Chapter Seventy-Three

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The screen stood blank, white light emanating from it. The thin sheet of metal and complex wiring was left without a thought written onto its waiting slate. The keyboard sat untouched before the open screen.

It had been that way for the past 3.52 hours. The clock on the wall provided the time.

The machine in her head provided the math.

Yet time was such a relative thing. Sometimes seconds did not just feel like seconds. Sometimes hours felt like days, and sometimes they felt like mere minutes. And sometimes time felt like it didn't pass at all.

The girl felt like the world had frozen.

Sitting alone in her room, her blond hair tied up in a perfect bun, she could imagine everything else in the world had stopped. She could pretend that the people on the streets below, the snow in the air, the loud noises that occasionally burst from the wild, all had stopped. Her room was dark, the windows were closed, and not a soul besides herself was in her house.

She knew what her feelings meant.

It meant it was time to Change.

Changing was a natural part of life now in the Equator. It was what everyone here did, every single inhabitant went through whenever they felt they needed to.

The girl had been living in the Equator long enough to know this.

She'd first arrived at the closed metal doors of the barrier, leading into the military complex. Before that, she remembered waiting patiently in her house in Texas, hoping for the weather to lighten up. She could see the news reporters in her mind's eye, their emotionless faces informing everyone in the Southern parts of the world of the terrible tragedy occurring up north. She'd been fortunate enough to be southern enough to not get killed by the snow. But it was still pretty awful. It piled up until she didn't think she'd be able to get out of her house. She had.

She still didn't know where her family was. She'd been home alone when it had started.

Somehow, after months and months of travelling as far south as possible, gaining direction from anyone she could, she somehow reached the barrier. By the time she got there, she wasn't even sure where she was.

But the people there had taught her.

She'd been integrated into the complex like everyone else. She'd gone through the processes until she reached the procedure. She remembered the room, and the syringe they injected her with. Not once. But many, many times, until she was ready. And when she was ready they moved to the surgery.

She reached behind her and pressed her delicate fingers to the sharp metal bump directly behind her right ear. Sometimes it bothered her. Today, she just felt numb.

Which was why she needed to Change.

She was doing what she'd done the last time before Changing. She couldn't help but sit alone in her room, even going so far as to ignore the constant pinging of messages from her friends. She stared again at the empty computer screen before her. She'd opened it, hoping that it would help her put what was in her thoughts into words. But she couldn't do it.

She closed the laptop quickly and stood up, trying to reorient herself.

These were bad habits.

They had a bunch of rules in the Equator, rules stating when you should Change. They were plastered everywhere, on billboards, in hotel lobbies, in restaurants. The Equator wanted its citizens to know.

The statements usually went like this, an anthem of laws that were so often seen that almost every inhabitant knew them by heart:

If you're wondering when to Change, just follow these simple steps!

1. If you're tired of how you look, then Change!

2. If you want to try new things, then Change!

3. If you think there is something wrong with you, then Change!

That was it. It seemed simple. But the girl knew it was much more complicated. Everything in the Equator was so much more complicated than she thought. Even the Changing was so much more complicated...she didn't know how to describe. It was something that you just did, and then you understood.

She quickly walked to her closet and flicked on the light. She checked her phone quickly. She'd gotten invited to meet a friend at a restaurant. Before she could stop herself, she typed in a quick "no", and returned her attention to her closet filled with clothes. She grabbed the remote off the nearby counter and clicked on the television, allowing some noise to enter the room and try to distract her from her odd state.

The woman on the television immediately began talking.

"Well, John! Today has been an exciting one for our protectors! As you all know, our lovely leaders here in the Equator, are constantly sending our soldiers out to save more and more young adults, in order to train them in how to protect our borders! And once they pass through that training, they come here, to live with us in the Equator!"

The girl scoffed as she held up a purple tank top to herself, wondering if it would fit. Back in Texas, the news anchors were never so cheesy and excited. She guessed that it was probably to make the people forget that an apocalypse had happened outside the borders. That seemed to be the goal of the Equator. They created a city environment with as much technology and excitement as possible, meant to allow citizens to pretend there was nothing wrong with the world. But she knew there was too much wrong with the world. Most of the people in the Equator had somehow already been there when the apocalypse started, or had been close. Most hadn't experienced the slavery, and snow, and fighting, and death, and desperate attempt for survival.

The girl knew that the positive, optimistic effects of the Equator were working on her, but she didn't want to admit it. They had set up a working society. Everyone was safe now. They were safe forever.

The girl picked up ripped jeans and matched them with the black tank top. The purple had seemed too...bright. She knew she needed to change into better clothes. It was the one necessary step before Changing. Make sure you were wearing your best clothes.

The girl smiled to herself as she looked towards her bathroom door. She barely paid attention as the news anchors were going off about a group of escaped trainees, questioning why anyone would want to leave somewhere so welcoming, where everything they needed to survive was given to them.

She just needed to change into her new clothes.

She was ready to feel alive again.

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