304256 woke up and promptly began changing into clean clothes to go to work in. She worked like clockwork, a machine following commands precisely. It was the same for all of the other people who were in the three-hundred- thousands. Every day, at 7:00 a.m. they woke up and got ready in exactly 30 minutes before taking a transport to the nearest fabrication factory.

After the invasion in 3067, everything had been lost except sanity. Names had been forgotten, and one who called himself Zero took charge and created a perfect society; almost. Everyone had a number assigned to them, and lower numbers signified higher positions. It was a government based on lots of underlings and many in power.

304256 got onto a transport, and, like the last 13 years of her life, rode silently. But that day, there was something nagging at the back of her mind. She wasn't sure what it was, but she disregarded it and went to her usual position and began her work for the day.

Sometimes she wondered what in the world they were making; each different assembly line made a diverse object, some looking like odd telescopes, others that seemed to be part for a ship of some sort. All were extremely complex to make, but to operate? 304256 could only guess what their purposes were.

After half the day had passed, 304256 felt the tickling feeling at the back of her head. It was a question, and she suddenly felt like she couldn't help but ask it.

"Why is Zero the ruler? He's a number that means nothing!" She said to no one in particular. The nearest overseer, 40217, immediately clouted her sharply across the back.

"Keep your head down and don't ask questions!" He snapped. 304256 flinched and bent over, returning to her work. After a couple of minutes she asked another question.

"Why can't I ask questions?" She glanced around, but nobody was listening to her conversation with the overseer, or even paying attention, so absorbed in their work.

"Be silent!" 40217 spat, hitting her again. 304256 cringed, but then suddenly lashed out against him. She scored his cheek with her fingernails, and then rapidly withdrew, astounded at what she had done. There had been people before who had talked or asked questions, and had been properly subdued, but no one had ever attacked an overseer.

The overseer fell back, mortified. 304256 noticed that there was a strange sort of sparkle in his eyes. He quickly ran away to the office section of the factory to speak with one of his superiors, and 304256 sat at her station, stunned and at a loss for words. All around her, the other workers made no sounds as they continued mindlessly on with their labor.

A mere five minutes after the overseer whom 304256 had scratched left, a more important looking person began making her way towards 304256's position.

"I am 20001," said the woman, who looked to be of middle age. "You are to come with me." 304256 nodded meekly, and followed behind her, head bowed in respect as they walked out of the factory building and onto the street.

"What do you think you're doing, asking questions and attacking an official overseer?" 20001 rounded on 304256. "Zero tries very hard to make sure everyone and everything is in place. There is an order to our land, and you've just disrupted it!" 20001's eyes sparkled too, but 304256 was too shamed to notice.

"I...I was only...I was just asking a question, you see," began 304256. "I was only wondering why Zero is our leader, and 40217 struck me..."

"As he should have," said 20001, biting her words.

"Um, then I asked why we couldn't ask questions..."

"Chaos, that's why! If everyone asked questions, then there would be no order!" 20001 stopped reproaching 304256 long enough to open a thick glass door and enter a tall, tower-like building. She and 304256 got onto the elevator and took it to the 15th floor.

"I...I'm sorry, really! Please...please don't subtract me," pleaded 304256 as they walked down a hallway. If people were ever disruptive, or had bad behavior, they were subtracted, or their number became bigger by having a certain amount subtracted and then added upon two or three times as much. It was well known that the smaller number you had, the higher your position, and higher numbers had worse working conditions and less medical care. 304256 was glad that she was only in the hundred-thousands, not the millions. Or even, she shuddered, in the ten-millions.

"Unfortunately, I will not be the one to execute punishment. I'm taking you to my superior," 20001 informed her. "What you've done has never been done before." 304256 shivered, and tried not to make eye contact with her chaperone.

They stopped in front of an office door, and 20001 ushered 304256 in. She sat down on a steel chair while 20001 left to other duties. While waiting, 304256 tried to think of ways that she could beg forgiveness. In but a few minutes, an stately man dressed in black entered the room from a different door. He went right to his desk and pulled a report from one of the drawers.

"I am 13124," he said to 304256 in a stern voice. She immediately fell off of her chair onto her knees; he was in the ten-thousands! Almost as if he didn't notice her, 13124 scanned the report he had gotten and clucked his tongue reprovingly. His eyes sparkled in cruel mirth; or was that it?

"You asked irrational questions and attacked an overseer? And he was in the forty-thousands? That is most inexcusable. I think that you should be subtracted."

"Oh no, please don't, I won't do it again, I promise. I was so close to being added; don't subtract me," begged 304256. When people were added, a negative number was added to their existing number, which made it become smaller.

"I am flabbergasted that you attacked an overseer; it has never happened before. I think that your addition should be postponed, and three times three hundreds will be subtracted to your number. Today you're to go to the synthesizers and attempt to correct this behavior. Go now." 13124 stood and opened the door that she had come in. 304256 got to her feet meekly and padded out quietly. 20001 was waiting outside, and led her out of the tower and to one of the adjoining buildings. In the official records, her number immediately changed from 304256 to 305156.

"I hope that you have learned something." 20001 glared at 305156 before stalking off. 305156 pulled open one of the sparkly doors and went in the synthesizer facility.

"Appointment?" Questioned the brown-clad clerk sitting at the front.

"Um, 13124 sent me," replied 305156. The clerk gave a slight intake of breath, and then directed her to one of the various entryways on the side of the room. 305156 went in and began her afternoon of synthesizing therapy.

At 6:00 p.m., 305156 left the facility and took a late transport back to her residence hall. She hurriedly ate a meal of processed food and took her prescribed injection before going to sleep.

"My liege, she is violent. Are you sure she's the one?" A fairly small, middle-aged man numbered 37 spoke softly to his superior. "And her number is far into the three-hundred-thousands."

"I know, but she's just like I was. Because I was different, I was chosen to be Nothing. It wouldn't do to break the pattern," Zero, the leader of the land, mused. "If she, 305156 is it?, has any more outbreaks, be sure to inform me as soon as you can."

That night, she had a dream. 305156 had never had a dream before, and it was surreal. She had found the capitol, and was walking around with the thousands and hundreds. Then she met a person in the five hundreds and was taken to Zero's office. On the door was a sign that said 'There is Nothing in here'. 305156 was just about to enter when her internal clock woke her up; it was time again for another day of working at the factory.

Upon arriving at the factory, 305156 noticed that the overseer who she had attacked the day before was present, but watched her with a wary eye. She made sure to keep her head down and went to her normal position as if nothing had happened. But, for some reason, she still had a nagging sensation in her head, and it was stronger than yesterday. 305156 hoped that she wouldn't cause any trouble.

When half an hour had passed, 305156 noticed with a bit of apprehension that the overseer, 40127, had stopped staring at her with fear in his eyes. Now it was malice. She tried not to make eye contact and worked furiously. In her peripheral vision, she saw him approach her.

"Good morning 304256, or actually, now it's 305156 since you were subtracted," he taunted. She felt her ears redden, but made no comment, trying to remain focused on what she was doing. 40127 paced behind her, obviously wanting some reaction in order to get her into more trouble.

"You may have gotten me surprised yesterday, but I'm more important than you, being a forty-thousand and all. 305156; hah, you're in the three- hundred-thousands," he said snidely, looking down at her bent form condescendingly.

Just because his number is closer to Zero than mine, he thinks he's better, she thought to herself. When did that ever start? Why are there lower and higher numbers? Why isn't everyone treated equally?

"Don't you have anything better to do?" 305156 asked, trying to keep the bitterness from her voice. What did he want from her? And why were his eyes so shiny? Was he sick?

"You keep you mouth shut!" 40127 snapped, and smacked on the back of her head.

"Get away from me!" 305156 shouted, and jumped from her spot onto 40127, pulling his hair and clawing at his face.

"Ahhhghhhh! Help!" He swung around, trying to loosen her grip, but 305156 hung on doggedly, never having been so enraged before. Two other overseers raced over to help 40127, and one hit her over the head.

I don't think those synthesizing drugs I took yesterday helped much, thought 305156 sadly. Then room spun and she lost consciousness.

Upon awakening, 305156 found that she was in a cell, probably in a detention center. They were very small, with few holding rooms since very few people ever caused enough trouble to be thought of as criminals or disturbers of the peace.

The room was six by six feet, and the ceiling was ten feet up. There were no windows, and the light in the room came from the hall. 305156 nervously sat up; she had been laying on a perfectly flat cot, and there was nothing else in the cell. It was cold and empty, and 305156 shivered. Now she was in for it. Attacking an overseer a second time, after she had already had therapy the day before.

"They'll definitely subtract me now," she said sadly to herself. What had happened? What was that blind rage that possessed her earlier, the overwhelming sense of injustice? 305156 knew that everyone had a place, but it just didn't seem fair.

Suddenly, she heard someone walking down the hall.

Oh no, here they come! 305156 sat with her back against the wall and waited, listening to her heart beat in her ears. When they came into view through the bars, there were two people. One seemed to be the lower number while the other appeared to be a guard of some sort. Unlocking the door, the man who seemed to be of a higher rank gestured for 305156 to come out.

"Don't try anything," warned the guard.

"305156, I am 1996," said the man. 305156 jumped off of the cot and onto her hands and knees in humility; never before had a person in the thousands even spoken to someone in the hundred-thousands, not to mention three- hundred-thousands. She was really scared now.

"Get up. We must go now," ordered 1996. Carefully, 305156 stood up and left with 1996 and the guard. She walked behind him with the guard by her side, watching her every move.

They exited the prison and got onto a transport. 305156 watched as plain buildings and factories flashed by through the window.

Truly, I have done it now. They'll probably subtract me until I'm in the millions. Or worse, just exile me. She had heard, in history classes, that only once in the past had someone been exiled. But he was a murderer, I only attacked an overseer... 305156 was surprised at herself; only attacked an overseer?! Just by doing so she had already secured herself a part in history; the first violent factory worker!

A violent factory worker? If these were different circumstances, I could actually laugh at the thought! 305156 couldn't believe what she was thinking. Laugh? I've never laughed before...

After about a five minute ride, the transport stopped, and 305156 along with her two escorts got out and strolled over to the nearest building. It was colossal, extending out for what looked like miles, and around fifty feet tall. The walls were polished, and had metallic shines to them. She couldn't tell where the windows were, if there were any at all. It was the capitol building, and 305156 felt uneasy. She'd never been this far uptown, and she'd definitely never been to the capitol!

Not pausing to admire the impressive architecture, 1996 led 305156 and the guard inside, and they took an elevator to the top floor. 305156 ignored her panicky feelings and followed 1996 dutifully.

At the end of the hall was a large door. It appeared to be made of wood, and there were no labels on it like on the other doors.

Maybe there's no one in there, thought 305156 hopefully.

1996 went up to the door and knocked, almost reverently it seemed. A dry voice from inside answered almost immediately, "Enter." Slowly, 1996 swung open the door and almost tiptoed inside. The guard pushed 305156 and she went in after him.

"Wow..." She breathed, looking in awe at the beautiful room. There were all kinds of paintings on the walls, some of things she had never heard or dreamed of. The carpet was thick and soft, a rich green color. Hanging from the ceiling was a light, but it was surrounded by crystals hanging on chains, and fragments of the color spectrum were thrown on the wall. 305156 gaped at it all, never having so many colors in one place. It took her few moments to notice that 1996 and her guard were on their knees with their heads bowed graciously.

Looking forward, 305156 saw a man sitting at a polished desk who appeared to be in his mid fifties. There was a brightness in his eyes, but also a hard weariness. She saw no detectable emotion showing on his features, and did not know if he was angry or merely amused.

"Hello, 305156," he said to her. "I am Nothing."

Feeling her legs turn to jelly, 305156 collapsed onto the floor, and touched her forehead all the way to the ground. Expecting immediate punishment, she dared not move or make a sound.

My crime was so bad that they consented to bring me before Zero...I am no doubt going to be subtracted far into the millions, maybe even the ten- millions... With thoughts such as these running through her head, 305156 barely breathed, fear constricting her throat.

"Leave, 1996 and 4788," said Zero in a commanding tone. "I must speak with her alone." Mumbling all kinds of acknowledgements and grateful statements, her two captors stood and left the room. Still not moving, 305156 waited for the vicious reprimand that she was sure was coming.

But it never came. Zero made no sound, and it seemed as though he was waiting for 305156 to say or do something first. Shaking as if it were subzero temperatures, 305156 very slowly pulled herself up so she was just on her knees. Not daring to look up, she asked, in a voice that was barely a whisper, "I have done a great wrong, haven't I?"

Hearing him stand up, 305156 thought that maybe she was out of order. Who was she, 305156, to talk to Nothing, the ruler of the land? She was sure that he got up so that he could strike her dead. He walked around his desk and stood in front of her. Gently taking her wrists, Zero pulled her up until she too was standing. Flushed and scared out of her wits, 305156 did not dare to look up at his face.

Letting go of her, Zero watched as 305156 stood on her own, shivering nervously. Carefully, he reached out and held her chin, raising her head so that they both saw eye to eye. She had been expecting to see his face contorted in anger at her terrible crime, enraged, like the expression 20001 had had. But, there was a surprising warmth to his complexion, and he looked almost as if he pitied her predicament. He didn't look like the cold, grim leader Zero like she had expected.

"What," he asked softly, "makes me so much more powerful that you should have to bow to me?" Not knowing what to say, she stood there for a moment or two, sorting out her thoughts.

"You're Nothing, the great ruler," 305156 answered, choking on her words. "I...my number is so large that there is a big difference between you and me." Hot tears of shame ran down her face. "I am not worthy to talk to you."

Sighing, Zero shook his head. "That is what they want you to think." Taking a step back, he went and sat back down at his desk. "That I am the great and only Zero, the highest individual." He seemed to be talking to himself.

Is this a ruse? Some kind of subterfuge that he will outwit me with so that I am confessing my crime and tripping over my own tongue? Marveled at her rebellious thoughts, 305156 bit her lip so she wouldn't state them aloud.

"Please, take a seat." Zero gestured around the room at the numerous chairs stationed there. Nodding but not trusting herself to say anything in return, 305156 sat in a chair that looked as if it had been woven with stiff fibers. But, it was comfortable.

"I'm not what you think," said Zero. "I am not truly your great leader."

"W-what?" Stammered 305156. Was he playing some sort of game?

"Wait, maybe I should start from the beginning. I'm sure you're aware of what happened at the invasion?" Zero questioned her. 305156 was surprised to say the least; why was he asking about that? Did he not know of her awful crime? That she had attacked and overseer? Twice?! And why did he say that he was not her leader? He, Zero, was not great? What nonsense was this? Pushing her awkward thoughts to the back of her mind, 305156 attempted to answer.

"All I know is that there were other life forms that found our planet distasteful, so they destroyed as much of it as they could before continuing on to search for more planets suited to their needs." 305156 still felt undeserving of Zero's attention, but felt a little more at ease talking with him than before. "Then, when almost everything was lost, someone who called himself Zero set up our society, bringing order back to our world."

"Yes, that is essentially what happened," replied Zero. "But, they didn't leave..."

"W-who didn't leave?" Asked 305156. Already, conversing with her great ruler did not seem so hard as before. Maybe he wouldn't subtract her.

"The invaders. The S'sharix." Zero gave an involuntary shudder. "Indeed, they did not like our planet. I don't know why, though."

"What do they look like?"

"Oh, they have been alive in this universe a lot longer than us, I can assure you of that. They do not even have a real form, really being floating clouds of fog made of pure thought. The S'sharix devastated our planet, leaving us to perish, or so we thought. Their starships use strange technology, and actual physical labor is next to impossible for them. So, they themselves entered our broken, torn bodies and helped us regain sanity. But, only so much." Zero got a hard look on his face.

Hatred? Thought 305156.

"The S'sharix rebuilt our minds back then only so far, so that it was possible for us to make easy decisions and deductions, like 'I'll turn left instead of right', or 'I'm hungry, I must eat something.' It took many years, but finally they had bred a society of mindless individuals to work for them. A people bred for slavery!" He spat. "But, fortunately, there are few, only about one every generation or so, that can actually think for themselves. Like you, and me."

"But, the overseers..." Began 305156.

"The overseers are possessed by S'sharix! Otherwise, they would be as brainless as your fellow factory workers. What they say and do is controlled by the certain entity in them. All numbers below 50000 are controlled by S'sharix. They keep the 'order', while the rest are made to work. If you ever want to tell if someone is being possessed, all you have to do is look into their eyes; they get unusually sparkly or shiny."

"Yes, I did notice that..." 305156 trailed off. So they were not really people? Just puppets for the S'sharix to move about in? The thought made her sick.

"I'm sure you've already figured out why the S'sharix use us," said Zero. She nodded almost imperceptibly.

"We're just a race of slaves, to do their physical work for them! To assist them in the building of the starships!" 305156 knew now why Zero had looked so enraged. She too felt a deep sense of injustice.

"Why don't we fight back? There are so many of us and so few of them!"

"Oh, they have that planned out nicely. Remember that I told you they only reconstructed our minds partially after defeating us? Your fellow hundred- thousands couldn't solve a puzzle if the answer was staring them in the face. All they know, and can know, is their work. It's been forced into them. You and I are like wild cards, few and far in between." Zero features turned from anger to depression. "It's all I can do not to go insane, I am alone all the time! Nothing, the great ruler of the land? Hah!" He laughed bitterly. "I am only a figure head. My room is so decorated because it gives me ideas, and that is all that keeps me going."

"But they seem to be in allegiance to you," said 305156. "They speak with awe in their voices when talking of you, and 1996 even bowed when he came in!"

"Only an act, and believe me, they are very good actors. If the population of this land were to be told that they had been conquered by an alien race that enters host bodies to communicate and uses them for physical work, it would blow their minds. They just can't comprehend that! But the story, the lie, that a man named Zero took over and set up the number system is much easier to accept."

"Then why not just use anybody to be the ruler?" Inquired 305156. She no longer felt like an inferior to Zero, but an equal. Talking with him was to best thing that had ever happened to her.

"Because they believe that leaving an intelligent person to work in a factory is dangerous. And they're right. Do you recall the story of the only man to be exiled? The murderer?"


"He was a wild card, like us. But the S'sharix ignored him. Almost every day he had to be synthesized because he asked questions and refused to labor. Finally, he became dangerous. He took a heavy piece of metal one day and began to beat over the head all of the overseers and people controlled by the S'sharix he could see. If a person dies with a S'sharix in them, the entity dies with them. So, they finally knocked him out. Unfortunately, they tried therapy with him again. Of course, it didn't work. If anything, it made him angrier. He killed five S'sharix individuals before an overseer shot him. Exiled? He was killed!" Zero shook his head in distaste. "Never again did the S'sharix leave intelligent people to work. Every one had been made the 'ruler of the land', or Zero."

"But why don't you just run away? It can't be that hard!" 305156 stood up and paced, something she had never done before.

"Don't you think they watch me?" Zero laughed harshly. "If I was out running on the street, a factory worker might see me. They'd become confused as to why their leader was promenading around, and then questions could arise in their mind. Questions that would confuse them, destroy them. No," he said shrilly. "They watch me all the time."

"Even now?" Shivers ran down 305156's spine.

"Yes. The S'sharix know you're intelligent, and they can't let you go back to work at the factory. In fact, they can't let you leave at all."

"Then am I going to be the next Nothing?" Asked 305156, her stomach feeling queasy. Sympathetically, Zero nodded, not making eye contact.

"Just like me, you'll be surrounded by S'sharix possessed individuals all the time. Barely ever do I get to leave this building." Zero glanced at 305156. "But at least you'll get to live several more years with me until I'm too old to go on, and we can talk and keep each other from going insane."