The thing is, we knew this about you a long time ago.
He pauses for a moment and the snink of a zippo fills the small black room. The sparks sear tracers in your eyes, for it’s the first light you’ve seen in days. The flame moves up towards his face, illuminating the first human face you’ve seen in weeks like a small angel falling to earth. Shadows of his smallpox scars carve his face as if it were limestone. He inhales with the deep breath of a lifetime smoker long deprived of a drag. Dropping your eyes, you realize you are naked, bruised and lacerated, bound loosely to a chair. A deep ache wells in your bones.
Your teen-age ramblings first came to our files through those chat channels you whiled away your hours on; but then another administration got in the way.
He inhales, and the red glow lights up the crags of his cheekbones and the points of his suit collar. You realize you have no idea who you are, or how you got here. You wonder why you can’t feel your feet.
No, it took twelve cubed to make us realize the real enemy was among us all along.
Another glow as he inhales, a malevolent eye winking. What’s the joke? There’s never been anything but this room, and the dark, and the pain. You must be the joke.
It’s a hard thing, fighting terrorism. It turns out that terrorism is in the mind; it’s like a mental disease. All it takes is twenty pissed off guys and some basic flight training or five angry engineers. So we knew we had to get into your minds.
He leans over and puts his elbow on his knee, the acrid smoke of his cigarette searing your parched nose. It reminds you of the smell of … sulfur. A hot springs! You remember a hot springs! And something more …
Turns out, your type tend to be a little maladjusted, not so much going with the flow. The Five had fairly extensive school records, psych evals… most of the little bastards were in therapy since they hit puberty. So we knew we had to dig back into our archives and see if we could find any more burning fuses we could snuff out before more people died.
Something was good at that spring. Something to do with eyes.
We pulled all the federal, state, and local archives together and used them to generate profiles to flag data flowing through the Global Packet Filter. You, my friend, were the reddest of red flags. You were communicating with a wide variety of other reds using very strong encryption.
We wasted a lot of perfectly good man hours trying to get at what you were saying to each other, but in the end, you did yourself in publicly. You know our economic system is the bedrock of our security as a nation, yet you predicted its demise in post after post.
He takes another drag and blows the smoke in your face. Your eyes sting, and you blink. Vision! It had something to do with vision. People burble up in the smoke, and you remember laughter, dance, lust and play, surrounded by kindred spirits. The memory seems fantastic; everyone and everything was glowing and sparkling like heaven. You remember the hope, the joy, and the feeling like all the strife was almost over.
It never seemed to matter that the labor participation rates kept falling, or that our intercept rate started to diminish. The President for the Emergency declared “Victory over Economics” the day after the unemployment rate dropped to half a percent.
But then it became clear that our society, our Democracy, was being hollowed out from the inside.
We know that you’re no ring-leader, or even much more than a hanger-on, but we’ve learned a lot since our fumbling days of disappearing Intel engineers. We know now that you can’t win a war against an idea by making examples: you have to treat it like a disease.
The Vision party, to celebrate New Years Eve 2020… You remember weeks of frenetic planning, patience fraying with your chosen compatriots, everyone shirking on ‘official’ responsibilities to get their art, or their experience, or just their kit together.
When we discovered your “alternative” network, we knew we were onto a conspiracy deeper than a few disaffected white men. We knew we had to move carefully. After months of traffic analysis, we were able to find the key nodes participating in the system. It’s fiercely difficult to localize those black-market ultrawideband transceivers, but if you deploy enough antennas, you can narrow it down… especially with the perps publicly mocking our attempts to save Capitalism.
Which brings us back to this;
From his jacket he pulls a Window® and unfolds it. It’s showing an invitation.
He snaps it shut.
You posted this. On the public Internets. You, and thousands of others. We redacted it, of course.
What’s left has been simple; you were all quite foolish to gather in so few places.
He leans back laconically in his chair, and idly flicks the cigarette past your head, smiling at your flinch. You notice a faint glow starting to come from the lower walls.
There’s not much left we need of you. You’ve really been quite cooperative; there really hasn’t been much you wouldn’t talk about for some time now. In fact, you’ve been telling us anything you think we want to hear.
Unfortunately, I’ve been given clean up detail. For obvious reasons, most of what we wanted to know was historical, but I wanted to ask you about a party.
You remember your lover; you’d just met not a few weeks before, thanks to the matchmaking urges of your spouse (Married?!). The experiences you shared at the party were a paean to the most extravagant sybaritic hedonism you can recall. The glow has risen; the room is revealed to be white, inoffensive, clinical; a nine foot cube with a door.
Ah, I can see you do remember. Good.
He picks up the small pile of clothes next to him and tosses it in your lap.
You pull your arm from the straps and put on your shirt, your stiff and swollen fingers trembling. The strap-marks on your wrists look almost like bracelets. Your legs don’t seem to want to work, so you pick them out of their ankle restraints with both of your hands.
He looks on, impassive. You slowly put each foot into the pants and pull them up, using your arms to lever your butt up enough to get in. As you sit back down you begin to feel stabbing pains in your feet as they begin to wake up.
Our task here is complete. You see, every remembering means you take apart the memory and put it back. Only now, you can’t put it back. Anything you have remembered since you’ve been here is gone forever.
A stranger smiles at you, smelling faintly of cigarettes, and offers his hand to you. You take it, with gratitude; you feel so tired. He walks you out of the room, out of the hospital, and into the sunshine.
You’re free to leave
He says, and walks away.