EVERYTHING OUTSIDE IS PITCH black. Night always is. All I hear is the deafening sound of a hard clank, like metal scraping, with every step the creature takes, followed by a pounding into the ground. Red eyes like the sun and shaped like an overgrown Siamese cat named Lotus1; but it’s not a cat. It doesn’t even have fur. It’s another Tin, just like all the other metal monsters in here, designed to keep us in submission, and compliant. At twelve feet long and four feet wide, its paws and claws are something to be reckoned with—if we disobey. None of the ‘human’ Tins have skin; they are all just hard metal, and none have a gender either. If they did have faux skin, they couldn’t fool anyone anyway, because their blood-colored eyes do not hold the human story.
My eyes track the feline’s movements as it passes by me under the shards of moonlight. Its metal neck turns in a creak to glance at me. It’s nine in the evening, just after the last rustic-horn blow. Same time, every night. The feline will crawl one-hundred yards east from my window, and then it will turn around at the Compound wall, and retrace its steps until it passes me again to walk another one-hundred yards west past me. It—and others like it—guard the Compound. I’ve watched this feline Tin pass by me for twelve years; I was put in here when I was five. The Tins do that—keep us behind thick glass—so we see just enough to keep us scared of the dark, of the feline Tins, to tell us they have power over us, to tell us there is no way out of here. My right palm presses on the hard glass that separates me from the metal beast, leaving moist fingerprints and a window squeak. It’s always colder inside than outside; it’s the temperature controlled rooms.
My body lies over a cot—number seventeen. My head coddles the rice-filled pillow in a poor attempt at sleep, but at least I’ve hollowed out a space for my head. It’s weird, having my cot number the same as my age. It’s completely coincidental, and when I’m eighteen the cot will still be number seventeen, but I will no longer be here. I’ll be reassigned, and someone else will take this room—the room I’ve lived in for twelve years. Everything changes when you turn eighteen in the Compound.
If I’m accepted by the Tins, I’ll be sent to the Electric Gardens to live out my so-called adult life; though I’ve never even seen the EG, nor anyone reassigned to the EG ever again—so who really knows? If I have too many glitches, then I’ll be rejected and become a Mesh. The seventeenth year is crucial; that’s when Tins really examine you to see if you’re truly ready for the Electric Gardens. Three glitches in six months are too many at seventeen, and you are sent for re-wiring. That’s what happens when you become a Mesh; the left-half of your brain is infused with electrical-chemical wiring that makes you more like a Tin than a human and under their control.
My good friend Lucy717 is now a Mesh; she almost made it to the Electric Gardens. She used to be a vibrant blonde, who kept her hair in a bob. She was just seventeen when she tried climbing a wall to escape the Compound; a mother to me, she was three years older. The Tins caught her and gave her two glitches. Attempted escapes yield harsh consequences. She served a week in the cells. Eleven months later, she made it to her room at 9:01 p.m., past curfew by a minute. Three glitches and she was dragged to the Re-Wiring building, kicking and screaming the whole way. I’ve never seen her again. We used to eat breakfast together every morning before Re-Learning. I wipe a single tear sliding down my reddening cheek. I just called her Lucy, because we lost our last names when we entered the Compound. 919 means there are at least nine-hundred-and-nineteen other Lucys in the Compounds across America.
It’s difficult in here, confined. Still, it’s the only home I really know. Memories of my childhood, before the Compound—before the Tins—are vague at best, more like distant dreams. I think I remember Dad, his ear-to-ear grin when, once, Mom lifted me up for a kiss on the cheek. She said my pre-school drawing of our family was colorfully beautiful. My teacher was impressed too. This was before the Quarantine and the Round-Ups. Home was a one-story, red-brick house with a white picket fence. I drew stick figures of Father, Mother, my younger brother, Delsin, and our three-year-old Dachshund named Barrack. Dad picked the name; said grandpa liked the President he had growing up. Grandpa was only twenty when President Trump took office. I still have no real idea what that word ‘President’ means. We don’t have them in this world, anymore.
In 2022 Dad was born, and, not long after, machines began replacing humans in a variety of jobs. Two decades later, UBI was still debated in Congress, while sophisticated robots replaced the machines. Climate change was all anyone could talk about: melting ice caps, the rise of oceans, destruction of property, increase in hurricanes and tornadoes, the dormant fungi and super-viruses frozen for tens of thousands of years by ice and crystal, now released to wreak havoc on us all. Nature would finally have her due revenge.
Solutions were few and far between. I was only three, but I can still hear Mom and Dad bickering about the news, her nasal-like tone yelling, and her long forefinger pointing at the television, “See, the idiots didn’t listen, and look at what we’re dealing with now! If we don’t die of a natural disaster, we’ll starve or catch this…this disease!”
“We’ll be fine, Janet. Just stick together.”
“Stick together, Tocho! This isn’t the Reservation, people aren’t going to stick together here!” She huffed. “What happens when our neighbors come breaking in to steal our canoe, or our food? Or worse, Lexi or Delsin get sick?!”
Mom called me Lexi. Not Lexi019, like the Tins. Dad hugged her, and she cried in his chest. Her pinking cheeks looked like candy hanging over his shoulders, as I stood under her tears, reaching for her on my tippy-toes against Dad’s back. Maybe the yelling, the arguing, was a distraction from the inevitable because however, one looked at it, our demise would follow.
Creak. The feline Tin turns its neck forward and peers ahead, instead of at me, and then scrapes across the concrete ground in slow cranking movements. I think I hate the metallic sound more than anything else, as the creaks can be heard even fifty yards away like two metal bars rubbed together. Night time is hard. We sleep alone. Once the sounds of the feline Tin have faded, I can hear my own breaths breathing in and out, and I remember Mom cradling me on her bed, me on her chest when I was three—after her argument with Dad—her heavy breath on my cheeks. I turn away from the Compound glass wall on my left, and roll to my right side.
An average sized room with three bare concrete walls, no mirrors; to the left is a door that leads to a small private bathroom, and opposite the cot is a steel door to protect me—all of us in the Compound—from any mischief we might otherwise get into. As if mischief is what we’d do if we could roam at night: the remnant human race, orchestrators of simple pranks. Breaking out is more like it, much more at the forefront of most of our minds. There is something I’ve learned about human nature after being cooped up in here for twelve years, and that is we don’t like confinement, and we especially don’t like to be told what to do. We’re prisoners of the Tins, no matter how one looks at it: their rules, their world