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"What happened here?" I ask, although I'm not particularly interested in hearing such a story. It's enough to see the pain reflected in Max's eyes. He tells me nonetheless, however painful it may be for him to remember.
"We were taken here really violently. Some people started screaming and fear spread like crazy. Then, someone kicked one of the invigilators and spat on his helmet and the whole place just went nuts. There was a lot of fighting but in the end they won. They beat us and caught us by our hair. I don't remember much but I know one of the guards hit my mouth with his gun and I ended up spitting my own tooth. Then I... I... when I woke up they were all dead." a few tears run down his face and I cannot help but feel somewhat guilty. I sat in that room because a few policemen from this damn spaceship told me to, yet I was incapable of rebelling and rid the rest from their suffering, or at least, try to deter it.
"You shouldn't be. You were locked up. You couldn't have done anything even if you wanted to." His words do not help me feel better and instead I turn around to inspect the bodies, to try and find someone alive or breathing so that I can somehow redeem myself from the lingering guilt which oppresses my chest. The smell once I enter the room is surprisingly neutral. I had expected somewhat of a rotten scent but instead the atmosphere seems to have no notion of the corpses that lay down on the ground, lifeless, awaiting to rest in peace.
"I don't think they are dead." I say bluntly, but the fact that there is no smell gives me enough hope to feel like I may not be late after all and the pain has probably rendered them unconscious. Max hesitates at first, but seeing my conviction that they may be alive, he steps in and shuffles the unmoving body of a girl who is laying face down, revealing her face. It's barely unrecognisable with bruises and strange marks which have probably been the result of hitting her with a gun. He shakes her, making her hands move and her hair flow behind her back, without obtaining a response. My worst fears come to life when he looks for a heartbeat, a palpable sign that she's still with us and her body is simply shutting down the pain for as long as possible. My friends shakes his head, and I begin to think that these are all corpses indeed and something in the air must be filtering the smell to avoid the guards from intoxicating themselves with the smell of their own victims. Truly sickening.
"She has a tag," says my friend pointing at her ankle which I had not observed until now. I move over to see what it says and it simply reads "out of service." The words make me shiver. Whoever has printed these letters must see human life as a mere product or instrument, serving short term goals which, once accomplished, make that individual unneeded. I can feel an uncomfortable silence which suggests that Max is thinking exactly that. He puts her back on the floor softly, setting her hands on her sides nicely so that she looks somewhat more prepared to leave this world and seek the afterlife. In doing so, a necklace appears from under her sweater, revealing a name.
"Claire." I find it astonishing that she has been able to wear such piece of jewelry for so long, given that this spaceship forbids us from having a name, a belief, and a personality. I smile seeing that little acts of rebellion like such have made her the fuller person she is today. I'm beginning to suspect that there is something special that all of us who were invited to the banquet possess. Something which has to be annihilated. We continue the scavenge for more tags and soon we find another type which spells out "deployment," in the same way our files did. My instinct tells me they are different from the other corpses and I approach my hand to one of the individuals' neck and wait.
"Max! He's alive!" the boy is around 20 years old and his face presents barely any signs of a struggle, except for a few cuts on his cheeks. Max runs and sits next to me and confirms that the guy is indeed alive. He slaps him a few times only to obtain a single response: his eyes open for a split second only to close themselves again.
"I think he's been given something. I only managed to escape cause I pretended I was dead and I hid at the very back of the room. They didn't see me. And I saw that one of the guards had a very big syringe. I'm guessing it's some form of sleeping agent."
"It's useless to do anything right now. We have to find a way to get them to wake up. Maybe we can find something inside." I point my head to this door which sits at the end of the room. Max nods and goes towards it with no fear. He's seen enough and he's ready to fix this mess. I follow him more comfortably, confident, since he appears to be extremely determined. The room is dark and is surprisingly guarded by a light and thin wooden door, as if unimportant business took place behind its walls. However, just like everything in this spaceship, it is all a façade. The room is soon illuminated by a switch Max manages to find. The room looks exactly like the place where we were forced to sign our death row, only that now it is empty and there is no pressure in the atmosphere, simply silence. I then hear a voice, no, many voices, screaming in panic. We both look at each other and we run towards the sound, which leads us to a little hidden area which we had not seen. A passcode is needed but surprisingly the door is open. Something makes me feel unsteady as though we are trespassing territory which is going to get us in a lot of trouble. The fact that Max was able to so easily escape from the grasp of guards to then being able to enter secret government rooms freely is quite suspicious. I decide to remain quiet. I don't want to start an argument. Perhaps they are too worried with the rest of us to bother about closing doors and locking areas. Once we enter, I immediately see what is causing such noise. A television displays many people, running, screaming in panic. Their faces are either masked or with dirt all over them, hiding all their facial features. Their hairs are lacking or messy, and many have massive wounds decorating their bodies like unsettling tattoos.
"What is this?"
"Earth," replies Max. "They are still alive."