It was fiction to be sure. High fantasy even. A hinter world, Malazan. And, yet, there it was: children are dying. Simple. Direct. A plea, a dire call to action, a binding recrimination.
What manner of world fictional or otherwise would deny these three words with the shrug of shoulders or stammering prevarication? We know that there are those who would walk away from Omelas. We know of those that would take up arms on Arrakis. Or sacrifice themselves on Hyperion. Still, children are dying.
Here, too. Mariupol. Aleppo. Homs. Taiz. Bamako. Port-au-Prince. Lahore. Dhaka. Sao Paulo. Detroit. Our hinter worlds. Children are dying. And we let it be.
But deathdouspart did not. When the three words children are dying flashed on the megatron of Super Bowl LXII—and stayed on. When every electronic transmission from that moment on included the tag children are dying. The world uproared and tried hard to ignore those three words, much like once-printed glossy, guilting images of innocents with bloated bellies and cleft palates.
Deathdouspart gave no succor. They were relentless and their message pervasive. The words children are dying were burned into humanity’s collective retina.
And words have meaning.
Worldwide, electronic media almost collapsed, but deathdouspart, the secretive holocracy that engineered the global campaign, would not let it. They provided a tool to act. Dubbed freeagency, the device was made freely available to be implanted in willing adults over the age of 30. The freeagency device was designed to release a deadly toxin when activated.
That activation was random.
When a child anywhere in the world died a wholly preventable death—as clearly defined by deathdouspart—a random freeagency device released its toxin and killed the “agent”.
Deemed ridiculous and suicidal by the establishment, freeagency nonetheless caught on. Look around: life is cheap while martyrs are chic. Not surprisingly, deathdouspart’s martyrdom got results. A lone child’s egregious death in Ukraine or Syria or Haiti, once local and virtually unnoticed and unsuffered, now had adult collateral damage.
Swift and random.
Sometimes high profile. Sometimes in dramatic fashion. A newscaster in Sydney keeling over on air. A world-famous athlete expiring mid stride during a game.
Freeagency didn’t solve the immediate crisis. It didn’t get at the root causes of why children are dying. But it called attention. Caused second thoughts. It slowly changed decision-making and behaviors. Every child’s fate was being linked to a greater network of adults, their destinies intertwined in a most tortured sense.
The stakes had been raised. And that’s how the hand was now played. With caution. With a good deal more intentionality. Wild cards were buried in the deck and gamblers didn’t know the odds—and they didn’t know whose numbers (or whose money) they were playing with anymore.
Children are dying, though not as many. Not as carelessly. And free agency is always ours to commit to until death do us part.