Path to 90,000
This November I am working on using NanoWriMo Fall 2015 to shake down my muse from where she’s hiding. In that sense, I’ve started back on the project and am re-writing the original manuscript to give it better direction, better flare and more interesting story elements. So I’m going to try to keep this updated and post some excerpts as I find them to be interesting!
This time around, I am much more satisfied in how this story begins. I really struggled the first time around, but I definitely have a better start, if not the start.
Excerpt: From the Beginning
Words are powerful because they evoke emotion, and these words I give you are meant to inspire the will to fight against the regime. Emotion held sway over us, because in the beginning it was how we survived. How we purchased the things we needed, and how we cured ourselves. Everything was driven by emotion — or lack thereof. The world had changed by the time I was born, and the Cities had risen up out of the ashes of a natural disaster that no one spoke about. Everyone speculated on what it could have been that made the world so dangerous for us, but only in whispers for if the Enforcers caught you really trying to find the reason, you’d find yourself docked the emotional currency needed to get the medicine for whatever illness you suffered from. I was born in a City on the edge of the ocean, along a broken coast made of mostly rocky cliffs. We could see the water glittering from our protective bubble that shielded us from the harmful rays of the sun and the terrible storms that would wash over our cities in the winter. I’d heard rumors of other cities, but back then, when I was on the cusp of getting the band and graduating from Middle School with the promise of getting accepted into Upper School, I only knew of my City.
I was lucky. My parents lived right in the middle of the Upper City, at the bottom of the Hill, where my city’s government officials lived. My house was a large affair with its own atrium and little pond that allowed us to grow our own fresh food. I would eventually learn that this was not the privilege of every child in the City, but that first day I can pinpoint as the starting part of the story, I knew very little about my life or what would become of me. Standing in front of the mirror, I stared at my reflection and bemoaned the fact that I was too short and too dark to be classically pretty. I suppose, they would have called me exotic with my shiny black hair that fell like silken water around my pale face. I had bangs back, and I remembered liking the way my the ends of my hair tickled my jawbone. I used pretty pink barrettes to hold back the fine strands to keep them out of my slightly almond shaped eyes. I looked like my mother, except for my eyes. Hers were this rich, chocolate brown that seemed to hold the world’s secrets inside them, but mine were a pale, milky green that I had never seen on any of my friends. Mother called them “Jade eyes” and sometimes when she said that, I’d catch a glimpse of sadness in the way her mouth turned down. She was a complex woman that even my father never seemed to understand, but their marriage was full of love back then even if I suspected that she had her own secrets she kept from us.
After applying a thin sheen of lip gloss, I shut my closet door knowing that my school uniform of a dark purple pleated skirt, crisp white shirt and a bright red strips of fabric on the hem of the sleeves looked the same as every other day. The uniform was in the colors of my school, the Middle School of the Upper City. In point of fact, at the time, I thought the whole City was comprised of the Upper City and parts of the Middle City. I knew, in theory, that the Lower City existed but I’d never been there and thought it was for all the losers who couldn’t get good jobs and not for children. The City took pride in its children — or so I thought. I didn’t know that the City took pride in only the Upper and Middle children. That day, however, I was ignorant of the deep divides between the castes and focused only on the thought of seeing Parkyr on the bus. He made my knees weak and butterflies run rampant in my stomach every time I saw him. I was thankful, then, that I did not have the band yet. Or the B.N.D, the Balancing Neural Device. It was what read our emotions and let the City know if we were getting too happy or too sad. Any extreme was a reason to take away the emotion credits, which was our currency, and calculated based on how many points you had left on your band. We called these points, EPs or emotion points. Maintaining emotional neutrality meant that the credits you were gifted at the beginning of your life would stay in your ‘emotional bank’. You could borrow against that credit amount and then pay it off with good works, but only if you managed not to get too emotional. Once, Mother needed to have a new heart created for her when they found a genetic defect in hers that meant her chances of having a heart attack was greater than anyone else’s. It took a good third of her emotion credits to get the heart created and the surgery, which wasn’t a problem, but mother is a woman who wants to save as much as possible. So rather than live with a good chunk taken out, she went to work in the distant fields that are how we get our food. It took her a good two years of working two jobs and ensuring that her emotion never spiked for her to earn back the credits. We all had to help her, and I remember hating that I couldn’t cry in front of her or laugh or anything. Father had to take me aside and tell me that if I didn’t help her, then she would fail and if she failed she wouldn’t get another chance.
You are allowed only one chance to earn back what you spend, and if you fail, then you’re done. It’s forever gone from your emotion bank.
At the time, I didn’t realize what that meant, and that day I was getting ready for school, I still didn’t understand entirely, but I understood better, because I was on the cusp of getting the band.
“Reiya! You’ll miss the bus! I already see Kiele waiting for you on the sidewalk!” My mother’s voice broke my reverie and without thinking, I grabbed up the old ancient key necklace that she’d given to me after I’d taken my graduation tests. It was meant to inspire luck and was one of the few things that my family had kept with them through the ages. She called it a ‘family heirloom’. It was like her ancient chest that had once been carried along a long and dusty road in a time of war when our ancestors migrated from one part of the world to the next, but that was so long ago, that I couldn’t even fathom it.
“Coming!” My voice was sweet and soft back then, full of hope and excitement. I was excited to grow up and get my band and get the results of my test and whether or not I was going into Upper School or going to be forced into a Trade School.
The golden key bounced against my chest bone as I dashed out of my room and down the long hallway that framed one side of the atrium with its brightly-hued plants. Mother was very careful to keep the atrium up, because we had some precious plants we’d gotten permission to grow from the government.
“Reiya, stop running. You know that’s not allowed,” my mother admonishes me, turning on me with a smile in her eyes, but she’s careful to control her emotion behind a bland mask of generic happiness. As a child, you learn to spot the subtle signs of a person’s real thoughts. Like the mannerisms that suggest they are struggling to hold back anger, or the tightness around the eyes that could be a smile. I was especially good at reading the subtle signs of body language and I knew that my mother was irritated with me, despite her pretty smile.
“I know, but I don’t have…” I flashed her my wrist to show the perfect, creamy pale flesh that showed nothing beyond the blue-green veins that ran up my arm. When I got the band, the device implanted there when I was a baby would glow a subtle green that would measure out my emotion credits, or ECs as we called them. “I’m not yet a woooooomaaaaaaaannnn,” I sing-songed, shoving my lunch into my book bag. I didn’t know if I meant to throw the fact that I was still free with my emotions in my mother’s face, but the way she pressed her lips together and turned away meant I’d hurt her.
Her hands pressed to the countertop and I could see her wrist and for a moment I held my breath, but her band did not move. The faint green numbers were always the same, telling her that she still had 90 ECs left to spend. The 10 ECs she’d lost were lost during her pregnancy, a time when she wasn’t allowed to make them up, so she’d become somewhat of a legend with her ability to control the band and her emotions even during the last days of her pregnancy. When I was born, I was measured and weighed and they deducted 10ECs as payment for allowing her to have me. If I’d been found defective, I would have been taken care of and my mother would have been allowed to try again if she could cover the tax.
“I’m sorry,” I said, softly.
“It’s fine, Reiya. Now, go. You’ll be getting your test results soon.”
“Oh! Yeah!” Excitement flooded through me and for a moment I thought about indulging in the way the emotion made me feel so high and full, but then I decided that I’d better get used to controlling the waves of euphoria or else I would be ill-prepared when I did get the band. Which should be any day now, though for the first year, it’s more like a training band. It took a while to adjust, so the government let us have that time to learn what would and wouldn’t trigger deductions. But after a year of if, your real currency would fill the bar in and there was no going back.
“Now, go. Kiele is waiting and she looks like she’s getting antsy,” my mother’s voice was fond before she turned and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I love you, honey,” she said to me, and I grinned and gave her a kiss back.
To this day, I regret that action, because I never realized that it would have meant so much to my mother. Back then I was a selfish teenager and instead, I flew out of the house and ran down the steps to the lawn where Kiele waited, shifting her feet in anticipation.
“You’re here early—”
“You won’t believe—”
We laughed at the fact that we both started talking at once. I looped my arm through hers and started walking, shaking my head. “You first,” I encouraged.
“I got it!” Something was different about Kiele. She said it and I could sense the excitement, but she was being very careful about her demeanor. My stomach dropped, because it could mean only one thing.
“You got it…?” My voice was hesitant as I tried to squash the spike of jealousy that flowed through me. “You got the band?!” I was incredulous and pulled away. I’d always thought we would get the band together.
“Yeah, I, uh… this morning… I woke up with it…” Kiele sensed that I was not entirely happy, and I felt shame for that, but I was also disappointed. I tried to cover it by looking away. “See?”
She held out her wrist and I saw the faint blue glow beneath her skin. It was blue to signify the training band before it would shift to the faint green like my mother’s. Gently, I took her hand in mine and examined the numbers. She’d not lost any of her ECs yet.
“Oh.” I tried really hard to swallow the disappointment.
“Reiya,” she started to say and I held up my hand and shook my head. Putting on a bright smile, I once again looped my arm through hers. “No, it’s great, Kiele,” I said, willing the words to be true. “Really. Now, we’d better get to the bus or we’ll be late!”
Enforced brightness, that’s how I dealt with anything that bothered me. I put on this bright smile and made it seem like the world was full of sunshine and roses when in fact, I felt like dying from the weight of my disappointment and jealousy. I was very dramatic back then, and so very young.
As we boarded the bus, I realized that our lives were about to change. See, Kiele would end up getting separated from me when she changed to the wing of the Middle School that was meant for those of us that got their bands. Since it usually happened in Grade Four, our school was split into two Halls. Kiele would be going into the Iaiq Hall, named after the man who invented the first device. There was even one on display and it looked like this clunky watch-like thing that fit around our left wrist.
I bit my lip and fiddled with my bag that held my tablet and my lunch.
“Reiya, it’ll be okay. I won’t forget you, I promise. Besides, we can still have lunch together,” I heard Kiele offer, tentatively. She was the best friend a girl could have and so much better than I was. If I’d been in her shoes, I don’t think I’d be thinking about someone else, but that was how Kiele was. I always thought she was the best of humanity bottled into a pretty girl. She was tall and beautiful with hair the color of sunlight and eyes like the blue skies. Confident and strong, we were unlikely friends, but when we met the first time in Grade One, that was it. If I were to say anyone was my soulmate, I would say Kiele. There was just this essence to her that was hard to ignore. She had so much life.
“I know, I just…” I bit my lip hard, tasting blood. “I wanted to do it with you.” I wanted to be first. The truth stabbed my heart like a spike.
“I know.” And rather than call me out, Kiele puts her arm around my shoulders and pulled me into her side. She was warm and strong and I could feel her heart beating. I really did feel like we were two halves of the same coin.