Obedience on Fire- J.D. Morganne
In Obedience, control belongs to technology.
Quiet, stoic JAXON FLETCHER must suppress his childish desires. While most countries thrive on their manipulation over the elements, Obedience rules with a force far more advanced: technology.
As a soldier, Jaxon’s primary goal should be rising in the ranks, commanding his own battalion, but he longs to experience life like the characters in the forbidden novels he reads. His queen accuses him of committing a sinister crime and exiles him to a country his people believe is riddled with disease and famine. To find safety, Jaxon travels through this strange, tumultuous land, avoiding the monstrous killer beasts that want his blood. But when one of them attacks, a mysterious man saves him, thrusting him into the world of Knowledge, a country full of color and wonder.
Along the way, Jaxon discovers that everything is not what it seems, and no one can be trusted. He must free himself from his obedient lifestyle in order to control his abilities. If he can’t control both him and his powers, the fate of his new home hangs in the balance.
Set in a world where the tech in your brain decides your choices, nature is unrelenting and evil lurks within every powerful leader, Obedience on Fire is a read for fans of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner.
His parents’ home sat on a hill in Moregrad. The roofed gate surrounding the small house wavered like a buffering video. Their celtech needed an update. Jaxon walked around it and spotted his mom climbing out of her pond, toting a bucketful of celecomb glass soil. She was wet to her knees, as she trekked across the yard to her artificial peonies. There was no need to tend to them, since they took care of themselves, but she checked them anyway.
When Jaxon walked up, she was on her hands and knees, gardening gloves snug around her fingers, like the ones she had used to carry him as a child. She packed glass soil beads around bundles of red and yellow faux lilies. Their metal stems shimmered even without sunlight. They sent LED signals through the stem to alert when water was running low.
Jaxon hated those things. He hated the glass, which was scattered across every playground to encourage safety in young children. Even though the likelihood that it would cut them was low, parents couldn’t help children five-years and older in case of a fall. Most fifth years didn’t go to parks anyway. Jaxon surely hadn’t. “Mom?”
She spun. A blue scarf, pinned at her shoulders, covered most of her brown hair. Her eyes softened when she saw Jaxon and she pulled herself up with a grunt. Jaxon stuffed his hands in his pockets, wondered if he’d always feel the urge to reach for her when she stumbled. He couldn’t remember her being a whole foot shorter than him, or her holding herself up like she might tip over.
“Is it my long, lost son? Visiting?”
Jaxon hadn’t visited in years and he knew speaking through rings and holodisplays was a huge difference to his mother. “I’m”—
“A busy man.” His mom nodded at his hand. He’d been a CO2 until recently. His promotion had rewarded him a third stripe, adding to the tattoo that spanned his fingers and thumb. It still stung like hell.
His mom moved her bucket of pebbles out of the path, before leading him up the cobblestone walkway to the front door. “Tea?”
“Please.” She left Jaxon in the entryway. He took off his shoes and set them with the others, next to a pair of his dad’s. His dad wore steel-toed boots as if construction required actual hard labor. Builders sat behind holoscreens, ordering commands while celtech built houses.
Their house had changed from what Jaxon remembered. It felt like home, but the simulated wallpaper had violet chrysanthemums, instead of the pink ones his mom favored. He rounded the entryway and went straight back into the kitchen. His first visit back and he was giving the décor more attention than his mom. He didn’t know how to react. This place had never given him any sense of home. Only his mom had done that and after being away from her so long he didn’t know if his guilt hindered him or if he’d lost the peace he’d felt with her too.
“Are you hungry?” she said and gave him no time to answer. “I’ll make you something.” She went to the sink and removed her gloves. “Water on—soft, warm.” The water trickled from the spout in a clear stream. A bowl and cup were the only dishes, but she started to wash them anyway. Meticulous beyond words. Understanding settled where puerile naivete had once lived in Jaxon’s head. He understood now she had to find ways to busy herself when his dad wasn’t around.
“I’m fine, Mom, thanks. Where’s dad?”
“Working. Should be home soon. Did you know they limited the grocery supply to one per household?”
“You can have whatever you want,” Jaxon reminded her. “My benefits cover you and dad.”
She nodded. “Visit more and we’ll use more of them. Deal?”
“Sure.” He knew grocery limits weren’t the reason for his dad picking up extra shifts. “How’ve you been?”
She cut the water off, grabbed a towel and dried her hands. When she faced him, she had an eyebrow raised, which she accompanied with a hand on her hip. She was getting older. The lines at the corners of her eyes stretched more each year. “You came all this way and you think we’re going to talk about me?” She waved the dish towel at him. “You’re not sleeping.”
“How would you—I am sleeping.”
“Mmhm. How was your week?”
He thought about the Executioner. He thought about Naomi sneaking to his apartment. He thought about Aschenputtel. He thought about the interesting kid who had questioned him. “I rode the train here.”
His mom huffed. “Scaitren’s not safe.” She’d told him that a thousand times.
“You’re two hours away.” Jaxon didn’t understand why she worried. Their mundane lives produced little surprise. Nothing was going to happen.
“It’s all celecomb. What happens if it malfunctions?”
“Seventy percent of this house is celecomb. Anyway, there was a boy on the train.”
Jaxon’s mom chuckled and went on collecting a teapot and cups. “Like you?”
“He was going on and on about Irveng Syndrome.”
His mom frowned. “Yes. It’s sad. Your father’s getting to the age. He’ll have to get tested soon. Scares me. The last time he used his fire, he was a boy. You know that plays a big part.”
She was wrong. The last time his dad manipulated fire was when he’d burned Jaxon’s shoulder teaching him not to backtalk his mom. That was eleven years ago. Jaxon had learned to control his anger well after that. His mom liked to keep it out of her memory. Literally. She’d locked it in a repressed memory folder in her unconscious mind.
“Dad’s not susceptible. I mean… it comes with old age. He’s not even fifty yet.” Jaxon stiffened at the sound of the door. The simulated wood cracked as unseen forces broke it apart from the other side. He sat up straight in his chair. Outside, an automated voice announced the curfew through street speakers. A holoscreen popped up on the kitchen wall and cast a red beam across the room in perfect sync with Jaxon’s dad’s entrance. With Jaxon and his mom, he dropped to his knees.
“This is a public announcement.” It wasn’t the same soldier who had appeared on Jaxon’s screen the night before. “There have been incidents of holospray reported on public buildings. Defacing public property is against the law and punishable by up to two years in extreme rehabilitation. All major retailers will discontinue holospray, effective immediately. Please regard curfew hours. If Crimsons catch anyone without a passing permit outside, they will cite you. Have a beautiful night, Enkindlers. Obedience is peace.”
“Obedience is peace,” Jaxon and his parents chanted back. They waited until the screen vanished. Jaxon’s dad brushed his hands over his knees, walked around Jaxon like he wasn’t there and went to the cabinet.
“I’ll get it.” Jaxon’s mom slapped his arm with her dish towel when he reached for a glass. “You had a long day. Sit. I’ll warm up dinner. We’ll all eat. Like a family.” She smiled and turned to wash her hands.
Jaxon’s dad sat across from him at the table. He sometimes wished he could deny this man was his father, but they had the same face—from the pointed nose to the splattering of freckles along their cheekbones.
“Hey, Dad,” he muttered with caution. “Do you need updated celtech?”
His dad said nothing.
“Your simulators.” Jaxon made a gesture toward the wallpaper and out the window at the fence.
“Give me that tablet.”
Does he mean this fossil from his ancestors? Jaxon grabbed the glass tablet from the shelf in the corner and went to hand it to his dad, but it slipped and slapped against the table.
“Be careful,” his dad grumbled, grasping it and checking every edge for cracks. “Yumi, can you get me some water?”
“You’ll drink tea. Ooh, you could get your dad one of those fancy cornea-tab things, like they use at the palace.”
“You can both have whatever you want. You need to fix the gate, though.”
“You don’t have to worry about a single thing in my household,” his dad said, rubbing at a scratch on his screen. “Don’t need your army money or fancy tech.”
Jaxon had accomplished a lot at a young age. He had done the one thing he thought his dad would be proud of and still, it wasn’t enough. He tried a different angle and asked him how work was.
His dad grunted. “It was work.”
Jaxon nodded, thumping his leg and resisting the urge to run back to his apartment, which didn’t seem so lonely now.
“Jacky, finish telling me about the boy on the train,” his mom said.
“After he told me the stuff about I.S., he asked if I had any belief in our system.”
His dad glanced at him, laying the tablet flat on the table. “What does that mean?”
“He said his father was dying from I.S. and that doctors wouldn’t help and if I believed in a system that allowed people to die.” Jaxon shrugged. “I don’t even know what he was talking about.”
“My dad used to say, ‘We’re all sleeping children,’” his mom said with a chuckle, her attempt at trying to cool the tension.
His dad’s pfft was dismissive and rude, but he didn’t care. “Did you cite him?”
“I bet he was one of those Sungulder punks, huh? It’s people like them who make it hard for us—people like your mom and me—trying to live in this Door.”
“His father’s dying. I didn’t want”—
“It’s not about what you want. Aren’t you a Crimson Officer? Isn’t that what that badge means?” He nodded at Jaxon’s hand. “You’re still living in your childhood dreams, playing these silly games of princes and warriors and people who save the world. You’re a soldier. You’re Obedience’s fist, its authority. Not many people get to live their dreams, but you do. Now save us from people who seek to destroy the system we’ve created.”
Jaxon clenched his fist beneath the table. What did he mean the system they’d created? It was Farah’s system. She had created it. She was the one who made them live like this. “You should have a podcast.”
“You shouldn’t treat your job like a joke.”
For some reason, his words cut deeper now than they had when Jaxon was younger. “He was a kid.”
“He was a threat. His way of thinking is dangerous.”
“I can’t control what he thinks.”
“It’s your job to alleviate issues before they become bigger ones.”
“Why do you keep telling me what my job is? I know what my job is. I wasn’t going to get the kid killed because he was mad.”
Heavy breaths expanded his dad’s chest. “You’re as stupid as you’ve always been. An ignorant child.”
“Adam”— Jaxon’s mom interjected, but his dad put his hand up to quiet her. “I raised you to follow the rules. In nineteen years, you’ve done nothing that resembles obedience. You’re going to talk to me like that? We haven’t seen you since you left and now you come all this way… for – for what? To disappoint me more? To disrespect me in my house? You better look at me when I speak to you.” He pushed back from the table and stood.
Jaxon lifted his head. His dad’s eyes were a black void that reflected his ten-year-old self back on him. A deep-rooted hatred festered in his clenched fists.
“I don’t need to touch you to make you remember your place. That’s my blood in those veins and don’t ever forget it.”
How could he forget it? His dad wouldn’t let him. Jaxon watched his dad’s eyes with the caution of prey. He felt like he’d finally gotten his player to the middle of the game board before a wrong move sent him back to Start. He stood. “It was good seeing you, Mom.”
“Oh, don’t. Please stay,” she said, trying to swipe away her tears before Jaxon could see.
“I’ll call tomorrow.”
“Please stay. Get down, pray with me.”
“I’ll call tomorrow.”
She followed him to the door. “At least let me know you made it home safely.”
He felt her eyes on the back of his head as he took the walkway through the fluctuating gate. He always felt the magnetic urge to hold her hand, vent his frustrations. He couldn’t punch his dad’s teeth down his throat. He couldn’t do any of the things he wanted. And he wasn’t following rules? All he had ever done was follow rules. They were breaking him one agonizing crack at a time.
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