By: Krista McGee


Fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds.

That’s how long I have to live.

The wall screen that displayed the numbers in blood-red letters now projects the image of a garden. The trees are full of pink and white blossoms, the green grass swaying a little in the wind. I hear the birds as they call to each other. I smell the moist soil.

But the countdown still plays in my mind.

Fourteen minutes and fifty-two seconds.

It isn’t really soil I smell. It isn’t really the garden breeze I feel on my face. That is simply the Scientists’ “humane” means of filling my bloodstream with poison, of annihilating a member of the State who has proven to be “detrimental to harmonious living.”

The wall screen is beginning to fade. The colors aren’t as bright. The blossoms are beginning to merge together. They look more like clouds now. I don’t know if the image is changing or if it is the effect of the poison. I could try to hold my breath, to deny the entrance of this toxic gas into my body. But I would only pass out, and my lungs would suck in the poison-laced oxygen as I lie here unconscious.

No. I will die the way I finally learned to live. Fully aware. At peace. With a heart so full of love that even as it slows, it is still full.

Because I know something the Scientists refuse to acknowledge.

Death is only the beginning.


I suppose I’ve always known something was wrong with me. I’ve never quite been normal. Never really felt like I fit. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried. In fact, I spent most of my life trying.

Like everyone in Pod C, I was given a particular set of skills, a job I would eventually take over from the generation before us.

I am the Musician of Pod C.

My purpose is to stimulate my pod mates’ minds through the instruments I play. I enable the others to do their jobs even better.

And that is important because being productive is important. Working hard is important. I have always been able to do that. But being the same is also important.

This is where I have failed.

I started realizing this in my ninth year, the year my pod mate Asta was taken away. We were outside in the recreation field and our Monitor had us running the oval track. We ran nine times—one time for each year of life. This was part of our daily routine.

Sometimes, I would like to say no. To just sit down, not to run. Sometimes I want to ask why we have to do this. And why we always do everything in the same order, day after day. Why couldn’t we run ten laps? Or eight? Or skip laps altogether and do something else? But I knew better than to ask those questions, to ask any questions. We are only allowed to ask for clarification. Asking why is something only I would consider.

I am an anomaly.

So was Asta. But I didn’t know it until that day. She always did what she was told, and nothing in her big black eyes made her appear to be having thoughts to the contrary. She was training to be our pod Historian, so she was always documenting what we were doing and what we were discovering. Her fingers could fly over her learning pad faster than any I’d ever seen. But that day, when we were running, she stopped. Right in the center of the track. I was so shocked that I ran right into her back, knocking her to the ground.

“I apologize.” I reached for her hand, but when she looked up at me, I saw a yellowish substance coming from her nose. I had never seen anything like it. Her eyes were red and she was laboring to breathe—all of this was quite unusual. I pulled my hand back and called for the Monitor to come over and help Asta.

But the Monitor didn’t help her. She looked down into Asta’s face and her eyes grew large. She pressed the panel on her wrist pad. “Please send a team to Pod C. We need a removal.”

The Monitor motioned for me to finish my laps. No one else had stopped to see what happened. The rest of my pod mates simply ran closer to the edge of the track, eyes forward, completing the circuit.

I stood and tried to run, but I did not want to run. I wanted to stay here, to help Asta. She looked . . . I do not know how to describe it. But whatever it was made my heart feel heavy.

Berk ran up beside me. “You will never beat me.” His grin shook me from my thoughts. I was determined to beat Berk. He always thought he was faster, but I knew I could outrun him. So I picked up my pace. Berk did the same.

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