‘Proceed to ceremony Number 7194.’
This is it then; no longer a student clone waiting to be selected. I have arrived. The short ceremony is a welcoming of sorts to the New World. As my bare feet pad across the cool metal stage, I catch glimpses of myself in the polished parts of the black walls. The sombre room is reserved for initiating new life, an inauguration ceremony designed to welcome fully developed clones into a life shared with humans. The raising of clone and human youths has always been segregated. We spend years studying humans and their behavioural choices, allowing us the best opportunity to integrate seamlessly into their culture. Humankind is the reason we have to attend this ceremony, receive genders, names and our objects.
The Giver assigns objects to us that decide our life spans. Without them, clones could live happily for hundreds of years before our bodies would decompose. The humans were jealous. They said we needed to be limited. I think they were afraid, but I can only assume. I’ve never met one; I glance to my right as I pass the panel of elders. Their faces look almost bored, they do this day in day out, decommissioning us at whim. A candidate may trip or fall - if they don’t like the way we look, they could dispose of us. The humans on the committee look old and tired; their bodies are decaying right in front of me and yet I am the one that disgusts them. I can feel the loathing in the room. I wonder how long I will be allowed to live; something metal would be ideal, something that would last me my lifetime if protected.
My hands reach out to The Giver, the cold beads of sweat on my palms shimmer in the blue light, my eyes squint as my hands are analysed. I peer into the machine trying to glimpse my fate silently pleading to the white machine as though it were a god, give me life. The Giver, cruel as history’s gods, has other plans. I pull my object from the shiny round hole and feel my heart drop to my stomach. Organic.
‘Name: Grace Johnson, Gender: Female, Object: Lemon’
A chuckle echoes around the room. Organic objects were so rare nowadays; they are deemed unfair by the clone committee. Clearly, the elders still keep a few in the choosing pool, but I haven’t heard of an organic item being pulled in years.
‘Grace, please approach the exit for redesign, cleansing and work assignment.’
My tearful eyes find the exit, I pull back my shoulders, straighten my spine and head towards the door. I will not let this break me. I did not train twenty years to live for a few weeks.
The hairdresser tuts as I enter the room. ‘Why waste resources on you then ‘eh? You’re not even around long enough to matter anyway.’ She is a pretty young thing, human. My first conversation is one confirming that I am not worth anyone’s time or effort.
‘I would like to feel as though I belong, even if it is for a short time.’ I feel a wet stain cross my cheek and swipe it away angrily.
‘There, there, sweetie.’ The girl’s sudden kindness throws me off, ‘I didn’t mean to make you cry, didn’t even know ya could ta be honest! Now, we’ll get you all cleaned up in no time. I’ll do better than just make ya fit in; you’ll be beautiful by the time I’m done, honey!’ She rubs lotion on my head. It smells like lavender and chemicals. She manages to tease long blond curls from my scalp where there was previously nothing. She pulls until the hair falls halfway down my back. She ties it back into a tight ponytail.
‘Listen, dear; you ought to have a friend in this world, my name is Clarice. If you ever need anything you come and ask for me al’right?’ Her small frame wraps around my body enveloping me in a hug, ‘You know it’s a shame you didn’t get a lemon tree.’
Clarice finishes up with my hair gives me a brief hug and then sends me to job allocation, unsurprisingly I receive a janitorial role and get assigned to a nice bedroom with an outer world view, a small kindness for a short life. Janitors work during sleeping hours in order to prevent any disruptions to the working schedule of others. Short lives get assigned these roles to prevent emotional attachment to other beings, makes it easier for people on both sides of the grave. My first assignment is the common rooms, the cafeteria, relaxation room and the library.
I work hard and fast, sweeping and wiping as though I could work myself out of my death sentence, if I’m proficient enough maybe they will lengthen it, they’ve never done a kindness before, but perhaps they will take pity on me. My brain flashes back to the chuckles around the room, no... they will never have mercy on a joke.
At about four in the morning, I am finally working on the last room. The library is filled with old dusty tomes containing the history of mankind. It must be rarely visited as the cleaning standard for this room is clearly not as high, there is dust on the tops of the pages of most of the books. My hands gloss over the covers gathering the soft grey substance when an old green cover catches my eye with faded gold lettering ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’. It is an old thick book filled with information. We were taught of these in school, to help with readjusting. Clarice's words come to mind and I begin to comb through the thick pages until I find the section on gardening, I search it for lemon trees. Absorbing the information, I know I will have to move quickly. I have to do this before my lemon begins to decompose; they will start to monitor me more closely towards the end of my object’s lifespan. I need a plant pot, a knife, water, and dirt.
The knife and the water are the most accessible parts, each of those I already have at home. I finish cleaning the library, not allowing my body to show the tension I am feeling. I must remain calm, as normal as possible if I am going to succeed in this. The dirt and the pot will require a little more effort than the knife and water.
As I walk through my doorway my eyes hone in on the little round porthole window in my bedroom, I scan the horizon, examining the growing plants that surround the compound. That window was not meant to be opened, none of the windows in this place are. The air that circulates around the building is a much cleaner air, without the toxins that get sprayed on the food to help it produce. It will be easier than finding the items indoors, risky to go outside, but quicker! I am already doing things that are risky. I need to act fast. I gaze out the window letting my eyes scan the horizon, there, a spot that hasn’t been planted yet! Now or never, this will either work or it won’t. They probably won’t expect this on the first day. I intend to live. I will do this now. I may never be unmonitored again.
I slip a chair under the door handle and reach for a knife and a spoon out of the drawer, slice the lemon, I remove and rinse the seeds carefully, just as the book instructed. Now I am on borrowed time; the seeds need to be planted quickly. The window breaks easily when the butt of the knife smashes against it, I crawl through the porthole cutting part of my stomach open, my face twists in agony but I focus my vision on the plot. It is a five-minute run. I can make it.
Alarms blare red in my room when I glance back the door is bending under pressure; someone is trying to get in. I sprint for the plot. The escape attempt must have been expected, the thumping of combat boots behind me; the response is too quick. I have never run before; the rush of adrenaline surrounding me is intoxicating; the wind whipping against my face is breathtaking. If I get to live more than the next few minutes I will run frequently, I’ve never felt so free.
My knees give way as I reach the plot, forgetting the spoon I dig the earth frantically with my hands. Plunging the seeds into the ground and covering them up quickly packing the soil tightly, as the book said. I stand, turn, face the guards and offer them my hands.
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