I’m catching up with myself here, I’m only on sixteen in the real world but I have to accelerate this before it comes true. Thirteen is small so here’s fourteen too. I’m aware there is a lot of repetition and that this will need heavy editing but let’s get it done first. Fix it later. Attempts to fix it while it’s running will cause a break in the telling and I might spend weeks sorting a chapter that ends up getting deleted anyway.
Panoptica: Chapter Thirteen
The thinnest obese person on the planet. Medics faced him with screenpads and strange devices in their hands. They looked at the devices and tutted their disapproval. It was all so very wrong. So much smoking and drinking and overeating.
But I didn’t do any of those things!
Running through the streets while the bus shrank into the distance. His chest constricted, 10538 leaned on a bus stop pole. The cameras at the top stared down at him with human eyes and their mouths laughed and chanted ‘Fatty smoky alkie’. Fingers formed in the air to point at him and prod at him, giving little electric shocks that built into agony.
He was in the grey room, this time with no comfortable overlay. Voices came from behind.
Does he know?
He cannot know or we risk noncompliance.
There was a face smiling and another grinning. The grinning one held a syringe and the smiling one disappeared in a cascade of light.
The same faces in the warm room. The same offer of retirement. Double retirement must be double-good. The train, the little sealed box with windows on the inside. Going in circles. Screens, not windows. There were no windows on the outside.
Then cold, in the wastelands. People with no designations.
The dream ended there. 10538 felt his dream had ended in many ways, but could not define how.
His eyes flickered open. Three smiled down at him.
“Hello again, 10538. How are you feeling?”
10538 licked dry lips. “Okay, I think.”
Three held a straw to 10538’s mouth. “Drink a little of this. It will help you relax.”
The water tasted strange. It had a bitter taste and there were bubbles in it. 10538 smacked his lips. “This water might not be good.”
“It’s not water.” Three grinned. “We call it beer. It’s better than water. Take another drink. It will help you relax.”
10538 tried again. The bitter taste was not unpleasant and the bubbles gave the drink a pleasing texture. He sucked harder at the straw until Three moved it away.
“Not too much, not until you get used to it.” Three placed the cup on a table beside 10538’s bed. “So. Are you ready to unlock a little more of your memory?
“I think so. I’m still a bit confused though. I don’t understand why they risked noncompliance.”
Three raised one eyebrow. “Who risked noncompliance?”
“One of the prison medics. They could not tell me something in case of noncompliance.”
Three leaned in closer. “Couldn’t tell you what?”
10538 managed a lopsided smile. “They didn’t tell me. It was just before they put in the retirement chip and I passed out from the pain.”
Three looked up at someone past 10538’s line of sight. “Retirement chip?”
“No idea.” That deep voice again. “I took out a lot of chips, half of them unknown to us. None seemed to be recent though. They were all healed over.”
Three rubbed his face with his hands. “Okay. We’ll have to find out about that. For now, we’re going to take you back another day. Are you ready?”
10538 took a deep breath and released it slowly. “Ready.” I have to know why they thought I was obese.
Another load of memories were dumped in his brain. Bus ride home. 11712 missed the bus. Tomatoes – tomatoes? Television news. A ghost, a terrorist, a running man. 11712! He was a terrorist!
10538, eyes tightly closed, tried to order the memories and fit them to the newly-revealed ones from the previous session. He opened his eyes to see Three leaning over him.
“You’ve gone quite pale, 10538. Was there something disturbing? We can shut those memories down and try again later if it’s too much.” Three seemed genuinely concerned.
“Huh?” Three glanced up, over 10538’s shoulder.
“There were tomatoes in my evening meal. Three of them. I don’t know why.” 10538 furrowed his brow but relaxed it at once. Moving the skin of his forehead hurt. “And 11712 was on the news. He was a terrorist. A camera watcher caught him. I knew him. I never suspected a thing.”
“Don’t blame yourself.” Three patted 10538’s hand.
“But later, in prison, they said I would see 11712 in Pensionville. I guess he was arrested by mistake too.” The conversation as he left the train came back to connect with this new information. 10538’s breathing became shallow. “There is no Pensionville, is there?”
From behind came the deep voice he had heard before. “Heart rate and blood pressure rising. We have to make this a short session.”
“Don’t worry. You’re safe now.” Three kept on patting his hand. “Was there anything else on the news?”
“A ghost. One with no ID chip. They caught him too. But there was something wrong. I can’t place it. It was very wrong. It was so wrong I wanted to drink alcohol. What was it? I can’t remember.” 10538’s breath came in ragged gasps.
“Shutting this session down now.” The deep voice came again. “She’s struggling to put it all together. We have to do this in very short sessions now.”
Three nodded and moved back. “It’s not going to be easy, 10538. We’ll reduce the timespan of recovered memories next time. Sleep now.”
“But I—” 10538’s response was cut off by the mask over his nose and mouth, and he slid back into his dreamworld.