Hives

1) Alive

"What's he doing here?" One of Ryan's friends asked in irritation, giving Kit a sideways glance. "Go home. Shoo."

"Come on, Ryan. Let me go with you. Doug's grounded and I'm bored to death." Kit pleaded as they stood outside their apartment building. "Please, Ryan."

"I thought he was supposed to be thirteen." Ryan's friend Andrew snickered. "He acts more like he's three. Pwease Wyan, wet me go awong. I can't do anything by myself." The older boys laughed, and Kit turned red.

"Leave him alone." Ryan muttered, giving Kit an apologetic look. It wasn't really Kit's fault that he was such a big baby most of the time; he wasn't stupid or anything, he just hadn't grown up yet. Ryan figured he'd probably been just as babyish himself two years ago, when he'd been Kit's age.

But Kit had other issues besides being immature. He was overweight, unlike Ryan who was so skinny the nurses at school were always trying to give him protein shakes. He was also a coward who still slept with a night-light, although Ryan never would have told anyone that. He didn't really have any friends except for Ryan and their neighbor Doug, who was only nine.

"Come on, Ryan. Not today." Andrew demanded. "You know what we're doing today. He'll screw everything up. He'll start crying or something."

"No he won't." Ryan decided. "I'm not doing it if Kit can't come along."

The other three boys cursed and grumbled, and Ryan winked at his little brother. It was worth making his friends mad just to see Kit smiling in satisfaction. The poor kid didn't win a whole lot of battles.

It was funny, Ryan thought as they set off, Kit trailing behind them. Even if he was fat, Kit was a lot better looking than he was. His black hair was curly, unlike Ryan's which was stringy and oily and flat, and his eyes were real green instead of Ryan's muddy hazel. Plus, the older boy thought it was probably better to be overweight than look like a walking skeleton. He'd tried the protein shakes, he'd tried lifting weights at the Youth Center, but nothing worked.

"So where are you going?" Kit asked, trying to catch up to Ryan.

Kit glanced down at him. "You'll see when we get there. And if you ever say a word to anyone, anyone at all, I'll flatten you." He'd never laid a hand on Kit in his life, but he saw his brother's eyes go wide in fear. "Top secret, got it?"

"Got it." Kit whispered.

Most of the people in their Hive were headed home from work; a blur of faces on the shuttle as it whizzed by them. Behind a gate children ran around the park area screaming and tackling each other to the carpeted floor, while mothers and fathers stood near the fence and ordered them to come home.

The sky above the skylight was tinted reddish gold, with a few pink clouds drifting past, and Ryan wished he could feel as calm and peaceful inside as everything looked outside right now. His stomach was jumping around so much he thought he was going to throw up, and he was regretting letting Kit come along.

It wasn't that Kit would talk. Ryan was sure of that; for all his faults Kit wasn't a tattletale. But it was a nagging sense of guilt. His brother was about to see him commit a crime, and he was torn between wanting to show Kit that he could do it, and being ashamed of setting a poor example to a kid that idolized him.

But he'd promised his friends he wasn't going to chicken out. They'd done it. They'd gotten away with it. He could too. No one was going to catch him; even if they did all they'd do is make his parents promise to be responsible for his behavior until he was 18, and he wouldn't be stupid enough to do it again. Just once. He just had to get away with it once.

He tried to walk slower, hoping to delay the arrival at the electronics store in the mall area of the Hive, but he didn't live far away, and it took less than ten minutes for them to arrive. His heart was beating so fast by then he was sure everyone could hear it.

People walked back and forth through the mall, ignoring the boys gathered outside the store. They were headed to dinner, or to do evening shopping, or to take their children to the movie plexes. He recognized several of his classmates at the arcade. A boy he sort of knew, James, was standing embarrassed as his girlfriend and a strange girl yelled at each other.

"Well, are you going in?" Andrew asked.

"What are you doing?" Kit demanded. "Ryan┬╝"

Ryan ignored him. "What do you want me to get?"

"Get a Musicman. Take it into the back, where all the big boxes are. Security is light back there because no one is going to steal a whole television. Rip off the security tag with your clippers before you leave. That's important."

"Got it."

"Ryan, no!" Kit grabbed his arm. "You can't steal! They'll boot you out of the Hive if they catch you!" He whispered.

"I'll be fine." Ryan promised him. "I'll give you the Musicman. You've been saying you want one. I'll get you a blue one."

"Ryan, please don't." Kit begged. "I'm scared."

"Wyan, pwease don't." Andrew taunted.

"I said leave him alone." Ryan snapped. "Wait here, Kit. I'll be back in few minutes."

He took a breath, and slipped into the store behind a couple of large men. He'd bought a few things here over the past year, so they kind of knew him, but he hoped he wouldn't be noticed.

The Musicmans were kept on a rack near the middle of the store, and they were neat. He almost regretted his promise to give his to Kit, because he would have liked to keep it for himself. They were only about as big as your hand and the chip inside held just about every song ever made. You hooked them up to your home computer, and filled out a survey. It downloaded the info to the Musicman so that it would be tuned to play only music you would like. They were also a lot more than he could afford on his allowance of twenty bucks a week, especially since his parents expected him to pay for all of his school needs himself.

He stood near the display, pretending to read the back of one of the boxes with interest, and picked out one that showed a blue Musicman on the front, hooked up the ear of a happy, dancing girl about Kit's age. He wondered if they'd let her kept it after the picture was taken. She was blonde and pretty, but he thought she looked just a little bit too excited. There was something incredibly phony about it.

He shrugged that off. His friends were always accusing him of thinking too much, trying to analyze everything to death. He grabbed the box in his hand, and headed toward the back of the store, where 20 televisions were all showing an old, pre-Hive movie about kids in a candy factory. Kit loved that one, he remembered.

He tore himself away from watching one of the children turning blue and swelling up like a balloon, and leaned over a rack to examine the information on a boxed television set. With his left hand he dug around in his pocket and eased out a tiny pair of nail clippers. A quick snip and the security tag came off in his other hand. It was that easy. He pushed the tag under a television box and carefully slid the Musicman into his pocket, moving his long shirt over the front to cover the bulge. He expected sirens to blare or someone to run at him, but no one even noticed.

Nonchalantly, he strolled back toward the entrance of the store, and picked up a small pack of blank disks. This was important, his friends had told him. Buy something when you leave. Buy anything. Because sometimes they have hidden security tags on things, and if you get beeped at the door, they'll just think they didn't scan whatever you bought carefully enough. Plus, they never suspect people who buy something of stealing.

The bored girl at the counter was a little older than him, and gave him a look like his friends usually gave Kit, like he'd personally picked her counter just to ruin her afternoon. Most girls looked at him that way. Not how they looked at Andrew or James, like they were candy or something. He was the only one of his buddies who'd never been on a date, and that stung. They teased him about it.

Hurt by the girl's dismissal, even though he hadn't thought she was the least bit pretty, he turned to leave the store, not even thinking any more about the Musicman in his pocket. He wanted to go home and get something to eat. They could dial up the candy factory movie and watch that, him and Kit, and he wouldn't even crab at Kit for eating an extra piece of cake. He'd do his homework and play some video games, where he could be a brawny god instead of a pale, ugly 15-year- old boy.

He'd just about reached the entrance of the store when a hand came down on his shoulder, and he jumped a mile high. Swallowing hard, he looked up into the face of a security guard, and he knew his guilt showed on his face. Outside the store, his friends and Kit were waiting for him, and he turned around to see the look of utter horror on Kit's face.

Run, he mouthed. RUN!

His friends took off, but Kit stayed on the spot, his eyes filling up with tears.

Get Dad! Ryan mouthed. Hurry.

The guard was pulling him back toward the office and hadn't noticed his brother. He had to get Kit out of there now before he got in trouble too.

Now! Run!

Kit nodded and took off, and Ryan breathed sigh of relief.

"Kid, you don't know how much trouble you're in." The guard spoke for the first time.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

He was in the cell alone at the Security building.

They'd pushed him in some dinner last night, and some breakfast this morning, and he had a toilet and a sink. Other than that, nothing. Not even a book to read.

He slept, wondering where his parents were, if they'd punished Kit for letting him do something this stupid. They better not have; Kit had tried to stop him.

The walls and floor in here were covered in grey carpet. Everything was grey. They weren't meant to be lived in; Security never held people long. He'd be back home by tonight, he knew. But he just wanted it over with. He'd say he was sorry and take his punishment. He'd probably be grounded for the rest of the year, and he'd do it too, even if they weren't around to notice whether or not he obeyed. He just wanted to go home.

He was dozing when the cell door opened, and a woman in business suit stepped in, shutting it behind her. She gave him a friendly smile.

"Hi, Ryan. I'm Carol. I was assigned as your attorney. We need to talk."

"Sure." He moved over on the bed. "Can I see my parents now?"

Carol bit her lip. "No, Honey. That's not going to be possible."

He frowned. "Why not?"

"Well, we talked to the judge earlier today, to try and get you sent home. He talked to your Mom and Dad on the phone. Do you know how Vouching works?"

"Sure. My parents sign a paper that says I won't break any more laws until I'm at least 18. And if I do, they get punished too. It happened to a guy I used to know."

"Ryan, I know this isn't going to be easy for you to hear. Everything we've seen, every record, shows that you're a good kid. You get good grades; you've never been in any trouble. But legally, we can't make your parents Vouch for you. It has to be their choice. They've both refused. We tried to find another relative, but no one would do it. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

The blood rushed into his head and he began to shake. "Let me talk to them! They have to Vouch for me! They have to!"

"Honey, they've said no. I'm sorry. The guards will be coming in a few minutes to send you out."

"Send me out?" He fell back against the wall. "They send murderers out! I just stole something, and I'm really sorry! Don't let them send me to the Tervs! They'll kill me!"

"Ryan, I'm sorry. I have to go now." She knocked on the door and he grabbed her hand.

"My brother! Let me talk to my little brother!"

The door opened and Carol stepped out. It closed before Ryan could follow.

He howled and beat his fists against the carpet, sinking to his knees. He was in a bad dream. He had to wake up any minute.

Tervs were monsters. Sure, they looked like Hivers, at least from the pictures he'd seen, but inside they were animals. They were all criminals, or people whose ancestors hadn't been welcome in the Hives when they were built. They didn't even speak the same language as people in the Hives any more. And they hated Hivers. They'd rip him apart with their bare hands!

The door opened again a second later and two large guards lifted him off the floor, one on either side of him. He screamed and howled, fighting against them as they half carried, half dragged him past closed doors and down a short flight of stairs. He managed to scratch one of them, and the guard responded by cuffing him on the side of his head so hard that he saw stars. By the time his vision cleared, they were at a large, metal door. He barely even noticed that his legs had suddenly become wet, and the guards began to laugh. One of them grabbed his head.

"When this door opens, you go through. A minute later a door on the other side of the tunnel will open. You are to go out that door. You have five minutes. If you're still in the tunnel after that, we shut the other door and gas you. It's a painful way to die, but we will do it. At least the Tervs will kill you quick.

They laughed again, and one of them hit a switch on the wall. The metal door slid open.

"NO!" Ryan wailed. "I won't go! I won't!"

The bigger guard lifted him up and tossed him through the door. He landed so hard on his wrist he thought he'd broken it. The tunnel was short and smelled of dirty iron, with only two small overhead lights glittering in cages. The metal door to the Hive had closed again before he realized it, and he watched in wide-eyed horror as the doors leading outside slid open.

If he'd had time to prepare, it would have been different. He might have had time to adjust, but in the span of only 24 hours he'd gone from being a normal high school student to an outcast. Yesterday morning he'd woken up in his own room and his own bed, and it was all just too sudden for him to handle. As human faces appeared in the open door, he passed out.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

He could hear people speaking, but what he couldn't understand what they were saying. He thought he caught a familiar word here and there, but it swam just outside of his reach. It was okay, though. He had to stay asleep, because waking up would be too hard to take. If he could just sleep the rest of his life, he'd be all right.

But then someone was shaking him, and he batted at the hand. "Go away, Kit." It had to be Kit, wanting him for something or other. The hand shook him again, harder, and he opened his eyes at last.

He was in another cell, different from his first one, and for a second he was confused. Had the Hive taken him back in? But as his vision cleared, he realized with a final defeat they had not.

This cell was smaller than his other one, with iron bars on the door, and a hard cot under his back. Outside the bars people walked by in odd, mismatched clothing. They gave him curious glances, but that was it.

The man shaking him was big but not fat, and to Ryan's surprise his face appeared almost kind. "Come on. You've slept for nearly two days now. Time to get up." His accent was thick, and Ryan had to listen hard to understand what he was saying, but it was definitely Hiver. The lights of the cell glittered off the top of his bald head.

Ryan tried to sit up on the bed, and it took a minute for his dizziness to clear. His head ached, and he noticed his wrist had been bandaged tightly. Someone had removed his clothing, and he had been redressed in a soft shirt and pants too big for him, and he smelled like soap he didn't recognize.

"It's just sprained." The Terv pointed to his wrist. "The doctor says not to move it much, though. You had a lump on your head too. They've got some pills for that if the pain gets bad. Can you tell me your name?" Ryan noticed for the first time that he had a small notebook and stubby pencil in his hands.

"Ryan. Ryan Waters."

The Terv wrote it down. At least that's what Ryan assumed he was doing. The letters were nothing he recognized.

"How old are you?"

"Fifteen."

The Terv made a hissing noise of disgust at that.

"Okay, Ryan Waters. Let me explain a few things." The man glanced up from the book. "Can you understand everything I'm saying? Hiver isn't my first language, but I need to make sure you're following me."

"Yeah. I understand you." Ryan assured him, shifting on the cot.

"You're in Holding, in the city of Albanan. This is where we bring those your Hive casts out. We don't want their scum any more than they do. We've got enough of our own and enough problems of our own. I'm going to take you down before a couple of our Tribune members in a few minutes. They'll ask you some questions and decide whether or not it's safe to let you go free. If they do, you'll be marked and because of how young you are, probably put in a shelter. If they decide you're too dangerous, you'll be executed."

"Marked?"

"A brand on the back of your hand. It'll identify you as a Hiver who has been accepted as a Terv. I don't suppose you know much about Tervs, do you?" It wasn't a mean question.

"No, sir."

"You'll learn. My job is to translate for you, and to help you adjust. You're the youngest I've ever seen them toss out. What did you do?"

"I stole something, from a store." Ryan admitted. "My parents┬╝" he shrugged. "They gave permission for me to be booted."

The Terv made that hissing noise again. "Come on. I don't think this is where you need to be. Don't be afraid. My name is Deak, by the way. My grandmother was thrown from the Hive and she taught me to speak their language."

He unlocked the door to the cell and pushed it open with a grunt, offering his hand to Ryan, and the boy gingerly took it, confused.

The floor was wooden and slick, and Ryan noticed for the first time that his feet were bare when they stuck to it. Several times he nearly tripped over the long pants. The walls were wooden too, covered in short notices in the Terv language.

In spite of his fear, Ryan was fascinated and craned his neck, trying to take in everything. He'd imagined Tervs living in puddles of mud or tents at best, going around naked and grunting. That's what his teachers had told him, anyway. And every parent threatened their child with expulsion from the Hive if they didn't behave themselves. He just had never expected it to actually happen.

Deak led him into an office and shut the door behind him. From behind a desk, a man and a woman glanced up. Ryan noticed them, but his attention was caught by something else.

The office was small, with just the battered desk and a filing cabinet in the back, but on the walls were windows at eye level. Not high up like the ones Ryan had always seen, designed to let in sunlight but not to look out of. These were big windows, and they were open, the curtains fluttering in a cool breeze.

In a daze, the boy walked to the nearest window, staring out in wonder.

They were on a second story, and below them on a dirt road people walked or pulled wagons behind them. Wooden rows of buildings were everywhere, and he could see a Terv selling some kind of fruit in front of one of them.

"Look there." Deak had come up behind him. "See that?"

Beyond the buildings, in the distance and too large to miss, was a huge, white curved structure that stretched as far as his eyes could see, both in width and length.

"The Hive." He whispered, feeling his heart shatter. "That's my Hive."

"Part of your Hive, anyway. It goes on from ocean to ocean you know." Deak led him back to the desk, and sat down on a bench across from it. "You stay standing." He instructed his young charge.

Deak began rapidly speaking to the male and female Terv, and again Ryan was lost from the conversation. The Tervs asked something now and then, and Deak replied, all the while giving Ryan assuring glances.

The woman eyed the boy, and then spoke directly to him. Deak translated.

"Do you understand the crime you were cast out for?"

"Yes ma'am."

"If you're deemed acceptable, do you understand that you will be punished severely for stealing should you do it again?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Do you accept that fact that this is your home now? The Hive will not take you back, no matter what you do or say or how much you beg. You may not ask this Tribune or any part of it to appeal to the Hive on your behalf. You'll be required to learn our laws and our language, and when you're an adult by our standards, at sixteen, you'll be required to obtain a job and work to support yourself honestly. You'll have lowest status, and that will only change should you ever marry someone with higher status than yourself. Will you conduct yourself properly?"

"Yes ma'am." The words felt like a knife cutting into his heart, cutting out the part that still belonged to the Hive. He thought of Kit. Fat, immature Kit, and wondered what they'd told his brother. Wondered if Kit blamed himself for not trying harder to stop Ryan from taking the Musicman. He would have gladly cut his hand off at the sore wrist for a chance just to see his little brother one more time.

"You'll need to be marked, a brand on the back of your hand. It will be extremely painful, I'm afraid, but a necessity."

"O..Okay." What was more pain now?

Deak spoke to the other Tervs for another minute, and then turned back to Ryan. "You're accepted. We'll go get your mark taken care of, and then I'll take you to a shelter."

"Tell them I said thank you."

Having expected to be torn to shred the second he was cast from the Hive, instead he'd been given a fair trial and kindness. How dare the Hivers call these people animals? He thought angrily. Hivers were the animals!

He brooded over that as Deak led him down to another room, and gave him a look of pure apology. "I wish they'd stop this, but let's just get it over with. If my grandmother could survive it, so can you."

The Terv in the room was very short and fat, and looked far too cheerful for someone whose job was burning marks into people. He motioned Ryan into a chair and clicked his tongue, muttering under his breath in Terv. In his hand was as short metal rod with a black switch on the side. He flipped it, and the circle on the end began to glow red.

"Hold out your right hand." Deak instructed.

The Terv with the iron examined the hand for a minute, prodding at the bandaged wrist, and then nodded. A second later he pushed the hot metal into Ryan's flesh.

This time, he did not scream. He bit his lip so hard he bled, and the smell of his own burning flesh made him sick, but he remained silent. The Terv removed the metal, and Ryan stared down at the brown and red circle flared against his pale flesh. The center was filled with several jagged lines crossing over each other.

The branding Terv smeared some kind of clear gel over it, and almost immediately the pain began to fade. He bandaged the top, still muttering to himself, and handed Ryan a glass jar filled with the gel.

"Apply it when it starts to hurt." Deak explained. "You shouldn't need it more than a few days, although the mark will be sensitive for a while. And it's over. You did great. I've seen grown men scream like babies when they get marked."

"What does it mean? Is it a letter?" Ryan asked.

Deak shook his head. "Back when the Hives were built, they weren't as secure as they are now. People were afraid of Tervs breaking in. So everyone who wasn't taken into the Hive was marked like that. It was just a random design some Hiver came up with. It started as a joke here, really. Former Hivers marking themselves, but the Tribune latched onto it and made it law. Most former Hivers consider it a badge of honor, sort of a nice `screw you, I'm alive' to their Hives."

"Does everyone here hate Hivers?" Ryan felt some fear return.

"Some people do. Some people don't care. You're going to face a lot of different kinds out there. Some people think all those thrown from the Hives should be killed right away, but the Tribune has always been adamantly against that. You're going to here some nasty comments, probably for the rest of your life. A lot of people will think you're weak or stupid because you were born in a Hive. You'll have to work hard to prove them wrong."

"I am stupid and weak. I got myself kicked out over a piece of junk." Ryan whispered.

"My grandmother used to say that getting thrown out of the Hive was the best thing that ever happened to her. That until they made her leave, she'd never really had a chance to live. We never could keep her indoors. She was always outside gardening and walking around. She said she spent twenty years locked in a cage and she wasn't going back in without a fight. Plus, she never would have met my grandfather if she'd stayed in the Hive. A lot of Hivers feel like that after a while. It's a harder life out here, but its not as bad as you think."

He wanted to tell Deak about Kit, but somehow he couldn't. He had to forget about Kit. Forget about his friends, his parents, and his life. The Hive didn't want him. He had to be a Terv now.

The branding Terv returned, which startled Ryan because he hadn't even noticed the man leaving. He was carrying a pair of battered gym shoes and gave them to Ryan with a small bow, causing the boy to smile for the first time since they'd caught him with the Musicman. The shoes were a little tight but not bad, and he had another question.

"Where do you get all the stuff you use, anyway? I thought the Hives took everything."

Deak looked surprised. "They do. Hivers take most natural resources for themselves. But they don't use much of what they take, and they throw it away. They throw their garbage outside the Hives, and we claim it. They produce enough trash to give us most of what we need, believe it or not. But we also do okay on our own. We've had to. Are you ready?"

He followed Deak down the hall again, and this time out of a wooden door and into bright sunshine, and Ryan froze.

There were no walls around him, and nothing but pure sky above his head for the first time in his life. He began to panic. It was too big! He tried to flee back into the building they'd come from, but Deak stopped him.

"Its called Hiveshock." Deak explained. "Take some deep breaths. It'll pass."

"I've never been outside before." Ryan panted.

"Sure you have. When they carried you from the tunnel to the Tribune Center you were outside. You just don't remember it. It was raining then, so you're probably better off. Are you hungry? I know a place that makes bakes a damned good loaf of bread."

Ryan considered that and shook his head.

"They gave you some soup while you were asleep. Half the guards think the Hivers must have starved you half to death before throwing you out. You're nothing but bones."

"I just don't eat much, I guess." He continued to stare around him, up and down.

He had seen dirt before, in the produce centers in the Hive, but this was the first time he'd ever been this close to it, and this wasn't like the Hive dirt. It was unfiltered, full of rocks and twigs, and he bent down to touch it, letting it flow through his fingers.

The air felt different. Nothing he could describe, but definitely not what he was used to, and he mentioned that to Deak.

"That's part of why you slept so long. I don't know what they do to their air inside, but they send a lot of junk up into ours. It takes Hivers a while to adjust. You okay now?"

"Yeah."

"Good. The shelter is this way."

Ryan turned and gave the Hive in the distance one long look, and then raised his hand, pointing the bandage at the structure.

"Screw you." He whispered. "I'm alive."