Jefferson Newterry opened his eyes and was greeted by darkness filled with the intermittent screeching of his alarm clock. He stretched his arms over his head, grunting slightly as his shoulder popped, relieving the stiffness in his joint. A smile crossed his face as he sat up in bed, tapping a button on the side of the bed frame that started a tiny motor in the wall raising the curtains that covered the window over his bed.
Sunlight streamed through the crystal clear glass in an ever growing beam that silhouetted him on the white wall across from him. After stretching and turning on the mattress so he was sitting with his feet on the hardwood floor of the bedroom, Jefferson reached out to tap the button on the top of his clock, silencing the alarm. In the same motion, he grabbed his glasses from the night table and slipped them on, pressing a button on the side of them.
GOOD MORNING, JEFFERSON, the words scrolled across the lenses, filling his vision with their dull green light. Then his field of view was filled with data about himself. The time he went to bed the night before. The time he woke up that morning. The average amount of sleep he’d gotten each night for the past week. The allotted number calories he had left to consume that day. The time of day and, underneath that, the amount of time he had until he needed to leave to make it to the correct train so he could be punctual for work.
Jefferson rose from bed, wearing only a white undershirt and a white pair of boxers, and padded across to the bathroom. He pulled the front of his boxers down after lifting the toilet seat for his morning urination. A sensor inside the toilet measured the amount of waste deposited in the bowl, and the number of ounces popped up in the corner of his vision, rising until he was done. A moment later, the number flashed bright blue twice before fading away, indicating that the composition of his urine did not contain any signs of illness.
Entering the kitchen, the burner on his stove switched on, heating up the frying pan he had left there the night before. Jefferson retrieved a pair of eggs from their place inside the door of his refrigerator, cracking them into a small Tupperware and depositing the shells in the refuse bin. Jefferson added a splash of milk and, eyeing the calorie counter, a small dash of cheddar cheese. He snapped the lid on the Tupperware and shook the plastic container, scrambling the eggs inside before pouring the mixture into the frying pan with a satisfying sizzle.
The eggs having cooked, Jefferson sat at his small table with its single chair to eat his breakfast. The calorie count dropped with every bite he swallowed and the right lens of his glasses switched from being transparent to showing the front page of the newspaper to which he subscribed. The news articles were filled with mostly benign information, giving updates on construction projects along common routes that Jefferson took during his daily life. He also saw that the weather report indicated it was going to be a bright and sunny morning with some clouds coming in later that evening, but no indication of rain.
The timer for Jefferson to leave for work flashed red, drawing his attention. He saw that there was only five minutes remaining or he would be late in catching his train. Placing the dirty dishes in the bottom of his sink, Jefferson walked into the closet attached to his bedroom. The lenses in front of his eyes highlighted both a shirt and pair of pants. Jefferson pulled them from their hangers and slipped them on, buttoning up the shirt, straightening the sleeves, and buckling the belt before turning to his tie rack, where a specific tie was highlighted by his glasses. His outfit now complete, Jefferson lifted his bag from the table by his front door and left, the door clicking shut and locking behind him.
Jefferson held the black leather bag in his hand as he walked through the front door of his apartment building. His personal information disappeared as it was replaced by information about each of the people within his field of view. Every person had the option to customize what data they would see about the people around them, and Jefferson had chosen only two things. Their name, and the last data uploaded to their personal file.
Words flashed across his lenses, floating just above the heads of those they pertained to. Tyson Newgarg. Late for work. Kimberly Newacker. Positive pregnancy test. Luther Newramirez. Third dose of gonorrhea medication. Deanna Newgeorge. Probably urinary tract infection. Edgar Newhughes. Signs of clinical depression.
Jefferson smiled as he watched the information flash across his eyes, not needing to pay attention to where he was walking as he had taken the same route for the past ten years and his glasses would flash an arrow in the center of both lenses whenever he needed to turn. Jefferson climber a flight of stairs and found himself on the platform where his train would arrive two minutes before it would do so. Jefferson continued to look at the data for the people who passed him by until the train whispered into the station and opened its doors. He stepped on for the three stop ride which deposited him in the bottom floor of the building in which he worked.
A stream of people moved on and off the train at this exit, as this was the only official building to be fully staffed both night and day. Jefferson joined the stream of people flowing through the doors and entering the lobby. Once he emerged from the train platform, Jefferson found himself in an impressive rotunda with white circular walls and white tiled floors. In the center of the rotunda was a black obelisk covered in green words that flowed up the sides. The letters were each six inches tall and spelled out the latest data entries that came in from all over the city.
Each major city in the country had one of these buildings. A data processing center. This is where employees of the state, like Jefferson, made sure that the data allocation programs were working correctly, and spot checked the data entries that came in to ensure that everything was working as well as could be. Jefferson gripped the handle of his bag tighter at the sight of his name rising up the side of the obelisk of information closest to him. He took a few steps to the side to see that the most current data point for him was that he had arrived at work. This was accompanied by a time stamp, as all official data entries are.
Jefferson turned away from the looming tower and made his way toward a bank of elevators. His office was located on the fifty-fourth floor, so he actually had to take two elevators to get there. The first was an elevator that serviced only floors twenty-five through fifty. Once on the fiftieth floor, he would need to transfer to a second elevator to make the remainder of the journey. Upon exiting the elevator on floor fifty, Jefferson waved his hand on the right side of his face, bringing his personal data once again. He looked at the day’s calorie counter and remembered that he was going to a restaurant that night with a few friends, so he decided to take the stairs up the next four floors. With each step, the number of allowed calories increased as his body burned more off with the added work load. The calories that Jefferson were allocated every day were designed to keep him at his current weigh and physical shape. This meant that as he did more work and burned calories throughout the day, the counter would allocate more calories to match the exercise completed.
At the top of the staircase, Jefferson pushed open a door and walked down a hallway. At the third door, he stopped, fished a key from his pocket that he slid into a hole in the door, which made a beeping sound followed by a click, letting Jefferson know that his office was unlocked. He pushed the door open to be greeted by harsh white lights shining down at him from the ceiling. The back wall of the office was a single large mirror and a large portion of the wall near the door became translucent to act like a window. Jefferson sat at his desk and shook the miniscule mouse, no larger than a single one of his fingers, to wake the computer screen in front of him. There was no central processing unit for the computer as everyone in the building simply had a monitor that was wired into a single, centralized computer that had been designed to handle the massive amounts of data it would be required to manage every day.
“Good morning, Mr. Newterry,” Jefferson’s boss said from the open door.
“Good morning, sir.”
“I need you to look over a sector of incoming data that has been giving us some issues.”
“Absolutely sir. Is there anything specific you need me to look for?”
Jefferson’s boss shook his head. “No. Just sending some red flags that we need to clear or else the system will continue to send errors. I’ll send you the route to the files in a few minutes.”
Jefferson nodded his head before turning back to his monitor as his boss walked on to the next office and had an almost identical conversation with Jefferson’s neighbor. Jefferson continued watching data entries scroll in, pressing the Enter key on his keyboard as they did, indicating that they were formatted correctly, so they could be moved off to the correct files.
Twenty minutes later a small window popped up in the corner of Jefferson’s monitor. Foregoing the mouse, he tapped the screen with his middle finger and dragged the window to the center of the screen. Flicking his fingers, the window expanded to reveal a message from his boss with directions for finding the sections of the system that were experience errors. When he opened the first indicated file, his brow furrowed and he leaned in closer to the monitor screen, resting his chin in his hand which was supported by his elbow on the desk top.
The name on the file, Newjones, Bryan, was as it should be, but almost nothing else about the file was normal. There were thousands of data entries listed, all named by the date and time at which they were created, but when Jefferson tapped on them, they opened up with no actual data inside of them. He pulled back a few folders and selected a different name. Opening the most recent data entry for Darin Newhuff, it was exactly as it should be. A time stamp from just moments ago, and the data inside of the entry informed Jefferson that Darin had eaten a total of six hundred thirty-two calories over the last few minutes. Jefferson moved back to Bryan Newjones’ file and selected older entries. They were all empty as well. As far back as two months prior, every single entry in the file for Bryan Newjones was empty, save for a date and time stamp in the file name.
Jefferson tapped in a combination of keys, each one clicking audibly as it was depressed, and resulted in a message window opening on his screen. Jefferson typed in a message to his boss, asking him how long that file had been sending error messages and sent it off. He continued to look through Bryan Newjones’ file and saw that every entry was mundane as his own up until two months ago when they just suddenly started coming in blank. Jefferson pulled back a single folder this time and tapped on the name Iris Newjones. Records indicated that she was Bryan’s younger sister. Jefferson tapped on the most recent entry for Iris and it popped up completely normal, stating that she was late for work that morning.
Opening a few more random files, Jefferson made sure that all of her data entries were normal. A new message from his boss pinged into his monitor. Upon opening it, Jefferson saw that Bryan Newjones’ file had been sending error messages for the past week. Jefferson shook his head, wondering why it had taken them so long to have someone look at the file. Jefferson typed out a response to his boss, outlining the issue with the file. He also stated that the other files nearby were entering data as usual, so it seemed as if that of Bryan Newjones was the only one affected by whatever technical issue was making this happen.
The response from his boss was almost instantaneous. His boss thanked him for the information, and instructed that he return to his regularly scheduled work load for the day. Jefferson shrugged, waving his hand to check the time in his personal display. Beneath the time, where the timer counting down how long he had until he needed to leave for work had been earlier that morning was no a different counter. This one counted how many data entries he checked that day. Beneath that number was another number, that of the most entries he had checked in a single day before. Jefferson sighed at the sight of the daily count, abysmally low after needing to check up on the source of the error messages.
The rest of the day passed as every day since he had gotten that job had, with not a single other anomaly. At the end of the shift, Jefferson once again checked the counter for that day. Even with eating lunch at his desk so he could continue working, the daily count was far below what he had come to expect in a day. Putting the monitor to sleep, he left his office, the wall becoming opaque again, and locked the door behind him. He had no personal effects in the office, as another person would use it as their work station starting in twenty minutes, a side effect of needing to keep the data monitoring running at all times.
Jefferson took the first elevator down four floors before switching to the second elevator, which he rode to the ground floor. He boarded a train that took him farther from his apartment, letting him off at a platform mere block from the restaurant at which he was meeting his friends. During their dinner, they conversed about what had occurred during their respective work days. Jefferson, of course, left out the part about Bryan Newjones’ file. He listened to what had happened during his friends’ days at work, but barely heard them, thinking, instead, about what could cause empty data entries the entire time. After dinner was concluded, Jefferson left the restaurant and boarded the train that would take him back to his apartment building. He rode the train, reading data entries of those around him, constantly fascinated in what made up the daily lives of those around him.
Once he exited the train, Jefferson walked to his apartment building, where he inserted the same key as the one that was used to lock and unlock his office into an identical hole in the building’s door. Every citizen of that city owned an identical looking key, that had a set of markings specific to each individual. This allowed them to go anywhere for which they had been granted access without needing to carry around an abundance of keys as people once had. The calorie counter for the day was a bright and angry red, showing Jefferson that he had consumed more calories than he had used, so he decided to take the stairs up the five floors to his apartment.
He stepped out into the hallway, breathing hard with a few small beads of perspiration sprouting and gathering on his forehead. Jefferson leaned against the wall of the hallway to catch his breath and wipe away the sweat with the back of his hand. Pushing himself from the wall, he turned to walk toward his apartment and stopped in his tracks. Flanking his apartment door were two men, both wearing bright red suits of body armor from head to toe. The only place with a different color was their face visors, which were both a dark black, translucent enough only for Jefferson to see the outline of a human face through the glass. Jefferson could also see the ghosts of text flashing across the inside of their visors, showing data points that may aid them in their work.
“Are you Mr. Newterry?” One of the men asked in a voice that had obviously been modified by some software to make it more even toned and uniform with the voices of other officers. Jefferson nodded his head, fresh sweat moistening his brow.
“Sir, we need you to come with us,” the second officer said in the exact same voice as the first. “We have some questions which need to be answered.”
Jefferson asked if he could put his work bag in his apartment, to which the first officer answered, “We would rather you held onto it for now. In case there is anything contained within it that may be of assistance.”
Jefferson nodded and walked between the two men over to the elevator. He waved his hand by his glasses and saw that the most data entry for himself said, Newterry, Jefferson: under arrest. He looked at the two officers on either side of him and saw that neither name nor information was presented for them. The one on his right noticed him looking at them and reached out, plucking the glasses from his face, folding them up and slipping them into a pocket on his breast, ensuring Jefferson that they would be returned to him when he had been cleared.
The elevator binged once it reached the bottom floor of the building, and the doors slid open, making slightly more noise than the train had when it arrived in the station that morning. Each officer took Jefferson by an arm and led him outside. People all along the street turned to watch as he was led to a large red truck that sat idling in the street and had not been there minutes before when Jefferson arrived at his building. The officer on his right opened the door while the other placed a hand on the back of his head, forcing him to duck down as he entered the vehicle. The door was shut behind him as he took a seat. The officers climbed into the front of the transport truck and turned the electric motor on. The only indication of this was a slight whirring that pulsed beneath Jefferson’s seat as the truck pulled away from the curve in the darkness of night, illuminated by nothing by the streetlights.
“Mr. Newterry, do you mind if I call you Jefferson?” a man in a red suit with black buttoned shirt and red tie asked, taking a seat across the metal table from Jefferson ad sliding it closer to the table with a shrill shriek.
Jefferson shook his head and the man smiled. “Excellent,” he said, looking down to make a note in a folder held in his hands. There was a clear glass on the table in front of Jefferson, filled with cool water that was building condensation on the outside of the glass. He watched as a drop grew too large to remain on the side and raced down the glass, pooling around the bottom of the drink on the smooth metal surface of the table. Jefferson reached up to take the glass, but his hand jerked to a stop just inches from it. Each hand was shackled to the arm rest of his chair and his ankles were cuffed to the chair legs.
“All in good time,” the suited man across the table said without looking up from his constant scribbling.
After being loaded into the truck outside his apartment, Jefferson had been transported to the heart of the city where the truck must have driven down a ramp because once the door was finally opened, they were in an enclosed space. Jefferson had been handed off to a second pair of officers in identical uniforms with identical voices who had led him down a winding series of hallways before stopping in front of a door. They had led him inside and restrained him in the chair he was currently sitting in, where he had been left alone for hours before this man in the suit had come in.
“Now, Jefferson. I need to know what your association with one Bryan Newjonws is.” The suited man looked at him, pen expectantly tapping a page in his folder.
Jefferson tried to swallow, but his throat felt as if it had been sponged dry. “I was asked to look into the error messages associated with his personal file earlier today, or maybe it’s yesterday now. I identified the source of the messages and reported them to my boss.”
The man made a few more notes before looking up once again and asking, “And why exactly did it take you so long to report your findings?”
“I’m sorry, what do you mean by ‘so long’?” Jefferson asked. “I reported the findings within minutes of discovering the error.”
“Yes,” the man said, referring to a printout, which he placed on the flat table top. “You did. After looking into the file of one Iris Newjones, Bryan’s sister, and looking through quite a number of Mr. Newjones’ data entries.” Jefferson leaned forward as far as the chains would allow and noticed that the printout was an activity log of his monitor from when he was working that day.
“I’m sorry,” Jefferson said again. “Have I done something wrong here?”
“The technical term would be ‘accessory.’” The man said. “I need to know why you did not immediately inform your boss as to the nature of the error messages.”
Jefferson blinked at the man a few times before answering, “I looked into the nature of the error to determine whether it was more widespread, or localized with Mr. Newjones. I also wanted to see how long the error had been occurring.”
“And what did you discover?”
Jefferson outlined what he had found in regards to the length of the error in relation to the longevity of the issue. He also mentioned that the error was specific to Bryan Newjones.
“And why did you take it upon yourself to investigate in this matter?” the man asked, sitting back in his chair and no longer making any notes.
“I don’t know,” Jefferson replied. “I thought my findings would be more useful with a little more information for context.”
“So you made it your responsibility to investigate a matter of which you had zero knowledge when you had only been asked to identify the source of the error.”
“If you would just speak with my boss…” Jefferson began, but he was interrupted.
“We already have his statement here,” the man said, holding up a piece of paper covered in handwriting, but it was replaced in the folder too quickly for Jefferson to make out anything on it. “There’s only one thing we need to know.”
“What’s that?” Jefferson asked when the man did not offer any more information.
“We need to know what you were helping Bryan Newjones hide.”
Jefferson’s mouth dropped open. “I wasn’t helping him with anything. I’d never even heard his name before I opened his file.”
“We’ve sent officers out to bring in Mr. Newjones. He’ll be here any moment. Are you sure he won’t tell us everything? If you tell us now, then things won’t be as bad for you as they will be if we have to find it out from him.”
“I haven’t done anything,” Jefferson insisted.
“Okay,” the man said, closing the folder in his lap before standing up. “I’m going to talk to him now. We’ll see what he has to say.” The man crossed to the door, knocked on it twice, and was let out by an officer in red. The door shut and locked behind him, leaving Jefferson sitting in his chair in front of the table. The water still condensed on the outside of the glass and dripped to the table in front of him with Jefferson helpless to reach it.
He sat in the chair for hours, not even able to reach the itch on the tip of his nose. What felt like days later, the door opened. The man in the suit walked in, followed by two more red clad officers who stood on either side of the closed door. Each on carried a rifle crossed in front of their chest.
“Well, Mr. Newterry,” the man said, “I’ve spoken with Mr. Newjones, and it seems as if neither of you is interested in making a deal with us.”
“So what are you going to do? I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“You will be sent to a prison camp where you will undergo conditioning so you can hopefully return to society as a functioning and productive member. All of your belongings will be sold off in order to fund your stay at the camp.”
“Where will I live when I get out?” Jefferson asked. “What about my job?”
“You’ve already lost your job,” the man said, straightening his glasses on his nose. “Convicted criminals of the state are not permitted to work with data entries in any capacity. As for where you will live, that is a bridge we will cross if and when we get to it.”
The officers stepped around the table and bent down, unlocking the cuffs that held Jefferson’s legs to the chair before unshackling him from the arm rests. As they stood up, Jefferson reached out for the glass of water. One of the officers bumped him just as his fingers touched the glass, and the jostling knocked the drink over, spilling water across the top of the table. Jefferson watched the water spread out in a thin pool while the officers took him by the arms and lifted him from his chair, leading him out the door and into a second transport.
This transport was much larger, closer to the size of a train car. The interior of the vehicle was separated into smaller rooms with a narrow hallway bisecting them. Jefferson was led to a partition in the back, where he was shoved through an open door and into a seat with a five point restraint. The safety belts were buckled tightly over him and the door was slammed shut, cutting him off from the world around him and leaving him in perfect silence.
Jefferson sat in the transport perfectly calm, secure in the knowledge that upon his arrival at the prison camp, it would be discovered that he had done nothing wrong, he was a loyal citizen, and he would be sent home. Everything would be figured out, and his record would be cleared, allowing him to resume his old job. Jefferson’s head rocked back against the head rest of the chair as the transport started off on its journey to the prison camp.
The prison camp was hell on earth.
Jefferson had ridden in his small cubicle aboard the transport vehicle for three days straight, only let out for two minutes at a time to use the restroom. He was forced to eat the miniscule portions he was allotted while strapped into his chair, and he was given so little water he wondered how his body managed to produce any urine or saliva.
Stepping out of the transport, escorted by a pair of officers and his wrists chained together, Jefferson’s eyes were instantly assaulted by the blinding sunlight and a wave of moisture from the humid air. His ears were filled with the shrill chirping of insects that must have lived in the trees that were everywhere around them.
“Welcome to prison,” said a large man in a uniform identical to those worn by the officers, but entirely black and a red chain around the right upper arm. “I am the warden here. You will do as you are told, or you sentence will be extended, your punishments worsened.” Jefferson looked around and saw a number of men lined up on either side of him, each flanked by a pair of officers who stood stock still a half step behind the prisoner. Jefferson felt a sharp pain explode in his right knee that sent him toppling to the moist ground beneath him.
“Did I tell you to look at anyone but me?” the warden barked in his face, spit flying from his lips and splattering on Jefferson’s face. The officers assigned to him grabbed him by the arms and yanked him back up to his feet, keeping a tight grip on his arms.
“Better,” the warden growled before stalking back to his original position. “Now, as I was saying. You are here to ensure that upon your release, you are a well behaved member of society. During your stay here, you will work in a factory and attend classes to reeducate you as to the uploading of personal data. Every one of you has been convicted of data tampering. I am not a judge, so do not waste my time telling me that you are innocent.”
Without another word, the warden waved to the officers, who led their charges away into a building, their feet splashing in the shallow puddles interspersed amongst the mud that made up all the ground within sight. Jefferson found himself being led into a dark square cement tunnel. Thankfully the fun was cut off, making the interior of the tunnel at least twenty degrees cooler than it had been outside. He was led to a small window set in a metal plate through which he was handed a jumpsuit. The officers then took their prisoners into separate stalls in a tile lined room where they were ordered to strip down. Jefferson handed his clothing to an attendant and a clear wall dropped down from the ceiling, sealing him off from the officers, who stood there watching him.
Water erupted from jets set in the wall, pummeling his body. One jet slammed into his face, and Jefferson tasted something salty as blood ran from his nose into his mouth. The jets subsided what felt like minutes later, but really could have been no more than twenty seconds. They were followed by blasts of air that felt stronger than the water had been, ripping the water from his skin, leaving him standing there, feeling as if he had been rubbed down with the most coarse sand in the world.
When the window was raised into the ceiling, the officers tossed Jefferson’s jumpsuit at him, and he hurriedly pulled it on over his stinging skin.
After that he was led to a cell that was almost identical to the one he had inhabited on the transport van. The room was a four foot by four foot square that was seven feet tall. Inside was a small cot along one wall that Jefferson knew immediately he was going to need to curl up on in order to sleep. There was also a small table that took up half of the other wall. It was bolted down so Jefferson would not be able to move it. The only illumination in the room came from a bare bulb recessed in the ceiling, and covered by a thick metal grate, so there was a grid-like shadow thrown on every surface in the room. The walls were a dull grey, as was the table. The sheets were a dingy looking off-white, and there was no pillow.
He turned around to look at the officers who had escorted him and asked, “Can I have some paper and something to write with?” The two officers did not say anything in answer, instead, looked at each other, and slammed the door. A loud metallic clunk came from within the door and echoed a few times in the concrete box that was Jefferson’s new home. He couldn’t even hear the sound of their footsteps as they retreated down the hallway.
Jefferson curled up on the cot. The mattress was so stiff it felt as if it had been made from concrete the same as everything else in the room. Even at his most compact, the top of his head brushed one wall and his feet were pressed up against the other. Hunger was ripping his stomach apart. The last meal, if it could be called that, he had been given in his chair on the transport vehicle had fallen outside his reach when they hit a large bump in whatever they were driving on. The guards on board ignored his calls for help, no matter how loud he yelled.
Now he could only sit and wait for someone to open the door. Jefferson opened his eyes again to examine the room a bit more closely than he had been able to when the officers first brought him there. From his new vantage point, he could see a series of scratch marks around the base of the table legs. There were all scratches on the inside of the large slab of riveted steel that served as his door. A small pile of sheets was tucked away under the bed. Jefferson reached down and pulled them out to find that they were the same dingy off-white color as the sheet that already covered the mattress he was currently lying on. Once the sheet was spread out in front of him, Jefferson saw why it had not been placed on top of the mattress. Right in the center of the fabric was a large reddish brown stain. He had no idea what it was, and he did not want to know.
Standing on the cot, he got a closer look at the grate over the light. Squinting as the naked light hurt his eyes from that close, he saw that there were some bits of a sheet wrapped around parts of the metal grate. Enough to explain a portion of the section at the bottom of the sheet that had been ripped off to leave it with three straight sides and one that was jagged and frayed.
The door to the cell opened with a loud bang as it struck the metal frame of the bed. Two men in body armor identical to the warden’s, but wearing helmets entered the small room and dragged Jefferson from his bed and out the door. After ten feet down the hall Jefferson managed to get his feet under him so he could walk instead of being dragged. In front of him, he saw one of the men who had gotten off of the transport with him who wasn’t bothering to try to stand, instead choosing to let the guards drag him along the hallway, his bare toes dragging against the cement floor of the hallway as they had been given no shoes. The guards brought them around a corner and through an open door, the only one Jefferson had seen since leaving his room. Through this door was a series of fifteen chairs arrayed in two half circles, seven in the front row and eight in the second row. There were also five chairs in a straight line about five feet away from the two rings. These five were spread with nearly five feet of space between them, spanning almost the entire back of the room.
The fifteen seats in the front were all taken, each one occupied by a man in a jumpsuit that was nearly identical to the one Jefferson wore. The men sat in their chairs, heads bowed, not making any eye contact with the men around them, or acknowledging their existence for that matter. Jefferson was pushed into a seat with so much force he wasn’t sure that his black garbed escorts weren’t trying to force his body through the cement beneath the thin metal chair. The man who had been in front of Jefferson was forced into his own chair, but instead of sitting upright, he flopped over to the side, falling limply on the floor. His assigned guards walked around the seat, lifted him from the floor, and placed him back in the chair, one of them holding his body upright this time while the other pulled a length of plastic cord from a pouch on his belt. This was then wound around the man’s body multiple times and tied off behind the chair back to keep him sitting up.
“I will not say it again,” a mechanical voice hissed in his ear, if it were possible for mechanical voices to hiss, “do not look at the other inmates.” Jefferson looked at where the voice had come from and saw that it was one of his guards who had leaned down next to him, but was now straightening up again.
Jefferson looked to the front of the room, as did every man sitting in the rings in front of him, at the sound of a metal door squealing open on its overburdened hinges. The warden walked through that door, followed by a man in a black button down shirt with a red tie, and wearing what could only be described as a red lab coat that had been left unbuttoned over it. The coat reached down to the knees of his black pants, and Jefferson saw a reflection of light bounce off the man’s shining black shoes. The guards behind Jefferson and his four fellow new arrivals snapped to attention at their entrance.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” the warden said, his gaze passing over the faces of the men closest to him, none of them looking directly at him. “As you can see, we have a group of new arrivals.” At this, he gestured over their heads to Jefferson’s group, but not a single person in the front rows turned to look at them, making the warden smirk. The warden didn’t say anything else for a full minute before stepping back to lean against the wall at the front of the room, arms crossed over his chest.
“What is the purpose of data?” the man in the lab coat said. Jefferson assumed it would have been barked at them if the man’s voice were capable of making such a noise.
“To ensure compliance,” the men all said in a monotonous voice in unison.
“Correct,” the man in the coat said, crossing his arms behind the small of his back as he began to pace in front of the rings of men. “You,” he said, stopping in front of one of them, arm whipping out so his overly long extended forefinger pointed right at his forehead. “How much urine did your body produce this morning?”
The man shook his hanging head before answering, “I don’t know, sir.”
“And why do you not know?”
“I don’t have my glasses,” was his response.
“Does someone know how much you urinated this morning,” he asked, resuming his pacing, arm returned to its position behind his back.
“Yes. The people know my urine production,” the men said in unison.
The time passed like this, questions being asked, answers being regurgitated at the man in the lab coat. They sat in the room, Jefferson watching this happen for hours. His legs fell asleep and then grew tingly and painful as feeling returned to them before they fell asleep again. Finally the man in the lab coat raised his gaze to address the men in the rear of the room.
“I understand you were just brought to our facility today,” he said, no longer pacing, but meeting the gaze of each of the five of them. “As you have already seen, we tolerate little outside of the expectations here. You will attend class every day. Twice a day if it is deemed necessary in order to ensure your productivity and cooperation upon your return to society. When you are not here, you will either be working, or in your rooms. There is no free time here. I will see you tomorrow.” With that, he turned and left through the same door that had been his entrance. The warden watched them all for a few more moments before following the man in the lab coat.
Jefferson was once again hauled from his seat by the guards behind him and taken back to his room. This time only one of them entered the room with him while the other waited in the hallway, just visible through the open door.
“You will attend class in the morning tomorrow and every day you are here,” he said, his voice hissing slightly with static. “After class you will return to your room for a fifteen minute lunch. Food will be waiting for you on your arrival. From there, you will go the opposite direction down the hallway to the factory where the foreman will give you something to do. Do not talk to anyone. Do not look at anyone. Do not even acknowledge the existence of any person who is not an employee of this facility. Are there any questions?”
Before Jefferson had a chance to ask one, the guard had swept out of the room and slammed the door shut behind him. Jefferson sat down on the edge of the bed, holding his head in his hands, and began to weep silently. At first it was small tears that rolled down his cheeks, but they soon became substantial drops that coalesced on his chin and dripped to the cement floor beneath him, grouping together to eventually form a small puddle.
Jefferson wiped his nose and his eyes, looking up to see a plate of something on the table in front of him. His hand darted out, grabbing at whatever it is and shoving it in his mouth, swallowing the second his fingers were clear of his teeth so he could close his jaw. He didn’t know what the food was, for it tasted like nothing he had eaten before, which was not such a large surprise to him. The only sensation he recognized from the substance was that it was cold. So cold that he could feel it slowly inching its way down his throat before his body temperature had time to warm it up.
After licking the last morsels from the plate, Jefferson once again curled up on the cot. The next thing he knew, he was being awoken by a deafening high pitched buzzer. The sound filled his room and was so loud that Jefferson swore his eyeballs were still vibrating in his head when he stumbled into the hallway through the now unlocked door. The buzzing stopped the instant the door had opened, but Jefferson was just barely about to hear it through the metal once it had been closed again.
Jefferson made his way down the bare hallway, not passing a single other person. At one point he did hear another door slam far behind him, catching the echo of the noise as it bounced down the hallway. He walked into the room, his legs and back still stiff from his confined sleeping position as he took one of the seats in the back row as it was the only open seat still available. He looked around at the men seated near him as there were no guards in the room.
They each sat there, leaning forward, most of them support by their elbows on their knees. Their heads were hanging low and they made no move to look around them. A few of their faces were covered by long stringy hair, but the majority of them had hair closely trimmed, their scalp showing through.
A man who looked similar to the one from the previous evening walked in through the door in the front of the room. He was wearing only a red button down shirt with black tie, pants, and shoes. He took a seat in a larger, more padded chair in the front of the room, crossed one leg over the knee of the other and opened a thin binder in his lap.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” he said in a warm and gentle voice. “Today we have a new member joining our group. A mister Jefferson Newterry.” The man gestured at Jefferson, but none of the other men in the room bothered to look, just as the men the night before had not.
“Now, Mr. Newterry, could you please tell us why it is important to upload all personal data to your personal file that is held by the government?”
Jefferson cleared his throat before saying, “We need to upload all of our data so the government can make sure that we are okay. So they can monitor what we are doing and know that we are doing nothing wrong.”
The man in front of him smiled while shaking his head. “You would think that is the correct answer, but can someone please inform Mr. Newterry of the actual answer?” He looked around at the other men. “How about you, Mr. Newnicoll?”
One of the men opposite Jefferson in the circle looked up. He had extremely short hair, bordering on being bald. “To ensure compliance,” he mumbled before dropping his gaze once again.
“Exactly,” the man in front said with his unchanging smile. The next few hours passed similarly, with him asking questions, and the men around Jefferson giving him the exact answer he wanted, not as if they believed it to be true, but simply to get the man to move on.
“That will be all for today,” the man said eventually, closing his binder and turning his gaze on Jefferson. “Mr. Newterry, I understand that you are new here. It will take a little time, but you will learn the real reasons for the data entries, do not worry that you did not know the answers today.” He nodded once, still smiling and eyes locked on Jefferson before standing and marching through his door in the front. The other men in the room stood from their chairs and shuffled through the various doors in the back of the room, Jefferson following suite.
He made his way back along the hallway, once again without seeing another person, and ended up back in his room, where he found a plate sitting on his small table. On the plate was an identical copy of the slop he had for dinner the night before. Jefferson scarfed it down and sat on his cot until the alarm in his room went off again. He hurriedly covered his ears and bolted out the door to find himself unsure of where to go. The guards had only told him that after lunch he would be going to the factory, but they hadn’t told him how to actually get there. Looking up and down the hallway, he saw someone round the corner, both their eyes blacked and blood dripping from their nose.
“Factory?” they coughed at Jefferson, who nodded in response. The man pointed back over his shoulder, the opposite direction from the classroom. Jefferson nodded his head at the man who had already ducked inside his room. He headed down the direction the man had pointed and came to an open door, blinding sunlight burning in from outside. He stepped outside, hand shading his eyes, and saw a few men coming out of similar doorways in the side of the large structure behind him. He began walking in the same direction, toward a pair of black dressed guards standing in the path between the two walls of trees that wound away.
“Jefferson Newterry?” one of them asked him. Jefferson nodded and the guards grabbed him, dragging him backward into the building through a different door than before. He saw twin streaks of mud being left by his bare feet as they kept dragging him down corridors and through a door before shoving him into a chair. When Jefferson looked up he saw the warden sitting on the other side of a large wooden desk.
“Hello, Mr. Newterry. How has your first day at our facility been?” Jefferson sat in silence, not sure of the answer that the warden wanted to hear. The warden laughed to himself. “Terrible, I’m sure. Now, I’ve spoken with your instructor from this morning. Having gone over the answers you gave in class today, we both believe that you are innocent of tampering with any data entries. That you truly believe in the data collection.”
Jefferson nodded his head until it looked like it was going to wobble itself right off his shoulders. “Yes, sir. I do, sir. I didn’t mess with anything, but the man who I spoke to before didn’t believe me.”
“Not surprising, really. Most people deny any tampering when under investigation. Now, we are willing to erase this from your record, and speak to your old boss so you can get your old job back. Eventually.”
“That would be fantastic, sir. All I want is to go back to the way things were before. To put all of this behind me.”
“I’m sure.” The warden moved some papers around on his desk and took a sip of water from a glass that reminded Jefferson of the one that had been out of reach during his interrogation. “However, you won’t be able to for some time yet.”
Jefferson cocked his head to the side and asked, “Why is that? If I’m innocent, then why wouldn’t I be released right away.”
“Because we need your help. Bryan Newjones. Are you familiar with the name?”
“Well, he did tamper with his data. Hid it. Made his entries empty. But, I’m sure you’re aware of that already.”
Jefferson nodded again.
“We need you to figure out how. How did he alter his upload? Why did he do it? Who helped him?”
“How am I going to do that if I’m still here?” Jefferson asked.
“That man who told you which way to the factory. Yes, we know about that,” the warden said at Jefferson’s confused look. “Just because you don’t have your glasses doesn’t mean there are no data entries for you during your time here. In fact, they are infinitely more detailed during your stay here and the first five years after your release than they ever have been before. Anyway, that man is Bryan Newjones.”
Jefferson opened his mouth to say something and closed it again before finally saying, “How am I supposed to find anything out if I’m not allowed to speak with any of the other inmates? I have no time where that’s possible even if we were allowed to.”
“In another week, you and the others who arrived yesterday will be moved to our other rooms. Ones with larger beds. Ones where you will have a roommate. You will be paired with Mr. Newjones. During that time, you will befriend him and find out what we want. You will still attend classes and work at different times, so we will be able to pull you out for reports.”
“And what if he won’t tell me?” Jefferson asked. “What if it really was just a glitch in the system?”
“Believe me, Mr. Newterry, there was no glitch. Now, being an informant for us does come with some privileges. One being that you will be given a menial job in the factory, away from all the machinery and danger. You will, however, need to learn the correct answers for the reeducation classes. We need to keep up appearances so Mr. Newjones does not get suspicious.”
Jefferson nodded. Brief head movements were quickly becoming his go-to method of communication.
“You will also need to be marked. This will make sure that every other person in authority will believe your story if something happens to me, or you need to inform another of your actions.”
The guard that had escorted Jefferson into the office grabbed him by both shoulders and slammed him into the desk in front of him, the edge catching him right across the chest, just under his collar bones. There was a tearing sound before Jefferson felt the slight breeze of the air circular system blowing on his back. He heard a mechanical whizzing sound from behind him and a burning, stinging sensation began to spread over his right shoulder blade. The sound and the pain continued for near on ten minutes before the sound stopped. The pain continued as he felt something rubbed across his back and the pressure on his shoulders finally let up.
“Never let Jefferson see that mark,” the warden said, leaning forward, hands tented in front of him. “However, if you absolutely need an official to know that you are an informant, just show them that mark, and they will believe you.”
“What is it?” Jefferson asked, reaching over his shoulder to touch the spot with the tips of his fingers, but withdrew them immediately as the slightest touch tripled the pain in that spot.
“Don’t worry about what it looks like.” The warden smiled. “You are not even authorized to see a design that is permanently on your back.” The warden waved at the guards behind Jefferson. They grabbed him and dragged him back out of the office and to his room where he was thrown onto the rock of a mattress and the door slammed behind him. There was no food on his table.
He fell asleep shortly after, waking only when the alarm went off the next morning, telling him to go to class. Jefferson passed the following days doing the same thing every day. Wake up. Class. Lunch. Factory, where he was put at a desk and told to file small slips of paper in an unbelievable large room filled with cabinets. Dinner. Sleep. Repeat.
Then, one day, on his way back to his room from the factory, looking down as he tried to rub the ink off his fingers with the slight amount of saliva he had been able to work up after sweating out what felt like more water than his body contained, he was intercepted by a single guard.
“Mr. Newterry. Please follow me. I am to escort you to your new room.” Jefferson nodded at the blank and lifeless faceplate of the black guard who turned around on his heels, rifle held across his chest clacking against his body armor. Jefferson followed him in a different door than the one he had been used to. They twisted around a few turns before arriving at the most open area Jefferson had seen since his arrival, other than the classroom. This open room was fifteen foot square with a number of solid metal doors set in the walls.
The guard led him to one of the doors, identical to the all the others, and swiped his wrist over a plate on the wall. There was a beep and a thunk as the door unlocked. The guard pulled the door open and shoved Jefferson inside before shutting it behind him, followed by a clank as the lock reengaged.
Jefferson pushed himself up from the floor and dusted of his jumpsuit before looking up and jumping in surprise. The room was easily three times the size of his last one. There were two cots, one against each of the walls to his left and right, with a table set in between them. Just like the last cell, all the furniture was bolted directly into the cement floor.
There was also another person in this room, laying on the cot to the right, head resting on his hands which were crossed beneath his head, and one knee bent so it was sticking up in the air. Jefferson cleared his throat and the man on the cot lifted his head to look up at him. Jefferson recognized him as Bryan Newjones, but without the bruises on his face. Newjones dropped his head back down before saying, “Damn. Thought I was gonna get this room all to myself. Maybe finally get comfortable in this place.”
“My name’s Jefferson Newterry. Nice to meet you,” Jefferson said, ignoring Newjones’ comment.
Newjones laughed, saying, “I’m sure it is. Bryan Newjones.” He sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the cot so his filthy bare feet rested on the floor. “And I already knew who you were. Used to work with the data entries before you got caught tampering with them. Everyone here knows who you are. You’re a hero to some.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Jefferson said. “And even if I did, why would breaking the law make me a hero to anyone?”
Newjones threw his head back and guffawed. “Because you were on the inside. In their building. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. And you threw a wrench in the gears. Stopped their peeping habits, at least for some people. The only thing I want to know is, why didn’t you erase your own entries?”
“I didn’t erase any entries,” Jefferson said, his voice rising in volume, but only slightly. He plopped down on the cot. This one was softer than the last, but almost paper thin. He felt himself drop lower as his weight hit a spot on the cot where the supports had been bent out of place. “I don’t need to explain myself to you.”
“Why did you do it?” Newjones asked, inching forward to sit on the very edge of his cot. “How did you do it?”
Jefferson almost smiled to himself, but was able to keep his face blank at the thought of Bryan Newjones asking him the exact things the warden had tasked him with finding out. “How did you find out why I’m here?” Jefferson asked. “This is the first time I’ve spoken to someone since getting here.”
“People talk down in the factory. No cameras close enough to see. No microphones could hear over the noise of the machinery. No guards bother going down there, they just ring the building to make sure no one tries to escape. Don’t you work in the factory?”
“Yeah. Up in an office with paperwork. They figured that’s basically what I did before getting here, so that’s what they’d give me there too.” Jefferson was surprised how easily the lie rolled off his tongue. If Newjones had been wearing his glasses, depending on his settings, he would have been able to see Jefferson’s entries indicating signs of lying. But without them, he was as clueless as anyone could be.
The two of them sat in silence for a moment, Jefferson fidgets on the cot, trying to work his way out of the divot he’d found himself in. “I’ve heard something about you too,” he finally said. Newjones looked up at him from across the room. “I heard you figured out how to make your data entries upload as blank. How’d you pull that off?”
Newjones narrowed his eyes at Jefferson, like a cat getting ready to pounce in a lizard.
“Now how would you know something like that? No one here knows that. It was kept a secret because they don’t want people to know it’s possible.”
“Paperwork.” The word burst from Jefferson’s mouth before it had hit his conscious thought. “Some of the paperwork I file is inmate records. Those forms include the conviction. Yours said that your data entries had been blank for two months, and they had found no sign of how you did it. I want to know.”
Newjones’ eyes were still narrowed, but he slowly started to bob his head at Jefferson. “Want to do it yourself, huh?” He sat up straight. “I’m not telling anyone. I went through too much to figure it out.” He lay back down on the cot. “You’ll have to figure that one out on your own.
The next month passed almost exactly as the first week had. An unchanging daily routine of indoctrination and menial labor. He conversed with Newjones every evening after he returned from the factory and Newjones left the reeducation class. For all their talking, Jefferson was still no closer to finding out what he needed to know than he was the day the warden told him what to do. The next day he was pulled out of the hallway on his way outside to head to the factory by a guard. Jefferson was half dragged, half led back to the warden’s office.
“So what have you found?” the warden asked. He leaned back in his chair, which creaked under the shift in his weight.
“He admitted to me that he did it. That he figured out how to make his uploads blank.”
“Good. We already knew he did that. Now how did he do it? Why? Did someone help him?”
Jefferson shook his head. “He won’t tell me. Says it took too much work to just hand that information out.”
“Then what have you spent all this time talking about?”
“He’s been trying to figure out how I tampered with data entries. Everyone here knows that I used to work with them. They think I’m a hero.”
The warden nodded. “Yes. We are aware of this. What have you done to quell these rumors?”
“I… I…” Jeffeson stammered. “I haven’t done anything.”
“And why not?” the warden growled, leaning forward.
“I thought that if he believed I did that, he’d be more likely to trust me so he would tell me how he figured out the way to alter his uploads.”
The warden drummed his fingers on the desktop, narrowing his eyes at Jefferson. “Not a bad idea.” He leaned back in his chair again. “But this whole ‘hero’ thing. That is going to be an issue. We may have to make an example of you.”
“Um. What exactly will that entail?” Jefferson asked, swallowing.
“You don’t need to worry about that. We’ll figure everything out.” The warden waved at Jefferson, dismissing him. He was yanked from the chair by the guard and escorted back to his room.
Jefferson’s life continued on the same, boring monotony every day until one morning there was no alarm to wake him. There was no indication of anything until what must have been well past noon. The door to the room swung open on its own. Jefferson and Bryan looked at each other across the gap between their beds before both standing up and padding out into the open area. Every cell door had opened and the other inmates were beginning to wander out as well. In the middle of what Jefferson had begun calling the lobby, was a group of guards, arranged in a tight circle, all of them looking out. The circle was made of two rings. The guards on the inside held rifles pointed out, their barrels resting on the shoulders of the guards in front of them. The guards in the front held large shields that extended from their chin to just barely an inch above the ground.
In the center of the double ring was a single guard. His all black body armor was accented by streaks of golden yellow. A few of the guards in the ring shifted where they steed, the armor on their chests clattering against the armor on the backs of the men with the shields in front of them. The guards waved at the men by some of the doors with their rifles, signaling them to move to the other end of the room.
“Everyone report to the auditorium,” the guard with gold bellowed in his own voice instead of that mechanical speech Jefferson was used to hearing from the helmets of the other guards. The ring of guards broke apart in the back, unwinding until the guards stood in a straight line, still in pairs of one holding a rifle trained on the prisoners while the other held a shield in front of them. Jefferson watched them, unsure as to what they thought they would need the shields for since everything around the inmates was bolted down.
The line of guards advanced forward a single step, their armor clunking along with them. They advanced a second step and waited before beginning a slow, but continuous movement forward. Jefferson looked around him and saw an open door that led into a hallway. Figuring that was where the guards were herding all of them, he joined the slow procession of beat down, orange garbed, barefoot prisoners.
Jefferson padded his way down the concrete passage, following some of the other prisoners and followed by the rest. At one turn, they merged with a larger stream of prisoners who were all heading in the same direction. A few more hallways added their inmates to the larger river of prisoners streaming through the wide hallway until they emerged into sunlight, spreading out once outside as far as they could between the lines of armed guards hemming them in.
The inmates continued to move until they were all standing on a slightly raised platform that was made of cement, as was every other part of the facility. The difference was that there was a secondary large stage built higher up, above the heads of the assembled men. These platforms were also covered in minuscule cracks and stains, a side effect of their location outdoors.
Standing on the higher stage was the warden, who was ignoring the inmates that crowded in around the stage while turned to continue his conversation with the man who Jefferson had seen the first time he joined one of the classes, sitting in the back of the room his first night in the camp.
Once all of the inmates had gathered and stopped moving, standing in silence, looking toward the warden, but not directly at them, he turned and cleared his throat as his attention shifted to them.
“We are here today,” his voice boomed over them from what Jefferson assumed was a hidden speaker system, “because one of our inmates requires punishment above and beyond that of simply being a guest out our little camp.” A few of the inmates shifted slightly where they stood, but no one made a noise. “Not only has this man tampered with his data entries, causing him to come and join us, but now that he is here, he has also abused the slightest bit of power he was given in the factory. We have discovered that this guest has attempted to compile all of the ways that the rest of you have tampered with your data. Only, we assume, to create a manual, a guide, if you will, to aid others in doing so once he is released back into society.”
At this, Jefferson saw a few of the prisoners with the slightest hint of a grin on their faces, while the majority of them, those who had been there the longest, shook their heads, grumbling to themselves. “This man will be punished. Today. In full view of all those gathered here today as a sign that this will not be tolerated.”
Jefferson saw the crowd split in two areas around a pair of guards who pushed their way through the assembled inmates. They converged on Jefferson and grabbed him roughly, dragging him to the side of the higher stage and hurling him up onto the platform. Jefferson looked up at the warden from where he lay on his stomach. The two guards hopped up on the platform and lifted him upright once again.
The warden smiled a wicked grin in Jefferson’s face as he said, “String him up.” He said it in a hushed voice that still thundered over all of the inmates who stood there, the sun beating down on them. The guards took Jefferson’s wrists, clamping them into a pair of manacles that were connected to long chains. They did the same with his ankles before stepping away from him. Those two guards, along with two others who stood on the platform bent down to pick up one chain each that had been lying on the stone top of the stage. Sweat trickled down from Jefferson’s forehead, stinging his eye as they began to pull on their respective chains.
Reaching up to his eye, Jefferson tried to rub the salty sweat from it, but his hand was yanked away from his face by the chain. He followed its path with his eyes and saw that it wound through a pulley hung from a steel support a few feet above his head. His arms continued to extend out at the end of their chains until they were stretched as far as they would reach. Then the steel supports connected to the pulleys began to rise in the air, lifting Jefferson from his feet. When he was suspended two feet above the platform, they stopped their upward motion, and the chains attached to his wrists were pulled taut. This was followed by the chains attached to his ankle cuffs being pulled in, stretching his legs out to the side until he found himself suspended in spread out in the air like a star.
The guards clamped their chains into something outside of Jefferson’s range of vision that held them in place. Two of them walked up behind Jefferson and grabbed his jumpsuit by the collar, yanking on it so it ripped off his arms and torso, leaving him exposed to the oppressive heat from the sun.
“Keep this as a reminder to all of those who may consider attempting to tamper with data entries again,” the warden’s voice thundered over him.
Jefferson heard a sharp whistle and a slap before he felt the pain. It burned from his right shoulder down to his left hip. There was another whistle and slap that crossed over the other side of his body. Jefferson’s mouth opened in a gasp of pain, eyes wide with each strike. He then heard a crackling moving about behind him before the burning in the small of his back.
His body spasmed, teeth clamping shut so hard he thought he might have bit off the very tip of his tongue. His back arched and his limbs trembled, completely out of his control. An acrid singed smell made its way to his nose as the crackling cut off, but the burning pain was left. A second later there was another whistle and slap, but this time whatever it was that he had been struck with did not fall away from his back, but clung there instead.
There was a yanking on Jefferson’s back as the tool of pain was yanked from him, and an incredible pain ripped along his back. This was followed by the same thing across the other way. This series of whippings and electrocutions went on for what felt like days, but the sun had hardly moved across the side when Jefferson looked up again. The crowd of inmates watched his torture in stony silence. His eyes found Bryan Newjones out in the crowd. He was the only one who had even the slightest expression on his face, one of sadness for his cellmate.
“Enough,” Jefferson barely heard the warden say as he was being shocked again, this time right between his shoulder blades. He heard the rattling of chains as he fell to the stage surface in a limp heap. His entire body stung from the faint red burn that had begun to appear on his skin, but this was mostly numbed by the throbbing pain radiating from every inch of his back as he lay there, struggling to breath and move. “Get him back to his cell.”
Two of the guards dragged Jefferson to the edge of the stage and rolled off to land in the damp soil at its base. The crowd of inmates had already turned to shuffle their way back into the imposing building that loomed over Jefferson. The guards hopped down, splashing mud into his face, to lift him up and drag him inside. He paid attention to nothing until he was dropped inside his cell, the door slammed shut and hitting his legs as it did so, forcing his body the rest of the way into the cell.
Bryan was already there, sitting on his bed. Once the door was shut, he stood up and crossed over to Jefferson, helping him up as best he could and moving him over to the cot where they eventually managed to get Jefferson lying on his stomach, him grunting in pain with every movement that it took to do so.
Bryan grunted, falling back down to sit on the edge of his cot. “Did you really try to figure out every way there is to alter the data entries?” he asked, but Jefferson didn’t hear him. He was already passed out, face down on his bed.
He woke up hours later, his back still throbbing in pain, but this time there was a plate of food on the table and Bryan was gone. Since there were no windows in the cells, Jefferson had no way to tell if it was even morning or afternoon. It took Jefferson half an hour to maneuver his way to a position where he could reach the food and inhale it. The gruel was ice cold, so he figured it had been sitting there for quite a while by that point. He managed to get repositioned on the cot a little faster than when he moved to eat.
No sooner had Jefferson get as comfortable as he expected to be for the next few days, the door opened and Bryan returned from wherever he had been. He sat down on his cot, not making much noise, most likely thinking Jefferson was still asleep.
“What time is it?” Jefferson asked, his voice muffled from his face being pressed into the sheet beneath him.
“It’s late. Night time,” Bryan replied. “I’m just getting back from class where they were extra nice to us today.” His words dripped with sarcasm as he lay back on his bed, hands beneath his head in much the same position that Jefferson had first seen him in when they became cellmates. Jefferson groaned in reply, pulling his arm out from under his chest to scratch an itch on the back of his neck. The slight cool breeze that resulted from the air circulation system made the few small areas of his back that had not been directly injured tingle.
“So how many ways did you figure out to mess with the data?” Bryan asked from the other side of the room.
“I didn’t do anything,” Jefferson said, face still pressed against the sheet.
“So they whipped and shocked you for nothing?”
“No. The imprisoned me for nothing. The beating was just the cherry on top of the shit cake that my life has become.”
“What do you mean you didn’t do anything? You said you messed with the data from inside their organization.”
“No I didn’t,” Jefferson said, shaking his head and making his face rub on the sheet. He stopped very quickly with a wince as the movement made the pain in his back worse. “Everyone else says that’s what I did. I never said anything. I’m innocent.”
“Then why would they beat you like that?” Jefferson sat up, his legs crossed under him, knees hanging off the edge of the cot’s mattress.
“To convince you.”
Jefferson didn’t hear a response for a few minutes. Finally Bryan said, “Convince me of what? Why are they so interested in me?”
“Help me sit up. I can’t keep talking like this.” Bryan got up from his bed and came across, helping support Jefferson as he moved to sit upright, his feet set on the cold cement that made up the floor of their cell. “The warden told me,” he began once he was mostly comfortable, “that he believed I did nothing wrong. I said he knew I believed in the data system. And I did. He wanted me to get close to the person who was the reason I’m here. To find out how you made your data upload empty.”
“What do you mean? You think I’m the reason you’re here? I never met you until that guard dumped you in this room.”
“I know,” Jefferson said, wincing as he tried to stretch his back but gave up after only a few seconds. “You know how I used to work with days entries?” Bryan nodded. “Well I was the one who looked into your entries. I was the one who notified my supervisor to their lack of any data. Then they pinned it on me, saying that I was helping you get away with it since the error had been reporting for a much shorter amount of time than they had been uploading blank.”
“I didn’t get anyone’s help. I figured it out on my own.”
“I know that. The warden knows that. The warden wants me to find out how you did it.”
Bryan looked at Jefferson, his eyes narrowed. “Why are you telling me all of this?”
Jefferson coughed, wincing as his back moved. “Because,” he said through clenched teeth, “I am not going to help them anymore. After this beating when I’ve done nothing, I can’t help them.”
“So you don’t believe the data entries are a good thing anymore?” Bryan asked, his eyes hopeful.
Jefferson shook his head before answering. “No. I still believe in the data system. I’m just not sure that it should be compulsory anymore. I’m starting to think that people should be given the option as to what data is uploaded, when it’s uploaded, and what other people can see.” He sighed, slouching forward slightly. “I just don’t believe that these methods are what people need to do what is right. If people really thought it was the best thing for them, then they would do it. The simple fact that there are so many people who go to such lengths to disguise their entries means that it cannot be the best thing for us. I can’t imagine this many people would purposefully not do something that is for their benefit.”
Bryan nodded along as Jefferson spoke. Once he had finished, Bryan said, “So what are we going to have you tell the warden?”
“What?” Jefferson asked.
“Well, we can’t have him beating you again. Tell him that his plan worked. That I trust you now and I told you how I tampered with my data.”
“Why would you help me?”
Bryan laughed. “Just because I don’t want everyone to know how much I piss or what I eat for breakfast doesn’t mean I want to get people hurt. I’m not some terrorist, and neither are the other people here. We just want our privacy. If anyone here is the threat, it’s those who did all this to you. None of us have done anything other than want to maintain some sort of personal life instead of broadcasting everything to the public the moment it happens.” He shook his head. “You know that I heard the data is going to get much more detailed soon?”
Now it was Jefferson’s turn to shake his head.
“Yeah,” Bryan continued. “Before I got caught I heard that they were going to start posting even things like when two people had sex. Or when someone gets pregnant. Could you imagine that? Finding out you’re pregnant after millions of other people have? What’s the point of a family when that’s the case?”
Jefferson didn’t say anything. Instead, he scrunched up his face in concentration. “How could the data entries possibly know something like that? They make use of sensors built into the cities.”
“Implants,” Bryan answered. “They’re going to make it mandatory to have a series of implants placed just under your skin that measures everything happening in your body. Now they have their little heart rate monitors on your wrist that also measure body temperature, but they want to keep track of everything. They even want to put one against your brain. Inside your skull. Think about it, the feds are literally trying to get inside our heads.”
“Then what do I tell the warden? How did you tamper with your data?”
“Just tell him that I disabled the sensors in my home.”
“Is that how you really did it?”
Bryan laughed again before saying, “Of course not. If that’s what I did, then how would all my data entries be blank instead of just the ones in my house?”
Jefferson nodded. “Good point. I’ll tell him that next time he has me dragged into his office. Whenever that is.” They sat there for a moment before hearing a small rustling at the bottom of their door. They both looked over to see a small slip of paper that had been folded in half slid under the door, through the small gap. Bryan stood up, the shot springs of his cot creaking and popping as he stepped over to the paper and snatched it from the concrete floor. Bryan examined the paper, unfolding it to read what was written inside before handing it to Jefferson.
“Your absences today have been excused,” he read the words out loud. “However, if you do not report to class or the factory tomorrow, you will be disciplined.” Jefferson dropped the paper and looked up at Bryan. “How am I supposed to get anywhere when I can barely sit upright?”
Bryan shrugged. “Not a clue. I’d suggest getting some rest to let your body heal a bit. Maybe you can signal to a guard tomorrow and let them know you need to talk to the warden.”
Jefferson agreed with him before moving to lie down. He lay motionless for an hour until the lights in their cell snapped off, leaving only a faint glow seeping in under their cell door from the lobby, where the lights remained lit all hours of the day. Jefferson heard soft snoring coming from Bryan’s side of the cell, but he was unable to get to sleep due to the pain in his back flaring up with every breath.
He just managed to doze off when the lights snapped back on again and they were met by the shrieking buzzer of an alarm. Jefferson groaned, pushing himself up. On the table he found a new jumpsuit which he assumed was meant to replace the one the guards had torn mostly off of him. He hadn’t heard anyone come in during the night and figured that he must have fallen asleep for at least a little bit. Bryan helps him peel the last bit of his old jumpsuit off, some of it sticking painfully to his body where the blood has clotted against it. Jefferson then put his feet into the new suit and slid it up over his shoulders, zipping it up in the front. It felt strange to be in something with the still stiff fabric of having just come from the laundry. It was the first new outfit he’d gotten in the nearly two months he’d been at the camp.
Jefferson stood up and trudged out of the cell, making his way incrementally down the hallway to the classroom. He was the last person to get there, even after the instructor had taken his place in the front of the room. When he saw Jefferson walk in, waved his hand next to his face. Jefferson saw the ghost of reversed text appear for a moment and disappear again as the instructor made a brief note in his binder. Jefferson lowered himself into the stiff metal chair, trying to keep all pressure off his back against the chair, fidgeting for a minute to find the best position possible.
The instructor then began the class, targeting every question at Jefferson, nit-picking each slight inconsistency in his answers from the expected norms. That went on for hours until they were released to go back to their cells for lunch. Jefferson made it to his cell just as the alarm went off, signaling it was time to go to the factory.
As he stepped out into the sunlight, wincing in the brightness, he looked around for a guard. There was one standing a few feet to his right.
“I need to speak with the warden,” Jefferson said, walking up to him. The guard ignored him so Jefferson repeated himself. The guard’s helmet turned to look at him and, without warning, he slammed the butt of his rifle into Jefferson’s midsection.
Jefferson doubled over, falling to one knee, trying to regain his breath.
“Look…” he said between ragged breaths, “look at my shoulder.” The guard leaned forward, but instead of looking at the mark on Jefferson’s back, he slammed the butt of the rifle directly between Jefferson’s shoulder blades, knocking him flat on his stomach in the mud. Lights exploded in Jeffeson’s eyes. As he lay in the mud, he felt a warm wetness spread over his back where the rifle had struck him. The blow must have reopened some of his scabbed over wounds from the previous day. Once Jefferson’s vision came back into focus, he pushed himself up to his hands and knees before straightening his back and climbing to his feet. It took more effort than he figured it would have taken to climb a mountain, but he eventually made it.
“The warden will want to hear what I have to say,” Jefferson said, still breathing hard.
The guard’s helmet slowly rotated back to look at him before the guard said, “No talking. The warden does not want to hear anything you pieces of noncompliant filth have to say.” No sooner had the robotic voice ended than the guard turned to look away from Jefferson again.
“But I’m telling you,” he began, but then found himself lying in the mud on his side. The entire left half of his head was now in competition with his back for the most painful part of his body. Jefferson tasted something salty and felt a hard object in his mouth. He spit red into the mud and saw a tooth lying in a puddle of his blood. Jefferson coughed and spit again, dirt beginning to mix with the blood on spiraling swirls.
He pushes himself up to his feet and turns to trudge his way through the hallway of trees that leads to the factory which, he just now realizes, he has absolutely no idea what it makes. Having spent every moment in the building sorting and filing paperwork, he never became acquainted with the factory’s output, other than giving the camp’s prisoners something to do for half the day.
When he arrives at the huge metal box of a building, the foreman who gave him his original clerical position stands in the middle of the open doorway, arms crossed over his chest. “I have been… informed,” he says, his head giving a slight nod to a guard standing nearby, watching the other prisoners file into the factory, “that you are no longer fit for filing papers. So, from today forward, you will report to position forty-two. The inmate currently occupying that position is being released tomorrow, so he will spend today showing you how to install the lenses into the glasses we produce here.”
So that’s what the factory makes, Jefferson thought as he made his way into the factory, bypassing the flight of stairs he normally took up to the office area and walking out onto the factory floor. He found a small sign with the number 42 stenciled on it. There was an old man with long, wiry grey hair and a matching beard standing there.
Jefferson introduced himself but the man simply grunts at him and turns to give his terse directions for installing the lenses. Jefferson points at a shallow opening along one of the earpieces.
“Don’t touch,” the man says, slapping Jefferson’s hand away as if he were a toddler. “Next step is installing the uploading components. Don’t mess with that.” He turned back to the crawling conveyor belt and continued to pick up empty frames, snapping lenses into them, and returning the product to the conveyor before beginning the process all over again. Jefferson took over shortly after and the man sat on a small stool to relax for the rest of the day, until the alarm went off and the machinery ground to a halt so the workers could go back to their cages for the night.
Jefferson made it back to his and the door clanged shut behind him. His back was so stiff he thought a wooden plank had been inserted in the back of his jumpsuit. Bryan wasn’t there yet, but the food was, so Jefferson scarfed down everything on his plate, even licking it clean before replacing it on the small table. Bryan came in a few minutes later, the door clanging again as it shut, followed by the familiar clunking of the locking mechanism engaging for the night.
“Class go long?” Jefferson asked him.
“Yeah,” Bryan grumbled in response. “Some new guy in the back stood up and started talking about how we were all sheep and we were going to lose everything and blah, blah blah.” He plopped down on his cot and shoveled the food from his plate into his mouth, tossing the metal plate back onto the table. The plate struck the table top, ringing loud and echoing in the room as it rattled to a stop. “It was like he didn’t even consider that all of us had those thoughts, and most still do. Except you, anyway.”
“Not like my day was the best either,” Jefferson said. He laughed a moment later, shaking his head.
“What is it?” Bryan asked.
“I can’t believe we’re sitting in prison and saying that today was worse than others. And I was just beaten by these people!”
Bryan joined in him laughing before asking, “So what happened with you today?”
Jefferson told him about being switched to position forty-two in the factory instead of working with the paperwork. He told him about everything he had done, even about the guy who had still not introduced himself to Jefferson when the alarm told them to leave.
“Well this is perfect,” Bryan said, clapping his hands together as he bounced on the mattress of his cot. The motion was really just him using his legs to push the rest of his body slightly upward, but the mattress followed him.
“Those little open holes. That guy said that the next step was the electronics for uploading data. If we figure out a way for you to mess with those components, then we can stop the data from uploading for thousands, or even millions of people. This is just the hit they need to see to realize that people are not happy with the way things are.”
“But people are happy. I am happy with the way things are. Why can’t you see that? Not everyone is as thrilled as you are about changing the way things are now, and have been for as long as anyone can remember.” Jefferson threw his hands in the air and scoffed. “At this point, knowing that there is nothing to learn from you, especially because I told you that I was sent to spy on you, all I want is to get out of here and get back to my normal life. I want to upload my data. I want them looking after me because it makes me feel safe. I feel better that I’m not the only one trying to make sure that I’m okay. I like knowing that someone else out there is able to see what is happening with me and with my body. Someone who knows more than me. Someone who can see warning signs.”
“Warning signs of what?” Bryan said, his voice rising and his words clipped. “There hasn’t been a single major medical issue in over a hundred years.”
“About the same amount of time that people have been uploading,” Jefferson fired back at him. “Did you and your other genius idealists ever connect those dots? Maybe there are fewer issues now because there is more transparency. Doctors don’t need to rely on the information given to them by a patient with nothing to hide. Instead, they just pull up their data and get everything they need.” Jefferson sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose with the forefinger and thumb of his right hand. “Look,” he said in a softer tone, “I don’t care if you don’t want your data uploaded. I really don’t care what you do, but do you think that it’s right to take uploading away from those who do want it all in the name of your own ideals?”
“You don’t really mean that,” Bryan said in a hushed voice.
“Right. Because you know what I think and what I mean. I have nothing to hide. I want my data uploaded. The question is, what do you want to hide? Why do you want your life to be more private?”
“I’ve got nothing to hide,” Bryan said.
“Sure,” Jefferson laughed. “Then why all of this effort, all of this anger, to stop your data from being made public? If you have nothing to hide, then why do you want to hide everything?”
“Just leave me alone,” Bryan said. He lay down on his cot and rolled over, thin sheet covering as much of his body as it could, which ended up being little more than two thirds. Jefferson shook his head at Bryan’s back and lay down on his side on his own cot. The pain from his back, momentarily forgotten during the argument, came roaring back, almost making him gasp when it hit him. The lights in the cell clicked off and Jefferson drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, Jefferson found himself waking with a start on the floor of the cell.
“Get up,” the electronic voice of a guard said as he was hauled to his feet. Jefferson looked over to Bryan’s cot to find him still lying there, back to Jefferson. He followed the guards into the lobby and they shut the door behind them.
“Where are we going?” he asked. He’d been taken places by guards before, but he’d never been escorted from his bed to their destination before. The guard behind him struck his back with the butt of his rifle hard enough to make Jefferson gasp with pain and stumble, not still not quite strong enough to send him tumbling to the floor.
“No questions,” the guard behind him said once Jefferson had regained his balance.
“No talking,” the guard in front added.
Jefferson recognized the door the guards took him to just before they opened it and pushed him into the warden’s office.
“So, Mr. Newterry. You’ve decided to tell Mr. Newjones about us having you spy on him, yes?”
Jefferson was stunned, his heart beginning to race and his mouth worked as if it were trying to say something, but now sounds came out.
The warden simply laughed at him before saying, “You thought we weren’t monitoring you at every moment?” He laughed again. “This entire facility is wired with microphones and video cameras, all sunken into the walls and behind screens disguised to look like just more concrete. Everything you have done or said since your arrival here has been uploaded to your personal folder.”
“So then the fact that I was beaten for nothing, the fact that you know I am innocent of data tampering, those facts are uploaded as well?”
The warden laughed a third time. “Of course not. Nothing said in this room is uploaded. The same is true for every administrative room, including the one in which you sorted and filed paperwork in the factory. They only want to watch the prisoners, not those watching the prisoners, so no monitoring devices were installed there and, as you have most likely noticed, none of us wear our glasses while here. Without those, no data can be uploaded.”
Jefferson sank into his chair, his body wanting to go slack but he forced himself to at least remain upright, even if he did break eye contact with the warden. “So what are you going to do with me now?”
“We’re sending you home in a month,” the warden said. “You have been performing well in classes, and mostly well behaved, other than the incident for which you were punished. You have met all of our criteria for release.”
“And what about Bryan?” Jefferson asked. “When will he be going home? He wants me to mess with the glasses so they don’t upload.”
“We heard that as well. Microphones, are you forgetting?” the warden asked. “Mr. Newjones will be returning home in the next week. Regardless of the fact that he still acts as if he wants to disrupt the data entries, we believe he has actually been reformed of these intentions. He has been performing equally as when his classes as you have been. Plus, he has the added advantage of not having needed punishment.”
“So what do I do until I leave?” Jefferson asked.
“The same as every other day. Go to class in the morning and the factory in the afternoon. Answer questions correctly and aid in the production of the data glasses. Be a good little boy and you get to return to the real world.”
“What about my old job?” Jefferson asked. “I’ll be able to return to it, correct?”
The warden smiled a wicked grin and shook his head. “Unfortunately, no. As you did not discover the method of tampering employed by Mr. Newjones and, instead, informed him of our intentions, your time here will not be removed from your file. You will return home a felon. You will not be able to return to the data processing center. Your data will be uploaded with much more detail and frequency for the next five years to ensure that you were truly reformed by your time here. Your apartment has been rented out to another individual, not unlike yourself, months ago.”
“Then where will I live? Where will I work?”
The warden sighed. “You will be given a month’s time at a halfway house we have set up. During that time you will be responsible for finding a new place of employment and a new residence. After a month you will be sent away, whether you have a new home or not.”
Jefferson opened his mouth to say something, but the warden waved his hand and the guards dragged him from the room, depositing him in the back of his classroom.
“So nice of you to join us,” the facilitator said, making a small note in his binder. Jefferson made his way over to the empty seat and plopped into it. He answered every question with as little enthusiasm as possible before being sent to eat his miniscule lunch and head to the factory. Every day over the next month passed the same. A few days later, Bryan did not come back from his class in the evening and Jefferson was left alone in the cell overnight. The next day he left for class as usual, but when he returned to eat his lunch, he found someone else sitting on Bryan’s bed.
“Hi. I’m Michael Newrich,” he said, holding his hand out for Jefferson to shake. Jefferson didn’t answer, grunting instead and eating his food before leaving for the factory where he spent the next ten hours slipping thin lenses into their slots in the glasses frames.
Jefferson never introduced himself to his new cell mate, never even spoke to him, but that didn’t stop Michael from babbling on uselessly at every opportunity. He talked about how his wife would be waiting for him when he got out. About how him even being there was a mistake. Jefferson would just roll over in his bed, wishing that he would shut up for once so he could get some sleep in peace. It was finally a month after his meeting with the warden. There was once again a guard standing over him when he woke up. The guard grabbed him by the front of his jumpsuit and pulled him to his feet. The injuries on Jefferson’s back were mostly healed and he felt some of them pulling with the movement.
The guard led him through a different set of twisting hallways, past doors he had never seen before until they emerged in the sunlight in a portion of the compound in which there were no trees. The ground was solid, dry, and covered in soft, emerald green grass, instead of just being a muddy path beneath the trees as every other place Jefferson had been outside was. In front of him was a long bus with only thin slits for windows. The guard pushed Jefferson up the stairs and led him down a thin hallway between cubicles where he was strapped into the same type of seat as the one in which he had ridden to the prison camp.
The door slammed shut, locking him off from everyone again. Jefferson for the second time found himself strapped into a seat that he could not move in with only thin rays of light illuminating the dust that floated through the air around him. He lurched in his seat as the bus rumbled forward, taking him back toward civilization.
The halfway house was little better than being in the prison camp was. Yes, Jefferson was given the freedom to move around in the city, to try to find a job and a place to live. Yes, his data glasses were returned to him, but he was still far from free. The house maintained a strict curfew that, if Jefferson ever broke, meant that he would be thrown out on the streets to fend for himself sooner than planned.
He ran into Bryan Newjones his first day there, but Bryan did everything he could to pretend that Jefferson did not exist. He spent all of his days sitting around in the common rooms, watching TV, never looking for a place of his own, or a job. And, by Jeffeson’s estimations, he would only be allowed to stay there for a few more days before his month was up.
The day after arriving at the home Jefferson went out to find a job. Knowing he had to steer clear of any occupation that dealt directly with the data entries, he decided to look in the retail businesses that were all over the city. He wandered into an electronic store just down the road from his old apartment. Jefferson fiddled with some of the settings in his data glasses and looked up at his old window to see that it now belonged to someone named John Newcoburn. Jefferson sighed when he saw it before turning and walking into the store. He spoke with the manager and, after telling him his work history and explaining the stint in the reeducation camp, as well as assuring the store manager that he fully believed in the data system, he was hired.
The only job they had available was working in the back of the shop, sorting through shipments of inventory and occasionally stocking shelves, but it paid enough for Jefferson to be able to save for a month and get an apartment that was well below the standards he used to live in, but was only slightly below the average living situation for a citizen of that city.
That first day was the only time he ever saw Bryan in the halfway house. Either he had gotten really adept a avoiding Jefferson, or he had moved out a bit early.
Reporting to his new job for his first day of work, Jefferson was handed a black polo shirt with a blue eye logo on the left breast and his name stitched out in blocky stencil letters underneath the eye. He was shown to a place behind the counter where he spent the day shadowing one of the more senior sales people in the store. Jefferson chuckled to himself when he saw that he was going to be selling upgraded versions of the data glasses. It was illegal for people to not wear their glasses at all times while awake other than when in the shower or extenuating circumstances, such as undergoing surgery, but no laws mandated what type people had to wear. Jefferson was working for to sell glasses manufactured by one of the larger companies that charged at least double what everyone else did, but people were very loyal to them anyway, waiting in line for hours on days when the new models were released to the public.
During a moment with no customers, Jefferson plucked one of the pairs of glasses from beneath the glass display and looked it over. He found that the basic design was exactly the same as the glasses Jefferson had helped assemble while in prison. He slid one of the lenses out and saw the electronics inside the frame that projected bits of light through the transparent lenses so it would hover in front of the wearer’s eyes.
After slipping the lens back into place with a click, he saw the small compartment, now with its cover, through which all of the electronics were inserted. Looking at it, Jefferson thought he would be able to open it if he had something small enough to pry the cover off, but right when he was having those thoughts, a customer walked up and asked him a question about one of the new features of the glasses that adjusted the brightness of the text based on the amount of ambient light around the user.
Jefferson looked around for the sales person he had been shadowing and, not able to see them, answered the customer’s questions by himself, concluding the conversation in a sale. The customer walked away, a smile on their face, happy to have handed over an exorbitant amount of money for a feature that any user could adjust on their own when Jefferson jumped, feeling a hand on his shoulder.
“Well done, Mr. Newterry,” his manager said from behind him. Jefferson turned around to thank her. “I’ve never seen any make a sale like that on their first day.”
“Well, um,” Jefferson said for he could have sworn he was going to be terminated for going outside what his instructions had been for the day. “I used to work assembling glasses similar to these,” he continued. “I actually know quite a bit about them.”
“Then maybe we’ll need to move you up to the front and into sales,” his manager said with a smile before turning to help a customer who was standing in front of the custom frames. Jefferson turned and walked back into the store room with a smile on his face as well. He nodded to himself. It was nice to have someone say something to him that wasn’t a barked order or following a clubbing from the butt of their rifle. Jefferson spent the rest of the day taking small boxes out of larger boxes and arranging them on metal wire shelves in the back of the store by himself. It felt very reminiscent of the original position he was given in the factory while in prison.
The next day when he showed up to work, Jefferson’s manager took back the polo shirt he’d been given the day before and instead gave him one that had the opposite colors, a blue polo shirt with the eye logo and his name embroidered in black.
“You’ll be working the floor today,” his manager said as he slid the new shirt on over his white undershirt. “If you have any questions, just call me over and I’ll help.”
“Thank you, Ms. Newmir,” Jefferson said, shoving the bottom of his shirt into his pants and hastily straightening it out. Ms. Newmir smiled at him before turning and walking through a door in the corner of the store that led to her office.
Jefferson spent that day wandering the floor, answering simple questions for customers and trying his best to explain how the new features worked. He quickly found that the customers did not really care how the features worked, they only cared that the features were present. They felt it was a status symbol to have the newest Eye glasses. He traded in quite a number of model 9s for model 10s that day, even though model 9 had been released just a few months before and the customers only received a minute discount on their new pair for the trade in.
Jefferson jumped again when he felt a hand on his shoulder for the second day in a row. “Relax,” Ms. Newmir said from behind him. Jefferson turned to face her.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m not so used to being around so many people yet.”
“It’s alright. Go ahead and take your lunch break now.”
“Thank you, Ms. Newmir,” Jefferson said.
“Call me Cheryl,” she told him as he walked away. “I don’t like to run a store that’s too uptight.”
He walked back to the store room and picked his lunch off one of the shelves that was left empty for employees to put their personal belongings. He looked at the boxes full of new glasses with a slight groan, half expecting Ms. Newmir… Cheryl, he corrected himself… to ask him to finish stocking the back at the end of his shift. Jefferson sat by himself at a small table in the back and pulled out his food. He also took one of the glasses boxes from a shelf nearby and slid the frames from their Styrofoam packing.
Jefferson immediately turned the frames over so he was looking at the electronic compartment cover. He fished in his pocket and pulled a thin metal card from it, the key card that allowed him to enter the halfway house. Jefferson held the frames and card gingerly in his hands and slowly slipped the corner of the card between the cover and the rest of the frames. With the slightest amount of pressure, the cover popped off, flipping through the air and landing at his feet, bouncing to a stop. Jefferson, however, only had eyes for the electronics inside. He pressed the small power button on the opposite side of the frames and saw the lights inside the frames begin to glow.
There was a single light attached to a small box set away from the lenses. Jefferson slipped the glasses on and saw the usual boot screen for first time use. He pulled the glasses off and flipped a small switch near the box. It took him using the edge of his key card to slide it as it was so tiny his finger couldn’t get a grip on it. When he put the glasses back on, a screen popped up saying that there was an error with the upload process. He flipped the switch again and saw that the uploading had resumed.
Jefferson powered the glasses off and replaced them in their packaging before finishing his lunch and returning to the sales floor to continue his work for the day. Toward the end of the day, he was almost done selling a pair of new data glasses to a customer when they asked, “Is there a feature to choose when and what gets uploaded to my file?”
Shaking his head, Jefferson said, “No. The glasses comply with all laws as to the uploaded information. We have no way to change what goes out or the frequency.” The customer’s shoulders slumped as they walked over to the counter and paid for their purchase. Jefferson removed a pair from their box and gave the lenses a final polish. As he was doing so, he popped the small compartment open and flipped the switch to turn of the uploads. He quickly replaced the cover and handed them to the customer, powering them on.
The customer slid them on, placing their old pair of glasses on the counter between them and Jefferson. They looked at the words coming across the screen and Jefferson noticed their eyes widen as there was a faint flash of red on the lenses. Their expression slowly shifted from one of surprise to a large smile as they continued putting in their information. The red disappeared and the usual display came up. They thanked Jefferson, shaking his hand with both of theirs before leaving the store.
The next morning, Cheryl pulled Jefferson into the office. “What did you do?” she asked. Jefferson’s heart began to race and he felt his face go a little flush.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“There is a line of people who want to buy glasses, but they only want to get them from you. Why will they only buy from you?”
“No idea,” Jefferson answered.
She shook her head and waved for Jefferson to go to work. When he left the office, he noticed the line of between fifteen and twenty people standing off to one side. He went through, helping each of them pick out and buy a new pair of Eye glasses. He also popped open the compartment and deactivated the upload system for each of them before handing the frames over.
Each of the people in line left with a grin plastered across their faces.
Lines had been waiting for Jefferson every morning when he arrived to work for the past six months. For each and every person who came to him and waited in line, or even mentioned anything about less data uploads, he disabled the upload system in their pair of glasses.
He also made quite a large sum of money based on the commissions he received for all of those sales. Cheryl Newmir had no idea what to do about it. She tried getting some of Jefferson’s customers to buy from other sales people in the store, but they refused, saying they would only buy if they could get it from Jefferson. This frequently left his co-workers standing around with nothing to do, and they made it very obvious that they resented Jefferson for his newfound success.
He woke up, not back in his original apartment, but now able to afford one similar to his previous standard of living due to the commissions he was getting, and pulled up the news on his glasses. There was an article about an increase in the number of arrests for data tampering. The article continued to say that a large number of people had figured out how to stop their data from uploading, their entries showing up with nothing more than their name and a time stamp. Jefferson smiled to himself over his breakfast. He had finally figured out how Bryan Newjones had done it.
Just the day before, on his way to work, he had seen someone talked by a pair of red clad officers. They had slid a pair of cuffs around the man’s wrists before dragging him to his feet, informing him that he was under arrest for data tampering. As they picked him up, Jefferson saw that it was someone he had just sold glasses to a few weeks before. They pushed him into the back of a van and Jefferson saw that he was the only person there he had personally sold glasses to and he figured that others in the city had begun doing the same.
Even though he was helping all of these people stop their data from uploading to their folders, Jefferson refused to flip the switch in his own pair of glasses. Just like he had told Bryan in their cell all those months ago, he wanted his data uploaded and logged, he just didn’t want to stop others from having the level of privacy that they desired.
He walked into work that morning, with his usual line of customers waiting for him, and received the usual glare from his coworkers as they had nothing to do. The day passed as usual, selling glasses to both people who wanted their uploads shut off, and those who had no idea it was possible. Jefferson left, having sold nearly thirty pairs of glasses that day, and made his way home. He opened his door and threw his bag on a small table next to it before walking into his kitchen and getting a drink from the fridge. Walking into the next room, Jefferson pulled up a show on one of his lenses and plugged a pair of ear buds into frames.
Jefferson sat back on his couch, his feet up on the coffee table in front of him as he enjoyed the show. He heard a knock on the front door and placed his drink on the table, waving his hand to the side of the glasses to make the show disappear, and yanking the ear buds out as he stood up. He crossed the apartment and opened the door. What he saw made his heart stop.
Standing there was Bryan Newjones. The first thing that Jefferson noticed was that he wasn’t wearing a pair of glasses. This had been commonplace in the prison camp, but Jefferson had gotten used to everyone wearing them at all times over the past months.
“Hey old buddy,” Bryan said, pushing his way into the apartment, a few more people following him.”
“Can I help you with something?” Jefferson asked.
“Yes you can.” Bryan flopped himself down on the couch where Jefferson had been sitting while the men with him arrayed themselves around the apartment. “We’re planning something. Something inside the data facility you used to work in. We’re going to blow it up, and we want you to help get us in.”