Copyright © 2017 by John Wiber
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“We can’t trust him!”
Thomas could feel eyes on them, both human and mechanical. His sister looks at him with a twisted face and shrugs. The simple truth was this; there was no choice in the matter. They are wearing hats and baggy clothing to help hide their facial features, as some of the street cameras are equipped with facial recognition technology. We look like bums from Sector C.
He tightens his grip on his sister’s hand as they move through the streets of Sector B. The streets are lined with cameras; in the streetlights, on top of lamp posts and others hidden throughout the store fronts and offices. Luckily for them, the streets are crowded with people on their way to and from work.
Giant moving billboards depict various consumer products while digital screens of all various sizes and positions, all of them baring the World Institute of Commerce insignia. A giant television screen upon the side of a sky-scraper projects images of the President, a well-polished man with perfect hair and a concrete smile. The digital technology seemed so foreign to him, so guttural. Nothing like the touch screen plasma projections in Sector A.
President Stephen Monroe.
Thomas had known him well. Back before the Great Fall of 2020, when borders still mattered and individual sovereignty still existed, at least in the most minor of ways. He had known the President his entire life, and for ninety-nine percent of it, he had supported and whole heartedly agreed with the President’s policies; with his end goal. It was all so logical back then, when countries were scrambling to secure water rights while simultaneously preparing for a nuclear holocaust that miraculously never occurred.
It’s because of us that mankind survived.
Even if that was true, Thomas knew they had gone too far, crossed that invisible line between humane and barbaric. The Sectors. The detainment camps. And now, finally, the Security Wipe. He could no longer be a part of it. He finally saw what his sister had been trying to warn him about all those years. There was a time when Thomas thought he’d never see his sister again. Frankly, he hadn’t wanted to see her again. She was a traitor; banished from Sector A for committing acts deemed harmful to the State. It was only because of his position in government that she wasn’t sent to the camps in the Mid-West, or executed.
There are crude posters of the People’s Army plastered upon walls of buildings, although most are half-ripped and covered in graffiti. Even their supporters are a bunch of half-assed thugs.
Things still looked mostly like they did before the Great Fall out here in Sector B, except for all the extra cameras and State Security Forces. Just a shade greyer. It’d been fourteen years since he’d been in the outer sectors, not since 2026, and he felt exposed, almost violated. So, this is what it’s like to be part of the herd. People move past them with hurried footsteps, headphones in their ears and eyes on their telephones mostly. These were the everyday people: the labourers, the bureaucrats, the outdated doctors and dentists who had once been held up so high in society before the age of Robotic Medical Treatment. The nine to fivers. They have no idea what’s coming.
Sector A was comprised of politicians and government officials, businessmen of the WIC, computer engineers and technicians, and of course, security forces and personnel. Only five percent of the population in the United States of Pan America resided within the technologically sealed gates of Sector A. The combined wealth of Sectors B and C amounted to just twenty-five percent of the total wealth of the Pan-Americas. The majority of the population resided in the Mid-West. In the labour camps. Thomas knew this because he helped send most of them there. At the time, he thought it was the right thing to do.
“How do we know it’s not the SSF, huh?” Thomas asks his sister. “He could be an undercover, you know?”
“No, Maris had her implant removed a month ago. This is her guy.”
“How did you talk with Maris?”
“Anonymous chat board.”
“You can’t trust those things!”
“It was encrypted, Thomas. Believe me, everything is going to be okay.”
She underestimates the power of the State.
Surveillance in the outer sectors went well beyond tracking cell phones. Every individual in the Pan Americas was implanted with a microchip, which allowed for the passage between sector gates. The BrainWave Sub Dermal implant stored an individual’s identity, wealth, credit history, cell phone data, and nearly every other possible detail of their day-to-day lives. Commodities were paid for by a simple scanning of the microchip. Physical money was a thing of the past, only used out in Sector C by the People’s Army and drug dealers.
Of course, it was impossible to monitor a billion people constantly, but the data from every BrainWave Sub-Dermal Implant was stored and readily available should the SSF deem it a priority. The implant itself had a variety of functions. It acted as a SIM card for a person’s cell phone, which of course allowed the chip to store and track all calls and messages coming in and out from said phone. It also provided internet access for each implantee, creating one’s own personal network with specific IP addresses for each individual. It stored medical records, credit ratings, date of birth, SIN number, and most importantly, Sector Access.
Absolutely everything was tracked, and all data stored away; deep underground in the SSF’s bunkers beneath Sector A, where Congress was located as well as most of the SSF’s command centers.
All Sectors were separated by Gates. All people wishing to cross borders where required to have their BrainWave Implants scanned in order to verify identity and confirm access. The gates separating Sectors B and C were spread out and could be avoided by those wishing to slip in and out of the outer sectors undetected. The gates to Sector A were connected by ten foot walls of steel, surrounding Sector A like a moat; a highly technological moat filled with Facial Recognition Video Surveillance Cameras rather than alligators. It was virtually impossible to bypass the gates to Sector A without having your microchip scanned.
Thomas pulls at his hood and scans the street in front of them. The sky is grey and overcast as the people move past. The everyday workers: construction workers, warehouse workers, waitresses and bartenders, tellers, clerks, pizza delivery men, and the rest. Thomas felt bad for them. They were good people, more or less. If only they understood how truly insignificant they were, maybe it would spur them to action. They must see what’s going on. Deep down, they must know.
It was easy to pick out the people from Sector C as they walked past in stained overalls and hardhats. Most of them worked in the factories; line workers making minimum wage and working fourteen hour days. Thomas had never been inside one of the many weapons factories or technological manufacturing plants, but he had heard enough to understand that the conditions were grim.
A man approaches them and asks if they would like to purchase some X——-. His pupils are wide and his mouth doesn’t appear to move in a normal way, like his lips were glued on sideways. Neurological damage, Thomas thinks to himself. There are open sores all over his face and lips, and Thomas instinctively pulls Natasha back from the man, stepping in front of the two.
“No man, no X——-.”
“Fuck you then, man,” he says, sauntering off.
“We shouldn’t be here,” Thomas says to her again.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?” she asks.
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Yes, and I’m still having difficulty believing it. I’m proud of you… Thomas.”
“Don’t be proud yet.”
“We’ve made it this far,” Natasha says, smiling at him with her thin lips. “Just one more step.”
Thomas bites his own lip, running his fingers along the still-raised scar on the back-right side of his neck. He was trying to convince himself that his sister’s excavation would go off without a hitch. He runs his finger down the fresh scar again, telling himself that his sister would be fine, just like he was. Yes, but I had it done by a professional. Not some back office Excavator. There was no telling whether these relics were using the proper cleaning methods, or taking all the necessary precautions. But the chip had to be removed if they were to make it to Hector. And that was all that mattered now.
There are long lines winding out front of the Food and Water Banks. A person’s rations were stored upon their Sub Dermal Brainwaves. Thomas studies the various people waiting in line. They seemed completely oblivious. Staring through each other in a sort of grim acceptance to the despicable situation they found themselves in. Mankind’s adaptability was as much a curse as it was a blessing.
These illegal excavations happened in basements or abandoned butcher shops, and other less desirable places. In Sector A, all medical operations were performed by robots, whose movements and methods were precise. In the outer sectors, however, people still relied on human doctors, who were subject to the laws of human error. In that moment, Thomas wondered if he’d made a mistake leaving Sector A.
No. It’s gone too far. We went too far and what came next is too much for me to bear.
It had been years since he’d seen his sister, Natasha, who had been banished almost a decade earlier for wilfully participating in protests against the State. She was arrested during the Privacy Riots of 2030, which led to the mass exile of over one hundred thousand people from Sector A.
They pass by a Catholic church, it’s stained glass and polished stone standing out against the more decrepit buildings surrounding it. Sector B was full of churches, their steeples lurching crookedly up towards the heavens like the twisted limbs of a dead tree, and were indeed some of the only structures in the outer sectors that had avoided disrepair. Beyond Thomas’s comprehension, people in the outside Sectors still attended church regularly, and indeed celebrated all the ancient religions. Relics. Myths. Absurdity. Why did they continue to believe in such things? I guess people just want something to believe in. Thomas grimaces at the thought. How cruel it was that such a sweet sentiment, the idea of faith, could be so easily manipulated and controlled. In the end, humanity’s greatest traits were often their greatest weaknesses.
In Sector A, they celebrated Darwinism. Survival. It was all that mattered.
Many of the cars that drive by are still standard models, powered by gasoline. There were only hints of the new world within Sector B: some of the shops had interactive plasma screen ads, there was the odd Glider that drove by, operated by a miniature reactor, they were soundless and emitted zero carbon emissions. And of course, the SSF was always visible, in their dark blue suits and holding automatic machine guns.
Thomas passes a poster with his own face staring back at him. The poster reads:
For the crimes of high treason and desertion.
Reward: Automatic upgrade to Sector A.
Those with information contact your nearest SSF officer.
Reward: Automatic upgrade to Sector A.
This didn’t shock or surprise Thomas, as he had seen dozens of them already. He had been a wanted man for days now.
“We don’t have much time,” he reminds her. “They’re probably tracking you now.”
“They don’t know anything, Thomas. I’ve been living in Sector B for years now. There’s nothing strange about me being here. You on the other hand…”
“I was excavated before I left.”
“That’s all well and good,” she says. “But the SSF have other means of finding out where you are.”
They pass under a canopy and turn down a narrow alleyway, the stone walls surrounding them are grey and brown and covered in moss. Thomas watches an old fashioned police car drive past and hustles their pace. The police weren’t nearly as dangerous as the SSF, who drove around in the new-age models and who had access to everyone’s implant at all times.
They come to the end of the alley where a chain linked fence bars their passage any further. To their left is a brown metal door with many dents pounded into it. Piles of discarded rubbish litter the alleyway, most of it outdated technological gadgets; a bunch of worn out metal.
He pounds on the door.
The red bricked walls seem to be closing in on them as Thomas keeps an eye on the mouth of the alleyway. Off in the distance, he can hear sirens blaring. He takes a quick look at Natasha, her pale face and blue eyes, and pounds on the door again. Rain starts to fall hard and fast.
“Are you sure this is the place?”
“Yes,” Natasha says, staring at the door with unflinching eyes.
They wait as the sounds of the city seem to amplify, poking and prodding at Thomas’s anxiety like fingers picking at a dry scab. He reaches in his pocket and fingers the flash drive. Like a nervous tick, he had already checked his pockets several times to ensure the device was still there.
Finally, sounds of scuffling come from behind the door, and a few seconds later it swings open, revealing an older man with unkempt hair white as snow, and a fat nose. His clothes are shabby, but clean at least, and his eyes appeared sharp.
“Can I help you?” he asks, raising a bushy white eyebrow.
“I celebrate myself,” Natasha begins, reciting the line she had been told to memorize. “And what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.”
He nods grimly and steps back from the door, gesturing them inside.
Once inside, the old man locks the door with three bolts and turns to face them. The building, which once must have been an office or warehouse with its high ceilings and wide open rooms, was barren now. The room is empty save for a few foldout chairs, a coffee table with dirty cups sitting on it, and various sized cardboard boxes piled sporadically throughout. Parts of the tiled floor have been knocked loose, making Thomas think of chipped teeth.
“What is this place?” Thomas asks.
“It used to be a dentist’s office. Hasn’t been for a while now. Not too many that can afford dentists these days. At least not out here in Sector B.”
“And who are you?”
Natasha shifts uncomfortably and jabs Thomas in the ribs.
“Me?” the old man smiles. “I am no one. And I can see that you are as well.”
“What do you mean?”
The doctor turns his head and pulls away his hair, revealing a thin lined scar along the backside of his neck.
“Once you get it removed, you cease to exist, essentially,” the old man grins, “although I suppose you are not no one, because I do certainly know who you are. A traitor they say.”
“They say a lot of things.”
“That they do, and in the end, we all must face this grim road.”
“What road is that?”
“I’m not dead, though.”
“Son, you’ve been dead the minute they declared you a fugitive. You may not realize it yet, but we’re all dead out here, on the outside. And there’s no getting back in, no sir. You ever hearda purgatory? Well, consider this the purgatory to purgatory. What I’m trying to say to you is this; the moment you removed your chip, the rest of your life became meaningless. The man you were has been erased, your files have been shredded, and they’ve convinced those whose lives you’ve touched that you betrayed them, and were never really a part of their lives at all. That is the power of the state when all privacy has been stripped. Those chips in our heads track everything; who we talk to, where we go, what we say. It can read blood pressure and monitor heart rate. It’s the most amazing piece of technology that has ever been created, which is what makes it so dangerous. They can rewrite your life however they so choose, because they know everything about you. They know where you’ve been, who you’ve talked to, what you buy, what your favourite type of porn is. And because they know all these things, they can make any one of those aspects of your life seem however they like.”
“Look Doc,” Thomas starts. “I’d love to stand here and discuss the decline of our social liberties with you, but my friend here needs you to remove her implant now, and judging from what I can see around here, you probably want to get that bloody thing out before the SSF comes storming through your door.”
“Step into my office,” the old man says with a sigh, leading them through a hallway and into a room with no door.
In the middle of the room there is a padded chair with straps. The chair is screwed into the floor, a light fixture hanging directly above it, clearly an old dentist chair. The tools are set out on a silver cart beside the chair, many of which look old and well used, with brown flecks staining the silver instruments. It all seemed so savage to Thomas, so guttural and hopeless. He was used to the operating rooms in Sector A, where the only tool was a suspended robotic arm, and the entire room was vacuum sealed to prevent bacteria build up. This place is dirty.
“Once you get the implant removed you will instantly become a fugitive, do you understand? No internet, no banking, none of it. Everything from your life will be forfeit.”
“There’s nothing left of my life anyways,” Natasha says, “and I’ve got no money in the bank.”
The doctor nods knowingly, sighing again.
“Well, let’s get this over with then,” he says, taking Natasha by the hand and moving her over to the chair. “Please.” He says gesturing for her to sit down. Natasha gives Thomas a fleeting look and gulps as she sits back in the ancient dentist chair. The old man stands over the silver cart and selects a scalpel with a curved handle. He returns to stand over Natasha, pulling the extendable light down so that it is a mere inches from her face.
“Will this hurt?” she asks, squinting in the light.
Travel to the year 2039 in this dystopian North America where the governments of Canada, America and Mexico have consolidated, and society is segregated into Sectors. A haunting glimpse of what could become of our increasingly militarized society, as the public's privacy is slowly reduced to absolutely zero in the wake of state-sponsored terrorism. Welcome to the streets of Sector B, where cameras line the streets and security forces are ever present. Thomas is a fugitive. A defector from Sector A. He will be forced to resort to desperate measures as the walls are slowly closing in around him...