Fiction – “Total Security” by Arthur Carey
An alarm bell, muted but insistent, dragged Anton Tesler from dream-less sleep to grudging wakefulness.
He accessed the control pad by his bed and a screen flared to life on the opposite wall. It revealed a uniformed man standing by a desk. In the vast room behind him, other uniformed men and women labored at computer workstations.
“Capt. Lipksy, director,” said the man. “I am the night duty officer. We have achieved a significant change in the Level of Tranquility!”
The last vestiges of sleep vanished from Tesler’s mind.
“Tranquility is now at 99.99 per cent,” the officer said, excitement edging his voice. “The hunter/implantation team in the Amazon Basin has located and neutralized the last band of resisters. Treatment of the survivors is under way!”
“How many were there?”
“Sixty-two! Twenty-one males, 27 females and 14 children.” He lowered his voice. “It’s astonishing a group that size could have remained hidden so long.”
Yes, it was astonishing, Tesler thought, given that the full resources of the Guardian of Serenity Program had been employed to find them, not to mention the security services of Brazil, Peru, and Columbia.
The duty officer’s smile faded. “Six dead, all males who resisted. Some were posted as sentries and had inhalant alarms to detect sleeping gas. No casualties on the hunter/implantation team.”
Tesler nodded. “Outstanding work. Signal the team leader my congratulations.” He wasn’t concerned whether any of the resisters lived. Dead, or re-programmed, the Level of Tranquility had reached the long-sought goal of 99.99—the statistical equivalent of total coverage.
A wave of exultation swept over him. This would be the day, the day he could finally reveal the secret that had shadowed his every thought since he had become director of the Guardian of Serenity Program.
“I’m on the way in,” he said. “Order my car and request an immediate conference call with the World Council.”
“Yes, director.” The captain straightened. “Let Tranquility Reign!” he said. The screen grew dark.
Tesler slipped out of his nightwrap and entered the shower. As he stepped on the pressure-sensitive floor pad, the door slid shut and a spray of 84.5-degree water enveloped him. As he washed, the surround wall displayed his biorhythm profile for the day with physical, mental, and emotional lines displayed on a linear graph. It also reminded him he was 1.3 kilos overweight.
“Dry,” he gasped as the water temperature turned from hot to cool. Jets of warm air buffeted him. He stepped from the shower and walked to a closet, from which he selected a blue tunic with silver diagonal flash, symbol of the Guardian of Serenity project.
He was alone. His last pair bonding had ended several months before with the death of a long-time companion, Rakun DeMorney, due to heart failure. He switched on the holograph of DeMorney and glanced at it sorrowfully. “I wish you were here to share our triumph, Rakkie,” he whispered. “I wish you could see the world rejoicing.”
The 22st Century’s great killer, cancer, had been conquered, but not heart disease. Heartplants could save lives, but not if a heart failed suddenly without warning. Heart attacks still killed. One had killed DeMorney.
But Tesler was on borrowed time, too, for another reason. At 66, he had already been granted three two-year exemptions from the Universal Population Reduction Order because of his role as project director of the Guardian of Serenity Program. Today, with the Tranquility Level at 99.99 per cent, he would seek permission for the final field test of the program’s ultimate goal—Total Security. When Total Security was fully activated, his priority—and exemption—would likely end, although he might be one of the one-tenth of 1 per cent of the population granted Life Immunity for outstanding contributions to society.
The bubble car was waiting outside, hydrogen ion engine purring softly. He slid into the back seat. “Guardian of Serenity Center,” he ordered the robodrive. He opened his iTab and examined notes for the long-anticipated report he would deliver to the World Council. Squinting, Tesler reached into a pocket and pulled out an old-fashioned pair of eyeglasses. He never used them in public, but one of his corneal transplants—the second—was failing. Struggling to read fine print gave him headaches. A careful diet, regular exercise, age retardants, and implants had shaved 20 years off his age and kept him looking like a man in his 50s. He rubbed one hand over close-cropped gray hair, and concentrated on the report.
After a brief ride, the car pulled smoothly up to the executive entrance portal of the Guardian of Serenity Center. The passenger side panel flipped up and the seat rolled outward. Tesler emerged and stepped onto the floor belt, which began flowing smoothly into the center.
Once inside, he nodded curtly to staff members who were fluttering about and sat behind his desk. He immersed himself in paperwork, waiting for a visual link with the World Council. Behind him, occupying most of one wall of the center, was the Tranquility Board, a horizontal display of the continents, shimmering in green against the deep blue of the earth’s oceans. As he watched, a pinpoint of red flared and vanished in the horn of Africa. Another appeared and disappeared in China. These were the failures of Tranquility, he knew, situations in which security forces had arrived too late to prevent fatal acts of violence. But that would change after today.
“We have Bern,” a technician said. Tesler was in New York, historical birthplace of the old United Nations. But after the Internet and stock market meltdown in the early 21st century, a flurry of regional wars had almost bankrupted the United States. The dollar had yielded to the Euro. The European Combine had become the world’s economic, political, and military power. The desktop on his computer became a picture screen and the faces of the World Council members appeared. They controlled the direction, staffing, budget—life itself—of the project that he supervised.
“Let Tranquility Reign!” Tesler said. And today, it may.
The seven World Council members, elected for overlapping eight-year terms, appeared uneasy, wary at being summoned unexpectedly for a meeting with Tesler, who normally reported to them periodically with progress reports.
“Let Tranquility Reign,” responded Paul Nakaruma, his black face gleaming in the lights that bathed the council chamber. The presidency was rotated yearly, and Nakaruma, a Nigerian physician, sat in the center chair as presiding officer.
“We are at the threshold of Total Security,” Tesler said, pausing to let the words register fully. “What began as an experiment to control a small number of violent deviants decades ago is about to reach fruition as a global guarantee of peace and safety.” He began to summarize the history of the Guardian Project. Although most of the council members were familiar with the subject, they listened without interruption.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and demise of Communism, Tesler noted, the United States had continued briefly as the dominant military and political power. But within a few years, flashpoints of discontent flared in Bosnia, Palestine and Afghanistan. Shadowy groups of militants turned terrorists began to target Western nations for cultural and political reasons. Destruction of the World Trade Center Towers in 2001 by only 19 men affiliated with a splinter religious-political group was a harbinger of potentially lethal attacks by other disenfranchised groups. The bombing of the Tower of London in 2011 and the gas attack on the Vatican in 2017 that killed the Pope shocked the world. Some of the attackers died as suicide bombers; others escaped, flaunting their success on the Internet. Nations attempted to build moats of security around themselves with military forces, electronic barriers, undercover agents and bribery, but the attacks continued.
But in 2021, a Canadian doctor named Loveless had begun experimenting with nanomedical technology. His goal was developing appetite suppressants for dangerously overweight patients. Loveless discovered that by embedding tiny chips in the brain, he could monitor brain wave activity and record eating binges. This enabled him to monitor situations under which the binges loomed and cause mild electrical shocks to deter overeating. It was only a matter of time until security analysts for the World Council, successor to the failed United Nations, realized the surges of brain waves that preceded acts of violence by individuals might be a predictor of terrorist attacks.
The government put Loveless to work modifying his nanochip to detect potential violence, not eating binges. In a secret, unauthorized two-year experiment, violence-prone inmates in a Somali prison were implanted with the devices, now called Predictor Chips. Lethal attacks by prisoners who had their rice stolen, or sexual advances repulsed, dropped 96 per cent when prison guards could be alerted and intervene. Not all violence could be prevented, of course. Flash rages that produced immediate violence still produced fatalities. But these were the exception and statistically rare. Most assailants fueled their acts of violence with successive and mounting anger. Terrorism, indeed, murder and assault themselves, could be drastically reduced if they could be anticipated, the security analysts concluded.
“But, as you know, there was a problem.” Tesler paused. He had their full attention now. He continued, explaining that forcing implantation of the P-chips in prisoners and getting ordinary people to accept them voluntarily was something else. What would be the incentive? So the World Government decreed all newborn babies be implanted with health-care nanochips inoculating them against smallpox, typhus, and whatever other diseases were common in the area in which they lived. In Borneo, it was malaria; in Zimbabwe, sleeping sickness. A relentless public relations campaign on vid, radio, the Globenet, and billboards, in every country and in every language, bombarded people with the advantages of receiving a nanochip, now renamed the H-Chip, for health. Soon, people who refused the implants became pariahs, treated much like smokers in the 21st century.
At the start of the implant program, the world’s murder rate had stood at 9.61 per 100,000 persons. It began falling. Within eight years, 73.7 per cent of the world’s population had received the free implants. For the resisters, cash incentives were offered. The total implanted rose to 84.6 per cent. Some people refused the implants on religious grounds, and a national conference of religious leaders was called in Paris to discuss the problem. Soon, leaders of all major religions, impressed with the steady drop in murder rates, endorsed the implants. For criminals and the mentally ill, the implants were required.
By 2046, the implant level had risen to 95.2 per cent. In that year, the World Council ordered that remaining resisters be forcibly implanted. Some went into hiding in Asian jungles, Siberian steppes, Canadian ice fields, and densely populated urban centers. Rewards were offered. Electronic monitors scanned people in public places for noncompliance. Proof of implantation was required for hiring, issuance of official documents such as licenses and permits, business transactions, even purchase of consumer goods.
Slowly, as the years passed, in country after country, the percentage of the population with implants grew and the murder rate dropped. And terrorism decreased. If the emotions of a jilted lover in New York or a drunken sailor in Liverpool reached the level of rage, a signal was flashed to a satellite and returned to the nearest security detachment for response. What was the point of planning a bombing attack against a government installation, angry terrorists learned, if security police showed up expecting to find a potential murder and discovered a plot instead? An unexpected side benefit occurred. Military forces were no longer needed, and wars became a thing of the past.
“We know all that, director,” one of the councilors, a Frenchman, said rudely. He had unforgiving, feral eyes imprisoned in a florid face. A spider work of broken veins on his nose testified to a lifetime of enjoying wine.
“You haven’t called us together to give us a history lesson. Get to the point,” the Frenchman continued.
Tesler’s throat was dry. He sipped water from a glass at his right hand.
“No,” he said. “I haven’t requested this meeting to give you a history lesson, but rather, to acquaint you with something that you don’t know and to obtain permission for an experiment that could change the lives of everyone on the planet. You are aware of the only significant flaw in the Guardian system. On the occasions when an potential assailant’s level of rage is overwhelming, he can act before security forces can arrive to prevent violence.”
Several councilors nodded.
Tesler licked his lips. “When the previous project director died nine years ago, he left a coded message for his successor. When I became director, I was given the code. I accessed the message.”
He had their full attention now.
“The message informed me that when the chips were designed, an auto-destruct component was included.” He paused. “The chips can be exploded by a satellite signal, killing their owner instantly.”
“What!” sputtered the Pan-Asian representative to the council. “The chips are lethal! We were never told that!” Her shock was mirrored by the others.
“Nor was I,” Tesler explained hurriedly. “But we knew the designer of the chip, Dr. Loveless, was a genius. What we didn’t know was that his seven-year-old son had been the victim of a serial killer. He never fully recovered from that.”
“And he modified the implant chip to make it possible for security forces to execute people before they could kill?” asked the Oceania councilor, who, as Tesler recalled, was a sheep rancher on New Zealand’s South Island.
“Apparently so,” Tesler said.
“But the chip has never been used?” The last question came from a councilor from Japan. She was new and this was the first contact Tesler had had with her.
Tesler shook his head. “No. Loveless urged that it not be field tested until the implant rate had reached 99.9 per cent of the population. “That occurred at 11:31 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time today when a search team located, and implanted, a group of 62 resisters who had been hiding in the Amazon jungle.”
No one spoke.
“And what do you want from us,” the Frenchman asked bluntly.
“Permission to run a final controlled experiment to see if the destructive element of the chip works.”
“You mean kill someone,” the American councilor said. “Execute someone who is about to commit murder.” He was a professor, an acclaimed expert on macroeconomics. He was calm, precise, and logical.
“We need to need to be sure the satellite’s beam projector can successfully deal with multiple targets simultaneously,” said Tesler. “I’d like to run the test on three people in three different places. In theory, the electronic messages could blanket large areas if fired in dispersal mode. But that will never happen unless there are mass killings.”
“And if your test is successful?” the American asked.
“If it is successful, we can go beyond eliminating murderous acts. Once people know rage can lead to their deaths, not just their apprehension, all types of violence should decrease. The world will be at peace.”
“We’ll discuss your proposal and get back to you,” said President Nakaruma after a lengthy silence. The screen went blank.
Tesler signed off and slumped back in his chair. It was out of his hands now. The minutes ticked by. He didn’t know whether that was a good sign or a bad one. The Tranquility Board wrapped around three walls of the command center pulsed green in those areas in which it was still night. But in areas where it was day, the green was speckled with dots of red.
After 21 minutes, the view screen flickered to life.
“The council has approved your proposal for a test limited to three individuals,” the president said, frowning. “Our decision was not unanimous. We will make a final decision about whether to implement the system fully or not after your test. What is your time frame?”
Tesler felt the air drain out of him. “Within the hour,” he said. With a population of 12 billion people straining the earth’s resources, someone, somewhere, at that moment was being driven to frustration, anger and rage. The abolition of war and virtual eradication of disease had increased the population despite stringent anti-birth measures. Early hopes to bleed off population increases with settlement on other worlds had proven expensive and inadequate. The population bomb was always ticking, and crowding created stress, which led to violence.
Nakaruma nodded. “Notify us of the test results immediately. We shall remain available.” The screen went blank.
Tesler rotated his chair and turned to his senior staff aide, who had been waiting quietly behind him. “Program the Guardian III computer for three terminations in different countries,” he said. “Check the satellite uplink and verify generator capability.”
It took 14 minutes. During that time, an angry farmer in Ceylon was dissuaded by police from attacking a neighbor whose water buffalo had trampled his rice crop. A furious trucker whose cargo of vegetables had been scattered on the Washington Superway in New York City after a collision with a drunk driver was restrained from beating the driver with a tire iron. And dozens of other places around the world, more people, 98 per cent of them male, considered, and then rejected, violence for a variety of reasons.
But not everyone everywhere. Isolated red dots appeared on the Tranquility Board.
The Guardian III’s programmers had never used the termination mode on a civilian population. Despite that, they completed their task—directing the computer to terminate the next three persons whose anger reached the murderous level anywhere in the world. Tesler noted the time in his personal log. It was an historic moment.
“Send the command,” he ordered. A link was activated and in seconds it directed the satellite to select three situations out of 453 in its threat-level recognition bank. Unaware they were about to die, a sobbing, bleeding wife in Calcutta raised an ax over the sleeping form of her drunken husband, who had just beaten her for the last time…the desperate father of an unwanted newborn girl that he could not feed prepared to commit infanticide in China…and a drug addict in Toronto held a jagged bottle to the throat of a cowering drug dealer who had just killed his friend with an overdose of impure heroin.
The computer dispatched a message to the Guardian satellite, which flashed bursts that instantaneously exploded the chips in all three persons. The Guardian III removed them from its memory banks. On the status board, where the three individuals were being monitored, three red dots vanished.
Tesler notified the council. “The test was successful. We can implement the system when you give permission.”
President Nakaruma put the issue to the other councilors. All members voted “yes.” Within the hour, the president, flanked by other councilors, appeared on telescreens throughout the world. “Today is historic,” he said. “Today we have learned that not only will the H-chip we all possess predict violence, it can also prevent it. Those intent on taking the lives of others will find they themselves must pay the ultimate price; others will draw back and restrain their murderous impulses. We have said, ‘Let Tranquility Reign!’ and now it shall!”
Cheers and shouts exploded in the lab. Someone handed Tesler a paper cup with champagne. He permitted himself a sip and a rare smile. As news of the test and the council’s approval of Total Security spread around the world, celebrations began. On the screens in the control rooms, images flashed of dancing and singing at the World Trade Center Memorial in New York. Pope Angela I appeared on a balcony in St. Peter’s Square in Rome and blessed a crowd of thousands. Car horns honked and strobes illuminated the Eiffel Tower. Fireworks burst behind the Taj Mahal in India, outlining it in blazing bands of red and yellow and blue. Along the bottom of vid screens across the globe, in dozens of languages, the words appeared: “Tranquility Reigns!”
Thirty feet beneath Tesla’s feet, in its air-conditioned vault, the Guardian III computer system evaluated its new responsibility. It completed a diagnostic appraisal that calculated the time loss, electrical drain, and estimated mechanical wear on its beam dispensers from the expanded assignment, which now involved termination. Assessing the data, the computer concluded that a substantial saving of energy and mechanical wear could be affected over time by mass, rather than on-going, detonation of the chips.
Efficiently, without delay, it transmitted a signal to the Guardian of Serenity satellite. The signal generated the dispatch of electronic messages, invisible and silent, that rained earthward in successive waves. They were delivered to tribes isolated in jungles, fishermen at sea, sports fans in stadiums, millionaires in concrete and steel towers, and vagrants sheltering in doorways. Billions of H-chips detonated. Tesler, who was in the process of raising his cup for a second sip of champagne, blinked and fell to the floor.
In the Guardian of Serenity Center, the status board glowed an unbroken green. Only the hum of air-conditioning broke the silence.
It was quiet. And safe. And totally secure.
Arthur Carey is a former newspaper reporter and journalism instructor who lives in the San Francisco Bay area. He is a member of the California Writers Club. His fiction has appeared in Funny Times, Future Mysteries Anthology Magazine, Writers’ Journal, Humor Press, Dark Treasures Anthology, Humdinger Magazine, Another Realm, Infinite Windows, Electric Dragon Café, Golden Visions Magazine, Darkened Horizons, Bewildering Stories, Suspense Magazine, Still Crazy, Horror House and Emerald Tales.