“What are you staring at?” asks Graham Glass’s wife, Hayden.
Graham blinks. He isn’t sure how long he’s been sitting there, staring at the blank wall across from him. “I was just…thinking,” he says. He doesn’t bother to elaborate, as Hayden wouldn’t care to know what he’d been thinking about. So long as he pays the bills that keeps their family living in comfort, Hayden is content.
But Graham is not content. Not at all. As Hayden sits beside him on the sofa and turns on some brainless television show, he continues to think. About his life, his career, his family, everything.
What does it all mean?
He goes to work Monday through Thursday, just like everyone else. He likes his job okay – not that he used to dream of being a robotics specialist, or anything. But it pays well, and is somewhat interesting work.
It doesn’t make sense, this feeling of restlessness, of emptiness. By all measures, he should be happy. Blissfully happy. His wife and two children live in a lovely home, filled with lovely things. His wife is still attractive, despite her age, and could even be nice, sometimes, when she was in the mood. Nobody’s perfect. And his children are both pretty good kids. They make decent grades, and know how to speak proper Englinish, not that ridiculous cyberslang the kids these days are into.
Maybe, it occurs to him, he is discontent because everything comes too easy. Like all registered citizens, he and his family have free food, free health care, free extended education. Well, maybe free isn’t quite the right word, since they pay over half their income in taxes. Still, they have the peace of knowing that the government has their back. Registered citizens live long, healthy lives, and no one is required to work very hard anymore, unless they want to amass a greater amount of luxury goods, or travel to a space colony, or something uncovered like that.
“Family,” he announces after this revelation. “Let’s go camping.”
Camping out in The Cracks is not such an unusual thing to do. Many registered citizens venture out beyond the temperature-controlled, high security boundaries of their cities to get a taste of life in the outer limits. They make a holiday off it, cooking food the old-fashioned way instead of creating it instantly in a food replicator, and playing games together that do not require electricity.
It is the next week that Graham has his second revelation. It was not enough to spend a weekend camping in The Cracks with his family. No…what he really needs to do is go there. To the actual outer limits. He needs to know what life is like for the unregistered citizens.
It is a risky thing to do, he knows. The Unregistereds have not been immunized against measles, influenza, cancer, or even Plague 2. They may be dangerous in other ways, too, since they are far less educated than registered citizens, and therefore, more likely to commit crimes.
Still, he makes the decision to go. Without telling his family or friends, Graham makes the drive. He leaves behind the security gates that surround his city, and climbs high into the Copper Hills, where a community of Unregistereds is known to exist. When he arrives, he at once feels out of place. His car is too new, his clothes too high-tech, his haircut too stylish.
Still, when he meets two Unregistereds, Mikhail and Char, they turn out to be warm and friendly, setting him at ease. Neither of them has ever held a conversation with a registered citizen before, as most Registereds are too cowardly to venture to the outer limits.
The three of them strike up an unlikely friendship. And several months later, Graham does the unthinkable. He invites his Unregistered friends to hang out with him back in the city. At first, Mikhail and Char protest. Neither of them has the microchips implanted in their hands. They will be unable to purchase anything or gain entry to any facilities.
“No anx,” says Graham. For the first time, he is thrilled with the skills he has learned on the job. Make a pair of portable microchip cards for two Unregistereds to carry discreetly in their pockets? No problem!