Alex Baichman of fifteen years old has always lived in poverty in the underground City. A corrupt Government watches indolently over the citizens of the City... until an incident arises.
With attacks around the City spreading like wildfire, and a war is coming in to play, Alex must choose his side when he is given the chance for his family's redemption, or defending what he knows is the last chance for humanity's survival.
But among all of the chaos, a greater horror is forming, one that will
The small broken-down brick building in the back alleys of an underground city has never been an ideal place for a home. But yet here I am, the wallpapers tearing away from the foundation, and my new life beginning. I release the tension on my dominant right shoulder and allow gravity to carry my backpack to the floor with a deafening thud. I bend down to open my backpack and scatter the contents to try and make the room look less like a haunted house and more like a comfortable home. As I finish clearing the backpack, I grasp a picture of my family and I, all together in a large photo. I can remember that day as clear as crystal, and feel a tear stumble over my eyelash and streak down my face. I lift my arm to wipe it away, then stand up and place the picture on my bedside table.
+ + +
I wake up with a sudden jolt of excitement and fear. April 27th... dreaded by every person in the City, except for the people up in the Palace, they can do what they wish with themselves. My limbs are numb as I stand up from my bed to get dressed. I have to look good for the very few ceremonies that occur in the City. Light falls into the room as I dress in black trousers and a white shirt, now covered in dirt and muck. But it is undoubtedly the best I can do with what I - and all the others - have.
In the corner of the room, a black phone - older than my grandparents - sitting on a moldy wooden table, and the vines on the wall are almost hugging it by now. When it rings, I walk over to pick it up, a voice as soft as silk but as hard as steel emanates from the speakers. Two words are spoken before a shrill beeping fills my head, "it's time" but I know too well that what's hidden behind that voice is going to be the death of me.
+ + +
My legs shake so vivaciously that I have to grip them tightly with my hands to stop myself from stumbling over the curb. The ground is cracked, and the potholes are not easily avoidable. Most of the water pipes are burst, so the City runs on shortages and shipments are scarce. Dirt regularly falls from the ceiling of this giant dome, and getting hit can hurt extremely. I don't like to think about what would happen if an earthquake occurred in the middle of the day. The City's streets are dimly lit by lamps that are sustained by candles, and replacing them is a job that nobody wants to have, mainly because you have to stand around all day waiting for one to go out. If the candles aren't tended to, the entire city goes dark, and nobody can see well enough to replace them.
Most of the houses can be seen falling apart, and they're not rebuilt, or sustained to a point where someone could live in them. If your house falls apart, you become homeless, which is the fate that befalls most who live here. I haven't ever been afraid of being without a home to call my own, though, because a lot of the City's citizens are warm hearted and bring people in, especially in my segment. I look up at the palace and think to myself, If they can live so well, and manage the City, why not help us to live better too?. Life isn't amazing down here, but it is manageable.
"Don't forget your coat! You're going to need your coat! Alex! Get down here!" My Mum yells as I grab my backpack and head down the stairs. I glance over the banister at my family, all staring ruefully up at me while I start to make my way down the stairs. Mum looks at me with shiny blue tears in her eyes, and pushes the coat around my arms, and buttons up the front. At first it feels cold, like it always does, until the heat of my body warms the inside up, and I don't want to take it off. My dad walks up to me with a tear in his eye,
"Son, I know it's not been the easiest life for you. But you're a good kid, I know you're going to make it out there." He turns away right after speaking, and I wonder if he even means it. John, my brother, doesn't say anything, and we are locked in a cold stare until I understand he has nothing to speak of. I turn away, and turn the doorknob, then pull. A rush of cold air hits my face and I stumble backwards in surprise. I walk forward again and take my first step on the pathway, my first step of a "liberate life".
Talia, my little sister, runs down the stairs and pushes through the wall that is my family, and rushes to embrace me. For a second it's as if I am not about to leave, and I wonder how it will feel to never see her again. "Good luck, Alex. I know you'll do fine." She stumbles her lips over a smile and hugs me one last time, then I turn and take the final steps off the lawn. I am officially no longer part of my family.
I stare at the old man with yellow, crooked teeth as his outstretched arm reaches for my pockets. "Just a few pennies? C'mon lad, it's not much..." he says as I try to ignore him and walk away. Should I help him? Is this how we are supposed to live around other people? I turn away and head back on my path. But my mind drifts off back to the old man, and I wonder if I ought to go back. My feet pivot as I release a deep breath, which I can see emitting steam through the morning air. Even though we live underground, heat is not very well regulated in my segment. If I'm lucky enough, I'll be able to move into the wealthier segments and get warm.
He is a living human being, his hand is warm-blooded. He is warm-blooded. How can I just leave him here? I hand him the coins and he thanks me with a desperate tone in his voice. As soon as he has a good grip on the pennies, he stands up and walks over to a shady-looking man at the other end of the street and hands him the coins. I see the dark figure give the man a small white ticket, and it takes me awhile to realize what was going on. When I do, I walk over to where the two men were stood. "Hey!" I yell at the figures, who turn towards me in sync as they shorten my breath with deadly stares.
"What do ya' want, kid?" The homeless man asks me. I stare back at him and clench a freezing fist.
"I gave you that money for food! And you're spending it on a lottery-train ticket?! Give me that thing!..." I grab the ticket out of the man's hand, and tear it up, throwing the remains back in the man's face.
"You little..." the man clutches my neck with his bony hands and squeezes. I feel the air being gouged out of my lungs like an open-heart surgery with no anesthetic. Out of the corner of my eye I see the shady-man lift his arm and point it at the homeless man.
+ + +
"You alright, kid?" the shady-man asks me as I stand up to rub the dirt off of my clothes.
"Yea, I'm okay..." I say as I stare at the man's menacing eyes with the homeless man laying on the floor. Unsure of whether he is unconscious or dead, I turn back to the shady-man, "hey-" but he is gone. I can hear nothing but the faint dripping of irrigation waters beneath my feet, and the creaking of the wooden structures of the crumbling houses around me. All the while, a maintenance man leans on a lamppost, staring at me while I stand in the middle of the street.
I have never been a person for believing in a religion, but the definition for life down here is "hell". Having no idea what to do with the body on the damp floor, I begin to walk away from the scene, and before turning the corner, I turn back to see a small river of blood between the stone cracks chasing me through the street. I quickly conclude that the man is dead, and turn away back on my course towards the Palace.
Although I manage to turn my mind off of the dead man, I cannot stop wondering about the shady-man who had shot him. He had hidden in the shadows, so I was unable to see his facial features, but his body was well-built and he seemed strong enough to maintain a level of control over the recoil of the pistol. He is obviously trained to do things like he has done, and who knows who else he may kill next? I throw the thought aside and continue on my trip. I don't understand why I keep getting sidetracked, but I need to get to the Palace or I'm going to miss the Ceremony.
The Ceremony - under the supervision of the Government, of course - is an event where we have to choose our jobs. "Choose" is a strong word though, because we hardly get to pick at all. All of the wealthier-level kids go up first, and they pick the best jobs in order to live an easier life, like they always have. For people like me, the Ceremony is practically the lottery, with an even lower chance of winning.
+ + +
- Works to guard the City's streets and enforce the law by any means necessary.
- Can obtain permission from their superiors to kill on sight if extreme criminal offenses occur.
- Earns $850,000 annually, paid directly by the Government.
- Safety is insured when working as an Artisan.
- Design new buildings and can own shops if allowed by the Government.
- Annual salary of $550,000, paid directly by the Government.
- Works to make executive decisions for the City's benefit.
- Annual salary of $750,000, paid directly by the Government.
- Works to make military decisions and direct soldiers in battle.
- Annual salary of $650,000 with an insurance of safety, working from inside the Palace. Paid directly by the Government.
+ + +
The walk up the shiny, polished marble stairs up to the Palace is the longest journey I've ever made. The chances of me getting a good job are as high as us finding out how we even got underground. I've heard many stories about how we got here, but honestly there isn't one that uses factual evidence that it's correct. I've learned to ignore a lot of the non-logical ideas and conversations that people have nowadays, but sometimes they are enticing, and I can't help but listen in. Like a few weeks ago, I was in a bar with my family, and I heard two guys talking in the back corner. They were both smoking rather large cigars, and their eyes were awfully bloodshot to the point where you couldn't identify where their pupils were. They're conversation is merely a blur to me now, but I can still remember the sinister look one of the men gave me as he caught me staring at them. I instantly looked away, not daring to turn around for the rest of that night.
+ + +
"Alex! Alex look ahead they're calling your name..." a brunette girl nudges me on my shoulder as I drift slowly back to reality. How does she know me? There is a long line of kids standing behind the speaker, who is reading aloud a list of the graduating teens. "Alex Baichman. Fifteen years of age, hometown of Segment Six, please step forward and take a slip of paper from the bowl..." the announcer shouts into the auditorium. The brunette girl next to me nudges me again, and I begin my hike down the steps towards the announcer.
So many slips... so many chances... so many options... but which paper should I pick? I feel around the inside of the bowl, rolling my hand around in the papers like a little girl frolicking in a field of flowers, except the bowl before me represents my future life, and how inevitable it is that I am going to inherit a horribly dangerous job. I look into the crowd of anxious people, and scan the numbers for my family, but I cannot see them. I finally clasp around one of the slips of paper, and open it up to my face. I can feel the announcer's breath on my shoulder as he tried to read it in order to inform everybody of my job...
You will work amongst your fellow soldiers to enforce the law in the city, and walk through each segment making sure nothing is wrong. Good luck, sir/madam.
"Military Soldier! Please step to the side, sir..." the announcer pronounces as he shoves me aside towards the line of kids behind me. A smirk emerges over my mouth, because I know that Military Soldiers earn one of the highest salaries, and they barely ever have to do anything. They also get houses in Segment One, or they can customize a house plot in any of the other Segments. I feel as though it would be great to live amongst my family and friends and still live wealthily, helping them along. Everything is going to change. But as I stand amongst the line of kids, I catch a glimpse of the brunette girl staring at me with a grim look. What did I do? Is it the fact that I am now going to live an easy life, and she thinks I'm going to forget my whole life history?
Not a chance. I have lived so awfully through my life so far, and I refuse to allow a change like this affect my thoughts. I see the announcer bend down over his pedestal to read off the next victim of this horrible system. "Claire Woods! Fifteen years of age, hometown of Segment five, please step forward and take a slip of paper from the bowl..." his thunderous voice echoes throughout the auditorium, and I swear I can feel the ground shaking beneath my feet. Perhaps it is just my imagination... I need to get more sleep at night. Unfortunately, it has been rather hard recently, having thought nonstop about the day of which I am now living.
I'm hoping that maybe now I can sleep at night. "Claire, pick a slip of paper..." the announcer says, nudging Claire towards the bowl. But she just stands there, staring at the shiny object placed on the pedestal in fear like it is a deep black hole. The announcer's face gets very red, and he is obviously becoming impatient. Claire is now shivering in fear as her eyes are locked upon the bowl of slips. The announcer takes one of the pieces of paper and opens it in front of Claire's face, avoiding her nose by mere millimeters. When she realizes what the paper reads, Claire becomes wide-eyed, and punches the announcer directly in the face and runs away from him. The whole crows falls into chaos and before I know it, guns are blazing and bullets are flying above my head. The announcer lays unconscious on the floor, the glass bowl in shards next to him. Under his suit, I can see a small concealed pistol, and I reach for it.
"Don't think about it, kid," a tall man stood behind me holds a knife up to my head before bending down and taking the gun from the announcer's clothes. From the corner of my eye I see a unit from the Military Soldiers breaching the doors and intervening. Everything in my vision is a blur, and it is becoming impossible to comprehend anything that is going on. A gun can be heard being fired from the back side of the room towards my location, and the man who had held the knife to my head falls to the floor next to me. I don't dare stand up because I'm scared that I could get shot too. What is going on?
The announcer's gun makes another appearance in the tall man's hand, and I decide now is better than ever to try and take it. When I get a good grip around the handle, I push up from the ground and look around. The Military Soldiers are now a few meters away from me, and the people who started the gunfire are at the other end of the room. I realize now that I am caught in the crossfire, and I need to get down to avoid being hit.
The gunfire stops abruptly, and I wonder why. I stand up slowly with my hands in the air. "Who are you?!" I hear a voice from behind me shouting.
"Alex Baichman of Segment Six!"
"What is your profession?!"
"Mili-" and I stop myself from saying what I was thinking. They are currently at battle with the Military Soldiers in the room, and if I say that I belong with them, who's to say they won't kill me now and then continue their fight? I turn around to the group of criminals behind me and yell, "Artisan!" The Military police now start to sprint down the stairs and rush to defend me.
"Artisan! Drop your weapon, or we will not hesitate to shoot!" I drop my pistol to the ground, but to my misfortune, the impact of the pistol to the ground sets it off, and the man who is shouting at me gets hit by the bullet. As he falls to the floor, he lifts his arm and aims for me, and I dive behind the pedestal to avoid it. The Military Soldiers are now sprinting to my side, and beginning to shoot at the criminals once again.
I hate this... humans fighting humans. We are on the brink of extinction with how horribly we live down here, and yet we decide to kill each other. What kind of animals are we? If we carry on without helping each other, we won't have to wait to become extinct. We will kill ourselves off.
+ + +
Whenever you hear about shootings in places, and how many people die, and the outcome being so impossible and awful that you just don't believe that is has even happened, you convince yourself to believe what you want to believe. But when you are too exhausted to think, and there are multitudes of bodies around you, it becomes the opposite. It becomes impossible to believe what you want to, because proof is right in front of your eyes.
My eyelids feel heavy, and my body is screaming from the inside, trying to escape to reverse the horrors that exist around me. I can sense my pulse running boldly throughout my veins, so much that it hurts, and I feel as though I am about to implode. "Young Alex Baichman, you must come with us to testify your sightings here in the Palace auditorium in Segment one of the City." One of the Military Soldiers, and I mean only one left, holds my left arm tightly, dragging me away from the traumatizing sight of hundreds of dead bodies in the auditorium. How did people like this even get this deep in the City?
One minute everything is okay, and the next all hell is breaking loose. I hate the people that did this. Without an exaggeration or any doubt in my mind, I hate the people that committed such a heinous crime towards innocent people. What possible incentive could somebody have to do this? I just want to turn away, and forget that this ever happened at all.
Humans will do anything they can to survive, but will they kill each other whilst trying to do so?