In the halls of ultimate global power, a beautiful woman in a stunning silk dress sat behind a large glass desk that was covered in data swimming just below the surface. Her finely manicured fingers moved across the surface in adept fashion, video feeds and sensitive information displayed before her gaze. Behind her head, a bust of President Sugarhill loomed large, the honored and distinguished features of the President Beyond Elect watching nobly over the woman toiling beneath him.
She looked up from her work, an impatient expression on her pretty face that turned to one of derision as she saw a staffer standing just inside the door.
“How dare you disturb me!”
“Terribly sorry, ma’am,” he said, walking across the room toward her. “It’s a matter of extreme importance.”
She drew herself erect and fixed him with a steely gaze. “What could a level one admin assistant possibly have for me of extreme importance? You’re barely cleared to carry coffee.”
“Oh, I think you’ll find what I have to say very important,” he said with a smirk.
“I think you’re going to get escorted out of here and spend some time in interrogation and retraining,” she replied, hostile.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” he said in a casual drawl as he not only reached her desk, but walked around it to stand next to her, his eyes locked on hers in a way that made her feel strange and uncomfortable. “I think you’re going to listen to what I have to say, and you’re going to do as I tell you.”
Her jaw dropped in shock and outrage. Nobody spoke to Senator Ripley the way this upstart of an assistant was speaking to her. She was one of the ruling fifty, men and women who determined the fate of all those who lived in the great extended state of unity. Most barely dared make eye contact with her. She had the president’s ear, power beyond most people’s wildest dreams. Being stared down by some peon angered her deeply.
“You must be out of your mind,” she said. “But we have some very good people who will help you find it.”
He looked at her, her breasts heaving in outrage beneath the silk. She looked down and saw that her silken dress was giving away signals of unintentional desire, her nipples hard underneath the fabric. Immediately confused, she covered for her physical reaction by reaching for the emergency call button that would bring dozens of heavily armed soldiers into her chambers at a moment’s notice.
“Not so fast, petal.”
Her finger stilled over the emergency button. She stared at him, her jaw going slack. The aura of control evaporated in an instant as she stood there, somehow seeming to shrink before this man. Every part of her quivered, from her lower lip to her knees.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” she gasped. “I didn’t recognize you.”
“You never do,” he murmured. “You’re quite a wench of your own accord, aren’t you. Perhaps I should modify your behavior, have you lower yourself before your subordinates.”
“If that pleases you, sir.”
The man smiled ever so slightly and pointed to the floor. “First position.”
A glazed look came into the woman’s eyes. The outrage and arrogance faded immediately as she sank to her knees, spreading them wide as they touched the floor. The slit of her silk dress gave way under the pressure and the fabric split all the way up to her crotch, revealing a bare pussy.
“Good girl,” he murmured. “You followed my last orders about keeping yourself naked under your clothes. Nice sheer dress too. You’ve been doing so well for me, my sweet petal.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, her eyes locked on his face, her chin lifted as she kept her eyes on him with a supplicant’s gaze. There was eagerness there, an obvious desire to please the same man who moments before she had treated as a stranger, and a lowly one at that.
“You forget so many things,” he said. “But you don’t forget your orders, do you. Such a good girl.”
Her face lit up and the serious expression that had aged her while she worked melted away to leave her looking younger and infinitely happier.
He reached down and caressed her cheek with his hand, and she rubbed her face against him like a cat begging for attention.
“I’ve missed you,” he murmured.
“I’ve missed you too, sir,” she said, her voice lighter and softer, infinitely more feminine. “It has been so long.”
Her fingers were on his thighs. He raised a brow as if she shouldn’t really be touching him, but then nodded briefly and she let her fingertips find the hard flesh straining beneath the unassuming trousers.
“Not yet, petal,” he said as she drew the zipper of his fly down. “Not until you take my orders.”
She stopped, her lower lip almost daring to attempt a pout as he told her what he wanted her to do.
“You’re going to vote no on the next resolution to extend surveillance and mandatory chipping,” he said. “And you’re going to transmit fifteen percent of your salary into the black-chain account marked 12-45-23-98. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” she said in trancelike tones.
“You’re sure? Tell me what you’re going to do.”
“I’m going to transmit fifteen percent of my next salary into the account marked 12-45-23-98, and I’m going to vote no on the resolution to extend surveillance and mandatory chipping, also known as the Friendly Faces Friendly Spaces addendum to the amendment, sir.”
“Very good, petal. You always were so perfectly detail oriented.”
A visible shiver of pleasure ran through her body as he used the pet name and praised her at the same time. Her hands were still on his cock, stroking it through the fabric as real hunger entered her eyes.
“Thank you, sir,” she moaned.
“Good little toy,” he praised. “Now, you may have your treat.”
She pulled his cock from his pants, her fingers and beautifully made-up mouth both wrapped around his rod in quick measure, her eagerness to please him translating to a loud and effusive blowjob.
A phone buzzed in his pocket. He answered it with the senator still on her knees, her mouth occupied with his manhood. He reached down and put his hand on the back of her head to still her for a second, holding her deep on his dick in order to get her to quieten down enough to hear the voice on the other end of the line.
“Next target, young woman by the name of Tara Tanner. She’s ready for capture.”
“Copy that,” he murmured. “I’ll be on my way in just a minute.”
The smiling face of President Sugarhill beamed out over the citizenry, his face projected from a billboard the size of a small town.
Capitol Hill was a mass of rainbows and sparkles surrounding the Sugarhill statue, which took pride of precedence on the great green lawn behind the capitol building, prominently displayed at the apex of an imaginary triangle linking the Peace Circle, the Garfield Circle, and the Capitol building itself. The statue was taller than the building, and could be seen from space, as was fitting for the most decorated, illustrious, loved dear leader of all history.
She could see the shoulders and head of the great edifice even from her less than stellar accommodations in the Highlands. She was halfway between those two worlds now, heading toward the center of civilization at a quick stride.
As she walked, Tara tapped at her phone, scrolling through yards of comments on an article about the latest coupling of a celebrity pair known for their acting and musicality and approved fiscal status. She was three comments behind her daily quota and needed to make a cheerful contribution soon, lest she lose her sugar stars and be downgraded from a sweet heart to a sour puss.
She was on the verge of a very, very big break. Nothing could jeopardize that now. She had to be the perfect citizen. Even now, she was on her way to buy a smileometer she didn’t really need, simply to ensure that she had met her consumption quota for the month.
The three-second blaring advertisement gleamed from the screen of her phone, obscuring everything with its sunny glow. The patriot jingle burbled happily over the speakers before dying down and returning her to the article on the upcoming nuptials of the symbol formerly known as North South, and the infamous rocker Happy Paddock. They made a gorgeous couple, posing together with their heads shaved and painted brightly in geometric repeating patterns.
Tara felt a pang of anxiety as she ran her hand through her strawberry blonde locks. Should she shave her hair and paint her head too? Would that impress the cultural commissar? Follow a trend too early, and you risked being labeled a heretic. Too late, and there was the real threat of being considered individualistic.
Every part of Tara’s attire was calculated to be perfectly on brand and in the middle of the fashion lane. Her skirt was tight across her hips, then flared out before the knee, before returning to a ruched hem that clung to her upper calves. Each of the sections of the skirt was a different fabric: the upper part was a tight synthetic leather, the flare was a flowing chiffon, and the ruched hem was made of reclaimed ocean plastic. It was not at all comfortable to wear, but it had been designed by one of the top fashion committees in the world, and she had received a lot of compliments on it.
Her boots came up just under her knees. Croc boots were so comfortable, and with the aeration holes running up and down the sides, her feet never got too hot or too cold. Her upper body was clad in a light blouse bearing her national designation: Friend!
The word was repeated in multiple black block fonts over the bright yellow fabric in a way that made her occasionally seem to disappear entirely into the advertising hoardings lining the street. Urban camouflage, some people called it.
She began tapping a comment on the article, her thumbs moving in agile fashion over the smooth screen.
Congratulations to the happy coupl…
No, she thought to herself, deleting the comment before she posted it. Too generic. Too old-fashioned. Something her great-grandmother might have written.
No. She deleted that too. Too flippant and too casual. She was on the verge of joining the civil service. She couldn’t go around saying things like ‘awesomesauceome’ anymore. Hmm… this was a real problem…
“Target is locked,” a voice murmured. “Shut the eyes.”
The slim strawberry blonde-headed woman with great blue eyes and an air of studious innocence had no idea who she was being watched by. She knew she was being watched, of course. Everybody knew they were being watched. Being watched was a very good thing. Friends watched friends. But not everybody who watched was friendly.
She walked under a flashing banner with a large eye and under it words in a great giant friendly yellow font: Are you being a friend, friend?
A block ahead of the target, workmen moved a yellow and black blockade across the sidewalk. The target diverted down an alleyway without breaking stride, or removing her eyes from the screen of her phone.
“Cut her personal streams.”
One by one, the feeds cut out, until only one was left. One that lay in the hands of anyone but the government. As she walked down the alley, still tapping at her phone, she was entirely unaware of the fact that she had walked into a very neat trap.
Three dark figures slipped up behind her. Their footsteps were not muffled, but it didn’t matter. A sense of perpetual safety blinded her to the reality of the situation. Whatever natural instincts she had once possessed to let her know of the approach of predators were dulled into total submission by the glowing box in front of her eyes.
At the very last moment, her phone went dark. Suddenly, she looked up and then around, her senses kicked into a panicked overdrive as she became instantly aware of everything happening around her. It was too late to do anything.
The tallest of the men wrapped his arms around her, his hand poised to strike a sedative into her neck. Before he could, she kicked back and whipped around, her bag flailing wide as she struck out with it ineffectually. How could one young woman with a handbag hope to fight off three armed attackers?
The sound of death echoed in the streets and the figure slumped onto the ground with all the weight and intelligence of a sack of potatoes. The camera zoomed in…
An armored hand hit the stop button on the remote and the screen went black.
“It was a real clusterfuck, Mark,” General Chablis growled, turning to the man behind him. “I don’t need to tell you that.”
Standing in the bunker six stories deep beneath the Washington underground, cold blue and gray light lit the face of a man whose life had been dedicated to resistance, a man with such a large price on his head that should anyone manage to take him alive, they would instantly become one of the ten richest people in the city.
The man nodded curtly, his face impassive, dark eyes holding back judgment.
He was Mark Kilroy, or the Marquis of Mayhem, as those who liked to romanticize such things called him when he wasn’t within earshot. He was a tall man with a face equally illustrative of intellect and brutishness. He had a high forehead, the hint of a widow’s peak, very dark eyes that were almost black in the low light of the room, a long straight nose and high cheekbones, a prominent jaw, and lips that at the moment were set in a hard line. He was in his late thirties, or perhaps his early forties. It was hard to tell. His legend put him at the very beginning of the resistance. As a young man, he had been a prominent foot soldier, responsible for a great many unsavory attacks upon the burgeoning authoritarian establishment. Now he lived underground, a shadow that still managed to cast fear into the hearts of the ruling class. It was not easy for him to exist in a world that hated him, a world in which there were still units dedicated solely to rooting him out. There was a bounty on his head, and it would take one betrayal from an underling for him to be caught and punished with death, but thus far the loyalty of the underground was stronger than the want to spend money. Money meant nothing at all in a world where every thought, deed, and desire was so strictly regulated that it was barely worth existing at all.
“What happened to the target?”
“We have her in custody.”
“And the source of the detonation?”
“She had a laser saber in her purse. The trigger was activated when she made contact with Tybalt’s head with the side of the bag. It overloaded and exploded.”
“And our man?”
“Tybalt died on the scene,” the general said. “He’s been taken to the final field.”
Mark nodded. It was an unfortunate freak accident, but judging from what he’d seen on the tape, Tybalt had gotten sloppy. Resistance protocols involved entirely disarming any target before attempting to take them. She should have had her phone and bag taken from her at the initiating of contact.
If they had been going for a higher level agent, they’d never had made that mistake, but the target on this occasion was a young civilian woman, an easy target, or so Tybalt must have thought. It was a damn shame, and a real issue for the resistance. Tybalt wasn’t just a field agent, he had been the primary conditioner, the man who would have turned her from an ordinary citizen into a tool of the resistance.
Mark had originally developed the reconditioning process, and he’d trained Tybalt in it. The man had been adept at his job, disturbingly so at times, and Mark had been content to hand the task over to him. The initial process had been developed for use against active enemy agents, women who were embedded in the system, whose actions caused millions to be enslaved against their will. Then the resistance leadership had decided to use the technique against likely recruits. It was easier to take someone who wasn’t yet in the government than it was to take high-ranking members, but it was also far less ethical in Mark’s opinion. The young ladies Tybalt had been breaking to his will for months on end were not entirely innocent, but they were also not guilty, not yet.
“So you’ve called me in because…”
“We’ve got two choices, Mark. The first is to wipe her brain and get her back on the street.”
He was talking about applying a heavy dose of their conditioning agent. A big enough dose would simply blank the last few hours of events from her mind—at least. It could also take more than the last few hours. It could end up taking weeks, months, or even years. It could wipe her completely, turn her into an empty shell of a person. The conditioning drugs were designed to be used lightly, and in tandem with physical training and psychological techniques. Simply giving a heavy dose and sending someone on their way was equivalent to taking a hammer to their cerebral cortex.
“She’s a brilliant girl, and frankly, we’d rather not destroy her mind,” the general continued. “Our other option is to put her through the conditioning process. But you’re the only one who can do that. Tybalt was our East coast man, and Virginia is busy on the West coast. So this girl is all out of luck, and she’s running out of time too. Her life and her mind are in your hands, Mark.”
Had he had less self-discipline, he would have sworn out loud. Instead, he let the curse words run through his head in a silent stream. He’d promised he’d never do another round of conditioning unless it was absolutely essential for breaking a high-level agent. What he did was invasive—physically, emotionally, and especially sexually. And it didn’t always work out as intended. Some subjects never recovered the facade of civility and became hypersexual to a near criminal level; some of them lost their minds completely, internal demons breaking free from the lockboxes of their minds and wreaking havoc on their lives. Even a skilled conditioner never quite knew what would happen once he entered the psyche of a subject. In Mark’s mind, it wasn’t worth the risk unless they were dealing with someone so guilty by their actions that the risks were morally mitigated. This girl did not fit the bill at all. And yet to outright refuse would be to sentence her to a life of hell.
When he spoke, it was with a clipped, well-disciplined tone that held back the avalanche of anger he felt toward the recently deceased Tybalt, and whoever had approved the mission to take the girl in the first place.
“Let me talk to her, sir. I’ll see if I think she’s a good candidate.”
“Good man,” the general smiled, clapping him on the shoulder. “It’s good to have you back.”
Tara didn’t have her phone.
She held her hands in front of her in a sort of trained reflex, almost feeling the weight of the slim rectangle, but whenever she looked down, it wasn’t there. She’d had a phone in her hand as long as she could remember, and to be deprived of it felt as though she had lost a limb.
It should have been the least of her concerns. The last hour had been one strange swirl of action in which she had been abducted, blindfolded, drugged, and now sat in a small room that contained nothing but the stool upon which she was awkwardly perched. The walls were slate gray, totally plain aside from a motif above the door to the room. There was a golden flower there with slim yellow petals; a dandelion, she thought. She didn’t know what it meant, but it kept drawing her eye over and over again.
She was almost too confused to be properly scared. There was no reason for anyone to abduct her as far as she was aware, and the quality of the room she was in made her feel as though she must have been taken by some government agency. The walls were smooth and metallic, perfectly sealed. This wasn’t some back alley operation. This had the feeling and scent of official business all over it. The only thing she could think of was that it must be part of the selection process for her upcoming intake into the Sugarhill administration. Yes. It was a test. It had to be a test. They were probably gauging her ability to handle stress. Well, she’d show them.
Taking a deep breath, she put her hands underneath her butt to stop them from clawing at a nonexistent phone.
This did seem rather rough and over the top, but she knew if she wanted a position in the civil service, she would have to prove herself. There were all kinds of rumors around the selection process. Nobody inside the civil service spoke about what they had been through. A veil of silence ensured that those on the inside did not speak to those on the outside. Even in her final graduation classes where people from the administration had been conducting interviews, nothing had been given away.
In their society, there was a hard line separating government from consumer, which could not be crossed except for a few short years where the most promising young people would be selected for a fresh intake. Top graduates would be inducted into government positions, and from there, well, it was said one’s rise would be meteoric. Civil servants did not pay for anything. They were exempt from tax and gifted property by the state.
In sharp contrast, citizens were not allowed to own property and were compelled to spend eighty percent of their universal allowances on consumables, in order to keep the economy healthy. Tara’s mother and father had been citizens their entire lives, but they had higher hopes for her, so had saved their twenties, the twenty percent they were allowed to keep, to send her far from the Idaho backwoods to New York City for college.
Having recently graduated, Tara had been looking forward to leaving her poky universal apartment behind for one of the glittering abodes nearer the financial center. Perhaps this was a step on the road toward it. Perhaps having been snatched and bagged and left in an empty room was a good thing.
As Tara tried to convince herself that all was well, against the rather obvious odds, the door opened and a man entered the room. He was tall, clean shaven, short hair neatly cropped, wearing a dark suit and tie. He looked as though he was trying to be nondescript, but he was failing. He had a striking face, a mix of brute strength and keen intellect expressed in narrowed eyes over which dark slashing brows were pulled together in a half-frown. His jaw was set firmly, his lips full for a man, but masculine just like the rest of him. She figured he was nearly twice her age, mature and imposing without trying.
“Stand up,” he said, his tones cool and clipped. “Turn around and face the wall, hands above your head.”
She did as she was told, her body obeying his order instantly. Her hands were on the wall before she realized she didn’t know who he was or why she was doing as he told her. Should she be obeying him? Was it a test to see if she was easily led? If so, should she be?
She looked over her shoulder, caught his gaze, and opened her mouth just seconds before regretting it. “What’s this about?”
One strong hand scruffed her at the back of her neck like a kitten and turned her face back to the wall. “Young lady, you seriously assaulted someone this evening.”
Her blood ran cold and her heart began to pound. “I was attacked! I didn’t assault anyone!”
His other hand was roaming her body, under her breasts, down the line of her stomach, between her thighs, against her ass. There was nothing lascivious about the touch. It was commanding and professional and thorough even as it examined her most intimate places with a sure, sweeping touch.
“You discharged a weapon at an officer.”
“What? I didn’t!”
His hand came down hard against her ass in a slap that sent her to her toes and made her shriek with shock.
“There’s a man with a hole where his chest used to be, citizen.”
“I don’t know… I didn’t…” she stammered. Grasping after memory, she tried to work out what he was talking about. Everything had happened so quickly. One moment she had been walking along, trying to figure out what to comment, the next there were hands all over her and she’d lashed out. There had been a loud bang and a second later a black cloth had been pulled over her head and the yelling and the shouting had been totally unintelligible as she slipped into some kind of sedated state.
“I was kidnapped,” she gasped. “I mean, I didn’t do anything wrong. They tried to grab me…”
He turned her around, keeping her pushed up against the wall as he stood over her. He was so much taller than her, two and a half feet taller at least, and the breadth of his body made her feel positively diminutive.
She knew instantly that he was a high-ranking government agent. He could be nothing else. His dress, his bearing, his very essence spoke to a man used to the role of command.
“I’m being considered for a role in the service,” she stammered up at him in hopes it would earn her some leniency. “I’ve completed three of my five applications, I…”
“You’re not listening,” he said, his voice cool like steel. “You are in a great deal of trouble, young lady.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “Really, I didn’t. I was grabbed from behind, and I had a small weapon in my purse and it must have gone off…”
“A weapon,” he said flatly. “Citizens are not permitted to bear arms. The second amendment was repealed in 2028. Did you not get the memo?”
“I wasn’t even born then,” she said. “But it wasn’t a gun, it was a…”
“We know what it was. An energy directed matter transference device. Far more dangerous than a simple gun ever could be. It doesn’t just put a hole in a person, it turns every atom in the weapon’s radius inside out. It’s an exceptionally restricted item, young lady.”
“I’m so sorry,” she stammered. “My dad gave me it when I moved to the city. He made me promise I’d carry it with me in case… I’ve never used it. I really didn’t…”
“Sorry is too little, too late. A man is dead by your hand.”
“He died? Oh, my god!”
Tears spilled from her eyes instantly, her stomach twisting with grief and remorse. She could not believe it, and yet the weight of his words and his presence and the jumbled memories of what had taken place in that alley all conspired to make her certain that it was true.
She curled up on herself and fell to the floor at his feet, grief and regret overwhelming her. She could not believe this. She was on the verge of a government career. She was about to make it in a way very few people born to her circumstances ever would. That future had evaporated now. She was sure she would be charged as a criminal, disconnected from good society, sentenced to a colony, if she was lucky, and she would forever live with the knowledge that she had taken a life.
“Please,” she whimpered. “It was an accident. He came up behind me so quickly… I didn’t know. Please don’t disconnect me.”
Mark was not often given to sympathy. It was not a useful mental state for the work he did, but the girl sobbing at his shoes did tug at his heartstrings. She had inadvertently committed a crime that would forever stain her conscience.
He knew what that felt like. If she was not treated, it would likely crush her over time. It had already forever changed her. She would never walk down the street with ease again. She would never experience the comfortable dull bliss of those who are too innocent and naive to think that something bad could ever happen to them.
She could have been spared the knowledge of it, he supposed. Her reaction told him that she’d not really registered the extent of events, but the truth was necessary, in small doses at least. Now that she was in the possession of the resistance, facing a mind wipe or his conditioning process, the death might provide some kind of context for it all, some meaning to the suffering that was about to be unleashed on her.
By the end of the conditioning, he could absolve her of Tybalt’s passing. He would be able to select her memories, moving through her mind as adeptly as he might search through a filing cabinet, taking what he wanted. By the time he was done with her, everything about the night would be neatly erased. As far as she was concerned her pedestrian life would have continued on unabated and without issue. She would wake up in her apartment a few days from now with a set of planted memories filling the gaps left by her conditioning, and she would live her life as a perfect little peon of the state—albeit one with a biological backdoor built in that would forever leave her vulnerable to his will.
It seemed like a perfect solution to the problem at hand, but Mark’s qualms remained. Enemy actors were one thing, soldiers who had taken up arms against them. But she was just a girl, a young woman who would undergo a humiliating, intensely sexual process that was not without risk itself.
He had to make a decision as to her fate, and he had to do so quickly.
“Stop crying,” he ordered. “Now.”
She looked up at him, her eyes filled with miserable tears. She didn’t actually stop crying, but she did cry a great deal more quietly. She had the most perfect baby blue eyes, so innocent in almost every way. He felt his cock twitch as he allowed himself to acknowledge her beauty. Training her would be quite a pleasure.
Mark crouched down in front of her so they were at eye level, his dark gaze meeting her confused watery stare.
“Your life will never be the same,” he said with soft intensity. “The world you knew is gone. There is nothing that can be done to change that. Not now.”
“Quiet.” There was little volume to his voice, but he spoke with such force of personality that she quieted instantly. He already knew what she was going to say. She was going to repeat herself. She was going to beg him to understand that she hadn’t intended to take a life. She was going to insist that it was not her fault. She was going to say anything and everything she could think of to get out of trouble. He saved her the bother.
“It doesn’t matter that it was an accident. It doesn’t matter that you were attacked first. It doesn’t even matter that you have no idea who it was who set upon you, or where you are now. All that matters is that you have a choice. So listen to me very carefully.”
He paused for a moment, ensuring that she was actually focused on him and what he was saying, not wallowing in her feelings. She kept dropping her head in order to sob, until he grasped her chin and raised her head so she was looking into his eyes.
“I can give you the life you were going to have back to you. It will not come at a small cost, and once we begin, there is no turning back. You will experience things you have never imagined. You will do things that right now seem impossible to you. You will become someone you barely recognize. But in the end, you will be returned to the life you were leading, nobody will know of your crime, and you will go on to take your place in the establishment.”
Her tears were already drying as she stared at him, a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
So polite. So eager.
“You haven’t heard the other choice yet.”
“I don’t need to,” she said. “I want my life back. I want for everything that happened today to never have happened.”
She had fundamentally misunderstood his offer. She had mistaken him for some kind of magician capable of altering the past. She was not thinking these things because she was stupid, but because she was so very desperate. She needed a savior, and in that moment there was nobody but him. In some small way, the conditioning process was already underway. She was imprinting on him as an authority of great power.
He looked into her eyes and saw a prime subject for conditioning, one who was asking for it, maybe even needing it. This was more consent than any other subject had ever given, and yet he was still fundamentally opposed to putting her through it. Perhaps that was selfishness on his part. If he didn’t put her through the process, and if she was simply put back on the streets in an amnesiac state, government agents would find her, interrogate her, and probably put her into prison. They would be suspicious of any kind of disruption of personality and memory, probably accuse her of some kind of treason or desertion if she were no longer capable of performing the role they had intended for her. She would soon discover that the government she was so blindly loyal to had no care for her at all, and that would likely destroy her completely.
There could be no overstating the emotional dependence average citizens had upon the government. From the moment of birth, the first thing every new child saw was the Sugarhill logo, the all-seeing eye that gazed upon every citizen of the great world state. That logo appeared on toys, in videos, in every book allowed to be published and beyond, and with it the three ‘truths’:
Faith in friends. Freedom in faith. Friends in freedom.
They didn’t make any sense. They weren’t supposed to. The truths were an attack on reason, a way to break down the concept that words actually meant anything at all. The three short cheerful phrases set to a jingle in three quarter time, a musical signature designed to evoke a sense of nostalgia for a time that never was. It played constantly almost everywhere, was sampled in every new pop song, was sung before and after the anthem, was hummed on the lips of millions on a daily basis.
Mark’s conditioning regime had been created out of the necessity to break the mental shackles everyone was now born into, but he did not have the benefit of media and a lifetime of influence. His methods were far more direct, intense, and at times, even cruel. But they only existed in response to a campaign against free will that had been acting on society for decades.
The first seeds of the current paradigm had been put in place when Mark was barely out of diapers. In 2013, a law preventing the use of government propaganda against the general citizenry had been repealed. At the same time, technology was evolving at a faster and faster pace, and every person in the developed world was soon carrying a device from which the battery could not be removed, which was always listening and transmitting their position. Beyond that, it could also tell where their eyes were looking, how long they were gazing at the screen, and much more besides. It enabled companies to start working on what was referred to behind the scenes as ‘cultural capture.’
As technology progressed, jobs became more scarce. As a teenager, Mark had faced a life of chronic unemployment, living at home with his parents his entire life. It had been a depressing and frightening future to face, so when universal income was introduced, it was hailed as a great savior of the middle and lower classes. What nobody, aside from a few unpopular voices, had realized was that it was also the final nail in the coffin of freedom.
With everybody dependent on the state, the state became all powerful, and the growing burden of paying a set income to millions of people bled the coffers dry. They should have known then where things were headed, but it wasn’t until the Final Merger in 2035 that the trap truly closed. Mark had been fifteen years old when the big five mega-corporations joined forces and bailed the country out of its mammoth debt.
Suddenly, the government was no longer comprised of elected representatives. Executives replaced senators, advertisers replaced lobbyists. Instead of elections, people were permitted to vote in nonbinding online polls. Government became business, and citizens were redefined overnight as consumers. The very concepts of constitutional rights were erased and finally, people woke up. At least some of them did, but it was too little far too late.
An independent and at times unruly teenager, Mark had been part of the first wave of resistance. The early days were bloody and brutal and few people understood what had taken place in the Five Years War, already entirely scrubbed from historical archives. He was sure the girl sniffling in front of him would have no knowledge of it at all.
Resistance was soon made almost impossible, thanks to government-owned technology that turned every person into a potential enemy spy. The government, run by President Sugarhill, crushed the resistance wherever it sprouted, and at the same time, deployed all its public conditioning at full force.
In a matter of years, the concept of resistance wasn’t just life-threateningly dangerous, worse still, it was unfashionable. Anyone who considered it publicly was roundly shamed on every social platform available. After all, the new corporate state provided livelihood for all people, with a few reasonable terms and conditions, of course. Personal freedom became an outdated concept. The mere mention of the word would soon bring eye rolls and scoffed chortles from those who considered themselves educated and urbane.
Only the worst kind of people would think to resist the new order, the grand coalition of saviors, so soon it was not just that it was hard to resist, it was that it had become hard to even think of resisting. With every passing year, those who remembered the old ways grew old and weak and died, and the new order became more established. President Sugarhill was a brilliant man, there was no doubt about that, and he soon oversaw the engineering of a society where the only jobs to be had were government positions, and where your survival as a corporate customer depended on ‘being a friend.’
Mark had known a time before President Sugarhill. He had known freedom. He had known what it was to live in a world where the government was still accountable to the citizenry. But this girl, she had no concept of what that was, and likely never would. She was a puppet person, and in so many ways she was only barely human. Relentless propaganda throughout her life had hollowed out her brain and left a logo and a jingle where her mind should have been. He had been fighting his whole adult life to save people just like this one, and now he knew he had no choice. What had to be done, had to be done.