December 23, 2004

Chapter One

"It's gonna rain later from what I heard".

Karen looked off in the distance wanting to believe Anna but she just couldn't see it raining anytime soon.

"Uncle Jimmy used to love the rain before..." she broke off as her voice choked on the words that she couldn't bear to think of. Karen looked down not wanting to start this conversation again. She hated it when Anna would talk about Uncle Jimmy. She hated it when anybody would talk about Uncle Jimmy. It was so embarrassing that she wished she never heard about him again.

"C'mon sis; it's time to go. We don't want to be late again do we?"

"No, I s'pose you're right. What's it gonna be about tonight?"

"Dunno. But we'll find out if we don't get detained again" Karen grabbed Anna's arm & guided her towards the car. Anna drove. Anna always drove. Karen didn't seem to mind; it was nice not to worry about lane shifts & watching the battery meter. Much better to let someone else take care of those things. Much better.

As they walked in the house an odd smell hit Karen. It was definitely chemical but not offensive; well if you didn’t know what caused it. Still she looked around out of habit. Nothing in the house could have caused the smell. She was certain of it. The last time she smelled that particular odor was decades ago. There was no way that the thing that caused the smell could be in the house. Now now; not since Uncle Jimmy had gone away.

The kids rushed downstairs. It took Karen back a little to see how big they were. She'd seen the kids every few days for the last 7 months & before that every week or so for years. Still it always surprised her to se how big the kids were. Jason was 16 now & Nikki was only two years younger. Not quite two years even. It didn't make her feel old though she was getting aware of how time was playing with her features. But it made her feel distant; like she was looking at two kids she'd never seen before.

"Now you two get your jackets; it might rain & we don't want to be soaked through the meeting"

Jason looked up at his mother. He knew it was hopeless but he never let that stop him from trying. "Mom, do we have to go to the meeting again? Cynthia asked me to meet her at the shop-center"

"What do you think your Aunt Karen thinks? Do you think she appreciates you wanting to miss the meeting so you can "kick" at that place?" Anna was smiling faintly like she always did when she had to tell the kids to do something she wasn't sure was right. Jason & Nikki only noticed her trying to use modern slang conversationally. It was one of her better attempts, but it still lost something in the delivery.

Karen looked on patiently. She could interfere; she had every right to interfere but she understood. Jason was a good kid. No, a good young man. It was only natural for him to feel drawn to girls his own age. (Or was Cynthia older? she'd have to check her notes later on.) But one day he'd realize that the meeting was more important than any social obligations he could arrange. It was through the meeting that he'd see his path in life, or at least part of it. He'd see how he fit into society & society fit into him. Once he got that then he wouldn't have any trouble getting Cynthia or any other young girl to pass the time with him.

Jason & Nikki got their coats after some fussing. Karen thought they were being playful but Anna knew they were dragging it out for a few more minutes. Not that they thought they could delay until the meeting was over, but so their mom would know they didn't want to get her in trouble again but they still hated the meetings.

"Hurry up you two. If you're ready in 5 minutes I'll let you drive my car Jason." Karen thought this would perk his spirits; Jason liked to drive & wasn't bad at it for only having a learner's permit. It worried Anna a little but Karen didn't think it was a big concern.

"Can I ride up front Aunt Karen?"

"Now Nikki, you know the law. You have to ride in the backseat. The front seat is too dangerous until you're 18."

Nikki didn't look too disappointed; just enough to draw attention away from Jason as he picked up a piece of paper that fell out of his pocket.

'Karen, are you sure you don't want to take the transit? It'll be..." Karen cut her off "No there are four of us. Driving will be just as quick. & if you're going to mention the parking the walk will do us good."

"I know. I just get worried about leaving your car there.' Karen just smiled. Barely, but a smile nonetheless.

It took 35 minutes to reach the Center. Traffic wasn't as bad as it could have been, but they ran behind at the checkpoint. Nikki forgot her I.D. again & Karen had to dig through her laptop to find her copy of Nikki's information. Karen felt sorry for Nikki when she saw the tears welling up in her eyes. She naturally assumed that Nikki was feeling bad over the delay she had caused & was truly sorry. That's why Karen didn't notice Nikki staring at the Public Officer's feet instead of looking him in the eyes like she did with most adults.

The reason they had to go to the meeting stemmed from something that had happened 8 months ago. Nikki & Jason could have got into a lot of trouble, but their Aunt Karen had bailed them out. Since she worked as a counselor for troubled youths she was able to arrange a joint custody agreement with the State. That & that alone kept them from being sent away.

Because of Karen's position & her training she felt very responsible for the kids & not just a little responsible for Anna. It wasn't just the Citizen in her: Karen really loved her family. She knew that love had limits, but didn't believe that it'd ever be tested.

So she decided to have another talk with Nikki later on about responsibility. It could wait till after the meeting.

Jason parked the car a little crooked bit still within the limits. Not too bad by Karen's standards. She doubted Anna could have done as well, and then felt a slight pang of guilt at the meanness of that thought. It was true & she didn't mean any harm by it, but thoughts could get away from you & turn into something bad. She knew that as well as any of the learners.

They got out & walked the 0.7 miles to the Center. The wind was picking up a bit but there was still no sign of rain. On the way they talked about the lessons the kids had went over that day in school. Nikki & Jason were both bright & that's what worried her a little. Not so much Nikki; she grasped her lessons well. It was Jason that caused the most concern. He grasped the lessons as well if not better than Nikki, but he had trouble accepting them.

"So Jason, why is a progressive tax important?"

"Cause it keeps everything fair; a person's greed won't hinder another person's happiness." He said the words but if Karen would have paid more attention she would have noticed the slightest lack of conviction. Anna noticed but didn't say anything. It worried her but she simply didn't know what to do about it.

"Nikki, what was the most important law passed in 2009?"

"Ummm, the Succesionist Act?"

'No, that was in 2008 sweetie. & it's the Secessionist Act"

"Ask me another question - I hate history"

That's why it's important for you to work harder at history. I know it can seem boring especially at your age but if you don't pass history you can't move into social studies."

"I know Aunt Karen" she said dejectedly "but my history learner is so boring. & he's got something growing on his nose."

"Don't make fun of him sweetie. Learner Todd is a good person. He can be a little dry sometimes but try to pay attention to him. He was one of the greatest minds of his day."

Jason looked a little puzzled. "What happened to him Aunt Karen? When I had him he just read from the book. He didn't seem that sma..."

"That's the lesson plan Jason. He has to follow the plan. It's the best way for you to learn."

'It was the doctors Jason" Karen turned to look at her sister "It took too long for treatment & then the doctors couldn't do much for him"

"You mean he's sick mom?"

"Not anymore; he was for a little while. It just made him tired is all"

"What did he have? What makes you tired after you get better from it mom?"

Anna jumped in quickly. "Jason, learner Todd had a chemical imbalance. He was fine until one day he started talking nonsense. Well not complete nonsense. You could understand what he was saying it's just it didn't make much sense; like talking about fairy tales as if they were true." Anna let out a small sigh as Karen started to play with her shoulder bag before she went on “He waited a long time before he went to the doctors. In fact his friends had to do intervention to get him to go. But the doctors did stop it from spreading. He doesn't lapse into nonsensical ramblings anymore, but he gets too tired to produce like he used to. Which brings us back to Nikki's question 'what was the most important law passed in 2009?"

"The Medical Rights Act?"

"Yes Nikki. Without it learner Todd would have had to pay for his own treatment if you can imagine such a thing."

The meeting would start in a few minutes but they were already walking up the steps. Nikki took a moment to look up at the pillars. It always bothered her to see the inscription on them but she wasn't sure why. The words themselves seemed harmless but strung together like they were they took on a meaning greater than their sum.

They walked in the Center. The doors slid closed behind them as the Public Officer manned the scanner they all had to pass through. It was crowded for a weekday meeting but they were able to sit together. The lights dimmed a little as a man approached the podium.

"Welcome Citizens. Tonight we'll talk about something a little different. The last few weeks we've stuck to the good topics. Now I think it's important, especially for the younger Citizens, to learn about the bad things that can happen if we're not careful. Tonight we'll talk about the evil called capitalism & the deception known as the free market. But let's start off with the national anthem"

They all stood up as the man hit a button & the introduction started to play. It wasn't the catchiest anthem ever devised, but Jason clearly thought that if there was a "sucky national anthem" contest held worldwide, the People's Democratic Republic of California would win hands down. They all started to sing.

Posted by Publicola at December 23, 2004 09:55 AM

Is this a past work, or are you teasing the crowd with an burgeoning novella?


Posted by: Jasen at December 23, 2004 06:18 PM

It's a teaser. I hope. Thinking about making it a steady feature if y'all would dig it.

Posted by: Publicola at December 24, 2004 07:52 AM

I can dig it man.

Posted by: Jasen at December 24, 2004 04:13 PM

Please keep going.

Posted by: Bill St. Clair at December 24, 2004 06:40 PM

Yes, do keep going. Looks like a good example of a dystopian future thusfar.

Posted by: Erbo at December 25, 2004 02:19 PM

I dig it, man. Keep writing!

Posted by: Stoney at December 26, 2004 08:27 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?