“Salvation in submission.”
These are the words that have formed the foundation of society, or at least what is left of it. At some point, they may have meant something more philosophical, something to guide the minds and souls of the masses. But beneath the stains of time, any altruism has been swept away and buried. We are no longer souls to be saved, but rather numbers in an unholy equation.
It had been over a century since the destruction. We did not even have to wait for global warming to sweep across the planet and wash away the environment. No, industrialism accelerated the decay. The Word had molded the world in its image.
Its origin is clouded in propaganda, mystique, and lies. At some point, The Word was an amalgam of various religions and philosophies. Everything from Buddhism to Communism, Gandhi to Crowley . Instead of being all inclusive, its image was a farce to draw in the desperate minds of the people who saw their atmosphere dissipate and their resources dwindle. They sold hope like snail oil. Once in power, they eliminated any and all opposition, but at a cost. A nuclear stalemate was no longer an option. Arsenals were emptied on nations. It was said to feel like a fire that engulfed anything the eye could see. When the smoke cleared, all that was left was The Word. “All movements contrary to The Word threaten the existence of all,” they told us. We were weak, and we believed them.
Once all instances of multi-partisanship had been eliminated, we were left with a behemoth of our own doing. Submitting to The Word was preached to bring unity and camaraderie to the disintegrating landscape. Instead, we became cogs in a machine with aspirations shaping a new world in their image. We could only guess how what was left of the world was overcoming the environmental shift. New cities were built. If it was not a building to corral human livestock, it was a factory to put them to work. All news and media was limited to that of The Word’s hand picked outlets. Services are televised on all channels five times daily, where reflection and purpose are meant to be pondered by the population while the deacon preaches the philosophies of The Word. These are not optional.
* * *
Everyday feels like an infinite loop. Any type of time-keeping has been replaced by a project identification code and a countdown to complete the current project before required reassignment to the next. The sky is a pestilent shade of coal grey, with the air ignited by the glow from the crematoriums. Graves were abandoned long ago so land could be repurposed for more “lucrative and efficient” endeavors.
Meal one today is the same as yesterday and the day before that. To call it food would be hyperbole. The liquescent substance was only a few degrees above being inedible. With nearly all types of natural food having been consumed or destroyed, our manufactured nutrients were designed with the sole purpose of keeping us healthy enough to continue working. It is laced with stimulants that limit our sleep to a few scant naps. I do not dream anymore. I question if I ever had.
My uniform today is red. I have never worn red. The color designated to each worker indicates their placement in a project. Blue, red, green, white, black, etc. The anticipation of which color I am in each project is as close to enjoyment as I get. The color is assigned after respiratory, skeletal, and muscular scans are taken of us by a small scanner placed in our living quarters. The evaluation of each determines your assignment. No uniform assignment indicates lower than optimal readings. Non-optimal readings indicate a waste of resources on that worker. This means termination of the worker is imminent. I know this, because this is what happened to my mother the last time I saw her.
In most instances, children are allowed to live with their mothers until they physically mature enough to be independent. It is hard to say when that is, since social contact with other families is extremely limited. For my mother, I was conceived the same as I assume most people are. Fertile women are assigned to birthing bubbles, where they are artificially inseminated by machines expelling semen from hand selected donors. Less disease, less mutations, and less waste of resources. My father could be anyone, or any combination of donors. I try not to think about it.
I knew my mother was sick before the scans did. The only thing protecting her from elimination was my dependence on her. Once I was determined to be old enough, it did not take long for her uniform not to come. The only thing I have left to remember her is a rusted, heart-shaped locket she gave me when I was young. Inscribed on the outside was a faded text that read “Love Lies Within.” She had told me that if I ever lost all hope, the locket contains the answer. But only when all is lost should I open it. She made me promise. I kept it, but I still lay in my quarters holding it and wondering if it provides a solution to the hell around me.
I finish meal one and put on my uniform. I have never been assigned a red uniform before. I knew it indicated some type of non-traditional labor, but I only knew what I had seen. I left my building and paced to the shipping lanes. Here “pole bearers” of The Word scanned the chip implanted in the uniforms and directed you to your designated ship.
While workers are the majority here, no one dares step out of line or cause a scene. The few times disturbances have occurred, the transgressor was never met with violence. They were detained, and would calmly be taken to the barracks attached to the yard. It was not uncommon to see them the next day, queuing in line with the rest of us. Discipline in the barracks constitutes a different kind of punishment. The Word needed warm bodies for physical labor. Physical labor did not necessarily need intelligence guiding it. These disciplined rebels would look like meat shells with no one behind the wheel, so to speak. They do not cause any more problems after that.
Once reaching the front of my line, I was scanned and directed to my airship. Normally my mind wanders as I wait for our arrival. But this time I scanned the entrants to the ship as they boarded. Red uniforms. All of them. Just like mine. When the last worker entered, a startling pattern became apparent. Most of the girls looked my age, and the others next to us were barely any older. They did however have a look, like they had been in a fight and lost a hundred times over. All the girls my age seem to have the same puzzlement on their face as I did. I cannot decide if this is reassuring or not.
As we unloaded, we were pointed in various directions down dimly lit halls. At the end were adjacent rooms, large enough to fit two of us at a time. A red haired girl and myself entered the room. She had a glow to her. Her porcelain skin and sapphire eyes felt untainted and pure. Her hair was the same shade as our uniforms. I felt serene while studying her. A glimpse of what intense longing could feel like. I imagined all the love that must have gone into preserving her from the world. It was like she emerged from a chrysalis that shielded her from pain. But in the end, she ended up here. Just like the rest of us.
The room was empty with the exception of two chairs that were back to back. We each sat down and subconsciously grasped the arms of the chair. My elbow lightly caressed hers before being locked into place. With no warning, the ceiling opened up around the sterile light that shined down on both of us. Two mechanical arms emerged, one for each of us. As I stared, the arm’s scanner tracked my body from my unkempt brow to the grit of my toes. Nothing was audible but the quiet buzz of the light above. In one swift motion, restraints pulled my knees apart and tilted my body back. The red haired girl, myself, and those in the other rooms next to us then realized. The silence became engulfed in screams of agony. “Strength in numbers,” The Word would preach. We are the purveyors. The mothers of lambs.
I relive the nightmare everyday. My uniform is assigned, and the red pierces my sight like knives. My march to the ships grew more and more dreadful. My imagination concocted fantasies of escape. Distracting the pole bearers and making a run. But I know that any attempt is futile. I load into my ship, with a changing gallery of faces everyday. I would sometimes see my red haired girl. At least I think it was her. A beautiful butterfly with its wings clipped off. Beauty perverted.
After the procedure, we were all taken back to the living quarters for meal two and however much sleep we could manage. Time became a blur as this ritual was repeated again and again. I only felt like I woke from my nightmare when I put on my uniform and ate my meal. What had been the same grool every meal was now mildly more appetizing and substantial. It felt like I was always bordering on starvation, and this relative feast seemed like a gift. A meal for two.
After I devoured this bounty, I made the dreaded walk to the airships. I boarded the vessel, but today was different. The seats were no longer filled with forlorn faces in red uniforms. On this day, unlike the rest, the protruding wombs of mothers-to-be were evident, some more than others. We had graduated from the rooms with white light and screams. We were now the fertile carriers of The Word’s most valued resource: children.
We were gingerly guided to a more inviting yet bare auditorium. I was examined more in depth than the basic daily readings. I was not sure what they all meant, to be honest. But then a fuzzy picture appeared on the screen in front of me, and I saw her. A bright outline of something small yet alive. My own little butterfly.
My mind was filled with a barrage of thoughts and questions. Was I helping to perpetuate the never ending cycle of slavery? Could I bring a child into such a place? How could I live with her knowing that? How could I live with myself?
I sat on my bed that evening with my head in my hands. “Existing is not living,” I would tell myself. My hand instinctively wandered to my locket. I was out of answers, and came to the realization that this is the moment my mother had meant. It was time.
As meal two appeared before me, I opened the locket. Inside was a small capsule. It looked no different than the vitamins we pregnant mothers were given each day. I examined the pill, and thought it looked innocent enough. I scooped a spoon full of gelatinous muck and placed the pill on top. I swallowed it in one heaping mouthful. That was the only bite I would take. I laid in bed and grasped my mother’s now empty locket in my hand.
I cannot describe the feeling I had as I closed my eyes. My fears seemed to evaporate like rain in the summer. The pressure that acted like a vice in my head dissipated. As my consciousness faded, I felt at peace, smothered in a cocoon of love.
And that night, I dreamed.