I sit on an examining table and eye the numerous medical utensils lying on the counter. They look unnatural, metal twisted and manipulated into needles and plier-like objects, their purposes unknown.
The Cleansing room is broad, with white tiled floors that gleam under the crisp lights overhead. A single window is cut at the top of the door, slender and small, almost too high for me to see through. I’m alone, for now. After Shore sentenced me to Cleansing, a man took me here, closed the door, and left me in silence. That was fifteen minutes ago.
My heart is hammering in my chest, so hard I’m afraid it’ll burst if I don’t calm myself down. It’s really happening. I’m being Cleansed.
The chamber is much different from what I imagined. There are no machines, no ominous medical chairs. Just counters displaying endless rows of sharp medical tools, and the raised table I’m sitting on.
I guess that Elle and Xander are experiencing the same things, although no one’s told me their fate. I imagine Xander standing in the middle of his Cleansing room, staring nervously at the security camera mounted on the wall. The thought makes me sad and it doesn’t help my nervousness. My fear is almost too heavy to keep in check, like a tight fist squeezing my heart, making it hard to breathe.
The door opens, and a youngish man walks in. He wears a white buttoned coat with the Redeemer symbol on the right sleeve, a cross encasing it. Med Squad.
He checks the papers piled neatly on the counter and nods. “Under the Law of the Upgrade, the Redeemers have found you Flawed,” he recites. “My name is Harrison. I’ll be doing your Cleansing.”
I swallow and nod my head, trying to act brave and placid. “Will it hurt?” I ask, my eyes darting to the deadly utensils.
He shakes his head, slipping on a pair of latex gloves. “I promise you, it will go by very quickly.” He takes out a long needle, and I feel a fresh wave of fear. It gleams as he readies it, filling the syringe with a clear liquid. He glances over at me and nods to my arm. “I’ll need you to roll your sleeve up. Right arm, please.”
I hesitate before obeying. My marking is as bright as ever.
Harrison walks over to me carefully, balancing a metal tray between his hands. He sets it down on the table and walks to my right, wiping my arm down with a substance that burns my nose when I breathe.
“Antibacterial precaution,” he explains, disposing the wipe and reaching for the syringe.
I pull away. “What does that do, exactly?” I ask, motioning to the needle.
“It Cleanses you.”
“How does it work?” A stream of doubt breaks through my fear. How will an injection mend my Flaws?
“The injection is a mere preparation for your Cleansing. Now, please, stay still.”
I do as I’m told, but a seed of doubt begins to grow in my mind, stretching deeper and deeper. Harrison adjusts the syringe, positions his thumb on the top, and-
It comes from outside, a shrill wail for mercy, combined with lost strings of words and sobs. Swears and expletives rumble beneath the screams, accompanied by the shuffle of footsteps.
Harrison swears – very out of character for a Redeemer – and puts down the syringe to go to the door.
“Stay here,” he orders before leaving.
And I do, for a moment. But as the screams continue, I get up and go to the door, pressing my ear against the surface. Voices speak under the cries, deep and masculine. The sound of footsteps moves past my door and for a moment I can make out words. Pleading. It sounds like another man, his voice shrill with hysteria. The noise moves down the hall before being cut off by the slam of a door.
I back away, glancing at the abandoned needle lying on the medical tray. The scent of its contents is thick, hanging in the air like vapor.
Harrison still hasn’t returned, and I can hear muffled voices a few rooms away. Curiosity pricks at the back of my mind, a hushed whisper of temptation. I lay my hand on the doorknob and turn. To my surprise, the door opens.
I glance back at the room in doubt.
But the screams. The raw terror laced between sobs, the suffering. I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t do something. If I could find that man, comfort him, explain to him that this is all fine, that the Redeemers are here to perfect and improve us. Even if they won’t let me see him, there’s no way I’m waiting here while another human being weeps in the other room. I won’t. I can’t.
The hall is empty and quiet when I slip from the room, except for the muffled cries coming from a few doors down. White lights gleam from the ceiling. My shoes squeak against the floor as I creep down the hall. I follow the sound of voices to a door just like my own, with a window stretching across the top. I crane my neck and peek through.
Inside, a Redeemer with a clean-shaven head stands in front of a medical table, talking to Harrison, who is holding down the struggling man. The man on the table has graying hair and a wrinkled face. An elder, I think, probably reaching Cleansing age.
The man surges forward, but the bald-headed Redeemer grabs his shoulders and pins him to the table before he can get away.
“What method was he assigned?” Harrison asks. His words are muffled through the glass, but understandable.
“Gassing,” the Redeemer responds, nodding to the mask hanging from the table. A tube protrudes from its back which connects to a small tank on the floor. “He’s not going to sit still long enough for that, though.”
“Alright, hold him down.” Harrison takes a step back. The other man takes his place, grabbing the Flawed’s arms and forcing him into a sitting position. I feel a twinge of anger at how they’re manhandling him. He’s older – frail – and they’re Redeemers. Shouldn’t they be gentler?
I reach for the doorknob to put an end to it when Harrison pulls out a slender black object from his coat. Its barrel gleams under the lights as he raises it and aims.
The Flawed man looks to the window seconds before it happens. His eyes lock on mine as his lips form one last plea for help.
His life ends with a muffled shot.