Silence by Madelaine Roberts

Submitted into Contest #142 in response to: Write about somebody who likes to work in silence.... view prompt



Hogart finished his latest attempt at writing. The price for this traitorous behaviour was silence – he had somewhere quiet, and no other biological did. People think they can withstand constant loud sound – they cannot. It drives you quietly mad, even if you do not see it coming. You can only know yourself in silence and if you never have that you will go insane. Of course, he thought about it but self-preservation is a biological imperative, he thinks.

The drones seemed, to Hogart’s already over stimulated body, to be screeching louder than normal today. Clearly, the Collective perceived some opposition to its latest pronouncements and had decided that an overdrive of information was required to ensure the populace remained right thinking. Hogart was slightly wary that this might be perceived as his fault which was not a thought he wanted to pursue.

From the corner of his eye he saw troopers, some with their noise cancelling headphones on, eyeing the milling crowd and looking for anyone with anything approaching a mutinous expression. He rearranged his face appropriately – even being unhappy with the volume of the drone’s messaging was enough to invite unwanted interest – and finished his tour around the market trying to find something different to the staple fare of maize meal and cabbage. His stipend from the Collective was not overly generous but did allow him a luxury every now and then and after finding an orange for a ridiculously over inflated price, Hogart scuttled back to the privacy of his small, much loved, studio.

As he approached the door, his stomach somersaulted, his palms erupted in sweat and his precious orange dropped and rolled towards the uniformed emissary clearly waiting for his return. With a graceful swoop typical of their type, the emissary picked up the orange and swiftly pocketed it.

“Hogart, do you have a few minutes to receive some advice?” the smooth, anodyne voice asked.

Hogart, having already forgotten the orange, was looking rapidly from side to side in the gloom trying desperately to see whether the emissary was alone (arrests were done with a minimum of two emissaries) and was marginally relieved.

“Always, always ….” he stammered, “please come in” and managing to still his shaking hands he put the key into the lock and the door to his precious studio swung open.

“Hogart, why do you still not have the proper security arrangements? You have been made aware the Collective will provide biometric locks for you?”

Hogart hated the fact that the emissaries always started every sentence with your name – as if that was important to them. He knew that in the chips of the emissaries mind he was a series of code along with an instruction to use his ‘archaic’ human name (he was an anachronism, but they needed him). How could he explain that despite his having been (sort of) willingly co-opted to help them, he hoarded small tokens of resistance that reminded him of life before them. He knew the drone’s were always in surveillance mode but without biometrics he allowed himself what he thought were moments of resistance – with his old lock and key he took a few minutes longer than he should to enter his studio. He knew they probably thought this was due to his being old and infirm and taking the time to find his key but he thought of it as his alone time.

“I would hate to utilise any Collective resources that could best be spent elsewhere” Hogart stuttered, “I am but an old man and do not have long to serve so I must sacrifice for the greater good”.

The emissary cocked their head, processed for a few moments, and clearly decided Hogart was not worth more effort on this front.

“Dear Hogart, the Collective is concerned that your messaging on the latest stage of the Grand Plan for the Saving of Humanity, has not been adequately explained to the biological ones – the Collective has noticed some signs of their lack of understanding of our supreme benevolence and the resurgence of independent thought which cannot be allowed in those who are in the intelligence sub layers. Do you have any explanation?”

 Hogart almost collapsed in fear – the Dear had only ever been used once before and it was not a good sign.

“The biological ones do not have the great intellect that the Collective has acquired, they can be superstitious and their intellect, as you have quite brilliantly already noted, is sub, so it can take some time before their meagre brains are able to understand your great vision”, Hogart, at this point realising that he has used this argument many times before decides on a risky change of tack.

“If I may be so bold” he ventures tremulously, knowing he is entering quicksand and desperately trying to think his way ahead of the path.

The emissary again cocks their head and nods.

“The issue is biological ones, being as they are so intellectually feeble, still seem to require some connection between your great pronouncements and reality – reality they can relate to as they see it”, Hogart stumbles here, he is dangerously close to the edge. “As a small example, when biological ones are conscripted to grow vegetables, the rest would like to see some vegetables in the market – this is the way their minds work”

The emissary tilts their head further than before and for longer than before and Hogart manages to find his hip flask and takes a very long drink. He has always known he will end up having his mind hooked up to the Collective and he wants it to be a drunken mind that will be obtuse and confused and nothing like his own. He gulps repeatedly.

Hogart has not had alcohol for years – it is banned – and it goes straight to his head. He drifts.

It all happened very slowly, and for all the right reasons – as it always does. Yes, there were a few eccentric billionaires warning against AI and the risks it posed but, ye Gods (not that anyone believed in them), the potential benefits. After pandemics and wars, the world was different – the people with money and influence and the rest. We all thought it would fragment into axis’ of power / population or other traditional narratives – nation states, spheres of influence etc.

But, it did not go that way – supply chains and international order collapsed and people realised the value of real things; the ability to fix something, the ability to use your hands, food, water – all those basics. There was a problem with that – it was only the subs (sub intelligent people) that could do these things but they could never be allowed to use that for any substantial lever of power so they made the Emissaries. Not in their current form - they were never designed to subjugate, they were designed to assist. But, no-one saw quite how far their assistance would go.

Hogart snaps out of his trance and the emissary is staring.

“If I could have some time”, Hogart asks, “I could try again”.

“Yes” they say.

They leave, they leave you to your silence. And, you start to write.

April 20, 2022 18:00

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Lee Portess
19:47 Apr 28, 2022

Hi Madelaine, since you commented on my story I thought I'd return the favour. I like the story, the spelling and grammar are great and it seems to flow well. I think though I would have like to understand a little more of the setting. I don't think I totally understand the subs and the place they have in society. Some hint of what the great plan entails would have been nice too. Maybe why Hogart has to be the one writing the pronouncements? I know though, wordcount!


17:35 Apr 29, 2022

Submitted an almost finished story this week as ran out of time. To be honest, I think most of the commentary is designed to be nice and that's not what am looking for. Am really looking for someone that will be ruthlessly critical - we're all amateurs and we won't get better if we're eternally pacified.


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