-The Factory-

SUMMARY: Danny Reever had lived in the lowest caste of his civilization for his entire life. Then, on his twelfth birthday, everything changed. Danny now works as a Miner for the underground works of the Factory, an extensive chain of business with an unknown purpose. But what begins as an ordinary way of life soon turns into plots of rebellion among the Miners- Plots that have been circulating for years. Though Danny tries to stay out of it, he finds he plays a major role in it anyway... whether he wants to or not.

-ACT I-

-Chapter 1 "Twelve"-

It was Danny Reever's twelfth birthday. He wasn't excited, though. No, there would be no celebration for him this year. There would be many tears from his family and from himself. He was worried about the future that lay ahead of him.

Once twelve, a boy was sent to work in whatever occupation he was assigned from his birth. Danny's occupation was to be "Miner". He had known this since his sixth birthday, which was the day when every boy learned his future occupation. From then on, every birthday was looked upon as one step closer to becoming a slave to the Factory. To Danny, this meant certain death at a young age.

Mining, according to what he had heard, was no fun at all. It was doubtlessly going to be a dark and dirty job. Digging around in the underground for minerals was the last thing Danny wanted to do with his life. He knew tunnel collapses were frequent in the mines. His father had once told him about a friend of his who had died in a collapse. The man had literally drowned in the dirt before his friend's very eyes. Being buried alive by soil and rocks seemed to be the worst way to die. Ever. Every time he thought about suffocating underneath a thick cushion of earth, his stomach would knot and turn with nervousness. His heart would pound in fear.

He would have much preferred to become a Level 1 Deliverer. The first level of delivering, though as tedious as mining, was not quite as dangerous. Level 1 Deliverers were in charge of shipping the mined minerals to the Purifiers, who had the job of curing the minerals of impurities by means of extremely hot fire and metal tools. In essence, these Deliverers got to ride on a zipline train over hundreds of miles of land and water all day long. It was no fun task either, but it had to be better than mining. Anything was better than mining.

Danny could not have even hoped to be anything above a Level 1 Deliverer. His family's level in society was low, to say the least. The lowest of the low. According to the system, the only occupations people in his level of poverty could qualify for was a Miner or a Level 1 Deliverer. Promotions were only possible if one was assigned to be a Deliverer or a Recorder, and that was only if he did extremely well at his job.

Deliverers were judged based on their speed in delivering materials from one place to another, and Recorders on their writing precision and organization skills. It was always harder for Recorders to stay on track with writing records than it was for Deliverers to go fast, but at least they had hope of improving their living conditions. But there was no hope for Miners. No promotion of living for Danny Reever. He was stuck with his occupation for the rest of his life- however long he lasted.

He was anxious about saying goodbye to his mother and his sisters, his only remaining family members. His father had died in a tunnel collapse when Danny was just eight, leaving him as the only male in the family. Being the oldest, he became almost like a father to his two little sisters, Fidelity and Fallon. Fidelity was eight and Fallon was only five. Now that he was going off to work in the mines, his mother would be left to deal with those bundles of energy by herself for most of the day. And if Danny died, she'd have to raise them completely alone. A single mother of girls was one of the hardest things to be in the Factory's system. After all, why would the Factory continue to supply food and medical rights to a family without even one male?

Danny had just run home from school and arrived at his house, which was small, tattered and white. It had a scale-patterned dark gray rooftop, a front door, and a couple of windows. Danny paused by the front door, hesitant to open it. With a grunt, he pushed open the door and stepped inside his humble house.

He was almost immediately tackled by his two sisters, who were more than happy to see him today. Even they know how dire the situation of Danny's twelfth birthday was. Normally, the boy would shoo them off and have a nice conversation with his mother about his school day. But not today. This time, he got down on his knees and let his sisters hold him tight, embracing him before he had to officially receive his occupation later that night. Danny held the girls tightly, not wanting to let them go.

"Danny." His mother's sad voice broke the emotional silence in the room. Danny looked up, rubbing Fallon on the back.

"Yeah, I know. It's the day." He rose to his feet, quietly dismissing the girls. They hesitantly walked off into the eating room, sending worried glances back at their brother.

Danny's mother was sitting on the simply-made loveseat. She signaled for her son to sit down next to her. The boy trudged over and quietly sat down. "Are you ready for this?" The woman asked.

Danny shook his head. "Not really. After what happened to Dad... I'm scared."

His mother wrapped a comforting arm around his shoulders. "We're all scared, Danny. All four of us," she said softly. "But you've become a strong young man since your father's death. You will face your occupation with courage, I know you will." Danny smiled. His mother had always been there for him every step of the way, encouraging him to step out and do something he thought he couldn't. "Even if you don't feel brave, I can tell you the courage is still there."

"I don't get it," Danny said, playing with one of his dark bangs. "I can't be scared and brave at the same time."

His mother held him closer. "You can. You were terrified when you took over the man's job in this family, but you knew you had to do it to keep us on our feet. That was very brave of you."

Danny nodded. "Yeah, but getting my occupation is different. I could die in those mines, Mom. I won't be able to take care of you guys now, or at least not as much. I'll come home dirty and tired. I'll just want to go to bed. I couldn't do this and that at once."

"Your father did. Remember how he would come home from the mines late at night and have stories to tell all of us?"

Danny smiled and chuckled, remembering his father's stories about non-catastrophic things that happened during his day. They were often quite humorous. "How could I forget?"

Danny's mother laughed as well. "I think you could do the same, no matter how tired or in need of a bath you are. Just briefly, you can try telling us a little story about your day."

"I guess I could," Danny replied. "But still... I'd choose being here with you guys over working in the mines any day."

"Unfortunately, it's not a choice," his mother said. "I'll take care of the girls as best I can during the day. You get your sleep at night; you need it."

"But... I want to be able to talk to Fidelity and Fallon. Not just tell them a story before bed, or be too grumpy to even do that." Danny cupped his face in his hands. "And I can't talk to you, or-"

"We'll be fine," the mother said. "Do this job as if it were taking care of us."

"Mom..." Danny threw his arms around his mother's neck. "I'll miss you so much."

His mother squeezed him even tighter. "I'll miss you too," she said. Danny smiled lightly. The woman shed a tear, proud of her boy. He had grown up much too quickly after the loss of his father. She missed her husband, and Danny was so much like him. He had the same black hair and blue eyes, and the same dedication to his family. She would miss her last attachment to him dearly.

Danny enjoyed his mother's embrace for one more minute before another word was spoken. The woman kissed her son on the cheek and let him go. "Dinner got here an hour ago. We should eat before the ceremony tonight," she said. Food only arrived in the food-making slots three times a day, and in the exact portions each member of the family needed. There were four trays, no more. So if the food got cold, it was cold, and there was no way to get any more.

Danny nodded and stood up, then slowly trudged toward the eating room. His sisters were already in their seats and waiting to be served. Danny sat down in his usual spot and waited with them. This might be the last dinner he ever shared with his little family. He would probably have breakfast at home, but not any other meal.

Once served, Danny tried his best to fully enjoy his meal, but he found it difficult. He was too nervous to really feel hungry at the moment. He did manage to get a few bites of rice and broccoli down, despite his feelings of apprehension. Fidelity just picked at her food, watching Danny carefully. The boy's heart ached for her. He knew she saw him as a father figure and a role model, and not just as an older brother.

The girl's mother saw her oldest daughter's pensive expression. "Fidelity, you need to eat something. Even Danny is eating, and he's the most nervous of us all."

Fidelity looked up at her mother. "Will I see him again?" she asked.

"Not much of me," Danny mumbled. "But you'll see me again." So he hoped. He could be crushed on his first day if he was unfortunate enough. He would end up breaking poor little Fidelity's heart, if he hadn't somewhat already. He would probably break Fallon's, too, but the five-year-old showed no signs of distress while she ate.

Danny sighed and pushed away his tray of half-eaten dinner. "It's almost time. Can I go get ready?" he asked.

His mother nodded. "You're dismissed."

.~`~`~`~`~`~`~.

Danny was very quiet on the zipline train ride to the Occupation Center. It wasn't surprising, considering all the thoughts that were running through his mind. Would he ever get to have the same fun times with his family he'd had before? Would he see his friends from school again?

The mines were vast, stretching for mile after mile underground. Most of the boys in his learning class were younger kids around the ages of six and ten, some early into their eleventh year. Because so many boys were assigned the occupation of Miner, many different Educators taught many smaller classes of children the occupation. The schoolhouses were usually combinations of boys from several different towns. The number of mining classes was as large as the mines they were trained to work in. Because of this, no boy Danny saw today would be familiar to him.

Never before had the boy felt so homesick. And he hadn't even started his occupation yet! Danny rested his cheek in his palm and stared out the window, watching the world literally fly by him. The sun had gone down, but it was not yet time for the sky to turn black. The stars, however, usually began to shine at this time of night. The boy eagerly looked up at the sky.

Danny loved the stars. He had always loved sitting outside on a perfectly clear, cool night solely for the purpose of staring up at those sparkling white beauties. He had always wanted to go to the place where the stars dwelled. There, he imagined he would have complete freedom in a place uncontrolled by the Factory, even if it were only for a few minutes. He would often dream of growing wings and flying up into the sky to touch the stars, totally free of responsibility and the pull of gravity. He had once even dreamed of being a star, looking down upon his rickety little town.

But to Danny's surprise- and worry- he could not see the stars. Instead, the sky was blotted out by a thick puff of heavy black smoke. It made the sky seem darker than it actually was, but the stars... they were gone. Danny pulled his head back from the window, realizing just how much power the Factory had. Its smoke had even blotted out the stars! Would this be the way the sky would look at the entrance to the mines? The boy shuddered at the thought.

Something poked his arm. Danny looked down to see Fidelity staring up at him. "Where are the stars?" she asked, worry weighing down her pale green eyes.

"I... I don't know," Danny whispered.

"I think the smoke choked them out," whispered Fallon.

Danny glanced back out the window. "And I think you're right," he replied. There was again nothing but silence.

Finally, the zipline train slowed to a stop. The door to the traincar slid open. Danny swallowed and stood up. His mother and sisters proceeded out first, followed by a hesitant Danny.

The air was putrid. The heaviness of the smoke had affected more than just the stars; it had an effect on the temperature and cleanliness of the atmosphere. The air was chilled and sour. Just one whiff of that dirty, smoke-smelling air sent Danny into a coughing fit. "How do these people even breathe under these conditions?" he rasped, holding his chest.

"There are healers for more than just injuries," his mother said cryptically. She coughed. "The air is so polluted in the Factory that the Inner Workers have to wear gas masks and special suits to keep from getting severe diseases. Even those far enough away from the Factory can end up getting sick."

Danny coughed again and buried his nose and mouth in his gray shirt. "Let's get inside the Occupation Center before we asphyxiate."

Fallon's and Fidelity's incessant coughing further emphasized this need. Without another word, the family hurried to get inside.

When they entered, Danny saw a stern-looking man, likely a Recorder, sitting in a desk and shuffling through his papers. To his right and to his left were fancy walls decorated with strange artwork. Above him rose an extremely high domed ceiling. Danny coughed one last time and approached the desk.

The man looked up from his papers, stacked them neatly, and set them down on his desk. "Daniel Reever and family, I presume," he said gruffly.

"Uh... yes. I'm Daniel Reever," Danny said, his voice shaky and nervous.

"I'm his mother and these are his sisters," Danny's mother said.

The Recorder sighed and fumbled through his papers again, muttering. "Ah... here's your pass," he grunted, pulling out a paper-thin card. He handed it to Danny. The boy looked down at it. It bore his family's name and the number in his party, as well as how many males and how many females. "Now you just show that to the man inside the auditorium and you're all clear. Don't lose it."

Danny looked up and gave his most confident nod, then turned to his family. "OK... come on," he said, relieved his little conversation with the man was over. Danny took a step forward and froze. "Uh..."

"Auditorium's to your left," the Recorder said, looking back down at his papers. "The big sliding doors. Wood."

"Oh." Danny chuckled nervously and turned on his foot. "Right. I mean left." He heard Fallon giggle.

The Reevers continued on through the broad hallway that led to the auditorium. Fidelity jogged up to her brother's side and kept pace with him. "It's OK," she whispered. "Mom says I'm directionally challenged, too."

Danny patted her on the back. "A lot of people are," he whispered back.

The closer Danny got to the auditorium's doors, the more looming and threatening they seemed. The boy gulped. His stomach was tied into triple knots at that moment. What would happen? Would this "ceremony" be short and sweet, or would it be long-winded and increase the likelihood of fainting? Danny hoped it was the first alternative.

Finally, he found himself face-to-face with the giant wooden doors. Sweat pouring down his face, he pressed the yellow button marked "open". With a mighty creak, the great wooden slabs slid open.

Danny and his family proceeded into the giant auditorium of the Occupation Center. There was already a large number of boys filling the room, their families sitting with them. No doubt they had to be as nervous as he was. Even the future Level 1 Deliverers had to feel some apprehension. Getting the occupation was never a happy time.

Danny progressed forward to find his seat, but was stopped by a man in a white suit. "Your pass," he demanded.

Danny turned as pale as the man's suit, then flashed him the card. The man gave him a nod and allowed him and his family clearance. "The security here... It makes everything so awkward," Danny whispered to his mother as they began to walk forward.

"Mining is over there," the woman said, pointing to the right half of the auditorium. It was the largest group out of all the other occupations in the room.

"And there's our name," added Danny, seeing four seats reserved with the name "Reever" in all caps. They were in between an already seated family and a set of three seats labeled "Ragen". The family carefully made their way through the array of seats until they arrived at their assigned spots. Danny sat down and glanced over at the family to his left, the Berstows. It was just a mother, father, and their 12-year-old son. There were no other kids.

Danny pondered this to himself. It must be hard for parents with only one child, he thought. How sad it would be for them if their kid died in a tunnel collapse. The boy turned his head and observed the other families in Mining. There was weeping heard in some areas of the auditorium, while others kept their grieving silent. Danny leaned his head on his mother's shoulder and shut his eyes, hoping he'd open them again to his bedroom. Still home, still safe, still eleven years old.

It was in this kind of moment that Danny felt reduced to the mere child he was. We aren't old enough to dig away in the mines, he thought. We're all too young! Why do they make us start so young? Why not wait until we're older and stronger? The same questions had no doubt been asked for decades.

The Factory was a strange system. Nobody really knew what its purpose was or why such young boys were employed to run it. Danny's father had once been determined to find out just what that purpose was. He had died before he reached his goal, unfortunately. I wonder... if I could find out for him?

Once everyone had arrived, the ceremony began immediately. "Future workers and their families," a voice boomed over the loudspeakers. "Welcome to the Occupation Center. Your boys are an always-needed resource to keep the Factory running and on its feet. Thank you."

"Like it's our choice," the boy from the Ragen family muttered under his breath. Danny nodded at him in agreement.

"Despite your doubts, working for the Factory is not as terrible as you might think," the announcer continued. "It offers you a chance to learn what you're really capable of, and what we know you're capable of doing. Now, to begin with the occupation ceremony, we shall begin with the Transformers..."

"There's the whole 'chance' thing again," the Ragen boy muttered, crossing his arms.

"Not much of a chance, is there?" Danny whispered back.

The Ragen boy snorted. "None at all," he replied.

After a particularly long-winded speech about the importance of Transformers to the Factory, the announcer called up all the future Transformers. Danny envied the strong, healthy-looking boys and scoffed at the plumper ones, thinking of how silly some higher-class children grew to be sometimes. "Rations" was not a word in their vocabulary. Their meals didn't come on simple three-a-day intervals. They ate whenever and whatever they wanted to, and were therefore much larger in size and strength than any lower-class kid.

Besides the issue of food, high-class children were also far more educated than others. They learned how to do things that Danny couldn't even dream of knowing. Low-class children learned the basics of mathematics and reading, for it was necessary for every task done in every occupation. But those in more privileged classes, for whatever reason, learned more complex versions of those things. It was all very confusing to Danny.

The occupations ran through. Following the Transformers were the Inner Workers, and after them were the Level 3 Deliverers and Recorders. Then came the Burners, Mixers, Purifiers, Level 2 Recorders and Deliverers, and Level 1 Recorders and Deliverers. Finally, the Miners were called up. Danny swallowed the massive lump that had been forming in his throat and rose from his seat.

"Be strong, Danny," his mother whispered, squeezing her son's hand tightly. Danny squeezed her hand back and let go, moving forward behind the Berstow boy.

You can do this, Danny, he told himself, taking deep breaths. Be strong, like Mom said. Danny slipped in line with a great mass of other boys doing the same. It wasn't hard to believe they had similar feelings of apprehension.

The Miners filled up the entire stage and even poured out onto the edges. Danny gulped. Then the announcer began to speak.

"Here are our most important workers in the Factory system! Without Miners, work for all would cease and all life as we know it would collapse into an unorganized heap. They are the pillars of our civilization."

Wow. That makes mining sound very high-and-mighty, Danny thought, looking to the side.

"Mining is also a dirty and dangerous job. We lost many a Miner last year to unfortunate tunnel collapses. However, for every miner lost, at least ten more take his place. This, dear families, is why so many of your boys become Miners."

"Really? I thought it was because we were the most expendable people of our civilization," the Ragen boy muttered under his breath, scowling.

Then a different announcer began to list each Miner alphabetically by last name, from Markus Arol to Carman Williams. Danny had just begun to daydream about the stars again when his name, Daniel Reever, was called. The boy noticed every other boy had proceeded off the stage when his name was called, so Danny followed suit. He sat down next to his mother, shaking.

"You did great," his mother whispered, squeezing his shoulder. Danny leaned toward her and shut his eyes, breathing shakily. He had never stood in front of so many people before, not to mention he was now extremely nervous about his occupation. He was a Miner now, and his entire civilization was counting on him.

Finally, the ceremony was over, and each family made their way back to their designated zipline trains. Danny said not a word, his blue eyes distant and unfocused. He wasn't aware of the traincar's sudden zipping into action as they started back off toward home. He was numb to everything but his thoughts, and all he could think about was what he was going to do that next day.

Surely, he thought, he would find some people he could call his friends, and he hoped he would do his part to support everyone.

.~`~`~`~`~`~`~.

I finally finished the first chapter. ^^ Whewf... I hope you liked this. Please, don't leave without leaving a review. I like to know what you think. :D