The Photo: A Deleted Scene from the Unexpected Inlander Series

Sonja looked down at the inside of her wrist where the vaccination had left seven small bumps. The scar was barely visible as it was, and they were told it would be gone within a few years. She hoped that by then this new life would feel normal. It already was starting to feel that way. She couldn’t really remember what life was like before.

It was a strange feeling, like life before all this had been just but a minute ago, and yet it also felt like it a lifetime had passed. It had only been a year. One year since this whole mess started to settle down, finally. One year since the Treaty was signed by all the governments to join The Sectors. One year since all the remaining people who chose not to flee to Mexico and Central America were vaccinated, assessed, and dispersed around the world to help rebuild.

Yes, Sonja missed the Old Country. She missed her family and the hills and what used to be known as Eastern Europe. She missed the lake next to the small town where she had grown up. But this was where she was needed. This is where they had sent her.

She was not alone. Most of the new citizens of Boise, Idaho, had not been originally from here. Most of them were not even Americans. She had been sent to Boise to oversee the construction of the new living quarters.

Everything from the past was to be thrown out. Rebuilding meant constructing a narrative for generations to come to see this time as a positive sign of growth, as a transition from a barbaric and chaotic world to a new and orderly world that was structured, planned, and organized. Nothing was left to chance now. Chance and disorder and chaos were a thing of the past. The citizens of The Sectors owned the future now.

“Sonja,” Akiko called to her, interrupting her thoughts. “Come over here and join the group.”

Akiko motioned to a group of people in front of her, posing for a picture. Akiko was always taking pictures.

Sonja, who had been standing at the grill flipping soy burgers, put the tongs down and ran over to join the group. She forgot to take her apron off, but it didn’t matter. After the picture was taken, Sonja returned to the grill and continued to watch Akiko as she went around the park taking pictures of different groups of people who had come to the cookout.

It was a funny little group, they were. People from all over the world, all citizens of Boise now. Sector citizens now. Whatever they were before was gone. They were ordered to forget about it. They were to embrace their new positions in life, their new home, making way for a better world for generations to come.

Sonja still talked with her family, who were now living all over The Sectors in various locations of what used to be known as North America, Europe, and Asia. They described their lives as being similar to hers: working with people from all over the world who had similar stories of survival and isolation and quarantine and who had survived and who were now using their talents to best serve the rebuilding of humanity.

She put the grilled burgers on a plate and carried them over to the picnic table. Akiko and Kwabena were standing nearby talking. They were absolutely adorable, the two of them speaking in their broken English and hand gestures.

Akiko rarely laughed, but somehow Kwabena always got her to. She bashfully covered her mouth with her hand as she let out a loud sing-song type of sound in laughter. Sonja hated how Akiko did that, how she covered her mouth when she smiled or laughed, like it was inappropriate or forbidden. Maybe she felt like she still had to be solemn and in mourning for the family she had lost. Or maybe she was just self-conscious about her big teeth and overbite.

In reality, it was such a big smile that it made everyone else smile, too. It made Sonja smile, at least.

It was so rare that Akiko smiled or laughed. Kwabena could make anyone laugh. He was good like that. He was good for Akiko.

The plate now empty, tongs still in her hand, Sonja looked at them: the engineer and the scientist. Both brilliant. Both with talents unused.

Akiko had been placed here as an analyst to observe how things were going and to suggest improvements for healthcare and wellbeing. Kwabena had been placed here as an engineer to create efficient work orders and design structures that would best serve the implemented ideas.

As a scientist, she was supposed to be an observer; as an engineer, he was supposed to be a creator. But the truth was, they were both observant and creative. It was why they fit so well together, despite the cultural and language differences.

Previous cultural and language differences, Sonja corrected herself in her mind. With the rebuilding of the new world, they would eventually all share culture and language.

Sonja returned to the grill and added more uncooked soy burgers.

In the year since the end of The War, President Anders had coordinated and formed a team of leaders to oversee the new way of things and the new, orderly society. So much had been accomplished in just a year. Boise was nothing like it had been when Sonja had first arrived. So many random people from all over the world had been placed there to work together.

She had to hand it to the system, though: it worked. They had assessed and categorized everyone who was left over and who had not gone to Mexico and Central America, and all the now-Sector citizens had been shipped all over the world as needed.

Somehow their assessments even got the personalities right. Everyone in Boise got along with each other. Or maybe everyone got along now out of necessity. Or maybe everyone was just so happy that it was finally all over. Maybe everyone was just so happy to be alive that they just got along for that reason. She had met so many people from all over the world. It was such a unique experience. So exciting.

She looked up from the grill and saw Akiko and Kwabena still talking near the food table. They were not new, but they were still new enough to each other to be awkward. It was so obvious, though, that they were made for each other. They probably would have never met before The War, but somehow those two ended up in the same location. And somehow to Sonja it seemed like maybe fate was a real thing. Maybe those two would have found a way to each other no matter what had happened in the last few years.

They continued to talk in hand gestures and broken English, but they used other words, too. Over the last year, they had taught each other words from their native languages, so they spoke in a secret hybrid language only they knew.

Sonja wondered if they would teach their kids that hybrid language–they would have kids, of course. It was so obvious that those two were made for each other and that they would eventually get together, even if they were not officially an item, yet.

And, that was, if they had kids. That was still a scary subject, despite all the settling down of the new world and the new way of things. The new law that required genetic modifications be applied to babies in the womb was safe, of course, but the modifications were still so new that they were still scary to most people. Horror stories were popping up everywhere of people who had tried to have kids without the required genetic modifications and who had been forced to abort their pregnancies and who were made sterile. Those were just rumors, of course; Sonja was sure of that. But still.

But this was the new way of life. Sonja knew she had to get used to that. Some things would be missed, of course, but this was necessary for the new world they lived in now. She agreed with the Presidents. It was best to forget the past and move forward.

Sonja couldn’t take it anymore. They were just too cute together and each too shy to do anything about it. She walked over to Akiko and Kwabena and pulled out her phone.

“Smile, you two,” she said.

Akiko looked around to the people nearby and motioned to them to come over to be in the photo with them.

Sonja shook her head. “No, no. Just the two of you.”

Kwabena put his arm around Akiko’s shoulder, and they both smiled for the photo.

“Will you send it?” Akiko said, holding up her phone and pointing to it.

“Yes, of course,” Sonja said, and she sent the photo to Akiko’s number.

When she received it, Akiko looked down at the photo on her screen and smiled.

Sonja couldn’t help it; seeing Akiko smile made her smile, too. Yes, the world was new and therefore uncertain and therefore scary. But seeing Akiko smile like that made Sonja realize that everything would be okay.

 

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The Unexpected Inlander is available at Amazon.

Add The Unexpected Inlander to your lists on Goodreads and LibraryThing.

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