I had known about Assignment for as far back as memory takes me. I remember sitting on my mother’s lap, swiping through the story of Aloysius’ Destiny and dreaming about the day that I, too, would learn my fate.
Moments earlier, a tall metal door slipped open and I heard my name: Ruchi, Amithi. I stood up quickly, fueled by trepidation and excitement, and smiled at my father briefly before setting down my study cards and rushing to follow the tall grey jumpsuit through to the long hallway. We entered a small room and I gazed upward at the pale underside of a woman’s chin, jutting out from her suit like the heel of a child.
She measured my weight, my height, and my lung capacity, though I knew these factors did not matter unless I fell outside the normal range. I looked away as she drew a vial of blood, before wondering whether my involuntary action could affect my final Assignment. I was instructed to strip from my clothing and put on a jumpsuit that rested on a narrow shelf—oversized and as dark as the night sky. I neatly folded my navy trousers, blouse, and blazer, ensuring that the citizen number on the left sleeve of my blazer was clearly visible at the top of the stack. I was prepared, well-trained, and ready for the revelation to come.
Today, I would learn whether my mother’s prenatal nutritional counseling and my twelve years of training had proven successful. Today, I would learn my Assignment.
I climbed into a large chair, as instructed, and felt my gluteus sink into the cushioned plastic. My legs dangled briefly over the edge, before being secured to the chair with ankle straps. I positioned my wrists on the armrest and watched as the lady in grey tightened them snuggly around my small wrists. I could see her more clearly now. Her lips looked like a miniature peach-fruit—pale and heart-shaped—and her eyes were as glimmering blue as the Pacific Ocean pictured in my geography learning guide. She silently handed me a small aluminum cup and signaled that I was to drink. The sweet nectar quenched my thirst and titillated my senses as it trickled down my throat and put me to sleep.
I dreamt of Aloysius. Thickly built with flaxen hair and chestnut eyes, the fictional Aloysius spent his early life ardently preparing for his twelfth birthday—the day of his Assignment. I had always loved reading about how he spent all of his days reviewing mathematical formulas, historical milestones, linguistic elements, social cues, and occupational baseline knowledge. In the end, his hard work was rewarded with the most desirable of Assignments: Soldier-Medic. Our hero, Aloysius, goes on to save countless lives in his service to his great continent, the North American Union. I dreamt that I, too, would be Assigned to be a Soldier-Medic, though I knew the position was limited to male Citizens. Perhaps I would be the first female.
I regained consciousness, and slowly lifted my heavy eyelids. I was sitting in the same chair, though the restraints had been released. The woman in grey was gone, but to my left was another Citizen. A male, strapped into his chair, with a spherical dome encapsulating his head. It reminded me of the contraptions in my occupations book, used by Groomers to quickly dry hair.
“Ruchi, Amithi, Citizen 786-163-08.” My head snapped forward as a stout man in a grey jumpsuit confirmed my identification credentials. His voice was deep and comforting, like my father’s. He gestured for me to follow him, and I couldn’t help but think of my father, waiting patiently to learn whether his daughter has succeeded. My mother was at home with my younger brother, Arjuin, likely swelling with unnecessary emotions. It was for the best that she did not join us.
I stepped into a large room with dozens of glass cubbies. As we walked down the narrow hallway, I peered into the rooms and saw that each contained two large screens, two silver chairs, and one suited woman—the Assignment Consultant. The sixth room we passed also contained a Citizen. The female’s platinum hair bobbed up and down as she let out a pathetic wail. The legs of my jumpsuit rubbed against each other with each step like a rhythmic, antiquated machine.
The plump man stopped and pointed at the eleventh room on the left. I stood in the doorway and smiled up at the man briefly before he walked away. This was the moment I had been waiting for—the moment I would be rewarded for my vigilant study and innate intelligence.
I stared at the back of the Assignment Consultant’s head, waiting for instruction. After several moments, she spoke in a high-pitched tone: “Ruchi, Amithi?” I nodded, though her eyes had not left the screen, and responded, “Yes, I am Amithi. Amithi Ruchi, Citizen 786-163-08. I am ready to learn my Assignment.”
The woman motioned me towards the second chair and began, “On behalf of the Department of Citizen Assignment, in service to our great continent, the North American Union, and with support from the Imperium Corporation, I, Jezebel Ward, Citizen 672-163-54, have been granted the authority to review the results of your neurobiological brain imaging, and to bestow upon you your final Assignment.”
Her cheeks were as pink and plump as a baby’s bottom, fresh and promising despite her stern demeanor. I sat down, the tips of my toes grazing the concrete flooring. The woman next to me flicked her fingers to expand a file labeled: Citizen 786-163-08 – Ruchi, Amithi. The stream included anatomical and electrophysiological images of my brain. Jezebel pointed out different color-coded regions of my brain, briefly describing the functions of each. I did not express my discontent at the foolishness of the review, but instead patiently waited to hear the most important words of my life.
Jezebel briefly reviewed a smaller screen, which was out of my view. She inhaled sharply and exhaled as slowly, as if on half-speed. “Ruchi, Amithi, Citizen 786-163-08,” she began. I held me breath and instinctively leaned slightly closer. “On behalf of the Department of Citizen Assignment, in service to our great continent, the North American Union, and with support from the Imperium Corporation, I, Jezebel Ward, Citizen 672-163-54, hereby bestow upon you your final Assignment as Textile Artisan-Mercantile. I will now accompany to your respective Admission Station, where you will be issued a uniform, occupational study materials, and all necessary work tools.” My heart and my lungs momentarily forgot their function.
“Amithi Ruchi, please follow me.” She spoke, but I did not process her words. My mouth gaped, my mind raced. I knew better than to retort her assertion but could not stop myself. “Ms. Ward,” I whispered through choked-back tears, “you must be mistaken. My father is a Neuroengineer and my mother is an Artificial Intelligence Ethics Scholar. I must have scored higher than the Fourth Tier.”
The suited woman smiled timidly, with pity in her eyes. “I understand your disappointment, Citizen Ruchi, but the system is highly advanced. There are no mistakes. Now, you must follow me to the Admissions Station.”
I trailed behind the women, her heels clicking rhythmically across the aluminum flooring as my feet dragged along reluctantly. I thought of my father, sitting in the front room in hopeful anticipation of my First Tier Assignment. I imagined his disappointment when he would learn that the size, symmetry, and composition of his first-born’s brain matter was unremarkable.
Six months earlier, I had attended my father’s presentation on the Neurobiology of Capability. He had smiled across the room at me as he discussed the characteristics of capability: precocious talent, rapid information processing, heightened cognitive control, and a desire for top-down perspectives. He delved into details of how high-level prefrontal cortical functioning within a bilateral fronto-parietal network supports a more efficacious working memory, which—he argued—is integral to qualify for Tier One Assignment. “The neural connections represent neural-cognitive abilities. It’s as simple as that.”
We entered an old wing of the building, contained by walls of concrete rather than glass. The air was thick with the scent of stale chemicals, and the lights were dimmed to little more than an ambient glow. I was passed on from the Department of Citizen Assignment to the Department of Textile Management. I was told to join a group standing in the far corner of the room, so we may all learn the duties of our new positions.
I glanced to my left and saw a boy whose lips twisted upward with mischief. To my right stood the fair-haired girl with swollen eyes. There must be a mistake. Over and over, the thought flashed through my mind: This must be a mistake.
A tall, slender woman with taut lips and long black hair clapped once as she stood before the dozen Citizens newly assigned to her department. “I am Lydia Santa Cruz, Director of Textile Management, and you will report to me. Welcome.” Her words we cold; my stomach fell. There must have been a mistake.
The Director went down a list of interdepartmental assignments and quickly arrived at mine. “The Textile Artisan-Mercantile shall be held responsible for applying their creative capabilities to the design and craft of functional and aesthetically-appropriate clothing across all departments within the North American Union. The Textile Artisan-Mercantile shall also be held responsible, at times, for visiting said departments and presenting uniform upgrades and revisions. There will, of course, be sales quotas and expectations, which I expect you to meet based upon your neural propensity for both strategy and empathy.”
After the presentation commenced, I was handed a rusty-orange smock and black leggings. I dressed in my new uniform and admired the craftsmanship of the gown–small buttons right down the middle and a delicate collar around my neck, like a fence built to contain all questions and rebuttals.
The Director distributed packsacks, labeled with our Citizen numbers and department identifier. I peeked inside my brown packsack; It contained brightly-colored Tier 4 fabric swatches, several spools of thread, and a handheld stitching device. I slung the strap across my bosom and felt a weight on my chest much greater than that of my new packsack. I was dismissed for the day, but delayed my journey back to the front entrance where my father was waiting.
I hung my head like a scolded child, but lifted my eyes just enough to see my father’s face fall. The dull-colored smock immediately gave me away. I didn’t need to say a word. He feigned a smile and wrapped his arms around me, patting me on the back, more for his own comfort than mine.
We took the rail home in near silence. I sat quietly on the ride, resting my face in my hands, occasionally sneaking a glance at my father. His face was scrunched ever so slightly, like a grape-fruit slowly decaying down to a raisin. He was disappointed, perhaps even distraught that I would not become a member of the elite class.
Upon arrival at home, my mother asked me sincerely about my Assignment. I could not contain my misery any longer. I sat on the cold tile and sobbed inconsolably as my baby brother tried to kiss my forehead. My mother placed her hand on my shoulder and spoke, “I am proud of you, daughter. Your Assignment has no bearing on my love for you.”
In time, my family retreated to their sleeping quarters and I washed the tear stains from my smock before falling into a deep slumber. I dreamt that an Assignment Consultant rushed into my home: “A grave mistake has been made. Ruchi, Amithi, Citizen 786-163-08, you have been mis-Assigned.”
Early the next morning, my mother woke me for nutritional rations. I dressed in my burnt orange smock and picked at my oatmeal before walking over to the rail. I briefly considered scaling the barrier and throwing myself in front of the 7:20 rail but thought better of it. Little Arjuin would not understand.
I arrived at the Textile facility and began my training. I was taught the scope of Textile Management, the color schemes associated with each societal role, and how to use each tool in my packsack. To my own surprise, I enjoyed the training, as well as the other citizens with whom I would be working. Though my position did not carry prestige, the universal income disbursement would offer just enough funding for me to one day move into my own living space and spare my parents the shame of association. I could only hope that Arjuin would be Assigned a Tier One position.
By the end of that first week, I had accepted my fate. Though I had always dreamed of prestige, I had to remind myself that the system was highly advanced; I continually reminded myself that there are no mistakes. I acclimated to my line of work, and even grew to enjoy my newfound craft. I came to accept my Assignment as my final destiny. However, the same could not be said of my mother and father.
My parents remained deeply distraught as time passed, despite my apparent happiness. They became consumed with discovering the bug in the widespread Universal Assignment System. The system that they had both worked hard to develop and fought even harder to implement had mis-Assigned a girl that had been trained to thrive in that very system.
My mother and father quickly slipped from their positions of authority as peers and critics questioned how their daughter had failed. Rather than accepting my Assignment results, they began backpedaling and renouncing the very technologies they had introduced to the world. I explained, repeatedly, that I was satisfied with my role in society, but they insisted that I was destined for something more.
I moved into the Textiles Housing Unit the day after my thirteenth birthday and soon thereafter stopped visiting my parents. They saw the acceptance of my Fourth-Tier Assignment as a poor influence on Arjuin, as he approached six years of age.
I advanced within the Department of Textile Management, and was promoted to Director at age twenty-seven. I thrived, continually envisioning new patterns, textures, and means of articulating social roles through clothing. With age, I came to believe that my Assignment was, in fact, the right one. I was never meant to be another Aloysius.
Twenty-two years after my Assignment, the Universal Assignment System was banned. A news story rolled across the screen as I was waiting to take the measurements of a key government official.
As the tall, slender official took long strides down the hallway in my direction, I saw I his face on the screen above me. He spoke firmly, with intention and grief in his voice.
“On behalf of our great continent, the North American Union, I stand before you to declare the repudiation of the Department of Citizen Assignment and an end to the Universal Assignment System. Extensive research has shown that, contrary to initial neuroengineering reports, the structure of the human brain does not reflect one’s innate abilities or potential.”
The man on the screen stood directly before me, tall and silent as I gazed up at the words flowing from his somber mouth.
“Dear Citizens of the North American Union, I regret to inform you that this technology–the very system designed to offer you the best possible life, a system implemented before understanding its function or consequence–has failed us all.”