Rebel Page 2

To people who have lived here all their lives, this is a completely normal neighborhood perched high in the sky. To me, it’s a multicolored wonderland—as alien a place as the Colonies of America.

And it’s where I am now—at Ross University, on the top floor of Building 23 in downtown Ross City, where I’m currently trying to figure out the best way to sneak out of the complex before everyone else gets dismissed from class.

I peek my head out from my lecture room and into the empty halls. The university is a neoclassical wonder of a place. Antarctica likes to pay homage to grand civilizations of the past, like the Romans and the Egyptians. I never learned about those societies back in the Republic. I didn’t even know what neoclassical meant until recently—it’s not something my old homeland ever showed anyone, what buildings used to look like in the days before the Republic existed. So the university is full of light-filled geometric spaces and straight columns currently adorned with moving virtual murals designed by students in the Art majors, and when the halls are as quiet as they are right now, you can hear the fountains outside the front entrance. Beyond that, walkways link this floor to the same floor of nearby buildings, so that it all looks like a honeycomb of interconnected bridges.

A few other students wander the school’s halls, but otherwise, I’m alone.


I wait a second longer, then lower my eyes, hoist my backpack higher on my shoulders, and walk in the direction of the main entrance as quickly as possible. If I’m lucky, I won’t bump into anyone I know until I make it outside, where my friend Pressa should be waiting for me.

Virtual images and text hover over parts of my view, changing as I go. There are titles like ORGANIC CHEMISTRY and THEORETICAL PHYSICS above the classrooms. A virtual Level hangs over the head of every person in the hall. LEVEL 64. LEVEL 78. LEVEL 52. Interactive virtual buttons drift above the potted plants lining the halls. They say:



Other buttons hover over the classrooms.


A | +100 POINTS

B | +50 POINTS

C | +10 POINTS

D | −50 POINTS

F | −100 POINTS


All of this—the labels on the classrooms, the points you can earn for watering plants or taking tests, the Level that each of us belongs to—is part of Antarctica’s Level system. Everyone in Antarctica has a chip embedded under their skin, right behind their left ear. Through that chip runs a technology that overlays virtual images over your vision.

It tracks what actions you make throughout the day. It assigns you a Level based on those actions. And then that Level floats over your head, so that everyone can see what it is.

Everything you do here earns you points that go to your Level. The more good things you do—score well on a test, help someone cross the street, and so on—the more points you earn toward your Level. The more bad things you do—cheat, steal, pick a fight—the more points you lose.

The higher your Level, the more privileges you’re allotted. At Level 7, you earn the right to use the city’s public bus, train, and elevator stations. You’re allowed to rent a home.

At Level 10, you’re permitted to shop for fresher produce, as well as eat certain types of foods and walk into certain restaurants.

To even set foot up here, in the Sky Floors where Daniel and I live, you need a Level of at least 50.

This is how Ross City uses its Level system as an incentive. It’s meant to encourage people to do good and discourage them from being bad. Apparently, it’s the fairest government ever designed, created after Antarctica realized that the rest of the world was stuck suffering in the same cycles of tyranny and dictatorships over and over again.

I mean, I’m from the Republic. I get what Antarctica’s going for.

But as I hurry down the halls toward the entrance, all I can think about is that, no matter how virtuous the system is, some people just don’t care to be good.

Sure enough, a familiar voice behind me makes me cringe.

“Hey, it’s Wing. Hey!”

Damn it. I swear under my breath, shrug my shoulders, and pick up my pace. My glasses slide down my nose as I hurry. I push them up nervously, accidentally smudging one eyepiece a little with my finger. Despite Antarctica’s advanced technology, the chip in my head can’t fix my eyes—which were damaged by the Republic’s plagues long ago—so glasses are still a part of my life.

Behind me, the voice only gets closer. Now I can hear the beat of other footsteps accompanying it.

“Hey, Wing, slow down. Where are you going in such a rush?”

Alan. Emerson. And Jenna. It’s too late to avoid them. So instead, I take a deep breath and try to look calm as they come up on either side of me.

We’re all the same age, except they’re undergraduate seniors, whereas I’m in the graduate program. The first, Emerson, grins as he slows down to match my stroll.

“You’re always heading out in such a rush,” he says, putting a casual hand on my backpack and grabbing the top strap of it. He pulls me back.

I shrug, keeping my eyes straight. “Just meeting a friend,” I reply. To my relief, my voice stays even and lighthearted.

“Your friend?” Jenna says on my other side. “Pressa, right? The assistant janitor?”

My friend Pressa doesn’t attend the university. She doesn’t have a high enough Level. Instead, she manages all the floor bots that sweep around our halls, cleaning them every morning and afternoon.

I hear the sound of my backpack unzipping behind me before I can respond. “You’re amazing, Wing,” Alan, the third student, marvels in false admiration. “All our books are downloaded into our virtual systems, but you still carry physical science books around?”

Emerson takes one of the books out of my bag. “That’s because he doesn’t use them for studying,” he says, flipping the book open.

I snatch my backpack away. “Be careful with that.”

But he’s already shaking the book. Out fall delicately pressed flowers—goldenrods, bluebonnets, fragile winter lilies—that I’d carefully placed between the pages.

I suck in my breath at the sight, then drop into a hurried crouch to pick them up. Already, several of them have come apart from the fall, leaving their ruined petals strewn on the marble floor. My cheeks redden as I hear a couple of snickers above me. The light sheen of sweat on my nose makes my glasses slide down again, and I push them back up, hating the awkward gesture.

“I didn’t know you were such a talented florist,” Jenna says.

I try to ignore her and pick up the rest of the dried plants, then place them back into their pages. Now other people in the halls are looking at me as I work. I love flowers—their colors, their fragility, the way they grow, the way they smell. I was going to dry these out and put them into frames. But I’m too embarrassed to say it.

Pressing flowers isn’t the kind of hobby that boys are allowed to take up. It’s not the kind of interest that gets you friends. My brother would probably never be caught dead doing this.

“Need some help?” Emerson asks me, stooping down to my level. As he bends down, he intentionally steps on the flowers still on the floor.

A surge of anger pierces through my calm, and I shove him backward. “Get off those,” I snap at him. But the flowers are already ruined.

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