Mason looked at the screens of his classmates. As usual, not a sound was present in the stagnant air of the classroom. Lessons were being relayed in a silent ensemble of image and words flitting across the screen. Teacher sat stiffly across the room, barely visible through the dusky glow of thousands of projecting screens. If there was a problem with one's screen, one merely sent a message to Teacher and he would examine it before sending a message to Technology. There was never any problems with the screens, though. They were perfect.
Mason looked back to his screen. State of the art technology, according to the worn label on the monitor. Images flashed on the screen, panning out for a view of The Epistylium. Words etched themselves into Masons mind.
The Epistylium is your friend. They want to help you.
The Epistylium. Mother called it Our Father. The system that kept mankind from descending into chaos after Year 2050. After the War that brought on the Long Winter. Thoughtfully, Mason fiddled with the straps of his mask, loops of cord protruding back into a small flatpack labeled Oxygen. At least, Mason thought it was labeled Oxygen. It was embedded into his back, so he couldn't tell, but everyone else's flat pack was labeled Oxygen, so his had to be labeled the same as well. As long as he could remember, he had worn it. Humans couldn't live without them. The air was impure. Mason wasn't sure what would happen if he ever removed it, but The Epistylium said that your lungs would impact and you would die from the chemicals stil lingering from the War. There was no war now. There was no division. Only unity.
The screens flickered to black, signaling the end of class. Mason shuffled with his classmates down the hall. They had left their message transmitters at home, as per the code. No intercommunication was allowed in school. It could potentially cause discord, and that would disrupt the unity.
Mason shuffled outside into the monochromatic world. After the War, building codes were all the same. Grey boxes meant houses. Grey rectangularly shaped buildings were schooling and government units. There was no need to travel far. All places were the same. But something was different today. Mason raised his eyes and squinted at the street corner. There was a man. He was wearing the white jumpsuit they all wore, but his gasmask was missing. Mason's eyes widened in shock. He was going to die! Mason reached for his message transmitter out of habit, only realizing that he had left it at home. To his surprise, though, the man seemed perfectly fine.
The man took a deep breath, and sound shattered the stillness. In shock, Mason covered his ears with his hands, but slowly let his fingers unfurl when he realized that the sound did not hurt them. In fact, the sound itself was quite pleasant. It rose and fell with words that sounded familiar to Mason, but he could not recognize them. The spellbound moment was broken, however, as the Enforcers surrounded the man and tackled him to the ground. Without a struggle, his hands were bound and he was led away, the sound trailing with him.
Immediately, Mason hid. The Enforcers were there to protect, so why was he hiding? He didn't know, only knew that this was the first time he had ever seen a disruption in the unity. As the Enforcers carried the man away, the sound traveled with him, until it was gone, like the whispers of Mason's feet scratching, shuffling the ground as he made his way home.
At Mealtime, Mason sent the message to Mother through his transmitter as the food slid down the tube, creating a small tickling sensation. The words flashed on her tiny rectangular screen, and she paused from inserting the feeding tube into her stomach.
I saw a man today remove his mask on the street.
Mother's eyebrows raised.
Please, it is Mealtime. Spare me the details, Son.
Mason's eyes crinkled as he remembered the scene.
No, he was fine. But why?
Mother shook her head.
You imagined it. It did not exist. The Epistylium said that without the gas masks, we will die. Thus, because he survived, he did not exist.
Mason's furrowed brow relaxed. That logic had to be right. The Epistylium was always right.
But as he got ready for Sleep, his mind spinned. He distinctly remembered that the man had worn no gas mask. But the man was fine. Therefore, in the logic instilled by The Epistylium, the man could survive without the mask. Mason's dreams were filled with the sound, swelling and surrounding Enforcers.
In the morning, Mason did what he had never done in all of his existence. He disobeyed the Order, and did not show up for School.