The Program — Audio Series — Right align, justify

Right align, justify

ANNOUNCER: Originally created by an unknown team of archival researchers, the following dramatization has been newly restored and is presented to contemporary listeners in its entirety for the first time. The accompanying text entitled The Story of Two Pills is now believed to not have been part of the original work, but rather added at a later date.

OFFICER: Alright, we’re recording? Alright. [scoffs] You wanna know what the worst part is? It was actually a beautiful day. Or, you know, whatever passes as beautiful in this town. I just remember finally feeling warm after months of freezing my ass off! I was taking a ride to my buddy’s place. Both him and I got separated from our long-term partners around that time. We used to joke that it’s better to be happily divorced than unhappily married, but in truth we were both fucking miserable. I was alone in the automobile reading a shitty self-help book when I received an emergency notification. It said: A WHITE MALE DRIVING A TRUCK SOUTHBOUND ON MAPLE STREET HITTING PEDESTRIANS ON ROUTE. MULTIPLE CASUALTIES REPORTED. I was staring at the words like an idiot, knowing what they meant but not able to comprehend them. But then I got another notification. And this time it was a gig assigned specifically to me. Apparently I was the nearest certified Terms and Conditions officer. So I entered the intersection into my vehicle’s GPS and marked the ride as highest priority so my path would get cleared. My ETA was in two minutes, which gave me a bit of time to tune into a livestream of people recording in the area. The videos were all very shaky and I couldn’t really discern what the fuck was going on, but I could sure as hell hear the chaos. It was only then that I became fully aware of the gravity of the situation - how this fucker was purposely targeting random bystanders and running them over! So I arrived at the destination and I positioned my vehicle perpendicularly to the road so the path ahead was completely blocked. And as soon as I got out, I could hear the approaching mayhem - the crashing, the screaming, countless alarms going off at once. And then I saw it. A huge white construction dump truck on the sidewalk. And I saw some poor woman running in front of it, and the very next moment I saw her getting struck and thrown against the fucking wall. The way that she smashed... It was not in a way in which the human body can bend. The next moment I was snapped back to reality by a crashing sound of the truck hitting the roadblock I had planted. I just remember closing my eyes and when I opened them I could see the truck’s front fender was completely ripped off. From the inside of the truck, like a drunk stumbling out of a bar, a man in his twenties fell onto the pavement. While tying his hands and feet, all I could think about though was - why the fuck was he wearing two pairs of socks?

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THERAPIST: We met five years ago in a bar. Sometimes I think we were the last ones to do so before human mating moved entirely online! [chuckles] The bar was called Rise and Shine and I was picking up gigs there as a waitress on busy nights - and after basic credits were introduced and people were freed from regular working schedules, every night was a busy night! [laughs] He came in with a group of friends and immediately caught my eye... And apparently mine caught his, since the first thing he told me was that I have nice eyes - especially the one on the left! [laughs] He asked me what my utility was and I said that I’m training to become a psychologist, specializing in working with kids with special needs. He said the two of us should get along perfectly then. [chuckles] I guess he was right because five years later we were still together and planning a wedding! But then the debates started: who were we going to invite? He had a big family - we counted fourteen first cousins - fourteen! - even though he was close with maybe three of them. But how could we invite only three, and not the rest? And what about uncles and aunts - that’s 28 more guests right there! And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the situation with my friends was any easier! Even in this group there were people who I really wanted at my big day, and people who I just... had to invite, you know? So we were going through revision after revision, adding cousins, removing cousins, adding my co-workers from the clinic, removing them... We had finally made the final version the evening prior… [stammers] The evening prior when I got the news… The news that.. That I no longer had a fiancé. [snivels] That he was run over by a truck... In what seemed to be a random mass attack! [cries] Suddenly a guest list seemed like such a good problem to have... [sobs]

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STORYTELLER: The Story of Two Pills. At 08:11, 4,953 residents of Bellevue got a message no one wanted to receive. Bellevue is a small town, isolated from any other population centres, which is precisely why it was chosen as the location of a most powerful nuclear power plant on the continent. And now a message was circulating amongst members of a local chat group. It stated that 1500 petabecquerels of various radioisotopes had been released from the power plant in an unspecified incident early that morning. Naturally, news of potentially lethal contamination caused a flurry of activity in the chat group. Some members posted links to the International Nuclear Event Scale article on the Wikipedia deeming the incident to be level 8. Others started debating comparative advantages of measuring radioactivity in becquerels instead of curies. And one woman used the opportunity to mention she visited Fukushima on her honeymoon a year before the tsunami and how beautiful it was. No one knew how the fallout occured, or how it was going to be contained, but this much was certain: it was going to be a bad day for Bellevue.

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OFFICER: The apprehension - if you can even call it that - was effortless. I was soon joined by a few more Terms and Conditions officers. They were securing the scene and helping the survivors. Altogether nine people died that day, and one more later in the hospital, I guess to round up the total. The truck driver wasn’t drunk and wasn’t under the influence of narcotics as far as we could tell. His judgement was in no way impaired. Not that we had much to go of - the bastard remained silent from the moment we got to him. He didn’t have any form of ID and didn’t seem to have a profile on the Program or any digital trail for that matter. No one stepped forward as recognizing him and all our efforts to identify him failed. That’s why we called him X. X was a white man in his late twenties, and that’s pretty much all we could tell about him. We had a working theory he was one of the Poets - you know, those crazies that think the world is ruled by artificial intelligence. But even if my hunch was right, I couldn’t be sure if the attack was directed from the top of the organization, or if X was a lone wolf. Or if he was anything - the piece of shit never answered any questions about his identity or his motivation. The only thing he was willing to talk about was how he prepared the attack.

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THERAPIST: I was a ruin in the days after the attack. Sure, I recognized the emotions I was going through - the shock, the disbelief, the anger, the fear. But understanding how the process works doesn’t make it any less real. I also knew what advice I would give to anyone else in my situation - surround yourself with loved ones, keep your routine up, look after your physical health, avoid simply numbing the pain. So I followed the drill - I talked to friends for no end, I went running, I cooked healthy meals, I did all the housework - the house has never been so clean in my life! It was like an opposite image from what I've felt inside - what everybody in the community felt inside really. No one was able to comprehend the sheer mindlessness of it all, the… the… The selfishness of it all! How this individual, this X, just decided it was his right to take people’s happiness away! [sighs] People just couldn’t wrap their heads how someone could do this.

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STORYTELLER: The initial confusion in Bellevue soon turned into anger, directed at the power plant leadership. Requiring arduous specialization, the leadership mostly consisted of city dwellers, who worked and resided at the plant and would rarely come in contact with the general Bellevue community. So it was perhaps not surprising a lot of messages in the chat group expressed dissatisfaction with the utility of “those people”, who were paradoxically both dismissed as unnecessary - and expected to solve the problem. When it became evident that no one of “those people” was responding to any of the questions and concerns expressed in the chat group, people’s anger gave way to panic. No one was sure of anything and it is uncertain how long the bickering would have continued if a veritable deus ex machina hadn’t appeared in the group chat: the Program’s official chatbot. And it was here to tell the good people of Bellevue that the day might not end as badly as it had started.

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OFFICER: Motherfucker explained exactly how he did it. He said he had been preparing for months. His initial plan was to buy a car on the black market, but he couldn’t find one that was still running. One day he walked by a construction site and saw a solution: heavy machinery. Now due to their specific usage, these were the only vehicles that weren’t automated. But then he encountered another problem - he knew he wouldn’t get far without knowing how to drive. So he went and bought one of those old video game consoles that’d hook up to a TV. He was able to build a simulation of a truck at his apartment and spent days doing nothing but practicing driving. If you ask me, all these video games should be fucking banned, as clearly they corrupt people’s minds. Then came the day of the attack. X recounted in detail the breakfast he’d made for himself: a shake made of almond milk and protein powder, two salted hard boiled eggs, a sliced banana with peanut butter, a bar of dark chocolate, and a tall glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. And then he just fell silent again. The little shit never even spoke about the actual attack! He didn’t care about the people he murdered! The only thing he cared about was his fucking breakfast! [sighs] It was… It was frustrating, but there was nothing more we could get out of him. So we submitted a report with all the facts for the verdict to be issued. It was a manual report, as X was still in the cool-down period, protected by that white algorithm bullshit introduced after Karmageddon. But the facts of the case were crystal clear as triple distilled shine, so we were dead confident that the Program will sentence X to be removed from society immediately. A few hours later we received the Program’s decision. We were all speechless. We were instructed to release X immediately!

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THERAPIST: When I heard the ruling I - I couldn’t believe it. At first I thought there was some kind of mistake. The case was so clear cut, and the fact that this man, this X, was the culprit so evident, that I could not explain the Program’s decision as anything but, but an error! It went against every principle of equality and justice - against everything that the Program stood for! You know, much has been said about the Program’s origin. I personally couldn’t care less if the rich were behind it, or robots, or time travellers, or even if it’s of this world! All that I cared about was that it carried out its role. All that I wanted was for it to ensure fairness. And now I was being told that my fiancé and nine other people got run over like ducks and their killer is free to walk away? What kind of perverse justice WAS THAT? But then something even more extraordinary happened. Something that made me certain that the intelligence behind the Program wasn’t human, as no sane person would ever think of doing something like this. A few days after the verdict, I received a notification that I was assigned a personalized gig directly from the Program. I opened it and gasped. I was designated to become X’s psychologist!

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STORYTELLER: An appearance of the Program’s official emissary is never a trivial matter. So when it revealed itself in Bellevue chat group, and stated that it had come to offer directions on how to handle the unfortunate nuclear “issue”, everybody in the group stopped squabbling and started paying attention. Potassium iodide is a chemical compound used as a medication in nuclear emergencies. It comes in the form of pills, known as KI pills. If ingested in a timely manner, these pills block the absorption of dangerous radioactive particles that cause illness and/or death. The required dosage to ensure full protection for adults is two pills, even though one pill will suffice to prevent absorption of the vast majority of fatal particles. This is when Program’s digital envoy dispensed the good news and the bad news. The good news was that, by virtue of being located next to a 6500 megawatt nuclear power plant, Bellevue’s infirmary had a reserve of KI pills. The bad news was, since no records existed detailing exactly how many pills were stockpiled, there was no way of telling if the supply was large enough for everyone in the town to get a single pill, let alone two. Which is to say the day had again turned a bit sticky.

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OFFICER: To me, the absolutely ridiculous verdict to let X go was a clear proof that humans were behind the Program. It was obvious that someone was protecting the son of a bitch. And I mean literally, as my colleagues and I were not only instructed to let X go, we were also instructed to keep him safe from the public. Or rather, I was instructed to do so. I was the only one who was given the location of the safe house. My first instinct was to reject the gig. Why was I the one who would have to hide and guard this fucking psychopath? I mean, I was almost one of his victims! But then I realized I’ve likely been assigned the gig precisely for this reason. It was possible someone in the Program’s leadership entrusted this gig to me because they knew I’d do something about it. So I swore it to them. No - to myself. I was chosen to correct an injustice. I had to right a wrong. Whatever it takes.

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THERAPIST: My first reaction was fury. That the Program’s algorithms wanted me to be X’s psychologist, defied logic -- ethics -- quite frankly, it defied all belief! Not only was it unfair to expect this from me, but it also unfair towards X, as there was no way that I could be objective and provide him with fitting therapy. But then I had a chance to cool down and think things over. And I realized that this gig must have been assigned to me personally for a reason. I was given a chance to gain insight into X’s mind. And with luck maybe even deduce a motive! I reasoned that if he's capable of forethought, he should be capable of afterthought as well. Understanding is always preferable to not knowing, and I owed it to my fiance to understand. So it is for him that I decided to accept the gig. It is for him that I went to see X at his safe house.

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STORYTELLER: Learning about availability of pills that can counter the adverse effects of radiation poisoning, and simultaneously learning that the said pills were not necessarily available in the desired quantities, made the Bellevue group chat explode. Some people took the stance that if there weren’t enough pills for everyone to get two, no one should get even one. Others suggested organizing a lottery which would get the winners enough pills for the entire household. A few recommended leaving the problem to the invisible hand of the market. It was then that the user known as “BananaHammock” wrote an impassioned message, stating that their biggest enemy was not a lack of pills, but lack of time. As long as they work together and spread the pills through the community quickly, everyone should get at least one pill, which he correctly argued would be enough to fend off radiation poisoning if they act fast. His plea, written in matter-of-factly yet flowery language, struck just the right balance of emotion and common sense, persuading 4,953 members of Bellevue group chat that it is in their best interest to cooperate and - with a bit of luck - save the day which would by any other standard be regarded as unsalvageable.

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OFFICER: I was accompanying X on the way to the safe house, which despite the fancy title turned out to be a shithole. He wasn't handcuffed or anything - remember, he was allowed to walk away free as a hummingbird. But it seems he was aware himself that immediately rejoining the civilian population could end up very badly for him, so he didn’t object to being brought into what he thought would be the safest place for him. Little did he know that I was spending every waking moment plotting on how to get rid of him... Which was also proving to be much more difficult than anticipated. Not from the logistical sense - you know there was no shortage of ways to take the life of a man sleeping alone in the same house as you. But this is exactly where the problem stood. To murder an unsuspecting man - even a man who had done such a horrible deed - to murder him just like that in cold blood, it was just... It was just hard, you know? I just couldn't bring myself to do it. At least, well not directly. I was considering poisoning him, or simply tying him up and leaving him to starve, just so I could spare myself the mental anguish - even if this would actually be much more painful for him. But it turned out these hypothetical contemplations were nothing but a bunch of bullshit. We finally arrived at the safe house, only to find that there was a woman already there waiting for us.

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THERAPIST: I knew from the gig description that X would be held in a safe house, but I wasn't aware that there would only be only one guard with him. Or I guess it would be more correct to call him his bodyguard. In either case, Officer did not leave such a great first impression. I explained I was there to treat X. He was sceptical at first, but then I showed him the official Program gig and he had to relent. I didn't tell him anything about my fiancé - I just didn't see the purpose. And also I didn’t want X to find out my personal connection to his case as this was likely to change his behaviour. He was much younger and scrawnier than I had imagined him, with unkempt hair and oily skin. He said hello when he entered the room and sat at the kitchen table like an awkward dinner guest. Funny, for a moment this reminded me of my old wedding guest list dilemmas... He was wearing what seemed to be the same clothes he conducted the attack in, which meant he wasn't able to change his attire in over five days. So I quickly went to a nearby store and bought him some fresh garments. Nothing fancy, just a pair of jeans, a couple of T-shirts, as well as some socks and underwear. My fiancé would wear nothing but briefs so that's what I got X as well.

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STORYTELLER: The distribution of the KI pills started at the infirmary, which was conveniently located in Bellevue’s geographical centre. People living next to the source were the first to receive the pills, with instructions to pass them to the next household in a version of a human chain spreading in every direction. Most importantly, everybody was directed to take only one pill, with the promise of a second pill coming back to them from the periphery of the circle in case there were any left after the initial run. A group chat member with a knack for numbers called “MILFlover69” - widely believed to be Bellevue’s elementary school maths teacher - calculated that the full double distribution, defined as a run from the centre to the periphery and back, shouldn’t take more than two and a half hours, meaning it ought to be completed by noon of the day that now held the potential to either become either Bellevue’s darkest, or its brightest.

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OFFICER: The psychologist lady and I were off to a rough start. From the second we met she came off as overbearing. She made some remarks about X needing a fresh set of clothes and wanted me to go buy them for him. I told her my gig didn’t mention any sartorial matters and only instructed me to look after the priso... I mean, the ward. So she darted out of the house and got the clothes herself. Together with some deodorant, toothpaste, and sandwiches, and snacks for all three of us. Turned out X was actually gluten intolerant so he only had some cheese. I for one didn't have much appetite, seeing that just a couple of hours ago I was contemplating how to poison him. Apparently spaghetti would have done the trick! [laughs] But, jokes aside, I couldn't wait for the woman to go away so I could go back to my plan. You can imagine my surprise when after dinner instead of leaving the psycho-chick took out a chess board and invited X to a game! Can you believe that?

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THERAPIST: After spending a full week with X I’ve reached some preliminary conclusions. Even in the broadest sense, X did not fit the definition of being medically insane. To use an analogy, his hardware was functioning correctly - it was his software that was defective. And even though I was still repulsed by him personally, I confess the case really piqued my professional interest. Later we played chess - the rules of which he knew from before - and a two-player variant of euchre which he was able to pick up and master in minimal time. I did not anticipate this, and I admit I was prejudiced to expect a much less functioning individual. His personality traits were heavily introverted. His unwillingness to discuss personal history was a strong indicator of severe childhood trauma. My working hypothesis was that X came from a broken home and had never experienced a real human connection. It is well documented that this psychological vacuum often gets filled with an ideology, making subject with this kind of emotional void especially susceptible to manipulation and radicalization. Having reached an initial diagnosis, my next step was to work on expanding X's consciousness, making him aware of his actions and their consequences. To extend the software analogy, he needed to get his drivers updated. I suspect this was also a big reason the Program had given X another chance. The dead are the dead, and there's nothing that can be done for them - it is the living who need our attention.

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STORYTELLER: And so the life-saving pills started their journey from Bellevue centre, passed from hand to hand, from one household to the next. As the circle was spreading, so was the news of the pills’ journey, communicated almost in real time over the group chat. At last, the very last pill was handed out. The distribution run had ended and everybody got a pill - exactly one per person. It seemed that the stockpile was precisely tailored to Bellevue’s population, as there was not a single pill left. On the one hand, this was good news and cause for minor celebration, as everybody got a pill to keep them nominally safe. On the other, it caused every resident of Bellevue to brood and worry if one pill was truly enough. Mercifully the end of the day promised them the answer, as the Program’s chatbot explained the effects of radiation poisoning are rapid, and would either appear in the next few hours, or not at all.

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OFFICER: I tried to persuade the psychologist woman to go home, but it was like trying to convince a cat that it wants to go swimming. I knew this meant I had to postpone my original plan for dealing with X, even though I was careful not to show any displeasure. But what I didn't know was how many days she’d actually end up staying with us, kicking it with X and scribbling her little notes. X was pleasant enough, conducting himself like a well behaved monkey. But unlike her I couldn’t afford the luxury to take my guard down. You know how they say: the fox is only as cunning as the chickens are dumb.

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THERAPIST: We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. In order to see the bigger picture, it is necessary to expand the mind first. I explained that the path to higher consciousness is three-fold. Through education, through active reflection, and through passive reflection - which is to say staying healthy through meditation and physical exercise. It took a bit of time for X to absorb these concepts, but it was a necessary prerequisite for the next step, which was to learn about complexity and nuance of people, life, and situations. I’ve taught him three tools: empathy, gratitude, and putting things into perspective. To see ourselves as a miraculous arrangement of atoms in infinite space that for a split second in endless eternity have come together to form a moment of consciousness that is us… And then to see the other person as a moment of consciousness that happens to exist in the same speck of time and space as us. When we think that way, the only possible emotion we can feel for others is love.

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STORYTELLER: Regardless of the ultimate outcome, there was one positive effect the nuclear incident had on residents of Bellevue - it united them as never before. As the day unhurriedly progressed, and the townspeople waited for the symptoms of radiation poisoning to either appear or not, the group chat was overflowing with goodwill and positivity. Everyone was caring to each other; no one was even pointing out other people’s spelling mistakes. As the hours slowly moved forwards, and none of the residents were feeling any adverse health effects, the atmosphere in the group was getting more and more jubilant. When the night finally fell, and not a single woman, man, or child had fallen ill, the happiness suppressed in peoples’ hearts finally erupted, and for a moment the group chat was as one, with every single member expressing happiness and pride to having contributed to something bigger than themselves; to not only saving what was supposed to be the worst day in Bellevue’s history, but making it a shining example of the kindness of the human spirit.

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OFFICER: It’s been over a month since the Program released X, and it seemed that the public consternation over the verdict was starting to dissipate. People were moving on to other things, and I have to admit, my anger was beginning to wane as well… Which is to say I started having second thoughts about my original plan for X, as with spending time with him I was actually beginning to perceive that he was not some insane maniac I originally thought he was. He was just some sad, pimply kid who never had a shag. I remembered my wife - well, my ex-wife - and how much she made me grow as a person in the time we had spent together. And suddenly it was hard to pass judgement on someone who’s never been kissed before in their life. It was then that I got another gig - well, if you can call it like that, as it didn’t entail any real work. It just asked me to meet this guy in a coffee shop later that day. I didn’t know who he was, and I had some second thoughts about leaving X and the psycho-woman alone, but in the end curiosity got the better of me. So for the first time in five weeks I’ve left the safe house... When I got to the coffee shop the man I was supposed to meet was already there. He told me to call him Hunter, as he was a commercial hunter before eating animal flesh became banned. I wasn’t able to figure out his age, but if I had to guess I would say he was about fifty years old - but fifty bad years. The last time I’ve seen someone in such a shabby state was in capitalism! Hunter must have guessed my thoughts because he immediately apologized for his appearance. He said the last month and a half had really taken a toll on him. You see, his only daughter was killed in X’s attack.

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THERAPIST: Cutting down a forest is easy; waiting for a new one to grow takes time. X was making good progress, but he wasn't yet able to fully grasp the moral consequences of his actions, which was a necessary prerequisite for the feeling of remorse. But I was certain that with more work he would get there. I was sure he was close. Which is when Officer barged into the safe house with a mad look in his eyes and a hunting rifle in his hands!

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STORYTELLER: Everything we say is but an echo that returns to us unchanged. We don't really own anything - nor the people around us, nor our possessions, not even our own bodies. So what is ours? Only our actions. The cumulative sum of our actions becomes the society. However, not all actions are beneficial to the wider group. So rules to govern individuals’ behaviour get introduced, and then even more rules, and more rules, until the system becomes so byzantine and corrupt, the only viable option is a hard reset and total rewrite. There is however another solution. Which is to actively maintain the system and take great care to prevent it from ever regressing. Which is why the story of two pills is also a story of two days.

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OFFICER: Hunter told me more about his daughter, focusing on her life rather than on her death. He told me how her mother left him and his daughter shortly after she was born and never got in contact with them again. So for Hunter the child became everything, especially after his profession effectively disappeared with the meat ban. And partly because of this, he wanted his child to become a hairdresser, or an actress, or a yoga teacher, or anything else that couldn’t be disrupted and automated. But she had her mind set on becoming a Terms and Conditions officer, just like myself. Hunter asked his daughter why, and she replied that she wanted to do good. To which he responded it's not hard to be good; any old fool could be good - what’s hard is to be just. By being too lenient to those that transgress, we are being unjust to those that follow the rules. He then shared a short story with me. It was about a shipwrecked mariner, cast ashore in an unknown land. Roaming around alone and unarmed, he was terrified he might come across wild beasts or cannibals. Wandering like that, he came across gallows, and saw that two men have been recently hung. Seeing the dead men, he joyfully exclaimed: "Thank heavens, I’m in a land of civilized people!" [laughs] It’s a good story, isn’t it? This is when Hunter gave me a case. He told me it contained his old hunting rifle. He said he knew I was given a gig to guard X and to do him no harm. But, it's not enough for us to do our duty - he said - we also have to know what our duty is. He then asked me a question that I will never forget: “Are you a good man, or are you a just man?”

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THERAPIST: As soon as I saw the rifle aimed at X I knew what was happening. But even so, I asked Officer what was he doing. He replied that he was doing something he should have done a long time ago. He was shaking uncontrollably, so I told everyone to take a deep breath. I told Officer to consider how much progress X had made. To which he asked me to consider how much evil had X done? How much pain had he caused? How many lives had he broken? I told him that the existence of evil is precisely why we so desperately need to do good. I told him that I didn't know what the cure for pain was, but I was certain it was not more pain, and that breaking things won't fix those that were already broken. I'm not sure how much he was able to hear and comprehend my words. Sweat was flowing down his face and into his eyes and he was shouting that it was easy for me to empathize! That I wasn’t the one who just spoke to the father of a girl who X ran over like a stray cat! That I wasn’t there when it happened! That I wasn’t the one who now knew the sound of the crushing bones, or the smell of oil mixed with blood! Which is when I… Which is when I’ve finally said... That one of the victims that day... Was my fiancé.

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STORYTELLER: The day after the incident at the nuclear power plant and triumphant distribution of the KI pills, half of Bellevue’s population started vomiting, experiencing acute diarrhoea, and exceedingly high fever. The other half tried treating their affected family members or neighbours, but were helpless. As the day advanced, their health was deteriorating fast. In some households whole families were reeling in spasms on the floor, with no one to lift their malfunctioning bodies - or at least dejected spirits. Recognizing they were dying of radiation poisoning, the condemned used their last bits of strength to log into the chat group and inveigh against the Program, damning it for assuring them one pill will be enough to keep them all safe, when for some of them it clearly wasn’t. Which is when the Program’s chatbot appeared and started typing.

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OFFICER: When the psychologist called me a self-righteous idiot and said her fiancé was one of X's victims, I -- I wasn't sure if she was screwing with me or not. I just wasn't able to believe that she would tend to X so fondly and be so kind to him if it were really so. But I saw from the expression on her face that she was serious, and that she was telling the truth. And then, well, something extraordinary happened. X the madman, X the killer - he started crying. He hadn't shown any emotion when he ran over all those people. He hadn’t shown any emotion when he was acquitted. He showed no emotion when I pointed a fucking rifle into his head! But now the tears were flowing down his cheeks, and he was gasping for breath like he was drowning, and he threw himself on the ground and just kept saying "I'm sorry!" "I'm sorry!" "I'm sorry!" And the psychologist, well, she was unable to hold back tears as well. And they embraced, and I could tell - he finally got it. It took the love of a woman of a man he killed. But he fucking got it.

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THERAPIST: There is this quote I read once: “Human souls are much more susceptible to compassion and kindness than to force and violence.” I don’t know who wrote it, but it stuck with me ever since. Once Officer regained his composure and safely stored the rifle away, he approached me in private and told me he greatly admired what I had done for X. I offered my thanks, but said that I’m not entirely sure it would be truthful to say I had done it for him. Leading X to comprehension helped me as much as it helped him. It allowed me to let go of the malice and arrive at peace with myself. To understand everything is to forgive everything. Who knows, perhaps this is the real reason behind the Program’s verdict. But I guess that is something we will never know... What I do know is that a few days later I wrote the last entry into my journal. And I closed X’s file with two words, almost like it was an engraving: "Rehabilitation complete.”

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STORYTELLER: Agony and death rampaged through the town of Bellevue - or at least through roughly half of its residents. In blood and tears, those affected by radiation kept cursing the Program for ever trusting it, every last one of them saying they wished they took the two life-saving pills while they had the chance. Which is finally when the Program’s chatbot sent its reply. “There never was a nuclear accident. What you ingested were not KI pills, but a powerful alkaloid called anatoxin-a. Those of you that took one pill as instructed and passed the rest to your neighbours have nothing to fear - a single pill does not exceed the activation dose, and you won’t suffer any adverse health effects. Those of you however that took two pills have surpassed the lethal threshold, and will be dead before sunset.” Here ends the story of the two pills.

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THERAPIST: Just a quick addendum. I checked the author of the quote “human souls are much more susceptible to compassion and kindness than to force and violence”? Apparently, it was said by Machiavelli.

~~~~

OFFICER: I spent a few more days with X afterwards, you know, just to make sure the lad was okay. It was almost like being around another person. Okay, hold on - don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the guy suddenly became all drums and trumpets, but there was definitely a different vibe to him. He was much more relaxed, and almost cheerful. I remember the two of us, we went to the main square where we grabbed a couple of beers on a patio. It was late summer and the sun was hitting the mug just right - you know, illuminating the countless little bubbles racing towards the frothy top on the inside. The boy looked at that mug like it was the most beautiful thing in the world. I swear, I could almost see him smile. It must have been the first time in years that he felt happiness. It was perhaps the first time that he had hope…

It was only then, that the Program instructed a nearby van driver, to mow him down.

[The Program main theme]

ANNOUNCER: This episode of The Program was made by four people: Colin Bennett, Shelby Handley, Jacqueline Ainsworth, and IMS. Main music theme by Matt Podd. Additional music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions. Visit programaudioseries.com for more details. This is also where you’ll find links to the show’s Reddit and Twitter accounts. Come and discuss your theories about The Program, and get information about upcoming episodes. As the old saying from the Update goes: “If the Program is the sail, the people are the wind.”

WRITTEN, DIRECTED, EDITED AND PRODUCED BY:

Ivan Mirko S.

CAST:

OFFICER - Colin Bennett (email)
THERAPIST - Shelby Handley (CV)
STORYTELLER - Jacqueline Ainsworth (website)

MAIN THEME BY

Matt Podd (website)

ADDITIONAL MUSIC BY BLUE DOT SESSIONS (website)

REFERENCES:

original art by Carlos Costa