It was dreadfully quiet in the cafeteria this morning. Adrian could have guessed it had something to do with the old man they had watched die earlier.
The men shuffled in with their heads low and shoulders drooped, staring off into space, presumably watching some video or graphic through their HUD. Sound for videos was internally heard in your head through the Interface, technically generated as a figment of your imagination,but real as air to the listener. The only actual sounds to be heard were forks scraping against the trays, and an occasional cough as almost everyone was lost in their own personal utopia of videos and information. As usual, everyone had a blank look on their face.Everything was fine, until of course, they had to interact with someone.
The cafeteria was made out of ugly brown sandstone, just like most of the buildings meant for use by a Bronze. Floor to ceiling was the same dull, coppery, mud-like color that his own dwelling was. The simple stone counters and tabletops matched the equally plain stone benches.It was obvious no care was given in making this room.
All it would have taken was a little extra effort from the Earth Thrower to pull up better minerals when creating the space. They could have done granite, or limestone, or any other blend of minerals the ground offered. But the Men at the Table had strict guidelines to make sure that all bronze cafeterias were completely equal.
The room was purely for function, the lack of care showed in certain corners that came together at gapped and uneven miters. It was simply meant to herd the Bronze through every 20 minutes, feed them, then get them out of the way. The space was definitely massive enough; there must have been 1000 people in the place right now. Adrian had seen the Earth Throwers erecting buildings previously… This entire place had been built in probably less than an hour by some skilled Earth Throwers to the exact specifications required by the Temple.
Adrian had made the mistake of standing still too close to the crowded doorway. The entranced mob had kept moving behind him, and he stumbled forward from being bumped in his rear. He struggled to stand back up as most kept staring at whatever entertainment they were watching, pressing into him while he regained his footing.
He brushed his pants off as he finally stood, moving forward with the crowd again. Adrian surveyed the room scanning for his friend. Icar was standing by himself, taking no notice of anyone and holding his arms folded in front of him. He appeared lost in thought as people gave him a berth. No one dared to bump into a man of that size, even if he was only skin and bones right now.
Adrian sidled up next to Icar in line. He smiled widely at his best friend.”So are you going to take *that thing* to the Temple?”(A conversation about doing illegal things was always done with vague language.)
Icar snapped out of his thoughts and managed a weak smile at Adrian. “You know I am.” His smiled disappeared as he looked at the trays of food. Then he smirked again, this time genuinely, pointing at the food and saying “You know I’ve been particularly hungry…”
Adrian smiled back. This obviously had a dual meaning. He had meant hungry for chocolate, or cake, or breads, or cheese, or any of the other delicious foods that can be acquired in the Temple in exchange for his serotonin mods.
Icar continued. “So yeah, i’ll probably try to go this evening. Want to come?”
The last trip Adrian took to the underground market led to him being on the hook for 5 meal credits. And that was just to get in the door.
“I’ll think about it. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Temple.”
Adrian and Icar both grabbed their trays and sidled along. It felt animalistic, being forced to wait through this line and walk up to the box that spit out their food like a timed feeding trough. The Table had made the law about 3 years ago: no food was to be allowed in the dwelling provided to you. This could lead to a concentration of food goods by one person, which meant it might not be fair and equal for everyone.
In the past he had skipped meals in a silent protest… It had gotten much harder to skip meals now. Adrian felt the outline of his ribs as he and Icar walked without speaking.
Adrian slid his tray in front of the food dispenser. Dried out hash browns and powdered eggs dropped on his plate, along with a small carton of juice. Adrian waited an extra second, hoping that a few straggling hash browns had gotten lodged in the machine. His patience paid off as several stray bits of egg dusted down onto his tray while the inner workings of the food dispenser whirred around. It was like hitting the lottery.
Icar and Adrian made their way to the table and sat down. Nothing else meaningful really came up to converse about, but that was ok by Adrian’s standards. He took a bite of the eggs which left a powdery texture in his mouth. Blegh. He would trade his next meal credit for some salt right now. The pair exchanged grimaces, then set about shoveling the rest of the moisture sapping paste into their mouths. It was another thing they got along well on, silent meals.
The food was never pretty, and it always tasted horrible. All meals had a familiar metallic aftertaste, no matter what the food was. The pair had no intent to prolong the meal.
It didn’t take long for them to finish eating. The two made sure their trays had all of the food eaten completely, scraping the last bits of egg up with their hash browns and even licking their plates. Both tipped up and shook their juice cartons empty. This wasn’t just because the sensors would reject their tray if there was still food on it; these half rations had everyone licking their plates.
Silently the duo stood up, making their way to one of the hundreds of tray dispensers in the cafeteria. A large and silver cube had tray sized slots ready to receive the breakfast platters. Adrian inserted his tray into the cube, knowing the sensors would find his plate was completely clean.
“GREAT JOB”. Green computer text flashed across Adrian’s HUD vision.
“BRACE FOR CHEMICAL INFLUX TO AID DIGESTION”
Adrian shuddered as adrenaline flooded from the back of his neck, spreading down and around his shoulders like a warm blanket being drawn around him until it finally reached his chest cavity, instantly heightening his perception. Muscle fibers began to tingle with little rushes of energy from every heartbeat, buzzing through his body like a light voltage of electricity.
He drew another deep breath and braced himself for the second wave. That was just the warm up. Inevitably there were more chemicals about to surge through him than simple adrenaline. This sudden shock to the senses was simply to help his body prepare for the next round of neural processes.
Adrian’s entire body flexed and convulsed for a moment as the second wave coursed through him. Warm and prickling heat spread to his legs and arms as it emanated from his stomach, causing a violent churning that subsided after a few strange noises. He trembled momentarily as his stomach righted itself and the nausea slid away. He let out deep sigh and relaxed his muscles, admittedly feeling quite nice now that it was over. Objects began to soften in his vision as he felt a momentary reprieve from his normally sad life.
More green words went across his HUD, but Adrian barely noticed them.
“THANK YOU, Adrian, YOUR MORNING D.O.S.E. IS NOW COMPLETE”
The initial hit from your D.O.S.E. sent you on a wild and unexplainable journey through your own imagination. Some liken it to an out of body experience. For at least 30 seconds, Adrian stood there lost in thought.
If you asked someone on the street what D.O.S.E. Stood for, they would have to tell you that it meant Delivering Outstanding Service to Everyone.If you asked someone in a Safe Space what it meant, you would get a completely different answer. The D.O.S.E. program had cultivated sophisticated monitoring for chemical body processes. It was hardly mentioned or discussed by the Bronze, mostly out of fear of punishment. The prevailing rumor is that it’s a secret group of the smartest scientists and physicians in the world, and they report directly to the Men at the Table. A somewhat educated person might guess that D.O.S.E. stands for Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins- 4 of the main chemicals in the body regulated by the brain which help to control emotion. Also, coincidentally, these chemicals are controllable by the Interface. Fine tuned vibrations could reroute certain neuron paths to create or remove these chemicals in any human connected to the Interface. The rumors surrounding the D.O.S.E. program led to a definite paranoia if thought about strenuously. Who knew what buttons they were pushing to work on him?
Every time Adrian thought about the D.O.S.E. Program for too long, he would eventually come to remember the situation he had encountered several years ago.
Adrian had once seen a man on the street who had “turned Objector.”He was babbling at a rapid pace to anyone who would look his direction. The man had the wild eyes of a lunatic, but spoke very plainly and it was obvious he truly believed what he kept repeating.The man was ranting and raving about how he was being used in a terrible psychological experiment, claiming they would flood extra chemicals in his mind to interfere with his decisions while they watched him.
Adrian could still hear the 5 words the man had landed on at the end of his rant, repeating the haunting phrase over and over.
“They’re trying to program me! They’re trying to program me!”
The busy street had begun to make a wide berth around the feral man, but it was impossible for Adrian to stop staring. The man locked his frantic eyes on Adrian and seemed to visibly gain a slight bit of solace that someone was listening. It was a very strange moment indeed. The man’s voice had dropped from a shout to a small whisper,but he still kept repeating the words until the Judicators arrived.
“…they’retrying to program me…they’re trying to program me”
Tears flooded the mans eyes as the Judicators read the sentencing. As quickly as the Judicators had arrived, they turned off his light and the man slumped over, lifelessly hitting the ground. Adrian never broke eye contact.
Hands down, the scariest conspiracy Adrian knew of was that the D.O.S.E.program could read his every thought. That was the rumor that shook him to his core; the very idea that his only real and true safe space was also being monitored… His innermost secrets and stupidest notions being broadcast to some maniacal scientist for dissection and analyzing. Adrian had cried many times contemplating about this. If it was true that he didn’t even have privacy in his own thoughts…well the thoughts that came to mind were depressing to say the least.There would truly be no point to life, at least to Adrian.
One night however, in woes of despair and depression about the prospect,a hilarious thought struck him, like a pinprick of light in the darkness he had found himself in.
“If it were true that my thoughts could be read out loud, I would have been taken by the Judicators a long time ago.”
Adrian laughed to himself at his own little sick joke. He numbly looked over to Icar, who was smiling at some far off thought he was also having.Suddenly his best friend snapped to and looked at Adrian. His pupils were pinpricks, but he was coherent again. It was apparent the early effects of the chemical arrangement had worn off him as well. His tall frame swayed slightly as he stood limply. The final D.O.S.E. had taken full effect, and both young men were slack jawed and misty eyed. They exchanged a smile and a nod, walking towards the exit together without saying a word.
Adrian had already forgotten about his thoughts of mind control, and was back to that warm and cozy state of blissful ignorance. The hazy fog that blurred the pain worked it’s magic as Adrian and Icar wandered toward the exit of the cafeteria.
By the time Adrian stepped outside into the sunlight, he was back on cloud 9, and all of his troubles and worries had momentarily left him.
Next Chapter: https://throwersbook.com/chapter-4-rough-draft/