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Gazing back at me from a place beyond the thick tinted windows is a pair of narrowed almond-shaped eyes, glowing like twin gems of sapphire. Their depths swirl with thin, snake-like coils, glittering with every possible shade of blue. Their uncanny glint, cruel and cold, causes shivers roll down my spine. But I am well acclimated to these eyes, and accustomed to the hatred I feel when I am forced to look into them, the hatred for what I am and the creature I was created to be. Even now, after fifteen years of bearing the weight of those eyes and everything they represent, I am filled with loathing for the person I was born as.
Flinching, I force myself to look away and stare into the evening sky, the sun beginning to set below the horizon. The street before me is bustling with ordinary people, hurrying back to their homes before the night sets in. A warm gust of wind nearly makes me topple over as I meander slowly down the sidewalk, waiting for the Patrol to arrive and find me. My daily excursion is over, and soon I will be transported back to the Laboratory Headquarters. A dull feeling of regret washes over me; there is nothing I love more than the freshness and open feeling of the city streets.
As a young child I was not allowed to venture out into the streets, because of Dr. Ilyas's fear that the heavy carbon dioxide that lingers in the atmosphere would ruin my lungs before I had completed my living purpose and the researchers had learned everything they could from my experiences. But when I reached the age of twelve, it was decided that myself and my peer subjects would be permitted weekly ventures into the outside world, as long as we were all closely monitored by the tracking chips implanted at birth into the inside of our skulls. I remember that first day so clearly. The exhilaration of finally viewing the beautiful city, with its impossibly high buildings that stretch up as far as the eye can see, the busy streets and the faint rumble of electric motors as they were turned on by their passengers, was almost more than I could handle. It had been morning, so the heat waves were just beginning to rush through the city, and I'd been mesmerized by their power and the feeling of the warmth on my skin. For the first and perhaps the only time in my life, I'd felt invincible.
Now, I kick a discarded silver coin across the sidewalk and an obviously preoccupied elderly lady steps on it as she rushes by. I wait until the foot traffic has subsided, then I surreptitiously bend down and grab the coin. I fold my fingers around it, the warmth of the metal seeping into my palm, the raised lettering on the front of the coin digging into my palm. I hold it up to the light of the sunset as people shove past me, and I am just able to decipher the faded engraving on the coin: Project Perfection: Considering the Future of Society with the Engineers of Today. Project Perfection is the experimental government bill that dictated my conception, the editing of my genes, my birth, and my life's mission. It was passed sixty years ago, in the year 2604.
I pocket the coin and navigate to the shadows beneath one of the massive apartment complexes into which some of the hurried citizens are disappearing, electronic keys blinking emerald light and beeping repetitively in their hands as they enter the building. I lean against the smooth surface, cool against the bare skin of the exposed section of my upper back. A masterpiece of obsidian-colored glass, created by the finest architects in all of North America, this building is not simply a residence. It has been designed and protected to the extent that there is not a single scratch on the building's outside, although it has been exposed to the elements for over a century now.
A sudden explosion of sound echoes in my head, a pitch high enough that my head throbs even after it has faded. The alarm of the Patrol, instigated by Dr. Ilyas or one of his assistants back at the lab. My heart feels weighted as it pounds in my chest, suddenly a burden instead of a life force. I close my eyes and carefully block out the faint sounds of spoken words, rumbling engines, and footsteps. Tranquility surrounds as I summon one of the ancient peaceful scenes that has been implanted into my memory chip, and the sounds vanish altogether. Behind my eyelids I view a scene of incredible beauty, almost supernatural. It is a cloak of darkness, draped over the globe, a sky darker than one I have ever witnessed with my own eyes. Beneath the sky are fiery specks of light, like white dust sprinkled onto the underside of the cloak. I cannot seem to recall the name of these miniature spheres, but one of Dr. Ilyas's assistants once told me a story of a time long ago when they were visible every night. Apparently they still exist, embedded overhead amongst the moon colonies that are also spoken of, the clean and mystical places that only the wealthiest citizens of the world and most loyal followers of the Three Powers are allowed to travel to and live in. A sigh of complacency sweeps through me as I view the picture in my head, as my heart swells from the beauty from this ancient scene, as desire to be a part of this scene sweeps through me.
A gentle touch on my shoulder awakens me to reality and my eyes snap open. A man stands in front of me, and although I cannot remember meeting him before, I know instinctively that he is a member of the Patrol assigned to retrieve me to the Laboratory. He has an aura of kindness and uncertainty that is unusual in a Patrol official. He has a mass of dark hair, a strong jaw, and deep brown eyes filled with warmth. He actually nods at me before grabbing my arm and pulling me toward the helicopter hovering in the air silently. I climb into the sheltered cove in the back of the helicopter, where several of my peers are already crouching, appearing uncomfortable. Their deep, frigid blue eyes, swirling with strands of azure identical to my own, stare from the shadows. They disgust me in the same way that we all revolt one another, and I huddle in the corner of the compartment as far away from each of my fellow experimental subjects as possible. I inhale the familiar metallic smell that circulates around the entire Laboratory, a taste that causes bile to rise in my throat. I blink back tears of anticipation, dread of the pain that I am about to endure.
We return home several minutes later, having collected all of the other peer subjects in my age group. We are careful not to touch each other or communicate at all, even with simple glances. We are all aware of the disgrace of being in the presence of a Test Subject. We file out of the compartment one by one, and I am last to exit. As I pass through the doorway of the Laboratory, as it swings open, I squeeze my eyes shut and clench my fists in preparation. As expected, the usual electric shock travels through my body, and I bite my tongue to hold back a cry of agony. But the pain is over as soon as it began, and I am able to relax again. Dr. Ilyas is waiting for us on the other side of the electric thought monitor, the machine that transfers the shocks as punishment for whatever rebellious thoughts we have had throughout the Excursion. There is a grim smile on his face as he greets us.
“Welcome back, my dears,” he whispers. His tanned face, altered into perfection by the surgeries he has had almost every year for as many as six decades, turns into a grin. Dr. Ilyas is a hero of the human race, the inventor of the single process that might save the meaningful members of society. Perhaps, with the aid of his genius, we will not all end up on the lunar colonies as is expected; the experiments for which I was conceived might be an alternative that will preserve our history as rulers of the Earth. That is what Dr. Ilyas tells us in his daily motivational speeches, nonetheless.
Dr. Ilyas is fascinated by our ideal construction and births, because he is our creator. For that, I suppose, I am extremely grateful. Dr. Ilyas is my father, in every sense of the word. He nurtured me when I consisted of only a single cell, raising me in the incubated test tube in which I began the progression of my life. And he has nurtured me since, providing me with food and guidance and performing the experiments that might change the course of the Earth and eventually prevent its upcoming destruction.
I follow the boy in front of me, an experimental subject numbered M24. I have never spoken to him, but he and I have been in many of the same studies. Several years ago, he volunteered to participate in an especially brutal experiment, an act which I must admit was heroic. He had been strapped to an operating table and allowed Dr. Ilyas’s team to dissect his living brain in order to better observe the way it functioned. Dr. Ilyas had tested a new, innovative piece of technology on M24, and the supposedly groundbreaking medical technology had wound up causing permanent brain damage. Now, M24 is no longer used for psychological studies, because his mind is dysfunctional. He now only participates in minor experiments, and I have heard rumors from the staff that M24 is being considered for execution; he has been deemed a nugatory test subject. He is the first of my peers for which I have ever felt real pity, because he is more virtuous than all the rest of us as a whole. He sacrificed himself and his sanity for the good of the world’s natural humans, something I would never have been able to convince myself of doing.
M24 and the rest of the group head into the lounge, where they sit, one by one, on the padded rose-colored couch cushions. I follow suit, rubbing my arms against the cold blast of the air conditioning vent right beside me. I notice the familiar blank stare in M24’s swirling blue eyes, the look of utter emptiness. Will he be executed, or will his petty life be spared? Which option is the better one, the most humane? Which would I want if I were in his position? The questions are endless, and I can’t seem to reach any solid answers.
A little girl curled up to my left has fallen into a deep sleep, her breathing slow and heavy. She can’t possibly be older than ten years of age. Her thick dark hair is tucked underneath her as she sleeps, exposing a small almond-colored birthmark in the crook of her neck. Absently, I reach up and tuck my hair behind my ear. On my own neck is an identical mark, shaped like a perfect hexagon, symmetrical, with thin, neat lines connecting every corner to all the other corners. Warmth rushes through me simply by the comforting feeling of the birthmark beneath my fingertips. It is the mark of the society that created me. It is the universal symbol of idealism, progress, and beauty.
I, also, am a symbol of idealism, progress, and eventual beauty.
And my life, the symbol of perfection, will come to benefit the truly important members.
This is all I have to live for.
And it is enough.
More than enough for me to go on.