Tomorrow, There Will Be A Bear
Copyright 31/5/2014 by Raymond Daley
The children were all laughing as they played with the puppies and kittens. Their screams of joy and excitement echoed off the stark black walls of the television studio.
“Today there are puppies and kittens. I care.” You should ignore what he was saying and pay attention to the underlying subtext. “No-one is dying today.” He wasn’t saying that, nor will he ever. Even on the days that people do die, he never says it. Our beloved Leader was probably smiling beneath that enormous, thick grey beard. It was difficult to tell. He was in what I like to call ‘Benevolent Mode’.
Everyone was nervous yesterday when he introduced the notion that children were going into the Arena. Everyone knows what happens in there.
You go in alive. And then you die. This happens once a day, every day.
The only person who ever leaves alive is our beloved Leader. Even the cameras are remotely operated.
The sons and daughters of known dissidents, rabble-rousers and trouble-makers. All of them were taken quietly, quickly and without any fuss. No guns were needed.
Because they know The Black Guard.
“The Black Guard are your friends. You can trust The Black Guard.” One of the many media-friendly sound-bites from the various adverts that are used to indoctrinate the kids into thinking these faceless creatures are the good guys. That they can go to them with their fears and problems, no matter how small or insignificant.
The Black Guard welcome those visits with open arms, from the children, I mean. They get all kinds of Intel they never expected to be able to find out. Because children, especially young children, speak without thinking. They have no security filters.
They haven’t learnt the paranoia that comes with adulthood.
All of them will learn, eventually. It’s a truly sad eventuality, a damning indictment on the state of the world we live in now. They will learn the cold, hard truth. The reality of life in a totalitarian state.
But not today.
Because today there were kittens, and puppies. And something else, apparently.
From somewhere off camera, Maggie walked on. She was pushing an ice cream cart, ringing its bell. “Ice cream, ice cream for everyone!”
Maggie is never far from The Leaders side so it was no surprise to see her here today, backing him up in this blatant public relations stunt. She is his right hand, the velvet glove around his iron fist. She is the one who softened his hard edges and made him media friendly.
Correction. More media friendly.
Before Maggie, he did used to perform the occasional act of kindness or charity. TV appearances of The Leader giving blankets to the homeless. No mention that his troops destroyed their homes, making them homeless.
Shots of The Leader handing out food parcels to the hungry. With no mention of the fact that his troops had been the ones who had blockaded supply runs to the enclaves he was now standing inside, passing around food to those he himself had forced to the brink of starvation and near extinction.
The Leader. A one man genocide.
Maggie opened the cart and offered the first ice cream to The Leader, with a smile. Of course. Because she knows which side her bread is buttered. And like every citizen of the Regime she wants to live.
Correction. She wants to continue to live. In this state that’s not always a possibility.
The Leader licked his ice cream, almost certainly smiling at Maggie through his bushy beard. People have asked him to shave that off before now. Those people are now dead, buried deeply away somewhere they will never be found in unmarked pits.
Not even worthy of the designation; grave.
As Maggie passed out ice creams to all of the children gathered around her and The Leader, he carefully stepped forward, stepping around them and the lights faded down behind him, leaving the children eating their ice cream in the half-light.
The spotlight picked him out, his shadow falling across the children behind him, both symbolically and deliberately. It says a lot about the man that this image can both inspire the faithful whilst simultaneously striking fear into the hearts of those who seek to oppose him.
He lowered his ice cream out of shot, no doubt passing it to some nearby stage-hand positioned there for that exact moment.
He bared his teeth, this is his smile. Both charismatic but bone-chilling too. “That’s all we’ve got time for today. Why not tune in at the same time tomorrow? Tomorrow, there will be a bear!”
The title music started to play and the credits rolled, the image of The Leader was replaced by the Party logo.
STRENGTH THROUGH UNITY.
The image of the clenched gloved fist, holding our flag. It says a lot about our people. It says ‘You’re either with us, or we’ll crush you.’ That’s what it says, in no words at all because the picture says everything necessary, telling all citizens who live beneath it more than mere words ever could.
I pulled up my terminal, checking links, searching databases.
Who is going to be in the Arena tomorrow? What do we know about this bear?
The list of attendees for tomorrow went live a few minutes later, the usual flag burners, graffiti sprayers, slogan shouters. They’re not really dangerous, they are just being used as yet another example to the people at home. The people considering doing what these folks have already been detained for.
I pulled up a DarkNet message board. ‘What do we know about this bear? What type of bear? How old? What gender? Where are they getting it from? Can we drug it? Can we substitute it for a trained one that won’t kill people?’ My question is one of the many, we don’t seem to know much until after an hour, an unnamed source gives us a name.
‘They call him Ivan. That was all I could find out.’ Then our mysterious source went offline as quickly as he appeared.
Our keyboard crunchers spent the next few hours trying to find out more, zoos and circuses were checked out. Private owners were hunted down and enquiries were made. We don’t use force, unlike The Leader. No-one managed to locate this mysterious bear called Ivan. Perhaps it was a double-bluff. It’d be just like The Leader to use psychological operations and bring out a fluffy teddy bear with him, then call it Ivan.
This theory was shared over the DarkNet, then almost certainly agreed upon. It’s the kind of propaganda trick The Leader loves to pull. How he loves his little stunts.
I checked the time, almost midnight. I sent my final salutations and signed off. My final moments of the day were spent cleaning my weapon and preparing my uniform for the morning.
Sleep came, eventually.
I’m not woken by the alarm. That singular honour falls to The Captain. “Major, it’s time. We have your weapon. It’s time to come with us sir.”
I’m dressed and leaving with him and the thirty other very heavily armed men he brought with him as his insurance policy in less than three minutes.
“Do you have my rounds Yuri?” I ask him.
“Yes Major, hollow point as requested. Are you excited to be meeting him sir?” Captain Yuri Zukhov has not been in the Peoples Army long. If he had, he’d know not to ask questions like that. Especially not to someone like me.
I looked over at him.“It’s just another job Yuri. Pass me my weapon, I need to do my final checks before we reach the studio.”
I spend the rest of the journey going over the weapon to ensure it’ll do its job as well as it can. As well as I can. We are in harmony. I think The Leader would appreciate that sentiment.
I’m wired and ready by the time we reach the studio. We’re waved through when they see the flag on the bonnet of our vehicle. You don’t stop that flag, not ever. Not if you want to keep living afterwards.
Yuri sends me off to the briefing with a smart salute that I don’t return. Not because I don’t respect him, his rank or the uniform he wears. But because I’m too far into the zone at this point. The stimulants are coursing through my veins at this point.
I’m talked through the details by a minor functionary, he’s not even in uniform. No doubt one of the station employees, someone outside the military chain of command. My role is simple, I will be introduced, I will come on, I will execute my duty. I am given an earpiece so they can prompt me through it if the need arises.
I spend the final moments before airtime checking the weapon is loaded. I have the extended magazine, no-one here has ever seen one before. It’s an antique, as is the weapon itself. It was popular, back when we were still a country, not a global movement. Back when our flag was still red. I am a student of history.
If we do not remember the past, we are forced to repeat it.
Around me I am vaguely aware of the countdown, they’re on air now. I can hear the presenter talking to the people at home, but it’s all just a haze to me. The stimulants are doing their job. Soon I will do mine.
I hear the presenter introducing the attendees. No. This isn’t right.
This isn’t the list we saw last night. Then I hear my cue and my legs walk me out to the pre-marked spot the young man in the badly fitting suit had shown me earlier during the briefing.
My brain is in no way involved. I’m walking out there on automatic pilot, like some kind of robot. I’m aware that the presenter made a huge mistake and has just said my name on air, so despite my disguise they can easily find out who I really am.
If they dare.
I show the weapon to the camera, to the audience at home. They can’t see my face, this is deliberate on the part of the show. I am meant to be the faceless entity that brings an end to their revelry.
And that’s the kill-switch. Or at least it’s supposed to be.
Then I’m back in control. The anti-toxin flows through my body, I am in full control again. No longer a mindless puppet being ordered around by a voice in my ear. It’s then that I see what he’s done.
It’s the children again.
“This is The Bear. Kill them, now.” I know I am not supposed to disobey that voice, but I must.
I’m not supposed to speak either, but I do. “No. I won’t.” I turn my head and I can see him, the sudden look of fear in his eyes. The Leader.
“You couldn’t leave it alone, could you? You had to turn the knife just one last time. This is too much. These kids are innocents, they’ve done nothing, hurt no-one.” I say.
“But they might. They will. You know how this world works, better than anyone. They will. Because they can. You know they can. Do your job Major. Kill them. That’s an order.”
This may well be the very first time anyone has ever disobeyed this man in his entire life. “No.” I say, then I remember exactly who I’m talking to. “Sir.”
I raise the weapon and cock it, flicking the safety catch off. It’s now ready to fire. And pointed right at The Leader. Right at his head.
“Our revels now are ended. We are such stuff as dreams are made of, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” I pull off the mask, I want everyone to know who did this. Who ended this. Who freed us all.
I hear the crack of the gunshot but as I feel the pain and heat, I’m aware it’s not me that fired.
In my ear as the blackness surrounds me, I can still hear them screaming at me. “Ivan, Ivan! What are you doing? Ivan!”
The rest is silence.
Authors Notes:- This story came about because I misheard Matt Smith (playing Doctor Who) saying a line where I thought he'd said tomorrow there will be a bear. I quite enjoyed writing this story and I won't apologise for quoting Shakespeare. This was subbed to Fireside Magazine, 2nd June 2014; rejected 3rd July 2014.