This is the winning entry in Young Post’s 2016 Summer Short Story competition, which offers a grand prize of a Samsung Gear VR headset and a 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7! Each week during the summer holiday, we published one of the finalists’ stories, showcasing the author’s writing skills and creativity.
Today, DATR8R84 found a book. It had been lying in a bin, forgotten and neglected for decades. He had heard of them: pieces of paper bound together with words printed on them. They had existed in abundance decades ago, in a time long before the Great Deliverance of 2047. Some said that in those days, humans sought entertainment and gained new knowledge from books.
DATR8R84 was puzzled. Why did they do that? After all, the Consortium had declared that Phonecams were all people needed. He proudly took out his own Phonecam and admired it in silent content. It was a small rectangular box around 5cm wide and 12cm tall. It had a touch screen underneath an imprint of the Consortium’s logo. Under the decree of Connectivity, issued by the Consortium, all citizens of Hong Kong were issued one at birth. DATR8R84 tapped a little button by the side and turned it on. A range of applications, tools and gadgets popped up on the screen, all dedicated to satisfying his wants and needs.
With this wonderful piece of technology, who would ever care about something as asinine as knowledge? Wasn’t it a good thing that he didn’t know a lot? Didn’t the Consortium discourage such thinking as “dangerous”? The Consortium’s slogan: “Power from Ignorance. Victory from Power.” seemed to highlight this clearly. The crimes of those who claimed to be intellectuals had led directly to the Great Purge and an era of darkness until the Consortium came forth and rescued people from their own foolishness.
Despite the compassion and generosity shown by the Consortium, there were still those who had the audacity to commit horrible crimes against the Consortium – the Consortium that so generously and abundantly provided for them. DATR8R84 had heard about those anarchists who would stop at no ends to wreak havoc on society. Unfaltering in its duty to save mankind from itself, the Consortium brought swift justice to those terrorists who claimed to be warriors in the name of savage and uncivilised concepts such as “freedom”.
DATR8R84 opened the book. Its pages were yellow and brittle from age and lack of use. The spine made a faint cracking sound as the pages came apart. DATR8R84 was disappointed. The black text on the paper just sat there, dull and unmoving. How could this ever have been entertaining? With great focus, DATR8R84 carefully dissected each word and delicately pronounced each syllable. The first sentence read: “Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.” How strange the people before 2047 were! Why would they value something like freedom; something that couldn’t give them happiness or wasn’t material?
Later in the afternoon, DATR8R84 found himself pondering this question again. What more could anyone want in this world, that had not already been provided by the Consortium? As he took a walk through the streets of Mong Kok he looked around at his surroundings. Grey and decaying buildings rose out of the ground. Their Brutalist architectural design met the smoky sky, which had long lost any semblance of colour due to the dust and debris. Each building was identical and housed thousands of people. The streets were crowded with hawkers selling cheap goods and the smell of industry filled the air. Even in the cool of winter, the thick and repugnant fumes from passing cars or the sweltering heat from the vents of nearby buildings was suffocating. This was the home of the proletariat; the working class members of society.
Towards the south, DATR8R84 could make out the high-rise luxury apartments on Hong Kong Island where the wealthy resided. Of course, he had never been to Hong Kong Island before. The only vehicles allowed to cross the harbour tunnel belonged to suppliers bringing in goods or officials scampering back after a day of inspecting the slums. DATR8R84 didn’t feel envy when confronted with this status quo. In fact, he found it just, considering the effort that the Consortium had put into protecting its citizens. Looking around, DATR8R84 could not help but feel grateful for the wisdom of the Consortium. Their benevolent and omnipotent rule brought fairness and justice to all, separating the law-abiding citizens from the savages that had built colonies on the outer islands. Under their guidance, the people could unite in strength and enjoy life without worrying about the future.
With all this in mind, DATR8R84 strode down the street, admiring every nook and cranny. He was at the opening of a dark alley when he noticed something unusual. There was a poster on the wall adorned with the Consortium’s iconic logo: a sickle and hammer placed in the centre of a red star. Underneath was the Consortium’s slogan and a call for people to spend more time on their Phonecams: “Ignorance over intellect! Phonecams over knowledge!” Such posters dotted the walls of the city in inexhaustible amounts and were the sole source of colour in this spiritless and insipid city.
While this scene was always present in DATR8R84’s mind due to the frequency of the posters, the thing he now saw would leave a mark in his memory for a different reason. A forlorn figure, barely noticeable in the darkness, was spray painting over the poster in an act of fierce defiance. Hooded and dressed in black, this silhouette vandalised the paper on the wall with savage fury. It was clear that the assailant was pouring his soul into the destruction of a single piece of propaganda.
Intoxicated by the thrill of his rampage, the mutineer failed to notice two approaching members of the Public Safety Commission – the infamous law enforcement agency controlled by the Consortium. Within moments, the two burly officers had wrestled him to the ground in a frenzy. A gloved hand tightened itself over the protestor’s face, making his screams inaudible whilst another brought down a heavy shock truncheon onto the back of the man’s head. His body fell limp, unresisting, defeated and broken. The officers, having barely broken a sweat, grabbed him by the arms and dragged him away.
All this was witnessed by DATR8R84, who was still hidden in the shadows. Frozen by fear, he stood in horrific awe at what had just happened. Only after a few minutes did he dare to move. Slowly, he crept towards the poster in disbelieving horror. It was difficult to read anything in the dark alley, but as his eyes adjusted he made out the words created minutes before by its ill-fated author: I want to know.
I want to know. Hours later, these simple words still echoed through DATR8R84’s mind. It seemed like such a small request and yet the man had paid dearly. His crumpled face was still fresh in DATR8R84’s mind. The glory of the Consortium was now diminished in his eyes and its image was tainted. Perhaps the people before the year 2047 weren’t as foolish as he had imagined. Maybe ... maybe, they were even wiser than people nowadays.
Other short stories from this summer
DATR8R84 looked around the tiny, cramped room which he called home. His household members all sat still, absorbed by the screens of their Phonecams. His biological mother was watching a particularly drab reality show produced by the Consortium. After thinking for a moment, DATR8R84 gently leaned forwards and spoke.
“What are you watching?”
His mother, who was engrossed in her device, responded a few seconds later:
Despite this quick and dismissive answer, DATR8R84 pressed on. “What do you think of the Consortium’s leadership?”
Her reply was as unenthusiastic as before: “It’s good.”
Undeterred, DATR8R84 shot another question at her. “If the Consortium unjustly punished a man, would you still believe in it?”
Irritated by all the questions, and finally taking her eyes off of her Phonecam, she cried out in exasperation:
“I don’t care if the Consortium is good or bad or evil! I don’t care if some anarchist is punished! That’s none of my business to know now, is it?” With this sudden outburst of anger finished, she turned back to her Phonecam and was once again immersed herself in the brainless entertainment.
Such episodes were not uncommon when citizens were separated from their Phonecams or when human engagement lasted too long. One of the many norms of society was that contact between human beings was kept to a minimum, setting aside just enough interaction to provide for the daily necessities of living. But generally, most tasks were automated now, eliminating the need for human interaction. Love was a concept that was foreign to DATR8R84, just as it was to almost every other citizen of Hong Kong. Though he had a family, he felt nothing for them just as they felt nothing for him.
This had never bothered him before, but for the first time in his life, DATR8R84 felt the weight of this emptiness crushing him. He was surrounded by it. It was gnawing at him from every angle. He could smell it in the air, feel its smoky grasp slide over his neck and hear it whisper in thunderous coldness. This blandness, this comfort of life, once so attractive and sought after, now repulsed and sickened DATR8R84.
They were sheep. All of them. The citizens, the people, the followers, the workers. They were all just mindless slaves, held not against their will but by their will. Their greed for comfort had driven them to laziness, contentment and worst of all, indifference. Indifferent to the many changes of society, indifferent to the injustice that was taking place under their noses. Despite the many extraordinary events he had witnessed today, it was only now, after finally opening his eyes to the comfort and predictability of everyday life, that DATR8R84 realised one thing. He hated the Consortium.
That night whilst the rest of Hong Kong slept in blissful ignorance, DATR8R84 was thinking. The Consortium had cunningly used the laziness of the people to make them pliable. Offering meagre comforts as a reward, they encouraged the celebration of ignorance and thus, the removal of all obstacles. Knowledge is power and power is dangerous. If there is to be any hope of destroying this tyrannical regime, we must arm ourselves with knowledge, thought DATR8R84. With those words in his mind, DATR8R84 picked up the book he had earlier found. It felt light and small but at the same time, he felt it carried the weight of the world in its pages. Filled with a great sense of determination, and armed with the courage that so easily comes to those of us who enjoy youth, DATR8R84 opened up the book in search of a brave new world. He wanted to know.