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Return to Paradise: Chapter 14

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He knew. He just didn’t know how far it had spread. He thought back to when people were protesting the CHIP. Developed by businessmen with an agenda, the implants were in high demand by some citizens of the New World Order (the public). The CHIP would streamline your life, the advertisers said: make theft impossible, money automated, children trackable–the benefits were countless! But not everybody was sold on the idea, including Mom and Dad–it hurt to think of them. Wynn’s parents were among the few individuals who spoke out about the perils of such a chip. “What if?” they’d protested, presenting all kinds of sordid possibilities that such a device could have. They and others of their opinion were silenced. Either they changed their mind after being educated about their false beliefs, or they were give a ticket for an airplane ride from which they never returned–it was rumored that they were all pushed from the airplanes. Wynn had taken shelter when he’d come home from school one day and found the curtains drawn in the kitchen.

The average person may not have noticed such a minor detail, but because of his upbringing, Wynn picked up on the subtle clue that something was not right immediately. His father, a farmer-turned-security guard, had foreseen some sort of disaster and had come up with the signal for danger. His father had coached the whole family, his mother, his sister Lynette and Wynn, that the closed curtains meant something was wrong. They had often made fun of his father, calling him paranoid; Wynn might have even thought his younger sister Lynnie was playing some sort of a joke on him, trying to scare him the day he saw the white kitchen curtains closed. But since he himself would never forget the beating from his father when, feeling mischievous, he’d jokingly closed the curtains on his mother, he knew this warning was for real. He’d run to the underground camp his father and uncle had built for “play.” They’d often advised him that he should go there in case he ever needed to be alone.

In case of what, he’d never asked his father. He somehow hoped he’d never need to know, though deep down he was sure he’d find out one day. He wished his parents were here with him now–though he did know they were in a happier place, and that someday he would join them again.

Lexy’s snoring brought him out of his reverie. He was pretty sure Alexis’ CHIP had been shut down. Otherwise, she would’ve been able to access food pellets, the lasers and monorails. It would also explain why nobody saw here. He knew the feeling. How he missed the days when you could walk down the street and smile at a stranger. Lexy’s existence seemed to have been deleted from society. Being the daughter of Jerry Roberts, she’d have to be extra careful. Surely, they wouldn’t keep her permanently shut off to perish on the city streets with the other outcasts. They’d have to come looking for her, and probably soon, before the next wave of frequency testing.

When people were kicked out of society, i.e., CHIPs inactivated, they were basically sentenced to death, as they could not get food from the machines, and only a handful of people ever made their way out to the countryside (what was left of it) to find the wild herbs and fruit that grew on the trees. Instead, they would try to steal or starve until they were wiped out by the high frequency vibrations that were sounded monthly to basically eliminate those survivors who managed to hang on long enough without their CHIP. Those with the CHIP were able to survive the high-pitched sound waves because the CHIP blocked out the high frequencies from its carrier. CHIP protesters had discovered that holding a piece of copper also blocked the high frequency waves, so they carried copper chips with them wherever they went.

Wynn looked at the floor, thinking about what to do. He wondered why Lexy was led to him. He believed he was meant to help her, seeing he had met her when she was only a little girl and here she was again, almost a grown woman. Was she the one that would make the difference–and was he destined to help her? Maybe they were brought together years ago by “accident” to prepare for this time.

He would help her, he decided, not that it was really a decision. There was never any question about if he would help her, only how he would do it. He hoped Lexy was up for the journey she must take–it would be a long, hard road, but it was their only chance for survival. He had a feeling it might be the world’s only chance, too.

Return to Paradise: Chapter 13

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After walking for miles, though the time passed quickly, she started to see some familiar landmarks. The big, red barn, and she didn’t remember so many houses, but then just as she was feeling the first creeping of doubt, there it was–the barely noticeable path, hidden between two bushes. She started down the tree-lined paved walkway until it came to a clearing. She veered off to the left and stumbled down the hill, looking to see if anybody was watching, though she didn’t know why–nobody had been paying any attention to her anyway. Her heart was pounding in her ears. She recognized the green bush with the tiny orange and red flowers that Wynn had called Lantana. She crouched down and reached her hand under the bush, feeling for the handle on the small, square piece of plywood that blocked the entrance to Wynn’s home. She sighed heavily with relief. It was still there!! The handle! She lifted the door easily and lowered herself down the hole, her feet searching for the ladder in the dark.

Quiet blackness surrounded her. “Wynn?” she cried out softly. “It’s me–Alexis. Remember? I need help. I think I’m in trouble.” The silence that followed was sliceable and Alexis started to think maybe nobody was there, when she heard a tiny flicker and then saw a dim light appear in the far corner of the dark room.

Alexis stood frozen as she watched a huge figure loom out of the corner. She relaxed as she made out the visage of Wynn. Older, more lined and gray, and with a shaggier beard than she’d ever seen, was Wynn.

She ran to him and embraced him, burying her head in his chest. While surprised at his visitor and her intense emotions, Wynn comforted the ruffled girl. “Alexis Roberts. Little Lexy. What’s happened?”

“Oh Wynn,” she started, her voice shaking, “the writing, my parents… I didn’t know where else to go.” She choked on her tears, which turned to sobs.

“It’s okay, honey, let it out.” Wynn’s towering frame leaned over her 5’7″ body, and his hands gently soothed her smooth head. He wondered about her hair color. With her deep blue eyes, her hair could be any color, were it permitted to grow.

After she calmed down enough to talk, Alexis told him her trouble. Brows together, forehead wrinkled, the wise old man nodded, listening. He digested her story, remaining silent for several minutes. Then, still without a word, he handed her an apple, knowing she must be weak from hunger. Alexis wasn’t sure how to eat it until Wynn demonstrated. She followed his lead and bit into the crunchy fruit. Her taste buds delighted in the sweet juicyness of the round, red ball. Satiated after devouring the entire apple, Alexis sunk into Wynn’s lambskin-covered couch and drifted off to dreamland, leaving Wynn sitting by her side with his thoughts.

Return to Paradise: Chapter 11

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Cynthia Roberts sat with her trusted friend, Amy Andrews, who tried to give her some comfort.

“I just had this feeling when she was growing up, Amy, that she was different,” explained Cynthia. “Deep down inside, I almost knew something like this would happen.”

“I know Cyn,” said Amy. “All mothers have those feelings.”

“But I knew it,” Cynthia insisted. “Remember when she was really little and you or I covered for her when she would be the only kid not lining up for drill practice? All the kids would get the message through the CHIP frequency, but Lexy would still be playing, totally unaffected. You’ve got to remember those times, Amy!”

“Yes, I admit I do. Between you and me, Cynthia, some of the younger children seem almost immune to CHIP’s functioning. I’ve seen it a few times. But we’ve always managed to keep Lexy sheltered from the consequences.”

“Somehow she slipped through the crack,” her mom mused. Her mind took her back 20 years to a time when her first husband, Michael, was alive. She remembered his own resistance to the CHIP system, a rebellion that led to his elimination from this world. When he voiced his dislike of the new system and demanded alternatives to CHIP-exclusive grocery stores, he never returned home. Ed Blitz himself had shown up at her door with the news of Michael’s car crash and instructions for her as well. They had never recovered Michael’s body, which was believed to have probably been burned up in the explosion or eaten by sharks in the deep waters at the base of the cliff his car had careened off of one dark, rainy night.

Blitz had been sympathetic, but businesslike. He’d come with orders; he’d told her that if she wanted to ensure her own well-being, she’d have to marry Jerry Roberts. Genetically altered, Roberts was sure to be loyal to CHIP’s cause, and there would be no chance of Cynthia getting out of line or expressing herself as Michael had.

What choice had she had? Though it was unspoken, she understood foul play was involved with her late husband’s death. She felt she had no choice but to go along with the game.

Alexis had shown up a month earlier than expected, and the love she had for her daughter helped ease Cynthia’s pain. Inside her, she knew Alexis was a very unique child. Different, which often made her mother uneasy about her future. As a young child, Alexis had asked questions about the sun and the moon and where they came from and who made them and where they went when we couldn’t see them. She’d often sat staring at the sky and the stars for a long time, as if they held the answers to the mystery she lived, while the other children seemed to never even notice them.

Find your answers, Lexy baby, Cynthia thought to her child, but she sat in fear and cried as Amy comforted her in her arms.

Return to Paradise: Chapter 9

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Sitting on a metal bench at monorail station 42, Alexis pondered her next move. Something inside her told her that the lasers weren’t broken. That inner voice became suddenly stronger and she realized she should see Wynn. It has been years since she’d been to the spot, but she knew she could find it. Getting hungry, she headed to the food station and hoped it would release a pellet. Nothing. She attempted the monorail one more time. Again, the door remained shut when she stood in front of it. The people inside looked on blindly as she signaled for them to let her in. The tram took off without her. The people hurrying along on the cement sidewalk practically knocked her over, not seeing her as they passed by. As night fell, Alexis, worn and weary, curled up on a bench and willed herself to sleep.

Return to Paradise: Chapter 8

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Lexy went on smiling and looking people directly in the eyes, or as directly as she could through their dark sunglasses. I won’t act invisible just because people are acting like I am. Finally, she reached the laser station. The ominous gray cement structure housed the lasers where people could add money to their CHIP. All monetary transactions operated through the laser system. Bills were paid by entering expenses into the home computer and scanning the CHIP to automatically withdraw funds. This information was sent to the laser and then those owed money could receive it via their CHIP either from a visit to the laser or through their home computer. No paper cash was needed.

Alexis figured she had about $10,000 in her laser bank. She decided to take it all, as she wasn’t sure where she’d find her next laser station or how soon she’d need it. She wanted to be prepared. When she approached the laser, the glass shield in front of it did not raise like it was supposed to. Shoot, she thought. It’s malfunctioning. She went to the one next to it. Still nothing. Weird. Two in a row? Is the whole system down? As she stood to the side, she watched a man walk up to the shield. It rose and he entered. He spent a few minutes filling up and then turned and the shield closed behind him. That’s funny, she thought, leaning against the wall. She waited about 10 minutes, though it seemed like 10 hours, until another person walked up to use the laser. As a young woman walked out and the shield lowered, Lexy ducked in before it closed. She put her wrist under the laser beam hoping the fill up would be quick in case her parents started to search for her. She waited anxiously for the beep, preparing to enter her request for all of her money. Nothing happened. She felt her skin flush with panic and her mind raced, wondering how she would get her CHIP filled. Just then, another woman walked up to the shield and it rose. She started to enter and Alexis brushed by her.

“I think it’s broken,” she told the lady, who sailed right by her as if she didn’t hear or see her.

Alexis was baffled. Why is everyone ignoring me? Do they all know I’m running away? Or that I’ve committed a horrendous writing crime. She knew the mind waves could be altered to affect everyone’s thinking at once–she had overheard her parents talking about setting public opinion. But could they really get that information out to everybody so quickly? she wondered.

Maybe they could. Since the laser hadn’t read her CHIP, Alexis didn’t know how much money she actually had. Maybe enough to ride the monorail out of town and to get a food tablet. She decided to catch the monorail to the next laser fill up station five miles down the road.

She felt a little woozy standing at the rail stop. When the train pulled up, she waited for the door to slide open. But it didn’t. A second later, the sleek gray monorail zoomed down the track, leaving her standing alone.

What do I do now? she thought to herself. Looking around, she saw people scurrying around like little mice trying to get through a maze. But I’m the one who feels lost. The city was swimming with people leaving jobs or starting the night shift. She decided to try and walk to Dan’s house. It’s about two miles from here, but what else have I got to do? thought Alexis. A nice walk will do me good. Plus, I’ve got to apologize to him for not waiting after school today. Was that today? It seems like a week ago. She had been so eager to get home and finish reading the mystery manuscript that she had actually forgotten to wait for Dan. It was the first time in the two years they’d been dating that she’d left school without him. And he hadn’t called her either. He must be mad. Now would be a perfect time to talk to him and tell him… what? She couldn’t tell him about her discovery–not yet anyway. She didn’t know what to say. She only hoped her parents wouldn’t be there.

She was distracted from her thoughts by a group of people she spotted in an alley between two tall brick buildings. Some were sitting in cardboard boxes and others stood around, leaning on the building or in groups of two or three. Mismatched clothes adorned a string hung from one box to another. Somehow these people appeared to be living there. She had never noticed these people in the alleys before. She looked down another alley as she walked further down the street. More people. Alexis couldn’t believe it. Where did these people come from? Who are they? As she continued on, a tall man with gray eyes approached her and asked her for pellets.

“I don’t have any.” She shook her head, hungry too. She kept walking, unsure about what these people were doing living in the street. She was a little scared. As she kept walking, she saw bodies lying motionless on the ground. Two men in black clothing were picking them up and piling them into the back of a blue pickup truck.

Lexy ran the last two blocks to Dan’s. She was out of breath when she rounded the corner to his house.

Alexis didn’t have to worry about what to say. When she finally reached his front door, she knocked. His mother opened the door and looked around. “Hi Mrs. Price. Is Danny home?” Alexis asked.

Mrs. Price didn’t answer her right away. “Hmm, that’s funny,” Dan’s mother said, seemingly to herself as she looked past Alexis and then to the left and to the right of her. Then she slammed the door. Alexis stood stunned, alone.