The Fifth Question

by hulk


XB-34712 was disappointed to hear the bell that signaled the end of recess. He was watching a car go down the highway far below the hill that the school stood on. The car waded easily through the crowd of horse and people-drawn buggies carrying goods and other people to and from the city. XB-34712 wondered who might be on it. Only mediarites and level 47-V bureaucrats, turquoise grade or higher, could drive cars. XB remembered his mother telling him about the speed of cars and how everything was shipped across the land by truck, at least the bulk goods, and how she once went from Chicago to New York in 16 hours. She showed him a picture of her car, the word “Explorer” on the back of it, and a blue oval with the word “Ford” in the middle. She told him how wonderful cars were, but they were taken away when Congress outlawed the use of gasoline by the general public. A lobbying group formed by actors and internet-based activists had convinced lawmakers that gasoline exhaust was poisoning the Earth and that the only way to keep humanity safe was to stop the use of automobiles. Congress tried shutting down the big automakers, Ford, GM, and all the Japanese plants in the US.

Then Japan threatened war. It had been building its military since the Taiwan occupation began. Once the Chinese nuked Taipei to end the rioting, Japan demanded the right to own a military again. Since then the JAF, or Japanese Automated Forces, had begun building bases throughout the South Pacific, and had the ability to threaten Hawaii and California. Congress buckled immediately, knowing the public would not tolerate casualties after the pullout of Baghdad and the seizure of Iraq by fundamentalist clerics leading a frenzied mob. So then cars were only made by Toyota, Suzuki, Nissan, etc. People complained and got GM and Ford opened back up. They couldn’t come back to speed very quickly though, and the lobbying group came right back before Congress. Finally a solution was reached; without gasoline, cars couldn’t run. Gasoline use was banned throughout the country. Ration tickets were issued for generators and other equipment for a few years, and finally it was banned for use by the general public. Gas could only be acquired by those who showed an absolute need, such as for large pieces of equipment run by corporations. Hydrogen powered cars came to the market, but all it took were a few explosions and several multi-billion dollar lawsuits and no car manufacturer dared to continue. GM and Ford shut down for good, and the Japanese took huge losses in closing their plants in the US.

Hence XB-34712’s amazement. He ran inside, knowing he was late. A buzzer went off as he ran into the class. “XB-34712: Late”. A ticket issued from the slot by the door. He knew it meant twenty minutes spent after school in “Remedial education”. Students were no longer given detention; that was deemed harmful to their self-esteem. Instead they watched videos about the greatness of the Bureaucrat and “The Grand Protectorate”, which watched over them all. Each video ended with the message, “Serve the Protectorate Well”. XB couldn’t understand those videos, what with the conflicting messages his parents gave him. XB took his seat.

“I have your projects graded, class. I must say I’m very pleased with the dioramas you constructed. They will be presented to a local level 34, fuschia-grade bureaucrat! Aren’t we excited?!” The class cheered. Except for XB. He couldn’t see what was so special about the bureaucrats. They kept issuing the same old messages: “Be calm. Be well. The Protectorate will provide.” They seemed like robots to him.

The teacher handed back grades on the assignment. XV-57496, sitting next to him, started crying when she saw hers. The paper read “ABOVE-AVERAGE” in big red ink. The student in front of her almost leaped when he read, “Excellent Job! Below average!” The teacher pulled both of them from their desks and put them in front of the class.

“Cease crying, XV-57496. I’ve told you time and time again to stop trying to be better. Haven’t I class?”

“Yes TH-83055.”

“XV-57496, explain yourself.”

“I wanted to do well! You said the assignment was to show the glory of the bureaucrats outlawing capitalism and seizing private money for the public good. Isn’t that something I should spend extra time on?”

“And ruin the average for your classmates?! How dare you think you are better than them! XQ-17569 knows better. He waits for the Protectorate to educate him to be better, along with the rest of his classmates. He knows that to be part of a whole, carefully moving towards progress, is better than trying to run ahead! Don’t you want the Protectorate to look out for you?!”

“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry. I’ll try to fit in with the class next time. I’ll wait for my education to improve, like everyone else.”

“Apology accepted, XV-57496. It is unfortunate that you had to be shamed in front of the class. Perhaps it was one of those pirate broadcasts that corrupted you; they will surely be processed by the bureaucrats.”

XB turned to his friend when she got back to her desk. “Why did you lie? XQ-17596 only got congratulated because he was lazy! Why keep yourself down?!”

XV-57496 hissed at him. “I’m sick of getting in trouble. This game is stupid! You and your stupid parents telling us to do well. All it does is get us yelled at! Your parents are stupid!”

TH looked up. “What was that? What did your parents say, XB-34712?”

“Nothing ma’am.” XB hoped she would forget about it. She was fairly clueless, which so far had let him and XV-57496 get away with achievement. But she would catch the two every once in a while, and XV-57496 seemed to bear the brunt of it. Probably because the rules were different for girls.

*Note: This story will be continued. Further note: I stole the numbers instead of names concept from Ayn Rand.*