Mythaxis

Aye-Nay


Jez Patterson


So, why did we never get to vote on whether we wanted democracy?

Neighbours watched him taken away.

The street lighting had been turned up, as was the custom when Dempols were making an arrest. Not merely spotlit: they carved everything out in sharp, varnished focus. Those on the sidewalks could see the droplets of sweat on Peter Lava's cheeks. Others had remained inside to watch--their TV's interrupting their usual evening's viewing to relay pictures of what was transpiring just beyond their front doors.

In the street, no one made a noise.

On the TV transmission, jeering and insults swept back and forth like broken shells chewed and spat by an angry tide.

Peter Lava went serenely, unchaperoned, to the waiting vehicle to be whisked off to Dempol Park 634.

"ON THE ISSUE OF RAISING THE DRINKING AGE TO 15 AND 3 MONTHS, HOW DO YOU VOTE? PRESS GREEN FOR AYE. PRESS RED FOR NAY. PRESS I FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.

"YOU PRESSED GREEN. AYE. YOU WISH TO SEE THE DRINKING AGE RAISED TO 15 AND 3 MONTHS. PRESS OK TO CONFIRM.

"CONFIRMED.

"THANKYOU FOR VOTING ON THIS ISSUE.

"ON THE ISSUE OF BUILDING A NEW SERVICE STATION FOR THE MZ7 MOTORWAY LINK, HOW DO YOU VOTE? PRESS GREEN FOR AYE. PRESS RED FOR NAY. PRESS I FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.

"YOU PRESSED RED. NAY. YOU DO NOT WISH TO SEE A NEW SERVICE STATION FOR THE MZ7 MOTORWAY LINK. PRESS OK TO CONFIRM.

"CONFIRMED.

"THANKYOU FOR VOTING ON THIS ISSUE.

"THAT IS ALL FOR THIS EVENING. PLEASE ENJOY YOUR RECESS."

"Enter, Peter Lava. Sit only in the seat marked with your name."

Peter's full electoral name shone in green neon along its back. Like on one of those old, director's chairs from the days of celluloid movies. Monitors recorded his movements, adjusted room temperature to take account of subtle changes wrought by his perspiration and lighting soundlessly flicked sections on and off to cut out any shadow he might have cast.

The seat accepted him, learnt his shape, and then continued to fine-tune to give the illusion it was merely an extension of his own anatomy. Or that he wasn't sitting at all, but suspended in mid-air.

"You have committed a Demcrime. You have the right to enter a plea. Your failure to admit your culpability at this stage will have a bearing on your sentence."

Seconds built into minutes.

A sign flashed with the message "The longer you delay, the longer your sentence."

Tock. Tock. Tock. Not counting time: each electronic tongue-cluck signifying instead an extra hour, day, week, maybe even a year. He hadn't caught the last vote on sentencing issues.

After twenty-one regulation minutes, the voice cut in:

"Your failure to enter a plea means one must be entered for you. If no plea is entered in the next ten seconds, the maximum penalty will be applied."

There was a dull, granite-grey square on the opposite wall. The light beyond was muted--identical to that of the night outside. It might have been a screen, might have been a window. Maybe neither.

"Insanity," Peter said.

"That plea is not an accepted option."

"Just cause."

"That plea not an accepted option."

"Diminished-."

"That plea not an accepted option."

"My democratic right to choose."

"That plea is not an accepted option."

Now isn't that an irony?

Bradley heard of his brother's arrest the following morning.

He lived in a district too far away to have caught the live broadcast. That morning, the heavy curtainwall that shielded his house against the light-pollution that kept the town looking as grainy as cheap newsprint even at night, slid halfway back and stuck. As he was dialling for an Auto-rep the Newsbox detected his presence and switched itself on.

The news had been tailored specifically for him by the Personal Default settings and so the very first thing he heard about was his brother's arrest.

Peter.

A Demcrime?

It was their mother's fault. Bradley, as the older brother, had had father around long enough to soften the impact of her sermonising. But when father had left because he couldn't take any more, little Peter had become her little academic Adonis: listening rapt and unquestioning to every word she'd expounded. The two had become totally dependent on each other. Teller and Told.

"Bradley," Peter said, smiling. "I was wondering whether you'd come. How's Martia?"

"She's fine. Visiting her grandmother."

"Yes?" That was the third wife that had left him. Shame. Martia was the only one of the three that had actually laughed once in a while.

"So. You've finally done it then? You idiot."

"Pressed this morning?"

"As has everyone."

"Not me. Not here. The insane, the young and the incarcerated lose their right to vote."

"So you should be happy, then. Finally got what you wanted?"

"Now that would be the second irony of these last twenty-four hours."

"What?"

"Nothing…"

"ON THE ISSUE OF A FIFTH SERIES OF THE DEMTV COMEDY SERIES 'ALL IN THE HOUSE', HOW DO YOU VOTE? PRESS GREEN FOR AYE. PRESS RED FOR NAY. PRESS I FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.

"YOU PRESSED RED. NAY. YOU DO NOT WISH TO SEE A FIFTH SERIES OF THE DEMTV COMEDY SERIES 'ALL IN THE HOUSE'. PRESS OK TO CONFIRM.

"CONFIRMED.

"THANKYOU FOR VOTING ON THIS ISSUE.

"ON THE ISSUE OF STATE BUILDINGS CHANGING FROM STANDARD OCEAN BLUE TO DEEP OCEANIC BLUE, HOW DO YOU VOTE? PRESS GREEN FOR AYE. PRESS RED FOR NAY. PRESS I FOR FURTHER INFORMATION.

"YOU PRESSED GREEN. AYE. YOU DO WISH STATE BUILDINGS TO CHANGE FROM STANDARD OCEAN BLUE TO DEEP OCEANIC BLUE. PRESS OK TO CONFIRM.

"CONFIRMED.

"THANKYOU FOR VOTING ON THIS ISSUE.

"THAT IS ALL FOR THIS EVENING. PLEASE ENJOY YOUR RECESS."

He had another visitor.

There was a seventy-two-hour period before the convicted went off to begin their sentences when they could receive guests. Peter hadn't even counted on Bradley coming--he certainly wasn't expected anyone else.

"Martia? This is a surprise." She mumbled something. There was a crumpled tissue in her fist, eyes puffy, cheeks red and raw-looking. "Sorry to hear about you and Bradley."

"Oh, Peter. I saw you on TV last night. I saw…"

Her grandmother's place must have been in his zone. The fact he hadn't known this just went to show how little families shared these days. The old woman could have lived next-door to him and he wouldn't have known.

"Well…" Peter shifted uncomfortably in his movie director chair. His brother hadn't made him feel nervous or even guilty about what he'd done, but this tearful woman somehow did.

"Why did you do it? I mean…a Demcrime? Of all the…"

He shrugged. The action felt absurdly adolescent and so he scraped around for words:

"It's not really as if there are any other crimes one can commit." The observation brought a sharp intake of breath.

"Don't make it worse on yourself, Peter."

"I'm not intending to. And, anyway: that was just an observation, not a criticism. Well, not a direct one, at least." He smiled awkwardly at his clumsily assembled justification.

"What is it you did?" He saw the intrigue in her eyes. Was that why she'd come--to be titillated? He told her regardless.

"I rubbered my print, rigged up a randomiser to do the choosing, let it vote and confirm on my behalf."

"You did what? I can't believe you would do such a thing!"

For the first time, he felt cold fingers of apprehension play a scale down his spine. He really had done something big. Maybe too big. And there was a possibility the principles he'd been fighting for no longer looked half as big as those he'd flouted. He'd broken the sacred Demrule of 'Thou Shalt Vote.' The First Commandment. Not a right, but a duty. A legal duty, whose failure was punished accordingly.

"And so all your votes have been taken by…"

"A rubber finger on a pivot, basically. I tied it up with voice-recognition software so it responded to the call to vote. The actual decision was made like a coin toss. The recess announcement reset everything after each session."

"You did all that? How?"

"I guess I just figured it out."

"Without an Auto?"

"Without an Auto."

"Can you actually do that? Really?"

"It wasn't that difficult. A standard electrical circuit is really just a closed loop. Once you know that, anything's possible."

A closed loop, she mouthed, probably not even aware of it.

"And now you're here," she said, shaking her head.

"Now I'm here."

"Why?"

"…did I do it?" She nodded. Peter sighed. "You know, since everything began to be done by the Autos, all we were left to do was create the ultimate democracy. We finally got to vote on everything--every tiny little thing is decided not by some faceless politician but by the people themselves. Everyone has a vote. True, direct democracy at work."

"Exactly. That's why I don't understand…"

He held up a hand. "Oh, I admit it's what every libertarian has always dreamed of."

"We all have a say."

"Yes? But on every tiny, inconsequential issue? What do I know about the optimal sugar content of a loaf of bread? What do I even care about the ratio of red to yellow-and-orange tulips in the Demparks? And why should I be telling a baker or a landscape gardener what they know better than me?"

"A baker? I don't understand."

"Exactly! Because none of these professions even exist anymore! The Autos do everything. So why the hell are we even being consulted? It's all armchair whims." He heard his mother telling him this. Telling him until he could close his eyes, hold her opinions in his head, and let them work his lips.

I miss you.

"And when we don't want to think about an issue, we just toss a mental coin and let it decide. Wasn't that merely what I was doing?"

Martia didn't meet his eyes. He realised the last comment had come out as a plea for understanding, not a bold declaration of his beliefs or rights. He was grovelling for scraps of comfort when he had already sealed his fate.

For what?

Why had he really done it? Hearing it spoken now didn't even convince him it had been worth it. They did have things good. The Autos had released them. Every man and woman did, finally, have a say in the running of things. So what was his problem?

Mother would have been able to tell him.

"I ought to go. I've got things to do. Sorry." Martia stood, eyes still trained deliberately away.

He continued to wait for her answer nonetheless.

The doors slid open, closed behind her.

The last two days had provided him with more conversation than the preceding two years.

Since mother had died.

"I'm hungry," he complained to the empty room.

"It is not yet time to eat. You have forfeited the right to eat at a time of your own choosing."

"Aren't you going to ask me what I want for dinner?"

"You have forfeited the right to choose."

He bowed his head, sulking. But beneath it, a smile lingered.

Better. So much better. He hugged his chest, rocked a little. He was home again. And, in an infant's whisper: "Yes, mother."

© Jez Patterson 2014 All Rights Reserved


Date and time of last update 00:57 Sat 22 Mar 2014
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