A Question Of Liberty
This is another story in the world of a question of faith.
"Mrs Roberts, do you have some time?"
It was never a good sign if Jane Roberts' boss was polite like that. It normally meant lots of extra work. Some form of TPS-report which had to be completed as soon as humanly possible (and preferably 5 minutes earlier) most likely. This is why she reacted with a cautious: "Only a bit, I have an appointment with my lawyer in one hour." Even though her boss did not knew details we knew that she was going through all the woes of a divorce at the moment.
"It will not take long. Please come to my office." she translated that as 'I am sadistic enough to cause you extra work just for the sake of it. You know you love me as much as you love unpaid overtime.' Only the rules of polite behavior and a sense of patriotism and loyalty towards the Centralistic Intelligence Agency prevented her from losing her temper. She followed him into his office, with the wonderful view over Centropolis. He offered her a seat and then directly came to the point: "Mrs Roberts, the lab just returned the results of the drug test and apparently they found an anomaly worth reporting to the Field Operations Team."
"Field Operations? Why in the green hills of fair Ireland does Field Operations have their hands on these tests?"
"I have no idea, need to know basis. Please contact Mister Straatmann as soon as possible." He handed her a card with only a cell phone number and the words 'R. Straatmann' on it.
"I will do. Is that all?"
"Yes, it is. Please do not forget it." She nodded and as quick as general politeness allowed it, she left the office and hurried home.
She called one day later and was invited to meet Ryan Murphy. It was not that she looked forward to it, she thought it was one of these things, which bureaucrats invent to waste precious lifetime (which was in her opinion the only purpose of bureaucracy). Ryan was not beautiful. He was pale and in his mid-50s, his clothes were wrinkled and looked (as well as smelled) as if he slept in them, he was balding and the remaining hair was a mixture of gray and black. He explained in a droning voice that the drug test this time also included a simple compatibility test for certain biological factors required for a series of updates, which a special mission would require. He could not explain well, but eventually she realized that they were searching for a compatibility to a sigatronic system which would be required to enter Lu?ia and operate there. Sigatronic is named after the inventor Matthew Siga and refers to the advanced implants the decentralists use. Eventually she got the full meaning: While the secret service of the decentral republic, the misrad, managed to get agents into Centralia, no one who belonged to the secret service was able to enter any of the decentral republics. To make things worse: allegedly a bunch of neo-hippies did manage to get there but no word came back from them. The new plan was to use a misrad-based sigatronical systems to create an at least superficial compatibility and to hope that would suffice to fool the decentrals and gather information about them. She was the only compatible individual they had found so far. She knew what her employers expected her to say. However - she had no idea what to think herself. She was patriotic, of course, otherwise she would not be in the CIA, but the idea to enter Lu?ia, Kij?ta or a similar place scared her. Eventually, she nodded. "Okay, I will do it!"
From then on, she learned all they had found out so far about decentralism. She saw the few videos of the 'architect' Selangeti over and over. There were no language classes for her since it would take decades of training for her to learn Lu?ian or Me?utian. These languages might sound rather easy, but are rather incompatible with centralist brains. They even were designed in the time before the decentral republics were founded as a means of secret communication.
The divorce went over quickly now that she did not feel like fighting over every cent knowing it wouldn't help her in the Republic of New Commune. She started getting rid of possessions she no longer needed and told friends she thought about quitting and taking a job-offer abroad. Eventually, the day approached when they wanted to test the sigatronic system.
When Jane was on the operation table, she almost died of fear, her mind dwelt on all the things which could go wrong. She was somewhat glad in the seconds the anesthetics were about to work 'now it'll be over, this way or the other one'. However she soon woke up again, finding herself unable to move. She could not even open her eyes. However she felt a change inside her. It started in her stomach and made her feel like going through these days of the month. After a while, it seemed to spread from there. She felt panic rising in her. Her heart started to beat faster. She felt as if the temperature in the room dropped by at least 5 degrees, but even then she felt that she started sweating. 'This is not going right, this is not going right!' the thought was repeated in her brain as she felt the painful and warping sensation spread in her. She could not do anything, not even scream or cry. Suddenly the change reached her backbone and almost instantaneously things changed. The pain subsided and was replaced by a neutral albeit strange feeling, the panic floated away on some levels. Her mind still saw it as sign that things were off really much, but her body accepted it. She started feeling confused about this, but on the other hand a feeling started to rise in her that this all was well, that everything was going according to plan. She gave in to this feeling and felt the sigatronics do their magic. It was an odd feeling which spread through her legs and her chest. She had no word at all for it. It was so much outside her normal experience that she drew a blank on how to call it. The parts which seemed to be finished felt more or less normal to her or maybe normal only in the way that they were static and not shifting towards something. Her arms and legs became more and more immersed into this feeling. It also crawled up her neck. She felt the same sensation she had when the anesthetics kicked in as it went up higher and then passed out again.
Waking up was easy again but opening her eyes took determination - but at least it was possible. A doctor rushed towards her and after some words of relief concerning the fact that she was awake again, he told her that the sigatronic had horrible effects, that they caused her to transform.
She was not surprised as she had a rather clear picture of herself now. She was a Kel, a partly biological and partly cybernetic being. She was somewhat smaller now and much slimmer, her face looked mostly unchanged but much younger. Her skin was slightly darker as if tanned. She was more beautiful now and also realized that the decentral system did more than change that. She could not yet place it. She knew the changes would make sense in the decentral republic. More sense than now, she meant. She wanted to get to New Commune now. She knew that to a certain point she was prepared and that things would make sense there. She told that while she had a faint idea about the changes, she wanted to see them herself.
For quite a while, she lived just emulating her old existence while going through an awful lot of tests. She noticed slight differences now in the way she felt now about certain things. She felt more determined and more confident. Eventually, the time arrived when she boarded a boat and went towards the New Commune. The boat was very primitive so that if found out, she could say, that she just got off course and landed here. It felt natural to come near the decentral territory. She was not afraid, she was calm - even felt a bit anticipation. Nothing happened while she approached the shore, which seemed to be devoid of any life. It was easy to find a hiding place for the boat and to climb up the rocks to the ground. She had seen pictures of the parts of Europe which are now New Commune but she did not expect it to be so different now. The vegetation seemed to be the product of slight but constant genetic editing. The forest, she went through was thick and full of plants she had never seen before. Plants which were colorful and of strange forms. Eventually she reached a clearing and saw a small house there. It looked somehow familiar, and if you ignored the weird landscape around it, it could as well stand in Centralia. It had white walls, interrupted by small windows and a wooden door. Suddenly the door opened and an old man attempted to hurry to her. "Liberty!" he shouted, "don't you recognize your father anymore?"
Her mind raced. This person was a traditionalist as he was not upgraded, as her own kelish senses told her. He also appeared to be very old and apparently confused as well. However he was someone who at least had a rough idea about life in New Commune. 'Also he might help me to get an identity' she thought. "Dad? I lost my memory... I do not remember anything since the last few weeks."
He focused her as she cautiously approached. "You are Liberty, you grew up here in New Commune with your mother and me. You do not remember this at all?"
She shook her head. "Can you help me re-getting these memories?"
"Dad" invited her in and offered her tea, then he typed something into a computer and pictures were projected at a wall. It were pictures of the family. "Mum", "Dad" and Liberty while swimming, during Liberty's birthday party. He told her a lot of Liberty's life while watching the pictures and often asked whether she did not remember. She just shook her head and managed to look really sad. She looked around in the house. It seemed to consist of bookshelves and little else. One wall was free so things could be projected to it, there were 2 chairs and a staircase upstairs to (as Jane later found out) the attic where his bed stood. The entire room was clean and orderly which somehow conflicted with her assumption that he was suffering from dementia. They spent a lot of time talking about the decentral republic. Jane learned the story of "Dad"'s life: He lived most of his time in a commune of extremely religious technophobes. They were growing their own food, brewing their own beer, building, mending, weaving, sewing and looking down on the decentralists in their cities. They lived under the constant fear that the decentrals one day would attack their community. However it was not the New Commune but the flu which attacked their village and killed several people. He walked to the city Freelinsburg, despite his own sickness and asked them for help. The decentrals were eager to help and sent a delegation and even though the villagers were thankful to them, they later shunned "Dad" and his family. He tried to live in Freelinsburg but found out that he did not fit in there since he still had his technophobe views regarding most technology. Liberty at this time became the complete opposite and was the most 'astati' person you could find in the area. She made sure that her parents had a better place to live and threw herself into the lifestyle of the Hetek scene of which he had only a faint idea what they did. She somehow financed their lifestyle or made sure that they got certain things they needed. Jane did not quite understand that part. Eventually, "Mum" died of old age. Liberty was at the funeral and that was the last time he saw her. He showed Liberty the grave, slightly hidden. A cross said: Flora, a loving wife and mother. There was neither a last name nor a date.
Jane stayed a few days with "Dad" and somehow started to accept being Liberty. There was so much to find out about New Commune which she had to know and she also realized that the old man was a very interesting person. He was not mislead or suffering from dementia as she thought. He was very aware of the world around him and aware of the fact that he was a relic of earlier times. On the third day, Jane felt a presence approaching the house.
Since it confused her, she went outside to see what this presence was. She felt more than heard an approaching vehicle the size of a motorbike but silver and running absolutely noiseless. A person climbed out of it, who Jane instantaneously identified as the real Liberty. She looked somewhat similar to her but was far higher upgraded, her clothing and her hair was gradually shifting colors, oscillating between a dark red and a light turquoise.
"Hello... Liberty..." she said after her attempts to scan Jane apparently had unsatisfying results.
"Hello Liberty!" Jane replied confused.
"Okay, I do not want to stay here too long, but who the f*** are you and why are you living at my father?"
"You see, I have no idea who I am. I lost my memory and your father seemed to recognize me as is daughter... I am sorry for misleading him."
"Gilit! He probably liked it to have you around him and I didn't have to feel bad for not visiting him and you were not walking around aimlessly through the forest. Everybody wins."
"That is a way to see it. But who am I really?"
"Ksha... I have no idea but you should decide on something and stick to it. See it as a chance to escape your previous gilit and start anew. Forget the past and see this as a new birth." In a voice like during a stage-whisper she continued: "Amnesia is not something which hits randomly, amnesia is in 99% of the cases the result of improper upgrading and a happy person will not do that. So, ksha, take your chance and this time don't f*** it up this time."
"I will try. Do you mind me using the name Liberty?"
"Not at all, Liberty!"
Jane had no problem to register the new name in her electronic profile. The highly upgraded Liberty sent the generic one something and as it reached her mind, integrated itself there. Jane understood that it was some kind of guide for new citizens, which Liberty sent her.
"If you are lost, just ping me!" Liberty said and sent her contact information. Then she left with a quick and incomprehensible expression, probably in one of the new languages.
Liberty (as Jane now referred to herself) stayed a few more days at "Dad"'s house before leaving for the city. "Dad" wished her all the best. She felt a bit sad to leave him, but of course needed to find out more about the nation. She knew it was not that far to Freelinsburg. "Dad" said it would take less than 2 hours to walk there, but she progressed fast. Soon, in Liberty's own perception in less than half an hour, she reached the first suburbs of Freelinsburg. These houses did not look like anything you would see in Centralia: ancient windmills, natural looking hills with windows, treehouses, a lot of futuristic designs, one house which looked like it could stand in a Centralian suburb except that every singly bit of the surface was made of a reflecting substance and some houses which looked like giant spheres. The only person Liberty saw was man who practiced juggling. First she thought it was a hologram due to the cybernetic precision with which he kept more than 20 balls in the air, but then he made a mistake and started cursing. Shops, cars, traffic lights, even roads did not exist. The houses all were in enough distance that one can walk between them in the grass. At a distance she saw a small tower showing the symbol of a book. It was the first thing resembling to advertising and so Liberty moved towards it. Coming nearer she understood that it was the Public Library of Freelinsburg. As soon as she entered it, she realized that the term public library has a completely different meaning in the decentral republic than a centralist would have understood from it. It is rather than being a place of books, a place where one can download knowledge into ones mind. Liberty understood that the interface to this library existed in her even though she had no idea why she knew it. There were seats on which she could sit and connect herself. She chose a chair in yellow for no other reason than it being the nearest and sat down. She instinctively knew what to do. Her hands moved to her neck and found the interface, she moved the connector to it and was in the systems of the library.
At the same time, a group of people were notified that the target-person arrived in a library. The misrad might have no central buildings from which the volunteers work, very little infrastructure and not even a hierarchic structure, but it did have very dedicated misradniks. Lee saw that the person identified herself as 'Liberty' to the system and almost had a laughing fit. How can one be free as employee of an institution and as centralist citizen? The misrad saw via their interfaces what Liberty was doing in the system. She started getting familiar with the user interface of the library and then started the task of informing herself about the life in the decentral republic of New Commune. She often found herself being distracted and looked up a various things she encountered: certain style of music, a holiday in Shintoist tradition, an author, his works and the way his ideas were used later, again something music related: choirs of the decentral republic. The misradniks wrote down every distraction like this and prepared to contact her. It was the task of Link to establish the contact since he lived near the library. the misrad did decide that it was important to establish a physical contact. He went to the library and sat down there waiting for Liberty to disconnect.
After a while, Liberty felt like taking a break, she noticed that a man was sitting in front of her and apparently watched her. He saw that she was disconnecting and greeted her: "Hi Liberty? How do you like Freelinsburg so far?"
She was a bit scared: what if he could see through her lie? "Hi, it is an interesting place. It is all very new for me, there is much to learn."
"I am sure of that. Maybe I can help you to get started."
"That would be nice." pondering a bit, Liberty asked "Do I know you, Link?"
Now he was a bit nervous. "I think before your amnesia, we were in contact, but please consider me as a person who just wants to help out."
Liberty was very nervous, she opened his profile with a rather uncommon routine. She looked at some additional information about him this time, realizing that he noticed the request and smiled. She was shocked when she saw that this person was a member of the misrad. Even though the official information of the decentral republic said the misrad was an organization which existed to ensure peace, Liberty was rather sure that there was something more sinister behind their agenda, because that was what the CIA taught her. "Oh... a person called Liberty said it might be advantageous not to be reminded of the past too much." Liberty sent him a 'reference' to Liberty.
He seemed to be genuinely surprised: "You already met Liberty? I wanted you to meet her since she is about the best example of what decentral culture can be. I know where you are from and that you are trying to get information for the centralists. We are unsurveilled here at the moment so we can speak freely."
She was really scared now. "But..."
"I placed the upgrade at a place where the police of Centropolis would find it. They applied it to you to make you assume this form. I thought this was not too mainline and not too exaggeratedly astati. While most Decentrals like astatiness, we guessed in Centralia it would not make life easy to look that different."
"But... why? Why have you done this?"
"The misrad sees that there is a need for communication to end this 'cold war' as your side sees it - or as we would say 'terrible ignorance'. Since you would not listen to our attempts to communicate with you, we had to make it look as if you initiated it. However, honesty required to tell you about the plan now."
Liberty was stunned: "Oh..." She remembered her manners after a few seconds and said: "Thank you for informing me."
"I hope you succeed in making people see. There is a bug in the Centralian legal system which allows dual citizenship so you might want to register in New Commune or in Lu?ia as citizen." He sent the exploit, as he called the creative application of laws.
Liberty slowly understood her part of the story. Suddenly it all appeared less random for her. She felt rather optimistic. Having lived under the decentral threat for all of her life, she was happy that it seemed to be just mutual failure to communicate rather than a real conflict.
After Link said goodbye (and reminded her that she can always contact the misrad when in trouble), she spent the rest of the day informing herself, registering a place where she could stay for now and having a quick dinner from some form of vending machine. The room she registered was underground, but holographic projection made it look as if it was in the middle of a forest. The only thing it contained was a bed. She saw that she could access the network from the room, but all she wanted to do was to fall asleep.