“What do you mean we’ve got a Sleeper on the loose? Christ, Lowenstein, how the hell did that happen?”
I sighed and ran a hand through my short purple hair. “Look, if I knew the answer to that question, do you think he’d be missing?”
I could see Hrabowski was pissed. His usually placid, pale face was quickly turning red, and his eyes lost their habitual bored-with-the-world look. Right now he looked anything but bored. He looked like he wanted to reach through the monitor and strangle me.
“I knew it was a mistake to send a woman to do a man’s job,” he grunted.
I ignored the remark. “Sir, he’s got to be somewhere on this ‘droid. I’ll find him.”
“Who’s the Sleeper?”
Now I hesitated, knowing this was going to send Hrabowski through the roof.
“It’s Yuri Gorshkov,” I said, waiting for the explosion.
I didn’t have long to wait.
“Gorshkov? Sweet Mother of the Universe… you let Gorshkov wake up?” He looked at me with disbelief. “Of all the Sleepers on Shadow, he’s the one you let wake up… This is very bad, Lowenstein. Very, very bad.”
Tell me about it, I thought, again running a hand through my hair.
Gorshkov’s daring exploits against the State were the things of legend. When captured, tried and convicted of crimes against the State, images of his sentencing to mandatory sleep detention were flashed across the galaxy, and celebrations were ordered when he was remanded to Shadow ‘Droid for sleep processing. Against a backdrop of patriotic music, toads of State propaganda gleefully announced that the threat to The People’s safety, peace and prosperity had been neutralized. Everything was as it should be.
Protocol had been restored.
Long live the Glorious Revolution!
I cleared my throat and looked at Hrabowski’s flickering image. “Don’t worry, sir; I’m going to find him.”
“You better… otherwise, your career is dust.” He took a deep breath. “And so is mine.”
With that, the screen went blank.
I knew I shouldn’t have informed Hrabowski of the situation until I’d apprehended the Sleeper and returned him to his cylinder, but protocol dictated that the Alpha Centurions be alerted whenever there was a situation.
And this was a situation.
My tour of duty on Shadow ‘Droid had reached its five year anniversary the previous month. Five long, lonely years on this desolate piece of rock. That’s what happens when you piss off your superiors. You get relegated to some shithole in the sky. And the asteroid named Shadow was a shithole if ever there was one.
I’ve never been the nine-to-five type. My smart mouth, powerful physique and bright purple hair wasn’t suited to an office on the Home World. The truth is I was unfit to be tied to a desk. I liked using my wits and my strength in service to the Home World, and that’s how I ended up working for the Alpha Centurions. The first two years I was with them was great. I had finally found my niche, ensuring order on satellite worlds throughout the galaxy. But one day, I mouthed off to some turkey-neck martinet after one too many Venusian martinis, and ended up here, policing the Sleepers.
The Sleepers. Christ! What a creepy bunch!
Ever since the Glorious Revolution, the Home World had been sentencing political dissidents to sleep detention. The do-gooders considered it a merciful alternative to capital punishment, soon deemed too heinous a sentence for crimes against the State. All very compassionate and good, except there was one problem.
Or, more precisely, overpopulation.
There wasn’t enough room on the Home World to house all the ungrateful bastards who failed to realize what a boon to mankind the Glorious Revolution was. That’s when President Marcus Aurelius Johnson got the bright idea of imprisoning political dissidents on nearby asteroids. Shadow ‘Droid was one of the smallest prison rocks in the galaxy. There was some consideration to housing prisoners without inducing sleep, but fears of rebellion fomenting among prisoners made the idea impractical.
One of the abiding tenets of the Glorious Revolution is order – at any cost. There would be no more rebellions.
Too many decades of political, social and economic upheaval had worn everyone down. Now, we all march to the same tune, having learned to appreciate the expediency of following the follower. Individuality is dead. No longer are there great heroes, quests, or heroic deeds.
This is the Age of Integration. One mind, one heart, one allegiance. All followers. Even he who leads follows the mandates of the new protocol.
Long live the Glorious Revolution!
It was all a crock of shit, but unless you wanted to join the Sleepers, you learned to ‘talk the talk and walk the walk.’
I’d always been a quick learner, and damned adaptable. It was my mouth that got me in trouble, especially after too much booze.
As I snapped the canister of soporific onto my tranq rifle, I thought about the Sleepers.
Within the Sleep Detention Complex there are hundreds of sleep cylinders, all secured in upright positions against walls of concrete, snaking in and out of dimly lit and solitary corridors. Each cylinder contains a naked and wasting body, festooned with wires and tubes connecting it to the Dream Maker, the giant central computer that regulates the dream sequences of the Sleepers.
Each night I make the rounds, censo-pad in hand, doing my check-off of each of the names on the census, ensuring no one has broken free.
There had never been a breakout on Shadow ‘Droid. The Dream Maker is too good at its job.
The Ministry of Propaganda will tell you that sleep detention is the most enlightened, merciful form of incarceration. I have my doubts. When I walk through silent corridors, I see hundreds of pairs of vacant eyes, wide open but dreaming, always dreaming… never noticing my presence as I pass by. They exist in various stages of accelerated, super atrophy, a condition brought on by enforced inactivity and too much mental stimulation. Their limbs are flaccid, no longer remembering the purpose for which they’d been designed; instead, muscle amnesia has set in. If awakened, Sleepers of longstanding would be as weak as kittens.
Not one of them has ever wakened without some sort of outside assistance.
Until Yuri Gorshkov.
Five years into my tour of duty, the Sleepers began to haunt my dreams. I started drinking excessively, hoping to avoid the recurring nightmares of suffering men being fed dreams manufactured by a computer. I drank to escape my doubts about my role in all of this and to ease the terrible loneliness I endured. I functioned adequately during my working hours; but my off hours frightened me. To escape the fear, I began to mimic the Sleepers, spending my off hours anesthetized by liquor. I was consumed by dreams of escaping this small, eerie rock of the living dead.
While hunting my prey in the nether regions of the Sleep Detention Complex, I noticed the heat sensors on my tranq rifle blinking with urgent rapidity. A human – nearby. Quietly, with deadly intent, I rounded the corner of the corridor leading to the room that housed the Dream Maker. I heard a muffled noise and swiveled around, tranq rifle ready.
Yuri… Yuri Gorshkov… I saw his body, now clothed in a jumpsuit, crouching behind the Dream Maker, intent on some task, his urgency apparent.
“Stand down, Gorshkov,” I yelled. “Stand down now!”
He froze only a moment, as if startled, then rose to his feet.
“Lori, Lori, put down the gun. What are you doing, my sweet girl? It’s Yuri, remember?”
Remember? I remembered nothing, and continued to watch him, ready to pump him full of soporific.
“Lori, put down the gun. Come help me. Let’s disable this damned machine. It’s what we’ve talked about… why you freed me.” He looked at me, his golden eyes glowing with awareness, eyes so unlike those of the Sleepers who continued to dream, undisturbed, many floors above us.
Feelings of confusion washed over me. Another person. Alive. Aware. Vital.
He walked toward me, still wearing the same tender smile. When he reached me, he gently cupped my face. “Don’t you remember, Lori?”
And then, suddenly, I did!
I remembered the effects of the alcohol, how it freed me from allegiance to the State. I remembered my fascination with the recently imprisoned Yuri, the papers I’d read concerning his daring deeds against the protocol. A hero! A throwback to the time before the Age of Integration.
When he first arrived, I found myself mesmerized by his sleeping form, by his taut, still functioning body. I was so weary of being alone, surrounded only by the living dead. Drunk on loneliness and alcohol, I became haunted by images of Yuri linked against his will to the Dream Maker. In the darkness of the night, I wept tears at the injustice of it.
Alcohol tears and alcohol-soaked dreams.
Yuri was looking at me, gently stroking my cheek. “Do you remember now, sweet girl? You and me, together we are going to take back the Home World!”
Yes, I remembered.
“Do it, Lori, disable the damned machine. It’s time!”
I looked at the Dream Maker, my revulsion for it rising like bile in my throat. The warden of the State. Maintainer of the Glorious Revolution.
I lifted the rifle, pointed, and fired.
Yuri crumpled to the floor. I watched his eyes, once so aware, grow wide with surprise and then begin to flatten as the soporific took hold.
You see, it was true that alcohol freed me from allegiance to the State, but I was sober now. Stone cold sober.
I had a job to do. And I did it.
I pressed the button on my vid watch. Hrabowski’s face appeared.
“Sir,” I said, “The sleeper is apprehended. All things status quo.”
I watched Hrabowski’s face visibly relax.
“His re-integration with Dream Maker will occur shortly.”
“Fine, fine. Excellent job, Lowenstein. I don’t think we need to make the Alpha Centurion High Command aware of this little snafu.”
“No, sir, thank you, sir.”
I snapped off the image and looked at the inert body of legendary hero, Yuri Gorshkov.
The human part of me grieved for him, but only briefly. I understood there could be no more sessions with the bottle. Whatever drove me in those alcohol-fevered dreams had run its course. It was finished.
Protocol was stronger. We live by protocol. We die by protocol.
It is the Age of Integration.
Author’s Note: This story is written in response to a challenge to write a tale of indeterminate length based on phrases that are part of this week’s ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog BeKindRewrite. The prhases used are: follow the follower; unfit to be tied; age integration; super atrophy; and muscle amnesia. Thanks to BeKindRewrite for the inspiration prompts this week!