THE STARLING CONNECTION by Theodore Webb
Chapter 1: BREAKING TRADITION
If anyone breaks through my encryption to read this, as a person who can make choices without PATRIOT SECURITY watching you; then you might as well know who I am. My name’s Simon Laramie. That’s not my “hacker” name. It’s my real name.
I just turned 15. This is my freshman quarter at Briarwood Public High School. Most of us just call it “Briar High.”
It’s January 2045, the first month of my classes here. The temperature’s still really hot outside, about 125 degrees by noon. But don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely not complaining. Winter sure is a lot better than summer!
Briarwood’s our town. It’s near a tiny river in what used to be mountains, about 60 miles south of Capital City. The river doesn’t usually have much water, well at least not like it did when our grandparents were kids.
There used to be a lake in Briarwood, but now it’s just a big empty dry crater. We get strong winds like hurricanes and tornadoes a lot. About once every few years, when we actually get some real rain, we get a huge flash flood. It floods most of the shelters that sit low.
These are the run-down solar reflective shelters where almost everybody lives. Nearly everything most people work for goes just for paying rent on a shelter. The rest of it goes for soda, lab food and Meds.
At school, we get soda, lab food and Meds for free. We get it all for free because we’re just public school kids, and PATRIOT SECURITY likes to say “No Children Go Hungry.”
But if you’re a grown up, it’s hard to pay for just basic stuff, even if you’re lucky enough to have been chosen by an Employer. If you’re able to work the full 18-hour-day quota or more, then you can usually get by at least.
Yeah, most of us know soda and lab “food” isn’t real. We know it’s synthetic. But no one I know ever gets real food because there are only a few special kinds of genetically modified crops farmers can still grow and only a handful of places left they can grow them.
I heard people used to catch fish in Briarwood’s river a really long time ago. Pretty wild, huh? But most of the rocks are stained red now from all the mine runoff, so there’s no fish or crawdads or anything. The river’s kind of like how a lot of the ocean has gotten, hot and dead.
All day during school, we hear explosions where the mining companies are blasting the last mountains just outside of town to get what’s left of the coal. Sometimes the blasts are so loud you can’t hear the teachers.
Above the blasting, above the school and our town, silver-metallic aircraft with coal dust-like specks and sleek lines that look like spaceships fly over us several times a day. Every town is assigned at least one, the cities have several. The aircraft can move in about every direction and even hover. Everyone calls them “The Drones.”
The Drones have been over us ever since I can remember. Heck, they watched our parents and grandparents too! Most of our parents and hardly any of us kids think about The Drones much. Well, maybe I’m the only one that thinks about them, but I’m not for sure. Maybe there are other people out there who think about The Drones and what they really mean too. But because everyone is being watched, everyone is too afraid to talk about their thoughts.
To most people, The Drones are almost like the streets and buildings, like the school, like the Reconditioning Centers, like TEMPLE. Just a part of what you see every day. You know, “normal” stuff. So if you think about The Drones at all, then you’re “not normal” anymore, and that’s the worst thing you can be in Briarwood or Capital City or anywhere really.
Even though there are no human pilots flying The Drones, their computer systems can see everything that’s happening on the ground and everything everyone does on SUPERNET; you know, all at the same time. There’s no difference between the computers The Drones use, TEMPLE and the SUPERNET. It’s all the same system.
Yeah, everything’s completely connected. It’s an “all-seeing eye.” For most of us, there’s almost nothing we can do that The Drones can’t see.
Let’s just say you fail to work your 18-hour quota one day, or your family doesn’t buy their quota of brand new stuff at Big Buy—you know, like everyone’s required to do by the end of the day. The Drones can see what you failed to do, thanks to your Radio Frequency Identification System (R.F.I.D.) body microchip and the zillions of hidden security cameras on the ground. And they can see via SUPERNET where you actually went to and who you talked to. The Drones know exactly what you were up to during the time you were supposed to be buying stuff and working for your Employer.
If someone’s doing something really, really bad that The Drones don’t like; you know, like if anyone does anything without a license, or if too many people get together without a permit or something, The Drones can send shock waves to the ground, or even all the way through your house. The shock waves are almost as fast as lightning, but not exactly as strong.
The sonic waves aren’t supposed to kill anybody, but if you get hit, then you can’t walk or move or anything. That’s so PATRIOT SECURITY can pick you up where you fall so you can be reconditioned. PATRIOT SECURITY usually sends its “cheetahs” to scoop you off the ground. Cheetahs are really fast four-legged robots that can outrun any human or animal. They can kill anything too.
I don’t actually know any Recons; I mean, the people who get reconditioned, but I do know they all go to the Reconditioning Centers that are in every town. Recons work there for free and make more stuff for people to get at Big Buy. I’ve heard most of them are fed experimental Meds that keep them awake 23 hours a day. Most of the Recons make electronic devices for “free,” then TEMPLE turns around and sells them to everybody. It’s all part of the Recons’ “treatment.”
The treatment is supposed to teach the Recons everyone’s true purpose, the main thing we’re taught in school from day one: To spend our whole lives working for someone else, someone who’s already on the top.
I guess it doesn’t really matter if you’re in a Recon Center or if you’re one of the lucky few chosen by an Employer. It’s all the same thing. No regular people like me ever get to own anything truly valuable in return for all our lives we spend working. It’s like this from the day we’re born until the day we die. Most people never actually own their time, work, ideas and energy. Most people don’t own their lives. Someone else does.
You’re supposed to be reconditioned and then let out. PATRIOT SECURITY says you’re “rehabilitated” at that point. But like I say, I’ve never actually seen or met anyone who was in a Recon Center. I’ve heard once you’re in there, it’s really hard to get out. That’s why no one wants to do anything bad.
Yeah, I’ve also heard there are a lot more people in the Recon Centers than outside of them. Some guess it’s something like for every 20 citizens there are 15 of us in a Recon Center. It could be more than that, but no one really knows exactly. A lot of towns have more than one Recon Center. Like here in Briarwood, they’re building our third one. Each one’s bigger than the last. Every new center’s supposed to bring in more jobs for all the people building it. There are more jobs for the guards and the people who build and maintain The Drones and cheetahs too.
Want to know some other wild things The Drones can do besides shock waves? They can see straight through buildings, wood, brick, and metal. It doesn’t matter. They can see into people’s living rooms, bathrooms and bedrooms. They can see who you’re sleeping with, what you say to anybody, what you had for breakfast and when that breakfast leaves your body. They have really good facial recognition too, so they can always spot you and instantly match your face up to your National I.D. profile. They know who everybody is and what they’re doing.
If there’s somewhere PATRIOT SECURITY can’t see through, they can send in their “Baby Drones” just about anywhere. Baby Drones look just like insects, so you can’t really tell if it’s an insect or a Drone. When most people see any insect, a yellow jacket, wasp, even a fly or a mosquito, they get really nervous and stop talking; especially if they’re saying something they’re not supposed to. They don’t want anything “negative” showing up instantly on their National Identification (National I.D.) social media profiles on SUPERNET.
Yeah, I know. It’s all kind of crazy, right? You have to wonder how our parents and grandparents let it all get this way.
"This is a thought provoking page turner and could easily be a classic for years to come."
-Phil Anderson, reviewer
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Theodore Webb is a poet, novelist, short story author and playwright. Webb is the author of the dystopian fiction novels, "Lifeline,” “Crucible,” “Colossus” and “Inferno,” the first four books in “The STARLING Series,"available for ALL DEVICES, smartphone, Kindle, PC, MAC, via Amazon.com. (Note: All four books are available as one volume, titled, "The STARLING Connection.") His short stories are also available online, including "Desperate Engine" on Amazon and "Family Hour" available in ALL digital formats on Smashwords.com. For paper copies of Webb's books, contact the author directly via email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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