"Gabriela, are you ready for your day?"
"Yes, Nana," I answer the figure in the corner. "Almost."
Her eye sensors flash once, taking in my response, before she slowly nods, her movements slightly jerky and robotic. "Breakfast is ready."
"I know, I know... where are my shoes?"
"Check the corner, Gabriela," she replies in the monotonous computer accent all Grandmothers have. I grab the gray flats and pull them on.
"Thanks, Nana." That's one of the best features, how great they are at finding stuff, just like a real grandmother. At least, that's what they tell us. I've never met my grandma- I don't know if I have one. The only thing I know is what I looked like as a baby, because of my picture. I gaze at it until Nana makes a small noise that sounds vaguely like a cross between a cough and gears turning. I take the hint and walk behind her down to breakfast, watching the back of her brightly colored shawl move slightly.
The dining room is like most of the Caesar building: cold, boring, damp, and slightly musty-smelling. We’re having oatmeal today. Unfortunately, it matches the room. But I’m used to it by now- almost all our food is blah, except for Sunday supper and special occasions. I do miss cake though. We only get it on our birthdays, since they're so important. This is my last birthday here, though.
“Gabriela, you are being called,” Nana interrupts my thoughts and points- well, sort of- across the huge room.
“Ella!” I take the oatmeal mush and move to sit with my friend from Lincoln, the next building over- each one is named after a person who was famous. Caesar was the president of the States and Lincoln was an emperor… wait, it was the other way around. Anyways, they have funny names.
Ella welcomes me to the table happily, patting the seat next to her enthusiastically. “Hi, Gabby!” I smile at the nickname, wishing Nana would call me that- she makes ‘Gabriela’ sound so stuffy when she says it. “Looking forward to your new class?”
“Yes,” I say.
Ella nods. “Granny,” she calls. “Granny, how long until my first class?” Her Grandmother’s eyes flash as she internally checks her charge’s schedule.
“Peace Treaties in fifteen minutes, Ella.”
As I walk to my next class, I think how unlucky my friend is. She doesn’t get it yet. It’s a class I’ve never taken, because it’s for almost-thirteens. Ones with only a few weeks left here. Like me! But Ella is a month younger.
“Pay attention in class, Gabriela,” Nana says, stopping beside the door. “This class is only for children with good manners.”
“Yes, I will, don’t worry,” I reply, walking in. As soon as I’m through the door, she wheels away. She’ll be back as soon as the class is done, but I don’t know where she goes in between. Hmm… maybe back to our room?
I go to the teacher’s desk to get my assigned seat and to check in, then stop. I’ve never seen anything like her. She looks like a young Grandmother- a robotic young woman. When she sees me, she smiles.
“Hello,” the teacher says, with only a slight touch of the computer accent in her voice. “You are surprised at seeing me,” she states. “Sit down in front. I will explain.”
I go to the front desk, sit down, examine my neighbors, and look around the classroom. I only know a few of the people, like Katie: this class is for all buildings nearby.
“Hello, class,” calls the teacher.
“Hello, Grandm-” we start to chant back, then falter as everyone realizes that she’s not a Grandmother.
She doesn’t seem to notice. “I am the first attempt at a new generation of Grandmothers to raise future children. They are calling us Aunts. Who remembers what aunts are?”
A boy with glasses raises his hand. “Aunts are the sisters of your parents,” he says. “Uncles are the brothers.”
“Good…” the Aunt replies, her eye sensors flashing as she searches her register for his name. “Benjamin. Now, this class is called Influences, as you are aware. You will be learning about the government’s blessing of education, food, shelter, and, most importantly, protection from outside influences. Repeat after me.” The teacher continues to talk, gaining more of the computer accent by the minute. I pay close attention, as Nana instructed me to.
“The main reason the government brought you here is to raise you to be your own person. Many children who grew up to do…” Aunt’s voice pauses again as she tries to find the correct word. “Bad things. Children who grew up to do bad things were influenced to become that way by who they were. Their parents, friends, environment, and education made a difference. Here, you children can be yourself without fear of others. You grow up without influences. It is the perfect solution.”
Everyone seems happy with this, or is tuning it out entirely, but I can only think of one thing- there is an influence here. This arrangement seems perfect, but I’ve heard stories about children who try to go back to their families. How their friends never hear from them again. I’ve read books on old-time dictators, I think they're called, who controlled everything their people saw, heard, and learned. There’s definitely an influence here.
The government is in complete control.
I peek out the window into the dark of night, ducking every time someone passes by. My dark brown hair and chestnut brown eyes reflect off the window. This is how it has been for as long as I can remember, well, at least most of the time. All of my life I’ve been forced inside my house, not allowed to go outside. It’s like I don’t even exist anymore. I slowly doze off to sleep and slump down against the wall.
I dream I’m in a crowded, musty room filled with people. Everyone is blurry except for a dark shadowy figure that looks like a girl. She is completely black with no face.
I jerk awake as my mom covers my mouth so I don’t make a sound. “It’s time for bed, sweetie. You know what we said about the windows,” she says with a sweet yet harsh tone.
I trudge slowly up the stairs, careful not to wake the people who live next to us. My mom said I might get taken away if anyone hears me. Walking to the area I call my room, I quietly sit down on the group of blankets called a bed. I take a while, but I fall asleep feeling like I did nothing, just like every other day of my life.
The morning is just like every morning, I walk silently downstairs and into the kitchen. Mother has breakfast laid out, and I sit down and eat. I think to myself, ”How long has it been since I last spoke?” Finishing breakfast, I lay down on the living room floor as my dad comes home from his night job. He is tall with dark blonde hair, and blue eyes that light up the room. He nods to me, which means hi, and walks into the kitchen. Then, I overhear a conversation that changes everything.