It always starts with ‘Once upon a time’, but seldom ends with ‘Happily ever after’.
Born in silence, separate from emotion, grown for one purpose only. They call us Replenishers. It is a made-up word, I’m sure, but aptly describes our primary directive. We are designed to go enter the world on our 16th birthday, and fill the void left on a planet that was once home to eight billion souls.
We know what happened… in The End. We understand the circumstance, but none of my forebears had ever returned to tell of the things that lay beyond the concrete bunkers of the Spindle Corporation. No one ever ventured home.
A tale as old as this usually ends with a character waking from a slumber. My story starts in such a way, except the awakening is not tender, and the lightspeed rush from sleep to alertness leaves me feeling disorientated and angry. Things that no Replenisher should feel. The droid that roused me bears upon its squarish head a tray. The meal is sparse, hardly fitting for my day of celebration. Thin gruel has slopped down the mechanical servant’s carapace, and seeps downwards like lumpy tears upon its surface. I wonder if it will weep for me when I leave?
A hatch in its body opens to reveal my freshly laundered overalls. Threadbare and patched — they are the only clothes I’ve ever worn and to be perfectly honest I am disappointed. Today of all days there should be something… nicer. The only other accompaniment is a wide leather belt threaded through a sheath, in which sits an evil looking machete. It is a functional blade, its purpose as yet unknown.
“Eat. Dress and follow the yellow line to The Gate. It is your birthday… Celebrate!” This is delivered in the mechanical monotone used by all the droids. It is the only voice I have ever known. I should feel joy in my heart, some frisson of anticipation, but I am a Replenisher — a blank canvas designed for duty.
Echoes bounce around the concrete vault tossing my footsteps back and forth so that it sounds as if a thousand others walk in my shoes. It is a cruel joke — I walk alone. The worms of dread in my belly are my only companions. It is an unpleasant feeling, the first scribbles of life filling the lines of a blank page.
Distraction seems to be the best means to eradicate the discomfort. I pace the circumference of the vault and count 365 as I finish the circuit. I feast my eyes on the tattered flags that adorn the grey slab walls, the only splash of colour worn thin as cobwebs. The names of these great nations are just ghosts now because there is no one left to care.
I breathe. How interesting it is to fill one’s lungs, despite the dust, and it seems as if that action spurs something into life. Lights flicker in the walls and an opening appears.
“Godmother program initiated.” There is a crackle of static over the tinny voice. “Step forward and accept your birthday gifts.”
Three plinths emerge from the floor. Each with a Spindle Corporation logo and a box on top.
“Place your hand in the box,” the voice directs.
I am programmed to obey, but…
“Which one?” I ask.
“Error… Does not compute.” The lights dim and stutter. In a panic I jam my fist into the first. The lights resume their icy fluorescence. “I bequeath to you… aspiration,” the machine says.
There is no pain or pressure.
It is just a word.
I am being sent out to Replenish the world armed with a word. There is no time to ponder.
“Place your hand in the next box,” the Godmother program orders dispassionately. In this box there is an object. Cold, metallic — smooth beneath my fingers. It smells faintly of oil. “Glock 42. One, 10 round magazine.” It drones.
“Thank you?” I’m not so sure. I have seen the training films. I know the mantra, ‘always aim for the head’.
I don’t wait for further instructions, and I plunge my empty hand into the final vessel. The Godmother knows.
“I bequeath to you your mortality.”
“If I refuse?” Again, these treacherous lips betray me.
“You have no choice, Replenisher.”
Under my fingers I feel the vial and in the light the poison gleams green, the colour of envy. Godmother is wrong. It has told me there is no choice, but in my hand I hold my destiny.
The gate stands wide. It is time.
I am awake.
I am angry.
I am armed, and as I slash through the thicket of brambles around the bunker, I accept that I am a Replenisher, and I am grateful. I have hope, the power to defend myself and the means to go on, or end as I choose.
As Anita always says, “be careful what you say, because you may end up in a book.” She finds inspiration in the mundane and joy in the bizarre. As an acolyte of Terry Pratchett, she likes to view the world through an array of lenses that look beyond the seemingly ridiculous and into the fascinating.