-If you missed it, read the prologue here.
Three Inhabitants stood on the gleaming metal platform in the square. One male, two females.
All three guilty of breaking the Not Allowed’s.
The Prosecutor read their charges from his Class 6 lenses to the crowd in a booming voice. He waved his hands about in a grandiose fashion, parading back and forth across the platform in a way that distracted from his under-average stature.
“Inhabitant Arthur Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”
The accused Inhabitant was young, in his mid-fifties, with brown-black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He looked neither ashamed nor afraid to hear his sentence pronounced.
“Inhabitant Mattie Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”
Mattie looked at her husband with a small smile and reached for his hand, but a guard tased her and she screamed, falling to her knees. A murmur hummed from the crowd. Surely even a rebel deserved some small measure of mercy. The Prosecutor hurried on.
“Inhabitant Love Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”
Love was still a child at twenty-three. When the Prosecutor announced her fate, she thrust both fists in the air and screamed, “Down with the Inhabitants!” before the guard could step in and tase her too. That settled the crowd in square opposition of the accused. The Inhabitants hadn’t done this. They hadn’t forced the girl or her parents to remove her implants. They were not pronouncing a death sentence on a child, the child had pronounced it upon herself and they washed their hands of her.
The Prosecutor lead the way as the guards marched the condemned Inhabitants down the shiny platform’s steps and along the road that threaded through the city towards the gate. Inhabitants lined the road the entire way. Some looked sorrowful. Some jeered curses and insults. Others were silent, like Sara.
Inhabitant Sara Todd stood deep in the crowd by the gate, swirling with emotion. Love had been her best friend since they met in Assigned Learning at the age of ten. Sara herself was twenty-three just last week. Maybe she was still a child, but she knew better than to remove her implants, no matter how they plagued her. Yet Love and her family had done just that, and had tried to encourage others to follow their example. It made no sense to Sara.
Love even made wild claims that the city smelled of rot. She said the grass in the city park was plastic. She said the food they were issued daily had little flavor and less smell, that it was a lump of vitamins and nutrients to sustain life, nothing more.
The lies her parents told were even worse.
The Inhabitants could clearly smell the crisp, clean fragrance of the city, feel the softness of the grass, and the food – the food! –was daily manna from the Supreme Inhabitant himself. Muffins studded with blueberries and dripping with butter, peaches downy soft and juicy, steaks smothered in crispy onions with great, fluffy baked potatoes and even fluffier rolls; how could she deny this bounty they could see and smell and touch and taste and even hear for themselves?
The crowd was silent as the procession approached the gate.
“Do the condemned have any final statements,” the prosecutor boomed.
“We did no wrong. May God have mercy on our souls,” Mattie Brinkle said, squaring her shoulders.
The crowd tittered at her foolishness. Souls and gods had been done away with eons ago.
“My only hope is that you see the light, as we have,” Arthur added.
Love had been searching the crowd when her eyes locked on Sara’s.
“’Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not,’” she quoted.
The crowd hissed. Quoting from a banned book was a lesser Not Allowed, to be sure, but still; the audacity of the child to heap sins on her head even as she faced execution.
Sara shrank deeper into the crowd to escape further unwanted attention.
The heavy gate cracked open as the guards forced the Brinkle’s out into the Unknowns, the unprotected and unfiltered region beyond the city’s protective gates.
Nobody survived the Unknowns.
The gates, now shut, flickered to life, a giant screen. It was mandatory to watch the rebels pass into the EverAfter, and watch the city did, with bated breath.
First the man fell to his knees, fingers clawing the hot, red dirt as he gasped for breath. Without his implants to filter out harmful toxins in the air, his lungs shriveled and his nostrils scorched. His wife ran to him, an expected display of devotion, but she too succumbed in the dirt beside her husband. The girl was the last to die, tears streaking her face, one hand reaching back towards the city in a gesture of longing and regret.
Sara let out a quiet, shuddering breath. She tried hard to convince herself that she had done the right thing by turning in the Brinkle family, but she kept seeing Love’s agonized face as she died. She walked back to Assigned Learning with guilt gnawing at her backbone. What did it matter what Love said to her anyway?
Love was dead. It was finally over.