Huge metal panels, covered in tiny flashing bulbs and clicky switches. Crescent-shaped white desks lined the huge room, with three people seated at each one; two women and one man. Each one had inky black hair and was working on some sort of document in front of them. Some operated the panels, while still others monitored gigantic screens in the back. They were the Destiny Force.
The Destiny Force was the group of people who worked to keep everything aligned in the space-time continuum. Each person on the planet had an agent who kept track of them and plotted their every move to make sure that they weren’t out of line. The rooms that all the agents were in were divided into continents: North American Agents, South American Agents, Europe Agents, Asia Agents, Africa Agents, and Australia Agents. The men were assigned men and the women were assigned women. The agents worked for ten years then were allowed to retire.
Tessa Malo kept watch over Human 816 339 of the North America Servers. She plopped into her chair at the crack of dawn, preparing her Human’s first moves. Her desk partner, Martin, yawned and sipped his coffee.
“Hey, Martin.” Tessa dropped her clipboard onto the desk and grabbed a cup of coffee from a passing secretary. “Human 816 340 still on the early day shift?”
“Hey, Tess. Yep.” Martin took a long drink of coffee, and she noticed the dark circles underneath his eyes. “I hate these early mornings.”
“Wanna trade?” Tessa snorted. “You can get up an hour later. My Human never does anything exciting.”
Martin shook his head. “Oh, no. That’s against the rules. We could get caught. Do you know what Management would say?”
Tessa glanced around, but none of the other agents seemed to have noticed their conversation. That was the problem with being born into the Destiny Force. Once you were born in, that’s where you stayed. God forbid you joined the Real World; you were stuck predicting and controlling the lives of the normal humans. Tessa didn’t love her job, but she knew resisting would be fatal. If she tried to escape the massive Force complex through the Mortal Doorway, maybe she could get into the real world, where she wanted to be. But that was a huge if. She was better off to keep her silence and stay safe. She had seen what Management had done to failed escapees.
Martin glanced over at her. “Hey, Tess? Wake up, your morning light is blinking.”
He pointed to a yellow flashing light in front of her. Tessa nodded and slapped the light, making it glow steadily. On a tiny screen in front of her, a woman with long brown hair rose out of bed and stretched. Tessa twiddled a few knobs on her panel, and Human 816 339 started to get ready for her day, allowing Tess to lean back and take another drink of coffee. Martin yawned loudly again, but this time she caught the whiff of his coffee breath. “Ugh. I think I’m taking a nap while my Human is at work. I did NOT get enough sleep last night.”
“I can watch him for you, if you like,” Tessa offered.
Martin nodded. “Thanks, Tessa. I’m glad I can count on you.” He leaned back in his chair and pressed a button on the base. With a loud SNAP, it transformed into a floating white beach chair with comfy cushions. Martin leaned back, closed his eyes, and was in minutes fast asleep.
Tessa checked the Real World Clock above on the wall. The two Humans under her watch weren’t going to be doing much for a little while, so she leaned back in her chair a little and watched the screens lazily. She, too, hadn’t gotten enough sleep, and she felt her eyelids grow heavy as she dozed off a little.
About a half hour later, Tessa’s eyes fluttered open. Her heart jumped and she leapt up to the screens, scanning them quickly. Her Human was at her yoga class, as she should be. But Martin’s Human was walking down an alleyway, towards a large white van with dark windows.
Tessa reached for the volume knob above Martin’s screen and turned it up, bit by bit, until she heard his Human’s voice as he rapped on the side of the van with a fist.
“Hey, open up!”
The van door slid open. A man with dark stubble appeared, his chin-length greasy black hair hanging around his face. “Ay. Jacob, I told you-”
“I don’t have time for this, Zack.” Martin’s Human, Jacob, seemed frustrated. He pressed his fist against the van. “I need the gun and I need it now. Are you going to give it to me or should I find someone else?”
Zack’s eyes wandered a little before flitting back to the impatient Jacob. “You promise she’ll be dead by nightfall?”
Zack reached back into the van and grappled around a little, then came back with a small black revolver in his hand. He pressed it into Jacob’s outstretched palm. “Don’t make her suffer, Jacob.”
Jacob nodded. “After tonight, Naomi Freeman will no longer be alive on this planet.”
Suddenly, Tessa’s heart dropped inside her chest. They were going to kill somebody? She glanced around. Usually if something like this happened Management would override all of the equipment and make all the Humans possibly in danger run for their basements and hide for twenty-four hours. But for some reason, no one seemed to notice this. How could this pitiful Human 816 340 have broken the algorithm that maintained the Destiny Force’s control over him? She was willing to bet that this wasn’t a Management decision, no. This Human had done something to break it, and he needed to be stopped as soon as possible. She bobbed her head a little, thinking. Well, at least before nightfall.
Tessa rolled her chair over to her screen and glanced at the name tag sticker above the screen on her part of the panel. Then her heart really dropped.
They were going to kill her Human.
HER Human. Naomi Freeman. The one who Tessa had worked for twenty-two years to protect.
Tessa sat up in her chair as the realization hit her. She needed to protect Naomi, and she couldn’t do that by controlling her with buttons and knobs! She needed to be there, in the Real World, saving her! Hadn’t it just been proven that Management controls and plans could be overridden? She needed to get there and convince Naomi in real life to escape, OR she needed to get that Jacob out of the picture.
Tessa leapt to her feet and shoved Martin awake. “Martin! Wake up, this is important!”
Martin’s eyes opened groggily, and he instinctively reached for a cup of coffee on the desk. “Tess? What’s up?” he mumbled.
“Your Human has somehow managed to override the system,” Tessa explained, her eyes wide and determined. “You need to watch him, and mine, while I fix this.”
Martin’s brow furrowed in a confused expression. “What? How could he do that?”
“I don’t know,” Tessa admitted. “But he didn’t go to work, I can tell you that. He went to a van and got a gun and he’s going to shoot MY Human. Tonight. Before dark.”
Martin nearly blew his coffee all over the desk. “What?”
“I’m not lying,” Tessa said somberly. “So I’m going to fix this.”
“Tessa. Tessa, you’re not going to try to leave, are you?” Martin whispered. He glanced around feverishly. “I don’t want you to die.”
Tessa’s mouth curled into a sad smile. “I don’t want to die either, Martin. And I won’t. Please watch my Human for me, and I’ll be back soon.”
Martin nodded numbly, and Tessa spun on her heel and marched up the rows of desks to the front door. She stopped by it, her fingers gently tapping the silver knob. She had never used this door, because it led to the hallway with all of the other rooms and to the door that led into the Real World.
Slowly her fingers wrapped around the metal and twisted it open.
The hallway was plain and white, and five white doors with gold knobs lined the hallway. Tessa stepped gingerly outside, then sped up to a quick trot down the hallway. She saw a yellow door at the end of the hall and quickened her step until she was sprinting, reaching out for the door, and gripping the knob.
Suddenly, it felt as if a million flaming knives were sinking into the skin of her palm. She ripped her hand from the knob, yelling furiously, as she noticed red lights flashing on the ceiling. Tessa tried her best to ignore the throbbing pains in her hand as she reached for the knob again with the same hand. Her fingers screaming in protest, she flung the door open and threw herself outside, yanking it shut behind her.
Tessa tripped over the curb and fell onto the alley walk, her side skidding onto the concrete. She caught her breath, aching, her hand crying out in pain. Whimpering a little, she crawled to her feet and looked around.
The alley led to a jungle of concrete and glass, the big city. She peeked around the corner and watched people, masses of people in all different colored clothing with all different colored skin, marched past in waves. The sky was a brilliant, beautiful blue. Tessa sighed a little and was able to ignore the stabbing pains in her hand for a second, admiring the beauty of the real world, but then the reality hit her. She had to save Naomi.
Tessa racked her brain. She remembered seeing Naomi’s address; 1246 55th Street. She jogged out into the sidewalk and examined her hand better as she walked in the human sea. It didn’t look good; all red and swollen with little ugly yellow bumps here and there. She looked up at the passing street signs. 50th. 51st. 52nd. 53rd. 54th. And finally, 55th.
Tessa turned and jogged down the street, looking at all of the apartment buildings until she saw a dark tan one with the numbers she needed scratched above the door. She ran up the steps and onto the balcony, then searched for Naomi’s name on the buzzer list and slammed the correct button with her good hand.
The speaker crackled a little. “Hello?”
The woman’s voice sounded tired and worn out, but happy nevertheless. Tessa’s heart melted a little. “Hello, Naomi?”
“Yes? Who is this?”
“My name is Tessa,” Tessa said, leaning against the concrete wall a little. “You don’t know who I am or why I’m here, but I really, really need to speak to you.”
The speaker was silent for a few seconds. Then Naomi’s voice crackled again: “Okay.”
The door buzzed and clicked open. Tessa grasped the handle with her good hand, surprised that it worked and she was getting in. She walked over to the elevator and went inside, then rode up to the seventh floor. Her feet treaded silently down the hallway on the soft carpet. The door at the end of the hall was dark brown and cracked open slightly, but she knocked anyway. Her beautiful Human stood in front of her, with her long brown hair hanging over one shoulder and her green eyes sad and confused. She looked…. Broken.
“Hello, Naomi,” Tessa said softly. “Can I come in?”
She had seen the apartment before, but admired it even more in person. It was decorated nicely with white accent chairs and a grey couch. Tessa slipped her shoes off and sat down in a chair across from Naomi, who sat down with her legs crossed and her hands clasped in her lap. “So. Um. What do I owe the pleasure?”
“I don’t even know if you’re going to believe me.” Tessa ran a hand through her sleek black hair. “You see, Naomi…”
And she proceeded to tell her everything. About the Destiny Force. About her job watching over Naomi. About how her friend had asked her to watch his screen and she overheard a dark conversation. At the end, Naomi’s face was pale white and her eyes wide as dinner plates.
“Someone’s going to kill me? Tonight?” she whispered. “But- but- but I don’t understand! Who? Why?”
“I don’t know,” Tessa said somberly. “I don’t know why. But I know his name is Jacob, and he’s going to come here tonight to kill you.”
Naomi jumped up from her chair and started to pace the living room. “I don’t know what to say!” she cried. “I don’t know what to do, or why, or-” she stopped mid sentence and collapsed into her chair, covering her face with her hands.
Tessa stood up and crouched in front of her, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I’m not going to let you die, Naomi. I don’t know how Jacob broke the algorithm, but it doesn’t matter now. We’re going to break it too and save your life.”
Naomi removed her face from her hands and noticed Tessa’s bright red hand. “Here, let me get you some medicine for that,” she mumbled, standing up. “I- it’s the least I can do, if you’re going to try and save me.”
It was ten-o'clock. The city had darkened. The amber light that hung over the island in the kitchen was the only light on in Naomi’s house.
The two newfound friends hid in the bathroom, inside the bathtub. A small revolver was tucked inside Naomi’s belt. They heard the door creak open, as expected, and a heavy male voice called out.
“Naomi Freeman?” it growled. “Naomi, come out now, and I’ll let you die quickly. I’m not taking any crap from you.”
Naomi clutched Tessa’s arm to steady herself from trembling. The floor creaked and the intruder moved through the kitchen slowly, step by step. Tessa pressed a finger to her lips, heart pounding furiously. Her mind raced, part of herself wishing she had stayed with Martin instead of investigating the strange mishap in the algorithm, as the front of a gun poked its way around the half open bathroom door. Jacob stepped slowly inside, holding his gun out in front of him, and Tessa yelled and sprang into action.
She threw herself at him, and the gun fired once, twice, three times. Tessa felt a stabbing pain in her gut as she bowled him over and Naomi leapt out of the bathtub, firing the gun at Jacob until he moved no more.
“Tessa!” Naomi cried, grabbing Tessa’s shoulder and rolling her onto her back. A huge red blossom stained her pure white shirt as Naomi gripped her hand, searching for a pulse. Her skin was still warm as her eyes stared blankly at the wall in front of her.
Tears, floods and rivers of tears, flowed from Naomi’s eyes for her new friend as she bent over her body and let the gun and limp hand fall to the floor.