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Authors: Krista McGee

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BOOK: Anomaly
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I hear my pod mates murmur, “This is natural, and it is right,” in response. I refuse to let those words come out of my mouth. What I saw last night may have been natural. What I am seeing now, however, is not right. What are the Scientists trying to do? What is happening?

“And so I tell you good-bye. I have no regrets. I leave behind a State that is filled with people who understand the value of peace, who appreciate the advancement of society. I leave a better world than I entered, and for that, I am content.”

With that, Dr. Spires stands and walks away. There is no sound but his footsteps on the concrete floor. When he opens the door at the end of the laboratory, the Announcer’s face once again fills the wall screen.

“And so we say good-bye to a great Scientist.” The Announcer smiles. An odd sight, considering what just happened. “In other news, last night’s moon viewing for Pod C has been rescheduled for tonight.”

The Announcer disappears, the pod is silent. No tears. No questions. Rhen returns to calculus. The Monitor walks in and wipes down the shelves with a cleaning cloth. My lungs feel like they are going to explode.
This
is
a
lie. A complete, total
lie. Dr. Spires didn’t choose to end his life. His life chose to end itself
. I can’t erase the image I saw last night, the dead man lying on
the ground, Berk trying to revive him. The raised voices, the concern. I have always thought the Scientists were totally in control. Now I know they are not.

But if they aren’t, then who is?

CHAPTER SIX

I
can’t sleep.

All day I have been fighting emotions I can’t even define. I want to throw something. I want to scream. I want to shake Rhen and make her feel this too.

My mind is full of questions I can’t ask: Why did the Scientists lie to us? Why did they prepare these “good-byes” in advance? What else do we not know? What really happens after death?

I can’t stop thinking of Asta now too, of the questions I had when she was taken away. We are taught that life begins and ends and that is all. But I find I don’t believe that. That thought
is wrong. But isn’t lying to the entire State wrong? Why should I follow the Scientists’ rules if they don’t follow their own?

I wish I could escape. Not just for the night. Forever. I want to leave. But there is nowhere to go. Aboveground? Never. It is poisoned, decimated. I have no choice. No one does. But no one else seems to care. No one else fights these emotions. Not that I can tell, anyway. Maybe they are hiding their feelings like I am hiding mine. Maybe there are more people like me.

I think of Berk’s eyes, his whispered words. He feels things, I know it. He helped me return to the pod when he should have turned me in to the Monitors. His touch was . . . different. But Berk is a Scientist. They are designed differently than we are. He was never reprimanded the way I was, though he did some of the same things. Even when he was very young, the Monitors treated him with respect. Once every six months, he would be allowed out of the pod. He never told me where he went, but he was the only one permitted to leave. And he always came back with extra energy, excitement. I was aware that he knew things about the State none of the rest of us knew. I would beg him to tell me, but he said he couldn’t, wasn’t allowed.

“I want to tell you,” he would say, every time I asked. “But I have to promise not to speak about my training.”

“Why?”

“If I could answer that, I could tell you.” Berk rolled his eyes. “And you shouldn’t be asking anyway.”

“Why?”

“Because.” He sighed. “You’re not supposed to be curious. Musicians don’t ask questions.”

“I do.”

“I know. But you shouldn’t. You could get in trouble.”

“But I only ask you,” I said. “You won’t get me in trouble, will you?”

That conversation was repeated a dozen times in a dozen ways. Right before he left, Berk made me promise not to ask any more questions. “No one here can know you have them.” I didn’t like that, but Berk was so serious, so concerned, I had to agree.

Will he be there tonight? The night I escaped, Dr. Grenz said the moon viewing was an opportunity to introduce Berk to us as a Scientist and not a pod mate. I hope he will be there. My heart races with the thought. From wanting to throw things to wanting to feel Berk’s touch—I am very sick. This is far worse than Rhen’s dripping. But thinking of Berk calms me. Recalling his touch makes me relax. I finally fall asleep thinking of his eyes. The gold flecks float in my dreams.

“You overslept.” Rhen taps my shoulder and I jump. Overslept? Rubbing my eyes, I recall my thoughts from last night. I only slept a few hours. My body needed more. Of course I overslept.

“The Monitor is calling for you.” Rhen grabs a uniform from my closet. “Hurry. You cannot afford to be late.”

I tear off my sleeping shirt and pull on my uniform—the white shirt and white pants I can hardly ever manage to keep clean for an entire day. I think, not for the first time, that the Clothing Specialists would do better to make black or brown uniforms. Not white. But the Scientists love white. The bedcovers, the floors, the walls—everything is white.

“Piano today.” I slip on my white shoes and stand as the
Monitor enters and hands me a white folder. It is heavier than normal. New music.

Piano
and
new music. My fatigue is replaced by excitement. I am only allowed access to the piano once or twice a month. It is housed with the other instruments in the performance pod. When I was younger and learning how to play the instruments, I was allowed to go there once or twice a week. I love the feel of the piano keys, the rich sound of the magnificent instrument filling the room. I especially love when the Monitors leave me alone. The soundproofed walls afford me freedom I don’t have anywhere else, freedom to explore new sounds, new rhythms.

We exit our pod and walk east. The Botanists have planted tulips this month. They line the walkway. One of the Botanists is adjusting the watering system—one of the many inventions Dr. Spires was responsible for. He recognized the need for plants and trees in our State and created a fertile ground so those plants and trees could grow.

We pass Pod B. Our Monitors are from this pod. No longer forced to spend their days with their learning pads, they work. From the panels, I see the gathering chamber filled with desks as the Clerical Technicians complete their task of monitoring and updating the computers that run the many facets of the State. An Announcer stands beside the Pod B greenhouse, speaking to the camera held by a Screen Specialist. I know what tonight’s announcement will be about. Everyone is doing what he or she was designed to do. Here in this pod, in ours, in Pod A, and, in a few more years, in the pod that will come after us.

Everything is ordered and smooth. I should find that comforting.

I don’t.

We reach the performance pod. The Monitor presses a hand to the screen by the double doors and they slide open. I love the smell of this pod. It is the smell of music—of reeds and oils and brass. The grand piano sits in the far corner. My fingers itch to touch its keys. To my relief, the Monitor excuses herself. She must return to Pod C to accompany Gen to her mechanics class. The Monitor walks to the screen beside the door and types in the command that will lock me in here until she returns. I have no desire to try an escape from here. I would live here if I were allowed. The double doors open and she exits. I am alone with my music.

I place the white folder on a music stand. I will open it later. For now, I flex my fingers and position myself on the piano bench. My feet tap the pedals. I play a simple scale to warm up. My fingers touch every key in a cascade of sound, my hands crossing each other again and again as I go up and down, up and down. Sometimes it feels as if my fingers make their own choices. They go where they wish and I simply follow, allowing the music to speak through me. I play my frustration with Dr. Spires’s death and the Scientists’ lies in covering it up. I play my longing to see Berk again, to feel his touch on my arm. I wish his hands were the keys of the piano. I play my fear for Rhen, fear that she will speak to the Monitors about her illness and I won’t be there to stop her. I play my questions about life and death, my doubts that all the Scientists tell us is true.

I must have played for a long time because I hear the door click and the Monitor returns.

The white folder is still on the music stand. Untouched.

“You are to record this.” The Monitor opens the folder and
hands me the music. I rarely see paper music. Usually I am sent music on my learning pad. “This was discovered in the records room. A primitive composer named Bach. He was considered a genius. The Anthropologists want to analyze the composition and see what they can learn about his thinking patterns.”

I nod and take the music from the Monitor carefully. It is yellowed and feels as if it could disintegrate in my hands. I lay out the pages in order. I understand most of the words in the title, but I don’t understand their meaning: “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” I do not have time to think about those words, though. I need to practice the piece and then record it. I scan the notes on the pages, the song coming to life in my mind.

It is beautiful.

I begin to play and a lump forms in my throat. I know I am playing someone else’s feelings. But this composer isn’t like me. He isn’t asking questions. He is answering them. I am hearing the answers. With every measure, every chord, I hear his thoughts, I hear something I have never heard before. What is it? I don’t know. But I do know it’s there. The answers to my questions are there, in this music, written by this primitive man so many centuries before this one.

I can’t stop the tears from forming. I can’t stop my heart from racing. My fingers are playing the notes, and the notes are speaking to me, reaching out from the page and squeezing my heart, my lungs. I can’t breathe but I keep playing, from one page to the next. I hear myself sobbing but I can’t stop. I can’t stop playing, can’t stop crying. My tears are cleansing, freeing. They are right. This music is right. I am not here. I am somewhere else. I feel like I am above myself, watching myself play, weep, laugh. This is beautiful, painful. I want it to end and I
don’t want it to end.

And then it is over. I cannot stop myself. I fall from the piano bench onto my knees. My sobs are absorbed into the cloth walls. The Monitor has left the room. I want to get up, to play more. But I cannot stop crying.

Finally, I am spent, lying on the floor, clutching the music in my hands. I don’t even recall taking it with me. A Monitor stands above me. She is joined by three others.

“I suspected she was an anomaly,” my Monitor says. The others nod in agreement. I cannot even react to what they are saying. I am still in the music, playing it in my head, trying to translate the answers to the questions.

“Stand up.” One of the other Monitors folds her arms. Mine is speaking into her communications pad.

“We need an emergency transport at the performance pod.” She speaks quietly. “Code 4.”

Asta was a Code 4. I am a Code 4.

Anomaly.

Taken away.

Suddenly, the gravity of my situation invades my mind, pushing the music out. Panic seeps into my bloodstream. I jump up.

“No.” I force myself to breathe, to be logical. “Don’t take me. It was just a momentary loss of control. It was the music.” I point to the papers strewn on the floor, feeling guilty for pointing the blame at something so beautiful. But I want to live. More than anything, I want to live.

“I have been watching you for some time.” My Monitor reaches for my arm. “You rush through lessons. You argue. Your emotions are beyond what is acceptable.”

The other Monitor nods. “Anomaly.”

“No.” How can they be so calm? They are sending me away from everything and everyone I know, and they behave as if this is just another assignment. Run the track. Clean the cube. Leave. “Please. I am begging you.”

“We do not beg.” The door opens and Officers enter.

I will not let them take me. I am screaming, my arms pushing the Officers away. I try to run, but one of the Officers grabs my shoulders. Another reaches into his bag, pulls out a syringe. I fight, twist, yell. But the needle comes closer, aimed at my neck.

Music plays—“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”—and the room spins. I see Berk and Rhen, I see Asta. And then . . . I see nothing.

CHAPTER SEVEN

BOOK: Anomaly
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