Ripley Durrant sat on the floor in front of her television flipping through Vision feeds and eating cereal. A man in his underwear, a woman making breakfast, a child playing video games, none of it interested her really. She continued flipping out of habit. Nothing else was on. The fiction channels had long since went bankrupt and no one really missed them anyway.
Her breakfast finished, Ripley uncrossed her legs, stood up from the floor, stretched, yawned, and began her day with a shower. She enjoyed her time in the shower. The steam from the hot water would fog the camera lens and she would truly be alone, unobserved. She lathered her face with soap and then stepped into the spray of water, scrubbing the oils from her face. Once clean, she turned off the water, drew back the curtain, and then quickly dressed, watching the camera as she did. She always dressed quickly, though it was perfectly normal to be nude in front of the cameras. She knew that they had seen her nude before.
She opened the bathroom door to let the steam out and plugged in her hair dryer. By the time the mirror had cleared she had her hair dry and makeup painted on. She gave herself one last good look. She hated the way the American Vision Network polo shirt hugged her body, revealing the advance of a slight muffin top (an advance she always swore to halt). She was starting to transition between the foolhardy and bulletproof early twenties to the floundering struggle of the rest of her life. Her body could no longer comfortably maintain itself on readymade frozen dinners. The shirt was a reminder that she was unable to find a fulfilling job out of college and unable to maintain her collegiate figure.
Most of what Ripley missed about the pre-Vision world was silence. Vision followed her from home to the bus stop, and then from the bus to work. Monitors were everywhere, flipping, always flipping. Millions of people would anonymously view a life in progress for a moment at a time, and then they were gone with the press of a button and a fade to black. Vision was always present, to see and to watch. There was a persistent electronic drone, the irregular music of spontaneous windows opening and closing. A child’s laughter, a man’s yawning, a woman’s angry speech, each sound being briefly manifested before being traded for another.
Ripley tried to ignore the monitors as she waited for the bus to arrive. She flipped through the news on her phone and updated her social media status. She looked up when she heard the approach of a diesel motor. She gathered her bag and waited at the edge of the sidewalk. The bus pulled up to the curb, the door opened, and she took her seat, doing her best to look away from the Vision monitor posted above the windshield. She would have a long day of watching Vision feeds at AVN.
The sound of a siren suddenly reverberated from the bus’s speakers; a terrorist had been observed and caught. Everyone turned to look at the screen. Ripley did so as well. A man, balding but with snowy hair, was wrestled to the ground, kicked a few times for resisting, handcuffed, and dragged semi-conscious from his home. A counter appeared on the right of the screen; it read 2,647. The screen went back to flipping.
The bus squelched as it let the air out of its brakes in front of the AVN building. Ripley badged through the front door and was thankful for the cool air and the warm smile of the security guard that greeted her. Erik Levine had a kind heart. He claimed that he used to be a jerk back when he was an actor, but Ripley didn’t believe him. She was glad that they had remained on friendly terms after they went on a few dead end dates and Ripley had to break things off. Erik was an interesting guy; he told seemingly infinite numbers of stories about Hollywood back before all of the movie studios went belly up, but there was simply no chemistry between them.
It was a long walk across the foyer to reach the security desk. She bashfully avoided eye contact with Erik, choosing instead to look at the walls on either side of her where the Department of Defense, Google, and Vision logos hanged- each measured fifteen feet tall. Above the security desk were photos of the World Trade Center and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The American Flag hung between them. The stenciled words “lest we forget” were painted underneath. The attack on the World Trade Center was something she’d only read about in school. She knew that the collapse of those buildings represented tragedy, desperation, and fear, but she only connected 9/11 with those concepts in the abstract way one connects July fireworks with the American Revolution. Too much time had passed for her to be sure that it had ever really happened, but the Indie Massacre was still a relatively fresh wound to the national psyche. The two-year anniversary of the attack was fast approaching; so much had changed in those two years. Suicide bombers had somehow managed to slip by security at the Indie 500. Thousands died in the explosions, hundreds more in the panic. Those images were emblazoned on her mind. She hated her job at AVN, but at least she could take pride in knowing that she contributed to national security in some small way. She had never caught a terrorist herself, but she was part of the effort.
“Hey Erik” She said, finally reaching the security desk.
“Did you see? We got one this morning.”
“That was one of ours?”
“Rip, we’re the only one’s left remember? VBC went out of business last week.”
“That’s right” She chuckled “I guess it was one of ours then. Any idea who gets the bonus?”
“Nope. Same as always.”
“You would think that just once someone would brag about getting the bonus.”
“I guess people are just private about how much money they get.”
“Well, if I ever catch one I’m going to brag up and down the cubicle rows. You’ll probably hear it from here.”
“Just push the button Rip, arrest some poor bastard and line your pockets.”
“You know as well as I do that they investigate. You want to see me end up fired?”
“You might end up that way if you don’t get clocked in. You’re five minutes late.”
She smiled and walked past him. He buzzed her through the door into the production floor. Looking at the immense cubicle-filled warehouse sprawling out in front of her she would never suspect that it used to be filled with props and sets from once familiar television shows. Ripley walked purposefully to her computer. She moved the mouse cursor to wake up the machine and then punched in her employee ID. A feed from Vision appeared on her monitor. Looking down at the console on the desk, she pulled up her chair and sat down. There were four buttons: report to police, send to producer, previous feed, next feed. Interesting feeds were sent to a producer to be broadcast through AVN; suspicious activity was to be reported to the Department of Defense. The producer would evaluate quality of entertainment, the DOD possibility of threat. Any programming specialist that aided the foiling of a terrorist plot received a substantial bonus. The chances of being awarded the bonus were slim; terrorists were not found often. The fact that there were more than two thousand other programming specialists hunting them didn’t help her chances either. Ripley coveted the possibility of pushing that red button and receiving a bonus big enough to pay her rent for a year. During their lunch breaks all her coworkers would discuss was the possibility of striking the big bonus, but with more than 2,000 terrorists captured through Vision, she couldn’t name a single person that had received the bonus. Perhaps Erik was right; maybe people just didn’t want anyone knowing they had hit it big.
Ripley settled in for her day’s work. A man changing a tire alongside the highway, an empty room, a mother breastfeeding, an elderly woman brushing her teeth, a babysitter reading a bedtime story, flip, flip, flip, flip, not a terrorist in sight she thought to herself, the red button quietly taunted her.
With her shift over, Ripley bid Erik good evening and sat quietly waiting for the bus. Vision flipped in her ear from a monitor placed in the bus stop shelter. The bus pulled up, the brakes let out their hydraulic whoosh once again, the door opened, and Ripley took her usual seat. She rested her head against the window, intending to doze for just a few minutes. She started awake with the familiar sound of the Vision siren. The monitor at the front of the bus quickly flashed to show another soon to be captured terrorist, this time a teenage boy. He seemed agitated, angrily marching around his home with a rifle, taking aim at the Vision cameras in each room and firing. When one camera was shot, the screen would flip to another, and then another. In the corner of the screen there was a flash of light, and then the room filled up with smoke. Everyone watching on the bus sat in anticipatory silence. When the smoke settled the boy lay unconscious on the floor. Police entered the room with weapons drawn. They handcuffed the unconscious teenager, hoisted him up, and carried him out of the camera frame. The counter on the screen appeared; it read 2,648. The screen continued flipping.
“It seems like there’s more and more of ‘em everyday” Ripley heard a distant voice say behind her.
“Hard to tell what they’d get up to if it weren’t for Vision” She heard another reply.
“That man was an idiot. Trying to hide from them cameras is just like confessing. If you got nothing to hide…” a third voice trailed off.
Ripley wondered who got the bonus for that one. She knew it wasn’t her.
Ripley got off the bus, walked into her apartment, stepped out of her shoes, turned on the television, and tossed a frozen meal in the microwave. She walked to her small bedroom off the main living area and changed clothes. She could hear Vision flipping in the living room, the hum of the microwave just beyond it. As she tied the drawstring to her pajama pants her mind wandered back to the bonus and all that she could do with it. Why hadn’t anyone ever bragged? Come to think of it, how come she hadn’t heard of anyone ever getting one of the government bonuses? Her mind fixated, she was powerless to pry it away from the question.
She walked back out into the living room and stood briefly in front of the TV. She watched as Vision flipped, disinterested but unable to step away. The sound of the microwave timer broke her trance. She decided it best to turn the TV off after all. She grabbed her laptop and her dinner and took a seat at her modest dining table.
With one hand she scooped tasteless food into her mouth and with the other she searched for winners of the Vision government bonus. She found dozens of stories attributing the Vision program with the successful thwarting of terrorist plots. The details of these derailed plans were horrifying. Biological weapons, chemical agents, improvised explosives, suitcase nukes; Vision had stopped them all with the help of the American viewer, but not a single bonus winner was named in any of the press releases. Ripley furrowed her brow and continued to scan pages of search results until a page titled “Blind Vision” caught her attention. When she clicked the link she noticed that the domain ended in .se instead of the usual .com. When the page loaded she realized immediately that this was a conspiracy site. There were images of the Eye of Providence pasted alongside the U.S. Presidential seal and the Vision logo. The headline read, “Vision Has NEVER Caught a Terrorist.” Ripley briefly scanned the article as a novelty, but found nothing of any merit in it. She closed her laptop and gave up the search. Her curiosity momentarily defeated, Ripley took a seat in front of the television and watched the Vision feeds flip until she dozed off.
She woke to the sound of the siren. She looked at her cell phone. “What time is it?” she said aloud to no one. It was 2:38 AM. She grabbed the remote and turned the TV off without looking at it. She rubbed her eyes drowsily and stood on wobbly knees. She didn’t notice the thud of boots outside her door. The room exploded in a flash and then filled with smoke. Ripley desperately tried to shake the fog from her head, but her effort was fruitless. Just before she passed out she chuckled quietly to herself. She had never pushed the red button. The counter read 2,649.