December 5th, 2042
The RTD took my neighbors away last night. I don’t know why. They seemed like such nice people, and they certainly weren’t the types to cause trouble. Of course I know better than to ask why. With the definition of “causing trouble” being so broad these days, everyone knows better than to ask questions. Most people just accept that if the RTD takes someone away, that person must have done something wrong. They have to accept it; it’s the only way they can avoid thinking about the more unpleasant possibilities.
I don’t know where my neighbors were taken. Nobody knows where the RTD takes people, other than the rumors that it’s somewhere to the north. That’s why those who can’t bring themselves to speak the truth will say that their friends or relatives “went north”. It all sounds so harmless when it’s put that way, as if the person had just decided to go on a nice vacation. Of course it’s not nice at all, and no one who has gone north has ever come back.
Just writing this would be enough to get me taken away, but it’s a risk I have to take. I only hope that someday the RTD’s reign of terror will end, and future generations can avoid a similar fate. Many have already forgotten how the RTD took control, or even who they used to be. But I remember. At least I think I remember. Sometimes even I have a hard time recalling the way things were.
It all started about 30 years ago. Everyone was on guard for any signs of tyranny, and they were quick to question the actions of many agencies. Some thought the tyrants would come from DHS, others thought FEMA was the agency to be feared. A few suspected that the governments of the world were being secretly controlled by aliens from another planet. There was even a theory about some vast conspiracy involving obscure tropical fruits. But while we were all distracted by such things, the real threat was growing.
The RTD’s power grew gradually. So much that no one realized what was happening until it was too late. Maybe if they had an Orwellian name such as the Thought Police, someone would have stopped them before they gained so much power. But that’s not how it happened. At first, the RTD had just a bit of control in one city, and their assistance with maintaining order was welcomed. But in time, their influence spread over a larger region. They were given more authority. They began to carry guns. But still, no one sensed the beginning of their tyrannical reign. It all happened so slowly, as it almost always does.
Most people don’t even remember what RTD used to stand for. Nowadays, of course, the letters have taken on a meaning of their own. It’s a word in its own right, and it strikes fear into the hearts of all those who hear it. Their badges still bear the name from which those letters were derived, but no one dares to look at an RTD agent closely enough to read those words. When the RTD is around, one cares only about staying out of trouble and hoping that the agent will take notice of someone else.
The only word more fearful than the name of the RTD itself is a word that entered the language about 15 years ago. It’s an absurd-sounding word, just like all of the new words these days are. But to those who’ve grown up hearing it, I suppose it sounds as normal as anything else. Sometimes children will use it as an indication that one of their friends is in big trouble, and this always causes much consternation among their parents, since it’s a word that’s much too terrifying to be used so casually. The word is “fezpleez”. It seems so silly that the most terrifying word in the language could contain 2 Zs. Z used to be such a fun letter, but it’s not anymore.
People forget things so quickly nowadays, which I suppose is due in no small part to the popular entertainment that seems designed to make them forget everything. Almost everyone I know has already forgotten where the word fezpleez comes from, or even that it hasn’t always been a word. They know what it means, though. It means that you’re the one who’s in big trouble. It means that you’re going north. It means that you’re about to disappear.
I think the RTD enjoys having their own terrifying word. An ordinary police officer might place someone under arrest, but they don’t have any special word for doing so. The RTD, on the other hand, does. I still remember the first time I heard it. That was before it was so terrifying, of course. And I didn’t hear it as it is now, with all those Es and Zs. I heard it from an RTD agent in its original form: “Fares, please!”
At the time, it was a simple request. The RTD agent simply wanted to verify that everyone on the train had paid their fare, and he was asking passengers to show their tickets. No one was afraid, except for a few scofflaws who deserved to get in trouble anyway. It’s amazing now to think that there was a time when hearing that phrase, “fares, please!” wouldn’t have been the material of nightmares. Over the years, it’s changed into its current form, fezpleez, but I think even the original would be enough to make the bravest person cower in fear.
Perhaps no one else remembers where the word fezpleez came from, but I’m sure the RTD agents do. It reminds them of who they once were, and of the fearsome power that they now wield. As I mentioned before, their badges still bear the original name of their agency: “Regional Transportation District”, and across the middle is emblazoned the city where it all started: “Denver”.
In the end, it wasn’t the secret societies or the corporate cabals who brought tyranny to the land. They are now as much under the control of the RTD as everyone else. Instead, our masters are those who once were the lowly fare inspectors. They still say, “fares, please!” but now they really mean business. I only hope that someday, someone can learn from this so that it never happens again.
(Author’s note: This was inspired by a recent trip to Denver where my light-rail fare was checked several times over the course of a few days. In reality, my experience with the RTD was very positive. Their service was on-time and efficient, the vehicles were clean, and the personnel were friendly. Of course, the RTD fare inspectors don’t actually have any plans to take over the country and institute a tyrannical dictatorship. At least, I think that’s what I’m supposed to say.)