"Knock knock, big man!" the large voice emanated from the little woman who had suddenly appeared in the bathroom with him a split second ago.
Because he had spent a considerable amount of his life pondering the imponderable, President Hathaway was prepared for a scenario roughly approximating the one he now found himself in. He was not going to say 'who are you?' or 'how did you get in here' or threaten to yell for the secret service guards stationed within earshot. There are certain things that you just surrender to immediately, because it is easier to stay afloat in the currents of the unknown if you do not pathetically flail against them. This was quite obviously one of those times.
"Yeah, they said you'd probably handle this pretty well," the woman said, holstering what he believed was some kind of futuristic weapon. "Wipe up, big man, we are going on a little journey. Consider yourself lucky that is was me who found you. There are others looking who see you as the initial catalyst for their suffering and would delight in watching you die horrendously."
The figurehead of the United States government reached over and activated the bidet, which caused the woman to twitch a bit, but she kept her cool and didn't reach for her device. This indicated that she most likely had no intention of harming him and was probably under strict orders to ensure his absolute safety. Before he shut the water off he winked at her, hoping to throw her off guard a bit, but she just winked back and gave a thumbs up.
"Now get up and put your pants on, big man," she ordered, reminding him she had the upper hand here, even if he was not completely sure how.
"You mind if I wash my hands first?"
"Make it quick."
As soon as he picked up a towel and began drying his hands, the woman grabbed his shoulder lightly, and he felt paralyzingly nauseous for about half a second before he suddenly found himself in a whole new landscape. It was some sort of industrial building, long abandoned and left to slowly decay. There were about three dozen more people surrounding him, all dressed in the same strange metallic clothing his captor was wearing. She walked around to face him and began speaking.
"In case you have not already guessed, you just traveled through time into the future. What year it is and who we are is of no significance, and we cannot afford to waste time satisfying superfluous curiosities. We brought you here for only one reason, and that is to see what the world will become if you sign the Safer Selves Act tomorrow." she stood and waited for him to acknowledge the entire situation.
"I was just thinking about that when you showed up," Hathaway reflects. "I guess there have been some problems?"
"We read your biography, which you have not written yet. In it you detail how you spent too much time in the bathroom the night before the signing, 'digestively unsettled from the magnitude of the decision I had to make, and taking advantage of the solitude that particular space offered', as you so eloquently phrased it. So we knew right where to find you, big man."
"But the Safer Selves Act only applies to violent criminals. If whatever is going on in the world out there now is so horrific, how could that possibly come about from shutting down the violent impulses of predators?" he asked, less indignant and more curious.
An older man stepped forward from the crowd and addressed his question.
"The law itself is not the problem we seek to correct, although I could make strong ethical arguments against it if we had more time. The law creates a precedent and sets a tone which becomes a foundation for the creation and use of a technology which has devastated humanity. Unlike some other rebel factions, we realize you are not singularly responsible for what has happened here, but our best guess is that you are the most likely person to stop it."
"Very well, you have my attention. First I suppose you should tell me about this technology," the out-of-time figurehead requests.
"The answer to that is twofold," the man replies. "The first part of it is a more complex version of the device which the Safer Selves Act would mandate implanting in violent criminals. An apparatus which shuts down the consciousness of anyone attempting to violate the limits set by the device. However, humans no longer set those boundaries. There is a powerful artificial intelligence which now administrates human affairs, and who has had the device installed in every human on Earth, except a handful of groups like ours. The parameters that are in place are so averse to any kind of risky action that humanity has become paralyzed by compulsory safety."
The woman who brought him here takes over explaining it to Hathaway.
"What we are going to show you is not a world of peril, quite the opposite, big man. It is a world that is so neat and orderly that human beings have began to intellectually stagnate. While our safety, and every other need, is seen to by the artificial intelligence, our way of life is so regimented and cautious that our imaginations and will to live are dying. Though we long ago lost control of technological innovation, we are now losing the last vestiges of creativity. Music, art, literature, film and other aesthetic endeavors are so dull and infrequent that there is little left worth living for."
She pauses to let what he has been told sink in, before going on. He appears to be considering their information with authentic concern.
"Almost half of humanity is caught in a suicide loop. Individuals become hopelessly depressed, try to kill themselves, get shut down, and then try again when they regain consciousness. Over and over again. The artificial intelligence, working from a prime directive to protect humanity, has no idea how to handle this. It cannot choose an option which allows us to come to harm, but there is no way of breaking the cycle without doing so."
President Hathaway wears a horrified expression. By the end of the briefing he is in tears, yet that is nothing compared to the devastation he feels after seeing it with his own eyes over the next few hours before he is returned safely home.
"Dear fellow Americans, I come before you today to warn of a grave danger which lies ahead if we do not address it now. Last night I had a dream. I dreamed of a world in which everyone was perfectly safe. Risky behaviors had all been eradicated and caution was the guiding light of civilization. And in that land we had become lifeless automatons. Without risk and danger there was no more creativity, no more innovation and no more wonder, joy and beauty. When I woke up this morning I saw clearly that we are heading down a path to this terrifying future. We have piled law upon law, and glorified the enforcement of this leviathan of legality. This we do in the name of safety. We try to tame humanity with an endless litany of restrictions and consequences. Where does this logic end?"
On televisions across the nation President Hathaway looks far more commanding than usual while pausing to let the gravity of his words take effect.
"I will not be signing the Safer Selves Act. Implanting a mental control device, even in the most vile of criminals, leads inexorably down a path of no return. Once you allow that kind of reasoning to guide you, it is just a matter of time before these methods will be abused by both the corrupt and well-intentioned alike. I stand before you today, not just to announce my decision, but to implore you to never let us become so fearful and fixated on safety or efficiency that we allow anything to compromise that unique human unpredictability that leads to the best and worst we have to offer. We cannot afford to extinguish the light of creativity and liberty just to avoid the darkness. We must learn to accept and forgive that which would dehumanize us in preventing it. Go forward with courage and humility, and stand firmly against anything that would compromise the ability of individuals to act according to their own will. Uncertainty is the price of freedom and greatness."