Panopticism

Panopticism

A Story by C.
"

Had to write a short-story based on the word 'panopticism.' I had been reading Herbert's "Dune" at the time, so this is a lot like that. Not sure I like it--very much a superficial sci-fi.

"

Oreb strode briskly down the hall, gold buttons glittering in the low light. He eyed the guards as he passed them, noting their laziness. For some reason, the Keep’s guards had always irritated Oreb. They had a reputation for being unnecessarily cruel, and their stores of Piranha had to constantly be refilled. Violence as a means, not an end, he told himself. Then again, these days it was hard to tell what the end really was. All the propaganda said, of course, that the Quarantine was a necessary measure to prevent the extinction of the human race. But anything that lasted more than a decade tended to lose its sense of urgency. Oreb sighed. It was for the greater good, he knew. Indeed, if it weren’t for him and his guards (and, he supposed, the Intendant as well), the rebels would quickly run the fiefdom into the ground.

Oreb stopped in front of the large polished wood doors. As he ran his fingers through his hair, he thought of how queer the doors seemed to him. Nothing else inside the Keep was made of wood; ever since the rebel attacks had gotten really serious, it all had been systematically torn down and replaced with metasteel. Only these unnecessarily sleek doors remained. Oreb took a quick breath, then shot a nervous glance to the guards posted nearby, receiving somewhat sympathetic looks in return. They didn’t like dealing with the Intendant, either. Oreb put his right arm forward to send a door sweeping open. He was greeted almost immediately. “Syndic!” said the man, swiveling around in his bulb of a chair. Oreb stood with his hands clasped behind his back, and the door swept shut again silently behind him.

“Sir.”

Oreb stared deliberately above the man, his mouth betraying a small feeling of unease. His uncle bothered him. Oreb’s blood-relative was a rotund blob of a thing, plump and soft-looking. Now that he thought of it, Oreb supposed that the Intendant’s sausage-y fingers had probably never known even a minute of hard, manual labor. Still, his uncle gave off a faint odor of villainy, and (if the megaphone diatribes of the rebels were to be believed) had initiated a fair share of under-handed assassinations.

“Syndic,” the Intendant said, drawing the commander out of his daydreams. “We have a, eh, situation to deal with.” His porky hands massaged each other, the many rings pressing into flesh. “As you surely know by now, the syndic in sector 8 has met an unfortunate end.” Yes, Oreb knew. Deserters were executed. A syndic who left his allocated street put a price on his head. It was, like everything else, ‘for the sake of order.’ He nodded to the Intendant, signaling him to continue. “What you most likely do not know,” said his uncle, standing up, “is that this syndic was assigned to Raveneye.” Oreb drew in a short breath. Raveneye Avenue. Of course, it was no surprise that the syndic of Raveneye had fled. The street was the hottest area as far as rebel attacks went, and the Piranha there were always few in number. Not to mention the fact that it was the farthest sector from the Keep, and so was the most likely to suffer from a war of attrition--supplies had to be sent a distance of nearly 60 miles by nothing but foot soldiers and the slow-moving AphidTanks, all through winding streets and the relative labyrinth of sewer systems. Raveneye was affectionately labeled ‘the eye of death’ by the guards who had heard the stories. More often than not, Raveneye was where soldiers were sent who had, in one way or another, offended the Intendant. The fact that his uncle had summoned him to the Keep to divulge such information could only mean one thing.

You, commander Oreb, will be his replacement."

The Intendant turned toward his bookshelf to conceal a half-smile.

 

 

            The chill of the morning air gripped Riles, and he fingered his mustache in response. That Oreb’s a serious one, he thought. Indeed, since his transfer to Raveneye, the young commander had insisted that everything be tight as a whistle.

Riles was a family man, or at least he would have been if he had had a family. As the years had gone by, though, he had let his belly grow out a bit, and his hair had thinned. The thick caterpillar mustache he had nurtured actually turned out to be a surprisingly successful investment: it served as a plaything when he worked the machine-gun towers. With the coming of the new syndic, though, Riles had been sent to the streets to serve as a grunt. He wondered now at the fact that he hadn’t been as concerned as he supposed he would have at the change. Riles shrugged. In times like these, nothing was certain. And besides, they let him take his trusty assault rifle instead of issuing him a different one. As for himself, Riles secretly hoped that Oreb would last longer than his predecessor. It was so sad to see them go, one after the other. Pluck, pluck, pluck, they went. Like ducks. Riles, however, had lasted through the seasons of three superiors. Aye, but Luck is fickle, he said to himself as he lit a cigarette, gun squeezed under his armpit. “Guard!” came a voice, bursting with youthful strength and determination. Riles turned to face Oreb the Syndic. “Keep alert,” the syndic said, “We’ve received word of a potential rebel attack.”

            Riles shrugged. “So it is every day, commander.” Oreb appeared frazzled.

            “D****t, man… We’re not going to die today.”

            “Aye, sir.”

            The syndic turned, storming off to inspect the aphids. Riles looked after him. Not too happy to be here, is he? thought the guard.

            A tremendous crashing noise rang out in the square. Riles was tossed to the ground by the reverberations. With effort, he fumbled up onto his knees. Riles looked about frantically.

            What the hell?
           
He heard cries and shouts echoing and wailing all about him. Soldiers who, like him, had been disoriented by the initial explosion struggled to get on their feet. Riles’ eyes searched and searched, then finally found what they had been looking for: the rebels had hit an AphidTank. Rich black smoke billowed out of a hole in the metallic corpse, and enflamed shards and fragments crackled and burned with sinister indifference.

            Snow began to fall. Riles plodded about stupidly. What was happening? Why couldn’t he hear the calls of the other men? He touched his fingertips to his ears and felt that they were wet. Blood? A voice came reaching out at him, muffled and distant: “Riles!” “Riles!”

Oreb the Syndic ran to him, cursing under his breath as he went. The guard recovered slowly, shaking his head in frustration. “Quick, Riles! It’s an ambush! The rebels have hit us hard and they’re coming out of the woodwork now,” Oreb yelled above the din of rockets and bullets cutting through the air behind him. The syndic gave Riles a quick, firm pat on the shoulder, then jogged off. Riles followed him for a piece of the way, but then was prematurely stopped. A stray bullet zipped into his leg-flesh, and the guard tumbled over himself onto the muddy street. His blood mixed with the grit and slush. “Riles!” the commander turned in dismay, a look of shock on his face.

Just then, another bullet punctured Riles’ chest cavity, and he reacted by gasping helplessly for air. Riles looked slowly down at himself, pulling a trembling hand toward the wound. All these years of Fortune’s favor, and now he found himself dying exposed in the middle of an open courtyard. Riles rotated his head back to face his superior across the way, but his eyes were glassy and his mind was slipping. Pluck, pluck, pluck, he thought. Oreb screamed and began running back to save his fallen companion--but he wasn’t alone. Just behind him, two rebel warriors clothed in rags marked with white paint sprinted and lept to meet their prey. The last thing the guard witnessed was the body of Oreb go limp as one of the hunters smacked him hard with the butt of a gun. After that, Riles saw only black.

 

 

            Oreb walked out into the garden, tired. He sat on a small rock bench. What am I doing here? he thought. It had been almost 2 months since his abduction, and when he considered how much had changed since then it made his head spin.

He had learned of just how tough and resilient the rebels really were, and he had discovered the name they gave themselves: ‘the New Ones.’ He had even observed them practice their new religion--a word he knew only from studying the texts on ancient history. Of course, from what he had seen, ‘religion’ probably wasn’t even the proper word for it; their rites and ceremonies were really nothing more than shared meals, exchanges of advice, or the occasional moment of silence. It all puzzled Oreb. It was clear to him that this religion was what tied them together--indeed, his rebels caretakers had admitted up-front that it was the only way they could cope with their losses and press on. But still, not all the pieces fit. Oreb himself had eaten with them, listened to their proverbs, and spent time alone and quiet; he had felt no novel surge of energy, no holy power breathed into his bones. The syndic frowned. It all made him very uncomfortable.

A voice spoke next to him, softly. “You are meditating again, friend?” it said. Oreb turned. It was Zaretan, one of his caretakers. Of all of them, Oreb was grateful for this man. A fierce rebel leader in the streets, he nevertheless fostered a warm and grandfatherly heart. One of his defining characteristics was that he knew when not to speak. Oreb could appreciate this in a man who led. He liked to think that he had this same quality himself.

Zaretan sat next to Oreb on the bench and groaned. “My body turns against me in my age,” he chuckled. Oreb reached down to pluck a leaf from a bush nearby, then proceeded to bend and twist it in his hands. “Zaretan,” he said, “why have I been treated so kindly here? Not a hand has been raised against me in violence since I was first taken. …Why?”

Zaretan furrowed his brow. “Violence is a means, not an end. We fight because we serve a greater purpose. But this does not mean we relish it.” Oreb nodded. He had heard this before, and even believed it himself, though he had fought on the other side once.

“But I was a syndic. I shot at your brothers. I had guards execute your brothers. Gods, man--I even sent Piranha after them!”

Zaretan smiled. “We were all sinners once. Even you must have your second chance.”

“Yes, yes,” Oreb dismissed this answer, waving it away with a hand. “But how can you be happy here?” he asked. His eyes were pleading when he turned to the old man. “You’re trapped in these houses. Every day, more and more of your people are murdered. The entire fief is practically in ruins!”

Zaretan paused to scratch his graying beard. His leathery hands were caked in dirt. “You see Death in all things, friend. You must learn to see Life.”

Oreb buried his head in his hands. This was quite possibly the most confusing thing he had heard yet.

 

 

            The Intendant touched a plump finger to his chin as he mused. Remarkable! he thought. They had found the syndic at last! Most deserters were gobbled up by the rebels almost immediately. The ones that weren’t, of course, met their end through one of the public displays of a Piranha frenzy. Either way, to find a former syndic alive and well this long after desertion, well! The man would have to be executed, naturally; but perhaps his training would hold and he could be harvested for information first. The Intendant smiled as he leaned back in his cup of a chair. Yes, indeed… this would make for a most interesting afternoon. The Intendant marveled at how the traitor had been caught. Found offering one of the miserable corpse-collectors a morsel of bread! How delightful. The ‘crows’ were the basest of all creatures allowed in the Intendant’s fiefdom. Ignored by most everyone (except when treated as sport for trigger-happy guards, of course), these people of little substance had the horrifying task of carrying the sick, burying the dead, and cleaning and washing the muck-houses of the soldiers. And the syndic had offered one food! How wickedly entertaining. Most certainly an interesting afternoon, the Intendant thought.

At that moment, a guard stepped in. “My lord,” he said, bowing. “The captive has arrived.” The gross Intendant managed a repulsive, jiggling nod, and the guard stepped out. Two soldiers returned carrying a grubby, disheveled-looking man wrapped in dirty cloth. They planted him in the middle of the room, then looked to their Intendant for orders before being waved out. The Intendant crossed his fat ringed fingers in front of his face, inspecting the former syndic. The man kept his eyes to the floor.

“You have little to fear here, nephew,” the Intendant said, a tone of grotesque playfulness in his voice. Oreb met his stare, and the Intendant let out a small gasp. He whispered: “So it is you.” Oreb said nothing.

The portly Intendant rose from behind his desk. “You know, of course, that ‘if a syndic leaves his street, he will be condemned to death.’ It's in the books.”

Still, Oreb did not speak.

You, syndic, left your street months ago.”

Oreb breathed a heavy sigh. Clearly, the man was exhausted.

“I was seized by the rebels. I had no choice.”

“Nonsense!” the Intendant snorted. “I have the reports right here. And they indicate that during a particularly nasty firefight, you turned tail and fled.”

Oreb clenched his teeth. Both he and the Intendant knew that the reports had been fabricated. The Intendant cleared his gluttonous throat, then continued.

“We are, however, in need of... information.” He paused. “Are the rebels losing motivation?”

Oreb’s eyes widened only slightly, but he did not otherwise respond.

“Nephew, this is a chance not offered to many. You have been in a rather unique situation.”

The syndic’s features softened a bit. That, at least, was true.

“The rebels,” he began with hesitation, “…are strong. They have cultivated a religion which gives them hope and encourages perseverance.”

“Continue,” said the Intendant, face blank.

Oreb was startled. Did the Intendant already know this? ...But it could not be. Oreb had been a syndic with access into the Keep, and even he had not known this.

The Intendant looked impatient.

“They call themselves the ‘New Ones,’ sir. And their resolve only solidifies as the days go on.”

The Intendant frowned. “So they have not lost morale?”

Oreb was taken aback. Surely this could not be the only thing of interest to the Intendant in his report. “No sir,” he responded.

The Intendant sat back down in his chair and swiveled to face a window. He grunted. “We’ll have to raise the alert level, then.”

“Sir?”

“The alert level? We can’t have our citizens risking contagion by interacting with the rebels.”

Oreb shook his head. “I don’t understand…”

“Come now, you didn’t think the Quarantine was for nothing, did you?”

Oreb stopped for a moment. He began to feel dizzy.

“Lord, did you think the disease was real?”

The room began to spin sickly and slowly around Oreb’s face.

“You’ve seen them yourself! They’re powerful. And this new religion is the source of their power. They grow by spending time with others, manipulating people into joining their cause. Gods above, just look at how close you came!”

Oreb felt nausea rising in his belly. Who was he? Had his years of service been spent serving a hoax?

“Oh, come now. You know we can’t risk losing control of the fief. Can you imagine if their pestilent religion spread? Every citizen would rally under their silly white crosses!”

By now, the Intendant’s voice was murky and distorted. Oreb was having a nervous breakdown.

“We didn’t come first, boy, the rebels did!”

The Intendant put a sneer on his face. It was sad, really, to see a fine military commander fall to pieces. Not that it truly mattered. An example would be made of his ‘defiance,’ and the Piranha-ravaged body would be tossed to a crow.

The Intendant picked up a small syringe from his desk, and strode calmly over to the crippled commander. The Intendant sighed. Once injected with a sedative, Oreb would be handed over to the gaurds and kept overnight in the Keep’s prison cells. The next morning he would be dragged to the gallows (his unique biochemistry programmed into the Piranha), and held taut in a metasteel frame--each limb tethered to a corner. Eyebots would hover about the scene like vultures, broadcasting their gruesome visions to every house with a holoscreen. The Piranha would be activated and released, and then each one would leap onto the target-body and shred it to pieces.

Nasty little things, those Piranha. Each unit was a rounded metallic insect, more like a greatly over-sized cockroach than the fish it was named after. Though they were only really the size of a common housecat, the cold steely look of one sent a shiver down even a handler’s spine. It was because of their reputation, of course. Even one of the older models could clear a building in less than a minute. Built with body-heat sensors, Piranha could scuttle under doors and on ceilings with frightening swiftness. The worst part, though (and the addition which was truly diabolical) was the killing feature: razorblades on the underbelly which churned flesh and bone into something visually akin to ground beef.

It was a pity to discard a perfectly good soldier in such a way. After all, the syndic probably could have become an Intendant if it wasn’t for that awful moral squint of his. Ah, well, thought the Intendant. He never really liked his nephew all that much anyway.

Suddenly, a great thundering sent a lurch through the Keep, and the Intendant went toppling down, rolling back into his desk with a heave.

A second explosion jolted Oreb back to his senses. He found himself standing in a smoke-filled room, a gaping hole apparent in the left wall of the Intendant’s office. Training instincts kicked in, and Oreb raced to the opening to peer outside. Guards ran to and fro, shouting and calling at each other to hold fast and fight like men. Across the way and through all the dust and confusion, Oreb saw white crosses dance about behind muzzle-flashes.

And after looking back one last time at the fat beast flailing on the floor behind him, Oreb the Rebel lept into the fray.

© 2010 C.


Author's Note

C.
Anything, please.

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Added on November 13, 2010
Last Updated on November 15, 2010
Tags: dune, frank herbert, panopticism, sci fi, science fiction, rebels

Author

C.
C.

London, England, United Kingdom



About
I'm a Philosophy major, Creative Writing minor. I like Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov. Partial to poetry. My poems are mostly short. Recurring themes: detachment, apathy, loss, melancholy.. more..

Writing
Digging Up Worms. Digging Up Worms.

A Poem by C.