Seventeen tells me this planet used to be full of life. There were once beautiful green places called “jungles,” and vast bodies of blue water called “oceans,” and people of all shapes, sizes, and colors scattered across the globe. Sometimes he lets me read what is left of the libraries, and I see pictures of these things for myself. I close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to see trees every day. Or swim in water that wasn’t black. Or talk to a human being who wasn’t grey-skinned and white-eyed.
But these things no longer exist. Now, there’s only the Diligent---and me.
I am the only one of the New Children still living; my Siblings died many years ago after our transference to the Metal Mother. Seventeen says I lived because I am so strong. That’s why they named me “Renee.”
“It means ‘born again,’” he tells me. “You’re a fighter, little one. We want to share your resilience with the next generation of Children.”
His praise makes me happy. I’m proud to play a role in restoring this new world. That’s why I don’t mind going into the Fortress every day---even though having my skin scraped into glass vials and my blood drawn isn’t exactly comfortable. I just remind myself that I’m doing it for the future.
The Fortress is a giant glass box standing in the middle of the Temple. It is filled with a special white fluid Seventeen calls Tears. He says the fluid is made from our poor planet’s vanquished resources. I don’t know if that’s literally true, but practically speaking, the Tears help control the temperature in the Fortress. They are thicker than water, but not so thick that I feel suffocated. They allow me to float comfortably as the Diligent bring Pilgrims into the Temple.
The Pilgrims are a relatively new occurrence. I’ve only started seeing them over the last few weeks. They have the same grey skin and white eyes as the Diligent, but I notice they are dressed differently. They wear ragged brown robes and thick, blood-red ropes around their waists. When they come to see me, they kneel down and beat their breasts. Some weep openly; others moan and raise their hands to me in silent worship. Seventeen says I will be able to answer their prayers one day. Just not yet. Indeed, for a long time, I am unable to help the Pilgrims. They come in and make requests that cause Seventeen to shake his head. Then they leave the Temple in more distress than they were when they arrived.
Until the woman.
Seventeen walks in one day with her at his side. I can’t hear what she is saying. Her low, soft voice comes through the Fortress glass muffled. But I see Seventeen smile, nod, and stoop down. After a few seconds, I feel one of my arms being lifted up by some kind of rising shelf---- apparently located somewhere in the Fortress. I can’t turn my head to see where the shelf is taking my arm, but when my fingers are enveloped in dry, warm air, I realize my arm has been pushed outside of my glass habitat. A riot of tingling warmth explodes across my skin.
Then my fingers are plunged into something freezing.
“How many, Mrs. Martin?’’ Seventeen is saying.
I can feel Seventeen poking and prodding, bending my fingers back and forth. Then there is an even odder feeling: he gives my thumb a firm tug and it simply...goes away.
He turns his back to me and I feel my arm being pulled back inside the Fortress by the moving shelf I cannot see. He rifles around in his pockets for a while until he produces a thin white tissue. He wraps it around my thumb and drops it into the woman’s hand.
I’m confused by this ritual, but also excited. This must mean I can finally start answering prayers.
My hope is not in vain. In the weeks that follow, Seventeen comes into the Temple often, accompanied each time by a new Pilgrim. My toes, part of my ear, fingers from my other hand---they have all gone into the eager palms of people who need them. I wonder when I will get these pieces back, but in the meantime, I’m more than happy to help them.
One day when Seventeen comes to work on my elbow, the Pilgrim who requested it---a bearded man with pale eyes---watches silently. After a few minutes, he says:
“Does that hurt her?”
“Renee has never shown any negative response to external stimuli,” Seventeen responds.
“Then why are you using ice?”
“Just a precaution.”
“So you think she might actually feel everything, and you’re just being careful?”
“We’ve improved many lives through Renee’s donations, Mr. Emory. I was under the impression you hoped to be one of them.”
“Of course,” the man says quickly. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“We’ll forget it.”
There is a long silence. When the bearded man speaks again, his voice sounds soft and fractured. This surprises me. Is he crying? That can’t be. Why would he be sad when I’m about to make his dreams come true?
“Are there others like Renee down here?”
“Almost,” Seventeen answers. “She has assisted us a great deal in our efforts to rebuild. Those born from her will always remember her sacrifice. As will we.” Seventeen straightens up with my elbow cupped in his gloved hands. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the now-familiar thin piece of tissue paper. “Here you are, Mr. Emory.”
The man takes it. He handles my elbow as if it was glass. There is a short pause. Then he says: “I have an additional request, if you’ve got a minute. It’s my other daughter.”
“Yes, I’ve heard. What does she need?”
“A heart transplant.”
Seventeen’s back is turned, so I can’t see his face as he mutters a response. The bearded man shakes his hand fervently and then the two of them walk out of the Temple. I gaze after them through the Fortress glass. Of course the last request will not be granted, and that makes me sad. I hope the Pilgrim will not be too disappointed. But soon, I am sure, Seventeen will let me out of the Fortress, and I can live out my purpose as the special child of the new world. I tell myself that when that happens, I will make sure to find the bearded man and comfort him.
It is very quiet in the Temple now. I can hear the steady beating of my own heart. It promises a thriving future. One where I would help many more Pilgrims. I’m so glad. They deserve it.
After all, they have suffered so much.
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