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transmission in progress

My name is Celica Ramsay, and I work at a copy store. Yes, copy stores do still exist. I didn’t think so, either, when I first applied here. But, god, I wish they’d faded away into obsoletion, like they were supposed to. Like the Walkman, or overdrive on cars.

You know that old saying about the definition of insanity, ‘repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’? Well, replace “different results” with “higher than minimum wage”, and you’ve got my situation. It’s degrading, but with the cost of living these days, it’s worth the effort. Just.

I only chose to work here because it was close to home, and I don’t have a car. There are no other businesses within 3 miles besides Ed’s Pizza, which is a dump. They make good pizza, though. But, faced with the choice of one or the other, I chose blandness over discomfort, and I’m honestly regretting that decision.

But enough about the girl whose parents named her after a car. (Jeez, for someone who doesn’t own a car, I sure know a lot about them.) Anyway, let me get to my story.

It was the end of winter, and I was doing my usual 9 to 5. Our only customers were people who either couldn’t afford a 2-in-1 printer or didn’t have the means to get to the electronics store, which was about 7 miles away. Needless to say, I knew them all. Making conversation was the one thing that kept me going.

As soon as that man in the trenchcoat walked through the door, I knew it was gonna be an interesting day. It’s not often at all I encounter a new face, and I made sure to spring up a discussion the moment he arrived in front of the counter.

“So, what’s with the noir detective look?” I asked. He didn’t respond.

“Why are you in town? This is kind of an isolated location. Visiting family?”

“No, actually,” he responded. His voice was deep and crackling, and I suspected he had smoked one too many a cigarette.

“You had it right the first time; I’m here on business.” He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper, which he handed to me.

I looked at the typed order, which looked rather official. It read, ‘Please make two copies of the attached form. Kindly refrain from reading the message itself, as it concerns a confidential matter.’ There was a yellow envelope stapled beneath, which appeared to have been dropped several times in soil and water.

“Okay, sir,” I said, slightly curious. I extracted the form from the envelope and laid it in the copier. “What business are you here on, exactly?” I questioned, as I started it up. “We’re a small town; I’m sure you understand why I’m curious to know why.”

The man fidgeted a little, rubbing moisture off of his face. “I… that’s none of your concern.”

“Sorry, sir I was just wondering-”

“Listen here, missy,” he hissed in a harsh tone, “What I’m doing here is no business of yours. Your job here is to make two copies of that document, which I hope to god you have not peeked your greedy little eyes at. Now, I’m not really in the mood for talking, and I certainly do not want to converse with a lowly minimum-wage worker about my personal life. So, after that copier does its job, you’d best put that file in that envelope, where it belongs, and go on with your own pathetic life.”

Annoyed that one of the only customers I would have the entire day was a disgruntled old man who’d just talked down to me like I was the scum of the earth, I responded carefully. “As you wish, sir,” I said defiantly. Satisfied at this passive-aggressive rebuttal, I leaned against the copier and smiled.

For a few minutes, there was an extensive, awkward silence that was shattered only by the occasional whir of the machine or grunt of the man as he adjusted his fedora. When the machine had finished, I removed the papers, and filed them into the tattered envelope as instructed.

I handed the papers back to him. “That’ll be $14.26.”

He pulled out a crisp hundred and slammed it on the counter. “Keep the damn change,” he murmured. He stuffed the envelope in his trenchcoat frantically and hurried out the door, glancing to each side.

My supervisor came out of his office, confused. “You know, some people just don’t appreciate what’s given to them. We’re providing a service here, Celica, and people need to get that into their heads.” I shrugged and went back to leaning on the counter.

Now, of course, I had no intention of leaving the contents of the file a mystery. Before handing it to the strange man, I made sure to hold it close to the security camera, installed conveniently at shoulder height on the pillar behind the machine. After the supervisor had closed shop that evening, I snuck into his office and reviewed the footage.

There was a U.S. government seal on the top, with a list of names that I’m sure I remembered form the news somewhere. Underneath that was a large stamp:


PROPERTY OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT AND THE UNITED STATES WEAPONS PROGRAM


That’s when I realized I was in the middle of some deep shit.

As I read on through the formal introduction, thoughts raced through my mind. Was that man a federal agent? Why would he come to a public copy store to duplicate a classified document? Did the CIA have this place bugged? But one thought was becoming of increasing concern: Once I read on, there was no going back.

What can I say? Curiosity trumped trepidation, and I made what was probably the worst mistake of my life. I sped up the footage to see the second page.

The heading read,


UTILIZATION OF R-THETA FOR WEAPONRY


Whatever this ‘r-theta’ was, it didn’t sound friendly. The document detailed its possible deployment as an espionage device. Then, there was a whole slew of technical jargon I didn’t understand. I was becoming more and more interested in whatever this weapon was, but before I could read more, my supervisor came back, and I was forced to postpone my investigation until the next day. As he left and locked the door, I could have sworn I saw a blinking light come on from our facsimile machine.

I woke up the next morning and prepared for work in my usual manner; eating cold, dry cereal in my bathrobe, showering, and watching reality TV until it was time for my shift. However, right in the middle of my program, I was interrupted by a sudden, furious series of knocks on my door.

Worried that I’d inevitably attracted the attention of the government, I ran upstairs and peered through the blinds. Sure enough, there was a couple of women in black suits and dark glasses standing by my front door.

I wasn’t about to make a run for it and worsen my case, but I did think about it. Ultimately, though, I decided to play it cool and deny, deny, deny. I opened the door to the expected reaction of “Hello, Miss Ramsay,” and “We’d like to ask you a few questions, Miss Ramsay,”.

Once settled down at my kitchen table, they took out a photo of the old man I’d seen the day before. They asked me if I knew or had contacted him, and I told them I hadn’t. They said that he was considered highly dangerous, and that I should notify them if I saw him. “How dangerous is he?” I asked, to which they replied, “We have reason to believe he has stolen secrets from classified branches of the government, and that he plans to utilize them for himself. Again, we urge you to notify us ASAP if you see this man.” They handed me a number to call on a piece of note card, and then left.

I let out a sigh of relief. I was in the clear, but I knew that they would eventually be on my tail. I almost considered running outside and catching them before they drove off, confessing the entire situation and explaining how it was all a misunderstanding. But I stopped myself, realizing that the punishment for my intrusion would be only slightly less severe.

It began to rain outside, the drops hitting the concrete with soft taps. Visibility was low, and the air was thick with the smell of pollen. As I opened my umbrella and started my walk to the store, I could have sworn I saw the faint outline of someone behind the hedges. Nervously, I quickened my pace, expecting a second set of footsteps to join mine, but no such thing happened. I looked back to see that the outline had gone. The paranoia was getting to me, I thought. I needed to relax. I shrugged my shoulders and continued my commute.

When I arrived at the store, the manager was just coming out the door, pulling on his coat.

“Celica,” he said, rather nervously, “There’s something wrong with the fax machine. I’m going to the electronics store to get a tech guy to work on it. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t approve of while I’m gone; I can check the security footage, remember?” He got into his car and drove off, leaving me alone with my curiosity.

As I entered, sure enough, the fax machine was on and whirring, although no message was coming out. I looked at the screen to see if it had an error status, but it only said

transmission in progress

as usual. I checked to see if there was paper in the tray; yes, one would think my supervisor would have checked, but I just wanted to make sure. And sure enough, there was. I decided to leave it alone, and let the tech guy fix whatever was causing the glitch.

I opened the door to my supervisor’s office (which was, luckily, unlocked) and sat down to review the footage once more. I sped up to the point I had reached yesterday, past the few paragraphs of technobabble.

The next section was headed,


ACTIVATION OF R-THETA IN POPULATED TARGET AREAS


There was a long line of text that followed, stating,


R-THETA should be administered only to designated targets, who meet the following criteria:

- Live alone

- Are over the age of 25

- Frequently browse the Internet under non-anonymous aliases

- Have history of mental disorders

All targets affected by R-THETA will experience acute to severe neurosis within 24 hours of initial contact with R-THETA, with symptoms including amnesia, seizures, and acute aneurysmal cranium activity, as a result of severe induced stress. The target’s state becomes irreversible soon after, by which time he/she will have lost all ability to produce independent thought. Once the target has reached this stage, he/she will be indefinitely under control of the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s specialized facility, and able to be manipulated through artificial neural-electric impulse induction. R-THETA acts as a long-distance transmission catalyst, allowing the United States Central Intelligence Agency to be in complete command over a subject’s thoughts and impulses.


As I completed this section, I leaned back and sighed, rubbing my eyes. I couldn’t believe that this was real. Mind control through some sort of bioweaponry? This seemed like a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. I imagined that, if this was truly possible, that many other conspiracy theories could be credible. This revelation had opened the door to thousands of possibilities, each more frightening than the last. I began to question everything I thought I knew about the government. What other weapons had they developed? Were some of them already in use, and the population had just been brainwashed into ignoring them? What else were they not letting us in on? What was the deal with Area 51, anyway? What stuff was in there that they deemed too dangerous to reveal to the public?

I leaned forward, my heart and mind racing, and prepared to read the last page of the file. I stopped myself before I did, wondering if what I was about to see would somehow make my situation worse.

And, just as I’d made my mind up, my hand on the mouse, ready to click, I heard the sound of a few sets of footsteps storming through the doors at the front of the store.

I feared the worst. If it was the government, having figured out that I’d read the files, I was gonna be in serious fucking trouble.

I crawled beneath the security desk and held my breath, hoping they wouldn’t find me.

“Hello? Is anyone here?” I heard a voice call out, in a nervous tone. I peeked out from under the desk, expecting an armada of men in black. It was both to my relief and confusion that I instead saw a pair of policemen, unarmed, and looking just as nervous as I was.

Warily, I waited to make sure it wasn’t an elaborate setup. Then, having examined the situation, I got out and cautiously stepped into the view of the policemen.

“Are you Miss Ramsay?” one of them asked. I nodded. He pulled out a photo of my supervisor, and asked, “Is this your employer?” I nodded again, worried that he might have committed some sort of crime.

“What’d he do, steal a new fax machine?” I remarked, slightly apprehensively. They looked at each other, then sighed.

“This man was found dead at the side of the road ten minutes ago,” one said. He held up another photo, this one of my supervisor’s car, totaled and halfway up a tree. Blood was spattered across the windshield and side window, and I could see bits of the front left tire strewn at least 100 yards away.

I became sick to my stomach. I suddenly felt such a deep, penetrating sense of fear that I became momentarily paralyzed. I was speechless for a moment. Then, I turned away, and the policemen sighed. They probably thought I was distraught, but I had deeper matters to contemplate.

As the inevitable series of questions were asked. “Did he have any recorded history of mental instability that you knew of? Any problems at home?” I only heard these as distant murmurs. Thoughts were racing frantically through my mind.

I should have realized it before- of course my boss would have looked at the tape. Why the fuck wouldn’t he? It was his fucking job.

And now he was dead.

In an “accident”, of course.

Did the government get to him? Did they subject him to whatever mind control weapon they were testing? Or did he merely take his life so they didn’t have the chance?

And as I was thinking this, that fax machine still whirred endlessly, displaying that one message:

transmission in progress

It made me even more uncomfortable, somehow. I just couldn’t place my finger on exactly why, though.

I bullshitted my way through the interview, pretending to concentrate. As soon as the cops had gone, I made sure nobody was watching and dashed inside the security room.

There was no fucking way I was turning back now.

I was going to be next.

I scrolled to the frame that captured the last page of the file. I scanned to the end of the last passage I read. And I burst into tears.

Because the last section was censored completely.

I was tempted to cry out, but luckily I was able to restrain myself. I NEEDED MORE INFORMATION, GOD DAMN IT.

I didn’t even know how the fucking thing was spread, or what it looked like, or if it had already been deployed. Was I infected? No, no, I couldn’t be. I had complete control over my mind, or at least I thought I did. I cleared my thoughts and collected my composure.

I closed my eyes and tried to recall who I was, what opinions I’d held.


My name is Celica Ramsay, and I work at a copy store. Yes, copy stores do still exist. I didn’t think so, either, when I first applied here. But, god, I wish they’d faded away into obsoletion, like they were supposed to. Like the Walkman, or overdrive on cars.

You know that old saying about the definition of insanity, ‘repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’? Well, replace ‘different results’ with ‘higher than minimum wage’, and you’ve got my situation. It’s degrading, but with the cost of living these days, it’s worth the effort. Just.

I only chose to work here because it was close to home, and I don’t have a car. There are no other businesses within 3 miles besides Ed’s Pizza, which is a dump. They make good pizza, though. But, faced with the choice of one or the other, I chose blandness over discomfort, and I’m honestly regretting that decision.


I sobbed and collapsed in the chair. What had my life become? How had I ended up in this situation? I cursed my curiosity, and wished I’d listened to that old man.

I looked back to the footage, hoping in vain that, maybe, just maybe, it was a glitch in the camera that blocked out the final sections of the file. And upon finding that it wasn’t, I sat back and once again let the tears stream from my eyes in despair. And once my tear ducts were crusted over, and my eyelids were sore from blinking away the salty liquid, I went through the same process repeatedly, in absolute desperation.

An hour passed.

After finally accepting that I would not be receiving any more information, I finally decided to pull myself away from the screen. I shut off the monitor and grabbed my things from the employee lounge, assuming that I was no longer needed. And I would have ended it there, had I not realized that one detail had been staring me in the face the entire time.

The fax machine still read,

transmission in progress

I couldn’t believe I failed to recognize it sooner.

Transmission, as in transmission of the bioweapon.

It all made sense. I hadn’t realized until then that I met all the criteria listed in the above section. I was 27. I lived alone. And I used my site every day. I didn’t have a mental disorder, though. Or did I? Maybe there was something about me that made me the ideal test subject.

I didn’t have time to contemplate that, though.

I did not want to be a part of this scheme.

Swiftly, I dove under the table and pulled the machine’s plug, expecting it to turn off with the familiar beep I was used to hearing. But, to my dismay, it continued to whir and click. Although the screen had been turned off, the words

transmission in progress

were burned into the pixels.

I ran out of the store without a moment’s notice, not even stopping to grab my coat.

And as I sprinted away from the copy store, I could have sworn I heard the distinctive *click* of a camera.


When I reached my house, I was completely out of breath from running. As I bounded up the steps, I slipped on the wet surface and cut a huge gash in my arm. The pain was excruciating, and blood was oozing steadily from it, but I gathered the strength to keep my mouth shut, hoping the rain would disguise my streaming tears from any observers.

I stumbled inside and slammed the door, locking the deadbolt so hard I thought it would snap off.

For a brief moment, I thought I was safe in my own property. But then, a thought came to me. What if they had gotten in while I was at the copy store? I turned around and looked at the deadbolt. Hadn’t I locked the door before I left?

I was sure I had.

Quickly, I scrambled around the house, searching for any bugs. I tore down all my light fixtures, threw my pictures off of the wall, and smashed any glassware I had. I wrecked my computer and my printer, along with every clock in the house. I wasn’t taking any chances. However, I found nothing. There HAD to be a bug, somewhere. I ran to my closet and pulled out an old, rusty crowbar that I had once used for repairing my door, and launched it into the drywall. I pried out the wallpaper and scavenged through the woodwork, looking for something out of place.

Suddenly, I heard yelling from outside. I approached the window cautiously, crowbar in hand, sweating and still bleeding from the arm wound.

It was the old man from before. He was standing in the pouring rain, his trenchcoat lying in the street, clutching the file I’d copied for him with his gnarled fists. Across from him was one of the women in black from before, holding a handgun, which was pointed directly at the man’s face.

“You have no idea what we’re dealing with!” screamed the man. “Brittany, just god damn LISTEN to me. R-THETA is not safe for dep---” A gunshot interrupted his plea. The man crumpled to the ground, clutching his right leg, which had just been hit by the bullet.

“Do you have ANY FUCKING CLUE what you’re doing???” shrieked the woman in black, whose name was evidently Brittany. She ran up and kicked the man in the face, sending a spray of blood onto the soaking lawn. “This is a CIVILIAN AREA. God knows how many people we’ll have to detain after I’m done with you!”

And with this cold statement, she turned her head and stared directly at me.

I slammed closed the shutters and retreated into the cellar. I blocked the door with the crowbar and made myself as small as possible in the corner, remaining as silent as possible.

Through the sound of pattering raindrops and thunder, I could hear muffled yells from outside. There was a loud cry, and then silence.

As I sat in the dark corner, shivering from the lack of insulation, I believed for a second the chaos was over, and that maybe she hadn’t noticed me after all. But, just as I was contemplating removing the crowbar, I heard the distinctive sound of wood splintering and glass shattering. The floorboards above me creaked, barely masking my desperate whimpering. I could hear a faint shuffling of paper, and then a long, steady silence. This time, I waited.

The light slowly filtered out of the cellar, but I dared not rest.

Hours passed.

When daylight finally broken through, I decided enough was enough. If the government was going to get me anyway, I wasn’t going to go without a fight. I quietly removed the rusty crowbar, which reeked of sweat and blood from the day before, and opened the door.

The house was in the same state I’d left it, with debris from the walls and glass scattered all over the floor. Water had leaked in from the front door, which had been left ajar. I opened it cautiously, crowbar at the ready. I stepped outside onto the stoop, expecting an army of men in black to surround me.

But there was nobody. The entire neighborhood was silent.

I looked into the road and gasped audibly.

The old man, whose name I never learned, was lying face down in a puddle of water. His neck had been twisted violently out of proportion, having been turned almost one hundred and eighty degrees. The blood from his arm was slowly streaming out into the gutter. What disturbed me most was that his eyes seemed to be looking right at me, looking deep into my soul. It reminded me of how an owl looks at you in the dark.

Suddenly, I heard a siren. For a moment, I stood frozen, gazing in awe upon the corpse. Then, I rushed inside and crouched behind the door, peering through the crack.

The police car from the other day pulled up, and a startled-looking policeman got out, immediately raising his handgun upon seeing the dead body. He wasn’t one of the two I’d seen in the copy store, and he looked pretty young. On his badge, I could faintly make out the name, “Keller”, engraved on it. He saw the state of my ruined house and pointed his gun at the door.

“Who’s there?” he said, clearly in a nervous state.

“Hello? If… if anyone’s there, come out now.” His gun wavered a bit in his hands. “You will be taken in for questioning, and you’ll be spared any forceful detainment if you come out with your hands in the air.”

He approached the entrance cautiously. I readied my crowbar, holding it high above my head.

“I’m coming in no--” As I stepped out from behind the door, he cut his sentence short and pulled the trigger. It struck me in the abdomen, and a flash of searing pain shot through my entire body. Without thinking, I brought the crowbar down on the officer’s skull, creating a satisfying crack. He collapsed on the pavement, dropping his firearm onto the grass.

I dropped the crowbar onto the stoop and walked back into my house, clutching the side where the bullet had hit. As I stumbled into the hallway, I heard a familiar whirring sound that sent chills down my spine.

I approached the smashed shell of my computer in awe. How was it still working, after I’d hit it repeatedly with a crowbar?

But I didn’t have time to consider the plausibility of what I was seeing.

Because a sheet of paper was sliding steadily out of my heavily dented printer.

And as the words,


PROPERTY OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT


came into view, I realized that it was the last page of the file.

And it was uncensored.


The method by which R-THETA is spread is through contact with a vessel, as aforementioned; however, physical contact is unnecessary. R-THETA’s primary vessel form is on several sheets of 8” by 11” government-issue hemp paper, although it can also be translated into a digital format for uploading onto populated media sharing websites across the Internet. R-THETA typically requires 15-30 minutes to take effect, which can be expedited or slowed depending on the subject’s ability to read and process sentences. Subjects are expected to expedite the spread through vocalization, social media, or writing, becoming vessels in themselves. The effects last for an indefinite amount of time, although tests being conducted currently show lasting symptoms.

The beauty of R-THETA is that is neither an organic nor a manmade weapon, but rather a construct. No physical samples are carried within the vessels; in fact, there are no physical samples of R-THETA. It is the most efficient, most accessible, and most complex weapon ever proposed by this branch. R-THETA is a weaponization of a resource which it, itself, creates-

Paranoia.

R-THETA, when deployed, will create such a strong sense of paranoia that the public will be figuratively consumed by suspicions of collusion against the populace and intimidated into submission.

The control of thought is not managed by computers or simulations, but by psychological suggestion. Once subjects have come into contact with R-THETA’s vessel, whether it be in paper or human form, the subjects will experience varying degrees of neurosis as a result of the paranoia created, and will then be subliminally compelled to spread R-THETA, as a logical psychological reaction to the information presented by the vessel. This self-sufficient method of spreading itself achieves R-THETA’s purpose even quicker than any other means of espionage weaponry, which is to keep the public in a constant state of submissiveness to their government, and to prevent any possible intrusion into the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s true intentions, which shall remain classified.

Testing of R-THETA’s effects is currently in its final stage.


I slumped back against the wall, staring blankly at the paper. All was silent for a few moments.

A line of unanswered questions ran through my head.

Was the old man still loyal after all, just helping to spread R-THETA? Was that whole line of events staged? No, it couldn't have been, they killed him. Was he that expendable? Was I that expendable?

I asked myself whether any of the events I had been through were orchestrated by the government.

And I realized that it didn't matter.

Then, almost unconsciously, I pulled the keyboard to my bleeding midsection and started to type what I saw, real or not.

And that’s what you’re reading now. This is my account of what just happened to me.

My name is Celica Ramsay, and I work at a copy store. And this is all real.

Or is it? How can you know? Maybe they deliberately released this account. Maybe this post is a new form of R-THETA.

Or maybe I was never real. Maybe this is just another beta test, and you're reading the words of the government right now. Maybe you're just another lab rat in this wicked scheme of theirs.

All I know is that I was never in control here. Even before I went into work that day at the copy store, my life was never mine. None of our lives were ever ours.

If you’re reading this, it’s far too late. You were doomed as soon as you clicked on this post, perhaps even before that. Every time you read another line, you stray further and further from sanity. You're under their control now, and it's entirely possible that it's always been that way.

All I can say is, good luck to you.

I can hear footsteps outside. They’re coming closer by the second. I’m guessing I have about a minute left before they find me.

I expect that this is the last anyone will ever hear of me.

Expect me to cut this off at any time; my mouse is hovering over the Submit button.

My name is Celica Ramsay, and I work at a copy store. And this is all real.

My name is Celica Ramsay, and I work at a copy store. And this is all real.

My name is Celica Ramsay, and I work at a copy store. And this is all real.

My name is Celica Ramsay, and I work at a copy store. And this is