33 Chapter 1

Ricket. Ricket. Ricket.

I focus on the wheels of the gurney hitting gaps in the tile floor as the fluorescent lights pass overhead. The sickly-sterile smell turned my stomach and all I wanted to do was be done The Procedure. The Health Praers that escorted my gurney down the hallway keep their steely gazes focused on the door – the door to the operating room. My fear bubbled up into short, shallow breaths that I try to let out as silent as I could. One Praer hears me and moves slower with a smile on its face.

Praers aren’t male or female to us. Of course they have a gender and if you try, you can tell, but no one would ever dare to look that long or hard. Praers have an androgynous, muscular appearance. Every haircut and uniform is the same, so all that’s left to distinguish gender is facial and body features. We’re taught that Praers are picked from birth and train hard, from strict schedules right down to the food they eat. They focus on strength, endurance and intelligent problem solving; stuffing their minds full and leaving no room for error or individuality. In all of history, apparently, this type of uniformity is unmatched.

I’ve never tried to distinguished one Praer from another. They’re like animals to us, in both ferocity and thought. You know there are hundreds of different birds or squirrels or rabbits in the world, but there’s not a lot to differentiate between them, and you honestly don’t care enough to try.

I will say, though, that one of the most defining traits of a Praer is a complete lack of compassion. In all essences, they are machines that operate on what is good for the Commune. What is good for all is good for one. And the Praers are very good at their job.

I don’t have a problem with the system. I’m happy here. I know what to expect every day; I know how to act and I know how to survive. We might work long hours some days, but lots always rotate, so there’re a ton of chances that you might get an easier lot the next day. Others don’t even seem to show the same emotion I do regarding our situation. They show no emotion at all, so that’s what I try to do, too.

I heard the creak and woosh of two doors opening and know my arduous trip down the hallway is nearing an end. However, the short wave of relief is drowned by a sea of absolute terror that seizes my body the minute I arrive in the operating room.

Silver tools gleam so brightly, I can see the panic in my eyes in the reflection. I quickly shut them as I arrive under a glaringly bright fluorescent bulb. Roughly, the Praers grip my legs and lock them in freezing cold steel stirrups, tightening the straps around my shins and ankles. My breath quickens until I just gasp for air. A very young Praer in a lab coat, barely older than me, notices.

“Sedate her.”

Yes, please! I beg in my head. Knock me out. I don’t need to see or hear anymore.

However, the Praers seem to ignore the first one’s wishes altogether. They’re too busy with administrative business to think about my comfort.

“Age?”

“12.”

“Eye color?”

“Brown.”

“Hair color?”

“Brown.”

“Height?”

“Four foot eleven.”

“Weight?”

“96 pounds.”

“Eye size?”

“Large.”

“Earlobe attachment?”

“Free lobes.”

“Cleft chin?”

“No.”

On and on they went. Every single feature of my body was cataloged. Desperate to hear anything besides their register of my anatomy, I strain my ears to focus on something else. A ticking clock. Someone’s breath. Anything.

My ears latched onto a sudden muffled, metallic sound. The cacophony must have come from an adjacent room, as the shouts of frustration I hear after metal tools clatter to the ground are audible enough to hear over the Praers’ continuous droning on.

“Dominant hand?”

“Left.”

“Widow’s Peak?”

“No.”

“Freckles?”

“No.”

Finally they stop. The Praer taking notes snorted.

“Hmph. Average on nearly all accounts.”

Average. Sounds about right.

All of a sudden, a white-hot pain radiating from my abdomen shot from my head to my feet and electrifies in every nerve ending in my body. I bite my lip trying not to scream, but I couldn’t hide the involuntary flinch and squeal the pain inflicted.

The doors swing open again, but my back is to them and I don’t have a view of who’s entered. I’ll take a wild guess and assume it’s a Praer.

“You’ve started without me, Rist?”

“I’m sorry, sir. We were just cataloging 628-”

“No one’s sedated her yet?!” The new Praer exclaims. “Honestly, Rist. This is not becoming behavior of a Health Praer.”

“I’m sorry, Dr.! The others, they wouldn’t-”

“Wouldn’t listen? You’re a Praer, are you not? Make them listen.

“Yes sir,” the young one replies over snickers of the two others who had cataloged my body’s characteristics.

“And you two!” The doctor, head Health Praer by the sound of it, accuses. “Why haven’t you sedated her yet? I have another 5 of these to do before 1 o’clock.”

“She doesn’t tell us what to do,” one humphs, and I’m guessing he’s referring to the young Praer named Rist.

“She will one day. But you’re right; she doesn’t tell you what to do today. I do. Sedate her.”

Begrudgingly, the Praer who read off my chart snatches some sort of gun from the table to my right and in the same movement, roughly injects something into my neck. I start to feel like I’m floating. My breathing slows, sounds become softer, and light dims. My environment fades away, and I happily drift off into peace as quick as I can, but not before I hear one last conversation.

“Ha,” someone bemuses. “She’s lucky. Remember the last one? Infertile. Hope she enjoyed her twelve years of life.”