Anton hides in the shadow of a skyscraper with dark glass walls, holding his breath. Hearing the voice of peacekeepers, he takes a small mirror from his left pocket, holding it in front of his chest with his left hand. The mirror absorbs all the lights reflected on him. When he hears a small click with a high pitch of ‘Ding Dong’, his right hand quietly reaches the inner pocket of his jacket and presses a button which makes his temperature similar to the building’s glass wall.
In a team of 4, one peacekeeper holds an infrared scanner and another one brings a quantum particle visualization machine. With the other two having loaded bio-electronic teasers in their hands, this peacekeeper squad is scanning the street inch by inch, trying to find anyone who doesn’t have an identification chip behind their right ear. When the peacekeeper squad passes him, Anton stands still like a…, well, he stands still without moving even a little bit, not even his body hairs or eyelashes.
Noticing the people in fluorescent green leaving the corner, Anton starts to breathe cautiously and quietly. He is lucky today because the peacekeepers complete their search in minutes without moving the buildings or opening the streets. He is lucky. Perhaps he can still try this path next time.
Anton presses the button in his right pocket again and puts back the small mirror inside his left one. Now, he is just like every other citizen in this city. He steps back on the pedestrian road again, holding the belt of his school bag with both hands. Smiling and greeting every single person he passes while walking at a stable but confident pace, Anton is just like every single college student who is confused about the knowledge they’ve gained today but certain about their future.
Anton stops at the yellow line behind the red light. This is a prosperous city just like every other. Everyone has a smile on their faces, everyone is following the traffic rules, everyone is enjoying their lives, feeling the happiness in the air. And the sky is so clear that he can sometimes see the starships parking and leaving space stations through the gaps of buildings on the upper levels.
Next to the red light, there is an old-fashioned iron street sign. It says ‘Orange Blueberry St’ in academic English, which was a common language for daily use two centuries ago but is only used in philosophical essays and research today.
While waiting for the traffic light, Anton gives the instruction ‘open the reading collection page’ in his mind. A screen forms in the air in less than a blink. Anton touches the screen in the air and opens a folder, or what they called ‘a book’ in academic English. His eyes focus on the philosophy book that was written in the industrial age, which is a reasonable behavior of a philosophy student.
The traffic light turns green and all the screens disintegrated. Everyone continues their journey.
Anton walks along Orange Blueberry St. He turns right at the intersection with Hac St. He opens the front door of 119 Hac St, the building he lives in. He greets the neighbors in the lobby and walks into the elevator. When the elevator arrives on the third floor, Anton gets off and opens the door of unit 2 as usual. That’s his home. It’s just another normal day.
The sky is getting darker and darker.
The curtains close themselves when Anton turns the light on. He takes out his dinner from the delivery tube. Then two bananas and one cup of soda. Since he has to go to the base later, Anton chooses the prepared meal for dinner instead of cooking by himself. Today’s meal is egg-fried rice with garlic shrimp and cream of mushroom soup. He clicks twice on the table as soon as he sits on it and clicks his sixth upper tooth twice with his lower tooth.
That is the switch of his chip and the monitors inside his apartment, and it is secret enough that no one would ever know. When he activates it, the chip shows that he is slowly enjoying his dinner in the dining room with Zauberflöt playing. Anton quickly finishes ⅔ of his dinner and opens a side door in the kitchen. It’s a tube for trash recycling. But when Anton activates the switch, it changes the destination of the tube to the underground of his building. 119 Hac St, one of the few buildings that still stand on real ground, is one of the largest bases of the rebels.
Anton gets in the tube and slides all the way to the basement. The basement is as bright as noon on the sunniest days. Unlike the world outside, there are hardly any electronics here besides the several old-fashioned ‘laptops’ that are supposed to be replaced after the material age. Besides that, all records are handwritten in academic English and simplified Chinese, two languages that died centuries ago. The former can only be found in original copies of books and some earliest online records, and the latter almost disappeared everywhere. Not even in the database of the whole People’s New Republic.
Anton only knows that it was created at the end of the industrial age and disappeared at the peak of the material age. Unlike academic English, which has only meaningless curses left in the database, the only thing they know about simplified Chinese is the term ‘404.’ No one has any idea what it is. Based on the consequences of it, Professor Mad speculated that ‘404’ was a kind of serious non-lethal virus that caused the loss of the gene fragment that controlled the cognitive ability of simplified Chinese, which was too advanced for the human race at that time.
Just when Anton walks past the medical room–the largest and the most important room in the base– he hears someone shouting extremely loud inside.
“Anton! Get your ass in here!” He hears Loli’s voice. Anton rolls his eyes for a second, and moves slowly to the medical room.
“There is no way you can skip your bi-weekly physical exam.” Loli stands next to the medical bed with her hands on her waist. Her red and black dress with a coffin print looks extra scary with those medical tools in front of her. “Or do you want the Peacekeepers to find you?”
“C’mon, Loli, it’s not a big deal…” Of course, it’s a big deal, Anton refutes himself in his mind. But it hurts a lot. “I’m perfectly healthy! There’s no big deal for missing one physical examination!”
“Get on the bed. Now.” Loli points at the bed and stares at Anton without blinking.
“Okay, okay! How many needles do you need to penetrate in my body this time?” Anton sighs, and closes the door. He takes off his red velvet blazer, hangs it behind the door. He then takes off his light brown pants and light blue shirt.
Anton sits on the bed. He watches Loli turn on all the equipment.
“Do you really need my marrow every time?” Although Anton knows the answer, he still asks in wishing for an exception every time. That’s just too much pain. And anesthetics are too valuable to use during the bi-weekly physical examination. Anton wonders why people haven’t invented something to eliminate pain sensory yet when they already conquered death. Isn’t it easier to just delete or change something in the nervous system than upload the human mind and consciousness into some digital archive and download them into a new body?
“The precondition of resistance is that you need to stay alive. And these tiny little pains can save your life.” Loli holds a pair of stethoscopes, something old enough to be in a museum just like all the other equipment in this room, and puts them on his chest. Anton shivers when he feels the cold metal.
Everything in this base, and all other bases of the rebels, are too old to exist. Anton has no idea who found them or where they came from. Rumour is that they’ve been here since the middle of the material age when the first generation of the rebels started this organization. These old machines and tools are so complicated that they can only be operated by humans and learned by practice. But Angela had told him that there’s no way for these machines to save data or upload the results to the central archive of the human race.
After a few scannings, Anton knows the hardest task has come.
“Seriously, are you preparing for your dinner? Because if you need it you can just bite on my neck. I’d rather you do that.” Anton feels a silver needle penetrate his skin, tissues, muscles, and blood vessel. His blood quickly fills up a translucent tube. And then Loli takes off the tube and puts another one on.
“I’ve tried before. Your blood is not tasty.” Loli rolls her eyes. “I’d rather have Angela’s.”
Loli claims that she is a mix of vampire and human. Of course, that’s what she said down here. If she dares to even represent even one small abnormal behavior that doesn’t make any sense as a human, she will become a set of data in minutes.
But again, Anton knows that no one believes in vampires or mysterious figures anymore. Not after the divided age. Science is the only guide of humanity. At least that’s what the People’s Committee of the Republic claims.
“Fuck—-Owwwww” Before Anton says anything, Loli inserts a small needle in his belly. Anton has no idea what that’s for.
“Just a few minutes and you’re done.” Loli takes it out. Anton feels another round of pain when the needle leaves his skin. “Most of the things are fine. You might want to be cautious about your stomach because it shows some signs of excessive acid. Just eat slower and avoid onions.”
“Do I need to avoid garlic as well?” Anton smiles.
“No. Only if you are a vampire.” Loli laughs. “But if you are, don’t drink any coffee.”
“What’s wrong with coffee?” Anton frowns. He is getting used to Loli’s bi-weekly vampire tips. And as a vampire researcher, he’s already known most of those. But it’s just ridiculous to link coffee with vampires.
“Yes. I’ve heard that one of the most powerful vampires in the whole of human history was killed by coffee overdose.” Loli blinks her left eye. She turns around and cleans the laboratory desk.
“Guess I’ll never become a vampire.” Anton quickly puts on his shirt. And then his pants. Everyone knows he drinks at least three cups of coffee each day.
“Everything comes with a price, doesn’t it?” Loli is busy turning off the machines and pushing them back to the corner. “Oh and tell professor Mad to come here, will you?”
Anton nods. He puts on his red velvet blazer and walks out of the medical room.
Everything comes with a price.
Anton takes a deep breath. By thinking of those five words he’d be in a re-education camp if he had a real chip as the law requires.
Nothing has a price, they said.
To begin with, they said that the word ‘price’ itself is illegitimate. It doesn’t exist in any active language. “What you’ve created and made can not be evaluated by currency. It also doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the whole human race. Consequently, you don’t need to pay extras for anything you need. Your labor has already paid for it.” At least that’s what the People’s Committee of the Republic claims.
But Anton knows everything comes with a price. The chip itself is the price for other citizens.
But again, if they never realize that’s the price they have to pay, does the price still exist?
Anton sometimes is jealous of normal people because they never get ill. And if they do feel any discomfort, the hospital scans their chip, figures out what went wrong in the brain, and intervenes in it. And boom– a fully functional human there is. Anton can’t go to the hospitals. Even if he goes, no one will find anything wrong with his chip. As the child of the rebels, Anton was not born with a chip. And the bi-weekly pain he has to suffer is the price of that.
Anton walks past the monitors’ desk, where April is checking the conditions in their homes or workplaces in case anyone notices their absence. An antique red alarm clock, the kind with two brass bells ison the right corner of the desk. When it rings, everyone except the computer lab members must go back to where they should be, and the next shift will come.
Anton shoots a glance at the alarm clock while saying hi to April. He still has 30 minutes down here.
He walks directly to the computer lab. Anton hears the loud discussion about logic and human culture existence even at the monitors’ desk. Everyone knows professor Mad only has two modes. When she is steady, she sits in the library for days. But when she starts to talk, it seems like she will never stop. Never. Like a binary creature brought to life. But Anton is used to that. He is professor Mad’s student, which is logical according to his chip identity. His chip is designed as a future philosopher to figure out the upcoming path of human beings. So it’s perfectly logical that he didn’t talk much with other classmates before college, and studied with a philosophy professor in college. At least the central archive has never found any inconsistencies.
“Professor? Loli needs you in the medicals.” Anton knocks at the door and walks into the computer lab. He nods to Angela, who is on shift, takes off his chip from the back of his neck, and puts it on the chip reader.
Although it’s called a ‘computer lab,’ it’s more like a tribute to the old ages. Only two large things that could be called ‘computers’ are in the room–large boxes of servers with screens. Half of the room is full of wires and cables. At his age, Anton needs to recalibrate his chip once a week to make sure the central archive can’t find anything illogical. But once he finishes school, he only needs to check once a month.
“…Vampires definitely did exist but it’s highly possible not anymore because if you’ve read the poems from the barbaric age then you know they are all over the place and they had so many contacts with humans back at that time such as the famous Cassius that occurred…” Professor Mad, in her normal fast-paced speaking speed, talked to a young person with blond hair and a light purple cape. Although it’s just the normal way professor Mad talks, Anton is impressed every time because no one he knows can speak academic English as fluently as her.
“…Professor Mad!!!” Anton shouts louder.
All three people stop their current task and stare at Anton.
Anton takes a deep breath. Before he breaks the awkward silence, the person professor Mad was talking to stands up.
“I believe we haven’t met yet.” The person’s voice is pure. Academic English sounds strange when they speak it, with the high pitch but low amplitude.
They are taller than Anton and professor Mad. The light purple cape with golden embroidery fits perfectly with their white pants and boots. A real vintage purple. Probably from sometime between the modernization age and the industrial age. As one of the best students and professor Mad’s research assistant, Anton recognizes their clothes immediately. Most of the rebels are vintage lovers, but this is the first time Anton sees real vintage clothing from before the industrial age, other than those in museums.
“I’m Herbert. I used to live in state 21 district 5.” Herbert smiles.
Anton turns his head to Angela, who nods at him. Anton looks Herbert in the eyes, “Anton.” he says, “I never left state 20. I was born here in district 8.”
Since Angela already verified Herbert’s identity, Anton feels he can trust them a little bit. But only a little bit. There are not many rebels left now. Less than 400.. Some of them were caught by peacekeepers and have been neutralized. Some were found by the central archive and recoded.
When he looks into Herbert’s eyes, Anton’s heart holds for a second. Those eyes are more alive than any others he has seen. He is pretty sure ‘alive’ is the right word. Instead of the opposite of becoming data, this is the real ‘alive’. Anton can sense emotion from these eyes.
“Oh and Loli needs you, professor.” Anton takes another deep breath.
“Okay. You stay here and continue my argument.” Professor Mad stands up and exhorts Anton. “Hebert here believes vampires exist from the beginning of the barbaric age until now. He thinks we still have vampires in our republic.”
Anton nods and watches professor Mad walk out of the computer lab.
“So are you a student of hers?” Herbert sits back in the chair, leaning on the back cushion of it.
Anton nods again. He doesn’t know how to start a conversation with someone he just met. That was helpful when he was in school. But not now.
“And your project is… Vampires?” Herbert asks, filling the silence. Anton notices the confusion in Herbert’s voice. His project doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with the future of the human race. But it just ‘seems like.’ Professor Mad says that it is crucial to know how vampires disappeared.
“Well, the evidence we collected shows that the vampire species didn’t exist until the end of the barbaric age.” It’s easier for Anton to talk about his project than talk about daily life with strangers. “Professor thinks that the collective consciousness was not enough to form a new creature during the barbaric age. And if we’re following the logic that the matters created by human consciousness will disintegrate themselves when no one believes in them anymore, then vampires don’t exist after the divided age.”
“But the word ‘vampire’ had been mentioned long before Homer. You can’t deny its existence just because you don’t have proof of it. ” Unlike professor Mad who is always over-excited when talking about their findings and books, Herbert here is more chill. But Anton has to admit that Herbert makes a great point by pure logic.
“Mentioning the word alone can prove nothing, certainly not the existence. And if you’ve read the professor’s new book, the first known interaction between humans and vampires happened almost 200 years after the barbaric age when Cassius, the first known vampire with a name, occurred at the trial and saved a kid from the death penalty.” Anton takes a sip of the water on the desk. Herbert is a good listener, they just sit there with a strange smile while Anton organizes his points.
“And you figured this evidence how?” Herbert asks.
“Professor and I went to state 21 several months ago, and she discovered from the stones that the vampire Cassius just came from nowhere during a trial and took the kid with him.” Anton wants to show Herbert professor Mad’s book, but he left it in his school bag upstairs. “Since it was called a ‘heresy trial’, professor Mad assumes that the kid was framed by others. And somehow the Cassius, perhaps not long after he was created, sensed humans’ hatred and fear towards him, and saved the kid out of curiosity.”
“How do you know the kid was not Cassius’s offspring? Your discovery alone still can’t prove Cassius wasn’t there thousands of years ago before the trial.” Herbert shakes his head slightly.
“But before that vampires were just an abstract concept. All the evidence before this was merely saying there was an enemy of human beings called vampires. That trial was the first time an individual vampire was described….” Before Anton finishes his sentence, the alarm clock rings. Time’s up. He has to get back to his apartment.
“I look forward to our next discussion.” Herbert stands up and shakes Anton’s hand.
“Likewise.” Anton nods. He then waves to Angela and walks to the transportation tube.