- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
I was called U-743 and I lived in Millenia working as a cyborg slave, I have mechanical parts and I still have problems finding feelings. How did I end up here? Well, I guess this is my story. So I can tell you anything that I want, and guess what? I’m going to save all the juicy secrets for the end. So lets start out simple, let’s start where my life really began.
I walk through the streets of Millenia, where I live, several Millenium marked goods trucks rush past me, their undecorated metal glinting in the sun. My simple long gray skirt gets caught on my boot buckle and pulls a thread out, I tuck it under the seam and keep walking. I walk along the side of the gray cement street past the gray windowless buildings. I am headed to my workplace, the Production Center, on a pre programmed path that ensures that I get there as soon as possible.
My software alerts me of the location of officials so that I may perform the proper greeting without being reprimanded for being too slow. I promptly bow to a white Millenium distibuted armor clad official standing at the corner. I am thankful for this new upgrade from the Millenium, it was given to me for my seventeenth creation day. The Millenium created all of us, and did so well, but there are still separate traits that distinguish different cyborgs from each other. That is one of the goals of President A-1, to create us so that we are all equal and no one needs to be terminated for weak traits. We never see President A-1, he is far too busy to appear in front of us but we do get messages reminding us to keep on task on a weekly basis.
I am an almost perfect specimen, I have the newest updates. I have been told that someday I will be fit to be a production master. It will be a job that will serve the Millenium well. I thanked the official that told me this accordingly for praising me, even though it was protocol to praise a worker that was doing well.
As I am walking my sensor notices another cyborg walking in my direction. It is U-736, an acquaintance of mine, her sleeping quarters is on the west side while mine is to the south. On our way to work we often cross each other's path and day after day I nod my head her but never speak. It is a waste of time to socialize with no purpose except for work reasons or acquiring information. She nods back and turns the corner leading to the sorting center, her brown hair and gray clothing swishing behind her. I have never given her much thought or any other cyborgs for that matter. My mind is always focused on the Millenium or work. Today feels different though, something small, like a change in the air.
Our software basically tells us everything, we have no opinions, we have facts. Opinions mean nothing, in the past they only created feuds that wasted life over nothing but a whimsy, a belief that was only proven by an ancient book that made no logic. We have eradicated the belief of miracles, there is no such thing, only coincidence. The same goes with superstitions, only coincidence and nothing more. These things are banned from Millenia. I don’t know why someone would want any of these things anyways, the Millenium gives us everything we need, but my software doesn’t tell me.
I finally arrive at the gray cement box building that is the production center. The scanner beeps as I slide my arm in the machine on the door for check-in, I am five minutes early for report time, as usual. The production master greets me “ Good morning U-743.”
I nod and reply “ Good morning Production Master.” I promptly walk to my workstation, I then start to take out my supplies. I pull my long black hair into a rubber band so that it won’t get caught in the machinery, I just wish the Millenium would pass the rule that says all females must have short hair. It would be so much more convenient to have it cut off.
In this certain center we make microchips. It is a very precise procedure, though we make no mistakes unless of course there is a malfunction. If that happens then the cyborg is never used again for production, or anything. They are taken immediately for termination, the hardware is inspected and recycled if in good enough shape. A malfunctioning cyborg cannot be left to wander without purpose, it is dangerous and most importantly wasteful.
My software tells me that production time has started and I move to the conveyor. My job is to place the wires in the correct spot, the most advanced position in the center besides production master. I don’t waste time greeting those in the lower positions, it is unnecessary to greet a common. My space is separated from any other stations by thick steel walls, here I am alone to concentrate. I get straight to work. The Production Master walks up to me and calls my attention, “U-743, I must communicate with you privately.” I walk into the office. “U-743, you will mentor this newling today, teach her to properly wire microchips without assistance. The Millenium has personally chosen you for this task.” Already sending a thank you with my messaging system to the Millenium, I appropriately thank the production master.
“Thank you Production Master.” I say. The master nods.
“This is V-293, your apprentice.” A cyborg looking as though she just walked out of the Nursery enters the office. It is time now for the new models of the year to be released, I am just honored that the Millenium chose me to mentor. I nod at the newling and guide her into the workstation.
It was going well, the teaching, the apprentice was quick at learning the techniques and perfectly replicated a connection that I was using as an example. Everything was normal, I was soldering wires to their connections to show V-293 how to properly connect them without touching any others. I look up at her closely watching eyes and decide that she was ready to try herself. I hand V-293 a soldering torch. Without warning the apprentice’s emergency alarms go off and her laser discharges. The torch drops to the floor. Her arms wildly flail about, I watch as her eyes lose focus and her face falls into a look of incomprehension. I know this is when she loses herself in the malfunction, this is when the laser discharges. I throw myself to the floor planning to crawl across the floor and barricade V-293 in the station but I am too late. A searing pain flashes through my hand and the smell of burning outer flesh and mechanics fills the area. Writhing on the floor I barely see the foot fall by my face. I look up and see a male jump on the apprentice and pull her back panel off, it seems that he pushed the manual over-ride button. The cyborg’s sights go blank and and her arms drop to her side, the laser returns to it’s finger compartment and the machinery whirs to quiet.
I look down at the two stumps that my fingers used to be and how the red fluid runs rapidly out of it. I notice that the inner finger is slightly longer than the outer and is cut diagonally. The angle is just so that the laser barely missed my middle finger. My software is screaming inside my head “VITAL INJURY! SEE MEDIC IMMEDIATELY! VITAL INJURY!” I can see the words running across my vision like waves, they are blurry, and it feels like the words are bouncing around inside my head, pounding! I look at my hand again and notice how the fluid shines in the light and has covered almost all of my arm. Falling, blurring, waves, pounding, screaming! VITAL INJURY! IMMEDIATELY! MY FINGERS! THEY’RE GONE! I HAVE TO FIND THEM! But how can I if this pounding, screaming, POUNDING! BLURRING! FALLING! Doesn’t stop? I can’t! because I’m falling, I’m falling into the waves, they’re pounding my body. The last thing I see are two gray eyes a... a face! Yes, thats it! They’re saying something but I can’t understand, the ringing is too loud so I give up. The edges are going black, but I have to find the surface, I keep fighting but I’m losing to this sea of blackness, I’m losing... the black takes over and I’m lost.
As I gain consciousness I notice the bright lights and the white walls of the hospital. My software powers up and alerts the nurses of my awakening. I try to move my arm but it has been strapped to the bed, actually all of my limbs are. I am in a room large enough for my bed, a white gleaming counter and walking space about two people wide.I ask my software why I am strapped to the bed but then the nurse walks in at the same time. She is tall and muscular with blonde hair that falls in front of her face.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
“I am fine but why...” but in the middle of my sentence she starts removing the straps that were the subject of my question. When at last she gets to my last arm I finally notice that my left hand is bandaged so much that it does not resemble a hand but more of a white cottony ball. Then she turns around and before walking out of the room says one last thing.
“If you need anything, the Head Doctor will be in to see you soon.” Then she leaves.
The Head Doctor? You only see him when you are severely injured, why would he see... my fingers! Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! The scene from the production center comes back to me, the blurriness, the shining red and the black sea... I can almost see it, the red, a line of it in the corner of my eye and strangely two gray beacons . Back then I thought it was intriguing but now disgusting, yes, that is the word. As I look more closely I actually do see it! It is in a tube connected to my arm that is putting the red fluid back inside my body, it must be important, a lubricant maybe, if the nurses are putting such a nasty thing back inside me. The sound of an opening door and footsteps interrupt my thoughts, it must be the Head Doctor.
The doctor talks long and fast as he sits in a rolling chair next to my bed. “Hello! I hope you are doing well! But let’s skip the pleasantries and get down to business. When your fingers were cut off they were burned so badly by the laser that they could not be retrieved for re-attachment. Obviously this will ruin your career at the production center and heed you useless.” At this my thoughts went straight to termination, I don’t want to be useless! The head Doctor continues, “However, I immediately notified the Millenium and they ordered me to provide you with prosthetic fingers so that you may continue your work at the production center. The Millenium must highly value your work, be grateful that the Millenium has provided you with this privilege.” At this I think that my existence has been saved. My software launches the facial expression program and commences a grateful expression.
“Thank you very much Head Doctor!” I exclaim.
“ We will meet tomorrow in my office and I will present you with your new fingers. Now, you need to rest.” He nods in expectation.
“I am far too rested already to sleep, sir.” I reply. He nods and attaches another tube to my neck, this fluid feels strange as it enters my skin. Then he proceeds in manually performing my sleep software shutdown, something that we do every time we rest. then he walks to the door.
“Rest well” he coos. I fall into the black sea again, I don’t fight it, I can’t. It’s too strong this time, thick and drug induced, I drown in it.
There must be something wrong with this fluid that the doctor gave me. During sleep what used to be a blank space in my memory was now filled with horrible hallucinations. The first was that the same malfunctioning apprentice that had cut off my fingers had completely disassembled my body then immediately returned to regular work. I was left in the pool of red fluid, it seemed like no one could see me, the Production Master walked right over me and praised the apprentice. I lay there and watched the Production Master praise all of the other workers without noticing that I was gone. The red fluid rose up around me until it turned into the black sea that haunted me so often lately.
The second hallucination started with me being spit out of a sparkling teal ocean and onto the Dawanis beach. I tried to stand up but couldn’t so I looked around and saw all of the cyborgs that I have ever known including the apprentice and the Head Doctor. Then a person I had never seen before, a member of the Millenium with dark hair, gray eyes and a bright blue tie walked out of the crowd with the Head Doctor towards me. “Well?” he asks the Head Doctor. The Head Doctor rolled my body over with his foot.
“Obviously she is dead. No one could survive the ocean.” He says nonchalantly “It would be best to call the carriers immediately.”
The member’s face fell “It’s a shame, she was highly talented.” His gray eyes glint in the bright sun.
The Production Master walked up next to them, “I told her not to go, she knew it was dangerous! Why? Do you know how hard it will be to replace her?” At this for some reason the member exhaled heavily and walked away with an intimidating stature. Then the carriers came and put me on the board and started carrying me to the Warehouse. The carriers faces are blank and all the same as his fellow next to him. I cannot tell how close we are to the Warehouse because all of the gray building are the same, the same box shape, the same color.
“Wait!” I screamed. “I’m alive! Please! Please!” But they did not hear me. Something stirred inside me, I don’t know what it was, but I knew that I did not want to be taken to the warehouse, I did not want these cyborgs carrying me on this stained board, and I did NOT want to be terminated! I wanted to run, but I couldn’t! I screamed louder “Please! I’m not dead!” But again they kept walking as if they didn’t hear a thing. Soon we arrived at the Warehouse and the carriers walked past all of the shelves of spare parts, I squeezed my eyes shut here, I did not want to see. They took me to a dark room labeled Recycling and set me on a table. As soon as I was set down white hands reached out with shining instruments and cut into me. I screamed a final “Please!” expecting a flow of the red fluid that I so dreaded, but instead the same water as the sparkling ocean flowed out of the cuts. Then I awakened.
The first thing that I noticed was that both of the tubes were gone and a single thinner clear tube in my arm replaced them. Less than two minutes later the nurse walks into my room. “Wonderful! You slept the whole night!” Then she walks to the end of my bed and picks up a clipboard. She frowns as she reads it, “Oh, I see the Head Doctor gave you Bentine.” She muttered something that sounded like “not necessary”. Then she walks to the white counter in the room, picks up a tray and brings it to my bed. In it is a syringe with green fluid in it, I recognize it immediately, it is the charging liquid that we inject ourselves with every day. It provides our bodies with energy. I wonder how it’s been since I’ve gone without it.
“How long have I been here?” I ask. It is strange because my voice is rough and scratchy. I decided to ask the nurse instead of my software because I wasn’t sure if it was affected by the attack.
“Three days.” The nurse says without looking up from the tray. She puts on a pair of white stretchy gloves. “Hold still” she says calmingly, then she inserts the liquid into my arm and I only feel the familiar sharp pain. “I will be back in a few minutes to take you to the Head Doctor.” Then she turns to walk away, but just before leaving she turns back around “Oh, and the things you were experiencing were only a side effect, they will never happen again.” Then she walks away with slumping posture. I thought she was talking about the hallucinations, but it seems like she meant something more. As I think about this I question the Head Doctor and why he would give me something that the nurse thought I didn’t need and would give me horrible hallucinations. Why would he do that? I ask myself.
About ten minutes later the nurse returns with a chair on two large wheels. She motions to the chair and says “This is how I will get you to the Head Doctor’s office since you are too weak to walk.”
“Too weak?” I question, “How far away is his office?”
She made a strange noise that sounded like choking but more pleasant. “ Far enough” she says. Then she helps me into the black leather wheeled chair and attaches the machine that had my tube hooked up to it onto a clip on the chair. After asking if I was comfortable, which I was, she wheels me out of the room and into the hallway. I observe the hallway, it is the same bright white that the room was and the same high gloss tile floors. Each door has a metal number on it, 512, 514, 516, 518, that is the left side of the hallway which means I was probably in room 508. As I look down the hallway it seems like it goes on forever, the nurse’s footsteps echoing down it. Suddenly the nurse takes a sharp left turn and continues down another hallway and into a room that other cyborgs are being taken on stretchers into different hallways. Then she veers past other nurses slowing down as she goes because we were going very fast before and into two silver sliding doors. The doors close on their own and we are in a very small room, only big enough that we fit alone. The nurse slides her arm into a scanner much like the one that we use at the production center and pushes a button that reads “1”. I watch a glowing number above the doors fall starting at 11. When the numbers reach 7, I decide to ask a question that has been on my mind since I woke up.
“Nurse?” I call out.
“Yes?” she replies.
“Who brought me here?” I ask nervously.
She sighs, “ Your Production Master and a young Millenium man carried you here. He even wrapped your hand in his tie, you could barely see the blue it was so stained with red, very strange. Good thing they got here in time though, you would have bled out.”
“What did he look like? I might know him.” I ask.
“hmm...” the nurse thinks for a minute, “Tall with dark hair and light grey eyes, very intimidating also” My eyes widen, this almost describes the man from my hallucination. Finally the silver doors ring and open, the nurse pushes us into the bright white again. She walks to a shiny white door that reads “Head Doctor” with a glass window. She knocks and opens the door.
“Well, hello! Nice of you to show up.” Then the Head Doctor, sitting at his desk, turns his attention to the nurse. “You are 7 minutes late, Nurse S-4692!” He yells at her. This makes me uncomfortable, it is protocol to scold a cyborg in private, not to reprimand them in public shame.
The nurse tries to explain herself, “I’m sorry sir! The lobby was extremely crowded and the patient still needed to be pushed in a wheelchair and...”
“No more excuses!” He says putting his wrinkly pale hand up to stop her, “That patient should be walking fine! Take her out of that ridiculous chair and make her walk here! NOW!” A painfully strange looking expression passes the nurse’s face as she turns and helps me out of the chair into a standing position. I wobble at first but then gain my stability. The Head Doctor motions for me to come towards him the deep purple room swaying in front of me. I take the first step and veer extremely to my right, then catch my self and take three more steps almost falling forward on my face. I take two more large steps and when both my feet land I have lost all of my energy, my knees buckle under me and I fall to the ground hitting my head on a metal chair. Luckily the floor is covered in a soft blindingly white carpet and injury is minimal. The nurse rushes over, helps me stand up and leads me to a chair holding mostly all of my weight.
“Are you okay?” she asks with the same pained look on her face. I nod which causes a large throbbing in my head. I try to hide this from her, for some reason thinking that her knowing this might make her feel responsible for my injury, when whose only fault is my
“You are dismissed Nurse S-4692.” the Head Doctor declared loudly. She lowered her head in submission and quickly walked out of the door. As soon as she was gone the gray haired Head Doctor put on a sickly sweet face and used the same cooing voice as when he put me under. It seems that all hospital workers wear white unlike the rest of us in gray. “Well hello, U-74361!” He reached over and picked up a shiny silver case from behind his mahogany desk. “These are your new prosthetic fingers,” He opens the case and the inside is lined with soft black crushed velvet, two thin indents hold shiny back finger looking objects with silver joints. On the end of them are small black rubber cups with thin straps attached to them. “They’re the most advanced models that the Millenium has to offer. Let me see your left hand.” He says reaching out for it. I lift it up and give him the white cottony ball on the end of my arm, as I look at it I realize that it is smaller than it was yesterday. The Head Doctor grasps my wrist and starts unwrapping the cotton. Once it gets to the end and I see my mutilated hand I audibly inhale for no apparent reason. The first two fingers, once so long and agile, are now pink shiny swollen stumps. The fingers next to the stumps are also pink and shiny. “You may think this looks bad, but it’s better than most.” I look at him questionably. “As irritating as that nurse is, she did a good job stitching this up.” Irritating? I’ve never heard this word before, and don’t know what it means. I decide not to ask the Head Doctor what it meant because if it was a mistake it isn’t my place to correct him due to his seniority. His eyes run along the objects several times.
“How will you attach them to my hand?” I ask raspily in order to fill in the silence.
“I will get to that! Impatient, brat.” He barks. He grasps my arm harder and reaches into a drawer on the other side of his desk, out he pulls a white container. He opens it and inside is a brown transparent cream. He takes some with his hand and roughly wipes it all over my pink fingers. As soon as it is applied it feels like a cool wind is blowing on my hot stumpy fingers. “That should take care of the swelling and burns.” He says as he releases my arm which falls onto the desk. “Now we will get to the prosthetics.” He says with a much gentler tone. He gingerly picks up the first prosthetic finger, I notice that it is longer than the other. “Carbon fiber and steel, you’d have a hard time breaking that.” he says eyeing the prosthetic.
“How will it move?” I ask, remembering the precision that it takes to put together a microchip, I can’t have the thing flopping around uselessly.
“The wires will connect to your existing hardware and the software will direct it like it would any other limb.” He answers.
“That is very interesting. Why can’t I just use a leftover part from the warehouse?” I inquire, finally realizing that is what the warehouse is for.
“Ummm, they were out..” He says, averting his gaze from mine. Quickly he starts another topic. “The rubber joint will fit right on to the leftover finger and the wires will connect to your hand that way so then they are protected by the rubber.” He takes out one of the shining objects that I had seen in my dream and instantly I flinch away from it. “It won’t hurt any,” The Head Doctor says, noticing me flinch. Then he takes the object and cuts the outer shell from the tip of my finger revealing a metal connector. He then takes the prosthetic and connects the wires to the metal plate. Wrapping the harness around my wrist I feelpower surge to my hand and continue to my finger. Suddenly a tiny torch comes out of the prosthetic finger and flares up, almost setting the Head Doctor’s sleeve on fire. He grabs the end of the prosthetic and pushes an almost invisible button on the lower inside joint. The flame dissipates and the torch returns to it’s compartment.
“I’m so sorry! I don’t even know how that...” I start to apologize
for almost setting the Head doctor on fire.
“No, no.” He says very calm “I will teach you how to control that later.” He continues waving the incident off. “Just keep your mind clear, that shouldn’t happen again.” He says. Then he proceeds in placing the other prosthetic on my first stump. This harness connects to the other with round clasps that snap when placed on the other clasp. “There,” he exclaims when he finishes placing the prosthetic. “Now try putting your hand in a fist, you need to think about it.” The Head Doctor instructs. I try to think about putting my left hand in a fist and I succeed, almost. The only finger that doesn’t follow my lead is the middle finger. Pleased at first that I had gotten at least one finger to listen to my commands it takes me awhile to realize that I am pointing a very offensive gesture at the Head Doctor! Quickly I unclench my hand.
“Sorry...” I mumble.
“Yes, well let’s try that again. Try to focus on all fingers this time!” He answers, it seems that he is not at all offended by my mistake. I focus harder, this time both my prosthetics go into the fist. “Good job! Keep working on that and I will see you tomorrow at 12:00. Your nurse will lead you down here. You are dismissed.” He turns around and reaches for a communicator.
I stand up and wobble out the door and around the corner towards the way I think the silver doored transporting machine was. As I go around the corner almost falling on my face, I see my nurse with the chair on wheels. “I’ve been waiting for you to take you back to your room.” she says looking concerned. “Did it go well?” she asks.
“Yes, except I almost set the Head Doctor on fire...” I reply hesitantly
“Oh my, he could do with a little roasting though.” She says with a happy expression on her face. “Can I see?” she asks. I nod and lift up my left hand and wiggle around my prosthetic fingers. “Very nice. Oh, and don’t tell the Head Doctor that I am still pushing you in the wheelchair, Ok?” I nod, wheelchair, so that is what it’s called. Simple enough, it is a chair with wheels anyway.
“Nurse? When will I go back to the production center?” I ask, a question that had been bothering me for the longest time.
She sighs “Hopefully next week, it depends on how well that your therapy is going.” Next week, then I will again have a purpose! A purpose more than being drugged, sleeping and being pushed through the halls because I am “too weak”. I wonder if my production master has replaced me because I have been gone too long. Have I lost my position on the assembly line? I have my software search the microchip production database. No, I am still listed as the head of my department. I take a deep breath to calm my senses. We arrive at my room again and the nurse wheels me over the bump at the threshold of the door and takes me over to the bed and helps me in. I am exhausted after the meeting for some reason. I am almost powered down when the nurse quietly whispers this in my ear “Trust yourself more than those who rule you.” and then she walks out of the room. Unsure of what this means I drift off into the world of unconsciousness.
Proverb, or wise saying. These are the words that I wake up to steaming across by search bar. My software must have registered a question as soon as I fell asleep. This must be what the nurse was speaking of, underneath the word are the lines that the nurse says with more next to it. Trust yourself more than those who rule you, for those the wise see through the smiling faces and into the greed inside. est. year 2052. This sentence makes no sense, it must be human culture, they were uneducated back in the ancient times, they couldn’t even put together a proper sentence! Now we have the Millenium, they take care of us cyborgs with their superior intelligence. Why would the nurse tell me such a ridiculous thing? Why would I trust myself more than the Millenium? They are far more intelligent than I, they give us everything! Suddenly a red pop up box appears on top of my search bar reading: Warning! Search banned. Closing in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Then the the search bar disappears and my sights go back to empty white hospital room. Strange, I think, the nurse gave me a useless banned piece of ancient saying. She must be sleep deprived, I was told once that that causes software malfunction.
Soon the Nurse comes and brings me my charging liquid. Again she puts on the white stretchy gloves and inserts the liquid in the same spot she did yesterday. I am not paying much attention to her, I am still thinking about this “proverb”. The sharp pain, the most familiar thing that I have experienced at the hospital, is the only thing that reminds me that she is there. “It’s 9:30 right now, feel free to read the newest rules the Millenium has placed as of two hours ago. I will be back at 11:30.” Then she abruptly turns and walks away. Something seems different about her, I’m not sure what. I search my software for the new rules. This is what I receive:
In order for your safety and evolution the Great Leaders of the Millenium induct 120 new rules. The following have been decided that they are for the best of the subjects of Millenia.
1. Cyborgs are required to record and report the time of injection and amount of their charging liquid.
Simple enough, I thought, I don’t even understand the purpose of that rule. If the Millenium decides that it is best for us it was needed somewhere. The Nurse will probably report that for me as long as I am here anyways.
2. Missing parts in production centers are to be reported to a Millenium Official immediately.
3. Any sightings of a moving organism or animal are to be reported to a Millenium Official immediately.
4. In order to evolve and not dwell in the past, any searches for ancient sayings, proverbs, psalms, books, events, superstitions or rituals are banned. (Definitions of any of the previously mentioned are open for observation without penalty until next week.)
At the end of the list is:
Remember, Create or Terminate!
J-173, Head Secretary of the Millenium Law Committee
The last rule relates directly to the incident that happened just minutes before! The pop up says it was just a warning, so I shouldn’t be penalized. If I don’t ever look it up again I will still be in good standing with the Millenium, they must know that I would never disobey them purposely, they know me so well. They know all of us perfectly, they are the one’s that created us! I conclude that my mistake can not be counted against me.
I continue to read through the rules to entertain myself. Most of the rules are unrelated and quite ridiculous. But it is helpful to know in case I ever planned on trading an arm with my co-worker. Soon it is 10 minutes to 11:30 so I finish reading the final rule and prepare for the nurse to come. I actually manage to slide off of the bed and into a sitting position. When the nurse walks in I stand up just to show her how strong I am getting. “Well look at you!” she exclaims. I can’t look at myself, I think, but it seems that she is complimenting me anyways. “You might even get to go back to work sooner than I thought!” Good, I think, the sooner I get out of this place the happier the Millenium will be.
The nurse helps me into the wheelchair and starts to head into the hall. We go down the same way we did yesterday. “Was my software damaged when it happened?” I ask referring to the attack.
“There is a chance that you may malfunction due to emotional stress but as long as we’re here we have a chip controlling that little issue.” She replies and points to a small metal chip on my inner arm that I haven’t noticed before. “It is highly unlikely that that will happen though.” Suddenly a communicator on her arm beeps and it’s red light flashes. She stopps wheeling me forward and pauses to listen to the message pushing a button that turns the light green. When it finishes she makes a concerned face again, “It seems that your appointment with the Head Doctor has been canceled. “He must just have a vital patient to work on. Well I guess I’m taking you back to your room then!” She gets rid of the concerned face and turns the wheelchair around pushing me back in the direction to my room. As we are wheeling back I count the tiles from where we stopped until the room, 215 tiles. “You could practice walking if you want, then you might get to leave earlier.” The Nurse suggests, then she leaves me alone again.
I’m not sure why but I wanted the nurse to come back and talk to me, I want someone, anyone to be in the room! I wonder if this is a malfunction, I think of calling the nurse but I have no way to communicate with her. I sit down on the bed and try to clear my mind like the Head Doctor taught me to. Then I concentrate on moving my fingers,the middle one twitches a little but it moves normally besides that. I get up and start practicing my walking, little does the nurse know I am actually very strong now. The nurse... Aha! I remember now! The fluid that the nurse injected me with, it should have been green! But it wasn’t, it was clear. I wonder what that means, is that why I am thinking that I am having a malfunction? I walk back and forth across the room.
Suddenly everything goes dark with a sound like a whiiiirrrrrr. The light above my door goes dark and the nurse tablet goes blank. An alarm that sounds like woooooooop! woooooooop! woooooooop! goes off. But eventually that goes quiet too. The metal chip that the nurse had pointed to earlier falls to the ground with a clatter. I stop and try to pick it up but my body won’t move. My joints seize up and I forget what I was thinking about.
It doesn’t take long for me to lose myself in the malfunction. First my sights start to blur together when I move and then I can't control my movement at all. Everything now is blurred wavy and disconnected. It all may be a hallucination or as I’ve been told whatever my conscious mind picked up when I broke though the virus.
I remember leaving the room, crushing the chip under my foot. I think I run through the labyrinth of white halls. I remember somehow ending up outside the Head Doctor’s office, he seems to be yelling at my nurse and holding a shiny pointy object. The nurse’s eyes are wide and her eyes seem to be leaking a fluid. I’m not sure if it just looks like this because of the malfunction because her face was swaying back and forth like waves also.This is where I usually stop telling the story, so listen up.
The nurse yelled something at me, “Run! Run!” It takes me awhile to comprehend this. I realize what she was saying as soon as I see a flash and red sprawls across the nurse’s white uniform. A high pitched noise reaches my ears and they ring as I do what the nurse told me to, I run. The last thing I remember is seeing a thick male nurse running after me and my body reaching the doors. I remember nothing else.
“Ouch.” This is the first thing that I say. I’m not sure what it means but as I remet consciousness I exclaim this. I feel pain, not like that of the time my fingers were cut off but this is a dull throbbing pain, not burning. I feel it all over my arms, legs and head. My body is ravaged with bluish purple spots. There are red lines on my legs also and and my feet are covered in red oozing spots. I remember leaving the hospital and seeing... horrible things. I notice a burning pain in my chest when I think about this, I feel as though I have lost something. But I checked, the only thing I am missing are my shoes. All of my parts are intact, well my fingers are gone but they are replaced by the carbon fiber and steel. The Head Doctor was right, they are hard to break.
I look up and see a very, extremely bright light. I realize that it is the sun, much brighter than it was in Millenia. I must be very far from there, will I ever get back? Around me I see dark green masses with long skinny fibers protruding from them. My search bar appears, pine trees, it says. Well, at least I know that that is working. I try to move my fingers, they work well, I remove some of the green fibers from the joints that must have been from the pine trees. I look at the spot where I had been laying, the ground is covered in brown fibers that look just like the ones on the trees. There is an indent in the ground where I had been, and some red fluid is on the fibers. I look closer at the lines on my arm, they are dry and raised, meaning that they are healing, I must have been here for days. Are they looking for me? Do they know I’m gone? I know that my software won’t tell me this, but I ask anyways. I’m not tired, so I must have slept in the brown fibers for a very long time. I know that I can’t stay in the pine trees and wait for someone to find me, they might not even be looking for me! I turn on my intensified hearing device to see if I can locate civilization but I only hear a scuffling that seems to be getting louder, and louder... FOOF! A small furry brown animal leaps from one pine tree to another. Soon a grey animal of the same stature follows behind it. I feel the need to follow the animals, so I do. I have nothing else to do.
I follow the sound of the animals and every once in awhile I catch sight of them. I am walking and suddenly the animals stop moving. THUNK. “Ouch!” I made that ridiculous noise again! Something had hit me in the head, I look up and see one of the creatures holding a small brown oblong sphere. THUNK. It threw the object at me! This time it only hits me in the arm. “Stupid thing!” I yell at the animal. It obviously doesn’t know that it shouldn’t throw things. I pick up the object, it is hard and is covered in deep lines, the other side is broken open and empty. I move behind a large pine tree and observe the animals. They seem to be gathering the spheres and gnawing on them, then when finished, they throw them to the ground. It seems that the animals gain sustenance from the spheres as they ingested them. The animals look as though they are harmless and unintelligent.
I look up at the sky and see that the sun is low and the color of the sky is orange. I know from experience that this means that the day is to end soon and that the night is coming. It gets chillier and my mechanical parts are starting to lock up and slow down. In my unconscious state I covered myself with the brown fibers and didn’t lock up, so I decide to dig in the ground. I make myself a body sized hole and burrow down into it, curling into a ball and covering myself with the brown fibers. I watch the sun leave the sky and my burrow fills up with heat. My hardware shuts down and I drift off into sleep.
The hallucinations come again. And the Millenium man makes a reappearance also. This time he was not wearing a suit but black pants and a black short sleeved shirt and black protective boots. Around his neck he wears a stone that looks like fire, deep red and dancing when it moves. Next to him stands my nurse, wearing the same all black and red flames. Behind them stands a small group of people wearing the same looking rough tired and yet beautiful. Standing across from us stand all of the other cyborgs, including the Head Doctor, wearing perfect gleaming white they are clean and in perfect formation. Both groups are asking me to join them. Then the Millenium man sets a line of fire in between us and the cyborgs in white. The nurse comes over to me and hands me the black clothes that they are wearing. The man asks me to change into them.
“Where?” I ask him.
“Right here, where else?” He replies, then just stands there.
I take the clothes and change into them in front of all the cyborgs against my better judgement. The nurse hands me a flame necklace also and gently squeezes my hand. She says “Now you can control the flames.” I put on the necklace and make my decision. I move the flames towards the Head Doctor, they engulf him and eat away his body. I do this because he hurt the nurse and that mattered to me. I feel as though the fire eating away the Head Doctor would take away the fire in my chest. Finally the Head Doctor crumbles into ashes, no one ever came to help him. The white dressed cyborgs stand there, still beckoning me to join them.
“That is why you’re better off with us,” The Millenium man says, gesturing towards the ashes. “Welcome.” he says and takes my hand leading me towards a very bright light
A very, very bright light... I realized that it is the sun, and I am no longer in the hallucination. I like this hallucination a lot better than the ones that I experienced in the hospital. I got to see the man again and my nurse! I felt the burning go away when I thought of the Head Doctor’s ashes but it quickly returns with a ferocity even stronger than before. I am still enveloped in the fibers and a fine mist of fluid is on my forehead and the brown fibers stick to it. My search bar says: Sweat, occurs when the body overheats. Perspiration is a natural way to lower body temperature. Consists of salt and water. Interesting, now I know when I am overheating, speaking of, I release myself from the fiber burrow. Instantly I feel a cool breeze, so night brings cold and day brings heat. I’m learning so much out here! I also learned that burning things only brings temporary relief to your own pain. Strange.
I decide that I should get moving as soon as possible to be able to get to civilization. I search my history for which direction that I was going yesterday. I follow the history and start walking in that direction. I wonder how far I’ve traveled, my history doesn’t keep track of that. I turn on my sensitive hearing aid to see if I was any closer to intelligent life. zzzzzzzzzzz, nothing. I continue walking for I don’t know how long. Suddenly I hear a chirp! Chirp! I instantly throw myself behind a pine tree. I observe two animals with two skinny legs and brown oval bodies. They seem to be communicating with each other by the chirping. They have sharp yellowish pointed things on their faces that open and close when they make sound. The animals then propel themselves with objects on their sides into the air and hold themselves at a constant elevation until I can see them no longer. I decide that I will be cautious of these animals until I decide if they are dangerous or not.
I turn on my sensitive hearing aid again. I hear something! It is the sound of intelligent communication! All of the noises go over each other so I can’t make out what they are, but it is something! I start accelerating my travel in the direction of the sounds. I can hear it getting louder, the civilization is closer! The trees get thicker and thicker, all I can see is the green now and I have to push the fibers out of my way to get through. Once or twice, I don’t care, the arms of the trees trip me and I fall to the ground, hitting my head and scraping my legs and arms again. I run faster because the sounds have reached their height, I still haven’t turned off the sensitive hearing aid so it roars in my ears having nothing to concentrate on. I run more, the trees thicker than ever and BAM!
“OUCH!” I know hilarious right, we’re gonna do this again? Well, it’s different this time. This time I hit a wall, a real brick wall. My head throbs, my knees are scraped more than ever and my chest heaves struggling to take in oxygen. I think that my brain might just spontaneously combust, to alleviate the pressure I finally turn off my sensitive hearing aid. The sound resolves to a low mumble with the occasional bang and crash. I muster up what is left of my bodily strength and sit up, I look around. I see the pine trees pushing up against a red brick wall. I can’t see through the trees to know if the wall ever ends. I stand up and leaning on the wall for support feel along the wall, the branches keep hitting me in the face, which doesn’t help the concentration part.
Suddenly bam! My hand falls through the wall and my shoulder slams into it. There is a perfectly square hole in the wall that leads to another red brick hallway. It is strange because the hallway is open to the blue sky. I crawl through the hole head first catching myself with my hands on the other side. I land on grey cobble stone, almost the same grey that we wear in Millenia. I stand up and look to the end of the hallway and see what looks like cyborgs just like me, except they all wear an array of colors, very un-uniform I think. I walk cautiously towards the end of the hallway and peek around the left corner. I step out and right into a curly haired thick female! “Oh, my!” She exclaims holding her chest.
“I’m very sorry for colliding with you ma'am.” I tell her while stepping back, trying to get away as soon as possible.
“Well you can’t just go around jumpin’ out of alleyways, can ya’?” She says. I am very confused by this, I just jumped out of the “alleyway”, so yes, you can jump out of alleyways. She seems to be slurring her speech, maybe she needs an update. “Say, what were ya’ doin’ back there? I mean, look at ya’, you’re all busted up and yer’ smock is all ripped and dirty.”
“I have been traveling through those pine trees searching for intelligent civilization, all I found were animals until I arrived here by entering through a square hole in that brick wall. Where are we right now ma’am?” I hope she would receive all of this, she seems pretty slow on her speech.
“Welcome to Red Brook! What were ya’ doin’ in the forest?” She asks.
“Well, I was in the hospital but the power went out and the chip controlling my software fell off. Then I had a major malfunction that affected my movement, sight and memory. I woke up in the trees and followed the sounds of civilization here hoping that you may have a source of charging liquid. Without it I may shut down and not power up.” I explain trying to get her to understand the urgency of the situation.
The woman’s eyebrows push together and her mouth makes a thin line. “You should follow me.” is all she says and then she starts walking away. The woman lead me through the crowd and across several cobblestone streets. Everywhere is crowded, this place must have a larger population quota. In Millenia we have a 500 cyborg population addition per year to ensure that all job placements are filled and no extras are wasting space. This also ensures that the streets aren’t extremely crowded. The woman pulls me into a small building with a sign over it that read: “Glenda’s Inn and Restaurant, All meals are served!” She pushes through groups of more cyborgs and towards a counter where a large woman with black curly hair and bright green eyes sits.
“Roberta,” The woman that I collided with calls to the woman at the counter. “I gotcha a lost girl, she be hurt and bleedin’ and confused.” The woman at the counter called Roberta (A very strange name, I thought) turns her attention towards us. Her eyes widen and she gets up off of her stool and walks around the counter and into a room behind it, we follow. In the room there are several pieces of furniture, three chairs and what looks like two chairs that were connected with no hand rest behind them. The room is painted olive green and has wooden boards covering the floor. The Roberta woman gestures towards a chair next to a short table, she sits in the chair on the other side of the table.
“Thank you Gladys,” Roberta says to the woman “Go on and help yourself to some flapjacks, George is in the kitchen.” Wow, this place has some strange names. The woman that brought me here leaves the room and I am alone with Roberta. “Well girl, What’s your name?” Roberta asks.
“My name is U-743.” I reply.
“Ha! What kind of name is that?”
“It’s an alphabetical numeric identification name that was given to me when I was created. I was number 743 of group year U. Roberta, what does that stand for?” I retort.
“It don’t stand for nothin’. My parents gave it to me cuz it was pretty.” She says. I am confused, parents? Pretty? I have arrived in a very strange place.
“What are parents? Is that your form of government?” I ask.
“In a way.” She says. “You’re very silly, girl. Where do you come from?”
“Are you not going to answer my question?”
“You tell me bout you first. Then I answer your questions, alright? This is how it works here.” She firmly replies.
“Ok. I come from Millenia.”
“Where that be?” She asks.
“I believe it is to the east. At least that is the direction that I traveled to arrive here when I woke up.”
“Alright girl, tell me your story.” She asks me, rubbing her temples.
“My story? What do you mean?” I ask confused.
“Your story, what has happened to you to make you all beat up.” She says.
So I tell her everything, I tell her how I ended up in the hospital. I show her my carbon fiber fingers, she audibly inhales at this part. I tell her about the nurse and how the Head Doctor hurt her. I tell her about waking up in the woods and running to this place. I show her my cuts and my feet and I finally tell her about my hallucinations.
“These hallucinations, they are called dreams.” She says. “I think that you burned this Doctor in yours dreams because you are angry at him for hurting the nurse.”
“Angry? What is that?” I asks.
“Angry is what you feel when someone does you wrong.” She explains “It makes you want to hurt things. But you have to learn to control this, you can’t let it take over your mind.”
“Oh. Is that like when I feel burning in my chest when I think about the nurse?” I ask.
“No, that is sadness. You are like a little child with these things but you talk so nice, how old is you?” She asks.
“I am 17 years old. Now, what is pretty?”
“Pretty is hard to explain, I’ll show you when I see it.” She says. “Now we got to get you cleaned up, those cuts will get infection.” She walks through another door on the opposite side of the room, I follow after her. This room has blue walls, a sink, a large metal cabinet and a bench, the door reads “First Aid”. Roberta gestures for me to sit on the bench. “Let me see your feet,” Roberta says “Oh yes, this will need to be cleaned, it might sting a lot” She turns around and takes a cloth out of the cabinet, she runs it under the water and brings it over to where I am sitting. She takes my leg in her hand and rubs my foot with the cloth. She was right, it does sting, like a thousand charging liquid needles.
“Ouch! OUCH!” I exclaim. After Roberta moves onto a different area of my foot, the area that she was working on before still burns like fire.
“It’ll be worth it in the end.” Roberta says, she finally finishes with my right foot and takes the cloth away from my foot, it was covered in dirt, brown fibers and red fluid. She folds over the cloth and moves over to my left foot. This foot stings too, but this time I am used to it so I don’t shout out, I just wince. Roberta then throws out the cloth and gets another one and cleans my legs and arms. She threw that cloth out too. Afterwards she cleans my face and brushes out my hair. In the end she has three very dirty cloths, a pile of leaves and matted hair, and a very pink girl. “There, now you’re clean.”
“Am I done?” I ask hoping that I was because so far this has been a very painful experience.
“No way!” Roberta says “I just got ya clean so that I can start to work with ya.” She goes back to the metal cabinet and takes out a glass jar, inside of it is a creamy white substance. She takes it and smothers it all over my feet. Then she puts it all over the rest of my cuts and scrapes. When she gets to my face she applies it very gently. “Your eyes is pretty, a pretty blue.” She says. For some reason this makes heat rush to my face. Then she closes the jar and wipes her hands on her skirt. She walks over to the cabinet again and puts away the jar and takes out a roll of white cotton like what was wrapped around my hand at the hospital. This makes the burning in my chest happen, what Roberta calls “sadness”. I don’t like sadness, it feels bad. She walks up and wraps the cotton thinly around my feet. As she is wrapping them I just realize how torn apart my feet are, it looks like I have taken a walk on top of a thousand needles, at least that is what it feels like. The pressure of the cotton on my cuts holding them together takes some of the pain away. “I’m gonna bring you some fresh clothes, so you stay here. I’ll be back soon, ok?” Then she leaves with her black dress swishing out the door.
I observe my hands and how carefully Roberta took care of them, it reminds me of the Nurse. This makes the sadness come again, but this time it is dulled a little bit, like I have gotten something back that had been lost for a long time. I try to stand up and walk around but my feet are too raw and burn when I put too much pressure on them. Roberta returns soon just as she says with a white dress with small red objects embroidered on it. “What are these, Roberta?” I ask.
“They are flowers, roses.” She says tracing around the outlines of the flowers.
“They are pretty… right?” I say hesitantly.
“Yes,” she makes that light choking sound that the nurse made once. “Flowers are very pretty.”
“What is that?” I ask.
“What is what, honey?”
“This,” I imitate the sound.
“That is called laughing.” Roberta replies. “Now go put on your new clothes and I’ll be in the lobby.” Roberta leaves and closes the door. I look at the clothes and unfold them, I take off my old ripped tattered shirt and pants from the hospital, the last things that I have from Millenia. I put on the dress and underneath all of the clothes are a pair of leather shoes, I put those on over the cotton on my feet. They are a little big but they are comfortable to walk in. I leave the room called first aid. I walk through the green furniture room and into the place I assume is called the lobby. Roberta is sitting in her stool again behind the counter. “Oh, now you look pretty.” She says when she sees me.
“You’re pretty, Roberta.” I say without hesitation like I did the flowers.
“No Honey, I think you’re confused.” she replies and her face turns red. “Girl, when was the last time you ate?” She asks.
“Ate what is ate?” I ask unsure of what this means.
“Eating! You can’t live without it! What did you do in your land to stay alive?” She exclaims her eyes extremely wide. Roberta is using a lot of new words that I have never heard before, eat eating, live, alive, what were these things?
“Live, alive, eating, what are those?” I ask taking a seat next to Roberta’s stool, sensing that this may take a while.
“Oh my, I didn’t know you was this bad.” She says. “Let me think a minute.” I rub the flowers on the hem of my dress while Roberta thinks. I look closer at the embroidery and notic that the “roses” Roberta called them are connected by thin green lines. The green lines seem to have tiny pointy objects coming from them, this seems deceiving, yes, that’s the word. The flowers are pretty but if you touch the lines between them it would hurt. “Ok, I think I can explain it now, here.” She takes my hand and places it on my chest, “Feel that?” I do, I feel a slight thump tha thump.
“Yes, what is that?” I ask, intrigued.
“It’s your heart, it’s what makes you alive. Whenever you can feel that you can do whatever you want to. When you can’t feel that, you’re dead. When you’re dead, you ain’t here in your body anymore, and you can’t come back.” She lets go of my hand and looks at me. “You got it?”
“Yes.” I am still thinking about my heart.
“You gotta stay alive because I like you.” She says roughly. We sit for a while and watch the Inn empty out and the sun lower through the windows. After a while Roberta announces to the few remaining bodies in the room, “Alright folks, it’s closing time! Either stay for a room and pay or get out!” Most of the floaters leave but one male stays and gives Roberta several pieces of brown paper, in exchange Roberta gives him a key. “Alright girl, time to go to bed, it’s late.” She stands up and motions for me to follow her. She takes me to a room with brown walls and a big bed with several thick multi colored blankets on it. “This’ll be your room. There are plenty of clean clothes in that wardrobe. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Ok.” I say as I sit down on the bed and start to shut down into sleep mode. She stops walking out of the room and turns around.
“What are you doing?” She asks looking at my arm.
“I’m putting my software into manual sleep mode.” I say matter of factly. She shifts her weight and crosses her arms.
“What are you?” She asks.
“I’m a cyborg, what are you?”
“I’m human, but you wouldn’t hurt nobody would you?” She asks, she seems nervous.
“I wouldn’t hurt anyone if that is what you mean.” I reply. She nods.
“I can tell you are truthful.” Then she turns and leaves. I ponder this, so I am not surrounded by my own kind, I am surrounded by humans. The Millenium has always said that humans were an ancient unintelligent species that killed themselves off hundreds of years ago. But there are a whole community of them right here. The Millenium knows everything, so that means that they... lied. I mistaked these humans as cyborgs, why would the Millenium make us to look just like them if they are so “unintelligent”? Why would the Millenium need to lie about this? As far as humans being unintelligent, Roberta seems to know a lot of things that I didn’t know. Roberta taught me so much in one day... At this thought I fall asleep.
I wake up early in the morning, I can tell because the sun is just rising. I think it would be a pretty thing if I really knew what pretty was. The sky turns yellow then orange, pink and then the deep blue fades away. I am sitting in a chair by the window watching the sun finally reach it’s peak in the sky when my abdomen does the strangest thing, it rumbled. I sounded like quiet thunder and it felt like a hundred bubbles popping. I immediately run to find Roberta and I find her in the lobby with a cup of steaming liquid and her hair up so that none of it hangs down on her neck. She is sitting in a chair at a table talking to a male.
“Roberta!” I exclaim running up to her.
“What, child?” She says looking over at me, her eyes wide.
“Listen!” We wait a few seconds then finally, grrrumble. “There!” Roberta smiles and laughs, this makes me a little angry, this experience is very upsetting!
“You’re just hungry child! See, I told you that you had to eat!” She laughs more “George, go fix this girl some flapjacks. Oh and sausage!” she instructs to the man at the table. He gets up and moves to the kitchen. “Sit down girl,” Roberta says, more of a command than an invitation. “See in this way you are just like us, you have to eat or else you will get that feeling in your stomach a lot more often and you might die.” She says seriously “So now you gotta eat here three times a day, and possibly snack in between seeing how skinny you are.” She makes a face like she was laughing but she wasn’t making sound.
“Roberta, what are you doing?” I ask.
“I’m smiling.” She replies, “You do it when you’re happy. Happy is when you feel good, you don’t feel sad or angry. You just naturally smile when you’re happy.”
“Happy sounds like a good thing, not like sad or angry.” I think aloud.
“Happy is good.” Roberta nods. I think about how colorful Red Brook is and happy comes to mind. At this time George walks out with a plate of what I assume are flapjacks. Roberta hands me a silver utensil with four prongs. “It’s a fork,” Roberta says “You use it to pick the food up.” She picks up one of the flapjacks and puts it on another plate, then she takes another of the forks and puts it in her hand. I observe her cut the flapjack with the side of the fork, pick the piece up and place it in her mouth. Her jaw moves up and down then finally her throat moves and she says, “You give it a try.” I pick up the fork and replicate how she held it and cut into the flapjack exactly as she did I picked up the piece and left it there.
“Now what?” I ask.
“You put it in your mouth and chew, like this.” she makes her jaw go up and down again “Then you swallow.” I did as she said, it is.. pleasant and strange at the same time.
“It, it, it..” I stutter unable to find the words.
“How does it taste?” Roberta asks.
“How does it feel on your tongue?” Roberta asks again.
“It feels... good.” I say. At this George smiles and walks back into the kitchen. I finish all of the flapjacks and Roberta sits with me and eats her sausage. When we finish eating Roberta puts Gladys in charge of the Inn and gets dressed. She picks out another dress for me to wear, this one is orange and has some of the animals that I saw in the forest around the neck but these are white. “Roberta, what are these? I saw them in the forest but they were brown.”
“Those are birds, this kind is called doves.” Roberta says, she traces around the birds, “These are their wings, they make them fly.”
“They aren’t dangerous, are they?” I ask shying away from the dress.
“No, child. They nice, unless you get by their nest, then they get protective.” She tells me. “Now put on your clothes, we’re going shoppin’.”
I meet Roberta in the lobby and she just hands me a woven basket and walks out the door, I run after her. “We are goin’ to the market to get more food. You watch what I get and I’ll tell you what it is.” When we get to the market Roberta picks up a lot of things and tells me what they are. I run them through my head trying to remember them. Cucumbers are long and green, tomatoes are round and red, potatoes are brown and misshapen, carrots are long and orange, and oranges are round and orange. Then Roberta goes to the next stand to get some meat, Roberta doesn’t specify the different kinds that she will get, she just says “I’m gonna go get some meat now.” She walks to the bald man with scruffy facial hair.
As I was standing waiting for Roberta to get done with the stand I look around. Suddenly a furry little animal runs up to me and starts to lick my leg, then it started making a Ruff Ruff sound at me. I kneel down to quiet the thing down and it starts licking my face! It put it’s hands on my shoulders and started making the Ruff ruff sound again. My stomach seizes up and a sound gurgles out of my throat! I laughed for the first time ever! Roberta says that you laugh when you are happy, the thing was making me happy! I look up and Roberta is staring at me, smiling. “What is this thing?” I ask her.
“It’s a dog.” She says “It’s the first time that you’ve laughed.” She says looking surprised.
“Yes, yes it is.” The thing randomly licks my ear and I laugh again.
“That’s a cocker spaniel, but there are lot’s of other kinds of dogs.” She says, she smiles some more. “Do you want one?” She asks.
“Can I?” I ask eagerly.
“Yes,” Roberta chuckles, “I can take you to the dog keeper tomorrow.” As we walk home I anticipate the arrival of my new “pet” Roberta calls it. That night George takes the meat, the potatoes and the carrots and makes “stew” to feed us and all of the people that came to the restaurant. The Inn was filled with lots of merry people, they filled up all of the wooden tables and benches. The room buzzed with laughter, everyone was happy when George made stew.
I go to bed that night and can barely sleep, tomorrow I will have an animal that will make me happy all of the time. The next morning I wake up after the sun had come up because it took me so long to fall asleep the night before. I run down to the lobby and find Roberta to ask her when we are going to see the dog keeper. “Slow down child! You’re gonna hurt yourself running so fast like that! We will go down after breakfast rush hour slows down.”
“When will that be?” I ask slowing down my breath.
“Around 10 o'clock, don’t be so impatient now. We will go when it’s time, while you’re waiting take this and answer it. Got it from the village school, they need to know whether or not you need to go to learn more. Here’s a pencil.” She hands me the utensil and shows me how to fill in the bubbles. I go and take a seat in the corner of the restaurant and answer the test. It was 55 questions long and I was finished in about 6 minutes, the minimum time to read the questions and fill in the bubbles. The questions were mainly about astronomy, math, physics and a few were about animals. I used what Roberta had already told me to answer those questions and brought the paper back to her.
“I’m done.” I say as I hand it to her.
“You can’t be that fast!” She exclaims. She looks through the paper making sure that I answered all of them. She double checks the questions then finally sighs and looked up at me, “Well goodness, now what am I gonna do with ya?” She puts the papers on the desk “Well you can go fold towels with Gladys until I come get ya. She’s in the laundry room through the first hallway and on the left, you’ll hear the machines.” I follow Roberta’s instructions and find the laundry room, she was right, they are quite loud. Next to Gladys is a gigantic pile of white towels, on the other side of her was a small stack of folded towels.
“Hello dear!” She greets me, she pulls up another stool across from her and pats the seat for me to sit down. “I see Roberta sent you to help out, sneaky lady she is.” I sit down and watch how Gladys folds the towels a few times, then I try it myself. It starts slow at first but the production center part of me sets up a rhythm and the process speeds up gradually. Sooner than I realized there are only a few towels left and Roberta is coming to get me. “Don’t worry honey, I’ll get these last few.” Gladys says when she sees Roberta walk in. “Fast worker, Roberta!” She calls to Roberta.
“I see that Gladys!” Roberta calls back to her. “Now come on, girl, let’s go get you a dog.” She says waving to me. I have the biggest smile on my face just thinking about a dog. Roberta gives me some pants and a blue blouse to change into, she says a skirt will just get in the way of the dog. Quickly I run up to my room, change and put on my shoes, they give me a lot more traction inside the halls of the Inn as I run back down to the lobby where Roberta is.
The walk is long to the dog keeper’s place, we walk past many houses and buildings, many people and animals. Finally we arrive to a large place with an old sign that has a dog and another furry animal painted on it, the sign reads “Animal shelter”. We walk in and I immediately smell the dogs. I can hear the ruff ruff that Roberta says is called barking. A man leads us through a maze of metal cages naming off all different kinds of dogs, but I’m not really listening, I am just looking at the dogs. Big ones, small ones, fluffy ones, shy ones, noisy ones, ones that have miniature versions of themselves that cling to their sides, the variety is endless. And then I see it, a dog just sitting at the front of the cage, smiling. It’s tongue hangs off to the side and it’s mouth is stretched all the way back showing off all of it’s teeth. I walk up and crouch in front of it, it’s tail starts wagging back and forth and it licks my nose through the chain.
“I want this one.” I say immediately. I stick my finger through the chain and rub behind the dog’s ear. It presses it’s head to the chain to be scratched more.
“Are you sure?” The man asks, “It’s a pit bull.” The man raises his eyebrow at my hand stuck through the chain.
“Why does that make it different from any other dog?” I ask. “Roberta says it only makes them look different.”
“It’s just.. nevermind.” he stutters.
“How old is it?” Roberta asks ignoring the man’s comment.
“He’s about ten months old, pretty even tempered. Doesn’t seem to have any food aggression. We found him hangin’ around the creek about a month ago, probably got separated from his family. I’ll give him to you for fifty.” The man says. Roberta sighs.
“Is that the one you want child?” She asks me.
“Yes! He’s perfect!” I exclaim.
“Alright, let me get him out for ya’” The man says. I stand up and he opens the cage. He hooks a rope to a thing around the dog’s neck and leads him out. I finally get to see the dog’s full body, he is white with brown spots and a pink nose. He has a big chest and short legs, he has floppy ears and his rear end wiggles back and forth when he walks, this makes me laugh. He turns his head around to look at me while he is walking and licks his nose. Roberta fills out some papers and gives the people some money, then we go home.
“So what you gonna name him?” Roberta asks.
“I have to name him?” I ask surprised.
“Yes! You can’t just walk around calling him dog.” Roberta answers.
“You call me girl.” I retort.
“That’s because you have a silly name. Now, what’s his gonna be?” Roberta shoots back. I look down at the dog.
“Smiles.” I announce. “His name is Smiles.”
“That’s appropriate.” Roberta agrees.
When we get home Smiles and I are sitting in a chair. He is in my lap and fast asleep, it is funny because he is snoring. Roberta walks in and sits down in the green chair in front of me “I know what your new name is going to be.”
“What?” I ask in curiosity.
“Uri” she says.
“Yes, it means my light or fire.” She says.
“I like that, it starts with the same letter that my old name did, and it’s pretty too.” I think aloud.
“Well, Uri and Smiles, I think that it’s time for you two to go to bed.” She says.
I carry Smiles to my room and sit him at the foot of my bed, that’s where he will sleep every other time we go to bed.
For months I stay in Red Brook, Roberta teaches me so much that I almost forget that I am not human, so do all the other villagers.The only thing that reminds me of my life before are my mechanical fingers. Roberta teaches me about all of the animals, feelings, bathrooms (not a pleasant conversation), parents and children, and George teaches me to cook simple things. It also turns out that George is mute. One day we pass by a wedding on our way to the market, I see the two people pressing their faces together and Roberta explained kissing and love and weddings. Once we pass the people carrying a dead person out of their house, I cry in the middle of the street that day because seeing that makes me realize that the Head Doctor had not hurt the nurse, he had killed her. All I can see is her lying on the ground with that blank stare. Roberta explained blood and death that day while I curled up with Smiles, even he wasn’t smiling.
Smiles is all grown up now but he isn’t even taller than my knees, I can still pick him up if I want to. Most days are better than others but sometimes Smiles is just there to sit on my lap and lick my face. Smiles and I have many adventures, if we find anything that I am unsure of Smiles sniffs it out first for me. Everyone seems to like me in the village. Everyone in the village likes Smiles too, sometimes even Peter the butcher gives Smiles scraps, a lot of the time Smiles just gives it to the strays. Smiles is getting fat anyways, George was too fond of him. He kind of became the Inn mascot, everyone pets him when they walk in the door. When we pass the sausage shop Frances always throws Smiles a piece of jerky no matter how much I tell Frances that he doesn’t need it.
One day everything changes. Roberta comes to my room where Smiles and I are playing with a rope. “Uri,” She calls out. “I knew they would come for you some day I just... played myself for a fool. You’re too special.” She mumbles as she covers her eyes with her hands “There is a man in the lobby, he says that he is from your land and he and come to take you back to your home. Go and speak to him.” She finishes, waving towards the stairs. I walk past her in shock and into the lobby. Smiles’ claws clatter on the wooden floors. I look up and to my amazement stands the Millenium man from my dreams (let me specify not the man of my dreams, the man from my dreams) in front of the desk that Roberta so often sits at. I walk up to the desk and sit on the stool. When he looks at me I see no emotion but I swear I see his eyes flash.
“Hello U-743. We have been looking for you for a long time. I am here to take you back to Millenia. There is a car waiting for you in the front of the building” He says. I finally break down and start crying. They want me to leave right now? The man’s face falls to a mix of confusion and concern, “What.. what are you doing? I don’t understand, this ruins everything..” I look up at him, he is wearing a black suit and a green tie, normal for a formal official.
“You’re not like the rest of them, you have emotions.” I say in amazement “ You shouldn’t be making that face! You shouldn’t be saying those things!” My voice escalates in volume as I continue, and his eyes widen.
“Well neither should you!” He yells back in surprise. “Do you know what they’ll do to me?”
“You’re an official though!” I exclaim.
“Things are complicated.” he says quietly.
“I’m just a worker!” I yell again. He looks down at his shoes and his eyebrows push together.
“You mean you were a worker.” he says still not looking up.
“What do you mean I was a worker?” I ask angrily.
“Well I can’t take you back,” he says, his eyes meeting mine, “The Millenium will kill us both.” His voice is serious.
“They wouldn’t!” I exclaim.
“Look,” He says urgently “You’re not a cyborg, you are human! And they will kill you and all it would take would be one little needle stuck in your arm and it’s goodbye for you! So I say you trust me or you can march back in there and get yourself killed! All you are is one little worker slave to them anyways. All they’d have to do is replace you with a more seriously drugged and altered monkey and tell them Hey! You’re a cyborg now do whatever I say and waste away your life with no emotions making us tons of money!” He yells “So, are you with me or not?”
“I have to be.” I whimper through a sob.
“Good, because I think that’s your only option.” Suddenly he looks over my shoulder, I turn around to see what he is looking at. It seems that Roberta had been standing there mostly the whole time, her eyes are red and puffy and her arms are crossed over her chest.
“So you’re not going back?” She asks hoarsely.
“No” The man says “But we can’t stay here for very long either, they will notice that we haven’t returned and they’ll come looking. We have to hide with the rest and count our losses.”
“What do you mean ‘hide with the rest’?” I sniffle, turning to look at him again.
“There are others like us, you know. We are called the Ignescent, we gather to fight against the Millenium, to free the others.” He announces, his chest puffing out.
“Was my nurse part of this?” I ask quietly. She always seemed different.
“Your nurse?” He asks curiously.
“She died when I escaped.” I mutter. “The Head Doctor killed her.”
“Yes, yes, Ailith.” He says “She died in the failed attempt to shut down the hospital. I was very close with her, she was one of the first to join us. She was like a sister, I miss her greatly.” His face went back to the emotionless one he used to try to fake a normal cyborg.
“I miss her too.” I say sadly. I really am starting to trust him.
“How long will you stay?” Roberta asks.
“Maybe a few days, to make a plan. The rest are in a shelter south of here. When the hospital plan failed the Millenium found us out, most of us ran to a known safe house. They figured out who most of us were except me and a few other double officials. Little do they know I am a leader of their enemies. So I guess you’re one of us now.” The man says.
“Am I?” I asks.
“If you want safety, you have to be.” He replies.
“I guess I am then.” I says, “But Smiles has to be too!” I add quickly pointing at the furry lump that was sitting on my foot. The man looks down at my dog and smiles but raises his eyebrows too. He kneels down and scratches behind his ears.
“Smiles, you are hereby an honorary member of the Ignescent.” The man takes a strip of red cloth and ties it around Smiles’ neck. “There, now we can tell whose allegiance you follow.” He stands up and looks at me again. He raises one eyebrow causing a crease between the two that made him look older than he should. “Are you with us or not?” He asks.
“Yes.” I reply. He smiles and takes my arm sliding a red woven bracelet that he took out of his pocket over my wrist.
“Do you have a name?” He asks still holding my arm.
“Yes. My name is Uri.” I say proudly, I love the name that Roberta has given me.
“Uri… Welcome.” He says his eyes locked on mine. “I have to go throw the other Millennium monkeys off. I’ll be back.” He drops my arm and walks out of the Inn. I follow behind him and peek through the crack in the door. I do indeed see a car in the front. Inside of it are two other cyborgs staring at nothing in particular. Is that what I used to look like? Only did they look up when the Millennium man addressed them. “Yes, she isn’t here. We received false information.” He says. “Go back and tell the Millennium that I will stay here for another week. Come back next Tuesday. I will most likely have her by then.” The car drives off and the man walks back into the Inn. The cyborgs have such clipped sentences, no flair to them.
“What is your name?” I ask him when he walks back to the desk.
“You can call me Thaddeus.” He says his eyes sparking. “Do you have any food?” He asks Roberta “I haven’t eaten in two days since I was in Millenia.”
“Do we have food?” Roberta chuckles “Basically you name it and we got it!” She leads him into the restaurant and asks George to get a big bowl of potato soup. Thaddeus sits in a corner booth and takes off his suit jacket. I sit across from him while he takes off his tie and unbuttons the top two buttons on his shirt.
“I hate these things.” He says throwing the tie next to the jacket his nose wrinkling up in disgust.
“How old are you?” I ask him squinting at his face.
“Eighteen. You?” he replies. Yes, if you look closely you can still see the boyish excitement through the stone wall of his maturity when he talked about the Ignescent. It is like he was forced to grow up too fast.
“Eighteen. Isn’t that a little young to be leading a group of rebels?” I ask, raising my eyebrows.
“Group? More like army size. It wouldn’t matter if I was eighty or eight, I was born for this.” He says.
“Who told you that?” I ask trying to imagine him as an eight year old.
“You don’t have to be told everything, Uri. Sometimes you just know.” He says. Then George walks up and hands Thaddeus a steaming bowl of soup. “Thank you.” He says. George nods back in his way of simple communication. Thaddeus eats the soup quickly without speaking again but not like pig. He wipes his mouth occasionally with a napkin and never lets the food drip on the table. He scrapes the bowl clean and eats the rest of the rolls that Roberta had brought to the table. I watch while I nibble on a roll. Finally Thaddeus looked up and asks me a question. “So how did you end up here?”
I sigh, I have told this story so many times but never found all of the details.“When the Hospital power went out my software malfunctioned and I only remember blurred parts. The nurse told me to run so I did and woke up in the woods. I followed some animals until I heard sounds of civilization. I ended up in this village and ran into one of Roberta’s friends who took me here. Roberta has taken care of me ever since. She is the kindest person I have ever met, who else would take me in?” I explain.
“Like the mother you were never allowed to have.” Thaddeus says, his eyes are locked on mine again. “Good thing that you found her, or else you would be dead,” He rips his eyes away from mine “whether you were still in the Millenia or in the middle of the forest.” His voice is heavy as he speaks of these dark things, it is sad, his eyes could be so bright with excitement but instead he had to see the horrors of the Millenium. I now realize how horrible the Millennium was, how they ruined us, made us broken. I make a silent pact to never trust the Millennium again, only myself, just like the nurse.
Thaddeus picks up his things off of the bench and stands up looking at an object on his wrist, a watch. “Better get to bed, we’ll have an early morning tomorrow. We have to leave sooner than expected.” He walks over to Roberta, most likely to ask her for a room. Roberta nods hands him a key, refusing any of the paper money Thaddeus tries to hand her. Thaddeus turns and walks toward the hallway of rooms.
I walk to Roberta and sit next to her on my stool. “He’s handsome.” She says nudging my elbow. I know she is trying to lighten the mood. But she is right, he is handsome in a strange way.
“I see him in my dreams.” I reply staring out the windows. I can tell that she is surprised, I don’t want her to see that the blood is rushing to my face.
“You know him?” She asks. I turn to look at her now.
“No but he saw me once, he saved my life and I didn’t even know it. My conscious mind must have picked up his face without me remembering it. He was the one that carried me to the hospital with my production master. He wrapped my hand in his tie, it was blue.” I confess.
“Fate does strange things, Uri.” Then she leaves and goes to bed. I ponder what she said for a while until I get drowsy and George shoos me off to bed. Smiles is already at the foot of my bed asleep with a chicken bone. I take it from between his paws and put it in the garbage, afraid that he may choke on it. It must have been an exciting day for him, it was for me anyways. I climb under the covers without changing and immediately fall asleep.
The next morning Roberta wakes me up and says that Thaddeus wants to leave as soon as possible. I groan and roll over. The dream that I had last night was very strange and again Thaddeus starred in it. We were in the woods and walking when suddenly what I assumed was the Millennium appeared and started controlling Thaddeus. His eyes went black and his movements were robotic. Out of his mouth came the words: “Those who rebel against the Millennium create sparks, sparks lead to flames, flames must be put out.” Then he placed his hands around my neck and strangled me. I tried to scream but they were stopped and emerged as a guttural animal sound. I know these weren’t his words, they sounded too harsh coming from his kind voice.
I roll out of bed and nudge Smiles in the side to get him to wake up. I pull a brush through my knotted hair and pull it together with a leather string. Roberta comes in and gives me a pair of tight gray pants and a thick long sleeved black shirt. Before she leaves the room she hands me an old brown leather jacket and thick animal fur boots. It is getting colder outside by the day, I had abandoned the frilly little dresses for long jeans and thermal shirts weeks ago. When I walk downstairs to the lobby Thaddeus is wearing all black outerwear and black protective boots. He has a huge pack on his back and his black hair sticks out in all directions like he didn’t even bother to smooth it down. Roberta hands me a pack that she has filled with water, food, and jerky for Smiles. You didn’t think that I would leave him did you? I clip one end of a lead to my belt loop and the other to Smiles’ red collar.
We are about to leave when Roberta hugs me and gives me one last thing. It felt cold against my hand and I look down. In my hand Roberta has pressed a dagger about as long as my hand inside of a leather sheath. “There be horrible dangers that you couldn’t even imagine.” She whispers in my ear. “Now off you go and be careful.” She says waving us off through the door. We leave and I swear I could faintly hear a long held in sob.
I know that I would miss Roberta eventually but I suppress the feelings as we leave the village. I will have to be strong, I can’t break down now, it will only slow us down. We walk briskly through the crowds of people, some give us strange looks and some tip their heads at us. They know that she needs luck for a long journey or maybe just reassurance that they believe in her. Even if they didn’t think about it they just repeated the ancient tradition that meant so much but was such an underappreciated thing.
Eventually we exit the village at about noon. The forest is thicker at this end of the village and therefore darker. Black birds are flying back and forth between the trees and narrowly miss our heads. “The forest is much more unruly here, the older villagers call it Grey Forest. Maybe because of the abundance of grey wolves or just because it’s darker I don’t know.” Thaddeus says nonchalantly. Wolves? Why didn’t he tell me this earlier?
“How do we handle ourselves with wolves?” I ask still surprised.
“Most of the time with a flare gun, but if they’re hungry? It could go a lot of different ways in that circumstance.” He says, suddenly I noticed the gun shaped bulge in his waistband just below his back. This scared me, how long has it been there without me noticing? “But don’t worry, Smiles over there would probably scare them off.” He finished.
“Oh, okay.” I stupidly reply still stunned. Thaddeus has a lot of knowledge and… weapons that are unknown to me. And I am traveling through dark woods with him and trusting him with my life? I barely know him! But he did save my life once and he may do it again. I can’t turn back now. And I don’t.
“The reason we are leaving early is that the Millennium found out our double agents that were passing information to us from the Millennium. All of them got out in time except James, they’re probably torturing him for information right now. Poor James, he’ll never talk.” Thaddeus explained.
“Why don’t you go rescue him then?” I exclaim.
“It’s a risk we can’t take.” Thaddeus says plainly. “James would want it that way. Any ways they will be coming to the village looking for us sometime today, my guy barely got the info to us in time.”
“What about Roberta? And George? My people? What will happen to them when they come?” I ask panicking.
“The thing is I didn’t tell the Millennium really where in Red Brook I had found you. I also erased the memory of the Millennium guards that came along with me. It would also take too much energy to interrogate every person in the village.” Thaddeus replies calmly, he doesn’t panic. He has a plan.
“Good.” I tug on Smiles’ leash to get him to keep moving because he is sniffing at a fallen leaf. We keep walking in silence for hours on end. We occasionally see a few squirrels fighting over an acorn. I watch the light in the forest slowly diminish meaning that the day is coming to an end. When finally the forest seemed as though it can’t get any darker, Thaddeus turns around.
“We should probably find a place to sleep.” He announces. He turns back around again and keeps walking, looking around and pushing through the branches of trees. I stay where I was unsure of what to do. Suddenly he calls out to me and I run after him. I thought that he was in trouble! Finally I find him and I am out of breath, he just smiles at me. “I found a place for us to stay.” He says to me still smiling. Smiles starts sniffing around the edges of the tiny clearing tightly surrounded by pine trees. You can see the night sky from here unlike any other place in the forest. The stars shine bright and the moon is just a sliver.
“Nice.” I say nodding in satisfaction. Thaddeus is breaking branches away and laying them across the clearing. “What are you doing that for?” I ask.
“So that the ground doesn’t get saturated with dew when we sleep on it.” He says plainly. When he finishes he takes two bed rolls out of his pack and lays them out on the ground. Then he takes blankets out and lays two on each roll. Where will Smiles sleep? It looks like Thaddeus doesn’t have enough blankets for Smiles too so I take initiative myself. I move some of the branches out of the way and dig a dog sized hole in the pine needles. I order Smiles to get inside and I cover him up with needles only letting his little pink nose stick out. He stays there and gets cozy, drifting to sleep.
“Where’d you learn that?” Thaddeus asks nodding to Smiles’ hole. I stand up and look at him.
“It’s how I survived in the woods before the village.” I reply busying myself with my pack. “I think it was… instinct.” I take out some jerky and feed it to Smiles who then disappears into the needles. I hope he can breathe down there.
“You’re so smart and you don’t even know it.” Thaddeus says before getting under the blankets on his bed roll and turning the other way. I watch his chest rise and fall until his breathing slows down and I am sure he is asleep. Quickly I walk to the tallest tree surrounding us with the strongest looking branches. I grab the first one with my left hand, the artificial fingers are the strongest. I grab a branch next to it with my other hand and swing my legs up to the first branch. The climbing was mostly easy from here. Up until the branches start getting thinner, then I keep my feet as close as possible to the trunk wrapping my arms around it. I breathe in and out slowly to keep from panicking. Why am I doing this? Oh my gosh, bad idea! It’s impossible to clear my mind. Finally I have climbed as far as I deem safe, no, not safe, this isn’t safe at all! It’s possible. I press my back to the trunk and wrap my arms around it behind me. I probably look ridiculous from down below but I no one is here to see me, hopefully. I am here to see for myself, to see how big this forest really is. I gasp as I look out over the forest, it stretches on for as far as I can see. How are we ever going to get out of here? I decide it’s time to get down from the tree as soon as possible, I’d seen what I wanted to see and I am not going to risk being up that high any longer than I have to. I am almost to the last branch and reaching for a hold to swing down.
“Impressively large isn’t it.” I am so startled that I jump, lose grip of the branch and fall backwards right into his arms, Thaddeus’s arms. I look into his gray eyes as my heart nearly bursts out of my chest. “You should be a bit more careful” He says as if I had just tripped over a rock.
“Well you shouldn’t scare people half to death!” I exclaim rolling myself out of his arms.
“I thought you were a raccoon, or a Millennium official! I could have shot you!” He says getting frustrated.
“Oh, so is that what you do? Just go around shooting at anything that makes a noise?” I yell at him.
“Shhh! You’ve got to be more quiet!” He hisses at me.
“So you don’t shoot at me?” I yell again.
“Look, Uri, I’m just trying to protect you.” I am so angry with him that I don’t even notice his hand slowing inching to his back pocket. I am standing trying to think of what nasty insult I am going to throw at him next. He starts walking toward me like I am a dangerous animal, then he reaches me. He grabs my shoulder and with his hand and plunges something into my neck. Suddenly I feel extremely heavy and weak, I am in his arms again. His hand is around my shoulder and one arm under my knees. “I had to.” Is what he says.
“I’m sorry for not being very nice.” I say giggling, everything is going wavy, even Thaddeus’s face. It looks like he is a wet piece of paper.
“I know.” He says “You should go to sleep now.”
“I don’t want to go to sleep now!” I say pouting my lower lip. “I want to play a game.”
“I think we should play a game called let’s see who can shut up and fall asleep the fastest.” He says back.
“No, I want to play a game called Thaddeus answers all of Uri’s questions.” I giggle, Thaddeus was a strange name. “You’re not being very nice.” I say “Thaaaaaaaadeeeeeeeuuuuussssss, Tha-dee-us, Thaddeus.” His name sounds strange on my tongue, so I tried to see if it sounded okay any other way. It didn’t.
“You should be pretty tired from climbing that tree.” Thaddeus says carrying me over to my bed roll. He sets me down and pulls the blankets up to my chin.
“Thaddeus, you have a silly name but a nice voice. Do you sing?” I ask him looking up into his eyes, they look tired, but there is something else.
“No. Do you?” He asks.
“I don’t know, I’ve never tried.” I say frowning. He turns around and crawls into his blankets. How come I’ve never tried to sing? Why didn’t Roberta teach me to sing? Thaddeus was right, I am very very tired. “Thaddeus?” I call for him, no answer. “I like you, Thaddeus. You’re nice.” It seems that he is already fast asleep. I drift off into that land soon too.
Something shakes me awake the next day before the sun is even up. He is still groggy with sleep himself but is quickly packing up his things. “What in the heck did you give me?” I angrily ask him.
“What do you mean?” he says back.
“Don’t you play stupid with me! You injected me with something and I was acting all… stupidly happy.” I explain.
“You weren’t supposed to remember that.” He laughs. He pulls his pack onto his muscular back and slides two different guns into his back waistband. “At least you were happy.”
“I’m so angry with you. And you still haven’t answered my question.” I hiss at him.
“It’s something the scientists at the camp formulated. I promise never to do it again if you promise to calm down and be quiet, you have such a quick temper.” He lightly replies.
“Humph.” I pull Smiles out of his needle burrow and wipe the needles off of his fur. “Ready to go yet?” I snap at him.
“I was just about to ask the same thing.” He replies and stalks out from the clearing and into the woods. I follow and Smiles just walks along and yawns loudly. “We don’t have to make it out of all these woods, you know. The camp is in just the middle, another two more days and we’ll be there.” He says.
“Oh yay, another two more days with you.” I retort still not forgiving him for drugging me.
“I’m not as bad as you seem to think I am.” Thaddeus replies calmly.
“Oh really? You don’t drug people often?” I asks sarcastically.
“No, I don’t! Maybe you’re the problem!” He says. “I didn’t have to bring you, you know! I could have left you to be murdered by the Millennium! But I didn’t, because I like you.” I am stunned silent, Thaddeus actually likes me? I stay silent for a while. Maybe I’m giving Thaddeus less credit than I should be. We walk until we get hungry and sit on a spare log to eat some dried meat and fruit. Smiles eats some jerky and treats.
“I’m sorry, I should give you more credit than I have been.” I confess to him petting Smiles whose head is in my lap.
“It’s okay, people see me as inhuman anyways.” He replies. Inhuman? I notice every tiny emotion Thaddeus has. Maybe I pay too much attention to Thaddeus, what is happening to me?
“You’re not inhuman, I can see that.” I reply quietly.
“I’m not soft though am I?” He asks nervously. I laugh at his boyish pride.
“You’re not soft either, you’re a healthy mix” I laugh again.
“Good.” He replies biting into his jerky. I giggle. “What are you laughing at?” he asks. I shake my head. “Seriously, what?” he persists.
“You act so tough most of the time carrying around your guns and talking about fighting wolves like it’s as simple as swatting away a fly and then all of a sudden you’re worried about looking ‘soft’.” I laugh at him. “You’re childish!”
“Am not!” He says, he hesitates. “Oh, I guess that’s not helping my case any.” He blushes. I laugh some more and so does he. “Well, we should get going if we don’t want to be torn apart by hungry wolves!” he says in a mock deep manly voice beating at his chest. I laugh.
“Still childish.” I laugh at him.
“Yes, but seriously, we need get going if we want to get to the camp as soon as possible.” He says cutting off the joking mood. We walk for a while until I gather up the courage to ask him the question that had been bothering me for a while.
“Thaddeus? Do you remember helping me, in Millennia I mean?” I ask him shyly gripping Smiles’ leash.
“Yes.” He shortly replies continuing his steady walking through the brush.
“Why did you help me?” I ask.
“I helped you because you were acting so hysterical, I knew that there had to be a real person in there somewhere. I didn’t want you to bleed to death if you could be saved.” He replies flatly.
“Oh, thank you. Do I owe you a tie?” I ask remembering the blue tie.
“Oh God, no! That was my least favorite tie, it was itchy.” He says turning around to look at me. “I should be thanking you! But I did save your life so remember that!” he says waving his finger at me jokingly. I smile and we walk more until the sun goes down.
I am starting to miss Roberta, terribly. When we make camp, this time under the cover of a large willow tree, I start remembering all of the great memories that we had. Silently tears fall down my face and I wipe them away from my face. I thought Thaddeus was asleep, turns out I am wrong. “Why are you crying?” he asks. I sniff and rolled over, he is leaning against the willow trunk and looking at me, I can barely see his face.
“Because I miss Roberta and the Inn and George and going to the market…” I brokenly reply.
“Oh, missing someone, how does that feel?” He asks.
“Bad, like your heart fell out of your chest. You don’t miss anyone?” I ask him.
“I guess I miss Ailith, maybe if you left I would miss you.” He says, I am surprised that he is already so attached to me, but maybe I am too and don’t even notice it. “Please don’t cry” He says interrupting my thoughts. “It makes me feel sad.” Then he leans over and kisses my forehead. He gets under his blankets and goes to sleep. I sit and think about what had happened in the last five minutes, Thaddeus saying that he would miss me, him kissing my forehead. I decide that the warm feeling in my chest means that I liked it. Content with my decision on my feelings I roll over and go to sleep.
The next morning Thaddeus shakes me awake again. “Today should be our last day of walking.” He says “The camp is near the willow section of the forest.” As Thaddeus is saying this, Smiles thinks he is doing so sneakily, Smiles creeps out of his burrow and slowly grabs a piece of jerky that is hanging out of Thaddeus’s pocket, then he quickly sinks back into the burrow with his newly stolen prize. I giggle at his thievery. “What now?” Thaddeus asks running his hands through his hair thinking that I am laughing at him “Is there something on my face or something?”
“Smiles just got a little snack from your pocket!” I laugh pointing at his burrow.
“What? Smiles, you furry little thief!” He exclaims digging in his pocket where the jerky used to be. Smiles sticks his white muzzle out of the needles and made a grrrrrr ruff! Sound of defiance at Thaddeus. The sight is so funny, a tall muscular man yelling at a dog who ducks back into the needles every time Thaddeus makes a grab for him. I laugh so hard that my ribs hurt.
“Smiles get out of there!” I gasp through fits of laughter. Finally the little dog jumps out of the hole barely missing Thaddeus’s face. He licks Thaddeus’s nose either as a sorry or as a brag that he got his jerky. I climb out of my blankets and quickly pack up my things. I calm down Smiles who is still riled up about the jerky and attach his leash to my belt loop. As soon as we are ready we start walking. Thaddeus seems very excited.
“If we walk fast we can get there by noon!” He says his breath coming out as bursts of steam in the cold air. Smiles is picking up on the excitement and is more bouncing instead of walking. It is quite a ridiculous sight, he throws his upper body up first and his rear end comes after it. His face is stretched into his regular toothy smile with his tongue hanging out the side. As I look around where we are walking I notice that the pine trees are all gone and are replaced by stringy willows and oaks. I look at the ground and see that there is short fuzzy looking grass around the bases of the trees, when you step on it it’s spongy.
“Thaddeus, what is that?” I ask pointing at the stuff.
“It’s moss, likes to grow in damp shaded areas.” He replies “Dries up when it gets too much sun though” he says pointing to a brown patch. I nod and we continue walking for a while. Faintly I hear a snap and the soft pad of footsteps. Smiles quits bouncing.
“Thaddeus what is that?” I ask apprehensively.
“I told you, it’s moss.” He says turning around to look at me, he stops walking now.
“No Thaddeus, that.” We stand quietly for a while staring at each other. When finally we hear a growl. Thaddeus snaps around in the direction of the noise so fast that he looks like a blur. The gun is in his hand and pointed out from him faster than I can see him pull it out of it’s holster.
“Get my back!” he says and I turn the other direction scanning for something lurking in the shadows. If there is a time for me to use the knife Roberta gave me it would be now. I slide it out of the sheath at my side and push Smiles behind me with my leg. I hold the knife firmly in my hand ready to attack, I’m not really sure how though. I see slight movement in the corner of my eye and turn to look at it, Smiles barks a warning. The wolf lunges at me so fast that it looks like a large gray blur, I scream and push out with my hands seconds before it collides with my body and knocks me to the ground. A sharp pain sears through my cheek and a warm line trickles down to my chin. I thought it would go for the kill immediately seeing that it’s fangs are so close to my throat, instead the thing whines and rolls off of me onto the ground. I look and see the handle of my knife sticking out of it’s chest and red wets the animal’s fur. It continues to let out a pitiful dying sound, Thaddeus walks over to it and shoots it in the head. The sound ceases, at least it wasn’t in pain for long.
Smiles claws himself out from under my back where I landed on top of him and sniffed at my face. “Are you okay?” Thaddeus asks pulling me to my feet. I nod still too startled to speak. “My god your face! I’m sorry, I should have seen it sooner!”
“No…” I reply my voice weak. “No, it hit the knife before it even hit me. I’m fine.” I say trying to keep him from feeling bad. There is so much adrenaline running through my veins I can’t even feel the cut on my cheek.
“I need to stitch that closed.” He says walking over to his pack. I can’t hold it in anymore, the tears come and he wraps me in his arms. “Shhh, you’re safe now.” he whispers into my hair. His arms hold me back together and I sniff brushing away my tears and stepping back. No time for tears.
“You were going to stitch this up?” I say trying to move on. He nods and pulls a small box out of his pack. Out of the box comes a needle and thick black thread.
“I don’t have anything to numb this,” he says with a concerned look “so it’s going to hurt.” I nod and let him hold my head as he pulls the flesh together. I won’t admit this but it hurts like being clawed by the wolf a hundred times over. I squeeze my eyes shut and a single tear falls down my cheek. I quickly wipe it away as Thaddeus places a white bandage over the area. “All done.” he says.
“We need to get going.” I say toughly.
“Are you sure?” he asks raising his eyebrows creating wrinkles in his forehead.
“Yes.” I reply, trying to make up for my weakness. I pick up my pack and so does he. I pull Smiles forward who seems dazed by the attack and we walk.
“Here it is.” He says proudly stretching his arms out broadly presenting the camp. It is huge, people mill through it in an unending crowd almost as large as the village.
“Wow” is all I can say. I wonder how the Millenium hasn’t found them out if there are so many of them missing from Millenia. The willows shade the endless rows of small tents and makeshift mud shacks. They have cloth doors and windows with reeds covering their roofs. The entire area is covered with a dark soil and moss.
“Yes,” Thaddeus says “My pride and joy.” He says with the biggest smile I have ever seen on his face. “Let me take you on a tour!” he says pulling me forward by my hand. He points out that we are in the residential area of the camp, mainly made up of shacks and tents. We walk through this part where people give strange looks at us, Thaddeus’s hand grasping mine. “Here is the armory” he says pointing at a wooden structure with a padlock on the door. “Over there is the meeting area.” gesturing at a large tent. He walks me over to another part of the camp, a huge building constructed with salvaged wood, another section is connected to it by a small tunnel. One section is silent, the other is filled with laughter and music. “This, this is the child recovery area.” He says sadly.
“What?” I ask him surprised looking at his sad face.
“Yes, the hospital jacking was a distraction for us to get to the nursery. We grabbed as many as possible, mostly infants and the officials brought more when they fled. The Millenium scientifically created children and kept them hidden until they were the right age and intelligence, then released them to be mindless workers. The whole point was to save as many as we could and escape.” I just stand in awe. “The infants are easiest to rehabilitate, we just stimulate them with toys, remove their implants and let them cry. The toddlers are a bit harder, we can still remove the implants but they take longer to rehabilitate to normal human behaviour. The children are the hardest, it’s too dangerous to remove their implants by then and they insist on no laughter or socialization. We have been successful though, some will be released into the camp soon to play like they should have been able to all these years.” At this I understand the fire in Thaddeus’s eyes. It may be too late for us to have a childhood but not for them.
“So did the hospital do anything except distract the Millenium?” I ask.
“Don’t you dare think that Ailith died for nothing!” He says looking at me grasping my hand harder. “We brought back vital medical supplies that save lives everyday!” He explains.
“Ok.” I reply. How did they get those things? Did they kill mindless people to get it?
“We should go see if there is a spot for you in any of the women’s sleeping quarters.” He says pulling me back towards the residential area. When we arrive he releases my hand and points toward a tree in the distance with a single red lantern hanging from it. “There is the medical station if you ever need it.” Then he proceeds in pulling a bell on each of the tent doors that had a purple ribbon on it. He speaks to the women asking if they have room for one and a dog and each turns him down. I hear words like elderly, children, allergies and crowded. Finally Thaddeus goes to one last tent one that emits sounds of talking and laughter. A girl who looks a little older than me with blonde hair opened the flap.
“Oh, hey!” she says when she sees Thaddeus.
“I was wondering if you had room for one more-” Thaddeus starts.
“Of course!” She interrupts.
“And a dog.” He continues hesitantly.
“She comes with a dog too? Where is she then?” The girl exclaims. “Hey girls, we’re getting a dog!” She yells into the tent, the noise in the tent escalates and more heads start to poke out of the flap. Thaddeus steps back from the tent and walks towards me.
“I guess you’re in.” he whispers “Oh and good luck.” he winks and walks away. I watch him walk away and step towards the tent. The girls beckon me in and open the flap wider for me to enter. The floor is made out of the same material the walls are and the structure is held up by thin metal beams. Six bunk beds line each side of the tent and one is at the end. There is one bottom bunk empty at the front of the tent and the girls take my pack and set it on the mattress. I unhook Smiles’ leash from my belt loop but hold onto it tightly.
“Welcome!” The blonde girl says “I don’t mean to be rude but can you take your shoes off?” She asks.
“Oh! Yeah, no problem!” I say untying the top and slipping my boots off. I put them in the corner next to all of the other boots.
“Thanks!” She says. “We try to keep our tent as clean as possible. Here, take a seat.” she says motioning to the empty space in the middle of the tent. All of the girls sit down and Smiles takes his time, sniffing out everyone while the girls pet his head. “I’m Chris by the way” The blonde girl tells me.
“I’m Uri.” I say trying to look friendly.
“I’m Jessica,” a brunette girl with brown eyes says “Let’s start out with the rules. Number one: No guys in the tent” Why would anyone want a guy in the tent? “Number two, no pranks that will cause bodily harm” I don’t even understand this one. “No casually walking around the tent naked, we’re all girls but it’s still gross.” Nasty “No food stashing. If you’re talking while everyone else is trying to sleep, I keep a water gun with me at all times. If you’re bleeding don’t let Amber see it.” A girl with mousy brown hair grins sheepishly in the middle of the group. “The puke bin is in the left front corner, the trash bin is in the opposite, if you don’t throw your trash away the water gun applies. We have a cleaning schedule, one person sweeps the floor twice a day for one day. If you break any of these rules you get a warning squirt in the face first, you break a rule twice we put ice in an article of clothing, break it three times and a laxative finds it’s way into any piece of food that I choose. That may happen any time after an incident within a week.” She smiles “Alright? No mean to scare you but if we’re going to live together we have to have rules.” I laugh.
“I don’t think you’ll have to worry about me any time soon.” I say. “It’s probably him who will be the problem.” I say pointing at Smiles.
“Where’s this guy going to sleep?” A young girl with curly hair asks.
“We can go find some extra blankets in the disposal pile!” Another girl calls out.
“Let’s go then! Before it gets dark!” yells another. I watch as four girls hop up and run out of the tent grabbing their shoes and a coarse rock.
“They haven’t had any excitement lately.” says Chris. “What’s your dog’s name?” She asks.
“Smiles.” I say as on cue he gives Chris and the rest of the girls his best smile. They laugh and play for a while and I unhook Smiles from his leash. I walk over to the bunk that is to be mine and lay out all of the things from my pack, my knife, left over food, and an almost empty bottle of water.
“We can go and get you some sheets and clothes if you want.” Jessica asks who has separated from the group. I nod.
“That would be nice.” I reply. I slide my knife back into my pack.
“Let’s go.” She says grabbing a jacket and shoes. I slide on my boots and look at Smiles who is on his back getting a belly rub from one of the girls. “He’ll be fine.” Jessica says with a reassuring smile. We walk out and towards a building that Thaddeus didn’t show me. “So, what did you do before you got out?” Jessica asks referring to our jobs in the millenium.
“I manufactured microchips.” I reply. “Not much to explain.”
“Lucky, I sewed clothes. In the center all day long sometimes my callouses caught on the fabric and got run under the needle, so then they gave me special lotion to get rid of them because it ‘slowed down production’. It happened a lot more when I was younger and still learning.” She says. She shows me her hands, scarred and deformed, I know why she is a rebel now. I show her my hands, my robotic carbon fiber fingers. She doesn’t gasp like most people do, she just takes my hand in hers and asks. “What happened?”
“They were cut off in the production center by a malfunction. Cut them right off with her laser. I almost bled to death and when I passed out Thaddeus carried me to the hospital.” I explain.
“Thaddeus did?” She asks surprised.
“Yes. He’s the reason I’m here.” I say.
“But he’s so scary!” she whispers her eyes wide.
“Just because you think he’s scary doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a heart.” I defend Thaddeus just as we arrive at the building. In it I hear the steady hum of sewing machines, Jessica takes a deep breath and squeezes my hand before we step inside. It must be stressful for her to be around the machines that once ruled her life.
“Hello Jean!” she confidently greets a woman at table with a pen and clipboard, even through her act I can hear her voice shake. “We’re going to need some sheets and clothes for this new one here.” She speaks over the hum. The woman named Jean waves us around the desk and starts measuring me, height, inseam, waist, bust, etcetera. She takes the measurements and accordingly grabs clothing from marked piles. I receive a pile that stretches to my chin when I hold it as low as possible. The woman then walks around the piles of clothes and comes out with some sheets and a pillow. Jessica carries the sheets and we leave the building.
“Where do they get these things?” I ask Jessica through the pile of clothes, my arms are too short for this.
“A lot of it is stolen from the Millenium, a lot we trade with surrounding villages.” Jessica replies. We walk back to the tent and set up my bed. I think Jessica and I are friends now. Smiles is happy to see me, he curls up next to me as I lean against my bed post and talk with the other girls. Laurise teaches me to play a game with cards and we laugh when I lose miserably. These are my sisters now. Clara is the first to fall asleep playing a ball game, we only notice that she is asleep when the ball hits her in the face and wakes up with a red mark on her chin. We all laugh so hard that my ribs hurt, I like this pain. Grace, Rosa, and Violet come back from the disposal pile with a pile of blankets and very red hands.
“Don’t worry,” Violet says when they lay the pile next to my bunk, “We washed them in the creek and let them out to dry first.” I thank them and Grace lays the wet rock in the corner. Smiles curls up on the blankets sensing that this is his place now and goes to sleep. The neighboring tent on our right shines a blue light to our tent, all the girls start to head to their bunks and Chris takes a flashlight with a blue sheet held over it and flashes it to the tent on the left.
“It’s the curfew signal,” Chris tells me “It means that we have to be quiet so people can sleep, you don’t have to go to sleep but most of us are already tired by then, so we sleep then. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” I reply. I crawl into bed and kiss Smiles goodnight.
The next morning Thaddeus tells me that I can go look for a job in the camp to use up my spare time, all of the girls in my tent have one so I decide that I wouldn’t have anything to do during the day and agree to find a job. Thaddeus takes me around the camp listing out several places I could go, I decide on river work which includes washing clothes, netting fish and gathering fruit that grows around it. “Are you happy here?” he asks grabbing my hand before I walk off to the head woman of the bank.
“Yes, it’s wonderful here.” I genuinely reply.
“Good.” He goes to release my hand but I hold him back.
“Thaddeus, why are you so... friendly with me?” I ask.
“I am with everyone.” He replies trying to get away, I grip harder.
“I know for a fact that you are not, Thaddeus. They think you are scary!” I insist. He shifts on his feet a bit and lightly touches his lips to mine then walks away. I guess that’s my answer. I stand stunned for a while, what was that? Oh, yes, it’s a kiss, Roberta told me about those. Thaddeus wants to kiss me? A woman calls me over and I turn to her.
“Welcome!” She says “You can go pick the ripe apples over there, Clara should be somewhere in there.” She says handing me a basket. I walk and I do find Clara, she has a half basket of apples and she greets me. I find this job calming, I climb the trees to get to the highest fruit and my small frame allows me to do this easily. I occupy this job permanently, I take Smiles with me and he chases vermin away from the fruit. My arms grow muscular from hanging in the branches. The scar on my cheek from the wolf attack never fades. The girls in the tent become my sisters and Thaddeus only speaks to me when he has to. One day Jessica asks me about it.
“I saw you and Thaddeus... kissing.” she says while we are washing clothes at the river bank.
“He kissed me. I did not contribute to the process.” I reply scrubbing the shirt harder.
“Are you okay?” She asks
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, was it scary? Do you like him? What are you going to do? Are you guys a thing?” She drops her rock and sits down.
“It wasn’t scary, I don’t know if I like him, I don’t know what I’m going to do, what do I do?” I reply continuing my scrubbing.
“You’re the only person that I know that thinks he isn’t scary so that must be something. But only you can know if you have feelings for him. If you do you need to talk to him!” She explains.
“He only talks to me when he has to since then.” I sigh and sit down next to her.
“He’s waiting for you! You made it awkward so now you have to let him know that you want to be with him, he’s not going to do all the work you know. You really need to learn how to be a girl.” She babbles.
“Oh, and how do you know all this? We came from the same place!” I raise an eyebrow at her.
“Trial and error. Now we have to get back to work.” She says nonchalantly. The next day after work I decide to go see Thaddeus, I find him at the edge of the residential area of the camp near the woods just walking. When he see’s me he stops and waves hello like he does any other person. I can see why people may find him intimidating, he wears all black and tight laced boots, in the cold weather his gray eyes glint like steel and he stands tall, his face as hard as stone.
“Hello Uri, chilly day.” He says formally.
“We need to talk.” I walk slightly into the cover of the trees. He looks surprised.
“Is there something wrong?” he asks following me. I turn around and stand as tall as I can, barely reaching his chin.
“Yes.” I say firmly. “You can’t just stick your face on mine and then stop talking to me. That is not an answer to a question! I’m still learning this being a human stuff so next time try ‘Hey, Uri want to sit with me in the meal hall at dinner tonight?’ ‘Oh sure Thaddeus! See you then!’ No face smashing without my consent!” I yell at him. “Oh, and see you then!” I say in my best girly voice and wave as I walk away.
I go back to the tent where Jessica is waiting, she smiles when I walk in and I can’t help but grin. “Mission accomplished?” she asks when I sit next to her, Smiles walks up and give me a wet kiss on the chin. I nod. “So how’d it go?” she asks elbowing me in the ribs.
“I took charge if you’d say.” I reply.
“And...” she pushes.
“He seemed pretty surprised.” I say not letting her know that I didn’t let him get a word in. “At dinner, he’ll be there.” We pass time until the dinner bell sounds by playing cards. When it sounds I get up to leave.
“Wait! You can’t leave looking like that!” Jessica says. I shrug.
“He saw me when I had been in the woods for three days and hadn’t washed since.” I say “He liked me then, he shouldn’t care now.” I don’t even look that bad, I only had a little dirt on my shirt from the trees, my pants are fine and my hair hangs in loose curls that form when I let it hang down when it dries. I walk to the meal hall my boots crunching on the frost that formed on the ground in the descending temperatures after the sun went down. People are slowly forming a crowd heading towards the hall and they bump into my shoulders, I become lost in the crowd and finally reach the hall. I get a tray of food, beef stew in a thick gravy with brown bread. I sit down at an empty end of a table and start on my bread. I’m studying my soup when I hear a thump next to me, it’s Thaddeus. He looks at the people at the other end of the table with the same stony look he does everyone, when he looks at me the boyish smile that I remember from the woods is back.
“Hello.” He says.” I’m guessing that you were expecting me?” he asks nervously when I don’t answer. I swallow my bread.
“Yes.” I reply. His smile comes back, he looks at my untouched stew. “You should smile like that more often.” I say. He just shrugs.
“Eat up!” he says “It’ll start snowing soon.”
“What is snow?” I ask.
“I keep forgetting that you’re new. It’s like rain but it’s frozen and it’ll make everything a lot colder so you’ll probably have to go pick up a hat and gloves from the fabric tent.” He explains. I nod, I’m not so sure about this snow stuff. Will Smiles like it? “I’m glad that you asks me to sit with you because I want to tell you something important. We are thinking about planning an attack on the Millenium.” I frown, I knew that we would have to take action on them eventually but I know people will die there, as Roberta says once, I was just fooling myself. “We’re having a meeting tonight, I’ll tell you what happens tomorrow morning.”
“Good, thank you.” is all I have to say. I’m only halfway through my stew when Thaddeus is almost done. I look up as Jessica walks by a few tables away and she sends a thumbs up. Luckily Thaddeus doesn’t see. When I finish Thaddeus takes my tray and for me. When he comes back he sits down facing me.
“I have to go.” he says, I am about to say goodbye when he leans in inches from my face. “I’m going to kiss you now, is that okay?” he says teasing my ‘no kissing without my consent’ comment.
“Yes.” I laugh, he closes the distance between us and kisses me lightly. He leaves and I go to sit by Jessica who is sitting a couple tables away.
“Ooooo! Uri!” she says elbowing me in the ribs.
“Jessica, you’re acting like a little girl!” I laugh at her excitedness.
“So, Uri,” she says ignoring my comment “Is he the first guy that you’ve kissed?” she asks.
“Nooooo, I’ve had many lovers since I escaped the Millenium!” I say with a certain tone.
“Uri! Was that sarcasm?” she asks surprised.
“I... I think it was!” Surprising myself. We laugh and head back to the tent. The next day we wake up to a thin layer of cold white fluff on the ground and on top of the tents.
“Snow!” Chris exclaims. All of the girls are extremely excited. I watched as they rolled the stuff into balls and threw it at each other, they laughed like it was the most fun thing ever. It didn’t look like fun. Smiles run out of the tent and throws himself into the chaos obviously familiar with the substance. He rolls in it and jumps at the flying snow balls trying to catch them in his mouth. Finally the girls get tired and cold and gradually file into the tent.
“You’ll get used to it,” Haley says as we walk inside “I did!” She laughs and throws off her wet boots. When Smiles walk in we can see that he is going to shake and we all yell in unison.
“My everything.” My whole side and back is soaked because I was standing next to Smiles. The oblivious dog trots over to his bed and lays down for a snooze. Everyone laughs and Jessica comes over and hands me towel. It’s a good thing we were all still in our pajamas, we change and Jessica helps me dry my hair. I pull my hair up into a knot and wear my warmest clothes. I lace my boots up tight and head to breakfast. I sit down and start on my hot bowl of oatmeal. Soon after Thaddeus arrives and sits down his nose and cheeks bright red.
“I told you it was coming.” he says implying the snow. “Blueberries make it taste better.” He says pushing a bowl of round blue objects towards my oatmeal. I pour some in my bowl.
“Yes, you did. So...” I try to get to the meeting topic as soon as possible. Thaddeus catches on immediately.
“We have decided that we want to be as non-violent as possible. We believe that as soon as the Millenium finds out that we are attacking they will turn the people against us. Confuse them, try to make them think that we are there to hurt them. So the plan is to use the stun guns on the people to get past them. When we reach the Millenium we will hold a quick trial and most likely execute them for crimes against humanity.” he explains taking a bite of his oatmeal.
“You’re going to execute them?” I ask surprised, setting down my spoon and looking him in the eyes. “You says as non-violent as possible.”
“Uri, do you remember what they did to us? They turned us into mindless slaves so we could make money for them! They can’t be trusted. We want to free the people so we stun them, kill the monsters that enslaved them and bring them here. We keep them away from citizens of the camp while we wean them off of the charging liquid and rehabilitate them. When they are ready we let them live their normal lives.” He smiles. “This could be our permanent home. The camp, it can be a village.” Thaddeus gets that bright look in his eyes. “We already have trading relationships with surrounding villages, we can become self sustaining, we could be happy.”
“Okay.” It just hurts to think of you being a killer, I want to say but I hold my tongue. “We have to take action, for the people. So, when will this take place?” I ask.
“We are aiming for next month, enough time for people to train for the mission.” He replies “We’re going to need a lot of people willing to come fight but we will also need some medics to come with us and more to stay here.”
“Why don’t you have all of the medics come with you?” I ask.
“People might die there, Uri. If we lose all of our trained medics then who is going to treat the wounded? We need to keep some here so we have something to fall back on.” He explains gravely.
“So, I guess you’ll be fighting front and center?” I ask sadly.
“I’ll be leading the attack.” He says firmly.
“Thaddeus, I... can’t go with you. I can’t kill people, no matter what they did and I’m certainly not going to watch you die. I’m not strong enough.” I struggle to tell him. I’m weak but I’m definitely not going to sit and do nothing while people die.
“I understand.” Thaddeus says. We finish eating in silence. That night Thaddeus and the other leaders call a meeting and announce the plan for the attack. They ask for volunteers to fight, some medics to come with them and medics that will stay behind. All these volunteers make three groups, I join the third smallest group. A leader that I don’t know the name of tells each group where they will be training. My group will be starting training in the first aid tent. I look at my group, Jessica is there and so are Haley and Violet. Chris, Laurise and Clara are in the fighting group and I can see most of the other girls from my tent with them. Only Grace and Rosa I can see in the medic group that is going to the attack. My sisters, my best friends, may die. I look across and catch Thaddeus’s eye, I drop my gaze to the ground. He too may die with them.
A month has passed and I and a few others are trained to save, many others are trained to kill. The mood is tense in the camp, later tonight the Ignescent army will start the trek to Millenia. In three days time they will arrive in Redbrook, they will only sleep once. They will take a convoy of vehicles from our allies in Redbrook to Millenia and arrive in 12 hours. They will attack in the cover of night. They don’t know how long the attack will take but they will update by long range communication systems traded from another land. They intend to leave nothing behind.
At lunch Chris, Jessica, Thaddeus and I eat in silence. What are we supposed to say? Don’t die? Please don’t go? No, that’s impossible, we can’t change their minds. That would be selfish. We eat, we don’t look at each other, it’s painful. The meal hall is eerily quiet, only a slight hum of low voices and the scraping of forks. Before Thaddeus leaves he whispers to me, “Meet me in the apple trees. Before we leave.” I continue eating as his footsteps echo out the door. Will I be able to stay strong? I have to be, I can’t break down before he leaves. I remember him saying once in the woods, “Please don’t cry, it makes me sad.” I finish eating and put away my tray without saying goodbye to Jessica or Chris. I’ll see them again, I’m not so into goodbyes anyways.
I go back to the tent and shake the snow off my hat. I did learn to like snow, I used to play with the rehabilitated children but no one is in the mood today, not even Smiles. I sit on my bed leaning against the post with Smiles’s head in my lap just staring not thinking. That’s the great part about being the first one back, I don’t have to talk. But eventually the few girls staying, Jessica, Haley, and Violet, return. Those who are leaving to fight don’t come back they get ready in the command tent where they have been meeting in this past month. While the others discuss stitching methods to break the silence I take Smiles and go to the apple trees. I find Thaddeus in the thickest part of them, holding a mug of steaming liquid.
“Hello.” I say blankly. Even Smiles doesn’t have a spring in his step. He says nothing and wraps me in his arms. We stand there until my breath condensates on his jacket and Smiles gets impatient. We step back and I keep my hands on his shoulders. “Please don’t do anything unnecessarily stupid and dangerous.” I tell him. He shakes his head.
“If it means not getting back to you? Never.” He promises. He kisses me one last time “We can save a lot of people.” He turns and walks away. I’m confused by this, does he mean the medics saving people who have been injured or the Ignescent freeing the enslaved people of Millenia? I slowly stroll back to the tent where Violet tells us that the army is leaving and we must take our positions at the now hugely extended first aid building. I drop Smiles off to a woman with small children for her to take care of him while I’m working. The First Aid Center is now a one story medium sized structure built with materials traded from a nearby village. When we arrive there our instructor, Agnes, hands us all white shirts with red crosses sewn on the chest, back and shoulder.
“Take your places in your unit and make sure we have all of the necessary supplies!” Agnes yells “Then come back here to listen to the updates!” I go through our cabinets by each bed in my unit, Jessica is checking the other side. This unit, the critical unit, is a long wide hallway with white sterile beds lined up along it. It is separated from other units by only large white sheets hanging from the ceiling. We are the only building in the camp with a crude heating system by necessity. We worked hours upon hours harvesting fruit to trade for our supplies. I find nothing missing, neither does Jessica. We made a sacrifice choosing this unit, we know that people may be near death here and some people ask if it’s any better than the battle itself but we aren’t weak. We have sixteen others working with us, we are warriors of our own kind. When return to Agnes, she announces that we will sleep here until we are needed. We gather cots and place them around the long range communication device.
Everything is uneventful for the next three days until we get a voice over the device. “We have arrived in Red Brook. We have arrived in Red Brook.” Everyone cheers a little and then returns to treating children with scrapes, colds and frostbite. Later we get another message from the same man’s voice, this time a bit more excited. “We are driving to Millenia. We are driving to Millenia.” At this the tension is so great I feel like I might explode. We sleep in the middle of the day that day to be rested enough to listen to the reports during the battle. At about 10:30 that night we get the report. “We have arrived in Millenia, moving into positions. We have arrived in Millenia, moving into positions.” The man’s voice is low and breathy. Everyone is on the edge of their cots silent. I hear a squeak and Jessica is at my side gripping my hand. We sit in suspended agony for what seems like hours.
“What if they fail, Uri?” Jessica whispers.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.” I reply “But, we can’t think like that.”
“Everything is going smoothly, the people don’t seem to know that we were coming.” The man has abandoned the formal reports. We slightly smile at this because our people aren’t getting hurt but it must be very upsetting for those being stunned and taken. Close to an hour later the man comes over again “We are almost to the Millenium headquarters, everything’s still smooth, extremely smooth...” It sounded like the man was getting suspicious. A man with grease smeared all over him comes in for small stitches. Violet starts tending to him. Another hour and a half passes. “We have gathered all of the Millenium leaders, everything was just too easy.” Jessica and I exchange worried looks. A few minutes later we get another worried message, “Something... something just isn’t right here.” Then the most horrible sound you could ever imagine came over the device. An explosion mixed with human screams.
The room turns into chaos, people screaming, people crying, people stunned. I sit staring while Jessica’s fingernails dig into my hand so hard that it bleeds and she rocks back and forth.
“What are we going to do?” someone exclaims.
“It... was a bomb.” The man’s voice weakly comes over the device and the message ends. Another voice enters. “Hello? Hello? There are some of us still alive, but I don’t know for how long.” I stand up and walk over to the device.
“Where is the man who was in control of the communicator?” I ask firmly.
“He’s dead. This is Lawrence.” The voice claims. A woman cries out from the crowd on the floor.
“Lawrence! You’re alive!” She exclaims. “Trust him, he is my friend.” the woman directs at me.
“Penthea! Is that you?” The man calls out.
“Yes, Penthea is here.” I cut the reunion short. “Lawrence, kill them. Kill the Millenium. Now.” I angrily speak into the device.
“But...” the man starts.
“No. Now. Honor what your dead group mates came there to do , you must have a clean shot. Kill them all.” I have no sympathy for these monsters. I know Thaddeus was in that group, he is most likely dead. Now they die. Four shots ring over the device, only four, they must not have family.
“It is done.” The man says.
“Good.” I reply firmly. I revel in this. The pain of loss hasn’t hit me yet. I turn and look at the shocked people sitting behind me.
“Great! Everybody’s dead! Now what?” A man named Philip exclaims pressing his face in his hands. He has a point, we can’t help them. We are too far away. They can call the other groups for help but they would run the risk of being bombed again therefore just creating more dead and wounded people with no one to help them.
“Here’s what you’re going to do!” We look around and find the man covered in grease with fresh stitches in his arm, standing and smiling. “We have cars you know. Not enough for the army to have taken but more than enough for all of you.” The man says.
“It will still take more than a day to get to Millenia, also we could get attacked.” I reply.
“Red Brook is right in the middle, 12 hours both ways.” The man continues. The puzzle pieces start to fit together in my mind. I pick up the device again.
“Gather all your wounded” I speak into the communicator, I swallow hard “Leave the... leave the dead. We’ll come back for them.” I hold back tears thinking about Thaddeus’s body being left in the dust. “Get rid of any Millenium official that might set off another explosion. Get to your vehicles and drive to Red Brook as fast as you can.” I think strategically, not emotionally. “Go to Glenda’s Inn, we will be there. Alert the other groups to finish their missions as fast as possible and to do the same.” I turn around and look at my fellow medics again. “You heard the plan, grab as many supplies as possible, mostly big ones.” They all scramble up and start rushing around the building. I point at the greasy man “You, you’re going to get us there.” The man just smiles.
“Sounds like an adventure, you can call me Ridge.” The man comments. I just scowl at him, he seemed to be trying to lighten the mood but he was just too casual. I myself grab an armful of supplies and soon the rest show up with stretchers piled high and rolling cabinets stuffed full with more stacked on top. “Follow me.” Ridge says. We shuffle as fast as we can after him to a garage with eight huge Millenium trucks inside. The only reason we know they are Millenium is because on the plain shiny metal is a single symbol on each side. A dark blue perfectly straight line with four symmetrical dots above it. I scowl at them, they disgust me.
“How many of you can drive?” I ask the medics. Three people raise their hands. “We’ll only need about five trucks.”
“I’ll drive one and get one of my buddies to drive the last one.” Ridge says. He walks off to somewhere in the garage and comes back with another man. “Alright Gus, we’re going on a rescue mission.” he says to the man. We load up our things into the huge trailers and hold them down in the rickety trailers. “It’s a bumpy ride.” Ridge says before closing the doors and getting in the cab. We hear a roar and feel it moving and we’re off. It’s dark in the trailer and no one feels like talking so most of us sleep, including me. I don’t want to think about dead people, injured people or bombs anymore.
Someone shakes me awake “We’re here! Get up!” Part of me feels excitement and the other dread as I unload our supplies from the trailer into the Inn. It’s chaos inside, Roberta has turned the lobby and dining room into a makeshift hospital. She runs by and I grab her arm.
“They got here about twenty minutes ago.” she says. I nod, that’s all I need, no time for sappy reunions. I carry my supplies past the rows of tables covered in sheets looking for someone who needs help. The first person I see is Chris her smooth blonde hair matted with sweat, someone is already with her but I can’t help it. I set down my stuff and walk over to her, there is gauze placed on her chest only for the purpose of keeping blood from running onto her face. I can tell that we can’t save her, removing the two pieces of sheet metal from her stomach and chest would only cause her more pain, no good. A single tear runs down her cheek when she sees me.
“Go find Jessica.” She says. I run and grab Jessica’s arm who is carrying a box of bandages.
“It’s Chris.” She drops the box on the ground and runs across the room with me. She walks over to Chris and grabs her hand. Jessica’s tears flow silently down her cheek. They sit holding hands for a while. I watch from a distance, I know I was never Chris’s best friend, I’m not the person that she wants to see. I see Chris pull Jessica down towards her and whisper what looks like ‘I love you.’ her hand drops and she goes motionless. Jessica puts Chris’s hand to her side and slides her eyes shut. I place the sheet over her body.
“We have more people to save.” Jessica says wiping away her tears and walks off. I know Jessica is right. I go and get my supplies.
I see two more people die while trying to remove shrapnel from their bodies. One of them is Clara, her body couldn’t handle the stress of having the metal sheeting removed from her abdomen. She had been unconscious until seconds before her death, her eyes opened and she just stared at the ceiling until they went blank. I save one person but their leg must be removed from the knee down. Philip comes and gets me later. “Someone needs to see you.” He takes me to the very end of the room on the table is Thaddeus. Breathing! I go to take his right hand but its burned so badly that bone is visible. The burns run from his right arm all the up his neck and down his side and get less serious. There is a huge cut on his chest that needs to be stitched and is bleeding profusely. Thaddeus seems to be unconscious. I turn to ask Philip for help but he has already ran to the other side of the room to help someone else.
I look closer and notice that there is shrapnel in the cut in his chest. If I don’t treat his burns they will get infected! I make my decision and try to hold the cut together with my left hand to stem the bleeding and apply ointment and gauze to his left arm with my right hand. My mechanical fingers grip the skin too hard and start to bruise the flesh. Frustrated I rip the carbon fiber and steel off my hand and throw the Millenium made mechanics into the trash covered in blood. Thaddeus is sweating and turning red, I can’t have him over heat too! I take more gauze and throw my body into the window that goes to the kitchen stretching for the sink and running the gauze under the cold water. I place the cold gauze onto his forehead and jump right back into work. I gingerly pull the tiny pieces of metal out of his chest and stitch it together. Once I apply the ointment to his arm I know it won’t be able to be saved. Sadly I wrap it up, we will work on it later. I run the gauze in cold water again and when I place it on his forehead he comes to. I push him down when he tries to sit up. “No dying without my consent either.” I say seriously.
“Am I allowed to kiss you?” He says while trying to sit up again. I push him down.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” I lean in close to his face and wipe some dirt off of his face. “You need to rest and I need to work.” I turn to leave when the noise in the room erupts.
“No, please stay with me.” Thaddeus whines.
“I have other people to save!” I turn and look at him. “You’re just being whiney.” He gives me his best puppy dog face. I turn and walk away. It seems that the only injuries left are minor and already being taken care of. The reason everyone got so loud was that the people rescued from Millenia were being brought back. It was almost cruel the way they were shackled together, they would rebel and attack if they weren’t because they don’t understand we are helping them. I watch through the windows of the Inn and a face catches my eye, it’s U-736. She sees me too, her eyes widen and her mouth falls slightly open, I must look frightening to her with my half formed hand and scarred face along with working with the people who seemed to have kidnapped her. I turn and walk away when they start taking the dead out of the trucks and I see Rosa’s perfectly straight brown hair and deformed hand hanging out from under the sheet. I run to Thaddeus.
I pull a chair up next to him and rest my head on his chest to sleep. Tomorrow we will leave Red Brook and bury our dead. There has been talk that we will make the refugee camp a permanent village. “It will be safe there,” Thaddeus tells me “we won’t have to be refugees anymore.”
Thaddeus has no right arm anymore, it could not be saved. However it does not stop him leading our camp turned village greatly. Our children live in a place called Haven where they do not know of Millenia or even the Ignescent. Christabel and George don’t ask why Daddy doesn’t have a hand or where the big scars come from, they look forward to going over to Aunt Jessica’s house and going apple picking. They know that the graveyard is where we don’t goof around. It was hard for Christabel to say goodbye to Smiles, who died happy and old , George doesn’t know of him. They don’t know that Mommy and Daddy have bad dreams too, of dying sisters and exploding buildings. Someday we will have to explain these things to them, but not today. Today, we have a Freedom Festival to attend.