Red Rain

Chapter 1

It had been almost six months since anyone had died because they refused to go to school.

Today, Mr. Dass was determined to break that record.

“Mr. Dass, need I use force?”

“You will need to use a lot more than force if you expect me to move!”

I cringed. Commander Ambrose shook his head. “Mr. Dass, I ask nothing unusual. Your children have been attending our school since—”

“Since you made them!” the red-faced father bellowed. He held his daughter Mira close to him. His son Stanyard stood safely behind him, fiddling with a backpack.

“A fair point.” The commander shifted and cast his gaze around the street. All along the row of solid concrete homes, families stood in their doorways and watched. The bus, painted red with the harsh black words ASSIMILATION SERVICES on the side, idled in the road. The handful of kids inside pressed their faces against the windows; two armed guards leaned against the door. The driver tapped a small electric pistol on the wheel impatiently. No one else moved.

I fingered the pouch strapped around my waist. After the Dasses’, our house across the street was the next—and last—stop.

I felt hands slide over my shoulders. I glanced up into my father’s sober face. He rubbed my shoulders gently as he watched Mr. Dass.

Commander Ambrose spoke again. “You realize, Mr. Dass, that you are a civil criminal and in violation of United policy.”

“By choice,” Mr. Dass spat back.

“In the interest of preparing the younger generation to rejoin the United as productive members of society, your children must attend our school to be—”

“Indoctrinated against everything we’ve ever taught them!”

That’s a decent way of summing it up.

My dad stopped rubbing, but he kept his hands on my shoulders. His eyes were closed.

Commander Ambrose tipped his head to the side. “Exactly.” He looked down at Mira, who gazed up at him with wide dark eyes. Mr. Dass gripped his daughter’s arms, as though daring the commander to rip her from his grasp.

The commander did. In one swift movement, he grabbed Mira’s shoulders and yanked her from her father. Mira screamed, but the commander didn’t hurt her. He shoved her down the steps and swung at Mr. Dass as the infuriated man dived. Mr. Dass stumbled but quickly regained his footing.

“You beast!” he snarled. He backed up, shielding his remaining child. “Just try and take my son.”

“Are you enjoying this? Is this some sort of game to you?” the commander threatened.

Some days I wonder. My father pinched my shoulders.

There was silence, except for Mr. Dass’s ragged breathing. The commander glared, but Mr. Dass didn’t move. Finally, the commander drew his gun from his side.

I instinctively pinched my eyes shut. Daddy muttered under his breath, “Lord, not today.”

There was scuffling. I opened my eyes to see Stanyard squeeze out from behind his father and scamper down the steps, head lowered. Wordlessly, he grabbed Mira’s arm and hauled her onto the bus.

The commander watched them go, then turned back to Mr. Dass. The father’s face was no longer red, but white.

“Your children are learning,” Commander Ambrose said coolly, sliding his gun back in its holster. “They are smarter than your generation.” And with that, he turned and marched across the street—towards us.

My father twisted me around to face him. Holding my shoulders, he bent low and spoke in quick whispers. “Remember why we always homeschooled. Believe nothing they say without comparing it to the Bible. Save all questions for home—tell me everything. Remember me, Philadelphia. Remember your mother. Remember God.”

I nodded rapidly, staring into his brown eyes. He kissed my forehead and let me go; I ran down the steps and fled for the bus. The commander moved aside, one foot on the bottom step, to let me pass. He looked up at my father.

“Well, Dr. Smyrna, coming around, are we? You used to be the troublesome one.”

My father straightened and said nothing. He watched me find a seat in the back of the bus. I waved through the window until we were out of sight.

The bus turned the corner and rumbled through another lane of houses, exactly the same as the street before. The houses were two-story concrete boxes with only three windows on the front. All of them were identical on both sides of the blacktop road. There were no trees, no grass, no mailboxes. Nothing personal about the yards whatsoever.

The only difference was the front doors, which were alternating colors going up the row—red, blue, orange, purple, green—to help separate the houses at a glance. Each house also had a number burned into the concrete step and plated on the door. My house number was 79.

There used to be exactly 110 houses in the Street 17 Containment Camp when it was first built five years ago. Five years ago, Street 17 camp was full, as were Street 80 and Street 83 camps.

Now my camp was down to 64 houses, and not all of them were occupied. The unused streets had been demolished and the concrete wall moved up, fencing the remaining houses in more closely.

It must have cost a fortune to rebuild the wall every other year, but I guess it was worth it to remind us that they were slowly crushing us out.

The bus stalled in front of the energized metal gates. A sensor in the wall scanned the license plate and blinked approvingly. The gates rolled back into the wall; the bus chugged through and waited until the gates shut themselves again. Then, for about ten minutes, the bus drove through the Outside.

I was glad we still lived in the camp across town. I enjoyed, however short, my ride through the Outside every day; I could look out the window freely and watch the world and its people. The trees, the grass, the signs—colorful display windows and strolling crowds. Unlike the camp, the Outside changed, shifted, bore new colors and new faces. The brief glimpse on the bus ride over was a relief, an entertainment—a reminder of what used to be.

I glanced across the aisle. Stanyard and Mira shared a seat there. Stanyard was leaning with his forehead against the seat in front of him, eyes glazed. Mira twisted her hands together.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Stanyard nodded wordlessly. Mira looked up at me. “He didn’t hurt me,” she assured.

Cami twisted around in the seat in front of me and looked back. “I’m surprised your father didn’t offer any objections, Phil.”

“How could he, after that?” her brother Aid quipped from beside her. “The commander hasn’t pulled his gun in almost a month.”

“We talked about it, last night,” I mused. “He said it wasn’t worth the blood right now.”

“Smart man,” Stanyard muttered. He sat up and gazed out the window. Mira stared straight ahead.

We went to the same public school all the regular kids attended. I suppose they were hoping that we’d see our peers—with their learner’s permits and after-school jobs and shiny devices with unrestricted internet access—and want to join them.

It certainly seemed to be working. Our bus used to be a lot more crowded.

Although we attended the rest of our classes with the regular kids, our morning homeroom was a special “remedial” class headed by a teacher who, in his opinion, wasn’t getting paid nearly enough to supervise the indoctrination of some religious brats. It was his job each morning to lecture us about the freedoms we could have if we would just get with the program and sign over our right to religious expression.

He treated it as such a trivial thing, like we were giving up our right to choose what color of socks we wore. If we would simply succumb to a little conformity in the name of peace and equality, we could rejoin society with all the rights owed to us as full United citizens.

I never watched his face during his tirades; if I looked at something else, filled my mind with anything else, it made his voice sound smaller. I often looked at the projections on the wall, toyed with the cursor on my laptop, or prayed.

I never, ever looked out the windows. I never, ever looked at the Outside—the freedom I would gain if I followed my teacher’s words.

The rest of the school day wasn’t much better. Math was my favorite subject, although not because I was particularly good at it; they just seemed to waste less time trying to squeeze propaganda into trigonometry than they did with other subjects.

History was the worst. It was nothing like the stories my grandpa used to tell me; all of the glorious and inglorious escapades of humanity had been stripped and sanitized and manipulated. Every era now existed exclusively to demonstrate the need for the United.

According to our textbook, the United was humanity’s greatest achievement. It was the solution to every war, every injustice, every inequality. The glories of the United were raved to us as our teachers reveled in the progress of the one-mind, one-body megacountry the world was slowly forming. Segments all over the globe were dropping their boundaries and cultural differences and assimilating into a homogenized body that was its own god.

And of course, it was stressed that religion was a major hindrance to progress in the United. A hindrance that must be assimilated or removed.

Chapter 2

The bus was quiet on the way home. I sat by myself and thumbed through the Bible on my reader. I skimmed the virtual pages, picking up random verses.

My times are in your hands… deliver me… from those who pursue me…

I jumped when Cami slipped across the aisle and squeezed in next to me. I looked at her face and instantly knew what she was going to ask.

“Can you?”

I held out my hand. She pressed a tiny chip into my palm.

I closed my window and snapped the chip into my reader. The screen chirped.

Cami explained while I navigated my library to find the appropriate file. “The Marksens, the new people, had their data wiped.”

“Weren’t they caught transmitting?”

“Yeah. Apparently the father signed the file to keep his job, but the kids hadn’t. Or something. But they lost all their data.” She picked at the peeling vinyl bench with her fingernail. “Dad wanted me to ask you to do it.”

I didn’t need an explanation. I knew why I always made the copies, even though Cami’s reader was perfectly capable. Everyone else stopped making copies after my mother died.

I suppose they stopped for the same reason my father kept doing it—and kept letting me do it. Even if his wife had died for violating the “no transmitting” law.

I suspected the commander knew what I was doing. After all, my device was continually connected to either the camp or school wifi. He could monitor my activity if he wanted to. I assumed he didn’t care, not if I limited my distribution to my fellow inmates. We were all criminals anyway.

I knew he would care if he found out my dad was transmitting copies from work.

“Thanks,” Cami said finally.

I nodded and tapped the screen. The progress bar seemed stuck at 15%. Usually it took about three seconds, five if my dinosaur of an electronic was feeling grumpy.

“Something wrong?” Cami asked, probably more worriedly than she intended.

“It’s stuck. I’m going to try again.” I canceled the transfer and backed out to the main menu. I clicked on the Bible folder and got a hideous beep. I shuddered and looked at the screen.

It said: File not found.

I frowned and backed out a few folders, then went in another way. This time, I couldn’t even find the folder.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s gone.”


“My Bible—the file. It’s gone.”

Cami snatched her reader out of her bag. She flicked it on and thumbed for a minute.

I squinted at her screen. “Bible” was missing from the alphabetical list of folders.

She stared at me dumbly.

I leaned forward and hissed across the aisle. “Mira!”

She glanced in my direction. Stanyard continued to stare out the window.

“Open your laptop.”


“See if your Bible is still there.”

“Why would it—”

“Just do it!” Cami squeaked. She chewed on a sprig of her hair.

Mira obeyed. Aid glanced back at us, frowning. He quickly opened a new window on his tablet.

“The file’s gone,” Mira reported.

“Can’t find it.” Aid tapped through more menus.

“I still have my study notes,” Mira offered. Stanyard finally sat up and turned to face us.

“I’m missing some stuff for school, too,” Aid said. “Some essays. The folder’s there, but a few of the files are gone.”

“Are you sure you downloaded them at school?” Stanyard questioned.

“Yeah.” Aid flopped back in his seat and stared profoundly at his screen.

An idea hit me. I quickly scrolled through the menus, hoping. A second later I proved myself wrong. “It’s not in trash, either.”

“We’ll have to recopy it from school tomorrow, I guess,” Mira said.

“They don’t have a Bible on the school’s cloud,” Cami reminded her.

“My dad does.” I straightened. “I’ll get a copy from him and upload it.”

Cami just nodded.

“Freaky glitch,” Aid suggested. Stanyard scrunched his eyebrows.

A glitch… just a bug. I slid my reader into my pouch and smoothed the flap, praying. It was just a glitch.

Chapter 3

As soon as I got home, I checked the household desktop. The file was nowhere to be found.

I tried not to let that worry me. After all, my reader and the home computer both stored their data on the same cloud. If it was a glitch in the system, all the devices in the camp would be affected.

Cami came running to my house a half-hour later to confirm that fact.

I tried to make myself useful until Dad got home. He realized something was up the minute he walked in the door, so I told him.

He searched his work tablet. Nothing.

“I’ll check at work,” he said.

The next evening, he reported that all the copies he had on his work computer were gone. The ones he had uploaded to the United web were missing too. It was as if someone had gone through and deleted them all.

I prayed that didn’t mean the government had found them.

Daddy said he’d ask around. For three days he searched, and for three days I tried to reestablish normalcy, half-expecting United officers to show up at the door citing Section 10.20.08 about the high crime of transmitting.

They never did. Daddy didn’t find any Bibles, either. He looked at all the transmitting sites he knew of. All of them were down or blank.

On Friday, he finally brought something home. But it wasn’t a Bible—it was a copy of an official statement by the United.

In it, they claimed they were not responsible for the virus and an investigation was being conducted.

The statement didn’t say anything about the Bible. Daddy finally explained everything.

It was a virus. Someone had released a virus onto the United web that was attacking large chunks of data, permanently deleting or corrupting the information in seconds. It was miscellaneous data that had no apparent connection. Random entries missing from directories, blog posts and web pages that had vanished, sporadic issues deleted from magazine archives. And books. Thousands of books were wiped from the virtual libraries. The Bible was among them.

I wondered if that was intentional.

Daddy didn’t think so. He said that if the United wanted to destroy all the Bibles as an attack on religion, they would have made a demonstration out of it. They would have deleted just the Bible and not crippled the entire system with a badly-programmed virus.

But who else would want to delete the Bible?

Perhaps it didn’t matter. It was done. As near as they could tell, the virus had originated on a social media site, which meant that before anyone knew it existed, millions of devices had already contracted and spread it. And since every device was legally required to be connected to wifi through an approved carrier at all times, we could only assume the Bible was gone on every cloud from here to Mars.

Daddy said the Bible wasn’t lost forever. It was hard to permanently erase data, he explained. They would find a copy burned on a chip, or maybe stored on a server that wasn’t connected to wifi. Those were illegal, but surely they existed. Even the government itself probably had a copy on a secure database somewhere.

But I knew finding a copy wasn’t the problem. The problem was distributing it. To share it, we’d have to upload it to the United web, and that was illegal. Would the United recall their “no transmitting” law to appease a bunch of criminals?

I doubted it.

Chapter 4

I failed miserably at school all week. For the first few days, I woke up promptly at 6:30 for my Bible study—only to find I had nothing to study.

On Saturday, I stared at the list of files on my reader. On Sunday, I got up and tried to do something else, but I ended up on the kitchen floor in a sea of broken glass, weeping.

Monday was the worst. I sat at my desk and tried to reconstruct some verses from my study notes. For some reason mine hadn’t been affected by the virus, though Cami had lost most of hers.

The exercise hurt more than it helped. I ended up with one page of verses, half of which I knew were paraphrases.

Daddy said I would remember more later, when I was in a clearer frame of mind.

I wondered if I would ever have a clear head again.

As soon as we walked into homeroom Tuesday, our teacher started herding us into a line. “Hurry up—the principal wants to see you.”

He lined us up and inspected us. He sent Stanyard to wash his face and Cami to redo her ponytail. He gestured for Aid to stand up straight, then snapped his fingers in front of Mira’s face to wipe the glazed look from her eyes. When he came to me, he tugged at the corners of his lips.

I forced a smile.

He returned it. “Respectable.”

The principal divided us up and sent us into different meeting rooms. Mira and Stanyard went to Room 1, Cami and Aid to Room 2. I was sent alone to Room 3.

The principal shut the door behind me. At first I thought the room was empty, but someone suddenly stood up from a chair against the wall and walked towards me.

“Oh, Philadelphia, is it?”

Cropped blond hair bobbed around her face. Her lips were bright red and her cheeks were painted pink. She stopped in front of me and smiled broadly.

“Hello,” I managed.

“Sweet voice!” she crooned. She rubbed her chin and examined me. “Hmm… They told me so much about you. You’re better than they described!”

Better in what way?

She didn’t explain. She just hugged me.

I wanted to pull away, but for some reason, I didn’t. She squeezed me and then stepped back, arm around my shoulder. “I’m Mrs. Nolan. Delighted to finally meet you! Come, sit by me.”

She led me across the room, and I did as I was told—stiffly.

“The school told me all about you. They described all the kids to us, but when I heard about ‘Philadelphia,’ I knew you were the one I wanted to meet. My husband agreed. You sounded perfect for us! Just the right age, calm disposition…”

I couldn’t help it. “Perfect for us, ma’am?”

“Us—my husband and I. Just us, only kid is grown, so we have the spare bedroom, all ready for you. We’re going to have it painted this weekend, unless you’d like navy walls? I was going to ask you what color you might like instead.”

“Walls, ma’am?”

“I love how you call me ‘ma’am’! Yes, walls. Bedroom walls. Your bedroom walls!” She grabbed her purse off the chair and fumbled with the zipper. “Do you want to see pictures? I have pictures of our street, the house… and the cat!”

“No, ma’am, I want to know why I need a bedroom.”

She smiled. I decided she was enjoying the backwards conversation. “To sleep in, darling!”

I caught on. I was 16, old enough to work. Being assigned a job was not an unreasonable expectation. “That will be unnecessary, ma’am.”

She laughed. “Oh, do you have other arrangements?”

“If I work for you, I will come home to the camp at night.”

“Work? If you want a job, we can manage that later. There will be plenty of options available to you outside the home. I don’t need a maid!”

“All assignments for unassimilated individuals must be approved by Commander Ambrose,” I recited, for once finding solace in the rigidness of the law.

“When you’re living in my house, that won’t be necessary.”

I looked her straight in the face. She stared back, coyness gone. Bluntly, “We want you to join our family.”

I sank back in the chair.

“The school has been seeking loving United families to adopt the unassimilated children. We will take you into our family, make you ours, shelter you while you absorb into the real world…”

Assimilated or removed. Assimilated or removed.

“The officials talked to us, and we were eager to be a part of this program. I just loved your description! And now that I’ve met you, I know we’ll manage beautifully. I’ll bring Mr. Nolan by tomorrow—”

“I’m afraid I can’t come, ma’am.”

“Don’t be so quick to pass it off! This is a unique program, sweetheart. We will ease you into reality, instead of dumping you on the street as an adult. You’ve had a difficult life away from the real world. This is your chance to come in, gently…”

“The real world won’t accept me, ma’am. I won’t sign the file.”

“Is that it? I grieve for you, sweetheart.”

She sighed. That was the end of the conversation for me, but it wasn’t for her.

“They won’t make you—I won’t make you,” she mused, looking elsewhere. “I don’t want to force you into our family. But we want you, Philadelphia. We don’t care about your past. We want to see you have a life before you—a real life! In the real world! We want you. Come out. Come out while you have open arms waiting for you.”

I closed my eyes and thought of the open arms waiting for me at home.

When I opened my eyes, Mrs. Nolan was staring at me again. Her gaze was dark.

I got up and left unbidden.

She called to me when I reached the door. “You will have to sign the file eventually. You know you will. Take my offer while you can. Think about it, Philadelphia. Think about it.”

I decided to never think of it again.

Chapter 5

I wasn’t able to talk to my friends until we were seated on the bus. I glanced across the aisle and instantly noticed how pale Aid’s face was.

“Outsiders?” I suggested.

Aid nodded wordlessly.

“I hate them!” Cami screeched.

“Cam, hate’s evil. That’s what got us contained in a camp,” Aid muttered.

Cami continued her tirade. “How could they! Assigning us families… I’m not going! I didn’t listen to a word she said. Or he said.”

“No one’s going to make us go,” Aid told her. “We’ll tell Dad, and if they ask to see us again, we’ll refuse.”

Cami nodded, but her lip trembled.

I looked up the row at Mira and Stanyard. “You too?”

Mira nodded distantly.

“How were they?”

Mira shrugged. Stanyard wasn’t listening.

“What about you, Philli?” Cami leaned across the aisle.

I looked out the window. “I wonder how much she knew about me before coming.”

“Too much,” was Aid’s opinion.

“How was she?”

“Buttery.” I thought. “Compromising.”


“Daddy, you’re home early,” I declared as I walked in the door.

He pushed his computer away from him. “I’ve been home almost all day. I had a special meeting at the lab—that’s it.”

I sat down next to him at the table. “They had ‘special meetings’ today at school, too.”

He noted my frown. “What is it, Phil?”

He stared at me quietly while I told him about Mrs. Nolan.

When I was done, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Phil.”

“I love you, Daddy.”

“My meeting wasn’t much more pleasant. I was told that I’ve received a commission to work on a special project—requested by name, they tell me.”

I tipped my head. That sounded like good news.

Daddy got up and started to pace.

It wasn’t good news.

“The assignment… is for a base on Mars.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of that.

“And you would not be permitted to come with me.”

I looked up into his face. He was already staring at me.

“The commander says. ‘Regulations.’ The assignment is for me, not you.”

“Where… would I go?”

“Nowhere.” Daddy folded his arms behind his back. “I will not go, I will not take the commission. Philadelphia, I will not leave you.” He drew a breath and added, “Not if I have a choice.”

I looked away. My eyes fell on the picture frame hanging on the wall across the room. I got up and walked over to it. The image displayed a picture of Daddy and me; Daddy usually left that one up, because it didn’t hurt to look at it.

I waved my hand in front of the sensor several times. The digital pictures scrolled slowly, dancing through a time-lapse. I stopped when I reached the picture I was looking for.

I stepped away, crossed my arms behind my back, and regarded the photo. In the plain metal frame sat a young man, fresh out of college. His thick dark hair stuck up in the front, and his lab coat was pulled around his shoulders. He stared calmly at the camera, not smiling—the smile was in his eyes. I knew; I had grown up with my older brother’s eyes smiling on me.

“They sent Ephesus to Mars,” I said aloud.

“Yes,” my father replied.

“They didn’t give him a choice.”


I stared hard at the image of my brother’s face, wishing the pixels could move. Finally I finished my thought.

“And he never came back.”

It was several minutes before my father replied. “No,” he said finally. And again, “No, he didn’t.”

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