Name: Kim Baccellia
Genre: YA Multicultural Sci-Fi
Title: EL COMPUESTO
Here goes nada.
My hands shook like leaves during a sudden wind storm. It hadn’t been foolish to
keep the encrypted image overnight, it was suicidal. But I had to see it one more time.
I snuck a glance over my shoulder, checking for security. If I was caught watching the image of the world outside the compound, I’d be thrown into solitary confinement or worse. I’d end up like Papi, disappearing in the middle of the night.
No, I couldn’t do that to Mami.
The leaders had converted our old auditorium into a classroom. Long rectangular steel and glass tables were scattered around with empty spaces in between us, making it easier for our holographic assignments to not interfere with others around us. It also gave me the extra time I needed.
The light tapping of the monitor’s combat boots on the smooth floor meant I had time. Their vid-monitor devices swept over those closer to the front doors, always on the look-out for floros, those who shirked their responsibilities to el Compuesto. There was no reason to suspect me because if anything as I was the perfect citizen. I prided myself on this by making sure I did everything our community expected from its citizens—from being on time with my assignments, going to bi-weekly youth rallies, and even accepting a choice of a mate. None of this would matter if my latest bout with defiance was found.
If they found out…
I shuddered. The stain of Papi’s disappearance after being vocal against el Padre’s command still followed me.
Guilt niggled at the back of my mind, reminding me how stupid I was to push my own standing within our community. But the need for one moment of release gripped me and refused to let go. I reminded myself I just needed to be careful. Yes. I could do this and it looked like time might be on my side.
My leg couldn’t stop bouncing with pent-up nervous energy. I wet my lips, waiting for the perfect moment.
I swiped my hand over my monitor, settling back in my chair. The key to this was to act normal and not show how I really felt inside. I had a lot of practice with this every since Papi had ‘disappeared’.
The steel backing pressed into my lower back, but I pushed the uncomfortable feeling aside. A hologram circled around my space, seeming to box me in for my own custom performance. The virtual reality image erased the dullness of the classroom with a magical computerized paint brush, painting everything with bright colors. I closed my eyes for a brief second, savoring the flood of emotions that swirled within me. I felt as if a leaded weight had been severed from me, releasing my bruised soul into the heavens. No longer did I blend in with the uniformed oneness which consisted of everything down to the same pair of boots we wore. No, this my own silent way of defiance.
Opening my eyes, I waited.
Then it came.
Jewel-like plumage darted in and out of a group of hibiscus flowers. The vivid coral, pink, lavender, and red petals brightened not only the space in front of me but my whole being. I reached out, stroking the velvet softness of a flower petal. A whiff of sweetness tickled my nose. I wanted, no I craved more.
A chumparosa darted close by my ear. My gaze followed as she dipped a long beak inside a flower, hovering for a brief moment before dashing off to another one.
Though I was inside the cold confinement of the school auditorium, it never ceased to amaze me how life-like and real the projected hologram images could be. I continued to watch the dance of the hummingbird once more. Her aerobics fascinated me. Now I know why my ancestors were so enthralled with these small birds.
At first glance, the lone hummingbird’s paper thin wings might seem fragile, unequipped for its mission. I knew better. An insect-like buzzing vibrated around me, teasing me to join her. The tiny bird bounced from one bright hibiscus flower to another before fluttering off into emptiness.
With her passing, the hologram image faded revealing my real world. I sighed. The harsh white plastered walls erased the beauty of the hummingbird into a distinct memory. This sharp contrast between our worlds always caught me off guard. Or maybe it was really the disappointment of knowing that the freedom of the tiny creature could never coexist with the iron fist of El Padre, who would probably crush it like he did with anyone else who searched for freedom.
I glanced around, nervous. Any slip of composure, hint of rebellion was reported. I slumped down in my chair and tried to push the thoughts aside.
No one else seemed to notice my lapse. Why should they? I could brush off the hologram as ‘research’ for a purposed field work project but knew better. Anything out of the ‘norm’ could be considered a threat to el Padre’s leadership or our way of life. Though I didn’t like to admit it, I’d seen what happens to those who question.
Seriously, I’d been listening too much to my sister with her endless conspiracy theories. One of her latest theories dealt with mind reading. Even I knew the leaders couldn’t read our minds. Though I feared Jorge, my assigned mate, at times could. But then again just being in his presence I felt like wet clay ready for him to mold which was a sensation I didn’t have the luxury to embrace right now.
I blinked once, twice, reorienting myself to my class assignments. At least I’d been assigned to botany, which I loved. Still after being engulfed in the holograms, it always took a few seconds to re anchor myself into reality.
El Padre was our true padre
I hummed part of the national chant in my head and let the words fill me once more with my true purpose and calling. The words came easy enough. I’d heard them since childhood. The leaders had used this message and others to remind us that we were different than those outside of our domed community. Living far away in the desert gave us courage, strength, and unity. The Earth outside our home with their fighting, wars, and hatred was the enemy. Order was our god. Without order, destruction came.
Then I made the mistake of glancing to the other side of the classroom. An empty seat reminded me of what could happen if my one single act of defiance was noticed. A sick feeling gurgled in my stomach reminding me how close I played to the edge.
Luz, hadn’t been in class for two days now, which was unlike her. She’d been my best friend since childhood. We’d done everything together. She’d been the one who didn’t shun me after Papi’s betrayal or added to the vicious rumors that circulated around el Compuesto that he’d tried to kill our beloved leader. No, she’d been more of a hermana then my own twin sister.
Xochil sat to the far side of the room, twirling a piece of her raven hair. Her vid was down. Every now and then she’d roll her eyes. Though my gemela at times rambled on with her crazy theories, right now I wished I had her strength to stand up to the leaders without fearing being singled out.