Mental Illness Plague

Another week and another mass shooting. This one, however, seems to be far, far more political than a lone gunman at a Planned Parenthood facility.

It’s all over the news, and details are becoming more and more sad. The point of interest for me is how many people were hoping the shooter was a group of white Christian males. A lot of people have sort of whitewashed this as some workplace violence rather than a potential act of domestic Islamic terrorism. While it can’t be ruled out that this could be a random act of workplace violence, there is the troubling detail that the shooter left the party to get his wife, arm up, get bombs, and don body armor. That doesn’t seem like a spur of the moment rage attack. Especially, when you consider the FBI found his IED Factory.

And that’s ultimately the problem. Rather than evaluating these shootings as a great part of a whole, we are looking for the exploitable story in each of them, in and of themselves. The guy in South Carolina who murdered some black folks was a racist. The guy who shot three people at Planned Parenthood was a right-wing fanatic who believed he was untouchable because he believed in God. This couple is actually just people who happen to Muslim, and there was a workplace dispute. That’s all!

The problem is this isn’t fitting the evidence. In the case of the shooting in San Bernardino, the primary shooter had recently visited Saudi Arabia to marry a woman he met online. Another suspect was allegedly from Qatar, but he was deemed a hoax, as the media grabs for straws. The narrative being portrayed is that the man, who is a US citizen and was at the job for five years was radicalized after traveling to Saudi Arabia, maybe via his arranged marriage.

This creates a commonality with mass shootings: radical fanaticism.

Beliefs are fine. People should believe in something be it atheism, Christianity, or whatever, so long as it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s right to do so. However, fanaticism is a mental disorder. It allows a person to completely disregard logic and the well being of others for the sake of pushing their own agenda. With mentally ill, the frustrations they feel through their untreated delusions will quickly be filled with a fanatical focus. It doesn’t matter what that focus is, but it allows them to grasp at something with their entire self, invest in it, and die for it.

That’s where I get frustrated with mass shootings. If the shooters are right-winged and white, the narrative becomes that we should disarm everyone, that political rhetoric is killing, and that Christians are hypocrites. If the shooter is Muslim or foreign, we get A LOT of vaguely racist talk, isolationism against refugees, and talk of one religion being more violent than another. It all creates a very tense conversation where extreme sides are chosen, while moderates are left to their own devices. Then, it passes, and we move on.

This all adds static to the real problem that, even in 2015, we refuse to address: mass, widespread mental illness. Until we are ready to address the fact that adjusted people don’t think of killing others, so that means these outliers are actually mentally ill and not just “evil” we will be stuck in this cycle of violence.

But that part about evil is critical. As mentally healthy individuals, we have to believe the idea that people who can act with great violence aren’t like us. They are evil monsters who are nothing like us.

The far scarier truth is that they are like us, but they are pushed to the fringes without any treatment for their unsaid conditions. Banning guns won’t stop them nor will arming everyone. We must, holistically, look at the mental health crisis in this country, and drop the bullshit illusion that there’s us and there are them. Otherwise, we will see these happen again and again, like they have.

And, in the end, all we get is more death and pain.

The Terror of Others

By now, you may have heard of Josh Feuerstein’s inflammatory death sentence of Planned Parenthood doctors. This guy is a “Christian Warrior” who considers all against his version of religion to be wrong. It was posted in July, but it’s now reddit famous.

Let’s be clear: this guy is a religious fanatical terrorist. By calling on the death of women’s heath doctors, coupled with his emotional language of cutting into a woman and crushing the skull of a baby, he is doing exactly what other terrorist do: sewing seeds of anger, faith, and passion onto any grounds it may take root.

With the attack on Planned Parenthood, less than a week ago, it shows that Feuerstein isn’t talking to some hat wrangling audience that is so fed up, but won’t do anything about it. No, he is talking to Eric Rudolph who bombed a bunch of abortion clinics in the 90s. He wants to bring the target on the doctors who perform abortions because he values the lives of unborn fetuses as more valuable than the lives of adults because Religion.

Regardless your stance on abortion, I find it implausible to believe that someone who is a by-the-book religious person would not only condone outright murder but would actually advocate it. This is not how to change ideas—that is by the end of a barrel with screams demanding you change or die—this is just creating terror, chaos, and hatred.

The problem with this guy is he is a really vocal, young Christian preacher, and he is pushing the agenda of violence in the name of beliefs. If you spend the time to watch any of his videos, his narrative is very puzzling and a little scary. He tries to take every chance he can to play the victim, namely being one of the people who decided that Starbucks created a religious war against Christians. What’s weird about this video is he is upset that Starbucks removed Merry Christmas from Starbucks, which it didn’t have Merry Christmas even back in 2011. And possibly further. For a guy who is big on carrying his gun and stuff wherever he wants based on the Second Amendment, but he seems to ignore that the First Amendment doesn’t require any business to celebrate any religion. The fact he is openly duplicitous shows his desire, first and foremost, to incite people towards his cause rather than bring them to believe on their own.

Josh Feuerstein will likely be arrested after that post, as he should. My respect for your right to practice your beliefs end when you say “Tonight, we punish Planned Parenthood… It’s time we make doctors run and hide for their lives.” This is going to create death threats, and it will cause a lot of collateral damage just as it did at the last Planned Parenthood attack – which happened from a fanatical religious guy. No doctors were killed, just cops and people at the clinic who may not have even been going for an abortion. Not saying Feuerstein influenced this guy, and he probably didn’t, but it is creating noise for these crazy loons.

You cannot have a debate where someone’s argument is “we attack them physically.” Josh Feuerstein may, honestly, have not meant to call for the death of other Americans, but the intent isn’t the point; he put it out there, and we’ll see where this goes, but the fact is he is providing fodder for the actual lunatics who will kill in the name of religion, even if their victims are also religious.

“The Spirit Pyre”

This piece was inspired by this image by Jennifer Hom – http://jenniferhom.com/

 

Ninety Nine Good Chinese Girls by Jennifer Hom

She watched in horror as the Prime Minster went ablaze.

Sun-shi was one of many Sun-shis. She was a perfect replication of the girl behind her, in front of her, and everywhere in between. But Sun-shi, as far as she was aware, was the only one aware.

The prime minster had lied, she deduced. He claimed to have been part of a scandal. Something about the enemies at large. But she knew. He had spoken to her personally. He called on her and told her she was the only one different.

“What’s going on in that head of yours?”

“A lot.” Sun-shi remembered telling him. “I want to be an actress.”

“How do you even know what that is?” His old face turned somber and serious. “That was before your time, child. You know nothing of this.”

“No.” She said defiantly. “I remember my mother was an actress.” She saw tears in his eyes.

“You are special, child. But you must hide this knowledge.”

“I don’t want to, sir.” She beamed at him. “I want to be free.”

“You are flying too close to the son, my beautiful flower. We cannot have this.” He patted her and he reminded her of what a grandfather should look like. “Tell me more about your mother before you forget.” He smiled at her deviously.

She told him about a woman on TV, something she never saw anywhere but her dreams. She was a warrior, a princess, a villain, a vampire, a heroine, and more. She lived so many lives inside her short time, and she continued them on through Sun-shi. All the Sun-shis. She was the most remembered face in all of the country. No one would mistake her.

The Prime Minister tagged her and came visit often. He called her “dogteughan” over and over. He said he loved her, and she knew it was a special kind of love. Not like the one the soldiers grunted at the rest of the Sun-shis. Something… personal.

Sun-shi woke up screaming in the middle of the dark. Something bad happened, but she didn’t know what it was. She touched her stomach and felt a hallow sensation. She heard loud shouts at the camp, but she had been trained to stay in bed, no matter what, when lights were off. She stayed up crying, unsure why.

Now, she knew.

“I have delivered a great shame to our people. Our nation. And our Lord.” The Prime Minister spoke, nodding at various people. Tears were welling up. “I am not worthy of my title, so effective immediately, I won’t be Prime Minster. I am just another traitor slob. I am sorry for my embarrassment.” He pulled out a small canister and poured it on himself. He held his lighter, but before he lit it he shouted one word. “Dogteughan!” The flame engulfed him instantly.

Sun-shi was the only one to gasp. The others were trained to not react.

The Church – A poem

The church is abandoned and very old,
After making mistakes with his sad life,
The priest’s body hangs from the rafters – cold.

We played amongst tombstones covered in mold
When the reaper harvested him with his scythe,
The church was abandoned and very old.

For freedom from his sin, he sold his soul
thus placing himself in eternal strife,
The priest’s body hangs from the rafters – cold.

We go inside the church to prove we are bold.
The bacteria and rodents inside – rife.
The church is abandoned and very old.

He pushed his love out with no hand to hold.
He craved innocence over his own wife.
The priest’s body hangs from the rafters – cold.

There’s nowhere to run from the truth when told,
His wife cheated on him with a cold knife.
The church is abandoned and very old,
The priest’s body hangs from the rafters – cold.

The Hubris of Superman – Short Story

Kal-El’s head was groggy. He was barely aware of his surroundings, and he felt that familiar pain that sent terror shocking through his body, jolting him awake. Kryptonite.

In the dark cave, with a subtle green glow stinging his eyes, Kal-El felt further from himself than ever. He had none of his strengths. Now, he was only Clark Kent.

He could feel it was close. Too close. The smell of it, whether real or imagined, began as a dull headache at the base of his neck, coiling like tentacles through his head and pulsating on his right temple with such ferocity that he lost his breath with each throb.

This wasn’t the plan.

Clark Kent grew sicker every day of reading about the butchers in the Middle East who would make a spectacle out of murder. He was used to otherworldly invaders coming to ruin his small ball of peace in this corner of the universe. He was ready to defend against them. But these men and women were different. They killed knowing full well how precious human life was. And Clark Kent wasn’t going to sit by a let that happen, not while Superman, his truer self, was able to do something.

His plan was simple. With a billionaire friend, he was able to pull the strings to get Clark Kent credentials into an ISIS-haunted region. Bruce fought him as much as he could, but Clark’s will was far stronger. It had been steeled too much to resolve this crisis.

Clark Kent, driving alone to minimize casualties, was captured less than a day after his arrival in Iraq. He waited patiently to spring his plan and bring the marauders to justice. He fed off the sunlight they marched him through, only to lose all of his reserves in seconds when exposed to that green pain that weakened a man strong enough to change the rotation of the Earth. He was helpless.

As the pain ebbed enough for his thoughts to return, he knew something didn’t fit. The outfit was in a cave with more sophisticated technology than Clark had seen in Wayne’s secret Batcave. Somehow, a group of people using improvised weapons and explosives, had secure Internet and an alien substance that affected only one person on Earth: Superman. He heard talking in the distance and strained to listen. Three soldiers walked up to him and held him off the ground. He hadn’t realized he was slumped on the floor until they heaved him into a chair.

Soft footsteps walked towards the chair. He looked in the darkness as a figure came towards the light surrounding him.

“Hello, Mr. Kent.” Clark’s jaw dropped.” Or Mr. Superman? I am poor with formalities in situations like this.” The man’s bare forehead creased as he smiled.

“How?” Clark asked Lex Luthor with a labored breath.

“I took my enterprise International. Would you like to do an interview?” He smirked and the third guard who wasn’t supporting Clark brought a chair. “My name is Lex Luthor, and I am the face of terror, Mr. Kent.” He nodded, and the glowing green of the Kryptonite grew in intensity. Clark lost consciousness as fear overwhelmed him.

#

Bruce Wayne’s hair was tussled in a frenzy as he pulled at his scalp. Alfred Pennyworth and Dick Grayson knew this to be his frustrated mannerism. Alfred met Dick’s eyes, and an unspoken battle began over who to pacify him. Bruce’s eyes were mad with rage.

“This isn’t like him.” Bruce broke the tension in the dank Batcave.

“You have to relax, Bruce. He’s more than capable of handling himself.” Dick smirked. “He’s even capable of handling you.”

“It’s not funny.” Bruce cut him off. His dark eyes studied the digitized map where the transponder had stopped. He typed a few commands into the computer, and all the recorded patrol routes were transposed on the map. “See, he was right in their paths. He should have found where they were and reported back by now. This isn’t like him.”

“Master Wayne, you are worrying yourself into a frenzy.” Alfred chimed in, barely looking up from dossiers on his computer that Bruce and Clark had created before launching their attack. “These men are amateurs, and Master Kent is a super being. He can improvise.”

“Maybe, but I can’t know for sure.” Bruce unclenched his jaw. His back and legs were aching from sitting in the chair for so long. He was used to being out in the battlefield and moving. This may have been the longest period he had sat in years. He stood up.

“How long would it take us to get to him?”

“About 22 hours using commercial airlines.”

“When have we ever used commercial?” Dick butted in. Bruce nodded towards him in agreement.

“You could get there by dusk.” Alfred shook his head. “You know, most people in your position try to avoid going to Iraq.””

“I’m doing my civic duty, Alfred.” He turned to Dick who was slouched in a chair with his legs up. He had a book draped across his stomach. He hated what he was about to say. He paused not relishing in the impact of his words.

“You cannot be serious.” Dick responded without him saying a word. “You’re going to get caught like Clark.”

“Then, I’ll need someone to get us both out of there.” Bruce said with finality, but he knew Dick wasn’t going to let him slide.

“This is the same argument you had with Clark, and now, where is he? I’m going with you.”

“You will.” Bruce agreed. “But, you will be at a remote location. We minimize risk that way.”

As Dick began to rear back with a retort, static exploded from the speaker system in the Batcave. Both men turned to Alfred who couldn’t hide his pride. They heard voices speaking Arabic with poor English peppered in.

“Caves are notoriously bad at being sound proof.” Alfred adjusted the levels, and the audio became clear enough to make out a voice in unaccented English.

“Keep the hostage close to the mineral. Do you understand me?” Lex Luthor spoke with authority.

“Yes. We will.” The tri-syllabic retort was thick with the Middle Eastern accent.

“He will have back up. Be ready for anything. If you any near us, shoot to kill. We need just a bit more time.”

“Luthor?” Bruce’s voice echoed inside the Batcave. “This is making me queasy.”

“The aircraft will be departing in 30 minutes, Master Wayne. ETA is five hours.”

“Five hours?” Dick burst. “How is that possible?”

“The trajectory will take you a bit higher than usual.” Alfred met Dick’s eyes. “Surely, you’ve always wanted to go into orbit, Master Grayson.”

“I hope Clark can survive.” Bruce wasn’t paying much attention to anyone. “Come on, Dick. Get your suit. You may not get the rest after all.” Bruce grabbed a heavy bag holding the Bat-suit.

“I wasn’t going to sit it out anyway.” Dick added joining Bruce’s trot out of the Batcave with his own bag. Alfred sighed as a sense of unease seized him about the situation.

Illusion of Choice Chapter 5

Chapter 5

A Few Minutes Later

Calvin tried to process what had just happened. After a long chastisement from one Officer of the State, Calvin, that Officer, and his partner, whom he knew to be named Joe, were attacked by a Sergeant who shot that first Officer. He was sure David Warren was dead, and he had failed his sole mission objective. Now, he had to survive.

He was unsure why a Sergeant in the World Government of Earth Union Guard would shoot an Officer, but he only had a brief dossier on David Warren. This Sergeant was a complete mystery.

The Unies were a violent lot, but this act definitely broke some of their Rules. When he finally got a grasp of what happened, Calvin saw the Sergeant aim the gun at Officer Warren’s head.

“Are you okay?” A disoriented Joe asked from Calvin’s left.

“Yeah” was all Calvin could muster.

“Stay low. Watch yourself.” The young recruit stumbled his way to his feet. He ran towards the Sergeant who turned and fired at him. The first shot missed him and hit Calvin’s car, shattering the back windshield. The next three shots hit Joe in the shoulder, thigh, and head, but his helmet protected him. He tackled the Sergeant to the ground, but the man was too strong and shook him off. The recruit was on his back as the Sergeant aimed a gun at him, center mass.

Ignoring all his pain, Calvin jumped on the rogue Sergeant’s back, throttling his bulky neck. They began to spin around, and Calvin lost track of how close the traffic was. Officer Warren may be dead already, but in case he lived, Calvin had to prevent his execution. Through his futile attempts to take down the mad Sergeant, a hand grabbed Calvin’s head.

The Sergeant yanked Calvin off his back and onto the ground. The world tilted as he slammed down, and Calvin couldn’t right himself. All he could see was a sick smile that grew on the maniac’s face. He dragged Calvin as close as he could to the speeding cars and aimed the gun at Calvin’s head.

“On your knees and stretch out your right arm into the traffic. Now!” Calvin wracked his brain for an escape, and realizing there was none, resigned himself to his fate.

With the most reluctance allowed by the Sergeant, Calvin raised his body to his knees and thrust his arm into a gap in the traffic. His arm was high enough to hit a car’s bumper. The impact forced him onto his back, and the tires of the car that hit him crushed the bones in his arm. The Sergeant laughed in a sick and scary way as he heard the thud and shatter of Calvin’s arm.

“Get up and do it again with the other arm!” He laughed and shouted at Calvin that created a terrifying cackle.

Calvin felt nothing but pain. His arm felt like he had thrust it into a running engine. He was afraid to look at what was once his arm. As Calvin’s world tilted, he received confirmation about his suspicion over the Sergeant’s injection. His AID chip’s healing abilities were completely disabled.

In his delirium, Calvin thought he heard a voice call out to his attacker.


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Illusion of Choice Chapter 4

Chapter 4

23.2228 – Sector 11 Express – Lasting

David Warren tried to allow his mind to wander, but it was hard with the incessant chatter from Officer #10255. Every time there was a moment to think, the kid spoke up.

“Why are we going in circles?” The rookie asked.

“The captain assigned us to this stretch of the freeway.” David replied as he entered a turning ramp to head the opposite way. The Lasting freeway was a stretch of 10km. Each direction, towards the inner sectors and towards the edge of the city, was four lanes, separated by a large median. Every quarter kilometer was a turning lane for State vehicles.

“But what’s the point?” The kid was becoming jittery. “You think people will just say ‘Hey, I’m breaking the law.'”

“We are watching and listening for any crimes against the State.” David hoped that would appease him.

“How long you’ve been on traffic?”

“Too long.” David replied with a sharp bite.

“I hate doing traffic.”

“Isn’t this your first shift?”

“First shift out of the Precinct, but I’ve been an Officer for the last eight days.” He said with a lot of pride. “I would have preferred to do Block Busting so I could see some action.”

“Look, kid, you aren’t my first partner.” David was burning at the trigger happy rookie. “My last one got himself killed, and I don’t need another doing that. Just sit back and do surveillance.”

“Shit, sorry, I heard about Officer #…” He hesitated trying to recall Keith Wilhelm’s number.

“It doesn’t matter.” David sighed. “Look, what’s your name?”

“Officer #10—” His training kicked in.

“Your real name. I don’t trust a number.” David smirked to himself as he heard his first mentor’s voice.

“Joe LeVay.”

“David Warren.” David replied. “See the console right here.” David pointed to a screen to the right of the steering wheel. “Code #2211 will activate a directional listening device.” The kid sat for a minute then punched in the code when he realized David was waiting for him. “Grab the microphone stick next to my seat and aim it at all the cars you can.”

“What else does this do?” Joe seemed focused on the control panel.

“Nothing important for you right now.” David answered with that same sharpness. He caught himself. Nearly every other officer was as cynical towards rookies. He tried to soften his demeanor for the rookie who was just eager to learn.

Joe pointed the microphone at a random car on the freeway, and the radio burst with speech.

“Why are there so many fucking cars on the road at this hour?” A man said.

“Don’t complain. At least the State gives you good health.” A female voice nagged back. Joe bounced from car to car, pausing a few seconds to listen to conversation.

“Won’t they see us and act straight?”

“Nope. Our cruiser looks enough like any other car that they wouldn’t even think anything of it.” David said focusing on the road. “The only difference is I get to use manual control, but they wouldn’t even notice.” David kept steering the car in and out of gaps in traffic. The traffic system creates gaps in traffic via the underground electric lines to allow a buffer should a vehicle break down and cause a major accident. “To those drivers, I am just like them—the car is making precise movements and passes based on data, but that’s because I’ve practiced a bit.” David smirked and got quiet when he realized he was bragging.

“Why even allow manual driving then?” Joe asked.

“We give people the choice to dissent. That’s how you know true rebellion” David explained his rationale. “If people cannot break The Rules, they are subservient zombies. The State has no need for that.”

“I want to skip my blocks today.” A male voice said on the radio after Joe moved to a new car.

“Don’t even joke about that.” A different male voice intruded.

“I’m serious. Who will stop me?”

After allowing Peter to miss his shift, David saw this as an opportunity to maintain status quo. He entered a different code into the console and tapped on the target car on the populated screen.

“What did that do?”

“It gives me control over every vehicle on auto. The one I tapped will stop somewhere safe.”

“How do you remember all those codes?”

“Practice.” Joe nodded and looked out the window. His fists clenched.

“Are we slowing down?” The second man said.

“Shit, I think I am being pulled over!” The first man became frantic and began to swear over and over again. David pulled the cruiser behind their car on the side of the freeway.

“Hey, kid.” David said. He always hated when people called him that as a rookie, but it came so natural. “You go on the passenger side of the car. Don’t say much, just observe. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.” Joe said, and then, frowned.

“Got something to say?”

“If this goes bad, what do I do?”

“It won’t go bad. Just don’t forget your helmet.”

As David walked towards the driver’s door, he entered a code into his wrist communicator. As he approached, the car’s windows lowered.

“I’m sorry, Officer #9301” The man scoured David’s badge. “I really didn’t mean to—” David held up his hand.

“No lying. Identification and registration for this vehicle.” The man produced it without a word. “Please state your crime.” David flicked his eyes over the ID with minimal movement.

“I was talking about skipping work.”

“Truancy is not tolerated by the World Government of Earth.” David replied. “And bragging, Mr. Coleman, is heavily frowned upon. I, by the power of the World Government of Earth, sentence you to a hearing by the lower court on 35.2228. Do you understand?”

“Yes, but—”

“Your crime is worthy of an arrest and review by the Tribunal of City-7434, you know?” David answered without a pause. His training instilled these words by instinct.

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I will be there.” After handing the man identification and registration back, David entered a code on his communicator to raise the car windows. Joe was waiting for him between the two vehicles.

“Why you went easy on him?”

“He was just venting.” David didn’t stop and continued to their cruiser. “The Tribunal handles bigger situations than that shit. He’d probably have been verbally chastised and jailed for a day or two, then released. Now, the lower courts can dock his pay.”

“But, how?” They got back inside the cruiser and removed their helmets. While the helmets were great for protection, they made driving cumbersome.

“The surveillance records conversations, and there’s a dashboard camera that records everything. We are sending the data to the lower courts right now.” David punched a series of codes into the control panel.

“How will I ever learn all this shit? It’s too much.”

“Kid, you are eighteen. I’ve been doing this for twelve years. You learn it.” David saw his own youthful fears in Joe.

“It seems like there’s so much to learn.”

“It’ll come.” David pulled back onto the freeway and noticed a car moving a slight clip faster than the rest. “See that car in the outer lane? What is he doing wrong?”

“I see him.” Joe moved for the command panel, and David stopped him.

“You don’t need that. Look at it closely.” David glanced at the guidance system to confirm his suspicions.

“I don’t know, sir.”

“He’s driving in manual.”

“What?” Joe was again shocked. “How can you tell?”

“He’s out pacing all cars by more than that lane allows.”

“He is in the passing lane, though. The far left one.” Joe responded.

“Right, but the lane is limited to passing the three center cruising lanes of about one or two vehicles at a time. He is doing way more than that. Also, look at the monitor. He isn’t there.” David switched lanes and began to follow him.

“Think he’s a terrorist?” Joe was beyond elated.

“I don’t know.” David shrugged. “Listen in on him.” Joe grabbed the microphone and voices boomed through the radio.

“Honey, I’m sorry I…” The radio blurted out.

“You bet you’ll be sorry! Sam wanted you at her play since she started twenty days ago. No way will you make it in time if you are heading into Sector 1 now. That’s an eight hour job, Calvin, then who knows how much driving time. You really let us down, Calvin!” The woman’s voice sounded familiar to David.

“I know I said I’d be able to make it, but… shit!”

“Calvin, what’s wrong?”

“Honey, do you see my card?” The man’s voice was frantic.

“Yeah, it’s right here. Charlie was playing with it, so he must ha… Calvin?” His wife sounded worried.

“I have to go, Cindy. I love you.”

“How did he notice us?” Joe inquired.

“I guess he saw a car keeping pace. Few can do that.” David entered a code and his voice resonated through Calvin’s car. “Driver, enter automatic mode immediately.”

“He’s on the screen.” David exhaled in relief that the man was cooperating.

“Thank you, driver.” David typed in the code into the command panel to shut down the car like with the previous driver. Within seconds, the car slowed and veered to the shoulder of the freeway as traffic permitted. David’s vehicle slowed, as the navigation system locked him to the other car. He pulled behind the scofflaw.

“Okay, this will be a bit worse.” David said to Joe. “He said on there he doesn’t have an ID, so we will have to chastise him. Just hang back and watch, okay?”

“Will I get a chance to join in?” The kid asked, his excitement obvious.

“I doubt it. Put your helmet on and follow me.” They flanked the car like last time. As they approached, David lowered all the windows.

“Morning Officer…,” the man looked at the badge. “…Warren. I’m sorry I was speeding, but I have—” Joe startled Calvin when he walked up to the other window.

“You did more than speeding, boy,” said David. “I.D. and registration for this vehicle?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I just have my registration.” David took the card from Calvin’s trembling hand and motioned Joe to follow him to their car. When they arrived, he fed the card into his dashboard scanner.

“What are you doing now?” Joe asked.

“Checking his information. If he has anything outstanding we’ll know. Also, this is sending a request to a lower court to make a decision on his punishments.”

“I thought we made that choice.”

“We decide guilt, but they decide punishment for serious things like no identification.” David paused. “If he has any associations that are dangerous to State safety, we have to arrest him.”

The device scanned with a loud, whining squeal. With no rush, the dash printed information about the driver. The man’s name was Calvin Reed. He was 34-years-old. A bell rang showing one flag.

“What happened?”

“We’ve stopped him before. That doubles his punishment.”

“What’s his punishment?”

“Physical Chastisement for 20 minutes. The timer is set. Just stay back and watch.”

David walked back to Calvin, snapped the door open, and dragged the man between the two vehicles. He ignored the pleas from the driver. David pulled out the standard issue nightstick and cracked it across Calvin’s ribcage. Two bones broke immediately. With a deep wheeze, Calvin righted himself and shuddered with shock as another crack of the nightstick landed on the back of his head. David saw pain wash through his body.

With great reluctance, David, hidden behind the tinted shatter-resistant visor, continued the beating for a few minutes. To David, every minute was as long as an eon. He clenched his face and swallowed a thick lump in his throat. The bloody body of Calvin Reed survived from injections from his AID system. The chip could withstand blows from objects much larger than a nightstick. With a glance, David saw the timer read twelve minutes remaining of the punishment.

“Please, don’t do this.” Calvin screamed in a frantic tone. “You’re killing me!” That hyperbole took David’s breath.

“If you are using the correct chip, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.” David said with all the coolness he could muster. “Are you admitting to being off our firmware? That will extend your time.”

“Please, just a minute to catch my breath.” Calvin worked his way up to his knees.

David motioned with his head toward his car, “I’m sorry, but they will kill us both if I don’t finish your punishment.”

“But…I’ll…I’ll pay a fine, anything!”

“A bribe? I should add another 20 minutes for that one!” He gave him a kick to the chest, sending him on his back. “The State takes care of me. I take care of scofflaws.”

“But… please… I have a wife and kids! I swear I’m not one of those… those terrorists!”

“Who said anything about terrorists? You seem a bit paranoid.” David kicked Calvin in the ribs and then followed with a club to the stomach.

“I’m sorry…please…it hurts so much. I’m sorry, David… I’m sorry! I can’t do this anymore.” said the man as he began to fall into hysterics. David thought he heard this man say his name. He glanced at his badge, but it only showed his State number.

“I said …” David hesitated before striking him again.

“Please, Officer.” Calvin sighed with so much effort, his body heaved and shivered. He held his ribs. “I am just like you. I’m less! I’m a nobody. Beating me to death won’t help anything.”

“I have to punish you to the fullest extent of the law.” David was speaking by rote. “For this crime, you could be sent to City-7434 jail for 16 days, or I beat you unconscious in front of that camera over there.” David pointed to the car, hoping Calvin got his hidden meaning to play dead.

David knew he had to knock Calvin out or his co-workers would question his loyalty.

“I’m sorry…”

“Shut the fuck up!” David said to silence the man as he heard a vehicle slowing down.

“Officer #93—Warren!” Joe shouted to him. “I think someone is here.”

“How long did you stop for?” asked Calvin. He held on to consciousness by a thin tendril.

“Too long.” The man who answered was in a sergeant’s uniform. He lumbered over to David’s car, placing a small box of doughnuts and a thermos of what David assumed was spiked coffee on the hood. Unneeded thanks to the AID system, but Unies loved donuts and coffee. The man flipped up his visor. “This isn’t for you, rookie.” The man said as he passed Joe.

Relief washed over David at the sight of Sergeant Vincent Judd. Since David trusted him, his relief quickly turned to embarrassment over his being caught relaxing the Rules. David flipped up his visor as he walked to meet Judd.

Judd walked over, smiling, and pulled David aside. “What we have here, Maverick?” David winced in reaction to the nickname. “You know I fucking hate that name.”

“You look wrecked.” Judd said ignoring the comment. He motioned towards Joe. “Who’s the kid?”

“Fresh meat.” David replied with a smirk. “I’m fine. I just relaxed a little. Let me finish his chastisement time.”

“It’s fine, my boy, just fine.” David noticed the kindness of Judd’s tone. Despite being only three years older than David, Judd still treated him with the gentleness of a father.

“I guess I am a bit tired.”

“It’s no problem, Warren. Go have some coffee.” Judd motioned toward the thermos. “I spiked it.” He smirked. “But none for the rookie.” Judd raised his voice for Joe to hear.

“Thanks, Judd.” David said. “Been a long day, I guess.”

“Stress… I miss,” Judd seemed to choke back the words.

“I know, Judd.” David didn’t want to hear it. Judd and Keith Wilhelm were close. “I’m sorry for it.”

“Death for a Unie cause doesn’t cause sadness.” Judd responded like a robot with little sincerity. “Let me take over for a bit. I saw the report on this guy.” Judd motioned towards Calvin.

“All yours. You got about ten minutes left.” David walked to his car. He popped the box opened and grabbed a donut with brown icing. Joe watched him, his visor flipped up. He had the look of a starving dissenter.

“How’s it taste?”

“Not unlike the flavor syringes.”

“What are those?”

“You were in the Youth’s Safe Haven weren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.” Joe replied. David knew another orphan when he saw one.

“Once you hit 30 days, you’ll get a shipment. It will change your world.” He chuckled. “Here, try a piece, but don’t tell Judd.” Joe pawed a piece of the treat.

“Why do they make real food though? The chips make us not need food.”

“Well, if there’s ever a terrorist attack on our chips and they inhibit that part that satisfies hunger, we would be fucked. The State has a cadre of chefs teaching people cooking skills all the time.”

“Smart.” The two turned back to see Judd tossing what looked like a syringe. “What did he just toss?”

“I don’t know. Let’s just trust Judd.”

Judd withdrew a nightstick and eyed Calvin. He flipped down his visor and began tapping the nightstick to the palm of his hand.

Judd stalked the rising citizen who was wheezing for breath. He delivered a kick that utilized Judd’s full 104-kilogram body. Judd’s kicks were coming in fast, as if he had no idea what exhaustion meant.

David noticed that Calvin was in a lot more pain than normal.

“Judd, I think he’s hurt.” David shouted.

“Not yet he’s not.” Judd kicked again. “But soon, he will be.”

“What was in that syringe?” David remained leaning against the cruiser to convey a relaxed façade.

“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

“He’s going to kill him.” David said out loud.

“I don’t think he can. The chip is too good.” Joe responded, showing his naiveté.

Calvin struggled through the multitude of pain as another crack of the nightstick smashed his spine.

After several minutes, David saw the penalty timer was flashing zero on his dashboard, but Judd continued his onslaught.

“All right, Judd, the timer’s done. Let him go.” David paced his speech to sound calm. Judd continued to strike Calvin.

“He isn’t stopping.” Joe said. “Maybe he didn’t hear you.” Joe flipped his visor down and walked towards Judd. “Sergeant, the timer has depleted.” Joe said as he touched Judd’s shoulder.

“Get the fuck away from me, rookie!” Judd smacked Joe so hard across the helmet it dropped him and then went back to attacking Calvin. That reaction concerned David. He walked up to Judd who immediately struck him with the nightstick. It smacked hard on David’s wrist communicator. “You don’t need to protect him! For all you know, he’s another insurgent waiting to capture us or worse! Whose side are you on, anyway, Maverick?” Judd’s voice sounded full of a sinister glee that made David wince. He once saw this man as a friend, but in this moment, he had no clue who he was.

Turning back, Judd began toying with Calvin. As Calvin stumbled to his feet like a toddler, another blow dashed against his skull. Fear clouded the man’s face as Sergeant Judd continued to beat him.

“Judd, if you fucking kill him, we’ll have to deal with IA. They will cause a lot of headaches. Back off of him.” Judd ignored him. David knew he had to do something. He regretted the thoughts flashing through his mind, but he had to stop this assault.

As Judd cranked back for a potentially killing blow, David caught the nightstick before Judd could unleash the attack. When he couldn’t budge the stick, Judd turned to see David holding the weapon back. David heard a loud grunt of rage and frustration.

David questioned himself. He glanced at his patrol vehicle and knew it was watching this whole altercation. He then glanced at a motionless Joe.

Calvin looked terrified on the ground as well as relieved that David stepped up to stop this crime.

“Warren, what are you doin’? He’s mine. They took out Keith that day in the market, and I’m taking out one of them. I have to show them they can’t kill us.” Judd’s head twitched. David could tell he was fidgeting in his helmet.

“How do you know he isn’t just some nobody?”

“If you stand in my way,” Judd’s voice was breaking up, which led David to believe he was on something like Adrenall—an illegal homebrew that pumped adrenaline and testosterone into users. Emotional breakdowns were common. “Then, you are going to die first, Maverick.” Judd drove a metal-gloved fist into David’s visor, shattering it. While the visor remained in one piece, glass shards scrapped his face.

Judd’s fist breaking David’s shatter-resistant visor confirmed his fear. “Are you fucking using?”

“Fuck you, Warren,” was all Judd replied and swung at him again, with reckless abandon.

David glanced to check on Calvin—who remained still but alert—and Joe who was stirring. This lapse in attention gave Judd enough time to deliver a blow to David’s lower abdomen. David knew Judd had forgotten all about Calvin; he had a new target.

“It’s time all the State-haters paid the price. One of my men for one of yours.” David noticed the crazed tone in Judd’s voice.

“Where’s this coming from, Judd?” David shouted at him in frustration. “We were friends.”

“No, you killed my only friend.” Judd’s retort burned like acid.

David could see Calvin crawling towards his own car. With the man out of the way and protecting himself, David could deal with Judd.

David tossed off his now useless helmet. Judd charged full speed. As he closed in, Judd cocked his right arm back to punch David. With sudden focus, David saw Judd slow down, and he ducked a hard right and moved behind Judd. When he missed, Judd stumbled and almost tumbled into traffic. While facing his back, David unclipped Judd’s helmet. When Judd turned, David grabbed the back of the helmet and pulled towards his chest, while pushing his legs into Judd’s midsection. David rolled onto his back sending Judd overhead towards the parked vehicles. Judd’s helmet ripped off in the judo flip.

After standing, Judd cracked his neck with his eyes closed and snapped back open. Whatever damage David had done just healed.

David, still confused by his own speed and strength, tried to slow down the adrenaline rush. He needed to be in control so he didn’t hurt Judd more than necessary. Judd pawed at his belt and yanked his pistol out with quick precision. David was now at the mercy of an expert with a weapon. David moved for his own pistol.

“Don’t you fucking do it!” Judd shouted.

“Judd, don’t do this.”

David stared into the eyes of Vincent Judd—the one man who had kept the other men at bay, the one man who had protected him. He looked down the barrel of Judd’s Class-D Infusion Pistol. The situation surprised David, though he didn’t expect Judd to fire. He knew a Unie would never shoot another, especially on camera.

Judd laughed as he shot twice into David’s chest. Judd taunted, “How do those shots feel, Maverick? I loaded these bullets with a nice inhibitor.” The smirk on Judd’s face looked sick.

The Unie bullets were enhanced to pierce armor like David’s vest like a knife through bare skin. David’s chest deflated, and the world faded to black.

Illusion of Choice Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3

October 25, 2050 – Streets of Chicago

“Is that the time?” Alex Mason shouted as he jolted from the bed.

“No, it’s a random number generator silly.” Sophie giggled.

“It’s almost fucking curfew, Soph!” Alex didn’t yell at her, but this was serious.

“Sorry babe. I always lose track of time when I’m in your arms.” She cooed, still tired.

“Shit, I have to go.”

“Can’t you stay here?”

“I need my computer and uniform for work tomorrow. I’m working at dawn.” Alex was dressing as he spoke.

“Be careful out there.” Sophie said in a completely exhausted voice that trailed off.

He kissed her and descended the fire escape to an alley behind her building.

Alex ran through the narrow alleyways as quick as possible with his head low. Curfew was in effect now, and the city guards shot people on sight. Their public rationale was they couldn’t take the risk of spreading the infection. Alex knew he should have left Sophie’s apartment earlier.

He saw Sophie’s smiling face in his mind and knew he’d never regret spending a moment with her. She seemed more broken as of late, and she needed him more than ever. Sophie was a trained general practitioner. She dedicated her life to helping people, but thanks to the new laws, she wasn’t allowed to touch a patient for eight hours after admission. During her shifts, Sophie had to listen, unable to provide succor, while men, women, and children screamed in pain. It was killing her.

Alex sighed as he looked for his next move. The alleyway he was running down ended on an open street. With the darkness descending like a sheet over the city, the guards would be hunting for infected. The darkness offered protection for the infected to scrounge for food as it hid signs of their infection.

“This is fucking Hollywood shit” he laughed to no one in particular. The sick weren’t monsters, Sophie always explained. They were in so much pain that they just lashed out.

The street that lay in front of him was a typical two-lane road, and Alex had to get across with as few steps as possible. When the plague hit his city, Alex was one of the few who chose not to flee. The US government claimed many of the uninhabited buildings and converted them into medical, industrial, and military centers within the dying city.

The city provided Alex with an easy job in the industrial sector as a welder. The job gave him a generous stipend, which he could spend freely since he lived rent free after his landlord fled. Though an evacuation was ordered, the city needed workers and gave anyone who stubbornly stayed behind work and money.

He stalked up to the edge of the building on the right of the alley, dashed into the street, and ran for the opposite alleyway. Once in the safety of its shadows, Alex gave a sigh of relief when he heard no shouts or gunshots.

He was almost home. All he had to do was take a right at the end of this alley, and he’d be home free. He kept his trot slow to avoid making too much noise. As he turned at the end of the alley, he ran straight into an artificial wall that was blocking the opening to the road.

Alex had heard of the guards using these walls to trap the infected. Sophia had said she’d heard of the Red Guard collecting fresh victims for a project. In his frustration, Alex turned towards the road he had just crossed and saw two people staggering towards him.

“Help me.” He knew the man on the left was a vagrant from his filthy appearance even with the sickness. “I am so hungry.”

“Stay right there. Are you sick?” Alex knew he was.

The homeless man looked to be in the advanced stages of the disease. His mouth hung open, sucking in as much air as possible. His eyes were completely yellow, and his teeth, what few remained, were sharp and broken from eating anything he could scavenge. As he lurched towards Alex, his exposed gum line showed decay. His skin was a strange mixture of grotesque yellow and bone-white.

The man next to him was less obvious in his infection. He wore a uniform so red it dominated all other colors into submission, though he was missing his helmet – something a healthy Red Guard officer would never allow. The guard looked to be a fresh victim of no more than eight hours. His stride was still strong, but his skin was becoming pale and his eyes were bloodshot. Alex had to be careful because, though these two were sick, they were prone to bouts of violence when confronted.

“Please. If you have anything, I’ll take it.” The homeless man was getting closer. His gait was weak and took a lot out of him. “I just want water.” The infection always caused extreme hunger and dehydration as it ravaged the body.

He knew healthy Red Guard would come if they heard his shouts, but he didn’t care. He refused to get infected. “Stay back. I don’t want to get fucking sick.”

Despite his pleas to stop, they kept walking towards him. Alex remembered Sophie mentioning that trauma killed the infected and saw a small brick a few feet away from him. Alex snatched the brick, took a few steps forward, and slammed it into the head of the guard. The guard stumbled, tried to stand, then went limp. Alex turned to grab another item, not realizing how fast the hobo had crept, and suddenly felt a burning sensation in his neck.

“You son of a bitch! No no no!” Alex screamed over and over again. He managed to grab the homeless man’s back and flipped him to the ground. Alex fell as his equilibrium shifted. He scooted back as the man dragged towards him.

“Why couldn’t you just give us some food and water?” He was screaming at Alex.

Out of nowhere, a rifle ended the man’s pleas, blowing his head apart.

Alex turned, lifted his head up and saw a man in a Red Guard uniform standing at the end of the alley with a rifle raised. The guard’s fire engine red suit had thick armor covering his joints and neck. The unusual color of the uniform was for identification purposes among other guards—red meant don’t shoot first. The soldier wore a gas-mask helmet. He removed a section of it covering his mouth to speak. Alex had heard of their brutality towards citizens breaking curfew, much less one doomed to turn into one of the creatures. He closed his eyes, breathed in deep, and waited for the gunshot, but instead, the guard walked to him and raised him to his feet.

“Bitten, hmm?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, you are infected. All I can do is put you out of your misery,” The guard smirked a bit. Alex never hated someone more than he did now. “However, there is another option.”

Alex remained quiet in response.

“If you come with us, we can use you to test our new vaccine,” the guard said with a slight British accent. “It will kill you, but your contribution to research will be invaluable.”

“What choice do I have?”

“Not much, really. You’ll die either way.”

Alex thought about what he would miss the most. Sophie was high on the list of things, as well as their new puppy. He would miss his co-workers who joked with him daily. He would also miss sunlight. Where he was going, he knew, lacked that.

“I understand.” Alex didn’t care what happened to him anymore. The guard replaced his mask and guided Alex towards the street where a large van, marked with the familiar ‘Daraby Pharmaceuticals’ logo waited. They approached the back of the vehicle, and the Brit banged hard on the door. It opened, revealing an interior that was so white it stung his retina. Each wall of the van had three seats. Two guards occupied the first and third seat on the left side, and a single guard sat next to the front of the van on the right. The guard closest to Alex on the left stood up and offered a hand. The guards hauled Alex inside and restrained him into the open seat between the two on the left.

“That’s for if you turn early.” This guard helping him seemed to know he was already infected. He remembered the searing pain in his neck and wondered how bad it looked.

The Brit closed the door and took a seat opposite Alex.

“All ready, Lisa.” The guard sitting to Alex’s left shouted. The van lurched forward, and Alex stared without much thought at the wall so white it gave him a headache.

“So, how are we dividing this?” The guard who helped him in asked as he removed the face part of his mask.

“The deal was each specimen we bring, we go 25%.” Alex pretended not to listen as disgust boiled in his gut.

“Well, gents, I believe I am owed a higher share. I did capture it.” The Brit said with enough smug to drown Alex.

“It? I am still alive, you son of a bitch.” Alex interjected.

An argument began. “I risked my life to get him out of the jaws of that other one.” The argument was soon cut off as the van stopped, jolting everyone in the back towards the front.

“Guys, can you come see this?” Lisa, Alex surmised, screamed. She sounded much older than him. All four guards crowded a small panel door to view the windshield.

“Holy shit, there must be at least 25 of them!” The guard who sat on Alex’s left shouted.

“So, here’s the game. We each get six shots. Whoever kills the most gets 50% of the reward for the live one, and the other three split the remainder.” The Brit guard said from the front by the slot.

Alex looked at the guard who helped him into the van. The guard’s focus was towards the front, but Alex noticed he had his side arm unfastened. Alex also noticed that all the rifles were on the floor. Thanks to his double-jointed shoulder, he slowly undid his restraints, being careful to not make any noise. The guards were still arguing and completely unaware he was free. He smiled as a plan began to form. He reached for the pistol and slid it from the holster without alerting the guard. Smiling, Alex waited to strike.

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.

Illusion of Choice Chapter 1 Sample

Chapter 1

23.2228 – City-7434, Sector 8A, World Government of Earth (W.G.E.)

The alarm on his wrist communicator sounded at 0530 as the WGE mandated for Officer #9301. David Warren awoke with an hour and half until his State-mandated class. He stretched on his box-spring bed in a room as dark as a coffin. David glanced down at the metallic cuff enveloping his left forearm and saw the piercing green illumination change to 0531. It beeped again.

“Are you going to turn that off?” A female voice said in a soft, but harsh tone.

“Sorry.” David silenced the alarm. He forgot she was still here. “I told you I had Block 7 classes.”

“There’s a Block 7?” She mocked a yawn.

“Yeah, 0700 to 0800.”

“Why the fuck would you accept that?” The pale woman asked as she stretched. She was still nude, like David, below the small sheet that barely covered her.

“I will be working Block 9 through 19.” He explained.

“I work all Blocks, honey.” She purred as she pulled her long, jet-black hair into a ponytail. Though she dressed to look older, with her lying naked on the bed with her hair back, she filled out all 19 years of her life. She smiled with a look of primal longing. “I’m still on your dime.”

“What’s stopping me from arresting you and taking you to the Detention Center?” David asked as he met her eyes with a faux fierce stare. “You may not be legal.” He offered her a smirk.

“That wasn’t funny.” She flushed with anger. “You know I do my damnedest to stay straight.” The WGE had legalized prostitution and other vices and even encouraged their use. This leniency was done to ensure that everyone was safe as some of the worst diseases in the Old World were sexually transmitted or through the use of illegal drugs. By legalizing these practices, the WGE also made sure everyone was protected from unwanted side effects like pregnancy without proper care and services.

“I’m sorry.” He softened instantly. “I was only kidding.”

“It still hurt.”

“You know I couldn’t anyway.”

“Yeah, then, you wouldn’t have anyone.” She giggled in a way that always made him smile. “There’s that smile I love.” She stretched her arms out, and he couldn’t resist collapsing into them.

Despite her warm embrace, David felt a chill rise up along his spine and into his brain. Because the State set the temperature in the provided housing complexes, he had to learn to deal with the cold. A humming buzz signaled the piping in of oxygen to the bedrooms to shake free any sense of sleepiness. He pushed off Iliza and stood next to the bed as the lights in his apartment finished their morning awakening. Though he knew the State regulated all lights for energy consumption, David wished they would turn on faster.

“I need to get ready.” He said. “I have some new flavors in the cabinet if you want something.”

“You do!” Iliza squealed and perked up. “We never get the good stuff you Unies get.” She said in a mocking pout that he knew was true. “Especially us in the Fringe.”

“You could move out of Sector 13, you know.” He offered as he started to move for the door.

“I wish, but you don’t pay me enough for that, honey.”

David headed to the tiny bathroom. Per regulations, the lights remained off, but the mosaic-tiled window offered enough light to flood the entire bathroom. There was a sink with a mirror over it, a small shower, and a closet. David looked into his mirror for a moment. He needed a haircut and a shave. As he looked at the man in the mirror, the reflection disturbed David. It was foreign and outside of the norm. His eyes, blue as opposed to the typical brown of people with his hair color looked back at him mockingly. He was different in an obvious way and despised his eyes. He turned from the mirror to his shower without any further hesitation and pressed the button below the shower head. The water began with a timer counting down from ten minutes. He showered as fast as he could while clenching his teeth from the cold water.

The cold water, like the slow lights, was another result of rationing. Using excessive amounts of hot water would deprive others of even lukewarm water. David understood the reasoning, but he hated it. The trained part of his brain kicked in and chastised him for dissenting.

He pulled a towel out of his bathroom closet instead of standing in front of the dryer in his bathroom. David always found the air from that dryer to be too cool for him when he was soaking wet. After drying, he fed the towel into a slot next to the closet. A series of grinding sounds emanated from the slot, and the towel appeared on the shelf where David pulled it, folded and dry.

He headed, nude, to his bedroom, and a wave of self-consciousness hit. The State encouraged one to ignore modesty and indulge in every physical desire, but to David, a part of him never acquired that mentality. Except with Iliza. Though he knew she would leave his life the second he couldn’t afford her, he felt a deeper connection with her than he did with most Working Ladies. He retrieved his clothes from the closet and placed them on the bed.

He walked from the white cube that was his bedroom to the white cube that was his living room. Padding over to the cabinet, David removed a syringe labeled “Chocolate Cereal.” He injected the dark, metallic brown liquid into the back of his neck where it melted into his shoulders. The neck location would never heal from the constant injections, yet it caused no scar tissue.

As the liquid entered his Augmentation Implementing Dispenser (AID) chip, David waited to taste the cereal. Since the implanted chip satisfied all needs for food and water, the State simply provided the flavor injections to make the transition easier. Its use was popular, so the WGE, in an act of utter generosity, never did away with it. Today, only workers for the State in high positions got them delivered for free. Everyone else had to buy them, and they weren’t cheap.

“Yes! I am Queue Number 10!” Iliza shouted, snuggled on the couch. He had forgotten she was there.

“Few later risers today.” David said with a shrug. “Which one you got?” David asked, placing the used syringe in a special container for recycling.

“It said Strawberry.” She looked back at him from the sofa, with the numbers 0-2, emblazoned on the screen displaying her queue number. “It tastes sweet!”

“It’s pretty good, but you should try Orange.”

“Next time.” She turned to the TV. “We are 0-1! You think it’ll be cartoons?” Even though he had been her regular for over 100 days, she was still amazed by the perks, like flavor vials, that he received as a Union Guard. It amused him.

A taste entered his mouth that David identified as “cheap chocolate.” The flavor paled in comparison to a small taste he could remember as a child. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave him a connection to his childhood. He wasn’t sure when he had experienced it, but the memory was vivid in detail.

David saw a woman with hair colored like leaves in autumn. When he had this vision, he always called her that—Autumn. Even in memory, her smile lit up any darkness that lingered in his heart. As she pulled him close and embraced him, his tiny hands fondled the treat she gave him. The world melted as the flavor of the chocolate piece enveloped him. The mental image dissipated as Clark Wallace introduced WGE News.

Iliza groaned. “The news is always so boring.”

“We at WGE News Network would like to wish a congratulations to Sister Marilyn Winthrop and Brother Adam Gino as they have announced their union in the eyes of the State. While the Winthrop name is synonymous with the WGE Film industry, Brother Gino comes from a long line of public servants including his father, John who serves on the WGE Council. Let us wish our brother and sister well.

“Who the fuck cares about them?” Iliza said with an expression that mirrored her distasteful tone. “Sorry, but I never got the celebrity worship. It seems to counter to everything we were taught.”

“It does, but think about it.” David teased. “Two of the most well-known names in WGE service have joined. Winthrop-Gino will become a dynasty for the WGE.”

“That’s true. Just seems weird.” David shrugged.

“Union Officers scored a glorious victory in Sector 12 after an extensive firefight with insurgents hiding in the slums.” The TV stated.

“He’s lying again, isn’t he?” Iliza asked.

“Embellishing.” David corrected. “I’m sure there was a firefight, but I doubt it was the terrorists.”

“Sounds scary. Have you ever met any?” She resembled a child with her curiosity about his work. It enamored David that despite her line of work, she was still curious about the world unlike other women.

“I would bet few were true CLOC insurgents.” David pronounced it as “cloak.”

“What’s CLOC?”

“The Coalition for the Liberation of Oppressed Citizens.” David explained. The WGE rarely acknowledged their formal name. They were always “the terrorists.”

“Were they dangerous?” Iliza asked, but before David could respond, Clark Wallace said something on TV that froze them both.

“Join us, brothers and sisters, in a mantra for the hour. Repeat: I will work for one reason today: solidarity.” The smile on Clark Wallace’s face looked like it would touch his eyes if he pushed it a bit harder. David and Iliza recited the mantra. Iliza’s face mirrored Clark Wallace’s, but David, as usual, forced a smile onto his face.

“We are fortunate to live in City-7434, Brother Warren.” He hated when she called him that, as she always did after the mantras.

“Indeed we are,” David pushed the awkward address out. “Sister.”

“Can you imagine life outside in the Wastelands?”

“Not in the slightest.” Excluding his chocolate memory, David only remembered living under the World Government of Earth’s regime. They fulfilled everyone’s needs, though some received more perks than others. All citizens received the same stipend; however, the doctors, scientists, and teachers also received the top-notch goods, such as better food flavors, bigger apartments, and nicer cars. He, as a Union Guard Officer, received this tier of perks with a few hidden extras: liquor and real foods. In the poorer sectors where people worked more menial jobs, the citizens only received the basic income. It forced them into abject poverty to just get a car. Most in Sectors 10 to 13 tried to live the illusion of wealth and went into severe debt to buy the cars that David’s class drove.

“The Fringe is scary enough.” Most people called Sector 12 and Sector 13 the unkind nickname since the poorest congregated here. Most moved there for the relaxed laws from the WGE police, but they found that it was hard, if not impossible, to move back.

“Like I said before, move here.” He held her face and looked at her. David thought for a second she would greet him with a kiss, finally ending their business arrangement for something more tangible, but a loud pounding on the front door interrupted their moment. Grabbing his gun off the end table, he ran to the door, chambered a round, and checked the view screen on the door.

“Fuck.” He said loud enough for Iliza to hear.

“Who is it?” He motioned her to keep quiet and go to the bedroom, which she did without hesitation.

“Brother Warren, please, open up, I need your help.” The pounding was as wild as natives of the Wastelands. Peter Richardson, David’s neighbor, looked like an uncivilized man.

“What you need, Brother Richardson?” David shouted through the door.

“I’m in trouble, man. Open up!” His voice rose in timbre.

David disengaged the electronic locks. Peter stormed in without invitation looking like he was homeless. The dirty-blond hair that clung tight to Peter’s scalp was slick with sweat. Red worms attacked his greenish irises, and bleeding wounds riddled his lips. Through his training, David kept his gun at the ready.

“I fucked up last night.” Peter said with a sigh. “Gambling.” He replied, embarrassed to admit his crime.

“It wasn’t State-sanctioned, was it?” David paused, hoping his instincts were wrong. Peter’s eyes told him they weren’t. “How much?”

“More credits than I make in a month.” Tears filled his eyes magnifying the intense green. “I was on a roll.”

“Fuck, Pete.”

“I also skipped work this morning.” He mumbled as if he didn’t want to feel the words come out. David heard them anyway. David’s eyebrows arched high, trying to reach the bangs of his too long brown hair.

“What? Are you fucking crazy? Don’t you work 0000 clean up?”

“Yeah.” Peter melted into the couch.

“You are six hours late. They will notice that.” David was growing panicky.

“I was too scared to leave.”

“Well, I suggest you get out of my apartment before I have to use this.” He motioned to his gun, without much meaning. He was too tired to be tough with Peter. “But, since that would give me a headache with paperwork, I’ll skip that idea. You are in a bit of trouble, but I guess it’s nothing too serious. Maybe a week or two in Union detention. I think turning yourself in would be the wisest thing.” David’s mind began to betray him. Peter wouldn’t last the full sentence. Interrogations demolished people like Peter the first day.

“I… can’t do that,” stammered Peter. “What if I leave the city?”

“The WGE’s jurisdiction ends after Sector 13, so you will be out of their realm of persecution. But remember, you’ll also be out of their ring of protection. Can you handle what’s out there?”

David looked out the window, hoping to ground Peter into the hopelessness of escape. Beyond the concrete and steel labyrinth, he could see the whispers of trees and wilderness. “The terrorists will likely kidnap you and try to ransom you off, or the bandits out there will just kill you on sight.” David hoped these clichés would scare him into going to another Union Guard Officer.

“Can I crash here for a few hours at least? I haven’t slept all night, waiting for them to bust the door in, and…”

“Have you been using?” David had to get Peter back to his place before he found Iliza.

“Fuck no, man, I’m in enough trouble that I don’t need illegals in my system.” Most non-State upgrades were minor enhancements of State variations. Some enhancements were benign like the sleeping upgrades that would knock you out for a week. Others allowed for temporary bursts of speed and strength. The scarier ones were like the drugs of the Old World.

As with prostitution the State was fine with most that didn’t interfere with one’s responsibilities. The drugs like Adrenall, Blue Velvet, and a few others that caused increased aggression and rage gained their ire.

“I have a friend in Sector 9.” He thought of an innkeeper who he helped out once. “I have a Sleeper in the cabinet next to my flavor vials. It’s straight, so it will only give you two or three hours. Head to this address.” David typed it into his communicator and pointed it to Pete’s. Pete’s communicator dinged. “Take a Sleeper, shower when you wake up, and then, get to Sector 1 and turn yourself in. Deal?”

“Yeah, man. Deal.” Peter stared off into space with a placid smile before ambling out of the apartment. David didn’t believe him for a second.

“You are smooth.” Iliza said from the hallway. “Is he going to be okay?” She looked worried for him.

“I love that you care.” David said without choosing his words. He saw her cheeks turn a shade of red. Unlike most citizens of City-7434, Iliza seemed to relish the praise. That reaction reaffirmed that she was different like he was. “But, I don’t know. He’s on his own now. Shit,” David recalled seeing the time on his communicator. “I have to go.”

“I’ll be gone soon.” She said without much thought or emotion. “Bye… David.” She smiled.
To not ruin the moment, David left without another word. He grabbed a tan button-up shirt and his bag, packed his gun away, and headed out. He hoped Peter would regain some of his senses after a few hours of sleep.

He finished buttoning his shirt as the elevator arrived at the ground floor. Outside of his building, the sky was a perfect blue. Somehow, the color still amazed him while most didn’t even take notice of it. Everyone on the streets looked forward as they walked or down at the glowing device attached to their wrists. The wrist communicator had many useful tools, such as a clock, a phone, and a wallet into one device. David’s Unie communicator had many extra features. One tool he used the most was the ability to scan anyone’s identification port and learn their past transgressions. It allowed him to assess anyone at a glance.

David queued behind others waiting for the transport. The large transport vehicle arrived on schedule as always. The vehicle looked like one of the buses he had seen in his Old World History class but with the armor of a tank. He passed the driver and flipped his wrist up. The red laser next to the driver scanned his identification port eliciting a ding. David found a seat by the window. The hum of electrical current rose with a slow crescendo. The vehicle lurched forward following a track of radio signal, accelerating to the speed of the rest of traffic. Over the seat, he could see the driver writing in his log as the vehicle drove itself. State Drivers weren’t essential to typical vehicle usage, but they were the only ones sanctioned to drive with manual controls. If an emergency came up, like being behind schedule, the State Drivers were ready to put their training to use. Because of the efficiency of the State, most never had to do that.

David opened his satchel, removed his educational tablet, and began flipping through his notes on the digital pages. He scanned the syllabus to confirm it: 21st Century Mysticism. Religion, outlawed by The Rules, always intrigued David. He had once arrested some who were practicing religious sacraments, but most were strung out users who had “epiphanies” after binges. Still, he tried, against all logic, to question these people in their cells; they revealed nothing of interest except a look that David would never forget—a look of hope.

The transport groaned to a stop, and the intercom burst with sound. “Sector 3 – Public Education Center #23.” David flipped the book off in a hurry and got in line to exit the vehicle.

Outside in the warming air, he stood in front of a plain building. Other than being a giant copper rectangle, the building was a monolith of monotony—the epitome of the State. Besides its color, only a sign reading PEC #23 adorned the building. Following the crowd pouring into the building, David tried his best to contain his excitement. Most citizens didn’t enjoy these mandatory classes.