The Boy who Circled Time
The Boy who Circled Time
Author: Ice Penguin
Chapter 1: The Grey

The white lights, lingering above, glared through dirty glass of their bulbs, flooding the grey single tables, the grey food, and the grey floor below awash, seemingly revealing all. The spoons were grey, the plates were grey, and the chairs were grey. Everything was grey.

The engineer's eyes were grey, his standard issue shirt and trousers were grey, and a few grey hairs sat in the overgrown ,bushy ginger cloud which lay atop his head. His sallow skin, once tanned and always flushing red, now held a grey hue. The bags under his eyes, however, were a staunch black.

His head hung downwards, single-mindedly scooping the grey mush of his lunch into his mouth, swallowing without tasting and without thinking. He watched all the blobs of different shades of grey, from the strained corners of his eyes, ignoring the burn, documenting them in his mind to analyse later.

The central food hall of one of the North Western Sýnnefa military research facility was near silent, the quiet clanking cutlery being the only allowable defiance against the quiet. The engineer sat at the third table from the east wall on the second row from the south wall, on his own table, like all the others, allocated to his space the day he arrived one year ago, too hungry and too gaunt to run fast enough to get away. They all wore the same pale off-white grey uniform, and all ate the same food, worked the same hours, and slept at the same time. The man situated to the right of the engineer was a computer programmer. And the man in front was a mathematician.

The digital clock at the front counted down the hour left for lunch and free time before work.

The guards wore their sharp, grey, off-black uniforms with helmets, concealing all their physical enhancement technology, buried into their skin- cold gold wires implanted into fleshy, human nerves and attached to steel braces running up and down over the skin, jerking the body to produce bone shattering blows, invented by the mainland colony of Gryaz, alien to Sýnnefa just ten years ago.

The engineer watched the guards switch patrols at the east double doors, from the corner of his right eye, their limbs lax and loose, despite every limb's movements timed to the exact second, ticking on the clock at the front. He wondered whether the discipline came from the military training or from the helmet programming.

What were the laws on bodily autonomy in Sýnnefa? Was control of the bodies of soldiers given to the military upon entrance? Were there specialised training programs for soldiers? Time-leases? Universality of application among the navy, air force, and land forces? Were there domestic uses for the remaining manual labour jobs? Was there a qualification system for use in physiotherapy?

To save time and allow qualifications, the human subject would have to have to have standard universal ports in the skin. Soldiers were probably trained up first and then focused on maintaining the same physique to maintain the connectivity. It was unlikely that there would be extensions in the body in case of the wires stretching, considering the current material shortages, to the point that gold jewellery was banned in Sýnnefa. They could switch to wireless, but that was more expensive and not as reliable. Soldiers were probably leased with the equipment as you can't keep your body exactly the same forever. In fact-

A hand slammed down on the engineer's table.

He flinched, stared down, hunching over, instinctively, tears falling, before catching himself. His heart jumped up and firmly lodged itself in his throat. The engineer struggled to swallow around it, as he forced himself to look up.

It was a guard. A young woman with stocky limbs of slightly gnarling muscle. He had seen her before, holding the lunch and Southern block night shifts. She asked all the perfunctory questions every time, even if the answers were always the same. She would at least follow the rules…

"Could you confirm your identification, sir?" the guard asked, the camera in the helmet scanning the engineer's face. The guard would know everything about him, but he would know almost nothing about her.

Was he in trouble? The engineer thought that he hadn't violated any of the rules. He ate his lunch and did not make contact with any of his peers. Did someone see him? He could feel his clothes beginning to stick to him. His hands were shaking.

Oh. His hands were on the table. He was not touching the spoon, or the food. And his bowl was empty. He was acting on autopilot. He was safe. He was not going to be put in isolation and starved. He wasn't going to be beaten. He could do this. He could do this.

"Gryaz E-009," the engineer replied staring into the black void of the helmet visor. There was nothing there, not even a reflection of the grey hall, just the abyss.

"Have you finished with your meal, sir?" the guard asked, unmoving.

"Yes," the engineer choked out, after a few seconds. His hands were stuck to the table. He couldn't move.

"Where would you like to be escorted to, sir?" the guard asked, unmoving. He wasn't going to be punished!

It was just the standard routine. He was not anything special. Oh wait, of course anyone was going to assume that he was done with lunch with his almost empty plate and him not moving. Panic itself could be seen as evidence for wrong doing.

The library," the engineer stammered out, again belatedly, forehead sweating, hands now shaking but still stuck to the chair, throat swallowing back nothing.

He needed to calm down. The engineer took as deep a breath as he could, hiding it with the void staring back into him.

"Your library permissions have been confirmed. Come with me," The guard ordered, before turning around and marching the engineer behind her, never looking back.

The too familiar uncomfortable warming sensation at the back of the engineer's neck appeared as the guard moved further and further away, getting hotter and hotter, from the implanted microchip at the back of his neck, stabbed into his skin upon his arrival at the facility. The engineer scrambled from his seat, tripping on the table, and tangling his leg in the solid, grey bars of the chair.

The guard was approximately five metres away from him, judging by the intensity of the heat, beating from his back, as if he was back home, as a child twenty years ago, when the yellow sun was always high above in the blue sky during the summer, and the soon-to-be-engineer used to lay down in the cool, blue, glistening streams which ran through the high walls of maroon rock, forming the gorges which housed his home and safety, always in view of the deferent, bowing purple mountains in the distance. He wanted to study insects back then, and jump like the grasshoppers did all day.

The rocks of the gorge itself shifted colours the higher you looked up, a light brown at the very top, and becoming darker and darker the closer to the ground you fell. The soil at the bottom was crimson all around the edges. His mother never told him how the rocks ended up in all those different colours, just patched up another piece of clothing on the piles delivered to her door, and the wounds of those who came with them, and his father just patted his head and traded him the larger, adult daily ration of bread.

Just as the heat was beginning to border on painful, the engineer scrambled up, leaning on the grey table for support, and staggered on the slightly darker grey floor up to his grey clad guard. One of the other guards, this time a man, judging from his rectangle waist, kicked his knee, forcing him to stumble into a kneel. The engineer counted to five, then stood up, and kept walking.

None of the other 'scientists' even looked at him through his struggle for freedom from the oppressive clutches of the chair and table, the engineer noted, suspiciously. Matching forceful expressions were pinned downwards, angled away from the guard visors, and the grey mushy food was resolutely shoved into their mouths, all at the same pace. They all wore the same uniforms too, just like him, but he wasn't eating anymore though, ready to be dragged away.

The engineer decided that he had to hurry.

He followed the female guard through the main back double doors, marked 'Only for Scientist Use' in stark black, block letters above. Scientist. None of the other 'scientists' looked at him through his struggle for freedom from the oppressive clutches of the chair and table.

They left through the main backdoors and down the dark grey corridors, shrouded in darkness with no overhead lights. The clear, glass doors flooded burning, bright light periodically into the hall, from both sides, from the too well-lit side rooms. Computer suits, metal workshops, rooms of blackboards, rooms of 3D printers, and the rooms of records of technologies to still reproduce for the Sýnnefa empire since they won the war and captured the 'scientists'.

The double doors of the library were flung open, their frames slamming on the dark grey walls with a bang, as a bloody heap was flung through them, the glass forced to carry the stains.

The heap was a man. His shoes were missing, and his trousers held giant rips, forming the ridges where the blood pooled as his right knee hung downwards, propping up a jutting white, gleaming bone, standing tall among the fleshy carnage. Maroon poured beneath him, reaching out across the grey towards the engineer. The man's eyes were wide and unseeing, unfocused, and dead. There was a dent at the back of his head where his skull had imploded, and a stream of blood poured from his mouth. His shoulders were snapped back and his chest sporadically convulsed. The broken man, with his unbroken leg, shook, as he reached towards the engineer, before letting out an unholy, horrifying groan, falling limp, and unmoving.

The engineer crumpled down beside him, a hand tightly pressed to his gaping mouth, trying to push the vomit back in and failing. He crawled forward towards the corpse, stopping just short of the blood. He reached out to the man's hand. The engineer couldn't breath. He choked. Choked. And kept choking.

He couldn't touch the man's hand. He couldn't hold his hand. He wasn't allowed to. The engineer balled up, knees to his chest, legs on the floor, and wailed. And wailed. His tears the only thing reaching the man, soaking through the uniform on his shoulder, to clutch at his skin.

Shivering, he vomited next to the corpse. His vision blurred, transforming the scene into one violent collage of red. He didn't want to be able to see again. If he closed his eyes, he could pretend that he was back to twenty years ago, before the war, before the conquering of Gryaz and see those purple mountains and...

But everything there was gone now. The mountains had been levelled, and the gorge he called home was no longer there.

A ringing bang echoed through the corridor as the doors were kicked open, shattering the glass of one of the bloodless spots bracketed by two grey frames at the bottom.

"He was making a fuss, talking about a protest," a new tall guard shrugged out.

How dare he?

Discussion of resistance was punished by isolation. Physical assault of any Sýnnefa personnel brought death.

"Oh come on Harriette! We've gone over this! If they make trouble, we'll be shipped off to Heaven knows where for failing. I'm doing us a favour! What's one more scientist when there's hundreds of them? Don't give me that look!"

The tall guard went on and on and on, gesticulating wildly, waving his maroon blood splattered sleeves.

His voice was gleeful. His voice sounded like a computer chip going through a metal shredder. His voice sounded like two rusty, scraping, prongs gouging at each other, and he wouldn't shut up.

The engineer couldn't stop the tears, kneeling over his dead comrade, as his murderer threw his hands up in frustration, and turned to leave. By the time the engineer would be placed back in the workshop to continue his contributions to the Sýnnefa empire, the crime scene would be cleaned up.

Nobody would speak of the murdered man ever again.

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