I’ve learned that I should never speak about why I was brought in. The guards know, as do just about everyone else in the administration, but I expected that much.
What I didn’t expect was seeing my own proxy on my way there.
To reach the facility, they bring me through a checkpoint where I’m frisked and stripped naked before I’m forced to take a shower that changes from hot to cold so suddenly it actually hurts. Then I’m handed a set of clothes that’s a little different from those I’m used to – not exactly a prison uniform, which is what I expected, but rather a simple cotton shirt and jeans. A jacket comes with it that does little to keep the cold out, but I don’t complain.
I haven’t said much.
Then they sit me down in a room that has a thin electric screen separating it in half, and I keep my eyes down to my hands cuffed together as they sit on my lap. Two security guards stand either side of me, ready to shoot me, no doubt, if I even try to move.
It’s an empty room with a table in front of me where a beige folder sits alongside a pen, and on the other side of the screen there’s a similar set up although it looks decidedly less ominous. There’s an overhead speaker that comes to life just a bit after the door on the other side opens and two sets of feet walk over to stand by the table, one sitting down, and speaks.
“Speak your confession again, Anonymous.”
I lower my head, gritting my teeth as I try to bite down the urge to scream that it didn’t happen like that. I can hear the accusation, the way the story was filed, and it makes me want to scream and just disappear. I want to vanish, to finally become the ghost I’ve been accused of being for so long.
Instead, I close my eyes and sigh as I repeat my statement.
“I killed a man in cold blood,” I say quietly, my voice sounding small and pathetic. “Unprovoked, I stabbed him and left his body to be found. I ran away, and didn’t turn myself in right away. I thought I could get away with it.”
I swallow thickly. Saying it out loud is like saying that it’s true, that it’s the only truth, and that mine is invalid – no one ever wanted to hear it, anyways. The first few times I would say it, I would always cry.
By now, it’s just a hollow emptiness. It just makes me wish I would’ve listened and killed myself that very night.
“Proxy 1759.6418-447, you have heard the statement. From this day hence, you are to be the Proxy for Casper Al-Jamil, and will be escorted to your new home shortly. Both Proxy and Anonymous are to sign the contract before them, and be escorted to their destinations.”
Capable of taking a hint, I wait until the guard flips the document over to the page I have to sign before I take the pen and shakily sign my name – knowing that this is the last time I’m probably ever going to get to.
Then the guards pull me up roughly, and I don’t look towards the proxy at all – I don’t want to see what person my parents are going to replace me with, and who they’re going to raise and love as if he was always their son. Seeing the way they so quickly made the call for the proxy was enough.
I don’t put up a fight, not even when the steel door closes behind me with finality. In a way, I suppose I’ve come to consider myself guilty of my crime, too.
If you hear a lie often enough, it becomes truth.
Then I’m put into a police van made to carry kids like me to the facilities – no windows and hard steel benches you get handcuffed to, your feet chained to the floor. It’s so dark in there that closing my eyes doesn’t change anything, so I lean back and close my eyes, trying my best to keep myself calm while knowing very well that I’m being brought to my execution chambers.
No one ever leaves the facilities. They send you there to set you straight, but the system is created so that you’re never even expected to leave from the start.
They have other uses for you.
I have a lot of time to think in the van, the ride surprisingly smooth – the suspension on the van is great, probably to avoid any possible accidents or escapes – so I try to catch a bit of rest at the same time.
I’ve never held much fondness for the Anonymous-Proxy Program, finding it rather strange that someone came up with this; but there was no other way to deal with the overcrowding in the orphanages while also dealing with the overpopulation problem, at least none they wanted to pay for, so they went with the “let’s kill off a bunch of problem kids” plan.
Basically, if a kid starts doing things including, but definitely not limited to: shoplifting, rape, breaking and entering, vandalism, attitude deficiency, drug and/or alcohol addiction, etc., etc. – their parents are given the legal rights to fill out the very thin paperwork for the Anonymous-Proxy Program, and thus get rid of the child to replace it with an orphan.
The child is brought to the nearest Anonymous Facility, which is essentially a prison when you think about it, but even a prison is better than this. The kids there are used as, well… there’s really no other way to put it other than as test subjects.
Scientists there use the kids – given a bar code for a name, thus making them as nameless as you can get – to test experimental drugs, vaccines, and other substances. It’s the best kind of testing pool when you think about it: the unwanted of society, who has literally been replaced, as test subjects for what is eventually offered to society. You have all sorts of types there, although at this point I think showing is telling.
I don’t know how long the ride takes, but I think I actually manage to doze off a bit with my head propped against my shoulder, having pulled myself up against the space separating the prisoner’s hold with the rest of the armoured van. It’s hard to tell, really.
Nevertheless, when the lock is taken off it startles me awake and the light that pours in is practically blinding. I close my eyes against the glare, unable to shield them with my hands, and someone comes in and undoes the two locks keeping me to the van before pulling me roughly to my feet and pushing me out ahead of him with a shout I don’t understand.
I just do as I’m told; I’m not interested in causing a fuss, especially since I’m going to be stuck with these guards until I’m dead – literally, which will probably be quite soon with my luck.
I’m half-hoping it will happen quickly, but somehow I imagine I’m not that lucky.
When I step out, I’m met with a behemoth of a building that makes me pause; the truth suddenly so clear before me, and it hurts. I’m really not leaving this place.
We passed through three different high-security gates made of sheet iron, and they rise up maybe thirty meters up at least, probably higher; the top is full of razor wire and the sides are smooth as they bake in the sun, the gates manned by the towers either side mounted with searchlights and automatic guns, from the looks of it. At the corners of the imposing fence there are other towers before it turns to surround the compound.
The ground is sun-baked, which makes me feel rather optimistic about the rest of this place, and my heels hit the ground loudly with every step I take towards the main building.
They seem to have tried making it look somewhat decent, with plant life and trees planted that somehow survive the heat. I actually didn’t know it could get this hot in Europe, let alone Turkey.
The building itself is made of glass that reflects the light back at me, and I raise my hands to shield them from the glare a bit before I get pushed roughly, making me stumble forwards a bit; I learn to keep them in front of me, limp, and walk with my head down.
It’s amazingly white, a rectangular building from the looks of it with a single floor here, but I can see a section in the back that seems to have two or three. The front entrance juts out a little, opening with a loud klaxon when a guard waves us through, and then I’m in and the doors close behind me with a deciding finality.
The lobby is stark white with the barest of features, and these range from the security desk to the guard on duty at the desk filing paperwork, as well as the door we’re probably going to go through soon that’ll bring me to my eventual destination.
I hope they take off the handcuffs, at least; they’re starting to itch, and having a piece of metal stuck to your skin when it’s this hot is uncomfortable at best. I can practically feel my skin baking.
We walk up to the desk before the men around me pull me to a halt, and I remain there quietly with my head down; it’s kept me alive so far, and despite everything I kind of still wish I could live.
It’s strange, but I’ve been filled with this desire to live ever since I was given that death sentence when I did what I did.
“Bring him to sector three: there’s an open spot right now. I’ll ask them to hold off their next experiment until then,” the guard says casually, and I don’t think he ever looks up from his papers; but I can’t really tell. “They’ll issue him his code there.”
The guards pull me along again, one of them swiping a card through the reader before inserting a four-digit code and pressing his hand to the scanner afterwards. When it beeps in affirmation the hydraulics activate and the door in front of me opens, sliding back surprisingly soundlessly, and they push me through into what I gather is the grand hallway of the place.
They let me lift my head now, at least enough to take in where I am. I guess they figure I’m not going to try anything, especially with what I find myself seeing.
The hallway follows the building’s shape, stopping a little short as it turns sharply and heads towards the other end. There are doors leading to various areas, most of which have windows so guards can probably keep watch from this slightly air-conditioned area; I can make out a cafeteria and a shower room, the latter unfortunately with a perfect view from the hallway which makes me cringe. There go all thoughts of privacy.
I can vaguely make out another hallway on the other end of these rooms, and I imagine those are the ones used by the kids held here, leaving this one for the guards to use to get from place to place quickly. The doors on this side are as well-guarded as the other one, with a handprint scanner that duals as a number pad, as well as a card reader. Cameras visibly sit at the corners of the hallway and near each door, and I can make out panels in the ceiling that look like they might slide back at the push of a button and presumably let out another of those guns.
After we go by a large open compound so we get some form of fresh air, however hot it may be, that sits beyond this wall of glass. We take a sudden sharp turn to our right and I’m met with the first door to the right that I’ve seen thus far. It turns out to be an elevator that takes us to the second floor I’d noted, all steel with no luxuries amended to it.
Once I’m out, I see an immediate difference as soon as we bypass the security checkpoint.
Everything is no longer catered to the prison-like camp: this is a research wing, from the looks of it, with entire rooms dedicated to columns of glass holding up phials and other samples. One room seems to be researching blood samples, another has people mixing various serums together, and still more are dedicated to a series of computers and filing cabinets that probably track all the records of their findings.
The men and women here all look undistinguishable with their white lab coats and masks slipped over the lower halves of their faces, goggles over their eyes, to keep all contaminants out. Their hair is always tightly held back, kept out of the way, and all short.
Then we reach a different sector, and this one doesn’t have windows looking into the temperature-controlled rooms; the doors are definitely under higher security as we pass a second checkpoint, and I start seeing younger faces as they’re brought away, sometimes unconsciously, from the rooms.
After swiping his card and reading the palm of his hand, the hydraulic door opens and I’m brought into a room to our left, my heart beating frantically in fear and anticipation. My instincts are screaming at me to get away, but I don’t necessarily have a choice in the matter as I’m dumped unceremoniously into an unforgiving reclining chair and the cuffs are finally taken off my wrists. They fit my wrists into the iron clamps on the arms of the chair, so with nothing else to do I get as comfortable as I can in the slightly-padded chair and swallow the lump in my throat as they tighten the clamps.
This room is strange, and not in a good way – I’m almost reminded of a dentists’ office. There’s a giant machine hovering on a swivelling arm from the ceiling, where a light has been fixed to, and on either side of the arms of the chair there are tables with various syringes and tools set aside. The walls are lined with a few serums, a powerful-looking computer, and murky brown bottles with unidentifiable liquids inside. I can tell there are labels, but I can’t read them.
When the clamps go around my ankles, I breathe out shakily and rest my head back, closing my eyes and gritting my teeth. Somehow, I deserve whatever will happen to me here.
After all, I killed a man.
A woman in a white coat comes in, and when she sees me there she pauses a moment and frowns as if seeing me there truly displeases her. She turns a vehement glare to the only guard remaining in the room.
“I specifically asked for subject 10008326,” she states bluntly, a hand gesturing to me as if I’m hardly worth her time. “Who is this?”
“A new subject, just arrived,” the guard tells her, and this is perhaps the first time I’ve heard him speak. Everything around me is so white and so pristine that I just close my eyes and try to imagine myself at a better place. “My orders were to bring him to section three, and get him a code and a chip so he can be in the system.”
The woman sighs in irritation, but I hear her walk over to my right and put down the clipboard she’d been holding as she mutters under her breath about the incompetence of the administration – or something like that. I’d smile about it under any other circumstance.
“Very well, I suppose this will have to do; new specimens aren’t as common as they ought to be,” she sighs, and my skin crawls at the thought. This woman actually seems to want people to replace their kids. When I hear someone snap their fingers, I open my eyes and find that she’s staring at me with that same displeased frown. “A bit slow, this one.”
“He hasn’t said anything since the Proxy,” the guard says, and the woman arches an eyebrow. “Pleaded his innocence the first few days.”
The woman laughs so loudly I know she’s making fun of me, as if the notion of my innocence is laughable. I grit my teeth and say nothing.
“These people are never innocent,” she chuckles, and flips to a new page on her clipboard. “How interesting. What’s the crime?”
“Unprovoked murder. Ten stabs to the back, ranging from the back of the skull to the shoulders.”
Taking a pen from her pocket, the woman writes down what he says and nods, looking at me incredulously.
“Old name and age?”
The guard doesn’t answer, and I get the impression that she’s directing this question at me but it takes me a moment for me to actually realise that. When she sighs impatiently, the guard hits me on the side of my head and I bite my tongue a little at the blow.
“Casper Al-Jamil, eighteen,” I spit through my teeth, wishing I could glare at the guard without risking another blow. My hands fist, and a part of me vows to myself that I will never forget that name, even if they’ve taken it away from me – it’s an identity, and no matter what they do to me that identity is mine.
“Height and weight.”
I close my eyes and rest my head on the chair, feeling my arms start to shake. I almost wish they’d just get it over with already.
“Five feet six inches and about a hundred twenty pounds,” I say. The admission of the fact that I simply seem to have forgotten that I’m supposed to grow. That I’m too small, too thin, like the wraith I’ve been accused of being.
“Ash-brown hair, grey eyes, and pale brown skin,” she tacks on with a mutter, writing all of this down. “Sexual orientation and date of birth.”
I choke, looking at her in alarm; she looks at me as if I’m really starting to annoy her, but I can’t help but voice my concern.
“Why does that matter?” I ask, and I get hit again in response; this time I glare at the guard, feeling that that one was entirely unprovoked and unnecessary. What the hell does my orientation have to do with this?
“Sexual orientation and date of birth,” she repeats firmly, and I sigh in exasperation and close my eyes again, frowning. “While you’re at it, give me your basic medical run-down.”
Rolling my eyes behind my eyelids, I make a face as I answer.
“Homosexual, born on November 11th, 2057 at 4:32 am,” I state bluntly, wishing I could cross my arms. Instead, I tap my fingers on the edge of the armrest and bounce my leg uneasily. “No health issues to report.”
Writing that down, she nods and then walks over to the computer a second, tapping away at the keys while I sit on the chair and push away my anticipation. I get the feeling that what’s going to come up soon will make me wish that this interrogation had lasted an eternity.
She comes back a moment later and writes down something else, picking up a silver tool that sits in the palm of her hand, about the same width but not as high. It’s about an inch long, and she presses it into a tray of black liquid that sparks faintly a moment when the metal touches it. Then she holds it up, shaking off the loose ink, and gestures to the guard with a nod.
He fastens a cold metal ring to the base of my neck, making me panic a little, and I quickly realise that the more I pull my head away from the headrest, the tighter it becomes. So I reluctantly press my head back, swallowing thickly and hearing my heart beat like a hammer in my chest as a screen similar to the one I saw in that room where I signed away my rights rises in front of me, about an inch from my nose as it balloons over my head. My breath fogs the strange glass as it comes more quickly, sure I’m about to asphyxiate.
Then she pushes the metal press against the back of my right hand, pressing it down hard, and the electric jolt that gets sent up my arm makes me shout in surprise and try in vain to pull my hand away. It burns as soon as the ink makes contact, as if I’ve been wired to a car battery, and I feel tears burn the corners of my eyes as I shut them tightly and grit my teeth.
For all I know, it could very well be battery acid; although I get the distinct impression that this has another use.
“Subject 10705822,” the woman says idly, and I hear her write something down again. “Air quality test results coming in; activating brain activity scan and inserting chip.”
There’s a small beep to my right, and a second later a jolt of heat and pain blossoms from the crown of my head as something a little warmer than I’d like it to be sets itself there. A moment later I feel a pinprick on my right bicep as something is dug into my skin, making me hiss, and the taste of metal becomes almost thick on my tongue. I grit my teeth and close my eyes tightly, trying to ignore everything happening around me.
I try to think back to a memory – any – that can whisk me away, but nothing comes up. Now, at the worst time, my mind refuses to work.
Like everything else, it too won’t let me escape my fate.
“Taking a blood sample.” At this point she sounds a bit faraway, but the way the needle digs into my skin makes me wince anyways before she takes her precious blood sample.
Then, mercifully, the fish bowl over my head comes off after the clasp around my neck is loosened, and I breathe in a grateful breath and sink back against the chair.
“That’ll be it for now; take him to his room and leave him until the results are in and we can begin testing,” she says dismissively, already turning away with her phials with the intention of probably giving them over to someone else. The clasps around my wrists and ankles come off, and when I get pulled to my feet I’m too tired to do anything but stumble after the way I’m being pushed around.
We go down a different elevator and I get escorted down a hallway I don’t take in too well, too busy pressing my left hand to the black mark on the back of my right and keeping my head down. There are people here, a lot of them from the sounds of it, going to and from whatever they’re supposed to be doing. They’re loud until they notice the guard, and I pass by eerily quiet groups of people all about my age at the most, some far younger, all staring openly at me as I walk by. I keep my head down, hugging my arms to my chest and following the guard obediently.
I don’t want to be here.
A few turns later, the guard brings me to what are clearly the living spaces: doors lead to the rooms, apparently two per each, and we go down a ways before he pushes open the door labelled with the number 58 on the steel surface. I follow the man in, and we apparently startle another kid lying on the top bunk, tossing a wad of paper in the air and catching it. He misses his throw and it hits him square on the forehead before falling to the ground, and he leans over the edge of his bunk to stare openly at us.
“You will be staying here, so get used to it,” the guard says, and turns on his heel to leave without a word. The door closes behind him, and I watch the steel surface a moment before my knees give out on me and I fall to them, my arms holding my chest tightly.
It’s as if I have to do it; if I don’t, I’m going to fall to pieces.
I keep staring blankly at the door, even when the kid jumps to the ground and picks up his crumpled piece of paper, still watching me carefully. Only when he walks over and sits in front of me, crossing his legs, do I look at him with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.
I was half-expecting someone like the two who cornered me in the alley to be my roommate, but the kid’s maybe twelve and looks a lot less intimidating than the picture I’d been conjuring up in my mind. He has shaggy black hair and dark brown eyes, as well as skin that’s seen a lot of sun (he has a bit of a sunburn on his nose that looks painful). The kid’s wearing a short-sleeved black shirt with the words bite me written in white over his chest, and black jeans have been paired with it; he’s barefoot, but I can see a pair of sneakers by the door.
“Don’t worry about it; they don’t get much friendlier than that, I’m afraid,” he says casually, his voice clearly one that has yet to reach puberty but is decidedly close to getting there. It’s a quirky sound that breaks every little while. “You’re lucky you got assigned to me, though; some guys are pretty rough with their roommates.”
I blink at him, confused, and he grins toothily at me and places his hands on his ankles. He has a similar mark as I do on his right hand, a bar code with an eight-digit number underneath.
“The name’s Day – well, that’s what everyone calls me here, anyways. I forget what my real name was,” he tells me, and I take a moment to fully wrap my mind around what he’s telling me.
“Casper,” I offer quietly, looking to the bar code on my right hand and rubbing it as if I can make it go away like that. “That’s… my real name.”
“Oh, cool!” His reply makes me hesitate, unsure; I’ve never quite heard people say that my name was cool, in any way at all. “So can I call you Cas?”
I blink at him, frowning at the strange question; he waits patiently as I get my mental processes up and running properly. After taking a deep breath, I shrug a shoulder.
“Sure, I guess,” I tell him, and wince as a stab of pain begins at the crown of my head again. I bring my hands up to it, rubbing the spot gently.
The kid makes a sympathetic face, closing an eye and pointing at what I’m doing with an understanding nod.
“The pain stays a while, maybe a day or two,” he explains, and I glance at the curious kid. “But it’s not so bad here, when you get used to it and look past what happens when they pull you out of bed at three in the morning. Hey, the last time I had to share a room was maybe a month ago, when Johnathan was around; I’m sure you’ll last longer than he did, though!”
Blinking up at him, I look at him curiously.
“How long was that?”
“Oh, about three weeks. I think there was something in his blood that made him react poorly to a drug they’d administered, and they wanted to find out what happened if you pushed it too far. Then, poof.” He motions with his hands a quasi-explosion, making the appropriate sound effect, and shrugs helplessly. “You kind of get used to it around here: seeing people disappear happens often so we all tend to avoid making friendships or anything like that. They’re more like… alliances.”
I feel like telling him that I’d like very much to be in Johnathan’s shoes right now, preferring that to the idea of surviving more than a week here. I don’t know how I’ll handle the thought of knowing that I’ll be waking up each morning and possibly be put under the knife.
“Some people also kind of do the job themselves,” he continues, looking towards the door idly. “They make a noose with their sheets or find some other way to kill themselves, unable to take it. Someone once triggered the alarm in the shower room, and got shot down by the turret; no one else was there, at least, but you get my point.”
Day pushes himself to his feet, gesturing to the bunk bed with a grin.
“The top one’s mine, so go ahead and make yourself at home however you like. There’s a small bathroom there behind the door, and they’ve let me keep a few books from the rec room so you’re free to read them if you like. Or sleep. I don’t care.” Pressing his finger to his lips a moment, he seems to think about something a moment before snapping his fingers and looking back at me with a grin. “Right! It’s break time right now – I’ll tell you the schedule later – and there’s maybe an hour or two left before dinner. After dinner we have to shower, and then we have another small break before lights out. You’ll probably be safe the first few days, but I’ll tell you more about how things work around here later, yeah? You look half-dead on your feet, Cas.”
Somehow I pull myself to my feet, using the wall for support, and my fingers brush over marks gouged into the metal sheet. They’re tally marks, so many of them I can’t count.
“Oh, and if you’re the kind of guy who cares enough about hygiene to change into something else before sleeping, the dresser the books are stacked on have our clothes – the right side’s mine, and they filled the left this morning. The bottom one’s for sleepwear, middle for casual, and top for work.”
I nod numbly, and Day pulls himself back onto his bunk with his piece of paper as I crouch by the dresser and pull the bottom one open curiously. There are thin cotton pyjamas there, but they look decidedly comfortable given the slightly humid air; in each drawer, I remark, are underwear and socks as well, for which I’m rather grateful for.
We’re the nameless scum of society, but at least they treat us like humans. Sort of.I use the bathroom to change and gather my thoughts, taking a moment in privacy to freak out by myself, and when I’m done I simply place my folded clothes in the second drawer when Day tells me to do that from his bunk, throwing his wad of paper again. Then I collapse on my bunk, pulling the sheet over my head, and curl up into a ball and will the sequence of events that have brought me here to have been just a horrible dream.