New Character Introduction

Ren Flanahey tucked a pile of school books into her backpack.

She joined a stream of children into the dark hallways of Empire Middle School Hive Three Thousand and Two.

The hall sloped upward, and wrapped around in a large circle. The walls were orange and glistening like the walls of a honeycomb.

She walked quietly with the other students, who walked with sullen faces. A drone bot with a television flew overhead, and a teacher’s head appeared on the screen.

“Students, as the weekend approaches, I would like you to take time to appreciate the glory of our empire.”

The drone sped ahead, repeating the message.

“Yes, we celebrate the glory of our empire,” the children said mechanically.

Ren said the words without feeling them, without meaning them, like she had for seventeen years.

Someone nudged Ren.

Her friend, Harlow. Well, more than a friend.

He was built like a young soldier. Bald and tattooed on the face—swirls on his cheeks—he was buff and handsome.

“Spaceship Calc was brutal today,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said, running a hand through her hair.

She had spilled soda on her uniform at lunch, and there was a gruesome stain near her stomach. She turned so that he didn't see it.

“Glory be to the empire,” Harlow said.

“Glory,” Ren said.

“When is your emergence?” Harlow asked. “I just got mine. I've been assigned.”

Assigned.

Emergence.

The time when all of her friends were plucked away, sent onto career tracks in the military, teaching, or science fields. With the hive lottery system, she would never see them again.

She would never see Harlow again.

She knew she shouldn't have gotten attached. No one got attached. It made life easier when Emergence happened. But she'd done it, and now she felt pain, pain unlike anything she'd ever felt in her life. She wanted to cover her ears, to grab his hand, to run, far, far away, over the top of the hive city and into the flat plains so they could get away, be free, free—free—before the somber reality of adulthood sunk in. The somber reality that she was never free, never would be, and that her life was predestined.

“I ship off tomorrow,” he said.

“Oh,” she said.

They walked outside into the moonlight.

The hive city seemed to swirl up into the stars. The lights of embedded pod homes glittered against the earthen walls. The twin moons, red and yellow, were bright in the gray sky.

A line of pod trams waited. The children lined up and entered. The pods zipped away on circular tracks, upward into the city.

The air was crisp, the moonlight pale on her skin, and the goosebumps on her arms popped up the moment she walked into the night air.

“This is goodbye,” Harlow said. “It's been great.”

She sighed.

“So you just leave?” she asked.

They walked to a line.

“It's better this way,” Harlow said. “We’re not even supposed to be dating. Or talking. Glory must first be to the empire.”

“Screw the empire,” she whispered. “What would it be like to live like they do in other galaxies? To be free?”

Harlow shushed her.

“You want to get us killed?”

“You didn't say that when we were alone yesterday,” she said.

“The military needs me,” Harlow said. “And I have to listen. We all do. Maybe you'll be chosen and we’ll cross paths in a few decades, Ren.”

She turned away and ignored him.

“Fine,” she said. “Goodbye.”

“Glory be to the empire,” Harlow said.

She didn't reply.

She didn't want to say anything.

Her boyfriend of five weeks, who had kissed her already, was leaving.

A drone bot hovered over her and the teacher looked at her.

“Glory be to the empire,” she said reluctantly, and scowling.

When she turned away, Harlow was gone, disappeared into another crowd.

The line thinned out and she approached the pod tram, a silver ball designed for ten.

She climbed onboard with the other sullen children, and she became one of them.

***

Coming Soon


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