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A five-year-old boy desperate for food unknowingly makes a terrible mistake

Sammy walked along the road. He was kicking a rock. It helped him forget about being hungry, but if this worked, he’d have food. Once, he had tried to eat the grass. Jack told him that the grass had been green before the great and just rebellion. Sammy didn’t believe him. The grass had always been blue.

He squinted. The outline of the Justice Outpost could barely be seen against the mountains. He walked on.

An hour later, he came upon the outpost. Sleek metal and glass—it looked a bit strange, a remnant of kinder times, times that, according to Jack, were filled with wondrous machines that flew in the sky or let you talk to someone across the world, which, back then, everyone believed was round.

He opened the door. Inside, the room was painted blue and yellow, and plush chairs lined one wall. Sammy shuffled over the fluffy green carpet up to the reception desk where a young woman sat painting her nails. When she saw Sammy, she smiled. Her teeth were beautiful, straight and white.

“Excu’ me, ma’am, but at the Edu-House they told me that you give sweeties here,” Sammy half-whispered, hoping for a yes, or a nod, or another smile.

The receptionist smiled kindly. “Well, honey, you just have to fill out this form,” she said with a voice slipping into Sammy’s ears, a voice that snared him with the phrase “Trust me.”

“Sure! Thank you. Thanks.”

The receptionist pulled a sheet of paper from the shelf, along with a stubby pencil, its eraser worn away. She handed both to Sammy with an encouraging nod. Sammy read poorly. His teacher told him that for a five-year-old, he read pretty well, and when he grew up, had a chance at a job in the big city. But the form had so many words he just didn’t understand. He wrote his name where it was asked for, then proceeded to the next section: a checklist asking him to fill out who he was turning in.

“What’s ‘turning in’?” he asked the receptionist, but she just waved him away.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter.”

He checked “parents” because that was the only thing he understood on the checklist part.

The last part was a list of crimes to circle. Murder. That was bad. Espionage. He knew it was wrong. He came to treason. What that meant, he didn’t know, but it didn’t sound bad. He circled it.

When he gave the form to the receptionist, she told him something strange: “Thank you for helping the good, just, and heavenly rebellion by rooting out dangerous traitors,” before giving him his reward: a sugar-smacker. Sammy was a bit disappointed with its small size. But he had to thank the receptionist anyway. When he was doing that, Sammy noticed that some of the screws in the receptionist’s neck were rusted.

He walked out of the outpost, smelling the sugar-smacker, passing it from hand to pocket and back again. He could almost taste the cold sweetness but resisted the urge to rip apart its wax-paper wrapping. I’ll show it to my friends first, Sammy decided. Then I’ll tell my mom how great this day was. He could just imagine the expressions on his parents’ faces and how proud they would be of him. He loved his parents. They were the ones who took care of him and helped him with his schoolwork. His dad always cracked the best jokes.

Sammy wanted to hurry home now, but he couldn’t. There was once a time—he could just dimly remember—when he could. He remembered a strangely dressed woman telling him that he had the Hungers. She said something about poisoning, radiation, and about a necessary evil. Worried, Sammy looked up at the clouds. Green. That wasn’t so bad. If it rained, the rain would only burn him slightly.