By Michael Carteron

“Wake up, Rob.”

The cheerful tone could not be ignored, as Rob felt the familiar rush that woke him up. After he’d dressed himself, a voice said to him “Robert Miller, you are hereby placed under arrest.” The man heard the voice speak inside his mind. Instantly, his body stiffened and he lost control of it. Standing, his mind screaming in fury, he turned on the holo projector and tapped in a code. It connected with a cab service, their call operative connecting by audio-only, the number flashing on the hologram image. “Metro Cab Service, how may we help you?” I’d like to order a pickup for Chambliss Apartments, please,” he said, as his mind protested against the words. “Yes-and what time would you like that for?” In a minute if you can,” he said. “All right, we’ll have a cab over there. Charge the call fee to your account.”

Waving his palm over the image, the message Fee Charged showed and they disconnected. With a wave of his right hand, the door slid open and he walked out. Entering the lift, he pressed the button for the bottom floor and walked out into the lobby for the curb. A cab pulled up, whooshing quietly, in twenty seconds. “Where to?” asked the driver pleasantly. “Bureau of Social Health,” the man answered. The driver sobered and nodded, taking off when he strapped in. They stopped in front of a tall grey building and he exited after scanning his palm for the fare.

Entering the lobby, he approached the desk agent. “I’m here to surrender myself,” he said. “Third floor,” the agent told him, sounding uninterested. Traveling up on the elevator, he sought desperately to break free of the mind lock, but it was no use. When he got off, agents stood there waiting for him. “Right this way,” they said, not even touching him. There was a room in the back with the scanner over the table he laid down on and was strapped into. Only then did the mind lock end, and he struggled on the table. “Commonwealth vs. Miller, now being heard,” said a voice from above. “Mr. Miller, how will you plead?” “What is the charge?” he asked loudly. “You know what you’ve done. Now how do you plead?” I’m not guilty!” he shouted angrily. “Very well, commence scanning.” A light blinked above him and he struggled futilely again. It went on for twenty minutes or so until the voice spoke up again. “Does the prosecution wish to speak?” No, we are satisfied,” another voice said. “Does the defense wish to speak?” We are satisfied as well.” All right, the court finds you guilty as charged. Mr. Miller, you are now ordered into custody of the Reorientation Center, to be under psychological treatment until eligible for release, if ever.”

The mind lock was resumed, his protest shut off as the agents removed the straps and he went along meekly. Agents led him away down the corridor and down another elevator. They entered a parking annex, putting him in the back of a van. Driving off, they stopped at the Reorientation Center. They registered him at the front, scanning him once more for safety. Going down more corridors, he reached a room like the one he was found guilty in. Strapped down redundantly, he lay numbly on the table. Another man entered and came up to him, sitting down in a chair. “Hello, Rob,” he said pleasantly. “My name is Stephen, but you can call me Steve.” Looking down at Rob’s numbed, sweating face, he chuckled. “Oh, right, of course, sorry.” The mind lock was shut off with a thought from him, and Rob relaxed, straining against the table straps. “Tell me why I’m here!” he screamed, straining futilely. “Rob, you know why you’re here,” Steve said, ignoring his struggles. “Everyone knows why they come here. You’re here to get well.” I’m not a criminal! They never even said what I was convicted for!” That’s right, because you weren’t convicted of a crime. You’ve been convicted of having a criminal mind. We make no distinction between insanity and crime. Therefore you have been convicted of mental illness without committing a criminal act. I am here to cure the mental illness, at which point you can go free.” I am not insane!” Rob protested. “Well of course you say that. No one thinks of themselves as being insane. Yours is a paranoia that concerns the Commonwealth, other citizens and your world in general. Mental illness can be defined as that which differs from the normal, average human behavior. Therefore you have been found insane.” Rob stared at him in despair, and Steve stood up, looking down at him. “We have a number of treatment methods at our disposal. Pain-pleasure therapy, mental surgery and dialectical reasoning; in your case, it has been decided the last will serve best. This means we shall put our ideas of the world to debate and I will attempt to show you what is right. If this works, it may be little direct adjustment shall be needed. Failure means we move to stronger measures.” Steve paused, looking closely at Rob. “We have the ability to inflict whatever pain you can imagine, Rob. Any hallucination is also possible to reproduce in your mind. We know your fears and desires-there is nothing secret from us. However, pain-pleasure conditioning has been found to be...unwieldy,” he said delicately. “The patient is often left requiring mental surgery in conjunction with it. Resources are tight and we have much better uses for them. Dialectical reasoning is therefore used first.”

Steve sat again, facing Rob. “Ask me any question you like. I will answer truthfully with the best of my ability. Then we can debate.” Rob stared at him, suspicious. “It’s true, I really will answer,” Steve told him. “How do you know what everyone thinks? Is God real? Do the priests really commune with God to know our thoughts? How do you heal people by touch?” Steve chuckled. “Well, many questions together, I see. That’s all right, you will have answers.” Steve leaned back in the chair. “In 2021, the first prototype nanite was perfected. This is a microscopic machine one billionth of a meter, or nanometer size. Ten to the power of negative nine, or nano, you see. The nanites will fit inside molecules, and can destroy or alter them. Dr. Edward Stark created them in London, and realized the potential they had. It was clear to him, though, a nanite, like everything, had the potential for both good and evil use. They would form a perfect killing machine, undetectable and very difficult to stop, destroying key molecules in the human body in essential sections, for instance. Their ability to heal would be equal if fully realized. This could also mean altering minds by manipulating neural molecules at will. Dr. Stark realized the danger for everyone and decided he must act. Knowing that he was only the first to perfect something that would change the world spurred him on. He was determined not to become another Oppenheimer, regretting what he unleashed upon humanity. Therefore he acted preemptively. Nanites were capable of traveling inside the oxygen molecules, but this did not help them replicate themselves. A nano-virus had to be created that could save people from themselves. Stark realized the answer once he asked the question-the Internet. Not only did it provide a source of silicon from the computer linked, but also the means of transmission. When he released the nano-virus with its programming, it spread faster than any biological disease ever had. It raced over the globe, replicating and infecting all humanity. Areas of the world that had less access to computers were a problem at first, but with the vast amounts of silicon available plus the infinitesimal amount needed, there was no problem. Nanites spread by computers into their users, then everyone around by airborne transmission and physical contact. Once in their hosts, at first they had to prepare. Traveling into the brain, they begin to alter neural molecules to make humans peaceful, happy and cooperative. Great care was taken with the programming so every individual was accounted for and factored. Their attributes had to be considered as individuals for this conditioning. The results were haphazard at first, of course, but even so, astounding. Crime rates, wars and social problems fell by magic, dwindling astronomically. What no religion in all of history accomplished, nanites did. Of course, one man could not rule the world, nor did he wish to. A zombie control over the human mind would not work or be desirable. Stark looked for people who could help to implement his plan for a new age. He envisioned a world that was based on logic, with no war, crime, disease, poverty and general higher standards of living. A movement began with the people his nanites selected, which he called Logicism. With control over the world by essentially subconsciously running human beings, the Logicists went about changing humanity. With dialectical reasoning they found the best courses, with their founding principle do unto other what you would have them do to you. This was the most logical morality they could think of, and had been declared for eons but not followed by most people. Now they elaborated on this, considering what gave the most happiness to people. The obvious basic needs were of course first, but they also had to decide about society in general. Population control was instituted, along with a basic living stipend, participatory economics and democracy, open sexuality, etc. These were desired and logical for people, but so was something else. We knew ninety percent of the world held religious belief, naturally, but that was seen by some in the Marxist vein being “opium of the masses.” However, Marx was mistaken about this and most things. Religion is also the stimulant of the masses. It was all very fine to base this on logic and reason, but the people do not understand that, many of them. Logic and reason mean argument; this is their purpose. Religion cannot be without violence, and has been the excuse of fighting since the dawn of history. It was reasoned that religion, when apparently fulfilling all one wanted, and unable to be argued with because of its answer for everything, would bind all people in harmony. We therefore erased heretofore religion from humanity and instituted a new faith which embodied the principles of Logicism, the Cosmic Balance. There is a belief in God without dissension and priests that heal, all of this due to nanites. We can heal any disease by rearranging molecules, rendering viruses dead, cancers gone and so on. Priests have no mystic powers, nor do we know what God is, or whether one exists.”

Rob lay there stunned, gazing at Steve in mute horror, the entire world crashing down. His every belief had been shattered, with every paranoid thought proven right and then some. For a long time he kept silent, taking it all in. Finally he spoke again. “I believe it. Your explanation is true and the only one that makes sense. It doesn’t explain one thing, however. What possible mechanism allows you to keep things under control?” It’s not one mechanism, Rob, but a whole combination. We have nanite manipulation, but that is a costly use of resources. The religion helps, coupled with fulfilling what people want. It’s also been necessary to remind them about the contrast. We take things for granted, so the Commonwealth shows us what people lived in before. The idea is so horrifying that people will not go back. Of course we have the nonsense about Edward Stark being the prophet of God, uniting the world through His will and so on. The initiated know what’s true. It’s a noble and necessary lie. People believe that God is watching us, just like the signs tell you. Unlike in the past, there is evidence of this, although it’s us, not God, just us. Our morality, logical basis aside, has been based on the Panopticon. That is a word in one of the dead languages, from before we used Lojban. It means ‘all-seeing eye.’ If people believe and know they are being watched, despite not knowing the truth of it, deterrence is more effective than anything else could ever be. Panopticon also applies to our society in general, since we have knowledge that was previously unobtainable. We can see into the minds of every citizen. They must believe in God for this to really work.

The irrational is thus rational, you see. In moving into the Singularity, we shall increase control and connection until humanity becomes a singular being. That is our future, as with all species who survive. If you wish to know, that is the reason alien beings appear the same and do not use verbal communication. They have gone beyond it and operate in a hive mind. Eventually they will no longer have bodies and become essentially gods. There are, we believe, such beings in the universe. Perhaps that is God, although we do not know if one exists first to create other beings which succeed this position. It is a necessary part of our chosen evolution.” Rob stared at him, frightened. “How can we trust flawed people to do the right thing? You talk about logic but that’s not objective. It’s a means, not an end. We have everything but freedom. People live in gilded cages and most don’t want out. How did I find out?” Well, you help monitor the network and repair it. Your memories are always altered so you remember fixing it without seeing the specifics. We have watched you for a long time and now we’re going to fix you. As for the rest, it’s true that we are mortal beings. You should be glad, Rob, that Stark was a man above the rest. Without him, it might have taken years to unite humanity with the cost of untold suffering and death. Other species may have suffered so, we don’t know for sure. One person can change the world-be glad it was him.” We have no control, though! Stark may have been that good, but what about everyone else? This network could fall into the wrong hands and then what?” You never had control, Rob. The illusion was all you had, and still is. We are dust on the scale of the universe, and can be swept away in an instant. As for it falling into the wrong hands, you must realize Stark thought about it. Nanites were programmed to alter morals first, and so prevent this. Of course nothing is fool-proof, and this is our first responsibility.” It’s just machines, though! Anything breaks down, and then what? You can’t ‘fix’ everyone, and especially things which destroy machines that are not living. What if Alpha Centauri goes nova, and gamma rays wipe out all microchips, electronics, whatever. Everyone would be left in the stone age, without knowing how to do anything.” We have considered all your questions, Rob. No one can defend against everything. Our technology is shielded as best it can be against such disasters, but you’re right, it could still happen. Let me ask, do you prefer living with comfort and plenty, or what it used to be like? We have more than any human beings in history before us. Be grateful to live now, and escape the past.” Rob just shook his head. “I understand your points, but it’s still not enough. Freedom is something that has value since it’s not a natural state. You’ve given us the illusion of it only. I want the real thing.” Steve smiled sadly. “Ah, Rob, you don’t understand things even now. We don’t force you to live in the Commonwealth.” Images formed over him, holograms of the wilderness preserved and restored, he presumed, by nanites and not God, alongside the global climate. People were living there, in houses made of wood, in hide clothing. Rob watched as they hunted, grew crops and eked out an existence. It all had to be made painstakingly by hand, without modern medicine or accoutrements. Many fell ill or were injured, dying with no relief. Some appeared happy-more were miserable. He saw many begging to be let back into the gleaming cities of abundant food, entertainment, shelter and comfort. The harshness of their existence outside was shocking. “Those who truly are happy outside remain, and people can leave, at least for now. I do not think you would be content in there, Rob. Your mind indicates otherwise.” Rob was nodding rapidly, scared by the images. The simple things had done it on top of everything else. It had all been a horror, but the basics were particularly hard, striking a tender part, over what he took for granted and enjoyed in the Commonwealth. “I see that your insanity has begun to clear,” Steve said, satisfied. “It’s horrifying; I can’t get it out of my mind! I don’t know what’s true anymore. There’s no way to know! I don’t want to live on the outside, though. I’d die first!” No, no,” Steve said soothingly. “We will erase all your memories from this session. You’ll be monitored for mental illness and then released when you’re completely fit again.” He looked down kindly at Rob. “They once said the truth will set you free, but that is not really so. Our whole lives are lies, usually small ones, but even so. It’s easier to believe the lies we tell to ourselves and have been told. Ignorance is bliss, and everyone knows that. It may be a perilous bliss, but all the same it comforts us. We easily give over our minds to others and let them do the thinking for us. A free person is forever in agony, fighting the world. Ignorant ones are truly at peace. You want that now, don’t you?” Rob nodded, cowed by the knowledge that had passed before him. “Of course you do. This is the principle of the Cosmic Balance, as you know. Both ignorance and knowledge are necessary, too much of either, like all things, is bad. You know a part of the truth, while remaining ignorant about the rest. In this case, it was chosen.” Rob nodded meekly, and Steve smiled again. “Good, then everything is going to be fine. I’ll take away those bad memories right now.” The nanites put Rob to sleep for this procedure.

Lying on the table as his mind was altered, he looked content.

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