Authors: James Patrick Riser
Tags: #young adult science fiction, #science fiction ebook, #James Patrick Riser, #young adult ebook
James Patrick Riser
Wild Child Publishing.com
Culver City, California
Cover illustration by Wild Child Publishing Â© 2013
For information on the cover art, please contact Tinker Productions.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Editor: Brandy Hesidenz
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Ian Blum's eyes snapped open. He wiped perspiration from his hands and face off on the damp sheets and tossed them to the floor. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he made out the faint silhouettes of his dresser, television and slightly opened door. The glow from the underground city's artificial moon sliced through the darkness and ran across his bed. Muffled voices from a late night television show seeped in from the living room. Ian blinked hard in an attempt to wash away the images that had shaken him awake.
He looked to the small, box-shaped device on his nightstand. The three solid green lights on its top indicated that it was functioning properly. He slid it closer to him for a better look and rapped its top three times with his index finger, but triggered no visible response from the small machine. The black box required no wires, so Ian easily lifted it and set it in his lap where it fell under the light of the projected moon.
Near the end of the war, when living on the surface became unbearable, the world's population had moved underground. To regain some semblance of regularity an artificial moon and stars were projected on the ceilings of the vast subterranean cities during the hours of night, and a sun was similarly recreated during the day time. Being born during the age of artificial night and day, Ian had never known what it was like to live under a black sky of perpetual night, but imagined it to instill feelings of claustrophobia. It may have been like living in a huge, reinforced metal box with no escape save for burrowing deeper underground.
Ian saw the word
printed in bold white text above a single power button and a screen that displayed the date: August 14, 2033. When turned on, the device constantly emitted radio waves that prevented a sleeper from experiencing any anxiety or stress that might cause a nightmare. For the benefit of the colonies, the government provided these machines to everyone and created regulations that required every person to have a Somnium by their bedside. For over fifteen years, having a nightmare was unheard of. But Ian just woke from one.
He dreamed of being in a box barely large enough to accommodate him. He scratched at the walls in hopes of liberating himself from the oppressive darkness, but couldn't. After what seemed like hours, a deep rumbling shook the ground underneath him. The vibrations grew more powerful by the moment and light began to pour in through numerous spider web cracks that quickly spread over the surface of his prison. Eventually, the powerful disturbance reached a peak and Ian found himself with his hands braced against the quickly crumbling walls as they gave way with a violent burst. The explosion left him in field of wild grass. Not like the even, neatly trimmed grass he found in the city's parks, usually full of children chasing each other during simple games with made up rules. This grass was tall and uneven. Each blade swayed in unison as they were blown this way and that by a sharp, biting wind. He knew that this could only be the surface, even though he'd never been there himself. There was no wind underground, for a sophisticated temperature regulation system mimicked the weather of a warm spring day.
Sometimes, Ian lay in the uniform grass and stared at the clouds to see if he could spot any gaps in the illusion; many times he did. A pitch black ceiling would quickly reveal itself before being replaced by a deep, picturesque blue sky. But the sky in his dream was filled with thick, gray rolling clouds and during the moments when they parted a brilliant blue pierced his vision. He sat alone in the dream field and marveled at the frantic, unrehearsed movements of real nature. Soon after, a man burdened by heavy clothing approached Ian and stopped a few feet in front of him. Blue eyes bore into Ian and the increasingly fierce wind tore at the man's clothes and hair, but his expression remained stoic.
“The war drove your people underground, but its disease is nearly gone and it's time for humanity to take to the surface once again.” The man spoke without passion or enthusiasm, rather with a strong, matter-of-fact tone that commanded Ian to listen. “Another disaster is about to happen and the only way to avoid the utter destruction of humankind is to leave the colonies.”
“But why? We're safe down here.” Ian's voice sounded weak and impotent compared to the man's authoritative words. “Who are you?”
The man ignored Ian's concerns. “A long time ago, Phineas warned the people of the ramifications of the war and that they must escape underground. They heeded the warnings and thrived.” As he talked, the sky began to darken and the clouds slowed their frantic pace. “Now, you must listen again. An earthquake will crumble the colonies and bury everything under the remains of the makeshift civilization.”
“How are we going to move back to the surface?” Ian tried to stand, but a solid gust of wind knocked him to the ground.
“There are others,” the man answered as a few of the clouds behind him turned a bright, wild red. The hue spread throughout the sky like an uncontrollable blaze. The phenomenon grew brighter as it enveloped the ground and reduced the field to ashes; this all happened in a matter of seconds. All at once, the whole scene was washed away by a white flash.
Ian placed the Somnium back on the nightstand, lay back down and didn't bother to retrieve his sheets from the floor. He imagined the device's waves as they radiated throughout the room, and delicately altered the chemistry of his brain to ward off any further bad dreams. Before he closed his eyes he wondered if he was really the first one, in over a decade, to have a nightmare.
The next morning, Ian sat at the round kitchen table with his father, who constantly adjusted his deep red tie with one hand and read the news on a thin tablet with the other. His mother poured batter into a hot pan.
“It looks fine,” Ian remarked as he watched his father struggle with the tie.
“Are you sure that you don't want milk in your cereal?” his mother asked as she wiped batter from her hands onto a white, food-stained apron. Her hair was tied back into a tight pony tail to keep her long locks out of her face and out of the food, however, Ian would discover a black strand cooked into his pancakes every once in a while.
“Like always, I'm sure. I don't like my cereal soggy,” Ian replied, loudly crunching the small frosted squares. “You always ask me that. I'll drink my milk separately.”
“Fine.” She retrieved a glass from the cupboard and set it down next to Ian's bowl. “I thought kids were supposed to think that it was fun to pour milk into cereal.”
“Well, maybe I'm not a normal kid. I can't even go to public school.”
His mother made a sour face and opened her mouth to say something before his father interrupted her. “I never thought being ânormal' was such an admirable quality.”
Ian's defeated expression faded into one of surprise. “It's not?”
“No. People with certain dispositions and quirks make life interesting.” His hand returned to his tie as he continued, “Unlike these self-adjusting ties, which just complicate things.” He switched off the tablet, folded it up and shoved it into the inner pocket of his charcoal black suit. “Anyway, my point is not to feel bad about not being normal.”
“Pancakes are ready,” his mother announced and faced toward the table with a plate stacked high with irregularly shaped pancakes. She loudly set the plate on the table in between Ian and his father.
“I only have time to eat one or two; the office opens up early today.” Ian's father speared one of the pancakes with a fork and plopped it onto his own plate. “And it's Monday, so Ian's home school tutor will be here soon.” As he poured syrup on his single pancake, he added, “I hope you're looking forward to today's session.”
“Yeah,” Ian said dismissively. “Pass the syrup please.”
“You can learn a lot from Mr. Wasley. He remembers the war and when we first started to build subterranean cities.”
Ian nodded and let the thought linger silently for a handful of moments. “I think I had a nightmare last night,” he blurted out, assuming the previous subject had been dropped, and brushed dark, unruly hair out of his face.
His parent's silence diffused like a vapor throughout the room. His mother finally sat down to eat and breakfast continued in the same manner, with no one commenting on Ian's remark.
“Were all the lights on the Somnium solid green?” His father finally asked and moved another pancake to his plate.
“Yes, I checked right after I woke up.” Ian's mind drifted back to the previous night, the fear and the cold sweats. “But those things never break down.”
“Then it's impossible for you to have had a nightmare. Do you know how those things work?” His father shoved the rest of the pancake into his mouth, rose and put the plate in the sink among other used cookware.
“Yes, Mr. Wasley explained it to me several times. There's a whole book dedicated to the Somnium and its development.”
“Very interesting stuff as I remember.” His father straightened the tie one last time before heading to the living room. Ian rose from his seat and hastily followed.
“Yeah, but it still doesn't explain the nightmare,” Ian pressed as his father opened the front door and stepped out.
“Maybe it wasn't a nightmare.”
Ian remembered the fear and panic as tangible knots in his stomach. After he awoke, he wasn't sure if he had really entered back into reality. The walls and ceiling of his room could have crumbled at any second to reveal a war torn world and its fiery sky as a backdrop for the strange man's analytical omens. “It sure felt like one,” Ian muttered too quietly for anyone to hear before the door closed. Ian turned toward the kitchen and his mother, who had cleared the table. “Are you going to work today, Mom?”
“No. I'm going to visit your grandfather at the hospital today. He's not doing well.” She placed the last of the dishes in the sink and asked, “Can you do the dishes when you get a chance?”
“Um, yeah,” he answered as he followed her out of the kitchen. “Why do you and Dad walk so fast?” By the time he reached the living room, he heard his parent's bedroom door slam shut.
“What did you say, Ian?”
“Nothing. Is Grandpa still in the intensive care ward?” Ian pressed his face up against the cold wooden door. He heard ruffling sounds, and imagined his mother pulling clothes out of their drawers with haste.
“Yes, he is.”
Ian pulled his face away. “I thought they don't allow visitors to those wards on weekdays.” He walked back into the living room.
“I'm sure they can make an exception for his daughter,” she called out. The last couple words were almost drowned out by the sound of running water.
“Sure,” Ian said absentmindedly as he turned on the television. The flat screen built into the wall flickered to life with the images of graceful ballet dancers. Ian almost changed the channel, but their movements calmed him. They floated across the dance floor; their feet scarcely touched the ground for more than a moment. They didn't seem to notice the large audience at all. The sound of the doorbell pulled him out of the spell and he switched off the television.
He looked through the peep hole and saw his home school tutor with his eyes fixated on his wristwatch. He imagined the plump man standing in front of the door for a full minute so he could ring the doorbell exactly at 9 AM. Ian watched him until he pressed the doorbell again and then opened the door.
Ian met with his home school tutor every week day. His home's small kitchen served as a family dining room as well as Ian's class room. He had tried to go to public school, but cold sweats and a surging sensation of panic prevented him from concentrating on anything but the digital clock built into the classroom wall. When he got home the nervousness slowly loosened its grip from around his stomach as he sat at the kitchen table and read his text books. Learning from class lectures proved to be fruitless due to his inability to work in a haze of anxiety. Eventually his parents had decided that home schooling would be more effective since Ian did the majority of his learning at home.
A trip to a psychologist's office revealed that Ian suffered from a social anxiety disorder. The doctor also commented on how rarely these conditions appeared, in the last few decades, while living in the underground cities. When people began to immigrate en masse to the underground cities, citizens were unaccustomed to the living conditions. Psychological disorders became more prevalent including those stemming from social anxiety, however as the years passed and people became used to living in close quarters, such conditions became less frequent. The psychologist suggested that the Somnium also helped with the transition. But, Ian had a nightmare last night, which meant the device may no longer work on him. The disorder alienated him from the majority of the population; a cold, malevolent hand that drug him away from the rest of the world. Mr. Wasley and his parents acted as guests that would visit, but returned to the outside world whenever they needed to. Even though an automated system regulated the home's temperature, not unlike the way the city's weather was controlled, it always felt much colder when his parents left.
Michael Wasley spoke after the two sat at the kitchen table. “So, I heard that your parents are taking you out more often.” He pulled out two books and a file folder, like he usually did at the beginning of their sessions. “How's that working out for you, Ian?”
“It's working out okay,” Ian replied as he slid one of the text books to his side of the table, “just as long as we don't stop too much. Otherwise I feel like everyone is staring at me.” He opened the worn book to a dog-eared page and ran his fingers over the lines of text.
“I see, well, that's some progress. I'm happy to hear about that.” The professor stroked the facial hair that lightly grew on his chin and upper lip. “You're fifteen years old, and that's not the age to be isolated at home.”
“Yeah, I know.” Ian looked up from the book toward Mr. Wasley, but not directly at him. “That's why I'm trying.” He opened his mouth as if to say something else, but quickly let the words fade back into an unformed thought. His shoulders slumped and his gaze returned to the text book. “Why don't we study from the tablets? Don't they do that at the school?”
“Yes, they do,” Wasley replied as he opened the file folder that contained lesson plans and Ian's progress reports, “However, school tablets are not allowed to leave the schools. When a student happens to take one from the grounds, they lose connectivity to the electronic text book library. But, I think it's more interesting to learn from texts printed on actual paper.”
“I feel like if I turn the page too hard the thing will fall apart.” Ian rested his chin in an open palm.
“That's half of the fun.” Wasley pulled a pen out from the pocket of his dress shirt, “Just like how the ink cartridges for these pens are no longer manufactured.” He looked through the pen's transparent shaft at the solid black ink cartridge. “See, the ink actually stains the sides of it, so I cannot tell if the thing is full or not.” He leaned in a little closer to Ian. “It could stop writing at any moment.” Wasley sat upright again and wrote on a blank piece of paper. “Let's begin.”
“I'm glad you get excited about those things,” Ian said with a thin smile.
“Well, I teach at the school full time and when I have a break, I manage to come here for your lessons as well. On the weekends I try to tutor adults that didn't get a chance to have a proper education because of The Great Rebuilding, soâ¦” He sighed and ran a hand through his dark, ginger hair, “â¦you could say that I'm isolated as well, by my profession. There are few things to be excited about these days, so I take what I can.”
“I see what you mean, but at least you can stand in front of a whole class of people and talk.” Ian let his eyes drift to the sink full of dishes, “I can't imagine doing that.”
“Don't think I wasn't very nervous,” Wasley assured him, “I had to practice in an empty class room at first. Otherwise, I stuttered a lot and couldn't really speak effectively. It was pretty bad.”
Ian smiled. “I guess I'll be able to overcome this, too, with some practice.”
“That's all there is to it really. Going out to the market with your parents is a good first step.” He pulled the text book back to his side of the table. “Where did we leave off?” Wasley asked and quickly scanned the text, “Oh yes. Perfect. The Great Rebuilding, we were just talking about that, right?”
Ian nodded, turned on his tablet and produced a stylus from the compartment on the side of the thin device. He located the note taking program and clicked it open.
Mr. Wasley watched as Ian prepared. As soon as his student's attention returned, he said, “Let's get started.”