Living the ideal life is a human right, unless you’re unregistered.
Living under the watchful eye of the Metrics Worldwide Government has its perks. Citizens are assigned a life, so they don’t worry about finding schools, jobs, or spouses for themselves. They’re even allowed to have one child, enabling them to focus on raising an ideal son or daughter and experience an optimally satisfying family life.
The only people left out are the unlucky accidental second children, called the unregistered. For 20-year-old Bristol, this is the only life he knows. But he can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong with his world, and spends his nights painting controversial murals in low-profile parts of town.
Metrics doesn’t like the murals, or the frustrations of the unregistered citizens they represent.
They enact their long-debated unregistered solution: publicly, they announce the relocation of all unregistered citizens to far-off desert states. But when Bristol and his friends discover the dark truth behind the plan, they must work together to escape the clutches of their motherland, and survive long enough to discover an unknown world.
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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 prosecuted.
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 todo 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," shesaid. "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 worldworks, 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 bluelightbulbs 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.
"This is a miracle." Samara's father stared at the letter he'd taken from his daughter's hands. "It's ... unbelievable."
They'd expected Samara's career assignment just after her twentieth birthday nearly a month ago. Samara and her parents worried, of course, but expected her to receive the same career as her parents — compost collectors — and comforted each other with phrases like glitch in the system and lost in the mail. Now, it seemed, the Office of Employment had been busy on her behalf.
Samara took the letter back and read it again. No doubt about it. The words were there in black and white:
Dear Ms. Shepherd,
Congratulations! You have been assigned to the career of:
For further details, please report to the Office of Employment on Monday, June 20. The status of your current Tier will be discussed at this time.
Signed, THE OFFICE OF EMPLOYMENT
"My daughter, the teacher!" Mrs. Shepherd beamed at Samara.
"Mom, no one says teacher anymore. They don't really teach, they just ... you know ... hand out tests and stuff."
"It's still a very important assignment," Mr. Shepherd said and put his arm around his wife. She broke away and scurried to the kitchen, mumbling something about dinner.
Mr. Shepherd looked after her. "Your mother is very proud of you."
"Do you know anyone who's moved Tiers?"
He pursed his lips. "No, I don't."
"Could this be fake?"
Samara held the letter to the light and went through a checklist: the familiar blue ink of Metrics, yellowish paper, the seal at the top, the signature at the bottom. She lowered the letter to find her father staring at her.
"You'll find that out on Monday, I guess."
"Well, put it away for a sec." He winked. "Got something to show you."
She didn't have to ask what it was. With sly smiles and quick glances down at their watches, they walked to the hall window as if summoned. Mr. Shepherd put out a delicate hand to draw open one of the sun-rotted curtains, and Samara let out a long, low sound.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" her father whispered.
"What's that she's got in her hand?"
"It's called a cross. Symbol of an old religion."
Samara blinked at him. "Religion?"
Her father scoffed and put a hand on his neck. "It's too hard to explain. I'm not even sure I understand it. I think it was just something to control the masses back in the day before Metrics."
"So what do you think it's saying?"
"Cutting out her chip ..."
"It's only the unregistered who have chips, right?"
He shook his head. "No, they stopped chipping them ... it's been ten years ago now. It wasn't very efficient. Those poor guys don't have much left that Metrics can take from them anyway. They step one toe out of line and then —" He snapped his fingers. "Lights out for them. I see some older ones with the bump under their hand, but I'm not sure if they're still monitored or not. And they still chip some people, like long-term hospital patients and prisoners and weirdos who just won't wear their watches. And I think there are still some of these religious people around. They probably get chipped too." He turned to his daughter with a full-faced grin. "Hey! I know what it means!"
"She just got her employment assignment. She's going to be a surgeon."
Samara jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow and snickered. He laughed a little too loudly.
"What's going on in there?" her mother shouted from the kitchen.
"Dad just told himself a joke!"
"I'll tell you later!" Mr. Shepherd called to his wife. He leaned in and whispered to his daughter, "Thanks a lot. Now I have to think of a joke."
"Ooh, I'll manage. You're talking more like a Three already. Maybe you'll get paired with one now."
"I haven't even decided whether or not I'm going to apply for marriage."
"Well, you don't have to if you don't want to. It's a free country. But it's nice, especially when you finally start to understand each other."
Samara turned back to the window. "Look at the way it moves."
"What?" He looked out the window again.
"Her blood, it looks like its flowing. And the expression on her face, like she's been caught."
At the mention of that word, both watches flashed blue. They backed away from the window as if it had burst into flames.
"Won't catch me in that kitchen, Samara!" Her dad's register had become lower. "Your mother is working hard, and I'll stay out of her way!"
"You will?" Mrs. Shepherd walked out of the kitchen and into the hallway. She rounded the corner, still scrubbing a squash. "That doesn't sound much like — oh." She stopped at the sight of the flashing watches. "Well, it'll all be ready in about half an hour. Don't you two have things to do?"
Samara shrugged. "Homework," she said and disappeared in to her room.
It wasn't a lie. She had enough reading tonight to make her eyes quiver, though no one at school would check if she'd actually done it or not. Still, she worked until dinner and went right back to it afterward, making both her parents beam with pride. That's our girl, Cora. Obviously they're looking more at merit nowadays than birth.
Having learned the danger of getting one's hopes up too high, she put the letter out of her head, rested her left wrist on her desk, and found her schoolwork on her watch. After checking that she had the most up-do-date version of the text — it had been edited at 8:01 that morning — she adjusted her eyes to the soft white light and focused on the words projected before her on the desk. Despite looming promises of bleak futures, Fives worked as hard as the other tiers on their exams. Samara did not know what would happen if she didn't pass, and never thought to wonder. She feared failing, of course, and that was enough. She read until she had to reread sentences twice, three times, and four times to understand them.
It was well past curfew when they heard the sirens. Before her brain had registered the sound, her nervous system took over, forcing her heart to race and her brow to sweat. Like her peers, she had been raised with a healthy fear of the police. She crouched down, and staying low to the ground, followed the sound. It was loudest in the hall.
Her parents were already there, waiting on either side of the window. Her mother held out her arms to draw her into them while her father held a finger to his lips. He glanced out.
"What's happening, Dad?"
"They got him." His face was long and solemn. "They —"
He was cut off by a violent symphony, the sounds of batons beating skin, laughter from many, screams from one.
"Get him in the car!" said a voice from outside, and in a matter of seconds, the air was still again. They looked at their watches. Mr. Shepherd's was the first to talk.
"Incoming message," said a woman in a cool, robotic tone. He touched the face. "The vandal accused of defacing the walls of the number seventeen housing unit in your area has been arrested. Please avert your eyes from the graffiti until it has been cleaned. Thank you."
Excerpted from "Unregistered"
Copyright © 2017 M. Lynch.
Excerpted by permission of City Owl Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
*This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review* In the future, American government has made it so everything is done and figured out for everyone. It is made up of tiers where 1’s are the richest, best, most inspiring people to become, and 5’s are the lowest class where they have crappy jobs, not as much money, and are looked down upon. When kids are at a certain age they are put into a drawing to see what type of job and spouse they will have. The government usually tries to keep the classes together, but as an example, there are some times where a 3 and 4 will be put together. Families are also only meant to have one child, however if a family does have a second child, then the second child is called an “unregistered”, where they are lower than 5’s and they aren’t real citizens (or people) in the government’s eyes. This story is told in multiple perspectives: Bristol, who is an unregistered, loves to go out and paint controversial murals on walls, Denver, Bristol’s older sister who soon to be married and going to get a job, Samara, who is twenty and very smart is working as a teacher in a young boys prison, and Jude, a ten year old boy who is wrongfully convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Everyone is on their own special path in life and they all see and hear things that start to make them question if the way the system works is truly the best way for everyone. I absolutely loved this book. I loved all the characters, and I loved how they all had such different voices. The more you learn about how this system works, the more shocking everything becomes and I was heartbroken by some of the stories that the boys in the prison had. It’s such a corrupt, evil, system that want’s “perfect people” and will try to do literally anything they have to, to make a “perfect world.” ***Review has been done in conjunction with Nerd Girl Official. For more information regarding our reviews please visit our Fansite: www.facebook.com/NerdGirl.ng***
Wish it was longer. Cant wait for the next
Imagine a world in which there is a rigidly controlled caste system, where one must apply for marriage which may be approved to into a lower or higher caste depending upon your social indiscretions, your intelligence or simply where the government needs workers. Imagine that art is non-existent, that one can be imprisoned simply for being ‘different’, that racial differences are ironed out by controlled manipulating marriages and strictly controlling births. Imagine that no one is allowed to see, read, or know anything the government does not approve; that is, anything that is not part of their prescribed program for ‘your’ wellbeing. Now, imagine Bristol…a non-entity in this ‘perfect’ world. Bristol is a person without an identity; an “unregistered”, meaning that his birth was illegal so he must live completely outside the prescribed social order. However, Bristol has a talent for art and his graphiti art inspires secret admirers. Now, enters Jude…a boy framed by the police for Bristol’s artwork and sent to prison. He is a boy who never loses faith despite the abuse. A boy the prison warden plans to kill to effect population control in the prison. Then, then is Samara, Jude’s prison teacher who sees his abuse and the fallacies of her boss, the warden. Samara, inspired by Bristol’s art begins to question society and her place within it. Denver, Bristol’s sister, never considers disobedience and is fearful Bristol will be caught and executed. She is assigned to a loveless marriage; a marriage with a fateful twist. This handful of characters come together in an unexpected way that rocks their world, shows them there is more than they’ve been told and gives them hope for the future. The Unregistered is much more than I hoped for when I began reading it. I found myself engrossed and really empathetic to the characters. This is a fascinating read with potentially serious social implications and a couple of major twists that keeps readers guessing. It should be enjoyed by those who enjoy dystopia and anyone who is into reading about strange overbearing social systems.