Of the four Districts in the new world, the Druggon District is the most advanced when it comes to technology and enhanced city life. Cars that are not only self-sufficient in maintenance but energy supply as well, running solely on solar power are the best means of transportation for the people of the city, alongside rail stations. The buildings rose to the stars and the cities expanded as far as the eyes could see. Homes were built inside the safety of the titanium dome. There was never a frown on the faces of the good citizens. Almost everything in D-District was computer generated and engineered. It was created to keep the smart and wealthy safe inside. With constant surveillance through satellites, security cameras, metal detectors, and SBs (serve bots) the people in the main cities of D-District had nothing to fear.
Saturday. July 16, 4481, Crystal City.
In the early mornings, the police can be seen walking the streets of our neighborhoods, enforcing the 7pm to 9am curfew. They like to keep us in line, making sure the laws are upheld. They were known as the ‘Rat Patrol’ to the people on the outside. I watched them march through, in my tank top and sweatpants, like soldiers heading off for war. My mother and brothers were still asleep. Every step caved the broken pavement in more. They paid no mind to the filth around them. It was around 8:30am and soon, by the grace of God, they’d be gone.
“You there!” I heard one of the officers yell from the collapsed streets, as I had turned away from the broken second-floor window. I looked back and saw one of my neighbors, Samuel Burette in his front yard calling out to his black and brown Rottweiler pup. She stood in the middle of the yard, howling at the officer as he approached the white picket fence with his hand on his gun’s holster. Mr. Burette should’ve left her out there. He knew better. I walked away. I sat at the small round table in the kitchen and turned the TV on to max volume. Even though there was only static at this time of day, it was better than what I was about to hear.
“What are you doing out before curfew is lifted?” The officer stopped at Samuel’s old fence that was falling apart around his house. His voice is stern. Cold.
“Oh, please. Forgive me, officer. I was just getting my girl, Coco. Sometimes she gets out and...” Samuel limped his way to his dog as fast as he could, barefoot and still in the dirty white robe he went to bed in with a white shirt full of holes and blue shorts underneath. His wife, Larisa, was standing in the doorway of their small brick-red cottage-like home, terrified, still in her nightgown. The screen door barely hung on the top hinge before her, swinging back and forth in the summer breeze.
“Sweetie, come back inside” she yelled; her voice shaken, as she took a step back into the darkness of their home.
“Druggon Law states; the curfews for sectors H, G, F, B, and M is from 1900 to 0900, no exceptions. State your name.” the officer demanded, never moving from the position he was in.
Samuel pleaded with the officer before him, “Sir please, I-I‘ve kept my record clean. Given all that I had to our glorious District and its ruler.” He picked up Coco. “I live here alone with my wife. We are in our eldest years, please. Won’t you spare a-a 75-year-old man and his dog?” Tears built up in his eyes as he back toward his house. He bowed his head off and on, but never took his eyes off the officer.
The officer stood stern, not bending his will and again commanded, “State your name. Your punishment is 10 years imprisonment unless you choose death.”
Larisa cries at the door as she dropped to her knees, fearing for her husband’s safety, while Samuel begs and pleads with the officer, “Please, can’t you see? I’m heading back inside! I won’t last in prison. I’m too old. My wife will be lonely. There will be no one to take care of her or our home! I will die there!” Coco jumped out of Samuel’s hands and ran toward the officer, barking, and growling. “Coco no!”
The officer kicked down the already, broken gate with enough force to shatter it. Coco bit down on the officer’s pant leg. “Druggon Law states, for the following sectors, H, G, F, B, and M, assaulting an officer is a class E felony. The immediate punishment is death.” He kicked her to the side. She ran and whined from the pain.
“Coco!” The officer pulled a knife from his belt. The word punishment engraved on the blade itself, the metal handle made with twin dragons rising up to the blade. It was sharp and light. With the flick of the wrist, the officer embedded the knife into the pup’s neck. The clean silver painted red onto the brown grass.
“This is your last warning. State your name” he began counting down from 5 as he ripped out his knife and placed it back in its sheath.
“No!” Larisa screamed. She forces herself up and staggers to her husband, grabbing and pulling him back toward the house.
“5, 4, 3…”
Samuel dropped to his knees in front of the officer clasping his hands together “Please! I will give my home, all my wages, everything please! Let me go!”
“Leave us in peace!” Samuel pleaded as his wife insisted on fleeing, while she tugged and pulled.
“…1” The officer grabs Larisa and throws her to the side away from her husband. Samuel tries to fight the officer away, who remained unfazed as he was being punched. The officer grabs Samuel by his throat, lifting him off the ground. Samuel's feet dangle at the officer's knees. He swings away at the officer's arm for his life. Larisa rises to her feet. She joins in, hitting the officer as hard as she can, screaming for him to let go of her husband. With one quick thrust of his fist, he strikes Samuel in the center of his chest. Samuel shook violently in the officer’s hands as he gripped his chest. He gasps for air until his frail body had enough and draped there in the wind. The officer releases Samuel and watches his corpse drop to the ground. A single tear fell from his eye. Larisa pulls her husband to her, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Why are you out before curfew is lifted?” The officer asks as he now turns his attention to Larisa.
“Why are you doing this? You monster! Why?” She screams at him through a fog of tears. The officer is unresponsive to her emotions. He stands as cold as before.
“Druggon Laws states; the curfews for sectors H, G, F, B, and M is from 1900 to 0900, no exceptions. State your name” He kept his stare fixed on her, never looking back at her husband.
“Just kill me! I don’t want to live in a city where we’re murdered for bringing a dog in the house! Kill me! Kill me so I can be with my husband! You beast!” She buried her head in her lover’s chest.
“State your name. Your punishment is 10 years imprisonment unless you choose death.”
“Just kill me! Kill me, kill me, kill me!” She begs as she thrust herself toward the officer, repeatedly hitting him in the chest.
“This is your last warning. State your name.” Larisa drops to her knees, holding onto the officer’s bulletproof vest, crying.
Larisa looks up at the officer one last time before calmly bowing her head, “Woe be the world engulfed by the evil one and the spirits of the wicked risen forth…”
“The power of the Almighty will course through the veins of His chosen to cleanse the demons of humanity and rid us of our sins...”
“So that we may know freedom and joy in the Holy One’s Kingdom. And as a father whose child is without obedience and spoiled by the maid…”
“This world shall know true pain. “
The officer forces Larisa up by her short grey hair. Another hand swiftly compresses her neck. Larisa's eyes roll back under their lids. Her limbs fall by her sides, as her spine crackles between his fingers. The officer releases his grip and allows Larisa to join her husband in the front yard. The two lay at each other's heels. Larisa's hand falls in Samuel's. Adjusting his navy uniform, the officer returns to the march ahead of him.
“Rinko, what’s going on? Turn the TV off before you wake up the whole neighborhood!” my mother, Marion Steel, yelled over the static. Her long brown hair was all over the place. Her white tank hangs loosely on her shoulder. I admire my mother. She was such a pretty light brown color and her eyes matched. Although her appearance was youthful, her presence demands respect. People frequently say she matured at a young age. Scratching her leg through the hole of her pink pants she said, “Baby you’re always up so early. Aren’t you ever tired?”
I wanted to laugh, but the coughing came out instead. It didn't last long, but it was enough to interrupt her yawning. She rushed to pat my back. As I cleared my throat, she kissed my forehead and searched the kitchen cabinets. One after another, each one was empty. Finally, she found something. On her toes, she reached in, removing a half-filled jar of jam and a loaf of bread. I felt my stomach turn when her head dropped.
“Everything will be alright mom.” I smiled. I wanted her to know that, as she fixed our meal, I had faith. I told myself if I pretended to be happy she wouldn’t have to try so hard. She wouldn't feel so bad. With her hands on the counter, she sighed.
“It will be soon Ri… I promise,” she tried hard to smile, then came over and held me tight. My little brothers started crying from the back room. “Will you go check on them for me while I get breakfast ready? Please?”
“Yeah.” I got up out of the wooden chair and headed down the hall. In our shared bedroom, my brothers were laying in the pink crib next to the bed, my mother had traded for when I was a baby. It was still sturdy, but too small for two babies. I stepped over the clothes and toys on the floor that would’ve been in a dresser if we owned one. The sight in the crib made everything clear. Victor somehow ended up with his foot in his brother's face. David probably woke up to his brother's foul socks. It could be frustrating how easy it is to upset David. Victor could roll over while they were going to bed and David would cry. As big as David was, he truly took the title of 'crybaby'.
I picked up David first. He started kicking and hollering wildly in his sagging diaper. I laid him across the messy bed and picked up a diaper and a few wipes out of the plastic bag. I ripped two of the wipes in half since we seemed to be running a bit low.
“Ri-ri, the boys okay?" My mom was leaning in the doorway. David starts squirming as soon as he hears her voice.
“David’s wet. I haven’t checked Victor yet, but I'm sure he needs a change too.” Victor called himself having a full blown conversation with himself in the crib. He was leaning against it on wobbling sticks. Mom kissed Victor and took him from the crib. His white snapper was wet around the collar. My mom cradled him in her arms and spoke softly to him while trying to wipe his mouth.
“Rinko, baby” mom came and stood next to me. My stomach started to turn again. She looked worried. David fought to get away from me. I wrestle him into my arms just for him to end up turned around and on his side screaming. Mom and I do a smooth switch. David's screams subside. He's so comfortable in her arms. His head goes down and his eyes shut in an instant. Victor, on the other hand, was alive. A wet hand slapped my nose. It seemed like he was speaking parables. His eyes were locked on mine and turning my head did not change that.
“I won’t have to work today until later this evening, so I’ll stay and watch the boys if you can run some errands for me. Or will that be too much for you today?”
“No, I’ll be okay. Fresh air will do me some good.” I smiled at her, but she didn’t seem to buy it.
“There’s nothing fresh about this air, but... if you feel okay today, then I got a few things for you to do. Only a few.” She laid David in the crib since he was asleep and relieved me of Victor. Even though he was babbling at her, he kept giggling at me. A rascal and a goofball.
“Hand me my purse off the floor. I want you to go to the store and buy two loaves of bread, a half-gallon of milk, and…” She digs out 25 dollars and two packs of cigarettes. “Trade these with Tony and Riley for some diapers and wipes okay? We'll be out of clothes to wipe butts, here in a minute.” She rubbed her nose against Victor's stomach.
“Okay. If there’s some money left can I buy a candy bar?" With the way she laughed, you'd thought I told a joke. She nods with Victor's fingers in her mouth.
“Okay! Just hurry up and be careful.” I was too excited to wait for anything else. I snatched up my purple hoodie off the floor and kicked on my pink and white shoes. In a second I was out the door and down the stairs. My excitement was halted when I found myself surrounded by the lobby's musty aroma. At times, it was easy to forget how our brothers and sisters were when we were behind closed doors. In the comfort of your own home, the rest of the world doesn't look so dark. The walk to the door wasn't long, but the journey weighs down on me.
Cast aside for 'hazardous' health conditions beyond our control, Avilon City was taken off the table for a large number of Druggon's population before it even became an option. Instead, many of us grew accustomed to decaying structures we were forced to share with feline sized rodents and palm-sized insects. None the less, it was a home. It was normal to see people laying about in the lobby still sleeping. The group of young boys cornering a rat wasn't unusual. No one paid mind to them running around wildly with a wooden fork in hand, pushing and shoving each other out of the way. There was a woman standing near the restroom auctioning a pile of torn clothes for smokes to a boy who looked about 16 or 17 holding on to two small children and a man with his arm around a silver-haired woman. I nearly jumped out of my skin when something rough and wet slid across my ankle.
"Marion. Marion!" Under the darkness of the stairs, Mister Rodey peaked out at me from behind a sheet he had pinned up on the wall. He squinted hard at me before he spoke again.
"H-hello, Mister Rodey." I came around the stairs and planted myself beside the wall, just outside his 'door'. I was disgusted by the sweat and muck dripping from his body. I never understood why he dressed so heavily in sweaters and coats when he stays indoors all hours of the day. He positions the sheet to block the light of the lobby.
"You... You're not Marion. You're..." I didn't expect much from him. Normally he talks with my mother and she'd rushed me upstairs with the boys, but she also told me to talk with him if he confuses the two of us. Apparently, he had a memory type of illness. "Marion!"
"Yes, Rodey?" His eyes wandered past me into the rest of the lobby. The way he eased back into the shadows sent a chill up my spine. I could barely make out the thin jagged scar running alongside his left eye and down into the bridge of his wide nose.
"There's a storm coming." I could feel my arm quaking as Rodey's suddenly took hold of me. His voice shook. A wet drop hit my hand in the shadows.
"There are no storms Rodey. The weather looks like it will be fine for at least a couple of days and..." I nearly fell over when he snatched me in. His bony chest slapped me hard. I found myself gagging on the sour aroma seeping through the yellow chunks attached to his shirt. My stomach was doing back-flips. Unlike me, my arm was able to breathe again when Rodey set me free. I was used to him saying things that didn't make sense or just rambling on about how his deceased son stepped out for groceries and would be back soon. This was different. My mother said he had been paranoid lately.
"Stay away. Keep the girl away from the light. The lightning. Your precious little girl..." I couldn't see it, but I could hear his whimpering. The sheet fell in front of me. I lifted my hand at it, but my own trembling stopped me. My purple sleeve was stained black above my wrist.
"Bye, Mister Rodey." I didn't realize it until I started walking away; It wasn't just my arm, but my legs were shaking too. I dried my palms against my pants and tried to walk it off. My feet were dancing all over each other. I need to take a breath. My mother's words echoed as I collected myself with my back against the wall. It's not his fault he's a little strange. Rodey has lost a lot of people to the District and his own paranoia. I had better get back to my errands before my mom starts to worry.
The entrance of the building was heavily 'protected' for the citizens sake. There was a gate that was lowered during curfew hours to protect us from criminals and a metal detector for deterring people from bringing in any type of weaponry in living locations. People were required to check in and out at a small booth in order to enter and exit the building; to verify their identity and purpose of travel. Traffic was regulated by SBs. Our building's receptionist was built with sleek curves. Its glass eyes lit up when approached, sending a red light up and down our bodies. It moved about on silent wheels. I stood face to face with chrome breasts at the metal detector.
"Good morning ma'am! What may I do for you at this lovely hour?" It glided out from behind the monitor in the metal booth. Its voice was mature but warm and friendly. Had I never seen it, I might have assumed there was an actual woman in that booth every day. I stood at its breast.
"I need to enter the marketplace to exchange items for goods." I spread my arms outward from my body; awaiting violation by cold-hard-hands.
"Please spread your arms and feet, and remain still." It slid behind me and began feeling down my body. From my arms to my feet, it pulled up every piece of cloth and flipped every pocket. Its hands eased down into the holes of my clothes. My body shivers from the frosted fingertips.
"Are you carrying any firearms or weapons of any kind?"
"No." My peripheral was blinded by the beaming red light.
"Are you carrying any illegal substances, contraband?"
"State your residence and present your ID card."
The SB came back in front of me and stretched a hand forward. I pulled the ID card from around my neck on its makeshift shoelace-necklace. A faded picture of me forcing a smile covered the back. The front held my basic information. "3805 Northeast, Boulevard Street Green Hill Apartment 12, second floor." As it glides back into the booth, I straightened my clothes the best that I could. The SB inserted my ID card into a small slot next to the monitor built into the blue wall and read off my information as it came up.
“Rinko Marie Steel. Age: 12. Birthdate December, 16, 4469 at 1607. Brown eyes. Black hair. Half-breed, African and Hispanic female. 5 feet 1 inches. 106lbs. Illness type: not classified.” A ding sounded and the slot shot my ID back out. The SB came back to me with my ID. Instead of handing it over, the SB leaned down in my face. "Facial scan is 96 percent in features. Please remain still..." I knew what it was getting at before it finished. I've had to do this every time now for three years. I pulled my hair up off my shoulders into a ponytail and held it for a re-scan. Unfortunately, anything less than 100 percent could mean you stole someone else identity and warrants a re-scan. After I was cleared for the 100 percent, the SB returned my ID and stood to the side with a hand out directing me to the electronic pad protruding from the side of the wall. "Please step forward and place your right thumb over the hole in the center of the scanner. Place the remaining fingers in the outlined handprint."
I stepped on the white placemat and looked into the camera staring at me. The mighty Druggon District pays for such nice things in our little undeserving city. Everything was clean from the mat to the ceiling of the booth. Not a smudge rubbed an inch of the chrome border between our resting place and the outside world. With my thumb over the hole of the DNA scanner, I felt a slight pinch that lit the pad around my hand. Another ding. The SB rolled into the booth and played away on the keyboard. I can't say why it happened, but for some reason or another, my eyes wandered into the booth. I could see my picture pop up next to a lengthy list that resembled a page from a book. Then, suddenly a red box jumped on the screen;
CSID ORDER FORM 386
What did that mean? Extreme case of what? My illness? I've never seen that before in years past when I checked in and out so why now? Red letters are never a good sign. First Rodey freaks me out, now I have a CSID ORDER FORM 386 Case Extreme on my profile...
"Rinko Marie Steel is verified and accounted for in Crystal City. Thank you for your cooperation this beautiful morning." The SB glided past me toward a palm-sized metal box in the wall next to the wide gate. The tip of its index finger popped backward allowing a thin dual pointed pin to slide forth into a hole the size of a nail under the box. Turning the key, the metal cover over the box raised to reveal a large red button. "And have a nice day!"
"Yeah. Thank you." The horizontal slats shutter as they brought daylight into the building. The soft breeze crept through the openings of my outfit, tickling every bit of skin it found. People were already hitting the streets left and right. A group of children was quick to form around the Burette House. Their parents were scolding them to stay away, but the kids paid no heed. A hefty boy maybe 14 or so picked you part of the broken gate and jabbed at the bodies. The nerve they had. No respect for the living or dead. It was bad enough the couple would be there until they decomposed or someone else moved in, but he didn't have to play with them. Why don't people care? They were our neighbors. Good people. You would think that if the District didn't care, we would at least ban together on some things! Then again if too large of a group got together for anything, the police would somehow turn up and shut everything down. They always do. You can't control a people that fight back. Knowing there was nothing I could do, I decided to press on while I could still stand the clear skies.
It had been nearly a week since the last time I was outside. I had forgotten how jagged the sidewalk and street actually was. As I walked along the streets I was greeted by everyone I crossed and I made sure to greet them back. I was brought up on good manners and courtesy; my mom would have her way if I did anything different. In our studies my mom taught me that Jesus loves those that love and rewards people who strive to be in His likeness, so we should do everything we can to behave properly. Even so, it was hard to smile at everyone. A lot of these people worked as hard as they could to make a living and the best homes they make for themselves were tents woven out of useless laundry or the rubble of demolished buildings. There was a strong number of people that had nowhere to go. I was fortunate enough that my mother and her family had been living in Green Hill most of her life and because of that, we were never homeless. There were so many structures with caving rooftops and molded walls. A majority of the buildings I passed by were nearly barren with vines making up for the lack of paint and weeds posing as flowers. There were faces in the darkness, hiding behind broken glass. With all of the people about, there were still quite a few that preferred not to leave their homes if they could help it. It was understandable. If they did, they run the chance of their homes being stolen, their belongings disappearing or being arrested. Not to mention all of the ways one could leave this world. People feared the police, but there were two other major threats here besides them. The first was us; the people. When it comes down to it, when a man is standing on his last leg, people would do anything so that they or their families could survive. Bodies lined the city daily from someone trying to eat. When we're not threatened by our own community or the police, there is always the worry of disease. Unlike other districts, D-District separated its people by three things: wealth, power, and health. The people placed on the outside, like me and my family are either extremely poor or for the most part deathly ill. Their resources are too precious to waste on people incapable of working or contributing to the capital, so they cast us out and placed a giant steel dome around the city to regulate who comes and goes. Anything outside of the capital was up to us to deal with. Because of this, thousands of people are forced to inhale heavy must, decaying flesh, and bodily waste. Funerals were luxuries for people who didn't have to work and the privacy of restrooms was reserved for paying patrons of the marketplace or people with homes. It was impossible to walk the streets of Crystal City without nearly stepping in something you would regret.
"Hey, Rinko! Wait up!" Just the person I needed to get me out of my head. Or at least one of them. I turned back to find Riley running through the crowd. He gripped a brown paper bag close to his chest. His thin blond curls flew back behind him. As he was running barefoot, an elder man sitting on the sidewalk was having a coughing fit and hurled right in Riley’s path. It was too late for him to get out of the way; the ship had landed. It must have been one of those days for Riley because he kept coming. On one foot he hopped and was shaking the other off in the air.
"Ri, hey..." Riley came to a stop just short of me, huffing and wheezing with his hand on the knees of his torn blue jeans. He was bleeding sweat from every inch of his body. He was going shirtless today; most likely to show the muscles he thought he had. He claimed that it was the reason so many women, including my mother, flock to him even though he was only fifteen. He was as thin as a toothpick and as tall as a tree. Riley was one of the nicest and sweetest guys in the city. His green eyes were always full of hope. He shook both his feet, trying to get the remaining vomit off as he spoke between breaths.
“Did your mom have any smokes today? Cause um… I got these diapers from a guy in Dire who didn’t need ‘em anymore since his kid… ya know… killed over. So um… yeah. She gots anything for me?” He stood up and flicked his hair from his face. His poor pale skin burned all over.
“Yes, sir. One pack of cigarettes to go. And if Tony doesn’t have any diapers, I’ll come back and find you for the rest, okay?” I dug out the Cannon Vestos from my back pocket, since they were his favorite and traded him for the brown bag half full of diapers and a nearly empty pack of wipes.
His face lit up like a light bulb as he laughed. “Oh man, fu-...I mean heck yeah! Tell your ma I said thanks, Ri.” It was funny how Riley only stopped himself from swearing around me and the twins. It's not like I was unaware that he does it. He says it's out of respect for my mom, but I'm certain it's the fear talking.
“Yeah. No problem.” I started to turn away to head to the grocery store so I could hurry back. I didn’t want my mom to worry too much that I was gone, but before I could go Riley swept me away by the hand. He led me aside between a dented in rusted barrel half my size and a leaning hydrant.
He glared at every passerby before he decided to whisper. “Ri, about Tony…” There was a moment of hesitation as if he was searching for the words. He bit his lip and took a breath. Best guess; bad news. “Look. Tell her Tony got checked out last night.” His brow pressed together. He turned from me and didn't utter a single word.
“What do you mean? What happened? Did he break a law? What about his family? Are they-"
"Hey, hey, hey. Slow down okay! It's not that. It's just,” He took another deep breath and rubbed my shoulder. He kept glaring at everyone on the streets. Did he know something I didn't? A gust of air brushed his hair across his eyes. He flicked it back, but the wind was persistent. He held it back with one hand and stuck a cigarette in his mouth. "Just tell ya mom, they been crackin down on those 'extracurricular activities' you guys do. There's heavier patrol at night now and knowing Mari, she won't stop just because they say so. So you guys be careful out there. I'd hate for anything to happen to ya kid. People'll be all torn up ya know." Riley roughed up my hair before disappearing off into the crowd again. I didn't know Mister Aider well, but I was familiar with his sons. A father of five. He was a gentle and honest man. Mom knew him from her childhood. They were closer than anything. He was there for my birth and always showed up when I fell ill. I could feel my heart drop, but now wasn't the time for tears. I really needed to find us some food before the shop was all sold out again. I had to push Tony to the back of my mind and treat him like just another unfortunate soul, for now. Lee's shop was just two blocks down.