It was the morning of the first day of high school. Dennis was in the living room, nervously typing away on the family computer. From the other room, he could hear his mother scolding him while she and his father were getting ready for work.
“You’ll be late for your first day of high school if you don’t get off that computer!” she yelled.
“I know mom! I’ll only be one second. Just trying to put on a few finishing touches” Dennis replied as he frantically finished a summer assignment due that morning. However, it wasn’t his name, but his good friend, Vance Velazquez whose name he typed on the top right-hand corner, before hitting print. The title of the paper was “10 Reasons Why I’m Excited to be at Prokopolis High”. It was a five-page essay, mandatory for students transferring in from Prokopolis Middle. Dennis finished his paper during the first week of summer break, but only recently found out he had to write his friend’s too.
“What did I say about procrastination, Dennis!” his mother yelled, now walked into the living room while struggling to operate the hair curler Dennis’ father had just bought her.
Dennis quickly secured his papers in his bag, making sure his mother didn’t see Vance’s name on the top, and began to walk outside. He suddenly stopped as he remembered to double check the contents of his rather large school bag.
“Calculator, Pencil, Black Pen, Red Pen, Blue Pen, yellow highlighter—” he began to recite to himself as he did every morning before school, until his mother interrupted him with a soft hand on his shoulder.
“I know you’re nervous, Dennis. I was too on my first day of high school, but I promise; you’ll love it. Your new teachers will love you, you’ll make new friends, the girls-- Oh honey, the girls will adore you! I’ll have to fight them all off with a stick!”.
“But what’s wrong with my old friends, mom?” Dennis interrupted with a hint of defiance.
“You had friends?” His father jokingly replied with a smile as he walked into the room adjusting his tie. “Those boys were nothing but trouble, and you know that. I never liked any of them. The orphan boys were a bad influence on you, and don’t get me started on that Velazquez boy! What was it again? Ranch? Vans?”
“Vance, dad! And they’re not all that bad. They’re just misunderstood. That’s all!” Dennis replied, trying not to get too emotional as he usually did when trying to defend his friends to his overbearing father.
“Just be careful around them, you understand?” his father replied firmly, then checked his watch. “and you should probably get going right about now. The bus should be outside any second.”
Dennis checked his watch, gulping as he noticed the time. He quickly began to start zipping up his backpack to make his way towards the door.
“I love you Dennis,” his mother said with a kiss to his forehead. “Me too son,” his father added with an unnecessarily rough pat on the back.
“Thanks guys, but I gotta run! Bye Mom! Bye Dad!” Dennis screamed as he tightened the straps of his bag and darted out the door. His mom and dad stood outside the door with unanswered waves goodbye as they watched as their son ran past the corner to get to the bus stop.
Now, this was not an ordinary neighborhood, nor was Prokopolis an ordinary city. The city of Prokopolis was the central city on the island of Prokopios and its entire population lived in buildings that were elevated about 3 stories above the old surface floor. The sidewalks were all completely fenced off by fifteen-foot high barbed wire fences, keeping people from accidentally plunging into the surface streets. Most buildings were very tall, but no two shared the same height. Through most of the town, if you looked straight up, it appeared as if there were no sky above them, but the idea of a sky didn’t mean much to the Prokopian people ever since the dome went up.
The most unique thing about the island of Prokopios had to be the dome. High above the tallest towers of Prokopolis, and reaching all the way to the farthest corners of the island was an impenetrable, blue, semi-translucent dome that covered the island from the outside world. There were different rumors and opinions on why the dome went up in the first place, but the common knowledge was that long ago, a twisted god-like superhero named Estaphar, who was also the king of Prokopios, trapped them there as a punishment for disagreeing with him, and abandoned them after. Some believed he may have died in the process of setting up the dome, but whatever happened to Estaphar back then didn’t matter to the people of Prokopios anymore. They had long forgotten about Estaphar, and accepted that Prokopios was all they would ever know or need.
The buses and vehicles on Prokopolis were different too. The looked more like futuristic pods and floated over the surface, parallel with the sidewalks, and were connected through long thin power beams (much like a suspended trolley or streetcar). Most of these pods did not require drivers to operate them. They were directed by simple voice commands or directions inputted on a touchscreen. This made traveling much safer, easier, and also helped the city keep close tabs on the movements of its citizens, but no one really knew, or cared. Buses, however, were a form of public transportation, and hence were not controlled by its passengers, but a conductor. The job of the conductor was simple. They were responsible for things like programming the bus stops, making sure all the passengers were behaving, and occasionally, stopping the bus whenever they left a child behind.
Unfortunately for Dennis, today’s bus conductor was too preoccupied with a crossword puzzle to realize the curly haired, fourteen-year-old freshmen, frantically running and screaming down the sidewalk behind them.
He ran with his arms flailing in the air, yelling “Wait! Wait for me!” until he got to the end of the sidewalk and the bus was too far for him to catch up to.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…” Dennis whispered to himself as threw his arms on the chain-link fence and sank his head down in defeat before coming up with an idea. He quickly started pushing buttons on the strange flashy wristwatch he was wearing to call Vance. His parents knew very little about Vance, and never approved of Dennis spending time with him. They certainly would not have approved of him getting a ride from Vance’s mother, but it wouldn’t have been Dennis’ first time.
Vance’s family didn’t share the same political views as Dennis’, specifically their approval and support of the current King, and like with every other political disagreement, this made it difficult for people on opposite sides to be very civil with one another.
The phone rang for a few seconds before a hologram began to appear above Dennis’ watch. He could see Vance sitting reclined in the passenger seat of his mother’s commuter pod, with his feet on the dashboard. He was tossing a baseball up and down with his left hand while nervously tapping on the side of the window with his right.
“Vance, its Dennis. Did you and your mom leave yet?” Dennis asked nervously.
“We’re about too” Vance replied.
Vance had short, spiky dark hair that he would occasionally take a break from tossing his baseball to fix. He was checking to mirror to make sure that his spikes were looking perfect for the first day of school. He was waiting for his mother to finish getting ready for work to take him to school. Dennis’ family also had a commuter pod of their own, but since Dennis’ school wasn’t on their way to work, they preferred he take the bus.
“Listen man, I missed the bus finishing your paper! I can’t be late on the first day of school because of this! My parents will kill me!” Dennis yelled into the phone.
“I don’t appreciate your tone, Dee.” Vance argued back, still reclined in the same position, now with a smile on his face as he loved giving his friends a hard time.
“I won that bet fair and square! If you didn’t want to do my homework, you shouldn’t have challenged me at the park! I’ve told you a hundred times. You’ll never strike me out!”.
“Please, Vance!” Dennis cried, impatient with Vance’s antics.
“If you hurry and get over here, my mom wouldn’t mind taking you to school, but you better get here quick. She’ll be late for work if we wait much longer.”
“Thanks a bunch Vance!”
“No problem-o amigo! But you better hurry!”
“I’ll be there!” Dennis replied as he hung up the call on his watch and began running towards Vance’s apartment.
Dennis had been working on his fancy new watch all summer. He practically built it himself from scratch, minus a few parts that he gutted out from older watches and computers he bought from a used computer store. The watch wasn’t small or fashionable looking. Dennis was always more of a “function over fashion” type. He was the kind of guy who wore the same ugly dark blue jacket to school most days, just because it had the most pockets for all his gadgets and knickknacks. His watch screen was bulky and had a keyboard built in that took up a good chunk of his wrist. It was amazing he could even turn his left hand with it on. He punched in the address for Vance’s house and was immediately discouraged by what he saw.
On the screen, it read that it would take fifteen minutes to get to Vance’s house running through the sidewalks. He remembered what time Vance’s mother usually left for work, and quickly realized that there was no way to get there in time using the sidewalk. He tried thinking of a solution but had nothing. Suddenly, the craziest idea popped into his head. Dennis knew the only way to get to Vance’s house in time was to take a shortcut through the surface.
That summer, Dennis downloaded maps from the old surface streets and would occasionally study them just for fun. It was a strange thing to do, but he was always a curious kid, and that was the kind of thing that curious kids did for fun. According to those maps, Dennis remembered that there was a street that cut right underneath the local grocery stores and public parks and could take him to Vance’s house in a fraction of the time it would have taken him to use the legal sidewalks. If the math he was doing in his head was right, he could get there in five minutes, but he would have to go fast.
This certainly wasn’t something Dennis would usually do on his own, unless Vance or Ricky were coercing him into it. However, the thought of missing the first day of school was far more terrifying to him than any of the consequences that he could’ve faced by going to the surface.
He grabbed the straps on his school bag again and pulled them as tight as he could. Then he looked around for any of the King’s guard, or even random pedestrians that might try to stop him. Amazingly, as if it were planned, at that moment there wasn’t a soul in sight.