real lj idol | week 30 (prompt 3) | 820 words
Note: This story relates to a previous LJ Idol entry. If you haven't read the other story, I suggest doing so first.
I don’t know where I was when it started, but I sure as hell was there at the end.
It found me.
There'd been rumors running in the background: a rising trend in anti-intellectualism, a surge in self-righteous posturing on the part of preachers and politicians. Coffee-house talk was that something big was coming. Some said Cultural Revolution, others said martial law. Both ideas were crazy—this was America, those things didn't happen—but even if none of it was true, we suspected that parts of it weren't wrong.
A friend in telecommunications sent me an email just days before it happened:
"Trouble. Broadcast media shut down, scientists next. Document everything and hide it. Sorry we didn't—"
I couldn't reach Alan after that, not even the next day. I tried calling him, I went by his house, but no one was there. I drove past his office, which no longer looked the same. A few armed guards were standing watch out front, and a stream of slow, unsettling smoke drifted from the roof up to the sky.
There was nothing in the news about it—nothing at all. Every paper had the same Associated Press story on the Chinese government destroying all U.S. satellites, taking down the broadcast grid as a result. The rest was all filler about weather and elections overseas.
I took Alan's words to heart. I typed the details of all my research projects into a computer, and printed them out. I added my associate's notes, my Ph.D. thesis, and even the files from the guy across the hall. I passed along Alan's message as I went, but no one seemed to take it seriously, so I worked my way through everything I could. I met a few colleagues from other offices for lunch or coffee, to try to spread the word. We stuck to fast food and takeout—things that could be eaten on the go. We walked where we couldn't be spied on or heard, and I told them what I knew and asked them to make sure the warning got out. Who knew how much time we might have left?
It was a Tuesday when the government came. They shut down power to the entire city area, then swarmed over our Research facility like an army of vicious, single-minded ants. I saw colleagues killed as they tried to flee the building. The rest of us were rounded up and hauled out the back, with the government's henchmen setting fire to everything in our wake.
They shoved us in buses and drove us to the military detention center. No one was allowed to speak during the trip, and the buses were filled with the sounds of random sobbing. I rode quietly, despite the edginess inside me. The man next to me was from one of the downstairs labs, and he kept jiggling his leg and grinding his teeth.
They processed us at the detention center. I was quizzed on my background and a slew of irrelevant personal details, then led to a small cell in the building's basement. We were clearly being treated like prisoners, but what had we done? No one would tell us, and those who kept asking were killed—put down like rabid dogs. I saw the look of anguish on the face of my team-member, Janice, as she lay dying from the bullet-holes in her chest. God, would anyone even tell her family that she was dead?
No one else I knew was killed, at least I don't think so, but we never left our cells after that and the basement was too loud for talking. My associate, Phil, was the only one of them I ever saw again…
They tell me I'm one of the lucky ones. I run one of the collection depots for the Science And Technology Elimination Department now, taking in found remnants of ideas and machines from Before. After so many years of inventing and building new things, I'm reduced to destroying them—except for the few the government takes away.
I'm lucky because I'm still alive, the over-sergeant reminds me. Most of the others aren't, not just my friends and coworkers but scientists from all over the country. I'll never know how many are gone.
All my years of studying and training made me a target, but they also gave me the knowledge to judge the danger or benefit of the things people bring in. I hate doing the government's dirty work, I hate helping the hypocrisy and lies. Sometimes I want to tell everyone the truth, but who would listen, when the official story's been sewed up so tight?
So I keep my mouth shut, and run my part of the system. As long as I behave and do what the government tells me, everything will be fine.
If not, they've made it clear that they know exactly where my parents and sisters live.
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