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Alex was a writer for The National Sentinel,and loved his job. He had always been a writer. As a young child, he had spenthours with his pocketype, puttering away on the little keyboard as he wanderedthe neighborhood composing articles, which covered such significant events as theSmiths' purchase of a new automobile or the habits of old Mr. Granger's latestwife. He had graduated from writing college first in his class. And though hehadn't been with the Sentinel long enough to earn much fame, he knew he wouldsoon. Giving America the good news of the victories in the War on Liberty, of thelatest achievements of The Institution of Neuroscience and of the rooting out ofthe unwired: these were Alex's passions in life. With the exception, of course,of his passion for serving his country, but that went without saying.
Eventalent and passion combined had its limits, however. It was 2:57 a.m. No matterhow hard he tried to focus on the computer monitor, it was a blur of bright,white light and slowly scrolling characters. No matter how hard he commanded hisfingers to strike the correct keys, they continued to miss. And no matter howhard he tried to stay awake, his world kept on throbbing as he drifted to theedge of consciousness before jumping back to reality with a start. The office wasrunning behind tonight and, if he hadn't decided to pull an all-nighter, hisarticle (which explained in detail the latest triumph in the War on Liberty, thistime over France) wouldn't have made it into tomorrow's edition. He couldn't letthat happen. He had been awakened after midnight to learn of the victory, butregardless of such inconveniences, America had to receive the good news as soonas possible.
However, he was afraid that in his drowsiness he wasn'tgiving the article the full attention it deserved. Perhaps a shot of stimwaveswas in order. Alex reached up and flicked a switch on his white, fiberglassheadband. Ping-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping! The device chattered as it generatedelectro-magnetic waves, filling his inner ear. For a moment his mind racedincoherently: a blurred jumble of random thoughts, images, conclusions andnothings. Then he switched the generator off.
He was awake, more alive andawake than he remembered feeling in days. His hands collided with the keyboard,attempting to add his latest thoughts but producing gibberish as they skitteredtoo quickly across the keys. Alex stared at the monitor, then deleted but did notforget his last addition. Perhaps he had run the stimgen a bit toolong.
He stood up, fetching himself a glass of water, an excuse to walkaround for a bit and let his excited nerves calm. At this late and dark hour hemet only one of his co-workers, an accountant, in the halls.
"Goodnight, Alecia!" he greeted her.
"Good night, Patriot," sheanswered, somewhat absent-mindedly. She didn't even look at him. Her eyes wereclosed, no doubt crunching numbers. She was brilliant with them, though she didhave trouble dealing with the rest of the world. Strangely, almost allaccountants Alex knew were like this.
After his thirst had been quenchedand his hands calmed, Alex returned to his article. Despite focusing ondescribing the brilliance of America's victory over the French anarchists, histhoughts wandered. Liberty. It was a frightening idea, made even more frighteningby its reality. Alex knew, for he had been to Europe and seen it with his owneyes. It was the 22nd century, and yet there were still places on Earth (likeEurope) where humans were free to consider, and even commit, murder and robberyand rape. Places where even their most base and evil desires were left to them.Places where you couldn't walk down the street without wondering if the manbehind you was at that very moment considering revealing a knife and cutting yourwindpipe. Madness! But it was okay. America, bless her, was fighting a campaignto end liberty. America was bringing neuroscience to the rest of theworld.
But even in America, there were the unwired. Those whose mindshad never been touched (who retained the capability to hurt others) still livedand schemed and thought malicious thoughts. It wasn't even enough that theyendangered those around them by thinking such thoughts. No, they hoped to destroyneuroscience, making patriots as depraved as themselves and plunging the worldinto a dark age of barbarism and murder!
Alex shuddered, then resumed hiswork.
But that was also all right because America, or more specificallyThe Institution of Neuroscience, was rectifying that as well. Why, the very nextmorning one such rebel was scheduled to be publicly rewired! Alex sighedecstatically, a tear of joy welling in his eye. America didn't punish unwiredpeople for their sin: no, she forgave them and made them patriots! How he lovedhis country!
Red shafts of sunlight cut through each office window andscattering over the computers, swivel-chairs and the wall just as today's paper -with the good news of America's victory - went to print. Perfect! Alex had cut itclose. He was beginning to feel sleepy, but felt a sense of accomplishment,having served both his readers and America.
Now, if he went home he wouldbe able to get four good hours of sleep before the workday began again. Then heremembered the public rewiring. He truly disliked the idea of missing thesalvation of even one libertarian.
Alex reached up and switched on hisstimgen, experienced the rapid ping- ping and anarchic jumble of thoughts for asecond and then switched the device back off, feeling refreshed. With that, hewent to the bottom floor and exited the building. It was unhealthy to rely tooheavily on stimwaves, but it couldn't be helped. He would just have to get plentyof sleep tomorrow.
He was the first to arrive in the town square, asidefrom a few guards, who wouldn't be necessary if everyone in America werepatriots. He was able to secure a great spot next to where the reprogrammer hadbeen set up the previous night.
Alex's stimgen was designed to alteronly the things on the surface: current mood or level of awareness, immediatethoughts and short-term memory. The reprogrammer was a much more powerfulmachine. It resembled a chair and was made of steel-reinforced aluminum withseveral clamps and cuffs along each limb and the torso. A special set of braceswas in place to hold the head under the chin, on the forehead and behind thehead, keeping it perfectly still. For the participant, managing to jerk even acentimeter would result in the electromagnetic waves "missing," whichwould mean brain damage. Held above the head and connected to a multi-interfacedcomputer console was a wand of sorts: a wire-strewn rod, which ended indouble-loop directly over the participant's head. This would be generating theelectromagnetic waves, which would rewire the way the depraved mind worked:erasing his sinful nature - his very memory of his own sinful nature - and makinghim a true patriot.
A large crowd of such patriots had gathered behindAlex by the time they brought out the libertarian. The man was drugged, his headrolling from side to side as they carried him. He was a wretched sight. Hisclothes were clean but his body was dirty. His face was unshaven, his beardtangled, his hair matted and filthy. He looked like he had been living among wildanimals. He might very well have been. There were few places in civilizationwhere such a dangerous individual could escape the watchful eye of theInstitution of Neuroscience.
He was just coming to his senses as theystrapped him into place. A mob of blue-coated scientists from the Institutionwere attending to the computer console, talking quietly as they made sure all waswell with the reprogrammer. The crowd waited anxiously for the moment when theman would join their ranks.
The unwired man's breath caught loudly in histhroat as he realized where he was. His face began to turn a sickly shade ofgray.
One of the scientists, noticing, spoke to a guard, who in turnproduced a gag and began advancing toward us. The unwired man's eyes dartedwildly, his breath coming in rapid gasps between teeth that were held clenchedtogether by a brace under his jaw. He looked directly at Alex.
"Ye don't 'ave to listen to 'em," he gasped, barely understandably, ina thick Canadian accent. "None of us do." Then again, more frantically, "You don't have to listen to 'em!" The gag was put in place, endingany other attempts at communication.
Alex wondered what this man wouldbecome. Most likely a soldier: the victory in France had come at a steep priceand more were needed to keep fighting.
The unwired man's eyes wereswimming with fear, his nostrils flaring with each gasping breath, his facecovered in sweat, when one of the scientists made a final keystroke and poweredup the reprogrammer. A low hum filled the air and his expression froze, staringblankly.
The crowd held their breaths. For nearly a minute, the only soundwas the hum of the reprogrammer, the only movement the occasional flutter of hiseyelids. The hum stopped. A scientist gave a keyboard a command and the man'sbonds sprung open. He stood, looking at the world with wonder. "Give me aweapon," he proclaimed heroically and in unaccented English. "I wish totake up the fight against liberty!" His proclamation was met by the cheersof several hundred patriots, Alex amongthem.
Ping-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping! Alex's stimgen fired forseveral seconds, and something was unraveled from his mind. That didn't happenoften, but it was nothing to be alarmed about. After all, the only way hisstimgen could be controlled remotely was through the Institution of Neuroscience,so it was undoubtedly for a good reason.
People were swarming up andpushing him out of the way, congratulating the man, patting him on the back andshowing him to the nearest recruiting office. Alex smiled, then turned to gohome. He would
probably have time for breakfast and a shower before itwas time to begin work on tomorrow's edition of The NationalSentinel.
Alex continued to think about the new patriot. He compared theman's newfound devotion to what he had been to his proclamation to fight forAmerica to his former whispers of ... what was it he had told Alex? Somethingabout ... no, it wouldn't come to him. Well, it probably hadn't been worthremembering. Just some blasphemous nonsense. What a wonderful thing rewiringwas!
Alex stopped, spotting his name on a public monitor. "AlexAnderson: scheduled for rewiring, 7 a.m." But why? What was wrong with him?Alex turned and started off the way he had come at a swift trot. It was already6:53, and though the Institution of Neuroscience was close by, but he would stillhave to hurry to get there.
He loved being a writer! He loved writing!Why would they take that from him?
"Good morning, Patriot!" anold man who lived on the bottom floor of his apartment complex greeted him.
Hadn't he served America, bless her, all his life as a writer? Hadn't heput everything he had into completing that article on time? All he wanted was tocontinue doing that!
He turned and began walking up the stonesteps.
He wanted to remain the person he was! He wanted to stayAlex!
He entered the huge doors of the Institution ofNeuroscience.
That man! There was some profound connection between whatthe unwired had said to Alex and his current plight. He couldn't place it. Therelay the key. He could escape, could keep being himself, if only he couldremember!
The secretary smiled. "Good morning,Patriot!"
"Good morning, Samantha!" he answered, readingher name tag.
"Alex Anderson?" sheasked.
"Yes," he answered calmly. And I want it to stay thatway! his mind screamed.
"Rewiring, right?" sheconfirmed.
"Yes," he responded. No no no! he shriekedsilently.
"Third floor, first door on the left." She flashed himone more smile.
"Thank you," he said. He had to get out of this!Alex ascended the first flight of stairs. It had been something bad. Somethingwrong.
The man had told him something blasphemous.
Alex reached thelanding and ascended the second flight.
So there lies the key to remaininghimself. He had to do something bad. Something wrong. Something only a slave ofliberty could do. Something rebellious.
Alex reached the third floor. Heapproached the first door to his left. But he wasn't a slave of liberty. He knewnothing of liberty. He was a patriot. He couldn't possibly rebel againstAmerica's wishes. He couldn't even comprehend the possibility. His mind justdidn't work that way.
Alex entered the lab and seated himself in thereprogrammer without a word. He was clamped into place. The wand began to emit alow hum, more of a pulsing whir in Alex's ears.
And everything Alex wasand knew and remembered began to unravel. It started with his memories. His lifecame undone, starting with his earliest memories and working its way up to thepresent, until he was nothing but a writer without a past. Alex, the newspaperauthor from nowhere. And then, ever so slowly, even that began to unravel. Hisloves, his hates, his sense of self, unraveled. He was without shape, driftingunconsciously through a multi-hued sea of blank thoughts and liquidconsciousness.
And then, this sea began to come back together, to builditself back up. He was strong. He was stubborn. He was loyal. He was a brilliantplayer of chess, and though crude in many areas, his mind was perfectly suited tothe thoughts and maneuverings of a tactician. He hated liberty. His youngestsister had been raped and murdered by a sect of unwired when he was 14. He andsome fellow patriots had rooted them out and led them to the center of town atgunpoint long before the Institution of Neurology's enforcers could arrive. Hehad graduated first in his class at West Point, but still hadn't seen livecombat. He relished the chance.
Gregory Rogers slowly stood up from hischair as soon as his clasps were opened, wondering how he had gotten there. Itdidn't matter.
"Give me a weapon," he proclaimed heroically."I wish to take up the fight against liberty!"
He was a fighter.He had always been a fighter. Bringing low the forces of liberty was his onepassion in life. With the exception, of course, of his passion for serving hiscountry, but that went without saying.