When I woke up I knew I was in a Macrohard holding cubicle. Shit, shit, and shit again. SHIT! Bad news, completely bad news. I looked down at my body. I was dressed in a one-piece suit with no arms. The cubicle was the size of a closet-- but with no roof. If I were four feet taller, I could stretch my neck and look out. I could hear plenty of moaning on all sides. At least I'm not claustrophobic. I tried to sit down, but there wasn't enough room. I leaned against one wall while my knees pressed against the other. On the floor I read in large red letters: NEGATIVE 3.
I squirmed and dozed in and out of consciousness until the walls started to rise up into the air. I tried to stand up straight, but I couldn't keep my balance because my legs had fallen asleep. As the walls continued to rise, I could see the entire structure was built like a honeycomb keeping a hundred prisoners separated. I was surrounded by others, all dressed like myself, standing on their numbers. I tried to stand up, which wasn't easy without using hands. I felt a wave of nausea and a sharp pain in my bowels.
We were standing in what looked like a giant wash basin. Guards were patrolling along the edge twenty feet above us. Escape was impossible. There were drains on the floor spaced every ten feet or so and there was one metal door directly ahead of me. None of the prisoners spoke. Judging by the amount of body fat on these dudes, I knew I must be the newest member of this country club. As I glanced about I saw the pictures spread everywhere along the walls: a man's face with a zipper for lips; authoritative faces with one finger in front of the lips. SHHHHH. SILENCE WILL BE REWARDED. TALKING NOT ALLOWED. Great, what did they do hire a bunch of librarians to decorate this place? It smelled like a latrine. I had to go and I had to go bad. One of the guards started throwing buckets of soap powder onto over us. I heard the sound of metal grinding and was suddenly hurled into the corner by the force of ice cold water spraying from several fire hoses above us. We were being given a shower. The impact caused me to lose control of my bowels. I felt like apologizing, but all I could do was close my eyes and clench my teeth as I lay on the ground, huddled with one hundred other poor slobs as we endured the fifteen minute cold water wash down.
Gradually the water subsided and all I could hear was the generalized groaning of the others mixed with the sound of the water swirling down the drains. This is not working for me. The door opened and we started to walk out single file into a courtyard. The light hurt my eyes, but it hardly mattered. I hurt everywhere: my head hurt, my legs hurt; I was a wobbly mass of pure pain. I was aware of every muscle in my body and they all felt torn and stretched. The courtyard was plastered with advertisements for Macrohard. What a difference with Macrohard. Solve your information problems today with Macrohard. The loud speakers were playing Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band.
It's wonderful to be here.
It's certainly a thrill.
You're such a lovely audience.
We'd love to take you home with us.
I tried to keep walking. I knew sooner or later we would be back in the honeycomb modules. All the prisoners were looking at the ground. No one spoke to one another. One guy walked by me and made eye contact for a split second. We paused without looking at each other and he began to whisper.
"It's a fuckin' shame. Them buyin' the copyrights to every song the fabulous four ever wrote. A cryin' fuckin' shame. Used to be my favorite group. Can't stand to hear 'em no more".
I nodded my head, half-listening. The prisoner's eyes darted around the yard.
"They're tryin' to reset us. That's what they're up to."
"Reset us. You know. Hit the ol' reset button on the ol' nogan. Start things off right again. The rebooting of our cognitic psychodemographic equalizers. That's how to handle us 10 percenters, right?"
I knew what he was talking about. "Ninety percent of our problems stem from must ten percent of the population. That what you mean?"
"Zactly. Come on. I had a bootstrap education just like everybody else."
"All I know is this looks like a Macrohard holding chamber; and that is one fuckin' uncool place to be. Knew a dude who did softime. Three months. Seemed real normal to me before he went in. Afterwards, the dude became a data entry operator. A DATA ENTRY OPERATOR. Can you fuckin' believe that? He wouldn't talk to me. Total fuckin' mind change."
"They stabbed his ass. That's what they did, man."
"Stabbed? They cut the dude?"
"Staged Artifical Believability: STAB for short. They stage an event designed to scare the livin' daylights out a ya. Then, just when ya think ya gonna die, they rescue yer ass and reprogram ya."
"I don't get it."
"Complete and utter panic erases behavioral conditioning. Wipes the fuckin' slate clean. So, by scaring you they reset your mind making it susceptible to whatever they want. They program you the way they want you programmed."
"So you saying this is what Macrohard calls therapy?"
"Exactly. And they use pure fuckin' Hollywood shit to do it. Sets, lights, actors-all that shit. They hire a whole crew to do it. One dude was kidnapped, gagged, and his feet were put in a huge can of cement. As it dried, they took the dude into a boat, went a couple miles off shore and threw his ass in the water! Thirty seconds later, they pulled him back in and reprogrammed every circuit in his poor ass little brain. They spared no expense."
We stood in awed silence. We looked out through the fence. The guy stuck his finger through the fence and pointed at my office building.
"See that big building? That's corporate headquarters. Central control. That's where all the suits work. I've never been there. I'm a live-in assembly worker. I've never seen a single person who's ever walked through that building. Guess they like it that way. It's a lot easier to fire people when you don't see 'em in the flesh. Don't forget: This whole fuckin' movie is dubbed, man. It's dubbed."
A siren went off and we all started marching back into the basin room. Something inside me split open. I was overcome with anxiety. There was no way I could go back into the basin. I broke out of the line and started running in circles, screaming: "No fuckin' way, no fuckin' way. I'm not going back in there." I snapped. I could almost see myself from the outside. I completely lost my cool. My hands were sewn up in the damn straight jacket, so all I could do was slam myself about like a loose fire hose at a punk rock concert. Two of the guards wrestled me down to the ground, pushing my face into the dirt: a beat down royale. It just ain't cool. Mollywoppin' a poor fool in a straight jacket. As the guard continued to pound the back of my head into the ground, I couldn't help but think that life just isn't fair. I wonder if the guard knows what "anaphora" means.
I fell into a dream. It was about the boxer again. Only this time his whole torso was missing. We were in the same crowded auditorium, only here I was with the bottom half of a man dancing away ready to fight. I walked straight up to this marionette of a practical joke, only to walk right into a hurricane of punches. The first blow knocked me in the stomach while a second bounced off my left cheek sending me flying into the ropes. As I gathered myself out of the spider web of surrounding nylon, it came to me: I'm fighting some kind of fuckin' invisible man! I turned again to see the dancing pair of shorts and legs. This guy is invisible from the top up. This is the only possible explanation. I ran to him and grabbed him. He had an upper half all right--I could feel his skin under my gloves. He slipped out from under my grip and showered me with punches. I deflected them one-by-one. But then it was like guarding a castle wall against a horde of invaders: I was able to push away the first few ladders, but they came from too many directions and were soon all over me. I felt the sting of one too many blows and again slipped into unconsciousness.
I woke up in a luxey-lux hotel room. The sheets were white and smelled lemony fresh. I was wearing pajamas with a print of John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the front. My body feels great. Mmmm. There's a bottle of Morphinic Tranquillium 17 on the counter. That's why I feel like Slick Rick. There was a bundle of sweet smelling organics by the bed with get-well card signed by the staff. The card was a picture of the Beatles' Hard Day's Night album. Yeah, I'll say it was. I squeezed the sheets to see if they were real. I walked over to the window and looked into the yard below. It looked like a typical Macrohard corporate play yard. There was a Volleyball game in progress. That's one thing I never understood: why do these people love to play Volleyball so much? I mean what's the appeal? Volleyball courts on the inside, Guillotines on the outside---that pretty much sums up modern society. And, of course, the lawn mowers are still doing their thing twenty-four seven. Will's obsession with a twice-an-hour mowing schedule guarantees that not a single leaf of grass might overextend its welcome. It's like most investors I know get their hair cut every day. Every fuckin' day! Microcuts make you look the same all year 'round.
I could see others dressed in pajamas like mine across the courtyard. Another wave of pain pinched me in the stomach. I'm a pig gettin' fattened up for sacrifice: fattenin' me up for the S.T.A.B.---that luscious moment for them when they recondition the fuck out of my poor battered brain cells. My only hope, my only possible chance out of this fucked up of all fucked up situations is to expect that it's gonna happen. Yeah, knowing that this STAB is gonna go down is what's gonna save my sorry ass because if I know they're trying to make me panic, I can keep from panicking. Isn't that right? I mean they're not gonna kill me, they just want me to think they're gonna do me. Yeah, that's my ticket. It's only a movie. It's only a movie. It's only a movie. The big question is when? Shit, somebody give me a tobacco tube. Please!
I heard a tapping at the door. I looked and began to walk toward the door when I realized there was no door handle. The door opened and a moppety looking face with dyed blond hair and horn-rim glasses peered at me. I thought about brain-bashing him and making a run for it, but I decided my only real hope was to pretend to play the game.
"Good morning. I'm Doctor Malchek. How are you feeling today?" The little puppet face had a real voice.
"Much better," I said, trying to sound reasonably cheerful and cooperative. I sensed he thought I was a bit too cheery, so I decided to tone it down by narrowing my gaze to the floor.
"We realize you have been through a difficult time these last few days." "Difficult?" I thought to myself. I considered again the possibility of smashing this guy and making an escape attempt.
"Not really difficult," I said maintaining my downward gaze. "Just a little confusing. Why am I here? Can you answer me that?"
"It really doesn't matter. You're in treatment now and that's all that matters. I understand someone's anxious to get you back on the job. It says here you have a speech to give in a couple days."
"A couple days? Jesus, what day is this?"
"Why it's Monday. Monday the fourteenth."
He started making notes on his clipboard. I began to feel nervous. I wanted to see what he was writing. Maybe he knows my game. If only I could distract him long enough to see his notes. Penny Lane, an old song by the Beatles, came on over the loud speaker. He looked up at me and smiled. He started humming along with the music. He even did a little jig.
"Isn't it wonderful? Isn't it marvelous? Those lads from Liverpool were really onto something. Imagine, where we'd be today if they'd never been around?"
I nodded yes in agreement. He put his arms out to me indicating I should come forward. I thought perhaps he wanted to dance, then he pulled out a stethoscope and began examining me.
"You're in good shape my boy. You have nothing to worry about. You'll be back on the job after a good night's rest."
I walked into the bathroom and gazed into the mirror. It was still the same old me. The same Lane Cooper. My eyes were still gray. My hair was still thinning out a little on top and on the sides. Same boyish smile, or is it more a devilish grin? I'm still me as far as I can tell. But who knows these days? What if they've already put me through the STAB?
I heard a knock at the door and two nurses came into the room. They were both wearing peace buttons and tie-die skirts.
"Good morning," they said in chorus. "Doctor Malcheck wants you to come up to his office to sign out of the hospital." I nodded in agreement and gathered up my clothing. I could tell they had CD implants in their ears because they were humming and nodding to some melody I couldn't hear. I followed them as we walked down the corridor. The hallway was completely silent, unnaturally so. Was I the only patient in this wing? They took me to the elevator, pressed a button and smiled at each other as the door closed. It was an outside glass elevator. I hate glass elevators.
"Wouldn't it make more sense to take the stairs?" I asked. The two were staring at each other oblivious to my comments, lost in some mutual music wonderland. I didn't want them to realize I was suffering. No use letting on. They might use it against me someday. I stared down at my feet and closed my eyes. I felt dizzy and squeezed my hands onto the rails. If I had eaten I would have thrown up. The elevator came to a stop.
Thank goodness, I whispered to myself as I slowly opened my eyes. The attendants were already out of the elevator and were standing smiling at me on the landing. I started to smile back when the elevator doors slammed shut. I lunged at the door, but it was too late. The elevator started to accelerate at three times its normal speed. My knees folded and I fell to the floor. I screamed as I saw a blur of blue sky all around me. The movement slowed while gradually the elevator cab started to lean onto its side. I was thrown against the glass wall. This elevator was twisting. This was no ordinary elevator.
What the hell, what the HELL is going on? I yelled out loud to myself. Suddenly it hit me. This is it. This is the fucking STAB! It had to be. They were bringing me to the edge of panic. They must have discovered I have a fear of heights and they're using it to break me down before the conditioning. A thousand thoughts whirled through my mind as I felt the elevator cab continue to pull itself up on its side. I've got to maintain control. Got to make it look like I've lost it completely. They don't know that I know how the therapy works. That's my only advantage. The elevator was moving on its side. I looked up and could see I was on top of the building. The cab was being dragged across the top. It came up to the opposite edge of the building and started to tilt downward. I fell to what used to be the ceiling. I could see the whole city miles below us as the elevator teetered and waited for at least one minute.
This was the moment that would determine my personality for the rest of my life. If I surrender to the panic, I will be lost. I will be reprogrammed and live a new life, thanks to Macrohard. If I can hold on to the thought that this is just a prank to drive me crazy, maybe somehow I can survive with my personality intact.
Then, the cab started to free-fall. I felt the back of the cab slam into my shoulders as the green and gray mass of the city below started force feeding itself into my eyes. MOTHERFUCKIN' MOTHERFUCKER!!! I closed my eyes screaming as loud as I could. I mentally clamped down on my personality, as if it were a thing. I held it so tight I felt my hands go numb. Then everything stopped. The elevator doors opened and a crew of nurses pulled me onto a stretcher and began administering oxygen to me. I suddenly broke into a smile although they couldn't see I was smiling because of the mask. I had made it. I was still Lane Cooper. I had held onto my personality and resisted the attempt to overwhelm my senses. I looked down at my hands. They were still tightly closed. I opened them and saw that my nails had cut into the skin.
The stretcher continued down the hallway toward a room with a door that looked like it belonged on a ship rather than a building. This would be the place where they would perform the conditioning. I knew this. The fact that I knew this and that they didn't know that I knew was my only advantage. The medic stopped in front of the door, propped me up and looked at his watch. He stared at me right in the eyes and with a piercing direct voice said, "Repeat everything I say. I will give a fantastic speech on Wednesday evening."
"I will give a fantastic speech on Wednesday evening." I felt mesmerized by the guy's voice. I went along.
"I will enlighten my audience with my charismatic manner."
"I will enlighten my audience with my charismatic manner."
"I am calm, confident, and secure about my speech."
"I am calm, confident, and secure about my speech."
"I won't let the old man down."
"I won't let the old man down."
He barked into his walkie-talkie, "Okay, subject's ready for phase two!" He pushed my stretcher through the door. The room completely lit up. A chorus broke out:
"WELCOME BACK, LANE!"
The room was painted entirely in yellow. In the background, the Beatles were singing: "WE ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE, A YELLOW SUBMARINE, A YELLOW SUBMARINE." A clean-shaven man wearing a white suit and love beads came up and grabbed my hand.
"Thank goodness you're all right," he said. As he assisted me out of my stretcher, I realized I was in the middle of a party. A retro last century, drug filled, sex crazy orgy from the looks of the naked people, water pipes and psychedelic posters all over the walls. Over the din of the music, smells, and laughter, the clean-shaven man took me by the arm to the other side of the room, next to a large wooden hot tub filled with a group of attractive merrymakers. Every one of 'em was CHEARED (chemically induced endorphic response) to the limit. I could tell. Not a single ten-percenter among them. They motioned for me to join them in the tub. I found myself pulled into the tub and was instantly greeted with hands touching me from all sides. Pleasure sharks anxious to bite into new prey.
The man who walked me to the tub crouched down and said, "My name is Mr. Hollander. You're among friends here, Lane. Congratulations are in order. You, my friend, are a winner, a survivor. Welcome back!" I smiled back. I knew this was just part of the STAB, but I had to play along. The women on either side of me had their hands on my knees under the water. That part didn't bother me.
"Lane, we've heard so much about you," one of the women said. "We are so happy you're the one doing the talkin' tomorrow night." She handed me a glass of pink liquid.
"People talk about you."
"You have a reputation around here."
"I do? What are people saying about me these days?"
"We know what you do up in that big office of yours."
"With all that database technology. You know how to make those machines purr."
"Purr. That's right. I make them purr just for me. That's what I do."
"Will likes you, doesn't he?"
"Will? What makes you think he likes me?"
"It's obvious, isn't it?"
"Sure he likes me. What's not to like?"
"You were in the war, weren't you?" She couldn't stop staring at my tats.
"I was stationed in Miami when Singapore landed."
"Did you kill anyone?"
"I only did what had to be done. Does that matter to you?"
"I've never met anyone who killed anything other than a computer virus before."
"Well, I've killed some of those, too."
"Were you afraid?"
"Afraid? I'm not afraid of anyone."
"I'll bet you're gonna be my brave boy when you get up on that stage tomorrow night."
"Why, yes. I am the speaker man. The speaker man can." The crowd in the tub burst into laughter.
I didn't think I was that funny, but they didn't stop laughing. Soon, I too was laughing along.
Go to chapter 16