lj idol season nine | week 25 | 1205 words
You can hear them coming through the sky, but it's too late by then. Damn drone-flies see everything. You try hiding and they'll still find you— and they never forget. They know what you look like, what your habits are, and where you like to go.
All that data gets sent to the WorldNet servers, and the bots crawl through it, looking for images and patterns to feed back into the system again. The damn thing's learning.
What it does with that knowledge, we don't know. You ask, and you'll be told you're mistaken—that none of that is really happening. You can't figure out a "why" from something that doesn't exist, so you're obviously imagining things.
They've been saying that for years, but no one actually believes it's true.
It all happened after the cities fell. One day, we had normal lives and regular jobs, and the next we were wandering through bombed-out rubble, trying to figure out why it suddenly went so wrong. There had been some trouble. The government was battling with labor unions, pushing for more control while the workers got less and less. Robber barons were on the rise and at war with everyone else, and the poor… the poor had finally gotten angry. But we never thought it would lead to this.
Overnight, our region became a disaster zone. People clustered in the few houses and buildings that were left, some willing to kill to protect what little they still had. Food became scarce after the initial looting raids, and it and everything else were rationed now. My work as a teacher was no longer needed, so I was reassigned to the desalination plant. There are only three major lines of work here—desalination, sewage, and sanitation. There would be a shortage of jobs except that so many people have already died.
We've heard rumors that not all the cities were destroyed. Stu Barlow claims to talk to other survivors via short-wave radio, and the ones back east act as if nothing has changed. It's hard to know what to believe now, when not much of anything still makes sense. Was it just our region? Our country? Or is the whole world a wasteland of dust and death?
My brother, Frank, and I live in a place out by the old carpet factory. It's what's left of someone's garage, and one side of it is gone, but it's shelter. Last winter was pretty rough. I don’t expect this one'll be much better.
Frank works in sanitation. He used to talk about wanting to work in electrical instead, but those are restricted government jobs. Last April, he disappeared for a couple of days, and he's never been quite the same. His buddy, Jack, joked for a bit that Frank had gotten some kind of spyware implanted in his brain, but then Jack went missing and we haven't seen him since.
We don’t joke like that anymore.
Frank doesn't have much of a sense of humor now, anyway. If someone trips and just drops stuff right and left, he'll still laugh, but griping about the mess we're in and who the hell's really running things these days? Not even a smile. I heard the last guy who said that disappeared too, and then came back like Frank. It's like the thought-police are in his head, and if you aren't happy with how things are going, you'd better shut up.
It's not like anyone's planning a revolution, though you'd never know it, with the drone-flies and the other spy gadgets. We're all too busy trying to survive, and the powers in charge are in no hurry to rebuild and make things easier for us.
I miss my old job. Those little rugrats were a hell of a lot more fun than monitoring pipes and cleaning salt traps. You don't see many kids around here anymore. I worry about my old students sometimes. What happened to them? I hope they're somewhere safe with their parents, far away from all this.
Drone-flies were swarming around when I walked home after work last night. I ducked inside the swap-mart in the old Allied Bank building, and even got a couple of tarps to help weatherize the garage we're living in. But when I left, the drone-flies picked me up again and followed me all the way home. I don't know what they wanted, but it couldn't be anything good.
One of them tried to get in—all the more reason to put the tarps up and secure that open wall. "What did you do?" Frank asked, though I honestly had no idea. Even if I did know, I don't feel safe talking to him anymore.
I told my line-partner, Phil, about it this morning. "You know," he said, "I really thought the government would have cleaned all this up by now. It's been years, for Christ's sake. Who's running things? Or maybe that's the problem—there's no one at the helm." I laughed, even if I shouldn't have, because fuck it—everything he said was true.
Later, as I'm going home, someone pulls me into an alley and I feel a sharp pain in the side of my neck. The next thing I know, I'm standing outside our garage, but I don't remember anything in between. How did I get here?
Frank looks at me funny, but he just keeps on making dinner and then we eat. The food tastes a little weird, kind of metallic, but I figure I might be coming down with something. I'm tired enough that I go to bed right after dinner, and sleep like the dead.
It's hard as hell to get up in the morning, but whatever's got a hold on me, I can't even begin to think of staying home. We swiped a bottle of aspirin from a convenience store a couple of years back, and I take three of them and start the long walk in.
"Jesus, Ray, where've you been?" Phil asks when I get there.
"Home," I answer, even though it's obvious. Damn, did I miss something? Or maybe I'm late?
"You've been gone for four days!"
Phil's kidding, of course. Sometimes his sense of humor really gets on my nerves.
"Seriously, today is Friday—ask anyone. What happened to you, anyway?" Phil says.
I remember the alley and the pinprick then, and my stomach feels as if my last two meals are trapped inside. What the hell did they do to me?
This can't be real, I'm just being paranoid. Someone probably tried to rob me, and found there was nothing to steal. The headache building in the back of my head says otherwise, though, and I know what that has to mean. I think about Frank and the others like him, and try not to panic.
"Ray." Phil's still staring at me. "I mean it. What happened?"
My tongue feels thick and numb as I struggle to get the words out: I think they might have done something to my brain.
But I feel my face stiffen and fall into an expression almost like boredom, and as hard as I try, the word that actually leaves my mouth is,
If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.