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It was the day before her wedding, and Christine sat at a café sidewalk table staring at the mellow crowd. Like everyone else, she appeared calm, but a close observation would reveal the hands clutching her teacup were shaking.
Fortunately, no one ever looked too close…or got too close…to others. The Experts made sure of that some time ago.
For the past five years, the mental, emotional, and physical “health” of the human race had been safely under the control of the “The Experts,” the World’s newest governing body. It was their job to make sure people were safe and secure from all dangers. This included emotional trauma, something that had been the cause of so much pain for so many for so long.
Like most people in the world, the cause of Christine’s own emotional trauma happened before the Great Serenity.
The Great Serenity (or “Great Silencing” as dissenters had come to call it) took place at a time when people were afraid. They were afraid of themselves and their loved ones dying of an unknown illness. Once that fear began to fade, they were afraid of other people, and what other people thought about them. They were afraid of having to live a life with pain, financial instability, rejection, and most of all, unpleasant emotions. Politicians, regardless of party or policies, became desperate for acceptance as well, and they turned to a group of highly esteemed health and safety experts from around the globe.
The more leaders turned towards this group, soon collectively referred to as The Experts, the more power they took, and they eventually took over control of everything. First, only in an advisory level, but then, as people became more panicky about their own safety and future, they became the policymakers. Then they became law enforcers, and eventually, the leaders. All over the world, people wanted to be safe, and no one could do better at keeping everyone safe than The Experts. What is the elimination of a superficial freedom here and there, if even one life was spared from an early death, or needless suffering or discomfort?
However, no matter what measures were tried, suffering couldn’t be completely eliminated. People were still dying of various causes natural or otherwise, and people would mourn them. Human nature would take over and hateful words or sentiments would be uttered. No matter how many more sentiments were deemed “hateful,” it was impossible to stop everyone from saying or doing something others would find hurtful. This, The Experts felt, was unhealthy.
Soon, The Experts deemed the biggest source of human suffering came inside the individual mind as the result of seeing, hearing, reading or experiencing something unsettling. This suffering had to be eliminated.
It was easy enough to tackle the first three. Remove any source of unpleasantness from the past. Books? Shredded. Burning seemed to have a bad connotation, so shredding seemed more peaceful and less air polluting. Videos and records? Broken, erased and otherwise destroyed. As far as memories went, The Experts had concocted a way to handle these with a simple injection into the brain’s temporal lobe. These would squelch any harmful memories that were interfering with the peace and mental health of the individual.
At first these injections were strictly administered on a volunteer basis, and The Experts weren’t lacking test subject and volunteers standing in line to have everything from childhood bullying to a broken heart removed from their mental archives. There was no way to pinpoint exact memories, so in some cases some good memories had to be stamped out with the bad ones. A small price to pay “for our safety” they said.
Unfortunately for The Experts, memories had a way of being sparked by encounters with others. There is always someone or something in the past that will cause at least some part of people’s memories to return. Once it became clear that people couldn’t avoid the past forever, these injections became mandatory to anyone with “past trauma,” for their own good. This kept everyone at a healthy and safe distance from each other. No emotional bonds, no unwanted emotions.
There were some unfriendly encounters with some troublemakers not wanting their personal belongings (including their own memories) confiscated and destroyed, but the safety and health of the collective was more important than personal artistic fetishes or juvenile feelings. Anyone not complying was deemed a “Painful One,” and they were either forced into receiving an injection, or stripped of whatever rights could be controlled by The Experts, which was pretty much everything. The Painful Ones were sent away to live in isolated communities, denied the access to World credit cards (the only means of currency), communications technology, and the “best worldwide healthcare” in the world run, of course, by The Experts.
The only way to avoid this indignity was to always remain visibly calm, and pretend not to be troubled by things. However, The Experts had a good way of sniffing out those who were faking tranquility, and had many members of the safety-conscious public who were more than happy to report to those who they suspected to be an “unhealthy” individual. After all, this might affect their own mental safety, and they themselves would be suspect and possibly reported and banished. Traumas tended to pop up during life’s big events: births and deaths, new jobs and relocation, birthdays and weddings.
This is what Christine was experiencing right now. She was remembering her childhood, which wasn’t ideal. There were plenty of times she was happy, but her mother was an alcoholic. When her mother drank, she became a foul acting, and verbally and physically abusive woman, who scared even her father. When these incidents happened, her childhood friend and neighbor, Erik, would come to her rescue. He would meet her at the park bench at the end of their block, and they would use their imagination to escape. They would become pirates, knights, or spies. They would perform their own song-and-dance numbers and invent comic book heroes. After the sadness always came the happiness.
Over the years, Erik and Christine became more than friends, and when she was away from her house they were an inseparable, and unbeatable, pair. Not long after Christine’s father’s death, Christine was in the process of moving out of the house to start a new job. One night, her mother became particularly vile in her words. That was also the evening Erik met her one last time at their old park bench and asked her to marry him. This would have been the happiest time in their lives except shortly after this proposal was the Great Serenity, and Erik, being an imaginative artistic type, was one who would in no way relinquish his books for destroying. He was deemed a Painful One. It would take five years of underground searching and networking for he and Christine to find each other again.
These Painful Ones, long run out from the sterile, calm peace of the cities, formed archaic, “analog” communities. People grew their own food, fixed their own mechanical devices, educated their own children with books, and resorted to using the doctors and nurses who had themselves been deemed Painful One for questioning The Experts. These communities were rapidly growing, but those in the main cities never thought of them, as it made them sad. They didn’t want to be caught being emotional.
Of course people were still allowed to write music and stories, as long as they were never shared, publicly displayed or published without express permission from The Experts. All new approved writings weren’t allowed to cause any damaging emotions, or worse yet, memories. The Experts weren’t monsters, after all, they just wanted people tranquil and safe.
This led to the revival of the old printing presses among underground groups of thinkers and visionaries in Painful One communities. They wanted the return of being able to think for yourself, express your good and bad opinions without being shamed or arrested, and most of all, being allowed to feel. They wanted people to be able to own their pain and fears, in order to better appreciate art, literature and life in all its forms. These selfish, unhealthy desires had no place in a calm world.
Erik was among them, and it was through his work that Christine had to acquire on the down low that she was finally able to locate and contact him.
For Christine, her bad memories were more than bearable as long as she could have a free, and freethinking, future with Erik. That evening she would find her way out of the city, and she could live among the Painful Ones. If only it was as easy as simply deciding to leave the safe cities on one’s own.
Since The Great Serenity, The Experts controlled when and where each person could go out, what and how much of necessary items they could buy, how close they could get to other people, what types of hair and face coverings to wear and when, and whether or not someone was in need of a required injection. Between the excess of Expert snitches and drones, an Expert representative could be upon a person in a matter of minutes, and injections would be administered on the spot.
She looked up from her now cold tea, and spotted Erik across the street, waving her down with a huge, grin on his face. A flush of relief came over her as she got up to run to him. The minute she stood up, a pair of Expert representatives came out of the crowd, each grabbing an arm and pinning Erik to the side of a building. Experts were easy to spot, as they always wore red gloves with The World government’s symbol on the back of the hands. Erik had made the error of allowing himself a huge smile, as this showed someone who didn’t have control over his emotions. A sure sign of a Painful One. With swift precision, a third Expert emerged from the unfazed crowd and injected a needle into the base of Erik’s neck. His smile had long vanished and the pupils of his eyes briefly dilated then settled into an emotionless, glassy gaze.
The Experts waited a second, then backed away from this now harmless, tranquil man. Erik looked puzzled at Christine, who was approaching him with tears forming in her eyes.
“I think I know you,” he said. “We might have been friends once.”
It was at that moment Christine realized all her sadness shared by Erik, who wanted only the best for his best friend and later the love of his life, was wiped clean. If it was sadness that brought them together, the elimination of these memories would be the elimination of the most meaningful memories of hers.
The tears forming in her eyes flooded out, as her body shook in full sobs.
Immediately, she felt a pair of gloved hands on each arm, and a masked face stepped in front of her, holding a syringe.
“There, there. Don’t be sad,” he said. “It isn’t healthy for you and the people around you to express such emotion.”
The last thing she heard before she felt the needle in her neck and the cold wave of inhuman numbness that overwhelmed her was the sickly sympathetic voice of The Expert.
“Please stay calm,” he said. “This is for your own safety.”