Nothing, p.1Arnold East
? 2017 Arnold East
12944 woke up. It was 7:09am. It creaked up from its bed and marched its way out of its apartment. The room was bare, consisting of only a bed, a toilet and a showerhead contained in grey concrete, but 12944 didn't mind at all. It was the same room everyone else had, and it was everything it could ever want or need.
12944 passed through the hallway, its stride excited by the cold bare floor, and made its way down five flights of stairs to the communal canteen. The canteen was designed as a large hall; symmetrical, with singular desks accompanied by singular chairs evenly spaced across the room. At both ends, where the staircases led from the apartments, there were dispensers where breakfast, a mixture of vitamins and minerals suspended in a thick concoction of water and grains, was served. 12944 picked up a metal bowl and metal spoon and realised how hungry it was. It stood in front of the dispenser and after a healthy serving of the gloop squeezed out of the pipe and onto its bowl, it made its way to its table, next to 12943's table and behind 12934's table. Five mouthfuls into its meal, 12945 sat down next to it and began eating as well. The gooey mix was delicious, tickling 12934's tastebuds as it slithered through its mouth and down its throat. The room, though there were a hundred or so people eating in it was silent as it was every day, apart from the scrape of spoon on bowl and the rhythm of the footsteps of those descending from the stairs above. No-one said a word. No-one ever said a word. 12944 finished its breakfast, placed the bowl into the square chute which led into the washrooms and made its way to work, its hunger satiated.
Today was a big day for 12944. It was a day for both the implantation of the babies and the end of its own life. At its workplace in the hospital, 12944 made its way to the incubation room on the third floor. There, it opened the glass lids of the incubators that sat on table, and took the babies out one by one. 20 millilitres of anaesthetic into each of them, and their cries were silenced. They were placed gently on a conveyor belt that swept through the centre of the room on which they were moved through to the implanting room. At 1:09, 12944 ate its lunch in the work canteen on the ground floor, then began its shift as a watcher in the implanting room. Its duty here was to catch any problem, any mistake that occurred in the implantation process and fix it. With everything running with quotidian smoothness, 12944 was not called to action; for most of its shift it sat and stared at the precise dance of the arm and the penetration of the babies by the needle. There was nothing that needed to be done.
Then, through impossible chance, 12944's chair gave way and it fell, crashing on top of the upturned seat. It got up as quickly as it could. Too slow. In the moment it lost sight of the implanting machine, the arm froze, leaving a baby untouched. By the time it stood up, the arm had started again; evidence of its malfunctioning now non-existent. 12944 walked backwards into the wall, keeping its eye on the implantation machine as it continued to work. It arched a hand over a shoulder and pressed a button on the wall. Then, it announced to the empty room, "New chair." Within minutes, another human appeared from the door behind it, and the broken stool was replaced.
12944 sat down and continued watching. By the end of the working day, every single baby had been implanted; every single baby except one. 12944 marched down to the ground floor. Opposite the dining room was a door that led to a small chamber that was empty, apart from a little box on one side. It was a curious box; wooden, with a slot underneath, and a button on top. The button was pressed, a needle was dispensed and soon the poison flowed free through its bloodstream, swirling through the various arteries and veins and seeping into its brain. There had been no regrets. Everything had been perfect. In a few moments, 12944 was dead. The floor opened and it fell into the incineration pit. The floor closed and 12945 came in. The same process ensued. By the end of the day, one thousand workers had fallen into the pit. Nine hundred and ninety-nine babies were ready for their new lives. Out with the old and in with the new.
It was dark and apart from the sound of marching step, quiet. We were going back to the apartments after another long day at school, another day of boring repetition. I was stood at the back of the line, inconspicuous. No-one would notice if I left. It was the right time.
I waited, stopped marching and slipped around a corner before increasing my pace into a fast jog. I knew the way; everyone did. It was right in the middle of the commune and was the most obvious building in it. I went past the apartments, the manufactories, the hospital; and then it emerged, the huge palace, shining white in the light of the moon, bursting out of the uniform grey concrete buildings that surrounded it. It was the first time I had seen it this close. It was beautiful and unique.
For a few moments I stood there, frozen in awe and wonder. I wanted to enter, but only now I did notice the imposing jagged black gate that ran around it. Go back, go back, go back. We had been explicitly and repeatedly told to not go near the palace. I fought against the seeds of doubt and the ingrained uneasiness. I will not go back. I sprinted, leapt, clambered over the gate surrounding the compound and fell down hard onto the grass. I lay there and caught my breath. I could've lay there forever; it was like resting on little sheafs of wheat, water soaked soft, but I knew there wasn't much time. I lifted myself up and made my way up the steps to the entrance. Again, I hesitated. To go in or not to go in? I had thought about this moment for weeks; in my imagination, I had stridden in full of confidence, but now as I considered it, the choice was much less obvious. Inside was a new world, danger, freedom, both possibilities, both outweighing the other. Outside was safe; outside was ignorance; outside was conformity. What to do? I had never seen anyone do any different to what was prescribed for them, break any of the unwritten rules. If I entered, it would be more than mere antisocial behaviour. It would be open rebellion, a betrayal of society and the powers that governed. The minutes disappeared as I struggled in front of the great door but I knew my mind was made up. It was probably locked anyway. I turned back, repeated my acrobatics over the gate, jogged back along the road and was back in bed within the hour. For once I couldn't sleep, as I agonised over my decision. I knew I couldn't continue in this current state, living in deadening monotony and ignorant to? to everything. There was something more I was missing. I was ashamed at my weakness in turning back, yet I didn't regret my choice. It was too much to risk and I could always go again, couldn't I? But would I go in the next time? I had to, yet there was something holding me back. I was among these thoughts as I drifted into sleep.
It was now late afternoon. We were in school, sitting at our desks, memorising the usual passages that were meant to be vital for our practical fieldwork in four days. It was the same information which we had been learning about for the past five months. At the front of the room the electronic speaker was playing the information to us. Presently, it was informing us about the use of scythes. "Scythes are used to harvest wheat. Scythes consist of a long wooden handle with a curved metal blade at the far end. They should be held with both hands, with the handle at a forty-five-degree angle to the ground. The blade should be held parallel to the ground. The scythe should be swung in a wide loop, with most rotation occurring at the hips." There was a pause as the speaker allowed for us to recite what had just been announced. "Scythes are used to harvest wheat. Scythes consist of a long wooden handle with a curved metal blade at the far end. They should be held with both hands, with the handle at a forty-five-degree angle to the ground. The blade should be perpendicular to the ground. The scythe should be swung in a wide lo---". We were interrupted by a beeping sound that whined from the speaker, forcing our recitation to a halt. Then I heard a human voice emanating from the speaker for the first time in my life. "Five-four-one-fiv
I was somewhere else, panting. I opened my eyes. In bed. It was only a dream. But it was also so real. It was like someone had blurted out some secret truth to me, right into my face while I slept. There was now some new knowledge inside my head, but it was not fully formed. Though I knew instinctively that it was important. I was hungry but breakfast could wait; I needed to figure this out.
Breakfast could wait. I was the only one who could even think that thought. If they were hungry they probably couldn't stop going to the dining room, gorge themselves on that slop and enjoy it. They're all in this stupid bliss, happy to live out their lives like a machine, doing repetitive tasks day after day until their consensual suicide. But I can't do that. There must be something more. There must be something fulfilling, something meaningful. I'm trapped in this world that cares for none of these things, only efficiency. I need to get into that palace. Why did I fail last time? As the question turned over in my head, I soon realised the truth embedded in my dream. I died. That was the worst they could do to me. Death.
I had failed to go in because of the consequences. But death, the worst consequence was barely a consequence at all, a small change compared to the hollowness and repetitiveness of my current life. No, I had to go to the palace. There was something more there, and I had nothing to lose.
I was at the door of the palace again. It'd been 3 weeks since my last visit as an intensive two-week excursion to the farms to hone our use of scythes and other farming equipment left me tired and with no opportunity to escape. But through those two weeks, the disillusionment only grew. The long hours in the field sowing seeds and harvesting wheat didn't help. This time I refused to hesitate. I turned the knob, pushed the door and it swung open, wide and easy. It was dark save for the quiet glow of moonlight that projected in through the windows but my eyes soon adjusted, and I could make out the features with some clarity. The palace was much larger from the inside, with high ceilings and a wide area covered in fluffy red flooring that gave way to a looming staircase that swept up and zigzagged back. To my right, a handful of doors were spread out along the wall, each numbered with six digits. To my left, past an archway was another room, and I could spot rows upon rows of books, stacked onto heavy wooden shelves. The doors could only lead into the apartments of the people who worked here. That was to be avoided. Instead, I crept my way up the stairs, careful not to disturb the silence and arouse any suspicious. At the top, it was even darker, and I could make out only doored hallways in both directions. More apartments? And so, I decided to go to the bookshelves. Back down the stairs I went, with the same care as I did when going up, and then I approached the bookshelves. I was nervous. Maybe it was just going to be a multitude of the common instructional books, the ones from which we memorised from. But I was also hoping for something different, something that would alleviate the intense boredom and meaninglessness of my everyday life. I needed hope, and it would have destroyed me if I had to leave the palace with nothing more than when I entered. And so, I was profoundly disappointed as I found those books; Farming Techniques, Building Techniques, Manufacturing Techniques on the first bookshelf which I inspected. However, I was soon relieved as I found on other shelves, books that were different to anything I had ever laid eyes on. They were in all sizes and colours and textures. On one bookshelf, labelled "fiction", a thin, small, black, hardbacked book caught my eye so I picked it up. On the cover, in bold typeface, the words Nineteen-eighty-four were set in a shiny silver. I flicked through some pages, and sensed there was something there. I needed to read it. The book was tucked into my shirt and I continued looking around. There was such an extreme variety on every shelf and the hours wasted away as I examined each book that caught my attention, each one telling a different story in a different world, with different language. As I looked through, I realised that there was so much I did not recognise or understand. Words and concepts; some were completely alien to me. I ignored the problem, and eventually it solved itself. When I was younger and I was being taught language, we used dictionaries, books filled with the meanings of everything that there was to know. While I was looking around, I caught sight of one of these dictionaries. It was getting very late now so I picked it up before I left the bookcases and began my way back. By the time I arrived in my apartment, I was tired, exhausted and hungry from missing dinner, but there was a weight off my shoulders. I had found something that broke the monotony of day to day life. I was truly happy for the first time I could remember.
Throughout the next few weeks my world morphed into Airstrip 1 and the plight of Winston Smith became my own. It was at first strange; I was only used to reading instructional books, but I pushed through the words I didn't understand with the dictionary, gradually acclimated to the style, and discovered a story that was forceful and captivating. Throughout the day, I struggled through the lessons, tormented by sleep deprivation, summoning all my energies to keep myself awake and avoid the arousal of any suspicions. Only at night did I feel alive, albeit inhabiting a world that was not mine. Some way through reading the book, it occurred to me that the world described in Nineteen-eighty-four was not dissimilar to mine and the disgruntled thoughts and feelings of Winston Smith had often appeared in my own mind. My entire life was almost wholly under the control of unknown powers, and while their manipulation of thoughts and feelings were not successful for me, it was working for everyone else. My knowledge of my world was, like Winston, very thin. I didn't know its history, its organisation; apart from this book, I did not have access to any information beyond what those who controlled me wanted me to have. In the book, it was that passage, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism that eventually answered the questions of Winston's world. For me, it only raised more questions. What was the history of my world? How did it come about? Who were the rulers? I was desperate to find out.
As I considered it more, I found that I was also different to Winston. My struggle was more torturous. I was totally alone, without a Julia, without a brotherhood. I was unable to share my experience, and my thoughts and feelings could only stay within me until my death. Anyhow, this beautiful, awful introduction to the world of fiction meant that some variety, some interest had appeared in my life. I wanted to live now, to read more, to find out more. I vowed to return to the library to explore and retrieve more books as soon as it was possible.
I was back at the palace again. I couldn't remember why I had to sneak away on my previous journeys; this time I just left my apartment after dinner. I went upstairs again and continued along the hallway at the top only to reach a dead end. On my way back, I observed the doors more closely. They were wooden instead of metal, and the spaces between each one was wildly inconsistent. These weren't apartments. I tried to open a door, but it was locked. I charged against it, and upon hitting the door and after eliciting a loud thump realised I couldn't continue. I crouched down and waited. Nothing. I was safe. I hadn't woken anybody. I knew there was something important behind these doors; they weren't locked for no reason, but this was not the time to find out. I went back downstairs, to the bookshelves again. I picked up a book called The Trial. It was short and interesting at a glance, so I took it back to the apartment and it was the book that I read for the proceeding weeks.
The Trial was a story about a person named Joseph K, trapped in a confusing world which he doesn't understand and no-one will explain to him. He is in trouble for some unknown reason and must go to a variety of places in an attempt to seek help. However
Having read through the two books, I felt something change in me, in my mind. The stories were stories of defeat. The protagonists failed and they were crushed by their oppressive government. But in their journey, in their worlds, I realised there was a capacity in me to fight for change. It was my mission to do something against the powers that controlled. The genesis of these thoughts occurred while I began to feel very fatigued. Perhaps I shouldn't've read for hours into the night, night after night. My energy during the day was almost non-existent, and it was difficult just to get through the basic lessons in the classroom. I was still always thinking about my world, trying to gain an understanding of its framework from the limited information I had, but this was very difficult as I was consistently tired and uninspired. I had no energy to think, let alone be disillusioned or angry. This continued for weeks, and even as I intellectualised the desperate importance of my new cause, I did not have the will to do anything. It was a month or so until I had finally caught up with my sleep and recovered my drive. Then, it was straight to the palace to continue my quest for more information.
Nothing by Arnold East / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on15 votes