by Sven Kloepping
The new world ends, where the gravel path begins. It lies before me like an entwined life line that wants to cast my near future on the shadowy ground to tell the trees I’m finally here. I step forward very cautiously, not to destroy the fragile, dancing silhouettes. Someone could spy me out, could lurk in the bushes or behind a tree, could notice my escape and inform the others. One step, then another, then … Yes, very good! Trying not to break a twig or something noisy I step forward. “Wooosh, woosh, wooosh. Hey, don’t you make a sound!” all the windy branches around me seem to flutter. Although their warnings are just hallucinations, they are very helpful ones. Reminds me to creep and sneak along, to be the calmest creature under the roof of the woods and to stay like that whatever may happen. If I follow the whispering lures of the city, I will be lost. There’s really no chance for my escape if I don’t stay on the path, for on each side, hidden in the green, dozens of little bugs are recording every sound, transmitting any information about life that crosses the woods to them. So I stay mute, trying not to cross their line, not to wake the bugs. Though I haven’t learned a-many deeds in the past few years, staying mute is at least something. I remember them saying: “The one who sits in the porcelain box shouldn’t sing soprano all too loud.” This and other deeds were told to me at the training long ago. Due to this, my body is perfectly built to flee from whatever lies behind me, but what is it? Could be nearly anything. Monster, war, epidemic – anything.
A strong gust comes up. I’m not used to it as we don’t have such a nature, such a wind back there. It’s always been warm in my home, or so I remember. Home! What am I talking about? It’s just the past, lying far behind me. Here is my future, here in the old world, lying on the ground pebble by pebble, standing in line trunk after trunk, drinking the sweet liquids of freedom together with me and the invisible ghosts. Nothing holds me by now, nothing could ever bring me back there. My present future – just a small path in the midst of a shadowy park of trees that’s many acres wide. I could touch this golden future if I am very careful on my way. I’m sure I will touch it, because I won’t be as clumsy as my little brother who has been caught by them. They brutally slaughtered and murdered him. By now, he lies stiff and cold under a thick snow cover somewhere at the outer border of the island. Nothing but frosty limbs remained of his body where they half-buried him. The last time I visited him, long ago, I brought him a rose. They didn’t recognize; would have been very painful for me. I stayed a little while, pressed a single rose in his hand. And I shed some tears. No, he really should not have died this way! He hasn’t deserved a blood-bath like this. I stole his rose in the Forbidden Garden, where they show you just the flower’s thorns and say these aren’t worth it. (What?) Pressed the rose into my brother‘s too cold hand, said to him I liked him, maybe not back then, but ever since. “Forget our quarrel”, I said, “just forget it. Ever since I liked you; forget anything but that.” And then the wolves came. They attacked me like hell. I thought it was my end, but I shot them all down and I really don’t know how I mastered it! They were good food that lasted for three weeks in which I rested with my brother (in peace). During that period he forgave me (I’m sure). I could see it in his face as I went away. Looked warm by then as if it wanted to say: “Thanks for my death. Thanks, buddy. Thanks, brother. Thanks, friend.”
They didn’t want me to work just because I had a rebellious brother. Told me to convince him to cooperate and after that, they mumbled, maybe I could get a job in one of their soul-wasting companies. They always make those cheap promises, although they knew too well that my brother was long since dead. But they keep professionally ignoring the truth as if nothing has ever happened. And who cares for what in this world of domination and martyrdom? Finally, they threw me out of their city and also took my passport. That is about a year ago by now. Untrustworthy, they stamped into it and they didn’t just mean the document. My whole present (wild)life doesn’t seem to be worth the air that I breathe. After all, your life is worth absolutely nothing if you aren’t strong enough, creative enough, smart enough to succeed in their goddamned system. Without those abilities, they just throw you out and say, get better or die (the latter comforts them most). One single life has no worth on this isle, because there are millions of others that could replace you. Every hour, every minute, a new life is born and a used-up one is being separated from the city. They let you down like those trees do with old branches. They don’t heed you, just cut you off from life-spending liquids and let you die. Here in the half-world one could survive at least if he learns to be quick. But outside this controlled wilderness there is rarely a chance, although some say this might be the only hope to be rescued from this vicious circle. Maybe they are right. Why should they forbid us to go into the old world otherwise? If there waits nothing but death they wouldn’t have to spy us out anymore.
I sneak further on with wide-spread arms, keeping the branches in a safe distance to me. “Don’t break them”, I whisper again and again, imitating the leafs. I know too well how conspiciously a breaking branch could sound at the other end of the wire. They regularly play those sounds to you, like a water drop torture with sounds dripping in your ear instead of water. “That’s crime”, they teach simultaneously. From your birth on you hear those sounds and those words and you feel the electroshocks until you’ve got it. By then, you fear it like hell.
The path ends, although it should continue into everlasting freedom and I ask myself, why, it all began so well! I had planned every detail of my escape, for three long years, why should all this end in just one moment? The answer lies beneath a hole in the smooth wall before me. Smoke comes out there. I can’t believe it: smoke! Feels like I have time travelled centuries back just with the power of my feet. Still can’t believe it. How it smells! Yes, this smell comforts my degenerated nose, finally it sniffs real smoke after all those sterile decades of manipulation in which I dreamt of a time, when I could smell again like a real human being – in old times, when feelings weren’t frozen like my brother’s limbs. It seems that something warm within me revives facing that golden past, even if it’s only in my thoughts. Nevertheless all those reflections come to life inside of me, as if they just waited all the time to be woken up … And yes, maybe they fear these warm feelings of humanity slumbering in every one of us. Humanity that just needs to be woken up to raise against the brutal system! Now, I will find out. As I stick my all-too-nosy finger into the hole, it widens, accompanied by a buzzing sound. The small opening turns around clockwise and grows bigger and bigger. Soon, a man-high hole stares at me, its blackness crying soundless eternities into the dark green around me. Although I am a little bit entangled, a very strong emotion captures my reasoning mind. The blackness, the dirt and the smells I‘m confronted with – I do really love them, for it means that I am free at last, yes – free! Puddles of melted snow lie behind me right now. They have been made to mud by the hot wind that came out of the hole. I step into it, into the freedom (or so I think). As soon as I am inside this … something … , its door closes behind me automatically. Then, the vehicle starts its engines, lifts off and soon hovers high above the trees. I can’t see how it flies, but I can feel it. I must have experienced this before for it is nothing new for me … And suddenly I know what I have entered. My goodness! It’s not eternal freedom. It’s no freedom at all – just a trap, their trap! Reassembling my remembrances, I begin to realize that I have been fooled by them with a simple trick. Lousy bastards! They caught me once again while I was expecting friends to wait for me in this much-too-warm space ship!
By now, it’s getting hot and everything seems to be over. In one moment of my artificial imagination, I am up and away with the ship, in the other my corpse lies beside my brother after they have slaughtered me to death. Realities are all mixed up within me. I can no longer distinguish between true and false, but I have to, I’m sure. They will burn me for sure, oh yes they will! They burn everyone who tries to escape. All these fears come back into my mind as if someone pressed a button. Pieces of remembrance flood my head like a mind mapping tsunami. I even recall what they said to me during the training: “Should anyone of you discover a ship, one of the old ones, just don’t let it fool you. It will burn your body.” So they said, and I scream aloud, for my finger that opened the door, is black by now and hot, hot like a personal hell especially designed for myself. Dammit! It hurts, hurts, oh it hurts! Could it all be real or is it just another imagination, fooling me once again?
A buzzing sound. The door opens. An officer steps in and fills the hole with his body. No possible escape. No hovering over the woods. And no hope. His grinning face says, yes, the brainwashing must have been successful once more, and the human ships, those tiny little revolution battleships – we will discover them one by one! One last time, a human glimpse of emotion flickers around my head so that I dare to say:
“Have you discovered this ship by yourself, officer, or did I lead you?” I ask sarcastically and soon find myself winding on the floor, crying because of all the pain the officer causes me to feel. The implants! I forgot the implants regulating my body functions. Pixel after pixel reality dismantles its cruel shape before me and everything comes clear: In fact, I have never been human, never had any fingers of flesh. I’m just a machine. Therefore it was impossible for me to feel any real pain. It’s just a chip in my head that punishes me. Looking on my shivering finger I see that it is silvery and metallic instead of bloody and fleshy and that the shivering is just a malfunction. It was just my vision they manipulated which made me thought that I am a real human being with real emotions, with a real dead brother … I’m not sure any more if all this really exists: the big city, the island on which emotions are forbidden and where human life has been extinguished long ago. Is it real or just another virtual reality they have implanted in my artificial head, just to find the space ships of which I do not know what should be so interesting about them. Nevertheless, I still wish to fly away with them, somewhere to the stars …
“You should have been more quiet,” the officer grins and his steel claws grab my thin, gleaming joints.
“In these ships, you older models get burned. Everyone who is too loud will melt away and be our bloodhound afterwards,” he hisses and I know that he lies, but the pain is still too strong so that I can’t object. “Remember that the next time,” he laughs, beginning to open my head where he manipulates chips and some wires and …
… I awake, lying in the snow. I believe I am human. My only desire is to run away.
Sven Klöpping, born in 1979, writes poems and science fiction stories since his childhood. He has published numerous short stories in national and international magazines and anthologies and was a frequent editorial helper and contributor of InterNova’s mother magazine Nova. Apart from that he contributed poetry to German magazines such as Federwelt and Kult. He edited the anthologie Bullet in 2014, with stories set in his own fictional universe MegaFusion. Some of his tales were collected in his books MegaFusion (2001) and Menschengrenzen (2010).