Freedom, Forever

They called him a tailor. He was not a tailor, of course, but a scientist, and a very intelligent one. There had been a time where he had been on the forefront of new developments, a man of power, influence and impeccable taste.

Prometheus, schoolchildren were taught, took fire from the gods. But instead of using it to warm, they used it to burn, scald, annhilate. This was true. This was all true.

On the offworld colonies, on the red stations, the transport lines of the Gamma Quandary, the name Prometheus was almost forgotten, now. A name from a darker epoch. Nothing more than a petty yet dangerous thief.

The tailor had belonged to Prometheus, long ago. Now he had no fire left to steal. He sat in a dark room, an empty room, over a little lamp. His hand was inside a mechanical gauntlet, all bronze and glowing lights. A dim monitor flickered, its image being manipulated by the shaded hand.

Prometheus took fire from the gods, and his liver was eaten by an eagle.

Mary gasped, retching. She didn't know where she was, how she was, what was going on, why would-

"Hi! Er, sorry. That happens, sometimes. It's, er, Mary Woodward, right?"

A thin, nervous man was in front of her. She thought he was thin and nervous. It was difficult to tell. She tried to move her arms, but they didn't respond.

The room was grey. Pale light was streaming out of… god, what had happened? She felt like she'd woken up from a long dream. She'd- she'd been in a showroom, and the men had been-

Oh god.

"You, um. You might find things aren't quite working as they used to. But we can fix that. We think. We've got all the time in the world, now, you see."

The others had been going away for months. Krešimira. Bojan. She'd been surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and they'd taken her to the floor, and-

And then…

"I'm sorry to tell you, that, well, it's been a while. A long while. Things have, um, changed recently, you see. About a hundred years ago. And we've finally been able to correct some of the mistakes of the past, and, well-"

The tailor was balding. He'd been balding for centuries. He couldn't remember much of a time when he wasn't balding. He moved his hand, slowly, slightly.

Images moved, a fraction at a time. It all had to be just right. The computer did a lot of it, but automation's problems were never fixed. There was always a need for a human touch, to iron out the errors.

Electrons, electrical movements, intricate knowledge of parts and placement. He was ideal for the job. He knew how to frazzle and fry, and scald.

He remembered penthouses. He remembered looking out, and understanding the nature of power. Frail twilights, while the electric colours danced behind him. Young women becoming older women becoming younger women.

There had been a person, once, named Greene. He wondered what had happened to them. Something about Greene's smile had always disconcerted him. He couldn't remember what. None of them could remember what.

It was a frail twilight here, too. What little was left of sunlight poured in through the windows, as he stitched and mended and fixed the thing before him.

Two poles. She could do this. She had once been fit and fresh, only five minutes ago.

One foot forward. Two feet. Ignore Augustus's babbling, he only made things worse. Third foot. Fourth-

Mary collapsed, face-first, onto the mats. She felt Augustus's hands pick her up, carry her, place her in the wheelchair. "Never mind, Mary", he said, with a little smile. "We can try again, whenever you're ready.

"I don't know if I ever will be", she said. But she didn't say that. A series of sounds came out of her mouth, echoing in the tinny refractions which were all she could hear. They weren't correct, but maybe Augustus could understand enough to-

"Could you say that again, please?"

She saw a thin nervous man. She heard a thin, nervous man's voice. But it was all skewed, fragmented, pieced together imperfectly. Her memories had holes. She couldn't remember.

They'd told her she'd been liquid.

But she couldn't remember. There was… something there. A sensation that nobody should ever experience. But she hadn't died. Her atoms and electrons were still communicating with one another, thousands of miles apart, and the clever men of this world of tomorrow had put her back together. But she was wrong, all wrong, all was nothing, just dancing in the dark.

One thousand years, they'd said. One thousand years of solitude.

The tailor left work. He locked up after him; he always worked late. He stepped onto the street, and walked.

Above him, sky-trams and neo-maglevs coursed their way through the air. You could hardly see the sky anymore, but it had all become so beautiful, so clean. Function had become so easy that the artist and the architect could turn their energies to other things, to smooth lines and happy cacaphonies of discordant styles.

It was all beyond him, now. He'd forgotten so much. They all had.

And then he'd remember, they'd remember, at the worst moments. Sudden flashes of a past that was wrong. Those who remembered death, those who remembered being far too alive. He'd see them in a park, his new creations, or the creations of those like him. Trying to walk, move, feel.

He remembered another tram, when he'd been young. The first time he'd been young. He'd been old when the reaper had passed away, and he could still remember the old trams, rattling through Old New York a millenium ago. He'd collected coins running into gutters. He'd been poor, and proud of it.

Things die, he thought, even when they don't.

He walked home, quietly, head down. The lovers in the twilight ignored this old man, frozen with a half-bald head forever. He reached his little apartment, designed to be cosy but happy, and opened the door.

It was not cosy or happy. He did not cry bitter tears of regret; he drank some milk, and went to sleep.

She felt like she wasn't a person any more.

People are natural. They might have flaws, faults, things that need correcting, but it all flowed from natural impulses, experiences. A world that was one.

She'd been soup in a jar for a thousand years, splashed across the ocean and bound together by strange machines. She was a constructed thing. Did souls exist? Did she still have one if they did?

She'd wake up and it'd still feel like a dream. Her eyes would tell her things that didn't exist. She'd look out of the window at orange autumn skies, and want to know what she was still here. Augustus didn't say. She thought he was handsome, but she couldn't quite make it out.

She thought herself only as a thing, suspended on a wire, waiting for an impossible death. The new bodies had all their kinks ironed out; like the humans of old, except without aging, and still without death. An infinity of starlight shining on a perfect world, centuries to fix the old problems and old sins.

Across space, there were people dancing, on curves of light burning on forever. Colonies of pleasure, pain, meaning, every last variation people could think of to stave away the boredom. The limits of memory helped, the constant changes in personhood helped too. The infinite didn't seem so infinite when you could do it all for the first time, again, without even realising it.

And she had none of it. A bygone remnant from an ill-remembered age.

She was a broken thing.

How many ways are there to dig yourself out of the dirt?

Slums. Corporate surgeries. Aging and collapse turning people into a pulp of dust and flesh, barely dreaming through the pain. A stagnant society was the order of the day when new blood never got a chance to rule. It was a living hell, for so long.

But there's always hope, and hope can blossom into something more. Century upon century went past, and things began, slowly, gradually, to get better. First there were the exoskeletons, then the better designs that removed, or added, some of the kinks, then the clone bodies, then the artificial growths, then…

The thing about power is that it doesn't last forever. And it has trouble reasserting itself while still in living memory of old forms of tyranny. And so, things got better. Overcrowding was fixed by endless exploration into the dark spaces. Hunger was fixed by new bodies, grown and made and altered at mankind's whims. Paradise came to Earth, as the last of the New Kowloons were torn down, as everyone became equal under the law, as the people became free.

And then there was Prometheus.

Criminals still had to be punished, of course. But how could you punish Prometheus? They had done so much. The new notions for humane forms of punishment weren't enough for them. They had to be made to understand their sins. How could we make them feel, truly feel, what they had done?

In a dark corner, in an unknown boardroom, a plan was created.

And so, every day, the men and women of Prometheus came to dark warehouses, with monitors lined in rows upon rows. They put on mechanical gauntlets, and frowned low over their screens, helping to fix that which they had broken.

As long as electric impulses continued to fly between the parts of every brain as a discrete unit, it was possible to track them all down. The great machines, automated drones, would fly from sea to sea, rock to rock, sky to sky. They trawled the stars for those burnt in the sun. They trawled the ocean floor for tiny atoms floating in the dark, winking out odd signals. Plastic bags were broken into, their shrivelled contents liberated.

Nobody asked them if they wanted to wake up. Nobody asked them if they wanted to be brought back wrong.

The men and women of Prometheus returned to their small, miserable dwellings. Some of them were sorry, and wept bitter tears of regret.

Some of them did not.

Mary looked out with broken eyes. The park was green, and she stood on her two feet.

Augustus was smiling at her. He was nice. Centuries old, but then again, so was she. She raised her arms- an arm- something approaching her arms, and felt the wind whistle against her skin.

She saw the world in shades of red and grey and orange. It wasn't right. It wasn't how it "should" be. But the construction of the Earth allowed for its anomalies, here and there. Things were different, she was different, and nobody would be exactly like her. In an instant, a singular instant, here and there, she could be happy.

Children played in the park, the strange games of their own devising. They laughed and sang and sauntered, unaware of their frailty. They'd leave, one day, for new pastures up in heaven, while the Earth would sing on in its ancient way. Augustus was smiling at her, his head on one side and his limp hair tousled about.

She wondered what she'd do, forever, in paradise.

But then the sky darkened, and began to weep, gushing out strange tears of incandescent light. And then the colours seemed to sag, and she wondered how this could be paradise, after all.

The tailor went to work. He didn't cry. He had a job to do. He sat in a dark room, at one glowing monitor in a room full of glowing monitors.

The screen flickered to life. The usual reds and greens and blacks began to crystallise on it, logos and menus and instructions. There was a note, in the top-right corner of the page.



The man's faced moved. Its blankness was gone, just for a moment. But you'd be hard pressed to say what the emotion which passed over him was. He paused, for a second, and began to go to work.

Everything dies, he thought. Even in a world without death, it all dies. Pleasure, pain, comfort, care, colours, the mind, paradise. It all dies in the dark, alone and screaming.

You're never really free.

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