By Mark Cunningham
Karlow Blique palmed his cubby door; a neat hiss followed. Walking inside, the Netstream shimmered blue. Something was wrong, though the feed began before he could place it.
“The food Ministry declares chit color code changes on proteins. Value is reduced by half pending invalidation.”
He had already used his food chits, a lucky break. He looked back to the stream. It was blue. That clicked in just ahead of the click behind him, just ahead of the cold metallic sting in his neck. The stream spilled over his eyelids. He collapsed to the hiss of the door behind him.
There was nothing else until the spotlight.
“You are selected for Quarantine.” The words held terror; hot round light from the center of the stream paralyzed. The search began around him.
Quarantine targeted conspiracy, but they looked for anything listed: music, vid or text. He was clean there, nothing dangerous anyway. They would find common bootlegs; enough for a burn, nothing that would leave marks.
The electrodes were already on, his synapses guiding the angle of the spotlight. There was no looking away.
“Are you active in a cell?”
“Have you conspired?”
Lines began to appear in the spotlight. Lines became shapes, shapes became color.
“Do you have associates?” Questions spun in the light.
Just before they burned him, he said something. The burn started a spinal migraine as it jolted the memory dump. Whatever he had said was gone for the duration, maybe longer. The charges read uncovered listed materials; nothing dangerous; nothing that required maiming or reeducation. No conspiracy or he would have been bagged and sent down for surgical interrogation. They burned him and left, invalidating all chits. He winced at the migraine and his now useless transportation chits. It would be the orange tubes with the migrants until his next allotment.
Hate flooded him, but he smiled at the orange, mocking stream; watched the spotlight bob below the surface, pulsing and ready. He smiled for as long as he had to.
He tried to remember if he had been active before quarantine. Quarantine was random, as everyone was suspect. The foundation eliminated any need for profiling.
They erased the last loopholes of liberty after the Middle East flamed out for good. The idealists cried foul, but most of them twitched off on nerve gas when the last World Peace Conference got hit and things started quickly falling apart. By the time the Evolved Hegemony grabbed what was left, the foundation was law. Everyone was equal. Everyone was suspect. Conspiracy of any kind was surgically destroyed.
If he was already active, he was in very deep. Only the best could fool quarantine. He considered his future. He had told them something, so they would keep the spotlight hot and ready. If he was involved in conspiracy, he would need to be careful until he remembered the details. In the meantime he began to consider possibilities for conspiring, just in case he had been innocent.