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The Inner Circle
No one heard it. It was not sensed, smelled, or seen. Yet it must be there. What else could explain the alarmingly short lives?
The Presidential Circle (or the Circle, as it is called) first told us about the slow radiation leak last year. They said that the leak was why everyone’s life span was so short. All except the Circle’s. The reason that they are still alive, they tell us, is because of their highly developed DNA. This means absolutely nothing to me. But why doubt them? They are alive, and no one else lives past their 30th birthday.
My name is Lily. I am 16 years old, and I live in the country of Argul. Which the Circle says is the best and only part of the world worth seeing. I have my doubts about this. But doubts prove nothing, and the Circle says it is so. The year is somewhere near 2400, I think. This is something you would learn at school, but school has not existed since I was 8. I still remember the announcement:
The loudspeakers that are planted everywhere crackled to life.
“Attention, Argul. The R.C.O. has decided to replace our unnecessary schooling system with the more productive and educational trade academies. Children 5 to 12 years old will now attend from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M., learning a trade useful and helpful to all of Argul! Thank you.”
The silence after the loudspeaker was deafening. I exited with my noiseless classmates in an orderly line, as the school masters had dismissed us for the remainder of the day.
The schoolchildren didn’t cheer, yell, or boo. Neither did all of Argul, I suspect. There is an unspoken rule in Argul, enforced by the many underlings of the Circle. To them, personal opinions must not and should not exist. Make one heard, and silently but surely, you will disappear.
These new trade academies became my life. Because I was one of the younger ones, I was assigned to sorting the millions of different scrap metals that came pouring in weekly. The first few months of this new arrangement weren’t too awful. But then came the announcement that we would start work at 6 A.M. Then the hours were extended to 8 at night. Then 9. I went home exhausted every night from the 15-hour workdays. In order to eat, however, I had to walk by myself to the ration hut. I had no parents even then to go for me, for they had died when I was very young from the radiation leak. The Circle said that longer hours at the trade academies, since many of the children’s parents were dead, simply provided a safe environment for longer. I guess it makes sense.
Then came the day I turned 13. I was transferred to the experienced academy, just like all the others my age.
The masters at the trade academies were harsh, we thought. But these experienced academies were worse, much worse. We were herded, worked, and beat like animals. The only relief was the 6 hours we had to ourselves at night from 11 at night to 5 in the morning. I worked there year-round, making missiles and bombs to support Argul against the hostile neighboring countries that we were constantly fighting. The Circle kept us older workers updated on the war over the loudspeakers where we worked.
Gradually I became as skinny as the rails in the gate surrounding the academy. My knees were the biggest part of my legs, and my head the biggest part of my body. Kids were passing out during work and dying off one by one. The academy started realizing its students could only work so long without a respite.
So here I am, on the 2-week break we are now allowed every year. I spend my time doing the unthinkable- questioning my world.
My name is Neeka McCoy, and I am 47. I am a member of the Presidential Circle, and not just one of the spies we have. I am a fairly prominent member, closer to our leader than hundreds of thousands of others. I am privy to more confidential information than I can remember, yet even I do not know the full truth of our government’s secrets.
I know of the radiation leak, and the only explanation that makes sense as to why I am not already dead is the one given by the more important members of the Circle, that our DNA is more highly developed. Over the years, this has lost meaning for me. But it must make sense. It must, or else why didn’t I question it when it was first explained? Yes, it must.
The core of the government of Argul consists of around 30 officials, and the great man himself, our leader, R.C.O. No one knows his true name. It is rumored that even R.C.O. himself has forgotten. Though I fancy myself close to R.C.O., in reality I’ve seen him only once. I was in the Main Central-the building of almost all government activity we call the Main- and was walking down a corridor to lunch. His door was ajar, and I saw him standing at the doorway, a crazed look on his face. Then the door abruptly closed.
But now I will be able to see him much more. As of yesterday, I am a member of the Inner Circle. The Inner Circle is a group of the most important members of the Circle. The members are with R.C.O. almost all the time. I will now become privy to even the most classified secrets in the country, whatever they may be. I will have meetings and meals with R.C.O. and the rest of the Inner Circle.
My first meeting took a totally unexpected turn. The first thing that I noticed was that R.C.O. seemed to act very, very oddly. I watched him the entire meeting, wondering why he acted so strange- almost crazily. He would mumble to himself and rock in his chair. After this first meeting, I beckoned to another member and asked in a hushed tone if they had noticed anything a little off with him today. They looked at me with a slightly fearful look, and then said no, they hadn’t.
Every day I noticed his odd, maniacal behavior. At meals he ate like an animal, and he never participated in the many meetings we had.
I took all my observations about R.C.O. into account, and suddenly realized the awful truth. R.C.O. is a madman. The only reason why he is still in power as the leader of Argul is the obvious- every Circle member knew that anyone who stood up to R.C.O. got a knock on their door, their name was said, once, and they were no more.
I then realized I could no longer ask questions like the one I had posed- I was under constant observation now. Someone so close to R.C.O. could be very dangerous if they wanted to. I resolved to be much, much more careful from now on.
I am slowly gaining weight back, not because of larger rations, but because I am simply sitting at home, doing no work except to walk to the ration hut when mealtime is announced over the loudspeaker. My skin is becoming less stretched across my body, and my hair is growing a little thicker.
I love sitting in my tiny house, thinking my own thoughts, with no loud, cruel master telling me what to do. The main thing that I think about during this time was the statement the Circle constantly makes about how Argul is the best place on our planet. I do not entirely believe this. I think that I might like to see if they are right, try traveling for myself.
I have nothing to fear in my own space, and I voice my thoughts aloud. Yes. Traveling all over would be the perfect way to test the Circle’s statement. I’ll start preparing right away, before I die from the radiation leak that is sure to kill me soon enough.
I am sitting in my new apartment, given to me because of my admission into the Inner Circle. Something has happened that has shaken me. At the most recent meeting today, I was sitting, listening, and watching the crazy R.C.O., when the others in the meeting started talking about “keeping up the premise of the leak.” I saw R.C.O. perk up and start intelligently joining in on the conversation. I listened more closely to what the members had to say. They talked about the need of more and more trained assassins. Of the expansion of the secret area of the Main. R.C.O. put in that no one must be past the working age to have too much free time. I put two and two together, and came up with the unbelievable conclusion- the entire radiation leak was a trick. R.C.O. had come up with it to thwart off any possible attempts on his power! I couldn’t believe it. Something must be done. I didn’t know what the secret area was, but I assumed that was where those who were to be killed were taken.
Something must be done.
I am all ready for my journey to the other, unknown places of the world. My bag is packed, and I haven’t eaten for the past two meals in order to save up the rations for the trip. I will leave in the morning.
I have decided to tell the public about the leak. I have no plans other than my immediate ones. I will spread the word by handing out the papers that I have printed that have both pictures and words, so that even the illiterate will understand. I hope for a revolution. I will leave my apartment tomorrow morning.
It is dawn. Both Neeka and Lily are just rolling out of bed to begin. They hear a knock on the door, and their name is called. They are seen no more.