There's stories about a time, long ago, that you could look up in the sky and see lights out there. Not like what we've got today - not neon, not moving - just... lights.
Dots of white light on a pitch black sky. It's hard to imagine, really, even though somehow it feels like it shouldn't be.
But the only white lights I know of are the ones that shine in Uptown, and the sky hasn't been black for... I... I don't know how long.
It was Old Man Mckree who was telling me about the lights in the sky.
I thought he was just spouting off another one of his fairy tales, but he pulled out this old - and I mean, old - tablet and showed me these pictures.
He said he remembered when he was little, his grandfather taking him on a camping trip by a lake somewhere, and them looking at the sky when it was pitch black and had these little dots in it.
Stars, he called them. I laughed at him. Stars were something we learned about in school, but they didn't really exist anymore.
They were like dinosaurs - relics of the past, something that didn't exist anymore. He got really mad at that.
Still, something about it made me clamber onto the roof of the building tonight. I live in the Sheet Stacks, on the outskirts of town.
It's never quiet here, but that's okay - it's kind of exciting. What's a bit more bothersome is that it's never dark.
Even at night, when you can see some of the lights in Uptown's big towers flicker off,
there's just so much light from everything else - the sky ads and the streetlights and just the light off the city - that it's never dark.
You'd think that makes it safe, but it doesn't.
"Mari," Tina poked her head out of the window two balconies below out of my bedroom and looked up - she knew where to find me. "Dad says dinner's ready. C'mon."
She sounded bored, her new normal, I guess. It felt like just two years ago she'd still be this super-excitable kid, racing around everywhere.
I mean, I didn't really like how loud she'd been, but this felt... almost worse. I hoped she grew out of it and wondered, not for the first time, if I'd been like that, too, five years ago.
"Comin'," I replied, shuffling over on my perch on the side of the roof until I got to the fire escape and shimmied down it, back through our balcony window.
I didn't even need to get inside to smell Dad's curry - righteously spicy stuff, that. I started drooling. "Man, I hope we have some milk."
"Mom's on her way home with some," Tina drawled, looking me up and down with a half-lidded expression, unreadable. She looked some combination of bored and unimpressed.
"What?" I asked, defensively.
"Nothin'," she said, turning around and walking ahead of me towards the kitchen. "Yer jacket looks cool."
"Oh, uh, thanks." I tried not to sound confused, but I was. It was the same jacket I'd worn for the last three months - was... did she mean a compliment by it? Was it...
some sort of social media challenge to compliment family members? Ah well, no use trying to understand Tina - she'd been all over the place this year, trying to 'find herself'.
I didn't get it, but then again, I was the kind of person to feel like I've been the same all 18 years of my life.
"Hey, girls, c'mon, grab a plate!" Dad said, half-concentrated on the pot of curry he was adding the final touches to on the stove. "Mom'll be home soon, but you guys g'on and get started."
"Is Ken on his way?" Tina asked, her tone more lively with Dad. Ken had missed the last two family dinners since moving out, working long hours at the firm he was at in Uptown. Engineering.
"Yeah, should be." Dad replied.
"Cool, hey, think he'll wanna play games with us after dinner?" Tina asked me as she handed me a plate.
"Maybe - I hope so, feels like forever since we got a chance to play with him." I said, but I couldn't bring myself to really hope for it.
If Ken showed for our weekly family dinners, he usually ate with Tina and me, watching whatever show we put on, and then scarpered as soon as he was done.
I had no idea if it was to avoid doing dishes or if it was to get back home to his own place in lower Midtown.
Tina, Ken and I used to play Smash Bros. Millennium together all the time when we were younger. I'd just bought the latest iteration of the game, but with just Tina and I it wasn't as hectic.
I could actually keep track of which character was mine, but it only served to make me feel worse when my frantic button-mashing fell to the cold tactics of my little sister.
"Here, girls, serve yourselves - gotta take this call." Dad said, handing me the ladle as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and made his way out of the kitchen.
I filled half my plate with the spicy curry - smelled like lamb tonight - and dug out some rice from the rice cooker on the other side of the stove.
Tina followed suit and soon we were settled in the living room, cross-legged on the floor and watching reruns of an old comedy cop show.
Part of the time we were in stitches from laughter, the other part, we were nearly crying from how spicy dad made the food.
But both of us were spice fiends - Tina even more than me - so we didn't mind.
Just hoped mom would be home soon with the milk.
Before we'd gotten too far into the meal, though, we heard panicked voices and scuffling from the entryway.
And then, all of a sudden, Dad and Ken were rushing into the living room almost stepping on our plates.
Tina and I grabbed them out of the way and moved 'em, with Tina glaring and shouting at Ken for almost putting a boot in her dinner.
But I was too distracted by their expressions to care about food - Ken was pale and shaken, Dad looked simultaneously enraged and horrified.
"Put on the news." Ken's voice held no question, and Tina did as he said.
"Ken, wha-" I tried again, but he shushed me, his normally well-kept hair all messy. He held Dad's elbow with a vice grip.
"Tina, c'mere," Dad instructed her and she obeyed without a second thought.
She slid under his free arm and he hugged her close to him, whether to protect her or for her to reassure him, I couldn't tell.
Ken waved for me, and I echoed Tina and slid up close to his leg, his arm tight around my shoulders despite how much his grip shook.
"Ken..." He ignored me as Tina turned up the volume.
"...rrested tonight along with several others known to be linked to the terrorist group, FREE.
Despite attempts by government officials to calm the agents, they resisted violently, forcing the agents to use force to subdue them in the city centre-"
"BULLSHIT!" Ken shouted, and I hugged him closer as I felt him shake.
"-no civilians were harmed-" Dad turned the screen off as Tina made little whimpering sounds that made me want to shuffle out of Ken's arms and go to her.
"What... what happened?" Dad's voice shook and I heard Tina start to sniffle. We had no idea what was going on but just due to the tension in the room, she and I were both close to tears.
"They-" Ken swallowed and I squeezed his hand, trying to get him to continue. "We were just on our way out of the cafe and they just descended on us like vultures.
Got Fen and Lee, Ryder, Carol and- and M-Mom..."
"It's okay, it's okay, son." Dad pulled Ken into a hug and Tina wrapped her arms around both of their legs enough to touch me on my shoulders.
I realized with too much awareness how short her young arms were.
We stayed like that for a while, the noise of the Stacks like some bizarre urban version of raindrops on windows,
huddled in our living room with the smell of spicy lamb curry around us as Ken cried.
I'd only seen him cry a handful of times - usually tied to sports and when he lost a game - but this was different. Dad started crying, then Tina started wailing, and soon, so did I.
I don't know when we all stopped crying, but eventually, Tina had cried herself out and got up to move the plates into the kitchen.
I got up to help her and tugged on her sleeve wordlessly to get her to help me carry glasses and a jug of juice back into the living room.
Dad and Ken sat next to each other, staring at the dark screen and holding each others' hands with white knuckles. It took some coaxing for them to accept a glass of juice each.
Ken looked scared. Dad looked... empty.
"Ken... What... I don't understand." I said, feeling like I was speaking from somewhere outside my body.
I sat in front of him as Tina curled up like a cat in front of both of the men of our family, pushing her back against their knees.
Dad started absentmindedly stroking her back and he seemed to calm down a bit after doing that.
"We..." He looked to Dad - or rather, they shared a sort of hollow, unseeing glance - before he swallowed and continued. "Mom, Dad and I are part of FREE."
I'd heard of them.
The acronym didn't make sense to me, but I'd heard about them on the net - rebels who didn't agree with the sort of huge divide that had come from the massive fallouts of automation,
lack of proper economic policies, and ramped up surveillance laws.
I knew they'd been behind some of the most devastating - and beneficial - attacks on government infrastructure like the drone surveillance towers and and been instrumental
in passing laws against increased facial recognition access by corporations.
"Th-they raided our last meeting. They got Mom."