Featured Review on this writing by Jeff Bezaire

Collared

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: BoMoWriCha Prompts


Written for this week's BoMoWriCha House daily challenge.

Submitted: July 15, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 15, 2018

A A A

A A A


Collared

If it was not quite so tight it would be a bit more tolerable, this collar that grips its way around my neck. The collar that can never be removed.

It pulses gently, a reminder that I need to get going or I will be late. And lateness will mean an extra tightening, for a day, a week. In this heat it would be unbearable. Better to behave, follow the rules.

Out on the street, I step in to line, taking my place amongst the others who have been prompted in to remembering that they have to be somewhere too. They have a job to do and it must be done.

It is a mostly silent street, although full of people going here, going there. I have the vaguest of feelings that it had not always been like this. That the street was once full of sounds other than footsteps. Vehicles even, and not the silent ones that are now used by the chosen few, but with engines that used to alert pedestrians to their approach.

Thankfully, there are very few chosen ones in this area, otherwise I would be relying on the collar to alert me to them. There is no way that they would slow for a mere worker.

I can already see my place of employment, just a few more steps ahead of me. Just another in a long line of grey buildings with their metallic sliding doors that won’t open unless automatically. I take my time as I near the queue of my fellow workers, waiting my turn patiently to stand beside the panel that will read my collar.

Patience is quickly learned once shown the consequences of rushing. One person only will be admitted at a time. Not so long ago, I had watched as a man I vaguely recognized tried to follow on behind another. Perhaps his mind had been elsewhere for it was an action that was doomed to fail. The door shut immediately behind the worker in front, neatly slicing this other man in two. Alarms sounded from somewhere inside the building, summoning the clean-up crew, but in the meantime the panel pulsed, waiting for the next collar and we had no choice but to move forwards and avert our eyes.

I work in the storage area, fulfilling orders from the moment I arrive until the time arrives for me to return home. I have a headset to wear that displays my instructions and I begin my constant trek from the shelves to the delivery depot.

The headset does not take away my sight, but superimposes the information on top of my view. I don’t really need to look, though, only when a rare rearrangement has taken place. So many times have I made these journeys, I could indeed carry out my job with my eyes shut. The collar would sense it though and would not like what it sensed. I could allow my focus to blur though, without suffering any form of detection or punishment.

I need to stop thinking. The collar is picking up on my thoughts somehow and is sensing something that does not quite fit my present situation. It’s responding with a tingling sensation, not painful but not pleasant either.

Concentrate! That’s what it’s saying and, for a while, I manage to empty my mind of everything but the instructions flickering up before my eyes.

The thing is I am one of the older ones, one of those that still have the vaguest recollections of ‘before’; now I’ve started to think about how things used to be, those memories are coming thick and fast. Maybe if I can put them off until I get home the collar will be slightly less responsive to my thought patterns.

My work though, it’s so mindless. I need to really force myself to concentrate on part numbers that are really meaningless to me. I could tell you exactly where to find any part on a grid-map of the shelves, but what it is, what it does, what it’s for, I do not have a clue.

Do I lack curiosity? I suppose in a way that is true, but then curiosity is not something that is encouraged. Curiosity is the enemy of obedience, and obedience is what controls every aspect of our lives. ‘Thinking’ and ‘opinions’ are not desirable and education, although still strictly enforced, is now along the lines of training for work, for one’s assigned job.

Ah, I’m doing it again. Remembering times past. Times when part of education was to question rather than just accept. I don’t know what is wrong with me today, but whatever it is, I need to get a grip. The tingling sensation is growing and I know that I am not so far from receiving a tightening. The only reason I’ve not had a punishment yet, I guess, is that the collar does not know quite how to deal with memories.

The problem is, neither do I. Not any more.

I’ll pick up my pace a bit, force myself to work faster. There is a danger in doing this though. If I maintain the momentum for too long that will become my ‘normal’ speed; any slowing from it will then be picked up as slacking on the job, not putting in the effort. It is quite staggering the amount of work that has to go in to getting ‘obedience’ just right.

A light flashes on the far corner of my left lens. The headset is summoning me to take a refreshment break. The headset itself remains in place, although there will be no further instructions until the light flicks on at the edge of the right lens indicating that the allotted break time is over.

The refreshment area is full of the clanking of trays, of machinery preparing the meals for the refreshment workers to serve. I join the line and slowly pace my way forwards. There is no choice to make, no menu options; just a serving to be picked up along with liquid. Once my tray has been loaded I make my way to a seat to consume my essential nutrients.

Again a thought bubbles up. Once upon a time there was some sort of pleasure involved in eating. Now it is more like oiling machinery. Just another part of routine maintenance. I don’t think I know what taste is any more, as eating has just become another process to go through.

No more thinking of what to buy, what to cook. No more dietary induced illnesses. No more underweight or overweight. Just open your mouth, chew, swallow, over and over again until your plate is empty.

This simplifies things for those in food production. If there is a shortage of something it does not matter. The chosen ones will be able to get what they wish for, while the rest of us, and that accounts for 95% of the total population, will get what we are given and not raise a word of complaint.

Finished, I get up and return my plate, my cup, my tray, onto the conveyor belt that will take them all through a sterilisation process. Back to the storage area without exchanging one word with anyone.

Another niggling memory, not wanted right now in the corridor area with all the extra sensors. Refreshment time, canteens, laughter and chat. Maybe that is a false memory though, as I cannot imagine anything further than the silent sterile places that we have now.

My straying mind must have been picked up. As soon as I get back to the storage area instruction follows instruction. Often we seem to be consigned to certain areas, although we all know each one. My return sees me being sent from one area to another, sometimes right across the storage area. I can’t help but notice that no one else is being sent scurrying about. There is not the slightest doubt that this is a mild punishment that has been devised to bring me back in to line. They would not want to lose me here for I am one of their best workers.

When the next memory tries to break through I block it, construct a mental wall to keep it from developing. Later, I tell it. At home it will be easier to cope. Not that I am without surveillance there, but it is less intense, easier to trick. I can sit in front of their ‘entertainment screen’, pretending to be soaking up the words and images they want me to see. As long as I take in a bit of it, the sensor will read and register that I am being attentive.

With all the running around I have had to do during my second shift I find it hard to make it the short distance back home. Trying to ignore my aching legs, hurting feet, I join the pedestrian procession until I reach the door to my apartment. The panel by the door recognizes my collar, and allows me admittance.

Sit down! Sit down!’ My limbs are screaming at me but I will ignore them, carry out my normal routine and show no sign that anything is other than ‘normal’. Only once I have gone through my paces will I sit and suppress a sigh.

As soon as I take a seat, the entertainment screen flickers on to life. What lies will it be feeding me this evening? A dangerous thought, but nothing unusual for me to have; I realised the falsity of it all a long time ago.

I was there, right at the start. Right when we all became sucked in to the biggest con in history. Look at these collars! A brilliant invention that everyone must have. People would queue for them, the latest technological advancement, paying a fortune for the privilege of being fitted up with one. Not the sort of thing that you could do at home, of course; they needed careful measurement, individual fitting and coding. And still none of us saw it for what it really was.

I was not one of the first to be fitted with a collar, never being able to come up with that amount of spare cash. The fashion element, the desirability of the collar disappeared after the first few years. These people that had paid had really been acting as guinea pigs, testing the technology before it was rolled out en masse.

It was not expected, the announcement that a fitted collar was to become compulsory. Those who had paid dearly were not happy, feeling that they had somehow been cheated into parting with what, after all, was a great deal of cash. This instigated the first action of collar control on a large scale, and for the most part it was a success.

The few who did not respond, who carried on making demands for a refund, well, they died from various causes. Not one of the deaths was put down to the collars tightening up to cause strangulation. That had to be kept hidden. There were still too many without one fitted; no suspicions must be allowed.

Of course I had not realized at the time what I was stepping forward for. I don’t think any of us had. Only the real hard-liners refused when the virus broke out. Strangely, the collars seemed to offer the only known protection against it.

I’m getting carried away with the memories again, a tingling sensation warns me. I turn my attention to the screen and force my ears to listen to the actions of our ‘Glorious Leader’, for had he not been working so hard for the ‘greater good’ all day long. Luckily for me, belief was not necessary and could not be read; so long as my brain was picking up the information that was all that mattered.

And so began the years of control. They must have had it so well-planned, to increase the collar’s power gradually, although really, once they were fitted we had little choice but to go along with it. The collar, no matter what you did to it, could not be removed. I guess they needed to keep a certain amount of the population alive, to do all the work. Too many deaths and some of the chosen ones might have to have worked too, or at least given up some of their luxuries.

It was all born from paranoia. Artificial intelligence, humanity’s increasing reliance on robots and robotics was becoming a danger. What if we lost control of them? What if they found a way to develop their own mental processes rather than the ones that they’d been programmed with.

The Armed Forces tipped the balance. Robots were so well equipped with weapons that, should they turn on us, the human race would have no chance to survive. People themselves, it was decided, would be far easier to control.

It was not an instant process though. Education had to be turned around, to become less academic and more about training. Society did not need too many people thinking conflicting thoughts, criticizing those in power and making it impossible for them to get their way. Servitude, compliance, obedience – that was the way towards ‘progress’.

In the end we made it so easy for them. People prefer to fit in, to comply. Once they had total control over the media it did not take long. Like the way they had made pariahs out of those who smoked in times before us, so they made pariahs out of those who did not willingly accept command. And like a massive flock of sheep for the most part that is what we did, followed the current line of thought.

The sensation around my neck is strange. It’s not like the collar is tightening, not at all, but there is definitely something different about it. Have I gone too far, remembered too much, not paid enough attention to the propaganda I am supposed to be being fed by? I feel sick, light-headed. Early as it is, I will have to lay down.

Before I fall in to a deep and dreamless sleep I think that I hear something. Not something loud, but something so quiet I am not supposed to notice. A hissing noise, a bit like a gas leak.

In spite of retiring to bed early, I do not wake up until the usual time. I still feel groggy, slightly sick. I need to get monitored for sickness, so I go to the detector in the bathroom. Nothing is showing up as being wrong; blood pressure, temperature, all are fine. I must get on with my daily routine, get myself ready to go to my place of employment. I slip from my room and down in the elevator to the ground floor. Outside, I join the pedestrians, keeping pace, keeping the prescribed distance from those in front of and beside me.

I enter my place of employment as the door slides open and I make my way to the storage area. I put on my headset and wait for my instructions but there is something wrong.

I can feel a pressure building inside my head. An anger; a rage even. If only I could work out what it was about maybe I could control it. Memories, where are they? I cannot remember anything from even the day before, other than the layout of the shelves, the stock. There should be more. I know there should, but no matter how hard I dig, I cannot find one thought that is not from the present.

Other than this rage, that is.

It’s shouting at me. Telling me that there is something very wrong, that I have somehow been meddled with. I was home though, in my bed and fast asleep. There is a tickle of a thought, but I don’t have time to dig it out, not now. My orders are coming in thick and fast and I must get to work.

Step by step, movement by movement, I fulfil my duties. Shelf to delivery depot, over and over again. No pauses, no questions, just blind acceptance and obedience.

I am halfway between the shelf, carrying a part towards the depot when a hissing noise sounds in my head. Am I hearing it? No, it’s not from now, it’s from sometime before. I carry on with my duties, letting the anger work away at that thought until it comes up with an answer.

Last night, at home. They must have detected that something was wrong and had gassed me, made me forget....everything that made me who I am. Can I get any of it back?

Keep working, I instruct myself. Don’t stop, don’t pause, don’t give your mind away. My anger burns deeply, trying to clear away the gas, the mist, but no matter how high the flame gets it cannot bring any mental clarity, just fog.

That light on my left lens barely registers. I notice it just in time to not give myself away. The rage in me makes me want to run. That would cause some chaos, I think, because running as an activity has been long outlawed.

The canteen is it’s usual quiet and sterile place. I queue for my tray to be filled then just before I leave the serving bay, two words make their way from between my lips. “Thank you,” I say.

The room freezes around me. Nobody missed my voice, not even those in the furthest seats. And with those two words the memories coming flooding back to me. I hurl the tray in to the air, my fury now unleashed.

How dare they!

How dare they take everything from everyone, turning them in to what are simply flesh and blood automatons. Robots, puppets! That is all humanity has become because of these.....collars.

Still roaring, I lift my hands towards my neck where the collar is already exerting a crushing pressure. The instinct for survival is hard to resist. My hands start to claw at it as it digs deeper in, both my fingers and the metal of the collar drawing blood.

Why am I struggling? Why am I fighting? I don’t want to be a part of this conspiracy any more. My hands fall to my sides and I wait for death to release me from this entirely false existence.

 

(3069 words).

 

 


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