Prompt Short Story: Anniversary

You can’t always see the big ones coming. The days where everything changes, for better or for worse. Sometimes you get a hint, a clue, an idea, even just a hunch. Other times? Zip.

She was just one of many, in the beginning. We get taught distancing techniques, mental exercises to keep us from getting invested, from caring about our subjects. Our instructor used to tell me I was good at them – “Jessica, you’re a natural, just keep up those guards!” – and I’d smile and nod and know I would be great.

And for the first few years, I was. But while I was on alert for the obvious signs we’d been taught to expect, the others snuck up on me. It was just a job. Three years watching her, and all the others, through that machine. And without me realising it, maybe a little part of me fell in love with her, because I wished she knew who I was. Until she did.

She was short, a little chubby with the cutest button nose. Everything about her was dark – her hair, her skin, her eyes, even her humour. Everything except her smile. That lit up the room, every time – it sure lit up my dark little cubby hole.

Another thing we were trained for was to spot real dissention  – the kind that leads to action, not just bitching over a beer. There’s a lot of potential and subtle signs, and I found myself…ignoring them, when they came from her. Anyone else I’d have written up months before, but that would have meant her being taken away, and I just wanted to keep watching her. I just kept making excuses as to why it wasn’t really so bad, and how such and such wouldn’t quite fall under the remit.

I’m not even really sure how I got to that point. It snuck up on me and suddenly I was daydreaming about meeting her for real, then about joining her in her passion-fuelled anger at the very Stratocrastic leaders I was working for, then for the first time I was looking critically at the government myself!

It was three years exactly from the day I started watching her that I saw her arrested. Someone else in her group, a cell that had formed right under my own nose, was taken down and spilled names. I saw her screaming and fighting, and I saw her cuffed, beaten, and dragged away.

I was taken off duty and, after a few days to stew in my own juices, called in to meet with my section commander.

Commander Rathburn was a hard-nosed, gravel-faced son of a piece of shit – and that was my opinion before I saw the brainwashed sham of a country I’d been living in. Now? I could barely look at him without wanting to tear his throat out with my bare hands.

I was reamed out and assigned to what they called “Adaptation and Adjustment” – basically torture and brainwashing, they didn’t even bother to pretend to give it a euphemistic name did they?

But first I got a field trip. My hands and feet were chained, and I was driven out to watch her execution. The guards laughed in my face as they told her who I was and she cursed my name, right up to the moment the rifle cracked. I wept for her and tried to get free, but all I got was some busted ribs from a cosh, and some torn skin from the shackles.

Joke’s on them though. I won’t be brainwashed again. The survival rate here isn’t exactly high, so I figure I either die, or I convince them I’m  a good, beaten down citizen and they let me out.

One good thing about my old job though? I know what to look for, and what to avoid, and I can teach that to others. They’ll be watching me but I’ll know it. And I’ve got lots of time to spare in here. I’ll figure out how to take them down.

Fuck the police state.

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It was just a job. Three years watching her through that machine. And maybe a little part of me fell in love with her, because I wished she knew who I was. Until she did.

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