Harmony, by Melanie Avila
The humming grew stronger, clearer, as the rotating blades pounded the air.
I still wasn't used to this way of life. The constant accountability. They were always checking, always wanting to know.
It was above my building.
The sunlight strobed through the copter's propellers. I leaned out the window and shielded my eyes.
We heard stories that when they came it'd be chaos, that life as we knew it would be over, but it all went very smoothly. One person in my octad compared it to upgrading the software on their computer. Only we were the software.
They assigned us one of two values: None or One.
The code must serve some larger purpose, but I never figured out how they chose. I just accepted my assignment and went on with my life. Or tried to.
They sent messages. That's how they communicated.
The first one was clear:
Find a way to live in harmony or you will cease to exist.
Then nothing for weeks. Clearly it was it a warning, but no one knew what to make of it, and before long it slipped to the back of our minds.
Then more messages came, this time more rapidly:
Once assigned your value, it must be displayed at all times.
You must always find a way to show your mark.
Mark? We drew close, whispering tales of another time when people were oppressed and forced to brand themselves. The marks of those times had become trendy, their significance lost on my generation. Could it happen again?
No one stepped forward to claim responsibility. It was just these messages pulsing over the computer lines.
Always alternate your codes to maintain the harmony.
You must maintain the harmony.
The initial marks were flimsy scraps of paper that blew away when the copters circled too close, and before long people resorted to signing with their hands. It was easier that way. The real trick was maintaining the harmony. Making sure you were always one-none-one took planning. Coordination.
When the patrols went by we'd flash our marks. Most times they'd dip from side to side—a hold-out from the older pilots that all was okay—but every now and then one would swoop lower and lower and snatch the unharmonious one.
That's what I lived in fear of.
You must always stay positive. We don't want to see fear.
If you're afraid, you must find a way to hide it.
Find a way. Always "find a way."
When they passed overhead I thought back to the stories of my childhood, of my mother's childhood, when a hovering aircraft didn't instill fear in the souls of those it patrolled. Pretending to feel a joy I suspected I might never feel again, I smiled and waved, showing my mark with one hand while the terror slid around my spine. I couldn't look anywhere but up. Up. I had to trust that the others were paying attention, that they took a step forward or back, that they were keeping the harmony.
The copter came closer, its propellers steady.
It should have dipped by now. My breath wouldn't come. It's too hard to pretend when the copter is coming straight at me. Don't they understand that we're trying?
The air churned around me, lifted my hair, my skirt. Someone's discarded mark clung to my leg.
My eardrums vibrated, the tiny bones bouncing off one another, rattling up into my skull, dancing over my senses, blurring my vision.
No… one. Always one.
Metal arms, cold and unyielding, stretching out, out…
A scream, then blackness.