A long time from now, in a universe not far from our own…
The day was hot and the sky was blue. The sun sat low and to the left of a pale blue sky, the kind that fades as it approaches the horizon. And below the horizon, it was sand and rocks for about as far as the the eye could see. If this land could speak, it might say, “welcome to the kingdom of dust”.
But the land did not speak. At least, not in a way that was well understood. To the people of this land, it was The Promised land. This is where their ancestors had created the greatest nation that their people had ever known. Built upon values like freedom, equality, and justice, the Promised Land was a mecca for people across the world looking for a better life. But given it’s current landscape, locals had taken to calling the land DeDust.
Within the vast borders of DeDust, people were everywhere. Farmers, bakers, and makers of all shapes and sizes gave DeDust one of the world’s most coveted economies. Since the strength of their economy was seen by many as the source of DeDust’s prosperity, its leaders put rules and safeguards in place to ensure continued success. While the rules were countless, confusing, and sometimes contradictory, they were all built upon a similar premise: the worship of a strong work ethic.
Within The Promised Land, work ethic was everything. It was understood to be the biggest difference between those who were successful and those who were not. Personal flaws could be overlooked if someone had a strong work ethic but not if they were lazy. Here, being lazy was worse than any cardinal sin. But work ethic wasn’t the only point of worship as hard work was a means of achieving a higher goal: Success.
Within the physical borders of The Promised Land existed another promise. If you worked hard and paid your dues, you were promised a life of success. How that success was defined was different for each person but within DeDust, there was no shortage of inspiration. Within the world’s most recognized economy, success was constantly on display for all to see. For those who had reached the true promised land, broadcasting your success for others to see had become part of the culture. Unsurprisingly, the culture had given rise to an entire industry focused on showing the working class what was waiting for them on the other side. Perhaps also unsurprisingly, this industry happened to be their largest.
Since its inception, the people of DeDust could move freely throughout the land. Assuming the land was not occupied by someone else, they had the freedom to make a home to live and a business to work. But as more and more people arrived, the harder it was to find a space that was unoccupied by others. And the further away you went from where the people were, the harder it was to make a home or find good work. So rules were created to protect the promised land from those who would come to benefit from its success without contributing to it.
At first, the rules were simple: Hard work earns good pay. This was a compelling reason to work hard because the harder you worked, the closer you came to success. Or conversely, one who didn’t work hard would struggle to survive. While these rules seemed sensible at first, they failed to deliver as intended. Sometimes people disagreed on the value of their work. Some believed that there was more value in working smart than working hard. There were even some who found it highly lucrative to work the rules while everyone else was working within them.
Despite the challenges in building rules to support the promise, the people and culture endured. As long as people believed in the promise of hard work leading to a better life, for the most part, they managed themselves accordingly. As time went on, The Promised Land lived up to its name, delivering success and prosperity on a level that the world had yet to see. While this level of recognition came with several benefits, it also meant that people around the world who were desperate for a better life were making their pilgrimage to The Promised Land.
At first, these individuals received a mixed welcome. Some were apprehensive about where these strangers came from and whether or not they could be trusted. But more often than not, the criteria for acceptance was your ability and willingness to work hard. Eventually, things started to change.
As the successful became more successful, they began to realize something important – while a great deal of hard work was required to reach the promise of success, by comparison, very little effort was required to maintain your position there. Better yet, with very little effort, a successful person could make someone else successful. But who would they choose and why?
The answer to that question remains unclear, but the result of that question is obvious. Over the years, people began to gather in cities. And over time, these cities became beacons of prosperity within The Promised Land. But as the success became more readily available in the cities, so did the demand to live within its limits. This dynamic reached such an extreme that eventually, rules were created to limit access to the cities. At first, you had to carry identification showing that you were a resident of the city or a registered visitor. When that didn’t work, they placed guards at the main entrances to turn away anyone that didn’t belong. When that didn’t work, they built a wall.
Each of the many cities within The Promised Land’s borders was now surrounded by a sand-colored stone wall, impenetrably thick and tall enough so that no reasonable person would want to climb it. But that’s not why those on the outside rarely entered. Doors to the city were almost always left unlocked and the guards who once stood there had long since retired. There wasn’t even a written rule that prevented entry, for that would be a violation of one’s personal freedom. What truly prevented the outsiders from crossing that threshold was a deeply held belief they hadn’t earned the right to enter. In their minds, the true promised land existed on the other side of that wall and while they would arrive there one day, for now, they had DeDust.
And this is where we meet our story’s main character, Jamal, a 14- year-old boy who was born and raised just outside Hadira, one of DeDust’s largest cities. After years of asking, Jamal will finally be joining his father on a trip inside the city.