We never asked about the old days—never a word about the circumstances that led our parents to usher in the second rise of man—this perfection nurtured from the horde. As children we were revised often, minds etched with the white out cured in the curls of fists. Our bedtime stories were nestled in the threats of nightmares, our futures tied to what they called The Quarries Of Hell—mines so vast even Satan couldn’t make it out alive. We eventually learned to survive by going along, by getting along, and by becoming one with the Elite.
As adults we refined our understanding of obedience into the kiss of a well-placed needle against a toddler’s flesh. After my education was complete, I accepted my offered position as the keeper of breaths—the last line of defense between the old ways and the new. My station was a corridor of incubators under the soft buzz of fluorescent lights. The babies all entered the same—free-will stronger than men my age—breaths hard and eager and pure. Fingers opened and closed, eyes roamed between me and the glare of glass—thoughts bubbling out of their precious mouths—ever-learning since the first burn of daylight.
My job was to count the breaths of babies before and after the serum was administered. The fewer the breaths, the more docile. The more docile, the more perfect of being. The greater the breaths, the more resistance. The more resistance—I made a note on their chart and pretended I couldn’t remember what happened in the room at the end of the hall. I could never forget.
This morning’s subject was special, though, a girl born prematurely and riddled with the old disease of men. She was barely a dozen moon cycles old and already a handful of trouble. Her chart bled with ink, the fear of the Elite scribbled in the margins in hurried script. A revolutionary in the making, she had been watched since the minute she stole breath.
She smiled at me like she knew me. Not today, sweet. Today, I’m one of the monsters in the nightmares of my youth—just a man doing his job—going along, getting along, being one. The baby girl wriggled wildly on the pad, her cries lending a shiver to the observation glass. Soon the cure would calm her as it’s calmed us all, and she’d be perfect in the eyes of the Elite. I watched her from my station on the production line, her eyes catching mine with every grasp of air—her hands reaching and falling and fighting and faltering with each weakened gasp. Her tiny fists unclenched, slowly hiding their reflexive need. She looked at me again, that beautiful smile now fear frozen in a frown. This is the death of liberty, I wasn’t allowed to think. Not even when it’s my own daughter fighting to be free.