I looked to the left and right and saw nothing but ash and leveled ground. It's been this way since 2036 when the old world ended and the one I live in began. Nuclear bombing became a thing of the past when the government found controlling its people was much easier. We are watched by anyone and everyone. It began with rumors of cyber spying and the exchange of personal information for profit but the world I live in privacy is a foreign idea. Protest and revolt is also a thing of the past...we do what we're told and don't ask questions. I am unsure as to what life was or meant before the nuclear leveling of the world. My mother says we live in what use to be Texas but there is no such thing as a state anymore. She isn’t supposed to be reading about these things but she says she can’t help but speculate about the past. She not only wants to read about it but somehow become a part of what use to be. That's why she named me Journey.
I was born on May 7th, 3000 and my mother, Jessica was given a notice that at the age of 18, I was to be shipped to Georgia for training. In the world I live in everyone at the age of 18 is sent to this mysterious training camp. I say mysterious because even my mother won’t speak about it or what happens there. I fear if I leave I may never see my mother again. But, I have no choice and if I try to run they will track me down and terminate me. What happens at this camp and why do I have to go when I turn 18? Will I come out alive or brainwashed? Will they ever let me come back? My 18th birthday is only a week away and I have never despised my birthday more.
“I have to go to school before I’m late!”, I yelled to my mom. She replies from her room, “I will be down in a few minutes”. In spite of all that's going on I still have to meet my required hours of education and fitness. Everyone is to remain knowledgeable about the policies and laws of the Unit. The Unit is the government system that was established after the nuclear leveling. I hear her footsteps coming down the stairs and I grab my belongings. She looks at me and asks, “Are you okay Journey?” There are so many answers on my mind for such a simple question. How can I tell her that I’m scared, thinking about running away, or just offing myself before the Unit has a chance to. I simply reply with a smile and say, “Yes I’m fine but we better hurry before I’m late.” She gives me a look like she wants to pry more but realizes if she does I’ll be late. She drops me off at the front building where I enter with others my age. We file into the school and scan our “essential code” on our wrist and go about our way. When you turn 5 you're given an “essential code” as way to track your movement and identify your purpose at that location.
Education is no longer about core subjects such as math, science, social studies, and literature because, the Unit says education is purely for citizens to get a better understanding of their place in society. We are supposed to remain silent, obedient, and respectful of all laws and regulations or else. Thus, the reason everyone is on time and prepared for school because if you come late or not at all you will be beat by an Unit officer. I sit in a variety of classes for what seems like an entirety listening to the laws and policies. Around three o’clock I get released and head home.
My house is about 5 minutes up the road but I start to get this feeling that someone is following me. I turn around and see a black suv and it slowly approaches me. My heart is beating so hard it might come out my chest...run. I take off and I hear the van’s tires screech and I know that this is the end. I feel something hard hit me on the back of my head and everything turns into a blur…..
I’m not sure if hours, days, or weeks have passed. I wake up to a pitch black room. I sit waiting for a voice or sign of life...but there is nothing. Why am I here? What is here? Is this because my birthday is so close? I may never see my mother again. I wonder if this is where I will die, in pure darkness.
I’m so hungry and thirsty. BANG! The sound awakens me and fear replaces my dream. Someone is opening a door, I didn’t even know was there. A tall black man enters and says, “What is your name?” I explode with questions, “Who are you?” , “ Where am I?”, “What do you want from me?”. He stares at me and answers none of my questions but asks again “What is your name?” I realize that if I want to find out anything I will have to comply. I answer, “My name is Journey and I am probably 18 now...I’m not sure what day it is.” Well Journey, “My name is Agent Davidson and I am here to begin your training.” I stare at the blurred figure in confusion. I ask, “What training are you talking about?” He answers, “You will be trained as a scouter.” I ask in confusion, “What's a scouter?” I had never even heard of the word. He glances at me with disgust and I know this conversation is over. “Get up and follow me!” , he yells.
I jump to my feet in fear of what might come if I resist. We walk out the room into a gray hallway lined with several cameras. Is this a prison? Where are all the other agents? I must not be a threat because Agent Davidson allows me to walk behind him with no restraints. He turns to glance at me as if he can hear my thoughts. We turn abruptly and end at a room containing all my belongings. Agent Davidson turns to me and says, “This is your home now and a scouter is a trained official that investigates all suspicious and threatening persons. Your training begins tomorrow.” He walked out the room and shut the door that had no lock. Maybe I’m not a prisoner after all. I sat on the bed and pondered on the idea that there are actually people going against the Unit.
I wake to an alarm buzzing uncontrollably and I reach to silence it. There is a note at the foot of my door. It reads, “Journey Holtz you are now officially an employee of the Unit. You will receive training in the scouter field for approximately three months. It is crucial that you understand that if you plan on covering or withholding any information, you will receive equal punishment. You will be paid weekly and mentored by Agent Davidson.” A knock at my door signaling the arrival of my new reality.
Training was simply weeks and weeks of policies, laws, and codes I needed to uphold. I haven’t seen any other trainees but I have seen several agents. I bring my observation up to Davidson and he makes it clear to me that I am the only scouter within the building. The more time I spend with Agent Davidson, the more comfortable I get asking questions. He tells me that the building we’re in is called the “Candid Operation Building” which is home to all inland security. The building is dedicated to security yet, I am the only scouter which doesn’t make sense. How can I be the only person eligible for this job? There has to be more to this then meets the eye.
Later on that day, I used the computer and file access I received from my training to search more into my suspicion. I came across my file and I couldn’t open it. I tried clicking on the icon once more but this time it said “unauthorized personnel”. If I’m a scouter why can I not see my file?
I went to see Davidson and wanted to ask him about my file but I didn’t want to raise any further questions. He began to tell me how proud he was of me and that he had never had a student quite as exceptional. While he continued to gloat about my skills and progress, I was conjuring potential ways to sneak onto his computer and look into my file. I asked if I could get some more clothes because most of mine are dirty. He said, “Yeah sure, just wait here and I’ll be right back.” When he left the room I knew I didn’t have long to scavenge. I went straight to his computer and my files were already pulled up. I read every single line and everything seemed to be basic knowledge until I came across…..my mother and father.
My mother had never spoken about my father so to see all there was to know about him on a computer screen stopped me in my tracks. His name is Morris Brown and he is under surveillance by the Candid Operation. I scrolled past my mother’s information until I realized the name under mother was not listed as Jessica Holtz but Ava Brown. I clicked on her file to see her picture and I became paralyzed. I looked just like her from the way her curls fell around her face to the beauty mark right below my left eye. All this time I have been living with a stranger.
At the very bottom of the page it read, “beware of fugitives they may be armed and assumed to be dangerous”. There were hundreds if not thousand of pictures and videos of them talking with what looked like Unit officials. Although they did not wear the same uniform nor did they display the soldier like mannerisms as Unit officials would. I heard footsteps coming up the hallway and I rushed to close all the files. I put everything on the desk back in its place. As he walked in the doorway I turned in my chair to face him. He looked at me as if he was going to ask me a question but instead handed me my clothes and said it was time for me to head back to my room.
On the walk back to my room, I had so many things running through my mind. My entire life has been a lie and I didn’t even know. My mother wasn’t really my mother. Is her name even Jessica? I couldn’t focus with all that just transpired, so as soon as I get in my room I went to sleep.
BOOM! I shot up from my sleep to alarms sounding, gunshots, and yelling. I jumped to my feet and grabbed some of my things and put it all in a backpack. I looked both ways before stepping out my door. A can of mace and a small knife were all I had to defend myself. I creeped down the hall and saw the half illuminated exit sign. I heard Davidson’s voice and I knew I would have to make sure he was safe before I fled. I moved closer to the source of his voice. I found him on the floor bleeding out. He could only muster up a whisper, “Journey you must go to your mother and father. I knew your parents and I was a part of the Resilience, the group we made before you were born. My real name is Jason Holtz. I have been watching you and protecting you for your parents since they went awol. I am your god father and Jessica Holtz is my sister. We love you very much. I left those files up for you because you deserved to know. Leave now before the officers come back. Go to your parents.. They are waiting up the street in an all black van. You are….”
He died mid sentence and left me with even more questions. I ran through the exit just as I heard officers screaming “find her she is still here!” I sprinted up the street and saw a black unmarked van. I banged on the window of the back door and the doors flew open. My mother opened the door and for a second all we could do was look at one another. I snapped out of my daze and cautioned we better hurry before the officers catch up with us. She agreed and grabbed my arm and helped me up into the van. Morris, my father pressed on the gas and the doors slammed closed.
I looked around and felt eyes on me. My mother was looking at my from across the van and my father stared at me through the driving mirror. On the ride to what they called, the Safe Zone, we all talked about how things came to be. My mother and father were both from Georgia and had me at the age of 18. The government tried to take them to training camps and take me away. That’s when Jason Holtz, their long term friend came into the equation. He told them he had an older sister that had always wanted a baby but could never carry one to full term, and that she would be the perfect foster mother. They both explained that they never wanted to give me up but they were so scared of what might happen to me if I was taken into custody by the Unit.
They had always kept in contact with Jessica and Jason to check on me. They were sent to training camps but they were not sent for career preparation. They were sent to a camp designed to rid of promiscuous teens. The authorities told them that they had approximately one month before their scheduled death. I was absolutely shocked not only by how young my mother was when she had me, because it was very uncommon, but the fact that the government was willing to kill them just because of me. How can having a child young hurt the system? My mother seemed to read my mind and said, “Well baby they don’t want a cycle of young parents that can bring down the economy with their inability to subdue early sexual desires, as the Unit entails. I have loved you from the time you began to form in my stomach and so has your father. We never wanted to live without you.” My Dad chimed in and said, “Your mother is telling the truth. You have always been my baby girl and it killed us both that we had to miss out on your life.”
They went on to tell me that the pain of missing me and their approaching death dates caused their revolt. The day of their termination they escaped and ran outside the limits of the Unit. They began to spread the horrible truths of the training camps to other teens. The more they spoke about it the bigger their group became and the more they learned about the horrible systems the Unit has put in place.
About an hour or so in the car we pulled into the Safe Zone. We filed out the car and someone called over an intercom for everyone to come to the auditorium. It was across the street from where we parked. I looked around and my parents told me the Safe Zone was an abandoned city they came across when they escaped. As more people came the more they improved the city. We entered the auditorium and from the moment I entered all eyes were on me.
I walked with my parents to the stage. They both gave a briefing of what transpired at the Candid Operation Building and what may come because of it. They introduced me to the congregation and asked me to say a few words. I hesitated to speak but I knew in my heart that this was my purpose. I was to become the new leader of the resistance. So, I stood a little taller and spoke a little louder. I laid out everything Jason told me and gave a more detailed description of myself.
I stepped back from the podium and hugged my parents. I whispered to them that I loved them and couldn’t wait to start the life that was stolen from me. This was not the life I had imagined for myself but definitely a new one that I wanted to begin. I turned and looked into the crowd of people and spotted Jessica. Tears of joy came down both of our faces. I know this isn’t the best beginning but the traditions and ways of before end today. I looked around the room one more time to soak it all in. I screamed, “This is the necessary end of our new beginning!”