The Prisoner

The hive mind of individuals scuttle through the streets as they progress through each moment of their lives illuminated by bright, fluorescent streetlights. A businesswoman waits patiently for the light to turn green while vehicles drive past her towards their destinations, her eyes fixated on the phone clasped in her right hand directly in front of her, listening for the signal to cross. She disinterestedly reads the news, scanning across the titles of the main stories promoting products and portraying optimism. Surrounding her, the quiet hum of engines overlaid with subdued voices and the constant tramp of boots on the pavement form a cacophony of a bustling but lifeless city.

The normal goings-on of city life are punctuated by a brief flicker followed by sudden and unforeseen darkness. The sound of footsteps, transportation and chatter is replaced by sudden silence then cries of panic and confusion as the lights blink out and fail to turn back on. For several seconds, people stop in incomprehension.

The silence is punctured by a woman’s scream.

“Why aren’t they turning back on?”

This unanswerable question is met with speculation. “The back-up generators have probably failed,” postulates one man. “The machines running the power station have failed,” suggests another. A group of children begin crying, their din adding to the dissonance. One child tosses his handheld computer
onto the ground, its dim screen a shining beacon in blackness.

The businesswoman gasps in disbelief as the energy is sapped out of her body, a grip of concern twisting around her heart. Where before she was alive and well, she is now filled with panic that reverberates throughout her body, urging her to join in with the others, to try to come to some sort of understanding of what has happened.

Yet their desperate pleas remain unanswered as the situation unfolds in the city’s power station several kilometres away.

***

Tony Scott is a deeply troubled, dissatisfied man, his bloodshot, blinking eyes reflecting the light of a world he has seen slowly degenerate around him. Throughout his life Tony was a man who loved the outdoors, spending most of his early years as a farmer. However, he was renowned throughout his neighbourhood for his delicate arrangements and meticulous caring for his camellias, tulips and acacias in his private garden that the locals nicknamed ‘The Garden of Eden’. Tony led a cheerful and simple life, free from the worries of people consumed by the desire to rise above in the corporate sphere or participate in convoluted city life.

However, after Tony lost his job to a machine, his flowers began to wilt mysteriously and reports of unsustainable air pollution circulated. The bright sun that had warmed his skin and allowed his garden to grow gradually became hidden behind a fog of pollution. Tony’s love for the environment and natural beauty transformed into an animadversion against the apathetic people and the ‘goddamned machines’ he saw at the heart of the problem. Whereas his friends or family willingly became prisoners of technology, Tony resisted, his faith in the natural world impervious to mechanisation and industrialisation. He continued watering his garden until the last shrub shrivelled up, refusing to be chipped, refusing to let himself become one of them, another cog in a machine run by heartless mechanical slave masters.

Tony vented his anger and frustration not only towards the robots contaminating society but the uncaring populace who let his life’s work be destroyed. Tony, however, knew the futility of sharing his views with the brainwashed population, and began searching for likeminded people, forming a covert organisation with the aim of ‘preserving humanity in the face of inhuman machines.’

Despite initial difficulties, Tony’s side project proved to be a great success, his years of discontent and planning finally paying off as he achieved recognition among others who wanted to alter the course of society’s progress.

From humble beginnings, Tony became akin to a radical, a leader of those rebelling against the system. Today, resting his arthritic joints in an armchair in his apartment, a grin of pure pleasure spreads across his face. When the lights flicker off and the panic sets in, Tony’s smile only widens.

His years of planning have finally come to fruition.

***

Groups of rebels storm the power station, equipped with guns and a powerful sense of justice. Khan Swayne, leader of the squad, gruffly issues the men their orders: “Shoot only if necessarily – the control room is this way.”
The men progress down the hallway, guns levelled in case of discovery. However, their surroundings are eerily silent, the only audible sounds being far-off motors running and buzzing of electrical wires.

Khan feels alive, the electricity flowing through the wires around him mirroring the buzzing of energy through his veins. Although still young at the age of 24, he is beyond his years in wisdom, seeing through the guise of modern life as normal, safe and fulfilling. Growing up in this world Khan has known nothing of a life before computers as people rely on technology for their jobs and interactions, becoming less interested in the real world and the people that inhabit it.

Khan still vividly remembers his first day at school, being called in front of the class and told that learning facts was a waste of time when one always has access to a computer’s more accurate and reliable opinion. His father had been an important and wealthy scientist and had taught Khan how to read, write and reason before beginning school, but the educational system gradually ground down his interest in academia, interested only with preparing him for his future job.

Although on several occasions Khan was offered the opportunity to develop more advanced and sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence in recognition of his natural ability, he repeatedly refused. He, like Tony, did not want to see a world populated by humans that could not think independently and relied entirely on computers to form their knowledge of the world.

Khan thinks that there must surely be something more to existence, something he finds himself drawing closer to as he ventures further into the power station.

“Good thing they replaced these people with robots, eh? Means we don’t have to cause as much trouble,” remarks Khan with a slight smirk.

Consulting a digitally stored map, Khan navigates the bifurcating paths until they reach the heart of the facility. The squad splits into separate groups, one heading towards the backup generator and the other towards the main control room.

Without conceiving of the possibility of a break-in, security in the power station is weak and sparsely spread. The greatest barrier to entry is the electrified fence, which the rebels earlier hacked and disabled. From there, security cameras had tracked their location but they had yet to meet with any opposition.

Reaching the terminal room, Khan wrenched the door open, exposing the various controls within. There is no-one there – humans are not required, then sets to work achieving his revenge. With his aptitude for computers, hacking into the central authority takes mere seconds.

In a matter of minutes, power to most of the city is cut off, leaving people without the power that they so desperately needed.

As the city plunges into darkness, in Khan’s head there exists only light – the possibility of a new future where people are individuals free from the omnipresent, controlling influence of technology.

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9 thoughts on “The Prisoner”

  1. These are very vivid stories … you drew me in as a reader …

    A few lines that stuck out to me:

    “One child tosses his handheld computer onto the ground, its dim screen a shining beacon in blackness.”
    “When the lights flicker off and the panic sets in, Tony’s smile only widens.”
    ” … in Khan’s head there exists only light – the possibility of a new future where people are individuals free from the omnipresent, controlling influence of technology.”

    Kevin

    Like

  2. A Spectacular description on our dependence on technology: the madness of the morals at the time when machines are controlling the way our world works, making humans only bees in a hive, is brilliantly contrasted to the warmness of Tony in his garden: the delicate ness of nature at its best.

    Like

    1. That’s an interesting idea, I didn’t really consider at the time of writing how both the Tony’s garden and the ‘bee hive’ are representative of natural imagery contrasted not only against machines but against each other – one nurturing and beautiful while the other is buzzing and chaotic while underpinned by a structure that is not immediately obvious. Thanks a lot for the positive feedback!

      Like

  3. This is a well written vision of a dystopia, and one man’s response! Thank you for sharing it! For such a short piece, Khan and Tony are well fleshed-out characters.
    There is a book you may enjoy in which the robots have taken over everything useful, and civilization’s response. It is called “Invitation to the Game” by Monica Hughes.

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