Illusion of Choice Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Several Minutes Later

After arriving early, David watched the bored citizens enter the classroom 5 minutes before the class started. David, who had been sitting for about ten minutes, scrutinized the people entering. Their ages ranged from the new workers of 18 to the retired at age 70. After 70, classes were only taken by those who wanted to learn.

“I hate that we have to be up so early just to learn about outlaws in the past” said a petite blond of about 18-years-old. “I just don’t care.” She was frowning as she spoke. She struggled to keep her eyes open.

“I know. I wish we could go back to being teenagers and not having to work” replied the tall muscular guy walking next to her. “I actually miss school starting at 0900.”

“Watch your tone.” A woman at the end of the working age limit piped up. “None of that dissenting talk.” The old woman squawked. The kids silenced and took their seats.

“Good morning, class.” The teacher walked in at the exact second the class was to start.

“Good morning, Sister,” answered the class in unison. David studied the 20-something teacher with hair bound so tight it looked like it wouldn’t move. She was still talking as she walked to place her bag down. She scanned the identification port on her wrist communicator to the computer built into the desk. David saw the identification prompt flashing on everyone’s computer at the same moment.

“This class will be covering 21st Century Mysticism. Over the next thirty days, we will discuss who the important people in ancient religions were, what the people of the past believed, and why religion was important to the world before The Catastrophe.” David scanned his ID port. The screen turned green and opened up to a digital version of the textbook. Most people never looked at the book ahead of time, but David purchased a physical copy from a dealer in Sector 9. He knew it was stupid, but he couldn’t resist the experience they offered. “Can anyone tell me some of the Pre-Catastrophe Religions?”

David saw all the names flash through his mind in an instant. His memory was always great, but he knew better than to answer too fast.

“Catholicism.” The muscular teenager stated with a confidence that could David could see. The older women shot him a glance that halted his bragging.

He could hear the quick taps of the other students looking for the answers. While the silence was unbearable, David dared to not make himself stand out. He always did so well on the tests that he brought himself a lot of attention on score days. He attempted to blend into the group by scanning the book.

“Buddhism!” The petite blond piped up.

“Correct, Sister Abburn.”

“Judaism.” Another person said.

“Right, Brother Jacobs.”

“Islam.” David finally added when a pause butted into the class.

“Yes, Thank You… Brother Warren.” He noticed she was fluid in her search for his name on her computer. She smiled when she uttered his name. He narrowed his eyes, set on alert by her action.

“Oh, I almost forgot! It’s time for our hourly mantra: I will always thirst for knowledge.” The class repeated, and David saw everyone become happy and determined. David, while used to it, squirmed when nothing changed after uttering the mantra. He pasted on a smile similar to his brothers and sisters.

“In the time before our Glorious Leader Daraby created our Confederation of City-States, humanity believed in imaginary gods and goddesses that ruled over them. The most prevalent ones were the gods of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Other religions existed, but these three were the big ones. They had followers numbering in the millions including several breakaway sects.” The tapping of note taking filled the void while she breathed. David tabbed to the syllabus and saw her name “Cindy Reed.”

A hand rose from the woman who chastised the two kids. “Why were the religions outlawed though?” She asked while scratching her grey bundle of hair.

“Simple, Sister Walsh” Cindy’s eyes checked her screen again with a practiced fluidity. “Religion caused strife. When one group of believers clashed with another group, it was more than just a simple disagreement. This was a disagreement on the absolute tenets of a person’s life, so one group would attack another group. In one region, followers of Judaism and Islam were at constant odds. The violence would dominate whole regions throughout history, so the State determined that if there were no gods, goddesses, or religions, strife would never be on such a personal level. It was never believed that removing religion would remove all war; that would be naïve, but our glorious Leaders throughout our State’s existence decided to remove a major factor for war and strife.”

“So, why did they believe so devoutly?” David saw a few heads turn his way in the back of the room.

“It offered peace even if it was imagined; to those believers, religion meant that there was more than this world and this life. It meant they didn’t have one chance but many chances. It meant hope.” David caught something in her tone. He sensed a degree of conviction hidden in her speech. He decided to probe further.

“As an officer of the State, I’ve seen individuals involved in underground cults.” He saw smiles grow on anyone who was facing him. “Nearly all the believers I’ve met were insane or stupid. Are they mentally ill and that’s why they believe in a god or many gods?”

Cindy’s eyes broke the lock he had on them. “Well, these individuals are obviously crazy to believe they can hide from our great Union Guard’s detective work.” She motioned to David and smiled a bit. “But I am afraid I don’t know much about their belief system outside of the confiscated propaganda that the WGE publishes.” Her eyes never met his again. “I actually have a few pieces of digitized propaganda. Please check your computer screens.”

David could tell she was hiding something but decided against further probing; it was drawing too much attention. The students looked down and flipped through the pieces of information. One document was several pages covering a deity that ruled the weather.

“Sister Teacher.” A man younger than David raised his hand. “I’m trying to understand this. Why would entities bigger than us care about what we do?”

“Well, Brother Reeves, take that first piece of documentation I sent covering Thorism. Thor was part of the ancient Norse mythology. People right before the Catastrophe didn’t believe in the Norse or Roman gods and goddesses, but they used lots of references to them in daily life.”

“Like days of the week and months.” David added in without hesitating. He blushed as he realized he interrupted the teacher. “Sorry for interrupting, Sister.”

“No, that’s correct, Brother Warren.” That recurring smile added to David’s blush. “They modified Thor’s name to become Thursday, for example. They would divide their years into twelve months each containing about thirty days. They also divided their months into four weeks.” She paused for everyone to finish typing. “One week comprised seven days, and Thursday was the fourth day.”

“That’s so confusing.” The blonde exclaimed. “Why would they break down a week into seven days instead of ten?” David smirked realizing the girl was oblivious to what life would have been like before the WGE.

“It was how it was always done, Sister Liddy.” Cindy replied in a practiced fashion. She focused back on Brother Reaves. “But, Old World citizens built nearly everything around the concept of religion.” She flashed a smile.

“That didn’t answer my question.” Brother Reeves interjected, killing Cindy’s smile.

“Sorry. A lot of humans viewed themselves as the only intelligent species in the universe. This philosophy created a massive ego complex. Since ancient humans believed that these divine powers had an intimate interest in humans, it made us special and unique. This rationality spanned every religion. They ignored the fact that while praying for their own hopes and desires, they were asking these deities to ignore the cries of others.” David saw a look that intrigued him.

The class continued to gloss over ideas of religion. In later lessons, the class would go deeper into the subject, but today and tomorrow would focus on creating an even field for everyone.

“Well, that’ll wrap up today’s lesson. Please join me in reciting the hourly mantra. I will not lie to my brothers and sisters no matter the consequence.” The class repeated, and everyone’s face went placid. “For tomorrow, please read chapters one and two. Have a wonderful day.”

David read those chapters already. He logged off the computer, packed away his educational tablet, and collected his bag. When he looked up, the room was empty.

As he was leaving the building, he noticed Cindy struggling to enter a lounge. She had a heavy bag that appeared to weigh more than she did. While trying to access the panel to open the door, her bag spilled on the ground. David ran over to help and noticed several old books slid out of her bag. He grabbed the thickest one noting the cover read “B-I-B-L-E.”

“Where did you get these?” David said in a hushed tone. Concrete books were illegal due to their waste of resources.

“I…” She hesitated. “I bought them from a dealer.” David could hear his heart pounding. “In Sector 9.” She began to cry, trying to suppress the sobs.

“You have to get rid of these immediately.” David knew protocol required he arrest her, but he couldn’t do it; he was guilty of the same. “Burn them and never let anyone know what you did.”

“But, you’re an officer.” Cindy said with her eyes open a mere sliver.

“I am, but I have compassion. I understand that your profession as a teacher requires you to suss out what is safe for the students in a sea of dangerous, radical ideas.” David handed her the packed bag as he stood back up. He helped her to her feet and opened the lounge door. “I’ll call this a lapse in judgment.” He winked with a smile.

With her eyes down, she nodded and entered the lounge without any further words.

David stood discombobulated for a few seconds before leaving the building. As he continued down the hallway, he searched for any witnesses. There were none.

He walked the ten blocks to the City-7434’s Precinct in Sector 1. The whole time he couldn’t shake the encounter with Cindy.

He entered the building and his shoes clicked on the marble of the ornate foyer. He spotted a frazzled Caroline and gave her a customary wave. He flashed the underside of his communicator at the scanner next to reception.

“Wonderful day, Sister Gleen.”

Caroline Gleen met his eyes. “Always wonderful when I see you, handsome.” She beamed at him. Her typical playful banter reddened his face.

“Thanks, you too.” He walked away with his head down, hearing her chuckle. He hated small talk.

In the locker room, he changed into his standard issue Union outfit: black Kevlar pants with a black Kevlar vest. Thanks to AID chip technology, the nanites coursing through his veins would protect him from a bullet if the vest did not. As long as his brain was intact, he’d survive almost anything. He picked up his helmet and studied it for a moment. It was a black, fitted upside-down U that tapered in the back to a point to cover his AID chip and locked on the sides to prevent it from falling off in any type of battle. A tinted, shatter-resistant glass that flipped up protected his face. The glass visor also could receive digital information such as dossiers. As long as this helmet was on with the visor down, gunfire couldn’t kill him. David learned this, first-hand, more than he liked.

David made his way through the empty locker room to the glowing assignment board. He was early for his shift, so he had time for some peace before the room echoed with chatter. He found his name on the list.

“Officer #9301/Officer #10255: Traffic Duty, East Rung Express Sector 11. Nine Hour Shift.”

After looking at the second number, he sighed at being stuck with a rookie. The locals had nicknamed the expressway in Sector 11 Lasting because it was the last place anyone from the city had any reason to go. To avoid congestion, navigation systems routed cars to this rung of the expressway in the evenings. Since the State required cars to use automatic control in the city, he just had to worry about people skirting this law, as well as doing the usual audio surveillance. He smiled as he walked to the garage where his vehicle was waiting. He began to whistle, completely carefree.

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