This story is inspired by 1984, which sort of explains the title. It’s not set in the same world, or really has much to do with 1984 at all except for the general sort of dystopia, but the fact remains that is is inspired by that story, so I’m keeping it’s inspired title too.
Still trying to decide whether I should do another webnovel (with a slightly more accessible name) or finally get back to work on novel #2. Maybe not finish it, but at least get some more pages done, eh? I think the latter would be easier if some agents would like the first book, mind. What do you want?
They didn’t have main lighting in the ministry. Ordinarily, people would assume that this was because the ministry was cheap, cutting costs by cutting lights, but that was not the case. Indeed, the only lighting available inside the ministry came in the form of desk lamps, the volume of which raised costs. A desk lamp on each and every desk, and there were thousands of them, meant that the interior of the ministry was a weird chessboard pattern of light and dark.
Clara was one of the few people who enjoyed the dark, although she had never made that known. People were not supposed to enjoy the dark, scientists had said so. Fight or flight and instincts and all that business, they all came into play when in the dark. If you can’t see then you won’t know when something is coming to get you. The fear was a necessity, but Clara didn’t feel it.
When they started work they were obliged to sit through a lecture that explained the lighting system. It was forbidden to turn off your desk lamps, and was in fact impossible owing to the lack of a power switch. So Clara had to work in the searing whiteness of her desk lamp.
The administrators moved around in the darkness between the desks. No-one had ever seen an administrator doing this, but it was common knowledge, as much as anything could be in the current climate. They were making sure the clerks were working, keeping an eye on their words per minute and their out trays.
Everything was handwritten at the ministry, computers were unnecessary. Computers were used solely for statistical calculations, and as such were limited to one of the other ministries. Clara didn’t know which one, but she knew it wasn’t her’s. Her ministry dealt with food and clothing distribution, or something similar anyway. She was never actually told what her ministry dealt in, but she thought she had pieced it together from the sort of forms she had to fill in.
Today her in tray was full of Q39 forms and fourteen spare pencils. Clara was only the preliminary clerk, giving potential answers to potential questions, there was another clerk somewhere in the ministry with the pen and the power to make her answers happen.
Q39s were relatively simple forms. They consisted of sections such as: Name, Grievance, Requested Solution For Above. The first two sections were filled in when she received them, her job was to concoct answers to the third. In theory, Clara could put the same answer for every form and no-one would know, the Q39s weren’t labelled for a specific clerk, but the administrators would notice.
The administrators took quotas very seriously. Each day, a clerk was issued with a quota for the amount of forms they needed to complete and deviation was discouraged. Underachieving was ill-advised and would likely lead to termination, perfect quota fulfilment was seen as suspicious and would also lead to termination, and overachieving was seen with suspicion also. There was a high worker turnover in the ministry because of this, and Clara was of the opinion they took termination seriously.
The government had never admitted to reinstating the death penalty. They acted in the name of the people, they claimed, and the people had reinstated the death penalty. The economy was failing, and the people, it was said, blamed the people who refused to pull their weight. Lax workers, sly overachievers and the unemployed were all helping to kill the economy, and the people would not stand for such an outrage.
Clara didn’t enjoy her job, but she figured she would enjoy death even less.
She filled in the forms carefully but quickly. Today she would fill in one more than the quota, tomorrow one less. She risked a glance at the other islands of light in the room and their respective castaways.
They were faceless. Not literally, but the infrequent light and the lack of expressions stripped every person of an external identity. It didn’t matter anyway, they weren’t allowed to interact. It would impede production, and thus kill the economy.
Her desk lamp flashed red for a moment. This was normal. It was a sign that you were under extra scrutiny. Clara was never sure if it was true, but still she felt as though the void around her desk was filled with eyes watching her. It didn’t put her off or distract her in any way, but had she been afraid of the dark it might.
She continued with the forms.
After a while there was a noise, like a chair being pushed back on a concrete floor, and Clara risked another look. For a moment she thought she saw an empty desk, but then it vanished. Part of her mind told her that they had turned off the desk lamp, but she dismissed it. They couldn’t turn off the lamps even if they wanted to, her eyes must have been playing tricks on her. After another moment staring at the dark space where the phantom desk had been, she returned to her forms.
Lunch time started as she reached the halfway point. She didn’t stop for lunch. Technically, there is nothing stopped an employee from taking lunch time to eat, nothing except their loyalty to the people. Stopping for lunch meant stopping work, and that meant the economy grinding to a halt for a moment. Therefore, people worked all the way through until the night shift began, then another five minutes before leaving.
Clara finished her last form at the fourth minute, sharpened her pencil, then headed home.
Clara’s house was spartan, with the exception of party sponsored decoration that were included in every domicile. Some houses had televisions and terminals, although they were long since deactivated, but Clara was spared this. Instead, she had a small box attached to her single chair, the same box everyone else had. There was a small slit in the top into which party-supplied punch cards could be placed for entertainment. The box would read the card and decipher the day’s news and information for each citizen.
Today’s punch card was waiting on Clara’s desk when she arrived home. It was red, which meant that today was a Thursday. She popped it into the box and settled into the chair. There was a loud clunking as the mechanisms inside the box ran over the card and the voice barrels spun themselves up.
There were three quiet clicks from the box, then it began to talk. It was a very mechanical voice, metallic and terse but with no emphasising inflections or any trace of an accent.
‘News broadcast for… Thursday #671.
Main story: ECONOMIC FAILURE PREDICTED TO ARRIVE BY DAYS #750
The Bureau of Economic Support announced today that the great efforts of the people are currently falling below the measures necessary to combat the current market crash. Experts stated that, until recently, the situation had stabilised, but the increase in civilian lethargy has caused a major downturn in production.
The Bureau of Economic Support urges the people not to give up in this dark time. Matters are being taken to reinvigorate the work force and restabilise the situation once more.
Second story: THIRTEEN WORKCRIMINALS ARRESTED
A cabal of thirteen workcriminals were arrested this morning following a raid by officials. The culprits, ten men and three women, had neglected work for two entire days, claiming illness. Upon examination it was revealed that, while ill, the culprits were still able to perform to the minimum required standard for their respective jobs within the medical profession.
Sergeant Colonel Sir Royston Meyers was quoted as saying “This is a great victory in the name of the people, and a fine example to those who think they can get away with shirking their responsibilities”.
“On a lighter note” story: SHIPPING ERROR DEPRIVES ORPHANAGE OF FOOD
The last remaining orphanage in the country today experienced………….’
The mechanical voice stuttered for a moment. At first, Clara thought the box may have malfunctioned and begun to chew up the card, but it sounded wrong. The box was known to eat cards occasionally, they were designed that way so as to keep repairmen in business, but there was a distinctive sound to a card being chewed. It was a deep, guttural noise that brewed in the bowels of the box. This noise was coming from the speakers.
The box was trying to interpret the card, but it wasn’t doing a very good job. The cards were finely crafted by special ministry-employed journalists, using the most delicate of equipment. The cards were always flawless, no matter how prone to breakdown the box was. This problem, however, was caused by the card.
Clara was confused. She didn’t know how to deal with this, it wasn’t supposed to happen. The things you expected to break would break, and the things you expected to work would work. The cards were not expected to break, so they should work.
She reached for the card, if it was going to spew hideous non-words at her for the next half hour she was not going to put up with it. When the box went wrong the very first thing people would do was try to remove the card, which they knew was wrong. If the box is chewing on the card, trying to remove it will only tear it, and make the repairman’s job much harder. Everybody knows this, but they do it anyway because it makes the repairman’s job harder, it gives him more work.
Clara assumed the same would ring true for this situation. As she gripped the top of the card, however, the voice spluttered it’s way back into some words. Real words. Words she could understand. Some came across a little malformed and warped, but the message was more or less understandable.
‘Ms Clara Hyde, you must pay attending to the following massage. It is all a lay, everything you are told by the ministries. The ergonomic standing of the country is perfectly healthful. They oyster to be acting in your name, but do you agree? They kill and torture people, disappear them from their homes and workpalaces at night, all in the name of economic stables.
You have seen this. Everyone has seen this, but they doughnut act. They bury their heads in the sand like Austrians because they are afraid. They should be afraid, but fear alone will not fix this circumcision, only actions can do that.
Ms Clara Hyde, if you see what we see then you must join us. Seek us out. We are known as the Cell. Come to us and we will explain everything.’
Clara removed the punch card from the box with a flourish and began to examine it. At first glance it was a normal punch card, everything in its right place and perfectly produced. A closer look revealed, however, that the latter half of the card had been altered.
The punch card news system operated by punching specific holes into a card, holes that would then be interpreted by the box as words or sentences. Altering the shape and size of the holes would therefore change what the box was reading, causing it to spout different words. The top half of the card, the half that had actually provided news, had the finely crafted holes she had come to expect, but the other half did not. They were rough around the edges and very shoddy, someone had quite obviously altered the holes already on the card to convey a different message.
The altered holes were quite clearly added by someone in a rush, and it was a surprise that any recognisable words could be plucked from them, even the bizarre message she had received. Still, to make such radical changes to the card, and to personalise the message, all signs pointed to someone inside the news ministry.
In truth, Clara knew all too well that things were wrong in society. The government made no attempts to even hide what they were doing, besides the continued emphasis on ‘the people’, and operated completely out in the open. They were playing on the general blindness of people to threat from a party with legitimacy. Words like ‘government’, ‘party’ and ‘regime’ all radiate authority and legitimacy, used enough times in a single speech and people will come to associate them with the speaker, regardless of whether they deserve it.
Generally, people are not wired to question authority. Even back when people used to protest, in what the government refers to as ‘The Years of Decline’, there would only be a few members of the group who genuinely questioned authority, the others latching onto these people’s own authority.
Authority breeds contempt, and nowhere was this more true than in the government. Every reported action of the government related to strengthening the economy, but there is more to governing than just that. Other areas of policy were never reported, only the economy, and that scared Clara.
The people go about their daily lives ignorant to what their country is actually doing, and there’s not even an ounce of curiosity. It had been bred out of them. Why ask questions about the world outside or interior policy when your standard of living was so much more important. They’d crafted the economic crisis into a vast demon that threatened everyone in the country, a weapon of mass distraction.
And everyone knew.
Everyone knew and did nothing, Clara included, and all because they felt they should. Yes, people were disappeared, but they were never made examples. Never once were the populace told not to think about these things, it was just taken for granted that they shouldn’t. But why? Why did they feel they should not think?
To Clara, the answer was obvious. It was the same feeling that she had experienced as a child, when she had tried to play in the garage. Her parents had never told her that she was not allowed in there, yet still she felt as though they had. An inferred rule, one that never needed officially stating but that she was sure would be enforced if need be.
This left her with a problem. She lived in a broken world, and these Cell people may be able to help her come to terms with that, possibly even fight it. That was, after all, what secret organisations did, fight things. But the feeling was there, telling her that the government would know before she even made up her mind, and they would not be pleased.
Freedom and death or ignorance and survival? Either way, she would have to make a phone call. She would either be calling numerous people in an attempt to find the Cell, or a single man at the Interior Ministry to inform him of a terrorist faction. She still hadn’t decided which, but it had to be done now, this wasn’t something that could be postponed until she felt more confident.
Clara took a couple of deep breaths and took one final look at the card. When she had started her day at the ministry, she never would have guessed it would have ended with a coded message. A message that may even have been a trap, a ruse to lure out dissent. Then again, it might have been truthful, a call-to-arms.
Clara scooped up her telephone and began to dial.