Four teens are in a bad place.
My great-aunt had been one of the last foreigners to work in China before it split into a bunch of different countries like the rest of the world. She had amazing stories about her time there. She once visited a tomb where the king was buried along with 15 attendants, who had been sacrificed when he died. No one knew exactly who they were, but it was believed they were considered valuable in making the gods happy and getting the king into the afterlife.
"The Lord has told me one of you will be a sacrifice," she said to all her great nieces and nephews, who had gathered at my grandmother's home for Easter. She was spiritual, my great aunt, although the way she followed God was very different from what was taught in the churches, even then. "I don't know how or when, but it will happen."
Our parents thought she was crazy. The old spinster had finally gone off her rocker. But then it happened.
Things started changing. Slowly, not all at once like a hurricane, but gradually like a drought. One by one, things started to get harder, for everyone, but especially women. One day, the farm co-op would not sell her seeds or fertilizer. "Not allowed to sell to women, according to the new law," old Mr. Purvis who ran it said, shaking his head. "I hate it, after serving you for 40 years." Then the schools changed. Biology and chemistry were replaced with Bible memorization and creation studies, and then schools closed altogether. It was the start of a new nation, Heritage, founded "on God's word, and God's word alone."
This is the story of my sacrifice, and that of the others, who changed it all.
From The History of Post-Collapse Appalachia
Heritage, 2060-2112, was a short-lived small nation, founded after it ceded from the larger Hope Nation to its west. It also bordered Biltmore nation to its east, Dalton Nation to its south, and Kings Nation to the northeast. Founded on a version of Christianity, it was known for strict gender roles, a discouragement of most technology, and an Old Testament justice system. One of the poorest nations in North America, most families lived without basic water or electricity. Its motto was "Sola Scriptura.
Despite its general discouragement of modern medicine, Heritage tested all its children at the age of 12 for the so-called "S," or "sinner" gene. Developed by scientist and Heritage native Dr. Gordon Roston, all children were said to have the "s" gene at birth, but the gene could be changed due to righteous living and "the calling of the Holy Spirt into one's life." If one tested for the gene at age 12, that person was considered an evil sinner, who was a danger both to himself or herself and society.
In response to the "sinner problem "Heritage developed a system of "Safe Living Centers" to house these sinners and keep them out of trouble. At the program's peak, there were 120 Safe Living Centers in Heritage, each housing up to 50 males and 50 females from age 12 and up. "Sinners" assigned to these facilities lived and worked at the centers, usually in service to religious causes, production of goods, or food production. Except to attend church or to perform community service, residents never left the centers. Residents might change centers throughout their lives, but they were expected to stay in Safe Living Care until they died. Centers were private and independent but were organized under the "Safe Living Counseling Commission," which also organized testing and had broad church support.
My mother always liked helping people, but the church didn't want her to direct anything involving children or directing people, since she was a bad role model who had only given birth to one child. So she organized Christmas and Easter care packages for people at Safe Living Centers when I was young. Our living room became a zoo of toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, sanitary cloths, hairbrushes, and combs. My father, who couldn't stand clutter, called it "the monstrosity," and hated it.
"Think of it as honoring your sister," my mom said.
"It won't bring her back. It's too late for her," my father would say.
My aunt was one of the first people to go to Smithville. Her name was Kathleen, and I did not know her, did not know she existed until someone at church mentioned her when I was 7. No one could ever tell me what her primary sin was, even at Smithville, although everyone remembered her. She had tried to do the impossible.
Smithville was better protected than about anywhere in Heritage. It was surrounded by a fence that covered all sides. It was not an ordinary fence but was made of all kinds of scratchy things: wire, thorns, and metal spikes, all twisted together. Periodically, an overseer would walk with us to the fence and try to cut it using shears, scissors, and knives. It never worked. "For your own safety, you are here to say. God has given you an armor of protection to keep you and others safe," she would say.
Dogs were stationed along the fence, just in case some of the defenses failed. Every 10 yards stood a pit bull, specially trained to attack. When we came close, the dogs showed their teeth and yowled.
There were also 4 guard stations at various points around the fence. These too had dogs, as well as human guards with guns. The gate could only be opened by hand. The only time it opened was for cars bringing employees, supplies, or new residents, or for cars leaving, only after a search. If anyone except a guard tried to pass the gate by foot, the dogs were trained to attack. "Angels of protection," Ginny, the head overseer, had said.
Most residents were cautious and stayed inside, where they were safe. But there were some who tried to defied the odds. In Smithville's history, 5 people had tried to escape. They had all died. One of them was my aunt Kathleen. A picture of her mangled body, and pictures of the others' mangled body, were posted in the counseling rooms. The only picture I had of my aunt was after her death, when she was bloody, bruised, and unrecognizable.
My parents had tried so hard so I wouldn't end up her, like she had. They did everything they were supposed to do. They took me to church twice a week. They made sure I followed all the rules for young women. I had to be polite, sit like a lady, do not talk back to adults. Stay away from boys. My mother taught me at home, like she was supposed to, and even managed to teach me the domestic arts. To keep me out of trouble, all my friends were trusted church members, and we only played when an adult was supervising us. My life was controlled as best as possible to be one of feminine virtue and moral purity. I was a "good girl," maybe not as domestic as was ideal, but never one who stirred up quarrels, caused violence, or caused sorrow to her parents.
But still, I was marked as a sinner. I was deficient. Broken. Marked. And it was too late to fix me. I would always be a moral danger to society, and to myself.
I had failed my family. I was their only child-a rarity in Heritage. They would never have grandchildren to cherish, and the family lineage would stop with me. I wondered how my parents would talk about me. Most people with sinner children said they were dead or acted like they never existed. But I knew my parents could never do that. Mom told me once, "we are a part of each other." What happens when one part becomes non-human?
Since I could read and write, I was assigned to work for the Easter Child ministry. Churches all over Heritage donated boxes with things like toys, socks, and combs for poor boys and girls in other nations and around the world so they could have an Easter gift. There were many places poorer than Heritage, and Christians were called to give.
The boxes were collected and sent to Smithville and other Safe Living Centers. My job was to check the boxes, throw away anything that was not allowed: that could break, was inappropriate, or in bad condition. I also had to read any notes in the boxes to make sure they were appropriate. People could write letters or draw pictures and put them in their boxes; they couldn't do tapes, because the only tapes allowed were the Bible tapes that were put in the boxes before they were sent.
The letters often included photographs or drawings of smiling families. I knew I would never have that. And it made me hurt. It wasn't fair or right that sinners couldn't be parents. Of course, what was fair at Smithville?