The Tipping Point: The Sequel
True to his word, he had memorised the number from Martin and after a long pause cautiously punched in the numbers:
“The Tipping Point,” he said into the microphone. He waited patiently:
“The Tipping Point,” he said more loudly.
“The Tipping Point” he said, louder still with just a crack of desperation in his voice.
“Go to the Boulevard of Death” said a clear voice; then the line went dead.
Anthony was baffled; the “Boulevard of Death” was a country lane from his childhood where he and his friends would play ‘Aliens and Fugitives’. It had earned its name as they had once found a dead owl lying there on the road, and, of course, the name had added to the drama of the game…but no-one, other than his childhood friends knew of it! Although perplexed, there was clearly no alternative plan to even consider, so Anthony slowly made his way in the direction of “The Boulevard of Death”, taking cover in the shadows wherever possible.
Behind the cloud-strewn sky, a half-moon sent furtive shadows scurrying across the landscape as he picked his way in the semi-darkness down his childhood haunt. Memories of innocence and simplicity flooded back. He did not hurry: there was no agenda: he had no expectations. He had covered nearly two miles down the lane, which would soon peter out, when he heard a vehicle approaching; he dived into the bushes. An army truck stopped very close by and two men in uniform stepped out. They had bright lights and heat sensors; they would certainly find him. In desperation he began running into the surrounding wood. He heard voices, then shouting then felt a sharp pain in his leg, then everything went blank.
He had woken from deep sleeps before, but this was quite different. He felt strangely confused, disoriented and wondering where he could possibly be. He vaguely remembered – as in a dream – the chase, the pain in the leg and then the big dark blank – nothing. The first thing he noticed was the silence – totally unlike his normal world of background “music” interrupted by messages from the leaders. Then there was the extra-ordinary comfort of his “bed”; he began to remember the chase and wondered whether the pain in his leg was from being hit with some sort of poisoned dart or arrow. Perhaps the sedation from the dart was still working or was it something else? Also, the different smells – beautiful soothing odours. He smiled: maybe he had “gone to heaven”?
He opened his eyes and sat up, still feeling a little sleepy and woozy. He was in a strange bedroom with a soft comfortable bed, thick carpets and huge windows. He got up and looked outside; it was beautiful leafy countryside with small country lanes criss-crossing the wooded areas.
Presently there was a knock at the door and a big man with huge bare arms and a red beard walked in smiling:
“Good morning, Anthony” he said.
He wheeled in a trolly with food and drinks:
“Eat and drink first, then I will show you around.”
Anthony took the offerings in silence.
“Do you have no questions at all?” asked the man, amusedly shaking his head.
“Am I in prison?” asked Anthony. The big man laughed:
“Quite the opposite,” he said, “You are in that place which you call ‘The Outreaches’; you made good your escape from what we call ‘The Black Web’, but you call ‘The Democratic Federation of Freedom and Progress’ – the DFFP” he added in a mocking tone. He went on to explain that he would shortly be given a guide around the local neighbourhood and then would meet “The Controller”.
He was offered a change of clothes, but Anthony demurred as they all seemed rather skimpy and left him feeling exposed, even though, still in his DFFP suit, he might be somewhat conspicuous.
Soon he was walking down a country lane with Arthur who continued to point out many features and explain how things worked. Lots of people waved and smiled; they acted as though they knew that he had probably recently escaped from the Black Web and the smiles seemed to be smiles of genuine welcome! Anthony was amazed at the technology, especially of the transportation. They were soon inside a strange bubble device which seemed to propel itself, with no connection to the ground, sometimes flying quite high over obstacles until it finally docked inside a huge transparent dome. Here, there were many people, who all seemed very happy and busy but quite scantily clad, compared to life in the DFFP.
“You can ask me any question, Anthony – absolutely anything – do not be afraid!” Anthony paused:
“And I won’t be in trouble with the “Thought Police”?” he asked looking carefully at Arthur’s face.
“We have no Thought Police here,” said Arthur, “Anyone can ask anything and say whatever they want to. Our rules are simply that we respect the facts… no lies, just the facts and therefore truth governs all our lives, and….”
“And what?” asked Anthony. Arthur had paused and for the first time looked serious:
“We must always strive to make our society better so that we can ward off any attacks from the Black Web.”
Anthony noticed that there were drinking fountains in different colours – everywhere. Anthony asked about them and their purpose.
“Because we need to resist the Web, our society must work at maximal efficiency and therefore the emotions of the individuals must be totally in harmony with the task in hand. Therefore, each coloured drink has a different effect: the blue fountain calms the mind, the pink gives more energy, the green brings on sleep, the purple enhances creativity, the clear one gives…”
“You mean that all your people are drugged all the time?” asked Anthony incredulously.
They stepped into the hoist, a bubble designed for rapid ascent and Anthony was astonished how quickly it zoomed to the top of the Dome. He sat down in a hallway to await his meeting with the Controller.
He was thirsty and yet there was only one drinking fountain here; he poured some of the pink liquid into a “cup” and gingerly drank it down. After a while his mind began to race, though time strangely stood still.
Presently through a portal came a young woman dressed in shorts and a “man’s” long-sleeved vest. She held out her hand in greeting. Anthony recoiled: “I am waiting for the controller” he said.
“I am he” she said in a friendly mocking tone.
“But…” startled Anthony.
“What do you think of our Dome?” she asked.
Anthony shook his head in genuine wonder, “It is so beautiful, so beautiful I can scarcely believe my eyes… but, but …” he frowned,
“Yes?” she asked encouragingly,
“Surely it would be very vulnerable to attack from the Web?” he asked frowning.
She laughed, put her head back and gazed at the apex of the dome, then smiled and looked deeply into his eyes:
“The Web is so called, because it is just like a spider’s web, with nodes of control spreading outwards; we have “sleepers” who cover every node, every epicentre and indeed the ‘dungeon’ – the very centre itself. Any attack on us would mean reciprocal destruction of parts – or indeed all of their empire. But why would they attack us? Without their horror stories of “The Outreaches” they would have no enemy and no excuse to brutalise their people. Anthony, believe me, we are safe as we can be. Also our minds are free, totally free to invent and explore; we have no shackles of catechism or dogma that could impair our creativity and so the gap between our technology and theirs increases every day… we are so far ahead in fact that we even share an occasional innovation with them… if they behave nicely!” she added with a smile.
Anthony’s mind was racing:
“Do you not want to liberate the people that live under their rule?”
“Some people prefer to be regulated and to be told what to think, how to dress, how to behave; these people need a rule book of certainties and have a terror of the unknown. Yet progress requires that we trespass into mysterious arenas and that we must accept that there are great unknowns out there. In fact, we sometimes,” she smiled ruefully, “have to send some of our own misfits to live in the Web!” She paused for a moment: “But I am neglecting my duties: Is there anything you want? Food, drink, sex?”
Anthony was astonished:
“No!” he cried, “No!”
“It would be OK” she continued, the other person would enjoy it too… and I perceive from your reaction that part of you is shocked that we are sex and gender free, we dress as we please and take “drugs” all the time… is there no part of you that rebels against these freedoms?”
“No” said Anthony, “definitely not” though deep inside he could feel the austere disciplinarian wagging a censorious finger.
The next few weeks in “The Outreaches” were a total revelation, each day bringing even more astonishing surprises than the day before. You could speak to anyone, anytime about anything. There was never a thought that someone might be collating information on you or preparing a report for the secret police. Everyone seemed happy, friendly and open and even the weather was perfect.
“Is the weather always this nice here?” he once asked of a small group of children. They explained patiently that it was mostly under control of the weather Scientists and rain was delivered between midnight and 3-0 am when needed. And they all looked so healthy – well-fed, yet with no obesity – so different from citizens of the DFFP. Health seemed to be a priority here, with many ‘exercise posts’ dotted around where people could do some physical activity.
Above all there were the libraries; what a revelation they were! Real old- fashioned books of every variety – all the books censored and unavailable inside ‘The Web’ were freely available here. Everyone seemed so well-informed and the scientific knowledge of the children was astonishing.
“So, what do you think of us?” asked Controller Lucy.
Tears came into Anthony’s eyes:
“It is all so beautiful, the people, the freedom, the society, the happiness. But how do you control ‘wrong-thinking’?”
Lucy thought for a moment:
“Provided that any ‘thinking’ is compatible with the facts, then there is no such thing as ‘wrong thinking’. Some citizens have been indoctrinated by incompetent parents, but we know the brain location of these absurd convictions and they can be removed…. That or else they can be offered the alternative – a life in ‘The Web’. I will introduce you to Hashem who runs this program… you may need his services yourself” she added darkly.
Anthony just loved the company of Lucy who seemed to have no agendas – she didn’t want his status, money – nothing. He began to wonder what his role in this ‘perfect’ society might be.
“But Anthony we must put you to work. You know ‘The Web’ from the inside and we want you to put down some visual record of your experiences for our children.”
“What they used to call a ’Propaganda Film?’ asked Anthony.
“Yes” continued Lucy. “It is desperately important for our children to know about the Evils of the Dark Web and understand the true nature of the enemy they are fighting. Myrtle will instruct you; she is the very best.”
And so, Anthony worked with Myrtle – “the best” – in producing the ‘propaganda film’ and he was astonished at the results; after watching the final production, he himself would have died for this sacred cause – of Good against Evil – to protect his new-found society. He gained so much insight into psychology, motivation, film techniques and so much more that he was very sad when he had to say farewell to Myrtle who had been the most inspirational teacher he had ever known.
Then Anthony was even more popular; so many people had obviously seen the propaganda production that wherever he went, people waved and smiled…. life had just became even richer.
“But there is something bothering you,” said Lucy.
Anthony paused and looked sad:
“I miss my son,” he finally admitted, “and I would love to bring him here.”
“You realise that if you returned to the Black Web, they would torture you, find out your mission and kill you?” said Lucy. “And what about your wife? Do you not want to rescue her too?”
“No!” scoffed Anthony, “she belongs to the system there; her whole life is entangled in the philosophy of the Web! But my son is a free spirit and belongs here…… I would risk anything to bring him…” he hesitated, “Home!”
“Your appointment with Hashem is this afternoon; only he will know if it is possible,” she nodded.
Hashem skated in; he must have had some kinds of wheels on his shoes. He was covered in an electric-blue body-clinging suit and was obviously very old.
“I will answer all your questions” he intoned. His voice was somewhat slurred and it seemed as if he had taken a lot of medication.
“OK” began Hashem, “How do we treat people who have been indoctrinated with absurdities? We know the parts of the brain where these absurdities reside and it is in these older parts of the brain which we share with animals, where absurd beliefs are located. By stimulating emotions related to these beliefs we can find precisely location where this nonsense is housed. Then we inject an organometallic- alloy into the bloodstream and then direct it using hypermagnetic stereo-location to that exact area; then we can either neutralise the pathology or even sometimes reverse it, so that the person believes the exact opposite of their previous belief. If you were to go back to the Satanic Web, then we would reverse your current beliefs; you would return, they would believe you and then it would be in the hands of the operators to help you… but it is very dangerous.”
Anthony was spell-bound listening to this eccentric genius, who had so little rapport with normal people but who could achieve such amazing possibilities.
In the laboratory, he watched his own propaganda film, but adjuncted by drugs his emotions ran wild. How he hated the Satanic Web and loved the outreaches, and indeed, would willingly die a thousand times for these ideals. On the scan he could see the parts of his brain which were overactive and then the injection into his bloodstream of the organometallic – alloy and magnetic guidance to the exact location of his passionate convictions; the amygdala, the hippocampus, the putamen and the globus pallidus were all lit up! Then the minor surgery and “battery” insertion behind the ear and the deed was done. He would forget everything because of the drugs – the entire procedure!
He awoke with a most bizarre ‘hangover’ and a massive gap – an amnesia which made him feel angry and exploited. Hashem walked in smiling to himself and obviously pleased with his work. He asked some totally nonsensical questions about music, flowers and the colours of the rainbow, and delighted with the answers, skated happily out of the room.
Presently Lucy walked in; she looked grave.
“You know why you are under restraint?” she asked.
“Yes,” replied Anthony, “I can guess: I am a danger to you all.”
“Yes,” she said, “Your hatred of The Outreaches makes you a constant threat and you can never live here freely again. You will be taken from here and released into “the corridor” from whence you can go back to the DFFP; you can never return here, but my guess is that you would never wish to.”
Anthony maintained a fixed stare; soon he would be out of this hateful place and returned ‘home’.
There was no need to torture Anthony to get at the truth; his hatred of “The Outreaches” burned with a searing flame and he needed little coaching to revile that whole society. He was almost oblivious to the cameras as he denounced it:
“The whole lot of them are on drugs the whole time – drugs to waken them, drugs to calm them, drugs for sleeping, drugs for hallucinations; they have no control over themselves whatsoever without the prop of drugs! And they are totally obsessed with sex, scantily clad and free to indulge themselves whenever and wherever they wish. They have exercise areas all over the place so they can maintain the vanity, the narcissism they have for their bodies. And scantily clad women are often in positions of great power! Their libraries are full of the Evil Books which we burned so many years ago and they are all bedevilled by the search for information – everything interests them. There are no wise words from the leaders, no guide books on how to live their lives, no communal calls to support the state.”
The audience of Security and Thought Police were entranced and delighted by this diatribe and indeed, for the first time in ages, applauded when it came to an end.
“You will help us make a ‘propaganda film’” ordered the Senior Propaganda Officer.
“Yes” smiled Anthony through clenched teeth, “Our citizens need to be told the truth.
For the first time ever in the Free Democratic Federation, Anthony became a popular public figure; people bowed respectfully whenever he passed by and he was invited to some of the top propaganda meetings of the party. His status too was much higher than before and he was allocated his own “Automaton” car and driver.
Then one day, there was a knock at the door:
“You are wanted at Security Centre,” said the guard.
What could this be? This was serious, but Anthony did not care, just so long as they did not send him back to “The Outreaches”.
He was driven to a huge dark building with massive security and finally arrived in an austere waiting area. He sat and waited, watching his own propaganda film on a big screen; he did not consciously remember all the ‘tricks-of-the trade’ which he had learned from Myrtle, but the learnings had sunk deep, and maybe that was why his propaganda broadcast was of the very best.
Finally, a man walked in.
“Leon!” exclaimed Anthony, “I’m sorry, Commander Leon! Are you now the chief Minister?”
“Yes” came the reply, “I am the final judge of Security and Propaganda”.
As always, his face gave nothing away, like it was carved in stone.
“It is a grave responsibility and though everyone believes in you, Anthony, I still have some reservations and I want you to prove your loyalty to the DFFP.”
“Gladly” enjoined Anthony, “Anything you ask; I am totally at the service of the party.”
“I want you to kill your erstwhile friend Martin,” he continued, “and I want you to kill him with this.” He produced a long knife with double-edged blades; “It is called a tecpatl and it was used by a South American tribe many years ago for human sacrifice… it would be appropriate. As you know, Martin has been an enemy of the state and the party for a long time and now that I am in charge, we can do the necessary!” He allowed himself a grim smile.
“Of course,” exclaimed Anthony with enthusiasm, “It would be a pleasure to serve the state and the party.”
“Good” said the commander thoughtfully, “our state will be much safer with that evil man eliminated. There is just one other thing; that man has somehow been influencing your son politically and poisoning his mind. Your son must learn about right and wrong-doing and the penalties of transgressions… I want you to kill Martin in the presence of your son.
“Don’t wait” Anthony said to the Automaton when it stopped outside Martin’s cottage, “I will buzz you to pick me up when the deed is done.”
He let himself into Martin’s house where he found Martin and his son Robert talking by the fire. They both looked up and seemed very pleased to see him. Anthony had never killed anyone before; this was not going to be easy, but there was no hurry.
“What were you talking about?” he asked.
“Everything,” gushed Robert, “Science, Philosophy, Literature…”
“Some people are worried you are having a bad influence on my son” he intoned.
“Ideas are never bad,” responded Martin, it is only their misapplication which is harmful.”
Anthony was angry; Martin always won the argument.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I have come to put a stop to it.” He took the tecpatl from inside his coat and laid it on the table, “I have been instructed to kill you” he said matter-of-factly.
“Yes,” agreed Martin, “I have been expecting this ever since your friend Leon got the top job, but what a beautiful instrument of death. Did you know that that is a tecpatl which was used by the Aztecs to kill victims for human sacrifice over 700 years ago…how beautiful and how appropriate!”
Robert looked dumbfounded and tears began to well up in his eyes began to understand the situation:
“Dad, you can’t do this” he cried between sobs, “Martin was a friend of yours and is now a friend of mine… he is the only person I can talk to… I could never forgive you if you killed Martin.” Anthony picked up the dagger; there was no point in delaying any longer. He held it up ready to slash through Martin’s throat. Robert dashed between the dagger and its victim:
“Stop, Stop…there may be a better way.” Robert was a smart boy and was ferociously thinking on his feet, “I know you would do anything for the DFFP and you detest the Outreaches… what if you forced Martin to live in that Hell-on-Earth… he would have more punishment than a speedy death… no one would ever know… you could say that you buried him in an unmarked grave…. Dad it would work!”
Anthony thought for a moment; the anguish of his son was certainly disturbing him. It was possible.
“Would you agree to this?” he asked Martin.
Martin looked sad, but nodded.
Anthony thought a while longer, then picked up his cell-pager:
“Automaton 133, previous destination,” he intoned into the speaker.
They sat in silence until there was a noise outside. Anthony brandished the dagger indicating that they should all three get into the back of the vehicle.
“Take us to ‘The Corridor’” he ordered, mid-section, then park up.
“Understood” intoned the automaton.
Finally, the vehicle stopped:
“Open the rear doors” ordered Anthony to the automaton.
“I said open the rear doors” he repeated. Again, nothing happened.
“Automaton, open the rear doors – now!” barked Anthony.
The automaton drew back the grill between himself and his passengers. Finally, it turned to them and said:
“That is not going to happen.” Then they picked up the outline of his face; it was Leon himself!
“I knew you could not obey orders,” said Leon, “so I have come to finish off the job myself. Resistance is futile. Anthony, you will be first. Come and sit in the front with me.” Anthony obeyed. Leon took a small weapon from his pocket, felt behind Anthony’s ear, pointed the weapon then all went blank.
Anthony slowly began to emerge from a deep, deep “dream”; he had a pain behind his ear, but felt truly happy. He could tell from the sounds and the brightness that he was back in the Outreaches… but he should be dead… he looked around the room. There was Martin – smiling a welcome and his son Robert, with tears in his eyes, but most amazingly of all, there was Leon smiling too!
“What happened?” asked Anthony.
“I have finally come home,” said Leon. “I have served my time as a ‘sleeper’ working for us in the Web and have done solid security work to ensure all our safety. Now I can enjoy true freedom!”
It took a while to piece it all together, how Leon knew how to reverse the conviction polarity by firing the electrode-gun at Anthony’s mastoid insertion and so the four of them had just waited for the pick-up.
“But you, above all, Leon; you were the one who scared me, the one who convinced me that we could not win against the Web. If you are on our side, surely we can destroy ‘The Web’ for once and for all?”
He noticed Lucy sitting calmly and smiling at the glorious outcome:
“Without ‘The Web’, where would our purpose be?” she said, “would our citizens strive for such perfection and enhancement? I told you before, Anthony, that the Web needs us for its survival, but the truth is…” she paused to add weight to her words, “We need ‘The Black Web’ for our own survival too… this is as good as it can possibly get: congratulations everyone!”
4,193 words: 14 minutes