Satisfaction, Guaranteed A DYSTOPIAN NOVEL

One hundred and fifty years ago, hatred and greed ran through the veins of humans like blood. Now, there is nothing but peace and order in the world, thanks to the aftereffects of World War Three. Humans destroyed everything they touched. That was a fact. They took their world, full of simplistic and abundant life, and let their ambitions and greed turn it into a charred wasteland. Animals and plants vital to our very existence, wiped out because of overpopulation, and in turn, over colonization. Humans overpowered their environment because they could, because they cared little for the generations that would come after them. They would rather fight each other for fading resources than work together to bring peace to everyone. So devastating was The Last War that millions of people were desperate to forget the horrors they saw during the two year period; hundreds of thousands of bodies piled in the streets, people murdering and pillaging for dwindling resources, many deciding to just end their lives in hopes of finding serenity in death.

When at last no one could fight anymore, the government took action, creating a new branch known as the Worldwide Rehabilitation Program - commonly called the WRP. They developed a one of a kind medication called Gaudium, which they mass produced and sent out to every human being on the planet. Its effects were listed as followed:

A swift cleanse of all memories pertaining to bad or saddening experiences, including deaths of loved ones, previous self harm or thoughts of harming others, unpleasant dreams, and any other hardships one has faced in life.

A guarantee to replace all unpleasant feeling with calm and happy ones, ensuring no one has to feel upset again.

A willingness in every human to strive to find an amicable solution to any and every situation.

Guaranteed satisfaction to everyone, forever.

Eager to forget, many took the medication in its standard form, one pill every morning, and found themselves in a perpetual state of bliss. Word spread, and more and more people began to give up their memories for a chance at undisturbed happiness, 24/7. The population calmed and became easy to work with, because no one wanted any more than the next person, content with what they had, and aspiring for nothing else. Society was quickly put back into place, and the renovations for the new world began. The restructuring of society was done simply, without any grand displays, for there was no need to impress. Of course, precautions had to be taken now that total peace was strictly encouraged. Every person was required to take one pill every morning at precisely seven o’clock, to ensure maximum tranquility throughout the day. This rule was put in place easily enough, after all, no one wanted to remember the chaos the world had gone through. The rest of the laws that came after were a breeze, because no one saw a problem with anything. In order to keep the population from expanding too much, no couple could bear more than two children in their lifetime. If the rare case of triplets or more occurred, the extra children were taken -without protest- and given to a couple incapable of conceiving. On the off chance that there was no place for a child to go, they were simply discarded. There was no internet access for ordinary citizens, only government officials to keep track of the population. All books and movies with unhappy endings, even ones that were just deemed too unsettling by psychologists, were rounded up and taken care of. There were rumors that the government kept libraries with unsatisfactory books so terrible they could send people into a depression, but of course they were off limits to the public, if they even existed. This new way of life made everything run smoothly, there was no need for currency because nobody took more than necessary, and everyone looked out for the wellbeing of their neighbors. After years and years, people forgot that unhappy memories even existed. They knew nothing of sadness or anger or envy. The next generations grew up taking Gaudium the day they were born, and only saw the world as an orderly place that they needed to take care of. Forests were abundant once again, and other species flourished under the watchful eyes of the improved humans. There was no conflict of race or religion any longer, as people instead focused on spirituality and oneness with each other and their environment. Finally, this world knew harmony.

*****

“Wes, Miles! It’s time for your Gaudium supplement!”

Two pairs of bleary eyes opened, blinking up at the soft beige ceiling above them. After a few seconds of sleepy yawns, both boys turned to look at each other across their shared room. Grinning, identical crooked smiles were graced to identical green eyes. “Good morning.” they said in unison. The only obvious difference between the two, and the only way to tell them apart, was the smattering of freckles that spanned Miles’ cheeks. Otherwise, they shared the same dark brown curls, same lanky build, and same features. Glancing at the clock on the bedside table, they saw that they had approximately 6 minutes to get out of bed and retrieve their pills. They hopped up without another word and headed out to greet their mother in the kitchen. Swooping in to kiss each of her cheeks, they both took their blue and purple capsules out of her open palmed hands and downed them quickly with a gulp of water from the waiting cups on the counter. “How did you sleep, mother?” Wes asked politely.

“Oh, wonderfully as always, dear. I trust you boys slept peacefully as well?” The boys nodded and started to pull ingredients from the pantry for breakfast. Doreen Paxon looked as cheerful as ever, just like everyone else this beautiful morning. Outside, there was the soft pattering of rain, but no one would have any complaints. The family of three would get ready for the day as they did every morning, like clockwork. Wake up and take their pills that were delivered to their mailboxes weekly, make a simple breakfast of oatmeal and diced fruit, and prepare for the day ahead. Doreen would head off to her job as a garden overlooker. She made sure that the families she was assigned to were taking proper care of their gardens and helped new planters understand the guidelines of growing your family garden. Every household had a designated space for their garden, and in all of them there were basic vegetables and spices needed to make their meals. It was only fair for them to grow what they could, so everyone could have enough. The boys would either walk or ride their bikes to school, where they would learn about how to keep their only inhabitable planet safe from harm, and what jobs they were most efficient at in the world ahead. After school, they were free to go and interact with others as they pleased, or get ahead in their studying. Wes was always going off to find a secluded space to read up on how to repair the damage to the globe that had been cause six generations before them. Miles was the more social of the two, usually choosing to go on a hike with some friends from school. Other than the occasional detour to enjoy separate hobbies, the twins were almost always together.

As the family headed out the door, each holding a cloth bag with their lunches inside, they saw two official child watch officers waiting outside the door of their next door neighbors. They were leaning against the open door frame, waiting patiently for the family inside. After a minute, a young couple appeared, the mother cradling a swaddled bundle in her arms, and the father holding the hands of a girl of about two years old and a boy that looked around six. Smiling brightly, the woman handed off the cooing bundle to the waiting officers. An older fellow with deep creases took the child, and the Paxons overheard him apologizing to the couple.

“Sorry you had to keep her for so long, we were busy dealing with newborn triplets. The mother already had one child, so we let her choose which one she wanted to keep. It took us a while to find a home for the other two, so I apologize for the delay.”

The parents brushed off the officer’s apology lightheartedly, the father responding with a cheery, “Oh nevermind that, she was pleasant enough to deal with. My wife here is still a little sore from the birth, but otherwise it was an enjoyable evening. Go ahead and take the baby, I'm sure another family will enjoy raising her.” They all bid each other a good morning, and parted ways.

“Well that was nice, a new couple is going to get a baby today. A bit irresponsible for that woman to get pregnant after her allowed two, but I’m sure she’ll get that fixed this week,” Doreen remarked. Wes and Miles watched the officer's buckle the newborn into the bike stroller, content that she would most likely have a family waiting for her. If not, they guessed she would just be discarded if no one needed her. Kind of a shame to lose that potential, but babies were born every day. It’s not like all of them were needed.

Later that day, away from their mother’s attentive eyes, the boys begin to discuss what they’ve kept a closely held secret.

“We have to go turn ourselves in, once they give us a higher dosage we won’t have those terrible dreams anymore,” Wes hissed to his brother.

“But we already asked for more pills, and the doctor said the nightmares would go away soon. And what about what we saw in the dream? Shouldn’t we find out more about what happened to Dad?” Both boys were understandably upset; neither had experienced anything so unsettling as the dreams that kept seeping through the prescribed dosage at night. They had already gone to see the doctor about their situation, but even after he upped their dosage they kept popping through. The most unsettling of all was the fact that a member of the so-called “resistance” had approached them on their way home the other day, trying to persuade them to join a group they called the Eruenda, which roughly translates to “the unearthers." The only member they had seen was an older man who called himself Duke, though it was most likely an alias. In the dream they shared, they watched officers coming to drag their father out of their home. They remembered that day clearly even though it happened a couple years ago. What they didn’t remember was him screaming obscenities at the guards, begging his wife and children to “Wake up, please wake up!” They remembered him going peacefully, and telling the boys that everything was perfect.

“What’s to find out? It was just a dream, Miles. We saw them take dad with our own eyes and it was nothing like that outrageous scene,” Wes practically shouted.

“Watching dad plead for us to just notice what was happening to him doesn’t bother you? Doesn’t get under your skin? Not even a little bit? What if that’s what actually happened?” Miles was getting noticeably agitated, not something that his brother would want the rest of his classmates to see.

“Are you saying that what we dreamt of that day is the actual reality? Do you know how crazy that sounds?” Out of the two, Wes was handling this with more grace and practicality. To him, it seemed like Miles was having a breakdown, one that needed to be rectified, fast. “We just need to go back into the doctor, he’ll know how to help us.”

“Just what if, Wes? It seemed familiar, like maybe it was real and we just can’t remember it properly.” Miles suggested. He pushed himself up from the damp green grass and started to pace. “What if the Eruenda has more information about what happened that night…”

“And what? The government is lying to us about where Dad went? Why would they do that?”

“Think about it, Wes. Do we even know why they took him? They never gave us any details, isn’t that a little suspicious?”

Wes sighed, clearly ready to move on to a happier topic. “Can we please talk about this later? If we cause a scene someone else will be turning us in before we even have the option to do it ourselves.”

Miles helped his brother off the manicured lawn and they began walking back to class.

*****

The most privacy the siblings got was on their walk home in the afternoon. Hoping that the lack of people present might make Wes open up, Miles decided to push his luck and discuss their options again.

“I still think we should go talk to Duke,” Miles brought up the option tentatively. They’ve talked about it before, but Wes was always quick to shut down the idea. Wes had faith that the WRP and their pills were capable of curing any unease people felt, but Miles was a little more skeptical to the idea. Ever since the Eruenda member had approached them the other day, telling them the pills were obscuring and replacing their real emotions. Miles had done a lot of thinking about the medication he had so blindly taken every day of his life. What did the pills actually do? Obviously they made people happy, but to what extent? What is so bad about remembering things honestly?

“I don’t know what you’ve got going on in your head, Miles, but it’d be best if you just let it go. Some crazy guy, who we need to turn in as soon as we can, doesn’t get to disrupt our entire lives with his rambling nonsense! How do you know he wasn’t just lying?” Wes argued.

“Maybe I just don’t want to be so closed minded all the time!” Miles shouted, his cheeks starting to flush with color.

“There’s nothing wrong with being close-minded, it’s what keeps everyone safe!” Wes had his hands clenched into fists, indicating that this conversation was close to coming to an end. Miles looked at the ground, subdued for a second. The only sound to be heard was the crunching of the gravel beneath their feet. Miles took a deep breath before he spoke his next words. “Safe from what, Wes? Why aren’t we allowed to know what happened to Dad?”

Wes let out a loud groan, eliciting a startled look from one of their neighbors. “Ok, if it’ll get you to come with me to the doctor, maybe we can ask mom about that day when we have dinner.”

Miles nodded in agreement, keeping to himself that he still would much rather go talk to Duke. The thought of doing it on his own made him uneasy- he would have to convince Wes that it was the best choice. As they approached their house, the conversation dwindled into an uncomfortable silence.

*****

As the boys helped their mother set the table for dinner in their low lit kitchen, Miles casted furtive glances across the room at his older brother, waiting for the go ahead. Wes glared at the table as he placed the glasses of water on the table, obviously in no rush to broach the topic.

“So boys, was your day as good as mine? I bet it was,” their mother laughed, breaking the tension between Wes and Miles.

“Oh yes, I spent the day reading about the best approach on fixing that big old pile of garbage floating in the ocean. And I think-” Wes started to explain his day, but Miles had had too much small talk - he couldn’t take it anymore.

“Mom, why was dad taken away from us?” he blurted.

“Miles, it’s rude to interrupt,” their mother scolded him. Her glance lingered on him for a moment too long, with a look that couldn’t mask the shock she felt at Miles’ sudden question. “And you were there, son. You remember him telling us he was just going to work for the government full time.”

Miles caught Wes’ glare from across the table. Maybe he had brought the topic up too abruptly, but he was desperate.

“Yeah Miles, it was a peaceful goodbye, remember?” Wes’ voice was smooth and reassuring, though the look he was giving his twin was anything but kind.

“Why did he have to go though? And why so suddenly? I don’t remember him ever wanting to leave us. I just don’t understand why....” Miles tried his best to sound objective to that day, he didn’t want to sound anything but pleasant in front of his mother. He wanted to get his information as inconspicuously as possible, but Wes knew what he was up to.

“Sometimes that’s just the way it is honey,” their mother consoled, “If they needed him, then he had to go. It’s not as if he could refuse, of course.”

“I know but-”

“Let’s talk about something else, we mustn’t get too agitated my darlings,” she interjected. Doreen looked down at her plate, and paused before she spoke again, but this time her voice sounded less lively. Their mother always sounded the same when she talked about anything, from the weather to the neighbors “accident” that morning. Just like everyone else.

“So how are you boys doing otherwise?” Her tone was still chipper, but the light didn’t reach her eyes.

“Actually, uh, we were wondering if we could go see the doctor again this weekend?” Wes asked, attempting to keep his voice level.

Looking rather startled, their mother pressed for more information. “Didn’t the both of you visit his office last week? Are you feeling alright?”

“He said that mornings should start getting easier, but they haven’t. I still wake up feeling uneasy,” Wes stretched his truth a little bit. He knew he was having bad dreams, but didn’t want to divulge that to his mother just yet. “It just takes a while to find the proper dosage.”

“Well,” Doreen hesitated for a moment, “I guess that’s okay. I’ll call to make an appointment after dinner as soon as possible.”

“Actually, mom,” Miles spoke up, “I’m doing just fine now, don’t worry about making an appointment for me,” he smiled to show his certainty. Wes narrowed his eyes at his brother, and his hands turned to fists underneath the table. “Make the appointment for both of us,” he struggled to keep his tone pleasant, but his anger was thinly veiled, if you knew to look for it.

“I can assure you that I’m just fine. There no need to make it more trouble than it should be,” Miles shot back.

“I think it would do you both good to get a check up after those dreadful nights you’ve been having. You know, to be productive you need exactly nine hours of rest. You’ll both go,” Doreen said, untroubled. Miles let out a small sigh in defeat, but didn’t object further. Wes smirked, but he knew this wouldn’t be the end; Miles was determined to get answers.

*****

Two days later, the brothers found themselves in cheery yellow waiting chairs, and though the tension between the two had yet to subside, they seemed to be doing a good job at hiding it. Their appointment only took fifteen minutes, the doctor was eager to send them on their way with full prescriptions of Gaudium tablets. They left the office with instructions to take three per day, one with every meal.

The brothers decided to take a walk through the new reconstructed park near their house - it was one of the newest redone tree filled parks at the moment, most of them had been destroyed generations before them, so they had to be rebuilt from the roots up. The parks were grand and serene, a site everyone enjoyed at least once a day if they had time. Several groups of people were scattered throughout the park, enjoying the nice sunny day. Everyone they saw had smiles on their faces and seemed to be at peace.

Footsteps crunched the fallen leaves behind them, and all of a sudden a familiar face was matching their stride, strolling casually, hands stuffed in his pockets.

“Duke?” Miles said in surprise. Wes’ face twisted in annoyance as he glared between the two of them.

“What are you doing here? We told you we want nothing to do with your Uendas thing,” he snapped.

“Eruendas,” he corrected with an easy smile. Lines creased his face and his skin was leathery from the sun, though he couldn’t be more than forty-five. “Look boys, I saw you go into the clinic again. Still having those ‘bad dreams?'” he asked.

“I know I am,” Miles looked at his brother with distaste.

“Oh, come off it Miles,” he glanced briefly at Duke. “And you wouldn’t know that if you weren’t following us.”

Duke stopped walking, and Miles stopped with him. It was obvious that Wes wanted to keep going, but he would never leave his brother with some potentially dangerous rebel. No matter how friendly he seemed to be.

Their surprise visitor crossed his arms, intent on getting his point across. “Alright listen, we have been following you, I’ll admit, but it’s only because we want you to know the truth, okay? There’s nothing sinister about honesty, right?”

“Depends on what your intentions are,” Wes muttered.

“My intentions,” Duke stressed, “Are to help you boys understand that what the government is doing to everyone is just plain wrong. Takin’ away your memories to keep you happy and easy to control? That’s not living, kids.”

“So tell us what is, then. What are we even having these dreams?”

“I can’t tell you the exact science behind it, but something’s unique about the both of you. It might be just a chemical imbalance in your brains, or even a genetic trait, but you’ve developed more of a resistance to the drug, and so the memories that were taken from you are seeping into your dreams at night. These are things that you’ve experienced before, you just can’t remember.” He looked around, taking in the lush green scenery around them before he spoke again. “This is the last time that I’ll be reaching out to you. You have to decide for yourselves if you want to remember. It ain’t always sunshine and roses, but you’ll get to know what living truly is. And that’s sure worth something.”

Miles took a deep breath and looked anywhere but Wes for a moment. This was his chance to get answers to the questions that’ve been driving him crazy; his brother too, even if he wouldn’t admit it. He could either continue on the path of oblivion, or he could trust Duke and be enlightened. He looked to Wes to gauge his reaction. While he didn’t look completely exasperated, like Mile’s was expecting, he definitely didn’t look convinced.

The rebel took a small wrapped parcel out of jacket and held it out to Miles, who reached for it, but Duke held on for a minute. He looked Miles in his curious green eyes, and lowered his voice. “Whatever you decide, it doesn’t have to be the same as what he does,” his eyes flicked toward Wes, waiting impatiently for the man to leave. Letting go of the package, Duke started to turn away. “Just read that, and if you feel differently after, find us.” He sauntered away, in no hurry after fulfilling his purpose, leaving the brothers more confused than ever.

“W-wait! How will we know how to find-” Miles started to follow, but Wes yanked him back by the arm.

“Miles you can’t be serious-” Wes said.

“Wes, we need to know what happened to our dad, its obvious that something big is happening, why can’t you see that?” Miles pleaded.

“I’m trying to keep us safe, Miles, why can’t you see that? And I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy experiencing bad dreams and anxiety. I want to be content, like everyone else.” He took Miles’ silence as an opportunity to quicken his stride, leaving his brother to contemplate his options.

*****

When they arrived home, Miles devoted his free time to reading the book Duke had given him. It looked like an ordinary book. A solid gray hardback cover, just over an inch thick. There was only one line of description of the back, which read, “Truth prevails, even if there is no one to see it, it’s presence is overwhelming.” The title had worn off the spine after years of cracking it open.

Miles was only roughly a third of the way into the yellowing pages, and from what he’d read so far, two best friends were on the run from a group of officials and were no longer safe in their city. A company had been brainwashing people by planting chips into their heads that acted as a sort of communicator called a “phone,” and also did stuff like project videos and games in your eye. But they could also be used to control their mind, and make them do the the company’s dirty work, which could all be erased from memory afterwards. The two teens in the novel found this out, refused the chip, and began to warn others, earning the wrath of the corporation.

Wes sat on the other side of their room in silence, passively skimming through his environmental magazines. He was curious about what the book contained that had his brother so hooked, but he would never admit it. He couldn’t understand why Miles was so keen on disrupting their lives for a stupid dream. He couldn’t help but glance at Miles every now and then, but Miles had his head buried in that damn book.

“I don’t know what this has to do with our dreams,” Miles complained, snapping the book shut and placing it on his nightstand. He had only made it halfway through the book and all that it had done was frustrate him.

“Honestly, what did you expect from that nut job,” Wes scoffed. He watched as his brother flopped onto his small bed, exhausted from the eventful day they had. “Did you take all three pills today?”

Miles glanced over to his brother for a second before looking back up to the ceiling, “Um, yeah, of course.” He had actually only taken the standard amount of one that morning.

Wes stared at him for a moment, but decided to let it go. They had been fighting all day, and he just wanted one moment that wasn’t filled with tension. “Sleep well, Miles,” he said softly, clicking off the lamp by his bed. Miles did the same.

“G’night, Wes.”

They both rolled to face opposite walls, and Wes listened to the sound of his brother’s breath even out and slow, until finally he was asleep. He sat up, wondering if he was beginning to act as crazy as his twin, and reached for the book. Turning his lamp back on, he began to read.

******

Wes had stayed up most of the night reading the book. It wasn’t until the sky outside began to lighten, and he had far surpassed where Miles had stopped reading, that he put the book down. He gently placed it back on the nightstand, exactly how Miles had it earlier, and clicked his lamp off. He burrowed into his blankets, his thoughts flowing rapidly through his mind. He was not any more enlightened than his brother about the purpose of the book, other than the fact that it contained two rebellious teens who seemed to mirror their predicament, finding themselves in a situation where they had the option of choosing to comply or rebel against the higher ups.

He only barely sunk into a deep sleep when distantly he heard their mother calling for them to wake up. Groaning, Wes peeled his eyes open and saw that his brother was already out of bed, hunched over the book. He was just about to the place Wes left off earlier that morning.

“So how far did you get last night?” Miles asked distractedly.

“Wait, what-”

He glanced up from the pages, amused at his twin’s surprised face. “I woke up and heard you turning the pages. You must’ve been more curious than I thought.”

Wes pursed his lips, debating whether he should deny the claim, but said, “I'm only a few pages ahead of you, and just as confused as you, too.”

Closing the book and placing it aside, Miles jumped up and stretched, Wes following suit. “We’ll finish it after school, together.”

*****

Later that night, the brothers lounged on Wes’ bed and took turns reading the final pages of the book aloud to each other. When they finally finished, all they could do was sit in somber silence, pondering the ending they’d been left with. Something about the final chapters left them with an uncomfortable tightening in their chests. Every book either of them had ever read had resolved in the end and left the reader with a sense of closure. This book was different, though. The author didn’t seem to care whether the readers were happy with the ending. It was almost as if the author wanted his audience to be left uneasy, to think about their place and how they could change it. What could someone hope to gain from provoking miserable thoughts?

Miles flipped through the pages one last time while his brother drifted off, and noticed a piece of paper poking out from the very back of the book. He pulled it out and skimmed it quickly, then backtracked and read it again, slower. He nudged Wes, who was starting to doze off, barely able to contain his excitement. “Wes, wake up! Come look at this,” he said. Wes sighed and scooted closer, leaning over his brother’s shoulder as they read.

“The government’s intentions were somewhat noble at the time. Millions dead and dying after the Last War (which I’m sure you only have a vague understanding of), mass riots around the world, hundreds of thousands committing suicide because they couldn't stand to be in the world around them. They needed a solution that would save everyone from themselves. Sure, the pill would have added benefits, such as making people complacent and easy to control, but that was a small price to pay for effortless world peace. People were desperate to feel anything other than horror and pain, so they swallowed the pills, and forgot everything. No more pain and suffering, but also no more appreciation for their happiness. What they had instead was manufactured satisfaction. They no longer knew what art was, or good literature, for that matter, because what is a work of art if it doesn’t move you? Mothers don’t feel joy when seeing their newborn for the first time, or suffer when their child is taken from them. This is not what life was meant to be. Mistakes were made generations ago, terrible mistakes. They let greed and hate and envy get the better of them, divide them. However, that was the chance to learn from their mistakes and make up for their errors. Instead, they chose to forget. A better world came out of it, but with no one left to appreciate it anymore. We aren’t desperate anymore. We haven’t felt the pain our ancestors felt. It is time for us to make the choice now, to have the opportunity to know what love, and pain, and joy feel like. Choose, now. Would you rather stay numb and oblivious, or know pain, and be a better person for it? It is in your hands now.”

-Duke 735 W. Hope St.

Leaning back against the wall, Wes put his face in his hands and groaned. Miles was still rereading the note, over and over. When he finally tore his eyes from the paper, they were glimmering with hope. He placed a hand on his twin’s shoulder, shaking gently as he spoke, “Now we know how to find Duke again. This note explains everything! We have to go, there’s no other choice.”

“Of course there’s another choice, you idiot,” Wes snapped. “We could choose the right way, and tell the authorities about this lunatic. Take our pills and carry out our lives the way we’re supposed to.”

Miles leaned away from him in shock, apparently surprised that Wes was still choosing to ignore the facts. “How can you say that, after reading this book, and now this note. After what they’ve made us feel, how can you be so ignorant?”

Wes pushed himself off the bed roughly, swiveling to face his brother. “That’s exactly it, Miles, I don’t want to feel like that anymore!” he said sharply. He turned around to compose himself, sure that his loud voice would attract the attention of their mother. When he turned back, he suddenly looked extremely tired. Miles finally noticed the dark circles beneath his eyes, partly from the lack of sleep they’d gotten in the last few weeks, and partly from the overload of information they’d been handed. Wes inhaled slowly, like he was finding it hard to say his next words. “I’m just so tired,” he choked, “So goddamn tired of this. There’s a reason everyone takes these pills, you know? Why would you choose this,” he clutched a hand to his aching chest, “over bliss? No sane person would.”

Miles looked at his brother for a minute, taking the time to fully understand what Wes was saying to him.

“I’m going to the clinic tomorrow, come with me or don’t. I can’t go on feeling this way, so I’m going to tell them everything. I hope you choose right.” He turned off his lamp and crawled into bed, his body curling into a ball under the sheets.

“Don’t worry, I will,” Miles said under his breath.

******

When the light streamed in their window the next morning, Miles watched quietly as Wes got ready for the day. He was still going through with his plan, after all. They hadn’t spoken a single word to each other, and the silence was almost unbearable.

Throwing on his jacket, Wes strode towards the door, a determined look on his face. But when his body was halfway out of the room, he paused. “Please come with me,” he said quietly. “Please.”

Miles had his eyes trained on his knotted up hands. He didn’t know if he could stand to watch his brother walk out the door without him. “You know I can’t.”

Wes nodded, he knew Miles wasn’t going to change his mind, but he had to ask one last time. “Well, see yea later then, I guess. I should be back before dinner. You won’t -" Wes paused to rephrase. "You’ll be here, right?”

“Of course,” Miles smiled half heartedly. “I’ll wait until you get back.” He figured Duke could wait another day or two.

Wes took one last long look at his twin, his best friend, who he always did everything with. Shaking his head, he walked out, closing the door behind him. Miles could overhear him bidding their mother goodbye, probably with an excuse of errands to run. Miles pulled back the curtain to their small window and watched as his brother rode away on his bike.

******

Wes wasn’t home before dinner.

In fact, it was almost eight o’clock when Miles started to worry. He had pestered his mother, who replied in her ever cheery voice, “I’m sure he’s just busy with his friends, honey. No need to be upset.” making Miles want to scream. He spent the next four hours peering out his window every two minutes, convinced he could hear the squeaking of tires pulling up, until he finally drifted off.

When he awoke, it was 5:30am. He knew his mother would be calling for him to wake up at precisely 7:00, so he layed in bed for the remainder of the time, anxiously drumming his fingers against the headboard. He was ready to jump out of his skin when he finally heard her call for the both of them, but when only Miles appeared, she barely batted an eyelash.

“So your brother’s still out, I see. Well, you’ll have to go on to school without him,” she stated as she bustled around kitchen, fixing up breakfast for the two of them. Miles’ eyes bore holes into the empty spot where Wes usually sat, and soon enough his mother was ushering him to the doorway with his lunch and a kiss goodbye. Before his hand could touch the doorknob, a knock sounded: three quick raps against the wood. His mother reached past him and pulled open the door.

“Mrs. Paxon?” On their porch stood an official looking man, dressed in a simple button up and slacks. He wore a badge around his neck that read Harry O'Brien : Head of Recruitment. He held a small folder in one hand, and a cup of coffee in the other. Balancing the two, he managed to open the folder to reveal a photo. “Is this your son, Wes Paxon?” In the photo, a familiar set of dark brown curls and smiling green eyes, identical to Miles’ own, stared out. Miles felt a cold numbness start to settle around his heart.

Smiling, Doreen Paxon greeted the man, glancing at the picture on display. “Why, yes it is. Why do you ask?” Her tone was as level as always, her eyes as open and warm as if she were speaking to her sons.

Harry O’Brien grinned, “I have some good news for you then. Your son has honorably chosen to come and work for our environmental rehabilitation program, starting today. He displayed an outstanding knowledge and passion for our earth, you should be so proud.” He finished his speech with a charming smile.

“Oh!” Doreen turned to Miles in elation, not taking in the fact that he was utterly frozen, eyes blank and far away. “Would you look at that? He always wanted to go into one of those programs, and now he’s done it!” She turned back to Mr. O’Brien. “He’s always been so smart, and he helps out so much with our garden, too.” She gestured to the small patch of land in their front yard overflowing with vegetables and spices. “I’m just so happy he’s doing what he loves. Will we get to see him at all?”

Mr. O’Brien shook his head quickly. “Unfortunately, Wes will be departing shortly on a trip overseas. He will be kept very busy over there, so I wouldn’t expect any calls or visits from him.”

“Of course, of course, we completely understand.” Doreen waved her hands dismissively. “We’re delighted for him, aren’t we, Miles?”

Miles struggled to find his voice, but managed to choke out a muted, “Of course.” He felt like he was falling; light headed and dizzy. The scene was too much like the one they’d experienced with their father’s disappearance. He couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe-

“If you have any questions, you can contact us at our office anytime,” O’Brien said, starting to reach into his pocket for a business card. Apparently that was the extent of his balancing act, though, because the folder tipped out of his hand as he tried to keep his coffee upright, spilling papers across the porch. All three of them reached for the scattered pages, and Miles caught one before the breeze could carry it away. He glanced down at it and his heart dropped to his stomach. It seemed to be a medical file, with a small picture of his brother in the top left hand corner, and Wesley Paxon printed in the right. Across the page, however, there was a red stamp, one that stopped Miles cold.

“DECEASED”

A cold sweat broke out across his skin, and he thought he was going to be sick. He was still half crouched, hand gripping the paper so tightly he thought it would disintegrate. Dimly, he could hear his mother speaking, but it was like his head was underwater. He started when she came over and pulled the paper from his clenched fist, and he heard her apologizing to O’Brien, something about how she didn’t know what had gotten into her son. Miles took a deep breath through his nose and exhaled slowly, forcing his spine to straighten. His hands were still shaking, and his face was still stuck in one of barely disguised horror, but he stretched his lips into a smile and turned to see his mother shaking O’Brien’s hand. He nodded politely at the man, watching as he walked down the street. Then he pushed past his mother and sprinted towards the bathroom, hunching over the toilet as he retched. He managed to clean himself up and look semi-presentable when he came out to his mother.

“Oh baby, you stay home from school today, rest up. I have to get to work, but I’ll see you tonight.” She kissed him on the forehead and hurried out the front door.

Stumbling into their bedroom - or rather, his bedroom now - Miles sank down onto his bed and grabbed one of his pillows, clutching it to his chest. He couldn’t make sense of what was happening. He’d just seen his brother yesterday, he couldn’t just be gone. Miles felt like throwing up again. Instead, he buried his face in the pillow and started to cry.

******

Miles spent the entire morning and part of the afternoon in his bed, falling in and out of of a restless sleep. Every time he opened his eyes they landed on his brother’s unmade bed, sending him into another round of sobbing. When he finally seemed to be all dried up, he slumped into the bathroom and climbed into the shower. As the scalding water beat down on him, he thought about how little he’d said before his brother walked out the door for good. He’d been so closed off. Why didn’t he do more to stop Wes from leaving? Why didn’t they realize that there would be repercussions for being different than others? Why, why, why. He turned the water off and got dressed numbly.

Duke was the only person Miles could think of to talk to about this, but he wasn’t sure he could handle meeting with the Eruenda at the moment. Maybe if Miles hadn’t been so eager to find out more about the dream and the resistance, the pills would have been able to do their job and make the two of them forget. It was his fault as much as Dukes that Wes was gone. Resolute, he strode into his room and snatched the book the rebel had given him, along with the letter. He marched into their small living room right up to the brick fireplace. He tossed the book on top of the few pieces of kindling and lit a match. Staring at the flame flickering down the stick, he waited until it just singed his fingertips before tossing it in. Miles watched as the edges of the pages caught flame and began to blacken and curl, and he felt sick again. He couldn’t let his brother’s death be for nothing. He had to understand how they could murder someone so innocent, especially after he went to them for help. Losing his resolve, Miles snatched the book out of the fireplace and smothered the flames with his hands, hissing as they burned his skin.

Miles knew what his next move was supposed to be, but wasn’t sure he was ready to go through with it. He just wished it didn’t take his brother’s death to confirm his choice. He knew he could never go back to a life where nothing mattered, a life where he would forget what had happened, to his brother, his dad, and who knows how many others. If he joined the Eruenda he would finally discover true emotional liberation. As much as he wanted to forget this terrible feeling, he would never be able to forgive himself for choosing to abandon his brother’s memory. He just didn’t know if he was strong enough to be on his own after having his best friend at his side every step of the way. He went to the dining room and sat down at the table, pen and notebook in hand, and started to write. When he was finished, he put the notebook, novel, and note into his backpack and headed for the door. On his way out, he noticed a picture of him and his brother sitting on the table by the door. Knowing his mother would have others, he grabbed it and threw it in the bag.

*****

Miles only had to make one stop on the way to his destination. He pedaled so fast his legs burned. When he got to the building, he glanced around, making sure he was alone, and hurried up the steps. He set the item he had to deliver in front of the door and hurried back to his bike. He took one last look at the site, wishing he could change his mind, but knew there was no chance he would. If only he were stronger, he could do what he knew what was right. But that wasn’t the case, and he had somewhere else to be.

He went slower this time, taking in the people he passed, all with bright smiles on their faces. He passed the park, and decided to stroll around for awhile, laying in the grass and staring up at the orange and red leaves that covered the trees. He left without a glance backward, knowing the park didn’t hold as much peace without Wes. He got on his bike and rode away with determination.

When he arrived at his last stop, he parked his bike in one of the waiting racks. He couldn’t help but notice that there were no locks. Why would there be, when no one would even think of stealing someone else’s property? He walked into the small white building and sat in one of the many empty chairs that filled the room, waiting for someone to notice his presence. Finally a young woman with a brilliant smile came up to him.

“Miles Paxon?” she asked.

He looked up at her, taking in her beautiful features and kind eyes. “Yes, that’s me,” he replied softly.

“If you’ll come with me, he’s waiting for you in the back.” Miles followed her through the maze-like hallways until they reach a bright white room.

“Take a seat for me, Miles.” The woman said.

He did as he was told, hopping onto the long cushioned table. He took in his surroundings, waiting for panic to kick in, but he felt nothing. Nothing at all.

The door opened, and a man entered the room a few moments later. “How are you doing, Miles? I heard that these strange dreams have been pestering you,” the man said, taking a seat next to Miles.

Miles only nodded, finding that his voice was gone.

“Don’t you worry now, we’ll take care of everything, just like we did for your brother. Nurse?” His voice was oddly relaxing to Miles. He felt as though he should be getting nervous, but still, he felt calm.

The young woman walked over to Miles, placing a rubber gas mask over his nose. “Breathe deeply, honey,” she said in her kind voice. He took slow, deep breaths, and the room started to tilt. He felt a sharp pinch in his arm where the needle pierced, but it faded quickly.

“It’ll all be over soon, Miles, you’re going to be just fine,” the doctor said distantly.

“No I won’t,” thought Miles, “but that’s fine. I’m doing the right thing.”

Darkness started to creep into his vision, narrowing his line of site. He noticed a poster hanging on the wall in front of him. It showed a group of all sorts of people, all different ages and races, all smiling and holding hands. Underneath, it read:

“Peace is the beauty of life.”

Miles focused on that, and thoughts of his brother started to flood his mind, memories of him laughing, and scowling, and reading his abundance of environmental books and magazines, and finally, of their last conversation, when Wes was sure that the WRP would be able to help him. But instead they just erased him completely.

“Wait,” he thought, “I don’t think I’m ready for this, I don’t want to do this-” But he couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything but listen to the slowing beep of the heart monitor.

Couldn’t do anything but watch as the blackness closed in, and he faded away, into nothing.

****

Duke walked up the steps to the Eruenda compound, waving to a man passing by. He was almost to the door when he stumbled upon the item balanced against it; reached down and picked up the small brown book, regarding it carefully. It was the novel he’d given the Paxon boys. He flipped through the pages quickly, and two pieces of paper fluttered to the ground. As he bent down to retrieve them, he noticed that one was the letter he’d written, and the other was newer, and addressed to him. He shoved them under his arm and opened the door to the compound. Walking instead, he headed towards his office, passing by the commons area where other residents milled about. He took in the sight; it was one that never got old. In one area, people were hovering around a small retro television, presumably rewatching one of their ancient thriller movies that had been banned along with the rest of the entertainment that didn’t elicit pleasant thoughts. At the other end of the room, huddled on a beaten up sofa sat three women, all completely oblivious to the world around them as the devoured the new books they had managed to scavenge from unrenovated sites. All three had tears in their eyes as they thumbed through the pages. The buzzing of a needle could be heard faintly from another room, as one of the residents had taken up tattooing, another practice that had been outlawed. Smiling to himself, Duke turned down one of the hallways and entered his waiting office. He flopped into the cushy chair behind his small desk, laying out the items he’d procured in front of him. The book and note he’d written were familiar, of course. He turned his eyes to the new slip of paper; It was a letter was from Miles Paxon.

“Duke,

I know you had high hopes for both my brother and I, and to be honest, so did I. I had hoped that we could both be strong enough to accept the truth, and make a change because of it. But the truth is, we weren’t strong enough. When Wes decided to go to the WRP and tell them everything, I was so disappointed in him, in his weakness. I thought I was better, because I could handle the pain that came with feeling more than just peace. It was only after they murdered him that I realized I wasn’t. Dealing with the pain of losing someone I loved is unbearable without the drugs, and so I’ve decided to turn myself in as well. I wish I could say that his death strengthened me or made my choice clear, and for a moment, it did. I wanted so badly to get answers for my father’s disappearance, but my persistence costed my brother his life. Our society is sick, that I’ll admit. We use Gaudium as a crutch for our existence, and in turn we don’t actually receive satisfaction from it, we receive only numbness. I hope you can find people strong enough to fix our broken way of life, better people than my brother and I. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you. Good luck.

Miles”

Duke leaned back in his chair and sighed. He’d never imagined they would choose to go to the government for help. Miles was wrong about one thing; he was strong. But he was also heartbroken, and sometimes the pain wins out. Duke balled up his fist and slammed it down on his desk, rattling the picture frame in the corner. It was of him and his best friend, Robert Paxon. He’d joined the Eruenda years ago, but the WRP caught up to him; he’d left behind strict instructions for his two boys to be persuaded, not forced, to join the rebels. Duke shouldn’t have listened to him, he should’ve done more to protect the pair. He couldn’t help but feel like he’d let his best friend down all over again. Folding up the note, he leaned it up against the framed photo. He rose from his desk with heavy shoulders.

******

Doreen Paxon pulled into their tiny driveway carefully, pushing down the kickstand on her bike before heading for the door. “Miles, I’m home!” she called jovially. She received no reply; he must still be out.

She made her way to the kitchen, thinking about what to cook for dinner that night. They had some lovely squash growing in their garden, “Maybe a nice soup?” She thought. She busied herself with preparing dinner, a slightly smaller portion now that Wes was gone. When she had just finished making their meal, she heard a knock on the door: three light taps. Wiping her hands on her apron, she went to answer it. She was met with a grand smile and a friendly greeting. “Hello again, Ms. Paxon,” Harry O’Brien said.

“Oh, hello!” she greeted, “What brings you here again so soon?”

“I’m here with some good news,” He flashed her a friendly smile, “Your other son, Miles, has been recruited for our environmental program as well! He came in and decided to join his brother overseas.”

“How wonderful! A bit of an odd choice for him, though, he never seemed to be as interested in that kind of stuff. Of course, I’m proud of him just the same.” She clapped her hands together in delight.

Mr. O’Brien pulled another business card from his pocket, setting it in her waiting palm. “Again, if you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to call. Have a nice evening, now.”

She waited until he departed to close the door, heading back into the kitchen. She couldn't believe how brilliantly her boys were, going to help restore the earth. Bumbling around the kitchen, she stirred up the soup and started to set the table for dinner. She whisked the pot of soup over and planted it in the middle of the table. Tucking a napkin in her lap, she settled in to eat; but as she started to ladle some of the broth into her own bowl, she noticed that she’d accidentally set three places at the table instead of one. Doreen stared at them blankly, spoon still raised and dripping orange broth down onto the tablecloth. She rose from her chair, gathering the dishes and untouched soup in her arms, and headed to the sink. Standing in the middle of her bland kitchen, she couldn’t help but notice the new, deafening silence of her home.

Doreen had been used to the low hum of the boys conversing in their room, or laughing with each other as they played one on one soccer out in the yard. It was strange to hear her home so quiet. She set the clean dishes back in the cupboard, and poured the uneaten soup straight into the trash. Then she made her way through the house, gathering up all the photos she’d taken of her boys over the years, until she reached her bedroom. Inside, she placed every photo of her sons she owned into the wooden trunk at the end of her bed, right next to the ones she’d kept of her husband after he went away. She lowered the lid, and despite the fact that it was only 6:30, turned the lights off and crawled into bed.

She was alone now, with no one around to care, anyways.

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