So I had an idea a little while ago to make a series of short stories under the theme "ends of the world". Having not really done any short stories since my early teens (in other words, having not done any good short stories), that idea has wandered around for awhile and not really gotten anywhere, but I have two decent stories so far. This one's called "What are You". The other one is called "Fascination", and I decided to also throw it in the current short story competition.
What Are You
Another morning, she thought as she awoke. One more day in the life of this organ-grower. Quickly she rose and turned to the bedside table, scrawled her signature on the digital pad by her bed, neatly filling in the first item on the daily checklist.
6:15 – Awake. (Completed)
She did not allow her eye to scan down the rest of the list. It was far too disheartening.
Better to focus on the positive, she thought. I managed to get up on time. Yesterday she had slept in for twelve minutes. That had made two offences of oversleeping in the past thirty days, for a total of eight in the last four calendar months. Her official optimum sleep time for maximum health was seven point five hours, and if she exceeded this once more before the new year they would perform an Emergency Examination of her body for diabetes or other damaging diseases. They might even decide to order a Total Requisition if she was judged incapable of properly caring for her body. Put her on ice, preserve her organs – their organs – for as long as they could.
Legion Order 16/A, Unit 189, Generation DCCXIV, Personal Morale-Boosting Identification Moniker ‘Caitlin’ was a Grower. Her profession, her reason to be, her debt to the Empire for the blessing of life and a body, was to keep her place of residence – her body – in perfect working order. Appendages of said body could then be harvested for the purpose of supplementing the body of another citizen of the Empire who had fallen to illness or injury in the line of duty. She generated blood for transfusions. She maintained organs and exercised limbs for transplants. Caitlin was a bargain bin, a rummage sale. Everything must go.
6:20 – Daily Checkup.
The first task of the day was to check the remnants of what they had taken for signs of infection or tissue rejection. Quickly she ran her fingers over the scars, low on her back, where her kidneys used to be. She remembered seeing the inferior mechanical things that would replace them on the day of the operation, all plastic and wires and spidery extensions. At the time she’d thought there was no way her body would fail to identify them as foreign material, and as they’d laid her out on the table and applied the worn old gas mask, her last thought had been a terrified notion that she would wake up in storage.
If I had been put straight into storage, I’d never have woken up at all, she thought. Bodies in the cryo chambers remained there until either nothing was left save the brain, or ice crystals in the blood punctured too many cells and rendered the whole lot worthless.
There was no inflammation around her kidney scars, or at the point where her left leg ended and the titanium concoction that had replaced her ankle and foot began. A foreman in the mines south of New Jeru had been partially crushed in a cave-in. Caitlin had been told in passing that the man had also required half a skull from the Grower in the apartment above her. This Grower had died on the table while they were attaching the metal plates to replace his bones. Caitlin had never met him.
Now stop it, she commanded herself, signing the second item on the little digital pad. If you don’t stop with these distracting thoughts you’ll fall behind on the checklist. Then we’ll see if you can wake up in storage or not. At this Caitlin was suddenly struck with an odd idea: If her brain was the one part of her body that was considered to ‘belong’ to her – to be her – it was odd that it was the one part so completely out of her control.
6: 25 – Daily Contemplation.
Caitlin went to the window. At sixty floors above ground level, she had a decent view of the megatropolis, stretching out further than any eye could see. New Jeru’s living sector. Like the other cities, every sector of New Jeru was arranged in a circle around the centre. Caitlin could just barely see the Temple, its great domed roof higher even than the skyscrapers that housed its subjects.
Seven cities, she thought. Seven temples. Seven hundred years since the Empire rose and ended the violations the Old World committed against the holy human form. That was what they said, anyway. The past had been full of lust and greed and gluttony, murder and depravity and sin. Then had come a war that left half the world in ashes, and out of the vacuum the Empire had risen, spreading from the original Holy City to every corner of the globe. No more, they had declared, would Man’s free will be allowed to corrupt the body that had been molded in the image of its creator. Your mind might be your own, but your body – like everything else in this world of water and earth – belonged to God.
Caitlin was about to begin the daily cleaning – it had to be completed in fifteen minutes, and the teeth alone could take five – when something out of order flashed up on the pad.
6: 29 – ALERT
Apprehension knotted up her stomach. Alerts were bad. Usually it meant she was required on the operating table, so someone else could continue the hard work of the Empire thanks to some part of her body she had been keeping warm for them. She was looking at her hands with rising panic, trying to imagine how she would sign the checklist with a pair of motorized hooks, when she realized the alert was not addressed from her Legion Order supervisor, as a requisition would be. In fact, the address was blank. Caitlin was puzzled. The address was never blank. She didn’t know that could be done. She brought up the main text. It consisted of only three words. They were:
WHAT ARE YOU?
Legion Order 16/A, Unit 189, Generation DCCXIV, Personal Morale-Boosting Identification Moniker ‘Caitlin’ looked down at her hands again and decided she didn’t know.
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