“So you can rest assured that we are safe, and in a high position in the war.” We are safe and in a high position. Does he seriously believe we are going to believe these lies? We are not safe, and definitely not in a high position. We are thirsty, scared, cold, and low in morale. That is what we are. They have assembled all of us out here to stand in the bitter cold to listen to this propaganda.
“Safe? This is war! No one is safe! No one!” That’s Carson. He is the most hot headed and impulsive person I know. And trust me, I know some pretty hot tempered people. He thinks he can do something in our shattered world. I think he actually thinks he can change it. But we all know he’s more bark than bite.
“And our position, is about as low as it gets!” He continues. Why does he always feel the need to state the obvious?
“Our only advantage is food! Most of our water is contaminated and we have no weapons! You are liars! Liars!” These are the last words he manages to get out before being dragged into the President’s mansion by the guards.
President Collins clears his throat.
“You may now proceed with your usual activities.” The wall of guards surrounding us break into two lines and start to march into the mansion.
I am just starting to walk away when someone calls out my name.
“Aima! Aima!” I turn around. Laurie is running through the crowd towards me, shoving people out of her way.
“Laurie, you shouldn’t push people like that,” I scold once she reaches me. She pants and her breath hangs in the air before it fades away. It has to be about forty degrees.
“Aima!” She exclaims. I roll my eyes. She can be so over dramatic sometimes.
“We found some!” My eyebrows draw together in confusion.
“Found what?” I ask.
Purifiers may not seem like a big deal to you. But it is. At least here it is. All the water inside and surrounding North America has been contaminated with some kind of poison that makes you sick if it enters your body or comes in contact with your skin for too long. Purifiers are very hard to make and even harder to find. We all get rations of water each day, but it is very small due to the amount they use for the crops. We have a total of fifteen-million three-hundred eighty-one thousand six-hundred and six purifiers here. That may sound like a lot, but that is a very small amount for a third of a continent.
“Come on!” Laurie calls, as we run to her house. The cold air stings my lungs in such a way that they feel like they’re on fire.
By the time we get to her house, I’m panting like a dog that’s been out in the sun too long. Laurie opens the door and gestures me inside. Once we are both inside, she slams the door shut and dashes into the kitchen. I follow closely behind her.
“See?!” She says. “Real Bravousian purifiers!”
My mouth drops open. Four silver and white capsules are sitting on the kitchen counter in front of me. This isn’t possible. We are thousands of miles apart from Bravous. How did their high tech purifiers get here?
“Where did you find these?” I ask. Laurie smiles.
“My dad found them while he was hunting for deer,” she replies. “They had washed up onto land.”
I walk closer to the counter and touch one of the purifiers with my index finger. The surge of joy I feel quickly fades. Why would Bravous waste perfectly good purifiers? Unless…
“Laurie, have you guys tested the purifiers yet?” Laurie blinks and her smile vanishes.
“Well, no. Not yet,” she whispers. “But my dad is out right now getting water so we can test them.”
I nod. I walk out of the kitchen, into the living room, and sit down on the green couch. The purifiers might as well not be there now. Bravous probably threw them out because they don’t work. What’s the point of getting my hopes up when there is such a high possibility of their failure? All they’re doing is giving me a false hope.
Laurie strolls over and sits down beside me. We both stare up at the useless TV bolted to the wall in front of us. TVs don’t work here, courtesy of the Mass Disunion. Phones don’t work either. Or computers, tablets, gaming systems, and just about every other high tech device you can think of.
It’s not because all of them are broken, it’s because the Disunion pretty much destroyed the internet.
Technology works in Bravous. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. They are in the best known position in the war. They have the American President and the Canadian Prime Minister.
Impressera, on the other hand, is not anywhere near winning the war. The only weapons we possess are the ones owned by the citizens. Not to mention we have the smallest population in the Tris.
The whole war is stupid in my opinion. Bravous said that they are going to try to “sustain life on their own grounds instead of risking the life of the entire continent.” They said they only have enough manpower to provide purifiers for themselves and themselves alone. Well the message has been received! They’re going to help themselves and leave the rest of us to die at the hands of starvation and thirst.
“Hello, Aima.” I jolt as the voice yanks me out of the sea of thoughts. I look up to see who it belongs to, and find Laurie’s dad looking back at me.
“Sorry!” He exclaims. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” I shake my head.
“Hi, Mr. Hall. It’s alright.” He gives Laurie a look that I register as anger and rushes to the kitchen. He makes an ill attempt at hiding his buckets of water. I wonder how he inconspicuously got them here?
Although blocked from view, I hear him slam the buckets down on the counter. His anger is no mystery to me. From the moment Laurie said they found purifiers I knew she would be in trouble. Her parents had undoubtedly told her not to tell a single soul about the purifiers. They had wanted them to themselves.
It is illegal to harbor water, pure or contaminated, and especially illegal to harbor purifiers in one's home without permission from the government. But there’s no guarantee that the purifiers will be used for your specific area if you turn them in. The purifiers are always transported to the neediest area of Impressera. Which is not ours, even though we’re barely hanging on.
Mr. Hall marches back into the living room in what I’m sure is his greatest attempt at walking calmly due to his state of rage.
“Do you mind if I steal Laurie for a minute?” He asks. He is trying to sound tranquil, but has an explicit restraint in his voice.
“No, I don’t mind.” I reply, quickly shooting Laurie a look of worry. She swallows nervously in return, but doesn’t retaliate as he leads her upstairs.
I do not dislike the Halls for their choice about the purifiers since I know my own parents and I myself would have done it. All of us are genuinely nice to each other on the streets and in the stores, but when it comes down to who gets water, no one turns their purifiers in to the government and no one risks sharing it with their neighbors. We all take care of our own. Cold in a sense, but certainly understandable.
Yells emit from upstairs, but the walls are too thick and distort them to the point that they’re indecipherable. First I hear Mr. Hall’s low, booming voice yell, and then I hear Laurie’s higher pitched voice scream back. This goes on for about ten minutes until I hear the whoosh and bang as the door flies open and hits the wall.
“Do it!” I hear Mr. Hall yell with more fury than I knew he possessed. I immediately stand in a state of shock.
Laurie scrambles down the stairs and rushes over to me. Tears pour down her red face. I don’t think even the sky could cry as hard as she is.
“You have to go,” she squeaks, staring at the floor. “And you can’t come back until further notice,” she just manages to finish the sentence, her voice cracking on the last word, before she bursts into sobs and dashes up the stairs.
Dad pulls the door open casually.
“Hey, Darling. We couldn’t find you after the assembly, where you been?” I step inside and he closes the door behind me.
“I was over at Laurie’s. She wanted to show me one of her new drawings,” I lie. Laurie loves to draw and isn’t too bad either. She’s always trying to show me her new drawings so it’s not like my alibi is unbelievable.
“That’s cool. That Laurie really looks up to you.” I cross over to the couch and plop down. I didn’t realize how exhausted the walk home made me. All the way here I kept trying to wrap my head around why Laurie would tell me about the purifiers. I reminded myself that she’s just a wide eyed twelve year old who doesn’t really understand what’s going on. Who doesn’t understand the danger we’re all in. But knowing that, why would Mr. Hall yell at her like that? Yes, she told me about the purifiers and she should be punished for it, but she was only excited. She wasn’t telling for the purpose to anger him and he has to know that. Plus, he also knows my family and I aren’t the type of people to report him. So why so harsh? I don’t no. Maybe I’m just being paranoid. But I’ll never get the image of Laurie crying out of my head. I’ve never seen her in any state but pure joy.
“What did she draw a picture of?” Dad asks. Suddenly the sound of tiny little feet pounding on the floor fill the house. Dad and I watch as two toddlers trample the stairs beneath their feet.
“Yay! Aima!” Lilly exclaims, running up and hugging my legs. Dason hops up onto the couch beside me and lies his head on my shoulder.
“You were gone too long,” he pouts. “Where were you?” I sigh. My little siblings. I love them to death, but that doesn’t change how tiring they are. Lilly climbs up on he other side of me.
“Want to play hide and seek?” She asks.
“Don’t smother her to death!” Dad exclaims. “She just got home! Let her rest!” I manage to get up the stairs and into my room with the help of Dad’s remark. I lie down on my bed and immediately fall asleep.
“Beep!” When I wake up I have no idea where I am or what time it is. I sit up and realize that I’m in my room, but that doesn’t tell me what time it is. “Beep! Beep! Beep!” I glance at my clock. Seven thirty. I clench my hand into a fist and hammer down on the stop button.
Time for school. Yay. I stretch out my back and yawn as I climb out of bed. I slept for that long? I shake my head in an unsuccessful attempt at clearing the grogginess from it.
I drag myself into my bathroom to take a shower.I open the door and reach for the knob in my shower labeled “Hot”. I drop my hand in disappointment as I remember that I can’t take a shower. The water’s contaminated. It’s been a month and I’m still having trouble remembering the new way to bathe. I take off my clothes, grab my soap, and squirt some into my hands. I rub my hands together and douse my body in soap. This is the only way all of us can currently get clean. I wish I hadn’t taken showers for granted. The water could be freezing cold and I would still take one. I grab a towel from my towel rack and start rubbing the soap off my skin. Once I’ve changed into my clothes, and brushed my teeth with the absence of water, I shuffle down the stairs into the kitchen. Lilly and Dason are already at the counter eating and I sit down between them.
“Good morning, Sleepyhead!” Mom exclaims. I didn’t get to see her yesterday due to my exhaustion. She turns away from the stove and sits a bowl full of tepary beans in front of me. I recoil at it.
We have eaten these beans every day since the Mass Disunion. The Mass Disunion occurred a month ago. It’s all we can afford with the prices so high. Prices have gone up due to the shortage of food. Food is in low stock due to the shortage of water. Apparently they are extremely drought tolerant and grow rapidly here in Arizona. At least in what is left of Arizona. It was ripped in half during the Disunion.
I remember one day Dason had a tantrum and screamed “No more beans!” at the top of his lungs and refused to stop. It took a total of forty-five minutes to calm him down. About five minutes into his revolt, Lilly joins in and they both end up getting whipped with Dad’s belt. Dason's six and Lilly’s only four so they definitely have no idea what’s going on. I’m sixteen and I wanted to have a tantrum myself at the time.
Once I’m done shoveling the bean mush into my mouth, I hop down from the stool and start heading for the door.
“Wait!” Mom calls after me. “Your bag!” I stop in my tracks, spin around, and start running to the stairs. I grab my bag, yell a thank you to her for reminding me, and rush out the door.
I shiver as the cold fresh air of the morning hits my body. I’m glad it isn’t that long a walk to get to school.
School got up and running five days ago. The government hadn’t been planning on resuming it so early since they have bigger matters to worry about. They told everyone to homeschool their kids until it did. But after over ten-million complaints from the east alone, they rethought their idea of canceling school. People complained about not having the knowledge, strength, or tools they needed to teach their children. With this evidence obtained they decided to resume school with the compromise that all teachers will not be paid.
I don’t particularly like President Collins, but I think this is a good move on his part.
As I walk to school I glance down at my watch, which many people have now considering the current state of technology. It says it’s seven fifty-six. I break out into a run.
I burst into the classroom just as the bell rings. Eyes look up from their textbooks and rest on me. My chest heaves from my recent sprint. I try to ignore all of my fellow classmates, but I know I’m blushing.
“Ms. Smith!” Mrs. Gertrude exclaims. “You are late! But since you almost made the bell I will have mercy!” I cringe at the volume of her voice and her overstrained British accent. I start to walk towards my desk, avoiding all eye contact when she adds,
“What do you say?”
My cheeks grow five shades darker.
“Thank you,” I mumble. I take my seat beside Nori. I look over and see Carson, the same one from the assembly, struggling to contain his laughter. He looks me in the eye and laughs harder. I look away from him. How does an idiot like him think he can change the Tris?
Nori leans over and whispers, “We’re on page thirty-two.” I nod, pull my current history book out of my bag, and turn to the page. Chapter Two: The Mass Disunion is written in big letters at the top.
We no longer learn past events in history, only current events. I am sick and tired of it though. We all know what the Mass Disunion is. We all know what the Tri-countries are. We all know what happened.
“We’re supposed to read-” Nori starts.
“Let me guess,” I cut off. “Until the bell rings.” Nori nods. I know that because that’s what we do every single day in Mrs. Gertrude’s class. I wonder why she’s here, it’s not like she gets paid anything. She’s working under the Scholar Compromise, the compromise I mentioned earlier. The government also said that school is not mandatory unless a parent chooses to enroll their child, in which case it becomes mandatory for the child. The child will be expected to attend school every day unless they are sick, have a family crisis, etcetera. The child’s mandatory attendance can only be revoked if when the school year ends their parents decide not to enroll them for next year, or the school shuts down. A school is most likely to shut down when there aren’t enough teachers to teach every subject, or if the teachers and/or the community can’t provide educational books that are needed. You are allowed to make these books by hand. A teacher has to have a license or proof of a license to teach, and if not that, they must pass a test for their subject, or tests if they’re applying for more than one subject.
I had hope that she would actually start teaching at first, but now it’s obvious that Mrs. Gertrude doesn’t have a passion for teaching, so why is she doing it without any pay?
I am yanked from my thoughts by a sharp jolt in the ribs from Nori.
“Aima, you have to start reading! You know what will happen if you don’t,” she whispers.
Yes, I most definitely know. On my first day of school, Mrs. Gertrude caught me talking to Nori instead of reading, and she made us both tell her what the chapter was about before the bell rang. We both got detention.
I look down at my book and quickly start to read.
Once there was a continent called North America. It was a peaceful land, that consisted of the countries the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico ( formerly the United Mexican States), along with the seven countries contained in Central America. We, the United States of America, and all the other countries of the continent lived in harmony and were devoted to helping one another. But on August 7, 2020, a weapon of mass destruction from an unknown country struck from beneath North America and tore it apart into three countries known as the Tri-Countries, our past continent’s current state. This event is known as the Mass Disunion. The Tri-Countries include: Impressera (Us), Guvinia, and Bravous. When the Mass Disunion occurred, the weapon of mass destruction contaminated all the water surrounding North America (and the water currently inbetween the Tris) for over three hundred miles! The Disunion -“Bring!”
The bell startles me. Reading about the Disunion brought all the memories flooding back. I wish we could just skip this part. Move on to the war or something else that a lot of people actually don’t know a lot about. Or anything really. Anything but this.
Everyone starts getting their stuff and leaving. I grab my bag and shove my history book into it as I walk to the door.
“Wait up!” Nori calls after me. I stand by the doorway until she catches up and we walk out of the classroom and to our lockers. I put away my history book and take out my math book. I hate math. Especially in the morning.
“So, why were you late today?” Nori asks casually.
“I was just really tired and lost track of time,” I reply. Nori gives me a weird look. What’s wrong with her? What else would I be doing?
Once she’s gotten her book, we both start to walk down the hall to math class. Carson’s ahead of us, surrounded by his posi of wannabe cool kids. That guy makes me sick.
“What do you say, Ms. Smith?” He says to his group as we walk by. I roll my eyes as they laugh, but don’t say a word. He’s not worth my concern.
We enter into Mr. Bailey’s (our math teacher) classroom and take our seats. Carson and his gang, along with many others, come in shortly after us and take theirs.
The bell rings and announces that anyone who’s supposed to be here and isn’t, is late.
“Good morning, everyone,” Mr Bailey exclaims with his usual enthusiasm. I never knew someone could have as much enthusiasm as he has. We all mumble good morning back, unless you didn’t respond at all, which is the majority’s reaction. And mine.
“Let us drench ourselves in the gift of knowledge!” He continues. A loud groan erupts from the throats of my fellow classmates. His enthusiasm is going to make me sick. All I want to do is curl up on the couch back home and go to sleep and I’m pretty sure that’s all everyone else wants to do. Doesn’t he realize that?
He begins to talk about decimals or fractions I think. I’m not really paying attention. The one good thing about Mr. Bailey’s class is as long as you’re in the back, you can talk to your heart’s content.
Nori and I sit in our usual spot on the far right, while Carson and his gang sit in their usual spot on the far left. In fact, I see them pointing at me right now. They’re covering their mouths as they laugh. Whatever. I don’t care if they talk about me.
“Okay, spill,” Nori says. I suck in my lips and draw my eyebrows together.
“What were you doing this morning? Why were you really late?”
Why was I really late? What is Nori talking about? Why doesn’t she believe that I was just tired?
“I was late because of what I said before, Nori,” I reply, not bothering to censor the irritated tone from my voice. “I was tired and lost track of time,” I say through gritted teeth. “End of story.”
Nori stares intensely with her dark, brown eyes into my bright green ones. It’s not like she’s looking at me though. It’s like she’s looking through me. Like I’m as transparent as glass to her.
“Okay,” she says with a nod.
“Why did you think I was lying in the first place?” I ask. No response.
“Nori?” She sighs and looks at me.
“I just thought…” she starts, but doesn’t finish.
“Nothing. It doesn’t matter. It will only mess everything up if I tell you. You have to wait.”
I raise an eyebrow. None of that made any sense. What can’t she tell me and wait for what?
“Nori, what are you talking about?” She shakes her head. The bell rings before I can say anything else. That’s good for Nori, because I was about to lecture her on how secrets destroy friendships. Nori immediately dashes out the door. “Nori!” I exclaim. I run out into the hall. I look left and right, but I don’t see her anywhere. Where did she go?
I am once again extremely tired. I couldn’t go to sleep at all last night because I was too busy wondering why Nori was acting so weird. What was she talking about? What am I supposed to be waiting for? She’s keeping a big secret from me and she expects me to wait to find out what it is. No way. She knows how much I hate surprises.
I don’t even really care about what the secret’s about. It just rubs me the wrong way that she’s keeping stuff from me.
I hate secrets almost as much as I hate math. That’s why I’m still thinking about it at seven in the morning.
I grumpily start my morning routine.
I am not a morning person. The fact that my only friend is keeping secrets from me doesn’t help.
“Good morning!” I hear as I walk down the stairs dragging my bag behind me. I grumble in return.
“Somebody’s a ray of sunshine this morning,” Dad remarks. Lilly and Dason laugh, but I can’t see if Mom is because her back is turned. I’m pretty sure she is.
She sits our entire family’s usual meal of tepary beans in front of me. I quickly eat, I push away from the counter, grab my bag, and rush out the door.
I know my dad’s joke was meant to be harmless, but I can’t seem to smile.
As I walk to school I don’t see Nori anywhere. We usually walk to school together, but she might have gone early so she could avoid me.
Nori always runs away. Just like she ran out of the classroom.
Once I’m in school, I grab my history book from my locker and walk into Mrs. Gertrude’s class.
Nori sits at the front with both seats beside her occupied. She’s not sitting in our usual spot.
She avoids eye contact as I walk to our normal spot and sit by myself.
A few others come in, the bell rings, and we enter into our everyday school routine.
These are our lives now. This is my life. Doing the school in a destroyed continent while we struggle for water and proper nutrition. It sounds like a fantasy. It is a fantasy. It can’t be real. But it is.
Mrs. Gertrude clears her throat.
“You are to start reading the third chapter.”
I sigh in relief. It’s as if Mrs. Gertrude read my thoughts from yesterday. I flip through the pages of my history book until I flip to a page titled, Chapter Three: The Essential War.
I look up at Nori. She is reading very quickly and hasn’t looked back at me once. What is up with that girl? I shake my head. It doesn’t matter, she can’t ignore me forever. I’m not about to let her ruin my entire day. I can function without her.
I look down at the page and begin to read.
As stated in the last chapter, the Tris now live in discord. The contamination of the water surrounding us has ruined our way of life. At first, we attempted to remain peaceful and help one another as we did before, but we have failed- my reading is interrupted by the sound of snickering. I look up and around the room. Carson and his gang are all giggling like little girls. What in the world is so funny? Carson points at the front of the room. I turn my head in the direction of his finger and see Mrs. Gertrude sitting with her elbow on her desk and her head in her hand. Her eyes are closed and I hear a slight… snore? Is Mrs. Gertrude, sleeping? She’s usually watching all of us like a hawk! Wow.
I look back at Carson and see him biting his thumb trying to contain his laughter. I shake my head and start reading again. I don’t want to get in trouble when she wakes up.
Bravous is the only known Tri that has abundant purifiers. But Bravous refused to share it's supply of purifiers with the rest of the Tris saying, “We are going to attempt to sustain life on our own grounds instead of risk the life of the entire continent.” Bravous says that they do not have enough manpower to produce purifiers for all the Tris. This caused what is known as the Essential War. We, Impressera, tried to steal purifiers from Bravous and Bravous declared war on us on August 19, 2020. In this chapter, you will be learning about the Essential war and- “Bring!” I bite my lip as Mrs. Gertrude jolts in her chair. I’ve never seen her this disoriented before.
I grab my history book and bag and head for the door.
I don’t even glance at Nori. Two can play this game.
“Aima!” She calls. I continue walking to the door.
It would not make a difference if Nori didn’t currently exist.
“Aima!” Nori blocks the doorway just as I am about to go through it.
“Move,” I say.
I cross my arms over my chest. I don’t have time for this.
“No! Look, I’ll tell you everything okay. Just not here.”
I narrow my eyes.
“Fine. Where then?”
I’m not letting her get off easy. Not for keeping secrets. Some might say I’m being too harsh, but secrets are a big deal to me.
“You know, for someone who doesn’t have any other friends, you sure hold grudges,” Nori says.
“I sure do,” I reply. “I hold grudges just like you keep secrets.”
“I’ll tell you after school on the way home, okay?”
“But you have to promise not to tell anyone, okay?”
I nod again.
“I’m not the one who has a problem telling people things, remember?”
Nori moves out of my way and we both walk to our lockers.
Nori tells me all her secrets. I’m her only friend and she’s my only friend. So why is this secret so hard to tell?
I have waited all day for this secret of Nori’s, so of course Mrs. Moore refuses to let us out of class.
She teaches science and keeps rambling on about something called the s orbital. All I know is that it has something to do with chemistry. Or physics. Or both.
She always talks a million miles a minute for long periods of time when she gets excited. Unfortunately.
The bell rang at least five minutes ago. I can’t believe this, but I actually wish Carson was here. He would know exactly what stupid thing to say or do to get her to end class.
“Anyways,” Mrs. Moore says. “I’ll let you go.” I bolt for the door, afraid she’ll change her mind.
I bolt down the hall and push open the front doors.
“Nori!” I call.
“Nori!” She better not have ditched me.
“Over here!” I look to my right and see Nori standing at the bottom of the stairs. Relief flows through my veins at an alarming rate. How could I have ever thought that Nori would ditch me like that? I’ve known her for five years. She would never do that.
I quickly go down the steps until I remember I am supposed to be mad and slow my pace.
“Hey, Aima,” Nori greets. “You know how I said we’d talk on the walk home? Well, sorry about this.”
I give her a confused look.
“Sorry about what,” is all I manage to get out before something hits me in the back of my head.
“I think she’s waking up,” a voice says. My eyes slowly peek open but slam shut when a bunch of refulgent light floods into them. I moan. My head is throbbing in pain.
“Wow, Chris must have hit her pretty hard,” another voice says. Both the voices sound vaguely familiar. This comment reminds me of what happened before I was knocked out.
My eyes fly open and I sit up straight.
“Nori!” I scream.
“Aima! Calm down! I’m right here,” she says, coming to my side. I look around me. I am in a room made of stone that has lights hanging from the ceiling and I am lying on a hard bed with white sheets. How does this place have electricity? Nothing has electricity anymore.
Carson stands in the corner of the room beside the door, staring at me.
“What’s going on and where am I?” I ask.
Nori and Carson look at each other.
“What’s going on and where am I?!”
Nori looks back at me.
“You’re in the Dawn headquarters,” she says. Well that answers absolutely nothing.
“The Dawn headquarters? What’s the Dawn?”
Carson steps forward and smiles.
“The rebellion, Aima. Or should I say, Agent Smith.”