United States

"The normal human consciousness is not equipped to deal with the pillars and suspension cables of the universe."

Message to Readers

This is a passage of what will be a much larger work, cut down to fit the word limit. I hope the ending doesn't feel too abrupt. I'd love any kind of feedback :)

The System

November 13, 2019

The sky was November blue, cold and sharp and brittle. The kind of blue a person could reach up and tap a fingernail against, though then they would have to cover their head with their arms as the blue shattered and fell in shards around them, littering the earth with perfect fragments of broken sky.
        Claire stumbled a little as she stepped down from the bus, but she got her balance again and began to make her way down the wide front walk towards City Hall. The doors opened automatically when she reached them, and she stepped inside, walking towards the reception counters. Each had a long line, except for the one at the end, which was deserted. Claire stepped towards that one, reached into her coat, and held a card up to the scanner at the end of the dividers. It chimed and flashed green. Claire stepped up to the window.
        The woman behind the counter had an I Voted button pinned to her blouse. The smile she gave Claire was bored but kind.
        “You voting today, love?”
        Claire nodded.
        “You know, you could have called for a house visit. That’s new this year, people who need it can get a team to set up the equipment right in their living room. Isn’t that nice?”
        Claire agreed that it was nice. In fact, her mother had almost insisted that she take that option, but Claire had wanted to vote at City Hall, by herself. There had been an argument, which Claire had won in the end. She usually did. Claire was almost twenty-five, but she rarely got the chance to feel independent, so she liked to take the opportunities when they came.
        Claire gave her name. The woman pulled up her profile in the database, then shook her head and made a quiet clucking noise. She looked up, remembering herself, and the smile returned, larger and softer now, as if to make up for the lapse. She directed Claire to a waiting station, and told her that a staff member would come to collect her shortly.         “Will it take long?” Claire asked. “Voting, I mean. Not the wait.”
        “No, it takes all of five minutes, love. They hook you up, turn on the machine, let it fill in the ballot, and then you’re done. This your first time?” The woman squinted; Claire seemed too old to be a first-time voter.
        “Yes.” Claire flushed a little. “I’ve had other things to worry about.”
        The woman nodded sagely. “Of course. Just you go over there and sit. They’ll fetch you in a moment.”
        Claire walked over to the waiting area, stumbling once over a chipped floor tile, and sat down to wait.
Three people sat on a bench in front of City Hall. They had never met before, and none of them were sure that they were really meeting now. This was only business, after all.
        The youngest of the three was the only one who looked nervous. He jiggled his knee, launching it up from the sidewalk, only to let it fall back down and be launched upwards again in a cycle almost too fast to see. He’d had too much coffee, and it showed.
        The woman was almost theatrically casual, her legs stretched so pedestrians had to step over or walk around them. She held a floppy hat in her hands, sun-faded black, and there was flash drive tucked into her boot. She had confiscated this from the boy, after snapping that he would dislodge it from his pocket with all his jiggling.
        The last of the three sat with perfect posture, rigid in a way that looked almost out of place in under the clear November sky, stuck somewhere between military and civilian. A black backpack sat on the end of the bench. A briefcase would have been more stylish, and also more practical, but the backpack did not stand out, and the three of them had to avoid that at all costs. Against the third person’s stiff back, something cold and hard pressed into the bench, hidden under the folds of a navy-blue coat.
        The woman stretched, sighed, and folded her legs. She looked to the strangers on either side of her and gave each a lazy smile.
        “Renee Alexander,” she said. They both looked at her, one surprised that she had broken the silence and the other indifferent. “Nice to meet you.”
        “Are we—” The boy stopped and swallowed. “D’you think it’s a good idea to give our real names?”
        Renee shrugged. “I’m not planning to rat on either of you once we’re done here, kid. I’d be getting myself into trouble as much as you. I figure that if you guys are smart, you won’t rat either.”
        The boy looked a little alarmed. “I’m not going say anything. I’ll just get paid and get out of here."
        “See?” Renee smiled. “Smart.”
        “I’m Teddy Newton,” the boy told her. They shook hands.
        “What about you, bean-pole?” Renee gave the arm on her other side a good-natured poke.
        A small smile flitted across the pale, and Renee took the business card offered to her. She looked down at it, chuckled, and handed it to Teddy.
        “Nice to meet you, Basil Witherspoon.”
        “Just Basil, please. What’s our time frame?”
        “We’re on schedule,” said Renee. “I gave us time for introductions.”
        “Hmm.” Basil’s voice was quiet, but it sounded a bit uneasy. “Did you give us time for that?”
        Basil pointed, and the other two followed the hand with their eyes. Two school buses had just pulled up outside City Hall. At least eighty children were piling out and being corralled into lines by teachers. Renee’s breath hissed out from between her teeth.
        "Here to see the System in action, I'd guess," said Basil. 
        Teddy bit his lip. “We may have to rethink this.”
        “What? Really?” Sarcasm turned up the corners of Renee’s mouth. “We’re only breaking into a government building to hack the System and rig the vote. How hard could it possibly be?”


See History
  • November 13, 2019 - 4:13pm (Now Viewing)

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  • Minvra

    Dang I wish I saw this sooner. This is really good.

    5 months ago
  • that one rat from ratatouille

    this deserved the win. i was totally caught up in the story. please continue!

    11 months ago
  • Ursa

    how have I not read this before?? it totally pulled me in, I love how the first half seemed so ordinary and average, and the second half was just tainted with this feeling of something being unusual. what an awesome intro, I want to read the rest.

    about 1 year ago
  • bumblebees

    Congrats on your win!! I don't always read books like this but this really got me hooked, great job!

    over 1 year ago
  • Idk...

    Great piece!

    over 1 year ago
  • Ava L.

    You deserved to win! Congratulations! I'd love to hear where this goes, I think you have a great story here. Nice job!

    over 1 year ago
  • zalma

    congratulations :)

    over 1 year ago
  • NovaStorm03

    This is so awesome!!! I love the plot, and you put it all together in a way that just feels.... right. I absolutely love this, great work!!!

    over 1 year ago

    I absolutely love this. The imagery was so good I felt like I was sitting on the bench with them, looking up at that November sky. To be completely honest, the contest should change there guidelines because the only thing wrong with this novel was that I couldn’t read more of it. I love love love this story and I am glad that you won!!!

    over 1 year ago
  • aditi

    Congrats on your win! I loved your piece;)

    over 1 year ago
  • Kepler

    ...I can see why you won!!! :)

    over 1 year ago