Stamped, my wrist had been stamped and I had been sat down in this chair, this smooth white chair. They had told me not to move from here; I might get lost. They wouldn’t want me lost, would they? Then, I’d be just another unit gone from beneath their watchful eye. All of us were all held under that eye, tracked across this maze-like world like a child let out to play.
None of us dared to step out of line, for fear to break the balance. We were here to be contained, to be controlled; we were all merely in storage. That’s all this place was; it was one large storage unit to keep us in place in our network. Not one of us wished to stray, that would be a violation of the code as well as a disruption of the flow.
I looked up to meet the cold gaze of a young man. “Hello.” My voice returned his curt greeting and I turned my head back to stare at the wall across from me.
“You, you have been chosen, have you?” he murmured from next to me.
I didn’t wish to engage in conversation with him, I had to focus on the task ahead, whatever it might be. It would be polite, though; it was a polite thing to carry on conversation no matter how mentally distant your converser was.
“I believe I have,” I spoke coolly, “And so have you, I see.”
“Are you nervous?”
I looked back up in front of me at a young girl, her sleek, dark tresses falling over her shoulders. Frowning at her question, I refused to answer. The moderators always urged us not to fear the day we were chosen, but it was difficult not to fear the unknown. I lied, shaking my head and then looking over to the young man in the chair next to me. “Are you nervous?”
He shook his head as well, “This is my destiny; it is all of ours. We were born for this moment, were we not?” He looked at me, mouth set in a thin line and arms crossed over his broad chest, but his eyes betrayed his composure.
“Did you ever know anyone who was chosen?” The girl who stood before me asked, “Have they ever come back?”
“No,” I told her, “None of them have ever come back, but the moderators have always ensured us they were fine, living in a different place.”
“Do you suppose we’ll see them there?”
I shrugged simply, “That is what I have always believed; it is as if to be chosen is a rite of passage.”
“So why us?” She asked me, “There’s no one else in this hallway, we must be the only ones chosen.”
“You ask so many questions,” I muttered, flashing an irritated gaze in her direction, “I honestly don’t know. We’ll have to find out when we get there.”
She shifted her weight to one hip and sighed, sensing the rudeness in my voice. She was young, so I understood the fear that she felt, but she had to toughen up. We were facing change and she needed to be strong enough not to buckle beneath that change; it was required.
Her posture riveted with the crackling sound sent over the intercom. A clear and smooth voice broke through, flowing into the hallway, mechanical and cold; “Mellissa Higgins, serial number 00612B, please report to the eighth floor desk, the eighth floor desk…”
The message continued to repeat, whining over the intercom and causing me to look up at the girl. “That’s you,” I told her shortly, “Get to the desk on this floor, I believe you are about to find out what happens when you’re chosen.”
She glanced down at her stamped wrist and then at me, unable to blanket out the fear she stored inside, “Wish me luck?”
I nodded, as did the young man next to me, then we watched her walk along the silky-white hallway to disappear around the bend. That is where our gazes strayed for a moment longer, wondering to ourselves what sort of destiny or what kind of fate awaited her. What awaited us?
“You know, I had nearly forgotten what my serial number was until now,” He said simply, “when they labeled us with it.”
“Maybe that’s why they do that for us; most of us have forgotten it by now. They always called us by name in the city network.”
We were interrupted by the sizzling of the intercom and I looked at him, my eyes narrow. One of us would be next and the other would be left alone to wait. To be honest, I didn’t know whether I was ready to get up from this chair and walk down the hallway; it seemed so sudden to disappear from the network like that. I was still young; then again, all three of us chosen were young.
He looked as distraught as I felt inside. What would he be leaving behind him here? He was just as afraid as that girl, Mellissa Higgins. He wanted to know, yet at the same time he didn’t. He listened hard to the voice over the intercom.
“Percy Hathowitz, serial number 00673H, please report to the eighth floor desk, the eighth floor desk…”
His eyes were wide now, hearing his name come over the system in that cold, indifferent voice. All the thoughts he had just poured into this moment were coming back to stab him in the back, setting his nerves on fire. He didn’t know, and nothing was worse than not knowing.
I stood with him and offered my hand, “Good luck, then,” I sighed, putting aside my frost-laced voice, “Nice meeting you for these few moments.”
He took my hand and shook it firmly, then letting go to force a smile, “See you there, I hope.”
I nodded and watched him turn down the hallway to disappear behind the bend. Then I slumped back down in the smooth white chair, feeling more alone than I had in a long time. In a few minutes they would call my name and number and I would be walking down that hallway. I would disappear behind the bend and come to the eighth floor desk.
Running my thumb across the stamp on my wrist, I read the digits one by one in calm silence, waiting. 00692R, it was my unique serial number, the name I came into the network by and the name I would leave the network by. It was who I was, and this was what I knew. It would be strange leaving here, but it was my duty and my destiny; I had to carry it out. The moderators had always told us so.
I closed my eyes as the intercom came online again, crackling in its usual fashion. Then, the voice greeted me, seeming even colder now than it had before.
“Bartholomew Malcolm, serial number 00692R, please report to the eighth floor desk, the eighth floor desk…”
I closed my eyes, saying my inaudible goodbye and then standing up to face the bend of the hallway. The illuminated white walls and floor reflected in my dark irises, and I walked steadily away from the safety of the chair behind me. When I glanced back for the last time it had disappeared behind me, and I had, to it, disappeared behind the bend.
Looking ahead again my gaze met the sleek white surface of the eighth floor desk. It wasn’t like the other floor desks in the central building; it was set in front of a dead end that cut off the hallway. Behind it stood a young woman, her eyes clear like glass and smiling in a way that I hadn’t expected.
“Welcome to the eighth floor desk, how may I help you?”
I frowned; didn’t she know who I was? There was only one purpose for the eighth floor; it was for this. “Yes, I was told to report here,” I said flatly, “What do I need to do here? I was chosen…”
“Oh,” she nodded and her expression dropped, smiling eyes going a shade darker, “yes, that’s right.” She ran a hand along the desk to slide the center of it away, then ushering me through. Her eyes were then focused on the wall behind the desk. “Sir, we have a chosen…” she grabbed my wrist and read the numbers off, “…00692R.”
I ripped my wrist back and glared at her, but she didn’t seem to notice. Instead she had her gaze set on a new opening in the wall; a narrow doorway. There was nothing I could see past the opening, it was thick with blackness. “Right this way then,” she nudged me forward and I stumbled into the darkness, left to listen as the wall closed in behind me.
My hands went out in front of me, trying to figure out what could be there. My mind was half terrified of what it might be, but I felt nothing; there was nothing there.
“Hello?” I took a tedious step forward, my eyes straining in the darkness. I wasn’t just going to be left here, was I? That was unconventional, nothing like the network I had come from. No, I was still here, still here in the network. I had hardly left it at all.
“Hello, is anyone here?” I screamed, letting my voice echo out. No reply came for me, just my own breathing as I stepped back, trying to find the wall I had come through. Nothing was there, though, nothing at all. I was trapped and alone.
Collapsing on the floor I sighed heavily, realizing how lost I now was. I was eternally caught in here, I would die in here. I placed my head in my hands; I had been born into the network and I had been raised here. Every day I lived with the knowledge that one day I would be chosen. Then I would be brought here to fulfill my purpose. I couldn’t be destined to rot away in this room, it just didn’t make sense.
“What’s the point?” I asked the darkness that accompanied me here, “Why would I be brought here to die?”
“Why? So that others may live…”
“Who’s that?” I shouted out, tensing my arms over my head. Was I to be eaten in here by some sort of monster? Was I simply to be consumed? Was that the function of all in the network?
Around me white lights flickered on, revealing to me a small white room. It was vacant but for me and a man, his eyes a distant gray and his long, bleached hair pulled back and fixed. I didn’t know him, I had never met him before, but the voice he spoke with sounded familiar like those the moderators used.
“What do you mean?” I placed the stress on my legs as I stood up, studying him intensely. I then opened my mouth to ask the one question that every unit in the network wanted answered, “What happens now?”
“You give life to those who are not yet alive. This was what you were born for; this is your destiny,” He told me with a smile spreading across his lips. On seeing such a smile from him, I wasn’t sure what to make of it; he seemed so emotionless, so indifferent. What kind of smile could he give me but a smirk?
“So I’m here to die,” I frowned icily, “we have all been raised like livestock to be murdered here.”
“Not murdered, you are simply being recycled.”
“But I’m not old,” I cried, looking down at my body, “and I’m not broken.”
“Every unit in this network has been born with one purpose; they all bear a soul,” The man told me, “A soul is what links your body together, it is what gives you life. You are brought up to live and learn and your soul grows with you. Where I am from, my people are not born with souls; we are empty.”
At my sides my fists clenched; he had no right to steal my soul, even for the sake of a soulless race. “So I’m a product—you lied, I am going to die.”
“You will still be ‘alive’,” he told me, “You will simply be a link; you will be the structure of a soul within a new life.”
“What new life?” I asked, “What body are you going to force me inside of?”
“Come with me,” He turned to the wall behind him, letting it open into a hallway and then walking through. I doubled my steps to keep up with him, my eyes fixed on the room ahead. Thousands of small, glassy chambers lined the walls of this new room. Each was illuminated from inside, every tank containing its own infant curled into a gentle sphere.
My eyes studied the endless array of dormant children floating in thick fluids and fed by an array of wires and tubes. None of them were alive yet; they were all waiting, waiting for their own soul. They couldn’t function properly without one; they would never survive outside of their tanks in such a way.
“So this is where all of us go;” I looked up at the man, “our soul is stuck inside of the infants of your race so that your history can carry on… how did you survive before you found us and bred us inside of the network?”
“We simply lived without souls, but we were dying out that,” he said as his eyes scanned the walls of glass chambers, “Then we came across your race, one that felt and carried on with a mind. We took your existence to our advantage.”
“And you expect me to comply with this?” I glared at him.
“I don’t need you to comply; your soul will be harvested no matter what you choose to comply with,” he said solemnly, “but if you wish, you may choose the body you will become part of, the one you will channel life to…”
Each infant was so still; they were so quiet and motionless in their tanks. None of them stood out, none of them caught my attention; they all seemed the same. So I stepped up to the wall of glass chambers, setting my eyes on the one nearest to me. “This one, I’ll give him something to live for,” I looked back at the man. “I won’t be myself once my soul is his, though, I won’t remember anything…?”
The man shook his head and I set my gaze downcast. What would it be like to not be myself but only this young alien boy? How could I ever forget who I was? Would it be like a constant amnesia, never being able to recall what had happened? Would I not care how I got trapped inside of a foreign body? No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t remember that I was ever human. This was it; I would no longer be Bartholomew. I would be simply a link between the body of this young alien infant and a new mind, just a soul cultivated and sent away. I was Bartholomew Malcolm’s soul, serial number 00692R.
“It’s time for you to go now,” I heard his voice and felt his hand on my shoulder. I closed my eyes; there was nothing I could do now.