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Area 1 MAG
All my bitter tears had been cried by the time I was seated on my assigned airplane bench. I was relieved to see that my seat-mate, a tall boy with a strong jaw, was similarly dry-eyed. Hearing the choked sobs that echoed around the “cattle chamber,” as it was called, was bad enough. My head already hurt from the braids wound tightly around my scalp. I didn't remove them. They were the last scrap of rough, brash love I would ever have from my mother. I would never see them again. Not Mother, not Daddy, not my younger brother, Abe, or little Lilly.
Oh, it all sounds very tragic, but it's the way of the world. My parents were taken from wherever they grew up at the age of sixteen too, as was my older brother, Clive. Since the last apocalypse wiped out an eighth of the world's population, it was important to keep the gene pool fresh. Those who were old enough to remember still spoke of the Inbred Plague with fear in their eyes. Things were better now. If you were fit, you were shipped to other Areas of the Nation to work and eventually raise a family.
Our families weren't told where we were going. We weren't even told where we were going. My last glimpse of home had vanished when I was put on the plane with two other kids from Area 331. Our Area never had a lot of people who qualified for Distribution. Most blamed the fallout left over from the atomic bomb strikes. Some blamed bad luck. Either way, most young people were kept in the village for manual labor and forbidden to marry and pass on their bad genes.
I almost hadn't passed the Distribution assessment, or so my mother heard. I'd never been very strong, and the physical tests were strenuous. They were the same all across the Nation, but most Areas were fully inhabitable and kids didn't grow up stunted. I could tell by the strong, healthy kids around me on the plane that they hadn't grown up wearing a gas mask or spent their lives wondering what toxic chemicals were in the water. It was the cause of a lot of mumbling when things were especially bad. But no one was foolish enough to believe we were of enough value to be spared if we caused trouble. Wasn't there enough evidence that the government had no qualms about silencing the people of Area 331?
Anyway, it had been my performance on the mental aptitude tests that made me pass. Someone somewhere saw something worthwhile in my genes. I won't deny that I didn't half wish I'd failed. I could live my life doing what I knew, which was inhaling smog in the factories and coming home to a family who loved me in their own way. I could have stayed with Addy, my best friend, who hadn't passed the assessment. She hadn't even made it to the final rounds. My last morning at home, she had visited to try and make up for her days of silence. She hadn't disguised the envy in her eyes when she saw my new dark green uniform, but I forgave her because what was the point of doing anything else?
The plane began to rattle, and an especially tearful girl went off again. I wondered how she had passed the emotional stability tests. The boy sitting next to me smirked, and I could tell he was thinking the same thing. He had the same slanted eyes my mother had, but his were a bright blue I'd never seen before. If Addy were here, she probably would have giggled something about the various opportunities such genetic diversity presented.
“I'm James,” the boy whispered. I was startled. No bonds, no attachments had been formed in the entire week of travel. What was the point, when you never knew who was going to be shuttled onto a different vehicle next?
“I'm Daisy,” I said hesitantly.
James's eyes lit up. “You've got daisies where you're from?”
I shook my head. “My father named me. He said they were everywhere in his old Area. I've never seen one myself.”
“That's a shame,” said James. “I bet your father grew up somewhere near me, in the 130s. I'm an Area 137 man myself.”
“No, you're not,” I replied. “Not anymore.”
It was dangerous to display Area pride. A few years before, some workers had started sewing big 331s on their clothes, and even waving 331 flags. These criminal artifacts were burned and the criminals themselves were never seen again. Areas were for living and working. Beyond that, they were just land, and our loyalty was supposed to lie with the Nation. That was the first thing we learned at school, and the last thing that was drilled into our heads before we graduated.
James's firm jaw grew even tighter. “I think that where someone grows up matters. I'm from 137, no matter where they take us now.” He motioned for me to lean closer and he pulled a vial of dirt from inside his uniform shirt. “Home,” he said.
I recoiled in shock. Land belonged to the Nation. This was treason, and he was waving it in my face, practically daring me to call over one of the officials and have him cast from the plane.
“Why are you showing me this?” I hissed.
James shrugged. “I can't help but trust someone named Daisy.”
“Well, help it,” I said sourly.
He grabbed my arm and I flinched. He didn't try to touch me again, but I couldn't escape his imploring gaze. “Don't you think it's wrong? Isn't taking us away from our homes and families – isn't it evil?”
I stared at him. Of course, every scared teenager ever to be Distributed thought it was unfair. No one said such things out loud though. I was starting to wonder how James had passed the mental and sanity assessments. Clearly 137 had inbreeding problems.
“It's the way of the Nation,” I said stiffly. That was a common phrase back home – that is to say, back in Area 331.
James, though, just frowned. “It doesn't have to be.”
“Beginning descent,” said a cool voice over the loudspeaker. The shades on the small windows immediately lowered, and the plane went dark.
“Do you think this is it?” James whispered.
“What are you asking me for? As if I know. Bet there's another week at least.”
“I hope you're coming with me, Wildflower Girl.”
“Don't be ridiculous. Odds are against it.” I wanted to take back the harsh words as soon as I let them fly. In a softer voice, I said, “Tell me what a daisy looks like.”
“You've really never see one?” James gasped.
“My dad used to try and draw them for me. But he's not one for art.”
“They're everywhere in 137. Especially this one meadow. You can't move without stepping on one, but I tried not to. They're the most hopeful, friendliest flowers of all, so I can't really say the name suits you,” said James with a wry smile.
I rolled my eyes. A Distribution transport vehicle didn't really seem like the place for hope and friendliness. “A meadow. That's like a field, right? Did you farm?”
Shaking his head, James corrected me. “We herd. The entire sky and the entire meadow, as far as you can see, just us and the animals.” His face clouded. “Of course, some dumb kid who doesn't know a sheep from a goat probably has my herd now. He better be treating them okay.”
I hadn't spared a thought for whoever was manning my station at the factory now. I hoped for their sake that they weren't from somewhere like James's home. My father never spoke of his past, except for the flowers. Now I wondered how he could bare spending his days choking on filthy air when he'd once been surrounded by meadows of daisies.
“Your safety belts will be released in five seconds. When you are unbelted, create a single file line,” the official ordered. My legs wobbled after sitting for so long, but James caught my arm. The official shot us a look and I pulled away.
“Aaand … march!” Those at the head of the line obeyed, and we followed. Down a ramp, through a hallway, and then into blinding sunshine. Disoriented, I strained to hear or see anything, but I was overwhelmed by the light and the noise. Cheering. We were being paraded down a long avenue before a larger crowd of people than I had ever seen, all clapping and whistling. This certainly didn't happen when people were Distributed to Area 331. Judging by the confusion, awe, and panic of my fellows, it didn't happen where they came from either.
We must be in Area 1.