Where did you get the name Titanium?
I got the name when I was a teenager. It was a way for the Leader to make us feel like we had some control over our lives, a trick he played on us to prevent dissent.
#237 stands in a long line filled with teenagers. #237 looks at the girl in front of him and a frown crosses his face.
The color of her hair, a pale pink, reminds him of something from his past, the day he saw #235 and asked her to go to the library with him. He still blames himself for her death. #237 looks down at the floor, saddened that she is no longer here.
#237 is so entranced in his thoughts that he doesn't realize the line has moved. The boy behind #237 pushes him roughly. "Pay attention. You're holding up the line!"
"Sorry," #237 mumbles under his breath. He walks up to the table. The woman at the table grabs his left arm, jerking him forward.
"Sit down. What is the name you have chosen?"
The woman places his arm flat on the table, palm down. She picks up something that looks like a pen with a needle tip. She dips the tip into a container of ink and pushes a button on the instrument. It starts making a buzzing noise. She touches the needle tip onto #237's wrist and he winces in pain. He buries his head in his right hand, trying not to look at what she is doing. A few minutes pass and #237 feels a cold wet cloth on his wrist. The woman pushes the button again and the buzzing ceases.
She looks at him with her expressionless face and slides a piece of paper towards him. "Sign this with the name you chose. From now on, you will be known as Titanium."
#237 looks at the paper. The title reads 'Teenage Compound Residents.' There are a row of numbers in succession and several signatures by each number. #237 is reminded again of #235 when he sees that the row where she would have signed is crossed out. In place of a signature, the word 'deceased' is written. #237 freezes again, and the woman taps on the table, indicating where he should sign. He looks at her angrily as he picks up the pen. He breaks his stare and writes 'Titanium' on the line.
"Thank you. NEXT." The woman takes the paper back. #237 turns and walks away from the rude woman. He looks at his arm for the first time since his experience, and it is slightly pink in color from the minor irritation it has endured. His arm now reads 'Titanium.'
Did getting to choose your name make you feel like you had some control over your life?
No. Not really. The illusion that I got to make a choice for myself was just that, an illusion. I didn't feel any better after getting the name than I did when I was only known as #237. It was just another kind of label. All aspects of my life were still controlled by them.
What were classes like as a teenager?
Classes increased to two a day instead of one. The one about the Strangers was always taught, but the second class was always different.
Titanium sits in the classroom with the same two teenagers he had met when he got branded. The name placards on their desks show their names. The girl is named Zinfandel, and the boy is named Camo. All three teenagers look less than thrilled to be there. The teacher has written the word 'Modesty' on the marker board.
"What does this word mean to you, class?"
Camo is clearly not the submissive type as he immediately mouths off to the teacher. Titanium giggles under his breath, amused by Camo's behavior, even though Camo had been rude to him earlier. Camo looks at Titanium, and nods in approval towards Titanium's laughter.
"Excuse me, Titanium, do you think Camo is funny for disrespecting me?"
Camo mouths off again and the teacher glares at him, giving him a warning look.
"Modesty means decency. In this house, we are decent people. We should dress accordingly. That is why we provide clothing for our residents. We wear shirts with proper necklines, pants and skirts with proper hemlines. This also means avoiding the temptations of makeup and jewelry."
Zinfandel raises her hand and asks a question.
"Why are makeup and jewelry bad?"
"Good question, Zinfandel. That question leads me to my next point. In this house, being a decent person not only means dressing properly, it also means behaving properly. Makeup and jewelry are indecent because it causes you to use your body to get attention. This is something decent people should never do. In addition, now that you are teenagers, your young bodies are changing into adult bodies. You will be seeing these changes as well as feeling them. This is where modest behavior is crucial. You must never become intimate with other teenagers. You will face punishment if you break this rule. Intimacy in this house is reserved only for adults."
"You mean boobs, right?"
Camo challenges the teacher with another inappropriate remark. The teacher whips around and stares at Camo. He looks at her intently, trying to intimidate her. She meets his gaze and scolds him.
"Camo, please be quiet."
Titanium sits on a bench in the cafeteria, chewing and looking down at his food. Someone sets a tray on the table across from him and sits down with him. Titanium doesn't look up. He doesn't want to have a repeat of #235.
"Hey man, sorry I pushed you earlier."
It's Camo's voice across from him. Titanium thinks for a minute and decides that it can't hurt to accept Camo's apology, but if he hears anything about the Strangers, then he's done.
The boys sit in silence for a while. Titanium is a little uneasy with Camo sitting in front of him. He is so used to being alone and he knows how Camo acts. His curiosity gets the better of him, however, because Camo is actually being nice.
"Why did you sit here?"
"I wanted to apologize for earlier. You didn't do anything to me. I shouldn't have pushed you."
Titanium is surprised by Camo's words, wondering about his sincerity. He seemed like such a jerk. He is even more caught off guard by Camo's next question.
"Are you OK?"
"Yeah, I just don't have any friends."
"Neither do I. You can probably guess why."
"All right, Titanium. Let's take another break. This is going really well."
I smile at Mrs. Balestrom and we both temporarily leave our chairs and head backstage. Her husband emerges from where he's been standing behind the cameras and puts his arms around her.
"Hello, Mrs. Balestrom. How is my sexy lady doing?"
"Just fine. You're pretty sexy yourself, Mr. Balestrom."