Fantasticoe -- 2012
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Your Turn

Natasha Brandel

It’s your turn. You watch as he walks down the row of cells, a soft sigh at all of the empty ones—glass and steel mixed with antiseptic white, with no life inside to animate this barren bunker. You look down as he finally comes to the first occupied cell. Yours. You thought you had burned away all traces of your fear long ago, but your stomach rises and begins to practice knotwork as he stops in front of your glass-fronted room.

He studies you and you study him right back. He is older than you remember, older and wearier than the day he put you in this room. His hair has all faded to gray, messy as it never had been before. It makes a startling contrast to his spotless lab coat and the suit underneath. As you study his form, you notice a roughly-hewn cane at his side. That is new; a sign of age that is unable to be ignored. But you suppose that you are older as well, though you wouldn’t know it. There are no mirrors in your room. Your hands have grown larger, at least, judging by the stain on the wall.

You take a step back, unwilling to leave this place that is both prison and sanctuary, the place that made you special. Uncontaminated. But it is time to go. The door slides open, and you feel a breeze for the first time in… you don’t even remember how long. Even if it is an underground breeze, it feels cool and fresh against your skin, unlike the wind that you barely remember, filled with sand and acid and burning. You close your eyes to marvel at it, luxuriate in it, attempting to ignore the man outside of your cell. But that proves impractical when he grabs your arm and you stumble into his embrace. He is no less strong than he was.

He steadies you gently with those massive and callused hands of his, rough against your skin, and you look up into his eyes. It only lasts a moment, but you can see fear, tenderness, and regret flash through his gaze before he turns you around, and both of you face the entryway. A thin hope shoots through your core like a beam of light. Maybe you’ll get to see the sun once more before… whatever he does. You don’t know, in all truth. No one ever came back. You didn’t get to hear Petja’s laugh again or see Matt’s smile.  They left. Just as you are leaving now. You hope they managed to change.

You feel a brief pang for those you leave behind, and turn to look, but he yanks on your arm and you are away before final goodbyes may be made.

The room he brings you into is huge. The ceiling seems to touch the sky, cold gray walls slicing through the air as if to cut into the blue. But you can see the blue. Through high windows near the peak of the arch, the sky peeks in. And you gawp unashamedly. The last time you had seen the sky it had been brown and red, the colors of death and contamination. It had been a blessing that you had come here, even if you had to let him change you. You look over at him, a darting, pleading glance, then look back to the sky, reveling in the feeling of sun on your face.

He chuckles at that, letting you both pause a moment to allow you your time, but you notice something wet and cold in his chuckle, and heavy breathing behind it. He is no younger and no wiser than he had been before, when this all began, you suddenly realize, and this is a fact. No happier either. What has he got to show for all of those years you and the others spent confined? What happened to the children you used to know, the ‘special’ ones who had been saved from the apocalypse outside?  You don’t know. But there is an aching sense that he doesn’t either. And that, more than the lives that have been spent, hurts.

He begins to walk away from you, and you hurry behind, more because of your teaching than any sense of obligation. Together you leave the sky. Together you hurry back into darkness, into the places where man has won over nature and proudly displays his conquest. Together, you hurry toward a new future. There are machines here that you know you cannot understand, but you take it all in anyway. It is a sensory feast compared to your room. The wires and displays would please any motion-picture fan—if people still remembered what those were, anyway. You had been lucky. The changed were given an education, just in case it worked.

You know when you come to the end. This room is a large circle, filled with pictures, machines, and tubes. Some of these tubes are filled with a dark fluid, and you are not sure what is inside, though the pictures of what you know were former subjects give you some clues. Most of them were stamped with a bright red FAILURE. You determine that will not be you. You will be one of the precious few MOVED TO PHASE TWO. You will not join the shrine of the failed, with a candle lit to you in the corner.

 In the center is a large machine, with a space inside it for just one person. There is a long thin tube of glass that you know you are meant to inhabit. You study it, wondering. But then you shake your head. There is no use in wondering. You will go, no matter what you may think. So you step up to the railing.

He looks shocked at this, and even delighted, but all emotion fades quickly. It always has. You assess the structure, find the places where you are supposed to be strapped in, and begin to do the work, but his arm catches you once more. You look back.

He is close to you now, smiling as gently as he is able. He cups your face between his palms and places a gentle kiss on your forehead. You can feel the tears on his cheeks as he holds you close. “Thank you,” he murmurs. “Thank you.” But there is no more time.  It is your time to change.

So he helps you buckle in and feeds a needle into the flesh of your arm. Your flesh burns like fire where the needle is taped in, but you cannot be afraid. He closes the door. You stare at the ceiling and tiny bit of sky as the tube starts filling with fluid. You cannot look down. Never look down, or all your emotions will come undone. But you can see his face. He looks crushed.

So you smile. Bravely.