The Harmony Paradox

“Rise and shine! Good morning, Occupant EU-17331113! Time for your morning run, let’s go, chop-chop!” 

The shrill droning of the wretched alarm woke him up, the annoyingly enthusiastic female voice trying to encourage his exhausted self out of bed. The blinds opened by default, a process meant to jar the Occupants awake. Maybe the WSB believed that the natural light would be inviting enough to get most Occupants up and about. 

For the Occupants of Zone EU-17, no amount of light, however warm and friendly, could help them come to terms with their frustrating fate. Certainly not the horrid ball of gas that sucked their souls each day. Perhaps that was the tactic, the WSB’s own little sick joke.

Occupant EU-17331113 reluctantly left the makeshift comfort that his bed offered.

 “Occupant EU-17331113, isn’t it a glorious day? Perfect for getting our stats up, don’t you think?” The computerised system that was installed in his ‘house’ was not exactly adept at concealing its fakeness, with the same modulation repeating itself across sentences, no matter what the length might be. Perhaps this was a tool the WSB used to mentally instil compliance in the Occupants; the sickeningly sweet remarks could very well pass for macabre warnings.

Occupant EU-17331113 made his way across the tiny room to the even tinier bathroom, brushing his teeth, watching the mirror light up with his statistics.

The WSB believed numbers were supreme. More than anything else that they blasted through their corporation-sanctioned earpods. The statistics (or stats as most computerised systems would fondly refer to them) were an indicator of how useful individuals were to society at large. 

A few green numbers blinking on a screen determined your Zone and your Zone condemned you to a lifestyle deemed worthy of someone within your range. Most of the time, anyway.

Presently, as he gargled with the corporation-sanctioned mouthwash, he watched as the numbers on his screen went up marginally. Hygiene was a valued entity. If your hygiene was better than those within your Zone, you were rewarded for your commitment towards society. Commitment shown meant stats earned. Everyone wanted stats.

Only an idiot wouldn’t; but then, an idiot wouldn’t have any stats to begin with.

“What has gone so fundamentally wrong with society, that vigorously scrubbing your hands with corporation-sanctioned sanitisers until they are raw and red is lauded?” he seemed to convey through a half-hearted frown, as he rubbed his hands together as thoroughly as he could, his movements mechanical, made so by years of corporation-sanctioned training. 

More manic routines of personal hygiene followed, ones far too detailed to speak of, which took him the better part of an hour to complete. Any second lesser and he would’ve risked losing stats – nobody wanted that. Stats were sacrosanct.

He got out of the little box he called home and plugged in his earpods. He had to start running immediately, lest he was late to work. You could even use the corporation-sanctioned e-bikes if you were in the right Zone, but then, he wasn’t.

The system automatically charted the optimum route for him today, one that forced him to run through a meandering uphill road, past a few other Occupants from his Zone. The path was chosen extremely carefully; the ideal heartbeat would be achieved, the exertion would be in such a way that he’d reach his peak physical form for the day. Of course, this peak was his alone, however small it might be compared to other peaks.

Comparison. The fuel that drove the WSB’s megalith of a project: Earth.

Occupant EU-17331113 reached his workplace a minute late. As he exhaled in defeat, the earpod announced in the same mockingly cheerful tone, “Unfortunate delay from Occupant. Penalty of five thousand points across all parameters. Have a nice day! Don’t forget, productivity is key!” He knew this would mean going without rations for a week at least. But the corporation-sanctioned rations were known to be healthy. Not eating them would mean he’d lose more stats.

A gloriously vicious cycle that he had all but resigned to.

Ever since what the WSB called the Great Reckoning of Society, which was supposedly a century ago, humanity had been united under its visionary activities. The Great Reckoning was several things, depending on whom you asked. But the one thing all the theories agreed upon was this: it was an unprecedented flu, a virus, that had swooped in and killed over half of the world’s population. 

The WSB’s Tenets of Society, a compulsory course in University besides the usual Nutrition and Pathology courses, drilled into every Occupant’s psyche the exact same message.

Millions, if not billions, died in the Great Reckoning. It was as if the universe was sending a message to us, to help us rethink our notion of society, and where it was headed at the time. We are but Occupants on this Earth; our time here is but an imposition on its resources. Our petty squabbles and militaristic obsessions did no one any good. Our adamance was the root of all conflict.

“People would not have perished to something that isn’t even a living being if we had, as a society, had any sense. We were our own unbecoming. So says the Great Reckoning.”

The last line echoed in every Occupant’s head, for it was a collective chant that marked the ending of any broadcast (of which there were several) from the WSB’s official media outlets (of which there weren’t several). 

Speaking of broadcasts, Occupant EU-17331113 entered his workplace to find a broadcast being televised on the lobby’s screen. It appeared to be a rerun of sorts. However, with the content of most of the corporation-sanctioned entertainment being mind-numbingly similar, one could never tell.

Greetings, fellow Occupants. We at the WSB believe in Harmony. Harmony is, of course, achieved only when your body accepts you. It is therefore imperative that all Occupants follow guidelines effectively, in order to maximise Harmony. Ill-being is never desirable, for it can rip apart the fabric of society. Well-being is being. All else is unworthy, as you know. To help you weave the multi-coloured tapestry of society, we present to you, AFCX32. This marvel solution can boost your Immunity points by over one million! What else could you possibly wish for?”

The woman on the screen flashed a very artificial smile, her teeth sparkling white to the point of looking plastic. Occupant EU-17331113 was intrigued by it, though. The drug that the broadcast seemed to be advertising did sound quite promising. It would help him compensate for the rations he’d just lost, at any rate. 

“System,” he mumbled, addressing his earpod. “Access AFCX32, please,” he asked, cursing himself for being polite to a bunch of code. “One moment, accessing,” the high-pitched voice responded, not having lost any of its painfully false cheeriness, which somehow seemed to have been amplified by his courtesy.

 “Thank you for considering the product in question. Your commitment to improving your Immunity points is truly commendable, and the corporation lauds you for the same. However…” The pause almost felt natural, as if the system was somehow hesitating to deliver the next sentence. 

This was momentary, however, and Occupant EU-17331113 dismissed it as yet another of his delusions as it continued, “However, this product is unavailable for someone from your Zone. The inconvenience is most regretted, but here are some other products you could consider…” Supremely annoyed at having had even a sliver of hope, Occupant EU-17331113 flicked his hand to indicate rejection. He flicked it once more before the system spread more of its vitriolic delight.

So much for Immunity.

Immunity. The most coveted of the hundreds of parameters that defined Occupants, and for obvious reasons. It had been immunocompromised idiots who’d brought ruin upon civilisation after all. Occupant EU-17331113 flinched at his own thoughts. The WSB was good at its game, and Occupant EU-17331113 had just reaffirmed himself to be a very disposable pawn. 

A pawn so pitiable it couldn’t even control its own thoughts turning against it, willing it to sacrifice itself for the greater good.

He took a deep breath as he walked past the lobby into his tiny cubicle. So many Occupants, so little space – a pattern apparently recurrent on a planetary level. As he settled into his workstation (which didn’t have a chair because sedentary lifestyles can be as deadly as pandemics as far as the WSB was concerned), the monitor switched itself on, displaying the WSB logo.

Nobody knew what the WSB stood for. Three mysterious letters, three strange symbols. But nobody questioned. Nobody hypothesised. The act of hypothesising was harmful to Harmony, and that which was detrimental to Harmony was swiftly dealt with.

His mind was swimming with thoughts as he gestured towards the blinking red icon on the screen. He wondered what his task for the day would be. It was almost never too taxing, for the WSB deemed him incapable of handling most mentally strenuous work; his Cognition points were in the lower millions. For their purposes, he was suited to mindless clicking at best.

Greetings, EU-17331113. Your task for the day involves the submission of daily reports, which you will find have already been compiled. Please do the necessary. Thank you, and remember-” the female voice was abruptly cut off, a baritone replacing it, still sounding awfully cheerful all the same. 

The screen flickered, something it shouldn’t have done considering the technology around him. “We were our own unbecoming. So says the Great Reckoning. Remember.” At that instant, his earpods blasted a loud static noise that seemed to make an invasion across his senses and momentarily make him blind. The voice then appeared to speak to him from the earpods instead, its pace more hurried now, more human.

Adam…Adam…listen to me. No, I’m talking to you. You’re my Adam. Don’t act alarmed. You’re…special. You’re not like the rest of them, mindlessly swallowing the drivel that’s shoved down their throats. No, you have hope. You don’t want to be bogged down by these numbers, it sickens me to think of it, Adam, I wish I could tell you more-” the voice cut itself off as abruptly as it had cut the other voice off. The female voice returned.

Remember, productivity is key! Have a great day!”

EU-17331113 was intrigued. What was going on? Was he really Adam? What was an Adam anyway? And who was this person trying to talk to him? 

Perhaps this was some experimental entertainment the WSB was trying out. You never knew with these things.

*

Three days in, he had to find out. Curiosity was driving him crazy, and his points were dropping as a result. His Zone was already among the worst, and with his rations gone, he didn’t exactly want to discover what inferior Zones would entail.

He willed the system to open the database of Occupants that was accessible to everyone, including the stats. That was the beauty of it, really, letting them know each other’s standing, ensuring they would ruin each other with their jealousy and competition more than anything else. Harmony required the very opposite of it in order to exist, it seemed. Yin and Yang. Balance. Harmony.

He typed in the word Adam with trembling movements. He didn’t even know what it was, but he felt incredibly guilty doing it nonetheless. Seeking information. 

He felt a sharp pang in his chest as he hit enter. A slow weight seemed to be building inside it, slowly forcing itself on him, labouring his breathing. He wheezed as he struggled to see what lay in front of him on the screen. Dread crept through him as realisation struggled to set in, his thoughts clouded by asphyxiation. 

First, all he saw were falling numbers. His numbers. Cognition, Candor, Immunity.

His skin was turning clammy and blue as he desperately tried to make sense of this sudden onslaught of information. 

Then, there was a single quote on the screen. The quote, in glowing red letters. Letters whose meaning dawned upon him far too late. 

We were our own unbecoming. So says the Great Reckoning.”

Harmony was compromised…and that which was detrimental to Harmony was swiftly dealt with.

He had become his own unbecoming.

ANNEXURE – TIMELINE OF EVENTS

All information provided for the sole purpose of reinforcing the need for Harmony. 

1918: The Great Reckoning triggered by an unknown virus that kills the working-age population indiscriminately

1919: Over half the global population dies as the virus spread is accelerated by war efforts

1923: World order crumbles as governments fall, anarchy rampant due to demographic collapse; League of Nations ceases to exist

1936: The corporation establishes itself as a ‘force for good’, calling itself the WSB – contraction for WèiShēngBù, Mandarin for the Ministry of Health

1937: The WSB, partly fuelled by a resurgent Chinese population, takes over global rebuilding efforts, earning goodwill; quickly becomes a widely-accepted benefactor, bringing order to the chaotic world

1965: The WSB suffers internal rebellion from members with baseless fears (“increasingly authoritarian establishment disguised as a well-meaning corporation”); dealt with effectively in the interests of Harmony

1979: Global pollution plummets as the planet embraces a utopian rebirth; the WSB begins trials to document individual wellbeing in the interests of Harmony

2000: Society follows a foolproof system recording individuals’ contribution to Harmony, a technological revolution is well underway, and the WSB is the magnanimous inventor of almost everything

2020: Harmony makes Earth the subject of universal envy as the WSB meticulously documents every individual’s tendency to violate Harmony; the world couldn’t be better, all thanks to the glorious WSB
By order: 

mm

Ashwin Shekhar

Meh-king my way through life, one word at a time.

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