Thursday, January 19, 2012

270/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "On My Way Back Home" by Band of Horses

At noon, during the fifteen minute lunchbreak, a man jumped from the sixth story of the computation building. His impact with the pavement did not result in his immediate death, and the passersby watched his wretched gurglings with an exhausted and not-so-surprised sort of horror.

"That's one way to get out of your contract," said Oscar. He was an average-sized man with deepset eyes and a burning resentment of his employer, the ubiquitous Mother Nuture Corporation, which produced analyses of global consumption trends, security force subcontracting, trademarked foodstock seeds, and implantable consumer electronics (including the government-mandated sleep regulators).

"I wish I were him," said Slobodan, who was significantly shorter than his companion, overweight, and wheezy.

Both men wore generic jumpsuits that signified they were in the analysis division. The man dying on the pavement was naked.

"Good for him," said Oscar. "He's not dying an owned man." He leaned down to the man's head and said overly loudly, as if speaking to someone who spoke in a different language, "I see what you did there, taking off your uniform! Good for you! Sticking it to the corp!"

The man uttered something that sounded like "URGH" then his eyelids fluttered and he was still. Oscar stood up and squashed his mouth to one side of his face. Other people in the crowd murmured, and looked around for any encroaching security forces.

"We should go," said Slobodan, looking nervous. "Break is up in a few minutes, and we haven't even gotten our pho."

"Let's skip the pho," said Oscar "I think I could stomach a state sanctioned broccoli smoothie on a day like today."

"Urghah," Slobodan shivered. "But I've saved up all week for the pho--"

"Smoothies are free. Wouldn't you rather spend your extra earnings on sleep?"

"Yeah but--"

Just then a woman with frizzy, unkempt hair, who had been milling in the crowd started yelling.

"I've had enough!" she screamed, pointing the body of the jumper. "They can't keep pushing us! I want to sleep! The CEO gets to sleep eight hours every day! Every day! Can you believe that? We're lucky to get that much each week!"

"Shut up!" said Oscar. "You'll bring security for sure."

"I don't care! I don't! Not any more. They can take me. They can torture me, but the human mind was not made to be abused like this. That's right! It's abuse. Exploitation."

"For the love of--shut up woman!" said Oscar.

More people began to collect, egging the woman on.

"We should go," whispered Slobodan.

"I won't shut up!" said the woman, smiling acidicly.

"They don't need to torture you," said Oscar. "They'll just dock your sleep allowance."

"We can take a stand!" shouted the woman to the gathering crowd, ignoring Oscar. "If we all walk out, refuse to do their work, we can demand more sleep for the work we do! We can roll things back to the way they were a decade ago!"

There were more shouts in the crowd as the people got worked up.

"We should get rid of the stupid system altogether," whispered Slobodan. "It was never meant to vary with fluctuating economic conditions. Or greed."

"Ugh. It would have worked if sleep could have been effectively replaced with the sleep regulators, but they never worked as intended and should never have gotten medical approval."

"Let's just go," said Slobodan. "This crowd's getting a little crazy."

The sound of boots slapping pavement echoed around the building walls.

"Ah jeez," said Oscar. "Security's coming!"

Oscar and Slobodan started running down the mall of the campus, followed by a handful of others in the crowd, but the bulk of the workers stood their ground.

The security forces flooded into the mall and surround the workers, including hundreds that weren't in the crowd around the body.

"Their going to zap us," wailed Slobodan. "I saved up all week!"

"Duck down you idiot!" said Oscar.

They did but did not escape the shutdown signal to their sleep regulators.

Oscar woke up the next day on his bunk, atop the blankets and fully dressed. His vision coalesced on the slats of the bunk above, Slobodan's, as vertigo gripped him. He clasped his hands to his mouth to keep from vomiting over himself. Slobodan leaned over his bunk and spilled sick onto the floor, spattering some up onto Oscar's clothes. Oscar leaned over and released what little content was in his stomach as well, then kicked the bunk above.

"Did you lose all your spare sleep too?" asked Slobodan.

"Yeah," said Oscar.

"They made me dream of black lions with red eyes. Is that what passes for a nightmare now?"

"I guess," said Oscar, wiping his mouth. "Did they try to chew on you?"

"No, they just roared menacingly. I actually don't mind black lions with red eyes. What did you get?"

"Drowning. With seaweed I think, or tentacles."

"That wouldn't bother me either. Do you think they were letting us off easy?"

"No," said Oscar, sighing. The vertigo was subsiding.

"They should have me programming the nightmares, if they wanted to be really effectual about it," said Slobodan. "I'd have big buzzsaws taking off the tops of people's heads. Earthquakes that go on for hours. Anthropomorphic hypodermic needles. Sometimes I think they water down the nightmares because they don't want people complaining about them being too graphic."

"Would you just stop about the nightmares?" blurted Oscar.

"I'm just saying..."

"You say the same thing every time this happens. Like it matters. We have to be at work again in half an hour. Just let me rest for a couple of minutes."

"Sure, sure, Oscar," said Slobodan. He remained quiet for about ten seconds. "You know," he said, "they're going to dock sleep again for this. I think we're down to twenty minutes for every three hours worked."

"Oh for the love of--"

"Sorry. I'm sorry."

They lay on their bunks in silence for a few minutes, then Oscar started laughing.

"What?" asked Slobodan, leaning over his bunk, his hair flopping down. He peered at Oscar.

"The nightmares are sleep!" said Oscar.

"Yeah, but it's not restful sleep! We got maybe an hour--"

"Physiologically, it's still sleep." Oscar looked reflectively at the slats above him. Slobodan creaked back up. "Come on," said Oscar.

They walked back to the mall and found themselves among the others from the crowd, some of whom were sobbing, on their way back to work, as work was the only way to earn back the lost sleep.

"You're not thinking of inciting another riot, are you?"

"No. Besides, I don't care what these other people do with their lives," said Oscar.

"You have a plan for something, I can see it on your face."

"Of course you can," said Oscar.

They walked quickly to the entrance to the computation building. The doors slid open obligingly, and the pair made for the main staircase (elevators had been outlawed several years ago as a way to encourage physical fitness).

"You're not thinking of jumping yourself, are you Oscar?"

"No!" said Oscar, scrunching up his face. "Good grief, no."

"Then what?" pleaded Slobodan.

"Jeez, if you must know," Oscar paused and looked around for security forces, but there were none evident, "I know where the source code for the nightmare signal is stored," he whispered.

"What, really?" asked Slobodan, his eyes widening.

"Yeah," said Oscar.

Slobodan was panting by now, and they climbed up to the fourth floor in silence. They found their way to their adjacent desks, and sat down. Their terminals lit up, waiting. Oscar watched Slobodan try to steady his breathing, anticipating the question to come.

"How?" Slobodan asked finally.

"I worked on that project a couple of months ago. Had to write some unit tests."

"You took the code?" asked Slobodan, breathless.

"No, of course not. That would be idiotic. All our stores are automatically scrubbed."

"Yeah, but then how?"

"I copied the code, and reversed it. Simplest encryption you can imagine. Then I used it as fill for another test. Like lorem ipsum. The test got saved, and I have that."

"You stole it months ago? You were planning it?"

"No, no, no. Even I'm not that crafty. This was just dumb luck. I'm just lazy with my fills. I should write better tests, but it's usually the minimum I need for the tolerances we have."

"So you just happen to have the nightmare code--"


"And you want to use it on your sleep regulator."

"Yours too. I don't forget my friends."

"More like you want to drag me into this!"

"Well, think of it," said Oscar, leaning forward in his seat. "Unlimited sleep. Sure, black lions with red eyes sleep, but sleep. We could sleep like CEOs!"

Slobodan looked unconvinced, but he offered no argument.

"We all know this system is unfair," continued Oscar. "So we take back what's rightfully ours. No tragic mess on the pavement, no nastiness with security, and no sleep docking. What the corporation doesn't know, won't hurt them."

"Yeah," said Slobodan long and skeptically, "but we'll have to take unscheduled leave in order to fit in more hours of sleep. They'll notice that."

"And who's they in this instance, Slobodan?" asked Oscar.

Slobodan looked confused for a few seconds, then his eyes lit up.

"Us!" he exclaimed. "Our department. We can't alter our records though, just the group totals, just by adding a few extra phantom workers who work all the hours of the week--"

"Yes! That's brilliant actually. I was thinking of something different but--"

"Well the averages are the only thing anyone ever looks at."

"Yes," said Oscar, smiling. He gently punched Slobodan on the shoulder. Slobodan smiled too, then it faded.

"We don't have a delivery system. Unless you're planning on stealing a signal gun from security."

"No, not at all. That's actually the easy part," said Oscar. "Remember when we all had cell phones--"

Slobodan laughed abruptly, then quieted himself.

"We must have all looked like idiots back then--"

"I still have one of mine--"

"You didn't turn it in?"

"Of course not! I paid good money for it."

"Money..." said Slobodan wistfully.

"Well, the signal is much weaker, but I think if we reprogram it with the nightmare code, and activate it close to our necks, we can activate our sleep regulators."

"Oh, Oscar, that would be absolute heaven. To sleep like we did as children."

"I know, right?"

"What we are doing is so bad, and all kinds of illegal, but I'm in. I am so in."

Oscar, smiling, held out his hand. Slobodan looked down at it, spat into his own hand, and slapped it into Oscar's, then shook vigorously.

"You didn't need to spit," said Oscar.

"Yes I did," said Slobodan. "If I'm going to commit to doing a crime, I want to commit all the way."

"Well then," said Oscar, wiping his hand on his pants, "Let's get started."


Anonymous said...

Wow, another hugely creative story. You've so got the hang of the future, thanks for sharing! Coolest of coincidences that I was just listening to Band of Horses this morning before I went to take a look at your latest story. Not this particular song, the Funeral song is on my current iPod mix. You're on my blogroll and you're staying! ;)

LJofSpades said...

Brilliant story. Dystopian fiction is my favourite. I realise the psychological implications of not sleeping would likely be highly undesirable, but I think I wouldn't mind not sleeping if there was an alternative way to rejuvenate yourself. Hmm...

KaOs said...

Thanks for reading :-)