Panoptica 4 and 5

I have completed chapter 11, now past the ‘out-take’ that was a separate story, ‘Santa is Coming’. I want to stay maybe 3 or 4 chapters ahead so I have a bit of leeway if things get busy here. I’m also working on images for Gastradamus’ book and still picking up the tiny bits for the tax return (doing the next one at the same time so it won;t be last minute!) and there are more books coming. There’s also Anthology 11 on the horizon, in March…

Anyway. Chapter 5 was a small one so I’ve added it on to this post. Remember it’s all still first draft so criticisms are welcome. After this it starts to get a little darker.

Panoptica: Chapters 4 and 5

Voting day. 10538 cast his vote by pressing the appropriate button on his TV control, secure in the knowledge that he was hurting nobody because no candidate would lose. They would all be elected to the Coalition. The vote determined how much power they had in lawmaking and their effect on the lives of citizens, but no politician would be left behind.

It was always a difficult choice. All their policies were the same. It really was a matter of who the voter liked best and the tattooed one-armed unit ticked all the right boxes for proper political correctness. So 10538 cast his vote this time, as before, for 98014. One day his choice of candidate might be Prime, and he could feel that warm glow that said he helped put him there.

His vote cast, he dressed and prepared for work. The bathroom wall scale declared him five grams underweight when he stepped into the little room. 10538 grinned. Underweight meant a little extra breakfast.

Not very much extra, as it turned out. The breakfast flakes portion didn’t look any larger than usual. It must be in there, he thought. The coalition won’t let anyone starve. He crunched his way through breakfast, once again trying to suppress the memory that told him it used to be served in milk.

Just as he was ready to leave, his front door opened and three units entered. Clad in white onesies apart from the barcode lines, they were immediately recognisable as medics.

The first of them smiled and said “Greetings, 10538. I am 84—”

“84227.” 10538 raised his right palm in greeting.

84227 blinked. “Have we met?”

“No, I read your barcode. It’s easy.” 10538 felt a slight confusion. Weren’t the barcodes clear to all? The other two were 83619 and 83388, high level nurses. 84227 was the doctor in charge. Their codes were as visible to him as their faces.

“You can read onesie codes?” 84227 motioned to the nurses. 83388 made a note on his screenpad.

“I look at them all day, every day. It’s my job. We all have important jobs.” A creeping unease entered 10538’s thoughts. Had he said something wrong?

“We all have important jobs,” said the three medics in unison.

“Hm.” 84227 assumed a serious expression. “We received a stress call from your medichip two days ago. It was aborted, but then last night there was another silent alert. There was a bloodstream anomaly. We are concerned about your wellbeing, 10538, so we arranged a house call. Your employer has been notified so your late arrival at work will not be questioned.”

“I’m okay. I don’t need to waste medical time. I know how valuable your time is to those who really need it.” 10538 resisted the urge to wipe the sheen of sweat that formed on his brow. A house call was always a risky thing. One word, one movement out of place could get him sectioned. The medics had quotas to fill, just like everybody else. If they were low this month they would be looking for any excuse. He had to be careful not to give them one. Spending the rest of his life in New Bedlam held no appeal at all.

“We just want to be sure. The safety and wellbeing of all our citizens is important to us. The individual is part of the whole, and the whole cannot function without the individual.” 84227 smiled his doctor smile.

“I know.” 10538 struggled to keep his fear out of his voice. “What do you need?”

“Only your compliance.” 84227 maintained his smile as he waved his two nurses forward.

10538 put up no resistance as 83619 pressed him into his chair while 83388 rolled up his right sleeve and pressed a scanner to his arm. There was a small stabbing pain that made 10538 flinch, then the two nurses moved away from him.

83388 showed the scanner to 84227, who pursed his lips in medical contemplation.

“There are traces of cotinine in your blood. Have you associated with smokers?” 84227’s expression was serious. “Also alcohol. There are no safe levels of either of these things, 10538. I am most concerned.”

“I’ve never been anywhere near any smokers.” 10538 cringed under the doctor’s glare. His eyes drifted to the drinks cabinet. Should he admit that transgression? It was less bad than the smoking accusation.

83619 nodded at him and opened a small case. He took small amounts from each bottle in the drinks cabinet and topped them up with bottles from his case. He smiled at 10538. “Nothing to worry about. Routine assessment, that’s all.”

10538’s eyes widened. That vodka bottle was probably almost all water by now and the whisky was several shades paler than it should be. He was definitely going to get classified alcoholic and that could mean sectioning.

“Look,” he said. “Okay. I dipped into the drink sometimes. It helps with memory reassignment when things get hard. My job is really stressful but I never binged. I was never drunk.”

“Calm down.” 84227 held up his hands. “We are here to help you. We want to be sure you can be the best you can be. We want to make your life better, not worse.” 

“I should get to work,” 10538 muttered. He tried to rise from his seat but 83619’s hands on his shoulders pressed him gently but firmly back down.

“There is no need for elevated stress levels.” 84227 consulted his screenpad. “Your medichip is reporting fast heart rate and elevated blood pressure. You were overweight recently, weren’t you?”

“Yes, but—”

“The effects of obesity can remain for some time after you lose the weight, you know.” 84227’s expression became severe. “Coupled with your alcohol problem and the cotinine, plus the stress of your job, all this could put you at high risk of sudden heart attack or a long slow death from cancer.” He put the screenpad inside his onesie. “I will be making a recommendation that your workload is reduced for a while. Perhaps even some time off to relax. Would that help, do you think?” His smile was tight and didn’t reach his eyes.

“Time off work? But who will watch the screens?” 10538 wrinkled his nose. “We have to watch for terrorists. We have to be vigilant all the time. You never know who they might be.” His shoulders slumped. He had never imagined 11712 could be a terrorist, but the news report could not have lied.

84227 laughed. “There are other one-zeros who will be happy to cover your holiday time, I’m sure, and we won’t keep you away from work too long. Just enough to let you recover. I’ll prescribe some relaxant pills for you. They will help you to sleep soundly and make you feel good.”

Don’t argue. 10538 realised he was getting off lightly. These medics could so easily take him off to New Bedlam with what they had on him. He was being offered a way out and he knew he should grab it with both hands.

“Okay,” 10538 forced a smile. “Thank you for your prompt and courteous treatment. I will comply with medical advice.”

“Good.” 84227 motioned with a small movement of his head and the two nurses headed for the door. “I will put my recommendation to your place of work today. You might find they will interview you before granting your time off. Don’t worry, just answer their questions honestly.” He winked. “They might have more than just a few days off to offer you.”

The medics left. 10538 stared at the closed door for a while then shook himself and headed out to catch the bus. It had just pulled away but he knew that in this part of town it took a circuitous route and would stop a few streets over in a few minutes from now. If he was quick he could still catch it. 10538 started running.

Five

Just as 10538 reached the bus stop, the bus appeared at the corner. Gasping for breath, he held on to the bus stop pole and watched it approach.

“10538. Do not resist arrest.” The voice came from behind.

10538 turned to see two units aiming tasers at him. Their onesies identified them as 33110 and 33517. Street-police designations. He raised his hands. “Am I under arrest? Why?”

“Suspicion.” 33110 moved closer, handcuffs at the ready. “You were running. The camera watchers reported you.”

The bus pulled to a stop and opened its doors. 33517 shook his head and waved to the driver to move on. The door hissed closed and the bus left.

“I was running to catch the bus.” 10538 allowed the officer to handcuff him. “I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was just late for work.”

“Do not resist arrest.” 33517 aimed the taser at 10538’s chest, his fingers tightening. “If you were late you must have been doing something to have made you late. We will take you in for questioning.”

“No, I was just—” 10538 shuddered at the jolt from the taser and fell to the ground. The last words he heard before losing consciousness were 33110’s: You shouldn’t have resisted arrest.

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