Friday 15 June 2012

Dark Fiction - Search

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By Casey Douglass

As part of #fridayflash

The klaxon wailed with a high pitched tone, making Tim jump as it always did. He opened his eyes to the blackness around him as he heard the tell tale signs of the mechanisms beginning to function.
A cold female voice sounded over the audio system, ‘C shift ready to begin in ten minutes. Engage exercise programme.’
The muscles in Tim’s arms and legs convulsed as the electrical current ran through his implants. He used to cry out but after seven years of this, now he valued the sensory stimulation, even though it felt like he was being filleted.
The darkness around him had turned a dull grey, a few tiny led lights slowly brightening to illuminate the small cell he was in. There was just room for his chair interface which he reclined on, the “reality grade” screen hanging just in front of his eyes, and the keyboard split in two and neatly resting under each hand on the chair arms.
Another wave of current passed through his body, the stimulation causing him to fill his waste removal pouch which whisked everything away with speedy silence. A tiny hiss of air freshener sounded behind him, the sickly smell of honeysuckle making him choke.
C Shift prepare for elevation.
Tim felt the current slacken in his body, the lights around him now shining full bright and white. The sound of the mechanisms was building now, the two flaps in the ceiling twitching with pent up tension.
With a grinding squeak they slid back, a rush of ozone entering Tim’s nostrils. With a shuddering movement, he felt his chair begin to rise, the motion used to be silky smooth but now it was like riding a bucking bronco. He had requested a new one but all they had told him was “cut-backs” and a “double dip recession” meant it was unlikely to happen. I guess that’s what I get for signing my life away at the wrong time he thought at the time.
The head of his chair emerged from the holding cell. He turned left and right, noticing the many other heads and chairs emerging from their own cells all around him. He nodded to the woman next to him when their eyes met, her hair was blonde but dirty and plastered to her forehead. She gave a wan smile before looking away. Tim sighed quietly. She had only been there a week or so and they still hadn’t cut her hair. With a jolt the chair stopped moving, the twin flaps pushing closed around the base. He looked around him once more, the rows of his co-workers stretching as far as he could see in every direction, each illuminated by the light of their screens, each one a small beacon in the overwhelming dark.
C Shift start work in two minutes.’
The screen in front of him flickered to life, random characters and numbers zooming across it as it performed its diagnostic tests. He closed his eyes before the onslaught. Forty eight hours he thought. Another forty eight hours before they switch me off again. Why do I do it? Well, for Emma and Troy, I know that. Without the money this brings in, we’d be destitute. I’d sacrifice myself for them one hundred times over if I could, so I know that’s why I do it! Come on Tim, for them! He mentally repeated it again and again, the pep talk he gave himself before every shift, reaching down deep inside himself for that small flicker of belief and hoping that his love for them would fuel the flame and increase his endurance.
C Shift begin work.’
The screen gave a flicker and then flooded with words. Long words short words misspelt words and nonsense words. He flicked his fingers left and right over the keys, highlighting, correcting and transferring, a small number in a green box in the upper right of his screen proclaiming his resolution rate as acceptable.
A food tube appeared next to him, ready for him to suck on the end when he felt depleted but he was flying for now. The sounds of thousands of others around him, all tapping keys quietly built up into a kind of droning white noise that lulled him into a trance. He liked it when this happened, it took him less conscious thought.
He was well and truly in his rhythm when something jolted him awake again. He wasn’t sure what had happened, but something had plucked him from his zoned out state and shattered his mental routine. In a daze he stared at the screen, the resolution counter now having an amber background. The cursor highlighted two words. He closed his mouth when he became aware it was slack. He rubbed his fingers around his eyes and looked again. The resolution counter chimed and flashed red.
Number 2466-46, is there a problem?’ 
He pressed a button beside his chair.
Sorry, no problem here, just lost my place.’
You have sixty seconds to get up to speed again 2466-46 or you will be penalised. Understood?’
He gave his head a shake, trying to dislodge a mental agitation in the only way he could think of. Did they know where he was? His fingers began to flick over the keys again, a smile on his face as his resolution rating returned to green once more.

What are you looking at Troy?’
Err nothing Mum.’
I know you’re sixteen but I don’t want you looking at porn if that’s what you're doing!’
I’m not!’
Troy heard footsteps behind him as he looked down at his laptop.
Oh Troy.’
He felt his Mum’s arms envelop him as she stroked his hair.
We’ll find him!’
I know...I just thought I could look on-’
I know. You’re a good boy, I know you miss your dad.’
Can’t you trace where the money comes from that he sends us?’
I wouldn’t know how.’
They both fell silent as they stared at the screen.
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