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Nervana

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Gal opened his eyes. He had been awake for some time, but over the years he had learned that to open his eyes immediately meant pain. Though he had grown accustomed to the morning scans, the bright lights still made his head hurt.

Bracing himself, he forced his eyelids apart. The gray scanner instantly folded itself out of the wall and turned on, the bright red light passing from one eye to the other. As always, the flash burned his dilated pupils.

Wiping the light-induced tears from his eyes, Gal stood and walked to the washroom. The scanner had already prepared his shower, and although the water temperature was supposedly altered every day to fit his needs, he never felt any difference. It was always lukewarm. There were no taps (the necessity had been eliminated—what need is there for taps when the water is automatically the desired temperature?) so he could never take a hot shower after a long day of work. Of course, that was the truth with all of the scanners. They allegedly monitored every aspect of you and adjusted your environment accordingly, but instead they just churned out the same things day after day after day.

Gal stepped out of the shower and sighed, touching his finger to the pad beside the sink. Yet again the radio had spoken of one of the freak eyeball-murders, committed by a cult which killed people by ripping their eyes out. When are the Governors going to catch them? A panel in the wall opened, showing his toothbrush, already supplied with tooth cleaner. Of course the cleaner was a different flavor each day, depending on his mood. Today it was bland and slightly sweet, as it had been the day before and would be the next day.

After another bright iris scan, Gal grabbed a worksuit from the rack, color-customized to match slight variations in his mood from day to day. The suit was gray and black. Yesterday it had been black and gray.

The elevator doors opened with the blink of an eye. Inside there were three other people, all dressed in identical suits. They nodded to him, and he nodded back.
~

The elevator doors opened onto a large square. One of the women in the elevator squeezed out, and Gal looked up just in time to see… What was that? He shook his head, thinking it was probably a trick of the light, a reflection off of a window. The elevator continued down, and Gal looked back at the floor.

When the elevator stopped at Gal’s floor, he exited and trudged toward the door of his office. He looked into the scanner by the doorframe, and the glass slid aside. He entered.

Inside he found the same monotonous workstations that greeted him every day. His seat was the same as well, the ergonomic chair “fitting itself” to his needs with the touch of a finger. He wiggled around in its expanses for a while, avoiding the customary lumps and prickles that he wiggled around every day. Finally finding the ever-present comfortable spot, Gal reached out for the pile of work in front of him. He worked at the Censorship Center, where signs and slogans that could make people uncomfortable were edited for content. The society was all about the peoples’ comfort, so if there was an offensive saying on a poster that could make a person feel strange, it had to be edited.

First was a brightly-colored pamphlet. The cover had vivid blue words stating “God Is Our Savior! Hell Is Waiting For Nonbelievers!” Underneath was a picture of a boy kneeling in front of an altar. Scrawled in red pen across the bottom of the packet was the phrase “INPRPRT RLGS STMNT—NULLIFY.”

These abbreviations stood for “Inappropriate Religious Statement.” “Nullify” indicated that the pamphlet had to be diluted and made less offensive, namely by removing the part about hell.

Turning to his editor, Gal slipped the pamphlet into the slot near the bottom. Looking into the periscope, he manipulated the letters to read “God Is Nice Although It Is Not Mandatory To Believe In Him Or Her! Nonbelievers Are A Relevant And Accepted Part Of Society As Well!”

It disrupts the flow a little… ah well, as long as it doesn’t offend anyone. With the scan of an eye, the pamphlet was submitted for republication. Every copy of it would, by means unknown to Gal, be edited to read the same.
~

Several hours of tedious work later, Gal stepped out of the cubicle and into the square. He was about to get onto the elevator once more when he spotted the same thing he had seen earlier in the day. This time he looked closer, and saw—

A colored suit. It was a beautiful, vibrant mix of blue and green, bright but not painful to the eyes. Forgetting the opening doors of the lift, he followed the person wearing this amazing creation.

The woman darted between gray and black suits, drawing gazes from everyone she passed. Gal seemed to be the only one following her, however. She entered the elevator at the other side of the square, and Gal managed to push his way into it just as the doors were closing. She immediately looked away.

“Who…who are you?” He asked. “Why is your suit colored?”

She blinked several times before looking up at him. “B-because… because I was contented this morning...contentment makes the scanners give you blue and green.”

Gal snorted. “Come on. I may not be a genius, but I’m not an idiot. We all know the scanners don’t work.”

“They… they do work. Maybe you weren’t feeling anything this morning.”

“Well, if that’s true, then I and everybody else who lives in this complex feel nothing every single morning. And I have had some rough mornings. What is depression?”

“Purple. Purple and dark red.”

“Then for the past three months, my suit should have been purple and dried-blood red. How did you get color? Was your shower hot?”

“Yes… like it always is…” But she had gotten a dreamy look on her face. She wouldn’t have that look if her water were always hot.

He took her by the shoulders, pressed her against the wall. “You need to tell me where you got a working scanner or I will…” He stopped abruptly, noticing the color of her irises. They were blue, like many, but they had faint golden lines crisscrossing them. He wouldn’t have been able to see them if he had been any farther away.

“No! Don’t turn me in!” Tears leaked from her eyes, and she began to shake. “I was only trying to get a bit of color in my life… flavor in my food…”

What is she babbling about? I’m onto something. “I won’t turn you in if you tell me where you got a working scanner.”

“I… I didn’t get a working scanner. I got better fingerprints.” Gal shook her.

“Don’t lie! Where did you get a working scanner?”

“Please! Don’t! I… I’ll show you!” He let go of her. “Th-thank you…”

“What’s your name?” Gal asked. He felt bad for hurting her, but… he needed color, heat in his shower, flavor in his food.

“Cobalt. It…it’s not my real name… but they give everyone code-names in the Underground. Everyone’s named after an element or a mineral…”

The Underground? Am I getting involved in something illegal…?

The elevator stopped. The doors slid open. Outside was a hallway, doors to living areas on either side. “Follow me,” said Cobalt.

Gal obeyed. The girl—for she was that, barely twenty—stopped in front of one of the living area doors, number 4242. She rapped with the knocker, four knocks, a pause, then seven quick ones.

The door opened, revealing a tall black man. He was wearing sunglasses and a gold and silver suit. “Cobalt.” His voice was deep and soothing. “You brought a new one? Can he pay?”

“I… I don’t know… he threatened to turn me in.” She turned to Gal. “This is Onyx. He’s one of our… leaders.”

Gal extended a hand. “My name is—“

“Whoah there. I don’t want to know your real name. I’ll call you Gallium.”

Gal nodded. It’s fairly close to my real name. It’ll work.

Onyx continued, “Cobalt, somehow I doubt we can trust him if he threatened to turn you in… he doesn’t even know what we’re doing. Have you done any background research?” The girl looked uncomfortable, and shuffled her feet.

“No… he just followed me from the elevator. I didn’t get the chance.” She looked down at the floor, obviously ashamed. What are they doing here, that they have to research new members?

Onyx rolled his eyes. “How many times do we have to tell you, Cobalt? Don’t use your scanhacks on workdays!” The girl mouthed the last words along with him, so Gal knew he said this often. “Anyway… Gallium. Will you tell the authorities about our little operation?”

Gal thought. I could get a substantial raise from turning them in… but I could get working scanners by not doing so. “No, I won’t turn you in.” Onyx nodded.

“Well, that’s a start. Of course I can’t believe you until you’ve actually taken part in farming, so come here. We’ll get you a beginner scanhack—we can’t have you wearing brightly-colored suits all of a sudden.”

“I don’t understand why not… Cobalt’s suit was pretty sudden.”

Onyx laughed. “Actually, it wasn’t. In her sector, Cobalt started out with a mellow suit, maybe just a tint of blue. You work your way up to something like this.” He pointed at her. “A lot of people in her sector came here… she was an idiot and visited a different sector, so she called attention to herself.” Cobalt looked at the ground again, and Gal began to get impatient.

“Listen, can I just get a… scanhack? I’d really like to get this over with…” Onyx looked at him. Gal didn’t like his expression at all.

“Oh… it won’t be over with.” Onyx opened the door wider and led them into his room. It was a seemingly normal living area, nothing out of the ordinary. Cobalt led Gal over to the closet. Opening the door, she slipped into it and tapped on the wall. Gal looked over his shoulder in time to see Onyx changing into a normal gray and black suit. He shoved his gaudy one into his mattress.

The girl pulled Gal into the closet with her. “In here.” She indicated a panel that had opened, directly beneath where she had been knocking. Gal entered, finding a ladder. He began climbing.

Several minutes later, his feet hit the floor. Cobalt followed a few seconds later. She began walking down a long hallway. “In our case, the Underground is actually…underground. I suppose I should give you some information.” Gal nodded, then realized she couldn’t see him.

“Yes.”

“Well, a few years ago, a man and woman decided that they were fed up with the scanners. You know, they used to work, before any of our grandparents were born. I guess it was too expensive to maintain, though, so the Governors made them ineffectual… anyway, this woman and man code-named themselves Iris and Osiris. They decided that people needed comfort, actual comfort, not what the Governors fail to give. They figured out that the scanners could be tricked into actually giving you what you want. They only respond to certain types of irises and fingerprints, those not normally found in people. They…experimented…until they found ones that worked. Of course, once this technology became widely known, many people wanted it, so they had to come up with ways to mass-produce the fake irises and fingertips. They got so many people hooked that they had to move location, so they came down here. The people who made the scanhacks became known as Nerve Farmers, and the group expanded… once or twice they were given away to the government, but Nerve Farming was so popular that the group reformed immediately. Unfortunately, Iris and Osiris were killed during the first betrayal.”

They entered a large cavern. The ceiling was barely visible, and Gal knew that they must have traveled far underground. There was another tunnel at the far end of the cave, and Cobalt explained that it lead to another enormous space, and another, and another. “There are hundreds of these, all connected. Nobody knows everyone here.”

A thin, pale man turned towards them “Cobalt.”

“Hey, Vanadium.” She turned to Gal. “The caves are divided into Farms, four in each. Every farm has a Doorman—that’s Onyx—and a Harvester, which is Vanadium. The Doorman makes sure no undesirables get in, and the Harvester oversees the farmers.”

“Cobalt… you brought a new one?” Vanadium rubbed his long-fingered hands together, then flicked his greasy black hair out of his eyes.

“Yeah. He’s called Gallium. He followed me.”

“Ah well. Once we give him a scanhack he won’t tell. Gallium, come here.” Gal followed the slim man to a machine about the size of a child curled into a ball. The machine was sitting atop the table, and Vanadium grabbed Gal’s hand. Shoving it into a slot in the machine, he stared into an eyepiece. This looks like an editor! Gal thought, seeing the resemblance.

Almost as if he had read Gal’s thoughts, Vanadium said, “It looks like an editor, doesn’t it? D’you work in the Censorship Center?”

Gal nodded. “I was just thinking that… what are you…” Vanadium pressed a button, and Gal felt a small shock on each of his fingertips. He withdrew his hand sharply and examined his fingers. Though he had never memorized his fingerprints, he did know that these were different than his old ones. They were jagged spikes, extending from one side of the finger to the other, with a sort of circle in the middle.

“This will fool the scanners, or hack them. Hence the name. However, each print will only work twice, so use this hand sparingly. I won’t give you an iris until later.”

Gal stared in awe at the strange lines. “Th-thank you…”
~

On the way home, Gal made sure not to use his left hand to open any doors. He wanted to save his scanhacks for things that mattered.

He rushed through the door and over to the kitchen-area. First he touched the cooking scanner with his right hand, and immediately the oven drawer opened and a plate with a gray lump of gruel popped out. Gal ate it, savoring the watery, tasteless bites. I want to get the best comparison I can. Once he had finished the disgusting mush, he touched the same pad with his left hand. He felt a small jolt, and then a rush of happiness. Happiness? Hm. I’ll have to ask Cobalt. Instantaneously the drawer popped open. Out came a sizzling steak, red in the middle. He grabbed a knife and fork from the cupboard and dug in.

The first bite exploded into his mouth. He reeled as the juicy steak caressed his taste buds, the first real food he’d had… well, ever. He even experienced new flavors and textures, ones that he had never tasted before. He had seen steak on the television and in advertisements for new scanners, but never in person.

He staggered to his feet, staring in awe at his left hand. He saw the spiky print on his index finger was eroded, some of the lines blurred, but he didn’t care. Gal sat down again and finished every single bite of the steak, licking the juice off of the plate once he was done. After dropping the dish haphazardly into the sink and washing it with an iris scan, he stumbled to his bed. The new experiences had left him exhausted.

He flopped down on the lumpy mattress, and desperately wanted to use a scanhack to make the bed more comfortable… but he realized that his irises were normal. I need more. The shock of pleasure and the texture of the steak had been better than anything he had ever experienced.

His feet took him hastily to the elevator, where he sagged against the wall waiting for the doors to open. Faster… faster… I need irises… When they did slide apart, Gal fell into the small space. He pounded the buttons with his hands and prayed desperately for the elevator to put on a burst of speed.

The doors slid apart again. Gal began running to the elevator on the other side of the square, begging his feet to go faster…

Gal arrived at room 4242. He strained to remember Cobalt’s knock… Four then seven short… he rapped against the door. Onyx opened it, and Gal squeezed past him to the closet. He could hear the big man’s voice echoing after him as he jumped down the hole, not bothering to use the ladder.

He landed with a crack on the ground, his ankle snapping. He screamed. I NEED MORE! Despite the horrendous pain in his ankle, Gal began dragging himself down the tunnel… he heard Onyx’s voice faintly behind him screaming “We’ve got an addict! We need immobilization in 4242 NOW!”

Gal reached the cave and crawled towards Vanadium, who was standing by the machine giving someone else a scanhack. He managed to get wobblingly to his feet and tackled the woman whose hand was in the machine, ripping her arm away. He shoved his hand into the slot.

“Vanadium. I need more. Give me an iris.” Vanadium’s eyes shifted over Gal’s shoulder, as if making contact with something, but then snapped back.

“Of course. Ah…” He began rummaging in a small black bag by his feet, coming up eventually with a dark shiny orb, a needle protruding out of one end.

“Will that give me the irises?”

“Ah… no. Not exactly.” Vanadium jammed the orb, needle first, into Gal’s arm.

His vision faded.
~

When Gal woke up, he was tied to a bed. He remembered a deep, wrenching need for something, but forgot what it was. He looked around.

Cobalt was standing above him. When she noticed that he was awake, she called for Onyx. He came. “Gallium. You’re awake.”

“Ah… yes. Why am I here?”

“Do you not remember? You went berserk. You’re a scanhack addict, Gallium.”

Scanhacks. “An addict? What does that mean?”

“Basically, using a scanhack will produce an endorphin surge in your brain, making you illogical and forcing you to need more. I’m afraid I can never let you have a scanhack again… you managed to break your ankle and someone else’s wrist.”

“Oh my God. Did I really?”

“Yes. We’ve removed all of the artificial fingerprints from your hand. You’re not the first, so we have procedures for this.”

“By all means… but can I get up now? Have you been able to heal my ankle?”

Onyx nodded. “You’re free to go.” He unfastened Gal’s bindings.

As Cobalt was leading him out of the hospital, she said, “It’s a pity you never got an iris. Y’know the little rush of happiness you get when you use a fingerprint?” Gal nodded, remembering. “Well, it’s twenty times better with irises.” She smiled. “Anyway, I might see you around.”
~

Later that night, Gal was lying in his bed thinking about what Cobalt had said. Twenty times better… Gal looked down at his left hand. All of his fingerprints had returned to normal…

Except one.

His smallest finger had one jagged line extending across it. He marveled at the unnatural ridge. Thinking out loud, he mumbled, “That steak was delicious… maybe this will make me at least a tidbit of good food.” Rolling out of bed, Gal made his way to the kitchen.

He pressed his finger against the pad. Out of the cooking drawer came a small brown lump. “Doesn’t look promising… ah well.” Gal put the lump in his mouth.

Again, the flavor assaulted him. It was a rich, dark, smooth taste, one that he had only heard of… Chocolate! And again, the unfamiliar textures drove him into a frenzy. I need more. No… broke my ankle… not again… Onyx won’t let me in. Irises! Twenty times better! I NEED AN IRIS!

Cobalt. She has those beautiful blue eyes… it would be a simple matter, really, to trade eyes with her. Just pop them out and in… yes.
~

The radio began playing of its own accord. “Last night, an eyeball murderer struck again. The corpse of Julia Renise was found last night, along with that of Brian McCauley.”

Gal stared at the two pairs of colored orbs on his desk, wondering where they had come from.





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Evelyn, Goddess of Earth said...
Apr. 20, 2009 at 12:46 am
SOOOO CREEPY! Didn't expect the ending. Awesome! Continue writing! :D
 
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