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Unrelenting Sunrise

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[ P l e a s e    e n a b l e    c h a n g e s    t o    s y s t e m    d a t a b a s e ]

 

Chris raised his left wrist towards the scanner while typing with his right hand.

 

>> C B 2 9 9 7 ; C O

>>  * * * * * * * * *

 

[ A c c e s s    g r a n t e d ]

 

>> i m p u t   d a t a :  s e c t o r  5 

>> n e w    a r r i v a l s :   2 7

 

[ s a v e   c h a n g e s ? ]

 

[ y e s ]   [ n o ]

 

[ o p e n   g a t e   5 ]

 

Chris watched through the screen as the bus pulled in through the unlocked gate, which immediately shut behind it. White figures of other Corrections Officers swarmed it as soon as it pulled into the designated parking space. 

 

[ p l e a s e   p r o c e e d    w i t h   r e g i s t r a t i o n .  

 

y o u r   t i m e    r e m a i n i n g    i s :  3 2 0 . 2 9  m i n u t e s ]

 

He glanced back at the monitoring screen. The white Corrections Officers were standing around two busses. He knew that the kids inside must be changing at this point. 

 

[ y o u r   t i m e    r e m a i n i n g    i s :  3 1 9 . 5 7  m i n u t e s ]

 

Chris sighed. Why did management always insist that they get through the registration process this quickly? He doesn’t even know any of the kids he’ll be in charge of. This was only his third ever assigned group that he had to take care of, and he already knows that it’s going to be a hassle, like the last two times. 

 

His monitor beeped.

 

[ I n c o m i n g    m e s s a g e    f r o m   W K 3 9 8 3 ; C E ]

 >>  g e t   y o u r    l a z y    b u t t    d o w n    t o    t h e    a r r i v a l    p l a t f o r m  

 

Chris snorted. 

 

 S u r e    t h i n g    W o o j .    I    k n o w   y o u ’ r e    d y i n g    w i t h o u t    m e     t h e r e :)    <<

 

With one last look at the monitor, he stowed the scanner away in his pocket and took the stairs down to the arrival platform. When he first arrived here, in LIONS INC. Correctional Facility STR0325, his head would sometimes hurt because of all the white. White walls, white uniforms, white chairs, desks, screens. White everything. With time, Chris got used to it, but he knew that a lot of the kids arriving would have the same issue as he did.

 

[ y o u r   t i m e   r e m a i n i n g    i s :  3 0 1 . 0 5  m i n u t e s ]

 

As he walked through the doors towards the assembly platform, he was greeted with twenty-seven new and confused faces. 

 

“You made it, thank God,” Woojin greeted him, holding a tablet, “the new kids are getting antsy.”

 

Woojin’s job as a Correctional Educator was to monitor these kids’ progress under The System, to re-educate them and to assign each of them tasks that would help them towards their recovery. Chris’ job was to manage their general recovery: House them, feed them, supervise them. 

 

He quickly climbed up on the small elevated podium that served as a stage, grabbing a microphone. Twenty-seven faces turned to look at him, and all low murmur stopped. 

 

“Hello arrivals of Bus 4419, and welcome to LIONS INC. Correctional Facility STR0325! My name is CB2997, and this is WK3983,” he pointed to Woojin, who had climbed up next to him,”but don’t worry if you can’t remember that. You can refer to us by our first names: I’m Chris, your Corrections Officer and General Guidance Counselor, and this is Woojin, your Correctional Educator.”

 

He looked around the room. He saw confused faces, scared faces, angry faces. He saw some kids fiddling with the cuffs of their white uniform hoodies, and some shuffling their feet.

 

“You are here because you displayed worrying behavior during your training period, and it is our job to help you correct your mistakes and ensure that all twenty-seven of you become full-fledged members of society, and of LIONS INC. 

 

You will be spending the rest of your training period here. For some of you, who are nineteen, this may only be a year, but those of you who are sixteen will be spending the next four years with us, until you are ready to take on the responsibility of being a LIONS INC. employee. 

 

Woojin and I are here to help you. If you have any concerns, complaints, or questions, don’t hesitate to ask us! We will do whatever we can to make you feel welcome and comfortable here.”

 

Chris stepped back and let Woojin to the microphone. As Woojin introduced himself and began talking about the daily structure, meal times, and lesson plans for the twenty-seven teens, Chris let his gaze wander through the crowd. 

 

His previous two assignments were mostly eighteen or nineteen year olds, so almost all of them were twenty and had already graduated from The System to move on to their respective jobs within LIONS INC. 

 

These new arrivals were younger. So young… Chris was confused as to how someone so young could already be causing troubles with management, but he supposed that was just teenage rebellion. Better to stop it now and teach these kids how to live in their community instead of letting that rebellion fester, he supposed. 

 

His eyes searched the crowd. Pale faces, tanned faces, faces that obviously wore makeup or piercings until just a few minutes ago, when all the kids were asked to change into their new uniforms and take off all excess belongings upon arrival. The freshly scrubbed faces surely belonged to the elite; makeup was a luxury that not many from, say, his home, could afford. 

 

Chris huffed. Many of these rich kids didn’t belong here. The elite insisted on paying their way into a favorable job positions for their kids; the polls and selections were carefully manipulated. It was like a game. Rich families with big shareholders in LIONS INC. pitted their children against each other, bribed officials, and tried to bring the children of other big families down. Chris was sure that some of the teens here never committed an offense. Bribing someone to send the children of rival families into Correctional Facilities was, for some, a sick method of revenge. 

 

Suddenly his eyes stopped their wandering. He was looking directly into the eyes of another, of someone who wasn’t watching Woojin as he droned on about sleeping schedules, but was watching Chris instead. Chris felt trapped by those honey eyes that seemed to see straight into his soul. 

 

The owner of these eyes had reddish hair, high cheekbones, heart-shaped lips, and… were those freckles? He couldn’t really describe what he was feeling, only that it was a lot. Intrigue, interest, curiosity, fear, apprehension, attraction… Chris needed to know more about this person. Why was he here? He didn’t look human; he looked enchanting, otherworldly, fairy-like, perfect. It made Chris want to write songs, tell him all his secrets, pour his soul out. 

 

Whoever he is, Chris realized, he is dangerous. 

 

“But don’t worry, your individual schedule is also posted in your assigned room, and Chris and I will chaperone you to your classes at all times, so there is no way you can get lost!” Woojin finished his speech, and Chris slowly came back to life. He tore his gaze away from those eyes and cleared his throat, stepping back to the microphone. 

 

“Now that we have explained everything to you, it’s time for you all to line up. Please show me your Identification code, and I can enter you into the system. It won’t take long, and afterwards we can move you to your rooms to get settled for the day.”

 

Chris stepped down from the podium and sat down at the desk in front of it, while Woojin separated the arrival platform into two sections using some rope line dividers. One section was for those who are yet to be entered into the system, and the other for those who are already in. Chris pulled out this monitor and called the first in line over to take a seat.

 

[ y o u r      t i m e    r e m a i n i n g    i s :  2 1 6 . 8 7  m i n u t e s ]

 

>>   F u n c t i o n :   E n t e r    n e w   d a t a

 

[ P l e a s e    s c a n    w r i s t   I D ]

 

“Give me your left wrist please.”

 

The teen handed his wrist over to him wordlessly. 

 

[ C o n f i r m   s c a n :   M L 0 0 9 8 ; E C ]

 

[ c o n f i r m ]     [ d e c l i n e ]

 

“What’s your name?” he asked, probingly. The two zeroes in the front of the code meant that he must be from the elite.

 

“Lee Minho. I don’t know why I’m here.”

 

Chris sighed: “That’s alright. Rarely anyone ever does. Alright, you’re good to go.”

 

The teen thanked him and walked over to the other end of the arrival platform. 

 

[ y o u r   t i m e     r e m a i n i n g    i s :  2 1 4 . 1 9  m i n u t e s ]

 

>>   F u n c t i o n :   E n t e r    n e w    d a t a

 

[ P l e a s e    s c a n    w r i s t   I D ]

 

Chris waved the next one towards him. This teen looked gloomy and refused to meet his eyes. Black bangs were covering his forehead. 

 

[ C o n f i r m   s c a n : C S 5 7 2 1 ; S T ]

 

[ c o n f i r m ]     [ d e c l i n e ]

 

“And what’s your name?”

 

 S E O   C H A N G B I N  , as the monitor read, remained silent. 

 

Chris looked at him with pity. The first two numbers of your code refer to how close you live to LIONS INC. Central (with numbers 00 ofcourse meaning you live in the dead center), and by looking at the five in front, Chris knew that this boy grew up in one of the worst slums around LIONS INC. District 5 was one of the poorest places he had ever seen. About a quarter of all the arrivals they got at this Corrections Facility yielded from the slums: If it wasn’t District 5, then it was probably District 2 (although District 2 was much better off than District 5, at least in some areas). 

 

He motioned for the new arrival to leave to the other side of the room, and   S E O   C H A N G B I N   got up. 

 

Chris quickly fell into a routine: Scan the wrist ID of a new arrival, attempt a tiny bit of conversation to make them feel more at ease, enter the data, and get ready for the next one. 

S K 0 1 4 5 ; G D     K I M    S E U N G M I N

H H 5 2 3 0 ; A P     H W A N G    H Y U N J I N 

J Y 0 0 2 1 ; L C       Y A N G    J E O N G I N

 

Chris’ eyes snapped open to look at the teen’s face. 

Yang Jeongin, 17. Son of Mr. Yang Minseok. This is the heir to an executive position in a LIONS INC. chemical branch, he realized. 

 

Jeongin flashed him a carefree smile. His father was probably pressured by higher ups to put his son in a Correctional Facility.

 

Dear God, Chris thought as the youngest arrival so far made his way to the other side of the room, this kid is going to die here.

 

[ y o u r   t i m e    r e m a i n i n g   i s :   1 9 3 . 6 5  m i n u t e s ]

 

>>   F u n c t i o n :   E n t e r    n e w    d a t a

 

[ P l e a s e    s c a n    w r i s t   I D ]

 

A new teen shuffled over to the desk where Chris was seated. Curious eyes were darting from side to side, taking in new information.

 

[ C o n f i r m   s c a n :   J H 3 1 2 9 ; M S]

 

[ c o n f i r m ]     [ d e c l i n e ]

 

“What’s going to happen to us?” the teen, who had introduced himself as Han Jisung, asked him.

“Is it true that you’re going to brainwash us? I heard that first you drug us out of our minds and then-”

 

“No, of course not,” Chris interrupted gently, “You’re just here so that you can learn to live peacefully in our society.” He looked down at the chart. Apparently this kid was training to become a mechanic. 

 

“Well, yes, I guess you could say that, but what I really heard is that-”

 

“You’re here because you’re different, because you don’t quite fit in with everyone else. That’s OK, people are born different. But we’re gonna work on that, alright? We’ll help fix you, so you can be like everyone else. Don’t you wanna be just like everyone else?”

 

Jisung remained silent, but Chris saw that he was still filled with questions. That’s alright, Chris thought, I just need to pay a bit more attention to him to ensure he learns how to fit in. Who wouldn’t want to fit in?

 

Something slithered gracefully into the chair opposite to Chris, and a small wrist extended itself towards him. He looked up.

 

It was him. The pretty one with the light hair and freckles. 

 

[ y o u r   t i m e     r e m a i n i n g   i s :   1 8 8 . 4 4  m i n u t e s ]

 

>>   F u n c t i o n :   E n t e r    n e w    d a t a

 

[ P l e a s e    s c a n    w r i s t   I D ]

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Felix.” Chris was surprised at the deep voice, but after the initial shock thought that it quite suited him. 

 

[ C o n f i r m   s c a n :    F X 2 9 0 0 ; D E ]

 

[ c o n f i r m ]     [ d e c l i n e ]

 

“And why are you here?”

 

“I snuck out with some friends after curfew one too many times. They’re in another Facility, I think.” The more Felix talked the more Chris heard an accent he hadn’t in quite a while. It was the familiar nasally twang of District 2 Section 9. It was home.

 

[ E R R O R :   D A T A    O N     F X 2 9 0 0 ; D E    U N A V A I L A B L E ]

 

Chris frowned and hunched over the scanner. This was strange. He’d never had an error occur before on his shift, although he heard it happened once before. 

 

“Hey, Woojin!” he called over, in his hurry not noticing how Felix cursed under his breath. 

 

“That’s strange,” the Correctional Educator muttered, frowning at the red letters.

 

“Of course it’s strange, Wooj, that’s why I called. Now what do we do with this?”

 

“I heard this happened before, but I’ve never seen it. I’m gonna call management.” And with that Woojin was off, speeding out the door and down the hallway, leaving Chris confused and in charge of twenty-seven equally confused, antsy teenagers. 

 

He turned back around to Felix: “Has this ever happened to you?” 

 

“No, it’s the first time,” the teen answered. “Is it bad?”

 

Large brown eyes looked straight into Chris’ soul. He felt weak, and ready to believe anything. Heck, if Felix had told him right now that he was in fact Archangel Michelangelo descended from heaven to invite Chris because God wanted to smoke pot with him, he would have believed it in a heartbeat, no questions asked. 

 

“Of course not. It’s just a small error, I’m sure we can fix this in no time, I promise you.” Felix looked visibly relieved, and Chris continued.

 

“What are you training to be? I’ve never seen ‘D E’ before.”

 

“I’m gonna be in the entertainment industry. I know it’s an outdated job and all, but there’s only so much a hologram can do for a crowd.”

 

Chris nodded. It made sense, he supposed. Holographic and CGI idols were great, they were perfect , for lack of a better word, but he understood why people longed to see real-life idols, dancers, and singers again. It was like trying to replace a loved one with an android copy; it works for a while, makes for a nice illusion, but you keep noticing little things that still aren’t quite human. These little things build up, until over time the android has turned from beloved copy into creepy mechanical impostor. 

 

“I’m sure you’re very talented.” 

 

Felix smiles, and Chris’ breath stops. It’s a smile that radiates warmth and unadulterated happiness, and Chris cannot stop staring. 

 

It’s in this moment Woojin walked back onto the arrival platform, a satisfied smile on his face telling of a job well done: “I talked to management and they said not to worry. It was just a small glitch in the system, and it’s all fixed now. Just scan his wrist again, and it should be fine.”

 

“Thanks man. I almost died trying to keep twenty-seven misbehaving teenagers in check. How irresponsible of you to just leave me here at their mercy.”

 

“Ah, I’m sure that you payed a lot of attention to all of them,” Woojin said, side-eyeing Felix, which Chris pointedly ignored. He whipped out the scanner again, and true to Woojin’s word, this time he managed to register Felix with no trouble at all. 

 

“Sorry for the trouble there, mate,” he petted Felix’s shoulder, letting his District 2 Section 9 accent slip through on purpose. When Felix looked up at him with wide eyes, he smirked and waved him off to the other side of the room so that he could continue registering the five remaining teenagers.