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3:21 a.m.

Chapter One
The Awning
"Here you go son," said the old man. His frail hand dropped four coins, that appeared to have been much older than the hand that held them.
"Thank you very much sir.", remarked Dain. His young hands, begrimed from hours of agricultural labor, encompassed the mature coins. He began to place the coins into a concave can that read TIPS. Right before Dain opened his hands to fund the tip jar, the old man interjected.
“ No thanks Dain. Let your mother know I’m tired of her making you leave five janams in the tip jar.”
“Mister Raiko, please.” replied Dain with a smirk on his face. “That will break her lil’ heart.”
“No Dain. I’m serious this time, son. Your family needs that money. Now go home and give your mother her change.”
“Alright, alright, alright. Have a nice day.” said Dain, as he walked out of the small corner store. As he open the door it was back to the rat race. Raiko’s Market was one of the few sanctuaries of what Dain thought of as prison. He began his six block walk back to his apartment. The hustle and bustle of the city was unpleasurable to the young man. The smell of sewage coming from every rusty manhole was explicitly putrid.
“How much of contemporaries are that rancid manhole and these centenarian coins?” he pondered. At a solid six feet and two hundred pounds, everyone who laid their eyes on the farming apprentice would be quick to assume that he ate the lion’s share of meals when he and his family broke bread. They were all erroneous in their stereotypical assumptions. Dain was more of a food for thought critic, or at least he used to be. Ever since kindergarten he was the only student who drew the sun in his illustrations, which wasn’t the norm in the land referred to by its denizens as The Awning. After being told by numerous teachers to be more accurate, the young boy who thought outside of the box began to draw clouds and accepted the ethics of The Awning. The name came from the cities rare direct exposure to the sun and precipitation, due massive, black, ash filled clouds that shaded The Awning. Where did these clouds come from? Why does the sun barely shine through these clouds? The people of The Awning never asked these questions.
He continued his trek home. When he reached the corner of Duke Boulevard & Columbia Lane, Dain was not surprised at the sight that greeted him. There he was. The “Message Man".
"Fellow citizens! We must venture under the Earth! The other district is oppressing us!"
A woman who was on an objective path down the sidewalk stopped to yell at the Messenger Man.
"There is nothing but sewage under this God forsaken asphalt!"
The self proclaimed Messenger Man was none more than a fool according to every adult in his life except for Raiko who wasn't very political. Dain had seen many men stand on street corners and project their voices for some cause. Dain had never listened to what they were preaching. He just kept to himself. And besides, he didn't have time to listen to what the man had to say. What farmer in training had the time to listen to a man preach delusions of grandeur?
“Impractical. Impractical and irrelevant.” he said to himself.
On and on he stepped up the boulevard with the bag of bread he had purchased in his right hand and the four old coins in his left. Feet away from his building he heard a voice. The voice was frightening for it had the element of surprise.
“Hey you! Give me all your coins!” said the unknown character.
Dain turned around to see a morbidly thin man standing about five foot seven inches tall. His hair was clearly unkempt and he had an offending odor about him.
“I have a knife!” he said.
Dain knew why the man was in the state he was in. He was an addict. The poor man was in need of money to support his narcotic habit and would give everything up if it meant he could snort his “necessity”. Pitiful. The man was most likely high on some sort of drug at that very moment for he wasn’t holding a knife. He was holding a plastic straw. Pitiful indeed.
“I have no money for you."
"I'll cut ya' bad!"
The pitiful man swing a fist toward Dain. The momentum from the punch made the man loose his footing and he fell upon his face without reaching Dain by inches. He dropped the straw on impact. He quickly stumbled to his feet and ran away into the alley across the street from Dain's building.
Dain hopped up the steps and walked inside his building.




Chapter Two
Ford Tower
The lobby. Dain walked into a dilapidated foyer. With saliva dropping from his mouth onto the paperwork of his desk, the snores of Francis, the manager of the hotel, echoed with an ambiance that almost sounded musical. Cracked dirty tiles were all over the floor. A thrift store bought chandelier shined a orange light but the grime of the floor showed no reflection at all. The floor was an omen for all who entered Ford Tower. The poorly tended lobby was a reflection of the condition of the tower. The elevator shaft in the right corner of the lobby had been clearly out of commission for nearly a decade. The platform had sunk into the ground where the hydraulic system used to be, for the hydraulic system was stolen and sold for parts. Useless trash filled the shaft for a bout two floors. As a child Dain wondered about jumping down the shaft and landing safely on the tower’s landfill. The thought was quickly dispatched by the thought of landing on a chair with three legs or in a puddle of expired yogurt. Like most of the other low income housing buildings that were scattered across The Awning, the only way to go up in down in Ford Tower was to use the staircase.
The third floor. Dain had seen six mice run by since his entrance in the lobby. Cracks in the walls and aged wall paper decked the poorly light stairwell. The depression of many of the tenants faces could be easily detected. Dain was just happy that the suicide rate of was low at the Ford Tower. He didn’t want his little sister exposed to such a heinous occurrence.
The fifth floor. Dain wiped his muddy boots on the welcome mat outside the door. 914. Floor Five, Apartment 914. He turned the key into the door and it opened. He took of his shoes and walked into the living room to set his keys on the coffee table.
“I’m home!” he bellowed.
“Dain!” yelled a little girls voice joyously. Dain’s little sister, Emani, ran out of her room and jumped into Dain’s arms.
“I missed you Dain.” said the small eight year old.
“I missed you too ‘Mani. Now where is mom, ‘cuz I’m starving.”




After the family had their meal of bread and vegetable soup Dain walked Emani into her room to tuck her in. She slipped under the covers and nestled her head into her pillow.
“Before you go asleep,” whispered Dain, “tell me how your day went? What did you learn?”
After talking for about the current events at elementary school, she got to the gossip. The rumors were fairly trivial until she mentioned Raiko.
“Did you know that Mister Raiko is gonna get in big trouble.”
“What? Who told you that?”
“Robin.” she rebutted. “He’s been funding the rebels?”
Dain had a confused look on his face.
“You know,” said Emani. “The people who listen to the Messenger Man.”
“Go to sleep.” Dain said with a hint of frustration in his voice. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight.”
“Night.”
Dain flipped the switch and darkness spread throughout the little girl’s room. He left and walked into the living room. He sat down on the couch alongside his mother. Ms. Amador had just watching her favorite television program and about to call it a night before she saw her twenty one year old son seat himself by her.
“How was your labor training today?” she asked.
“Pretty interesting actually. He learned how much artificial light should be applied to the plants according to how much sunshine is admitted through the clouds.”
“That’s nice”
“Well, it was for the most part.”
“What do you mean?”
“Some apprentice got snatched up by the patrol. Amias was his name, I think.”
The patrol was the informal name for the government androids that policed The Awning and enforced the law with an iron fist. Osmium fists, rather. The patrol droids were near indestructible with and destroyed their assigned targets with no mercy or remorse. In school children were taught not to fear the seven foot tall metal men. Where did they come from? How did they know who to attack? The people of The Awning never asked these questions. They just followed the law and viewed the patrol as governors.
“That sounds awful” said Dain’s mother sympathetically.
“It’s crazy how quick at all happened …”
There was an awkward silence. In reality it lasted for about three seconds but it felt as if it was minute. The tone of silence pierced through the air.
“... and how violently too.” Dain finished. “I’d only seen him at Raiko’s Market outside of class. He was sweeping the aisles.”
She gave her son a hug of comfort. Her soft touch eased Dain’s nerves. His mother’s arms were the other sanctuary he had. Throughout his twenty one years the only people that kept him from breaking down where his mother, father, and Raiko.
“C’mon Dee. Hit the hay. You gotta a big day tomorrow.”















Chapter Three
Insomnia and Paranoia

The Agricultural Education & Training Department. Dain was slumped in his desk, on the edge of falling asleep. He had been up all night thinking about his former classmate had been uprooted from his desk, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed. Patrol brutality. Since witnessing the arrest of Amias, Dain had become more aware of his surroundings. Paranoia. He had been plagued by one of reality’s dirtiest tricks. What has been seen cannot be unseen.

“C’mon Dain, relax. Forget about it. Why do you care so much anyway? It wasn’t you and it won’t be you.” He had been telling himself all night.
But six hours of pep talk from himself had remained futile. And now his upper body was diverted from his legs which were in the isle of desks in the classroom.
“Mister Amador!” enunciated the professor.
“Huh? O... Oh sorry.”
He quickly sat up at his desk. Ideas of what to say quickly rushed through his mind.
“It’s been a rough week for me and I -”
“Mister Amador” the professor said while stepping towards Dain’s desk, abruptly cutting him off.
“You are an A student, but if you want to pass this class you can’t be falling into a state of suspended animation every lecture.” he said in a stern but hushed voice.
“I’m sorry, Sir” Dain said, slightly mortified after being called out in front of the other students. The professor began to return to the whiteboard before he said
“Go get some water and wash our face, son. Wake yourself up for these notes.”
Dain rose from his seat and made his way towards the door.






Chapter 4
Boulevard Bump-In’s
After class Dain began his walk to Raiko’s Market. He needed someone to talk to about the incident and his sudden case of insomnia and paranoia. On the day of Amias’ arrest, Dain didn’t want to talk about it to Raiko, who was in a good mood that day. As Dain continued down the boulevard Dain noticed that the windows of the skyscrapers where open. The tenth. The tenth story windows where open. Every other building that was diagonal from the previous had a tenth story window open.
He advanced along the route he had remembered from years of practice. He began to see people decked in lacerated clothing ramble by him. Aimless. They looked like zombies, walking with no apparent destination nor objective. And there he saw the man. The pitiful junkie who attempted to rob Dain, but to no avail. Dain reached for the man’s arm as he passed and asked
“Excuse me, Sir. Are you alright.”
The man jolted his arm from Dain’s grasp and stepped back. Staring into Dain’s eye’s, confused and puzzled.
“How do you know me?!”
“Yesterday, we bumped into each other outside of Ford Towers. You look sick and weary. Do you need any he-”
The man shrieked and cut off Dain’s sentence.
“I’m sorry!” the man exclaimed as he fell backwards upon his haunches, only to get up and run along into the direction in which he was heading.



“Good afternoon, Uncle Raiko!” Dain declared as he entered the small bodega. The door chimes rung, but that was the only sound he heard. He paused and waited for a response. There was nothing.

“Anyone here?” he asked timidly. He turned his head and scanned the store. He walked up and down the isles. Listening to every sound. The only thing he could hear were the sounds of his sneakers squeak on the tiles. Nothing.

“Hello?”

He continued to walk around the store. He found himself in the back aisle next to the restrooms and the “staff only office”. He turned the doorknob of the office and slowly open the door. He stepped into the office and it was perfect. The room was clean and orderly. There was not a piece of paperwork on the desk. Just a note. He wafted towards the desk to pick the note.

Dain,

By the time you’re reading this letter I’ve already been arrested by patrol. Supposedly I’ve been supplying a rebellion but it is no rebellion, dear friend. A small group of freedom fighters have gone towards the wall that separates the Awning from the Grey Area and the Wilderness. Everything you’ve learned about the Grey Area is untrue. It’s actually miles of grass and near the center of the circular plains there is a city that only one road leads to. The Wilderness is a subject you have been misinformed of as well. The Wilderness is a heavily wooded area that is occupied by hundreds of factories.

These “rebels” are still on the run. By the time you walk out of the store you will most likely be followed by patrol agents. Be careful. The “rebels” know both you and I very well. Meet them inside the abandoned garage at Elmhedge Street & Sundula Road at 3:21am in one day.

, Raiko






Chapter 5
Midnight Marauder
Dain always looked up to Raiko. He was the closest thing to a father figure since Dain’s father left the family. Dain was only seven years old. It has been rumored that his father had become a junkie since his departure. Dain was aware that suppression of painful memories was unhealthy and bad for his social life, but he didn’t head antibody's suggestions on how to deal with his “broken home”. With Raiko, Dain felt a sense of loyalty. Anyone who watches out for a fatherless child for years obviously care about them but Dain didn’t know what to believe. People living in the Wilderness and the Grey Area sounded like absurd. The Awning’s School textbooks deemed the two areas uninhabitable buy Raiko thought the contrary. He paced back and forth in his bedroom. A migraine inflicted him during his contemplation. He decided to lay down for a while and take a nap, hoping he would be feel better at the time of his awakening.
As he closed his eyes he reckoned the situation and he quickly fell into a soft slumber.





He woke up to a soft pillow cradling his cheek. He opened his eyes, crusty with dried rheum, and they began to adjust to the dark. Dain sat up on his bed and turned to look at the titanium alarm clock he had bought two weeks ago after weeks of saving janams from a summer job. 4:32 am. He got out of his bed and flipped the light switch to look through his closet and find a pair of sweatpants a hoodie. Once he was dressed he began to write a note.


Dear Family,
I’ve decided to go on a morning stroll. Don’t worry, mom. I’ll be back in time to shower and go to training. Contact me via iCom if there’s anything you need for me to fetch while, I’m out.
, Love Dain Man
He shut off the light in his room and walked into the living room, where he set the note on the coffee table and walked out of the apartment. He went down the hallway and into the stair case. On his way out the lobby he acknowledged Francis, who was sweeping the begrimed tiles. Dain used his iCom, a device similar to a cellphone that had a live hologram feature, to contact a taxi cab. Dain had been saving up for the cellular device for nearly a year before he had the 700 janams to purchase it.
Dain walked to the curb and looked down the street in search of the cab. About a minute later, there came a car with no wheels hovering down the road. The taxi stopped parallel to the sidewalk in front of Dain. He hopped inside of the vehicle. There was no driver.
“Hello, where are we going at this hour of the night.” said the automated cab voice. The Awnings poor economy forced many corporations to cut back. Thousands of people lost thier jobs and in turn lost their homes.
“The Arroyo please. Elmhedge and Sundula to be exact.”
















Chapter 6
The Arroyo
An arroyo is a creek or stream bed that is generally dry during the year but water does get filled and flows when there is sufficient rain. The Arroyo section of the awning attained its name from its reputation of low violence and crime. Rarely was there blood in the streets but when situations escalated, the streets of The Arroyo looked like Bangladesh during the monsoon season.
“That will be four janams and 38 jafads.” said the automated cash register as the taxi arrived at it’s destination. Dain reached into his pocket and pulled out a five janam bill. He placed it into a slot, below the small plastic window that separated the driver and passenger seats from the back seats. It looked like a descendant of a soda machine. The slot sucked in the bill money.
“62 jafads is your change sir. Have a nice day.”
“How detached.” he thought. There was just him in the cab, a metal husk that did his bidding without any emotions nor will. Just like the patrol droids.

Coins rushed out of a separate chute that had a cup at the end of it so that it contained the change. Dain scooped the coins from the cu and ripped his receipt from the miniature in-wall printer inside of the taxi. He hopped out of the metal escort and stepped onto the street. As he surveyed the area he inhaled and he felt … different. He could tell that the air quality was much better in The Arroyo than around Ford Tower. The streets were much cleaner as well. There was little littler on the block and Dain was in awe how different a neighborhood could be a couple dozen blocks away.

There it was. The old garage Raiko had mentioned in the letter. He scanned the walls of the rundown building and saw a faint light coming through the window and he knew there were people inside. After circling the building twice and seeing that all the doors were locked with a notice on the door from the Patrol mentioning the health hazard of entering the building, Dain decided that he had to climb in through a window. So he walked into the alley next to the old building got on top of a trash can and hopped onto a dumpster. From there he scaled the wall and reached the window.
He peeked inside and saw seven men huddled around a trash can confining a fire. The men either had their arms crossed with their hands underneath their armpits or they had their hands reaching out into the fire for warmth. There were a few boxes of tools lying around and there was a black van. Dain knocked hard on the glass to gain the men’s attention. One looked up and said, “There he is. He’s here.”
Another turned his head.
“I see ‘em. C’mon fella’s we gotta help ‘em get in.”
The first man to notice Dain dangling from the gutter ran to ladder leaning on the other side of the garage and pulled out a ladder from a pile of tools and cardboard boxes. He and a few others carried it to the window Dain was by. He set up the ladder and another man climbed up the ladder and opened the window once he got to the top. Dain climbed in through the window and onto the ladder. He climbed down the ladder and took a look at the men.
“Hello … uh .., my name’s Dain, Dain Amador. Raiko was a close friend of friend of mine and-”
“We know who you are Dain.” said a man standing around seven feet tall with a thin frame. His deep voice made him look bigger than he really was.
“Raiko told us all about you.” he continued. “He thinks really high of you, son. Allow us to introduce ourselves. I’m Kaleem.”
“I’m Jarmin.”
“I’m Hobain.”
“The name’s Waliq.”
“My name is Orin.”
“Barken.”
“Hi! I’m Nowariah.” she said in a feminine tone.
“Oh wow!” thought Dain. “And here I thought it was an single gender group.”
“It’s nice to meet all of you.” Dain said. “So could you please tell me what this whole thing is about.”
“Take a seat young buck.” said Barken, pointing at the floor in the vicinity of the exothermic trash can. “Let’s give you the scoop.”






Chapter 7
A Small World
“For years we’ve been wondering why big dark clouds cover The Awning and why metal androids run and police us and not people. Apparently Raiko had been wondering the same thing. He told us that he decided to join us when he overheard a conversation he we had in his bodega.” Waliq continued “He offered us donations and resources to sneak around the cit for information and a place to hide out.”
“Where did you hide?” inquired Dain
“A hidden basement turned, mini-appartment in his bodega.” said Orin. “We couldn’t refuse.” he continued. “We didn’t have anywhere to go. We haven’t been on the news at all though.”
“Why not?” Dain asked.
“If the public know that there's a gang of people trying to find out what’s up with society, the patrol will look weak and might be overthrown.” rebutted Orin.
“But it seems like people don’t care … about anything.” added Nowariah. “Even if we were in the news people wouldn’t care.”
Dain was a bit puzzled.
“Hol’ on. If you’re not in the news why are you on the run?”
Nowariah was quick to answer.
“Cuz’ if patrol finds us we’re toast. Who knows what they’d do to us. No one. The answer is no one knows. People who are arrested are either never heard from again or never say anything about … wha-” Her eyes began to water and she closed them before a tears began to pour from her eyes.
“I’m sorry.” she managed to articulate between the sobbing and sniffling.
Orin patted her on the back attempting to ease her sudden upset feeling. Orin looked up at Dain with an accusing look. A confused guilt over came Dain.
“A friend of ours was arrested by Patrol. A few days ago he was taken out of a classroom he was in.” explained Kaleem.
“What was his name? Um … if you don’t mind my asking?” Dain asked nervously.
“Amias.” Kaleem answered.

Chapter 8
The Blueprint

“We need to find him!” exclaimed Dain after sharing his relationship with Amias to the gang. He was riled up and really ahead of himself even though he still had millions of questions.

“Where would he be? How far away is he and how long would it take to find him?” Orin asked in a tone that made Dain’s suggestion sound asinine.

“No, no. I have a plan.” said Dain.

“Well, lay it on us, man.” Jarmin said.

“Okay. He needs to find out what the deal is with patrol, right? I was thinkin’ that four of us take some tracking devices and iCom’s and do something to get arrested. The other four will follow the “criminals” wherever they go. We’re bound to find out what happens to offenders of the law.”

“That’s not a bad idea.” commented Nowariah. Her eyes now dried and done crying.

“We’ll we have iCom’s but we’re missing tracking devices.” she continued.

“I know a guy. Give me four days tops and I’ll have four tracking devices and four locating devices.” said Orin. Everyone looked at Orin with a strange yet surprised face.
"Okay. So Orin has the trackers. Which four of us are gonna 'break the law'?" Nowariah said as she made a quotation mark gesture with her hands.
"I'll go." said Kaleem.
"Me too." added Waliq.
"Me three." Hobain said with a silly smirk on his face.
“I’ll join ya’ll too. So while we’re being taken to an unknown place the you four will be following us with the tracking devices, right?” asked Jarmin.
Nowariah, Dain, Orin, and Barken all looked at each other and nodded their heads affirmatively.
“So then you guys are gonna have to prepare for what we may face. The Grey Area is uncharted and there are no documents on the climate, weather, or creatures there. It could be dangerous and cost you your life if you’re not careful.” continued Jarmin.
“Then, we should probably make some survival packs.” answered Nowariah.
“Sounds like a plan.” Dain said. There was a twinkle of light in the corner of his eye. He looked up and saw the warm rays of sunlight ease it’s way into the garage. He looked at the clock adjacent to the window he entered the room from and saw that it was getting early and decided it was time for him to go home.
“Alright guys I gotta go home but I’ll meet up with you once Orin gets those trackers. You can contact me via iCom. Here’s my number: (746)147-9102(349).”
“Got it” confirmed Kaleem as he saved the contact in his iCom device.
“I’ll see you guys.” Dain gave everyone handshakes and climbed back up the ladder and made his way to outside. He then called a cab to take him home.



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