A/N: May Trigger. I tried to keep it as safe as I could... but use caution when reading.
"Dad, you have to do something!" Klessera shouted. "You can't let them limit the words again!"
"Sweetie, I can't do anything about it. Commander's orders."
"But you're a doctor! You don't need to update the counters, do you?"
"I do, and if I don't, I could lose my job, or probably go to jail. I'm sorry, I know that you're upset. I am too. Limiting words affects everyone. If I could do something, I would, but I can't. We just have to hope that officials from other countries will agree to conserve oxygen, and then maybe we can go back to normal."
"How is this normal?" She looked her father in the eye, and could see that he was wishing that he could say or do something to help his daughter. Klessera knew that he wouldn't be able to do anything against the Commander, but she had to take her anger out on someone.
Ivan held his daughter in an embrace, and Klessera noticed that he still smelled like the local clinic. The rubber gloves, the soap and hand sanitizer… The place where the doctors will be removing what will eventually be thousands of words from innocent Terasolus citizens.
"It's not normal. But if life was normal, it would be so unbearably boring."
The next morning, Sable woke up early so that she could read the newspaper before anyone else. She had always loved reading, but the newspaper was something special in itself. When she was very little, her parents would always sugar-coat the news; they would tell her that bad things were happening, but they would never mention how bad. There were deaths, but never how many deaths. The newspaper was honest, or at least as honest as it would get. The reporters would have articles written and published in less than a day, so Sable knew that Commander Westbrock's speech would be covered in this issue. Because of her father's busy schedule, he takes apart the paper and takes the articles that he finds interesting to work with him. As a doctor, any articles about the new word restrictions would definitely be interesting to him.
Another reason that Sable loved the newspaper is that she could make her own recycled paper out of it. She had learned at a young age how to make paper, and Klessie would give her old school papers. Soon, Sable was collecting all of the old newspapers, and she practiced her writing skills on her own paper. As rare as paper was, there was always enough for the newspaper companies and a decent amount for schools.
She sat at the kitchen table and opened up the huge paper, looking for the article about the Commander's speech. She didn't have to look very hard, since a large picture of Commander Westbrock at his podium was on the second page.
When Sable's class was listening to the speech yesterday, most of the class was clearly not paying attention. These speeches have been aired more and more often in the last few years, and none of them are bringing good news. But Sable was very curious about this one. Previous newspaper articles said that Westbrock was saving his words that morning for his speech, leaving Sable to wonder how many words he would say. Would it be exactly 350?
The newspapers never said anything about Commander's word counts, so Sable couldn't rely on a reporter to give her the information that she really needed. As usual, she had to do her own research.
Since students are not allowed to write during the speeches and announcements on the television, and there was a soldier to make sure that everyone followed the rules, Sable mentally counted the words of the speech. It was difficult at some points when the Commander was talking quickly, but at the point where he had asked for any questions, Sable kept the number in her mind. And when, for the first time in months, someone asked a question, the Commander had enough words left to give a lengthy answer. When he left the screen, Sable was awestruck, but not because of the new word limit like most of the class. She was surprised at Commander's words. It was not under 350. It was not exactly 350. Somehow, his speech had run so much higher than the limit for any citizen with the word counter.
Five-hundred thirty-nine words. He had said almost 200 words over the limit. Instantly, Sable's mind was racing. How could he say so many words? How could the word-counter let him?
The citizens of Terasolus had known that Commander Westbrock had gotten the lung surgery and word-counter when he was a child. He showed his scars on live television. And it was illegal for anyone, officials included, to have the any of these surgeries undone. Not to mention that the clinics and hospitals have record documenting every patient who walks through the doors. It would be impossible to even think that Commander Westbrock did not have a word-counter.
But there had to be some reason. What that reason is was unknown, but a reason had to exist.
Sable closed the newspaper when she heard someone, probably her sister, walking down the hallway.
"Klessie, Commander Westbrock has a word-counter too, right?"
"Of course he did, he has the scars." She answered, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. And it was. Everyone who has a word-counter and has had the lung surgery has three scars, two over the lungs and one near the collar bone. Even the richest people in the area do not use scar-hiding makeup. When word counters were first introduced, Commander Westbrock encouraged the people to embrace those scars, as if they represented Terasolus' care for the planet.
"Are you sure that they aren't fake scars?"
After she saw the look that her older sister was giving, Sable shook off the idea. "Never mind. Just wondering."
Klessera looked at her sister. Sable seemed to be onto something, but whatever it was, it didn't sound good. It didn't sound legal. It was never something that people had thought of. One of the things that people always respected about Westbrock is that if the citizens had to suffer, he seemed to suffer too. At least when it came to word-counters, he suffered. Besides that, he was living the life of luxury. He and his wife lived in a huge mansion on the coast. He had hundreds of servants who made sure that every square inch of the house was perfect. The average citizens of Terasolus were lucky if the wind didn't blow too much dust into the windows. Westbrock himself had probably never even seen dust in his house.
"Sable... Why did you ask me?"
The younger girl avoided eye contact, she just looked down at the ground, shifting her eyes from floor tile to floor tile.
"Yesterday... His speech was over 400 words. And the question he answered was another hundred."
The two sisters locked eyes, half amazed and half in fear. This means that Commander Westbrock, and maybe other officials as well, have some sort of privilege that the common citizens do not have. It means that they are somehow stronger than rest of the people. They have some power that makes them special. And Sable and Klessera could only hope that their government would use their power sparingly.
But then again, this is the government that is currently taking the ability to speak away from their citizens.
They would never use their power sparingly.
When Klessera arrived at school, it was so quiet that she could hear her shoes brushing against the floor. Usually, even when students were not talking, there was some sort of noise. Laughter from the playground, teachers moving desks, shuffling of the feet on their way to class. But there was nothing. She held her younger sister close, not knowing if they were even supposed to be in the building. She walked slowly, carefully making each turn in the hallway, until she reached Sable's classroom. She looked though the dusty glass window, and saw that the students were sitting absolutely silently. Sable was hesitant to even turn the doorknob, so she was thankful when her teacher opened the door. As Sable scurried to her seat, looking confused and terrified, Klessera lingered at the door. Sable's teacher, noticing the unbroken gaze between the two sisters, whispered to the older girl. "Doctors are updating counters today. They scheduled us earlier than we anticipated. You should probably get back to your classroom, Klessera."
Klessera looked at her younger sister, as if she was telepathically giving Sable a hug, but was urged by the teacher to go.
The hallways seemed so eerie, so empty. Part of Klessera wanted to scream, to scream at Commander Westbrock and the soldiers that are currently guarding the school and everyone involved in the government. But the other half knew that she couldn't. She just couldn't. No matter how hard she tried, she wouldn't be able to fix the problems in the world. There was just so much wrong… and not enough right.
She slowly opened the door to her classroom, and quietly took her seat. Not even a full minute after, a doctor, preceded and followed by a soldier. The doctor began to explain the procedure, claiming that it will not hurt, there will be no blood or scars, it will be very quick, and the new word limit will take place immediately. The soldiers stood there silently, both holding onto a gray, lusterless, metal box, probably a bit bigger than the flat area of the school desks. The doctor then asked us to form a line, in alphabetical order by last names, and to follow one of the soldiers behind the cloth that Klessera had just noticed was in the corner of the room. About the size of a blanket, behind that piece of cloth is where these children were slowly losing their ability to speak.
"Ryla Ackman." The second soldier spoke, his voice angry and cold. Klessera looked as her classmate, who she had known practically since birth, was led to the cloth. It seemed to devour Ryla, walking in and being hidden away from the rest of the class. No one else knew what happened back there. All they could hear was this soft buzzing noise. It was soft, yet loud at the same time. It would be impossible for anyone to imagine that this was not happening.
The minute that Ryla exited the hidden section, the soldier continued with the list. Name after name, Klessera couldn't rid her mind of the fact that the same thing was happening to Sable at this moment.
Out of instinct, Klessera grabbed the familiar hand of the boy in front of her. Hannox Octain. He quickly gave her hand a slight squeeze, their silent way of saying "You'll be okay. Trust me". Luckily, Hannox and Klessera have always been placed next to each other in alphabetical order. Luli was by herself, though. And she was getting closer to the front of the line.
Klessera had been completely involved in her thoughts that she didn't even realize that she kept inching towards the front of the room, with every unheard name.
The soldier had gone through almost half of the class. Now they were listing off the names that started with K, and soon it would be L, then M, then N, then O…
The soldier's monotonous words was interrupted by a painful scream, making the entire class jump. Klessera practically fell into Hannox's embrace, both beginning to worry that the scream came from Sable. All other students with younger siblings had the same thought. "Who was that? Was it my brother? My sister? What will happen now?"
This time, the screaming voice let out words. "LET GO OF ME!" That was not a little girl's voice, it sounded like a teenage boy. Klessera instantly let out a sigh of relief. Her fear wasn't completely abandoned, though, since she knew that there was definitely going to be a consequence. One could only hope that it was a short suspension, or something similar to that.
The buzzing noise from the machine disappeared as the soldiers ran out of the room. Inside, the room was absolutely silent. But outside, the students could hear soldiers' muffled shouts, footsteps running though the hallway, and the main door opening. No one could have predicted what was heard next.
A final scream. Not as angry as the first one that was heard, this scream was definitely out of sadness and pain.
Then silence again. All of the girls with little brothers began to cry, not knowing if it was a boy that they did not know or a boy that they grew up with. The fear was eating them alive, and Klessera was so glad that she knew that it was not Sable. If there was even the slightest chance that it was her sister, sweet little Sable, she would probably run out of the classroom, risking getting shot herself. She found herself holding Hannox tighter and tighter, not helping the rumors that they liked each other. What did the little boy do that was so horrible that the soldiers had to shoot their guns? No one had told the students that the boy was actually shot. That tiny sliver of hope, that unlikely and improbable sliver, was in every student's mind.
What Hannox could not wrap his head around is why the soldiers would consciously shoot at a child, if that was what happened. And why the doctors didn't run out to see who was injured. It was as if-
"Hannox Octain." The two soldiers came back into the room before Hannox could realize it. He slowly slipped out of Klessera's hold, and followed the soldier to the cloth.
The minutes that Hannox was getting his word-counter updated were so hard for Klessera, whose eyes were still filled with tears. But now she had no one to hold on to. She was all alone.
The girl froze. Her feet started moving without consciously trying, those feet moving closer and closer to the section of the room. She could not blink, she could not think, it took so much energy to even breathe. As soon as she reached the cloth, the soldier who was guarding it practically pushed her into a chair.
The doctor took a stethoscope and placed it on Klessera's heart. "Calm down, please, Miss Palvonis. The procedure will go much smoother if you lower your heart rate."
The words sounded like a jumbled mess to the girl, who looked so small and full of fear, sitting on the chair. The doctor exchanged a glance with the soldier, and then proceeded to stab something into Klessera's arm. Something sharp, like a needle. Instantly, the girl began to calm down. The chair began to recline, until Klessera was practically lying down. She began to close her eyes, drifting off into a dream-like state of mind.
As Klessera began to dream, the doctor began to work quickly before the medicine wore off. With the help of the soldier, they began to strap the girl to the table. One strap at the legs, one on the waist, one at the arms. The soldier moved the top of Klessera's loose shirt away from her shoulder, revealing the scars from the initial word-counter insertion. The doctor placed some sort of metal contraption, supposedly a magnet of some sort, right on top of the scars. After pressing a few buttons on the main machine, the magnet began to vibrate, making the girl shake very slightly, but the straps kept her from moving too much or fall off the chair. As soon as the main machine lit a green light, the doctor and soldier removed the straps and brought the chair back into a semi-sitting position. Klessera quickly woke up, oblivious to what had just happened to her. She got up from the chair, and was led back to her desk in the back of the classroom. She was still waking up from her dream, a dream where she and her family and friends could say whatever they wanted, and everyone was safe. No soldiers waiting outside of the school, no lying commanders. Just peace and tranquility, all in a soothing dream that could easily cause the most alert person to sleep. All was quiet. All was safe.