It’s not lawful to do what I do.
I walk into the smoke filled room, the lights pulsating fast enough to make the spot behind my eyeballs hurt for a moment. At first I wonder why I’m even here. The music is one of the approved pieces in the universal catalogue. Nothing we haven’t all heard over and over, beamed through the government approved headphones, or streamed through the neural implants some of us have decided to insert. I start making my way across the dance floor, towards the bar when I finally catch it. There is a note that’s off. One beat added in an otherwise familiar rhythm. It starts slowly but it catches fire seconds later as the song is transformed from one of the standards we all have to endure into something new and dramatic. It has a living energy to it. I walk on, I’m not here for the music.
At the bar there is a woman serving drinks. I notice that mixed in with the neon blue beverages that are so common in these places are several tall glasses of amber liquid. I wonder for a moment if it’s actual beer or just something synthetic added to the mix to make it appear that way. Either way, it’s not legal. I walk past the bar. I’m not here for the drinks.
As I pass, the woman calls out to me, blue hair draping over one side of her face as she says, “Hey buddy, you can’t go back there. Stay here and let me get you a drink.”
“Tell Steve that Frank’s here to see him.” I have to shout to be heard over the noise.
I wait as she encodes and transmits a message through her dermal implants. A few seconds later she looks back at me, eyes wide and gives me a nod. I think about asking her to come back to my place later. I walk on. I’m not here for the women.
Steve’s office is not at all what I expected. There are no bright colors in here. I don’t see any artwork, government approved or otherwise. There is a large leather chair sitting behind an empty coffee table that takes up most of the room. The walls are blank, and there is only a simple gray rug under the table. Steve is seated in the chair. He has his head tilted back, sunglasses covering his eyes. It’s clear that noise dampeners have been installed in the room as I no longer hear the sound of the music once the door shuts.
“I assume you have it,” Steve says.
“If you have payment.”
He pulls out an envelope, his long fingers extending it to me. I swipe it as fast as I can and tear through the paper. The money’s there. From inside my suit pocket I pull out the goods. It’s also wrapped in an envelope, just much bigger than Steve’s.
“If you’re caught with it, you don’t know me. I’ll deny I gave it to you. Despite all the surveillance and first person witnesses you have, I can make it a fact that I was never here. I assume you have somewhere to keep it?”
Steve casually taps his foot on one of the legs of the coffee table. A portion of the white wall moves. It seems to rotate on a center axis and reveals an honest to God bookshelf. Not only that, it’s filled with books. I don’t know a single one of the titles.
“You’re more of a collector than I thought,” I say.
“Pleasure doing business with you.” The comment is meant as a dismissal.
I take my cue and walk away. I don’t really do this for the money. I don’t do it to stick it to the government either. The truth is, I do it because I like it.
I’m just like you. I walk myself to the office each day. I put in my time at the mandated location and I go through the approved workflow process. You’d never know it was me that frequents the underground. I can change my look in the same way a chameleon changes its color. One minute I’m wearing the same blue shirt and red tie you are. The next, my hair is tinted with green, my shades are drawn over my face and I look like I belong in the seediest secret club in the city.
My next stop is one I’ve put off for far too long. I walk up to the building, reflective glass doors dominating the whole structure. It’s a building made to intimidate. The government logo is the only thing there to identify it. And, you have to be wearing the right pair of specs to see it. Mine are one of a kind, they let me see all instances on the human color spectrum, plus a few others just outside it. Never let anyone tell you there’s nothing good about technology.
Inside men and women wearing black and tan suits are bustling about, handing things to one another, chatting, laughing, one is crying. I ignore them and walk up to the elevators. It takes a moment for the facial scanner to pick me up but as soon as it does, the wall directions point me to a private elevator at the back.
The ride is only seconds but those seconds feel eternal. When the doors finally open I am let into another office. This one is the opposite of Steve’s. It’s got art, color, all kinds of artifacts hanging on the walls, strewn about tables and on the floor. Each item has a tag with an identification number to be used for processing.
The woman I came to see is scribbling something into a datapad as fast as she can. She doesn’t look up.
“Frank, I assume you know why I called you here,” she says.
“You know what they say about assumptions.”
She grins for a moment but keeps writing.
“Who did you visit last? I want to see the logs.”
I hand her my datapad. She swipes through at a speed I find dizzying. I’m not worried, there’s nothing she can find that I don’t want her to,
“Sadie, when’s the last time I asked you out to dinner?” I ask.
“The fifth of never. Come on Frank, there are gaps missing in your time logs. What’s going on here?”
“I’ve had some glitches on the pad lately. No idea why.”
“Next time, do what you’re supposed to. Log the glitch, the time and the location. Send or call it in manually and continue your job. Got it?”
I give Sadie a nod. Doing any more than that would give me away.
“Need a hand logging the confiscated items?” I gesture to the room. I know she’s going to say no.
“No. But, tell me if you get any leads on this manuscript pusher. He’s apparently been running around town, delivering stories to people in exchange for money.”
“Can’t have that.”
“And we won’t. As long as you do your job.”
It’s been a long time since original ideas were outlawed. I know better than to comment on it. I head out the building, thinking that I am going to have to take some extra precautions over the next few days. Sadie’s too smart to be fooled for long.
I make it back to my place and toss my datapad on the couch. I turn on the screen to the standard news channel. Turns out there were some painters in the southern part of town, holed up in a condemned cafe, creating unlawful images. I start to think of how angry it makes me to be a part of the whole system. The paintings are censored of course, as the journalists on the scene report on the success of the raid. I saw a few of them at the office and the painters were talented. Then again, talent didn’t matter when it came to the government. After a couple of hours I decide to pull out my pencil and paper. Banned items. Neither is illegal on their own, but together, it’s one hell of a fine if you’re caught.
I start scribbling my thoughts. I start creating a story. I don’t know why my mind does it. Sometimes I wish I could stop. But like I said, I like it. Maybe I like it too much.
I like it so much that I don’t even hear it when the door crashes in. I kept writing, even after that. When I finally looked up, Sadie was there with Steve. He’d set me up.
If you’re reading this, you might have been set up too. If you were, and by some miracle you get out, spread the word to the artists, creators, and musicians that they should never stop. We shouldn’t hide it anymore. If we overwhelm them with our ideas, no one can stop us.
I won’t be around much longer. Working for the government and violating their rules is a lethal violation. I’m sure that the last thing I will see is Sadie’s smug face smiling at me as the narcotics do their job in erasing me for good.
But I’ve seen the history. There was a time that books were allowed to be published. There was no sneaking into shady places just to hand a stack of papers full of ideas to someone. People asked for stories back then. They wanted to let their imaginations roam free. My books are all handwritten, never machine published. I’ve had to deliver them person to person, one at a time. I’m prolific. I’ve written more stories than I can remember. What good did it do? They’re all going to be found and destroyed anyway.
I did the best I could. If you read this, get your story out there. Make a book. Find a way to get it published like I did. Even if the publication is nothing more than scratchy writing on blank sheets of paper handed to shifty characters in seedy bars. They can’t stop us forever. Write the book. Keep going. Make the delivery. Maybe in the end there will be more of us than them. More of us that want to create than those who hate creators.
As I wait here for my demise, I wonder to myself if it was worth it. I come to the realization that no matter what happened, if someone wanted to read my story, I would deliver it.