“Zeta,” Professor Emil continued, and the girl who had sat next to Beta ever since primary school, stood up. They had been together as long as Beta could remember. Were they going to finally go their separate ways now? Beta could see Zeta’s hands shaking slightly as she clasped them together. “Please join Professor Ramirez.”
“Theta,” Professor Emil said. “Please join Professor Whitley.”
The names continued until all twenty-nine students were grouped with one of the three professors at the front of the room. All except Beta.
“Students, you will go with your assigned professors, where your detailed assignments will be distributed,” Professor Emil said evenly. Several of the students were looking questioningly at Beta, who was still seated at her desk. Panic began to well up inside Beta’s chest. Where was she supposed to go? Why hadn’t Professor Emil given her an assignment?
The three teachers filed out of the room, their students following obediently and quietly behind. Zeta gave Beta a questioning glance as she left. Beta shrugged her shoulders slightly, indicating she did not know what was happening.
Finally the room was empty, except for Professor Emil who was still standing at the front examining his pocket screen. Beta waited for several minutes, but he did not look up.
“Professor?” she said timidly.
He looked up, saw Beta still sitting in her seat, and looked down at his screen again.
“Yes, Beta,” he finally said. “I am sure you are wondering where you are to go.”
Professor Emil pocketed his screen and continued. “Follow me, please,” he said, and began walking out of the room.
Beta scurried from behind her desk and followed the professor down the hall. They entered the transportation tube and Professor Emil stepped forward, pressing the flat button which read “236.” Beta had never been past level 75 in The Training Center’s building. There was a woosh in her stomach as the tube shot upward silently to level 236.
When the doors to the tube slid open Beta let out a small gasp. The walls of level 236 appeared to be all made of crystal clear glass. She could look out across at the tall blocks of glass structures which surrounded The Training Center, each one glowing with the reflected light of the sun, nearly blinding her with their brightness. Beta spent very little time outdoors. Her training was mostly done within the walls of The Training Center, with occasional breaks out on the Green Space, a covered patio outside their dorm rooms surrounded by trees growing in pots. But the view from their patio only faced an ancient brick wall, supposedly built back in the twenty-first century. Beta had hardly ever seen true sunlight. Her world had consisted mostly of the artificially simulated sunlight of The Training Center, meant to mimic the effect of natural sunlight’s rays on the body without the harmful side effects. After looking out the window at the burst of light catching her eyes, Beta decided that no matter how perfect science was at recreating the elements of some things, they weren’t necessarily able to capture the true essence of what sunlight really was. This world, the real world, looked different.
Professor Emil was already half way down the hall. Beta spun and hurried to catch up, but couldn’t help staring down at the world outside as she ran to follow him.
At the end of the hall there was a white door with the word “PROHIBITED” on the panel next to it in faintly glowing letters. Professor Emil swiped his fingers across the side panel, illuminating a key pad, into which he typed a long code of twenty three numbers and letters. Beta wasn’t trying to remember these details, it was just how her brain operated, but the sequence stayed in her mind anyway. She had always been able to calculate long series of numbers or lists of sequences word for word. She assumed it was part of her genetic makeup.
The door slid to the side and Beta followed the professor into the brightly lit room. The room was surrounded on two sides by the same floor to ceiling glass windows, evidently being in the corner of the building. In the center there was a large round table with twenty people sitting around it. They were working on screens which were housed within the white surface of the table. Upon their entering, however, they each looked up. Their screens went blank and it looked like a bare round table. Beta stopped at the door.
Professor Emil went around toward the head of the table directly facing the door, where a large black chair was situated between two other workers. He stood behind the chair, resting his hands on its back, and looked at her for a few moments.
It seemed as if time had stopped and was standing still. There was the professor, along with all twenty other people dressed in their crisp white uniforms staring blank-faced at her. Their faces held no expression, neither approving or disapproving. More like appraising, Beta thought.
Beta wondered if she had done something wrong. She couldn’t remember ever disobeying any rules of The Learning Center, not even once. She always did her work, and quite efficiently she thought, usually finishing way ahead of her peers. There must be some sort of misunderstanding.
But then she thought of the psychological tests. The students underwent psychiatric evaluations at frequent intervals to help determine how they were coping with the training program, or if they were exhibiting any signs of rebellion, or what they termed “atrophy.” Although cloning had been around for over one hundred years now, the first few generations had a higher risk of subjects reverting to primitive forms of violent behavior or even collapsing into a sudden catatonic state. Science had been efficient at weeding out the abnormal genes which would malfunction under the stress of cloning. The odds of an Atrophy was almost nonexistent by this point.
Beta’s psych tests had always been strange, however. As the technician would administer different visual stimuli she would occasionally have bizarre visions within her mind. Once, three years ago, she had mistakenly verbalized the image that she saw in her mind. Due to the instantaneous reaction of her technician, Beta realized that what she was experiencing was not considered “normal.” She was evaluated by the head psychologist after that, and was put under constant watch for the following month. Beta learned to keep her mouth shut. But the visions kept coming, creeping into her thoughts when she would least expect it. She almost wondered if the evaluation test had triggered the reaction in her mind, since she did not remember having any issues of visions prior to that, but there was no one that she could trust to ask. She could be labeled an Atrophy and kicked out of the program, presumably sent to a special concentration-type camp, since the atrophied clones could not be trusted among the normal humans.
What if her suspicious psych exam from three years before was enough of a black mark on her record for her to not be eligible for an assignment? No one spoke of these things, since no one remained who could tell of it.
Finally Professor Emil spoke. “Beta. I am sure you are wondering why I have brought you here,” he paused long enough for her to nod a slight affirmative to his assumption. “Your test results have been inconclusive. We have monitored your advancement through the program, and although your academic marks are continually stellar, there are some testing results which raise some concerns.”
Beta looked down at the floor. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear what was coming next.
“I submitted my concerns to the Federation of Cloning Control. Their response was surprising, to say the least.”
Was this the part where she would be labeled as an Atrophy?
“It appears that the FCC is already aware of your status. They will be here shortly to take you. I hate to see such a valuable clone, one who has exhibited such remarkable traits, go to waste at a pointless camp so I voiced my concern. They then divulged some classified information about your past. I cannot say why this information was not given to me from the start, but they insisted that secrecy and seclusion was their top priority.”
Beta looked up at Professor Emil, a confused expression on her face.
“What are you trying to tell me, Professor?” she asked, her voice quavering slightly.
“Beta, the girl whose DNA, which you share and are identical to, is still alive.”