I don't know if this counts as fanfiction or not, but it is inspired and based off of the game Mirror's Edge, which is extremely awesome by the way. I also wanted to write a little more about the totalitarian government presented in the game, and this was the result. So please enjoy this slightly odd story!
The Dystopian City
Perhaps the reason why a utopia was so hard to achieve was because the process of perfection involved too many people.
But it didn't stop Jane Clemens from hoping all the same. As a news journalist, she had seen more than her fair share of tragic stories that she was frequently forced to interview about. Seeing the sobbing family members over a deceased loved one or five to six children crammed in a small home struggling to survive while their parents worked hard to bring in what little income they had was heartbreaking. Jane often had to spend the rest of the evening after work reading unceasingly to turn her mind away from these things. Being raised in a relatively sheltered family hadn't prepared her for this kind of imagery. Jane's life had been laid out for her as she graduated the top of the class and then finished her courses at the most prestigious college in the country. Then she had applied for a job opening at TVBS News because of her love for writing and listening to others in general, not for this.
But her mind often unconsciously turned toward her work and the events she had to report into the station nevertheless. Jane couldn't help but think what it would be like if all of the unhappiness, suffering and poverty of the world were taken away. It was a childish dream, though she was sure that she wasn't the only who dreamed it. Wasn't it what everyone, conscious or not, wished to have? No more of those heartrending stories Jane had to listen to each day. No more of trying to forget herself, of having the desire to quit her job. Everyone will live equally in this imaginary perfect society and no one had to suffer for it.
Just a child's dream, Jane dismissed as she locked the door of her small apartment and headed down the stairs with her notebook-filled messenger beg slung over one shoulder, I still have to go to work whether I like it or not. Time to face reality again. It's only 7:32 right now, but I have to hurry if I don't want to be late.
As soon as she stepped out of the building, the tumultuous sounds of the busy street immediately washed over her along with a few drops of rain from the overcast sky above. The metropolis was at its loudest during the rush hours as many others like Jane hurried to work. Roosevelt Boulevard was already teaming with cars that refused to move even when the lights turned green. The harsh honks of the drivers pushing their horns were painfully piercing.
Jane winced and strode quickly to the subway entrance situated just a few blocks away. Unfortunately the underground station was just as crowded as above as more people rushed in to catch the trains. After swiping her card at the ticket barriers, Jane managed to run and squeeze herself into a train just before the doors closed.
Here in the enclosed space, every person was forced to press together not unlike sardines in a can. Jane frowned as she was jostled around for a while before she was pushed into a corner by the doors. Not exactly the best of spots, but at least she would be arriving on time now that she caught the train.
Jane allowed her mind to wonder as the train rocked into motion, the whine of its engines becoming louder when the vehicle accelerated. Again she turned her thoughts upon her unattainable dream. Here on the train it seemed as if everyone had no connection to the problems of the world. They were too wrapped up in their own lives (though Jane dared not to say she was otherwise) and work. Here and there were those twiddling around with their smartphones, either gaming, texting or posting statuses. There were few who actually paid attention to their surroundings.
A perfect world will have its people who do, people who are willing to work together to achieve a common goal.
She faintly considered jotting down her ideas and reviewing them to herself. Never to others, for once Jane had unwittingly let slip her thoughts to a friend, who promptly laughed and told her to forget it. Immature, she had chided casually, everyone has to learn to come to terms with this world and its imperfections. It's just the way things are; there was nothing we could do to make it better.
Jane hadn't agreed, though she did not bother to argue with her friend and just brushed the matter aside by changing the topic. Sophie worked as an office secretary; all she had to do was to handle her boss' paperwork and appointments. She wouldn't understand what Jane meant by her comment. Few would.
Soon she had to join the crowd exiting to the main transfer station. Jane didn't allow her thoughts to wonder again until she boarded another train and had found another spot she could lean against without getting pushed on all sides by the crowd.
Just great, She grumbled, Now I'm not sure whether I could make it through the day if I woke up with those thoughts in my head. No doubt Stephen is going to ask me to get the usual scoop of news to report. I wouldn't have to do this if there was nothing wrong with society, this sick depraved society in which children murder their parents and murderers get away with their crimes. Sure the other journalists say that they feel the same, but they haven't done anything about it...
So deep was Jane in her thoughts that she didn't notice how the usually commotional train interior had grown strangely silent.
Well, no use wishing for it right now that no one has ever achieved perfection. No one even knows what it should look like. I should be worrying about how to survive today's work.
Time passed interestingly fast when Jane was buried in her own thoughts. Soon the terminal station was announced on the intercom, and she got off board with everyone else. It was then when she realized that no one was making a sound as they headed for the ticket barriers. Usually the station was quite noisy as people spoke on cell phones, met an acquaintance and went to greet them warmly and exclaimed in dismay as they ran to the exits. However there was nothing, not even a murmur. All Jane heard were the pit-pats of shoes on concrete tiles and the beeps of the barriers as tickets were swiped and passed.
The young woman had stopped on the platform in the midst of the moving masses, and she was starting to attract a few quizzical glances. Perturbed, Jane eventually made her way out without making more observations, like how the station was much cleaner than previously, how there were security cameras in almost every corner and how each person was dressed in dull colors. She ascended the stairs a little breathlessly, muttering all the while about how the station staff should install an escalator here also. More people stared at her; she took no notice.
When Jane finally emerged at the top, she gasped in utter surprise.
The sky overhead was now a clear rich blue with a few wisps of clouds floating along the wind. At first she dismissed it as area weather difference, for back at her apartment it was drizzling slightly, but then realized it was impossible since there wasn't that much of a distance between her home and workplace. This was but a minor oddity, compared to the sight that greeted Jane when she lowered her vision.
Instead of the somewhat haphazard old buildings and tightly packed stores outside the station, soaring high skyscrapers arose around her, each reflecting the sunlight blindingly on their reflective surfaces. What struck Jane first was the fact that everything was so clean. As far as she could see there were none of the grime-covered rundown buildings she had grown so familiar with after exiting the station each day. Nor was there a sign of any form of uncleanness; Jane saw her own reflection staring back at her in a nearby tinted window that was absent of scratches or dust, a somewhat frail looking black haired woman with dark brown eyes and a stern countenance emphasized by the square-rimmed glasses she wore. As for her clothes, Jane had chosen a simple outfit consisting of a black dress and a jacket and then discovered, after turning her attention to the people around her, that her color scheme was shared by most.
She frowned quizzically. Did color even exist here? There was nothing but a sea of different shades of gray and the brilliant whitewashed road. One of the things she was most intrigued about this city despite its filthiness was how vibrant and lively it was in both people variety and colors. Now that both were gone, it seemed oddly... displaced.
Jane started to walk again in this gleaming landscape lest she drew unwanted attention again. As she proceeded along, the logical part of her naturally demanded an explanation for this. Entering the subway station and exiting into an entirely different world? It was unheard of, like some kind of ridiculous children's novel of imaginary worlds. Or maybe it was just a dream, and Jane was still in her warm cozy bed enjoying a rare good night's sleep. Or maybe she had exited the wrong station while she was distracted, although a quick glance backwards at the sign showed this was not so.
A dream. This is definitely some kind of dream.
Jane continued to walk in a detached manner along the sidewalk. Her first impression was that it so beautiful, so elegant in a way a city should be. It was like one those futuristic metropolises seen in sci-fi films minus the advanced technologies. Plenty of cars still cruised smoothly down the neatly paved road, though no one honked or tried to cut in front. None of the pedestrians attempted to jaywalk either; they just lined up obediently at the crossing.
Orderly. Rule abiding. This has always been the way I was taught at school, and yet we throw away all of them when we enter society. This is how things should be if everyone agreed to follow the rules and the laws. Perhaps this is my idea of how a flawless society should go. I want to look around.
It wasn't like Jane could just head off to work right now that the streets were laid out differently. She wasn't even sure if the news headquarters was still at the same spot. So the young woman headed off towards another street where there weren't so many people traveling on it. It was again lined by the skyscrapers, though here they weren't quite as tall. For a long while Jane simply enjoyed the view, admiring how as far as she could see the entire city was filled with those reflecting skyscrapers. They stretched seemly without limit into the sky, where there they mirrored the sun's rays and glinted with the brightness of a new star.
There wasn't much sound besides the ambience of a large city. It was as if every undesirable and cacophonous noise had been filtered out, leaving behind only the faint hum of some kind of machinery and the sound of the cars on the roads. A rather strong wind blew through the street, mutely howling its way through skyscrapers.
Beautiful... Jane thought, I would love to live here someday. It must be nice to look at this city daily, where everything is so orderly, so perfect. I wonder if all social injustice has been eliminated here. Surely it must have, or all this wouldn't have been possible.
A strange kind of joy filled her so that she wanted to skip along the sidewalk. All this perfection she had seen without effort, it can be achieved. Wouldn't it be great if all problems that plagued a city were gotten rid of? This would have been the result. This is what Jane had wished for, if only she could get a scoop on the inside matters of this place.
She turned into another street again, preparing herself to enjoy another breathtaking city vista. But instead her attention was drawn to a telephone pole beside a still-in-construction building. Lashed to the spotless pole were a few high-tech looking security cameras that were trained in different directions, each with a pinpoint of red light that showed they were recording.
Nothing special really. Jane had seen those a lot back at her neighborhood also, but for some reason when she looked into the blank lens of one, her vision suddenly distorted. Suddenly Jane was seeing a room with dozens, no, probably hundreds of television screens. On each was an image of a security feed of homes, office lobbies, restaurants, streets, subway stations, fitness areas and much much more. There were people here too, and they hurried busily about while some fixed their gazes on the screens.
Then she was back as if nothing had happened. The security cameras looked as normal as ever, though the red lights seemed to gain a menacing meaning.
Hey, isn't it illegal to have surveillance in private buildings? Why is everything been monitored? This place isn't going through some kind of war, is it? Or are they trying to catch a spy hidden in the city?
Jane was beginning to feel uncomfortable, so she moved away from the cameras quickly. Soon she was striding briskly down another road to no particular destination. That strange sight had unsettled her somewhat. Could it be that—
The road led to a wide plaza located right in middle of a circle of more office building skyscrapers. There were more people here, though it didn't bother Jane that much. Much of their attention was been drawn to a large screen on the central building, which was currently playing what seemed to be a news report.
"—live from TVBS News. There has been a gas leak near West Avenue of unknown causes. While there are no casualties, for everyone has evacuated the building in time, we advise that all civilians should stay away from the area…"
Again, nothing special. But as Jane continued to watch, she became disturbed again by the complete lack of the usual social news. There were weather reports, updates on some kind of epidemic research, warnings against a local gang and other miscellaneous things. There was nothing, however, that spoke of the more "sensitive" information. It was as if everything that could cause any potential controversy or discomfort had been carefully filtered through.
I get it. Problems like diseases and gas leaks still exist whether we like it or not, but what about the people? Why have they been removed from the news? Where are the usual reports that always made my heart ache? Perhaps this place has achieved perfection, but for some reason I am not convinced. Why do I feel as if there is something inherently wrong with this place, that there is not an ounce of… life present in this city?
Jane turned her attention back to the screen, and suddenly, just as before, her vision changed to that of the TVBS building interior. Seeing the familiar sight in this strange new world was slightly comforting, though the feeling didn't stay long when she saw the work station. There standing in the front was Stephen Rummel the head journalist, a tall reedy middle-aged man with graying hair and a kindly face, though now it was furrowed with stress. He had a large stack of papers in one hand with the other cupped around his mouth as he yelled,
"Deadline is this noon! I want all reports submitted to the censoring department by then, and make sure each of you has at least ten. Perhaps we can actually get a decent amount aired this time without those goons handing most of them back. Sheesh… sometimes I think we can't air anything without the government butting its nose into it…"
That last part was muttered crossly, but he was met by another journalist who shushed him almost fearfully.
Jane was again in shock at this vision. When did the station ever have a censoring department apart from the cover-ups they sometimes made to conceal children's faces and some gruesome accident scenes? And when did the government ever try to "butt its nose" into a news station, sounding as if it had to filter through everything before anything could be aired?
For the first time, she was beginning to feel some seeds of doubt sprout within her. Perhaps this futuristic city wasn't as perfect as it seemed to be on the outside. On the inside, there were mysteries that when revealed, would instantly tarnish her impression of this place. There was something inexpressibly disturbing at work here.
First there were the lifeless people who walked in silence. Then there were the cameras that monitored everything, as well as the news channel that reported censored news. Everything about this place, when Jane looked around her again, seemed… dead, and fearful, as if everyone was afraid of being caught doing something they shouldn't be doing.
Perfection had been achieved, but a price had to be paid for this perfection, and it was a terrible, terrible price.
Jane was beginning to receive a clear picture on how things went in the city. She didn't like it one bit.
"—has been another protest on Civic Boulevard. Currently the police are trying to suppress the protesters, who seemed to have gotten more aggressive today. We advise all citizens to stay away from the area and refrain from becoming a spectator."
It was another news report without live footage. By this time most of the people in the plaza had left on their way, leaving Jane the only one there.
A protest? If my suspicions were true, then this protest would prove it. I should go and check it out.
She had no idea where Civic Boulevard was, but the silence of the city made it easy to hear the faint shouts and harsh blares of air horns just beyond the building with the TV screen. Jane then surmised that wherever the protest was happening, it was close enough to travel there on foot following the source of the sound alone. She set off in a brisk pace towards a small passageway between two skyscrapers, turning sideways so she can make it through the dark narrow path. Soon Jane emerged into another wide road filled with sunlight.
It seemed to be a complete contrast against the enormous crowd of people gathered at the far end of the road. Most of them stood behind a stretched out cloth banner held chest high that read "Away With Surveillance, In With Privacy!" in large crimson letters. There were more signs held by the people behind the banner, with phrases like "Down with totalitarian!" and "Comfort is overrated!" and "Freedom is the right of all!". The rest shouted the motto on their largest banner over and over againwith loud voices, punctuated by the blasts of the horns on each repetition.
Jane had seen protests and sit-ins before, which were either about unfulfilled demands or something similar. But these protesters before her were demanding for something much more, something that the majority of the population apparently gave up to live in this dystopia. They had started to move forward down the road, and for a moment, Jane considered questioning one of them about the state of affairs. She decided against it at the last moment, for she felt that she was to be an observer instead.
Not all problems are resolved here. Look at those people who want their freedom. Is this the price to pay in order to create a utopia, to get rid of all the problems of society? Is this the only solution?
Which is better, the end of all suffering and injustice or individual freedom?
Sirens whined down the opposite direction, accompanied by the screech of tires as several police cruisers came barreling towards Jane and the group. As soon as they stopped, several officers with riot shields and helmets leapt out. The glint of a pistol handle at each of their belts showed that they were armed.
Jane had a feeling they would not hesitate to shoot.
The shouting intensified at the appearance of the police, and the protesters started to move forward faster. By then despite the news report, there were quite a number of spectators standing safely at a distance, watching the entire thing without a trace of emotion on their passive faces.
Jane could particularly feel the tension hanging so thick in the air that she could have cut it with a knife. One side was going to take action first, and then everything would break loose. In the next second it did.
A man sudden ran for the police with his sign, "Take back freedom!" Jane was sure that he didn't really have the nerve to attack the other side, but nevertheless a shot was fired. The sharp cracking report of the weapon was so loud that it echoed around the area with deafening clarity. Several people, including Jane, clapped their hands to their ears.
But it was at that moment when pandemonium broke out among everyone.
The protesters all ran forward as if the doomed man crumpling to the ground served as some sort of unspoken signal. They no longer shouted their phrases, and their voices arose in a guttural shout that amounted to a thunderous roar. More shots were fired from the police, more people collapsed limply. By then the protest had turned into an all-out riot. The spectators had long since fled the scene as soon as the first shot was fired.
Jane tried to get out of their way the best she could, for no doubt the people would trample her if she didn't move. No longer was there any order in this orderly city as mass panic erupted in the road. People ran in all directions, some even daring to jump at the police and wrestle the shields away from them. More were gunned down without mercy. All in all, it was an ugly scene. People were dying around her in cold blood just because the protest got violent. Usually when this happened the police would spray the crowd with water or pepper spray, but never bringing out guns and shooting down the people like she was seeing now. Jane could clearly see the message in it. These protesters have rebelled and gone aggressive, and this was their outcome. Let it serve as a warning to others who attempt the same.
Her horror was rising by every second that ticked by, so that she was frozen by a paralyzing numbness that bound her in place. It was only when a protester grabbed her by the arm and shouted something totally incomprehensible in her face did Jane come to her senses and yank her arm away. The jacket sleeve tore under the force and the other was sent reeling off balance.
Jane started to run, though she had no idea which direction was the safest. Everyone was now scattering in different directions, stumbling over the unmoving bodies on the pavement. She had to get out of here, out of this horrible nightmare in which freedom had no influence here. Where were the familiar streets of her own run-down world with all the problems she had loathed? At least back there she hadn't had to worry about invasive surveillance or police brutality. Jane couldn't believe that she once thought this place would be a nice area to settled down in. She had to get out, but where? How to wake up from this dream or head back to the station?
Her desperation had blinded her, so Jane didn't react in time and collided into another figure. She swerved away with a quick apology, but it died on her lips when she saw that it was one of the masked officers.
The barrel of his pistol was aimed at her. He pulled the trigger.
The shot downright blew her eardrums with its deafening bang, at least it felt like it to her. Jane didn't even have time to realize that she had just been shot as everything went black.
Jane came to standing in the middle of a busy street.
Here it was so noisy that she couldn't have heard her own thoughts if she tried. Cars honked their way down the jammed roads as drivers yelled their complaints at others angrily. Everyone around her was either engaged in a fast paced conversation on their phones or chatting loudly with a companion. Compared to the silence of the dystopian city, it was jarring to be thrust into reality again.
She stared disbelievingly around her for a long while. No one noticed though, the crowd just flowed around her like a river around a protruding stone.
I'm back? But how? That was definitely no dream, for I remember getting out of bed and boarding the train here.
Jane raised her right arm to look at the sleeve. It was torn.
What was that back there? Was it real then? Or was that the future of the city I live in right now? No, impossible. Rummel was there as well as a few of my colleagues…
Soon she had to stop her confused pondering to resume her journey to work. Amazingly though, not a minute had passed since she had been thrust into the shining city. She would still make it on time if she walked faster. Jane would muse about her experience more thoroughly once she returned home this evening.
But the joy of being back at her familiar world was real, so Jane took time to look at those dirty and run-down buildings and the stores squeezed together in spaces so small that one had to wonder how customers even entered. This was the city she lived in for most of her life, vibrant and lively even with all its problems. This was where, despite the unfair things that happen, everyone was free to express their thoughts. Though that dystopia had achieved absolute order, its citizens had sacrificed something far more important for it.
Jane began to see that a utopia was not achievable, at least not by human means. A price had to paid for it, and she could not think of a scenario with a light price.
She brushed past an old beggar squatting on the dirty ground. Jane passed him every day on her way to work, though almost every time she ignored him, because he was another unpleasant reminder of the world's greatest problems: poverty. But this time, the young woman reached into her wallet and slipped two bills into his bowl. The aged man gave her a toothless grin and bobbed his head thankfully.
Soon Jane was walking into the news station and checking in. Then she no longer had time to think more about the city as she got started on her work. But for once, she felt that she could face her job without wanting to give up and quit. Though these people she interviewed suffered, they still had what is most precious to them: freedom. They were free to recover from their trauma, to overcome their difficulties and choose to be greater than any trial life might throw at them.
And no one should ever give it up just because they wanted a comfortable life.