Copyright © 2017 by John Wiber
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Foster Adams enters the rectangular classroom and takes faint notice of the bare walls and empty shelves. This was a place of higher learning, of unlearning, and there certainly wasn’t any room for interpretations or imagination at the School for Governance and Values. These were the facts that mattered, the things to be focused on, not frivolous ideologies and outdated sentimentalities.
There’s a message on the blackboard written in thick blocky letters that reads: SIT DOWN AT YOUR DESK. Each desk has a name card propped up on it, and Foster scans the rows until he finds his own tucked away in the back corner.
After taking his place, he looks out through the barred windows, noticing a group of adolescents standing at the edge of the field, smoking cigarettes and looking bored. They were most likely dropouts, or perhaps labourers on break.
There are other students filtering in now, most of them around Foster’s age. He’d only been eighteen for a month now, but already he felt the weight of adulthood pressing down on him. He was running out of time to learn, and quickly realizing the harsh realities of what it meant to have a career. It was a self-sacrifice; a relinquishing of principles in the face of security. Back when he was still a new teenager, Foster would have been appalled at such a thought, and his mind would have fought vehemently against this notion.
But these were different times they were living in now.
An armed guard stands at the door, watching intently as the last few students come trickling in. A long, obtrusive alarm echoes throughout the school, signifying the start of class. The guard quickly closes the heavy steel door and snaps the latch lock into place, leaving any student who happened to be late locked out for the duration of the class. It was just too risky these days, allowing for late entries. With the number of attacks throughout the past year, there was no room for error. The brutish guard turns back to face the classroom, standing with his arms resting upon the torso of his assault rifle. There’s a quick rapping on the door, which is sealed from the inside. Foster watches the guard slide back the steel shutter and speak briefly with someone on the other side. Most likely it was another guard. There were always at least four or five of them on each floor.
The professor emerges from a door that swings out from the side of the blackboard. He is an astute man with a brush cut and a cleanly shaven face. There is no room for imperfections.
“Hello class,” he says. “Welcome to the first day of the rest of your lives.”
There is a murmur of cautious enthusiasm as the students take notice of each other.
“You are all here because of an inherent desire to control. There used to be a negative connotation with this word, ‘control’, which is a good place for us to start. You must unlearn what you’ve come to associate with this word. Control is necessary. It’s vital to the survival of our society, and being the future leaders, future legislative or judiciary workers, lawyers, speechwriters, administrators and campaign planners, it will be the responsibility of each and every one of you to demonstrate this modis-operandi.”
A student foolishly raises his hand in an attempt to ask a question.
“No questions!” the professor snaps, “you will do well to remember your introductory courses. There are no questions allowed until the end, if we have time.”
The student’s hand slowly falls back to the desk, a look of shame plastered upon his face. No questions allowed until the end, if we have time.
“You must learn to see past the pre-conceived perceptions that have been drilled into you as a child. You see, it’s necessary that we teach all of our youth these same principles; love, loyalty, honesty, generosity, equality, and fairness. These are the values which help us stay in control. You must understand that there is a reason we leave control out of the youth curriculum; for the purpose of subconsciously training the rest to adhere to the rules and expectations of a designated authority. It’s very important. But once we have separated the controllers from the controlled, we must start the task of unlearning, the task you will all be embarking on throughout the next six months. We have taught you how to follow, and now we must teach you how to lead.”
“You’re all here because you’ve displayed signs of strong necessary skills. Our government is in need of a variety of skill sets, coupled with the idea that there are certain individuals who can see the grand picture. Essentially, you are able to see past the individual sets of rights each one of us is raised to believe we deserve. You understand that in the grand scheme of things, for our society to work, there are those who will know more, and those who will know less. Some people will have more, and it’s true, many of your peers who aren’t in this class right now will probably make more money than you – it’s just the way of the world. A capitalist democracy will always bear the most fruit for those in the private industry, but there is one thing they do not have, one thing which we hold over them: control. Is it fair? Not always. Is it truthful? Hardly ever. But does it work? Yes. We have seen that it does work. With the rise of our economy, the rise in wealth and prosperity within our country, we can see that this system certainly does work.”
“Now, let’s take a brief look at the Housing Bubble. Two years ago, our mortgage rates reached an all-time low, which was followed by a substantial hike in interest rates. We all saw this coming, those of us in control, and yet we held off on letting the public know. There is a very important reason for this. Because of herd behavior, had people found out about the potential bursting of our mortgage bubble, the repercussions would have been exponentially worse.”
“Yes, there was a sharp economic downturn and a downright scary rise in the unemployment rate, but those things were dealt with and we now find ourselves better off than we were. By filtering people into the Natural Resources sector, a sector which at the time of the housing market collapse was in dire need for skilled workers, we have boosted our national GDP, and effectively restored confidence in our markets. This was only obtainable through selective truth. This is a term I want all of you to become well acquainted with. Selected Truth. Erase all lingering sentiments that your mind may have associated with ‘truth’, and realize that in our world, the world of control, we cannot afford to be one hundred percent truthful at all times. It is for the sake of the system, not our individual morals, which we must continue to protect the dangerous truths. Selective truths are a result of dangerous realities.”
Foster sits stalk still in his seat, rigid like a plank of wood, taking notes and doing his best to silence the malicious whispers in the back of his head. Be a good person and treat others right. Those were his grandfather’s last words. He had been an army man, a man of great principle and hard work ethic. He had taught Foster to look out for people, to lend a hand and to be honest. Erase all lingering sentiments…
Foster looks up at the clock, seeing that it’s only been twenty minutes since class started, and he cannot ignore the tingling rush notifying him that he will not be able to wait until the end of class to use the washroom.
He rises from his seat, as he had been taught to do in his introductory classes, and approaches the doorway. The burly guard makes eye contact with him and nods. Foster follows him out through the door and into the empty hallway.
“Washroom?” the guard asks.
Their footsteps echo throughout the dim corridors, and Foster remembers a time when school hallways such as this would be crowded with students, people chatting casually, or perhaps leaning up against the walls reading their homework before class. It had been a much more relaxed time. But things were different now, more dangerous. Ever since the rise of the People’s Voice, an extremist group, homegrown here in Canada, security measures were now necessary in almost every realm of their society.
No one’s really sure how they struck with such force, and with such precision. It was like clock-work really, one school would fall, then another. These attacks were past the point of ruthlessness. The only justifiable explanation was pure hatred. Foster could recall his whereabouts all those years ago when it began. He had been in grade eight then. He was outside at recess playing four-square with his friends, the thought of which sparked a deep yearning within him. The bell had rung loudly over the playground, followed by the voice of the principle.
He could recall a tone of panic in the administrator’s voice, yet most of the young children disregarded the urgent message, knowing full-well there was still at least ten minutes of recess left. Reflecting back now, Foster realized how fortunate he was to be in public school at the time. The media claimed they went easier on the public schools because the students were so young. He assumed it was because there weren’t as many casualties at a public school; there’s simply more corpses at a college.
It is for the sake of the system, not our individual morals, which we must continue to protect the dangerous truths.
“In here,” the guard says, ushering Foster into the bathroom.
Foster enters a stall and unzips his pants. He can hear the guard’s heavy breath from outside the door of the stall, and it takes him a little while to finish because he was never good at doing his business when people were standing so close to him. But these were all necessary measures now, and that was the dangerous truth. Or was it?
“Hurry up in there,” the guard says, tapping at the door with the butt end of his gun.
Foster exits the stall, washes his hands, and the two start their journey back to the classroom. They pass a female student with her escort, and the two groups pass each other in silence.
Upon re-entering the class, no one takes their eyes off the Professor, who is still in the middle of his lecture. Foster hurries to his seat and sits down as delicately as he possibly can, not wanting to attract any unwarranted attention. Self-composure is the key to control. One of the fundamental rules they were taught in the Introductory courses.
“…It is their belief in freedom that allows us to control them. We must believe beyond the terms of individual freedom. It is our duty to believe in the system, which allows for the semblance of freedom.”
An explosion bursts from outside, and one of the windows shatters, sprinkling glass in through the steel bars. There are men making their way across the field now, dressed in all black with ski-masks covering their faces. The unofficial uniform for the People’s Voice. They hold weapons in their hands, mostly assault rifles, and one even has a grenade launcher. The pop-pop-pop of the rifles echo inside Foster’s ears.
“Everyone into the bunker!” the Professor hollers over the commotion. He is now holding a double-barreled shotgun in his hand which he got from underneath his desk.
There are students crying uncontrollably, some huddling beneath their desks, and the cries grow louder as the walls begin to shake, another explosion ripping through the air. The smell of smoke and blood fills Foster’s nostrils as he tries to remain focused. Stay in control, stay in control.
The armed guard rushes to the back of the class and hoists open the trapdoor leading into the bunker. Students begin pushing and shoving one another, piling into the dark hole with reckless disregard.
“Careful now, keep calm!”
“Is this for real?”
“It’s them! It’s them! We’re all going to die!”
Foster waits for most of the other students to enter the bunker. He had been down in these bunkers before, and learned from experience that the best place to be was near the top. There was more room and more air at the top, and if one of the attackers ever did manage to get the bunker door open, they would all be dead anyways, so he was never too worried about being at the back.
“Into the bunker!” the Professor yells again, pointing directly at Foster.
Beads of sweat pour from his forehead as he wedges his way down into the bunker. There are still people crying and sobbing from down in the darkness, and the smell of fear is pungent. More shots can be heard as the guard swings the trapdoor closed. Foster closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, wondering how it had ever come to this.
Step into the classroom at the School for Governance and Values in a dystopian future where students learn to unlearn the moral sentiments they have been taught since birth. The process of unlearning has become vital to the mechanisms of control in a society plagued with constant social upheaval, and while the professor speaks of control and freedom inside the classroom, outside, the threat of terrorism is ever present as men in black masks descend upon the school.