Thursday, 14 December 2017

F Fic, Non-fic

Pod One

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By Samantha Adkins


"Where is God?" Andreal asked, staring up at the ceiling of her grey cell. She had refused to take her sleeping pill and was, instead, reviewing her life. A short life and yet, tonight, it seemed infinite.

 

Her parents used to sit with her at night when she was a child and there were no surveillance cameras. At least, they weren't mandatory. They would whisper the stories; the boy who killed his brother, the man who built a great boat to save the animals, the man who was going to give his son to God, and the king who loved God. Before it was illegal, outlawed, and punishable by death.

 

The stories were cocooned within her, waiting to take flight. But there was nowhere for them to go. No way to set them free. There was no place left to hide – their world a tiny, contained bubble.

 

Did her sister remember? Clove tooked up the cell beside Andreal's. She knocked softly on the wall and heard Clove's soft reply.

PodOne

 

"Sleeping hours have commenced," the calm Voice entered her room. Andreal forced her eyes shut and rolled over, a tear slipping down her cheek; an invisible memorial to her mom and dad, dead now for seventeen months.

 

"Thanks for getting me in trouble." Clove nudged her while they waited in line for breakfast, stainless-steel trays clutched in their arms.

 

Andreal sighed and fretted over her long, dark braid.

 

"I'm just kidding, sis. I don't mind." Her sister was quick to bring peace.

 

"We never have a second to think," Andreal mumbled. The noise of the cafeteria gave them a brief opportunity to speak freely.

 

Clove squeezed her shoulder."They're just trying to keep us all safe – alive. It's the only way to make sure we're all being honest."

 

Andreal snorted. Did her sister really believe that garbage? It was their turn to receive the morning ration based on their weekly weigh-in and measurement. Everyone was fed according to their needs. Andreal noticed her bowl of stew weighed slightly more than her sister's.

 

"You must be growing," said Clove with a bright smile."About time!"

 

They received their perfectly formulated morning vitamin and mineral supplement and sat together at a long rectangular steel table, surrounded by other students dressed in matching grey uniforms from their Learning Academy. Overhead, sunlight was filtered through a protective glass to keep out harmful rays. Andreal was grateful she and Clove were so close in age. Another few months and they would rarely see one another.

 

Andreal took a bite of her tasteless breakfast and decided to question her sister. They were far enough from the camera not to be heard.

 

"Do you remember Abraham?" she tried to be nonchalant, but widened her eyes when Clove glanced at her to indicate yes, she meant that Abraham.

 

Clove looked hurriedly away and down to the safety of her meal."Yes," she muttered."Why do you ask?"

 

"Do you think it's true?" she said, meaning the part about an all-knowing God who cared for them.

 

"Why else would Mom and Dad…" she paused, quickly assessing the distance of the surveillance microphones. "Be gone?" she whispered.

 

"Then why doesn't He do something?" Andreal gritted her teeth and hid her lips behind her spoon.

 

"We must be patient and trust," Clove replied.

 

Their bowls were nearly empty. Soon they would be called to clean their teeth and then to morning classes.

 

"I'm having trouble believing," Andreal murmured.

 

"Ask for a sign." At least that's what Andreal thought her sister said. She was so quiet it was difficult to be sure.

 

So, she asked. Prayed quickly in her head that God would give her a sign that he existed. At least the Pod had not yet discovered a way to read their minds.

 

She took her place in their Learning Classroom. Her Personalized Learning Program greeted her as usual with her list of tasks and a graph of her progress from the day before as well as an overview of her performance that year.

 

"Good morning, Andreal," said her personal tutor Voice as she inserted her earpiece. "We will begin with morning exercises to awaken your senses and clear your mind as you listen to your Daily Affirmations."

 

Andreal started most mornings with exercise. About three quarters of the class did, while the rest seemed ready to delve right into deep writing or focused science. It was all based on each student's brain activity, heart rate and other learning readiness indicators.

 

She folded her work station into its resting space suspended above and began squats followed by running on the spot. There would be team games later; however, most students required this jumpstart on their day. She could feel the cobwebs of her late night drifting away, but she largely tuned out the Voice telling her, "You are an integral part of our community. Your work today prepares you to take your place amongst our people. You have only two years and forty-nine days before you step out of the Learning Academy into your perfect place of work. You are blessed to be born in this time period and in this place. Our forerunners built our self-sustaining pod to protect us from the violence, pollution, helplessness and hopelessness that has plagued our earth since time immemorial. Rejoice in the knowledge that your preparation today will lead to the continuation of our advanced way of life into the future.

 

"We offer our wisdom to the world at large in hopes that they will be inspired to take up our model of peace and sustainability. You have a purpose and a place in this great plan."

 

Andreal nearly fell out of plank position when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She looked left and found Pasha sticking out his tongue at her.

 

"Students should focus on their morning meditation and exercise. Student interaction should be avoided at this time," said the firm calm Voice in her head. Her daily performance graph would reflect all breaks in attention. Andreal rolled her eyes at her handsome, dark-eyed friend and moved into Cat's Pose.

 

After exercise and meditation, Andreal consumed 250 mL of purified water from her reusable bottle and then began her Business and Daily Life Mathematics. She was being trained as a personal counsellor. Her life work would be to listen to people share their thoughts and feelings. Of course, all sessions would be closely monitored by the Leaders. She would need mathematics to understand blood pressure, vitamin levels, heart rate and other health information. There would be calculations based upon this data as well as to keep track of time spent with each member of the community. She would need to know if her time was being used efficiently.

 

It was nothing like the mathematics her sister studied in order to become an architect. Future pods were always under development. Outside communities were constantly begging Pod One to build new pods to provide a sustainable life for the poor souls who had somehow managed to survive the torrential rains, penetrating winds and soaring temperatures for so long. Pod One was always seeking to improve their efficiency as well as that of their future projects. Clove had a mind for measurement and efficient design. Andreal wondered how they could both be so different.

 

Mathematics was completed in forty-five minutes and then it was Pod History. Andreal covered a yawn. She felt she'd been hearing the same story since she began at the Learning Academy ten years earlier. The destruction of the earth by greedy and ignorant men and women. The group of scientists working feverously to develop a self-sustaining pod with safe oxygen levels, food and water. How they used their minds to resist the temptation of selfishness and capitalism to live in a True Community. How they sacrificed their own backgrounds to create a future.

 

Penelope Malenov, Grant Ortberg, Joanna Haversham and Paul Lee – the Forerunners of true civilization. Next came a study of their lives of selflessness and ultimate happiness and a listing of the community members who came after them. Pod One committed themselves to purity of life. The members dedicated to building new pods were not to bring in outside news. Pod One must be protected at all costs.

 

Once the Pod was built, outsiders began to beg for admittance. The Forerunners realized their need for workers and so they organized a careful screening process, interviewing and testing applicants for admission into the Pod One community. Once selected, applicants went through vigorous training which involved giving absolute authority over to the Pod. Former allegiance to family, nationality, inheritance, religion and other ties must be forsaken for the betterment of the Community. Unity was imperative for survival. New members were required to sign their pledge in blood. Andreal would have to do the same when she turned seventeen and left the Learning Academy.

 

The History lesson ended abruptly to be continued with a reflective paper after Nutrition and Wellness Break. Students were allowed to run, jump and bounce basketballs in the Yard. This was a large, communal dome used for daily learning breaks, but also for community gatherings. It could easily be changed from turf to ice for ice skating to wood for music and dancing.

 

Pasha loped toward her, bouncing a basketball. "Care to play?" he said with a teasing wiggle of his eyebrows.

 

"Sure," she shrugged as if she had a million other offers. "Thanks for getting me a warning," she said and stole the ball from him.

 

"It was an accident!" he said, hands spread up in a supplication of innocence.

 

"How was poking me while you were reading an accident?" she narrowed her eyes and bounced a quick pass to him.

 

He caught the bounce. "I accidently noticed I could distract you. It wasn't premeditated. I just saw the possibility and acted."

 

She rolled her eyes. "Sounds like you need to review what the word'accident'means." She shook her head, caught his pass, dribbled and made a lay-up shot.

 

Pasha expertly caught the rebound and took it back out to centre court where he took two giant leaps, deeked, bounced and shot the ball which made a swoosh sound as it slid though the net.

 

Andreal regained possession and dribbled circles around her partner. The gym was noisy. It was probably safe to talk.

 

"Did your parents always obey Pod policy?" she asked and lost the ball to his quick maneuvering.

 

"Of course," he said, though his eyes widened in mockery.

 

"But they're still here, right?" she pressed.

 

"Yes. I see them on Sundays for lunch. They have a smaller apartment now that I've moved to the cells."

 

He took a shot, but missed. Andreal stopped her line of questioning long enough to take her own missed shot.

 

"My parents were dismissed," she said, breathless. Pasha must already know. "I wonder sometimes if I'll follow in their footsteps." She paused to take a sip of purified water. She and Pasha stopped the game to practice passing and shooting

 

"Why would you be dismissed?" His forehead furrowed. "Do you think they infected you or something?" he half-laughed, but looked concerned.

 

"I don't know," she gazed around them, worried they could be overheard. "I just don't want to lose the protection of the Pod," she said this a bit louder, to be safe.

 

Pasha placed a hand on her shoulder when a buzzer went off. "Students are reminded to keep their hands to themselves."

 

"My apologies," Pasha bowed slightly toward her, but his eyes were dancing.

 

"I accept your apology," she said loudly, but under her breath, she countered. "That's twice today, Pasha. I may need to write a report on you," but she chuckled.

 

"Oh no, Ms. Andreal. Please. It won't happen again," he countered.

 

She hoped it would. Even though her daily score would be lowered, it was worth the electrifying jolt.

 ~~~~

Andreal's parents had been given one year to learn Proper Language. They had come to the Pod to save their daughters, but they must have grown to regret that decision. Her parents used their first year to tell their daughters the stories of their people. They whispered the stories as the girls rose, ate breakfast, had dinner and did their chores. Each day, they could speak less and less of their own language, but still they would sing the stories as a lullaby before bed.

 

They taught their daughters symbols for the most important lessons. As if they were merely teaching them to count, one finger meant Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. Two fingers meant you should worship no other god's but the one true God. Three fingers meant you should not take God's name in vain.

 

Now, Andreal made the symbols with her fingers tapping at her side. But how could she love God when she wasn't allowed to talk about Him or learn anything about Him? How could she love Someone she wasn't sure existed?

 

She received the lowest score for her attention and work output that afternoon. She tried her best to complete the History assignment and to answer questions of understanding about the story she read in English class, but her mind kept filling, instead, with the story of a beautiful young woman.

 

She used to ask her mother to tell the story again and again – it was a favourite. "Okay, little one. There was an orphan girl who was lovely to behold. Her uncle adopted her and did his best to provide for her, but they were still quite poor. One day, the king's men spotted her and took her to his palace to prepare her to be his bride. She was given beauty treatments and the best foods in the hope that he would ask her to marry him. His first wife had humiliated him and so he had banished her."

 

"He sounds like a frightening man," Andreal would say.

 

"He certainly was," her mother agreed. "The young girl was afraid of him, but a little excited at the chance to be taken care of in such luxury. After her beauty treatments, the king indeed chose her to be his bride, to be queen. The girl's uncle encouraged her until one day he found out that the king's helper wanted to kill her uncle and all of her people.

 

"The girl was afraid to say anything and upset the king – you can see why she was so afraid – but her uncle warned her that if she didn't do her part, she would die. God would intervene to save the rest of her tribe, but she would not survive."

 

Andreal couldn't now remember the rest. How did it end? She had heard the story in another language, one she hardly remembered. She'd been so young. She kept trying to remember if the girl had been brave or had given into her fears and died. And what was her name?

 

Finally, she was released from the Learning Academy with her poor score, to work in the greenhouse, tending the plants. At least she would have some time to think.

 

Safe sunlight shone through the ceiling as it did in all rooms of the pod. However, each room was set to filter light differently. The greenhouse was especially bright and warm and all workers were required to wear sunglasses, hats and protective jumpers to keep them from burning or overheating.

 

Andreal thinned out radish and spinach seedlings, still trying to capture the rest of her mother's story. There had been something she did before she approached the king. She remembered Clove asking what it meant.

 

"What is 'fasting', Mother?" she said and their mother had given them a tiny smile.

 

"It's when a person chooses not to eat and uses the time and hunger to talk to God about something important," she had replied.

 

"Pray about it," Clove had told Andreal that morning.

 

Was it okay to ask God about His existence? Andreal finished one tray of seeds and moved on to the next.

 

Praying. Talking to God. It was something that wasn't allowed. After her parents' first year was complete, they were no longer able to use their language. However, they still had their number symbols.

 

Number four was the children's prayer. Andreal formed her fingers into a four and said the words in her head. May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. May God Bless you and guard you. May the light of God shine upon you, and may God be gracious to you. May the presence of God be with you and give you peace.

 

The words were still in her parents' language, but she understood them by some kind of magic. At the end of her prayer, she inserted her request. "God, please tell me if you are real. I need to know."

 

She let go of her four symbol and returned to her trays of seedlings.

 

Something shimmered at the corner of her eye. She turned to look at the slight disturbance and noticed someone appear out of nowhere. First, a trick of light and then there was a woman in the room. She was dressed in a protective garment unlike any Andreal had seen before. She continued walking without looking to her left or right, shook out her long golden hair and unzipped the garment. Andreal watched her until she was out of sight and then looked around to see if anyone else had seen what she had. There was no one else in the room. She stole a quick peek at the surveillance camera, but there was no Voice to correct her or to call her in for questioning. She returned to her work, wondering. She was quite certain it wasn't meant to be seen, but it filled her with energetic vibrations. She felt herself smiling again and again, without understanding why.

 ~~~~

Andreal had no chance to speak to Clove about her prayer or what she'd seen at dinner. Pasha chose to sit with them and kept them laughing at his antics throughout the meal.

 

"You should see your sister doing the plank," he teased and demonstrated with his knife and spoon. "She's supposed to be like this." He held his knife about the table, perfectly straight. "But instead she is like this." He took his spoon and had it bob and wave over and over.

 

Andreal took the spoon from his hand. No Voice corrected her this time. "He lies," she stated. "He's jealous of my high scores and is determined to lower them."

 

After dinner, they moved into the Media room to watch Bad News: Good News. It began, as always, with images of the world outside Pod One. There were nightly reminders of wars, pollution, death and sickness. Torn up streets were littered with starving children, bombed out apartments, and suicide bombers. A lake was destroyed by a plant belching out smoke. Trees burned. Sea creatures were being choked by an oil leak. The headlines and newscasters said it was all happening today, but the images were old. They'd seen them all before. There was no way to tell what was actually happening today.

 

The Bad News was followed, as the name suggested, by Good News. The student with the highest score was highlighted first. Then an especially juicy tomato was displayed. There was a swim race contest and the newest babies born in the breeding centre. There was never any bad news in the pod. Occasionally, another pod was highlighted, but no people were shown. It was usually an update on how development was coming and only people from Pod One were ever shown in the new pod.

 

After Bad News: Good News, students had several choices of how to spend the evening. There was swimming, reading, Reality T.V., walking or running in the Rec Centre, painting or board games. There was some variety in activities each evening, although one could always read or watch something in the media room.

 

There was little choice in reading. All books and magazines were written by members of Pod One. Andreal wondered what kind of books were outside. She'd seen books lined up on shelves in some of the ravaged apartments in Bad News. She wondered if any of them contained her mother's story about the beautiful young woman.

 

"Will you play a board game with me?" she asked her sister before she could go off with another friend. Clove watched her regular group gather to make plans, but she turned toward Andreal to smile and accept her invitation.

 

Familial bonds were allowed, but it was discouraged that they become too strong. The Pod guidelines encouraged mingling and acceptance of everyone. Andreal had already had three meals with her sister. They would have to spend time apart tomorrow if they didn't want a guideline reminder.

 

Andreal chose a game called Pod Builders which was set in different rooms in the Pod.

 

"Are you sure?" Clove asked. "You usually prefer card games."

 

Andreal shrugged. "I feel like this tonight."

 

Clove chuckled. "Okay.

 

They removed the rule sheet, game board, cards and pieces. The object of the game was to move through different rooms, collecting supplies to build a new pod. The rooms were laid out at random and then each player threw the dice to see who would begin.

 

"You start," Clove announced after she rolled a one and Andreal a five.

 

Andreal put her first game piece on the greenhouse.

 

"Wouldn't it be better to start at the Steel Plant?" her sister asked.

 

"The greenhouse has hidden benefits," Andreal said slowly, opening her eyes wide in the hopes that her sister would understand her double meaning. She held up her finger into the number one.

 

Clove gazed at her and then her finger. Andreal nodded almost imperceptibly. "It's your turn. You should meet me in the greenhouse.

 

"But only one person is allowed in a room at a time," but she held up her one symbol as well.

 

Andreal smiled. "I could share the greenhouse with you," she held up the fourth symbol as her sister moved her piece into the greenhouse.

 

"It's very kind of you to share," Clove said.

 

"I'll give you my food for three turns," Andreal continued and again held up her fourth symbol. She meant for Clove to understand that she wanted to fast and pray for three days.

 

"Three days is very generous," Clove replied. "It would weaken your game."

 

Andreal suddenly remembered the name of the girl in the story. "I'm naming my game piece Esther."

 

Her sister laughed. "What a great idea! I'll name mine Mordecai." She locked her eyes with Andreal's.

 

Andreal grinned. Mordecai. That was the name of Esther's uncle. Her sister understood!

 

"What should I give you in exchange for your three days of greenhouse supplies?" Clove asked.

 

"After three turns, you should join me back in the greenhouse," she replied after a moment's thought.

 

Clove narrowed her eyes and grinned. "What have you got planned, little sister?" she asked.

 

Andreal only raised her eyebrows in reply.

 

"Alright, I'll trust you."

 

Andreal let out a breath. "Good." She felt her whole face brighten.

 ~~~~

The only way she could fast in the Pod was to request that her Daily Food Ration be donated to the creation of a new pod. She approached the Rationing Agent and completed the digital form for three days.

 

"You've never given up your rations before," observed the agent. "I would recommend you begin with one day. It can be quite difficult."

 

Andreal pursed her lips. "I've made up my mind," she replied.

 

"It's very difficult to reverse the donation," the agent continued. "Plus, it is shameful."

 

"I won't be changing my decision," she said firmly.

 

The agent studied Andreal, then nodded her head once. "Very well. Thank you for your generosity. You must wear this lanyard for the full three days. Then, please return it to me for reuse."

 

Andreal took the tag which said Meal Donation, March 22 – 24 and hung it around her neck. She smiled at the agent and walked to her room to prepare to sleep.

 ~~~

The next morning, she went to the meal room and said hello to her sister, but did not sit with her. Neither did she sit with Pasha. She wanted to steer clear of any reason for reprimand during her three days.

 

"You're not eating?" Maxin asked through a mouthful of breakfast.

 

"That's right," she replied, trying not to stare at his food.

 

"I couldn't do it," said Forist. "I'm always hungry." Her small frame showed no evidence of hunger. She looked healthy and compact.

 

"I'm sure you could." Andreal smiled, but her stomach rumbled. She did her best to complete her exercises and school work, but she was distracted by the groaning of her stomach and felt weak and headachy. She began to doubt her decision.

 

"Lord, help me," she prayed when her arms shook in plank position. They steadied ever so slightly.

 

At mealtime, she asked to be excused to read in the book room. The idea of watching her classmates eat when her stomach was knotting was too much.

 

"May I go there for all three days?" she asked the supervisor.

 

"Harder than you thought?" he said, eyeing her lanyard with a smirk.

 

"Yes," she replied, wishing she could yank the sandwich from his hands.

 

She searched for her father's contribution to the book collection: his paper on breeding butterflies in the Pod. She'd never read it before, but now that the idea came to her, she felt ashamed she hadn't done so earlier. It was the only thing she had left of her parents.

 

The paper was part of a collection written five years earlier. Each year, members of the Pod were invited to share what they had learned and to pass it on for historical purposes.

 

"Reproduction of Monarch Butterflies in Earth Pod 1.0." He recorded his many failures and few successes in 2111.

 

"The strong pull of migration makes it difficult for the species to survive in captivity. Specimens congregate wherever there is natural light at the time of migration. Attempts to move them through the Pod in an artificial migration have been unsuccessful. Only those allowed out have a chance of survival. This tester recommends allowing outside Monarchs to return once they have been released from the Pod. All other tests have proven futile."

 

Like the people who chose to leave the Pod, butterflies were not allowed back in. Pollution of the purity of the Pod was cited as the reason. Doors of immigration had closed ten years ago. Reproduction under supervision had been instigated five years earlier. New members of the pod would only be introduced in the lab. The old system of randomly finding a mate and producing offspring was far too fallible. Artificial insemination was predictable and led to a much higher rate of success. It made sure that infertile women were spared the agony of unsuccessful pregnancy while fertile women contributed to the continuation of their species. Intercourse was still allowable, but only with proper precautions. No child must be born in this archaic way – it led to complicated relationships and unnecessary attachment. In order to have sex, a couple must fill in forms and complete a class.

 

Couplings were closely monitored by Relationship Counsellors. It seemed to Andreal that there was a sigh of relief when a passion had run its course. She knew their daily vitamins contained something to dull these tempestuous emotions; she had learned this as part of her Counselling Course. However, sexual attraction had not yet been eradicated.

 

Healthy young women were still necessary in order to produce children; however her science lessons assured her that everything was being done to remove this burden from women. The development of artificial vessels which could carry a fetus to term were of the highest priority. It was only a matter of time before they would replace the unpredictable human body. Her mother had worked in this department. Andreal wondered if she had ever shared a paper on her research.

 

"Students are required to return to the Learning Academy for afternoon classes," the Voice announced. Andreal shelved the book containing her father's research and returned to her Work Station.

 

That evening and the following day, she searched for her mother's work. She began, methodically, with the year her parents arrived at Pod One. The collections from each year were thick and heavy. She would pull one book down and run her finger along the table of contents. Then she would check the list of contributors in the back. During dinner on the second evening of her fast, she found her mother's name.

 

Naomi Penney contributed to an article on embryo termination, but when Andreal went back to the table of contents, the piece was not there. She began to study the book page by page, in the hopes that the article had somehow been missed in the Table of Contents, but then dinner ended and the room began to fill with other students. She stood up, stretched, returned the book to its place and went in search of her sister.

 

Clove was in the Yard, selecting a badminton racquet.

 

"Can I play?" Andreal asked.

 

Her sister smiled and said, "Of course."

 

Andreal's reflexes were slower and she felt the need to stop and rest, but she pushed herself anyway. She did her best to ignore the hunger.

 

"One more day," her sister patted her shoulder when they were called back to their rooms.

 

Andreal was panting. "Yes," she smiled, "one more day. Have you arranged to visit the greenhouse on Friday?"

 

Fear passed over her sister's face, but she covered it with a smile. "Yes, I have permission to miss my work in the steel plant that day. I think it will be good to have a better idea of how plants grow when inventing future pods."

 

"Yes," Andreal agreed, impressed with her sister's ability to lie. "That's exactly what I was thinking."

 

They dropped the subject then, but Andreal flashed the number four symbol as they said goodnight in the hallway and her sister returned the gesture. If only they could somehow share their thoughts. Hopefully soon.

 ~~~~

Andreal grew frustrated with her tedious progress through the collection of research from two years ago. Her eyes were dry and gluey and there was only ten minutes left before the end of lunch when she turned a page and found it opened differently than the others. She looked at the two pages open before her and saw that one essay ended and another began. She read the words on each page, but they revealed nothing. Then, she noticed the page numbers. Pages 425-438 were missing. She spread the pages more widely and saw there seemed to be a wider space between these pages than the others in the book. The article had not merely been ripped out; all traces of the paper had been removed. But they'd forgotten the page numbers. This must have been it. What had her mother written?

 

"All students, please return to the Learning Academy." Andreal couldn't help glancing at the surveillance camera. She closed the book and slid it back onto the shelf. Even though she hadn't actually broken any guidelines, she hoped no one had seen her close study of the book.

 ~~~~

"You got extra rations," Pasha noticed the next morning. "You must have lost weight."

 

Andreal was afraid she would drool if she replied, so she merely shrugged and did her best not to run to the table so she could start eating. She'd lain away most of the night, too hungry and anxious to fall asleep. Even the sleeping pill couldn't push away her thoughts.

 

She was halfway through her bowl of stew before she registered Pasha's teasing voice. "Earth to Andreal!" He had his hands cupped around his mouth.

 

"Sorry," she muttered. "What is it?"

 

"Are you ready for your assessment?" he repeated.

 

Andreal had forgotten about their monthly assessment. Each student would be called in by the Learning Committee to review their progress and contentment. She wondered if she would be able to hide her agitation.

 

"I hope they go easy on you," Pasha said. "You're really not yourself today. Remind them of your food donation."

 

"Good idea," she said. She drank her purified water, feeling it replenishing her body. She wanted more, but she'd finished everything.

 

"Good morning," said Headmistress Dormer. "It's good to see you again, Andreal.

 

Four adults sat at a round table with an empty chair before them. They smiled benignly, as if they were sending all their good wishes for the future generation through their faces.

 

"Please be seated." The Headmistress motioned toward the empty chair.

 

"Thank you," Andreal replied.

 

"We understand you have donated your meals toward building another pod," Master Thomar said.

 

"That's correct," Andreal said.

 

"How very generous," Mistress Salome said. "How are you today?"

 

"Very well," Andreal said.

 

"Are you feeling up to your assessment?" the Headmistress asked.

 

"Yes, thank you," she said, although she felt a tremor in her hands.

 

The four instructors took turns asking questions from Andreal's studies over the past month. She relaxed slightly in the expected format of question and answer while the adults consulted their tablets. They looked at her occasionally to give her a reassuring nod.

 

"Very good, Andreal," Headmistress Dormer said. "There is just one more question." She looked toward Master Thomar, who continued her thought.

 

"Andreal, we noticed you were puzzling over a certain book in the reading room. A collection of research from two years previous."

 

Andreal wondered if she should lie, but it was against her nature and teaching.

 

"I was looking for a paper by my mother," she said, looking each instructor directly in the eye. "It's been removed from the collection. I want to know what she wrote."

 

Andreal noticed their eyes widening.

 

The Headmistress answered in a smooth voice. "You must be mistaken. Occasionally, there can be an error in printing. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We will take in the book for repairs."

 

Andreal rushed on. "The paper was removed," she said. "Please, I want to read it. It was my mother's work. The last thing I have of hers."

 

There was the briefest flicker around the Headmistresses eyes. She was not pleased. She made a notation on her tablet.

 

"I will be recommending that you be readmitted into counselling," she said calmly. "At your age, it is quite normal to have questions, especially if your parents have passed on." Here, she paused to look directly into Andreal's eyes. "Pod One has your best interests in mind. You must turn your trust and respect toward us. We are your parents now."

 

Andreal shivered at the underlying threat. They wanted her to forget her parents. She nodded, as if in acquiescence. Her truth had been answered with a lie.

 ~~~~

Andreal fought the desire to drift from her studies all day. She was grateful for activity breaks to give her mind a rest from the battle. The day could not pass quickly enough. Her nervousness escalated as she strode toward the greenhouse. She wanted to cry with relief when she saw Clove was already there.

 

"I'm so looking forward to this," her sister greeted her.

 

Andreal wanted to hug and cling to her only remaining relative, but instead, she led her to the trays of seedlings, explaining the mechanics of the watering and feeding systems. Clove did such a good job of appearing interested and asking pertinent questions, that Andreal wondered if she understood what they were about to do. She led them slowly toward the portal, teaching her sister to test the soil for moisture as they went.

 

At last they arrived at their destination. Andreal prayed her sister would understand when she made the number one symbol above the plants and then strode toward what seemed to be a mere wall. Her sister followed directly behind her and Andreal took a deep breath of hope and faith.

 

"Please return to your work," the Voice projected just as they reached the wall. Andreal quickened her pace and felt her sister's arm on her shoulder. Suddenly there was a piercing noise. The ground shook and something fell on top of them. Andreal's world turned black.

 ~~~~

She awoke in a cream-coloured cell with a muted window. Something wasn't right. A pain in her face made her wince, which only made it hurt more. She reached up to touch her cheek.

 

"I wouldn't do that," said a calm, smiling voice beside her.

 

Andreal turned to see a tall, thin woman with long, straight blonde hair. Her face was perfectly symmetrical and her teeth gleamed white. She wore the tunic of a Counsellor.

 

"Your attempt to leave the Pod has left you with permanent injuries," she continued. "Your face has been stitched, but there will be scars."

 

Andreal dropped her arm to her side and took a sharp breath, sending shooting pains through her chest.

 

"You have also broken two ribs, but you will heal. You are fortunate to be young. The Pod will forgive your actions. Our scientists are striving to control the unpredictable emotions of puberty. Much of the ravages of hormones have been contained, but yours seem to be particularly strong."

 

"Where is Clove?" Her voice sounded hoarse.

 

"Ah, well, unfortunately, your little act of rebellion has cost you dearly. You tried to bring your sister into your scheme. She did not survive."

 

Andreal heard an inhuman shriek. The blonde woman hurried to cover Andreal's mouth with a rubber pad. The scream stopped.

 

"There is no need for that," she said sternly. "We are beyond such barbaric displays."

 

"I was searching for God." Andreal was panting. Agony filled every part of her.

 

The counsellor tisked. "Your parents obviously disobeyed Pod guidelines. Pod One has eliminated the need for God. It was an archaic construct, invented for poor, helpless, lonely people. People outside the Pod may still need something to give them hope and purpose for their pathetic lives, but Andreal, we have everything and more than an imaginary god could ever provide. We are safe, have enough food and are each given purposeful work, exactly suited to our interests and abilities. What on earth do you want God for?"

 

Tears leaked from the corner of Andreal's eyes.

 

"Now, all you need to do is confess your mistake and I will give you everything you need to be comfortable again. The Pod will forgive you tonight on Bad News: Good News and in a few short days you will be ready to resume preparations to become a Counsellor, just like me." She smiled as if perfectly assured that this was what Andreal wanted. "Perhaps you may even use this experience to strengthen your effectiveness as a Counsellor."

 

"I didn't make a mistake," she replied lowly. "I chose to leave. If my parents died for God, then I won't live without Him."

 

The smile left the Counsellor's face. Her plump red lips pushed together into a thin, white line. "I will bring you your prescription." She uncrossed her legs and stood up. "You're obviously still in shock."

 

"Yes, I am in shock," her voice rose, "but I've made up my mind." She struggled to sit up, but fell back, gasping.

 

The counsellor shot a look at the surveillance camera and moved closer. Her voice was steel. "You will regret this for the rest of your life. You are choosing death."

 

"Better death than this," Andreal rasped and fell back onto her pillow, longing to join her family.


Samantha Adkins is the author of Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice, Subgirl, Subgirl Returns and Not As They Appear, all available on Amazon. She lives with her family on a charming island on the West Coast of Canada.

Blog: http://www.austengurl.blogspot.ca

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