Night fell slowly. Ilea stood at the expansive windows of her office and stared down over the lights of the city, numerous skyscrapers silhouetted against a purple sky. Her team leader Credence had sent her a skymail message that morning; it was most troubling, and the consequences would have to be immediate.
The door signal bleeped. In the window’s reflection she watched Credence enter but not approach. Without turning she said, “I have to get rid of you. That makes me sad.”
“No need for that,” Credence returned, his voice gravelly with age. “You must have known.” He reached toward the badge sewn on his white uniform, of the world with ten North American and European nations colored red—the United Realm, formed fifty years earlier. Credence ripped it away to reveal the golden cross of the Resistance.
Seeing the cross made Ilea’s skin flush, and she whirled around to face him. “None of you understand,” she snapped, “this is the way things need to be. I have made the world a better place.”
“Through behavior modification? Ilea, it’s mind control,” Credence spat. “Look at the blank faces, the glassy eyes—a world of puppets is not a better place.”
Ilea laughed in bitterness. “People are happy, Credence. They can trust each other again. Children are achieving. Relationships last. The night—” she jabbed her finger at the window “—is no longer to be feared. Shall I go on?”
“Please do.” Credence’s eyes burned in the dying light.
“People are making the right choices. They’re no longer selfish. They don’t mock or fight or exclude. Murders and rapes are all but gone. For the first time, mankind is standing on the precipice of a Utopian world. It’s the triumph of Apollo over Dionysus—life has finally begun, Credence.”
“You’re wrong. People don’t make choices. They only do what the Clear has made them to do.”
The Clear was the glory of Ilea’s life and work, an odorless, tasteless chemical dispersed into the world’s water sources. It altered the parts of men’s minds that made them desirous of selfish, evil, lewd, disruptive, wrong behaviors. All that was left was the good in them. And those who were resistant to the Clear, were taken to discreet areas where more intense modification could be applied. For a while it was the more extreme measures that the Resistance opposed, but now they wanted to get philosophical. They wanted to fight for man’s right to choose between right and wrong.
“I’ve never understood people like you,” Ilea said now. “You would make me out to be a tyrant, and would allow terrible things in the name of some twisted sense of freedom. For you it’s the thought that counts, right? Someone might have chosen to do right, and all of a sudden the world has meaning.”
“I’ve read your early papers,” countered Credence, eyes narrowed. “You knew free will was God-ordained. He allowed it for a reason. How can you justify taking that away?”
“Because God made it too hard. He allowed too much chaos and evil, and made it a part of our nature. There was no good here; there was no love.”
“That’s not true.” The torn badge crumpled in his shaking fist. “And the love that people could find was greater than anything we have now.”
Ilea shook her head firmly. “No. No, I’ve given us more than we ever had.”
“You would elevate yourself above the Creator?” Credence's face twisted with repulsion.
It was an accusation she had heard countless times. “No. I’m simply making the world what He wanted it to be.”
Credence raised his right arm, revealing the personal laser wrapped around his wrist. Government issued, it would vaporize her instantly.
“Go ahead,” Ilea whispered, drawing up to full height. “Prove me right.”
Credence blinked; his arm wavered. Ilea took three steps forward, across palpable tension.
“Do it, Crede. Come on.”
With an angry cry, he tore the laser off and hurled it to the ground. “What will you say?” he asked her in a broken voice. “When you meet Him and He asks you why, what will you say?”
He left the room, his United Realm badge abandoned on the floor.
Ilea stared after him for a while, then went slowly back to the window. The night had turned inky black. No sound reached her from the wind-calm streets below. She placed her hands to the cool glass. “I’ll say I did it for Him.”
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