On / Off
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The living room was filled to capacity, any soul that could make it in cramped in between a bunch of others. No one complained, however. The discomfort would be worth it.
Jesse was over in the far corner, tinkering with the ancient device she had discovered in a junk heap outside of town. Doing what she did was considered highly illegal, and could land her in a prison cell any day. But she did not care about rotting away in a cell. Everyday life was exactly like it.
“I need a battery!” she shouted into the room. What she was asking for was another item from ancient times, but surprisingly enough it was still widely used. Widely allowed was another thing, but even the worst Laborers wouldn’t give you more than a zap with their shock sticks for it.
The crowd shuffled as a battery was passed on, and seconds later Jesse had snapped the device shut. All went silent when her fingers moved to the slider that showed On/Off and shifted it. Anticipation hung in the air, suspended as the device made a little grinding sound that lasted for a few seconds before stopping.
A collective groan of disappointment rose in the room, the grimmer of the elders exclaiming that the girl had wasted their precious time. Jesse did not hear it. The machine had lived. She would make it live again. The tumult around her grew ever louder as she found the little display that showed the number one. She traced it with her finger, then noticed the button. The key. Her eyes grew wide.
“What is this?” came a roaring voice from the entrance. Everyone knew it to be Laborer Marcus’, the district’s commander. He was better known as the ‘Electrician’, a title that required no explanation for anyone new to the area. Already the crowd had cleared away from him, every person warily eyeing the buzzing club in his hand. It granted the man free sight, and he soon laid his eyes upon Jesse, a grim smile distorting his manic features. “I should’ve known it was you,” he said softly, then started towards her as if the gathering of people was no more than air.
Jesse looked back at the device in her hands, then at the approaching villain. He was closing in fast. It was now or never. She pushed the big button with the arrow on it.
The tones froze all movement, including the Electrician’s. No one in the entire room, not even the elders, had ever heard anything like it. They had heard of it, but words failed to describe the feelings that rushed through them as the music played. Many wept, others fell down on their knees and prayed. Laborer Marcus was lost for words and lost for actions. The twisted man fought himself, but eventually even his eyes shed a tear.
Jesse took in every single drop of the experience, knowing full well that it would be the last time that she would hear anything like it. How could anyone have ever banned it? How could mankind survive without it?
Minutes passed, and finally the device went silent again. People blinked their eyes as if they awoke from a trance. Before long, all eyes were once more fixed on the Laborer, who finally reached his destination.
“Hand it over,” he told Jesse, much gentler than he normally would have. She did, and got up, offering her hands willingly for the cuffs to be put on them.
She walked out with her chin up in the air. People regarded her with expressions that she had never seen before. She thought them soft, not knowing the exact meaning of the word.
Jesse’s life in the open was forfeit. But it did not matter. In these couple minutes of bliss, she had lived a thousand lives. And even the Laborers couldn’t take that away.