Take Your Vitamins
Sara’s body writhed in pain. She thought she heard her father’s voice, but then everything went black again. She felt as if she were drowning in the blackness. Even the circular room was a dull black; no doors or windows in sight. She heard the Voice speak again.
“Inhabitant, you have brought this pain upon yourself. Answer the question correctly, and all this unnecessary suffering will end. Inhabitant, what are the Five?”
The pain was less now, her head more clear. She stood up, defiant.
“My father said–” another wave of pain wracked her body and she fell to the floor. Her ears started to ring. Blood dripped from her nose and down her chin like gory face paint.
“Incorrect. Inhabitant, what are the Five?”
This time she could only prop herself up to reply.
“My father–” this time she screamed as her body spasmed. Every nerve was on fire.
“Incorrect. Inhabitant, what are the Five? Final answer before maximum pain is inflicted.”
Sara sobbed. She knew maximum pain would mean death. She also knew the Five stood for everything her father stood against, but what else could she do?
Sara closed her eyes and murmured, “Follow the Five, stay alive: Skipping a scheduled update is Not Allowed, Failure to report a glitch or malfunction is Not Allowed, Taking another Inhabitant’s updates is Not Allowed, Religious, Political, or Other objections or refusal of implants are Not Allowed, Removal of implants is Not Allowed.”
“Louder please,” the Voice demanded.
Now all Sara wanted was to end this nightmare and go home. She tried again.
“Louder please,” the Voice said again.
Sara took a deep breath, willing herself to use whatever strength she had left. She crawled to her feet, squaring her shoulders, and looked straight up at the ceiling. Sara screamed at the Voice. She screamed the Five to the emptiness of the black room, her words echoing, crashing into themselves and shattering, falling around Sara like confetti for a parade she didn’t want to see.
“Very good Inhabitant. And will you fail to report a malfunction again?”
Sara could swear the Voice was smiling. She grit her teeth.
“Good. You may leave and report back to your dwelling for further instructions.”
A door opened in the wall to Sara’s left. Hot tears began racing down her cheeks as she staggered home with the knowledge that she had let her father down. Tomorrow, he would die.
Sara regained consciousness a minute or two later, still on the cold floor. The lights in the hallway seemed even brighter now. She groaned, propping herself up with her elbow and rubbing her head.
“Quite a fall you took, Inhabitant,” said a voice behind her.
Sara tried to stand up, but was too woozy to keep her balance and sat back down.
The Supreme Inhabitant’s son, Eli, squatted beside her, Sara’s holo-pad in his hand. He was in the same year as Sara, but she was training for a job as a product tester at Gryce Industries and he was training to take his father’s place. His smile was jovial, but Sara didn’t trust him. She said nothing and went back to rubbing her head, her eyes focused on the floor.
“I heard you got yourself in a little scrape today,” he continued, “but I’ll bet that adjustment did wonders for you. Then you got whacked on the head by a door. What a day, huh? Here, let me help you up.” Eli extended his hand.
Sara neither wanted nor needed his help. She stood up on her own and snatched her holo-pad out of his hand. Then she realized she probably shouldn’t offend someone so important. Part of her realized she didn’t care.
“Sorry, I’m not quite myself today. I have to get to class,” she mumbled and walked into her next classroom, this time avoiding the door. Eli shrugged and walked down the hall, calling out greetings to some of his classmates as he headed back to the Principal’s office.
As soon as school was over, Sara walked home. She was only too happy to put this day behind her.
At dinner, her mother was overly cheerful, the corners of her mouth pinned tightly into a smile.
“I heard someone got an adjustment today. A little out of sorts, were we? Well, I don’t like to say ‘I told you so,’ but I did. Sara, take your vitamins! You’ll feel so much better.” She scraped a bit of butter on her roll and stabbed at the peas on her plate, still smiling.
Sara nodded as she finished the last of her roll.
“I will. May I be excused? I have a lot to prepare for tomorrow’s testing and it’s getting late.”
The corners of her mother’s mouth came unpinned.
“Why are you doing this to me,” she hissed, “is this because of what happened with him?”
“You mean my father?” Sara said. She stood to take her dishes to the sink as casually as if her mother had mentioned a change in the weather.
“Are you malfunctioning,” her mother spat over her shoulder, still sitting at the table, “you know he’s Not Allowed.”
“And we both know whose fault that is, don’t we?”
Sara’s head was feeling sharp and clear as she reached for the vitamin bottle over the sink, opening it and shaking one white pill into the palm of her hand. She felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder.
“I just want what’s best for you, you know I do. Take your vitamin and get some sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
She kissed Sara’s cheek and gave her a gentle squeeze.
“I love you Sara. Never forget that.”
“I love you too, mom.”
As her mother walked away, Sara looked at the little white pill. She felt a sudden urge to throw it as far away from her as she possibly could. Instead she dropped the pill down the sink, running hot water after. She shook her head, unsure why she felt so elated over such a simple act. It was only a vitamin after all.
The figure across the street that had been watching Sara through her kitchen window smiled. The Inhabitants were waking up. The time for revolution was at hand.