Aubergines eyes flutter open and adjust to her surroundings. Her ginger hair is disheveled around her broad shoulders, revealing the tactical gear. There is a trickle of blood on the pillow where her head was laying, crusted over from age. She is resting on the bottom of a bunk bed that does not have any linens, showing the deep-seeded burns and discoloration. She tries to roll over to her side, but her head stays low with a dull ache. As she places her hand on her head for some support, she notices random numbers etched into the side of the bunk bed: 4, 7, 35, and 45. She tries to say them out loud, but her voice croaks, desperate for some water. Aubergine blinks rapidly to remove the sleep from her eyes and shifts from side to side before getting up. She holds onto the wall as the room spins and is determined to go to the small sink in the corner. She finally makes it and takes in huge gulps of water, spilling the majority of it down her white shirt. After a few mouthfuls, she tries to figure out how she got back to base and which division she’s in. No one occupies the other bunks, and there are no belongings within. Frantically, she starts to pat herself down to see if anything is missing; nothing is. She slowly taps the side of her pants closest to her thigh and breathes a sigh of relief. As she slowly exhales, she starts to hear a low rhythmic DING coming down the hallway. She takes in the emptiness of the room before closing her eyes and repeating the numbers she saw moments before.
Aubergine inches towards the door and her oval eyes widen as she notices it’s ajar. As she places her foot out of the frame, she realizes she doesn’t hear the impact of her steel toe boots on the ground. The hall is noticeably different from what she remembers and is inexplicably warm. She places her hand on the adjacent wall and can feel her breath move with it. She startles herself and tries to wince her eyes to see further down. The gray walls are bare and do not resemble the bunk from her division: there are orange numbers painted on the walls to determine each pod’s location, and where to go. Slowly, she starts to walk down the hallway, darting her eyes back and forth to see if there is anyone else. “Hello?” she croaks, as her hands start to tremble by her sides. The hall starts to hum with life and the lights that were guiding her turn brighter. She covers her eyes to avoid being blinded and lowers her head to continue walking towards the DING. She reaches a stark white room with a yellow button at the center of a table. Her eyes quickly adjust to the room as the DING happens again. The button illuminates and reveals the word “ON” before it diminishes. She extends her hand and traces her finger around the button, trying to understand. Five seconds pass and the loud DING jolts her body, causing her hand to slip and press it. The button turns green, and the table sinks into the floor, leaving Aubergine in this room alone. Her breath is jarring and inconsistent as the room starts to whir with motion.
The wall to the right of her turns black, and the word START flashes three times before disappearing. Binary Code starts to emerge and jumbles together, forming the structure of a face before Aubergine.
“Welcome Rival” the words bounce off of the walls causing a monotone echo to pulsate through her body.
“You’ve been selected to participate in this year’s lottery – the test will commence in five minutes” the indistinct face disappears, and a countdown begins.
Confused, Aubergine looks around the room for more answers. What is this lottery? She never heard of this.
The pounding in her head seems to dissipate, and energy pulses through her body. She rushes to the other walls and pushes her hands against them, hoping for something to emerge, but nothing happens. Her throat starts to itch and all she can think about at this moment is a glass of water. Suddenly, a table with a pitcher of water emerges from the floor, and the word “DRINK” flashes under the remaining two minutes. Desperate for more hydration she doesn’t think of contamination and chugs as much as she can. Did this platform just read her thoughts?
The countdown finishes and the wall turns a Ceridian blue. Auditory sounds of seagulls broadcast all around her, and a slight breeze brushes the back of her neck. As a wave of calm tries to rush over her, the voice comes back
“Welcome Rival, to your new beginning – My name is Tee, and I will be your moderator today. To obtain Premium Status, you will be asked five questions. Failure to answer correctly will eliminate you from the lottery for the next twenty years. Are you ready?”
Not sure how to answer, Aubergine thinks ‘I guess’
Tee continues “All answers must be logged for security purposes. Telepathic answers are not permitted”
Aubergine bellows out “YES!” not knowing what will be placed before her.
“Question 1: Before the reset, there were different stages of contamination felt throughout the world. Name and list how many countries were affected before an international state of emergency went into place.”
Aubergine felt confident that she knew this answer. Her mother would continuously recount the story when she was a child to pass on some history to the younger generation. She places her hand on her thigh where her mother’s picture resides, hoping it will give her luck.
“Four countries were affected: the first was South Africa, then Morocco, then Brazil and the last, United States.”
‘Correct’ Tee’s voice echoed
“Question 2: Daniel E. Koshland created the universal definition of all life forms. In our texts, we cite them as pillars. Please name and identify all pillars.”
Aubergine’s smile slowly fades as she realizes she cannot remember all pillars. She smacks her head with frustration; she should know this!
Tee interjects “You have five minutes to answer” and a countdown starts again underneath the printed question.
Aubergine rubs her temples, was it six pillars? NO, SEVEN. She starts to list them, carefully, remembering them as she goes along
“1: Program, Meaning a living system, ours is Earth.
2: Improvisation, referring to earth’s ability to change. This was our Natural Selection, AKA Reset, in 2045.
3: Compartmentalization. Earth’s capability to separate spaces for protection.
4: Energy. Energy is required for our program to exist. Ours consists of the star “Sun” and minimal traces of natural hydrogen and methane above ground.
5: Regeneration. Our program compensates for lost molecules in various components. Our program has created new generations to start the system over again.
6: Adaptability, referring to earth’s ability to adapt to needs, dangers or changes molecularly.
7: Seclusion. Separating ourselves from processes so we can function separately within our Program. Bunkers like these could be an example.”
Aubergine is unsure if her wet shirt is from the spilled water or her excess sweating. The whole screen turns blank, and General Emerson appears in his full garb.
“Congratulations, you have succeeded in the pre-screening process to join our forces. Acceptance into this program means forfeit in the lottery and six merits in the next meal drop. We look forward to you joining our expanding team”
Emerson’s face disappears suddenly, and a new countdown begins. Aubergine has five minutes to decide. She closes her eyes and remembers her eldest brother, Axl. The older she gets, the less she remembers of him. Now, at the age of 19, he only comes back to her in spurts. She recalls his tussled copper hair and his piercing hazel eyes. He joined the resistance when she was eight years old and has not been heard from since. A tear falls as she remembers her mother waiting patiently by the door each night awaiting his return. With a weak voice, she musters the word “No,” and the countdown disappears.
“Correct” Tee’s narrative shocks Aubergine; she was unaware that this was part of the test. A table emerges to her right. Inching towards it, she notices a small item wrapped in plastic. “Teh-ween-key” she sounds out the word: she’s never seen this item in her lifetime. The word “EAT” flashes on the screen. Aubergine breaks the wrapper with no regard and shoves the whole sponge-like food down her throat. During her last bite Tee’s voice continues to narrate
Question 3: As we continue to grow our population, our respects are given to the persons who bestowed their bodies for our future. Within the first year of our salvation, how many times did the experts fail before successfully imprinting our DNA?
Aubergine lowers her head in sorrow. Her gut lets out a tremendous howl, from grief or digestion, she’s unsure. Her mother donated her body as soon as she turned 12, the year that children are treated as adults. Rumor had it that none of the donations made it out alive. It was heartbreaking for Aubergine, as she’d had zero contact with her mother since they took her away. All that remained was the tiny photo that she kept on herself at all times. Her eyes fill with tears as she re-reads the plastered question. The countdown starts, and she drops to her knees in defeat. The numbers from the bunk flash through her head: Four, the countries that were affected… seven, the pillars! She had no idea if this would be the correct answer, but through her wavering cries, she says “35!” – what did she have to lose?
“Correct – you currently rank in the 94th percentile” a giant photo of Aubergine’s face illuminates the screen for a half a second before shrinking into a tiny ball. The ball places itself on a bar graph amongst others, hundreds. Aubergine stands up and shuffles towards the screen, she cannot put any of the dots to faces, and no names are present. How long has this lottery been going on? What was the end gain?
“All questions will be answered if you are successful” Tee interrupts Aubergines thought process.
Question 4: Our program has been riddled with leaders since the age of man. We have been honored with some of their presences, but not all leaders were successful. Some tarnished earth’s history for the worse. Thanks to technological advances we can now pinpoint which President or Prime Minister is at fault for the contamination that spread throughout our Program. Please list his ranking and country.
Aubergine knew that the answer must be 45, but she was not sure who or which country was at fault. She tries to rack her brain on the history lessons that her mother gave her, but she was drawing a blank. She was brought into this world a couple of years after the reset, not knowing any of the “good old days” as the elders used to say. The countdown starts on the wall, and she starts to name every country in her head alphabetically. India? No, that would have been the 14th president. Mexico? No, Camacho was the 45th and died in 1955. Think, Aubergine! The contamination happened around 2017 – was it from the pipelines? She rubs her temples in frustration. As the clock goes down to 30 seconds, she blurts out “45th!”
“Please give a full answer to continue” Tee pronounces.
Aubergine stands straight as she finally realizes what the full answer is
“The 45th president of what was known as the United States of America, Donald Trump.”
“Correct” Tee voices.
Aubergine was extremely proud to have gotten this far and did not know who to thank for the numbers etched into that bunk. Her heart suddenly sank as she realized she only had answers up to Question 4. She starts to rub her hands anxiously, waiting for the last question from Tee.
Question 5 is situational and will be asked by someone close to you. Please allow one minute for the video to load.
Aubergine’s stomach flips up and down in nervousness. There is no countdown to determine how much time will go by, but the thought immediately leaves as a chair becomes visible on the screen. Even though it’s been years, her mother Ella emerges, still looking the same.
“Hello, my little one” her voice trails off into her sing-song voice that she grew accustomed to over time. Aubergine suddenly felt a wave of exhaustion wash over her. She drags her heavy feet towards the screen and reaches out to touch the outline of her mother’s face. Her hand won’t stop shaking.
“I miss you, too” Ella states as she traces the same outline in tandem. Before Aubergine could utter a word, her mother dives straight into the question
Question 5: Over time our experts have conducted many experiments with the current success of cloning after death. My old vessel died many years ago, but I have retained all memories and habits as if I were Ella herself. I was made especially for you and currently reside in Safe Zone 4. Would you join me? You will be awarded Silver Status and retain 20 merits for future meal drops. I cannot wait to see you –
The video cut off. Aubergine starts to bang on the screen, hoping it was a slight disconnect. Tee chimes in “Due to the sensitive nature of this question you are awarded five more minutes for an answer”
The clock starts it count down from 10 minutes. Aubergine slowly backs away, trying to soak in everything that just happened. Frantically, she rummages through her pockets and takes out a small hobby knife. Knowing she only had minutes to spare, she runs down the dark hallway to the room where she woke up. Jumping in the bottom bunk, she starts etching something after the number 45. Minutes pass by, and a constant DING from the test room starts to sound. She places her hobby blade back into her pocket and dashes back to the test room with only seconds to spare. In her exasperated state, she yells “NO!”
All lights suddenly dim. Tee’s face comes back on the screen
“Correct – this Ella clone cannot replace the human that once was. Showing you can leave your past behind, we grant Premium Status. Please exit to the right.”
A metal door rises from the wall, revealing the other side. The sound of seagulls come through, but it was not coming from the room. Aubergine starts to slowly inch toward the entrance, excited to see what’s on the other side. She knows that her etch of “N” would make sense for the next participant, and is hopeful to reunite with future winners.