Well, here’s another shot. I can’t hurry this up too much because they’ve taken an awful lot of chips out of 10538 and healiing from that much surgery takes time. There is a way I can skip a lot of time though, as you’ll see in chapter 17.
Better get moving before coronavirus really takes off. Apparently Canada’s public health thinks a virus that has covered most of China and surrounding countries in a couple of weeks is not very contagious, and they also have no understanding of the air recirculation in aeroplanes. With that lot in charge, Canada is going down fast. So I’d better finish it while there are a few left to read it…
Panoptica: chapter 15
The grass in Pensionville turned yellow before his eyes. Smoke rose as a red flaming sun scorched it. Identical dead badgers rotted in rows next to identical twisted tree stumps. The sky flashed red then blue then red. The sun was a gentle yellow and a fiery red ball. Smoke dissipated into clear air and then reformed.
11712 stood at his stop as the bus approached. All smiles, but with a dagger in his hand. The bus stopped, the door opened and 11712 stabbed the robot driver in its camera-eye. Then he ran. Through the streets. He jumped a fence into Pensionville and the rocks ate him.
10538 stood beside his bed in his familiar, comfortable, compliant home. Conformity will save me. The television showed nothing but a slavering mouth, perfect teeth mocking his own.
You have associated with terrorists and smokers and drinkers. You are evil. He was strapped to a cold steel table looking into flaming eyes and pointing fingers.
Then free, in a comfortable chair in a light and pleasant room. A friendly face with flaming eyes said he could go to Pensionville. No! The rocks will eat me too!
The ghost train screamed through. 10538 woke to darkness and cold sweat. A question occurred to him that he had not considered before. Who are these people really?
“You’re awake?” That deep voice belonged to a short fat man who had been dozing in a chair beside 10538’s bed. The fat man struggled to his feet, yawning. “I’ll get you some sedation.”
“No.” 10538 had no wish to return to the chaos of his dreams. “I can’t see you. You have no barcode. Who are you? Where am I? What are you doing to me?”
The fat man stood still for a moment, then turned to face 10538. “I’m called Doc. I’ve been fixing you physically. There is a lot to do to fix you mentally. Sally – I mean, the one you call Three – has been doing her best to help you.”
“Doc is not a designation. You have no barcode, no rank, nothing to identify you. Are you a ghost?”
Doc laughed. “No. I’m as real and human as you are.” His face switched from laughing to sad in an instant. “More so, really, but let’s not dwell on that right now.”
Somewhat disconcerted, 10538 switched subject. “Why are we in a big cage?”
“It’s called a Faraday cage. It blocks most electromagnetic signals.” Doc’s new smile was lopsided. “It didn’t block the one that woke you on Earth Day. You told us Santa was coming.”
“I heard the bells in my dreams but they weren’t coming for me.” 10538 stared at the fat man. “They didn’t come for you either.”
“No.” Doc looked at the floor. “Santa took two of us.” He pulled a chair close and sat next to the bed. “We know it wasn’t your fault. We don’t blame you. We really are trying to help you.”
“Help me to do what?”
Doc snorted. “Stay alive.” He inspected his fingers. “What has been done to you is not your fault. You must remember that. Keep it in mind at all times as we strip away the blocks in your memory. It was all forced upon you. It was not your fault. Do you understand me?”
10538 thought of TV and of what he had seen. “I’m not sure I understand anything. I’m scared.”
“You have every reason to be.” Doc picked up a syringe. “If they could, they would kill you for escaping their world.”
“Kill me? Why? How?” 10538 tried to raise his hands but they were tied to the bed. “Why am I tied down? I’m not going to hurt anyone.”
“No, I know.” Doc filled the syringe from a small bottle. “You’re restrained because you have undergone several operations, some of them extensive, and still have an open wound in your forehead.”
“The brain chip? Are you going to take it out?”
Doc sighed and lay the syringe on a small metal tray. “I’m not sure I can. Its wires run deep into the cerebral cortex. I can’t just pull it out. It’s been in there a very long time, probably most of your life, and your brain has grown around its connections.”
“What does it do?” 10538 lifted his eyes but could not see his own forehead. He almost smiled at the stupidity of trying.
“We know it can block memories and we know that it’s controlled remotely. We suspect it can also be used to insert memories of things that didn’t happen. I think it was contacted on Earth Night, when you woke up and told us Santa was coming.”
“So my memories might not be real?”
“As we shut down the layers of programming in the chip, real memories will come back and the false ones should – we hope – disappear.” Doc lifted the syringe and tapped it to remove air. “But yes, you have to be skeptical of what you remember. Be cautious.”
Doc rubbed something cold against 10538’s arm. “This will help you sleep without dreaming. Next time you wake up you’ll feel a lot better.”
“Can’t we talk some more?” 10538 felt a connection with this fat man, even though his extra weight must kill him soon.
Doc shook his head. “I’ve probably already said too much. I shouldn’t be interfering with Sally’s – Three’s – treatment protocol. Listen to her. She will help you through this.”
Her? She? A tiny stabbing pain in 10538’s arm was followed by a quick descent into oblivion. True oblivion. 10538 stared into the blank abyss and welcomed it.