom was their only child. She was an overachiever from the get-go. Spent summers hiding out, reading and listening to vintage LPs in the dark while other kids played video games and caused a ruckus all over the city. She was only nineteen when she met the love of her life– my dad– Johnny Campbell.
My dad was a small-town Wisconsin boy who’d come to Los Angeles to attend UCLA on a full-ride mathematics scholarship. My mom was in the nursing program and worked part-time in the student union, where my dad would come to see her every second of every day he wasn’t in class. Like me, the guy didn’t need to study and he didn’t need to sleep. All he knew was math and my mom.
I hadn’t chosen this path for my life; it was just the way things unfolded. And I desperately needed to rescue my mom from the terrible mess I had put her in. To her, this whole “reform school” plan could be the thing to get me away from the memories at home she thought were causing me to act out. She didn’t have a clue about the big picture or the work being done below ground in Seneca. But if she did, I was sure she’d understand that they were legitimately trying to save the world. And she’d be proud that I could be a part of that.
I knew my job was to figure out a way to bring my mom to Seneca too. I just knew it. I would have to. My staying in Seneca or not wasn’t really even a decision. It was the gamble I had to make. Ultimately, while the pain that rippled through my heart was beyond anything I’d ever felt, I was compelled from deep within to make the hardest choice I’d ever had to make.
I was numb. My fingers could barely move across my flexer screen. It felt like my hands were frostbitten while my body was actually burning up. Even though they had debriefed me on what I could and couldn’t say to my mom regarding my new ‘school’ and my decision to stay here, how I was going to keep the real information from her? If I strayed from the script, I would be putting my mom in danger.
The only thing to do was jump in and call. It was go time.
“Doro!” Her voice warmed my soul but singed it with agony, too. Would I ever see her face again, I wondered.
At hearing her voice I squeezed my eyes tight and fought a sob with everything I had. My chest seemed filled with sandbags, my palms sweaty.
I was alone in a dignified guest room, but I felt like I was being monitored. I didn’t trust that it was safe to stray from the parameters they had provided for this conversation. A newbie in their world, I wasn’t ready to test their boundaries yet.
“Hi, honey! How’s your trip going? I want to hear everything!”
I was choked up but dug deep down to muster up the strength to say what I needed to say. To make my mom feel at ease no matter how far from reality my own comfort was.
“I love you.” It came out without even thinking about it.
“Well, I love you. Killer is right here and he misses you, too. He hasn’t left your bed since you’ve been gone. Only when I lured him out with a marrow bone from Romeo’s Meat Market.”
I laughed, and was glad she couldn’t see the tears streaming down my face.
“I miss you guys so much. This is a great place for me, though. They’re doing such cool things, and I’ve decided that… I’d like to stay.”
“That’s great, hon. I think something like this is just what you need. And they’ll be lucky to have you.”
“Will you be coming home to pack? When should I plan on coming to visit?”
Nothing about this felt right to me, but I knew it had to be done– for now.
“That’s the thing. They don’t allow visitors… in the first few months… while we go through this big mental and physical cleansing process. But I think there is a parents’ weekend after that.”
“Really? Well… okay… I guess we’ll plan for later, then. You let me know when, and I’ll come right away, okay?”
“I miss you mom. So much. But I can’t come home to pack if I want to stay here. They send government appointed messengers to retrieve the things I’ll need.”
“Wow, this is really serious.”
“I know. I’m sorry we didn’t get to say goodbye properly– or, not goodbye. You know what I mean.”
“Doro, it’s okay. We’ll be together again sooner than you think. Until then, I’ll have Killer to keep me company. You just do what you need to do, and know that I’m proud of you.”
This was it. I was leaving my life behind. I truly believed that, despite what I had been told, my mom and I would be reunited one day. Hearing her voice confirmed that. I would never let her go that easily. Never.
THE SKIN UNDER my eyes was puffy and raw from crying all night. I know I’m like my dad and used to getting no sleep, but this was crazy. I was really feeling it now. I was dressed in blue from head to toe, descending on the gold-domed grass patch deep into Seneca, my new home.
“Campbella!” I was too tired to turn around. I didn’t have to because Reba was by my side in a flash. His hair was more disheveled than the last time I’d seen him, his shirt half tucked in. He had been waiting at the entry point. “I am so crazy happy to see you today. You have no idea. It’s always a crapshoot; will the newbies be back or not? You know? And you are, and that is incredible!”
“For who?” Even though I had made the choice, I was plagued with guilt.
“Two years ago, I went through exactly what you’re going through, and trust me, it gets better. Even though we’re a part of something so unbelievably phenomenal, that doesn’t mean the other side of the sword doesn’t affect us. We’re still human. But you’ll see. It’ll get better.”
“Thanks, Reba.” I really did appreciate this bubbly guy. Yet part of me wanted to resist his friendship, out of loyalty to Julie. I felt like I’d be replacing her. My inner circle was being dismantled and rebuilt.
“I have to tell you, though, what you go through next isn’t for the faint of heart. So hang on tight, and if you need a friend…” Reba held up his wrist. His flexer was in the form of a retro stopwatch. I took mine from my back pocket and we pressed them together.
“I gotta bounce now, chica, but how about lunch? I think we have it at the same time.”
“Yeah, we can do lunch.”
“Sweet!” And Reba was gone in the blink of an eye. I pulled up my locations map on my flexer. I pinpointed my first official session of my first real day as a citizen of Seneca: Mathematics in epidemiology. If I had to pick a least favorite session, this would be the one. I always hated discussing diseases but, hey, I get it, everyone hated it just the same and that’s why they were so set on finding ways to eradicate it in this new society.
I looked up from my entry point to determine which of four golden hallways I needed to take. In my direct line of vision, about forty-five yards down, there was a perfectly shaped head with a buzz cut. My eyes darted to the floor. There they were: blue combat boots. I looked up. His face. Two mysterious, different-colored eyes with a depth to them I so badly wanted to explore. I wanted for him to see me. He didn’t. I looked down the hall I needed to take, but he was headed in the opposite direction. By the time I looked back to where he’d been, he was gone.
The urge to follow him was magnetic. I moved without even thinking. I made it to where I’d last seen him standing. There were no doors in sight. Maybe one had opened up for him in the wall, like I had seen happen the day before. He could be anywhere. I needed to get to session, set to begin in two minutes. I definitely didn’t want to start things off on the wrong foot by being late.
As I headed back in the other direction, McKayla Gordon, Jennifer Wallingsford’s sour friend, appeared.
“Hi, McKayla.” I figured if I was here to stay, it was probably best to play nice. No need to have enemies right off the bat in a brand new place. Neutrality was my goal.
“Not feeling suicidal today are you, Nirvana?” She smirked and eyed me as a doorway opened up in the golden wall for her.
“Not today, but thanks for your concern.”
I watched her saunter past me, through the instant door and into her session. I glimpsed inside the room and was about to walk away when something caught my eye. McKayla sat in front of him. Blue Combat Boots was in her session. He looked up and saw me staring at him from outside the room. And just like that, the door glazed over in the mirrored gold and I was staring back at myself. Or a version of myself that was acting like a silly little girl with a silly little crush. A girl I didn’t know. I snapped out of it. With one minute to get to session, I booked it back down the hall and made it to my seat with seconds to spare.
RATHER THAN JOINING the other girls of the dorm for our morning ride into Seneca, Ellen picked me up in a flighter with a driver and a special guard. These two were always with her. They were in the front. She was in the back. I wasn’t sure where we were headed. But I was getting used to that.
She handed me a coffee. “Do you like mochas?” It was my first real whiff of coffee since the last time I’d been inside Café Firenze four mornings before. (Had it really only been four days ago that all this had begun?) I swiped the cup from Ellen’s hand, took the lid off and slurped up the still unmelted whipped cream atop the silky, chocolate-infused espresso milk. One whiff of the rich aroma made my heart ache, made me miss my mom more than I ever knew I could. It was even more painful than missing my dad, I think, because I had chosen to do it.
“You made the right choice, Doro.”
I took a sip– it hurt so good. “That’s what I hear… I hope so.”
“I made the same choice three years ago, when I accepted Congressman Wallingsford’s invitation to join Seneca’s Youth Initiation Division.”
Ellen was touching her necklace, her eyes chock full of sorrow. I felt an energy emanating from her that resonated with me. An understanding between us. She removed her necklace. It was a Yin Yang in silver and gold, with two diamonds as the dots, each encircled in the metal of the opposite side. Her hand started to shake. She opened it. It was a locket, and inside was a tiny picture of her and a little boy. He must have been around eight or nine. “It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. The hardest thing I’ll ever do. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, or a night when he isn’t present in my dreams.”
It was her son. I didn’t have to ask. “What’s his name?”
“Connor. I call him Con Con. He’ll never understand why I never came home.”
We sat in silence for the rest of the ride. I wasn’t the only one who’d made a big sacrifice.
The flighter traveled deeper and deeper into lush greenery, away from civilization. It was quite possibly the most scenic trip I’d taken in my entire life. I saw virtually no signs of human life other than train tracks and a dozen or more freight trucks as we flighted down 81 South. The Smart Road was populated with automated vehicles. That was where the majority of the traffic was, if you’d even call it traffic, which you wouldn’t. Besides the highway, the Smart Road and a flighter here and there, we were just like a brush sweeping across nature’s paint palette, collecting all its richness in our bristles. My lungs opened up to the thick, moist air, my eyes as wide as an owl’s in the dark of night. Except it was twilight, and the sky was still a deep sea blue, only just beginning its slow fade to black.
We reached a mountainous area of Southern Virginia and the flighter landed in a secluded nook, next to a lake. The water was still and inviting. As the seasons changed, the robust green that filled the branches here was speckled ever so lightly with maroon and orange.
“This is Claytor Lake.”
“Isn’t it? All this is the result of a dam built on the oldest river in North America. It’s an ancient gift that, fortunately, man has not yet destroyed. The dam once provided this region with much of its hydroelectric power. Southern Gate Electric, a utilities company owned by Congressman Wallingsford’s brother, Billy, bought the dam five years ago and Seneca had it converted to power a large portion of the Northwestern Seneca hemisphere. This small area provides us with a substantial source of power that allows us to do the things we do. It’s also used to cool our super computers. Right now, we’re standing directly above the greatest computing center in the world as well as one of Seneca’s premier medical hubs.”
I looked around, trying to pinpoint any sign of this. Nothing. In fact, everything I saw was natural and gorgeous— the antithesis of the artificial world of computers. “You would never know.”
“And for the most part, no one does.”
The mysterious men in blue shadowed us. About a hundred yards down, near the forest’s edge, I saw a circle of grass with a gold ring. The entrance.
“Come on, let me show you.”
Our little posse met two more men in blue at the entrance, trading places with our original escorts who turned back to the flighter. We stepped onto the encircled grass patch. The gold dome appeared and then, quickly, we descended. I was kind of surprised that taking this advanced elevator down inside the earth was beginning to feel normal.
“Doro, this is where you’ll be spending a lot of time once you go through your pre-requisite session work at S.E.R.C.”
When the gold dissolved, the forest’s sweet serenity was replaced by walls of computer monitors, all pumping out droves of data. This place was like my bedroom on insane mega steroids. An open workspace. People everywhere, young and old, of every ethnicity, working together or apart on intricate spreadsheets of equations and data. The buzz of machinery and voices blended symphonically. The smell of technology, what an aphrodisiac! Everyone looked enthusiastic about the work they were focussed on. This was an absolute wonderland to a tech junkie like me.
I started along a five-foot-wide gold path that ran through the middle of the open space. One group in blue caught my eye. They were all my age and were working with people of various ages, from a three-year-old girl to a man of about sixty. I skidded to a stop. One of those people was Blue Combat Boots. Everything around me faded to a blur, then pulled focus on him. Blue Combat Boots was working with the sixty-something man, taking stats from sensors on the man’s body as he walked on a treadmill.
“Doro? You coming?”
“Yes… what’s going on over there?”
“That’s a regenerative medicine residency for advanced S.E.R.C. scholars.”
“So what, like physical therapy?”
“Like growing limbs for patients that were either born without them, or lost them in situations like land mine explosions or car accidents. Even people who had their lungs removed from cancer can have brand new lungs that work better than the ones they were born with.”
This was absolutely amazing. These patients were moving their arms and legs as if they’d always had healthy ones. Scientists had been trying to perfect this advancement in the Aboves for decades. Here in Seneca, it was so normal that not only doctors were analyzing patients’ progress, but people my age were, too. And one of those people was Blue Combat Boots. This guy wasn’t anything like the ones I went to school with back in LA. Oh no, he most certainly was not. I stood there watching him as he and the older man shared a joke.
“There will be plenty of time for you to explore all of this, but today we have a different agenda.”
I looked at Ellen Malone with the wonder of a kid on Christmas morning. If only I could stay in this spot for just a few moments more. But she didn’t return my “this is going to be fun” look, and so I followed her, looking back until I was beyond where I could see him anymore.
“There’s an awful disease endemic to Seneca that comes from an abundant fauna in the Southeastern Hemisphere. Necrolla Carne. It’s an organism that slowly eats away at the human body, causing a long, drawn-out death. It’s something you never, ever want to witness.”
“Um, that is repulsive. Makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.” Ellen was amused as I scratched furiously at my arms. Talk of disease always made me feel the symptoms. Just like my dad. He was always washing his hands thoroughly, all the way up to his elbows.
“Fortunately, our medical research and development team has developed a vaccine that immunizes us from it.”
“A shot? I’m getting a shot today?”
“It’s not too bad.”
“It’s the worst. I hate shots. I hate needles. I might pass out.”
Ellen laughed. I did, too, but out of nervousness, not amusement. Soon we entered a medical wing that made every doctor’s office I’d ever visited back home look like an exhibit in a history museum. Ellen explained that I wouldn’t see a doctor unless a problem arose, and that was only three to five percent of the time. Instead, a lot of my experience would be automated or handled by technicians.
I followed the footpath map to the med-unit, which had been transmitted to my flexer upon entry. I marveled at the white touch screen with blue typeface that covered the entire length of the wall. It was an automated system that managed the devices within each med-unit and was overseen by a few med-techs in powder blue lab coats. My flexer notified me that I had reached my med-unit, so I stopped and went inside as the golden door opened.
My instructions were relayed to me by an automated narration in a calming female voice: “Take a seat.” “Roll up your sleeve.” “Open your mouth.”
Even though I was a little nervous, I laid back in a robotic chair that did all the work a nurse or doctor always had done in the past, and surprised myself by thinking that I trusted this machine more than I would an actual doctor. My physical statistical data was transmitted from the chair back to the computer for analysis and report, and the machine said, “You are healthy, Dorothy.”
If this technology already existed, why couldn’t it happen up in the Aboves? No sooner had I begun to ponder that than a voice instructed me to expose my left shoulder for that dreadful shot.
I WOKE UP in a haze and a cold sweat. I was literally drenched, back in my bed back at the ambassadors’ house. Ellen Malone must have brought me back while I was out cold. Things were a little blurry, but after a moment, I regained focus and grabbed for the glass of water at my bedside. I downed it. That vaccine was no joke. Luckily it was preparing my body to fight this disgusting Necrolla Carne disease. No way was I going to take the chance of getting some retched flesh-eating organism.
I was thankful for the comforts of the ambassador’s house right now. It was Friday, my last day there, my last days living in the Aboves. Over the weekend I would be set up in my new habitat in Seneca. It was surreal, to say the least, to know that I was moving to a location below the surface of the Earth. Permanently.
It was no sweat off anyone’s back that I wasn’t making it to that Friday’s sessions. I guessed this vaccination was something every citizen of Seneca went through, and my reaction was no different than anybody else’s.
There was a light tap at my door and Jennifer Wallingsford poked her head in. It was the middle of the day and the mansion had been so quiet that I thought I was alone.
“Hi there.” Her face bloomed in sympathetic recognition, “Oh, the Necrolla Carne vaccine. Isn’t it the worst?”
“I just feel like death, but other than that, no big deal.”
“Seriously. Well, it’s worth it for a day of feeling like death over a permanent real death.”
“I have the day off to pack for my family vacation to Cape Cod. Do you want me to get you anything before I go?”
“No thanks, no appetite.”
Jennifer was in sweats but still managed to look extremely put together. Like she was in a catalogue for high-end varsity athletic gear. It stung me in the gut when she said she’d be with her family. It not only made me jealous, but I felt cheated too. How come she could be with her family, but I’d been forcibly separated from my mom– especially while I was still dealing with losing my dad? My stomach was crippled with queasiness, not just from the shot, but also from the thought of not seeing my mom again.
A deep voice called up from downstairs. “J. Wall?!”
“I’m upstairs,” she hollered back down. “My twin brother. Time to go.”
Her twin brother: G.W. Wallingsford. From what I had always heard, the Wallingsfords were related to the first president of our country, George Washington. And so the first initial of his name was for George after the most famous George of all, and the middle initial, W, was for William, his uncle. G.W. had been in the news a lot because he had gotten busted at a party in Georgetown with a bunch of Mojo’d-out teenagers. The whole thing was pushed under the rug faster than a BoomJet as G.W. suddenly started speaking out on behalf of the anti-Mojo movement. He’d become their poster-child.
The Mojo Stick was a nano technology that rendered all other recreational drugs obsolete. Now you could just inject a micro-computerized version of your drug trip of choice straight into your bloodstream. There were cocktails of every variety, you name it. Anything from a light buzz to being completely out of it. Since there was no chance of overdose, people who wouldn’t normally try drugs, did. I had never tried it, and never would because there was no way I was sticking a needle into myself for fun. The government was trying to block Mojo Sticks because even though you wouldn’t die from using them, they were turning people into drugged-out zombies. There was an absurd demand for these things. A multi-trillion-dollar industry had grown up overnight.
G.W. poked his head in the doorway. You could tell in a second that they were twins, because like his sister, he didn’t look like a teenager and his voice was deep like a man man. A head full of thick, blond, men’s shampoo commercial hair and light blue eyes made me want to believe anything he was about to say. Perfect white teeth, just like his dad’s, and athletic gear from head to toe that looked like it was fresh off the production line. He was not my type, but for almost every other girl, he was exactly the type, and I could understand why.
“Hi, Georgie. I just have a few more things to pack. Want to hang with Dorothy while I finish up? She just got to Seneca and had her Necrolla Carne vaccination today.”
“Oh, man. I feel your pain.”
“Thanks.” He seemed like a normal enough guy. Not so consistent with the bad boy image that had gotten so much press last year.
Jennifer sashayed out of the room and G.W. plunked down on the foot of my bed.
“So, where you from?”
“Nice! I love LA.”
“Me too. I miss it already.”
“Come out sometime with my crew and me, you won’t miss it anymore. We have some serious fun in these parts. It is possible, trust me.”
“Cool, okay.” I never trusted anyone who said “Trust me” and I wasn’t going to start with the notorious son of a congressman. On the other hand, I was definitely down for experiencing a good dose of his lifestyle, if only to see what it was like and tell Julie about it later.
“Feel better. I’m gonna hit the loo and head out for a weekend of hobnobbing with pops and the rest of the corruption contingency. Wish me luck I make it through in one piece.”
“Luck be with you.”
“Nice to meet you. Dorothy, right?”
“Doro. Cool. That’s slick.”
He jumped up and whistled his way out the door. Too bad for him I didn’t believe in luck.
SUNDAY NIGHT I was back to my sleepless self. Tossing and turning, hoping each one would be the last and I’d finally doze. Maybe that shot wasn’t so bad after all, considering I managed to get some rest, for once, right after I’d had it. The weekend was all about getting settled into my new digs. This place was pretty darn bizarre. It might be cool and all, but it lacked the comforts of home and I just couldn’t grasp how it could ever provide that. I longed for a welcoming lick bath from Killer, to get home from school and have my mom grill me on test scores. It was the little things that I would never experience again that I missed most.
Believe it or not, the noise from the double decker 405 Freeway that hovers below our 14th floor digs and bled through the double-paned windows and walls that might as well have been made of rice cakes. That is how we lived in Culver City, California. Not just us. Everyone.
When the California Gray Party jumped ship from the national agenda five years ago, and the Federal Government turned the other cheek, so began the official decline in Los Angeles civility. Truth be told, it was already headed in that direction, but the rogue state government definitely sealed the deal. People stopped paying taxes and there was nobody to regulate a thing. At first, with the disappearance of building codes and regulations in the interest of raising money, ambitious architectural projects sprouted up across the city. But when the money dried up, and it dried up quick, we were left with a landscape of sophisticated and new mixed with unfinished and broken down. Our building fell somewhere right in the middle because our landlord had owned it since it was built twenty years ago, and he took great pride in managing it. I missed that building.
I was alone now in my golden room. My new home. A twelve-by-twelve cube with sleek lighting and texture just like the hallway at S.E.R.C. and, in it, all of my necessities. My bed had no frame, just a single-sized mattress that emerged from the wall when I commanded it to. It would soften, harden and adhere to my temperature preferences. I shared a wing with six other girls my age, also in the S.E.R.C. program.
In anti-contamination efforts, I was given a three foot by three foot cube which could be filled with any personal belongings that I wanted to bring from the Aboves. It all would have to go through a weeklong sterilization process in the Quarantine and Cleansing sector. According to Reba, humans went through a heavy-duty decontamination “zap” inside the dome that brought us down from the Aboves. “The Aboves” was a term I came to know well, as everyone in Seneca referred to the surface of the Earth this way. I was no longer an American. I was a Senecan now, spending every waking second learning new things about my new life in this new world.
I’d just fallen into a catnap when Monday morning intruded as my flexer blurted that it was 7 a.m. My first session of the day would begin in an hour. I rolled out of bed, put on my Seneca blue robe and flip-flops, and headed to the restroom designated for my wing.
I had met a few hallmates while I was getting settled in, but had only exchanged small talk. I didn’t know anything about these girls other than their names. Everyone seemed nice enough and welcoming. They all had been newbies just like me not too long ago.
The restroom was golden, like everything else. Sterilized to the max. There were UV self-cleaning mechanisms in place and smart automatic dispensary nozzles for water in the showers and sinks. I was super fascinated by the waterless toilets. They had a special red liquid that transported the waste away for conversion and gasification. We each had our own cubby that opened by flexer identification. Inside it we kept our shampoo, soap and mouthbrushes, Seneca’s own version of toothbrushes. During my visit to Claytor Lake, not only did I get my Necrolla Carne vaccination, but they also swiped DNA samples, drew blood, did a full body scan and took a mold of my mouth, which they used to form my mouthbrush. It fits like a mouth guard and has five hundred tiny, powered bristles that, in ten seconds, does a better job brushing my teeth than I could in two minutes. I’ve always been a huge fan of efficiency, and in Seneca efficiency is scripture.
I got ready in a rush, and then took a one-minute ride in a super-speed acoustic carrier from the youth residential sector into S.E.R.C. It was my first time being transported through the air by sound waves. I feel like they should be called “non-sound” waves since the frequency is too high for us to hear anything at all. Quiet, quick, safe and devoid of harmful emissions, acoustic carriers are the only mode of transportation within Seneca City. It’s a technology that people in the Aboves recently started to experience commercially on a limited basis. In Seneca it was completely normal and it made me feel like I had stepped into a new life in the future.
My goal was to get to S.E.R.C. early and be on the lookout for Blue Combat Boots. I’d thought about him a lot since I’d seen him last. My dad had always reminded me that I had important things to do in life and said that focusing on boys would just interfere. He said he was the only guy I needed, at least for the time being, but I didn’t have him now, and the way Blue Combat Boots made me feel was out of my control. If my dad could know what had happened to me over just these last few days, I was pretty sure he would understand. I truly aspired to be everything he wanted for me. But I wasn’t the first, and I wouldn’t be the last girl to be swept away by a mysterious guy with electric eyes. I wanted to know so many things about him. Where was his golden living cube? How long had he been here? How did Seneca find him? He was apparently involved in Seneca’s advanced medical arena, but what exactly was he doing?
I posted up in the hall and waited… and waited, and waited. It was three minutes before session.
I let out a sigh.
“Oh sorry, not the person you wanted to see first thing on a Monday?” Reba’s sincerity brought me a dose of warmth I’d been missing. I hugged him and could tell he was pleasantly surprised.
“No, no, I’m sorry, Reba, I just– it was a long weekend. The vaccination kicked my butt. You know how it goes.”
“Do I ever. I told you it wasn’t going to be pretty.”
“You weren’t lying.”
“Chica, Puerto Ricans never lie.”
“And what about Senecans?”
He raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Touché.”
I looked up over his shoulder, trying to focus on the spot where I’d last seen Blue Combat Boots in S.E.R.C. Reba could tell I was pre-occupied.
“Well, glad to see you survived. Better safe than sorry. Who wants their face eaten off by a flesh-eating parasite, right?”
There he was. He was probably fifteen yards from the location where he’d entered his session last week. I had to get to him before he went inside. At least get close enough so that he would notice me. I ducked out from my conversation with Reba, “Gotta go, see you later?”
“Sure, okay. Lunch!”
At any other time I would have loved chatting with my new friend, but this mission was top priority. Our eyes had to meet again. I didn’t take mine off of him. He stopped a few steps away from the door and took a look at his flexer. It was black and blue and wrapped around his wrist. I slowly moved in closer. I felt my temperature rising, my breath quickening. Every face in my periphery was blank except for his. I studied him. His serious expression, the way his sideburns faded into the stubble that traveled down around his chin and over his top lip. He was the perfect mix of babyface and rugged. I wanted to know him so bad. He was still, while everyone around him was in motion. I started in his direction, trying not to be obvious.
In the blink of an eye, I felt myself twirled around, a door opened in the wall and I was moved through it by another body. I was in the dark, with someone else’s breath closing in on me. I stood stock-still.
And then we were illuminated. Blue Combat Boots and me. His flexer lit the room with its screen. Not a room, but a small closet, with walls lined in liquid mercury control panels.
“Who are you and why are you following me?”
“I’m sorry, I was just– I wasn’t following you.”
“You were. I saw you last week. Friday you came outside my first session and now you’re back.”
Busted. We stared each other down, each one having a completely different reason than the other.
“Tell me what you want.”
He looked paranoid, guarded and intent on getting answers.
“I am so sorry, I think you have the wrong idea.”
“I don’t have any idea. I just see what I see and want to know what’s going on.”
“I totally get that and I realize how this might seem. Wow. I’m totally not spying on you or anything crazy. I’m Doro. I’m new here.”
“Uh huh…” It wasn’t enough.
“I just thought you looked… interesting.”
Okay. I had dug myself into a hole. At this rate, things were not looking good. If I wanted to save face, my only option was to go with honesty. “I saw you on my first day and thought you were…” Wow. No matter what I said next, I was destined to sound like a fool–
He breathed a sigh of relief. I allowed myself a bashful smile. He squinted but didn’t blink. I welcomed the way his eyes pierced right through me. His paranoid, guarded, intent gaze morphed. He squished his lips in thought, trying to get a read on me, I could tell. Although these weren’t ideal circumstances for a first meeting, I was glad that it looked like he believed me.
“You just sent me into code red, you know.”
“I know. Bad move. I really didn’t mean to cause you any–”
“It’s okay. We’re good.”
He said we were good. I was closer to him than I could have imagined on this mission, and we were speaking, one on one, with no one else around. I could get used to this.
Suddenly, our flexer notifications went off at the same time. It broke the tension and we both laughed. Session was beginning.
“Dang.” He muttered as he turned, flexer raised. The golden door opened, and he was gone.
AS THE WEEKS went by, I started feeling kind of down. Becoming acclimated to Seneca was a thrill and there were no dull moments, but I missed my family to death. If family was everything, then I had nothing. It wasn’t enough that they were in my memories and digital images tucked away in the depths of my Veil— the virtual location in which all of a person’s important data resided. I needed my mom. I was sixteen and I had lost both of my parents. I couldn’t accept it. Somehow, I had to find the way to fight for the one parent I had left.
I sat on the floor of my room scrolling through old pictures: the Campbell family joking around, our house and yard in the Glendale ‘burbs, the lemon tree my mom and I used to make lemonade from. My dad would come home from work right before I went to bed and tell us stories about what had gone on in his lab that day. He said goodbye to me in the morning and goodnight to me at bedtime, but other than that, during the week, all he did was work. His company was subcontracted by the largest particle collision research and testing facility in the world. The last thing he and his partners had created before he disappeared was an element. He told me he’d call it Doromium and that it was the thing he was most proud of in life besides me. But on weekends, there was no talk of work. We’d pack up and drive to Joshua Tree, where we’d spend all day collecting rocks and eating PB&Js with bananas. Then, when Mom and I slept, he’d stay up all night to work.
The hole in my heart wasn’t going away. It was growing more and more raw by the hour. It was beginning to feel like I’d better do something fast, or eventually there would be no heart left to beat.
I had to find a way to let my mom know what was going on. Even more important than that, I had to get my mom into Seneca. She deserved this better life too. As a matter-of-fact, if we are all equal like I’ve always been taught and I truly believe, then what we were creating in Seneca belonged to everyone, not just to some elite selection of quirky geniuses.
It was Sunday afternoon. I’d spent the last sixty-two hours alone. If I had to endure one more, I’d go clinical. I flexed Reba. He picked up after one ring. “Campbella!”
“Never too busy for my main California girl. Que pasa?”
“Just thought you might want to grab a late Sunday brunch or something.”
“Pick you up in five!” He was at my door in four.
“Thanks for coming over.”
“What are you in the mood for? Eggs, pancakes, a chocolate milkshake?”
“Chilaquiles.” I was homesick like nobody’s business and needed a plate of queso-drenched chilaquiles like a medical emergency of the highest order.
Ten minutes later we were seated in the best Mexican restaurant in our sector. Food was not a problem in Seneca. Top chefs and culinary gurus from across the globe were among those being recruited, as well as botanical and farming experts. If there was an expert for something, you best believe they were being recruited to Seneca. We had the best hydroponic and organic produce and meats, prepared in the most brilliant ways. New citizens were in for serious palate thrills when they got here.
After salivating at the amazing aromas, I had no trouble gorging on my favorite spicy delights. My eyes were closed, as they always were when I wanted to hone in on a particular sense, except sight of course. When I opened them, Reba was sitting in front of his untouched plate, just smiling, watching me.
“You’re a funny eater, Campbella.”
I launched a tortilla chip straight at him. He picked it up and ate it. It was good to have a real friend here. Someone who would eat food off your plate, meet you for lunch on a minute’s notice and maybe even give you the details on Blue Combat Boots. I still didn’t know his name.
“Sooo… I was wondering.”
“What? I haven’t even said anything.”
“You’ve said enough. I liked it better when you were throwing food at me. How about that kernel of corn?”
He always brought such a great energy to the moment. I had completely forgotten the creeping depression that had been taking me under less than an hour before.
“Look. I saw who you were checking out. On the first day, and the day when you first got back from getting your Necrolla shot.”
I could tell that this was not what he wanted to be talking about. But I knew he had the dirt, and the anticipation was building. I flicked a sour cream-covered corn kernel and it hit him square in the forehead.
“Yeah! That’s my girl.”
“So, what, you don’t want to tell me? I have to find out for myself, is that the deal?”
“Okay. What exactly do you want to know?”
Reba sat back. He was going to give me the info I wanted because he’d known all along that this conversation was inevitable… and that it was going to go down with a patch of sour cream between his eyes.
“Dominic.” I softly repeated his name like it was the finest name I’d ever heard.
“Look. I know he’s got some weird magnetic thing about him that girls are really into. Trust me, I get it. But he’s not good for you.”
Didn’t Reba know that telling a girl a guy isn’t good for her can make the girl want the guy that much more?
“Yes. I know I’ve just made him even more attractive, but I’d like to think that you would trust me on this one.”
I waited to hear if he had a good enough reason for me to disregard the laws of attraction.
“Dominic came into Seneca at the same time as me. He’s a loner. Always keeps to himself, and is always under some sort of investigation with S.O.I.L.”
“What is S.O.I.L.?”
“Seneca Observation and Intelligence League, aka, a much more hardcore version of the F.B.I. They know everything.”
“Sounds like Big Brother.”
“S.O.I.L. is like Big Brother’s older, smarter, cooler, stronger and much more ruthless brother.”
“You start down the path of interacting with Dominic Ambrosia, and you’re just asking for S.O.I.L. to be all over you like white on rice, for the rest of your life.”
I wasn’t so interested in my chilaquiles anymore.
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- Photograph for header image was taken by Mark Gamsey. [↩]