Book 1: The Banner Series Author: Trey Dunham
Publisher: Independent Self Publishing
Pages: 394 pages
Genre: Christian Dystopian / Furturistic Fiction
Sol 203119 hates Coupling—the forced dating and mating technique initiated across the United Cities as populations consolidated, gender tensions mounted, human reproduction plummeted, and marriage fell out of style—but he doesn’t know why. But when a fourth classmate at the Academy commits suicide, he follows the prompting of a mysterious voice and goes in search of a way out of the City for him and his classmates at the Academy.
Thousands of miles away, Lill, an orphan Wild, raised by strict and overprotective brothers, discovers she is part of an ancient prophecy that will bring to an end the longstanding battle between the Spirits of the City and Wilderness. Em, a mysterious, spiritual recluse, mentors Lill in her preparation: caring for refugees who have fled the City in search of a better life.
Able to escape the City, Sol slowly adapts to life in the difficult and dangerous Wilderness. He discovers a community of healthy, loving, committed families, but when a special ops team from the City nearly captures him, community leaders decide the time has come to unite and resurrect an ancient rite of the Spirit of the Wilderness: marriage.
Waiting anxiously for his return, a small contingent of Sol’s classmates from the Academy form an underground community in the heart of the City, which they call ‘the Banner.’ Meanwhile, Sol and Lill travel separately to witness the first wedding in centuries; the City counters with a deadly attack. In spite of massive casualties, a small remnant survives. And in a narrow underground cavern, the bruised and battered Sol and Lill meet for the first time.
Washington, DC: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) announced today recommendations made to federal and state legislatures to suspend all laws and regulations related to the issuing of marriage licenses, effectively ending a practice which had been in steep decline over the previous two decades. DHHR Executive Director David Berkeley said, “The psychological, economic, and legal weight of marriage places a significant burden upon the health and well-being of individuals and society as whole.
In light of these health concerns and declining participation by the general populace, the DHHR is recommending that federal and state lawmakers suspend all policies related to marriage. Additionally, we ask that any binding legal restrictions to those currently married, especially as pertains to divorce and separation, be waived.”
Lawmakers at the federal and state levels, which enter sessions next month, plan to review the measure. Several states already have resolutions on the docket in support of the DHHR recommendation.
(Many years later)
Sol 203119 looked at himself in the mirror and grimaced. After a full minute, he dropped his eyes then pulled off his shirt, bending, contorting, folding and unfolding his arms and elbows like a giant insect; standing as tall as his thin, slight frame would allow. He stopped, then let his arms fall and dangle at his side. He closed his eyes and then looked again, hoping that perhaps things would appear more to his liking. They did not. He rubbed his chest, the part over his heart, with his right hand. It felt warm to the touch.
He twisted his lips and puffed out his chest. He was only partially successful. The left side laid flat, unflinching in spite of his effort. His ears started to turn red with effort. He held his breath and hoped that might inflate the muscle. He started to get dizzy and so he let go; his lips broke their seal and released an enormous, blubbering gust of wind and disappointment.
Sol pulled the shirt over his head and then slouched, paused for a moment, his eyes moved up and down his body. He rubbed his chest again. The scar was still there, only it seemed to have grown larger, like a knotty rope of flesh and scar-tissue. He first noticed it the week he moved into the Academy. It was small then, a string at best. Now thicker, harder, like a heavy rope, it extended from just under his shoulder down at an angle and ended near his sternum. He felt it tighten and pull as he moved and lifted his arm over his head. He grimaced, put his shirt back on and yanked down on the sleeve. A knock sounded at the door.
“Hey, Sol. You ready?”
“Yeah,” he paused. “Just a minute. I’m getting dressed.”
“Well, hurry up. They’re coming and from the sounds of it they’re in a bad mood.”
“And don’t worry. You can’t see it.”
Sol opened the door with a click and stepped into the common room. Adon stood in front of a full-length mirror, adjusting the collar of his Academy jacket. He was tall, taller than Sol and bigger. His chest and arms pushed menacingly against the fabric
“Still self-conscious about that pec, I see.” Adon grinned. Sol reddened. “Don’t worry about it,” Adon continued, “the women they put us with don’t care about that kind of stuff. At least that’s what they tell us.” He smiled as if he didn’t really believe himself what he had just said. He ran his fingers through his black, coarse hair and, somewhat satisfied with what he saw, turned to his roommate.
“In his room, I think. The door’s closed.”
“We better get him. They’ll be here any second. And I don’t want to end up in the Tank because of that idiot.”
Outside, they heard the sound of shouting and boots running. Heavy fists landed against doors at the far end of the hall. They needed to be quick. Pietr’s door was closed, so Adon knocked, “Hey, it’s time to go. You ready?” He spoke loudly and with conviction. No answer. Sol reached down and pulled on the handle. It clicked. Unlocked. They pushed the door and stepped inside. It was dark.
At first the room appeared empty, except for the unmade bed along the near wall. A small desk was at the far end of the room facing a large window that looked out into the City. It was night, but the glow from the lights in the facing buildings was sufficient to illuminate the room. The room smelled dank; a stale cheese sandwich lay in the corner, covered in mold.
“You in here?” Sol asked.
The boys crept deeper into the room, the air acrid, unmoving. It smelled of sweat. “Ow!” Adon yelled and crumpled to the floor. Sol heard a weight bar roll and crash into the wall. Adon cursed and murmured as Sol moved deeper into the room.
Adon moaned, but Sol wasn’t listening. Two white lights appeared in the in the corner, next to the desk. They blinked off, then on, then off again.
“Pietr, I see you. Turn off the game. You have to come out,” Sol said. “We’ll get in a lot of trouble if we’re not ready. None of us want the Tank again.” Pietr’s eyes reappeared for a moment, and looked at Sol. Then, they clicked off a second time.
“Turn the game off,” Sol said with some force.
Adon stopped moaning just long enough to shout, “You can’t stay holed up in here all day. You know that. We have to go, so get dressed or I am going to beat you like the useless piece of trash you are.” Adon was suddenly angry and could feel the blood rushing up his back along his spine to the back of his neck, the tiny hairs standing erect. His hand pulled tight into a fist. Pietr was strong, and easily as big as Adon, but he was soft. He did not have the malice of his roommate. Adon stood up slowly and repeated his threat. “Get dressed or I’ll beat you bloody. Be out in two minutes. I’ll get some Meds ready for you. That’ll help.”
Suddenly, they could hear shouting in the hall. “Something’s going on,” Sol said to Adon, stepping over him and making his way to the door. “Hurry, Pietr. Please!” He yelled over his shoulder as he left the room.
Sol flung open the door to the hallway just as four black-clad officers ran past. They were carrying weapons: long, black lightweight batons. Sol watched them run down the hall, but did not see the group behind them. An extended hand at the end of a locked arm slammed into the small of his back and sent him hurtling, face first into the doorframe. He fell back immediately and crack, the back of his head rang with a second impact. He heard Adon grunt loudly. Sol felt the blood almost immediately begin to trickle down his face. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. It was red. He could feel a lump start to grow on the back of his head.
Adon bent over holding his chin. “Oh, man,” he moaned. He rubbed his face then stood up, “What’s going on out there?” Another four officers ran past the open door, followed closely by two medics dressed in white. Sol looked at Adon, his fingers pinching his bloody nose and slowly shook his head. An officer, face shield covering her eyes, stopped and stepped halfway into the room. “Keep your doors closed,” she barked “All rooms on lockdown until further notice!” She slammed the door and was gone.
“That’s the fourth one here this week. Who knows what’s going on everywhere else,” said Adon. “I heard that most Academies average one a day.”
Sol didn’t answer. He stood looking out the window into the night. The lights in the yard below seemed distant, the weight of the moonless sky holding them down. He took a deep breath and looked out towards the City. Buildings and lights rose from the earth as far as he could see. He looked at his hands, small and pale. He tried to remember a time he had not been at the Academy. He had lived out in the City once, when he was a child, but that was before his father had left and his mother died. I’ve never known anything else, he thought. They brought me here when they needed me and they will send me where they please when they’re done. What choice do I have? He stepped away from the window and turned to look at his roommate. Adon sat still on the couch, rubbing his chin.
With more than fifty thousand boys, the Academy was among the largest in the United Cities. Built in concentric circles, it consisted of twenty-four identical towers housing two thousand one hundred residents each: seven hundred rooms on thirty-five floors; twenty rooms per floors. Three boys per room. Sol stood looking out of Room 3415, House 22.
“See if you can pick up any chatter.” Adon stretched himself out on the couch, gingerly; his chin that had taken on a slightly purple hue.
“They never talk about this kind of stuff publicly.”
“Yeah, but maybe someone can get through on a high-wire.” He paused, thinking aloud, “I wonder who it was.”
Sol walked to the desk and opened the drawer. He pulled out a small earpiece and awkwardly jammed it into his ear. A small red light turned on, went yellow, then green. He closed his eyes and listened, then looked up to see Adon watching him from the couch.
“You know they don’t like you taking that out.” He gestured with his eyes to Sol’s ear.
“I know. Sometimes I need the quiet.”
“Still hearing it?”
Sol closed his eyes again and tried to concentrate. Sounds began to fill his ear, distant and garbled, as if he were underwater, the muffled tones drifted in and out, softer, then louder. He tried to focus, concentrating on an especially high frequency. Brain waves from an adolescent, from other boys, resonated at a higher frequency than adults, much like their speech, and at times, when the situation dictated, high frequencies, what they called “high-wires” could be accessed out of reach of anyone who might be listening. Sol closed his eyes tighter, trying to understand what was being said. It wouldn’t be long before the System detected the network anomaly and disrupted the pattern.
“It was Salo,” he said finally.
“Salo?” Adon and Sol turned to see Pietr standing in the doorway to his room. He was undressed, out of uniform, wearing shorts and a white tank top, a large white blanket wrapped around his shoulders. It hung three feet from the floor off his huge frame. It was covered, like his shirt, with grey grease stains. He had on one sock, a huge toe poking out, the nail yellowing.
Pietr shuffled into the room and fell into a chair opposite Adon. Sol sat down and pushed the earpiece deeper into his ear. He closed his eyes again. Pietr and Adon watched, waiting.
“He hanged himself,” he said finally. “Hadn’t been out of his room in days. They’d put him in the Tank to try to shake him out of it, but it didn’t work.” He pulled the piece from his ear and tossed it roughly on the table. “Obviously.”
There was a noise in the hall, and then the sound of doors opening. They heard a loud voice, someone yelling. Sol ran to the door and cracked it open. He felt Adon behind him; his breath smelled like mint. Halfway down the hall, he saw a group of officers, their backs to him, huddled, working vigorously close to the ground.
Suddenly, they stood up lifting a gurney that clicked firmly into place. They turned and pushed the bed towards Sol and the elevators that would take them to the roof and a waiting transport. As they moved, they tapped open doors with the ends of their batons, yelling at the curious to get back inside. “Coupling will be delayed by thirty minutes only,” an officer yelled, “and anyone not ready will get the Tank.”
Sol watched, staring as the gurney and officers approached. The thump of heavy boots and harsh click of batons against doors sent chills through his spine: he looked at the black bag as it passed, zipped down the middle, resting silently on the cart. Who will it be tomorrow? he wondered. Suddenly, he felt a sharp crack across his hands, the sting of a baton on his knuckles.
“Thirty minutes,” she snarled.
He closed the door and fell back as it clicked shut. He leaned against it, facing into the room. (There is another way.) Sol closed his eyes again, listening.
(All you have known is the City, but there is another way.) He opened his eyes.
“Why do you think he did it?” Pietr asked quietly pulling his blanket up around his shoulders.
Adon and Sol didn’t answer; both looked instead at the floor.
“You know why.” Adon sat back down on the couch.
“The same reason we imagine doing it. We’re afraid,” Sol said. “We hide in our rooms, but they root us out, drug us up, set us up, push us out. And if that isn’t enough, if that doesn’t work, if it all gets to be too much, then you just crack and you find another way out. Salo found the only way out I know of.”
Adon looked at Sol. He knew he was right. Pietr’s eyes fell to the floor, then he pulled the blanket up again around his huge shoulders. He looked like a child, even though he was larger than any man Sol had ever seen. The blanket struggled to hide him, but beneath it Pietr huddled, afraid, shaking. He pulled the cloth over his head and then he started to sob, quietly, his shoulders rolling.
“I wish it could be different,” Adon said. “The Academy is trying to help us, to bring us back, all of us, the thousands of us that live here and in the other Cities. But sometimes guys like Salo fall through the cracks. They don’t make it.”
“Shai and Topher should have done something. They should have told someone so they could have helped him. He needed help, but they didn’t do anything. No one did anything.” Deep, violent sobs rolled out from under the blanket. Pietr pulled himself tight into a ball, trying to make himself small.
“Yeah, maybe someone could have done something,” Adon said. “But the reality is there are fifty thousand guys just like him in this place. And tomorrow someone else will move in right down the hall. And in a week, everything will be back to normal. The whole City can’t just stop for one person. You’d better get used to that. He’s gone, but there are a thousand more just like him. And we’re still here. We have to keep on or we’ll end up just like him.”
Sol walked behind Pietr and placed a hand on his back: “Take this,” he said holding a glass filled with creamy white liquid in front of his friend. “It’ll make you feel better.” He felt Pietr’s labored, uneven breath.
“No, you’re wrong,” Pietr yelled, suddenly standing up. He knocked the glass from Sol’s hand and it shattered as it hit the floor, white cream exploding everywhere. “There was only one Salo,” Pietr said angrily. He looked up, red eyes glaring at Adon, face streaked with dirt and tears. He walked quickly to his room and slammed the door behind him.
Adon shook his head, “Some guys just don’t get it.” Sol bent down and picked up a piece of broken glass. “Leave that for the maids,” Adon said. “We’d better get ready. They’ll be here soon.” He turned and walked into his room.
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Meet the Author
A writer, teacher, and church planter, Trey Dunham has been blogging on spiritual, family and personal topics since 2009.
He lives in Morgantown, WV.
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