Numbers, Like Stories, Never Die
rating: +302+x

Do as you are told.

Curfew is 8:00pm.

You cannot use your real name.

Of the three rules D-11424 was told before her induction as D-Class, the last one stuck with her the most. Even at the old prison, her cellmates called her Jamie.

She walked alongside a dozen fresh new faces, all in matching jumpsuits. At this point being herded around had become routine for D-11424. She plodded along until the security detail entered the cafeteria. They had arrived during the scheduled D-Class dinner block. They had time to eat before they were supposed to be shown to their quarters.

By the time that D-11424 reached the front of the line, the food had gone cold. She took her lukewarm chili and sat down at a table with two others.

"Hey," she said as she put her tray down.

"Evening," a fellow D-Class replied. "You one of the new ones?"

"Yeah. Just got off the bus."

"Welcome to the shit show. I'm 3114. And over there is 5040," he said as he motioned to the man sitting on the other side of the table. He looked up mid bite, and nodded.

"Nice to see that even hell has courtesy. I'm 11424."

"Oh really? Well, shit…"

D-5040 put his chili spoon down. "I mean, he'd been gone for a week."

"Yeah, but that wasn't the first time. There was that time when he was out for like twenty days or something? Came back then."

"Excuse me?"

"Oh, my bad. It's nothing personal. Just didn't realize that number was up for recycling." D-3114 replied.

"What do you mean up for recycling?"

"Like, the previous 11424 going, uh… out of commission. They reuse the designation."

"So, when they die."

"Don't be so close-minded," a woman said as she sat down next to D-5040. "There are plenty worse ways to end up here than dead."

D-3114 waved to her. "Evening, 2312. Apparently Six-Eight-Screw-You got decommed."

"What? No fucking way! That guy?"

"Well, here's his protégé." D-3114 motioned to D-11424.

"Damn… How long he'd been here?"

"I don't fucking know. Longer than me."

"And me," D-5040 added.

"Wait wait wait. What's so special about this guy?"

"11424 was… well, he was a legend. I think he got called in for like, a thousand tests or something?"

"I thought the count landed around a thousand three hundred," D-5040 said after some mental math.

"Yeah, something like that," D-3114 continued, "stuck around since the eighties."

"Late seventies sounds closer."

"Right. Thanks 2312. Either way, dude managed to survive all of that. Err… almost all of that. Got the official nickname: 'Six-Eight-Screw-You', because he was pretty much indestructible."

"I hear he choked out a zombie once," D-2312 added.

D-11424 shot her a confused look. "How does that even work?"

"Well, he put his hands around its neck and squeezed. Duh."

"Oh, are we going to tell 11424 stories?"

"Looks like it."

"Then I'm going first," D-5040 announced. "You know when he actually got his nick name? One time 682 broke out of the acid vat, while 11424 was on transport duty. Before the lizard could regenerate our boy clocked him in the face."

"And that stopped the breach?" D-3114 asked.

"Yeah. Knocked the beast out long enough for the rest of the team to put it in the back up vat. Got acid burns on his hands from the punch to prove it too."

D-2312 rolled her eyes and replied. "Psssshhh. That's nothing. You hear about what happened when he got sent to the underwater site?"

"Underwater site?" D-11424 asked.

"Yeah, the one where they keep 76. He was there one of the times when the demon himself woke up. And you know what 11424 did?"

"He shot it?" D-5040 guessed.

"No. He fucking arm wrestled it. And won. Coffin boy was so ashamed he recontained himself for six months or something."

D-11424 just sat in her chair, a little shell-shocked, and a lot confused. Mostly because none of these names or numbers made any sense to her. But she didn't want to feel too left out of the conversation, so she leaned over to D-3114.

"So, uh, you have any stories?"

"I mean, I have a few. But I probably couldn't quite do any of them justice."

"Oh, what are you saying? You're the only one here who's been with him in the field. So bullshit," D-2312 called out.

"That doesn't really count as a… oh fine." D-3114 pushed his tray out of the way and set his elbows on the table, "So, the two of us were assigned to explore some thing up in the arctic. Brought a bunch of us along in case one person couldn't do the trick. The exploration went fine, or so I heard. Six-Eight-Screw-You was first one ferried out to whatever this thing was, and when he came back we were all told we could leave. Of course the others swarmed the guy and asked him about it. Told a big story about giant walruses and vikings."

"Which is also a great story," D-2312 interjected. D-5040 glared at her. She put her hands over her mouth and motioned for D-3114 to continue.

"But anyways, during the drive back to the airstrip, the caravan got ambushed. Don't know who did it, they never told us. But, I do remember the car in front of ours erupting into flame, followed by gunshots. I took cover, hid behind a chair. Watched as the drivers shot out the side of the window. As one of them took a bullet to the head and dropped their gun. As 11424 picked up that gun and started firing."

D-3114 took a pause and a deep breath, "Yeah, I don't care that I was a coward. But goddamn did I admire that man who just stood there and shot back. We… uh… well they eventually scared those bastards away. And I guess the rest is just history."

"He really was a legend," D-2312 said. "Like right out of those action movies or something. Quips and all."

D-5040 grabbed his drink. "A toast to the most talented test dummy this place has ever had."

Everyone except D-11424 raised a paper cup. The table fell into a somber silence. Clinking and clanking of aluminum trays being thrown into buckets rung throughout the cafeteria. Dinner was over. It was about 7:45. Curfew was at 8:00.

"I better get going," D-11424 said.

"Yeah. See you around," D-3114 replied as he stared into the table.

D-11424 made her way back to the group of new D-Class. She felt lost. Like she'd just walked in on a story half-way through. Autopilot took over as the security guards showed each D-Class to their new quarters. She noticed the cleanliness of the floor, the fluorescent lights overhead, the bespectacled scientists exchanging clip boards down the hall way.

"D-11424! You sleep here," one of the guards called out. D-11424 snapped back to reality and noticed they had arrived at a cell. On the door was a small plaque that read "D-11423, D-11424, D-11425, D-11426".

Inside was pretty bare. Just a pair of bunks, and enough left over space to move around. D-11424 entered and walked to the only empty bunk. Her new cell mates were already asleep. Just as she sat down on the mattress, the guards closed the door behind her. The only light left came from the fluorescent lights outside, shining through some glass in the door.

D-11424 laid down, about to go to sleep. But when her head hit the pillow, she heard a crinkling noise. D-11424 sat up and lifted the pillow. Underneath was a twice folded piece of paper. D-11424 unfolded it. She couldn't quite make out the writing in the low lighting, so she sat near the door and let the fluorescent lights shine on it. It was addressed to her.

Well, if you're reading this that means two things. First, you are D-11424. Second, I am dead. Or something worse happened. Don't want to be too close minded about it. Knowing me I probably had a fun trip through the digestive tract of a giant rabbit. Sounds par for course.

You'll probably hear stories about me. You'll probably get strange looks for a bit. The number carries weight. It did so even before I got here. I got warnings from everyone that "11424 was cursed". Apparently the last five guys didn't last a week.

Made me scared as all hell when I first got called for testing. They were at least kinda right about the curse. It was keter class. So, I walked in there, expecting to be ripped apart or eaten or something. And you know what happened? They gave me a fucking cake and told me to eat it. That was it.

I came back and everyone thought I must've been some sort of hero. None of them actually asked what happened. So I just nodded as they made up the stories themselves.

I've been around the block more than a few times, that's true. But I'm no hero. I'm just a lucky bastard. I got good at exploring stuff and keeping my head out of trouble, but all of the times I escaped death? All luck. By now I should've been killed 11 26 34 times over. At least.

I don't have any talent or anything. There's nothing special about me. You know how I know that? Talent doesn't run out. Luck does. And if you're reading this, I used up every ounce of Fortune's Favor.

But then again, that number carries a lot of stigma. Turns me, a simple Tony Marquez, into some sort of character. 11424. It makes me sound so flat. But they have you use it so you can disappear into the crowd with the rest of us. Even if people talk about me, they won't talk about me. They'll talk about 11424.

Maybe you'll remember me as Tony. As a country boy from Kansas with a mom who worked and a dad who worked harder. I mean, maybe my daughter will remember me as a dad who wasn't home. But that's still not who I want to be. I was a father for a time. A carpenter for longer, built a few chairs, a desk. Even made my mom a new night stand. Yeah, that actually sounds good. Carpentry feels like a very human thing to be remembered by.

Then again that's why I'm writing this. I've seen others of us come and go. There and back again. Nothing more than a number and a body. I don't want to be that. I don't want to be just this thin representation of luck. I want to be Tony.

Sorry I've left you with this stigma. You'll probably fight through it though. Us D-Class are tough like that.

Good luck. I'm rooting for you from the other side.

-Tony Marquez, because that's my fucking name

D-11424 smiled a little, before folding the paper again and shoving it under the mattress for safe keeping. She crawled into bed and fell asleep.

Thanks Tony. Jamie Greenston really appreciates it.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License