“Scan complete. You appear to have a minor cold. To avoid further illness....” the robotic voice drowned out the background noise as I started my day. The door closed behind me, muffling the sound of the Disturbance Recogniser.
The old wooden planks creaked every couple of steps as I marched down the all too familiar hallway alongside everybody on my floor. I took my place in the elevator, my arms stiff against my sides, making sure there was enough room for others.
“Transporting,” the elevator recited, “Going to Level One.” As I waited for the elevator to tell me we had made it to Level One, I examined the surrounding people. When the elevator rung, my heart leaped out of my chest and I stumbled back a bit and which almost caused me to crash into one of my fellow flatmates. He stepped aside, and I steadied myself using the elevator wall.
As I regained my composure, my flatmates exited the elevator. The elevator almost closed on me, but I got lucky and left it right before its mighty jaws shut and claimed me as its dinner. Ellen, one of my flatmates, was still in the Residential Buildings Lobby by the time I left. I gave her a small nod as I passed her and she returned it with a smile.
The crisp October air rushed about with the wind and messed up my hair a little. Most days, I would try to fix it, but today I was worried about being killed. If I failed to catch up with my flatmates, they would set my execution date in stone. Everyone would consider me a Malfunction.
My heart was beating so loud that I could hear it as I darted across the sidewalk. The moment I spotted Shelby, my pace slowed down, and I took my place in line behind her. She acknowledged my presence immediately, and she turned around to look at me with an eyebrow raised. I shrugged in response and she turned back around, accepting my answer.
The line was taking me to The Eatery. Almost everybody eats breakfast, lunch and dinner here. If someone happens to have a kitchenette in their apartment, they may eat at home occasionally, but most people do not have a kitchenette in their apartment. A large percent of the apartments containing kitchenettes are being rebuilt. My apartment has a kitchenette, though it has not been used in years.
The line diminished as citizens were let inside of The Eatery. Soon enough, I was at the front of the line. The Warden was eyeing me suspiciously as he did every single day. I gave him a small smile, and he rolled his eyes before beckoning me towards a Radar. It scanned me like it did every day, and after a minute it beeped twice, letting the Warden know I was not a Malfunction.
Every time I go through The Radar, my hands shake in fear that it will only beep once, deeming me a Malfunction. Malfunctions are citizens who have corrupted, they want to change The State. Make it a happier place with freedom, disorder, happiness, fun, and most of all, magic. They want people to be themselves and rebel with them, causing chaos and destruction everywhere they go.
The last important Malfunction was Oscar. His death was the most brutal of them all. It was so brutal everyone shaped up. In the past thirty years, Oscar was the only big Malfunction to appear in The State.
The day they killed him was a warm October evening. The air was misty, and the sky was clear and bright. He fought them, screaming and crying as they put him in the guillotine. His eyes closed, tears dripping from his face as he accepted his fate. He would die this way. A loud snapping sound echoed throughout the arena and we all knew that Oscar was dead, as his head was lying on the ground, blood dripping out of it. Soon enough, a pool of his own blood surrounded his head. The only reason I know what happened in extreme detail is because we watch it every single year. There is a gathering in The Auditorium every single year so we can remember the consequences of rebellion.
“Edible substance delivered to plate; you may now begin consumption of the food,” I lifted the small plastic tray, gripping it hard and with both hands, my fingernails digging into the tray. I was holding my tray the proper way. My eyes scanned the room out of habit as I walked in the correct direction to make it to Sector 9 table 12. This was my assigned table.
As I was getting ready to take a bite of my breakfast a loud beeping sound echoed throughout the room and everyone’s Holo-Watches turned on with a bright blue flash. We saw a solemn man with close-cropped hair. He was wearing one of the best suits available to us. These suits are only worn on special occasions. Something big must have happened.
The man spoke, his voice monotone. “People of The State. Today is a tragic day. Our leader, Brendan Rifle, has left us...” Everyone stayed quiet for a moment. No one knew what to say. We have not lost a leader since the great tragedy 45 years ago. “Now you all are wondering what the cause of his death was. I am here to share the news that a Malfunction has murdered Brendan in his sleep. He will be executed tonight. The ceremony will be at The Auditorium. I expect everyone to arrive and in their proper seats by 6PM. If you are late, you know the consequences.”
When the solemn man stopped speaking I assumed The Broadcast was over. My stomach churned as I thought about attending an execution. I assumed I would never have to watch one, ever. Malfunctions, well, we all assumed they were extinct. We were wrong.
The man had not finished, so he added one more thing before The Broadcast ended. “Tomorrow, August 19th, Markus Rifle, Brendan’s son shall take the throne and lead us into a new era. I expect everyone to be at the Event Hall at 9 AM sharp. If you forget to show up, we will not forgive you.” The man stared at us for a few seconds before everyone’s Holo-Watches flickered off. A deadly silence filled the air; no one dared to make a sound.
I played with my food for a while, but my appetite returned and so did my ability to consume my breakfast. It was the standard breakfast in The State- bacon, pancakes and milk. I may use a small amount of syrup if I desire it. I usually use syrup, but today was a special day, so I went without it. Once every bite had been eaten, I got up from my seat and walked towards the Wash-Area. Once there, I left my tray on one of the many counters. Someone would collect it later and wash them for later use. The people who normally take care of miniscule tasks that most people dislike doing, like washing clothes and cleaning The Eatery, are the people in The Labor District.
Citizens who are a part of The Labor District have done horrifying things to end up there. They took mercy on these people, and instead of executing them, they let them live. Though they have more restrictions than people like me, and they work tirelessly doing miniscule tasks that make life easier for the rest of us.
I returned to my seat, my hands shaking slightly as I thought about the changes that were sure to come when Markus takes his rightful place as leader tomorrow. He might advocate for less freedom than we already have, and whatever he says goes. He is the president, and that means he has unlimited power to do whatever he wants.
The dismissal sound rang, and I briskly stood up and followed everyone towards the exit, making my way, slowly, towards the school. My whole life I have always been just another person in the crowd following protocol so I do not get killed. Because, in the world I live in, you get killed if you step out of line. Literally.
I followed the long line of people to The Education Units. There are three of them, one for young children who come from the Infancy Units, one for the children of the Adolescent Units, and one for Young Adults, which is my Unit.
I entered my Unit as the halls thinned, which informed me that I had to get to class soon. I slipped through the doors of my class a second before the bell rang and rushed towards my seat, which was all the way in the back of the classroom. My heart pounded in my chest for a moment, I might have been a second too late. Because of my tardiness, my life might end any second now.
Luckily for me, the professor did not recognise my tardiness, and he began to talk. His boring voice echoed across the walls and filled my ears with nonsensical noise. I tried my best to pay attention, but my mind could not keep from straying. He was not teaching anything super important; he was talking about Malfunctions.
Everyone knows who the most important Malfunctions are in The State. It is impossible not to know. From the moment we enter grade school, we get useless facts about Malfunctions drilled into our brains.
There was Oscar. After sticking up for what he believes in, he got beheaded in front of everyone... the most brutal death of them all. The one that shaped our community for the worse.
Then there was Abigail. She had just entered the working age and was excited about her first job. It was not as fun as she had hoped and tried adding some ‘spunk’ to it. She started quietly singing and danced a bit too. The State did not like her spunk, and they categorised her as a Malfunction. She was killed the next day, her last words being, “You guys will pay for what you have done. Killing the innocent is not right.”
The one person to differ from Abigail and Oscar was Cassiopeia, the woman I share a name with. She led a peaceful life, slowly turning into a Malfunction. Once her boss recognised strong Malfunction-like qualities in the way she acted, he called The Safeguard. Cassiopeia fled, two of her friends following her lead.
Cassiopeia led the only rebellion to exist in The State. She lost and security in The State got tougher. But she inspired many people, including me. When I was younger, I was determined to learn all about her.
I wish I had the courage to be like the woman I was named after. I am nothing like her. We share a name, but that is all we share.
The room was humid, and I was itching to leave. Unfortunately, I was forced to be here in this uncomfortable wooden chair, watching a man get his head chopped off. Being here was not my first choice on how to spend my evening, but if I failed to show up, I would end up like The Malfunction on stage. There is a tracking device in my Holo-Watch, and if I stray too far from where I am supposed to be, they will come for me. Once The Safeguard tracks me down, it will only be a matter of time until my execution date.
Most executions are private executions. When someone reaches a certain age they get paired with a Mortician who helps them decide when they die. They also help them pick out the way they die. Most people chose the least painful death, getting a poison known as ‘Arsenic’ injected into their system. But the people who are daredevils and feel as though they deserve a painful death usually opt for the guillotine or electric chair.
Dying was a topic that had never crossed my mind before. When I found out I was going to watch an execution I began to think about the death sentence and the way people die in our community. People do not get murdered by others, unless you are to be executed. Today was our first encounter with such a horrific action.
Just as I began to think how I will die, a man came on stage and opened the curtain. This allowed me to look at The Malfunction. He had long, curly blonde hair, and an open wound on his cheek. He was wearing simplistic clothing, clothes that we only use for nighttime. He was probably forced to change into them before his execution. Malfunctions should not look nice, especially when they are about to die.
The man who was going to perform the execution had a stoic face and ebony skin. He flashed us a smile, his teeth shiny and ivory white. He was wearing an informal suit, and his hair was shiny, fluffy, and dark. He had it slicked back using some gel- probably one of the more expensive gels that only those who have government positions may use.
“Attention everyone!” The man exclaimed, his voice full of excitement. “It is execution time!” The Auditorium went silent and everyone stared at the stage in anticipation. There was a loud snapping sound, and my eyes widened as I watched the man’s head fall to the stage, the blood dripping from his headless body leaking onto the ground. I felt as though I would vomit. When I was born I did not sign up to watch this horrifying sight. But here I am, in The Auditorium, watching a man who murdered someone get executed.
I woke up to a loud rapping sound on my door. It sounded urgent, so instead of trying to sleep through the sound, I sat up, my vision blurry. My head swam with confused thoughts about who might knock at my door past curfew, and I felt a sinking pit in my stomach. What if it was The Safeguard? Maybe the safeguard had come for me since I was late for class...
With these thoughts in my head, I dragged my feet stubbornly towards the door. My eyes drooped, and I wished I had not left my bed. My hand grasped the doorknob, and I twisted the handle and opened the door, only to find a girl about my age. Her face was pale and flushed. She looked scared -maybe even shocked. Her clothes and hair were all dishevelled. She looked me in the eyes and spoke the words: “Please, let me in,” her voice was a little hoarse.
I took her hand in mine and guided her into my compact unit. I scanned the room and decided that my couch was the perfect place to let her stay. Once I turned on the lights, my eyes burned for a second before they adjusted to the new lighting. I then looked at the girl. Her hair was a light colour, almost blonde, but not quite. She had cut in a messy and jagged manner, right above her shoulders. They prohibit this style in The State. It looked as though she had done it herself in a rush. Her face was smeared with dirt and blood, and she had an open wound on her cheek. If she left it like that any longer it would get infected.
“I promise I’ll be gone by the morning, I just need a place for the night. And if I get you in any trouble... I’m sorry...” she bit her lip and looked down.
“You can stay here longer, if you would like,” I told her.
Her face lit up, and I smiled as she replied with: “Thank you, but I must get going by the morning. If I don’t... well, it won’t be safe for anyone.”
“Why were you out there, anyway? It is past curfew,”
“I-I don’t have a home here anymore,” she gulped.
I did not want to pry, so I changed the subject, “You should clean up. You can borrow some of my clothes, if they fit,” I stood up. “The bathroom is that way,” I paused for a second while pointing towards the right hall. “I will leave a blanket on the couch for you... and a pillow.”
“I’m so glad I found you,” the girl whispered before engulfing me in a warm hug. She let go a few seconds later and walked off towards the bathroom to clean up. I watched her, wondering what could have happened that made her lose her home, and well, everything else. When I headed back to bed, I realised I never caught her name.
That morning I woke up extra early. The sun was beginning to rise, just like me. I dragged myself off my bed and stretched for a few seconds, the memories of the night before racing towards me.
When I walked out of my room, I smiled when I saw the girl fast asleep; the blanket wrapped around her like a cocoon.
As I made my way towards the kitchen, I realised That I should make something for the girl to eat so she would not leave on an empty stomach. I sifted through the cabinets and landed on a box of pancake mix.
As I made them, and the girl stirred. She did not understand where she was until her memory from the night before returned. Once she had a basic grasp on everything, she turned to me and gave me a small smile.
“I made us breakfast,” I began. “I hope you like pancakes, I would have asked but-”
The girl cut me off, “I love pancakes,” she made her way towards me with a smile on her face. “Thanks, again. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay you.”
“Having you here is payment enough,” I replied. “It is nice to have someone to talk to. Most people ignore me.”
“Really? People ignore you? But you’re so pretty...” her eyes widened in shock when she realised what she said, and she quickly added: “and nice.”
I blushed and took a pancake. The girl sat down across from me and I cut into my pancake, mumbling the words “not really...”
“You literally let me into your house late at night and made me breakfast! You’re the nicest person I’ll ever meet,” the girl grabbed a pancake and dug in, gulping her meal down within a minute. I figured that she might not have eaten in weeks. As I examined her, I noted how small and scrawny she was, the clothes she was wearing were baggy and hung off her body. Her face was gaunt and greyish, she had rings under her eyes either from lack of nutrition or sleep. Probably both.
I was genuinely concerned for this girl.
“Anyone could have done that,” I protested. The girl opened her mouth, about to say something, when my Holo-Watch flashed on.
“Citizens of The State,” the voice from yesterday greeted. “I am here today to bring you horrible news. We have postponed the ceremony for Markus taking the lead of our home until further notice because of something that has happened recently. Malfunctions have been popping up, escaping our control. We need you on the lookout for people who seem strange. Report them immediately,” with that the Holo-Watch turned off. I turned to the girl sitting across from me, and I looked towards her wrist only to see something missing.
Malfunctions are the only people lacking Holo-Watches. I inhaled sharply whilst chewing on my lip. The girl noticed how quiet I was and she looked down. Whether it was from shame or something else, I could not tell. We sat in silence until she spoke.
“I’m sorry. Really sorry-” She paused, “I should have told you earlier but-” she let out a deep breath, “I don’t think I did anything wrong.”