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By Michael Cassata All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Scifi

Chapter 1

Washington D.C.

Last Day of Junior Year

In a Few Hundred Years

I wanted to be free from identity … well, not in the way you might think. I wanted to be free from the identity of my past lives, not have to live up to the expectations a former life’s success would bring. It was my life and I wanted to live it the way I chose. I wanted to carry forward on my own path based on my own decisions, not one that some old guy in a suit says is best for me, especially in light of today’s big event.

I arrived at school late, but wasn’t the only one with premature senioritis and joined a gaggle of students wading through the auditorium door, much to the principal’s dismay. Unable to spot any of my friends, I settled in with the rest of the class as Mr. Clayton returned his attention to the government worker standing stiff as a board in his dull grey suit.

“As you’re all aware,” the government guy explained, “just as fingerprints can track and identify a person in this life, palm prints serve as our identifying feature throughout our many lives. And not to worry, after you’re printed, all of your data will be securely stored in the Past Lives Identity Database deep in a bunker that not even the President can access.”

Was that a joke, I wondered, or an honest attempt to put us at ease. Regardless, no one was laughing and I noticed my palms had already started to sweat.

“And I assure you,” he continued, apparently reading my mind, “the rumors are not true that a sweaty palm once caused a misread leading to a murder conviction for a cold case some 150 years old.”

More than a few people laughed this time, but could we really believe this anonymous mystery man? After all, he did work for the government and I heard that a misread is an immediate red flag instantaneously zapped to an underground lab where the FBI or CIA or some other spook agency is alerted to make room for one more dissident.

Having supposedly erased all doubts, the government guy nodded to his underling, but before he could transition to the next step, someone in the crowd – I don’t know who – spoke up and asked what was on all of our minds.

“What if our palm prints change after today? I mean, what if we’re not fully developed?”

A murmur complemented the group’s anxious nods. I found reassurance in the guy next to me, whose head bobbed much more than mine. No one wanted to have waited all this time to finally get printed only to discover when we got old and were ready to transfer our gazillions that there was a glitch in the system. Better yet, I didn’t want to come back in my next life and be informed that my prints didn’t match anything in the database and my fortune was somewhere in limbo. Or even worse, that someone else was spending my cash. Then again, I didn’t want to know who I was, so maybe it didn’t really matter.

“I assure you that even though you might still grow another six inches,” the man in the dull suit said, stepping forward with an equally dull smile, “your palm prints reached full maturity by the time you turned sixteen.”

“Are you sure,” someone shouted, “because I heard-”

“Whatever you heard was completely false. This is a tried and true process that’s been occurring for over 300 years.”

That seemed to satisfy the remaining skeptics and he swiftly moved on to the real action – taking our palm prints. This was the first step in the process, which would conclude next year with the delivery of our Past Lives Letter.

The government guy had set up some twenty or so booths and we all scurried to form our lines. Each booth was cordoned off for privacy and reminded me of a makeshift hospital from an old war movie or one of those biological end-of-days flicks where the zombies take over. The fact that they thought we needed privacy amused me. After all, they were taking our prints, which led to that database he referred to that contained pretty much all of our private information. The only things kept private in this life were the things you told no one about ... and we all had our dirty little secrets, right?

Daydreaming about who I could’ve been – a pirate, a CEO, an astronaut or a halfpipe snowboarding champion – I felt a sudden poke in my ribs and knew it had to be Allison.

“I thought when you didn’t show up with the rest of us, you were serious about not wanting to find out who you were,” she said.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” I grinned coyly.

“Only in this life, sugar,” she replied.

“Sugar? Since when am I sugar?”

“I don’t know … it’s the best I could come up with on the fly.”

“That’s sweet, but you’re in the wrong line,” I joked. “The M’s are over there.”

“Gee, thanks. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Watch out, though, I heard that machine is on the fritz and everyone coming out was a nun in all their previous lives.”

“Very funny, Trenton, but we don’t find out until next year.”

“Then you’ve got three months to live it up before taking your vows.”

“You wish,” she said with a wink. “Come find me when you’re done, okay?”

I nodded and shuffled closer to the entrance. When my turn came, I stepped into the booth where a gorgeous scientist with long red hair and the biggest lips I’d ever seen took my fingerprints. She confirmed my identity, or at least I think that’s what she did because I was too mesmerized to focus on anything else. I was then instructed to stick my hands into a machine that looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie. It was boxy, clunky and painted the same dull color as the government guy’s suit. The lady with the red hair and matching lips winked encouragingly and I couldn’t resist.

Once my hands were completely inside, a sudden compression wrapped them like a warm glove. I glanced at the lady, who smiled, checked her monitor and thanked me.

“That’s it?” I asked, unsure it had worked.

“That’s it. Pretty simple process once the machine gets ahold of your hands.”

“Yeah, but are you sure? I mean, this is pretty important.”

“Absolutely,” she replied with a warm smile. “In fact, I asked the same question when I had it done and everything turned out just fine.”

“Really?” I was still on the fence. That seemed too easy and even though I didn’t want to know who I was, I still didn’t want a screwed up set of prints in the system. After all, what about that guy who was accused of murder two lifetimes later?

“Thank you,” she said a bit impatiently. “We have a lot of people to get through now.”

I was about to ask another question when an angry voice boomed from across the auditorium. The voice sounded startlingly familiar and I stepped out of the makeshift room to get a better look.

“I told you I didn’t want this!” the voice roared. “And I’m not doing it again!”

I knew for sure I’d recognized that angry tone and my suspicions were confirmed when Matt burst out of his scanning tent and rushed toward the auditorium doors.

“Stop right there, young man,” the principal stated in the stern voice we all loved to mock. Matt ignored Mr. Clayton’s order and burst through the doors. It took a moment for Mr. Clayton to digest the fact that one of his students had just completely ignored him and he seemed momentarily flustered by the unprecedented rebuke. The auditorium was suddenly silent as all eyes waited for his next move. However, just before Mr. Clayton started to chase the delinquent, the assistant principal, Mrs. Chigusa, whispered something in his ear that caused his chin to drop.

The entire room waited breathlessly, wondering what could have prevented the school’s top cop from chasing down Matt and making an example of him. What had happened during Matt’s scan that caused the outburst? Did it reveal something terrible or even sinister about him? But more than anything, I think most people just wanted to know if this was somehow going to screw up their scan and possibly mess up their identity in the database.

I needed to get to Matt before Mr. Clayton and made a b-line toward the door. Maybe I could talk some sense into him or even help explain things to Mr. Clayton. After all, they had to have known this was going to occur with Matt. People in charge of schools and the government were supposed to know these things and take precautionary measures to handle them in the best way possible. Someone had obviously dropped the ball, though, and poor Matt, the one guy without any palm prints, was the humiliated victim. I felt for him knowing his worst fear had just come true.

I tried to avoid eye contact with Mr. Clayton and Mrs. Chigusa as I picked up the pace. They knew Matt and I were best friends and I didn’t want to get cornered before talking to him.

“Mr. Locke,” Mr. Clayton’s authoritarian voice crackled.

The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention and I cringed. Should I pretend I didn’t hear him, I wondered. I mean, the rest of the auditorium was almost back to its earlier buzz and sometimes people just didn’t hear their name being called, especially in light of the day’s momentous event.

Who was I kidding, though, as each of us had an antenna specifically honed to Mr. Clayton’s frequency. None of it made much difference anyway because before I had to decide, a softer voice called my name.

“Trenton ... Trenton, dear,” Mrs. Chigusa whispered with an almost sad intonation. I don’t know why, but her tone stopped me in my tracks. I had always liked Mrs. Chigusa – everybody liked her. She was the good cop to Mr. Clayton’s bad cop. But she was more than that, she actually seemed interested in what we had to say and genuinely cared about what happened to us. In simple terms, she was a good person down to the core. Most people seemed to have shades of good and bad that manifested themselves in certain situations. We were all driven by selfish wants, but not Mrs. Chigusa – she was a special breed and it was my guess that she had a lifeline as long as anyone on the planet; that is, she had an old soul.

I stopped and turned wondering what kind of trap Mr. Clayton was planning and how Mrs. Chigusa was going to prevent him from springing it.

“I suppose you want to talk about Matt,” I said reluctantly, eyes averted.

They exchanged anxious glances before Mr. Clayton cleared his throat.

“No, Mr. Locke, I will deal with your friend momentarily,” he said and shifted unsteadily in Mrs. Chigusa’s direction. “Perhaps this would be better coming from you, Patricia.”

Mrs. Chigusa nodded sympathetically, which made me curious. What in the world did they want with me then?

“Does it have to do with my prints?” I asked. I mean, had the government goons locked in that sinister basement beneath the National Monument already released the all-points bulletin to bring me in for questioning? That sure was fast and a bolt of fear zipped through me.

“No, Trenton,” she began, a fragile smile searching for sunlight. “It’s nothing to do with your prints.”

“Am I in trouble then?”

“No ... it’s about your mother, dear.”

My mother, I thought. What on Earth could be so important that they would drag my mother into this whole brewing fiasco? I couldn’t connect the dots quick enough. I mean, Matt’s outburst, my reluctance in finding out who I was, and my mom ... the three were completely unrelated. However, my face must have betrayed my inability to herd those cats and that’s when Mrs. Chigusa calmly told me that the woman who had adopted and raised me had unexpectedly passed away.

And that’s how my junior year ended.

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