“Government directive TAC-0.3.5 states that Truth is emancipating. Withheld opinions are toxic. To suppress forthright expression is a crime punishable by seventy-two hours of sensory re-education at a holding facility for candour criminals and seditious apostates.”
“…What’s your point?”
“Well, Freda, my love. I’m invoking The Sanctuary of Marriage Directive, that states, Truth must always be told for the cleansing of relationships.”
“Husband, you wouldn’t know the truth, if it slapped a seventh sense of embedded direction into your immoral compass.”
“I openly admit, wife; that I have unwittingly erred in my ways, and unfortunately, that is a matter of public record, filed for all to find in the library of reproach and repentance.”
“You erred within the sanctity of matrimonial contract. No library in my world gives quarter to hypocrites.”
“…Now, Freda. I have tried to explain to you that I was tricked. So, before you file for irreconcilable behaviour, I must inform you that Directive TAC-0.3.9 clearly states that all efforts to reconcile must be exhausted before separation procedures are initiated. However, annulments are illegal without proper due course of therapy, and any approved annulments are subject to overlord investigative procedures, giving them total access to every nook and cranny of our lives… We don’t want that level of intrusion. Especially, as we are in the crosshairs of those that intend to discredit me. The only way to dot the I of scrutiny and cross the T of fidelity, is to invoke TAC-0.4.6 – the right to practice homeopathic therapy for the sole intent and purpose of restoring matrimonial harmony and openness… The directive stipulates that, If a transcript is provided to central bureau within thirty minutes of commencement, leniency will be considered. Failure to do so, invokes Central Arbitration and a visit from the avoidance police… Furthermore, directive TAC…”
“Stop quoting directives like they’re some kind of defunct bible passages... These are self-serving decrees written by a fearful few to quell the protests of the many.”
“As you may recall, Freda. To graduate to citizen first grade, I had to memorise certain aspects of civil habitat directives.”
“But you won’t be Citizen First Grade for much longer, will you…”
“No, my love.”
“Because you contravened the domicile directive, didn’t you…”
“…Technically, yes, Freda. DD-0.3.3, Sanctity of marriage is…”
“…to be adhered to at all times… I know that one. It’s a punishable offence. Can your sentient memory tell me what the sentence is…?”
“…Ex-communication from society and banishment to the outer boundaries of civilisation.”
“So, how in Central Bureau’s name are you still living here… with me…?”
“…Freda, I must press upon you that the holographic stream you saw was not real. The accusations were designed and executed by my detractors, who resent my family’s influence over the Directives Genesis Programme. The woman in the photos is an Android series 9-HT. The HT stands for Honey Trap. In certain political circles, it is common knowledge that if you need a way to discredit anyone of power and influence, you use an Android 9-HT. Once one is accused, one is rarely excused.”
“Then, how were you released without repercussion?”
“As you know, my brother is lord of the department that manages the library of reproach and repentance. He suggested I accept a plea bargain of citizen rank demotion and actioned it.”
“…That’s corruption at the highest of levels…”
“…I’m aware of it…”
“What if the overlord committee finds out?”
“…I face ex-communication from society and banishment to the outer boundaries of civilisation, via the path of shameful existence – never to return… never to be remembered.”
“How hypocritical of you. This was actioned in the very same building that above its arched entryway, bears the latin transcription, ‘Maxime vulnerabiles sunt coactionis…’ Those that uphold the law are the most vulnerable to coercion. I presume that in your brother’s world, illegalities are unadulterated until discovered…”
“…What would you want to happen to me, Freda? Life on the fringes of civilisation is a death sentence for government clerks like me.”
“You’ll have your brother to keep you company.”
“No, he has distanced himself from the whole affair… no pun intended. All recorded involvement by him has been destroyed in the flames of the wiped veil.”
“Oh, Jeremy, this is disastrous! Don’t you see what you’ve done? If this is revealed, I also will be at risk of punishment as an accessory to the compromise. Accessories face harsher punishments because they are deemed to have withheld the truth, and truth is the main directive. Contravening the main directive is punishable by what, Jeremy?”
“…Live cremation in the flames of the wiped veil…”
“What have you done to us, Jeremy?”
“…I’ve already pondered that question… Look, there is a small current of redemption, if we invoke the homeopathic self-help directive.”
“…A small current, Jeremy? Is that how you describe being stranded in an ocean of deceit, dead in the water?”
“Freda, even without wind, a stranded sailor is entitled to hope.”
“…The only hope that you should desire is that I don’t report you and your brother to Central and throw myself on the mercy of the courts.”
“That would do no good. Directive TAC-0.5 – the confessional directive - will not protect you from banishment – even if you repent. Remember, the full passage of the primary directive reads, Truth is emancipating. Withheld opinions are toxic, Confession abates the consequence, but punishment will be always imposed... I’m afraid that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t… Our only path to redemption is the self-help method…”
“…What is the process?”
“Well, before commencing, Protocol demands that I read aloud the conditions of dialogue, so please follow along and listen carefully to the regulations, okay…?”
“…Proceed, Jeremy, proceed like our living souls depend on it.”
…TAC-0.4.9’s directive allows the marital accused unfettered disclosure of truth until final expression is expended. Upon whence, the aggrieved marital plaintiff may also unleash their forthright opinions until satisfaction of all objections are covered… This session must be recorded for later submittance to Central’s bureau of Matrimonial Discord… Failure to comply with the above guidance and/or the neglect to file above-mentioned disclosures, will subject the infringers to report immediately to the Moral Court, to be judged as to their competency to remain members of Central society… In accordance to…”
“…What!? I do not want to face those single-minded, data dicks, whose sole intent is to reduce the number of mouths they have to feed by any legal means that soothes their shallow consciences.”
“Dammit Freda! Hold your tongue… please…! You risk incriminating yourself. I’m not done. The conditions of dialogue point out that… In accordance to legislation outlined by the Moral Court, anything you say after or during this declaration is evidence to be submitted. Failure to do so, will have dire consequences…”
“Shit! You could have read that before I interrupted you…”
“Calm down, Freda. All you have said is the truth without malicious intent. You cannot be punished for that. Our society is built on the openness of opinion. Punishment is purely meted out to those that infringe a directive and lie about it. That is the true measure of a fair society…”
“…A fair society, you say… Our frank federation of truthful communication… is a Draconian compilation of variable, obtuse directives created for the sole purpose of repressing the masses…”
“…Freda, please don’t…”
“Hey, this is honest, open truth being voiced. Not to be confused with the convoluted interpretation of free speech that those in charge of our open society spew to the people… Our way of life is nothing but a controlled environment of overlords monitoring the naysayers for directive infringements of any capacity. A pollyannish, dystopian, sycophancy of entitlement and position, where truth is sought only to inhibit our voices with bureaucratic threats of exclusion from its narcissistic utopia.”
“Freda, you’re bordering on subversion… Central will not tolerate sedition in any form.”
“It’s the truth, Jeremy. Does the directive not say withheld opinions are toxic?”
“Well, that is not sedition. That is fact.”
“Central may see it differently. My brother told me of a junior lord that voiced their concerns about the discontinuation of the nightly, citizenry updates, saying how it was an infringement of his basic rights to be denied information on happenings within the collaborative. Before exiling him, Central rounded up every member of his household and banished them too, describing the reason as a conglomeration of seditious association… No hearing, no reproach, and no option for repentance… just expulsion. A paid confidant of my brother, reported that they all were killed by outlaws in an ambush on the fringes - not too far from the East portal… They had only been on the path to shameful existence for two hours when they were attacked.”
“My God… This is the free society that you want to serve?”
“That is why we need a reconciliation. Singularity – whether in thought or lifestyle – is a focus for the Sincerity Bureau to investigate and make judgement upon. Unity keeps them at bay.”
“…Okay, okay. Let me think. Please let me think…”
“…It’s too late… My ear buds have just alerted me to movement on the landing… It’s them! Pounding on our door… I’m sorry, Freda. We’re out of time…”
“Initiate lockdown sequence, as if we’re not here…”
“Already done, but they have override. Directive TAC-1.0 allows them privacy access when suspicion is elevated to threat level.”
“We’re no threat to them, and we haven’t done anything wrong - I mean, I haven’t, but you and your brother have.”
“…This can only mean one thing… My brother has sacrificed me to save himself.”
“…What a sewer-scurrying little rat!”
“You should have reported me right away.”
“I wanted to trust in you, Jeremy. I wanted to hear the truth from you first.”
“…There is only one option then, Freda…”
“The elixir…? No… no no no no.”
“It’s the only logical choice to make. Disengaging is better than starvation or perishing at the hands of a violent horde of bloodthirsty marauders… I’m so sorry, Freda. I never meant for any harm to come to you…”
“…I know, sweetheart, but sadly, it is threatening to unfurl… so, if there is one final truth to impart before we end our connection to this unjust existence, it’s this… I forgive you…”
“I didn’t wrong you.”
“No, not in the way I thought, but you have unintentionally made me a victim of our society’s truth and consequence directives. For the first time in my life, I realise that truth is not emancipating at all, is it… There is no liberated future looming on our horizon, there is only a pending erased history, hiding the real truth that their truth is nothing but a concealed reason to punish with extreme prejudice… A veiled, compulsory death sentence…”
“So it seems, my love… so it seems.”
“…Well, I’m not going quietly. Unlock the weapons cupboard. If they don’t want to accept our sincere truth, then I’m going to dispense the consequences encased in hot, lightning-filled, laser jackets…”
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The invasive laws here are beyond draconian. I was reminded of the film, Equilibrium. Some people hated it but I enjoyed the ideas in it and it doesn’t hurt that it had Sean Bean either. This feels very Ray Bradbury or even 1984. Fascinating ideas. It would be interesting to know more about this system and how it came to be.
Graham, Thanks for your great feedback. Yes, this story has its roots in dystopian storytelling. Perhaps, all the lies previously told by governments and news outlets led to this hopeful utopia of total transparency with consequences for dissention. Might be worth a flashback story sometime in the future.
Sounds like several current day countries that have been in the news recently.
It's so difficult to inject a story that relies on disconnect with investment from the author and then ask it of the reader and you did a great job with that. I really enjoyed (if that's the right word) living in that world for a bit.
Thank you, Kevin. I immersed myself into the time, the politics, and the setting - while I wrote this. There were a few flashing images that passed through my mind of George Lucas's movie, THX 1138; however, that story was purely a situation prompt for me.
Hey Chris! Congratulations on the shortlist! I loved this one! Well, I tend to love all submissions which are heavily dialogue oriented. This was such a cool take on the prompt and I loved the way you wove emotion into a world that was so anti emotion. My favorite line was: “Husband, you wouldn’t know the truth, if it slapped a seventh sense of embedded direction into your immoral compass.” Nice job!
Amanda, thank you for your great feedback. That's my favourite line too.
This is indeed heavy :) Very dystopian. It screams Ministry of Truth to me, only coupled with morality police. We think of the truth as a good thing, so naturally it's the perfect thing for a regime to subvert. What I like here is the labyrinthine bureaucracy. Truth is a thing of clarity, but here it is obscured by mountains of arbitrary rules and regulations. Having the husband and wife be on two different social standings was a good call too, since it gives use the insider who has an idea of how to manipulate the system, and the passive ...
Thanks Michal. I think truth is most vulnerable to corruption. We just have to look at social media to see that. Oh, and certain nameless politicians.
Congrats Chris. Fine work.
Thank you, Philip.
Good job , Chris.
Many thanks, Tommy.
Congratulations on the shortlist Chris! 🎉
Thank you, Anne Marie.
Congrats on the short list, Chris. Another? Can the New Yorker be far behind. Well done
Thanks, Mary. The New Yorker would be a very nice bonus.
Congrats on the SHORTLIST. Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke would be proud :) Well done, sir !!!
Thank you, Deidra. My mind just dived into a dystopian society that has alarming coincidences to some of today's government practices. I do certainly hope that the freedom of free speech is never managed or controlled to the level in my story. Happy that an all-dialogue piece worked so well.
An interesting piece. I love the idea of the 'truth' only being welcomed for as long as it's convenient. Taken to extremes like this, it certainly makes for a chilling world.
Thanks Daniel. I think we're all a little guilty of wanting people to say what we really want to hear. Put that power into the hands of the authorities and it would indeed be a chilling world.
Loved this dystopian dark comedy, Chris. I really liked: "A pollyannish, dystopian, sycophancy of entitlement and position, where truth is sought only to inhibit our voices with bureaucratic threats of exclusion from its narcissistic utopia.” If that doesn't describe the U.S. political figures, nothing does. Great stuff. I really appreciate the layered story; a perfect society that is anything but perfect. As I've always said, social institutions are great until humans fuck it up. Nicely done, Chris
Delbert, Thank you so much for your feedback. I was wondering who was going to be the first to see the correlation with current affairs. Glad you enjoyed it.
If you are not in the law profession, Chris, you should be. Very smart stuff. Would love to have another one in your appealing, humorous Yorkshire dialect. Please check out my latest, Heaven’s Gate. I value your opinion.
Thank you, Mary. Yes, "By the Withernsea" has a special place in my list of best work, so Yorkshire will definitely ride again. I'm not in the law profession, BTW. Although, my favourite TV law series is The Good Fight.
A damned when you, damned when you don't story, if I've ever read one. Heavy dystopian stuff here, Chris. Makes 1984 seem like kids' play. Perhaps relegating some of the setting to exposition and not relying solely on dialogue would've lightened up this somber fare. But maybe somber is what you were after. If so, this is a success.
Mike, thanks for the great feedback. I very much agree with your exposition comment. However, I set out to achieve two things with this piece. The first was an all-dialogue story and the second was for it to be very somber. After reading the first draft to my partner, she also mentioned the somber mood, so I sat on it for a day to see if I wanted to lighten it up, but as it is a dystopian story, I stayed in the zone. I have pledged to myself, that the next dystopian story I write, will be a comedy. Good luck with that, right? With this one, ...
I missed the exposition, but the dialogue was impressive. I've yet to try my hand at a dialogue-only story. Comic dystopia might just become a genre tag here. Never know until you try.
Comic Dystopia scenario: A draconian emperor walks into a bar. The barman asks him, "What can I get you?" To which he replies, "Do you serve oppressive regimes...?"
A commendable start. Clapping (to quote our Reedsy colleague Tommy Goround).
I like to clap