This was my entry to the IIT Madras, Shaastra '09 online science fiction writing contest. Hope you enjoy reading my story. Please do leave comments and your views so that I can improvise my writing skills.
The topic was..
"Write a short story about a dystopian future where the government has banned laughter and has devices set up everywhere to detect it and punish those who indulge in it."
It was a late December evening. I was walking through the abandoned streets of Delhi, which were once part of a very busy tourism hub. As the cold wind swept past my face, I realized how cold it was. During the last few decades, if there was anything I lost, it was the power to feel. I lost the power of being human. In an age where the machines ruled the people, we had anything but the power to feel. We were just the machines needed to keep the machines running. As I reached home and saw its state, I felt moisture on my face. I didn’t want to cry but the tears came down involuntarily. I was crying without any emotion.
I was on my way to work, in a shuttle air bus. There were hundreds of others with me. All of us were modern slaves to the machines. Everyone around me wore rags and their eyes looked lifeless. The joys of being alive and human were long gone. No one spoke aboard. We simply exchanged glances to acknowledge that we had survived one more day of a miserable life which had no purpose. There were two sentries made of steel standing at the entries of the shuttle. The purpose of their existence was to make sure that none of us did anything human. The machines were frightened that humans were never to indulge in things that created emotions like laughter, anger and sorrow. After all, an emotional human being is all that it takes to destroy, or create anything. Such was the nature of human emotions. Such capacities were taken away from us. The countless electric shocks, tortures and beatings have taken away my power of feel anything. The steel guards had sensors embedded within them, which detected human emotions. Any rise in the level of adrenalin flowing in the blood, indicated an emotion. The detection of an emotion was followed by an automated electric shock and a few weeks in a torture chamber which was to make sure that never again such emotions were felt. I noticed a young man sitting towards the end of the shuttle. He was looking at the sentries. His face was livid and glowing with anger. We heard a faint beep and the next instant the lad was pinned to the ground and was being administered shock treatment. He was howling in pain for a few minutes. Later he was limp and motionless. He hung from his seat like the dead branch of a tree. I felt nothing, no pain, no sorrow. All I could feel was indifference. I felt nothing but emptiness within me. I lost human nature. So did the people along with me.
Another emotion that the machines feared and loathed was laughter. It indicated the presence of a healthy mind. A healthy human mind could achieve anything and everything. The machines didn’t want that to happen. If there were class of the human clan who still had the capacity to laugh, it was infants. In the early stages of the machine age, the detection systems led to mass massacres in hospitals where new births took place. The crying, the happiness, the laughter evoked the sensors of the robots to an all time high, like the scent of blood to sharks. The human race faced near extinction when, the machines sensed the need to humans to carry out essential tasks required for the survival of the machines. So, babies were fabricated in incubators. They were taught the principles of working through humans in controlled environments. The class rooms of teaching were strictly guarded so that they learnt nothing but what was required. Emotions were strictly prohibited in every form.
Eventually, humans formed secret societies in deep underground settlements where they could stay out of the coverage of the sensors. They trained select young men from various places in skills like decapitating the machines. They did occasional raids on the machine head quarters but they were always outnumbered and the missions were futile. Moreover, they didn’t have the support of their fellow humans who didn’t have enough courage to start a fight with the powerful machines.
As I returned home from work one night I found my small hut ransacked and overturned. It must’ve been one of those one of those routine search operations of the machines just to ensure that no one indulges in activities that threatened their existence. I didn’t feel anything as I looked at my destroyed home. It meant nothing to me. It was merely a place where I dragged out my nights when I was not working for the machines. I started walking aimlessly though the empty black streets away from the small settlement where we lived. I felt nothing as the cold wind constantly whipped my cold face. I didn’t shudder to the cold though I was wearing nothing but a torn sweater and a worn out jeans. As I kept walking, not realizing time or direction, I was suddenly seized by a brutal force from behind. It was like a metal gripper which was used mostly in torture chambers to hold you while they did shock treatment. It lifted me a few inches into the air and immediately a thick cable holding a laser pointer at one end came to my face and scanned my retina. It was followed by another sensor which ended up near my heart and it felt like it was recording my heart beat. The gripper put me down again and released its grip. Then, I saw a part of the ground moving away. I saw a flight of stairs that led inside the ground. I walked inside the tunnel without any purpose or anxiety. I discovered myself in an underground settlement. I saw guns, ammunition and equipment that were designed to decapitate the machines. One of the people there wearing a badge of some kind came to me and told me that they were planning a rescue operation. Their objective was to recover the babies fabricated by robots to help them make the human race win again. They dressed me up in an outfit and equipped me with a gun and a jammer which would help us destroy the central processors of the robots.
I started in one of the tanks along with five other men. We were on our way to the facility when we heard the machines approaching. They had sensed the strong waves of emotion and started attacking the tanks. The attack indicator in our tank sensed an approaching missile and we barely had time to make our escape. I landed on the forest floor outside. I saw men fighting robots with human valor and courage. But the machines which were designed to run by feeding on the human emotions grew more powerful with the growing rage in the men around them. I saw one machine come towards me with an electric ball glowering on one of its arms. I didn’t try to run or hide. It didn’t make any difference to me if I lived or died. I thought of my life and I felt nothing but the weary emptiness. The machine came to me stopped a few yards in front of me. The electric ball in its hand was flickering and it looked as if it was growing weaker. I walked to the machine and took the jammer from my pocket. I fixed it on the back of the head of the machine. It whirred for a while and then collapsed. One man who was watching me with amazement asked me how I had done it. Then for the first time in my life I felt an emotion. That emotion swept away all other emotions within me. The emotion told me that I had to fight. I had to survive. The instinct to survive swept away sadness, anger or rage. I asked him if I could find a machine which could multiply brain wave frequencies and make them spread over an area. He thought for a while and told me that they used frequency suppressors to make sure that their settlements remained safe from the attack of the machines. He told me that he could reverse the process and make it work as an enhancer. We ran to the nearest tank and sat inside. We drove to the cover of a huge canopy of trees to buy us some time.
The man worked for a while and said that it should work now. I told him to get out of the vehicle and protect the vehicle for as long as he could. He looked at me in the eye as if questioning why he should trust a stranger he never knew. I told him in a flat tone that, I could make us win the battle. The question was wiped out of his face and he went out nodding his head in my direction. I put on the equipment on my head. The sensors on the headset started buzzing. I looked at the display panel which showed me the optional frequencies I could set it to. I simply picked the highest and set it to that. The next thing I could feel was a buzzing inside my head. I couldn’t say if it was pain. I didn’t know if I was dying. All I could sense at that point of time was that, I needed to survive and help others do it. We couldn’t give up. The human race couldn’t succumb to the power of something they created for their own benefit. We fought the heat of the deserts, the freezing cold of the arctic blizzards and the deadliest of forests. The human instinct for survival outlasted everything beyond endurance.
By the time I opened my eyes, I was lying on the ground. I thought I was in heaven. The rising sun never looked so beautiful. Still, I didn’t feel emotion. The emptiness was all that I could sense. Then there were people around me they were anxious to see if I lived or perished. I slowly stood up and saw the machines lying around in heaps. It worked. The human instinct to survive outlasted the brutal force of metal.
Nature has thought me a new method to fight. I was the first of a new evolved species of humans. We were designed to destroy the machines that fed on human emotions. I felt a sense of purpose for the first time in my life. I was designed to kill without thinking, without experiencing emotions that made us vulnerable to the machines. Now, that I knew my purpose, I set out on a mission. A mission intended to bring us back into power. I set out into the world to find people like me. People designed by nature to keep us alive. I was sure of it now, because we had a weapon that the machines can never think of possessing. We can evolve. We can adapt. We can survive.