Yes, okay, it’ll settle down to a chapter a week when I catch up with where I am now (currently blending in the train scene in ‘Santa is Coming’ from 10538’s POV). Meanwhile here’s a little more of the happy life of Panoptica.
Panoptica: Chapter 3
He had been only forty grams overweight so was able to sit on the bus on the way home. 11712 had not joined the bus at his usual stop. Could he have really been the runner? Maybe he had been overweight and had to walk and catch the next bus. It could be just that. Could be.
10538 pressed his palm to the scanner on the doorframe, waited until his home recognised him and let him in. The door swung closed behind him.
Inside his home was the only place he could remove his onesie. He unzipped, stripped and put today’s clothing into the wash slot. Yesterday’s had already emerged, cleaned and ready to wear.
Naked, he took the few steps to the kitchen side of the windowless room and pressed the food button. Today’s evening meal was another low-calorie preparation. Biscuits and low-fat cheese. He still had forty grams to lose. 10538 stared at the contents of the paper bag containing his meal and almost squealed with delight. There were tomatoes in there! Three fresh tomatoes! It had been years since he had seen, never mind tasted, a fresh tomato. He picked one up and turned it in his fingers.
“I must be really in the Coalition’s good books today,” he said as he bit into the first one. Its juice filled his mouth with flavour and a sensation that he had thought gone forever. Savouring every bite, he finished the first tomato and reached for the second. He paused. Better to eat the boring part of the meal first and then take the time to enjoy the tomatoes afterwards.
His meal over, 10538 put the remains into the recycle slot. There were no remains of the tomatoes. He had caught every drop of juice. Feeling more satisfied than he had in a very long time, he sat on the bed and turned his attention to the television.
It was on because it was always on. There was no way to turn it off, only to reduce the volume to a subliminal murmur when it was time to sleep. 10538 turned it up and waited for the news.
The program currently showing was about some strange creature called a ‘penguin’. This fierce beast only appeared when deep snow covered the ground and it had a long hard mouth called a beak, which was filled with sharp spikes. Now mercifully extinct due to the utter destruction of their home by global warming, the creatures were once able to reach 100 metres in length, could both fly and swim and were able to run on land at twice the speed of the fastest human.
“Good thing we don’t have those any more,” 10538 muttered, then wished he hadn’t. Fearsome though the creatures might be, it was global warming that killed them and global warming was bad. It was the reason it now only snowed in winter and the cause of summer sweating, a human adaptation to the changing climate. It should never be considered a ‘good thing’ under any circumstances, and you never knew when TV was listening as well as talking.
Finally the monsters of the past left the screen and the news started with its fanfare of uplifting music.
“Good evening, citizens,” beamed from the mouth of the presenter with perfect teeth. As he did every time, 10538 ran his tongue over his uneven teeth and probed the gaps in them. The dentists had done what they could but he had eaten sugar in his months as a Feral and the damage was done. He had to live with his past sins.
“Welcome to the news show. We try to bring you good news but we have to face the bad. The good news is that we have had no terrorist attack for fifty-eight days now. The terrorists cannot defeat us!”
There were cheers from an unseen audience. 10538 managed a half-hearted cheer, more in case the TV scanner was pointed his way than from any heartfelt belief. He now knew the terrorists could be anyone, anywhere, any time. It was hard to feel as safe as he had felt before.
“Tonight we have news of two terrorists defeated before they could act. Both taken by our wonderful camera watchers. Of course we can’t give you the designations of our camera watchers for security reasons but they have been rewarded for their diligence, you can be sure of that.”
More offscreen cheers. This time 10538 cheered loud and long and punched the air. Three fewer screens to watch and tomatoes in his meal. What a fantastic reward! All the more delicious because nobody knew about it.
“When there is nowhere to hide, there can be nothing to fear.” The TV presenter intoned the words. The unseen audience and 10538 intoned them in response.
“Unless you’re a terrorist.” He winked and pointed his finger from the screen. The audience laughed. 10538 chuckled.
“First we have the ghost.”
The audience gave a long and faux-frightened ‘oooh’. 10538 snorted. If they only knew what ‘ghost’ really meant. Nothing supernatural. It meant someone on screen with no report from the RFID scanners.
“He was just strolling along, minding his own terrorist business, when our alert and ever-vigilant camera watcher saw him. This is what happened next.” The screen cut to a grainy CCTV clip.
A unit walked along an empty street. The ghosthunter van pulled up in front of him. Two ghosthunters emerged and pointed their tasers at the ghost. He pulled a gun – a live-round pistol, long since illegal – and fired at them.
The two ghosthunters stepped aside to dodge the bullets and fired their tasers. The ghost went down in a fury of twitching arms and legs, his gun flung aside. The ghosthunters dragged him into their van and drove off.
10538 watched in silence. That was not what he had seen on his screens. The ghosthunters had stopped the unit on a busy street. The ghost was unarmed and had raised his hands at the sight of the tasers. He had been handcuffed and had gone quietly into the van.
And yet, this was the news. The TV cannot lie. What has been seen is real. What has been imagined is wrong. 10538 considered the imperfect images his monitors showed him. He could not be sure the unit he saw running today was 11712 because the cameras couldn’t get a decent image of his barcode. Perhaps he was wrong about yesterday too. He felt so sure. The ghost had gone quietly. No tasers were fired. Could he be wrong? Every other citizen saw this report on the news. Only he had seen the event as it happened. Everyone but him believed the ghost had to be tasered into submission. Only he believed otherwise. Therefore he must be the one who was wrong.
10538 tried to adjust his memory as he had been taught as a child, to bring it into compliant comfortable conformity, the CCC of happiness. It had mostly been easy to do so far but today it just would not take. His eyes strayed to the drinks cabinet, a feature of every home, an exercise in self-control and restraint. Everyone had some alcoholic drink in their homes but nobody touched them. They were there to demonstrate the power of the individual will over the base instincts of the primeval brain.
Oh he had tasted alcohol before, a great deal of it in his Feral months. Almost everyone had. It left a sour taste and a sore head but it did bring forgetfulness. He rubbed his hand over his mouth. One little taste, just to take away the wrong memory…
“One terrorist taken down.” The news presenter grinned from the screen. “He won’t be terrorising anyone any more. He’ll be spending his days in prison and we will all be safe from him.”
Cheers from the audience. A confused silence from 10538.
“There was another today.”
The audience gave a collective ‘Aaah’. 10538 winced. This one used to be a friend of his.
“Running through the streets, an easy catch for our wonderful camera watchers. They watch over us everywhere, always, and they will catch every terrorist. We are safe in their eyes.”
“Safe in the eye of the camera,” intoned the audience. 10538 glanced at the drinks cabinet again.
“It was one we believed was a citizen. One who was trusted and loved by us all. He was designated 11712 and he turned out bad.” The news presenter shook his head in a slow, sad movement. “Anyone could be a bad one.”
It really was him? Up to that very moment, 10538 hoped it had been a terrorist using designation theft to imitate his friend.
“He ran and ran, right to the edge of town where the precipice is fenced off. You might think he would stop there, but he jumped the fence.”
A gasp of disbelief from the audience coincided with 10538’s wrinkling of his nose. 11712 would never do anything that stupid.
“He fell, onto the rocks below. We might never know his plans but we do know he cannot now carry them out.” The presenter’s grin widened. “Two terrorists lost the war against us today and while I cannot tell you who saved us, I can tell you it was the same camera watcher for both events.”
The audience exploded in applause and cheering. 10538 made abortive hand motions towards the drinks cabinet.
“Now we have a pattern in the paint on a door that looks like our dear leader.”
The audience roared with laughter. 10538 muted the TV and lay back on his bed. There was something very wrong. The ghost had not fired anything and 11712 would never have jumped the precipice fence. Not everything was as it seemed.
Perhaps if he just took a little from that whisky bottle and then topped it up with water. Nobody would know and it might let his memories comply with what he was supposed to believe.
It wouldn’t be the first time.