Note: well aware that I have been missing my weekly story goal, in my defense I did spread myself a bit thin what with Easter vacations involving a trip out of town and other unrelated projects taking up my time. Among those projects was the entry to a 48 Hour Sci-fi contest for Sci-Fi London. I figured that, since I didn’t post anything in the last three weeks or so, I may as well post the story I submitted to that contest.
The contest required that I write a short based on a title, science theme, and a line of dialogue sent by the Sci-Fi London, record myself narrating the piece, upload it to YouTube and then submit the link to them, all within 48 hours of having the story prompt sent to me. This occurred over a weekend and, well, I have a regular job on the weekends which took a great deal of my time, leaving only a few hours to write the story, upload it and submit it. Having no real knowledge of video editing, and having to do the narration in one take, I managed to get it all done with just 8 minutes left before the deadline. My prize? A slight migraine and loss of sleep, but all is good as simply having finished it is a reward unto itself. For those so masochistic that they feel reading my sputum isn’t enough, here’s the link to that narration. *shudders*
Sisyphus. We are all Sisyphus, thought Alex.
He reviewed the data reading on his all-purpose screen, going through the various pages of information currently displayed on it with the tiniest cues from his eyes, learned minimal gestures for the purpose of operating all optical-input equipment in the lab.
The magic pill had dropped nearly a decade before and it had seemed to be the greatest discovery human kind had yet produced. We have had beaten sleep, slain the monster that consumed nearly a third of our lives. People could now work around the clock when necessary and later make up for the loss of sleep in their time off.
Alex himself had found it a blessing, an unuttered prayer answered by science. Since he could remember he had thought that sleeping, despite the biological need for it, was a terrible waste of time. Just imagine how much more fulfilling and productive our lives could be if we were only required to sleep a fraction of what we do now, he would often ask his friends.
Slumber had been his greatest enemy when he had joined Dr. Farmington and Dr. Pandit, and with them he had produced a compound drug that allowed humans to function without sleep for an indefinite amount of time while minimizing the side-effects long associated with sleep deprivation. The heart would sustain little-to-no damage over a prudent amount of time spent without sleep, the brain would not deteriorate, and the human body’s hormonal levels would remain stable, in short, panacea.
It had been such a sublime feeling, the moment of discovery, the battery of tests, the entire process ridden out on some surreal wave of elation and hope. And it had come to crash upon a wall of avarice, materialism and subjugation.
Big Pharma had always been a boogie-man of sorts to Alex, a silly conglomerate non-entity much like an urban legend, belief in its existence spread by whackjobs and conspiracy theorists. In the end, though, he found out that some fictions are far more real and dangerous than he had thought.
The world had been enslaved by the very drug which discovery he had contributed to. It wasn’t long after the research team reported their success to their investor than they lost control of their project and it became mired in a tangle of corporate bureaucracy. The team had been aware that the patent would not be theirs nominally, but they did think they would somehow retain some influence over how the drug would be developed after having achieved their success. They had been unceremoniously rubbed out of the loop instead.
What came after was the launch of the product, which met with great fanfare from much of the world, especially from major industries. Sure, robotics had made human hard labor virtually obsolete, but when it came to corporate positions it was all still human-centric territory. Needless to say, there was a veritable revolution for productivity across the board; everything from the fields of Medicine to Education to Sports saw an unprecedented rise in effectiveness and, perhaps more importantly to those calling the shots, profits.
Humanity’s capacity for greed drove the workforce ever on in search higher profit margins, woe to all who dare slack off now that sleep was just an option, or so seemed to be the pervasive policy that was tacitly implemented around the world in the first two or three years following the market release of Liv-A.
Then things took a turn for the draconian.
Legislation in some third world countries, namely those where the big corporations – pharmaceuticals included –, in a push to drive the margins even higher, made it all but illegal to sleep. In what Alex and his now-defunct superiors, Dr. Framington and Dr. Pandit, would have found to be a plot out of a farcical satire, the biological process of sleep – of rest! – had been outlawed for all practical purposes.
Little by little the injustices made law in the third world eventually crept into the modus vivendi of the first world and thus came the surreal age of sleeplessness. The era when sleep was simply no more and toil was all there was, all to which a human being might aspire, save for those sitting in ivory towers.
Sisyphus. The life Sisyphean, he uttered to no one at all with bitterness.
Two more decades had passed since slumber had become illegal. It carried penalties worse than murder or rape. In some countries it was equated with war crimes and treason. Humanity had become a joke unto itself.
Liv-A, the irony of the name did not escape him. Live. Life. More hours to live your life, the advertising slogan had piped in the exaggerated baritone of the commercial voice-over. Sure. More hours of wakefulness to be robbed of your life, more like.
In his darkest hours, after Dr. Padit’s unresolved death and Dr. Farmington’s suicide, Alex had become a recluse, lost in his own head, thinking of how he might undo the damage he had helped perpetrate upon humanity.
‘Come on, think! What would Dr. Farmington have done?’ he would often intone out loud, pacing and shouting like a man gone mad with grief.
Sometime after his self-imposed estrangement from the world, Alex had come upon an answer. Watching old animated movies absentmindedly, the streaming service playing one feature film after another while he ruminated, it came to him. Sleeping beauty! He would turn the entirety of humanity into sleeping beauty.
Here was his final contribution to human kind, his plea for salvation in his mind. It would take him some time, it would take him great effort, but he need not sleep, after all, did he?
The hours would fly by as he pored over the data on his display. His body kept fit by periodic breaks of exercise and nourishment. He toiled and chipped away at the puzzle and he was now closer than ever to finding the compound that would turn the world into a fairy tale, no longer a farce.
Once he found it – and he was sure that the advent of discovery drew near – he would turn to dispensation, the means and method thereof. He would have to make sure that only those enslaved would fall under the new spell of chemistry. In his enfeebled brilliance Alex hardly considered putting the powers-that-be under the spell and allowing those enslaved carry on, free. No. Others would rise to take their power, fill-in the vacuum, taking over the ivory towers for themselves. Better to let the tower-dwellers remain awake, left to their own devices while the world they once enslaved slumbers until their flesh is no more.