It’s almost midnight. I know because the ship is silent, as if all the life that it exerts during the day, despite its habitants acting like automated beings throughout, has been sapped inside a black hole. I’ve managed to deceive the invigilators into believing that I’m, in fact, asleep, when the reality is that my night tube is slightly open, its glass imperceptibly lifted from the bottom to deter it from closing and release morphine gas that will inevitably sing me to sleep. I hear footsteps approaching my area, their tapping warning me that the last checking round is about to be accomplished, although not before they ensure everyone is in their cabins, resting. Feeling the night guard stop at each cylinder, I make myself stiffer, hoping he will not notice the slight gap of air that impedes my sleep. He does not and I finally let out a slight sigh of relief.
His steps get further away as my opportunity to explore becomes a nearer reality. Adrenaline fills my body tonight, in the same way fear does during the day. I step out of my sleep cabin, barefoot, feeling the cold white tiles against my sole. One question remains, ‘’Where will Max meet me?’’ The invigilators were not particularly merciful when taking him away from the laboratory and I suspect he has been put into what I jokingly call ‘’time out’,’ just as parents did with their children before ‘The End.’ I can even hear my mother’s stern voice commanding me to stare at the wall for a few minutes when I did something to displease her. At the time, I wanted to leave, cry and pout as a bitter child would. Now I wish I had her look at me with that frown on her face whenever I did something wrong, or simply have her expressive eyes stare at me for a moment. She had this special quality of "No words needed." That’s how I would describe my mother. A simple gaze could say a thousand words and it was that expressiveness my father said made him fall in love with her.
As I become lost in past memories, I become less unaware of my surroundings and when I finally come back to the present, I realize I’m somewhere unknown. I look around and all I see is a white corridor vaguely illuminated by emergency lighting, which is red throughout the ship. I hear a faint breath beside me and as I turn, I visualize Max, grinning and standing to my left. Startled, I take a step back.
"You scared me!"
"With that face, I don’t know how you’re not used to it."
I can’t help but laugh.
"Where did they take you?"
I smile slightly, thinking that we are quite similar. I wonder what he thinks about our government. I don’t dare to ask, as I have the slight feeling that we’re being watched by thousands of hidden cameras. Max begins to walk, following the red lights which guide us to an unknown location.
"So, what’s the plan?" I ask, hoping that he does have one and I haven’t decided to jump into a dangerous game.
"Let’s see where these lights take us, shall we?" I knew it. I shouldn’t have accepted the offer. If we’re caught, harsh punishment will follow. I’ve never experienced anything worse than ‘time out’, but I’m not particularly eager to find out other methods of castigation.
"So… you haven’t planned it?" I try to sound as astonished and aware as possible, although my body is beginning to dislike sleep deprivation.
"Why would I? Isn’t it more fun like this? Getting lost in this massive spaceship? I do it all the time."
"All the time?" I’m completely disconcerted. I thought it was difficult enough to break the rules even once. It’s hard for me to imagine how he managed to infringe the norm on a frequent basis.
"Yeah. Been doing this since I discovered sleep isn’t for me, especially when invigilators are tired. Come, I wanna show you something."
I don’t want to lose time, so I do as he says and follow him down the corridor, with our white shirts reflecting the bright red light. We reach two doors at the end of it, but my new friend diverts my attention to the one situated on the side. He opens it without any caution, probably used to a solid amount of freedom once darkness surrounds the aircraft. He enters first, and I do the same right after, with some hesitation. What I see is truly spectacular. A massive window sits in front of us, with the stars shining and some even exploding in the distance.
"Wow." I can only say a word, but it’s enough to describe what I’m experiencing.
"I come here every night," he says and adding later, "It’s where I truly feel at home. I know that some of these stars may have probably been seen on Earth at some point, or, at least, people on Earth can also see stars so it makes me feel closer to them. It’s like I’m not trapped in here and being told what to do every second of the day, as if I’m incapable of thinking for myself. I don’t even know who I am..." He pauses and turns to me. I nod instantly, knowing how he feels. Although I have more curiosity than half the people on this ship, I do know that my personality is not valued, nor are my beliefs, ideas, or thoughts. They have all been suppressed by our government, just as our sense of community. I begin wondering what it would be like to live at home. Perhaps staying there would not have been a bad idea. In fact, I may have been able to explore new horizons, to follow the path my mind seeks to walk on. I could have become something I truly wanted.
‘’I get it. I want to be there too… sometimes.’’
"My family is still there," he says, looking through the window as if he could truly envision them right now, looking up to the sky, gazing at the same star. The image makes me smile, and I recreate an individual on Earth, just to feel the same way. I picture a little girl, with her brown hair falling on her back; her small brown eyes watching the shining stars and pointing toward one of them, showing it to her dad, who is kneeling by her side, also looking up. "Look daddy, it’s bigger than the rest."
To which he replies: "Yes, yes it is. Say hi." The infant waves at it, and, in doing so, it looks like she’s bidding goodbye to our ship, wishing us a bon voyage. Of course, the petite girl is not an imaginary child. It’s a memory, of long summer nights when my dad was still alive and we would both go outside and glare at the sky, illuminated by little stars, which I would point to him and he would smile, and laugh, and tell mythical tales he would make up on the scene.
"I wouldn’t. It’s devastated. But I want to be somewhere where I feel accepted, where I can be myself without questioning if that’s legal or not. Right, let’s continue. The night is not that long, you know?: he says, disrupting my pleasant memories.
I want to ask him more questions, demand information on Earth, just to complement my remembrances and make a more complete picture of what the planet was like. Instead, I get up, look at the view one more time and head outside, where the red lights remind me of how artificial this life truly is.
"I’ve never tried this door, although it looks kinda hard to open."
"There’s a code." I instantly turn around, seeing no point in trying, but looking back, I see Max attempting to type something on the little square. "What are you doing? If you type it wrong twice, it will go off."
"Don’t worry. All of them are the same." He moves his fingers around the panel until I hear a subtle beep and the lock opens automatically, dropping to the floor, at the same time as the door allows us to enter into the room contained behind its walls. As soon as we enter, the lights reveal a massive space, full of empty cylinders, like the ones we sleep in but with a transparent liquid in them. I walk towards one of them and see there is a small string in each one, floating on the surface, waiting to be used.
"What are these?" My friend simply shrugs and goes on to explore another part of the room. I see him stop at a table decorated by a considerable pile of documents, some inside yellow files, while others lay unattended on the side of the table, disorganized. He picks up one of them and reads it. I see him staring at some drawings and I approach his location just to see what has caught his attention so strongly. They’re just some detailed depictions of a fetus and an adult’s anatomy, compared side by side, with markings and notes in a tiny handwriting. Yet, something other than the impressive artistic skills seems to unsettle him. I look closer and see exactly what it is. It’s not a mere illustration for some scientific purpose, but rather the modeling of an artificially engineered human. It is not just any human being, but the perfect human being: docile, easy to manipulate, obedient, and strong. Almost like a soldier, but with no ethical regards. A mere instrument of the government to have more power and control over its subjugates.
‘’It says, subject 1002567," Max tells me, his blue eyes maintained on the open file.
Startled and panicked, I frantically search through the documents. Fortunately, they are in order.
"What are you looking for?"
"Myself." To which he aids me in my search and looks for his file as well.
I suddenly stop and grab one of them, hidden underneath a consistent pile of archives. On it, in imprinted writing says 56910. My hands begin to shake, while the rest of my limbs weaken. I open it slowly, and there I see a picture of myself and an illustration underneath. I read the small annotations: stronger torso, longer legs, athletic conditioning for running, resistant to high temperatures, etc. A long list of qualities that make me useful for physical impediments in hot environments. On the side, I read something unnerving: deployment in two weeks.
"Deployment?" I ask, unable to comprehend. Max is occupied, however, looking at what appears to be his profile. Shorter arms, ideal environment: cold, strong shoulders… his qualities are different to mine, yet we’re both curious as to what it means. He is also to be gone at the same time as me.
"I think everyone on this table is gonna be deployed or whatever in two weeks." He throws his file on the table, keeping the picture.
"I don’t understand. What is all of this?"
With a small smirk on his face, unafraid of what the future holds, he replies:
"We’ll find out in two weeks."