Anton stands in his kitchen after seconds. His body aches because of the transportation tube. Because the most advanced teleport devices are all linked to the central archive, The Rebels use the old-fashioned anti-gravity device invented in the material age, which basically uses thrusters. Although they’ve managed to eliminate the noise and reduce the required energy, The Rebels did not waste the resources to make it more comfortable.
Anton closes the side door and sits on the chair again. He picks up the fork and holds it in his hand. Then, Anton clicks his sixth upper tooth with the lower tooth twice again to close the tunnel’s switch. With the final step of clicking twice the table, the chip on the back of his neck is activated again. He finishes the last ⅓ of his dinner slowly with Symphony No.25 in G Minor playing in the room. The music doesn’t quite fit in since he is eating the cold dinner instead of doing some outer space research or reading archives about the great revolution at the end of the divided age. But Anton knows the monitor program the central archive won’t mind when it notices because he always plays Mozart. It is perfectly logical for a philosophy student to listen to ancient music.
When the first chapter of the symphony ends, Anton finishes the last bite of the egg-fried rice. He separates the food waste with the soda cup and puts them into the waste machine separately. After cleansing the fork and table, Anton sits on the sofa. Next second, a screen forms in front of him. It opens the news channel.
Right now, whatever television shows the screens play are the most logical results calculated and pre-programmed by Angela. And watching the news channel every night is a perfectly logical choice for him.
Anton has no idea why the evening news broadcasts are still not canceled yet because almost everyone knows that news broadcasts are unnecessary for the republic since people are receiving information all the time. But he guesses it’s just like a tradition or cultural heritage to commemorate the old ages, just like the iron street signs. Otherwise, Anton can’t figure out another answer. Okay, maybe professor Mad knows something about those antiques, but she never tells him about those ‘way too dangerous’ research topics. But anyway, those antiques do help The Rebels a lot. At least they help him a lot.
Anton sighs in his mind. How pathetic it is that he can’t even sigh in real-life every time he wants. For more than 12 hours a day, he does what he does just to cover what he is doing and who he is. And it’s not like he chose to be a rebel. He was born to be one. Anton sometimes asks himself if he is really different from people who have a real chip. The only difference is that he lives in constant fear. The others don’t. He sees the sweet lives of the others every day. And what if he covers up his identity without even realizing he’s doing it? Will the same fake chip on him still be fake then?
Anton gets rid of his thoughts when he feels the sharp pain in his head. He blanks out for a few seconds. When he is able to think again, he finds a clump of his own hair in his hand. Although it’s for protecting his identity, Anton doesn’t hate this part of Angela’s program since the evening news is probably the only information session that’s not ‘Haute Couture.’ For one hour every night, people in the same timezone–and probably some outer space stations–receive the same news.
The familiar sound starts playing. The evening news begins.
Anton lies on the sofa with a bag of barbecue potato chips.
“Good evening. This is the evening news for time zone 2, which includes states 19, 20, and 21. I’m your news anchor Iliza. Here is what you need to know today…” The young anchor in a dark blue suit smiles on the screen.
Anton met with Iliza once almost three years ago, when he was doing his first research project with professor Mad on the effects of selected news and how the divided age started. Iliza, of course, is also a member of The Rebels. Before becoming a news anchor, she was a historian. It is less common in the republic to change professions since one’s job is supposed to be programmed before one is born. After all these years, Anton has never met anyone else who has changed vocations, but it could be explained by the free time one has, he guesses. Anyways, the central archive and the peacekeepers didn’t bother Iliza in all these years, and she soon became the top anchor in the official news agency of the republic.
“A new disease was found in the Underground-3 level of State 5 District 19 earlier today. There is no known disease in the central archive that has a similar structure to it. The RNA is already uploaded to all the labs around the world. Meanwhile, the People’s Committee is organizing nurses from every section…”
Anton already heard about the new disease early in the morning on his way to college. It’s not a big deal. He puts another potato chip in his mouth. Scientifically speaking, the more unknown that humans conquer, the more diseases humans will find. Just like every single disease in this world, it will be diagnosed and solved in a day. The world is no longer the same as he read in the history books Illiza recommended years ago. Anton can’t imagine what would happen to him if he was living in the age of the plague that reduced almost ⅓ of the world’s population or the time when the whole world stopped because of a social Darwinism disease. It’s so good to live at this age. Anton listens to Illiza’s voice while chewing chips.
It seems like death was so painful at that time. Anton tries his best not to shake when thinking about the dying process the books describe. “At first, one feels that it’s hard to breathe, followed by blindness, dizziness, and extreme pain in the brain. Then one’s brain understands that the body stops functioning. At last, human consciousness disappears,” it says. Just by thinking of it, Anton already feels more pain than Loli’s procedure of taking his marrow.
Anton stares at the screen, breathing stably. He controls his body perfectly so that no inappropriate emotion appears in his mind. But he feels some soreness in his nose and his eyes. He wants to bite his lower lips. And some tears are trying to flood into his eyes. Anton puts another potato chip in his mouth, chewing loudly to hide his smile.
It’s so good to live in this age.
After all, the worst thing that could happen to him is being disintegrated and becoming data in the central archive forever like his parents. People keep telling him it’s unnecessary to give empathy to what already disappeared in time because what happened to humans in the past will not happen again–the central archive will not allow that to happen. But Anton keeps trying to imagine what it would be like if he were them. That was the first lesson Professor Mad taught him. And it was, and still is, the hardest task. Whenever he reads those detailed descriptions and looks at the photos, he feels no less pain than his physical examination. The emotions in his mind are just too much for him to control. It’s almost like the emotions are chasing him.
Many emotions are redundant. The People’s Committee said.
But Professor Mad has always said that emotions are crucial for being alive. Anton guesses that he should trust Professor Mad because he is a rebel. And a rebel should do what the central archive and People’s Committee don’t allow him to do.
Anton tries to hide his thoughts temporarily. There are certain things that he can’t even tell Professor Mad or Angela. His fellows told him that he is lucky because he has the right to choose. But he didn’t choose to be a rebel, nor did he choose to study philosophy. His parents, who he almost never met, had determined that for him. Other citizens in the world don’t have the choice, but he doesn’t either.
Anton blanks out his mind without listening to the rest of the broadcast. He doesn’t have to anyway. He already knew most of it. Information never stops coming to his chip.
“The earthquake in state 21 district 5 costs 3046 injuries and no upload. At this time, all of the citizens who lived in the crushed buildings are settled in Air-2 level apartments.”After this biggest earthquake in human history, the People’s Committee is considering tearing down all the buildings on the ground and replacing them with magnetic levitation buildings…”
Wait what? Anton focuses on Illiza immediately. They want what??? If they deconstruct the building and upgrade it into a magnetic levitation building, then they have to start to find a new base and clean up the one downstairs right now. Otherwise, everyone in this building will be triple-checked by the central archive. At the moment, Anton even wants to reopen the switch again, sneak to the base to ask them what he should do or what’s the next step. That thought only exists in his mind for ten seconds. He changes his way of sitting and takes a sip of the water. He is, for sure, not the only rebel watching the news broadcast right now. And even if no one notices this besides him, he is certain that Illiza will send Angela the intel right after she finishes the broadcast.
Although Anton hasn’t seen Illiza for a while, her intel never stops coming. Okay. It’s been more than a while. Almost two years. Two years since Illiza left the base in section 8 without saying ‘take care.’
Her job has the opportunity to get in touch with the People’s Committee and the central archive. Although she couldn’t steal the archive data, Illiza has the clearance to know the Committee’s next development direction. She even sent back several unpublished central archive analyses once. But at the same time, she has to send the intel to every base accordingly by hand because that’s the safest method–from human to human, which means that she has to move around the world all the time.
“I miss you, Liz.” Anton says quietly in his mind like always.” “We all do.”
“Thank you for watching the evening news. I’m Illiza. Have a good night.” The news broadcast ends. And the screen in front of Anton automatically changes to De la division du travail social. He has the habit of reviewing school works before sleeping, but he couldn’t focus on the screen. His mind is not absorbing ‘class inequalities’ or ‘organic solidarity.’ What if the Committee is really planning to tear down the building? What if he has to move?
Anton hates changes almost more than physical examinations. He grew up here in section 8. He knows every street on every level. He knows every sentence of each street’s underground and how many inches each building can move. He knows the best way to hide from the peacekeepers and the monitors. He knows everyone on the base. The Rebels had a voting procedure last year about whether to close the base in section 8 and merge it with section 7 and section 9. Section 7 has the best base Anton has ever seen. It’s inside a building floating on the Air-4 level. It’s clean, big, full of natural lights, and more secure than the basement in section 8. Besides, there are not many rebels left.
But Anton voted no. It was not because of Professor Mad’s speech about the importance of power separation and political participation or Loli’s objection to the sunny environment there. Changing is scary, and changing to something unknown is even scarier. But the scariest thing is to forget. Other people’s chips can help them remember things, but his memories are in and only in his mind. And if Professor Mad’s theory is correct, everything that’s forgotten will disappear completely. If he forgets all the friends who were disintegrated and formatted by the central archive, they’ll be gone for good.
Anton ordered another bag of cucumber potato chips in the kitchen. With a ‘Kling’ sound, a plant-made reusable and degradable green plastic-like bag is delivered via the tube. He grabs the tube and sits back on the sofa. In less than a second, a screen forms again and he controls it to open a fashion history book. He doesn’t have to worry too much about the building right now because Angela would contact him as soon as she saw the news if it was an emergency.
He is interested in something else. The Herbert person he met today gave him a strange feeling. How can they be so alive and so dead at the same? And more importantly, how can they be so alive and not noticed by the central archive at the same time? It’s not like he doesn’t trust Angela, but there’s no harm in double-checking their identity anyway…well, Angela might cancel his ‘potato chips lover’ tag in his chip that he begged her for two weeks before she agreed to add it, which could make it normal for him to eat as many potato chips as he wants.
But Herbert seems way too alive. As a rebel, Anton knows how to pretend to be a normal citizen by hiding reactions and emotions and acting like one of those who spend all their time downloading, saving, and reloading because otherwise, any monitor can easily find his inconsistency. Herbert, however, doesn’t hide their reactions at all. Anton remembers Herbert’s sarcastic face when they were talking about vampires not existing anymore. To begin with, it’s rare for people to study vampires these days. When everyone is focusing on extraterrestrial life forms and ethical dilemmas on colonizing other planets, Professor Mad is the only scholar studying vampires, a species never actually proven to have existed. As her student, Anton knows every single vampire researcher, and he never heard about Herbert before today. Nor are they in any scholar database Anton has searched.
Anton opens the scholar database and applies filters to studies related to the vampires, checking whether he missed Herbert’s study before. Not surprisingly, there is no article written by Herbert. Anton knows that rebels tend not to leave any digital footprints, but seeing Herbert’s reactions and emotions, Anton can’t imagine Herbert is the kind of person who hides their life paths perfectly.
Anton decides to look into Herbert’s cape. It’s rare to own real vintage clothes these days, not to mention wearing them because the textures of clothes in the old ages are hard to preserve in this world full of radiation, and many of them were destroyed during the Divided Age. Based on his limited historical knowledge, Anton recognizes that the pattern and the form belong to the first half of the Industrialized Age in the west part of the region ‘Europe.’
After reading through the eleventh book, Anton finds a photo that has a similar cape to Herebert’s in the book Bavaria and the Castle Mystery. In the photo, there is a woman in a blue and gold dress sitting on a red settee with a light blue cape hanging over the side, and a tall person wearing a similar light purple cape is standing next to the settee facing the opposite of the camera. If the book was not classified as fiction, Anton would believe that the person in the photo was some ancestor of Herbert.
The book talks about the author who found herself in a castle in the ancient Bavaria Kingdom after she was accused in the Reign of Terror before her execution. While reading it, Anton quickly knows why it was classified as fiction though the author wrote on the first page that it is “a 100% true story” because the time doesn’t match. In the book, the narrator lived in the Reign of Terror, but the ancient Bavaria Kingdom didn’t exist during the Reign of Terror. Anton then searches about the sign ‘%’ and finds in the archive database that this international sign came into use in the second half of the Industrial Age and was abandoned in the middle of the Divided Age.
But the photo in the book seems so real. The author said she took the photo herself with a camera, but color photos didn’t exist during the reign of terror or the Ancient Bavaria Kingdom. Anton gets more and more confused while reading this book. But he then realizes that he is not reading the book for the story but for finding clues about Herbert’s identity.
Mozart’s Requiem suddenly plays in the room. That’s his alarm clock for bedtime. 10:30 pm. For two hours, Anton has done nothing but research about the light purple cape. He finally concludes that it might be older than the French Revolution.
Anton knows he shouldn’t spend two hours on a cape. He should prepare for the next fieldwork in state 21 or read about the division of labor. But he can’t stop himself from thinking about someone he just met and only had a conversation with for less than half an hour. It’s for the security of the base and himself.
He has never met someone so alive. Never.
Anton sets his chip to deep sleep mode before he goes to bed.
Anton stands by the window on the highest floor of a tall building in the middle of a desert. He stands to the side of a woman in a blue dress with golden decorations and a light blue cape who holds a phone in her left hand. Anton waits until she finishes the call.
“Who’s that?” Anton asks.
“Pakistan. They want India to pay for the conflict in Kashmir.” She taps her fingers on the window. “Call the crew to meet me on the second floor.”
“Sure.” Anton nods. He then remembers what he forgot before he leaves: “Cassius wanted me to tell you he already headed back to the castle.”
“What the—-” The woman takes a deep breath, and then another. “Alright. I’ll take care of him.”
“Sure.” Anton walks downstairs.
Anton lays on the balustrade of the balcony on the second floor. The woman walks in with Cassius.
“So, any ideas on India?” The woman asks, just like she is asking what is for lunch today.
“Negotiation on co-governing?” Camille raises her hand.
“Hold your Marxism thoughts, will you?” Herbert rolls his eyes.
“What about agriculture negotiations as a start?” Camille doesn’t argue with Herbert at all. She looks at the woman next to Cassius.
“Great. You and Sarah are in charge of this. Get the agriculture secretary and labor secretary of both countries on the phone. And we need the U.S. on this as well.” The woman then looks at the man standing next to her: “Tell Cassius if you need any help.”
“What about Iran?” Camille asks.
“That I’ll take care of myself. Herbert, prepare the SWAT team as cover.” She answers with confidence.
Anton stands near the back door of the building. The desert is right in front of him. A minute ago, he saw on the radar that the daughter of the scientist who had been assassinated was flying a jet fighter to them. He is confident that the woman in the light blue cape will not fire her gun, but will Cassius?
Mozart’s No. 10 Symphony is playing in the room. Anton wakes up from his dream.
The curtain opens itself, and the sunshine gets in through the window. Anton opens his eyes. The next second, a screen is formed with the weather broadcast on it. Such a nice sleep without dreams. And it’s even more perfect with such a wonderful day. He thinks, walking to the bathroom.