On my 17th birthday, I was assigned the occupation of a murderer.
Before everyone’s 17th birthday, my year took a tour of the building that held the machines- a tall skyscraper that was made of glass so reflective you couldn't look directly at it on a sunny day. They explained the machines and how they benefited our society. Then the memory transfers, how on our 17th birthday we would receive a memory from your future self to guide you in what your future was going to be like.
We learned that the machines could predict ways of human behavior. They had some algorithm that made sure they knew everything.
The invention of the machines made our world into the machine itself. Repetitive, colorless, uninteresting. Perfect.
On my 17th birthday, I saw it clear as glass in my mind. As I fell further into the trance of my future memory, my senses became sharpened, and I felt like I'd fallen asleep and woken in the future like I was actually in the memory.
The memory wasn’t far in the future, my long dark hair still the same length, and my face and body the same as it was now. I was wearing my normal attire- a grey t-shirt, jeans, and black boots. My braided hair looked wild and my eyes were wide with fear. The room I was in was dark, with multiple silver boxes blinking with different colored lights. I couldn't hear anything but overlapping voices coming from somewhere unknown and my heavy breathing. Behind me, my best friend Oliver stood behind me, fear written plainly across his face, his black button-up shirt ripped at the shoulder where he was bleeding.
"Samantha, think rationally," a voice pleaded. I couldn't see the person in the memory, but they had a light voice- not the nice kind, but the manipulative kind used by predators to lure prey. Their voice shook a little, though it was obvious the owner of it wasn't used to the feeling.
Me in the memory held up the gun, finger tightening slightly on the trigger. "I am," I said angrily.
"Sam," Oliver warned. He was clutching his wounded shoulder.
I couldn't tell what he meant, whether to stop me or help me, or had been hurt by me, but me in the memory didn't turn around.
"Trust me," I muttered. "I am."
I pulled the trigger and chaos erupted.
I woke screaming from the future memory, the eyes of the board, studying the memory.
One of the board members, a tall, grey-haired woman with a prestigious poise, spoke. "I knew it would be something like this with her," she muttered.
I could tell I was hyperventilating, my vision starting tunneling black and blurry. My heartbeat like it wanted to escape my ribcage.
I knew that I was supposed to stay there, finish the process with the memory transfer. No one ever acted otherwise, no matter what memory they were shown. That's what the machines told us. What the board enforced.
But I ran, bursting from the chair and sprinting down the hallway, knowing no one would be there to stop me because this has never happened before, this wasn't what the machines told us would happen.
Statistically, it wasn't possible, yet there I was, bursting out the front doors of the board of memory transfer headquarters.
It was a cold February this year, the wind biting at my bare face and arms, making goosebumps rise up. My hair blew into my face, sticking to the tears wetting my cheeks.
I desperately looked around for an escape.
"Samantha!" I voice called. "Happy 17th!" it sang.
I spun around to see Oliver, walking towards me. My face was hot with tears. I couldn't stop trembling.
"No," I whispered.
I distantly felt his arms wrap around my shoulders, gently shaking me. "What happened, Sam? What did you see?"
My throat felt constricted. I felt blind, my panic growing as I replayed the memory over and over again. By pulling the trigger. A life lost, Oliver hurt.
"Sam!" he shouted, alarmed. "What. Happened." He shook me harder like he was trying to unlodge the guilt and pain in my throat that was preventing me from speaking.
The loud ringing of footsteps behind us startled me. I grabbed hard onto Oliver, desperation climbing into my voice. "Go! Run!"
Hand in hand, we sprinted across the street, running until we were red in the face and had reached the border of the city where nothing but grey cement and glass met brown woods.
Oliver was breathing raggedly, hands on his knees in a hunchback position. "Sam..." he started.
Horror struck me. I had dragged him along with me to this future, possibly. He would be implicated in helping a future murderer escape justice. I would be arrested- along with him. Or he would be the Oliver in the memory, scared and hurt.
"I'm sorry." I started crying again, unable to contain the violent shaking that made me drop to my knees. "I'm so sorry."
His breath clearing up, he knelt next to me, speaking in a low yet urgent tone. "What are you sorry for Sam? What was your memory?"
My mind was reeling in a tornado of thoughts- the memory of me murdering a random woman I couldn't see, dragging Oliver with me to be a part of this future. The fear I felt as I saw myself holding that gun. Pulling the trigger.
Oliver spoke louder, locking his blue eyes with my brown ones. "Samantha. What did you see?"
I took a trembling breath. "I'm a murderer. You were there, some random woman. You were hurt, but I was talking to the woman. I couldn't see her. I shot her." I was rambling now. Panic took over- I was hyperventilating again.
"Oh, Samantha," he whispered. His face was pained, in disbelief. His hand on my shoulder calmed me down. "I'm so sorry."
"You don't hate me?"
"I think there's more to it than that. I know you, Sam. You wouldn't do anything like that without a really, really good reason."
"What reason would be good enough I'd kill someone."
He was silent, looking down and intertwining our hands. "I don't know. But the reason is out there. All we have to do is figure out how you went against the machine. You ran from the board, Sam. That's never happened before. That might mean we could change what will happen before it does. Make our own choices. The machine predicts. Not controls."
A thought sparked in my head, making me look up suddenly. "What if the machines don't just predict. They control. That's how they do it. I don't know how, but it's true. How else would it explain the way that everyone acts the same? We wear the same clothes in the same grey and black colors. Nothing is interesting or different, Oliver."
"What you're saying is crazy. How could that even happen?"
At a loss for words, I shrugged. "I'm not sure. But how could I be a cold-blooded murder in the near future when right now I'm a 17-year-old girl who was hoping to have a normal birthday and maybe become a teacher or a doctor or something. Not a criminal."
Oliver nodded, his blonde mop of hair bouncing up and down. "You're right."
He was about to say more when a piercing alarm rang in the distance. I could hear shouting and people making commands, rushing through the streets of the city. Soon they might go to the woods.
They would find me before I could change my future. Before I could figure out the truth.
I looked to Oliver quickly, who was staring at the sounds, distracted and afraid. "Oliver!" I pulled his shoulders to face me. "You don't have to join me. You'll go down with me if I get caught. You already got your memory last week! You're going to be on the force. You'll be police or CSI. Exactly what you wanted."
Oliver looked wildly from the chaotic alarms of the city to me, shaking his head.
"It's okay." I dropped his hand and moved toward the woods. "Live your life, Oliver."
Oliver violently shook his head again, his overgrown blonde hair moving crazily. "No Sam. I'm not leaving you."
My eyes grew wide in shock. "You can still have the future you want!" I said angrily. "You can't throw everything away for your childhood best friend!"
He looked at me with an expression I'd never seen before, a longing or a type of desperation. "You were in my memory too, Sam. I want you in my future."
My heart felt like it had stopped. "I was in your memory?"
He nodded, and I was surprised to find that it made me happy. Really happy. I nodded. "Okay. Let's go."
Oliver reached for my hand. "We need to find out how the machines work. How they control. Why we're not controlled."
I looked to the city, biting my lower lip. After a minute I nodded. "Okay."
It was dark when we were ready to leave, the alarms now gone. The pitch-black left me no sight except for a slight outline of Oliver and the night glow of the city. There were barely any stars in the sky, as we were still too close to the city than the woods to be able to see past the yellow haze of electric light, industrial buildings, and smoke.
I sighed and sat down on a patch of moss, rubbing my hands up and down my arms to keep warm in my t-shirt, now wishing I had a summer birthday instead of one in February.
"Hey." Oliver laid a hand on mine. "Relax. We can do this."
I nodded and stood up, brushing off pieces of the wood that were determined to make their way to the city with me. "Let's do it."
Getting there was the easy part. Getting inside was a little harder. The first few bottom floors had just a night-guard. The next few, where they brought us to explain the memory transfers before we were 17 needed a key card for elevator and door access. Then the Carson Company Laser System, designed by one of my dad’s old friends, Carson, who had a memory of the lasers in the building.
Only the rare person who got a memory assigning them to be a board member ever saw the machines, as long as the older than life inventor of the machines who no one ever saw.
They're the only ones who know what guards the top few floors past the laser system, so we were running in blind. I tried to not vomit as we entered the building.
"Hey!" Oliver walked over to the guard, waving like a good friend would. "We brought you a sandwich."
The guard looked over at us in interest. "A sandwich? I'll need some I.D."
I frowned. "An I.D to bring you a sandwich?"
The guard raised both eyebrows. "Yes."
Oliver and I locked eyes. The guard reached for a walkie-talkie, and Oliver's eyes grew to the size of saucers, his fist flying into the guard, causing him to slump forward with a grunt, out cold.
I smiled gratefully. "Thanks."
He motioned with his head to the elevator as he took the guard's key-card. “I'll get us faster access." He winked and moved behind the desk.
"What are you doing?" I hissed.
"Trust me." Using the key-card to swipe something and scan something else, he typed away at the silver keyboard, swiping something that came up on the screen and pressing something else. The process mystified me.
He didn't answer again until we heard a ding! and the light on the computer lit up and flashed green.
"Free access past the lasers."
"You obviously have some hidden talents."
He grinned and flipped the key-card in his hands, putting it into his breast pocket of his black button-up shirt. "Surprise." He punched a button on the elevator. "One-way ticket to the truth."
My blood ran cold as I realized "the truth" turned out to be a series of blinking colored lights on many sleek, silver boxes that sent signals back and forth to a large screen on the far wall. On the screen, multiple videos played at once, sound overlapping and chaotic movements and noises assaulting my senses.
"This is the place from my memory." I was frozen, unable to move. I felt my hands shaking.
"Everyone's memories. Film from the security cameras we see everywhere. They're not just watching us every moment now, they're watching our memories. Our future selves!" Oliver frowned. "That can't be it, though. It's part of it, but it can't be the whole thing. We know they're controlling people!" He looked around desperately.
I forced myself to walk around the room, looking at the silver boxes and listening to the overlapping chattering on the screen. I felt along the wall, making sure we weren't missing anything. I jumped like I'd touched a spider when my hand touched something bumpy along the corner of the wall.
"A button!" I pressed it. For a scary moment, there was nothing. Then one of the silver boxes lit up and three bottles of liquid the color of a plum rose in glass vials. Once out of the box, the large screen went black except for a small message written in white in the corner. Before I could read it, a message in red appeared, in bold text, Administering Serum.
I quickly stabbed the button hard with my finger, and the letters on the screen turned green. A robotic voice spoke loudly in the room, making me cringe.
"Serum Administration Aborted."
Oliver and I looked at each other, breathing hard with panic.
"That's how they do it. This serum. They administer it or whatever. Through the vents, the speakers, in our flu shots! It could be anything."
"That's how they can predict everything. Because we're literally part of the algorithm. That's why they care so much about our future memories because it tells them everything they think they need to know."
I read the small message in white. "Serum non-affecting of gene lines 7-2521, 6-3473, 4-8737, 5-3826..." I looked at the list. "These must be families not affected by the serum. We must be on this list!"
"What do you want to bet that most of these people have mysteriously disappeared, been threatened, or are in jail?"
I nodded, but before I could reply, the door thudded open with a bang, making me drop to the ground.
“Freeze! No one moves!”
I felt myself turn to ice, freezing, though involuntarily, on the ground. The voice was the woman I shot in my memory.
“Oliver,” I whimpered.
I heard Oliver distantly arguing with the woman, two other voices that must have been her backup talking too. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, everyone moving and yelling, my mind stuck in panic and fragmented images of the memory.
Another bang sounded, this one reverberating in my skull.
I heard Oliver cry out in pain, catching himself as he fell by using one arm to prop himself up on one of the silver boxes as he struggled.
I rushed over to Oliver, seeing the wound I saw in my memory, a bleeding shoulder and ripped shirt.
“Just grazed the skin,” he muttered through gritted teeth.
“They shot you!” Angrily, I scanned the room, seeing a gun lost in the chaos of the fight with Oliver. I knew it was the same one from the memory.
I picked it up anyway and aimed anyway.
The woman was the same poised board member who’d said this was exactly what she’d expected in the memory room.
“You’re controlling us with a serum. These machines don’t benefit our society, they oppress it!” I yelled.
“They keep it safe! There’s no way you’re getting out of here anyway. Both of you.”
“You’re wrong!” I gritted my teeth, hefting the gun.
“There’s only one switch to destroy all of the serum. Designed only in case of emergency of course, but well hidden. Even if you did escape no one could believe you and the serum lives on.”
I cocked the gun, seeing fear in the woman’s eyes for the first time.
"Samantha, think rationally," she said.
"Sam," Oliver warned, desperate.
I didn’t turn around. "Trust me," I muttered. "I am. You’re not as smart as you think you are."
I pulled the trigger.
With the building alarms going off and the silver boxes rumbling like they were going to explode, It took me a few seconds to confirm that the board member was still alive, unharmed. My wrist ached slightly from the rebound of the shot, but I hardly noticed. Oliver looked at me in bewilderment and relief.
I looked to where the bullet had hit. Exactly where I knew I had to hit to destroy the serum.
“You fool!” she screamed. “Our world will be in chaos! Do you realize what you’ve done!?”
I glared at the board woman, her two bulky bodyguard backups still and silent in shock. “Of course. I destroyed the serum. Noce hiding place, by the way”
She babbled on, cursing and muttering but I just smiled.
“Hey!” That caught her attention. Oliver, though pale and struggling to get up, wiggled a remote and keycard in the air. “You’re on T.V.”
The woman spun around to see the large screen broadcasting on the live show in our main city square. Every 17 year old was supposed to have their memories revealed to the public. Instead, the truth was revealed.
Oliver grinned. “Apparently you can change the algorithm. Human’s can’t actually be predicted, you know.”
Stammering, the woman spun her head back and forth from the live stream to us.
I looked at Oliver and smiled. “We just changed the future.”