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I looked around and realized: I had no idea where I was, I didn’t know how I got here, and I recognized none of the faces looking back at me. None of us said a word to each other. We all just stared, confused, scared, and curious. I tried to remember what came before this moment, but my thoughts felt like they were slogging through mud.

I studied each face before me, trying to find a connection. Were they somebody I knew? Were we of a similar race? Gender? Age? But no, we had no commonality amongst us.

“Where are we?” a girl asked. She had dark skin and glasses, with her hair pulled back into a bun. Her eyes were wide with curiosity, studying the room, calculating what to do next. She showed no fear, just abundant excitement.

As if it was waiting for one of us to talk, the table we were sitting at moved, whirring and spinning until at it’s center a small black box rose up.

“What is that?” the same girl asked, her voice full of awe.

A faint mechanical whirring continued even after the table had stopped spinning. A blue-tinted face flickered from the black box, glitching here and there, with whole pieces of the face disappearing before reappearing only a second later.

“Hello!” the floating face said in a manner so cheerful, it became disconcerting. “I am your host for this portion of your lives. I’m sure you all have a lot of questions, and some of them I hope to answer. My name is Oracle, and you are all here for one reason…”

“And what’s that?” the girl asked, interrupting the hologram.

“Patience, Vanessa.  I’ll get to that,” Oracle said. “As I was saying,” he continued, clearing his throat. “You all have one very interesting thing in common: Your entire lives have been made up. It’s been a lie… an experiment of sorts. Your parents, they played host to your lives and kept a close eye on you, reporting back to us any changes or developments they deemed concerning, and we made adjustments.”

I looked around at this group of strangers in complete disbelief. This couldn’t be real. But then again, after living this simulated program, maybe I didn’t know what real was.

“But now, the experiment is over.” Oracle paused. “Well, that part of the experiment is over. You eight are the only survivors.”

I shuddered at the thought. What went wrong in the other experiments? How were we the lucky ones? And how do we get ourselves out of this nightmare?

Oracle’s blue face glowed brighter. “The next step is to find out who you truly are. Your real identity, what you did before the moment the experiment started. You’ll remember it all, as if you lived it. , But the question is can you survive the world out there? A world whose identity has been hidden from you, much like your personal identities.”

Oracle’s eyes turned a shade of red, as he said, “Survive the fallout. Find out who you are. It’s that simple.”

There was a noise, a slow deep-seated rumbling that seemed to come from the earth itself. The wall in front of me parted, and a doorway opened up to a blinding light that turned everything outside of it to shadow. None of us moved: either frozen in fear, weighing our options, or unconvinced by Oracle’s speech.

“Why should we believe you?” I asked.

“Because you do not have a choice, Jackson,” Oracle said. Suddenly, we heard a small popping noise followed by a hiss, and a dense fog rolled through the room. “You better run. That stuff will kill you.”

Still, nobody moved. But then the fog reached one of us—a tall man with a beard and broad shoulders. He coughed only once before falling to the ground motionless.

“Do you believe me now?” Oracle asked.

None of us answered. We ran. We ran for our lives and into the unknown.

Jeff Estrella

Jeff Estrella is a retail worker by day and a writer by night based in Massachusetts who is always looking for community, hope, and a bookstore.

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