When last we left our intrepid re-write of the Star Wars prequels in Episode I, Anakin was older, Obi-Wan was his friend, Amidala wasn’t robbing the cradle, and the Clone Wars were about to start.
“Welcome to Work Precinct 308,” the robotic voice chimed from the self-driving car’s dashboard.
The car stopped softly, the windows slowly transitioned from opaque to transparent, and Alan saw his new home for the foreseeable future. It was an old apartment complex, mostly concrete with soft edges, with blacked out windows and strong metal doors with bars. The front office was designed like a hotel with an awning resting just over the car Alan was in.
“Please exit the vehicle.”
The door opened without Alan’s effort. Alan grabbed his bag and stepped out into the dry air. The front office of the complex was the only thing not surrounded by a concrete wall. It was the only entrance and exit for the entire campus. The front desk’s windows were tinted, but Alan could make out that someone was coming toward the front door.
The door swung open, and a short, stocky man came out with a clipboard and a wicked mustache. He looked down at his brown clipboard, his facial hair wagging back and forth.
“That’s what they call me,” Alan joked. The man looked up from his clipboard with deathly annoyance. He made a check mark on the paper, and pointed at Alan’s bag.
“Bring your things in here,” the man said gruffly, and then stomped back into the front office lobby.
The room was unadorned, save for a lone plant. The white tiled floor was scuffed and the grout was filled with dirt in aging cracks. A small desk was at the back wall, a stack of papers sloppily hanging off the edge facing Alan. The papers were a mixture of white forms and red slips.
“My name is Randall Finch. People around here just call me Finch. I don’t care what you call me, just follow the rules. Don’t leave the building without telling me, and you’ll be fine. Don’t invite people to the building, and you’ll be fine. Don’t tell people on the outside where you live, and you’ll be fine. Don’t bring liquor or drugs into the building, and you’ll be fine. Don’t leave your room after lights out, and you’ll be fine. Give me your red slip, and let’s get this over with.”
Alan held out the paper and Finch tore it out of his hands. Finch looked over the red paper, made some notes then began filling out the paperwork on his clipboard with the red slip guiding him. His pen marks were hard and swift, much like the rest of his actions. He didn’t have time for the new guy’s jokes. Jokes got people in trouble. Then they got shipped out to the processing center and had to deal with the board of directors. Finch, whether he wanted to admit it or not, did care about the people brought into his unit, and he didn’t desire to see them go before the board. He wouldn’t wish that on his worst enemy.
Alan noticed beyond the desk was the door that led out into the courtyard of the complex. There were people hanging out in the green patch of land, the only green patch Alan could remember seeing in his journey to his new home. A few palm trees surrounded a circular grass area with an empty swimming pool. But Alan didn’t realize he was staring at a group of guys who were sitting in plastic lawn chairs in the courtyard, but they had noticed. The men looked at each other and got up from there seats, pushing their way into the lobby.
“Hey, baby bird, who’s the new guy?” the apparent leader of the group asked.
“Baby bird?” Alan said, setting a sideways glance at Finch. Finch rolled his eyes.
“Shut up, new guy. I’m talking to baby bird.”
Finch clenched his teeth and pointed at his clipboard, “I don’t have time for this, Castor. I need to input him in the system so I can clock out. Why don’t you take your entourage back to the courtyard.”
Castor didn’t like that. He grabbed Finch by the arm, Castor’s hand turning red hot. Finch winced, his arm heating up and blistering.
“Don’t you ever tell me what to do,” Castor said angrily. Finch struggled, but Castor wrenched Finch’s arm back and tightened his burning grip. “You normies just think you’re better than us. I don’t like the way you look down on me.”
“Castor, let him go.”
Castor looked at the back wall where a tall, muscular man was standing in the courtyard doorway. Alan released his fist, and the desk gently came back down onto the floor without everyone noticing. Everyone, except for Marshall, the man in the doorway. He was subtly looking at the desk, when Castor finally let Finch go. Alan looked at Finch’s arm, red finger marks burned into his flesh. Finch picked up his clipboard off the ground and started making notes.
“That’s another strike for you, Castor. One more, and you’ll have to be processed.”
“Don’t test me, baby bird,” Castor sneered, and he nodded to his guys. “I’ll catch you later, newbie.”
Marshall watched, unmoving, as Castor and his friends went back out into the courtyard. Once they were outside, Marshall relaxed his posture and turned his attention to Alan, who was anxiously standing in the middle of the room.
“You’ll have to forgive Castor, kid. He wasn’t blessed with an abundance of intelligence. You okay, Finch?”
Finch nodded, exhaling a breath of relief. “I’m fine. But Castor? Castor’s on his last warning. And we know what comes after that.”
“Let me worry about Castor,” Marshall said, his eyes staring back at the courtyard. “So who’s the new kid?”
“Alan Mitchell. Just got shipped here from…” Finch looked down at his paperwork.
“The 305 I guess,” Alan replied. Finch looked up from his clipboard.
“Yeah… the 305,” Finch said with a look of displeasure on his face. “Anyway, I’m going to file this paperwork. Alan’s in room 224b. Can you show him around, Marshall?”
Marshall looked at Alan, sizing him up with a discerning eye. “Sure thing, Finch. Come on, kid. Let’s see if we can get you into some trouble.”
“No trouble,” Finch chided as Marshall and Mitchell walked through to the courtyard, where Castor was still sulking. Marshall put a hand on Alan’s shoulder and pointed around the area. It was more a sign to Castor that Marshall was looking out for the kid than a genuine act of friendship, but Alan appreciated it anyway.
“The cafeteria is down at the end of the courtyard here. Mostly just the old high school stuff. Pizza day on Friday, so that doesn’t completely suck. We go grocery shopping in groups on Wednesday, so you’ll want to use your credits to get snacks then. They’ll bring you soap and toothpaste and that kind of stuff, so don’t waste your credits on it in the store. Your room is on the second floor.”
Marshall ushered Alan up a metal staircase blasted with white paint, chips of it flaking in well-trafficked areas. They finally got to his room, and Marshall showed him in. The room was a single bed, wrapped in white sheets with brown carpeting on the floor and a small bathroom. It was about as dingy a hotel room as Alan could remember seeing before. He looked back at the front door.
“No lock?” Alan asked.
“Nope. Nobody has locks. It seems kinda pointless since we’re not allowed to leave and there’s cameras all over the place. If someone steals your stuff just let me know. We tend to take care of matters on our own. Keeps the board out of it.”
“I heard Finch mention them earlier. They don’t sound great.”
Marshall stopped for a moment, looking out the curtain draped window of the room. Castor’s friends had left and they had been replaced with a group talking down at the empty swimming pool, their legs dangling over the edge. Marshall seemed to be thinking about something far off.
“No. They aren’t ‘great.’ If you see the board, then you’re screwed. So don’t get yourself into trouble. Anything else?”
Marshall asked the question more for himself, his eyes pensively looking to the popcorn ceiling trying to muster another thought. He snapped his fingers and pointed at Alan, a big grin on his face.
“Marshall and Mitchell. That’s us, kid. Anyway, that was the whole show. You need anything from me?”
Alan shook his head, so Marshall went for the exit.
“Wait. What do we do here?” Alan asked. No one had ever told him. Since the received his red slip, no one had told him what exactly he was in for. Marshall turned around, his face showing a disappointed frown.
“It’s a work camp, kid. We do what they tell us to do.”
Marshall’s voice was compassionate for Alan, and sad for all the people working in the 308. It was a work camp; there wasn’t more to it than that.
“Dinner’s at 6. Don’t be late. If you can believe it, the food gets worse.”
The stone edifice was impeccably clean, white granite facing out at the black asphalt of an empty city street. The block was government zoned, and that meant police enforcement at every corner.
Alan was uneasily standing across the road with a bag slung over his slouching left shoulder. His amber eyes stared up at the light-blotting structure, shadow reaching out toward him.
A voice broke Alan’s concentration. He looked to his left and saw a large man in military gear staring back intensely. His eyes were covered with sunglasses with a mask covering his mouth.
“Do you have papers?” The man pressed, a condescending finger pointing sharply at Alan.
Alan pulled his bag up to his hip nervously and pulled a crinkled red slip of paper from its container. The man snatched the paper from Alan’s hand, his head bending down to acknowledge he was reading Alan’s credentials.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I couldn’t…”
The man shoved the paper back in Alan’s chest and pointed across the street.
“Move along, freak.”
Alan’s face tensed at the word.
“Did you hear me? Move along. Don’t make me call it in.”
Alan nodded nervously and set a foot onto the asphalt to show the officer he was en route. The man turned away and began walking back down the sidewalk towards another police officer. Alan took quick short steps all the way across the street and up to the white government office building.
The words were etched perfectly into the stone face: The United States Department for Mutated Persons, precinct 305. Not a scrap of trash around the entrance. Nobody for miles, aside from law enforcement. Alan mused that this was a small reminder of the times they were living in. It was a distinct contrast from what his parents used to talk about, the stories they painted, and the people they were. But that was then and this was now.
Alan pushed his way through the revolving doorway of the 305 building, and was met with a cold, high-ceilinged room with granite floor tiles and marble columns. At the end of the long room stood a granite lobby desk with a woman sitting behind it, typing and answering the entryway phone. She did not look up when she entered, nor did she give any indication that she had even remotely recognized his presence in the empty room.
Alan cleared his throat. The woman looked up, her eyes annoyed and bored. She looked back down at her computer screen, without regard for Alan once again. Alan walked up to the desk and slipped his bag onto the floor.
“Please do not leave your things on the floor,” the woman sighed. Alan reluctantly pulled the bag back up over his shoulder. “Papers.”
Alan held out his red slip of paper, and the woman took it without looking at him.
“I wasn’t sure if I should call ahead, but obviously you’ve got a lot of people today,” Alan joked hesitantly, looking around at the empty room. The woman didn’t look up, and instead ran a black pen across the red paper in a rote, measured movement she’d likely done thousands of times before.
“Take this in, and Secretary Hollins will be with you shortly, Mr. Mitchell.”
Alan nodded silently; the woman never made eye contact again and thus did not acknowledge his nonverbal. “Move along.”
The woman’s desk phone rang again – one ring – and she picked it up almost instantly. Alan walked past her to the glazed door behind the desk, and entered into the office of Secretary Roger Hollins. Hollins was standing behind a giant oak desk, a tiny American flag nestled inside a coffee cup on top.
“Let’s see the paper, son,” Hollins barked, his hand out in waiting. Alan handed over the red slip and sat down. “That won’t be necessary.”
Alan stood back up awkwardly, his bag falling down into the seat below.
“Don’t scuff the leather, son.”
Alan pulled the backpack to his shoulder again, the skin feeling raw beneath his worn cotton hooded sweatshirt. Hollins, a tall blocky man with gray hair and large, blunt nose, stared at Alan’s red paper through cheater eyeglasses. He groaned, his lips pursing and parting as he read the slip to himself. He looked up from the paper at the skinny boy, no older than seventeen years, staring awkwardly at the floor.
“Magnetism, huh? Alright, then,” Hollins sighed and pressed the intercom button on his desk phone, “Miss Doland, please call the transport. We’ll be sending Mr. Mitchell to the 308.”
The phone hung up, and Hollins pulled his finger back. He took out a black pen from his coffee cup, shaking the flag in the process. He made a few marks, and then signed the bottom half.
“You will exit this building, give this paper to the driver outside, and find your quarters at the 308 station house. They will be expecting you in one hour, so don’t think you can lag behind on this. Dismissed.”
Hollins handed Alan the red paper back, and pointed to the door. Alan walked out into the empty room, where Miss Doland was still busily talking on the phone while simultaneously doing her clerical work. Alan looked down at the paper:
Confirmed mutation. Designated for work. 308.
Hollins’s signature was scrawled in the bottom right corner, a sloppy cursive that Alan only guessed was his name. Alan wondered why people wrote their names in such a haphazard, rushed manner.
“Please wait outside,” Miss Doland said in a cold, threatening manner, her arm outstretched and pointing toward the exit.
Alan put his head down and walked outside, where a white transit van was now waiting for him. The streets were still empty aside from the van, and the law enforcement agents walking back and forth in precise formation. Alan opened the back passenger door and stepped into the pristine van.
“Alan Mitchell?” a screen lit up, a digital flutter in its voice. The computer prompt popped up on the panel that would’ve been the driver’s headrest. The van was empty, a self-driving model implemented by the government to transport the mutated so as to encourage class distinction. The prompt displayed Alan’s full name, a question mark, with a yes or no option below. Alan pressed his finger to the glass.
“Thank you. Setting destination: work precinct, designation 308. Please buckle your seatbelt.”
Alan lifted his hand, and watched as the metal seat buckle floated up in the air around his lap. Using his powers in a non-government sanctioned fashion felt like one last act of defiance. The buckle rolled over itself, resisting Alan’s palm as he moved it back and forth in midair.
“Please fasten your seatbelt now.”
The voice was monotone, but to Alan it felt authoritative and angry. Alan snapped out of his trance and put the belt down with his hands. He shoved his bag off to the other seat, and watched the windows around him self tint. People on the streets wouldn’t even know it was him. They wouldn’t know where he was going, what he was doing. He was redacted. Soon, his own parents would cease to remember the little boy who had broken the backyard slide by popping all of the screws out at once. That boy was gone anyway. Now, the man would be gone too. And nobody cared.