Adventure is something that is always met with a contract and rarely does anyone read the fine print. A man should be ready for just about anything; sometimes everything just happens.
Steven Lackluster had many wishes he wanted to come true so badly. He had long black hair and would go out into the City wearing a long black coat and cowboy boots. Unlike most people in the City he was different in just about every way, he chose what he wanted to believe and was perfectly fine being on the outside of society. The amount of imagination and a never-ending desire for truth was something that, for the time being, was abundant in Steven. He grew up in the City. When Steven would go out, he would look for things that no one else wanted. These things had more value to him simply because they weren’t wanted by anyone else, but he saw something that was useful in them.
The outside world had become a disaster and people just walked around it like it wasn’t there. Some secrets were only meant for a select few, but those few would never allow anyone outside the mathematical squares to know, even a whiff of those secrets.
Steven looked down at his scorekeeper and saw that again he was in the low numbers. He hated the things and so did most of society. There was always something to be worried about and the last thing you wanted was to be in the low scores group. Most of society had allowed themselves to fall under this rule for the simple reason of safety, security, and simplicity.
The Tracers were the last faction of corporate workers or at least the last people who held real jobs. These Tracers had just about every known person tracked and traced from birth to death; if they could, they’d track you after that, too.
There was an ad station to Steven’s left as he was walking down a street that had lights going and all sorts of pigmented hologram statues. Since Steven didn’t have the HM implant it just made a hologram in front of him and not the images being projected straight to his mind. The ad was for a new, digital friend-finder system. Inside the City, these ads would pop up at random times to get people interested in something new from the AI working within the All Being. It would cast directly into people’s minds, sometimes without their knowledge. There was a woman across the street looking in his direction, not at him but at another ad. This ad was playing in her eyes and she was probably going to buy this new gadget for her loved ones. Brainlink was giving Steven a message on his phone about a person who gave up their Link, he shrugged it off and went about his daily tasks. People were starting to give up the Brainlink service for an updated version that would be out later in the year. Of course, in the last few years people had gathered together and tried to leave the city for something else, something different in their lives. Those trying to leave the Link behind only wanted to do so because there was something in the deepest part of their souls that knew this wasn’t right to have. It also wasn’t right to have this as almost another organ in the body. People wanted to be more natural, the way they were created to be.
Steven was trying to find a bookstore that would carry physical copies of books he planned to read that week. The bookstores always charged huge amounts for them, even though people saw them as an item they were willing to buy.
There were new digital libraries at the end of his block that were neon-lit dungeons to Steven. The dungeons were full of people working through the latest in dramatic formulas. The formulas would be used to pick the right candidate for their spring enchantments. Steven was not one who picked anyone because he believed it was not as formal as just asking someone. A bit of an ancient school of thought that was always looked at with some scrunched faces.
As he investigated the window of the dungeon, he saw there weren’t as many people inside as he thought there would be. When he walked into the library there was the loose cardboard box full of dusty books. The box was in the far corner of an aisle. He dropped to his knees and sifted through the books. He came across some fantasy books that were of no interest, but put them aside for later just in case he couldn’t find anything else.
Steven was interested in finding real books because the rulers of the City had made it almost impossible to actually read anything that was really fantastical or at the very least an interesting read. Everything was written by an AI or some random person who couldn’t string together a plot to save anyone’s lives. Steven was on the hunt for rare books. Things that he could use to understand the past as well as this deep feeling there was something special he needed to read. He just needed to find it.
Someone came around the corner of an aisle and asked “What are you looking for in there? Don’t you know there’s a board to find and download what you’re looking for instead of getting dust all over yourself?” Looking at her with a little discontent he answered, “I’m looking for books I can read, not just download and forget later.”
Noticing the obvious he went back to sifting and found a book on culture written in 2017. An amazing find for something so old and mostly outdated info on culture. He read the back of the book and saw dealt with identity and cultural philosophy. These things were usually kept in the historical creativity section in the digital bookshelves. Most books of this kind were met with humor and banter when talked about publicly. Steven noticed the girl was still there and turned to her, “Can I help you with anything?” he asked sarcastically. “No,” she said, “but you can tell me why that elastic information has piqued your interest?” Thinking for a moment, he wanted to answer in a way that wouldn’t form new questions from someone who seemed who was more than likely an ecstatic believer in the Black Boxes. This was just his best guess seeing that she was asking why he would mess around with “old stuff”. “I like reading and it’s easier to have a physical copy rather than a screen to read from,” he said while looking at the other books in the box. She stood for a second, looking around for others and saw no one was paying them any attention, “Are you some idealist?” After she asked this, she stared at the back of his head and was about to repeat her question when he replied “No, I don’t have a reason for looking through this, other than I like reading and collecting old things from all sorts of times and places I can never go.”
Some time went by, and Steven got up from his knees with two books in his hands, he took them to the scanner and bought them. The girl followed him out the door quietly until they got outside. “What’s your name and what are the real reasons you picked those books?” He became annoyed with this girl, so he asked instead what her name was, and she said “Alessa, Alessa Ream, now your turn.” “Steven.” She looked at him with a look of astonishment that he would only give his first name. “Your whole name since I’ve given you mine,” she demanded while looking at him sternly. Annoyed more, Steven responded “Lackluster, Steven Lackluster, no you can’t laugh,” he said. “Why would I laugh? That is obviously a given last name, not by parents but by yourself. What an individual. No one has ever had a name like that.” “Of course not, it’s just my thing, an inside joke to myself, I’m sure you’ve tried giving yourself fake names to pass checks at the market,” Steven said.
Something was off about the way she looked because she began to look at him in an analyzing way. Steven could tell she was trying to go through the social Link service to find him and see if he was telling the truth. The whole Link system was just an updated version of what social media used to be but with the added perks of having all your information stored in one place. No need any more for a wallet to carry around your social security card or your ID.
“You don’t have a social block, what’s up with that?” knowing that he was probably an outsider to the social square. “I like to read and learn. I like learning more intricate details on things, I don’t like using that service.” The way he said this to Alessa was calm but also distant as if he would have rather not explain why he did what he did. “Do you believe all the things you read in those books?” she asked calmly. “You ask a lot of questions, what do you want from me?” “I’m only curious and my work is in the business of looking for people of interest.”
“Well, if you have more questions follow me to the end of the block I want to go home before they start the Boxes tonight,” Steven said as he started down the sidewalk. She asked many questions about his interests and if he was someone who had a deeper wanting of something more in his research. Alessa knew by asking this there would be many reactions to the question, but it was a part of her job as a Tracer. Tracers would track those who had shown behavioral patterns that were punishable. Some people only needed a warning, and some needed more attention.
Steven knew what she was doing and let her follow him, in his mind there was nothing for him to hide other than the fact that he wasn’t a participant in the Black Boxes tradition. Steven knew what the Tracers were meant to do, and he never thought they helped anyone. To Steven the Tracers only made problems for people doing what people do, look for truth and some sort of understanding of their surroundings.
The tradition of the Black Boxes was always held in the nighttime due to the mystery behind it. The mystery being there was no real reason to have them and they seemed to be placeholders for something else. Besides the Boxes, there was the “All Being.” The All Being was the central AI that had all the secrets and ran a subset of AI that would help with the monitoring processes. It was the placeholder for the spiritualist of the City. When society changed there was a need for something that everyone could look to that was above them. It needed to be something that could help them guide their lives.
Steven had been raised to never look at the Black Boxes or even take part in the enchantment because something insidious would happen if he did. As he got older, he felt the idea of it was odd and held no ground. The last time he looked at the boxes nothing really happened but the people around him changed and his minimal friends became distant. Although he never felt anything in himself alter, he felt the people around him alter physically and mentally. Since then, he had never partaken in that mystery again and stayed as far from it as possible. The All Being was the main benefactor of these new rituals of enchantment. The All Being would gather up the scanned memories from each person and process them into banks of info. These banks of information were used to give people their social scores. As a reward for giving up their minds each time they participated in the ritual, they were allowed to partake in sex.
The original rulers knew that people would be willing to give up a little privacy for security. The citizens at the very beginning of everything didn’t know they would be giving up their intimate secrets and thoughts. The people of the City still had no idea that this was happening, everyone just thought it was completely natural.
Just about everyone would go to the enchantment ceremony at night. Everything was a mix of technology and deep spiritual mysteries. The mysteries being the ones that the people gave to them, everyone explained things differently. During the ritual of enchantment, there was a small ray of light and everyone’s Links were scanned. After scanning, the Black Boxes would open into symmetrical shapes and people would see their numbers with a corresponding number. That number was their spouse for the evening. Their reward for giving up their minds.
The second book Steven held was one that had been alluring to him since he set out looking for old books. The name was The Path and this book was a reprint of an even older reprint. This book was one of the main books that were supposed to have been destroyed after the Black Boxes were put in every major city across the world. Alessa did not notice the other book but kept nagging at him to tell his life story. Looking down the walkway she kept asking “What is it about books in a material manner that makes them so special to you?” over and over. Finally, he answered, “Because I’m not like everyone else I don’t wear the blinker for Brainlink, and I don’t own any other tech besides my phone and even that is very old compared to what you all have.” She took out her phone and showed a news update about the IBOT that had just formulated a new care monitoring system for the depressed and lonely. She showed him the article and he replied, “Is that supposed to mean something to me? Do you think I am some sort of crazy person in need of help from the Black Boxes?” He started walking away from her and noticed on the wall the article was being shown there with images of unhappy people starting to smile after the IBOT told them some feel-good phrase. This had been figured out using algorithms to pick the perfect phrase to make someone feel better.
Alessa looked at Steven and said “I showed you because as a Tracer there is a huge amount of people like you who think there has to be something different out there other than what is right here in front of them. Everyone is connected through the Hive system because that’s what the world needed, I don’t have any way of changing it, without the Boxes we would not know how we need to be and how we can feel better and be connected, to be Us and to have the One Cause.” Steven muttered under his breath “Of course, you would say that.” Out of every type of tracing complex, the government chose Brainlink, only because it tested well enough that people wouldn’t worry about being mind-controlled, although they were because the people that got the full set-up for Brainlink could not have certain thoughts or do certain activities or they would be made unconscious.
Steven knew this was being done, and some other people did as well, but the masses were never told this was happening, it was never a known piece of information, but the whole of society was fine and entirely in tune with the One Cause. It would have probably caused many to give up the whole system and want some new rebellion to start, or lead to massive suicide rates. Nothing like that ever happened, of course, because everyone was in a mental state of happiness or euphoria. The world had become a Hive of similar-minded people who thought the same and never questioned the authority of the Brainlink system, the Black Boxes, or the One Cause. Most everyone was linked and being watched by the AI that molded the Link services to be in concordance with the One Cause. Steven was on the outside of this system because he never took the Link and his parents never forced him to. He was a person among a group of persons of interest by the Tracers. Alessa was sent to see what he was up to and report his actions. This was done regularly by a multitude of people who would come up to him and ask questions that seemed harmless but in fact, were meant to keep tabs on him and others that tried to stay hidden as much as possible. The people who had been watched had no idea that these people were Tracers, they usually just thought they were nosy or just very bored people.
Of all the people who were off the Link system, Steven was a unique person, finding time to investigate the history and decide whether what he was seeing was moral or even real at times. These things were not precisely wanted by the leaders of the Tracer Corp or the One Cause. They could happen if you followed the laws concerning research into history, morals, and philosophy. One could not allow for ideas to be spread of the old ways, especially if they contradicted the Link service, Brainlink corporation or the Black Boxes and One Cause ideology & theology. Steven knew this and knew how far he could go. His main goal was never revolution, but to find a way to leave the city without ever being detected by Tracers, to live in the wilderness, to be left to his own ability to think and write and be creative without the world persecution that would happen if he chose to publish or speak openly of his thoughts. Steven wanted to be the person he knew he could be.
Before he was able to go home Alessa asked “What are your main intentions with these books and the others you’ve collected?” He knew that if he told her what she was wanting to hear she would post his location to the closest police station, and they would come to him and take him to the Motivation Clinic for a mental examination and re-purposing following the Black Boxes and the One Cause. Steven had heard stories about this process and that it was always painful and brought even the strongest willed to their knees. Steven answered Alessa with a very blanketed statement “These books and others like it are my fantasy and have nothing to do with how I feel outwards.” She took this answer and turned and walked away. Steven rushed home and moved all the books he had to a vault in his small apartment. The vault was a specially made one that required DNA and a code that was in a language he made up so that even if someone used his DNA to open it, they would never be able to get in it. He thought he should make it blow up in case of emergencies but thought better of that idea and the consequences of it. The language made no sense because it was just chicken scratch mixed with poorly done hieroglyphics. He made sure that he put The Path in the vault because it was a religious text from before the evolution of humanity started and the world changed.
It was getting close to dark and the enchantment was about to begin, the people started to gather in the city center and the Black Boxes were about to show their alien-like purple light show and the shapes. When Steven looked out his window, he noticed the people putting on their glasses so they could see the messages being shown in the light show. Everyone began to chant “BRING THE ELEMENTS OF TRUTH TO US FOR WE ARE NOT WORTHY OF TRUTH,” a phrase he had come to hate because as he became more aware of the world around him, he knew it was only a blink of an eye and they would see the truth before them. The Boxes and the One Cause had a hold on people and Steven knew it was only because they knew of nothing else but the enchantment. It had been six generations after all since these Boxes had been erected across the world. To be around people during the enchantment was unnerving and very odd. The people watched the light show and Steven watched the people from his window. After a while, he went to his closet and tried to read through the books he had found.
The book on culture is what he picked up first. He skimmed it, looking for anything that was going to piqué his interest. He found in the culture there’s always something that is hidden from them on purpose, he thought about that for a while and began to look through the book more. He came to a chapter called “Belonging to the Idea.” At first he thought this was an odd set of words, but eventually when he read the chapter he found that it was about how people begin to identify with the culture around them and how they begin to adhere to these ideas or try to reform the ideas to suit their own needs. The chapter was extremely detailed with how this is done, and it was a huge eye-opener for Steven. The idea that people groups could come together and believe the same thing that may be contrary to the rest of the population was something he had never heard of or even seen before. When he was a boy the schools were always telling him to be in line and always follow along, “Rules are meant for your safety and well-being” he remembered. This was something his parents hated but they had to allow this to be told to their child because they had to work. “Working the flesh mill,” they called it. The flesh mill was a place of pleasure wonders of the elastic imagination created by a person behind a computer and an AI helper, the clients always went for something outrageous because rules weren’t put on what they could and could not do. Just about anything happened from murder to spy adventures and anything their imaginations could muster together. It was allowed so that people would still be under the control of the system but have an outlet for their energy and creativeness that was completely controlled, the only area off limits was creating a revolution or anything that was against the system.
He took notes on the book, put it down and went for the very special book he had waited to find. This book was something he had heard was outlawed for its extreme nature. In Steven’s mind, he thought that if something was so bad, how could it be written in the first place and passed around for so many centuries before the evolution theory took hold? It had been almost extinct to Steven and he could only ever find fragments of it on the digital board. These fragments were usually something horrible like an apocalyptic event or super bleached of their meaning and original translation. Steven knew this because what was allowed to be read was something that he felt was taken out of context. Knowing a basic amount of history and human behavior, he knew that a large amount of people could not put all their faith into something for so long that had errors and caused harm. Most people are not built that way.
Now he had it, and it had been in about as good a condition a book can be for being a few hundred years old. None of the pages were missing or torn but they were very aged. Whoever had this book before Steven read it often and wanted it to be in good condition. The book was bound in imitation leather and had almost no lettering on the cover. It was sort of hard to make out the title, the only way you would have known what it was is if you opened the book and found the title page. The first page he read after sifting through it read “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This first portion was astonishing to Steven. He did not know that the things he had read were true until he read the first sentence of the book. This book was evidently something used by many as their means of morals, spiritual life, and tradition. This made him feel something that he had not known people could feel, a sense of extreme calm.
He read on as the enchantment outside went on, and he came across a very odd sentence “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell from where it came, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the spirit.” He didn’t understand this sentence fully. Steven did not know that the verse he had just read was a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, those that follow the Holy Spirit with heart and mind will follow God at every turn, those that follow the Holy Spirit will also be looked at in an odd manner because the ways of God are unpredictable and beyond our ways and understanding. The Path was full of mystery and some things were difficult for Steven to understand, he hadn’t yet found the purpose for this book to be banned.
As he read on, he heard whispers outside his apartment door. These whispers became clearer and he could hear what they were saying. It was jumbles of odd phrases he hadn’t heard before. He closed the book and put it in the vault and locked it. Just as he did this, he heard a knock at the door. “We would like to come in, we have word that there’s been some contraband in use at this address.” Steven wondered if the girl he talked to really couldn’t let go of her inquisitiveness and sent the soldiers to come take him. He stumbled a bit to the door and said, “There’s nothing here, I am just reading the catalog for the ceremony tomorrow night.” After he said this, he felt stupid because no one reads the catalogs anymore. “Just open up and we’ll see for ourselves. If everything’s good we’ll leave you be, or we’ll have to come in with force” Steven knew they would probably come in by force whether he opened up and did what he was told or not, because right after they said it they kicked down the door.
They grabbed Steven and dragged him down the stairs of his apartment building. They threw him in the back of a van and drove him to the holding center. He was told that he would be held until the investigation of his apartment was finished and then he would go to trial.
They went through his apartment and found his vault. They took him to an interview room and questioned him on the contents of the vault. One of the officers asked, “We would like to know if you have any contraband in the vault that is in your apartment?” “There’s nothing there Officer, I am aware of the laws around that kind of stuff, I don’t have any of that, just books that I keep in there, so they don’t get ruined.” Steven said truthfully. They looked at him and then left the room, they were going to confiscate the vault and open it and see what was inside. When they attempted to open it, they saw the security on it and went to Steven to get him to open it. Steven refused to open his vault, he told them it was for privacy reasons and that he was still allowed some sort of privacy. “You are under our rule and investigation for contraband. You can’t hide anything from us unless you want to forfeit a trial and go straight to the Clinic.” He stayed silent for a while and eventually thought being outside of the Clinic was better than being in one. He gave them his DNA and the code to the vault. They opened it and took everything out and left him alone for some time before telling him he was going to have to spend the night there while they look through the belongings.
Steven sat in the cell they put him in and thought about whether he’d be able to get anything back. The main book he was concerned about was The Path. He had only a small amount of time to read it, but it became something that he would not give up.
The officers came back to him and told him he would be going to trial for the evidence they found that may or may not be contraband. His trial was set for the following day and he was to prepare for it accordingly. This meant he was going to have a jury rather than the usual way things had been done with only a Judge there to determine a person’s fate. When the trial started, there was a huge amount of people there to view the spectacle that was about to take place. The Judge read out his part and the jury were present, but more of a council than peers. “I want to say that none of what I have is even close to contraband and if it were, I would have trashed it the moment I realized it was such” Steven said before he was silenced. The Judge asked, “You have many interesting books in your collection and some of them are very counter to our ways now, why do you have them?” Steven wanted to lie but they had the monitors on him, and they would know when he was lying, “I have them because I like reading them and for no other reason.” The Judge looked at him with some discernment and replied, “If that’s the case then why are these books locked away in a vault that is almost impossible to unlock?” Steven did not want to answer this question because he knew they were going to use it against him throughout the trial. “I have them because I like to read, and I was not trying to start anything controversial with anyone,” he said. The Jury was not willing to hear this and neither was the Judge. Steven was waiting for his judgment in a hall outside the courtroom when someone asked, “You believe there is freedom somewhere outside all this?”
Steven had never seen this person before, and he was not wearing the usual clothes people wore in the city. He was nervous to give any sort of response. The stranger confirmed, “it is out there you just have to understand how to find it, believe that there will be something safer for a mind like yours,” the man said and walked away.
As Steven was called back in, he received his sentence of a month’s worth of time at the Motivation Clinic. After the Jury left in sync he was there alone with the Judge and two guards. The Judge looked at Steven and said, “You will be monitored and re-examined for any alter waves of consciousness for one month. What you have read and collecting go against our modern laws and you know this. The Link system also showed you have no score that is of concern to anyone, almost as if you wanted to keep a low profile, understandable for someone like you. You know that you did in fact have contraband of the old world and willingly lied. The boxes have shown this information is extremely corruptible to the mind but you chose to read them and keep them.” The Judge did not know most of the books Steven kept he rarely read due to there always being people monitoring his apartment. The Judge went on “you know there are reasons for things being the way they are. All this is to be monitored continually. In the morning you will be brought to the Motivation Clinic and start your sentence. After this months’ time, you will be set free without your belongings, those will be destroyed. Take him away and make sure he’s ready promptly in the morning.” Steven was brought out of the courtroom and put back in his cell until morning.
The next morning Steven was brought to the center for monitoring and was placed in a white room. The room had one chair and a wire harness that was to go on his head. The doctors were in another room monitoring him through cameras. Steven was scared for his life. He didn’t know what they were going to do to him all he knew was he had to find a way out by any means necessary.