BOOM! An explosion. The last thing I knew. My ear rings, and a thick dust fog blurs my vision, rendering it unable to see through the varying shades of black and gray.
“Cough! Cough!” The dust fog settles. A huge hole is carved in the ceiling, and through it, I find myself staring at the clouds, flat on my back. And as strange as the sudden happening of unprecedented events, I seem to have lost command of my arms and legs, fingers and toes – they are all numb. They won’t listen and they won’t move. And my heart seems to thump louder and faster than my inner voice.
Rust, the familiar scent is in my nose, and that foul bitter taste that is in my lips, and on my entire body, scattered all over – everywhere it reeks. Could it be?
“blood…” softly, I mutter.
I can’t even look at my lower half. Rather, I’m afraid to confirm with my own eyes the mystery that is there.
Thump, thump! My heart races louder, faster, and harder. This can’t be? I need to calm down. Dimming… my eyes are... Stay awake and calm down, damn it! Don’t give up. Remember the sequence. Powers of two, let’s focus.
2, 4, 8… hang in there, focus. Breathe in.
16, 32, 64… it’s getting dark. Be calm and breathe out.
128, 256… arrghhh! Stay awake, damn it!
512… darkness, resist!
1024… don’t close! Don’t panic!
Two, zero… four… eigh…
[Initiating reformat… Please wait]
The lights turn off all of the sudden. Now I can no longer see, yet I’m still fully self-aware. And that sound and that weak flash of light, did someone turn the TV on? Hmm… Above, it says 2:00 PM. That flat digital wall clock in red LED segmented display, it’s been a while since Michelle gave that to me.
What’s with my eyes? What’s with the analog film filter? A recording? Ms. Rogers? A power-dot on the board? This is my classroom, isn’t? As far as I know, this is recent. It’s social studies time, my turn to teach the kids.
She walks in front of the board and flicks the projector’s red switch on. On screen, a dim power-dot slide containing the words ‘Pacifican Border Dispute’ in big bold letters spiral in.
Oh yes, I assigned her to do a presentation today. I’m excited. Rather, who wouldn’t be thrilled to see their brightest pupil present in class? I’d like to see how much she has developed in the past few months I had her in my class.
But weird, I appear to be conscious and in control, but in an analogue filter? A dream or a prank? It can’t be – this is too damn real to be a fake. I must be seeing things. I’ll probably see my eye doctor after class.
“Sir!” she calls.
“Woah!” Immediately, I wipe the dust off my eyes, clearing up my vision a little.
“Hahahaha!” the students laugh. Did I fall asleep? That must be it.
“You kids! You’ll grow old too, and busy with lots of stuff to do. Just wait for your turn!” I contemptuously cast my sight towards the naughtiest kid in the class, quelling the laughter.
“Errmm! Ms. Rogers, go on. Continue your presentation.”
“Good morning, huh!” The kids laugh at her silly mistake. Smack! I palm my head. Darling, it’s the afternoon if the clock isn’t big enough for you to see. What are you smoking? Man, I feel a little disappointed.
“No! Good afternoon, Mr. King and fellow students. Today, we present to you some of the most significant events in current history.” Clutching her clicker, she advances the power-dot slideshow. The projector now in its full intensity shows a familiar picture of a well-known and controversial figure of our time, probably my most loathed politician – just seeing the image is enough to make my skin crawl and my stomach churn.
“Here we have Trent Galapagus, the president. He went yesterday to Anas, the capital of the Federation of the Midland States, to negotiate with them Pacifica’s ocean border claim. He bravely faced the Federation leader to make a compromise of joint ownership of the border, thus Pacifican fishermen can now return to the sea to resume their livelihood.” Flash, she advances the slideshow, revealing a map outlining the Pacifican ocean border in high resolution. Good, let's ask her a question.
“Facts, figures, whatever, so what? What's my young debater’s stance on the matter?” Ms. Rogers stiffens. I have the feeling she’s unprepared. And she’s supposed to represent her class in the upcoming interuniversity debate championships? Oh brother!
“Sir, good thing… I have it prepared.” She apologetically scratches the back of her head.
Narrowing my eyes, I focus my crystalized frustration at her with my advanced imaginary laser cyclovision, blood ruby edition, which is available, tax free, fat free, and gluten free, only for the sum of $199.99 from your nearest imaginary Gadget Queen store. And in an instant, a hit! She melts on the spot under fire of the ginormous thick crimson imaginary laser, beet red.
Following the glare of laser beams, I stand, jesting, saluting Sieg Heil. “Heil, Galapagus!”
“Heeil… d… the Republic!” trembling, she instinctively returns the salute in a weak and shaky voice, blushing.
“Not always prepared, are we?” Laughter ensues as her face reddens, still holding the salute, albeit shakily. She puts the arm down and quickly snatches with it her notes from the table and uses them to cover her face.
As the laughter dies, she puts the notes down and speaks, “No, Sir, my mistake. I am always prepared.” A hand to the waist and a fist to her chest, she confidently puffs her impoverished breast, which only manages to make the kids laugh louder than before. I’ve had enough. She must’ve been bluffing or… wait.
“You! Ahmm… Sir… Well, the important event, it’s the fishermen. At least they can now return to the sea without worries. The president did well in the negotiations.”
“What a shallow reason, lacking of substance, I disagree. Remember, class, what our president did is unacceptable. Not only does he supresses free speech, except for my defiant class of course, he also acknowledges the Federation’s invasion. It’s unforgivable! He’s giving up our sovereignt– wait. OUUH!”
I grab my head and pull on my hairs.
Damn, it hurts… Ugh! I’m being pulled, stretched like hand-pulled noodles in an oriental noodle shop, turned, twisted with much force back and forth and folded over a hundredfold side to side, over and over again, draining, spiralling in the middle of a dark purple void. Arrrghhh! My vision, all pixilated and WHITE? Mad, I’ll break!
[Reformat in progress, 30 percent complete… Please wait.]
“You’ve got mail!” the pain passes. I now face a CRT monitor which displays my outbook email client, alerting me of a new email. This isn’t my computer, is it? Again, that noise and this analogue filter, damn, it hurts my eyes. The content of the message says;
“We are watching you.
“You shouldn’t have written for the Pacifican Times.
“Your defense of alchemy is suspicious.
“We suspect you're connected with the alchemists, the enemy of the people.
“We know you're one of them.
“Just a friendly advice, we are not your enemies but friends of the republic!
“But if you keep on talking and writing about us, we’ll eventually spray lead in your fat, fat brain, all for the greater good of the people and the republic.
“Heil, Trent! Heil, Galapagus! Heil, the Republic!
“Your deeply patriotic friends,
No, not another one of these love letters! My admirers, for months, I’ve been getting from them these emails. One of my friends from the department of national security and intelligence services says, these loove threats mean nothing. But I’ve received dozens! Seriously, I’m starting to worry.
At the bottom left corner of the screen, I look at the time and notice that there's a work document minimized on the dashbar. It reads, ‘The Truth on National Security’.
I might have seen this one before, but curiosity, I maximized the window.
“Treason, President Galapagus accused Hon. Gustav unjustly, Friday.
“The president justified the accusation by saying over and over again to the media ‘Top intelligence says he is involved in Alchemy. I will have him arrested!’ But when asked for a copy of the intelligence report, he said ‘It’s a matter of national security. I cannot give you that.’
“On several occasions, the president made arrests of his other political opponents, citing national security as a reason not to reveal the true cause.
“However, reasonable individuals who have seen the documents personally such as our very own representative, Hon. Oswald, debunked the claim, saying that the matters were not of interest to national security.
“If the president is not acting out of his vested personal interest, why does he seem intent in hiding the information required by the media? Could he be hiding skeletons in his closet?”
I remember now, but there’s something missing. Let me type that– OUUGH!
My head splits! My eyes… they melt, boiling in a pot of steamy yellowish soup, scooped out and tossed in a bowl, which speedily accelerates, stirs and churns in an elliptical motion under an immeasurable force of inertia, dragging and pushing me forth, readied to be served. Not again!
[Reformat in progress, 60 percent complete… Please wait.]
“Mr. King? Are you alright? It looks as if you've seen a ghost.” Warmth, someone’s got my arm. Red nails, a golden Turnex brand watch, that big nose and that long curly brown hair. I remember her. She must be Dr. Allison, PhD social sciences, Pacifican University.
“I’m okay, I’m okay.” As I turn around, I see a multitude of people seated, darkly and densely peppering the auditorium, and blindingly glittering in different spots as they take pictures with their camera equipped intelliphones. There could be about a thousand or more on the ground and on the balcony, all wild, looking excited, and there too are my kids, compressed at one corner, occupying all the seats with some who are standing up due to scarcity of seats.
Thump, thump! My heart beats as loud as a drum, overcoming the noise that the rowdy people make while chattering in their seats. I'm not speaking in front of this huge audience, am I?
Dr. Alison taps my shoulder lightly, smiling kindly as usual with a thrilled look in her face – her eyes and bright white teeth glitter. “Look, everyone’s waiting, even the kids. They’re happy for you. It’s almost your turn. Aren’t you excited?” Nervous, rather, my heart springs out of my chest and catapults several leagues away.
I am reminded of a conference that I’m supposed to speak in opposition of Trent Galapagus. It’s about the truth with the current presidency. Dear me, am I going senile?
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, I introduce our next speaker, Dr. Nicholas King. He is an expert in history and social sciences, and is known as a staunch critic of the current administration. Here he is!”
I grab a bottle of water and drink a mouthful. My hands and my weak knees shake uncontrollably to the nerve wracking introduction. I don’t remember being that good nor do I remember making any preparations for this event.
Inhale. Exhale. Here I go!
Stepping on the podium, I grab the microphone, firmly as if crushing fruit. “Thank you very much for the warm welcome. It’s been a while since I spoke in this institution. I never thought I’d be invited back to speak on controversial topics such as the one we’re about to discuss.
"I knew it! University of the Pacific is filled with reasonable people who are open to hear about the hard truths... unlike some other institutions.” The audience giggles.
“Well you know very well that as the censors tighten their grip on the public, I’m glad how the University of the Pacific resists the calls to silence views, speeches, that oppose the mainstream narrative. I’m honored to speak in an institution that protects the freedom of speech, one of the most important values that makes our modern society the greatest that the world has seen.
“So tonight, I will share with you stories that even the cowardly and conniving masterminds in the mainstream media and the current administration don’t want you to hear.
"First, let’s talk about alchemy. This dangerous art destroys countless number of minds and lives, but victimizes none but the doer. Undoubtedly, the sharp rise in the number of people involved makes it a serious social issue, but not to all, thus the issue on their treatment should be open for public discussion, debates, and criticisms.
"I know that our President Trent, the Trent Galapagus, have good intentions in resolving the problem, but the method he uses is obscene and objectionable as they violate human rights and human dignity. Like what we know, the road to hell is always and almost paved with good intentions. We cannot let him get away without objection, thus we speak out!” The ground I’m standing on shakes as the hall drowns in applause. Cheered on by the crowd, my nerves calm down, and my chest and my face warm up as if intoxicated with alcohol, encouraged and empowered.
So with the little oil of encouragement I receive, I continue turning the gears in my head, churning out a plethora of words and a little bit of nonsense. "Just take a look at these graphs. How many people were killed by the police and the vigilantes? Isn’t this alarming? We don’t even know if these people really are alchemists or criminals. And should they be alchemists, aren’t they victims? Shouldn’t we be helping them instead of punishing them? Have we not learned yet about prohibition, of how bans and war on such practices don’t work? Sadly, I’m aware the president knows also, but he’s using this as an excuse to demand for more power, more tyranny. Thus it concerns the public more. People, we must SPEAK OUT!
"And to go further and prove this claim to those who are skeptical still, I’ll let the evidence speak for its…"
RIIIINNNGGGG! The fire alarms ring, loudly, and simultaneously throughout the auditorium. At this point, people should already be shouting, panicking, and running in all directions, but not my audience. They remain steadfast in their seats, still eager to listen to my little propaganda.
"SABOTAGE! NOT AGAIN, FOLKS!”
Men of blue gear and shiny golden badges force their entrance in the auditorium, parting the crowd. The man in the middle, their boss, brandishes his red and white megaphone and yells on it, ordering the crowd “People! This way to the exit! It’s an emergency.” A pity, not even the stray cat that infiltrated its way to the event and finds itself home under the care of my students stands and heeds the command. Only but deafening silence responds to the officer on the megaphone.
He continues, “Have you gone mad? This is suicide! Hurry! Just stand up and go!” Glued to their seats, the audience respond with blank stares at the poor officer. Some even records the event using their intelliphone’s camera, showing very little interest in taking the warning seriously.
“Uhm… officer, I wouldn’t waste my breath if I were you. I assure you, these people are safe with me.” The people giggle softly.
Yup, there were times people who were desperate to stop me from speaking sabotage my conferences by pulling fire alarms. These people, if not supporters of the president could be considered my fans. Their attendance record is near perfect. What a nuisance to have them, really.
BZZTT! Loud static and a harsh metallic, nasal, and almost incomprehensible voice emanates from the officer's radio. “False alarm! Perpetrators were rounded. Over!”
The officer immediately grabs the radio and replies “Copy!” He retreats with his squad and apologizes to everyone in the hall by yelling rudely on his megaphone. A commotion, the crowd chatters wildly like dots of pepper shaken inside a glass jar.
“Alright people, calm down. Back at me. I know, you know, and I know that they know. As I told you, there are people who do not want you to hear my message. My silence is gold. Since they can’t win with arguments, they pull fire alarms. You know, same incident just happened last week. By the frequency, I’ll call these trolls my number one fans." Giggles fill the auditorium.
“And I’d just like you to know, the trolls, the phantoms, they call themselves, they regularly send me death threats by email! They want me silenced. It’s not okay for them, but it’s not illegal yet for me to speak, so let’s continue. Back to the topp– WOOAAHH!”
My back slams forcefully against the cold concrete floor and my ribs snap and break to the impact of some flying debris. Coughing blood, a bludgeoning blunt pain of a thousand malevolent hammers and dumbbells that dropped from the sky from a thousand feet radiates painfully in my chest. Once more, a huge hole opens in the ceiling, allowing a serene view of the sky in the midst of the chaos.
My head, my brain, how they melt like butter would in a pan, tumbling up and down as if being sautéed by a gourmet chef with reddened skin and horns as big and dark of that of a buffalo, the devil himself cooking. OOUUUHH!
[Reformat in progress, 95 percent complete… Please wait.]
Warmth. The pain’s gone, but now I’m enveloped in complete darkness and talked to by a weird metallic voice from nowhere, using jargons and other nonsensical terms that are beyond my comprehension. And the craziness ensues as it reports a progress of something it calls, reformat, for which I recall I faintly heard earlier.
[99 percent complete… error, files missing. Please insert the disk labelled RECOV.SYS]
[Y to continue, N to skip]
I don’t understand.
[Y to continue, N to skip]
How about a Y?
[Please insert disk, N to abort]
What disk? How about an N?
Suddenly, the lights turn on, and bright, too damn bright it's blinding. I cannot see anything but outlines in shadows, contouring in all sorts of directions, in the primitives, lines, circles, triangles, and squares, not to mention, the high pixilation, the blocks of varying shades of gray that obstruct my vision, probably hiding something obscene.
“Waaaahhhhh! Huff! Waahhhh! Huff”
I’m alive! I have command of my voice at last, but the shrillness in it, could it be? Has it gotten fried during the incident? My joints too, and my body, what is this? I can’t move, not even an inch. I wonder how many broken bones and other injuries have incurred during the incident?
“**** * ***! *****, **** ***** ** ******** *****.” says a woman.
“++, +++++ ++ ++++++++? ++, +++++++! + +++++ ++++ +++ ++++++ ++ ++++ ++++ ++++.” says another woman’s voice.
Bad. I can’t understand the language. I must be surrounded by foreigners. Someone might have brought me to an international hospital by the looks of it, or has the tensions escalated at an international level? As long as I am alive, and as long as I can communicate, just wait Galapagus. Let’s wait and see my recovery. I'll definitely bring this little incident with your Phantoms to the international courts.