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from Plastic Roads by Katherine Higgins

Chapter 1

Sometimes, people aren’t who they claim to be. Some people decide that, maybe, it’s okay to lie. That it’s okay to pretend to be something you’re not. Others say that “honesty is the best policy”. I agree with both. As long as you have a good reason to lie, it’s okay. And I can tell you, my reason at the moment warrants a little white lie.

   “The pancakes are 12.99, no tax included, plus the orange juiceā€¦ that’ll be 14.99,” the waiter with red hair tells me. He seems nice enough, and I’d tip if I actually had any money. I smile and pretend to be checking all my pockets. I fold my face into a frown. “I’m so sorry, sir, I must have left my wallet in my car. I’ll go grab it, I’ll be very quick,” I tell the diner’s waiter in my smooth, French accent. He has kind eyes, brown and light, and they widen a bit at the mention of a car. Not many people have cars. Most just can’t afford the money for gas. The normal cars are still about the same price as before the Secession, but as petroleum gasoline became scarce, so did the buyers. I’m lucky to have an electric car, otherwise I would be walking across all of Western America. That would suck.

   The waiter—his nametag calls him Noel— seems to be easily manipulated as he says yes immediately, then adding a “ma’am” at the end. He’s gullible, to say the least. Easily coerced into letting me “pay him back”. He smiles at my answer and goes to serve another customer. I walk out, my recycled plastic cup of orange juice in hand. I feel guilty, but this is necessary. I have to eat at some point, and I can’t show my face at higher-budget restaurants. Not even fast food joints. Oh, how I yearn for a greasy burger. I snort a laugh to myself.

   I press the “start engine” button near the steering wheel after getting in. The pavement is smooth as the wheels of my Meilleur run across it. Even though Meilleur is an expensive car brand, my mother bought one for me when I was of driving age. She bought me the newest model, with the newest features. I had to repaint the car and replace the license plates when I left, but it’s still a beautiful car.

   I put my foot on the gas and start to pull out when the waiter from before comes out of the restaurant shouting. I drive forward anyway, exiting the wide parking lot without so much as a skid mark. As I move onto the road, the transition between pavement and hard plastic is subtle, but not unnoticeable. Years ago, after the Anti-Plastic Waste Organization, took it upon themselves to collect plastic from all around the west and replace most of Western America’s roads with a mixture of melted plastic and asphalt. The result is a dark grey road with tiny, sparkling specks of sedimentary plastic. The plastic waste was piling up, and the APWO took advantage of that and got permission from the Western Government to rebuild roads in the new material. The plastic stopped piling up in oceans and landfills, and the leader of that organization got a Medal of Honor. As the heir of an oligarch, I got to present it to him. He was assassinated while trying to pass through to the Eastern border.

   After Eastern America started the war, most states on the western side seceded from Eastern America together. Others were a bit slower, like Nevada and other border states.

   I take a turn at the stop sign, seeing no other cars or people. The diner I went to was a dump, with cracked wooden floors and a neon sign that was more pastel than neon. It wasn’t crowded, just me and a couple old folks. There seemed to be only one waiter on staff, and judging by his uniform, which was too big and had a rainbow of stains, he wasn’t being paid much. That little diner was on the outskirts of an even tinier town, probably about to go bankrupt. A lot of businesses were just like that, now. Many of them had to raise their rates because tourists from the East Coast couldn’t come anymore. Unless there were people people, of course. Then they could take one of their jets or whatever rich people have over there if they wanted to come over here, which was unlikely in itself. The wall that divides our separate countries is large, but not large enough to prevent a jet coming over. It’s also not illegal to pass into this country. I just don’t know why anyone would want to.

   Then of course, there’s EA Border Control. The overconfident Eastern military jerks with guns too big for their bodies. Not nice people, typically. Especially if you’re on this side, because you’re probably a Westerner. They don’t use their guns much, but they are technically allowed to shoot you. They’re only allowed to take aim if you try to cross without an Identification Card or —if you’re from the East — an Identification Chip.

Chips are smaller than Cards, but they store most of your personal data. It’s the same as an Identification Card, but different in the way that the Identification Chip is literally injected into your bloodstream. Citizens are issued a chip at birt...

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