Sunset. The corners of Rosi’s mouth drooped as she looked down at her hand. Stretching out her pointer finger and thumb, the black, metal bands on her fingertips hummed to life, projecting a flat, rectangular screen. Her last item appeared: a map showing the route and details of her final appointment. There was still a twenty-five-minute walk ahead, but she had only fifteen minutes left until the appointment. Rosi’s heart stopped as a lump formed in her stomach.
“Punctuality and discretion are the most valuable qualities for our couriers,” the secretary had reminded Rosi that morning before she left the Foresight Distribution Center. Clients didn’t like to wait around for their illegal goods. Enforcers might start asking questions. The only thing worse than being late for an appointment, was being caught. That fear had been sitting at the bottom of Rosi’s stomach all day. She was thankful that Bellwes was less populated than other cities, but with every suspicious glance, Rosi hurriedly prepared an excuse for why she had syringes full of Flex hidden in her backpack. Fortunately, she hadn’t needed those excuses yet.
Rosi grabbed the straps of her backpack and began sprinting, trying to ignore the soreness in her feet and calves. Maybe with her first paycheck she could buy a decent pair of shoes. Whatever it took, she was going to make it on time. She couldn’t risk being late and getting fired on her first day. Her grandfather had gone through a lot of trouble to secure this job for Rosi, and she couldn’t bear the thought of letting him down.
Narrowing her eyes, Rosi slowed and stared at the screen between her fingertips. Her path wound up and around the cow pasture to her right, curving back down to the location. Cutting straight across the field would no doubt shorten the trip significantly. The big black and yellow “NO TRESPASSING” sign welded to the fence caught her attention. Rosi stepped closer to read the fine print: “Trespassing is a bronze level infraction. All offenders will be tarred.” Rosi took a deep breath, her heart pounding faster. The cows beyond the fence roamed apathetically, only interested in the grass their faces were buried in. Cows or no cows, she didn’t see any cameras. If she was lucky, the pastures weren’t carefully monitored.
In the distance, she could see her destination: a towering row of apartment buildings. They were just like the ones she lived in with her family in Sandevel, with glass windows that blended in seamlessly with the dull, metal walls. If it weren’t for the stoops at the bottom of each building, it would have looked like one giant, grey, brick.
“If it was safe, it’d be boring,” Rosi told herself. This was what she had signed up for, after all. She pulled at her bun, making sure her unruly hair wouldn’t escape its confines, and grabbed the chain-link fence. She scaled it easily, but paused at the top, searching for patrols in the pasture ahead. All clear. She jumped to the ground below, officially trespassing. For a moment, she thought an alarm might sound, announcing her intrusion, but there was nothing. Adrenaline began to pump through her veins, and she darted forward. As she ran, she kept her eyes fixed on the looming apartments ahead.
She stayed low, hoping to blend in with the livestock, but keeping her distance where possible. Her steps fell in time with her heartbeats: quick, sharp, and hard. “You got this, Rosi. Almost there. Move aside, cows. One last delivery, then you’re home-free.” Persistent optimism had always been a strong suit of Rosi’s, and, in times like this, she couldn’t allow herself any doubt.
The details of the apartment complex came into focus and Rosi couldn’t help but smile. She hadn’t made it yet, but the job was as good as done. On the other side of the fence, Rosi spotted a figure on the stoop of the building, leaning back into the shadows. Rosi thought about waving, hoping it was her contact and assuring him she was almost there. But she didn’t want to assume. It would be better to get over the fence quickly, rather than to waste time on pleasantries. Her fingers grasped the chain-link metal. The toe of her boot found a secure hold. She lifted herself off the ground.
As the figure moved out from the shadow, Rosi expected his face to be at least pleased. Instead, his eyes were wide and his mouth agape. Rosi hesitated, her brow furrowing as he slipped inside the building. The light on the door handle switched from green to red. Locked. That couldn’t be good. Before she could speculate as to why he had left, something grabbed her backpack and jerked her away from the fence.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Rosi landed on her back, the wind knocked out of. She opened her eyes to see a man in green overalls staring down at her. She scrambled to her feet as he made an empty grab for her arm. “You are trespassing on Bovine Farms property!”
Carefully stepping back, Rosi looked for signs of enforcers. She could hear their sirens, but they were still out of sight. “Sorry, I guess?” Rosi said with a shrug, solely concerned with how to escape. At this point, avoiding arrest was all that mattered. She waited for the farmer to make a move. Clumsily lunging forward, he tried to tackle Rosi to the ground. She side-stepped his attack, swinging her leg around to hit him on the backside, and sending him into the grass.
Rosi jumped for the fence again. The sirens grew louder. The fence clanged as she clambered up. Reaching the top, Rosi heard a grunt from below, and suddenly two, large hands grabbed her ankle. She was tugged downward, but her fingers clung to the metal wire.
“Come here, you little-ah!”
She kicked down and her boot collided with the man’s nose and he fell back. Rosi wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but one look up and she could see two skooters streaming across the pasture as cows hurried out of the way.
“Krip.” Rosi swore under her breath. She climbed up quickly, leapt over the top of the fence, and landed hard on her ankle. “Flipping hedgehogs,” Rosi muttered as pain shot up her leg, but it wasn’t bad enough to stop her. Pushing herself up, she heard the farmer shouting insults at her. She turned to see two enforcers jumping off their hovering, white skooters and racing toward her. Their light grey uniforms made the giant black guns in their hands stand out even more. Only the measly fence was between them, and Rosi knew it wouldn’t slow them down much.
She sprinted to her right, hopeful it was the correct escape route. She didn’t know exactly where she was going, and she didn’t care. All she needed right now as a hiding spot, not a destination. She ran as fast as she could, but the sting of pain in her ankle slowed her pace. Wincing, Rosi searched for an alleyway or open window. If she could outrun them, perhaps she could slip out of sight.
“You’re under arrest!” a voice shouted from behind. Too close, but Rosi refused to look back.
The pasture and fence still stretched out to her right, a dead end. To the left, her eyes spotted an open, slender, apartment window. Rosi didn’t care where it led, or whose home she might be breaking into, only that it was her way out. She sprinted towards it as best she could, and as she neared, she realized it would be tricky to get through. The window was narrow, and six or seven feet above the ground, just out of reach. Rosi pressed her foot against the wall, trying to find a foothold to climb upward. She grimaced as her injured ankle pushed against the wall. Her fingers grasped the edge of the window.
“You’re not going anywhere,” a woman snarled. A hand grabbed her and pulled her to the ground harshly. Rosi’s arm was twisted, and her back pushed against the wall. She could hear cuffs jingling. The second enforcer was calling something in on his ringer. Rosi clenched her jaw. She wasn’t going to be taken as easily as they thought. She jabbed her knee up into the woman’s stomach, and the enforcer bowed under the sudden impact.
Rosi pushed her away, racing back the way she had come. The woman growled in frustration and it was only seconds before she was in pursuit again. “Give up, girl!”
The sting was now a constant throbbing. Rosi’s heart began to race as she pressed onward, refusing to give up. Trespassing was one thing, but possession of illegal goods would result in more than tarring and a fine. Her eyes searched frantically for an escape, or a diversion. She wouldn’t be able to run long with the limp.
There. An abandoned skooter, parked by a stoop maybe ten feet away. Surely she could jump start it and-
Rough hands grabbed her arm again, tight enough to leave bruises, and Rosi was brought to a sudden halt. The cuffs clamped down over her wrists. “Krip.”
“Do we have an I.D. yet?” the enforcer, who had introduced herself as Officer Jordan, shouted to the glass behind her. Rosi studied her carefully, her mind racing for a way out of the situation. The woman was tall, athletic, with blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun. She wore the usual uniform of a Praeven enforcer, with some additional bars stitched on the front indicating her higher rank. There was no response from the glass.
Rosi wanted to rub her wrists, but she couldn’t reach the spot where the cuffs were chafing her skin. Of course, that uncomfortable irritation hardly bothered her in this situation. She had been so close to completing her task when she was pulled from the fence and arrested by the enforcers patrolling the Bovine pastures. Luckily, they weren’t suspicious of her backpack, but mainly concerned with her age, and why she was trespassing. Rosi had tried to get away with simply saying she was just taking a short-cut home, but it didn’t take the enforcer long to determine that there was no Rosi Smith living in Bovine Park. Besides, that still wasn’t an excusable reason for the infraction.
“Look, girl, this will all go a lot easier if you just work with me, alright?” Officer Jordan said sharply, sitting down at the table, clearly annoyed. Rosi had already missed her last delivery, although she had somehow managed to keep her backpack, and all of its contents. It sat at her feet, unlatched. The enforcer had looked inside, but once she saw the art supplies, she didn’t dig further to see the small, metal cylinder at the bottom that contained the pinprick syringes. It had been pure luck, and Rosi wasn’t going to waste her chance to get out of this situation undipped. It would just take some effort. With a bit more luck, she would be able to keep her job after all of this. “A name will do. Your real name, that is.” Officer Jordan’s ringer beeped and she stretched out her pointer finger and thumb in front of her so that Rosi could see the reverse side of the screen: her school portrait, home address, and name, Rosine Kallard.
“I wasn’t doing anything illegal,” Rosi said, defensively. Her choice of words was rather ironic, given her true situation.
“Trespassing is illegal, an infraction meriting a bronze dipping. Of course, someone from a Thaxton precinct might not see the seriousness of such an offense.”
Rosi let out a huff, resisting the temptation to roll her eyes. Despite how well the different house precincts worked together, Praeven had always looked down on anyone from another house. Swallowing, Rosi sat up straight, trying to decide what she could say that would get her on the enforcer’s good side.
“Come on, Rosine. Skipping school and sneaking from Sandevel all the way to Bellwes is plenty suspicious. Tell me what you were doing in that pasture and maybe I’ll let you off with a warning.” Leaning back, Officer Jordan crossed her arms, giving Rosi a deadpan stare.
Deep breaths. “I didn’t do anything,” Rosi said, choosing her words carefully. She needed a plausible excuse, one that would keep them from searching her backpack further. The enforcer cleared her throat impatiently, and Rosi realized she had been staring at her backpack. “You saw my art supplies, I just wanted to sketch the cows. We don’t have livestock in Sandevel.”
“So you skipped school and came all the way down here to sketch cows?” the enforcer scoffed. Rosi didn’t think it was in her favor to tell Officer Jordan that she had dropped out of school. “Give me a break.”
“I promise! I can prove it to you.” Rosi reached down to her backpack, yanking it open and praying the journal she had grabbed was an older one, specifically, one she had used six months ago when her school took a field trip to Bellwes. She pulled the sketchbook out and stared at it blankly in her hands, searching for an indication that this was the right one. One sketch of a cow would be enough to verify her lie. The enforcer ripped the journal from her hands and began leafing through it carelessly, but Rosi didn’t object. With every page turn, Rosi lost confidence.
Officer Jordan flung the journal on the table, sitting back unsatisfied. “No cows in there. Just sad sketches of Sandevel.” She laughed, rolling her eyes. “And you certainly weren’t raised in Vitrius.”
Rosi frowned. Of course students raised in a Vitrius precinct would have artistic skill, it was one of their main course subjects. On the other hand, Rosi, and every other Thaxton student, focused on practical skills, so whatever talent Rosi had for art was self-taught. Surely that was admirable. It had been the wrong sketchbook, yes, but the personal insult was unnecessary. Rosi snatched the journal and shoved it back into her backpack. “If you don’t believe me, then what is it you think I did? Did you find some lonely cow tipped over?” Rosi almost laughed at the idea of her heaving a cow over on its side.
“What I think you did, is trespass and then resist arrest.” Officer Jordan’s words were sharp and pointed. She stood, folding her hands behind her back and pacing slowly. The clink of her boot heels against the hard floors made Rosi’s heart sink. “I don’t like dipping minors. Doesn’t give them good prospects for graduation. But sometimes -” she halted and faced Rosi. “- criminal instincts need to be nipped in the bud.”
“I’m not a blossoming criminal!” Rosi argued, knowing it would do little good.
The enforcer put her ringer to her ear without removing her gaze on Rosi. “Bronze dip to interrogation room 1B.”
Dipped at fifteen. What would her parents say? But a bronze dip was better than copper, which is what she would be getting if they had found the flex in her bag. A few minutes later, a male enforcer entered, carrying a silver dish with steam rising out of it. He placed it on the table in front of Rosi and stepped back awaiting further orders. Rosi couldn’t help herself, her eyes immediately drawn to the contents of the dish. The bronze dip bubbled and popped continually and Rosi wondered how much it would hurt. “Restrain her,” Officer Jordan said, and Rosi was pulled back against the chair, her legs and left arm strapped down with metal brackets, leaving her right arm free. Her sweater sleeve was pushed up and felt a sharp pinch. Then her arm was numb. Maybe she wouldn’t feel a thing after all.
Officer Jordan stepped around the table, pulling on white, surgical gloves. Without a word, she grabbed Rosi’s wrist and pulled off the girl’s leather glove harshly. Then, the enforcer curled all of Rosi’s fingers, except her pinky, into her palm. Holding her breath, Rosi watched as her pinky was lowered into the bronze dip to the first joint. Her heart began to race at the sensation. She felt nothing, but the realization that, from this point forward, she was a marked criminal, hit her like a ton of bricks. Was this job really worth it? It was too late for such doubts; Rosi was stuck with the consequences. A low beeping sounded and her hand was raised away from the dip, which continued to drip from her pinky. Officer Jordan pulled out a cloth, wiping the dip away from the fingertip until all that remained was permanent, metallic skin. “Arrange for an escort while I finish up this paperwork,” she told the assisting enforcer, dropping Rosi’s limp arm to the table. The restraints released but Rosi felt as numb as her arm, unable to pull her eyes away from her right hand. “I’d advise you to stay in school in Sandevel from now on, Miss Kallard.”
It had been a long, lonely ride back to Sandevel, despite the armed Praeven enforcer escort. The entire time, Rosi sat quietly, clutching her backpack to her chest with her left hand. Her right arm was still mostly useless. She didn’t attempt any conversation with the guard. He sat across from her, his legs propped up on the seat next to her, playing some sort of game on his ringer screen. If Rosi hadn’t been re-cuffed, she might have wasted the train ride the same way, although she didn’t have any fancy games. Or, perhaps, she might have grabbed her sketchbook and worked on a portrait of the enforcer; he was the perfect subject, barely moving for over an hour. Then again, that would have required her to rifle around in her backpack and it was a miracle they hadn’t discovered the drug in her possession yet.
Fortunately, the enforcer wasn’t interested in escorting Rosi all the way to her apartment doorstep. Rosi suspected he was both uncomfortable in a Thaxton precinct and already working overtime. He un-cuffed her quickly, not bothering to give her the reminder Officer Jordan had instructed: “The fine needs to be paid within ten days. Do yourself a favor and pay it on time.” Rosi hoped she could scrape enough together to keep the burden off her parents. They would be worried enough as it was.
Even though it was already dark, Rosi headed straight for the Foresight Distribution Center. She couldn’t go home with flex in her backpack. Dia was a typical nosy sister and she would certainly find it. Rosi had enough to explain to her parents as it was. She clenched her right fist, regaining some feeling. Flexing her fingers out, Rosi glanced down and saw her pinky shimmer in the moonlight. Maybe there was a way she could hide it before returning home. Sure, it was illegal to cover up dippings in public, but there were no laws about what people did in the privacy of their own apartment.
Her ringer beeped and Rosi remembered the calls she had ignored. She spread out her fingers and swiped at the screen. There were three messages in total, all from her mother. Rosi tapped the first message and held her pointer finger to her ear, listening as she walked. “Rosi. Supper is ready whenever you get home. Hope your first day went well. See you soon!” Beep.
“Next,” Rosi said, and the ringer obeyed.
“Rosi? Is everything all right? Please call me back. I want to hear all about your first day!” Beep.
“Next.” Rosi braced herself, certain that she knew what the final message would be.
“Rosine Kallard!” Rosi hadn’t been prepared for the sudden blast of words into her ear. She shrank at her mother’s tone: disappointment and anger. “I just got a call from the Praeven law enforcement in Bellwes. Arrest and dipped…I’m so-” something inaudible in the background, probably Rosi’s grandfather. “We’ll talk about it when you get home.” Beep.
Rosi quickened her steps, trying not to think about what awaited her, but unable to think of anything else. But before she went home, Rosi would have to face her employer. She reached Foresight Park within a few minutes and raced past the apartments to the factory ahead. The giant building was a big, black square that seemed to absorb any moonlight. It took Rosi a moment to find the employee side entrance. She yanked at the handle, but only then noticed the red light. She pressed the intercom. “Fudge.”
“Foresight Incorporated.” A voice crackled from the speaker above the door.
“This is Rosine Kallard. I know it’s late but-” She heard a click and the light above the handle turned green. Rosi let out of a huff of breath and cracked her neck. As her hand grabbed the handle, Rosi wondered for the millionth time if she would be fired. After all, she hadn’t simply missed an appointment, she had been arrested on the job.
On the other side of the door, a single light was on, just above a desk at the end of the corridor. With each step forward, Rosi took a deep breath, bracing herself for the inevitable. Behind the desk was a man, lounging in a cushy chair, watching something on his ringer screen. As Rosi neared, she could hear the noises, a mixture of cheering and sports commentary. She was certain her family would be streaming the same game at home. The man only looked away from the screen when Rosi plopped her backpack on the desk.
“Long first day, huh?”
Rosi didn’t answer, unlatching her pack, shoving aside her art supplies, and pulling out the silver canister. She hesitated for a moment and then extended it to the man. “I missed my last appointment,” she said, keeping her chin up.
The man raised an eyebrow before taking the canister, and placing it on the counter behind him casually. “Yes. We received a call.” Rosi pressed her lips together, looking down. A call from…whom?
Rosi looked up, confused. “I didn’t tell them what I was doing in Bellwes.”
“Your mother gave me an earful. Arrested and dipped the first day. That’s quite the record,” the man said with a smirk. Rosi blushed, embarrassed. “One moment.” Rosi’s lips twitched as his ringer snapped to life and he quickly swiped away from the sports stream and then held his pointer finger to his ear. “Yes, Mr. Dersimm. She’s here now, sir.” Rosi’s eyes grew wide, instantly recognizing the name. Surely it wasn’t a good start if the director of the cooperation needed to be aware of the situation. She stayed quiet, hugging herself and casually eavesdropping. “Dipped. An infraction, sir. But she turned in the canister and managed to handle the situation without bringing Foresight into the equation.” Another pause. “Very good, sir. Yes, sir. Have a good evening, sir.” He pulled the ringer from his ear.
Rosi bit her lip, wondering if she was allowed to speak. She had a hundred questions and a thousand excuses. The man began typing on the keyboard in front of him without a word. Was he processing her termination? “Okay, Rosine,” he said, finishing up his report and pressing enter. She closed her eyes and sighed, preparing to hear the fateful word: fired. “We’ll keep you away from Bellwes for a while. The client will meet you in Eden tomorrow instead.”
“Tomorrow?” Had she heard wrong?
The man smiled. “Mr. Dersimm was very pleased that you kept his name and this company out of your arrest case. We’ve already paid your fine for the arrest and Mr. Dersimm has prepared an additional reward for the morning. He was impressed.”
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak at the characters and world of The Book Book! Sign up for my monthly newsletter to get a first look at Milo Praeven in my 3-part short story series: Justice.