Collecting the wafers had been made easier during the first part of the month. With so many out promoting the gracious gifts, words, and assorted ointments few remained to gather up these simplest of leftovers.
All seal holders, wafer collectors, were compelled to sign on the dotted line at the bottom of a completely incomprehensible contract. Somewhere in the maze of legalese lurked the requirement, follow the guidelines of the contract and you would meet this requirement. Always a safe bet was to collect the wafers nonstop, so anything that made that task easier was a welcomed gift.
Just spelling out, comprehending the guidelines of the contract had been left to the Readers. They were able to decipher your Life Contract so you wouldn't end up making a terrible mistake. The slightest error in your expected activities would cost you dearly.
Following the edicts, all those rules spelled out in a Life Contract wasn't all that difficult once your Reader spelled out your daily routine. Even the bags could be found blowing from curb to curb, into leg high weed covered yards, or just about wherever your eyes landed.
Walla, the bag you were looking for could be right at your feet. Problem was not all bags were meant for all wafers. There were coded, plastic, paper, painted, so many, but few that fit the precise requirements. But they had to be behind the fence, you'd expend little effort finding them.
Lifting up the bag and glancing at its underside would reveal the designation in bold official looking script - the department that issued the particular bag. If it were your department, your assigned agency, you'd surely be carrying the ceramic hand sized seal in your pocket. Otherwise, just forget about using that bag for your wafers. Just because all bags and wafers were released from the same plane's cargo hold the night before didn't mean they could be deemed similar in any way shape or form to one another.
Floating on the nightly wind current like lost messengers they would drift until they landed helplessly in a field, on a street, on top of a roof, in a road, some had even been found floating on top of the oil covered surface of the ocean - beyond the beach fence.
What a marvelous pastime this collecting of wafers matched to particular bags. Seal holders were an enormous team on the prowl, eagle focused upon spotting their particular department's wafers. Search councils comprised of the best, most proficient spotters of bags or wafers had been formed. Meals could be skipped but the uncovering of bag hiding places and the snatching of associated clearly marked wafers must continue unabated day and night. Each department had been broken down into two shifts that were equally devoted to searching for these precious commodities.
Only on days like today was it permissible to pander the trinkets of your respective department, it was deemed a good team building exercise. This special day was ordained "Team Appreciation Day".
If you were granted a "Team Appreciation Day" per the dictates of your contract you could pander your department's trinkets and participate in a team building pep rally. These were special events. Hundreds of thousands of your fellow seal holders cheering, chanting, and waving your departmental flag made for an exhilarating experience. You just couldn't help getting pumped up with a gush of pride for your department.
Of course, prior to cheering or chanting the words outlined in Section 21090 - B of your department contract you first had to find out from your Reader whether your contract gave you the right to this privilege. You must understand with so many contracts, endless clauses, crisscrossing conditions, and lengthy sub-conditions your Reader was the only one qualified to decipher each uniquely different Life Contract.
At least the Section titles of every contract were the same, but the similarity ended there, the rules that bound all citizens to a well-defined path spelled out in their Life Contract were all different.
Your Life Contract regulated even your death. Some lucky souls would die at a ripe old age; others not so fortunate would be terminated before they'd completed the tasks they'd been assigned, in the prime of their youth.
The faulty computer housed in the master's residence on the craggy side of Mount Rump spit out this random mishmash of Life Contracts matching each to a new born.
Dillon Cravats was a teammate of Department F. Lately less focused on his primary task he had degenerated into this non-productive worrywart. Overly obsessed with his low numbered ceramic seal he had trouble concentrating. It was taking him just a tad bit longer to locate his bags & wafers.
Hearing all the stories about how the master's computer had been programmed to assign low numbers to those who would be terminated early he just couldn't stop thinking about his demise. It didn't bother Dillon until he'd reached his eighteenth birthday last month. Everyone new that no terminations ever took place before the master officially deemed you an adult. You could breathe freely until you crossed the dangerous threshold of your eightieth year in captivity.
Now spending every passing moment wondering when they'd come for him, Dillon was in a state of panic. Would they arrive at night when he was staring into darkness, outside when he was dutifully collecting wafers, or some totally unexpected hour startling him into a stunned immobilizing shock? Hard to tell, the lore varied so much that it was impossible to discern any pattern. The behavior of the master's henchmen were erratic at best, no living seal holder had 'digested' enough "talking points" to definitively say when they typically swooped down on their prey.
He'd always been far better at finding the wafers that matched his department bag than just about any of his other seal holders. Never shirking his duties under his contract even on his off time, Dillon just couldn't understand how the master could logically justify his removal. There were undoubtedly far less qualified wafer gathers that were lacking in the necessary zeal, commitment, and dedication. He was an excellent wafer gather, a cut above the common rabble.
All this had to be mixed into the master's calculus for determining who got whacked first and in what order. It was just inconceivable that life was just some random hodgepodge of disordered events? Even more inconceivable was that the master wasn't this orderly, intelligent, analytical, logical guardian ready to protect the sacred values for the benefit of all. Therefore, Dillon felt it was his obligation to do his part by having his entire life's course laid out by the master. After all, wasn't that the duty of all seal holders?
Back in the days of disillusion, right after the societal collapse following the self-destructive Corporatist tyranny that blew a hole clear through the floor of reason - out stepped these masters from the ruins - it was so biblical.
With the old multi-national controlled governments in disarray, anarchy ripping apart the carcass of ultra-capitalism, the economy in shambles from an income crisis brought on by billions of low-wage labors demanding less, and spending more frugally, in stepped a few charismatic power hungry despots to fill the void.
No longer easily lolled into believing the democratic process with its lofty ideals so seldom upheld, those left clinging to survival finally understood that sheer power would be exerted through any governmental façade regardless of type. For didn't the impetus for all changes (good or bad) always come from those who were in power and it very seldom was the amorphous masses that wielded it. They finally understood why cogs in a wheel are always molded to fit the wheel not the other way around.
Shaking out of his reflective depression Dillon exhaled deeply. Thank God for small miracles! He was still alive.
He resolved to work harder, contemplate less, and be more obedient, more absolute in following his life contract's unintelligible nuances - at least as they were interpreted this week by his Reader.
A new day had dawned and he would make the most of it by striking out early to search for wafers.
Jumping down from his bunk in the men's barracks his feet plopped into a pool of oil sludge that had seeped up from beneath the dirt floor overnight. He instinctively grabbed the torn towel hanging on a hook nearby and wiped the oil off his feet. Walking carefully by moonlight that was weakly illuminating the shack he bypassed all the other oil pools that had formed and made his way to the bare pine table & chairs.
Pulling the chair out from under the table he listlessly sat down, half awake. The snoring from the other seal holders was deafening in the morning stillness. Reaching over to the far end of the table he picked out his rusty cup from the other's resting haphazardly on a large piece of cardboard. Positioning it under the sweaty water canteen's spigot he pushed the button letting the brownish liquid gurgle like syrup into his cup.
After drinking what was supposed to pass for water Dillon would always feel nauseous, a little dizzy, this morning was no different. With his heart racing, pounding furiously, he gripped the sides of the table to wait till the nausea passed.
His body's response was no different than his fellow seal holders. Poison even in small quantities just destroyed the cells slower - it would have eventually killed all of them if they hadn't been finished off sooner by their master.
In spite of this morning's rough start, Dillon resolved that today would be a special day. A day with a new beginning, he would gather the all-time record number of wafers for his department.
Squeaking on worn-out hinges, the door opened slowly. Two hooded giants dressed in coal black flowing robes entered. Their hoods were so dark their eyes resembled mere shadows in the moonlight. What meager light was in the shack was pulled towards them like a black hole, draws, and then devours the puny celestial bodies that stray to close.
Surveying the bunks attached to the walls they headed directly to Dillon's empty bunk.
Sitting at the other end of the shack Dillon watched in a cold sweat, terrified, frozen to his beat up chair.
They pulled out a white document that they were now consulting. A black leather gloved forefinger pointed to his number affixed to his bunk. Turning immediately in his direction they proceeded to move towards him, gliding like phantoms above the oily dirt floor.
When they were standing directly in front of Dillon they just stood there for about thirty seconds. The larger demon raised the white document up to eye level. Stooping down, Dillon could see that the demon's dark eyes were like bottomless black holes that sucked heartily at his defenseless soul. Dillon started panting uncontrollably.
Now only about a few inches from his chest the black leather glove was holding his shirt to position it better in the moonlight to see the bold red numbers affixed to his right breast pocket.
Dillon's head felt like it was about to explode.
After again consulting the white document the bigger one seized Dillon by his right arm as the other equally menacing aberration tore into the flesh of his left arm.
They proceed to drag him with his limp feet scrapping the rock, dirt covered, oily floor of the shack, but quietly so his fellow seal holders wouldn't be awakened. Opening the door with a free hand they dragged him outside.
Being dragged over the oily dirt, beneath the silhouettes of twisted buildings, a landscape of absolute destruction, they finally reached a clearing, a circular pit that must have been a good five hundred feet deep.
While being dragged into the pit Dillon glimpsed from his semi-conscious stupor piles of ivory white spanning the entire length of the pit. His mind not working, being unable to define details in its incoherent half-starved condition, Dillon just stared listlessly at these mountainous piles.
Reaching a flat bloody stone inlayed into the ground the black robbed demons shoved Dillon into a sitting position. Thrusting the white document towards his trembling hands the black leather gloved servant undoubtedly wanted Dillon to read this official looking contract that had his number stamped in the upper left-hand corner.
A light switch was turned on and the whole area was instantly illuminated in a pale yellow. Taking the official contract from the executioner's proffered hand Dillon started reading, at times re-reading, moving to other pages, in what looked like an attempt to glean some logic from this his last contract.
Dropping the white contract at his feet, shuttering convulsively, laughing wildly, crying, in an uncontrollable explosion of emotions Dillon let out a blood curling primal scream.
"Oh, God help us!"
Not noticing that the larger of the executioners had slipped behind him when he was reading Dillon now felt a sharp cut like a razor digging deep into his throat. He was now gasping, drowning in a river of his own blood. His mind was swirling, glimpses of the past were rushing inside a tunnel. Upon reaching a blinding white hole he was filled with the fight that should have pervaded his spirit when he was living. The white light vanished. He was dead.
The next day dawned with the same tyrants in power. Playing their game on a huge computer screen that showed the score for each department of their respective kingdoms these master rulers were wagering huge sums of money, placing bets on which departments would prevail.
They enjoyed this diversion from their dull, boring luxury, pleasure orgies, this was ever so fun, and to have a portion of their slave force engaged in this game of chance, contractually bound, and controlled, this regulated form of greedy entertainment was such a rush. The only downside to this pleasurable stimulation was that it cost them money to regulate the required number of seal holders. The rules required that only a certain number could be kept in play - regular culling was all so necessary.