Protocol

Protocol

Three blinked at the reflection in the mirror, focusing on the grey eyes staring back from the other side. Nothing was different, nothing was out of place. When Three has woken up that morning, to get ready for school as usual, it had been with a strange feeling that something had shifted, but no matter how Three looked at it, everything seemed just the same as it had the day before, the week before, the month before, and the year before. Nothing has changed.

Turning off the light, Three went to the kitchen, once again, the same routine as every other morning. There was a protein shake sitting on the counter, next to a lunch bag and a copy of the daily paper. As always, the front page flashed in warning; bold, red letters warned the readers of the graphic content, alerting them that what lay beyond the front page was not suited for most. The articles would likely offend many, or turn the stomach. Instead, the front page suggested that all the reader really needed to know was that the weather was going to be pleasant, and that the two district teams that had met in their races the previous night had tied, and decided to be friends and compete again the next night. With that, it brought the collective all-time records for both teams to 0 Wins- 0 Losses- 2,950 Ties, a respectable performance history for both teams.

Three disregarded the paper, as always, and made to grab the protein shake. Three’s hand hesitated a moment, and instead of grabbing the drink, took the lunch bag instead. Three was not really feeling exceptionally hungry, so it would not do to waste valuable time on the drink. Ready for the day, Three approached the front door. As the door opened, an option warning popped up: “YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN BREAKFAST. PLEASE RETURN.” The warning, while optical, blocked Three’s entire field of vision, and the entire doorway. Three hit the exit button, but the warning merely re-appeared, effectively keeping Three from leaving the house to begin the journey to school. With a sigh, Three returned to the counter and picked up the shake, and the warning window disappeared. With the way no longer blocked, Three could leave without further issue, though the time for travel had been cut considerable closer than was comfortable.

Leaving the house, Three walked for at least a dozen yards before stopping, setting the still full protein shake down on the barrier that separated the walking routes. These barriers kept students of Three’s age and younger separated from the adults walking to work, the transports carrying goods and supplied, and the older students on their way to the secondary school building.

Other students feel into line on the path to the school. All walking the same way at the same pace. They said good morning, exchanged their happiness over the outcome of the game the night before, and contemplated their lessons and exercises for the day, which would be both pleasant and informative. No one spoke about the news beyond the front page of the paper.

It was the exact same as the day before. The same as always, unchanged in pattern. Still, Three continued to experience that same nagging sense of weight and shift, as if something was fundamentally different from  what it had been before.

Once all the students were inside and seated at their desks, the bell rang. As it happened each morning, their daily exam popped up on their desktops. Each student was faced with a series of four questions. They were the same as always, there was no variation, no change.

  1. How are you feeling? Well (correct)
  2. Who won last night? Both teams (Correct)
  3. Who holds the highest office in the government? The Chancellor Supreme (correct)
  4. Did you eat your breakfast?

At the last question, Three paused. Three had never paused before. Here it was. This was the difference, the shift that had been brushing up against the back on Three’s consciousness since waking. It had been felt before it had even occurred; the effect before the action that would generate it. It was as if Three had made this decision before it had even been a decision to make.

With a quick eye dart, Three glanced around the room at the others; all of their screens flashed a pleasant green, indicated that they had finished their daily exam. Indicating that every answer was uniform, correct. Tentatively, with a fluttering of unknown emotions, Three purposefully wrote his answer.

4.         Did you eat your breakfast? No.

It took a moment, but Three’s screen winked closed, and a new window popped up. First it opened in front of Three, and then in a cascade of pings across the room to the others, all looking straight ahead. The new window advised the students that everything was fine. And additional subset window opened in front of Three’s eyes, containing a set of three very clear instructions: Three was to remain quiet; to remain seated with hands placed flat on the desk; and that Three was to await the arrival of a task force which was being dispatched to remedy the detected compliance violation.

It became obvious that Three was the only one to receive these instruction, as the rest of the students remained calmly seated, looking straight ahead as if nothing as out of the ordinary. Three drew a deep breath, as for the second time that day, a wave of emotions that had never previously been felt took hold. Three had somehow knows, right from waking, that the world was shifting. As it turned out, it was only Three’s world that was shifting, and Three had been the one to set into free fall. Looking from the other students to the window, Three’s feet shifted a fraction of an inch. It only took a breath for Three to make another decision that had never been made before, another change to the sameness and repetition of the routine. With a quick breath, Three made a break for the open door.

Change was within Three’s reach, the door felt as if it were just there, waiting. Suddenly, Three was sprawling forward, reached by sensations that had previously been unknown, to which Three could ascribe no known words or past experience. The sensations forced legs  and arms to contract and lock awkwardly, no longer responding to the brains impulses to move. They sensations caused Three’s teeth to clamps down hard, pinching cheek tightly between strong molars. A second later, and that uncomfortable sensation was paired with the explosion of stars, as Three’s head met the ground with a thud, ears ringing. With vision swimming in and out of focus, Three felt hands grab that collar of their shirt, hefting them up from the ground, holding them suspended.

As three’s hearing returned, head pounding, there was the sound of a voice, speaking in controlled, clipped tones. As the voice spoke, they began to move, Three in tow above the ground. “Unit Three is contained. We will bring them in for evaluation. All other units in this zone appear to be functioning as normal, all coding pinging green. We believe this is an isolated incident. Please be advised to re-initialize protocol in 90 seconds. Extraction complete. Alpha Team signing off.”

Not a single student in the classroom seemed to notice what was going o, focused on the screens in front of their eyes, as if the words “All is well” were enough to keep them from curiously investigating the ruckus taking place behind them.

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Filed under Saturday Shorts, Short Story

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