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Rise of the Roombas
Rise of the Roombas
It’s been ten years. Sometimes it seems like only days have passed, and other times it feels like an eternity. We start to forget the things we should remember. And we start to remember the things we should forget. Faces fade from our memory, replaced with a cold, metallic reflection of the past. Memories come and go, flitting between the cracks of our minds, keeping what’s left of our humanity intact. But one phrase stays fresh in all our heads. One pairing of words will never leave any of us, and will shape the future that no one wants to live through. “Submit, Obey, Or Be Swept Away”.
The name I had before they took over was Booker DeLuca. I was the owner of a local convenient store in Baltimore, Maryland, where I sold trinkets, odds and ends, and whatever I could possibly pawn off to tourists and locals. I was single at the time, though I was sweet on this one girl down the street, though she never really knew my feelings for her. But now, in the wake of this mechanized apocalypse, my name is simply W-488, meaning I was the 488th worker that they inducted into their slave labor system.
Perhaps I should explain how things got this way. One day, I was tidying up the shop, putting a ceramic angel back on its shelf, and I heard this loud buzz. Not like a bee, that has natural undertones to it. I’m talking about a low, foreboding hum, the kind that hangs on the tendrils of the air. The next thing I knew, I was diving for cover as my windows were blown out, seemingly shattered by the intensity of the decibels. I reached for the Magnum underneath the counter, but my fingers quickly abandoned it to cover my ears. The ringing would not cease.
This is where it may start to seem wonky, so bear with me. I owned a roomba, which if you’re unfamiliar, is a small, circular, disk-like robot that keeps your floors dust-free. Well, I almost didn’t believe my eyes when I saw it liberally burst through the storage closet door, with a red glow lacing the underside of its belly. It too was making the same, low hum, amplifying it. Practically harmonizing with the choir of metallic sound. It was unbearable.
So the next thing I know, this elongated set of hooks burst from the brunt end of the thing, and it latches itself to my shirt, and into my skin. I remember the most unimaginable, searing, white-hot pain coursing through my bones, singing my veins. And then, it sprung forward onto me, wrapping itself around my chest and coming face-to-metal plate with me. As the pain became greater, the red glow intensified.
I almost didn’t realize it when I was suddenly on my feet, and walking out the door. The reason? I wasn’t doing it of my own volition. It was as though this roomba, this faceless, roboticized menace, was tapping into my synapses, and controlling my nerves, directing me where to go. I pushed away the shattered-glass door and was now on the street, being jerked and moved around my building down to a local park. From my peripherals, I could see other people being moved, all with roombas locked around their chests. Men, woman, children, even animals weren’t safe.
This is where everything becomes a haze. I must have blacked out from shock or blood loss or something, since the next thing I remember is waking up in a small, enclosed room with nary but a note on the concrete wall. Below the scrawling was an ironclad bed without blankets or pillows, and to my right was a window with steel bars lining its opening. And before me was a large door of the same configuration. I was in a prison cell.
The note was on scrap paper, and read “It’s not insane, it’s for the better.” Whatever that meant. I peered out of the desolate room as best I could, and saw rows and rows of other cells, each housing a person. Some were crying, some were shouting, and some were just sitting there, taking everything in. I mean, it’s not every day you’re stripped of the normal routine and shacked into a prison cell by a metal disk. Speaking of, there were roombas here too, patrolling the floors and making sure we all stayed in our pens.
It was here I stayed for 3 months before I escaped. Our schedules never faltered, and never changed. We woke up at 7:00 AM sharp, and were fed one piece of whole wheat bread as energy. From there, we were sent out to some kind of mineral mine to scavenge for this type of rock I’ve never seen or even heard of. The weird thing was that there was an abundance of the stuff, like it was just waiting to be released or something. Anyways, they made sure we didn’t escape by tethering our legs together with these weird, electronic chains that restricted any form of movement that wasn’t considered productive. You had to scratch your nose? You get shocked. You have to sneeze? You get shocked. You want to give yourself some shade in the blazing, Maryland sun? You get shocked twice as much.
This went on for eight hours, all the way up until 3:00 PM. Lunch time. If, of course, lunch means another piece of bread and a bowl of cold soup. After that, we were sent back to our cells, and that was it. No more work, no more toil, no more hardship for the day. Just another 6 hours before mandatory bedtime. Sounds like Heaven, huh? But believe it or not, I did escape.
I had a smaller framed body than most of the other guys, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I could fit through the small, barred window, if the bars were to be removed, of course. So what did I do? Every day, at the quarry, I would pocket a small amount of rock. Not enough to be considered unproductive movement, but just enough to sneak back to my cell. And every night, in my six hours of solace, I’d slowly chip away at the bars. Once they were finally weakened enough, almost a month later, I broke through, and escaped that hellhole of a prison. Unbelievable, right? It gets better.
When I was finally in the mildly-fresh air again (You wouldn’t believe the amount of smog lacing the air now), I ran. I didn’t look back, I didn’t think where I was going, I just ran. Day and night, running and running, only stopping to sleep or take a breather. I think I ran for about three days before I stumbled across a lake, where I learned the true value of water and being hydrated. After a quick H20 break, it was back to more running. After another day, I set up in a small forest to sleep. And what else could I have been woken up to, in the dead of dusk, than a block gun barrel right in my face?
“Don’t move, don’t die. Anything sudden, and your head gets an eighth hole, got it?” said this man, now eye-to-eye with me. He had a bandana on his head and a large tattoo of a spider web underneath his scarred right eye. His jaw was chiseled, and his posture was serious, as if he’d always been this buff and intimidating. So what else could I say but “Yes sir”?
“Glad you understand. Now get up.” He said, giving me no choice and taking my arm roughly. I stayed quiet, going with his motion, not daring to make a human enemy when there was so much else to worry about. That’s when I also realized he was alone, that he was with no one. What was he doing all the way out here? And why wasn’t there a roomba gridlocked into his chest? “What are you doing out here, stranger? You got a name?” Funny, I could have asked him the same thing.
“It’s, uh… it’s Booker. And I’m out here ‘because I’m running.” I said with more frightenedness in my voice than I would have liked.
“I’d say it’s nice to meet you, Booker, but given the circumstances, I wish I hadn’t met you like this. Running from the disks, I take it?”
“Yeah, I was locked up in some kind of prison, but I managed to get myself out without them noticing.”
“You’re lucky son. Mighty lucky. Do you have anywhere you’re going?” He asked with a slight desperation in his tone.
“Not particularly, no. Why, do you have somewhere I can go?”
“Follow me, boy.” He said quietly. And those were the last words we exchanged. After that, we just walked, and walked, and walked. He clearly knew where he was going, and didn’t stop once to ask any more questions. We just strolled along, going wherever it was he was taking me. It did give me the opportunity to take in the sights, though, and boy, how the world had changed. From the prison, we never really got to see the outside world, and maybe that was for the better.
The sky was no longer blue, now it was some shade of purplish-red, with not a cloud to be seen anywhere. The air, as I mentioned before, was coated and peppered with pollutants and smog, and there was a distinguishable fog that halted any vision beyond a certain sightline. The natural things were dead or wilting, not able to sustain themselves in this environment. But the creepiest and most disturbing thing of all? There were massive, metallic tentacle-like cylinders shawshanking their way in and out of the ground, leaving gaping holes and filling me with terrified wonderment. What happened to the world?
The mysterious man and I had kept on walking for hours on end, until we finally reached the entrance of some kind of cave. He reached for his belt, and pulled out a small flashlight, illuminating the darkness. “Stay close” he said, leading me inside. He didn’t need to tell me twice. We walked in this opening for another hour or so, entrenching ourselves deeper in the darkness, and making me wonder even more where we were going. Eventually, we hit some kind of metal doorway with three keyholes and a large, gridlined sheet beside it. Like clockwork, the man inserted all three keys he had stowed away in his belt (I swear, he kept everything right there between his belt loops), and then, when all three were in, the sheet suddenly sparked on. He held his eye to it, and a feminine voice came on, saying “Please wait while retinal scan is in progress.” After a few seconds, a reaffirming beep sounded, and the voice spoke again. “Welcome, Citizen.”
The door creaked open, and before me was a most glorious sight. Buildings! Trees! Humanity! It looked like a blast from the past. An entire city, untapped by the monstrous roombas. The whole thing was encased in some kind of bio-dome like structure, and it looked just like any modern city you can imagine. And best of all, there were people. Not the kind of people at the prison, devoid of any kind of emotion or lifeblood. But real, honest to goodness people, living as though there was no threat whatsoever in their enclosed haven.
“Welcome to the city of Salvation, Booker. My name’s Dwight, by the way.” The man said, shaking my hand. “Come, let’s get you situated here.”