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July 7, 2013

The truth is, we all could’ve been Ordinaries and stayed out of everyone’s way. There would’ve been no trouble, no one to overthrow the 59th president of the United States. Well, what used to be the United States. All that’s left of the 48 contiguous states has been downsized to a small territory off the coast of Chesapeake Bay. One territory, but three different perspectives on the way things should be done. The Ordinaries, neutral people in the views of war, value their easy schedule and the fact that everyday is the same thing. Maybe that’s the way it should be for everybody. But that’s not the way the Keepers, our thrown together government, like it, and definitely not the way the Rebels like it. The Rebels – we create crime. Not specifically us, the bad Rebels create crime. In a way, it’s a good thing. It teaches the Ordinaries a lesson, it lets them experience excitement and fear. But it riles the Keepers up, only because they are afraid. Afraid to lose. We are the city’s military, the strong, the brave, and the Keepers cannot stop us. They will not stop us from taking back what was once ours. Freedom. Taking it back means war. So be it, any other way would be too easy.

Chapter 1.

I wake up dreaming of war, again. I didn’t wake up in a cold sweat; eyes wild like a deer in the headlights. I only wake with a thrill in my heart. These dreams excite and terrify me, the only thing that does. I sit up and push the covers off of me. I look around my bland, white room. White walls, gray shelf, gray dresser, and a naked bulb that protrudes from the wall are the only items allowed. The government, the Keepers, issues these items to each family. The only decoration I have is a small butterfly charm that hangs from the ugly bulb. It was given to me by my older brother Ryan, who disappeared after the war.

I yawn and force myself to move out of bed. I pull a pair of sweatpants and a plain gray v-neck out of my dresser. Opening my closet, I find the tiny mirror my mother gave me as a child when she smiled softly and told me to hide it. I stare at my sleepy reflection in the glass. My red hair hangs a few inches below my shoulderblades. The red pulls out the striking blue in my left eye and the diverse green in my right. Footsteps patter down the hall, so I quickly shut my closet and begin to braid my hair.

“Hudson?” My mom’s soft voice calls from outside the door. She’s the only one that calls me by Hudson anymore, the only person that I’ll allow to call me that.

“Pancakes, babe.” She says, opening the door slightly. Mom steps in and looks at me, offering a tired smile. She’s small, like me but with long blond hair and gray eyes. She steps forward and unweaves the braid I was working on only to reweave it. I don’t mind, she does it better. As she works her fingers through my hair, I forget about my ceremony on my seventeenth birthday. I forget that Dad is a Keeper, one of the leaders at that. I forget that the Keepers are trying to control anyone that is out of control. The Rebels.

Mom leaves after she tells me to gather my backpack for school and hurry down for breakfast. I step into the bathroom and take my vitamins, required by the Keepers. I only have to take them for a couple more weeks until my seventeenth birthday. I dump one grape chewy and one strawberry into my palm only to realize those are the last of their flavor. Now I have to start taking the orange flavor. Gross.

I clomp down the wooden stairs and into the kitchen. Plopping down in my seat, our neighbor, Mr. Johnson, sits grumbling and complaining about the news again across from me. He’s here most mornings because he can’t afford an electric television set like us. I don’t see why he can’t just read the newspaper like most old people, but Mom says that he’s getting too old and needs ‘assistance’. He is funny, however.

“Derned Keepers. Think they can tell us how to live.” Mom tries to suppress a smile.
He would never say that around my father. He has a mind saying it around us as it is, but Mom doesn’t always agree with my father’s actions with the Rebels.

“’Morning, Mr. Johnson,” I smile and slide into my seat. He waves me away and keeps his eyes glued to the television on top of the fridge. He adjusts his bifocals and scoots closer so he can hear. I almost laugh. Old people are so funny. I listen to the news. Nothing new. The President of the Keepers, Parker Mackey, stands at a podium with about half a million microphones pointing at his mouth, hoping to catch everything he says. The camera adjusts the lens back and forth until the picture isn’t fuzzy and then Mackey begins to list off more crime in the Rebel-inhabited areas. Big deal, this stuff happens every day. What’s new? The screen shoots over to old war footage, bombs flying and exploding into the top floors of the downtown skyscrapers a block away from my street. One scene shows a man burning the American flag in a pile of rubble. He throws pictures of our current government officials into the flames and they disappear into smoke and ashes. I’ve seen this a hundred times. They replay it to remind us of what could happen if someone tried to overthrow the government again. Like that could happen again.
“We are here to protect.” President Mackey always ends with this statement. The statement is plastered everywhere. On walls of blown up buildings, on billboards, banners that hang from the light posts, bumper stickers for the people who can afford cars. It’s overrated, and so are the Rebels for thinking that life could be any better.
My little brother Chase pads down the stairs in his socks and pajamas and crashes into his seat, his thick glasses slightly off-kilter.
“’Morning Chasey,” I ruffle his hair and smile at the crown of his head when he drops his forehead onto the table. He never talks to anyone or makes any noise, unless you tickle him of course. Mom shuffles over in her house slippers with a steaming plate of pancakes and loads our plate with three each. I watch her go back to the kitchen sink and do the dishes. I check the time on the television and shovel in my pancakes. I have 15 minutes to get to school. I hug mom and shoot out the door and down to the corner where Casey is waiting. Casey is my best friend; she has been since the first grade, when I was the new girl. That was almost 12 years ago now. If we could, we would laugh and joke the way we used to when we were children. But Ordinaries don’t draw attention to themselves. So when we see each other in public, we can only smile and make polite conversation. I’m not supposed to feel emotionally attached to anyone, but Casey and I do everything together. She’s everything I’ve always wanted to be. Funny, beautiful, graceful. To everyone, I’m known as Jennifer Hudson Grey, the freak with weird eyes and a terrible father. Casey never saw me that way, and I’m grateful.
By the time we arrive at school, it’s pouring down raining. Part of me just wants to sit outside in the middle of the courtyard and watch the lightning fall in the distance, in places I will never get to see. Across the courtyard, at the alternate school for Rebels, dark-haired, dark-clothed students arrive on skateboards, bikes and whatever else they can fix up to work. Before we were forced to grow up, we would sit on the curb and watch them do tricks on their skateboards and laugh at them. They used to fascinate her, but now she sits here because I want to. She stands to go talk with a group of people that I don’t know, despite seeing them every day. I take that as a sign and make my way to class.
In my 6th hour class, Scholar Traley, my science teacher drags on and on about the transfer of heat through substance. I often get sidetracked in his class over just about anything. A fly buzzing against the window, the foul language scrawled on my desk, the shoes of the student in front of me. He is just that monotonous. But today I stare across the lawn of the courtyard and into one of the classrooms that the Rebels sit in every day. I wonder what goes through their minds, what they think when they hear my father’s name. I admire them for their bravery and their hatred for the government. They are only allowed a decent education for the slight, very slight, chance that they may change their mind about being a Rebel. Not that that has ever happened but the Keepers have bigger issues on hand.
Before I know it, I’m on my way home. I watch my shoes squish through the grassy mud of the courtyard. I love the rain. It’s fresh, and adds a glow to everything like the world has been made new. The smell of the rain makes the air heavy like it could be bottled up and kept forever. I love it. I ignore the jeers and taunts made by the Rebels. They are aimed towards me, or rather, my father. I quicken the pace and almost trip over my shoes. I wish Casey was here, but she stayed behind to tutor another student. I come to the stop sign a block from my house. If I go straight, it takes longer to get to my house. If I go right, I can take the short cut. Normally, I take the long route to avoid the Exit, the part of the city that the war affected most. The Rebels were squared off to the Exit by the Keepers at the end of the war. The Keepers quickly took over the Rebels and forced them to live in the ruins, what our government thinks they deserve. In my opinion, if the Rebels weren’t treated like this, there wouldn’t been tension between them at all. I could never voice those thoughts; I would be executed immediately for “rebelling”. Ironic. The Ordinaries were merely inbetweeners of the Keeper and the Rebel leaders. Like a mother between fighting siblings, or the cage separating the rabbit from the wolf, the Ordinaries stopped the other two from ripping each other’s throats out. In a way, the Rebels helped with that in their own way. They were the territory’s only military unit, so the Keepers have no strategic knowledge of how to use weapons or where to place a battle. They are completely unorganized. The Ordinaries live in the middle of two ticking time bombs.
Without realizing it, I had taken a right and was walking down an empty street, past the old electric fence. It used to be electric, but had since been shut off due to the poverty level. Now, the fence’s gate is wide open. I feel a stab of anger staring at what used to be a way of life. All that remains is street upon street of blown up brick, twisted metal, smashed vehicles, and huge craters big enough to swallow a car. The Keepers always have to be at the top.
“What are you doing here? This isn’t your side of town.” I hear a small voice to my right.
A girl, about ten, stands halfway behind a crunched truck. She has blue, greasy hair and – wait. A tattoo? Yes, a tattoo spread over her collarbone. A butterfly. An image of Ryan flashes through my mind.
“What are you staring at?” She snaps.
“I-“ I start, thinking of a way not to offend her. “I was just going home.”
She doesn’t look convinced, but she stands ten feet away now.
“Huh.” She says. I stare at her a while longer, she stares back. I start walking again, faster. Well, this is awkward. I think. I’ve been walking for a while, not really knowing what I’m doing. I finally look behind me to see if the girl had followed, she has been.
“You aren’t going to get far on these streets being an Ordinary.” She says.
“I know.” I say back, even though I have no idea what I’m talking about.
I keep walking though, hoping she goes away. No such luck.
“If you want to do me a favor, could you tell me how to get back to Lantern Lane?” I ask, desperate for somewhere to be. Anywhere but here. She looks at me confused for a second, but then she starts leading me further down the street. I begin to get uneasy.
“You could just tell me.” I say.
“You’d get confused.” She says, rudely.
“Thanks.” I snort. She smirks. This is really weird.
“So what? Are you here to protect me now?” I say sarcastically.
She stares at me, and I watch the rain drip off of the street signs and onto the concrete. A crow leaps from a parked taxi and caws in alarm at the disturbance of two girls walking down the street.
“Where are you taking me? I have no clue who you are an-“ I look next to me and suddenly, she’s not there anymore.
“Hello? Little girl?” My legs are swept from under me and I land hard on my tailbone. I curse and stand back up.
“What the heck was that for?” I glare at her smiling face.
“I am not a little girl. Don’t call me a little girl.” She snaps.
“Fine. Whatever.” I rub my backside. As we start walking again, she starts talking about the terrible things that happen on these streets, probably just to scare me. I am unfazed and am soon tired of hearing her rude, snotty voice. Finally, she stops and points down another street that ends with a fence and an open gate, similar to the one that got me here.
“There you go. Have fun.” She says dryly. I turn to thank her, not that it means much to her, but she is already gone by the time I turn around so I leave.
I am staring at me feet and look up just in time to run right into someone.
“Sorry.” I mumble. But he only stares at me, looking like he’s about to say something. He opens his mouth, looks around me and jogs off. I watch him run off. He’s fit, and his muscles contract under his shirt when he walks. Tattoos cover his bare arms, dancing around the lines of his muscles. His hair is buzzed, shorter on the sides than on the top. He must be in the military. Why is he here? I pretend not to care, and walk home by myself.

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