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The List Keeper stood at the Name Machine, rolling out a long scroll of paper. His forehead was beaded with sweat; the room was stifling. His head pounded with fatigue
The List lengthened. The Keeper still stood there, pulling on the sheet of paper. He turned his head to look at the window, into the Larger List Building. He sighed. After the Machine scanned the microchips into the system, he would take the pneumatic tube over the List Building, where the microchips would be implanted. It was a long and tedious process, but he had worked the List for 13 years, and today was his last day
The door opened and his higher apprentice walked in, followed by the new higher apprentice, a small man with ears that stuck out a bit more than usual.
“Birthing Day.” The higher apprentice said. “Here. Let me take the list.”
The Keeper shook his head. “Three more hours. Then you truly will be Keeper, and this boy, higher apprentice.”
The higher apprentice nodded. “ We’ll go meet the new apprentice and show her to the dorm.” She was about to exit when the machine stopped.
“What?” the Keeper exclaimed. “Never… in 13 years…”
“What’s wrong?” asked the new higher apprentice.
“The Machine. It has malfunctioned.”
The higher apprentice strode over to the Machine and lifted up the scanner. “There is a chip missing,” she pronounced. “The place of pneumatic engineer has not been filled.”
“Well fill it!”
“There are no more chips.”
The keeper sighed heavily. “I will offer my own chip. It is the only way.”
“No! It will destroy you!”
The keeper opened a drawer and took out a long rod. He prodded his arm. “Found it.”
“No! Master, you can’t!”
He smiled gently.” My dear, the place of pneumatic engineer cannot be empty. I will create a… clone, to take over for me. The clone will have my chip.”
He closed his eyes, and prodded his arm again with the rod. The arm crumbled into sand. Slowly the sand spread up the rest of his body, until all that was left was a chip on the floor. The new higher apprentice moaned.
“Come on.” The higher apprentice, now the keeper said. “No one will ever know of this. We must hope that this doesn’t mean destruction for us all.”
I had been to the Post Building every day for the past 13 years. Rows of endless boxes, the sharp smell of fresh paper and ink… I hated it. I prayed that I wouldn’t be assigned to the Post Building that day.
It was early in the morning on the birthing day. My mother took me to the Post Building, where she worked. The electric lights were just coming on above the huge white buildings, making then sparkle in the glare.
I had lived in the same house my whole life. Number 22 Microsoft. The numbers in the Corporation were all in base 13, and the streets were named after famous companies that had existed in North America, thousands of years ago. It was the Corporation’s way of saying ‘hey, nice job, but you are totally inferior’. The corporation was just like that. They pushed how great they were in your face, they knew everything about you—literally, you had a microchip planted in you at birth.
The Corporation was the whole world. If there were no Corporation there would be nothing. Seven hundred years ago, there had been a terrible war. According to the Books, nothing had been left.
So the corporation had built itself out of the ruins. Nobody really understood what the corporation did, or what they accomplished, but nobody could say that.
Nobody died in the Corporation, but people disappeared. Nothing was real. Even the seeds in the Greenhouses were grown with computers. There was no sun, but the Weather Officers controlled the electric lights to make it look like daytime and night. Most of the people didn’t even know what a sun was.
I knew I was different. I thought for myself. I didn’t do what people told me. And I didn’t just write factual essays for school, I wrote fictional stories.
I loved the stories. No one else did. When I had written my first at age six, Mother had put it in the decomposer. All our trash went in there. It left no trace of the items when it finished with them. Mother pressed the button, and the story was gone.
I kept writing in secret. My stories became better. I made up places and people. Even strange creatures. I drew the animals, and then put them in the decomposer. I kept the stories though.
That morning I dawdled behind my mom on the way to the Central Jobs and Reassignments building. Not many other people were out on the streets. The Corporation didn’t fully begin to operate until eight o’clock, CCT.
The Central Jobs and Reassignments building was the third tallest building in the Corporation. All the others born on my birthing day were huddled outside the glass building. The doors were open, but nobody was going in. They wouldn’t, not until the Start bell rang.
At six forty-three, CCT, the bell rang. I was swept up in the crowd, and pushed roughly through the doors. I looked behind me as I walked in the doorway, and caught a glimpse of my mom smiling anxiously at me through the glass. Then she was gone, covered by the rush of people.
The officials ushered us into the main room. Benches were arranged into rows that faced a podium. Each 13-year-old would be called up, assigned a job, and handed the basic tools she or he needed. It was a very simple process.
The boy sitting next to me looked bored, and as the minutes passed, I was beginning to feel the same way. I fidgeted back and forth as name after name was called.
“Adam Zorna. Research operator.”
Adam looked stunned at his good fortune. Research operator was one of the best jobs you could get. The crowd visibly deflated. That job was taken.
More names were called. I tuned out, waiting for my name. The boy next to me got photoelectric assistant. He didn’t look too happy. I could understand why.
Eventually there was silence. The doors opened with a swoosh and the operator smiled. “You will report to your jobs tomorrow. Maps will be available.
It was over. “Wait!” my voice echoed in the silent room. “You didn’t call me.”
The operator looked stunned. “What’s your name?”
“Sylvia. Sylvia Samson.”
The operator checked her list. “There is nobody named Sylvia Samson. For all technical purposes you do not exist.”
I don’t remember standing up. Running out the door. I don’t remember the faces flying past me as I sprinted. I don’t remember running, faster, faster. Don’t remember turning onto an unfamiliar street. I don’t remember running onto a plain of glass. But I remember slamming onto a wall of glass, then looking down and realizing there was nothing under me. I remember sobbing, terrified. Looking back, but there were no houses, no streets. Under me, separated by a thin layer of grass, was black, black that stretched for miles.
I slumped against the wall of glass. Or mirror. The other side was the same.
And then there he was, his hand on mine, but separated by the glass. His eyes were wide as he stared at me, his face so close to mine that I was uncomfortable, even though the glass was between us.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
We stared at each other for a moment. He had high cheekbones, brown eyes, and mussed up brown hair. But there was a regal aspect to him. He held his chin up high.
Then he beckoned and the glass turned to water and I fell through.
It was soft on the other side. My hands wormed their way into the cool material, my fingers reveling in something other than metal and glass. It was warm, too. Not the controlled warmth of the Corporation, but a different heat that seemed almost wet. I could feel something tickling my legs, something soft and sharp. I could feel wetness seeping into my back.
I opened my eyes.
It was bright, so bright, a thousand times brighter than the Corporation ever was. And green. The green went from a soft minty color to a deep emerald. And the brows combined themselves and looked so pretty, so unlike the drab colors inside the glass.
“Wow,” I breathed, my mind full of wonder as I stared at the land. And the sky. It was blue, a perfect azure. White fluffy clouds dotted it, punctuating the cerulean with dots of white. I sat up, marveling on the strands of green I was sitting on. What were they? My hands dug themselves further into the stuff that they were in, feeling the slight wetness of the gritty material.
I could see the wall too; it’s glassy substance acting like a mirror. All I could see now was the field… and Oliver.
He didn’t look like anyone from the corporation. His hair was messy and a shade of brown I had never seen before. His mouth had a slight asymmetry to it, and his eyes had a spark of life that I had never seen before, except in my own.
“Uh, thanks, I guess?” I stuttered, my head dropping to my chest. “I mean, y’know, I was lost…? But I guess I’m more lost now, and…oh! I’m sorry. I’m not making any sense!”
He laughed, nodding. “None at all!”
“No need. Where are you from, anyway? I mean, that wall…”
He trailed off, motioning towards the mirror.
“The Corporation. A… business. Nobody knows what it does. Heck, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not like the others. I don’t exist. That’s why I was running. I don’t formally exist. I mean, I do exist, but they say I don’t. Great, I’m rambling again.”
He laughed. “Well, welcome to the former North America. Now it’s called Gravita. After the last war the government fell apart. Most of the buildings went down, computers were shut off, and it’s like this now. Reverted to what it used to be like.”
“You don’t sound happy.”
“What is this stuff?” it twirled a green frond between my thumb and forefinger.
“That? That’s grass. And those are trees,” he pointed into the distance. “That’s my house. Mine and my mom’s. She a scientist, and she’s not allowed to work anymore. Maybe she’ll know about your Corporation.”
I nodded, looking the building in the distance. Oliver stood up, brushing his hair out of his eyes. I followed him as he began to run, faster and faster. At home, I had been able to beat anyone, but he was ahead of me. Soon I could see the little house, it’s sided pronounced against the grass. He slowed as we neared it, and I managed to catch up, breathing heavily.
“What’s that smell?” I asked, as a noxious odor worked its way to my nostrils.
“Oh, those are her illegal experiments,” he said nonchalantly. “She doesn’t have the right chemicals, so she uses what she can find.
He opened the red door to the house. “Hey mom? Can I come in?”
I heard a banging noise, which he obviously took as a yes, as he shepherded me into the house. He motioned toward a beat up sofa. I sat down on the edge and surveyed the room. I was messy. Book and papers burst from the crowded shelves. The carpet was a rusty brown, the floor a honey color.
“Want something to drink?”
I nodded. “Sure. Thanks.”
He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle. He screwed off the top and handed it to me. I hesitantly took a sip. Bubbled exploded on my tongue and flavor filled my mouth.
“What is this?”
“Coca-cola. People used to drink it a lot. Now it’s harder to find.”
I took another sip. The bubbles went up my nose and I giggled. It was nice here.
“Mom!” Oliver yelled.
A young woman came out into the hall. Her hands were encased in large gloves and her sleeves were splattered with blue. Hair was coming out of her ponytail, and her forehead was beaded with sweat. This was Oliver’s mom?
“Yeah?” she asked, taking another step into the room.
“Mom, this is Sylvia. Sylvia, this is my mom.”
I smiled at her, unsure whether to shake her hand with the gloves.
“Mom, I found Sylvia today across the mirror.”
The young woman’s face went white. She stripped off her gloves and stepped over closer to me. “You’re from… the Corporation?”
I nodded. The bottle of Coca-cola was freezing my hand.
“How did you get here?”
“I went through the mirror, sorry, the glass.”
“How…” she seemed lost in thought. She walked over to the sink and washed the blue off her hands, rolling to sleeves of her shirt down. “But you’re not supposed to be able to.”
“What do you mean?”
“I made a terrible mistake,” she seemed to be talking to herself. “Why did I… it was stupid. I should have…”
I wasn’t sure whether to stand up or not. I placed the cold bottle on the floor and then picked it up again and took a sip. I crossed my legs and then uncrossed them, my heart beating a little too fast and a leaden weight settling in the bottom of my stomach.
“Um, mom?” Oliver seemed worried.
“I’m sorry.” She turned back to face us. “Sylvia, I’m Julia. Oliver’s mom. If you need a place to stay we have an extra room. Oliver, go show her where it is.”
Oliver didn’t move. “What should you have done?”
“Nothing. It was a long time ago.”
He refused to budge. “What was stupid?”
She waved his question away. “It was nothing. I was…surprised.”
“You know who I am?” I managed to squeak. It couldn’t be possible. I didn’t exist. And the Corporation had lied. There was an outside. There was an earth and there was something else. What else had the Corporation kept from us?
She knelt down beside me.
“I don’t want to tell anybody. But something has happened. You can’t go back. The Corporation isn’t right for you. It isn’t right for anybody, but that’s no the point.”
She was confusing me.
“The Corporation was created as an experiment by a group of very young doctors. It was incredibly…unethical. They implanted microchips into a select number of people’s brains, created a city out of meat al and glass, and then plucked it off the earth. I have no idea how this happened. Somehow, they managed to give it one link to earth. The mirror wall.”
She paused for breath and Oliver sat down next to me.
“Everything in the Corporation is fake. The plants are grown with computers, everyone shares a birthday, and the sun is not real. The Corporation is a lie. It wasn’t meant to be more than a yearlong experiment. But it grew. Birthing day occurred; the scientists found it easy to control the people, the jobs were easy with the microchips. Who cared how terrible it was when it supplied all we needed to survive?”
She buried her head in her hands and took a few deep breaths.
“I was offered a control job thirteen years ago and I took it. I forced the microchip planter not to give a chip to one baby. I forced the List Keeper to sacrifice his own chip. I watched as the baby grew into someone who thought for herself, who didn’t follow the corporation. I’m not proud of manipulating all those minds. But the baby grew into an independent girl without a microchip. A girl who this morning did not receive a job. A girl who found her way to the wall just when Oliver was waiting. A girl named Sylvia Samson.”