Adrian stared lazily as the teacher droned on about equality of outcome for every Bronze Citizen. The teacher could not see or hear him; the lesson was being broadcast to the entire land under the Earth Temple’s jurisdiction. It was the morning address that was “encouraged” viewing. Watching the morning lesson was not mandatory, but it was how one earned their breakfast food credit.
At a glance the teacher in front of him looked completely real, but Adrian knew he was a holographic projection created by the Interface in his imagination. The teacher was not really in his room, strolling about and waving his arms animatedly while reading the prepared script. His eyes could still follow the teacher as he walked around the room, but Adrian knew it was simply impulses and electrical signals tricking his vision.
Like usual, the material covered was full of praise and adoration for the Men at the Table. The “lessons” ran like an entertainment news channel. Whoever wrote the script added small bits of corny jokes laced in with the indoctrinating messages, adding new levels to the lame attempt at entertainment. Last week the teacher had actually said to soften the sting of a ration decrease: “Think of it this way, at least you will not be a fat slob when you earn the chance to court a woman!” There was even a laugh track that went behind it.
Phrases and reminders flashed across the square digital board behind the teacher, displaying 3 of the fundamental core values drilled into every Bronze Citizen’s head since birth.
“Anyone can learn to become a Thrower.”
“Work sets you free.”
“There is nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.”
Adrian let out a deep sigh as he kept his eyes open. but lost himself in thought. The teacher’s voice drowned out as he let himself slip into a slightly depressed bout of self pity.
He never imagined this would be his life when he was growing up. His Uncle Pax had always told him it was guaranteed he would develop Earth Throwing abilities which would earn him automatic Silver Citizenship.
Both of his parents died right after Adrian was born, but his Father had been an Earth Thrower. He didn’t know much about his mother, other than she was the sister of a powerful Water Cardinal. All 3 had died in the final Battle of the Thrower Wars. His mother never had any Throwing abilities, however both of his Uncles, and his Father, were Throwers in the Temple they had come from.
Adrian was 20 now. Usually throwing abilities manifested between 14-18, although sometimes there were occasional late bloomers. The morning addresses always made a spectacle when someone aged over 20 developed abilities, but everyone knew it was an extremely rare occurence. During his teens, he assumed that any day he would unlock his genetically ensured powers. This had given him the mindset that it was fine to slack off continually, and there was no need to work at improvement. Every morning he would wake up expecting to be gifted Silver Citizenship and ready to accept newfound throwing abilities.
But it never happened. Magical talent had never developed, and he had never shown so much as a glimmer of prospect.
So here he sat in his small room, stuck as a Bronze Citizen for the rest of his life, unless some bizarre circumstances arose. The only other way for Adrian to gain Silver Citizenship now was to apply to become a Judicator, a Mimir, or a Temple Guardian, and all were extremely selective positions.
The Interface had his I.Q. at 170, 10 points below the new average of 180 across the world. He did the only thing a Bronze Male could do to improve himself now in his free time- Study. After all, one of the fundamental rules stated that anyone could learn to become a Thrower. Everyone knew if you studied hard enough, you could learn to use any magical power you wanted to.
Adrian studied intensely, and even loved learning now. But the material shown here in his lessons was not learning. This was programming. These lessons were best ignored, in his experience. He was only here for the free meal.
While the teacher kept speaking, he blinked through a few settings on his Interface. The dull brown walls in the room flashed luminescent pink’s and green’s while The Interface quickly scanned his surroundings to immerse him in virtual reality. Quickly he scrolled through his scenery options, and chose the first one that caught his eye. The modifications he had made to his Heads Up Display on his Interface allowed him to choose the scenery during any situation he chose. He sat at his desk, which was really in his alloted 700 square foot dwelling, but his Interface allowed him to create reality virtually however he saw fit. Today he had decided to go to the beach for his lesson.
It could possibly get him in trouble, but as far as he had seen there was no definitive law saying he could not change his scenery while listening to his daily lessons. Adrian found himself walking the line on authority as much as he could.
He stared as the incandescent blue tide washed along the pristine white sand the teacher was standing on. All of it was a holographic projection inside of his head- he had never even seen the ocean in real life. The scenery was still nice to look at, even if it was artificial.
A vision of the Judicators knocking down his door suddenly flashed in his mind. He imagined they would say something like “You are creating distractions during the learning process, and are therefore stealing unearned food credits graciously paid by the Men at the Table! The punishment is death!” He chuckled at his own dark humor. Some days cynicism was the only thing to keep him going.
The joke reminded him of his first run-in with the Judicators. It was a funny memory, in hindsight. At the time it was horrifying. He had been caught hacking into restricted access film archives when he was 10, but luckily he was able to fiegn ignorance to the Judicator who had burst into his dormitory. Adrian had been watching old speeches of United States Presidents, specifically the ones who promoted capitalism. He had always been fascinated how people used to buy things with money. You also could own your own property, as long as you paid more money to the government. “Taxes” he thought to himself proudly. That was a word from the old world. As a ten year old he was able to convince the Judicator he was looking for footage on a homework assignment. He quickly made up a story how he was “doing a report on how capitalism was the true evil of society.”
The Judicator bought the story completely. He didn’t even double check with the teacher if Adrian had an assignment on capitalism. Funny enough, the Judicator unlocked even MORE footage for Adrian to see, then made a notification in the system that stated “DO NOT DISTURB-RESEARCH PURPOSES.” The Judicator vigorously shook Adrians hand before he left and thanked him profusely for showing other children “the truth.” A note on your profile from a Judicator held much authority, and the vagueness of it had gotten him out of trouble more than once on other occasions with Judicators.
Heh. The best way to get a Judicator on your good side was to joke about the evils of capitalism. “Justice knows no bribery” was a motto of the Judicators. Adrian laughed cynically. Meanwhile, they collected “tributes” from the Temples every Sunday. “Taxes,” Adrian again thought to himself.
The voice Adrian had been subconsciously hearing stopped abruptly which jarred him from his thoughts. The teacher in his room suddenly disappeared, and an Earth Cardinal was sitting at the opposite side of Adrians desk with his hands folded. Adrian hated when the lessons would do this. It always made him extremely uncomfortable, even though the man was not really in the room and couldn’t see him.
The Cardinal cleared his throat authoritively as he scooted his chair forward, stiffening his neck and staring straight ahead as he situated himself. The mans eyes were extremely creepy; it was like looking at a live painting that made eye contact no matter which way Adrian squirmed. He began speaking in a calm and even tone, like he was talking to a friend, not a student. The Cardinals eyes slowly trailed back and forth as he was obviously reading a prepared statement.
“In other news today, The Grand Chancellor of Earth has issued a statement to the Grand Chancellor’s of Fire, Water, and Wind. Grand Chancellor Earh is asking for cooperation concerning the famine that is plaging the world. Top scientists have attributed the causation to much higher temperatures than normal. The Grand Chancellor expressed his deepest concerns in the statement and demanded that the Fire Chancellor Amnon be held to account for the drought. Grand Chancellor Earh has also requested ambassadors from the Water and Wind Temples to assist with hydration and weather. This statement is a happy reminder that no citizen need fear hunger! The loving and compassionate Men at the Table have made sure to speak directly with the D.O.S.E. team to ensure they keep Delivering Outstanding Service to Everyone while we continue half rations.”
Adrian would bet his left arm that the Fire Temple was seeing the same message, with the name’s switched around to skew the story favorably towards the Fire Nation. That was how the real propaganda was done. More than likely, a Fire Cardinal was doing the exact same speech to the Fire Nation’s bronze citizens to justify THEIR half rations. They shifted the names around to give each nation a far away enemy to blame. All Nations were suffering from a famine now.
Gazing at the drifting tide, Adrian sighed and stopped worrying about being caught for his scenery during lessons. He felt as if nothing mattered much anyways. It’s not like he would be allowed to actually swim in an ocean like the one he could so vividly see. Absentmindedly Adrian reached down to try and touch the sand. Instead of feeling pure white sand, his hand brushed against the tiling on his bedroom floor.
The Teacher’s nasally voice had returned.
“..In Conclusion. Intelligence and Ability define a human, but the Men at the Table love each and every one of you equally. All those without Throwing Abilities must be guided and protected by those who do have Throwing abilities, to maintain balance and order. There is no longer any need to hate your fellow human, because you are all equal. The Elemental Throwers have been chosen to rule, and the Light Throwers have been chosen to protect the peace. For where there are shadows, there surely must be light..”
Such garbage! Adrian tuned out the person speaking again and allowed his consciousness to drift back into deep thought. It wasn’t hard, he had practiced the skill since he was a child. Tuning out things you didn’t want to pay attention to was second nature to everyone now. If you didn’t learn how to tune things and feelings out properly, you should just as well hang yourself by your bootstring tonight. (Some even considered it quietly dignified, usually done during an alone time so their death could not be broadcast through the Interface and propagandized.) Focusing too much on your feelings would get you killed because it would lead you to ignore the filter between your emotions and your brain. Saying the wrong thing was always recorded on the livestream, they would find it and come for you. And the outspoken weren’t always killed…. some were rehabilitated. That was the most terrifying prospect to Adrian, personally. Being dragged away into some white room with a bright light directed on his face, while electrical signals fried down certain bits of him creating a newly “reformed” blank slate. Every day was technically flirting with disaster, just by existing as a Bronze.
Adrian’s closest friend had been been flirting with the edge of disaster as well, it wasn’t easy for anyone. The pair had grown up in very much the same way, living in the same dorms as children and staying best friends ever since. Icar could be considered too smart for his own good, his own warped thought processes sometimes damaged his views of the reality around him. It was hard to blame him, paranoia constantly gnawed at everyone. Nobody truly blamed anyone for anything anymore, unless one’s own depressive state caused one to lash out at their own kind and tattle to a Judicator. Most walked around with the same tired and sad eyes, waiting for their next vacation pass, or praying to hit the Silver Citizen lottery, or simply their next influx of euphoric seratonin. Assimilation was the easy way. Hell, it really was the only way. One false move and that was it, lights out. The older Icar got, the more it appeared he was not wired to assimilate. Without mincing words, Icar had started down the path of most Objectors.
He had spoken to Adrian once in the cafeteria, completely candid and obviously on camera. Icar was wild eyed and seemed to have finally snapped. His voice was eerily calm, like he truly had gone insane, but still said the most terrifying things.
“I’m going to explode someday man. There’s this voice inside of me that’s been screaming to speak freely and it hurts to stay silent. I’ve only found two ways I can deal with it- depression or rage. Depression works for a while, until the drugs wear off; but that’s when the rage comes back…”
Adrian knew exactly what he meant, but it was definitely not the place to have the discussion. He tried to shake his head no but Icar had continued anyways, right in public. “It’s like there’s this… this razor edged hate inside of me. I’m ready to slash anything that acts like resistance. Anything man. Especially the-”
Adrian literally screamed in an attempt to drown out Icar’s next word, slapping him across the face with one hand and shoving him down in his seat with the other. If he had said “Judicators” like intended (Icar had pointed to one in the cafeteria) he would have been dead.
Icar later sheepishly thanked him, but he had gotten much quieter in the months since the incident had happened. The only thing that kept Icar going was the D.O.S.E. program upping his chemical stimulation protocols. He seemed to be in a zombie like trance lately, but he had been smiling a bit.
At least, things had gotten better until this past week. Icar had again started to dance the line of appropriate language when commenting lately, especially when it came to meal time at the district cafeteria. Icar was quite larger than most, and half rations had really thinned him down. Standing at 6’8″, A man as large as that would logically recieve a larger portion, or so Adrian thought. But the Judicators had denied the appeal that Icar had made through their district’s Earth Temple. The Judicators kindly reminded Icar in an e-message that all humans were equal, and even gave him a complimentary seratonin modification to utilize from his Interface at anytime he desired. Of course, it was only the free trial edition that expired after 15 uses. But hey, natural ecstasy was natural ecstasy right?
He had told Adrian he was saving half of the mods inferring he planned to trade them, probably for some food on the underground barter. Obviously, they couldn’t talk about such things out loud and in actual word form, for fear of being punished. Food smugglers would be denied rations for at minimum 1 month. It was a wonderful deterrent from sharing food. If a person starved to death, it was their own fault, according to the Men at the Table. As long as you followed the rules, you would be fed 3 times a day, and there would be no need for harsh punishments.
Speaking of punishments, Adrians thoughts snapped back to reality as the teacher’s monotonous droning had segwayed into a recording from an eyewitnesses interface. The morning lessons liked to make examples out of those who did not behave as a subtle reminder to follow the rules at all times.
This morning it was an elderly man, probably in his 70’s, who appeared half crazed while shouting and walking around. The onlookers funneling away had uneasy looks in their eyes. It was obvious this was not going to end well for the man, as he surely was about to be punished as an Objector.
The old man still had a strong voice. He spoke with a mix of self assuredness, but also disdain for those watching.
“…I tasted freedom as a child! None of you could even dream of it..” He pointed to the bronze upside down triangle on his forehead. “Before THESE. I remember the bliss of living by the work of your own hand. No longer! You are all SHEEP! Broken! Your innermost desires are nothing but to escape the eyes constantly watching you, but you could never truly be free unless you…”
The audio went silent for a few seconds,censoring out the man’s speech, but the footage continued to play. After the desired words had been muted, the audio cut back in.
“…But you won’t!” The man turned and looked over the shoulder of the person recording/watching, and a look of recognition washed over him as he looked back into the eyes of the onlooker with a quick smile. He must have noticed the Judicators that were inevitably coming for him.
The old man drew a deep breath, closed his eyes, then slowly exhaled. An unexpectedly peaceful look of serenity was on his face when he reopened them. “My time here is over now, and of my own choosing. I am deciding to leave of my own free will. Maybe these final words can instill something in someone else. Remember to…”
The audio cut out again as the mans lips kept moving. Two Judicators appeared out of nowhere and wedged themselves between the onlooker and the old frail man. A short and muted exchange occured, then the old man fell over, dead.
One of the soldiers “turned off his light” as the act had become commonly known. It was supposedly painless. The Elemental Scientists described it as: “A killswitch for your nueral transmitters.” It was assured by the Men at the Table themselves that the process was comletely pain free, and it was even touted as: “the most humane way to execute someone.” Adrian imagined a bolt of electricity jolting through his brain, frying everything in its path and rendering him dead after an excruciating moment of pain. His head throbbed at the thought.
These scenes of punishment to educate always made Adrian sick. Blatantly edited, then twisted around to make the victim appear insane. One thing stood out from the scene he had just witnessed. It had been the last thing the old man had said before the Judicators arrived, when the audio had cut out but his lips kept moving. It looked like the old man said “keep the faith.”
Faith. In what? Adrian thought to himself. Hope had never seemed to be an option. Faith even less. At the Earth temple… they allowed faith there. Adrian thought he had remembered hearing the other elemental temples allowed faith too. But strictly to be practiced only inside of the Temples. Never voiced in public like this.
The footage cut out and the Teacher had returned to the forefront of his eyesight. He spoke in solemn stern tone, but the annoying voice couldn’t be fixed no matter how he spoke.
“Not only was this foolish old man an Objector, he was a Denier of the Interface as well. Let this be a constant reminder to all of you the Men at the Table give freedom! Their flock has room for all who appreciate order and intelligence. Objectors like this old man have no place in a society of enlightened and educated people….”
Adrian shuffled his weight in his chair and again tried to change the subject in his mind. His thoughts drifted back to Icar and his seratonin mods he planned to trade. Bartering was very fun. Dealing with Throwers to barter, was not. It was never free to enter the lower levels of the Elemental Temples. Owing favors to the wrong people would get you killed just as quickly as saying you wanted to “slash a Judicator.”
Adrian shuddered. There he went again, thinking things that would get him killed. He and Icar were able to speak freely once a month in the Temple in a private chambers. The Earth Temple would rent out rooms at the Temple for privacy, and allowed sharing the cost of the arrangement between several different families. It cost Adrian nearly his entire smoke and alcohol monthly allowance, but he didn’t mind the trade off for the evening of privacy. Besides, since his Uncle was so well connected, he was actually receiving a fairly wonderful bargain. He knew other Bronze had to pay much more to recieve the same luxury Adrian was allowed. Privacy was one of the most precious commodities in todays world.
Only the most powerful Elemental Throwers from each element had the ability to disrupt the vibrations and frequencies on each persons Interface within the centralized confines of the depths of the Earth Temple. Unmonitored activity was not only possible, it thrived there. All of this was known by the Judicators, and was explained and rationalized as “Conducting Official Temple Business.” (Separation of Judicators and Temple was an idea kept by the Men at the Table from the Old World.)
All of this meant that if you were inside of the correct rooms of the Temple, you could speak and act without being watched through your interface.
And people definitely took advantage. Truthfully it was an underground marketplace where all sorts of goods were allowed to change hands in person, instead of being catalogued and tagged. He and his age group had been given the opportunity for 3 full days unmonitored, as a graduation gift by his Uncle last year to commemorate Adrian’s graduation to Adulthood. It was the best weekend he could remember. An entire weekend to be completely free to speak and say anything to all of his friends, with no fear of repercussion.
Come to find out, most of the talk concerned how much better we would be without Judicators , and without the Elemental Temples we really would be lost. Adrian tried explaining how the Elementals were just as much to blame, but his friends would hear none of it. He even found himself thinking what stupid sheep his friends were, even though deep down he understood that they had no way of knowing better. Adrian swallowed his anger at his whole life situation. It was all a game.
So much for trying to change his thoughts to something fun.
The sound of the Men at the Table’s anthem began to play, signaling the morning lesson was wrapping up. With the final note of the procession, he received the notification that a food credit had been added to his blockchain account.
Next Chapter: https://throwersbook.com/chapter-3-rough-draft/