Chapter 29: Preacher Man on the Rooftop Garden

If not for Graham Glass, I would be fast asleep in my cozy air-bed at home. If not for Graham, I never would have made the impulsive decision to drive up to the Outer Limits.

“Don’t blame Graham,” says Anjelica. “It’s your fault we’re stuck in this pit.”

Let me back up.

It’s like I told you. Anj and I have been living the Good Life, thanks to my miracle ability to wail on the guitar. So there we were, soaking in the plasma-jet tub at the club, chatting with some good friends of ours, when one off them brought up the topic of spirituality.

“I’m not saying you have to convert, like me,” my buddy was saying. “But you’ve gotta go listen to this devvo preacher at the rooftop garden. His name’s Graham Glass, and he changed my life.”

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I frowned. Nothing against religious types, but it’s just not my thing, you know? “What kind of stuff does he blast out?” I asked.

“Oh all kinds of things. But he’s got some interesting stories about his work with the Unregistereds.

“The Unregistereds?” Anj’s eyebrows flew up so high, they just about disappeared into her hairline. She’s got a thing for the Unreges. She watches this shallow TV show filled with all kinds of seedy, backwards folks who live in the Outer Limits. Mostly, they turn out to be thugs, thieves, and druggies, but sometimes, there are scandalous love affairs between a no-good Unreg and an upright, legal citizen. No doubt she was hoping to catch some of this drama in live-action.

So, long story short, Anj and I headed up to the rooftop garden at two o’clock and join the small flock that was gathered around this guy standing at a pulpit. He looked about my age, and was clean-cut and normal-looking in every way but one. Unlike the relaxed, no-anx expressions that define the faces of most peeps I know, this preacher guy had a fire blazing in his eyes as he spoke to us.

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“Are the Unregistereds animals, that we keep them locked in a cage outside of our boundaries?” He was saying. “Are we animals, that we deny them the privileges afforded every human being? Nutritious food? Decent shelter? Education for their children? They are human!” The fire in his eyes blazed brighter as he said this. “They may lack the genetic engineering that we have; the genetic mods that keep our skin from burning, and keep us healthy and strong. But they are every bit as human as we are.”

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I had never heard anyone speak with such conviction and compassion before. Especially about the Unregs, who most people regarded as unmodified Hill Trash. But Anj and I hung onto every word. Then, the next day, when she and I were in the car, about to head to the club, she grabbed my arm. “Can we go see them?”

“See who?” I asked. But I already knew. Anjelica wouldn’t rest until we had driven up into the hills, beyond the boundaries, to catch a close-up glimpse of some real, live Unregistereds. So what could I do? I drove. And what happened?

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The car broke down.

Right in the heart one of their backwards, ramshackle communities in the Outer Limits, my car ran out of juice. If I’d been at home, I could have easily gotten it charged up. But here, in No Man’s Land, there were no service stations that I could see. No extra fuel packs. No auto robots to give us a boost.

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Die-sel!” Anjelica’s voice takes on that shrill, whiny tone she gets whenever she’s frustrated, bored, or doesn’t get her way. “What are we supposed to do?”

I stare at the car, feeling useless. I check my phone, which, in these hills, is also useless. No service at all. “I could try walking down toward civilization. Maybe I’ll pick up a signal to call for help,” I suggest.

“But it’s getting dark!” says Anjelica, panic flooding her face. “You want to leave me here in this place in the dark?”

I’m tempted to remind her that coming up here was her brilliant idea. Instead, I march toward one of the ancient wooden houses nearby.

“Diesel! Where are you going?” says Anjelica, hurrying after me.

“To ask for help,” I say, and knock on the front door.

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Chapter 28: The Hill Folk

Sycamore Hills.

That is the name the Unregistereds give their community, although the Registereds have all kinds of unflattering names. The Sticks. The Black Hole. That Place-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.

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But to Tabitha Hall and her neighbors, their home will always be called Sycamore Hills. There are more than just sycamore trees, of course. There are also oaks, and birch, and many other types that no longer exist down the hill. The Registereds decided long ago that they could no longer be bothered with trees that dropped their messy leaves and blossoms all over the pristine city walkways.

It is not an easy life, being Unregistered. That failure of Tabitha’s parents to have one tiny microchip embedded under her infant skin resulted inĀ  a life sentence of living outside of civilization. No chip, no access, is the law of the land. No chip means no education in the city schools, no access to hospitals, no ability to shop at stores. The unchipped must weave their own cloth, sew their own clothes, and build their own crude wooden houses and furniture. The hardest part of being Unregistered, Tabitha thinks, is the hunger. They do their best to cultivate their own crops, and raise chickens and rabbits for meat. But often, it seems that there isn’t quite enough to go around.

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Sometimes, very late at night, Tabitha and her husband, Jake, hike all the way down to the city. They creep through the silent streets, past enormous buildings and pristine parks, until they find a community garden, or perhaps a kitchen garden, ripe with fat tomatoes, juicy eggplants, or crisp cucumbers. She could never understand how the the Registereds were able to produce so much more food, or why it grew so much larger than the vegetables the hill folk struggled to grow.

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Then they lug their bulging sacks of food back up the hillside to share with their family and neighbors. All the while, they are careful to slip through shadows and duck around corners, always alert for the Monitors. Monitors, who never sleep, but roam the city streets, on the constant lookout for curfew-breakers. Once Tabitha and Jake were stopped by a monitor, who scanned them both. As neither one of them wore an identifying chip, the Monitor triggered an alarm. “INTRUDERS! INTRUDERS!” Its tinny, human-like voice was like thunder, echoing through the town. Tabitha and Jake exchanged panicked looks, then turned and fled for the safety off the hills. They haven’t returned since.

The loss of the night raids means more hunger for Tabitha and her family. More restless nights filled with growling bellies. This state of desperation would have continued, too, had it not been for the arrival of the Preacher, Graham Glass, and his car full of food.

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