Walking to work before dawn, I fail to see an obese Leader before I accidentally step into his path and slightly bump his arm. I immediately step aside, stand at attention, and say “Excuse me, sir.” He staggers back, dramatically wiping his coat sleeve as if I had thrown excrement. I fear trouble because he stinks of gin.
The Leader shouts, “Help! Protector! I have been attacked by a Liberal! Help!” Within seconds, a Protector emerges from its nearby booth, and says “Sir, this Liberal did not attack you. Four cameras show he accidentally bumped into you, committing a misdemeanor. I will place a warning in his file.”
“Goddamn machine! Your duty is to protect me, not him! I order you to search this commie bastard.” As the Protector starts searching me, I see the Leader throw a small envelope onto the pavement. “Hey! Protector! Look what our little commie dropped.” The Protector summons two others that immediately escort me to City Court.
In court, the judge appears to be a reasonable old man, approximately 40. However, his eyes are those of a Leader, cold and arrogant. After convicting me for using marijuana and sentencing me to two months hard labor, he asks, “Liberal, do you consider your punishment fair?” I respond, “Yes, your honor, I must say the sentence is fair.” Indeed I must! Had I dared object, he would have at least doubled my sentence. I think I can survive two months, but not four or more.
The judge types data into his computer and says, “Report to the Leaders at City Corrections within one hour. I have sent your video, your DNA, and your conviction to all Protectors.” To indicate dismissal and disgust, he waves the back of his hand at me. A Protector points to the exit.
Outside, I walk to City Corrections. White churches line the road, sunlight sparkles their gold and silver trim. Ignoring the churches and focusing on the magnificent trees, I manage to enjoy the fine weather despite everything. I am tempted to run, but I know that escape is impossible because there are too many Protectors, and they are too efficient. I walk a little slower to enjoy the moment; I will not see these trees again for two months. Maybe never.
This my first time inside City Corrections. Its bleak building frightens me. I try to forget that my father died here 11 years ago; my brother, five. Had they been worked to death? Starved? Murdered? Mother and I will never know. Leaders inform Liberal families of felon deaths, but provide no details. Leaders expect Liberals to stay in their place, obey all Leaders, work hard, remain quiet, and ask no questions.
The Leaders assigned me to a solitary cell in the Electric-Power department. Each City-Corrections facility contributes power to the Corporation’s regional grid. Each cell contains a machine with multiple generators that capture power from a felon’s leg and arm motions. I am required to work eighteen hours each day. This is difficult, but I am young and strong. I am probably generating enough power, but I might be tiring and slowing.
After six weeks, a Leader enters my cell escorted by two Protectors. He shouts, “Get out of that machine!” I scramble out as quickly as possible and stand at attention. He continues, “Your output has decreased too much. I am transferring you to the infirmary.” As he starts to leave, I plead, “Sir? Please, sir, I’ve had only a slight cold. I’m sure I can now work harder. My sentence ends in two weeks.” He turns toward me and snarls, “How dare you speak to me? You’ve had your chance and failed. Your sentence is now eternal. If you have any relatives, they will receive your death notice.”
The Protectors take me to the infirmary. It contains a large room filled with more than one hundred generating machines similar to the those in the cells. Most are occupied. Each man has been strapped into a machine and connected to multiple tubes and wires that hang from the ceiling. All appear to be sleeping despite working hard. The wires obviously provide electronic muscle stimulation.
While the Protectors carefully and gently install intravenous sockets into my arms. I ask one, “How long do these sockets last?” It explains, “They are permanent. The Corporation manufactured these sockets according to your DNA. They are equivalent to your natural cartilage.”
“How will I be able to sleep?”
“Mercifully, the drugs will help you sleep almost continuously. We do our best. The Leaders are happy as long you produce enough power for the Corporation. Though you awaken occasionally, we make sure you feel no pain.”
The Protectors strap me into my machine, connect my tubes and wires, and then start moving my arms and legs electronically. I am generating power. I feel no pain but I am starting to feel drowsy. I ask, “How long will I be in this machine?” A Protector says, “Sadly, until you die.”
“How long will I live?”
“After installation, the average life expectancy is 43 years; the record is 76.”
“Please! Kill me now!”
“Not allowed. If I kill you, the Leaders will dismantle me.”
As I become very sleepy, I notice that the old man in the next machine is awakening. He looks at me. I recognize him. “Oh! Father!”