Author : Tom Kepler

A large, rectangular container slid silently through the air, a dull, umber metal box, utilitarian and featureless except for the alternating pattern of raised and lowered slabs of metal that were the connecting construction of the rectangle—all the world like a wooden shipping crate.

Above the rippling, endless pattern of trees the freight crate, large enough to hold a hundred units, slipped with perfect equilibrium until it reached a meadow green in the dawning light. Lowering until inches from the meadow grasses, one section, six units wide on the long side of the container facing the meadow, whispered open, sliding back alongside itself, revealing a gridded cage front.

The container then began to rise on the end away from the opening, and a stumbling rustle of sound from inside the container indicated movement. The units moved to the caged door as the acuteness of the angle of the container increased. Twenty units stood in dull stupor, squinting into the morning light.

“Each stand within a consecutive square on the grid on the floor, one standing on the red square at the corner. No one must stand in a square that is completely surrounded by empty squares. Obey, or the sequence will repeat.”

The units complied, shuffling to rectangles, the directions simple enough even in their fatigue. A new voice spoke.

“Outside is a mown section of grass where the grid upon which you stand is duplicated. One square is also painted red, and the two grids are aligned so that the red squares of the grid upon which you stand and red square in the grid outside are in the same place. You will move to the grid outside and enter and remain in the square corresponding to the square within which you now stand.”

“Identify now the units next to you,” the first voice continued. “Proceed to your designated square, lie upon the good earth, cover your heads with your arms, and whatever happens, do not leave your designated square.”

The door noiselessly slid open, and the second voice said, “Get!”

Naked forms leaped from the container and, as if no voices had spoken, ran through and past the grid etched on the mown meadow grasses, ran into the tall, uncut grasses, ran on legs sweated dirty from long confinement into the silent, shadowed darkness of the forest.

They ran, feet beating stubborn rhythms until they were gone—gone, all but one who staggered last from the container, fell to its knees as it stepped from the drop to the mown meadow with its pattern. Staggering to its feet, the unit staggered to its designated space and collapsed, face down upon the grass.

It did not notice the fragrance of the cut grass or the birdsong at dawn or the blue of the sky or the warmth of the morning sun. It did not hear the sudden silence after the trampling of feet. It did not hear the subsequent screams and cries and moans from the forest—or the silence that followed.

Brighter light approached the unit that had collapsed on its perfect square.

“What is this unit?”

A pause. “Adam.”

“This behavior has occurred only once before.”

“Deactivate the guards, and let us depart. We leave it to its fate.”

Light caressed the face of the man unconscious upon the earth.

“Who knows, perhaps the woman still lives and shall meet this man.”

“Perhaps. And may God bless.”

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