2050: part one

“Anne- Anne? Hey.” A hand— Meagan’s— came down hard on my bony shoulder, pulling me back to my dreaded reality.

I let out a small groan and tilted my head up to see Meagan’s gentle smile plastered on her bruised face. “You slept through lunch. Again.”

At this, I dropped my head right back down into my crossed arms on the lunch table– if you could even call it that. “I don’t see the need to get up,” I mumbled, mostly to myself, but Meagan knelt down beside me. I met her eyes with my own. “What time is it?”

“Noon. Come on, we have assignments to do and places to be,” she responded, pulling me up to my own two feet. I had to brace myself on the table to steady myself before continuing forward. Within the first week of my coming to this crap hole, exhaustion had crept inside of me like a thief, stealing every ounce of energy I’d had and replacing it with hopelessness and a really, really hungry stomach.

Meagan must have seen me struggling, because she looped her arm through mine and moved me forward towards the long, metal hallway, which was filled with a mob of anxious teens rushing to get to their assignments.

I just didn’t understand. The government promised us a safe haven: A place where the food supply never ran out. A place where we’d always have a bed to rest after what they called a “productive day.”

But this… Nobody could have prepared for this. No mother would have ever let their oldest child be sent away to an institution that resembled a prison. A prison where you worked until your fingers were sliced open and bruised; where you couldn’t turn a corner without being watched by regulators who had guns in their hands at all times.

A prison where breaking a rule meant being taken away.

And never coming back.

But that’s not what they told the public. They told us that we’d be safe from the bloody wars raging in our home towns. No more hurt and no more pain. And the best part? If you sent your kid away, you’d get put in a drawing for one hundred grand. In a jobless America like ours, well, who could turn that away?

“Did you hear about Roman? From group twelve?” My voice was quiet in the rough crowd.

“How could I not? Everyone’s talking about it.” I looked over my shoulder and found her eyes, which were, to my surprise, glassing over.

“What do you think they’re going to do with him?” Even though I asked, deep down I didn’t want to know. Roman was the first person in the five weeks we’d been here to stand up for themselves. He’d gone as far as punching one of the regulators in their ugly face when they’d tried to humiliate him in front of his entire group by ratting him out for taking an extra slice of something that resembled pizza in the lunch line.

He was half conscious by the time they’d gotten him into the black van parked outside of the exit doors.

Meagan looked away, staring at her feet instead. “I just… When Roman told me that-” Her hand flew over her mouth, and she stopped. “Oh my gosh…”

I took her arm and pulled her to the side of the hallway. “You’ve talked to him before?” Confusion and a mix of other emotions pulsed through my veins. We weren’t allowed to speak with any other groups. How did she…

Meagan’s bright blue eyes were wider than I’d ever seen them. “Announce it to the whole wide world, why don’t you? Good grief,” she hissed, shaking my grip from her arm. “It’s not what you think, Anne-”

“Then what the heck is it?” I whispered, not even trying to keep the anger out of my voice. Meagan knew we didn’t break the rules. She knew the consequences, and we’d promised each other that we’d do this together; we’d stick together here no matter what. If she got caught, that was the end for her-- of our friendship. How could she be so careless?

Meagan brought her hands to her face. “If I tell you this, you can’t tell a soul, ok?” Her brows were twisted with guilt, making my stomach stir.

I let out a sigh and threw my hands onto my hips. “Fine. Enlighten me.”

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