This is a little short story that I submitted to this year’s Idaho Writers League contest. It started as a quick write about a dystopian society where you must be productive to live. My original story was about Adam trying to escape the country. This one is about his sister. Let me know what you think!
Looking out over the city, Amber compared what she was seeing with the photos on her Vu-pad. The hilltop was covered with lush, green grass while strategically placed benches and trees allowed one to pause and enjoy the beauty of Newtown. Amber sat on one such bench, her drawing kit next to her. She wanted to sketch how the city looked two hundred years ago and then overlay it with the current view.
Two hundred years ago, Newtown was called Houston. It was a vast and sprawling city, with towering buildings and hundreds of miles of paved roads that overlapped each other in a tangled mess. In the photograph, Amber could see vehicles crawling on the highways and smog hanging in the air. She was taught in school that this picture was taken right before the Great Purge when the pollution and garbage were at their worst. That was when the government changed the regulations and required that everything uses renewable energy and have little to no waste products. The Great Purge took place over a period of twenty years, and the structure of the government also changed. Instead of having a president, senate, and congress, the Commonwealth now consisted of the President, the Bureau, and the Councilors.
Sighing, Amber brought her attention back to the scenery and pulled out a sketch pad. The paper alone cost almost an entire paycheck, but she felt it was worth it. With quick, sure strokes of the pencil, Amber began to draw the city in front of her. Several minutes went by, and she found the in-between space where nothing existed but her pencil moving over the paper. The sudden sharp tone of her comm-unit startled her, and she put the drawing aside to look at the message that scrolled across on the screen.
“Ms. Amber Jaydine Austin: You are hereby summoned to the Court of Society where you will explain your chosen profession and how it benefits the city. Please present yourself in one hour.”
Her heart began to beat faster, and her breathing became quick and shallow. This was what she had been both waiting for and dreading for the past two years. As a twenty-year-old, unmarried female, Amber had to do something that provided for the greater good of everyone in Newtown. Her passion was art; she was good at it and found it soothing. Now she had to explain to the Court how creating new art would be helpful to others. Since being late was considered a sign of rebellion, Amber quickly packed her art supplies in her bag and strode down to the station at the end of the park. From there, she would board a transit bus and travel to the Court.
The bus was a long oval shaped vehicle that was solar powered. There weren’t any wheels like in the old days since the creating of them was banned as being a pollutant. Instead, it hovered a foot off the ground using magnetics. The operator scanned her wrist for identification and smiled at her.
“Heading to the Court to choose your life’s work, eh?”
“Yes. It’s my time,” Amber replied as she took a seat.
“Can I ask what you do?” The man pushed a few buttons to direct the transport to her destination then swung around in his seat to face her. “If you don’t mind, that is.”
“I draw and paint. I love art. Right now I’m making an overlay of the new and old cities. Do you want to see?” Amber reached for her bag but stopped when the man grunted.
“There’s no use for art these days. Not new stuff, anyway. All the real art already exists.” He turned back around to face the front of the transport.
Amber felt like he had slapped her instead of just dismissed her work. Having a simple transit operator state that her art was useless made her worry about what the Court would decide. She felt the tightness in her chest again that signaled the beginning of a panic attack. She thought she had them under control since the last one was almost a year ago, three years after her brother Adam had disappeared. Maybe she should have taken the safer path and gotten married as soon as she turned nineteen. She had known several young men at the time that could have made good partners. Then she would have had the allowed six years to have two children and get them started in their education before working in the kitchens or school. It would have been an easy life, uncomplicated and safe.
“And dull,” Amber muttered. Plus, she wasn’t particularly interested in having children of her own. She didn’t mind children. But to have to birth them and care for them and make sure they followed the correct paths to be fully recognized citizens when they turned of age seemed like a daunting task to a nineteen-year-old girl fresh out of college. It wasn’t too late to get married, but she did not have any time to find a partner before she had to present herself in front of the Council of Society. Even if one of the men she once knew was still available, they had to sign the agreements that sometimes took days to get finalized. Deciding she would just make the best case possible, Amber began to make a few notes on her Vu-pad so she wouldn’t forget any important points.
“Here you are,” the operator said cheerily. “Right at the front of the Court. Good luck!”
Amber looked carefully at the operator, certain there was a note of derision in his tone, but he just smiled and waved as she stepped off the transport. Straightening her tunic and running a hand through her hair, Amber began to climb the steps to the main doors. A guard at the door scanned her identification then examined the contents of her bag before opening the door for her. She followed the signs to reach the Court of Society and then sat down on a long bench outside the door once she realized she was almost half an hour early. Nervous, Amber twirled one strand of her dark brown hair around a finger.
The door opened, and a woman about her age emerged. She was smiling and stepped right up to Amber. “Are you next? The judges are so sweet. I received approval to continue studies in building design. I showed them my idea for a more efficient home, and they loved it! I’m sure you’ll do great too. Is that your proposal?”
Her words washed over Amber, and it took her a moment to process them to realize she had asked a question. “Uh, yeah, sorta. It’s an example of what I plan to do. I better get in there.” Amber stood and quickly walked past the other woman before she could ask to see Amber’s work.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped over the threshold and into the courtroom. The Council of Society, nine men and women, sat at a long table on a dais at the front of the room. All of them wore the official red robes and the man in the center had the deeper red sash that designated him as the head of this council and advisor to the President, making him a Chancellor. A small desk with a chair faced the dais and the guard to the side of the councilors motioned her to sit. Amber caught herself just before she could begin to twirl her hair again, and instead chewed on the inside of her lip. Fidgeting was a sign of weakness, and she could not appear weak right now.
“Amber Jaydine Austin, you have been summoned because it is exactly sixty days past your twentieth birthday and time to choose where you will serve your society. What have you decided?” The councilor’s voice intoned.
Amber swallowed, then her words came out in a rush. “I want to create art. I think there is still beauty to be memorialized and new things to be discovered in the realm of the Muses.”
“I’m sorry, what?” The woman speaking leaned forward, her green eyes piercing through Amber. “Art is not to be created. Not anymore. Art is to be enjoyed on the Day Off and studied as a form of history. There is nothing left that has not already been created. Shakespeare, Mozart, Da Vinci, Dunn, and Thurston were all artists of their times. Great artists. What could you possibly have to offer that they have not already thought of?”
“Speak up!” thundered the woman.
Pulling her bag to her, Amber said, “Let me show you.” She removed her sketch pad and turned the pages until she got to a drawing of a mother nursing her child in the park. Other children were depicted in the background, and the colors were vibrant as if they were in a photograph. The guard took it from her and handed it to the first council member.
One by one, the Council members studied her drawing and made notes on the Vu-pads in front of them. When the last Council member had finished, the guard returned the sketch pad to Amber.
“We will confer,” the Chancellor stated. He pushed a button on the table in front of him, which caused a pale blue forcefield to separate Amber from the councilors.
The guard stepped up beside Amber. “That’s good news, you know.”
Amber smiled weakly. “Is it?”
“Sure. At least some of them are considering allowing you to go ahead with it. So they need to discuss it and take a vote. Personally, I think they should allow you to go ahead and draw. That picture of the mother? That was a beautiful moment captured forever because of you.”
Amber suddenly realized that the guard was handsome, and not much older than her. Her eyes darted to his hand and noted the lack of a marriage tattoo before she recalled where she was. Blushing furiously, she quietly said, “Thank you.”
Suddenly a chime sounded, and the guard stepped back to his post, but not before giving her a soft smile. The forcefield dissipated and the councilors studied her in silence before the hard-eyed woman spoke.
“There is beauty in what you created. How do you plan on benefiting the city with your work?”
Amber froze. She hadn’t thought that far, not yet. She just wanted permission to create art. Remembering what the guard told her, she said, “People want to have memories of life moments. I can do that for them.”
“They can have a photograph taken,” wheezed an old man to the left of the woman.
“Okay, yes, but that’s not something that can decorate their home. Printed photographs have not been allowed since the Great Purge.” Amber felt herself warming up to her topic. “If I could be allowed one practice pad and one set of canvas a month, along with the colors and pencils I would need, I can allow people the opportunity to decorate their homes with memories of their lives.”
The wheezy old man guffawed, coughed, then said, “And how does that benefit society?”
“It will make them happy. And happy workers are productive workers.” Amber couldn’t believe she just said the same words that her brother used when he attempted to have his music studio approved. The Council had denied Adam and as a result, he was forced to flee overseas to Walth where they did not have such strict rules about serving society.
“Austin…Austin…” the head counselor murmured. “You don’t happen to be related to Adam James Austin, do you?”
Knowing it wouldn’t do any good to lie because likely they already had her profile loaded onto their Vu-pads, Amber nodded. “He’s my brother.”
“Of course. He wanted to make people happy too.” A plump woman smiled at Amber. “Such a lovely idea. It’s terrible the laws don’t allow for work to be done just because it’s happy.”
The wheezy old man shook his head. “Work needs to be done so people can eat and have clothes to wear. There’s no room for frivolous drawing and music.”
“Agreed. I propose that we deny Ms. Amber Jaydine Austin’s profession. All in favor?” the Chancellor looked up and down the table, noting the raised hands. “Mary?” The plump woman sat with her hands firmly in her lap.
“Well, I think it’s wonderful and should be approved,” she stated primly.
“Fortunately, we just need a majority not a unanimous vote,” the Chancellor said. “Ms. Austin, your profession is denied. You have thirty days to choose another profession to present to this Council. If you do not choose an appropriate profession, you are condemned to death. As you know, we cannot support unproductive members of society. Dismissed.”
The Future of Art by Alena Orrison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.