“It’s really quite simple, to be honest. The trick is to sedate the protester before they have a chance to protest. It sounds a bit complicated, but it’s actually just a matter of figuring out what one really wants, then supplying the need. The matter takes care of itself from that point.
“At least, it does if we’re the suppliers.”
A man in a fine, tailored suit listened intently to the speaker, but his eyes were on a wall of monitors, each one apparently showing the interior of a different room. The rooms were all similar in form, yet differed in decor from room to room. The observer took in the scene in silence for a few moments, his gaze continuing to jump from screen to screen as he spoke up.
“And these are all recordings of the test subjects? I didn’t realize there would be so many.”
“Yes,” answered the other man, smaller in build and dressed in a wrinkled white shirt, a crooked tie, and an old sports coat. He wore a lanyard with an old, blurry picture of his face and the words “Dr. Emmett Fords” in bold type across the bottom. “In order for the test to work, we needed a large group. This apartment complex was ideal for it, giving us not only access to ten floors of people with varying backgrounds and social classes, but this particular building was designed magnificently. If I may explain…”
The man took a few steps toward the many screens and began to point to specific monitors as he spoke.
“You notice that each of the rooms are perfect architectural copies of each other, and you no doubt notice their size as well. The idea was that all of life could be lived in the same room. With the exception of the latrine and the shower, which are in that walled off corner of each room, everything is essentially within arms reach. This not only makes life simpler for the tenant, but it also makes our surveillance much easier. Those cameras don’t come cheap, you know!”
He chuckled a bit at this, but the suited man looked unamused, staring undistractedly at the activity on each of the screens.
“These people all look normal. I do hope all our money hasn’t gone into those cameras. We might be upset if we learned it was so.”
“No, sir!” The doctor was clearly made uncomfortable at the suited man’s stoic demeanor. “Just a joke, sir. No, the money’s been put to good use, sir. Allow me to explain the situation, sir.”
“Carry on, then, Fords. Do pick it up.”
“Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir. Well, sir, we spent a good bit of time at first simply observing each individual. A few decades ago, we could have never gotten anyone to live in such a place, what with the 24-hour surveillance we’re working with here, but nowadays, people are used to being watched so much that we can observe people naturally without even having to hide the cameras. We do hid the cameras, though, sir! Not that they could turn these off. Your money does buy the very best, and we wouldn’t dare misu-”
“I would very much appreciate it if you didn’t constantly try to kiss up to me, Fords. Just show me the results and you won’t be terminated.”
“Yes, sir. My apologies, sir. Well, sir, as you know, we were tasked with learning about the Uprising. We thought this to be best accomplished by observing how they live from day to day, which in turn led us to look into apartment demographics. We found a good grouping of Uprisers living in this complex, so, naturally, we bought the place, giving us access to the names and backgrounds of each renter in the building. As you can see, some are better off financially than others, but we soon found that such differences were not barriers to those within the Uprising. There’s a strange bond there that goes deeper than economic status. Very interesting to observe. We’ve discovered some other interesting things as well. The percentage of Uprisers in the complex, though less than ten percent of the total renters, found each other fairly quickly. We assume they have some sort of code or sign that sets them apart to each other, but we haven’t been able to ascertain that exact system as of yet. No matter. We have noticed that on various days throughout the month, they all leave and return at roughly the same times. We know they meet with others in the city, as our associates have confirmed with us that the times of activity in the Uprisers’ meeting houses coincide with the times these tenants are away.”
“You’re beginning to bore me, Fords.”
“Yes, sir! Sorry, sir! Of course you know this, sir. Their groups aren’t breaking any laws, of course, so their meetings aren’t significant for this briefing. Sorry, sir. Let me cut to the chase. Though not illegal, we know how powerful they can be in opposing our advances. We know that many cities can’t even progress past the dark ages practically because these Uprisers won’t have it. Sheer numbers alone can’t stop their passionate movements and zealous speeches. So, we here at Dawn Apartments have been trying a different strategy as designed by the higher ups at the home office. They believe that-”
“I know what they believe, Fords. I was on the committee.”
“Yes, sir! Of course you were, sir. Sorry, sir. Well, sir, as you know, frontal opposition is pointless: just stirs them up to more zeal and enthusiasm. We here have been watching them, looking for ways to get to them from within. And I think we have it!”
The suited man’s gaze had never moved from the wall of screens, but the man’s current silence told Fords that his words were met with mild approval, so he continued.
“‘Ev’ry victim has his vice,’as the poem goes. We began to focus our attention on finding those vices in the hopes that they could be used to draw some of that passion away from the Uprising and toward less troublesome activities. We began months ago by working on a special sedative that lowers enthusiasm and motivation but that keeps the body running as normal. In other words, if used correctly, the subject will not be extremely motivated to do much of anything: they’ll just wander around all day, or, in extreme cases, stay in bed for days at a time, even to the point of missing meals just to keep from having to move. Granted, some test subjects died early on. The drug stopped their vital organs before we could realize how powerful it was. Gave the boys in the lab quite the scare, those did. But, nevertheless, we finally found a useable formula that’s safe for any age, yet strong enough for our purposes.”
“Good. Go on.” The suited man’s approval, though not enthusiastic, set Fords more at ease. He continued on a bit more excitedly.
“Well, sir, we made an interesting discovery in our experiments. We learned that the sedative could be modified to work by focusing the subject’s attention onto whatever is right in front of them, essentially blocking out all thoughts of anything else and all motivation to do anything else. In this way, it’s not exactly a sedative, but, as it does sedate their zeal for the cause of the Uprising, we kept that name for it. Our next step was to figure out how to get it into the lives of the Uprisers, taking their focus away from their cause at least enough to keep them from being dangerous. We call the full process ‘shifting.’
“We began with their food supplies. Most occupants get their food from the first floor shop, so that wasn’t too difficult. But then a few started noticing the difference it was making. They actually began to refrain from eating for days at a time. Not enough to kill them, of course, but just enough to keep the sedative from becoming really effective. Big problem that was. Took us a good while to figure out how to fix it. But fix it we did!”
The suited man remained unmoved, so Fords went on.
“We noticed that the few who ate regularly from the food mellowed out, so to speak. They missed more and more meetings, both the small ones they hold from time to time in the building as well as the larger ones they leave for. Others were a bit more obstinate, however, which is why we then turned to their vices. This turned out to be much more prosperous than we ever could have hoped.
“If you watch, you’ll notice that the individuals live and move in their rooms as if the cameras don’t exist. Because the cameras aren’t clearly visible in the rooms, it’s not hard to forget they’re there. Once this happens, we get to see who the people really are when they think no one is watching. This led to some very intriguing discoveries, and I think you’ll be quite surprised by our findings.”
At this, Fords sat down at a control panel and began to show a series of video clips as he gave a running commentary. The screens all shifted to scenes of the same room at different points throughout the previous months, according to the date and time markers on each screen. Some seemed perfectly normal, simply showing a man about his daily life. A number were dark, lit only by a lifetablet screen held inches away from the man’s illumined face. A few of the screens showed that women frequented the apartment.
“Take Mr. Wilson, here. A young man, recent college graduate and highly successful, Mr. Wilson is a lover of women, especially undressed ones. We’ve often found him spending hours on his life tablet just looking at pictures and videos that… well, you can see for yourself. Suffice it to say that he is an excellent liar. I doubt any others in his group know how he spends his “alone” time. He used to be very outspoken in the Uprising, but we fed a few key ads onto his tablet’s homescreen and he now appears to live for his time in the webs. He showed signs of trying to resist once or twice, but we have some associates in the local brothels. A simple push in their direction was enough to end his days in the Uprising.”
Fords then shifted the screens to a man’s room in various stages of disarray, some better, some worse. The screen that showed the live feed was perhaps the worst of all, the room completely disheveled and the man lying face down on the floor.
“This is Mr. Stevenson. He appeared to be a leader in the Uprising for a short time, even making large, public appearances on occasion to present speeches. Very important man he seemed to be.”
The suited man leaned forward a bit. “Yes, I believe I recognize him. Why is he asleep on so many of these screens?”
“Ah, but he’s not asleep. He’s actually dead. Has been for going on a week now.”
“But… how is that possible? The Uprisers have always been a close community. Surely they should have found out by now.”
Fords smirked under his thick mustache. “That they are. But that’s the beauty of this apartment complex. One individual per room; one key; no windows; all inquiries directed to us. Oh, they’ve come knocking, but he won’t open. He didn’t when he was still living, so they assume he’s just cut them off completely. You see, we noticed that every so often, he’d sneak a bit of hard drink into his room. Soon as the door was shut, you’d think he was a parched man just given a class of cool water. He drained the bottles faster than any I’ve seen. With him, we simply watched for his drink of choice (he always seemed to choose the same bottle when he indulged) and made sure to add a little extra sedative to his batch. Before long, he was so fixed on the stuff, you couldn’t shake his hand without getting a bit tipsy yourself. It was only a matter of time before he drank himself to death. The joke of it all was that we forgot to add the sedative once and it turned out to be his biggest drinking week of the month! Saved us a ton of money in production after that.
“Then, there’s Ms. Sally, Mr. Edmunds, Ms. Harby – the list could go on. In each case, we follow the same basic formula. Find their vice, supply their hunger, and watch as they remove themselves from service. It’s quite beautiful to see it happen.”
The suited man looked satisfied, but his eye fell on one screen in particular. “What about that one there. What’s her story?”
Fords followed his gaze, his heart sinking as he went.
“Uh, well, sir, she’s a bit of a tough case. Seems she can’t be shifted.”
“But what about the ‘Ev’ry victim has his vice’ creed? You made it sound foolproof.”
“That’s just it, sir. The girl’s a fool. Stupid. She doesn’t work like the rest. Something’s broken with her on an internal level.”
“I assume you’ve come to this conclusion after much trial and error, correct?” The suited man’s face grew stern again. His frustration was beginning to grow.
“Yes, sir! Absolutely, sir! You see, sir, we began with the same approach as the rest. The food was the first step. But she soon noticed the differences and began skipping meals for days at a time. The infrequency didn’t allow the drug to work, so we looked for vices next. If we can’t drug them, the vices are often enough on their own, provided we give them a little push in that direction to start them down that path, as you’ve seen here. With this young girl, we can’t find a vice that keeps its grip for more than a week or two. She tried the drink once or twice, but quickly gave that up when she started to see its affect on Mr. Stevenson. We thought entertainment might be the ticket, so to speak, because she watched the reality streams on her tablet for hours when she first moved in, but she soon gave that up. We sent her tablet ads for free subscriptions to the specials similar to those stories she frequented, we offered free tickets to shows and events we thought she’d like that were nearby, and we even managed to get the cast from one of the shows she watched to film a season near the apartments, but she couldn’t be distracted. She just spends hours reading about the Uprising and talking to Uprisers. She even goes out and tries to recruit more maggots to the cause. We’ve sent men her way, but she’s seen through them all. We actually tried to put her in the sights of Mr. Wilson, thinking that their mutual affiliation with the Uprising might entice her enough to bring her down along with him, but she wasn’t the least bit attracted to him. Or, if she was, she knew enough to suppress it. She’s recently been removing anything that might be used against her, surrounding herself with safeguards against falling away from her beloved Uprising ways. She’s given us no end of headaches. She doesn’t respond normally to any of our methods. I’m afraid she’s an anomaly.”
The suited man thought long and hard for a moment. The Uprising, a name the Controllers had given those who claimed to follow some mystical “Way,” was not, legally speaking, guilty of any wrongdoing. In fact, more often than not, the Controllers were more prone to bend the laws to suit their purposes, their power and influence being broad enough to keep them from filling the prisons. They were often smart enough to avoid open confrontations, which is why they had opted for such an experiment as Operation Dawn. The Controllers couldn’t afford to reveal their existence, or their power would be lost. They had to be smart in how they moved. But, as the man considered the alternatives, he realized a bolder step had to be taken.
“Dr. Fords, I assume you have complete control of the Dawn Apartments. The perimeter surveillance and security would all be at your disposal. Am I correct?”
“Yes, sir. The staff are all Controller plants, and the security cameras feed directly into this control room. We run this place.”
“Very good. In that case, I would like this young woman disposed of. Soon.”
Fords’ heart seemed to stop in his chest. “But, sir, surely you can’t be serious. With a bit more time, I’m sure that we-”
“With a bit more time, Dr. Fords, this young woman will prove to be quite a nuisance to us. I’ve seen her type before. She’s sold herself body and soul to the cause of the Uprising, and there’s not a thing you can do that will make her turn back. There are at least a dozen just like her down in Dalet-5, and we’ve done more to them than I care to share at this moment to try to break them. They can’t be ‘shifted,’ as you call it, nor can they be broken. The only solution is to eliminate them completely.”
Fords fiddled with his tie nervously as he thought for a moment, then slowly looked up.
“But, sir, won’t her death just stir up the nest? We’ve seen it happen before in Aleph-3, Gimel-7 – practically every zone has their martyr. We can’t expect this place to be any differ-”
“If you do it right, they’ll think she just fell away like the rest. You have my authorization to call in more professional means if you feel it necessary.”
At this, the suited man pulled a digital access card out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Fords, the man’s gaze never shifting from the monitors. The Controllers had planned for such circumstances. They were used to such dead ends.
“I’ll pass your report along to the committee. I’m sure the Master will be very pleased at the progress you’re making. Carry on, Dr. Fords.”
At this, he turned away from the screens for the first time since Fords had entered the room earlier, giving the doctor a clear look at his eyes. They were blank, as if all humanity had long abandoned his body. Fords felt a strange chill through his bones as he shook the suited man’s hand.
“Th-thank you, s-s-sir. I l-l-live to s-serve, sir.”
“That you do, Fords. Remember that fact. We won’t forget it.”
Fords collected himself, still shuddering a bit at the suited man’s dead eyes, before shakily gathering his overcoat and his hat and following the man, at a distance, out of the building. His mind raced as he considered the dramatic steps he was being asked to take, wondering what signs they might be of the world’s future. Of his future.
He looked up as he stepped outside, taking in the cool air and noticing the sky. He did that often these days.
“Another night without stars,” he thought as he got in his car and drove away.