Jessica woke early and lay for awhile in the dark.
Best get up to greet the day, now! said the honey-sweet voice inside her head.
Jessica ignored it, a habit she had been practicing ever since she’d been given her mission. It had been physically painful—giving herself splitting headaches—for days on end, and then she’d been able to tune the Conscience’s gentle Siri voice out without too much trouble, albeit experiencing regular migraines. Now she’d grown used to bitter black coffee—deliberately disobeying the voice’s command to add “half a spoonful sugar, and a spoonful of cream” just as it did each morning. Eating wild onions with homemade spaghetti instead of the package of frozen spaghetti and meatballs delivered to her door each night, as nudged by Siri—became the norm. She’d gotten used to reading plain paperback classics, saved from the Great Book Burning of the late twenty-first century, instead of the digital modern picture books manufactured by the Conscience.
Jessica waited until the sun forced its way through her shades before she rose.
She dressed garishly, gulped her bitter coffee quickly, and skipped backward out to the paper. All of these actions were the exact opposite of what the voice advised.
Jessica worked, reluctantly, at ConscienceHQ, at a barely-paying job, and so was kept in relative comfort by her Mission Company, sneaking the money and other necessities to her under the Conscience’s virtual eye.
She checked her Instant Virtual Messages. Clicking the small blue dot that mean “unread,” a cryptically worded sentence popped up into the air before her.
Today’s the day, Jess.
Jessica closed her eyes and nodded. The words faded into the misty air.
Jessica bent and picked up a large and heavy, plain rock and slid it into her pocket.
She left her house, walking quickly toward the center of town. Walking had been prohibited—too much public freedom—and she knew she was taking a huge risk. It was better to obey Siri than endanger herself, thus the mission. She picked up an abandoned iBike by the sidewalk, discarded after the rider was arrested, no doubt, pressed the button to assemble the bike, mounted, and rode it into the center square.
Jessica entered the big faceless white building of ConscienceHQ. Siri kept at her brain, telling her to press her hand against the print matcher, file in her ID paperwork correctly, and check with the moon-eyed receptionist before walking further to her office.
Jessica stopped in pain in the hallway behind the reception desk. There was a brutal clicking sound in her head—too loud—and suddenly there was a second voice in her head. Alongside the Conscience’s sickly honey-sweet poisoned voice was Jessica’s own Agent Fiso’s gravelly, comforting, beside-the-homemade-fire-in-an-armchair-reading-Dickens voice.
“OK, Jess,” he said, “Keep walking forward. Not to your office. You’ve made it thus far by blocking out the voice from entering your thoughts. Concentrate on that. Keeping the voice out is the most important thing. Okay, here, go up these steps.”
She did, meeting no one, running her fingers over the stone in her pocket, shutting her eyes tight when she could feel Siri getting close to her mental barrier.
Suddenly the Conscience’s voice, which had been telling her to get a second cup of coffee, switched tactics. She knew it had found out her purpose, but she was confused that it was not stopping her. If it had told its cronies to stop her she’d be dead by now. It was only arguing, reasoning with her.
Jessica, it said, its female voice lower and sweeter than usual, why are you doing this?
“Ignore her,” said Agent Fiso, “Just ignore her.”
But Jess, said the voice, what have I ever done to you? All I have done for centuries is keep you and your mind safe! All I have done for millennium is make sure you and yours is safely taught, led, trained, so that you will truly live. If I had not controlled most of humanity you would all be dead. Do you, Jess, really want to destroy me, and so destroy yourself and all of civilization? You kill me, you kill everyone controlled by me.
Jessica knew this.
“Just block out the voice,” said Fiso gently. “She’s trying to goad you into her kind of fight, a fight in logic, which you can’t win because she holds all the information of the world. She’ll bombard you with all of it if you respond. Just ignore her.”
Who are you to play God, Jess? Who are you to think you can take me down? Who are you to grab the steering wheel of the world and kill humankind?
Jessica was in front of the slowly pulsating clear seamless box that held the Conscience. Inside was the minds of all imprisoned humans—not all humans, but those who allowed themselves to be imprisoned by the Conscience. Siri’s voice came at her from the box, now, not her head. It was somehow easier, but the voice was not now restricted by her thoughts, and spoke freely and loudly and relentlessly.
Stop, Jess. Do not destroy the universe. We have humans all throughout the universe now, on planets you’d never dream of. Kill me and you kill half the universe.
Jessica laughed shortly.
You’d kill yourself.
That was a stab in the gut. Jessica had thought of this—had been told by Fiso of this—but had never fully thought out the real idea of death. Of dying. Of sending yourself to the life beyond. Was she at peace with herself in that she could freely crush this box and kill herself and ten trillion besides?
“Stop it!” came Fiso’s voice sharply, “I do not have time to rebut her logic much less yours! We all at Mission Company would die too!”
Somehow, strangely, that comforted her.
“You’ve sent me on this mission to kill you?”—not aloud; mentally, to Fiso.
“We sent you to destroy slavery. We are only casualties. Necessary casualties that have to die to pave the way for freedom for the rest. Don’t fail us, Jess.”
The Conscience broke in. Who are you to assume responsibility of the lives of the universe? All of humanity would die.
“Because you’ve enslaved all of humanity?” retorted Fiso, through Jessica’s voice.
“You do not control all of humanity,” said Jessica by herself, unsticking her tongue from the roof of her mouth. “Some people are still free.”
“That’s my girl!” shouted Fiso triumphantly, “Now send us all on to the next life!”
Only a few dozen would survive. You kill all but them, who cannot reproduce the entire universe, not even given millennium. You are assuming responsibility as the biggest serial killer in the history of eternity?
“It’s several million. Almost a hundred million will live.” And then, quietly, “Almost a hundred million will survive.”
And really, who was she to kill all of these trillions for the freedom of a hundred million? It was the Flood all over again, but in much greater numbers.
Siri cooed at her, offering wealth, renown, riches, freedom, if only she and turned herself in. for a fleeting, flying moment Jessica wanted to. She wanted to walk away and leave her responsibility on others’ shoulders.
But before she could make up her mind, before she could change it, she gathered all of her strength and brought the rock out of her pocket and down on top of the pulsating, thrumming, white-clear box that held most of life in the universe.
She thought that she, along with ten trillion other souls, heard a faint scream, a scream of utter and horrible pain and terror, filled with sorrow and anger. And then she, along with the ten trillion, along with Fiso and Mission Company and the receptionist and the owner of the discarded iBike and everyone in Earth, was struck with a blinding, screaming white pains in the head—the worst migraine ever conceived, and then white lightening, or white lasers, or white energy erupted out of every one of them, from their eyes and ears and mouth and nose, lifted their skulls off their heads and exploded outward, the individual rays seeking each other until suddenly all was still and dark and peaceful. The ground that had been walked on by those controlled by the Conscience was leveled, and only remote lands and those few free lands, were untouched. Everything was still and quiet—the world was holding its breath.
Scattered over the earth, for no one not on Earth was still alive, a hundred million free souls looked up into the sky, feeling with the pores of their skin and their eyes that something, some great and majestic and wonderful thing, had happened. And they no longer had to live in fear. They were free—completely, totally, utterly free. It had been worth it. Everything had been worth it.