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Fondling nervously the dollar bill in his pocket, Thomas Gordon considered for a moment the texture of this vile slip of paper. Dry and lifeless, the surface was rough to the fingers. Colorless and unimaginative, this needless burden depicted the faces of sour old men. Mighty and destructive, it had a grip of iron upon society. Thomas removed the dollar from his pocket, slipping it into the large, colorful soda machine before him. A series of noises originated from the bowels of the machine, producing merely a plastic bottle full of carbonated sugar water. This was a treat to Thomas as he quickly removed the cap and put the bottle to his lips. Leaning his head back and practically dumping the soda into his throat, he let out a refreshed gasp before zipping a half empty bottle into the side pocket of his backpack. Thomas turned away from the attractive soda logo, the drab of broad, empty hallway meeting his gaze with a foreboding atmosphere. The doors so distant, the walls so colorless, the lights, the floors so irritating and uncomfortable. Drawing a breath into an involuntary sigh, he ambled forward. His target, the end of the hallway, seemed ever distant, as if the climax of a long journey. The walls seemed to become more and more narrow as Thomas trudged further and further down the hallway. The amplified noise of crowds echoed at him from his destination at the end of the hallway. The last corner into the commons of the Greenville Valley High School was finally in sight. It was a tight corner that marked one end of a long and seemingly useless hallway. Just before the finish line, Damien Rodriguez cut around the corner from the commons, wearing a shirt depicting his favorite band, “The Obnoxious Fight Against Society.” Thomas stopped to greet his friend, an intrigue arising from their shared familiarity with this band. Thomas had been listening to “The Obnoxious Fight” for about a week and found the music reasonably decent at best. “The Obnoxious Fight,” Thomas commented on his friend's shirt, “Have you heard their latest album?” “Yeah, man,” Damien was very enthused by what he saw as a potential fellow fan, “It is pretty much the ultimate rock. I love the song 'School is a Prison Cell' and 'I Don't Wanna Learn Nothin'.” “I don't know, man,” Thomas thought for a moment, reciting the lyrics in his head and determining that the
music was sort of whiny and redundant, “Don't you think they're sort of selling out?” “What are you talking about?” Damien's face was one of disappointment, a deadpan glare that bordered on silent anger, “They're against that sort of thing. Haven't you listened to the song 'Sell Out Star'?” “I suppose,” Thomas seceded from the argument, feeling a little empty as if something was left unsaid. Further considering the subject, it baffled Thomas. “The Obnoxious Fight” was a very popular band. Their albums sold millions, and the topic of their music was always the same thing. Yet that same thing was always the rebellion against the redundancy and corruption of society. Finally giving up the thought, Thomas pat his friend on the shoulder in a farewell gesture and turned the corner into the commons. Met face to face with James Hill, the most popular student in school, Thomas froze. If it wasn't one person, it was another. James glared at Thomas as if spontaneously angered by his appearance. Thomas began to wonder why he was just standing there, not budging an inch. It then occurred to Thomas that he was blocking the corner into the hallway. “Out of the way, poser,” James Hill, decked out in expensive brand name clothing, commanded sternly. “Yes, sir!” Thomas responded jokingly, slowly shifting out of his way so as to see his reaction. “Wanna be a comedian?” James barked mockingly, “You're a regular Robin Williams, aren't you? I oughtta put you in your place.” In lieu of doing so, James turned the corner into the hallway. “Guess you're all talk!” Thomas shouted back into the hallway with a brief laugh before making his way across the commons. The crowds were vicious, each clique amassing upon their own self-proclaimed territories, talking about the same things, standing in circular fortresses each and every day. Thomas, breaking the walls into a particular clique, attempted to make casual conversation. “How's everyone doing this morning?” he asked. “Get out of here,” one boy said, pushing his long, black bangs out of his eyes with his left hand, “I saw you talking to James Hill. You're a puppet of society.” Thomas pulled away slowly in response, hoping to find something to do in these last five minutes before class started. The separate crowds were as uninviting and uninteresting as ever, everyone saying all the same things. Jocks talked about sports. Geeks talked about computers. Rebels and punks complained about society. Everything was the same. “Attention students!” a distorted and irritating voice rang over the intercom, “Please report to the
auditorium for a surprise morning assembly.” “Thomas shifted his attention to the massive herds of students now aimed towards the auditorium. He changed direction as well, hoping for something interesting as opposed to the redundant pep assemblies and motivational speakers with alternate agendas. He hoped for something sincere, something meaningful, something he could hold on to. However, one could only hope. The auditorium was dark and crowded. Two men and a woman, all in business suits, sat in chairs to the side of the stage. Mrs. Carmine, the principal, stood center stage in front of a microphone. Thomas found himself a seat in a fairly empty row on the left side of the auditorium, facing the business people directly. The oldest gentleman smiled at him, giving him a trendy thumbs up. Thomas gave the man an awkward wink, seeing the man divert attention in response. Thomas laughed at this and began to watch intently as Mrs. Carmine cleared her throat. “Good morning Cents,” Mrs. Carmine opened the ceremony. The Cents was the name of the Greenville Valley High sports team. It was actually an abbreviated form of the word centaurs. “I'm proud to present to you some wonderful people who have done wonderful things for our wonderful school.” Thomas raised an eyebrow at the special guest, curious as to their relation to Greenville Valley High. “I'm sure most of your recognize this logo,” she continued. The curtains opened, exposing a large replica of the same logo on the front of the soda machine in the long hallway. “Students, your purchases of Cargo Cola products have funded some of the recent additions to our learning environment.” Thomas' jaw dropped. Suddenly the guests looked a little more villainous. A man who seemed to appear out of thin air began circulating the auditorium, handing out free bottles of Cargo Cola to each and every student who attended. As the man came around to him, Thomas declined one. “Now I'd like you all to meet a very inspirational man,” Mrs. Carmine pointed to the oldest gentleman, “Please give a warm welcome to the President of Cargo Cola Incorporated, Mr. Edmund Cargo.” The man aggressively stood to his feet and walked briskly to Mrs. Carmine, who handed him the microphone. “Good morning Cents!” he shouted in that mocking enthusiasm of a puppet master, “Tell me something. Do the Cents like Cargo Cola?” Cheers and affirmation could be heard as a wild and excited response from the brainwashed audience. It seemed to have lasted several minutes before toning down to a hum that eventually faded into silence. The
man smiled proudly before continuing his speech. The gluttonous crowd seemed to down their bottles of soda simultaneously, small minds in awe at the man who had given them their much needed fix. “I envy you, Cents.” he said, following his statement with a terribly fabricated sigh, “So young, in your prime. You can gulp those things down like madmen. Jimmy, give 'em all another!” The man who circulated the crowd came around a second time. The lustful eyes of students bulged out at him, praising the generosity of Cargo Cola. A wrathful and outraged James Hill, finding himself without seconds, made his feelings clear, “Hey, where's my Cargo?” he shouted, standing and glaring at the man on stage. He sat back down in his seat lazily as Jimmy walked halfway across the auditorium to give him his soda. Mr. Cargo laughed, “Now there's a proud Cent. He knows exactly what he wants. I see a boy with a bright future,” he presented a scheming grin, “That brings me to my next point.” The auditorium fell silent. Thomas could tell that the audience was engrossed in what was to come. Even the most rude and ballistic chattering crowds honored the respectful, undeserving silence. It was an incredibly eerie moment, practically the work of a miracle. “You, the proud Cents, have been our best customers.” Mr. Cargo proclaimed excitedly, “and for that, I have an offer to present to you, a contest of sorts.” He began to shift, almost as if a little nervous as to the reaction to his offer. Thomas had to practice extreme restraint in order to remain seated. He found that he had the sudden urge to jump up and question the motives of this presentation. He felt he had a voice that others did not have the strength to unleash. These things, however, he did not let out. Feeling as though it would be a futile effort, he remained silent. “Our advertising research team is trying to find a new mascot for our product.” he began again after what seemed so long a time. “We're looking for something modern, useful, trendy.” Thomas could not believe what was coming. These naive, weak-minded students were being fed into an advertising ploy and Thomas wanted nothing to do with it. “The advertising team then came to me with the idea to find a mascot among our most enthused customers. That just happened to be students.” He gestured towards the younger seated man, probably someone from the advertising team. “This was a unique opportunity for us as a large corporation to reach out to our consumers
and leave our mark on the education system.” The crowd cheered again, unaware of what they were absorbing themselves into. The enthusiasm was broad and almost frightening to Thomas. It was so thick that it was almost edible. He wanted to wake these people up. He wanted to show that he cared, but their sleep was a deep one. “Over the course of the next day, we'll have advertising executives monitoring your school for a spirited Cargo lover,” Mr. Cargo then pointed at James Hill seated just about in the center of the audience, “Use this young man as a prime example. He's got the spirit of a thousand men, the spirit of a true Cent.” Most of the audience cheered at this, intimidated by James' popularity. Thomas, finally breaking down, began to boo quite loudly. This caused the audience to fall silent. Mrs. Carmine approached the microphone, whispering something to Mr. Cargo. With a nod of understanding, he handed the principal the microphone. “Thomas Gordon!” she said, “Your lack of spirit is not appreciated. One more outburst like that and I'll have to talk with your parents.” Thomas was stunned. He knew he would not gain any support in this battle from his family. His parents desired the wholesome, simple-minded American family. His older brother, Zachary Gordon, was a fellow student of Greenville Valley High. Zachary's formerly popular reputation has been tarnished dramatically by his brother's outlook and placement on the social ladder. Zachary had been sitting next to James in the auditorium when his brother was publicly humiliated. He put his head in his hands, knowing he would never hear the end of it. “You need to teach your dork brother a lesson,” James said, punching Zachary in the arm playfully but clearly as if to pose a thread, “I don't want him bringin' our school down.” “Furthermore,” Mrs. Carmine lectured, “If this kind of behavior continues, I will be forced to cancel this opportunity for the entire student body.” The crowd fell silent. Eyes darted suspiciously. Fists shook in Thomas' direction. As if to plant a firm exclamation point on the hostilities, Mrs. Carmine said, “You will all know who is to blame.” Thomas ducked a little, hiding amongst the rows of seats. Closing his eyes, he wanted more than anything to be invisible. He pretended the events around him weren't actually occurring. He tried to plunge himself mentally into the safety of his imagination. Unfortunately, his actions were to no avail. He heard the
processed groans and the countless threats expand like a gas to meet every end of the auditorium. Some even began throwing objects at him from random locations. Meanwhile, Mrs. Carmine smiled and handed the microphone back to Mr. Cargo. “I am pleased, Cents.” Mr. Cargo announced, “I am pleased by your diversity. Individuality thrives in you.” He smiled smugly, the audience under his charm. Even Thomas was curious as to what would happen next. The silence was contagious and engrossing. “That's what Cargo Cola is all about, after all.” Mr. Cargo stood with confidence in this portion of his speech, his feet firmly planted on the stage, his chin pointed high, “self-expression!” Thomas nearly collapsed as he heard this ridiculous statement. He found the concept confusing to say the least. To him, soda just didn't seem like a representation of self-expression. However, he again resisted the urge to make an outcry, now more than ever due to the recent reaction. His actions would only make the situation more uncomfortable. “As I draw this assembly to a close,” Mr. Cargo said, “I tell you now that you are our future. Don't let me down!” He dropped the microphone, a fake solemn look painted on his face as he disappeared backstage. The other two guests seemed to have disappeared somewhere along the time attention was elsewhere. Silence slowly grew into a mist of confused whispers. “There you have it, Cents,” Mrs. Carmine took center stage again. The questioning and spontaneous rumor spilling suddenly came to an abrupt hush. Mrs. Carmine, smiling, did not appear phased by the confusion. She continued, “The game is on.” Palms sweat in anticipation. Bets were being made and negotiated. Big men bragged of their coming progress. All things else were now on hold. School work, personal projects, daily hobbies were all henceforth placed on the back burner. This was the day of reckoning. This moment would change all things to come of Greenville Valley High School. The audience was held in an air of suspense. Mrs. Carmine stood alone on stage, microphone in hand, analyzing reactions. She witnessed the feeling of unrest growing and finally decided to initiate the final release. “Dismissed!” The crowd poured out of the auditorium so fast that heads were spinning in place. Inconsiderate people
crammed themselves selfishly through the entryways, shoving one another like vicious school children. Mr. Cargo's contest was the subject of a heavy load of banter. Nothing more predictable could have occurred. Feet fell upon feet. Shouts of masculine fury roared across the auditorium to Thomas. He sat alone, waiting for the crowds to slowly dissipate before making his exit. It seemed to last forever, the crowds held up by pitiful displays of arrogance and superiority. James in particular shoved Zachary out of the way, reiterating his now less playful threat, “You tell your brother to watch his back.” “Of course,” Zachary replied, having nearly been knocked down, “I'll give him your message.” Thomas was uncomfortable, having heard the brief conversation between his brother and the most popular student at Greenville Valley High. He sat solemnly, swallowing hard in fear and nervousness. One side of him saw James as a weak dog whose bark was worse than his bite. However, another side entirely saw James as the core of high school society. These thoughts concerned him to many lengths. Once James had finally exited, the crowd began to move faster. It was as if all of the students would freeze at James' will. He was the mind of this society. None could exist without him as the supreme consciousness. Due to his immense and powerful reputation, he was merely perceived as a necessity. The faster moving crowd now exited completely. Thomas arose from his seat and headed for the entryway. As he walked through the open door, he felt a hand fall on his shoulder. Turning around, Thomas was face to face with Mrs. Carmine. He hadn't seen her there a moment ago. She seemed to appear out of thin air. The look on her face was one of grim suspicion. “Thomas, why are you not in class yet?” she shot him a frightening glare. “As you can see, I was just leaving,” he responded, confused as to her odd expectations. “I don't want any of your excuses,” she now grabbed him by the arm, “Come with me to my office please.” He jerked away, shooting her a defiant glance in response, “This is ridiculous.” A figure in the shadows of the back of the auditorium suddenly caught his eye. He could barely make out the shape of a man in a suit and sunglasses. He appeared bald, but wore a hat to cover most of his head. Mrs. Carmine turned to meet the object of Thomas' attention just a minute too late. The mysterious man had already faded back into oblivion by then. Exploiting the time he had bought, Thomas bolted out the door, darting furiously to his first period class. Mrs. Carmine called out into the auditorium. There was no reply. She turned around, a moment of thought before noticing that Thomas was absent. She clenched her fist in
defeat before heading back to her office. After all, she had a meeting soon with the superintendent and the school board. They aimed to discuss a legislation that may serve to quell Greenville Valley's sponsorship deal with Cargo Cola. The school day progressed as usual. Homework was stacked upon homework. Lunch was frighteningly dull, with only the mindless rantings of Damien Rodriguez to keep Thomas company. “Mainstream popularity is a plague to society,” Damien complained, “Hey man!” His attention was suddenly diverted. “I'm listening,” Thomas lied, assuming Damien was onto him. He'd heard it all before after all, and the entire song and dance was getting at least a little irritating. “No, man,” Damien continued, “I just noticed something. I want to ask you a question.” “Shoot.” “I noticed you're just wearing a plain white t-shirt.” Damien stated the obvious, “Don't you care about making a statement?” “Does your shirt make a statement?” “It's 'The Obnoxious Fight,' man!” “What statement does that make?” “That society is a puppet.” “What statement does that make about you?” “It's uh... It's all about me, man.” “You purchased this message, Damien. Your message is manufactured. It's contradictory.” “Whatever, man.” Damien seemed upset. He stood up and walked away, leaving Thomas alone for the rest of the lunch break. That same loneliness trailed behind Thomas for the remainder of the school day. Most of his fellow students were still giving him dirty looks due to the events of the morning assembly. The end of the school day was marked by the typical, annoying bell. Every time he heard a high pitch sound, Thomas felt as if he woke up a little. The world as he knew it was like a dream, better described as a coma. He spent so many moments trying to wake up, but no moment was he ever closer than that of a high pitch sound. The walk home that followed was the epitome of loneliness, the seeming climax to a depressing day. Thomas analyzed the events of the day in his mind, proud at times of his rebellion. He was also fearful,
however, of things that were to come. The majority of his walk home was spent looking down at his feet in the pouring rain.
For Thomas, all things outside of school may well have existed outside of reality itself. No friends ever went out of their way to make plans with him. He was a loner by just about any sense of the word. At home, day seamlessly faded into night. Sleep faded into morning, and soon Thomas was on his way to school once again. The morning air was cold and menacing. The frigid humidity seemed to Thomas like an omen of things to come on this day, the day of the inane Cargo contest. The front area of the school campus was desolate as usual. The students did not concern themselves with the crisp air of the world outside. They had already formed into their respective cliques in the commons. After all, the important students had already arrived at school. Students like Thomas were insignificant. Society could move on easily with or without the losers. Passing the office, Thomas overheard a conversation between Mrs. Carmine and a man in a business suit. The man must have been one of the advertising executives Mr. Cargo mentioned in the assembly. He was probably stationed in the commons to watch for particularly spirited students. As he spoke with Mrs. Carmine, he clearly kept his eyes on James Hill and the jock clique. The contest was already one-sided. “Y'know, Mrs. Carmine,” the executive said, “If this legislation passes, the contract is off and your funding is dropped. We can't have many more run-ins with the law, after all.” “I will not stand by and watch Greenville Valley go underfunded.” Mrs. Carmine plotted. “I have my hands in a few pockets. The legislation will not be passed. I assure you this.” “That's the spirit,” the man said enthusiastically, “I guess you can take the Cargo out of Greenville, but you can't take the Greenville out of Cargo.” In a sudden burst that confused Thomas, they both began laughing quite maniacally. Thomas walked away, turning towards the soda machine hallway. What he saw astonished him. Two more Cargo machines stood at the end of the hallway, a sign on one making it clear that the machines had been made possible due to the recent contract. Thomas turned the cold shoulder, deciding suddenly to personally boycott Cargo products. He knew his beliefs would not be influential enough to make a difference, but he just couldn't bring himself to consider purchasing Cargo Cola anymore. He felt as though he would only be fueling the fires of corporate takeover,
contributing to a habit he stood so vehemently against. As Thomas turned to leave the hallway, he spotted another man in a business suit heading right for him. The man was clearly another Cargo marketer aiming for the machines. As the man passed by, Thomas could hear him speaking over a phone in his ear. “I'm approaching my station, sir.” The man continued to walk down the hallway, Thomas stopping to watch. He finally stopped, leaning himself uncomfortably against the machine, probably in wait for potential Cargo buyers. Thomas couldn't believe it. It seemed as though this man was here to dictate the entire contest by the number of Cargo Cola sales alone. In Thomas' mind, the contest seemed to fall deeper and deeper into the pits of total nonsense. This was no longer an innocent game. These people had henceforth invaded the school and were a threat to the intellectual atmosphere. No matter the condition, Cargo Cola's plans had to be stopped. Thomas came back out into the commons, taking a look around for the one person who may just be able to help him. Damien Rodriguez was standing in a circle with some of his like-minded friends, discussing music and complaining about society as usual. They looked like filthy, whiny toddlers, desperately complaining but never mustering up the strength to take a stand about it. Thomas was going to give them the chance. He was going to bring a real issue to their attention, an issue so close to home that they had to hear him out. He approached them steadily. “Damien,” he said. For a moment, the group didn't budge. He could hear some whispering amongst them. Angry expressions and gestures were exchanged. A couple of Damien's friends gave Thomas clearly dirty looks. Thomas knew that Damien was still upset about the conversation they had the day before. “Oh, Thomas,” Damien responded without even looking at Thomas, “What do you want now, poser?” This word always ate at Thomas. It was such a fake word that it's fabricated connotations were almost nightmareinducing. Thomas nearly cringed every time the word was uttered. It was just so meaningless and discouraging. “Listen, Damien.” Thomas thought hard of a way to put his thoughts into words that would be persuading to Damien, “You want to free society from the puppet strings, right?” “Of course I do.” Damien smirked a little, as if Thomas had no idea who he was. “That's everything I stand
for.” “Well, I know of a way you can start changing the world now.” Thomas refused to feel like a stranger. He knew Damien, and he knew that Damien had good intentions, regardless of the argument the had the previous day. Damien was only confused. His beliefs were justly challenged for the first time and he had no logical way to respond. “Like you would know. You have nothing to say.” Damien pointed at Thomas' clothing, “Look! You're wearing another plain white t-shirt. Why are you even here?” “C'mon!” Thomas pleaded. “This is an issue that needs to be dealt with. Look around you for just one minute. Can't you see that our world, our society, is being eaten up by corporate domination? You of all people should notice that, Damien.” “Are you still whining about Cargo Cola?” Damien laughed, sparking laughter from his entire clique. “Listen, twerp, just because you know you won't win the contest, that doesn't mean you need to ruin it all for the rest of us.” With that, Damien shoved Thomas out of the way quite forcefully. Thomas had to regain his footing quickly in order to keep from falling. Even the supposedly political-minded students had been brainwashed, it seemed. Thomas was now fighting a hopelessly lonely battle. He sulked across the commons and sat in the darkest corner he could find, hoping no one else would see him until the bell rang for class. He took the time to think about things as they were. This invasive species had infiltrated the most important and fundamental facility that existed in society. Dominating a school was essentially checkmate in the long-winded chess game between individuality and the corporate body. Once they had access to train people from a young age and bend their wills accordingly, nothing could stop them from building a nation of slaves. The corporate body aimed to make society into the mind and muscle. They were the nerves, however, that could feel all the results and rewards of society's labor. Thomas stared at the floor, tiles of dingy gray staring back at him, peering past his eyes and into his mind. As he looked at these simple tiles, he began to realize how beautiful they were. They didn't need to be unnecessarily colorful. They didn't have to be perfectly clean and virginally white either. Each one was a gray tile with it's own minuscule differences. They shared many similarities which drove them together, but they all had something unique and special in their pattern. These tiles knew that they were interesting enough
as they were and didn't have to pretend to be something else. They didn't need money, nor fame. They had everything necessary in their two-dimensional world. Thomas began to think about his family and his few so-called friends. He thought about the people he surrounded himself with, good or bad. These people were not themselves. They were pretenders. They were, Thomas hesitated to even think the word, posers. They were lies in a shell, walking excuses for their own selfish misbehavior. There was nothing real about them. They were like estranged fictional characters, incompatible with a very real and natural world. They could not successfully coexist with their environment, so they created an environment in their own minds, one they could dominate. Yet in truth they were being dominated by a much more brutal force that aimed to conquer the real world. Damien was delusional. His vision existed in a world of the media he wrapped himself in. The music told him stories of the real world, stories of political and social corruption. They told him stories such as the one occurring right there at Greenville Valley High. Yet his music did not mention that specific occurrence. He was affected only by influence, and influence told him nothing was wrong. Influence told him that corruption was always far away from his own life. Corruption was entirely third person, outside of his reality. James had only ever been exposed to a world that loved him. He knew only a society that looked up to him as the strongest and most handsome. His world was built off of his own domination. Nothing could take that domination away from him, even if it already had. All his senses and all his instincts acted merely to service himself. Due to this extreme overconfidence, he controlled much of the society. Only those that chose to exist in actual reality could exist above him in the ultimate hierarchy. Any other walking delusion would be intimidated by him and thus fall victim to his will. Mrs. Carmine was just as delusional as the rest, corrupted by a world built out of money. She was controlled just as easily as any of her students merely due to the same imaginary realm she built around herself. Just like any other part of this society, she made a puppet to those who dominated the real world. She had no real power because real power only existed in the real world. Her school was being taken from her and it meant nothing. The dominoes only continued to fall in a steady and predictable pattern. It could not be stopped. “Yo bro!” Thomas looked up to see his brother, Zachary Gordon, staring down at him, his expression stern
and unyielding to any emotion. Thomas recalled the conversation he overheard between Zachary and James the day before. The fear struck him hard. “What do you want, Zach?” Zachary hated to be called Zach. To him, it was an abbreviation. It merely demeaned the sophistication of his entire name. Thomas hoped with all hopes that Zachary had forgotten James' demands and only stopped to wish him a nice day. This was clearly a ridiculous hope on Thomas' part. “What you did at the assembly...” Zachary trailed off, thinking of words to encourage his brother without being too rude or offensive. He wanted to try to pull this off the brotherly way before becoming hostile. “Not cool, man.” “You know what's not cool?” Thomas interrogated his brother, “This is everything we, as the youth of our nation, should be standing against. This is the antagonist that will be with us for the rest of our lives. We need to defeat early in the game before it devours us.” “What the hell are you talking about, Tommy?” Zachary had an even more demeaning name for Thomas. Not a single flinch of emotion had shown in Zachary's face during the entire discussion. “You're so delusional. Everything exists in your little rebellious world and you don't realize the benefits.” “Okay, Zach. What are these benefits you speak of?” Thomas gave his brother a questioning glare, a raised eyebrow marking his anticipation of a logical response. “Money,” Zachary attempted to justify himself with a point that would be strong with most crowds, but stood as nothing against Thomas. It was a meaningless argument, but Zachary could not comprehend that. “Money for the school. Money for me. Money for you.” “Wait a minute!” Thomas interrupted. “Are you saying you're going to try to win this contest yourself?” “Of course I am,” Zachary seemed distraught, as if he had just been insulted. “Are you trying to say I don't have what it takes?” “No,” Thomas rebuked. “I'm trying to say that James has everything it takes, and no one will be able to take that away from him.” “It's about sales, bro.” Zachary laughed, a little relieved as to his brother's response. “This isn't about popularity. The quick and dirty way to win this competition is to be seen purchasing Cargo Cola whenever the opportunity arises.”
“So this is how it's going to be?” Thomas questioned, seeming as if he was almost hurt by the circumstances. “I'm you're brother, man. I'm your blood. You'd trade that all in for fame and money in a heartbeat, would you?” “Sorry, bro...” Zachary looked away, finally visibly phased by the content of the conversation, “but blood just ain't thicker than paper.” Thomas stood up without a word, pushing his brother out of his way as he ambled all the way out of the commons. It was still a few minutes before the bell would ring signifying the start of class, but he had nothing else of any significance to accomplish in this specific morning. As far as Thomas was concerned, the day was thoroughly complete. This day needed the least consideration possible. It just couldn't be taken seriously anymore. Life as he knew it was now taken as a joke. He walked down the hallway towards class with a strangely unexplainable determination, as if his destination was of severe importance. The door to Thomas' first period classroom was in his grasp when he heard a voice from behind him. “I got you again, Thomas.” It was Mrs. Carmine. She looked upon him with an expression of almost violent rage. Her face was contorted fiendishly and her body was shaking so much that it was nearly convulsing. “Oh come off it, Mrs. Carmine.” Thomas grabbed the door once again, in hopes of entering class peacefully and leaving this matter behind. “I've done nothing wrong.” “You avoided punishment yesterday,” she corrected him with a voice of condescending disappointment, as if he'd done the most terrible thing in the books. “I will not have you ruin this for me, Gordon. I have worked far too hard to arrange all this, and I'm not going to have you or some ridiculous legislation get in my way.” “I have yet to do anything wrong, Mrs. Carmine.” “I know you, Gordon. I know you all too well. You've always been a time bomb of trouble waiting to go off. I've had my eye on you the entire time you've been a student here. Don't think I haven't seen the way you try to segregate everyone and isolate yourself.” “I'm trying to teach people to develop their own individuality. It's called a personality. Perhaps you've heard of it?” “Don't get smart with me, young man.” Mrs. Carmine began to think to herself, knowing she couldn't draw this too far without drawing bad attention from outside sources. However, Thomas still had to be dealt with.
“You will not say a thing to anyone for the rest of the day. You will not purchase any Cargo Cola. You will turn around any time you see a marketing executive. You keep being rebellious, but if you speak up about it, I'll have your head.” “That's what I had intended to-” “Have I made myself clear, Gordon?” Mrs. Carmine interrupted, clearly expressing that a vocal answer in return would result in a more fierce reaction. Thomas nodded in defeat, quickly opening the door to the classroom and slipping in. He didn't even want to talk to anyone for the rest of the day, let alone buy Cargo Cola ever again. Were he to see another marketing executive that day, it would probably make him sick to his stomach. He resigned himself to the idea that he would follow Mrs. Carmine's demands to the letter. The whole thing was a headache, after all. The day rolled on slowly, Thomas finding it increasingly more and more difficult not to speak out. Student reactions were always strange in different in large school junction areas where marketing executives were stationed. Thomas wanted nothing more than to call everyone on their false behaviors. James was being generous to his fellow students, searching for ways to impress the executives with his kindness. Damien and many of his friends were trying to blend in with the more popular crowds. Zachary, of course, headed for the soda machines with a pocket full of several dollars. All these people were no longer being who they really were. They created a new, adaptive delusion once again to service themselves. Thomas found an isolated place outside to sit against the outer wall of a classroom and eat his lunch. A small ham sandwich on wheat bread was his only friend this day. After a couple of bites, however, he felt too sick to continue eating. Everything was wrong. He had become the final string holding the very world together. His string had to stay thick and elastic or the very fabrics of society would tear apart and the corporation would win. Thomas' train of thought was broken by a sudden movement in the bushes. He got up slowly to inspect the environment. It was probably a fellow student trying to tamper with his spirits. They were clearly still upset with him as tensions dragged on over the events of the contest. Thomas looked in the bushes, but he saw no one there. Whoever it was had disappeared quite stealthily. Thomas felt as though he had seen something in the corner of his eye, but upon closer inspection nothing was there. The rest of the lunch break was rather formulaic. Thomas finally found the sanctity to finish his sandwich
and sulk his way to his next class where he sat down and waited for it to begin. He didn't have much else to look forward to. Students piled in, a particular crowd laughing and pointing at Thomas offensively. This aroused his suspicions as to who may have been messing with him during lunch. However, having sworn to what was pretty much a vow of silence by then, Thomas spoke no word of the event and sat attentively, ready for class. The school day had nearly drawn to a close when the inevitable announcement came over the loudspeaker. “All students please report to the auditorium for the conclusion to our contest.” The students poured out of class faster than a bullet train, enthused by the sheer wonder of the event that was about to unfold. Thomas took his sweet time, knowing that these things would not concern him, that they would perhaps even anger him to some extent. The more he considered it, however, the more he thought he could just let it slide now. As the final strings of people entered the auditorium, Thomas had no choice but to enter as well. The rush of air suddenly became a lot more quiet as he entered the auditorium. Each and every student was seated quietly, hoping that the assembly would start sooner under good behavior. The same three executives sat in the same three chairs on the side of the stage and Mrs. Carmine, flashing Thomas a villainous glance, stood center stage with the microphone. Thomas found a seat near the back of the auditorium, in hopes of drawing very little attention to himself. Mrs. Carmine begun the ceremonies by clearing her throat. “Well, Cents, it has been a long and intense struggle,” she said with a proud smile, “but I'm proud to tell you that Mr. Cargo has told me the results have been decided.” The crowd cheered ever so noisily, James making his voice known above all the rest. The expression on Zachary's face was one of nervousness as he hoped his theory on the contest results would hold true. Thomas sat quietly, so far drawing no attention whatsoever. “Without further ado,” Mrs. Carmine announced, “I am once again very proud to present... Mr. Cargo of Cargo Cola Incorporated!” Mr. Cargo stood up, a broad smile on his face. Mrs. Carmine whispered something to him, pointing to Thomas in the audience. Mr. Cargo nodded and took the microphone. “Cents, it's been an enlightening day!” Cargo Cola once again had a man circulating the auditorium and handing out bottles of soda. James took one. Damien took one. Zachary took one. Even Mrs. Carmine proudly grabbed a bottle. As the man came
around to Thomas, he declined, but the man still lingered there. “Thomas,” he said, “You're going to have to come with me for the remainder of the assembly.” “What the hell!” Thomas exclaimed, “I have made an effort to be on my best behavior. You have nothing to pull me out for.” “We can't take any chances, sir.” he said. “We're going to have to take you out of here.” Thomas reluctantly stood up and followed the man just out of the side door of the auditorium. They were in a small, empty hallway. Obviously everyone else in the school, student and faculty, had made it a commitment to attend the assembly. Thomas leaned against the wall before sliding himself down to a seated position on the floor. He looked out the window in front of him which gave him a beautiful view of the woods right near the school. He noticed that the man with the soda bottles had not returned to the auditorium. “Hey man,” Thomas said. “Don't you have bottles to hand out or something?” “Thomas Gordon,” the man sternly stated, “I am Jimmy Cargo, Jr. I am the successor to Cargo Cola.” “Oh my.” Thomas let out a fake yawn. “Since when did I care?” Jimmy seemed almost pleased at Thomas' apathetic response. He smiled a very condescending smile. “Since you won the contest.” Thomas took in the statement for a moment as if he had to decipher it in his mind. It was like a complex riddle until the reality hit him hard. “You gotta be kidding me!” he shouted. “You're pulling my leg, man.” “Do you know anything about the world outside the walls of this school, kid?” Jimmy asked him. “Do you know the trends that really exist in our key demographic? Do you know what Cargo Cola stands for?” “I know what's trendy here. It can't be all too different, can it?” “This is a rich kid school,” Jimmy laughed. “These places are few and far between. Sure, we had to fork over a little money to this school for being such great consumers just to boost our image, but their trends mean nothing to us. What we want is rebellion. We want a true revolutionary. That revolutionary is you!” Thomas rolled the idea back and forth in his head. The entire thing was even more headache-inducing now than before. The border between remaining independent and selling out was beginning to blur now. His elastic was being pulled so thin that it could nearly break. “I... I'm going to have to think about this.” “You have tonight to sleep on it, Thomas,” Jimmy admitted, “but be wary of your school's reaction. Not even Mrs. Carmine was aware of our final decision.”
Thomas sighed. He felt both enlightened and defeated. He wasn't sure whether or not an affirmation on this offer would be succumbing to the corporate body or taking a step in a progressive direction. “Can I go now?” Thomas asked sincerely. “Yes Thomas, you may go. We look forward to hearing your decision.”
The cogs continue to turn, and the dominoes fall accordingly. As the fabrics of societal stability are torn so fiercely, the final strands are ever-wavering. This small percentage of increasingly flexible elastic strings stand at the vanguard of the final battle, constantly pulled to their limit by the mysteries of influence. Each string chooses its influences wisely, and soon enough, each string is plucked away by a mistaken influence. Could it be only a matter of time before that last flexible string is broken and the essence of societal stability is thrown into organized chaos, or will there always be a Thomas Gordon to stand against the flow of things as they come? Let the world at large prepare itself for the answer, as its occurrence may be as imminent as an overnight decision.
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