Author: Thomas Mills

Muscles ache to the point of insensibility. Crucified on a wrought iron framework, I wait. There. Listen. There it is again. In the distance….thunder? Or my imagination. Twenty-three other souls hear it. Infectious fear spreads among us. Lashed without mercy to insane lightning rods of attrition. Each metal cage enclosing us topped with a slender 20-foot shaft of iron.

Muted groans, cries and screams surround me. Death by electrocution is instantaneous when effected by lightning. That’s why we’re shackled. No escape. But, that’s how Relevant’s want it. For us to die an impersonal, blameless death. “You did this to yourselves.” I could hear them chanting, pointing. “It’s you,” they said. “You deserve to die. You are not Relevant. So says the Covenant. Repentance…is irrelevant.”

I cursed the person who’d stamped the cryptic numbers 463 94557 48 into each iron crossbar from which we hang. “God Wills It,” I said to myself.

“Screw the Relevant ones,” spat the unseen man on my left. Thunder rumbled. Closer. “What do they mean, the numbers?” he asked.

“Picture the numeric pad on a phone. Keys two through nine. Three capital letters on all but seven and nine. Each of which displays four letters.”

“Sounds complicated. Why?”

“I’d wondered about the numerals. Why they’re here? For what possible purpose? I couldn’t see any logic at first. Until I realized the keys contain all 26 letters of the alphabet. A through Z.”

“So…they spell something?” he said.

“463 94557 48 represents three words. God Wills It. Our accusers assuage their conscience by inscribing the means of our death. In code. Sublime deference. Acquiescence to the System. Adherence to the Covenant. Supplications from the Relevant. Not us.”

“The lousy Covenant,” cursed the unknown man.

The woman on my right had stopped talking three days ago. But she listened. I heard her sobbing as we spoke.

“The System is omnipotent,” I said.

“It’s a crap piece of hardware gone bad. Everyone knows that.”

“We’re to blame. We sold our souls for the sake of technology. Our deaths the horrific price. Total dependence on computers and artificial intelligence? Perfect logic. Pure insanity. The original software, created for our greatest altruistic aspirations, misinterpreted by the System.”

“Why did the System mandate the electrocution devices,” he asked.

“We grew irrelevant. The System applied irrefutable logic to the quasi-religious precepts of the Covenant. A sacrosanct, incontrovertible dogma.”

“That’s obscene. We strive for perfection. Develop advanced, experimental programming to determine who’s most relevant. Attempt to achieve the ultimate, most-advanced human civilization on Earth. Instead, we’re consigned at birth to the Covenant. To live in constant fear. Never allowing ourselves to become irrelevant… forever risking elimination.”

“Smartphones and implanted chips compile massive data on everyone,” I said. “Evaluated by computer models predicting definitive contributors to civilization…few measure up. Most are no longer relevant.”

“So, System Proctors hand-deliver dreaded, white summons cards bearing an embossed black heart. Loathsome death-dealers. Seems they’re quite relevant,” he said.

I didn’t reply. Everything he’d said was true.

“Forget the damned numbers and vilify the programmer who wrote the System software. He’s the one we should condemn.”

“I have. I do. And, I am.” My answer puzzled the man. I guessed as much from his silence. Lightning flashed. Thunder cracked in response. “I created the program,” I said.

Laughter echoed throughout the electrocution cages. Reflecting off iron plates and into my soul.

“You, of all people. You’re not relevant?” The man was incredulous.

“When I realized what I’d done, I stopped being relevant. Now, I read books, take walks, sleep in. I want to show people what relevance truly means.”