...but this story is anything but! (Hopefully!)
|Science Fiction Story Contest
What good was having utopia if you couldn’t have what you wanted? Acantha thought as she wrapped up another boring day at the station. She longed for some action. Some excitement!
When she had joined the police force, there had still been the occasional robbery. Though she had never directly been involved in dealing with one, she had even heard of murders in the early years! It had been fun! Holstering her laser weapon, donning her mirrored flak jacket, heart thudding in her chest as she raced toward the scene of the crime… it made her feel alive!
Now? She came to work, kicked her feet up on her desk and waited for a crime to be committed. In a moneyless society. Where everyone had access to everything. No one wanted for anything.
So she waited.
Logging her time spent doing nothing.
Every. Single. Day.
There were limits to what people could do, of course. Some sacrifices needed to be made for a perfect society. All violence was outlawed. There was no more football. No more boxing. No more MMA. But that was a small price to pay for fairness, equality, unlimited food and medicine, and plentiful resources of every kind for all. Wasn’t it?
Walking home, her phone rang. It was her brother, Mark.
“What’s up, sis?”
“You sound disappointed! When you’re a cop and nothing’s going on, that’s good, right?”
“I guess,” she said glumly.
“What is it?” Mark asked, his tone becoming concerned at his sister’s out-of-character apathy.
“I just want some action, you know?”
Acantha could almost hear Mark’s smile through the phone.
“Okay, Acantha. I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, but you’ve gotta promise to turn off your cop brain.”
That got Acantha’s attention.
“Turn off my… Oh, Lord. What are you getting me into?” Acantha said, curiosity turning her bored expression to one of excitement.
“You’ll see…” said Mark coyly. “I’ll text you an address. Meet me there at 7:00, okay?”
“Okaaaaay…?” said Acantha, mind swirling with the possibilities of what her brother might show her.
Two hours later, Acantha arrived at the address. Mark waited for her, holding a duffel bag in one hand. He leaned against the old brick factory building, built hundreds of years earlier. A rusty, steel, windowless door was the only sign that there was actually a way in.
“Okay, so what’s the what?” asked Acantha, a Mona Lisa smile on her lips.
“You’ll see…” said Mark, echoing his earlier words. He turned and gave three hard knocks on the steel door.
“Yeah? Who is it?” came a gruff voice from behind the door.
“A friend,” replied Mark.
“Password?” the gruff voice asked as if the question were routine. Acantha couldn’t even remember the last time she’d even heard the word. Everything was done by retina scan these days.
“Utopia is boring,” was Mark’s reply. Acantha giggled. It sounded like something she would have come up with.
The door opened on squeaky hinges, a blast of moist, steamy air washing over the two of them as they stood before the now-open entrance.
Mark nodded his head toward the entrance, indicating for Acantha to go in, then entered himself. Acantha followed closely behind.
They descended the dimly lit stairs. When they reached the massive, open room at the bottom, Acantha’s jaw dropped in awe.
To her right, were gambling tables with people playing casino games and cards.
Tapping her brother on the shoulder, Acantha leaned forward and pushed up on her tiptoes to speak into his ear in the noisy establishment.
“What do they gamble with? There isn’t money anymore!” she asked in a loud whisper.
“Cigarettes,” he replied with a grin.
“They still make those?” Acantha asked, surprised, sniffing the unfamiliar smoke in the air. So that’s what was causing that strange acrid smell and raw, throat-burning sensation.
“No. Hence their value…” answered Mark.
Acantha surveyed the rest of the room. There were people in a roped-off square throwing pillow-covered hands at each other.
“What on earth? Is that pillow-fighting? I’ve read about it, but since pillows were replaced by magnafield-hammocks, I’ve never…”
Mark grinned and interrupted.
“No, silly. That’s boxing! Those are boxing gloves…”
Chagrined, Acantha shrugged. Mark patted her on the back affectionately.
“Come on,” he said.
The pair continued to the back of the massive room until they came to an octagon with a tall, chainlink fence around it.
Mark stopped, dropped the duffel bag he’d been carrying and stripped off his shirt. Acantha watched him, perplexed, as she reached into the duffel bag and pulled out a pair of gloves that looked similar to the pillow-gloves of the boxers, though far less padded. As he began to put them on, Acantha finally verbalized her question.
“What are you doing, Mark?”
“What? I’m going to fight. I do MMA every second Thursday of the month!” he replied, as if it wasn’t a big deal.
Acantha looked as if she might be sick. Her head lolled, and she reached out to grab the fence to stabilize her balance, which was shaken when her brother’s casual admission had wobbled her knees.
Democracy hadn’t worked. People were stupid. They voted for people who were stupid. They seemed to prefer imbeciles to intelligent, educated types. Utopia had only come about when the dysfunctional form of government had been abandoned for rule by impartial AI. There was just one thing about AIs. They had zero tolerance. Like, zero tolerance. Every crime was tried by statistical analysis to calculate the likelihood of occurrence, and every crime was punishable by death. The AI had determined that the severe deterrent was the most efficient way to ensure the success of the utopia.
“You know that if they catch you, you’ll be executed, don’t you?” warned Acantha in a stern tone.
“Pfft,” said Mark. He reached out a gloved hand and ruffled her hair before turning his attention to the ring where two fighters were battling each other on the ground, one with his legs wrapped around the other, attempting to procure some sort of hold.
“Mark! This is really frigging serious! You can’t be seriously considering going in there!”
A man in a black-and-white striped uniform made an emphatic gesture, and the two fighters stopped and rose. Apparently, the fight was over.
They exited, and Mark began to enter the cage. Acantha’s eyes widened in fear, and she grabbed his arm, leaning backward with all her weight in a vain attempt to pull him away from the entrance.
“Mark! Don’t do this! Please!” Acantha begged. Mark laughed her off and freed his arm. A large-bellied man slammed the gate shut as Mark walked into the ring. He began to shake his arms, roll his head and bounce on the balls of his feet, warming up.
At that moment, screams and shouts erupted near the stairs. Acantha whirled, eyes wide as she saw the exact thing she’d been hoping for earlier that day.
Mirror-armored police officers ran down the stairs, laser pistols drawn, deathly serious looks on their faces. Cameras, mounted in their helmets, broadcast events to the AI real-time, feeding back the results of trials nearly instantaneously when a suspect entered their view. Acantha knew well that the verdicts in a situation like this would all be guilty.
As the police focused their cameras on the individuals in the huge room, they began to receive the AI’s permission and opened fire. As the officers pulled the triggers of their weapons, holes burned into the heads and chests of their targets. Only when smoke wafted between weapon and target was the red beam of death actually visible. When the mistiness passed, the only evidence that a shot had been fired was a red dot and burning sizzle through the body of the unfortunate soul who had just lost his trial by AI.
“Mark! Get out of there! We need to run!” screamed Acantha, expression desperately urgent.
Mark’s head swiveled toward the source of the shouting, watching people dropping by the dozen at the hands of the police. Jaw trembling, he ran to the entrance to the cage, slamming his shoulder into it, chain-link gate flinging open.
Unfortunately, Mark fell to the ground, his momentum in contacting the door throwing him off-balance. He slid along the concrete floor directly into the view of the approaching officer, who opened fire. As a red, steaming dot appeared in the center of his forehead, his eyes glazed over, unfocused in death.
Acantha’s hands flew to her temples as her face twisted in horror. Staggering backward, she tried to think of what to do. Should she surrender? No, she chided herself. It wouldn’t matter. Once she was found guilty, she would die.
Looking up, tears welling in her eyes, her gaze met that of the police officer stalking toward her. She saw the light on his camera turn green and instantly knew what that meant.
She saw a flash of red as his weapon rose. She smelled a whiff of burning skin.
As the last pulses of electricity fired in her neurons before death, her mind raced through its final thoughts, a wry smile forming on her purpling lips.
At least she and her brother had given the other cops some action today...
Her mind began to slow.
That was something that couldn’t be bought...
Thinking became difficult.
In a moneyless society...
She struggled to hang on to her final thread of thought.
Where everyone had access to everything...
Her mind dimmed, gasping out one final thought.
...Everything except what they truly craved.