Big Brother in the Sky
Sweat beaded on Winston’s forehead as he sat in the humid three feet square compartment near the bulkhead of the aircraft. He stared intently at the flashing screen, double checking the ticker tape. His head shook in desperation. “Damn.”
The elite had already boarded the flying monstrosity, leaving the proles to struggle in their queues. Winston gingerly cracked opened the door. It was labeled “The Ministry of Reaccommodation.” He peered out at the gray masses that filed into the metal tube. A dark haired woman caught his eye briefly as he ducked back in.
Three hi-pri assignments was already asking too much. But five! Five was riding on the edge of insanity. This was going to blow his last month’s record. No. It might even cost him the year at this rate. He absentmindedly flipped through the ticker tape again, as if reading it another time would change the words. Five elites needed last minute space all on the same flight. Absurd!
There must be some trick in the Handbook. After all, the System must have some good reason for this.
He straightened his back. No. There was never a good reason. He had worked all these years, piling in the paper work and carefully reassigning people like pieces on a chess board. Winston had a good reason — if he could avoid the conscience monitors, maybe, just maybe he could make the masses less huddled. He had outlasted his colleagues: Jan, Robert, and that stilted man Jenkins. They had all been clubbed and ex-communicated for minor infractions. His time may have come.
A chime emanated throughout the walls of the plane. This in itself was not unusual. There were chimes of all types on Sever Airlines. But, this was a tritone: the note of death. It signaled that the metal tube was overflowing. The chime was for no one but him. Sweat beaded again.
Presently, there was a single loud knock at his door. It must be Allen, the Minister of Club. Winston shuffled his papers and turned off his screen. Another loud knock.
“Yes, come in.”
Allen opened the door. He was a fit, young man with long, wavy hair. It was currently hidden under a thick helmet.
“Winston.” he blurted. “My time has come!”
“No, the time is not now.” Allen had only joined the ministry two months ago and was eager to rise the ranks. He was one of those young upstarts that spent his free time meditating in circles of the Conscience Free movement. Winston shuddered thinking about their nightly rituals involving chains and puppies.
“Why not? I heard the tone. I have less than five minutes to club and eject those passengers.”
“Let me to worry about. Get back to your compartment,” Winston said.
“Give me that ticker,” he said as his hands groped about the room.
“Get out! I am the Reaccommodation Minister, not you.” Winston stood up and shuffled Allen back out the door. He stole another glance toward the masses. He could tell they were now curious. The situation was becoming obvious. There wasn’t much more time to stall.
Another voice called out from the hallway.
“Hey, what’s this?” said the man with wild hair.
It was Quentin, from the Ministry of Compression. This was the newest innovation — the ability for the plane to reshape the seats so that legroom would be minimized on a per person basis. Winston was bewildered by the addition. There was scarcely enough room in the aircraft, what with the Ministry of Turbulence, Ministry of Dress Code, Ministry of Automatically Leaning Back Seats, and of course, the biggest of them all, the Ministry of Delays.
“I heard the tritone. You need to let Allen do his job,” said Quentin.
Winston looked at him, then back at Allen, who was now visibly salivating and stroking his club. The cameras were rolling, capturing his every facial reaction. If he delayed any longer, he would lose his position. Or even worse, be put into forced labor camps packaging peanut snacks.
“We’ve already marked the target. Seats 54 to 58,” said Allen. “Remember, when it’s our mistake, we take it out on the masses.” He grinned. “Policy is policy.”
The ticker tape started up again. Winston didn’t need to look — he knew it was reprinting the reaccommodations list, in case he had missed it the first time. The five people that needed to be clubbed and removed.
Winston suddenly brightened. “I have a proposal,” he said. “Quentin, can you reposition the plane to make room for five new seats?”
“We are at capacity.”
“Dammit, man. You make capacity. What if we go beyond the safety limit?”
Quentin furrowed his brow. “Well, it’s technically possible. There’s no going back, and we might end up injuring…”
Allen held up his hand. “Do you have something against me, Winston? I have a quota to fill.”
“Not this time. You can fill it on the next leg. I’m not going to let them screw me over. If this works, we’ll be heralded as heroes of the System.”
Winston grabbed Quentin by the shoulders with a wild look in his eyes. “Can you do it?”
Quentin hesitated, then nodded and entered his compartment. A complex symphony of metal switches came from within. Winston felt heavy mechanisms shift beneath his feet. All at once, every seat in the tube jerked and people turned into bobbleheads trying to regain balance. A murmur spread through the masses.
Then, each row of seats from the front to back began to compress with a deep whirring sound. It happened slowly, like watching the sun set below the horizon. The masses saw the seat in front of them come closer, and the murmur grew louder.
Quentin walked out of his compartment, giving Winston a thumbs up. Winston smiled — a real smile.
That was when the popping sounds began. At first, it came from the taller passengers whose legs were compressed to the limit. A few screamed.
“How much more?” Winston asked.
“80 percent there.”
The murmur had now become a deafening roar of pain — a cacophony of squeals and groans. Winston nervously wringed his hands. We just needed to get past the next few seconds. Then, those extra five seats could be added.
Finally, the floor jerked again in a final pulse of agony. A sigh traversed the masses as they readjusted their limbs. It was uncomfortable, but better than the alternative.
Allen had a deflated look on his face. Winston patted his back. “Next time, next time.” He strode back into his compartment and brought out the ticker.
“Seats are ready. Who’s waiting?”
Winston looked down at the list. His face drained of all color, and his mouth gaped.
“What is it?” asked Quentin.
Winston handed the ticker to him. “Look at the fifth passenger.”
“A. Bogdon. So what?”
“Alton Bogdon. He’s the most reviled businessman, and the CEO’s most respected confidant,” said Winston. There was still no reaction from either men.
“He is five hundred pounds.”
A broad smile slowly spread across Allen’s face as the realization spread in his mind. The gamble had backfired. Due to the now impossibly tight configuration, A. Bogdon would force a reaccommodation of at least ten people from adjacent rows.
The lights dimmed as Allen flipped down his helmet visor and wielded his weapon. Every screen turned dark and revealed an identical message in stark white text.
“Prepare for Clubbing.”