A SHOT AT FREEDOM
He wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. As the sleeve of his torn glove cleaned the wet dirt, and grime, he turned to glance at his environment.
Today, they were in a huge pit. The pit must have been at least twenty feet deep. A quick head count told him there were twenty of them today. Like him, they were all wearing torn black, and blue overalls—the standard clothes worn by prisoners in that colony.
Each of the prisoners was busy digging. They did not need to be supervised by guards. They knew better than to renegade, pause to rest, or show any signs of dissent because every time they did…
He felt a sharp sting of electric blast bit into his skull, and raced through his brain, forcing him to come out of his thoughts. Shaking in shock, and fear Gerald picked up the shovel again and began to dig the hard brown soil with what remained of his strength.
He peered around, his head was still aching from the electric shock. Of course, there were no guards—just other fellow men, and women, like him they were all busy digging the hard ground.
Every once in a while, someone would get exhausted, and pause to catch their breath, and just as he had experienced, they would jolt back to work by a blast of electricity in their skull.
“I am too tired,” an old man whimpered.
He turned, and looked at the old man, who leaned on his shovel just a couple of feet from him. He figured that he must have been at least fifteen, or more years his senior in age, considering how white his hair was, and how thin he looked. Or maybe he was just ill with some of the numerous ailments that were bound to afflict them there.
“Don’t do that, comrade,” Gerald said, still digging. “Pick up your shovel, and start digging before they get you.”
But the old man did not listen. Instead, he let the shovel fall with a loud clang, and sat down on the hard ground. “I am really tired, I need some water.”
Against his better judgment, Gerald paused, and looked at the old man with pity. He turned to see that he was not the only one. Several other men, and women had also temporarily paused to look at the old man.
It was not difficult to imagine what was going through their minds. They pitied the exhausted old man, now sprawled on the ground. Or maybe they pitied him for what was going to happen next.
The men, and women glanced at each other, but none made any attempt to save him. No one bothered to make a move to help him out. No one except Gerald.
Gerald ran forward, and grabbed the man by the shoulder, lifting him up to his feet. “What is wrong with you, old man?” he asked, scooping up his shovel, and placing it in his hands.
The old man looked at him, his eyes genuinely exhausted, and tired by age, and fatigue. “I cannot continue, son.”
“Never say never, understand? I know you can do this. What is your name?” Gerald asked, forcing the shovel into the old man’s hands.
“Parker,” the old man replied, steadying himself to start digging again. “My name is Parker.”
“Nice to meet you Parker. My name is Gerald. Now don’t let them get you. Just keep digging. I am sure they’ll soon call for our recess, then we can all go to get some rest. How about that?”
Parker nodded. “Thank you so much, Gerald. But you better return back to your post before—”
Gerald did not wait for Parker to finish. His mind was already warning him of what was bound to happen. Gerald dashed for his post, where he had dropped his shovel. As soon as he picked it up, several thousand volts of electricity coursed through his skull, he let out a high pitched scream. This time, the intensity of the blast was stronger, and more forceful than before.
Involuntarily, Gerald dropped his shovel. He fell to the ground, jerking, and thrashing like a fish out of water.
Parker, and the others tried to focus on their digging, and not pay attention to Gerald. But with his violent shuddering, it was difficult not to notice him. After a while, Gerald stopped thrashing. He was breathing heavily, and twitching.
“Prisoner Gerald,” an announcement came over some hidden loudspeakers. “You have violated the prison work protocols twice today. Get up, pick up your shovel, and get back to work immediately.”
Gerald tried to get up, but failed to stand upright. He was still weak from the electric shock.
“Prisoner Gerald, you have ten more seconds to resume work, otherwise you’d have only yourself to blame,” the announcer said again.
There was a furor amongst the men, and women there. They signaled to him to get up. Through eyes heavy with dizziness, and weakness, Gerald could see them all pointing at him, urging him to get up.
Mustering all his strength again, Gerald got up, pushing on the shovel. But as he was about to start to dig again, a loud bell began to sound. As it did, all of them began to cheer.
“All prisoners should exit the pits, and proceed for recess,” came the announcement.
At that moment, Gerald did not know what to feel. He was only grateful at the turn of events because he knew he had been badly jolted by the second electric shock, and he would not be able to dig full vigor again.
Huge hovercrafts in the shape of beetles appeared over their pit. Several long metal ladders were dropped into the pits for them to climb out.
As the men, and women climbed out, some of them either shook Gerald’s hand, or patted him on his back.
“Would you need a hand to get up there?”
Gerald turned to see the old man by his side. “Parker? No, I am strong enough to climb up.”
“Then up you go, my friend,” Parker said, pushing Gerald forward.
But Gerald refused to go. He held the old man’s hand. “No, Parker. You go first.”
“Thanks for everything son.”
“Please don’t mention it,” Gerald said, and watched Parker climb out the pit. After he had gone up, Gerald grabbed the ladder, and climbed out as well.
Soon, he was inside the hovercraft with the other prisoners, but this time, they were not alone.
All around them were beings that resembled giant ants. They were standing on their back legs, each of them holding an automatic rifle that had three barrels. Each rifle had a cord that was connected to a cylinder strapped on their backs.
Gerald took his eyes off the giant ants, and sat down by Parker’s side. As the hovercraft began to fly off, he glanced out the windows. Down below, several other hovercrafts ferried away other men, and women prisoners who were assigned to work in other pits.
From their present height, it was possible to see that apart from theirs, there were several pits scattered all around, and each of them was being dug up by other prisoners like them.
“That was a really dumb thing you did back there.”
Gerald turned to see Parker smiling at him with a twinkle in his old eyes. He stretched out his hand, and offered it to Gerald.
Gerald shook Parker’s hand. “I don’t think it was dumb of me to help you.”
“Really? Well, I think it was dumb. Or at least everyone else have thought so.”
Gerald shook his head. “No, I doubt it.”
“You doubt it? How many others stepped forward to help me? How many others came forward to lend me a hand? How many?”
Gerald raised his head to glance around. He could see all the faces of the men, and women around him. Most were covered with dirt, dust, sweat, grime, and maybe tears from being electrocuted in the pit.
Unconsciously, Gerald raised his hand, and touched the metal plate at the back of his neck. Parker saw him feel the plate, “You thought it would not be there?”
“No, I knew it would be there. I was just trying to understand why no one else wanted to help.”
“Really? And why was that?”
Gerald shrugged. “Could you really blame them? No one would risk getting electrocuted.”
“I get your point. I guess I don’t blame them either. What was I even thinking? I guess I would have done the same thing as well, just stand there, and watch these bugs snuff the life out of an old man,” His eyes suddenly changed from bright to misty.
Gerald grabbed his shoulder, and squeezed it. “Come on, Parker. Take it easy on yourself. It wasn’t your fault. You were tired, and that is natural, you are only human. Everyone gets tired, and it has nothing to do with your age, or whether you are fit, or not. Didn’t you see me back there? I also got tired, and tried to take a short rest.”
Parker wiped away his face, blinking away the tears. “Yes, I saw you, but only you made a move, Gerald. Only you cared enough to come to my aid, and you did so, not minding what was going to happen to you.”
Gerald squeezed Parker’s shoulder again. “Come on, Parker. Enough of that, okay? Wipe your tears, and be strong.”
Parker nodded, and sniffed. He blinked, and wiped away his tears. “You know what?”
“I cannot remember the last time I cried.”
“And do you know why I was crying?”
Parker pointed around the hovercraft, “Just take a look around you. What has become of us?”
Gerald looked around at the tired faces of his fellow prisoners.
Parker held his arm, “Gerald, we used to be human beings. Do you get it? Do you understand? Do you know what it means to be human? Do you remember what it meant to be human?”
Gerald shook his head. He was being truthful. After spending so much time in the pit, and being electrocuted several times, he was beginning to doubt if he had any memories of what life used to be. Not to talk of what it meant to be human.
“It meant that we stood by, and for each other. It meant that we were our brothers, and sisters keepers. Not this, some bunch of scared people who do not care for anyone anymore because of some stupid bugs.”
“Easy now, Parker,” Gerald whispered. “You don’t want to provoke them now, do you?”
“I can’t help it. They have dehumanized us all, made us beasts instead of the caring, affectionate beings that we once were.”
“I agree with you, Parker. But we don’t want to remind them of all that, do we? We have to consider the effects of such protests. It could be catastrophic just to voice your opinion about the bugs. We all know that.”
“What they have done to us is revolting, and disgusting. They have succeeded in turning us into lower than animals, in fact lower than the bugs they are.”
Gerald patted Parker’s arm to stop talking. One of the giant ants had walked over to where they were both sitting. It stared at them through its eye sockets filled with multiple pupils. “Is there any problem here, prisoner?”
Gerald quickly replied “No, none at all.”
Another ant walked up to the first one. It was holding a device that resembled a tablet. It handed the device to the first ant that had confronted Gerald, and Parker. The first ant looked at it, and nodded. “I see that you both seem to have extended the alliance you formed in the pit.”
Gerald shook his head. “No, not at all, sir.”
“We have video, and audio evidence showing how you went to Prisoner Parker’s aid while in the pit. Now we are on our way back to the Hive, and both of you are chatting away with glee.”
“With glee?” Gerald repeated. “No, we are not chatting with glee, sir.”
“Then what do you call this?”
“We are just talking, okay?” Parker spoke up. “It was just a simple talk between humans, and nothing more. Or aren’t we allowed to talk to one another? Why pick on us when everyone else is talking? Is it now a crime to talk to a fellow human being?”
The ant regarded Parker for a while. The entire hovercraft was now silent as all the prisoners watched the unfolding scenario. By now, the ant had raised its multi-nozzle rifle, and pointed it at Parker. Everyone held their breaths.
“You better watch it, old man,” the ant finally spoke, then pointed the gun at Gerald. “I am going to be watching you two very closely from now on. So you better be careful. Do you understand?”
Gerald nodded hastily. “Yes, we fully understand.”
After the ants walked away, Gerald heaved a sigh of relief. “What were you thinking, talking back to it?”
“Please give me a break, what I said was the truth. Don’t you see what I have been trying to say all this while? They just want us to become dehumanized. Why would they take undue interest in us?”
“Maybe because you have been so agitated, and you drew unnecessary attention to yourself.”
“I was just voicing my opinion.”
“You better keep your opinions to yourself, old man,” a woman said, she was seated close to them.
Parker turned to glare at her. “And what is your business with my opinions, woman?”
“Well, it is my business if your opinions are going to put us all at risk, old man. This is the second time you are putting others at risk. The first time was in the pit, and frankly speaking, you were damn lucky not to have gotten fried back then, instead, this young fool had to take the blast. Right here in this ship, I think I speak for everyone when I say that you are putting too many of us at risk.”
Parker clenched his fists. “You better watch your tongue, woman.”
“Or what?” the woman asked, clenching her own fists as well.
Gerald saw the two ants watching them. “They are watching us Parker,” he whispered. “Cool it down, will you? A while ago, you were speaking about our dehumanization. If you enter into a brawl with this woman, don’t you think they have succeeded in turning us against each other?”
“Yes, you have a point there,” Parker sighed then looked at the woman. “You know, my friend here has a point. We are supposed to be humans, and humane in our affairs. I apologize for losing my cool with you.”
“Keep your stupid apologies to yourself, old man.”
Parker blinked, his face suddenly turning red with rage. But Gerald was quick to observe this. He turned him away, forcing him to face the windows.
“What are you doing?” Parker asked, trying to wrestle himself free from Gerald’s grasp.
“Saving you, and saving myself as well.”
“Let me go, for goodness sake,” Parker protested. “I need to teach her some manners.”
“You better learn some manners yourself, old man,” the woman spat.
Gerald waved a hand at the woman. “It’s alright, miss. Can you just calm down?”
“Calm down when my life is being put at stake because of some old fool? Of course, I cannot calm down. And by the way, you are even a bigger fool for sticking your neck out for him. You seem to forget where we are now. This is no fairytale land, mister. This is hell. The way you are cozying up to that old man will soon put you in deep trouble.”
“I am not cozying up to him,” Gerald said.
“Okay, I get it, you are only sticking out your neck for him, right?” the woman asked.
“He needed help in the pit,” Gerald pointed out.
“And you were the only fool willing to offer it, right?”
“Look, just forget it, okay?”
“Sure, I would forget it. But just remember that you are on their mind already. They’ll be watching you, and the old man very closely. You could have avoided all this undue attention, had you minded your own business.”
Both Gerald, and Parker were silent for the remaining part of the trip. Gerald was lost in thought, thinking about what the woman had said. He knew she was right. What he had done back then in the pit had been risky, and foolish. He might have suffered a fate worse than just being electrocuted.
The hovercraft soon arrived at the Hive.
The Hive was just what it was. It was a huge gigantic mountain that towered so high that is was impossible to see its peak. On its sides were several holes. Each of the holes was big enough for the returning hovercrafts to fly through them easily.
Inside, there was an intricate maze of tunnels. Each of the hovercrafts flew through different entrances, and headed for different tunnels. The tunnels were also wide enough to allow each hovercraft to fly through easily.
Eventually, their hovercraft arrived at its destination. The hovercraft landed, and the doors slid open.
More ants were waiting on the clearing, armed with similar rifles that had multiple nozzles, and cords attached to canisters attached to their back.
Gerald, and the other prisoners filed out of the hovercraft, and walked in a single file towards the steps in front of them.
They climbed up. There, they met more armed ants that led them into what appeared to be a hall, where other ants were serving food.
As Gerald picked up a flat metal plate at the doorway, he glanced around, Parker, was nowhere to be seen. Worried, Gerald peered over his shoulder, searching the crowd walking into the hall.
“Searching for the old man?” someone asked.
Gerald turned, and saw that it was the same woman who had confronted Parker on the hovercraft. “Have you seen him?”
“Even if I have, why should I tell you?” she retorted.
“I don’t know, maybe you really don’t have to bother. I mean, it is none of your business, you made that point very clear while we were on the hover craft.”
“Yes, I did, and it is none of yours either. Look, I am telling you to mind your business, and let that man be. He is nothing, but trouble, can’t you see?”
“I can’t help it, I am worried about him.”
“Don’t be, and you will live to see many more days. You should know better than this, and in case you really want to be with him, there he is over there,” the woman said, pointing.
Gerald followed her finger, and saw Parker. He was already seated with other prisoners, eating his food. Gerald frowned. “How did he get up there so fast?”
The woman shrugged. “I told you not to worry about him, but you wouldn’t listen. You act as if you are both related, or something. Are you?”
“No, we aren’t.”
“How long have you been here?” the woman asked.
“Me? I am about a month old now,” Gerald replied.
“No wonder what?”
“No wonder you still have the feelings of pity, and affection. Maybe next time you’ll come to my aid in the pit whenever I am feeling dizzy, and weak.”
“But he needed help back there.”
“Don’t we all? No one else moved a muscle back then. Do you know why? Because they knew that it was either him, or them. Listen Mister, you cannot carry anyone’s burden.”
“My name is not mister, it’s Gerald.”
The woman smiled, and shook her head. “You really are a greenhorn. You said you were only one month old? You have a long way to go. Anyway, I am Claire.”
They both moved forward in the queue. When it was their turn to be served, the ants scooped a paste from a big pot, and dropped some portions into their plates. Gerald followed Claire, and sat down with her on one of the empty seats in the vast hall.
He glanced around, and saw the other prisoners eating their food. He peered further, trying to catch a glimpse of Parker.
“Still searching for your old man?” Claire asked as she took a bite from her meal.
“I told you we are not related.”
“Maybe you did. But your actions are speaking louder than what you said back then. Look, mister, I mean, Gerald, can’t you get it?”
Gerald scratched his head. “I am trying, but he is right.”
“Right about what?”
“We are losing it here.”
“Our humanity, we are becoming beasts, animals, maybe insects, anything lower than the humans we used to be in the past.”
“No, you are getting it all wrong, Gerald. We have lost it already. We have lost it long time ago.”
“We did? When?”
“When we got invaded, of course.”
“So, you do understand what Parker was saying. You do understand, and agree with him, right?”
“Yes, of course I do, and so does every one of us here in this dining hall, and all over the Hive. We all know the truth, but that is where it is supposed to end. We know the truth, we keep it to ourselves, and we stay alive. Otherwise, we are dead.”
“You can’t blame him for voicing his opinion.”
“I agree with you, but I can sure as hell get mad with him for putting others at risk in a selfish way. Come on, Gerald, you, and I know what he did back there was stupid, and foolish. What would he gain from expressing his opinion? We don’t have that liberty, or privilege anymore.”
Gerald glanced around, and saw everyone eating, he picked at his food slowly. It was cold, and tasteless. He could not even fathom what he was eating, “I guess you are right. They have taken away everything from us.”
“This is no longer the Earth we used to know. The ants have taken over. They are the ones in charge now. In fact, they are the ones running all affairs. Can’t you see what is happening? We are all prisoners working for the ants right now, and all this is happening right here on Earth. How long were you on the run?”
“I can’t remember, it must have been a couple of years.”
“Well, where did it take you? Were you able to outrun them?”
“No, I was eventually caught along with the others. Then our resistance camp base was destroyed, burnt to ashes right before our eyes. Everything we had managed to gather, and scrape up, everything we had built up within that time was all gone within seconds.”
“You could have lost your life back there in the pit. And for what? An old man? Come on, you better open your eyes, and face reality, Gerald.”
As Claire spoke, she saw Gerald look past her, and gasp.
Wondering what had suddenly caught his attention, she turned, and froze at what she saw.
Not too far from where they were both seated, they could see a scene unfolding—it was the old man, Parker, standing on his table, waving around an empty plate, and screaming at the top of his lungs.
“We are human beings, and we want to take charge of our lives. You stupid bugs cannot make us become what we are not, do you understand?”
Gerald made a move to stand up, but Claire held him down forcefully. “What do you want to do?” she asked through clenched teeth.
“Someone has got to stop him, Claire,” Gerald said, struggling to break free from her grip.
“And who is going to do that, you?” Claire asked, pointing to where Parker was standing. “He is too far away from where we are seated. You’ll never make it on time. Let those who are close to him stop him.”
“But none of them is doing anything. They are just busy eating their food as if nothing is happening.”
“Maybe they know better than to allow the bugs to think they are in support of what the old man is doing. Or maybe they know that they need to eat well to be able to work again later.”
“But he is a human being,” Gerald protested.
“And you need to mind your own business, and eat your food,” Claire said, pushing Gerald’s plate closer to him.
Parker had already started to attract attention, the wrong kind of attention.
“The bugs are coming over to him,” Gerald noted.
Claire nodded her head as she continued to eat her meal. “Which ones? The ones who served us the food, or the ones with the rifles?”
“The ones with the rifles.”
“That is too bad, the old man is in deep trouble.”
From where they sat, they saw seven giant ants walk up to Parker. They were slinging their guns at the side of their shoulders, without pointing them at him.
“What is all this,” one of the ants asked. “Why are you disturbing the peace, and sanity of those eating?”
“What peace? What sanity? Where is our humanity?” Parker yelled.
The ant glanced at its colleagues, and shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me.”
Parker waved, pointing his plate at the ant. “It is you that has stolen it from us. You, and your fellow bugs have taken away our sanity, and peace, and forcefully turned us all into slaves, your slaves.”
“And whose fault is it, old man?”
“You wicked species, you took over our planet, and turned us into slaves.”
At that moment, the lead ant removed its rifle from its shoulder, and pointed its multiple nozzles at Parker. “Okay, I think you have taken your madness far enough.”
But the sight of the weapon in the ant’s hands was not enough to deter Parker. “So what now? You are going to blow me into pieces? Why? Because I am telling the truth, and trying to claim back my rights of liberty, and freedom?”
“What stupid liberty, and freedom are you talking about?” the ant asked, waving the nozzle of its rifle at Parker. “Your kind lost all those the moment we took over Earth.”
“Is that so? Why did you take it from us, why did you have to colonize an entire planet?”
“Your kind were not managing Earth properly. Your world needed effective leadership, and that is what we came to provide.”
“What sort of leadership enslaves a world’s inhabitants to the extent that their dignity, and liberty is completely taken away?”
From where they were seated, Claire nudged Gerald. “I hope you weren’t so attached to that old man,” she said quietly.
“Yes, attached. You do know what is going to happen now, don’t you?”
“You mean to Parker?”
“Yes, to the old man Parker. The bug has brought out its gun. It’s only a matter of seconds, or at most a minute, or two, the old man is dead.”
“But they cannot do that.”
“Really? You seem to forget who is in charge of Earth now. Gerald, the bugs are in charge, they are in control. They can do whatever they want.”
“So what? Just because they are in charge, they will treat us like trash.”
“Yes, they can do whatever they want. Do you know why? Because we let them.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You heard what that ant said? It was right, it is our fault. We as humans could not keep our business together, and live in harmony. Do you wonder why the ants found it so easy to invade our planet, and take control? Do you wonder why it would be so easy for those ants to kill the old man, and no one would even blink an eye?”
At that moment, Parker was waving his empty plate at the ants in front of him. “Stay back,” he shouted. “Stay away from me, you miserable bugs, or I will swat you dead?”
“That is enough, old man,” the lead ant said, with its gun still pointed at Parker. “I am giving you one last chance to put down your weapon, and come off the table.”
Parker suddenly stopped waving his plate. “But this is no weapon, you moron. This is just a plate, an empty plate for goodness sake.”
“Whatever,” the ant said. “Put it down, and come off the table this instant.”
Parker looked around. “It’s a pity we have been so dehumanized as a race. When are we going to ever be free again?”
The ant chuckled, throwing its head backwards. “Hear that, everyone? He’s talking about freedom. Isn’t he funny?”
As Parker came down from the table, he dropped the empty plate, and stretched out his two hands in front of him. Another ant stepped forward, it had a pair of handcuffs.
But the old man had other plans.
Just as the ant stepped forward, Parker suddenly ducked, and went underneath its legs. As the ant bent over to see where he was going, Parker came up, and yanked the ant’s rifle.
Before the ant could get its bearing, and understand what was going on, Parker had released the safety catch on the rifle, and pulled the trigger.
The first ant which had been addressing Parker all this while was caught completely off guard. Before it could process what was happening, the rifle in Parker’s hand was already spitting laser beam after laser beam.
Two of those beams caught the lead ant on the chest, and neck. The lead ant fell backward, screaming as blue, and yellow fluids began to sprout out of its body like a water fountain.
On seeing their leader down, the other ants pulled their rifles, but they were too slow for the deftness of Parker’s aims.
One by one, he caught all of them, his laser beams sliced through their bodies, heads, and hands. In the end, Parker was the only one standing with severed ants, and their dismembered parts littering the floor around him.
The prisoners were silent, staring in shock, trying to process what had just happened. They were looking from Parker to one another, not believing what had taken place in the span of less than two minutes.
Parker picked up the other rifles from the lifeless bodies of the ants. “Who is going to join me in taking back our humanity from these useless bugs? Who amongst you is willing to take a shot at freedom?”
Jumping to his feet, Gerald raised his hand. “I will, I will,” he shouted, running towards Parker.
Parker smiled broadly. “I knew you were a fighter. You had my back when I was in the pit, and I know you will have my back now.”
Gerald nodded as he picked up one of the rifles.
Parker looked at the crowd. “Well, who else? Who will join me, and Gerald to reclaim, and free our Earth from these bugs?”
At first, there was no response—then, there was a thunderous roar as several men, and women stepped forward.
A couple of minutes later, smoke could be seen billowing out of the Hive. The revolution had begun.