Sabine was too young to remember the Enlightening. Too young to remember the chip being implanted in her neck. Too young to remember her father being taken away for refusing to hand her over willingly. The Mothers didn’t like dissenters, so he was removed and replaced with another man. Other families were torn apart entirely. Many parents fought and lost to the Mothers. Single parents were considered unstable. Same-sex couples were blasphemous. Love was a thing of the past. Everyone had to have a Mama and and a Papa. She knew that Mama was her actual mother. There was a smell that was familiar to her, that identified her as the right fit. Papa was a stand-in. His glances did not carry the tenderness or concern of her mother’s and his words always sounded level and scripted.
She had been twelve when her older sister, Jenna, was taken as well. Papa had caught her trying to dodge her dose and reported her to the Mothers from the intercall system in their parlor. A collection team came to get her within the hour. Jenna screamed up until the moment they stuck her with the syringe full of sedative, putting an end to her defiant tantrum. She crumpled like an old doll and they carried her out to the van for relocation. Sabine still hoped that she was out there somewhere.
She and Jenna shared a room and, after bed check, Jenna would let Sabine crawl into bed with her and tell her stories of what the world had been like before. She told her about candy and cartoons, baseball and dancing, movie nights and sleepovers. Some of the things that Jenna told her were so far from Sabine’s world that she thought Jenna was making it all up. As Sabine got older, the stories transitioned to tales of how the Enlightening came to be and of how things were not a serene as they seemed. Sabine was still young to understand such things, but she would carry Jenna’s words until they came to make sense.
The first time Jenna told Sabine about what had happened to their father, Sabine grew scared and her heart began to race.
“Don’t be scared,” she whispered in a panicked tone, which gave Sabine further reason to worry. “Try to steady your breathing or the Papa will come to check on us and we could be sent away for insubordination.”
They heard footsteps approaching the stairs. “Get back in bed! Close your eyes and start mumbling, like you are talking in your sleep. Now!” Jenna hissed.
Sabine scrambled back into her bed and did her best to look like she was sleeping. She didn’t know what one might say in their sleep, so she tried to sound like she was restless.
The sliver of light under the door showed Papa’s feet at the door. Sabine tried to lay still as the door opened, but she was sure that the sound of her heart pounding filled the entire room. She didn’t want to be sent away like her father.
When he was certain it was just a dream, Papa closed the door and returned to the parlor to report back to the Mothers. Sabine sat up in bed and whispered back to her sister, “What was that all about? How did he know to check on us? We were so quiet.”
“It is the chip in your neck. We all have one. It monitors our vitals. Someone in a building somewhere can see if we are sick or scared and even where we are. If your heart was racing, it could be because you are nervous about trying to escape or just because you walking up the stairs too fast. Somewhere along the lines, they decided to track our vitals instead of installing cameras everywhere.”
Sabine didn’t know how she felt about being monitored all of the time. Was it better or worse than being watched all of the time?
It wasn’t long after that night that Jenna started being more closely monitored. Papa would ask her more questions and take note of her responses. The intercall system buzzed every few hours for reports on her behavior.
After a few weeks, a large box was delivered. Papa signed for it and carried it into the small den off of the parlor. Later that afternoon, Jenna was made to sit in the den for an hour for mass therapy.
“What was it like?” Sabine asked after bed check that night.
“It is crazy. The therapist is on the television and I have to wear this headpiece that checks my brainwaves or something. They ask questions and read our thoughts to see how we really feel. Having something under my skin is bad enough and now they are in my head.” Jenna’s voice cracked. She turned over and pulled the covers up over her head. Clearly, Sabine would get no more answers tonight.
Everyday, Sabine watched Jenna trudge into the den and emerge an hour later looking even more defeated than when she went in. Their bedtime chats were now entirely about what was wrong with the Mothers and how they watched everyone, wouldn’t tolerate anyone who stepped out of line or spoke against them. Sabine wanted to hear more about games and love, but Jenna only had unhappy tales left to tell.
After three weeks of mass therapy, Papa presented Jenna with a small pill one day at breakfast. “Doctor’s orders,” he said, a bit too cheerfully. Jenna had no choice and took the pill obediently.
There was no telling how long Jenna had been skipping her daily dose. Sabine had not noticed any changes in her sister. She was as quiet and sullen as ever. Papa seemed pleased that she was being so compliant.
It was mass therapy that morning that was her undoing. Fifteen minutes into her session, the intercall sounded with an alarm and Papa listened as he was instructed to hold Jenna for collection.
She didn’t even make it to the door before he got to her. He pulled her hands behind her back and tried to cover her mouth, but she wriggled and squirmed to keep herself from being silenced.
“Mama! How can you let them do this to us? Can’t you see they are all crazy?! No one should live like this! LET ME GO!!!!” Jenna screamed, her face red with anger. She turned away from her mother, breath slowing and her voice now calming to a more resigned tone, “Sabine, fight them! Remember that I love you and Daddy loved you too.”
Sabine looked to her Mama who stood stoically as she watched her oldest daughter being drugged and dragged away. “Why would you let them just take her like that? Don’t you care about her?! Do you care about me?”
“What good am I to you if they take me away too?” Her mother turned away from her and began to climb the stairs to the privacy of her room. The Mothers usually made an exception for grieving, as long as there was no fight. Sabine realized that her mother was protecting her in the only way that she could, but she was also broken. Her spirit had been stolen along with her husband.
It was then that Sabine came to understand the terrible powers of the Mothers and that everything Jenna said against the Enlightenment was true. But, unless Sabine wished to be drugged, her dissent would have to be a silent one, which was fine with the Mothers.