Freedom for All

Submitted into Contest #170 in response to: Write about a plan that goes wrong, for the better.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

TW: This piece depicts triggering topics such as suicide, terrorism, and mental health.

The twisted bundle of wires is a brain and the hot soldering iron is my scalpel. Stolen books on bombmaking are opened and scattered around my operating table. It’s meticulous and messy work, but like any operation, it will save lives. The world, in fact.

It’s been almost two decades since the Elites developed their mind control program. At the start, they packaged it as a social website, tricking people into using it with shiny bells and whistles. Then, when smartphones became popular, the Elites transformed their program into an addictive app.

It didn’t take long for the world to eat it up. It spread, propagating like a virus. Now, everyone is infected. They’re part of the hive mind, enslaved and doomed to follow the Elites’ orders for all of eternity.

In any population, there will always be outliers. Ones that can’t be controlled. I’m one of them. It’s my purpose to stop the Elites and save the world.

I’m not alone. There are more outliers across the world, but only a few. We call ourselves the Crimson Warriors. We operate on the dark web, but even that’s not fully safe these days.

The Elites think one day they’ll control everyone, including us outliers, but they’re wrong. I’m the chosen outlier. I’m destined to break the chains and shackles. It’s a big task, but I don’t have a choice. I need to do this for everyone.

My friends and family rejected me when they found out I wanted to rebel against the Elites. My wife left me and took custody of my kid. My parents cut me out. I haven’t seen them in years. They’re under the Elites’ control, and until I act, they’ll remain lost to me.

Even though I’ve been abandoned, I will sacrifice myself for my family. For everyone. I’ll be a hero once this is over; famous for liberating the planet. I’ll be dead, but I’ll be everywhere. They’ll erect statues of me. Moreover, my family will be free. Everyone will be free.

The Crimson Warriors and I bought experimental black-market tech called Neurolinks that allow us to communicate through our thoughts. If I turn my eyecam on, they can see what I see, and we can hear each other in our heads. It’s the only safe way left to communicate. The Elites watch everything—phones, emails, texts, apps, internet. But they can’t hack the Neurolinks. Not yet, at least.

I pull more wires out of my toolkit. Explosives are part of this contraption, but it’s safe. I made sure when I researched and double-checked with the Crimson Warriors.

Cross those wires, Big Echo whispers in my head. If you get caught, they’ll try to dismantle it. But if you cross the wires, they won’t know which ones to cut. It could buy you some time.

I listen and cross the wires, soldering them into place. The scent is comforting.

Big Echo is a war vet. He was on a bomb squad and knows a thing or two about making them. Before the Neurolink, I had to do my own research. Now that I have Big Echo to help, things are going much better.

Mine’s ready, Rivers, Honor’s Bastard says. I’ll take out their New York Office. Big Echo, you got Miami. And you, Rivers—you’re the main show. Corporate Tower, downtown San Francisco.

“Roger,” I say out loud.

You got this, boss, Honor’s Bastard says. Man, you’re going to be a legend after this. You’ll be front-page news. Rivers, the savior of society! They’ll call you the Liberator! Has the ring of a superhero, doesn’t it?

You are a hero, boss, Big Echo says.

“Well, we are a team, boys.” I finish up the last of the work on the explosive.

Thanks to you. You’re the mastermind, Rivers. We all know it. No need to be humble.

A few other voices cheer in agreement, and I smile for the first time in months.

Freedom, someone says. Freedom for all.

“Freedom for all,” I repeat, still grinning.

***

D-day. My backpack is heavy with explosives as I approach the Elites’ headquarters. It’s raining and cold. Downtown San Francisco is busy and littered with human feces like the corporate cesspool it is.

The sidewalks and roads are congested, like always. Ever since the Elites mandated electric cars a year ago, traffic has gotten quieter. I don’t mind electric cars, but I miss having a choice. I miss being free.

The normal morning rush lets me blend in. I wear my old suit and tie from when I was a corporate slave myself. It’s a cloak I must wear so I can unleash my dagger. I’m not a wolf in sheep’s clothing—I’m a savior in the skin of the enslaved.

I pull out my phone. It’s offline because its only purpose is to act as a detonator. The app I designed is cliché—it’s a giant red button on the screen that, when touched, will activate the bomb in my backpack.

Cliché or not, all I need to do is get in the building and press it. No one will care about my creativity once I liberate them. They’ll just see me as the hero I am.

Despite running a company that controls the world, the Elites have little security. I have been scoping out their headquarters for weeks and haven’t seen anything that poses a threat. Individuals from all walks of life can stroll in unimpeded. I suppose you don’t need protection when you have everyone under your thumb.

Their arrogance will be their undoing. There are still outliers. There’s still me—no, us, the Crimson Warriors.

Neurolinks online, Big Echo says. What do you say, boss? Ready for liberation?

“Freedom for all,” I mutter under my breath. “Freedom for all.”

Freedom for all! A chorus of voices echoes in my head.  

“Freedom for all,” I repeat louder this time, unable to help myself. A nearby woman gives me a strange look, her eyes dead and empty like all those enslaved.

I ignore her. It’s not like she can hear me. The app probably filtered out my words, just like any non-conformity.

Careful boss, Big Echo warns. That woman seemed a bit surprised by you.

“She’s been programmed,” I say under my breath. “Her eyes were empty. That’s how you tell. Dead eyes, Big Echo. Remember that.”

Roger, Big Echo says.

I’m onsite, Honour’s Bastard says. Ready to detonate.

The Elite’s headquarters is only a few blocks away. I walk as fast as I can. My burden is hefty, but my resolve carries me forward with ease.

I think about my life as I weave through the crowds—it’s not much I’m losing. Not really. My ex-wife was taken by the Elites years ago. My parents, too. My kid is already programmed and online, a corporate slave to be.

If my sacrifice frees them, it will be worth it. Either way, I’m never seeing them again.

You’re close, boss, Honor’s Bastard says. Once you’re onsite, we’ll commence our plan and detonate in unison.

I approach the entrance of the massive skyscraper. It reflects the grey sky and cuts into the clouds, well above all the other corporate towers. Marble steps lead to the entrance like a dais, and I can smell the chlorine from their indoor fountain despite the stench outside.

The enslaved bump past me, all pulling out ID badges and chatting to each other about work. At times, I’ve found myself envying them. They don’t have the same responsibility that I do.

“Hey,” someone nearby says, “you lost?”

I turn around to see a large man in a black suit and dark sunglasses looking down at me. Security. How have I not seen them before? He sports an earpiece and I recognize his shades as TechGlasses. They don’t have x-ray vision, but rather have facial recognition and direct access to corporate databases. They can pull up someone’s profile instantly.

Those glasses can identify you, boss. Get out of there!  

“I’m late for a meeting,” I say, looking at his black, polished shoes.

“With whom?” I hear his glasses beeping. “I ran recognition on you, and it seems like you’ve been unemployed for some time now, Mr. Rivers.”

Shit, Big Echo says. Say you’re an entrepreneur.

“I’m an entrepreneur.” I square my shoulders, feigning haughty arrogance. “I have new tech I want to show to your marketing team. An algorithm, actually. We booked this meeting weeks ago. Listen, if they’re not interested anymore, I can take it to your competitors out in Silicon Valley.”

“Let me confirm with their team,” the man says.

This is bad, boss. I can’t hack their system fast enough to create a fake meeting.

What do I do? I ask in my head.

Run inside. If you go fast enough, you can still detonate.

I wrap my sweaty hand around the detonator in my pocket.

“Yeah, I got a guy here. Says he’s an entrepreneur with a new algorithm for marketing?”’ Security asks, speaking into their earpiece. “Uh-huh. Yep. Got it.”

Freedom for all, Big Echo says.

They took your wife and kid, Rivers, Honor’s Bastard says. Your whole life. They took your whole LIFE.

He’s right. My family was my whole life. My heartbeat picks up and my sweaty grasp tightens around my phone.

It’s the only way to free them, Big Echo says. You know it’s the only way, boss. Some people might die, but they’re all enslaved, anyways. And no war is won without sacrifice. No one obtains freedom without blood.

My heart races. The security guard frowns, his shoulders tensing. I notice two more coming down the stairs towards me, each as large and intimidating as the next. They’re also wearing TechGlasses, keeping their dead eyes hidden.   

They’re onto you, Big Echo says. It’s now or never, boss.

I think of my kid. My wife. Their faces. I want one last moment with them before I detonate. I remember the day my son was born. I smile. What a beautiful day.

You have to go now! Big Echo shouts. FREEDOM FOR ALL!

FREEDOM FOR ALL, the chorus screams.

“FREEDOM FOR ALL!” I bellow as I run.

I dash up the stairs as I hear someone shout stop him. I shove myself through the glass doors. I pull out my phone and unlock it with my fingerprint. The app pops up. The red button flashes.

Now or never, boss!

Shaking, I lower my finger to detonate.

Then I seize and convulse. My fingers cramp and my hand turns into an involuntary claw. Pain ripples through me, searing and electric, and I hear the crowd gasp as I collapse. My phone slides away.

A taser. Fuck! It will throw off my Neurolink—maybe even fry it!

A body slams on top of me and their weight crushes my ribs. I can’t breathe. I’m still convulsing. The scorching, crushing pain is distant, like it belongs to someone else.

I still have my goal! I have to liberate them! It’s up to me! I’m the only one who can do it!

I stare at my phone on the shiny tiles. The red button flashes. I roar as I try to reach for it, but the security guard grabs my wrist and yanks my arm behind my back.

“It’s a bomb!” A bystander cries, and screams erupt everywhere. Feet stomp past me as the crowd rushes out the door. Nearby, glass smashes. Sirens wail.

It’s over.

  The crushing weight is too much. I try, one last time, to breathe, but it’s futile. I black out.

***

I come to with an oxygen mask on my face. Blue and red lights flash all around me. My mouth is dry. I taste iron. My vision is blurry. I try to move, but my arms are restrained. The smell of chlorine is gone, replaced by that of sterility.

I look down and see I’m strapped to a bed in the back of an ambulance. There are IVs hooked up to me, pumping poison into my veins. Probably full of nanobots. They’re already starting the programming. I’m woozy, sluggish, and stuck in place. I can’t fight it.

“Lucky we got him in time,” someone says. “His bag was full of explosives, which were connected to a device that let him detonate with his phone. He could have taken out the whole floor with what he was packing, killing hundreds, if not thousands.”

“Who is he?” I spot a grizzled man in a suit talking to the security guard from earlier. The newcomer has a gun and badge strapped to his waist. A cop. He’s drenched from the rain, his balding head shiny and damp. He has sharp brown eyes, though; unlike everyone else, he doesn’t look enslaved.

“Facial recognition says he’s Tom Rivers. He’s thirty-one and unemployed. We ran him through our security system. He’s been hanging around here for weeks.”

“What do you know about him?” the cop asks.

“He used to be a software engineer at a big tech company but was fired two years ago after he started spouting off about mind control conspiracies. His wife divorced him and he lost custody of his kid shortly after. Doesn’t look like he has had contact with his parents since then, either. And despite his history of mental health problems, he hasn’t filled a prescription in a long time.”

I try to speak, but my tongue is too thick to make words. I need to tell them that I don’t have mental health problems. The Elite made that all up once they found out I was onto them. They even tried to hide nanobots in the pills!

If I’m right, and this cop is an outlier, maybe I can pass the message to him. I try communicating through Neurolink, but I’m met with silence.

You there, boss? Big Echo responds, his voice slow and fuzzy. We got busted, too. The Elites knew. There must have been a rat. Rivers? You there?

“I won’t ask how you got his private medical information.” The cop shifts on his feet, looking uncomfortable. “Anything else?”

“He has a website called the ‘Crimson Warriors.’ It’s a conspiracy theory website. Says that social media is a form of mind control that’s enslaved the population, and all the tech companies are in on it. Calls CEOs ‘the Elites.’”

“Anyone else using the site?”

“There’s some traffic, but not a lot of engagement. Based on our analysis it would appear he’s a one-man show.”

The cop shakes his head. “No such thing as privacy anymore.”

“If it wasn’t for us,” A nearby man in a suit—a dead-eyed Elite!—chimes in, “you’d be chasing your tails for weeks trying to figure out this psycho.”

The cop sighs. “Anything else, then?”

“Recently,” the security guard continues, “he posted about new tech called ‘Neurolinks,’ saying it lets him communicate with his network globally, but based on what we know, there’s no such thing as a fully functional Neurolink.”

Shit! They know, boss! No! The Neurolinks were all we had left!

“Any chance there could be?” The cop asks.

“No, that tech is still years off.” The Elite rolls his dead eyes, lying like the devil he is. “We’ve done a lot of testing, but it never goes well. The subjects usually die.”

“Right. I remember reading about those poor test monkeys in the news,” the cop says. “My guess is this asshole has untreated schizophrenia.”

“He does,” Security adds, quieter this time. “But you didn’t hear it from us.”

“They’re lying,” I croak. All heads swivel to me. “They’re all lying. They’re lying!” I thrash against the restraints. They have to know! I can still get through to them! “You’re all slaves! Slaves to the Elites! I was trying to help you! I just want you to be free! I want freedom for all! Freedom for all!”

“Give him a sedative.” The cop sounds bored, not enlightened like he should be! “And whatever other drugs he needs.”

Boss, they’re going to cut your Neurolink! You have to fight them! You’ll be as lost as all the other enslaved else if you don’t do something!

I struggle against the restraints as I watch fluid flow into my arm. I flex all my muscles, hoping I can squeeze it out. I grind my teeth. I howl like a wolf calling to the moon.

Fight it, boss!

The restraints cut into my wrists, but I won’t stop fighting. I don’t want to be enslaved! I don’t want to end up like these dead-eyed sheep!

I watch helplessly as the paramedic injects something into my IV—nanobots! I feel them crawl into my veins, cold and invasive.

No! I have to stay free! It’s the only way my wife and kid stand a chance!

My vision darkens. The voices fade. My head rolls to the side, my eyes half-open.

It’s over, I tell my team. I failed. We lost. I’m sorry. You have to go on without me. Detonate if you can. We can still…save…them…

For the first time in years, I’m met with silence. Tears roll down my cheeks. The Elite…the…oh god. It wasn’t real, was it?

Wasn’t it?

November 03, 2022 00:12

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2 comments

Graham Kinross
09:52 Nov 11, 2022

Great story, Ava.

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Mustang Patty
12:19 Nov 07, 2022

Wow - great storyline. You did a wonderful job with the pacing on this one. Thank you for sharing, ~MP~

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