Discovery And Destruction
"I suppose they are rather amazing," Isolde said as she looked around her.
"Of course they're amazing, they're simply marvelous!" Josh took her hand and led her deeper into the dome. "Come, I work mostly in the center."
They reached their destination and Josh sat her down in a chair, in front of a large board full of switches and levers. "See, this part here controls the temperature, and this section..." He explained as best he could how the domes were regulated and some of the technology behind them. He had wanted to show her the interior of one of the domes for quite some time, but Isolde was reluctant to go. After a bit of persuading, she finally agreed to accompany Josh for one day.
"Before Mother Brain, none of this existed," he told her. "Without her, everything here would have been impossible."
Isolde simply nodded. "Come," he said, "I want to show you some of the AIs at work."
Before they knew it, the day was over and they had to leave for home. "So what did you think?" Josh asked.
She shrugged her shoulders. "I guess I'm not too interested in farming."
He smiled at her. "That's okay, I understand not everyone is."
When they reached the borders of the village, he turned to her. "Do you want me to walk you home?"
"You don't have to," she said, kissing him on the cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow," she told him.
They went their separate ways and Josh entered his house. It was empty. "Father?" he called. There was no answer. Just as he was about to search the village, Stephan came in through the front door.
"Father, where..." Josh stopped short when he saw the expression on his father's face. "Father, what's wrong?" he asked.
Stephan shook his head as he sat down in his armchair. "I don't know," he said. "I wish I did.
Josh sat down across from him. "Where were you?"
"I went to see Isolde's parents while you two were gone," Stephan said.
Stephan frowned as he leaned forward in his chair. "It was like seeing ghosts," he told his son. "They wouldn't tell me what had happened, but I knew there was something. Edmund looks like he's in constant pain and now walks with a limp, while Helene is now one of the most nervous beings I have ever seen. She can't sit still, even for a minute. She keeps getting up to look out the windows, or to help Edmund with something..." He shook his head sadly. "Something must have happened to them, though for the life of me, I can't even imagine what." He looked up at his son. "Has Isolde mentioned anything?"
"No. Nothing." Josh stood up. "I should go talk to her," he said, heading for the door.
"Joshua, it's too late. Even though we both want to find out the truth so we can help them, it will have to wait. You'll see Isolde tomorrow."
Josh saw that arguing would be futile, so he sat back down. "Isolde spoke of the past exactly once," he told his father. "She was clearly upset, but she wouldn't tell me why. She just changed the subject."
"I see." Stephan looked at his watch. "Well, it's no use worrying about it now, I'm sure we'll find out all in good time. Now I'm going to sleep."
As opposed to the day before, Josh felt like his shift dragged on for eternity. When he finally got to Isolde's house, he led her to the same tree they had sat under last time she had mentioned her former life. "Isolde, I want you to tell me what happened to you and your family while you were gone," he blurted out.
She looked away from him. "Please don't make me," she whispered.
"I need to know." He took her small, cold hands in both of his. "It's obvious something happened, please tell me."
She curled herself into a ball again and began to speak. "I didn't understand it until I was older, why we moved from place to place in search of work and a home. I think I was a teenager before I finally realized there were no jobs in the cities. Everything was controlled by the government! And people didn't even seem to care that they were doing nothing with their lives, that they were just sitting around idly as Mother Brain took care of everything."
She wrinkled her nose at the mention of Mother Brain. "Eventually, my family, especially my father, got a bad reputation. Because he always was looking for a job, the townspeople deemed him a threat to Mother Brain and the rest of their society. They couldn't understand wanting to do any work when Mother Brain was there to provide for them."
A cool breeze swept through the field and Isolde pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. "The rumors started spreading. Just because he had different beliefs than those of the city folk, they hated all of us. It got so bad that Agents of the government came to us and told us to leave. My father hated to give in, but we had no choice. We went from town to town, but everywhere we went, we were already known! It had never occurred to me until then: the buildings, with the flashing lights and power lines...Mother Brain had taken control of everything! Every city was connected so they could immediately know of any threat to the government!"
Josh started to say something, thinking she was finished, but Isolde went on. "The last time we tried entering a town, it didn't take long for them to find us. We weren't even there an hour before we were confronted. Almost the entire city was screaming at us, telling us they didn't want any dissidents or traitors in their town. As soon as my father tried to protest, they attacked him."
She was sobbing now. "My mother and I watched as he was beaten nearly to death. When they were finished and he was lying, bleeding on the street, one turned to us and told us we'd be next. That's when we left and came here."
Josh put his arms around her in an effort to comfort her. "That's horrible," he finally said. "I can't believe anything like that would ever happen." He looked a bit confused. "But surely you can't think that Mother Brain was the cause for all that. With all the good she's done for Mota..."
Isolde sharply pulled away from him and turned to face him. "Josh, don't you get it? She's not helping Mota, she's destroying it! She's trying to make every single one of us a lazy, bumbling fool so we all won't oppose her!"
Josh was a bit taken aback by this outburst, but Isolde went on. "Face it, Josh, do you honestly think you will still be working in ten years? By then, the domes and everything else will probably be fully automated so you and the rest of the farmers will be like everyone else. Soon, you and all your coworkers will be sitting around at home, doing absolutely nothing with your lives! When everyone is finally convinced that they don't need to work and Mother Brain will provide them with whatever they need, that's when everything will collapse."
"Even if what you say is true, what can we do about it? You said it yourself, Mother Brain is much too strong and powerful for the people of Mota to rise against her."
"I don't know." She stood up and turned from him. "It's probably too late. Nothing can be done, the effects of her work are most likely irreversible. There's nothing for us to do but sit back and wait for it all to fall."
Josh wished he knew what to say to her, but he had no response. She came back to where he was sitting. "You wanted to know, so I told you," she gently reminded him. "But it's probably for the best if you just forget this night. Forget all I told you, everything you've heard, and go on living the way you have been. We'll all be happier because of it."
"How can I forget?" he asked, bitterly. "I don't know what to think anymore, about my work, about the government that rules me, even about you." Now he stood up to leave.
"Why should your feelings about me be any different? I haven't changed."
He sighed. "I know, I know." He started walking away. "Just give me a day or so to digest everything you've told me."
When Josh got to the domes the next morning, he carefully studied his surroundings. He did enjoy his work and felt that he was doing his part to contribute to the well-being of Mota, and therefore could not understand how Isolde thought it was all part of a conspiracy by Mother Brain.
While he pondered this, a man entered the room. By his clothing and identification, Josh recognized him to be one of the supervisors of all the domes in the area. "May I help you, sir?" he asked, standing up.
"I just need to ask you a few questions, Mr. Kain." Josh didn't even bother asking how the man knew his name. "Some of the workers at the other domes have reported some...problems with the electronic elements of the farming procedures. I must ask, have you noticed anything out of the ordinary recently?"
Josh shook his head. "No, I haven't."
"If you were to encounter any difficulties, you know that it is absolutely necessary you report them immediately, correct?"
"Yes, of course I would report anything unusual." The supervisor started to leave, but Josh called after him. "What happened at the other domes?" he asked.
"I am afraid I am not allowed to disclose that information," the supervisor replied. "However, we are confident that the problems will be solved in the near future."
"Can you at least tell me what's causing the problems? Maybe I could help prevent anything from occurring."
"We believe that there may be a small error in the transmissions between the domes and Mother Brain. We have already sent people to the towns to check the connections." With those final statements, the supervisor turned and left.
Josh sat back down in front of his computer and rested his chin on his hand. He wouldn't have been nearly as bothered by this incident if it hadn't been for his conversation with Isolde the previous night.
He brought up the topic to his father as soon as he was in the door of the small cottage that evening. "Yes, our dome had a similar visit yesterday," Stephan told him. "Unfortunately, I wasn't told any more information than you were."
"Yesterday? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to worry you. Besides, I knew if it were serious enough, you would be informed of it in time."
Josh sat down in the chair opposite his father and told him of the discussion with Isolde. "So that's what happened..." Stephan sighed. "I can't believe it."
"That was my initial reaction. But when that supervisor came by today...Normally, I wouldn't have thought anything of it."
"Unfortunately, it does worry me as well in light of the new information you've given me. I've actually had my suspicions about Mother Brain for quite some time."
"How come you never told me?"
"I wanted you to decide for yourself. I wanted you to see the world with your own eyes and form your opinions from what you saw."
Josh frowned. "Sometimes I don't know what to make of what I see."
"Well, Joshua, what do you see?"
"I see the domes every day, I see the AIs I help control, and I see what we produce. I see that we get things done quickly and efficiently and I see that technological advances have improved things as far as farming goes."
Stephan nodded. "What else do you see?"
His frown grew deeper. "I see Isolde and I see how upset she is by what happened to her family. I see her distrust of Mother Brain and the rest of the government and I see that she's willing to sacrifice those advances if it means making Mother Brain weaker."
"Do you think Mother Brain is too strong?"
"I don't know what to think. Obviously, I haven't seen what Isolde has seen, so all I know of Mother Brain is what I see at the domes." Josh stood up. "Maybe I'm making a big deal out of nothing. I'll see you in the morning." With that, he went upstairs.
As soon as he was finished with work, Josh went to see Isolde. "I'm sorry about the other night," he immediately said as soon as she opened the door.
"Don't apologize, you did nothing wrong." She closed the door behind her and the two continued down the path into the fields beyond the houses. "Answer one question for me," she requested.
"Are you happy?"
"What kind of question is that?" Josh wasn't quite sure what Isolde was getting at.
"It's a simple question, are you happy?"
He pondered this. "Until a few days ago, yes, I was happy."
"So why should things be any different now? Forget everything that happened, it's all in the past. Go on living the way you have been."
Josh sighed. He knew he would never win this argument. "Whatever you say."
She smiled at him and took his hand. "Good. Now I can be happy."
He returned the smile and kissed the top of her forehead. "And that's all that matters