My entire body aches as though my blood has been replaced by a concentrated solution of grouchiness and lactic acid. It’s a painful feeling I suppose, but a familiar one. An ugly buzzing sound penetrates my skull, forcing me out of bed and into a cold, unforgiving shower. From the shower I survey my station: it is a small, gray room containing a bed, a metal bureau in the corner for my uniforms, and a small tiled area with the basic necessities of an excrement processing room.
The room is perfect and spotless, as is everything on Level Two, where my life has transpired for as long as I can remember. Level Two isn’t a floor level containing perfect and spotless rooms. I wish it was, but it isn’t. Level Two is a life level containing perfect and spotless people. I am a perfect and spotless person, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it through Level One.
Level One begins when human organisms are produced in a laboratory and inserted into a human female incubator—just the incubator part of her is used of course. Our society isn’t big on keeping around extra parts, especially the kind that vomit, excrete wastes, form opinions, and otherwise make Earth a less perfectly wonderful place. Level One lasts until the child has survived nine years, upon which a time they are allowed to leave the Level One Dome.
I don’t remember much of the Dome other than the day I left it. I recall the strange feeling of seeing it from the outside for the first time, how small it looked against the endless expanse of grey tundra and greyer sky. The Dome was the last time I was ever warm and the last time I felt air in my lungs that didn’t rip up the soft tissue and fuzzy my brain. They say it had the temperature and atmosphere of the old Earth. For some reason until we reach the magic age of nine we can only survive in these conditions.
Most titles never make it out of the Dome. A certain level of cognitive brain activity, obedience, discipline, aesthetics, willpower and the list goes on, must be achieved to go on to Level Two. Those who do not qualify are disassembled and no longer act as a single organism, but as a set of body parts to be used as the officials see fit.
Once my flesh is thoroughly laden with goosebumps I switch off the shower. I step out and put on a plain black uniform, adorned only by a simple white seven. In Level Two, I am Title Seven. I take a brief look in my tiny mirror before heading out the door. Everything is up to female regulation: every strand of my black hair has been bound and gagged, and my pale skin is as spotless as the world around me. My eyes are the only thing that do not meet the standard: blue. Color of any kind is frowned upon. Most don’t even make it to Level Two unless they have brown, grey, or black eyes. Occasionally there are exceptions due to other superior traits. I am intelligent—I think. I open the cold metal door and start my morning run across the tundra to school. The cold fills my lungs as the early morning darkness greets my eyes. Everyone on Level Two must wake up at 4:00AM and run to school before the sunrise pokes through the smog. This way we don’t risk receiving unregulated dopamine from the warmth and colors.
Six miles later and I am walking into the tall grey school building. This is the only building in Level Two with the exception of our individual living stations. The large metal doors are enveloped by students with black uniforms, numbers, and regulation haircuts. Each maintains identical stoic silence. Above the door is a sign solidifying this behavior: “Motive for affiliation exists only as a symptom of weakness, the plague that lays waste to society.” Perhaps it’s not the sign, but the government monitored security cameras that do the trick. All I know is that only once in my life have I ever heard a person talk on the way into school: he “disappeared” shortly afterward.
I walk through the hallway quickly and deliberately, as does everyone else. The floor is grey concrete and the walls are smooth grey metal. Today is my first day in the North Wing, where Titles go upon reaching 18 years. After a brief journey I have reached the auditorium where I sit on bleachers surrounded by an ocean of bodies who, like myself, are in the final year of Level Two. We sit in straight postured silence waiting to discover what exactly the next—and likely final—year of our lives will entail. Only one more year and we are disassembled or go on to the unknown: Level Three. Not many make it to Level Three.
A Level Two officer in a rare navy blue uniform walks in and presses a button on her left arm. The wall in front of us starts showing a film. It is in black and white. It slowly flashes images of perfect, straight faced students doing schoolwork. A cold feminine voice like a freshly sterilized scalpel begins to speak. “As you have now survived 18 full solar revolutions you have all received a technical education. You have comprehended and applied English, mathematics, and science in a manner deemed sufficient for a continuance of your education. It is now that you can fully commence acquiring the knowledge needed to fulfill the greater purpose for all.”
We have never been told what the “greater purpose for all” is and I have never dared to ask. I learned fairly young to be careful what questions I ask. Ask too many questions and you will begin to look weak, unintelligent. Yet fully refrain from doing so, and face digestion by your own curiosity. The extent of my knowledge is that my purpose in life is to make it to Level Three, thus helping to fulfill the “greater purpose for all.”
“In this final stage of Level Two you will be receiving a two part education. In one part you will learn of the past events that corrupted the Earth before our era ensued, shaping our values and necessary patterns of behavior. In the other part you shall receive further training in how to carry out these necessary patterns of behavior.” I silently groan. Finally we are receiving some answers and it is a riddle still. “Further instruction will be delivered via your wrist ports.” The official turns and walks out the door as the screen goes black.
I look down at my right wrist where there is a black touch screen port built into my arm. We get them installed when we first enter Level Two. They serve as a method for officials and teachers to communicate with us, an educational tool, a tracking device, and likely more. It is built into the nerves in our arms as to provide quick instant punishment when deemed necessary. I have heard a rumor that one can be fully disassembled by their wrist port, but I don’t know how true this is. The notification on my wrist says the following:
5:00-9:00 PAST EVENTS—ROOM 458—TEACHER 2.1
9:05-11:00 PERIMETER RUN/ HYPERTROPHY CENTER ACTIVITIES
11:05-11:15 ACQUISITION OF SUSTENANCE—CENTRAL SPACE
11:20-4:00 PRACTICAL TRAINING—ROOM 409—TEACHER 2.2 & 2.3
4:05-7:00 COMPLETION OF ASSIGNED WORK—CENTRAL SPACE
As I set off on a brisk walk to Past Events I am probed by a single thought, what is “Practical Training?” The world I live in is known for vagueness and ambiguity, but this is an extreme. As a general rule, the less they tell you about something the worse it is going to be for you. As we walk into room 358, the jaws of those around me drop. It is a standard grey rectangular classroom, except instead of being bare and pristine, the walls are covered in posters with maps and pictures of people with strange faces in strange clothing. They are all in black and white of course, but there are so many shades that you can almost imagine the colors. For a second we stand there mesmerized before remembering to take our seats. We sit numerically so that I always end up in the second to last metal desk of the first row.
If the room is unorthodox, then it is nowhere near the sheer strangeness of the teacher. His body is of the standard male proportions; he is slim and 1.8 meters tall. Yet his head is entirely out of place. For starters, his hair is a borderline legal dark blond color while his eyes are a light grey. Yet what is truly shocking is his nose. It is much larger than regulation, jutting out and down to form a bump. How he ever made it past Level One is a mystery to me, as is how he still remains a teacher in Level Two while wrinkles adorn his face. He begins to speak, taking attendance from his wrist port. The class remains transfixed. In this world of uniformity we know not how to respond to the unusual. As he speaks the words sound out of place, like they are not just sitting on his tongue like they are with everyone else. It is like he has to pull them out of a place deep in his brain and they don’t survive the journey with every consonant fully intact. I think this is called an accent, but never before have I heard one. Everyone speaks English.
His peculiar pronunciation of Seven calls me out of my repose, demanding a response. “Seven, currently accounted for,” I say in a voice that has been made mechanical from years of repetition. After Title 30 announces that he is currently accounted for, Teacher 2.1—whom I have made the executive decision to refer to internally as Bump Nose—launches into the usual pre-course speech. It’s all a bunch of dribble about expectations and how there will be dire consequences for not following instructions, or not producing adequate work, or breathing wrong (my own personal addition). Never before has a teacher defined “dire consequences,” but when people disappear no one fails to realize the definition.
Bump Nose continues. “In this class you will be learning the history of humanity and how its downfall was brought about by intrinsic weakness. This will work in conjunction with your Practical Training Class to help you to fully understand and abide by the expectations for proper human behavior by abstaining from innate weaknesses.” I am stricken by the degree to which his facial expressions change when he speaks. His emotions are almost transparent. Every other teacher or official I have ever seen has been nearly impassive.
He continues, “We shall start out by looking at the foundations of imperfect human behavior in hominids, and go up through history looking at how this behavior led to the downfall of all major civilizations throughout history. We will be spending the majority of our time looking at the tipping point in human history that led to the conditions of the world we live in today.” He rolls out the word conditions with slow disdain leaving me ever puzzled.
“As some may know from books read in English Language Education, it was in the late 21st century that the tipping point occurred. It was during this time period that hedonism, selfishness, personal laziness, corruption, disregard for the environment and other exceptionally imperfect behavior reached its peak. It was within this time and the century afterward that the American empire fell, the Great Global Depression occurred, the first nuclear war ensued and drastic climate change started bringing about the nuclear induced ice age that we live in today in the year 2525.” His lips curl up momentarily at the mention of the year 2525, like its some big inside joke he has with himself; yet a second later and his deluge of verbiage resumes: “It is the failures of the past that determined our future. Every day we strive not to repeat the weakness of our ancestors.”
As Bump Nose begins to hand out the electronic tablets that we will have for this course, the curiosity in the room is almost tangible. We sit in silence, resisting the temptation to raise our eyebrows. For the rest of the class we are instructed to read the first chapter, “The Innate Weaknesses of Early Hominids,” and write an essay. Later on, in Completion of Assigned Work we will be doing the next chapter, “The Rise of The Homo Sapiens,” and writing another essay. I finish double checking my essay for the tenth time before the buzzer sounds ushering us out the door in a single file manner.
As I head outside for our daily 6 mile run perimeter run I can’t shake the feeling that I have witnessed something truly bizarre. Is Bump Nose the cause of the numerous disappearances that occur in the final phase of Level Two? Should I have reread my essay yet again? I know there is something peculiar about him, something other than having a velociraptor beak jutting out of the center of his face.
My mental siesta is rudely awakened by a gust of glacial wind as the door opens. It is not that much colder outside than it is inside due to a lack of internal heating devices in the school (it keeps us from growing weak), but the wind makes outside so much worse due to its unrelenting stinging and biting at all raw exposed skin. The only places where we have heat are our stations, on exceptionally cold nights, and the swimming hall in the hypertrophy center where frostbite and hypothermia would be as issue in the absence of heat.
Within five minutes about 200 black clad bodies have joined me huddling at the entrance of the wooded running trail. Bubbling excitement rises up behind my stony facade as we begin my favorite part of the day. I love the freedom of running. There are rules and procedures for almost everything we do, but with running there’s not much they can regulate. Cold air caresses my lungs and snow crunches under my feet. I feel as though I am alive, not just going through the motions. At no other time do I witness such beauty as the green spiked trees and the white, smoky, occasionally bluish sky. Apparently the sky used to be full blue, really blue, but air pollution ruined it. The officials planted the forests to produce oxygen. The only plant in the world, or at least in Level Two, is a sweet, spicy-smelling green tree covered in spikes instead of leaves.
Running is the only time we are allowed to freely talk to each other. It is not exactly condoned, but it is difficult to regulate our voices and pinpoint them individually while we are running through the loud wind of the tundra. I am usually weary to speak except with a choice few confidants, yet I love to listen, so many stories, opinions, and perspectives exist. To obtain information about the world from a source other than teachers and textbooks is a forbidden delicacy and I feel it has made me wise in ways the textbooks and teachers could not. It is during these times that I actually hear of the dangers associated with defying the system of our world. Without the oxygen-deprived voices of the strangers I run and live with I would have been disassembled long ago. Then again, for every truth there is a rumor to be proven false.
As we near the sixth mile (as seen on our wrist ports) voices start to waver as people speed up and edge by each other. The first ten people to the Hypertrophy Center receive an extra tiny pink dopamine pill for the day. The ten people are almost always male, except for a few occasions. The girls and slower boys in the back start to speed up as well. If you don’t get to the center within five minutes of the first person more than once it is a sign of weakness to be met with “dire consequences.” I have always been in the front except for the time I sprained my left ankle. We are not allowed to be injured because injuries show neglect and self loathing, two signs of weakness. I was stuck trying to inconspicuously hobble in the back until it healed, which it never fully did. I shudder to think of what would happen if I sprained it again, I don’t think I could recover from another bad twist.
Upon reaching the big black Hypertrophy Center, which is attached to the school through an underground tunnel, the ten boys in front of me receive their award and we quickly set about the task of lifting weights for the next hour. Our progress is recorded on our wrist ports, and the data is sent to the Level Two officials for approval. The entire Hypertrophy Center is pure white, except for the black equipment. We are made to clean it meticulously; it is odorless and sterile enough for surgery. Part of the smell, or lack there of, is the fact that the room is kept just warm enough not to freeze the weights to your dry, sweat-less hands. After lifting, we have five minutes to make it out of the Hypertrophy Center and to the Central Hall at the other end of the school. If we don’t make it in time we will be barred from receiving calories. I stop at an excrement processing room on my way to Acquisition of Sustenance and barely make it in time. I am greeted by the cold black eyes of one of the male, navy-blue-clad officials by the door. Lateness is never condoned, and even the possibility of such a “heinous offense” is met with harsh destain.
I scamper into line next to 42, a male with all features brown and every aspect of his existence up to regulation, the perfect definition of a student. Yet if you ever ran fast enough, you would see a different side, one that is loud, boisterous, and mischievous. It is a remarkable transformation to behold, especially now that I stare at the almost mechanical composure in front of me. I shoot him a tiny smirk and a glint appears in his eyes as their cool blackness seems to revert to amber. In my mind he is referred to as Switch. The line moves forward steadily as a female official hands us our daily greenish brown nutrient mixtures. They are tasteless and odorless with a smooth texture. She also hands us our daily dopamine pills. We are told to swallow the tiny pink pills immediately and open our mouths as to prove they are gone, not that anyone would ever refuse them.
Happiness is an odd feeling, your worries, fears, aches and pains melt away, yet at the same time you are left feeling fuzzy. It’s like the euphoria is false, coming from nothing and amounting to nothing. To be honest, I am not entirely sure that I like the feeling, yet this thought is illogical. It is impossible not to like happiness, and the only safe and acceptable form of happiness comes from the little pink pills. The rest is dangerous, spawning only weakness. I file off to table two in an orderly manner. I must sit with Eight, Nine, 10, 11 and 12. We drink our nutrients eagerly, quickly taking in the tasteless 3000 calories that make up our daily meal. It is enough to keep us going, but not enough to yield to fatness. Every once in awhile someone will end up with a hormone imbalance and gain too much weight. These people disappear quickly.
Acquisition of Sustenance is the only time of the day when we are actually encouraged to talk to each other, as long as we discuss the subjects of our education in a constructive way. After running, this is my favorite part of the day. Eight is a female with light brown hair and amber eyes. She is smart in her own way, but still rather daft at times. I think of her with the Title Frog Mouth because of her tendency to jump into conversations with unbelievable confidence, perfectly contrasting her utter incompetence. Nine and 10 are boys with features entirely dark. They are average in every way imaginable, representing the epitome of Level Two normalcy. I refer to them and their type as Pawns, chances are they won’t make it to Level Three. They serve as the ensemble in the lives of those who have a chance to make it. They are nothing but fat to be trimmed within the process of elimination that is life.
11 is the bane of my existence. She has light brown hair and icy grey eyes. Her face is too narrow and the area around her nose is covered in little brown dots. She only made it through Level One because she is so intelligent. I often worry that she will make it to Level Three and I will not. She is one of those people who walks around with a constant air of superiority and will greet you warmly one second and stab you in the back the next. Yet at the same time she has earned the admiration and reverence of numerous people. Shallow people flocking towards other shallow people, to create the illusion of depth, I suppose. In my mind she is Dagger to remind me never to trust her.
12 is my favorite, many an hour I have spent talking to her in a desperate attempt to remain stoic despite my excitement at whatever we are discussing. I can remember when I possessed nine years and I first sat down to this very table with her to discover for the first time in my life a person who sees the world the way I do. We both possess a deep affiliation for the sciences: I, biology and her, astronomy. Most students have given up the honest pursuit of conversation about their school work with others. They favor conversation in which sentences pertaining to our education mean much more in context than what is said on the surface. Dagger is notorious for this.
12 is a female in no way negative to behold, she has olive skin, big brown eyes, and brown curly hair with strands that poke up in odd directions like they’re trying to escape. She and I both enjoy giving names to numbers. Today we devote our time to discussing the controversial nature of black holes, yet our conversation is constantly interrupted by the necessity of returning dirty looks from Dagger.
After Acquisition of Sustenance I reluctantly walk to Practical Training, whatever it may be. As I step foot in the room I am first shocked by the cold, it is colder than any other room in the school and about as big as the Central Space. It is a pure, flawless grey color with several identical locked doors placed at one meter intervals. The room is devoid of any furnishings, reference materials or other distinguishing factors. Teachers 2.2 and 2.3 are perfect clones of societal expectations. 2.2 is a female and 2.3 is a male; other than that they have few distinguishing features.
Without having to be told we all line up facing the teachers in numerical order. 2.2 instantly launches into attendance and the usual introductory speech. Then 2.3 throws me for a loop entirely. “In this class you will not often be asked to produce traditional work as you have been in the past. You shall be acquiring knowledge about oneself through trials of willpower. Now as you have learned your entire lives and shall be exploring more in Past Events, productive and healthy societies can only exist in the entire absence of weakness. Self regulation and willpower are vital to ridding our society of weakness. If these skills are not mastered and displayed to a level that is deemed sufficient, then there will be dire consequences. Those who excel in this class will move on to Level Three. Those who do not will be transferred to a more useful existence.”
The brief moment of silence that then ensues seems to last an eternity. I can see hungry and fearful eyes scouting out the room and sizing up the competition. This is it, this class will determine who goes on to achieve the very purpose of our existence, and who will be deemed more useful dead. 2.2, who is now Doomsday, and 2.3 who is now Apocalypse begin to explain that the first week will consist of traditional schoolwork. We will be reading about willpower and writing essays. Our first chapter is entitled “Ego Depletion: The Relationship Between Glucose & Willpower.”
The rest of my day goes by in a blur. I do my schoolwork and run home to my station to succumb to a restless, shivering sleep. For the rest of the week I am entirely consumed by my schoolwork. In the past we learned new things consistently, but they were all fairly similar to what we had been taught before, slightly new information building on old information. Now everything is being tied together. The past is being tied to the present and suddenly the world is starting to make sense.
In science we had learned about the process of evolution, how apes evolved into hominids which evolved into modern day humans. We had also learned that the Homosapiens won out against the other hominids due to their superior intelligence. Yet now in history we are learning about how the behavioral patterns of our primitive ancestors have influenced our modern day hindrances, concepts of weakness, and way of life.
The textbook describes a world about six million and five hundred years ago. Survival was nearly impossible for our ancestors who had no means of attaining sustenance other than their intelligence, opposable thumbs, and upright postures—giving them the ability to make tools and to chase their quadruped prey to the point of over exhaustion and death. It was an age in which to ensure the survival of the human race early humans would have the constant urge to eat highly caloric foods due to the scarcity of meals, to procreate due to the rarity of survival, and to affiliate themselves with others of the same species due to safety in numbers.
It is written that back then inclinations such as these were not weaknesses to be suppressed, but necessities to survival rewarded by unregulated dopamine. Unlike other species where high dopamine reward cravings remained necessary for survival, humans were able to use their intelligence to create technology that made their survival almost guaranteed. This technology rendered the severity of their animalistic cravings moot and even dangerous to the innate and immortal goal of survival.
No longer needing the severity of the innate urges they possessed to survive, humans became slaves to their own constant pursuit of dopamine. Sustenance, reproduction, affiliation, and even more abstract needs stemming from these such as the desire for superiority over others were no longer necessities for individual survival or the survival of the human race. After this information was revealed in so many words, the textbook ended with a sentence paying testament to the ambiguity I am used to. “It was in this time that The Greater Purpose was abandoned.”