Model Citizen, Part 1

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The Invasion changed many things: the way people thought about themselves and each other, the landscape of the Earth, the very dynamics of the universe. But there were some things it did not change—things like the upper level food court of the Maddison Bay Mall.

There, on the three-month anniversary of Humanity's Great Victory, an escalator shuddered rhythmically under a journalist's feet, carrying her up to the most important interview of her life. Up to where, layered in with the aromas of cinnamon buns and ketchup and frying chicken, she could smell the promise of answers.

As the food court slid into view, the journalist was surprised by the number of people already settled there only fifteen minutes after the mall had opened. A few young employees loitered about in their store colours, trying to avoid the inevitable. Two mall management-types wearing gold-plated name tags on black polo shirts sat in the corner going over paperwork. The rest were seniors who came equipped with a coffee, muffin, and newspaper if they were alone, or just the coffee if they had a companion.

Still fifteen minutes early for her meeting, the journalist headed for the nearest counter to order a coffee of her own. But while she waited behind five grey-haired men in baseball caps, she became aware of a slight pressure on the back of her head. Most people know the sensation of being watched, but most people who visit malls haven't experienced that sensation in a place where their lives were in danger. Long before the Invaders came, the journalist had spent time in many places where the phantom feeling of eyes could be tied directly to a sniper rifle. Reminding herself where she was, the journalist fought the instinct to throw herself to the ground, and instead turned casually to look behind her.

There. Sitting at a table on the far side of the food court with his back against a planter full of real soil and fake ferns. She hadn't noticed him when she came in, but it was obvious he had seen her. He had chosen the most defensible position in the space, the one with a clear view of all the entrances and exits, and the fewest blind spots. She knew immediately that this must be her subject, the former leader of the now disbanded International Resistance. He had the weary-yet-intense look of a warrior that she had seen so many times.

Also, he was the only seventeen-year-old in the food court who wasn't wearing a retail uniform.

~~

"So, uh, tell me, Scott," said the manager of the thirteenth clothing store Scotty had applied to that day. "How are you at math?"

Scotty shrugged. He knew this was the most important interview of his life—so far, it was the only interview of his life—but the manager of Harness could have asked him about any school subject and gotten the same answer from Scotty's skinny shoulders. He was shrug at English and shrug at Biology and shrug at Marketing and Media Studies and Phys. Ed. Scotty did well enough to pass, and couldn't think of any other description of his abilities that mattered.

"What's seven times six?" the manager asked, signalling the numbers with her fingers as she spoke.

"Forty-nine?" asked Scotty, who hadn't thought to bring a calculator on his job hunt.

"If you were adding a tax of fifteen percent, how much extra would you charge on a bill of one hundred and fifty dollars?" asked the manager. She quickly added, "Take your time."

Scotty stalled by glancing around the stockroom where he'd been taken for his on-the-spot interview. Boxes cluttered up the floor and the rows of shelves were jammed with hastily-folded clothes. Yet in all the mess he didn't see a calculator anywhere, so finally he just said, "Twenty-five bucks?"

The manager sighed and looked back down at his resume. Scotty wasn't sure what she could possibly need to reread, since all that was on there was his name and address and his school's name and address, all in very large font.

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