In City Zed the Wellness Corporation owns everything and everyone. The masses make the best of each day, and the life, that is planned for them. They fake laugh at work and guzzle down a never ending supply of new products and services. Wellness is within the reach of everyone who behaves, and believes.
Zane Zeitgeist sees straight through the fraud. His intelligence and emotional scores are two full standard deviations above average, but that alone doesn’t explain his extraordinary bullshit detector. The Corporation is contemplating neural correction surgery—pity that, he has so much potential.
Zane will never lie down and submit. It’s not in his make-up. He has been shifted from department to department and suspects they are planning the final solution. In his last position Zane worked out that the order you pressed the buttons didn’t make one iota of difference. He told the whole Button Pushing Department; they couldn’t believe him.
“We trained for two years to learn this skill. You’re full of it, Zeitgeist!” said the Team Leader.
Zane demonstrated. Some staff ducked for cover, thinking the production line would explode when he pressed red before purple. But regardless, the conveyor belt rolled on and the robots assembled the shiny gizmos.
“See,” said Zane. “The buttons aren’t connected to anything!”
Human Resources moved quickly. Mr Zeitgeist is ill, they said. His console was disabled weeks ago.
Zane was then parked in the Media Department’s Conspiracy Think Tank. Zuess Zetland, master of deception, told Zane that his fantasies were useful and valuable to the corporation. They could be produced and packaged and streamed into the homes of the population as satirical entertainment. It would remind citizens to be grateful for city life, safe from the chaos and violence of the Wildlands.
Like everyone else, Zane experienced the Wildlands at age nine. It is on the curriculum, a school excursion in a fortified bus through the horrors of the outside world. His father reminisced, “I’d heard the stories, son. But when I saw it for myself I realised how damn lucky we are to be in City Zed …”
Zane knew his father’s philosophy was scripted. Through the toughened glass of the bus he saw the savages, adorned in Corporation blue face-paint, play acting as they threw spears. Zane laughed. The ‘savages’, his teachers, the bus driver, and his parents were all employees of the Wellness Corporation.
The tour wound its way through gullies denuded of trees. The only stop was a quick step outside the air conditioned bus to feel the heat and to smell sewerage; both children and teachers ignorant of the underground pipes leading back to the toilets inside the city walls.
Zane asked the teacher why the bus couldn’t turn left and go up the hill to see over the ridge line. Back at school that question, and his laughing at the savages, got him stood up in front of assembly and shamed.
Working in the Media Department was worse than pushing buttons that did nothing. Zane had come to know that outside City Zed there were creeks and forests and communities that worked the land; that there were beaches and cool breezes; that there was music and art. Those who spoke of such things were re-educated and forced to recant. If they didn’t, surgery was booked.
Zane was beginning to sweat real fear. He smelt his arm pits, it reminded him of the Wilderness. He refused the instructions to use Wellness Corp deodorant. If all he could own was his own scent, even if that meant surgical incarceration, he would go down reeking. After a week his odour had the whole of the Conspiracy Think Tank complaining.
For the necessary top level signature, Zane and his olfactory offence were escorted to the office of Zoe Zinger.
“Do you want us to hose him down before we bring him in, Ms Zinger?” asked the security guard. “He smells pretty bad.”
“No, bring him in. If I am to be the one to authorise, I ought to experience it firsthand.” The guard marched Zane into the office, front and centre. Zoe held a file.
“You may leave, Zac. This man is not violent.”
Zane looked at Zoe and the view from the window. He’d never been on the 200th floor. He could see the city limits and the Wildlands beyond.
“You know what is happening?” she asked.
“Yes. I will be lobotomised. I have resigned myself to that fate. Being ignorant will be preferable to faking ignorance.”
Zoe Zinger placed the file down on the desk. “How did you find out the truth?”
“I can only see what I see.”
Zoe walked around her desk to sample the odour that had finally condemned this man. She circled him. The smell acted quickly upon her. Her eyes closed, her shoulders dropped. Limbic instinct had her smelling his neck and touching herself through executive slacks.
After they had made love and were lying in each others arms on the office floor, Zoe asked, “What do you want, Zane?”
“I want to leave the city, forever.”
Zoe sniffed Zane’s armpit and thought hard for a long moment. She stood up, went back to her desk and pressed a button on her phone.
“Ziggy, get my helicopter ready.”
She looked at Zane naked on the floor, “I have a house by the beach.”
“I believe you,” he said.