I was blinded. Something covered my eyes, made me oblivious to the outside world. I could hear a slow, muffled buzz, methodically turning on and off. I heard crying to my left, or was it my right? Something was very wrong; I just had to figure out how to make it normal.
I sat up, my pillow falling to my lap. I looked at my alarm clock, which was straining to make the most irritating noise as possible. 7:00 am. I smacked the snooze button and laid back down. That same nightmare has plagued my dreams for as long as I can remember. I closed my eyes, the images of the dream erased. I glanced at my clock, 7:08. I waited. 7:09, alarm sounding again. I turned the alarm clock off and started getting ready for the day.
“Leaving!” I called to the house once I reached my car.
“Have a good day!” My house-bot called back. Robot voices had improved over the years, but her voice was still a hollow, digital fake.
I took a look around before getting into my car. The houses were perfect, uniform. Lawns were pristine; everyone was wearing the same clothes. Black pants and white shirts for the men, black and white dresses for the women. No one questioned the uniformity. Questions like that got a person in jail. Besides, who would question paradise? Such uniformity gave people a sense of security not felt since just prior to the fourth world war, eighty years ago.
I shook my head to try and cut out those thoughts. Thinking about war was a radical thought. No one dared to think of a time where people fought over their differences. I got in my car—which is exactly identical to every other car—and took off for work.
I shortly arrived at Sector M-72, a dock that imports goods from the other parts of Earth. Since there were no longer separate countries, shipping was made easier due to no tariffs and import regulation differences. My job is to count crates that come in on Manta ships. Manta bought out all other shipping countries eight years ago, and it was recently bought out by Omni, the universal business that owns literally everything. This meant that I had to count about twenty times more crates than I did about eight years ago.
Pulling into the parking lot, there was an obvious abnormality in the scenery. There were several vehicles painted black. They stood out like a sore thumb in contrast to the white, uniform cars that occupied the majority of the lot. Men wearing all black stood in front of their cars, staring at me.
I parked my car, slowly getting out, never taking my eyes off the men. Government workers. Only the higher-ups were allowed to dress in all black and drive different, black vehicles. If it is me they are after, this may hurt.
“Mr. Kale Stevens?” the man in the center called me over, motioning me to come and talk with him, “Mr. Stevens, do you know why we are here?” the other men surrounded us, facing outwards to prevent bystanders to see what was happening.
“I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid I do not,” I replied. I knew how these guys worked. Say nothing, act average—stupid even—and let them do the talking.
“As you may know, Earths’ government keeps a very close eye on its people, for protection of course. The more we can learn about people, the less chance for an uprising,” I nodded, saying nothing, “so, Mr. Stevens, when we monitored your dreams for the past, oh, four-ish years, we noticed something… odd… about you,” nodding again, I could tell where this was going. Four years ago I was due for government droning, where you basically lose your hopes, dreams, personality, emotions, everything. I was one of the few that the treatment seems to have no effect on, but being surrounded by drones made it easy to learn their behaviour and act like a lifeless shell. I thought I was doing well. I must have slipped up somewhere, “it seems, Mr. Stevens, that our way of life has not stuck to you. So, even though you are not due for another treatment for another eleven years, Earths’ government believes you need a… booster shot.”
I stared at him, eyes wide with horror. Every fifteen years we get the treatment. Getting a boost is torture.
“But sir, I only just received my treatment. Surely my condition can wait another eleven years?” I was panicking now. The man grinned; it was a sick, twisted smile.
“No, I think we should begin now, Kale.”
He pulled something out from behind him. I didn’t catch what it was visually, but my head caught it physically. It was as if the ground was rushing upwards to meet my face. I blacked out before I hit the ground.
At first, my vision was blurry. From what I could tell, my surroundings were grey and bleak. I looked down. Whatever I was wearing, it was orange, that much was obvious. The fog slowly clearing, I noticed I was in a cell. Cold, dark, miserable. A board of a bed was chained to one wall; nothing else was in the room.
“Welcome to the world of the living, Mr. Stevens,” it was the same voice of the man that knocked me out, “you may be wondering where you are. You are currently five thousand meters below Universal Sea Level. You are being held in the droning facility used for people like you that seem to be resistant to our conditioning methods. You will find that the methods used here are not as gentle as those you would normally experience every fifteen years. There are people here that are hired to make your life miserable, and you willbe miserable, Mr. Stevens.” He left my view, being replaced with an image of row upon row of cells lined up against a far wall. Dangerous thinkers, also known as Convicts, were all at the doors of their cells, staring at the new comer.
“Welcome to my nightmare, Stevens,” the voice made me jump, where was it coming from?
“Who… who’s there?” I heard laughing. It was not what I expected though. The laugh I expected would be dry, bitter. The response was light and cheerful, for some odd reason.
“Hey, man. I haven’t moved since you got thrown in here. Wow you must’ve gotten hit in the head hard. You’ve been out for a while. Probably couldn’t even see me at first,” the voice was coming from the bed. A skinny figure sat on it, dressed in bright orange. How could I have missed that?
“Yea, my vision is just starting to come back. Who are you?” again, the Convict chuckled.
“Name’s Lo. I’m a free-thinker, just like you. No matter how many times I get thrown in here, I always seem to break hold of their mind control. You know that’s what life on the outside is, right? Mind control. Omni is what’s doin’ it too. They own everything, right?” I nodded, not quite sure whether this guy was sane, “They own everything. They have all the money, all the power. The government too. Well, no that’s not true. The government is corrupt, man,” I started to really question Lo’s sanity now. Why would anyone think that the government was corrupt? I mean, I’ve had my doubts in the past but… “You know how governments get their funding? Business. Business runs the government. And since Omni is the only business, Omni has full control of the system. Everything around us is Omni, man. Look around! On the outside, we’re hit with ads of stuff, but they’re not really ads. They’re mind control. Subliminal messages, ever heard of ‘em? Every time you’re hit with a message, it triggers your mind into doing, or in our case, not doing something. Ever had a thought to do something, then you see an ad on TV, and the desire to do something is gone? The system is making people mindless zombies. This is the only place on Earth safe from that zombification, and we get put through torture to keep it that way.”
I stared at him, mind blank. Zombification? Was that even a word? This guy had to be nuts.
“Yeah, Lo, that’s great and all but how do you know all of this?” on the inside, I was laughing at the guy. Not the drone thing to do, but since I’m now down here and classified as the greatest threat to mankind, a free thinker, I figure I might as well speak my mind.
“Guess how many times I’ve been put in here, just guess,” I shook my head, “Eighteen. I’ve been captured, tortured, released, and repeat eighteen times. I know how the system works. I’ve lived it. I was an Omni worker, no, I was more than a worker. I was VP. I got caught one day, voicing my opinion about how we should not be telling the government what to do as much, and was sent down here. I thought it was normal for people to have doubts about the system, but I saw the dark side of this perfect life.” He stared at me, completely serious.
“VP, as in Vice President?” he nodded, for once quiet, “so do you know how to break the mind control over everyone? If that is what is going on, then we need to stop it. Our world cannot have a perfect crust and a rotten center. It will collapse into itself in only a matter of time.” Lo smiled, it was obvious that he enjoyed the company of someone who understood his insane thoughts.
“Of course I know how. You chop off the head of the mind controller,” my expression made him change his words, “no no, not literally. Well, kind of. You have to remove the guy controlling everyone. Since locking a person up is not fool proof, there is a chance he will be able to escape and repeat the mind control cycle over. No, he has to be permanently removed from the Earth. But before we can even plan that, we need to get outta here. The least pleasurable way is to carry out your sentence. This involves daily torture sessions, sleeping on a board, no food, no water. The other way is to…escape.”
“Yes, that sounds better. How do you expect us to escape though?”
“Well, Stevens, you picked an excellent day to be dragged into the Pit of Despair. You see, every six months, the guys running this place switch with guys who work in the Omni HQ. It just so happens that tonight is their switch date. Here’s what we do…”
That night, Lo and I waited by the loading gates. Previous to waiting here we broke into the guards’ dressing room and stole some uniforms. They fit horribly, as both Lo and I were toothpicks compared to the massively built guards. As we waited, we strained our ears for the sound of the elevator shaft moving. This elevator only moved when the leaders switched positions.
Lo nudged my elbow as I started drifting to sleep. He had his hands on the beams that supported the elevator.
“They’re vibrating. It’s show time.”
The current leaders of the torture facility came through a tunnel and stopped in front of the elevator shaft. Both were short, thin, not suited to run a correctional facility. Lo and I easily overtook them, once again switching our clothing. We dragged their unconscious bodies out of sight from the elevator shaft. They would wake up in a few hours only to find themselves with a massive headache and in guard uniforms.
Once the elevator reached the bottom, two other men got out. The new leaders. They passed us in silence. Lo and I got on the elevator. It was a sketchy bundle of scrap metal being pulled by a thick cable. Don’t look down, I thought to myself.
Five thousand meters later, Lo and I finally emerged to the surface. I had only been down there a short time, but the sunlight felt was amazingly refreshing.
“Well,” Lo sighed, “you know what to do, right?” I nodded, “let’s do it, then.”
Our first task was to locate the current Omni President, John Doe. Since Lo was VP not long ago, he knew exactly where to look. He knew his address, phone number, license plate, everything. I could not help but be impressed. Not unlikely, his house was very close to the secret elevator shaft that lead to the free-thinkers’ prison. His office, Omni HQ, was only a few kilometres away from the shaft as well.
“I’ve taken you as far as I can, Stevens. I’m afraid if I get any closer to his office, someone in here will recognise me. Then it’s back to the Pit.” I understood, even though he took me as close as John Does’ office. Why he could not just come through that door and help, I do not know. But I had to give him credit for risking his life to get me this far. I had to “eliminate” the president of the greatest business that has ever existed. I hoped that all would go as planned.
“Here I go,” I whispered to myself.
I opened the door, a surprised look on Mr. Does’ face.
“I’m sorry, sir? Did you book an appointment with Ms. Ketler? I do not see anything in my schedule book for this hour,” as John rustled through his papers, I noticed he briefly uncovered a small button on top of his desk, tapped it slightly, and casually covered it back up.
“No, sir I did not. But you should not be worried about schedules anymore. They don’t have anything like that where you’re about to go!”
I ran forward, pulling a small club out from under my jacket. Only a few more steps and it’s over. I smashed Mr. Doe on the head, knocking him out. I checked to make sure he was still breathing. He was going to be sent down to the Pit, let the free thinkers have their way with him, now that they should be running the place, thanks to Lo. I looked out of the full wall window to check if Lo was standing outside. I saw him wave, and got ready to through John out the window. Before I could turn around, something hit me square in the back. I dropped to my knees, only to turn and see four big security guards looming over me.
“Back to the Pit, Convict.”
“No, not the Pit,” it was Mr. Doe, still dazed, “kill him.”
I turned my attention to the window again. Lo was being carried off, kicking all the way, by two security guards. I went to turn back and face the guards in the room, but they got to me first. All was black.