Author: Josh Thompson
The grey of the crowd’s grieving clothes blended with the concrete of the square in the cold morning haze. The sunlight filtering through the smog was enough to wash out the street level neon and the giant screens far above, but not enough to warm the skin of those gathered in the square. The distant sounds of heavy industry rolled slow and heavy through the air, sounding as if humankind had taken thunder prisoner. That mechanized roar was the closest thing to silence in the City, and overtop of it spoke a single figure standing amidst the crowd. The greying hair which covered his head and hung to his face made him seem almost to fade into the background, but a quiet determination filled his eyes as he spoke.
“Fifteen years today.”
“Fifteen years. For fifteen years their sacrifice has given us the lives we have, and today as on this day every year since the Decree, we gather in remembrance. Just as it’s always been, more were lost this year than each year past – but we must never forget the individual.” The man fell silent, and after a brief pause a young woman spoke up.
“My husband was taken this year, under the Amendment. It wasn’t even violent crime – we couldn’t keep up with the bankruptcy payments to the City and all he tried to do was siphon from the ATM bot. He didn’t even tell me – he never thought he’d get caught.” She pressed her tattooed lips together, keeping her emotions at bay.
“The ones who came for him – they told him Conscious Labour for life, or the Process. He wouldn’t listen to me – he thought at least the Process would provide for me but every month when I get the credits for his work, it hurts more than any of the nights we spent with nothing to eat. I stopped going outside for the fear of seeing his eyes in one of those helmets. Every time I hear the sound of one of them approaching, I still feel like I’ll throw up. I don’t even know why I’m still here. His name was Jakov.”
The man picked up again.
“Countless, but just like Jakov all individuals. Even as they continue to provide for us, we must remember the only way to stay sane is to remember that they are gone. The eyes may be theirs, but to let those feelings in is to give to the City something we must-” He stopped. His eyes flicked upwards.
A sound cut through the crowd as a pair of unnaturally tall figures stepped into the square. Their predatory gait, a result of their twice-jointed legs which began with camouflage-clad human thighs and ended in raptor-like mechanical servos, brought them purposefully towards the crowd. In their steel hands, which hung at the end of human arms mummified in ribbons of cable and encased in mechanical upgrades, they carried suppression plasma rifles, far heavier than anything a human could carry.
“This unregistered gathering exceeds City guidelines. Failure to immediately disperse will result in corrective action without trial,” barked an electronic speaker somewhere in the array of sensors which made up one’s lower face, a face framed by a helmet and a swathe of neural interface cables. That wasn’t what stuck out to the people in the square, however. There was something far harder to avoid staring at. In the center of their faces, amidst their unfamiliar features, sat unmistakably human eyes, wide open in an expression which looked like panic, darting left and right but unable to do any more.