Backstage, ties were straightened, blouses smoothed, and fingernails bitten. “Since birth, you have been equally matched,” Wilena Reed, counselor and ceremony organizer, said. “The Eden Corporation has perfected this system many years ago, and it has successfully provided our colony with generations of perfectly matched life partners. Today is YOUR day. The day you find out who you have been matched with.”
Jennifer Watts played with a tiny piece of paper in her sweater pocket. She had written Brian Oldham’s name on it weeks before the ceremony, and made a habit of slipping the piece of paper under her pillow at night when she slept. Brian was oblivious to her as he was any other girl waiting patiently backstage. He looked green, and unlike most of the boys, he had lost his cool in a trash bin outside the auditorium while they waited. This did not phase Jennifer’s desire to be his match.
“Jenn, can you believe it?” Emily whispered, “It’s finally our turn.” Jennifer just smiled and wove the piece of paper in her pocket between her delicate fingers.
“I hope I get a good one,” Rachel said as she eyed the boys in their suits, “Where’s Jared?”
“Probably out back getting sick like Brian,” Emily laughed and Jennifer shot her a nasty look. “What?”
“May I have your attention?” Counselor Reed asked. “We have learned from past experiences, that it is better you learn who your match is BEFORE you get on stage. When I call your names, please line up together against the wall: Stephen Anders and Emily Briggs…”
Rachel laughed and elbowed Emily in her side before she hurried off to take her place next to her future spouse. Jennifer stared at her feet and pressed “Brian Oldham” flat against the palm of her hand.
“Excuse me, Counselor Reed, may I have a word?”
“Absolutely, Doctor. Children, will you please excuse me?” Counselor Reed said as she followed the short, balding man out of the waiting area.
“Emily and Stephen… that cracks me up,” Rachel waved at Emily standing silently next to Stephen, “What about you Jenn, who do you think you’ll be matched with?”
“I think you and Andrew Davies would make a cute couple.” Jennifer rolled her eyes and stopped listening as Rachel continued to talk to herself about her ideal matches.
Moments later Counselor Reed returned and reviewed her clipboard. “Jennifer Watts,” she said, “May I have a word, dear?” Jennifer nodded and followed the counselor out into the hall where the doctor was waiting.
“Jennifer, this is Dr. Markum, he needs you to go with him…”
“But the ceremony?”
“I am sorry, but you will not be attending today’s ceremony,” said Dr. Markum, “please accompany me back to my office and I shall explain.”
Jennifer’s heart sank as she followed the doctor down the hall. She would not be attending today’s ceremony; Brian would be matched with someone else. Tears began to well up in her eyes, as she began to place him with each of her classmates. “Please not Rachel,” she muttered under her breath.
“What was that?”
“I’m sorry… how much further?”
“This is it, on your left here. Please have a seat.”
The walk had winded Dr. Markum, so after resting heavily in his chair, he took a moment to gather his breath. “Miss Watts, you were to be matched with Jared Dalton today. Yesterday morning he was found dead in his living quarters.”
“Oh,” Jennifer breathed. She wasn’t sure what to say. She had classes with Jared, knew him fairly well, but never once thought she would be paired with him. Brian was the only boy in her thoughts, and to her the most suitable life mate.
“Eden has requested your services to be effective immediately…”
“You have been selected for a special job.”
“Job? I don’t understand... “
“Miss Watts, since your intended match is no longer alive…”
“Can’t you match me with someone else?”
“Your match has been planned since your birth, no exceptions. You are property of the Eden Corporation and your service is requested. It is your responsibility to the colony… your civic duty.” Dr. Markum stood up from his chair and pushed his meaty hands into his jacket pockets.
Jennifer closed her eyes and gripped the arms of the chair. After a couple of deep breaths she opened her eyes and said, “When? When do I start?”
“Now,” Dr. Markum said as he pushed the syringe into the side of Jennifer’s neck. She barely raised a hand up to her chest before she slumped forward and was out.
Jennifer opened her eyes to the twinkling of distant lights. Millions of them, tiny and sparkling, further away than anything she had ever imagined. Quickly she sat up and glanced all around her. There were no corridors, no hallways, no living quarters, no… people.
Panic rose in her chest. The desire to run was overpowering, but Jennifer did not stand. Tears began to flow down her face as she lay back down on the dusty ground. Slowly, Jennifer slipped her hand into her sweater pocket, pulled out the fragment of paper, and released it into the night. Through watery eyes, Jennifer watched as “Brian Oldham” vanished into the darkness.