Wake Up, Joe
by Adam Bruce
part 1 of 2
Let us hush this cry of ‘Forward’
till ten thousand years have gone. — Alfred Lord Tennyson
“Wake up, Joe.”
Joe opened his eyes, felt groggy, and saw the familiar face that had woken him countless times before. This fully three-dimensional face, which floated above his bed, was transparent, ethereal, and produced a clearly audible though disembodied voice from each upper corner of the square room. The face itself was distinct but somehow generic and unmemorable as if it had been made from an amalgamation of thousands of faces. Though it was nondescript, its voice emitted a singularly authoritative tone that produced a hypnotic obedience in Joe.
Joe’s eyes moved away from the face and toward his room, which was little more than a metallic box. The room’s contents consisted of the bed and a table where Joe had left fresh clothes the night before. His attire for the day was to be a grey collared shirt and brown khakis, though this was no surprise since he wore that outfit every day. Joe never had a reason to wear anything else. The temperature was regulated everywhere he went, and he didn’t need to worry about impressing anyone. Aside from these items, the reflective walls, and the lights that flooded each room of his utilitarian house in a thick blue, the room was bare.
Breakfast was prepared for him in the kitchen, and after dressing he walked lethargically towards the smell. “What’s it to be this morning?” Joe said to the air. “Oatmeal and water” replied the ether. Without replying Joe sat and rapidly consumed the bland yet satisfactory meal. The meal was of little consequence anyway; Joe was preoccupied with staring blankly in front of him.
Shortly after Joe finished eating the voice interrupted his stare and said “time to leave.” Joe stood and approached the front door, a light above it changed from red to green, the door slid open, and he entered a long hallway, which led to his car.
The car contained two seats that oriented themselves to face the direction the car would soon travel, a thin window that stretched around the entire exterior of the vehicle, and a light on the ceiling. The car was round in shape, but Joe could not see its outer surface because the tunnel was sealed firmly to the door.
Joe reached the door, the light above it changed from red to green, and the door slid open. Joe entered and as the door closed behind him he sat down in one of the seats, and was automatically strapped in with two belts forming an X across his chest. The car began to drive toward his destination.
As opposed to staring at the walls of his home Joe gazed absent-mindedly out of the window. He first noticed the road: it was solid black, contained two lanes, and a steady stream of cars could be seen heading in either direction. Each car was black and identical in appearance to every other car. Joe never saw anyone in those passing cars, however, because all the windows were tinted.
As his sight moved upwards he observed two one-story tall rectangles, which were of the same metallic texture as the inside of Joe’s house and extended in front and behind him on each side of the road for several miles. From each rectangle several equally spaced tunnels, exactly like Joe’s own, extended toward the road. At the end of the road was a much larger building of similar architecture, but one that was clearly not a residential edifice. Joe’s car sped hastily toward it.
When Joe arrived, he again glanced at his surroundings: mostly the tunnel revealed by the opened door. Not that he expected any change, but simply to pass the few seconds until further instructions were provided. Instructions swiftly arrived in the form of a green arrow appearing at his feet, and several more that led in a straight line toward the building.
Joe followed the arrows, and his car closed its door and sped off to return when Joe needed it. Another car pulled up, and its door waited to open until Joe entered the compound. Joe reached the final arrow, and in his perpetually lame state he awaited direction.
Joe did not have to wait long. A voice soon boomed through the ether. “Joe,” it said. He was expecting to be assigned some sort of manual labor, as usual, but was instead directed toward something he had not foreseen. “You have been selected for the reproduction process,” said the voice.
Joe appeared indifferent to his appointed task and simply waited for directions to lead him toward it. Directly ahead of him was a single hallway filled with doors on either side and at equal intervals, and to his right and left were identical hallways. A green arrow appeared on the floor below him, and he followed a series of these arrows down the hallway on the right.
His path was lit by the red lights above each door he passed, and he followed the green arrows until the path terminated at a solitary door at the end of the corridor. The light above the door changed from red to green, and Joe entered. He saw a woman of astounding beauty, but her appearance made no impression on Joe.
The woman wore khakis and a grey shirt similar to Joe’s though obviously tailored for women. Joe approached her but was surprised — a rare emotion for Joe — when the woman withdrew from him. Joe stood in front of her looking confused, and not knowing what to do, he simply stared at her.
The woman began to speak, “I know why you think you are here, but I am about to offer you something far greater than that. I’m going to give you the chance to be free.”
Joe, still more surprised, looked up at the ceiling as if waiting for confirmation from the voice that this women’s behavior was appropriate.
With more urgency in her voice the woman spoke again. “Listen, there is no choice left to you anymore. Haven’t you ever wanted to walk down a hallway that the green arrows were not pointing toward?”
Joe stared at her with a blank expression that implied he had never considered that option.
“Never mind that,” said the woman. “What is important is that your propensity for creativity and curiosity has been inhibited all your life, but I can change that for you.” As the woman finished speaking she reached into her pocket and produced a pill-sized capsule with the word “AMOS” printed on it in capital letters.
Joe was beginning to become frustrated and screamed, “Just lie down!”
The woman sighed; she had hoped that whatever man came through that door would have been more willing to receive her gift, but she resolved to get him to take the pill by any means necessary. “If you take this pill then I will give you what you want,” she said.
Joe’s frustration was immediately alleviated. He had barely been paying attention to this woman’s ramblings, especially because she used words he had never heard before, but now it seemed that things were returning to normal. He had but to follow one more bit of instruction and the transition to normalcy would be complete.
He took the pill from the woman’s hand and swallowed it. Joe then shot an expectant look at the woman, and she lay down on a cold metallic table in one corner of the room. Joe proceeded to fulfill his duty and hers.
When the deed was done he left the room and followed the green arrows back toward his car. Joe heard the familiar voice reverberating across the ether to congratulate him on a job well done — as it always did — while he walked. Joe was used to much longer days, but the familiar feeling of exhaustion was still present. Joe lethargically entered the car, and it began heading home.
Because of his short day he was led to a reclining chair when he returned home and consumed a ham and cheese sandwich waiting for him in the kitchen. When he finished his meal the voice said “You will speak to a friend now.”
With little hope of imagining anything else to do, Joe responded “Okay.” Instantly a series of pictures of people’s faces appeared before him. He flipped through page after page of faces, seemingly unable to make a decision, until finally, as if the machine itself was frustrated, one was selected for him. That face enlarged and engulfed the others to become the only one visible.
The face that had been selected began to speak. “Hello.”
“Hello,” replied Joe.
The image spoke again and said “My name is Howard. How are you feeling today?”
“Good” Joe said.
“What work did you perform today?” “I was selected for the reproduction process today.”
“And did you enjoy it?” Howard asked.
“Yes,” replied Joe. This conversation continued for some time in a similarly unstimulating manner with Howard asking questions and Joe usually responding with a simple “yes” or “no” until Howard had exhausted all relevant questions and said goodbye. Joe returned the goodbye and Howard disappeared.
With still several hours left in the day, Joe awaited further instructions but soon began to feel tired. Just before he completely lost consciousness the air said, “Go to your bedroom Joe.”
Joe stood and stumbled toward his bed, the effect of the drug in his sandwich obvious in his meandering gait. He removed his clothes, lay down on the bed, and instantly fell asleep.
Copyright © 2012 by Adam Bruce