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"The Non-Conformist"
Space Century 351.96
by M.R.

Naris Borland turned his crate upside down and set it on the pavement near one of Paseo's Control Towers. "Not you again," a voice tsked nearby as he put one foot up to stand on the crate. Naris glanced in the direction of the voice, saw the scowl the man named Bert was giving him, and promptly ignored it, climbing fully up to the top of the crate.

"People of Paseo!" Naris cried out. "Your attention, please!"

Bert tsked again, folded his arms across his chest, and leaned up against a nearby tree as a curious crowd started to gather around Naris Borland. "Here we go again..." he grumbled under his breath. All Naris saw were the man's lip movements, but it was enough to tell what the baker was thinking. Someday, he'll see, Naris told himself. Perhaps someday soon.

"Citizens of Paseo," Naris addressed his crowd in a softer tone. "My name is Naris Borland, and I..." He paused for dramatic effect, then added, "I have given up all use of Mother Brain in my daily life."

As expected, the crowd grumbled noisily, and the consensus amongst them seemed to be somewhere between confusion and amusement. "I will tell you why!" Naris told the crowd. "Would you like to know why? Would you like to know why I have turned my back on our 'great provider'?"

"Because you belong in the psyche ward of Paseo Foundation Hospital?" Bert called from his tree.

"I have turned my back on Mother Brain," Naris continued, ignoring the slam, "because Mother Brain will lead us to ruin!"

Naris was used to giving these speeches, and so he was also used to the crowds' usual reactions. Therefore, it did not surprise him at all when half of the crowd disbanded and continued about their morning routine upon hearing his revelation. "Let those who can hear, hear!" Naris told the departing members of his audience. "Believe me when I tell you we have become a lethargic society under Mother Brain. We, as a people, have become the old, lazy cat who does nothing bu t sleep in the shade all day, walking to our food dispensers when we need something to eat, and walking to our faucets when we need a drink. We don't work anymore!"

"That's Mother Brain's job," someone from the crowd called out.

"Bravo!" Bert the baker seconded the notion from near his tree.

"But we can't just sit around, never doing anything for ourselves!" Naris pleaded as he watched his crowd slowly disappear. "You, Bert! The revolution can start with you! Do you realize that?"

Jumping down from his overturned crate, Naris stepped closer to the baker. He doesn't like this, Naris could tell. Bert obviously just wanted to stay in the background, being paid attention to only for his jokes. "The change can begin today," Naris told Bert solemnly, "if only you'll take the first step."

"And just what would that be?" Bert asked, much of the amusement previously found in his voice now replaced by annoyance.

"You can hire me to work in your bakery," Naris told him, "doing anything. Sweeping the floors, even!"

Bert threw back his head and laughed, and this prompted the handful of onlookers still present to do the same. Again, Naris was used to it. He just ignored their chuckles, and thought about the thanks they'd one day give him when they learned that he was right. "And why should I do that?" Bert finally asked, "when Mother Brain can just send in a custodial robot to do it for me?"

"Because if we start doing for ourselves," Naris answered, "then soon we'll start thinking for ourselves again, too."

More laughter, as the last remnants of the crowd vanished. "I think just fine," Bert threw over his shoulder as he walked away. "I think you are a kook!"

Naris hung his head low, but not in defeat -- in temporary setback. So they didn't listen today... he told himself as he turned, picked up his crate, and headed back for his home on the outskirts of town. But if I remain consistent and strong, one day, they'll have to listen.

For the sake of Algo, they'll have to listen.

His home was recognizable right from the outside. It was the only home in the city without a mini-antenna atop it to receive signals from the town's Control Towers. With no external link to Mother Brain, the super-computer could not enter his home and work her "technological wonders," but that was quite all right with Naris Borland, for he had long ago removed all computers, food dispensers, and newsbeam monitors from his home in exchange for a small garden he kept outside, water from nearby Lake Odin, and books. History books. Something Mother Brain no doubt did not want the people of Algo to see.

As he stepped through his front door and into his living room, he noticed a man was sitting in his house.

"Good day, Mister Borland," the black-robed man greeted, motioning towards another living room chair. "Please, sit down. Make yourself..." A grin. "At home."

"Who are you?" Naris asked, unmoving from where he stood two steps inside the front door. Part of him wanted to bolt for the Central Tower and the Agents within it. Another part of him, however, couldn't help but wonder... Can this man hear? Is he here because he agrees with me? Naris searched his memory, trying to remember if this man had been in the crowd this morning. He didn't think so, but...

"I am three things, Mister Borland, but first... Sit. Down."

Suddenly, Naris's stomach sank. His muscles tensed, and he made his first subtle move to turn back around towards his door. That's when two more men -- men whom Naris did not notice upon entering -- stepped from their hiding places behind the door and placed their hands on his shoulders. They led him to the seat Black Robe had asked him to sit down in, and then they pushed him down into it. With a rustle of their red robes -- identical to Black Robe's, except in color -- they then moved behind the chair.

"I must say, Mister Borland," Black Robe began, steepleing his fingers and flashing a smile, "that was quite a show you put on this morning. What was it? Your third performance in just over a week?"

"Who are you?" Naris repeated, his heart nearly pounding out of his chest in fear. "Where are you from?"

"Connecticut," Black Robe answered, "but we'll get to that later. First, I must tell you that we're all very big fans of your little presentations. They keep us laughing for hours, don't they, gentlemen?"

As if on cue, the two Red Robes behind Naris laughed softly. Black Robe looked up to them and laughed, as well, before returning his sight to Naris. "Mister Borland, please tell me, for I must know: what did Mother Brain ever do to you?"

Naris swallowed his fear. If these... animals were going to hurt him, or maybe even kill him, just because he refused to conform to the mindless, lethargic Mother Brain-produced community of tomorrow that Algo currently found itself in, then so be it. He was ready to die for his cause, and in the end, these men would have to look themselves in the mirror and wonder how Palmans could have done such a thing.

"Mother Brain will lead our world and our people into ruin," Naris answered confidently. "She has turned us into a slothful, sluggish people. We no longer even think for ourselves. We let her bar us from our right to travel amongst this star system, and we say nothing. We let her bar us from sailing through Mota's beautiful oceans, and we say nothing.

"Well I will not say nothing. I will not bite my tongue. I will not let Mother Brain slowly turn our own world into a prison."

By nature, Naris was not a bold man, or a strong one. In actuality, he was really quite timid. But his cause could produce a fire in him, as he had never believed in anything more strongly, and so now, he stood from the chair he'd been forced into. Black Robe did the same, motioning off the Red Robes and moving to stand toe-to-toe with him. "So," Naris wanted to know, "what are you three going to do to stop me?"

Black Robe's dark brown eyes bore into Naris's own, and after a moment, Black Robe's straight line mouth cracked into a grin. "Earlier," he began to say, "you asked me who I was, and I said, I am three things. I, Terrick, and first and foremost, not a Palman. I am, by your standards, an alien from another planet. Earth, to be precise."

When one expects another person to threaten one's life, but when that other person then instead reveals himself to be an alien, the shock is somewhat of a big one. All Naris could do to react to the statement was blink his eyes and whisper, "What?"

"Second, I am one of the creators of she whom you despise so much, the Mother Brain," Terrick continued. "And speaking of her, I think she'd like to say hello."

With that, Terrick brought a small disk out of a pocket in his robe and placed it in the palm of his hand, which he held out upright for Naris to see. Suddenly, a small hologram of a woman, no more than five inches tall, sprang forth from the small disk. The woman -- clad in some sort of jumpsuit with the three planets of Algo decorated on it -- smiled and said, "Hello, Naris Borland. Rejection from any Algoian hurts, but I shall try to mend my broken heart and forgive you."

"My God..." Naris whispered, trying to take a step back but running into his chair. "My God..." he whispered again, his heart beating furiously at his ribcage.

"And third..." Terrick said before leaning in close to Naris, who still kept his eyes locked on the smiling Mother Brain hologram before him. "Third," Terrick whispered into Naris's ear, "I am your executioner."

With that, the two Red Robes behind Naris ducked to the ground, and Terrick himself took a giant step backwards, ducking his head low but keeping his right arm outstretched so that the disk he held in it was level with Naris's eyes.

Despite the words Terrick had whispered, Naris found he still could not take his sight off of the hologram. And now... Why are her eyes... glowing? Naris wondered.

The last thing he saw was a flash of yellow, and then some sort of thin laser beam that seemed to cut across the entire room.

Then he saw, and felt, nothing, though as he fell towards the floor of his living room, breathing his last breaths, he did hear the Earthman named Terrick clearly say, "The change can begin today, Mister Borland, if only you miserable Palmans would just roll over and die."

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