Today I’m sharing the first chapter of Unregistered. You can get the print version as early as September 12!
The two characters in this scene, Bristol and Denver, are the first two that sprang to mind when I was thinking of writing this story. They’re brother and sister, and though they grew up in the same house, their stations in life make them see the world very differently. Their relationship was inspired by my own brothers. When we were the ages of Bristol and Denver, they drove me crazy, and yet I’d have gladly stepped in front of a train for both of them.
If you enjoy it, links to order the whole book are below. Thanks!
Amazon Print: http://smarturl.it/Unregamzprt
Bristol Ray did not exist.
At least, not according to official records. The back of his left wrist, where his assigned watch would have lived if his birth had been important, was bare. There was a lump under the skin of his right hand where a tracking chip had been inserted, but he was pretty sure that was there just to scare people like him. He wasn’t being tracked. His left hand was ringless, and the skin around his fourth finger was consistent in color and texture to the others. His teeth were hopelessly crooked, his brow prematurely creased, and though the lessons from his mere five years of formal school had faded, his mind was bright with life.
He stood in a shadow, clutching his homemade paper stencil to his chest, and surveyed his work on the brick wall before him. He’d painted a figure that could have been a nun. A slouching, ancient woman dressed in long robes, slicing her chipped hand open with a cross she held in the other. Getting the blood to drip from that hand hadn’t been easy. For weeks he had sketched as he watched water drip from faucets to catch a glimpse of that line, that light, and once he’d seen it, his incinerator ate the drafts and roared with rejection. If his incinerator were here and had the ability to destroy whole walls, even this nun may have met her doom.
Eventually, though, the nun and her blood had to go out into the world, fully ready or not. He stepped back from it, still safely out of range of the disabled street camera. One could never be too careful.
One last glance over his shoulder was all he allowed himself. She could be there for another week, or she could be gone in a few hours when the morning sun revealed her to the commuters and schoolchildren and stunned police. He packed his stencils and paints in his backpack, kissed the air in her direction, and started home.
Bristol zigged and zagged along the dark streets in the way he always did to avoid the detection of the street cameras. He wore a glove on his left hand with an ice pack slipped inside to cool his chip, just in case. Now that it was no longer activated by his body heat, he was free from all surveillance. The only thing an unregistered person had to lose by breaking curfew was his or her life, which could happily be taken from anybody stupid enough to be caught.
A notice fluttering on a telephone pole read:
Any persons not assigned to the artist vocation are prohibited
from painting, sculpting, drawing, or working with any other
mediums in the attempt to imitate Art. Violators will be
He hesitated a beat, snatched the notice, and added it to his bag.
His sister Denver was waiting for him at the window when he reached the house. With one of the shoddily soldered bars missing, he easily squeezed through into the bedroom they still shared. He returned her smile and handed her the notice.
“A violator you are,” she said.
“And intend to stay.”
“We’ll have to get rid of that,” she said, but he’d already taken the scissors to cut it into ribbons. She sat on her bed and yawned. “How did the blood go?”
“Not bad. It was better on the last outline, but it’s done now, and I can’t think about it anymore.”
Denver nodded at the shreds of paper. “Better incinerate those before Mom gets up.”
“She’ll kill me if I don’t. You’re lucky.”
“What, that I’m getting married?”
Bristol nodded. “And moving out.”
Denver laid down and pulled the blanket to her chin. “It’s not like I have a choice. And Mom’s fine to live with, you know, as long as you don’t have any sneaky habits.”
“I promised to keep Mom out of it.”
“Good. She’s made a lot of sacrifices for you.”
“I know.” Bristol kicked softly at his backpack on the floor. He wasn’t sure if Denver was trying to make him feel guilty or not, but if that was her purpose, it did the trick. “Did you get your letter today?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I really want to know.”
Denver sighed and shifted. “Not yet, but that’s okay. I’m sure they’re going to pair me with a Four.”
“A Three with a Four? You’re studying to be an architect. You’re saying you could end up with, what, a nurse or data-bot technician or something?”
“I’m sure Metrics will match us in other ways, personality and all that. I know they don’t like to mismatch Tiers, but they’ll do it in situations like mine.”
“What situation?” Bristol asked, but realized the answer as the words came out. “Oh.”
“Don’t say oh like that.”
“Sorry.” He unzipped the backpack with a little more force then necessary, took out his stencil, and ripped small pieces from it. The pile containing the bits of the notice grew larger.
“It’s just that sometimes I forget that my life is always wrecking someone else’s.”
“My life is not wrecked. I can still be an architect—I’ll just have to live in Four housing and stuff. My kid can still be a Three if they do well enough on their four-year-old exams.”
“Yeah.” Bristol mindlessly ripped away at the stencil. “It’s weird your kid won’t have a brother or sister.”
“I know. I was thinking about that tonight.” She propped herself up on her bony elbows.
“Do you realize that at the end of our lives, we’ll have known each other the longest out of anyone?”
Bristol sat silent for a moment. “What about Mom? You technically knew her a year before you met me.”
“But Mom will die when she’s seventy-five. Then I’ll have spent fifty years knowing her. But then when I die, I’ll have known you for seventy-four years! You don’t know anyone that long unless it’s a sibling.”
“Lucky us.” Bristol gathered the damning notice and piles of confetti that had been his stencils, walked out of their room, and tossed them into the incinerator. He stopped a moment to watch the flames snatch and lick their prey, reducing weeks of work to shapeless ashes that could have been anything else—a recipe card, an ad, a pamphlet on new and exciting ways to save energy. They all became the same once the fire was done with them. When he came back into the room, Denver was already dressed.
“Almost time to get up anyway,” she said. “Bristol, does that scare you?”
“No.” Yes. “Everybody has to do it.”
“You don’t have to worry. I’ll take care of you.”
Most people, both registered and unregistered, avoided this topic. At the same time, these kinds of thoughts were intriguing—direct thoughts about privilege shared across the divide. Even from Denver, it felt simultaneously coarse and comforting, though they’d never talked in length about their differences in Tier. He didn’t like to think about it, and he certainly didn’t want to talk about it. Why would she bring it up now?
She’s getting married soon.
“You can live with me,” she said. “I’ll—”
“And what about this new husband of yours? What is he going to think of marrying someone who has a brother? I mean, what are the chances he’s even met an unregistered? Not good. What’s he going to think of you just taking care of me?” A hotness laced his mouth. “I’ll tell you what will probably happen when Mom dies. You and me, we’ll look at each other and remember seeing the other one in a smaller size, but we won’t really know each other as we are. And you’ll care more about your new family than me.”
They caught each other’s eyes. Denver walked over to the mirror and began brushing and pinning her hair. For several minutes, neither spoke.
Bristol rubbed his sore eyes. “It won’t be your fault. It’s no one’s fault. That’s just how the world works, Den.”
The sun had begun to soak the curtains, so Bristol stood and opened them to let more of it in. With a click, he turned their blue-tinted overhead bulb off and let his eyes adjust to the color of natural light.
“Thank you,” Denver said, her fingers still braiding.
“Do you think Fours have blue lightbulbs too?”
“Everyone does. These units were built right after the uprising, so they’re designed to only allow the color blue for lighting.”
“It was right after the uprising,” she repeated. When Bristol made no indication of understanding, she glanced at the holowatch on her wrist. It was silent, so she stood, pushed in her desk chair, and continued quietly. “People were unhappy. Blue lights make it harder to see your veins.”
Bristol nodded. Metrics underestimated how much some people needed an escape and would just invent new ways of getting drugs into their bloodstreams.
Denver sat next to him on his bed. “Listen, while we’re on Metrics—”
“I know. I have to stop.”
“You have to. You’ve been lucky, but it can’t last forever. I don’t know what Mom would do if—”
“I know, Den.”
“You wouldn’t have to stop drawing. I’ll still bring you paper when I’m married. You can still make things here.”
“You know how careful I am.” He closed his eyes. For as unlikely as her offer to let him live with her had been, he could see it had been honest. Be nicer. “But I see your point. I’ll stop someday.”
Denver stood and lingered by the doorframe. “It’s got to be soon. I’ll see you after work.”
She walked away, and an idea for a painting flashed just behind the space between Bristol’s eyebrows. Though his body begged for sleep, his hands, suddenly animated by some unconscious energy, fumbled under the bed for a sketchpad and pencil. He crouched over the paper, hoarding the white space and the possibilities it offered, clutched tight the idea in his mind, and began drawing.