“Order! Order, Honorable Educators!” The lights and devices flashed again, as the power was cut and restored in rapid successions to bring the room back into a productive discussion mode. The screaming and arguing had gone on for at least two minutes now — unacceptable, life-light dimming behavior.
“The school haven’t had a perfect child in over two decades,” Educator 1 said. “This is our chance to regain our standing in the World School Rankings.”
“Be careful, Educator 1, envy is punishable by bedimming,” said Administrator. This was the second reminder during this session alone. Some teachers were sure to have their life-lights bedimmed before this incident was over.
“Twenty three years!” said Educator 2. “I wasn’t even a teacher at the school back then.”
“It’s unfortunate that the latest generations are not as bright as they were during our own time,” said Administrator, gently rubbing her own life-light still at nearly 75% after all these years. “But the question stands — do we accept Addam’s account of the incident and allow the dimming of his life-light? Or do we reject it as a bias story, told to save a friend from becoming a darkling?”
“I understand Addam’s desire to save his friend,” said Educator 3. “But as his teachers, isn’t it our job…no, our duty to save him from making such a life-altering decision? If he is permitted to testify his version of the incident, then Addam would be deemed average.”
“He is too young to make such a serious decision,” said Educator 1.
“And his mother is a drone parent — she has him followed every single moment of the day. She would know that the school screwed up–”
“The school did not screw up, Educator 2,” Administrator said. “Please leave the school’s role out of this. This is between Addam and Lavithan. Leave it at that.”
“Of course, Administrator. I humbly apologize.”
“Not to mention Addam’s parents are big donors to the school. Their ire over our handling of this incident would create a devastating short fall in our budget,” Administrator said. “So why don’t we review the drone video again so we could all truly understand what really happened this morning.”
The lights dimmed and Addam’s mother’s hi-def drone footage of the playground incident played on the walls and ceiling of the school’s circular conference room.
The ball rolled right to the girl’s feet.
“She is too old to be sitting in a young kids’ swing,” said Educator 3.
The girl kicked the ball back into the game.
“Thank you!” Addam called out to her.
She waved lethargically and continued to not swing.
“She’s occupying a highly-desired spot without utilizing it. Where was the playground assistant?”
“Already bedimmed,” Administrator said and motioned for silence again.
“Hey! Do you want to come and play? We can use another on our team,” Addam said to the big girl.
“No thanks,” she said.
“What are you doing?” He came over closer and tried to catch her eye — she was staring at her feet like something important was written on them. Addam checked, just case something was really there. Nope — just dirty sneakers. He looked down at his own — they were sparking white. His mother wouldn’t let him leave the house slovenly — that was a cause bedimming, if noticed by some teacher or admin. “Do you want a wet wipe?” he asked pointing to her feet. Perhaps her feet got dirty after she left the house and now she was hiding here, trying to find a way to get clean.
The girl laughed, but it was a sad kind of laughing. Addam knew all about fake-laughing — students did that a lot around the school. But this was different. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“It’s nothing. Nothing. Go back to playing with your friends. I don’t want you to get in trouble,” she said.
“Oh, she is a seducer, all right.”
Addam sat on the swing next to the sad girl, waving to his friends to go one playing without him. “What’s your name?”
“Lavithan,” she said.
“I know,” she said, still smiling that sad smile. “Your life-light,” she said when Addam looked confused.
“It’s nothing,” he tried to hide his life-light under his shirt color, but it was so bright, it shown right through the material as if it wasn’t even there. Addam looked embarrassed. “I’m sure yours is well known too,” he said.
Lavithan laughed out loud…or perhaps she cried. Addam saw tears and didn’t know what to do. He was just trying to be supportive, to be a good friend. And he was failing! Addam never failed at anything. It was a very uncomfortable feeling.
Lavithan pulled out her life-light. It was barely lit at all! Addam gasped.
“Just one bedimming away,” she said proudly.
“Yep. I never saw one this dim either,” she said.
Addam saw life-lights that weren’t that bright anymore. A lifetime of living usually resulted in some bedimmings. Even among the students in their school, he knew that his perfect baby-bright life-light was something extraordinary. But to get so much light taken away…that was the most extraordinary life-light he had ever seen in his entire ten years of life. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing ever. “But why? I mean, what did you do? Kill someone?” he asked.
“You don’t have to do something that drastic,” she said. “A lot of little bedimmings add up to one great one over time.”
“This is cumulative?”
“How many? I mean how many bedimmings does it take to get it this dim?”
“A lot. I don’t know. Maybe two hundred. I stopped counting,” she said defiantly, but she looked like she knew the exact number.
Addam throat felt dry, and his palms were wet. “Aren’t you scared?” he asked. He felt afraid just sitting next to her. He looked around. There were no adults near by, but his mother’s drone was hovering just a few feet away, as always. It would record the whole interaction, and Mom would use it to protect him from harm. Addam felt a bit better — it’s good to have protective parents.
“Don’t your parents care?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said. “But I explained to them why I was doing it. I wanted to learn. To learn for real, because I wanted to, not because some bureaucrat made the decision for me.”
“And they were okay with that?”
She glanced at Addam’s drone. “They were. The first time I failed, I failed on purpose. I told them that. They thought it was original thinking.”
“You failed on purpose?!” No one wanted to fail. The whole point of life was to succeed. To fail on purpose…and with parents’ approval…
“She is the one? Oh my god!”
“Haven’t you been paying attention, Educator 2?”
“Sorry, Administrator, but she wasn’t in any of my classes. I’ve heard of Lavithan, of course, but I didn’t know that this Lavithan was the Lavithan.”
“Now you do. Are we ready to continue the viewing?”
“Sorry, Administrator. Please go on,” said Educator 2.
“I thought that if I failed the test,” Lavithan said, “I would be given time to learn more about the subject. I loved biology and they were going to rotate me out of it. I aced every test and every assignment up to then. But that didn’t result in my being assigned biology as a life purpose. So I failed the final test.”
“So they bedimmed you for wanting to study biology?” Addam asked. He never considered failing anything to get what he wanted. It usually worked the other way around…
“Essentially,” she said.
“Stop right there,” said Administrator. “I think this is the turning point. Watch closely what happens next.”
“You mean she got him with that ‘I love biology’ crap?”
“Watch you language, Educator 1. These are extreme circumstances and so I will not bedim you right on the spot for saying filth on school grounds. But you’ve been warned.”
“Forgive me, Administrator. I’m very distressed about this whole situation–”
“As we all are. Now, pay attention. Lavithan is using her gift as persuasive orator to reel in a young and impressionable mind.”
“I remember now — she was assigned to the political education track.”
“She had a gift, apparently,” said Administrator. “Now watch.” The room dimmed once again and the walls and ceiling transformed into the school’s playground. Addam and Lavithan were swinging gently, in total rhythm with each other.
“So what are you going to do now?” Addam asked. He looked at Lavithan’s life-light again, hanging on a small silver chain around her neck. It hardly glowed at all.
“I’m getting myself psyched for the last bedimming,” she said. There was a nervous note in her voice, but there was also strength of conviction that Addam never heard before. The weaving of the two was magnetic, completely capturing him in a way he found irresistible.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“I haven’t decided yet.”
They swung in silence for a while.
“What happens to dark children?” Addam asked. “They don’t kill them, do they?”
“Murdering kids is a horrible crime. They wouldn’t do that,” she said. But then added in small voice, “I think.”
“Did you try and research it?”
She shook her head. “There is nothing out there.”
“Perhaps they don’t exist?”
“I’ve read about children that didn’t develop properly. I think their life-lights were turned off when they didn’t reach expected development goals,” she said.
“Walking, talking, reading. Failing too many tests or not paying attention well enough.”
“There are kids that never learn how to talk?”
“Or they learn to talk late and are deemed defective,” Lavithan said.
“I didn’t know about that.” Addam moved his arms and legs to pump the swing and thought. He never considered that some kids might be different. Sure, not everyone got perfect scores on everything, that’s why there were different educational tracks. Some kids were naturally better at science and math, others were good at writing. “What track were you in?” he asked.
“I think I was in politics until I started failing on purpose.”
“They pulled you into a different track? Did you try to explain to them that you wanted to study biology?”
“Of course I did! But they said that there were too many biologists in my cohort already. I wasn’t as good as the ones they picked, apparently. I was also told that I had an aptitude for politics. It was my civic duty to study what our society decides it needs of each generation.”
“But that’s how it is supposed to be,” Addam said. “If everyone chose as they pleased, we might not have enough doctors or architects or bankers. The society spends a lot of money to educate us, it is our responsibility to give back. If everyone just made their own decisions–”
“What would happen then, Addam? Why is that so wrong of me to want to be a biologist? Perhaps I could have helped some of those kids that weren’t developing properly. Perhaps they didn’t need to turn into dark children.” Lavithan spoke with passion and conviction that Addam never heard before. No one ever even proposed not doing something that society expected of them. No one ever failed on purpose.
“Isn’t that indulgent?” he asked. He remembered overhearing Mom and Dad talking once. They were arguing about social duty and Dad brought up the words “self-indulgent life style.” Addam thought he mean being lazy. He never wanted to be lazy. But Lavithan wanted to study biology. That wasn’t lazy, was it?
“I wouldn’t be rich, if I helped dark children, if that’s what you mean,” she said.
“But we are supposed to add to our economy,” Addam tried to argue, but it sounded lame. How could helping kids become productive citizens be bad? He pumped harder, swinging way up. From the top of the arc, he could see beyond the school grounds. The cityscape was sparkling and bright. Everything was well-designed. Everyone was busy making the world a better place. And that’s what Addam wanted to do, too. He wanted to belong to that wonderful world his teachers described. He wanted to fit just right, just as his society wanted him to.
“You better run along and play with your friends before some teacher spots you with me,” Lavithan said when Addam finally stopped and planted his feet on the ground. The sweat on his forehead glistened brightly by the strong light of his life-light.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“I think I will just take my life-light off and break it. It’s not like it would make much difference afterwards — it would go dark with my next bedimming.”
Addam was horrified. No one ever took their life-light off. People were born, got their life-light, and died with its soft glow still around their necks. Thousands of years from now, their remains would still show their dedication to the society by the brightness of their life-light. His fingers curled around his own life-light. He loved how beautifully perfect it was. It was a point of pride, proof of his hard work and dedication. He looked at Lavithan’s — scarcely a shimmer around her neck.
“I think I’m ready,” she said.
“Now. You don’t have to watch.”
But Addam felt compelled to. He couldn’t look away.
Lavithan grabbed her life-light necklace with both hands and pulled as hard as she could. A thin line of bright red blood appeared as a ring around her small neck. She pulled harder, tears dripping down her face, but the necklace wouldn’t break.
“Help me,” she said.
But Addam could only shake no. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. It was wrong.
“She made him do it!” said Educator 1. “He clearly doesn’t want to. The proof is right there.”
Lavithan’s neck was covered in blood, her hands were covered in blood, her school uniform was soaked in it.
She fell from the swing. Addam jumped to catch her, getting her blood all over himself.
“It’s going to be okay,” he said over and over.
Lavithan was breathing hard, fresh blood fountaining with each heart beat. “I want to meet dark children,” she gasped.
“I know. I’ll help you.”
“If I die. Help them. Promise you will help them,” she said.
“What did she say?”
“Something about dark children. Can we boost the gain on audio?”
“I don’t know how,” Addam said. He could taste her blood. How did it get into his mouth?
“Find their parents. Talk to them. They want their children back too.”
“Don’t talk. You are losing too much blood. Let me help you. I’ll call the playground assistant.” He looked around wildly. It was class time now, everyone had left the playground. Lateness was a guaranteed bedimming, Addam thought in horror. He felt sick to his stomach. Panic was spreading.
He tried to unwrap Lavithan’s fingers from the life-light. But she held on with a death grip…and pulled. The thin silver chain was pushing through her skin and into her flesh. And Lavithan continued to pull. She would either die by cutting her own throat or break the chain. Addam started to help her rip that stupid thing off — better that than to watch her die.
“He is helping her!”
“He is just trying to save her life. See? He is keeping the life-light from dissecting her throat.”
“That’s one interpretation. The punishment for removing another person’s life-light is full darkness. A light for a light.”
“Not very equivalent in this case.”
“I’m not asking for your opinion of sentencing, Educator 1,” said Administrator.
“The school would still need to punish him for missing a class.”
“Even to save a fellow student’s life?”
“He didn’t start to help until way after the classes started–”
“Whose side are you on anyway, Educator 2? It’s our school’s reputation we are talking about.”
“Duly noted. Now watch!” Sometimes it was better to keep Educators from making important political decisions. But there would be hearings… Administrator hoped the severe gazes she just dolled out to them all would help keep facts straight in the minds of her Educators. And there were always bedimmings for insubordination and failure to provide a safe learning environment.
“We’ll just say the necklace got tangled up in your hair.” Addam cried and pulled. “Bad things happen to good people sometimes. Bad things happen. But we go past them and persevere.” He just had a lecture on perseverance in his Life and Society class. It all made sense then. Nothing made sense now. “You can live a full life even if you just one bedimming away from darkness. It’s possible. It’s possible to live a perfect life. Look at me. I never had a bedimming. Not ever. It’s not hard. It’s easy. Just follow the rules. Make our world a better place and the world will take care of you. And I’m sure there are ways of getting belighted? Belighted? Is that a word? What if I shared my life-light with you? I have plenty. You can have some of mine. I can live a perfect life from now on even if you took half. I don’t need all of it.”
The blood stopped pulsing under Addam’s fingers. And the chain just popped off.
“There? See? It’s off! Just like you wanted. It got tangled in your hair and now we fixed it. See? It will be perfect now. Lavithan? Lavithan? Can you hear me? It will be fine now. I promise. I’ll make it all all right. Lavithan?”
Lavithan hung limp in Addam’s bloody hands. There was still no one on the playground. No one rushing to help.
“Lavithan? I’ll help you find those dark children. Just don’t die. Okay? Don’t die!”
“Right there! Did you see it?” said Educator 2. “Her life-light was still lit. She died a person–”
“We are gathered here to make that determination,” Administrator cut him off. “Opinions?”
Judge replayed the video for the jury several times. There were highly damaged parts where the drone hit the playground structure and fell to the ground, recording just the sky and no audio. Other portions of the video were missing sound.
“I kept trying to tell my husband that we needed to take the drone for a tune up,” the mother said.
It was an old drone model, cheap and highly unreliable. It was a surprise that the playground assistant allowed it to fly over his yard and students. He was bedimmed as punishment for the offense of endangering the lives of school children under his care.
The child, Addam, was not allowed to testify due to the emotional trauma brought on by witnessing a death of another student. He was in the hospital, under constant supervision. When he was well-enough to return to school, his heroism would be rewarded. His 100% life-light was already written about in school reputation-management gazettes around the world.
“Jury, please read your verdict.” The gavel hit the desk three times.
“The child, Lavithan, was judged a darkling before her death. As a darkling, all records of her existence will be expunged from public and private accounts. So is our verdict, under the life-light, as weighed upon us by our society and our civic duty,” Jury pronounced.
“From this day forward, Lavithan is deemed a darkling child. Erase all records of this trial,” said Judge.