Currently on a tough patch in chapter 14. 10538 is recovering blocked memories. It’s hard to do from the POV of the one recovering them but I think I have a plausible way to do it without killing him with the shock. Anyway, here’s chapter 7 for those with nothing to do at the weekend.
Panoptica: Chapter 7
The room had no clock. No TV. Nothing to mark the passage of time. Cold grey walls, ceiling and floor.
10538 shivered. The silence was beginning to drive him mad. At home, the TV’s muted murmur helped him sleep. At work, the hum of machinery comforted him. Here, there was nothing. Silence, a total absence of sound, something he had never experienced.
He tapped his fingers on the cold steel table. He hummed. He shifted in his seat. Anything to make a sound. Any sound, anything at all, just to keep his connection with reality.
What was reality? Was this it? Strapped into a chair in a grey silent room, accused of being a terrorist? How could that be real? Yesterday he was a hero, a lone, unknown catcher of terrorists. Here he sat in the dim grey light of silence, arrested and accused of terrorism himself.
What would they do to him? Demotion? A zero-nine or zero-eight, working at the cleaners where he sent his onesies every evening or maybe in the kitchens that prepared food? Zero-seven, dealing with the recycling? There were even lower ranks, and 10538 had no idea what kind of work they had to deal with. He shuddered.
Were there worse punishments? Maybe. Cast out into the wilderness, to try to survive in the devastation of global warming? The TV sometimes showed the outside world. Seas rising over ancient cities, burned lands, dead vegetation, decomposing animals. The terrorists survived out there somehow. Could he, with no city to support him, no job, no home?
“I didn’t do it!” The sound of his own voice startled him. “It’s a mistake. I was just trying to catch the bus.”
The walls seemed to close in, the silence disapproving of his outburst. 10538 closed his eyes. How long have I been here? Hours? Days? How long must I stay? What will they do to me?
Behind him, the door opened. A snippet of conversation came to his ears.
“Does he know?”
“He cannot know or we risk noncompliance.”
“But necessary. Quiet now, he can hear us.” The door closed.
86929 came into 10538’s field of view, smiling. He took a seat at the desk. The other unit stayed out of sight, if he entered the room at all.
“Well, 10538, you have caused us something of a problem, it seems.” 86929 placed his screenpad on the desk and steepled his fingers, his smile unwavering.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” 10538 pressed his knees together, This new terror might make him soil himself.
“Oh no, it’s not your fault.” 86929 placed his palms on the desk. “It seems we have made a mistake. We know now that you are not a terrorist. However, we cannot simply let you go.”
“Why?” 10538’s surge of relief faded as fast as it had risen.
“Well, you see, this evening’s news has already reported your capture and congratulated the camera watcher who reported you. This means that your home, job and bank account have been reallocated to 10643. We can’t just take it all back. Imagine how 10643 would feel.”
Imagine how I feel! 10538 bit his lip. He could never go home now, he was marked as a terrorist even though the authorities knew he was not. His life, given away, could not be retaken. He took a breath and tried to keep his voice steady. “So what happens to me?”
86929 stared at his hands for a moment. “There is no punishment for you since you are innocent. However, the police have a reputation as never making a mistake and your life has been reallocated. Therefore we have only one solution to offer you.”
“What is it?”
86929 looked directly into 10538’s eyes. “Retirement. Early retirement, sure, but you can go to Pensionville and relax for the rest of your life.” 86929 leaned forward. “You are not the first mistake and you won’t be the last. In Pensionville you can meet your friend 11712.” He winked. “The news will say you were found on the rocks too.”
“That’s…” 10538 struggled to assimilate this new information. “I… I get early retirement? I can go to Pensionville? Won’t they recognise my designation from the news?”
From behind him came a snort. “The ones in Pensionville don’t get to see the news.”
86929 shot a warning glance over 10538’s shoulder, then his smile returned. “It’ll be fine. Let me introduce someone, or rather I’ll let you surprise him.” He waved the other unit forward.
10538 watched the other unit come into view. “84823,” he said.
84823’s eyes widened. “He really can read barcodes!”
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” 86929 leaned back in his chair. “Well, 10538, 84823 is going to give you a retirement chip and then it’s off to Pensionville for you.”
84823 rolled his eyes. “Retirement chip. Sure.” He reached behind 10538 and brought a tray with a large syringe into view. “Okay. This one goes into your spinal column at the base of your skull. I’m going to need you to tense every muscle and stay very, very still. Can you do that?”
“I’ll try.” 10538 swallowed hard. “Will it hurt?”
84823 lifted the syringe, checked it was clear of air bubbles, then faced 10538 with a wide grin. “Yes. A lot.” He disappeared behind 10538’s chair.
“Don’t worry. It’s worth it.” 86929 smiled. “We will have to wipe a few recent memories from your mind of course. So that you don’t accidentally incriminate yourself in Pensionville. That doesn’t hurt though. We can do it through your brain chip while you’re unconscious.”
“Brain chip? Unconscious?” A brief moment of puzzlement was replaced by bright flashing lights and searing pain in 10538’s head. It felt as though his neck was being severed. 86929’s smile was surrounded by bursts of light and colour, obliterating the face until only the smile remained.
Then it all went dark.