Chapter One - Sorting and Assimilation
Purveyors of tales that are
entertaining, illuminating, and thoughtful.
Questman Tales Publishing
'WELCOME HOME,' the bright yellow banner read as it fluttered in the mild breeze across the narrow causeway that connected the docking platforms to the Sorting and Assimilation Center.
“Please follow the blue line in an orderly, single file, manner into the orientation auditorium where you will receive further instructions,” the authoritative female voice commanded, the blaring instructions emanating from speakers on either side of the causeway spaced ten paces apart.
“For your information,” the voice continued, “this is Earth year 2129, it is Tuesday, October the Ninth and the time is five-thirty-five in the afternoon. The ambient temperature on Earth today is twenty-three degrees Celsius and holding steady.”
“Do they think we're deaf?” complained Jared to his two companions, Joseph and Jeremy.
“Shush!” cautioned Jeremy. “It may be best to stay under the radar, at least, until we know more.”
“’It Is What It Is’ is the greeting for today,” the voice announced.
"That’s the greeting for everyday,” said Joseph
“How do you know that?” asked Jared
“It was in the introduction video that they showed us while we were in transit.”
“Oh, I didn’t watch it,” said Jared.
“Me neither,” added Jeremy.
“Well it’s the only thing you’re allowed to say out loud once you’re assimilated. All other communication is performed using text messaging.”
“No way,” said Jared.
“How does that work” asked Jeremy.
“You’ll find out. It’s part of the orientation process,” Joseph responded to his companions as he pondered why they had not participated in the extensive introduction process on board the transport. The program had been repeated daily for the entire month of travel. He worried that Jared and Jeremy were in for some big surprises.
“Follow the blue line and the blinking arrows on the floor to your seats,” came a new instruction.
"Turn the blinking volume down," Jared shouted as the three companions entered a cavernous chamber. Flummoxed by the enormity of the space, Jared lowered his voice to a whisper as he asked his friends if they recalled the rumors that the transport that brought them to Earth carried ten thousand repatriates. The question triggered memories of the long voyage especially their confinement to limited areas of the transport with a small number of passengers. They often discussed that the transport must be carrying hundreds, if not, thousands. But they only ever saw a few dozen for the duration of the trip.
“Let’s sit in the back of the room,” Jeremy said to the others as he stepped into the last row of seats. Jared followed quickly but Joseph remained in line. Instantly an alarm sounded, the line stopped moving and a small spherical drone appeared above Jared and Jeremy; it began to scan them.
“Repatriates Jeremy 9765 and Jared 1823, return to the blue line immediately and follow the blinking arrows to your assigned seats,” the voice commanded.
A bit stunned, Jeremy and Jared complied. They returned to the line in front of Joseph. The line began to move again and they followed until they each stood in front of a seat displaying their name.
“Please be seated,” said the voice. Jeremy, Jared, and Joseph each thought they heard their mothers' voices gently whisper those words. The effect was unnerving causing waves of shudders to spread amongst the gathered.
The three companions complied and as they did a metal restraint closed around their waists. The voice was momentarily silent, no commands were given, no instructions provided; the three men just watched as a transparent cocoon-like structure encased them. They could still breathe, they could still move, but they could not leave their seats. They could still feel, mostly a general malaise, but soon a tingling began all over their bodies that had the curious effect of making them feel very relaxed.
“Welcome home!” the voice repeated. “You are here because you have applied to be readmitted to Earth. Congratulations, your applications have been approved. Today at the Sorting and Assimilation Center we will help you determine which Earth colony you are most compatible with. The process consists of four phases: Preparation, Sorting, Assignment, and Assimilation.
“We will now begin the Preparation phase.”
Each of the new arrivals experienced a flash of bright light, a quick sharp jab at each temple on either side of the forehead and a slight pressure followed by momentary buzzing in each ear.
“We will now activate your virtual communication modules (VCM)”
Joseph instantly saw a computer-like monitor image appear near the upper right side of his peripheral vision. There were tiny letters on the screen but as he strained to read them his right eye zoomed-in so that he could clearly read what was displayed:
“Now downloading, 98% complete, 99% complete, 100% complete. Installing, please stand-by.”
As soon as Joseph read the word “Finished” he understood it all. He knew all that he needed to know. He knew he had four micro-transponders implanted in his head, one in each temple and one in each ear. The devices sent and received data directly to his brain which then translated it into visual and audible information.
To communicate with other people he must now send and receive text messages via the VCM. He could send messages to anyone, to everyone, or to selected people on pre-programmed lists. He could send as many messages as he wanted. Using the VCM he could access and process information from the world wide web without restriction, anything that the Global Governing Commission made available. He scanned the menus and noticed that the entertainment options seemed unlimited, there were games and videos galore, holographic adventures and even interactive porn was available but limited to ages thirteen and greater. Best of all, the portal for Global Meeting Place (GMP), Earth’s premier social media network, was always open. With few exceptions daily life took place on GMP.
To: Jeremy 9765 and Jared 1823,
"Hey guys. A user manual was included in the download. It's instant training for these great tools - no learning curve."
"VCM send message"
But the lack of an enthusiastic response from his friends worried him. Turning to look at them he was horrified by their strange expressions. Jared seemed confused and even a bit angry, Jeremy seemed simply frightened. Joseph tried to speak to them but heard himself say, “It is what it is.” Nothing else came out of his mouth. Then he heard the following:
“Joseph!" His mother's voice again. "This is VCM , Please refrain from trying to use your voice for anything other than the approved greeting of the day. For all other communications please use me to send your message. You may access instructions for sending messages in chapter 3 of the user manual”
Pure unadulterated panic began to overtake him. He began to shake. The others, seeing this, became agitated, Jared began pounding the transparent cocoon. Realizing the danger, Joseph swallowed hard and quickly regained his composure. He used hand gestures as a warning and to calm the other two down. During transport they had made up a game to pass the time. They would try to read lips and thus listen-in on conversations to far away to be heard. All three had gotten pretty good at it. So as he waved his arms and hands he mouthed the word DANGER and the phrase CALM DOWN.
This helped a bit but he needed to do more. He would need to do something risky.
"VCM, please send the following message to Jeremy 9765 and Jared 1823."
“Jared, Jeremy. How are you doing? I'm doing okay. No need to respond, just listen. It's great to be back on Earth. Feels good that mother earth sees everything, hears everything, remembers everything. I'm just going to be silent for awhile to take it all in. You should try it too.”
Jared’s image appeared on Joseph’s monitor followed by, “I’m pissed, I don’t think I’m going to like it here.”
Jeremy’s image appeared next followed by, “I guess I’m okay, I’m just a bit scared.”
Disappointed, Joseph speculated that his companions and probably everyone else in the chamber did not understand that all their actions were being monitored; that conversations, commentary, perhaps even facial expression and body language were being permanently recorded to be used as needed.
"Joseph this VCM. Nice try. We appreciate your help in trying to calm your companions but we'll take it from here. Remember, It is what it is.
“We will now begin the Sorting Phase."
“We will ask you ten questions. Each question and three possible answers will appear on a virtual screen in front of you. Adjacent to each answer will be a colored dot: green, yellow or red. VCM will read each question and the possible answers. When VCM has completed the reading you will have ten seconds to select an answer that best represents you. Touch the appropriate colored dot to make your selection.”
Jared started squirming in his seat, he tested the restraint around his waist, it could not be moved. With every moment he became more annoyed and he could feel a twinge of fear growing in his belly. It made him feel childish and embarrassed. He tried to suppress it.
He tried yelling; his mind said, “I’m getting fucking angry let me out of this thing." But all he heard was, "It is what it is"
Then he noticed the lights on the top of each of the cocoons; most of the lights within his view were white but his was now glowing red. He heard VCM speak to him from within his head.
“Jared 1823, you must calm yourself, or we will do it for you in ten, nine. eight. seven, six …”
Jared took a deep breath, shut his eyes and focused. His pulse and breathing slowed. VCM rewarded him with a “Thank You.”
The sorting began. VCM recited the first question.
"Question number one: Do you believe in equality for all?"
The green answer is: Yes
The red answer is: No
The yellow answer is: Maybe.”
Joseph quickly touched the green dot and consequently the light on the top of his cocoon glowed green.
Jeremy hesitated; he wanted to choose ‘Maybe’ but selected green just before time expired. His cocoon light turned green as well.
Jared also answered quickly. He thought equality for all was impossible to attain. He selected red and consequently his cocoon light which was already red remained unchanged. While making his selection Jared noticed that he could easily see what the others were doing, which answers each person around him selected. He decided to monitor his companion’s selections.
“Question number two: Do you believe that equality for all should be –
The green answer is: Enforced by the Government
The red answer is: A matter of personal responsibility, managed by the masses.
The yellow answer is: A shared responsibility between the government and individuals.”
Joseph selected the green answer and his cocoon light remained unchanged.
Jeremy selected the yellow answer. He instantly heard a loud buzz followed by VCM asking, “Are you sure you want to select this answer? Please select again.” Just before time ran out he selected yellow again. His cocoon light changed to yellow.
Jared wanted to be in the same colony with at least one person that he knew. He waited for Joseph and Jeremy to make their selections and noted the results. Then before time ran out he touched the yellow spot on his screen. His cocoon light remained red. Frantically he touched the green spot on his screen several times but was informed by VCM that time had expired. VCM then informed him, “Everyone will have an opportunity to change any answer after all ten questions have been asked.”
Jared relaxed. He would get a do-over. He could wait until the end and then redo his answers to match his companions. He smiled.
The questioning continued. Joseph’s cocoon light remained green while at some point in the process Jeremy’s had changed from yellow back to green. Jared, on the other hand, was answering questions without thought. He touched green, red and yellow spots at random because he knew he would get a chance to change his answers. His cocoon light was a steady red but he felt relaxed, even closing his eyes for a few minutes. He did not understand the point of the questions. He supposed that they would result in placing people of like minds into specific colonies. Perhaps that was best. But he also speculated that it might prove awfully boring. He momentarily questioned his strategy; what if he were placed into a colony where the rules were not to his liking and the opinions of the community were too different than his own?
The voice started to say, “Question number…..”
‘No!’ thought Jared; he would stick to his strategy. It would be an interesting life to be the voice of dissent, an agent for change.
“Question number Seven: The best economic system is –
The Yellow answer is: Economic systems don’t really matter. Any system is acceptable.
The Green answer is: A system in which Government regulates the economy. Government must protect citizens from the greed and corruption of businessmen.
The Red answer is: The free market system where private enterprise operates with minimal government regulation.”
Joseph hesitated before answering. He was never very financially minded. It involved math and he just wasn’t good at that. He touched the yellow spot on his screen. He heard a loud buzz followed by VCM asking, “Are you sure you want to select this answer? Please select again.” Joseph immediately changed his selection to green. His cocoon light remained green and seemed to glow an even deeper shade of the color.
Jared purposely selected the red answer. He did not like government oversight and control of the economy. In fact he did not like regulation or rules of any sort.
For this question Jeremy thought much like Joseph did and touched the yellow spot but when he got the expected warning he did not change his answer. His cocoon light changed back to yellow.
The standings did not change for questions eight and nine. Joseph was green, Jeremy was yellow and Jared was red.
“Question number ten: Freedom of speech is –
The green answer is: Subject to government regulation and should be limited to consent and support for sanctioned ideas.
The yellow answer is: A privilege which should be self-regulated but with a healthy respect for political correctness.
The red answer is: A right that may not be restricted or regulated in any way.”
All three gentleman answered this question truthfully without delay or hesitation.
Jared surveyed the room, finding that the majority of cocoon lights were green, including Joseph’s. Some were yellow, including Jeremy’s, and a handful were red like his own. He speculated that green was obviously the best position to be in, that color being his goal upon redo. His only regret would be that he liked Jeremy and he would miss him.
“We are nearing the completion of the sorting process,” said the voice. It seemed louder than before. “Do you want to change any of your answers? Please select red for yes or green for no.”
The glaring colored dots pulsated deeply in Jared’s face. Now he had a dilemma. He needed to change his answers but the choices seemed counter-intuitive. His strategy suddenly didn’t seem to work. The pangs of fear returned to his belly.
“Oh shit, now I’m fucked!” The thought repeated itself in his mind, over and over again.
In a panic and before time ran out he selected red for yes. The entire questionnaire appeared on his screen and he rushed to change all his answers to green.
The instant he finished VCM asked, “Are you satisfied with your answers? Touch the green dot for yes or the red dot for no.”
‘Ah, this makes more sense,’ Jared thought to himself. He selected green for yes. An uneasiness persisted but he felt more confidant although the light atop his cocoon remained red. He held his breath in anticipation.
The booming voice now proclaimed, “The results are being tabulated, sorting will be completed soon. VCM will inform each of you what colony you have been assigned to in approximately 60 minutes.”
Jared, Jeremy, and Joseph gripped the armrests of their seats tightly as the hour seemed to tick by very slowly.
Jared struggled to maintain physical control; his guts alternated between knots and spasms. His temples throbbed and sweat rolled down his face.
Jeremy was shaking uncontrollably but Joseph was calm and looked at peace, an expression of satisfaction hiding a gnawing doubt. He wanted to talk to his companions, to express regret about their decision to return to Earth. But he dared not: his intuition cautioned him that perhaps his thoughts were being monitored and he could not suppress the feeling that something was wrong. Yes, life on the outer colonies had been bleak and austere. Food, water, and sometimes even air were often in short supply but he had always felt safe. He struggled to understand why that feeling was gone. He felt pity for Jared and Jeremy; he could see from their yellow and red lights that their fate would be different than his. He had carefully studied the introductory materials provided on the return trip to Earth. He knew what was expected and had complied to the letter, but what had it earned him? Nagging feelings persisted.
“Jeremy 9765, the sorting process has determined that you would benefit from a period of reflection and retraining. You have been assigned to the contemplative reprogramming colony. Your assignment will begin immediately. Please prepare to be assimilated.” Jeremy heard VCM speak these words within his head. What did they mean? Prepare to be assimilated? What did that mean? Prepare how? Prepare what?
The answers came swiftly. A cold and tingling vapor filled his cocoon, and soon his body felt numb. The air around him became electrostatically charged. His clothing vaporized, he was naked. New restraints fastened around his legs, his torso, and his head. He felt his breathing and his heart beat slow to an almost imperceptible level. While all this was happening his vision remained crystal clear, his hearing was normal and his mind was sharp. The effect was unbearable, his psyche began to tremble and scream.
“Jeremy 9765 you are being placed into stasis which will preserve and maintain your body during your time at the contemplative reprogramming colony. While at the colony your mind, visual and aural functions will remain active so that you may benefit from the twenty hours of daily instruction. You will remain at the colony for a period of twelve months after which time you will have an opportunity to repeat the sorting process.”
While VCM provided all the grim details Jeremy felt his cocoon fill with liquid – “Genetically compatible amniotic fluid,” VCM informed him. Then the floor in front of his cocoon began to glow with yellow blinking arrows. His cocoon, along with all the other yellow-lighters, moved into position and proceeded to move along the blinking path. The orderly procession of yellow-light cocoons moved through a portal, then a tunnel, and into a massive warehouse-like space. A robotic device that looked like a fork-lift with tongs grabbed his cocoon and transported it to a position on a self with hundreds of others.
The voice, the dreaded one, a mother, a sibling, a teacher, then spoke to the yellow-lighters.
“Welcome to the contemplative reprogramming colony. Training will begin in five minutes.”
The yellow group assimilation had been broadcast to all repatriates. Joseph and Jared watched in horror as Jeremy was placed into stasis and disappeared through the yellow portal. Both began to tremble.
VCM then spoke to Jared.
“Jared 1823 having reviewed all the data from the sorting process it has been determined that you are disingenuous.”
The word, even though he did not understand it, struck fear into Jared. "VCM, please explain,
“Disin-what? I don’t understand.”
VCM responded with the following message.
“'disingenuous - adjective dis·in·gen·u·ous \ˌdis-in-ˈjen-yə-wəs, -yü-əs-\
: not truly honest or sincere : giving the false appearance of being honest or sincere.'
Do you understand now? Touch green for yes or red for no.”
Jared sank deep into his seat. He knew he was defeated and any further attempt at deception might make things worse. He touched the green dot on his screen.
VCM began anew.
“Jared 1823, having reviewed all the data from the sorting process it has been determined that you are disingenuous and, therefore, unsuitable for assignment to the general population colony or for retraining. You are hereby assigned to the repurposing colony. Your person will be repurposed - as determined by your selection - into one of the following three forms. Please make a choice from the list on the screen. You have twenty-five seconds to make a selection or one will be made for you.”
“Family Pet – Dog, Cat, or Goldfish. Touch the green dot.
Maintenance Drone (recommended). Touch the yellow dot.
Adult Entertainment Specialist. Touch the red dot.”
Jared stared at the screen in disbelief. Were they kidding? He tried to speak but heard, “It is what it is,” over and over again. He tried to send a message. An error code was displayed instead:
[“MD” - messaging has been disabled].
He selected Adult Entertainment Specialist as the time expired. He waited.
Any moment now he expected to feel the beginning of the assimilation process just like what he had seen Jeremy experience but nothing happened. No further announcements were made. After many nail biting minutes he heard,
“Your selection has been accepted.”
Red flashing arrows appeared in the flooring and his, but only his, cocoon moved into position and started to follow the lighted path. As he looked around he disconcertedly noted that there were many other red-lighters but only he was moving. His cocoon approached a portal which opened and he started a steep descent through a dark tunnel. VCM then spoke to him.
“As an Adult Entertainment Specialist you will be fed intravenously with nutrient and performance enhancing solutions. You will work in all aspects of the adult entertainment industry for twelve hours per day and you will sleep for twelve hours per day. We call it the F&S plan. You will make adult entertainment videos, feature length movies, strip shows and participate in interactive live performances. Periodically, special customers will be able to purchase you for private events.”
As VCM spoke Jared felt an intravenous stent being installed in his leg. He also felt changes being made to his clothing, then something uncomfortable was stuffed into his mouth. As his cocoon emerged into a dank and dimly lit corridor VCM spoke again.
“Jared 1823 your first job starts now. You have been assigned to Leather Master Harley for a two-hour training session.”
The cocoon opened to release him. He stood and stared at himself in the mirrored hallway. He was wearing a studded leather dog collar, a leather harness, and a black leather kilt – commando style. In his mouth was a leather ball gag. The door in front of him opened and a very large, tall, hairy and bearded man wearing only leather chaps and nothing else reached for him and pulled him into the room.
Joseph had watched for over an hour as the red-lighters left the room in three groups. He thought it was ominous that Jared had been taken away alone. Now it was his turn. Several thousand green-lighters waited anxiously.
“Congratulations!” the voice announced. “You have been accepted for admittance to Earth’s general population.”
Pre-recorded applause followed for several minutes.
“In gen-pop you will receive all the benefits of Earth’s rejuvenated and restructured utopian society.
Today, life on Earth is Perfect, it is Ideal, it is Visionary.
In gen-pop you will be content, you will be happy.
Earth is now free of hate, violence, greed, prejudice, bigotry, jealousy and envy.
In gen-pop there are no socio-economic differences, there is no gender divide, there is no religious persecution, there are no sexual identity conflicts, and there is no age penalty.
In gen-pop everyone is Equal. We guarantee it!
On the rejuvenated Earth all life is stable, secure, and unchanging. The new Earth is ecologically perfect and absolutely nothing is in short supply.
There is no crime, there is no warfare, and there is no disease.
Assimilation will begin now.”
The individual cocoons instantly filled with a numbing mist. Within minutes Joseph and the thousands of other green-lighters were in an anesthetic sleep which would last long enough to make the needed changes. When Joseph woke his cocoon was parked just outside a towering glass-sided building. It opened to release him and as he stood he saw that he and all the others were within a transparent causeway. He took a moment to stretch his legs, feeling physically rejuvenated yet strangely different. The walkway was filled with an obscuring fog that made it impossible to see to the outside or to view anyone else clearly.
“Please proceed into housing unit foxtrot-uniform-charlie-kilo-echo-delta-x-ray-ten,” the voice commanded. As Joseph complied he felt a quick sharp pain as a laser beam etched something on his forehead; the sliding doors opened to admit him.
“Please proceed to the elevators at the end of the corridor,” the voice commanded. Again, Joseph complied and as he moved forward he encountered floor-to-ceiling windows on either side of the hall. The views to the outside were stunning: deep clear-blue sky; lush green jungle-like growth full of a variety of flora and fauna; streams, ponds, waterfalls were everywhere. The images were perfect but for the want of people in them. The voice then informed them that travel throughout the planet was unrestricted with one exception. Travel of any sort outside the housing units must be done within the cocoons. The moment an individual stepped outside, that person would be encased within the cocoon for transport to any desired location. Access to the ambient environment was not permitted.
Joseph felt dizzy. He suddenly felt ultra-claustrophobic. Then, as he continued to move forward he came to a wall of mirrors. He stopped in his tracks, he stared in the mirror and he turned in all directions to look at the others around him. He covered his eyes for a moment then looked again. His eyes were not deceiving him.
Staring back at him was an unknown image. It was the image of a grey, featureless, naked, sexually neutral person. It had a normal sized head, two ears, two eyes, a nose and a mouth, but no hair, no unique features, not even a distinguishing face. Joseph looked up and down the corridor, joining the others in staring at each other and at their images in the mirror. They were all the same height, weight, shape, color and gender. They were all identical.
Then Joseph noticed the small tattoo. Again he surveyed the others to discover that they were similarly marked. Each had an identifying bar code right in the middle of their foreheads.
The voice welcomed them once again and added, “Please take a moment to appreciate the wonderful changes we have made to your anatomy. It may take a few hours to become fully accustomed to these improvements so please follow the blinking lights to your assigned personal sleeping pod. We recommend a sleep period of at least nine hours.”
Joseph stepped into the elevator. Joseph…Joseph? No that didn’t work anymore. What should he call himself, he pondered.
VCM responded, “Scan your barcode. All the identifying information that you or anyone else requires is there.”
As he stepped from the elevator into a vast space, white and featureless, with row upon row of unmarked doors, the booming voice spoke again.
“Welcome home. We know that you will be happy here for, it is what it is.”
Stay tuned for our upcoming novella - Welcome Home - in which we follow the ongoing reacclimation of our friends Jeremy, Jared, and Joseph, as the settle into their new surroundings....