One Day in 2070
Flash Fiction Anthology
by Caelan Ho
The bright lights suddenly flashed on and a loud siren blared into Joe’s ear, threatening to shatter his eardrums. He groaned, trying to reach out from his position to try and deactivate the alarm, before realizing that he had stupidly forgotten that the alarm was pressure and time activated, so it would only turn off once he had climbed out of the pod, a system that he himself had designed to force people to wake up at the correct time. He sleepily climbed out of the pods, the alarm automatically deactivating as he left the pod and nimbly leapt from his pod to the floor, a reflex developed from years of routine and joined the steady queue of workers filing to the main hall for breakfast.
Joe sipped at the black, tasteless chemical concoction that was supposed to be ‘food’ and grimaced at the bitter taste of it. Nevertheless, he finished the rest of the mixture in a single gulp, since wasting anything was practically a crime. No matter how many years passed, he would never get used to the terrible taste that the scientists in cell 245, the food nutrition department, managed to conjure up. It was almost as though the Government wanted us to dislike it. The same thought seemed to have occurred to Joe’s friend, Harry, who was sitting next to him as was routine.
Leaning over, Harry whispered, “You know, I think the Government actually wants us to hate the food so that we don’t want to eat more of it.”
Joe glared back at Harry.
“You do know that the police can probably hear you through the Government Listening Device in your neck!” Joe hissed. Harry winked.
“It’s not a probably,” Harry replied. “It’s a definitely – I designed them after all! But don’t worry – it’s fine! They only check a couple GLD’s every hour, and the chances that they bother to turn you in are pretty low anyway.”
Joe sighed quietly, and thought to himself, “I know Harry is right, but I don’t want to think of the possibility of getting caught, no matter how small, because the punishment…” Joe shuddered at the very thought.
Cell 601, more well known as the Punishment Cell, was the most common punishment for people who talked about things the government didn’t like, or people who talked too much in general. People unlucky enough to end up in Cell 601 had to do the most back-breaking work – cleaning the corridors of the cells or clearing blockages in the sewers. Although easily done by machines, the Government uses it to remind citizens that the Government is fully in control, and, if people oppose the Government then they will be dealt with harshly. There are even times that the Government invents new and random crimes so that Punishment Cell is always supplied with workers. The lucky people only have to stay in there for a few days, but if you are unlucky, then you might have to stay in there for months at a time. And if you do something extremely serious then… well, you conveniently ‘disappear’, and they would dispose of your body somewhere where nobody will ever find it.
How did the world end up in such a mess, you might ask? Well, the root lies about forty-three years ago, when the human population exploded to more than 100 billion, far beyond what several Earths could handle, let alone one. Global warming was occurring at an ever-increasing pace, rendering large areas of land around the equator completely uninhabitable. This caused a mass migration of people to countries further North and South, such as Australia, France and Germany, bringing with them dangerous diseases such as malaria and polio, killing hundreds of millions around the globe and sparking civil wars in various countries. Chaos unfurled around the world for several years until the Government came to power. The leaders of the Government marched their armies across the whole world, restoring order. However, the price of such peace was allowing the Government’s tyrannical reign, which has lasted until now. There are only a few small areas in the world that are not yet under the Government’s control, mainly islands such as the United Freedom Rebel’s North Atlantic Base, formerly known as the United Kingdom or the United Freedom Rebel’s African Base, formerly known as Madagascar. These are places that the Government depicts as savage and half-civilized, to ensure that nobody would have the desire to try and leave the cells to find one of the Rebel Bases.
That day, anything that could have gone wrong for Joe and Harry did go wrong. As Joe and Harry filed off together to do their work, the speakers in the corridor rang out with an announcement – “Please may Harry Smithson and Joe Wayne report to Central for a change of duties.”
Joe and Harry instantaneously paled, and everyone surrounding them moved away, as though they had a contagious disease. It was obvious that they had been caught. Slowly, Harry and Joe made their way down the corridors to Central, where their punishments would be decided…
“For speaking treasonous things against the Government, we sentence Harry Smithson to three months in Cell 601.”
“For failure to report treasonous conduct, we sentence Joe Wayne to two months in Cell 601.”
Harry and Joe repetitively brought their heavy and rather blunt pickaxes crashing down against the river of frozen sewage, somewhere between Cell 003 and Cell 004, far in the North, Harry grumbling nearly constantly along the way.
“I think that’s how Harry handles this,” Joe thought to himself. “Even if it will probably get him into more trouble.”
Their duties varied from time to time and often included clearing blockages in the massive sewage pipes or cleaning the cells. The meanest and cruelest supervisors were assigned to Cell 601 to make the lives of inmates as miserable as possible and make sure that they never speak out against the Government again.
Joe lay awake on the cold floor, sleep effortlessly evading him on the cold and uncomfortable floor of the sewer. He ticked off another day in Cell 601 in his head. “Three weeks down, five weeks to go.” Joe thought to himself.
Harry turned over to Joe, and whispered discreetly, “I don’t get why they get us to do this kind of work when robots could do it better and faster.”
Joe mused over this question. After a pause, Joe replied, “It is the only thing that they have that can serve as a punishment. It also saves them resources by getting prisoners to do the easy jobs.”
The silence between them was so long that Joe thought that Harry had gone back to sleep. Then Harry suddenly asked, “If I asked you to run away with me, would you think that I’m mad?”
Joe gasped at the very thought of it. Then he mused over it. “What would happen if they did run away?” he thought to himself. Something bad probably. But it can’t be much worse than this… Then Joe made his decision.
“We only have one shot at this. When do we leave?”
They got to work planning. They had a three-minute time slot at midnight every month, when they shut down the power generator for the whole cell to inspect any faults. This applies to the security system, including CCTV, fingerprint sensors and biological sensors which would be impossible to bypass at any other time. Three minutes to get from their location out of their cells and as far away as possible before anyone could notice that they were gone. The next was on the 24th November, in three days. It was even harder because the Government peaked security during this time period, everyone had orders to stay in their pods and guards had orders to shoot anyone other than other guards, electricians and members of the Inner Government on sight during that time period. They carefully calculated the movements of patrols during that period and figured out that it was possible to escape within three minutes without running into any guards. It was a bit of a gamble that the guards wouldn’t suddenly decide to turn back and walk the other way. However, the benefits of escaping far outweighed the risks, and anyway, life was miserable enough in the cells that they didn’t mind too much if they were killed.
At last, the time came for the plan to be put into action. They snuck through the dark corridors, jumping at the echo of their footsteps and hiding from their own shadows. They successfully made their way through the cell to the basement floor where the only exit was – an entrance and exit for delivery trucks. The flow of these was nearly constant, and the plan was to hitch a ride on one, which would take them far away.
They leaned back, enjoying the fresh winter air. They were finally free.