Author: Jim Anderson
A bell rang and the finding room fell silent.
The finder — a small, silver-haired woman in a lavender robe — turned to Ulrich and said, “A simple question, Citizen. Do you believe in one objective, mechanistic reality governed by the laws of Newtonian physics?”
“I don’t believe in any reality in which that’s a simple question.”
“Yes or no, Citizen.”
The wise strategy was to lie. But Ulrich had already showed a lack of wisdom.
“Heretic!” The prosecutor sprang to his feet. “He admits his guilt.”
“Finder, my client is insane,” the defender said. She stayed seated and seemed bored by the proceeding.
“Thank you both,” the finder said. She turned again to Ulrich. “Explain your view.”
“Why? So that you can declare me a heretic or a lunatic? The punishment is the same.”
“There is no punishment. Only treatment. Admittedly, the treatments are similar, but that’s to be expected. The law defines heresy as a type of insanity.”
A brain-wash either way, Ulrich thought. He understood why others ran. Had Julie? Maybe. He only knew that the apartment was empty when he came home from his shift supervising the Sector 112 excavations. His mistake was looking for Gil and Vega. The Doctrine cops had their place staked out.
Julie, Gil and Vega. All gone. Disappeared. Were they hiding? Were they being held incommunicado? Washed and witless? Dead?
“Big fish seldom make it to a public finding,” Julie once told him. “Stay small. If you get caught in the net, profess your love for Newton’s Laws.”
Staying small meant staying away from her. Ulrich couldn’t do that. He couldn’t lie about his view of reality, either. Now he’d get a proper washing. He’d be a new man. He’d forget Julie.
“Will you explain your view?”
Ulrich shrugged. “Reality is like an onion.”
“Multi-layered. We only live in one.”
“How do you know other layers exist?”
“It’s a model put forward generations ago, along with several others that came after Newton. The state banned them all and destroyed much of the supporting evidence.”
“Why destroy knowledge?”
“The models led to technologies we weren’t ready to control, to weapons that rendered the surface of the planet uninhabitable.”
“That sounds like recitation. Have you simply replaced one doctrine with another?”
“I’m an engineer, not a physicist. Newtonian physics works fine for me. I understand it. But people I trust have studied the other models and found some compelling. They are peeling the onion. I want to help.”
The prosecutor was on his feet again. “Finder, the state no longer seeks a determination of heresy. An insanity finding serves our purpose. Anything to shut him up!”
“Far from shutting up, I’d want him to sing,” the finder said. “Enhanced interrogation is my order. Call my team.”
Three officers in helmets and body-armor entered from a side door.
The defender stood. “The defense asks the finder to reconsider.”
The finder waved her off.
Ulrich marched out of the room between two of the officers. Each grasped one of his arms above the elbow with a power-glove. Beyond the door, the third officer came up behind him and dropped a hood over his head.
Denied sight, Ulrich stopped walking. He expected to be dragged, but the power-gloves released him.
The floor gave way, and he… floated downward.
Not far. His feet touched a firm surface. He heard familiar voices.
Somebody pulled off the hood. Air moved around him, fresh and fragrant.
Julie leaned in and kissed him.
“Ick,” she said. “Have you been eating onions?”