“Justin… Justin! Where are you going? Dinner is in the big house.” Moon had been following him around the moment he stepped foot in the place. The first time he saw her he did not know if he was afraid or intrigued. Her figure was imperial and round. Under dusty black hair was an observant and unkempt face. Her gold eyes were piercing. Moon appeared ageless, but after inquiring around, he learned that she was born a couple years before himself. Her features suggested a boldness, but she was soft spoken and usually found in corners and shadows. “Are… Aren’t you hungry?” She looked like she might collapse in tears at any moment, but that was just her neutral expression.
“Sure.” He turned around. It wasn’t awful here, but he could not shake the urge to sprint for the gates. Moon wrapped her long fingers around his hand; Justin did not start walking until his elbow locked and he had to follow her lead.
“Have I told you,” she paused. “Have I told you how much everyone loves your sister here? And. That I’m so glad you came with her.” Their pace was slowing. He could see the big house, but if the deceleration continued, dinner would be over before they sat down. Her cold hands tightened and she turned to him.
“Yeah. I guess you did.” He shifted his gaze, avoiding her sad eyes. She looked at his cheek for several breaths and dropped his hand. They walked to the house side by side. They entered and found a place at a deserted table. Moon sat down at the table and Justin followed. The buffet was at the far end of the hall, maybe thirty paces away. He could tell it was half ravaged already. As usual, there was a mountain of cabbage still available.
“Hey. aren’t you guys hungry?” Moon jumped at the sight of Allison. She mumbled something about her chores and shuffled away blushing. Justin’s sister sat a plate of kohlrabi salad in front of him. “What is going on with her? Wait, are you two…”
Allison laughed, “Alright. Where have you been all day anyway?”
“Nowhere, just like everyone else here.”
“Come on, don’t start into that again. You have a chance to make an interesting life here. With Moon. Ok ok, so this isn’t Neopolis, but it’s not back in the sprawl with Mom and Dad either.”
“I don’t know, a holovision and a private room sounds pretty good right now.”
“Be my guest, just don’t expect me to follow you.”
“Nah, that’s not really it anyway. It’s just this hiding away while Links manipulates the rest of the world.”
“Sure, but you can’t do anything about it if he catches you messing around in Neopolis.”
“Yeah, not if he catches me.”
“You’re an idiot, you know that?”
Marcus was feeling around the bottom of the sink for a stray knife. Why did those kids have to throw everything in the sink at once?
“Hey Mark!” he jumped, dropping the errant flatware he just grasped.
“Hey Helen.” She frowned, he had kept the habit of calling her by her alias. It’s not that she was attached to Allison per se, but she did not like the associations with what she now considered a fugitive name.
“I grabbed a couple extra brownies off the dessert tray. Care to join me?”
“Which dessert tray?”
“The one they put out after the kids have gone to bed.”
“Then yes, just let me… shit!” Marcus put his pricked finger in his mouth, threw down his sponge and followed Allison out of the kitchen. It really wasn’t a bad deal, this place. The work was a little more labor intensive than he was used to, but the hours were shorter. A few years ago he would never have associated with the kind of people who call Open Acres home, but after playing shopkeeper for the wealthy he did not mind them so much. He just had to excuse himself when the social warrior talk started.
They walked down the packed dirt path and found a copse in the middle of the barley field. A sharp line divided the resting field and the growing field. The trees formed a natural barrier between the two. Next year, apparently, they would switch fields, leaving the nothing but chaff after the harvest and start plowing the new field. It was a cycle, the earth would tolerate the intense cultivation only because it knew its leisure laid ahead. Marcus took the brownie out of Allison’s hand and then took her hand.
“I don’t think Justin is long for this place.” Allison said, looking up to the stars peaking behind the clouds.
“Sure, I get it. I’m getting used to it, but it’s not for everyone.”
“Yeah, but he has to get used to it.”
“And that’s the main reason he never will.”
“He can’t take it on all on by himself. Besides, I’m not even sure what he wants to struggle against at this point.”
“He’s sixteen, anyone telling him he has to do something is enough reason for him to fight.”
“Yeah, but I…”
“Ran off and joined a bunch of anarchists last year?”
“I don’t know how that’s relevant. Ok, fine, I don’t want to let one man, or organization take control of the world and I certainly don’t want the sprawl to take over the oceans, but he’s trying to martyr himself.”
“So you’re saying you don’t want to join him?”
“No, I’m saying it’s not going to do any good.”
“Eh, what good does anything do?”
“That’s just the brownies talking.”
“Nah, that’s all me. I’m not interested in saving the world, but I’ll follow you to whatever world you’re trying to create. Anyway, this one’s not awful. I wouldn’t mind a minute of privacy though.”
“Ok, see you later.”
“No, no! that’s not what I…” She had stood as if to leave, but tackled him with a manic laugh. While they rolled and laughed, they missed the shadow of Justin following the path to the public road.
The map shone in the ditch; Justin was squatting and concentrating. It was so easy to find before, but there was no sign now. There was no way to predict how far he was. He thought back to that map in the train stations. Neopolis was scattered all over North America like a shotgun blast. There was usually one within a few hundred miles of an old urban core, but he couldn’t count on it. He wasn’t near anything like a city now anyway. The commune was intentionally set in a dead zone of settlement. It was probably some rich guy’s private property, but no one had any reason to be out here unless they wanted to plow fields and debate the finer points of ecology.
He thought about Simon, who moved so easily between worlds. He would know how to get to the nearest Neopolis. What was he doing now? Was he on Nesson leading a revolution? There was nothing in the news about it, but Justin was not so sure that everything important was on the net anymore. Justin did a quick ping to see if he could find him, but he was probably on the New St. Louis intranet. He may as well not exist as far as the mainland was concerned. He thought about leaving a message, but decided less recorded communication was better.
The adjacent, abandoned road was forgotten. The communists used it if they had to go out for supplies, but that was rare. Hopes of thumbing a ride were non-existent, and there was a high probability that this road would simply disappear under overgrowth if he tried to walk far along it. No, he would have to know where he was going before he just set off. He was sure the luck he had when he set off from home would not follow him here.
The bushes bent and creaked in the wind and the crickets called. He listened and watched his screen. He zoomed out again and followed the route from Indiana to the southwest desert he had followed before. His location blinked in central California, hundreds of miles of mountains and blank land separated him from familiar territory. Behind him, lights from Open Acres wrapped around the trees. All these people got here from somewhere, so clearly there was a way out. Justin, Allison, and Marcus arrived with the help of a shuttle the commune maintained in LA. Anyone interested in starting a new life need only contact the commune registrar, spout a few words about existential crisis, and find a way to LA. From there an auto drive car, the only one on Open Acres, would carry the new brothers and sisters to their new home free of charge. Justin slept the whole way there; now he wished he had stayed awake and studied the landscape.
A crunch of rocks and dead leaves signaled that someone was coming down the path behind him. People did not just wander off the grounds; someone was probably looking for him. He sighed and stood, expecting to see his sister in the distance. Upon turning around, he almost fell back when Moon’s face was inches from his own. She wrapped him in her arms.
“Don’t.” She said. Don’t go, she meant. Generally he tried to find excuses to part when he was around her, but tonight he felt her warmth and fluttering heartbeat. He did not know what impression he had made on her. Justin suspected Moon was half in love with his sister, but decided he was more attainable. Maybe the pool of young men was simply so shallow that any new comer was exciting. He was usually so caught up in trying to understand her fascination with him that he failed to assess how he might feel about her.
“Ok, sure.” He said. I won’t, tonight, he meant. She let out a puff with a tone somewhere between relief and disappointment. She kissed him once, lightly, and released him. She took his arm and laid her head on his shoulder. Justin saw the blinking light that represented their location. On a map, they were nowhere, yet a thousand souls lived their whole lives in this spot. He picked up the mobile and snapped it closed.
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