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a chimera/keep your head low

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In a cramped and bustling factory, in a year not to far from now, a young worker by the name of Alex (#1147DMA) is focused on their work.

Inside a dimly lit cubicle they sit, bent over a circuit board. Alex’s hands are rough from years of exposure, but they dance gently, soldering a loose wire here and programming hardware there. The work is repetitive and monotonous, with little to no room for creativity. It’s better than begging on the street, but just barely. The cubicles have paper-thin walls, and Alex can hear the calls of the other workers and the din of machinery. It's dangerous work too. One of Alex’s closest friends, Deb, was killed in a unfortunately common workplace accident. Deb had been one of the only things keeping Alex sane, and now she’s gone.

“#1147DMA, focus on your work!”

Mr. Delancey is Alex’s corrupt supervisor. He pays the powers that be to turn a blind eye on the factory.

Alex turns back to their work, determined not to be called on again. As they fall back into a slow pace, they notice something strange. The temperature is taking a steep decline, and the sounds of the factory are tuned to a quiet hush in the distance.

Alex starts to get worried.

A Visiting is happening.

To them.

Right now.

Visitings are very rare, and occur once every 10 years or so. They happen when a deceased person has something so important to tell, that they appear in ghost form to the necessary person.

In front of Alex, a translucent figure shimmers in the factory light. Alex can just make out her grimy face, and is shocked to see Deb, standing, piercing eyes gazing into Alex’s face.

“D-Deb?”

“Listen, Alex I don’t have much time. You need to leave here, now. This place is a death trap. Get out while you still can. You’re my only hope-”

She is cut off by Mr. Delancey, who bursts into the cubicle, wearing an expression that was a mix of anger and disbelief. Deb’s image distorts, and the apparition starts to glow dimmer. At Mr. Delancey’s entrance, Alex snaps out of their shocked state.

“What’s going on here? You, what just happened?”

Mr. Delancey notices Deb’s ghostly form, and emits a scream that one might attribute to a scared 5 year old. He tries to give a jump of fright, but his hulking frame is too large for the cubicle door.

“I-is this a Visiting?”

Alex slowly nods, and subtly starts edging towards the door. Mr. Delancey stands in the doorframe, dumbfounded, until he finally comes to his senses. He steps out of the doorway and fumbles for his comm, about to report the event. At the same time, Alex slips out of the cubicle. Deb’s form disappears completely, but not before she whispers one last sentence.

“Do it for me.”

Once outside the cramped workspace, Alex takes a second to get their bearings. Their dead best friend just came to them in ghost form. This is fine.

After realizing that Mr. Delancey is going to chase them, Alex takes off in a dead sprint, passing workstations and machines in a blur. As they run down the narrow aisle, many workers look up in shock. No one has ever escaped, not from this factory. Some of the newer workers cheer, while older ones look on with sadness, knowing that Alex will never make it out.

Nonetheless, Alex forges on, squeezing past guards and jumping over obstacles. They reach a stairwell, and pause to catch their breath on the fifth landing. Doubled over, sucking in air, Alex hears the echo of footsteps. Burly guards are on the second landing, shouting into comms and radios.

Alex wants to give up, to stop, but a little voice in the back of their mind says otherwise.

Do it for Deb. Do it for every worker, trapped in a factory. Do it for all the hurt, the maimed, the weak. Do it now.

Alex obliges, and starts back up the stairs, newly energized. One foot, then another, that’s all that matters. Heart pumping, blood rushing, full of adrenaline, Alex reaches the final landing. They push open a rusty metal door, and is stunned by the sight of a starry sky.

The star-studded sky leaves Alex in awe. Whenever they had looked up from the streets, the sky was obscured by thick clouds of smog and smoke. But now, above everything, the sky was clear. The sound of their own breath brings Alex back down to earth.

They spend a second contemplating. The system is a twisted thing, a cruel game of push and pull. Once stuck, one was likely to never escape. Systemized classicism is woefully common, forcing those with a bad hand down forever. Countless factories pretended to offer a solution, until the contracts were signed. Then they treated you like everyone else, to be pushed and punished like a herd of cattle. It was horrifying, but it was the world that they all lived in. Alex wonders, will I ever be free? What does being free ever mean?

Still trapped in their thoughts, Alex slowly becomes aware of approaching footsteps behind them.

Escape is a chimera.

They decide to give up. Alex turns around slowly, seeing the looming sneers of Mr. Delancy & company.

Alex accepts defeat.

I’m sorry Deb, I tired.