Chapter Five: Jerked Down the Path of Least Resistance

          I was an only child.

My parents’ Profiles and genome were clean enough to have a second, but like most people, they were dependent on the sizeable financial stipend issued for not doing so.

They both worked, of course. They spent their lives devoted to the Settlement, and wished the same for me. Therefore, despite the fact that they remained together and I was fortunate enough to live with them, I was raised more or less by the Settlement from the age of two, when I received the Biometric.

Children in the Settlement were not permitted to go outdoors.

There were many reasons for that, and all of them perfectly valid. Unsupervised minors were always in danger, prone to the formation of subcultures. Subcultures could promote crime, mischief, contraband, or even Detractiveness. Children below a certain age couldn’t be held criminally responsible as Detractors, of course, but sometimes they could say Detractive things and spread false rumors without realizing it, due to not yet being fully educated. Hence, it was better to prevent ideas from spreading laterally between minors. The very cohesion of the Settlement could be undermined; and as we all knew, the Settlement was humanity’s last hope.

None of that meant children couldn’t get from place to place, it simply meant they had to use the sublevels.

The sublevels connected all of the buildings in the Settlement. They were also the only place that really counted as “public space”, seeing as so many of them were now abandoned and disused.

The sublevels in use were clean and orderly.

The abandoned sublevels were a labrynthine place; and with so many entrances and exits throughout all 36 districts that fully blocking them off would have been impossible for even the Administrators.

It was said that some of these sublevels still connected to the outer parts of the Settlement, the districts that had been walled off from the main city and abandoned. I wasn’t sure, I’d never been there—that was an errand for rebellious teens.

In order to curb exploration, a rumor was permitted to grow. There was something down there, our parents told us, something scary. Something waiting on the very lowest sublevel, sublevel 35, to devour children. The form of the bogeyman changed depending on who was telling the story. Sometimes it was a great green gremlin that ripped children limb from limb and ate them. Sometimes we’d be told a far more reasonable sounding story about contamination with radioactive materials. These still sounded far-fetched to me—the idea of a rock that could kill with energy – before I took science class and learned about the atom. At any rate, I never went down there, so it didn’t matter.

          Although the system was supposed to deter rebellion, commerce won a rather large victory for us. There was an underground shopping corridor five miles in length that ran under the city from the 2nd Southwest District to the 2nd Central District. It had several offshoots, one of which bypassed us in the 4th Central where I lived.

The shopping corridor had glass ceilings to let in the light. Glass ceilings! Although most places simply used solar power, no panels can beat the efficiency of direct sunlight.

          Kids and teenagers who could escape for a moment would walk up and down the corridor, window shopping. None of them could buy anything, since there was no way for them to have any money— their digital cash accounts weren’t even issued until they turned 16. And they could only loiter for a few minutes before the security would show up to report them to their parents and clear them out. Simply put, the tracker in the Biometric caught anyone who wasn’t where they were supposed to be before too much time could pass.

Still, I envied them. I never got away like that, since my parents were too upstanding to let me engage in such behavior. I enjoyed walking through the corridor whenever my mother took me to an appointment or extra-curricular. It was nice to get a glimpse of the sun.

          The schools didn’t have windows, but they did have ultra-violet lights to boost mood. And most people used tanning beds. They used to say that you could measure a kid’s will to live by the amount of time they spent in front of the UVs. Whether that was cause or effect was a matter of speculation.

Since I was compliant in nature, with a strong sense of self-preservation, intelligent enough to get good grades, and had no major ambitions in life, I was more or less jerked down the path of least resistance.

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