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Steps
By Carly A.
age: 18
Alabama

Delia wound her way through the crowd. They were all dressed in the same colors: red, black, and blue, with little ornamentation or jewelry. Delia sighed, thinking, ‘This is a very dull sight.’ The people were reflected back and forth in the glass and steel buildings that were now so much a part of every skyline, as far as the eye could see. Delia’s wrist computer buzzed, letting her know she was late for work. She glared at it and quickened her pace, trying to keep from being too late.

Delia entered her workplace. It was every bit as colorless as the outside world. Her boss drone told her she was late, and gave her a warning. Delia sighed with resignation. ‘Every day, the same thing: same job, same colors, same clothes.’

Around fifty years ago, on December 14, 2013, the tide of history took a dramatic change. A new ruler emerged, and the government that was in power then showed little opposition to resist the new ruler’s swift, yet brutal, takeover. He gained almost total support from the people.

Once he placed himself in power, he began his tight-fisted rule over the country. He quickly and effectively squashed any opposition, and anyone who spoke out against him was immediately exiled. No one ever figured out exactly where those people were exiled to, but it happened enough so that no one crossed the man. He styled himself as “Supreme Ruler” and one never knew when he might be watching. His scientists have been rumored to have created cameras so small they could float on air and were almost invisible.

Delia left her workspace at the end of the day. She had finished all that she was assigned to do, and no more. She had spent most of the day thinking about the stories her grandmother had told her when she was a small girl. Her grandmother, Rosemary, had been almost a century and a half old before she died. Only the old people were the ones who really remembered life before the Supreme Ruler.

Rosemary had spoken of wonderful things. People applying dye on hair attached to the ends of sticks and brushing them onto paper, creating pictures so magnificent one could not help but stare in wonder. People who did nothing all day but sit and write “fiction” (which Delia assumed meant “make-believe”) for others to read. Imagine! People creating worlds within worlds for people who didn’t exist. Most of the other people had passed her stories off as delusions of an old woman, but Delia saw the spark in the woman’s eyes that convinced Delia that Rosemary was in full control of her mind, if not her body.

Delia looked up at the darkening night sky. The lights of the cities made it almost bright as day, though more garish. Delia detested the life she lived, but could see no possible way of escape. Any form of creativity, such as the wonderful things her grandmother had described, was immediately regarded as a threat to society itself. Only scientists were allowed to create and invent to make life better. The scientists make wonderful things, like anti-gravity flying cars and menageries of animals that seemed almost real. Delia spent every hour she could in these wonderful menageries.

She also belonged to an underground movement. Most of the people carried with them the secrets their parents and grandparents had taught them, like the brushing with dye and the creating of “fiction.” Delia was a dancer. Some of the people in the movement played instruments, and she danced for them. Her mother and Rosemary had taught her many dances, and she passed them on to anyone who was willing to learn. Other people danced as well, both by themselves or with a partner. Delia was working on learning to dance with a partner.
She looked at the street around her, hoped the rumors about the air cameras were false, and placed her palm on the door panel. The door whooshed open. Delia was greeted with hugs, exclamations of surprise, and questions. It had been almost three weeks since her last visit.

“I’m sorry,” she said to the expectant audience. “My drone boss was getting suspicious. I was followed home one night. Luckily, I saw the spybot before I came here.” Hisses of surprise and disapproval echoed around the room as she continued her pleas for help.

“I am tired of living in secret. I want people to see me for who I truly am. I want to dance in public, to show people that creativity does still exist within this mockery that we have come to call our lives.”
“Delia, you’ve listened to Rosemary too much,” another dancer said. “We’re lucky to have existed this long. Do you really want to jeopardize everything we’ve worked for?”

Delia stared at the crowd around her. Every face mirrored the other dancer’s disapproval. Several of the faces showed outright shock.

“Fine. I’ll do it myself,” she announced. “I have music, I have a dance. You will see.”

“You’re turning yourself into a martyr,” someone said. “A needless one.”

Delia glared at the speaker, then turned and stalked out of the room.

The next day, Delia gathered her courage and stepped into the busy sidewalk. Several pedestrians openly stared at her, bumping into each other as they gawked. Delia was dressed in an outfit she had made herself. It was completely red, and showed off her dancer’s legs and figure. She had put on almost every piece of jewelry she owned, and gaudy makeup. Her hair was down, yet another slap at the neatly controlled buns that women were required to wear in public. She walked on resolutely, ignoring the gawkers and the small spybot that was following her.

She came to a courtyard that formed a circle in the middle of a street. Her wrist computer stood out starkly black against all the color that she wore. Delia pushed a button, and loud, but graceful, music began to play. Delia lifted her arms and relaxed, breathing with the music.

As she found her rhythm, she began to dance.
She didn’t fight when the enforcer robots came to take her away.

The tension in the room was so high it was almost tangible. Delia stood before the panel of magistrates, eyes studying the stone floor under her bare feet.

The woman was a sad sight. In her prisoner’s garb, an un-dyed cotton tunic, her pale skin became paler. The tunic had several stains on it, and her black eye was a painful reminder of her encounter with the magistrates’ guards. She was filthy and almost pitiful, but the magistrates showed no pity or mercy towards her. An old man with a deeply lined face leaned forward to address the woman in front of her.

“Delia, do you understand the seriousness of what you’ve done?” the man at the front of the panel of judges asked. She didn’t move. “Delia, do you understand the impact of what you’ve done?”

“Yes, Chief Magistrate, I do,” she replied. She finally looked up at the judges in front of her. “I understand what I’ve done. It was through no childhood folly of mine that I committed the acts that I did.”

“You know--,” the Chief Magistrate began.
“I know exactly what I did!” Delia cried, ignoring the shocked gasps that chorused from the other magistrates. “I am well aware of the law I have broken, and the punishment for my actions.” She set her mouth in a firm line, her gaze level. Only her trembling hands belied her nervousness.
The Chief Magistrate met her gaze. “Delia Suspirae, you are sentenced to a life of exile for the crime of speaking against the Supreme Ruler of our kingdom.”

Delia’s eyes flashed. “You try to squash our creativity. When someone has true talent, you take them and punish them. You grind the originality out of anyone who gathers up enough courage to express themselves. I know full well the impact my actions will have. It is you underestimate the power of what I have done.”

An enforcer robot came forward to drag her away. She kept her eyes locked on the Chief Magistrate, refusing to give him the victory of her fear.
Somewhere deep inside him, the Chief Magistrate felt something he hadn’t felt since he was a child in the time before the Supreme Ruler. It took him a while to find a name for the feeling, but he smiled when he finally recognized it.

It was hope.

 

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