Preview the prologue for Kell Frillman’s dystopian series, Dark World, FREE.
My name is Ruby, like the gem. I was born on May 5, 2062. I have never smelled fresh roses. My eyes have never seen the earth’s sky and the soles of my feet have never felt the tickle of grass underneath them. I have hair as red as fire, eyes as green as ivy, and freckles that dance across my face like the solar system. My grandfather used to say that I was as beautiful as a candle flame. We were very close when he was still alive. Even though he wasn’t supposed to, he encouraged me to dream of a better life. He called me his princess and when Mom and Dad weren’t listening, he used to whisper to me that he knew someday, somehow, I would change the world.
I’ve always been fascinated with stories about what life was like before the invasion. When I was young I used to sit on my grandfather’s lap for hours as he spoke about what it felt like when the sun shined down on his face, or when water from the ocean washed over the tops of his feet and wrapped around his ankles like a soft blanket. He claimed back then everyone took their freedom for granted. Kids always wanted to stay inside and watch “Netflix” instead of enjoying nature when it was still habitable. Modern technology such as “cell phones” and “iPads” were so much more important to them than life’s so-called simple pleasures. I have never been able to wrap my head around that concept; how did people not care about freedom? How did anyone not relish every second they could in the outdoors, doing things like swimming in the ocean, running barefoot in the sand or climbing a tree? I learned about oceans in the classroom when I was younger but the stories that touched my heart came directly from my grandfather’s lips because he actually experienced them. He once swam with a dolphin when he was a young boy. I know it’s impossible now because we no longer have oceans or dolphins, but I wish I could have experienced that more than anything else in this broken world.
I miss Grandpa Logan. I felt cheated out of more time with him when they came to take him away. He wasn’t senile or incapable of taking care of himself, but Doctrine is absolute. Sixty years is all we get. “All men and woman on the eve of their sixtieth birthday shall be escorted to the transitional containers to be put to sleep.” I can’t even recite that in my head without both rolling my eyes and wrapping my arms around myself as a cold shudder skitters its way across the surface of my skin. Sarcasm first, fear second. That’s how I always felt about Doctrine and all that it entailed.
I was naïve at ten years old and I thought my parents would appeal to the government and try to make a case for Grandpa’s life, but they sat on their chairs quietly, numb and defeated as he was escorted out of our barracks. Why weren’t they telling the flatfoots that he was still healthy and working? Why weren’t they prepared to prove how much Grandpa could still lift, or that working on his feet did not cause his joints to ache yet? I knew of the demands of Doctrine, but I was still a child. I wanted to believe that exceptions could be made when Doctrine was unfair. I made the mistake of relying on my parents to ask for these exceptions, but in the moments that mattered, they did nothing. They were statues.
I on the other hand was not made of stone. I lunged for the door only moments after Grandpa was dragged through it. Only then did the statues come back to life. Immediately my dad lurched forward and reached for me. His arms wrapped firmly around my chest and practically lifted me off of the ground as I clawed my fingers desperately forward to grasp only air. “NO! Grandpa, come back! COME BACK!” I screamed until my dad covered my mouth with his palm. A shift of my panicked gaze in my mothers direction cause my protests to die in my throat. Her skin had paled even whiter than usual and her green eyes just like mine were so wide that I was afraid they would pop out of her head. She leapt to her feet and embraced me from the front so tightly that my small body was practically squished between the two of them.
“Don’t you ever, EVER do that again,” she scolded, but while her voice was angry, her arms trembled with the same fear I had just seen on her face. “NEVER show defiance to a flatfoot. Do you hear me, they could put you to sleep! If they had seen and heard you..” she shook her head. Her arms trembled with even more instability as they pulled me with desperate force against her chest. “I can’t lose you, Ruby. Do you understand? I can’t ever lose you. Obey. Be a good girl.” My vision blurred and large, salty tears that signified my first true moments of heartache slid down my cheeks. Her words swam around in my mind among a tumultuous sea of confusion. I felt betrayed, broken inside, hit in the chest by a hammer the size of a human head. For the first time in my young life I understood the true sorrow of helplessness.
I tossed and turned with sleeplessness that night. The fear I had seen and felt from my mother frightened me like a monster in my closet. My parents told me monsters weren’t real but I knew now they were wrong. Monsters were all around us. They wore navy blue uniforms with big white buttons and they dragged healthy people away from those who loved them. I kept thinking of Grandpa and I was so afraid of what he was going through. Was he in pain? Was he trembling as he was put to sleep the way my mom had trembled when she embraced me? Why couldn’t we at least be there to hold his hand as he took his last breath? It wasn’t fair. Mom wanted me to behave, obey, and be a good girl because she didn’t want me to die. She didn’t understand my thirst for knowledge the way Grandpa had. That’s why he only encouraged my curious nature when Mom wasn’t around.
Grandpa’s last words to me earlier that day were, “You have a strong spirit, Ruby. One day you’re going to find out that things aren’t as they seem and you’re going to have to be strong. Do you understand?” I remembered his words every single day but it would be six long years before I actually understood them.
When Grandpa was a little boy, the magnetic force the aliens had used to suck entire oceans up into their space ships messed up our planets rotation on its axis. I remember a teacher explaining to me when I was younger that Earth now moves much, much slower. It once took our planet only 24 hours to do a full days rotation, but now that same rotation took approximately 100 years. Because of this, the world above our heads has been suffering the unbearably cold temperatures of perpetual night. The other side of Earth, the side now that now faced the sun burned with constant fires of searing heat. Nothing could survive in such a hostile atmosphere so here we were – living out entire, meaningless lives underground until someday a new planet with compatible living conditions for humanity was found.
Gratitude for the “protection and comfort” of The Complex and the scroll of laws that governed it was demanded from us unconditionally. We were not allowed to even acknowledge our own autonomy, much less celebrate it. Doctrine was for our own benefit. But it was the government and their silly Doctrine that dragged Grandpa away from me when I was ten years old and not ready to lose him so how did that benefit anyone? I would never forgive them for that day. I would never appreciate life in The Complex. I would never view Doctrine as something held in place for my protection.
Mom and Dad refused to discuss Grandpa’s last words with me or shed any light on what he might have meant. To be fair, death was the punishment for noncompliance. We were taught about Earth in the classroom but we were strongly discouraged from asking questions that weren’t already answered in the curriculum. As a child I couldn’t help but wonder, how exactly did an axis work in the first place and how did the aliens manage to mess with ours? Why had they done so in the first place when all they wanted was our oceans? My elementary teacher, Rita, grew irritated by my questions very quickly and soon began answering them with nothing more than the narrow side of a ruler smacking down on the back of my hand. I suspected part of the reason I was disciplined so much for simple curiosity was because Rita didn’t know the answers either and she didn’t want to admit it. After all, she had been born right here underground just like I was. Every year as the elderly were put to sleep at age sixty, fewer and fewer people that had seen or lived in the outside world existed. Grandpa’s tales about what life was like Before-Invasion, or “B-I” were the only stories I knew for certain to be true because they were first-hand accounts and he never would have lied to me.
Grandpa Logan was ten years old in 2022 when the invasion happened. His story was terrifying, but enthralling. There he was, leisurely fishing late in the evening on Lake Superior at twilight with his father when the world around him suddenly felt like it was spinning like the teacup ride at a place called Disney World. Grandpa said he could literally feel the earth rushing and tilting as it was forced on an accelerated turn, as if natural gravity couldn’t quite keep up with the magnetic pressure from the alien ships. The water churned and the boat tipped over. Grandpa’s father yelled at his son, “SWIM! SWIM! GET TO THE CELLAR!” Grandpa swam like a shark was after him. He made it to the shore but when he looked back, his father was nowhere to be seen. Believing his father would be okay because he was a strong swimmer, Grandpa crawled into the storm cellar under the cabin just before the invasion officially began.
The aliens came to pillage natural resources from our oceans and seemingly had no interest in humanity itself whatsoever. That isn’t to say they had any concept of mercy, all of the people that got in their way were quickly annihilated. The attack happened so quickly that not many people had the chance to get out of their way. The invaders simply had an agenda and whether we lived or died was less than trivial to them.
The not so stealthy attack and pillage supposedly lasted close to a full day. Once the aliens got what they came for they were gone as suddenly as they arrived, only nothing about our world was ever the same.
This side of the earth at the time of the attack was in the tale end of daytime and now struggled in darkness, and the even less fortunate people on the other side that were at first thrust into darkness were now left to burn in the unrelenting heat. The ecosystem went on a quick downward spiral of destruction, and our planet became a dud that could no longer sustain life on the surface.
Grandpa was a wee child of four back in 2016 when the government officially, publicly announced the first genuine alien transmission caught by satellites. Everyone was afraid because no one knew what to expect next. It wasn’t until after the invasion that the government admitted they suspected some type of attack was going to happen, but they swore up and down they had no idea what the aliens were planning ahead of time or when. Still, after that first transmission they began construction on top-secret massive underground living quarters that could essentially serve as an enormous fall-out shelter, just in case.
I have a particularly noticeable scar on the back of my right hand from the ruler slap I received for asking Rita, “If the government knew aliens might attack so they built this whole place, why didn’t anyone get any warning?” My question was viewed as insolence and a notice was sent home to my mother later that day. She forced me to bed without an evening meal that night but Grandpa Logan snuck into my room after lights-out and whispered, “I’ve wondered that my whole life, too.”
Approximately half of the people that lived in what was once the United States, parts of a country once called Canada and even some parts of what was once Mexico died during the invasion. Once the aliens were gone, the US government sent massive rescue teams to search for survivors. They found approximately 10% of the initial survivors before thirst and starvation killed them off and brought down into The Complex. By the time they found Grandpa, still hiding in the cellar under his cabin, he was nearly dead.
As for how anyone could have survived in other countries – we don’t know. Staying hidden from anything or anyone that could have otherwise survived in the outside world was supposedly critical to our safety. That seemed like such a silly excuse to me. If the other side of the world was lost in eternal flame either they were living like we were in their own shelters – or everyone on that side of the planet was dead. The government had an explanation for every question they tolerated though, and when their explanations and tolerance ran out, the punishments began. If they singled you out as a troublemaker they would find an excuse to put you to sleep. That’s why my mom was always so afraid for me.
The Complex has been our home for the last 56 years. It only exists to sustain humanity; to keep us locked down in a holding pattern until some unforeseeable day in the distant future when we find another planet with suitable conditions for human life. Every five years we send out a select group of people in a small space shuttle built in the heart of The Complex in Core City, where all the high-up government officials lived. The chosen group’s mission is to find and explore nearby planets in the hope that they will discover one that is habitable. It seems so silly to me that we live with limited, controlled resources and the government sees fit to build space ships instead of trying to find a way to salvage our own planet, but that’s just one more thought I am not allowed to voice.
No one has ever returned from a shuttle mission and my generation is taught not to hope for a new home within our lifetime. I’m not important as an individual. I only exist to breed and sustain my species. Here in The Complex when we reach fifteen years of age we are required to undergo genetic screening in order to be matched with a mate. With so few of us left compared to the numbers humans used to have, it’s important to the government that we breed only with those with whom we have compatible genes. No room for misfits or freaks.
When females achieve pregnancy the fetus is regularly monitored and if any test reveals significant problems, termination is mandatory. Yet another decree put in place for our benefit. The government claims they are doing my gender a service by forcing termination if the fetus is problematic rather than making us suffer the emotional consequences of having to put a defective baby to sleep after its born. No one is allowed to live unless we have the potential to be a useful, functioning member of The Complex. The good of the many outweighs the importance of the one.
My name is Ruby but my ID number identifies me as Complex Resident R-1046. I’m almost sixteen years old. Last year after genetic testing, I was assigned C-2246, otherwise known as Connor, as a future mate. I don’t know anything about him and I am expected to spend my life with him. This “sense of security” does not comfort me like it does so many others. I already resent Connor just for existing. I know that isn’t fair but neither is the fact that I have no say in the matter. The government uses Doctrine to control and dictate our lives. They can put us to sleep, smack us with rulers and force us into visible compliance, but they cannot go into my head and take my dreams and feelings away from me. I won’t let them.
My mind still asks questions. I still want something more for myself than the life that is being forced upon me. Maybe I got my unwavering desire for adventure by holding on to Grandpa Logan’s last words, or maybe that longing has been in my heart since the day I was born. Lately, I feel endlessly torn between wanting to sooth my mothers constant fear for my life by outwardly cooperating with “simple expectations” like accepting without questioning, marrying Connor and having my own child with him, and wanting to know more, be more, see more, and do more. Grandpa Logan was the one that told me one day I would change the world and I wanted that more than anything – I just didn’t know how. Even though I had learned to keep my mouth shut, my eyes were always open. The only question now before me was if an opportunity to change the world ever presented itself during my lifetime, would I have the courage to take it?
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