Chapter One: The Return

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It was all I could have hoped for.

Ten years had passed since my birth. They said I would see my parents again. I was told I wouldn't remember. It was a moment I was waiting for.

I didn't want to remember this. I wanted to go home and live my life exactly how they said I would. Average. Normal. Without blood draws and tests and injections. No more pointless routines and men hiding behind masks. Free to be a normal human being and enjoy what I could of my life.

"May Nine."

I leapt to my feet the moment she called my name. Like many who came before me, I rushed to the front. As soon as I stood in front of her, I tilted my head to the side and presented my neck to the suited woman. Her gloved fingers pressed against the right side of my neck for a moment. When she located my carotid artery, she picked up the syringe with my birth date on it. My eyes closed as the needle pierced the thin skin of my neck. It felt cold as the fluid was pushed into the blood heading straight for my brain. Somehow, whatever was entering my body was about to kill my memories of my first ten years.

I couldn't wait.

Seconds after she withdrew the needle, my vision became blurry and my legs grew weak. Everything I heard sounded like it was coming through a tunnel. When someone put their gloved hands on my shoulder and began to steer me onward, I couldn't feel the hand on my shoulder.

It was bliss.

Shortly thereafter, I passed out. One minute I was conscious. The next second, I wasn't.

When I awoke, it was in my bedchamber. Sterile and white like the rest of this place, the three other beds in the room were made with precision neatness and the occupants nowhere to be found. As soon as I realized the room was empty, I jumped out of the bed and rushed into the corridor.

This was not the same. The Forbidden Door at the end of the corridor was open at last. Brilliant light shot along the corridor and I threw up my hands to shield my eyes. Around me, at least fifty other kids did the same. Squeezing my eyes closed, I tried to take deep breaths. That was when I got my first smell of real air.

I was so busy trying to figure out if it smelled sweet—and what that one sickly smell was—I didn't at first realize that we were being ushered through the door, a few at a time. It wasn't until a gloved hand fell on my shoulder that I realized I had to move. My eyes still hadn't adjusted, so I shuffled forward on bare feet.

It was as I was thinking I should run back to my room and grab my shoes that something finally clicked: I remembered where I put them. I remembered my room. I remembered the names and numbers that went with every other kid passing me out into that light. I remembered the Forbidden Door. I remembered everything.

Panic seized me and my eyes darted around to the kids beside me, waiting to see the same realization dawn on them. They had to know that we were given the wrong serum. Soon they would realize that we were duped. That there had been some kind of mistake.

Except they didn't.

In a herd guided by suited men and women, we were pushed towards the door and the fresh air it promised. All around me, dazed and empty eyes attempted to see past the light. Some instinct pushed them forward, as if they knew that beyond the light was hope. And as I grew closer to the Forbidden Door, I watched their faces alight with joy as they crossed the threshold. It was in that moment that I realized that this must be what it is like to be born again. All brilliant curiosity and innocence with none of the weakness of infancy.

Then I was pushed through the door.

My eyes took another moment to adjust, and I traded all of the white light for a scene of green. Brilliant green grass spread out in a sea on the other side of the Forbidden Door. It crashed against the tall, jade pine trees that encircled us. Even the black buses seemed only to blend with the shadows instead of commandeering attention away from this new life. In that moment, even I knew what it was to be born again.

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