Take deep breaths and remain calm, Jai.
I almost grab hold of Dad’s hand as the bus comes closer. It feels like it’s bringing a tidal wave of tension along with it, and it’s going to wipe me right off my feet.
We’ll be fine.
The bus slows down two houses from ours, and my heartbeat speeds up until I can hear every loud thump echoing in my ears. When it stops in front of our house, a cold sweat breaks out over my body, even though it’s not hot enough outside. It never gets that hot here, never too hot to sweat, because there is no sun to warm our faces. The hermetically sealed dome protects us from the sun’s dangerous rays, and all we see of it is a blurred circle that moves across our dome. The dome keeps out all the dangerous natural elements and more, and controls the temperature.
“Daddy!” I don’t mean to panic as an enforcer climbs out of the bus, but I’m freaking out.
This isn’t happening.
They have the wrong house!
“Everything will be okay, Jai. Ethan will find you,” Dad’s voice rumbles low with urgency, but I don’t understand what he’s trying to say.
“Look for Chance. Find your mother. You need to get out of the ecocity.”
My lips part in a gasp as my gaze darts from the enforcer walking up the cobbled path to find Dad’s eyes, which are filled with heartache and worry.
“Wh–” My question is cut off as the enforcer nears us, the yellow of his clothes clashing with his ginger hair.
He swipes over the device in his hand, and without looking at me, he says, “Jasper Matthias.”
This can’t be happening.
Mom was already taken from our family, and I’m a woman.
He holds a device out to me. It has no keypad, only a screen with three circles at the top. “Press your thumb to the scanner,” the enforcer instructs, his tone as bleak as our surroundings.
I remember this from when they came for Mom. She didn’t press her thumb on the scanner. She shoved the enforcer and ran. She didn’t get far before they caught her. I don’t know why she did it if she knew they’d banish her.
I suck in a desperate breath and lift my right hand to the device. As I press my thumb on the scanner, I wish I could stop my trembling so clearly visible to everyone.
Nothing happens, and for a second, I hope this is all just a terrible mistake.
Suddenly, the enforcer grabs my hand tightly and forcefully presses my thumb down on the scanner. Shock vibrates through me from having a man touch me.
A man other than my father.
My mouth instantly grows dry, my heart beating wildly in my chest. My thumb cramps as he rolls it over from left to right to get a good print, then the device beeps, and the first light glows yellow.
The second glows yellow again.
Oh my gosh. This isn’t happening.
The third glows bright blue, and a name and face appear on the screen.
Shock vibrates through me like a hundred earthquakes shaking the ground beneath my feet.
My name. My face.
“Proceed to the vehicle,” The enforcer instructs as he steps aside and waits for me to walk.
I’m caught in a shocked trance as Dad pulls me into a tight hug. I’m so rattled I don’t even think about Dad breaking the law as he holds me while our neighbors and an enforcer watch.
No. This isn’t happening. Dad will be alone if I leave. Who will make sure he eats? Who will wash his clothes? Who will feed the glofish?
Why are they sending me out of the ecocity instead of letting me marry or bear children?
I don’t understand.
“Ethan,” Dad whispers close to my ear. “Ethan will find you and help you get in touch with Chance so you can search for your mother.”
With it being our last moment together, I try to take in everything about Dad. I smell the familiar trace of sanitizing spray that always clings to him. I take a deep breath and try to imprint his scent into my memory as best I can.
My throat tightens, and my eyes burn.
I’m not courageous at all.
I’m scared and confused.
“Remember what I said. You will make it,” Dad whispers. “You’re strong and deserve so much more than this way of life in the ecocity.”
None of his words penetrate the thick fog of shock around me. Instead, tears well up in my eyes, and I blink them away. I want to be strong for Dad. I want to be virtuous, only I can’t find those traits in my heart.
I’m my mother’s daughter, after all. I want to run like she did. I want to be selfish and stay with Dad.
Dad lets go of me and gently nudges me toward the waiting enforcer.
My heart sinks like a heavy stone, and it feels as if hopelessness makes everything around me even duller than it was before.