Number 457 sat at his desk, putting into action the flow of instructions delivered to him through his headset, every minute of every hour of every day. For as long as number 457 could remember, he had been working in this large company. This rather mundane lifestyle, as many would feel, was pleasantly satisfying for number 457.
Today, just like any other, was uneventful. The familiar humdrum of machinery whirring into life was the backdrop to number 457’s work. The robotic voice delivered the hundredth command of the day. As a matter of fact, number 457 was unsure of how many orders he had been given. He merely followed what he was told to do, and keeping track of the orders was not part of his duties.
“Press the R-Re-Red Button. P-Pre-Press the R-R-R-R…”
Number 457’s hand instinctively reached out for the glowing red button, but paused in midair as the voice fizzed out over his headset. There had never been any technical error. For the first time, number 457 took off his headset, uncertain of what to do. He contemplated staying where he was, waiting for somebody to attend to him, but concluded that no assistance was to be provided to him after a long wait. Eventually, he decided that as a good employee, he should find a way to fix the problem.
Number 457 looked at the door of his office and for the second time today, he decided to do something unprecedented. Placing the headset on the keyboard, he got out of his chair and walked out of his office. A feeling of dread immediately overcame him, afraid of being caught for leaving his post. He glanced around surreptitiously, pondering the possibilities he had. He could go back and wait in his office, though it would be rather pointless, or he could do something about the problem that was sticking in his face. His head throbbed as he thought hard about what to do. He was never required to do such in depth thinking. He came to a hasty decision and took a brave step forward.
The silent corridors were carpeted in a murky green, and the walls had peeling wallpapers of mustard yellow. In general, number 457 felt that the interiors of his surroundings needed a serious makeover. The thought in itself shocked number 457, who never had such negative opinions towards the company before. Frowning, he pushed away the thought, focusing on heading down to the technician’s office.
He reached the end of the corridor and faced the looming metal door that lead to the stairwell. He vaguely noticed that all the other doors were shut, but there was no noise, not even the faint clicking of buttons that should be coming from the offices of his colleagues. It brought on an immense amount of discomfort in number 457, which he forcefully ignored. The door scraped against the floor, eliciting a screech that sent a tremble down number 457’s spine.
The stairwell was poorly lit, with flickering lights. The shadows constructed contorted shapes, causing Number 457 to scamper as quickly as he could down the stairs. The thumping of his hurried feet echoed loudly throughout the vast silence of the stairwell, urging his run into a sprint as he burst through the door leading to the basement level. The identical metal door clicked shut behind him peacefully, but what he was faced with now made him squirm. The long corridor that rolled out in front of him looked identical to the level which he had just came from, with its murky green floor and mustard yellow walls.
Number 457 had never been to this level, but he was rather certain that the technician’s main office would be at the end of the long corridor, where he worked with the main generator through a keyboard, just like every other employee, only with a much different purpose.
Number 457 rapped on the door before stepping in. The sheer size of the room shocked number 457. It seemed that the technician, who had now proved to be more different from any other employee than expected, was not at his desk as well. Number 457 entertained the brief thought that the technician was just like him, away from his post when he should not be.
Number 457 sneaked into the room, shutting the door behind him quietly, in fear that the mysterious man would be hiding in some corner, waiting to pounce on him. The whirring of the generator at the center of the circular room was deafening, a huge machine connected to the lofty ceiling three floors above. Number 457 ventured into the large space and approached the keyboard attached to the generator. The large monitor flickered into life, making number 457 jump in surprise. Words appeared on the screen, words that did not make any sense to number 457.
Number 457 stared blankly, realising that he was supposed to type in a “Name”. He realised that he did not know his “Name”, nor did he know how to type in anything without any prior instructions. Deciding to try his luck, he let his fingers run through the keys and buttons and entered the only thing he knew of his identity: 457.
A loud blaring noise resounded through the room. Lights started flashing red. The monitor clashed the message "ERROR” in a blinding red font. It irritated number 457, just as the loud wailing of the siren did. Number 457 felt that his head on the brink of exploding. The noise was giving him a splitting headache. He could not hear his own thoughts as the siren drowned out everything. He clutched his head in agony and pounded his fists against the keyboard, willing it to stop the chaos that surrounded him.
He yelled, hearing his voice for the first time. “STOP IT!”
Number 457 curled up into a ball on the floor, still holding his head tight. He had his eyes shut, willing the darkness to take him. Tears were forming as the throbbing pain in his head threatened to implode from within him. It was like a nuclear explosion desiring to be let loose, a rampage of beasts stampeding out from inside his mind.
He screamed, yelled out in misery as he futilely resisted the overload of indescribable feelings within.
Then everything went silent.
It was in the quietness that deafened his ears that he heard the small whisper.
He whipped his head around, fear creeping onto him as he knew that no one else was in the room.
This time, it was closer. It sounded like it was coming from right behind him. Spinning around, he scrambled backwards, seeing nobody behind him.
A multitude of voices started surfacing, all repeating the detestable word.
“I DON’T KNOW WHO STEPHEN IS!” He shrieked in utter desperation. “SHUT UP!”
He felt a darkness creeping in, as the insanity whirled around in a blur. He was whirling his head around in panic and complete helplessness. He did not know what to do. All he wanted was to return to the safety of his office. He let the darkness surge through him, welcomed it with open arms. The only coherent thought in his mind amidst the madness was to give in to the abyss, which he did voluntarily as he shut his eyes in complete surrender.
Eyes flew open as the patient released the iron grip on his chair. Sweat was pouring down his face as he focused his deep green irises on the lady before him.
“What is your name?” the lady in the white coat asked him for the umpteenth time.
He blinked his eyes and everything was clear to him. The blood red scribbles of 457 covering every inch of the walls faded into the backdrop.
“I know my name. Stephen, my name is Stephen.”
In the doctor’s office, the doctor recorded down in an illegible scrawl across the page:
Patient 457: Acknowledges his name for the first time. Possible signs of recovery.