Manto told me last winter I ought to enjoy the conveniences mind monitoring offers since we’re charged for it anyway. I told him he’s been working on the system for too many years. It’s a life giving, human monitoring system that deciphers brain waves and sends them to the food shops, healing specialists, entertainment offices, and all other supplementary businesses. So if I think of a fizzy water, a zip will deliver a fizzy water. But when I wait until 08:00 to plan my day, I run the risk of ending up with a clean freezie before dinner and a soft floor mat before I can afford it. And points are deducted regardless of whether I actually want an item. Most members try to live spontaneously. I’m slowly mastering the practice.
I’ve been working later than usual this month. I’m trying to increase the number of younger clients in my book of business. Youthful members have more birthdays to waste, and their bodies quickly respond to exercises. So, they provide better long-term business.
I dozed off more than usual on Thursday. I don’t remember my plump face meeting the worn wooden desk, but I woke up to a frantic zip dropping cold pancakes and a fresh plate of fish heads on my recently dyed black hair — members don’t trust trainers with graying hair. I don’t even know what I was dreaming about. Sometimes I convince myself other members can dream as if they are me and temporarily serve as modern day voodoo dolls. But the system doesn’t make mistakes, and it wouldn’t mind debiting a like-minded individual’s points regardless.
Manto says I have a problem letting go of the past. I told him the system shouldn’t be spying on everyone. I can’t control what information my mind reveals. He said the system only cares about shaping satisfied subordinates now. I’m supposed to believe the system only fulfills wants, and that it ignores the other, bizarre thoughts I have. But when I was born, aluminum fingers drilled a hole in my brain and plopped a data-collecting seed in my frontal lobe.
When I was old enough to think for myself, it sent signals for two other members to plop me into an empty cube somewhere in the heart of the complex I lived in. I was in the concrete box for days with no food, no water, no light, no sound. After seven hours of trying to jump high enough to lift the metal lid and failing each time, I convinced myself I would die there. At 17, I would die in my own blood and urine in a cube only large enough to sit in.
After what seemed like a day, I noticed a camera not too high above the small opening. Turns out there are indeed cameras lurking in even the darkest corners of each complex. So I started to confess. I assumed I was locked up for dreaming about stabbing my guardians and getting a head start on earning points. This likely wasn’t programmed as acceptable behavior. The lid didn’t budge. Stealing food from the store unit didn’t do it either. I finally started making actions up, and offered them up as witness to my bad habits.
“What the fuck do you want me to say? I’ve told you everything I can think of!” I yelled. “I don’t know what else to say.” My throat eventually became too sore to speak. I slowly started to bang my head against the wall, losing my mind bit, by bit, by bit, by bit before finally losing consciousness.
I felt hands pulling me upward, as gravity pulled my soggy clothes and wrinkled toes downward. The members had returned. They carried me to a large medical unit filled with cubes of people who looked like they had jumped ship and hit another level of the complex instead. That’s where I met Manto.
Floating on the Superior Atlantic Ocean tightly anchored to the remaining mass of land isn’t as calming as it was when I was a child. The stability used to comfort me. Now I’m constantly aware of our neverending connection to the system, surrounded by little copies of itself on this manmade island. I’d rather be submerged in the foggy depths where zips can’t hover and the system can’t interpret messages as quickly. Life would be slower, and less connected there.
A solarjet suddenly emerged from the east toward a fading concrete complex roughly 100 meters southwest. Four zips followed closely, bonded by a need for precision. They finally stopped outside a balcony on the eighth level, projecting a thick black sheet to hide their doings. Twelve seconds passed before the solarjet emerged from the black shield dangling a stained white pouch large enough to hold a smaller member.
A mix of new and old clients had already signed on when I returned to my ever-changing gym cube. Their buzzed hair, stout figures and poor postures resembled a picture my mentor had hanging in his office of a wrinkly man with gray stubble on cheeks that merged with his neck. Mentor Thane used to remind me during each visit this man formulated the idea of our agreeable society. I always wondered if he was forced to live with a seed in his brain.
I felt along the western wall of my cube for a crease. Two soft presses transformed it into a sort of rainforest with dimmed lights, a comforting humidifier and echos of long dead creatures. My warm rubber mat embraced my toes with its familiar latex grass. While warming up, a 19-year-old named Zezili disclosed she lived in the same complex the solarjet visited today. She passionately told my clients, as I led them into leg stretches, that it was difficult for her to sleep through the night on account of repetitive thumps and heart wrenching groans in a neighboring unit.
She tried to convince us the system needs to keep the monitors running throughout the night so she can order noise cancelling ear plugs the next time someone bangs their head against the wall. After all, why should she have to suffer because a few mad members wanted to? A couple of 20-somethings agreed, never having experienced the horror of testifying against their dreams in an empty room. I swear the system brainwashes humans from birth nowadays. Maybe it finally understands what it means to nurture in order to build trust.
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? She was too coddled. Her mentor never taught her the history of the system. She doesn’t realize that just 30 years ago there was no cut off time. That the system could hold your dreams and desires against you, even if you didn’t go through with them. They must learn the consequences of bringing a 24-hour system back.
He doesn’t know it yet, but Manto’s my partner in crime. We invented our own language soon after he got a job working maintenance on the system’s data feed. He’d point out the window, and I would write down options for the water, careful not to think or speak the word. And on and on this went for a few weeks. After two months of practicing, we carried a conversation using only gestures and combinations of tapping with our fingers.
Sometimes we’d just talk about our pasts for practice. Other times he told me what working for the system was actually like. Manto doesn’t just get to program whatever he wants into the beast. He shuffles through weeks of collected data, removes what’s unnecessary and sends the rest to review. He’ll be able to discard any possible exposure.
A precision laser, electric razor, sheets of plastic and soundproofed walls should do. I prepared a place for her to sit within my bedroom cube at 18:00. I realized 30 minutes later, I might need fast fix for the chair.
I had just finished setting the table when I heard Manto’s rhythmic tap-tap-tap on the glass door, followed quickly by Zezili’s. We ate through the end of delivery service, partly because Manto has to eat at a certain pace — a certain pace that takes him exactly 90 minutes to finish dinner — and partly because I didn’t know if I was prepared for challenge Zezili’s seed would bring me.
She told me she wanted to experience the water my complex filtered fresh before returning to her now depressed neighbors. I lied and said no machine can actually turn salt water fresh, that I needed a leg up on other instructors. She decided to retire for the night. I told her about a game we could play, an ancient game called operation. Since she hadn’t heard of it. I would show her how to play.
“I’ll be right back. I’ll get everything set up in no time,” I said over my shoulder. I tried to keep a smooth pace walking to my gym cube. “You can play as the patient.”
- Tape plastic sheets to the glass beneath a firm chair.
- Secure the subject’s body with fast fix in such a way that she faces away from you.
- Put the electric razor on its shortest setting and trim a circular area around the incision.
- Once all hints of hair are gone, hold the laser parallel to the ground, and with a steady hand
“What are you doing?” Zezili asked. She was starting to panic.
“Zezili, I’ve realized recently that your generation doesn’t have the experience to understand mind monitoring the same way Manto’s and mine does,” I replied. “You see, the seed used to be the root of many unnecessary troubles.”
- If necessary, use fast fix to keep the subject’s mouth close. The soundproofing prevents the outside from hearing your actions, but it does not provide a barrier between you and the subject.
“Don’t be scared, child,” Manto stepped up, wiping a tear from Zezili’s pale cheeks. “I know it hurts, but this is for the better. Soon, it will be all over, and you won’t have to worry about contributing to poor decisions.”
- When the laser cleans the head, remove the top and locate the seed.
I was always taught that my brain just looked like a thin pink tube that wrapped around itself within my head. But Zezili’s was different. A blackness blanketed the part of her brain closest to her eyes, with the seed likely buried somewhere beneath it. By now she had fainted, so I wasn’t too concerned over whether she felt pain or not. I’m fairly confident she didn’t.
- Use a kitchen spreader to separate the parts of the brain affected by the seed, and transport to the dining room table.
Manto went to analyzing the seed once I was able to separate it from the brain matter. I think he’s a little more cautious than I am about exploring, so I left the task to him while I cleaned up the mess.
I turned back to Manto, before entering the doorway of the gym cube. I can’t believe we made it this far. He moved his face closer to the seed, and without notice, “Thud.” He crushed the seed with a new porcelain plate. Slowly, and steadily, the world went dark.