Julia moved through the Level 2 mall as stealthily as she could, working to find the blind spots she knew existed in the Status-tracking camera coverage. It wasn’t easy, but there were enough obstacles she could hide behind, corners she could fade into and other places where she could lose the ever-watching eyes that she made it work.

She was there for a very specific reason and she never lost sight of that. It drove her forward toward her objective and kept her focus on not being caught. Occasionally someone would look at her suspiciously, noticing her deliberate movements and attempts at concealment, but the lack of Status police descending on her meant no one had acted on their suspicions by reporting her. Yet, she reminded herself. No one had reported her yet. Things could change at any moment.

Finally she saw what she was there for. The boutique shop was, of course, about as far from one of the entrances as was possible, meaning she had the maximum amount of floorspace to cover to get there. It was silly to take this risk for a pair of jeans, but they were the ones she had her heart set on. When she’d mentioned the jeans to her friends they’d practically dared her to break the rules and go get them. They didn’t believe she was determined enough to try. They were wrong.

She reached the entrance to the store and noticed the crowd thin out behind her. There was nowhere to hide at this point. She just had to walk in and hope she could get the jeans and get out before the Status sensors that were surely installed at the door sent the police to remove her from the premises.

Sure enough, she’d gotten no more than a half-dozen steps inside when to masked Status cops stepped on either side of her.

“Miss, you’re not allowed in this shopping area and will have to come with us,” the one on her right said.

She tried to play oblivious. “Is there a problem…”

“You know there’s a problem. Please come with us without making a scene.”

Julia took one last look at the wall where her prized jeans were hung before resigning to the failure of her quest. She nodded and turned to walk out of the store with the officers. They guided her gently but firmly to the Status office on the second floor of the mall. There she was directed to a seat in a small office where she sat unattended by anyone for several minutes. Finally an unmasked supervisor came in and smiled.

“Ms. Bangs, my name is Officer Craig. Can I get you anything?” She shook her head. “Fine. My first question is what you think you were doing in a mall that doesn’t correspond to your Status level? You’re old enough to know that’s not permitted.”

“I know. I just wanted some jeans.”

He shook his head. “Those jeans are worth a mark that will go on your permanent record?”

“Maybe?”

“I can tell you they very much aren’t. Your parents are already on their way and will be here in about 20 minutes. This is a serious infraction and will something that’s noted repeatedly over the course of your life and eventual career. I’m not sure you took that into consideration while plotting your little outing here today.”

Julia just shrugged her shoulders. “I’m a Level 1. I thought I could do what I want.”

The officer’s expression grew more serious. “Let me dissuade you of that notion right now. It’s just as illegal for a Level 1 to visit a Level 2 establishment without authorization as it is for a Level 3 to do so. Your ignorance of that fact won’t protect you from the repercussions of your actions. Do you understand that?” His tone grew more grave and Julia’s ears began to ring as the full measure of her actions began to become clear. She wondered what her parents would say and how her friends would react to what had happened. Her stomach began sinking.

“I do.”

“Good.” He paused. “When your parents get here we’ll go over the full consequences of your actions today. Until then I recommend you stay here and not say anything that will get you into any further trouble.”

“What Status are you?” She spoke before she fully realized what she was saying. Well, she was in it now.

“Excuse me?”

“What Status are you?

“I’m police. I have no Status. You know that. We enforce Status guidelines across all levels.”

“Does it ever bother you?”

“Why would upholding the law ever bother me?”

“Because you’re keeping people in the lower Status levels down and propping up those in the higher levels.”

“That’s not for me to say. The law is the law.”

“Easy way to justify it to yourself.”

“Young lady, I’m not here to justify myself to you or anyone else. You want to fashion yourself as some sort of class warrior, bringing down the privileged and helping the downtrodden, you go right ahead. There are outlets for that. But you won’t be using that particular argument to get out of proscribed punishments for breaking established laws. Not today.”

“Fine. But you know I’m a Level 1. The law doesn’t apply to me like it does to someone in Level 4 or whatever. I’ll be fine.”

“That’s also not for me to say. I’m just here to do my job. The chips fall where they will after that.” Another pause as he considered whether or not to continue down a train of thought. “I’ll just say this: If you want to be some champion of the seemingly-oppressed, I’d spend some time considering just how much you went into today relying on your Level 1 Status to get you through this unscathed. If a Level 4 pulled the same stunt they wouldn’t have the protections you’re suddenly counting on.”

She sat there silently, the defiant look on her face in contrast to the feeling she’d been defeated. The cop asked one more time if she needed anything but got only an angry stare in reply before he exited, leaving her in the office alone. She could feel the minutes passing, knowing her parents would come through the door at any moment and be beyond mad. There would be consequences, Julia knew, some of which would be hard to bear. The jeans that had been so important an hour ago now seemed beyond trivial, as if it were someone else who had longed for them. She looked at her chrono and waited for the other shoe to drop.