Wydawca: Maya Shepherd Kategoria: Dla dzieci i młodzieży Język: angielski Rok wydania: 2016

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Opis ebooka The Outcast Ones - Maya Shepherd

After World War 3, Earth is in ruins. The last surviving humans are barricaded inside safety zones to protect themselves from the radiation.They can only stay alive if they follow strict rules. No one has property of their own, and no one can make their own choices: the Legion Commanders take every decision away from people. This world has no room for emotion. People only live in order to function, so they have numbers instead of names. D518 is one of them. Born into this destroyed world, she's never known any other life than this - completely defined and controlled. But this changes in an instant when she is kidnapped by opponents of the government, and she discovers that everything she believed in is a lie.

Opinie o ebooku The Outcast Ones - Maya Shepherd

Fragment ebooka The Outcast Ones - Maya Shepherd

Maya Shepherd

RADIOACTIVE

––––––––

“The Outcast Ones”

Table of Contents

Title Page

Novel

01. IGNORANCE MAINTAINS THE PEACE

02. WE ARE ALL THE SAME

03. THE KIDNAPPING

04. OUTCASTS

05. ISOLATION

06. CLEO, WHO RISES WITH THE SUN

07. SISTERS

08. ZOE

09. IT ALWAYS COMES BACK TO BITE YOU

10. A BIRTHDAY FOR IRIS

11. NOT FOES...BUT NOT FRIENDS

12. THE BLACK MARKET

13. PROMISES

14. FORGET ME NOT

Novel

E-Book

1. Edition

Copyright ©2013 Maya Shepherd

Cover: Ines Caranaubahx

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted, with the exception of a reviewer who may quote passages in a review, without written prior permission from the publisher.

Facebook: Maya Shepherd

Blog: www.mayashepherd.blogspot.de

Twitter: Maya Shepherd

English Translation by Grace Bridges

Other books by Maya Shepherd:

––––––––

Promise “The Scarred Girl”

Black Hellebore

For Robert,

who always believed in me

“I'm waking up to ash and dust

I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust

I'm breathing in the chemicals

I'm breaking in, shaping up, then checking out on the prison bus

This is it, the apocalypse

[...]

Welcome to the new age[...]

I’m radioactive”

(Imagine Dragons – Radioactive)

INTRODUCTION

The first nuclear bombs were used in August 1945. They released so much energy that the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were almost completely destroyed, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Even the earliest atom bombs had an explosive energy equal to more than ten thousand tonnes of ordinary explosives. However, their development continues to this day. The Hiroshima bomb had a detonating force of 13 kilotonnes of TNT. On the other hand, the Soviet “Tsar” bomb already possessed 57,000 kilotonnes when it was set off in an atmospheric test in 1961. The wave of destruction caused by such a bomb is unimaginable. Even so, the technology continues its steady development.

Many countries drive the nuclear arms industry farther and farther along. The United States are ahead of the pack—they own more than 11,000 atom bombs, closely followed by Russia with 10,000 atom bombs. China, France, Great Britain, North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel are also official owners of nuclear weapons. Iran has not yet confirmed that it has any such bombs, but there are readings that prove otherwise. While Iran’s governed territory is shrinking, the military strength of nuclear power Israel continues to grow. This situation could lead to Iran seeing a nuclear attack as its only chance for defence. Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad begins all of his speeches with the call “Death to Israel!” Even Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama is showing himself more aggressive in response to Iran’s statements: “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.” The message is clear.

However, what the United States fail to consider is this: the effects of an atom bomb are not limited to just one country, but would be much more far-reaching. A rocket from Iran would hit their nemesis Israel, but others would also be affected, like Egypt, India, Turkey and Russia. A war between two nuclear powers is the whole world’s business. No one is excluded from the damage—it is a war against humanity.

The effects of an atom bomb can be divided into four zones:

Zone 1—Destruction of all life

Zone 2—50% of people die instantly, only a few buildings remain. In the first few hours, the survivors suffer nausea. A week later come infections and bleeding which can cause death.

Zone 3—25% of people die instantly. After three weeks the torturous bleeding, nausea, hair loss and high fever will kill 50% of the survivors.

Zone 4—35% of people are severely injured. Many buildings are damaged. If people escape infection in the first three months, they will probably survive.

Later consequences: contaminated ground, cancer cases, miscarriages, etc.

The extent of these zones depends on the nuclear explosive force of the weapons, which are getting stronger every year.

The energy of all the atom bombs in existence today around the world would not only be enough to wipe out all humanity and all of Earth—it could also destroy four or five other planets as well.

01. IGNORANCE MAINTAINS THE PEACE

My proper designation is E518. I am a survivor of the fifth generation.

At precisely 0700 hours I open my eyes and look up at the grey light panels on the ceiling. They are still dimmed, but will grow lighter over the course of the day, then automatically darken and go out at 2200 hours. Nine hours are the precisely calculated sleep time for the body of a female teenager.

I sit up and throw back the white bedcover, then swing my legs over the edge of the bed so that my feet hang in the air. I begin to stretch my arms and back. During sleep, my muscles have not been used, so that in the morning they are tight and their circulation is low. Stretching mobilises them again. Especially today it is important for me to be at peak fitness. Especially today, I cannot allow a fault in my statistics. This day is one of the most important in my life, because it will determine my future.

My feet touch the grey tile floor. The cold makes me flinch back for a second, just like it does every morning. The tiles behave in the same way as the ceiling panels: they are cold in the morning, are warmed by electricity during the day so that they are pleasantly warm in the evening, then they cool off after 2200 hours. This is the circle of life.

With a slightly sticky sound, I step barefoot across my room. A morning shower is just as indispensable as stretching my muscles. I strip off the red knee-length nightshirt, pull it over my head and stick it into the laundry chute next to the shower. It disappears with a pop. Air pressure and suction will now carry it to the laundry, where it will be cleaned together with those of the entire personnel, then distributed fresh in the evening.

Sometimes I have asked myself how often I must have worn the same nightshirt without knowing it. Essentially it makes no difference, because all the nightshirts are exactly the same size, colour and material. Still, it would interest me. The thought occupied me even back when I was a Yellow. Shortly before I reached my teenage years, I once unravelled a small piece of a nightshirt hem at the corner. I had hoped in this way to be able to recognise it again. But the laundry supervisor noticed, and reported it to my teacher, who shouted at me and said I had no right to destroy things, that it was important for everything to be the same because only unity is strong. She even informed a Legion commander and forced me to repeat why I had torn the shirt. However, unlike the teacher, the commander did not reprimand me. She reacted in a way I have only rarely seen in the safety zone: she smiled. Her smile made my heart beat hard and twitched the corners of my own mouth upwards.

The look on my teacher’s face was complete gratification for me. Her eyes got so big they nearly fell out of her head. Out of my mouth came unusual sounds, like the ringing of the recess bell, but somehow more beautiful. The Legion commander, in her white jumpsuit, predicted a great future for me, because my thinking was a proof of intelligence. Even though I have forgotten the commander’s designation, I will never forget her pretty face. Like everyone else she had blue eyes, but when she smiled, little dimples appeared in her cheeks. It was the first time I ever spoke with a Legion commander. Today I want to prove to her that she was right.

Warm steam envelops my body. I run my hands over my bald head. From schooling I know that people used to use flowing water to take showers. They wasted it without even once thinking of those who would come after them. The water resources of Earth are too small to squander on showering. Steam opens the pores so that all the odour-carrying substances come out of the body. Running water isn’t necessary. After the steam comes dry air infused with a neutralising substance. It is not appropriate to tell people apart by their smell. Differences lead to discrimination.

I step naked out of the shower and walk along the smooth metal wall to the supply chute. It has two hatches: one with a fresh red jumpsuit which I pull on quickly. Shiny black boots complete the picture. It is my last day as a Red!

The other hatch is empty, but is illuminated by a ray of blue light. When I hold my arm inside, the light changes to red. Now my hand is being scanned to analyse my blood levels. It is important that every person’s nutrition is adjusted to their own requirements—everyone’s situation varies according to the type of day and physical exertion.

After about a minute the light changes to green and I pull my hand out. The hatch closes for a few seconds. When it opens again, there is a tray with cereal cubes, vitamin tablets, protein capsules and a glass of water. I lift the tray out and set it on a plastic table in the middle of my room, with its matching plastic chair. Both are anchored to the floor: everything has its place.

The cereal cubes provide satiation and deliver energy. For normal exertion, five are enough for a woman and eight for a man. Today I have been allocated exactly six cubes.

Seven minutes.

The vitamin tablets offer protection from illness and improve my health. It is only due to them that our bodies can perform fully every day, without being weakened by bacteria or viruses.

Two minutes.

The protein capsules are not for everyone and not for every day, but only before and after extreme physical exertion. Protein strengthens bones and tendons.

One minute.

I wash the tablets down with water. It is room temperature and feels gentle on my throat, dry from the night. After exactly ten minutes, I put everything back in the hatch. It closes automatically to take the tray back to the food dispensary.

I don’t need a watch to calculate the time. Our bodies learn to count the seconds continually in the background, linking them into minutes. It is important to keep to optimal times so as to guarantee an optimum order of events. Organisation and planning are our whole lives. We are lucky that the Legion commanders do both for us.

I lay my hand on the scanner at the door. The red light re-images my handprint and my DNA, before the door opens with a quiet lurch and a friendly computer voice tells me, “Exit permitted.”

My steps join those of the others. At exactly 0730 hours all the doors open and the Red hall fills with the fifth generation of teens. We are a unit and a unity, every one just like the others to the smallest detail. The red jumpsuits and black boots are the least of these characteristics. The light from the ceiling panels is reflected on our smooth, hairless heads. Our eyes all shine in the colour designated RAL 5012, Light Blue, while our skin is more like RAL 3012, Beige Red. Even our walking pace is identical. In the same rhythm we move our feet across the grey floor, made of steel plates. The walls are white and marked only with a red stripe.

From the Red zone we enter the Atrium. It is the centre of the safety zone—all roads and hallways lead there, no matter whether they are red, yellow, brown, blue, green or white. White stands for the Legion commanders. It is forbidden to enter their hall, although we would not be let in anyway. Even the attempt is punishable. No one has ever tried it, but I am sure whoever did would be cast out. The way to their hall is a giant staircase that winds through the entire Atrium, all the way to the ceiling which must be at least ten metres high.

The Atrium is not only the centre, but also the prettiest place in the safety zone. It is round and the walls are made of pictures covering the entire room. Some days they show woods with plants, trees, animals, and moss on the ground. They move, as if all you have to do is reach out your hand to touch a leaf or an animal’s fur. On other days they show huge cities with skyscrapers that make me quite dizzy. They can show beaches of soft sand and turquoise seas, or mountains with snow-capped peaks. These images record the most beautiful parts of Earth that are now gone forever. They remind us daily what our ancestors destroyed. The animals we see have been dead for a long time, and those trees and plants have rotted.

As well as the coloured halls, there are also grey ones. They lead to training rooms, the laundry, the food dispensary, the archive, the Arena, the Aula and the laboratories. One of these rooms will be my future workplace—the results of today’s test will decide it. Our performance test precedes our assignment to a helper task. Since we swapped the yellow jumpsuits for the red ones at the age of about ten, the test is all we have trained for. Today, about eight years later, we will receive our results.

We have formed two rows in the Aula—the men on the right and the women on the left. We are all the same height. Three Legion commanders stand on the podium. One of them is a woman, but not the same one I spoke with when I was a Yellow. I would recognise her. Their white jumpsuits stand out clearly from the black stone wall behind them.

The oldest steps forward and clears his throat. “Welcome! Today is the first day of your future. The results of your tests can be predicted on the basis of your performance in recent years, but sometimes one point more or less can make the difference. No matter what job you are assigned to, you all have the essential task of safeguarding the lives of the last humans. You can be sure that we, your Legion commanders, will assign you to the job that is best suited to you. There are no errors, no deviations. Give your best, because only the best is good enough!”

With a brief nod, he steps back and presses the red button behind him. Exactly 99 cubicles rise up out of the floor: fifty on the right, forty-nine on the left. The cubicles are numbered and each is assigned to one of us. Mine is number 18, like my designation E518. I step inside. The cubicle door shuts immediately behind me. The space is just big enough for me to sit on a round stool and look at a glass wall. It is slightly darker than the grey walls around me, but my reflection in it is blurred. There is just one lighting panel in the ceiling, its light so bright that it dazzles me.

I cannot see or hear the others. My universe has shrunk to this tiny cell. I expect the friendly computer voice to greet me, to assign my tasks, but it is silent. I notice something happening with my body that I cannot explain. My hands grow damp and my heart beats faster than it should. I think my heartbeat must be so loud that it echoes from the tight walls right back into my ears. My throat is suddenly dry and I begin to breathe deeply, in and out. The light seems to be flickering, the floor trembling. I stretch out my hands, but the chamber is too small even to spread out my arms completely. The metal feels cool under my fingers.

“Phase one has begun,” says a scratchy voice suddenly from the direction of the glass wall. Everything is all right. There is no change, no threat. Everything is going as planned. No reason to panic.

“Knowledge test, crystallised intelligence.”

This is easy. The first test is only to assess our knowledge. A monitor appears before me. Various questions with multiple choice answers pop up, and I touch the screen to log the correct ones. What is the name of the first Legion commander? What are the causes of war? Which country began the Third World War? What is iron for? Where is the heart located?

The answers are firmly fixed in my head, and even though I am not told that my choices are correct, I am sure of it. It is not important to understand the questions, only to know their answers. The past is the past and is not there to be analysed. Knowledge is there to be passed on. It is constant, unchangeable.

“Phase Two has begun. Problem solving test, fluid intelligence.”

This part is harder, because the answers are not pre-defined. There is nothing you can memorise, rather it all depends on your own intelligence. Who is able to solve problems? Who has understood the rules of the Legion? We must speak freely.

“A member of the personnel decides to wear his jumpsuit with one sleeve instead of two, so that he is individualised. How do you react?”

“Being different leads to envy, and envy leads to war. The person should be isolated in order to keep the peace.”

The question seems to be tailored for me. Maybe they want to see if I learned anything from my misbehaviour when I was a Yellow. I will never forget my teacher’s lecture. But soon the questions get trickier.

“You are a helper in the Archive. While sorting books, you find a living animal—a mouse from the genus Old World mice, or Murinae in Latin. What do you do?”

With intense thought, I imagine the situation in my inner view. I have never seen a living mouse in my life, never mind any other animal. All of us only know them from schooling or documentaries about Old Earth before the Third World War, before our time. Animals are carriers of sickness. I know the right answer but I hesitate to speak it. Again my hands become unpleasantly damp, a bodily reaction I do not understand.

“I...I would hide it,” I answer truthfully. It would be useless to lie, because the chamber is measuring my body’s sweat output and would know.

“Why would you do that?” It is the first time the computer responds to one of my answers. My heart begins to beat wildly again. I could be destroying all my hard work in one stroke.

“It is the last of its kind. Therefore it is valuable. Uniqueness leads to disharmony and disharmony leads to war.”

“Do you want war, E518?”

“No! If I hide the mouse, no one will find out about it. Ignorance maintains the peace.”

The light goes out and I sit there in the dark. Tense, I listen for any noise that is not my own breath. Was the answer so wrong? Are they going to abort my test?

But then the light comes on again and the computer continues as if nothing has happened.

“Phase Three has begun: Memory and attention test.”

I am surprised. They never prepared us for this part of the examination.

“E518, which of today’s Legion commanders has a scar over his right eyebrow?”

The question is a contradiction in terms, because we are all the same. In any case, we should be, but I know it is not true. There are tiny details if you look for them. I close my eyes and call up the image of the three Legion commanders on the podium. The oldest was in the middle. He had deeper wrinkles around his eyes than the others. On his left was the woman. She did not smile, but even if she had, she would not have dimples. I would have seen if she had a scar on her eyebrow. It must have been the man on the right. He was the only one I did not look at.

“From my point of view, the man on my right,” I answer, and the cubicle door slides open. Surprised, I turn around and see that the other teens’ doors are also open. All the intelligence tests end at the same time.

“Phase Four has begun.”

Sweat runs down my back. Tiny drops form on my skull and run into my face. They catch in my eyebrows, but the longer I run, the wetter they become, until finally the first drop comes loose and runs into my eye. It burns, but I keep running.

It began slowly and then the speed increased with every minute. The treadmill clock reads 20 minutes and 32 seconds. I cannot run any more, but I am not going to give up. Physical tests are not exactly my strength. We began with squash, but I was so afraid of the shooting electric ball that I was one of the first to fail. That will give me only a few points in defence and reaction. After endurance they will test attack ability, to discover the guards and soldiers among us. They wear blue and their designation is C. Only a few women make it into that department and I am certain I will not be one of them. So it is that much more important that I prove myself in endurance at least. Sufficient stamina is valuable.

21 minutes, 1 second. The speed increases again. I am biting my teeth so hard that they grind. The girl next to me stumbles and falls. Her crash is so heavy that I feel its shaking beneath me. I look down at her. Her face is almost as red as her jumpsuit and she is holding her arm. Pain contorts her expression. I read E523 on her badge, but she is more than the numbers and letters that will only be valid for today—The small spot of pigmentation directly under her left eye registers itself in my mind.  She will no longer be a stranger to me, I would recognise her anywhere. She returns my gaze, her lips pressed hard together. I see anger in her—she has failed and begrudges me that I am better than her. This is why all people in our world should be the same. But the performance tests prove that it is not so.

My gaze slides from the girl to my other side. 22 minutes, 13 seconds. There is a boy. I know him. He is missing a corner of his right front tooth. He lost it when he was a Yellow, in a fight about an electric car. When the car smashed into his mouth, blood shot out of his lip. It scared us other children so much that we all began to cry. We thought he would die and so would the rest of us. Blood is a harbinger of war, and war means death. Since then I know him. I do not know if he remembers me too, or if I am just one among many girls for him. In any case he is not distracted by me looking at him. Stubbornly, he looks at the grey wall opposite, and runs.

24 minutes, 6 seconds. My throat burns and it’s raw like sandpaper. It even hurts to swallow. My heart is beating in my neck and black dots begin to dance before my eyes. Beeeep...That’s the alarm signal from my pulse gauge. It shows 140 beats per minute. Under 120 would be optimal. If I don’t manage to reduce my pulse, I will be eliminated. I try to breathe gently through my nose. Beeeep...24 minutes, 20 seconds. Pulse: 145. My eyes wander over the other runners. I count 25, only three are women, including myself. Beeeep...24 minutes, 29 seconds. Pulse: 146. I want to be one of the last 20 at least. Beeeep...24 minutes, 32 seconds. Pulse: 144. 24 runners. The Legion commander is moving towards me. I must drop my pulse. Beeeep...24 minutes, 41 seconds. Pulse: 142. She is already preparing to speak, but the loud beeping does not return. My pulse gauge shows 139. Only one more and I would have been eliminated.

22 runners. My legs feel like lead, so heavy that I might collapse at any moment. A protein tablet will not be enough to restore my muscles to good condition. 25 minutes, 12 seconds. The speed increases again. Beeeep...Pulse: 142. 21 runners. My vision goes black. I feel myself hit the ground and then everything goes still.

The unpleasant smells of burning plastic and acrid cleansers rise into my nose. So sharp that my nose screws up and I open my eyes. Above me, I see the faces of the Legion commander wearing white, and a man wearing green. He retrieves the little bottle he was holding under my nose. His left hand holds my left wrist, which he carefully lets slide onto the floor.

“She would never have given up. So her body took over for her,” he explains to the Legion commander. 

“How stupid. A person must know her limits,” she says with disgust, as if I were not here at all.

“She is ambitious and strong-willed.” The man defends me but does not look at me.

“Ambition leads to unrest and a will is there to be broken.” Her voice is colder than the floor tiles in my room at morning. Her nametag reads A470. I will remember it. She’s dangerous.

The man in green nods and gives her a bottle with a light-green liquid in it. “This will invigorate her.”

The woman accepts the drink. “Thank you, Doctor, you are no longer needed here.

He leaves, and her light-blue eyes land like spear-points on me. Her cold hand pulls me to my feet. My belly feels empty and nauseous, and I am so weak that my legs barely carry my weight. I sense strongly that someone is looking at me. I turn around. E523 meets my gaze and I don’t know the meaning of the look in her eyes. Maybe she is happy that I failed. I keep looking around the room, but the treadmills are abandoned. The endurance tests are over.

The white suit presses the bottle into my hand. “Drink this. You’ve held up the proceedings long enough!” She herds me with the others into the next room.

Bright light falls on the soft sand of the Arena. The ceiling lights are so far away that it would be easy to think we are under an open sky—if we didn’t know better. Even though I have never left the safety zone, that is how I imagine the sky to be. Bright and free, without limits or flickering.

Like in ancient Old Earth times, the Arena is round and has seats for an audience outside of the battleground, as well as a platform for the Legion commanders. There is no audience today except for the three dressed in white. Battles are only public during mating time. The next one is still a year away, so there’s no reason to waste a thought on it.

The oldest commander steps forward.

“I, A330, hereby open Phase 6 in the name of the Legion. This is your last test, your last chance to win points. Hand to hand combat is only for defence. We are the last survivors. Our top priority is to maintain order in the safety zone. Any enemy of order is an enemy of life and must be destroyed. Fight fair. Fight hard.”

We bow before the commanders and step back against the wall, making a circle around the circular battle arena. The computer determines our ideal fighting partner from our previous results.

“E515 against E572.”

Both are boys. E515 is the one with a piece of his front tooth missing. I don’t know the other one. Like everyone else, they are wearing armoured sensor breastplates and elastic leg protectors. In their hands, they activate the laser pointers. The light dims automatically so that the red and green laser beams are easier to see. Front Tooth has red and his opponent, green.

They take up fight positions and the start bell shrills so loud through the arena that it hurts my ears. The green laser fires immediately and only just misses Front Tooth’s upper arm—he did a perfect roll on the ground to escape. Sand falls from his black vest but the green shooter fires on him incessantly. Greenie is attacking very offensively but E515 is more on the defensive. He has good endurance and is trying to make the most of this advantage. He hops from one place to another like a rubber ball, bending and stretching. E572 has more than enough to do, running after him.

The clock shows 6:05 minutes. If both of them can endure ten minutes without either suffering a theoretically deadly injury, both will be given the same number of points—but only half of the possible points. If there is a winner, he gets all the points and the loser none. So the goal is to take out your opponent as quickly as possible. Even though Front Tooth is so agile, running away won’t get him a win.

7:50 minutes. E572’s attacks are coming more slowly. Where he was firing every second to begin with, now he is missing by metres and needs longer to orientate himself afterwards. E515 is whooshing around him like a sprinter.

After 8:15 minutes he fires his first red shot and...he hits! E515 has won. He gets all the points.

More battles follow. Not many end in a draw, because compromise is not our goal. All or nothing, says the motto. The palms of my hands become inexplicably damp when my designation finally grates through he loudspeaker.

“E523 against E518.”

It’s the girl with the pigmentation under her left eye, the one who scowled at me so hard at the last test. She lost there, so her ambition to beat me now will be even greater. I test my laser pointer and a green beam shoots across the battleground. It can start.

We take our positions and the start signal sounds. But unlike the first battle, neither of us attacks straight away. We circle, both wait for a reaction, but nothing happens. Her light-blue eyes latch onto mine. Not only our appearance seems identical, but our movements too, like a mirror image. Do I really look just like her? Maybe I even have a spot of pigmentation.

The minutes go by without even one laser beam being fired.

Unlike the other battles, the computer voice sounds again and announces: “Five minutes without the use of weapons. You have two minutes until you are disqualified. Defend yourselves!”

This has never happened before. If neither of us attacks, neither will have any points. Defend yourselves! What should I defend myself against when no one is attacking me? Why should I attack her when she’s not doing anything to me? She’s only a girl like me. If she was a troublemaker, it would be easier for me to shoot her, but there is no reason. I know it’s only a simulation, but I can’t make myself fire the laser. She must be having similar issues, because there is no red shot either.

For a moment I stop looking at her and my gaze swings to the digital display: 6:04 minutes.

She stares at me. She must have seen how careless I am for these seconds, and yet she does not fire.

These points will decide my future. Attack me!  I beg silently with my eyes, but she does not react. 6:43 minutes. Only 17 seconds more and we will both be disqualified. This is against the rules. I can forget any career beginning with C or B or even the A of the Legion commanders. Forget it forever. 6:50 minutes. My hands flinch. The loudspeaker is now announcing the seconds: “51, 52, 53...” What should I do? Why won’t she attack me? “54, 55, 56...”

E523 drops her defensive posture and stands opposite me with tight shoulders. Both her hands sink to her sides. For her, the fight is over. “57, 58, 59...” There is a gentle smile on her lips.

I shoot.

My green beam hits her square on the breast. Her face broadens, bewildered. Gone is the friendly smile. Anger shoots from her eyes.

I won. The fight is over and I won all the points. Why can’t I be happy? Why do I feel like I lost?

We go back to our places and she watches me from the other side of the arena. I drop my gaze.

- -

02. WE ARE ALL THE SAME

Our eyes are fixed on the platform. Sweat beads on my forehead and it’s hard to breathe.

This is the deciding moment.

This is the result of my seven years of endured education.

This is my future.

A330 steps forward. “Phase 6 is complete,” he announces solemnly. As expected, we applaud. Our hands strike together and produce loud clapping that echoes from the walls and is increased by the empty seating. It’s like an earthquake. My stomach complains loudly. It is time for the next nutrition unit.

“At this point I would like to point out to you again very clearly that there cannot be any errors in the system. In a moment I will read out your assignments. Some of you may be surprised if you expected a different result. This is because the system knows you better than you know yourself. People change over the course of their lives and the programmes take that into account. There are no wrong decisions and any task for the Legion is just as important as another.”

He falls silent and rests his hand on his right ear. Now he is receiving our assignments digitally. All the Legion commanders wear a chip in their right ear, connecting them directly with the system and also with each other, so they can communicate without having to stand beside another commander.

“E501. In the name of the Legion I designate you B501. From tomorrow you will receive a green suit and your assigned area will be in the laboratories of the safety zone. Be there punctually at 0730 hours.”

Impressive! Not many make it directly into such a high group. My heart begins to beat hard. I want to be in Group B too. Maybe not necessarily in the laboratories, but rather in the sickbay.

In our world there are no more sicknesses in the original sense. The safety zone keeps us safe, like its name says. There are no bacteria, no viruses or other germs. On the other hand, there are more mental illnesses. But they can all be healed so that the person can work again.

E502, E503, E504, E505, E506, E507, E508, E509, E510, E511, E512, E513, E514...

“E515. In the name of the Legion I designate you C515. From tomorrow you will receive a blue suit and your assigned area will be in the training rooms, to prepare for the dangers outside the safety zone. Be there punctually at 0730 hours.”

Gulp. He is a guard. One of the only ones allowed to leave the safety zone. But no one fights over these roles, because it’s very dangerous and can only be done with special protective suits. Out there is chaos. There is no life, only death and decay. Everything outside the zone is contaminated with radiation. No living being could survive out there for longer than five minutes. Even within five minutes, the radiation would cause irreparable damage, causing death within four weeks. I really don’t envy him his assignment.

E516, E517...My heart rate climbs.

“E518. In the name of the Legion I designate you D518. From tomorrow you will receive a brown suit and your assigned area will be in nutrition distribution. Be there punctually at 0630 hours.”

No! It can’t be true. The lowest group? That’s not fair! It’s impossible for my results to be so low. I shake my head, bewildered. No one notices. A330 continues, unswerving in his task.

E519, E520, E521, E522...