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The stone edifice of the building was impeccably clean, white granite facing out at the black asphalt of an empty city street. The block was government zoned, which meant police enforcement at every corner and no civilians in sight except for one young man.

Alan stood across the street from the big, white government building, a bag slung over his slouching left shoulder and an emotionless, straight smile guarding his composed face. His amber eyes stared up at the light-blotting structure, shadow reaching out toward him as if emboldened by the police presence. Alan ran a hand through his short brown hair, then pulled his hand back to the sling of his pack to brace it from falling onto the pavement.

"Hey, kid, you lost?"

A voice broke Alan's concentration. He looked to his left and saw a large man in military gear staring back intensely. Alan assumed he was staring. The man's eyes were covered with sunglasses, and a taut, fabric mask was covering his mouth. The lack of visible facial features gave way to assumptions for Alan; namely, he assumed the man was angry with him.

"Do you have papers?" The man asked sharply, a condescending finger pointing at Alan. His voice was deep, strong, and impatient, so Alan didn't feel like talking back like he normally would.

Alan reached backward and pulled his bag off his shoulders. He balanced it uneasily on his hip, then nervously pulled a crinkled red slip of paper from its zippered pouch. The man snatched the paper from Alan's hand with little regard for Alan's personal space. The man's head bent down to acknowledge he was reading Alan's credentials.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know I couldn't...," Alan attempted to answer, his voice awkward and his words fumbling. He could feel the temperature on his skin rising and the hairs on his arms tingling with anxious anticipation.

With little more than a groaning response to Alan's explanation, the man shoved a muscular arm outstretched with the paper. Alan took the paper back, a tattered mess of red, wrinkly paper. The man pointed menacingly across the street at the white building, which stared down at them both with dispassionate dominance; its mere existence was meant to define their realities. Alan looked down at his crinkled paper, then back up at the man in black.

"Move along, freak."

Alan's face tensed at the word. Freak? The word made him nauseous.

"Did you hear me? Move along."

Alan nodded nervously and set a foot onto the asphalt to show the officer he was en route. The man turned away and began walking back down the sidewalk toward another police officer, who had been keeping an eye on the situation from a small white car. Alan took quick, short steps all the way across the street and up to the white government office building that stuck out against the rest of the city landscape.

The words were etched perfectly into the stone face: The United States Department for Mutated Persons, Precinct 305. Not a scrap of trash around the entrance. Nobody for miles, aside from law enforcement. Alan mused that this was a small reminder of the times they were living in. It was a distinct contrast from what his parents used to talk about, the stories they painted, and the people they once were. But that was then, and this was now.

Alan pushed his way through the revolving doorway of the 305 building, and was met with a cold room with a high ceiling, granite floor tiles, and marble columns. At the end of the long room stood a granite lobby desk, a woman seated behind it, typing and answering the entryway phone. She did not look up when he entered, nor did she give any indication that she had even remotely recognized his presence in the empty room.

Alan cleared his throat. The woman looked up, her eyes both annoyed and bored. She glanced back down at her computer screen, without regard for Alan's presence. Alan walked up to the desk and slipped his bag onto the floor.

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