In 2016, high school girls lined up like this, against a wall in their skintight dresses, waiting for boys to slink over and ask them to dance. In 3016, college girls lined up in their medical gowns, waiting for guards to saunter over and sentence them to death.
Well, not death. Relocation. Same shit, different wording.
“Get the ugly ones out first,” a thick bearded, thin lipped guard said in between sips of his energy drink. “Survival of the sexiest.”
Fucking asshole, walking through the lines without even a glance at our charts. The charts that held our hobbies, mental illnesses, physical ailments, careers, and personal essays. Our last ditch attempt at explaining why we were fit for this world. Why we should be spared, at least until next year.
You see, the world was too small to hold everyone that got spit out, but since the government deemed it inhumane to perform abortions or hold an annual Purge, they implemented the Relocation Order. Every single year, on April 13th, a select group of women (of breeding age) would be imported into a virtual world. A world that mimicked the real world with its landmarks and skyscrapers and pollution. But it was fake. Phony. A series of 1s and 0s that took on pretty shapes.
Inside, there were no men and there was no going back. Once you were selected, your brain matter would be drained from your skull, and the empty shell of your body would be burned, the ashes repurposed as diamonds. But your mind would live on in the computer—at least until you turned 90 and they deleted you to make room for more data—so they didn’t consider it murder.
But I did. No way in hell I was getting jammed into one of those…
“Why, hello beautiful.” The asshole guard was in front of me, grabbing the edge of my gown and lifting it until he could see my pussy lips. “Tell me. Why should we keep you around?”
Cue the hair flips. The lip licks. The sex eyes. In the past, I’d given guards blowjobs, bribed them with free meals from my diner, and offered them a threesome with the girl next to me in line. But I couldn’t slip into my plastic smile anymore. Couldn’t find the energy to flutter my lashes. I was sick of this shit. I’d gone through it enough.
So I just thrust my chart into his chest. “It’s all written on there.”
“Read it to me.”
“No thank you.”
“Read it to me,” he repeated slowly, reaching out to run his fingers over my lower lip. “Why would I want to go through the trouble of reading it myself when I could hear the words pop out of your pretty little lips?”
“Because I believe in you. I wrote on a third-grade reading level, but if you have problems with a certain word, I’d be happy to define it for you.”
His eyes bulged, accustomed to being treated like an official worthy of respect instead of the overpaid prick that he was. But then his lips slid up high onto his cheeks, exposing his large, whitened teeth. “You’re making this easy on me,” he said, and yanked me by the arm.
He was going to tag me. The motherfucker was going to wrap a neon green bracelet around my wrist, so alarms would go off if I left the building. So everyone around me knew I was destined for Relocation.
Why the fuck did I talk back? Why the hell didn’t I just drop to my knees and suck his thin, veiny cock? Because you finally have some fucking self-respect, that’s why. Because a government paycheck doesn’t give a guy the right to whore you out.
But apparently, it gave him the right to end my life.
Twenty-four hours. 1,440 minutes. 86,400 seconds. That’s how long it took them to process me. That’s how long it took until I was strapped to a table, upside down, with my eyes and nose poking through an oval hole. I couldn’t see the drill hovering over me or the tubes draped over the edge of the machine, but I could tell they were there, even with the anesthesia being pumped into my mouth.
“You’ll be knocked out for about thirty minutes while your brain liquefies and then seeps into a tube that will convert your psyche into the super computer.”
That voice. I was feeling lightheaded now, but I could still match it to its face. The guard from the other day. The prick who ruined my life.
“For you, everything will happen in a split second. It’ll feel like you blinked your eyes here and instantly woke up there. But I want you to know that those thirty minutes exist. I want you to know that I’m going to have a full half-hour to do whatever the hell I want to your tight little asshole. And that, when your body is thrown in the furnace to fall apart, piece by piece, my cum will still be dripping out of it.”
The last thought I had, after the curses flew through my soon-to-be pureed brain, was that I hoped my herpes could still be transferred through necrophilia.
I woke up facedown in a metal bed. No chest pain. No burning in my throat. Not even a runny nose. It confused the hell out of me—made me wonder if I was still at home in my lumpy bed, waking from a nightmare—until I remembered that my body was no longer real. I was just an image in a machine. A soul without a body.
I lifted myself up by the forearms and glanced around the room. Identical beds hugged the wall to the left and right of me, like stepping stones leading to the room’s exits. It must’ve been where all the new arrivals, all five-hundred of us, materialized.
“I’m Melody,” a deadpan voice said in between pops of gum. It belonged to a tiny woman with silky red hair and ripped jeans. “I’ve been assigned to you.”
“Mhm. Everyone who shows up gets a buddy, someone who shows them around. Not that there’s much to show.”
“Is this place like, all peace and love and harmony since it’s filled with only women? Never any domestic disputes or road rage, until that one week when everybody’s periods sync up?”
She pursed her lips until it looked like she had an overbite. I waited for the complaint about how I was a shitty feminist and how those types of jokes would get me hung here. Instead, she said, “Good thing about this place: No periods. No shaving, either. You can put clothes over your artificial body, but you’re stuck with whatever cuts and bruises and pussy hair you had when you got transferred in here.“
“If I told you I got a bikini wax the day before, would you tell me the girls are going to be all over me?”
“Can’t speak for the rest of the lesbos, but the line would work on me.”
I was ready to flirt right back, to land myself a girlfriend within five minutes of arriving like the casanova I was, but then I heard crackling. The sound of static. The sound of a television.
“Amy. Amy, Amy, Amy. I hope you’re listening, Amy.” The guard’s voice squeezed out from a set of speakers. “You should be in there by now. You should be able to hear me by now.”
I flipped from my stomach to my back, searching for the screen.
“It’s over in the corner,” Melody said, pointing her chewed-down nails at the wall. “But I wouldn’t look at it.”
But I did look at it. At my body, limp and lifeless, lying underneath the guard’s spiked boot. His zipper was still undone, a little touch he thought would piss me off. It did. But I couldn’t focus on the anger when the rest of my emotions were fighting for attention. Sorrow, bitterness, fear, confusion.
I felt like a ghost, separated from Earth and pushed through to the next life.
“It’s our only monitor that connects to the real world,” Melody explained, clicking it off before it could scare the rest of the newcomers. They were popping up fast now. Ten and twenty and thirty of them at a time. “It’s what they use to communicate with us. Or, to torture us, really. Assholes…” She grabbed my wrist. “Come on. Let’s skip the city tour and give you my apartment tour.”
As she yanked me away from the darkened screen, from the last link to the real world, I realized that the virtual world might’ve been exactly what I needed. Children were never part of my plan. And I was bisexual, so it wasn’t like I’d never get laid again (Melody made that perfectly clear).
No… Maybe I wasn’t sentenced to hell, after all. Maybe I escaped it.
I survived a full year. No, not survived. Thrived. I fucking loved it there.
We technically didn’t have to eat or drink or shit, because our bodies were artificial. But we still experienced certain sensations. Like how an amputee feels like they can move their nonexistent arm, even though it was sliced clean off. That meant we could enjoy a steak dinner, get wasted off of tequila, and orgasm multiple times a day—and mostly, that’s what I did.
Our world mimicked the real world, except it wasn’t nearly as crowded, so there were thousands of unused houses. No reason to pay for them. No reason to work. Instead of owning a diner like I had in the last life, I sang at parties and birthdays and weddings for free. Sometimes, I tended at the local bar, just for the hell of it. Just for the routine.
And when the work day was over, I’d go back to Melody’s house, which had somehow became our house over the past few months. We’d watch movies together, get each other off, and then drift off to sleep (which was more for the mind than for the body). Then, the next day, we’d do it all over again. It was paradise. Pure and uncomplicated.
Until women started getting deleted.
We were meant to live until 90, that was the set age. But for some bullshit reason, a 25 year-old vanished from her apartment. Her roommate was there to see it. There one second. Gone the next.
I assumed it was some sort of glitch. Either that or the girl had performed an elaborate magic trick in order to get out of a bad relationship. That must’ve been it. I was convinced of it.
But I changed my mind on April 2nd,. On my birthday.
Melody was busy baking a cake, a vanilla interior with strawberry frosting, topped with actual strawberries. I was watching her work from the table, yammering on about how much I was dreading becoming someone’s buddy during the Relocation in two weeks. She made a quip about how the girl better not be hot, about how I better not trade her in for a newer model.
I remember her words: “If you so much as look at her tits for too long, you’re dead to me. Unless she’s a hot redhead. Then you can invite her back for a three-way. You know how much I love…“
Gone. Forever. Erased from existence. Stripped from my life.
Just like that.
I stumbled out of my chair, collapsing to the floor. I scuttled over to her spot on all fours, trying to feel her, grab her, save her. But instead of wrapping my fingers around her tiny waist, I felt them claw at the air. Instead of running my hands through her hair, I felt them slamming into the countertops, again and again and again, leaving blood against the marble.
“Melody. No. Fuck, no. Melody.”
I didn’t even bother to change out of my pajamas, to slip shoes over my socks. I just ran, straight for the center where I’d first met her. Straight for the screen that connected us to the real world.
No one else was inside. We had two weeks until the new arrivals materialized, but the place had already been cleaned up, so there was nothing left to do. No reason for anyone to be in there. Which was good, because I didn’t need them to see me bang on the screen with my bloody knuckles, yank at the blue and red wires, knock the entire damn thing off of its stand.
“What the fuck did you do?” I screamed. If I was in the real world, in my real body, the words would’ve shredded my voice box. “I know it was you, you cocksucking piece of shit. No way in hell it was an accident. You wanted me to suffer. You wanted me to—”
The screen blinked on, light pouring in between the freshly formed cracks. The guard stood in the center of it, but I could see men and women bustling around in the background. The type of women that were excluded from the Relocation Order, because they had money or power or good looks or a combination of the three.
“Holy shit. Would you keep it down?” he said. He sounded different than the last time we’d spoken, broken almost, verging on afraid.
“You did it.” I paused to gulp down the air my brain still thought I needed. “Admit you killed her. You deleted her on purpose.”
“Yeah, yeah, we did. World’s gone to shit. The guards and the rest of the elite are getting the hell out of here. Making room for us in there. The real world won’t be real for much longer. Anarchy, bombs, nuclear bombs…” He ran a spotted hand through his thinning hair. “A bunch of crazy shit is going on. We’re safer in there with you.”
I wanted to reach through the screen and tear his larynx out. Or at least curse him out in a way that would unsettle him, pour nightmares into his head so he woke up with screams.
Instead, I did what Melody would’ve done. I played along.
I took a few tiny breaths, trying to push the tears away so I sounded halfway sane. “Don’t delete the rest of us,” I said. “There’s more than enough room in here. You know that. And you can make us work for you. Fuck us. Do whatever the hell you want. Doesn’t that sound better than serving your own beers and cleaning your own homes?”
His power crazy ass actually smiled. “I’ll make you a deal. If you agree to… work… for me personally, I’ll stop the erasures right now.”
I gritted my teeth. Forced a nod. “Deal. Let’s do it.”
“Perfect.” He licked his lips, turned to the woman next to him, and mumbled something into her ear.
I could hear her say that she would have to tinker with the program a bit, but that she could manage to fit us all. That she’d be done by Saturday, the earliest.
That meant, by Saturday, we needed a fucking plan.
It didn’t take much convincing. By the time I’d reached the other girls, I’d learned that pretty much everyone had lost a close friend, a relative, or a girlfriend. Those assholes had deleted more people than I thought before I had the chance to negotiate with the guard. But there were still hundreds of us left. We still had power.
That’s why I drove down to the bar I tended, hopped onto the nearest table, told the karaoke singers to shut the fuck up, and forced everyone to listen to my suicidal plan.
“Our bodies aren’t real, but that doesn’t matter. Our brains create the feelings of pain and pleasure we experience, not our bodies.” I scanned the room, but tried to avoid looking at the booth Melody and I would always share. “If we take ten shots of vodka, we get wasted, because our brain knows that that’s the way it’s supposed to work. If we rub a vibrator against our clit, we orgasm. And if we slit open our throat, we die. Our brain would shut down.”
“She’s looney,” someone whispered, but in the drunken way, in the way that wasn’t a whisper at all. “She lost someone. Can’t think straight.”
“No, no. She might be right,” another woman said, her gray bangs falling in front of her glasses. “It’s happened before. Remember when Samantha choked on that chicken bone and dropped dead? She wasn’t deleted, her body would’ve vanished. She actually died. Like she would’ve in the real world. We had to bury her.”
There was a murmur of agreement and a thirty-second pause before other women chimed in with stories about bullets stopping hearts and suicides from roof falls and heart attacks during sex.
I let them talk. Let them figure out I was right on their own. Let them mingle while I went back to my empty apartment to eat my birthday cake.
On Thursday, random women approached me, asking me exactly what my plan was. Asking to be involved in it. Asking if they could bring their friends.
By Friday, the word had officially gotten around. Everyone knew what I’d wanted to do, and they actually believed my plan would work. Or, at least, most of them did. Enough of them did.
That’s why, on Saturday, hundreds of us sat beside beds in the center where I’d first met Melody, waiting for our buddy to materialize. I held a gun. The woman to my left held a knife. Another woman a few rows down had an actual chainsaw. We each held whatever felt the most comfortable. Whatever would do the most damage.
And when our buddies finally materialized, one by one, expecting to overtake us and control us like they did in the real world, we split their fucking heads open.