Followers

Thursday, 23 August 2012

THE SEEDS OF CONTENTMENT
 
He was awoken by his recurring nightmare. As usual he was pressing down hard on the sheets with his palms. Why did he do that, he wondered. The nightmare was always the same. In it they were looking into his mind. Cold sweat popped on his brow. He panted, breathless. He looked toward the window. He always did this when he woke. Nothing. Only the sky. A bright blue sky and a few benign white clouds. He knew though that beyond the blue sky and the fluffy white clouds were the satellites. So very many of them. Gently travelling round in silence. A busy silence to be sure. There was so much to do. But cool. They always stayed perfectly cool.

He dressed and walked down the staircase to the street. Avoiding all eyes he observed the patterns of the sidewalk as he always did. These were very familiar cracks. Very well known to him. This was his morning routine. Invariable. Unsuspicious. He bought his usual pack of cigarettes from the stall. Said his usual words to the grey old man behind the counter then wheeled and walked away. To the park. The green park where he felt the leaves cool him. As cool as the satellites so far above him. Well, not quite as cool as that, they were a few degrees above absolute zero. But yes, he felt cooler here. He sat in the same bench every morning and gazed at the buildings that peeped in above the trees opposite the park. As usual he analyzed the lines, shapes and patterns of their walls. He drew upon his cigarette and things began once more, to slowly make sense.

The light flickered through the trees. All seemed perfectly normal. And the world moved inexorably around its sun. What could be wrong with this scene of apparent normality? He felt the weight of his body against the wooden bench and its roughness with his delicate hands. The trace of a smile graced his lips. Just the slightest trace. He looked around. No one to see him. Good. Quickly he lifted his cigarette to his lips, partly to hide his smile. Now he watched the smoke curl and dance between the transparent motes that moving across his eyes in a merry dance. He half shut his eyes and delighted as ever in the tiny spectrums he found there, all enhanced deliciously within a sparkle of sunlight. I think it’s going to be safe today, he thought.

With time the morning commuters arrived. Grey faced. Ashen. They moved like robots monotonously across the path of his vision. There was not a flicker of emotion in any of them. Not a flicker. Each had dressed that morning as blandly as possible. They looked neither right nor left. Directly from their bus or car they crossed immediately to their next connection and onward to the desk where they’d make the motions of their controlled day.

How many free men were there he wondered. Better still, women. How could he ever know? When no one would ever show. Not even him. Especially him.

No, he’d enjoy these small delights, these little pleasures of the eye and the mind. Quietly. Showing nothing. Well, almost nothing. Those tiny smiles were so dangerous out here in public. There was no knowing when one of them was watching. Watching for something… different.

He closed his eyes and began to engage again in his daily rapture. He must be satisfied with the fact that he had escaped he told himself sharply. At least they were not able to read him so totally as they could the others. He had those underworld denizens to thank. He had removed enough enemies for them. They had then been grateful. And they had known he could kill many more. If. If he was released. Released from the seed.

The seed was planted in 100% of cases by 2190. They had eventually weeded out and eliminated those they had missed in the twenty years time period of The Time Of The Great Solvent. Deep in the soft bone tissue of the forming skull they had implanted every baby from the inception of 'The Time' till now. Right next to the spongy grey matter of the brain and intimately connected to it. At twenty weeks conditions were perfect for the delivery probe. It was a miracle of technology. The tiniest fragment of the most perfectly engineered silicon device Man had ever created. Shoehorned snugly next to the greatest achievement of mother nature, the human brain. It was perfectly placed to both transmit, and to receive.

As far as he knew the underworld scientists had done an impressive job on him in removing all trace of the seed. And he had lived, not something all did he was told. Lived, and was still sane. Or as sane as he would ever be. He presumed the associated identification software had also been re-jigged. No mean feat that. An inside job. Clearly. And about as dangerous and well-paid job as there could be in this new world. Yet he could never be 100% sure. The doubts crept in especially at night. They made him sweat. They made him press his palms down on the sheets. Could they see him? Could they read his thoughts? Were they watching? What would they do to him if they dicovered he was free of their surveillance? He didn't believe they'd merely re-tag him. He'd be made an example of. In the modern equivalent of the ancient practice of sticking heads on town gates.

It had been five years now. Surely they would have located and terminated him by now if they knew? Surely. Tell that to my subconscious mind, he thought. But of course there were so many to monitor, three hundred and twenty five billion and counting. Could it be they had just not scanned his record in the last five years? That was possible. To draw attention to himself he’d have to do something anti-social, something so negative that his difference was scream at them.

He sighed. Always the same thoughts. Always the same fears. What was the good of being free and yet being so very, very alone? But no, there was good in it. Despite his dark thoughts he would always strive to remind himself, despite the loneliness, he was so much happier to be free.

Things had become very bad when it had first been suggested. Very bad. Worse than anyone who had not been through it could ever imagine. The word and deed that has now ceased to exist, ‘crime’ had been everywhere. Everywhere. We were vastly over-populated then and the struggle between us to access, exploit and use our diminishing resources was becoming very ugly. With only a decreasing few having access to the shrinking delights of our world the competition to be one of those few grew ever fiercer. The world's material delights became all that was recognized as objects of desire. Religion, philosophy and delights of the mind were all but dead. The pursuit of emotional satisfactions from such as great art and literature was in terminal decline. The vast majority had become very dull sheep indeed, grazing as they did on ad-embedded pap and pseudo-celeb fantasy crap. The cities had spread from sea to sea, across every piece of spare land. Virtual reality was a comfort for some but not everyone could afford it. There sensations could be wired in to suit your every wish, sunset over pyramids (now in reality surrounded by concrete), swimming in turquoise blue pools (now bubbling with putrid effluent foam), safaris across the veldt (where highways now pumped noxious fumes to the sky). The diminishing few who could afford VR stayed locked tight inside their high penthouse apartments while the street rats roamed the abandoned lower floors of every neighborhood.

It had been bad, but worse was to come. With each passing year and decade the screw tightened and the numbers of the abandoned, impoverished, demented and excluded grew ever larger. The cry began to become a yell, then, in time, a scream. "Something must be done!" The middle elites were especially vocal. Those who were still in uncomfortable proximity to the burgeoning underclass at the bottom of the heap. They knew they’d never reach the upper elite circle of those who still had access to some of the more natural and purer pleasures Earth still offered. Some real trees, some actual beaches, some true earth beneath their feet. It had become completely impossible for the average Joe to afford to experience any of these. And there was only so much time you could spend in virtuality for those who could afford it. You still had to work. To keep the elites supplied. And it was then that the awful reality hit even the VR players. And they complained. Bitterly. Constantly. And increasingly.

By the latter half of 2100 crime was everywhere. Everywhere. You were at risk anytime you stepped out of your electro-bolted door. Only so many could afford the full security delivery services offered by the companies of ex-soldiers, cops and intelligence corp. dropouts that had sprung up. They took you by mesh corridor from your door to armored limo to work, safe and sound. Those who couldn’t afford this had to make do with body armor and an array of heavy weaponry to keep themselves safe. Life, for them, and for those increasing numbers who could not even afford this, became increasingly intolerable.

So, in the end, the howl for something to be done got political.

It had been the most extreme government anyone could remember. Elected on a ticket that promised they would defeat crime using any means necessary. And they were true to their word.

They were clever. At first the surveillance was simply a bank of CCTV on every street in every town, city and suburb across the country. They knew this would be largely ineffective but it had to be shown NOT to work. They then added identity cards to be worn on the lapel at all times. Then an electronic gizmo was added to the cameras that could detect the individual bar code on your card. Crimes were linked up to those who had been in the CCTV zone when it had taken place. Crime did dip a bit for a time. But resourcefulness will out. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that. The crime networks devised methods that allowed them to monkey with the cards. It even became funny for a time when several senators were arrested for some particularly embarrassing crimes. Then it was realized that the crims had successfully engineered counterfeit cards and were laughing at the authorities.

Of course extreme right-wing governments have little sense of humor at the best of times. And these misadventures involving the systems they were had put in place brought them to a white heat. Their final ploy, after a series of increasingly invasive and only partially successful attempts, was the one that really did the trick. It really hit the mark. And the people were ready to accept it. All those who counted that is.

And the politicians sold it well. The marketing campaign and then the election called soon after really hit home with a vengeance. Well... who WOULDN’T want an end to ALL crime? That's what they offered, and this time it WOULD be once and for all. And who, by that point, was going to refuse them? What kind of perverted mind could OBJECT to their plan? Surely only a criminal mind. Surely only someone with something to hide. And of the other, law-abiding citizens, who was going to say they DIDN'T want crime to end? And for politicians it was only those who were attracted to political suicide. It was a done deal from the start.

The proposition was simple. A seed would be planted deep in the deep malleable bone of the skull of each fetus, connected intimately to the brain. Just as satellite navigation systems had been developed so successfully early in the 21st century to enable automobiles to be positioned to a few millimeters each and every micro-second so now we would always know where each implanted individual was. 24/7. In this way unsolved crime would cease. How could you commit a crime and get away with it when our friends in the sky had you placed right then, right there where the trajectory of the bullet emerged or where the skull was smashed, wallet lifted or safe cracked?

Perfect. No?

No. Not quite.

They went still further once they'd put the basic system in place.

Why not, since there was no denying who did the crime, have instant justice done as well as instant detection? Why not send a bolt of electricity to the brain of the perpetrator in real time? A small jolt for a small crime. A larger one for a bigger crime. And a terminal bolt for those who it was deemed merited it.

But with time even this was not enough.

The government was wildly popular with the people. They grew more intolerant of any behavior which seemed in any way outlandish or disturbing. The people that mattered voted in droves and eventually all political parties, except those who would never ever stand a chance of being elected, supported the new powers to beat crime.

So it was that full preemptive justice emerged. And why should honest, decent citizens fear it? Surely only those who intended anti-social acts should fear. And we WANTED them to fear. Didn’t we?

The software became ever more sophisticated and once it was uploaded to the satellites they could easily detect the changes in wave form and pattern within individual brains which denoted harmful thoughts. Or more precisely, thoughts which could bring harm to others. So the electric jolts delivered became common for those thoughts, not just for actual crimes.

And so it was that crime was eliminated.

Almost.

In his case the new, ultimate crime, had been committed. He had been set free of the seed. His seed, and more importantly, his record and software connections to it, had been removed. He wondered what unbelievably large payment or inducement could have persuaded the, clearly free, insider to do this. Or, was it an act of purest idealism, in that case there must be others. Perhaps many. Free men like himself. Did they wander like him? Wondering as he did when they might be discovered and pilloried? Did they have the same nightmares? Did they press the sheets with their palms and wake from sleep bathed in sweat as he did?

He would never know.

Any one of those passing by might be a free man. He would never truly know.

For there was one thing they would NEVER do.

They would never look him in the eye.

Allan Edward Tierney's Website

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