Somewhere behind a screen, someone is deciding what choices I make every day. Simple things, like what type of bread I’ll buy from the market, or what clothes I wear. It’s supposed to keep us in line, my mother tells me. I guess it does.
But there will always be rebels. There will always be crime. The government can’t do anything to stop that. I’ve heard stories about a rebel family who raised their children outside the border, without all the laws and restrictions closing in on them. These children were free of the algorithm. The police then found them, of course, and killed them.
This is merely fiction, I am sensible enough to understand that. But the thought of running away crosses my mind every so often. More often these days. I’m not sure how I’m able to think about such things. Why would our government want me thinking about rebellion? That’s the last thing they want.
My theory is that they’re trying to keep our society normal, so I suppose there will be people with thoughts of rebellion, suicide, and theft because that’s how the world would work without all this technology.
But even this theory doesn’t put my mind to rest. The worst part of it all is that I can’t talk to anyone. I don’t know anyone who’s going through the same thing as me. If I tried discussing it with normal people, like my sister perhaps, they would never understand. The algorithm wouldn’t let them.
I am all alone in this strange world.
I do record all of these symptoms in my notebook however, I believe that you should always have your feelings and thoughts in writing. What if I were to get amnesia, like the poor girl down the street? She was taken to the capital of our state and held there for research or something.
I didn’t know her well, but she didn’t seem like the type to write in a diary. Now, when she returns home, she will have no memory of this place. And she will have no written record either.
It’s quite unfortunate what has happened to her. The fact that I feel compassion and empathy for her surprises me. I shouldn’t care. But again, I will simply go with my theory and leave it at that. I can’t do much until I have more details.
My sister Alora comes into my room just as I finish my writing for the day.
“Mom made dumplings today,” she smiles and beckons for me to follow.
The aroma of homemade dumplings fills the air and makes my mouth water. My mom has set out four plates for me, my sister, my father, and herself. There is a large bowl in the center piled with steaming dumplings. Except my father isn’t here. He died fighting in the army a year ago. We still keep a plate for him at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is how we remember him.
I don’t realize how quickly I finish my dumplings, I’m too lost in my own thoughts.
“Someone’s hungry,” my mother notes jokingly. I give her a polite smile and make my way to my room.
I flop onto my bed and pull out my ThoughtScreen from my bedside drawer. I’m currently reading a book for school. It’s about what this place was before it was our country. Some pathetic empire called the USA. I’m surprised that I actually find it interesting. These days, nothing school-related interests me at all. I hear a knock on my bedroom door. It’s Alora again.
“Hi,” she sits next to me on the bed. I put down my ThoughtScreen and raise my eyebrows. Alora doesn’t talk to me unless she must. I suppose that’s the way of the algorithm.
“Yes?” I ask. Maybe I’m being too abrupt and rude. After all, she hasn’t done anything to provoke me in any way. I ought to be nicer.
“I just wanted to check-in. You’re always in your room. You never play with me anymore. Let’s play Candyland!” she suggests. I sigh and shake my head.
“No thanks, that’s okay,”
Suddenly, I begin to feel a slight headache. I tell Alora I’d like to be alone for a while. But the peace doesn’t last for long. My mother comes in next, her brows furrowed.
“Alora told me you have a headache. Do you want to talk to me?”
“Yes, actually. I’ve been feeling...weird. Like the algorithm works differently for me, I don’t know.”
“Ahh,” my mother chuckles. “All teens feel like that. When you are approaching adolescence, the chip in your brain sometimes messes with the hormones and brain development. It all gets fixed when you’re an adult, but it can cause some problems as a teen. Don’t worry, it happened to me too, you’ll be fine. But it’s better than just that. When you’re an adult, the algorithm sort of loosens up. You can make more decisions and the government only steps in if they really have to. They expect that if they teach us one thing from birth, we’ll grow to follow that as adults. It does work. Crime rates have been lower ever since they started this,” she tells me. I take a minute to digest this information.
“So the algorithm won’t control my life when I’m older?” I ask.
“Yes, essentially. The government is usually focused on children and teens. They won’t bother you unless they feel that you are doing something wrong. You have nothing to worry about as long as you always do what’s in the best interest of the people, the government, and yourself. Now you go to bed, Vienna, you’ve got school tomorrow,” I smile at her and nod.
“Thanks, Mom, good night,” I say. I turn off my light and get under the covers. I am asleep within minutes.
Our morning routine is quite simple. We have it written on a hanging whiteboard in the hallway upstairs. Me and Alora wake up at seven-thirty each morning and brush our teeth. Then we take a quick bath and change and then go down for breakfast, which usually consists of cereal and toast, maybe potatoes. Finally, we pack our bags and go to school. Like I said, very simple.
But nowhere on that little whiteboard does it say, “Government comes to investigate the house, but really they’re investigating Vienna.” Yes. That is what happened the next morning. I slept in that day, as our school had a late start every Monday. When I walk into the kitchen, Alora sits at the table wide-eyed, and my mom has that just-go-along-with-it-and-act-normal, -I’m freaked-out-too look on her face.
“Hello. Are you Vienna Jackson?” the first official asks coldly. I nod slowly and look down. His eyes are piercing my soul, I can’t look at him.
“Do you mind coming with us, Vienna?” the second man asks. I don’t understand questions like these. I don’t really have a choice. I’d love to say, “Yes, I do mind, thank you very much,” but I know my only option is, “I don’t mind, sure.”
I follow the two men outside where they turn to face me.
“Listen, Miss Jackson. We’ve found a small glitch in our algorithm. Nothing major, but we’d like to investigate it. Just close your eyes for a minute.”
I obey and I feel a needle poke my skin. When I open my eyes again, I am standing in front of a young girl and a middle-aged woman. There are two official-looking men behind me. I am in a house I don’t recognize. The official is talking to the woman, telling her something about amnesia, and how I’m being taken somewhere. The woman calls a name.
“Vienna! Vienna, please tell me it isn’t true! You know who I am, I’m your mother!” she sobs. I frown. I think I’d recognize my own mother if I saw her. Plus, I think I’d know my own name too. I don’t know who Vienna is, this woman is clearly going mad.
Before I can register what’s happening, I’m being pushed out the door with this woman yelling behind me. I’m ushered into a sleek black limousine.
I guess I drift off at some point, but when I wake up, we’re still in the car. And more importantly, I remember everything. The officials, the injection, the officials saying I have amnesia, not recognizing my own mother. I whisper my name out loud. Vienna. It brings tears to my eyes. Where am I going? Why?
A few hours later, we arrive at the capital building. It is already nightfall by then. I don’t get a chance to say anything before I’m escorted to my room. Looks like I’ll be staying for a while.
The room is luxurious, with golden crown molding and a giant king-size bed. The place should feel comforting, but it doesn’t. I just want to go home.
The curious person that I am, I decide to explore. I tiptoe through the hallways quietly, running a hand along the right wall. I hear shuffling somewhere near me. My heart leaps up. If someone sees me here, I’ll be done for.
“Hello?” a voice whispers. It’s a girl. Maybe about my age, judging by her voice.
The girl steps into the light. I recognize her immediately. It’s that girl who had amnesia. She got taken...here.
“You’re that girl from down the street, aren’t you?” She asks. I raise an eyebrow and nod.
“How would you know? You have amnesia.”
“Oh, still haven’t put the pieces together?” she chuckles. “See, that shot they gave you made you lose your memory for a couple of hours. They told your mom you had amnesia and took you here.” I gasp.
“Because we’re special, both of us. Their silly algorithm? It doesn’t affect us. We’re dangerous, and they don’t want people like us around here.”
“What are they going to do with us?” I panic.
“Kill us, I guess. Or use us as a weapon. They’ll kill one of us at least. They only need one to experiment on,”
“They’re going to kill me, they already have you,” I whisper. She grabs my wrist.
“No. No, they won’t. Because now that you’re here, we can escape. I’ve been wanting to for the three months I’ve been here. I just needed someone to help me. No one’s going to die. I’m Jade by the way,” She says, extending her hand. I shake it gently.
“You too,” I smile at her.
I have hope. I am special. The government is scared of me. I have power. I think about all this as I fall asleep. Is Jade my friend? Can I trust her? It doesn’t look like I have another option right now. Besides, the worst-case scenario is she bails on me. So what? I’m already here, they can’t hurt me anymore.
I wait for months, at least I think so. I have no clue what date it is. I’ve been asking Jade every day when we’re going to leave, but all she does is tell me to wait. I’m done waiting. My family needs me. But I won’t be waiting much longer.
I hear a knock on my door late in the night. It can only be Jade. I open the door and let her in. She rarely comes to my room, so it must be serious.
She sits on my bed and turns to face me.
“Vienna, it’s time,” I smile slowly.
“Okay. What do we do?”
“Quickly, open that window, and do it quietly,” she orders, ripping the sheets off my bed. I do as she says and look down at the courtyard swarming with security.
“Jade, how are we going to do this? There are a million-”
“I know, you’ll see, just be quiet, those guys have crazy hearing.” Jade ties the bedsheets together in a makeshift rope. We are four stories high. I don’t know what Jade is planning to do.
“Okay, this will sound crazy, but you need to listen,” Jade says. “Climb out the window and hold one end of this sheet. Keep scaling the wall. There will be footholds. We’ll go to the back, where the dumpsters are. Security never patrols that area,” I hesitate but nod. This is our chance. I’m not going to mess it up. I slowly climb out and keep going right, keeping count of the windows I cross. I don’t look down. Jade is right behind me.
We move quickly, it only takes ten minutes to get to the dumpsters. Needless to say, it stinks there, but that is not my concern. We climb down quickly and start running. This is the dangerous part.
In the corner of my eye, I see a man in a grey suit. I should keep going, but I glance back, and what I see nearly gives me a heart attack. It’s our very own President Grayson. He knows. I turn to warn Jade, but two men are already sneaking up behind her. I hear a gunshot, and everything blacks out.