In the middle of a session in his Beverly Hills office, a therapist of 20 years looked away from his patient, who was crying. The therapist looked at a vase of flowers on a table near the window. He realized he didn’t know how the flowers had gotten there. This somehow prompted him to wonder about his nephew, who was training to be a commercial pilot, and the next thing he knew he dozed off for a second or two. He knew it was a second or two because he never lost track of the patient crying; there was barely a break in the flowing undulation of it. But during that second or two, he’d had a dream. It was a dream about a voyage to Mars, and he knew the dream could have gone on. He had the impression its content was potentially endless. This was the dream:
During the 16th Earth voyage to US Mars Colony III, crewman John Q Jones entered the office of a senior staff psychologist for his routine checkup and interview.
Psy: Mr. Jones, we’re at the halfway point, so this is a scheduled interview. Nothing unusual.
Jones: I understand.
Psy: Your work as a systems analyst has been efficient. We see no problems there.
Jones: Yes, it’s been pretty routine so far.
Psy: How are you feeling?
Jones: Good. Nothing unusual to report.
Psy: You passed your physical exam and brain scan.
Psy: I notice you’ve been spending almost 40% of your free time alone. You read a great deal.
Jones: Yes. Novels.
Psy: Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, Gravity’s Rainbow, War and Peace…big novels, from the period before the Department of Information issued its guidelines.
Jones: Well, yes. But those books are permitted during space voyages.
Psy: They are. What intrigues you about them?
Jones: The themes, certainly. And the way the characters come alive at a certain depth.
Psy: What about our video and holo library? They hold more than 200,000 titles.
Jones: The immersion factor is different from reading. It might be the subliminals in the holos, I’m not sure. I come out of the holos with the feeling that I’ve been messaged. Do you know what I mean?
Psy: I think so. You feel programmed.
Jones: Kind of, yes. And it’s a more passive experience. When I read, I’m fleshing out the content myself. In my mind.
Psy: You’re certainly free to do that. But the situation at Mars Colony will be quite different. This is your first trip. You’ve been briefed, of course, but actually living there…it’s not the same thing. The rules are quite stringent. They have to be.
Jones: The language restrictions, for example.
Psy: Of course. But you’re aware that the books you’re reading now aren’t allowed at the Colony. Few books are.
Jones: Once I read a book, I can think about it for the rest of my life.
Psy: That’s an odd thing to say.
Psy: I’ve never heard anyone voice that sentiment before.
Jones: It’s nearly a truism, isn’t it? When you’re engaged at a deep enough level, you keep thinking about what you’re thinking about.
Psy: Do you actively refrain from associating with the crew during your free time?
Jones: To a degree, yes. I see them and work with them on such a regular basis, it’s good to get away by myself.
Psy: At the Colony, you’ll be in close quarters with citizens most of your waking hours. That’s a practical matter, as well as a rule.
Jones: I assume that’ll be offset by the overall sense of adventure.
Psy: For a while, yes. But when things settle down into a routine…
Jones: I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
Psy: You’re scheduled to take up a position as a systems analyst at the Colony.
Psy: Your profile suggests you might be suited for a different kind of work.
Psy: There is a whole level of operation dedicated to surveillance.
Jones: Of what sort?
Psy: Surveillance of the population. Profiling. Data analysis. Over the past decade, we’ve had to put down a series of minor rebellions.
Jones: I wasn’t aware of that.
Psy: It wasn’t part of your briefing. Living in highly artificial circumstances creates abnormal pressures. People become restive. They start imagining problems that don’t exist. They sometimes enter a blame and resentment vortex. We have to catch that and sort it out before it becomes serious.
Jones: And what exactly would I do?
Psy: The work involves analyzing data on citizens, looking for their abnormal responses. It’s a vital program. It’s all-encompassing.
Jones: Let me go out on a limb here. You see me as abnormal, so you think I might have a useful perspective on other people who are like me.
Psy: Yes, that’s true.
Jones: And you’ve known about my “tendencies” all along—not just since I boarded the ship. So I was never pegged for a routine job at the Colony. This is really a job interview. Right here.
Psy: Do you object? Do you feel betrayed?
Jones: I’m fine. Frankly, I wondered how I made it through the filtering process and landed a spot on the crew. But I have a question.
Psy: What is it?
Jones: If I’m in the category of “abnormal,” who’s going to watch me at the Colony while I watch other people?
Psy: Very good. The answer is, there are layers of surveillance. And they aren’t all directed outwardly. Some are in the category of “internal checks and balances.” At your level of responsibility, you would be monitored very closely. Ultimately, computers would have that job. Computers outfitted with quite sophisticated behavioral algorithms. They would afford you certain freedoms which aren’t allotted to most citizens. At the same time, they would track your potential variances that could constitute a threat.
Jones: A threat to the established order. Yes. I understand.
Psy: But here’s the crux. Can you successfully channel your individualistic impulses into the work I’m describing, or would those impulses remain—and later surface in some destructive fashion?
Jones: Is there an algorithm that predicts the answer?
Psy: There are many. But none of them are accurate enough yet. So people like me have to provide the final conclusion, in each case.
Jones: What are you thinking about me right now?
Psy: That you’re a security risk. To put it bluntly, you’re too smart. On the other hand, we need your type to do good meta-level analysis of surveillance data.
Jones: You need me to do your kind of work.
Psy: Exactly. Not at first. But with experience, yes. We need you to be able to interview people like you and come up with the most precise assessments possible.
Jones: in other words, you were once a rebel like me, and someone recruited you.
Jones: And now?
Psy: I still harbor individualistic impulses, but I’ve trained them.
Jones: Are you satisfied with your lot in life?
Psy: I am.
Jones: If I had to rate you on a scale from one to ten, I’d put you at six.
Psy: What would six designate?
Jones: With ten as completely reliable, six would indicate you could still cause trouble.
Psy: What gives you that impression?
Jones: Your straightforwardness. It’s real. That’s a potential problem.
Psy: And where would you put yourself on that same scale?
Jones: In the middle. At five.
Psy: That matches my assessment of you.
Jones: So we’re on the same page there. What happens now?
Psy: I ask you whether you can conceive of a massive rebellion at the Colony, one which would result in a complete transformation of the structure, toward individual freedom and away from team control.
Jones: And if I answer yes?
Psy: I think you just did.
Psy: We now shift to an entirely different conversation. And whatever job you’re assigned to at the Colony will become your cover. You may have to inhabit it for a long time. This project, this enterprise will be, by far, the most complicated task of your life. I’m not being melodramatic. The collectivist system in the Colony is organized in many layers of detail. Every citizen has instant access to the Singularity Cloud. Every citizen is trained to believe the Cloud presents the best possible answers to any question. And of course the Cloud itself is built to supply information according to the “greatest good for the greatest number” principle. The individual, in so far as he is acknowledged to exist, is portrayed as a criminal. The whole Colony system is constructed as a religion: the accumulation of citizen access-moments in the Cloud bring them, as One, closer to the emergence of God. That is the primary article of faith.
Jones: Is there an estimate of how many such moments it will take until God fully reveals his presence?
Psy: The official word is 4,991,234,768,987,653.
Jones: How was that figure arrived at?
Psy: I have it on good authority that, 35 years ago, at a Central Colony Council meeting, the Cloud itself delivered that number to the Chairman. The next day it was published.
Jones: Let me make sure I understand a few things. The Cloud, as it’s presently constituted, supplies the best possible answer to any query. And by “best possible,” we refer to standards that supposedly guarantee the happiest existence for all people. But these standards actually reduce all persons to the same level. So the Cloud is a fraud.
Psy: Roughly, yes. You’re correct.
Jones: There is a movement to change all this, and it operates secretly, underground.
Psy: I’m asking you to join us.
Jones: Are we being monitored right now?
Psy: No. I’m allowed to conduct certain interviews in private.
Jones: Of course, you could be setting me up. You could be playing a game just to see whether I’d agree to commit treason.
Psy: And you could try to turn me in for the same reason.
Jones: But I don’t have your status. I’m just an analyst.
Psy: Assuming I’m real in what I say, there is one other way we can play this. The ship stores a significant amount of data behind firewalls. The data reveal certain methods through which the Mars Colony operates. The multiple layers of surveillance, for example. This information is shocking. If it were taken and made public, there would be a reaction. A push-back. I have the ability to steal this information, including passwords and decryption techniques. I could steal it and give it to you, and you could release it. Once we land, I can also guarantee you safe passage away from our destination to the Russian Mars Colony. You would be safe there. They would take you in.
Jones: I see one problem with that. I wonder what the citizens of our US Mars Colony know about how they’re being spied on. Do they know the extent of it, how pervasive it is? Because if they don’t, when I release the information, the overall effect might be negative. Do you see what I mean? Letting people know they’re being watched in every action of their lives is a powerful disincentive. People who know they’re being spied on all the time, wherever they go, will tend to police their own actions, words, and even thoughts. Isn’t that the most effective form of censorship?
Psy: Don’t overthink this, Mr. Jones.
Jones: I’m not.
Psy: Rebellion and revolution aren’t perfect. They have rough edges. You give some in order to take some.
Jones: You might be assigning me a mission that will make things worse.
Psy: Not in the long run.
Jones: I’m reassessing you.
Psy: I advise against it. We’re on the same side.
Jones: So you say.
Psy: You want a revolution? There’s no easy way to accomplish it. There are risks all the way up and down the line.
Jones: Look at the situation you and I are in right now. Because of the prevailing political system, we don’t know whether to trust each other. To bring us to this quandary, a lot of water has already passed under the bridge. Bad water. We have to get out of this trap.
Psy: How do you suggest we do that, Mr. Jones?
Jones: I know I’m being honest. So from this point on, you have to take orders from me. Once I burrow into my meta-analysis job at the US Colony and figure out what’s going on, I’ll contact you and tell you what to do.
Psy: You must know that’s ridiculous. I know I’m honest, too. So why shouldn’t I be the one giving orders? And there is already an underground revolution in progress. You couldn’t begin to understand its structure from your position…
—that was the dream—
The Beverly Hills psychiatrist, after his patient left, phoned a colleague and explained his dream. The colleague said, “Look out your window. We’re all heading out into space.”
The psychiatrist stood up and trotted over to his window. Instead of the usual view of shops and cars and pedestrians, he saw dark sky and stars. He sensed movement, speed.
He lunged for the phone and picked it up. “What the hell is happening?” he shouted.
His colleague said, “Calm down. I’m watching the news. The President just announced we’re on a mass mission to Mars. Everything is okay.”
“Okay?” the psychiatrist screamed. “Okay? Are you crazy?”
“Don’t be a fool,” his colleague said. “These things happen. Nothing is wrong. Polls are showing the overwhelming number of people are in favor of the mission. Imagine you were driving your car. You were going in a straight line for a long time, and then you made a turn, and the landscape looked different. That’s all. Don’t get your shorts in a twist. You of all people should be able to deal with this. What are we doing in our profession? We’re getting our patients to accept reality. For God’s sake, don’t you see that?”
The psychiatrist dropped the phone and slumped to the floor. He breathed in and out slowly. He closed his eyes.
He felt drawn to something. What was it?
It was the Cloud.
He said, “Cloud, how should I respond to this situation? I’m desparate.”
The Cloud said, “Consider that, on balance, most people are in favor of the mission. So far, that is the firm consensus. Therefore, there is no serious problem. A crack in the reality-structure only occurs when, at minimum, 78 percent of the population are gravely upset by the same phenomenon. That is not the case here. At the moment, you are an outlier. Your position carries several risks. Would you like me to spell those out for you?”
The psychiatrist shook his head. He sat on the floor. He looked at the carpet. He tried to bring himself under control.
He spoke out loud, in an effort to test himself, to find a different viewpoint:
“Maybe I’ve made an error. Maybe my reaction is extreme. I need to consider the possibility. I mustn’t jump to conclusions. Am I unnecessarily worried? Maybe I’m behind the curve here. Maybe I’ve overlooked certain recent developments that could put all this in perspective for me.”
He stood up and walked to the window again. Outside, the sky was still dark. He saw many, many stars.
“We’re traveling,” he said. “What’s wrong with that? Many things happen that startle us at first. Then we become accustomed to them. We’ll be all right. Why wouldn’t we be all right? I need to adjust. If I don’t, how will I be able to help patients who might need to acclimate themselves to the future?”