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Finding food is easy when you know where to look. As long as I’m quick and consistent with my task, supper is in my hands every night. Each closing, the restaurant across the ways and below me cordially dumps their trash for that business day. No one is as sly as I am when I quietly sneak down the fire escape of my building to run swiftly into the darkness below. When I reach the garbage, I take my grey sack and fill it with whatever looks best that night.
Living in the Ups isn’t so bad if you have common sense. By the amount of sun-burnt bums who sit around all day waiting to die, common sense is rare up here. Then again, I am only seventeen, so that could be me in eighty years. It’s funny; A friend told me once that living up high used to be a privilege decades ago. Hell, if living in the Ups is a privilege, I live like a king.
Cement covers the entire area of my building. And by building I mean the top of a building. Yes, the Ups is essentially the roofs of buildings. I mean, I think it’s cool, but once again I might be the only one who thinks that. Barely any girls live in the Ups, which sucks for me. But luckily, I have a bunch of grumpy men who hardly move to keep me company.
There are about twenty small huts on each rooftop and each rooftop also includes a public bathroom with showers. It’s not a palace, but it’s home.
I thrive in the Ups, I’m independent and make my own way.
It’s bright, so bright that birds don’t usually fly up here because even they are bothered by the light. Although I’m caucasian, my skin is tinted brown and my choppy hair is sun-streaked blond from years of being under the sun. The constant sweat on my skin is a reminder that living in the Ups and being a Satellite is not something to be proud of. We are disgraces and the Beetles below are glad they usually don’t have to see us. Most of the Satellites, including myself, call the people under us Beetles. The obnoxious goggles they wear to see causes them to resemble insects.
When I first began crashing here I heard a Satellite say, “The day I befriend a Beetle is the day I start talking to spiders.”
So basically we do not like Beetles. And I guess that name just stuck after a while.
There is one specific difference between our two groups, it literally separates us. Our living space is not shaded by the black net, like the quarters beneath us are. We are left to burn.
Living alone is how I like it. There is no one to tell me what to do and no one to make noise when I steal. I know that I can only trust myself when dealing with the possibility of being caught and interrogated by the Contacts.
The Contacts live in the quarters down low, where they patrol and stand around creeping people out. They are like a police force, but very stoic and pretentious. They make sure everyone is wearing their goggles at all times. Hard job, I know. With their bulky black suits and high-tech goggles, sometimes it’s hard to believe they are human. If the Contacts had their way, we Satellites wouldn’t exist. I feel the same way about them.
I scratch my elbow and peer into the sky with my hand cupping my forehead to protect my eyes. As I stare into the sun, my parents appear in my mind. I shake the thought of their absence away like I always do. I am fine alone and maybe that is just the way it was meant to be.
I sit down on the hot cement near my hut, breathing in the hot air and look into the sun again. I have been doing this since I was seven, and unlike everyone in the quarters, I can see perfectly. Nothing is blurry for me, which was what I wanted since I was little. I press my hands into the gritty cement and lean my head back.
I never wanted to be a Beetle. I wanted to see the world by myself. I suppose now I do, but sometimes I feel as though I’m missing something.
The brunch is finally over. I turn my head and look at my father with a thankful, thin smile on my face. He gives me a curt nod and departs to go fetch our coats. He is lucky I agreed to come with him to another one of his work parties. It’s a Saturday morning and I would rather be sleeping in than giving pretty smiles at adults I don’t know.
I am now officially beginning my training to become a Contact. I have been dreaming of this moment for ten years. When my little brother Sam was born blind, I told my six year old self that I would protect him. This is the only thing I feel I can do to complete that goal. Being a Contact is a high honor and a mere five students are picked to start training after we finish schooling. I’m the only girl out of those five, yet I was top of my two thousand graduating class. I was trained mentally and physically in school and I took it seriously everyday.
My dad comes back to me, hands me my trench coat, and wraps his arm around my shoulder. We walk out into the darkness and I brush back my black hair to click the “brighten” mode on my goggles. This makes the area in front of me light up in a whitish cast. Now, I’m able to see all the quaint shops and pebble stone sidewalk of our quarters. I smile as I pull my hands into my pockets to keep warm.
But my hands start to sweat and my smile fades. My training begins in ten minutes and we aren’t even there yet. I have heard the first day is the most challenging, and if you can make it through the day, you will be successful in your career. So yea, I am nervous. My mom told me to be confident because I am prepared, but how do I know that for sure?
My dad senses my worry, “Honey, relax. You can do this, I know you can.”
I breathe out a smile of relief. My dad knows how to calm me down, although I can’t say I believe his advice. I squeeze his side and remove my arm from his shoulder.
“Thanks, Dad. I have to go.”
I give him a wave and walk towards the door to the office of the Contacts. It squeaks open and I am greeted by an empty room that smells like a doctor’s office. The claustrophobic entrance room is stark grey with one white door that I know is locked, without even trying it. There are five white packets on the table in front of me. My history teacher told us before the Epidemic fifty years ago, paper wasn’t even manufactured. Everything was on screens. Screens that damaged our eyesight overtime, in combination with the bright sun. That is why our nation has to wear goggles. I look down at the packets and the second one has my full name on its front, Dawn Christine Gate. I pick it up and read:
Welcome to your first test. After reading these instructions please exit the office and complete your task as fast as you are able. You must get to know a Satellite and acquire a piece of his or her hair so we can test its DNA. Immediately after you get the DNA, return to the office where an official will take care of the sample and you may leave for the day. Good luck and be safe!
Be safe? How do they expect me to be safe when I must get DNA from a dirty satellite? What do they need the DNA for anyways? I hope I don’t get sun-poisoning from whoever I pluck the hair from. I get the shivers as I walk out the door, and I don’t know if it’s from the cold, or the thought of going to the Ups.
I walk awhile, my brown boots seeming heavier than they should, and stop when I reach the first run-down building I meet. I tie back my hair and click my goggles to “extra strength” because I know I will be in extreme light soon. I jump up onto the rusty fire-escape on the building and begin to climb. I unzip a section of the black mesh net that usually shields us from the harsh sunlight. It takes me a minute to open the net, I’ve never done it before. As I get higher and higher, my eyes start to squint from reflex. I reach the top after a few minutes of climbing, now not under the net, I feel different.
I remove my coat because the temperature suddenly has risen to much warmer than I have ever felt. I fold it and swing it across my arm, holding it tightly to my body. I pass by a few old, disheveled Satellites that look like brown sacks of skin the way they are laying down. I look away in disdain and search for someone more suitable for my mission.
As I reach the right corner of the rooftop, I wipe my foggy goggles to see a figure sitting down on the cement. I look closer to find that the figure is a boy that looks about my age, wearing a light blue tank top and cargo shorts. His skin is golden bronze tan and I can see from here that his arms are toned.
I tell myself to walk towards him and my feet begrudgingly follow. I wipe my goggles again and my face reddens as I see how cute he is. Why is a boy like that, living up here? I decide he will be my target, and hoping he can’t see my flushed face under my goggles, I reach the spot where he is sitting. I peer down at him and he gives me a displeased look.
He asks in a challenging tone, “What?”
After this question he goes back to looking at the sky, obviously not interested if I answer or not.
I don’t care who this Beetle chick is, but she is blocking the sun. She continues to stare down at me, analyzing me with her huge goggles. This has got to be the first time I have seen a Beetle in the Ups. She opens her mouth to answer me. I turn my head away slightly so I can roll my eyes, anticipating her response.
“I am here for my graduating project for school. Can I ask you a few questions?”
She appears genuine, but I am skeptical based on her continuous lip-biting. I reply anyway, “Sure, I guess.”
“How old are you and how long have you lived in the Ups?” she asks with an accomplished smile painting her face.
“I’m seventeen and I’ve lived here since I was four.”
I notice she isn’t writing my answers down for her “project”, and before she can ask me another question I reach out my hand to stop her.
“Would it be alright if I asked you a question?”
Although I can hardly see her face under the goggles, she seems startled.
She replies, “I suppose, yes.”
I hoist myself up to stand and find I am now looking down at her.
“Have you ever tried to see without your goggles?”
I motion to the bulky dark grey goggles that mask half of this girl’s pale face.
Her voice lowers, “No, I only take them off right before I go to bed.”
I try to meet my eyes with hers (which is nearly impossible), “You should take them off.”
She steps back at that and crosses her arms across her chest.
“No way, why would I do that? It is really bright up here and my doctor has diagnosed that I am seventy percent blind without my goggles.”
“Are you afraid?” I ask, raising my eyebrow.
“No, I’m just not crazy. My eyes are extremely sensitive and taking off my goggles up here? It’s dangerous and foolish.” she quips toward my face. Pride emanating, her hand falls to her hip as she awaits my response.
I flash her a smile and then mockingly grimace, “Ouch, subtle blow. You may be right but at least I can see without those god-awful goggles you refuse to take off.”
At this point, I can feel her nerves and hesitation towards me and my challenge. I’m about to end the conversation when she begins taking down her long dark hair, letting it fall on her delicate shoulders. Stepping towards me this time, she removes her goggles to reveal bright green eyes. She blinks hard a few times and looks at me in disbelief.
She freezes and whispers, “I can see.”
I raise up my hand in front of face and to my surprise I can see that too. The air suddenly feels heavy, too hot to take in. This can’t be real. I slide down against a cardboard box near me and shut my eyes. I can hear the Ups boy quietly laughing to himself , “I knew it. Those sons of b****es.”
I count slowly in my head, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. I open my eyes.
And I can see. Clearly, I can see my worn, thick, stupid, gray pants before me.
This is wrong. Like, really wrong. Why would I even listen to this stranger? I don’t even know his name.
All these years, I have never questioned my goggles. Wearing them has always been like wearing clothes, you just kind of do it. Everyone does.
My palms press against my temple and I hang my head between my knees. Something I learned in health to do if you are about to faint. During a panic attack or feeling faint, your heart is pumping much harder than normal because of the rise in blood pressure. When you put your head between your legs, your head is at level with your heart so your heart isn't fighting against gravity, thus increasing blood flow.
I don’t feel a difference, though.
“What’s the matter?” He asks, a hint of tease laced in his voice.
My head whips up and my eyes glare red at him,“What’s the matter? Are you serious?” I stare up at him but when his body sways right, the sun forces my head away, “This isn’t right. I don’t understand.”
He crutches down to my level, a smile playing at his face, “It’s simple, really. This whole government of yours is full of liars and manipulators. That’s all there is to it.”
I peer into his ocean eyes and realize my own are blurring up. I hope he thinks it's just because my eyes are adjusting to the sun. He looks down at my goggles on the ground and-
My assignment! I completely forgot.
I leap up, snatch my goggles off the dusty ground and place them back on my face. I give the boy an awkward wave, there is nothing for me to say. No goodbyes or see you later. Because I’m never coming up here again.
I’m almost to the fire escape when the image of my instructions pop in my mind:You must get to know a satellite and acquire a piece of his or her hair so we can test its DNA.
I pivot on my heels and trudge up to the boy who has returned to sitting quietly. I ask him, “Would you mind if you pulled out a piece of hair? I need it for an assignment to become a Contact.”
He squints up at me, brow furrowed, “Uh are you kidding? Now they want to test our hair?”
“Please. You seriously have not made my day easy, can you just do this for me?” I plead.
Nonchalantly the boy plucks a golden lock out of his head and holds it out to me. I grab it and place it in the zipper of my jacket.
“Thank you” I provide him with a soft smile and head back to reality.