2084, p.1Mason Engel
Published by Mason Engel at Amazon
Copyright 2017 Mason Engel
This story was directly inspired by “1984” and “Brave New World” by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley respectively. So here’s to them: for doing it first and infinitely better.
Part I – The Seclusion
Chapter 1 – Lenses
It was precisely noon, and the eyes of everyone in the classroom were flashing white. With the morning session ended, Vincent Smith stood from his seat a good deal faster than his classmates, and with his head dipped low, he started for the hall.
Vincent closed the restroom door behind him and went at once to the sink. He braced his hips on the porcelain and leaned in close to the mirror. With his head tilted back and his eyelids pulled wide, he slipped out his Lenses in quick succession. Instantly, and as acutely as a claustrophobe pulled from a coffin, he felt the air open up around him. It would be only temporary, of course – the day’s simulations were but halfway finished – but to Vincent, even if just for a few moments, it felt good to see something without the distortion of the Lenses. The narrow and asymmetrical face reflecting back at him, however, may have better remained distorted.
Someone outside tried the bathroom door.
Vincent felt a nervous lurch in his stomach. For students in their final year, like Vincent was, there was no punishment for removing one’s Lenses, but doing so was as uncommon as removing one’s eyes. Although, the difference between those and the Lenses that covered them had grown quite slim.
Vincent retreated from the mirror and leaned back against the stall door behind him. His eyes, feeling lighter now, twisted in their sockets for a few turns as if stretching, then settled their gaze on the far wall. Like everything else in the Seclusion, the wall had been scrubbed to a sleek shine so it glinted in the light. Its surface was sterile enough to have been bathed in bleach, but it left Vincent with a faint impression that a certain but implacable filth lay somewhere just beneath.
There was more impatient twisting of the knob.
Vincent sighed, then leaned forward over the sink once again with the first Lens already perched on his index finger.
Moments later he was holding the door open for the next occupant: a prim, surly-looking boy whose frail body looked slightly absurd under the tightly drawn white uniform that clothed it. His overalls, the legs of which would have fit snugly around Vincent’s arms, were held up almost exclusively by the thin suspenders that hung from his shoulders.
On the off chance he might receive even some half-hearted expression of gratitude, Vincent held the door for the boy until he had passed all the way through. The boy said nothing, and Vincent turned away.
“Of course the simulations say that.”
The voice was coming from down the hall. Vincent would not have needed to look to know who was speaking, but he looked anyway, as he usually did. It was Brian: a tall, articulate boy who seemed always to command the attention of at least a handful of admirers. Now, he was surrounded by a half circle of them.
“They don’t want to scare us. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Senate has no idea how to stop the attacks.”
“And you think Newsight does?” It was one of the boys from the circle. His voice was eager, and his eyes were so wide Vincent could see the rims of his Lenses.
“My mom thinks so,” returned Brian. “She says the new Lenses can help. With the right data. Newsight wants to…”
He trailed off when he spotted Vincent walking by within earshot. He paused, the other boys still hanging on his final word, oblivious, until Vincent passed. Seeming to regain his train of thought, Brian turned back to his small audience and resumed speaking, this time at a volume too soft to be overheard.
Vincent didn’t strain to listen. Instead, he quickened his pace, and by the time he turned back into the classroom further down the hall, Brian’s voice had faded. The rest of the class was already seated, tucked with obedient stillness in their white, wraparound desks, their feet fixed like tree roots to the white, seamless tile, and their Lenses and eyes behind glued to the white, undecorated wall ahead.
Vincent took his seat near the back – though not quite as near as he would have liked – and felt himself sink unnaturally deep into his chair, as if pressed down from above. The room’s ceiling was far higher than necessary (the room was shaped the same as everything else in the Seclusion: as a giant dome), but to Vincent, it seemed to hang just a few centimeters too low.
Mrs. Farring, a terse, elderly woman whose age had cost her none of her full, straight-postured frame, entered the room through a door in the wall everyone was so carefully watching. Almost simultaneously, the frail boy from the restroom entered through the door in the wall opposite. Brian and the others followed close behind him.
“This is an important afternoon.” It was Mrs. Farring. Her voice was shrill and sharp and cut through the air of the classroom with every syllable. “Today, we begin our examination of the Order.”
Vincent sighed, letting his head dip a few degrees downward. He glanced around the class, hoping perhaps just once he would find someone to share in his boredom, but the only expression he could find that wasn’t completely blank was the stern, scolding one worn by the girl to his left. When she saw he had noticed her, she huffed in disapproval, then turned from him so quickly her jet black ponytail curled toward him like a whip.
“Which, of course,” continued Mrs. Farring, “is even more important…”
Vincent’s spine straightened, almost involuntarily, when he felt Mrs. Farring’s eyes on him.
“…today.” With her eyes still on Vincent, she enunciated these last two syllables with cutting precision. “Now,” she continued after a pause, turning to the rest of the class, “I have already transmitted the simulation. Please engage.”
There was movement around the room for the first time as heads changed orientation in the slightest degree, tilting this way or that in time with the flitting of eyes across the insides of Lenses. Then everyone was still, and their expressions were even more vacant than before. Sighing once again, Vincent glanced down at the small message overlain across the bottom part of his vision – the message from Mrs. Farring – and the classroom disappeared. For a brief moment, his vision was black, decorated only with the emblem of Newsight – the white, rotating outline of an eye – as the simulation prepared to launch. When the eye disappeared, its dark backdrop was replaced by the typical white. Vincent spun around in his seat – they were in the usual classroom sim, one that depicted a room much like where their bodies resided, only in this room, if you turned your head too quickly, you could see the walls being rendered from miniscule black pixels.
“Let us begin.”
Mrs. Farring was visible once more, standing at the front of the room, her voice no longer disembodied. She stood next to a massless screen that had been projected on the front wall from nowhere in particular. The screen showed a title Vincent found drudgingly familiar: “A History of the Order”. Without hesitating, he glanced up and to the right with a quick flick of his eyes. The rendering lines of black on his periphery closed like a curtain, and the simulation disappeared.
He was back in the real classroom. Or, at least, half of him was. He had allowed his left Lens to remain engaged so Mrs. Farring wouldn’t notice his absence. His right, however, was now nothing more than a thin glass window.
Mrs. Farring was still standing at the front of the room, but her usually sharp eyes had been glazed over with the vacancy maintained by the rest of the class. She, too, was in the simulation. There was no need to have the bulk of advanced technology in the physical classroom when that same technology could be simulated in a virtual one. That was all the same to Vince
“The Order formed some 50 years ago as a Newsight protest group,” began Mrs. Farring, “but ever since, their attacks have grown increasingly similar to those of a terrorist organization. They have scarred the very fabric of…”
Vincent let her voice fade. He had heard the story several times before. His father and the rest of the Senate had been working against the Order for years. Every night, it seemed to Vincent, he received yet another lesson on the Order’s history or its current state. Even if Mrs. Farring trialed the class with some sort of quiz, Vincent could afford his disattention. He was about to pull up a sim of his own to pass the time, when he paused. His eyes had been drawn to the girl sitting just in front of him. Her head was wobbling slightly, almost floating as it turned back and forth, now and then staring at a wall off to the side instead of at the front of the room. In the simulation, of course, she was almost certainly facing forward, but the Lenses had a curious way of placing the wearer’s body and mind out of sync. Vincent looked around at the rest of the room and saw evidence of much the same: heads were turned in odd directions; mouths hung slightly agape. Even those eyes that, for a fraction of a second, Vincent managed to catch didn’t see him, but rather passed right over him, beholding some unseen element of the sim.
Entranced now, Vincent rotated in his seat to take in the rest of the room and nearly jumped when he noticed the girl to his left. She was staring at him – though not really. Her bottom lip hung slightly apart from its counterpart above, and her eyes were completely relaxed in their sockets, unseeing, but pointing directly at Vincent. Vincent stared back at her, with the impression of staring at a well painted portrait whose eyes seem glued to his own. And of this portrait, depicting the girl’s tightly pulled ponytail and somewhat flattened face, he allowed himself a longer look.
The girl turned from him, slowly swiveling in the opposite direction until she faced the opposite wall. Vincent turned as well, already bored. Even the simulation’s redundant facts about the Order would be more interesting than watching his blank-faced peers. But as he made one final glance around him before engaging his Lenses, he caught another set of eyes, only these were definitely not vacant. Brian too, it seemed, had exited the simulation, and now, instead of on the video, his eyes were trained on Vincent. Vincent stared back, too shocked to look away, then – or perhaps not; it happened too quickly to tell for certain – Brian flashed him a grin, and his eyes went blank. Vincent watched him a moment longer, but Brian’s gaze had already started to roam.
“…and has continued to do so ever since its founding.” Mrs. Farring’s voice came back into focus, and Vincent turned, resignedly, toward the front of the room. With little else to do, he glanced down at the lower rim of his Lenses, and he was back in the sim. “In the past it has primarily targeted civilian populations in the cities.” The video was showing gruesome footage of whitewashed hospital rooms overflowing with blood-stained patients. “But recently, the Order has released statements of intent against government structures that support Newsight, even those in Seclusions.” The video changed to an aerial shot of their Seclusion: a hyper-developed expanse of stacked, igloo-shaped domes, spaced in concentric circles around a hub of buildings in the center, and enclosed on the perimeter by an enormous fence. “The Order’s origins as a protest group have been lost in their transition to a full scale terrorist organization. Their attacks on the cities have…”
Vincent didn’t bother stifling his yawn. Perhaps he should have settled for watching his empty-eyed classmates. He was only a few seconds away from letting Mrs. Farring’s voice lull him to sleep when he felt his desk shudder. He looked down – the desk in the simulation remained perfectly still. Of course it had. Realizing his foolishness, he exited the sim. When the actual room returned, he had to twist to his right to look forward; he had been staring at the girl to his left.
Vincent's desk shuddered once again. He spun around in his seat, looking down, but no one had touched him.
Then he heard a rumbling – distant, but growing in volume. Some of the others were beginning to exit their sims as well.
Without warning, Vincent’s desk lurched to the side, airborne for a split second as the entire room shook. The frail boy from the restroom flew from his seat, smacking his temple on the hard edge of the desk beside him.
Even Mrs. Farring was out of the sim now, staring at them accusingly, as if they were playing a joke on her. Vincent’s knuckles were white from gripping the edge of his desk. He looked around, this time meeting eyes far more present than before. But no one spoke. There was silence, the kind usually conjured only in the moments immediately following some great noise.
A series of words began to scroll across the bottom rim of Vincent’s Lenses. Mrs. Farring, with her eyes drawn close as if watching the bridge of her nose, seemed to have received the message as well.
“We are experiencing an earthquake,” she recited, her voice hollow, monotone as she read the words aloud. “The students will take shelter until further notice.”
The rumbling started again, louder this time, definitely louder. Mrs. Farring raised her voice only to be joined by a high, whistling shriek.
“The structural integrity of–”
There was a resounding boom and the entire class lurched upward. Mrs. Farring was thrown from her feet, and Vincent from his chair – along with the rest of his classmates. Instinctively, Vincent pulled himself back to his desk, underneath it this time, not bothering to climb up into it. The others did the same, their soft features pulled into looks of terror, their vacant interest in the sim forgotten.
The room shook once again, more violently this time. Vincent lost his hold on the closest leg of his desk. He scrambled back toward it–
The room went dark. Vincent could see nothing. He froze where he was, his eyes unmoving in their sockets, blind. The room was still, held there in absolute silence. The rumbling had stopped; the shaking had settled.
It was Mrs. Farring. From the sound of her voice, she remained somewhere near the room’s front. There was some rustling as she felt around in the darkness for her desk.
“The lights are on,” she said. “But your Lenses are not. You will have to remove them.”
Vincent didn’t move. He didn’t remember ever having taken out his Lenses in public.
“All of you,” said Mrs. Farring, sharper than before. “Now.”
Cautiously, and unsure whether or not he was being tested, Vincent reached up to his right eye and removed the Lens there. He could see the classroom – cut in half now with the darkness of his left eye – and the eerily black eyes of everyone inside it. He took out his second Lens, and he could now see Mrs. Farring in her usual spot.
“Would you rather walk around blind?” she snapped at them.
The rest of the class hesitated for a moment, as if considering these options. Then, slowly, they began lifting their hands to their eyes.
“The network must have been compromised by the earthquake,” continued Mrs. Farring. “I will check with the neighboring classrooms to see if they are experiencing the same problem. Stay put.”
She glared at them a moment longer before turning on her heel and disappearing through the far door. She need not have worried, though; no one budged. Without their Lenses, the class seemed incapable of movement. Even Vincent, who usually reveled in the precious few seconds he could spend with naked eyes, remained still. For as he looked down at his open hands, at the Lenses there, both of which were now completely black, he felt for the first time he was being watched.
2084 by Mason Engel / Science Fiction have rating 4.4 out of 5 / Based on40 votes