"Don't be scared,” a woman’s voice spoke softly. “I just need you to come with me for a minute.”
A young boy kept his head down, his round brown eyes were wide and stared intensely at the white tiles below. Beside him, a man placed his large hand on the boy’s shoulder. The boy looked up to see his father’s hard stare. “It’s time,” he patted his shoulder. You’ve got to be a man, now.”
The boy let out a shaky breath, and stood on weak legs. The woman took his hand, leading him away from his father and into a bleach white hallway. He shielded his eyes from the brightness, but the woman continued. They stopped in front of a door, the same as all the other doors lining the walls. She turned the knob and led him in. Inside was a large chair that reminded him of the dentist. He froze in place.
The woman shut the door and locked it. “Go on, hop up there.”
The boy squeezed his eyes shut and motored his way onto the chair.
“Dear, you’re shaking. Why is that?”
He snapped his eyes open and looked up at her.
She stared expectantly.
“I-” he cleared his throat. “I won’t remember my family.”
She chuckled lightly, but her expression softened. “I know it’s scary now, but you’ll feel a lot better when you’ve got the implants.” She held out a small grey case to him, and opened it. Inside were two clear contacts swimming in a pool of saline. Tiny, almost microscopic lines covered the surface. “It won’t hurt, I promise. And when you wake up,” she smiled her big, fake smile. “You’ll be a whole new person.”
The door opened at that moment, and multiple doctors flooded inside. The woman turned around, and exited, leaving the boy in a room full of masked strangers. The horrible feeling creeped back into the pit of his stomach and a voice in his head told him to run, but before he could do anything, a sharp pain shot up his arm. He whipped around to see a needle being retracted by one of the men. His heart started beating erratically, and sweat pricked his forehead. His vision went blurry, and he sank back into the chair. The doctors strapped his arms to the sides and laid the chair back into a flatbed. He stared at the blank ceiling, still feeling the intense beating in his chest, but it began to feel distant. As he lost consciousness, a gloved hand reached for him, and then an intense burn flared on the left side of his face. He could hear muffled shouting, and more doctors entering the room, before everything went black.
Seth Rollins opened his eyes. Light came flooding through the window strip on the back wall of his living quarters, disrupting his dozing off and bringing him to his senses. Cureds don’t dream, he thought. He stood up from his mattress, and turned to the mirror sitting across the room. In the reflection was a young man, his dark hair coiled around his shoulders, with an entire side of that hair being bleached brightly. He ran a hand through it, contempt for his deformity welling in his chest, and slipped a hair tie off his wrist to pull it back into a tight bun. Seth’s eyes were absent of colour, a familiar sight. That, at least, proved to anyone that he was, in fact, cured. He pulled on the typical uniform: black jumpsuit striped with the trademark sapphire blue, gravity-adjusted boots, topped off by the triple triangle symbol of his division. Underneath the symbol, the acronym N.O.S. was embroidered into the fabric. It stood for New Order Society, Seth recognized, and it was everything he and his peers knew. It was common knowledge that to work for society, there was a procedure that must be done. To cure them of human error, that’s what the Zyphoids said. They were the ones who created the perfect world first, after all. They lived on their own Earth, polluted their own air and poisoned their own oceans once, but it all changed when they discovered the problem they faced. Seth walked over the window and pressed his hands to the glass. Cold. Outside was the cold, desolate vacuum of space. The sun was a small dot, yet it radiated such power that it was still impossible to view for long without being blinded. He turned away. Their problem had been freedom of thought. The space in their minds was much larger than the world they were trapped on.
The cure came first; an implant similar to contacts that were irreversible and rerouted the neurons in your brain to create walls. The walls stopped them from overthinking, and removed invaluable emotions. Then came the advancements in technology. Space travel became an option, and in time the decision to abandon their dying planet came to pass.
“Sector B report to Main Station,” the transmission blared in the overhead speakers and interjected his thoughts. He slipped on his leather gloves and exited the room. In the hallway outside his room others in the same uniform piled out of the identical doors and marched off into the complex. Seth scanned the backs of heads until his sights landed on a short man further ahead. He made his way through the crowd and walked by the man’s side.
The man looked up at him, his grey eyes lighting up in recognition. “Mornin’, Seth!” He chirped in a thick Irish accent.
“Morning, Finn. You have any idea what they’re calling us in for?”
Finn shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. Probably nothing major, I doubt they’d deploy the student division.”
One thing was true, they were just student pilots. Pilots training for space travel, which would be cooler to anyone not living in space. For Seth, it was like earning a driver's license the way humans did long ago. Though, it was for the N.O.S. themselves, so he supposed it was more important than just having a simple permit. This was for expedition; journalism, one could say. It wasn’t their job to blast other spacecrafts to bits the way space life was portrayed in Old World Films, because there was no enemy to fight. There was no resistance willing to uproot N.O.S; it was as if they were a very old tree, whose roots reached the magma. There was no ‘getting rid’ of them, because they were everywhere, and everything. It was a comforting thought to Seth, it kept him grounded in the reality that this was what he was born to do, and there was no changing his set path. Not that he really had any ambition, anyways.
Another student paced beside Seth, his hands resting in his pockets and his head held high. He wore black reflective shades that made him look like a douche bag. Seth snickered inwardly.
“I heard someone’s moving up to the professional courses,” he said nonchalantly, though the sly grin he wore suggested a hint of pride.
“What, you think that’s you, Mike?” Now Seth laughed aloud. “You don’t fly any better than when you got here.”
Mike’s face dropped into a scowl. “I’m a damn good flyer,” he lifted the sunglasses and rested them on his head. His eyes were the same dull grey as everyone else. “Besides, this whole sector is full of incompetence. The only person I’d say has a chance is Finn.”
“Oh come on, you two are just as capable as I am,” Finn deflected, flustered. “A few fancy tricks is nothing.”
“A few tricks?” Seth echoed. “You can do more than ‘a few tricks’, man.” Seth had to admit, Finn was good. The guy even taught himself how to do aerial stunts.
The boys reached a large room with great walls built out of a reflective metal. Seth could see himself in every surface. On the ground were spacecrafts; large planes made of the same metal as everything else. They only held one person -two, if the cockpit was empty- and their rockets buzzed behind them, waiting to launch. A tall man stood in front of them, hands folded behind his back, and a stern look on his face. His eyes passed over Seth, and he felt a shiver go down his spine. The general.
When the rest of Sector B was lined up in the station, the general began to pace up and down the row. “It’s been six months to the day since the freshest batch of you joined the N.O.S., and that means your first solo expedition exams have been sorted. Each of you will be assigned a planet to navigate and study,” he stopped in front of a blonde man, who stared back blankly. “Which means there will be no getting off task, Ziggler. Do I make myself clear?”
The blonde smiled absently and nodded.
“Good. Now,” the general turned to the rest of them. “When you’re given your planet, and that could be anytime between today and tomorrow, you are to immediately exit the station and begin your exam. You will be given five days, and any longer than that will result in termination of your license unless it is an emergency. In which case, you will contact the station. If you contact the station for any other reason, you will be rewarded a strike. Understood?”
The group saluted, and he nodded curtly. “Dismissed.”
Seth, Finn, and Mike began to join the others in the crowded hall, the general planted a hand on Finn’s shoulder. The three turned around, but his eyes were fixated on the Irish man exclusively.
“Bàlor, a word.” Finn fell back, leaving Seth and Mike to continue. As they left, Seth caught the general’s icy glare that froze his insides. He was sure the general didn’t hate him, that wasn’t it. It was the abnormality of Seth that set him off. In this world, Seth was wrong. He was very aware of this, he knew it would hinder him for the rest of his life, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying to prove he was just as functional as the rest of them even if it was a lie and he knew it. It was a lie, because he dreamed. When you were cured, you never dreamed, you weren’t supposed to. That part of your brain was supposed to be walled off. Seth had to remind himself often of history. When the Zyphoids left their world, they found the humans, and the humans needed their help. They convinced them to leave and join the Zyphoid’s extraterrestrial society. There were stories of war, how the humans refused the cure. Eventually, the Zyphoids constructed a plan to send those considered Elite members of society to space, and wipe out the resistance after the rest had gone. It was a quick, painless thing, they said. They dropped a red sand from their planet that would instantly wipe out the population. The Elites cheered on the burying of their dead planet from a shuttle hanging on to the atmosphere. Even though they said there was no longer life on Earth, Seth had heard rumors of rebel forces still inhabiting the planet. Diseased people with no implants. Savages, who would kill any Elites who dared set foot in their world, and even their own people. Even with his error, he refused to be anything like that. He wasn’t sick. For a moment, Seth wondered if Earth was up for grabs in the exam. That was impossible, he thought. It would be far too dangerous to allow any students to roam a place so large and possibly inhabited by sick non-Elites. He couldn’t stomach the thought of it.
In the lounge between the station and the dorms, Mike sat on one of the cushioned blue chairs and put a hand to his chin. He huffed.
Seth sat beside him and grinned. “Good guess.”
“I didn’t actually want it to be Finn!” He whined. “I mean yeah, the guy deserves it, but still!”
“He still has to take the exam, maybe that’s it. But I wouldn't doubt if he’s being put with a higher up for professional training.”
As Seth spoke, Finn appeared in the doorway with an almost haunted expression. He walked up to them slowly.
Mike looked up at him expectantly.
He held out a half sheet of white paper. Seth took it gingerly from his hands and scanned the printed text.
| FINN BÀLOR |
| B |
| SELECTED FOR EXCELLENCY IN INTERMEDIATE FLIGHT COURSE |
| EARLY ENROLLMENT - ADVANCED FLIGHT COURSE |
| TRAINER : MCINTYRE |
“McIntyre?” Seth reread the word.
“Give me that,” Mike snatched the letter. After a moment his eyes widened, and he practically threw the paper back to Finn like it was a grenade. “You’re studying under McIntyre ? That’s suicide, right?” He glanced at Seth for support. “Right?”
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” Seth said defensively, folding his arms in front of his chest.
Finn ran a hand through his short dark hair. “He’s intimidating, that’s for damn sure.”
From behind him, the blonde man from earlier stepped into their social circle, obviously having been eavesdropping. “Drew McIntyre, huh? That means Bàlor’s joining the advanced foreign division?”
Seth narrowed his eyes. “Yeah. What’s it to you, Dolph?”
Dolph waved a dismissive hand. “Nothing, really, but I’ve heard the foreign division goes on real lengthy expeditions to the bigger planets. Super important to the N.O.S. or whatever,” he turned around. “None of my business, of course. Good luck, Finn.”
Dolph Ziggler was Sector B’s center of gossip. He knew everything about everyone , and was the bane of Seth’s existence- maybe everyone else's, too. Or maybe Seth was just that irritable. He knew about the accident, and because of him the rest of his sector knew as well. The worst of it had blown over, but he still got looks from people in the halls. There was a time, however, where people refused to look at him, like he was a bad omen, and for awhile he believed it to be true. Eventually, Finn came along, and everyone loved him. He was moved from somewhere else, Seth still wasn’t entirely sure where he came from, so he didn’t know about Seth’s defective nature. He assumed his peers didn't have the heart to tell him, because once Finn made conversation with him, no one said a word. Seth was thankful for that, though, because now at least he was tolerated. Even more surprising, Mike warmed up to him, and no longer insulted his blonde streak. They weren’t exactly ‘friends’, but Mike seemed to be okay with conversation- if he initiated it.
Seth watched Dolph saunter over to another pack of people: Specifically, a short woman with long, straight blonde hair, and another, taller woman with similar hair back in a high ponytail. The women glanced in their direction, then continued to listen to whatever words happened to be spewing from Dolph’s mouth.
Finn tucked the letter into his pocket. “I should probably go hide in my room before he gets to too many people,” he walked off.
Seth crossed his arms loosely and glanced over at Mike, whose gaze still followed Ziggler. He wasn’t sure if they were friends or not, though Seth couldn't remember an instance where they conversed more than lightly. Mike liked gossip, he knew that fully well, but maybe not to the same extreme as Dolph. Seth cleared his throat. “I’ll uh… Go make sure Finn isn’t being bothered,” he announced meekly as he shifted across the room away from Mike, who didn’t give even a passing glance as he went. Seth made his way down the white, sterile hallways containing each of their living quarters, until he found the one promptly labeled: FINN B. - JUNIOR PILOT. His hand hovered a few inches from the steel door, because as he focused in he could hear Finn’s muffled voice from behind it. He couldn’t make out any words, but it was clear Finn wasn’t alone. Seth lowered his outstretched arm to his side. He had already been approached by someone, though he thought it was strange they’d talk behind closed doors. As Seth was about to go on his way, he conveniently picked up on one word coming from Finn’s mouth.
He froze, his breath hitching in his throat, and waited to hear more. When more didn’t come, he glanced around, before cautiously pressing his ear to the cold metal.
“-no, I had no idea that-no. I’ll take care of it. I am not soft- don’t mock me!” Finn’s footsteps paced around in his room, his boots clinked on the linoleum tiles. “-he’s not going to mind, it’s just-” his boots clinked quickly to the door. Panicked, Seth stumbled backwards. As he made his way to the floor, Finn’s door slid open, and Finn’s gaze dropped to meet him. They held eye-contact for what felt like an eternity, with Finn’s hand up to his ear holding a phone, and Seth breaking a cold sweat. An inaudible static voice buzzed from the phone speaker. Finn leaned into the speaker. “I’ll call you back,” he clapped the phone shut.
In that moment, the one thing Seth hadn’t expected him to do is offer him a hand, yet he reached out palm up, almost expectantly. Seth gladly took it, and composed himself. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I came to make sure none of Dolph’s goonies were pestering you.”
“And hanging out on the floor?” he raised an eyebrow, but laughed.
Seth relaxed. Finn didn’t suspect he had eavesdropped. He smirked. “It’s colder down there.”
Finn nudged his shoulder, a shit eating grin plastered on his face. “Too hot for you, Rollins?”
“Shut it, Bàlor,” Seth waved him off.
“I’m glad you showed up when you did, actually. There’s something you need to know,” Finn eyed him.
He subconsciously ran a hand through his blonde streak. “Yeah? What’s that?”
“I got top secret information from one of my buddies in the foreign division. Promise you won’t tell anyone?”
Seth narrowed his eyes, but nodded slowly.
Finn leaned in, and whispered, “you’re going to Earth, Rollins.”