THIRTEEN YEARS LATER
Chapter 1: A Birthday of Discoveries: Alex
“Happy birthday, Alex!” exclaimed Claire.
“Shhh! Keep it down! Remember, no emotion or personality. Besides, my assigned birthday is October 3,” I said.
“I know, I know. But this is your real birthday!”
“Claire, can we please do this later? I have to get to Bored Out of Your Mind 101.”
Okay, there really isn’t such a class. I was talking about Good Citizenship, which is basically a bunch of crap that’s supposed to tell us how to be exactly the same as everyone else.
My name is Alexandra Marie Juliet Andeler. At least, that’s my real name. My assigned name is Bookworm because I’m rarely not reading something. The Institute Controllers think it’s great that I’m reading the (pathetic) books available. But that’s only what they think I’m reading. The truth is I found a secret library. It’s all the books the Officials confiscated.
When I was about five, I was wandering around the Institute looking for something to do. Then I found a design on the floor. It was a half sun, half moon with stars on the moon side. I stepped on the moon and pressed the biggest star. The tile slid away and revealed the stairs down to the library. The tile closed behind me and opened again when I came back up. Ever since then, I’d been reading books from there and hiding them behind “approved book” covers.
Even thought we taught ourselves, Claire is amazing at math and I am fantastic at science. Claire and I are the only ones who aren’t like the rest of the clones at the Institute.
Claire’s hair is lighter than the standard dirt color and her eyes are sea green. Her hair is straight and about half-way down her back. But she’s not nearly as much of an outcast as I am. I have blond hair and blue eyes like my mother. It’s down to my legs, because Claire refuses to let me get my hair cut with the “citizens”. She cuts her own hair, but won’t cut mine because she says I look better with long hair.
Maybe I should explain about the Institute. Every baby born is sent to an Institute. Every baby born is sent to an Institute. They stay there until they turn eighteen. They are trained to be good little servants. There’s one in every state/province (or country, if it’s small).
Luckily, with my mother being the last one who wasn’t a “citizen” (and also the one who recommended we record this, but I’m not there yet), and all the books we’ve read, Claire and I are the last normal teenagers in the world. At least I thought that until we met the rest of the Clan , but I’m not there yet either.
Anyway, it was my thirteenth birthday. Claire was on her way to Approved Jobs for Citizens. This whole place is a load of crap. [Hmm. You’re right, Claire. Maybe I do over-use the word crap]. During class, I tuned out and continued reading my book, the long-banned Harry Potter. Apparently, it fills your head with insane and false ideas of your own personal ability. Claire says I’ve read them all a hundred times. Which is ridiculous, because I’ve only read them ten times.
At lunch, we had the usual bread, potatoes, mixed vegetables, and water. After thirteen years, it gets REALLY annoying. Of course for the first year, it was formula and baby food, but still. Twelve years isn’t much better. I’m sad to say Claire and I did NOT find a secret kitchen.
“Alex,” said Claire. I really wanted to tell her to shut up. I didn’t want to get in trouble with the Controllers. But I really do like Claire’s voice. It’s the only one in that place that’s not a monotone. So I let her talk.
“Don’t you think there should be more to life than this place?”
I nearly choked on my bread when she said that.
“Are you crazy?”I demanded, ignoring the fact others were starting to stare.
“I’m dead serious. We’ll just graduate from the school of robotizens and go out into the world of robotizens. We can’t do this forever. You know that.”
Robotizens might actually be a good word to describe them, I thought. But I knew Claire was right. I’d been spending most of my life trying to ignore the laughable stuff the Institute tells us. The Officials have told robotizens this is a better life for everyone. That people won’t have to think or worry about anything. That by letting the government take over your whole life, you are doing yourself a favor. Knowing the truth about the Officials probably helped.
The reality is the Officials have ruined the planet. They are bending real people into robotizens. They do this to ensure no one can rise up against them. They have destroyed bodies of water and the atmosphere. Plants can only be grown in very few select areas. And the robotizens simply do what the Officials say, with no questions or doubts.
But it couldn’t be a good idea to escape, right? It wouldn’t help anyone. We couldn’t change anything. But it had to be better than pretending to be robotizens forever, right?
By the time I finished this entire train of thought, lunch was almost over. I stacked my tray in the pile and asked Claire why she came up with this now.
“Because I heard they were considering increasing the age we stay here to twenty,” she said.
“Are you kidding?” I asked.
“See? This society will stay the same unless we at least try to do something to change it!”
“I need to think about this. Meet me in the library later.”
The last part was whispered. At the next convenient time, I snuck away to the library. I looked around for something to read when I went into a part of the the library that I had never seen before. It was basically just an area with seats and tables. Strange, considering these books had been banned. Then Claire came in and I went to the front of the library. I brought her to the seats.
“Hmmm. That’s weird. Someone must have used this place before us. Otherwise there wouldn’t be seats,” she said.
“That’s obvious, but who else would be here?” I asked.
“I think I just found out.”
She picked up an Official badge from the floor.
“That’s weird. The Officials confiscated all of these books. Why would they be reading them? That doesn’t make sense.”
“That’s just wrong. They tell us these books are atrocities and yet they read them? How incredibly hypocritical is that?”
That is 100% true. I noticed a big book on one of the tables. It was my favorite genetics book. Then I lifted it up. There was a tiny paperback under it. I blew the layer of dust off the cover and read the title.
The True Book of Greek Mythology
“Greek mythology? Now I’m really confused!”
“Just read it!”
It was like no other Greek mythology book I’d ever seen. It talked about mythology today.
“The Greek gods and monsters still exist. They are the only way to overpower the Officials. Bringing back the Olympians would be first. They could bring back the minor gods. Monsters re-form every time they are killed. Gods go to the Underworld whenever they are injured, and stay there until the gods are fully healed. No one knows where the gods are currently.”
“You know what this means, don’t you? We have a reason to leave!”
“We’ll bring back the gods and save the world!”
“What makes you think we could do that?”
“Call it intuition or whatever, but I know this is what we’re supposed to do with our lives!”
“Alright. But how are we supposed to get out of the Institute?”
“I guess I could help with that part,” said someone emerging from the shadows.
It was Ms. Duncan, our Citizen Creations teacher. That’s the only class that requires anything that even resembles creativity. Except now, she looked different. Her facial features were no longer like a robotizen’s, her hair had become lighter, and she was smiling.
“Ms. Duncan?” I asked.
“No, no, my real name is Iris,” she said.
“You’re actually Iris, the Greek goddess of rainbows? And you’re at the Institute? This is some kind of big birthday prank, isn’t it?”
“No, I’m afraid not. Everything you’ve seen in that book is absolutely true. And you are destined to bring back the gods.”
“If there’s other gods out there, why can’t they bring back the rest?”
“I don’t know. I believe there’s a part of this quest that cannot be completed by another god.”
“You don’t know for sure?”
“No, but the part of Zeus that’s returned has forbidden the few remaining minor gods from doing anything.”
“Part of Zeus? What is that supposed to mean?”
“Gods have multiple forms. They can be in several places at the same time. They are at their strongest when they are at full power, which it is your job to restore. Zeus is also why you are here.”
“You’re a demigod, Alex. And so is Claire. She’s a daughter of Poseidon.”
Before we go any further, let me explain about Greek mythology a little bit. There’s twelve major gods, called the Olympians. They’re Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Artemis, Apollo, Athena, Demeter, Ares, Hermes, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Dionysus. There’s also lots of minor gods. Zeus is god of the skies and his brother Poseidon is god of the seas. Many of the Olympians had a reputation for coming down from Mount Olympus and liking mortals, producing half-human, half-gods called demigods.
I remembered Claire’s mother had been hiding with my mother. Then the Officials found her the day after Claire was born. My mother managed to escape, but only for about two weeks. I know this because I found a few pages of her diary in the bag my mother had given to me when the Officials took her. It was still in my dorm room.
I also remembered Claire didn’t know her father (who we now knew was Poseidon). Come to think of it, neither did I. It was just never very important at the Institute.
“Go and take these,” said Iris, handing me a small book, a backpack, and a charm bracelet.
“How?” asked Claire.
Iris picked up the small compact mirror from a nearby bookshelf. It was the only mirror in the Institute.
“Have you ever wondered why there’s no others?”
“All the robotizens look the same?” I guessed.
“Yes, but there’s another reason. They don’t want you to portal.”
“Portalling is the easiest way to travel. You open a portal through a mirror and you can go anywhere. You just have to know where you’re going.”
Iris opened a portal with the mirror.
“I have to stay here. Good luck,” she said.
We stepped into the portal. I didn’t feel anything happening, but when we arrived I felt a little dizzy.
“We’re out!” Claire cheered.
“Yeah. Now what?” I asked.
I opened the book and saw it was my mother’s handwriting. There was a short note written on the first page. I saw it was written to me. The rest of the book was full of writing as well. I read the note and Claire read over my shoulder.
You are much more special than you think you are. Contained within this book are the most important thing you’ll ever hear is this. You are not merely a demigod. You are also part Egyptian god, angel, and wizard - a rare and important combination. You can tell no one about the wizard part, except a few select people you will meet. I’m sorry I can’t meet you in person right now. You will discover more on your own. I believe in you, but you must come to believe in yourself.
This was totally completely impossible.
“Alex, are you okay?” asked Claire.
Absolutely, if the definition of okay had changed to totally freaking out inside. Which it hadn’t, so I was absolutely NOT okay.
“Not really. Let’s see the clue for the first god,” I replied.
A journey is what you shall take
To a big bright blue lake
Another land you will find
Be careful not to fall behind
Artemis is who you seek
Do not dare to take a peek
The moonstone is what you need
Make sure you complete the deed
“That makes absolutely no sense.”
“Which is probably why it was chosen as the clue.”
“I know. All the lakes are gone or polluted.”
“I got it! There’s one lake that’s not polluted or destroyed! Lake Superior, the last of the Great Lakes!”
“How are we supposed to get there?”
“I think the better question is where exactly are we?”
I didn’t see the Institute anywhere. Which meant we went pretty far. The Institute is huge.
“That looks like the remains of the Statue of Liberty.”
The Statue of Liberty had been destroyed when the Officials took over, because we obviously had no more liberty.
“That helps, at least.”
“Yeah, we’re in New York City. And we need to go west.”
“And how exactly are we going to do that?”
I looked inside the backpack for anything useful.
This was the perfect way to get to the lake. At least until we realized we had no idea how to fly a hoverboard. So after a few minutes (and quite a few falls), we finally got in the air.
“How fast do these things fly?”
“Hopefully faster than a car.”
It was a while before I noticed I wasn’t on my hoverboard anymore. Then I turned around and saw I was flying with my own pure white wings. My hoverboard was a few feet below me. I quickly put it back in the backpack.
I figured this was the angel part. Not that I was any less surprised. Everything went smoothly for a while until Claire’s hoverboard ran out of fuel. We landed before it was completely empty. My wings folded almost flat against my back.
“Now what?” I asked.
“I don’t know! Where does one even get hoverboard fuel?” she asked.
“The hoverboard convenience store?”
“Look, it’s another Institute!”
The Institute of New Jersey. I remembered back at our Institute in Pennsylvania, there had been a closet full of hoverboards and fuel. I found it once (what can I say? I had a lot of time!)
“There’s probably hoverboard supplies in there!”
“Are you crazy? We can’t break into an Institute! And even if we did, we’d never make it out!”
“It’s the only place we could possibly get fuel!”
“Alright. But we’re going to make a plan.”
“Obviously. But we’ll need a map of this Institute.”
“And how are we going to get that?”
“I have an idea.”
Five minutes later, I had taken an invisibility potion from the backpack and I was headed into the Institute. The first problem occurred when I reached the door. It was the huge padlock.
“Shoot,” I muttered. I opened the backpack and found a lock-picking kit. The door clicked open after about three minutes. If all the things we needed were in the backpack, this quest would be a snap!
I went in and found the map. I memorized it and went back out. This was easier and faster than you might think. I have a photographic memory. Claire and I discovered this after I memorized my first chapter book after only reading it once. But that’s beside the point.
“Alright. Let’s do this,” said Claire.
“Take your potion. The hoverboard closet is on the other side of the Institute.”
The trip to the hoverboard closet was easy, and we found the fuel almost instantly. I grabbed most of it and put it in the backpack. A bunch of robotizens came out from their classes. I noticed one that was different. His hair was darker than Claire’s, but lighter than the robotizens. His face was different - it actually showed some emotion.
The next thing I did was completely irrevocably stupid. Especially for someone who knows organic chemistry (Claire prefers to learn calculus), but if I hadn’t done it, none of what happens later would have happened quite the same way. I grabbed the kid’s arm and pulled him out of the Institute.
Claire probably looked at me like I was nuts, but I couldn’t tell (because I couldn’t see her). Surprisingly, the kid didn’t make a peep.
When we got all the way out, the potion wore off. The kid just stared at us.
“Who are you?” he asked.
Yes! A question! Robotizens are incapable of asking questions.
“I’m Alex. This is Claire,” I said.
“THE Alex? The one the Officials are saying is dangerous and evil? You’ve kidnapped me!”
“No, we’re here to rescue you! We know you’re not a robotizen. You can have a real life. Just trust us.”
“What’s a robotizen?”
“Never mind. What’s your name?”
“John. John Parker.”
“Hold it! Why is your assigned name Computer?” asked Claire.
“I use our Institute’s computers all the time. I’ve managed to access all the sites the Officials blocked. They never noticed.”
The only website robotizens can see is the Official site.
“How did you do that?”
I’d wanted to access the rest of the ‘Net for some extra research. I managed to access a website about the damage the Officials have done, but that was it. I’d never been able to get all of them, and I’ve read every computer programming book there is!
“Once, during an Official inspection, I got an Official’s password. I read eBooks and things on the Internet.”
I reached into the backpack and found something interesting. It was an iPhone. Instead of being back or white, it was purple - my favorite color. The back had my name in some fancy font. I looked at the playlist and found it was every Taylor Swift song on the deluxe albums. At the Institute, I found some old Taylor Swift CDs. I absolutely loved them (but it was almost impossible to find a CD player for them). The iPhone itself was the newest version made before the Officials took over.
The phone function, of course, was useless because no one had a phone of any kind. There was no reason to use it now, so I put it back. I found two more iPhones, one for Claire and one for John. I looked at Claire and John and found they were having a discussion about the Internet.
“Come on. Let’s go,” I said.
“Go where? What are you talking about?” asked John.
“It’s a long story that we don’t have time to explain because the Controllers should be noticing your absence any moment now. Just take a hoverboard and let’s get out of here before something bad happens,” said Claire.
Soon, we were back up in the sky. I was kind of sad though, because all we could see were brown and gray clouds. The entire sky was brown and gray. It was the pollution caused by the Officials. The moon and sun were no longer visible. I chose this time to tell John our story.
“I’m sure if Artemis was here, the moon would be there,” I commented.
Artemis is the goddess of the moon and the hunt. She’s an eternal maiden and the twin sister of Apollo.
Then I saw the sparkling blue water and I knew we had arrived. I couldn’t help but smile. But I thought it was kind of weird to save one lake. But no one said the Officials make sense.
I tucked in my wings and let myself fall for a few seconds. Of course, from my reading, I knew exactly what was going on. This was free fall - when no force other than gravity is acting on an object. Well, it would be if you don’t count air resistance and friction. I knew I was accelerating at about 9.8 m/s2. But at the moment, I couldn’t care less about physics. I just felt the air rushing beneath me. All my scientific thoughts suddenly flew out the window.
If everything outside the Institute was this amazing, I would never even think about going back. I spread my wings again and hovered above the lake. I noticed that Claire and John were still far away. I wished they could do the free fall thing, but they didn’t have wings and the hoverboards couldn’t do something like that.
I tucked my wings back in and landed. I waited for Claire and John. They came down, and we were ready to enter the lake.
The fact this lake remained really bothered me. Why would they save one lake? If the Officials wanted to destroy the world (and I know they did), why not do it thoroughly? And turns out, there’s a very good reason. And that’s exactly what we were going to find out, whether we liked it or not.
THIRTEEN YEARS LATER