In the end, the only thing that can change society is a question. For some reason this won the gold prize of the sci-fi competition.


2. Why

Standing on the street corner, Mason frowned. There were no signs of the struggle from yesterday. They had simply been erased. Raising his head to the building levels, Mason examined them thoughtfully. It was easy to confuse corners because almost all the buildings looked the same, but no, he was right. This was the corner. He looked down the street. It was completely vacant, except for a woman approaching, a woman with no gas mask. It was happening again! Mason nervously hid behind a waste receptacle, peeking out between the spaces of the metal bars. He still wasn't sure why he was hiding, but as the woman approached, he saw something different. He couldn't put his finger on it, but it had something to do with her clothes. They changed in the light as she walked, slowly approaching the corner. No grey or white or black like Mason was used to, none at all. This reminded him of a classmate's hair, one classmate who's hair shone brightly in the sunlight. He didn't know the words for the colors though. He had never seen colors apart from the monochrome tones of streets.

The woman reached the corner. Mason grabbed the bars of the waste receptacle, knuckles white from clenching aggressively. As he suspected, the sound poured from her mouth as it had from the man's mouth, lilting and sweet, falling and rising. This time, however, Mason could almost understand the words.

We cannot be silenced

We shall come to speak

Against the lies and bring the truth

That you all seek

From this vantage point, he could see the enforcers approaching swiftly. From this angle, they looked like the crowds of cockroaches Mason often saw on the street, approaching with their shiny little black bodies. Mason shrunk further back into the corner of the space between the receptacle and the wall, scared of being found, but the enforcers were busy. They surrounded the woman and forcibly covered her mouth, stemming the flow of sound and muffling it, marching her away. This time, Mason followed. Swiftly and stealthily, numb and tensed with adrenaline, he followed them back into a grey rectangular building labeled "Corrections". As he approached the building, an enforcer, covered from head to foot in black, messaged him.

"HALT. State your purpose." Mason's eyebrows wrinkled. How could he get past the enforcer? He needed to know, needed to understand what the sound was coming from the woman's mouth. Suddenly, he came up with an idea.

"I think my Father is in the building. He forgot his Meal for Mealtime." He held up the bag of sludge-colored nutrients that he had brought for his own Mealtime.

The guard nodded and let him pass, just as the crowd of enforcers rounded the left corner inside the building. Mason forced himself to walk in their direction. Running would probably arouse their suspicions.

The entrance room was high ceilinged, but grey like everything else. The garment of the woman had contrasted nicely against it, thought Mason. He slipped down the corner, and saw what looked like a prison. The woman sat on the bench, hands and feet held together by fabric, more fabric stuffed in her mouth. The enforcers were gone, but Mason was sure that they would return. He removed the gag.

"Thank you," she whispered immediately. A trickle of something the same shade as her dress was on the corner of her mouth. Mason wiped it away with his jumpsuit, and it immediately stained it the same color, seeping into the fabric. Mason removed the bindings on her feet and hands clumsily. She stood, weakly, and led him through the prison. Faces and naked bodies stared back. Mason had never seen a body without its jumpsuit. They looked bare, shriveled somehow. A man, the man he had seen yesterday, clutched at the bars, and wheezed, but no sound came out. There was an elongated scar on his neck.

"They removed his windpipe and voice box," whispered the woman. A small corner of liquid fell down her cheek. Mason wasn't sure why, but he felt sad too. "Punishment for singing." Singing? Was that the sound he had heard? Wordlessly, the woman lead him away, down the hall, away from the approaching enforcers, and out the back, as though she had planned to be rescued. Now they were outside, she clutched Mason's hand and whispered, 

"Now we must run." Mason nodded, and let his feet pound against the dusty grey ground as she lead him to a drain where Floodwater went during the wet season. Lifting the heavy lid, she grunted as she displaced it slowly, climbing down into the depths. Mason could hear the echoes of her feet on the metallic rungs. Slightly nervous, he lowered himself down, replacing the cover of the drain. He could see light approaching, warm light as he descended down into the hole. He had always expected the inside of drains to be constantly wet and disgusting, but this was dry. As he looked up, he saw why. The covers to the drains were completely sealed, except for the opening, which was also ribbed with watertight material.

As he descended, the woman led him to a large room, filled with brightly colored clothes and discarded jumpsuits. She approached him with a screwdriver.

"Would you like to join the Rebels?" she asked. Mason held up his messager. She rolled her eyes, and rummaged around in one of the jumpsuits to find a spare one. 

"What are the Rebels?" read the message.

"We're a group that works to raise awareness against the Epistylium." She rolled her eyes, and sat down, motioning for him to sit as well.

"I'm sure that in the school building, they taught you that Epistylium was your friend. That we had to constantly be covered because the air was impure after the war. That's a lie. The truth is, the air has been fine since about 2070, twenty years after the War. Just look at me." She motioned at her lack of mask.

"Except the Epistylium doesn't want you to know that. It's easier to control everyone if everything is the same. They say it's to prevent another conflict like the War from happening ever again. Except that without differences, life is miserable." Mason raised his eyebrows. He had never thought of life being miserable. But it had been..dull. Every day was a clone of itself, except for the last two days.

"Now, if you want to join us, I'll remove your flatpack and feeding tube. It will only hurt for a moment, and then you can speak and smell and eat the way we were originally intended to. Before our bodies were modified, as per the Epistylium's order." Mason nodded. He didn't know what smelling, speaking and eating actually were, but they sounded pretty nice. He grimaced as he felt the screws in his flatpack fall to the ground. It didn't hurt, but it didn't feel too nice either. Almost as though the pressure on his back had been released. The woman slowly removed the screws in his mask, and disconnected the tube, exposing his mouth to the air for the first time in his life. Mason removed the gloves of his jumpsuit, and tentatively touched his face, his mouth, exploring for the first time. He opened his mouth, consciously aware of breathing for the first time. He touched his teeth, his tongue, his cheeks while the woman sealed up the feeding tube in his stomach. He tried to speak.


"Don't mention it." The woman smiled at him. "It'll take you a while to speak and get your mouth used to the consonants of Common Language. There's classes here that will help you. We even have classes in foreign languages, which I'm sure you knew died out after the War." Mason shook his head, perplexed. The woman took a deep breath.

"Do you smell that?" she asked excitedly. "It's food. Breath in from your nose," she pointed to Mason. He sniffed, and yes, he did smell it. It smelled good too, whatever it was, food or something.

After a meal that consisted of some liquid called soop or something, Mason went to language class. Practicing speaking. The days went by underground, and slowly but surely, Mason's ability to speak improved. He learned about the differences and the lies of the Epistylium. The woman, who's name he had learned to be Pandora, was the leader of the clan. She created the original demonstrations of singing, to lure new recruits. Sometimes it worked, with Mason. Sometimes it failed, like the rebels who had been captured, failed to escape, and lost their voices and their freedom. And most of all, Mason learned color. He learned music. He went to sleep each night, mind repeating the melodies he had heard each day.

So when it was Mason's turn to be on the street corner, protesting the injustices of the Epistylium, he sang one word. Only one word. And this word was a question.


The only response he received were the thousands of enforcers, with their shields like little black beetles, racing towards him. But on the corner, Mason could see a classmate of his, watching, perplexed, and he smiled.

~The End~


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