FICTION: THE SEEDS OF CONTENTMENT
He was awoken by his recurrent 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 and looked involuntarily to 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 sats. So very many of them. Gently travelling along 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 inside 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 at him above the trees on the opposite side of the park. As usual, he analyzed the lines, shapes and patterns of their walls. He drew upon his cigarette and things began slowly once more, to 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 a cigarette to his lips, partly to hide his smile.
Now he watched the smoke curl and dance between the transparent motes that moved across his eyes in a merry dance. He half shut his eyes and delighted as he always did at the tiny spectrums he found there, all enhanced deliciously within a sparkle of sunlight.
I think it’s going to be safe today, he told himself.
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 but strode directly from their bus or car and then crossed immediately to their next destination point and onward to their desks where they’d make the repetitive 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. Any sign of recognition.
No... he’d enjoy these small delights, these little pleasures of the eye and the mind, it was enough. And 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 underworld denizens to thank for that. He had removed enough enemies for them and they had 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 all cases by 2060.
They’d eventually weeded out and eliminated those they had missed in the twenty years time since the Dissolution.
Deep in the still soft tissue of the forming skull, they had implanted each baby since then till then. 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 a 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 discovered he was as near to free of their surveillance as anyone could be?
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 decapitated heads on city 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, twenty 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 would 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... and continually frightened?
But no, there was good in it. Despite his dark thoughts he would always strive to remind himself, despite the loneliness, that 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 had ceased to exist... ‘crime’ had been everywhere. Everywhere.
With vast over-population and the struggle to access, exploit and use diminishing resources everything became 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 satisfaction from such as great art and literature had been 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 and suburbs had spread from sea to sea, on almost every piece of land, with wide tarmac crisscrossing the rest.
Virtual reality was a comfort for some, but not everyone could afford the highest real-life-sim quality. If you could afford that then sensations could be wired in to suit your every wish, sunset over the pyramids (now in reality surrounded by concrete), swimming in turquoise blue pools (now bubbling with putrid effluent foam), safaris across the veldt (where highways of vehicles now pumped noxious fumes to the sky).
The diminishing few who could afford this VR stayed locked tight inside their high central penthouse apartments while the street rats roamed the abandoned lower floors.
It had been bad even then, but worse was to come.
With each passing year and decade, the screw tightened and the numbers of the abandoned, the impoverished, the demented, the criminal and the 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 the few hyper-exclusive and expensively rare natural and purer pleasures that Earth still offered.
Some real trees, some actual beaches, some true earth beneath their feet. It had become impossible for the average Joe to afford the experience any of these except through some billions to one lottery chance.
There was only so much time you could spend in second-rate, see-only virtuality. You still had to work. To keep the elites supplied. And it was then that the awful reality began to hit even the VR players. And they complained. Bitterly. Constantly. And increasingly.
By the latter half of 2045 crime was 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 armoured limo to work, safe and sound. Those who couldn’t afford this had to make do with body armour and an array of heavy weaponry to keep themselves safe. Life, for them, and for those increasing numbers who could not even afford this much, became increasingly intolerable.
So, over the years, the howl for something to be done got ever more political.
2048 came around and brought with it the most extreme government anyone could remember.
Elected on a ticket where they promised they would defeat crime using any means necessary.
And they were true to their word.
They were clever about it... even though they did have the cover of mass popularity, they moved only one step at a time.
At first, the surveillance was simply a bank of intelli-CCTV on every block of 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 CCTV that could recognize your face and interrogate the ever more complete masterbank.
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, sometimes with hilarious results. It became funny for a time when several senators were arrested for particularly embarrassing crimes. It was soon realized however that the crims had successfully engineered counterfeit cards and were enjoying the resulting comedy show.
Of course, extreme right-wing governments have little sense of humour at the best of times and these misadventures involving their precious systems brought it to a white heat.
Their final ploy, after a series of increasingly invasive and only partially successful attempts, was the one that finally did the trick. It hit the mark. And the majority were ready so terrified on a daily basis of being mugged or worse that they accepted it.
The government sold it very 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 ended, once and for all. Who at that point, was going to refuse to okay it? What kind of perverted mind could OBJECT to THAT?
Surely only a criminal mind. Surely only someone with something to hide. And what of the other, law-abiding citizens, who of them was going to say they DIDN'T want crime to end and be logged with a black flag by their name?
Any politicians who objected would have to be attracted to political suicide.
It was a done deal from the start.
The proposition was simple.
A seed would be planted deep in the malleable bone of the skull of each new fetus as a matter of course by law.
Just as satellite navigation systems had been developed so successfully early in the 21st century to enable automobiles to be positioned to a few millimetres 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 and there where the trajectory of the bullet emerged or where the skull was smashed, wallet lifted or safe cracked?
No. Not quite.
They went still further once they'd put the basic system in place. Punishment became instant.
Why not, since there was no denying who did the crime? Why not have instant justice at the moment of 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 merited it. Who could argue against it?
But with time even this was not enough.
The government was wildly popular with the people.
With time they grew ever more intolerant of any behaviour that 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 all the new powers to eliminate all crime entirely.
So it was that in the end, full PREEMPTIVE justice emerged. And why should honest, decent citizens fear it? Surely only those who intended anti-social acts should be fearful?
And we WANTED them to fear. Didn’t we?
The software became ever more sophisticated and once uploaded to the sats they could detect the changes in wave formation within any brain that denoted a harmful thought pattern. At first of course it was those thoughts that signified harm to another or others. The electric shocks delivered for those thoughts became common, not just for actual crimes. behaviourism had finally arrived big time. Later anti-social notions of other types were included and expanded to anti-government thoughts. So it went on.
And so it was that crime was eliminated.
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? Did they wonder 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, ever, look him in the eye.