"Juliet, what's the square root of 121?" my younger sister, Leah, asked me. Leah asking me to help her with homework was a daily occurrence. I, being seventeen, had a more superior intelligence compared to my fifteen-year-old sister, so she therefore turned to me for math help.
"The square root of 121 is 11," I responded as I erased an answer from my paper.
Leah dutifully wrote that down on her worksheet. She didn't need to check that I was right, because she knew I was. The pills were supposed to make us smarter as we matured with age. I was already great at math, but the pills enhanced my ability to make me even smarter.
The Empire reminded us daily to take our pills. It was assumed that we would die or go insane if we refused to take our pill, but no one knew for sure. Everyone was too scared to try, and who would want to? The Empire kept us safe, and there were no unplanned surprises.
Each day was the same. I would get up at six thirty in the morning, have my pill, eat my breakfast, and I'd go to school on Mondays-Fridays. Then, I'd come back home, do my homework, eat dinner, and go to bed promptly at eleven o'clock curfew. It was a nice, predictable routine. It kept my life in order.
Finished with my homework, I put it into the neatly organized accordion folder, with the sections according to different subjects. I was nothing if not organized. I placed the folder in my Empire-issued backpack. After walking the few steps it took to get to my bedroom (Our apartment spanned that of one floor), I placed my backpack at the foot of my bed, sat down in the love-seat I had tucked in the corner of the room, and then turned on the television I had in my room.
The first channel to come on was a news broadcast. "Today, The Rebels came in from their hideout in the Danger Lands and stormed in on a government meeting between the rulers of The Empire. They tried to attack, coming in with weapons and guns, but quickly retreated once the police came. We managed to catch three Rebels, and they are currently being held in custody," the pretty female newscaster with fake blonde hair beamed at the camera.
The Rebels don't support The Empire. They'll stage protests and disrupt the peace in the community, and they're also very dangerous. They refuse to take the pills, which makes them in a wrong state of mind, and therefore also making them have violent tendencies. They hide from the law in the Danger Lands, a vast, barren strip of land where The Empire does not protect. We've been told not to go in there. There are rabid, wild animals in the Danger Lands, and even more unknown hazards. If you're alone and you venture into the Danger Lands, there's a very good chance you'll die. The Rebels go in packs, making it easier for them to go in and out of the Danger Lands safely.
The Empire's told us that if you happen to see The Rebels, who are all marked by a branded letter "R" on the sides of their necks, to alert the police immediately, in hopes of them catching The Rebels and then discovering where exactly their hideout in the Danger Lands is. I've never actually seen a Rebel before, just heard about their stunts on television and in newspapers. I hope to never run into one.
The front door slammed, and I realized that my mother and father had returned from work. I went out of my room to greet them. I stood in front of them, standing straight and still, locking eyes with both of them, my face void of any emotion, as it should be. "Hello, Mother and Father."
Leah, on the other hand, bounded to them excitedly. "Mom! Dad!" she shouted, beaming as she ran out of the kitchen, her homework forgotten.
"Leah!" I hissed, appalled at her behavior. "Remember the proper way to greet elders." Leah should know better. If you greeted elders in a manner such as she had, she'd be suspected of being a Rebel sympathizer. They were people who lived inside The Empire, but secretly helped out The Rebels. There were definitely Rebel sympathizers inside The Empire now. Or else, how would The Rebels had gotten their hands on those guns? It made me scared to know that I was never truly safe, if there were Rebel sympathizers inside the city. But I didn't dwell on it too much. I knew I was safe because The Empire protected me.
Leah sighed, rolled her eyes, then began the greeting. "Hello, Mother and Father."
Mother nodded at the both of us. "And how were you two today?" she asked formally.
I replied for the two of us. "Very well, thank you." The whole thing was like a replay of a movie. The same questions and responses, every day. Like the rest of my life, it was predictable, which was good. Unpredictability led to unwanted surprises.
"Dinner will be ready soon," Father boomed in his baritone voice. "Leah, set the table, will you?"
"Yes, Father," Leah replied, then she left the room to go do so. My mother and father quickly exited the room as well. I went back into my bedroom to continue watching the news report. The section about The Rebels and their attack was over, so I shut off the television.
I headed into the kitchen, where Leah was setting the table. Quietly, I began to help her set the table. She looked up at me. "Juliet?" she squeaked in that little voice of hers.
I turned to her. "Yes, Leah?"
"Why is our community like this?"
The question almost knocked me clean off my feet. Leah shouldn't be asking that question. Why? That was a dangerous question. Because the word why meant that you were wondering, thinking, questioning. It meant you didn't have total and full faith in The Empire. And you didn't question The Empire. It was one of those things that simply wasn't done, like not taking the pill or going into the Danger Lands. "Because... because it's for our safety, Leah!" I sputtered, still stunned that she had asked such a question. The Empire kept us safe! Why would she question them?
Leah stared at me solemnly and shook her head. "I don't think so." she whispered. "I don't think they're just doing it to save us."
"What made you ask that question?" I squeaked, trying to regain my composure. Leah simply shrugged, refusing to say anymore.
Meanwhile, my head was spinning. The Empire did save us. They kept us safe from war, and The Rebels, and The Rebel sympathizers. What had spurred Leah to think this? Thoughts like that didn't just come out of the blue. I was worried about her. Very worried.
Funny how three little letters could be so dangerous.