I'm not sure where I am, or when for that matter. It feels like I am floating in a bubble, and all I can see is red. The soft, fleshy walls reach in to embrace me, yet I feel like I am in a home I never had. And before I can ask any more questions, I am quickly brought into a much more familiar world by the sound of an alarm. I smack my alarm clock in order to make it stop, yet it doesn't. I don't have an alarm clock. When I look out the window to my left, I see the source of the alarm; a car. "Can't do anything about that," I think to myself as I walk towards the fridge to grab some food. Moments before I can open it, I hear a gunshot and then the alarm stops. "At least it stopped," I say while pouring milk into a bowl of cereal. What was that dream I had? It was so… peaceful. Fever dreams are a common side effect of the pills I have to take, but this was different, much more surreal than anything I've experienced before. Did I take too many? A quick scan of the room reveals that my pill bottle is nowhere in sight. Before I can look any further I see the time on the fridge; it's time to go to work. Shit. They might notice if I'm not there.
The office is completely devoid of any natural sounds. No human speech, just the whining of various machines, computers, and printers, accented by the sounds of various buttons being pressed. Do I like my job? No, but does anyone like theirs? I get enough money to keep a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and medication in my blood. Although, I do feel much heavier and more exhausted than usual, how many of those pills did I take last night?
Work comes and goes without much thought. Traffic delays my ride home, as usual. But when I finally get home I remember the pills. I need to find them, or at least the empty bottle as proof of prescription. After about an hour of searching, I've managed to tear apart every square inch of my apartment, but they are nowhere to be found. However, in the back of my closet, I find an old radio. I've only ever seen them in movies and in antique shops, but never myself. Must have belonged to a previous tenant. I wonder if it still works, and to my suprise, with the press of a button it lights up and spanish dialogue pours through the crisp speakers. After adjusting a knob labelled "tune", it jumps to another spanish station, and another. Finally, a hoarse, raspy voice appears.
"My brothers and sisters, I know you all suffer in silence. The veil of ignorance is too much for some, and not enough for others. But as long as we remember that we have not been taken from this earth, and until we are… we will live to fight another day."
The music that follows sounds much less rich than any of the digital recordings I've heard in my life, but has a warmth that feels soothing. Laying down in my bed, I feel more at peace than I think I ever have. The idea of the pills completely leaves my mind.
The night passes without any more surreal dreams, and I go through my routine as usual. On my way out of the door, the radio catches my eye. Most of my coworkers spend way too much time connected to their interfaces without being called out for it, I don't think a radio will be questioned. After I arrive, I place it on my desk and turn the volume down as not to interrupt anyone else. Looking at my screen, I can't seem to remember what I do here. I take data from some of our other locations, enter them in a form, and send it to someone else. I'm not even sure if that person, whoever it is, works in the same building as me, much less what any of this data means, or where these places are. Before I can even begin considering any of this a hear a voice over my shoulder, "What's that?" I look over to see my boss Jeffery… or was it Gregory? Shit, didn't I used to know this? "Huh? It's a spreadsheet," I say. "No, not what you're doing, what's that metal box?" "Oh, um, it's a radio, at least I'm pretty sure it is" "They still make those?" "I… I guess so." He shoots me a look of indifference before saying, "Well Jim, that's nice. Haven't seen one in quite a few years." John. My name is John. Suddenly, I don't feel so bad for forgetting his. A few hours later, as things are wrapping up and coming to an end, Tom from the mailroom makes his rounds about the office. As I am just preparing to leave, he makes his way to my desk and hands me a few invoices that I'm going to glance at before throwing away. Tom is an older man, but is a very soft soul, and often makes small talk with the employees, maybe out of boredom, maybe out of kindness, but I don't mind. "Nice radio you've got there," he says, "Don't see those around too much anymore." "Yeah," I reply, "I just found it but… I kind of like it. It's very soothing." "Always was," he replies before turning the volume up. Suddenly the smile drops from his face, and he gives me a look like he's just been shot. "You've been playing this station all day? Are you insane?" he whispers as he grabs me by the collar. "Well, yeah, it's the only one I can understand." "You don't understand it. Not yet." He reaches for a pen and paper on my desk and writes something on it before giving it to me. It appears to be an address, but lacks any sort of numbers, just a street name. "Come to this location tomorrow. Don't bring anyone, and don't show your face in this building again; if you've heard this much already, you're sure to end up missing. I'll have them let you in." Even if I had friends, I'm not sure I'd bring them to a stranger's house, if this even is a house. But before I can ask any more questions, he leaves.
The next day I awake to the familiar sounds of the surrounding city, accented by construction and traffic. My first thought is to take my medication, but looking next to my bed, I see the piece of paper I was given yesterday where the pills would usually be. Tom sure made it sound like a big deal, maybe going to work isn't such a good idea. It's not like they'll notice I'm gone, that would take a few days.
I make my way around the industrial district looking for this street. Everywhere I look, there are abandoned coffee shops, storefronts, trash, cars that have been burnt to a crisp, and homeless camps everywhere. People crowd the sidewalk, tripping over each other and even themselves in some sort of vacant stupor. After I wander around aimlessly for about an hour or so, I eventually see something that seems out of place. The thick blanket of smoke opens up, like a pair of wings to a completely barren alley sealed behind a gate. This is the only time I think I've been surprised by nothing, but glancing that the "DO NOT ENTER" sign that's been weathered to the point where all that remains is "DONE." This must be the place. Hopping the fence, I see a man dressed in all black guarding the front door.
"This is where the radio comes from?" I ask. No response. "Tom sent me." "Ah yes, Brother Thomas mentioned an asset. You better get in there then." He finally replies. Entering the warehouse, there are hundreds of people all gathered around a man standing on a vertical shipping container. His voice echoes throughout the large, empty building. "Brothers and sisters, I know you all have been very patient. But I wouldn't ask of you to be here today if it wasn't important. We have finally have the numbers and tools to put our plan into action. Our noise will finally become destruction." Suddenly Tom approaches me, "Hey, glad you could make it." "What's all this about? What's he talking about?" "We're going to find out where they are, and destroy them." "Destroy what? What are you talking about now?" "The pills. Don't tell me you're not sober." "No, I am, I'm just… undecided." "The time for decisions is over brother. Either you're in or you're out." "And with that, I leave you to prepare. Join us again tomorrow for Casual Friday."
The next morning comes like any other. Cereal, keys, door, work. When I arrive at the office, I reach for my keycard to find it missing. Shit. First my pills, now this. I hit the intercom to page Chuck in security. "Hey man, I forgot my key. Can you open the door for me?" "Name?" "It's me, John," and with that, the door opens. Walking into the office, the whining of machines is as present as ever. But the human presence seems to be unusually lacking. What's even more unusual is what I hear next. An explosion shreds the wall by the copy machine and suddenly dozens of armed men wearing hawaiian shirts and ski masks pour through. Instinctively, I hit the deck and cower under my desk. As bullets fly through the air, I wonder how I got into all of this. Is this what Tom meant by not being safe here? I'm sure this would have happened despite my actions. Suddenly the barrel of a gun pokes around the corner of my cubicle. As I stare deep into the hole, waiting for a bullet to come out with a flash of light, it lowers. "John?" "Tom?" "Shit, I told you not to come back. Thought you were on board," he reaches into a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. "Well, you all didn't exactly give me much to consider," he proceeds to throw me a ski mask, a hawaiian shirt, and a pistol. "You're lucky I brought extra gear. Consider this, we used your keycard to get in. You're a dead man unless you come with us." "My keycard? What happened to yours?" "You really think they give the mail guy keys to the front door?" A fair point. I proceed to frantically put on their uniform and arm myself. I make sure to follow Tom closely, watching behind us as we move. We make our way to the boss' office, and he kicks in the door. Seeing my boss in genuine terror is something I have never seen before, nor something I thought I'd ever see. Tom fires his shotgun into his face, wiping the fear clean off and leaving a gaping, bloody hole in its place. While I'm still registering this, he immediately shoves something into his computer. "So remind me, what are we accomplishing with this?" I ask, staring at the red trails on the wall leading to my boss' corpse on the floor. "We're downloading a database of all the pill manufacturing plants on this side of the country." "And what then?" I ask. He shoots me a smirk. "We make more bombs. You think that one was cool? Wait till you see one go off strapped to a tank of reactive chemicals. Makes a pretty fire, if nothing else." Seeing a bloodthirsty side to Tom, someone who I only ever knew for years as the timid mailroom worker, sends chills down my spine. At the same time, I too begin to crack a smile in excitement. Back at the compound, we gather around the shipping container once more. This time, Tom joins the man at the top, who holds the drive we used in the office raid. "We finally have answers. Now that we can see our chains, they will be shattered," a cheer passes through the audience. I turn to someone beside me, "Who is he, exactly?" I ask. "That's Prophet Stephens," he replies. "Yeah, but what makes him so special? What's stopping anyone else from taking his place? What does he know?" "Nothing," he replies. "He's not giving us answers. It's a means to an end. An end we all have our own reasons to fight for. You must find your own reason." I'm not sure how to feel about this, but with every passing day the weight in my bones grows heavier. Is there really a thing like feeling too much? Can you really push down enough pills to escape & numb our mundane reality? I think everyone outside this place feels hopeless, giving up to the faceless administrators, hiding behind computers. But everyone inside this place seems to have turned their confusion into anger. I decide to stay overnight at the compound, feeling an odd sense of comfort in these thoughts.
I am awakened to Tom shaking me by the shoulder. "This is going to be fun. You want in?" he asks. Looking him up and down, he is outfitted in used military armor. Judging by the amount of dirt on it, they must've been found in this warehouse somewhere. Looking even closer, I see dried blood and bullet holes in it. The last person who wore this must not've been so lucky. "Only if you grab me one of those vests, commander," I reply. He chuckles. "There's enough to go around, just swing by the armory first then come find me." Sure enough, the 'armory' is a shipping container full of supplies that smells of death. I grab a vest and join back up with Tom. He throws me a backpack and we climb onto the truck. "What comes next?" I ask. "Well, we found out where they're making the drugs. Now we stop them." Hm. Drugs. My mouth waters slightly at the thought, and I am reminded of how heavy I feel right about now, especially with all this gear. Maybe I can grab some when no one's looking, just to hold me over. As we pull up to the facility, we hop out of the truck and cut a hole in the fence. After finding an entrance, I watch as someone who looks like they enjoy this kind of thing a little too much melt the lock of the door with thermite. When we enter, the facility is pitch black, and there doesn't seem to be a trace of humanity anywhere. We all turn on our flashlights, and I follow behind them. Eventually, we pass a door that says "testing." As I turn to tell them, I notice they're gone. They move fast when they're eager. Seeing as I am already lost, I take the chance to explore the room. Maybe this is my chance to get some more pills. To my luck, it's unlocked. The knob turns and the door opens without any fuss. Shining my flashlight around, I see a few pieces of machinery connected to the wall. This must be important. Seeing a switch, I throw it without thinking. Suddenly, the machines light up and rise with a groan. "Hello," a voice says. Turning around sharply, I see the door is still shut. "No you idiot, us," another voice says. As I turn to the machines I notice they have what appears to be glass enclosures holding human brains on all of them. "Wow" is all that I can push through my lips. "Yes it's quite fascinating, but quite useless without your help," I hear the first voice say. "My help? What can I do that you can't? Is this a trick?" I hear them all laugh at me. "We don't need your help to kill you, if that's what you think. We simply desire the same thing that you do." "And what would that be?" "Freedom," they all say in unison. Looking around at the machines in the room, I see there are four different machines, all with their own brain, which I'm assuming isn't just for show. They are vaguely humanoid, more in function than form. "Ok, but you owe me answers. Who, or what exactly are you?" "We," one voice says, "are the Automatones," another one follows. "We were once flesh and blood like you, but as you know that… expires eventually." "We were offered a deal. We got to keep our lives, in exchange for our freedom." "Unfortunately we didn't make them enough money. So they put us down here, to be forgotten about." "Without free will, we made perfect subjects to pump full of drugs and test their effects without the legal implications of using real humans." "Ok, so what exactly am I supposed to do about it?" I finally ask. "You have to disconnect us from the mainframe. That is all we ask of you." "How do I go about doing that then?" "Just pull the cables from the wall out of us, as hard as you can." I reach around the back of the first one and do just that. He collapses to the ground. I hesitate, but none of the others protest. One by one, the next three are free. "There. It's do-" is all I manage to say before the facility starts to shriek, and is illuminated by a red glow. That can't be good. Before I have time to react, the machines spring to life, and bolt out of the door. I race after them, and reach for my pistol. Where's my pistol? I can't seem to keep track of anything, can I? Never mind that. I continue to pursue them as they eventually reach an exit. To my luck, they stop. What I see next is a bunch of armed lunatics aiming their rifles at them, with one of them aiming my pistol in retaliation, as if it wasn't outgunned tenfold. "WAIT!" I shout. Suddenly they all turn to me. "They can help us, they're not just machines, look!" I see some of their lasers move from center of mass to the glass brain tanks. "They want the same thing as us, just tell them, uh, guys." I see the lights on their bodies flash, almost as if they are thinking. "We only seek safe passage to prosperity. Your friend here broke our chains," one of them finally replies. Suddenly, Prophet Stephens steps through the crowd. I didn't even realize he was here. "Then you truly do seek the same thing as us. You won't make it to the city alive, but if you come with us, you can help us break our chains as well. But first you must embrace our family. What are your names, gentlemen?" he says with grandeur. "I am… he is…" one says before stopping. They turn to each other, as if in confusion. "Our names were taken many years ago by the same drugs that have likely taken the lives and minds of many of your brothers. We are the Automatones." And with that, everyone seems to relax. The robots climb into the truck with Tom and I, and he shoots me a look of confusion. As the truck begins to move, the facility erupts into a giant, blue fireball. The machines suddenly cheer and seem to embrace each other. Soon after, the cheers of the others in our squad follow. Back at the compound, Steve calls a private meeting with the Automatones, and for a while, all that is heard is the hushed murmurs of the crowd. Suddenly, they reappear with otherworldly instruments. The crowd falls silent. The Prophet follows, and glances around the warehouse. Then, "LET US BE HEARD!" he booms. The crowd raises their fists with a shout. The robots turn to some equipment on the walls, and interface with them. Suddenly, the warehouse erupts with a high pitched whine, followed by a roar of sound. What follows can only be described as surreal. A wave of noise fills the building, followed by a whining sound, and I am overcome with a feeling of bliss stronger than I've gotten from any drug. It has a sort of uncomfortable beauty to it. Strangers pour in from all around the city, drawn in by the sounds. People in suits, people in rags, even a few who appear to be wearing nothing at all. For hours, we are suspended in a tidal wave of energy. Suddenly, the lights go out. Gunshots are heard from around the room, and the music comes to a screeching halt. Hundreds of voices cry out in terror, and then… silence.
This evening, police have stopped a terrorist cell located right in the lower income areas of our great city. They were responsible for the attack on Bachmann Pharmaceuticals, and a reactor meltdown just outside of the city. After disturbing the peace with an obnoxious display of noise, the SWAT teams were able to locate and put them down. We can all sleep safer knowing that those who would reject their medication are no longer a threat. Back to you with the weather, Chris.