Hundreds of years into the future mankind has gone under-ground to relocate to Epsilon; a beautiful
city run by a strong, secretive government that keeps its citizens in check by subtle manipulation and
strict schedules. No one questions the city's authority and no one is unhappy. ALN-896, an average
man who is just trying to live a normal life, begins to have dreams; something strange and rare in
Epsilon. In his dreams a man named Harry dies. ALN-896 shrugs this off as if nothing has happened.
It was only a dream. The next day, however, he is suddenly arrested and sent to prison for killing
Harry. Now inside prison, ALN-896 begins to learn about what the government of Epsilon has been
doing and he plans on escaping. Not only from prison, but from Epsilon. This one decision turns him
against everything he has ever known and forces him to face against centuries of lies. To escape
means to live, but what will it cost?
Childhood...INF-120...Grandfather...Epsilon...and a strange red light?
Confused, ALN-896 snapped back to reality with a rosy tint flickering in the corner of his eye. He glanced over to see a stout building ablaze and three firemen standing outside of their truck glaring at the scene. His heart settled. Nothing was wrong. He sighed and looked away from the commotion. But just before deciding to pass it by, his ears caught a woman’s sorrowful scream erupt from inside the second story.
He panicked, allowing his emotions to overwhelm him. “Stop!”
The car came to a sudden halt and ALN-896 darted towards the inferno. The gathering crowd stared at him, each person looking identical with their pale plastic faces and blue marble eyes, like lifeless manikins. He contemplated not going inside and simply joining the crowd to watch. It was the smart thing to do. It would keep him out of trouble with the law. But something inside of him urged him to help. Urged him to go against his doubts and rely on pure emotion. He also couldn't shake the fact that this house seemed so familiar...
Another scream caused a rush of adrenaline to course through his veins. His gut feeling pushed him towards the front door where the intense heat seemed to weigh down the air he was struggling to breath. He stood there for a moment with his sleeve over his mouth. For a splitsecond he felt alone and encased within the darkness. The ash swirled beneath his eyelids. He coughed black charcoal as he tried to find gaps in the smoke to breath. It wasn't working. Between his dry eyelids, he turned and gazed through the thick black smoke behind him; nothing visible except for the gleaming red symbol on the firemen’s hats and the bright blue eyes of the motionless onlookers. He turned back around, staring dumbly at the front door. “96” is what a small plaque read on the door and ALN-896, for some reason, couldn't take his eyes off of it.
It was only a number.
Within split moments of bliss, he thought: I could just leave now and never think about this ever again. What I am thinking about doing is dangerous and against the law. Quickly his mind wondered why he couldn't just turn back around and join the crowd watching the building burn.
Another scream ripped through the flames and swirling smoke and ALN-896 suddenly remembered why he couldn't just leave and ignore what was happening. With a rush of excitement and doubt, he kicked the front doors open and a wave of ash shoved him backwards over the threshold of the home.
Inside, a veil of thick flames cloaked the walls and tore the furniture to dust. Every visible surface was blackened with charcoal and crumbled until it mixed with the ash floating through the air. A chandelier swung from the slight breeze coming through the shattered windows and dripped melted wax onto the floor, burning the few lasting patches of carpet. A bookshelf lay reduced to charred splinters as its books cringed under the unforgiving heat. A section of the ceiling had collapsed and lie in a pile of rubble in front of him, the second story hallway visible from above. It was mayhem and he was scared, but his gut feeling pushed him onward.
He leaped over the debris and toward the stairs. On his way up, the floorboards creaked under his weight, with nearly every other step a floorboard buckling, causing him to stagger to the next. Flames nipped at his heels every time he fell, fraying the ends of his pants and melting the soles of his shoes.
When he finally made it to the second story hallway, he stomped on the ground to make sure it was safe and then turned his ear to listen for the source of the woman's screams. His heartwas beating strong against his chest. Sweat poured down his face, soaking into his clothes. His breathing shallow and struggling. He took a long difficult, deep breath before darting towards where he believed the woman was. But he was soon forced to stop. About halfway through the hallway, a large hole had ripped through the ground. The entire width of the hallway had collapsed and there was no way around it; he would have to jump.
Another scream echoed and ALN-896 gathered his courage with a sigh. “I’m coming! Hold on!” he yelled with hesitation.
But behind his courageous words, his thoughts echoed, What am I doing? I am going to get arrested for this! Or worse, I could die! I could die for a person I do not even know! He wanted to back away, but the stench of burning flesh crept into his nose and the urgency of the situation became a burden hardly able to be lifted. He couldn't leave now. Instead, he took a few steps back and, with one loud groan, leaped over the hole, staggering a bit to regain balance.
He was now clear on the other side and he breathed a sigh of relief. After a short run, he now stood in front of the closed door where soft moans whispered from behind.
Inside, a woman lay slumped over a chair motionless. Flames swirled around her, eating at her white pink polka-dotted dress. ALN-896 pulled her over his shoulders and carried her down the hallway, feeling her short breathes against his neck. He ran through the dense smoke and flames and finally out of the house.
Zackery Humphreys is 21 years old and is currently attending the University of California, Santa Barbara studying Theater Acting. He has been writing for about seven years, mostly concentrating on poetry and novels. He has a love for books and for storytelling. Now, through his writing, he is hoping to bring those two worlds together.
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