In which Goodson Alan Grimmer meets Mr. Alistair Masterson, a man of stately mien and poise, at the inception of the event.
“All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities.”
Jury Selection has always been intense.
On the day of the selection, I and a hundred other Citizens were led into a large vestibule and made to wait. The cobalt door we had entered through was shut behind; the far door likewise closed. We lingered in this purgatory for what must have been only minutes, but in the cramped confines, pressed against the hot bodies of other Prospective Jurors, time faltered.
There was little to occupy us. The walls were bare but for one fixture: an ancient oil portrait of Judge Seagram, the great adjudicator, hung above the exit door. Limned in his later years, the legendary Juror’s hawkish face scowled between a scarlet tippet and cropped graying hair. Despite the angle at which his head was turned, the artist had elected to depict his one flaw: his right eye, which was said to have wandered of its own accord.
I knew of that particular defect just as I knew of many things. I had done my homework, for I intended to be selected.
“Ironic, isn’t it?” the man next to me had been following my gaze. “Justice is said to be blind. Did you know that the father of the Jury Selection Process was, in fact, blind in one eye?”
I told him that I did.
“The State exerts considerable effort to keep it from becoming common knowledge. I imagine few of this lot are aware,” he indicated the crowd about us with a dismissive thrust of his jaw before turning to me and offering his hand. “Masterson, Alistair Masterson.”
We had all been checked for weaponry before admission; I decided there was little danger in accepting it: “Grimmer, Alan Grimmer.”
“Alan Grimmer, of the Grimmer family?” I saw no need to explicate. “A bit high in the levels for all of this, aren’t you?
“Why I should be here is none of your concern.”
He frowned and nodded, “Yes, well…. In any case, I’m glad to see that you’ve kept fit.”
People often betray their vanities by bringing up in others what they want attention brought to in themselves. Though I guessed he must be at least a dozen years older than me, I had no doubt that his double-breasted suit—a pretentious anachronism in itself—hid extravagant physiological modifications. Yes despite whatever purchased youth he may have elected to have had done, Masterson sported the same salt-and-pepper hair as Judge Seagram. Another affectation: no one had gray hair unless they chose to.
“I understand there is a physical component to the selection process,” I replied.
“You have no idea,” he murmured and turned back to scan the crowd. Most were staring at some form of DigitlEx: üfones™ or Pholios™ among other brands and contraptions. A few had their eyes closed, presumably using D.I.S™ to access the Æthernet.
“The world is full of irony, my young friend,” Masterson said wistfully. “Judge Seagram would turn over in his grave if he saw how things have turned out.”
“It’s important for Society that all be allowed opportunity. The Selection is no exception. I’d wager that it is, in fact, the reification of such egalitarianism.”
“Yes, yes: ‘The Shining Ideal.’ Of course, Goodson Grimmer,”
And with that our conversation ended.
A horn sounded, and the entrance to the Forum opened. A man—or was it a woman? The figure wore the panoply of the Riot Authority, making it impossible to tell—stepped into the room. Its disembodied voice, metallic and
“Jury Selection will commence shortly,” the Authority’s voice came harshly metallic through its mask. “Digital Extensions are prohibited henceforth and must be deposited in this receptacle,” the Authority placed a white plasteel basket to the side of the entrance. “Electronic implants and D.I.S.™ will be disabled by EMP Flash™ upon crossing the threshold. Refusal to comply will result in disqualification effective immediately.”
I had painstakingly gone over the application and so of course had not brought any such device, but the sudden eruptions of protest and bewilderment evinced no such foresight on the part of my fellow Prospective Jurors.
A woman turned toward me, her wattled face rippling with disapproval. “Did you hear what the Authority said?” she demanded. “I don’t think I heard him correctly. There must be some sort of mistake!”
Others clucked in sympathy. I ignored them and instead followed Masterson who was already striding to the front of the room. He had identified my Level Origin immediately; no doubt he hailed from the Upper Levels as well. Of any present I guessed he would be my fiercest competition: I would need to keep an eye on him.
The horn sounded a second time, silencing the babble. Again the voice grated: “Noncompliance will result in immediate disqualification. If you choose not to give up your personal effects, leave as entered. Otherwise proceed to the entrance.”
At these last words, the door we had come through slid into its housing to provide retreat for those who would not go on. Yet still no one moved. The Authority slipped its Riot Cannon™ off its shoulder and trained it on the crowd. A wave of gasps rippled through the room. A cold thing awakened in my gut. I did not wish to be caught in a stampede, nor did I desire pacification by the Authority. I decided it was time to raise my voice.
My wife has told me that my readiness to intervene in situations that do not concern me will be my undoing. But one cannot change one’s fundamental nature. We are all cut from our own cloth and the Apotheosis says that our greatest weakness is paradoxically, also our greatest strength. In my case, this fundament would be the overarching compassion that I hold for every Citizen of the State, regardless of Level Origin.
“The Authority is trying to help. If you want to have a chance at Jury Selection, you’ve got to part with your Extensions: at least for the time being,” My words were met with vacant stares. “If you’re not comfortable letting those things go, just go back the way we came. It was in the contract that we all signed.”
“Fuck you, wing nut!” Someone yelled.
Another: “You’re not the Authority!”
And another: “You think you’re better than the rest of us?”
Masterson, who was now quite a ways ahead of me, turned back and shrugged in seeming sympathy, though a triumphal glimmer in his eyes belied it. I felt as though there were some lesson he expected me to learn, some challenge tacitly issued in his mute gaze.
The wattled woman pushed by as she headed back to the entrance, holding her Pholio™ tightly against her bosom. “They should have told us,” she grumbled. “They should have said something.”
Oh but they had told us, I thought. They had told us many times and in as many different ways. But it was dreadfully hot in that room and simmering with panic, and I wanted to be gone.
The Authority was as a statue at my approach; it moved neither head nor limb. Here was True Authority, inherent in weaponry and armor, replete in pose and frisson. I envied the individual behind the mask. Who could know which one of us it watched? Perhaps it watched us all, in simultaneity: this can be managed nowadays; such is the sophistication of our State technology.
I showed the Authority that I held nothing in my pockets and crossed the threshold into the hallway beyond.