An age ago, a man once wrote that those who traded essential liberty to purchase temporary safety deserve neither liberty, nor safety. This was a sentiment born of the time when the ground was covered in soil, grass and plants; before the very concept of an urban city had entered a human brain. This was the sentiment of a time fast approaching, when that same ground was contested by a power across the nebulous ocean, formless yet all encompassing, its power personified by red-jacketed soldiers and their mighty warships that loomed in every port under siege.
These three ideations hung around the young woman in her dorm room. Her classes were finished for the day, and she had two hours before she had to report to that loathsome aspect of her life. Two hours that should have been spent indulging in a hobby to relax, or maybe to conduct some extra studies to hone in and understand a difficult class subject. In actuality, the woman relegated herself to sitting at the desk at the foot of her bed. Her elbows were propped up on the desk and her chin was resting on top of her interlocked fingers.
Pensive, she thought about the philosophies that won this land when it was still wild, fertile, and free. The computer networks had all of human history archived and accessible by simply typing upon a keyboard. Curated, but still archived. So, if she so wished, the woman could have pulled her portable from her pocket, flipped up its screen-panel, and engaged with any topic about the American Revolution that struck her fancy.
The daily routine of colonists? The policies of British authority? The politics and rampant warring that led to the decline of the world’s foremost superpower in those burgeoning centuries? Of course, all of these discussions were skewed to maintain an ideal in the current era. The powers that be could not afford to have the common person liken the conditions they lived in to the history of the ornery colonists; the commoner would surely be enraged to realize that their lives were considerably less fulfilling than the forebears that perished in battle to see to it that their children lived better days. None of these topics were pertinent to the woman anyhow.
Tailored history lessons would not rectify her misgivings. The woman could look up artist renditions of colonial America to envision a world without the Ubermetros , but what hollow comfort would that be? To trade one strife for another, with victory promised, but assured on the backs of visceral human sacrifice and suffering? That was not escapism. That was cowardice, and the woman knew better. The monster of inequality and injustice wore a new face these days, but it was alive since the dawn of civilization. Longing for the past did not free one’s self from its terror.
Those who traded essential liberty to purchase temporary safety deserve neither liberty, nor safety. The woman knew the issue that prompted this saying being penned aptly originated from the Ubermetro of Pittroplex when it was known as “Pennsylvania”. The Penns ruled with their money, and the legislature enacted laws that circumvented particulars, such as the Penns having to pay taxes for their lands. Many had come to see this quote as a resentment of expanding government control over the progression of the nation’s past, when in its own time, it was meant to criticize the subversion of legislature by corrupt spending.
The student was of the mind to appreciate both perspectives, as both sides of this horrid coin was now her reality. Society had given itself over to the machines for the security that came with being shepherded by the numbers in the code. The rich flaunted the numbers in their accounts to live outside of the system and reap the crops fertilized with misery.
And then there was the woman’s very own sin: trading the agency of her life so willingly for the opportunity to make more money. An exchange that now meant her hands were stained with innocent, fabricated blood. How quickly would this path take her to the reality of slaying her fellow man as a conscripted soldier, belonging to a corporate dynasty whose name she would never know?
History had shown before, the path was a short one to tread. And once the student came to internalize this fact, she heard herself sobbing. Her own despair lifted her out of the stoic stupor she had found herself in as she contemplated the cliff she had been standing before in her mind. Past its treacherous drop was a Stygian abyss from which there was no return.
The woman lifted her head and wiped her tears. She had been crying for some time. A small puddle had formed around her arms atop the desk. The tears had been silent, up until the student was confronted with being a faceless one in the ranks and files of masked villains. All of them wearing that damnable rubbery suit.
“I can’t do this anymore,” the woman told herself.
She was numb when she stood up. Cold when she made her way to her closet. Resentful when she went down to one knee to open up the footlocker that contained all of her extermination equipment.
“I want a way out,” she affirmed as she took its straps in her hands and hefted the container onto her back.
“This isn’t what I want anymore!” the reluctant operative said, her voice seeming to crack with each step she took towards her door.
It was almost time for her to rendezvous with her squadmates, though. The unwilling operative had to be in position and in uniform; she balked to consider what would happen if she were to betray her true self to the others. It was not just the squad’s ridicule that frightened her, but the consequences that the shapeless entity that lorded over them all would disseminate. Formless, yet encompassing, its power personified by masked soldiers and black vans.
The tragic student was not the only one grappling with the weight of being a warrior. Carrying a firearm on his person left Roddenbury feeling haunted in the most peculiar way. Acquiring one against the law had been unassumingly easy, in hindsight. The catacombs were infamous. The disputes between the lawless and the enforcers were infamous. The only thing that prevented the average person from simply walking to the entrance to Hell and taking some of that power for themselves was…
Roddenbury spent his trucking runs since that night rationalizing this riddle, and every thread of reason he pulled at did not unravel some hidden understanding after some time. The threads only kept unwinding, endlessly streaming out of the knot without resolving it.
Fear was the obvious starting point: no one willingly wanted to rush into the face of danger and risk everything they had for something unknowable. Everyone raised by the system was acquainted with ideas of authority and institution. Stepping outside of these boundaries just felt… wrong. Opposing the institution was not something a person did. That was how chaos and suffering spread; only the selfish would invoke distress for others because they did not want to play their part. These were some of the values that Roddenbury Burgos was instilled with during his formative years.
As a means of gleaning insight, the man would frame some of these ideas in a way that Straya could understand, and discuss them with her. The fluffy had some choice things to say, especially when it came to the fundamentals of following rules.
“Wules am gud!” Straya insisted. “Wules am how ma’e shoo dat ebyonesie am faiw! Am how nubodies am scawedy! Am how ebyonsie am safies!”
“I know, but what if there were some rules that did not have to be made? What would you tell the one who made the rules?” Roddenbury proposed.
Straya snorted. “Aww wules am gud wules! Moa wules meanies it am bad to be meanies awways!”
Hearing this disturbed Roddenbury. Not because it appeared as though Straya thought this way – he suspected something like this would have been ingrained in her by way of Hasbro’s controlling tendencies – but because of what the target demographic of fluffies would have been. It was unsettling to think that this could have been a conversation with an impressionable child, instead of a rugged but conflicted trucker.
In any case, Roddenbury was not aiming to change Straya’s mind about these topics, if he even could. If anything, he was probing to see where the veneer of innocence gave way to the cynical truth of her creation. The fluffy was always a naïve proponent of authority and higher government, presented as her natural reliance on another. Roddenbury could see how someone who grew up with a fluffy could have yet another layer of mental programming to keep complacent.
Which is what he scrutinized next. Complacency. The notion that if one behaved within the normal parameters and followed the rules, life would be easy and inoffensive. Roddenbury saw himself in this line of thinking, and it was a craggy, gritty road to travel down.
“Wai wood Wod wan’ huwties?” Straya asked him, in response to a question about breaking routine and moving outside of one’s comfort zone. “Wod shood be gud, an’ ged Stwaya huggies foeba! Teehee!”
Forever was a long time to be an unobtrusive cog in the machine complex, Roddenbury thought with no shortage of disgruntled indignation. Straya’s death sentence was issued by people being “good” and moving along with the tune belted out on the flute. Deeds done because people did not want to get hurt. Did not want responsibility.
Roddenbury could see how taking responsibility for one’s actions could be unappealing. Taking responsibility for one’s own life and safety was even scarier than that. Yet another barrier placed in the minds of the masses to keep the system aloft. Let the enforcers fight the hard fights. Do your job.
But the enforcers had yet to take the catacombs. The enforcers had yet to crush the marketplaces at the mouths to Hell. Who, but the blind, would trust them to actually defend anything of worth? And all it took to taste a little freedom was a stroll in the dead of night. The cameras were not wise to Roddenbury yet. And that was an empowering thing to know, and an empowering emotion to feel. The system could only control so much. The rest was what a person let it control.
Roddenbury was of the conviction that he would make the system work for its feed, instead of feeding the gluttonous hog himself. While the people of the catacombs who chased the ecstasy of violence, drugs and sex were not viable allies to hold in the long run, they were definitely an example.
Not a good example, but an example.
They were what true liberty looked like in the Ubermetros. And Roddenbury would continue drinking in that freedom for his ideal of justice. With each outing, the man was getting closer and closer to embracing his calling as a lone soldier in an army all his own. Yet there was a nugget of remorse remaining despite this righteous conviction.
In taking this stance, he would become a target for those same enforcers that others trusted to fight their battles. He would become a target for Hasbro, as he fought for Straya’s kind. He would have to hurt so many people he did not know, just because of how their paperwork happened to land.
Could there be a way to end this madness without using the gun?
Yes, Roddenbury conceded. He also conceded that he was not born into the right part of society to find it.
The grim humor in this was how technology had aided the human propensity for murdering one another. In this high-police state plutocracy, there was no way for Roddenbury to practice his gunnery without outing himself. There was no time in his strict schedule to fit regular training into his day. His weapon had a few basic features to compensate for this: thermal receptors and other scanners.
Those who profited from the flight of bullets had lowered the skill ceiling of lethality.
All one had to do was point the gun.
And pull the trigger.
The first part of this was partly inspired by a conversation with @Virgil. Consider it a somberly thematic Learning With H83R with a historically focused bend to it.