Exercise in Futility
I stood in line with all the other Drainers. I had my hands clenched into fists at my sides, my dirty, bitten fingernails cut into my palms as I watched the knights patrolling the ramparts above us. Their metal faces were blank and expressionless. My stomach quivered as the line slowly shuffled forward.
Everyone from the Ghettos was drained once in their life. After that we got to live on the other side of the wall where we were happy. You were assigned and lived in bliss, all the propaganda said so. I should have relished the day that my draining was scheduled, but now all I wanted was to step out of line and run back to the Sixteens ghetto.
No one I knew would be there now. Everyone was in line with me. This was the last day we’d spend on this side of the wall. If I ran they would kill me. I reached up and folded my fingers around the little metal tag hung around my neck.
“482?” A timid voice from behind me asked and I turned my head ever so slightly to see, 483 looking at me with fearful eyes. I liked 483, she had a crooked smile and hair so curly it almost stuck out straight.
“Do you think it will be painful?”
Her voice was a song. Someone would pay a mighty price for a voice like hers.
“We won’t remember.” I told her reaching out to intertwine our fingers. Her hand was just as sweaty as mine. 483 bit her lip.
“I…” she broke off as a knight turned his laser focus to us and a green dot appeared on both our chests.
“Physical contact is forbidden.” His mechanical voice grated along my eardrums and I dropped 483’s hand. The dot disappeared, but my heart still thudded wetly in my chest. We straggled forward again. I could see the gate now. I could see the energy field we’d be passing through. The one that would fry anyone except those with the right tags.
I drew my eyes over the faded posters that lined the castle walls now. They showed couples smiling in their clean Keepers jumpsuits, but the blank expressions marked them as Naïve.
“Come, be happy. Share your knowledge and be assigned.”
Nyx watched the screens without interest. The computers did all the work anyhow, all she had to do was watch the little Drainers and make sure they were all lined up correctly. The computer would scan their tags and everything they had ever done and ever would do in their lives would run across her screen in little ones and zeros. A knight sent her a blip and her feet came down off her desk to look at the message scrolling across her screen.
Possible Outlier…please advise.
Nyx tapped a few keys and an image of a boy and girl holding hands in the drainer line displayed across her monitor. She rolled her eyes. The keepers had told her that this computer could predict any human behavior; that it was infallible, but up and running for only three months and already it had asked her a hundred stupid questions.
Of course the kids wanted to hold hands. They were terrified.
When you were Eights you were told to develop a talent. 483 had chosen music, she learned to play the ghetto’s old piano and to sing. I was never tired of listening to her, but the only way you were assigned to something good was if your talent fetched a large sum.
My hands knotted into the fabric of my jeans again as the door loomed closer. I would never see her again…or at least I wouldn’t remember her. My throat clogged and I swallowed hard feeling my Adam’s apple bobbing in my neck. I would miss 483 the most.
I came level with the door and the Keeper standing there with two knights held out a scanner to my tag. It beeped once.
I stumbled and one of the knights shoved me. I tripped forward and half fell into the field.
Energy crackled to life around me. The breath left in my lungs, darkness consumed me and I knew no more.
“Ignore.” Nyx typed the word into her keyboard, “Classify as normal human behavior.”
She scrolled through the rest of the tape. The Drainers had the designations 482, and 483 they had both gone through the field now and were on their way to the draining facility strapped down to gurneys. Nyx watched on her screen as the boy was wheeled past, his tag chiming pleasantly as he was checked off. All the Drainers were the same, born and bred for one purpose. Their whole lives were computer controlled, it predicted their growth rates and their friends. It even predicted which talent they would be most likely to adopt. It wasn’t like they were really people, they were just…
Nyx tapped her finger to her lips.
The sound of voices woke me. I fought the urge to snap my eyes open and gasp as I tried to focus on what they were saying. It was the voice of two men, by their cadence they sounded like Keepers. Blood pounded past my ears as I forced my body to remain still.
“Ah, this is the one Blaise. One of the knights reported that he was holding hands with this other one here.” Something metallic clanged and I flinched.
“He moved.” The second voice, Blaise, said suddenly.
“Don’t be stupid, they are all under heavy sedation while we drain their brains. Any twitching is just a result of the medication.”
“Yes doctor.” Blaise was abashed.
“As I was saying, all these ghetto kids think they know what love is. Then they come here and forget everything, it’s all an exercise in futility. Why do you think they do it? Fall in love with each other I mean?” Doctor had an intense edge to his voice.
Blaise gave a strangled sort of laugh, “They’re kids, and they don’t know anything else.”
My stomach lurched violently and I swallowed hard; the bile rose in my throat. The men had moved away from me now and I risked slitting my eyes open.
Light fixtures hung in even intervals along a plain white ceiling. I tipped my head to the side and I couldn’t help that gasp that parted my lips as 483 was laying right beside me. She was dressed in a clean white shirt and loose fitting pants. Wires and pads were stuck to her head, her curly hair thrown onto the pillow. Machines beeped slowly above me and I watched a bright blue liquid being dripped into her veins. I looked down at my own elbow and saw the same thing running into my bloodstream. I cast around wildly finding my hands restrained. There were beds as far as I could see. Everyone was asleep.
Why was I awake?
Animalistic panic rose in my chest.
Then everything went suddenly silent. All the beeping stopped and there was a huge hiss of air being released. The needle fell from my arm and I went still. Sweat dripped down my forehead and into my eyes. My muscles ached, my wrists were bruised. I breathed heavy, drawing air into my lungs as though I had been starving. My restraints came loose and I jumped from the bed. I stumbled into 483’s.
Her eyes flashed open and I stuffed my fist into my mouth to keep from screaming.
“483?” I asked cautiously and she turned towards my voice.
“I am 483 how may I assist you today?”
I jerked a step backwards, she was gone. She was a Naïve now. All around the room people started to sit up and repeated the same phrase. I backed into the wall.
This was not happening. This was not happening. I pressed the palms of my hands to my temples.
Nyx could use a new hobby to distract her. Perhaps she could pick up cooking from one of the drainers? Or maybe singing. Although her technician’s salary wouldn’t allow her to get anything too good.
Anomaly detected please advise…
The computer beeped at her again. She really was going to have to speak with her supervisor. This computer was not as good as the last one, this one couldn’t even get through a single shift without some hand holding. Nyx was just about to hit the ignore key again when she actually looked up at the image her monitor was displaying.
She swore loudly.
A loud speaker chimed to life and spoke in a soothing woman’s voice, “All unassigned are to report to the exit on the far right.”
The Naïve stood up like robots walked to the foot of their beds and turned into a line with choreographed precision. My skin was crawling as I watched the line move. There was a place for me. Right in front of 483. The gap was noticeable.
My mind raced. It was obvious that no one else remembered anything. The draining had worked on them, but not on me. I felt sick, every muscle ached and my head hurt most of all. I stumbled forward to catch up to 483.
She didn’t even look at me as I slid into place in front of her.
Nyx was actually panicking now. She punched in the number of her superior with trembling fingers as she struggled to control the shaking in her hands.
“Hello?” he sounded annoyed. Nyx swallowed hard.
“We have an anomaly Sir.”
“What kind of anomaly Techy?”
Nyx’s eyes darted to the screen in front of her. To the boy who obviously still remembered. “We have one who wasn’t drained…Sir.”
The line was so silent, Nyx took it away from her ear to see if they were still connected.
“That’s impossible…the computer…”
“I’m looking at it right now Sir. Please advise.”
“Sir, please advise.”
I watched the front of the line stepping through a set of double doors thrown open. A couple of keepers were scanning tags and glancing at each Naïve.
They were checking the eyes, I realized suddenly with a jolt. They were making sure they all had blank eyes. I tried to let my face relax into a stupidly absent expression.
They were so close I could hear them chatting about an error message the computer had reported. I involuntarily clenched my hands into fists. The Keeper froze and I forgot I was meant to be blank. Our eyes met and his mouth dropped open.
“Don’t be red-” The other trailed off as he looked up and I met his gaze evenly. The scanner fell from his grasp and skidded across the floor.
“Hello.” I said.
“How did you…how is this…how, how.” He stammered and I swallowed hard against the pounding in my brain.
“You’re the scientist aren’t you? I’m just a Drainer.”
The first Keeper scoffed, “A Drainer who wasn’t drained. There has to be some sort of mistake, perhaps your medication was miscalculated.”
I flinched as I thought of the sludge they had injected into my body. “I don’t want to be drained anymore.” I said and it sounded pleading to my own ears. My eyes involuntarily jerked to 483. “I don’t want to be like that.”
“You don’t have a choice kid. It’s what you were bred for.” The first Keeper said without kindness, his words sharp and biting.
“Sir, please advise.” Nyx said each word slowly, her tounge darting out to moisten her lips.
“Drain it again. Up the dosage.”
“But Sir, the computer calculates dosages based on an individual’s history and mass.”
“I don’t give a damn. If there is a Drainer out there who remembers, then the computer is wrong. This cannot be allowed to happen. Do you understand me? This must not be allowed to happen.” Her supervisor spoke slowly now and dread coiled in the pit of Nyx’s stomach.
“Of course Sir.” She said and the phone went dead. She dialed the next number with equal hesitation.
Three men burst into the room…no they weren’t men they were knights. My breath caught in my chest and I stumbled backwards. They were too fast. They were always too fast.
The first Keeper watched impassively as the knights caught hold of me. Their metallic hands were cold on my flushed skin.
“What are you going to do to me?” I asked panting. The Keepers wore an expression that was a cross between fascination and regret maybe.
“Let me go!” I screamed as I kicked out. My heel connected with the knight’s leg with a hollow thud and black spots danced across my vision.
“Take him back to the lab, we’ll set this right.” The first Keeper commanded as the knights started to drag me back through the door I had walked though. “Blaise continue with the scan.”
He followed beside me as I kicked and screamed. “Don’t…please. Please don’t do this. I swear I won’t tell anyone. I’ll go back to the ghettos. I’ll live there, I won’t bother you. Please.”
The Keeper just shook his head, “No I don’t think so. There hasn’t been a Drainer who resisted the draining in over a generation. Some of my colleagues have even boasted that it has been bred out of them. You can’t very well prove them wrong can you?”
Nyx had her fist stuffed into her mouth as she watched the boy who had held hands with that girl only hours before being dragged back to his bed to be drained again. It had never bothered her before. It had always been so clean, the computer did all the work. Just a little shock to knock them out and when they woke up again they were peaceful and happy. Now he was screaming and Nyx resisted the urge to cover her ears. Her face was wet and the breath hitched in her chest. The computer was never wrong, it predicted everything. Now it had gone off the rails and an ugly truth was presented to Nyx.
She wasn’t ready.
The knights came level with my bed and lifted me without ceremony onto the mattress and clinked the restraints back into place. I bucked as the Keeper went over to the screen above my head and read the symbols there. I watched his face crease into a frown.
“You woke up before the others didn’t you?”
I clamped my jaw shut.
“Yes…this all looks right, but obviously you need a stronger dose.”
“I heard you talking. To Blaise, you were talking about the futility of love. I want you to know you’re wrong. There is nothing futile about loving someone even if it is only for a little while.”
The Keeper made a discontented grunt as he slid the needle back into my arm. I knew I only had a few seconds.
I used them to say her name.