“Today you’re going on a field trip” the teacher said. “You will go with your fellow students to retrieve your assigned specimen. Then you will observe, probe, take notes and discover things you have not seen before. You will make a report about your experiences on your PMD (Personal Management Device) for evaluation when you are done”. One of the students hesitantly raised a hand. “Yes?” the teacher prompted. “Are you not coming with us?” “No, this is something you have to do on your own but I can assure you, you will be perfectly safe”. The teacher looked at the students to see if there was anyone who looked like they had something to say. “The time and place for assembly is sent to your PMD. I suggest you pay attention. I trust you all know the penalty for being late.” All the students took out a curious sphere with peculiar markings on it. They manipulated it in different ways and then put it away again. The students wouldn’t be late. Being late meant a trip to the penal colony.
It may sound severe to be sent to the penal colony just for being late, but everybody knew the rules and to them it was normal. If you did go to the penal colony the standard sentence was five years regardless of the crime. You would be committed to hard labour and behaviour modification on a daily basis. When the time was up you were evaluated by government officials and if they deemed you worthy, meaning if you showed an appropriate behaviour at all times, you would be released and could re-enter society. If you didn’t they would sentence you to another five years. This could be done indefinitely.
There was always someone on their way to the penal colony for braking a rule. In fact, there were so many rules that it seemed inevitable to avoid breaking one or more. One of the worst rules to brake was having personal thoughts. It was ok as long as they followed the rules for how thoughts should be thought. But any thoughts that didn’t follow this were forbidden. There was no “I” – only “we”. Any individuality was forbidden. Since the populace was linked together in a hive mind it was impossible to think something in private or something forbidden. Everyone knew at once and reporting others was just as normal as punishment was. For this reason the students didn’t make friends with each other. It wasn’t encouraged, it was a waste of time because you could never be sure that your “friend” didn’t go to the penal colony tomorrow and you couldn’t trust anyone not to report you. The students didn’t know anything else, to them this was normal.
When the next cycle began all the students met at the designated place. No one was missing. The teacher came out to meet them. There was an empty bowl on a table nearby and the teacher poured some yellow-brown “balls” into the bowl. “You know what these do. Once you arrive at your destination, you will retrieve your specimen and bring it back. Be careful – they are very fragile. Once you are done with your assignment you will bring the specimen back where you found it and return.” The students nodded in unison. They formed a line to get a ball. One by one they took a ball and after a short while they vanished with a “plop”. The only one left was the teacher. He would stay and wait for the students. Being able to manupulate time it wouldn’t be long before they were back.
Brian yawned and tried to wake up. The alarm had been howling at him for twenty minutes. He hadn’t heard it. He scratched his hair and tried to figure out what time it was. His head was pounding. “Oh great!”, he thought. “A migraine! And today of all days!” He was supposed to present the design for a new highway at work today. He thought about calling in sick but gave up. He knew people had been fired for less. In the shower he noticed a red spot on his left arm just below the elbow. He examined it closer. It looked like a puncture wound. It itched. Mosquito bite? Not this time of year. Maybe a bed bug. It didn’t hurt so he decided to worry about it later. Finished showering he went naked into the kitchen and while making coffee he thought of his highway project he had worked so hard to finish. He hoped they liked it. Absentmindedly he scratched a red spot on the back of his neck. It was similar to the spot on his arm..
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