Julian touched his hand to the wall beside the door and a single light flicked on above us. There was no light switch as far as I could tell. There was nothing on the wall at all. When he noticed my bewildered gaze, he smirked and touched the wall again. A circuit board slid out from a panel in the wall the size of a tile. Miniscule lights flashed continuously and randomly. He motioned for me to look closer. Tiny buttons etched into the circuit board turned on different lights in the house. “Press one.” I did as he said and suddenly another light turned on. Amused, Julian pushed the board back into the wall and the panel mechanically slid closed, hiding the buttons in its depths.
“Let’s get to work,” Julian prompted. I went to sit down but I realized he had no furniture. I looked at him questioningly but he just sat on the floor. “I can’t have furniture because I burn everything I touch,” he explained.
“Is that…” I trailed off. Of course it wasn’t normal. There was no sense in asking. “Never mind.”
“I still haven’t figured out how to turn off the fire. It comes and goes as it pleases.”
I nodded. “Does it hurt?”
“Not me. For others I’m sure it does.”
“Remind me never to get close to you.”
“Mental note added.”
We sat in the middle of what I assumed was his living room for over three hours talking about how I’d get into Central, what I’d do once I was over the gate, and when I should return. In exchange for retrieving what he wanted, he’d get me something that I wanted.
“Can you get me a mirror?” I queried.
“I think I have one.”
He got up and bounded up the stairs before I could say anything. Mirrors here weren’t for admiring yourself. I mean, you could if you wanted to, but that wasn’t the purpose. Mirrors were a form of communication between people of different colonies. It was quite simple actually. Say the name of the person you wish to communicate with and then wave your hand over the glass. If it was done correctly, a bright blue light should emanate from the glass before the image of the person shows up in it. The sound of shuffling and doors slamming captured my attention. Soon enough, Julian came running back down the stairs with a mirror in hand.
“Here.” He shoved it into my hands and stared at me expectantly. “Well? Aren’t you going to try it?”
“It’s not that important…” I hedged.
“If you say so.”
He flicked his hair out of his eyes and for the first time I caught a good look at his face. He didn’t seem much older than me. When I questioned his age I wasn’t surprised to find that he was my age. His ancestors were from the old colony of Province. No wonder he was so intense looking. He had a sharp nose and an oval shaped face. He had deep set eyes with hooded lids, adding to his severe looks. His hair was a medium chestnut color with underlying tones of yellow in his windswept fringe. I’d never met anyone from Province. Mariana was from a colony formerly known as Occident. I was used to her strange looks by now. I wondered if I looked as strange to people as they did to me.
“What?” I blurted, unaware of the question I was just asked.
“Where are you from?”
“I don’t know.”
“Didn’t your parents tell you?”
“I don’t know who my parents were. They’re dead.”
Stunned into silence by my confession, Julian stood and went over to the fridge, attempting to distract himself. He offered me a drink but I declined. He returned with a single glass of water and a stainless steel cylindrical bottle the size of a prescription medication bottle. I watched him unscrew the cap, pop a pill in his mouth, and chase it down with a swig of water.
“Want one?” he offered.
“What is it?”
So he was a nut-job. I knew it!
“You think I’m crazy,” he stated. It wasn’t a question. It was more of an accusation. “I won’t argue with you because I am a bit whacked out.” He tightened his hands around the glass, his knuckles turning white. “But I get through it. Alone.”
So his parents were dead too. I felt bad for asking. “Siblings?”
“A supposed lost brother. I’ve never met him.”
He scoffed. “You think I have friends?”
I didn’t respond. He was pretty much just like me. No parents. No siblings. No friends. I didn’t ask him any other questions for fear he’d start crying. From the corner of my eye I watched his hands shake as he brought the glass up to his lips, downing the rest of the water.
Later on that night, we pushed aside our personal conversations and went to sleep. There were no beds in his house but at least the floors were heated. I stared up at his ceiling which simulated the night sky. It wasn’t an accurate simulation considering shooting stars don’t come by every ten minutes. Tired of staring at something I’d never comprehend, I rolled onto my side and willed myself to fall asleep.
In the morning we set out to the edge of District. Julian wasn’t setting the grass on fire with each step he took this time. The gates wouldn’t be up until ten every night. If I could make it back in time, there would be no need for me to experiment with my “teleportation power”.
“Well, have fun,” Julian said, patting me on the back.
Have fun? No ‘good luck’? I stepped over the border and trekked towards the towering buildings of Central. I could already feel my heart pounding in my chest. I’d never been this far from home. I wondered what would await me once I made it to Central. Would the streets be paved with gold just as I had heard? Would there be cameras in the streets so that the government could watch the citizens day and night? Would there be the glistening glass building known as Central Headquarters? I would just have to wait and see.
Central Headquarters was pretty much where the King and his son lived. Headquarters was where all the court cases went through and on judgment day, the accused would go there to hear their sentence. Very rarely was anyone sentenced to death. We didn’t believe in that. The most a person would get is exile to Austral and no one wanted that. That’s why there was so little crime.
What was it that I wanted in Central? I wanted to find out who my parents were. I wanted to know my own history. Who I was. Who I could’ve been. Julian was just my excuse to work up the nerve to go. He wanted my help in finding his lost brother. I had two weeks to find him. I was filled with consternation. How exactly could I find this brother of his with all he gave me to go by? I dared not tell him that though. The money he was willing to pay would be my only incentive for making this trip. Lightning crackled across the desolate sky and shortly after the rumble and screech of thunder followed. Pulling the hood of my cloak over my head, I braced myself for the oncoming rain. An ominous feeling hung in the air, prefiguring how my visit to Central would be. I walked slowly, watching my feet hit the cracked clay earth with every step. There was no nature. Nature no longer existed after a certain point. Technology had taken over.
Central had the only three schools in the colonies. The lowest level school was for those who wanted to become lower level workers such as factory workers, teachers, gatekeepers, and clock workers. Clock workers were in control of the time. I’ve heard rumors of a large clock tower sitting in the middle of downtown Central. Clock workers essentially managed the inner workings of such a large clock. They keep the gears well-oiled and made sure the bell tolled signaling noon and midnight.
Mid-level school was designed for those wanting to enter into fields such as medicine, engineering, demographics, and accounting. Engineers usually were the people making advances in our technology. They created and improved the technology we used. A renowned engineer of our time was Dr. Malfoy Netsky. He invented Central’s primary transportation system known as The Sky Tubes. The Sky Tubes were not what the name implied. There aren’t just random tubes floating in the sky. They were actually an underground system of tubes that take you directly to your destination. Sort-of like a waterslide type of thing but there are separate tubes per person. From what I’ve heard, you’d lay down in them and a transparent cover would close over you. They can also expand to fit two people if you’d like to economize. At the end of your ride, there was an exit in your workplace or school. There was an automated booth which takes your money and then you were all set.
Upper-level school was for aspiring government officials, lawyers, senators, and whatnot. Anything that had to do with government, you can bet you’ll be attending the upper-level school. There was an admission test before you could be admitted unlike the other schools. Only the smartest people ever passed the admission test. No one ever knew what was on the admission test and it is an oral test, so no answers can be written down and saved in case they decided to reuse a question from a previous year. It was all very organized and systematic. There were absolutely no loop holes or wiggle room. Either you got the question correct or you got it incorrect. I’d dreamed of attending upper-level school when I was younger. I wanted to be a lawyer. Too bad it was too far out of my reach.
I could never become one of them. I didn’t belong.