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The Curators

    The walls of her basement studio hung silently, missing her paintings of love and life. The doors stood firm and the upstairs sat still as the canvas before her. Her pottery wheel hadn't been spun in months and the shelves that once held beautiful bowls and cups now sat with shatter bits of ceramic. Her paints and clays had been confiscated and she sat nameless, hunched in the corner, never to make another piece of artwork. A simple sign hung around her neck. SAVAGE  it read out. The Curators came and took everything and left her dead because she had an imagination.

    Ever since America lost the Great War to North Korea they've been brainwashed into having no imagination. Every great building has been destroyed and turned into every other cookie cutter business center or apartment complex. All furniture, music, movies, books and entertainment items have been destroyed. Food had been simplified into soylent green and protein cubes. Devoid of all color and flavor.  Everything has been painted brown and the people were forced to wear brown jump suits. All forms of transportation have been destroyed except for the municipal "buses" which are just oversized prison transporters. Men and women alike work factory jobs and are required to never speak out of turn. Children under sixteen years old are put into mandatory schooling during the work day. This educates them about the "sheer greatness of our powerful Korean leader Jung-Kim Wun" and teaches them to be submissive to the government.

    Most of these factory jobs are destruction jobs. The job description is a simple one, destroy anything that comes before you. Long conveyor belts are lined with men and women all dressed in brown, donning sledge hammers and gloves. If its a fabric item it goes down the chute, which is always located to the left, that leads to a shredder. Every once in a while the camera's would catch a "savage" and they'd be dragged away to be disposed of. A days work earned you a food ration, enough to feed yourself and your family until the next morning. Money had been destroyed in the early days of the new regime, there would be no need for money when there's nothing left to purchase. People were required to work from 6am to 9pm so they had no reason to be physically stimulated. For three generations the people lived in a simplistic world. No entertainment, no color, no imaginations. That was how it was until she came.

    Jennifer was a quiet girl. Her entire life was based off what her parents had taught her. Be quiet. Don't make eye contact. Never speak out of turn. But she was always different. She always had her own ideas and her own imagination, she could see pictures and items in her head. She dreamed of creation and bright beautiful colors, colors she's never seen before. She's dreamed of cups that look nothing like the cylindrical 8 ounce plastic cups that they've been using since she was born. Life to her is droll and bland and she's tired of living in this apartment building. She yearns for release, to run away and live somewhere full of color. She dreams of trees and animals, something other than brown and metal. "One day, I'll run away and nobody can stop me." she thinks to herself all the time. That chance would come soon enough.

    "Jennifer WAKE UP! It's your 16th birthday, meaning you get to start working with the rest of the adult world!" Slowly she opened her eyes and stretched awake. The bland jumpsuit hung from her closet door and she immediately frowned as she crawled out of bed. The "bus ride" to work is about the same amount of time as it takes to get to school but this time it was different. Entering the build she was handed a hard hat, a wrist watch with three yellow LED lights in it and directed toward a small room with a brown door.  She opened the door and was met with a single desk in the center of the room and a projector in the back. The instructions on the board said "Sit and stay silent" so she complied. After a few moments the projector began rolling and a small Korean man appeared on the screen. The black and white film had been the first time she'd ever watched anything even close to a film or video. She's never read a book or seen anything other than a teachers writing on a chalk board. She was captivated.

    "Welcome to your first day of work for factory 6731-8419-9 employee number 3234-713-6."  The poor voice over of the employee number was almost humorous to her. "Please remain seated for the entire presentation, any and all questions will be answered throughout the video." For two hours Jennifer sat and stared at the screen while the man explained every aspect of her job. He explained that Overlord Wun had commissioned her specifically to be part of the Curators and that her job alone was vital to the survival of the country. "Employee 3234-7713-6, you're the future of this company. Without you, this economy would fall." A plastered piece of propaganda meant to motivate the people into doing mindless work for hundreds of hours with no pay. To keep the people as slaves to their country.

    Jen was assigned to the "Textile" line. This line was specifically designed for items made of fabric such as dolls, clothes, painting canvas' and so on. Her main job was pulling stuffed animals off the line and dropping them down into the shredder. She'd need to check the pieces for any sort of identification, such as labels or nametags. They'd need to be torn off and placed in a bin next to her. When the bin was full she'd press a button on the panel in front of her and someone would come pick up the box. She was also in charge of watching out for anything that may harm the machines; metals and such. Every once in a while the line would halt and a yellow light would flash on the walls. A loud horn would sound and a red light would flicker on above a worker's head. That would signal that they allowed a foreign object into the grinder. As a punishment one of the yellow LED's would turn off on their bracelet. In the video, the little Korean man explained "Once the lights on your wristwatch go out you will be removed from the line and placed back into 're-education' to be rehabilitated and allowed back into the population." They'd never actually return, they'd just be replaced with someone else and the day would continue on.

    Each day at around noon the belts would stop for exactly six minutes and a protein cube would pop out of a drawer in front of each worker and they would be allowed to eat. At five minutes and fifty seconds an alarm would sound and the belt would start back up ten seconds later. She found that even if the belt was stopped for an obstruction it would still stop for the lunch break. This is where she formulated her plan. Everyday after that she would time the obstruction times. Every time it would take a minimum of six minutes to clear. Then with the additional six minutes for lunch it would give her a timeframe of between twelve and eighteen minutes to escape. The chute she'd drop the fabrics down was long and deep but it had an opening in the bottom. Every once in a while they'd need to separate the rippers so the large amounts of fabric could fall through into the recycling box below it. The box looked deep and full enough that she'd be able to land safely. All she needed to do was follow the corridor out and make a break toward the wall. The plan had been laid, the steps have been calculated. It was time to put it all into action.


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Daring Escape

       Jen waited in a panic by the door for her parents to come and wake her up for work. Scratching at her face nervously until a little stream of crimson red ran down her cheek. A small knock broke her out of her nervous tick and back into reality. "Honey...?" her mother said from beyond the door. "I've been calling you for a few minutes now, it's time to leave are you alright?" No I'm not alright, she thought to herself, I've got 2 weeks of lunch rations and a cable stashed around my ankles in this shitty brown jumpsuit and I'm preparing to commit high treason, today. "Yes mother, I'm awake. Give me one minute I'm just arranging my room." For the last time. If her plan did not work she was certain that she'd never be seen again.

    The bus ride in felt three times as long today and the roads twice as bumpy. She stared voraciously at her watch, meticulously counting the seconds and making sure her timing would be spot on. Drop the tags, wait for blades to separate, drop the cable. (She had been stashing this cable in her jump suit for weeks. She had found it when a rogue bicycle had made it onto he conveyor belt, throwing her plan into high-speed) jump, miss the blades, land on top of the shredded fabric. Exit the bin as fast as possible, remove watch, run for the door. Jen had been watching very carefully at the buildings edge to see where the door was. She approximated it to be a three hundred yard run which should take her forty-five seconds to run from the bin to the door. As long as it is unlocked she should make it to the wall within three minutes of the initial drop.

    The hours ticked by at a grueling one minute per hour. Every time she looked up the clock was still on 6:03 am. The time that it took her to do her morning preparations usually spanned a course of  several hours. It seemed to only take her thirty minutes. "Okay, Calm down" she told herself under her breath "I've done this a thousand times in my head. I know it will work." She clutched the bicycle cable against her leg and closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, She let it out and opened her eyes to one of the head Curators, Jun-Fan Wu standing across from her. "Everything alright" He leaned in and squinted to read her name-tag "713-6?" She nodded while staring at the floor. She learned that if you look into the eyes of one of the Curators you are disrespecting him and the last thing she needs is a full body search. "Alright, get back to work." He said in a huff while waving his hand in a 'shooing' motion He walked away with his shoulders high and his nose pointed to the ceiling. Jen, unwavering in her resolve continued to think about her escape plan in her head. There's no turning back now. Not since she had come this far.

    The time was moments away. The wristwatch showed that about 40 seconds remained until she needed to dump the tags. Curator Wu was all the way on the other side of the factory at this point and she knew the timing couldn't have been any more perfect. She unbuttoned her jumpsuit and reached for the cable then realized she was going out of order! She stood up from her chair and lifted the box of tags into the chute and watched them all fall onto the blade port. The rotating shredders stopped spinning and began retracting into the wall so the tags could fall past. This was her moment! She grasped the cable and dropped it down the edge of the wall. It caught on one of the blades and got stuck between it and the wall, stopping the blades with a shot of sparks. She then stood up and stared at the wall. Another eternity until the yellow light flashed on and off she went into the chute. She spun herself and placed her hands and feet on the adjacent sides of the chute that the blades were on to steady her decent. As she came upon the blades she caught her left elbow into the razor sharp blade. She let out a squeal of pain but she couldn't stop to look at it. The box was full to the brim with stuffing and now the tags she had dumped and she landed gracefully on her back in the center of the fluff.

    She struggled to release herself from the bin but managed to do so in a flash. She could hear the siren that usually goes off above when a foreign object gets caught in the blade and she could see her LED go out as she tossed the watch into the bin and headed toward the door in a full blown sprint. The floor was quite greasy from the metals and paints section and she had a tough time but still made it within her time-frame. The door had been unlocked and she was out into the afternoon air in a flash. She ran straight toward the wall, momentarily blinded while her eyes adjusted to the sunlight that she barely ever saw. The fence was a chain link monstrosity with razor wire at the top so before she ascended the wall she first took off her jumpsuit. Careful to not damage her bleeding arm any further. Adrenaline kicked in when a new alarm sounded from the factory floor and she was up the fence in a hurry. The razor wire at the top was easily covered enough by her ugly brown (and now red) jumpsuit and she climbed over and down with no further struggle.

    Her last obstacle was a hill, she ran with everything she had up it and as she came over the apex she could smell freedom. It was something she had never smelled before. It was salty, but sweet and had a real crisp and fresh smell to it. The ground was soft and wasn't concrete. It was a light color, almost the same as the sun but didn't hurt her eyes to look at. The sky wasn't overcast, and she could see a vast body of water in the distance. There was no black and white and the brown that was here was contrasted so well that even it seemed beautiful. She ran, so fast and so far that she had forgotten about the amount of blood she had been losing. Soon, it became apparent that she couldn't stand straight up anymore lest the fact, run. She fell over in a thud and everything went black. 

    Her head felt like it had split and her tongue felt drier than the Sahara. The sound of quiet muttering filled her ears and she hesitated to open her eyes.  Finally she fought up the courage to open her eyes and sit up. It was dark and everything was blurry but she could make out a few faces in the room. Seven to be exact. A young man, about her age, sat the closest with a plastic bottle in his hand. "Water?" he asked, as if he didn't know she was thirsty. She snatched the water as quickly as he had asked. She handed it back to him and said "more. please" very quietly and hoarsely. He handed her another bottle and she drank this one more slowly. Finally when her thirst was sated Jen sat back and said "W-Where am I?"

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    "Don't worry yourself, dearie." a frail voice practically whispered in the background. "You're in a safe place." Jen leaned to look past the boy, the pain in her elbow shocked her a bit but she hid it as best as she could, there was an old woman sitting on what looked to be a large piece of driftwood. She sat leaning forward clutching a stick, almost struggling to hold her head up. The fog was beginning to lift from Jen's eyes and she was able to make out her surroundings a bit more clearly. "What is this place? Who are you people and How come I'm alive right now?" She stumbled over her words and winced in pain as she tried to shift her body again. "You need to stop moving, those stitches are only cloth thread, they will break if you jostle them too much." The boy said, "Calm down George, She'll be just fine. Jon did a great job stitching her up." "Lois, he may have done a swell job but they're still only thread" George motioned his arms as sarcastically as he could. Lois looked up at Jen and repeated, "I promise honey, you're in a safe place."

    The word safe echoed endlessly in Jen's head. She closed her eyes and leaned back. Water colors swirled in her head into dioramas of every face she had ever known. So lifelike yet completely fictional. Her etheral body swaying back and forth as poetic as the rolling waves on the ocean. Her fingers flicking a paintbrush like a conductor leading an orchestra. Everything felt so real as if- she opened her eyes to see the entire group staring at her. She looked down to her hand that held this magic wand, a tool to create masterpieces. She looked up to see a canvas in front of her laden with colors she's never seen in a design so beautiful she could only place her hand over her mouth in awe. It was her entire family. Right down to her grandparents she hadnt seen since she was a girl. In brilliant color they smiled back at her. Safe and sound on the canvas where they belonged.

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