“Did it live up to your expectations?”
“Oh, yeah, sure it did,” Armin answered his father. Rune Fisher stared evenly at his son, ignoring the several blinking and buzzing computers behind him.
“I noticed you were looking forward to it.”
“Yeah, you and my other three hundred friends.”
“I doubt your other three hundred friends care as much as me, Armin,” Rune argued. “Or, at least, I would hope not.” And then, almost as an afterthought: “Don’t talk back to me.”
“I’m not talking back.”
“Your tone sounds dangerously close to it.”
“It’s not intended to.”
Silence. Armin picked at a dry spot on his lips. “But, yeah, Hem-V is always good though. This one was really exciting. You know how he’s blind now? Well, he’s having Lina be, like, his eyes, so she’s having to get stronger, cuz she’s a real wuss really, and–”
“If I wanted to hear a summary of tonight’s episode, I could look on any number of websites, Armin. I am here to talk about you.”
“Oh. Yeah. Right.”
“Are you attending your classes?”
“And you are getting to bed at a decent hour?”
“Sure, it’s decent enough.”
“Armin,” Rune titled his head, casting his dark eyes into an ominous shadow.
“It really is.”
Rune didn’t seem satisfied, but he didn’t push the subject. “You are eating as you should?”
“You’ve seen my regimen scores,” Armin replied with a cocky smirk.
“They are very good.”
Rune nodded automatically, the way a waiter would after refilling a glass.
“How are your friends?” Rune asked.
“They’re fine.” Armin laughed, then said, “Mastering their worlds, maintaining inter-everything. The usual.” He grinned, waiting to see if his father would laugh at the joke.
“You look like your mother when you smile.”
“I look like Mom all the time.”
“Cursed thing, that hair, isn’t it?” Rune replied. “Your mother always called it a jungle.”
“She loved it on me.”
“ ‘Boys with curls send girls into a whirl,’” Rune muttered. “ ‘Girls with a messy mop, spend nights crying nonstop.’” He raised his eyebrows. “Your mother considered herself a bit of a poet. That was one of her statuses.”
“I don’t remember it.”
“Before you were born.”
“Oh.” Armin didn’t know what to say; his father didn’t talk about his mother often, but when he did, Armin always felt very uncomfortable. It was like walking in on a little kid playing pretend; the kid would turn around, mid-story, and stare at the adult. And the adult would stare back, sensing they had interrupted something wonderful, but realizing they would never be able to understand everything that was going on in the child’s head. That unknowing was Rune Fisher; his blank expression and empty eyes were impossible to read. There were times, like now, when Armin really believed he’d loved his wife, but then….
“Not like her statuses were all that provocative, though. She didn’t really have a lot of sense, your mother.”
He would always say something else.
“Mom had sense.”
“To a boy, perhaps, but there is a reason your mother never even reached three-hundred friends. She didn’t really understand the way the world works.”
“She understood things.”
“Rhyming words perhaps.” Rune chuckled. “But a rhyme and a week’s worth of rations will give you food for a week. Nothing more. Understand, Armin?”
Armin didn’t respond.
“You are more like me, Armin. Be proud of that. Now I have to go. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
And with that, Rune Fisher’s face was replaced with NIC’s emblem. Armin stared at it for a long time. When he was little, he had really missed having a father in the house, but now that he was older, he understood how lucky he was. A father like Rune Fisher was best delivered through ones and zeroes, thirty minutes a day.
Great, now the couch is gonna be all sweaty.
Armin considered getting up for the briefest of seconds, but then decided against it. Who would be sitting on the couch besides him, anyway? His mother never would have stood for that; she would have shooed him away and started cleaning it immediately. Armin, however, was not nearly as tidy as his mother. With a scowl, he wondered if that was a trait he’d inherited from his dad.
He exhaled through his nose, turning his attention to his regimen score. It was official, he was the King of Fencing–the great swordsman of Arminstan.
Not a bad way to start his day, really.
The rest of his day was pretty typical: comment, post, Quip, watch videos, role-play. He didn’t gain any new friends, but not all days had to productive; some days were just ordained for relaxation. A friend of his, Maylee, had created a profile for her new baby boy. Armin scrolled through it; the baby was only a few hours old, and already he was inter-connected! What wonderful parents, already thinking of their child’s future. Little Boston already had twelve friends! (There was a current trend to name kids after long-dead locations; Armin wondered what Boston had been; it sounded like a good name for a mountain. A few years before he’d been born, the craze had been to name children after defunct items: Pen had been a really popular name. All Armin knew was that he was glad he’d been born in a year without silly fads.) He navigated away from Little Boston’s page, scrolling idly through his newsfeed. Thiele, at least, seemed to have moved to be bigger and better things than destroying Armin’s life. Yes, all in all, Armin enjoyed a quiet day, a peaceful day….
A boring day.
Armin stared at his screen, as though his eyes could force entertainment to materialize. No such luck.
“Stig, feel like talking or RPing?”
Stig’s voice was hurried and exasperated. “You’re who’s calling me?”
“Uh, yeah. Who were you expecting? Professor Pathos?”
“I mean, you’re who I put Lithia on hold for?”
“None of your business, but bug off, Armin.”
The line went dead.
Armin pursed his lips and breathed deeply. Stig–fat, geeky Stig was talking to a girl. Stig had a girl, and Armin had a computer screen. When they’d been dishing out fairness, Stig had apparently cut in line. No, Armin reconsidered, when they’d been dishing out fairness, I must’ve been held up in the curls line.
He smirked: that sounded like a status update if ever he’d heard one. Within minutes of adding it, he’d gained twenty likes, including his father, who’d commented:
Blame your mother for that. My DNA had no part in it.
Armin snorted. A new status had bought him a few minutes of entertainment, but after that, he found himself bored and irritated again.
E-mail. He hadn’t checked e-mail.
Most of the messages were commonplace: alerts to friend activity, suggestions from NIC, nothing spectacular.
Until he reached that morning, 7:06 AM.
The message was marked IMPORTANT. The sender was the Governance. Armin had never received an e-mail from the Governance–not once, ever. No one did, and no one ever wanted to.
For the briefest of moments he tried to convince himself it had something to do with his father, but lying to himself was utterly useless. If there were any problems, his dad would have spoken to him directly. Armin knew there was only one reason why the Governance would send him–a healthy, Drafting age teenager–an e-mail.
And Armin was right.
To Armin Fisher:
You have been selected as one of this year’s proud Drafters. As I’m sure you know, this is a huge responsibility that is delegated to only the most capable citizens. It is a selfless task, and I am sure that an individual as fit and adventurous as yourself will jump at this opportunity. A year of service is required once selected, and though dangers exist, I assure you that the lifetime of honor you will receive following this sacrifice will be well worth any disadvantages you may currently feel. We are sure you understand this. Remember, Hemming Virtoso, the great hero, was once also as a Drafter.
Attached are your instructions. We look forward to your service!
Inter-Peace to You!
Head Secretary of the Drafter Division
Armin stared at the email for a long time, read it, re-read it. There was a lump forming in his throat. Could they think–even for a moment–that Hem-V had anything to do with this! He was an action hero, he wasn’t real! Armin was flesh and blood and person, not the imaginings of some writer! He had no super belt, no unwavering bravery!
Proud drafters…. huge responsibility…lifetime of honor…. Those were not the images of the Drafters that Armin knew. What he knew were the harsh, sad men that went about their work, hoping that their suits would be enough to protect them, praying that nothing would go wrong. Every day. For a year.
Armin did not want that life. He wanted to stay at his computer; he wanted to do the regimens–Damn Stig! Why didn’t I listen, why did I have to post how good I was, how healthy!–he wanted to have his world and none other… especially not any that took place out there.
Armin drew his eyes away from the computer. For a moment, the harsh glow of the screen lingered on his retinas, but then it faded, replaced, instead, with his closed window and the outside world it concealed. It was now dusk, and darkness was presently fighting for its rightful place. Tentatively, Armin raised his blinds. He saw the railway of the tram illuminated by lights shining between the blinds of the house in front of him: a house that belonged–assuming odds were accurate–to a person who was not a Drafter, a person who was safe. A wave of resentment rose in Armin, and he looked away from his neighbor to the other surroundings; never before had he taken such careful notice. There was concrete surrounding the houses: no grass, no trees, no flowers. The compounds were slabs, the houses constructed like mausoleums. An appropriate comparison, Armin thought, because without the thick concrete walls and high-tech doors and windows, the chemicals would kill them all, and their houses would be nothing more than tombs… but the Governance had ensured that that would never happen. They had assured that everyone would always be safe.
Everyone but the Drafters. Everyone but him.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021