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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2192379
A world where all citizens are forced to work assembly line labor.
         The button on the handheld vanilla-colored device clicks before a moment of silence; anticipation ensues until a bout of shrieking occurs from the button's speakers. Datura, the quality assurance worker of the assembly line, tosses the life alert button into the "working" bin atop hundreds of others. Button after button, shriek after shriek, Datura mindlessly continues his work. While it's difficult for him to function beneath the heavy denim black jumpsuit; and nearly impossible for him to see through the black veil sheathing his face, Datura has no choice. The World Corporation enforces this sense of helplessness by means of a rigid schedule of assembly line work onto all their citizens. Datura lifts his head for the first time in hours and gazes in curiosity at his fellow coworkers, as he often does. He knows that beneath his black concealing attire lies the charismatic and outgoing character that suits his angular physique. It's impossible for Datura to look past his coworker's veils, but he wishes he could know what they have hidden beneath their garb and if they've ever exposed this to him on their "days of freedom". These thoughts are brought to a halt when one of the Corp Guardian's batons smack against the back of Datura's head. The seemingly never ending conveyor belt has piled enough life alert buttons in front of him that they've began to topple over. Datura drops his head again and continues his monotonous job.
         Saturday finally lurches into existence, workers first day of freedom. Similar to all the enslaved, Datura had been planning his weekend ever since the last one had ended. He arrives at his one room, one bathroom container and, contrasting the dull colors that compose the domicile, he opens his closet to reveal neon tight clothing. Datura grabs an outfit and holds up the highlighter yellow shirt and iridescent orange pants in admiration to the solitary light that illuminates his dingy quarters. He looks too long. This week, the Corporation chose to advertise their new fashion line under the slogan, "to show everyone who you really are" which he sees every workday atop the towering billboard that overshadows the windows of his assembly line. Datura lowers his clothes and lets out a long sigh. But after a few moments, he brushes these feelings off and for the first time in a week, he smiles. He strips out of his entrapping black jumpsuit and veil to don his new outfit. Gazing into the mirror mounted on an otherwise empty wall, Datura relishes in the tight clothing that emphasizes every part of his physical being. His narrow arms, his broad legs, his long hair that seamlessly connects with his dark facial hair, and, upon closer observation, one could even make out the x-shaped birthmark that stands slightly raised through his shirt just over his heart. Datura always cherished this mark. It makes him feel like he has something that no one else does -- something unique. He takes but a moment to break his gaze and, just above his shoulder in the mirror's reflection, admire the worn, heart-shaped framed picture that stands aimlessly atop the cheap nightstand beside his bed. Datura grabs his keys and his life alert button, shoves them into the tight pocket of his pants, and sets out for the Corp Club.
         The flashing lights spit color over every corner of the club, and over every person's neon attire. Datura's grin turns to a smirk. It seems like everyone else is, "showing who they really are" as well. While the music is deafening, Datura makes his way to the bar and manages to signal the bartender for a drink. After a minute or two, the bartender returns with a short glass filled with ice and pooling with a dark liquid which he slides across the bar to Datura.
"That'll be five dollars." says the bartender. Datura jokingly searches for his wallet and shrugs his shoulders - they both laugh and continue on their way. Staring at the beverage with dire intent, Datura slams his drink, a cocktail of alcohol and other various substances, and finds his way to the dancefloor. For next hour or two, Datura swells with euphoria and finds complete dissociation from his life. As most do on their Saturday night, Datura lands a companion to bring home. Stooped and stumbling, they stagger into Datura's car together for the reckless ride home.
         After multiple obstructions and detours on the drive due to the lifeless bodies of people who had, maybe, just a bit too much fun that night, Datura manages to bumper-car his way back home with his mate. She walks into his residence first and plops down onto his twin sized mattress; lying flat on her back and with her arms stretched out while Datura follows behind her and locks the door. Datura had nearly began undressing himself, but is interrupted when she rolls off his bed and retches violently onto the floor.
He immediately lunges and catches her just before she rolls over into her own vomit. Cleaning up only takes Datura minimal time as he has found himself in this position before. At this point, he figures it's too late to take her home, so he just tucks her into his bed, lays down his work clothes as a makeshift cot, and prepares to sleep on the floor that night. There's a moment of silence.
"So f-" the woman on the bed mutters something unintelligible. "Oh, so pretty." Datura turns over to face the bed she lays in and sees her drunkenly flail about the heart-shaped frame off his nightstand. His body springs up and he snatches the picture from her hand.
"Ugh," Datura lets out a long sigh looking into the picture and shaking his head. He finds the patience to settle her back into his bed and lays himself onto the floor again. He gently straps his arm around the frame and continues to fall asleep with the picture embraced that night.
The next morning, Datura wakes up just before the woman in his bed.
"No, I don't wan-" the woman begins her unconscious mumbling again. "Ah!" She jolts up. "Where am I?" Datura still lays on the floor now staring at her in the dark room and eventually their eyes meet. She squints a little closer at him.
"What are you holding?" she asks.
" Oh," it takes a moment before Datura realizes the frame still wrapped in his arms, "it's nothing."
"Yeah, right" she throws off the covers and hops out of bed. In one quick motion, she snatches the picture from Datura and walks to the adjacent side of the bedroom.
"Hey!" Datura protests. "Give that back!"
"Oh, this is pretty. Who is she?" she asks Datura. He stands up and attempts to take the frame back but right before he's able to grab it she holds it high above his head and taunts him with it.
"You're acting like a child," responds Datura. "Just give me back the picture, please." Even in the dark room that makes reading people nearly impossible, the woman could sense Datura's desperation. She stops playing around and hands the frame back to him like a child who's been caught by his parents with their hand in the cookie jar. Datura holds the picture in his hands again and looks down onto it.
"Sorry," she finally remarks. There's a moment of silence, "She's gone, isn't she?" Datura doesn't look up.
"Yeah," he hardly replies. "And she was my mom, by the way." At this point, the woman walks beside Datura to gaze with him at the frame over his shoulder in the dimly lit room.
"What happened to her?" she asks. "Was it one of those damn Corp Guardians? Those guys are always-"
"No," Datura interrupts her. "She was at work one day and her body just sort of, gave out, I guess." He finally picks his head up to look at the woman but sees her looking down with her lips pressed.
"I'm sorry." she whimpers.
"Yeah well, so am I." Datura tosses the framed picture onto his bed and turns his back from the woman to head for the bathroom.
"Well, at least she died in a unique way." she mumbles to herself. But Datura hears this remark and turns around to look at her. Their eyes meet and she realizes what just happened. He quickly turns around again and shuts the bathroom door behind him. This idiosyncrasy resonated in Datura's mind in a way he couldn't explain. His mother's life didn't just end up as some detour on the road.
Datura helps the woman gather her belongings and walks her to the door. She begins her way out but pauses suddenly to turn and look at Datura. In the afternoon daylight that beams across her face, Datura notices something he hadn't before. Her heterochromatic eyes of blue and green pierce through Datura as if she's about to say something -- but she doesn't. She merely sighs and continues on her way. As the door shuts behind her, Datura sighs too. He sits down onto the foot of his bed and realizes he's unsure how to proceed on his last day of freedom. He knows he should go out and make the most of the time he has, but he finds himself stuck in his room. Sinking deeper into his stooper, he glances at the thick black work uniform that lays on the floor, and then back to the bright neon clothing he garnishes on his body. The colorful attire no longer brings a smile to his face. Datura reaches for the framed picture again and, impulsively, strips himself of all clothing to stare into the mirror.
"Would she be happy?" he asks aloud to no one at all. Glancing back to the picture, Datura lets out a short sigh realizing it would be hard for her to see him through that thick veil she's wearing. But if she could, maybe she would have something, anything to say. His heart and the slightly raised x-shaped birthmark that sheaths it throb as he stares into the frame looking for that something.
Datura redresses himself and finds the motivation to go out again that night. If he were being honest with himself, he would have just stayed home, but some unnatural force pushed him otherwise. He makes his way to the same Corp Club he had occupied the night before. The Club had seemingly sat unchanged considering the blaring environment; but this time black lights cast across the room. The lights expose the bits and patterns of people's clothing that were once unseen to Datura. He makes his way to the bar and places a request for his drink. Just as before, the bartender disappears for a moment and then returns. Only this time, he brings Datura something new and drops it into his hand. Datura stares at the dime-sized disc with a big letter "D" pressed into the front. It stares back at him. Datura had been offered Corp pills and other various substances from the bartender before, but he rarely indulges in them for he found their induced delirium to be too much. Hesitating, Datura looks to the bartender but he's already gone. He looks back to his hand, and the pill is gone too.
"Wait, what?" Datura mumbles under his breath while staring into his hand where the pill once was. His sense of reality begins to run wild and in confusion, he attempts to pick his head up. Instead, Datura finds the world shifting itself downward to straighten with his view. He feels his legs begin to wobble and his chest weigh him down. So much weight that Datura collapses to the floor of the Club. The wobbling in his legs escalate to vibrations that coarse through his body until he feels his whole being vibrate together. The weight from his chest shifts to his eyes, the clamor of the Club fades, and the last thing he sees is an array of colorful beings looking down on him as their mumbles muffle into oblivion.
Datura comes to on his feet, in his own apartment. He has no recollection on how he got there and no memory of what happened. Datura reasons he probably took the pill and the intense effects of the drug induced amnesia. But he can't be certain. He looks down and makes the sudden realization he's been stripped of his clothing. Datura stumbles to his closet, but before he manages to swing open the door, he catches a glimpse of something in his mirror that wasn't there before. A woman sitting on his bed masquerading the entrapping black jumpsuit and veil that Datura knows all too well. Enticed by curiosity but inhibited by the swelling feeling in his chest that something isn't right, Datura slowly turns around until he's staring at his mother. She stares back at him. He's speechless. He searches for the words in his head but manages none. She stands at the foot of his bed but Datura, who was ready to make a break for the door, feels stuck in her presence. A peculiar sense of safety flushes over him. Not knowing what he would say, Datura attempts to speak but no words come out. No words can come out. He reaches for his throat, but finds his hand already wrapped around his windpipe so tightly that no air can escape. He stumbles and falls to the floor, again. But instead of colorful beings looking down at him, his own mother has straddled him and holds down his one free arm. For the first time in his life, Datura sees through the veil and straight into the wearer's eyes. But it doesn't matter now. He feels his life escaping him. He loses his will to fight the inevitable silencing and relaxes his body. In these final moments, as his own malevolent hand finds a tighter grip on his now relaxed throat, Datura hears something. The fading image of his mother talks through Datura's own mind. She doesn't speak in words but rather meaning. She tells Datura that he is destined to die at his job just as she did, and that there is no escape from this. The panic and struggle returns to Datura but his frail mom overpowers him. As his perception blurs, he realizes the sadness in his mother's eyes. She gracefully touches the x-shaped mark on his chest and Datura closes his eyes.
Datura comes to, again, but this time on the floor of the nightclub where he had originally collapsed. The colorful beings have moved closer to him now, watching him suffer as his throat closes ever so tighter. In his final moments, Datura finds the strength to will his hand onto the life alert button in his pocket and weakly squeezes it. He can't tell if it worked. The music is too loud. The colorful beings fade again, and Datura's throat seemingly closes in on itself.
In a daze, Datura finds himself behind his position in the assembly line checking button after button. Similar to the hallucination with his mom, he has no memory of getting there, how long he's been there, or what even happened. He can't be certain if this is real, but the bandage over the vein in his inner elbow gives Datura enough evidence to trust his reality. As his mind finally begins to function again, he can't shake the words his disembodied mother spoke to, or rather, communicated to him. They resonate in his head like a bucket of bouncy balls thrown down a flight of stairs. He can't let these thoughts distract him from his work. Datura grabs another button, tests it, but no shriek. He stares at it for a moment as the buttons on the assembly line in front of him pile up, destined to be tested. He glances up, as he often does, and with the button still in his hand, he spots a woman just mere yards away from him. But Datura doesn't just look at her - he can see her. He sees through her veil and straight into her individual blue and green eyes. She pauses. She can see him too, and she smiles. Datura tosses the button in his hand into the "working" bin and makes for the door.
His exit is met with resistance from the Corp's Guardians that are meant to ensure no workers are harmed, or escape. A swift kick with all his might clears the door. The shouts for backup are gradually muted as he swings the door shut behind him and runs, sprints, as far away as he can get. Without interrupting his stride, he strips himself of his hegemonizing garments and leaves them in his track; a literal weight off Datura's shoulders. He hears the clamor of the Guardian's footsteps close behind. His pace quickens with every step as he tries to outrun them. As Datura runs away, he realizes what he's running towards. He makes it to the billboard advertising Corp's brand new weekly line of eccentric fashion, now advertised as the brand "to make you stand out", and begins up the hinged ladder. Halfway up the towering billboard, Datura realizes the Guardians did not chase him up the ladder. He arrives at the top, alone. He carefully makes his way to the edge and peeks down to the tiny Guardians yelling inaudible nonsense up to him. Making no mind of this, Datura looks to the Corporation's assembly line that's enslaved him his whole life. Finally, Datura looks up to the clear, blue, untainted sky and the experience with his disembodied mother refuses to leave his mind. The world seems to silence as Datura puts all his might into a gracious dive; and he realizes his mother was right. Datura died at his job, but was reborn on the way out.

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