- Atmospheric Pressure
Olson lives in a city that has been sealed from the outside world. He’s an Eleven Year and close to citizenship. His life is upended when one of the few adults who cares about him commits suicide - or so it appears at first. While investigating, Olson meets a girl named Natalie snooping around his school. He soon learns that one of her friends died under similarly mysterious circumstances. Together, they start looking for answers, and end up discovering the city's darkest secrets.
A fluorescent bulb wheezed and flickered during its dying breaths. Because of the power emergency, the lights were not at full capacity. Every third dimly glowing panel offered little to illuminate the dark hallway where Olson waited. He sank lower into his seat, imagining the OPS authorities dragging him away like the boy who had disappeared. He banished the thought and tried to delude himself. Maybe Instructor Duncan would take away his touchlite privileges or something simple.
Olson knew he was lying to himself. Violence was an inexcusable act regardless of circumstance. He shouldn’t have punched Eckelston, but the guy had deserved it. He’d been picking on Hanson, and Olson didn’t really know what had come over him. He’d felt this urge to protect her like she was more than just a classmate.READ MORE
Olson had never infracted on the rules before today. He woke up after the allotted sleep hours. He reported to the classroom floor every morning. He only played in designated areas, installed designated apps on his touchlite, and only downloaded books for his designated grade level. The worst Olson had done was ask too many questions during class. Most of the teachers would scold Olson for not reading the book, but not Instructor Duncan. He’d actually answer the questions. When they got started, the whole class would roll their eyes, as the session usually ended up getting out late.
An office down the hall opened, and a female figure stepped into the hallway. Because she was located in the shadow between lights, he couldn’t see her face. However, he could see a pencil skirt and frilly collar outlined in the dark. The figure was his Two Year teacher, Instructor Simone. Olson gulped as she walked towards him. He brushed his ginger hair out of his eyes, so his baby blues would show. She was the nicest teacher and would always help him when he struggled with his studies. He didn’t want her to see him in here. Only the really bad ones ended up in the hallway after school hours. He tried to shift so she wouldn’t notice him but was unsuccessful.
“Olson?” Instructor Simone said. “What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know, Instructor,” he mumbled.
“Instructor? I haven’t been your instructor for nine years. You can call me Simone.”
“Cheer up. Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad. Let me let you in on a little secret. We all infract sometimes... I infracted last year.”
“You have rules?”
“We all have rules. You just can’t let that credit rating slip.”
“You’ll find out after Twelve Year. Don’t let Duncan keep you much later. It’ll be Dinner Hour soon.”
“Yes, Instruct... Simone.”
Her shoes thumped on the carpet as she walked away. Once she turned the corner, the hallway felt even lonelier. Olson was pretty sure all the instructors had gone home except for his.
Simone was right about one thing: he was getting hungry. Dinner Hour was close. He pulled his touchlite from his backpack, and it gave him a “connect to your charger” symbol. So much for passing the time. He had nothing to do but wait.
After what felt like hours but was probably only minutes, his instructor’s door opened.
“Come in,” Duncan said from beyond Olson’s sight.
Olson stepped into the office. His heart pounded. Not only was he unsure of what punishment awaited, but he was also about to go into a personal space with a door. All of his life, he had never been in a personal space closed off by a door. He slept in the Nine through Twelve Year Hall on floor ten in a small cubicle space that didn’t give him much privacy. Before the cubicle, he was in a bunk in the Six through Eight Year Hall. In the One through Five Year Hall, it was a room full of cots packed together. His friends would call him a liar if he made memory claims before One Year. He did remember a lot of One Year though. Most boys would cry themselves to sleep.
Sometimes he would dream about a bed that felt safe. It had white bars around the side. A woman in a white coat would sing to him. Sometimes she would pull him out of the bed with the bars and walk him around. He could sometimes hear her voice if he concentrated during his waking hours. The dreams would always end in the same way. Another man and woman would come into the room. The woman was short, with a pear-shaped figure and brown hair. The man was tall and stern. She would cry over Olson’s bed. The man would pull her away, and she would scream. Olson would wake from the screaming, not quite sure if it was his or the woman’s.
Olson never wanted to ask those in the cubes next door because it was rude to confront people about their sleeping habits. They were all in a big room together. The cube walls were only about five feet high, so people’s heads would poke out if they were standing up. There were also only three walls to each cubical unit. If someone snored, everyone had to deal with it. Olson was just glad he wasn’t near one of the snorers. He would hear them at night in the distance though.
Olson sat in a large brown chair Instructor Duncan offered him. He had never seen a private space enclosed by walls before. His version of privacy was a few locking drawers and the code that prevented unauthorized use of his touchlite. The room was dimly lit, as only a small reading lamp on the desk was allocated for personal electricity usage during the power emergency. There was a couch that no doubt folded out to a bed, a luxury few could afford. There was a bookshelf with lots of antique paperback books Olson had never seen before. He would have to ask Instructor Duncan what a “Harry Potter” was sometime in class, as seven large dusty tomes took up a lot of space on the shelf. Other than the books, there were many knickknacks and even a gold trophy. Olson was amazed at the amount of personal objects just out on the desk. He couldn’t leave a half-eaten bagel unlocked from his drawer without it going missing.
“It’s not gold.” Instructor Duncan’s eyes followed Olson’s to the trophy. It was very peculiar. It featured a golden guy on top of a pedestal swinging some sort of stick.
“What is it made out of?” Olson asked, temporarily forgetting that he was supposed to be in trouble.
“Plastic, I suppose.” He tossed the trophy to Olson and pulled a bottle of brown liquid from his desk. He poured it into a coffee mug and then put the bottle back in the drawer.
The golden part was surprisingly light. The base was made out of a white stone material. On closer inspection, the plastic paint was chipped in places. Why would someone put cheap plastic on an expensive exotic stone? There were words engraved at the bottom, but they had long since faded.
“What’s the guy holding?” Olson thumbed over the odd stick above the person’s head.
“It’s called a baseball bat. It’s a sport the people before used to play. They would hit a ball with the bat.” His instructor cradled the mug and turned toward his window. The shades were drawn, but Duncan seemed more interested in the liquid than opening the blinds.
Olson imagined swinging a large stick above his head. It would poke holes in the ceiling tile. The game seemed ungainly at best and dangerous at worst. The only possible way to swing a stick that high would be to do it in a public space. There were too many windows in the public areas to risk hitting a ball. All the sporting floors were reinforced and nowhere near a window.
“You can have it,” Instructor Duncan said. Olson’s heart skipped a beat.
“You’d give this to me?” The stone alone was worth more citcreds than his school-sponsored graduation gift.
“On one condition.” Duncan smirked.
The smile made Olson uncomfortable. The conversation with his teacher was not going as expected. He felt like he was talking with some lowlife G-Town dealer from a stream than a teacher. However, citcreds were citcreds. An Instructor couldn’t want anything that bad. “What’s the condition?”
“I need you to get me something from the Leamington lockdown,” Duncan said. He pulled a CitID from his pocket and slid it across the desk. Olson looked hesitantly at the piece of white rectangular plastic. It was blank. There was no name and picture printed on the front.
“What about Dinner Hour?”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to skip it.”
Olson looked at the card and back at Instructor Duncan. Citcreds were citcreds. He took the card, and his instructor grabbed his hand. The grip hurt Olson.
“You know why I picked you for this opportunity?” His teacher leaned really close. His breath stank. It was a rancid smell Olson had never smelled before. He almost gagged. “I picked you because you’ve never broken the rules. Not a single infraction. When you hit Eckelston, I knew. I knew you’d be the one. And one more thing: that CitID. You can keep it, and all the Citcreds on it.”
Olson nodded, and Instructor Duncan let go. Olson scrambled out of the office with the card tucked into his pocket, relieved that he had somehow avoided punishment.COLLAPSE