The OFFICERs Bureau (Sterling x Jess Incognito)

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  1. "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

    Ecclesiastes 1:14
    #1 Sterling, Aug 29, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2015
  2. .

    TELEstream Subroutine 2074-12/3087REDACTION --- "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Ecclesiastes 1:14 --- END REDACTION



    #2 Sterling, Aug 29, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2015
  3. image.jpg



    TELEstream Communique 2074-12/346897rdsvb642 <<Debron Telander>>
    #3 Sterling, Aug 29, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2015
  4. A morally bankrupt pontiff once muttered that money was the root of all evil. Such heresy could not be further from the truth.

    As we approach the end of another year, the profits of the people continue to grow abundant, as my chest swells in the pride I feel in serving you. The Directors strive to ensure that the hard-working populace enjoys nothing less than the premium experience you have come to expect. Our society is strong, bound by our mutual accord for a better life than any generation before us could contemplate. Our minds reach into the future to deliver state-of-the-art research and medicine that has wiped out disease, and made malady a distant memory, soon to be forgotten. All these accomplishment are made possible by you, the people, armed with little more than your Free Choice and the will to achieve. We salute you during these most holy of days, may you be blessed in profit.


    Director Abus Wightman
    Black Friday Commencement Speech, 2074
  5. image.jpg

    Nexopolis, New America


    The OFFICER stood alone in a short tower abreast the grain of impossibly busy traffic. Sleek hovercars and blurred levi-trains peeled the air into pressure waves that lashed against the tower's superstructure. Amidst the dizzy kaleidoscope of trajectories, Frank Harper was a man who moved at his own speed. The OFFICER remained unfazed by the jostled shearing, which the immobile tower absorbed in totality. His eyes probed into a TELEtron scanner that rendered his frowning face in a green cast. His eyes narrowed in precision as the subject traversed the third level subterranean corridor. Mr. Holofeld was suspected of criminal verbicide, and had been fleeing for the past three days. He was smart, and knew how to avoid detection. Mr. Holofeld had discarded his armband on the first day, which was what triggered the OFFICERs involvement. TELEstream had been shunned, and took sharp offense.

    The TELEstream watched over all, and fussed like a psychotic mother when one of its brood left the cradle of its civilization. It served as the brain and linked every facet of society, including its citizens and the services they desperately required. Mr.Holofeld had been a construction field operator when he decided, quite spontaneously, to photograph migratory birds. The preliminary attaché mentioned the excessive isolation while operating in the field tower as the cause of his 'personal problems'. His shoes were slated for replacement within the year, and TELEstream offered a discount that week. But, the reclusive man refused, and sought the winged denizens of the natural world. The purchase of his 35mm digital camera was a sign of encouragement, until he simply collected the photographs instead of placing them on the market, per his service agreement. The walls of his apartment were covered with hand-sized photographs placed cheek-to-jowl in an overlapping tapestry of color. The private exhibition caught birds of blue, pink, and tangerine, some with brilliant crests and bills of maroon. Frank thought it looked like a rainbow vomited on the walls. If there was a beauty or order to the visual cacophony, he couldn't find one. But, whatever was haunting the wayward man displayed itself in those photographs. It gave Frank pause to wonder why. What drove men like Mr. Holofeld into souls set upon divergence, souls then pursued by OFFICERs like Frank Harper?

    Frank squinted one last time into the TELEtron scanner. Though without an armband, Mr. Holofeld's bioChip functioned properly. The armband transmitted the chips information to TELEstream, and, in return, Mr. Holofeld was to be a receptacle for information, goods, and services deemed necessary in his best interest. That was the price of utopia and unparalleled peace. Luckily, the bioChip emitted a short wavelength signal that could be detected in pedestrian transit tunnels without the armband. Frank had been following Mr. Holofeld since last night as he trudged through the distracted throng of the masses. In most cases, he slogged against the direction of pedestrian traffic. The irony was not lost on the OFFICER, and the affected by-standers awoke from their commercial bliss to momentarily puzzle where they were. It was as if Holofeld wanted to be captured, and his flight was a bizarre bit of performance aimed at Frank.

    The tunnel Holofeld traveled ended in a mile. Frank planned on being there when the fugitive arrived. The OFFICER climbed down into a parked hovercar, and silently drove in pursuit of his quarry.
    #5 Sterling, Aug 29, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2015
  6. "What is this, Mother?" she stood blocking the door with a slim file folder shaking in hand. Mother was talking to someone, asking whoever clung to the end of the line to please hold on a moment, "You're such a storm, calm down and say hello." Liza stepped heavily into the room without urgency and dropped the file on the short coffee table. It's glass surface rippled in color, emanating from where the file lay, before sinking back into a dull, swirling glow. A purchase her mother had bragged about to all her friends, 'it just brings the whole room to life, doesn't it?'

    The older woman looked at the folder. So intent were her eyes that one would know she had every line of text on the pages within memorized and read them silently through their cover now. Liza had memorized them, too. Her mother leaned forward slowly and placed her mug on the table. Blue fire swirled around it and fizzled into a haze. Mother recovered from the initial shock and sat back into the sofa, her mouth a thin line slashed gravely across her features. "Who gave this to you?"
    "You did."
    "Naturally you can understand why we wouldn't want you to know that you were adopted. It changes things, knowing that." Her voice smoothed over each word and presented only a tone of certain, undoubtable reason.
    "I wasn't adopted. I was abducted." The papers said so in a trivializing, convoluted style, but they said so.
    "We've given you everything." She did not deny the truth and did not stop her daughter from storming out of her house with the silent confession. She had no choice but to return eventually, and so she returned to her phone call.

    Liza Abramson wanted to know who she was. She knew only who she was not. She left town within a week of discovering the file folder, without first returning to her mother's home. The file mentioned Nexopolis and so that's where she went.

    A week passed, or two, she wasn't counting the days and she had found nothing. The file itself wasn't meant to exist in the tangible realm. Why her mother had it, just a few pages from the middle of a contract, and how she had gotten them, she didn't know, but it was the only key she had. Her new apartment was a white box with no furniture save a bed which was built into the wall. She hadn't thought about buying furniture for it. She didn't have time to think about anything except finding what she was looking for. She didn't know quite what she was looking for or what good finding it would do her.

    She walked down her path, ads screaming at her as she went, first about tech and clothes and then about food and water. She did not stop. An urgency mounted in the words crawling through her ears and her pace quickened as if it were possible to pass them up. Her heart beat struggled, pulling painfully on her chest with each contraction. Liza yanked off the armband in a small alley where there were no eyes. The voices stopped immediately, cut off mid sentence. She felt suddenly very alone in the world, though thousands continued on their way behind her. They moved through a different realm, untouchable by her now.

    She looked down at the armband of Liza Abramson, thinking that it did not belong to her and that she did not belong to it. She saw clearly that she was of a different place and that nothing mattered until she found it. Her breathing normalized, her heart beat strongly in her chest.

    Liza looked down at the other end of the alley to the beginning of a very poor part of the city, precisely where she needed to go.
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  7. Vertical Access Shaft 538-CFG swallowed light like a black hole. The cavernous expanse was untraveled by the ordinary citizen, and the 200m diameter maw sat waiting in abyssal hunger. The pit was pure black, without any bearing beacons to convey the shaft's monstrous depth. There was no guardrail around the perimeter, and the depression stewed in a cold, inky darkness pervaded with moisture. Mr. Holofeld stood at the brink, calm and composed. His eyes radiated the accepting calm of a man without restriction or bondage, and he faced the bottom of the shaft as he addressed the OFFICER approaching quietly.

    "I was wondering when you'd arrive, Mr. Harper."

    Frank Harper stepped toward the man with a measured gait. He had trailed Mr. Holofeld for ten minutes and could have overtaken him at any time. But, the OFFICER wanted to see where the errant citizen intended to go, Frank wanted to understand how the mysterious Mr. Holofeld intended to end this theater. Since exiting his vehicle, Frank had been led past shabby encampments of destitute and the indigent, warmed by small fires that burned rough, sooty smoke. He passed acres of walls under the transway, graffitied for what seemed decades with corrective coatings of polymer applied by authorities to hide the signs of free expression. The over-coatings did not quite mask the colorful words and images, and so the multiple layers began to combine into a palimpsest of struggle. It glittered in its uniqueness, catching the slim rays of natural light as a heretic's yuletree. The transit shafts were not well known, but the OFFICER knew them well. They linked the myriad transit lines that criss-cross within the burgeoning, subterranean world of people and machines. Frank also knew the sinister allure they held for those who did not wish to be caught - like Mr. Holofeld.

    "Why are you doing this?" Frank asked.

    "Because I'm free."

    "Free from what?" Frank began to take innocent steps toward the man, hoping to grab him before he plummeted to his death.

    "From your masters. From what you represent ..." Mr. Holofeld stretched his arms outward as if a bird about to leave the nest for the first time. "What do you think happens when we die, OFFICER?"

    Frank stopped his sly progress and pondered. He had, in fact, wondered about that question often, and every inquiry was left wanting. The question was perennially posited among the social elite in their weaker, inebriated moments. Not that the OFFICER had access to such wealth or lifestyle, and only became involved when TELEstream sent him in. The party's host, a Ms. Helen Thados, could hardly walk straight to answer the door when Frank arrived. She couldn't remember discussing the topic, and invited Frank inside for a drink or two. After her guests departed, she invited Frank to spend the night. They fucked until dawn, then more later that morning. Frank had never held a woman like Ms. Thados before. She was full-grown, tall, and confident; she knew what she wanted, and took it. But, in their intimate moments, tender despite their unfamiliarity, Frank caught glimpses of the woman beneath the facade of Helen Thados. It was in her eyes - at times wanting, then desperate, then unbearably sad. The sight nearly deflated the OFFICER, and after their orgasms mingled in unified bliss, Helen clung to him needily. She had forgotten what had brought the OFFICER to her home, and she did not want to know. She seemed grateful to be holding a real person, and her finger grew steely when Frank eventually rose from her bed to leave. He turned to Helen, turned to say something to offset the deficiency that must have been nothing less than soul-crushing. But, when he began to speak, he found her already distracted and shopping. Shoes ... she was shopping for shoes.

    Frank recovered his senses, and engaged Mr. Holofeld. "I'm interested in knowing what you think happens after death, Mr. Holofeld." The question was supposed to be a non-sequitur, but that was his training speaking in his ear. Discussing death as an existential condition was considered impertinent, even among the erudite in academia. Death was a fabled myth, like the false religion of the Heretics, something meant to frighten into commercial action, but ultimately as insubstantial as nightmares themselves. The finality of death can be postponed with the search for improvement and profit, and the price of indulgences would not lie. Or, would they?

    "I think you all are already dead, and need to be resurrected ..."

    Frank glanced down and shuddered in preemptive vertigo. "That's heretical dogma, Mr. Holofeld. Surely, you can do better than that?"

    Mr. Holofeld dropped his arms to his sides, and faced the OFFICER. "I can, Mr. Harper." The man tilted over, straight as a board into the unyielding darkness. Frank scrambled to the shaft edge, and saw a fleeting flap of his pant leg before Mr. Holofeld vanished into the inky abyss. He uttered no cry, and only the unbearable silence of a lost life filled Frank's ears. He sighed heavily to control his pulse and noticed a folded note where Mr. Holofeld had stood. Frank took the note and opened it. A puzzled expression cloaked the OFFICERs face, one that remained during the long, slow walk back to his parked hovercar.
    #7 Sterling, Aug 30, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2015
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  8. Liza did not return to the apartment for two days.

    In that time she walked. Through older parts of the city, forgotten and unkempt. People milled around, hunched and twisted, paying her no attention. They were the workers who performed the jobs she and her class would never need to. Though they were lower than her, dirty and poor, seemingly without means to harm, she feared them for what they were and for the guilt they caused her.

    A thin, long legged woman went from door to door ahead of Liza's path. She felt as if she had been following her, but she didn't intend to. She caught up while the woman spoke to a resident of a multi-unit home. "For your cough, dear. Boil it in water and drink," she spoke gently in low tones while handing over a small bag filled with unrecognizable grounds. Golden hair marked with white strands twisted down her back in a thick braid. The door shut with a quick thank you and the woman turned to continue on her way.

    Liza stepped around the steps and the other met her eye, which was unsettling. Strangers didn't bother with strangers. "Ginger root, better than any of that rubbish they'll sell you," she explained unexpectedly, as if she knew Liza had eavesdropped. Somehow, they fell into step with one another. After a few minutes, she said, "You are lost, I can see that, child." She didn't know if she meant physically or mentally. "We're lost, too," she continued, speaking to the neighborhood, the very buildings, "They take our means of life, our Willpower, our children, but we must remember that one day we will be gone. They will not remember us and so we would do well without Them."

    Liza didn't know what she was talking about, but the woman seemed silently content with her words, knowing them to be true. She grasped only to one thing: our children. Nothing said seemed to be of a concrete nature, but Liza had been taught to think only in the literal sense. "Your children?"
    "Oh yes, the children have the most to lose, the vulnerable souls."

    They were not speaking of the same things. The small hope that flared up in Liza's chest extinguished itself on those words. The woman was senile, she thought decidedly. "I'm sorry, I have to be going," Liza said hurriedly, picking up the pace and crossing the street. The woman said nothing, for she knew not all were ready to hear.

    Liza continued into the depths of the city she didn't know. She stayed out all night, wandering, because she didn't know how to get back to the empty apartment. A store clerk stared at her confused when she stuck out her arm to pay for food and found that she couldn't without the band. She fled the store embarrassed and made sure to be wearing it when she went into another. The voices pounded immediately in her ears. She felt again the urge to stop them and removed the armband.

    She ate her meal alone outside of a pedestrian tunnel. It was a strange place to stop, but her exhausted feet would go no further. The armband sat before her crossed legs on a crumbling cement wall. This part of the city did not glitter or glow at night. No one bothered her, because no one else wanted to be there.

    Liza never thought that the city before her, its buildings and activity, was beautiful. She never thought it grotesque, either. She never thought anything about the place she inhabited at all, though she moved through it every day. She thought about the children and their vulnerable souls. Then there was willpower. She had certainly lost all of hers. She knew, sitting there in the lightening morning, that she had none for anything anymore aside from her singular mission, which she did not know how to start or even how to explain. She wanted for nothing, but needed everything. She didn't know the danger in thinking these things, or even that ironically what she hadn't before was will and that this was merely the discovery of it. Her own original thoughts and the magnitude of having them, were not noticed by her.

    The sun rose, preceded by streaks of pink and gold that reflected off every piece of the metal, shining city and eclipsed all their neon lights. Liza felt the urge to cry, staring at it. Or no, not to cry, but some emotion swelled up beneath her skin that she hadn't felt before because she'd never really looked at the sun rising. The armband, too, sat beautifully in that light, but she forgot it when she rose to leave and did not turn back to retrieve it when she realized she'd left it behind.

    It was midday when she collapsed on the naked mattress, her only possession, clean and clear as the white room that surrounded it like her thoughts.
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  9. <<What are you thinking about, Frank?>>

    The female voice came gentle and demure from the OFFICER’s sleek computer console. The hovercar had been purring in neutral for the past half hour, neither set in park nor proceeding with a purpose. Frank Harper sat in the driver’s seat, and found himself deep in thought over the suicide of Mr. Daren Holofeld. Frank had witnessed suicides before, more spectacular and gruesome than he cared to recall. However, there was something about Mr. Holofeld’s demise that both disturbed and intrigued the OFFICER. It was his calmness – a self-contained, self-possessed quality that removed his actions from others who could be labeled “crackpots,” “lunatics,” or simply “unbalanced.” The interior of the hovercar afforded Frank an environment devoid of noise and distraction, and the isolation gave Frank an opportunity to be unusually reflective. His omnipresent mistress took notice.


    “I’m … thinking about Mr. Holofeld.”

    <<Yes,>> the voice intoned with a perfect pitch of sorrow, <<we’ve lost one of our own, and he will be missed.>>

    “By who?” Frank asked.

    TELEstream returned a pregnant pause. <<By everyone, Frank. You, me, … the entire society. The loss of one is felt by all.>>

    “But, none of us knew him. How can we truly miss someone we don’t even know?”

    <<But, I did know him, Frank.>> The patient voice from the console turned husky, evenly grated with a rasp of seduction that made Frank’s skin crawl with orgasmic speed. <<I knew when he woke, where he went, and how he retired from a hard day’s work operating the field generator. I knew that the lining of his aorta was rupturing, because I fixed it. I knew he liked avocados, caramels with a hint of salt, and dark-skinned girls in white dresses.>>

    Frank pondered in silence, listening to the quiet voice of TELEstream flow into his heart.

    <<I knew Mr. Holofeld, Frank.>>

    “Then why did he jump into that fucking pit?!” Frank’s question came more forcefully than he’d intended, but he continued near rage. “There’s lots of ways for a psycho to end himself. I know … I’ve seen most of them, and they all end the same way. Holofeld could have drunk a martini mixed with strychnine, then head to bed never to wake up. But, he didn’t! He stood at the edge of that goddamn pit and jumped in. Hell, I can’t even stand getting near that thing without my knees buckling. For all I know, he’s probably still falling in total darkness.”

    Frank ran his hand through his hair, collecting the desperation that beaded upon his brow. The death of Mr. Holofeld danced in Frank’s mind like an imaginary phantom. He had not directly witnessed Holofeld suffer or be mutilated; he just fell in complete and utter silence. Almost … blissfully. Then, the man’s words recurred like an errant tide shifting against his being. I think you all are already dead, and need to be resurrected, he had said. The words coalesced in Frank’s mind with the dizzying array of vertigo. He opened the note in his hands. It had been there since he returned, neatly folded, just as he had found it.

    <<What’s that?>> the voice asked.

    “It’s a note left behind by Mr. Holofeld. It’s a line of biblical scripture.”

    <<Can you read it for me?>> The voice was soft and caring, filled with the gentle warmth of a child asking for a bed-time story.

    Frank opened the paper. He found his voice and began to read. “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

    <<Ha …>> the voice released the smallest of laughs, followed by a sigh that was not at all innocent. Frank recognized the sexual tone of the sigh. It was the sound a woman made when being initially penetrated, a simple sound, dense in erotic charge. He knew what TELEstream was doing, and yet allowed her to continue by playing along. <<Heretical drivel. There’s your answer, Frank,>> the voice prompted confidently. TELEstream revealed itself differently to different people. To a young, fatherless woman, TELEstream sounded like an attentive father. To children, newly inducted into the commercial obligations of the society, TELEstream chirped cheerfully in a child’s voice condensed from one hundred thousand samples. To Frank, he heard a motherly voice, a voice of calm order, laced with a seductive edge that bordered on the oedipal. <<I’m proud of you, Frank. There’s nothing you could have done to save Mr. Holofeld’s life, and you shouldn’t blame yourself for his tragic decision.>>

    The OFFICER folded the note and stored the paper in a shirt pocket. He shifted the hovercar into motion, and veered through the tunnels with a pretermitted hum. <<Frank, there’s another problem I need you to look into this evening. Another lost soul, she needs your help.>> Frank had hoped to turn in early that evening, but perhaps chasing another fugitive would take his mind off of Mr. Holofeld. He plotted his current location, and the voice of TELEstream lept to assist. <<Turn right here … the armband is right underneath a bridge ten miles north.>>

    “Subject’s name?” Frank asked.

    <<Eliza Abramson.>>
    #9 Sterling, Aug 31, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2015
  10. Liza fell quickly into a fitful sleep. The sun followed its path dutifully across the sky, shadows twisting over her form until the room darkened and the windows grew black. Despite the chill of evening, sweat peaked out from every pore, not dribbling down but gathering and sitting on her skin. Some hours in she took her shoes off. They lay on the bed, laces tied. Her jacket wrapped around one arm, the other free to the air.

    She ran from dark and ill-defined terrors through the harsh landscape of the city. Buildings slashed up at odd angles, like angry brush strokes on canvas, waiting to pierce whatever beasts circled above. Voices screamed behind her as she went down alleyway and tunnel. A thousand people followed at her heels, their cries incoherent. A tall brick wall stood in her way reaching to each side of the alley and crouching over her as if it wanted to crush her body. There lay no choices in the crumbling mortar so she turned her back and faced the thousands. Her eyes didn't work, there stood no one, but the voices pounded into her like something real and harmful. They needled into her skin and pounded her flesh.

    The brick admitted her then, allowed her body to fit into the crumbling spaces. The dream did not make sense, but her body shivered and sweat. She fell beyond the wall into nothingness. Into her white, empty room, where no voices called her name, deceptively sweet as they were.

    The floor rose up to meet Liza's body and wrapped her in a cold embrace before flattening out again. The jacket constricted her stomach while the other end trapped her hand. She wiped a smattering of drool from her chin and pulled the crusts from her eyes.

    She flung an arm back over the scratchy mattress to pull herself to her feet. Across from her hung a window, emerging with white trim from the white wall. Beyond that a very poor view of factories and their exhaust towers pumping smoke into the sky. She thought she might leave, but didn't know where to go to at such a time.

    One excitement rose to mind. Liza crossed the room to the window and flung open the pane. Her movement was a whim, her immediate wish. The hinges creaked when she pushed on it, as if it had never been opened. A breeze swooped in, leaving goose pimples on her bare arms. She loved that. She loved the wind. Despite her nightmare and the headache growing in her skull, she was decidedly happy.

    Had she ever said that before and meant with it what she did now?

    She waited contentedly, head out the window, for dawn and the sunrise. Having discovered it the morning before and knowing how many in her life she had missed, she never wanted to miss another. Her quest shifted in that moment, vaguely and indescribably, but it did.
  11. The armband of Eliza Abramson was found discarded upon a pile of neglected rubble populated with stray sprigs of long grass. It was not difficult to locate, even in the dead of night. Aside from TELEstream's pin-point accuracy, a tiny, red light pulsed like a beacon that sliced through the chilly night. The electronics still functioned properly, and the fact the device had power meant that Eliza had removed the device from her body not long ago. Armbands ran on sympathetic bio-currents, using the natural electric migrations in the body for power, and without a host, the armband would have died in a matter of hours. Frank pressed the ends together, so that the nano-zipper ends fused before his eyes to create a fabric cylinder. The void within the cylinder had contained the upper arm of Eliza Abramson, and judging the gauge of the hole, Frank painted a general description of Eliza's size and frame. All of Eliza's information was already on-hand from the dashboard console where his portion of TELEstream lived. He knew her dimensions, her face, her hair color, hygiene, and personal history. Yet, there was something irreplaceable about touching an actual article from a subject. It spoke volumes TELEstream could not. Where the band was discarded, how, and in what condition - all these questions filled in the open holes in his understanding.

    Frank returned to the hovercar and removed a crisp datachip from the armband. He held it up in the pale light of his Bureau Cruiser, studying it for clues. Frank carefully slipped the chip into a thin slot, which gently accepted the chip with a delicate click-click. After mere seconds, green text lines of transaction purchases flashed upward on the console screen. "Busy girl," Frank quipped quietly.

    <<Her cooperation appears to end a few days ago, and her meager purchases plot a path among the dregs in the lower levels.>>

    "What's her last habitation purchase?" Frank knew that TELEstream had located the apartment the moment the chip entered the reader. The AI could have directed him to the apartment with a tyrannical directness. But, that was not how the game worked. Bureau OFFICERS ostensibly enjoyed freedom from the pervasive and incessant hegemony of commercial consumption. They were citizen who had been "unplugged," either by themselves or by others, and were no longer considered part of the body politic of TELEstream and the Directors. They functioned as emissaries for the Government TM and investigated bumps in the infinite smoothness of unperturbed consumerism. Frank was an OFFICER, whose sole purpose was to sheppard citizens into willing participation in the mechanics of a society within which they were a vital cog. The means were never, could never, be coercive. A tenuous magic was cultivated from urging people to submit tendencies of self-distraction to be engrossed in societal distraction. Frank found that people wanted to be happily led to better places; distraction was both a means and an ultimate end. The same dynamic applied to OFFICERs, but in place of distraction, OFFICERs of the Bureau had to be cultivated for loyalty. Disengaged from the mindfuck of buying without end, a rogue OFFICER could be TELEstream's worst nightmare. Gifting the illusion of control was a small price to pay.

    <<Yes, Frank. It says she's currently renting an apartment in the Myerman Block ... Level 25, unit 654.>>

    "I'm going to catch her in the morning. I have to sleep."

    <<Of course.>>

    Frank drove to the local Bureau quarters, and parked his Cruiser in the sleek garage. The lights dimmed when Frank exited the vehicle, TELEstream was always considerate that way when Frank was tired. No other OFFICERS were at this particular outpost, which brought a degree of satisfaction to the reclusive man. He quickly found a bed, hung his coat, and laid down on top of the covers. The light dimmed to black and a faint, woman's voice whispered.

    <<Good night, Frank.>>
  12. In the early morning Liza found herself once again on the pathways through the city. Occasionally along her way she smiled without reason. A thought popped into her head and she smiled at it. No one noticed in passing. They were very busy. No one spoke to her, something that had not changed in the few days she had been gone, but she hadn't seen it before. Not even TELEscreen bothered her. Bother wasn't the word she would have used two days ago.

    Following some predetermined path plotted by her own feet, Liza found herself at the foot of the third tallest building in the city. The tallest was TELEscreen and the second tallest she did not know the name or function of. This was Holcombe's, Holly's for short, a grand corporation that began in department store wares and clothing. She believed it was the conglomeration of a few large businesses from the 21st century, but didn't know which. She had bought a great many things from Holly's in the past, but she had never been to the actual store. Prompted by this thought, the girl pushed through the revolving glass door, tall enough for giants, into the conditioned space. The floor stretched out from beneath her feet, waxed to a glistening finish, flattened out in a white room. A single desk curled out from a tall partition wall that did not quite meet the ceiling, floor, or walls. Above the desk, fifteen feet, stood the tall black letters, cut into the pristine white Holcombe's Department Corporation. There was no receptionist.

    Liza didn't realize she didn't exist in the space. Literally, yes, but as far as the building concerned, she was a non-entity. Nothing drew her into the space or made her want to explore the floors above. The stairs, white also, massed into the walls and she may not have even seen them had it not been for the harsh shadow cast by the lights above. As she turned to leave, suddenly, none of this was true.

    Curtains of light lowered on the walls, ethereal projections streaming from a line of lenses set in the ceiling. They displayed images of girls in pretty skirts and chefs dicing tomatoes with the sharpest knives, of couples sharing the king of king sized beds. All manner of things wrapped around her in an instant. Behind her sounded the chirping voices of two women. They paid no mind to the tall, living walls, and seemed to know where they were going straight up the stairs and beyond.

    Liza glanced around when they had gone. The room died again and became white. She felt somewhat ridiculous, looking around for someone or something who had shared in her bizarre experience. There was no one and no thing, save the empty desk.

    Upstairs consisted of another white floor and another on the next and the next, with nothing but the black letters 1ST FLOOR and 2ND and 3RD. The building grew infinitely upwards. It was the third tallest in the city, she recalled. Every third floor was a parking garage, which she skipped, but on the seventh floor she stopped. The two women chirped at the far end of the room. Around them was a box of holographic light, perfectly contained. She watched them. They didn't seem to notice her, otherwise she would have looked away.

    The women didn't look at one another when they spoke. She wasn't certain they were even in the same conversation, but every once in awhile their comments and responses lined up. As they moved through the room, one box disappeared and a new one opened. Liza stood in the nothing. She moved closer, still unnoticed, and studied the holograms. The women were able to pick the things up and roll them around in their hands if they chose, but generally they simply picked them up and put them down. Liza reached for a shining skillet and found that her hands merely pushed through the air.

    She laughed. A strange, cracking laughter in the wide empty room. The women noticed her then and sneered, but scuttled off to some other floor, boxes lighting up as they went without a word to her. Had Liza come at a busier time on a weekend, the whole room may have been activated, but today in the early morning there were no shoppers.

    "None of this is real," she said to herself and to the empty room with satisfaction of the knowledge. The objects would be bought at the single thought of the shopper and an exact copy would be sent to their home within the day. No one stocked shelves anymore. Liza had never noticed. She thought surely someone would notice if they were told, but she remembered the stores she had been in like this and knew the reality went only as far as the boxes. She felt and touched and experienced as much information as TELEscreen could want her to know.

    Liza left Holly's skyscraper of white boxes and tried another store, and another after that. They were all the same or very similar. Thoughts flashed by in her mind. What is real? What is a lie? What have we been doing this whole time? What am I? She felt very tired, not realizing it was from hunger, dehydration, heat and stress. She knew only that she wanted to go back to the apartment and sleep. So she walked there, her feet knowing more about the way than her head.
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  13. The OFFICER stood outside the Myerman Block wearing the cold sweat of morning's mist. In his hand, he held Eliza's armband. The power had since faded, and the once blinking red light had gone dead like a fallen sentinel. TELEstream had informed Frank that Eliza's apartment door had been accessed earlier that morning. Frank wasn't worried. In fact, the news brought him confidence he was closer to catching the woman and addressing the issue of her commercial "truancy" to TELEstream's satisfaction. Her wage account indicated a month-long rental period for the apartment unit, which meant that unless she had forge a payment tracker or was homeless, she would eventually return to the Myerman Block. There were no punishments for leaving the bosom of TELEstream, such measures would be coercive and plant the seed of dissent in the hallowed soil of their Free Choice. Frank needed to simply remind wayward souls, like Eliza Abramson, of the benefits of the society and learn the cause of her deviance. Knowledge of motivations for truancy was vital in an OFFICER's judgement, and the OFFICER would make every attempt to persuade the citizen to return to TELEstream's fold. If the citizen remained defiant or intransigent, the OFFICER could render the citizen "insolvent" and face "alternate consequences" if they could not be persuaded to return.

    Alternate Consequences was a euphemism for a quiet death, and was reserved for only the extreme cases. A death meant a loss in profit, however fractional. Life was valued as a resource, and contingent happiness and health were the benefits. It was a symbiotic relationship that fabricated the superstructure of society. One had to be mentally ill in wanting to leave.

    The stairwell felt cool and bleak as Frank ascended to the twenty-fifth floor. The first floor of the block sat below the street level, which meant that Frank entered the block on the fourteenth floor. The interior of the apartment block hung with a dingy character, one infused with neglect and moderate depression. All the surfaces were made of concrete without crack or spall. The structure retained a solid quality, but one designed for those of lower performance. Such unskilled persons deserved access to stable, safe housing and medical treatment, but their relative potential for consumption was matched with the investment in their surroundings. It only made economic sense; invest in accordance with the likely return on that investment.

    The dim natural light that filtered into the hallway failed to cast a shadow, only a diffused grayness in the OFFICER's wake. Frank walked with his tired gait, and produced a hand-sized rectangle from somewhere inside his coat. He found Unit 654 and waved the device in front of the door. It glowed a bright, lime-green and the apartment door unlocked and slid swiftly upward. Frank returned the device to its home inside his jacket and entered the living space. Frank's veteran eyes scanned the quarters of Eliza Abramson, which offer no surfeit of clues. The room was completely empty, save for a single bed with ruffled sheets and a reclining, metal chair.

    Frank Harper stood frozen in mental paralysis at the absence of data afforded him. OFFICERs executed their duties by being trained manipulators - masters of perception - observing a subject's home environment for hints of their preferences and inner life. The aggression of their intellectual rigor mirrored the philosophers of old who, when asked to define love, retorted such a deliberation was impossible without the parameters of a question. A subject and their possessions constituted an assemblage, an aggregate portrait, of a psychology akin to the ultimate question: what makes a person tick? The collage of bird photographs supposedly inferred a sense of what made Mr. Holofeld tick, but the nature of that reality still eluded the OFFICER. The dwelling of Eliza Abramson offered even fewer clues. However, Frank had the advantage of surprise and containment. He sat upon the metal chair, pretending a comfort that did not come and never would. Frank's eyes roved with restless intent over the blank, concrete walls. With so little to analyze, his eyes were drawn to the window and the scene of industry within its frame.


    So much activity, so much purpose. Yet, such industry and energy became enervated when juxtaposed against the barreness of Eliza's quarters. Her room nullified the purpose Frank could only assume was evidently plain. A quiet, unsettled pang lined Frank's stomach. It was a realization his mind fought to dis-create, and his hands gripped the armrests of his chair as a sheer panic flooded his being. The room, as a microcosm in its stark emptiness, echoed the terrifying and sublime void of Vertical Access Shaft 538-CFG — the bottomless abyss into which Mr. Holofeld cast himself. Frank scanned about, but found no help, no anchor points of being within that terrible place. He sat isolated, omnipresent, and singular. Just like Mr. Holofeld in his field operation cabin. The emptiness did not induced diversion, but a radical clarity. Frank watched the churning industry through that window once more, now aware of the window frame in its power of disengagement.

    He understood then; to be without purpose - the ultimate heresy.

    Frank sat back, shocked at the bliss he felt. He'd spend those next hours contemplating that room, in all its wondrous nothingness.
  14. Liza opened the door to her apartment and turned to shut the door. She had started thinking on the long walk home about the armband. No regret filled her mind for having left it, but there were problems for her without and she was unprepared to solve them. She thought she might go back to that neighborhood. Maybe that woman would be there. She'd been giving things away. One of those people that gave things away to the poor. Liza with her mother used to shake her head at those people. All of a sudden, she was the one in need and she had thrown out every way she knew of getting help.

    Her eyes fixed on the unfamiliar patch of color in the room. A dark shadow perched on the chair. Any exhaustion fled her muscles then with a slight shock of panic and adrenaline. She suppressed the feeling, decided consciously to be calm in the face of this stranger, but her heart beat on. Liza pulled a dark hair from her face and raised her chin, "Are you lost?" It was a terribly stupid thing to say. "I wasn't expecting anyone." She had nothing in need of repair, she had made her payment for the month in full, she knew what the landlord looked like and this wasn't him. So she couldn't figure it out, this dark shadow in her chair.

    She could have fired off questions about how he got into her apartment, but that seemed a moot point. He was here. His face was calm, strangely smooth and relaxed, but he looked strange in her empty room. She waited with a steely glare, lips drawn tight, for him to answer.
  15. "Are you lost?"

    What a simple question. And, given the ruminations that swirled in Frank Harper's mind, the question was apropos. Am I lost? Frank asked himself, at first quizzically, then again in no uncertain terms. Eliza Abramson stood in the middle of the room, her body in silhouette against the window and darkening sky. What features Frank could perceive fit the descriptions in her profile. TELEstream would be pleased he had found Eliza. Finding a "truant" in a city of ten million was the easy part, now was the time when Frank delved into her mind and spouted his best rhetoric to persuade the young woman to return once more to the society. She was pretty, and Frank hoped he could succeed. End her life after the suicide of Mr. Holofeld might have pulled Frank into permanent holiday.

    "I'm supposed to ask you the same question, Eliza Abramson."

    Frank sat forward, elbows on knees. He reached in and produced the translucent rectangle from his jacket. The Prompter glowed yellow this time, and the apartments lighting sprang to life, filling the room with a dull, white light. Liza observed the stranger, not as a shadow, but as a middle-aged man. He wore a drab-colored TechJacket that come halfway down his thigh. His hands and face were strongly muscular, but his jowls hung flaccid from years of inadequate and broken sleep. The man radiated a weariness that in the cloak of dark could be misinterpreted as calm. His fingers stroked at the rounded ends of the metal armrests from boredom, and his deep eyes locked onto Liza's.

    "But, I think the pertinent question is: what does it mean to be found? Care to venture a guess, Ms. Abramson?"
  16. Her words hung on the air, her body waiting in silence for his response. He knew her name. This was not a mistake. His words came to her in sinister tones. She had not realized how dark the room had gotten until the man turned on a light. Liza stared at him, as if a curtain had been lifted. He was only a man. No one she may have concerned herself with before. He was, in fact, quite common, normal, and not at all unearthly.

    Liza stood still, her muscles taut. Her heart beat on steadily - each pump heavy, but clear. The skin at the corner of her eye began twitching once every few minutes, unnoticeably minute convulsions.

    "Do you think you could get lost in an apartment like this?" She found herself speaking without thinking. It was funny, though, hilarious to her, as if he had come here to make jokes. She did not let these thoughts show and her voice was more that of a smart adolescent, bordering on mockery. Liza didn't know where a feeling like that sprang from. The plain, white walls certainly offered no inspiration for wit, but simply having expressed the first that came to mind empowered her and calmed her heart. The implication in her words was true. She had never felt the world so clearly, had never known more than she did now. She was found and it was her secret. The novelty of her own thoughts was special to her and she did not know she shared them with others.

    Since entering the apartment, Liza hadn't budged an inch, but she moved now to break eye contact without also surrendering. Mechanically and as if on some secret, ingrained cue, she stepped in front of the window and looked out on the hovering darkness. The last ray of sunshine streaked across the sky in a haze the color of peaches.

    "No, I'm not lost," Liza finally said. "Who are you?" she turned, restoring the invisible bond between her eyes and his. There was nothing else to hide her gaze in. The blank room gave her no other choice than to look at him for all that he was, erect in the metal chair. She thought this was another reason she liked the emptiness. He had nothing to hide behind and neither did she.
  17. "My name is Frank Harper, and I've come as a friend."

    Such was the rote line the OFFICER delivered on an almost daily basis. Was he really their friend? Was he protecting them? If so, what was he protecting them from? Mr. Holofeld evaded his protection most blissfully when the truant fell into that damned shaft. Was he protecting them from insanity and self-destructive drives? That was what TELEstream maintained when Frank returned to his hovercar despondent over a suicide or impending eradication. OFFICERs were trained to be above that degree of self-examination and scrutiny. But, like each and every citizen, OFFICERs were afforded the messy chaos of Free Choice. It was the societal religion, cultivated and honored in hallowed decrees and tender mercies. It was the faith of the people, and Frank was beginning to question that faith.

    Eliza stood before Frank, ranting snippets of idiocy in fits of self-invested authority. The OFFICER had heard it before from the mouths of other truants, but his stomach clenched in a horrid tightness. The woman's bearing and utterances fled from her in lines of flight, in non-predetermined disregard. Her mind had already disengaged from the Free Choice of her consumer destiny, he could see it in her eyes. Eliza Abramson had taken possession of her Free Choice and done the unthinkable — she owned it, no longer willing or able to share that wondrous gift with her fellow citizens. To break the sacred bond between person and armband was a misdemeanor in the eyes of TELEstream, earning the moniker of "truant"; hoarding one's Free Choice outside the realm of consumption, however, was considered criminally anti-social and equivalent to heresy.

    Frank's task was to determine the depth of Eliza's heresy and try to convince her to repent. "It seems," Frank began, "you've dropped something very dear to you ... to all of us."

    The OFFICER held Liza's armband. It looked enclosed and hollow, useless and woefully pitiful. The device showed no signs of life, having long ago expired the minimal energy it gleaned from Eliza'a body currents. It hung in the OFFICER's hand, being freely offered to the woman. Not accepting it was unthinkable to most people, and Frank's presence was required with those people who tried to resist. His eyes laid upon Eliza pleadingly, not to accept it for her own benefit, but for his. The thought of removing this woman from society raked his heart with malefic claws, and would paint Frank Harper as the execrable monster he pretended he was not.

    "May I ... return this back to you, Eliza?"
    #17 Sterling, Sep 9, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2015
  18. Liza's eyes flashed with a familiar agitation at the sight of the armband. Three days ago it had been an object, a piece of clothing she couldn't function without. Today, it reminded her of many things of which she did not wish to be reminded.

    She stepped forward, eyes frozen on the dead piece of tech. Though repulsed by the thought of it - a strange and rapid escalation of her thoughts since abandoning the thing - she hated more the idea of someone else having it. Who she had been seemed to lie in its very makeup. That thought was not far from the truth in terms of TELEscreen's definition of a person. This Frank Harper who sat before her had no right to its possession. Liza took it slowly from his fingers without letting her skin touch his.

    "You're not my friend," she said coldly, as if he could have been before this unforgivable transgression. The urge to throw the thing from the window bubbled up in the muscles of her arm, in her fingertips. An intense, intrinsic urge waiting to be acted upon. By now, however, she realized it wasn't in her best interest to throw away society before his eyes. Liza had taken a step back from him, standing in the middle of the room with a dim shadow hanging to her heels. She felt the ring with her fingers and turned it around in her hand. She did not put it on.

    "Why should you care to bring this back to me?" she asked, carefully choosing her words, "Anyone else wouldn't have looked twice at it." They wouldn't have looked because finding an armband away from its owner simply didn't happen often enough for concern. It would have looked like a piece of trash. She knew and he knew, that it had anyway been left in a place away from eyes, though she wouldn't remind him that she remembered quite well where she left it.
  19. Frank could hear the edge in Liza's voice.

    "Now, now ..." the OFFICER gently chided. "I'm not simply anyone else. I'm known as an OFFICER of the Bureau, and I represent TELEstream. Consider me ... a doctor of societal health, intervening as needed to correct problems and help citizen back to the guiding light of our civilization." Frank's eyes lingered on the red-colored armband in Liza's hand. "We'd like you to return your armband where it belongs. Then, you can help us, and we can help you." Frank could feel the war waging within her, though he could not divine the factions of her struggle. It was Frank's ardent hope that Liza was internally debating the merits of placing the armband back on her upper arm. However, the bitter anger that laced her voice implied otherwise. Frank thought Liza was on the brink of wholesale repudiation of TELEstream, which only led to a tragic consequence.

    Frank found himself engulfed in his own internal debate. Was he prepared to exact the final judgement upon Eliza Abramson? Was not participating in the great society truly a justification for genocide? Over the last twenty years, Frank has eradicated over one hundred individuals, and that figure does not account for the incalculable suicides. The deaths, the deaths. The echoes in his mind returned his memory to the plunge of Mr. Holofeld down that horrid abyss. Though his death occurred only the day before, a cancerous distain still ate away at the OFFICER's ego and composure. A crumbling plagued the veteran OFFICER, one that threatened the ideals to which he clung, however tenuously. But then, those ideals were part of the game, were they not? The seductive voice of TELEstream whispered into Frank's ear, becoming an arousing zephyr of comfort and belonging, always invoking the painful longing he felt for his mother. TELEstream manipulated Frank the same way Frank was trying to manipulate Eliza. And, although Frank did not wear an armband like Eliza, he did wear other badges of submission. His OFFICERs TechJacket, his hovercar, his Prompter —these were ostensibly tools, just as the armband was a tracker of the person's health, but represented much more.

    Then, Frank did something he had never done before. He began to relax. Frank stood, and slowly removed his jacket, hanging it over the back of the metal chair. He pushed his hands into his bent face, running them back over his disheveled, flax-colored hair. An audible sigh came unbidden.

    "Tell me, Eliza, why did you remove your armband in the first place?"
  20. He represented TELEstream, which represented the voices in all their heads, the nothingness. She thought, Maybe if I put it on for now, he'll leave, and then I can disappear. She didn't want to play nice, however. A childlike defiance in her wanted TELEstream and its OFFICERs to know just how she felt about their damn armbands. She continued turning it in her fingers. The door stood at her back. The room put nothing between her and escape, but still she felt she could not go. This meeting would be a loose end; It had to be finished.

    He knew she wouldn't run, or maybe he didn't, but he stood and removed his jacket as if he were prepared to stay awhile. He sighed and his body sunk in with the sound while Liza remained straight and tense. She watched his eyes, dark pools in a tired face, and let her gaze drift slowly, his question swirling around in her head.

    She had taken it off because it was irritating and distracting, but that wasn't the answer to his question. It didn't matter and represented the nothing, but that wasn't the answer either. The armband held in it a picture of her that she had felt was incorrect.

    Her gaze stopped on a dim corner of the room. The sky darkened completely outside the window and the only light came from the OFFICERs Prompter. The corner looked old and gray, stained in that strange, artificial light. Liza reached into her coat pocket without looking, feeling with her fingertips for the folded sheets of paper she forgot he had. She extended them out to the OFFICER to take and open himself.

    "I took it off because it's not mine and because nothing I got with it is mine," she said, her tone quiet and gentle now, just above a whisper. The papers were those from Mrs. Abramson's file, the ones which authorized the abduction of a child and her renaming. The majority of the document was missing. The page before would have told her name. Her first one. Mrs. Abramson had wanted to forget that part of it.
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