We said our goodbyes outside the block of flats that was apparently my new accommodation. Space for housing had been deemed solved when the under classes could be stored vertically. The tower blocks grew up around the edges of London until they surrounded it, a wall of obelisks circling the inner city, funnelling the pollution up. At first people had wanted the top most flats. The view was incredible. Now the smog hung at the top, the beige cloud drifting around the spires, choking the city from above. The doors slid open, and I checked for my name along the wall. Half way up, in green digitalised letters: Pender. I pushed the lift button and waited. The polished steel doors slid open, exposing the small, cramped lift, and I stepped inside. Three lines of buttons ran down one side, and I found my floor and pushed it. The circle lit up in dull red outline, and the door slid closed again. The lift shook for a moment, and began to hum as it ascended the tower. Then the music started.
It was supposed to be background music, I knew that. Just little tinkling, unobtrusive music that played to itself from a metal grille in the back of the lift. Supposed to make the wait go a little faster, something to occupy your mind on your way to your floor. Not for me. Every happy little note increased my heart rate, the innocent melody making me break into a cold, panic stricken sweat. Stay calm, stay calm, it’ll only be a few minutes. Just a few minutes. I could hear my own muttering in the tight space, echoing with the music in my mind. Just a few minutes. Or was it? Was this a trap? Had they been listening in on my talk with Jill? Maybe the car was bugged, and they knew I was considering it, and now they wanted to keep me in this tiny box sealed from the world forever oh god I have to get out I have to get out!
My fingers slammed against the lift buttons, pressing any of them, all of them, in a desperate attempt to make the doors open again. The soft, happy music taunted me, as if trying to reassure me that it was going to be fine, but it just made my hackles raise all the more. I tried to pry apart the door with my fingertips, looked for an emergency exit shaft, anything, but there was no way out. I heard myself talking, shouting to drown out the noise and the atmosphere. I could be heard, I was free, the doors would open, this wasn’t the Mute, it wasn’t. It wasn’t! I tried the doors again, pushing my fingertips against the crack, my bitten nails no help against the stainless steel holding me in. I slammed myself against it, only for them to part before me, a little chime heralding my freedom as I stumbled out into the hallway. In my haste I lost my footing, and tumbled to the ground, sitting there looking back at the harmless lift. I was four floors away from my own. I slowed my breathing, and watched the doors close. When I finally pushed myself back up, I decided to take the stairs.
My flat was a small, bare affair with all the necessities people needed. The lights flicked on to a dim glow, gradually mustering strength to put out more than the light pollution coming through the windows. The far wall opposite the door was almost entirely glass, giving me a view out from my balcony into the city, or what could be seen of it through the smoke. I was lower than the lingering smog, so I could still see the towers in the distance, spreading out from around this one as if they were ganging up on the staggered city in the middle. The kitchen was the best part of the flat, the fridge and cupboards empty, but filled with potential. It was so long since I’d made my own food, the prospect was exciting. Freedom from the strict dietary regime of the the Mute seemed like a small victory, but the most tangible of all. I couldn’t help but anticipate the rich flavours of foreign dishes, the soft familiarity of English meals, and even, to an extent, the sickly sweet wrongness of fast food. All delicious in their own way, and all little more than a memory. My stomach growled agreement, and I forced it down with the promise that the nutrients, vitamins and other essentials enhanced mush that was prison food was gone.
The bed folded out from a wall in the sitting room, and I turned on the television channel for a while on the computer in the wall, but it couldn’t keep my attention. Somehow things had become even more fast paced in fourteen months than they had been before. Bright colours, constant jokes, fast movements and even faster cuts, with advertisements interspersed between them. It made my head spin, I wasn’t used to this. So long without it made me realise just how much it had spiralled out of control. There was no mental sustenance here any more, just high speed attention grabbing pulp. Too long and you started to zone out, you couldn’t take it in, so it just washed over you in a daze. I tried switching to the news channel, but I was restricted to the good news only feed. I turned it off as the first tendrils of a headache started to grow.
Sitting on my bed, in my new flat, looking out across the churning, light strewn city I couldn’t help but think. That was the point of it all, wasn’t it? Of the censored internet, of the televisions increasing madness, of music turned into small sound bites that you can listen to without listening? It’s to stop you thinking. Just get on with your lives. Work, consume, die. Don’t think, don’t resist, and don’t change anything. You’re powerless. Accept it, and concentrate on more enjoyable things. Vote in the best dancer, the best singer, the best artist so that they might have a shot at being a hero. Your opinion matters there, you’re important. Their future is in your hands. And one day, maybe one day, you might get chosen to be a hero too.
That was the point of the Mute, wasn’t it? Don’t think, and if you do think, keep it to yourself. If you don’t, we’ll take it away. Look how easily we can take it away. If you want to keep your tongue, keep your mouth shut. Keep the circle of life closed. Don’t struggle, just accept, and divert your attention. I hadn’t. I’d spoken out, I’d written speeches and shouted them out to the crowds. I’d organised demonstrations, fought the machine that the government had become with the like-minded fellows I knew. There were others, but we kept apart for protection. I finally got caught trying to escape a raided demonstration in Battersea park. I nearly made it to the tube before they got me.
I realised I was talking to myself again, and swallowed my words. pulled the expired tube ticket from my pocket. December 4th. They’d kept the station barriers guarded. I don’t know how they knew what my ID was. We wore masks to stop them identifying us, our retinas covered by the special glasses that reflected back the readers, but somehow they still knew me, pulled me out from the crowd and shocked me unconscious. Those bound for the Mute don’t get a trial. It’s too easy to speak out, to reach even more people. They save the public trials for the murderers and arsonists. You don’t need a trial for a little rehabilitation. What’s a year, two years of your life to remind you not to turn people against the all providing state? And in such humane conditions, they argue. It’s comfortable, you get exercise and entertainment. It’s nothing like the other prisons. You’re not at the mercy of the other inmates there. Quite the opposite.
So I found myself in the Mute. And as I sat there on my bed fourteen months later overlooking the city, I wondered if the entire country was, in a way, in the Mute. You could speak, but you couldn’t speak out. What was the point of a voice if you couldn’t use it? If you couldn’t say what you really thought, what you felt? They’d taken away my voice for fourteen months and now I wanted to stay in line, keep my head down out of fear. I wasn’t out at all, I realised. This wasn’t freedom, just the illusion of it. To stay in line now would be self imprisonment of the mind. How could I let them win so utterly? How could I have let these little comparative liberties blind me to the truth? I wouldn’t let them win. I had to speak out. I had to fight back. It risked going back, yes, but in the end what difference did it make? You’re under control of the state no matter what you do, at least in the Mute you can say you tried. At least you didn’t give in and crumble under their thumb. At least you still had your dignity.
I realised I was talking aloud again. Well no matter. I didn’t care any more. I would shout it to the world! They wouldn’t stop me. I would keep on shouting until I died, be it in the streets or in the Mute, I would keep shouting. Maybe I was mad, but better that than let them win. They wouldn’t win. They couldn’t. I’d find Jill tomorrow and tell her. I’d tell them all. I’m back. I’m in.