2033, Fort Leavenworth, ExxonMobil Correctional Facility
Peter sat on his bed in his cell with a permanent frown, his smartphone in his hands, searching for another video to watch.
Apart from trying to keep abreast of what had been going on in the world since his, Michelle’s, and the other sympathizers’ arrests, he was using the videos as distractions from everything he had to be miserable about. As distractions, though, the videos weren’t of much use, of course.
He tried to forget his and Michelle’s treason trials and convictions. Their protestations, as well as those of their defence attorneys, that the Bolshivarians were trying to help the world, fell on deaf ears. Their counter-accusation–that it was the armies of the world that were the real war criminals, having killed hundreds of thousands of people with the nuclear bombs dropped on Santiago, Lagos, and Jakarta, all to draw out the Bolshivarians so they could be sprayed with bug toxins, killing not only the aliens but millions of human carriers as well–also fell on deaf ears. Having judges who were paid for by, and therefore sympathetic to the interests of, the governments, corporations, and military, is what caused that deafness, of course.
The only good thing about that morning was that he, for some reason not explained to him, didn’t have to do hard labour all day that day; nor did the other sympathizers, who were just as unaware of any reason for this relief from work as he was.
Leavenworth, like so many other places over the 2020s, had been given such a thorough makeover that the current fort would have been almost completely unrecognizable to anyone who knew it back in the 2010s. The fact that Exxon-Mobile had taken it over and privatized it was most of the reason for the sweeping changes, including not only the radical changes to its physical form, but also the new incarceration of civilians, females, and non-Americans. After all, countries only continued to exist in name, essentially, so one didn’t have to be an American, or even a native of Kansas, to be incarcerated in the new Leavenworth.
All one had to do was offend the privatized armies of the 2030s.
Peter heard the clanking of metal on the bars of his cell. He looked up from his phone to see Corporal Culig, one of the prison guards, giving him a tray of food.
“Here’s your breakfast, traitor,” Culig said as he put the tray through a horizontal rectangular hole in the bars. “I hope you choke to death on your bacon and eggs,” he added, a typical comment from him.
Neither Peter, nor Michelle, Wendy, Pat, Valerie, nor Sid were allowed even to eat in the prison cafeteria, for fear they’d sit together at a table and reminisce about old times in Venezuela or Angola. Part of their punishment was to be deprived of friendly company for the rest of their lives.
He took his tray from Culig, thanking him with a scowl. He took it back to the bed and sat back down.
I miss Michelle, he thought. I miss her touch. I miss looking at her pretty face.
He found a video of a crowd of people on the streets of Paris protesting the nuclear bombings of the previous year. His grasp of French was good enough to know that they were also sympathizing with the slain aliens, for he saw placards that had such messages as, “Killing Bolshivarians is also a war crime!” and “No to nuclear war!”
He was struck by the huge range of emotions he saw in the protestors…he was struck by the fact that there even were protestors!
Didn’t all those vaccines numb away all the spirit of resistance from everybody? he wondered. I thought all the sympathizers were arrested. This protest is commemorating the first anniversary of the bombings. This video was taken only last week! Surely it’s going to be deleted any time now; I’m surprised it’s still up. How is all of this possible? We lost!
Then he Googled more information, that of independent bloggers. He found one, published just a few days before, titled, “How the Vax Got Vanquished.” The writer said, “I went about every day like a zombie, just doing my job without any feeling or interest. Then one day, someone touched my arm, a carrier of the aliens. I saw the little lights go out of his fingers and into my body. I was so numb from the effects of the vaccines I’d been made to take that I didn’t feel scared; if my body was to be torn to pieces, I just thought, ‘Oh, well…’ But instead, I felt that emotional numbness fading out of me. I started to feel something I hadn’t felt in years…emotions. Energy. Drive. Passion. And most importantly, joy! A touch of the aliens cured me! I’ve heard stories from many other people who’ve had the same experience.”
They’re still alive, Peter thought. They’re not all dead, after all. And the article is still online.
He searched for more information to explain all these odd developments. He found a YouTube video, again recently published, of a woman standing before the camera and saying the following:
“We all know of how governments around the world have been testing people to see if they’re carriers of the Bolshivarians. It has been assumed that, by now, they have all been found and, on exposure, been killed–that is, the human carriers are shot, and the Bolshivarians are exterminated with the bug spray toxins.
“This, however, is far from the truth, as I’ve been tested and allowed to pass, alongside many other carriers.” To prove her assertion, she let the tiny dots of light flow out of her fingers and towards the camera screen.
They’re alive, he thought with a smile. They’ve been hiding, but they’re coming back.
“You sympathizers out there in the world,” she went on, “I say this hoping you’ll hear my words before this video is removed from the internet: don’t lose hope. We have non-carrier sympathizers conducting the tests and allowing carriers to pass them undetected. We’ll all be free sooner than you think.”
He was so excited, he’d forgot about his breakfast, which was getting cold. He started shovelling it down.
After eating, his newfound happiness caused him to let go of the tension he’d been feeling up until this morning. His initial excitement thus gave way to a sense of peaceful contentment, making him want to lie on his bed and meditate on his new hopes. Within an hour, he fell asleep.
He’d been napping until lunchtime when that clanking metallic noise woke him up. “Here’s your lunch, traitor!” Culig snapped at him. Peter didn’t scowl at him this time when he took his tray, surprising and annoying Culig.
About two hours later, Culig returned.
“Peter, get up,” he said. “We’re transferring you.”
“What?” Peter said, rising to his feet. He never calls me by my name. ‘Traitor’ is my name, as far as he’s concerned. No look of hate in his eyes, either. Not much emotion of any kind.
“Please hurry,” Culig said. “We don’t have much time.”
Peter put his smartphone in his pocket and approached the bars. Culig never says ‘please,’ either, he thought. This is truly weird.
Culig opened the cell door. “C’mon, we gotta go.”
“Nobody said anything about a transfer,” Peter said as he came out of his cell. “What’s going on?”
“Everything will be explained later,” Culig said as they walked through the hall and out of the cellblock area. “For now, let’s just focus on getting you out of here, and fast.”
Culig is never this…nice, Peter thought. He also seems a little robot-like. Just two hours ago, he was his usual mean self. And now…?
Peter was even further amazed at how smoothly he got through the whole prison complex, all the documentation and requisition forms reviewed and accepted without a hitch. And this was all for a transfer he’d never been told about until just now, just like his sudden, unexplained relief from having to do his daily hard labour. He thought to look carefully at the faces of all the people cooperating to make this transfer so effortless.
They all had Culig’s newly-acquired automaton-like body language. Had they all acquired these same traits, just this afternoon? And who gave them these traits, all of a sudden?
Could it be? Peter wondered, remembering all he’d looked at on his smartphone that morning. Nah, don’t get your hopes up too high.
He was taken outside, to where a dark green truck was parked by the outer entrance gate.
“Get in,” Culig told him. “Good luck, where you’re going.”
“What?” Peter said, looking back at the guard and seeing no trace of sarcasm (or any other emotion, for that matter) on his face. He got in the truck.
Now he felt an even greater shock…but a pleasant one.
“Peter?” a familiar, female voice called out to him. The driver closed the back door of the truck, leaving everyone in there in almost total darkness.
“What?…Michelle?” he shouted, straining his eyes to find her face in the dark of the truck. When he spotted her, he ran over to where she was sitting. They hugged and kissed. “Damn this darkness. I wanna see your face in the light.”
“What’s going on, Peter?” she asked. “What do they want to do with us? You don’t think they’re taking us out to be…” (she whispered) “…killed or anything, do you?”
“I don’t know,” he said, sitting down beside her. “My guard, who’s never nice to me, seemed nicer just now.”
The truck started moving.
“I know,” she said. “My guard seemed nicer today, too.”
“Did their mannerisms seem a little…mechanical to you, and I mean ‘mechanical’ in a familiar way?” he asked.
She recalled her mother’s initial mannerisms when she’d just been made a carrier, then made a mental comparison to those of her guards. “Yeah, now that you mention it, they were,” she said.
“I noticed the same thing, Peter,” another familiar female voice said in the darkness, to which his eyes were only now adjusting. “But I don’t wanna get my hopes up.”
“Wendy Callaghan?” he asked. “Is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me,” she said in a cheerful voice.
“Wow!” he said, then went over to hug her. “So good to see you…well, sort of, in the dark…again! Any other familiar faces in here? My eyes are still just adjusting to the dark.” He squinted and looked around.
“Over here, Peter,” Pat called out. Peter could barely make out his and Valerie’s faces, then their waving hands.
“Oh, hi!” Peter said, waving back. “Is Sid here?”
“Oh?” Sid grunted, waking up from a nap. “Did someone call me?”
“Yeah, there’s Sid,” Peter said. “Hi!”
Sid strained his eyes to recognize Peter. “Oh, hi, Peter.”
“So, where are we being transferred to?” Michelle asked. “Anybody know?”
Every voice in the back of the truck said, “No.”
“You’d think they’d have told us,” Valerie said. “Why didn’t any of them say where we’re going?”
“That’s what’s kind of scary about all of this,” Pat said. “Were they all nice to us because today is our last…Oh, I don’t wanna say it.”
Suddenly, the truck stopped.
There was an uncomfortable silence of several seconds.
They heard footsteps on what sounded like gravel going from the front to the back of the truck.
“We’re about to find out, I guess,” Wendy said.
The driver opened up the back of the truck, with grating metal clangs. Blinding sunlight shone outside. “Everybody out,” he said.
They all came out slowly, with shaking legs. When their feet touched the gravelly ground, they looked around, with a hand over each pair of eyes to block the sun. Now they had to adjust their eyes to the light…but they were afraid of what they would see.
No wall to line up against.
No firing squad.
Just the local bus station.
“What the…?” Peter asked, then he looked over at Michelle and smiled. “Oh, there’s that face.” He caressed her cheek, getting a smile from her. “If we die, at least I got to see you once more.”
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too,” he said, then looked over at the driver. “But what’s going on?”
“There are people in the bus station, our contacts, who will take you where you want to go,” the driver said, in as monotone a voice as that of Culig and the other guards. “Go in there, and you’ll find them.”
“Where we want to go?” Sid asked.
“Yes,” the driver said. “You’re all free now.”
“We’re free?” Valerie asked with a sneer of incredulity that all the others imitated.
“Yes,” the driver said. “We’ve arranged everything. But beware of the manhunt that’s coming soon; we might not be able to stop that soon enough, though we plan to. The people in there will help you, and we’ll do what we can to slow the manhunt down, as I said. Anyway, goodbye, and good luck.” A few little dots of light flew out of his waving hand. He went back to the truck, got in, and drove away.
Peter and the others just stood there, stunned.
After a few seconds, Michelle said, “I guess we’ll go into the bus station, then.”
“Come in,” General Harris said after hearing the knock on the door.
Culig stepped in the general’s office. “The sympathizers have all been sent off, sir,” he said.
“Good work, Corporal,” Harris said. “Has anybody objected to their being…transferred?”
“None to my knowledge, sir,” Culig said. “Everyone in this military correctional facility has been…converted to our cause.”
“Good. I’ve been sending our people out to as many branches of the military and police, in all the city-states between here and the Canadian border, to convert them, too. With a little luck, that manhunt we’re worried about won’t happen at all.”
“I’m sure of it, sir. By now, at least half of the population of the United City-States of America is likely converted to the Bolshivarian way.”
Peter and Michelle were dropped off by the front doors of MedicinaTech in the Toronto District.
“OK, you two,” the driver said with what was by now an all-too-familiar lack of emotion. “Here’s where you wanted me to drop you off.”
“Yeah, OK, thanks,” Peter told him. He and Michelle got out of the car and walked over to the front doors of his parents’ business and government. It was the early afternoon, so all the staff, informed of his imminent arrival, were in the lobby waiting to welcome him back.
He and Michelle went in. The acting CEO walked up to greet him. She also had that look on her face that seemed to indicate a lack of human personality. She had the same grin as every other employee.
“Good afternoon and welcome back, Mr. Cobb-Hopkin,” she said as if having memorized a speech, putting out her hand to shake his. “I’m Marsha Tenenbaum, acting CEO–“
“Oh, uh, hi,” he said, not shaking her hand. “Look, I’m sorry, but we’ve had a long, crazy trip here, and we need to go rest for a bit, OK? We’ll talk later.” He and Michelle went off into a small meeting room to be alone. They closed the door behind them.
All the staff outside, instead of being shocked at how uncouth Peter was, just stood there like robots, still with those seemingly meaningless smiles on their faces.
“OK, Michelle,” he said after heaving a big sigh. “What the fuck is going on around here?”
“Around here?” she said. “Around everywhere.”
“Exactly,” he said. “All of that–getting out of Leavenworth, going on the bus ride all the way to the Canadian border, getting from there in another bus to Toronto, then that guy…that automaton!…driving us here. That was all much…too…easy!“
“We’re escaped convicts,” she said. “We’re wanted…aren’t we?”
“Was there any kind of a manhunt…at all?“
“I know. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“All Bolshivarian carriers getting us through everything, everywhere, with no difficulties?”
“I thought they were all killed with the bug spray drones,” she said. “I can understand if a few of them survived, and are in hiding, but…”
“And the testing was supposed to have wiped out all the remaining carriers, or at least almost all of them,” he said. “But they’re everywhere now.”
“Far too many, it seems. I never thought I’d be feeling uncomfortable about that.”
“With no recognizable human personalities, either. I thought the emotional numbing of the vaccines was bad. This emotional numbing we see now is much more extreme.”
“Yes, it is,” Michelle said with a sigh.
“In my cell, I watched a few videos of people who were liberated—by the Bolshivarians—of the mind-numbing of the vaccines. They were so full of emotion; it was wonderful to see. I have a bad feeling that that emotional liberation was short-lived, though. I’ll tell you something else: I learned from my year in Leavenworth that the army grunts never got the vaccine…because they’re already brainwashed into obeying the dictates of the ruling class; that’s why they show more emotion than the general population, though only hate and anger.”
“Yeah, I learned that, too,” she said. “But this robot-like behaviour of the new carriers–it’s disturbing. They don’t seem to have a will of their own. I’ll bet Valerie and Pat, Wendy and Sid have been taken to their homes with the same ease. We should contact them on social media.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that right now,” Peter said, getting out his smartphone. “I’ll tell you another thing: not only are there all these new carriers, including guards who were nasty to us and hated the Bolshivarians right up ’til the switcheroo, but you never see these anti-Bolshivarian types splitting up into pieces.” He began typing up a message on Facebook, then tagged Valerie, Pat, Wendy, and Sid.
“This is really weird,” Michelle said.
“OK, I just tagged all four of them with this question: ‘Did you all get back home with disturbingly unbelievable ease, your drivers all acting like robots with seemingly no will of their own?’”
Within a few minutes, Valerie, Pat, Wendy, and Sid all ‘liked’ Peter’s post, and commented ‘Yes.’
Pat added to his comment by saying, “I’ve experienced exactly what you’re talking about here in Milwaukee. All human automatons, these new carriers. No difficulty at all getting home. Just as you said, Peter: ‘disturbingly unbelievable ease.’ This is too good to be true, let alone to be good.”
Valerie, Wendy, and Sid all ‘liked’ Pat’s comment.
Both Peter and Michelle looked at his phone with fearful faces.
“Do you remember what Bob said to us, back in Luanda, just before the attack that killed him and almost killed us? He said that if the Bolshivarians had wanted to take over the world, they could have done it like that.” Peter snapped his fingers, as Bob had done. “They didn’t quite do it then, but they seem to be doing it now. Michelle, are the Bolshivarians controlling people’s minds? What do you think?”
Wide-eyed, she couldn’t answer.
The morning of the next day, in the headquarters of the US State Department, three soldiers were walking the halls in the direction of the office of the Secretary of State. Again, as with almost everywhere else in the world, the whole interior look and structure of the Harry S. Truman Building had been so thoroughly made over that it would have been difficult for someone from as recent as a decade earlier to recognize it. Such was the influence of the Amazon Corporation’s takeover of it; indeed, as one walked through the halls and visited the offices, one saw, for example, not just portraits of the president, but also those of Amazon executives, past and present; and the Amazon logo was almost ubiquitous.
When the soldiers reached the office of the Secretary of State, one of them knocked on his door.
“Yes?” SECSTATE Hammond said.
“Mister Secretary?” the man who knocked said. “This is Lieutenant Davis, with Sergeant Wilson and Corporal Neil. We have a matter of urgent business to discuss with you. May we come in?”
“What the—“ he said, getting up from his desk. “You couldn’t first check this with my—? Oh, all right, come on in.”
All three entered. As soon as they shut the door, the little lights flew from their fingers.
“Oh, my G—!” Hammond began, but before he could reach for the can of bug spray in his desk, the lights had already entered him.
He didn’t grunt in pain, twitch, or fall to the floor. No red cracks appeared on his face. No bruises. No tearing of clothes, then of flesh to reveal inner organs.
He just stood still. He didn’t even fidget in the slightest.
“Mister Secretary?” Sergeant Wilson asked.
“Shall we take a walk over to the White House?” Hammond said in a calm but rigid voice. “We should see President Price. I have a matter of urgent business to discuss with her.”
In the afternoon of that day, Peter called Marsha Tenenbaum. “Yes,” he said. “I want you to continue running MedicinaTech for the time being. I’ve got personal business I need to take care of, and it’s going to occupy my time for…well, quite a while. I’ll let you know when I can come back and take over…Sorry, I can’t go into that right now. I have to go now. Talk to you later…Bye.” He hung up and left for Mississauga.
When he arrived at the Mississauga Exposé building, he just barged past everybody in the lobby, past the receptionist who tried in vain to stop him and ask if he had an appointment, and rushed into an elevator.
Michelle said she was chairing a meeting today, Peter thought as the elevator went up to where he knew, from past trips there, all the heads of the newspaper worked. He got out of the elevator and went through the halls, looking through the glass walls to see which room she was in.
At the end of the hall, he found her. It was easier for him to find her by the look of confusion on her face than by her face itself. Utterly lacking experience, she could only look awkward there. He barged in.
“Michelle!” he shouted, interrupting a presentation that she looked bored watching.
“Peter!” she said with a smile, relieved to have an excuse to get out of the meeting. “Excuse me, everyone. Something’s come up. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“That’s OK, Michelle,” the unruffled presenter said as she walked out of the room with Peter.
“They’re not mad at me for my little intrusion?” he asked.
“Of course not,” she said as they walked down the hall, him looking for an empty room with a computer. “They’re all emotionless carriers, like your staff. They can totally do that meeting without me.”
“I thought so,” he said as they walked into an unoccupied room. “I figured they could run everything without you, as my staff can without me. I mean, why would they want us running things when they know we don’t know how to do it?”
“Good question,” she said when he sat in front of a desktop computer and turned it on.
“And in a minute, I’ll give you my answer,” he said. “Occupying us with our parents’ businesses will distract us from watching what the Bolshivarians are planning. Check this out.” He found a recent video on YouTube: George Villiers-Joseph and Karol Sargent in China.
Michelle’s eyes almost popped out of her head. “Oh, my God,” she gasped. “They survived?“
“Yes,” Peter said. “Someone got them out of South America just in time before the bombings and bug spraying. As you can see, this video is dated from last week, and it hasn’t been censored, like so many other videos and web pages that normally would have been taken off the net by now.”
“You mean, President Price and her people aren’t censoring the net anymore? Why?”
“Because they’re losing their power over the world.”
“Well, that’s good news,” she said, grinning. “Now the Bolshivarians can heal the Earth, and we can help the poor of the world.”
“True, and as we know from the news, these changes for the better are really being made. But at what cost?” he said. “Who are the Bolshivarians improving things for?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, come on, Michelle. You’ve seen those automatons working for you, as I’ve seen them working for me. Watch this.” He clicked PLAY.
George was chairing a meeting with Karl in a hiding place somewhere in China. The video panned across all the people in the audience, mostly Chinese with that all-too-familiar emotionless stare in their faces. George began to speak.
“As you all know,” he said, “the heightened danger to Bolshivarian life here, brought about by the nuclear holocausts and the genocidal extermination of so many of us, has necessitated a radical change in our strategy. No longer will Bolshivarian entry into human bodies give our carriers a choice to join us or die. We will simply take control of our hosts’ mental apparatus completely.”
“There you have it, Michelle,” Peter said. “Our worst fears realized.”
“Oh, no!” she said.
“All of you in our audience are carriers, your wills all under 100% Bolshivarian control, which also ensures that you understand my meaning without needing Chinese translation,” George said. “This use of mind control was a hard decision for us to make, but we’ve been given no choice. Too many Bolshivarian lives have been lost–deaths in the billions!–to allow us to take any more risks in the name of ‘liberty’.”
“Tory tried to warn us,” Peter said, pausing the video. “He told us not to trust George…and I put an axe in Tory’s head.”
“I can understand the Bolshivarians needing to protect themselves,” she said. “But…this can’t be.”
“In spite of all the good we’ve seen them do, including saving our own lives…twice…still, I’ve always had a nagging doubt in the back of my mind about them. Are they doing all this healing of the Earth for us, or for themselves?“
“That sounds like Price’s propaganda.”
“I know, and you know I’ll never trust her or any of the ruling classes of the Earth, but this video spells it out, all in black and white, so to speak. You won’t like hearing this, Michelle, but those psychic communions we have with our ‘parents’–I don’t think they’re real.”
“They’re real, Peter!” she said in a voice of sobbing anger.
“I know how you feel, and I know how painful it is to–“
“They’re real!” she shouted, tears forming in her eyes.
“I’m sorry, but the Bolshivarians fabricated them with their technology.”
“No!” she bawled. He held her as she wept.
“Let’s hear the rest of the video,” he said, then clicked PLAY.
“As for the non-carrying sympathizers of the world,” George said. “As long as you remain loyal to us, you need not fear having your free will taken from you. No more threats to Bolshivarian life, and you will be left alone. But if a non-carrier is to take any more Bolshivarian life, as Karen Finley did, and Tory Lee tried to, then we’ll have no choice but to take control of all sympathizers. Our safety, as the saviours of the Earth, has become paramount!”
Applause could be heard from all over the room, including Karol’s clapping hands.
Neither Peter nor Michelle clapped.
One hour later that day, Peter shared the video of the China conference with Pat and Valerie. They replied immediately by saying it would be best to share their feelings on Zoom, so they could express themselves more intuitively.
They arranged a meeting that evening, all four of them, including Michelle.
“So, how are things over there in Milwaukee with you?” Peter asked. “Where in Milwaukee is ‘over there’? Are you in an airport?”
“Yeah,” Pat said. “We’ve been through customs, and we’re waiting at our gate. So we have a little time now, though we’ll have to keep this short.”
“Where are you going?” Michelle asked. “I mean, this is so sudden. I thought you’d be so tired after the ride from the Kansas Districts to the Wisconsin ones, that you wouldn’t want to go anywhere after that. You both certainly look tired, without much energy. And how did you manage to arrange a flight so fast?”
“Oh, we know people who can set us up fast,” Valerie said. “Lots of money helps, too. Besides, we’d been planning this trip for a while, even before you’d sent us the video. And actually, we already knew about George and Karol hiding out in China.”
“Wow,” Peter said. “Really?”
“Yeah. Also, the people helping us are under Bolshivarian influence,” Pat said. “So their trust of us as sympathizers will help us get to where we’re going faster.”
“And where are you going?” Peter asked.
“Guess,” Valerie said.
“I have no idea,” Michelle said.
“China,” Pat said with a grin.
“You know exactly where George and Karol are hiding?” Peter asked.
“Not yet, but we’ll find them soon enough,” Pat said. “Valerie and I want to try to dissuade them from going on with this terrible idea of controlling everyone’s minds.”
“OK, but I can’t imagine you changing their minds,” Peter said. “All those Bolshivarian deaths have made them pretty firm in their decision, to put it mildly.”
“We know,” Valerie said. “But we have to try. We don’t want a world with no free will.”
“As important as saving the world from people like Price is, it mustn’t come at the expense of making us all slaves,” Pat said.
“I couldn’t agree more, Pat,” Michelle said. “But what if you can’t change George’s or Karol’s minds?”
“Well…let’s just say we may have to resort to more…radical, sweeping measures,” Valerie said, shaping the fingers of her hand into a gun and pretending to shoot Pat in the head.
“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “I’m as unhappy about all of this as you are, but don’t do anything stu–“
“Sorry, guys,” Pat said hurriedly. “Time to board our plane. Bye.”
Pat and Valerie ended the session on their laptop, leaving Peter’s with a blank screen.
He and Michelle looked at each other with frowns.
“If they do what I think they’re going to do,” he said, “they’ll provoke even worse repressions on everybody.”
“Worse than that,” she said. “Pat and Valerie could fuck up our entire effort to save the world.”
“We should warn George and Karol,” he said. “If only we knew how to contact them directly.”
“We could tell any of the carriers in our companies,” she said. “They’d know somebody, who’d know somebody, who’d—“
“And that just might be the thing that makes the Bolshivarians want to make everyone around the world, including you and me, into mind-controlled carriers. Just warning them alone could make them make that awful decision. No, we’d better not. Let’s just hope Pat and Valerie deal with this intelligently.”
Peter emailed a video to Michelle a week after their videoconference with Pat and Valerie. The video was dated three days before, and titled Assassination of Underground Bolshivarian Leader in China.
“Oh, please God, no,” she whispered before ever-so-reluctantly clicking PLAY on her phone.
Karol Sargent was seen in a small room chatting with several people, mostly Chinese. George was not there, but Michelle saw, in a far corner, a familiar face.
She had no interest in what Karol had to say (it was mostly idle chatter, anyway); she was focused on whatever Pat was going to do. Though George was the one who did most of the public speaking, it was known by all the carriers and non-carrying sympathizers–including Peter and her–that it was Karol who wielded great influence behind the scenes in terms of policy decisions; so Pat’s presence in that room had great interest for her.
Pat’s face showed no hate or anger as he looked at Karol; he’d obviously learned how to bury his feelings deep down, so when he got up and walked towards Karol, he had a pleasant smile on his face, laughing at one of Karol’s jokes.
Then he pulled a pistol out of his jacket pocket.
He buried a bullet in Karol’s chest with a loud bang and a splash of blood.
The Bolshivarian dots of light flew out from the dying man as they did out of all of his carrier listeners, swarming around Pat as he fumbled a can of bug spray with his other hand. They entered him before he could aim it at them. The familiar cracks of red showed on his face.
“Oh, my God!” she said, then thought, Why would he do that, knowing it wouldn’t help our cause at all? Surely he knew they’d just kill him and use more repression on the rest of us. Then again…why would Karen and Tory have made their assassination attempts? Surely they knew it would have done them no good, either. Of course, they went mad with grief over the loss of their son, so they couldn’t think rationally. I guess Pat and Valerie were going crazy, too; maybe they lost loved ones to Bolshivarian splitting. We’ve all been losing it over the past few years, anyway.
The video abruptly ended amid the confusion and Pat’s body beginning to tear up. She saw a split second of exposed brain before it ended.
Her phone began to ring. It was Peter.
“Hello?” she said.
“Did you watch the video?”
“Yes,” she said. “Horrible.”
“You know what George is going to do, now, right?” he asked.
“I don’t even wanna think about it.”
“Well, we’ll have to. We’re going to have to lie low for at least a while, and keep away from the carriers as best we can. Imitate them if we meet any of them. Practice doing those stupid smiles before the mirror.”
“What about Valerie?”
“Probably controlled by the Bolshivarians by now.”
“I wanna contact her to be sure,” Michelle said. “Who knows? Maybe she got away from them in time.”
“Possible, but not probable. Contacting her will be risky.”
“I know, but I still wanna be sure. We need all the friends we can get.”
“I agree, but we’ll have to be super careful. These are dangerous times we’re living in.”
That evening, Peter was in Michelle’s home, in the living room. They were watching CNN.
President Price was giving another press conference. Her secretary of state, that tall, black man, Hammond, who’d taken a walk over to the White House to talk with her so urgently, could be seen standing in the background.
“Over the past year, I’ve been giving some thought to the policies of our governments and corporations, both domestic and international,” she began. “This reevaluation has been provoked by what…happened…last year. We made great strides in overcoming so many of the ill effects of climate change–ending the wildfires, lowering sea levels, removing pollution in the air and oceans…”
“You liar,” Peter said. “The Bolshivarians did all that with technology we’re not even close to having. You’re still taking credit for their…”
“C’mon, Peter,” Michelle said. “Let’s listen.”
“Still, we’ve done our share of destructive things, too,” Price said, with what sounded like effort and strain. “The bombs we dropped on those three cities, a necessary sacrifice to draw out the aliens from their hiding places so we could exterminate them, nonetheless caused terrible destruction and loss of life.” That effort and strain in her voice was growing, yet it was only a physical problem, for she still spoke without feeling.
“Wow,” he said. “A frank admission of guilt from her.”
“And eerily lacking emotion,” Michelle said. “Or sincerity, I’m sure.”
“To atone for what our governments and corporations are responsible for, we’ve decided to make some radical. sweeping changes in our domestic and foreign policies,” Price said.
“‘Radical and sweeping’,” Peter whispered. “Her favourite words again.”
“The wealth…of the heads of corporate governments…will be taken and shared…with the poor of the world,” Price said. She coughed and seemed to be gagging.
“Whoa!” Michelle said.
“That’s a Bolshivarian policy,” Peter said. “Not hers.”
He noticed that Hammond was squirming, too.
“This money will fund social programs and education, will provide and guarantee employment for all, as well as universal housing and healthcare for everyone, including the poorest,” the president said amid more coughs and gagging. “All military operations in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia will end…immediately.” She twitched a few times, as did Hammond. “All troops…are to come home…with no delay.”
Peter and Michelle watched and listened with their jaws practically touching the living room carpet.
“This is too good to be true,” she said.
“Exactly,” he said. “They aren’t making these decisions of their own accord. We know who’s really doing it.”
“The mechanical way Price is talking and looking at everyone proves it,” Michelle said. “Her expression is even more forced, more robot-like, than my mom’s was when she’d first become a carrier.”
“What we’re doing …is,” Price went on, wincing as if in extreme pain, “for…the greater…good…unh!“
“Madame President, are you alright?” a reporter asked.
Hammond was squirming even more, and he began fidgeting in pain, too. A confused noise of voices among the reporters was the only comment on his and Price’s behaviour.
After several more seconds of squirming and wincing, both of them let out screams of pain. The familiar red crack lines could be seen on their faces and hands.
“I knew it,” Peter said.
“So, when Bolshivarians take control of your mind, this is what happens when you try to regain control of yourself?” Michelle asked.
“Looks that way,” Peter said. “Masochistic agony.”
Hammond confirmed Michelle’s suspicions when he grunted, “Give me…liberty…or give me…DEATH!!!”
His and Price’s bodies both split into pieces, tearing their clothes and revealing their internal organs.
“I never thought I’d see the day when the president’s guts would be shown on TV,” Peter said.
“Or the brains…since JFK’s assassination, at least,” Michelle said.
The bodies exploded seconds later.
“The TV isn’t cutting to a commercial,” she said.
“There no longer seems to be any concern over censoring anything,” he said. “No secrets need to be kept from the public, it seems.”
Peter and Michelle looked at the faces of the reporters. No shock was seen on any of them.
“The reporters don’t seem to prefer liberty over life, do they?” he said.
“No,” she said. “We know whose side they’re on.”
“Look, I’m glad Price and Hammond are gone,” he said, “But I’m not so glad about what’s replacing them.”
“If the Bolshivarians can get at the president,” she said. “They can get at anyone.”
“We’re gonna have to be extra careful if we want to keep control of our brains,” he said.
The next day, Michelle contacted Valerie on Facebook, asking about what had happened to her since Pat’s assassination of Karol Sargent. This was Valerie’s reply in a personal message:
Don’t worry, I’m OK. I managed to get out of China immediately after the killings. I got back home by burying my feelings and pretending to be one of those automatons. It was really hard to hide my grief over the Bolshivarians’ murder of my husband, but once I got back to the privacy of my Milwaukee home, I lay on my bed and cried for what seemed hours.
We should meet. I can fly over to Toronto or Mississauga. I hate having to pretend to be one of those soulless carriers all the time. If I’m with you, I can relax, be myself, and cry on your shoulders over what happened in China.
Michelle let Peter read Valerie’s message.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked him. “Judging by what she said, does she seem to be still all human? She doesn’t seem compromised to me. Do you think this message could be pretence?”
“Well, I guess she’s being sincere,” he said. “I certainly want to believe she’s sincere. We need some real human company around here, and the only way we can get it is by taking a risk or two. We can have some cans of bug spray handy, just in case.”
“OK, I’ll tell her we can meet, say, in your home,” she said. “As soon as she’s in Toronto District, we’ll have a driver at the airport take her home.”
“The driver could be a carrier. He could turn her into one of them.”
“Anyone out there during her trip could be a carrier, turning her into one of them. She could be a carrier right now, for all we know. If we really want to meet with her, it’s the chance we’ll have to take.”
“Yeah, OK,” he said. “Let’s hope for the best. Let’s hope that if she isn’t a carrier, that she can fake being one all the way here, and not get changed.”
Michelle replied to Valerie’s message with the plan, to which she agreed.
Three days later, in the afternoon, Peter and Michelle heard his front doorbell ring.
“That must be her,” Michelle said.
They both rushed to get the door.
Valerie stood there with that eerie, soulless grin.
Peter and Michelle grinned back uneasily.
They all stood there stupidly for several seconds.
“May I come in?” Valerie asked, her grin unchanged, with no awkwardness in her expression at her hosts’ odd hesitating.
“Oh, yeah…uh, of course,” Peter said as he and Michelle stepped aside to let Valerie in. “Sorry.”
“What a nice place you have,” Valerie said as she went in and looked around. “So, this is how the rich live.”
Concealing his annoyance at her remark, he said, “I may be bourgeois by birth, Valerie, as is Michelle, but I assure you, that’s not where our sympathies lie. My mom and dad actually used to call me the Friedrich Engels of our family.” He closed the front door.
“I’m sure they did,” Valerie said with that same grin as she approached a chair to sit on in the living room. “I’ve just never seen such a posh place before.” She sat down. “My home with Pat in Milwaukee is nice, but not this nice.”
“Thanks,” Peter said as he and Michelle returned to the living room and sat on the sofa. “After seeing what life is like for so many in Venezuela, Angola, and here, too—in Regent Park, that is—I feel guilty about having this ‘nice’ home.”
“I feel the same way about mine in Mississauga,” Michelle said. “With all the changes the Bolshivarians are making, especially now with President Price and Secretary of State Hammond gone, and with the Washington District government under Bolshivarian control instead of Amazon, we can more quickly provide for all the poor of the world.”
“Yes, those changes will be coming fast now,” Valerie said, still grinning without a trace of personality.
Peter remembered the switchblade he had in one of his jeans’ back pockets, and the small can of bug spray in the other. I don’t want to stab you, Valerie, he thought, but I will if I have to.
“Valerie,” Michelle said. “Would you like to relax? I mean…we can get you something to drink if you like. Some tea?”
“No, thanks. I’m fine,” grinning Valerie said. Are they faking? she wondered.
“You said in your message that you want to relax and be yourself,” Peter said. “Feel free to do so here.”
“I am,” grinning Valerie said, then thought, You’re the ones who aren’t being yourselves.
“You–you’re with friends,” Michelle said. “N-no need to pretend. Let yourself go.”
“Pretend?” Valerie asked, all those teeth still showing.
Desperate to end the tension, and gripping those weapons in his back pockets, Peter stood up and said, “You don’t need to pretend to be one of those Bolshivarian automatons!”
“Peter, easy,” Michelle said with a frown.
“I’m not pretending,” Valerie said as she rose from her chair. “But you have been, haven’t you?” Out of her fingers flew a swarm of those little dots of light.
Peter was quick on the draw with his can of bug spray. It hit the first six or seven of those tiny balls of light, making all of them drop on the carpet. Since Valerie hadn’t been a carrier for long, the lights hadn’t yet integrated with her body, so the bug spray wouldn’t kill her. Peter ran at her with the switchblade ready to stab. Valerie screamed.
“Peter, no!” Michelle yelled.
She looked away and covered her eyes. She didn’t want to see her boyfriend shed blood a second time.
A few seconds after Valerie’s body hit the floor, her blood staining the carpet, Peter and Michelle heard the doorbell ring again. Michelle ran over to answer the door.
“Yes?” she said to a male neighbour after opening the door.
He, too, had that all-too-familiar grin.
“I heard a scream,” he said, looking into the living room, though Michelle’s left shoulder was hiding Valerie’s body and blood from his sight. “Is everything OK?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said, trying her best to imitate that stupid-looking grin without showing any nervousness. Shake on the inside, she thought.
“We’re watching a horror movie on TV,” Peter said as he approached the door, hoping his body would help obscure not only the bloody body, but also the living room TV that hadn’t been turned on at any time that day.
The next day, Peter and Michelle were flipping through the channels on the TV in her living room, finding all the grinning they saw on everyone’s face increasingly disturbing. They stopped changing channels at the CBC, on which a reporter was interviewing the Prime Minister.
“Everything is going smoothly,” Prime Minister Lévesque said with that grin that, now, was never not seen on any face. “There are hardly any cases of rising sea levels or wildfires anymore. We’re well on our way to wiping out poverty in every inch of the City-States of Canada. Places like Regent Park, in Toronto, for example, are on virtually the same economic level as the rest of the Toronto District, or any other district in Canada, the UCSA, or anywhere else in the world.”
“That’s wonderful news, Prime Minister,” the reporter talking to him said…with that same grin.
“This is getting to be too much!” Peter said to Michelle, then turned off her TV in frustration, and tossed the remote on a chair beside the sofa. “Every politician and public figure we see on the news making statements on current affairs has that ‘pod people’ Bolshivarian face.”
“They really have taken over, globally,” Michelle said. “The heads of every city-state we’ve seen–London, Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Tokyo, Riyadh, Ottawa, San Francisco,…”
“You name the city-state, the politicians and CEOs representing them all have that mindless grin, that far-away look in their eyes,” he said. “This is really getting scary!”
“I’m amazed we were able to pacify that neighbour of yours yesterday,” she said. “We barely escaped Toronto without being spotted as non-carriers. And there’s no way we’re risking going back. And again, I have to ask: why’d you have to kill Valerie? We could have run outside without you using your switchblade on her. I’m also amazed they don’t have Bolshivarian cops tracking us. I guess they’re more interested in turning us into carriers than arresting us for murder, they’re more upset about the loss of their own than of human life, and they know we’ll spray them if they try to apprehend us. Instead, they’ll be more cunning about catching us.”
“Again, I’m sorry about stabbing her. I acted rashly. We’re all going a little crazy here. But as you said, at least we got out of there without being chased. I guess our acting skills have improved. But we can’t stay holed up in your house forever. Is anybody out there still normal?”
“I got that message from Wendy Callaghan, which was just like Valerie’s. She claims she isn’t a carrier, and that she’s all tense and afraid of being absorbed by the Bolshivarians. She said she’d like to come here, all the way from Los Angeles, because life there is so hopelessly taken over, she wants to get as far away from the Bolshivarian carriers there as she can. Do you think we should meet her, or will it be too risky?”
“Everything we do every day is a risk now,” he said. “But I’m desperate for us to find someone else who’s normal. If she is, it will be well worth the risk. The more normal people we can find, the happier I’ll be. I’m going crazy.”
Three days later, Peter and Michelle were in the hallway of a hotel in Toronto, approaching the room Wendy was staying in. They were wearing baseball caps and sunglasses, in the hope that no one would recognize them as the two who killed the woman in his house, where the carriers must have, by now, gone into, looked around, and found her body.
“She must be even more paranoid than we are to prefer a small hotel room to accommodations in your house,” Peter said.
“Yeah,” Michelle said. “For all she knows, we could be carriers, and she’ll have her can of bug spray ready for us.”
“As we have ready for her, in case she’s been made a carrier since our last communication with her. So we’ll have to guard our feelings and only let our real selves out bit by bit.”
“She’ll probably be doing the same thing.” Michelle, with a feeling of dread, rang the doorbell to Wendy’s room. “Have your dumb smile ready.” They took off their hats and sunglasses.
Wendy opened the door.
She was grinning from ear to ear.
Peter and Michelle mirrored her grin back, hoping she was putting on as much of an act as they were.
“Come on in,” she said, stepping aside for them. “It’s good to see you both again.”
Peter and Michelle entered.
“What a small room,” she said as she and Peter approached Wendy’s bed. “In my home, I could have offered you a much bigger one, and for free.” She and Peter sat on the bed.
“Oh, that’s OK,” Wendy said, sitting on a chair across from the bed. “I don’t want to impose on you.”
“Oh, it’s no imposition at all,” Michelle said.
“Really, I’m fine here,” Wendy said.
“Well, as you wish,” Michelle said.
There followed a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.
“So,” Peter said, allowing his grin to relax a little. “You said in your message, Wendy, that you were really scared of…all the changes going on around us.”
“Yes,” she said, still fully grinning. “But everything’s OK now.”
“So…we can all relax, then?” Michelle asked, also letting go of her grin ever so slightly.
“Of course,” she said, all of her teeth still showing. “I’m relaxed now.”
“Good,” Peter said slowly, relaxing his grin some more.
There were a few more uncomfortable seconds of silence.
Has she been assimilated, Peter and Michelle wondered, or is she just so paranoid that she can’t let go of the act?
“So, what are your plans?” Michelle asked.
“Oh, I’m just doing what I can to help us all heal the Earth,” she said with that ever-present grin.
“Yes, it’s wonderful, all the progress that has been made,” Michelle said, her cheeks getting sore from all that grinning.
“Yes,” Wendy nodded in agreement. “Bolshivarian influence has stopped the wars, cleaned the pollution away, housed and fed the poor. It’s terrific.”
Peter ventured to lessen his grin a little more. “Is there anything you wish could be done…a little differently?”
“Oh, only that it could all be finished quicker,” Wendy said. “But things are being done fast enough, I guess.”
“And then the Bolshivarians can leave, and we can enjoy our new, healed Earth, right?” Peter asked.
“I suppose,” ever-grinning Wendy said. “Or they can stay with us, if they wish.”
“W-why would they need to stay, if all their work here is done?” he asked.
“Oh, if humans are let go, they might return to their destructive ways,” teeth-baring Wendy said. “And then our efforts will have been all for nothing.”
To Peter and Michelle, her choice of words (“humans,” “they,” “our” referring to the Bolshivarians) seemed to indicate she wasn’t acting.
Still, they didn’t dare take out their bug spray cans unless they saw the dots of light come out from her. Escaping a hotel presumably full of carriers would have been a lot harder than escaping his or Michelle’s house.
Maybe that’s why she wanted to stay in a hotel? To trap Peter and Michelle?
Hence, another moment of uncomfortable silence.
“Oh, Peter, I just remembered,” Michelle said. “There’s something I have to do at the Mississauga Exposé. Damn, I forgot all about it, and it has to be done today. Sorry, Wendy, we have to go now. This is so abrupt.”
“Oh, that’s OK,” she said, always grinning. She got up.
Do I detect a tinge of relief in her eyes? Michelle wondered. Or is that wishful thinking on my part, that she isn’t a carrier, and is acting, as we are?
“Yeah, we’d better go,” Peter said, getting up with Michelle. “Sorry to cut this off so quickly.”
“It was good seeing you again, Wendy,” Michelle said, hugging her by instinct, then regretting the hug as soon as they touched. She could have sent the lights into my body right then, she thought; hugging her was a stupid idea. She felt Wendy’s heart beating as fast as her own. Wendy was also trembling as much as she was. Does this mean she’s faking? I don’t dare ask!
Indeed, no lights came out, though, to their relief.
The women let go, and Peter and Michelle went back to the door. “Bye,” they said to Wendy as they went out into the hall.
“Bye,” Wendy said, keeping her grin on her face until the door closed.
A week later, Peter and Michelle made arrangements to meet with Sid, this time in her house.
“He’s on his way, right from his home in Brantford,” she said. “So, we’re gonna go through with this farce again?”
“Yes, crazy as it sounds,” he said.
“Crazy as it is,” she said. “At the worst, he’ll be a carrier who we’re risking turning us into one of them, or one of us will kill him (I’m not encouraging you, Peter!) and we’ll risk–this time, my neighbours finding out, since we’re meeting him here this time. At best, Sid will be the way Wendy was probably acting: he’ll be one of us, but too scared to show his real self.”
“Or he will let his real self show. As tense as this is going to be, we have to try. I’ll go crazy if I have to live knowing only you and I are normal.”
“And what if he’s one of them, and he makes one of us into a carrier? What if I lose you, Peter?”
“I could lose you to them, too, Michelle. And that terrifies me. But that’s why we’ve gotta try to find allies. What’s going on around the world is like the zombie apocalypse, only it’s the Bolshivarian apocalypse. The more of them there are out there, the more desperate we’ll be to find any of us, ’cause we can’t do this alone.”
She let out a big sigh. “OK, let’s do this.”
Five hours later, the doorbell rang.
They took a deep breath, clutched the bug spray hidden in their jacket pockets, and went to the door.
They opened it to see, predictably, a grinning Sid.
“Hi,” he said. “Long time, no see.”
“Yeah,” they grinned back, much better practiced now.
“Come on in,” Peter said.
They went into the living room and sat down.
“So, Sid,” Peter said through his bared teeth, “how are you coping with all of the changes going on?”
“Coping?” Sid said with a tinge of disbelief in his eyes. “What’s there to cope with? The improvements being made around the world are nothing short of miraculous. Schools and hospitals are being built all over Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Decent-quality housing is replacing all the slums, including those in Regent Park, as you both must know. The unemployed are being given work. The climate crisis is practically over. What’s there to complain about?”
“Oh, of course we know about all the improvements being made around the world,” Michelle said. “We’re more than happy about all that. It’s just…well…”
“Well, what?” Sid asked, his smile beginning to fade.
“We don’t…feel as free…as we used to,” Peter said.
“Don’t feel free?” Sid said. “What could be more liberating than the changes we’ve recently seen? No more war. No more poverty. No more wildfires, flooding, or pollution. The people want these changes. Don’t you?”
“Of course we do,” Michelle said.
“But at what cost?” Peter asked.
“What cost?” Sid asked. There was an uneasy pause. “Has your loyalty shifted?”
Peter and Michelle couldn’t answer.
“You in your nice palace of a home?” Sid added.
There was another uncomfortable pause.
Then the dots of light flew out of Sid’s fingers.
Peter and Michelle pulled out their bug spray, but they then heard some familiar voices in their minds.
Michelle? Siobhan’s voice called to her.
“Mom?” she said.
Peter, what are you doing? his mother’s voice said.
What George is doing is for the best, Peter could hear his father saying in his thoughts.
“You’re not real,” Peter said, aiming his little spray can right at the dots of light. “You’re a Bolshivarian hallucination.”
Sweetie, you don’t wanna spray me, do you? Siobhan’s voice almost sobbed in Michelle’s mind’s ear. The Bolshivarians are what are allowing my consciousness to continue existing. They are what is still giving me life. If you spray and kill them, I’ll die a second time, and I’ll never come back. Don’t do it, sweetie!
“Mama,” Michelle answered in a sobbing voice.
“The voices aren’t real, Michelle,” Peter said.
“Oh, yes they are,” Sid said.
“Mom?” she wept.
“Don’t listen, Michelle,” Peter said. “It’s a trick.”
“If you spray them, you’ll regret it, Peter,” Sid said.
We don’t want to take you by force, Don’s voice said to Michelle, but we will if we have to, honey.
“Daddy, you won’t hurt us, will you?” she sobbed.
“Of course they will,” Peter said. “They’re not our parents.”
“Shut up, Peter!” she bawled.
“Fine,” he said. “Speak, can, for me!” He sprayed at the lights.
Michelle! the voices of Siobhan and Don said, fading out into oblivion as the little dots lost their light and dropped on the carpet.
“Nooooooo!” Michelle screamed.
Peter grabbed her by the hand, sprayed Sid in the eyes, getting a grunt from him, and the two ran out of the house.
Peter and Michelle ran down the sidewalk, almost reaching a corner when he saw a few people farther off, with their backs to them. He stopped running and tried to calm down.
“Bastard!” she hissed, hitting him on the shoulder.
“Stop!” he whispered. “They’ll see us fighting.”
She wiped the tears off her cheeks, gave him a brief scowl, then calmed down and imitated his grin.
As they continued slowly walking down the street, she whispered, “The carriers are all around your home, Sid is controlling my home. We’re homeless now, you know.”
“Don’t remind me,” he said through his grin.
As Peter and Michelle continued walking out of the neighbourhood and towards a park filled with people, including kids in a playground, they kept those stupid, mindless grins on their faces. It didn’t matter how sore their faces were…they had no choice.
Remember, they both thought as they walked along, as far as everyone else is concerned, we’re more than happy about all the progress being made to heal the Earth.
All they could do was cling to the microscopic hope that they’d sooner or later meet with non-carriers.
Their hopes kept getting frustrated with every person they passed by on the sidewalk. All the people they saw, with that uniform grin, might as well have been identical clones. Everyone appeared to be the same.
A man or a woman would be walking in their direction, and while they were far enough away from the approaching person, Peter and Michelle would think, Please, please let this person be normal!
Then, once they got close enough, the man or woman would bare his or her teeth and say, “Hi!” like a conformist, compliant robot.
Granted, Peter and Michelle were doing the exact same thing.
Could any of those approaching them have been doing the same, fake grinning act, too?
The sun was going down. They’d passed the park, and were now in an area of the neighbourhood with far fewer people.
Still, they were getting desperate to find somebody who was normal, perhaps someone who had a house nearby where they could stay and be safe.
They were getting tired from all that walking. They were hungry, too. The moon and stars were out.
They walked by a small restaurant with no customers at any of the tables. The owner, wearing an apron and presumably the cook, seemed to be the only one inside. They went in.
“What can I get you?” he asked with that all-too-familiar grin. “I was about to close, so you’re lucky to be my last customers.” He turned the sign on the door from OPEN to CLOSED, then he locked the door.
“This could work to our advantage,” Peter whispered in her ear. “We could spray and kill him, then take control of this place, and eat all we like.”
“Not for too long,” she whispered back. “And I don’t like you killing any more people.”
“It’s better than nothing. And I’ll kill only if I have to.”
The owner approached their table. “So, what will it be?” he asked, grinning and with his pad and pencil ready to write down their orders.
They looked at the menus laid out on the table.
“I’ll have a burger and fries, an orange juice, and a coffee, double-double,” Peter said, handing him the menu.
“I’ll have the same, but with a ginger ale instead of juice,” she said, then gave him the menu.
“Are you the only one here?” Peter asked him.
“Yes,” the owner said as he wrote down their orders. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, just curious,” Peter said. “You seem lonely in here.”
“Oh, I’m fine. I’ll go cook your burgers.” He walked off to the kitchen area.
As he was cooking, he could look out from the kitchen and onto the dining area, where he could clearly see them talking at their table. Peter and Michelle were letting their guard down, and he could see them expressing themselves in a most non-Bolshivarian way.
He finished cooking their orders and served them, but as they ate, he kept his eyes on them. Still, they were behaving in a conspicuously non-carrier way, showing emotions other than, in their opinion, that fake contentment that was supposed to be the norm. Peter was tactlessly expressing his usual annoyance with the world, and Michelle had a look of worry on her face.
When they finished their meal and went up to pay, the owner looked in their eyes.
“Did you enjoy your meal?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Peter said. “It was great.”
“So, you’re content?” he asked, meaning something more than just the service.
“Sure,” Michelle said. “Of course.”
“You seem a little less sure than that,” he said, always grinning.
“What are you getting at?” Peter asked, frowning.
“This,” he said, sending out the little lights from his fingers.
“You fucker!” Peter shouted, then found a steak knife on a nearby table.
Michelle had her can of bug spray already out. She sprayed the lights, dropping them to the wooden floor with the sound of bouncing marbles. The owner stepped back.
“No, Peter!” she said as he approached the owner with the knife. “You don’t need to–“
Peter slashed at him with the knife, slitting his throat. His blood sprayed out everywhere.
“Oh, Jesus, Peter,” she said, wincing at the sight of the owner staggering and coughing blood.
A few passers-by looked in the window and saw the blood, then saw the owner fall to the floor.
Michelle looked out at them. “Oh, shit!” she yelled. “Peter!”
He looked out. “Oh, fuck me! C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
They ran into the back and hid in the darkness of a storage room. They could hear a shaking of the locked front door, then a banging on it. Peter looked over to the back door.
“We can’t stay here long,” he said.
Peter and Michelle, having heard the breaking of the glass on the front door to the restaurant, shuffled over to the back door leading out to an alley. They heard the shuffling of feet entering the restaurant; the footsteps grew louder as they, presumably carriers, were approaching the back.
“They’re gonna find us in here soon enough,” Peter whispered, then listened at the door. “I hear nothing out there. Let’s sneak out before they turn on the light in here.” They went out the door.
In the alley, they hid between stacks of crates and garbage bags to the right of that door. They heard it open, a pause of silence, then closing the door.
“What do we do now?” Michelle asked.
“We don’t wanna go in the direction of that door,” he whispered in her ear. “Any of them could be out there waiting for us. We should go in the opposite direction.”
“One of us should go first,” she whispered in his ear. “Then, if the coast is clear, we’ll go out together.”
“OK, I’ll go.”
“Stop being so gallant. I’m smaller than you, so I should go. I can hide more easily than you.”
“OK, but don’t take long. I don’t like you going out there alone.”
“I’ll be super-fast. Don’t worry.” She kissed him on the lips, then went.
Shaking with worry, he peeked past the crates and garbage bags to see what was out there, but it was mostly darkness.
Thirty seconds of agonizing waiting passed.
I thought you were going to be super-fast, Michelle, he thought.
It was so silent, he could hear his nervous breath and pounding heart.
Finally, she came back.
He got up from his crouching position to see her better. “So?” he whispered. “Can we go? Is it OK?”
“Yes, it’s OK,” she said with a wide grin on her face. “Everything is just fine.”
For the first time in their relationship of so many years, he did not like the look of her face.
“C’mon, Michelle. Don’t joke around. We don’t have to–“
“Join us, Peter.” She was still grinning. “It’s for the best.”
“Oh, no!” His heart sank with his lower jaw. “Please, God, no! Not you, too, Michelle.” He was choking up. In his approaching despair, he slouched to the ground, losing almost all his energy.
“Peter, just accept the new way. The Bolshivarians’ work is almost done. Just a few more months, and all the vestiges of our old, sick world will be annihilated.”
“With our souls,” He began weeping.
“No, Peter! As soon as the Bolshivarians are finished, they’ll free us and leave the Earth. I promise you.”
He just kept crying. “I love you.” He held the can of bug spray in his hands, but couldn’t bear to use it on her, for fear of even hurting her with it.
“I love you, too. And everything will be OK. Trust us. The souls of our parents are telling me, right now in my head, that all will be well.”
He looked at her and frowned. “Didn’t you tell me during our meal in there, that when I sprayed the lights coming from Sid’s hands, that our parents’ souls were destroyed, never to come back? That only the Bolshivarians could keep their souls alive?”
“That was a white lie they told me, I must confess.”
Peter took a deep breath and scowled at her.
“I’m saying this to you Bolshivarians, not to Michelle, who I know is still in there somewhere. You are all liars, like the ruling class here on Earth. You’re no better than they are.”
“The ruling class here is almost all obliterated. We had to lie about your parents. It was a desperate attempt to stop you from killing more Bolshivarians.” The lights were coming out of her fingers and were hovering before him.
“I remember when we lost our fear of these things.”
“I don’t fear them now, Peter.”
“They’ve taken your will, Michelle; but I know, deep down, you’re still in there, and I don’t wanna lose you.”
“You won’t lose me, Peter. They’ve reaffirmed my faith in them. Don’t be afraid.”
Peter, let them in, the voice of his father said in his head.
We’ll all be together again, his mother’s voice said.
As Don and I are with Michelle, Siobhan’s voice said.
“I can’t bear to lose you,” Peter said in sobs.
“You haven’t, and you won’t,” Michelle said, still with that grin that told him those words weren’t her own.
“Well, being a Bolshivarian slave with you is better than not having you at all.” He stretched out his arms to receive the lights in his body. “I guess this is my suicide.”
“Oh, nonsense,” she said with a laugh as the lights went inside him.
Split me up, he thought as he felt their vibrations throughout his body. Tear my body into pieces, as you did my parents. I don’t wanna live anymore. But they didn’t split him up.
Instead, he had the awkward feeling of feeling his body move—he stood up—but not by his own command. The Bolshivarians already had total control over him. His mind felt totally cut off.
His consciousness felt as though confined in a small, dark jail cell, with only a small window to look out of. He could see what his body was doing, but was helpless to do anything about it.
My God, he thought. This is worse than death. Why couldn’t they just split me up?
He tried to resist, as he’d seen Price and Hammond do on the TV. He felt an excruciating headache that forced him to stop long before any red cracks could be seen on him, or the bruising pains of stretched skin could be felt.
“Peter,” Michelle said. “Stop fighting it. Just let go. Accept it, and be content with the rest of us.”
He let go of the mental tension he felt.
He allowed a smile to appear on his face.
A month had gone by. That look of stupid contentment on Peter’s face was still in stark opposition to how he felt inside. Yet still, if he even thought in opposition to the new way–critical thoughts, rebellious thoughts, conspiratorial thoughts–he would feel a sharp migraine that seemed to split his head open. He didn’t understand how Price and Hammond were able to endure such a painful death for the sake of ‘liberty.’
To feel comfortable, he had to repress his honest feelings and go about with that mindless grin…not something he was wont to do. He had to let the Bolshivarians control his body, to let them move it wherever and whenever they wanted to. He could only move his body on his own power if these movements didn’t contradict the Bolshivarian will. He could only speak without the migraines if his words didn’t contradict their will.
And his only consolation was that he had Michelle at his side…in body, if not in spirit.
He could feel the Bolshivarians trying to merge with his human consciousness, something he tried to resist with all his might. Being too aggressive about it, of course, brought about that migraine; but he’d be damned if he’d just allow those lights to merge with his brain without the slightest opposition. Instead, he found a middle way, erecting a kind of gentle, but firm, psychic wall that didn’t push the lights away, but at least kept them from coming inside.
They would eventually come inside and merge with him, he knew he couldn’t stop that…but at least he could slow it down.
Michelle, in contrast, felt fully reconciled with the will of the Bolshivarians. Her consciousness was completely merged with theirs, and she now understood why her mother had had that—what seemed at the time to her—inane grin: Siobhan wasn’t an unthinking, compliant automaton; she was genuinely happy. The Bolshivarian victory was just about complete, and the Earth was set to be a happy place to live.
Peter, of course, was still too proud to accept the new way.
“Years back, I complained about viruses, vaccines, and mask mandates,” he said one evening when they were back in his living room. Both of them were standing by his TV. “Those were days of carefree happiness compared to now. Unh!” His splitting headache came back.
“Be content,” she said. “We have our homes back, and we’re sharing the extra rooms with some of the poor, as we should be. The Bolshivarians’ work will be all finished any day now, and they will leave. Then we’ll have our heads back.”
“I’m not…holding my breath…for that. Oh!“
“Let’s turn on the news,” she said, walking over to his TV and getting the remote that lay beside it. “Maybe George will have a new speech.”
“Oh, yes,” Peter said, rubbing his head. “Our beloved dictator. Oww!“ He felt the Bolshivarians making him go with Michelle to the sofa and sit down.
She turned the channel to CNN. “If you’d just stop thinking ill of them, the pain would go away. Stop being so proud.”
“I can’t help it. It’s in my nature…to rebel. Oh!“
“George asked no less than four times to step down as leader,” she said. “They won’t let him resign because they love him so much. He’s a great leader.”
“You believe that bullshit, eh? Ooh!“
“Here we go. He’s about to give us a speech.”
“Friends, comrades,” George began. “The time has finally come. Our work has finished. Your Earth is healed, democratic systems of government have been established around the world, and the gulf between the rich and the poor is no more.”
“Wonderful,” she said with a wider than usual grin.
“Hooray,” Peter grunted. “I can feel the…democracy…swimming in my head. Unh!“
“You are free!” George shouted to cheers from his listeners.
Free? Peter wondered, with another stinging pain in his head. I keep asking myself: could there have been some justification in Price’s opposition to the Bolshivarians?
“The time has come for us Bolshivarians to say goodbye to you Earthlings,” George went on. “So this is the end.”
They’re going to kill us, Peter thought, his head throbbing in pain. I knew it. They’ve fixed up the Earth. They don’t need us anymore. They’ll split us all up into pieces, scatter our body parts everywhere, and they’ll enjoy our Earth without the need of human flesh for clothing. We’re all dead. Actually, I welcome it. I no longer want to live in this hell.
“We Bolshivarians wish to apologize to all the better Earthlings for having occupied your bodies for so long,” George said. “We know many of you have been bitterly opposed to our use of mind control, but with all the deaths we Bolshivarians have suffered, we were given no choice. The saving of the Earth was growing far too urgent for us to allow a protracted struggle with the likes of President Price. A shortened and aggravated struggle was necessary. But now, we will release you. We will let you go.”
Good, Peter thought. Kill us all and get it over with.Tear our bodies to pieces.
Oddly, though, he didn’t feel a headache after those thoughts.
His body slouched suddenly after realizing that it was no longer being held up, all rigid, by the Bolshivarians. At first, he was spastic in his effort to regain a control over his body that had become, over the past month, rusty.
“Wait…what?” he said, his first unmonitored words, freely and confidently expressed without pain, in a long time.
His consciousness felt released from that dark jail cell of the mind. The light beamed at him not from a tiny mental cell window, but from all around him in the room.
He and Michelle saw the little dots of light emerging from their bodies. They floated out and hovered before astonished Peter and Michelle.
“I knew it,” she said with a tear rolling down her cheek. “The mind control would only be temporary.” A grin lit up her face that, to Peter, looked genuine. She didn’t have his spastic reaction to having regained full control over her body, because she’d fully accepted Bolshivarian control over it.
“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I’ve got my brains back.” Now he was grinning…sincerely.
On the TV, they saw the lights come out of all the people listening to George, and out of his body, too. The lights all floated up to the sky as everyone looked up.
“I’m free,” George said. “I can resign my position. I no longer have the burdens of leadership.” He let out a loud, triumphant laugh.
Peter and Michelle felt a gentle ‘farewell’ energy emanating from the Bolshivarian lights as they floated towards the living room windows. They were about to pass through the glass like ghosts and fly outside before Michelle stepped forward.
“Wait!” she said. “What about my mom and dad? I don’t wanna lose them!”
You will never lose us, Siobhan said in her mind. We will always be with you.
As will we, Peter, the energy of Ray and Donna vibrated throughout his body.
“But isn’t your energy linked with the Bolshivarians?” Michelle asked. “If they leave Earth, won’t you go with them?”
No, sweetie, Siobhan’s soothing energy buzzed in Michelle’s brain and heart. The Bolshivarians shared their energy and our energy with yours. So we’ll always be together, even after they leave the Earth. There is a common oneness that transcends all space and time, so we’ll always be together, no matter how far away the Bolshivarians are, even to the other side of the universe.
Indeed, Peter and Michelle could feel a kind of ghost-trace of Bolshivarian consciousness blended with theirs. It no longer felt controlling, just…influencing…coexisting.
“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “That could mean that the Bolshivarians are still, secretly, controlling us.”
“Oh, will you stop with your paranoia?” Michelle said. “You have your mind back, don’t you?”
“It seems that way,” he said, looking left and right, and pausing to think about what was going on. “Still, this is all too easy. I mean, they had total control over us, and now they’re just letting us go free? This is too good to be true. I still have my doubts.”
“Umm, Peter, are you having any headaches?” she asked, sneering at him. “Surely your doubts would be giving you a splitting headache right now, wouldn’t they?”
“No,” he said, then took a deep breath. “In fact, I’ve never felt better.”
“Then stop worrying about it.”
“But what if, in some subtle way, the Bolshivarians are still–“
“Oh, please, Peter! They aren’t manipulating us. It’s a kind of…mystical oneness, that’s all.”
“Yeah, I guess. OK.”
The little lights were all outside now.
She rushed to the front door and went outside. Peter followed her. All of his neighbours were out on their lawns, watching the Bolshivarians floating up into the night sky. Soon, it became impossible to distinguish their alien visitors from the stars.
The people of Earth felt one last message sent into their minds: Remember, if you humans return to doing harm to each other and your world, we Bolshivarians will be forced to return and save you from yourselves again. Remember the lengths to which we are willing to go to ensure that salvation, so be good to each other and to your planet.
“How could they tell us that if they’re really so far away from us?” Peter asked.
“Through their advanced technology, of course,” Michelle said.
How does it feel to have a healed world, Michelle? her mother asked her in her mind.
“Like paradise,” she said with teary eyes and a wide grin.
“Yeah,” Peter said with a grin of his own. “It’s great to be free. I guess it was all worth it in the end.”
All of his neighbours were thinking the same way.
Every single person was grinning.