Uniformed children lined the halls of the upper level Genetics Ward. It was field day, a nice break away from regular class, but the kids in the hall wore looks of great unease.
“As you are aware, the matching ceremony will take place next week in the grand auditorium on level nine. This is a very important colony tradition, and I expect you all to be on your best behavior.”
“Yes, Counselor Reed,” the class replied.
“I know this is a very difficult time for you all, with the matching and starting your professions. I promise you, we will do everything in our power to make the transition as smooth as possible. The Eden Corporation has had you matched since birth, but this information is not released until you are of age. While the Matching Ceremony is next week, you can have several month of engagement before you schedule your marriage. I do recommend you schedule as soon as possible, because the dates do fill rather quickly. See HR if you have questions.”
Instead of heading to the elevators and down to living quarters like the rest of the class, Jared pushed open the heavy wooden doors of Eden. He smiled shyly at the receptionist, walked thru a door on the other side of the waiting area, and made his way down a long corridor to his grandmother’s office.
“Nan,” Jared said as he rounded the corner into Dr. Betty Dalton’s office.
“Hello there,” her face lit up, “Finish the tour?”
“Yes… thankfully.” Jared replied as he flopped himself into a chair in front of Nan’s desk. She laughed, while her auburn curls bounced. “You look awful. Have you been sick?”
Jared didn’t have to say anything, and Nan let it go. She asked him if he would like to accompany her on duty to which he quickly agreed.
“How many are there?” Jared asked.
“There are one hundred and eight different surrogates.” She stated. Jared liked that his grandmother referred to them as surrogates instead of clones. Her old bedtime stories were of “clone wars” in far away places, and he didn’t like to think of these “surrogates” as vicious killers.
Jared had spent a lot of time with his grandmother on duty. He was mesmerized by the surrogates. They were all so young and flawless, wrapped in soft fabrics, and marked only by small numbers on their earlobes. They slept while classical music played softly in their chambers.
“Nan, how old are they?” Jared asked walking thru the maze of beds.
“Well, these girls do not age like you and me. Comparatively, they are between the ages of 15 and 35. Each incubates one or two children a year until their expiration date.” Nan said.
“At the age of 36 they are retired.”
“Then what happens?”
“They are replaced by their younger clone,” Nan said.
“Are all of these surrogates incubating?” Jared asked.
“Yes. There is another room for recovering surrogates, and the new implants are on another floor being monitored closely.”
They continued to walk around the beds as Nan checked the numbers on flashing machines and wires attached to their delicate bodies. Jared stared into each of their faces and wondered what they had been like when they were “real.”
“Nan,” Jared asked, “Which one is my surrogate?”
“Your surrogate has expired since your birth…”
“I mean which number?” Jared had a gut feeling before the number even left Nan’s lips. He had been drawn to 23 since he first entered the chamber a few weeks ago. He always knew exactly where she was located in the ocean of surrogates.
“Dr. Dalton,” a voice boomed over the intercom, ”You are needed in reception.”
“Be right there,” Nan replied. “I will be right back; wait here,” She said as she hurried out the door.
Jared stole a look at 23 out the corner of his eye and casually headed her way. She was a couple of rows over, so he weaved around numbers 42 and 36 until he was standing beside her bed; staring at her.
She couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old. Her long dark lashes fluttered slightly as he touched the top of her hand. Without thinking, Jared leaned over and softly brushed her lips with his own. Time seemed to stand still as he lingered and breathed in the air she discarded.
Eyes closed, he hovered inches above her face. One little kiss, and he would go and wait for his grandmother. One kiss, and he would go back to his living quarters and ready himself for next week’s ceremony. One more kiss, and he would put all this daydreaming behind him.
Jared sighed heavily, opened his eyes, and met a pair of ice blue’s staring back at him. He stumbled backwards as 23 began to scream.
Immediately, a number of white coats entered the room and surrounded the screaming girl. They began looking over charts while Jared stood there shocked.
Nan came running through the doors and gave the order. Jared watched as 23 took her last breath. His eyes followed her out of the room and down the hall before he was able to meet his grandmother’s stare.
“Why?” he muttered.
“Protocol,” she whispered and cleared her throat, “You should head home. I will be late.” Nan
turned and walked back out the doors.
A tall man in a white coat led Jared out the double doors of the Eden Corporation. He slowly made his way to the elevator and down to their living quarters.
Jared prepared dinner and tidied their tiny space, so Nan wouldn’t have to when she got home late. His memory of the day was already clouded, but he made an effort to pick out a nice suit to wear to the Matching Ceremony next week. He wanted to get Nan’s opinion before making the decision final.