I gazed out of the second-floor window. The drizzle somewhat obscured my vision, but I could discern several unmarked shipping containers towed by semi-trucks lining the street. Armored personnel carriers poured in from surrounding districts before screeching to a halt. A myriad of soldiers, brandishing tesla guns, galloped from these vehicles and flooded the street. Above the street, the flamboyant flags of the Party fluttered -- each comprising a canton with fifty black stars, emblazoned on a six-striped rainbow background.
“This is the army! Open the door now!” A set of familiar voices roared in unison. I unlocked the door to be greeted by a pair wielding tesla guns. They were clad in the standard field grey body armour complemented by a powered exoskeleton which bore the insignia of the occupation forces -- a roundel displaying the same rainbow from the flag with a single black star above it. Despite the armour enclosing their heads, I recognised their voices. It was Conrad and Nora.
“You’re lucky we got here first. Now be a good civilian,” Conrad chuckled jokingly.
“Anything you say, big man.”
The duo clutched my collar and haled me across the wet concrete pavement of the district. Columns of men and women hauling luggage marched in step towards the shipping containers, which they hesitantly entered. The squalls of distressed, perplexed children filled the air, amid the incessant barking of the soldiers. They were separated from their parents and loaded onto containers designated for the young. In the distance, a colossal digital billboard suspended by a giant electromagnet floated, rendering a sentence in bold, three-dimensional letters.
BEHOLD A NEW ERA OF EQUALITY AND JUSTICE!
Conrad and Nora dragged me into an alleyway and opened a crate stored inside. It contained another set of body armour and a tesla gun, stolen from the occupiers.
“Don the uniform. Our sources claim that the garrison’s commander was last seen at Pride Cafe near City Square. Before we liberate the city, we need to take him out -- strike at the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. Let’s get the show on the road,” Conrad commanded.
“Are you sure it will work? Retaking the city is difficult enough, but holding it is the true challenge,” I doubted the Resistance’s plan to revolt. It seemed as if the purpose was merely to delay the world’s demise.
“The Resistance cells in surrounding cities will rise up against the invader in tandem with us. We’re expecting a number of citizens to take up arms too, and if we spread the revolution to the camps, the prisoners will most definitely join us.” A sanguine grin emerged across his chiselled face. “If we inspire the people to resist the invader before they, one by one, are brainwashed, then humanity may have a future.”
This reminded me. The camps. I finally had a chance to do something about them.
A glimmer of hope engulfed me. Then an ineffable misery. Then a dulcifying, familiar numbness. It turned out I had never really come to terms with reality. Perhaps it was a heartening sign -- a sign of hope. For she may very well still be alive in one of those places.
At Our Doorstep
I was merely a teenager back in 2037. Those were the good old days.
Nora and I were cooped up at home on a late Saturday afternoon. I pondered over how to complete my schoolwork, while Nora typed audibly and furiously on her laptop. Probably “cancelling” someone on Twitter again, I thought. A breaking news headline suddenly popped up on her holographic smartwatch. “Coup d'état in the United States.”
“Perfect. Now I know which topic to write about for the assignment Mr. Bernard gave us. Maybe he won’t fail me this time.” I didn’t give the news much thought. Coups and rebellions seemed to transpire often anyways.
“‘He?’ Don’t assume their gender. Use the pronoun ‘they’ instead.” Nora rebuked, her dark hazel eyes staring daggers which plunged deep into my soul.
“Whatever,” I dismissed her.
More information saturated the media as the days passed. Apparently, a notorious faction dubbed the Woke Party had overthrown the United States government with significant public backing, proclaiming a new dawn of equality and justice for all. The term “woke” originally referred to awareness and alertness vis-à-vis social injustice issues, but by the time the coup was fomented, had already devolved into a pejorative one associated with censuring, insulting and attacking dissenters, imposing desired language and behaviour on others and persecuting non-conformers, and the controversial “cancel culture” -- hate, in essence.
The nascent woke government spent its first days purging political opponents and reactionaries, imprisoning them without trial. Gaining control of the media, they effectively censored opinions, ideas and values deemed not “woke” enough. Social media and its algorithms rendered it easier than ever to brainwash the masses -- and the Party was rather successful in doing that. Enacting a concatenation of sweeping laws and policies, any activity, speech, material or belief not aligned with the woke ideology of the Party was banned.
In 2040, American scientists developed the fusion nuclear bomb, which had a significantly greater blast radius than the traditional fission bomb. The Party launched one at China and another at Russia in a pre-emptive strike. The vanquished nations, with much of their populace wiped out in a matter of seconds and their morale utterly shattered, capitulated. Worldwide, many rebelled against their governments, demanding allegiance to the Party. Some feared follow-up nuclear strikes -- most nations had no means of intercepting hypersonic missiles. Others were truly subservient to the Party and its cause.
The United States military, equipped with the most advanced technology for its time, an expansive pool of manpower, and an efficacious propaganda machine, launched a sanguinary campaign of terror worldwide, sweeping through the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia, subjugating these regions, including my own country, by 2043. Perhaps one of the most disturbing -- and heart-wrenching -- sights was that of the masses cheering, applauding and dancing on the streets to hail the invader.
Emboldened by the string of military victories, the Party declared The Equality Plan. Conservatives, those of Abrahamic faiths, anti-Party activists and other undesirable groups or dissidents were forcibly isolated from the rest of society and ghettoed in re-education camps to be “rehabilitated” and transformed into “good,” woke citizens dedicated to the Party and its cause. At least that was what the Party-controlled media had fed us.
Yet no person, no institution, notwithstanding their power and influence, could conceal the truth forever. In valorous, altruistic acts which potentially warranted martyrdom, a handful of valiant souls locked up in the camps had leaked photos and videos, exposing the abominable monstrosities that occurred in these hellholes. One captured a cluster of monkey cages, each occupied by multiple malnourished men in orange jumpsuits. Another depicted a man in black uniform administering a coup de grâce to a kneeling captive before an audience. The plasma beam from his pistol seamlessly perforated his skull, sending blood and brain matter spurting all over the floor.
“In order to achieve true equality, it is imperative that the people and the Party, as one, cleanse civilised society of its enemies -- those who do not believe in the cause.” Such was the Party’s official response to the revelation of their true colours.
Nora, unfaltering in her loyalty to the Party, considered this righteous and justifiable.
“How could you even approve of, let alone rejoice in, the atrocities of this murderous, totalitarian regime, all in the name of equality and justice?” I was aghast, and revolted by her.
“Any struggle for equality through any means is sacred, and anyone who disagrees is a racist and homophobe!” She retorted.
“Equality? A world in which jobs and leadership positions are bestowed upon people because they have darker skin or because they identify as homosexual, and not because they are the most qualified? In which all straight, Caucasian men are oppressors, supremacists and bigots because they were born with brighter skin? In which millions, arguably billions, are sent to concentration camps because their religion tells them that abortion is wrong?”
The sole reason why she had not turned me over to the authorities was that I possessed blackmail material, which I threatened to use against her if she did so. It was a screenshot of a since deleted online post she had made in primary school which joked about skin colour. The evidence could have robbed her of her job and her friends.
We failed to overcome our ideological differences, even as siblings. Until she learnt her lesson the hard way.
I recalled it was a Monday in the third month of the American occupation. Mother had prepared a simple breakfast for Nora and I -- a measly half loaf of bread for each of us. Being a heterosexual racial majority in the occupation zone we resided in, it was onerous for her to seek a decent and stable job, so we were not exactly privileged in terms of sustenance, especially considering she was a single mother. Our father was either captured or killed defending against the Americans.
“I have to get to work now. Be good, okay?” Mother reminded Nora and I. Being full-grown adults, she still had to address us as if we were kids, since we were at loggerheads virtually all the time.
As Mother grabbed her keys from the counter, the door was suddenly bashed open.
“Down on the ground, all of you!” An officer bellowed, as a tactical police unit breached our living room, aiming their rifles at the three of us. We obliged, slowly descending onto the floor and lying on our bellies. Nora was visibly convulsing in trepidation.
Mother stood in their way, hands in the air, attempting to obstruct them. “Leave us alone! We have done nothing wrong!” She pleaded, albeit to no avail.
An officer flung her towards the wall. Her head impacted a table lamp, smashing it into smithereens. Much as my instinct was to bolt towards and check on her, I had a few guns to my head so that was not an option. The officers paraded up and down the house, rummaging through drawers, lugging furniture, checking for loose tiles.
“What is this?” One of them questioned Mother as he held up a leather-bound book, contorting his face to reflect an amalgamation of contempt and abhorrence. A thin golden title was inscribed on the cover: “The Holy Bible.”
This was prohibited material. The Party considered it treasonous and morally reprehensible to possess one, vowing to severely punish anyone who did.
The officers dragged Mother into the rear of a police van. Stretching her arm out towards Nora and I in a hopeless, pathetic effort, she wailed profusely, her face and eyes flooded with tears. We tried to dash towards her, but the burly officers restrained us, flinging us onto the pavement. A sizeable crowd had gathered to witness the scene. As one officer triumphantly flaunted the confiscated Bible, the crowd rose to a clamour, jeering and cursing at Mother. One even pelted eggs at her.
“Scum of the Earth!”
That was the last time we had seen her alive.
Nora was inconsolable and shell-shocked. She had loved Mother deeply, and could not accept that she was secretly religious. That she was a nemesis of the Party. Yet in a world gone mad with hatred, she still loved her to the core. The fact that we would probably never see her again struck her immeasurably deleteriously. I nudged her into a gentle embrace, marking the first time we had demonstrated love for one another as siblings in many years.
I awoke to knocking on the door the next day. What did the police want now? Peering through the peephole, I noticed a man I did not recognise. I assumed he was an official, so I let him in. The man swiftly shut the door and hushed me. Planting his fingers at the base of his neck, he ripped off his silicone mask.
“Conrad? What in the world are you doing here?” I was flabbergasted and somewhat frightened at the prospect of being caught harbouring a high-profile criminal. His face was all over the buses and trains, the noticeboards, social media and so on. He was an old friend and comrade I had fought alongside in the war. Most importantly, he was a high-ranking member of the local Resistance.
“I know what they did to your mother. I implore you and your sister to join us, if the both of you wish to save her.”
I caught Nora in my peripheral vision. She was eavesdropping on our conversation. An awkward silence ensued.
She stared blankly at Conrad for what felt like an eternity. “I’m in,” she articulated.
“So am I.”
“Both of you made the right choice. Nora, you will follow me to the Resistance hideout to receive arms training. Evan, you will stay at home for the time being, lest we should arouse the authorities’ suspicion. We’ll find you when the time comes.”
I snapped back to reality.
Disguised in the enemy’s uniform, Conrad, Nora and I made a beeline for the cafe. It was time to hunt down the commander.
Strolling down the Square, we witnessed a horde of frenzied people gathered around a contraption. A plaque erected in front of it boasted about how it converted the cellulose in paper into renewable energy. A soldier went about distributing books to the mob, who tossed them into the shredder, cavorting about and emerging in a loud hurrah as the energy derived from the shredded books produced a hologram of the Party flag which projected ostentatiously towards the illuminated night sky, complemented by the slogan of the Party above:
TO BUILD A NEW WORLD OF EQUALITY AND JUSTICE!
The phenomenal rally evolved into its participants standing at attention, saluting the flag as they sang the Party anthem with utter pride and gusto. I observed as classic writings by authors such as J.K. Rowling were reduced into a mangled mess. These authors had been “cancelled” for a variety of reasons, and their works were banned. Among the condemned writings were also political manifestos, religious scriptures, even math textbooks which somehow discriminated against some minority group. The thought that these could completely be lost to history someday, or perhaps that history itself could be erased, was heart-rending.
Conrad could not tear his eyes off the incredulous sight either, perplexed by the unprecedented backwardness of a society that no longer relied on swords and stone tools.
“These people are non compos mentis. I can’t believe I used to be one of them,” Nora remarked, with a tinge of guilt in her voice. Shamefully averting her eyes from the rally, she pestered us to make haste and focus on our objective.
We located the cafe. By now, the streets have largely been cleared of troops. The chosen citizens had already been hauled away.
“Hello, you all! May I have your pronouns please?” Our waitress recited the lawful customer greeting.
“They or them.”
“He or him.”
“Call me Conrad,” he smirked.
“Uh...thank you! Please follow me to your table!” The waitress added, slightly arching her eyebrows in a perceptible suspicion before essaying a smile.
Seated at the table adjacent to ours were four soldiers. One of them, the only female, stood out like a sore thumb. The epaulettes on her shoulders were rather elaborate, and her collar was embroidered with shiny, metallic gorget patches. It was the garrison commander. Besides the ones near us, there were no other soldiers in the cafe.
The three of us briefly exchanged eye contact with one another. Conrad nodded. We trained our tesla guns on the soldiers, riddling them with beams of plasma before they had a chance to retaliate, splattering scarlet gore on the table. The surrounding patrons let out blood-curdling shrieks and scuttled towards the exit in a stampede. We tied Resistance armbands to our uniforms -- a gavel flanked by two olive branches, superimposed on a red background.
Leaving the cafe, Conrad stood in the middle of the road and launched a flare into the starry night. This was the signal for the Resistance to rise up.
Fighters emerged from homes, windows and alleyways, raining a salvo of beams down on the occupiers. They seized the police headquarters, broadcast stations and other key strategic locations. Citizens swarmed the Square with signs and banners of revolution. The weary, indignant populace broke out into a war cry, demanding an end to the trammels of tyranny they had endured.
CENSORSHIP IS NOT FREE SPEECH! APARTHEID IS NOT EQUALITY! PERSECUTION IS NOT JUSTICE!
Out of the blue, A fusillade of beams appeared out of nowhere and mowed down countless civilians and Resistance fighters, painting the Square in a spectacle of crimson. The younger fighters cried for their mothers. Others returned fire, only to be finished off. Then, one by one, figures clad in field grey materialised. They appeared to be taking something off their bodies, revealing themselves in the process. I was beyond stupefied, wondering if I was hallucinating.
The soldiers encircled the Square. What remained of the Resistance laid their arms down and surrendered. I followed suit, and so did Conrad and Nora. One soldier sauntered towards me. “This is an invisibility cloak. It functions by bending light rays around the wearer using lenticular lenses,” The woman bragged as she held up a sheet which made the background behind it appear blurry. I spat on her boot.
She struck me in the face repeatedly with the butt of her rifle. The crimson which stained the Square now gradually bedaubed my vision.
Had we even the infinitesimal prospect of defeating a technologically unparalleled superstate? Perchance the Resistance was only but a drunkard’s liquor, having done no more than to drown his sorrows. Yet the hope in which such sorrow is drowned, had already long been extinguished.