The Way Things Are
To become an Alpha. This is what every Gamma dreamed of. “Keep up that kind of work and you might become an Alpha!” That’s what parents told their kids when they did well. It’s what every Gamma lived for and Rob Shriver had been no different.
However, dreams don’t always become reality, which was why Rob had gone ahead and lived as if there was no chance of becoming an Alpha. He had hoped to become a Beta, at least, and have the honor and prestige that came with working directly under the Alphas. But alas, he had no special talent to speak of and remained a Gamma.
Resigned to the fact that there was almost no way for him to move up any further, he continued to work diligently all throughout his school years and landed a nice job at the Z8—City’s Department of Construction and Zoning—near his flat in Ward 14. To be quite honest, he’d never been sure he was Alpha material. He wasn’t particularly smart or ambitious. He was of average height with a pale complexion, thin build, and lank black hair which, when combined with his gray Gamma jumpsuit, gave him a somewhat ghoulish appearance. The only things significant about him were his bright blue eyes and exceptionally good vision. Alphas were in charge of running this world, but he was just an office nobody. So it came as a shock when he received a formal letter detailing his promotion to Alpha.
It was an unusually cold morning when Rob left his flat at 0837 to join the sea of gray moving toward the bus depot. He sat in his seat, staring ahead out of the bus’s tinted glass window, watching the line of identical, gray concrete buildings flash by. At 0854, Rob walked through the doors of yet another gray concrete building, his workplace. He barely managed to squeeze into the already overcrowded elevator, and with a ding the doors slammed shut and the lift crawled its way up to the seventh floor, where Rob’s office was located.
Rob entered his cubicle and, with a sigh, sat down at his computer and began to sort through his inbox. The first message caught his eye, because of its sender. Most of the messages he received were from the Z8 – City’s Department of Construction and Zoning telling him his tasks for the day, or from the Z8 – City’s Recreation Center reminding him about upcoming community events. However, in this new message, the sender box read PRIVATE SENDER. Rob’s bushy brow furrowed as he considered this new twist. He had never received anything from a private sender before. The only users who had his mail address were his boss and other city officials who kept a record of all the citizens in the city. Still puzzled, Rob opened the message to find a link. Despite his misgivings about what he was about to do, Rob’s curiosity led him on and he followed the link to a website that read: Official message from the Alpha Promotion Committee to Robert E. Shriver. Confirm ID number to continue. The site was stamped with the Alpha emblem.
As soon as he saw it, Rob ruled out all possibility of a practical joke. The unapproved use of the Alpha emblem on documents by non-Alphas was punishable by 40 years in a government rehabilitation center (still referred to among the populace by an old-era term, “prison”). Nobody would risk 40 years in prison for a prank. This was real. And what’s more, the heading read Alpha Promotion Committee, which by itself opened up a whole new possibility.
Heart pounding, and hoping against hope, Rob shakily typed in his citizen ID code and hit the “Enter” key. A new page opened up, and in big bold letters it read: Congratulations Robert E. Shriver! You have been selected from among many other worthy candidates to be promoted to Alpha. Although you may not think it so, we see in you the qualities of a great Alpha. Your promotion is effective as of 0900 hours.
Rob glanced at the time in the bottom right of his screen. It read 0903. He had been an Alpha for a three whole minutes without even knowing it. He eagerly turned to read the rest of the message, which stated: You are to report to the Z8 – City’s airstrip where you will be picked up in an airship and transported to the Alpha Promotion Committee headquarters. After you press the “Enter” key, a form will automatically print which gives you clearance to leave work and report to the aforementioned airstrip.
After Rob finished reading the message, he pressed “Enter” and watched as an official pass with his ID number, photo and rank (which read “Alpha,” much to his delight), as well as the Alpha emblem, was printed out of the copier next to his desk. As soon as he checked to make sure everything was accurate, he sat back and let a huge grin break over his gaunt face. An Alpha! He was to be an Alpha! Already his mind was preparing a long daydream about his new life but he snapped himself back to reality. He would have time to fantasize on the airship, but right now, he needed to pack and leave. After showing his clearance to his boss (and laughing inwardly as her jaw dropped), Rob ran out into the hall and, seeing the crowd by the lift, dashed to the stairwell. He leapt down the stairs, laughing like a child, and broke through the door, stepping into the noticeably warmer morning air.
Rob arrived at the airstrip at 1036 hours to witness the largest airship he had ever seen touch down on the runway. As the engines cut off, Rob saw a middle-aged man in a blue jumpsuit and long white lab coat with silver trim (signifying him as a Beta doctor, directly under an Alpha,) descending a set of mechanical steps that seemed to unravel themselves as the doctor walked down, always a step ahead.
The doctor stepped onto the asphalt and walked directly up to Rob. “You must be Mr. Shriver,” said the doctor extending his hand. Following his lead, Rob took his hand and shook it.
“I’m very excited to be working with you today,” the doctor said. He grinned, showing a perfect set of white teeth. “We will be heading to the committee headquarters soon, but first I must take some baseline measurements for our records. Please, follow me.”
The doctor promptly turned and headed back up the mechanical steps and disappeared into the airship’s hold. Rob hurried to catch up, the mechanical stairs folding up behind him.
Rob followed the doctor through a labyrinth of halls before finally arriving at a large room. As soon as he stepped in a Beta nurse closed the door and gave Rob a fleeting look of pity before turning away. The nurse stood a at table and began to unpack a case containing an assortment of medical instruments. That’s odd, thought Rob, why is he pitying me? I’m about to become an Alpha.
But before he could explore the meaning behind that look any further, the doctor’s voice cut through his train of thought.
“I’ve heard you have remarkable eyesight, Mr. Shriver, so why don’t we start our tests there?” He adjusted dials and knobs on a large mechanical contraption. “Just put your face here and we will scan your retinas.”
The doctor handed him a metal mask with cords and valves arranged across the outside and a horizontal glass band covering where the eyes should be. Obediently, Rob donned the mask, and after hearing a few hissings and whinings, he found the cold metal of the mask pressing hard against his face.
“Just relax,” said the doctor as if sensing his discomfort. “It will be over in a moment.”
Sure enough, a few seconds later the mask loosened, and Rob took it off. The doctor took another small cord from the giant contraption and attached it to the mask.
“The reports don’t do you justice, Mr. Shriver,” said the doctor. “Your vision is even better than we expected.”
Blushing, Rob looked around the room for any other strange devices. “What’s the next test?”
“Next test?” the doctor replied absently, still inputting data to the machine. “Oh, there is no need for more tests, Mr. Shriver. Your eyes are the only thing we needed to check. Now that we know they work beautifully, the rest of you is, quite frankly, useless.”
The doctor leaned over a microphone and said, “Mr. Andrews? The subject is perfect. His vision is excellent. With a few adjustments, his eyes will fit your facial structure perfectly. If you would come in, we can begin the transplant procedure immediately.”
Rob sat stunned, trying to process all that was happening. Before he could fully grasp the situation, two burly nurses were upon him and a third wheeled in an operating table. Within seconds, they had him tied him down with a gag in his mouth. As they tightened the straps, an elegantly dressed young man with milky eyes entered the room, guided gently by another Beta nurse.
Despite the man’s lavish outfit and handsome features, something about him looked off, as if the beauty wasn’t his own, as if it had been pieced together from different people, each with their own style of beauty. His broad shoulders didn’t match the slim, pale hands. Guided by the nurse, the man sat himself on a nearby operating table.
The doctor leaned over Rob. He smiled, showing those perfect teeth.
“Mr. Shriver, meet Mr. Andrews, the Alpha to whom you are so graciously donating your eyes. Mr. Andrews’ eyes have begun to fail him; his vision is rapidly deteriorating. With your help, however, we will have him back to perfection in no time.”
Mr. Andrews didn’t look at Rob. Rob felt he was being treated like a spare part to a car, not a living being who was about to lose his eyes.
The doctor approached Mr. Andrews and placed a different, plastic mask over his mouth. “I’m going to give you anesthesia now, Mr. Andrews.” The doctor flipped a switch, and the hose connected to the face mask inflated with gas. “Rest assured, when you awake, your vision will be completely restored. Now, Mr. Shriver,” he said, turning to Rob, “it’s your turn.”
And that was all Rob remembered before he lost consciousness. When he awoke, he was lying naked and bloody on the floor of a small cell, with a gaping hole where his right eye should have been.
“Good to see you finally awake, Mr. Shriver.” Rob turned with a start to see, out of his one eye, the doctor seated on a small stool in the corner of the cell. With a howl of rage Rob launched himself at the doctor. The doctor whipped his hand and felled Rob in one blow. Dazed, Rob had no choice but to listen to the doctor speak.
“I understand your anger, Mr. Shriver, but I don’t think you want to take it out on me just yet.” From his coat, he produced a sleek black pistol and laid it on the floor between them. “This gun has one bullet in it, and you may use it on me if you still want to after you have listened to what I have to say. Because of the recent trauma you experienced, having learned what being promoted to Alpha really means—and losing your eye—you probably have a few questions. After I answer those, you may shoot me if you choose. Now,” he said settling back in his stool, “ask away.”
Rob gulped and let loose a scream that conveyed all the anger and betrayal he felt as his world crashed down around him. “You all lied! I’ve been raised to believe that, with enough hard work, I could become an immortal Alpha and this is what it means? Who does become an Alpha? Why do you do this? Why?”
Sighing, the doctor looked at Rob with the expression of an adult trying to teach a child a simple concept. Pity, amusement and frustration all mixed in one sad smile.
“So many questions,” said the doctor, rubbing his chin and staring off into space. “But you have one thing wrong. We never lied. The Alpha are immortal, and this is why: When part of their body begins to fail, we replace it with an even better piece from a lucky Gamma, such as yourself, thereby not only extending their lifespan but constantly upgrading them to make them even better. Have no fear, Mr. Shriver, you will get to become an Alpha, but it may not be as you originally imagined. You will become an Alpha because a piece of you will be added to our dear Mr. Andrews here, and you will live on in him. So in a sense, the best of you does become Alpha. Now, why do we do this? Mr. Shriver, it takes great men and women to lead the world, and if we have good leaders, why let them die when we can have them forever? Can you answer me that, Mr. Shriver?”
Rob said nothing. The doctor nodded and continued. “Your sacrifice saves many more people. Instead of different factions with different leaders vying for power, causing armed conflict, we have the same leaders. No one needs to be killed under their benevolent guidance. Because of you, Mr. Andrews won’t need another eye transplant for 50 more years. Well,” said the doctor, scratching his chin again, “that’s not completely true. We were only able to harvest your right eye. Your left eye did not react well with Mr. Andrews’ body, so I decided to leave it with you. We will have to find another donor, but that is a small price to pay for the lives of countless others.”
The doctor stood and looked down at Rob lying silently on the floor.
“I now give you the choice, Mr. Shriver. You may either kill me, or you may kill yourself. If you choose to kill me, then you may leave. We both know you won’t be able to keep this big secret to yourself, and once the truth is known, the whole world order as we know it may collapse. For years, humanity will try through bloody conflict to rebuild society, but that society will not be as efficient as the one we have now and it will come at the cost of millions of lives. Or,” the doctor said, picking up the gun and placing it in Rob’s hand, “you can kill yourself. You have already become an Alpha. You live on in Mr. Andrews, so now you are just an inferior version of what you once were: an Alpha in the making. Now you are an Alpha, but you are still holding onto the remnants of your former self. Embrace death now so that millions might embrace life. Embrace death and become what you were meant to be.”
The doctor leaned down and whispered into Rob’s ear. “Embrace death, and become an Alpha.”
Rob looked down at the gun for a long moment, then back at the doctor. He stared for a long time into the face of the man who had taken him from his home and destroyed his way of life. Then he made his choice. A single shot rang out and the sound of Robert Shriver’s choice echoed throughout the ship.
Mr. Andrews woke from a heavy sleep with an enormous pain in his head. He always felt this way after a transplant, but even after 181 years, he still hadn’t gotten used to it. Groaning, he rolled over and felt for the audio switch he used to call the doctor. “Doctor, come in here and administer more anesthesia. My head feels like someone’s taken an axe to it.”
With a sigh, he rolled back over and waited for the doctor. After a minute, he sat up as best he could and looked anxiously out of the window to see if the doctor was coming. His room was right next to the doctor’s, and he usually received an immediate response when he called.
Leaning over, he flipped the audio switch and said in a more urgent tone, “Doctor, if you aren’t in here in 10 seconds, I’ll have my men make your head feel like it’s the one that’s been bashed in.” He lay back down and closed his eyes, expecting to hear the doctor’s footsteps at any moment. But after five more minutes, he still was as alone as he had been when he awoke. As he leaned over to the switch to try and contact his guards, the door to his room opened and in stepped the doctor.
“Well,” said Andrews, “took you long enough.”
“So sorry, sir. Mr. Shriver took an awfully long time with his choice. But in the end, he made the right decision.” The doctor adjusted the nozzle of the plastic mask.
“Well at least you’re here now,” said Andrews, putting on the mask. “I know it’s for the good of the world, but still…” As he leaned back, the memory of Mr. Shriver’s panicked screams echoed through his mind. “It’s a shame he had to die. But that’s the way things are.”
“Yes sir,” said the doctor as he flipped the switch to the anesthesia. “That’s the way things are.”