by Matthew K. Bernstein
The incessant beeping of my alarm wakes me from my restless night of sleep. Irritated, I wave my hand in front of the Planner and, instantaneously, the pulsing blue light and beeping end.
“Good morning, Will,” the Planner says. “You have exactly one hour to finish packing and relocate yourself before the Collision.” I don’t bother thanking the Planner because it is, of course, not a person, just a slim, circular device that maps out my entire day for me. When the Planner stops talking, up pops the time: 6:00 a.m.
It’s the event of the millennium. They’ve taught us in school that, long before the Selected took power countless centuries ago, even before the two Supercontinents, there were actually seven continents.
Not many of us can understand it, but They say it’s true. Over time, throughout the Third, Fourth and Fifth World Wars, one continent melted, the two in the Western hemisphere combined, and the four in the Eastern hemisphere did the same.
It was out of the chaos of the wars and the globe’s continental shifts that the two groups of Elites took over. In the West, they call themselves the “Selected.” In the East, a separate, rival group calls themselves the “Executives.” We are told that each group of elites wants to use the coming war as a way of gaining world power.
The Collision will act as a catalyst for this. As soon as the two Continents collide with each other, the cease-fire will end. All of our lives will be turned upside down. I’m not sure what to expect.
My room is a mess, much like everyone else’s this morning. All of my uniforms are strewn about, and I seem to have tossed my sheets onto the floor during the night. The sky outside is a dull grey. Things seem normal, even though they’re undoubtedly about to change.
I stare at the half-full suitcase in front of me and account for all of the things I managed to stuff in there last night.
Ten sets of the required uniform with the glaring Western insignia stitched in over the breast pocket. Check.
Fifty doses of the required injection. Check.
Cellphone and computer, both branded with the mandatory tracking devices. Check.
And a secretly placed photograph of my family, sewn inside the suitcase lining. I still have no idea how that will get through security. Regardless of my precautions, They’ll probably find it while checking us onto the train and bring my entire family in for questioning.
Disaster will ensue. They’ll bring up my brother and his incarceration. They’ll burn the picture. And then we’ll miss the train. We’ll be stuck here — a mere ten miles from the Collision site — while the war begins, the one we’ve been anticipating for thousands of years.
“We’ve predicted that the West and East will move at around the same time. Once the Collision happens, the war will break out,” my father has said over and over again during our mandatory, scheduled family dinners. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
My father is one of the geologists who have helped with predicting the Collision. For months he’s been saying, “There’s nothing to worry about. Everything’s been all mapped out. With the technology we now possess, everything should go according to plan.”
And I’m not worried. The last time the geologists were wrong about anything was before the Predictor was introduced. Since then, the Predictor has helped in making sure all calculations are accurate and precise. Malfunctions are practically unheard of.
My mother, ever the worrier, is more uncertain. But I tune her out most of the time, which does wonders. Since I turned twelve four years ago and moved into my own house, I haven’t even had to see her except during the mandatory family dinners.
The Selected say living on our own teaches us independence at an early age. They cut the chains from our parents while we’re young, so we can be better molded to fit the Selected’s ideal of a perfect citizen. The house next to mine used to be my brother Wyatt’s. It’s been abandoned for three years.
It’s odd, now. The day it happened seems so... surreal. Vivid, but surreal. I often wonder what happened at school that day, but no one seems to want to talk about it. Which is fine. The Selected have their reasons and their ways. I’m not one to question them.
He had gotten off from school later than I did, as usual, since he was older. Precisely 43 minutes later, as per the daily schedule. But he didn’t go to his own home. He came into mine.
I asked him if he was all right. He was acting... weird. As soon as he walked in, he’d begun twisting the bottom of his uniform into knots — a thing he did whenever he was nervous. Why did he come to my house? And why did he have a panicked look on his face?
And then all of a sudden he starts spewing these theories in a hushed voice, as if he didn’t want anyone to overhear. Theories like the injections are only meant to scare us, like the Collision isn’t even real.
Ridiculous. The injections, as the Selected have explained and as we have learned in school, were meticulously designed to protect us from the Eastern infection that trade once brought us. We eventually stopped trading with the East, but we continue to take the injections as a precaution against biological warfare, because, given the opportunity, the East would clearly try it. I still don’t understand why my brother believed otherwise.
Wyatt had twisted the knots at the bottom of his uniform even tighter.
What am I supposed to do? I asked myself this again and again but could come up with no other possible solution. I did what I’d been taught to do: I reported him. Officers arrived within fifteen minutes to take him away for questioning.
I had to pry his fingers off my doorframe.
I haven’t seen him since, and neither have my parents. I feel bad about it, sometimes. But he deserves to know the truth, not to squander his potential pursuing some bizarre theories. He’ll get better eventually. I know it.
I jump back to reality, looking at the Planner on the table beside my bed just as it shudders to life once more and projects the time onto the wall. It’s now 6:15. I cram the rest of my stuff in my suitcase and hurry out the door.
I’m halfway down the stairs when I hear shouts coming from the streets. I look warily out the window.
A huge mob of heads pulsates beneath me on the road. It takes a moment to register what exactly I’m looking at. Then I see the angry faces. Fury. There’s a kind of fire in them that’s foreign to me. I then realize: it’s a protest. Rioters. They’re storming the streets. It’s alarming. And it’s completely illegal.
Unnerved, I duck down so that I’m not seen. I can feel beads of sweat forming on the back of my neck. I’ve felt this kind of sudden anxiety only once before: that day when Wyatt came into my home.
Protests occur rarely in the West. At least, I haven’t heard of any in quite some time. The Selected are always quick to hush up any revolts or dissent. My town has always been a rather quiet one. Obedient. Civil. An insurrection of this magnitude is almost unheard-of.
I peek up from my position and scan the crowd, looking for a familiar face, one that might tell me what’s going on. I see none. I’m just about to decide to ignore the horde of rioters for the time being and finish making my final preparations when I see someone in the crowd. My heart stops.
She’s in the midst of the mob. How had I not seen her before? She must’ve been blocked by one of the taller men in front of her. But I can see her clearly now. Her face is contorted and she is plainly furious, just like all the other dissenters.
And then I notice what she is carrying: one of the Predictors that’s sold to every family in the West. She smashes it to the ground, as do many of the other protestors, shouting unintelligibly in defiance. I’ve never seen my mother like this. It scares me. How can there be this many people rioting when the Collision is only half an hour away?
I know my duty. “Report any suspicious or protest activities immediately,” we’ve been told again and again in school. “Do not make contact with them. Do not listen to them.” But I tell myself I need to know more before I call in the report.
I quickly run downstairs, push the keypad next to the exit, and step gingerly outside, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I creep around the side of my house and crouch by a nearby bush. The shouting and screaming are louder out here. Clearer. I tell myself not to listen to what they’re saying.
It’s almost as if the crowd trembles, and the fury and frustration that the mob feels — for whatever reason — is practically tangible. But why is my mother there? And where is my father?
I grab the phone hanging from the wall of my house. Each house is equipped with a phone on the outside so that the Selected can make sure we are safe when we make our calls. I dial my father’s home number. He lives across the street, two houses down. No answer.
The mob marches onward. Suddenly, I hear shooting. Selected Officers, armed and ready, have arrived. They gun down the dissenters. I search for my mom in the crowd, hoping beyond hope that she has escaped. I can’t find her.
It is just then that I hear a siren begin wailing. A deafening boom shatters all the windows. I am thrown off my feet and into the wall of my house.
For a moment my vision goes entirely black. I feel queasy and my ears are ringing. A shooting pain runs up my left arm as I try to get up. My vision is blurry, but all around me, the whole world has tipped over. Or seems to have tipped over.
Some roofs have caved in. Others have slid off their houses completely. The pavement is cracked and many people who had been in the mob have fallen down. Are they dead or unconscious? I do not know.
Dimly, I see a horde of officers with batons, trying to disband what remains of the crowd. They’re heading east. They seem worried, agitated. As the wailing of sirens continues, I realize that my mother had been right to worry. The Collision has come twenty minutes early. And we are at war.
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Copyright © 2015 by Matthew K. Bernstein