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THE

FINITE

THE FINITE SERIES: BOOK ONE

 

 

SAFA SHAQSY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction; the names, characters, incidents and places either are actual product of the author’s thoughts and imagination is used fictitiously. Therefore, any resemblance or any similarity to actual people, either living or dead, environment, or events is totally coincidental.

Text copyright © 2016 by Safa Shaqsy All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 978-1530370948

ISBN-10: 1530370949

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The only limitation to our destiny is fear.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEDICATION

 

For my father who supported me, my two younger sisters for being my daily muses, my younger brother for being a brother and my mother who loved me unconditionally.

 

CONTENTS

 

C h a p t e r   O n e 1
C h a p t  e r   T w o 1 3
C h a p t e r   T h r e e 2 5
C h a p t e r   F o u r 3 7
C h a p t e r   F i v e 4 7
C h a p t e r   S i x 5 7
C h a p t e r   S e v e n 7 1
C h a p t e r   E i g h t 8 3
C h a p t e r   N i n e 9 9
C h a p t e r   T e n 1 0 9
C h a p t e r   E l e v e n 1 2 5
C h a p t  e r   T w e l v e 1 3 5
C h a p t e r   T h i r t e e n 1 5 3
C h a p t e r   F o u r t e e n 1 6 3
C h a p t e r   F i f t e e n 1 7 1
C h a p t e r   S i x t e e n 1 8 1
C h a p t e r   S e v e n t e e n 1 9 5
C h a p t e r   E i g h t e e n 2 0 7
C h a p t e r   N i n e t e e n 2 2 1
C h a p t  e r   T w e n t y 2 2 9
C h a p t e r   T w e n t y – O n e 2 3 9
C h a p t  e r   T w e n t y – T w o 2 4 9
C h a p t  e r   T w e n t y – T h r e e 2 6 1
C h a p t e r   T w e n t y – F o u r 2 7 1
C h a p t  e r   T w e n t y – F i v e 2 7 9
C h a p t  e r   T w e n t y – S i x 2 9 1
C h a p t  e r   T w e n t y – S e v e n 3 0 3
C h a p t  e r   T w e n t y – E i g h t 3 1 3
C h a p t  e r   T w e n t y – N i n e 3 2 5
C h a p t e r   T h i r t y 3 3 9

 

C h a p t e r   T h i r t y – O n e 3 5 3
C h a p t e r   T h i r t y – T w o 3 6 7
C h a p t e r   T h i r t y – T h r e e 3 7 9
A b o u t   t h e   A u t h o r 3 8 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

It was a skyless morning. We had a glass ceiling above us. Confining us. Separating us from the outside world. We lived in a space city called the Hoop that was ruled by three holders. It was named the Hoop City, because it had many domes that connected to each other in a circle. I had two loyal friends, Opal and Ira. We didn’t have many activities to pass the time, so we spent most of our days hanging out in the loading dome in the early mornings out of boredom.

“We should get out before they catch us,” I said. There was an urgency in my voice.

Ira looked at me with his gray eyes, like he was trying to decipher my words. Confused. Like I wasn’t making any

sense. “Don’t worry, Claudia,” Ira said, “we will be out before the guards show up.” His blond hair was spiked from the metal headband he was wearing, and his eyes focused on the tin can on the metal floor. He was trying to move the can with his thoughts. He and Opal tried many times to move objects, and they failed many times. It is hard to use the Wiver. Only the people who work in the loading dome can move objects with Wiver, after long months of practice. A lot of them experienced nosebleeds every time they used the Wiver no matter how experienced they were. I knew Ira had the bleeding before, but he was stubborn and would never

 

stop using it illegally.

Opal giggled. Her straight light brown hair was lying on her shoulders. “Just relax,” she said, “we did this hundreds of times before.” She rolled her brown eyes.

If the guards did catch us playing with the Wiver, we will be sent to rehab. Neglecting the rules was outrageous. It was wrong. My heart was pounding hard I could hear it in my ears. On many occasions my words seemed meaningless. I was the scared and careful one. They were the opposite.

They would live every moment to its fullest. At times, I felt envious of them for taking risks. Following rules was dull and boring to them.

Ira squinted his round gray eyes at the can on the floor.

With his thoughts, the can slowly rose in the air.

Opal’s eyes were wide, and alive. “It’s flying!” She said.

Her loud voice echoed in the metal-walled loading dome.

Every sound echoed and we always get noticed. It was hard to talk in a metal-walled loading dome. It was where they delivered containers of goods from Earth that traveled through the portal. The large silver-ringed portal, which connected the Hoop and Earth, was in the center of the room, under the dome, away from the container storage. The portal was hollow; it wasn’t activated. If it were activated, there would be two guards standing on either side.

Rapid footsteps echoed on the far side of the dome and soon white-uniformed guards with red crosses emblazoned on the side of their jackets appeared. The guards. They must have heard us.

“Run!” Ira said. He threw his headband to the floor and rose from his chair tripping over his own feet.

The guards ran behind us. “Hey!” They yelled. “Stop!”

 

Opal took Ira’s hands and pulled him to get up and we all ran.

“Stop you three!” One guard yelled after us.

Opal was laughing, and glimpsed back while she ran.

Her cheeks were flushed.

We entered the metal tunnel that connected to the residential dome where our homes were.

My lungs started to burn as I breathed through my mouth, “We won’t make it!”

Ira glanced back at the guards. He looked back at me with a side smile. “Camouflage!” He said.

“What!” Said Opal waving her hands.

We reached the doorway to the residential dome. Since the domes were small, the streets were always packed with pedestrians and traffic making it easy for us to disappear in the chaos.

An endless line of round glass cars, only large enough for one person, filled the small dark street that separated the loading dome doorway and the glass storefronts. We crossed the street dodging the cars as we ran. When we reached the pavement, we bumped into a few people and pushed our way to the shops on the other side of the street. We ran along the storefronts.

“Duck!” Ira whispered.

And we crouched down with our hands on our heads. People kept looking at us while passing but no one stopped. My hands trembled as the guards came nearer, scanning the crowd.

“We are doomed,” I whispered. My heart skipped a beat and I kept peeping through the moving crowd.

 

The guards stood in front of the doorway, looking around. “ They must have went further,” one of the guards said.

“It would be better if we searched the other domes,” the other guard said.

We waited for a while until they disappeared. “They’re gone,” I said with a sigh.

We stood up, disappearing in the crowd.

“That was deadly close,” Opal said, under her breath. “I told you to trust me,” Ira said, and winked.

I felt I could breathe again. I hadn’t noticed that I was sweating until I felt that my palms were wet.

“Yeah,” Opal said. “You are our lifesaver.” She wore a mocking smile and placed her hand on his shoulder.

I laughed and felt a pinch of joy. Like kids who did something against the rules and got away with it. Getting out of the situation was like a shoot of adrenaline. A drug we were addicted to.

“We should do that again,” Ira said. “No!” Opal and I said in unison.

We held each other’s hands and walked along the pavement. White uniformed guards stood every few meters. They were in every dome making sure everyone followed the rules. Mother said it made us a perfect society. There was minimal crime, and the holders tried to maintain the perfection for centuries. We heard rumors that a robbery happened last year, in a shop. Some teens did it out of boredom and were sent to rehab to be indoctrinated, which is nice way to say brainwashed. I’ve been told that when they

 

brainwashed people, they inject a person with serum to allow them to manipulate their memories. The person’s mind is left washed out, as they flash images on a screen and force the person to watch. The images on the screen are used to imprint good behaviors in one’s brain. The person comes out clean, sanitized, and obedient.

“I hope we are not late for the class,” I said. “We will get there in time,” replied Opal.

My legs couldn’t move fast enough toward the Globe. It was like a school where we learned important lessons to make us more perfect citizens. The Globe is where people meet and sit in a circle around a provider, who provides information that expands our knowledge.

We had the rest of the day to do research and read. The holders said that flexibility in education is the key to evolution. The knowledge we get from the sessions and readings helps us pass the position test program that every person takes at the age of 17. The results will determine which department a person will be assigned to. A person’s job or department is distinguished by the color of the cross on their jacket. All non-working citizens wear white outfits. Every worker in the Hoop has a colored cross on their uniform according to their department. The holders of the city wear black. They are the ones in charge of the rules and keeping everything under control. They have ruled the Hoop for decades. They say God gifted them with safety and prosperity for giving service to their city and doing good

deeds. That’s what every person who lives in the city was hoping for. If they followed the rules and stayed good, God might gift them with long life and prosperity. It is like giving a kid candy to do his homework. Effective, but it won’t last long.

 

A hologram appeared in the center of the dome, where grass grew and flowers bloomed within a concrete circle.

Everyone stopped and stared at the hologram. A middle- aged man with lazy dark eyes and a broad jawline appeared. His dark hair glistened and his eyes twinkled as if he were really standing there. This was Bertram; he was one of the holders that kept our city safe.

“Greetings,” he said. “The Hoop City is a perfect city. This city was built centuries ago to create a peaceful, flawless society. The Hoop was built by the minds of engineers and by the hands of laborers who risked their lives and turned their fantasies into reality. For many decades their plan was to build a city that integrated between the past and the future. Today we live decent lives and might live for many long productive years. With your help and your contribution to keeping the Hoop alive, we can make this city last for

centuries to come. So be a follower, not a dissonant.” He paused. “Stay safe.” Then the hologram was gone. People began moving again, resuming their normal routine.

We walked.

“I don’t like Bertram,” Ira said. Opal’s lips parted.

“Shh…You can’t say that out loud.” I said almost in a whisper.

Opal slapped his arm with the back of her hand. “Yeah,” she said.

We reached the Globe. People were in a queue waiting outside the building as guards scanned everyone’s serial code card. We didn’t need to give our names or show ID, every detail was in the serial code. When it reached my turn, one of the guards scanned my card. A picture appeared on the portable scanner that the guard held, a girl with brown

 

almond-shaped eyes and dark brown hair. She had a pale oval face and a slightly large straight nose. I looked different in the picture, I almost didn’t recognize myself.

“Next,” he said with heaviness, like he didn’t want to wake up that morning.

Ira and Opal scanned their cards and we entered the Globe. The lobby of the Globe was stark white with many bookshelves arranged in rows. The receptionist sat at a semicircle table. Her glasses were too big for her face.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Morning,” we said in unison. We entered the spotless, quiet hallway to the doorway of the large hall where many people sat in concentric circles around the one provider who was a teacher. He was waiting for us to start the session. We tried to tread lightly so our footsteps wouldn’t echo on the floor, but it was too late, everyone had already turned their faces to stare at us.

The provider looked at us with his blue eyes. “Come,” he said. “Sit down.” He beckoned to the chairs.

“Sorry we were late,” I said.

We took our seats. This wasn’t the first time we had arrived late. Ira and Opal involved me in their crimes and rule-breaking, but part of me was guilty, guilty for agreeing to go along with them. Yes, I did share the crimes with my best friends. Yes, I did agree to break the rules with them.

“You are forgiven,” the provider said. “Let’s start shall we?” He grabbed a metal headband and placed it on his blond head. He pressed the button to activate it, and closed his eyes.

“This is the fun part,” Opal whispered.

 

His voice transferred into our minds. “Today I will provide you the information about human anatomy,” his voice appeared in our heads as if we were thinking what he was saying. “Can you hear me loud and clear?” He asked.

“Yes,” we all said in unison.

A huge explosion filled the air and shook the ground. Sirens filled the hall almost drowning out the screams of terror. Three people ran through the exit. I covered my ears so hard I made them ring.

Opal approached me with her hands covering her ears too, “We need to get out of here!” She said aloud.

I nodded. “Ira!” I said. “Let’s get out.”

Ira also had his hands over his ears. We all ran to the exit where we saw huge hole in one of the walls with smoke pouring in causing everyone to choke and cough as they tried to exit.

There were guards in white uniforms with red crosses on the back. The police ran through the corridors looking for the person responsible for the explosives. “Check the hallways!” One of them said.

Opal coughed and covering her mouth and nose with her forearm.

Ira grabbed her arm and led her away as I followed them. It was the first time I saw a bombing like this in the Hoop. The city was always peaceful and the holders promised us a society without crimes, and without danger so we didn’t have to live in fear. It was all a lie. They can’t protect us from danger.

A group of people ran towards us from the hole. Their clothes looked messy and unorganized, different and not color-coded. Where did they come from? A woman in the

 

group stopped and stared at me with pain in her deep brown eyes. She approached me cautiously.

“Claudia” she said. Her dark brown hair was messy and wild. She held my hands with her firm soft hands. Her smile was warm.

“Who are you?” I snapped. “And how do you know my name?”

“They can’t keep me away from you,” she said, “not anymore.” She shook her head.

“What are you talking about?” I said. I wasn’t scared of her for some reason.

“The holders are up to something,” she said in a hurry. “Be careful.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just opened my mouth but nothing came out. I was too shocked to say anything.

“Here take my serial code card.” She took off the card that hung around her neck on a ribbon and gave it to me.

The police spotted her. “I found one of them,” the officer told the others and they ran toward her. She punched the first officer in the nose. He screeched and held his face as blood flowed from his nose. The other two police officers caught her by the arms and hand cuffed her. She continued to try to resist them as they dragged her from the corridor.

“You will never imprison me forever!” She screeched through clenched teeth and kicking furiously as the two police removed her. The other police officer walked behind with one hand pinching his bleeding nose. I slipped the badge into my pocket before anyone could see it.

“Claudia,” Ira said. “We need to get out.” There was

 

urgency in his voice. He was holding Opal next to the exit. I ran toward them and we got out of the building. People were crowded outside and police cars were everywhere on the dark street. I saw the face of the woman that knew me in the back of one of the car. I turned to look at the dark gray smoke rising from the Globe building.

“Who was that woman?” Opal said. “Do you know her?”

“I have no idea,” I said.

“I want to go home,” she said.

“You two go on home.” Ira said and tucked his hands in the pockets of his white pants.

“What will you do here by yourself?” I asked.

“Oh, just ask the police questions,” he shrugged his shoulder, “being curious as usual.”

“Okay,” I said. “Stay safe.”

There were people taking pictures of the Globe with their hand bands as we strode away from the building. Most of the people were at the scene of the explosion, so the streets were nearly empty. I kept thinking about what the strange woman told me, The holders are up to something, Be careful. We reached Opal’s dome house, like the rest of hundreds of houses in the residential dome. Our houses

were next door to each other’s and beside the main street. We were neighbors, since the domes aren’t that big, everyone knew everyone else. Opal’s voice caused the door to slide open, she turned and said, “Stay safe.”

“Stay safe,” I said.

When I got to the gravel way leading up to my house, my mother was peeping from the glass window. Her red hair

 

was short and combed back in a bun. I went to the front door. “Open the door.” I said, and the door slid open.

My mother stood in the bright, white hall, with her hands on her hips and a disappointed look on her face. Her forehead was creased with tension. “You’re early today,” she said and arched an eyebrow.

I entered the living room and sat on the sofa. “There was an explosion at the Globe,” I said. “And there was a woman who knew my name. I think she was responsible for the explosion at the Globe.”

Her gray eyes widened, like she was scared of something. “What woman?” She said dropping her hands to her sides.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Maybe just some rebels who were trying to get attention?”

Maybe she was right. There will not always be reasons for such actions. “I guess so,” I said.

“You better change,” she said. “Your uniform is filthy and you need to read before tomorrow. As you know,

tomorrow is the position test.” Her voice was calm and certain. Something was wrong. I could recognize it in her voice. The test was important to her. It showed how valuable we are to the society. She always cared about how we looked to the holders, to the other citizens. When I remembered the position test, I thought, tomorrow is the day that my future will be decided…tomorrow is my future….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Mother sat at the round table eating her breakfast. She looked down at the screen on the table to read the news like she did every morning. That was her usual routine. I couldn’t tell her that I was nervous or scared. Since my father died, she hadn’t been paying attention to my feelings or me most of the times. His death tore us apart, but she didn’t show the usual emotions when someone close to you dies. The day my father died, she held my arms with her warm hands and looked at me with passive eyes.

“Your father is dead,” she said to me. Her lips didn’t quiver and she was fairly calm, which surprised me.

I looked at my white wristband. I didn’t have any messages since yesterday. The wristband is useful when I need to call or message someone. There is a tracking system in the wristband; it tracks anyone who wears it. Every band has its own serial number and that’s also the number we use to communicate, like a phone number. You can also locate your activities in the Hoop.

There was a metal box on the kitchen counter with an indentation where I can put my wrist. Then the box sends magnetic pulses to activate the brain cells to work better, enhance performance. It was my caffeine. After three seconds, I felt like my wrist was being stabbed by needles. I winced.

 

“You never got used to it,” she said as she sipped from her mug.

I studied that people used to drink coffee. It made them perform better during the day. I wondered if people on Earth were still using it. “It doesn’t matter if I got used to it,” I said, almost to myself.

Mother shot me a cold stare. Her face looked youthful that morning. I guess she slept well last night, unlike me. My thoughts were swirling in my mind. I lied to myself that I wasn’t worried about the test, but doubts were plaguing me. Like when music stuck in my mind for days. It is in the background of my thoughts, but not interrupting anything. After a few minutes, I realized I didn’t eat anything.

“Elli,” I said to the house.

“What can I do for you?” Elli said.

“Can you mix my nutrients shake?” I said.

The metal flapping in the kitchen counter opened to reveal a glass filled with green liquid. I took the glass and drank the shake. It was thick and it tasted like leaves.

Mother looked at me with suspicion, “Won’t you eat a normal breakfast?” She said.

“No,” I said. “I’m in a hurry.”

She shook her head. My attitudes always troubled her. Nothing seemed right. The words I spoke, or the acts I did were unpleasant to her. The shake didn’t satisfy my hunger, but it was enough for the day. I didn’t want to perform the test with the heaviness of a meal in my stomach, due to the requirement of running.

“Well,” she said, “you better go for the test.” She arched an eyebrow.

 

I started toward the door of our small house. There was little space for anything; even our beds can be retracted into the walls to give us more space. The living room was small but sufficient. “Open,” I said to the door. The door beeped and slid open.

“Stay safe,” Mother said, aloud.

Outside, the sun was shining, but the sunlight wasn’t enough to make the dome bright, because we didn’t have a

sky inside the dome. The air in the dome smelled like water. The air was vented through ventilation tubes into the domes. The oxygen can be generated from splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen. The other way of generating oxygen is by growing plants. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. When I stepped outside, I saw Opal standing in front of my house.

“Where is Ira?” I said.

“He will meet us at the building,” she said. “Are you ready for the test?” She said smiling. I knew it was her nervous smile. I didn’t blame her. Our future relied on the

test but I wasn’t worried about her, she was smart and would pass the test with no problem. There were days that I wished to be in her shoes. Smart and daring.

“Do I have to answer?” I said and frowned. She laughed.

We walked on the pavement. The streets weren’t packed like yesterday since most people stayed inside since the Globe had been attacked. I kept questioning the reasons of

that woman’s attack on the Globe. Her serial card was still in my bedroom, on the side table. We passed near the Globe.

Several men with brown crosses on their jackets were clearing the area around the hole to repair the wall.

 

“This is it,” Opal said.

The test was being conducted in another white, dome- shaped building . We took our place at the back of the queue of other young people lined up to enter. There were two separate doors; an entrance door and an exit door. There was a white line on the ground to separate them.

“Our future begins now,” Opal said.

I wasn’t sure if that was nervous talk, or genuine excitement. We saw a guy come out the exit door, his face was contorted in anger like he was about to punch someone. My heart was throbbing. I felt like I could end up like him. Mother expected me to do well. I couldn’t let her down.

“I was looking for you two,” a voice said from behind

us.

I turned to the voice. Ira’s sharp face with short blond

hair appeared between us. He wore a white jacket with side buttons and white pants, just like us. His face glowed with optimism. He always took things for granted.

Last year, Opal asked me to come to her house and read together. We’ve been preparing for the test for years. Her living room was full of books. On the coffee table we put our important books to read. On the ground we organized the books that we had read. We sat on the floor reading for hours. We heard a knock on the window in Opal’s living room. We looked at each other. I rose to my feet and opened the window but there wasn’t anyone outside. Then suddenly I was hit in the face with a water balloon. It soaked my clothes and scared me.

Ira jumped in front of the window. “Got you!” He said and laughed.

Opal stood up and cupped her mouth, to hide her

 

laugh.

It wasn’t funny! I said.

“Sorry,” she said and stopped laughing.

Ira raised both hands. “Relax, it’s just water, it will dry out,” he said.

“Shouldn’t you be studying?” I said.

“Let’s say I ‘m pretty optimistic about it,” he said. I wondered how he would get through the tests.

Our turn came next in the line and a heaviness formed in my chest as my palms turned sweaty. The three receptionists were typing on the hologram screen.

One blonde receptionist raised her head and looked at me, “Do you have the card?” She said and then looked down at the screen.

I took my badge from my neck and handed it to her. She took the card and scanned it. “Claudia you’re next,”

she said as her eyes settled back on me. “Just follow the arrows to the door,” she pointed at the doorway.

“Okay,” I said.

“Tell me all about it when you’re done,” Opal said and pursed her lips.

I nodded.

I strolled through the long hallway. There were arrows on the ground below the doors. I followed the arrows to the large metal door. When the door slid open, I entered the large white hall. A girl was standing there; she wore a silver cross on her uniform and a nametag on her chest. VERA was writing on the nametag. Metal bands were placed on the

 

white table. Movable rubber curved into the floor beneath me. Vera took the bands and placed them on my wrists. Her red hair complimented her warm beige skin. She looked young. She was probably in her training year.

“The test is necessary for us to determine your scores and know your body’s health, including your brain. You will have to run on this rubber mat. The signals sent to the monitor will be checked and valued. After this test, there will be oral questions to answer. You only have a few seconds

until the next question, so make it quick,” she said, flatly.

I looked at the rubber mat. “I will have to run on that mat?” I asked and pointed at the mat.

She looked at me for a few seconds. “Yes,” she said.

Running wasn’t my strong suit. Whenever I ran, I felt like drowning with oxygen. I wasn’t going to admit it. It was my secret. I moved on to the mat.

Vera stood behind the table and put her hand on the surface. The outlines of her hand glowed. A hologram screen appeared. She pressed few buttons. The rubber mat moved backwards. “I will increase the speed gradually,” she said.

It got faster, and faster until it settled on one speed. I tried to keep up with my feet. My brain forced them to run. My legs became numb and I was breathing heavily, the air pressure grew in my lungs.

She looked at the screen and pressed a few times on it and then the rubber mat slowed down, and became slower, and slower, until it stopped. I bent down and put my hands on my knees and breathed from my mouth. She took a tiny silver tube from the table and held my palm upward.

“This is going to sting a bit,” she said.

She put the tube on my finger, and pressed the top. A

 

stinging needle punctured my finger. I winced, and pressed my lips together. She removed the tube and went back behind the table to her screens. “Please look right,” she said. “There will be a screen that will show you the questions and you will need to answer with your voice.”

I turned right to the blank wall. There was a projector from the corner that light flickered from and a hologram screen appeared. The words EVERY WORD COUNTS appeared.

“To activate the test, please read the content on the screen,” the voice said.

“Every word counts,” I said.

The screen made a beeping sound. “Activated,” said the voice. “The questionnaire will begin in five seconds,” said the voice. The screen had a countdown of five seconds. The numbers started descending, and the screen went blank. A question popped up on the screen.

How many years did the Second World War last?

I had ten seconds to answer the question. I kept recalling the days me and Opal read together. The day we read about World War Two, we played chess all night acting like we were the soldiers in a battle. We wasted hours playing during our reading hours. Opal remarked about the war length, that it took six years to end. My time was running out. “Six years.” I said to the projector.

The question changed. My mind became foggy after the first question. Questions kept changing every ten seconds. I had no choice only to answer them, correctly. Every question that showed up on the monitor, made my gut feel like it was filled with lava. I was anxious to see the test

results, knowing that it won’t come up quickly. I remembered Opal and Ira. I wondered what their rooms

 

looked like, and if it looked like the room I was in. I prayed to God that Ira could answer the questions. He never studied; instead he wandered around annoying people. The only time I saw him learning something was in the Globe, but the knowledge was limited. It was our duty to gain more knowledge through reading and researching on our own.

I had fewer doubts about Opal, she was smart. She managed to learn anything in any situation, like a breeze. She had the ability to remember all the things she read in books. Solving questions won’t be an issue for her. The screen turned blank. I finally did it. It was over. I thought to myself.

“The results will be in the reception area,” Vera said. “They will call your name when they are done.”

I nodded. I felt light-footed as I walked back out to the reception area and saw Opal sitting in a chair. Her hands were folded in her lap. When she saw me, she stood up. Her hazel eyes were glistening with bliss. Her cheeks were flushed.

“How did it go?” She said. She was pulling her fingers with her other hand.

“I don’t know until I find out the scores,” I said.

“You want to know what color department I got?” She asked.

“Of course,” I said. The color they choose according to the score is accurate. That determines the job that it selected for us. Every department has its color code.

“I got black,” she said. “The main house?” I said, “with the holders?”

She nodded, “Yes.”

Mother worked for the holders. She was their assistant;

 

she helped them run the leadership. It was hard to act normal around her, because she always assessed everything I did. That’s what people in the main house do; they assess people and situations. I didn’t like Opal’s results, but I forced a smile on my lips. It was tricky to work in the main house, or even enter the main house. She must have got really high scores. I knew she was smart, but that astonished me.

“That’s amazing,” I forced myself to say.

“I have to admit, I was a bit nervous when I entered the test room,” she said, her voice was low.

“It’s okay. I got nervous as well,” I said.

“Ira is still in the test room,” she said. She looked at the door.

“Shouldn’t he be done by now?” I said. “I don’t know,” she said.

“Claudia” a voice called.

I turned my head to see who was calling. One of receptionist looked at me, “Your results are ready.”

My hands trembled. I tried to control my edginess. I walked to the desk.

“After the result they will let you know when to start job training,” she said. She looked at me from head to toe, like she was criticizing me with her eyes.

“What is the color code that was chosen for me?” I said. Part of me didn’t want to know, but running away from the answer won’t change the past. The test was done.

She looked at the screen in front of her, “Your health test results were good,” she said.

 

“What about the color code?” I said.

She pressed on the screen. “Your department color is green,” she said.

Green means agriculture. My heart skipped. That meant my scores weren’t high enough to enroll me in the higher departments. My mother was probably waiting for me to get high scores. I thought that I couldn’t tell her. It was difficult to admit my failure to her expectations. I came close to Opal. My face felt heavy.

“Is it that bad?” She said with furrowed eyebrows. Her words were wavered.

“I got green,” I said.

Opal opened her mouth, “At least it wasn’t brown.” Opal said, “Imagine yourself working with machines. That would have been devastating.”

She was right. I didn’t want to be in the brown department, where the engines work. I would’ve quit on day one.

Ira came out of the room with a smirk on his face; like the test was too boring for him. His face was radiant.

Opal scowled, “What took you so long?” “You don’t want to know,” he said.

She gave him an unsatisfied look. “What did you two get?” he said.

“I will tell you tomorrow. I have to go, Mother is probably waiting,” I said.

“You don’t want me to come with you?” Opal said.

“No, I’m fine,” I said as I tried not to seem very upset.

 

“Stay safe.”

“Stay safe,” they said in unison.

I walked home in the glow of the streetlights. When I passed the Globe, builders were still mending the hole. I remembered the bombing and how scared people were.

They will not trust the promises the holders made anymore. They promised safety when people follow their rules but that didn’t happen. There were gaps within the system.

The windows in my house were lit up and I could see my mother sitting in the living room. I thought of better ways to tell her that I failed her, that I disappointed her. I reached the door and said, “Open the door.”

“Welcome home,” Elli said and the door opened.

I entered the living room and my mother stood from

the sofa. “What was the score?” she said. Streaks of dark red hair were tucked behind her ear.

I looked down at the floor. “Claudia?” she said.

I looked at her, avoiding looking directly in her eyes. I sniffed, “I got green.”

She stared at me with wide eyes. Her breathing became shallow. “That’s not possible,” she said. “You have been reading for years.”

“I know,” I said. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention. Only if I studied harder, I thought. My stomach wrenched. I

furrowed my eyebrows, “I’ve failed,” I muttered.

“We will look for a solution. It can be undone,” she

said.

“How?” I said.

 

“I’ll figure it out,” she said, and strolled to the kitchen.

I remembered the serial card that I left on the side table.

I hoped that she hadn’t gone into my room and seen it. I quickly went to my room, she must have been in here. My heart was pounding. The bedroom was neat. There were no cloths on the bed. The books were stacked in the bookshelf. The serial card was still lying on the silver table beside my bed in the exact same position I left it.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

I stared at the serial card for a while. I felt different the next day, I had the curiosity to find out who that woman was. I looked out the window at all the white houses neatly lining the street. All the houses in the dome were similar to each other. Streetlights that looked like bright auras reflected on dark streets. The sun was big and bright beyond the glass ceiling of the dome, but not enough to light up the whole city. When I was a kid, I had a fear that the glass would shatter and we would all float away and disappear in space. I would run to my father after having nightmares about the crash of the glass ceiling.

“Don’t worry about things that didn’t happen yet,” he said. My father was a scientist. He worked day and night. I didn’t see him that much, or talk to him that much. He was working on discovering solutions to world diseases and environmental problems. He used to talk about how important his work was for the future. One day he told my mother that he created a formula that can protect Earth. He took his formula, locked in a box and left the house. That was the last we saw of him, ever.

I took the wristband from my drawer and wrapped it around my wrist. The serial card was lying on the side table. I grabbed it and put it in my pocket. Going to the white dome was a risk, but the idea of finding some answers made me more driven and caused me to neglect the consequences.

 

There will be security cameras everywhere in the dome, so they will definitely see me. I rose to my feet and walked to the dresser. I stared in the mirror and brushed my hair away from my neck. When I turned my back to the mirror, I saw the black star mark on the back of my neck. It was always there, as long as I remember. Mother never told me why I had the mark. She always changed the subject when I asked her. After a while I stopped asking. I turned back and closed the button of my high collared shirt. The shirt was heavy, but it was for our safety; they were even flame retardant. I inspected my face in the mirror; I had Olive skin like my father, and his straight nose. I heard two knocks on the door.

“Opal is waiting for you in the living room,” Mother called. I nodded and grabbed the tip of my shirt to adjust its length. I strode to the door. My heels sounded heavy on the floor, like each foot weighed a ton. We all wore heavy safety boots, just in case the gravity generator didn’t work well one day. I entered the living room. Opal had a smart smile on her fair face. I couldn’t help but to smile back.

“There you are,” she said.

“You two try to be home before dark,” Mother said, “and stay safe.” She was always worried that we would get into trouble.

“Don’t worry Elva,” Opal said, “we will get back on time.”

She gave me a mocking look, and pursed her lips.

“Don’t forget to use your hand band if necessary, okay?” Mother said to me.

“Okay,” I said.

“Don’t worry Elva, she is in safe hands,” Opal said. “I mean, nothing should happen if I’m around,” she grinned.

 

Mother nodded, “Good.” I mimed to Opal to move.

“Okay, stay safe Elva,” Opal said. “Stay safe,” Mother said.

We stepped outside. The air smelled like trees. Perhaps the air was vented from the green dome.

“So, where do you want to go today?” Opal asked.

“Since I saved you from your daughter and mother time,” she arched an eyebrow.

“I want to go to the white dome,” I said, my voice was low. I hoped that she didn’t listen to me.

“Oh, the testing dome,” she said. “But why?”

I took the serial card from my pocket and gave it to her. She grabbed it and looked at the barcode on the card.

“Whose card is this?” Her forehead wrinkled.

“The woman who talked to me in the Globe,” I said. Her face lit up, she knew who I was talking about.

“I need to go and find out who she is,” I said. “She knew my name, and she said I needed to be careful.”

“Why would she say that?” Opal said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “The only way to find out is to go and scan her serial card and get information about her.”

She stared at me for a while, “Definitely.”

We started walking through the streets past the big glass windows of all the shops. There were promotions projected onto windows; it was a promotion day. People were crowded in front of the shops. Blue holograms were in every shop getting people excited to spend their points, probably an

 

attempt at diversion form the holders. One shop’s hologram said, LIQUID OXYGEN: get the liquid oxygen for 1.5 points.

We got points monthly, if we worked. Every month the points were sent to our wristbands. We used the points to purchase items from the shops. I read that on Earth, people used paper money. It was exchanged for goods or services. It seemed hard to keep the papers safe from getting snitched.

Mother used to transfer points to my hand band, since I didn’t have a job.

“Did you talk to Ira?” Opal said, “Because I texted him, but he never texted back.”

“I didn’t hear from him since yesterday,” I said. “He is probably looking for trouble somewhere.”

“Yeah,” she said, “probably.”

It was unusual for him not to call or let us know where he was, but it wasn’t unusual of him to be unusual.

“I will call him later, to check on him,” she said. Her hazel eyes were gleaming with doubts.

We passed near the Globe and the hole was fixed like it never happened. There were no traces of destruction of any kind. Fear prickled in me. The Globe was empty, no guards on the main door or people standing in a queue. After the attack happened, people were avoiding the Globe as if there was going to be another bomb. I didn’t blame them, we

weren’t used to acts of terror. They feared for their safety. The doors slide open as we approached and we walked into the reception area where there were screens mounted all over the white walls. Three receptionists sat near each other, looking at their screens. When I came close to one of them, she turned her head to us. Her black hair was pulled back; it made her face appear fuller.

 

“Can I help you?” She said.

“I just want a serial card scan…” I said, with caution, afraid I was going to get a rejection.

Before I continued talking, Opal interrupted, “We would like to know the owner of the serial card. It was lost and we’ve found it,” she said.

The receptionist stared at her. My palms were sweating. I prayed that she didn’t see the lie in Opal’s face. Opal’s lips quivered. “Okay, give me the card,” the receptionist said and lifted her palm upward. I took the card from my pocket and placed on her palm. She scanned it on the curved gray device that was on her table. The device projected a small screen on the metal desk. The receptionist pressed the buttons on the screen. “I’ve found a name,” she said.

The screen turned round and a picture turned to our direction. A woman with brown hair and deep brown eyes appeared on the screen. That was the woman I saw in the Globe. There was a name under the picture, Neta. I looked for department color but I didn’t find one. Every worker in the Hoop had a color code; it was odd that she didn’t have any.

“It didn’t mention which department she belongs to,” I said. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Aren’t you suppose to save such information in your system?” I snapped.

Opal’s eyes widened, “Well, we are thankful for your help,” she said and grabbed my hand to pull me away from the desk as we walked backwards toward the exit.

The receptionist opened her mouth, like she was about to say something.

 

“Stay safe,” Opal said. We turned and stepped outside, with her still pulling me.

“What are you doing?” I said.

“Taking you away from trouble,” Opal said.

I pulled my hand from her grip and stopped. “What do you mean?” I said.

“I promised your mother to keep you safe,” she snapped.

“I was just asking her a question,” I said.

“I know you,” she said, “but what happened there, wasn’t you. You lost control, that woman is trouble, just forget about her.”

I thought of how inconsiderate she was. I felt like my guts were boiling. “She told me to be careful,” I said. My voice got louder, “And she knew my name.”

People on the street stared at us while they walked passed; I hadn’t noticed we were shouting.

“Maybe it meant nothing,” she shot back, “she was just a crazy woman who said some crazy talk and you believed it,” she waived her hands in the air.

I felt a stab in my heart. It burned. She called me naïve. “If you don’t want to help me, I will find out about her by myself,” I said, in a low voice.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “Fine, do what suits you,” she said. She breathed from her nostrils.

My wristband beeped, a red light flashed on the screen. I pressed the button on the screen and a hologram appeared. There was a name in the sender section: Ira, he sent me a message.

 

“Hey, I got a message from Ira,” I said.

Opal strode toward me. She looked at the screen. I pressed the screen and a text appeared. I was followed. The

Hoop isn’t what it seems. I’ll have to leave the Hoop. Please don’t tell anyone. Ira was in trouble. I remembered when my father disappeared for days. My mother didn’t call the police or any authority, until it was too late, she just kept telling me he might come back on his own. I was so scared and had no one to go to. He wasn’t there to make me feel safe. I felt like my heart was going to explode. Ira is in danger, I thought. I had to find out what happened to him.

“Why did he leave the Hoop?” Opal said urgently.

I saw the terror in her narrow brown eyes. “He must have been in trouble,” I said, with a tense voice, “he said he was followed.” I pressed the call button, but he didn’t pick up.

“Why isn’t he picking up?!” Opal snapped. My stomach dropped, “I don’t know.”

“We should go to his house and ask his parents,” she said, with furrowed eyebrows.

I knew what she felt, she feared that he would be sent to rehab because of his reckless acts. I shut the screen, and we walked towards Ira’s house. When we arrived there were two white cars with red crosses on the doors, parked outside his house. Two uniformed men with red crosses on their jackets were standing beside two people. A man in a white uniform and blue cross stood talking to the police. He had blond hair, just like Ira. The way he stood, hunched over, made him look older than his age. Beside him was a woman with blonde hair. She wore a uniform with a green cross. She clasped her hands over her mouth and her eyes were filled with shock. She had dark circles beneath her eyes indicating

 

she must have not slept for days. They were Ira’s parents. My heart sank. I feared that something bad might have happened to him.

“The police,” I said. Opal gasped, “Ooh no.”

We ran to the gravel way where his parents were standing hopelessly.

Ira’s father looked at us with suspicion. “Who are you?” he said squinting.

The police officers turned to stare at us. “Can we help you with something?” One of them said. He seemed like he was trying to dismiss us.

“They are Ira’s friends,” Estella said. She smiled in spite of the pain she was experiencing. I knew Estella. I used to see her often when I used to visit Ira’s house.

“Well he’s not here,” Ira’s father replied. His gray eyes were empty. Losing his son made him irritable.

“Where are your manners?” Estella asked. “This is my husband, Tavis.”

“We just want to know if he might have said anything odd before he disappeared,” Opal said. Estella blinked her heavy eyes. “He kept going out late at night and it went on for days. I thought it was one of his careless routines,” she said. “He told me that the destiny of the Hoop’s citizens was already planned and that we were living on lies.”

That woman, Neta, warned me of a conspiracy of the holders. She wasn’t talking crazy. She was right. Something was on and darker days were coming. My hands trembled.

Opal looked at the police, and through clenched teeth said, “ Why don’t you go and find him?”

 

The police officers exchanged surprised stares. “Opal, calm down,” I said, aloud.

“You don’t have the right to tell us what to do,” one officer said. His skin looked darker in a white uniform. “So you behave or I will send you to rehab, okay?”

If she gets send to rehab, she will be brainwashed and new behavior will be imprinted in her mind. She needed to be more careful with police.

“It’s fine, we are leaving anyway,” I said. I grabbed her hand and pulled her with me. “You need to be careful. We don’t want you to be sent to rehab.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. Her eyes were filled with regret. “I should have believed you. That woman must know something that we don’t.”

“It’s fine,” I said.

“I think I know where he went.” Opal said, “I think he went to Earth to run away from whoever was after him.”

“Through the portal?” I asked.

The portal was protected by guards. It was hard to cross through the portal and we needed to know when the portal was activated and how Ira was able to use it? I had the urge to go after him.

“You think we should go after him?” I said.

“No, it’s too risky,” she said, “he’ll… he’ll get back.

He’s a brave guy.”

I watched the two police officers enter their cars and drive away from the house. Ira’s parents went inside as a siren wailed in the domes.

Opal covered her hands on her ears. “We should get

 

inside our houses,” she yelled.

Metal debris crashed on the dome’s glass ceiling making a huge shattering sound. I shrieked and covered my ears.

The dome’s floor shivered. My legs juddered. My body nearly lost its balance. Several loud booms ripped through the air followed by roaring sounds.

“They have activated the weapons and shot down space debris!” Opal squealed; her hands shielded her head. Her face was filled with terror. She ran to her house.

Again, crushing booms recurred. I ducked my head down and ran to my house. The floor shivered. Oh no, I thought, the glass ceiling could shatter and we will all get

sucked into space. I ran to the door, “Open!” I said, and the door slid open. When I entered the house, the books in the living room were scattered all over the floor. “Mother!” I

screamed. She wasn’t in the living room. I ran to the kitchen. The floor shook again. Loud cracking sounds came from above. The kitchen was a mess. Plant vases were broken on

the floor. Plates and glass smashed everywhere. “Mother!” I ran to her room. “Are you here?” I screamed. I opened the door and found her sitting on the white chair in front of her white wooden reading table. She was calm and her hands were clasped and resting on the table. Her round eyes were shut, like she was praying silently, in her heart. The room shook. I noticed she had white tiny earplugs inside her ears. She didn’t hear me when I called her. I patted her on her shoulder. “Mother!” I yelled.

I startled her and she gasped opening her eyes.

“We need to get under the table,” I shouted. I mimed at her to get under the table.

She nodded and we crawled under the table. Then the quaking stopped followed by sudden silence. No sirens or

 

weapons firing. We came out from under the table. “Are you okay?” I said.

She took the earplugs out and put her hand on her chest, “Yes,” she said, with a sigh.

The bedside lamp was on the floor just like about everything else. There didn’t seem to be any structural damage to the house.

“We need to clean up this mess,” Mother said and cleared her throat.

I put my hand in my pocket and took the card out. I was relieved that it didn’t get lost. I let out a sigh.

“Whose card is that?”

“That woman I told you about,” I said.

“The one who bombed the Globe?” Replied my mother.

“I took her serial card to the white dome to get information about her,” I said.

Her eyes widened.

“Her name is Neta. There wasn’t any information about her department, though.”

“I forbid you from investigating that woman any further,” she scolded.

“Why?” I said.

“She was the reason for the Globe’s destruction and you are not going anywhere near that woman,”

I intended to object, but she cut me off.

“Enough!” She snapped, “My words are final.”

 

“What about Ira?” I said. “What about him?”

“He disappeared today,” I told her. “I need to find out what happened to him.”

“Let the police do their work,” she reasoned.

“What if he was in trouble?” I said, my voice rose.

“All the more reason for you to stay away and stay out of trouble yourself,” she said. “We don’t need any more

thoughtless acts.”

I didn’t know what she meant by that. Like thoughtless acts happened before? I recalled my days of mischief. Did my mother know that I did thoughtless acts with my friends? She scooped up some of the scattered books and arranged them on the bookshelf. If she didn’t want me to find out about Ira and Neta, than I will find out about them secretly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

I had a nightmare last night that the dome’s ceiling crashed in. People were sucked out of the hole in the glass dome. Houses shattered into fragments and ended up in space. Trees were pulled from the ground and cars and pets, everything got sucked out of the hole like a vacuum. I was standing on the pavement outside my house, frightened. My legs were stiff, I couldn’t move. Something powerful pulled me up toward the hole. I moved faster as the suction pulled me outside, into space. My movements were slow and heavy against the force of the vacuum. My lungs seemed to work well; like there was oxygen in space, I didn’t suffocate. The stars gleaming in the distance looked peaceful and impassive. Particles from the domes were floating in the empty space as my nightmare turned into a pleasant dream.

That morning the nightmare seemed mild to me. I sat in front of my mother drinking my nutrient shake. Her red hair was scraped into a bun. She looked at the table screen, reading the news. Her face was dull. Her eyes were focused on the screen, maybe too focused. She was quiet from the moment she woke up. Like she was thinking about something and she wouldn’t tell me about it. Doubts kept spiraling in my mind. I sipped my green nutrients shake in silence. I thought of leaving the house and going to the loading dome. There must have been a way out. The only

 

way to get close to the loading dome was to take her pass card. She always kept it in the kitchen drawer. She didn’t consider that someone might steal it to gain access to

guarded places. Did she trust me that much? Or it was an act of carelessness.

“Is Opal coming today?” She asked without looking up from the screen. Her hand holding he mug.

I had to lie about Opal, or she wouldn’t have let me to wander around in the domes, alone. “I will meet her at the Globe,” I said.

She looked up at me.

My heart was racing. I prayed that she didn’t know I was lying. I shifted my eyes to the table.

“That’s good,” she said and sipped from her mug of herbal drink.

My heart rate returned to normal. I was relieved that she believed me.

“What are you two going to do today after the Globe sessions?”

That was a trick question. She really wanted to know when I was getting back home. I had to come up with a good answer. The longer I took to answer the question the more she would get suspicious. “We might go to the white dome,” I finally said.

She narrowed her eyes. Her face looked older that way. “To ask about our jobs training,” I said.

She stared at me for a while, then her face lit up. “ Then don’t make her wait any longer,” she said, her lips curled in a faint smile. “Tell me all about it when you get home.”

 

“Okay,” I said. I looked at her white uniform with a black cross on it. She worked in the main house, under the holders. Her work remained a secret. She didn’t share much about her job duties or any detail about her usual routine in the main house. I wondered what it was like to work under the holders. There was no day or time that I dared to ask her anything about her job. I knew her response. She would have changed the subject to anything related to me. She scarifies her freedom for the city and its citizens my father said to me when I was a kid when I constantly asked him about Mother’s job.

He told me all about his laboratory experiments. I visited him in his small laboratory and he taught me how to mix one formula with another. It was small enough to be hidden behind the bookshelf. I felt joy being around him, like I could tell him anything. The day mother told me he was dead, shattered me to pieces. I stayed inside all day reading books to try to keep myself distracted. I hoped that if I waited long enough, he might show up and say it was all a

mistake. He wasn’t dead. But that wasn’t true. I felt a pinch of pain in my chest. Through the years, the pain has subsided, but the feeling that I had a missing part was still the same.

“I need to go,” Mother said, “I have an important meeting.” She stood from the chair.

“Okay,” I said.

“If you are home early, can you get the meals ready? I might get home late,” she said.

“I will,” I said. I tried hard not to show her that I was upset.

She opened the curved tiny door on the kitchen counter. She put the mug inside the dishwasher and closed the lid. “Elli, wash the mug,” she said.

 

“Yes, Elva,” Elli said. Clicking sounds came out from the dishwasher.

Mother rushed toward the door. Her boots made her footsteps heavy on the floor.

“Stay safe,” I said, aloud.

“Stay safe.” She said and left.

I listened carefully to her heavy footsteps leading away from the house. I went over to the drawer where my

mother’s badge was and slowly opened it. The transparent blue card was laying on the white wooden platform. I took the card and put it in my pocket headed for the door.

“Open” I said. The door slid open and I stepped onto the pavement immediately glancing up at the glass ceiling of the dome. There were no cracks on the glass. Last night was what people kept warning us about, the danger of clashing with space debris could happen anytime. The Hoop City orbits around Earth. The orbit has plenty of space debris, particles from old spaceships and satellites. The Hoop has weapons that can fire at the debris when it looked like it was going to collide. I turned my gaze to the shops. The doorway to the loading dome was right across the street. I checked the street for any moving cars and crossed. I ran inside the doorway to the loading dome and avoided being seen by anyone. The passageway was long. Every dome had two doorways at two ends of the dome, connecting it to another dome. The machine area is under the Hoop, where the engines and power facilities are. The loading dome is in the middle of all the domes. I kept walking. Chatters of men echoed within the dome and the sound of large containers being moved around could be heard. They must have been using the Wiver to move the containers.

“We don’t accept anyone without the pass. How many

 

times do I have to tell you about this?” One guard said. His voice was deep. He sounded big.

I tried to walk on the tips of my boots and avoid the sound of footsteps on the floor.

“We know the guy. Why would we bother checking his pass the millionth of times?” Another one said. His voice trembled. He sounded weak.

I entered the dome and hid behind a container. There was plenty of room in the gaps between the containers so I kept moving and hiding behind every container until I reached the middle of the dome, where the portal was.

“You guys, talk it out,” one guy said. “I need to get back to the base. I have containers to deliver.” His voice was low and certain. Rapid footsteps moved away, then stopped. He passed through the portal, I thought.

“See. We don’t need to check his pass. He is harmless,” the more reasonable officer said.

“Because you’re senseless!” The other guard said.

The dome was very dim with only a few overhead lights on. I moved fast and stumbled on a small container.

“Hey!” The more relaxed guard said. “Come out, or I will shoot!”

I moved slow and got out from behind the container.

The portal wasn’t hollow anymore, it had a blue energy field, it looked like water.

“What are you doing here?!” The big guard said. His white uniform was tight on the waist. The red cross was stretched over his body.

“Wandering around?” I said.

 

“Yeah right!” The smaller guard said. His jacket was loose on his body.

“You try to be funny, but you aren’t funny.” The big guard shot him a disapproving look and shook his head. He turned his eyes to me. “Do you even have a pass?”

“I do have a pass.” I said with confidence. I came close to the big guard and took the card from my pocket. I handed the card to him. He looked at it like it was a riddle and furrowed his eyebrows. He scanned it with a portable

scanner. “It’s legit,” he said, and handed me the card. “Why were you hiding then?” He lifted an eyebrow.

“I was waiting for the right moment to come out?” I

 

said.

“Good one,” the smaller guard said, “but not funny.” The big guard rolled his eyes.

I checked my wristband. The screen showed 9:32 am.

 

They must have activated the portal at 9 am. Ira went through the portal to run away from whoever was after him. Why didn’t he come to us? We would have kept him safe.

Earth was too dangerous. It was too risky to live on Earth, it was damaged, that’s why we lived in the Hoop, to protect us and provide us with long healthy lives. People on Earth died early, because of the pollution and the natural disasters. The Hoop was safe, safer than the hazards of Earth.

“When do you close the portal?” I said.

“We are not allowed to tell you,” the big guard said. “Around 11 pm,” the smaller guard said.

The big guard eyed him and slapped his shoulder.

“Ow!” Said the smaller guard and rubbed his shoulder.

 

“Well thanks, I have to go now,” I said. I stepped backward toward the doorway.

“So soon?” the smaller one said.

The big guard shook his head. I turned to walk to the exit. I had what I wanted to know. There must have been a way to get passed the guards, I thought. I left the dome and crossed the street.

“Clodi,” a voice called. I turned to see Opal standing on the pavement, staring at me. She took large strides toward

  1. She leaned close to me, “What are you doing here?” She whispered. “You missed the Globe.”

“I wasn’t feeling well,” I said. It was the first time that I’ve ever lied to her. It wasn’t right and it didn’t feel good either.

“Now you’re okay?”

“I drank some herbs, it helped me.” I locked my hand in her arm and we walked together.

“Good to hear,” she said.

“You got out in the middle of a session?” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “I got out the moment I knew that you weren’t there, or at home. I got worried.”

“Ooh,” I managed to say. My mind was away. I thought of ways to get to Ira, someone had to help him. I imagined Ira lost and hungry in a strange city that he was unfamiliar with. He didn’t have any experience living on ground. He shouldn’t have acted thoughtlessly, and he had to face the consequences. Ira was always reckless, like the time he set off the fire alarm in the green dome two years ago. He said he could make the dome rain. We had never seen rain before, so we agreed to his plan. The only way to make the

 

Hoop rain was to light up a flame and bring it close to the fire alarms. We had fire alarms for our safety, in case anything caught fire in the Hoop.

“What are you thinking?” Opal said. “Nothing,” I replied.

“Seriously?” She snapped. “Like I don’t know you Clodi,” her eyebrows rose.

She and Ira were the only people who called me Clodi. “You’re planning to save Ira aren’t you?”

“No,” I said.

“Don’t do any thoughtless acts. He might come back somehow, or the police might find him,” she said, “Ira can survive Earth, until we figure out a solution.”

The plan was still appealing to me, if she didn’t want me to go then I’ll go without her knowing. If I went I might get brainwashed, or die on Earth, I thought. If I choose to stay on the Hoop, Ira might get tortured and lost there. I was afraid of the unknown. Ira was very close to me, if any harm came to him, I would feel more pieces of me missing, it was the worst pain. Opal and I were neighbors, so I escorted Opal to her house. We stopped in front of the doorway as she faced me.

“I won’t do anything,” I said. “Promise?” Opal said.

“Yeah,” I said, “you have my word.”

She nodded. My wristband beeped. I looked at my band and a red light flashed on top of the screen. I pressed the button on the screen. Mother’s face showed up as a hologram.

 

“I just called you to check if you are home,” she said. “Nearly,” I said.

“Hello Elva, “ Opal grinned.

“Ooh Opal. How were the sessions?” Mother said.

Opal’s face was confused, “Sessions?” She whispered to herself. “It was good,” Opal said.

“Good. Claudia, I will be back in a few hours,” she said. “Stay safe.” The screen went off.

Opal was wearing her silly sneer. “Thank god I have my parents,” she said.

“Well she is a very careful person,” I defended. “It’s fine, that means she cares.” I tried to convince myself,

though I knew it wasn’t the whole truth. “Stay safe,” I said.

“Be careful,” she said. I felt the sorrow in her voice. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“I will, and you won’t,” I said.

She turned and marched to her house. She didn’t even say farewell. I understood the risk in the plan, but I had no choice. Her parents won’t report her reckless actions. Only my mother could do such a thing. The plan could also fail. I could get caught and get sent off to be indoctrinated. I

should plan to get myself into trouble so I can get a trial. If I was lucky enough, I would be sending to Earth as punishment, I thought as I walked to the door. “Open,” I said.

“Welcome,” Elli said.

I walked from the living room to the kitchen. The white kitchen counter had a screen in the corner. “Elli, access Earth map,” I said.

 

“Earth map activated,” she said.

The hologram of Earth, appeared on the counter. “Access latest activities of Ira’s,” I said.

“It requires a code number,” Elli said. I scanned my wristband on the screen.

“Tracking activities has been activated,” Elli said.

The hologram of Earth was colorful. It spun on the counter. There were brown, green and blue colors. That’s

what Earth looked like. I was always fascinated by the nature on Earth. I read about rainbows, waterfalls, sky and rain.

Nature seemed like a loving person who held Earth in its arms, but when it raged, people died by natural disasters. It was unbalanced and hazardous.

“Locate Ira,” I said.

“Locating denied.” Elli said.

“Try to locate the last activity,” I said.

The map moved its focus away from Earth. The Hoop appeared: a circular ring, with many domes on the ring. One dome in the middle. The map refocused on the central dome, the loading dome. A red dot blinked on the loading dome area. I felt heat spreading from my head to toe.

“Close the map,” I said.

The screen went off. I didn’t have to go there, it was too risky, I thought. But I grew up with Ira, he was my best friend. I should find a way to go there without harm. And get him back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Mother looked at me while I sat on the chair. My mind was cluttered that day. How will I make the police arrest me and not send me to rehab? I thought. I rolled the fork on the kitchen table repeatedly with my hand. The plate was empty. I was so hungry I didn’t even notice how voraciously I ate.

My stare fell on the screen in the table. I looked at her. “You look distracted today,” she said.

I felt a pinch of fear. I was going to disappoint her that day. Perhaps disappoint myself as well. I had nothing to say to her. I knew it would come out wrong.

She laid her hands on the table, and leaned closer to me, “Are you still thinking about the results?” She said. Her voice was dull like she expected me to worry about the test results.

“Maybe,” I said. I took my hand off the table.

“Don’t worry I will find a way to change your job,” she

said.

I was surprised she didn’t suspect I was up to something

due to my unusual behavior. I should just tell her, I thought. Would she scold me if I told her about my plan or will she report me and take me to rehab? “How?” I said.

 

“I will talk to the holders and ask permission to change your department,” she said. “I think they can make an

exception for me. I’ve been working there for years.”

I didn’t know if she was doing that for me or for her reputation. If my department changed, I might work with her. That meant I would see her all the time since we would be in the main house working for the holders. I wanted to be under the radar most of the time so the idea of working with my mother wasn’t tempting for me. “Wouldn’t that be

against the rules?” I said.

“Yes, but they are the holders. They make the rules,” she said.

I bit the inside of my cheek. “I think I’m fine with the current department,” I said.

She squinted her eyes. “Why? You get more points working with the holders.” She took a sip from her mug.

I turned my eyes back to the table. She looked at the

screen on the table and put her mug down. “Fine,” she said.

I feared that she knew why I didn’t want to work with her, but the worst hadn’t happened yet. I stood quickly and the chair legs screeched across the floor. “I have to go,” I said, my voice trembled.

“Are you meeting with Opal today?” she said raising her eyes to look at me.

“I don’t know,” I said.

A confused look came over her face.

I took my plate and fork and placed it on the kitchen counter. “I might call her later to meet up with her,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. She returned her eyes on the screen. I turned from the counter and strode out from the kitchen.

 

The living room smelled like water. It must have been the vented air. I went to my bedroom. It was neat and clean. There must be a way to attract the police’s attention. How would I do that? I thought. I went over to the dresser and pulled the handle of the drawer. The serial card Neta gave me was laying on the drawer platform. Beside it was a fire lighter Ira gave me when he set the fire alarm to sprinkle water in the green dome. What would Ira have done if he were in this situation? I thought. I grabbed the fire lighter in my hand. It was cold. How did he get a fire lighter? They don’t sell those in the domes, I thought. An idea popped into my mind. I could do what Ira did before, I could set off the fire alarm and when the police come to the dome, they will catch me. It was a brilliant idea, but it was dangerous. It could cost me my life. It was enough to send me to a trial in the holders’ office, called the main house. In the main house there is a court, which they use to pass judgments on citizens who broke their rules. The judge would decide which punishment was suitable for my crime. My heart sank and my hands shivered. I should message Opal and tell her about my idea. I looked at my wristband. I pressed the button on the screen and the hologram appeared. I wrote a text to her, I will be heading to the green dome. I will do what Ira did when he set off the fire alarms. This might work. Trust me on this. Stay safe, then pressed the send button and turned the screen off. I knew Opal would be worried. I couldn’t blame her, she didn’t want to lose another friend. I put the fire-lighter in my pocket and walked out of my room.

“Stay safe,” Mother said.

I couldn’t promise her that. I stepped outside and stared at the doorway to the green dome, where the tall trees grew. There was a metal tunnel connecting the residential dome with the green dome. I marched toward the doorway. The streets were empty. I checked the time on my wristband,

 

8:45 am. I might have time for the trial and will be sent to Earth before 11 pm. The holders don’t have time to prolong the trials. They usually hold trials and punish people in the same day, according to their busy schedule. The rumors said that the teens who robbed a shop, were sent to trial and they were punished in the same day. They were all indoctrinated with new behaviors. I should go back home and wait for him to come back, it is too dangerous, I thought. Something inside pushed me over the red line. I reached the doorway. It was a bit darker then the residential dome. My wristband bleeped. I checked the screen; a red light flickered and I thought of Opal. She must have sent me a message to try to stop me from doing this and it was only going to discourage me. I ignored the message and kept my pace to the green dome. I sniffed the aroma of the leaves from the doorway. I entered the green dome. Tall, wide trees were spread like a chessboard pattern and crops were grown on the land behind the trees. The farmers also raised farm animals. Every tree had its square area of the earthy manure, with tiny pipes sprinkling water in the ground. I looked at the ceiling.

Sounds of rushing air being circulated came out from the ceiling vents where the fresh air from the trees was vacuumed up and supplied to the rest of the domes in the Hoop. The manure was brought from Earth, same with water. The lab dome sluice recycles the water and manure we treated with chemicals, to be reused again. It wouldn’t be long until the Hoop becomes completely independent from Earth.

I walked between the trees; the trunks were wide. The trees had many branches, divided into many twigs, which carried leaves. The green leaves were vivid and organic. I searched for the tree where Ira climbed and set off the fire alarm. The tree trunk looked a little curvy like it was carved by the hand of an artist. I strolled over the soil. There was

 

grass scattered around but it wasn’t dense. I kept bending the grass with my boots. The curved tree was in front of me.

There were fewer leaves since the last time I saw the tree. The trunk was wide, but the curve might make it easier to climb to the branches. I checked my pocket for the fire- lighter. The treetop was near to the fire alarm. I touched the tree trunk with my palm. It was rough and lumpy. I held both hands on the trunk and lifted my leg to step on the curve of the trunk. I climbed the curve and hopped to grab the first branch with both hands. My legs were floating sluggishly. I held the trunk with both legs and crawled upward. I grabbed the next branch and lifted my body up. My legs slipped and then my hands lost their grip on the branch. I fell and hit the ground on my back. I shrieked. The pain was electrifying. It spread to my hands and legs. I elbowed the ground and lifted my upper body. “Crap” I whispered. I rose to my feet. “How on Earth did Ira climb

this tree?” There had to be another way to reach the top, I thought. I looked around and saw there was a metal ladder lying on the ground close to another tree. There was a big pair of shears on the ground. The gardeners must have been trimming the trees. That meant they might come back any moment. My heart throbbed. I lifted the ladder slightly off the ground, dragged it over to the tree and leaned it against the trunk. I climbed the first step. The ladder shuddered. I looked down to the ground. Don’t fall, I thought. I let out a breath. My hands grabbed the railings and I climbed the ladder, one step at a time. I stepped on a thick branch, holding the trunk with my hands. There were many branches spiraling upward. I grabbed one branch and climbed to the next. I looked down each time I climbed one branch. I imagined my body falling from the tree and lying flat on the ground. I had to hold tight to the branches, so I wouldn’t fall. I looked at the top of the tree; there was a round plastic housing with linear holes on it. It was the fire alarm. It took

 

me a lot of time to reached the top of the tree. I took the fire-lighter, and touched the flame it to the fire alarm. The siren wailed piercing the air. I put the lighter in my pocket and started climbing down one branch at a time. I felt wet sprinkles on my hair. My hands trembled. I couldn’t grab the

branches without slipping at least once. I felt panic rise in my gut. I had to get out before the police came. I climbed down the last branch and skipped on the curved trunk. I hopped to the ground and ran with all my energy. My feet sank in the soft soil slowing me down. My lungs started to burn. I got out of the green dome and kept running to the tunnel that connects to the doorway of the residential dome. When I reached the residential dome I slowed down. This time there were a few pedestrians on the sidewalk. I walked normally between them. There was a man mowing the grass in his front yard. He stared at me. I looked away. My heart was beating hard. The sirens of police cars came closer, and closer. I tried to calmly walk to the door of my house.

“Open” I said, my voice shivered. The door slid open. I saw my mother in the living room arranging a vase of flowers on the table. I was breathing hard.

“Why is your face all flushed?” She said looking confused.

“I was running…” I said between breaths. She came closer. “Running?”

“From the police,” I said. That was the moment where my mother would get disappointed.

“Why?” She looked terrified. “What did you do?”

The heat in my chest intensified. I had to gather the right words to say. I took the lighter from my pocket and showed her.

She widened her eyes, “Where did you get that?” She

 

scolded. She pulled the lighter from my hand, forcefully.

“I set off the fire alarms,” I said, “with the fire-lighter.”

She stared at me, with a mix of rage and disappointment in her eyes. The police sirens seemed near the residential area. Mother shook her head and stepped away from me, like I was a disease. She pressed on her wristband to make a call. She will report me, I thought. I felt like I was shot in my chest, the pain of being reported by my own mother was unbearable, though I expected her to do so.

“She is here,” she said, “my daughter is the one who

activated the fire alarms,” she talked into the wristband. Her hands trembled.

“I can’t believe you are reporting me.” I said, in low voice. I felt betrayed. It felt like someone I loved just died.

“This is for your safety,” she said. I heard three knocks on the door. “Open,” Mother said, with force.

“No!” I said. The door slid open and I stepped back as a woman with a yellow cross on her jacket entered the room.

She had brown hair and a freckled face that looked pale and tired. She was from rehab. She raised her hands in the air. “Please stay calm,” she said, her voice was low and calm. “We will take you to get treated, that’s all.”

A man with a red cross on his jacket entered. His uniform was short for his tall figure. He wore his gun on his black waist belt. “You should come with us,” he said. They wanted to take me to rehab. What about the trial?

“I have the right to get a decent trial!” I yelled. “You don’t decide that,” the man said.

 

I failed, my plan was a big fail. I wasn’t going to be sent to Earth, so I couldn’t look for Ira. I needed to get out.

“Just come with us. We will take care of you,” the woman said. Her eyes were empty.

I ran to the kitchen.

“Grab her. She’s running away!”

I heard heavy footsteps behind me. They were after me.

I had to get out. The kitchen had a back door to outside. When I reached the door, I heard gunfire. I ducked my head to avoid the bullets. The door slid open and I hurried

outside. The door closed, “Keep this door locked,” I said to Elli.

“Door is locked,” Elli said.

They won’t be able to open it; the door opens to my

voice or mother’s. I felt throbbing pain in my arm. The pain spread like fire. I touched my arm with my palm. I felt a warm and wet substance. My palm was wet with warm blood. I felt dizzy. I have been shot. I was weak. I had to run away. Go anywhere far from the police, and Mother. I ran on the pavement. Where should I hide? I thought. People were staring at me while I dragged myself along the pavement. The white sleeve of my jacket was soaked with blood. The guards on the street saw me and tried to approach me. I ran faster away from them. I reached the row of shops and the doorway to the loading dome was across the street. It seemed closer than the other domes. I crossed the street and entered the doorway. I walked slowly to the loading dome. There were containers everywhere. My heart rate became slower as I calmed down. The corners of my vision were dim and blurry. I walked between containers to reach the portal. I had to get out somehow, I thought. I didn’t have much time until I lose all my strength. I felt

 

death was ahead of me, waiting for me. Maybe it was my punishment for breaking the rules. I peeked around the containers in front of me. There were two guards in front of the portal. They were the same guards I saw last time. The portal was activated and had a blue energy field. My eyes were out of focus for a moment. Then they refocused. I

couldn’t get to the portal. They would capture me in a matter of moments. Rapid footsteps echoed on the metal floor.

Someone was approaching. They would capture me, it was the end, I thought. I closed my eyes and heard the footsteps approaching closer to me. Then they stopped. I could sense someone staring at me. I opened my eyes to face my end. A guy with red hair and casual clothing stared at me. He had emerald green eyes and a straight, slightly pointed nose. His narrow eyes were wide and his thick eyebrows were

furrowed in distress. Why isn’t he wearing a uniform? “You are bleeding,” he said, his voice was low.

“Don’t take me to rehab, please,” I pleaded.

He looked over his shoulder. “We should get you out of here,” he said. He came closer and held my arm. “Follow my lead, okay?”

I nodded. The pain was so severe that my voice was gone. He escorted me to one large container, large enough for a person to get inside. There were wheels under the container.

“Get inside,” he said.

I had no energy to refuse. He opened the metal door. I entered the container and sat down, my back to the wall. The floor was cold. The container smelled like rust. He closed the door. My body felt so weak that I couldn’t sit without slouching over. The container swayed. He moved the container. Then the container stopped.

 

“I have a container for a refill,” the guy said.

“Okay, but we need to check the container,” one of the guards said.

“Come on, you’ve known me for years. Do you have to check?”

“Let him pass,” the other guard said.

There was a long moment of silence. “Okay, fine,” the big guard said.

“Thank you,” the guy said.

The container swayed again as we began to move. I felt goose bumps and it felt like I was in water, but there was no water. It was the portal. I reached Earth. The container stopped, then the door opened and light flooded the dark container. My eyes lost focus. Then everything went black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

I opened my eyes. My vision was blurry, so I tried to get up from the hard, stiff bed. I lifted my upper body with the other hand. Pain leaked from my arm to the rest of my body. I groaned. The air was heavy to my lungs; it made it hard to breath. A white sheet was wrapped around my arm. It was stained brown with my blood. I felt cold all of a sudden; I wasn’t wearing my white jacket. I wore a white cotton tank. They must have taken it off to bandage my injury. I looked at the walls in the room; they were dirty white and filled with graffiti. One piece of graffiti said Alive, it was outlined with black and filled with dark blue color, just like the portal color. I read about graffiti, it’s a well-known art on Earth. A creaking sound came out from the door. The guy with red hair and long face stared at me; his emerald green eyes glistening. He crossed his arms and leaned on the entrance. I recognized him. He was the guy who saved me the day I got shot.

“We express our freedom through colors,” he said. His zigzag buttoned brown jacket looked Earthy. Earth seemed very different to me, unlike the Hoop, we wore what we should wear, and we didn’t have the freedom to choose. The holders made the learning system flexible to delude us that we had the freedom to choose, and it worked for the

 

majority of us. What a manipulative system. “It’s colorful,” I said.

He looked at his shoes, “Yeah, the guys did that a while ago,” he looked at me with a side smile.

“Why is the air so hard to breath?” I said, I waved my hand.

“Air pollution,“ he said. “The air in the domes is

cleaner, since they recycled the air from trees and water,” his facial expression became passive. I was surprised he knew more about the Hoop, since he didn’t live there.

“So you lived your whole life like this,” I asked, “breathing dirty air?”

“We got used to it,” he said. “Scientists in the lab say

they are creating a solution for that.” He put his hands in his pockets, like Ira did.

Pain seeped into my guts, it felt like It was beaten by a hammer. I looked away, trying to avoid seeming weak and in pain.

The guy stood straight and came closer, “Are you still in pain?” He said, his green eyes flared with worry.

I met his eyes, “What do you mean?” I said, my voice quivered.

“I meant your arm,” he said. “No.” I said.

“No, it doesn’t hurt much, or no it’s not your arm?” He asked.

“I mean, yes, it still hurts,” I said. When I remembered that I was shot, the pain became worse. I groaned. I held onto the bandage with my other hand.

 

“You need a painkiller,” he said.

I nodded. The pain was more intense then when I was shot, like it was another level of pain.

The guy walked near the bed and pressed the red switch on the wall. He walked toward the door, and looked around outside the room. He came back into the room and stood beside the door. A girl entered the room, she wore a casual dark green shirt, and her sleeves were rolled up to her elbows. Her straight dark hair was pulled back into a loose bun. She came close with her kit box she was carrying like a suitcase. She put the suitcase on the bed and opened it. “I will check your blood pressure, okay?” she said, she sounded urgent. Her small eyes were focused. She took a small metal hand band with a screen on the top. She cuffed it on my hand and pressed the screen. The screen instantly beeped.

She looked at the screen. “Normal enough,” she said. She took the cuff off.

“Normal enough?” I repeated questioning.

She nodded as she put the cuff back into the tiny box. She took a tiny metal tube with a button on the side. “I will inject you with a painkiller, it will sting a bit,” she said casually, like she did it many times before.

I recalled the day I did the position test, when I was in the Hoop, safe and happy. I shouldn’t have come down to Earth; it was a mistake. The girl put the tube near my injury and pressed the button. I shut my eyes firmly. The needle felt like a tiny bullet entering my skin. I opened my eyes; the pain subsided after a few seconds.

“The injection will reduce the pain instantly and lead to faster healing,” she said.

“Better?” She asked.

 

I moved my arm slightly to check if the pain was gone. “Yes, it’s much better now,” I said. I’ve never had a big injury before. The biggest injury I had in the Hoop was a glass cut. I had dropped a glass on the kitchen floor, and it shattered into pieces. I picked up the pieces with my hand worried that my mother would come into the kitchen and find out that I broke the glass. Unfortunately, she entered the kitchen and saw the broken glass. Mother called me careless. I recalled the day she reported me. Her eyes were empty, disappointed. She wasn’t scared for my safety. She was scared for her reputation with the holders. All she wanted was for everything to be perfect and secure. She didn’t get that with me.

“Thank you,” I said in a hushed tone. I tried to hide my infuriation.

She put the tube in the box and secured it with a lock. She smiled, “You’re welcome,” she said delighted. Before she walked out the door she turned her head, “I’m Edna by the way,” she said. “Edna Gallo.” She left the room.

“You can come to the dining room, if you feel alright,” the man who saved me said. “The guys are waiting to meet you. They are very excited to see a survivor from the Hoop attack,” he grinned.

“You make me sound like an alien,” I said.

He chuckled. “That’s funny,” he said, “there are no such things as aliens.”

I smiled, “You never know.” I said and shrugged. “I’m Ricky Maxwell by the way,” he said.

“Claudia,” I said.

He stared at me expectantly, like he was waiting for the rest. “Just Claudia?” He raised his eyebrows.

 

“Yes,” I said. “We don’t use last names in the Hoop, our serial card has all the details.”

He nodded. “Okay, come out when you are ready,” he said. He raised his eyebrows again.

I nodded, “Okay.” I said. “Thanks for saving me.” Ricky grinned, “My pleasure.”

He casually strolled out of the room, like he was at a picnic. I stared at the wall, there was one piece of graffiti that caught my attention, THE ONLY LIMITATION TO OUR DESTINY IS FEAR, it said. The writing was big enough to fill one wall. It was outlined with black and filled with green and yellow shading on the sides. People on Earth expressed their feelings a lot. I moved my legs from under the throws and walked with bare feet on the cold ceramic tile floor. I searched for my boots in the wooden dresser beside the door. I pulled the drawer handle to check if my jacket was in the drawer. There was nothing but an empty platform. I pulled the other drawers; they were stacked with throws,

creamy colored throws, just like the ones on the bed. “You

got to be kidding me,” I whispered to myself. I left the room and easily found the dining hall down the corridor. There were people sitting at tables having meals and chatting. I entered the dining hall; all the faces stared at me.

A blonde girl stood from her chair. She walked with a skip toward me. Her bangs made her gray eyes look big. “ Finally, we’ve been waiting for you,” she said. Her thin lips curved in a smile. “What’s your name?”

“Claudia,” I said, “my friends call me Clodi, sometimes.” I wasn’t used to meeting new people. In the Hoop I only had Opal and Ira.

“Not bad for a Hoopster,” she said. “I’m June,” she mimed her hand to her face.

 

One guy with dark skin and dark short hair, stood from a chair in the dining hall. He strode toward me and offered me his hand. “Hi, I’m Thomas Hunter, Ricky’s friend. Nice to meet you Claudia,” he said. His flattened hand was in the air for a while, then he cleared his throat and put his hand to his side. “Okay, someone doesn’t know how to shake hands,” he mocked.

“We don’t shake hands in the Hoop,” I said.

He leaned forward, “Well, you are not in the Hoop anymore,” he said, grinning. His teeth seemed very white.

“Well, you must be hungry,” June said. “Yes, I’m starving,” I said.

She held my hand and escorted me to the table. We sat at a wooden round table. At the table in front of us sat Edna who was talking to a girl with dark curly hair. Edna looked at me momentarily while eating her food; she nodded. The girl with curly hair noticed I was sitting in the dining hall. She

stared at me then turned her gaze to Edna. She didn’t seem to care that I was in the room.

“That’s Vicki,” Thomas said. “She always seems to be in a certain mood,” he chortled and held his fist with his other hand, like it was a fact that everyone knew.

“She seems to dislike me,” I said. I didn’t like having people hate me, it made my skin crawl.

“Don’t worry, she is just jealous,” Thomas said. “Of what?” I said.

“Everyone is talking about you and your courage,” he

said.

Courage… If he knew me for a while he would know

that I wasn’t that brave, it was an impulsive reaction to

 

losing someone close to me. Opal, I didn’t check her message before getting out of the Hoop. I looked at my wrist but the wristband was gone. They must have taken it with

my jacket. “Where are my things?” I said staring at June who sat right across the table.

“Edna took your stuff to the storage room,” she said. “Can she give it back?” I said.

Thomas sat next to me and rested his hands on the

table, “You don’t need your Hoopy stuff here,” he said. “We will get you some new and clean clothes.”

June nodded.

“No, I need the wristband,” I said.

Thomas looked puzzled like he didn’t understand.

“I had a message from a friend, and I really need to see it,” I said.

He leaned on the back of the chair, “You should have said that before. I started to wonder if you were possessive over your stuff.”

“You should ask Edna if you want it back,” June said.

Her short blonde hair moved when she talked.

I nodded.

“I will get some food for you,” she said. She stood from her wooden chair, and walked into a door in the middle of the dining hall.

Vicki moved from her chair and came over to our table.

She sat on the chair where June had just sat. Her dark eyes glistened with malice. She bit the inside of her cheek, “So what’s the big deal about you?” She said.

I adjusted my posture in the chair. “I don’t want to

 

make enemies with anyone,” I said. “Too late for that,” she said.

I wanted to object but kept my mouth shut.

“I’m kidding,” she said. “I just don’t like your vibe in the room,” she gestured her hand to the room.

“It’s funny, cause everyone feels that way about you,” Thomas said, grinning.

I pursed my lips to suppress a laugh.

She stared at him and furrowed her eyebrows. I felt pleasure with the answer he gave to Vicki.

“You two better stop fooling with her,” a voice said. Ricky was standing behind Thomas. His hands were in his dark trousers pocket. “Especially you, Vicki,” he said.

“Fine,” she said and stood from her chair and left.

“Sorry for leaving you with those exotic people,” Ricky

 

said. said.

“If my presence stirred something in this group…” I “No,” he interrupted my thought. “Don’t worry. They

 

just do that to scare you.”

“It kind of worked,” I said.

He chuckled. “I want to show you around,” he said. “I need to ask Edna about my stuff,” I said.

“I know where your belongings are kept,” he said. “I can show you the storage room and you can search for your stuff.”

“Okay,” I said. I stood from my chair, thinking about

 

the text Opal sent. Did she try to stop me from proceeding with the plan? I thought. I felt regret for not opening the

text, but I couldn’t go back in time and amend it. My life was like a sheet of plain white paper, when I crumple the paper with my hand, it remains crumpled, even if I try to fix it. We can’t rewrite the past, even if we wanted to.

“Ready?” Ricky said. “Yes,” I said.

Ricky and I walked down the yellow tinted corridor. We passed the nursing room.

“That’s the room where we cured many people,” he said, pointing at the room they healed my wound in.

The corridor was very wide; every corner had a door to a large room.

“That’s the meeting hall,” he said.

I looked beyond the doorway. The hall was large.

Graffiti covered the old paint on the walls. Round tables and chairs were lined up in the meeting hall.

“That’s where the leader does his speeches,” he said. “The room is useful when we intend to plan or discuss matters we are all concern about.”

“Who is your leader?” I said.

“Wade Hansen,” he said. “He is the oldest so we let him be the leader.”

“I haven’t seen him,” I said.

“He doesn’t stay out in public much. He usually goes to various meetings with other leaders. Soon he might be elected to be the ruler of the Silver City,” he said. He pointed to a white room filled with lab equipment.

 

“The lab?” I said.

“Yes, here is where we used to discover new antidotes to environmental issues,” he said.

“Used to?” I said.

“The holders in the Hoop stopped us from further experiments,” he said bitterly.

“Why would the holders stop you from saving the world?” I said.

He stared down the empty corridor and said, “I don’t know.”

We stopped in front of a dark door with a square platform that hung loosely on a nail. The sign said restricted. I was curious to know what the room held that made it

restricted. “What’s inside the room?” I said.

“It’s the supply room. We store weapons and tools in this room,” he said.

“Who can enter the room?” I said. “Kurt Barnes,” he said.

I didn’t know who Kurt was, I creased my eyebrows in confusion.

“He is the genius and the geek Kurt Barnes,” he said. I got confused even more.

“He invents tools and gadgets and stores them in the restricted room,” he said.

“How smart,” I said.

He stopped abruptly in front of a door and pushed it open. “This is the storage room.”

I entered the room and instantly searched for my

 

wristband on the metal racks. My feet stepped on tiny dust grains on the floor. It seemed that no one had cleaned the floor in that room for a long time. I lifted the throws and blankets on the racks to find my wristband. I looked further in racks that had cloth on top. There was a heavy white cloth on one of the racks. I flipped the cloth, big silver buttons aligned the side of the jacket, and it was my jacket. I took the jacket; the wristband was lying under the jacket. I picked up the wristband and put it in my pocket.

“You found it?” he said as he stood by the door.

“Yes I did, thank you,” I said. I strode out of the room. I realized I had been walking around without shoes. I feared that I could get cut by anything on the floor. Who knew what kind of sharp objects were lying around since the rooms didn’t seem to be cleaned very frequently. “I need shoes,” I said. I stared at my feet.

“There are shoes and clothes in your room,” he said and closed the door behind us.

“My room?” I said.

“Yes, you will be sharing it with the girls.”

I didn’t like the idea of sharing a room. I’ve never shared a room before, because I didn’t have siblings. In the Hoop, people were allowed to have one kid because of the scarcity of the supplies and space. We walked passed a few doors then he stopped at the last door at the end of the corridor.

“This is your room,” he said as he opened the door.

I stepped inside the room. The room smelled like wood. The walls didn’t have graffiti. There were three beds aligned on one side of the wall with an even gap between every bed. The beds had brown throws with white bed sheets. The

 

throws on two of the beds were messy. A yellow t-shirt , black pants and leather shoes were laying on the last bed.

The big window had a view of a small garden in the back

yard. I turned to Ricky, “Can I have a separate room?” I said.

He chuckled, “You’re a funny person,” he said. “The bathroom is over there and there are clothes on the bed. If you need anything don’t hesitate to tell me.”

There was a dark door on the other side of the room; it was the bathroom door.

“Thanks,” I said.

“My pleasure,” he said and walked away.

I took the wristband from my pocket and pressed on  the screen, a hologram appeared with a text, I pressed to open the text. It said, don’t do it, if the holders found out, they will get you, your family and friends. I was worried all night that any harm will accrue to you. Ira can find his way home, he is brave; and if we collaborated with the authorities, we might find him safe and sound.

Please do not do anything that will harm you. There were many missed calls from Opal. I redialed, but she didn’t pick up. My vision got blurry, and my eyes got watery. I felt heat in my face. My shoulders shuddered. I let her down; she was alone in the Hoop. It was selfish not to think of the consequences. I lost two friends now. I can’t get back to the Hoop to see Opal, or find Ira on Earth. I closed the screen. My cheeks were wet.

“You left me alone holding your plate of food,” a female voice said behind me. I turned to look; her gray eyes were confused to see me sobbing. I couldn’t stop the tears from pouring out. I wiped my cheeks with my palm.

“Sorry,” I said, my lips quivered.

She widened her eyes and came close, “Why are you

 

crying?” June said, she held my uninjured shoulder.

I shook my head. “I lost my family and friends,” I said, I felt a burning in my chest.

“Lost?” She said.

“Ira on Earth and I don’t know where he is. Opal is in the Hoop and I can’t go to her,” I said, “my mother…”

“It’s okay, we will find them,” she said.

I nodded. The pain was severe and unbearable. I had to find a way to get them back even if I had to fight.