“A501? Lord Prodigy! Please pay attention, sir!”
I snapped awake, “Sorry!” I pretended to listen, but I’m sure my teacher was just as bored as I was.
History class always taught the same lesson. What did they expect us to learn? There was a mutation in human genes which caused a disease that made humans turn into animals. We are the only survivors, we can exist only in the Facility. Everyone knew this, it’s a no-brainer. We’re not chosen to be A class for no reason. At least we are only forced to take the classes until we are sixteen. This is the last semester of my last year, which is wonderful. Once I’m free from these classes, I will have all the time to do my research.
Finally class ended. A swirl of wind greeted me as I opened the classroom door. I veered away from the other districts as I headed back to my home in district A. Other people would leave me alone as long as I didn’t enter their districts. Unless I had a very good reason to go to any of the other districts, I stayed away from them as much as possible. I still had to go to the other districts to run the occasional errand for the higher-ups.
Not that I could do anything to the higher-ups, not while I belonged to the Facility. The world is the Facility, and the Facility is a simple place. The same routines, the same order, the same lifestyle. Follow the rules or you’ll get yourself killed. All offenses were punished with death, so there’s no way you’d get away with any misbehaving.
The Facility had ranks to avoid mistakes our ancestors had already made. The ranks may prevent some situations, but it can’t erase the greatest human flaw, jealousy. At birth, every refugee is tested and ranked with a permanent class. The tests determine how much the government needs you. It doesn’t matter what rank your parents were, your rank was your rank and nothing could affect it. The rankings were never wrong.
This ranking system is used to create balance in the facility and to keep it functioning. The ranks we got assigned at birth were either A, B, or C. Those in class C are the workers, the physical laborers. All of them never had any education, and I envy them for that. They never had to go through the boring classes that taught things that everyone knew. Class B is the higher working class, which includes the technicians, teachers, scientists, engineers, and other people like that. Class A are the elites, a class full of people with great potential, and the ones who make sure everything’s running properly. We are the class that commands the facility. Even though we’re in command, we need the approval of the S class before they can do anything major. Class S are the gods here, they rule everything in the world. They’re said to all have ridiculously high scores. The only ones who deserved to know everything.
Even though I was only fifteen, none of the others in class A could measure up to my scores on the tests. Because of this, most know me as the prodigy, and that eventually became my name. The tests were taken using a mechanical device that strapped itself onto your head. Once you have taken the birth test, which determines your rank, all the other tests don’t matter. They are just there to compare to others. Some people like to use it to figure out the next S class, but the choice is by recommendation from the S class.
I arrived at the front gates of my house and the gates opened. Inside my servants bustled around, cleaning and organizing everything to suit my needs. Families always live in the districts they were assigned to, not together, so I didn’t really have any companions beside them. Not that my parents would be here even if we lived together.
I dropped off all my things and headed up to my room. The walls of my room were plastered with hand-drawn astronomy charts, graphs, scrapped reports, drawings, and printed data. Test tubes, wires, bottles, and boxes full of random materials lay scattered around the room. I study all sorts of things that we weren’t taught. The curiosity that comes from human nature beckoned me to unlock new knowledge. Even though I wasn’t supposed to, I did it anyway. Discovering new things is bad, and will always end badly. All of the illegal things I do is the reason no one is allowed in my room.
I sat down at my massive desk, stacks of paper loomed like towers. I went to work studying a sample of flower pollen I borrowed from central park. It was artificially created, just like everything else. I was boiling a bit of the flower pollen when the city alarm went off? Five? It was a level five-alarm!
Before I could recover from my shock, a thundering boom came from the west. I threw open the windows and looked outside. The shaking traveled up through my bones from the bottom of my feet. I took a step back as a spray of dust blocked my view.
In the distance, I heard voices shouting and robots beeping. What was happening? How is this possible? Three hundred years ago, the mutation killed off all of humanity. We are the only survivors, and we exist inside the facility.
As I stood there, completely baffled, the West Wall crumbled. After the dust settled, I, for the first time in my life, saw the outside world. At first, there just seemed to be a wasteland of dust. Brown, parched ground stretched to the farthest reaches of the eye. Then in the distant, a single mountain stood. The whole mountain looked like it was drenched in white. Compared to the dull gray of the Facility, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.
I was snapped out of my trance as figures climbed over the rubble and entered the Facility. I squinted my eyes as I tried to make out the figures. The more I looked at the group that crossed over, the more they looked like animals. Animal ears, tails, snouts, claws, horns, hooves, antlers, and other animal parts looked as if they had become one with a human. These were the mutated ones that we learned about! But that’s not possible! They were supposed to have died a hundred years ago when the Facility was first built to protect the remaining humans.
Though I was petrified by the brute force of these invaders, I was also intrigued. By breaking down the West Wall, they showed me things I’d never seen or even heard about. There shouldn’t have been any mountains like that left. The world is supposed to be a complete wasteland outside of the Facility, but it isn’t.
I ran to the teleporter and jumped to the west field. I ducked behind a wall of crates as I watched in awe. These humans had animal body parts of animals I’ve never seen. As a squadron of robots tried to shoot down the invaders, the half-beasts raised up metal shields and deflected the bullets. Slowly, the robots were pushed back and the invaders fought to get closer to the center of the Facility, to where the S class resided.
Abruptly, the group stopped pushing and regrouped. They were close enough for me to make out where one piece of armor connected to the next, but too far away to hear what they were saying. I strained to hear what they could be talking about. I crept soundlessly towards the group.
All of a sudden, I was pulled onto my back with my hands held down tightly behind me. I opened my mouth to scream when a rough hand covered my mouth. I was even more surprised to see that the hand that covered my mouth had claws coming from the front. I struggled but my captor’s grip didn’t falter. Desperate, I bit down hard on their hand until I tasted blood.
“Ouch!” As their grip loosened, I spun around and threw all my body weight on them. I panted, breathing heavily. My face ended up inches away from a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. I jerked away, startled. When I looked closely, I realized my captor was just a boy, looked the same age as me. He was half a foot taller than me, light-skinned, and had ears sticking out from the top of his head. A tailed lashed behind him as if it was preparing to strike.
“What are…?!” I was about to ask him what he was doing here when he clamped my mouth shut.
“Shh! You don’t want the others to hear us!”
“Shh!!! Do you not know how to be quiet? Did they teach you nothing in this cage?”
“Cage?” I asked, whispering.
“That’s better,” he said. “I’m glad you know how to be quiet.”
“But you said the Facility was a cage, what did you mean by that?”
“Huh?” He looked at me as if I were dumb. “Did you never feel trapped within these gray walls? Unable to explore the world, and restricted by foolish rules?” When he saw my confused expression, he waved his hand. “Nevermind, nevermind. I didn’t come here to chat with little birdies. You live here right? Can you tell me where the leaders of this place are?”
“You mean the S class?”
“Yeah, that. Where are they?” I pondered for a moment. He was a complete stranger who just broke down the West Wall. Why should I tell him anything? But for some reason, I wanted to tell him. Why?
“They’re at the center of the city,” I said.
“Of course. You mean in that depressing mansion over there?”
“Depressing mansion?” Was it depressing? “That’s where they are,” I said.
“Great! You know how to get there?” He continued without waiting for my reply. “I’m sure you have fancy technology in this cage. Show me the way little birdie!” He shoved me forwards, away from the rest of his group.
“Wait! Aren’t your friends over there?”
“Friends? They aren’t my friends. I’m only here to get rid of this depressing place. Our goals just happened to coincide,” he said. “By the way, my name XIII. Nice to meet you, little birdie.”
“What? X? I? What kind of name is that? And my name’s Prodigy, not little birdie.”
“My name is the roman numerals for thirteen. Ever heard of Roman numerals, birdie?”
“What numerals? And I told you not to call me that!” I said.
“How do you not know what roman numerals are? What about frogs? Heard of them before? Plus, I called you birdie, not little birdie. They’re different,” XIII said. I was fascinated by all the things he knew about. Plants and animals I never dreamed existed. Bodies of water that stretched on forever. Clusters of trees that are called forests. Even though he refused to call anything inside the Facility by their names, he asked about everything from the teleportation pads to the artificial crops.
When we arrived near where the S class resided, we were debating on how the teleportation pads could be used to automate farming. I got us as close as I could without running into security, but that wouldn’t hold true anymore.
“Seriously, do you always travel through those dark tunnels? No wonder your skin’s so dark. You never get any sunlight,” XIII said.
“I only went into those tunnels because you didn’t want to run into security,” I retorted. “Why did you even want to get here?”
“I’m gonna tear down this place obviously. They’ve restricted everything you should be allowed to have. Freedom to live life the way you want, and freedom to seek out the knowledge of this world. I’m sure you understand how I feel,” he said.
I nodded, I did understand. After the short time, we were together, I already wanted to learn more about the world from him. He told fascinating stories, and while he teased me, he also was patient to explain things I would never understand. He told me things such as the freedom to live the way you want to. To be able to explore anything that you wished to. I was determined to find this thing called ‘freedom’. I would find it and I’m sure he would help me as I relearned everything.
“You ready to do this?” XIII asked. Our eyes met, both determined to do this. I, who wanted to discover more about the world. And him, who wanted to give others the chance to live freely. We nodded to each other as if we had been partners since the day we were born. Though the time we had spent together was short, we already understood and trusted each other. This is what I was missing! I wanted to have someone who understood my curiosity. I wanted to have someone to talk about my discoveries with. I wanted to have a friend. And now I had one.