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Hidden City, Part One
I looked into the black sky. No stars were visible, but that was normal. They hadn’t been visible for years.
Off in the distance, the bright lights of the city streamed through the night. The billboards were the brightest. They shone with such brilliance that I could read one from where I was.
“Obedience is good,” it read, displaying a picture of a person in Uniform grinning from ear to ear. I grimaced at the onslaught of advertisements entering my mind. I hated looking at the billboards because I hated what it did to my brain. The messages were transmitted directly into a person’s thoughts whenever they looked at a billboard. I didn’t know how; I was just a worker.
The Ambassadors had incredible technology; I had to give them that. The billboards, the forcefield. When you’re a child in the city, you are constantly told tales of how there was nowhere else in the world than the city, that there was no one to come and “rescue” us, and that, even if there were, they wouldn’t be able to find us because of the forcefield. I found out later that this, at least, was the complete truth.
But I couldn’t make myself believe the first part. We weren’t alone out there. I could feel it. Whenever I snuck out of the city, to this quiet little field, I could feel it. Life. It pulsed all around me, and I knew that there was something out there for me. Not only me, but for all of the citizens being held captive in the city.
Steps behind me brought me back to reality. I whirled around to see who was approaching.
“Victor!” A little boy of about nine ran up to me, his gray jumpsuit Uniform clinging to him with sweat. His soft, blond hair was windblown, but I could still see where patches had fallen out due to Testing. His face was haggard, and looked older than he was. My younger brother, Felix.
“You’re going to be late for Countdown!”
My eyes widened. I hadn’t kept track of time.
“You can’t get caught again!” Felix cried. “The Ambassadors will take you away!”
“I know!” I snapped, grabbing his wrist and starting to run.
Through the black night we sprinted, toward the bright lights of the city. Our home. Our hell. Just as fiery and binding as the real one.
This was my life. All I had known since I was a little boy. The daily broadcasts, the Testings, each and every Countdown. My life. No, it couldn’t be called life. It wasn’t living. This was my endless nightmare.
The city grew closer and closer, until, finally, I could see the wall surrounding it. I gained speed, dragging Felix behind me. It was one thing for me to get caught outside, but I couldn’t get Felix in trouble, too.
Our parents had died shortly after he was born, so I had been forced to take on the responsibility of both mother and father to Felix.
I guess “died” wouldn’t be the right word. It was more like “exterminated.” The details were fuzzy, but I knew that they had opposed the Ambassadors somehow. That was not something you wanted to do; not then or now. Felix thought that they had just been “taken away.” I hadn’t had the heart to tell him otherwise.
The Ambassadors had strict rules. You break these rules, you die. It was as simple as that. One of these rules was that you can’t go outside of the city….. under any circumstances. I had broken this rule more than once. The key was not getting caught.
I shoved Felix through a hole in the stone wall and squeezed in after him.
We rushed through the dirty, dark side streets of the city, dodging spotlights and ducking in shadows. Bells sounded. Countdown.
I hurried Felix to the next building, which, thankfully, happened to be the workers’ quarters. There was a broken window at the back that I always used to sneak out. Now it offered an easy entrance for my brother and me.
After helping Felix through the window I hoisted myself up.
“Hey!” a voice yelled from behind me. The person blew a whistle, and I heard footsteps running toward the back of the building.
“Felix! Run to bed!” I whispered frantically. “Don’t get caught!” A quick nod of the head and he was off. He understood the consequences just as well as anyone else.
Before I could jump down from the window, a giant hand wrapped around my dangling ankle and yanked. I plummeted face first onto the concrete. I felt the blood running from my cheek, but I ignored it. There were much more pressing matters at hand. My extermination, for example. I had been caught a second time. Because of my young age, they let me off the first time with just a harsh beating. Now it was death.
A number of overly-muscular guards stood over me. “Come on,” one growled, grabbing my arm and dragging me down an alleyway. Another guard clutched the back of my Uniform and pulled me to my feet in one great heave. I scrambled to keep my footing.
Nice job, Victor, I thought to myself. Who’s going to take care of Felix?
I was dragged to the Ambassador Base in the center of the city. There I was cuffed and placed in front of a board of angry-looking Ambassadors.
“State your number,” one snapped.
I recited the number on my Uniform.
After rifling through some papers, that Ambassador looked at one and frowned. “You were reported missing from Testing today. And you were caught sneaking into quarters after Countdown. What do you possibly have to say for yourself?”
I hesitated, then decided. I’m going to die anyway.
“Why do you call yourselves Ambassadors? Real ambassadors relate to people, help them, but all you care about is hurting them!” I took a step forward, but my bound hands were grabbed and restrained by two guards. “You just care about your stupid drugs that you test on us people! You treat us like animals!”
One of the Ambassadors waved his hand and the guards started to pull me away, but I resisted. “That’s all we are to you, isn’t it? We’re not human! We’re not people! We’re just animals to be tested on and worked to death! And you… you… Ambassadors,” I spat the word, “are cruel, evil, conniving, vicious demons out to ruin mankind!”
The Ambassador raised his hand, signaling for the guards to stop, and stood up, red-faced. He took a couple of steps toward me until he was only inches away. “Let me tell you something,” he hissed, jabbing his finger in my face. “We are bettering mankind! We are curing diseases, advancing technology, making life more livable for those who deserve that luxury. Not for the likes of you.”
I snapped. I lunged forward, breaking the grip of the guards, and ran headfirst into the Ambassador. His frail body flew backward, and the guards rushed to his side.
This was the time. This was the opportunity, the one I had been waiting for. My escape.
I sprinted out of the room. I didn’t hear any yells of “Hey!” or “Stop!” so I just kept running. Down the hallway, out the front doors, past people who gave me confused looks but made no move to stop me. This is too easy, I thought.
I heard footsteps far behind me, gaining speed with each second. I ducked into an alleyway, awaiting the moment for them to catch me.
I paused, my back against the cold brick wall lining the alley, to catch my breath and wait. Only a matter of seconds now. I closed my eyes.
The footsteps grew louder and louder, until finally they were right next to me. At least, I thought they were. I opened my eyes just in time to see three guards dashing past where I hid. I stood there only a second longer, and then proceeded at full speed down the alleyway. This is too easy.
I turned a few corners, ran down a couple more side streets. I knew exactly where I needed to go. I had to get Felix. I couldn’t leave him behind.
Before long, I reached the workers’ quarters. I crept my way to the broken window at the back. But there was one thing I had forgotten about: my hands. Both wrists were bound together in front of me, restricting me from retrieving Felix. I pulled on the handcuffs, trying to break loose, but every time I resisted, the cuffs tightened around my wrists. The cold, sharp metal started to cut into my flesh.
I looked around, trying to find anything that might possibly help me. There was nothing. I knew this was too easy.