Chapter 5: Matinee

Sunday morning was a dreaded race for survival. That was the way it had been every Sunday for as long as Blank Bryce could recall. Whole families piled into buses, cars, or rickshaws. Usually the rickshaws were so piled up that nobody could sit down.

They came from all parts of the city. Some came from the Fringes. Others from the River. Starting off first thing in the morning to deal with the terrible traffic jam that led from all the roads of the city to the old theater.

The sidewalks were just as crowded as the roads; filled with pedestrians who made the weekly trip to the Matinee.

Nobody dared to stay home. To do so was to risk getting caught by the Sweep.

The Sweep took place every Sunday, two minutes before the Matinee. Government run scanners, installed in every building and nearly every vehicle, searched for any human beings they could find. Infrared sensors ran forwards, backwards, side to side, and diagonally; leaving no corner unsearched.

If a person was found by the Sweep, the building or vehicle he or she was in would be locked down and sirens would wail until the Metrocops came with the attending ambulance.

The result for these poor people was always the same. Immediate transportation to the asylum for lobotomy. How long it was before one faced surgery depended solely upon how many were taken in that Sunday morning. But usually a detainee could look forward to joining the growing ranks of the mentally maimed in the crowded quiet rooms in the adjoining detention building by the end of the day.

Blank Bryce edged closer and closer to the theater, snarling in irritation as she was jostled by the near-panicked crowd. She prayed that her mother was nearby, but did not stop to look around. Stopping would mean that she would not get into the theater. That she might be one of those who only heard the message of the Matinee and did not see it.

While only hearing was not as bad as missing it entirely. It did bring its own set of consequences.

They were hospitalized in the asylum for a week, given psychoactive drugs to make their minds more pliable, and then lectured for three hours every day. They were also forced into the quiet rooms for two hours each evening before being sent to their own rooms.

It wasn't uncommon for someone who was at the asylum for week-long conditioning to end up "accidentally" lobotomized.

So Blank Bryce walked as fast a she could, twisting and winding her way through the crowd until she squeezed through the doors and into the theater.

Once in the theater her eyes turned to a smile as she released a small butterfly, one fifth the size of a real one, and watched it fly unnoticed toward the screen.

An image of a man in his early sixties appeared on the screen.

"In this… the year 17… we give thanks to our Glorious Leader who paved our way to freedom."

The Matinee had begun.

"We give him thanks for freeing us from the tyranny of television."

"Thank You, Glorious Leader!" everyone shouted, including Blank Bryce, who put on a fake smile while feeling nauseous inside.

"We give him thanks, for showing us the way of neutrality."

Another chorus of "Thank You, Glorious Leader!"

"We give him…. "

The image of Ellis did a little electric jig and morphed into the image of an unpleasant-looking devil.

"... What about Love…? Its defective!"

The crowd shuddered in discomfort as the old song clip, known only to a few interrupted the Matinee.

Nobody had ever dared to interrupt the Matinee.

Within minutes, however, a large group, some rebellious, others willing to just repeat anything they were ordered, had taken up the cry "It's defective!" as the segment was repeated.

Government officials rushed to the projection unit. They scrambled desperately to restore the image of their beloved leader to its original form and return the Matinee to normality.

Finally one of them spotted the little butterfly sitting atop the machinery, fluttering its electric wings. He crushed it in his hands and pocketed the remains unseen.

"Just a dust bunny in the works, sir," he said as Ellis returned to normal on the screen and the Matinee resumed its weekly conditioning.

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