"For the safety and well-being of all local citizens this warning will be broadcasted silently…"
Simon was playing Rocket League when the message blinked on to the screen. No warning, no noise, just an instant "blink!". Strange, he thought. that's not supposed to happen.
Looking out of the window onto the usually bustling city streets below he could see many others doing just that, out of their own windows. Cars were stopped in the middle of the street, engines cut off, drivers emerging, looking bewildered. On the event screens throughout the city the same message was displayed. People who were in one moment scrolling through one app or another on their phones looked down, perplexed - the same message displayed on their device.
Noticing a movement in the room, Simon spun around just as - pop! - the lights grew nauseously bright, and blew out. Silently, the message had now changed.
Remain silent. Failure to comply with this message will result in dire consequences.
"If this is some kind of prank..." Simon muttered to himself as he reached for the remote control and flicked the TV set off.
It seemed like it worked - but the message was only changing.
Remain silent. Remain in your home. Await further instructions.
Enough is enough he thought, as he reached behind the TV and pulled the plug out of the wall.
The TV did not turn off. It did not dim. It didn't even flicker.
Simon stumbled backwards, shocked, falling on to the bed. For a few moments he simply stared at the screen, at the plug dangling freely, and back. This isn't happening. This isn't happening. As if telling himself that would make any of this go away. I am going to wake up. This has to be a dream.
In his perplexed state he saw the message blink. It was commanding attention. A number had appeared in the corner - 126,527, and it was rising rapidly. One word next to it was enough to turn his skin white, make his stomach drop to the floor, and make his hair stand on end.
"Are you going out, love?" Sarah asked. If she had seen the messages plastered on every screen in the city she would have brought them up, right? Sarah was his mother - an early 40s brunette and not in the best shape.
"A man was just looking for you - he looked like a salesman, dressed all smart with a briefcase and everything! I told him you had gone out - you're not in trouble are you?"
She seemed concerned. It wouldn't be the first time Simon had been in trouble. When he was 12 the police had brought him home after he was caught exploring an old factory - and then again when he was 14 for lifting a bottle of vodka from a grocery store.
"No mum, i'm just going out for a few hours." He didn't want to tell her the truth. She hadn't seen the messages, liking to keep away from technology and stick with things she knew. What if the man was looking for Simon? Is is because he tried to turn the TV off?
"Okay love. Are you going out with Paul again? Or are you going to see Steph?" Shit! had they seen the messages? It would be difficult not to, with them being on every screen.. everywhere?
"Like hell am I staying here" Simon said under his breath as he rushed to leave the apartment. He grabbed his old rucksack from his room, throwing different items in to it, not paying much attention to what he was doing. In his haste he knocked the TV, not noticing it smash on the floor. The screen was smashed, but stayed lit. The number was higher - Cleansed: 227,746.
Steph's apartment was two blocks down. If he used the alleys he could get there without being seen - so he left his mother with a kiss on the cheek and made for the stairs.
Making his way through the building was eerily quiet. In the lower floors he saw people making their way out, carrying bags or dragging suitcases with their possessions in. Nobody dared speak a work, with the messages engraved in their minds. Remain silent. Remain in your home. Await further instructions. What would the dire consequences be?
When he reached the lobby there was a crowd of people gathered by the entrance to the building. At the front of the crowd, blocking the door was a man in his early 30s. The man had a sharp cut, slate grey suit with a logo Simon didn't recognize hastily stitched on to the arm. He was speaking.
"... and when we find the young man we are looking for, you will all be free to leave. If anybody has any idea where we could find him, then let us know." Simon wasn't sure who the us was, but if they were looking for him he wasn't going to make it easy to find him. He ducked around the stairs into the kitchens. The machines were silent, and the kitchen staff elsewhere.
Leaving through the kitchen entrance into the alley he saw a few homeless men huddled around a small fire, the flames reaching straight up in the absent wind. He thought the air felt strange - like a storm was coming but with no clouds in the sky. The air was heavy and felt.. charged. As if it was alive with electricity. Looking towards the street he saw people ride past on bikes laden with luggage, vehicles lying abandoned with people rummaging through their contents. He turned to the alley and began walking.
There was no alley around Steph's building, so Simon was forced to go on to the street. This one was no better than the one he had left behind - cars without owners being looted by people without cars. There were a few stores in this street, with people darting in and out grabbing whatever they can. Remain in your home. The words stuck - what will happen to those who leave? Simon began to worry - he could go back.. but he needed to know his friends were ok. Glancing at his phone he saw the message had now changed.
Remain in your homes. You will be assessed.
The entrance to Steph's apartment building was thrown wide open, unlike his own. Simon had no difficulty getting up the stairs and outside her apartment. He hastily opened the door and shut it behind him. There was a stagnant smell coming from the kitchen - Simon began to call out Step- before he remembered: Remain silent. He moved to the kitchen to examine the smell. A pot sat on the stove, it had boiled over and spilt onto the floor but Steph's fancy electric hob had cut off with the rest of the power. She had a TV mounted on the wall - the message remained but the number was raising, faster now. Cleansed: 1,032,512.
"Simon?" the voice from behind him made Simon jump. Steph was stood behind him, rubbing sleep from her eyes. If anyone asked if Simon fancied Steph (they have done, quite often) he would lie. And why not? She was hot. With her long blond hair and pretty blue eyes, all the guys would fancy her.
"What did you do to the TV?" she asked, seeing the message on the screen behind him.
"Listen, we have to leave. There are these messages, all power seems to be gone and I'm pretty sure they are looking for me." he replied. He knew he sounded crazy to her, hell, he sounded crazy to himself. "Look, in the street. Order is gone."
Looking into the street there were fewer people stealing from cars - a few remained, smashing bats or clubs against windows and bins, shouting and making noise. "Where are the police?" Steph wondered out loud. As she said this, a group of men in grey suits with the emblem Simon saw earlier on their arms. Approaching the looters directly they were bombarded with vulgar insults and had debris thrown at them. This didn't seem to bother the men, as they each put their hands into their pockets, and swiftly shot the looters.
Expecting gunshots, Simon covered his ears. When there were none he looked at Steph, puzzled. The noise of an engine coming around the corner drew his attention back to the looters, now collapsed on the floor. A van with the emblem on the side pulled up to the suited men, who threw the rear doors open, tied the looters hands and threw them in. As the van pulled off again the suits returned to the sidewalk and made towards the nearest building. Down the street some more suits moved towards the building Simon and Steph were looking out of.
"Clothes. Now!" Simon whispered, keeping as quiet as possible. As steph rushed to the bedroom he went into the kitchen and began emptying all the tins out of the cupboards. Simon knew Steph wouldn't have any weapons, instead he grabbed the bottles of liquor and a few cloths. Making a Molotov shouldn't be THAT hard, should it?
When Steph re-emerged, ready to leave he passed her her own rucksack as he heard footsteps down the hall. "Window!" he said. Opening the window as quietly and quickly as possible, they each climbed gently onto the fire escape outside, and closed the window behind them. They heard a muffled thud as the doorframe splintered with the boot that went through it. "We were told they should be here." a rough voice said, amongst the sound of an apartment being turned upside down. "I don't care, David. Just find them." the voice these words came from was smooth, each word calculated and assessed before it came out. "I want the boy. Have the collectors pick up the friend." Steph looked at Simon, alarmed, so he gestured to her with the 'OK' sign. "When you have him, don't delay in telling me, David."
Once the men had left the apartment, Simon and Steph climbed slowly back in. The men had smashed anything that could be smashed, whether they were making a statement or looking for something, Simon did not know. The one thing that remained untouched was the screen in the kitchen. Cleansed: 1,612,735