Verity found herself in her Mind Palace, with Reid.
There was something he had been dying to show her. “You gotta see this, you gotta...” his New-World enthusiasm was touching. She had agreed to go and see it.
As they walked in from the terrace, she could instantly tell that something was amiss. There was the familiar enfilade with its beautiful, eccentric rooms, as elaborately decked-out as ever with her voluminous, unmarketable knowledge. Everything looked exactly as it should. But there were unwelcome overtones. As if she were viewing the scene accompanied with a depressing or disturbing soundtrack. It was almost as if it were not her own mind any more.
Reid was indicating something: a black, crystal-like connector on the door-frame of the Music Room. A black cable led from it, along the skirting, apparently all the way through the enfilade of which the Music Room formed part. Verity didn’t recall having seen either cable or connector before. Reid was explaining that it was a new installation: every British mind was to be fitted with one, and she was privileged to be among the first.
“How do they know it works, then? If it’s new? And how do they know it won’t do me any harm?”
No answers. She would have to ask again, more gently, in a minute or two. English Method.
“D’you know, we couldn’t have these in the States: not Constitutional. But you Brits, you’re gonna get the first, you’re gonna be the pioneers. Just figure: you, out-pioneering us! I’m real envious, you know”
They walked along the enfilade: all Verity’s References, her Language Lab., even the damaged Portrait Gallery, which she finally had no qualms about showing Reid since he already knew about her inability to recognise faces, were wired-up with the black cables.
And in every room, as Reid seemed proud to point out, fine threads linked each item to the connector near the door. Every book in her References, every disc in the Language Lab., every portrait, even every joke in the joke store. Grizzly with his AK-47 notwithstanding.
Hey, how did they get in there, through the Password-protect?
Verity touched one of the threads: it stuck to her hand and felt unpleasant, and stretched a little as she tried to let go of it. But it didn’t snap.
“Can they be disconnected?”
“No. They’re hard-wired”
“What’s it for? I mean, why go to the trouble of installing this at all?”
“It’s like this, Verity. What is it, well, was it, in your mind, that was all-pervasive? That, kinda oversaw all the knowledge, all the skills, that you have? Dictated your attitude to everything you know? Huh?”
Verity was stumped
“Fair enough: I guess that’s like asking a fish what water tastes like. It was your conscience. Nothing in here, in this Palace or Grounds, remained untouched by it, huh?”
“No, I suppose not. I always bring it with me whenever I’m thinking about, well, anything, really. Except absolutely abstract stuff like Maths problems or Crosswords. Plus I don’t think my dreams always obey it”
“Well I’ve got news for you: not everybody has a conscience that works as well as yours did: that is as controlling as yours was. For example: you always tell the truth, don’t you?”
“Did?...Was?...Past tense? Is that because I, well I had to, I lied at Sanmonto, and in front of you when you were asking about, about my experiences in Russia. And, I let the Minister of Agriculture carry on believing that I was...was...” Verity suddenly remembered that Reid didn’t know about her stint as the Bony Woman of Death, and stopped mid-sentence: looked at her feet.
“OK, grant the exceptions for your own or others’ self-preservation” he smiled.
Yes, that’s a kind way of looking at it I suppose. Preservation of life...
But Verity was mortified about having lied. Perhaps she needed a new Conscience after all.
“So, like I was saying: this new installation is a replacement, an upgrade if you like, for Conscience. It’s, kinda more standardized: more reliable. Compatible with every mind, no matter how small or dysfunctional. We call it the Enhanced Conscience”
Verity didn’t like the sound of that
“How does it work, then?”
“These threads that you see, link everything to the central node in your Communications Room”
They were walking towards it as Reid was explaining: all the information in her mind would find its way to one point. Verity didn’t think that sounded like a good idea, like a good communications architecture: what if that one point were to fail somehow? Or get sabotaged, or hacked? A mind was supposed to work as a distributed network, after all: it worked by associations.
There was the node: a giant black crystal on a slim metallic-looking stand. It was slightly transparent: Verity found, looking right into its depths, that it had a dark red glow at its heart. Not unlike the glow on an AudioCard in Record mode.
And there was a thick cable leading away from it, out of the room!
“Where does that go?” she asked nervously.
Oh, perhaps there’s a back-up somewhere? That would be sensible...
“Oh, I think you can guess where”
Verity blanched: the image of her thoughts showed up on the walls. Radomes: giant dishes.
“Yes, that’s where it goes: all of it. And when it gets there, it’s all stored. Forever. It’s cross-referenced with everyone else’s: all automatically searched for connections, patterns, habits. It’ll be infinitely searchable when the project’s completed, including searching backward in time_”
He was brought up short by the expression on Verity’s face
“Hey, why the horrors?”
“Isn’t it...obvious? I...sort of...everyone would know everything”
“But isn’t that a good thing? The sharing of knowledge_”
“Not that sort of knowledge, no. And, I don’t know, the people who get to see it...get to see everything in my Mind Palace. Personal things: private things. I mean, if it happened to you, wouldn’t it, give you the creeps?”
“No. I’ve got nothing to hide_”
“The stuff you told me about your mind being bi-stable? That’s personal, isn’t it? And, er, your entire past career? Doesn’t it, make you feel bad? If you, er, met somebody and realised you, cared about them and wanted to...live with them...wouldn’t you, at least, want to tell them about your past...in your own time? Not, have it up there for all to see?”
“Oh, it’s not for all to see, you misunderstand. Don’t worry: it’s only a very few people get to see this. Only the Team there, who’ve got Clearance: it’s Top Secret”
“Wait a minute! In our country’s law, if something, anything, gets classified Top Secret, then it’s illegal to tell it to anyone! So, I won’t be able to, tell anyone, what’s on my mind! Or share my knowledge_”
“Now you’re not being serious_”
“I am! Really! The law says, even if the person you’re telling has other ways of finding out the information, heck, even if they already know the information, if it’s you that told them, then, technically, you’ve broken the law. You can go and look it up if you don’t believe me!”
“Oh come on! How many people will have been prosecuted for a thing like that?”
“I don’t know!”, said Verity peevishly, “It’s...probably an Official Secret!”
Reid tried a new tack.
“Look, tell you what all this will mean eventually: no more lies! Least, not about anything important, like terrorism or crime. Imagine, no more need for those kinds of interrogations I used to do, that you got so upset about_”
“But there isn’t anyway! Firstly, they didn’t give you any useful information, that’s what came out in that Senate report, and second, there’s the English Method! And till we get enough people fluent in that, there’s what we use in Britain at the moment: it’s called P.E.A.C.E.*: it’s non-confrontational and it works, really well!”
“But think of how much easier all that’s gonna be if they already have all this background information. And, to help the fight against international crime, terrorism, all the information is automatically shared with_”
“Don’t tell me let me guess: our Allies. Interrogators, like you”
Reid was smiling
“...It’ll be like, the truth’s, laid bare_”
“HEY! MY CLOTHES!!”
Verity put her hands across her chest, ran behind the black crystal and called, desperately, for more clothes.
She sprinted off to the Music Room: remembered there was something there that she could use. Yes, there it was: soft, alive, silent with its golden embroidery. She wrapped her Right To Silence round her, fastened it above her chest like a big warm sarong, and walked back to carry on her conversation with Reid.
Only, she couldn’t say anything!
She could hear Reid, though. He seemed most amused by the whole thing. Perhaps, she thought, he was finally getting the hang of Irony.
And there was so much that she wanted to say. So much that needed said!
The information, or the inferences drawn from it, might have mistakes in! Criminalising innocent people, or quietly ruining their careers or finances. Top Secret: no comeback...
The information might get hacked...or corrupted...
...or used maliciously by individuals who had access to it...
...or simply sold-on! That was what the previous government had tried to do with everybody’s medical records, after all.
The government might change for the worse: a malicious or venal government could do untold harm with that kind of searchable information.
Then again, even with the best of intentions, governments and firms make mistakes: people have to organise to come out and protest against, for example, that nuclear power station someone wants to build on a fault-line, that mining which would ruin the water supply, or that sell-off which might put national security at risk. A country is a system: it needs Negative Feedback, to stay stable: stay on track...
And above all that, it could be said, holding that much information about everyone was simply wrong in principle: people wouldn’t dare do anything. It would stifle any effort to influence government for the better, before it even started. Stifle proper Democracy...
Reid, remember “Nineteen Eighty-four”?...
Yes, so much that needed said...
And here she was, with the only protection from this monstrosity being absolute silence. Raising her voice to protest against it would require her to stand stark naked before it.
What a strange phrase, ‘Stark naked’. Where did that first word come from?...
The Stark Effect...electric field splitting the lines...no, that was just somebody’s name: its discoverer, Physicist Johannes Stark. Presumably German. Stark: German for Strong. Sister language...
You’re going to have to do this, Player. Going to have to be strong. If not you, who?
Reid, you’re in for a bit of a shock.
Verity reached for the top corner of her quilt...
And woke up.
* Chapter 9 p.167, "Investigative Interviewing", Tom Williamson (ed.), Routledge September 2013