I have addresses for both competition winners and will be posting in a few days. Since they are in New Zealand and the USA, it might take a while to get there…
Okay, onwards. These next few chapters will need heavy editing as I try to keep track of what parts go where and have probably messed up a few times. Still, editing comes at the end, when it’s complete. I just hope I’ve remembered all the number/names correctly. If it’s a bit confusing in places, that’s okay. It’s supposed to be 😉
Panoptica: Chapter 12
“Can you hear me?”
10538 wandered through fog, the world around him indistinct. The voice came again.
“10538. Can you hear me? We met on the train.”
His head throbbed. Something touched his face. He tried to brush it away but his arms were immobilised. Am I back in the chair? Was I always in the chair?
There were hands on his shoulders.
“Please, 10538. You are under heavy sedation. We are trying to help you.”
He opened one eye. Leaning over him, someone held his shoulders. He scanned the onesie they wore. 71556.
10538 screamed. “Ghost! The ghost has me!”
“What the hell was that?” Another voice, off to the side. “She thinks you’re a ghost?”
71556 looked to the left. “She must have seen me on the screens or maybe on the news. This isn’t going to work. Sedate her and we’ll try something else.”
The plastic mask covered 10538’s nose and mouth and the gentle fog enveloped him once more.
They had used strange words. Her. She. What could they mean? Is it another language, another world? Maybe it was all just a dream. Maybe he was being deleted, still in the grey room, still fixed in his chair. Or in the warm room, offered retirement. Or in the cold room, offered retirement. Did he run for the bus or the train? Did the outside of the train not match the inside? Did he ride the ghost train? Maybe this was the end, maybe this was how a dying brain tried to cope. Confusion, denial, terror. It must end soon. The walls in his mind reformed and 10538 settled into comfortable compliant conformity.
“10538. Wake up. You have an important job.”
We all have important jobs.
“10538. We have isolated the signal from your brain chip. You can wake up now.”
Brain chip. Someone mentioned it once. I never knew I had one.
“10538. Wake up. This is Three.”
Three? 10538 blinked his eyes open. Sweat made his skin clammy and blurred his vision. A damp cloth passed across his face, gently. His vision cleared. He was still in the large cage he had dreamed about, the one with the fat man, and he was still tied to a bed. Wires still brushed his cheeks and his forehead hurt.
10538 licked his lips. “Where am I?”
“You are safe.” The smiling face hovered above him. The onesie below it showed a short sequence of bars that confirmed the designation. Three.
“Three? I was never sure if the Nine were real.” 10538 gaped in awe. “Am I dead? Dying? Am I imagining this?”
“You are safe and very much alive, 10538. We are going to disable your brain chip.”
“What? But I need it. Don’t I? I wouldn’t have it if I didn’t need it. What does it do? I didn’t know it was there.” 10538 strained against the restraints holding him to the bed.
“Do not panic.” Three put a hand on 10538’s bare chest. “We are going to liberate you, 10538. We are going to make you a free thinker.”
“I don’t want that.” 10538 struggled against the straps that held him. “I want to go home. I want my job and my life and my comfortable compliant conformity. I don’t want to think for myself. I want to be free.”
Three blinked as if confused. He withdrew his hand and looked to one side for a moment, his tongue between his lips. Finally he took a breath and faced 10538.
“It is important. You have an important job to do now. We had a task for you. Do you remember what it was?”
10538 shook his head, as far as the restraints allowed. “I am a camera watcher. I watch the screens. I report things if they are wrong. That is my job. It’s important. I watch for terrorists.”
“And did you find any? Think, 10538. Think very hard.” Three stared directly into his eyes.
Memories formed and burst. Flitted past his mind like bats on a summer night, silent, hard to see. 10538 closed his eyes. “No… I don’t think I did. I’m not sure any more.” He opened his eyes. “Why is this happening to me, Three? What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing. You are safe. We only want to help you.” Three nodded to someone out of 10538’s sight. “You have a chip in your brain, 10538, as everyone does. It closes down things you are required to forget. Now it is time to start remembering.” Three held up his hand to forestall 10538’s objections. “We need you to be clear in your mind for what is ahead so we will have to release those locked-away memories. It will hurt, but we are not doing it to punish you and we will be as gentle as possible. Do you understand?”
“I think so. I’m not sure. Are these terrible memories?” 10538 tried to relax and wondered why, under such stress, his medichip was silent.
“We can shut down your brain chip in stages. We will first restore your memories of the last day or so before you fell unconscious on the train.” Three held up both hands. “It will come as a shock, I think. Try to stay calm and rational.” He nodded past 10538’s head again.
A wall collapsed in his mind. 10538 gasped as memories formed – but they made no sense. Warm cold room. Bare grey concrete painted walls. High level medics and supervisor level units with the same faces. His hands were clamped to a table and they were free. He was accused of being a terrorist and then told his work was excellent. Gradually, his mind sorted the memories, yet still they made no sense.
“I was in a prison. Trapped in a cage.” 10538 blinked away tears. A hand came from behind to wipe his eyes, gently, with a soft cloth. “I was accused of being a terrorist. Then they said it was a mistake. They said I could not go back, I would have to take retirement. Then I was in a room with a comfortable chair and they told me I was overworked and they offered me retirement. I remembered that part before but I didn’t remember the cold grey room with the cage. Why did they think I was a terrorist?”
“They didn’t. They knew you were innocent but they could not admit they arrested you wrongly. That’s why they had to retire you.” Three inclined his head. “I know this must feel like living your life in reverse. Are you ready to go back a little further?”
“What’s the last thing you remember before the interview and the train?”
10538 tried to concentrate. “I think I remember voting. I’m not sure when. There was a day at work, nothing happened, I met 11712 on the bus on the way home, then the next morning I got up and went to work. Then I was in the prison.”
Three raised his eyebrows. “What was the date of the day you last remember going to work?”
“What’s a date?” 10538 blinked.
“Ah, of course. Never mind.” Three looked away for a moment, sniffed and turned back. “Do you remember how many days it was to Earth Day?”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Three shook his head. “It’s not your fault. Okay, we’ll take you back a little further.” He looked over 10538’s head again.
Another wall crashed to the ground. He ran for a bus. Medics visited him. Police tazered him. Voting day! Provided with a location for the timeline, his mind rapidly ordered these new thoughts.
“I voted in the morning. Then I prepared for work. Breakfast was a little extra because I was a few grams underweight. Then the medics came.”
“Medics?” Three waved one hand. “Sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt.”
“They checked me. Tested me. They said I had associated with smokers and had a drinking problem.” 10538 wanted to lower his head but it was restrained. “I had taken a little from the drinks cabinet. Just a little, now and then. It helps with memory adjustment. But I’m not alcoholic. I’m not!”
Three laughed. “Oh everyone does that. Absolutely everyone. You don’t need to worry, 10538, we are not here to punish you for anything at all.”
“They said I was obese but I had just been underweight. I don’t understand.”
“We’ll come back to that.” Three looked up as a cough came from behind 10538. He nodded. “In a moment.” Turning back to 10538 he asked “What happened after that?”
“They said they would get me some time off work.” 10538 licked his lips. “Could I have some water?”
“Sure.” Three lifted a cup with a straw and held it up so that 10538 could drink. “Anything else?”
“It’s starting to come together. I was late so I ran for the bus, I was arrested for running, put in prison and then they said it was all a mistake. I still don’t understand why I woke up again in an interview room, with supervisors who looked just like the senior medics from the prison.”
“Why did you—” Three was cut off by a pronounced cough from behind.
“We have to shut her down. Blood pressure is going too high. She needs to rest.” The deep voice came from a place 10538 could not see.
Three nodded. “This is going to take some time, I’m afraid. You need to sleep for a while, 10538. We’ll continue later.”
Once again, the plastic mask of oblivion was placed on his face. The world slid away, sounds became distant and the grey fog settled once more.