Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Chapter One: Justice Undone

The light, which illuminated the small room, was just enough to get the job done. It shone from a small hanging lamp that was centered on the ceiling. Across from the door sat a lone figure, hunched over and typing. His skin was pale from hours of low, artificial lighting and his clothes had a dampened appearance. His body gave the impression of being age and wear. Yet as he sat staring at the screen, U was thankful. When he had been presented with this commission, people said that he deserved it and they urged him not to display gratefulness; but he did. Every variable had been counted and it was only just that he received the position. U was, in fact, almost an anomaly in the history of justice. Statistically it was nearly impossible to get a commission due to a single variable, yet he had done it. Generally, commissions were given after taking into account an almost infinite amount of variables: age, weight, beliefs, race, experience, knowledge, IQ, stability, health, interest in occupation, love life, values, self-image…. The list goes on and on. But in the case of U, one variable, work ethic, had so outweighed the others that he was granted the commission. Some demanded that the variables and the figures be recounted and the computer be tested for flaws, but, as always, the system functioned perfectly. U knew all about the statistical improbabilities and this was why he thanked the official who presented the commission papers. But the official merely shrugged off U’s thankfulness: “Don’t thank me Mr. U. This had nothing to do with me. To tell you the truth I was among the first to demand an investigation, but you cleared so take these damn papers and get off,” the official had said.
None of these things ran through his head as he typed. He had been stationed on a remote control center on the moon. Only two people worked there beside himself. Mr. Node was in charge of the facility’s maintenance and Mrs. Gram worked, like U, at a terminal. The system found that it was more efficient if people did not know what they were working on as long as they were told that it was a matter of life or death. Of course people rarely believed that their work, whatever it might be, was of such importance and so most worked in order to hold their job. U did not know what Mrs. Gram did at the center other than the fact that she worked at a terminal. Breaks for food, rest, and bodily emissions were strictly scheduled everywhere so that co-workers could not find much time to fraternize. While the system had put an end to entropy in the field of justice, productivity was another matter. Not that anyone was complaining. The system had entirely taken away personal privacy in exchange for unmolested justice. Most felt it was a small price to pay. Every soul in the eUnion wore a PDA. This PDA had thousands of corresponding sources inside the body which monitored everything from viruses to heart rate, current location, calories left to burn, and even most emotions could be determined by examining changes in the mind, heart, etc… The PDAs would feed all this information into the system so that every movement, decision, and action could be analyzed in relation to justice. If, for instance, someone broke the speed limit because they were too lazy to leave on time, this person, upon breaking the speed limit, would immediately be presented with a ticket on the PDA. This action, along with every other, would be analyzed in regard to things like pay rate, occupation, etc… Likewise, if someone was to speed after discovering that his wife was cheating on him, the ticket would be less severe. In this way, everything was taken into account in order to achieve pure justice. The proponents argued that if all actions were rewarded or condemned immediately people would inevitably gravitate towards good acts. What they didn’t take into account was the vastness of the variables. In the beginning all PDAs would display responses to every single action taken by the individual. The result was an overload. There were several cases of people cutting off their ears in order to stop the buzzing that the PDA produces inside the ear whenever any variable changes. They quickly altered the software so that the internal buzzing would happen only when a person committed an act that changed a variable 10% or more. In addition, they allowed people to petition for a PDA that only produced visual warnings. This model was only given to people deemed mentally unstable who would likely crack under the pressure of continual judgment. U was one of these luckily cursed individuals.
It was partly due to his mental instability that U was able to gain his current position. One of the “entertaining” elements of the PDAs was that they could tell a person almost anything they wanted about their own body and its internal workings. Most people used this feature to keep track of weight loss, tell how well their white blood cells are doing against a virus, and so on. These variables, and many more, were the same ones used by the system to pronounce judgment. U had learned to read them in such a way as to optimize his work. By being completely aware of his body and its capabilities at all times, U was literally able to make every second of his workday count.
The compound in which U worked was very unique. Due to the great expense of sending power to such a remote part of the moon, the center was both poorly lit and air-conditioned. It was the worst in the early mornings and late nights when the oxygen generators would slow to a stop for the night and then slowly start up in the early morning. But it was at these times that U felt the most at home. He would arrive early with Mr. Node and begin work and leave after both Mr. Node and Mrs. Gram. Occasionally U’s work would be interrupted by Dr. Ortho who supervised a series of similar compounds across the northern moon hemisphere. The mantra of the system was redundancy as a cure for entropy. Even though no worker ever needed supervision with the constant surveillance of the PDAs, it had been found beneficial for productivity to have random human supervision. It was for this reason that U was thankful to have this position.
The door of the lonely room slid open with a solid gush of air; a short, stocky old man in a gray suit entered the room.
“’Lo U! How’s the work coming along? Diligent as ever, I see.” His words, much like his movements were both flighty and confident. U turned in his black office chair to look at the Dr.
“Is it that time already? Seems like you were by to check my figures just last week,” U said as he turned back to his work seemingly unconcerned with the Dr.’s presence. “Must you do this?”
“Yes, yes, you know quite well this is all necessary. I understand it must seem very trivial to someone like you, but I can tell you that any mistake would be very detrimental to our work here.” The Dr. walked over to U’s machine station and withdrew his PDA from it’s bag. As he began pressing buttons, U kept typing as if the doctor wasn’t there.
“You know U, I know it sounds odd but sometimes I think it would have been better for you to come work with me at my lab. Seems like you’re the complete opposite of the guy they sent me. He’s lazy, shows up late, talks a lot and complains even more. I guess the only way you two are similar is that you’re both outliers. He’s the last living member of his family line. And since the system seems to think that keeping a lineage is important, that variable out-weighed the fact that he’s a horrible worker…..say U, I can’t seem to get into your system. Cache back-up or something. Do you know anything about this?” U turned his head a little to the left but his eyes and fingers kept at their work.
“Umm, yes, I have it blocked from all wireless access.”
“Blocked? Why would you do that U?” The Dr.’s face began to reveal a hint of concern under a veil of confusion.
“I felt it would be safer, this is important data right?”
“well, yes….but blocking a station is clearly against did you do this without the system warning you?”
“Oh, well, I suppose the system realized there was no harm done. Here, I’ll unblock it.” For a second, for a mere second, U’s PDA began to flash and compute as if it’s owner had lied, a dreadful lie. But only for a second, then it concluded that it had been a false alarm.
“Thank you, and in the future, please restrain from taking your own initiative. You might have done considerable damage,” the Dr. said with a fatherly tone as he began to scan through the pages and pages of digital information. U turned back to his computer, but this time his fingers never reached their keys. In his left hand he clasped his PDA, and his eyes stared straight ahead; his breath grew faster and faster. He allowed a shiver to crawl up his spine. The Dr. looked up from his PDA and saw the shape of U’s body rise and fall with every breath. At first, he tried to ignore it, but as the pace grew faster, and his body began to shake, the Dr. spoke:
“Are you alright U?” He lowered his PDA and began to walk the couple of feet that separated them; the gray suit made a soft swooshing sound as he walked. He raised his right hand and went to place it on U’s shoulder when he saw a bright red light flashing from within U’s hand. The Dr. froze.
“U…is that your…PDA?” U looked down at his flashing PDA. He opened his palm to reveal an oblong device with keys at its base and a screen at the top. This screen was flashing red letters. U looked down at it and the slowly wrapped his fingers around the PDA once again.
“I think you should take a break U, I’ll come back later.” The Dr. began to move slowly away from U whose breathing had become faster and harder. As he moved, the Dr. inched his right hand toward his own PDA. Every thought in his head was bent on grasping that PDA and hitting the panic button. The hanging lamp’s light flickered and seemed to fade. The damp, still air began to weigh on the Dr.’s exposed skin. His sweating fingers felt around his PDA without the benefit of eyesight. His eyes stayed fixed upon U to see his aged body rise from the seat. As U stood, the Dr.’s feet moved faster as he walked backwards toward the door while his fingers stabbed desperately for the button. His graying hair glimmered, reflecting the light from the lamp. U turned to the Dr. and froze. The stood facing each other, the Dr. continued to stab at his PDA within it’s pouch while U simply took in air. For a moment there was nothing. In a sudden crash U’s PDA was thrown to the floor; its pieces spread throughout the room and the smell of burnt circuits reached the Dr. with a rush that covered his whole body with fear.
“U, what’s going on? Calm yourself. Remember the system. Remember….”
“I did,” replied U, as he lunged forward. The Dr. quickly turned to head for the door, but U was faster. He grabbed the Dr.’s head from behind and with a smooth kick to the back of his legs the Dr. fell to the floor. The Dr.’s voice cried out with pain as he swung franticly at U. with his PDA. But U. seemed oblivious to the Dr.’s defense as he leaped on top of the Dr. and began smashing the Dr.’s face with his fists. With each successive hit blood covered more and more of U and the Dr. The flailing hands of the Dr. struggled desperately to distract U while his mouth shouted out:
“Stop! Oh Please stop! Remember the system!”
The old man’s gray suit turned red with his own blood as his hands and words failed. U, still breathing feverishly sat upon the now dead Dr. He, stared at his bruised and bloody hands and waited. It would only be a matter moments before they came for him. With his eyes closed he visualized the murder, the screams and the death. The remembering calmed him for what was to come. Once they came he would be disposed of quickly, but justly. But regardless, he had already done what was needed, despite justice. U resisted the feeling of sickness that was crawling up his throat. The smell of blood, burnt circuits, and death filled the still room and drew U momentarily from replaying the murder in his head. The disruption unsettled him and the sickness grew.
“Mr. U?” In the doorway behind U a voice asked. U lowered his eyes. His heart beat rose and panic struck him. He had to be confident, if he doubted, he would never make it. Never.
“I am U.” His voice was not the way he had imagined it would be in the thousands of times he had dreamt of this moment. U crawled off of the Dr. and turned to face the Men.
There were three of them. They, like the Dr., wore gray suits. A red stripe went down the right side of two of them and a blue stripe on the third. The blue stripe signified their speaker. He had a case in his right had.
“Mr. U. where is your PDA?”
“Gone. I destroyed it”
“It is a punishable offense to destroy a PDA. The system can not function properly if people do not allow it to be with them.”
“I have done more than that, and I am not afraid.”
“What does the readout say?” The blue striped leader asked on of his assistants. The assistant removed a PDA and rapidly typed. He showed the result to the leader. The blue stripe crossed over the dead Dr. to where U stood. He could see U’s body trembling slightly as he drew near.
“You are to receive a new PDA and are removed from this position until further notice.” The blue stripe pulled a PDA out of his case and handed it to U. The speaker’s hand stretched out to U, but U didn’t move.
“I killed him.”
“Are you refusing to take the PDA Mr. U?” The two red striped Men readied themselves for any resistance.
“No….no I’ll take it.” The blood on U’s hands stuck to the PDA as he took it from the speaker. After the PDA switched hands the red stripe stood smiling at U for a moment until the unit lit up with U’s name.
“The recognition went through,” the speaker said to one of his aids, “you’ll be receiving instructions on when you can return to work within the next week. I suggest that you monitor this unit carefully. Good day sir.” The three stripes went through the door, leaving U with a bloody PDA and a now complete feeling of sickness.

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