A Foreign Exchange

I'm going to be late. I exit the subway onto the busy streets of Kyoto. Taking a moment to gain my bearings, I set off towards Site-302. I'm sure a foreigner that's late on his first day is exactly what the Japanese branch is looking for. I check the time on my phone. Just what I need, another excuse not to fit in. A blur of stores, signs, and people flash by as I make my way through the crowds. My name is Mike Dalton, but there are so many Mikes you can just call me Dalt- shit, that line's not gonna get a laugh here. Already nervous about the new job — my internal monologue begins to sow seeds of doubt.

Linda's words echo in my mind, don't worry your gonna do great and in a few months I'll finish training and be there with you. She always knows the right thing to say. I start checking my pockets to make sure I have everything I need: cellphone, ID badge, keys, wallet, cellphone. I give a quick tug on the strap of my bag, satisfied with the results. Konichiwa, my name is Mike Da—, as I cross the street my thoughts are cut short by a hard tug on my jacket sleeve.

A cold empty voice is muttering behind me, "Ienikaeru, Kore o teoshi shinakereba narimasen, ienikaeru, ienikaeru, ienikaeru!"

Shrugging the boney wrinkled hand from my shoulder, I turn around, meeting the milky eyes of an old man, glaring at me.

He continues rambling and pointing. "-ienikaeru, ienikaeru."

As I try to remember what this means, my thoughts are cut short once again, this time by a car horn, cutting a sharp pain through the side of my head. I turn to see a car stopped in front of me, the bright lights compounding my newfound headache. I turn back to face the man, he's already gone. I hurry across the street to avoid further embarrassment, the car horn still blaring behind me.

Site-302 is about three blocks away when it dawns on me what the strange old man was saying. "Ienikaeru" That old shit was telling me to go home. I guess things here aren't that different from back in the States. Already knowing I was late, I reach into my pocket to check the time on my phone only to find an empty pocket. I frantically check the others before realizing: I have nothing in any of my pockets, I don't even have my bag. What the fuck? I stop walking when it dawns on me that I’ve been robbed. I turn back in the direction I came to go find the old man. "Kore o teoshi shinakereba narimasen"— that fucker told me he was robbing me. "I need to borrow this" my ass.

I trace my way back down the two blocks I'd already traveled, fuming the whole way. My headache has me dazed, I barely register the strange looks I am receiving. I probably look like a raving mad man. Londa always tells me I can't hide my emotions. I finally manage a cool composure as I arrive at the intersection of the encounter. As expected, the old man is nowhere to be found. I attempt to ask for help from people walking past, only to receive cold shoulders and glares of disgust. There's a small convenience store on this block; I decide to go in and ask if they've seen him.

As I enter, the shopkeeper smacks me with a broom as she shouts, "Watashitachi wa anata no shurui o koko ni tsurete ikimasen!"

I stumble out the door, her words echo clear in my mind: we don't take your kind here. Shocked by the xenophobic display and nearly blinded by my persistent headache, I decide to just go to the site and explain what happened.

Lost in thought, I manage to make a wrong turn, twice, maybe three times. I passed the Site at least twice before arriving at Site-301, an hour and a half late. Disguised as a water treatment plant, the site is almost indistinguishable from the cityscape surrounding it. This is going to be a great introduction. I press the button on the intercom.

A gravelly voice responds, "Identify yourself."

"Hello my name is Mike Dolphin- I mean Dulton, Mike Dulton." I rub my temple. I'm feeling lightheaded, my vision slightly blurry. What the fuck is wrong with me?

The gate buzzer sounds as the voice replies, "Proceed through the door."

I stumble through the gate to the door. It swings open to an all too familiar sterile white hall. I'm barely inside when I feel two hands grab me and slam me to the ground. They pin my arms behind me, with my face pressed against the floor.

I hear the voice above me in a harsh tone: "I don't know who you think you are but you're pretty fuckin' dumb for just walking in here. If you move, I will break your arm."

Rough hands pat me down as I try and think of the words to say. "I-I'm Mick Dontal, I work here, It's my fir—". My words cut short as I'm dragged down the hall, two security agents following behind.

The voice of the man dragging me sounds genuinely amused."Real funny, but don't worry we'll figure out who you are."

Now we're in the second corridor. An image of my wife's face flashes through my mind and just as quickly my searing headache takes it away. We pass several sets of doors, one on each side, before stopping at the last pair. I hear the man holding me knock on a door; the other guards haven't taken their eyes off me. Why don't they know who I am? Surely they have a file on me. Why can't I think straight? I need to explain— and then I realize why no one recognizes me.

In the door across the hall, I see my reflection. I see my wrinkled face peering back at myself: my tattered clothes, my sunken eyes, my boney fingers. What is happening? This isn't me, I'm-I'm… why can't I think of my name? My ghastly image is flung away as the door opens long enough for me to hear…

"My name is Mike Dalton, but there are so many Mikes, you can just call me Dalton," followed by laughter.

As the door closes, I catch a glimpse of the man I used to be. At least I'm fitting in. The door slams shut, and just as fast my thoughts evade me. The guard begins to drag me down the hall again. Panic sets in.

"He is me; he is me; he is me!" I struggle to break the man’s grasp to no avail.

But if he is me, who am I?

The guard finally stops dragging me as he stops in front of a containment chamber door. He removes his goggles and allows the retinal scanner to identify him. The lock releases with an audible click. The guard kneels down to look me in the eyes.

In a monotone voice he says, "You should've just gone home, Mike."

The guard's milky white eyes are the last thing I see before I'm flung into the dark containment unit.

I don't know how long I've been here. I'm not sure if I care. There has to be 100 of us, maybe more, all of Site…site… oh, it doesn't matter anymore. New people come in now and then, if you can even call us people. At least, as I sit amongst these empty shells, I can take solace in the fact that I finally fit in.

A room full of nobodies, and I'm nobody too.

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