This is what happens when I decide to edit mid-draft…
The line wrapped all the way around the block at 50th and Madison. Viewscreens posted along the outside of the recruitment building flashed with advertisements. The images were of dreams, the things each one of us standing in that line would wish for. Money. Luxury. A free life. A blue sky.
ORANGE, my lens warned. At lease half the people standing in line were criminals. Only those who had been in jail were given the designation. I shrunk into myself, trying not to look conspicuous, pulling the hood of my sweatshirt over my hair to hide it, tucking each strand of pink beneath it. What an idiot I had been.
The oranges looked older than the other recruits, more weathered, even though I was certain some of them were close to my age. I wondered what each of them had done to land them the label, impossible to ever wash off no matter how many years of service they did. The government didn’t have many jails anymore, so these days convicts had a choice: the service, or the burning plants. Most people took their chances in the service, and almost all oranges made it in without even trying. Only those who were mentally impaired or had a visible disability were sent to the burning plants instead. I absently straightened my leg without looking down at it.
Several boys my age stood ahead of me. I looked backward at the others who were lining up behind us, looking for some sign that Alex had turned up. I hadn’t wanted to come together. I was too afraid he would talk me out of my plans to join. Still, now that I was waiting without him, my nerves buzzed.
As I searched the crowd for him, I was surprised by the variety of body types. They weren’t all huge, then, like the guys who came home to show off their success. Those must have been trained up, their bodies bulking and hardening as they made their way through boot camp and, later, service. And girls, too. They had come, just like me. And they weren’t big, either, even the ones who looked as though they’d been training for this their whole lives.
Maybe it really would be anybody’s game.
Or maybe we would just be the first ones to die.
I shoved the thought away as I turned forward again, crossing my arms over my chest.
The line crawled. As we made our way around the front of the building, the giant cathedral across the street from where we waited towered over us like an omen. Its great golden doors were closed, but despite the bright day, lights shone from within the building. I wondered how many people went to church anymore. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been remade into something different now, some other sort of building more necessary than a place to worship a god nobody seemed to believe in.
It was beautiful, though. There was no denying that. It stirred something in me to see it, stretching so high above my head that I could barely make out the top spires. I looked at the streets surrounding us, and was suddenly struck with a realization I hadn’t noticed before.
Everything was clean.
It was still a city, that much was true, but I hadn’t noticed the difference between this sliver of protected space and the place I had come from just a couple hours ago. No garbage lined the sidewalks. No broken storefronts spilled their glass. Above me on all sides stood magnificent buildings, places where the rich lived and played, forgetting those of us down below.
“I’ll be up there,” the boy in front of me said. “Soon enough.”
He had been watching me. He elbowed me conspiratorially.
“Maybe you, too, Pink,” he said. “Maybe we could save on some rent, you and me.”
I crossed my arms, trying in vain to make myself look as insignificant as possible.
I was relieved when he turned back to stare above again.
By ten we had come all the way around to the front of the recruitment center. In the empty area in front of the building there was a strange statue. It depicted a man holding several rings above his head. They interconnected, making a hollow sort of sphere. It made me think of a man shouldering the weight of a planet. Maybe its message was meant for us recruits. That if we made it out of this place with a stiff shirt and flag patch, it would then be our job to hold up the world.
I turned back to stare at the cathedral once more, suddenly hungry for its ornate carvings and promises of a god above.
Wouldn’t it have been easier if that were the life I had been brought into.
I turned my back to it one final time, choosing instead to carry the weight of my future all on my own.
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