Stories

Plugged In, Chapter Four: Characters

“This is unexpected, Armin.”

     He stared at his father, gulped, and composed himself.  If he was going to play the “My Dad Works for the Governance” card, he had to first appeal to his dad, and Rune Fisher had no sympathy for panic. 

     “I got an e-mail today, Dad.”

     Rune considered him, those deep-set eyes unblinking.  “And I, Armin, received one hundred and three e-mails today.  Please enlighten me as to why your one should take precedence over all of them?”

     “It was a Drafter e-mail,” Armin argued, his voice wavering on desperation, but he did his best to keep it strong.  “A Drafter e-mail.”

     Rune’s expression did not change.  “And what do you want me to do about it?”

     “I–”

     “You surely have not called me outside of our pre-determined time because you think yourself higher than the rest of the populace simply because I am your father?”

     Armin didn’t answer because, yes, that was the exact reason why he had called.

     “Armin, tut, tut, tut.”  He adopted a voice that would have been better for lecturing a naughty toddler; it was a tone that Armin hadn’t heard even when he was a toddler, and it grated on his nerves.  “I thought I’d raised you better than that.”

     “Then you don’t care?”

     “Care?  I care a great deal.  My son has been selected to be a hero–”

     “Heroes aren’t selected,” Armin muttered.

     “Ours are,” Rune argued.  “And it’s an honor–”

     “It’s not an honor, it’s a freakin’ death sentence!” 

     Armin regretted his outburst the second it left him; he had never spoken to his father that way before.  Rune closed his eyes and twisted his mouth.

     “I’m sorry.”

     “No, no, Armin, by all means, shout at me.”

     “I–”

     “You obviously know so much more than I do.  Than the Governance.  Yes, in your sixteen years on this Earth you must have experienced so much, learned so much.  So, please, Armin, enlighten me with your wondrous wisdom.  A death sentence you say?  Do tell.”

     “No, no, Dad.  I didn’t–I mean, I know it’s necessary, and–”

     “Necessary?  No, not necessary at all.  The Governance just enjoys tying strings around its citizenry and moving them around like toy sailboats in a stream.  We’re wicked and manipulative.”

     “No, no!” Armin leapt out of his chair.  “I didn’t say that–you’re saying that, I never–”

     “Say, imply.  What’s the difference?”  Rune shrugged.  “I’m surprised, Armin.  Here, I thought you understood how the world works.”

     “I–I do.”

     “You understand nothing,” Rune snapped, and his voice reacted as if someone had flipped a switch: the sardonic lilt became suddenly low and grave.  “You, Armin, who have spent half your time on your mother’s lap, and the other half acting a minor role in a vicarious play.  Sixteen years of luxury, and you claim to understand?”

     “I pay attention in class.  I know the Drafters–”

     “Are our life source, in short.  A necessary sacrifice.  And you blemish their name with your pathetic whining.”  Rune wrinkled his nose.  “I did not raise my son like that.”

     Armin didn’t meet his father’s eyes.  Rune, in fact, had done very little “raising,” and Armin knew it… though he wasn’t quite bold enough to point it out.  Rune would only tarnish Mom’s memory some more, and Armin doubted he could take that. The Technical Office would have to supply him with a new computer….

     Already, he wanted to run his fist through it.

     “Can you blame me for being afraid?”

     “Of the chemicals?  There are precautions–”

     “There are accidents.”

     “You have my sense, so there will be none.”

     Armin pushed his lips close together.  There would be no reasoning with his father.  He had been foolish to try, but he’d known that his only hope had rested in Rune.

     With hope like that, who needs despair?

     “Armin?”

     No answer.

     “Armin?”

     Refusal to respond.

     “Armin, you’re smart.  Too smart to get yourself into an accident.  And you’re cautious.  You will not get hurt.”

     Stubborn teenage silence.

     “Armin, for God’s sake, stop being so damn stereotypical and answer your father!”

     “I want to disconnect.”

     “You will do no such thing, young man.”

     “What can you do?”  Armin glared at his father.  “You’re at the Federation Building.”

     “Don’t tempt me to action with your attitude, Armin.”

     “What are you going to do?  Take away my computer privileges?”

     “I could.”

     “Fine, do it, I don’t care.”

     “You want your entire world gone?  I’ve done it to people, Armin.  It makes them crazy.”

     “I don’t give a damn.”

     “You will refrain from that language!”

     “Why?”

     “Because I am your father and will not be spoken to like that!”

     “A father who won’t even protect his own son?”

     “I can’t, Armin.  It’s as simple as that–I have no authority, no power in that realm.”

     “Would you even do it if you could?”

     Rune didn’t answer immediately.  “No.”

     “No?” 

     “No.”  Rune shook his head.  “It would be… ill-advised.  And, for you, it’s an opportunity.”

     “Opportunity for what?  A first class funeral?”

     “No, to expanding your world.”

     “I like my world as it is.”

     “Do you really?”

     Armin was caught off guard. “What?”

     “You have everything you need from your world?”

     “I–yes.  I have friends, and things to do, and stuff I like.”

     “Nothing else?”  Rune’s lips twitched.  “Come now, Armin, you have most certainly reached an age….”  He trailed off, letting Armin finish the sentence.

     “I talk to girls!”

     “But do you talk to women?”

     Armin’s defense caught in his throat, and Rune smiled.  “Opportunity, Armin, is Cupid’s real name.  It’s how I met your mother.”

     “How you met–?”

     “There was a training program available for those interested in being a part of the Governance.  I posted updates and videos that made my training seem…”  He chuckled.  “Glamorous and dangerous, I suppose.  Neither of which it actually was.  Being a part of the Governance is actually quite dull.  Not that my world needed to know that–your mother included.  Women like men, Armin.  This is your opportunity to make yourself into one.”

     Armin didn’t know what to say.  His anger, his shock, his fear–they had all been drowned out by the gears working wildly in his brain.  Armin was sure this was a temporary fix, that as he lay in bed, waiting for his first day as Drafter to creep in with the dawn, the fear would return tenfold, playing cat-and-mouse with his imagination.  But for now, Rune had calmed him.

     “Armin?”

     “I don’t really understand.”

     “People want their worlds to be entertaining, Armin.  That is the whole point–the interweb exists as a way to keep us from going insane.  There was an old term before the Great Fissure called ‘cabin fever.’ It meant that people would grow restless–and eventually mad–from being locked up in one place too long.  Well, obviously, people can’t go out, so we provide a vicarious outlet, a way to combat cabin fever.  Entertainment, in short, is what people want from their worlds.  So give it to them–make yourself irresistible.”

     “But how do I–?”

     “The same way you change the color of your eyes. It doesn’t have to be real, it just has to be interesting.”

     “So I–”

     “Give them a character: Armin Fisher, Drafter.  Who is he?  What is he like?”

     Armin thought for a moment.  “He’s not someone who would be afraid, that’s for sure.”

     “Very good.”  Rune leaned away from the computer, apparently satisfied.  “Do you feel better, Armin?”

     “What?  Oh, yeah.  Yeah, sure, Dad.”

     “Then I have done my job.  I daresay another talk won’t be necessary, so let’s not worry about our usual nine o’clock call.  Tomorrow, back to schedule.”

     “Yes, tomorrow, back to schedule.”

     “Good night, Armin.”

     “Good night.”

     His father left him, and Armin was again with NIC and his welcoming grin.

     Rune was right:  There was nothing concrete in truth; it was available to his bending and his will.  Whatever Armin wanted, he could create, so why not make something great?  Why not really master his world?

     Why not?  No reason.

     Armin returned to his profile.  Give them a character, his father had said, and Armin felt he could do that:

Guess who just got Drafted?  That’s right–me.  Now, who else fancies a walk outside?


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

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