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Nineteen Ninety Nine
by Jen Dorman

I sat, glancing around the bare white walls of the cell, while the sound of the lights hummed incessantly in my ears. There were three of us in the room, sitting directly underneath four large telescreens while members of the I.B.O.P. scrutinized our every movement.

I took a deep breath as I looked around again. We were all in for the same reason: for breaking the rules of the International Baccalaureate Organization (or, as most of us called, the I.B.O.). From the way the boy to my left sighed, I could only assume he had committed some small infraction. Misquoted someone most likely, maybe footnoted something wrong. The other, a girl, couldn't keep her eyes from flitting about the room. It suggested that she had committed one of the most heinous crimes of all: independent thought. Oh sure, the I.B.O. pretended to encourage it, but every time anyone said anything worth merit, they disappeared. Rarely were they seen again, and if by some miraculous chance they were, they weren't the same. The I.B.O. had changed them, from sharing independent thoughts to spouting I.B. propoganda. And the thought that they had uttered? In most cases, the idea appeared weeks later in a textbook, claimed by the I.B.O. Some who remembered the person questioned the organization. They were "adjusted" as well. No one ever questioned the I.B.O.

I fidgetted uncomfortably on the wooden benches lining the wall, flinching as the telescreens bade me be still. I was tempted to argue back, but I kept silent, knowing as soon as I opened my mouth my punishment in Room 001 would increase. The only thing anybody knew about that room was that people died in there, but even that was only a rumour.

I found a semi-comfortable position and sighed heavily. I wasn't sure how long I had been in the cell, but my stomach made a point of informing me quite often that it hadn't had a meal for some time.

"Hey."

I looked up. It had been whispered so quietly that at first I had wondered if I had just imagined it. A gesture from the girl caught my eye, and I ever so slowly shifted around to see her.

"What are you in for?" she whispered again, nervously glancing at the telescreen.

"I insulted the I.B.O. and the I.B.O.P. caught me within the day," I replied.

"Rebecca!" the telescreen yelled. "2310 Brendon R! No talking in the cell!"

A few minutes passed in silence before the girl asked, "I.B.O.P? What's that?"

"International Baccalaureate Organization Police," I whispered back. "They keep order in Western."

"You're a Westerner?" the boy spoke up.

"Yeah," I replied. "Aren't you?"

"2310 Brendon R! No talking!"

The boy looked around. "I'm from Diefenbaker."

We both turned to the girl. "Churchill," she sighed.

"What are you guys in for?" I asked dismally, making a face at the telescreen and having it scream back at me. I smiled. It really didn't matter what I did now. I wouldn't be the same person when I left. No one ever was.

"I made a mistake in my English oral commentary," the boy told us. "I said Donne was a Jacobean poet but I really meant to say Metaphysical. I even had it in my notes! The Police didn't believe me and I ended up here."

"I had an independent thought," the girl smiled sadly. "I was naive enough to explain myself when I suggested a change in the von Schlieffen plan and how it might have won the war for Germany. If you get out, you should see it appearing in the textbooks very soon. That, and I had a life this weekend."

We all stopped, waiting for the telescreens to tell us to be silent. Instead, the door to the cell opened and a man flanked by two guards pointed to the boy.

"Room 001," he growled as he motioned to the guards. They instantly went over and picked the boy up. He didn't struggle, but looked sadly at us. I nodded a silent good luck to him while the girl looked away. The door slammed shut and echoed against the cold, hard walls.

I stood up and stretched, receiving another round of complaints from the screens before sitting back down, closer to the girl.

"What's your name?" she asked. "I mean, if we ever get out of this, I'd like to know."

"Rebecca Brendon," I smiled. "Everyone calls me Becky."

"Taylor Madison," she replied as we shook hands.

"2310 Brendon R and 6734 Madison T!" the screens cried. "No communication whatsoever!"

"What should it matter?" she asked. "We're as good as dead anyway."

"No questioning of the I.B.O.P.'s orders at anytime!" the voice commanded.

We spent the next ten minutes in silence. Maybe it was more than that, but neither of us could tell. My stomach made another growl of protest as the door opened again. It was another man with two guards, and this time he pointed to me.

"You. Come with me."

I stood, partly out of shock. "Me?"

"Come with me," he repeated with the same tone. He signaled to the guards to take me, but I waved them off, following without a struggle. I knew better than to struggle. Like talking back, it got me more punishment. I was starting to regret having made that face at the telescreen.

The metal door slammed shut as we started down the hall. We had barely gone three feet when I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head. It was only for an instant, but then it died as everything went black.

I squinted into the bright lights high above my head as I started to wake up. At first I thought I was back in the cell until a voice beside me said, "Good, she's waking up."

The voice sounded strangely familiar and I strained to see who it was.

"Do you recognize me, Rebecca?" he asked.

"You're the kid from Diefenbaker," I replied hoarsely.

"And a member of the inner party of the I.B.O.," he smiled. He looked much older, as if deep creases had appeared in his face.

"Then what were you doing in the cell?"

"Obtaining your confessions," he told me as I heard my voice being played in the background somewhere.

"I insulted the I.B.O. and the I.B.O.P. caught me within the day."

He looked down at me. "Do you deny the fact that you insulted the I.B.O.?"

I tried to shrug but straps around my arms, legs and waist prevented me. "Sure, I'll deny it."

I felt a pain go through me, and it seemed as though my head was going to explode.

As it subsided, he said, "See Rebecca? I can make this painful if you are difficult with me."

"What was that?" I managed to gasp.

"I.B. calculus," he grinned. "Or more precisely, the stress you experience going through that course."

The worst of the pain was over, but there still remained a dull throbbing in my temples.

"So again. Do you deny the fact that you insulted the I.B.O.?"

"No," I whispered.

"What, in fact, did you say about us?"

"Don't you have that recorded too?"

Another surge of pain. I squirmed under the straps pinning me to the table but it was no use. I couldn't get away from it. Finally, it stopped.

"What did you say, Rebecca?" he asked.

"I said that the I.B.O. was useless," I gasped, tears forming in my eyes.

"And why is that?"

"It doesn't get you anywhere," I replied bitterly. "You do all this extra work and for what? Be exempt from one or two university courses, but only if you're doing the work at the higher level. And . . . and are we supposed to be smarter in the end? Half the time we go so fast that we forget specific concepts and by the end, a student who isn't in the I.B. programme usually knows more."

He regarded my statement, mumbling to himself. He looked up at me and asked, "So, what do you believe to be the mission of the I.B.O.?"

"To offer a challenging course to students and to ensure a similar ciriculum for those who travel the world."

Again the pain. It was much worse than the other two. As it ended, I decided he had switched the course to higher level biology.

"Where in the world did you get an idea like that?" he asked. "The I.B.O. is here to challenge no one. We are here to control today's youth so that we are able to gain power in the future."

"I . . . I don't understand," I stuttered, frowning.

"People are so desperate to get sixes and sevens on their I.B. tests that they will do what ever we say," he explained. "That and most I.B. students can't stand getting less that eighty percent on anything they do. We bog them down with so much work that they don't have time to realize we are instilling our principles in them everyday."

"So that's why the people who are found without homework disappear," I gasped.

"Precisely," he replied with a smile. "Now, what do you think of the I.B.O.?"

"I think it sucks."

I paused, waiting for more biology stress to flood my brain. Instead, the boy chuckled.

"I used to say that too," he told me. "But that was before the I.B.O. showed me that I was quite wrong."

I stared at him, feeling the tears well up again. I knew he was convinced that the I.B.O. could change me, no matter what I did. I was convinced that I could stay the same, despite the rumours that persisted about Room 001.

The torture of the various stresses continued for days, weeks, maybe even months. And ever so slowy, I came to understand how what I had said about the I.B.O. was incorrect. The I.B.O. did actually offer the advanced course work, but with it was their hidden principles. They were merely looking out for us, trying to prepare us for the real world. Their world.

They allowed me to go back to the cell and gave me a bed of sorts to sleep on. Every once in a while, I saw Taylor, who still believed her statement about the von Schlieffen plan was accurate. I wondered how she could be so strong to the I.B.O., but they were wearing her down nevertheless. Everytime I saw her, she was slipping something about the I.B. propoganda into her speech, though she didn't realize it.

The only thing I had left to experience during my stay was Room 001. I had managed to avoid it, because frankly, I didn't know what got people sent there. Then it happened. Another few people had been shoved into my cell and I had nodded another good luck to one of the sorry prisoners. Almost instantly the boy came to the door. "Brendon," he said. "Room 001."

To my surprise, the room was crowded with people, all sitting at desks that were in perfectly straight rows. I glanced at the sheets on one of the desks as I was pushed past. They were I.B. tests. Hundreds if not thousands of tests, ready for each individual to write. And the catch? Once you received a mark of seven you could leave.

He sat me down at a desk and said, "Start writing. You keep writing them until we decide you've earned a seven." He paused. "You remember what I said about the sixes and sevens?"

"About how desperate the people were?" I asked.

He nodded. "You'll be desperate too, Rebecca."

More time passed, and I wanted more and more to be done with the exams. So much, in fact, that I started to do what they told me. I wanted so desperately to please them, to get out. Every waking minute I spent writing, sometimes even rewriting the tests, hoping I would be free. Even when I slept, the exams haunted me. The mistakes that had kept me from getting sevens invaded my dreams, as well as nightmares of half filled in answer bubbles screaming at me to be completely filled with a No. 2 pencil.

I waited nervously as they marked my latest test, fidgetting around in my seat. They handed it back to me face down and I was almost afraid to look at it. I picked up the paper and stared at the mark of seven occupying the top corner of the test. I felt a tremendous relief as if all of my hard work had payed off. The rumours were right. You did die in Room 001, but after it you were pure again. You were the person you were supposed to be. I had won the victory over myself. I loved the I.B.O.


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