Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Nanoprep 2018 Day 1: 180 Celsius

By Robin de Voh on 2018-10-01

"76 Bradford Court, third house on the left," the radio crackled into the otherwise silent room.

They looked at each other while the voices on the radio continued. Dejected, they nodded to one another. Pete crawled over to the front door to look through the keyhole. Kerry got up and moved over to the fireplace, crouched, so she wouldn't cast her shadow on the blinds covering the front window. She gestured to Pete to hand her the box sitting near to him. He crawled back a little, picked it up and started handing it to her when he stopped.

He looked at it intently for a second. Then a whisper.

"Are you sure?" he asked.
"Pete, yes, I'm sure," she said, "and we don't have time to get into an argument now. We agreed on this." "I know, but now that we're actually doing it, it feels... It feels wrong, Kerry."
"Give me the box, Pete. We can't let anyone have this."
"But," Pete started, when the radio interrupted him.

"We ran into some traffic, about 5 minutes out," a voice said between buzzes and blips.
"Acknowledged. Unit 17, how far away are you?" a female voice said.
"Also 5 minutes. We'll meet you there."

Kerry leaned forwards suddenly and snatched the box from Pete's hand. She looked him straight in the eye as if to challenge him to try and do something, and he leaned back.

"Good," she whispered. She had intended it to sound more angry, but whispers can only carry so much weight.

She opened the box. A handful of memory cards lay haphazardly throughout it, small symbols drawn on them.

"Were they worth it?" Pete said quietly.
"Yes," Kerry whispered back.

They contained millions of books. Forbidden books. Philosophical works, fictional works, history works. An immense variety of written words, stored on memory cards the size of a thumbnail each. Collected over a span of years. Often with assistance from foreign agents, who sometimes even had hard copies, something Kerry and Pete had never even seen.

When the Master came to power, audiovisual media -- previously on television, but by then almost exclusively on the mesh -- had already been dumbing down over the years. And as years became decades, all semblance of intelligent content had been subtly diverted away from the masses. Then those who tried to get through the barrier and offer insight were shut down. Public discourse concerning anything more important than clothes, food or random interpersonal drama was banned. And most people were fine with it. They had grown up in this climate and knew no better.

Kerry and Pete had been like that. Innocent kids who followed the streams, knew the stream couples and their birthdays, but could not explain how the self-proclaimed Master had risen to power in the first place. And then they had met her -- Alysa -- when they were walking home one day. Alysa had been friendly, asked them how they were doing, and they got to talking. Over time and meeting again and again, she at one point asked them if they wanted to know more about the world than they already did. Intrigued, Kerry had said yes.

Alysa had then explained to them that they weren't seeing the full picture. There was much more than what was on the mesh. There was history hidden, stories, insights, discussions and disagreements.

Disagreements. A word that had nothing but negative connotations to Kerry and Pete at the time. There were still ongoing discussions to make disagreement a felony, but right now it's still just considered an offence. But you could get arrested and sent to reeducation for disagreeing with the powers that be too much.

Hearing that once they were a regular part of life and everyone had the freedom to do so was confusing to them, but they wanted to know more.

Alysa eventually gave them a memory card, just like the ones Kerry had in the box right now. It had contained a single file, Plato's Republic, and she had told them to be extremely careful with it. Nobody could know they had it, since it was highly illegal.

"Why?" Pete had asked.
"Because it's considered antisocial and inflammatory," Alysa had answered, "and reason for reeducation to have, read or spread it."
"But shouldn't we not do this, then?" he had asked Kerry.

Kerry, however, couldn't say no. She'd had questions about the whys long before meeting Alysa, and she took the memory card.

"I want to know."

They read it together that evening, pretending to do course work. It was a dialogue between Plato and some of his philosopher friends, mostly concerning what justice is and should be. Some of it didn't really sit right with either Pete or Kerry, but some of it just felt inherently true. That the just leader would focus on harmonious cooperation of their citizens. Where a society will go through multiple forms of government -- timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and then tyranny.

They didn't really know the exact meaning of any of these forms of government -- all they knew was the Master -- but Plato explained what they meant as well. The one that stood out in specific was Tyranny. Plato explained it as the state being enslaved by the ruler, who removes all the 'good' social elements to remove any threat to his power and will start wars to solidify it. And they had agreed that a lot of what they were reading seemed to describe the Master quite fittingly.

There were no elections, they were chosen to do certain jobs they had no choice in themselves, they had been at war as long as long as they could remember, and they all knew about the 'antisocial' elements being reeducated. Reeducated away from what they now saw may have been the good in society.

They had asked Alysa what they could do to spread this knowledge, and after multiple shakes of her head and 'no-no-no's over a period of weeks, she was eventually convinced they meant it. She had given them a box. It jangled slightly as they handled it.

"Bring this to the abandoned university on the other side of the city. There's a guy there. He can upload this information to servers stationed across the country. This will make sure it can't be destroyed easily. I can't go near there or I'll get arrested."
"But won't we be arrested?" Pete had asked.
"No, you're just a bunch of kids. Hide the memory cards inside in your underpants, or in the lining of a coat, and they likely won't find them."

They had done so. They had ripped open Pete's inside pocket and dropped the memory cards in, contained in a small cloth bag. Going to the university had been mostly uneventful. Surprising but not unwelcome.

The guy Alysa had spoken of had greeted them, they exchanged the secret password to prove they had been sent by her, and he had guided them to a basement room with rows upon rows of humming computers. They showed nothing they were used to. Windows full of text, in multiple languages, most of which they didn't know.

He had taken the bag of memory cards and placed them all, one by one, in a machine that made a 'ding' sound after a few seconds, after which he moved onto the next.

By the time he was done, he put them all back in the cloth bag and handed them back.

"Get rid of these, we don't need them anymore, but if anyone finds them on you you'll be in trouble" he had said. "Real trouble. Reeducation trouble."

They had nodded, trying not to show their fear. As he guided them outside, through the same side door they'd gotten in through, they could all hear sirens in the distance.

"Run, kids, that's the police!" he had shouted at them, pushing them in the opposite direction from the sirens.

They ran. They ran straight home. They were so afraid they didn't pause for a second. By the time they got there they were so winded Pete nearly threw up.

"Burn it," Pete said, his face illuminated by the fireplace.

Kerry nodded without looking at him. She turned the box upside down over the fire and sat back as the small plastic tabs melted in the flames and disappeared. A faint green color could be seen in the fire but it died out quickly.

A knock on the door, shouting in the distance.

"Guess this is it," Kerry said as Pete got up.

He opened the door and a team of police officers with their weapons raised streamed in.

"Where's the contraband?" a masked man holding an automatic rifle shouted.

Kerry and Pete kept their faces straight and said nothing.

Obvious shoutout to Fahrenheit 451. That book is so very, very relevant right now.