They don’t tell you how they go about the process of choosing. They don’t give you warning. They just show up at your doorstep one day, cart you away, and take you to the rocket. “It’s your turn,” a suited man tells you, and then you are off.
That was how it was explained to Sloane when she was old enough to learn why one citizen was chosen each year, seemingly at random, to partake in our country’s annual Moon Mission. As a child, and even well into the early years of her adulthood, she felt exalted by the idea of traveling to the moon. And having the ability to send ordinary folks to outer space was something the government touted, along with a new sense of national pride once the new millennium hit. We would be made pure again, thanks to the Thought Ministry.
The Ministry was formed back in the “Purification Era” of our country, when it was noticed that, among other nuisances and misdeeds, more and more wives were leaving their husbands, and the teenage pregnancy rate spiked to the highest level seen in decades. Viewed as enemies to the idyllic society that our founders built, the government cobbled together the Ministry as a form of prevention, and as a way of one day restoring their standing as the beacon of morality to the rest of the world. “Desire breeds thought, and thought breeds sin. It is our responsibility to raise the next generation to do right, to correct our mistakes,” the famous pamphlet read, quoting former President Mischel.
But as the leadership and the population got more progressive, the Thought Ministry got defunded, deemed as it were an outmoded and draconian arm of Mischel’s government; a relic of her chaste ambitions of which many only publicly shared. It still operated but vaguely, quietly. It was no longer considered a relevant threat.
This was how it was explained to Sloane when she was old enough to learn why she, along with every other child born from 2000 on, had a chip inserted in her brain. Pink for girls, blue for boys, though that was simply cosmetic, as the Test Generation was taught to understand it. The chip’s purpose was to record each thought and memory in real time; these then get transmitted to a storehouse in the District. Detection of any thoughts inconsistent with the original mission set forth by Mischel was to trigger an alarm of sorts — there was trouble to be contained. Watchlists were formed. Policies were enacted that were meant to act as restraints: abstinence-only education on drugs and sex, virtually impossible standards to obtain divorce, threats of mandatory “purity pills” should things start getting out of hand.
Parents protested. Teachers, doctors, lawyers joined them. It was only when Mischel died during her fifth term that any measurable change occurred. We had a fresh, young government composed mainly of those from the Test Generation. Getting chipped was made optional and left up to one’s birth parents. Restrictions were loosened. Many laws were retracted or rewritten. Administration of impuravir hydrochloride (the so-called purity pill) was, again, left to the discretion of our nation’s parents. President Adler stripped the Thought Ministry of most of its funding, and redirected those funds to be spent on “things that actually represent our highest ideals.” What little money stayed in the Ministry went toward the annual Mission.
Called “The Golden One,” he was one of the first to be chipped and subsequently placed on Mischel’s watchlist. He was also rumored to have been on impuravir from his junior year of high school until his late twenties, when he was elected. “Shouldn’t that tell you all we need to know about Senator Adler?” his opponent quipped in the weeks leading up to the election. That actually worked in his favor: he was seen as a victim of an oppressive system and many could relate to him — many who wished to uproot it and pave a better way for the future.
Sloane was one of them. She was born the same year as President Adler. She was chipped and watchlisted. And she, too, took impuravir for years before she realized she no longer had to. Chip removal surgery could not yet be performed safely, but at least she could allow herself the pleasure of free thought. Adler had signed an executive order to turn the storehouse into a homeless shelter; this project was to be completed by the end of his first term and spearheaded by his wife, First Lady Caroline. So she indulged once more in the delicious daydreams that landed her on the watchlist in the first place: the boys, now men, that she has wanted inside of her; the drug-induced excursions from reality she so craved; and, perhaps her least (or most) controversial desire of allowing herself to feel. The Test Generation was taught that anger, sadness, and joy were self-indulgent and harmful to society. So at the first safe opportunity, she raged. She cried. She laughed herself to orgasm.
It was now the year 2031, and they still don’t tell you how they go about the process of choosing. They don’t give you warning. They just show up at your doorstep one day, cart you away, and take you to the rocket. “It’s your turn,” a suited man tells you, and then you are off.
Sloane was in the middle of making breakfast for her son, Alex, when they came for her.
“Mommy, the door is knocking!” he said, ambling toward it. She scooped him up into her arms and answered the door. A man with a Thought Ministry badge and black suit asked her to identify herself.
“It’s your turn,” he replied. A woman in a similar uniform grabbed Alex and shuffled him into an unmarked van. He was screaming. The man took her into the other unmarked van and put her in the back, where another man in a lab coat sat her down and lifted a syringe out of his pocket.
Sloane woke three days later, staring out a window into complete blackness. She felt half-dead.
“Where am I?” she said weakly, hoping there was someone, anyone who could hear her and tell her she was simply dreaming. The words came out unformed and tasting like dust. Suddenly she felt a cold, leaden hand on her shoulder. She went to twist herself from it, but could not move. The edges of her vision were still blurry.
“Sloane,” a hard voice said. “Sloane Sullivan.”
“Yes,” she answered, closing her eyes again.
“Wake up. We have some work to do.”
About twenty minutes later, Sloane was able to sit up. And in a breakneck flash, she finally recognized where she was. She finally understood what was happening.
The cold metal innards of the rocket.
The man who came to get her.
The bulky spacesuits hanging before them.
The moon’s cratered surface, shimmering bravely and metallic outside the window.
The tiny blue marble that is her home, hundreds of thousands of miles away, but through sheer force of will she was convinced she could reach through the thick pane of glass and grab it, swallow it whole, become it so she wouldn’t have to think about home being so far away.
Oh god, her Alex.
The man gave her a sip of water and slipped her a tablet.
“Dramamine,” he said. “You’re going to need it later.” Still dulled from sleep and whatever they drugged her with — yes, it was all coming back — she slipped the tiny pill down her throat.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re saving you.”
“From what?” Tears burned her eyes.
“Yourself. Now lie still, Miss Sullivan. I need to inject a local anesthesia so we can remove your chip and give you a new one.”
“But my son. I need to get home to my son.”
“You will be back soon enough.” She felt a soft pair of hands come from behind her and grab her wrists, knotting them together with rope. Then a face appeared above her.
He bent down and kissed her deeply.
“I want my son.” Sloane said once he withdrew his mouth from hers.
“You mean our son.” He gently brushed her hair back, exposing her left temple. The other man took a needle to her tight little spot of flesh.
She stared out again into the starless void.
She was drifting again.
She was gone.
She woke once more.
“The Sea of Tranquility. Have you ever seen a thing like this,” a man with a Thought Ministry badge and black suit said, apparently to himself.
“Where am I?” She winced, put a hand to her temple. It felt bruised.
The man said, “You are made pure again.”
We never saw our daughter again.
Well, we saw her. But she couldn’t see us. She would never see us, or Alex, as she saw us before. The State became sole guardian of Alex. We never saw him again either.
Dissociative fugue is what medical texts called it. Whatever it was, she wouldn’t allow us to help her. You stared into her eyes and no matter how intently you looked, there was no hint of recognition on her part. Just emptiness.
She was drifting.
She was gone.