The following is the thought record of one Mark Edgar Mara in the hours preceding his Rebirth®, as recorded by the Knowledge Growth Battalion of the Never Sound Archives. All tenses, pronouns, and descriptions have been modified to suit the preferences and guidelines set forth by the Body. This document should not be removed from the Never Sound Archives under any circumstances. Failure to adhere to this regulation will result in drastic punishment executed in rapid fashion. Finally, we would like to apologize if any slight sections or features of this curious thought record escaped our edits. Please report any irregularities to the number at the end of this document. Thank you and enjoy your reading.
– The Ovum Corporation
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None of this happened, more or less.
Only, everything happened quickly until it didn’t happen at all. The one thing I know: I took a Capsule 22 that day to Central Complex. I’d never done that before. My Capsule was 17 to Rue Bandingrob for daily Production. I worked as a newsman for the Channel, and Studio is there, its bulk always drowning in light. It’s lit from every side, you know. It’s lit for every hour, you know. They say that in the guidebooks, and I’m telling you it’s true. That’s the line I use at dinners when the conversation is syrup. I tell people how much I know and how the guidebooks are all true, despite anyone who says otherwise. It’s good to be despite anyone else. No matter what people tell you about being, just try to be. I read that on a poster somewhere. I think in a Mall or an Eatery, but I could be wrong. That’s where I usually report from, when we shoot outside Studio, so I figure it must’ve been one of those places.
That said, back to what probably happened: I stepped through the door at Central Complex and saw calators in every direction. These were faster than any I’d ever seen before, at least 50 or 55 qph. Each step flew up into the other one. They went so fast that they almost looked like one single step that shot you to Up in shreds of light. That was good. I wanted to go fast, faster than I’d ever gone before. I wanted to be a shred of light. The good news had come just a few hours earlier and, before any sort of doubt crept in, I wanted to get there and get my prize. I wanted to get my Ovum, what I was promised from that flying yellow ball that had nudged me on the skull this morning. I’d been brushing my hair when it happened. I knew what it was before I looked. I felt it. The odds are 1,000,000:1, they say. You send in application with a reason for Rebirth®, your name, and you have a one in a million chance to win. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it didn’t matter because I’d won. I’d won and I have no doubts that winning was good and that accepting the prize is good. How’d I know that? I’d only known one other winner in my whole life and that was Grandpa. He won and they took him away because he’d forgotten about his appointment. He’d won and forgotten he’d won so ten men in eggshell suits came to collect him. I remembered him fondly. He was more of a Pa to me than anyone. Since Pa had left, Grandpa took care of me most of all. He gave me things to wear and to eat and to hold tight when I went to sleep. He told crazy stories to me, sometimes to keep me up and sometimes to get me to sleep if I didn’t have anything to hold on tight to. It depended on the time. He told me about a far off land called Rusha and a man, a Rushin, who lived there and wrote, wrote with his hands – he must’ve had ink in his fingertips, I think – always putting weird puzzles in his stories, games with words. He told me about somethings called oshins and burds and nytes, things that once existed but didn’t anymore. Some of these things could fly.
I think it was oshins. Oshins could fly high up, and touch something, some soft something. It’s not that clear to me now how they did it, but that’s what Grandpa said. He told me that the day before Body reminded him of his winnings, of the Ovum he’d won. He told me that the oshins had flappers that they could flap faster than anyone. If they did it just right, flapping hard but not too hard, they could fly without an engine and touch Up. Well, somewhere higher than Up. I asked to make sure.
“I don’t get it, Grandpa. They can touch Up?” I’d asked. “They can touch Up without a scalator or a jetee or anything like that?” I must’ve been about six years old when this happened, but I asked a lot of questions. I was smart for my age, I’ve been told. “Not quite,” he’d said. “They can touch higher than Up.” When he told me this, his face got all scrunched up like a tanned plastic being crumpled right before someone threw it out. Thinking about it now makes me sad for some reason, but at the time it didn’t.
“Go look out the window,” he went on. “Go look, and tell me what you see.” I did as I was told. I don’t remember how it looked, but I remember a bit: canister buildings making light on the roads. Each one was smooth and tall. Straight. The big shine roamed over the skyline overhead – it was Up and it’s perfect – from end to end. I looked in all the directions I could, but the big shine always found itself behind the buildings, somehow, and Up continued in every direction. Nothing even began to touch it. I could only think of the light bulbs in my home. That’s what it looked like. Right then it looked like those bulbs. We were the little filament in the glass and Up covered us over, never getting too hot, never getting burnt out, never being anything but Up. It wasn’t a perfect way to think about it, but it was the only way. You know, too. You know what it looks like. This is just how it felt to me. Even things that look the same can feel differently, I’ve heard. I’m not sure because I’ve never been anyone but myself.
“Oh, can’t you see?” he said. “All the light?”
Very slowly, Grandpa walked over to me. His hands moved to my shoulders. I can think of that touch now more than anything, more than what he said. “I see all the light,” I’d say, every time I thought about it, but he always just kept shaking his head. That, too, I realize, is something I remember. His big hands and his shaking head. He didn’t have a beard, but his spike of a chin itched the back of my neck, just touching it through my hair. It tickled and hurt all at once. I can’t remember if I laughed or winced, but I did something.
I’m sure of it.
Up was always Up, but Grandpa left with the men in eggshell suits in the morning and was gone. I never saw him again. He won an Ovum, but I have no idea what for. What Rebirth® could he have wanted? He never seemed to want anything new, he never told me anything, at least. He always seemed content and not once did I see anything less than that in his wrinkles. It felt a bit like a betrayal, but it was hard to feel sad when the eggshell men came to take him to his appointment. He’d forgotten it, and they just wanted to help. The Body always tries to be helpful.
My legs were too straight to really feel comfortable, but I got a good view from the calator. I was being torn through space, and my body felt like it had been broken into straws to be spat to Up at high speeds. With effort, I could look out to the view. It was the whole Central Complex, shining as always. Everything reflected, but with all the light you couldn’t quite make anything out. Just a bunch of shapes, too lit up to be seen. Ovum, Building 12. That’s what the card said, the one inside my flying yellow ball. There was no other information, but I knew what it was. We know what it is. It’s been talked about. As the calator began to slow, I felt myself reconnect. I made a step out onto the landing and the layers of my foot stuck back together again on the lowest level of Up.
I’d never been this high before. In Ovum, Building 12, every tile was clean and sparkling, so bright you couldn’t even see your reflection in one. Nothing like the spotted shells in my house, or even at Studio. My path led me into the main atrium. I’ve never seen anything quite so…grand. A tube of watercolored tiles shot straight up and, when I stood in its center, down below and looking towards the top, it looked like it went on forever. Each one overlapped just a bit with the one before it, each one a little bit of its predecessor and successor, and they all shone. A great tube of water shooting up forever and forever and forever. I felt something like a chill, but it went as quickly as it’d come and the floor under my feet was made of alabaster. I think it was alabaster. It shone like alabaster and had the smell of minerals. The whole building did, really. It smelled like a museum, somewhere where they kept rare rocks and gems. There was a museum like that by my house when I was younger and they had a great big red calcite in the center of it that shone. The light from Up shone on it always, like it shines everywhere, but when light hit rock, the whole room grew red. I grew red and a redness grew on me. The atrium of Ovum, Building 12, had that smell, but the light was different. It was cleaner.
Sliding doors were open across the atrium. An old woman in the hallway directed me to the office of a Byron Jules. “He deals with these sort of things,” she said. She smiled in a funny way, like the corners of her mouth were being pulled apart by strings. So I went. Some floors up, a left, a right. A second left, a third left. Jules had his office in the heart of the building and was part of that tube in the center. It was high up enough though that you couldn’t see it from down below. They didn’t want you to see a man’s office, I guess, when you went to Up. You wanted to see something beautiful, not the underbelly of someone’s desk.
Near the end of the hall, there was a big stone door. It looked like it’d been carved right out of the mine, and had thick, rough edges to it. I guess it meant they were strong enough to pull the rock out of the earth, but you had to wonder why they didn’t spend more time on it, more time to make it look right. The sound my loafers made on the carpet: splush, splush, splush. My hands felt swollen. There were some photographs on the walls, I noticed. There was one of some numbers, metal ones: 124. There was a wheel on fire. I didn’t like that one. There was a picture of a glass of water. I looked at the placard next to it. Glass, Half-Filled/Glass, water, paper/Byron Jules. I guess Mr. Jules took photographs. It struck me as odd, odd that he’d have a stone door stolen from the ground and still take photographs, but I wasn’t in any place to judge. It’s my job to just take it as it comes. My “splush-ing” ended and I knocked on the stone. A call that sounded not unlike “come in” could be heard.
Opening the door, I saw Mr. Byron Jules. I wondered why they wouldn’t just make it so you could see his desk from the bottom. It was fabulous. It was certainly large enough to be seen from the atrium. It looked heavy and shone brown. A funny thing to shine. Brown. You don’t think of it as a shiny color, but Byron Jules’ desk shone brightly and shone brown. It was mostly bare on its surface save for a large monitor, which was turned away from me, and a few curios, none of which I could see too clearly. Jules was sitting behind it. I can’t quite place where I’d seen him before, but I was sure I had. He had that kind of face, a big, clay mass of features. All of them were quite pretty, but together they didn’t really make much sense. The eyes belonged to an older man, and the brow, strong on anyone else’s face, seemed to be a bit too elongated to match the trim edges of his jaw. The lighting from his desk shone up too, right under him, and projected its motley shadow up onto the ceiling.
Huh. I could’ve sworn I’d seem him before. Maybe I’d just seen parts of it, on different faces. I’d definitely seen those eyes somewhere.
The old woman had said that he was a busy man so I decided to get right to it. I took the card out of my pocket with sweaty hands. I held it out to him. He looked at me with those eyes I knew, looked at his monitor, and gave me a gesture to come closer. It took thirteen steps to cross the room, I think. Maybe more.
“Here you are, sir, Mr. Jules.” He took my card. He looked at me, then the monitor, me, then the monitor. Finally, his eyes seemed to agree with the image.
“I didn’t expect you to be quite so old,” he said. He smiled and, strangely enough, all his teeth seemed to be exactly where they belonged. They didn’t look like they had come from anyone else’s body but his own.
“Nobody does,” I said. It’s true. People think I look young in photographs. I think that the long hair throws them off. I used to wear it short, when I was younger, but grew it out now. Like a bad habit from youth. Bad habit. Younger hair, they say, is longer hair. Or is it the other way around? I was thinking about this when he made another gesture that told me to sit. I did.
“Get yourself comfortable, please,” he said. He ordered it, really. I did. He used a hand, of an odd hue, to guide himself through my file. Well, I assumed it was my file. I couldn’t see it. I just stared at the back of the monitor that probably had my face on the other side. It could’ve been anything. It could’ve been a photograph like the ones in the hall. I hummed a song. I don’t remember the name of the song, but I think my Grandpa taught it to me. It went something like: lah di-dah, dah….
“Here it says here that you were born as Mary Octavia Masterson.”
Eleven moments came all at once, and I’m not sure in what order they came: Looking at the mirror, I have a coil of fat around my waist that always gets bitten by my pants. I start wearing pants.
Poking at the softness of my breasts before they’re anything more than inflammations, red tender sore hot skin.
My earrings make my head heavy even though they weigh just an ounce. Eating food, from a tube, that tastes too much like salt.
Belts are numbered days until I can’t feel anything but my face. Flushed.
Ends of dresses: they have a paper touch, a softness that hurts if it hits right.
For a movie about witches, it seems awfully sad. I want to be a mouse, too. On days, on nights, I bend like an extremist. I feel most connected to porcelain.
Reaching for my mother’s hand in the community pool by our house. She doesn’t take it. My eyes sting from the chlorine.
Every time I go to the bathroom. I feel like hiding and I can. Sometimes I don’t go for days because that means I’m not anything I don’t want to be. I see a doctor. He says words that mean nothing to me.
“Mister Mara? If you’re not sure, if Rebirth® is not right for you, that’s okay. This is about you and your corrections. Sexual reassignment through Rebirth® is not…” he went on and on and on and on. I think he said some words about some things. He said words that I’d heard in infomercials, in Ovum commercials, I’m fairly sure of that. Lots of words beginning with “re-,” words that were about fixing. Mr. Jules makes it sound very pleasant. It’s a good procedure. At the very end he said, “Are you okay?”
“Good. I think I’m ready.” I tried to say it strongly, but the tubes in my throat were all in bunches. Mr. Jules simply smiled. He got up from his chair and went to the stone door. I could see now, in the reflection of the glass wall behind his desk, that the monitor didn’t display anything at all. It was turned off.
Opening my legs, I got up to follow him. He was already down the hall, past where I’d taken my last turn. With quick steps, I followed. It didn’t bother me much to talk about my old names. It used to, but not anymore. I was just surprised. It doesn’t bother me much to talk about my old names, but I became aware then of the softness at my upper thigh. I struggled to keep pace with Byron Jules. He only went straight, but he went fast. There might’ve been more photographs on this side of the hall, but I didn’t see them. Somehow, it felt faster than the calators, even though it must’ve been a fraction of that speed. My throat ached and my feet pulsed. I didn’t feel much a part of them, but they ached and pulsed on their own as I moved behind Byron Jules. From the back, you couldn’t tell what his face looked like. You could only see the muscled-laced scapula pushing like meaty wings through his suit and the pendulum swing of his hands.
Nearly a hundred moments passed before we reached another elevator. We went in, went down. It moved silently. I lost track of how far we’d gone down, if we were below the atrium or above the atrium or at the same level. There was only one button in the elevator and it wasn’t numbered or named. The elevator opened. A few more steps, and we reached a door. It wasn’t made of stone. He turned back to me, and, with another smile, with all his fitting teeth, he used his wrist console to open the door marked NEST.
Each Ovum was a funny, little thing, and only together did the NEST appear to have any real size. I realized then that I’d never seen an Ovum before, not in person. On TV, they looked so different. They looked shiny and chrome and wonderful on TV. They looked fine in person, but not the same. They were fairly simple, actually. A round glass belly, set in place by metal, with a few buttons and levers to its side. There was a gauge, maybe two, but no other equipment was there. Each one was labeled with a number. It was hard to believe that each one had someone inside of it. A person within a person. A life Reborn® to make things straight.
“That’s yours,” Byron Jules said. He pointed to an unassuming gimmick, an Ovum in the third row back. I felt a bit of honor at being so close to the door, somehow closer to the outside, but I figured it was actually a bigger deal to be farther back. I remembering reading that the previous seven presidents were Reborn® in the second to last row. One of them, I remember reading, was now a Swedish supermodel, some Ivanka in Stockholm. She had nice, large breasts and spoke with a lisp. Another, I remember reading, wrote mystery novels. He was a man, still, and had a family in Ovum. His whole family from Birth was also in
Ovum, living with other families or living without other families. The guidebook didn’t say. The last row only had one Ovum. The last row’s only Ovum belonged to the founder, whose name was _______. I don’t know what he was now, but he certainly couldn’t have been the founder anymore.
“How does it look?”
Even in the dim lighting of the NEST, I could tell that Byron Jules was still a busy man. He kept checking his wrist console and looking up into the light, almost like he was trying to blind himself. I just nodded as he pressed a button, pulled a lever. I was nodding at nothing, really, just trying to get some motion into my neck. It’d be the last motion I’d have for a while. I know they say you can’t tell the difference, that the only memories you have from Birth are the strange, layered memories, ones you can sort of place but can’t really remember, that the only differences are negligible and movement inside is the same as movement outside. Still, I nodded.
Next, Jules gestured with his neck. He wanted me to get in. A deep breath. I took a deep breath and got in. I knew I was supposed to take a deep breath, that it was supposed to be a big moment and that you’re supposed to take a deep breath before a big moment, but it didn’t feel big. It felt like the big moment had happened hours ago, before I even got on the Capsule 22 to come here. I am ready for Rebirth®. I crossed my legs inside, sat down, and pulled the belt across my lap. A rank odor filled the pod as a blue ooze seeped through tubes at the bottom of the Ovum. “It’s just the stabilizing fluid,” Mr. Jules said when he saw my face tighten. It smelled something foul. I couldn’t quite remember the smell, but it seemed familiar. This all seemed familiar. To distract myself from the odor, I looked at the lining of the pod. Something shiny glimmered in the fading light.
Someone had written something on the side of the pod. It said a word I didn’t know, carved into the metal with something sharp, I’m sure. It would’ve had to have been hard to scratch this metal, and I don’t know anything that could’ve done it.
Above me, within the Ovum, a loop of lights boomed on, and the word disappeared.
It was too bright to read the tightly carved etchings anymore.
“Very soon,” Mr. Jules said. He said it like he was talking to himself, but I’m sure it was to me.
“Ellafint,” I whispered. That’s what it said before I couldn’t read it anymore. Grandpa had told me about something called an ellafint. It couldn’t fly, but it could certainly breath. It could take a deep breath before a big moment. It was something like people, but bigger, I remember. I felt a pain the back of my head as a needle lodged itself in the place where my neck met my back. Everything in front of me changed colors, but I can’t tell you what they changed from. They were just different.
“You say something?” Mr. Jules asked. I shook my head. He seemed to take that seriously and went back to his work. I’d only seen a few buttons and levers, a few dials, maybe, but he seemed to take his time.
Ovum was a large company, I know. I thought about all the people who’d done this, who’d done this same thing around the world. I took my hand, which was beginning to feel limp, a placed it on my groin. I felt. It felt pliant, and I rubbed the space between my legs. I never got around to doing anything serious about that. I never got around to doing anything about filling that space with something of my own. It didn’t seem right, but Ovum is natural. Ovum is not a diversion, just a real change. It’s a rejection of what’s given to you, not a fight against it. This is the right decision.
Under the lights, I began to feel very warm.
Reaching for some lever I hadn’t seen before, Mr. Jules pulled hard. The blue liquid, thick as syrup, was at my knee’s height now and had soaked straight through my pants. I’d be wearing slacks and a collar for a lifetime. At least, some part of me would. I wouldn’t, obviously. I’d be someone not entirely different but better, certainly, some changed person with new parents and new schools and new feelings. I hoped I wasn’t from a poor family. I hoped I’d have chances. I’d put it in my settings that this is what I hoped for, but I didn’t know how good they were at meeting every setting. I know they try, but I didn’t know then.
I wondered what my name would be.
Some noises howled. They were metal noises, scrapings and cogs rounding about in weird ways. The lid of the Ovum closed and all the stench was kept in my little pod. I saw Mr. Byron Jules’ face through the glass. His face looked alright now. It made sense to me.
Eventually, I realized that this was happening. I’d won. I’d won something and I was going to be what I wanted to be. I was going to be anything. I was going to have a chance to try everything again. I held on tightly to that, to that knowledge of a second chance, hoping it’d stick to some bit of me, even a single bit of me, even an atom with a capacity for knowledge it didn’t own. I didn’t understand the science of it, but I was getting a new chance. I remembered my Pa, who threw things at the wall. Plates broke and I cut my feet on porcelain. I remembered him yelling. I remembered lots of yelling. I remembered teachers and friends and people I was standing in front of: all of them, yelling. I couldn’t see their faces, but I did hear them then. It wasn’t just the machines, I’m sure of it. I was sure of it. Screaming, howling, hooting, brutes in my ears. I’d won the lottery for the Ovum and here it was. A Rebirth®.
“Let your-…” Mr. Byron Jules’ voice, with a fading piece of advice I’d never hear, would be the last voice from Birth. There was something really bright, really too bright, and I felt myself get pushed into the tiniest place. With a pop, I was leaking, helium out of a balloon. Good riddance, right? That’s right. Good riddance to bad rubbish. I read that in a Mall too, I’m sure of it. It’s a good saying. With a pop, I felt myself leaking. I felt myself leaking into a foul blue.
Four days will be four years in Ovum, and for all time I’ll be forgotten here. I thought of my Grandpa and the oshins and how the oshins would rise to Up and above just to touch something that I didn’t have a word for.
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The clearance received for this document implied an interest in the most recent statistics. The success of the Ovum Program is immense, exceeding even our own initial expectations. At the current moment, we have 63.27% of the population in Ovum and global carbon emissions are down by 322.89%. Over the next year, we plan to lottery 10% of the population to the Ovum server, “making Rebirth® possible for everyone.”TM When we reach the 95% population mark, with 5% remaining uncontained, carbon emissions will be low enough for the continuing population to thrive without fear of environmental collapse. This is the end of the Incubation Phase. It will be their solemn but necessary duty to destroy Ovum and the Ovum server; all resources – metal, sustenance, and other materials – targeted at those within Ovum must be conserved for the 5%. By reading this document, you are accepting that solemn duty. Thank you and have a pleasant day.
– The Ovum Corporation