I felt a tingling sensation in my forehead. A few microseconds later a Call came through. It was The Manager. He wanted to see me. I stepped away from the production line, and signaled to Employee 87L000/SP5. He looked puzzled, but took my place without missing a beat.
I strode past my Section, over one thousand of us. I felt… concerned. I had to search for the word. It was an unusual feeling to have. The last time I had been ‘concerned’ our rations had been cut in half for one month. We had not met our targets. That had been over a year ago.
What the Omigos give freely, they can also withhold.
It took me 25 minutes to walk the two miles across the factory floor to see The Manager. I passed 4 other Sections. No one looked up, as I passed. This factory was smaller than my previous home. I had lived here for 3 years.
There were two Security Officers at the entrance to the elevator. I knew then, that there must be Visitors. Security is not needed here. There is never any trouble.
There were four of Them in the office. Four of Them, and The Manager.
“Saviours”, I said. I bowed as low as I could.
The Manager initiated a Call. He informed me that only one of these beings were Omigos: the large man in a suit, sitting behind The Manager’s desk. The others were Tourists. Tourists were not Omigos – they looked like Omigos, but they weren’t. I wasn’t sure what they were, but they did not wear Crowns, so that made them not human. The Manager informed me They had come to review something called “Human Rights”, and they wanted to ask me some questions. The Call lasted less than 0.1 of a second.
“No, no! Please do not bow to us”, one of the Tourists said. His voice sounded strange. “Please”, he said again and pointed to a chair. I looked at it, confused. Did he want me to move it?
“He would like you to sit down”, said the Omigos. He laughed as he said it. I was not sure if I was meant to laugh too. I decided not to. I sat down.
“What is your name?”. One of the Tourists was female, and it was she who now spoke.
“I am Employee TwentyThreeLFiveHundredForwardSlashENThree”, I said.
“That is a rather long name”, she said. “What does it mean?”
I shrugged. “It is my Crown name”, I said.
“Your Crown name?” she said. She looked puzzled.
“It is the serial number on his Crown”, the Omigos said. He sounded tired.
The female tourist did not acknowledge the intervention. “Do you have a shorter name?”, she asked. I shook my head. “Are you married?”, I nodded. “Then what does your wife call you?”, she asked.
“Husband”, I replied. I heard the Omigos laugh again. This time I thought it would be impolite not to join him.
“How old are you?”, it was the first Tourist who spoke. His voice was gentle.
“It has been 21 years since my Day of Crowning, My Lord”, I said.
The first Tourist smiled. It was like his voice, it was warm and kind.
“Please”, he said. “Call me Aarif. You are 36 years old, yes?”. I was confused, but remembered that as Tourists and Omigos are not Crowned they count their age from the date they were Created.
“Yes, My… Aarif”, I said. “I had 16 years to endure, before my Day of Crowning.” I saw a strange look pass across his face.
“Then you were 14 years old when Omigos took over?”, it was the third Tourist, who spoke now. He was also male, but appeared older, his dark hair flecked with white.
“When the Living Gods returned to save us”, I said, thinking carefully. “I had endured 14 years, My L… Aarif”, I said.
“My name is Zheng Maa”, he said. “You can call me Zheng. It is this man whose name is Aarif. And this”, he said gesturing to the female. “This is Lajita.” I nodded, though still confused. “We are from the Free World Alliance”, he added, as if this clarified matters. I initiated a Call to The Manager, but he did not pick up.
“Do you remember your name?”, the female Tourist – Lajita – said. “From before you were Crowned, I mean”. I shook my head. “Does it hurt, when you are Crowned?”, she said.
“No”, I said. “The Crown is what keeps hurt at bay”. The mantra rolled off my tongue, but it was true. The two inch-wide band of metal, circling my head, had over two hundred needles buried deep in my head. They connected my brain to the circuitry in the Crown. It helped keep us human: without it we became demons. The Crown regulated chemicals, and helped us communicate. One of the many gifts the Omigos gave us when they returned. No, the Crown did not hurt. I didn’t remember it hurting on the Day of Crowning, either.
I felt a tingling sensation in my head. For a moment I thought The Manager was Calling, but when I picked up there was no-one there. It was not a Call. I had had a Flash.
“Mark”, I said. I was surprised to hear the word come from my mouth.
“I’m sorry?”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said.
“Mark”, I repeated. “I think I may have been called Mark”. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw the Omigos move.
“Mark”, the Tourist-called-Lajita said. “That is a lovely name”. As she spoke, I had another Flash – a memory – of another woman at another time who had called me by that name.
“I think”, said the Omigos. “I think we should stop this interview”. I stood up.
“No!”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said. I had never heard anyone speak to an Omigos like that. I stood there, waiting for the world to end.
“Sit down, Mark. We want to continue this conversation”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said. The Omigos motioned for me to sit, so I did.
“What do you remember before the Omigos Corporation took over?”, the Tourist-called-Aarif asked. I stared at him. I did not understand the question.
The Tourist-called-Lajita lent forward and touched my arm. “It’s ok”, she said. She smiled, “do you remember your mother and father?”
“No”, I said. Another memory came to me. A Flash: two bodies being loaded onto a large Transporter. “They died”, I said. The Omigos shifted his weight, his chair creaked.
“This Employee is feeling a little worn out, by all your questioning. We should allow him to return to his duties”, said the Omigos. I began to stand. The Tourist-called-Aarif slammed his hand on the desk, and I fell back into my seat. Shocked.
“Mr Snelling”, he said. He was pointing his finger at the Omigos. “We have been appointed by our Nations to conduct a review of Human Rights conditions at the Omigos Corporation. We have been granted free access to all the countries ‘owned’ by the Corporation, and all the factories and those ’employed’ within. We can, and we will continue this interview.”
The Omigos lent forward. I tried not to look at him. “We do not care what Beijing, New Delhi, or Tehran think of us, Mr Abassi”, he said, pointing at each Tourist, in turn. “We think nothing of your ‘democracy’- it is a sham and always has been. It is time you learned this Truth”.
“Truth!”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said. He was loud and it hurt my ears, and my head. For the first time since my day of Crowning I felt scared. I felt strange sensations in my head. The Crown was trying to regulate my brain chemicals.
“The Truth!”, the Tourist-called-Aarif said, looking at the Omigos. “The Omigos Corporation: the richest men in the world, fed up of running governments from behind the scenes! You supplied Crowns to the Armies of the West, designed to improve communication and enhance aggression: no one even guessed at their true capabilities. You started a flu epidemic which killed a million people in India alone, just to ensure your so-called vaccine would kill half a billion people who would have opposed you in the West. And then you activated the Crown and used your armies to enslave those who were left.”
“I’d say that was a fair historical summary, Mr Abbasi,” the Omigos said, leaning back in his chair. “But remember this: the Crowned are happy. Happier than you. Or I, come to that. They have no ambition, no aggression (unless we program them to have it), no fears, no jealousies. They are not hungry, they are healthy.
“In the world before the Omigos Corporation, were there not sweatshops, operated by children, women and slaves? Yes, Mr Abbasi, there were. But they were in India, China, Africa and the Middle East. They provided the West with their computers, their trainers, their toys and designer clothes. Were those people happy, Mr Abbasi? No, they were hungry, desperate and resentful. The people of the old-West cared little for them, as long as they got what they wanted for the price they wanted. Just as the so-called Free World cares little for the Crowned of Omigos, as long as we keep producing the goods. That, Mr Abbasi, is the Truth.”
“Enough!”, the Tourist-called-Zheng said. He put his hand on the arm of the Tourist-called-Aarif. “We are doing more harm than good”. They all looked at me, then. And at The Manager. I followed their eyes. The Manager was pale, shaking, rocking in his chair.
The interview was ended. They gave us a few minutes, just enough for our Crowns to stablise our brains, and our bodies.
As I left the office, I looked at the Tourist-called-Lajita. “You smile like her”, I said. She raised her eyebrows, and smiled again. “You smile like my mother,” I said.
I had difficulty concentrating on my work, afterwards. Employee 87L000/SP5 had to intervene twice. I wanted tell my wife and children about the interview. The eldest was preparing for his Day of Crowning: in two weeks he would be 16. He was more curious than I, he would be interested in the events of this strange day.
I felt a tingling sensation in my forehead. It was a Call from The Manager. He sounded excited.
“The Omigos were delighted with your performance, today,” he Called. “We are both being promoted. We need to go to the Centre. For Training.”
The Manager was waiting for me at Side Entrance B. The doors opened and I followed him outside. The sun was bright. I blinked: I was unaccustomed to the light. I had not stood in the sun since being moved from the last factory, three years before. It was warm on my skin. It felt good.
I wondered what Training would involve, and how long I would be away from my wife and children. I tried to Call her I could not get through. I shrugged. Any faulty functions on the Crown would be fixed during Training.
The Transporter arrived and I took a deep breath. I followed The Manager as he stepped inside. I noticed it had three words printed on the side: “Disposal Centre (London)”.
I smiled. At least the journey to the Centre would not take long. I should be home in time to kiss my children goodnight.
Written by Bruce Arbuckle (November 2012)
This story was entered into the Weekly Short Story Contest on http://www.writingforums.org/ (22nd November 2012)
Theme: Dystopian Fiction
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.