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V-6-25 shuffled forward like the rest of them, silent and grim. Everyone was in standard gray uniforms. Nothing much happened during the Walk, just people in bleak uniforms hobbling along in forbidding stillness. He kept his head down, so as not to attract suspicion. A cold wind whipped through the mass of bodies, sending a shiver down to the very core of the gathering. Abruptly everyone stopped. At the center of the Walk stood Mr. 6, the news announcer for the city. He gathered his papers and ascended an invisible platform, covered by a wall of living bodies.
“Today we are gathered to pay our respects to Mr. 1, our undying leader, and to pass our knowledge between one another,” Mr. 6 began, projecting his voice through a tiny microphone on the podium in front of him, “Now we will all be silent in honor of Mr. 1.” Any conversations between the people ceased immediately. For several minutes no one stirred.
“Now,” continued Mr. 6, his voice echoing over the sea of gray bodies, “We shall begin the Ceremony.” V-6-25 cleared his mind of all thought. He took in a breath of air and slowly released it. His mind became blank. Suddenly a wave of thought entered his mind. Mr. 6 was projecting the news of the month to everyone at the gathering directly into their psyche. Several other people interjected their thoughts to add to the stories Mr. 6 remained skeptical on. V-6-25 listened carefully to every detail, hoping that his own thoughts wouldn’t enter his mind. Mainly statistics flowed out of Mr.6’s mind, pouring over the crowd, many of which weren’t even understood. Suddenly V-6-25 felt a slight pressure on his back. He did not dare turn around nor even try to remember it even happened for fear that he might be discovered.
After an hour of the Ceremony, V-6-25 was released, allowing himself to think his own thoughts. Keeping his thoughts to himself had gone from mere habit to instinct, and now he could easily dodge the hourly Thought Purges. The crowd of people trundled back into the city, each of them nameless except for a letter and three numbers as a form of identity. Many of them had blank minds, incapable of doing anything besides what everyone else did. V-6-25 kept his head down and face blank, following the crowd of people before him. Another cold wind had fallen on the group, sending chills down his spine. It was late autumn and almost winter. Soon the rationing would begin and the Thought Purges would become more frequent.
As they reentered the city, V-6-25 returned to his cubicle, his living quarters. It was a dull gray color, and had no furniture. He was forced to sleep on the steel tiles of his room. The work siren sounded in the distance. He would have to return to work soon, after he was able to change into more appropriate attire. After removing his gray uniform he donned a black jumpsuit. With a small toss his old, worn-out uniform, which had seen many Ceremonies, landed lightly on the cold floor. There was nowhere else to put it. As he sealed the door to his cubicle he ran straight into his neighbor, G-7-13. “Ah, Mr. V-6-25, good to see you,” G-7 said, “Nice weather we are having.” G-7-13 was as clueless as many people in the city. His greetings were always the same, never changing. So, V-6-25 used his same greeting as well.
“Good to see you as well. Yes, very nice weather we’re having.” V-6-25 walked past him so as to avoid any further conversation. Really, G-7-13 could most likely have been the dumbest of everyone in the city. He couldn’t often tell the difference between V-6-25 and his other neighbor, V-3-49. Obviously his mind was working well enough today.
As the metallic door to the cubicle complex slid to a shut behind him, V-6-25 looked out at the dull buildings engulfing the narrow streets below. Despite the fact that the sun was burning extravagantly, the steel structures remained bleak and unreflective. The city was enormous by modern standards, slightly larger than eighty-two square miles. Luckily, V-6-25 lived very close to his office. It was one of the thousands of Thought Transfer Centers in the city. Mr. 6 looked down at all of the passers on the street from hundreds of visa-screens covering the skyline of the city. “Obey Mr. 1. Obey Mr. 1” he chanted on and on. V-6-25 kept his head low and invisible to the visa-screens. No one ever looked at the screens for more than an instant, because anyone who stared would be severely punished, and even the less intelligent beings understood that. The silence in the street was grim, except for the loud chanting above. Everyone was dressed in black uniform with a white number stamped permanently on the back.
The Thought Transfer Center loomed ominously above many of the other skyscrapers. It was a solid gray color, identical to the color of the other buildings, but the particular shade seemed to carry an extra sense of malice about the structure. V-6-25 walked quickly up to it, filled his mind with Mr. 6’s chant. “Obey Mr. 1, obey Mr. 1.” He strode through the door and stopped at the Thought-scanning center. It launched several beams of blue light into his head, then allowed him to pass. Mr. 2, the coordinator of the Thought Transfer Divisions, filled the visa-screen in the red lobby of the Thought Transfer Centers.
V-6-25 escaped down a white hallway and flew into his office past hundreds of others. This was one of the few places where he was safe from discovery, for the most part. He began to shuffle the thought codes on his desktop visa-screen around. Any thought code that contained corrupt a thought was to be instantly terminated and that person would be sent to the Rehabilitation Centers. He moved the codes around, deciphering one after the other. The only part of his job that he liked was the visa-screen. It was made up of magnetically suspended crystals, and V-6-25 could easily move his hand through it. He often had some entertainment with it, but would cease immediately. How he would love to have fun.
After hours of codes flashing past his eyes, the screen shut down and all the lights flickered out. Thought Purge! V-6-25 cleared all of his thoughts except for the single lined chant. Soon the lights came back on, but his screen did not. Time to go home.
V-6-25 lifted himself from the chair and left. He walked home silently like the rest of the crowd moving about him. Strange, that they were not thinking and yet they were, a single chant was the only thing in their minds. Yet how could he know that? Perhaps they were all suppressing their thoughts like he was, or they were all against him, all of them out to expose his will to think freely. V-6-25 spurned the thought from his mind, in case there might yet be another Thought Purge.
When he was home he threw himself on the hard steel floor and propped his head up on his aged, filthy gray uniform. Dreams were often the death of many people. Thought Purges often occurred at night, but V-6-25 trained himself to only think about the domination of Mr.1 before and while he slept.
The next day he awoke to the sound of the shrill morning alarm. He arose quickly and left with his black jumpsuit already on. G-7-13 greeted him as he left the door, “Ah, Mr. V-6-25, good to see you. Nice weather we’re having.” V-6-25 responded in his normal manner, but something was wrong with G-7’s greeting. Something he wasn’t able to depict it from all the other times they’d talked.
Another day at work passed. He dodged Thought Purges and continued to work normally. Many years of freethinking had worn him to the point of self-destruction. He hated Mr. 1 and all that he stood for. He hated him for making him suppress his thoughts. He hated him for cutting off any relationships that he might have. And he hated him for being the only thing billions of people ever thought about, and yet they could not help themselves. Anger welled up in V-6-25’s mind. Fiery hate directed like a torpedo at Mr. 1. The hate burned strong, regardless of V-6-25’s efforts to put it out. It spread like wildfire in him, and all he could do was hope that Thought Purges did not detect emotion. With all his will he replaced the anger and malice with a subtler emotion. Fear. A small tear detached itself from his lower eyelid. It rolled down his cheek and fell violently onto his desk. With an explosion of millions of smaller drops, it was gone. Never again would he contemplate emotion.
As he awoke the next morning he could still feel the ravages that the surge of emotion had done to his body and mind. What if they had caught him with his hand in the cookie jar? Maybe they had, and he would be destroyed. He would be free, in a sense. Joy flooded through him, but he tucked it away as best he could. He did not know if they would even have him killed. Perhaps they would keep him alive and mindless forever. He greeted G-7-13 again on his way back to the Thought Transfer Center, but again V-6-25 detected something amiss with his greeting.
At his office, he seemed to have an unusual amount of work. He deciphered them easily enough, but each of them was corrupt and needed to be terminated. A shiver went down his back. Something wasn’t right. As he worked further and further through his stack to more recent thought codes, he made a revelation. Cold sweat ran down his brow and his heart beat faster. These were his thought codes. V-6-25 stopped working. All that hiding, deceiving was for nothing. They had found him anyway. The face of G-7-13 appeared on the screen. Now that he was free to think, he noticed he resembled Mr.6 very much. And Mr.2. He was the mastermind behind this entire scheme. He had been the one to exploit him and now he had a cause to destroy him. And yet V-6-25 could not hate him. He could only blame himself for what had happened, for being careless with his thoughts, and for having corrupt thoughts in the first place. All he could hope for now was that death would come swiftly. The small joy he felt earlier returned. Perhaps after he died he could lie on his back and mull around with his emotion and thoughts. Two guards entered the room, each taking one of his shoulders. V-6-25 felt an empty feeling in his gut. He had no idea what waited for him, and yet he feared it with every molecule of his being. Not even a small joy could stop that. What a silly notion.
He awoke to find himself in a small, cylindrical room. He was strapped to a vertical, steel table, held up by brown leather straps. They were tight, restraining him from viewing much more than the front of the room. A faint humming filled his ears, maybe originating from a boiler below. After a while he continued to wait, hunger gnawing away at him. But the silence got to him most of all. The continuous humming burned its way into his memory. No human voice sounded beyond the iron walls, and his throat burned with thirst, making it impossible to have a conversation with himself.
Faintly, the clink of boots sounded. His wrists and neck were sore from being suspending for hours, maybe even days. Abruptly a door behind him opened with the agonizing scrape of metal on metal. A shadow walked forward, striking its heel on the steel floor. “V-6-25, good to see you survived.” It was Mr. 2, or Mr. 6, or G-7-13. “Do you remember who I am?” G-7-13 did not advance further than behind V-6-25’s vertical bed. “How could I forget,” he said in response. Sharp, needle like pains erupted all throughout his body. “You did not answer my question.” The pain immediately stopped. “Can you remember who I am?” G-7-13’s voice sounded agitated and worn. “You know I remember you, G-7-13.” He walked forward and showed himself to V-6-25. There was a wide smile on his face. “I suppose that will have to do.” His smile grew wider, “Now, would you like to meet your counter-part?” A second man entered the room. He stepped next to G-7-13 and pulled the black veil off his face. At first V-6-25 could not see past the smile that enveloped most of his features, but then he saw it. It was himself. He had his look, his build, and most likely all of his memories. “This is V-6-26, V-6-25. Your replacement has every experience that has built up in his memory, but he remembers them quite differently from you. He remembers them better.” V-6-26 did not lose a millimeter of his grin, “Obey Mr.1,” he bleated, “Obey Mr.1.”
V-6-25 stared in horror. That was to replace him. No one who knew him would ever be intelligent enough to notice the faint difference in his name, if anyone new him at all. Life would continue without him. “Now,” announced G-7-13, “Would you like to meet the man you replaced?” A small window opened behind V-6-26. It was himself as well; the same face except empty and dead. “You see, V-6-25, this is V-6-24. He defected quite a while ago, as you have now. Eventually everyone defects to corrupt thought, so I have to build new ones.”
V-6-25 was only half listening while he turned things over in his mind. So he was only a drone. An empty shell that somehow became sentient. As he recalled events, he did not remember anything vividly before five years ago. “How,” he blurted, interrupting G-7-13.
“What,” G-7 responded, his tone unwavering.
“How did you detect me?” Pain shot up through V-6-25.
“You know it isn’t polite to interrupt.” The pain intensified. “But, I suppose your question isn’t totally irrelevant. It does deserve at least part of the truth.” The pain ceased throughout V-6-25’s body. He gasped for air, but suddenly his restraints tightened. Someone else had entered the room, and was installing something onto his temples. “Your thoughts are quite something. You can never hide them from a purge, even if you put them out of your mind,” G-7-13 began, “This is because in your unconscious mind there is still the memory of thinking the immoral thought, so we can detect that in your thought codes. Anyone who has ever thought a corrupt thought will always be detected. Surely you must have known that, considering you were a Thought Transferor.” Agony tore at V-6-25’s mind. The pain in his body was intensifying. The hunched man who had placed something on his temples was now attaching something to V-6-26, who continued to smirk. “It also helped that I installed a thought tracker to you at every Ceremony.” G-7-13 lifted V-6-25’s gray uniform from the ground. “Dreams are impossible to track from a distance despite all of my technology. I need to have a device close to the person to fully record their thoughts.” He dropped the gray uniform to the ground.
G-7-13 walked around V-6-25’s vertical bed while V-6-26 continued to smile. “You know, V-6-25, there is an even simpler way to tell if someone is defective. This device was installed several generations ago.” The hunched man now moved over to G-7-13 and began to install something to him. “Whenever people begin to use contractions, it is an immediate sign that they are free thinkers, defectors of all society.” A fourth man entered the room and stood directly next to V-6-26. He had a smile very similar to V-6-26’s, but he had the appearance of G-7-13. “Over time I have grown defective, you see, V-6-25. I must alter my conscious just as you will in a few moments, so that we may continue our little game through life.”
“I… I don’t understand.” V-6-25’s voice was shaking, either from exhaustion or fear, maybe even both. G-7-13 laughed. It was a horrible thing to listen to, and V-6-25 cringed at the sound.
“We have always known each other. We truly have, through out all of our lives.” G-7-13 was now strapped to a table adjacent to V-6-25’s, “To keep the same relationships between people reduces… complications… that is why I have them replaced and not just destroyed. But why do I go through so much trouble to keep people thoughtless? To keep them from having free thoughts and opinions.” The idea had never crossed V-6-25’s mind. He had tried to envision why G-7-13 would do such a thing, and now he began to wonder himself. “It is because it is entertaining to me, me and my co-Thought Lords. That is what we are called, Thought Lords. Mr. 2 through Mr. 86. In every city there are different ones, except, of course, Mr. 1.” G-7-13 seemed to have a fanatical gleam in his eyes. “We find it good sport to play around with all of the different communities. It is like a little boy with his plastic soldiers, except much more lifelike.” He released a murderous cackle, piercing V-6-25’s eardrums.
“Who is Mr. 1?” V-6-25 was growing sick in the stomach. He knew he would not remember a word of this conversation, and sometime in the future it would happen again.
“Mr. 1 is the embodiment of everything, all of the Thought Lords and all of you meager pawns. He is all of us.” V-6-25 didn’t know if he could trust this answer, but what did it matter anyway? But it did matter. If he hated Mr. 1 with such ferocity, would that mean he hated himself just as much?
No, he decided, I do not hate myself as much as I do Mr. 1. But V-6-25 couldn’t totally believe in this. If he were to look deep down to the center of his being, would he find hate sitting there working against him?
“So,” concluded G-7-13, interrupting V-6-25s train of thought, “In the end, no one escapes the wrath of Mr. 1.” An electric shock jolted V-6-25’s body.
He awoke to find himself looking at a man strapped to a vertical steel table. He was limp and lifeless, with eyes staring widely at him. What was his name? Oh, yes, he remembered it now. The steel cylindrical room he was in seemed to echo a single lined chant. His mind repeated it over and over again.