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By Nicholas Woode-Smith All Rights Reserved ©



“ID?” the black-clad patrol officer asked, his eyes not shifting from the computer tablet grasped in his hands.

“AX567-9B,” I replied, blinking nervously. I did not know what I had done, if anything, but that didn’t mean I hadn’t done anything. If I had done something, there was more chance that They would know, than I would.

“I know,” replied the officer. He already knew my ID. All the patrollers did. They knew everyone’s IDs. A small part of me wanted to snidely remark that there was little point enquiring if they already knew. I had learnt quickly that this morbid joke came with the job. Even a decade later, it seemed to never get old.

“Do you know why I’ve pulled you over?”

I shook my head vigorously, my chin hitting against the ‘Mobile Identity, Safety and Tranquillity Instigator’ around my neck. The MISTI had been cumbersome, at first, but I had soon become used to it. It was to be worn at all times, after all. It could come off easily, like any collar, but They would always know when that happened. It was a test after all. Everyone who wore the MISTI was faced with the suggestion of freedom and a world of privacy, but those falsehoods would always be crushed. No, the MISTI could be taken off, but its purpose could never be removed.

“Your MISTI was picking up a Level 5 just a few minutes ago. This is a Level 4 zone. What you were doing was illegal.” Every time the patroller spoke, a white line appeared on his pitch black visor, flitting from side to side. I should have been used to it by now, but even after ten years it was still somewhat hypnotic.

“That has to be a false reading. I was thinking about work. Nothing more.”

“Job clarification?”

I stifled an exasperated sigh. “You should know already.”

I couldn’t really know, but I somehow could feel the smirk underneath the large helmet that the patroller wore.

“It isn’t my job to know. It is Their job to know and your job to tell me.”

Defeated, I answered. “Personnel Enhancement Specialist – I have up to Level 6 clearance in any zone except for State administration facilities and Defender of the Collective bases.”

“Then what are you doing speaking to me, Professor.”

As I walked away from the patrolman, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. Professor used to mean something. Now it was just a title I was given scathingly by audacious policemen. It was empty now.

It did have some benefits. My level clearance was one of them. Usually a citizen was forbidden high levels of complex thought, but those deemed to require more multifaceted thought patterns were given permission to think at that level. As a teacher, or Personnel Enhancement Specialist, I had this permission. This allowed me to think about multiple professions, skills and concepts rather than the one of my employment.

Ever since the Employment Security Act, a person was only allowed to learn one skill. The reason for such a law was that being able to utilise more than one would endanger workers who relied on that skill. Every task had a designated individual to fix it. My task was teaching these skills to people. I was an exception.

Yet, knowing these skills did little for me. My MISTI monitored my actions and if I was caught utilising any of these skills, I would be investigated by Them. All I could do was teach – teach hollow skills to hollow people.

Nevertheless, I still held a lower level than some. Not even the patrolmen held a high rank compared to a few. Even their bosses, the Overseers, were low in comparison to the complete all-inspiring power of the Benevolent – the rulers of the Collective. They were Them. The State was but a servant to the Benevolent, for They were truly above the law.

Very little was known about the Benevolent and that itself was an oddity in a society where everything was known about everything. The only things not known were the inner workings of the State and the nature of the Benevolent. Games of strategy had become obsolete years ago, as any individual's intent was put on a public easily accessible database where an opponent was only to check it and know your next move.

As an ex-chess champion, it was one of the things I missed the most. The State had good reasoning, of course. Intent was needed to act and acting could lead to danger. It was better for everyone to know everyone’s intent so they could avoid criminals before the crime took place. Overnight, crime disappeared. The murder and theft that did happen was, of course, legal.

However, I digressed. It was not my place to think about the past or any criticisms of the present. It was my place to teach and that is what I loved. It might be different from what I wanted. I may not be allowed to cook my own food, or fix my own clothes even though I knew how – but at least I could teach. I still had that.

And above all, at least it was safe.

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