There I am, once again in a control booth with Mannie, doing an important part of my job: what we call an unstimulation. A criminal is put in a cell, naked, under the control of our chemical inducers. We manipulate them so he is unstimulated, meaning that he no longer wants to commit a crime. People have to be pacified.
It's quite a simple process, at least on paper. Doing it, on the other hand, is a practiced art. Mannie and I are both pros. We've done this hundreds of times, no big deal. Only one person died during this thing, that I've seen, anyway.
"So she started yelling at me, man," he says while adjusting a dial.
"What did you do?"
"Nothing. I wanna dump her, you know?"
"Mmhm," I say non-committally.
"I'm just gonna dump her ass. I'm tired of her fucking whinging. Pulse status?"
Manny's the Signaler: he's the one who sends the signals for the subject's brain to produce more or less of this or that chemical. I'm the Vital Signs guy, the one who makes sure they stay alive. Like they told me when I started, a dead citizen can't consume or produce. I glanced at the meters.
"Women are all the same. They demand your trust and then they fuck you over."
"Raising nociception to 4.5. Activating the anterior cingulate cortex control. Start monitoring his mental state."
This is where I have to start looking at our subject more carefully to detect signs of mental distress (which are good, since that's what we want, but not too much). He's writhing in pain from the latest wave, now ongoing. As I look at him, I start to think of him, not as an image to be studied, but as an actual object having physical weight and size. He's somewhere in the basement of the Complex, but thanks to the mediation of the telescreen the distance might as well be infinite. I imagine an actual presence, an actual piece of matter, somewhere below my feet. It's dizzying. At some point, I came to the vague realization that our actions here had an actual, real physical effect, which of course is an extremely inane realization to be having. I quickly chided myself for thinking of such nonsense instead of concentrating on the subject.
I can't see his face, as he's turned away from the camera, still lying down on the floor from pain. He can't possibly be older than thirty. Now he's turned our way. It looks like he's saying something, but we don't get any sound here anyway. It's probably pain-induced nonsense anyway.
"Stress level below average," I report.
"I'm raising catecholamines to 26% above baseline."
Poor sap was arrested for disobeying a mandate and resisting containment. I read his report, even though it's not recommended. I prefer to anticipate their physiological responses based on their profile, and I think this one is a mental case. He was fighting a mandate of eviction, which is such an insane thing to do : why resist eviction when you can get a place just as nice as the one you have? He's extremely agitated, which proves his insanity. A normal person would just try to remain calm and understand that we're doing this for the good of the masses.
"Raising nociception to 7.0."
The subject arched his back in the wake of a new wave of pain washing over his body. Keeping an eye on his vital signs, I considered him. I felt no hate or pity for this creature... this man. A man? My palms started to sweat when I thought that. But I now realize that my feeling was unfounded. I glance at Manny, who also looks like a man. But we are all, really, less than men. What is a man after all but a bundle of chemicals, that can be manipulated by this very console? It's a purely mathematical process.
"Anyone could be put in there and pacified."
"Of course," Manny replied absent-mindedly. "Anyone can. And anyone should. We need it, otherwise people would just run wild."
I sound my old mantra from indoc class clearly, like a bell: all judgment is dissolved in the face of necessity. All judgment is dissolved in the face of necessity. All judgment is dissolved in the face of necessity. Only Om can judge. Man is a soul, to be reformed through manipulation of the body. Cleansing the body makes it a proper receptacle for the soul. Man doesn't exist: it's a pure abstraction, really. No one really can define what a man is. That thing we're looking at, that creature, is an idea, the idea of criminality, which we reform into the idea of purity. We all embody a role in the social order. Manny and I are the Redeemers.
"Enkephalin down to 0.4. Adjust the ion imbalance."
I look at a meter, turn a dial, take readings, all very routine stuff. I look at the subject's ridiculous little dance, syncopated dance between left and right, left and right, always chaotic, always violent. Sometimes they bleed their own tongues, sometimes they try to strangle themselves. Sometimes they look upwards and try to plead, but we don't get any sound anyway, so it can't possibly do any good.
"Do you think this is the right thing to do?"
"What, adjusting the ion imbalance? Of course it's the right thing! When the neurons-"
"No, I mean this. Unstimulation. To manipulate people's brains."
"Of course it is. It's necessary."
"Pain is not necessary."
"Of course, it's necessary. But one never wants to inflict too much pain. Did you see the Journal of Cerebral Metabolism two months ago? I co-wrote a paper on how pain expansion should be kept limited in order for the subject's motor responses to be controlled, so they don't... so there's no undesired results. It should be more strictly controlled. That's the problem right now, there's not enough control. A guy could smuggle in a knife in his ass, shit it out, and kill himself. There's nothing we could do about it. Less pain means more control," he concluded satisfactorily.
He didn't understand what I meant at all, but I understood what he meant. It just didn't make any sense any more.
"Raising nociception to 9.0."
The subject is now slamming his head rapidly and repeatedly on the floor. The padded cell prevents any chance of injury, but his frantic movements are surreal. What if Om is testing us? I thought surreptitiously. What if this is all a test, and anyone who fails is cursed forever? My palms started sweating again as I thought this.
The subject's vital signs were going south, fast.
"Slack it," I said.
He maintained the rhythm.
"Slack it," I repeated.
"Gimme ten seconds"
In a state of slacking, the subject relaxes, his jaw slack, recuperating from the latest wave. Any expert in unstimulation knows that inducing slackness for thirty seconds can save you minutes of trouble later.
Looking at the subject, I saw myself writhing there, on that screen. I knew exactly what it did to a human body. I felt my body buzz with the imagined flow of pain and lowered psychological defenses. Thanks, I thought.
"Anyone could be put in there and pacified."
Manny just glared at me for a moment before returning to his task. I became fixated on that thought, at the expense of all others. It seemed to need a response, somehow. As if I needed to tell someone, or do something, break stuff, run away, scream, anything.
"Start the synaptic channels," said Mannie. "He's ready for the next stage."
I looked at the switch but did nothing. Mannie did not notice for a few seconds.
"What are you waiting for? Flip the switch," he prodded.
My head is swimming. I'm at a loss, I can't say or think anything. I am no longer a professional, I have become separated from myself. Nothing makes any sense. Reality makes no sense.
"Any day now," said Mannie, annoyed.
I flipped the switch. My head is still swimming, but everything makes sense again. All judgment is dissolved in the face of necessity.
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