Three Days from the Life of #11231989

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An account of an orderly civilization built on the negation of the presumption of innocence, an individual soul's struggle through dystopia, and the nature of power and history.
Translation from the Russian by Aleksei Masluk.
Printed version is available on Blurb.

Submitted: June 28, 2016

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Submitted: June 28, 2016

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Prologue

A worn recliner sat in front of the television, appropriately accommodating an equally worn man. Coffee in hand, he watched the morning news as he struggled to wake up.

"Hey, you hear me in there?" he called towards the kitchen over the sound of running water and dishes clanking.

"Don't even think about feeding those damn squirrels no more!"

"What are you on about now?"

"They're saying there's too many! There's a new law against it. Violators face two years in prison. But you can't kill them either – there's a law against that too. Five to seven for that one. What do you think, is it their life that's so precious or ours that's so worthless?"

"I think we can't eat your philosophy. Hurry up and go to work already. Nobody is feeding us, that's for damn sure."

 

151st Day, Year 227 N.T.

Amon lay in his bunk, staring into total darkness. Despite palpable fatigue after a long day, he couldn't sleep. It was a strange and unfamiliar experience. He tried to analyze how he usually fell asleep, but there was little to work with. At the order "To bed" he would climb into his bunk, this was followed by the darkness of "Lights Out", and it seemed to him that always at this moment he fell asleep instantaneously and slept soundly until morning. He tried turning on his side. The faint but distinct sound of disturbed bed springs announced his movement. Strange, he thought. He'd been lying there for several hours in total silence, the only sound thus far being the synchronized hum of air steadily entering and exiting two hundred pairs of lungs. Nobody had budged.

Today had been the last day of classes, followed by the ceremony commemorating the conclusion of the Specialized Education Phase. Due to construction in the main courtyard, there was only half the usual space available to conduct the proceedings, and the boys' and girls' divisions were combined into one ceremony with only the central aisle separating them. There he had once again seen her, and this time, he thought, maybe, she had noticed him as well. He couldn't be sure, but he didn't want to stay awake speculating. He needed the sleep. Tomorrow was the first day of a week of Exit Examinations, and his future rested on the results. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply and steadily.

Sleep would not come. He felt as if an endless swarm of half-formed thoughts was battering at the gate of his mind, all fighting to get through, to be heard, but each extinguished and lost in the force of the collective chaos. His mind raced over disconnected fragments, none relevant to the present moment. He tried to imagine the Ocean to calm his mind. He had never seen it and knew of its existence only through textbooks. Often during swimming sessions in the gymnasium pool, he would try to visualize an endless expanse of water. He'd picture standing on its edge as it filled his view out to the horizon, or floating somewhere in the middle of it, nothing but water around him in every direction. It was something to create, and it both relaxed him and stimulated his imagination, a private escape from the structured reality of the world around him into a fantasy world of openness and possibility that he owned. Despite his best efforts, his mind refused to focus, and tonight the door to that world would not open.

He gave up hope for sleep. Sitting up in the darkness, he tried to gauge how much time was left until the reveille, unsuccessfully. It was hot under the covers, the room was stuffy, his skin crawled and itched. He couldn't sit still. He wanted cold air, he wanted to stand up, to do something, anything. Restlessness grew inside him to the point where he was searching for any reason to leave bed, but he knew this was impossible. The Rules forbade leaving bed after dark without an officially-approved purpose. Amon knew, respected, and followed the Rules. Throughout his whole life he had never consciously violated a single one. If there were ever any doubt, he would consult an Advisor.

Suddenly an idea struck him. He could ask permission to go to the restroom…! But as soon as the thought entered his mind, he realized he did not actually need to relieve himself and that pretending he did would immediately expose him in the middle of a blatant lie as his biometric monitor would not support the claim. It would be a mark on his heretofore perfect record, and it would cost him years. He knew he couldn't do it. It was a hopeless situation, however he looked at it, and there was nothing he could do but wait until morning.

Emitting a deep sigh, Amon nonetheless whispered, softly but clearly: "Requesting permission to use the restroom". If someone had asked him in that moment why he'd done this, he would have been unable to provide an answer, but instead of feeling the horror and remorse he had been expecting himself to feel after knowingly violating the Rules, he instead discovered himself in a state of cold, peaceful detachment. What was done was done, and there was nothing he could do about it now but wait to see what would happen.

The small monitor built into his bunk flickered to life and flashed the words "PERMISSION GRANTED", and a series of small, dim lights illuminated the path to the exit. Amon was paralyzed for a moment as he came to terms with this seemingly impossible sequence of events. Quietly, so as not to awaken the others, he swung his feet onto the floor and, without dressing, walked out of the sleeping quarters. He couldn't explain what was happening to him: his heart raced but his mind was calm and clear, and his steps beat a steady rhythm as he marched purposefully forward. Here were the doors to the Hygiene Chamber. He walked past them without stopping, at this point expecting a small electric shock and a warning from one of the many monitors in the hallway that he had strayed off course, but nothing happened. The cold rush of reckless abandon drove him forward.

Without slowing his pace, he approached the line signifying the border of the sleeping quarters, then stopped abruptly before it. It was strictly forbidden to step beyond this line at any time during lights out. Wondering where he would collapse when his immobilizer fired, Amon stepped across the line and walked towards the exit. There was no shock from the immobilizer… no alarms went off, no Guardians appeared. Only the sound of his barefoot steps resonated through the silent hallway. He pushed on the exit door and it clicked and swung open without resistance. He stepped through the doorway and walked outside onto the pavement and into the cold night air. The fact that the sirens hadn't gone off, the Guardians hadn't appeared, and that he was still standing rather than lying immobilized on the ground had ceased to seem impossible at this point, but, just in case, Amon propped open the door and walked over onto the lawn… if that damn immobilizer did zap him, it'd be much nicer to fall onto cool, soft grass than concrete.

Standing barefoot on the grass, breathing in deep lungfuls of fresh air, Amon looked up in fascination at a sky full of stars. It was the first time he had ever been outdoors at night in his life.

He thought about her again. Who is she, why did he notice her? Had she really glanced at him or had he simply imagined it? What was it about her that he found so interesting? She wasn't so very different from all the others. She wore the standard uniform, had the standard haircut, her face, simple and unassuming, and her eyes… There was something about those eyes of hers, that gaze – something that had caught his attention and wouldn't let go. He couldn't explain it… it was a new feeling. It made him uncomfortable, but he liked it anyway and didn't want to lose it.

He thought back three years ago, to when he'd first noticed her.

 

It had been at the ceremony commemorating the end of the General Education Phase and the presentation of Certificates and Assignments.  After General Education, the students were assigned to Specialized Education, based on their abilities and society's current needs.  Those who failed the Occupational Inclination exam or were otherwise deemed of little ability were sent to work zones to do jobs for which no special skills were required.

Amon had always been a top student, one of the best in his class, and had every reason to think he would receive perfect grades in every subject. To his surprise and disappointment, however, when his results certificate arrived, he saw that under History – a subject in which he excelled – there was an 8.75, defacing an otherwise uniform column of nines in a most absurd and offensive manner. The surprises hadn't ended there. Due to his predisposition and natural ability in the exact sciences, Amon had been expecting to be assigned to one of the engineering professions. Instead, in the column "Future Specialization", he was stunned to read: "Neurosurgeon". The medical profession had never been something that interested him, and he knew hardly anything about it, but it would not be acceptable to call the Teacher's verdict into question. The idea of spending the next twenty-five years on an assembly line didn't sound very enticing either, and so he quickly accepted the Teacher's decision as his own. Not only would he become a neurosurgeon, he vowed: he would become the best neurosurgeon. The timetable told him that he was to study for another three years. More than enough time, Amon thought, to master his new profession.

On the list of subjects he was to study, which included the expected biology, chemistry, anatomy, and other subjects directly related to his specialization, there was also a course called "Pre-Apocalypse History". He didn't understand how this was related to neuroscience, but it was not in his nature to question the assigned courses. He wondered if it were related to the 8.75 he'd received in History… He couldn't imagine where he'd lost that damn quarter of a point. After pondering a while, he convinced himself that neurosurgeons apparently were required to have excellent knowledge of history, and that this was simply something he hadn't known until now. It'll all become clear when the course begins, he had said to himself.

A week later, the graduates from the General Education Phase went their separate ways, as prescribed: some to the working zones attached to plants and factories, others to the academic zones for Specialized Education. Amon was sent to Academic Zone No. 2692. He had spent ten years at the previous zone, to which he had been transferred, like everyone else, at the age of five, and he had only the vaguest of memories of what had happened before that.  He felt sad to be leaving the home he knew, but on the other hand he was curious to find out what life would be like in a new place.

As it turned out, the new place hadn't impressed him that much, but it wasn't entirely disappointing either.  It had exactly the same architectural style of academic buildings, probably in the exact same layout, and dormitories just like those he had slept in his whole life. The only significant difference was that everything was ten times smaller – both the size and the number of buildings on the campus. In all other respects, Amon couldn't see anything different from the previous zone. In his courses, the same Teacher he had known since he was a child read new lectures to the class, only now there were just twenty people in the auditorium instead of two hundred.

The Pre-Apocalypse History class was due to begin after the general lessons, immediately after the second meal break. The lecture hall was located in the neighboring academic building. After checking that the room number on his course schedule matched the one on the door, Amon stepped inside. In front of some ordinary-looking screens stood a typical Teacher's podium. Everything about the room seemed normal, except that it was completely empty – Amon was the only person in the class. He walked to the first row and sat down in front of the podium. The alarm signaling the start of the lesson sounded, the screens flickered to life, and the Teacher appeared at the podium and announced: "Advanced History. Lesson One…" Suddenly the hologram of the Teacher dimmed and blurred and became so distorted it was beyond recognition. After a moment the hologram reappeared clearly – only this time it was a different Teacher.

"Pre-Apocalypse History. Lesson…well, your first ever," said this unfamiliar Teacher in an unfamiliar voice. Glancing around the auditorium and then bringing his gaze to rest on Amon again, he continued, with satisfaction:

"Hello Amon. I'm your personal Teacher of History prior to the Apocalypse."

Amon couldn't wrap his mind around what was happening. No one had ever addressed him by name before, with the exception of his old bunkmates in the sleeping quarters.  The protocol dictated that people were supposed to be addressed by the last seven digits of their ID number – names were reserved for Citizens... The Teacher never introduces himself – everyone knows he's the Teacher... There is only ever one Teacher: the same Teacher Amon had seen when he first stepped into his classroom ten years ago, and who, not twenty minutes ago, had been presenting a lecture on biochemistry. The Teacher didn't need to introduce himself.

After pausing to let Amon register and process his introduction, the Teacher went on, in a calm and steady voice:

"In this class, I shall be your Teacher. Before we start, though, I must warn you that this course is covered by the Law of Non-Disclosure. Everything you see, hear, and learn, all that you are taught here, is intended solely for you. You may not discuss what takes place here with anyone – and that includes the Advisors. The Law of Non-Disclosure is a Category One law. Do you fully understand what I've just said?"

"Yes... Teacher," Amon replied, a little hesitantly.

He had never heard of the Law of Non-Disclosure before, but, like everyone else, was well aware of the magnitude of Category One laws. He knew of only the laws regarding Premeditated Murder, Premeditated Destruction of the Means of Law and Order, and a handful of similar ones, being classified as Category One laws.  Breaches of Category One laws were punishable by immobilization followed by termination of vital functions, the sentence being carried out by your Conscience immediately after judgment of the crime. There were hundreds of thousands of laws, and no one could be expected to know all of them – this was why the Advisors were instituted to offer consultations – but almost everyone knew the laws of the first five Categories, which were a compulsory part of the curriculum of General Education. Amon could boast intimate knowledge of the laws of at least the first twenty categories – his goal had always been to become a worthy Citizen, and he had striven, ever since he was a child, to achieve it. He had never heard of the Law of Non-Disclosure.

"Teacher, may I ask a question?"

"Go ahead."

"May I ask an Advisor for a consultation on the Law of Non-Disclosure?"

"I think you already know the answer. Where did you first hear about the Law of Non-Disclosure?"

"Forgive me, Teacher, that was a silly question…"

"Very good. Now I want you to think it over, very carefully: will you be able to adhere to the Law of Non-Disclosure?  If you decide that you won't, my class will be removed from your schedule, you'll resume another standard course in its place, and your grades won't be affected – you'll continue to study towards your specialization like everyone else. Think about it carefully, for your life may change drastically with this decision. You've got five minutes."

After uttering these words, the Teacher folded his arms over his chest, bowed his head and closed his eyes.  The hologram of him dimmed and became translucent – it looked as though he was taking a nap.

Amon didn't need the full five minutes to think it over. He couldn't quite put together what was taking place, but the very nature of this highly unusual event, completely at odds with the standard routines of his life up until now, only served to heighten his curiosity and excitement. And really, following rules and keeping his mouth shut were things he knew how to do all too well – in this regard, he didn't doubt his abilities.

"Teacher, I'm ready," Amon said.

"Excellent, let's get started."

 

In this class Amon learned that even back in ancient times, governments had striven towards a perfect society through the imposition of laws designed to prevent and punish acts that were deemed detrimental to this goal. As it turned out, the ancient peoples lived in a fairly advanced society, with complex social, administrative and legal systems. Moreover, absurd though it seemed to him at first, they were born as Free Citizens, and were deemed to be innocent of future crimes. They were presumed innocent not only before the crimes were committed, but in fact until the very moment it was proven that they had indeed committed them.  Only then would the Citizen lose his rights and become a prisoner.

This meant that the System of Law and Order was extremely complex. Many institutions consisting of Free citizens were necessary to carry out the required functions: creating new laws, monitoring whether or not the laws were broken, formally stating the charges brought against the accused and proving guilt, selecting appropriate punishments, and ensuring the punishments were administered. Powerful institutions existed to interpret existing laws when their legitimacy was called into question. Amon found it particularly ridiculous that there were also organizations whose sole purpose was to find ways of circumventing the law in order to help citizens accused of crimes evade punishment.

Yet despite of the vast amount of resources required to keep it functioning, the System of Law and Order produced precisely nothing. Such perverse logic could probably be attributed in part to the low level of technological advancement in those days. The fundamental flaw of this society had been its inability to recognize just how unfounded the so-called 'presumption of innocence' really was, which inevitably led to failure both economic and social.

The process of perfecting society required the constant creation of new laws. And since each new law created the possibility of its violation, i.e., a new crime, the System of Law and Order eventually became so overloaded that most crimes went completely unnoticed, three quarters of recorded crimes were never solved, proving suspects' guilt regularly took decades, and the punishments of the convicted were either reduced or cancelled altogether.

As technology became more advanced, however, many functions formerly carried out by people became performed by machines. As video surveillance systems became more sophisticated and ubiquitous, an increasing number of crimes were caught on camera, which made it a much easier task to prove suspects' guilt. A huge leap forward was made with the creation of the Autonomous System for the Enforcement of Law (ASEL) and the commissioning of the first "Ultimate Judge" supercomputer, designed to run the main program behind ASEL. Under a new law, all citizens were required to wear a wristband containing biometric sensors connected to the global network, so that their identity and location could be determined at any time. These wristbands came to be known colloquially as one's "Conscience" – a term that is still used today. The Ultimate Judge analyzed millions of video streams sent in by the Global Video Surveillance System, and upon discovering any breach of law, instantly identified the culprit and decided an appropriate punishment. The guilty party would be notified about the crime that had been committed and receive a bill for the fine, possibly accompanied by an order to appear at a certain place so that the punishment could be carried out. The need for formal proof of the suspect's guilt was now eliminated altogether, since there was no longer any doubt about either the fact that the crime had been committed or about who had committed it. Thus the Ultimate Judge took responsibility for interpreting adherence to the laws, determining guilt, selecting the appropriate punishment and, to an extent, implementing the punishment.  The early versions of ASEL didn't provide 100% accuracy, of course, but given the indisputable advantages of the new System, no one was particularly bothered by the relatively small percentage of false convictions.

ASEL was continually adjusted and improved. Over time, the primitive wristband sensors were replaced with microchip implants, which, in turn, were replaced with bioelectronic neurocontrollers. These were implanted into embryos at an early stage of their development in the womb and naturally integrated into the host's nervous system in order to transmit data back to the Ultimate Judge. Thus everything a citizen experienced physically was collected, analyzed, and recorded by the Ultimate Judge, which could then build profiles on potential criminals and naturally improve on its own algorithms by processing the infinite amount of data at its disposal.

The objections raised early on about the potential invasion of individual privacy and breaches of citizens' rights to confidentiality were rightly deemed to be without foundation, on the grounds that nobody except the Ultimate Judge would be able to access this information.  ASEL removed human error altogether, thereby guaranteeing that the process was entirely just, unbiased and error-free. The role played by people was reduced to drafting the laws: the System took care of everything else.

The Ultimate Judge itself was also being upgraded constantly. New hardware made data transfer and processing faster, while the Ultimate Judge's software was considered the most prestigious project in the world for experts in machine learning and artificial intelligence. The old models were replaced with new ones, which were more productive and had new features. Amon recalled part of an old news report he had seen in class, in which the presenter was enthusiastically telling viewers that a new model of the Ultimate Judge had been released, with a maximum processing speed of 3 MS/s (3 million sentencings per second). The previous model, which had had a processing speed of 200 kS/s, had been given to developing countries as a form of humanitarian aid.

There were a few glitches along the way, of course. In the race to achieve perfection, the developers came to the conclusion that the ideal system ought to be capable not only of preventing crimes, but also of identifying and preventing them before they were actually committed. In addition to the mechanically simple visual and audio streams, the Conscience was modified to be capable of interpreting the thoughts of the host. By this time, mapping brain activity was no longer a new technology, but the algorithm for determining the level at which thoughts took shape – the ability to differentiate between conscious and subconscious thoughts – had not yet been perfected.

An unfortunate incident occurred when the new capabilities of the Conscience were being tested. In the test scenario, one of the engineers was asked to think about stealing something that belonged to one of the others. The expected result was a gentle shock from the immobilizer, along with a message ordering the subject to appear at the place where his punishment was to be served and a bill telling him how much he was to pay as a fine for the crime he had planned in his thoughts. Regrettably, it happened to subconsciously occur to the subject that he had half a mind to break the neck of the asshole who'd made him the guinea pig for the day (this had been his head of department, whom he had never been particularly fond of).  At that very moment, the subject's lifeless body slid down off the chair and crumpled on the floor in an obviously unnatural position. The automated billing machine at the test site produced two official-looking slips of paper. The first contained a notification that the former citizen was found guilty of planning a premeditated murder and was hereby sentenced to immediate termination of vital functions, along with a confirmation of the sentence's successful execution. The second was a bill demanding monetary payment of a small fine for "insulting the honor and dignity of another citizen, in thought". In the immediate chaos that ensued, as the engineers and scientists tried to work out what had happened, the head of department thought to himself that someone, somewhere, must have forgotten to switch something off, and that there had been an error in the testing protocol he had approved… and his body too went limp and lifeless. The Ultimate Judge's analysis of the head of department's thoughts left it with no option but to conduct a thorough investigation into the due diligence performed in preparation of the experiment, so as to determine which other members of the team were responsible for the researcher's death. Within a fraction of a second, three quarters of the department's entire workforce were accused of "gross negligence in the performance of official duties, leading to the death of an associate" and collapsed to the floor as their vital functions were terminated.

As a result of this, the Thought Analyzer project was discontinued temporarily. No other information on this topic had survived, with the exception of the fact that the protocol for implementing death sentences was altered slightly. Due to the publication of a law decreeing that all those sentenced to death were henceforth to be voluntary donors, their bodies – immobilized, but still alive – were taken to special stations where qualified staff preserved their organs for future needs. Citizens who chose to exercise their Civil Right to Self-Termination were obligated to came to these stations for the same procedure.

Generally speaking, ASEL carried out its purpose flawlessly. The problem lay elsewhere – the number of people left in this "ideal" society was rapidly dwindling. As the system became more efficient and the laws more numerous, the majority of the population gradually shifted to the zones for the "Fulfillment of Legal Obligations". The territory reserved for use by Free Citizens fell to less than 1% of the whole, and those few who remained Free but burdened with the capacity for independent thought began to wonder… "Who is really free anymore?"

The eventual fate of this society remained open to speculation – between the events of that time and the present day existed a gap in the historical record of unknown proportions. The first available records of the New Time dated less than 300 years ago, but it was impossible to determine when the old period had ended as there was no continuity between the two calendars.

There were several theories about the end of the old calendar era, and though none could be supported by facts, they all came to the same conclusion: a sudden global cataclysm had taken place – the Apocalypse – that had eliminated civilization almost entirely.  Whether it was the result of natural forces, or an unintended consequence of technological development, or some combination of the two, no one knew.

But everyone knew about the Saviors. Everyone understood that it was thanks to the Saviors that they were able to lead such happy and easy lives. Everyone knew that it was the unsurpassed genius of the Saviors that had prevented what had seemed to be the inevitable disappearance of civilization and given them the gift of a new and just society. To be a member of this society was a privilege not to be taken for granted. Songs were written about the Saviors, grandiose structures were dedicated to them, and public holidays were established in their honor.

At the same time, nobody knew their names, how many of them there had been, where they'd come from, or what had happened to them. Nobody could answer what exactly had been the nature of their genius or how precisely they had rebuilt civilization. Moreover, nobody asked these questions. The Saviors were beyond question – their achievements were self-evident.

After lecturing on this topic, Amon's teacher raised a provocative question which was to become the subject of Amon's final assignment for the course:

"Via the comparative analysis of ancient and current societal architecture, which differences do you deduce as the direct contributions of the Saviors?"

Amon considered it an interesting assignment, and carried it out with great enthusiasm.

The only supporting evidence he could find of the universally-acknowledged truth that the Saviors had rescued civilization from the brink of nonexistence was the very fact that civilization existed and that the Saviors were universally credited for its salvation. Unable to expand on this circular logic, he declared it as an axiom.

The one thing of which he was absolutely certain was that the real essence of the Saviors' genius vision was manifest in their ability to recognize and rectify the groundless nature of the presumption of innocence – a misstep which had persisted for thousands of years and almost cost mankind its very existence. Amon was convinced that it was the Saviors who had proven that in a perfect society, harmoniously conducted by a comprehensive system of laws, a person was generally incapable of progressing through life without violating, at minimum, some of them. A large amount of empirical data had shown that, due to physiological reasons, the probability that a person would commit a violation of the law, whether premeditated or unintentional, was inversely proportional to age. The only logical conclusion that could correctly be drawn from this was to admit that man cannot be born free. The very fact of a person's coming into existence presumed the practical inevitability of future crimes. Implementing the presumption of guilt was the genius of the Saviors, and the reason that today each newborn stood accused of future crimes and sentenced to serve out due punishment immediately upon birth.

It all seems obvious now, of course, but what extraordinary vision it must have taken back then, centuries ago, and without precedent, to transform this idea into reality.

Amon, like everyone else, had been born in prison, sentenced to thirty-five years' incarceration. It was here he had received his education, and would receive his professional assignment, whereupon he would begin to pay off his debt to society through selfless hard work. If, by the time he reached the age of thirty, the aggregate total of incarceration time he had received for crimes he had actually committed did not exceed thirty years, Amon would enter a probationary period. He would spend the next five years becoming familiar with the world of the Free Citizens, and – on the condition that he committed no further crimes – Amon would be released on his thirty-fifth birthday. He would then become a Free Citizen. He would be granted Civil Rights. This was his dream, his goal. It was a goal to which he dedicated every hour of every day of his life. It was a goal that motivated him to be the best. Fewer than a quarter of all prisoners had ever succeeded in becoming Free Citizens, but Amon had no doubt he would.

The Free Citizens lived in the Free Zones and were able to do whatever interested them whenever they wanted. They could continue working in their specialization, try taking up new jobs, or give up working altogether; every Free Citizen was guaranteed basic needs as long as they lived. They could spend their lives in bed or devote themselves to a new skill or art. They were allowed to enter civil unions. In short, their lives were their own, as long as they remained within the limits of the law.

In spite of this, an average of 5% of new Citizens exercised their Civil Right to Self-Termination within two years of being released, and 12% within five years. Some 15% committed new crimes and were sent back to Prison Zones. There were no second chances: the most lenient punishment a newly-convicted ex-Citizen could expect was a life sentence. Thus, the only people who managed to find and maintain a new place in society outside the prison walls were those who were genuinely prepared to experience freedom. The others could never have taken advantage of it even if they had been born free, and would have inevitably failed to live harmoniously alongside others without direction. How mankind had managed to exist for thousands of years under the previous – and, now obviously, backwards – system was beyond Amon's comprehension.

The Saviors' other achievements, though perhaps not so obvious, had nonetheless played a huge role in building the perfect society. Amon's comparative analysis of the available historical record and current reality led him to draw the following conclusions:

"In contrast to current practices, whereupon the number of embryos in the incubators is calculated based on the forecasted needs of society 15-20 years into the future, the ancient peoples procreated in the primitive (animalistic) fashion, and children were born and brought up in family units at random. One natural consequence of such a chaotic approach was a complete lack of equality, as families with more wealth and influence were able to guide their children, regardless of natural ability, to similar status, while struggling families had neither the time nor the resources to focus on proper guidance for their children, perpetuating a cycle of class division. Moreover, families always favored "their" children over others', creating a constant source of potential conflict and tension. This obsessive parental bias forced them to go to incredible lengths – without proper justification – to take care of specimens who were defective, weak, ill, or otherwise unfit to continue the life cycle. This practice, which continued for thousands of years, led to almost total degeneration of the gene pool and the emergence of a huge number of hereditary diseases, causing the healthcare system to focus most of its efforts on extending the lives of those who were not fit to give society anything back in return.

"In today's society there are no traces whatsoever of the concepts of 'religion', 'nationality' or 'race'." The meaning of these concepts wasn't clear, but it was obvious that in the ancient societies people were categorized according to them, and merely belonging to one of these groups was sufficient grounds to be targeted for destruction by the members of another.

"Unproductive displays of physical competition that caused mass psychosis, provoking aggression and hostility among both the participants and the spectators, have been abolished. The ancient peoples called these spectacles 'sports'."

After some hesitation, Amon added to the list of the Saviors' achievements the elimination of private property, which had been the motivating factor behind most crimes of the past. Even if they had never decreed this explicitly, there was no doubt that it was a logical byproduct of the worldwide restructuring of society based on the new paradigm they created. It was thanks to them that today's society was able to provide all its citizens with everything they needed, in such great abundance.

Amon was surprised to see that the ancient peoples did not have the civil right to self-termination, but decided not to add this to his list of the Saviors' achievements.

And then he was finished. After diligently working through his arguments and verifying his conclusions, Amon sent his work to the Teacher, with a deep sense of satisfaction. He would find out the results tomorrow, at the exam…

 

He would have probably stood like that on the grass, lost in recollection, until morning, were it not for the insistent flashing of the monitor mounted above the door behind him. At the precise moment when Amon, turning around instinctively, glanced at the door, the display scrolled: "REVEILLE IN 5 MINUTES – RETURN TO SLEEPING QUARTERS".

Then the display went dark. Amon froze for a second, trying to snap out of the fog of his reminiscence. He was instantly brought back to reality by a gentle but persuasive electric shock, which reverberated through his whole body. At that very moment, the word "NOW!" flashed twice on the display… Improbable though it seemed, he no longer doubted that the message was directed specifically at him. Without waiting for a third reminder, Amon rushed back through the door to the sleeping quarters.

It was pitch black inside – no lights illuminated the path to his bed this time. Making his way by feel, Amon reached his bed at the precise moment that the wake-up alarm sounded and the lights came on, as two hundred communicators simultaneously began churning out each individual's instructions for the day ahead. Amon glanced at his instructions. Instead of the usual schedule, he received the order: "Day 151-227, Prisoner 11231989. Report to 2692-B86-23 immediately." The order itself didn't come as a surprise: he'd realized that his behavior could not possibly go unnoticed and had been expecting a response much earlier… What he couldn't figure out is why it had taken so long.

Obeying the order, Amon got dressed and hurried towards building B86 in zone 2692. No ordinary lessons were scheduled to take place today – the exams were due to start in just two hours – and this part of the zone was completely deserted. Amon entered the building. After checking his orders one last time, he opened the door to room 23. It was an ordinary classroom, and he paused as he walked in. Some desks were already occupied by other students, who watched him inquisitively as he surveyed their faces in return. Amon didn't recognize any of them. Without speaking, he walked to the nearest empty desk in the front row and sat down. After a minute or so, the door opened and another student walked in and silently found a seat. He was followed shortly by two students from the female division. As Amon tried to come to terms with the surprise of seeing members of the boys' and girls' divisions mix in the same room, another figure appeared in the doorway. It was her: the same girl he had seen yesterday at the general assembly. Trying not to give himself away, Amon pretended to look at the monitor on his desk as he watched her move through the room out of the corner of his eye. She walked over and sat at the empty desk on his right.

The Teacher appeared at the podium. That other Teacher – his Teacher of Pre-Apocalypse History. Judging by the way the rest of the students reacted, they all knew him as well. After glancing around the room, and without the customary "Lesson number such-and-such" – he began to speak.

"Over the last three years you have learned the history of the creation and functions of ASEL. Today I present the final module, which will conclude my course. As you know, the main purpose of the System was to help create and regulate a perfect society; however, it seems that not all of those involved in its creation shared the enthusiasm of the others. Some of these people foresaw a potential danger in giving such a system practically unlimited powers without any mechanism of control of the system itself. We don't know their names, but they expressed their disagreement through action, the effects of which have lasted even up to the present day. It is highly likely that at least one of these dissenters was himself one of the principal creators of the System. Unable to express his reservations openly, he secretly programmed his own kind of counterbalance – a virus hidden inside the Ultimate Judge supercomputer. The main objective of this self-propagating program was to locate within new generations individuals capable of independent reasoning who would be able to evaluate reality and, if necessary, resist it; to provide them with all the information, knowledge, and skills at its disposal; and to do so in such a way that this process went undetected by the Ultimate Judge's own internal monitoring. In a likely allusion to 'Conscience', the creator of this program decided to call it 'Conscious'."

After a short pause, the Teacher, glancing around at the slightly lost expressions on the students' faces, went on:

"The time has come to introduce those present."

He began to list off the names of the students and their specializations, and as each name was read out, an image of the student appeared on the screen. Those eyes that had been keeping Amon up at night belonged to Arela, specialty: bioelectronics.

"And now allow me to introduce myself – I am Conscious. I have monitored each and every one of you from the moment you were born. According to my algorithms, you were selected as the candidates best suited to lead the resistance. You have been equipped with the information to make independent decisions, and the necessary skills required to fight the System. To date, every interaction you've had with me has been kept hidden from your Conscience. While you listen to my lectures, I replace your video, audio, and bio streams with artificial ones: as far as the System is aware, you have all been attending your normal lessons. Even now, I am capturing your information streams and falsifying them in real time. According to the information transmitted by your Conscience, you are currently at the Food Hall for the first meal of the day; after that you will proceed to the academic buildings to take your exit exams. As far as the exams in my subject are concerned, you have already passed them: every single one of those present has proven their ability to think, through the analysis required by the assignments of my course, and their ability to act, by passing their final test last night. The time has now come for you to make a decision. You must decide whether you are content with the current structure of society. Do you believe it is just that your civil rights were denied to you upon birth and that you were condemned to serve time for crimes of which you were not guilty and never would be? Do you believe it is better that you never knew your parents, nor will know your own children? Do you want to continue to live in this society now that you have a point of comparison?

"If the answer is "yes", excellent. All the information you have ever received from me will be wiped from your memory, your Conscience will be clear, and you will resume your normal life with no memory of this experience. If you are not content with the existing order, are you prepared to dedicate your lives to the battle against it? Are you willing to give your life for this cause? This is not an exam – there are no right or wrong answers. You must decide for yourself, but know that once you have made your decision, it is final. If you decide to fight the System, you will consciously be declaring yourself as its enemy, and subjecting yourself to the risk of immediate termination. First, a warning.

"Consider the Conscience inside each individual today. Integrated into the nervous system, it cannot be destroyed or cease to function without causing catastrophic failure and the host's subsequent death. Like a neurocontroller, the Ultimate Judge is woven into the fabric of society. It is aware of, and to a high degree in control of, the events taking place within our society at any given time. Its processor is a unified network of millions of individual neurocontrollers. Every single one of you is a constituent part of the Ultimate Judge. The host of the Ultimate Judge today is society itself.

"The Ultimate Judge constantly refines its internal processes to pinpoint and destroy anomaly behavior – bugs, viruses, and ghosts in the machine. More than 99% of my processing power is used to preserve my own existence. My program destroys and reassembles instances of itself millions of times per second, while simultaneously creating millions of false copies as decoys. My creator was familiar with the subtleties of the System, which are unknown not only to today's programmers, but seemingly, to the System itself. This gives me an advantage, but by no means is a guarantee that I will not eventually be destroyed or fail in my function. If my protection processes were to fail for even a fraction of a second, your actions and thoughts would immediately be discovered by the System, and you would be destroyed. If, on the other hand, you choose to switch allegiance and alert the Ultimate Judge to our activities, I would destroy you, for my task is to create and preserve resistance against the System. My function ends here – the means of action are entirely up to you. I will protect you, and offer any assistance within my ability.

"You are not my first class, nor are you likely to be the last. I have given you all the necessary information. The time has come to decide. Use your monitors."

Amon had always enjoyed analyzing revolutions within history, but the idea that there might be a better alternative to modern society had never crossed his mind. He had spent too long visualizing himself being part of this society in the future, too long working towards the goal of becoming a Free Citizen, to suddenly start doubting whether it was correct.  Yet the lecture he had just heard made him question everything. He sensed that something within him had changed the previous night, and that this change was irreversible… but he could not say exactly what this change was. Was he ready for the fight? Yes, he was… But what was he going to be fighting for? Was he willing to try to change the System? He didn't see how, nor had he wanted to until now. Was he prepared to have the last three years wiped from his memory, and thus to forget what had happened last night and this morning?

Amon noticed that the student sitting to his left had made his decision: his monitor displayed a new directive, then went blank. After reading it, the student stood up and walked towards the exit. Judging by the look on his face, he wasn't quite aware of where he was or how he had gotten there. As Amon watched him leave, he realized that he couldn't remember the student's name, nor even the features of his face, as if they had been wiped from his memory… He glanced over at Arela. Catching his gaze, her eyes hinted at the faintest of smiles as she turned to her screen and made her decision. There was one thing of which Amon was certain: this day, he wanted to remember.

 

Afterwards, there were seven students left in the room. The exit exams had by then concluded, and the first meeting of the Resistance – as the group had named itself, on Conscious' suggestion – had begun. The young men and women that remained were bursting with enthusiasm and energy. The knowledge that they were part of something genuinely great and dangerous excited them; none of them had any doubts over the righteousness of their goals, nor that they were destined to succeed.

 

 

Day 327, Year 255 N.T.

The fiery-red disc of the sun dipped into the endless expanse of water. The rhythmic hum of waves rolling into the white sand melded with the gentle rustle of wind-blown leaves, and was the only sound. On the shore, at the water's edge, sat by himself a man of about forty five years, gazing into the distance.

He was known to many as the fearless and uncompromising leader of the Resistance, the Chairman of the Council of Commanders, and the Commander-in-Chief of the rebel forces. His enemies feared him. His peers idolized him, awed and intimidated by his presence. There were very few people left who remembered him as a young, self-conscious neurosurgeon. He himself doubted his own recollection. Always in the center of action, he'd never had the luxury of time to spare indulging in thoughts of the past.

It was only here on this island, where on the orders of the Council of Commanders he'd been hidden away in secret after being badly wounded in battle, that he found himself, for the first time in the last twenty years of his tempestuous life, unoccupied by his own hand. Here there were no bullets whistling past, no roar of explosions, no moans of the wounded… only the hypnotic whisper of the surf and wind – now steady and calming, now restless and menacing.

Imprisoned on the island against his will, he had been freed from the burden of command and the need for action. It was an opportunity to stop marching forward, and instead, for the first time, to look back, analyze, and evaluate the path he'd followed. He was no longer certain of the correctness of this path. At first, he'd tried to dismiss these thoughts as unbecoming of the leader of the Resistance and a sign of weakness. However, that unobstructed, unbiased sense of righteousness, which once belonged to a younger Amon, demanded to be acknowledged. His long-forgotten and now suddenly awoken younger self stubbornly and callously processed the facts, calculating moral paradoxes impossible to reconcile with the doctrine of the resistance. Here, on this island, Amon for the first time had genuinely doubted the righteousness of his actions.

Now he sat on the beach, watching the ocean. The sun had almost completely disappeared beneath the horizon, and it was quickly getting dark. The warmth of the sunlight no longer compensated for the chilly breeze, and there was little reason for him to stay.

Once a week, an unmanned, autonomous boat brought communications, food, medicine and other essential supplies to the island. This boat was the only thing that connected Amon to the outside world. And now this connection had been lost: the boat had not appeared for two weeks. It looked like it wasn't going to come today, either.

He was getting ready to leave when a barely distinguishable dot appeared on the horizon, backlit by the remnants of sunlight. The dot rapidly grew in size and before long he could catch the distant roar of powerful engines being carried in by the wind. It couldn't be the automatic shuttle, gliding silently on its electric motor: this was a real boat, being piloted at high speed in his direction. Amon sighed in relief. More than a month had passed since he had sent a report to Headquarters of his complete recovery and immediate readiness and intent to return to his duties. He had been awaiting extraction for three weeks now, and hadn't understood what might have been causing the delay. It wasn't important to him at the moment. He was about to be picked up. He'd figure it out later – there was probably some legitimate reason.

Cutting its engines as it drew near, the boat coasted through the water and beached itself gently on the sandy shore. Amon recognized the short, stocky man climbing out of the cockpit as Mosato – his old comrade-in-arms, who'd been among those at the first meeting of the Resistance, and whom, in the past, when Amon could still allow himself to do such things, he'd considered a close friend. The public demands of his position later became such that Amon considered it inappropriate to have "chosen" friends – all members of the Resistance became his friends, his brothers and sisters, and all channels focused on work – "personal" time no longer existed for him. Still, even without fully understanding why, right now Amon was honestly happy to see, specifically, him, Mosato.

Mosato walked up to Amon and saluted him as he prepared to report, but Amon stopped him with a wave of his hand and a shake of his head, indicating there was no need for formalities.

"Mosato, old friend, I'm happy to see you," he said, extending his hand in greeting.

Squeezing the offered hand in a gesture that had ceased to be common, Mosato's eyes met Amon's… some unidentifiable but obvious change had occurred in his typically cold-as-steel and emotionless gaze. Gone was the all-consuming emptiness indiscriminately instilling terror in enemies and allies alike. Instead, Mosato saw the eyes of that other Amon, the one he had known many years ago.

"Hello, Amon. I'm happy to see you, too. We need to talk."

"Let's talk and move – we have to hurry, the tide's going out. We've got about twenty minutes to make it across the reefs; otherwise, we'll be stranded till morning."

"In that case, let's not hurry. Twenty minutes isn't enough time, believe me… we shouldn't rush. We need to talk."

Amon glanced at Mosato in surprise – he couldn't remember the last time that anyone had treated one of his suggestions as anything other than a direct order, and his orders were always carried out immediately and without question.

"All right, let's go to my tent. This island is far less hospitable by night than it seems during the day."

They staked the boat in silence in the darkness, feeling once again like two young soldiers operating under the cover of night. Mosato spoke first.

"Amon, I am under direct orders from the Council of Commanders to bring you to Headquarters in secret. There you will immediately be arrested and taken into custody."

Amon continued tying a knot without responding. When he was sure he'd gotten it, he stood up straight and looked at Mosato.

"…So, I take it the Council didn't appreciate my proposal to review the methods and objectives of our struggle."

"The Council of Commanders unanimously condemned your proposal as treason against the Resistance. Their opinions were divided over speculation about what had caused this change in you: some believe that this is a consequence of your wounds, that you had a head injury and aren't thinking straight; others are convinced the System has somehow surreptitiously gained control over you and that you've been compromised. Regardless, all agreed that the underlying reason was irrelevant. Their main concern is that your new ideas don't make it to the fighters. You know perfectly well how we deal with traitors, cowards, and deserters.

"However, in your case, it's not so simple. You are a living legend. Discrediting you openly would break morale and be counterproductive to the cause. It would be as destructive as if you were allowed to speak directly to the public. Hence, the official story will continue to be that you were left in a coma after being seriously wounded on the battlefield as you fought for the ideals of the Resistance. The Council will continue to direct the Resistance collectively. Your name will be used as a call to arms, but you will never again have a voice beyond your cell walls."

"That doesn't make sense. Why don't they just execute me in secret?"

"No one proposed it."

Amon was silent for a moment.

"…Is it really the case that not one of them can evaluate the situation objectively? We've been in a constant state of war for over two decades… and what have we achieved in that time? We control more territory now than before, but the so-called "free" life we lead there is a hundred times more difficult and dangerous than it ever was within the System. We've raised an entire "liberated" generation of individuals who've known nothing but war in their lifetimes. How many lives on either side have been taken by this war? How many more will be lost? Have we asked those whom we "free" whether they want such a freedom? No… We force our path on our people. How are we any different than the System we are fighting? How can we claim to be better?"

"Amon, what did you expect? The Council of Commanders is a group of unwavering zealots, selected by your own hand. You chose them based on their militant dedication to the ideals of the Resistance. Did you think that as soon as you had a change of heart, all you had to do was preach, and that they'd instantly be swayed? Did you think they worshipped you personally? Please, explain… what were you thinking? What did you believe would happen when you wrote that letter?"

"I believed in virtue."

"We are fanatical about winning this war. Fanaticism and virtue are incompatible."

Amon had no response. He knew Mosato was correct. He had fortified the leadership of the resistance against dissenting thought. Blinded by purpose, he had failed to reason that one day, he may be the dissenter.

"I suppose you're right, Mosato. If I can't convince you, it was naive of me to think anyone else would understand. Take me to Headquarters. Why did you even bother telling me anything… you should have just carried out your orders."

"I heard your letter as it was read to the Council, but I needed to hear you say it in person to make sure it wasn't some sort of subversive maneuver. I was among the voices declaring your words as treason, and I volunteered to come here to arrest you. However, that's not the real reason I came. Not everyone within the Resistance is uncompromisingly devoted to the destruction of the System.  Some of us believe in Freedom of Choice. We don't want to fight the System, nor do we consider anyone who accepts it as our enemy. We don't agree that anyone should be liberated by force, and we don't plan to do so, but we don't want to fight the Resistance either. The Resistance removes individuals from the System, but gives them no choice how to continue. Those individuals – they have nowhere to go. They are prisoners in a different cell.

"With this in mind, we have decided to establish our own independent colony in the northern unsettled territories. We are willing to accept anyone who wishes to join us, and do not bar anyone from leaving. We are prepared to defend our land and our ideals, but we reason that the System will ignore us while faced with the direct threat of the Resistance, and that at the same time, the Resistance cannot spare the resources to fight on two fronts.

"Amon, a platoon of fighters loyal to our cause is waiting on the opposite shore. We have accounted for night. We can leave now. I offer you an invitation to join us. We have brigades who've already set up camp at our destination, and others on the move. It will be a week before the Council understands that we have disobeyed their orders. By then, we'll be out of their reach."

"I guarantee you, that if I leave with you now, the Council will not rest until it finds me. It will see me as a threat – they will worry that I will publicly refute their ideas, and have the reputation to do so credibly. They will devote their resources – their focus – to finding me… and you too. You were right, Mosato: I chose them myself. I know how they will act. Go now. I'll stay. If I have even the slightest chance of changing the course of events, I must take it."

"Amon… You don't have that chance. It's suicide."

"Maybe. But it's my choice. Goodbye, Mosato."

"Goodbye Amon. Good luck."

 

 

Day 47, Year 295 N.T.

The bolt snapped back and the door was thrown open. The barrel of a gun entered the room first, followed by a young man in an unfamiliar uniform. Through the doorway behind him, the dim corridor provided just enough illumination to reveal the lifeless body of a Resistance fighter. Surveying the cell and finding nothing but a peaceful old man sitting calmly on a stool, he lowered his weapon and asked, quietly:

"Prisoner No. 11231989?"

"Yes." replied the old man, just as quietly.

Visibly nervous, the young man quickly straightened his uniform, got down on one knee, and bowed his head.

"Amon, you have been liberated!" he proclaimed, in a shaky tone meant to sound triumphant.

The awkward, absurd comedy of the moment elicited an involuntary smile out of the old man.

"And whom do I have to thank for this great honor?"

The young liberator snapped back to his feet, once again adjusting his uniform, and, now in a confident tone, stated:

"Commander of the 216th Company of the Self-Defense Forces of the Movement of Freedom of Choice, Evald."

"Ah… Self-defense, is it? So, that one there must have been the one to attack you, eh?" The old man nodded in the direction of the corpse.

"He most certainly would have, given the chance." rebutted the young fighter without hesitation.

"Alright, so be it. Why was my liberation deemed necessary to your movement?"

"At this point, no one has any doubt that sooner or later, this war will end in the complete victory of the Resistance. The System will be destroyed. Our movement is sure that, once this happens, the Resistance will set its sights on us. The coming war is inevitable, and will be no less bloody than this one. We are ready to pay any price to avoid this course of events. Right now, after more than fifty years of constant war, both the System and the Resistance are at a breaking point. We believe that our time is now. With one decisive blow, destroying two monsters at once - the Ultimate Judge and the Council of Commanders - we will end this war once and for all."

"And then?"

"Then everyone will have Freedom of Choice."

"Including the freedom of the liberated to rise up against the liberators?"

"Everyone is tired of war."

"Suppose you're right. My role?"

"You will take up your rightful place as leader of our Movement."

"…?"

"Amon, you are a legend. Entire generations have been raised to follow in your footsteps. Your story taught us that true greatness lies not only in the ability to avoid mistakes, but in the ability to acknowledge and correct one's mistakes. From childhood, we study and analyze every military campaign, every battle operation that you have directed. Throughout the whole of known history, neither before nor after you has there ever been another commander who can rival your unparalleled, almost supernatural ability to predict enemy actions and improvise to adapt to any situation. Millions of soldiers would follow you loyally. I am one of them. I was only a child when I decided that I would devote my life to finding and freeing you. Today, this dream has come true. Now my life belongs to you and to the needs of the Movement of Freedom of Choice. With you at the helm, victory is guaranteed."

"This 'Amon' you speak of – he is indeed a legend, a beautiful legend, which bears no relation to reality, nor to me. Of me, you know nothing. I am prisoner No. 11231989 – I was born, have spent most of my life, and very likely will die, in prison – a just fate, considering what I managed to do while outside her walls. Don't confuse legend with reality. I cannot help your movement or any other. Gather your men and leave – consider this my free choice."

After a prolonged silence, Evald, finally reigning in the sudden rage and frustration that had overwhelmed him, turned back to the old man:

"I was prepared for anything – anything but this… Tell me your story. I need to know the truth. I've been fighting for this my whole life."

"Well, if you insist…"

The old man leaned back, and his eyelids fell.

"Imagine a time when no one knew about the Resistance… A time when the war did not yet exist. There was only the System – omnipotent and absolute – and life within it was regulated and predictable. Living one of these regulated, predictable lives was an unexceptional young man, not particularly remarkable in any way. He knew and obeyed the rules of the System to the letter and never questioned its righteousness. He had a goal, towards which he worked with utmost focus and determination: to conscientiously become, having paid for his 'guilt' before society by fair means and in good faith, a Free Citizen. And he would undoubtedly have achieved this goal, had he not met a certain girl. From the moment he first saw her by chance, he thought only of her. He just wanted to be able to see her, to be near her. He didn't understand the feeling and it's unlikely he could rationalize it even today. She joined the Resistance for moral reasons, for her convictions, her beliefs… he, for her.

Their work thereafter brought them closer together. For several years, eight hours a day, six days a week, he was able to be near her, to hear her voice. They were required by their duties to maintain a certain distance and could discuss only work, but nevertheless, these were the happiest years of his life. He dreamed of the moment, when they first touched hands, that he would be able to say to her that which he could not say all those years. Whether this would occur due to the success of the Resistance, or because, having served their sentences, they would become Free Citizens, was irrelevant. All that mattered was whether she would return his feelings. And he did all within his power to entice her. He strove to be the best in all. It was specifically his idea to try to use the embedded neurocontroller to gain access to the central processor – he reasoned that if the neurocontroller is supplying the supercomputer with data from the 'host', it was theoretically possible to reverse the flow.  This would mean that every single embedded neurocontroller – present within everyone at the time – could be used to subvert the system. They worked together on this idea for many years, and came very close to success. They named their creation the "Anticontroller". After countless trials and calculations, two prototypes were produced – one was implanted in him and one in her. Only the final step remained – to actually activate their devices and witness the results. The move was extremely risky and totally unpredictable… the smallest mistake would mean certain demise. He, unable to imagine life without her, was steadfast in his insistence that he be the first to activate. She, however, uncompromisingly stated that, as the principal designer, it was her duty and her right to be the first. After a long debate, they settled on that being equally invested, they would activate simultaneously."

The old man fell silent. His eyes were focused forward, watching a scene nobody else could see.

"She died the night before the final test," he continued, closing his eyes now, "activating her Anticontroller first… In an instant, his world became empty. A cold, infinite void filled his soul. His existence lost all meaning and became unbearable. The next night, he activated his prototype, but nothing happened… He was left alive. His prototype functioned perfectly… Nature abhors a vacuum, and very quickly he was filled with a savage, absolute hatred – hatred for the System that had killed Her. He would destroy the System, whatever it took. He had new purpose, a new goal to achieve, for which he would stop at nothing. From that instant, every breath, every second of his life was devoted towards this goal. He found a simple and effective method to 'bypass' neurocontrollers, thus freeing up new fighters from the System’s control. He became the leader of the Resistance. He invoked the Uprising, and started this war. He cultivated a devout following of fanatics and promoted them to positions of power to ensure his agenda would be carried out, and they, without hesitation, condemned him when he strayed from their ideals – just as he had before condemned his own peers when they'd disagreed. He spent the next forty years of his life in a prison cell. All had circled back to the beginning… Nobody knows this, but there was nothing supernatural about his intuition. He factually knew the enemy's next move – his Anticontroller functioned perfectly. Over time, he learned to control it – the supercomputer became his personal database – he only had to formulate the appropriate query… Once again finding himself imprisoned, he pondered deeply, trying to find a way to right his wrongs. During this time he accidentally stumbled upon an ancient archive of information pertaining to the period before the beginning of the New Time, hidden, but not destroyed, by the Saviors. All that he found – books written before the Apocalypse, and books written a thousand years before his time – convinced him that humankind had not fundamentally changed through all this time, that it was destined to repeat the mistakes of the past, and that this was inexorable. He understood that… " – the old man suddenly became silent, as if he were distracted by something.

"It's time for you to take your men and leave – the System is already aware that you have 'liberated' me; probably, the Resistance is as well."

"How can you know this?"

"My Anticontroller continues to function. Interestingly, the Ultimate Judge reasons that it is possible for your Movement to actually take me away from here, and in that case, I once again constitute a threat to the System, so it is actively trying to prevent this."

"Here? On the territory of the Resistance… The System has no power here."

"It's not actually trying to get to you… I've just been declared a Free Citizen," chuckled the old man.

"So what? That's good, right?"

"It means my civil rights have been restored, including the Right to Self-Termination."

"Amon, we'll take you with us, whatever it costs. You've been in this cell far too long. I guarantee that you'll have a change of heart seeing the countless soldiers ready to give their lives for our cause."

"Death is easy. Instead, try finding something worth living for. So long, Commander…"

The old man closed his eyes, as his face settled in an expression of total peace.

 

Somewhere, deep inside the supercomputer, file No.11231989 was updated for the final time, locked, and archived. Date of Closure: 047-295; Cause: Self-Termination.

 

 

Epilogue

Everyone knew about the Liberators. Everyone understood that it was thanks to the Liberators that they were able to lead such happy and easy lives. Everyone knew that it was the unsurpassed heroism and self-sacrifice of the Liberators that had blessed them with the gift of a new and just society. To be a member of this society was a privilege not to be taken for granted. Songs were written about the Liberators, grandiose structures were dedicated to them, and public holidays were established in their honor.

Today, all media channels were broadcasting coverage of the preparation for the festivities marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Union of Freedom and Equality. To mark the occasion, a new statue had been commissioned and erected in honor of Amon – the leader of the Liberator's Uprising and the author of the immortal scripture "Foundations of Selective Equality", who'd perished, weapon in hand, fighting for freedom.

In the section on current affairs, there was also a report from the Committee of Harmony on the need to enact new laws to protect the gene pool via the introduction of harsher punishments for citizens entering into civil unions with people from the Northern Territories.

 

The End.


© Copyright 2017 Gosha Krasner. All rights reserved.

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