Chapter 2

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Do not rely on your own assumptions, but trust in the founders and those who walk in the light of their vision. It is only by surrendering completely to the will of the creators that we will be free to rebuild society – the right way, this time.

 

Book of Eridu

II

 

The format of the harvest ceremony was the same as always. In my mind, I see the screen descending from the ceiling of the auditorium and flickering into life. I remember the images of the past; pictures of war, and famine, and disease; all things that no longer exist. At least, not down here in Eridu. I had seen it all before, numerous times, and so I easily distanced myself from the grim history of humankind depicted before me.

‘I spent most of it thinking about Luc.’

‘Mmm, in what way?’

Something cool and wet is pressed against the skin on the back of my head, and an acrid smell fills my nostrils. I close my eyes and I can see the stage in front of me, flanked by dark blue curtains.

‘Just wondering what he was thinking of. What he would be wearing.’ I knew with almost complete certainty that my brother would emerge from behind the curtains dressed in the red of one of the premium positions. An overseer or an architect, that’s what those at the top of the leaderboard were always harvested for.

When Sia slits the skin, I can feel only pressure. Thanks to the medicine, there is no sting of pain – just the sensation of my skin silently splitting apart, and something wet being mopped from the back of my head.

‘So were you surprised when Luc wasn’t harvested for a premium occupation?’

I fall back into my body, remembering the way my monitor had pulsed with a bright blue light.

‘A little.’

‘Strong emotions are dangerous, Eve.’

‘I know.’ Of course, a little surprise wasn’t the problem. A little surprise might cause your guardian to frown at you, but that was all. Unfortunately, this morning, for the first time in my life, I had felt more than just a little surprise.

When those harvested for the lesser positions had walked out onto the stage, my gaze had shifted from one face to the next, searching for my brother’s strong jaw and furrowed brow. And then I had looked again, thinking that perhaps my eyes had jumped too quickly from one blue-clad figure to another. That maybe he was standing behind another student and I had simply missed him.

At first, I had felt only mild confusion.

But when Luc’s name had appeared on the list of the culled, the confusion had turned into a different emotion; something deep and raw. The walls of the auditorium were closing in on me and I was falling down, down into the abyss. I had tried breathing deeply – in for six, hold for six, out for six, as I had been taught at the institute – but the oxygen pumps mustn’t have been working at full capacity because I still felt like I needed more air. I tried to step outside my body, but for once I felt anchored to this shell of flesh and nerve endings. I had watched, helpless, as my monitor transitioned from blue, to amber, to crimson in less time than it takes to say ‘infraction.’

It’s fascinating, really, how emotions work; at least, it is once you are on the other side. From my classes, I knew about the increase in heart rate and blood pressure and the influx of hormones. But I never realised that experiencing a strong emotion could feel so physically painful as well. The professors didn’t tell me about that part of it.

‘I want you to think about your brother.’

I’m going to throw up. ‘I don’t think I want to do this.’ I try to move, but I am firmly adhered to the chair. My heart thumps beneath my ribcage, and although I don’t look at the monitor on my wrist I am certain of how it must appear.

‘Calm down, Eve. This is for the best. You don’t want to end up like your brother, do you?’

I stop struggling. She’s right.

‘Think about Luc.’

I bring him to the forefront of my mind. His dark hair and brown eyes, always looking so serious until he looked at me. The machine beside me whirrs to life and Sia inserts her flexi-screen into a holder in the base. It pulses with an array of different colours.

‘Good, keep thinking of him, Eve. I want your strongest memory of him.’

My strongest memory… What would that be? Perhaps when we were young, walking along the tunnels that criss-cross Eridu and sharing our secrets. Or Luc tucking me into my pod at night, telling me stories of imaginary worlds with clouds, and wind, and rain.

‘That’s good, Eve. Keep him right there with you.’

I hear a small device turn on, making a high-pitched whine, and Sia’s hand rests on my shoulder to steady herself, or perhaps it is meant to comfort me. I close my eyes. I feel numb. This is it, and I know it’s for the best. No more Luc. No more memories means no more threat of feelings. To be content is to be free.

The instrument touches the back of my head and the whine increases in pitch. My eyes prickle, and a single disobedient tear runs down my cheek. Of course, I can’t wipe it away, and I taste the saltiness as it reaches the corner of my mouth and slips silently between my lips. When was the last time I cried? In my first few cycles at the institute, perhaps, when I was still unranked. Or maybe earlier, at the preschool, before I even received a monitor. There is no chance of it being more recent than that.

The vibration from the saw ricochets through my head and around my body, and I am thankful for the straps holding me still so the medic can do her job. This shell is not me, of course; not really. I know all about the distinction between body and essence, and I am well aware that the procedure is necessary if I wish to succeed in the next harvest. I try to relax and let the effects of the drink distort the whine and buzz of the small machine.

I sense, rather than hear, somebody else enter the room, and Sia pulls the saw away from my head. I open my eyes and see a blur of red. Strange. Red is not a common colour to see, except at the big events, and it makes no sense for an architect or an overseer to be here for such a routine procedure.

The sound of the saw cuts off, and then there is silence. I feel pressure on the back of my head, and then Sia walks around to where I can see her again. She peers into my face and I try to focus, but her features all blur together.

‘I’m sorry, Eve,’ she says, and the world stops spinning. I see her lips tighten. ‘Equipment failure.’

At first, I think Sia is just going to get another tool – one that’s working – but a moment later she loosens the straps around my head and arms. I want to tell her that she can’t stop now; that after redlining once I’m worried that I’m going to do it again, tomorrow – when it really counts. My attempts to speak are thwarted by the inebriating effects of the medicine, and my mouth won’t form the words. Perhaps she is just moving me to another room so that the surgery can continue. Perhaps there is a satisfactory explanation for why she is pulling the pads off my temples, leaving the thin skin burning in the aftermath.

But if there is a reason, she doesn’t tell me, and the edges of my vision grow dark. I try to talk again, but there is no use fighting the medicine, so I give up, surrendering completely as Sia helps me into a wheelchair. I settle into the seat and fall immediately into a murky oblivion.

 

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