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 sneaked 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 the other screens around us.
The light tapping of combat boots on the smooth floor meant the monitor was walking to the other end of the room, giving me some time. It was now or never.
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 made sure there was no reason to suspect me. I took pride in doing everything our community expected –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. Usually an overhead monitor or two were faced in my direction. A double red light flash that you’d miss if you blinked. But now they were pointed in the other way.
Guilt nudged 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.
I glanced over to the side, looking for my friend Luz but only an empty space stared back at me. I wanted to share my latest ‘find’ with her but the window of time was slipping. For a brief moment my fingers wavered over my monitor, unable to move. Over in the corner my gemela Xochil frowned. Then she made a quick sign, signaling the coast was clear.
For some reason this annoyed rather than reassured me. I could almost sense my twin daring me to go through with my defiance, thinking I’d chicken out. If anything that only forced my hand.
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’. After awhile, tears dried up until turning into a numbness that I carried with me.
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 the hummingbird 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.
The uncomfortable sensation of someone staring at me caused me to glance over to catch a half smile on Xochil’s face. She mouthed:
Then a little louder, “Didn’t think you had it in you.”
I turned back to my monitor, annoyed but also not surprised. My twin relished subtle attacks against our compound. Right now I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction that maybe I’d been actually listening to her conspiracy stories.
No one else seemed to notice our exchange. Good.
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 glanced back to Luz’s empty seat. Where was she? 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.