CHOOSING DAY, Thursday 1,876th
I stared up at the shining golden pedestal with longing in my eyes. Markie stood proudly on top of it, their eyes shining brightly. A smile on their face as they stared out into the crowd, laughing as everyone cheered for them. Their pink hair catching the sun, making it seem like the angels were taking Markie away to be one of their own. Now that Markie had been chosen they would be taken to the chapel and be officially crowned. Unfortunately no one from these Outercities ever got to watch the crowning. Hailey knocked into me, jostling me from my train of thought. “Eliza! I’m so proud of Markie! They worked so hard for this! Who do you think will be chosen next month?” I chuckled to myself, Hailey’s thoughts could never seem to stick to one lane. Unfortunately before I could answer I was knocked away from her by the crowd. Her bright blue eyes were blocked from my vision by a tangle of bodies. I looked up again at Markie, they really did deserve this. Suddenly a whistle was blown and Markie shuffled off the stage, disappearing behind a velvet red curtain. Suddenly the intercom blared on and a middle aged man's voice began speaking to us. “That’s all for today's ceremony folks, now remember if you perform exceptionally well you might just be chosen next month.” And with a whine the intercom shut off. Guards began shuffling us to our rooms, opening and closing doors and calling out numbers. “Room numbers 213 to 243 please enter exit number 29.” As the crowds began to thin, Hailey appeared beside me. “Come on! Let's get to bed, we'll need it if we're gonna be the two chosen queens someday” Happily she pulled me over to an exit. The hallways and faces blurred past us and finally we reached my room. Hers was a few rooms down. Smiling, she opened my door and I walked in. Saying goodbye, I shut my door. The fluorescent lights blinked on to my fairly empty room. A green sheet acted as my only blanket. A bookshelf that had been supplied to me by one of the operators was the only other piece of furniture. I flopped onto my maroon pillow, feeling a slight urge to begin screeching. I knew I deserved the crowning this week. Sighing I buried my face into my pillow. Fine! If this is how the world wanted to treat me then I’d just have to work harder. I repeated the same thoughts in my head endlessly, you can do this, you can do this. Eventually the words faded into mush. Groaning, I pushed my face farther into the pillow. The intercom bleeped on again, “Lights off subs.” As the intercom whined off the white light that had lit up my empty room switched off. Sighing in relief that another difficult day was over I let the gas carry me off to sleep.
My eyes easily flickered open as the intercom once again beeped itself to life, “Wake up time subs, quota for today is 6 rooms! One of each color.” Quickly I rose from my bed, rubbing my head I engineered a smile on my face as the blue scanner zoomed over me. As I did so the intercom whined off. Quickly I slid out the door, standing to attention with my fellow subs. Looking forward I noticed something surprising, Riley was absent. As we began marching I grew more concerned, peeking into her door I found nothing but void. Now directly in front of me was Evan. “What happened to Riley?” I whispered to him. Nervously looking around as I did so. Not bothering to turn back to me he answered, “She got B’d.” Gasping in horror I looked behind me. Only to find this to be a mistake as a guard spotted me. They waddled over to me, struggling with the large armor. “Excuse me, Subject” The guard paused to look me up and down for just a moment. “T128, please step out of line.” Wishing I hadn’t been so stupid I did as I was told, wincing at every sympathetic look that I knew was passing me, knowing enough not to look at me. “Are you aware of how much energy you just wasted” The guard asked me. I nodded, trying to hide my fear. “Then you are aware that this will put your quota at 10” The guard asked, staring straight through me. I nodded again. “This puts you at warning number three, two more warnings and you will be assigned to section B.” The guard once again gazed through me as their words fell through the halls. “Understood” I answered and was quickly shuffled back into line.
I held my breath as we marched until we finally arrived in the cafeteria. Hailey rushed up the line to join me, “Hey, you okay?” She asked, concern darkening her gaze. I nodded, then laughed at myself, why should I be so formal? “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ve got two more strikes so, you know. Fingers crossed” I smiled at her and crossed my fingers jokingly, she didn’t laugh with me. “We can’t lose each other, okay? Two queens, remember?” I nodded meekly, then filled myself with determination “Yeah, two queens. I promise.” I hooked my pinky with hers as we grabbed our trays with our other hands, bumping them together. Joking with each other we spooned food on our plates and headed over to our table. “Do you ever wonder where the food here comes from?” Hailey asked, sitting down with me. Somehow she made the purple jumpsuit look so cute with her dorky little face. Evan sat down and answered for me, “No.” He laughed, “why should I?” Hailey shrugged and laughed with him. I can’t even remember if I laughed. “Shame about Riley though, at least she has a new way to serve all of us now.” I said, only to be met with an odd silence. I turned to look at both of them, Hailey was staring at the crack between her legs and the table with a frown while Evan was silently eating his sandwich. An odd smile was on his face. “No!” I shouted, a bit too loud. The tables surrounding us turned to look at me and slowly the cafeteria descended into silence. My thoughts whirled but I knew I couldn’t talk now. Hailey looked up at me, a panicked look on her face. Oh shit. My thoughts zoomed back onto myself. I was in serious trouble, a disturbance like this could mean… SLAM! The doors to the cafeteria swung open so hard I was certain the door should have broken. Two guards dressed in all black began surveying the room. Nodding along until they came to me. I realized I was standing, aw shit, just another thing to condemn me. “Subject” the guards paused, speaking in sync. “T128, you have caused a disturbance. You have now reached warning number four. Please allow us to escort you as you work.” I nodded. My throat squeezing itself into a pile of dust. I chose my walking pattern carefully, getting out from my booth and following a line between the tiles on the floor to the food. Before turning to the doors, my eyes steady on the ground, shame sweeping me forward faster and faster. When I reached the guards they both grabbed my arms and once again in sync dragged me off to my first room. Starting with red, just like every day. Grabbing the clipboard on the door, the guards pushed me in. Sunlight filtered by a red glass-like substance lit up rows of plants. These plants were safely encased. Walking through them I grabbed bottles and pushed them into holes before pushing a button on the rim. Watching them fill up I carefully marked down checks and X’s based on the color within the bottle. Going down the rows I once again pushed the buttons, my eyes catching on the bell looking flowers with dots next to their bases. I smiled at them, losing myself as the flowers seemed to sweep me through my life KNOCK! What I’m sure is the loudest knock to ever exist interrupted me. “Subject” Another pause for them to figure out my title annoyed me. “T128, have you finished” The guards have always been unable to phrase something as a question, honestly you’d think they’d be smarter given that they came from the City of Jewels. Pushing aside my thoughts I nodded, trying to cover up my own smile. Swiftly the guards grabbed my arms and once again carried me off to another room. Orange now, the same filtered light shined through the gaps in the ceiling. This time I was taking bottles and emptying them into enclosed spaces. To this day I have no idea what this room was supposed to do. I do, though, remember the plants. One time I had touched one particularly spiky plant. It really hurt and Hailey laughed at me for being so stupid. I made sure this time to do as many bottles as possible, when I heard the door creak and saw both guards peeking in they seemed pleased. Well as pleased as you can be when you’re under several layers of metal.
Finally a bell rang and I knew it was really time for me to move on. Grabbing an orange bucket the guards looped arms with me and carried me off. I spent the rest of the day working to my limit in each of the rooms. I happily waited when the guards dropped me off for them to tell me that I had done so good they would take off one of my strikes like they did last month. Instead they shoved me into my room and locked the door. Shocked, I scrambled into my bed, the intercom whirring to life. “Time for lights out subs.” And as I lay there disappointed, the gas carried me into a deep slumber.
“Lights on, subs, quota today is 20. It's hell week people, anyone who misses today will be immediately assigned to section B.” My eyelids flew up just as the lights flickered on. I held my smile as the scanner zoomed over me. As I moved to stand out of bed I felt a sharp pain in my fingers. I had worked for hours yesterday and now I had blisters from the green room. Still I had been unable to get rid of a strike. Rubbing my eyes I left the room and got in line with everyone. My hands wanted to squeeze the back of my head like I usually did when I was nervous, but I refused to allow my hands to move in case a guard decided this was a sign of disobedience. Marching silently behind Evan my mind rewound memories from a few weeks ago. He was the reason Riley had been B’d, he’d ratted them out! Anger made me want to choke the smug little brat! But I made sure to keep my hands firmly beside me. Doubt pricked in place of my anger, would I have done the same if I had known Riley was doubting the operators? I shook my head, everyone doubted sometimes. Still… if Riley had been left to continue she could have done something really bad. Maybe it was for the best? No, no, of course not! And why hadn’t Hailey told me? I suppose this is probably the reason. She knows I’m tearing myself apart wondering. There had been no time between isolation and work for the last few weeks. Finally we arrived in the cafeteria and I hung back against the door waiting for Hailey. In here was the only room where we were allowed individual thought. “Hey” she said, a sorry in her gaze as she held mine. My soul melted away as soon as her big round blue eyes met mine. “Hi” I said, letting out a half smile to tell her it was all going to be okay. I was so entrapped by her gaze I jumped when I felt something touch my pinkie. Looking down I noticed that it was Hailey’s pinky, trying to entwine itself with mine. Laughing we hugged the two fingers around each other and once again I was trapped by her gaze. “Your eyes,” She said dreamily, “I never noticed how pretty the color brown was, but now that I’m seeing it in you…” She trailed off and we both began to blush. Millions of thoughts gushed into my head, fighting over each other to be said. “I, um, you too.” I said awkwardly, instantly regretting it. But Hailey just chuckled and drew her forehead to mine, “Meet me in yellow 128?” She asked, her lips so close to mine I felt like I could dissolve into them. I nodded, accidently knocking my head against hers. I don’t think it would matter if the apocalypse had begun in that moment, it'll always be my favorite.
Together we walked into the cafeteria line, realizing what had just gone down. We spooned our food in silence and I realized that our pinkies were both still entwined. As we got to the end of the line I stood on my tippy toes so that I was slightly above her ear. Quietly I whispered “I love you” into Hailey’s ear. When I finished she turned to me and made a big deal out of bending down slightly to whisper into mine, “I love you more.” Laughing to herself she pulled me by my pinkie over to a table. As we sat down I whispered into hers and we continued on throughout our time together.
As another bell rang me and Hailey begrudgingly said goodbye to each other, looking both ways she pulled me close. “See you in 128” she whispered. Smiling, I waved goodbye and bounced off to my red room.
Stepping into the room I twirled around, careful not to disturb anything but unable to contain my excitement. I laid my feelings to rest for a moment and began focusing on my mundane job. I grabbed every bottle, filling them up, making sure they were exactly where they were meant to be. After filling them I deposited them in a tub which sucked up the bottles and sent them to who knows where. Finishing my red room I skipped over to the orange one. Smiling when I noticed the spiky round plant. I swiftly popped in the bottles, pressed the buttons, took out the bottles and piled them into an orange bucket. Making a record time. I paused my skipping as a guard walked past me, they turned to me and I froze. The happy music in my head pausing, my heart began to race. After just a moment the guard nodded and continued walking. Relieved, I entered the yellow room. Happily making a note in my head that I would be coming back here very soon. Slowing down a little so that I didn’t get done too early I inputted 3 bottles from the orange room into their slots. On the other side of the room was a counter with lots and lots of different plants. Excited, I paced back and forth around the room. Finally a ding sounded and I picked up the bottles. Moving through the other rooms I did basically the same thing with a few extra steps until finally I went back into the yellow room. Happiness spread through me as I touched the doorknob, wondering if Hailey would already be there waiting for me. I imagined her beautiful blue eyes staring playfully at me. As these thoughts rushed to me I turned the knob and found… an empty room.
Sucking down my disappointment I reminded myself that Hailey was farther away so of course it would take her longer to get here. A prickle of doubt gripped me but I shoved it away. Sitting on the counter in front of the plants as I thought, maybe I could be her princess, waiting patiently for her arrival. Waiting for our kiss.
The door creaked open, a smile broke out on my face. Hailey’s face broke through and we both smiled at each other. I rushed towards her, unable to wait any longer. Her face lit up ever brighter as she realized what I was doing. She caught me as I ran and our lips got closer and closer, my thoughts were empty of all but my love for her, and then the door opened, and behind that door was a metal creature. A guard. Suddenly my instincts absolutely took over, me and Hailey broke out of each other's embrace. We screamed in terror. And then? I just snapped. I jumped from the floor and landed on the guard’s shoulders, tearing at the head only to find that it was sturdy. Realization dawned on me, these weren’t people, they were robots. They had no emotions, no connections, no… I felt so stupid, and so angry. I had been lied to! We had all been lied to! There was so much going on here, and I wasn’t going to lose Hailey because of it. Filled with rage I jumped off the robot as it scrambled on the ground. I swiftly grabbed pots and shoved them to Hailey, “Smash them!” I shouted because for some reason there was a huge whirring sound filling our ears. One pot went over the bot's head, and another. Eventually there was a big pile of dirt and leaves on the floor. Me and Hailey panted there together. The robot lay with us in bits. Hailey hugged me, not letting go of either of my pinkies. I grasped her tighter. Things were about to get a lot more difficult.