conformity, non-conformity Clear Springs Press

The Non-Conformity Chronicles

Chapter 2 - To be Accepted or Rejected

"The greatest illusion of our reality is that we base our self-concept, our self image and our personal value on how we perceive that others see and think of us." - From The Non-Conformist Training Manual

         "Must be some mistake", he thought. He handed the clerk his consumables access card as he had done thousands of times before. She took it and gave him a cold, mean, annoyed look. Few people carry cards. The use of cards and card scanners was a legacy, maintained only because they were in use when the system design was frozen, centuries earlier. Cards were made obsolete by biometric scanners and implanted microchips. Implanted microchips had proved problematic, however, because they could be surgically removed, hacked, and re-implanted. This had been done on such a large scale that the pre-revolutionary economy nearly collapsed. The solution was to replace them with a barcode tattooed onto the forehead with invisible ink that could be read by a scanner. It couldn't be easily removed, couldn't be hacked, and was very difficult to alter.

         By the time cards were obsolete, technology along with most everything else had been frozen. Now every checkout lane had a card scanner, even though virtually no-one ever used them.

         She ran his card through the scanner while muttering a sub-audible insult under her breath: "Must be a non-conformist! Who else would insist on carrying a card. What a nuisance!" The social rejection of anything even remotely resembling non-conformity was a prejudice that was strongly programmed into everyone's behavior matrix. It was most extreme in the lower class workers, and less restrictive in higher class administrators and programmers.

         He smugly stared her down. Keeping his card was one of the few acts of individuality his well-polished life permitted. "I suppose it is that tiny bit of rebellious discontent lodged in my genes. My Psycho and I have discussed this latent trait, but I choose to keep it," he thought to himself. Then he remembered the file with his name on it. The implications were so unthinkable that he was still in denial.

         She slid the card through the scanner with a snap and stared coldly at him while she waited for the computer to authorize his consumables access. It takes less than three seconds, but today three seconds felt like an eternity.

         Suddenly all hell broke loose. A red light flashed and a claxon sounded at the checkout booth so loudly that it made everyone in the checkout line jump out of their skins. Instantly, everyone in the entire restaurant looked at him in alarm. He could see fear and uncertainty in their faces.

         He grabbed the card off the counter and ran out of the store. He was in shock! "How dare they subject me to the embarrassment and humiliation of a card rejection," he said to himself. "Someone will pay for this!"

         Card and barcode rejections were a rare event, rare enough that the clerk in the restaurant had no idea what to do. The Central Accountant was alerted immediately, of course! "Now, the central security algorithms will be alerted to detect, locate, and confine me . . . unless I can get the error corrected!" he thought.

         Once, long ago, every person had carried a personal communication terminal that was linked to a central network by electromagnetic radiation. They called them cell phones, smart phones and tablets. The cellular system, broadband wireless computer networks and other radio communications systems had created a dense atmosphere of electromagnetic radiation that bathed everyone. They eventually realized that this constant exposure to radio frequency energy caused low grade genetic damage over time. While that concerned some, those in control choose to accept this damage as an acceptable cost of profit and social control.

         Eventually, however, the bandwidth limitations of wireless communications mandated a different technology. After that, the personal wireless communications devices were eliminated and a large network of public and private COMM terminals were installed and linked by fiber optic cable. There was now a COMM terminal in every room of every home, at every desk in every office, at every table in every restaurant and positioned every hundred meters along every walkway and transportation path. After the revolution, everyone was contained in dense urban areas and everyone had instant access to the Central Accountant at all times. Wireless communications were only used by service and emergency personnel.

         Dr. Baker rushed to the nearest public access COMM terminal and slid his card through the reader. "Access Denied Report to Central Accounting immediately," was the reply.

         Hastily, he jumped into a transport capsule, sealed the airlock, entered his destination and slipped his card through the scanner. There was an uncharacteristic pause, a red warning light flashed, a claxon sounded, and the airlock opened dumping him onto the walkway. Pedestrians stopped and stared at him with shock and surprise. Then he looked back at them. He met their gaze, he even glared at them. He watched their faces as puzzlement turned to alarm, then fear. They turned pale in color, diverted their gaze and walked hurriedly away. The message was clear: He was not one of them! He could not be acknowledged!

         He looked around to see if any security officers were homing in on his location from the card entries that he had made. He saw none, but he knew that they were coming! Actually, security officers were rare because crime was rare in a conformist society. No one had been told, however, because the Central Accountant determined that they did not have a need to know.

         To see a hungry, homeless, dispossessed person on the streets was an unthinkable horror; something reserved for nightmares and history books. So unaccustomed had the population become to the thought of such outcasts that the mere sight of one brought up deeply buried fears and insecurities. No one was able to ask him if he was having a problem and needed help. They all turned their faces away.

         He was accustomed to having instant access to the Central Accountant through any public or private COMM terminal. The card, or the invisible tattoo on the forehead contains one's personal authorization code to access goods, services and resources. All personal data relating to the personal code was stored in the cloud, a central archive of all information; public, restricted and private. Personal security cards were often carried and exchanged between individuals. A security card contained any personal data, introductions, presentations, personal solicitations and other information that the individual chose to share. Each card was maintained off network and encrypted so that only the recipient could access it.

         If he ever had a problem, he just went to a COMM terminal and asked the Central Accountant to produce the required information, make travel arrangements, draw a map from where he was to where he wanted to be, and in general, take care of him.

         Now he was beyond embarrassment, even beyond anger. He had serious problems and desperately needed help! Still unable to accept the idea that his card wasn't working, he spotted another COMM terminal and ran to it. He pulled out his card and stepped into the terminal booth. He ran his card through the scanner and waited. A COMM terminal operator appeared and said, "All of your accounts have been cancelled. You are ordered to remain where you are until security arrives to escort you to Central Accounting Administration!"

         This was not what he wanted to hear. He panicked and started running toward his condo. It was several miles away, He wasn't sure exactly because he'd always rode the pneumatic capsules rather than walk. And he couldn't access the Central Accountant to get a map.

         He walked for hours and was growing tired, hungry and thirsty. In an odd way the walk was good for him because he was forced to move slowly and see things that he had never seen before. Individuals in similar professional and economic groups tend to organize their lives around each other. Except for interaction with immediate superiors and subordinates and a few service professionals, one never meets or even sees others. He walked past a large office building and stood by the entrance as the clock readout said 5:00 o'clock, quitting time.

         All of the doors flew open at the same moment and ten thousand people poured onto the walkways. He watched their faces intently as they walked past. Not one showed any emotion or gave any clue that they saw him or anyone else. He looked at their beige clothing and at the baggage that they carried. These were the servants of society, the individuals responsible for maintaining the technology and support logistics of the culture.

         He walked on. Several times he tried using his card to access food and drink machines and each time he was faced with the flashing red light, claxon and the frightened stares of pedestrians. He gave up and continued walking. Still the security officers had not caught up with him, but he wondered for how long!

         Day shifted to night and he grew increasingly weary. Without his card, he couldn't even use a toilet to relieve himself. Finally, as an act of desperation, he slipped into the shadows of a building and relieved myself praying that no one would see him. No one did. He continued on. He passed through a park and stopped at a bird bath. He dipped his hands into the water and drank deeply. He was so thirsty, he didn't care if anyone saw him. He looked around and saw an elderly lady walking her dog. She looked at him in shock. He ignored her and walked on with his stomach starting to growl. Eventually, he stopped and lay down behind some bushes to get some sleep.

         He awoke shivering and drenched with dew. It was still night. He looked at his wristwatch and saw that it was 2:30 a.m. He was thankful that he didn't have to run a card through his wristwatch to read it. He moved on, trying to warm up by moving. He thought he saw movement in the shadows but was too tired to care.

         He had heard rumors of dispossessed people living in the countryside or on the streets surviving by scavenging. It suddenly occurred to him that if this were true, no one would know because the Central Accountant might determine that they did not have a need to know! He moved faster! "This can never happen to me!" he reassured himself.

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