Noir

I awoke to the sweet smell of fruit and flowers. I awoke to the sharp feeling of a bruised head and strained muscles. I awoke in a chair across from a man.

"Who-?" I tried, but my tongue had not yet caught up with my mind.

The man looked at me and smiled slightly.

"Glad to see that you are awake, Geoffrey. How's the head?"

I blinked. I had seen the man before. He had occasionally met with the Chief when I was still on the force and I had seen him a few times since. He was someone important. He seemed older now than he had been the last time I had seen him, just a year ago, but it was noticeable. I could only have guessed as to what he had been through.

"It's been better," I said, rubbing the back of my head.

Again the smile. "I can assure you, Geoffrey, that if you cooperate with us, it will not get any worse. All you need to do is answer a few questions and you can leave. Alright?"

I could hardly conceal my surprise. Here was a man who undoubtedly held a high position in the world, possibly even a Board member, and he was promising that I would not get hurt? He was offering me a deal??

"How do I know that your word is good enough?" I asked.

The smile twitched. "You don't trust me?"

"Sorry."

He nodded. "I can understand that, given what you must have seen these past few days. I suppose it wouldn't help any to tell you that it was all done with nothing but the best of intentions?"

"What was?"

He shrugged and spread his arms wide. "Everything. All of it."

"How could that," I said, pointing out the window, "have been made from good intentions?!"

"You misunderstood me. I didn't mean what you see outside of this office. I meant what became what you see." Seeing my slightly confused face, he continued.

"Many, many years ago, before all of this existed, there was a System. This System was failing and it's people were wretched. They had no future. They lived for the present and knew nothing of what else there was for them to know and do. They lived meaningless lives; they died meaningless deaths. That was when a few of us got together and set out to create a better world.

"We had such high hopes for this place. You should have heard the speeches we gave! They would have moved even the most stone-hearted man. We gathered a following that grew daily in both size and power. Soon, we had enough power to totally overthrow the System. Our Utopia was able to become a reality. What we wanted was not power or control; We wanted equality and justice. We wanted to eliminate the poor and unwelcome classes of the System and use them. Bring them into the bigger machine. And we did. Under our system, everyone could be happy and there would finally be peace. And we would be at the helm, guiding everything. A board of directors for a new society."

His face darkened and he took a deep breath. "But then things started to change," he continued. "Some of our members began to lose their ideals and began massing power. Laws were passed. Groups were made. Before people like me began to realize just what was happening to our Utopia, it had vanished, only to be replaced with something very similar to what we had set out to destroy. We had become the creators of a new System. Classes emerged and corruption came back into life. The police forces stopped working to seek out justice, and began to weed out dissention. People who questioned our judgements were hunted down and taken away. They were reformed. The people whom we had lived to protect were now nothing more than blind sheep. They did our bidding and nothing more."

"Why didn't you do anything to stop it?" I asked.

He stared me straight in the eyes for a moment before answering. "I didn't want to," he said finally. "I enjoyed the power we had. It felt good commanding millions of people."

"So what changed your mind?"

Again he stared at me and this time he grinned. "Liberation."

No doubt my shock was apparent as he laughed aloud at my expression.

"You know of it, good. That will make this so much easier."

My suspicion arose at hearing this. "And just what is this?"

Again a smile, but this time it had no humour in it. "Many things. An interrogation, a conversation, a history lesson. Lots of things. It all depends on you."

"What do you want to know?"

"I want to know about Liberation, of course. I want to know everything about it."

I laughed. "That makes two of us. I probably know less about it than you do."

"Let's start with what you know and go from there."

I shook my head. "Hang on. You still didn't answer my question: What changed your mind? How did Liberation change it?"

He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. It was several minutes before he spoke. "I started seeing things as they really were, not as I thought they were."

"How are the two different?"

He cocked an eyebrow. "Perhaps you haven't found out yet. That is too bad. The things you might have seen..." As he said this, his gaze seemed to lose focus and drift away.

"How are they different?" I repeated, getting his attention back.

"Think of the world like this: Everything is an illusion. One giant illusion. The only difference between the world and one of those images on the TV is that on TV they are made for you. The world's illusion is made by you. All one big illusion that your mind has created to make life happier and more liveable.

"One of the things we realized early on was that the Human brain can only handle one of two realities- Truth and Happiness. If it was geared toward truth, the brain would become sceptical and cynical, disbelieving everything handed to it. It would never be satisfied with anything other than the fact that it was seeking the truth. With happiness, life just floats along. Everything goes right and anything wrong just slips out of consciousness.

"With either one of these realities, the other is shut out of the mind. Thus the illusions are created to cover up the inconsistencies with the worldview. The truth-view will create a happiness, and the happiness-view will create a truth."

He suddenly stood up and leaned forward until our faces were inches apart.

"And if you open your eyes just a bit, it will all disappear."

He straightened at the sound of a telephone.

"Excuse me," he said and walked away to answer the phone.

Illusions? What did he mean? I knew my life, it was mine and I had seen it all. There were no hidden realities. What I lived was reality and what I knew was the truth. But where did Liberation fit in?

The man came back and resumed his place in the chair opposite me. "He looked slightly angry.

"It looks like we will have to end this earlier than I had hoped," he said.

"Why?"

"Others have discovered that you are here and they want to 'take care of you'."

I felt the sweat appearing on my neck. "The Thought Police?" I asked timidly.

He nodded. "The order has gone out to send you off to reforment. I am truly sorry."

"What have I done to be reformed?" I demanded, fear mounting within my stomach.

"You know perfectly well, Geoffrey. You know about Liberation, about Jerome Harvey's defection and disappearance, about your Thoughtcrime. We know all of it just as well as you do." He paused. "But I could help you."

Again suspicion crept upon me, overwhelming my fear for a moment.. "How? Why?"

"I know of ways to escape from the police that only someone of my position would be able to find. All I need is information about Liberation. I must know more about it!"

My mind had almost completely shut down in panic. The Thought Police were on their way and now a board member was demanding Liberation?

"I swear," I said, almost pleading, "I don't know anything about it! All I know is that it is supposed to set you free!"

"From what!"

"I don't know! Now get me out of here!" I could swear that I heard footsteps in the hall outside of the door and I knew it was only a matter of seconds until I was carted off to be reformed.

"You do know! Tell me!"

He needed an answer. An answer and I would be set free. Any answer would be better than reforment.

"Freedom from the System!"

He scoffed. "There's nothing to be free from in the System; nothing to run to. The System is everything. What is the real meaning?"

"That's it, I swear!"

At that moment, my horror became reality, as the doors burst open and five armed Thought Police stormed in and grabbed me. The old man looked disappointed yet frustrated. He didn't care that my life would be forgotten in a matter of hours; all he cared about was Liberation.

I was dragged from the room kicking and screaming into an elevator that started on it's journey to the bottom. As it fell, the guards turned on me.

They pulled out batons and began pummelling my body and as I fell to the floor, they began kicking my face. I curled up into a ball to ease the pain, but it hardly helped. Lights flashed before my eyes as my head was hit repeatedly. Every bone in my body was screaming for help, but I could do nothing. After one good kick to the mouth, I felt my teeth give way to blood and my tongue tear. Thankfully, another kick to my head caused me to black out and the pain ceased.

I awoke to a symphony of pain and agony. I opened my swollen eyes to see that I was moving, held at each arm by two guards. We were headed through an alley to a truck painted with city colours.

Through my pain, my mind suddenly cleared for a moment to scream into my consciousness one word- Liberation. No matter what, I had to escape from the police and somehow find Liberation. I could not allow myself to be reformed and forget all that I had learned over the past few days.

I watched for a moment to escape and waited. Two of my five guard escort climbed into the cab of the truck, and the fifth opened and entered the rear in order to help haul me in. I took my chance.

I kicked the man to my right in the groin and managed to elbow the left one in the nose, probably breaking it. I ran to the truck doors and slammed them shut before the guard inside could react, trapping him inside if the truck was like any other paddy wagon I had seen. I then turned and ran like hell.

I burst out of the alley into a street crowded with pedestrians. I suppose my appearance must have been ghastly from the reactions I had from the people. Some screamed, others merely moved out of my way as I headed down the street with no destination in mind- just the urge to run as fast and far as I could.

I ran and I ran, winding through the many streets of the city, taking back alleys and heavily populated routes. Eventually I found myself at the train station.

I wandered the platforms searching for an inconspicuous hallway to rest in when I found myself standing in a small room filled with phone booths. It was off the beaten path and there was no one within, so I leaned against one of the booths to catch my breath.

This was bad. Not only did the Board and the Thought Police know of the dangers of Liberation, but they knew that I knew about it. They were surely headed to my apartment now to arrest Elizabeth and wait for me to arrive. There was no way I could escape the city; the exits were probably blockaded. I had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. What could I do other than just give up?

As I thought that, the phone within the booth I was leaning against began to ring. I jumped in surprise and looked at it. It rang and rang. I glanced around for someone waiting for a call but saw no one. It was probably just a wrong number. It could be ignored.

After another few rings the phone stopped. The room returned to a silence that was only punctured by the buzz of the overhead lights. I suddenly felt a strange sense of fear from this near silence. It was like the silence before a storm; something big was going to happen.

And it did.

As one, every phone in the room began to ring, louder and louder until my ears hurt from the noise. They rang and rang and rang for several minutes without interruption until, frightened beyond belief, I fled the room.

Again running down the train station halls, scared out of my mind, I made my way to the end of the building and stood upon the steps looking out onto a parking lot. There, before me, was my means of escaping the police who were surely chasing me by now.

Before me was a man struggling to get his suitcase out of his car. I jumped down the steps and ran up behind him. My fists balled, I clubbed the man on the back of the head, grabbing his keys as he fell. I slid into the car and drove off.

I was driving much more recklessly than Harvey had done during our chase. I had no need for restrictions at that point; the cops were already onto me. It was oddly refreshing to think about. With my fate sealed, I could have broken every law on the books. I was more free than anyone I had ever known, probably even more free than the Board member. But I knew that freedom came with a price. My death was likely imminent, but I did not care. My only concern was the welfare of Elizabeth and the knowledge that she was safe.

I barrelled down the streets wildly, headed for home. It was not long before flashing lights appeared behind me gathering in number as I sped along. Reaching my building, I brought the car to a screeching halt and took the stairs two at a time up to my flat. Behind me, I heard the police pull up. I had very little time.

I burst through the door of my small home and called for Elizabeth, closing and locking the door behind me. She appeared from the bedroom and looked at me in shock.

"I thought you were dead!" she cried, rushing over to hug me.

I held her back. "No time. They are following me. You have to get out!"

She shook her head. "I go with you. Only you can help me."

I sighed in relief and kissed her on the forehead. "Thank you. Now help me block the door."

To the chorus of stomping boots, Miss Forsyth and I moved my desk, chairs, cabinets- everything to the door to buy us some time to escape.

"What now?" she asked me, panting at the sudden exercise.

I looked around. "We have to escape somehow."

I walked around the room, looking for anything that would give me an idea, but nothing came to me.

"Poland!" Came a shout from beyond the door. "Open this door and face justice!"

"What am I charged with?!" I shouted back, still pacing.

"What do you think?" came the reply. "Thoughtcrime and resisting arrest!"

Still pacing, I responded, "That doesn't say what it is that I did! Come back with a real reason!"

The door shuddered with a thud. "Stop being so damn confident, Poland! Open up! You're only making it worse for yourself!"

I laughed. "How could I possibly make it worse? I'm already going to be reformed and probably killed!"

"Just open the damn door!" Anther thud.

I looked around. There had to be a way out of this mess. It was then that I looked out of the window behind where my desk had sat. The balcony.

I threw the window open and looked out. It had been quite a while since I had even looked at the balcony, let alone stepped on it, but it seemed sturdy enough. Stepping out, I looked over the railing. Four storeys below, the hustle and bustle of the street could be seen. It was not a good escape.

I was trapped.

I looked over to Elizabeth, quietly sitting in my chair, watching me like a hawk.

"I'm so sorry," I said. "I never wanted this for you."

She smiled. "I know. But there's no turning back, so you might as well get in every punch you can."

I nodded. "Chief!" I called.

The rhythmic thudding upon the door stopped. "What? Ready to surrender?"

"Do you want to know just why I'm wanted for Thoughtcrime?"

There was a pause. "Don't you dare, Poland!"

"Have you ever wondered just who makes the city run?" I began. I heard the shouts of the Chief yelling at his men to continue with their task, ignoring me.

"Have you ever heard of a word called 'Liberation'? It's a funny word. I seems that the official dictionary has no entry about it. What does that mean, you ask? What if this word exists only to oppose the Board? Why would such a word exist if those in charge controlled everything? I'll tell you: this word exists to free us from the control of the Board!"

The thudding had continued at an increased rate as I spoke and I found myself smiling at the thought of telling cops about the wrongfulness of the Board. It was strangely comforting.

Then the phone rang.

I jumped at the harsh sound and looked warily at the device.

Elizabeth glanced at me. "Why don't you answer it?"

"W-why?" I asked shakily.

She nodded to it. "It's for you."

I tore my eyes from the phone and onto the girl. Somehow, I felt an urge to pick up the phone. This call was important, I just felt it.

I slowly walked to the phone and picked up the receiver, my heartbeat loud in my ears. This call was very important.

"Hello?" I asked the mouthpiece.

"Welcome to Liberation, Mr Poland."

Before I could respond, the line went dead and I was suddenly blind.

I dropped the phone in surprise and grasped my eyes. Something was covering them, something that hadn't been there before. I tore at this thing until at last I could see again.

I looked down at my hands to see that they were holding a cloth; a blindfold.

"What-?" I started to say, turning to Elizabeth, but I found that she had vanished, and I was no longer in my office.

Staring around slowly, I took in my new, yet alien surroundings.

The sunlight no longer flowing in through my window; the room was shrouded in a dingy grey that encompassed everything; the furniture was now battered and worn; my pictures upon the wall were now just old empty frames; Elizabeth was no longer in the room.

"What the hell?" I asked aloud to no one in particular. What had happened?

Thudding reached my ears and I turned to the door.

The furniture was still packed against it, yet, it the clouded window of the door, I saw shapes that were definitely not human.

"Open the door, Poland! This is your last chance!" came the familiar voice of the Chief amid the shapes.

I ignored him and instead focused upon the balcony door, which seemed to be calling me somehow- I felt drawn to it.

As I stepped onto the hard stone of the balcony, I heard the door crack and collapse under the pressure of Justice and heard the police scrambling to get around the furniture.

I climbed onto the rail of the balcony and looked down at the people walking about their lives four storeys below, blindfolded and innocent of the chaos unfolding above and around them.

"Poland!" shouted my old friend. I turned around to face him.

The Chief was crouched on my desk, gun in hand, aiming it right at me.

"Don't you dare move, Poland!" I smiled at the man as shadowy shapes milled around him, fighting their way toward me. The words of the Board member echoed in my ears.

"If you open your eyes just a bit, it will all disappear." he had said. He had been true enough. I had opened my eyes and saw the world through the illusions for what it really was; saw the people for what they really were.

Because of Liberation.

I turned my back to the police now swarming toward me and again looked upon the masses. They had no idea as to what they were doing, following blindly the will of the System. I pitied them.

Taking a deep breath, I clenched my fists and released myself from the oppression of the System, the Thought Police, the Board, and of myself.

I fell and was finally free.

7