Chapter One

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The cameras. They're everywhere.

Never before had I stopped to appreciate--or even notice--the extensive lengths that They took to ensure our constant surveillance. Shop windows, street lamps, fire hydrants, cars--no matter where I go, I'm followed by the nagging, invasive sensation of being watched; though in this reality, the strange thing isn't that my every footstep is carefully monitored, but the fact that it makes me uncomfortable. Everyone else seems perfectly fine having resigned to the fact that privacy no longer exists. But the dominating, collective mindset of "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then why should it affect my life?" just doesn't sit well with me.

I make sure to tread carefully. If I don't, I'm bound to step on someone's ankle. As far as I know, it's always been difficult to walk through the crowded streets of New York City; not only do so many people live here that at least one person gets trampled to death each day, but the majority of the population wears an RScreen. RScreen is the shortened term for "reality screen", which I think is misleading because they're really virtual reality screens. They look just like old-fashioned swimming goggles, except slightly larger and with metal rims and glass screens instead of plastic lenses.

The functions of RScreens are quite mysterious to those who don't possess one, like me. We wouldn't know because those who do wear them don't talk much at all; in fact, there are very few words spoken among anyone nowadays. Upon meeting someone else, it is the norm to provide a quick nod of acknowledgement then to rush off again like a busy worker bee in a hive. Almost everyone wears an RScreen, the exceptions being older citizens and under-graduates. The Law mandates that students in school mustn't receive an RScreen until their graduation ceremony, where everyone will be plugged in.

This is where I head now, surrounded by dull-faced, mindless Members. I stare at the woman in front of me who seems to be in her low twenties and has the appearance of a slightly older version of me: thin, long, light brown hair; medium height; large eyes;!prominent cheekbones; and sagging posture. She taps the side of her goggles-the part that's embedded in her skin-and begins babbling away. I recognize the only RScreen function I know of: the ability to talk to another Member across long distances. It reminds me vaguely of old cell phones, but you can't simply turn off an RScreen. There are no off-switches on these devices, and one wouldn't dream of tearing it off of their body, seeing as the two are somehow connected. Of course, I wouldn't know much about that.

A low, droning sound fills the area as a black helicopter swoops overhead like a large, menacing insect. They have been so common in this part of the city lately that it is not unusual for a person to continue on their business, uninterrupted, as though a child is simply flying a kite over the skyscrapers. Does it even occur to anyone that they might be under surveillance? My stomach flips and I feel the sudden urge to throw up. In school, I've always been taught that things are the way they are for the benefit of society... But can that possibly be true? How do the cameras benefit us?

Instead of complying with the Laws delicately placed before me, I feel as though an invisible hand is gripping my arm and tugging me away. I know it's dangerous to think this way, so I focus my gaze on the woman's back in front of me and let the sound of murmuring voices fade into the cool, crisp air until I manage to dull my thoughts and emotions. I've done this so many times before that it's easy to set my footsteps to the same rhythm as everyone else's, to make my face slack so it's devoid of all expression.

The next few blocks pass quickly, as they always do, and soon my school looms in front of me like a leviathan monument. Unlike all of the other buildings in this area, the walls are not see-through glass but inviolable granite. Students flow in and out of the heavy doors, creating a chaotic mass of red and beige: the colors standard of our uniform. All twelve years of instruction, you must wear the same colors every single day. Once you graduate, you are subsequently assigned a new color scheme depending on your newly assigned position. Personal preference doesn't count in the least--especially when it comes to your own appearance. "A new beginning, a new color" is what They always say.

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