by Janine Frances
Publication date: February 13th 2022
Genres: Adult, Dystopian, Thriller
A family seek refuge in the Australian outback as tyranny takes hold, but who can they trust?
The world is at war and an authoritarian government has taken control in Australia. A terrorist group known as Day One is attempting to destroy civilisation so humanity can start again.
Shareen Miller becomes caught in a bureaucratic nightmare when she’s detained by an Auto-Enforcer for not having the right travel permit on the way to a job interview. Shareen’s detention sets off a chain of events that leads to her five-year-old twins being taken by the government.
With her husband Daniel, grandmother Alma, and sister Layla, Shareen seizes her children and escapes from Sydney. On the road, she reveals a secret about her missing mother Veronica that she’s been hiding from her family for five years.
What follows is an intense journey into the harsh Australian outback where nothing is as it seems, and no one can be trusted.
As they fight for survival, Veronica’s family finally learn the truth about why she left them. The stakes couldn’t be higher as the future of humanity hangs in the balance.
“It’s obviously a mistake,” said Alma in a soothing voice. “We’ll get to the bottom of it now that you’re here. Just keep your wits about you and everything will be fine.”
“Stay here.” Shareen strode straight up to the counter. The man behind it tapped at a keyboard and stared ahead.
“I’m here for my children. There’s been a mistake and I need to get them home.” Her calm voice belied the storm inside. The man was wearing a transparent visor and she could see his eyes moving as he read something on his invisible screen. His hair was closely cropped, and his face was dominated by a large nose. He still didn’t acknowledge her.
“Excuse me,” said Shareen, knocking on the glass partition. “Can you hear me?”
He finally turned towards her with an annoyed look. “If you don’t mind, I’m familiarising myself with your case. I’ll be with you in a minute.” He would have been able to see everything about her as soon as she stepped into the room.
“There is no case to familiarise yourself with,” she said, and then clamped her lips shut. She didn’t want to antagonise him when he might be the only person who could help her. Watching his eyes flash back and forth made her dizzy but she couldn’t look away.
Finally, he glanced at her again. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Miller, but unfortunately, you won’t be able to take your children today.” His tone was perfunctory, as if he was informing her that her favourite brand of toothpaste was out of stock. “Once they’re in the system, they have to be assessed fully. This can take several days or longer based on the complexity of the case. You will be interviewed―”
“Wait a minute,” she said, leaning forward so that her forehead was pressed against the barrier. This couldn’t be happening. “My grandmother was told we don’t have permission to live at her place, but that’s not true. I have it right here on my iD. I can show you.” She lifted her wrist.
“That won’t be necessary. Even if it is a mistake, we need to follow protocol. If you’ll just be patient, you should see them again soon.”
“We don’t need to follow protocol because we’ve done nothing wrong.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m not leaving without my children. Either get them now or get a manager out here.”
He sighed dramatically. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. The best thing you can do is go home and wait until we notify you. I’m sorry you were called in unnecessarily. We take child protection very seriously, and there’s no special treatment for anyone, not even you.”
Shareen slammed her palm hard against the protective barrier and the sound echoed like a rifle crack, causing the man to recoil. “Get a manager or my children out here now,” she yelled, “or I will kick in that door and find them myself.” She was so angry, she could easily have followed through on the threat.
Through the fog of her anger, she felt a gentle pressure on her arm and turned to find Alma by her side. “Calm down, darling. This will only make things worse.”
“He just told me to go home without the kids and wait for them to call. Like hell will I be leaving here without them. This is unbelievable.” She raised her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. She was on the verge of a full-blown panic attack.
“Please, young man, there must be some way you can help us,” said Alma. “We haven’t done anything to deserve this.”
The man glared at her with narrowed eyes, but his expression softened slightly as he took in Alma’s stricken face. He glanced from one to the other. “Look,” he said in a low voice, “I shouldn’t even be telling you this, but an investigation was triggered because you have three strikes against you, Mrs. Miller. There was an incident at a train station last week, and then”—he glanced back at his screen—“a welfare breach for not attending an interview, and―”
“But―” Shareen started. He held up his hand.
“Your children’s school results are also below standard. When the investigators looked further, they found you don’t have the correct authorisation to live at your grandmother’s public housing property. Based on all these factors, the earliest you’ll realistically be able to see your kids is a couple of weeks, but it can take up to twenty-eight days, sometimes longer.”
“I told you, we got permission before we moved in. They even did an inspection while we were there. And how can the kids’ results not be up to standard? They started school less than a week ago,” sputtered Shareen.
“You applied for emergency instead of temporary residence, which is only for six weeks, and you’ve been there longer than the permit allows. Academic results are measured as soon as children start school. Poor results can signify welfare issues. If it wasn’t for the other factors, they wouldn’t have mattered much, but once you have three strikes against you, everything’s taken into consideration. Your social score―”
“No,” she said. “None of this is right. I know for a fact we got permission to live with Nan for six months, and the teacher told me the kids are doing fine. This doesn’t make any sense.”
The man just shrugged. “I’m sorry, but there’s really nothing I can do for you right now. Your only choice is to go home and wait.”
Janine Frances lives in Australia with her partner David and dog Banjo.
The journey to publishing her novel Omniscience has been a long one. After doing the nine-to-five grind in Sydney for many years, with a couple of stints as a high school teacher and bank teller in the outback, she is currently relishing the freedom that comes with living in a picturesque small town and working from home.
Janine has an MA in Creative Writing. She chose to write a speculative thriller because it’s an exciting genre that asks important questions about the future.