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High-pitched screeching tears me from an unusually restful sleep. There is one minute allotted for getting out of bed in the morning and I make it count. These brief moments are the ones I relish. They are the moments when I can think and feel exactly how I am supposed to and no one will ever notice. I crawl out of bed just before I am administered an electrical shock to wake me and plant myself in front of my body-length mirror. Although there is no visible sign that it is happening, I am being scanned for any medical complications. Once the scan is through I slip away into the bathroom just steps away, hoping my absence will go unnoticed.
“Remember to take your pill, Emery,” a chirpy female voice reminds me from an intercom over the mirror. I sulk back and pretend to swallow it down, all the while concealing it on the inside of my palm. “You may proceed with your schedule,” the mirror says. Throughout my morning routine I maintain the uniform composure of all the good citizens, but inside I am consumed by nervous energy. Here and there I tuck a flash drive under my belt, slip my pill into a bag full of them; nothing so noticeable that the cameras in my house will pick up on. Fortunately only recordings of key words and specific actions, called “triggers”, are forwarded on to be reviewed by the authorities.
I am crazy. I am a lunatic. But it is the lunatics of the world, the people who dare to think outside the box, that propel it forward, I remind myself.
The Correlation Department Housing trolley arrives at my stop promptly at 7:35am. I fall in step among the others boarding and seat myself beside a middle-aged man playing a game on his portable data and communication devise; what we call a “link.” Across the aisle a woman nods to her acquaintance with little interest. I spot two other women wearing identical outfits to myself: a solid white blouse, beige skirt and slip-on shoes with proper arch support. Why can’t King Storm issue clothing with a better color palette? At least my black hair stands out. I can’t stand so much uniformity.
As the trolley leaves I review my plan in detail. If my father knew what I was up to he would be rolling over in his grave. I rub the small lump at the top of my neck where my microchip was implanted at birth. In essence, it is used to control my mind. In college we future software engineers were told a long story of how mankind became so immoral, unethical and debased that an intervention had to be made. Thus, the microchip was created to promote equality, security and most important of all, obedience to our reigning king, Othello Storm. Our job is to send various messages of submission over the airwaves to the microchips so they can be implanted into the citizens’ minds.
The intentions were well-meant, but the people around me function like cogs in a machine. All they do is obey. Wake up, work all day, go home, and go to sleep. The people rise and fall at the command of their leader without question. Knowing how it feels to function without the constraints of the microchip I know that obedience isn’t the only way. There is such a thing as the wrong thing to do, and it is in a human’s genes to have the freedom to choose your own path.
The bus stops and new passengers are loaded on. A quiet man by the name of Leo sits beside me, as he does every morning. He raises his hand to his mouth as if yawning, but whispers, “Everything is in order.” No one seems to have heard what he said except me. I nod slightly. “Good luck.”
“Thank you.” The man playing on his link eyes me suspiciously. “And how are you this morning, Leo?”
“Good. Looking forward to work today.” That’s a bit of a joke between the two of us since we are probably the only ones who don’t look forward to work on a daily basis. Others are programmed to be nothing but eager to work, but the microchips don’t affect Leo and me like they do everyone else. Why that is, I don’t know. But we figured out that’s why we took our pills every morning. The pills limit free thought, singling out obedience in your mind, but not as extensively as the microchip. As soon as I take one I am comatose, with only one thought in my mind: I must follow my schedule, do my work, and be a good citizen. Once we realized this in the moments before taking the pill in the morning, both of us stopped taking them. “There is a special assembly being held soon that needs to be arranged into everyone’s schedules.”
Leo’s job is in the Scheduling Sector of the Correlation Department, where the population’s schedules are arranged and sent out to their links. Leo has an unreal memory. When you tell him something really important you can almost see him mentally filing away the information. This quickly landed him his current position as Overseer of Arrangements after college. His job has played a big part in making my plan feasible. Thanks to him I have the office completely to myself for ten minutes, plenty of time to download the virus and get out without running into a single person. And if it is noticed later, such a small discrepancy will only merit a slap on the wrist. Once I’ve left the office, that’s the tricky part, but I try not to think of the likelihood of fleeing the city undetected. Deviation from your schedule is a federal offense.
The bus comes to a halt and we unload into the Correlation Department, an enormous brick building with architecture that makes the studios we live in look like shanties. They are shanties compared to all of the important government buildings, actually. As we approach security I realize that I still have the bag of pills in my pocket from earlier. Knowing that any change in character could be suspicious I take a deep breath and casually scan the area for a place to ditch them, but there is nowhere to hide them. If I get caught with them during the x-ray scanning all our planning would be for nothing.
I let Leo go ahead of me through the scanners. “Wait for me,” I tell him when he’s through. The security guard wears the same blank expression that everyone does as he reviews the scan of Leo. I turn away from the cameras and toss the bag through the scanner. It reaches his hands just as the green light signals for me to enter the scanner. Without a hitch we leave security and walk off toward my office.
“What are you doing with these?” Leo hands me back my bag of pills and I return it to my pocket.
“I put them in my pocket this morning and forgot about them,” I say in my defense, not daring to mention how relieved I am that my flash drive wasn’t visible to the scanners behind my belt buckle. Leo shakes his head and through terse lips mutters, “You can’t be so careless.” The irony is that he, for a split second, carelessly let down his guard. Anger is an obsolete emotion, thanks to the microchips. By the time we reach my office his flash of emotion is long forgotten, though, and I don’t get a chance to call him out on it.
“See you later, right?” Despite his conviction for shutting down the microchips it is evident that Leo wishes there was a less risky way. In the end, though, we both know that this is how it’s got to be. More than likely, I will be caught.
“You take care,” I say with a smile.
“You too, Emery.” Leo disappears down the hallway without a second glance, and I am alone from here on out. My link reads 8:00am. I scan the barcode on my link to the screen outside the door of my office, confirming to my link that I am on schedule. As expected when I enter the office it is empty, but in ten minutes that won’t be the case, so I get down to business. My computer is unlocked by a scan of my hand. After what seems like an eternity it starts up and I can plug my flash drive in.
The flash drive contains a single file: a virus I specifically designed to attack the Microchip Software and destroy every last trace of it. By destroying the Microchip Software, the government’s iron grip on its citizens will be shattered. Without the software, the microchips are useless. A new window appears and asks what I would like to do with the files on the flash drive. With my fingers hovering over the “Download Files” option the door to the office whirs open. In walks Ruth Cunning, slurping coffee through her pouting mouth. No one is supposed to be here. What is she doing here? Leo was supposed to arrange everything!
Ruth is an especially staunch woman, which makes her an effective head overseer of the Programming Sector, but not by any means sympathetic to my cause. She plops down at her computer without acknowledging me until it dons on her that there are eleven unoccupied computers.
“We aren’t early, are we?” she asks, clearly embarrassed at even mentioning the possibility of such an oversight on her part. At the back of the room the clock reads 8:02am. “Eleven people late! How often is one person late, never mind eleven?”
“It must be a coincidence,” I speak up quickly as Ruth walks over to the large screen hanging on the wall meant for video conferences. “Everyone must have something else scheduled for this morning.” I can’t help myself from following my boss over to the screen, my fingers playing with the lining in my pockets anxiously.
“There must be twelve engineers for each shift, plus one overseer.” I can’t let Ruth alert the Scheduling Sector, or else I will never destroy the software. Mankind will always function as drones, with me falling in step beside them. My fingers find the bag of pills and all at once I have a plan.
“There is always a good reason for how things are scheduled. Give it a few minutes before calling. We can run things by ourselves for a little while,” I tell her, calmly, all the while frantically crushing the pills up in my pocket. With Ruth still typing things into the screen I inch over to her computer and dump the powdered medication into her cup of coffee. “You wouldn’t want to falsely accuse our dear leader of creating a faulty scheduling system.” This takes her aback.
“Of course not. King Storm is supreme.” She retreats to her computer as I take my seat, where I watch her drink her ration of coffee gluttonously. Ruth spirals down into a state of unconsciousness rapidly from the overdose of such a strong medication, until she is sprawled out across the table in front of her. I waste no time in downloading the virus. One by one various aspects of the software disintegrate until there is nothing left of it. With a click of a button my computer shuts down and I exit through the door. I half expect sirens to go off and the doors to be barred but nothing happens. Someone has a little too much confidence in their method of brainwashing. In order to leave the office I need to scan my link, stating that I am leaving to use the restroom, which should hold off the guards for a little while.
Every muscle in my legs wants to run as fast as I can, but I force myself to walk nonchalantly down the corridor. Even now I can feel the small grip the microchip had on me weakening and my determination strengthening. Purposely avoiding looking into the surveillance cameras I scan my link at the entrance to the restroom and open and shut the door without entering. There are no windows in the restroom, so I continue on toward an emergency exit. The door is in view when a chirpy female voice comes on over the intercom.
“Emery Peters, you are violating your schedule. Please return to your scheduled location,” the voice warns me. I can’t keep myself from running now, the voice repeating its warning. “Please return to your scheduled location.” Soon it changes to, “Emery Peters, stay where you are. Security is on their way.” Down the hall a team of five security guards barrel toward me. My rubbery hands fumble with my link and scan it at the exit.
The door whirs open, accompanied by the screeching of the evacuation alarm. All doors open and workers calmly file out of their offices and into the corridor. I duck outside onto the street. Following me the wave of workers join the sea of laborers on their way to work. While politely shoving people out of my way I get an unexpected response from them. Every person I shove has the same hazy, confused look I see in someone suddenly woken from a restful sleep. They stop in their tracks, scrunching their faces into question marks, and that’s when I know that my trouble was not in vain. The Microchip Software is destroyed.
“There she is!” a man growls behind me. People frozen by the sudden overflow of options and decisions to be made block my path. I sprint shoulder first into the crowd, but it is like hitting a wall. All around me people tower over me and press me in. Someone is calling my name; they’re getting closer, but there is nowhere for me to run. Blindly I kick and shove without results.
Then out of nowhere Leo is pulling me through the crowd. “We have to get to the city gate,” I tell him, but law enforcement officers are coming in from either side. With rifles hanging off their shoulders they close in on the crowd. The feeling in the air changes quickly from confusion to fear and anger. Soon violence has broken out; guns are drawn and shots are fired. Beside me a woman faints.
“Now what?” Leo asks. Good question. Somehow I imagined that once everyone was free of the microchips they would know exactly what to do, but the street is in absolute chaos, with some fleeing, some fighting, and some still dazed and confused. Over city hall a massive image of King Storm is projected into the air. As pompous as ever, King Storm looks down his nose at the crowd like we are all crazed animals that need to be contained. His efforts to calm the people are met with more chaos, but this time pointed.
“That’s it,” I blurt out. “The people need somewhere to direct all of… this,” I say with arms cast toward a robust man in full out throw down mode. “We have to get to city hall. We can rally the people there.” Leo begins to cut a path through the sea of people once again.
Suddenly a huge mass tackles me to the ground and I am squirming to free myself. My arms are wrenched behind me and cold metal clamps around my wrists. “Emery Peters, you are being taken into custody on the grounds of deviation from your schedule, incapacitating another citizen and destroying government property.” Leo is just a few feet away, not quite sure what to do as armed guards surround me.
“Forget about me! You need to keep going,” I yell. No sense in staying and getting arrested, too. He disappears into the crowd after a moment’s hesitation with two guards chasing after him. Part of me hates him for leaving me, even though I told him to. The other part knows he is the only one who can rally the people against King Storm now.
The burly security guard hands me off to another guard with orders to escort me off the street. “Escort her off the street?” the guard asks his superior, his eyes fluttering between us. Like the others, his confusion is overwhelming. You can see on his face that he is suddenly aware of the concepts of right and wrong; the concept of having a decision to make. Should he follow orders? Why is he following orders? Is what he is doing considered right or wrong?
The burly guard scolds him and he complies, anyhow. I am shoved through the crowd and into the back seat of a car. As we slowly drive through the mob I spot a band of people scaling the steps of city hall with a tall, slight man that can only be Leo in the lead. With such a sparse supply of law enforcement, only two officers follow them. They are easily taken out by five raging women. Leo is calling to the crowd. You can physically see his message carrying from one person to another. One by one people are turning their attention from the hologram King Storm to the physical one hiding in city hall. The last thing I see before turning the corner is the mob crashing through the hastily-made barricade into city hall.
And now here I am, sitting in the back of a car sandwiched between two guards, heading off to receive my judgment. What will they do with me? Who knows? No one has ever dared defy the king before, not that they had a choice. But for the first time I am smiling in the open without fear of raising suspicion and I love it.