The Future of Our Prosperity
by Dan Rice
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
I entered the house expecting to find Mother and Father ready to give me a thorough lecture. To my surprise, they both sat at the dining room table, their meals barely touched and their gazes glued to the 70-inch TV mounted to the living room wall.
“Sit down, dear,” Mother said. “The food is still hot.”
Father, watching the TV with his mouth agape, didn’t acknowledge me.
I set my backpack on the floor next to my chair and sat down. The lasagna was cold, but I wasn’t about to draw attention to myself by complaining. On the TV a blonde reporter in a scarlet dress sat ramrod straight behind the news desk.
“To summarize the president’s announcement,” the reporter said. “Two carrier groups have engaged Chinese forces that encroached on Japanese territorial waters. At the command of President Gloria Newman, ship-to-ship missiles were launched by the fleet, destroying two Chinese cruisers.
“This glorious victory proves that the American military is the greatest in the world and will rain fire upon any who threaten our prosperity or the prosperity of our allies.
“Given that we are now at war with China, President Newman issued an Executive Order directing the APF to perform loyalty tests on all citizens of Chinese origin or descent to root out spies, traitors, and malcontents. Furthermore, the roundup and deportation of Chinese nationals—”
The journalist continued fervently reporting the news, but I had stopped paying attention.
“Grandma is from Shanghai,” I said between mouthfuls of lasagna. I never thought of my grandmother as an immigrant, and I wasn’t worried about the APF giving her a loyalty test. She was American through and through. Pictures of President Newman hung in every room of her house. Our only photo of the president hung in the entryway where visitors were sure to see it.
As for launching missiles at the Chinese, America was always shooting at somebody in those days, because the entire world wanted our prosperity. I wasn’t too concerned.
Father looked at me. “Don’t worry, son. Things will probably settle down in a few days and the order will be rescinded.”
“Okay,” I said and kept eating lasagna.
After finishing dinner, I told my parents I was tired and wanted to go to bed early. They were still distracted and didn’t question me. Grabbing my backpack, I bolted upstairs and down the hallway to my room and shut the door. I set my bag on the floor and pulled my spare tablet out from under the bed. I initiated the wireless transfer of the ASU’s operating system files to the old tablet.
I started reading the source code as soon as the first file finished decompiling. Oblivious to everything else, I studied the code late into the night. Fueled by my curiosity, I kept working until my eyes drooped shut on their own accord.
* * *
The next day at school the first lesson was a lecture on the Islamic Expulsion. I nervously shifted in my chair throughout the entire discourse. In my exuberance to read the ASU’s code, I’d forgotten about my five-paragraph essay on the subject.
“Please read pages 50 to 55 in Protecting American Prosperity: From the Wall to the Islamic Expulsion,” Mrs. Moorhouse said.
All the texts were loaded on the old tablet from earlier in the year. I opened the history text, pressing the icon to navigate to page 50, and started reading.
“Student Anderson, come here,” Mrs. Moorhouse said.
“Yes, Mrs. Moorhouse,” I said, standing and marching to her desk at the front of the class. I stood at attention, feeling like bugs were scurrying up and down my back. I knew my peers were surreptitiously watching and listening.
Mrs. Moorhouse frowned. “Student Anderson, you didn’t turn in your essay. Why?”
“I fell and broke my tablet. I brought my old one today.”
“Very disappointing,” Mrs. Moorhouse said, her frown deepening. “I never thought to hear excuses from you. ‘Future of Our Prosperity’ indeed. You will serve lunchtime detention, Student Anderson. Return to your seat.”
* * *
After standing in line for my toasted cheese sandwich, I returned to Mrs. Moorhouse’s classroom in a surly mood. She was sitting at her desk, eating a salad.
“Come here,” she said.
Groaning under my breath, I set my lunch tray on my desk and marched to the front of the class. My toasted cheese sandwich smelled great and I wanted to eat it while it was hot.
“After you eat lunch,” Mrs. Moorhouse said, writing on a piece of paper, “You will you spend the remainder of the lunch hour writing your essay. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mrs. Moorhouse.”
“Come here, closer. Stand at attention.”
I stepped forward and snapped to attention. “Yes, Mrs. Moorhouse.”
“Very good, Student Anderson.”
Something about her voice made me look directly at her. Her gaze met mine for an instant then flicked to her desk. I followed her gaze to the sheet of paper. Scrawled on the paper was the message: Don’t come to school tomorrow. APF will be here.
The final sentence made my pulse quicken. The beacon. The APF must know I had hacked the ASU. Maybe they even knew about Maggie. My mind jumped to the worst possible outcome. We’d be tortured and then executed.
“Go sit down,” Mrs. Moorhouse said.
“Now, Student Anderson.”
* * *
During afternoon recess, I caught up with Chris near the playground.
“Can you help me find Maggie?” I said. “I really have to talk to her about something. It’s like an emergency.”
“No. I have other things to do than waste my time with your kind.”
His hostile tone left me dumbstruck. I stopped and watched him walk away. Chris had never spoken to me like that before.
It didn’t take long before Maggie found me. The weather was pleasantly warm, and the playground and field were packed. I led her to the play shed for privacy.
“Where were you during lunch?” Maggie asked. “Is everything okay?”
“I was in detention with Mrs. Moorhouse.” I kept glancing around, half expecting APF agents to burst into the play shed. “I wasn’t really in trouble. She warned me. About... about—”
“You know how all the rooms are bugged and have cameras. I guess the cameras don’t have a clear view of the top of her desk. She wrote a message. It said the APF will be here tomorrow and that I shouldn’t show up at school. They’re coming to arrest us for hacking the ASU.”
“I don’t know,” Maggie said. “They’d already have nabbed us over the ASU. I think— ”
“Look at the lovebirds.” Roger’s voice echoed off the walls.
Roger led a group of at least a dozen boys toward us. I stood, clenching my hands into fists.
“Leave us alone,” I said.
Roger and his gang stopped a few feet from us. Roger hocked a loogie and spat it onto my shoe.
“I don’t take orders from a Chinaman,” Roger said.
I was confused. “What are you talking about?”
“I have to admit, it’s hard to tell just by looking at you,” Roger said, eyes narrowing.
The gang closed in, surrounding us.
“I want to hear you say it,” Roger said. “I want to hear you admit that you’re a Chinaman. That you’re a traitor to our prosperity.”
“I’m not Chinese,” I said. “I’m American.”
Roger scrunched up his eyes, studying my face. The bully looked over his shoulder and called. “You sure he’s Chinese? I want to beat him good. If he isn’t Chinese, I’ll be in a shitload of trouble.”
“He is,” a tall boy said, wending his way through the crowd. “His grandmother is from China.”
As soon as I heard his voice, I knew it was Chris. His betrayal made me feel he’d punched me in the gut.
“Chris, why?” Maggie asked.
“Because he’s the enemy,” Chris snarled. “That’s what President Newman said.”
Chris’ treachery enraged me. I charged and pushed him in the chest with both hands. Chris fell hard on his butt.
I didn’t have time to feel shocked by my actions because my stomach exploded with pain. I doubled over and clutched my gut and sank to the ground and toppled onto my side. I felt I was going to throw up. Roger’s friends urged him to kick me. A foot struck my elbow. Maggie, screaming incomprehensibly, jumped between Roger and me.
“Maggie, no,” I gasped. Talking made me cough, and my lunch rushed up my throat, and my world became small as I struggled not to spew.
More screaming. A pained yowl, like a wounded animal.
“Gabe, get up,” Maggie said, kneeling next to me, her arms around me. “We need to go.”
She helped me up. When I stood, I puked my lunch all over the concrete.
“Ay, caramba,” Maggie muttered.
The boys stared, their gazes shifting between Roger, writhing on the ground and clutching his groin in both hands, and Maggie.
“Out of our way, or you’ll get the same,” Maggie said.
When we were out onto the playground, I said, “You shouldn’t have done that. Roger will tell a teacher. Principal Thompson will beat you.”
Maggie laughed. “Sorry, Gabe, I shouldn’t laugh. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I said, rubbing my aching stomach. “Roger is a top student. You might get expelled.”
“Do you really think Roger is going to admit that a girl beat him up?”
“I guess not.”
Maggie led me to the edge of the playground, and we sat down together. She looked me in the eyes.
“Gabe, Chris isn’t your friend anymore. He’ll do worse to you than Roger if he gets a chance. It’s your Chinese blood. I know it’s not something you think about or understand. But it makes you a target. Just like how I’m a target for being descended from Mexican immigrants.”
“But, why?” I said, confused and still angry at Chris’ betrayal.
“Sometimes you’re so thick,” Maggie said. “It’s the Executive Order, Gabe. It was on TV last night. You heard about it, right?”
“The United State is at war with China,” Maggie said. “And now anyone with Chinese blood is a target. I know it isn’t fair, but that’s just how it is.”
“I’m not going to school tomorrow,” I said. “You know, Mrs. Moorhouse’s warning. I don’t think you should go either.”
“The APF isn’t coming for me,” Maggie said.
“Didn’t you listen to anything I just told you,” Maggie said. “The APF coming has nothing to do with the ASU; they’re coming for you and people like you because of your Chinese blood.”
“I’ve never been to China. I don’t even like Chinese food.”
“Your grandmother is Chinese. That makes you part Chinese, just like your father. That’s why Mrs. Moorhouse warned you. You’re right: you shouldn’t come to school tomorrow. In the morning, go hide in the woods at our secret fortress. You remember where that is, right?”
I nodded. We’d built a fortress back in second or third grade. I hadn’t visited it in over a year.
“I’ll go to school and find out what’s going on. Then I’ll come see you.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
* * *
At home, I slunk to my bedroom to study the ASU’s code. Father interrupted me for dinner, which I scarfed down like a starved hyena so that I could return to my extracurricular activity.
Late at night, incessant doorbell ringing disturbed my single-minded absorption. I slammed the tablet down onto the bed in disgust and muttered a curse. I was so close to cracking how to bring down an ASU with a few commands typed into DroneCom.
With my concentration broken, I yawned and my eyelids fluttered. I listened to a door open and close and footsteps from the hallway, probably Father in an irritable mood. I was tempted to scurry downstairs to see our late-night visitor. Instead, I closed my eyes and lay my head on the pillow.
I was drifting somewhere between wakefulness and sleep when I heard Father yell, “I’m not going with you! Allison!”
My eyes shot open. I leaped out of bed, threw open the bedroom door, and entered the dark hallway.
A stranger’s voice came from downstairs. “You need to come with us, Scott.”
“I won’t go, Frank,” Father said.
“Let’s cut the bullshit,” a third voice, harsh and authoritarian. “He can whine in handcuffs.”
“Dad!” I shouted and charged toward the staircase.
I heard a door open behind me.
“What’s all the shouting?” my mother called.
Ignoring her, I ran down the stairs shouting for my father. I froze in horror at the bottom of the stairs as two brawny, grim-faced men in suits pinned my struggling and cursing father to the floor and handcuffed him. Frank Pratt, the local police chief and Chris’ grandfather, was standing over them. He was wearing his navy blue uniform with its shiny badge and a pistol at his hip.
Frank looked at me. “Stay back. You don’t want to get involved.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks, and I started shaking. “Why? Why? Daddy, why?”
Father continued struggling as the men in suits hoisted him to his feet and dragged by his shoulders out the door.
“What is going on?” Mother demanded.
I glanced up the stairs to watch her slowly descend, one arm wrapped protectively around her baby belly and her opposite hand clutching the rail. Her eyes were wide, and her face was pale.
“Stay out of this,” Frank commanded. “Go back upstairs. Both of you.”
I looked back to the police chief. My father had been dragged outside and was out of sight. I heard his screams from the front yard. But what made my chest tighten with abject fear was Frank gripping his gun in its holster and staring in disgust at my mother.
“What’s happening to my husband?”
“The APF wants to talk to him. You can guess about what. You should’ve married one of your own,” Frank said and backed out the door.
Once outside, the police chief slammed the door shut. After several shuddering breaths, I ran to the door. Mother screamed at me to stay back, but I flung open the door anyway. I needed to know what was happening to Father.
The agents forced Father into the back of a waiting SUV, and the vehicle sped away.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Dan Rice