Getting the Message

[I think this will be my last “normal” post for awhile. I will keep my daily Ruminations going, as failing to do that would ruin the sequence. Beyond that, I’ll keep to myself for a bit. I appreciate you regular visitors, especially those who comment, either here or via email. I truly value your comments and encouragement; you define goodness. ]

The view through the windows of the speeding train mesmerized Jacob Klezmer. A massive wind farm rose on the right side of the train from thousands of acres of mottled green pasture land. Hundreds of black and white cows grazed beneath the huge grey towers, their propellers seeming to move in slow motion. Only a few cows raised their heads to glance at the train; the remainder seemed oblivious to the red and silver snake slithering along the rails at one hundred-twenty kilometers per hour.

Klezmer had spent quadruple the cost of a guaranteed seat to give himself a rare treat: a private, sound-proof viewing pod near the front of the train. He had almost the entire car to himself. Even guaranteed seating passes were expensive, so most people simply paid the base fare and fought for a standing-room-only spot near a window, hoping for an occasional breeze.

The remainder of the train was at capacity, but Jacob was among a half-dozen passengers in the first-class viewing car, only two of whom sat together in a viewing pod. Other passengers in premium seating, like him, sat in self-imposed isolation, pearls inside oysters, sliding safely through the guts of a reptile.

The passenger communication panel, complimentary in first-class accommodations, buzzed, signaling that it was operational and ready for passenger use. Klezmer punched in numbers and listened for the device to connect. Almost immediately, he heard a recording. “We’re sorry, but the person you are trying to reach is either dead or dying. If you believe you have received this recording in error, disengage and establish a new connection.”

He sat staring at the communication panel display, stunned at what he had just heard. Three more tries; three more times, the same message replayed.

Erika Clossmun couldn’t possibly have been targeted for culling, he thought. She was healthy, intelligent, and absolutely obedient to Central.

Central’s recent practice of culling, as far as Klezmer knew,  had focused on less productive members. Old people, people with resource-depleting illness, and skeptics who questioned the authority, or legitimacy, of Central’s actions commonly disappeared with only a sterile announcement in the daily Central Communique: “We announce the culling of Margaret Lamb, 89, of Elder Block 88 in New Boston. Her departure enables a new delegate to be released from the Tissue Bank and, for that, we are eternally grateful to Margaret Lamb for her donation to Central Management.”

But while it might be appropriate for eighty-nine-year-old Margaret Lamb, whose body was failing, to be culled, Klezmer thought, culling a thirty-one-year-old woman was different. Erika ran marathons, toed the Central line, and had publicly expressed hopes for the future.  Klezmer’s eyes brimmed with tears. Erika had been his friend, his lover, and his teacher. Central frowned on emotions, especially tears, but at that moment he did not care.  Anger welled inside him in a way that at once gave him confidence that he could challenge Central and paralyzed him with fear that Central might know of his allegiance to Erika.

The surveillance cameras in viewing pods, outfitted with retinal scanners, were infallible in their ability to detect and categorize passenger emotions. The one in Klezmer’s pod had already identified his anger; the moment Klezmer had dialed Erika’s number, the camera zoomed in on his eyes, feeding data to Central’s massive Langley data center, triggering a monitoring alarm at Bianca Carmello’s workstation.

Carmello clicked on the image of Klezmer sitting in his viewing pod; a pop-up window with Klezmer’s details appeared on her monitor. Thirty-eight years old; skepticism coefficient: 7.9 (subject to reclassification); productivity coefficient: 8.34; personal relationship status: four failed relationships, one potential positive relationship terminated by Central; assigned analyst: Bianca Carmello; decision-point: cull or attempt recovery.

Damn, Carmello thought, this looks so straightforward; I wonder if I’m being assessed. She hesitated for just a moment longer than acceptable performance standards called for before clicking on ‘attempt recovery.’  A monitoring alarm buzzed at the Park City, Utah workstation assigned to Shalifondra Gomez. Gomez clicked on an image of Bianca Carmello staring at her monitor in a cubicle two thousand miles away.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Getting the Message

  1. Millie says:

    This was hair-raising.

    I wish I were capable of writing as powerfully as you do. My weeks will not feel complete when I can’t Swinburn-gorge at least once or twice during the week. I assume you are going to use this time to work on the novel or the breakfast book. If that be so, then your readers’ sacrifice will be worth the withdrawal.

  2. Joyce says:

    I’ll miss you, John. Along with my coffee, you have started my days. Don’t stay away too long. Hope you are well

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