Adrian sat by the fire that had mostly burned away to a cold and gray ash. Only a few small pockets of heat remained as he stared into the dwindling pile of embers that struggled against the wind to stay alive. He was completely lost in thought, absentmindedly drawing his shawl over his shivering shoulders with a blank and unwavering stare. The cold was not important right now. Only his thoughts mattered at this exact moment.
It was impossible to tell how he had gotten here, and frankly it didn’t matter. Adrian needed to think, and this was the place for it. He was lost, you see. Everything was miserable and bleak in this place, and the fire hadn’t really warmed him anyways. The last embers changed from red to yellow as the wind blew briskly across the small clearing he was sitting in.
The tattered shawl across his back let the wind through like a sieve, and was on its last legs as far as a garment was concerned. This place offered no shelter against the gusting bursts and the land was barren as far as he could see. He paid no attention to his miserable surroundings, just continued to stare in the ever dying fire as the world grew colder and colder around him.
It was a strange feeling he was struggling with. There was nothing left to feed his fire, and he knew it would only grow colder here. It was inevitable. But for some unknown reason, he just wanted to stay here. The surroundings would be terribly uncomfortable, maybe even dangerous. It was no stretch of the imagination for Adrian to assume that he could die in this place if he did nothing.
It didn’t matter, though. Why should he move? He felt the pain of the cold, but also a strange numbness in this place. At least he was alone here, with no one to bother him. Eventually he could give into the blackness of the night that was coming. It was peaceful, at least. Painful, but deathly quiet. Hopefully he could go to sleep and never wake up here.
The embers of the fire had dampened to it’s final bit of heat. With a few sputtering throes, the remaining light and warmth completely left the fire pit. Darkness enveloped everything.
At that exact same instant, some unrecognizable circumstance put Adrian on his stomach. There was no rational transition of movement, no warning, it just happened. In one moment Adrian was sitting on his back end watching the fire die, in the next he was prone with his face being shoved into the dirt.
There was no time to contemplate this strange occurrence. Adrian could feel monstrous claws pressing into his back, able to rip through his shoulder blades in an instant. Razor sharp nails designed to slice flesh from bones threatened to fulfill their designed purpose on his own hide. The gigantic paw stretched across his body, pinning him down with a horrifying strength. He could smell the breath of whatever was behind him… it smelled like rotting meat. Huge, wet nostrils sniffed the back of his neck, leaving a damp cold area that sent shivers of terror up his spine. The claws gripped tightly into his shoulder threatening to puncture his skin; it was a vise that warned of instant death. If he drew too deep a breath, the nails of the monster might puncture into his rib cage.
Whatever this creature happened to be… It was ready to kill him in an instant.
The enormity of the monster behind him put Adrian in a mental panic. His thoughts had been hard enough to contend with before, now he was frozen in a mix of horror and fear that gripped him like the claws at his back. It was still pitch black- Adrian couldn’t see a thing. He could only feel the raw power threatening him in the darkness, and smell the sickly odor of death. His mind went hyperactive as fear crept in. Paranoia and terror imagined villain’s of every type- Any sort of beast could appear, here.
The behemoth took its time inspecting Adrian, making his instinct to struggle come screaming forth like a caged animal. He did his best to calm his nerves and tried to play out a scenario where he could survive this horrible experience. Maybe if he gave a sudden burst of strength and tried to roll away, he could leap to his feet and face whatever horror this was head on.
It was as if the monster had read his mind. The gargantuan creature squeezed its death grip even tighter, driving more air out of his lungs and requiring him to breathe even more shallow than he had been. The longer the animal dominated him, the more his survival instinct screamed for him to fight. The hot stink of rotting meat made his adrenaline skyrocket from the impending danger.
The voice had appeared inside of head. It wasn’t too strange, at least in this circumstance. Instantly the sound of the voice gave a nostalgic and familiar feeling to Adrian, indicating to his instincts that it could be trusted. It actually sounded very familiar. He couldn’t quite put the face to the voice, but it was recognizable just the same.
Adrian obeyed and tried to relax his shoulders which had been extremely tense. The monster at his back followed suit and relaxed it’s claws as well. It began sniffing again, this time more intensely. It seemed obvious that the creature was investigating more than just his scent… It felt like the creature was searching his very soul.
Time that felt like an eternity passed. Adrian could feel the enormity of the presence behind him, but dared not turn to look. He knew to respect this force behind him, and tried to patiently wait for the end result. The wet nose left Adrian’s neck and a loud howl rang out behind him.
The piercing shriek of whatever held him down vibrated his entire core. His whole body shivered from the experience, with the strange buzzing emenating from his forehead. The weather must have finally chilled him to the bone. Familiar delusions had crept back inside of his mind’s eye, and the incessant buzzing grew stronger and more intense.
Adrian’s eyes snapped open. His Interface alarm on his forehead was buzzing him awake.
He opened his eyes and looked at his HUD. He focused his vision on the “Dismiss” button for his alarm, and blinked on the selection to stop the buzzing. Adrian laid with his eyes closed and stretched his legs, still covered in a damp sweat from his dream.
Waking up was always the worst part of his day. His stomach was usually nautious when he first came to, like overnight his bowels had produced some strange slick oil that coated his insides with dread. The feeling always came when he first got up, and often wouldn’t leave until he had eaten something. Adrian had gone to the A.I. doctor several times for treatment; the robot always ran the same tests and produced the same results. According to his Interface statistics, he was healthy as a horse. But Adrian knew better. His insides were always churning when he first woke up, usually bringing him to the point of dryheaving. Most of his immediate mornings were spent running straight to the lavatory.
Adrian yawned and stretched as he threw his legs off his bed and down onto the floor, expecting the wave of nauseousness to come. Waking up on time had always been extremely hard for him, and the stomach issues always made him want to stay in bed. Both arms came down and rested on his knees as his posture slouched.
His mind wandered in an attempt to remember the dream he had. Vaguely he recalled how cold it was, but the experience with the creature that pinned him down would never leave him… And that howl! Was it a wolf? His dreams had been wildly vivid lately, but the clarity always seemed to disappear when he woke up and attempted to recall details. The scenery would change, and the faces too, but in every situation he was lost.
He sat there for a minute trying to wake himself up, eventually snapping out of his trance after a few moments. Adrian shook his head in attempt to wash away the fuzziness of sleep. Bold red letters at the bottom right of his vision said “Offline,” and a quick glance on his HUD clock above it said he only had 12 minutes of alone time left. Hurriedly he hopped up and grabbed his clothes, shuffling to the shower as fast as he could.
The shower did the trick this morning, as there was no dry heaving today. It was beginning to look like he might make it to breakfast without his stomach trying to release everything. Adrian had just put his boxers and pants on when the little green light flicked to show he was “Online” to the Interface, at the same time indicating his Safe Space time was over.
Adrian looked at himself in the mirror as his mind wandered. The Watchers, or those who observed live streams all day with the help of A.I. crawler bots, would be watching at 7:30 A.M. whether he had made it out of the shower or not. Right now, in real time, either a human or a robot was watching everything in Adrian’s line of sight.
It always felt shameful to be naked when you knew everything you saw in your vision was being recorded. When his Interface was “Online,” it was safe to assume he was being observed by some unseen “Watcher.” The offical title given to them was Mimir, but most just called them watchers since it was easier to pronounce. The Mimir observed his entire life, as well as every other Bronze citizen.
“Well, enjoy watching me shave then” thought Adrian to himself as he grabbed his razor and lathered his face.
Bronze members of society, like Adrian, were only allowed two 30 minute periods per day of unmonitored activity, once in the morning, and once in the evening. This meant that for the other 23 hours of the day, all of Adrians actions were recorded and monitored through the live stream automatically projected from his own eyesight. Everything he saw and heard was reviewed, analyzed, and reported on in real time data analysis. Of course, It was “for the safety” of all humans, according to the Men at the Table. Humans had come to accept that the population needed to be monitored for the safety of all, and there was no way around that. How else was terrorism to be stopped in an age dominated by technology and hacking? Anyone who argued that the monitoring was too excessive was simply labeled a Terrorist Objector.
Carefully he rinsed his razor in the plain stone sink, then dropped it in the cup on the ledge to trade it with his toothbrush. He caught eyes with himself in the mirror again and glanced at the Interface that ruled his life. Someone else was seeing everything he was seeing. Absentmindedly he reached up and touched the plain bronze triangle on his forehead with his off hand.
Adrian had been taught some about how the Interface worked growing up. The backside of the Interface Triangle had two prongs that had been anchored into his forehead, long before he could even remember. These prongs contained electrical leads which snaked out and wound around his brain and through the sulci; burying itself in the various crevices necessary for critical body functions. Impulses and vibrations from these leads allowed control of certain chemical processes. According to the Table, this made him stronger and faster. Adrian had been shown videos from a young age what happened to those who tried to pull off their Interface. The wire leads wound around the brain stem simply sliced through the fragile matter and caused a painful, bloody death if removed.
He loathed this monstrosity of a thing on his head. Paranoia that some maniacal scientist was controlling his actions like a marionette on strings would constantly be in the back of his mind- Visions of white lab coats sitting in a sterilized room with modules and switches surrounding them, pulling levers and twisting knobs to flood his psyche with chemicals to make him docile. It wasn’t even necessarily a scientist. Artificial Intelligence could be directing which nuerons to fire for instigating the proper change in him to create the perfect subservient Bronze Citizen.
Thoughts about the consequences from the technology had given Adrian many nights of restless tossing and turning while his subconscious created fantansies that were a little too surreal. What was real? He often wondered if the D.O.S.E. program could control his dreams too.
“Ugh.” He audibly groaned as his thoughts had gone too far out of touch with reality again. Adrian had made a pact with himself to try and stop focusing on things he had no control over. His dreams should have been the least of his worries, but they would get all consuming if he let them.
There were more important things to focus on, like achieving success. If he ever did stop worrying about the Interface, the other nights in his small dwelling had been spent with a different sort of dread from believing Bronze Citizenship was his destiny. Everytime he found himself enjoying life, he remembered how he was just a Bronze. Adrian finally conceded that his daily bouts with morning nausea came from his anxiety and depression mixed into one giant ball of misery.
The only way to survive in life was to focus on the positives. Adrian did enjoy some things in life. It was hard to keep at the forefront of his mind most of the time, but life was generally “fine” if he kept on the move. That was usually the issue, keeping busy.
Adrian rinsed the toothpaste from his mouth and put away the toothbrush. He was finished getting ready for the day now, and suddenly that same familiar feeling of anxiousness came back. His HUD showed 7:45 A.M. The morning address always started at 8:00 A.M.
His small lavatory was the only partitioned room in his dwelling. The small unit felt claustrophobic some mornings, and today was no exception. He opened his single window to let some fresh air in the room, then walked over to his simple stone desk and sat down.
He sat still for a minute, mulling over the possibility of 15 minutes alone with his own thoughts before the morning address. Adrian looked around at the plain stone walls, then to his bed. His solitary shelf in the room held many vintage comic books and magazines from the 2000’s, but he had poured over every single magazine 100 times as he was a collector of them. Other than that there was nothing in here he could distract his mind with.
15 whole minutes. Alone.
His mind whirred through possibilities. He didn’t feel like watching anyone play video games, or learning some diluted and one sided opinion of history. Celebrities and pop culture used to hold some interest, but now it was all played out to him. Listening to music helped, but it still left his thoughts to wander, and that had always been the issue. He had come to find it was dreadfully boring with no goals or real purpose other than to try and con your way into a Silver Citizen position. What else was there? He drummed his fingers at his plain stone desk, making an honest attempt at finding something to do.
Everything was the same plain brown sandstone that the Earth Throwers had hastily erected with their reality bending Earth powers. The room he inhabited was in a complex of 200 other units, and everything had been carbon copied for equality. His desk was stone, his walls were stone, his bed was stone, even if he did have a mattress. He hated the monotony of the room. It was in the back of his mind he would paint in here some day, but luxuries like home decor were extremely expensive and only made for Silver Citizens to afford. He could get paint at the Temple, but it was more food credits than he could ever hope to bank.
It didn’t take long before he finally gave in to the small voice crying for excitement in the back of his mind. He decided to do the one thing he felt in control of- go to the deep web. Very slyly, with eyes locked foward, Adrian fumbled opened the hidden drawer under his chair for his scrambler, which he used when looking at things he was “not supposed to.”
He always justified using the scrambler to himself, but he still felt dirty using it. Just by owning the thing he was admitting he was an Objector. But truly, he had nothing to hide… except the fact he was curious. After all, “unacceptable” content was supposed to be locked to a Bronze! How could he be held responsible, if he was able to find “unacceptable” content on the very Interface the Men at the Table have complete control of?
A logical person would understand this, but Adrian knew better. The Judicators would find a way to rationalize turning you into an Objector any way possible. The scrambler would surely get him killed if caught with it, or even worse, drained, but what wouldn’t get him killed? He closed his eyes in a pretend yawn and slipped the scrambler over the bronze triangle. It clicked and locked into place snugly.
The scrambler made a slight whirring noise as it began to work its magic and mask his incoming signal. When a scrambler was engaged and working, it would confuse the Interface by bouncing his information requests amongst all other incoming requests.
It didn’t make him completely invisible from detection. His eyesight was still being monitored as he was using the scrambler, which is why he closed his eyes and yawned when slipping it on. His outgoing data stream needed to stay running and could not be interrupted, or the Mimir would notice and it would be lights out. Everything he was seeing and hearing was still being monitored, the only difference being his incoming information was masked from detection.
He knew the address to the forum by heart, and typed it on his desktop while he pretended he was still drumming his fingers. The inconspicuous forum popped up and showed its content. This is how the deepweb could still exist, even if it was pitiful. The deepweb was dangerous to use, and didn’t usually amount to anything truly interesting, but Adrian liked to dance the line anyways. It was nice to create his own adrenaline when he chose to, instead of having a modification make his brain produce it.
Nothing on face value was different than a normal website. As a matter of fact, it looked exactly like a normal forum did, holding all sorts of positive Men at the Table messages and imagery. To a bot, or to even a casual human observer, everything on the screen Adrian was looking at was acceptable. But it was all a facade. Each image had an encoded message, only for humans to perceive.
The reminder message on how to use the encoded imagery popped up. “Don’t look too close.” This meant don’t linger your eyesight for too long. Every image glorified the Men at the Table, singing praises of thanks and adoration. The pictures contained big bold black wording to be plainly read, like “advertisements” in the magazines on the shelf. Adrian stared at the picture of the Men at the Table logo. It contained the bold words, “Thank you for the light” in an easy to read black text.
Adrian looked at the bottom right of the black text, in the background space beside the words “for the light” in the image. He concentrated his vision for a moment and stared at the blank space. It wasn’t the Men at the Table glorification he had come here for. It was slightly transparent and hard to distinguish lettering beside the blatant propaganda that he was concerned with. Text with fuzzy digital snow could be seen ever so fieghntly in the background. The text he truly wanted to read barely showed up against the black and white garbled field. It was done in this manner to confuse robot analytics, this form of digital confusion allowed messages to be transmitted.
The reminder message said:
6l4nc3 47 7h3 l3773r5, l00k 4w4y wh3n d3c1ph3r1n6.
“Glance at the letters, look away when deciphering.”
Adrian glanced away and closed his eyes to translate the message in his mind. By doing it in this exact way, the Mimir would have the least amount of chance to get a notification from a sniffer program monitoring his live stream through his eye sight. They were always watching. If his eyes were closed, or he was staring at the wall, there would be nothing to watch or report.
Adrian’s adrenaline spiked as he kept his eyes closed and corrected his posture in his chair. The Mimir couldn’t watch everybody- They relied on robots to analyze visual and audio on everyone. An alert would send a Judicator immediately to your location if “Objector Activity” was suspected, but technically he should be fine if he did everything correctly. His insides stirred with genuine excitement and anticipation.
Adrian couldn’t help but smiling as he opened his eyes. Very carefully, he looked precisely below the image at the far bottom of the screen and blinked on “next” button to continue, making absolute certain to avoid a second glance at the text.
Countless images on the next page showed up edifying the Men at the Table. Adrian scrolled through, reading the messages hidden in the images. Mostly the hidden text’s were annoying and time wasting, containing the usual nonsense about “double your meal credits” and “free seratonin mods.”
Scams for sure.
Adrian quickly sorted past the nonsense and found something interesting.
7h3 0bj3c70r5 4r3 w47ch1n6 b4ck.
He didn’t even need to translate to know what this was. “The Objectors are watching back.”
Adrenaline was coursing through him at this point. He actually felt in control of his own life, albeit for a brief second and in such a small and insignificant way. The thought was at the forefront of his mind that he should not be here, and it excited him to no end. He blinked on the link.
Several images were contained in the page, indicating a decent sized message contained in the pictures. Painstakingly Adrian peeked at 5-6 words per glance, quickly closing his eyes and looking away while he mentally deciphered the solution to the text displayed in the fuzzy fields before him.
The message was broken into small parts so one could take a glance, look away, decipher the message, carefully scroll down, then glance at the next bit of coded text within the new image.
It was a very dangerous game to play. Adrian knew that reading these messages, especially in a non safe space like he currently was, could lead to the Judicators breaking his door down and killing him where he sat. Adrian shoved the fear out of his mind and reveled in the buzz of breaking the rules. He was extremely careful when reading the messages, and he had faith in his scrambler. Besides, he liked the notion that at least he would die from his own choices. If he was going to get his light turned out, he would make sure it was worth it.
6r3371n65, f3ll0w hum4n.
w3 4r3 7h3 647h3r1n6 0f br0nz3 4nd 51lv3r,
d3571n3d 70 r153 4641n57 7h3 60ld.
b3 r34dy, b3 v161l4n7.
fr33d0m c4n b3 4 r34l17y 70 7h053 wh0 d351r3 17.
7h3 0bj3c70r5 4r3 w47ch1n6 b4ck 47 7h053 wh0 w47ch.
He rolled the words around in his mind until he could decipher them completely.
“Greetings, fellow human.
We are the gathering of bronze and silver,
destined to rise against the gold.
Be ready, be vigilant.
Freedom can be a reality to those who desire it.
The Objectors are watching back at those who watch.
Adrian looked up and closed his eyes, mulling the words over in his mind.
Red dred. The Objectors watching back. Be ready, be vigilant. Be ready for what? “Red dred,” whatever it was, did not strike him as a good thing. It sounded like it would end in death, surely even annhialation of the Bronze who resisted.
Fear mixed in with his adrenaline. Of course he wanted freedom, the ability to make his own choices, but would he be willing to die resisting? Did he truly want it bad enough, or would he cower in the corner if the time ever came? He laughed as the thought hit him that his own current actions made him an Objector already.
He tried to imagine it further. A world without the restrictions he faced daily, with silver and bronze in harmony with gold and everyone given an equal chance to succeed. He could travel anywhere, trade with anyone, build his own home, plant his own garden, live off his own hands. Not to mention, if the Men at the Table were gone… He could choose his wife, instead of being forbidden from breeding. Only the Silver Citizens were allowed to procreate.
Adrian imagined having a child and a wife in a little cottage in the woods they built together with their own hands. Smoke came out of the fireplace as the child played in the yard. His wife laughed at the child, and Adrian watched it all in contentment while chopping and gathering wood. The vision faded as quickly as it had come.
Heh. It sounded nice, but it was truly a pipe dream to think it was possible. The only reason he had the throught is because he had seen it happen in a movie once. Adrian absentmindedly stared at the wall and sighed longingly. It would be a fool’s errand to challenge the Judicators and Men at the Table with the absolute power the Interface gave them. Sometimes it truly seemed the Judicators wanted the Bronze to turn Objector. More often than not they kept their fingers hovering over the killswitch in anticipation of a mis-spoken phrase, ready to send the nueron frying signal at an instant.
Adrian’s anger had clawed it’s way past the fear. “Maybe i’d join the Objectors if I could take just one of those Men at the Table bastards with me.”
Lost in his thoughts, he had almost forgotten the daily address. A 1 minute reminder that the broadcast was going to start popped into his HUD. Quickly he closed out of the site he was on. He pretended to yawn loudly again, closing his eyes and popping the scrambler off his Interface. He slunk into his chair and casually replaced the scrambler in it’s hiding spot, waiting with zero enthusiasm for the address to begin as the adrenaline dissapated back into it’s usual depression.
Adrian’s stomach began to sour.
Next Chapter: https://throwersbook.com/chapter-2-rough-draft/