Chapter Thirteen

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Finally, after three uneventful days, I had been released from the clinic. I was worried sick about going through yet even more fight training, but when I walked back into the Training Facility all of the robots were gone. The whole room was cleared.

"Let's take a break from fight training now," Sam had said. "Today we are going to start learning about the art of propaganda and mind control." And that's what we did. My heart soared: I no longer had to worry about making a fool of myself. At least, for a little while.

For the next three weeks all of the Trainees had gathered together in a large, dark room with a television screen. Sam taught us about all of the methods the government was using to dull our minds and wills. I shift in my seat next to Leah.

"How many of you had televisions at your home or at your school?" Sam asks. Everyone raises their hand, even me. My grandmother had a small television at her apartment, and they stood at almost every corner in the Academy of Global Doctrines. Not that I ever made an effort to watch them. "Television is the most popular medium our government uses to reach the masses. How? Let's take a look at this advertisement for an RScreen." He taps the large screen and it lights up. For the duration of the commercial, screeching yet catchy music blares while the background cycles through various neon colors. A middle-aged woman blabs on about the benefits of RScreens, smiling smugly at her husband who struggles with one in the background. It ends when a small child confides in his mother that he wishes he were old enough to wear one.

When the screen fades to blackness, pockets of conversation break out across the room.

"I used to see that one all the time!" Oscar shouts.

"Me too!" Someone replies.

"Really?"

"It's annoying..."

"What's wrong with it?"

"I'll tell you what's wrong with it," Sam growls. He rewinds the video by swiping the screen with his finger, pausing it at the very beginning when there's only a series of rotating colors in the background. "The government resorts to the most primitive of human senses--sight and sound--to convince people that a certain product is good for them. By playing catchy, hypnotic music and utilizing eye-catching colors, you are consumed by the commercial from the get go and are already buying into their product. Sub-consciously, of course. Think of it as a primitive subliminal messaging device. It tells you that you need a product, playing on your sense of pride and self-righteousness. Why would your television lie to you, right?" People are silent now. Like me, their minds must be reeling. Sam plays the commercial again, pausing on the part when the wife looks smugly at her helpless husband.

"Here," Sam begins, "is an example of the progressive obliteration of the male image. In history and even in school, people are taught that males are strong and should lead with just yet strict rules. Here, as well as in many other commercials, the average father figure is made out to be highly ignorant and submissive, thereby tarnishing any respect towards the head of the household and even the entire male sex. In essence, we are being molded into a cowardly, spineless society." After a moment of silence, Sara speaks up in her technical manner.

"But why on Earth would they want to do that? Wouldn't progress cease to exist if there were no knowledgeable candidates to stand up and--"

"Let's move on," Sam interrupts, rolling his eyes. I have to work hard to hold in a laugh as Sara falls silent and Sam plays the commercial again, pausing it on the child. "Here is the final and most important aspect of this commercial. As twisted as it may seem, the government loves to target children. It's proven that the age group five to ten believes the most propaganda that is sent out. When their minds are ripe, it's simple to insert a single ideal and let it expand until adulthood. This happens continuously until the victim's mind is so full of lies that they can't think for themselves or honestly compute the world around them. This commercial specifically appeals to a child's restlessness. It is supposed to make a young audience aware that being plugged in occurs at the bridge between childhood and Memberhood, consequentially forcing a feeling of joyful anticipation upon them. Be honest: how many of you thought, at one point in your lives, that getting plugged in would be a viable option?"

At first there is stillness, then everyone in the room timidly raises their hand. Many of them glance around sheepishly. Sam nods, not surprised in the least.

"Impressionable children will believe any social rite of passage that's tossed their way, and they'll defend carrying it out because 'everyone else does it'. I'm sure, had no one intervened in your lives, that each of you would be a mindless puppet at this moment." A heavy silence hangs over the room, and Sam clicks off the screen. "On that note, you're dismissed."

People somberly file out of the room.

"Well that was cheerful," Leah hisses. "'You all would probably be doomed right now. Good night!' What kind of a teacher is he? Is he trying to scare us to death?" I shake my head.

"He's just trying to get the point across to us." Leah snorts and says nothing more. I pensively walk over to the dormitory and, before I enter, realize that Leah had wandered off. I turn around and watch her walk quickly towards the tunnel leading to the rest of the Depot.

"Leah!" I call out. She starts and spins around with a small grimace, like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

"Yeah?"

"Where are you going? The dormitory's this way." For a long, awkward second we stare at each other. Then Leah smacks her head.

"Oh, right! Pshh, I must be losing my mind." She makes her way towards me and we enter the room. I notice her look at the closed door, troubled, before she lies down to sleep.

* * *

I wake in the middle of the night. Something seemed to have woken me, but I can't put my finger on it. Go back to sleep, I tell myself. I'm about to close my eyes again when I notice a thin, vertical strip of light. The door is slightly ajar. A thrill of suspicion shoots down my spine, and I stand. My feet meet the cold, stony ground and I start towards the door. Just as I reach out my hand to open it some more, Leah steps in. I stand in terror, speechless, for a moment. But she just reaches out her arms to touch the wall and find her way to her bed. I realize that she can't see me in the dark. Quietly, I lie back on my bed and pretend to sleep. Leah sighs.

What's wrong with me, spying on my friend? I scold myself. She probably just went to get some water or something. There's nothing to worry about. I fall back asleep as quickly as I had woken up.

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