Years ago, I felt much differently about Maradria and the world in which we live – its nature, our place in it, the very fabric of its and our own being. I was a proponent of it all, another victim to its semantic lies. But on a particular gloomy September morning about a year ago, the world as I understood it began to spin to another tune.
That morning I stepped out of the cab, briefcase in hand as I always would, then continued up the steps to the Department of Development’s two large doors consuming the building’s façade. The doors are each fifteen feet high and four feet wide, curving inwards about halfway up. When they were closed together you could read the inscription ‘PROGRESSION UNDER ONE MIND’ scrawled in thick copper lettering across them. When one door was opened, the phrase was split around where the ‘U’ and ‘N’ meet each other in the word ‘under’. I peered down towards the alleyway at the left of the staircase in search of the Barbarian dwelling there – he didn’t peer over the stone railing that day, but it was not to say he wasn’t there at all. A sickly peasant stripped of societal responsibilities had no reason to be up at dawn. The idea of his individuality would slither into my mind and shake my bones at the most inopportune moments. I’d gag at his likeness and remind myself how luck most of us are to be of the same mind as the door said. There was no way of knowing what kind of filthy musings went on between a Barbarian’s ears. I dug my free hand into my jacket pocket and fingered the dirty card he’d given me a few days prior. “I know you’re doubting it all. Call us and be free,” he said. I shook my head as if to rattle out his nonsense, then opened the door.
A screech echoed through the foyer of the Department when I pried it from its rusty frame. Any semblance of natural light was gradually sucked out as the door forced its way back into the frame behind me. I heard the squeaking of shoes, rustling of papers, and a few coughing employees echoing above a low murmur in the marble hall.
Once I reached the upstairs office I took a polystyrene cup and poured a serving of murky water. I then made my way to the window to marvel at the magnificent views I once believed I could never grow tired of. I grabbed the lower hem of my fashionably tattered gray shirt and wiped the glass so a streak of cleanliness provided an aperture for a finer view. A gorgeous green ether whipped across the morning sky. It bowed over The Wheel in typically majestic fashion. I breathed in and almost quivered in its presence. Astounding: it spins indefinitely at a perfect pace of twenty-two miles per hour, suspended between those three nine-foot-thick iron supports. You can’t help but smile when you witness the mesmerizing rotation. The symbolism of it…the power. For in many ways we are all part of The Wheel – cogs in a constant progress, indistinguishable and never faltering. As The Wheel never stops spinning, we will forever live in serenity under one mind in the name of persisting Maradrian progress and dominance. It was an iconic reminder of what was sacrificed to obtain pure unity – the very definition of beauty as far as any Maradrian is concerned.
“Magnificent, isn’t it?” Rose proclaimed as she laid a soft hand upon my shoulder.
Usually I’d have jumped at her touch while soaking in The Wheel’s might. That day, my mind was already drifting by the time Rose approached. “Absolutely,” I responded dutifully.
I looked down into my cup of water before taking a sip – that delectable cloudy liquid. I raised it slightly, as if to make a toast. “What did we as citizens do to deserve this?”
“What do you mean?” Rose asked.
In mid-sip, I motioned across the window with my free hand. “Everything,” I said after swallowing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what I meant. I sensed a touched of insincerity in my own voice. “All of it. I’m not sure – the words escape me, you know? The beauty, the safety the –”
“How could I forget?” I chuckled.
Rose shook her head with a satisfied smirk but said nothing. She stood beside me with an uncontrollable grin situated on her naïve jaw, and gawked at its might.
But if I’m being honest, there was a reason I’d forgotten. I’ve felt something brewing deep within recently. I’ve felt a fiery sensation kindling in my stomach, enraging my heart, and scorching my mind. There’s a different type of machinery at work – one quite contrary to The Wheel. And to be further sincere, I’m not sure whether the Barbarians repulse me for the same reasons they used to – the same reasons they were supposed to. For the first time, instead of the mere idea of a Barbarian bringing my instantaneous nausea, I felt a completely different heavy burn in my stomach – envy. I suddenly feel something of a – no. I dare not put it in writing. I figured I must be coming down with something. I fingered the card in my pocket once more. When I bent its corner back and let it go, it made a muffled flicking sound. My eyes darted towards Rose. She hadn’t heard it. My face heated and soon secreted a warm sweat.
Rose glanced over with only her eyes and asked, “Are you alright, Dennis?” She seemed detached from the conversation almost immediately after asking the question.
“Yes, of course,” I replied. “I thi- I may be coming down with something.”
She sidestepped away from me, clearly concerned by that forbidden word I almost uttered. Rose cleared her throat and said, “Yes, it seems so. Perhaps you should see a doctor.”
I nodded and wiped my forehead with the back of my sleeve. “Yes, perhaps.” It pained me to leave the office without dutifully serving Maradria that day, but I needed a cure and fast. Whatever I had resembled the symptoms of my greatest fears, I just hoped it wasn’t fatal. “I’d better be getting to the doctor as soon as I can.”
“It’s for the best,” Rose nodded. “I’ll tell the boss. I’m sure she’ll understand.”
When I stepped outside and gazed upon the same Maradria I’d always known, it suddenly felt foreign. I watched the other Maradrians file down the sidewalks, the cars zip by, and the couple Barbarians occasionally poke their heads from the shadows. Everyone’s steps were perfectly timed, their attire in sync, and of course their minds. All of them except for me.
If only internally, I couldn’t help but raise the question – how could they all continue to go about their lives as if my wife wasn’t dying? A perhaps selfish notion, but nevertheless an infuriating one. If we lived under a collective mind tailored with convenient filters, it could not be collective at all. I turned back towards the Department’s doors and read the inscription again. ‘PROGRESSION UNDER ONE MIND’. But this time I scoffed. If nobody else could or was willing to even acknowledge Rachel’s eminent demise, what good was any of it? I felt it like a fraying wire scraping against and burning the street with every swing. My mind was wandering from the collective. Its logical calculations went awry.
Our family’s recent ill fortune brought an unexpected perspective on Maradria. The notion of patriotism was easier to swallow when it’s evident disease didn’t apply to me. Our son, Eric, was fourteen. He wasn’t ready to lose his mother at such a crucial stage in his life. Eric is yet to become a man and join the Maradrian workforce. He was too incomplete a product for a reliably productive Maradrian. He still needed his mother – perhaps more than ever.
The air hung heavy upon my body and my mind wandered from its logical calculations. I placed my fingers against my head as if that would impede the collapse on the other side of my skin. A dreadful idiosyncratic sensation overwhelmed my cranium – no, my whole body. It began as a wretched glow against my forehead I hoped nobody noticed. It then traveled down through my nose and rounded up again towards my brain – like watching The Wheel fall from its eternal spin upon its central disk, smashing freely into the platform beneath. All of this transpired in only a blip of time before something intangible spawned within me, something I had only read about – something I previously ridiculed. I shimmied my shoulders and shivered. Despite my avid resistance, a voice separated from the proper Maradrian I once was and wriggled its way across my brain like an electronic billboard shining brightly across the highway at night.
My stomach churned and dropped in freefall against its platform. A heinous crime. Completely unnatural. A sensuous disaster. A sweeping shiver of solitude whistled over my head. I felt my body suck into my mind and the world fell still as if nobody had noticed in the loudest whisper.
It was all supposed to be better than before. We were supposed to eradicate disease, cure death, prosper infinitely. I thought. How could they let this happen?
Not one other Maradrian was thinking the exact thoughts I was at that moment, never mind thinking at all. I was alone. My body trembled on its own, falling wholly out of sync with our most unified nation in a matter of seconds. I heard a voice of mine that’d never spoken before. It was as clear as any other voice I’d ever heard, but far more intelligible. The voice managed to bypass my ears and begin its journey in my cranium. I tried with all my might to force the thoughts out by contracting muscles around my eyes and pushing into my neck from my chest, but none of it helped. It almost seemed to make matters worse.
Unity is cheap against the suppression of everything we know to be true. I thought. I shook my head and grit my teeth. “No,” I muttered. It occurred to me if anyone at all saw that, they’d justly deduct my insanity. I looked back to make sure the Pacific Force wasn’t watching too keenly. I didn’t see any of them at all. If anything, this made me even more worried. They were already planning to pounce on me at any moment.
I considered the logistics of propelling the thought out through my ears if I garnered sufficient willpower – fruitless. The thoughts continued to leak like an hourglass and pollute my mind. I was sick. I tried to tell myself it was just a parasite that would go away in due time, but my new voice would not relent.
You’re not sick, Dennis. I feel more aware than I ever have before – more enraged. I thought. If I have too many more thoughts, aren’t I supposed to become a Barbarian?
I waited. I waited for my skin to turn radioactive. I waited for the Department’s doors to lock behind me forever. I waited for all around me to hear my thoughts blaring in their ears. I would be a Barbarian already if any of it was true. I waited for the Pacific Force to surround me and throw me in their black vans. But none of it happened. I blinked twice. I’m not sure if I was trying to recalibrate my mind or what blinking would accomplish. All I knew was I was suddenly startled by my own consciousness.
I took the card out of my pocket and realized my hands were trembling. I lowered the card below my waist and hid it in my palm. Glancing up, I searched for any sign someone suspected me. Everyone knew what the Barbarian’s calling cards looked like. I saw a group of Pacific Officers. They weren’t there before. They were wearing their typical all black outfits bearing the bucking horse of Maradria on their sleeves. The officers also had well-fitted gas masks and carried M16s wrapped tightly in both hands. I know they weren’t there before.
One was smoking a cigarette while the other two were chatting and scanning their environment occasionally. They appeared so blasé they had to be acting to throw me off-guard
I turned and began walking and taking aimless turns down different streets so I could hopefully get out of their sight. As I sped away, I looked over my shoulder multiple times to see if they were following me, or if I might get a bullet in the back. It appeared they weren’t following me, but the Pacific Force can be masters of deception when necessary.
When I was quite a distance away, I tried to steady my hand so I could read the card properly. My gut churned and throat dried. I could hardly breathe. I knew that nothing less than the most drastic measures needed to be taken for my family, even if it meant hearing out the Barbarians. For one last time, I tried to breathe steadily and collect myself, but my rage was too pertinent. Rachel was dying and Maradria was to blame for their malfeasance. I couldn’t stand by any longer and watch the state decay under my own auspices. If Rachel were to die, it would not be in vain. No other Maradrian should ever be forgotten again.
I looked back to the card and finally read it. On the card were the words “FOX PARTY MOVEMENT – WEDNESDAYS AND SUNDAYS – CALL FOR DETAILS”. And below that was a 10-digit phone number. I knew there were only two possibilities of what awaited on the other end of the line: either the beginning of my salvation, the battle for those who have been lost, forgotten, and easily replaced, or a setup for my swift doom.
I was a few blocks from The Wheel now, but could still see a sliver of it spinning at its ominous pace of twenty-two miles per hour. I felt nothing in the way of pride when gazing upon The Wheel anymore. In it I saw Rachel dying, Eric growing up without a mother, and the world trudging on in perfect unison and continuity as if my wife never existed. But what if just one cog were to spin in the other direction? Instead of constant progression, a single mechanism in the gigantic machine stopped in true patriotic defiance. What if The Wheel was not dismantled from the outside, but within?
I think. Yes, that’s right, I think. I think, therefore I am. I cannot remember who said that, but it was one of the Obsoletes we were meant to deride. I always suspected they carried more wisdom than we gave them credit for. I slipped into the alleyway behind the department and stared at The Wheel for a while. I watched it spin on in all its power, all its menace.
I wasn’t sick. I was perhaps the only sane Maradrian left in the Capitol. I picked up my phone and though my hands shook, I dialed that number and then held the phone to my ear. When it began ringing, I knew I’d never look back on my decision.