Chapter 1

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I spent my first two days in prison sitting in the corner on my haunches. I kept my back pressed up against the wall until my legs were so tired they couldn’t hold me anymore. It was so cold. The floor was icy and the walls were not much better. I rocked to keep warm and stood up occasionally to stretch out my cramped limbs, but the only warmth I could muster was from my own body. I squeezed my arms around myself and shut my eyes again. It’s nearly impossible to sleep when you are cold, hungry, and not sure if you will live or die with each passing day - especially when death is not the worst possibility.

With nothing else to do and my cell only big enough to stand up, take two steps and turn around, I find my mind wandering to the same memories over and over again. I am sixteen years old now, but my most poignant memory is one where I am only a child, maybe six. I hold onto my mother as tight as my little arms will let me. Tears stream down my face and wet the rough gray shoulder of her tunic. Her warm hands run the length of my spine, pausing to pat me as she whispers, There, there... I know how hard it is.

Closing my eyes takes me back in time to the tiny kitchen in our family pod. My mother is there. We are embraced by the smells of simmering vegetables and baking bread. There isn’t much time. My older brother will be home soon. Even though he is only one year older than me, he volunteers to work in the fields after school now and has decided that he is a man. He is classified as neuroadvanced and enjoys the fact that he must uphold the letter of the law for the betterment of our society. I wipe my face with the palm of my hand and lean back to smile into my mother’s face, letting her know I’ll be all right. It was just another argument with a teacher at school. Just another day of extra assignments and a half an hour in The Chair in front of the class. They want everyone to see what a neurodeficient person looks like so they will know not to follow my bad example.

It was against the law for my mother to comfort me when I cried, but that’s what I remember most vividly; her arms circled about me, her hands patting my back. When possible, she held me while I sobbed like a brand new one. My mother tried to teach me not to show my emotions when I was young. Any expression of feeling would give away my mental status.
            But it was not a lesson I learned quickly or easily. The hugs and kisses and pats on the back were part of many secrets we owned. We constantly gambled that the Auto Eye attendants would not notice us; one small blip of a family on hundreds of monitoring screens. Still, the large round bubble loomed like a wicked insect on the ceiling of our home pod. The camera and microphone concealed beneath the dark plastic lump recorded our every word and move and sent them back to the government for monitoring.

The same black lump is clinging to the ceiling of my prison cell. I can’t imagine why they would want to watch me now. I’m finally out of chances, completely helpless. They’ll do whatever they want with me. It’s probably a sick form of entertainment for the highest government leaders: locking up young miscreants and watching them slowly deteriorate, mentally and physically.

Unable to control emotions, failure to grasp essential survival concepts, tendencies toward noncompliant behavior--these were all phrases used to describe people like me, only I’d never met anyone else like me. My mother whispered in my ear once that she was like me too, but I couldn’t imagine that. She went through her days so effortlessly, meeting each obligation without complaint or argument. I could never see myself like that or her being like me. She explained that she was a Blender, a Hybrid, someone who was neurodeficient but had learned to fit into the society and not cause problems. She assured me that one day, I would too. The thought of her hopes for me tore at my heart now that I knew I had failed her and her memory.

And that is all I really have left: my memories. It’s alarming how powerful and potent they can be. The pain is so real as I remember the day when she held me. I’m sure it’s not accurate. It’s probably just a memory of several similar days meshed into one. I have so often been in trouble and hurting, it doesn’t faze me now that I’m in the worst trouble of my life. I look around me at the slick gray walls and think how similar they are in color to the sky on the day my mother died. It seems like it was a lifetime ago, but when I stop to actually count the days, it has only been one year.

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