‹ Prequel: Hurricane Heart
Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

Critical Condition


The day was a living hell. After going to see ‘my doctor’ and awaking half an hour or so later without any memories of the rest of my life, I then went down to recreation time. Thankfully, the memories came back, and quickly, but it was an unpleasant moment when I genuinely couldn’t remember my own name. As for the Dreamers, that was one of the last memories to come back. That probably meant it was going to be one of the first to go completely.

I hoped to see Simeon in the rec room—which was poorly decorated, blank, dull and bleak like the rest of the building—but I couldn’t see him anywhere. It had been comforting to know that there was at least a little bit of life left in this place. I couldn’t take it.

I wouldn’t take it.

Simeon was nowhere. I had no idea why; surely there was only one rec room in each block. But glancing around at so many misty eyed, quiet Dreamers, it unnerved me greatly. Maybe I’d just missed him. Maybe he was, I don’t know, hiding or in the loos or something. How should I know?

I staggered around the room, still dazed and aching from my amnesia-inducing injection earlier. Some people were watching the news, and others were playing snooker. None of it could interest me in the slightest. I used my hour of ‘free’ time to use the toilet, but other than that, there was nothing to do. It was like I was the living man in the land of the dead. For that was what many of these people were: as good as dead. As Simeon had said, some were better than others—the newer ones and the ones who hadn’t been to their doctor’s today, or even the day before, were the best, but no one was anywhere near intact. I had only had one injection, and yet I still knew that my imagination wasn’t quite back to normal. I hadn’t tried to properly use it yet; I had speculated mildly and had slightly eccentric thought processes, but I hadn’t yet tried to dream or invent or write a novel. I didn’t want to. I didn’t reckon I would like what happened.

The room, with its dull grey walls and hard floor and not especially bright lights, was suffocating. It was large, but there still seemed to be too many people in here. I genuinely felt like I was going to faint and, being the new boy, I could sense all the guards eyeing me warily. If anyone in here was going to cause trouble, it would be me.

It was only as I shuffled past the semi-circular rows of hard chairs facing a TV screen mounted on the wall that anything caught my eye.

They were watching the news.

Well, after all, there wasn’t a lot else that was permitted on official TV these days. But I thought that maybe it would be useful to watch all the same. They just seemed to be starting the headlines, so I perched next to a silent woman who didn’t respond to me in any way on one of the cold, metal chairs. Glancing into her eyes, it sent shivers up my spine to see how empty and desolate they were, and I was forced to turn away. The very sight; the sight of this woman, this Dreamer, who had a life, and imagination, and thoughts, and fears, and dreams, being so hollow made me sick to the core.

The opening of USBN, the most popular American TV channel, was typically ominous. Not dramatic, because that suggested the use of imagination, but ominous. The news reader with her severe face and sharp suit came into the centre of the screen, sitting at a desk with a photographic map of America behind her, but before she had even started talking a dark blue banner appeared at the bottom of the screen. In big, white block capitals, it read BREAKING NEWS.

Instantly I was intrigued, and I was sure that anyone sitting around me who still retained enough of their mind to feel emotions was equally intrigued. The BREAKING NEWS banner only ever came up when there was a very serious news story that had only just broken.

I wasn’t sure whether to read the banner or listen to the woman—my eyes and ears were both fighting it out, but the banner was more concise—it didn’t waste time with all the unnecessary crap that the woman came out with; ‘hello, I am Julie Dallas and you are watching USBN at four thirty pm and these are the headlines;’ it just got straight to the point.

Also in block capitals, but smaller this time, the blue banner read: US LEADER JOHN KEMPTON TAKEN TO HOSPITAL AFTER SUFFERING A STROKE.

My stomach lurched in shock. This was unprecedented.

Kempton had been our fascist bastard of a dictator since before the Revolution started. When he first took on the role, he was a young man; much younger than most of the Realisten leaders that took over across the world—Faust and Kasimierz, for example. Most of the original leaders, many of whom took over way before the turn of the century, were dead by now. Kempton was not.

Not yet, anyway.

‘Oh my God,’ I whispered.

The guard on patrol behind me seemed more alive than any of the rest of the audience.

‘Lee?’ he was calling across the room to another man in black uniform carrying an oversized tranquiliser gun, ‘Lee, have you seen this?’

I glanced around to see Lee, and saw him stride over. Even though the topic of conversation was the news, he still acted official and severe. Nevertheless, I had not yet seen any of the security guards ever make so much as eye contact with each other; let alone a proper conversation. In here, they were as much soulless shadows as the rest of us, and that was without the sedating medication. Told you something about them, didn’t it?

Ignoring the minor miracle that was the conversation between the guards, however, I turned back to the screen. The newsreader was talking to a man on the large screen to her left. He was reporting from Washington DC, where a fine rain was drizzling down around him, and crowds were gathering around the Washington Memorial.

...reported by one of his senior staff members a mere half an hour ago,’ the reporter was saying, ‘and already, as you can see behind me, huge crowds of faithful citizens have gathered, anxious to hear about the well-being of our president.

President? Huh, even lying on his deathbed he still insisted on propaganda. He was a dictator through and through. And as for ‘faithful’ citizens...it all made me angry.

And is there any news of his condition?’ the female newsreader was asking.

Nothing has been confirmed yet,’ the man replied, ‘but President Kempton has been taken to Washington hospital, and an entire ward has been cleared for him. Unconfirmed sources do, however, say that the President is in a critical condition, and that no matter how they treat him it will have a lasting effect on his brain.’

Maybe he would know how it felt then. It was a bitter thought, but true. Surely if Kempton discovered how unpleasant it was to lose a significant proportion of your mind, he would stop doing it to supposed ‘criminals’ on such a regular basis.

It was incredibly wishful thinking.

Is there any suggestion of who might take over the Presidential role whilst Mr Kempton is away?’ asked the newsreader.

Again, I can give you no confirmed statements,’ the reporter said, ‘but an unofficial source has told USBN that it is likely that Ms Tamara Lomax; Minister of Media, will take over the position of president until a more permanent solution has been discussed.

Shit. I had almost thought that Kempton being taken ill would be a good thing. But no: because, until he returned or died (although, living in a nation of fear as we did, no news reporter dared suggest that possibility and expect to keep their job) we got Lomax. I’d heard that she was the harshest and most merciless one of them all.