When Eri first met Mat, both working through college as servers at his parent’s Japanese restaurant, she’d never imagined giving birth to their first and only child in the restaurant’s backroom in the middle of the worst blizzard in their small town’s history. Granted, their part of California didn’t get much snow. And granted, with her heart condition, she had never expected to have even a single child.
Images and impressions floated through her head. She was pain. She was tearing agony. She was her heart, beating, pounding, breaking, straining, fading.
Clutching his daughter to his chest, Mat begged his wife to hold on and checked the window. The snow had ceased falling, the sun was shining, and the ambulances were finally roaring toward the hospital. Looking down at his daughter, he cracked a smile. “We’re in luck.”
The restaurant was packed the night the lottery was called. Yet Eri stayed in the backroom, watching the numbers appear on the fuzzy little television. Bouncing her daughter on her knee, she tried to keep her breathing steady as each number on her ticket appeared on the screen. She’d bought the ticket on a whim during a diaper run. Everyone had bought a ticket, but she would be the only recipient of what, after taxes, came to about $50 million.
That their daughter might be an Unknown, a mutant child with unimaginable powers, had certainly crossed their minds, but on her eighth birthday, Mat and Eri took their her to a clandestine testing facility that confirmed their suspicions. Although these were the days before the government roundups, persecution of Unknowns was becoming more and more common, especially in marginalized communities, and most experts assumed the situation would escalate.
They told only their parents. Mat’s parents promised they would do anything to protect their granddaughter. Eri’s parents told them to give the child up to the government or else never to contact them again. This blow struck extra hard as they’d named their daughter after Eri’s mother.
The young girl thought long and hard about her name, her grandmother, and her broken family. Then she cheerfully asked whether she might take the name of her absolute favorite book character. Mat and Eri wondered whether letting their daughter rename herself after one of the Babysitter’s Club girls was really a good idea, but Claudia tended to get her way when it really mattered.
School was challenging for Claudia. Due to her luck, she could get a perfect score on a multiple choice test by closing her eyes and randomly bubbling answers. But in order to keep her Unknown status a secret, she’d need to study to actually know the material well enough that she could have gotten the hundred without her powers. To keep up the charade, Claudia sacrificed her sleep and her health, taking the hardest classes and staying up most nights to learn the material.
Her unhealthy habits worsened her depression, but she hoped graduating with honors from Stanford and maintaining her secret would be well worth the sacrifice.
She imagined it would have been, and she would have had a fantastic career had the government roundups not begun a month after her graduation.
With careful planning and, of course, Claudia’s luck, the family fortune had grown. Her parents had funneled the funding into Unknown activist splinter groups and, thus, were among the first to heart rumors about the roundups. They moved to a new house that smelled of the sea, although Claudia would be confined to the basement, lit only by miniature overhead windows. Sometimes her parents took the ten minute walk to the ocean. She didn’t want to begrudge them this small pleasure, but every time they did, she wept.
On the small television, Claudia watched her people rounded up and sent to domed cities. Those in charge promised that this solution was only temporary. The Unknowns needed to be registered and studied. Police needed to be able to know exactly how to contain Unknowns who broke laws. Unknowns were unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unquantifiable. Because Unknowns weren’t technically human, human rights did not apply.
The roundups targeted poor and marginalized Unknowns, those without the finances or power to defend or hide themselves. Those with strange appearances and uncontrollable abilities were the first to be seized. Occasionally, a celebrity’s child would be taken, but those with multi-generational wealth usually had a way of hiding their own.
Without her powers, it’s likely she wouldn’t have been so lucky.
But was this luck? Spending her days in a basement reading books and watching reruns while her people suffered? She needed to use her luck to protect her people. A chilling thought haunted her dreams: what if staying here was lucky because it prevented her from sharing in a horrific fate?
On the morning of the raid, Claudia wore her best dress, knowing unconsciously that she should. When the soldiers burst through the front door, she heard her parents’ screams of terror. The night before, her father had forgotten to lock the basement door, and she had trusted her gut and not corrected him.
Racing up the stairs, she burst through the door and saw her father armed with a shotgun. Her mother glared at her and motioned her back downstairs. Her heart ached, knowing that her parents were prepared to defend her with their lives. She dashed forward, putting herself between her parents and the soldiers.
“Lower your weapon,” a soldier commanded to her father.
Claudia could tell the soldiers were on edge, uncertain of her abilities and what she might do. Finally, a soldier panicked and tried to shoot. Soon, most of the soldiers were trying to shoot, and terror spread through the troop as each realized the weapons were jammed.
“I surrender! I surrender as long as my parents are left here unharmed. I’ll go with you peacefully as long as they aren’t arrested.”
The lead officer, looking shaken, said, “Fine. Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”
After being handcuffed, she left the beach house and blinked at the powerful late summer sun. She struggled to see the nosy neighbors staring from the surrounding lawns. Which one had turned her in? She was then plunged, once again, into darkness, a bag blocking out and muffling the world. In a sense, she was glad for it. She wasn’t ready for the sun or the agony of her parents’ shrieks.
The ride took days or maybe hours. She slept as the van drove her to the nearest dome. Soon enough, she’d learn that these places were called Midnight Cities, named both for the way the domes shut out daylight and as a play off the Doomsday Clock. Most suspected that the Midnight Cities would be obliterated once the roundups were complete.
The soldiers shoved her out of the van and onto the pavement. The bag was ripped off, the handcuffs were removed, and the van took off. Sitting on the ground, she marveled at the vast neon city, built and maintained by her captured people. Nearby Unknowns gathered with sad smiles, ready to welcome her as one of their own.