The Voice of Reason
It’s 10:17 as I sit behind my desk, ready to begin another day as the Director of the Artifact Intake Department. Before I check the messages on my computer, I bring a cup of soothing coffee to my lips. “Nothing new as usual,” I mutter, reclining in my leather swivel chair. “That always works for me.” I scan the silent and spacious office decorated with pre-Collapse baubles. “I wish I didn’t file those Artifact reports so quickly. That’s always good busy work.” I pull my PAD from my lab coat and swipe a finger across the glass screen to activate the interface. I scroll through to my contacts page. “I wonder what Helenima is doing right now. Maybe she could skip work with me and we could get out of Union Tower for a bit. We could make a day of--”
There’s a knock at the door that snaps me from my thoughts.
I clear my throat and call out. “Come in.”
Ru Shi, my relatively new Tai-lonian assistant, pokes her head around the door in her usual meek manner. “Excuse me, sir,” she announces with her soft voice.
“Yes, Shi? Step inside.”
She takes a single step through and plants her feet side-by-side with hands together at her front. It’s clear that her upgraded salary has afforded her luxuries as her new outfit is hard to miss. The black formal dress and tailored jacket compliment her clean, gray skin. She even sprung for a black silk shawl that covers her uniquely long Tai-be tentacle.
As usual, she speaks just above a whisper. “The technicians have something interesting. They were hoping you could assist.”
I show her my wide smile. “You know I always love a challenge, Shi.” I jump from the chair and proceed to the lab with her at my side. All the technicians are crowded around Barion’s workstation, but the group parts for me as I approach. “What kind of oddity have the contractors brought back from the Fourth World? Shi promised me interesting.”
Barion swivels around on his stool to present a small, silver cylinder with rounded ends
“Oh my. Do you mind?” I query.
Barion eagerly accepts, pushing it towards me.
I take the thing and examine it closely. “I haven’t seen one of these for about 15 years.” I carefully twist and separate the cylinder into two parts. They gasp when I slide out a brown, paper tube from the hollow cylinder. The paper wrapping immediately disintegrates in my hand and brown, leafy specks fall from it. I bring it to my nose and smell it for good measure. My entire body quivers from the pungent odor. “Just as I thought. Pre-collapse medicine. They used to ingest this awful stuff.”
The technicians burst into laughter and heated discussion as many of them start to exchange credits through their PADS. Several scattered forms of ‘I told you so’ circulate. I allow them to indulge in their game for a few moments before I rein them in. “Alright, alright. Fun time is finished, everyone. Let’s get back to work. Barion, be sure to dispose of that. It’s of no use to us.”
The chatter dies down and the crowd dissipates. I turn back towards my office, but Ru Shi shuffles up to me before I make it. “Sir. Miss Geneu is waiting for you in reception.”
I stop and face her. “What?”
She stutters as my face lights up. “M-miss Genue, s--”
“What a surprise! Thank you, Shi.”
She returns a genteel head-bow before backing away to her desk.
With a bounce in my step, I pass through the doors to reception to see sweet Helenima standing there with a bright smile. It’s been a little over a month with her, and I’m already in love. Despite the short amount of time, I already desire for her to be my partner. As I approach, I notice she’s not wearing her usual work fatigues.
“Cyrius!” She runs to me, and we mesh into a tight hug.
With her head buried in my chest, I smell her sugary scent before we loosen our embrace. “Such a wonderful surprise. Shouldn’t you be at work?”
She looks up at me with those brown eyes shrouded behind satiny black bangs. “One of the development teams screwed up a fragmentation mine prototype, and it detonated in the workshop. Everyone had to be sent home.”
“For the Union! Are you alright?” I get ahold of her forearms and examine her up and down.
She blushes and grabs mine in return. “I’m alright, Cyrius.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. “It’s good you weren’t injured.”
She looks away for a moment. “Yes, well. Kenrel and Yava won’t be coming back to R&D for a while.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Oh, my. Should I even ask?”
“No.” She says quickly, looking back at me.
“Understandable, so what are you--”
“I want to go to dinner tonight. That new place on Fortitude.”
“We can certainly do that.” I lower my voice. “I was actually thinking of skipping out today. I was hoping we could--”
She tightens her grip on my forearms and shows me her notorious scowl. “Cyrius.”
I roll my eyes. “Alright, alright. Fine. When should I come and get you?”
“Come get me at 8:00. There’s a lot of errands that I want to catch up on.”
My heart warms. “8:00 it is.”
She shows me her beautiful smile again. “Good. I won’t keep you any longer.” She stands on her toes to plant a soft kiss on my lips before slowly backing away. Our forearms slip from each other’s grips until the tips of our fingers are the last to touch. “Have a great day,” she says softly.
“You as well, hon.” As I watch that beautiful figure saunter away, I can’t help but doubt if it’s possible for life to get any better. Yet every day it does.
As I check my PAD mail this morning, I notice there’s a message from Union Affairs. A flash of panic runs through me as I consider the possibility that it’s a notice of termination. That fear turns to a confused excitement when I glean over the first few lines. I’ve been selected for a promotion, but the classified specifics must be outlined by a representative in a private setting. The message is short, and I read it over repeatedly. I look over the verified credentials of the sender to assure myself it’s not a practical joke at my expense. I’ve always been content in the position as the Director of the Artifact Intake Department, so why would I give that up? I pace about the office, and my thoughts flood with questions and concerns. At a point, I conclude there’s no harm in hearing them out.
I submit my acceptance for a meeting at the first possible convenience. My assigned liaison reaches out an hour later. It’s another hour before we meet. I fidget with a pre-Collapse fire-starter while I stare at the clock upon the wall. The familiar gentle rapping of Shi’s tiny fist echoes throughout the room.
I remove my feet from atop my desk and brush away any wrinkles in my button-down shirt. “Yes, come in.”
She pushes the door enough to slip through, then gives a small head-bow. “I have a mister Wing for you, sir.”
I stand and motion to her with a hurried flick of my wrist. “Yes, yes. Please, show him in. Did you offer him refreshments?”
“Yes, sir.” She parts the door further.
A healthy man about 15 years my junior passes over the threshold. He takes a step forward before performing a prolonged head-bow. As he straightens himself, he brushes thick brown bangs from his face before speaking. “Mister Omar, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Petram Wing. I’ll be the one guiding you through the adjustment period of the position. That is, if you choose to accept the offer.”
I present him with a salutation of equal merit. “Yes, of course. It’s certainly a pleasure to meet you, sir. Please, have a seat.” I move around to the front of the desk and motion to the leather couch against the wall.
“Thank you.” He sinks into one of the cushions.
I catch Shi as she backs out of the room. “Shi, please ensure we’re not disturbed.”
She tips her head down before closing the door.
“So, I’ll get right to it,” he starts without hesitation as I seat myself in the adjacent armchair. “It’s been decided by my superiors that you have the necessary qualifications to fill a position in the Music Recovery Department.”
My perpetual smile fades.
He furrows his brow. “Is there a problem?”
I clear my throat. “Well, I appreciate the offer, sir, I really do. But…”
“I hate to offend, sir, but I feel as though I’m a little over-qualified for music sorting.
He returns a deadpan stare before releasing a chuckle. “Although I’m not personally aware of the exact details of your qualifications, I would have to agree with you regardless.”
I tilt my head up to s quint at him over the bridge of my nose. “What exactly is the position?”
He leans in, and his tone quiets to a whisper. “You’ve been selected for a position on the Music Integration Panel.”
My heart flutters, and I sink back into the chair. “An Integration Panel…”
“Is that something you desire?”
I snap out of a daydream before it can run rampant. “I-I-yes. Yes. Of course, yes, sir.”
His lips curl into a confident smirk. “Excellent. I’m truly excited you feel that way. I can understand if you may have anxiety over it. It’s a huge responsibility. This is my first time mentoring a new Panel member, so I certainly have anxiety of my own.”
My thoughts spiral along with the room. “It’s certainly extravagant news.”
Petram stands, and I shoot up to match his stature. “Can I expect you to arrive at the Music Department a few minutes before 10:00 on Monday?”
“W-well, yes, sir. Of course. B-but that’s it? Just like that? How do you even know I’m qualified?”
His smirk persists. “Just like that. I know it’s non-standard but be assured that you’ve been thoroughly vetted.”
All I can think to do is to offer him a generous head-bow. “Thank you for the exceptional opportunity, sir.”
He returns a head-bow of equal respect. “That’s the last time you’re going to call me sir. We’ll be equals starting Monday.”
I nod. “I like the sound of that.”
“I should take my leave,” he says before taking a few steps toward the door. “Enjoy the rest of your work day.”
“You as well.”
Before he can open the door, he pauses and turns back. “For Union’s sake. I almost forgot.”
“For strict security reasons, you can’t tell anyone about this position.”
“Exposed Panel members are often subject to harassment from the public given the classified nature of our work.”
I ponder it for a moment. “Not even my partner?”
“Especially not your partner.”
I stare back at him.
“Can you do that?”
“Well, I. Y-yes. I can do that.”
He opens the door with a smile. “Good. Good. I’ll see you Monday, Cyrius.”
“I’ll see you then, Petram,” I say as he exits.
The weekend could not have passed any slower. I arrive 30 minutes early to the Music Recovery Department lobby, and I’m already sweating through my clothes. I haven’t been this anxious since my initiation as an Artifact Intake technician. Music Department employees trickle in and out, and they give me looks as they pass, so I cast my eyes to the granite tile floor.
“Cyrius,” calls someone from across the lobby.
Petram approaches, and I shoot up from my chair to greet him. “Petram, good morning.”
“It certainly is,” he replies, bidding me closer. “Follow me.”
“Of course.” I collect my briefcase to catch up to him. He makes his way back out into the main hallway. “Uh, s--, Petram?”
He looks back. “I’ll fill you in in a minute.”
Taking him at his word, I follow down a small maintenance corridor that juts out from the main entrance hallway of the Music Recovery Department. Tight bundles of wire and assorted widths of pipes with valves line the walls of the narrow passageway.
He glances back to observe the doubt on my face. “Bear with me. Almost there.”
We continue until reaching a dead end with a massive fuse box. I look over the numerous connections that run from it. “Petram, we shouldn’t be fooling around with the tower electrical system. It’s a huge fine.”
He chuckles and raises a hand to silence me. He then turns to the fuse box and clears his throat. “Rhythm and Rhyme.”
A soft, mechanical rumbling echoes around us, followed by an airy hiss. I jump back as the entire fuse box sinks into the wall. It moves several inches, and the outline of an entryway becomes visible. The wall gently parts to reveal an extended hallway.
“Neat, right?” Petram queries with a magnificent grin.
I try to clear the astonishment from my face. “For the Union. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet.” He steps over the high threshold, and I follow close behind. The very short extension leads to a polished wooden door emblazoned with the World Union insignia. He grips the curved, metal handle and looks at me with anxiously raised eyebrows, examining my response.
I close my mouth when I realize it’s agape.
“That’s not all of it, obviously.” He turns the handle and puts his weight into the heavy thing.
A buzz of chatter fills the air, and I get my first peek inside. A handful of handsomely-dressed men and women converse in small groups around the room. We step through, and the main room comes into view. Black leather couches and chairs accompanied by dark, wood tables dot the carpeted floor. Rotating, holographic landscapes illuminate brightly against the walls, and the exceptionally high ceiling is covered with a large depiction of the World Union insignia.
“I told you,” Petram pokes before making his way to a corner of the room. “Come over here and sit for a minute while we wait.”
I follow him over to a vacant couch and sit down. “I can’t believe a place like this exists.” My voice trails off when I spot an exceptionally detailed hologram of Union Tower and the surrounding buildings.
“Well,” he starts. “It’s certainly a magnanimous room, but it’s also for our own protection.”
A dainty chime sounds overhead.
“For Union’s sake, I thought I timed it better.” He stands up.
I stand with him as the others make their way toward a small entryway at the back of the room. My face warms with anxiety. “W-wait. What’s going on?”
Petram exerts a low grunt, and then he takes a few steps towards an end table and picks up a book. “This is your learning material, but it can’t leave here. You can review it during the session because no one’s going to expect much from you on your first day except to sit and absorb everything you can.” He hands me the hefty thing.
Take is and observe the monotone cover with the word ‘MANUAL’ on it. “What? I--”
He raises a hand to stop me. “No time for questions. Just listen to me for a minute.”
“Gentleman?” calls a woman from within the entryway. “Are you ready?”
“Just one moment, Yanitz,” Petram assures.
She nods, and then disappears through a red velvet curtain.
Petram releases a sharp exhale before turning back to me. “Alright, listen to me because this is very important.”
I give him an affirming nod. “I hear you.”
“You’re going to hear things unlike anything you have before.”
I can’t help but chuckle at his expense. “Come now. It can’t be all--”
“I’m serious, Cyrius. Listen to me. If there’s one thing you must understand, it’s that our main objective in the Music Recovery Department isn’t to bring music back to The People, it’s to protect them from it.”
He shakes his head. “I understand your confusion right now, but you must also understand that what you’ll hear is a dangerously corruptive influence. I’ve seen my fair share break down from over-exposure.”
His words fly over my head.
“Before we go in, you must assure me that you’ll remain quiet and still. Suppress the animal nature inside of you as best you can. If you feel you’re losing control of yourself, don’t hesitate to notify me, and I’ll pull you out of the room.”
His words soar way over my head. “But--”
“Please. This is incredibly important. Just say you understand.”
I hesitate, but finally comply. “I understand.”
He exhales sharply. “Alright. Let’s head in.”
I follow him to the entryway where he disappears into a dimly lit room. I poke my head through the thick curtain and reluctantly step into a silent room. My eyes strain to adjust, but I make out a round table occupied by shades of the happy and chattering members from moments ago.
A man’s voice calls from the back. “Mr. Omar. Please, have a seat.”
I scan the room for an empty seat, and then Petram calls to me. “Cyrius, over here.”
I shuffle over to his voice, feeling my way into a plush, leather arm chair. The overhead air-conditioning cools my anxiety a bit.
“Well,” announces the man across the table from me. “Everyone’s here, so let’s get started.”
I just make out him operating a console on the table which casts his face in a subtle illumination. An audible clicking sounds from above followed by a static hum. A repetitive electronic tone then fills the room. The sound goes through several changes before it’s accompanied by a continuous beat that I can only describe as a sheet of metal being strummed on with a stick. A man with a smooth voice recites the details of a mournful journey. The mixture of sounds sends a chill down my arms and back. His dialogue progress as my heart beats faster to it. He counts down. 4… 3… 2… 1… His sorrowful wails accompany an explosion of sounds that pierce my entire body. Small bumps appear on my arm as my fingers are enticed to fidget in time with the noisy racket.
Petram grips my wrist and, I turn to see his concerned eyes. I nod, and he releases his handle on me. Despite the assurance I had given, I don’t think I can feel any more uncomfortable within the presence of this entrancing sound. Just when I think the sound may overtake me completely, it stops.
“Do we see any need for discussion?” asks the man at the console.
There’s a murmur of disagreement before he presses something on the console. I look to Petram for answers, but he shakes his head.
He activates the console again, and another piece of music fills the room. Unlike the first, strange and melodic tones absorb me into a passionate telling of the speaker’s love for a woman, Josephine. My heart melts as I think about Helenima. I panic upon the realization that my foot is moving to the pace of the song. I sit statuesque regardless of the vibrating warmth inside me. Despite my dedication to remain focused, the room around me fades, and I slip into a daydream of a potential future with Helenima. I imagine holding her soft hand as we stroll down the beach. As the image of our beautiful daughter comes into focus, the music stops. I snap back to reality.
The question is repeated. “Any discussion?”
The same murmur persists, and he presses the button again before receiving a response.
The process cycles over and over. With each new song, my insides tingle with a confusing mixture of emotions. They penetrate and manipulate my thoughts with no relent. I squeeze my hand into a tightly clenched fist, desperate to cling to sanity. When I feel like I can’t take it anymore, I’m saved by another chime that emanates throughout the small room.
As the lights around us gently illuminate, the man at the console rises from his station and stretches his limbs as others do the same. “Alright, ladies and gentlemen,” he says with a yawn. “An hour as usual, then let’s get back to it.”
Petram taps me on the shoulder. “It’s break time. Let’s go talk properly this time.”
Still in a daze, I follow behind the small crowd. Petram and I break off to a couch in the corner of the room. I look to the clock above us. 12:01. It’s only been an hour and a half.
“So?” Petram questions. “What do you think?”
So many questions swirl about. I shake my head. “I really don’t understand.”
“Alright. What don’t you understand?”
“I don’t understand what happened in there.”
He nods. “I see. It really would’ve been beneficial if I had a moment to speak with you before we started. I’ll try to explain.” He shifts to a more comfortable position. “How it works is we listen to one piece of music at a time, and then we judge it worthy to be integrated into our society. If it fails to meet the qualifications, it’s destroyed.”
“Destroyed?” I utter loudly.
Petram extends his hands to hush me. “Yes. There’s no room in our great society for anything that could damage the mentality of The People.
I scrunch my face at him. “That’s folly. Many of those songs were… Beautiful. How could they possibly be damaging?”
“Truthfully, I had the same thoughts when I started. Everything you could possibly need to know is in that manual.” He motions to the book still in my hands. “It’ll help you understand. You have some time before we finish out the day. Why don’t you take a look through it? I’m going for a beverage.”
He gets up, but before he steps away, the man who had been operating the console approaches us. He appears ten years my senior, but with a gray, receding hairline and a short, portly figure. “Mr. Wing, Mr. Omar, how are we fairing today?”
“Just fine, Mr. Slozack,” Petram starts. “We were just going over some of the basics.” He turns to me. “Cyrius, this is the Senior Lead for panel discussions, Arti Slozack.”
I get up and honor him with a small head-bow. “It’s a pleasure, Mr. Slozack.”
He chuckles. “I appreciate the gesture, but there’s no need for that here. How are you fairing? Are you understanding what we’re all about here?”
My hesitation is noticeable, but I give him the line that he wants to hear. “Certainly. I see that the work done here is vitally important for protecting our great society.”
His pudgy face forms a beaming smile. “The vetter certainly picked an excellent one. I’ve no doubts you won’t let us down.”
I wince at his condescension. “Thank you, sir.”
His chuckle is guttural one this time. “I’ll leave you gentleman to it.” He turns away to another group with a smugness about his walk.
Petram turns back to me. “He’s pretty friendly, but he can be a bit forceful at times.”
I scoff at the notion. “I’ve had worse coworkers.”
“Try not to think too negatively. I’m going to get that beverage and mingle a bit. Look over that manual. It’ll help.”
“Sure.” He steps away, and then I flip over the cover to read the first page.
Initiates are encouraged to have a moderate understanding of the glossary of terms before engaging in the theory presented in the following pages.
I turn to the back and peruse the endless list of terms. I flip to a random page.
Ballad: A song that tells a story. Special attention must be paid to ballads, as they often contain subliminal meanings that can influence a false dissention of opinion.
Bass: A deep sounding voice or instrument. A generally accepted sound in patriotic music but usually found in music that causes depression and suicidal thoughts.
Beat: The unit of time used to determine the pace of a piece of music. A fast beat often characterizes high energy music that causes anxiety.
I continue through definitions, the wavering doubt within me now rising closer to disagreement. Though dissatisfied with my findings, I remain transfixed to the words and learn all that I can. After a while, Petram breaks me from my concentration.
“How’s it going? Is it coming together for you?”
I close the book and look at the monotone cover. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ll need some time to process it all. It just doesn’t seem real.”
“It’s certainly real, Cyrius. The gravity of our work couldn’t be any more important. I like to think of us as contractors for music. We fight against sounds that would cause us harm and save those that perpetuate our great and pure ideals.” He forms a smile from his own humor.
I raise an eyebrow. “Contractors don’t bring back people back from the Fourth World.”
He rolls his eyes. “Well, it’s not the best analogy, but you get my point, right?”
Before I can form a counterargument, the chime sounds.
“We can discuss it later. Are you ready for the second round?”
My nod displays visible reluctance.
“Great. Come on.”
We make our way back into the dark room and find our seats.
Once settled, Arti speaks up. “I’ll start if there are no objections.” He proceeds to play a song absent reply.
A whimsical jingle sounds before we’re blasted with a jaunty beat. Following that, a story spun by a high-pitched siren whose voice sends delightful shivers throughout me. I can do nothing about the wide smile that forms on my face. The rhythm’s power forces my fingers to move to it.
We’re only about a minute in before the song is cut off. Arti reiterates the same question. “Do we see any need for discussion?” He reaches for the button.
With adrenaline running high, I speak up. “Yes, sir.”
Through the dark, I feel all eyes upon me. Murmurs rise before the Arti silences them. “Our newest initiate, Mr. Omar. You have something you’d like to add?”
Petram cuts me off before I can utter a syllable. “I apologize. I gave him implicit instructions to merely observe for his first meeting.” He casts me a glare.
“No, no,” Arti, starts. “I can see how our usual rhythm may not leave room for much education. It would be a benefit to our initiate if we engaged in a discussion. Mr. Omar, please.”
My face warms. “Yes, well…” I start, clearing my throat. “The song is so cheerful and bouncy. I can’t see it as anything but innocent.”
His retort is instantaneous. “A valid point, but you must think more critically. That ‘bouncy’ tone hides a corrupting influence.”
I gnash my teeth at his empty justification. “For the sake of my education, what content could that be? I only heard an inspiring message for women.”
Arti suppresses louder murmurs. “Mr. Omar, when we allow our young women to hear that girls ‘just want to have fun,’ it communicates the message that it’s acceptable to be selfish. We can’t have a society where we don’t work as one.”
A chattering of agreement circles around the room. I struggle without success to work around his justification.
“I would suggest that you review your learning material further before engaging in session discussions, Mr. Omar.”
I’m left without words, and the session picks up where it left off. As the destruction continues. My growing hatred for Senior Lead Arti and this delegation simmers.
“You aren’t listening, Cyrius.”
I snap back to the restaurant table across from Helenima. “I’m sorry, hon.”
She leans over her chicken salad dish. “Is everything alright?”
“I… well, I can’t really talk about it.”
“Not even with me?” She shows those familiar pouty eyes.
She melts me. “I wish I could, really. I desire to tell you everything.”
“Is it someone you work with?”
“N-no. It’s nothing like that. It’s the job itself and the rationale they use…” I take a deep exhale. “I’m sorry. I should stop talking.”
She takes my wrist with a gentle grip. “Hon. Stick with it. If after a few weeks you still feel the same way, then just quit. It would be simple for you to find another station.”
I shake my head. “I-I don’t know. I hate what happens in those meetings.”
Her grip and tone tighten. “Cyrius. Listen to me.”
She forces me to look into her eyes. “I’m listening.”
“Whatever you do, promise me you won’t do anything reckless.”
I furrow my brows. “What do you mean?”
She looks away to the napkin dispenser. “Just… just try to fit in. You’re in a really important position, and small mistakes at that level can be dangerous.” She looks back at me with such care and compassion.
“I-I really don’t know what to say.”
“Just promise me you’ll be safe, and you won’t do or say anything reckless.”
I’m slow to agree. “I promise.”
As Helenima instructs, I sit quietly during sessions and absorb the procedure. I watch helplessly as Arti presses that button time and again. Anyone who speaks out in favor of a song is cast a perturbed expression from the others. But, to my surprise, the Panel nearly votes to accept an exceptionally beautiful song. It’s given ten minutes of heated discussion before Arti brings it under review. I turn to Petram when there’s a lull, and he informs me of the monthly extended review for potential Panel-approved songs. With deep patience and intrigue, I suffer through meetings until the awaited day.
The meeting starts as normal with Arti starting the first song. It’s not the one from other day, but I’m ecstatic regardless. When it finishes, a good number of the Panel members start out in favor of acceptance, but after an hour of debate turned to contentious argument, those in favor fall away one at a time, each of their positions torn down by the threat of offensive and subversive thought. To my dismay, no songs are accepted, and the hope keeping me attached to this station disappears.
It's Wednesday morning, and I’m set to head to the Panel room. As I approach my apartment door, I pass a framed piece of paint-art in the living room. In lieu of extravagant and expensive holographic artwork, I acquired this piece ages ago to bring life into my apartment. I realize now that I’ve never examined it closely. What I once considered to be a masterful rendition of a pre-collapse landscape of rolling hills formed by beautifully merged colors, I now see for what it really is. It’s nothing but simple. Simple as to not offend or oppress. Now I see the painting the same as a Panel-accepted song, an object devoid of life and meaning. My thoughts swirl as the reality of my world comes apart at the seams. I think about the many years I’ve dedicated to the Artifact Intake lab. My heart throbs upon the realization of my wasted years perpetuating false narratives. I leave my apartment, and for the first time in my life I feel lost.
It's only been a couple of hours since my epiphany, and my somber disappointment has already turned to a boiling hatred.
“It’s certainly a pleasant enough tune, but I worry the lyrics may be a metaphor.”
“A metaphor? It’s a song about friendship.”
“Hmm, yes. Perhaps. But it could be about something more. If you listen closely, I fear this song is about boys being “too close” to each other if you catch my meaning. It’s much too frilly to be World Union quality.”
The room falls silent as the insane theory stuns the advocate for the current song. “Well, I suppose I can see how you would see it like that, but…” He skims through his notes in a vein attempt to counter the absurd claim. “There’s clear evidence…”
After shuffling about for a few moments without a retort, Arti speaks up. “I think that’s a good point for a break. Let’s meet back up in an hour.”
As he rises from the console, I cast my eyes to the external hard drive attached to the console. Upon the realization that the hard drive is left unattended during lunch, time slows as my thoughts fill with devious intent. I could easily take the hard drive to my apartment, upload songs to a public FileShare account, and have it back before anyone realizes a thing. A true chance to bring raw truth to The People. I fully expected rational thought to burst out with a myriad of reasons to not perform this grave treason, but it never surfaced. Without a counterargument from my conscious, it only takes a moment for me to justify the suicidal proposal, and a moment more to pull my PAD from my pocket and feign dropping it under the table.
“For the Union.” I make a show of it, groaning as I get onto my hands and knees, then crawl under the huge table.
I stop underneath as everyone shuffles out. I grab the PAD and listen for any stragglers. When silence fills the room, I exit the opposite side, pull the hard drive from the console, and then pocket it. I shoot up to a standing position, and my heart pounds aggressively. My face warms as I attempt to compose myself with short, little exhales. I step out into the main room expecting everyone to turn on me, but it doesn’t happen. Petram spots me, and I make my way over to him. Before he can say anything, I speak up. “I forgot my lunch, so I’m going to run to the cafeteria for something.”
His smile accompanies a nod. “Don’t take too long.”
I hardly let him finish before I’m out the secret entrance, and on my way back to my apartment. Too easy!
I rush back to my apartment with a scurry in my step. The air conditioning hits my clothes damp with sweat as I shut the door behind me. The silence envelops me, and my heart beats so hard it hurts. I pull the hard drive from my pocket and squeeze it. “You better be worth it.”
I make a dash for the bedroom to gather a transfer cable from my nightstand. As I walk back into the living room, I connect my PAD with the hard drive and open a public FileShare forum. Within a matter of seconds, I attach the contents of the hard drive into a new post. A voice from the corner startles me, and I nearly drop both PAD and hard drive.
“You should have done as I told you.” The feminine words are familiar, but the cold tone paints a different picture.
I turn to face Helenima sitting cross-legged on my loveseat. She wears a black, leather jacket and tight-fitting canvas pants I’ve never seen her wear before. “Helenima, what are you—How did you get into my apartment?” She just sits there with a sour expression. Her cold aura projects something far from the warmth of the Helenima I know.
“I had a lot riding on your integration. Why couldn’t you just accept it like the rest?”
I chuckle at her absurd reply. “What are you--” I’m quickly made a fool when it comes together. “The vetter.”
She neglects to respond, staring back with a heavy focus.
We stay within a silence. Many questions form, but only one comes out. “We’re your feelings real?”
She breathes an exaggerated sigh before casually rising to her feet. “Don’t worry,” she says, reaching into her jacket. “I’ll clear that up for you now.” She removes a handgun and pulls back the hammer without hesitation.
There’s a muffled pop, and a searing heat covers my arm as I stumble back over the couch. When I land on the other side, an unbearable pain fills my bicep. I look to the wound in disbelief.
“You were my guaranteed promotion, but you’ve made me a fool.”
Helenima’s footsteps echo closer, and I scuttle around to the other end before she turns the corner. “I went so far as to let your unworthy hands all over me. No one has ever placed a hand on me without losing one.” She inches closer through splotches of blood. “You’ve no idea how grateful you should be that I allowed you behold a pedigree.”
I move again to keep the couch between us just as she turns to expose me.
Her furious snarl turns my body solid, but a reckless plan comes to mind.
“I would kill you slower, but I would be written up again for the mess.” Helenima lifts the weighty couch with one arm and flips it to the side.
From the floor, my eyes lock with her cold irises.
She raises the gun. “Goodbye, dreg.”
Before she aligns her shot, I grab the power cord of a chipped, ceramic lamp. With a swift pull, the lamp whips forward and shatters against her head. She emits a vicious shriek and cradles her bloodied face. She lets off a few blind shots as I break for the bedroom and slam the door. I lay down to avoid the shots. She pummels the door with kicks and body slams, but I manage to hold it back.
“It’s over for you, dreg. You’ll never have that music!”
I fall to my stomach as a few bullets tear through the door. An eerie silence passes, which allows me time to compose myself. I lay the PAD and hard drive on the carpet before me, and then I take a bit of my shirt to wipe away the blood from the PAD screen. The green “Start Transfer” button pulsates on the interface. Upon clicking it, the fear that had rushed through me washes away, replaced by a glow of accomplishment. I’ve never felt so fulfilled.
“I’ve finally brought The People something real, and no one will ever--”
File Share Progress: Cancelled
347 / 12,291 Files Successfully Uploaded
About the Author: N.J. Linnehan
I was born in Salem, Massachusetts, which I always found to be a very auspicious thing given the history of that city. I moved to North Carolina in 2000, and have been here ever since. I've always been a very proficient reader, but I didn't always have a passion for writing. It wasn't until junior high school that my mind started to fill with loose ideas for a fictitious universe that would continue to slowly expand over the course of a decade. When I took a character development class in community college for the game design and development program I was enrolled in, I brought a pen to paper for the very first time to flesh out that universe and its characters. Since then, that universe has expanded along with my passion for storytelling. Within the last few years, I have noticed correlations between the world's social and political issues and my universe. After much thought, I was certain that my universe could be used as a vehicle to shine a light on some of those issues. It has since become my desire to create stories from my universe that may, in some small way, offer a perspective on these issues. My hope is to bring a positive change in the way we view and interact with the world around us so that we may one day live in a world without ignorance, hatred, and violence.