Angela peered into the darkened glass at the wounded soldier within.
Above the coffin-like capsule hung a small sign with the words, "Soldier 41778" scrawled haphazardly across it as if who had written it didn't care about the fate of the young man inside.
The blue light from within the capsule glowed softly upon the serviceman. His face was mostly unscathed, save the few fairly new scratches on his forehead and temple. His thick black hair was dirty and tousled from war. If his hazel eyes were open they would be sharp with a steady gaze.
Angela felt the austere presence of a fellow soldier and trusted friend by her side, "Is this Blaise Warren?"
"Yes." her eyes slipped away from Blaise and landed on her friend, Robin, "I've only known him from passing, but he was all for our cause."
"Your word is all I need. Are you ready?" At this, Robin gestured to the dark-haired soldier in the glass capsule.
"Indeed." Angela put her right hand over her heart, "Hail liberty and truth!"
Blaise never liked these kinds of dreams.
The last thing he remembered before finding himself in a forest was being showered in shrapnel from the battlefield. Despite his confusion, he decided it was better than further aiding the government.
Ten years ago, the world had become ravaged by war. His nation's government wasn't upright to begin with, but after war struck, it's corruption grew. Shortly after, at eighteen years old, he was drafted into the army. While in the army, he found other servicemen and women who secretly still held up the old values like he did - they called themselves the Archaics. The last he heard they were covertly looking into a way to not just stop the system but change it.
He squinted into the fog as he advanced closer toward some colorful lights in the night. In the air, could just hear what sounded to be music of some kind. As he drew nearer, he ascertained what he was seeing and hearing to be that of a circus. Soon after the trees and fog ended, he walked into a sort of large clearing. In the very middle of the clearing, striped red and yellow, proudly stood the big top. Around it, were scattered many rides and slideshows.
"Got a ticket, kid?" Said a stentorian voice to his left.
Blaise turned quickly toward the voice. There, he saw a tall man in a red, gold, and white booth. He stared at the man, wondering why he didn't spot him before and because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't see the man's face quite clearly.
"It's rude to stare." The strange man said flatly. He could just barely make out his mildly irritated expression. "It's in your right pocket." The man finished just before he could reply.
Bemused, Blaise pulled a red and yellow striped ticked with the words, "Circus" and, "Admit One" in embellished letters from his right pant pocket. He handed it to the man patiently waiting in the booth.
The man nodded satisfactorily, "You're in, kid. Welcome to the Crimson Circus."
"Thanks," Blaise replied lowly, speaking for the first time since appearing in whatever place this was. After walking a couple yards toward the rest of the circus, he glanced at the ticket booth finding it empty as if no one had been there at all. It occurred to him, that he had never had a dream like this before.
He advanced forward quietly before he knew it, he came upon a young, dark-haired, woman just finishing a fire-eating act. The way she behaved, he would have believed that she had been doing it for an immeasurably long time.
"Where am I?" He asked the placid performer seeing that she was done.
"The Crimson Circus."
"I know that. I mean where is this circus? Like what city, state, country."
"Here," she replied nonchalantly, an indifferent expression upon her visage.
Irritation bubbled up in Blaise's throat, "Hey--" before he could ask again the young woman had already begun her fire-eating act as if she never stopped. He began walking away from the aloof performer, deciding against questioning her more. Looking back briefly, he found she had disappeared too. His brow furrowed as he continued on, this vanishing stuff was getting old already.
Blaise paused in front of a few rides busily in action. A strange sinking feeling aggressively made its way through his stomach as he realized that no one was on the rides. Surveying the circus once more, he became aware that he was the only person here - not counting the workers and performers who were bound to disappear at any moment.
He began to doubt if this was even a dream. A notion of what this really was had already popped into his mind earlier, but he brushed it off.
He ran up to the nearest ride, somebody had to be running it. Upon his arrival at the carousel, he found a middle-aged man sitting serenely at the control panel of the ride.
"Want a ride, son?" He asked without turning to face Blaise.
"Where am I? And don't tell me "here" or "The Crimson Circus."
"The Crimson Circus."
"Never mind." He wasn't getting anywhere with that. "Why am I the only one here?"
"Want a ride, son?" The grey-haired man answered turning to face him.
"Is this a dream?"
"It's the Crim--"
"I know, " Blaise interrupted, rather exasperated, "It's the Crimson Circus." He backed away from the eerily phlegmatic man, "Well?" he added still backing off, "Are you going to vanish too?"
Blaise shook his head, laughing nervously, "That's a yes then." Before he turned his back to leave the carousel man instantly evanesced from view.
Bewildered, Blaise wandered wherever his feet took him. Shortly after, he found himself under the big top. Many seats were placed around the side - all of which were empty. The only light in the area was a single spotlight that shone upon the center ring. He stared at the center ring blankly for some time in silence. "I wish I could wake up." He finally said whispering into the air.
At the sound of footsteps approaching, his eyes rose from the sawdust to meet the strong, but kind gaze of what looked to be the ringmistress. From her looks she appeared to be the same age - if not a little younger - than he. On her head, sat a small black top hat with a gold band. Her shoulder-length hair was a light blonde that fell in waves around her. She wore a bright red tail vest with a golden shirt, the top of her shirt was white with a bright red bow. Next, was an above knee-length, black skirt - at the hem were bright yellow tassels. On her feet were, black, just below the knee-length, boots - her her right hand was a ringmaster's wand.
"You wouldn't happen to have a name besides just plain ringmistress would you?" He dared to ask. This one seemed more alive than the others.
"I do." she began, shocking Blaise, "I am Lieutenant Colonel Angela Carroll of the UNAN. You are Major Blaise A. Warren of the UNAN and secretly the Archaics, correct?" Her voice carried a slight European accent.
Blaise nodded, elated to find someone who wasn't strange and robotic, "Yes, ma'am. This is a silly question to ask because this is a dream, but, do I know you?"
"First, you do. I am also a member of the Archaics, we have met a few times in passing. Second, this is not a dream. Do you remember the harvesters, Blaise?"
Blaise nodded slowly, "Yes. Why?"
Their government, also known as the system, was run by computers. If one could take down the whole system at once they could halt the whole government in their tracks - singlehandedly. Unbeknownst to many, in order for the system to run at full power, it has to be powered by human energy. Therefore, something called "harvesters" was made to convert human energy into electrical energy. If a soldier was wounded or in rebellion, they would be placed in a harvester until no more energy could be drawn. Once connected to a harvester, one could not be disconnected without neurological damage or, in most cases, death. The odd thing was, that if one destroyed them, it still wouldn't shut down the system.
"I caught word that you were put out of commission when showered in shrapnel from a UEN grenade. After which, you were taken from the battlefield and placed in a harvester... which is where you are now."
"I... the thought crossed my mind earlier, but I dismissed it. But, how can this be the harvester?" He gestured behind him, "It's a carnival of creeps out there. Maybe my dream felt my frustrations and sent me someone who wasn't a Twilight Zone worthy oddball -- ma'am."
"It's part of how the harvesters work. When connected to a harvester, it, so to say, induces a mind world for you to "live in" based off experiences in your life - until there is nothing left of you - of course."
"Wait... I do remember going to a circus once that looked a lot like this one with my cousins when I was little. And I guess the weird vanishing people could be attributed to me watching a lot of Twilight Zone and other science-fiction shows with my dad before I was drafted..." He quickly looked over the woman in front of him again, "Then why are you in that outfit? I've never seen a female ringmaster in person before."
"Oh, this?" She motioned to her clothes, "This what your mind picked. You don't know how relived I am that it's not showy. You're a respectable man, Warren."
"Thanks, well, you've convinced me." He threw up his hands and sighed, deflated, "Okay. So I'm in a harvester mind world thing, and practically dead. So why are you here?"
Angela stepped a little closer, "I'm sure you heard the Archaics have been secretly looking into ways of changing things, right?"
"Good. Because a way has been found, and it's through the harvesters."
Blaise blinked. "Sorry?"
"The only way to destroy the system is from within - literally. The Archaics have found that one can become part of the system if their consciousness is downloaded into it, that can only be done from a harvester. Once being downloaded, you will be within the system. But it can only be done securely and successful with two peoples consciousnesses working at once."
It didn't take long for Blaise to make his decision, "I'm willing to do this," the idea of transferring his consciousness to a computer was indeed chilling, but if this meant saving the people from a corrupted government, he was more than willing. "Who will the other person be?"
"Me. A friend of mine, and fellow Archaic, is waiting for my signal in the real world. Are you ready Blaise?" She asked, looking at him.
"Yes." As his body and the scene around him began to fade away, he smiled, raising his voice, "Hail liberty and truth!"