As some of you know, I recently released my first book. It’s something that I’m very excited about and thrilled to finally share the story with you all! See below for the first chapter. You can order the full book here.
The alarm clock vibrates in warning. I curse under my breath as I reach across my bed to turn it off. I stare out the window into the abyss of all of the living quarters. Massive, grey buildings cloud the view. Everyone must be waking up right now. It seems bizarre that one person can have such a big impact on the entire territory. I yawn loudly and prepare for a day surrounded by judgmental society members.
Being that I’m only on the thirtieth floor, the other buildings block the sun so I turn on the light. I let out a deep breath to calm my nerves. Even though I’m not looking forward to the day, I need to be the son my mother believes in. The thought of her pulls me out of bed.
As with every morning, I walk down the hallway, drawn in by our family portraits. The evolution of the pictures hypnotizes me. A happy couple transforms to a family of three once my brother is born. I enter their lives and it’s four of us. Then, our patriarch leaves and it’s back to three. I examine the last frame and my older brother’s smug face stares back at me. I enter the kitchen and come face-to-face with the same look on the older version.
“You are out of bed later than anticipated. You need to speed up your morning process if we are going to be on time, Joe,” my brother says as he gulps down his breakfast.
He’s been calling me this nickname for as long as I can remember. Joe, short for “Average Joe,” is his method of making sure I always know how mediocre I am.
“Leave Elliot alone, Dominic. There is no need for that, especially today,” my mother says. She pushes a lock of her blonde hair back behind her ear while she rushes around the kitchen.
I look back at my brother. He’s still in his pajamas, his light hair tussled from sleep. Our eyes meet, his blue matching my blue, and he stands up quickly. At six foot four, he’s always been an intimidating figure.
“My apologies, little brother.” He offers a sarcastic bow and moves his bowl over to the sink.
The best response is to remain silent. I open the pantry in search of my packet of food. I briefly consider taking Dominic’s morning allowance, but a brief glance at Mother’s smaller packets stops me. As our food is portioned based on age and weight, being twenty-two allows me much more food than my mother’s older demographic. I turn to get milk out of the refrigerator and accidently bump into Dominic.
He sighs heavily. “Another member in my training program and his family have a kitchen that is almost twice as big as ours. It is much less likely that they have these problems.” He stares pointedly at my mother.
I glance to see her reaction. Her mind is elsewhere as she looks toward the hallway. Our most recent family portrait is visible.
She responds, “I’ve done the best I can.”
Dominic’s eyebrows rise. “This could have easily been avoided.” He shifts his gaze to me before stalking out of the kitchen.
I cringe and look around at our kitchen. It isn’t grand by any means, but my mother has always kept it immaculate and clean.
“I don’t think our apartment is too small,” I say.
My mother’s attention breaks away from the hallway and her hazel eyes refocus on me. With Dominic out of the room, my mother and I visibly relax. Whenever my brother and I are in the same room, tension is a close companion. Besides the color of our eyes, we have practically nothing else in common. From the old family portraits, it’s obvious that he strongly favors our father, whereas I have the softer characteristics of our mother.
“I really wish he would stop calling you that name. It’s a terrible nickname to give someone…” Her eyes widen in alarm when she realizes what she’s about to say.
I quietly finish her sentence. “Someone like me?”
“You know that isn’t what I meant, Elliot. The world might not know it yet, but you have been given such a gift. You’re who you are because of fate, not because of some scientist. You’re going to do something so important with your life. You may not know it, but I do.”
My mother puts a comforting hand on my shoulder. “You really should have gotten up earlier. You’re going to need to hurry. I don’t want us to be late today.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be ready. I promise, Mother.”
She runs her hands through her hair anxiously. “I know you will. I just can’t believe we have to go to another one of these.” Her eyes drop in grief.
I nod in agreement. This time, it’s my mother leaving the room.
I sigh and take my next bite. She’s right. It really is shocking we’re in the same situation, especially so soon. This isn’t supposed to happen in our society. It’s not like we live in the outer regions or even Acroisia. We’ve evolved from that.
I finish my breakfast and bring my dishes to the sink. In a hurry, I head toward the bathroom to take a shower. To my disappointment, Dominic passes me in the hallway. My foot catches on the floor when I try to get out of his way. I’m forced to put my hands up against the wall in an attempt to catch myself. His cruel laughter echoes through the hall, even after he closes the door to his room.
I rush through my shower routine and hurry to my bedroom to get dressed. Years of scuff marks cover the grey walls. I grab underwear from my dresser, then pull open the closet. The monotonous grey outfits stare out at me, evidence of the years of structure I’ve been subjected to. A structure I’ve never been able to truly fit in.
Solemnly, I pull the formal attire hanger from the rack and get dressed, careful not to wrinkle the fabric. It fits loosely around my chest and shoulders. I straighten my posture to try and hide that fact. I don’t want to let Mother down by looking unkempt. Just as I’m tying my shoes, her raised voice calls out.
“Sons, we have to leave now if we want to make it in time.”
I quickly comb my dark hair down, one of the few traits I inherited from my father.
I hurry out to the front room. Mother spots my uneven tie and smiles a little as she corrects it. “Remind me next time we visit my parents to have your grandfather teach you how to tie a tie. Your father should have…” She pauses a moment before continuing. “Well, it just seems you missed that lesson.” She pats my chest and takes a step back to admire her work and nods in approval.
Dominic finally comes out of his room looking impeccable. I’m not surprised. There are going to be a lot of highly ranked officials at the town hall. Impressions are everything to Dominic.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go. We do not want to be late. The whole community will be there.” Dominic’s fingers drum lightly on his thighs. He eyes the motion, takes a deep breath, and steadies himself.
“Let’s go to the elevator,” Mother says. She lets us walk out in front of her. The beep of the front door announces she’s locked it. It seems like an unnecessary motion, as our society doesn’t have a problem with burglary, but Mother has always done it. I’ve always assumed it was because she grew up outside of our territory.
We walk down the community hallway and wait for the elevator to bring us to the vehicle storage area. My mother takes advantage of the time. “We need to be on our best behavior for this. Can we just get along for a couple of hours? You two are brothers. Please act like it.” As she finishes, her stare lingers on both of us, ensuring the message gets through.
Of course, I know she’s right, but I doubt my brother will listen.
Another family walks toward us and prevents Dominic’s reply. He instantly squares his shoulders in reaction and makes small talk with them. I tune them out due to habit. I’m not interested in listening to Dominic brag about himself. I’ve heard it all already.
In contrast to Dominic’s emotional disconnect to the situation, my mother can’t hide her worry. If we don’t understand what’s causing this, how can we prevent it from happening to anyone else?
The elevator beeps in arrival and we all cram in. I steady myself for the quick drop. Within seconds, we arrive on the bottom floor, my ears popping.
Wordlessly, the three of us enter the public vehicle. Because we’re one of the last families to step on, the space is limited. Dominic eyes the lack of seating options and walks toward the back, leaving Mother and me. The ride passes without conversation. The building density decreases steadily as we drive away from the jungle of living quarters.
Everyone seems to be lost in thought. I picture my mother fretting over the implications of today and my brother focusing on impressing the right people. As for me, I just want to get through the day without being noticed.
We arrive at the community center and join the mass of mourners dressed in black. Away from the density of the living quarters, the building’s large windows allow sunlight to fill the entire location. Black drapes cover the walls in respect for the dead. A sea of silver, backless benches covers the entire room.
Dominic catches up to us so we can all sit together. We find our seats close to the back of the giant room, with my mother between us. I try in vain to get comfortable even though I know it isn’t possible. The seating was made purposefully hard to help ensure everyone stays awake during the various territory meetings.
Movement in the center of the room catches my attention. A large holograph screen shows the image of the deceased. A young girl beams into the camera. Her green eyes light up in amusement. My heart drops when the hologram transforms to the next image. A newborn baby fills the room now. It’s customary for the slideshow to document the deceased’s life. Normally, these shows last several minutes and end with pictures full of grey hair and evidence of a long life. Medicine has advanced to a point where death normally doesn’t occur until old age. Recently, more and more children have been dying and the government hasn’t offered any explanation.
Mother leans over. “Is that her family?” She nods in the direction of a group of people bound in sadness.
I recognize one of the men. I don’t really have any friends at school, but he’s always treated me with kindness. Once we were old enough to realize that I was different, most of my classmates either avoided me, which I’ve always preferred, or treated me with complete disdain and disgust.
“Yes,” I whisper in an attempt not to disturb anyone. I strain my neck to get a better view of the family. Grief is carved into all of their faces. “The tall blonde in the back is one of my classmates. His name is Ian.”
“I can’t imagine the pain of losing a close family member like that. He’s going through a terrible loss.” A tear falls down her cheek. She hastily wipes it away.
Dominic nudges my mother to get her attention. “See, over in the corner?” He points subtly. “That is the Territory Leader and the rest of the council. The male with the striped tie is the representative for the genetic engineers. Do you think I should speak to him about my latest genome isolation? I have not had a chance yet.” His voice is full of excitement and possibility.
“This is hardly the time for that, Dominic. Show some respect for the situation. You’ll have plenty of time to present yourself later,” Mother says. She looks kindly at him in order to soften her scold.
She refocuses her attention toward me. “Please be sure to offer him,” she pauses to nod at Ian, “our deepest condolences.”
“Of course, Mother,” I say. She doesn’t notice it because her attention is concentrated on the family, but Dominic glares at me. I swallow down my fear.
The Territory Leader steps up to the podium and ends the tense moment. Instantly, all conversations in the room stop. For a moment, the only noise is the solemn grief coming from the child’s family. Then, the steady, deep voice of a man echoes throughout the hall.
“Too soon, the life of young Melanie was taken from us. Nine years old is much too early to be gone. Do not despair in her death; rather, celebrate her life…” He continues on as someone, perhaps Melanie’s mother, lets out another agonizing wail as she succumbs to her pain.
Melanie’s funeral is the fifth we’ve attended in the last three years. Until recently, this has been completely unprecedented. Barring any major accident, everyone can expect to enjoy a very long, healthy life. This string of young deaths throughout the territories has been troublesome for everyone. Without warning, the young fall ill and within a few days, they’re dead.
The government has assured us that they’re working on a solution, but they haven’t provided any answers on where the problem originated. Luckily, my family has been spared from whatever is causing this fatal illness.
“And now,” our Territory Leader begins, snapping me back to the present to take in his words, “let us take a moment of silence for Melanie and her family.”
No one dares to make a sound. A drop of sweat falls down my back. Even though the windows are open, the sheer amount of people in the room has raised the temperature. The only noise is the misery of the family. Once the Territory Leader deems the silence has gone on long enough, he motions for us to stand and leave.
I’m shorter than the other men and some of the women by several inches. Other members of society have always taken pleasure in making fun of me for this. Because there are a lot of people, I grab my mother’s hand so she doesn’t fall behind as we make our way out of the community center. Despite the situation, she smiles appreciatively and we push our way to the public vehicle.
For once, my brother doesn’t throw any insults my way. Instead, he simply ignores me. Even though Melanie wasn’t a family member, her death still impacts us and we all spend the commute in silence contemplating this newly realized mortality.