Panopticon — Chapter 1

The night was full of sparkling lights and sweet drinks that bubbled the spirit and floated on compassion. The music was loud and endless with a great swaying that followed across the college no matter where you were or what band played. Strangers hugged and enemies kissed under the glow of a million stars. The air was full of released stress and the hormones of young adulthood hell bent on being satiated. The night crooned its melody into the waiting ears of the tipsy lovers and wound its poetry around their limbs.

And then the sirens began to wail.

“Please stay calm and report to your cabin. Everything is under control.”

Everything went dark except for the rotating red emergency lights. Mingled expressions of horror, panic, and confusion were painted on every face upon which the light fell. For a brief moment no longer than a single exhale, the entire college stood still. The sirens shrieked into the night, echoing off the stone walls surrounding the quad as mania ensued.

Men ran around looking for their dates, women tripped on their floor-length gowns and elegant pumps. Glasses of champagne were thrown to the ground and the crash of broken crystal was lost among the panicked screams.

“Please stay calm and report to your cabin. Everything is under control.”

The sky was filling with search lights, illuminating the scene of chaos that had just been one of carefree decadence a minute before. What had their world become? They remembered a time when everything was under control and sirens hadn’t needed to be posted on every corner of the city.

The party goers were sealing themselves away in their cabins, entering their special codes and barring the leaden doors to sit in silence, listening to the dull booms outside.

Why did it have to happen tonight, one girl thought as she pulled a piece of glass from her foot.

She was about to kiss me… she had just closed her eyes and was leaning in… did she make it to her cabin before the doors sealed? A boy sat in total darkness, his cabin’s emergency generator malfunctioning.

“Do you think it’s really happening?” A pair sat on the bench of one’s cabin huddled together. They both shook as the shock set in.

“I don’t know,” said the boy, trying to hide his trembling. “This doesn’t feel like the drills.”

They’re going to kill us all, everyone thought.

The night wore on, the sirens wailed steadily, and the cold voice never faltered its speech: “Please stay calm and report to your cabin. Everything is under control.”

What would they find when they emerged from their bunkers? Which of their friends would be dead? Who might not have made it to their cabin before the doors slammed shut?

In cabin 249, a girl crossed the room and knocked on the edge of an air vent. The door sprung open, dropping a creased photo into the girl’s hand.

“How the hell did you get that in here?” She had led a tiny group from a different college into her own cabin, not wanting to see them locked out.

“I broke in a few months back and slipped this in. If everything out there is destroyed, the only thing I couldn’t bear to lose is this photo.” She held up the picture of a smiling family.

For a moment she was no longer in a cold steel room with a tiny bed and cabinet of essentials, but standing in a meadow with other red-haired people, sipping wine from a growler. The breeze had been soft that day and the sun caressed the skin instead of beating down upon it. Children’s laughter echoed in her ears as she tucked the love-worn photo into her bra.

Annis leaned against the desk provided and hung her head, humming a ballad to drown out the sirens.

“So what’re we to do?” a freckle-faced boy burst out as if he had been repressing the thought but no longer could.

“We sit here until we’re given further instruction,” said an older looking guy with dark circles under his eyes. His chin was covered in scruff and his eyes were bloodshot as if he hadn’t slept in days. His American accent was thick. “That’s all we can safely do. Besides,” he said rubbing the back of his head and closing his eyes, “those doors are solid lead. Even if we wanted to leave, we couldn’t.”

“What if we run out of food?” said a shaking girl on the farthest corner from the door. She seemed to be pressing herself as far from the leaden door as she could get. “Or oxygen? Are these rooms equipped for more than one person?”

“Don’t be stupid,” the scruffy American responded, leaning back against the desk. “They will have equipped us with at least enough provisions for 5 days and that’s for probably 5 people.”

“How do you know, smart ass?” the freckled boy shouted, hugging the shivering girl to his side.

“Because it’s common sense dipshit. These cabins were built for short term inhabitation for small groups and the government spent almost their whole budget on them. Haven’t you been following the defensive measures at all?”

We’re going to be here for almost a week?” the girl took a sobbing breath as if preparing to wail.

“Oh for the love of God would you shut her up?!” The American rubbed his temples, trying to block out her wavering whimpers.

“Don’t tell her to shut up you fucking pig!”

“I wouldn’t have to if you’d take care of it!”

“Listen you asshole — ”

Everyone shut up and listen!” Annis shouted above the mounting yelling.

Silence fell heavily upon the cabin. Four sets of eyes fell upon the door as the quiet radiated throughout the metal room.

“Where are the sirens?” Annis said softly.

The lights flickered, stalled, and relit to reveal the petrified faces of her cabin’s cohabitants.

“No one move. No one make a sound.” Annis breathed. She scarcely drew a breath as she stood soundlessly, sliding out of her shoes and tiptoeing to the door.

“Don’t!” the shivering girl squeaked.

Annis pressed a single finger to her lips and glared sternly at the girl whose hand now covered her mouth.

Her heart thudding in her chest so hard it ached, Annis took a deep breath and leaned slowly towards the door. She pressed an ear to the freezing lead, waiting for something, anything to give her any indication of what was happening on the other side, but the silence was deafening.

She pulled back, with obvious confusion painted across her features. The American had soundlessly moved by her side.

“What is it?”

“I don’t understand,” she whispered.

They locked eyes and together, slowly lowered their ears back to the door.

SHUUUUMMMMMNNN… Pitch darkness cut through the room as their ears touched the metal. A shriek cut through the air from the far corner.

“WILL YOU BE QUIET!?” The American whispered loudly.

“It’s the generators,” Annis murmured. “They’ve been cut. They’re meant to last for months, there’s no way they’re out accidentally.”

They sat silently in darkness for another second until a bright red light filled the room from the emergency power light above the door. The blood red light shone on the mingled expressions of terror and confusion in the cabin as the heavy metal door clanged and swung open…