Focus Group: 1134
Congratulations! Today is the day when you become connected to the WORLD, or world-online-recognition-lock-design. You will never be alone again! Our software is specifically designed to prevent pain and allow you the happiest life possible. So, lean back, relax, because your new life will begin installation in 3… 2… 1…
The muted whomp filters through the drug induced, dreamlike haze that fills my mind. Needle-like pain trickles through my ears as the polished joints of the MediCart approach my bed, checking my breathing and heart-rate. Within moments, it’s gone. An automated female voice fills my ears, not an outside noise however, but a robotized voice speaking directly into my mind.
Hello, and welcome to your WORLD! It may be overwhelming at first, but soon your new software will prove to be indispensable.
Her soothing voice lulls me into a comfortable bliss and I lay back in my hospital bed, imagining the rest of my focus group going through the same orientation. The only image that greets me, is a blank-eyed stare. Dozens of different faces with the same expression of mindlessness. A muffled gasp trickles through the thin structure surrounding me followed by a bang that the walls can’t begin to mute. My legs tremble under the weight of my body, after the days of disuse required for the software to install. I grip the rails on the bed white-knuckled until the reedy stalks can adjust to my new state. Step by step, I walk to the door, my skull throbbing with the blinding light behind my eyes. Green pixels trace my vision, predicting what I am about to do and calculating the odds pain and success.
The light ignites a throat-tightening headache; the paper curtain is pulled aside by my clammy fingers, tearing at my sticky touch. The numbers flash faster and faster now, until I cannot see anything, and the pain brings me to my knees.
27% chance of pain or failure. Action is not advised.
The soft feminine voice clears through the throbbing in my ears, but my overwhelming curiosity refuses to be denied. I need to see what happened; what the noise was. My palms press into the fever-hot ground, sweating and slipping as I work my way forward. A final warning speaks into my mind before a slicing pain rips through my skull.
Red-hot daggers of stabbing, noisy pain floods through my skull. Far away someone screams.
The screaming stops and a lightheaded numbness injects itself into my bones. My throat is scraped raw and I can’t breathe anymore. I lay panting, tears streaming down my cheeks. My forehead is pressed into the ground hoping that the warm surface with soothe the throbbing pain digging its monstrous fingers into my skull.
Allow me to explain: your system is linked to you through your mind, everything you experience aligns with an algorithm our brilliant engineers have created. A solution to any problem you are presented with will fill your view with precise instructions on how to complete it.
My heart slips down from where it was lodged in my throat. The dark outline of a silhouette appears faintly through the paper; the holes that my fingers made revealing a pair of small feet, toes gently curled. Her strangled pants ruffle the paper between us, her dark figure bracing her palms on her thighs, fighting as she shuffles closer and closer.
I watch as she collapses. The liquid amber of her hair waving wildly through the space between the curtain and the ground in the soft breeze from an open window. My fingers clench and tremble as I shift myself closer to the gap. Her hand lays outstretched, palm up. Her breathing settles little by little until I can see the smooth up-down motion through the screen. My arm extends towards her, the muscles flexing and pulling weakly. The top of the screen flutters past my thumb, gently smoothing the skin. With a final burst of energy, my middle finger nudges her warm flesh. Her breath ruffles across her hair as she turns to me, increment by increment.
Her milk-chocolate eyes meet mine with a sigh of relief.
Without warning, the siren rings in my skull; she flinches with pain when it hits her. The seconds trickle by like oil through water, repelled by our pain. Our fingers lock tighter together, and we curl in from the sharp stabs of agony. Her whimpers bring tears to my eyes even as my muscles are clenched in anguish.
A vindictive stab of agony shoots through us simultaneously, pulling us apart. The darkness behind my eyelids is soothing, calming. Through the fog of pain, I hear her sob. The female voice begins to speak again, the initial comfort gone from her tone leaving only an emotionless cruelty.
It is up to you how you react to the problem, but unsatisfactory choices will result in punishment from the system. This is a kindness to you, despite how it seems. Your WORLD will teach you how best to avoid the pain that disobedience will bring. This is our mission: to create a society without pain or fear, and with your cooperation, no one will have to suffer.
The algorithm’s words seep into my mind, black and white and gray. Why couldn’t I see it? How could I be so blind? Darkness weighs down on me, kneeling on my ribcage and preventing air from entering my lungs. I force my eyelids to open, force myself to take in the trembling figure next to me.
I take the deepest breath I can muster and begin to murmur under my breath, barely loud enough for the words to form on my lips.
45% chance of pain or failure. Action is not advised.
The text flickers across my vision in a slightly more manageable stream. I can feel the tension building in my muscles as the words pour from my lips.
“Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.”
Resignation trickles into me like an IV drip, my head sagging back against the hot tiles, but she continues.
“In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed.” She whispers the words with her eyes closed, the musical lilt of her voice making the words sound like a long forgotten melody.