The Human Condition – Chapter One

There are two certainties in my life: One that everything in the New Order is perfect and two, that everything isn’t real.

It is the same structured start to the same beautiful day. Just like yesterday was and just like the days to come will be. This I am sure of. This I am confident is the truth. I have witnessed this same day almost like a deja vu, every day since I can remember, it is constant, unfaltering, all of it so reliable and yet somehow, so unfamiliar.

I sit up straight in my bed and stretch my arms wide like the women in the ad commercials do. Disappointingly this doesn’t relieve any tension in me, as it does the women in the adverts, as my tension isn’t in my limbs but internal. In a place that by our law should not exist; is forbidden to exist.

The sunlight is warm on my skin as the blinds draw back and tie themselves neatly at both ends, as though on invisible puppet strings I watch them work their magic on their own accord. There’s something unsettling about inanimate objects acting as though they’re alive, as if they have somehow evolved and outgrown the humans who created them. I sit up as my room adjusts to accommodate my rising figure without me having to lift so much as a finger. I feel obsolete, useless without drive and purpose. I stand up and walk across my room pushing open a large window before it has the chance to open itself. The window judders in confusion. There’s something satisfying about being unpredictable and confusing the technology. When I’m alone, it’s all I can do to remind myself that I am still in charge, that I am still me.

Now well-lit and airing, the scent of the Earth’s once vulnerable nature fills the room in abundance and I breath in a deep breath of clean unfiltered air. It helps to defog my head, helps me think clearer; God knows what chemicals float through the air-conditioning in this place. I stay clear of the water, which I know is teaming with tiny mood suppressing drugs. You learn things living in the Authority. Things which we’re not supposed to know. I stick to bottled water and have the shortest hottest showers I can muster. My skin scolds but it’s a small price to keep my head.

The city is glowing, new-born and youthful; the world now a balance of perfect order and survival. It shines brightly and flaunts its triumph over us. Its pruned gardens and identical trees line the town square and surround the city like great giants preventing any harm to come to it again.

I lean out the window and look down onto the city streets below. The scene before me is too quiet and too forced. People glide across the square as if with no purpose or desire but to get from A to B. No urgency, no deviation, just A to B. Early mornings come naturally to people in the New Order, it causes us no discomfort and therefore my unease perplexes me.

I stand silently looking out of one of the many glass panels that enclose my room and watch the people below. My room is minimalistic, void of anything which may inflict character or personality. As I glance around my room I am engulfed by the beige-ness of it all. Even the void of colours seems to drain my body of life and agency. I look to nature wake me up. The sky is a brilliant powder blue and the sun light golden and blinding. I will myself to look away so the white spots will have a chance to fade, but I am mesmerised by the patterns that they form. Duel images, overlapping each other; one reality, one super imposed. I stare at the sun creating layer after layer of images until I no longer can tell what I am looking at. I would say the sun is uncomfortably bright, but while I am blinking rapidly, I know it does not hurt my eyes. I know it is warm, I can tell it is warm on my face and arms and everywhere else not covered by my nightgown, I can see the tiny hairs on my forearms raise up and the pimples disappear, yet I have no feelings towards it one way or another. I simply know it is warm, like I know my morning vitamin jab should hurt and a hug from my father would make me feel loved; if I was able to feel that is.

As I begin to comb my hair, I hear rustling down the hall and look over to see my attendant Amelie lying out what looks like a dress for me in the adjoining room. I watch as she flattens the delicate silk material to avoid creases. I can’t quite make out what type of dress it is from where I am, but the burst of colour stands out in my room of white and creams and beiges. The green is similar to that of an emerald, my mother had a necklace made of one when I was younger. It even shimmered and caught the light the same way. I make a step closer to examine it. Most clothing we wear here in the capital is plain and modest, off whites and browns for the working classes, blacks for security and then there’s the Authority, who appear to have almost no colour code to abide by. I guess this is where I fit in. Although I rarely stray from white; I generally try to blend in. The last thing I need to do is draw any more attention to myself. I am afraid of what might happen if someone were to look too closely.

Vibrant colours are a sign of class and priority and as there is supposed to be no class divide in the New Order, this goes against what our government teaches. If I had to praise one trait of the New Order this would’ve been it. As it stands, class is everywhere. They say the jobs we are assigned afterschool will ensure we best contribute to society, that every job role is crucial and just as important to the progress of the New Order but they lie. People aren’t all equal, your job role and that of your families places you within the city. The power and say you have in a job role translates into how you are viewed in society. If you are lucky enough to have even an ounce of power to affect change, you’re treated with some level of respect. These types of people are the guards, the justice system, the Authority. They fall within the first category: The Enforcers. Most people however fall into the second category. These people are the builders, the doctors, the seamstresses, the data pushers; The Contributors.

The Authority seems to have its own rules. I am not permitted to discuss this out loud but in my mind, its questions like this that poke holes in our perfect society and that fill my head with doubt. DOUBT is another thing that shouldn’t exist in me. Doubt doesn’t belong in the New Order and is seen as an act of defiance, a gateway to rebellion. And as a daughter of the Authority I know better than anyone that questioning the New Order might just be the last thing you do.

My father is one of the leaders of the Authority and therefore this means my every move is scrutinised. That is why I have to be so careful. When I turned fourteen something beyond my control happened and although it was not my fault and I did not ask for it, I began defecting. ‘Defecting’ is a term used for individuals who have in one way or another stopped responding to the drug which pulses throughout our veins. The drug is nicknamed Bliss. The drug is very simple but highly effective. It has one purpose; to supress human emotion and instinct. In other words it reduces the risk of anger, depression, envy, compassion etc; all things which are not essential for survival. The drug is made up of neuro-transmitters which sedate the right side of the brain. In the old world a person who was considered “left-brained” was often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person who was “right-brained” was said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, creative and subjective. In today’s world Bliss disables the side of the brain which makes us unruly, free thinking and unpredictable. In today’s world we live a peaceful existence of order and routine.

I wasn’t sure what was happening to begin with, I started to get confused often and found myself questioning people, rules, the Authority itself. I started day dreaming, dreaming in general, both of which are just not possible without the right brain functioning. Then again I’m not supposed to know this much. As my head started to grow clearer I realised I was one of the people that the Authority and my father talked about. I was the tearful young girl that unexplainably went missing from school, the guy that was dragged kicking and screaming from town, my mother that would disappear for days at a time and then one day winded up mysteriously dead. I was one of them. I was just like her and they were going to come for me too unless I figured this out fast.

My immediate reaction was to tell my father and get treatment; they have ways to reset your mind to act accordingly, or their are supplement drugs that you can take. Those that come forward are treated with some leniency. So there I had my answer. But I froze. Something about this thought terrified me. Then I saw what happened to those who the treatment didn’t work on. It didn’t matter if they tried their hardest to fit in and reported for regular observation. They were the anomaly and they were a threat. They were a virus that threatened to infect the entire New Order. They had to be eliminated.

90% of those that came forward couldn’t be helped. This wasn’t exactly privy information. If you defected once, the chances were you would do so again. No amount of extra dosage was going to change this. The odds were bad. I was afraid of what might happen so I said nothing. I waited. I pretended there was nothing to report. To begin with I was frightened to even leave my room, to speak to anyone in case they noticed, but I had to get out. I had to follow my regular routine to a T; I had to act as though nothing had changed. When in truth everything had. I wanted to look down at the ground to concentrate on my shoes, to avoid any eye contact but this would only result in me looking shifty. I was afraid that if they looked too closely they would tell; they would register the panic on my face or the nervousness in my expressions. But they didn’t. No-one seemed to bat an eyelid. While I was sweating and my heart beat like crazy in my chest, everyone went about their daily routine and paid me little extra thought. Slowly my heart raced a little less and I learnt to breathe through the fear and at a normal rhythm. People in the New Order weren’t exactly perceptive. I’d be safe if I just stayed calm. It was the guards and the Authority members who I’d have to watch my back around. With a lower dose of the sedative they were known for their perceptiveness. So I managed to make it a week, two weeks, a month, six months unnoticed. Soon I was starting to believe I could do this. I could live my life under the radar. I was born in the New Order, I knew nothing else. I was convincing, and when our monthly check ups came up I knew just what to do to cheat the computers. Perks of being an Authorities child I guess, although I knew so many others wouldn’t have this luxury. I saw what happened to those that were caught trying to live under the radar to try and keep their condition to themselves. They were foolish to think that no-one would notice, to think that could cheat the system. Maybe I was foolish too but I was still alive wasn’t I? And the alternative was no longer an option. I wished desperately that I could help others like me but I was barely keeping myself alive. So I kept a low profile and I mirrored those around me, I kept my expression blank and spoke as logically and precise as possible until I acted like one of them. Soon even I began to forget that I wasn’t.

I realise I have been staring at Emilie for some time and immediately fix my expression. It’s the small slip ups like this that can give the game away in seconds. I am trying to put the pieces together as I’m not entirely sure why she is here today. Emilie often comes in when my father plans to visit; I think maybe he will ask me to accompany him on business today; it has been a long time since I’ve left the Authority’s grounds and I’m more than a little eager to get out of the city, although I must not show this. Why I’ll need such a costume however is a mystery. I quickly signal for Emilie’s departure. She nods and leaves the room respectfully.

There are footsteps in the hall. Someone knocks hard and the door is pushed open with immediacy. I turn to attention. It is my father Peter.

“Good morning April.” He says entering my room, waiting for no invitation and with little sincerity to his voice. My father is a tall greying man that is always sharply suited and almost as sharp in conversation, yet his business-like tone causes little offence to me, it is just how he speaks; it is how everyone speaks.

“As always father,” I reply, gesturing to the outdoor scenery to deflect attention from myself. He’s seen this day before. Peter stands beside me and looks out the window somewhat unimpressed. He turns back towards the room and straightens an ever-so-slightly crooked mirror. I make a mental note to readjust it once he’s gone.

“Very good, did you sleep well?”

Though it is likely he’s asked out of routine civility, something in me wonders if he can see the lines of tiredness on my face. That he’ll know I haven’t slept too well again; the hours of the night having once again been disturbed by heavy dreaming. But I could never let my father know this as harmless as it sounds. Dreams have seized to exist all but in The Resistance; to dream means you are under the influence of feelings and in this new world there is nothing more dangerous. So I simply take calm steadying breaths to remove any evidence of the lie from my face and fixing a smile I turn around to face my father. There is a delay where he watches me carefully. But I simply hold my smile and nod in answer to his question. That’s when I notice something sticking up from one of the floor boards near my feet. I sidestep on top of it. Father is oblivious. But I am once again trying to control my racing heartbeat.

“Now, we are visiting the Duchess of Canton on Thursday, so you should look your best. Wear the Parisian satin Amelie has just bought in, and fasten your hair up yes?” Sometimes I think my father doesn’t even like me. That I am a burden is an understatement. But to treat me like livestock, I know exactly why I’m going there. I take another deep steadying breath.

“Yes father,” I smooth down my nightgown in distraction; so it is a sort of business then after all. “Is that all?” I dare myself to ask.

“You’ll be introduced to her nephew; you should look your best.” I want to kick him, I want to scream in his face I want to do anything but be silent and obedient, but I can’t and this feeling of helplessness creeps back into my stomach, it never really leaves but at least sometimes I can pretend that I am in control. Little acts of defiance are all that I have.

I nod once again. Here comes another eligible suitor, another man eying me up and down examining my every feature, testing my compatibility as though I am a light bulb. In this new world young adults get a choice in who their parents and society partner them with, as long as they prove compatible. But as a daughter of the Authority, I am a mere bargaining chip and my right is clearly wavered. Sometimes I feel that I might have the strength to refuse to go along, to tell father that I have someone in mind already: that my friend Montgomery Thatcher and I have spoken about this before. And it is true, Monty and I made a pact two years ago that we would try and excel at the same subjects and make ourselves compatible so we could save each other from the horror of being partnered with a stranger. Monty is just like me in many ways, some more important than others. He missed a few doses by accident when his mother was sick and realised what the medicine actually did to the brain and body. He told his mother and when she questioned the Authority on it, her condition very mysteriously deteriorated and she wound up dead. Monty was left to look after his eight year old sister. He was just thirteen.

I’ve known Monty all my school life, since I was four, but we’d never really spoken. He lived on the outskirts of town in the poorer regions; the workers and the seamstresses. As no one seemed to socialise for personalities, I only communicated with those in my class range that would be present at the same sort of events I attended. That was how things worked. But one day after a lesson in medicine biology I heard a strange animal sound coming from the cupboard down the hall and when I approached it I realised it wasn’t an animal but a boy. He was trying to compose himself, to forget the ugly truth that he was alone in the world, that his mother had been undoubtedly silenced and probably most pressingly that he had no idea how long he could go on hiding from the people who killed her. I had seen it eating away at him throughout the day. I was used to spotting people who were defecting; after all who better to spot a rebel but another rebel. I tried to keep my distance nowadays, to not draw attention to them or myself but I’d heard about his mother’s death and my heart went out to him. I knew the feeling; my mother’s sudden death was still fresh in my own mind. I needed to protect him. So I kept a close eye on him.

When he saw me his eyes widened in panic. He wiped his face quickly before giving up on trying to look normal. I think he’d lost all fight and was ready to give in.

“You should be more careful where you go to be alone, if I could hear you, others might too.” I sounded just like the rest of them cold and heartless. Except they wouldn’t be warning him like I was trying to do. I tried to soften my approach. I was so used to putting on a face; it was hard to remember how to act from instinct and compassion.

He just looked at me, unsure if I was playing some sick game on him. But people in the New Order don’t play games and he knew this. I held my stare and offered out a tissue from my pocket.

“There’s an old vegetable shed out in the field, that’s where I use to be alone.”

“You? You’re like me?” It seemed just as crazy to me when I realised a few months ago, I would never have thought I would be amongst the ones being persecuted. Except I didn’t choose this, my body rejected the medicine all by itself. Before I knew it there was no turning back. I was nothing like the rebels who my father hunted, who were violent and crazy and set fires to buildings. I was a victim with no escape, just like Monty and we had to stick together.

I nodded and put a finger to my lip. But he just shook his head in disbelief.

“How–”

I moved a little closer so I could whisper.

“The trick is, to not let your feelings show, ever. If you don’t react to things your body doesn’t get the chance to get worked up. Take deep breaths and speak as though you are almost bored by everything and everyone.” I offered a warm smile and slowly he returned one, wiping the tears from his face.

“I can teach you.” I told him. “If you promise to not get caught maybe we can be friends.” ‘Friends’ was a strange term. It was used for almost any interaction between people in the New Order as we were supposed to be a peaceful caring society that considered everyone a friend. But from the look we were sharing and our combined understanding of what was out there, we knew that the kind of friendship we were suggesting meant trusting each other with our deepest secrets and ultimately our lives. That sort of friendship was rare if not extinct and I valued it more than anything else in my life. To not be alone, to have someone to be myself with, to feel safe with; that was more than either of us could’ve hoped for.

Yes, I would love to fight my father and protest, but to fight would only draw attention to the fact that I am defecting and if I drew too much attention to Monty the same might be said of him especially with the history of his mother. We are the given the choice to choose our partners as a courtesy not as a right. All I can do is to make myself as unappealing and unsuitable as possible I think, but without being outwardly defiant my options are limited.

“Very well father.” I want him to leave now. I want him to leave so I can get ready for school and get out of this fish bowl and as far away from him as possible before I do or say something I will undoubtedly regret. I am itching to leave, to go and see Monty and Olivia our other defect friend that we took pity on last year. I need to see the two people who understand exactly what I’m going through, the only people I can confide in who won’t say a word. I know they won’t say a word because they are like me and we are all in this together, scared shitless and loyal to only each other. Not even Olivia’s family know her like we do, Monty’s sister is none-the-wiser of the truth and my father is probably the last person on earth I could trust with this information.

There is another knock at the door, this time there is a wait for a response. Not mine of course.

“Come in.” Peter turns to face the door. The door to my room is suddenly pushed open and one of my guards pops his head in.

“Sir?” It is Eric. “Sir, there have been reports of trouble at the border again.”

Peter’s jaw clenches. If it were possible I would think it was anger that fills my father’s face. He turns on me now.

“April we have things to discuss, but they can wait.” Is he talking about me or what Eric has just told him I wonder? “You make your way to school now and we’ll pick up our conversation this evening.” Oh I can wait. I should’ve known this, I can always wait.

I nod. “Very well father.” I try not to let my quizzical brow show. Pick up what? I want to laugh. We did nothing but exchange pleasantries, if you could call them that, there’s always something in my father’s tone that is not polite but enforcing. I still have no say in the matter and all I’m left with is that horrendous churning motion in my stomach again.

“Eric will escort you to the conference hall this evening after my meeting.” Eric catches my eye and I look away a little too uncomfortably. I try to rectify my slip up by speaking calmly.

“Yes father.” I give a nod in Eric’s direction respectfully and plant a kiss on my father’s forehead as he turns around and exits the room as swiftly as he had arrived, the men in the hall open the door for him as he leaves.

Eric watches me through the open door, his eyes always lingering on me longer than they should do, making me fidget uncomfortably and blush like I know I shouldn’t do. If I could put my finger on it I’d say it’s a mixture of awkwardness and disgust sending a tremor of anger through me. Still, he has defended me when I have been under investigation which makes me think either he is extremely naïve and believes I am innocent or that he is protecting me for some bizarre attempt at grooming. The latter makes me shudder. I think I’d rather take the unknown suitor at least we’re both unwilling participants. I walk up to the door and shut it firmly. Even if he is protecting me, I didn’t ask him to and I don’t owe him anything. I breathe a sigh of relief. I glance around the room before slowly bending down to the object poking out from beneath my floorboard. I poke the corner of paper back down discreetly and stand up as if nothing happened.

I stand in front of the lone mirror in my room and hold my hair up practicing a weak smile before letting it drop back into place. I lift my hand to the little bump on my right upper arm and run my finger over it gently. This is where we are implanted with our chips. I poke the little bump, the chip is still there, still emitting vibrations as intended, it never shows any problems and the doctors have never found anything wrong with it so why its effects have worn off is a mystery. It must be me. Something in my body, or in my brain. But as long as I keep my composure and my chip reports my vitals are fine, there’s nothing they can do. I know this to be true and so does my father; I can see it in the way he looks at me, the way he is constantly questioning my every move. No wonder he is trying to pair me with a suitor fast; he fears no one would want me if they knew. For who would want someone that was immune to the cure, who is plagued by dreams and god-forbid emotions? The answer is no-one. People are afraid of the old ways, the excessive emotions and violence of the Rebellion, the unpredictability and fatality that comes alongside a life not bound by balance and logic. Compassion and sentimentality clouded peoples judgement, blinded them from making sensible and simple decisions; simple decisions like trusting your father to know what is best for you I think. This makes me laugh.

I remember the days that I would confide in my father, that I trusted him and the Authority without hesitation. I was his lap dog; he’d use me to spy in the school grounds relay information on people that were ‘different’. I didn’t understand at the time and as a result countless people lost their lives because of me. It wasn’t until I started becoming one of them that I realised the extent of my actions. By then it was too late and I can never take back what I did.

Walking to the bathroom I switch on the shower, unfasten my gown and let it slide off my shoulders and into a pile on the floor. I step out of it and into the hot water, tipping my head back I let the clean water wash over my face, washing away last night’s dream and the confusion that always accompanies it. It was about my mother again, a strange mingling of fiction and memory. The way she’d embrace me and kiss me I know that she loved me, the real kind and the not the ‘friendship’ of the New Order or the way you have to love your child because they are your responsibility. This was different, a deep maternal love for me that’s stayed with me even after her death. I’m almost certain she was like me. My father never talks about her and as I’ve grown older and started to resemble her more and more, he hardly looks at me. Her death was sudden and must have broken him; I must remind him of her every time he looks at me. Sometimes I feel sorry for my father, it must bring back the love he had for her. Either that or the guilt he had killing her. I haven’t decided yet.

**************

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