By: Ryann Kerekes

I walk down the long corridor, my bare feet slapping against the cold concrete. The hallway is lit by fluorescent bulbs, which cast wide circles of light every few feet, leaving the spaces in between dim. The effect is disorienting.

I stop at the end of the hall, finally reaching room seven. The door is cracked open, and I hesitate in front of it. For the briefest of moments, I consider fleeing. Visions of running through the fields surrounding the compound, my thin paper robe flowing behind me, flash through my mind, but when I glance up and see the camera trained on me, I push the thought away. There’s no reason to be nervous. It’s just a mindscan. It will only take a few minutes, and then I’ll be certain of my future.

I’m reminded of my mom’s ramblings last night, the wild look in her eyes, and I hear her words repeated in my head. They can only take what you give them. Guard your mind.

I knock once and push the door open in front of me. The room’s larger than I expected. At its center, a metal table sits under a glowing yellow light. A woman in a white lab coat stands beside the table. Her head lifts at my knock, and she lowers the file she’s been reading. My file. “Eve Sterling.”

“Yes,” I answer, though it’s not a question.

“Come.” She motions me forward toward the table. Her mouth tugs up as she attempts a smile, and the shadows accentuate her sunken cheeks. It’s a gesture meant to calm me, but under the strange light, the effect is more frightening than reassuring. “You’ll lie here.” She places her palm on the table. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she says at my hesitation.

I move toward the table, and she sits at a stool in front of a data terminal. The side of the machine reads M-SCAN 6000. The mindscan is in its sixth generation. The early attempts at scanning people’s brains for abnormalities ended in mental incapacitation. We learned in History of the Medical Revolution that it fried their brains, turning them into slack-jawed zombies. But those early attempts were only seen as an unfortunate side effect, a small price to pay to keep society safe.

I remember my teacher asking the class, “What’s the cost of one life?”

If it’s yours – a lot. One life to cure all society of brutal crimes, mental disorders and disease – the cost does not seem so high.

During the revolution, all citizens over the age of eighteen were given a mindscan. But crime wasn’t reduced as much as they wanted, so they lowered the age to sixteen, unable to go any lower since the mindscan needs a fully-formed brain to work. The small percentage found to be Rejects are locked away, ensuring the safety of everyone. And though sometimes those under sixteen commit crimes, they are dealt with swiftly.

I climb onto the table. It’s cold through the thin gown, and goose bumps break out across my back and legs. I lie flat on the table and stare up at the ceiling, trying to focus and keep calm. I squint ahead at the light. I know the mindscan screens for aggression, murderous instincts and anti-social disorders, but I realize I don’t know much about the procedure itself. “So, how does this work?”

My voice is met with silence in the large room. I hear typing at the data terminal. Maybe my evaluation’s already started. Maybe I’m supposed to stay quiet unless spoken to, and that was a mark against me. I swallow down a lump that’s formed in my throat. My fingers press into the table. The coolness suddenly feels good against my palms. I focus on my breathing and hear my mom’s words again. They can only take what you give them.

The woman attaches electrodes to each of my temples, then opens my gown in the front, and attaches another over my heart. The cool air nips at me, and I fight a shiver as goose bumps rise across my chest and stomach. She places the last electrode on the end of my index finger. This one is more like a clamp, but it doesn’t hurt.

“Just try and relax. Clear your mind.”

Guard your mind. My mother’s voice shouts inside my head. I shake the thought away.

She walks back to the data terminal, and I turn my head to watch as she flips a switch and twists a dial on the side of the machine where the electrode wires are attached. It hums to life, but I don’t feel anything yet.

She begins with simple questions: My name, my favorite color and the subjects I enjoy most in school. This is just to see the normal patterns in my brain, or so she says. It will capture my baseline.

She twists the dial higher, and a jolt of electricity begins to buzz, working its way inside me, beginning in my head, then coursing and pulsing through my veins, like my entire body is alive with an energy I can’t control. My mind jumps around erratically. I close my eyes and try to relax. My mind goes fuzzy, and awareness of the room around me fades.