Year 137 of the Central Government’s Standard Calendar
It was a well-known fact that records of governments and civilizations preceding the Central Government had been mostly wiped out by the same carelessness that led to their collapse. Despite this Faye Waller, had devoted much of her time during the formative years of her early teens to unearthing these relics. Most of her findings were in the form of dusty manuscripts and printed books. Though a digital society like her own had existed in the past, the clusters of binary arrangements that contained much of its knowledge and history had not survived its death throes.
Because of her interest in history, Faye knew that becoming a legal adult on one’s 18th birthday was something that had endured since the days humans had printed their symbols upon processed trees. She also knew that many of the dead cultures that had captured her teenage curiosity contained some form of a rite of passage; something meant to mark the ending of childhood.
“A rite of passage huh…” she muttered bitterly, taking a look around.
Faye was standing in the lobby of a building that had been her home for the last 10 years. Its white and featureless interior contrasted sharply with her own dark hair and complexion. In every way that the South Durvell Federal Orphanage looked open and welcoming, she was compact – some would say too skinny – and isolated. Her body was shaped with many acute angled in such a way that while not unattractive, certainly dissuaded potential hug-solicitors with the fear of receiving puncture wounds from a sharp shoulder blade or two.
Today was Faye’s 18th birthday. Her rite of passage: expulsion from the orphanage. A single suitcase of clothes and some photos of the family that was taken from her in the freak meteor shower of Year 127. A humble commercial hotel would be her new home.
The young woman was not concerned with finding work. All citizens had their basic needs provided for by the Central Government. Standard Credits could be earned by providing something of value to another, be it a service or a product. At the moment, Faye had about 200 credits registered to her person across all the relevant digital communication platforms of society. It would be enough for her to trade for a well-made meal in the upper-class district of the city.
These credits had been accumulated in petty portions of 10 to 20, like leaking water droplets filling a small bucket. Despite her admittedly cold demeanor, Faye had been popular amongst the boys and girls in the orphanage for her “gift.” They transferred their pittances of credits to her in exchange for information.
“Is she mad at me?”
“Does he pick on me so much because he likes me?”
Questions like these would spring up daily like unmanageable pimples from the many orphans occupying the four-storey government building.
Faye could sense emotions. If she had to describe the feeling in terms of the more common senses shared by her companions, she would say it was like looking at a color surrounding people while feeling the temperature and texture of that color simultaneously. The ability had first manifested itself shortly after her parents had disappeared and she was brought to the orphanage, and after living with it day in and day out, she soon became proficient at using her extra sense to understand another’s state of mind.
As she was reflecting on her usage of her gift in the orphanage, Faye suddenly sensed an unfamiliar emotion approaching the building. It was utterly indecipherable, and wholly addicting. The normally reserved and quiet young woman found herself wanting to find the person emitting such a feeling and follow them anywhere.
Three men in suits as sharp as Faye’s cheekbones stepped into the lobby of the Federal Orphanage. The first was a large, muscled man with dark brown skin and a shaved head. Faye could sense a sort of proud loyalty and vigilance from him. The second was a wiry gentleman who was as expressionless as he was slim. Had Faye been paying attention to him with his gift, she would have been surprised by his absolute lack of emotion.
As it were, the former orphan’s every thought had been captured by the third man. She had not registered his physical appearance because observing him with her eyes would take away from time to bathe in his unintelligible yet blissful emotional aura.
Turning to his stoic comrade, he asked, “Do you detect any problems?”
“No sir, she’s responding within tolerance,” was the monotone reply.
Faye did not register this, for her brain had stopped paying attention to her ears as well. The man radiating the mysterious feeling placed his hand on her shoulder, snapping her briefly out of her daze.
“Faye Waller? I’m happy to say we’re adopting you. Can we take you to your new home?”
She did not think deeply about what the man was saying, but if it meant more time in his presence…
Faye stuttered out a response. “O-okay. Thank you sir.”
“Welcome to the family.”
A young boy who couldn’t be more than nine or ten sat on a stool in an empty room. Across from him was an aged man with wispy hair that reminded the boy of clouds, and a smile that made the boy think this man was not quite normal. This was probably for this best, because the boy certainly wasn’t normal.
“So what do you say, Josh?” asked the elder. “Will you try it on for me?”
The boy smiled genuinely. “Of course professor! Just remember, you promised ice cream. You promised!”
“Oh my dear boy, what a wonderful little thing you are!” exclaimed the professor in delight. In his hands was a helmet whose symphony of moving parts and mechanisms gave away the fact that it was homemade. Gently, lovingly, he placed the helmet on the young one’s head.
“Okay, try talking to me.”
“Don’t forget my ice cream.”
The professor paused to check a display on his handheld computer. After a moment, he clicked his tongue in amusement.
“It says here that you’re still not using your peripheral nervous system, my boy.”
The young boy’s look of complete understanding in response to this statement betrayed a little of the his exceptional – some would say unnatural – intellect. His response completely gave it away.
“Oh but professor, what does it matter as long as my muscles are moving and my vocal cords are producing the sound? You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without this toy of yours.”
“You’re very special, Joshua. Your brain will always seek to find the quickest solution to everything. But that usually means it will do all the work itself. Imagine what it could do if it delegated tasks like mine does?”
Joshua cocked his head to the side like a confused animal. The professor knew, having taken the boy in as a baby, that this was a sign of impatience, not a lack of understanding.
“Oh very well. I know you don’t want to hear the details again, but I really think you can change the world. Just look at how much more you’ve been able to help me with my research since you learned to use your voice to produce sound instead of vibrating the air directly with that brain of yours.”
Uncharacteristically restraining his normally very greedy curiosity, the professor declared that they would end their session early that day, and the young Joshua Brooke was unleashed upon the last surviving colony of ice cream populating the corner of the home’s freezer. The 10 year old went to bed feeling happy and fortunate for the company of the professor, the only family he had ever known.
Hours later, Joshua sat up abruptly in his bed like a spring-loaded lever. He barely had time to recall his nightmare as the desperate gasps reaching his ears from the professor’s room alerted him to a much more real terror. Even without being anywhere near, Joshua’s special brain had already picked up on the truth of the situation. The young boy rushed from his room, holding back tears. He knew he would be too late, but his legs kept on moving.
On that night, the professor’s heart had stopped. The next day, Joshua Brooke’s adulthood began – a cruel unwanted burden on a soul that the universe seemed to be bent upon denying all forms of childish simplicity.