Chapter One - Jamie
Name: Jamie Foster Level: B Citizenship: Y
Age: 16yrs. 11mon. 12days.
Height: 5’3” Weight: 125lb
Hair: Dark brown, slight curl
20, June 2240 - 15:50
It’s late. Later than late. Not that this is new. I mean, I’m late half the time anyways. But today, I’m anxious, practically on the edge of my seat. Last week, my mom got an official reprimand for negligence. She’d gotten warnings before, of course, but she’d ignored them, and I hadn’t worried then. Everyone gets those at some point, they’re hardly ever serious. A reprimand was much, much worse. You had to mess up pretty bad to get one of those. I scoot forward in my seat, staring out the glass walls, until I’m barely able to keep from falling down. She’s still not here. How is she not here yet?? I try and lean closer, and my chair tips forward. Melinda, the receptionist, clears her throat pointedly from behind me, and I let myself relax again. The legs of the chair hit the floor with a thunk. I am not allowed to get up. I am not a legal adult, nor do I have my license, so, as of now, I am also not allowed to leave.
Not until my mother gets here. Dad works in government, he’s almost never off early enough to pick me up. I am reliant on mom. That wouldn’t be so bad, more than half the kids here get picked up by their parents. Thing is, my mom is definitely not reliable. I can’t imagine where she goes, though. She doesn’t have a job.
I look at the clock on the wall. 16:00. Not for the first time, I wish the rules were less strict, that I could just ride home with a friend. I can’t even pretend said friend is my mom and leave that way--everyone has to scan their ID before leaving, and if you’re underage, and unaccompanied by a guardian, you can’t leave. The doors won't open. But I need to leave.
Today is the day. The day of my second annual analysis, the one that decides if I get to keep living here, after high school. I heard of one kid, in last year’s group, who didn’t even get to stay that long. He had to move within the week, didn’t show up to class after the analysis. Mom says that’s pretty rare, though. And it’s not like that’ll happen to me. Not just for being late. I haven’t done anything wrong. Have I?
16:30. She’s finally here. I jump to my feet as soon as I see the car stopping, before I even know for sure it’s my ride. Who else could it be? Melinda scowls at me, but she can’t really do anything to stop me, now that mom’s here. I rush to the doors. I am more than an hour late for my analysis, and by the time we get there, it will be even later. I wait, impatient, while she scans her ID and waits for the doors to open.
‘How--,’ she starts, but I grab her hand and shove her ID in front of the inside scanner, quickly following with my own. Her face grows angry, at my rudeness most likely, but I ignore that, too, and rush out to the car before the doors are even all the way open and practically throw myself in the passenger seat.
‘HEY!’ It’s muffled, because it is under me, but it is definitely a shout. I half fall, and am half shoved out of the seat by my younger brother, and have to stagger several steps back to keep from falling on my butt. I scowl at him.
‘What are you doing here?! And you know you’re not allowed to sit in front!’ Even as I say it, I’m getting in the back. Annoying as he is, I can’t afford to spend time arguing.
‘I can now,’ he says, twisting around to glare at me as I shut the door. ‘I’m twelve now. Not that you care. You never care about anything.’
Mom is still inside. Talking to Melinda. Fantastic.
‘Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s your birthday, huh? Don’t tell me. That’s why she’s so late.’
‘She took me to--.’
I stick a hand over his mouth before he can finish. ‘To your favorite restaurant for lunch, yeah, and then to the mall, I guess. Or CTG Gaming. Lucky you.’ I see mom leaving the school, and hurriedly let him go before she can see me. ‘If I fail my testing because of this, you’re dead,’ I snap, flopping back in my seat. He ignores me, turning to face the front again. Eagerly awaiting his chance to get me in trouble.
Well. I didn't fail. But I'm still grounded. Oh yes. And my brother hates me even more now for, and I quote, ‘Ruining his birthday with some stupid test.’ Like I'm the one who gets to choose when it is. Sure.
It's after dark now, all my friends have gone home. They had to keep the analysis lab open late just to accommodate me. I stare out the window blankly, trying to ignore my mom and my younger brother--who won't shut up. Mom adores him. He passed his first analysis, at age 6, not counting the one at birth, with flying colors. She has high hopes for him. We don't even go to the same schools. He goes to one of the best ones in the district. Mom… tolerates me. I barely passed my first assessment, went to normal, run of the mill schools, and well. My record isn't the best. They almost didn't let me take it this time--an automatic transfer--because of how late I was. Mom blamed me for it. Let me tell you that was absolutely fun-tastic. Well. Except for the fact that it, uh, wasn't.
Everything around me fades in and out as a yellow blur, lit intermittently by the streetlights. It’s not like I’m missing anything, though. It all looks basically the same. Empty streets, empty sidewalks, occasionally interrupted by another car, or a not-so-empty house. I'm zoned out, the conversation in front of me just white noise, and I almost don’t see it. Almost. It's an important word; the difference between a hit or a miss. And it describes what I see perfectly.
Because all I see is a shadow, blurring from one pool of light to the next. I sit up, squinting out my window, waiting to see it again. We aren’t going very fast; since it’s nighttime, the speed limit is fifteen miles or under, and my mom is only going about five. We pass another light pool and--there! I see it again, still not much more than a blurred shape. But this time, I am paying attention. It is definitely a person. I frown. What would a person be doing out this late? Especially just… walking?? Or maybe he’s jogging, I’m honestly not sure. Not only that, but our neighborhood is pretty small, and I could swear I’ve never seen him before. We reach the driveway outside my house at the same time, and the lights to the garage turn on as we turn in. I see him stumble to a stop, eyes wide and bright in the glare. It’s definitely a he. His eyes find mine and we stare at each other, then he suddenly turns and bolts in the opposite direction.
I tug my door open without thinking, tumbling out before the car has even stopped moving. I hear mom and my brother yelling, but I ignore them and sprint after him. It occurs to me maybe half a block later how stupid I am, but that’s when I see him, and of course I can’t stop now. I push myself to go faster. I’ve done track in school, but that was long distance--and not on cracked sidewalks. It’s no wonder I trip and fall. He stops again, clearly caught off guard, and stares at me. Panting and gasping, I push myself back up.
‘What. . .,’ I have to stop and catch my breath. ‘What are . . . you doing?’
He stares at me like I am insane. ‘I… what??’
‘What are you doing?’ I stand up the rest of the way, then wince. I’ve scraped my knee; my pants are torn. He just stares at me some more, and I scowl back. It’s then that I notice how odd he looks. His hair is a mess, shaggy and nearly to his shoulders, and so are his clothes--worn and frayed at the edges. At first I can’t figure it out--no one here would keep clothes so old, and there are rules in school about how you cut your hair--but then it hits me. I take a step back, shivering. It’s not that cold out.
I know now why I didn't recognize him. He's not supposed to be here. He's not even supposed to be able to get in. He's from the lower levels.
‘What?’ he repeats. I flush; now he's just mocking me. ‘Why?’ Or. Maybe he isn't.
‘What do you mean “why”?! It's like…,’ I pause frowning, then give up and rush ahead. ‘It's after curfew. No one's even allowed out this late.’
He laughs, and it’s my turn to stare in confusion. Finally he stops, saying, 'Um, you're out now.’
I open my mouth, then shut it again, face hot. He laughs again, but it cuts off abruptly. That's when we hear the sirens.