Finding Atlas

Annabelle Tate doesn't remember what life was like before the Colony. All she knows is that life during it is dreadful. When a citizen turns 17 they're automatically tested on their loyalty, agility, intelligence and mental well being. If they fail they go through an elusive process known as "fixing." When Annabelle fails she's whisked into a world of espionage, archery, instinct and brutality to fight and inspire a dying nation she once sought allegiance to.

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1. Of Liberty

OF LIBERTY

 

What is liberation to a woman who has been born into control? The moment you are delivered from your mother’s womb you are a fractured human being. You are assimilated into a herd of cows speaking clearly but moving along in uniformity. Life for me was a blur of mundane schedules and spontaneity was something I only read about in textbooks worn with age and carelessness.

It had started with the war.

Mom had told us when we were little that the world had looked different once. She’d said that there had been no need for Provinces or ritualistic ceremonies bound by blood. Once upon a time the world had been bountiful with food, clothing, shelter and security. People hadn’t known what it was like to beg. Now it was custom for you to dig into the cushions of your couch for spare change. It was custom for you to shiver in the cold, waiting for the monthly basket of rations to be dropped off at your doorstep.

You were lucky if you got a bar of soap that didn’t stink of someone else’s blood and filth.

Once upon a time the United States of America had forced three other nations to kneel and had tried to crush them underfoot with militaristic might. Ballistic missiles had been launched, young men had been sent off to war and mothers had struggled not to cry. Drafting had been passed strictly for an emergency purpose—as a last resort. Countries had allied together and vowed to watch our cities burn and smolder in choking ash and fire. The bomb was the ultimate price for our country’s hunger for wealth and power. The world was torn asunder and whole cities were decimated. The day my mother had graduated from college was when New York City had effectively fallen under.

“It was utterly horrifying …,” she’d informed my younger siblings and me over a steaming cup of coffee. In our world this was a novelty. In mom’s time coffee wasn’t a privilege it was a norm.  We watched her as she drank the hot beverage with a morbid sense of curiosity. Coffee was something that after two years of consuming I was still growing accustomed to.

“What happened mom?” My little sister, Ellie asked, her bright blue eyes gleaming in wonder and hesitation. She pondered the questions that grownups had stopped being too brave to ask long ago.

“Every train had stopped working: homes were completely destroyed, roofs had been ripped off … it was a very bad time Ellie. They had done an awful thing,” mom paused to take a careful sip of her beverage. Ellie drew in a sharp gasp and I tried to picture the images of roofs tearing off of buildings. I tried to conjure up the sounds of shocked and frantic panicking people, scrambling to grab every possession in sight. After the war there was the recovery—the counting of bodies that had dropped like flies in the wake of foreign countries obliterating half of the country. The United States was a blemish on the face of the earth, a scorched scar of smoldering earth and chiseled rock. It was America the Brave no longer.

Mom said that after that there was the slow establishment of colonies—people started to live in tents and then when the air became too hard to breathe … they moved underground. Government officials and the president as well as the remaining police forces tried to stop the mass panic. People had taken to rioting and looting abandoned businesses. Banks were robbed and shopping centers were cleared of various items: clothes for children, formula for crying babies, medicine for a kid sick with asthma.

Excuses for stealing in the name of survival were numerous but the government cracked down on the population with a whip. There weren’t enough resources to go around since major factories had been destroyed. No factories meant no production and no production clearly outlined a major decline in a functioning economy. As it was employment became nonexistent and every citizen was scavenging for their next meal out of garbage cans.

 Mom had become one of them—she was no longer the bright-eyed anxious freshman yearning to be an animal biologist. Mom had become a refugee and she had lost her parents to a bomb she’d never fathomed would destroy her home. After the looting then there was the rioting, people wanted to know what would happen to their country: why couldn’t they be relocated elsewhere? How would they get adequate food and shelter if they couldn’t rightfully plunder what was theirs? How would they get medicine? Would things ever get better? Did the government even have a plan? Would it even be possible to rebuild?

The answer came in the form of The Colony an underground establishment that I, Annabelle Tate had been born into. The sprawling metropolis of choking smoke and smog was all I’d known. I had been born into soot and had become familiarized with the cave and chiseled outcrop of natural rock. We were assembled into a de facto country of sorts that was divided into eight areas known as Provinces.

 Each province was renowned for specializing in an industry of the Colony. Province 1 was responsible for electricity maintenance, 2 dealt with processing and manufacturing everything from clothing to plastics, 3 was schooling and government and that was the unofficial “capital” or the “upper crust” as we called it. Province 4 specialized in mining, 5 dealt with trading and commerce and 6 was a residential zone which 4 cut into. It explained the horrible smell of ores and metals being smelted. It stung your nose. Finally there was 6 and 7 which was security and law, then 8 which was known as The Banished Lands.

We were told to reside here and we were given free compulsory schooling until we were seventeen. On a monthly basis we received a controlled ration of food: milk, eggs, bread and the like in a nondescript basket. Clothing had to be bartered via merchants in Province 5.

You learned that you only traveled to certain Provinces in advance based on what you needed—for instance most colonists crowded Province 5 in order to do shopping for clothing and other non-food items. You wouldn’t be caught dead wandering “accidentally” into Province 1 to get some detergent or materials to perhaps build a shelf. Life was good mostly until you turned seventeen—because then you had to be tested and if you failed you would be sent to the Banished Lands and purged. If you were purged it meant you were too different or “broken” and were of no use to the Colony—it meant you would die.

Today I had turned seventeen.

                I pulled the cover up to my chin, shivering in the cool air that whistled through my open window. If I wasn’t so lazy I might’ve gotten up to shut it but as it was, I was too apathetic. I lay awake, a million thoughts whirling around in my head. My fingers twitched in the scant amount of moonlight spilling over my bed sheets.  Tomorrow was the administration of the exams and I was fairly unconfident I’d pass. Passing meant I’d be placed into one of the first five Provinces; passing meant I’d have a profession with a set salary for life and a shot at normalcy. I didn’t think I could do it.

                Ellie shifted beside me, her tiny form cocooning me in warmth. I turned to her, our tattered cotton sheets rustling in the quietness of our room.

“Ells you awake?” My hand gently tugged at the sheet she’d bundled her small dark form in. Ellie was a precocious eight year old who prattled off questions a mile a minute when she was awake. I adored her to pieces and she was my sole reason for studying so diligently for the exams. I told myself that I would pass for her so that she wouldn’t have to suffer in the following days. As silly as it sounded her dark brown eyes gave me hope, something that we knew so little of nowadays.

“Yeah, I can’t sleep Anna,” she mumbled, her voice heavy with tiredness as she turned to face me. Her dark face was bathed in a warm orange glow from the lone night light plugged into our wall. Our hushed voices woke up an equally groggy Miles who chucked a pillow at my head. I chuckled and ducked, mumbling that he was a “loser” as the pillow hit the wall with a dull thud.

Miles was my twin brother and though I was hesitant to admit it, he had a slightly better chance at being placed into say Province 4 or 7. I was lucky if I even got placed into any province at all. Whereas Miles was golden skinned from apprenticing at the local mine, I was light from sitting around cross legged with my nose in a book. I wasn’t skilled at hand to hand combat but Miles had been forced to train in mixed martial arts under our father who was an instructor. I was artistic like our mother who was a painter and sold artwork for Province 5 but I wasn’t particularly motivated to be an artist.

“Why can’t you sleep Ell?” I asked, stifling a yawn while Miles muttered for us to “shut up” because he was “trying to freaking sleep over here.” Ellie and I rolled our eyes and continued our hushed conversation. I saw Miles smother his unruly dark curls with his pillow and I bit my lip to keep from laughing. He was ever the jokester and tomorrow he’d live to see another day.

“’Cause …,” and in the dark I could make out her nail bitten fingers. She only bit her nails when she was worried. A bad habit she’d picked up from me.

“’Cause why Ell?”

“’Cause I’m worried about tomorrow and about you, you’re not going to leave me all alone are you?”  Her voice cracked and I didn’t have to see the trail of hot tears. I could already hear her muffled sobs. I tried to press my fingers to my eyes, tried to stop the stinging of tears but it was useless. Ellie’s crying would leave me emotionally vulnerable.

“Please don’t leave me Anna, please,” and she was whispering this in a hushed broken voice over and over as if she could will it to happen. It was as if her whispering could stop my being purged.

“Never in a million billion years, Ell,” and soon my voice gave way to occasional sniffles as I wiped hastily at my eyes.

“Oh my god, give me a break, you girls are such sappy chicks. Anna you’ll do fine tomorrow stop stressing over it. I’m sure you’ll be given Province 5 so you can talk it up with all the snobby artists and intellectualists and shit,” my brother got up and retrieved the pillow from its position by my bed before settling back in his own.

“Language,” I bit out tersely and moved to cover Ellie’s innocent ears tinged with red. Miles scoffed overdramatically at me. Sometimes I swear he was a woman trapped in an adolescent boy’s body and then his snores overtook the room with sound.

“I promise I’ll never ever leave you Ells, I’ll always be with you,” but somehow even with all the information rattling around my head, I couldn’t help but be worried. What if I was purged? What if I didn’t get to go back home with that glorious piece of paper sealing my fate as a Colonist? What if I failed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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