John Smith felt strangely light. It was a most unusual day, the first in his life that was not scheduled. He knew that this happened occasionally where the system simply did not schedule someone for a day or even a week. At other times interference near scanners registered the wrong microchip number in the deceased’s neck and a living person’s identity would be temporarily sent to archives, but not for long. The next scan of that living person would reveal the mistake and that would be corrected in days if not hours.
This free day for John Smith was a system mistake. The AI had forgotten him for one day. It was the thirteenth of October and the regular hour time chime chimed thirteen on the internet screens that are mandated in front of every home and business in the city. Everyone else in America had to be someplace and doing something on the thirteenth hour of the thirteenth day of October, but not John Smith. Of course, his chip would register him walking down the street as he passed the scanners hidden in every internet screen. Just walking, with nowhere to go.
As the clocks struck thirteen, the great seal of America came on the screen in front of a shop where John Smith was passing and the ubiquitous digital announcer announced: “We have done it.” The words were then displayed on the internet messaging banner across the street. “We are what we wished for, completely isolated and self-sufficient,” were the next words out of the faceless speaker.
All imports are now prohibited regardless of necessity. Exports are permitted, but few countries want American goods. Besides, it is difficult to get goods past American borders because any personal contact with other people stokes terrorism fears.
As the message finished, John Smith nearly panicked because normally he would have had to be somewhere at thirteen O’clock. He saw others hurrying to reach a required location in time, or close enough not to trigger the AI deviation routine. Consistency and timeliness are the two antiterrorist watchwords which every child learns virtually from the moment the child can understand words. AI has become quite sophisticated in identifying persons not meeting consistency or timeliness standards, but personal anonymous reporting of infractions is encouraged. Personal reporting brings purported infractions right to the top of the scrutiny list.
However, when the system matched his number with his schedule it would find nothing wrong—just nothing. Eventually this would register as an anomaly, but he was free to do what he wanted for at least this twenty-four hour period. They would catch up to him and he would be called in and interrogated. He knew he would probably be put on high surveillance status, perhaps with his own personal watcher for a time, but if he did nothing untoward, odds are he would not do any reconditioning time. That is what he hoped.
John Smith looked up into the orange haze that hung low over the city. Coal had replaced other fossil fuels because oil was no longer imported. To mask the smell in the air, he sprayed some freshener on his face mask.
The idea of scheduled time came from counterterrorism experts. They reasoned that if everyone’s time is scheduled to the moment, each person has implanted from birth a unique identifier chip, and surveillance covers all permitted places of occupancy and travel, terrorism acts could immediately be detected as diversions from the lawful schedule. Surveillance ScanDrones® patrol the national parks which means that these places of wonder can still be visited by lawful Americans if the schedule authorizes them.
Silicon Valley geared up its AI and predictive analytics divisions to provide a balance of work and recreation that the medical community today lauds as helping reduce the incidence of high blood pressure and non-hereditary heart disease because stress from overwork has been virtually eliminated.
Early critics at the time of the scheduling rollout complained that this was unconstitutional because it denied people freedom to act on their own. The medical community and psychologists convinced Congress and the courts that such scheduling efforts would keep people from making bad decisions. Authorities reasoned that scheduling plus permanent and pervasive surveillance would catch pending addictions and other deviations such as shoplifting and even murder much more quickly. In fact, the initial increase in arrests for deviations worried many supporters, but once people got used to being scheduled, these deviations from the norm dropped to unprecedented levels. It solved the undocumented immigrant problem because only citizens and legal aliens could get chips. Those who did not get chips triggered scanners and soon the unchipped were deported in huge convoys that went on for miles. Chips are made with counterfeit countermeasures, and few illegal chips fool scanners.
The business community initially groused that the limit on work time would ruin productivity. In the end, the organizational psychologists were right and studies have confirmed that happier employees maintain and in some cases, improve productivity. The increase in virtual reality and internet connectivity means that people do not have to leave their homes to perform most work that doesn’t involve active manipulation of equipment. They have more time for other things such as work and play. Notwithstanding this evidence, industry continues to turn jobs over to robots at an ever-increasing rate.
After the unchipped were deported the cost of food skyrocketed because wages had to be raised to attract American citizens to work the fields. Industry has worked hard to develop new mechanical pickers and other assorted tools. Hotel prices also soared initially, but since there is now very little need for people to travel, the hotel industry has collapsed. Lawn tractor sales spiked early on and have remained steady for many years now. Lawn maintenance is part of the schedule for those who have lawns. Unfortunately, AI has not developed routines that correct for weather.
Private passenger vehicles have been banned because they are no longer needed. If one’s schedule permits travel there is local bus transportation and high-speed rail. However, there continues to be much political rancor over the cost of transportation, and budgets are never enough to maintain an efficient public transportation system. This encourages critics and naysayers to call the transportation system a failure and this further depresses or delays necessary repair and maintenance efforts. Infrastructure spending is at a new low by design.
While one can request changes to the schedule, AI quite often rejects such changes because they unnecessarily disturb the work-life balance. Certain changes such as extended school field trips are often permitted, though students no longer go to real classrooms. By law and, all schools are in virtual reality classrooms. Yellow school busses are now a distant memory of the elderly.
John Smith walked, peered into shops, walked around the fountain, and ate some ice cream, none of which he was supposed to do. Well, it wasn’t prohibited, it just wasn’t scheduled…He realized that it is so complicated when your everyday isn’t yours and then it is. He had another motive for just walking other than recreation. His two boisterous sons aged fourteen and fifteen were, by schedule, practicing their drums and would likely now be beating on each other had been the case since they both could walk.
This bit of freedom also gave John Smith considerable anxiety which he tried to push back into the recesses of his mind. Still, his hands shook a little from the adrenaline that was coursing through him. He smiled when he needed to and didn’t speak to anyone other than to the clerks in the stores. All were registered, anyway, and dutifully wore their right to work badges, certainly now an archaic regulation, because the chipless were deported long ago. However, the clerks and others he interacted with would be called to account when John Smith was discovered to have escaped into non-routine, but neither surveillance nor these workers would have anything untoward on him. Perhaps one would have an agenda, trying to get back into the good graces of the system for this or that infraction against the schedule, but he felt that the recordings of their conversations and him browsing the stores would reveal the true innocence of this venture.
John Smith was not a terrorist. However, his inaction in alerting authorities to his scheduling anomaly would put him under suspicion as, at least, susceptible to terrorist propaganda and manipulation.
The final stretch of The Wall had been completed the year before John Smith’s unscheduled day and it girds all the borders of the country, even Alaska. The walls are high and electrified with acres wide minefields inside. All the harbors have been mined and the coastline and beaches patrolled day and night by robotic flying and surface drones that have only one order, shoot to kill. Beaches and borders are off limits to all humans. There is one warning only to a trespasser and then bullets will fly. By law, trespassers, border-jumpers, and ocean swimmers are presumed to be terrorists and subject to the harshest defensive action, with no questions asked.
Only American naval operated transport vessels travel from Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and other island possessions of the US. These are permitted passage through the port of Long Beach and the port of New York. Security is tight at the renovated Ellis Island in the east and the new Trump National in the west that process citizens and the few remaining legal aliens.
John Smith knew that fear of terrorism had driven INS, NSA, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the other surveillance and control organs of government to be wary even of our own people, because the islands are not seen as secure as the mainland. There is little need for people from the islands to visit the mainland with the internet and virtual reality, so all are treated with suspicion and given extra scrutiny and surveillance while in transit and during their time on the mainland. Special schedules need to be devised and deployed, and permission for such deviations from normal island routine require extensive negotiation and planning with the local representatives of INS and NSA. Few schedule modifications are granted, and those only for compelling reasons where there is no alternative but to travel e.g. medical conditions that can only be performed on the mainland. Few desire to leave the mainland for the islands because that puts them into a category of permanent suspicion, and nobody wants that. Virtually no one who leaves the mainland ever returns. Even congressional representatives from Hawaii rarely travel back home, preferring to conduct local business through the internet and virtual reality. This simply is the way things are done.
Immigration has been closed to America for years. However, The Wall is touted as being one of the most important accomplishments in America’s three-hundred-year history. Some even give The Wall equal weight to the Declaration of Independence because, like that document of liberation, the wall has liberated the country from foreign terrorists.
The elimination of immigration, The Wall, the closing to the world of American Internet, and now self-sufficiency from even imports makes the country an island unto itself. In fact, the week-long celebration of The Wall’s completion around all the continental United States surpassed even the tricentenary celebration of 2076. Emigration is permitted, but anyone who emigrates cannot ever return. All diplomatic business is conducted on dedicated vids and monitors not connected to American internet.
Those who do have relatives in other countries can talk to them in heavily monitored special virtual reality or internet kiosks at special government agencies. Every word is carefully evaluated for the possibility the conversation carries hidden or even overt terrorist messages. None of these locations have any connections to internal American internet hubs so that no viruses, trojans, or secret terrorist messages can enter the now clean American internet system. Internet freedom has been declared accomplished by the FCC.
All American internet is by landline or local wi-fi. Cellphones have been replaced by the ubiquitous two-way vids that are in front of every building and on every power and transmission pole. Satellite receivers and transmitters have been banned and surveillance measures can quickly find the location of any transmitters or receivers.
Internet Freedom Day has been declared a national holiday. New holidays, of course, represent special challenges to the schedulers who must develop special AI processes to perform the complicated rescheduling required for three hundred million people.
When the clocks rang fifteen, John Smith felt that he had walked enough. Too many more places would just increase interrogation time when he was caught for not reporting the day of freedom before the unscheduled day occurred. He walked up the steps of the old five story brownstone that once housed a single family, but now housed ten. There were no elevators and his flat was one of two on the fifth floor. Every flight meant a new surveillance camera and scanner. The light on the scanner vids blinked green. If one had blinked red, homeland security would have been called for an immediate search and pick-up of the unchipped individual.
Chips are implanted at birth and with it comes one’s unique number. Chips rarely fail but can be surgically removed which only means that the person becomes a fugitive and is presumed to be a terrorist. Life incarceration is the sentence for voluntarily removing one’s identity chip.
John Smith reached the door of his flat. On the other side, drumsticks clicked and the boys banged each other into the walls of the flat. John Smith heard his wife Jane yell at them to stop. He stood outside the door fumbling with his keys to try to convince the AI behind the scanner and the vid that he was having difficulty finding his key. He really didn’t want to go in to the bedlam he could hear behind the door. He wanted just a dose more freedom…
He sighed and walked in. Donald and Mike stood in the narrow hallway running riffs on the other’s hardhat covered heads. The drumsticks made a clacking sound that filled the hallway. Neither one looked up to greet their father. Jane, her back to him, was in tiny living/workroom on the internet, fulfilling this or that special order for the gear manufacturer she worked for. She oversaw the team that designed, built, and fulfilled orders for special gears for special projects, things that AI or robots could not do. Once they were built, AI could handle any reorder or remanufacture of the now standard custom product.
Within moments of his arrival, the door smashed inward without warning and an armed team of black-suited Homeland police entered and quickly took John Smith, his wife, and two sons into custody. Hands secured behind their backs, they were rushed down the stairs and each into separate lorries which sped away. Just as the lorry door closed, John Smith saw the dogs and the bomb disposal person climbing the steps to the front door of the building. John Smith then realized, his would be the top news story of the week.
Regrets for an ice cream eaten and for getting his family into this scheduling mess came all at once to John Smith. He felt sick to his stomach and retched. Rather than asking him what was wrong, the two guards in the lorry scanned him, looking for any kind of device or propaganda he may have swallowed just as the security force entered his home.
As the car sped along, he knew where he was going and that was derrogatorilly known as the Gulag. It is where all terrorist invaders, home-grown terrorists, terrorist wannabes, and those expected of terrorist leanings or susceptability are taken for interrogation. Few who enter the Gulag are ever seen again.
John Smith wondered just what had possesed him to risk everything for a few hours of not being scheduled. He hoped that his wife and son were not going to the Gulag, but to the Homeland Security station where their interrogation would still be grueling. Their innocence in all of this John Smith hoped would be quickly discerned. Much depended upon what his wife and boys told Homeland Security. One slip-up…John Smith shivered at the thought.
His own innocence he now realized was not at all presumed and might not ever be possible because of his temporal transgression. His stomach churned and his hands shook, not from excitement as they did that afternoon, but because of the real possibility that he would not ever be let out of the place they were taking them.
It was as he envisioned the place. In through a large vault door which closed behind and then an other which opened slowly on its own. Gray cement block walls, and narrow empty corridors devoid of decoration.
Strip and invasive search. White lab coats soon replaced black uniforms. He was scanned from head to toe for even the smallest microchip or communication device, or worse, implanted bomb. Stomach pumped and enema given. They said nothing to him other than to bark orders as to what to do next.
He was prepped for interrogation, first with truth drugs, then traditional lie-detector tests. and the more accurate live brain scans to assess whether he was answering their questions truthfully. The white coats all had somber faces and refused to answer any questions, so John Smith stopped asking. He knew what this was, and where he was, and what he was supposed to to—submit. To resist would confirm that he was a terrorist. However, respond only when questioned and not questioning, as was his new strategy, would also brand him as a terrorist with something to hide. There simply was no strategy that would help his cause. He prayed for some indication from all the tests and scans that he had not lied and that the white coats and their handlers would believe what they saw.
Tortuous interrogation of the Spanish Inquisition and elsewhere in mideval Europe was designed to elicit confessions. Those who confessed to heracy would be executed; those who did not were executed. Not confessing was tantamout to lying. Those who did not confess would be eternally damned by order of the Inquisition. Confession and rejection of heretical thinking earned absolution before execution.
Brown coats now administered some of the same tortures. In the end he confessed to having terrorist leanings. No evidence other than his taking an unscheduled day was probably ever discovered, but that, of course, is classified. As a result of his confession, John Smith disappeared from America. The torture stopped.
While his number was not retired, it was incarcerated along with his torture-battered body. He was sent to reconditioning rehabilitation and was a star student. However, even if he became rehabilitated in his own mind, and even though he said he had, and the scans and tests likely did confirm this, conventional wisdom of the Gulag is that his terrorist leanings once again could come to fore in the right conditions—or so say the terrorist scientists who equate terrorist leanings with opiate addictions, which are nearly impossible to eliminate from the minds of even those who have spent years clean.
Addicts and others who can be blackmailed or bribed with money, drugs, sex, or other temptations to commit terrorist acts are accorded the same category as terrorists and are ncarcerated, though only a few, like John Smith who actually have broken the rules of America, are sent to the Gulag for life.
What happened to John Smith’s family, he never knew. Visitors are prohibited at the Gulag as well as are letters from inmates to the outside or to anyone inside, for that matter. When he wrote letters they were sent to analysts and put in his file. This was only more evidence of guilt and his propensity to violate rules, because the prohibition against letter writing is no less aggregious than him deciding not to report the scheduling glitch.
He wasn’t getting out anyway, John Smith figured. He, like all the others who tapped on the walls from time to time were kept apart, in solitary, never permitted to see others through their windowless cells. Escort to the 12×12 recreational room was down the same lifeless corridor that greeted John Smith when he arrived at the Gulag.
Did he ever truly regret his decision to take unscheduled time? He did and worried over and over again about his family. However, he soon became convinced that in the short period where he experienced unscheduled time, he had achieve the American dream of freedom. He wondered why this did not occur to others.