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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
"In my last minutes I choose .. to remember Céline. She’s doing that stupid dance, her smile just for me, body swaying, arm upraised. Later on the couch, our relationship just one hour old, we're gazing at each other, our arms linked. Eternity suspended in a moment. A moment is all I have. I wish I were dead." -- 1,689 words.

[This is an experiment. I already published this as a book. I'm interested to see whether the short-story format makes it easier to read the whole thing through.]

Submitted: March 15, 2019

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Submitted: March 15, 2019



Chapter 1: The Security State

The party was in an apartment on Rue du Fer-à-Moulin. It was early evening and the students were sprawled around the TV, watching the parade from earlier that afternoon. After his success in the 2022 elections Macron had pushed hard for further European integration. In support of this his LRM party had been renamed Vorwärts! - those new leather uniforms were so shiny and smart! There were parades through Paris every weekend - building the European spirit!

I looked around, checked out the prospects slouched in front of me. The students were listless and bored, all excepting the girl in the leather chair, one leg draped over the armrest. She caught my eye and rolled hers - and that was how I met Céline.

I was studying computer science at Diderot, Paris 7 but that was pretty much male-only. If you wanted to meet girls, everyone knew it was the Sorbonne at the heart of the Latin Quarter. As all French students do, we started out by talking politics - but it turned out Céline was barely interested.

“Yeah, I’m a member of Vorwärts! but I couldn't care less. They're chiefly good for cheap holidays. And parties."

 I made a face as if shocked. That of course encouraged her.

"Politicians? But of course they’re all loathsome! Macron and the German Macron and the Spanish Macron. I don’t even think about it. Life is for living. Forwards! right?”

A good joke. But retreat to a merely private life was not my thing. The elites were despicable of course, but we had to do something: for that we needed organisation and strategy. Brave words, you might say, but at least I was acting on them. I'd been a cadre of the security division of Lutte Ouvrière for the last three years.

After Macron’s surprise re-election in 2022 there had been chaos. The campaign had been highly-polarised and the result was deemed unacceptable by both left and right. The famous gilets-jaunes had risen again, Le Pen supporters blockaded ports and organised strikes in the industrial north while the left-alliance threw cobbles and petrol bombs in the capital. Widespread looting had left the banlieues in flames.

This time Macron did not flinch. The army - spearheaded by the feared paratroopers - acted decisively to restore order. Camps were opened to re-educate the disaffected. A crash programme transformed France into a modern surveillance state.

Protest is difficult when the authorities know everything you plan in advance.

Chapter 2: The Secret Cell

We meet for coffee at an intimate café across from Notre Dame. I choose a deeply shadowed alcove right at the back.

“They always laughed at us,” I say, “Our comrades on the left. The way we always insisted on party names, no getting married or family life, how hard we made it to join. Always we were preparing to go underground, to operate secretly.”

Céline is not interested in politics, but she does like a good story.

“So Lutte Ouvrière had the last laugh?” she asks with a smile.

“I'm still here, for sure, in a highly clandestine organisation - unlike the rest of the left. But we can barely operate.”

I point across the tables to a lamp post visible on the bridge.

“See that small grey box near the top, way above eye-line? Most people never notice it. For those who do, the story is that it's just part of the city Wi-Fi network.”

She nods, vaguely paying attention.

“They don't mention the miniaturised CCTV, the microphones, the laser which bounces off windows monitoring conversations. There's an AI inside that box which captures number plates, recognises people, listens to street talk for trigger phrases.”

All this tech talk is beginning to bore her.

“You want another coffee?” she says brightly.

“Listen, I'm getting there. Used to be we could meet in rooms above bars and clubs. Not any more. The systems track the streets. Anomalies highlight meetings, then they listen in. Sure, we're careful, we haven't been arrested yet, but we're paralysed. But perhaps, with your help, there's a way?”


We take to meeting in the Vorwärts building at Rue Sainte-Anne in the 1st arrondissement. The room is booked as an artists workshop. Céline had set this up weeks ago, as a passe-temps for her and her friends.

Our cadre group, now signed-up members of the Macron vehicle, conducts its less artistic business in an adjoining - windowless - room, one we've carefully swept for bugs. We develop our party line, plan our brave little flash-manifs, upload articles to our Swiss-hosted Internet site .. .

For a while, everything goes swimmingly.

Chapter 3: Arrest

They come for me at four am. I'm buried beneath the duvet, snuggled up against Céline’s back, when the lights go on. There had been no warning - they had let themselves in. My head pokes out from beneath the cover, eyes squinting in the glare of the tactical spotlight. I can dimly make out insectile troopers deploying in the gloom at the foot of the bed.

To my credit I suppose, my first thought is to protect Céline. I sit up and stretch a protective arm across her body. Laughable really. In fact the squad are remarkably uninterested in my companion as I'm cuffed, bagged and dragged to the waiting vehicle outside.

I'm not a fool. Even at that early stage I was remonstrating with myself. Our deplorable blindness to human intelligence-gathering.

Bouncing around in the van as we speed out of the city, crazy thoughts swirl in my head. Those chapters of the US Communist Party where every single person present, unbeknownst to one another, was working undercover for the FBI.

Perhaps I had been the last communist standing.

Chapter 4: Interrogation

Interrogations are not what they used to be. Waterboarding, electroshock, sleep-deprivation and beatings - so passé. They already know everything and the rest they can read off a brain scan. I can assure you it's quite painless, they may even arrange for it to be pleasurable - if that's convenient. Depends on the areas they choose to stimulate. Trust me, I didn't mind a minute of it.

I find myself strapped to a dentist chair in a green-tiled room bristling with instruments. A symphony of burnished steel and plastic. Disturbing mechanisms protrude from robot arms.

I don't know why the major even bothers to talk to me. Perhaps he enjoys the sound of his own voice. Perhaps he's just rehearsing the spiel he gives to visiting ministers. He's dressed in a plain grey suit and sits casually, facing me like he's a medical consultant. He speaks.

“You're going to ask, 'Where am I?’ and to your surprise I'm going to tell you. You're presently in re-education camp 4 at Marne-la-Vallée. We're quite close to Disneyland Paris. It's ironic in a way: they're the great purveyors of illusion; here, we dispel them.”

Clearly an interrogator who likes the sound of his own voice.

“I understand you're a Marxist. You had hopes for a different future than the one we have planned.”

Chapter 5: Verdict

It's pointless bandying words, but what diversions compete for my attention?

“You can win for a while, but you're doomed in the end,” I say. “Either the workers will eventually lose their endless patience and turf you all out, or automation will collapse your system. The very AI you’re putting so much faith in will destroy you. No working class, no capitalism.”

The major looks at me with interest.

“I'm not an idiot,” he says mildly, “My dissertation was on the economic theories of Herr Doktor Marx. A profound thinker and a perceptive European. His weakness was in psychology, all men are created equal or something like that."

I cringe at this illiteracy.

"But that's not true," he continues, "Some people are very docile and eager to please, don't you find? The next generation of the working class - across Europe - are going to be very contented with their place in society.”

He means that the non-docile ones are going to end up like me.

“So you feel despair now, and rightly so, but not for too much longer. You're the kind of smart guy we can well do without.”

He watches my reaction with mock surprise.

“What? You thought that our re-education camps were all about talking to people? Self-criticism sessions like the Maoists?

He laughs, shakes his head.

“We can do so much better than that. Can't keep the intelligence though I'm afraid."

What does he mean?

"When you leave here you'll be set for a lifetime of low-grade manual labour. Don't worry, you'll love every minute of it.”

He pauses, “You may be interested in this, by the way.”

And in his hand is a picture of Céline, looking very beautiful in the black dress uniform of the DPSD, the military security service.

“Enjoy the view while you can. Perhaps that could be your final coherent thought.”

He waves vaguely at the battery of lasers on their robot arms, already weaving a pattern, preparing to cook my prefrontal cortex.

“In the old days, this was such a messy procedure, waggling a scalpel side to side through a slit in the forehead. But now it’s totally non-invasive. A slight headache perhaps, but afterwards .. .”

He smiles, "Nothing to worry about. Seriously."

 The major stands up, nods to me, “Goodbye, then.”

He walks unhurriedly to the door.

My immobilisation is complete, the process will be entirely automated.

As the purring machines begin to deploy, extending from the walls, I totter on the brink of sanity, feeling sick, dizzy, my stomach tumbling in agony. I face my very last decision - what thoughts will accompany my descent into oblivion?

And so I will choose .. I choose that night .. when I first met her, my Céline .. her dancing .. dancing just for me.

--- End  ---


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