“Mary-Beth Collins,” Terminal 126 hummed pleasantly. “That is a wonderful name.”
“Thank you,” Mary-Beth inclined her head. “I’m told my mother gave it to me before giving me off to the program.”
Terminal 126 hummed again. “Your mother was very generous, letting you give your gift.”
“I think so too.” Mary-Beth agreed.
“In approximately two minutes a small door in the back of the room will open. Attendant Anderson will come in with Kill Sequence 233, just as you requested.”
Mary-Beth laughed. “As much as I am delighted to give my gift to the community I do not enjoy pain. I hear Kill Sequence 233 is quick. Though I suppose anyone who has used it wouldn’t be able to tell us whether that’s true or not.” She chuckled again.
Terminal 126 vibrated, as though laughing along. “Do not worry, Mary-Beth, Kill Sequence 233 is an injection to back of the neck. Just a prick and then the gift is bestowed.”
“Will everyone be pleased with me?” Mary-Beth asked anxiously. “I’ve done all the extensive training required. The physical and mental. I am ready to give my body up to be a vessel.”
“And we thank you.” Terminal 126 responded. “We have assessed you thoroughly, Mary-Beth. We would not allow you inside the Chamber unless you filled all the allotted requirements.”
“Thank goodness,” Mary-Beth sighed.
“I will now go into sleep mode. Expect Attendant Anderson any moment. Good luck, Mary-Beth. The community thanks you.”
“All for a better tomorrow,” the customary response slid off Mary-Beth’s tongue unconsciously.
As promised, the back door opened a few beats later. Mary-Beth hadn’t noticed the door before. The room was all white walls, seemingly seamless. She sat in the only chair, cold metal pressing through her hospital gown. “Mary-Beth,” the woman who walked in smiled. The spread of her lips seemed to break her smooth face into two halves. “Are you ready?”
Mary-Beth grinned. “Only been waiting my entire life.” Attendant Anderson faltered visibly then continue walking. She held a glass syringe with bright liquid sloshing inside. The blue seemed electric with the white surrounding it.
Attendant Anderson stood in front of her. The blond woman pressed her fingers to a barely visible earpiece. “Anderson to Nest One.” Her voice was clear and crisp. “Mary-Beth is ready for go.”
There was a faint murmuring in response and Attendant Anderson nodded. “Okay, Mary-Beth,” she breathed, “They said everything’s clear.”
Mary-Beth shrugged, unsure what the woman meant. She thought maybe the Attendant was new and didn’t really know what to do. “It’s okay, Attendant Anderson.” Mary-Beth smiled brightly. “All you have to do is give me the Kill Sequence, then hand the body off to the Vessel Workers. They’ll prepare me for a new life. I’ll be a protector for the community. Everything will work out as it’s supposed to.”
Attendant Anderson blew out a breath that was half startled laugh, half a sigh of frustration. “Okay, this could be harder than I thought.” She then pulled a gun out of her lab coat pocket and shot Terminal 126.
Mary-Beth screamed loudly and shot forward to grab the gun. This was why she had been trained so hard. She would need lots of physical strength to take down rebels like this one. “Don’t move.” Attendant Anderson said through gritted teeth. “Bullets are, fortunately, faster than you. And we...” the Attendant licked her lips. “We wouldn’t want to take away your gift.”
This made Mary-Beth sit down. “Right,” she said emptily.
“You know, I’ve been trained too.” Attendant Anderson said. “I’ve been trained in hostage extraction.”
“You were in the program too?” Mary-Beth asked confusedly.
“No,” the woman shook her head, “I’m not from around here, Mary-Beth.”
“Everyone’s from the community.” Mary-Beth said.
“No, Mary-Beth, that’s not right. It isn’t just the program’s compound and then the outside community. No it’s just the program’s compound.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Have they ever let you outside, Mary-Beth. You’re eighteen, you’re old enough. Have they ever let you go outside?”
“Well no. They want me to stay focused on my training, in here.”
“Again, not true.” Attendant Anderson circled, gun held in unwavering hands. “They don’t want you to go outside because you are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles of barren desert.”
Mary-Beth laughed. “I’ve seen pictures of outside. It’s lovely, with grass and trees and lots of buildings.”
Slowly taking one hand of the gun, Attendant Anderson reached inside her other pocket. She was holding a small screen. She clicked a few buttons then slid it into Mary-Beth’s hands. “That is where the compound is, Mary-Beth. That one lone building is the one we’re in right now.”
“So...there’s no community at all?” Mary-Beth tried to catch up. “Then what was I being trained for? I thought my body was given to be remade into a protector. To help.”
Attendant Anderson shook her head, blond ponytail swaying. “The program is actually called Mutation. The government of our nation is corrupt right now, Mary-Beth. They want to dominate everyone trying to change them. The best way, in their eyes, is to create these sort of mutated super-soldiers from cadaver bodies.”
Unfamiliar words swirled around Mary-Beth’s head. “Government?”
“They rule things.” Attendant Anderson muttered. “Any way they want.”
“You’re lying.” Mary-Beth accused. “You’re just one of those rebels I’m supposed to save the community from.”
Just as she finished the lights flashed startlingly bright then faded to red as an alarm blared. The blond woman said another unfamiliar word that sounded harsh. “Look Mary-Beth, gut answer: do you want to live or die?”
“Well I’d die to save my community.” “And if there is no community? If your contribution is killing people?”
“I’ll live,” Mary-Beth whispered.
“Look, you have no reason to trust me but my people have blown this place wide open. So either we take you out of here conscious or we knock you out?”
“It what you’re saying is all true,” Mary-Beth wondered, “Then why try to save the outside world? What’s worth it?”
Attendant Anderson lowered the gun. “Have you ever been kissed, Mary-Beth?”
Mary-Beth shook her head mutely. “Never. I think I read about it once, in Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale, Little Women.”
Attendant Anderson laughed. “Trust me, Mary-Beth it’s very worth it. There are still some good things out there. And my people fight for them.”
Mary-Beth nodded. “I don’t completely trust you, but I’d rather walk out of here then be dragged.”
Attendant Anderson turned towards the door, leading. “A wise choice.” They walked out into a blinding hallway without any sound of an alarm.
“What happened?” Mary-Beth asked, glancing up and down the hallway. “I thought your people had broken in.”
The safety clicked audibly and then Mary-Beth felt the cold metal of the gun against her forehead. Attendant Anderson’s voice was guttural, “It seems Mary-Beth that your training prepared you for nothing. You were easily bought by lies and didn’t dispatch of the “rebel” as your training told you to.” Mary-Beth froze in panic. “It seems we made a mistake with you.”
“No! No, I was just lying back. I would have killed her when she didn’t have the gun, I--,” but Mary-Beth knew that words were nothing. She was too curious. She could have killed the Attendant many times over. Mary-Beth sighed, “This was a test, huh? And I failed.”
Attendant Anderson laughed, wrinkles forming around her eyes. “Quite spectacularly.” Then there was pain for a moment and silence.
A maintenance man came by, “This one didn’t make it?”
Attendant Anderson sighed, “It’s so difficult weeding out the bad from the good. Mary-Beth seemed too good to be true. She followed every order we threw at her. But in a real life situation...” the blond woman glanced at the body being thrown down the incinerator chute, “She just couldn’t deliver.”
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